January 7th, 2003


Le Petite Paris – Part Three: Beaubourg & Les Halles

What’s the first thing you do in Paris after you wake up and retrieve 300-Euros from a local bank machine? You buy croissants! And make sure you get ‘em fresh before the bakery closes for lunch between 12PM – 2PM. They call it “quality of life,” out here. I call it a “DICTATED quality of life.” SBX and I woke up in the nick of time to enjoy a proper Parisian breakfast. I remember the first time I ever tasted a croissant. I was a young boy living with my parents on the upper west side of Manhattan [79th Street & Broadway] and my mother took me to ZABARS, after getting a bakers dozen at H&H Bagels. I saw the peculiar crescent shaped item and asked if I could eat it. The taste was so fluffy and buttery. I imagined that this is what Heaven would taste like. Soon thereafter, I would watch THE TEN COMMANDMENTS and wonder about religion [my father is a non-practicing Jew, my mother a non-practicing Catholic, which also cancels out my Judaism, and I was baptized an Episcopalian, never stepping inside a church]. I came to make a pact with a proposed God, and my understanding would teach me that there was/is no God. I drew a comic about it in KEYHOLE #2, called “The Left Hand of God.” Way I see it is; at worst, we’re a deliberate series of mistakes, and at best, a ball of unbridled energy kept housed in a declining husk of organic cogs until eventual escape.

Escape to where?

Looking around, I realized that I had grown up seeing parts of Paris in my comic books. France most likely inspired “Latveria,” a faux-country created by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby, for the THE FANTASTIC FOUR’S arch-nemesis DOCTOR DOOM, to rule. I’ve seen all these arches, vines, gates, flowers, and wood shutters on these windows before, only, drawn in that cosmic-block kinetic style that Kirby was so famous for. It’s funny, but France looks like a gaggle of miniature golf courses; a world of small economic fields bordered by pebbles and patches of green, where beards climb stonewalls and trees have gnarly stubbed toes for branches and prickly dreadlocks for leaves.

SBX and I rode the subway into to Les Halles and ate lunch at a humble Brassiere where I got red wine, steak au poivre, and café au lait. SBX got “Merlin” [fish] w/leeks, and fresh bread was abundant. It was really cool to finally sit down at an authentic French joint with its tiny round table in a narrow room with little chairs, eating traditional food in a classic setting. Where the bar in front is made of Zinc and customers stop by for a brief cup of espresso or beer, before scurrying off to their next appointment.

We entered Paris’ version of a Woolworth’s where SBX was attacked by cosmetic Valkyrie’s hawking eye make-up. She tested lipstick and mascara while the master of ceremonies took advantage of the store microphone, coloring SBX’s glam excursion as a New Yorker traveling all the way to Paris in search of Revlon. It was as ridiculous as it was hilarious. We hit a music store where I bought BUSTA RHYMES new CD [“It ain’t safe no more”], and came upon SUPERHEROES, a cool comix shoppe, where I got DIS-MOI QUELQUE CHOSE by Jason, and SBX found LES FRUSTRES, a tome from one of her favorite cartoonists, Claire Bretecher, whose dry humor tickled her teenage years and this collection of 1-page strips about a woman in her mid-30s raising kids, was something SBX could unmistakably relate to.

We bought tickets at the Georges Pompidou Centre and took its external escalators up the side of the quirky building to view gay Paris’ most beautiful landscape and icons. There was a Max Beckman show featured on the top floor and I introduced SBX to his macabre art. A German, Beckman was no pioneer of the ‘expressionist’ movement yet original and unique unto himself. His paintings appear as bruises captured in oil. Unsettling. Perverse. Ugly. Studying his oeuvre, I could tell that his work had influenced many of my contemporaries, which included; Doucet, Panter, Blanquet, Munoz, Baru, Mattotti, and Horrocks. Perhaps, Beckman’s disturbed style shall be the key that finally unlocks my own stifled approach to composition, contrast, and figure? SBX was impressed by the work but ultimately found Beckman’s art to be esthetically displeasing.

We broke for café au lait’s, pastries, and a second wind to scribble in our Moleskine diaries. I sketched SBX and she wrote. Afterwards, we visited the centre’s Modern Art Exhibition and witnessed legendary art from the twisted minds of Picasso, Pollock, Klee, Matisse, and Balthus. There was some awfully lame Post-Modern Art show going on and the graphics were either terribly derivative or lacked anything compelling worth note even for basic craftsmanship. SBX wondered why painting, sculpture, textiles, and drawing, have become so crude and simple. I’m no expert nor proficient to speak for the art world, and I have no clue how one gets their work selected to be in a Museum, but it seems that ghetto/folk art [the Graffiti on the wall] and the invention of new media [photography, video, digital, internet, Photoshop, etc.,] replaced oil, ink, and clay, awhile ago. It must be near to impossible for contemporary painters, sculptors, illustrators, and, hell, I’ll add me too -- cartoonists, to be inaugurated into the annals of the Louvre It’s rare that the likes of a Jean-Michel-Basquiat gets the spotlight these days. Then again, I don’t read the NY Times. So, I dunno.

We split the Pompidou and walked Les Halles to find dinner. Au Rendezvous Des Amis, looked quite French and ‘happening’ and we found a tiny table betwixt two couples smoking when they weren’t eating. After awhile, even that didn’t make a difference. Europeans like to eat tight and close and smoke in each other’s hair. Heck, everybody smokes in France. You’re not smoking, you’re not breathing. It’s disgusting. Didn’t help my head cold much neither. SBX and I knocked knees under the table and kept our thighs in constant contact. Maybe this claustrophobic style of dining was a French ploy to encounter romance? Those sneaky Parisians with their handlebar mustaches knew something I didn’t. I got onion soup and a Creole pork special w/saffron rice, and red wine. After dinner, we walked passed the incredible length of The Louvre [must’ve taken 10-minutes or more!], the Palais Royale, and came upon the Place Vendome, a monumental square where the rich elite go to shop for their Cartier and diamonds. Kind of like a mondo-Tiffany’s with a zip code and a totem in the middle of the square lit by purple beams of klieg light. We chanced by The Opera, and the Gallerie Lafayette was lit up in crimson Xmas lights. We caught the RER at Auber to Maisons Lefitte and my cold settled into the back of my throat, filling my sinuses up for the trek home. Over all, we had a really great “first day” in Paris. I only wish I had been able to kiss SBX on the lips. Alas, this could not be and ruffled our feathers. We hit the hay for a modicum of sleep.