February 25, 2015

Happy New Year of the Goat


 Chinese New Year in Paris serves as another reminder of the multicultural nature of the city… and is a chance to eat incredible food in the sunshine

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In a recent blog post I suggested that you visit one of the various Chinese New Year parades this February. Chinese New Year was last Thursday and, following my own advice, I took to the streets of Paris with thousands of others to join the celebrations. The biggest of the parades is at Place d’Italie, an area with a large Chinese population, that is home to Asian food markets and more Asian restaurants than anyone could ever desire. Given the presence of Chinese culture in this area throughout the year, I was sure that this area would be alive for the New Year festivities and was not disappointed.

Crowds fill the banner-lined Avenue d’Italie

During the course of the afternoon, a stream of flag bearers in traditional dress, dancing dragons, musicians and floats moved through the streets to a soundtrack of fire crackers and flutes. As with any parade, the view for the crowd was limited; many a photographer could be seen climbing higher for a better vantage point (post vans, lamp posts, benches and public toilets all took on new roles for the day) and the best view was undoubtedly that enjoyed by those on the balconies above the streets. Nevertheless the atmosphere was truly spectacular and with the blue skies and the delicious smells of Asian cuisine it was easy to forget the cold Parisian winter and spend the afternoon in a different world entirely.

One of many beautifully crafted Chinese Dragons

Standing in the crowds at the parade, I was reminded of another time in recent weeks that I have been amongst thousands in the streets of Paris; the protest on Sunday 11th January after the terrible events of the week before. Here we were rallying in the name of freedom of expression and for a Paris in which different cultures can exist side by side. While I am aware that the Chinese culture was not one that was affected by what happened, I could not help but appreciate the sheer volume of people who came to celebrate an occasion that is not in the western calendar and the bold brilliance of the celebration itself. It served, for me, as a testimony to the many different faces of Paris, the many cultures who share the city and their ability, and willingness, to do so.

And so with much color and noise, Paris reminds us once 
more that it is capable of far more than romantic bistros and
 famous architecture.

新年快
… or Happy New Year!
 

And for those wandering exactly what the Year of the Goat entails:
http://www.chinahighlights.com/travelguide/chinese-zodiac/goat.asp

February 16, 2015

A Tale of Love Locks - Can Love Conquer All?

As part of its Guest Blogger Series, WICE welcomes WICE Member Meredith Mullins to share her writing. 

So many ways to say "I love you"
©Meredith Mullins
Romantic Paris: A Valentine’s Day Parable
Once upon a time, there was a city of light known as the most romantic city on Earth. Paris opened its heart to lovers around the world. Romance in Paris was a part of life.
Couples strolled the banks of the Seine arm in arm, kissed in the secret (and not-so-secret) corners of the well-tended gardens, and paused to embrace on the graceful bridges.
Romantic Paris (a view from the Pont des Arts before the love lock craze)
©Meredith Mullins 
Then a heavy weight threatened life as romantics knew it. Love locks came to Paris. Tons of them. And the city of romance began to feel the strain of too much love.
A new kind of love (view from the Pont des Arts today)
©Meredith Mullins
Can Too Much Love Be a Bad Thing?
The love-lock craze arrived in 2008. Locks were becoming cultural symbols of commitment, from Italy to China.
The locks first appeared on the Pont des Arts, a historic wooden walking bridge connecting the Louvre and the Institut de France.
Couples pledged their love by placing a padlock on the bridge and throwing the key into the Seine. Their love was “locked” forever.
Love locked forever
©Meredith Mullins
Love Knows No Boundaries
At first, the locks were random—a few here and a few there—with space between to let the beauty of the city filter through.
At the beginning
© Sheron Long

Little by little, the spaces were filled, and the architecture of the bridges began to change—the railings became sheets of bumpy metal and the added weight strained the structures.
Locks were attached to locks. Huge industrial-strength megalocks were added (no doubt by the lock sellers), so that lock territory could be extended.
Is there such a thing as too much love?
©Meredith Mullins
When the bridge railings were full, determined lovers turned to new bridges and then to other lockable structures such as lampposts, statues, fences, and even the Eiffel Tower. Everywhere you looked, there was love.
 
Love knows no boundaries
© Sheron Long (L) ©Meredith Mullins (R)

When lovers could not find or buy a lock, they improvised with ribbons, tissue, shoelaces, and plastic bags. What could be a more beautiful way to say “I love you” than with a plastic bag?
Canny lock sellers raised the price for a lock with more than one key. Throw one key into the Seine, but keep an extra in case “eternal love” needed to be reassessed in the future.
Psst...wanna buy a lock?
©Meredith Mullins

Can Love Conquer All?

Love was indeed conquering the city. The elegance and history of Paris were in jeopardy. Kitsch was taking hold.
There were more than a million locks in town and even more rusting keys in the Seine. It was only a matter of time before a bridge would collapse or a Bateau Mouche would run aground on a mound of love-lock keys.
Kitsch takes hold
©Meredith Mullins
At the urging of disgruntled Parisians, including the No Love Locks activists and the arrondissement mayors responsible for the most burdened bridges, the city finally stepped in to find a solution to all this love.

The Weight of Love

Their work intensified when, in August 2014, a section of the Pont des Arts collapsed under the weight of the locks. Fortunately, no one was hurt.
Several key solutions were proposed. The simple response was to cut the existing locks, but that didn’t solve the problem for the future.
The plywood solution (Cartier-Besson rolls over in his grave, remembering a very different view)
©Meredith Mullins
The city tested several bridge materials to discourage the visiting lovers’ quest. Plywood and plastic panels. Both materials invited graffiti. The bridges began to look like abandoned warehouses or New York subways. At least the sheer panels could be cleaned every so often.
 
A test of the clear panels on the Pont des Arts
©Meredith Mullins
 The final solution is a work in progress, but, at the moment, nothing seems to deter lovers from finding a place for their locks. They rise to the romantic challenge.

Oh, I See

There are many sides to this story of romance.
There are the romantics who would say that the expression of love is the good part of what makes us human. In fact, we need more love in the world.
Broken locks, broken hearts?
©Meredith Mullins

There are the business people who would say that the love-lock craze has become one of the top tourist attractions in the city.
There are the nostalgic Parisians who want the elegance and beauty of the historic bridges left in their original form.
There are the activists who say that the placing of locks on any historic structure is the height of vandalism.
 
Love or vandalism on the Pont de l'Archeveché?
©Meredith Mullins

There are the realists who ask the visitors if they would want Parisians to come to their town and leave a memento behind that defaced their public spaces.
And there are the philosophers who value the idea of liberty—the freedom to express yourself as you wish—but who add a note of practicality.
Your right to swing your arms ends just where the other man’s nose begins.  —Philosopher Zachariah Chafee

Love Will Find a Way

And then there’s me. For the sake of the beauty of Paris, I hope that love will find another way. There is no need to jump on the love-lock bandwagon.
We can stroll, kiss, embrace, and enjoy the bridges as they were—the ultimate romance in Paris.
The Pont des Arts in all its beauty, before the love lock craze
©Meredith Mullins
Happy Valentine’s Day
A day to say “I love you.” Cards, chocolates, flowers, and love locks. These cultural symbols miss the point.
The real OIC Moment is this: If we could say “I love you” every day, love might be “locked” without the need for things like love locks.
Pont de l'Archeveché
©Meredith Mullins
For information about the Valentine’s Day “Give Paris Love (Not Locks)” campaign, go to No Love Locks.
Thank you to Nicole de Groot for the article in The Protocity.com quoting philosopher Zachariah Chafee.
Comment on this post, or inspire insight with your own OIC Moment here.


February 9, 2015

"With improv, it's a combination of listening and not trying to be funny." - Kristen Wiig

“The improv – sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but when it does, it’s like open-field running.”





That was the late Robin Williams describing the sensation that I can only imagine is perfecting the art of improvisation comedy.  Being in the audience of an improvised comedy show is half-roller-coaster-ride and half-spectacle.  I found myself holding my breath as the actors jumped in and out of scenes, interrupting each other with the greatest ease and seemingly reading each other’s minds. 



The Improfessionals are an improv comedy group who began their improv career with their first play in 2001 in Pigalle’s Café Oz.  Currently, they’re performing out of the Essaïon Théâtre, across the street from the Centre Pompidou, which is where I paid a visit to their “Synopsis” themed show.  Keeping with the heart and soul of improv comedy, every show they host has a different topic.  Past themes have included  James Bond, William Shakespeare, silent movies, and, most recently on the second week of January, New Years Resolutions.



The actors make the audience members not only feel welcome to the show, but also as if they themselves are improvisation pros, too.  Without encroaching on my comfort in anonymity as a member of their audience, the Improfessionals take advantage of the extra sounds, claps, and brains of the spectators.  Audience members were asked to take guesses about the movie synopses, to make decisions based on what type of skit should be performed next, and were called upon for props.  And it doesn't end at the curtain call -- after the show, the entire cast and crew went out for drinks at the neighboring bar, taking the entire audience with them.  


In short, you never know what you are going to get from each week’s show, starting from the skits and going right down to the actors.  The ensemble is made up of nine actors, representing six countries, and features musician Peter Corser from England.  Each week's show has a different, random number of actors.  I attended the show on 28 January, where four actors from four different countries each brought their own spice to "Synopsis."  With this setup, each show has the potential to play out in so many different ways -- an extra person had the power add (and take away) from the skits I saw. 

I had about as much fun watching Peter run the show with his DJ-keyboard-sound effects skills as I did watching the skits.  Everything from eerie tunes to wind blowing to drums beating – when it was part of the skit, Mr. Corser was on it.  I’m not sure which I am more impressed by – how quickly he was able to produce the music in real-time or the actors’ capability to make up plots. 



Seeing these guys live isn't just another night at the theater.  It's a night filled with laughs, suspense, drama, and new friends.  Their list of upcoming shows is posted! Even better, WICE Members receive a discounted rate of 12 euros instead of the usual 25 -- what are you waiting for?!