Friday, October 9, 2009

Back to Basics

On my own again. Where would I go? What would I see? Well – I could think of no place better to start off than Pere Lachaise cemetery where the like of Jim Morrison, Proust, and Oscan Wilde are buried. And it being only two stops away from my hostel, on the very same line, no less, made it an obvious starting place.

As I stepped through the gates, I watched as a number of tourists purchased maps from the stall just outside the gates. I, on the other hand, walked past the over priced un-necessities. I simply snapped a picture of the public map, and navigated by that. Seemed to be to be the best financial decision.

My first stop was Jim Morrison located at number 30, in District 6. You would think this to be a system that might make locating these sites relatively easy. But you'd be mistaken – because once again, the people who designed this system were french. And as such, it is so insufferably – well – french. To look at it, you'd think they outsourced to the company that created the Japanese addressing system. Except they caught him on a particularity drunk day, rather than on the clear minded day of utter sobriety that has designed that mismanaged system in Tokyo.

You see, while the plot districts number from 1 to 90, do not think for a second that 1 will be beside 2, or that 6 will be anywhere but nestled between 14 and 16. Do not, either, think this is a small cemetery that you can see clear across. You will get lost here. You will perhaps perish here yourself, if you venture in without a map, some ribbon, or a basket full of bread crumbs.

As for the number 30, it has nothing to do with the graves position in the district. It is simply number 30 of the “people of note” buried there. But don't fret – it's not hard to find. Just follow the tourists, and you'll be looking at ol' Jimmy's grave in no time. Just push your way to the front to take you picture. A small fence surrounds this plot. Unique amongst the others.

Next up, I attempted to find Proust over at 90/85. This would mean walking paths that were set up in anything but a simply grid, often heading directly away from my destination, in an attempt to finally reach a path that would take me, somewhat, where I wanted to go.

I was sidetracked.

The large, imposing, crematorium called me inside. Steps leading into a dark crypt? Who could resist! My main question is why keep it so dark? To save on electricity? To create a spooky ambiance? It just doesn't seem fair that the people buried above can be visted under bright sunlight, while those filed away in small coin lockers below can only be seen in doom and gloom.

There I took a picture, on which the blurry outline of an unidentifiable figure could be seen! Was it a ghost? Only I may known, and I'll never tell. Alright – I will. It was me, dancing around under a long exposure. Still – I do believe that Coast to Coast AM's website would post it, were it sent in.

Making my way back into the light, I finally found the right area. But, I was put off by the fact that so many people seemed to be wandering blindly looking at maps. Proust's grave was not to be easily found. You see, on the map, it shows a circled number in the vague area. And there are no markers in the cemetery itself. No couple this by the fact that there are five rows of graves, before another path takes you through them, and you'll find yourself tripping over marker stone, after marker stone. Of course, after enough blind stumbling you'll find that you'd walked past it many times without noticing it. Once, even, taking a picture of a plot directly opposite.

Once again, this was a low key grave. Last on the docket? Oscar Wilde.

Wilde's stone is anything but low key. Thrown to the wind is a simply stone, and a resting place blending in with the rest. Here you will have no problem finding what you are seeking. Just look for the giant statue covered in lipstick.

Ahh yes, the lipstick. I am ignorant enough to admit that I have no idea why it is covered. But I would love to know. While I'm sure Wikipedia would tell me, I have managed to avoid seeking the answers there. It seems that all number of female visitors apply thick coats of red lipstick and press themselves against the once grey stone. These marks are everywhere, and to be honest the result is quite fantastic.

A number of people have written in pen, sharpie, more lipstick- and just about anything else they could get their hands on – all over this tomb. Messages of thanks, and love, and what appears to be Japanese characters flow from one side to the next. The plaque asking people to not deface the stone clearly does nothing.

A number of roses, and chestnuts also make their way into all the various nooks and crannies here.

Of all those who have found their final resting place within these gates, it seems that Oscar inspires the biggest pilgrimage of people unwilling to simply leave well enough alone, and look. This is an interactive piece of constantly changing art. And it can be yours to add to at 83/89.

Well over an hour was spent here, before I jumped on the subway once more, and rode it to Belleville station.

Stepping up into the sun, I immediately realized that I had left the Paris I had come to know far behind me. Here was a darker area, with homeless men half near passing out, becoming more and more intoxicated on chipped, and stained, steps. Here, the people moved around with signs that life was perhaps, not as magical, as it seems in the downtown centre. Here the people shove their way past vandalized trucks, in and out of unkempt markets, and towards the garbage bins so that they may drop their pants and urinate in the middle of the street. Here the city does not hide behind its mask. Here the city has a life all its own.

And in this neighbourhood rested the one thing I had made my journey for. Piece after piece of graffiti art.

To find the art in this area, all you need to do is exit the station and open your eyes. It's all around you. Still, there are some locations that are more promising than others. Near the station is an alley lined at the mouth by restaurants. But the deeper in you go, the more the chairs drop away, and the walls become bathed in colours more numerous than those adorning Joseph's coat (he only had 37.)

And once you've reached the end of this alley, a right turn will take you a few dozen meters of the street to a gated area. Stepping inside, you may not realize – for all the colourful murals around you – that you seem to be standing in a community garden.

Wandering past the benches here, and behind all the various turns in the wall, you will find all number of paintings blending one into the next.

Belleville. It may not be as classical as downtown, but it is still rich in culture. The local life, smaller china town, and people simply living to live make it worth the trip. Not to mention the full row of space invaders, proclaiming “game over.”

After wandering around the streets here, and taking in the local flavour I made my way back to the metro where I would then travel to Gare du Nord. After all, I couldn't stay in Paris forever – and I couldn't leave without a ticket. So if a ticket is what I needed, then a ticket would be what I would obtain! This would be no simple matter.

Once more the French prove themselves to be experts at not caring about how bloody long something takes to accomplish. Nor do they seem to care about how much effort it would require to make a system that works. But that's why we love them – isn't it? Imagine a work where we all agreed to love everything about these people? What country would we then turn to out of anger? It needs to be a well off nation, one we know, one that has no real evil in its past. One that we all know. Why – we might have to hate Australia. But, no, they're too hard to care about. What about Italy? Or even Spain. Yes, my bet is we'd find one of those two to hate instead.

So there I was standing in line to buy a ticket. Oh – you can't buy international ones here, can you? It's only at the office below you, requiring an elevator ride (with doors that almost closed three times, before saying “tricked ya!” and then re-opening.) So down you go. And then you line up. But you line up, not grabbing and number and going to a window when you're up (the best system by far – believe you me.) No, you go to a line where everyone meshes together. And then a window opens, after twenty minutes of unrelaxed waiting. Heaven forbid they allow you to have yourself a sit down, maybe even a little read. But no! The window you go to in French only. Great – is there a line for English booths? Of course not. You just kind of let all the french people go past you, until one of the windows with the British flag opens up. At which time you shove the french person – so accustomed to you letting people past – out of the way, and run to that window lest it quickly be filled from soeone entering from the other direction.

Oh you didn't think there'd only be one line for this, did you? Don't be ridiculous. That might – I don't know – work. Still, once again, not as bad as checking out at a grocery store. None who try to buy french groceries will retire from their quest unphased by the anger at which people check out. Oh yes, please, bag your groceries before you pay. Don't let someone else go. Take all the time in the world.

Finally with ticket in hand, but not before telling the girl at the counter that I was aware of a train that would save me 50 euro if she could only please look for it, was I leaving once more – mission accomplished.

Never buy a train ticket without researching it yourself. When they tell you that one hundred and fifty six euro is the best price, don't outright call them a liar, but ask them to search a little more. I don't know how their crazy system works, but all the websites list by price first. Here, who can say. But after three minutes of her fingers flying over a series of keys with well rehearsed precision, she was able to look up, “ahh...” and only at that, cost reduced moment, did I hand over my credit card. I don't blame her. I blame those that programmed the system. Probably created in country.

At this point I felt I had accomplished quite a lot. So off to the Pompidou Centre it was. There I told myself I quickly log on the internet, and update some entries. But downstairs the free connection failed to connect. Until it did. At which time I had to sign up for a free account. Which I did – but then the information i was given didn't work. So I tried signing up for a new one, and a new one. Each time it required a new email address. But here's a hot tip for people who don't already know: If you have gmail, just add a period anywhere in your address to get a brand new one, according to most systems. In gmail, and gmail alone, is the same as or this can work wonders when you require multiple free acounts.

Still, none of them worked – and the outlet beside me wasn't powered on, so I searched elsewhere. Upstairs, beside a working outlet, I found a second wifi connection with the same name as below. This one, of course, worked perfectly without any regulations. Sure. Why not. Also, speedtest told me my upload was twice as fast as any place I had ever been before. So clearly I should get all my videos online now, while I have the chance.

My brief stop was not so brief, after all.

But – blogs updated, and ready to go, I felt a sense of accomplishment once more. After all, this is a digital scrapbook I'm creating for my future self.

Just for a moment think how much of my travel day is filled with blogging, writing, uploading, and all that fun stuff. It adds up. Still – what would I be doing otherwise? Reading, or watching videos, no doubt. So it all adds up to the same. Downtime is downtime.

A homeless man propped himself up to sleep on the other side of the window from where I sat. The parallelism was an interesting realization.

I wish I had some juice.

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