Sunday, August 29, 2010

Miettes For The End Of Summer

Over the past couple of days, we've had some strong winds blow out of the mountains, sending the mercury down and making my eyes note the calendar hanging on the wall next to the desk here: it's almost September. Not that that means the end of warm weather, nor does it mean the end of the market's now seemingly endless bounty. But, if we're lucky, it will mean the end of one of the least attractive aspects of summer in France.

Until I moved here, I thought the world capital of bad tattoos was Berlin, but no longer. In Berlin, there were a lot of "army tattoos," which are similar to jailhouse tattoos in America: done by amateurs with amateur equipment, and usually depicting something simple, like a coat of arms or political badge -- or a very crudely-rendered naked lady. But in France, it seems that nobody gets amateur tats: it's all about professionals being asked to render bad ideas. Or maybe that's what they offer when you go in their studios. At any rate, the heat comes on, the clothes come off, and Montpellier becomes a walking gallery of shame.

The most inexplicable one I've seen was a woman I walked behind on some construction-mandated sidewalk some weeks ago. She had two hearts tattooed in the weirdest place I've seen, aligned and matching on whatever you call the part of the back of your leg just above the hinge where your knee is. There were other bad tats snaking out of her top, I noticed as I finally passed her and her kids, but the placement of those hearts really puzzled me.

A lot of locals go for The Blotch, as I've always called it, the faux Polynesian huge black swirls that were so popular a while ago, but are still being offered locally, I see. And then there are the Chinese characters, never a good idea. A friend who reads Chinese loves these, because if there's just one character, the wearer has been told it means "peace" or "love" or something, when it usually means "cabbage" or "unusual" or some other random word. But yeah, it's pretty, right? Reminds me of a guy I knew in Berlin who came back from Tokyo with a t-shirt with a big banner across the front which said "I am a stupid American." Very well-designed shirt, perfect for selling to clueless Americans.

Anyway, it'll be good to see these go. It'll still be impossible to do anything about the t-shirts, whose slogans have gotten stupider and stupider this year, to the point where I'm forever spotting one and thinking "I have to put that on the blog," yet forgetting it because I encounter a couple even stupider ones later. The only one that comes to mind just now is one I saw several days ago, which was on a 12-year-old girl. On a pale blue background, gold letters spelled out THIS IS PUNK and the rest of the surface of the shirt was taken up by a picture of Tweety, of Tweety and Sylvester, from the cartoons. Bugs Bunny, maybe, but Tweety?

* * *

When I first moved here, I was told that, far from it being Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité, the real motto of France was Pas Possible: impossible. I discovered that this week, when I finally got paid for some work and rushed off with a pocketful of cash to pay my bills to the electric company and Orange, who turned on my phone so that Free could make it work. My bank account here is currently fried, and I still have to deal with that, but in the meanwhile, I do intend to pay my bills. Anyway, I got to the post office, where I'd paid my last electric bill, put my bill down in front of the guy at the booth, and said I wanted to pay it. "Pas possible," was his response. Which was interesting, since this was the same guy who'd taken my payment before. "Where is your customer number?" he asked, and I told him I assumed it was on the bill somewhere. "No, it's not," he said, having not really glimpsed at the thing. Then, out of the blue, he said "You have to pay a service charge." Well, I knew that, and told him so. It's a whopping €3, after all. So I had to put my Orange bill down while I counted out the bills for him, and he carefully cut off the receipt he needed and attached my payment to it, took out a stamp and stamped the thing, and handed it and my change back to me. I picked up my Orange bill, thanked him, and left.

Next stop was the Orange boutique in the big mall nearby, the Polygone. I walked in and eventually someone registered that I was there and asked if they could help. "I'd like to pay my bill in cash," I ventured. And guess what they said? "Pas possible, m'sieu." It was possible, if I liked, to pay with a debit card -- even, it was determined after much discussion involving several employees, an American one. One of them grabbed a cell phone and told me to give the number to the person who answered. Um, no thanks. So I came back home to see if I could do it online, or if there were a specific place that would take cash. I couldn't get to my account online -- it kept telling me my ID or password was no good, and come to think of it, I remembered that from long ago -- so I looked at the bill, and on the back were instructions for paying. And there, in tiny grey type, the words "En espece," in cash. Where?

La Poste. Would that guy have asked me if I also wanted to pay my Orange bill there? If you even for a moment entertained the idea that he would, all I can say is, you've never lived in France.

* * *

The Cloche de Fromage store finally opened where M. Puig's shop on the rue St. Guilhelm had been, and I stopped in for a look. The bad news is that M. Puig seems to have retired, but the good news is that the young guy who's followed in his footsteps seems to be just as competent and, best of all, has retained the fearsome old ladies who were behind the counters most of the time. They really know a lot and can be really helpful, as they were being when I was in there, speaking German to a couple of young women, tourists or students, who were looking for some French cheese. They kept saying "Sehr mild, bitte," which makes sense, since German cheeses have almost no flavor. The place has been completely redesigned, except for the cheese counter at the back, and now boasts a bunch of very expensive food items, including some pasta which is going for €4.95 for 500g, about two and a half times what the best pasta I've ever used costs. There is the usual range of honeys, some expensive canned fish, some sausages, some crates of wine (on the floor, so I didn't squat down to inspect) and so on. It's also the first and only place I've found pimentón d'espalette, a fiery Spanish chile, in pureed form, so I'll probably be back, although I continue to patronize M. Bou's place in the Halles Castellannes up the hill for my day-to-day cheese needs, because the women behind the counter have never intimidated me -- and by now they know me by sight.

Word on the English Corner Shop when it opens -- which doesn't look far away.

* * *

A procedural note to finish. People trying to reach me can post a comment with any information they'd care to leave: phone number, e-mail address, whatever. So when you leave a comment, I get an e-mail with the content and it doesn't get published until I push the "publish" button. Nobody will ever see it unless I allow it. A particularly security-conscious old friend contacted me this way earlier this year, and no matter how scrupulously you read this blog, you never even had a hint of it. So: work offers, proposals of marriage, any of that: bring it on. And now, if you excuse me, I'm off to deal with some of these nice peaches I bought yesterday. And pears are yet to come!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Live From Montpellier, It's Lunkhead-dämmerung!

Last Tuesday, August 17, will, I hope, mark the lowest part of my life in France. My telephone and Internet connection had been severed in the evening of Friday the 13th for not paying a bill I hadn't been presented with. Worse, the client whose outstanding and considerably overdue invoice would have paid for it -- and some food for my rapidly depleting larder -- still hadn't come through. It was looking grim.

Downstairs, chez les Lunkheads, there seemed to be new people in residence, with a big dog and a little dog. The dogs got along okay, but they whined and barked a lot. Especially the little one, who spent all night one night on the balcony outside the apartment and whined and yipped all night. But as the days went by, it was clear that there was something wrong. The big guy with the loud voice who gets louder when drunk on cider and mumbles basso when stoned on heroin started shouting. He seemed like a real drama queen, and although it wasn't always easy to understand him (nor was I particularly interested in listening), one day he went into a complete fit, where a sentence repeated over and over ended in the word "pareil," the same.

Then came the day of the smashing. One of the women started freaking out and was throwing things at the walls, shrieking incomprehensibly as each thing broke and the shards fell to the floor. I have no idea what she was throwing; if M. Lunkhead had been the sort of collect porcelain figurines, I'd have said his collection just ended. It didn't sound like bottles. I know what they sound like. Meanwhile, the little dog, who apparently wasn't housebroken, was roaming around the courtyard, which doesn't belong to our building. The violin-makers who usually use it were on their annual vacation, like most of France. Oh, and there was a little kid, named Esteban. He got yelled at a lot. He also won me over when M. Lunkhead was delivering a tirade by going "blah blah blah blah" in the same cadences. One of the neighbors across the way came to her window and caught my eye as I was at my desk. She didn't have to say anything.

This all culminated on Tuesday. Deprived of the Internet and all other communication, I had started yet another book project, one my agent's not real hot on, but hey, it was something to do. It started coming fast, and I sat at the computer all day when I wasn't tired from dogs yapping or people fighting, which was happening more and more between 4 and 6am. Apparently Mme. Lunkhead's job ended around then and she'd come home, substances would be abused, and verbal violence would start. I'll say one thing for M. Lunkhead: it didn't sound like he ever hit her. On the other hand, his voice could break glass.

I was sitting writing madly at about 2 in the afternoon, when stuff started escalating downstairs. Two men and at least one woman were all shouting, and it culminated in M. Lunkhead saying louder than I'd ever heard him shout before, "IL EST FINI!! IL EST FINI!!!" Smash boom crash. I walked out on the balcony and saw a ragged guy I'd seen going in and out and assumed was a dealer going down the stairs clutching the little bicycle Estaban had put in the stairway. Then I heard a woman crying, first inside the apartment, then outside. She banged on the door, calling a name. She banged on it some more. Then M. Lunkhead answered, yelling something. He slammed the door, and she started wailing, then coughing convulsively, then screaming. I walked out on the balcony again and saw her mounting the stairs to my floor, then back down, coughing and yelling. Junk sick, I thought. One of my upstairs neighbors appeared in the window with a cell phone and said he'd called the police. Okay, I sat down to write some more. I heard the woman come up the stairs and knock on my door. No way I was getting involved in this.

Then it hit me. I've been having trouble for a year with my sense of smell and taste, which hasn't worked at all the majority of the time due to sinus polyps. Recently, though, it had been coming back in the afternoon and staying for longer periods. That's why I ignored what I was feeling at first. My nose stung. No big deal. Then my eyes stung and my face felt like it was burning. That woman hadn't been junk sick at all; she'd been teargassed by M. Lunkhead. And now it was blowing in my open window. Soon, the living room was uninhabitable, but I know that teargas is a heavy gas, and it would have accumulated in the stairwell beneath chez Lunkhead, so I was effectively trapped in the apartment for the next three hours. There was much shouting and banging and the front door, which the Lunkheads' friends knew how to open despite the magnetic lock controlled by a RF key, had finally broken to the point where anyone could just open it.

Finally, I couldn't take being inside any longer and made a dash for the door. As I'd figured, the stairwell was full of gas. Outside, the raggedy guy and a friend sat in the street, sharing a 9% beer. The guy had an electric fan and a few other items. The other guy had a medium-sized dog. I wandered around town, aimlessly, aware that in a week, my landlord would be back from his vacation and start eviction procedures against me, but not against the Lunkheads. I'm behind in my rent. They're not. (I should add, however, that this isn't nearly as serious as it seems quite yet and I have considerable recourse to tenants' rights. Also, should I pay him anything, which seems extremely likely, he has to withdraw his action).

By the time I came back, the two bums were gone and an aerosol container with medical writing on it lay in the street. Curious, I picked it up and it seemed to be a teargas remedy. There was still plenty of gas in the stairwell, and M. Lunkhead's door was open, revealing anarchist slogans and a black-and-red star spraypainted on his wall. Boy, I bet the landlord is gonna love that! The gas in my place, however, had dispersed some, and things downstairs were kind of quiet.

The next day, there was a handwritten note in my mailbox. My translation, aided by Google:

I sincerely excuse myself for the sudden racket these past evenings. I had opened my door to two friends, and they didn't know and weren't clearly heard up to lacking respect for me, my apartment, and you. The situation deteriorated to the point where I cut short my/your patience and my/your kindness simply to chuck them out. 

I understand the call to the police was from your being disturbed, happily the conflict was already over. I have lodged a complaint. I hope not to revive and make more racket.

The word most notably missing from this semi-literate mess is one I learned so I could use it when I talked to the landlord: le larmogène.  As far a I could figure, the police came while I was gone, hence the empty canister in the street and the missing bums. I later saw one of the people who'd been evicted standing in town talking to some respectable-looking types, his fan by his side. As for the dog, it's shown up again, coating the balcony with excrement. Mme. Lunkhead, aware that the landlord is returning, finally went out to clean it, kinda sorta, yesterday, after an argument during which I heard M. Lunkhead repeat "It's your dog, not mine." And most nights, there hasn't been the usual battle at 4am. Well, about half the subsequent nights. And somewhere here, there's a neighbor who's obsessed with some song which they play over and over and over again, over a course of hours. Not, however, downstairs.

I long ago dismissed Bruce Springsteen's line about "Some day we'll look back on this and it'll all seem funny." The only solution is to get a decent book deal, have some money in the bank (which is all that impresses French landlords) and get a decent apartment where I can finally unpack my stuff and write in relative peace and quiet. I'm working on it, my agent's working on it, and it can't happen too soon for me.

Meanwhile, I wonder where Esteban is. And with whom. What a mess.

Friday, August 6, 2010


It's really true what they say about August in France. On Saturday, July 31, in the middle of the afternoon, there was virtually nobody on the Comédie except waiters at the cafés waiting for business. There was almost nobody on the Esplanade, and, given that it was Saturday afternoon, almost nobody at the Polygone shopping mall. Everyone was in the process of Going Somewhere.

Of course, elsewhere, other French people were doing that, and for some of them, where they were Going was Montpellier, so over the past week, the town has filled up again, and nearly everyone in the streets has the Tourist Office's map of the Centre Ville in their hands. Given that there's not much specifically to see, that the pleasure of visiting Montpellier (and most of the other cities I've visited down here on my day-trips) is about strolling the streets and enjoying the atmosphere, the see-it-all-now desperation of the tourists is somewhat amusing, although possibly the most pressured of them will try to hit several destinations in a day, so doing Montpellier as efficiently as possible is probably high on the list of things to do.

The streets are filled with people speaking German, Dutch, and Spanish, with the occasional British accent or the extremely rare American one reminding me how one's ears are always attuned to one's native language, and even someone speaking it quietly can stand out in the sea of voices in the street.

For those of us who've stayed in town, it's a great time to be here. The oven-like heat of July has subsided a few degrees, and an agreeable breeze is present a lot of the time so that it doesn't even feel as warm as the thermometer says it is. Down at the market, the springtime stuff -- asparagus, cherries, strawberries -- has given way to the first mature summer produce. The Tomatologist -- or, so far, his son, I think -- is back at the Tuesday market, so I wound up making another batch of gazpacho, which got fairly seriously damaged at a dinner with Gerry, who's leaving for Nimes, where his wife's been accepted at the art college. It was recommended by Son of Tomatologist that I use all green tomatoes -- a ripe special type -- so it wouldn't be a red soup, which is eccentric and fun to consider, but I could only find one big ripe one in the selection. Next time. And anyway, there are eggplants, which have their uses, and zucchini, and peaches -- I still haven't had a perfect one yet, though -- and peppers in increasing quantities. My taste buds aren't cooperating very often, but they've been up just enough for me to taste the change in seasons.

One downside of summer in France I've been meaning to write about for some time is French beer. I don't know if it's the Franco-Prussian War or what, but the French taste in beer is awful. Even the ones I've had from Strasbourg, that most German of French cities, have been terrible. The French evidently detest bitterness, and I believe that a number of the more popular beers are made without hops. The other thing they like is a high alcohol content: 8% is not uncommon, whereas your average German beer comes in at 5% tops. Of course, a high alcohol content and no hops is going to render the final product incredibly sweet -- cloyingly so. The local winos sit around drinking "strong beer," beer which actually is named after its alcohol content: Bavaria 8.6, and Amsterdam 11%. I know wines that come in at 11%! I can't imagine what these brews taste like. Fortunately, one day little 33cl bottles of Pilsner Urquel showed up at the supermarket. They're incredibly expensive -- €1.25 each, whereas half-liters in Germany cost 86 cents -- but at least they taste like beer.

There's other local food news, too. I was walking down the rue St.-Guilhem and noticed that M. Puig's cheese shop was being torn apart. This was horrifying: I don't shop there, but that's largely because he and his staff intimidate me. I was told by an expert that this is one of the best cheese shops in France, and it would be a shame to lose it (even though I do my limited cheese-shopping in the Halles Castellannes, where they've come to recognize me). But a sign in the window indicated that M. Puig was on vacation for August, and would be back with a new thing. The new thing is a partnership with another guy, and a shop called La Cloche du Fromage, the cheese bell, that glass hemisphere you put over the cutting board.  They've added a selection of saussicon sec, and some pricey-looking pastas. Last time I was by it wasn't open yet, but I'll probably stop in to check it out and then run before one of the cheese ladies, who manage to combine a kind of motherliness with an eagerness to please and still manage to intimidate me, asks if she can help.

The other potentially good news is that something called The English Corner Shop is opening on the colorfully-named rue Four des Flammes (can anyone imagine an oven without flames?). They're looking for American, Australian, and British goods to stock, and I keep meaning to write them and beg for some corn tortillas -- real ones, not the wheat-and-corn-mixture that El Patio or whoever the food giant that puts overpriced fake Mexican food in the supermarkets here offers. (I even saw a boxed "fajita kit" one day. That's too weird for me to even begin to guess what, besides some flour tortillas, might be in that box). I know they can get them from Munich, and maybe there's even somewhere closer. I wish them luck; these things tend to have a very short life around here, but someone may hit on a winning formula, and maybe these folks'll be the ones.

* * *

One thing about August, though, is that work is in short supply, and I haven't done a whole lot of it recently, which is bad. Weirdly, instead of getting to write, I've been written about, which feels odd. Those of you in the United States who are of A Certain Age probably belong to the AARP, the American Association of Retired Persons, and throw out their magazine when it arrives. This month's has an article on the best places to retire overseas, and one of the places the author (who's in New York) chose was the Languedoc. He found me, and as regular readers know, a photo crew came to document the area. Oddly, the best photos he took wound up online instead of in the paper magazine, and the relevant section is here. I wonder how he knew I was "laughingly" referring to myself as a starving writer, though; the whole interview was done by e-mail. And I was starving. And will again if the work doesn't pick up.

Much nicer, and far more fun to read, was this reminiscence by a guy I haven't seen in ages. However, he remembers the Eno story at the end incorrectly. What happened was that the two guys from the record label were schlepping Eno around to dozens of radio stations, and hadn't counted on both the fact that so many of the jocks who were there were fans, and that Eno likes to talk. By the time they got to my house, his voice was utterly gone -- and, as Robert points out, they were a couple of hours late. At stake was a big story in Creem, but it was out of the question. He was nibbling on a plant (not sniffing flowers), and the only thing he said during the short visit was "Nasturtium. Good in salads" in a horrible raspy voice. Anyway, nothing was going to happen, so I walked back down to their car with them, and Eno pointed out where he'd picked the nasturtiums. It was exactly where my dog marked his territory every single time we left the house. But I didn't tell him that.

One side-effect of that post, though, was that it got me to thinking of starting a music blog. I'm still thinking, and there's a good chance I won't do anything about it, but from time to time there's stuff coming into the house that I can't or wouldn't cover for Fresh Air, but still might like to write about. Like I said, I'm still thinking about it, and if anything happens, I'll make a noise about it here.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Others See Us

One thing about living overseas is that, in Europe, anyway, the Question of America always surfaces sooner or later. In Berlin, it was very complicated, since we'd occupied the place for almost 50 years. Until the Wall opened, we "Amis," as they call us, were usually, but not always, viewed as solid friends, and the source of great popular culture. (Some opted instead, and for the same reason, for the British, who were also occupiers.) Nobody liked the French. They were said to be sadistic, cold, and contemptuous of the people under their jurisdiction.

In France, the Question of America takes a far different form. Yes, there was D-Day and the Liberation, and merci beaucoup, but after that, while the U.S. didn't occupy France, it tried like hell to colonize it culturally and linguistically. Or, at least, that was what official sources said. That the French people accepted much of this colonization, learned from it, and, at least in the field of film, forged brilliant new ideas out of it, went unsaid. And yeah, maybe there was too much Coca-Cola around.

Today, this resolves into a love-hate thing that's hard to deal with. The fascination all those films -- those works of art! that Americans themselves were too stupid to see were works of art! -- managed to instil lingers on, but few French people actually want to get any closer to America than that. Those who can afford it might go to New York to shop and indulge in cultural activities, but this afternoon, you'll see more Germans at the Art Institute of Chicago or in Yosemite than you will Frenchmen. We are, somehow, suspect, like carriers of a disease. Best not to get too close.

Which is why I was shocked to learn that this is The Year of America in Montpellier, celebrating the 45th anniversary of its twinning with Louisville, Kentucky. That explains why this year's Comédie du Livre book festival featured North American writers, and it's the official explanation of the current show at the Pavillon Populaire on the Esplanade, Un Rêve Américain, An American Dream. Seven  photographers (or photographic teams) and three installation artists have been grouped under the sub-head of "Between fiction and documentary."

The sub-head gives the curators wiggle-room, I have to give them that.

There's actually only one really offensive series, "Elvis&Presley," by Stephan Vanfleteren and Robert Huber, and they're Belgian and Swiss, respectively. With one shooting black and white and the other color, they document themselves in Elvis-impersonator drag, evidently from some cheap costume shop, gallivanting across America, shooting each other interacting with Americans. Yawn. Double yawn for the picture of them lying in bed together watching porn. Sad to say, though, one of their photos is the icon for the show.

The rest are mostly dull. You enter the exhibition through a curtain made from one of the images in the series just beyond, Frédéric Sautereau's "N40°42'42"W74°00'45"," black and white reaction shots taken at Ground Zero in New York on Sept. 12, 2001. Voyeuristic and reportorial at the same time, they're too much of the moment in which they were taken to be worth much as art. What would one make of this series without the backstory? Good question.

Color happens -- and how -- in the next collection, "Figurations Américaines," by Jean-Luc Bertini, a French photographer who rather portentiously declares "Anyone visiting the United States will probably have had the same vision -- that of entering into a fiction." Really? And that's different from visiting any other country how? But respect where it's due: Bertini is a master of color, and a couple of his photos recall, techncially, that master of color-saturation, William Eggleston. The uniformed girl leaving the Family Dollar convenience store, the fat kid minding the booth of balloons at the fair, knockouts both -- and displayed right next to each other, too, which, given that one is a study in reds and yellows and the other a study in greens, is dizzying. Content, though, eludes Bertini. No matter how perfect his composition -- Amish at the beach wading in the surf make you wonder what painting he's referencing -- there's nothing much in there. A guy and a car in front of an HEB supermarket in Texas. A old black guy at a booth in a diner. C'mon, Jean-Luc, look again. But it's only a fiction, right?

Not for the subjects of Richard Renaldi's "Figure and Ground" portraits, but then, Rinaldi's American. He's got cowboys and Indians here, giving the people what they want, but others, too, a nice cross-section of Americans proudly standing before his camera. He sees a dignity in ordinary Americans the others here miss. Even the girl the curators dismiss as a "Britney Spears lookalike" is obviously proud of how she looks -- and she can carry it off, so why not?

The large central room is given over to one of the poles of the time-frame the show documents -- between 9/11 and Obama's election. Here, Christopher Morris covers the 2008 campaign -- the Republican one, I guess, although there's no overt evidence -- in "My America." The grim faces, the conservative clothing, all point to the right, but the images are flat. In counterpoint, four huge posters showing Obama rallies are hung above the center of the room, the work of Jean-Robert Dantou. These at least have a certain technical appeal, similar to that of the Big Photo craze that was sweeping the art world seven or eight years ago.

Upstairs is given over to two exhibits, the Elvii and Richard Pak's "Pursuit," which, he explains rather tortuously, is the result of trips between 2003 and 2009, in which he first let himself drift, shooting at will, and then inveigled himself into people's lives, shooting them in their homes. These people are mostly poor, Midwestern, and, in Pak's opinion, living out the Declaration of Independence's promise of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Mostly, they look beaten down, and I didn't take the time to read the huge long wall of texts, a diary from his travels, evidently, that's printed on three walls as one enters the gallery.

There's also a small room just at the end of Renaldi's section in which "Projections" is happening. I walked in on Jessica Dimmock's "The Ninth Floor," a photo-documentary with sound about a bunch of junkies squatting a floor of a building on 5th Avenue in New York. Good thing there were French subtitles; the audio is awful. I only saw half of this and declined to watch the beginning; my tolerance for pictures of people shooting up is severely limited, and her compositional debt to Larry Clark's "Tulsa" was all too evident. Ulrich Lebeuf and Antoine Ferrando contribute "Alaska Highway," taken as the two drove from Canada to Fairbanks. There are a lot of pine trees, a few moose, and, of course, fat people. I doubt I'll ever be so glad to see Fairbanks appear again, although we're only on the road with them for 12 minutes. Finally, Marc Cellier contributes the utterly incoherent "Mon Oncle d'Amérique," some sort of documentary about a great-uncle of his who emigrated from the Cévennes Mountains (just north of us here) to Ohio, became a magician and a poker-player who may not have been totally straight, and eventually, um, made a Thanksgiving turkey and died. I dunno; ask Cellier. An end-title says "To be continued," so maybe he's still making sense out of it, too.

The show being free, I'd urge this on any Americans visiting (or living in) Montpellier, with the caveat that this time, the outsiders don't necessarily see things with fresh eyes, but, rather, eyes damaged by too many Westerns and gangster flicks. If you'd like a preview, there's a .pdf of some of the work here for the press to use (although I couldn't get them to copy to illustrate this).

But I have to come clean here: a lot of the time, especially with Renaldi's and Pak's work, I was stacking it up against a remarkable project a friend of mine has been doing for 40 years. Terence Byrnes is a Canadian, although he grew up and lived for some time in America. His documentation of "Springfield, Ohio: The End of the American Road" shows a small city in America that seems to be dying, but hasn't gone completely belly-up yet, and combines technical mastery with empathy in a way only the greatest outsiders -- I'm thinking of Robert Frank, of course -- has done. I guess it's too late to get this amazing series into the Pavillon Populaire, but then, it doesn't really play to any of the stereotypes about America people hold here. It just tells it like it is.

Un Rêve Américain, Pavillon Populaire, Esplanade Charles de Gaulle. Open Tues-Sunday, 10am to 6pm until Oct. 3, 2010. Admission free. 
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