And so I return to France to find spring in full swing. I suspected as much: ornamental cherry trees had just bloomed when I left at the beginning of March, but now we have lovely warm days, full sun, and just a bit of a breeze to cool it off. The market finally has some interesting stuff, all of it green: one place had a sign noting that the leaves in the basket beneath it were not parsley, but, rather, young celery leaves. Interesting idea there. Lettuce is plentiful and cheap, as it never is when it really gets hot and all you want for dinner is a salad and half a baguette, and I just bought my first asparagus and strawberries of the season, have disposed of the former, and will get to work on the latter tomorrow at breakfast. Moreover, Eric the Tomatologist has posted pictures on his Facebook page showing the first buds in his plantation, so I look forward to his return to the market in mid-June.
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And, with the return of spring one's thoughts return to...um...errr...
See, Montpellier has this very nice sex shop, very female-friendly, very relaxed, called Lilou Plaisir, which, it turns out, is owned by an American. I was out walking last Sunday, and went past it, as I often do, and here were two little girls, about four or five, avidly looking in the window, squealing at each other, as their father stood there pointing something out. Well, okay, I know the French have a reputation for liberality and that they tend to be fairly rational in matters of sex education, but, well, um...
Naturally, I wasn't going to eavesdrop, but I walked past it again on my way back from wherever I'd been going and looked in there to see what this awful man was telling his daughters and there were two rabbits. Yup, Easter bunnies. Which, as we all know, do have some connection to sex, although I couldn't tell if one was a boy bunny and the other a girl bunny. Given that the gestation time for rabbits is three to four weeks, though, and Easter's not until the last Sunday of April, we may yet find out.
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One thing about Montpellier, we've got us some street art. Berlin was always good for this, but in Montpellier it has a different feeling, as with the Space Invaders guy who put up mosaic depictions of Space Invaders baddies here, mapping them onto a Space-Invaders-baddy-shaped grid over the map of Montpellier, thereby launching an international career. Most of the rest of what I've seen has been wheat-paste paper stuff, which decays rapidly even when jealous rivals don't tear it down before it can decay, and which always seems to appear when I'm least equipped to photograph it. But this took me by surprise:
I found this yesterday on my way home from the market, and I'd already seen a larger piece of the kid on a horse with a full war-bonnet on another wall. What was interesting, though, was that little rectangle just above the kid's head: a business card.
I wasn't totally surprised. During my stint at the English Corner Shop last year, a guy across the street was scrubbing out an old space and, eventually, moving a bunch of bicycles into it. Now, he's open. And how:
It looks better with the grate open, but it's Sunday today, and I wanted to shoot this. I can't think of a better way to advertise that you have a bike shop. And it's the same guy, who trades as al-sticking.com. You can buy a poster he made inside the bike shop until April 30, and it features another work of his that he stuck up on a parking garage above an indoor market, and is reflected in the wheels of this bike:
I should have shot the other wheel, where the picture's right-side up, but it's on the website, along with a bunch (but not all) of his other stuff. He's good, he brightens up the urban scene, and any street artist who leaves a business card is all right with me.
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Another bit of art that's disappearing at the end of the month is the latest photo show at the Pavillon Populaire over on the Esplanade Charles de Gaulle. I'm beginning to think that the people who curate the shows there are way too academic for their own good. This one's called Aires de Jeux, Champs de Tensions, which translates as "playgrounds, fields of tension," I believe, and is subtitled "Figures of urban photography in Europe since 1970." I've never seen such forgettable work so well hung and lit. Well, maybe that's not true: I certainly saw a lot of forgettable photography when I lived in Berlin, but hey, I forgot it!
This show brings together 14 photographers who seem to be competing to see which one can make the most depressing, uninteresting, piece of black-and-white (although to be honest, a lot of it is in color). There are a lot of pictures of pre-1989 Eastern Europe, including a long, long, long series of badly-printed (intentionally) blue photographs called "At Dusk" by Boris Mikhaïlov that takes up much of the second floor of the exhibition. There, you can see people in a blasted landscape walking here and there, and, in a lot of cases, vomiting or collapsing. Fun. Other intentionally badly-printed work by Sergej Vutuc depicts skateboarders amid the scratches and blobs, and a huge mural by Octavian Trauttmansdorff, showing people in a shopping district. Trauttmansdorff develops his film in polluted water from a nearby river, allowing the chemicals to make his statement. There are also moving pictures, again competing to see which can be more annoying. Muntean-Rosenblum's "To Die For" slowly pans across a parking lot filled with figures who've frozen by their cars as a female voice intones a horrible text in the second person dealing with, I dunno, Time or something. Four minutes of your life can be lost to this if you choose. The whole place rings with the grinding sound of two really stupid films by Christoph Rütimann, where the camera follows a track in imitation of a skateboarder, hence the titles bearing the word Handlauf, or "hand-journey." The only "name" in the show is Wolfgang Tillmans, with four photos from his "Subways in London" series, shot so close that it's nearly impossible to figure out what's what, resulting in both the kind of claustrophobia one feels in a packed tube train and the abstraction of a long journey on one. Still not his best work, though.
Anyway, there's absolutely no need to go into the Pavillon Populaire until after Easter, and even then, if this ludicrous hyperintellectual curation continues, you're probably better off outside in the sharp spring sunlight.
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Off for a car-trip on Wednesday. Stay tuned for more photos, since we have absolutely no idea where we're going.
9 months ago