01 June 2010

Democracy, croissants, art and trains (Part Three)

And so on to Paris.

Why Paris? If the original purpose of our impromptu jaunt was to feed my seemingly unquenchable addiction for all things electoral, what reason could we have for extending our trip eastward into the heart of Old Europe?

I love Paris, and did so before I ever set foot on a single rue.

1989 and in Dublin through the legacy of a vinyl collection of Doors albums inherited/purloined from my uncle, a sixteen year-old Unkie Dave becomes fascinated with the city as a place to which one escapes, tinged with the negativity that such escape inevitably led to one's death, bloated and shaggy-faced in a bath-tub. This was my formative notion of a Paris, a City of Elsewhere, a city of exile and exiles, a place where the intellectual refugees of the world descended to plot and lament and prop up bars while slowly slipping away into saddened madness.

1996 and a summer in Prague where the words on everyone's lips describe the city as the Paris of the twenties for the nineties, and as all the students try so terribly hard to be bohemian too (woo hoo hoooo) as we sit in the cellar bar underneath the James Joyce, we somehow can only define ourselves in relation to the idea of a city and a time we have never and can never experience. Our experiences only held worth if they approached the ideal of a long dead urban fantasy.

1997 and my first trip to Paris, a gift from and with The Very Understanding Girlfriend that opens my eyes to a new world. A cavalcade of museums and galleries, La Tour Eiffel and the obligatory pilgrimage to Jim Morrison's grave. Counting the centimes to pay for the hostel and being stopped on the way out of a hypermarket to have my bag searched convinced as they were that as a scruffy foreign student I was obviously up to no good. Haltingly asking for a cup of tea with my bestest Leaving Cert French and having everyone always reply in English, but stumbling on in French nonetheless. A city so foreign and alien and yet despite the difficulty of almost every action it still shined in my mind as somewhere that existed on a deeper level to the life I knew at home.

2007 and a few days respite in the city on the way home from Poland, a rendezvous with The Very Understanding Girlfriend. Gone were the hostel dorms, replaced by the almost-too-chic Hotel Sezz, and a six euro glass of beer no longer seemed so daunting. Vegetarianism had replaced student poverty as the primary motivator for lunches of paper-wrapped bread and cheese, but at the core of my being was still the same person, taking simple pleasure in the ideas and thoughts of a decade previously, and somewhere along the way I had lost sight of this. On the streets of Paris once more I was getting closer to my true self, some how better defined, more Real, standing in front of the flames, less and less was I the shadow cast upon the walls of my own life.

2007 and in Paris I finally decided to leave work.

I have had this personal and emotional attachment to Paris for many years, through my own direct experiences and the way in which the music and art of those who have lived there have affected me. In the last two years an intellectual attachment has grown to match this, if not surpass it. The writers of the new Left, the '68 and post '68 generation of Deleuze and Guattari, Debord, Baudrillard, Rancière, Althusser, Balibar and, most importantly for me, Alain Badiou and Andre Gorz, have prompted the greatest shift in my understanding of my self and the connection I have to all that surrounds me, both through sympathetic understandings of, and in concrete opposition to, their arguments and polemics. Not all were French, but all were drawn to and drew from Paris and the energy, both positive and negative, that it generates.

This stands in stark opposition to Dublin, a city for me that forever hovers on the cusp of vampirism, sucking out the blood of its citizens and perpetually draining their life-force, drop by numbing drop. We boast to all and sundry of being a land of saints and scholars, but why is it that all but one of our Nobel laureate writers fled our shores to write their best works abroad? To understand everything about Dublin all one needs to know is that the greatest tale of the city itself was written in exile by a man who hadn't seen his birthplace in many, many years. Written in self-imposed exile, in Paris.

Thus for me Paris is the anti-Dublin, or Dublin is the anti-Paris.

But this too is false, a shadow, an idealised image of mental exile. Paris is just a city, just a place. What has captivated me throughout my life is Paris the Concept, the personalised idea of a place that in reality only exists in my mind. I am in love not with Paris, the bricks and mortar city on the Seine, but with the Paris of the Mind. I am in love with the City that you can only ever visit, but never live in, the City seen in snapshots and well-thumbed pages in a book that sits on a desk a thousand miles away from the city itself, the city described in hindsight by old men remembering faded three-month glories that have grown to encapsulate a life-time.

But every now and then when clouds are low over Dublin and the greys of the streets seep upwards along exhaust-stained walls to envelope the sky, incasing your every move in a claustrophobic non-colour of tangible damp, when the eyes of every passer-by seem fused to the pavement in front of their feet and the only break in the monotonous glass and concrete landscape is the new colonialism of red-topped tabloids spouting hatred and bile every forty meters through the always-open doors of another faceless chain of convenience, when the city you rely on for life itself seems determined to drive you to the edge of despairing madness in the process, sometimes, just sometimes, you need to close your eyes and wake up somewhere else.

Paris on the Seine is not the Paris of my Mind, but it's a close second.

And that is why I found myself at 10:25am on a Monday morning hurtling towards the city at 300kmph up to 75m below the sea bed.

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