Paris, France: Clubbed by culture

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Paris, France: Clubbed by culture

We were -- with a few exceptions in the café -- exhausted foot soldiers in the Art Wars.

The small café where we found ourselves that late afternoon, on the corner of Rue de l’Universite about 15 minutes walk from the Musee d’Orsay in Paris, was our r’n’r refuge for an invigorating pastis, cold Belgian beer or coffee. Time to recover from a day of big ticket Impressionism -- Van Gogh’s by the dozen -- and a special exhibition of Russian art (which I never even got to). And there had been all the usual pre- and post-Expressionists, sculpture, drawings and blah blah. More great art, anyway.

For all of us it had been an arduous day, as hard on the feet as it had been rewarding for the head.

So by chance we strangers with that little in common ended up in the same café: the couple from Western Australia; the New York matriarch with her daughter and college-age granddaughter, and the two of us.

Megan and I were relaxing over our Leffe beers served with refreshing slice of lemon when the New Yorkers arrived. We’d been talking about Paris, a city where Megan had previously lived and worked. My experiences had been more transitory -- a week here and there over the years -- but we agreed, Paris can be both beautiful and ugly, irritating and uplifting, hectic yet relaxing, full of noise but with plenty of places for quietness.

And constantly surprising.

Just minutes before we had been walking down the non-descript Rue de Verneuil, a narrow street lined with little more than rubbish bins, flat walls punctuated by small and anonymous doors.

Then we came upon a wall blasted by multicoloured graffiti, slogans, snatches of poetry and drawings.

It was unexpected but quite specific: it covered the wall outside one dwelling but didn’t encroach on those at either side. On close inspection the poems were snatches of song lyrics, the drawings all of the same man.

This had once been the home of the legendary singer/actor/director Serge Gainsbourg, and his admirers had covered the wall with loving tributes which the current occupants (it is owned by his daighter Charlotte) had chosen not to obliterate with bland paint.

And so cheered by this unexpected sight we made our weary way to the nearest café, ordered beers and relaxed to consider our day.

When the Americans arrived the matriarch knew exactly what she wanted.

Get me a drink,” she laughed at the barman who seemed to know the needs of Musee d’Orsay survivors.

She took her beer and slugged it back in a manner which denied her elegant appearance. We art-stuffed tourists began to chat and the Australian woman asked the matriarch -- who spoke a smattering of heavily American accented French -- if she was familiar with Paris.

Yeah,” she laughed, and in a phrase which -- judging by our laughter -- captured our bone weary mood perfectly, added, “but I came anyway.”

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