“But I am Le Tired!”-Nuit Blanche 2009

October 4, 2009

Saturday night I had a nuit blanche because of Nuit Blanche. I stayed up all night-“white night” is the translation of the French-because I could not pass up the opportunity to run around with my friends at all hours while viewing one night only contemporary art installations in Paris!

Nuit Blanche has been going on for around 7 or 8 years, and it is a fantastic and very French celebration of contemporary art from around the world. Artists are invited to the event by the city, but various businesses and companies also create their own exhibits on the same night, which means that Paris (in particular the Buttes-Chaumont, Châtelet-Marais, and Quatier-Latin districts) are full of people actively seeking art all night long! 2 lines of the metro stayed open all night, and various vendors and cafés stayed open until around 6 a.m. as well. Curious about the experience and armed with our Nuit Blanche guides, we took the city by storm!

I should add that we did not start exploring until around 10 p.m., because we first had to go to a lovely party at Madame Hervier’s, where we drank kir and ate corn chips, homemade salsa, and guacamole (there were other things as well of course, but I’m just mentioning my favorites!).  I was sidetracked by really amazing graffiti near her house on our way out, so that also took up some time, but at this point we had the whole night, and that seemed like a really long time!

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"An Eye for an Eye Makes the Whole World Blind"

"An Eye for an Eye Makes the Whole World Blind"

The group consisted of Andy, Aisha, Caroline, Amadi and I, but we got on the metro to meet up with Gina and Annie, (two other friends from Sweet Briar). Annie is studying in London for the semester, but she came to Paris just for the weekend, so we got to show her all around! None of us had eaten dinner, so we did the French thing and ate at MacDonalds. It was a late dinner, it was inexpensive, and it was fast, so it worked out fairly well actually!

But what we had really wanted to do was see art, so we headed off towards the Hôtel de Ville where Nuit Blanche was sort of headquartered. Those of us who didn’t have guides acquired them, and the rest of us took pictures and watched the huge projection of Kimsooja’s Needle Woman in Paris. Basically she stands with her back to you, completely still in the middle of a crowded sidewalk for a very extended period of time, and during this you see how people react as they pass and bump into her. Some ignore her, some look concerned, most just look confused, and they all end up just walking away.

Hôtel de Ville (the film is projected on the right side of the building)

Hôtel de Ville (the film is projected on the right side of the building)

While there we bought candy to snack on, and then we made our way over to Notre Dame. While walking we encountered JR’s Women which was much cooler at night! (I took a picture earlier in the day which I will post so that you can see it more clearly). The installation is all over the quais for l’Ile Saint-Louis, and it was really amazing and lovely. I have a picture in the daytime, another section at night, and then a close-up of the material-basically paper applied directly to the concrete!

Day

Daytime-those tiny black and white things standing underneath the eyeball on the left are people, to give you an idea of scale!

Another section at night-the white is somebody else's camera flash

Another section at night-the white is somebody else's camera flash

Close-up: the paper was already peeling

Close-up: the paper was already peeling

While this was monumental (in scale) and very interesting, we were very distracted by contemporary music emanating from a bridge piled with glowing blue cubes. We discovered that this was an installation sponsored by Samsung who wanted to show off their L.E.D screens on the Pont Saint-Louis, and it was so much fun to play with! There was not really anything profound, but we discovered that by turning off the flash you could take really fun silhouette pictures in front of the cubes! We were certainly enjoying the experience, but I also spotted 2 little girls waiting for their parents who looked very much like they wanted to go home to their beds.

The Pont Saint-Louis with Notre Dame in the background

The Pont Saint-Louis with Notre Dame in the background

Caroline

Caroline in front of a cube

Walking on the bridge

Walking on the bridge

Little girls feeling "blue"

Little girls feeling "blue"

After crossing the bridge we realized that the line to see Sylvie Fleury’s Cristaux inside of Notre Dame was way too long, so we took a few nighttime pictures of the façade and continued on our way, intending to come back later that night.

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As we made our way to the Jardin du Luxembourg we saw a car with a New York license plate, and even better, two cataphiles going into the catacombs! Cataphiles are people (generally young men) who break into the restricted sections of the catacombs to explore. I noticed them immediately because they were wearing camouflage, carrying rope, and wearing dirt-covered backpacks! (I know these details because I know a French person that does this, but I cannot say who for fear of getting them in trouble!). They used the rope to lift a manhole cover, and to the astonishment of the elderly couple passing them on the street, they hopped in and pulled the cover over their heads! All of this happened in about 30 seconds flat, but I still took a picture-bad quality, but none-the-less intriguing!

Cataphiles lifting a manhole cover on the right, surprised elderly couple on the left!

Cataphiles lifting a manhole cover on the right, surprised elderly couple on the left!

After this we reached the Jardin, only to discover that there was a HUGE line to get in! We decided to wait, but it took at least an hour and a half! (I wasn’t wearing a watch). While in line I double-braided Aisha’s hair, we sang songs, took pictures, video taped Caroline singing, played hand and word games, and tried to keep warm! I should mention that we were waiting in this line to see one thing: a giant disco ball suspended from a crane in the middle of the garden!  It was well worth the wait, as were the crêpes and coffee we bought as a 2:30 a.m snack! There were 2 other exhibits in addition to Michel de Broin’s La Maîtress de la Tour Eiffel (the disco ball). We saw Huges Reip’s White (Night) Spirit, which was a lovely monster shadow puppet parade, and another piece which I can’t find in the book. Brooks would have loved it though! It was a gazebo with huge speakers blasting continually changing beats with pulsing bars of light-very techno!

White (Night) Spirit

White (Night) Spirit

Behind the scenes!

Behind the scenes!

The speakers

The speakers

The Disco Ball!

The Disco Ball!

Light reflections in the garden

Light reflections in the garden

I know that the photographs do not do it justice, but it was fascinating and so amazing! There was a very dense layer of clouds so the light specks were actually visible when you looked at the clouds-it was like dozens of tiny eclipses in one evening! My camera reacted strangely to the lights, so these photographs are not very clear, but they have at least a little bit of the foggy sleepy magic that pervaded the evening. Being outside looking at art and listening to loud music at 3 a.m is a very interesting thing. I was tired, but energized by all of the lights and music and people, and there was a buzz of excitement and happiness in the air that was really something to be a part of.

We were starting to move on when we noticed 2 French boys playing a banjo and a ukulele on a park bench. I convinced Caroline that as a fellow ukulele player she should have her photo taken with them! They graciously complied, and the resulting photograph is one that I will treasure forever! 🙂

Did I mention that the one boy was very handsome? They make such a cute couple!

Did I mention that the one boy was very handsome? They make such a cute couple!

After leaving the Jardin we stopped at a café for warm drinks, since it was getting quite chilly! Nothing like hot chocolate at 4 a.m! But unfortunately there is also nothing like paying 50 centimes just to use their bathroom-the French love to make you pay for everything! I was glad that I only brought a limited amount of money, because late at night it’s easy to spend frivilously, but it worked out well. I do owe Amadi a euro though!

After this we wanted to see more art, so we started off in the general direction of Notre Dame, with a few other planned stops on the way! We somehow only made it to 1 of our 3 planned stops, (I’m not sure how that happened) but we saw Gilles Barbier’s L’ivrogne, which is a sculpture of a man with a huge spiral full of things physically portraying his thoughts. There were cloudlike things and an umbrella, books, and word balloons, but also stuffed rats running along the coils of the spiral, which was a bit disconcerting.

L'ivrogne: "The Drunkard"

L'ivrogne: "The Drunkard"

detail of rats

detail of rats

Aisha's view from the floor

Aisha's view from the floor

As a final note on this exhibit, I wanted a photograph from underneath looking up, but was nervous that the security guards would not like this. Aisha graciously offered to take the photograph for me, and the security guards ignored us, and after this I noticed that the other people looking at the piece became much braver and started getting much closer and checking things out from different angles, which was nice. It’s always good to start looking at something from a different angle so that others can try out different angles too!

After this we finally made it to Notre Dame to see the crystals! The exhibit hours said until 5 a.m so when we showed up at 4:30 we thought we could catch the tail end of the exhibit and miss all of the lines! This, however, is when I realized something very irritating about France. They close things early. So the crystals were behind an iron gate, barring our entrance, and while we watched in disbelief, the huge wooden door closed slowly on our last hope of entry, while the man providing the force behind the door tried to pretend he didn’t see us and our crestfallen faces. Thus in retaliation I took a picture of the “Entrance Nuit Blanche” sign with the gate and door firmly shut behind it.

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This disapointment aside, we set off to see a few artistic short films instead. We watched Doug Aitken’s Hysteria which is concert footage of people screaming from various decades. It was 6 very bizarre minutes, and we were tempted to take a nap in the comfortable theater seats, but we pressed on, because we really wanted to see Melanie Manchot’s Kiss. The guide said the 10 minute film would be showing until 7, but we were thwarted again by the French being sleepy since our arrival at 5:30 gained us nothing but shouts of “go away! we’re closed! leave! it’s over!” in unison from the 2 people overseeing the showings of the film.

Andy said goodnight after this, but the rest of us decided to continue. Annie very much wanted to watch the sunrise from Sacre Coeur, and since we knew that we were unlikely to find another open exhibition, we took the metro to the highest point in the city. It was eery to see the empty streets of Montmartre littered with garbage but otherwise empty, though the view from the usually packed stairs in front of Sacre Coeur was breathtaking. The city was like a Lite Brite display, in and of itself a beautiful work of unintentional contemporary art.

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We started to walk around the church and found that the door was actually open. Stepping inside we found that candles were lit, and a few lights were on, illuminating the marvellous interior and the few people up at 6 a.m to pray before mass. We all split up, walking around the completely silent and peaceful church. The only sound was the faint tapping of my boots on the stone and an occasional cough or squeak as someone shifted on a kneeler. I prayed for a very long time. The cushionless wooden kneeler, the dim lighting, and my lack of sleep combined into a feeling very solemn, very moving, and very very spiritual. When we all left the church, an hour later, I felt that the night had been unexpectedly profound, and I was filled with a feeling of deep peace and clarity that I had never expected from that night.

Sacre Coeur

However, sitting on the cold stone steps and realizing sunrise was not until nearly an hour later brought me back to earth, where my body was exhausted and desperately in need of sleep. Aisha and I bid Gina, Caroline, Amadi, and Annie (still waiting for her sunrise) goodbye, and we started the long trip home, taking the metro to our first stop.  Upon descending the metro we discovered that there was no escalator to go downstairs! Our legs were exhausted, and it seemed so unfair that there was only an escalator going up! And then I had an idea. I have always wanted to go the wrong way on an escalator. And at 7 in the morning, in a deserted metro station, this was suddenly very much an option! Feeling a burst of energy I proposed my idea to Aisha, we yelled “one! two! threeeeee!!!!!” and took off running towards the escalator! I suddenly realized how fast I would have to run in order to actually move against the direction of the steps, and as my legs lost control and we sped pell-mell downwards, I started to laugh. I laughed so hard and so wildly that anyone else would have been sure that I was crazy! I couldn’t stop, I couldn’t breath, and I felt like I was flying! I reached the bottom and smiling broadly, waved to the security camera that had caught it all on tape. I felt even better knowing that I was the anonymous reason the security guards watching the tapes would have something happy and funny to watch, instead of the usual incessant parade of the backs of people’s heads going up!

The infamous escalator!

The infamous escalator!

The feeling of elation passed, Aisha and I rode the metro the rest of the way home. We dozed, propped up against each other, until her stop. Even though we were taking up the seat across from us with our feet, nobody asked us to move, they just remained standing, letting two tired friends rest peacefully.

Finally reaching the Montparnasse-Bienvenue stop at 8 a.m, I climbed the stairs to the apartment, removing my boots before entering. I stepped quietly into the dim light, gently closing and locking the door from the inside, ending with a gentle “click” one of the most beautiful nights of my life.

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One Response to ““But I am Le Tired!”-Nuit Blanche 2009”

  1. Aunt Terri said

    Oh Victoria..your stories are like poetry in action!

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