Monday, May 3, 2010

This weekend I managed to dip into the UBC Department of Art, Art History and Theory’s Breathless Days: 1959/60 conference, where I sat through a quarter of the presentations, the highlight being Louvre Chief Curator Regis Michel’s responses. In particular, what he said after Tyler Stovall’s assertion of a “transnational Paris.”

Michel spoke of the current Paris, buttressed against her suburbs, as if it echoed the Rome of Pasolini’s Mamma Roma (1962). I was reminded of the film’s final shot, the camera giving the impression of a retreat into the city, when in fact it was only the lens zooming out.

Michel remained in good form at John O’Brian’s dinner the following night, taking on all comers, including myself, who, fighting ennui, attempted a defense of the expatriate French writer Houellebecq. Of course Michel would have none of it, insisting that Houellebecq’s degradation of the French language was not intended to parallel his country’s decline as a global moral authority, that Houellebecq is not a punk, and that he has not tackled issues no one else in France has had the courage to take on.

I enjoyed our conversation, though eventually succumbed to my ennui and took refuge in an overstuffed chair overlooking the city.

Leaning back I recalled a 2006 trip to Paris, where I met Gaspar Noe for lunch in Chateaurouge. I will never forget stepping out of the Metro and seeing three hundred Muslim men in the middle of the street bowed down in protest over the city’s refusal to allow them a mosque. Flanking them were at least as many cops, sitting on the hoods of their squad cars. Gaspar tapped me on the shoulder. “Welcome to Paris.”

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