I went to Paris last week, (as you do) as a kind of “cultural experience” with my Uni course. It’s one of my favourite places in the world, and even though we were only in town for 2 nights we sure as hell made the most of it, taking in a self-guided walking tour of the centre, a trip up the Eiffel tower, and, of course, drinking a lot of wine.
After a 5.30am start, an epic coach journey from Bournemouth, and my first Eurotunnel experience, arriving at a hotel with a misspelled sign and covered in scaffolding in a rather unfavourable district of Paris wasn’t the most welcome of sights. I’ve definitely spent the night in worse, but its not the vision you have when you think of a chic, cultural trip to the most beautiful city in the world. Fortunately the evening’s plan didn’t involve staying in, so we hopped on the Metro and down to the Parc de la Villette for “Psy”, an incredible performance of contemporary circus from French-Canadian company Les 7 doigts de La Main.
The Grande Halle at la Villette is an incredible venue, converted from the former city meat market and abattoirs in 1985, and renovated again between 2005 and 2007. Within the original cast iron structure a vast and versatile space has been created, combining the elegant industrial architecture with a more minimalist, modern aesthetic, which proved the perfect backdrop for the multi-purpose set pieces of the 7 doigts.
Coming from a more traditional visual arts background, I’ve never really explored the world of contemporary circus before, so it was a totally new experience for me. Psychology and circus don’t automatically strike me as an obvious combination, but “Psy” explores various forms of mental illness through performance, in a way that is both funny and touching. The show is a far cry from the traditional clowns and jugglers, as different circus skills were used to illustrate the symptoms and quirks of a variety of “patients” and the group therapy they engage in to help them deal with their problems. Despite the dialogue being almost entirely in French it wasn’t hard to follow the individual story lines, and it’s a testament to the strength of the performance that we had no difficulty figuring out each character’s issues. Seemingly superhuman stunts, a well thought-out concept and an excellent soundtrack (including Caravan Palace, The Avalanches and a surprising amount of dubstep) made this a fantastic introduction to the world of contemporary circus, and I would love the opportunity to see more of their work. If the idea of performance art leaves you a little cold, something like this with a strong theme and a bit more of an edge is really worth a try, as it puts it into a more 21st century context.
Have a look at this video and see what I mean!
Friday can really be summed up in pictures, as we practically ran from one landmark to the next! As I’ve been to Paris a few times before I wasn’t so concerned with spending hours in the Louvre or trekking up to Sacre Coeur, and I love just wandering round the city taking it all in. French food is also a definite perk of any trip to Paris, so I made the most of that as well!
There was a massive Christmas market in the Tuileries where I found some incredible jewellery shaped like sweets. As I can’t eat macarons I particularly liked the brightly coloured rings and earrings made to look like them (although my restricted student budget meant I couldn’t actually buy anything so i just took a picture instead). We bought vin chaud and wandered down towards the Seine, stopping over on the Pont des Arts, a bridge covered in locks that couples have attached as a symbol of love. We even saw a couple get engaged!
I attempted to simulate a tilt shift effect on some of my pictures from the Eiffel tower. With varying degrees of success.
In the evening we visited the Pompidou Centre, and wandered around the museum of modern art. After a day walking around the centre of Paris one piece really struck a chord with me:
An early start on Saturday allowed us time for a guided tour of the Opera Bastille before we began the long journey home. Although it looks a little dated from the outside, the interior is still standing the test of time, with incredible views across the city from the highest floors. What struck me most, however, was not the impressive auditorium, but the sheer scale of the backstage areas, which combine to make it the largest theatre in the world (something our guide took great pleasure in reminding us!). Next time I come to Paris, seeing an opera there is top of my to do list.
Before we got on the coach, it was vital we stocked up on food:
Aah Paris, I miss you already!