Just Above Sunset
September 25, 2005 - You Is Like a Painting

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Our Man in Paris is Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis. His weekly columns appear here and often in a slightly different version the next day on his site from Paris, with photographs.

PARIS, Saturday, September 24 - I am a bit worried about Matthew Rose. He is a local starving artist who writes for fancy Texas department stores to hold his ample body and soul together. It's the kind of outfit that puts million buck cigarette boats with mink-lined can holders in its Christmas catalogue and has no idea how much Matt has to pay for a lousy baguette.


But the real reason I'm worried is that Matt hasn't mentioned any of his former girlfriends lately. If he was eating I'd say he's off his feed. Usually he's writing stream-of-consciousness by the metre about his ex-girlfriends or he's banging out colleges with crosses and nuns with a cookie-cutter.


So when he told me he was showing off his stuff at some open-house ateliers in Ivry-sur-Seine, I asked him where it is. It's pretty typical in France to omit the address, phone number and date on invitations. When I asked he emailed back. "Check the Web site," he said.


Of course I should know where Ivry is even if I have never been there. It's just outside Paris, below Chinatown, across the Périfreak. It's the kind of place where all the streets are named after famous Communists, even the ones Stalin offed. France is probably the only place in the world where Stalingrad is a popular name for places, streets and boulangeries.


Matt is calling this exhibition of his 'Loving You is Like Planting Cut Flowers,' all in caps. I never ask Matt what these titles mean, but I'm sure you'll get the girlfriends' connection. As I understand it, Matt used to live out in this Ivry place because it has old factories, like lofts in New York, where Matt comes from. Actually I think he was born in Brooklyn, which I think is fine, but if you ask him he'll say, Long Island, which is dismal.


On the Métro going down there a real mob gets on the train, but they mostly get off in Chinatown - which reminded me to stop in on the way back. You can get real hot sauce there for a song and a whistle, and you can't even get it in French supermarkets for money.


I got off the Métro at Pierre Curie in Ivry. Was he a commie too?  What a sad-looking place. It looks like how Paris probably looked in 1938, except for the parts that have been savaged by cocaine-crazed architects. When did they start putting spiral stairs on the outside of buildings? Of course there's no handy map with the destination on it. The place I'm going is off the map.


I do find local map a block from the place. Already I'm starting to like Ivry. A red sign on a rusty pole invites me to a wedding.  Further down the block a small crowd of well-dressed black people are standing around, outside a sort of hut full of people. Maybe they are Christians.


This place, on Rue Paul Mazy, is in a huge warehouse-looking thing, could be a prison full of Chinese treddling sewing machines making authentic French blue jeans. Through the steel grid gate and it's jolly converted factory time with the overhead cranes still in place, all tidily painted yellow, and there's bushes all over the place, lots of little kids with lemonade stands, and some madame bobos pushing strollers made by the Mercedes truck division.


For a warehouse this is a fairly ritzy place. Downstairs units have small patches of lawns and the upstairs ones have balconies. These aren't scrappy little broom closets either, there's a lot of headroom in them. Whoever did the conversion must have been intending to do what they did.


I go through to the end and out another steel gate, to ratlands.  Across the way there's another barrier, a vacant lot, the SNCF rails with passing commuter trains, and two very tall smokestacks barfing plumes of white smoke up to the faintly dirty clouds. Back, beside the ateliers, there's an old wooden hanger, used as covered parking for shiny Saabs and black-Ninja 1200 cc motorcycles.


Where's the art at? I am looking for atelier A-18. Here we go, number A-21, A-20, A-19, A-08. Is it a typo? Upstairs numbers are all in a 'B' series and across the way on the ground they are a 'G' series.  Where's 18? I walk up and I walk down, until I go far enough to find A-18 between A-30 and A-04. No wonder there was no address on the invitation!


And there's Matt, talking to a rich art lover or one of his rich ex girlfriends. I imagined that he was sharing the space, but he's got all his stuff on the walls. I haven't seen so much of it in one place, not since that little expo he had called '50 Girlfriends.' Or was it the '75 Dogs' one? The one that went to Savannah.


Wow. Matt is hot. Look at all these art lovers coming in, gathering around staring at the colleges on the wall, fingering through the prints lying flat. Matt whizzes into a back room to get more cheese crackers. Another guy gets him a bowl to put them in. Matt pours out plastic cups of red wine. From South Africa! Matt chats the art chat.  People listen. They sip and look. It's looking darn cool.


I don't bother Matt. I take the photos. I put on my awed look. I watch for a while. It's such a good crowd I hope Matt isn't giving anything away because he's so happy. I hope he remembered to wear a shirt with pockets so he's got some place to put the cheques.


By this time tomorrow there will probably be nothing left, not one shred of cheese cracker, so I decide it's time to go to Chinatown.  Walking back through Ivry to the Métro is like walking forward through it. Ivry is worth a visit for itself, especially if I feel like capturing some crumbling 1938 bits.

Chinatown is only three stations away. I get off at a station that only re-opened yesterday. Right outside is a McDonald's. I mean it's got a big yellow 'M' and the rest of it looks like faux-Chinese, but the menu looks like Wal-Mart. I've gotten out at the wrong stop too and have to walk the long block over to the Avenue d'Ivry.


Outside the supermarket there a demonstration going on, bad-mouthing the Communists, the PCC. A sign says, 'Four million Chinese have quit the party.' A flyer I'm handed says, 'The Party's Over!' Inside the supermarket I find my Vietnamese hot sauce and dither over getting the jumbo size, but it costs 2.18 euros. A young lady asks me if I know where the sauce for sushi is kept. I didn't realize knowing Tomoko showed. I guess it is near the Japanese soy and that's the last I see of her. Sushi is for bobos.


Boy, Chinatown smells good! My stomach is yelling 'stop.' 'Go in this place,' it says, 'get some soup here!' I stagger along with all the Saturday shoppers and hop the 62 bus at Tolbiac and ride over to Alésia, which is also jammed with shoppers even if it doesn't small as good, until I pass an open cheese stand on the sidewalk.



Ivry-sur-Seine - September 2005

Ivry bistro –

Ivry-sur-Seine - September 2005

Locals – curious Saturday shoppers in Chinatown, taking in news of four million quitting the PCC -

Ivry-sur-Seine - September 2005

Ivry-sur-Seine - September 2005

Durian -

Ivry-sur-Seine - September 2005 (Durian)

Matt Rose –

Matt Rose - Ivry-sur-Seine - September 2005

Photos and Text Copyright © 2005 – Ric Erickson, MetropoleParis


Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
for the purpose of illustration and commentary,
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See the Details page for the relevant citation.

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