Monday, March 24, 2008

On the Conspicuous Lack of Photos of Late

My stomach settled itself nicely, and despite the ever-present threat of rain, I figured I could recover nicely by going for one of my long walks. There's no better way to take in Paris than to simply walk... and walk... and maybe stop at a cafe for a coffee or a glass of wine.

And so I did, this time going in a new direction, northward on my street. Well, what do you know? I'm just blocks away from the Pere Lachaise cemetery, resting place of the likes of Jim Morrison, Oscar Wilde, and countless other expats whom tourists flock to see post-mortem.

I'd been here before on my first trip to Paris, five years ago, and thought then as I do now that it's not a morbid place. It's not a depressing place. But just a very serene, scenic place to take a walk. Judging by the number of locals doing the same (and ignoring the tourists trying to find Jim Morrison), I think I'm spot on.

This picture was taken on the first trip, but being a cemetery, nothing's changed, really. A few people have inquired about the lack of photos so far on this trip. Well, first things first: It's not a trip. All this travel and exploration has become my regular life. And while I wouldn't mind documenting it and sharing it with everyone (besides in writing), it's simply impractical at this point. I only have with me my unwieldy digital SLR, which screams in alternating cries, "I'm a tourist!" and "Rob me!" And with the unsettled weather, taking it out requires that I take along my weather-proof but oversized camera bag.

I know, I know. "Where is your dedication to the art?" you may ask. And to that I say, hey! Let me enjoy my life unfettered by several grand of photo gear and a big bag that increases exponentially my likelihood of being mugged!

Besides that, I still have a backlog of photos from my adventures in Japan (last November!) and then some, which I have yet to complete. In fact, it's such a dreary day out that I might just get to the work of doing that. After all, nothing says "artist" like toiling away in a dark room on a day that looks like doom outside.

As I rounded the corner of rue de Faubourg Saint-Antoine via the Bastille and on to rue de la Roquette, it started to rain that icy, cold variety of rain. The kind that isn't all that heavy, and not all that wet, but that threatens, "I'm going to give you a cold. A nagging, debilitating cold." I buttoned up my coat and picked up the pace a bit, thinking I will come home and work on photos. Yes, that entire thought process above was actually on my mind for much of the walk, interspersed by thoughts of "Ooh, hey, that place is open on holidays," and "Jesus H. Christ, give it up already."

The latter is in reference to the numerous goth/punk kids that all gather at the south end of rue de la Roquette, trying to be different by all looking like they shop at Hot Topic. (There is no Hot Topic in France, as far as I know, but there are many little shops that may as well be the same melange of mass-produced counterculture commodity.)

It's not that I have any disdain for various alternative subcultures. (Except for filthy, dreadlocked hippies.) As a kid in London, we'd see the seminal punks on Oxford Street, and like Rusty in National Lampoon's European Vacation, I'd tell my parents "That's it! That's how I want my hair cut!" When I lived in Los Angeles, you could find me clad in vinyl or leather every weekend doing the rivethead stomp to Front 242 or Nitzer Ebb at places called Stigmata or Helter Skelter. A bunch of friends and I even held a Goth Night in the Marina last year, poking fun not at the fringe culture but at the homogenous sameness of San Francisco's premiere yuppie neighborhood. I still look upon those days fondly.

But my sensibilities are simply offended by these neophyte kids who are less Skinny Puppy and more Evanescence. Less Bauhaus and more Good Charlotte. And ultimately, less Harajuku and more... Kansas City. When I see these kids gathered up in throngs near the Bastille, I don't see the spirit of originality and the embracing of a dark aesthetic like one does in gothic-lolita Tokyo or cyberpunk Hollywood or vampire New Orleans. I see a shopping mall food court, minus the shopping mall and the food court.

And I think this all irks me not because I'm an old curmudgeon who "was there" in the heyday, but because it shatters my long-held, imagined romantic vision of Paris. Where grey skies and cobblestone streets are multiplied in atmosphere by the ringing of cathedral bells. Where dandies clad all in some variant of stripes smoke Gauloises and sip absinthe under the watchful eye of nearby gargoyles. Where the serious-looking guy in a long, black overcoat, sweeping aside his long, black locks from his eyes, sipping a long, black coffee as he writes in his journal may well be planting the seeds for a magnum opus of writings on society, the world, and how life is lived within it.

Well, I've finished my coffee. My overcoat is hung up with care. And I'll be putting away this electronic journal to work on photos.

Maybe I can recapture that sense of philosopher-artist I always imagined seeing in Paris by doing it myself.


  1. Yes, I see the irony of commenting on my own blog posting, but I wanted to point out that I definitely see the irony of someone who decries the commercialization of his countercultural past, just after wallowing in the gluttony of Kentucky Fried Chicken and four straight days of college hoops.

  2. Have you read the William Gibson book Cool Hunter? I feel like I'm a bit allergic to labels now too.

    I think when you've been been through the hatching and subsequent marketing of interesting subcultures, there comes a point when you just crave some authenticity. At least, that's how I feel.

    Maybe it's just me, but I'm stimulated by new and interesting things for only so long because of course they get watered down. Or maybe it's just that the interesting people only hang on for so long. (Yelp comes to mind)

    Sadly, it's too easy to buy into things these days. Spend $200 and suddenly you too can be goth. Insta-goth!

    Again, another topic that you could expand upon...write it out, Omid!

    And think about taking some sassy photos of Alannah, because I totally want to paint a commission piece for you guys (she mentioned it). But it has to be stimulating, so think about it!