Paris 2008 – Part 2

Shortly after New Years a friend of mine from New York was in Paris and gave me a call. She was in town with a good friend of hers. So we met and saw some of what Paris has to offer. I won’t go into all the details but I do have to tell about my experience at the centre George Pompidou.

We went to the centre Pompidou which is a Modern Art center in Paris. Now I’m not such an art person, but I do appreciate good art when I see it. The Arcimboldo exhibit I saw recently for example, that was impressive art. This modern art exhibit had some of the strangest things I’ve ever seen. Some of it was cool, some was impressive, some of it was just crap. There was one picture I found really interesting. It’s a head coming out of a donkey’s ass, combined with an angel and a devil looking kind of guy. I took a photo of it, normally I don’t take photos of paintings, but I just found this so peculiar I couldn’t resist (Strange picture). There were all kinds of weird things like this tarp looking thing that was made out of bottle caps. There were some other sculptures made out cans, and other things made out of … well junk… but in a creative way. Now the bad, I hate to say it but I just enjoy talking about the bad more than the good. It’s just more fun, or maybe I’m just evil. I wish I’d taken some pictures of these as they’re just so ridiculous but I’ll try to describe this to the best of my ability.

In the modern art exhibit there is this room. Now there have got to be around 10 or so paintings in this room. I will try and describe them all. It may be tough though since they are ever such complex paintings. The first one that caught my eye was the blue canvas. After all blue is my favorite color. But I’m not sure, the red canvas next to it looked pretty nice to. But who could possible forget the multicolor one, it was a half black/half gray canvas. No pattern, top half black, bottom half grey. Another one had 3 different shades of blue. Ok I’ll stop, but seriously… why is this art? I can go buy a canvas and paint it a solid color, will you pay me $10,000 for it? Are these people on crack? I’ve heard the argument that these are statements from proven artists. Now I live by the principle that a piece of crap is a piece of crap regardless of who painted. If Picasso or Da Vinci painted a blank canvas and called it a masterpiece, I would still call it a piece of crap. But that’s just me. Oh sorry one more, my personal favorite, again I wish I took a picture. White canvas, with blue paint bucket splashed on. Seriously, I looked at it, and I can actually picture the paint splattering as if someone took the bucket and just splashed the canvas. Does that make it art? The fact that I can see how it’s made… I say no because I could paint a white canvas and splash a bucket of blue paint over it. This wouldn’t make me an artist. There is no talent in this.

It doesn’t stop there, there are plenty of blank canvases considered art but here’s another one for you. There is this room… to best describe this, picture a 10m x 10m room with 4 or 5 piles of garbage, the piles of garbage are about 1m in diameter and range from about 0.5m to 2m in height. With me so far… now take a big gray tarp, like one of those waterproof tarps you take camping. The kind you attach one end to a tree to give yourself some rain shelter. Throw one of those over your piles of garbage and result is this monstrosity they call art. What a waste of real estate. I mean come on! What is this crap! I’m not impressed by this. Do I think it’s creative, no I don’t. It looks like a bunch of piles of garbage covered by a tarp. Why would anyone want to look at that. I don’t think in 500 years anyone will remember when [hack artist] (sorry I don’t know his/her real name, nor do I care…) covered garbage with a tarp.

The last room I’ll talk about is the Ikea room. Well it’s not really the Ikea but I felt like I was in an Ikea showroom as they had a bunch of furniture on display. Somehow this is an art exhibit. Random furniture placed throughout the room.

There is a lot more to Centre Pompidou that I have yet to see. I will eventually go back there, just haven’t got around to it. I still haven’t even been to the Louvre and I’ve been living here for just over 3 months now. Here’s another story I wrote a little while ago and never got around to publishing. At the time I pretty much had no friends and wasn’t exactly enjoying life in Paris so much. I was still trying really hard to make some friends.

It all started on a Thursday night. I figured I’ll try the pot québecois, not that I’d met anyone there previously (or anyone worth being friends with). So just a little background, the pot québecois is like a happy hour get together every Thursday organized by this group of québecois living in France. I had originally gone with a a québecois colleague, I ended up only talking to him that night. So it was at a place called “The Hideout”. I found it pretty easily, it was not too far from my apartment which was convenient. Now my problem with these things is they always seem to have them at the smallest and most overcrowded places. I walked in and the place was so crowded I couldn’t even make it to the bar. I basically said “screw this, I’m getting out of here” and that is exactly what I did. Haven’t been to a pot québecois since. It was pretty early on and I still wanted to grab a drink. I went to my favorite piano bar “Relais de la Huchette” only to find that it was closed for their annual holiday. I still really wanted a beer so I walked around a bit and found an Irish pub. I grabbed a beer and drank it, it was possibly the most depressing moment of my life. At this point I gave up on the night. I got some food and went home. I was thinking to myself “you tried tonight, tomorrow is another day”.

Fast forward to the following evening. I went for dinner alone again, which was really starting to get me down. As my usual bar was closed for the week I decided to try and find somewhere. I figured I’d try the music cave place as I liked the live music. So I walk in and the main floor is not too crowded but there’s no where to sit. I was more interested in seeing the music anyway so I went downstairs. The music room and the bar were overflowing with people. Standing in between the two I could see half of the saxophone player and none of the other band members. I thought I’d try and get a drink but it was impossible. The bar was so tiny and had about 25 people trying to shove in and get a drink. I’m way too impatient to even try getting a drink from that bar. I decided this was a bad idea. I didn’t really feel like going to anymore bars. Going to bar by myself sucks. I was walking by a place called the Long Hop on the way home, I figured maybe I’ll give the “bar by myself” thing one more try. It looked like a bit of a dive, although it had a bit of a crowd. I get to the door only to be greeted by a bouncer. He says, “hi, you by yourself?” … “umm… yes, unless if you count my invisible friend here” … now this place wasn’t exactly crowded. There wasn’t even a line up to get inside. If there was I wouldn’t have bothered… So this is what he says to me: “you need to be accompanied” … I was fucking shocked! For this place? It looked like such a shit hole. I was like “really?” and he says “really” in the most serious tone. I couldn’t help but laugh as he was so proud when he said it. I love these bouncers, they think they’re so important. I feel bad for them since they are such insignificant people and probably have a 2 digit IQ. I didn’t really feel like giving this jackass any more of my time so I just left. This was the second night in a row that I gave up and went home.

Saturday was yet another day. I decided to forget about the last two night and make the best of the day. It was a nice one. I had a nice breakfast at the American Diner. I love the food in France, but I’ll take bacon and eggs for breakfast over the usual French bread and jam breakfast. It’s also kind of nice eating at this place as it really feels like I’ve stepped into America. The menu is actually in English with French writing underneath and all the staff are English speaking. It kind of reminds me of when I would go to a foreign restaurant back home (Thai, Chinese, whatever…) and the menu is in their foreign language and would have tiny English writing underneath. Except now I’m the foreigner.

My plan for the day was to go to “La Défense” and then “Arc de Triumphe”. I only got to see “La Défense” due to time constraints. I could have still done the arc but it would have been dark already and I wanted do it while the sun was out. You’re probably wondering what “La Défense” actually is. Sounds like a military base. Apparently that’s what some foreign diplomat thought and there’s been talk about changing the name. It’s an area North West of Paris with modern sky scrapers. The big thing to see there is the “Grande Arch”. Which is this hollow cube shaped building (check out the pictures). It was only 9€ so I went up. It had a nice view of Paris. Also had some interesting exhibitions there. They had a whole showcase of computer history and some really old school computers and components on display. For most people this is probably not so interesting but seeing as it’s my field and I actually remembered some of those old ass computers growing up, I really enjoyed walking through this part.

After the arch I walked around La Défense. There are no cars there. There seems to be a tunnel or some kind of road system underneath it. But La Défense itself is a huge pedestrian area surrounded by these huge buildings. I say huge but I’ve seen much bigger in New York and Toronto, but they are big for Paris. You can see the Arc De Triumph from there and it’s got all kinds of water fountains and other nice displays. I’d really like to see it in the summer. I’m sure it would look even nicer. So La Défense also has probably the biggest mall in Paris. I actually needed some stuff. There was a huge fnac (kind of like FutureShop or BestBuy). I went there and got what I needed, no big deal. Then I went to the main mall (as fnac was sort of separate). Here’s where things go bad.

I don’t handle big crowds well. This place was insanely crowded. It was like Yorkdale (Toronto) on boxing day. Yeah, I hate Yorkdale, at least on weekends, which is normally the only time I would go. Too many people… families, people pushing strollers, old people with walkers, canes, and they all move so slow! You probably think I’m an asshole now, but I’m just really impatient. I need to work on my patience… I went to a pharmacy because I saw one and needed some stuff. That was easy. Next came the hard part.

I’ve needed a screwdriver for the longest time. I bought a TV pretty soon after moving into my apartment. It was fully furnished less a TV. I like TV. I don’t watch so much but I like to know it’s there. I also had a PS3 collecting dust so I could finally start using that again. It’s a nice 32” LCD screen. If you’ve ever put together an LCD TV you’ll know it typically has two parts, the screen and the pedestal. I put the screen on the pedestal but it has these 4 screws to secure it. I didn’t have a screwdriver and it seemed safe enough to leave it without the screws. Now it’s not like the thing was going to fall over, but I felt it was not as solid as could be. It wasn’t urgent but I had been keeping my eye out for a Canadian Tire like store. I never found it. So here I am in this mall and I’m thinking there must be a store here that sells tools. So I’m walking, fighting my way through the mass of people. Eventually I find this place called Auchan. It wasn’t like Canadian Tire, but more like Walmart. But I could see what sort of looked like an isle with tools. I was reluctant to enter this place because it was super crowded. But I really wanted to get that screwdriver. So I went in.

This place needed a traffic controller, one of those guys with an orange vest and a whistle directing pedestrian traffic. You’d walk down one isle and get to then and have to merge into the perpendicular isle as there were so many people. Or you’d get the lady in front of you walking down the isle and just stops dead center in the isle. Perfectly centered so that you can’t pass on the left or the right… MOVE TO ONE SIDE!!! I hate Walmart. It’s a horrible place. I’d say Auchan was about 5 times worse than Walmart. Miraculously I found the screwdriver I so desired and it was only 4€. I would have gladly paid 10€ at a less crowded store if I could have found one.

All that was left was to pay for my screwdriver… How bad could that be? Now while I hate lines I know they’re unavoidable and I’m usually pretty patient with the lines (despite my general lack of patience). So this place was like Walmart or IKEA where there are always 50 people ahead of you. They had a few express lines and many normal lines. Here’s how the express lines works. It’s 10 items maximum, pay by card only, and you do it yourself. There are 4 auto pay things. In the middle are 2 actual employees who’s sole purpose is to help the average moron use the auto pay machine. If you ask me my 5 year old nephew could probably figure out how to this without any assistance. Then there were the normal lines with 20 people in line carrying 50+ items each. The choice seemed so obvious. What was not obvious was which of the 4 express lines should I stand in. I always pick the worst one. There’s no scientific reason I can think of, it’s just bad luck.

Multiple lines to choose from, I’ll pick the slowest one. I don’t know why. It’s pure chance. Take Tim Horton’s for example. I do miss Tim Horton’s. France has good coffee but I’d still prefer a Tim Horton’s coffee in the morning. What I don’t miss about Tim Horton’s is the lines. I’ll always pick the line with the slowest cashier, then when it gets to one person in front of me, that person orders 8 coffees, a box of donuts, and who knows what else. That person picked the shortest straw at the office and had to go on a Timmy run for everyone. Meanwhile all I wanted was a medium black coffee.

Back to Auchan… all the lines looked roughly the same size. Which one will be quickest? I picked the one where I saw 2 women with a bunch of kids. That one looked super crowded but there were about 5 kids with the 2 women and I figured they’re all together so the line will go quick. I was right about them and they were one of the few who didn’t need the employees help using the machine… Bravo, not everyone who shops at Auchan is an idiot.

Initially when I got into the line I saw 2 black women up at the machine trying to scan their items. Now I wasn’t counting, but it must have been a good 5 minutes later and they were still trying to figure it out. Normally after this long I would have switched lines but I was checking out the other lines and no one was moving. I heard some other people in line talking saying the system was down or something. Bullshit, the system works fine! These people are just retarded. Maybe I’m overreacting. Maybe the system was down. I really wasn’t sure at the time. Eventually the line started moving and I realized I was right. The system worked fine. The people using the system were lacking brain cells. Just to let you know that I’m not crazy, the guy behind me actually gave up and went to one of the normal lines. He decided to take his chances with one of the 50+ item lines. At the time I was thinking “best of luck to you buddy”. I never did see if he made it out before or after me. So the 2 black ladies were still there putting stuff in bags, I was a bit shocked they were still in the process of paying as at least 10 minutes had passed. I was also relieved that I was one step closer to paying for my darn screwdriver. Something was still wrong though. The staff person had to come back again to sort out their problem. I was going crazy at this point but I kept it cool. I thought to myself:
“Maybe I should just forget the screwdriver.
It’s not like the TV is about to fall over or anything.
I’m sure the next one will be faster.”

At this point I saw the other lines were actually starting to move, but there were so many new people behind me at this point that I didn’t think it would be worthwhile to switch. I see a couple go through, nice and quick, about 1 minute. Then that group I mentioned earlier, no problems there. Now there were about 3 more ahead of me, each one needed assistance from the store person. It’s not so complicated! By the time there was only one person ahead of me, I was thinking “Yes! I’m so close to the finish line!” But these 2 women really had no clue. They started scanning their things, and then when it came time to pay they couldn’t seem to figure it out. She kept putting in her bank card and typing a code but it wouldn’t work. So as usual the store person came over. Apparently the woman wasn’t pushing the code buttons hard enough. The store person says to the woman, “every time you press a button, make sure you see the star on the screen”… “ohhh, it works now”. At this point there was a woman in line behind me who actually gave up. She looked about as frustrated as I was and left! See it’s not just me. I finally get to this machine. I must have waited at least 20 minutes just to pay for one item. At first I had a slight fear. I thought to myself : “What if I can’t figure out how to use this machine and have to get help from one of the store people. I’ll feel really bad if that happens because I thought everyone else was an idiot.” Well that thought lasted in my head for about half a second. Let me run you through my experience with the auto pay machine.

“Touch screen to begin” → I touched the screen
“Start scanning items” → I scan my item → Ooh look at that it appears on the screen.
Next I push the button that says “Pay”
“Place item on tray thing” with an arrow pointing to this tray thing → Done
“Select payment method” → I pick CB (French for bank card) take a guess… Carte Bancaire? Good guess, but it’s actually Carte Bleu. A useless fact for you ☺
Now I just stick my card in, enter my pin, papers start flying out of the machine (i.e. the receipt) and I’m gone. You know how long this took me? About 30 seconds and I’ve never even seen this machine before. If I had to evaluate this machine I would have rated it “idiot proof”. Then again some people said the same things about Microsoft Windows… I’m not even going to go there.

While I was waiting in line I took a picture of this sign that unfortunately didn’t come out properly. But from what I can make out of the picture it says:

“Caisse Minute – Gagner ??? facile”, I think it was “gagner de temps – c’est facile”. The wording is not important. The first part says “Minute Cash” then the rest goes “Save time easily”. I want to meet the marketing jackass who came up with that slogan and ask him if he’s familiar with the term “irony”.

I’d never been so happy to get out of that store. It was actually dark by the time I got out. I was annoyed because I should have had another 20 minutes of sunlight. Oh wait, I wasted 20 minutes of my life watching a bunch of ignoramuses try to figure out how to do what 15 year kids do for minimum wage. Auchan… a horrible place that should be avoided at all cost. I don’t see any circumstance where I would ever shop there. Like I said, I would have gladly paid 10€ (250% more) to have not had to suffer the misery that is shopping there.

Despite my “tomorrow is another day motto” I decided that Saturday night to take it easy. I didn’t even attempt going to a bar by myself. Not that I had given up on trying to meet people. I eventually did meet some people. That will be in “Paris 2008 – Part 3”

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