One of the best things about living in any big city is the fact that there are cultural events at your finger tips on an almost daily basis. Now that I have lived in Paris for three years, I sometimes find myself getting into the normal tunnel vision routine of the same daily grind. There are also many events that I have already discovered or revisit as often as I can. But despite all that, there are still many experiences that I have yet to partake in. So when the stars align, I do my best to jump at the chance to have a new adventure. Last weekend, for the first time since I've lived in Paris, I finally took advantage of the annual artistic exhibition, Nuit Blanche.
On the first Saturday of October every year, the streets of Paris are bedecked with various art exhibits, installations and live performances for visiting and local Parisians to pursue. The theme this year was Love, specifically following the story of Poliphile from an early Renaissance romantic tale. The original rendezvous point was at Hotel de Ville, where you could pick up a booklet and map, join one of many tours that seemed to have manifested, or utilize the app specifically downloadable for the event. I met one of my friends who had been to Nuit Blanche in the past, and we spent a little while trying to figure out how on earth this year's theme was meant to be experienced. Though we both read French moderately well, it was difficult to understand exactly what the best route would be, so in the end we decided to wander around the Marais and take a look at whatever seemed interesting. There were so many clusters of exhibits jam-packed into that district, we had no problem filling our night with interesting sites.
Hotel de Ville itself was swarming with people surrounding a massive installation in the square where executions and guillotines once dominates. It was a giant circle akin to an ice rink with various wooden structures resembling antlers sticking out in different places. It seems that there was a story to accompany every exhibit but rather than battling French all evening, we decided to just soak it all in and enjoy. From there, the next exhibit we ran into was initially a bit of a paradox. We saw a group of people standing in front of what looked like a graffitied garage door. We figured that there must be some sort of performance about to be unveiled and we asked some others who were waiting, but after about 15 minutes we became hesitant. At long last, circa 9pm, the door rose up and we were treated to a rather avant-garde display of functional fire extinguishers. Since I am the size of a hobbit, I couldn't do much more than view the spectacle through other people's raised smart phones filming the event: the one benefit of egocentric technological whores.
We saw various things throughout the night, ranging from a pinball machine whose techno music would alter based on the moves of the player (I wonder how Tommy would have fared) to live opera in a beautiful cathedral to an enormous square completely cloaked in darkness other than a small circle of glass objects lit up in the center with the haunting sound of bells chiming in the background. My personal favorite was a projection displayed in a small church. The piece was entitled Eclats d'Âme by Pascal Boyart and it consisted of pieces of cellophane draped across the courtyard and illuminated in bright blue. If you viewed the pieces from one side of the yard you would see what looked like the hologram of a face hovering in the center. It was eery and mystical and completely beautiful all at the same time.
Throughout the night, my friend and I partook in some wine we had brought with us as well. It was probably the first cold evening we've seen in Paris so far this autumn, so a bit of France's finest served us well. There was definitely more security on the streets and in the buildings than in past years, according to my friend, and definitely far fewer wanderers on the streets. The plague of terrorism has tragically tainted the streets these past couple of years. If I hadn't had to work the following morning, I would have spent many more hours perusing the beautiful art laid about town, but I was happy with the exhibits I was able to see over the course of a few hours. It was truly remarkable to experience all the pieces that artists created for us to see for free within such a stunning landscape as Paris.