"All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players."  --William Shakespeare

Entries in rituals (6)


Say It Loud: I'm Gay and I'm Proud!


As we've said before, Paris Play loves a parade, a parade, a parade.

One of the loudest and most exuberant we've been to so far was today's Gay Pride celebration, which just happens to have passed our corner for hours this afternoon, a block from the Seine.  It's one of the loudest thanks to the never-ending convoy of flatbed trucks with full DJ rigs, playing continuous disco, or tech, or dance music at levels you can hear four blocks away.

And it's one of the most exuberant because, well, just look.  We saw new folks of all types--you provide the label, they were there, many in platform shoes--and some old favorite friends including the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, with whom we used to party in San Francisco (they have a French convent over here), and even, floating above the revelers, an animated hero.  It's safe to say that France's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community was boisterous and proud and fully represented.

No gays on the scaffold

Of course, exuberance was also tempered by the fact that being gay can be a death sentence in many intolerant countries around the world, and that pride is also a matter of asserting ones' rights.

No crowd estimate, but, according to reliable news sources, past parades have drawn as many as 650,000 revelers and spectators.  Since Paris weather turned summery and beautiful only within the last week, any costume was possible, from full drag, to square pants, to no pants.


Homo or hetero my children I love them as they are

Human rights are my pride

And why is the princess never a prince?



Is This Germany in the Thirties?

Faux Mexican wrestling poster; street art mocking the French presidential runoff


As we wait for Sunday's second round of voting in the French presidential election, when the center-right incumbent, Nicolas Sarkozy, and the Socialist challenger, François Hollande, face off, mano-a-mano, the big story is still the fact that Marine Le Pen, the 43-year-old, far-right, anti-immigration challenger, picked up almost eighteen percent of the first-round vote April 22. This was a tad more than her father, Jean-Marie, received in the first and second rounds, respectively, as the National Front's presidential candidate in 2002.



Will she, or will she not endorse either remaining candidate by Sunday? some commentators still breathlessly ask.



No, she won't. She dislikes both parties, and positioned herself in a triumphal speech on election night (“We have exploded the monopoly of the two parties...”) as the successor to the failed policies of Sarkozy's UMP party, and the perceived "ultra-liberalism" of Hollande and the left in general. Imagine, for example, if U.S. Republican Sarah Palin had been a third-party candidate, and, having lost in the hypothetical first round, had taken a whack at both McCain and Obama. (Just for fun, further imagine the U.S. with viable third parties, instead of parties that are two sides of a coin residing in a lobbyist's pocket.)



While Ms. Le Pen may not be a kingmaker, there will also be the question of legislative representation in France's multi-party Assembly and Senate further down the line, and perhaps even pressure on Sarkozy (if re-elected) to consider National Front politicians as cabinet members. That's not bloody likely either, according to most pundits, but there are some talking heads who say, "Hey, why not give her a shot? She's got no program other than anti-immigration, trade protectionism, anti-NATO, and ultra-nationalism; give her party some responsibility in a cabinet and watch them tank." Ms. Le Pen has served as a member of the European Parliament, representing north-west France.





Meanwhile, the 'tween elections period was marked by a bit of political theater here in town yesterday (May Day), a ritual that Le Pen's National Front party performs every year, but since this was an election year, their event--a parade and wreath-laying--was bigger and better, and quite well-organized. While the trains didn't run on time (the parade was late), there were dozens of contingents of National Front supporters bussed in from all over France, and the number of blue, white and red national flags made it look like a Nixon rally (had Dick been French).



The ritual political theater, started by Ms. Le Pen's father, who founded the Catholic-based party in 1972, involves placing a floral wreath at a truly gaudy gold-painted statue of Jeanne D'Arc, the national heroine of France, across from the Louvre on Paris' Right Bank.




We at Paris Play found this odd, since we know May Day as an international left-wing celebration, and since May first is known here as Fete du Travail (Labor Day, which is akin to the holiday in the U.S. in September), to honor the labor movement and its successes. Labor is a powerful force here in France, and the 35-hour week and an early retirement age are practically sacrosanct. In late 2010, during his first term, Sarkozy successfully pushed the legislature to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62, but a Socialist president with a heavy political debt to labor may work to drop it back down.




Anyway, this is the 600th anniversary year of Jeanne D'Arc's birth, and the fortuitous coincidence of it being an election year in which the National Front did well, made the party's ritual tweaking of left-wing noses even more of an event this year. Marine Le Pen AND Jean-Marie showed up for the wreath-laying, and Paris Play estimates that ten thousand National Front members attended the event, and the party rally in front of the Garnier Opera House.

(Our crowd estimate: We counted 300 people passing a single point during one minute, and the crowd kept passing for one half-hour. Later on Tuesday, we attended the annual left-wing, Left Bank May Day celebration, which coincidentally happened to meander by our block. As we write this post, the crowd is still passing, after some hours. Hundreds of thousands. However, none of the photographs in this post are from that parade. We found the right more fascinating.)



Are we in Germany in the 1930s, as some would have it, and are these the faces of fascism? Or is this just a bunch of scared and angry (and happy to have made a political tremor) French nationalists enjoying the first really sunny Paris day we've had in weeks, since the false spring of late March? We hate stories that end "only time will tell," so we won't say that.

We will note (our friend Mort Rosenblum of Reporting Unlimited tipped us to this excellent New York Times analysis) that there is a rising tide of extreme right sentiment all over Europe, but it appears to us that the National Front is still more of a Le Pen family personality cult (witness the generational hand-off) than a political party (think of a far-poorer populist Ross Perot), and that Marine is just a more attractively packaged and more muted version of her father.

4 May Update:  Perhaps Nicolas Sarkozy read Paris Play's assessment of the Le Pen family party and found himself in agreement with our conclusion, when he called it the Le Pen family business







Here are four short, uncut, high-definition videos of marching, singing, chanting, etc., that will give you even more of the sense of being there. Think of them as uncut newsreel footage. They are Flash, so you might not be able to view them on Apple mobile devices:





Queer Things, Great and Small


"For if the world is like a dark jungle and a garden of delight for all wild hunters, it strikes me even more, and so I prefer to think of it, as an abysmal, rich sea--a sea full of colorful fish and crabs, which even gods might covet, that for their sakes they would wish to become fishermen and net-throwers, so rich is the world in queer things, great and small. Especially the human world, the human sea: that is where I now cast my golden fishing rod and say: Open up, you human abyss!"

That's Friedrich Nietzsche, in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Part Four.


And that is what Richard and I are doing now, fishing in the depths. We'll be back with you in several weeks.

As 2012 dawns, we wish you a year of wild hunting and fruitful fishing!





Locking for Love in All the Wrong Places

Occasionally we'll notice a Paris phenomenon, like rubbing a statue for good luck, or for fertility, that has blossomed into a full-blown urban legend.

Just a few blocks from us, behind Notre Dame at Pont de L'Archevêché (The Archbishop's Bridge, one of the thirty-seven Paris bridges that span the Seine), another urban legend blooms, to the annoyance of city officials. Lovers who wish to lock in their commitment to undying love (that happens a lot in Paris) snap their initialed and ribbon-festooned bike or travel lock shut onto the bridge's wire mesh fence, and throw the key into the Seine.

, love forever, or at least until city employees arrive with lock snips, as they did last year at the footbridge near the Louvre called Pont des Arts, a few bridges west of Notre Dame. The Paris lock phenomenon started there early in this millenium, and Pont des Arts' reputation as a locus for lovers was apparently enhanced (for some Americans, anyway) in the final episode of the TV series Sex and the City, in February 2004. (Your Paris Play editors somehow missed all episodes of Sex and the City.)

(Incidentally, the love lock phenomenon is not confined to Paris; according to Wikipedia it is worldwide, with reports from cities like Rome, Florence, Cologne, Seoul, Vancouver, Montevideo, Moscow, and from the countries of Serbia--love lock Ground Zero--and Taiwan.)

What annoys city officials is that the lock fetish can get out of hand; witness the angle above, which shows only about half the length (say 34 meters) of the Archbishop's west side. A Paris city hall spokesperson told the British newspaper, The Independent, that the locks "raise problems for the preservation of our architectural heritage."

While it looks to us Aphrodite worshippers like a harmless and even charming tradition, Parisians take their architectural heritage seriously.

So what if the lovers were left alone, and simply ran out of lock room?

Funny you should ask. Here's the east side of Pont de L'Archevêché, where, as in a Hollywood horror movie, the sequel is taking shape, ever so slowly, lock by lock, by lock, by lock, by....


Happy Birthday, Ganesha!

Paris Play loves a holiday.

And a parade.

And myth.

So a Paris holiday parade in honor of a mythological diety, particularly a diety like Ganesha, the elephant-headed populist hero who is the Remover of All Obstacles, the god of all new beginnings, of the intellect, of good luck, and of creative artists, sends us into ecstasy.



We are not alone.

Paris has Europe's third-largest Hindu community, centered at the border of the hardscrabble tenth and eighteenth arrondissements, near two major railyards, Gare du Nord and Gare de l'Est. Once a year, they (Hindu Indians and the Hindu Sri Lankan Tamil community) have a party to celebrate Ganesha, and all Paris comes. There's singing, dancing, poetry, chariot-dragging, and tons of food--coconuts, bananas, mangos, rice, curries--all manner of food and colorful spices, because Ganesha (note the belly) loves to eat. Men carry entire trees on their heads, and women, burning incense pots.



Flip through our photo album, and join with us in celebrating Ganesha, one of the most widely worshipped gods of the Hindu pantheon; Hinduism is the world's third largest religion, behind Christianity and Islam. Lean close to your computer and inhale the fragrance of jasmine garlands. 







Paris is a clean metropolis, and even on Sundays, the city crews are waiting to sweep up the parade residue, including the remains of piles of tumeric coated coconuts, which are broken open on the streets to feed one and all. Happy birthday, Ganesha, and may your blessings rain on all Paris Play readers.  



If you'd like to see a high-resolution slideshow of our Ganesha's Birthday photos, there's one here.