"Brother, if you can’t paint here you might as well give up and marry the boss’s daughter."
Thus opens Vincente Minelli's classic MGM musical "An American in Paris." I watched this film this week because I've been feeling pretty down, due to a series of mishaps which I won't chronicle just yet because I'm waiting to see how it will turn out. I needed some affirmation, I needed some tap-dancing Gene Kelly, I needed some Gershwin, and most of all, I needed to remember why I'm here to begin with. Not because Leslie Caron danced next to a man-made Seine in a Hollywood backlot in 1951, but because there is some magic here which I find particularly inspiring, partly owing to the absolute foreignness of it all, and the sense of accomplishment at having learnt a language and built a life for myself over here out of nothing. I'm reasonably content, doing my thing, and I find ample source of motivation to continue with my research and my writing.
So on thursday I wiped away my tears, splashed some cold water on my face, and somewhat appropriately headed down to La Salpêtrière, the former asylum where women diagnosed as "hysterical" became a floor show for Charcot and his sexist psychoanalyst underlings. Nowadays the place is just a regular French hospital (although, continuing the tradition of welcoming women misunderstood by the men in their lives, it is where Princess Diana was brought after her fatal car accident in August 1997). In spite of what you may be thinking, I was not going to turn myself over to the psychiatric authorities. I went to see an art show in the chapel.
It was called "Springtime in Paris," the hackneyed phrase capturing exactly the spirit I was hoping to infuse into my week, what with the Gene Kelly and all. A number of expatriate artists affiliated with the IVY Paris salon were showing their work, and I knew I'd find friendly faces there. I went, as the French say, to change my ideas.
The show was fascinating; there were some really affective pieces (TK: I'm going to have to do a little research to quote them by artist). Judging from the show, the contemporary expatriate artist's view of Paris sure has changed since Jerry Mulligan sketched the Arc de Triomphe-- the pieces ranged from photographic nocturnes of Paris in the moonlight to a three-dimensional advertisement of Paris as "The City of Piss."
Some of the work was remarkably original; some of it remarkably derivative (far too many Surrealist would-bes for my taste, having recently completely a long research project on the real thing). Most everything showed a high level of technique and accomplishment. Nothing, however, made me stop in my tracks saying "Yes! This is what expatriates are doing in Paris right now. This is reason for us to be here. This is what we're contributing, what we'll be remembered for."
Nothing, that is, except the event itself. The fact of its organization, the fact that it was so well-attended, the fact that it created so much internet buzz, the fact that I went with a couple of other bloggers, the fact that I was on the lookout for people I only knew through blogs, the fact that, on my way out the door with E, a young girl came running up to stop us asking if E really was La Coquette. The structure of association among expats, artists, writers, and even friendships here in Paris has been totally revolutionized by the internet, and I think we can safely say that this-- what we're doing-- the way we're connecting, the way we're experiencing this place and this time and each other-- is the new spirit of "Springtime in Paris." We're all mindful of the old mythology, hopefully we're humble enough not to assume we're worthy to assume its mantle, but we're here, and we're writing, and we're painting, and we're burning down our sculpture (on purpose??), and it might actually be beginning to mean something.
I didn't take my camera, so I don't have any pictures, but there are some here.