Urban acculturation workshop, Paris 19 - 21 october, 2001
Organized by the cube cinema of bristol with assistance from irational, zone tour, pleine peau, and the yes men.
5 hours after I got to berlin, David Martinez waltzed in with his cowboy hat and guitar and pkk tshirt and fell asleep on the couch. David Martinez talks as quickly as television and cannot be still and always seems to wear the same clothes, even though he doesn't. Richard Linklater took David on video and made him into a cartoon for his new saturday morning material flick. I left austin before the film opened but i heard he chopped half the dialogue and that David gets no royalties. While David slept, Dimitrios Binos stopped by for coffee. He had found me jetlagged and lost a few hours before and taken me in his taxi to Matthias Horz`s flat. On this drive we had fallen in love with the idea of making great things together, so now we were talking about the world and also about his 19 year old son Georgios, who he would call every few minutes on the cellphone to explain what we were going to do next. I think we were quite loud when Matthias came home. Matthias practices law and is gentle and civilized and lives and works alone in his flat. Dimitrios split. David woke up and filled me in on the gossip and went to look for another place to sleep before it got dark.
We were in the crocodile bar on brunnenstrasse and David had just found out that his bid for an airhitch ticket back to the States had come through but he had to be in Paris in three days and his credit card had stopped working a few hours before. A kid from Mexico City was telling me I could live with him for the winter in the squat across the street. We moved my stuff and called Dimitris` son Georgios and the three of us got a ride to Paris with Arnim, who was moving to Japan and had rented a car to tell his ex-girlfriend goodbye.
Georgios did not know any of us. In our brief mania, his father and I had decided I should take him under my wing, that he might learn something about film. Georgios is much taller than I and a couple of years younger. I came to Berlin with nothing, not even a camera. The first thing I did (after finding a place to stay) was not to begin work but to take off with David to meet people in Paris. I pretended this had something to do with filmmaking and asked Georgios to come along. Georgios had a camera but didn't have filmmaking or anything else in mind as a profession. I think he came because he had never been to Paris and had nothing else to do.
The urban adventurers were serious about paris. They were converging on the city from all directions, from croatia, canada, australia, bristol, barcelona, the world. We encountered a group when we first arrived. They were on the far wall of Bani's quite tiny flat looking very beautiful pressed up against the heater. I was glad to see Kate, who always wears a miniskirt and large practical boots. She was the only one not pressed against the heater. For a while kate lived in a truck with a helicopter landing pad but it got impounded or something so she started sleeping on the roof of the cube which is an anarchist cinema project in bristol. There had been some worries about crossing the border because kate's australian passport had been taken when the cops found her carrying an excessively long knife. Her husband Heath had not yet arrived, although he'd mainly organized the weekend's events. When kate came to austin last summer we expected heath to turn up as well but due to another excessively long knife being his primary carry-on the british border control put him in jail and he never made it to texas. David and kate have been friends a long time. He always gives her shit about being a conceptual artist and she treats him like he's a little thick.
By the time we got there they had been waiting a few hours for us to all go eat. Idir, banis husband, was playing tapes for his friend simon and rolling smoke. Bani was laughing and drinking wine. She tried to pour us some but we were all three trying to enter and there were already too many people so it got confusing and everyone was starving so we turned around again, into the air to find someplace serving vegetarian food. We sat down at this nice chinese joint but between us 8 people we could only afford 4 small dishes and 4 small servings of rice. And a little wine. A lengthy discussion of how to decide what to order: to divide into groups of 2 or 4 or could we 8 or what if we were 5 and 3? which I stayed out of. We got some food with i think mostly david and kate arguing about what we were going to eat and it was alright but we were all still hungry afterwards and the waiter was pissed that we were keeping them open late.
There was some discussion at the table as to how people were all going to fit into the room horizontally. Various alternatives such as the car and the kitchen and the hallway surfaced. Kate did not want the car because it was too exposed. David wanted the hallway cause it was like having your own room and just like david he said it first so he got it. Nobody wanted the kitchen cause it was really dirty. I slept by the heater but unfortunately also in the doorway so i had to keep dodging in the morning as people got up.
Kate and company left early to climb on things and to see if they could find the crew from paris and croatia and barcelona and maybe heath. Idir went to work. Bani got up to go to Iran where she was going to spend a few months looking for filmmakers to set up with French producers. I emerged from my sleeping bag just as she had finished putting on her black and as usual in the morning i had no idea where i was. Bani is really sharp and absolutely gorgeous. I had never seen her adjusting a tschadyr before so i watched her getting ready for a while and wished she wouldn't leave. She did anyway and so did david, in search of the airhitch ticket and a credit card to buy it with. Georgios went to find the eiffel tower. There was no one left to watch so i got up and called mogniss abdallah but he had to write an article so we decided to meet later for dinner and i finally left the flat. Hearing the door to the brownstone click shut behind me, i realized i had no key and no money and nothing to do until everyone got back but to walk directionless. This happens to me in public pools as well, everyone seems to be swimming back and forth with purpose and resolve and i just float on the bottom or turn summersaults and hope that they don't accidentally kick me when they pass.
I spent the afternoon watching the end of a huge market a few streets away. The vendors were already gone so i walked around with the scavengers. They were all ages and colors and didn't speak which was fine with me as my french is limited to oui oui je se je se. I walked quietly and looked at all the different sorts of leftover vegetables until some bright sweeper trucks came and made everything clean and boring. I came to a building where a guy with a stringy beard was throwing potted sunflowers with ropes around them off his roof so that they swung and crashed into the building and then hung in the air halfway broken. A big brown man saw me watching from the corner and invited me inside to sit on one of many chairs made of bones and hair and leather. The chairs stood in a circle looking extremely unstable and pointy but i tried each one and they were for the most part functional and even comfortable. The people in the house were preparing an exhibition and yelling a lot and quickly forgot i was there. I sat in the chair and looked at the holes in my tennis shoes and decided that the next day i would get up early to go urban adventuring with kate but that i needed practical boots.
I mentioned the upcoming catacomb expedition at dinner to mogniss and his wife and they happened to have a pair of fishing boots which were much too large for me but which fit georgios perfectly. Georgios got along well with mogniss's wife, who came from the same part of germany as his mother's family. They spoke plattduetsch together and made lots of jokes. This surprised me because dimitris is so adamantly greek and i had assumed his son to be so also but he wasn't. David and i became progressively more intoxicated and outraged at the globalization of the american police state. Mogniss listened to us quietly and eventually left the table. He returned with a pair of beautiful bright pink moonboots.
The company wanted to get their bags out of the flat because they were moving to ray's who had couches. David had the only spare key so we met and walked to an algerian bar called the three hats. On the way the eiffel tower went out and the company decided it would soon go to bed. They'd had a fulfilling and exhausting day of active deconditioning, climbing over buildings and through automobiles also looking for catacomb boots. David kissed kate goodbye and promised to see her again where direct action meets conceptual art. He was going to catch a bus at 6 in order to get his plane to brooklyn so we stayed at the three hats until they stopped serving and then stumbled back to the flat and passed out in bani's bed.
They wanted to meet later, at an internet cafe. Heath called some ninjas who were supposed to show us around but they did not want to do anything in the rain. I tried to sit in the firetruck on the carousel because i was tired of standing but the alarm went off and we all had to leave. Hendrik was sure he knew the way to the internet cafe so we followed him and got entirely lost. Then he decided we were close and sent everyone running in a different direction to look for it, with the plan to meet again in 10 minutes. I liked this much better cause i was tired of waiting in a big group. I ran into hendrik again on the other side of the block and we went into burger king for directions. Then we went back and waited in a big group for the rest to return. Then we went to the internet cafe and waited in a big group for the rest of the company.
My mood was becoming incredibly black from cold and waiting and i needed a beer to get rid of my hangover but luckily everyone showed up before i became rude and we went to a real cafe, where we rediscovered the smallness of the world through common acquaintances and traded nomadic cinema blueprints and promised to visit each other. At some point however the plan seemed to be evolving into shopping for catacomb boots so georgios and i took off. I wanted to sleep at the flat but couldn't be still so i cleaned the kitchen until the sky was again dark and it was time to go to the party at frederick madres where we would meet the catacombists. I donned my moonboots. Georgios put on the fishing gear. We bought a bottle of Jack and shuffled in the direction of frederick's.
Walking in moonboots without snow is basically wading through permanent slippery sponge. Georgios went slowly for me and together we managed to finish a good deal of the Jack before we got to frederick's. We had a code for the front door but didn't know what floor so we spent some time listening at people's doorways for voices we could recognize. An elderly woman emerged from her apartment as we were removing our ears and scolded us and took us to frederick's. He explained us to her and we introduced ourselves to him. We were the first guests. The apartment was clean and well lit. We drank quietly and watched frederick arrange the pretzels until more people arrived. Everyone seemed quite grownup and french and i couldn't speak much so i invited them to go climbing the next day although i had not been climbing at all and then jumped around by myself in the kitchen. Kate and company came before too long and a group of catacombists showed up around midnight with nice smiles. They made great fun of my moonboots because no one in their right mind goes wading through thigh-high water in sponge shoes and also because they were huge and pink and made me look like a japanese comic.
I decided i liked the catacombists very much, especially olrik who kept looking at me and laughing. We left the party and agreed to meet at a busstop on the other side of town. I squeezed into kate's car, where heath drove and hendrick found the way and ray took pictures. It seemed as though we arrived first again so i hid from the rain with some kids who were drinking in a nearby doorway until ray ran up and said that we were last and i should hurry as the catacombists had already sent everyone into a hole in the ground and were counting each other and waiting for the missing person.
We went through telephone tunnels first which led into a quarry system below the left bank. Olrik was talking about a parallel deserted paris made of construction sites, attics, rooftops and tunnels. He spoke of existing alongside the world where people live, work and consume; about the joys of inhabiting the backside of the setting - invisible, inaudible, wandering under the sidewalk or above the family eating dinner. He had the keys of the postman to open any apartment house door and the keys to the city parks and government buildings and subways and more, to explore the hidden and functional. This sounded wonderful and i was trying to listen but also trying to climb over gaping holes and deciding that my moonboots were not funny but in fact extremely dangerous and that i should have remembered to borrow a flashlight.
We took a short break in a place called Room Z where another group was listening to disco on a broken boombox and passing french cigarettes. They started a brief history lesson: around 300 km of quarry tunnels run under paris which the cops tried to concrete closed to no avail during the Great Catacomb Craze of the '80s. Olrik's friends took off again before they were done, past big rock drips, into dusty holes and unmarked passages, running crouched down through low corridors to The Labyrinth, a network dug maybe in the 14th century under what is now the Val de Gr‚ce military hospital. We passed some Old Things: discarded Ukranian missiles; the iron bars of an x-ray room with dirty Röntgens still littering the floor behind them; the bottom end of Queen Catherine de Medicis' toilet; and the stone stairway descended by Philibert Aspairt, the last guardian of the Val de Grèce church, before he met his death at the hands of the assassins King Louis the 14th had sent to the tunnels below.
They talked about ghosts and Aspairt being instead the last guardian to the gates of Hell and we walked up and down and around until we came into another cavern and lit candles and settled in for a while. Everyone unpacked food and drink and various substance. Heath pulled out smoked salmon and dried cranberries from canada, which according to kate is his way to impress women and which is in fact very impressive. I smoked with another group who had drifted in from one of the side passages until olrik asked if i wanted to go for a walk. The candles disappeared around a corner into pitch and we went through a few dark twists and turns into a chamber with some strange outside airflow where long hairs clung to my cheeks and the back of my neck. He threw light to show roots reaching down an infinite shaft, tree bottoms swinging in an underground wind. I had never seen anything beautiful like this before but olrik began to move away and i realized i would be lost and dark without him so i followed back through the catacomb wet.
We emerged from the quarries in the morning, blinking and swaying to be above ground. The company returned to ray's to sleep a little before the next round of day climbing. Olrik and his friend who looked like oliver twist took georgios and i to the only open pub, a nasty bright place with too much red. In the toilet a pretty girl was sitting under the hand dryer. She had not found a warm place to sleep so she joined us and ran her fingers through the oliver twist catacombist hair and swore about men. Everything was sadly normal again and as though we could be anywhere and anyone.
I woke up next to olrik and as usual in the morning did not know where i was. I had started to memorize the order of signs and buildings in the taxi on the way there but at some point had closed my eyes and stopped paying attention.
On this morning i felt empty and extraneous and so i wanted to go back to berlin and work as soon as possible. Olrik had warned me not to touch his collection of industrial artifacts before he went to sleep and i could not imagine navigating my way through the towers of tools, books, clocks, and metal odds to the door without something falling or being stepped on and so i felt i could never make it even to the edge of his flat, much less out of paris. I sat in his bed and talked to my stomach and tried to guess which way was east until he woke up. He kissed me and drew me a map and gave me some money for the metro. I followed the drawing around the machine pieces to outside to find georgios binos and a ride back to berlin.