Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Damien Hirst Spot Challenge: London to Paris (7 down, 4 to go!)

High lunge for Paris - 5 down, 6 to go!
After knocking off the two galleries in London, the next logical stop was Paris, a couple of hours away by Eurostar, the undersea train that goes through the "Chunnel."

My one-way Eurostar fare from London to Paris was $US160, purchased in advance using the RailEurope.com site. Now a lot of travel bloggers tell you to avoid this site like the plague - it's the default portal for anyone booking over the web who happens to have their butt on America, and apparently "charges more." They suggest you use the local sites - although you're subject to the whim of exchange rate conversions and deciphering foreign language sites ("just use your intuition," said one blogger blithely).

Well, the French woman sitting beside me in the Eurostar waiting lounge was amazed, telling me her ticket cost something like 150 Euro - Vs my 106, so I felt for once in my life I made out!

The most shocking thing about the otherwise smooth trip was ... NO WI-FI! For some reason, I had assumed wi-fi would be ubiquitous in the EU. My Brazilian seatmate, who went by the name of Rodrigo Mad Scientist, was equally dismayed.

"In Rio, we have wi-fi from one end of the beach to the other!" he sniffed. I could sense his outrage - the Brazilian Real was 1/7 of the value of the Euro, so he was being very careful with his holiday money indeed.

I'd brought just my iPhone without a personal hotspot gadget, and had blocked all calling functions, for fear of an inexplicably giant bill on my return home. I'd downloaded about $20 worth of Lonely Planet City Guides (where was Athens?) for use without an internet connection, but otherwise I was going to depend on wi-fi - or maybe not. You can always ask someone, draw a picture - people were getting out and about long before wi-fi ...
Ahhh, Pareee!
On arriving in Paris, you have to remember a) the subway ticket machines will not take your US credit card; credit cards in the EU (and probably some other countries) have a chip embedded in them, and b) the ticket machines will not take bills, just Euro coins. Which means for most people, standing in a long line to talk to a human. You can buy a book of 10 trips of 12 Euro but I calculated I'd need no more than three- to the gallery, to my accommodation, then to the Gare de Lyon Station for the train bound for Geneva.

Carol Lipton, "a fashion professor in at two Paris fashion schools" (could there be a more enviable business card?) gave me excellent instructions for getting to the gallery doormat with the least amount of parlez vous francais - using the subway. Thank you Pamela Talese for connecting us!

I popped out of the subway somewhere along the Champs-Elysees and spent quite a while turning myself this way and that, trying to work out which way to go. It's a big, wide boulevard and it's not that easy to orient oneself. What did I do? Ask someone.

Quintessential Paree ... note the smart car. 
The short walk led into a very chic neighborhood (the Gagosian galleries are ALL in chic neighborhoods), with an obligatory stop to photograph of the Arc de Triomphe in a whirlpool of cars.

I passed a Velib station, Paris's bike rental system, which takes EU credit cards. After scrutinizing the instructions it seemed you could put money in it and get a pass. As in London with the Barclays public bike system, the first 30 minutes are free.


The Gagosian Gallery, Paris

This is a two level gallery tucked in a quaint street. By this time, I was in desperate need of a restroom, and, after introducing myself as a Spot Challenger, asked if I could use it. To my utter amazement, the young man at reception told me it was only for staff, and stuck to his guns. I'd come half way around the world at considerable expense to partake in this Gagosian event, and I was being refused a chance to take a leak? Did he think I'd leave a spot challenge on the seat?


Thank Buddha the rubber stamp brigade was upstairs, because a wonderfully customer-relations oriented gal called Lily granted me permission.

"Oh puh-leeze," she said, and showed me the way.
Like many of the young staff, Lily is studying art. Specifically, "contemporary art galleries and gallerists for my thesis," but also art blogs "... they play a really interesting role in terms of press and hype.". This one's for you, Lily - sending high distinctions your way...  

For my photo opportunity at this gallery, I experimented with some yoga moves to share with YoGanesh, the Manhattan studio where I teach.

 Look at it - don't stare at it: Warrior III is a lot easier if you "spot" - keep your eye softly fixated on a point.
Across the road I found, to my delight, a free wifi cafe offering a three course lunch for 9 Euro. I sat there for an eternity nibbling and surfing for accommodation, then suddenly received an offer of accommodation from CouchSurfer, Patrick.

"I'll meet you at the gallery," he said.

347K Euro and it's yours. 
While waiting for Patrick I strolled around the nabe to check out other galleries. Gallery Boulakia had a Picasso drawing in the window. I'm a bit of a Picasso drawing fan, so I ventured inside. If I thought the big league strolling around a Gagosian gallery, this small, unassuming gallery was right up there.

"How much is that one?" I asked, pointing a doodle of a woman baring all and then some.

"347 thousand Euro," came the quick reply, as if I'd asked for the price of a carton of yogurt.

I asked if there was a catalog to buy, and to my surprise, I was given a wonderful hardbound edition of the exhibition - gratis. I imagine the sale of one of these masterpieces would cover those books a thousand times over.

"You must have charmed them," said Patrick. "No one gives away anything here."
Me and Picasso in Paree - what more could an art lover want?  Oh yeah - wi-fi! 
My first ever Couchsurf - Patrick in Paris

The incredible generosity of some CouchSurfers is amazing. Patrick had taken a 40 minute crosstown commute to meet me, then took me on a mad dash through the drizzly streets of Paris chasing an elusive art loving friend on his weekly art run.

First stop, the apparently famous Library Gallery bookstore/gallery where a young man was launching his range of loop-cravats (he'd kill me if he knew that's how I described it) and designer bags.
The next craze in men's neckwear? 
It was Valentine's Day, yet many restaurants were empty ("Valentine's Day is more an American thing," offered one local). The rest was a blur but we ended up at a restaurant for a Corsican-style lasagne (confession: I prefer the Italian one.)

Corsican Lasagne: a hunk of cheddar-like cheese grated and layered with a beef  stew sauce - or is that bourgingon?

My camera shy CouchSurfing host, Patrick, leads the way to his neck of the city
I crashed on Patrick's CouchSurfer's futon, then he bundled me out of the apartment at first light to catch the train to Geneva, three hours away...













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