Thursday, November 15, 2007

Gypsy Punks!

I write to you half-delirious from exhaustion, smelling like an ashtray, and unable to hear much beyond the ringing of my ears. The first part is a result of several things, but the last two are solely the result of going to see Gogol Bordello tonight. I know my generation overuses this word ever since it gradually replaced "awesome," but they were AMAZING.

The road there was hellish. Because of the strike, the bus I had planned on taking there, which provided a direct route, was not in service. I did not discover this until I got to the bus station, which meant that the time cushion I had left was now not nearly enough time to get there by 7:30. Plan B was to take metro line 1 (which always works because it's evidently crucial to the running of the city, and conveniently, the line I live on) and transfer to metro line 9. The line 1 leg of the trip consisted of an extremely crowded subway car that could have constituted cruel and unusual punishment had it not been voluntary. I got to the stop to transfer to line 9 only to discover that it was temporarily out of service, with no time given for when service would restart.

So I had to improvise on the fly, and I noticed I could take bus 65, then transfer to bus 75. I knew this would take me a long time, but I didn't have a lot of options. Both legs of this trip involved being smushed like sardines. Having been on both a) a New York subway during rush hour, and b) a bus in China (which, remember, holds roughly 20% of the entire world), I don't use "like a sardine" lightly. I only use it if there is virtually no freedom of movement whatsoever. Which was most certainly the case.

I finally got to the venue at around 9:00. I was totally expecting that the concert had already ended, and at this point, my intention was to find someone affiliated with the band and see if there was some way to get a voucher for a future performance. To my surprise, the ticket guy took my ticket and waved me in, so I asked if it was almost over, and he looked surprised and said, "No, the second half hasn't started yet." So that was promising. The venue was very informal, with a low stage, and a couple different tiers of audience space, but none being more than a step or two higher than each other.

Then the amazingness commenced. Any rock band with a fiddle and an accordion is pretty much ok by me (although I say this with knowledge of no other such band), but throw in that Eastern European vibe, and it is golden. Plus, the lead singer is more or less indistinguishable from Borat, especially in voice, with highly amusing results. The energy of the band is overwhelming, and even that is overwhelmed by the lead singer in particular. He's jumping all over the place and constantly gesturing, but with his whole body. He lost his shirt very quickly into the second half (and I can't imagine it stayed on during the first half either) and at one point donned a wig of very long, bright red hair. This is amidst taking swigs of wine from a bottle stored on-stage, and of course, playing the guitar and singing.

Even after the set was over and the band left the stage, it did not end. Most bands will entertain the audience with one song when they cheer for an encore. Gogol Bordello? I think it was six. Six very full-length songs. The concert ended with a mosh pit of sorts on stage, and the lead singer being raised above the crowd like a Christ figure. (You know, from the part of the Bible where Jesus is crowd surfing... or something.) All in all, it ended at 11:00, so even though I missed the first hour and a half, I absolutely do not feel cheated of anything.

I caught the very last metro heading back from the venue (because line 9 was back up by then), and then I had to wait about 20 minutes for the 1 train, but now I am finally home. I haven't done my reading for class tomorrow, but I cannot absorb information at the moment, so I will try (and fail) to wake up early tomorrow and skim through it then.

Also, I will post pictures tomorrow, because I am way to exhausted to load them onto my computer now. It takes forever to upload them into the post, and the formatting is always all wonky at first. Additionally, concert pictures are always horrendous, but I guess horrendous pictures are better than no pictures at all, so you will have to find a way to accept it and move on, trying though it may be.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007


So the Writers' Guild of America is striking and you guys have no TV, but more crucially in a daily life sort of way, the RATP and SNCF of France are striking, and we have no transportation. For me, this is actually a good thing, because I can choose to attend classes, or not. I have chosen not. I mean, the whole point of living in the 21st century is that I never have to say, "When I was your age, I trudged three hours through the wind and the cold to get to school." I can say, "When I was your age, the public transportation people went on strike and my lazy ass stayed home." We have been told to do our best to attend classes, though I'm not sure why classes aren't just cancelled - not all students are really within walking distance, and those who are will now have an unfair advantage (assuming students care about this, which for me, isn't particularly the case). I think it's a strange expectation with weird consequences.

Anyway, I will show you pictures of Retiro Park in Madrid today, because it was amazing. I don't think captions are really necessary, although the penultimate picture of the glass building was holding some temporary "art display," which as far as I can tell, was a pile of firewood.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Madrid. Right.

Ok, I will return to Madrid today, because I still have a buttload of pictures and nothing interestingly Parisian happened today.

I went to a bullfight (although I believe Sevilla is actually better known for them), but I am not going to post pictures of it, since they may be found objectionable. However, I will email them to you if you request them. In Cathy's words, "It was an emotional rollercoaster!" There's the very obvious feeling bad for the bull; it's obviously going to die, because by the time it's one-on-one with the torero (whom we call a matador), it's already dying. This, however, does not necessarily decrease the amount of danger for the torero. Dying or not, this guy is facing a bull. It is way more powerful, and it can kill you. Granted, it almost never does, but knowing that it's capable of doing so is enough to keep the audience attentive. So as a spectator, I was torn between cheering for the bull, who is being unfairly tortured for sheer entertainment, and admiring the torero for his courage in facing a bull and doing what he can to get it to pass as close to him as possible without being harmed. That is all I will say about the bullfight. If you want to know about the process of what actually happens, leave a comment, and I will tell you in some other way. I will, however, post pictures of the venue.

The venue is called Las Ventas... and this is what it looks like.

This is the poster for that day's line-up of toreros.

Today's picture tour will guide you through the Plaza Mayor, and I will also show you some pictures of the Royal Palace.

This is one of the sides of the Plaza Mayor. The whole thing is symmetrical, so basically, you're surrounded by four walls of this.

This is a statue of Felipe III. I don't know what he did.

There's a bunch of little vendors, caricture artists, and cafés, like most tourist areas. The middle is actually nice and open, and there was some sort of demonstration going on with people in red shirts riding on bikes in a circle around the plaza. I'm not sure what it was for though.

One of the stores sells a lot of hats.

This other one sells a lot of swords.

This is one way out of the Plaza Mayor, and I thought it looked cool, so I snapped a photo.

I found these buildings really interesting. They're very curvy.

Exterior of the Royal Palace

This is the only picture I got of the inside, because afterwards, some guard told me pictures were not allowed. This is on the ceiling above the staircase.

This is across from the other Palace building. I think it's the armory, if I remember correctly (I didn't go inside).

I do realize these captions are almost worthless, but if the picture's worth 1,000 words, what's the point? You can see for yourself.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Armistice Day

We no longer celebrate Armistice Day (the end of WWI) in the States, but it's still kind of a big deal here. There was a huge gathering at the Arc de Triomphe and Sarkozy said some things near the tomb of the unknown soldier and shook a bunch of hands. I would have gone, but it was really early in the morning, and I didn't get home until about six this morning because AUP had a party on a boat until around 5, so that was not going to happen.

Yesterday I also went to the flea markets at Porte de Clignancourt, which was cool, although if you're crunched for time in Paris, don't bother unless you like antiques. If you do, it would be a gold mine. Beware of pickpockets; there are a lot of people, so it would be really easy to pull. The neighborhood is pretty run-down; it's in the very northern part of Paris. Here are some pictures.

This little shop was like stepping back into the 70s. There was this jukebox, a really old TV, some really quirky radios and clocks and was all around very funky.

The little blue book on the left is a really, really tiny version of Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen. The actual text is printed inside. It's perhaps a bit larger than the upper joint of my thumb.

This picture is to give you an idea of the neighborhood.

I worry 'bout the government, too, although we're probably referring to different countries.

On Friday, a bunch of us had dinner with some French people for us to practice our respective foreign languages, so that was nice. It really is way more useful to practice with native speakers; taking class doesn't cut it. Of course, if you take your classes in French, you're much better off. If not though, find some locals and make friends.