I saw the laughing man this morning as I went to the shop. I used to see him a lot but haven’t seen him for quite a while, though I’ve been away. He’s an old Jamaican guy who is always laughing his head off, muttering something to himself and just laughing. He was walking down St. Saviours Road. I crossed the road to avoid him, fearing that if I got too close I might start laughing as well and not be able to stop.
The Stasi museum is well hidden. I had to ask directions twice, and still I was wandering around some estate where I was told it was supposed to be. It was only when I was about to give up that I saw a clock with something on it, something that’s hard to describe so I won’t. The truth is I can’t remember what it had on it. I’d written down “Nastasi used to be howls here” but that can’t be right. I didn’t write that. My notes have become distorted.
This was shot just over a year ago in Paris but it seems quite topical now.
Listening to some people on the other side of the cafe talking about cycling: cyclists breathe in less pollution than car passengers apparently, according to a woman who sounds like she knows what she’s talking about, though often the people who sound like they know what they’re talking about are the ones who don’t. It’s because of the height, she says. Cyclists are higher up, unless they’re children or recumbants, so the air they take in is better quality, whereas cars take in air from lower down which is where the pollution hangs.
Discovered the Parfitt brothers’ new band on MySpace and listened to some before getting cut off, perhaps for having too slow an internet connection.
There is a hole in the roof of the house I am living in and people are coming in, down a ladder. I don’t know where they’re coming from but there are loads of them. Some of them I know but most of them are strangers. They’re making themselves at home. I’m not sure if this is my house or not. Maybe it isn’t. Most of these people are quite friendly. I don’t really want to kick them out, and I think if I asked them to leave they would just be baffled.
Back after almost a year away. Things don’t seem to have changed much.
Getting the train up here from Eastbourne, where I’ve been staying for the past week, took about 3 hours since no trains were running between Lewes and Three Bridges, and then the Victoria Line wasn’t running so there was another replacement bus, though taking the bus gave me a chance to look at London. After Paris it looked quite chaotic, a lot more messy, though a woman from Hong Kong I met in Paris last February was telling me she thought London was much cleaner than Paris. But I mean messy on a larger scale. Not litter on the streets so much as the buildings and the layout. Central Paris has quite a unified feel about it, whereas London has various bits and pieces that don’t seem to be part of any overall plan – if Paris is an organized garden like Versailles
Went to see JLG / JLG, a Jean Luc Godard film / video / home movie / essay. My French wasn’t really good enough to understand most of what he was saying, and I kept dozing off, but there were some nice images of snow covered landscapes and waves and some good sounds. May try and watch it again with subtitles when I get back to England, which could be tomorrow.
At midnight on 1st January 2008 it became illegal to smoke in public spaces throughout France. Due to a concession it remained legal to smoke indoors throughout New Year’s Day.
Sitting in a bar just after midnight. The floor is clean, white tiles, and there are no ashtrays on the tables. I sit at a table with a beer, not smoking. A man who was propping up the bar steps outside for a cigarette, moving about in an attempt to keep warm. He comes back in complaining about the cold. Usually there would be a mound of cigarette butts lining the foot of the bar so you can’t see where the bar ends and the floor begins. In France prices are lower if you stand at the bar, and though ashtrays were usually provided, people seemed to prefer using the floor.
A group of men dressed in black walk in. One is desperate for the toilet. A couple of the others want to buy cigarettes. This place is not a tabac. Tabacs are the only places allowed to sell cigarettes, but late at night when the tabacs are closed many bars sell them under the counter at an inflated price – about €8,50 for a packet, whereas you would pay €5,50 in a tabac.
A man in an overcoat walks in holding a lit cigarette, apparently having forgotten the new law. No one notices, but he seems to suddenly realize, perhaps spotting the lack of ashtrays and smoke. He drops his cigarette on the floor and discretely stubs it out with his foot, then, after shaking hands with a couple of people he leaves. One of the bar-props notices the butt and points it out to the barman. The barman comes round to the front of the bar and they both stand staring at the butt for a while, neither one of them speaking, as if a turd has just appeared on the floor. The barman kicks it over to the foot of the bar, where today it would have found many friends and relatives but now it is all alone. The barman wipes away the black marks it has made with his foot.
The following night I’m sitting outside another bar, warmed by a gas heater. A number of bars and restaurants have canvas covered outside areas with such heaters blasting away. Sometimes these areas have canvas or perspex sides, making them almost interiors, but not quite, at least not as far as the law is concerned. Others just have small canopy, with the vast majority of the heat dissipating into the atmosphere. The one I’m in has one partially open side to it. Though it is a cold night it is quite warm sitting directly under a heater, though not warm enough to take my coat off. Some passers by stop in to warm themselves and smoke. This outside area of the bar has more people in it than the inside.
There are no ashtrays. The floor is littered with cigarette butts. I decided before Christmas, after a brief period of not smoking, that I would quit when France quits, but France doesn’t appear to have quit, it’s just moved outside.
My prediction for 2008: France’s carbon emissions will increase due to its outdoor heating pour les fumeurs.