Month: June 2009

New iPhone’s and Bee Wax

iPhonePARIS – As first Apple shop on the European continent is still being built in the Louvre’s chic Carrousel shopping gallery, the new iPhone (3GS) rolled out of FNAC’s and Phonehouses throughout the city. Yesterday was not only the announced release day, but they were actually there. And so was I. After having sat out my time for an iPhone with a proper camera, the day had come to say goodbye to years of phoning with an ordinary mobile phone.

Fiddling around with the fancy gizmo, I have to admit that I now feel a part of a new mobile era – searching information on the go, replying to emails as I’m queuing up somewhere, taking pictures, panning through my calenders as I listen to random songs from my ENTIRE music collection. I realize that many people have had this wonderful experience before me with their iPhone or another smart phone, but do you still remember how exciting this actually is?

I would love to brag that I managed to fill it up to the rim, but 32 Gb is a lot of filling to do. There is enough memory there for 6000 songs. Or to put that differently, you can have 2 weeks of non-stop music. Or actually, there must be a little App programme in the App store out there you can download to calculate your iPhone’s song capacity exactly…

That evening, I polished my shoes. I rubbed the bee wax polish onto my leather shoes, spreading it out evenly so that they would shine the following morning. As I was polishing, struggling in vain not to get the wax on my fingers, I felt a comforting connection with my ancestors, who for hundreds of years have had to have their shoes polished. They would have found themselves in the evening either polishing them or getting their shoes to someone who would do it for them. Perhaps I felt that shared moment there, rather than in other things I do, because shoe polishing feels so antiquated. And yet, the next few hundred years it is not expected to be any different.

But if shoe polishing feels antiquated, as an invisible impossible link to another time, then the iPhone is its opposite, linking you invisibly and impossibly to the current time, the world as it is now. A world which allows you to stare at it and interact, as you move around in it yourself. Feeling the connection with our world is exciting. Feeling a link with your ancestral past through shoe polishing is existentially comforting, as a little escapade away from the immediate. Even if it is not nearly as much fun, as I walked out the door in my freshly polished shoes I felt a self worth I could reflect back through the mirror of the internet phone. And I also realized that I’ll need it too, because cyber-bullying, spam, viruses, cyber fraud and identity theft all just stepped out the door with me…


To that little shop around the corner

La-20Quincaillerie-201_actualites_largePARIS – There is a common nostalgia for buying hats in a hat shop, gloves in the glove shop and bread in a bakery. Only the last one has really survived the onslaught of modernity with it’s super-and hyper-markets. The local bakery even has little chance of being toppled by any new concept, as people love their local boulangerie, which not only makes good bagettes and patisserie, but on top of that the owner tends to be nice to you. And that is where you see the rest of the local commerce go down the drain. Nobody in Paris wants to live in a strictly residential area but keeping those awkward local shops alive is becoming a communal pain. These shops have little to offer, are populated by a rude staff and worst of all, generally do not have a stock of what ever it is they claim to sell. We have reached a stage where we seem to buy there out of charity!

In my neighbourhood, we have a great curiosity called the La Quincaillerie, which sells doorknobs and handles on boulevard St Germain, with atrocious opening hours to discourage any potential customer. As it so happens, I was in the market for them and had walked in. They have a surprisingly limited selection -given the concept of the shop- but amongst their designer wares, I found some beautiful painted porcelain doorknobs. On the day I  would need them, I walked over to the shop to pick them up. Of course it does not work that way with a local shop, and I was told that I would have to wait FIVE weeks for them to arrive! That was of course out of the question. If you would have to wait for weeks for EVERY item you need as you are renovating your apartment, you will never finish! Walking home, I was left wondering what the concept of that store was as I could do better myself – why not just order them directly from China, they will get them here faster than that. (On the internet, is a fun consumer experiment.) Or just go to one of the big chains, which actually have something to sell.

Everybody can conjure up a story of their own such as the one above, but the thing is, these local shops are almost all outdated. A painfully limited choice should be shameful. Not having a stock should lead to not having any sales.  Rude staff should lead to snubbing. People are too nice to these little shops, keeping them afloat on a customer unfriendly concept. I was at the IKEA today, arriving too early and with goods to be returned. We were welcomed at the door to let us know they were still closed, they held on to our goods while we were offered a free coffee in their restaurant. All that with free parking, smiling staff and dirt cheap interior design which was all in stock! A similar experience the week before at the DIY chain Leroy Merlin. These places are, of course, in the suburbs and require a car to get there with time to burn a traffic jam.

People are not only nostalgic for old school shops, which have long stopped being an emblem of craftsmanship and style, but also the services industry has taken on the transformation. Many people say they miss the little cinemas. Today they only subsist on the left bank, with most of them in the Latin Quarter. The rest of the city has multiplex cinemas. Do not pity them. Although an evening spent wandering through the old crooked streets of the left bank, with a little red plush cinema showing a black-and-white Marcello Mastroianni movie sounds divine, the reality is not quite up to it. My local cinema, the Cinéma du Panthéon, has been around since 1907, still looks great and has a tea room co-designed by nobody other than Catherine Deneuve(!). But the lounge is only open till six (!?) and the cinema, although they try, seems to have films lingering on for months on end, and the staff…. Is it really that great to go the old, little screens?

When you think of the MK2 multiplex cinemas, which offer super screens and sound,  chairs for two (so you can lay one against the other), or one which features a little boat from one to the other (Quai de Seine) and a stunning lights-in-the-water terrace view, and one which features a design restaurant and an immaculately stocked bookshop (MK2 Bibliothèque), what is more attractive? They offer a wide choice of films, which, let us not forget, is the whole point of going to a cinema. It is hardly surprising that they are doing so well. If the small cinemas want to survive, they should be fighting as the big ones do to find their added value. The embarrassing truth is, that as with the shops,  audiences are often just people who wish them well, rather than those that just want to be there. People are too nice.

At some point or other, we are going to have to accept that consumer business should survive or fail based on the applicability of the services they offer. A shop which has nothing to sell, or a cinema which has nothing to show does not need nostalgia aid, but a change of management. The little shops and cinemas should be thankful for the kindness of their audiences, but that will not continue forever. We all know you are subpar. You presumably know that you are subpar. And someday our generosity will falter. Perhaps in times of financial crisis… Learn to be nice from the boulangerie, learn to sell something from the successful. We might forgive you for the pain you put us through. We might. // // //



Guy Deslauriers :: France :: 2009 :: 1h50

A historical drama following André Aliker, one of the founding fathers of the French free press, and a good general introduction into the recent politically turbulent history of the beautiful French West Indies.

André Aliker (played by Stomy Bugsy) was born in 1894 in the French Caribbean. Surviving the atrocities of military service in the first world war, he returns to Martinique a changed man. On finding his island in its neo-colonial form with its unbearable poverty gap, he rebels, joining the local communist party to fight injustice and improve the living and working conditions of the impoverished majority. As he rallies at their side and writes for the newspaper Justice to spread the word, he discovers that there is something more dear to him than fighting for social justice: fighting for truth. Aliker uses the Justice newspaper to bravely turn it into the first independent news source of the island, and a turning point for its democratic future.

Aliker’s fate, and hence the film, is tragic. The filming style, from one emotionally charged theatrical moment to another, with mostly fill-up in between, is a little cumbersome, without peaceful moments of release. To match this harshness, the film does not show the expected palm tree and pastel painted houses caribbean image. The only release from the fear, intimidation and harshness of life is the community spirit of the people. In the suffering of the common man, there is a double issue – on the one hand they are not being paid their worth, keeping them in dismal conditions, and on the other hand they find themselves in an inherited racial divide, a remnant of the slave era. Aliker clearly sees these two sides of the coin, and consciously chooses the non racial “class struggle” vision as it is the one which offers a way out of the misery the people find themselves in.

Aliker’s wife, whether or not she was really like that, does not give a positive image of women. She might want to support him in his quest for justice and doing the right thing, but it is clear that her fear for them (and their children) exceeds any demand that the “right thing” may expect. In other words, she would rather he just ignored injustice to feed them, as her egoism trumps her altruism.

Doing the right thing in challenging times is the material for heros, like Aliker, but not only do most people not share his courage, they also are not prepared to pay the price. Where Aliker leads, few can follow, but we can protect what has been achieved – a free press. And there is no better time to remind ourselves of that, as we roll into the biggest newspaper crisis the modern times have known. The search for truth is, after all, the first step to combat injustice. It is, however, a pity that the film’s rushed ending leaves the viewer more with the sentiment of bitterness and injustice than the achievements of Aliker and his friends, but we will just have to remind ourselves… and Google him afterwards…