– Yes, it’s the first time I fly in two years.
– Did you hearr, it’s the firrst time Pedrro trravels in two years.
– I actually enjoyed not being in planes for, well, almost two years. It’s bad for your health, y’know? Especially if you have to do it every other week…
– Yes, tomorrow I fly to Moscow…
– I have to go back to Zurich at 8.30…
– Are you taking the plane??
– No, I go by trrain.
– See, lucky you… No such luck where I come from.
All the time I was guessing that, behind their shiny eyes, a thought was lurking like, goshh, yourre rrealy péripherique. And then maybe not, because they were truly nice, warm people, and they did love Portugal, like half the world does now – often with an eye on a conveniently super-péripherique pied-à-terre.
And indeed, I had been invited to Paris on being périphérique, which is fine, or on being from the Global South, which is also completely fine, even if, as the panel conversation started, I immediately tried to clarify that you cannot really call Lisbon or Athens the Global South.
If Lisbon and Portugal, or for that sake Greece, seem always on the verge of financial collapse, or already over the top of social and economic inequality, you still can’t say they belong to the Global South. With Lisbon’s colonial history, that would sound harshly offensive to our friends beyond Gibraltar.
It is brilliant that the new Lisbon Mayor announces winds of change and breaks the formality of its inaugural speech with Jéssica Pina* – even if it is just slightly weird and illuminating that Jéssica Pina is singing out of Comporta’s icy-white minimal posh architectures. But it is still brilliant that Lisbon is welcoming cultural hybridity again, as it always has done.
Yet, even if the cosmopolitan spirit of World War II is lurking back, Lisbon is still pretty much the cité blanche that it always has been.
In any case, when in these post-pandemic times you arrive from Lisbon to Paris, starving for the sav-air of the metropolis, you do feel you are coming from a poor, fearful country.
Paris is already joyfully diving into its Roaring Twenties, with amazing queues of people squeezing together for any dinning spot, and with countless boulangeries distributing luscious butter croissants to the masses. If Antoniette ever knew that you could actually stuff them numb with croissants – and a bit of wifi – she would have played it better.
Except, wait, she didn’t have wifi. Ooops.
As long as governments reassure us that the supply chain crisis is temporary, and that the energy price hikes are just a fleeting anomaly, and that car brands will soon resume production of lavish electric cars, we will be OK.
Ah, Paris! It never felt so expensive. It never felt so luxurious. It never felt so obscene.
And look, I’m not trying to sound moralistic. Really. Fucking enjoy it while you can.
That, at least, was the lesson I took from Timothy Morton. As he put it, with cheap renewables you could now have “full-on strobes and decks and people partying for hours and hours, all day, every day.” I concluded our party’s reduced carbon-footprint would help us forget the tornados outside and the petty nuisance that the ecological emergency was now irreversible. Suddenly politically correct, Tim told me in person that was not what he had meant.
Back to Paris with another soundtrack,* it is telling that at lunch you cross paths with a wealthy Beirut exilée – and she softly rolls her eyes at the state her country is in. Conversely, before dinner you rather notice a burst of Lebanese delicatessen around town.
This is the best of two worlds: failed states’ refugees with some money can find a second chance here; while tourists and city-dwellers with some money can delight on the newfound flavours of their overpriced felafels. Join the party while you can.
It is also revealing that, while the new coqueluche Fleux stores spread like a fungus around Lafayette Anticipations – yes, that’s what they call art-led gentrification –, from the Marais to la Pigalle you can no longer find the cheap street food that was once one of the delights of Paris’ diversité. That was perhaps too “worrld,” like my friend curator was being called these days? Inexpensive is definitely not cool.
Indeed, the obscenité comes from the small fact that this is the same megalopolis where a just-off-from-film-school bunch of kids made one of the most insightful and thoughtful TV series on what the ecological collapse may look like. And if you think I’m exaggerating, just give yourself the trouble to compare the gas-pump sequence in the first episode of L’Effondrement with recent news footage of British petrol queues.
The obscenité comes from the evidence that nobody cares – except, of course, for their own, immediate joy. I guess, by now, even long-time advocates of climate action will be giving up. “Fuck it!, they are considering, I’ll start regenerating my small plot of land in some forgotten, conveniently péripherique area, and let my grandchildren raise the barbed wire around it, if needed be.”
I did it. (Location undisclosed). And it felt weird, I must confess, that it only cost me a mediocre one-bedroom apartment in Portugal’s second city. But, while I tend to my micro forest and my centuries-old olive trees, I will still be happy to join all tomorrow’s parties, in whatever big cities they will be going on…
Sure, thanks to Anne Hidalgo, more people than ever are trying to manage the Parisian crowds with their shared bikes. But the feast their driving to is still obscene. And not because it is wild and/or has a fetish theme. No, the party is just obscene because instead we were supposed to be heading to a ‘great collective decarbonisation transition.’
Paris tells you to sickening evidence that such collective efforts are fated to failure. Because croissants are too easy and delicious. And because tons of champagne and other expensive inebriants don’t even give you a headache the morning after. So, Glasgow’s COP26 is doomed to fail. And official pledges like Biden’s clean energy plan are already being wiped out into lobbying oblivion. And so, I too will enjoy the parties while they last and come my way.
Shortly after 2008, people thought the party was over. But the party is actually coming back in grand style. Cet weekend I came to the conclusion that Covid-19 was not really a dress rehearsal or an eye-opener for things to come, as I once considered.
No, the pandemic was just the excuse we needed to jump guilty-free into the last fireworks – into a hysterical swan’s song of humanity’s rape of Gaia. A sort of distended, slow-motion version of Darren Aronofsky’s Mother, but with Jake and Dinos Chapman-like revelries instead of just grand guignol.
This is possibly why talk-of-town Galleria Continua just decided to let go, and thought that Italian political art from the 70s should now share the stage with other Italian-nostalgia commodities. So, with a supposedly ironic wink, street artist JR turned Continua’s space into a Lacaton & Vassal-like ruin-cum-shop, where Pistoletto’s hanged boys alternate with funky biscotti boxes designed in late-19th century Sicilia. Didn’t they say of postmodernity that everything goes? Now everything must go.
So, if this is bye-bye from this blog, do not pity it. The world is now full of amazing shrapnel. From diamond shrapnel to food, drugs, art or junk shrapnel, you name it. You just have to look around and see through it. No more comments needed.
*This is your soundtrack, for a fully immersive experience 😉