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A Hybrid Commentary on Paris, Paris Je T’Aime & Harold Jaffe’s Paris 60

By John-Patrick Ayson


Paris Je T’Aime, Various Directors, Universal Pictures 2008

Paris 60, Harold Jaffe, Civil Coping Systems 2010

Paris can leave its visitors breathless; the collective breath, exhaled by the amalgam of people which inhabits its quartiers, supplies the city’s surplus reserve of life.

As a collective, Paris Je T’Aime‘s 18 segments serves its viewers a buffet of varied takes on the life of the city; alloted about five minutes each, each filmmaker dishes a version of the city which does and does not differ from the next.

Aimed towards objectifying the city’s unforeseen, Harold Jaffe’s Paris 60 is a book which delves into many different subjects, spans 60 days, comprises 60 entries and is penned solely from the perspective of an outsider, though a frequent visitor.


The complex politics of Paris weighs heavily on its racial diversity; its identity, however, dictated by the drum and the snare of a post 9-11 climate, has considerably taken two steps backwards – in sync with the US and the rest of Europe – and thus, still serves as a bassline for racial discrimination and its bitter brand of fatalism.

On film, Paris is widely depicted as a white city. In Oliver Schmitz’s ‘Place Des Fêtes,’ a vibrant young man, Hassan (Seydou Boro), a Nigerian immigrant from Lagos, is pit in the clutches of a violent, racist act and the tenderness of a beautiful, young and inexperienced French-African medic named Sophie (Aïssa Maïga). Hassan is stabbed, for no apparent reason, by a vicious, young white male from a racially/ethnically mixed gang of thugs, right before he has his guitar taken by another member of the gang. He is later tended to by Sophie who remembers, just before Hassan dies, that she initially met him earlier while parking her car – more memorably, she recalls the song he sang – twanged with a fatally sweet, aftertaste of romance.

The entry ‘4.9 Cannonball’ in Paris 60 is a dialogue-driven entry, spoken by Julian ‘Cannonball’ Adderley, the noted jazz saxophonist, and his younger sibling, Nat, himself a jazz cornetist. During Nat’s visit to Adderley’s “… small pad in Paris”, Nat, upon his entry into the door, quickly notices and jokes about the diminutiveness of Cannonball’s place and its bathroom, then applies the same proportion to an average place in Paris, in relation to how the beauty of a Parisian woman “… would look so fresh in a bathroom like that” and how she could even possibly “… apply her makeup and shit”. In the midst of the brothers’ laughter and sips of gin, their conversation improvisationally shifts as to how Cannonball’s music and the Parisian audiences – in opposition to American listeners – have resembled a romanticized love affair.


The French language and the processes in which words are spoken may involve exaggerated facial gestures; puffed cheeks, contorted mouths and lips which, besides words, emit noises – additionally, when called for, hands may be used expressively to emphasize words and phrases – but not when hand gestures, along with the facial gestures, override what’s spoken.

‘Tour Eiffel,’ from The Triplets of Belleville‘s Sylvain Chomet, offers a cute, partly wordless “gesticulation”, with the Eiffel Tower as its main backdrop, about a pair of outcast mimes, Paul Putner as the male and Yolande Moreau as the femme. Having met in jail after causing disturbances for their public displays of mimicry, they become a couple and parent a young boy who inherits the finer points of their expressive, eccentric personas.

‘5.11 Mime 2’ in Paris 60 features the author backdropped, sitting and listening among his colleagues speaking the “golden language” expressively, almost exaggerating, but with their eyes unaltered. The tradition of mime, specially in Gaul, is, by default, impractical, inconcrete – opposed to the generally Cartesian culture of France; French puppetry, silent or not, has a relationship with audiences which speak loud volumes, even when interactions and words are obliquely involved.


Compared to the relationships between tourists and other major cities in the world, the affair between Paris and its visitors evokes a nonpareil state of elation and springboards a range of narratives by the typical and atypical tourist, to the jaded world traveler and the sad, wandering loner – all of whom are almost always in sheer wonderment.

Alexander Payne’s vignette ’14 e’ in Paris Je T’Aime sensitively consolidates the array of wonderment that tourists in Paris experience into the character of Carol, played by Margo Martindale, the American stage and screen actress who also narrates Payne’s piece with a touristy, purposely broken French voiceover that allows her character to convincingly communicate the sheer wonderment of being in Paris. As an overweight American who saved all she can from her modest job as a mailwoman – just to fulfill her dreams of a Parisian vacation, to walk the city’s picturesque streets, to dine in its crowded bistros, a vacation spent all by her lonesome, walking in those picturesque streets alone, eating meals in its bistros all for herself – Martindale’s character declaratively spent a considerable amount of time practicing her Anglicized French just so she can articulate a rare, consolidated breed of emotion that transcends the alloys of joy and sadness – rooted within the sheer, somber reality of being alone and middle-aged.

Inspired by a pre-drink episode with a waitress, before a showing of Battleship Potemkin in a small cinema around rue St. Placide, where the author’s request for an unsweetened Ricard lends a brief tangent about Descartes and his choice of beverage, Harold Jaffe “polls” the reader of Paris 60 in ‘5.13 Dyad’ as to which items in the list he provides in the entry belongs to Paris or America. Obviously, the list mines the reader’s awareness of cultural dyads between the two – but, interestingly and obviously all the same, the pairs in the entry are terminologies which may or may not necessarily refer to similar, if not exact objects/subjects – Cell/Mobile, Metro/Subway, 35 hour work week/60 hours and counting, Crepes/Flapjacks, Simone De Beauvoir/Susan Sontag, Football/Football, Tour De France/Superbowl, Jacques Derrida/Harold Bloom, Capital Punishment/No Capital Punishment – essentially, they’re similar if the objects/subjects’ “purpose” is equivalent in both cultures – and dissimilar if they don’t subscribe to Cartesian means.


John-Patrick Ayson lives near a rusty, latticed fence in Imperial Beach, San Diego, north of Mexico. He holds an MFA in innovative writing & has
publications in a number of print & online journals & magazines – including past, recent & upcoming issues of new aesthetic, ditch, Moronic OX, Armageddon Buffet, Paraphilia Magazine, Broken Teeth Zine, poetic diversity, Porchlight: A Literary Magazine, Fiction International, LITnIMAGE, OPEN WIDE MAGAZINE, Antique Children, streetcake magazine & Maintenant 4: A Contemporary Journal of Dada Poetry.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Monday, May 2nd, 2011.