Paris: fragments of a travelogue

A beautiful Paris buildingSpent a week in Paris visiting my little sister. Had been there once before five years ago and did the main tourist circuit then, so could skip most of it this time. The one museum which I absolutely loved the first time around and did revisit was Musée d’Orsay – it’s a collection of mostly early 20th century art including a lot of art nouveau and impressionism, housed in a former train station which is ridiculously beautiful.

In terms of walking around and finding random interesting places as I usually do, Paris is kind of overwhelming. There are all these beautiful buildings one after another and nothing really stands out because there is no contrast to the plain and the ordinary. Pluck a random building from the center of Paris and transport it to any North American street and it would look absolutely remarkable. A surfeit of extraordinary buildings, on the other hand, was strangely tiring.

So instead, a few words about my favorite Parisian park and a couple of lesser-known museums worth checking out.

Promenade plantée

A section of vine-covered trellis with Parisian buildings in backgroundThis park is very well hidden and hard to just stumble upon unless you know where to look. It was built fairly recently in place of an old railway line that ran from Bastille through a central residential area. Also known as Coulée verte, it is narrow and elevated to about second-story level, running closely parallel to avenue Daumesnil, squeezed between buildings and sometimes even through buildings. It is shady, cozy and has lookout points like balconies that afford glimpses of Paris streets from above. By far the coolest park I’ve come across in Paris.

Museum of Decorative Arts

A section of a Marc Jacobs exhibit with a blue mannequin in a blue dress Located next to the Louvre on rue Rivoli, this museum is a medley of very neat exhibits. We went there looking for the museum of advertising, which turned out to be just a series of rotating exhibits in Musée des Arts Décoratifs. Currently, the advertising section is devoted to the history of the anise-flavored liqueur Ricard – posters, promotional items, bottle and glass designs from 1930s till now. This exhibit is on display in a very rough-walled, unfinished-looking set of rooms with all kinds of infrastructure showing – I loved the effect but could not honestly say if it was deliberate or if they were renovating.

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Fragments of books: Distrust That Particular Flavor

I usually prefer works of fiction to speak for themselves, without the need for behind-the-scenes commentary, the making of, or biographical information about the author. I never seek those things out and often actively avoid promotional material and reviews of those books that I know I will be reading anyway, so that someone else’s editorial commentary doesn’t get too much in the way of my own first impressions.

I guess that’s how I managed to read all of William Gibson‘s novels and short story collections without ever seeing an interview with him. I knew about his role in founding the cyberpunk genre from the university Sci Fi course that first introduced me to Neuromancer. After reading that novel, I didn’t really need to know anything else about the author because I was hooked on the fiction. It is excellent and smart and techy, with an elusive undercurrent of the arcane cutting edge.

Cover of Distrust That Particular FlavorWhen Gibson’s first non-fiction collection, Distrust That Particular Flavor, came out in January, I went to see him speak about the book as part of Toronto Public Library author talks & lectures and found that the man behind the fiction was even cooler than his cyberpunk heroes. Speaking slowly, with a calm assurance and intense intelligence, he was engaged with the audience, often funny and, perhaps by contrast with a buffoonish interviewer, seemed … regal.

Most of the nonfiction pieces collected in Distrust That Particular Flavor make the same impression their author does – they are utterly captivating. Written over the last two decades for publications such as Wired, The New York Times and The Guardian, the articles range from book and album reviews to observations of Japan, Singapore and the film industry, impressions of a pre-Google internet and details of Gibson’s own obsession with eBay, which started his antique watch collection. One of the most engaging pieces in the volume is the introduction, which details Gibson’s discomfort with writing non-fiction. Despite feeling out of his element, he pulls off nonfiction rather brilliantly.

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In progress: starfish mirror

This is the starfish mirror frame that I’ve been working on for about six months now. That’s both because it’s pretty large (2.5 ft x 2.5 ft) and because I could only find a couple of hours a week to spend on it, when the kids were in bed and the chores were done and I still had some energy left. I’m really excited to have it completed over the next couple of weeks now that an office job no longer takes up eight hours of my day. This thing is going to be tremendous.

Large square mirror frame with a mosaic of starfishes in red and purple

The starfish mirror frame in progress

The main idea behind this design is that of contrasting the organic starfish shapes with the geometrically regular rippling waves of the background. I wanted each starfish shape to be unique and as realistic-looking as possible. The shapes were all drawn from photos, and it took a few tries to figure out a tiling pattern that would accurately represent the pentaradial surface patterns of starfish while requiring minimal tile cutting – i.e. one that would be based on whole or half-tiles only and not, for example, on triangles or very narrow wedges.

I also enjoy exploring the interplay of varying tile textures and the different effects they have on the overall appearance of the mosaic as the viewing angle or the light changes – hence the alternating iridescent and plain white curves of the background. Mmmmm – curves. I love tiling curves. Expressing  a smooth sinuous shape with small square straight-edged tiles is kind of like integration, and a brush with infinity.

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How to set up a website, with thanks to the geeks who make it so easy

As a technophile who’s never had to put together a website before, when I set out to make this one in a week, I had a vague idea about some of the concepts involved and a strong sense of it being Not That Hard.

In such a situation, it helps to have an expert source to go to for advice and recommendation, so as to avoid a lot of research and second-guessing. My top trusted source for matters technical, creative and especially techno-creative is Boing Boing – a legendary site edited by makers, geeks, internet privacy activists, and all-around knowledgeable people.

The first step was to register a domain. I remembered that BB had some suggestions for domain registrars in a recent article, so I looked that up and went with Hover.

Having registered and feeling pretty pleased with myself for getting this far, it took me another day to wonder about the server on which the content of my website was going to live. Next step was to find hosting.

Looking around Hover’s site to confirm that they don’t provide hosting as well (some domain registrars do), I also completely missed their suggested hosts page.  Good thing that I did, because the host I ended up going with – found again through Boing Boing – was not on that list, and is one I’m now totally in love with.

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