Wonderwalls of Montmartre

A long long time ago, when the Internet was still not widely available- and a bit before I received my first beloved PC, with a box of a monitor and one of those tantalizingly slow modem connections- I was surfing the web on my father’s work computer looking for Interesting Things. Since, as already mentioned, speed was not always on our side back in those days, I would generally have a list of items I wanted to know more about- usually pretty prosaic stuff about my football teams or favourite bands, though occasionally I would venture into heavier stuff related to art and history.

But this time around I just randomly found a collection of amusing English graffiti, which I printed and then carefully read and re-read several times, paying attention to the new exciting words. Such as hemlock, when referring to the teas served on the National Rail’s trains- imagine my disappointment then when, upon my first trip to England, none of the routes I took had tea served on them, so I could never double check the statement.

They were perhaps not particularly out of the ordinary and not even that funny (think something along the lines of ‘when your nose is running and your feet smell you must be upside down’), but I felt they provided me with some sort of an insight into the workings of that elusive British humour which I later learned to decently master, maybe exactly because I started young enough.

This was admittedly a rather long run up, but I’ll now move on to the similar encounter of Interesting French Things. Obviously also random, this happened to be a collection of slogans of the May 1968 French revolts. There’s a rather extensive list here, but the two I remember best are Soyez réalistes, demandez l’impossible and Sous les pavés, la plage!

My immediate conclusions upon analyzing these findings were that the French are not as funny as the English- this seemed logical, as I had greatly suffered through classical French comedies, those of the sorts which include Pierre Richard and/or a bunch of French about to ineptly lose WWII to the Germans and then somehow, through some divine intervention (never named as the UK and the US) still turn out victorious. In the long run, though (age occasionally does make you wiser, it seems) I concluded that the French are simply more serious- and more subtle- about the things they are funny about. They’re also a bit subversive every now and then, and those who do all of this on walls are usually staunch lefties- bordering on commies, though usually without falling over into anarchism- that’s an Italian thing.

So it was with great pleasure that I roamed the empty Montmartre indulging in the writings- and paintings-on the walls. Actually ended hunting them instead of going to more traditional places of interest- I could go as far as to say that this was my third Paris museum visit, along the Atelier Brâncuși and the House of European Photography, and perhaps the one that spoke most about the present state of things in France.

I also found myself silently placing the accents on words where they were missing- another French related memory from my youth. For reasons unknown (I would like to think that she saw talent in me when no one else did), my French teacher singled me out and pestered me with accent placing drills, if possible in front of the class, which is obviously the absolute misery of every teenager. I considered this a trauma up to the point when, starting to work with French legal documents, I was correcting them basically out of instinct. I may sound like a decrepit Russian painter when I speak, but I’ll give the Larousse a run for its money when it comes to the orthography. If you’re about to object that street art is fine with incorrectly placed accents- you’re wrong. Orthography always matters. Except when it doesn’t, as the spirit of 68 would say.

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