Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Concert Day: Palais Omnisport de Paris‐Bercy & Half Day Off, Paris, France (October 17-18, 2011)

(This is a very long post. A lot has happened in Paris)

Having consumed the monthly amount of sugar & carbohydrates over the course of fourteen hours, falling asleep was far from being easy, and almost as hard as staying asleep. The 36 hours I spent in Lille have been the most gastronomically-enjoyable hours I have had in months, and I was thankful for it while the enjoyment lasted… but once I realized I’m failing to fall asleep, I started cursing myself for being such a moron.

My train was booked for 10:00am sharp, taking the TGV fast train to Paris—about one hour ride. The reason I had booked it that was was that I wanted to spend as much time in Paris as I could—which also explains why my train out of Paris (back to Delft, The Netherlands) is scheduled to leave at 6:30pm on the day before the Antwerp concert.

My short stay in Paris during the last tour has been one of the most enjoyable periods, much due to the fact that I was accompanied by a strange, yet hilarious, fellow who goes by the name Elian. I was looking forward to be in Paris again, then. Quickly checked out of the hotel in Lille, featuring a superbly, unbelievably rude & senseless receptionist, left my backpack there so I can once again pay a visit to a nearby Paul patisserie for a quick croissant.

It was good.

Back to the hotel, picked up my backpack, crossed the road and boarded the TGV train, which left precisely on time. First class, comfortable seat and within an hour I arrived to Gare du Nord.

Welcome to Paris.

The city of Paris is not just a big city. More than it is an accumulation of a huge mass of people, it is, first and foremost, a symbol which carries a wide variety of connotations with it. Paris to Europe is what New-York is to the USA: one of a kind, in more ways than one. Many more ways.

There is everything in this city. Really, everything. For everyone. Each and every type of visitor(s)—be it a solo traveller, a group of friends, families—can easily spend a couple of weeks in this city before beginning to feel as if the city has exhausted itself. Architecture; brilliant parks; monuments; museums; culture to no visible end; and, of course, restaurants offering any sort of food you can imagine—and when I say “any sort of food”, I really mean any sort of food.

In Paris—much as in France as a whole—dining in restaurants usually addresses a different need in one’s life, than it does in, say, North America. While of course exceptions exist, the vast majority of North Americans go to restaurants for the purpose of eating and/or drinking. In France, restaurants are an experience. Sure, you can find places that will cater to your stomach only (I’m talking about French equivalents to chains such as Kelsey’s in Canada or The Spaghetti Factory in the USA); these are referred to as “fast food” places. “Acceptable”. Places such as McDonald’s are regarded with an incredible sense of disrespect and mockery, for a good reason—for similar prices, you can get much better meals elsewhere. That explains why you’re very unlikely to encounter dozens of McDonald’s or Subway in Paris (or France as a whole); they simply are not needed.

While you can find any sort of food here, the French cuisine really isn’t for everyone. Not because it is ugly or distasteful, but mostly because what different people have in mind when they think about a “meal”, and what they end up getting. If you step into a French restaurant when you’re starving and head straight into the main course, you are extremely likely to become disappointed, not because the food isn’t good but because it didn’t address your body’s primary need, which is to become full and quickly. In French restaurants, portions are relatively small and cater not to your stomach, but mostly to your brain. Instead of putting time into thinking how to serve a lot of food with acceptable taste, the French prefer to put emphasis on quality, texture and delicate flavours (sometimes so delicate that you need to work hard to process).

It is food to enjoy and savour, rather than to become full of. Therefore, here’s a tip: if you’re starving and planning on going to a French restaurant, don’t jump right into the main course but start with a starter first, or consume some tasty breads beforehand (most restaurants serve bread and dips as an accompaniment to your meal).

There’s one more thing I feel some strong desire to write about, and it is the stereotype often associated with French people, with respect to their manners, specifically towards people who don’t speak French and happen to find themselves lost in a country where English isn’t quite practiced.

How many times have you heard stories of a friend or an acquaintance of yours, approaching a local in France, speaking English and getting a “cold shoulder”? I’ll allow myself to assume that the answer is “yes, I have heard that before”. Such stories, over the years, contributed to the stereotype about the French being arrogant, rude and merciless.

Having been raised in a country with common mentality similar to that of the French, and having lived almost one third of my life in Canada (which is the other extreme), I should say that I find this stereotype misleading, and more importantly—unfair towards the French people. And I will explain.

The English language isn’t much promoted in France. The French language, more than just means for communication between humans, is also a symbol. It’s an entire culture. The French people are proud of their culture, their values and their language: this is not to say that they underestimate or undervalue other languages (such as English).

When you approach a local in France, while wearing a distraught face, and start talking to them in English as if you’re assuming that they can speak the language, the shrug you get in response is not a shrug of arrogance. I take it as unfair and inappropriate, to interpret this as arrogance; yet, having this being done to me a few times, I can see why so many people make that prejudice. If you pay close attention to their faces and their body language, you are bound to discover that this is not arrogance, but instead the sense that they really can’t help you or don’t know how to help you.

OK, so they don’t fall on their knees with pleas for you to understand them (using body language) and why they can’t help you; but that’s not because they are rude. They are simply being honest and straightforward.

Besides, between us… rather than considering the French to be rude, it is much easier for me to identify with the proposition that Canadians and Americans are, more often than not, over-polite.

What I have found is this: if you approach a local with a smile (rather than a frown) and first ask them if they speak English (even just asking “English?”), you are very unlikely to get a shrug back. They will definitely try to help you as much as they can; sometimes, they won’t be able to but you still won’t feel as if you’re being ignored or pushed away.

At least it works for me, and I know that it has nothing to do with my smile, or my charm; both are known to have offended before.

Socially speaking, my time in France has been the best so far in this trip, simply because I know a lot of people, ever since the last tour. The evening in Paris topped it all, really; as it shortly will be revealed.

About a month ago, a charming lady I was working with (well, now that we don’t work together, I am in the liberty of stating such a fact) handed me a bunch of unused metro tickets (if you’re reading this—thank you, Amandine) which were put into some good use by yours truly.

As soon as I arrived in Paris’ Gare du Nord, I took the metro to the hotel—hopped on the M4 to Strasburg-Saint Denis and then changed to the M8 towards Daumesnil, a short walk from the hotel—Grand Hotel D’ore Bercy, located about 15 minutes walk from the Palais Omnisport where the concert was going to take place. It was too early for checking in, though; left all bags there and hopped across the street for the nearest restaurant. One of those so-called “fast food” brasseries, that surpass North American outlets of most chains with respect to quality and taste; some steak and salad and I was good to go.


The surroundings:

Around Daumesnil’s metro station

Back at the hotel for check-in and quick setup. Not bad. Well, hotels in Paris are expensive (mine was a 3-star hotel—definitely acceptable—for the price of €111 per night. Prices become extremely stupid once you jump on the 4-star wagon, and I dare you look at prices of 5-star hotels in the city centre. You will feel weakness in your knees) so I consider myself being lucky with this one. Small room, but comfortable enough for a one night stay.

As writing is often my first priority, I spent the next hour or so completing the previous post, even though the weather was excellent outside. It is such times—that is, spending time writing instead of going out and enjoying brilliant weather—that I realize how important writing is to me. Anyway, it was already close to 3:30pm when I finished writing and uploading my post. Got everything I need for a city stroll and stormed out of the hotel.

That was more or less exactly when Nelly (should you choose to read on, you’re bound to encounter Nelly again, in some strange context) sent me a text message saying she’s in town. I first met Nelly last year—a cute, funny, compassionate (and slightly, just slightly, strange, but in a good way) lady—as I was crisscrossing Europe following this band, and we remained in contact ever since. We agreed to meet at the venue and spend the afternoon together until show time.

Was good meeting with Nelly again. Off to a nearby cafe and before we knew it we were basking at Paris’ brilliant sun, seated in a cafe just outside the venue.


Caught up with what’s going on with life until I saw two familiar figures getting out of the Bercy station. These were Katrina and Lane, a couple of avid travellers I had met in the USA last year and remained in touch with ever since. Wonderful couple, can’t possibly say enough good things about them.

Time came to collect our tickets. Contrary to last year, this time everything worked perfectly with absolutely no mess at all. Tickets been collected, we went out for some fresh air when more familiar people came by and joined us—Vincent, Brigitte, Marithe, Marco to name a few. Definitely a social highlight of the tour.

Quite frankly I was a bit humbled to find out that most of them remembered my name, and I certainly am happy to find out that last year’s excursion contributed something to their lives, through writing, in much the same way that it contributed to mine.

About an hour prior to the show’s scheduled start time, I went ahead and entered the venue.


My seat—front row, quite at the center of things.

We all had some time to kill before the concert. Katrina & Lane introduced me to two folks who were handed free tickets to the show, courtesy of the couple’s kind soul. Turned out that one of them is a former Israeli now living in Paris, so it was quite the treat to spend some time speaking my mother tongue.

At some point, Nelly came by feeling a bit frustrated of her seat, at the left-hand side of the stage.

—“Maybe I can sit on you”, she said.

—“Maybe”, I replied.

—“But it may be a problem, my bottom is too big”.

I was trained in early childhood to never agree nor disagree with such comments, whether they are true or not (my opinion in this particular case is confidential). Regardless of what you say, you end up being in some sort of trouble.

—“Well we can give it a try”, I said.

So, a quick dry run has clearly demonstrated that it was, after all, feasible to divide the seat in two, horizontally. We made sure (of course) that this unique seating arrangement doesn’t interfere with the audience surrounding us. As I am taller, and there was enough chair-space to host both bottoms, we agreed that this would be our seating plan for the night.

(Some pictures of this arrangement have been taken by Lane, however they’re not in my disposal at the moment so you’ll have to use your imagination. Just don’t overuse it, though; it seriously was all platonic. At least for me)

Shortly after 8:00pm, the lights went out and the show started. Certain band members, Mark included, took notice of our unusual disposition and went on smiling. And then they played…

And they played very, very well.

So “how was the concert”, you may be asking. Well, this show broke a new record of awesomeness for this tour, despite a few mishaps here and there. I suppose it was a combination of a particularly enthusiastic audience, great venue and all band members appearing to be in quite the good mood.

What It Is was the concert’s opener this time around, and right from the beginning one could notice that Mark and the band receive—appreciatively—immense love from the audience. No longer could one pinpoint a distinction between those who came to see Mark & the band, and those who came to see Dylan, at least not from where I was seated.

Cleaning My Gun followed with full power as usual, rocking the Bercy’s roof off, including powerful solos and a small mishap towards the end. Recently Mark has been in the habit of moving quite often during the performance, exchanging all sorts of gestures with other band members; at the end of Cleaning My Gun, though, he appeared to have skipped his usual gesture to the band (well, at least towards Ian) and so poor Ian had to realize that the song is about to end in two seconds and improvise something. For the untrained ear—read: the ear that hasn’t heard this song played live multiple times—it was a non-issue.

We also had a wonderful rendition of Marbletown, arguably the best one in the tour so far and in line with the top Marbletown performances of last year’s tour. It just went really well, especially during the Marble-Jam section when band members delegated control to one another seamlessly (which is, really, one of the factors for determining the quality of a Marble-Jam). Had Nelly not been seated where she was, I’d definitely get up for a standing ovation.

The show proceeded top-notch quality all throughout. Haul Away for Home has been skipped (again), in favour of A Night in Summer Long Ago. The latter has been played exactly twice (out of 87. Or was it three times?) during the last tour—once in the USA (I believe it was in the second Los-Angeles show) and once in Europe—in Paris, making it a relatively rare song to be listening to played live.

Another high point in the evening was a certain twist during Song for Sonny Liston. Once the Mark-Glenn duo was done and it was time for the last verse, Mark proceeded to sing the last verse, hardly touching the guitar at all. The domination of his voice over the audible spectrum, with a rather minimal involvement of the guitar, made for a blessed twist in the song making the last verse sound deep, personal and dramatic. Interesting twist… making a song sound better by playing less guitar.

Audience was ecstatic throughout the show. Once Marbletown was over, people stormed towards the front (the all-so-pleasant Running of the Bulls). People from the back rows somehow found themselves leaning upon the rail (how the hell did they do that, I don’t know). The venue’s security staff had no chance to make people sit down again so they gave up without even trying. People who remained seated called upon those who stood to sit down, only to be yelled back at in some mean French tone that I could only interpret as “oh, just shut the hell up”. We all remained standing till the end of the show.

Speedway at Nazareth was up next, a song that isn’t of my favourites but clearly, yesterday, I was in minority. The audience went berserk as the song’s heavy part commenced—actually, so ecstatic that I doubt anybody noticed that something was missing. As Richard went to take the Gibson for his usual role in tearing the airspace with cranked-up Gibson tone set on the Treble pick-up position, he went ahead to strum it with full power, just to realize that no sound was emitted. Until the song’s end, attempts were made to fix the error to no avail; it wasn’t hard to notice that T.C, as well as Richard, were very surprised of the ordeal as everything seemed to be in place but still no sound. Still, the final A-chord strike of the song sent the audience flying in full rainbow colours to the sky: audience participation, taken to the extreme. Awesome.

The intermission before the encore gave T.C and others some time to track down the problem with Richard’s cabling setup. So Far Away started playing and the problem has been resolved about two seconds before it was time for Richard to strike his first B chord on the MK Stratocaster he was holding. Life’s back to normal; a sweet Dire Straits reminder for the audience and the show was over.

I will risk being thrown sharp objects at by devout Bob Dylan followers: as the concert was over, I knew that it would be very hard for Dylan to follow the spectacle we had just experienced. Mark and the band provided a concert that is an absolute nightmare to follow. Then again, I do appreciate the fact that I may be slightly biased.

Armed with earplugs, I re-acquired my seat (which was occupied by someone for the duration of the intermission between concerts) and was ready to watch Bob Dylan do his best to follow Mark’s set. Right from the beginning, it was obvious that a full vision of the stage would be impossible. People just stood there—that is, people whose original seats are not even close to the front—and refused to move. At some point, security staff arranged it so the left-hand half of the stage was where people were allowed to stand, and the right-hand side of the stage was seated only.

As I was almost at the very centre, I basically saw one half of the show… until things started getting uglier. Every now and then, another moron decided to test the consistence (or lack thereof) of the security staff’s definition of “half”, and came to stand past the middle of the stage. My repeated attempts to sway some of these people away have been answered by either complete ignorance, or some words in French I couldn’t make any sense of.

Asking security for any sort of assistance seemed to be futile. At some point, once I could no longer see much of the stage, I simply got up, shoved a punk who was standing right in my face aside, and elbowed my way to the front. They say “When in Rome, be a Roman” but most of the time I tried to avoid taking measures that I feel uncomfortable with; yet this time, I really had no choice. It was either that, or see absolutely nothing.

At that point, about three quarters into the show, the orchestra station was all up on their feet—not because Dylan’s show kicked ass, but mostly because you couldn’t see anything unless you stood.

Did I enjoy it? Not that much. I like some of Dylan’s songs, but when it comes to live performances… I will just say that I prefer to stick with Mark & the band, and much so.

Dylan’s concert ended at around 11:00pm and the masses were pouring outside onto the streets. Fortunately, it wasn’t raining. There’s a brasserie named “Spectacle” right outside the venue; Nelly agreed to join me in for a quick snack, a delicious goat-cheese-on-toast salad. A few AFMK members were there for a post-concert drink, nice to see them of course.

Salad was consumed with immense passion—time to go. Bid everybody farewell, walked Nelly to the nearest taxi stand and off I went on a 15 minutes walk back to my hotel.

What a great day, mostly thanks to the people I came in touch with. Thank you all.

Initially I was intending to spend my half day-off in Paris going to visit a few places recommended to me by… well, lets just leave it at “someone I know” as it will make everybody’s life simpler. Unfortunately though, I slept in—I had to, as the preceding day was so eventful.

I only left the hotel at around 10:30am, while finding out that Elian booked a restaurant for lunch at 1:00pm. Elian also recommended a patisserie named Angelina, located near Jardin des Tuileries. Took the metro there, about 20 minutes of an easy ride. Quite the impressive place (look at their website, see link earlier in this paragraph) that has a lot going for it.

Angelina has a “seated” part which is actually a tearoom, as well as an impressive display of desserts. The tearoom offers interesting meals for prices that I can only consider as “insanity”. If you don’t believe me, see their website. The cheapest breakfast goes for €20, however I should say that by the looks of it, it might as well be worth it. I would definitely give it a try, but it was 11:15am or so already, and knowing that lunch is due soon I decided to sustain my hunger.

Well, not really. Back to Angelina’s desserts display, I decided to go for a croissant, as well as what they call “their specialty”: “La Mont-Blanc”. The only reason I took it was that it was the only thing that looked as if it could be consumed while standing up.

It wasn’t that good, to be perfectly honest. I’ll try other things there, next time around.

Elian’s office is a short 10 minutes walk from Angelina. It wasn’t raining, so a short pleasant walk in Paris was definitely called for.


Was good to see Elian again. Well, this fellow knows his food, as I can vividly recall from my last visit to Paris, so I was looking forward to the upcoming feast. Once again, Elian didn’t fail to provide. Delicious cod fish rolled with some pastry… total bliss. While I didn’t take pictures of the main course (God knows why) but the desserts are here for your visual enjoyment; and we’ll start with “the thinking man”.

Elian’s dessert contained extremely thinly cut dried apple.


The following magic trick, aimed at having the apple’s slice inflate, didn’t seem to work.


Delicious meal—thanks Elian!—and filling to the point that, from there on, I couldn’t really do anything useful anymore. My intention to complete this blog post in Elian’s building (it was raining outside so a walk was out of the question) didn’t end up working out, as I was staring at the screen not being able to do anything except digest the wonders I have let into my stomach just thirty minutes prior.

Before I was able to fully recover, it was already time to go back to the hotel, pick up my backpack and head back to Gare du Nord, to take the train back to The Netherlands, where I will be spending the rest of my trip until Sunday (making day trips to Antwerp and Rotterdam to catch the shows).

Signing off this blog post while in Jeroen’s apartment in Delft. Got here quite late and it’s time for bed.

I already miss France.



Nelly said...

french people "sigh" ;-)

Herlock said...

Hey Isaac,
Nice review... Did not even notice that something went wrong in Speedway ! :) You can find my own review on the AMIT forum (under my nickname: Herlock) in the Paris Concert Thread...
Despite what you say at the beginning of your post, I hope you saw that some French people are able and willing to speak English ;)

I was nice to see you. All the best.