Monday, October 28, 2013

One Week in Paris

Immediately after leaving Algiers, Ilyn and I went to Paris for a week at the invitation of Serge Ewenczyk of Editions Çà et Là, the French publisher of Elmer. We were of course, very excited to go to Paris. More than anything else in the world, this is where I really wanted to visit for much of my entire life. Paris has lived in my imagination as a beautiful place of art, architecture and history, an almost mythical, legendary place that could not possibly exist except in books, movies, comics, and TV. It was very much like Valinor, impossibly far away, tantalizingly unattainable.

And yet there we were on a plane, supposedly going to a place called “Paris” but even then it was so difficult to believe.

The intense cold that greeted us upon alighting the plane was the first indication that we were actually there. I asked Ilyn, “Did you feel that? DID YOU FEEL THAT??” It was just too much excitement to contain.

We were greeted by Serge and brought us to our hotel, still buzzed, still kind of disbelieving, but sort of tired. Nevertheless, we ventured out into the cold Paris streets immediately. It was around 9 in the evening and it was biting cold. We quickly realized our flimsy jackets simply weren’t enough. But we went walking the streets anyway, full of stars and wonder in our eyes.

Our hotel was wonderfully located within old Paris, along Rue de Rivoli. It was walking distance to the Notre Dame, Bastille and the Louvre Museum. The Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower were within easy access of the Metro, Paris’s subway system. After an hour or so of walking, we decided to retire back to our hotel, and planned what we would do for the week. First order of business was to get a couple of scarves for ourselves.

The following day Serge brought us to one of the branches of France’s biggest book store chains and showed me the huge and I mean HUGE comic book section.

It was quite impressive. We do have large sections of comics in our local bookstores like National Book Store and Fully Booked, but they’re predominantly Marvel, DC and Manga. Here, there’s very little American comic books. If there were, those from independent publishers outnumber those from Marvel and DC, and the rest are purely comic books from mostly Europe. A lot of these books were beautifully designed large hard bound books with amazing artwork.

We decided to pay an early visit to one of the comic book stores I’ll be doing a signing in, Librairie Super Héros along Rue Saint-Martin. On the way there there was this huge colossal modern art building that’s at odds with much of the surrounding ancient architecture, the Centre Georges Pompidou.

Serge and I walk along Rue Saint-Martin

Librairie Super Héros
175, rue Saint-Martin, 75003 Paris

On the way back to the hotel, we saw this random gothic church just hanging out nearby, next to some street art. One thing that’s so nice about Paris is how creative their street art is.

One of the first things we really wanted to see was the Notre Dame Cathedral. It holds special significance to us, being both Architects. We studied this cathedral studiously back in college. We drew it inside and out and have come to know it quite well even without really seeing it.

During my college days, it was even the site of one of the biggest battles of the X-men, which occurred in X-men 200, “The Trial of Magneto”, written by Chris Claremont and drawn by John Romita Jr. One memorable scene was Colossus being thrown through, and destroying, Notre Dame’s main rose window.

I simply could not wait to see it.
The River Seine on the way to Notre Dame
Ilyn and I were both speechless upon seeing it rise in front of us. We just sat there for a while not really saying anything, just looking. Later, we both approached it and hugged it. Well, I just had to. It was quite simply an overwhelming experience. I felt touching it was important. Like I wanted to make a physical connection not just with the thing I had in my memories, but also with history. We couldn’t forget how old it was, and how many millions of people had stood where I stood.

That night we found a Chinese food place we just had to try. Ilyn had missed rice terribly. It was rather expensive though, but we tried not to think about it and convert currencies in our heads. We’ll end up not eating anything or buying anything. For sure things would be more expensive here so we just had to get used to it and just not think too much about it. We just decided to enjoy it while we were there. I mean, we were in Paris. Perhaps it hadn’t completely sunk in.

Rue de Rivoli at Night

Next stop was the Louvre Museum. Although it was walking distance from our hotel, we nevertheless decided to take the Metro because we wanted to reserve our walking strength for walking this museum, which was just gigantic. And full of stairs. As we approached the building from the side, we slowly approached the plaza knowing full well that just around the corner was the world famous glass pyramid that has become the distinctive look of the museum in modern times. We are aware of the controversy that surrounded it when it was first built, but as time went on, it became an indelible part of this ancient institution. At the corner we held our breath, and then… there it was.

It was kind of gloomy that day, with a cloudy sky that threatened to rain. In fact, rain was forecast for that day, and for much of the week we were there. We nevertheless remained optimistic. Although we saw this incredible line of people who wanted to get in, it didn’t discourage us. While still in line I felt bits of rain drops here and there. And us without an umbrella. We decided to stick it out. I mean, one chance in a lifetime. Rain isn’t going to keep us away.

Thankfully, rain didn’t come, at least for the time being.

Inside the Pyramid

The first thing we really wanted to see was the Mona Lisa, and then after that, we can just wander around. We immediately went to the 13th-15th century Italian paintings section of the museum where the Mona Lisa was located. When I imagined it to be a huge place, I never imagined it would be that huge. With so many stairs. My knee hadn’t been doing really well in recent months so it was really difficult for me. But what kept me going was the fact that I was in the same building as the Mona Lisa and sooner or later I will be in sight of it. It was a huge deal for me. A huge deal. It was what kept me going and kept me putting one foot in front of the other. Very soon, we were there.

 The crowd surrounding the Mona Lisa was immense.

The closest I could get.

To be honest, the Mona Lisa isn’t that spectacular a painting. What made it special was its special place in history and world culture. She’s more famous than any living person. To see her is to see history in one glance. Seeing her is humbling and overwhelming. We took a moment, and then we went exploring.

Now I love these kind of classical well rendered paintings. Seeing one was enough to last me a long time. The sheer beauty of the figurework, the delicacy of the brush work and the beauty of the colors… photos simply weren’t enough to depict all this. But seeing one spectacularly painted painting after another… seeing a hundred… two hundred…. it all started to blur. I started to stop appreciating each one and just glossed over one painting quickly before looking at another. It’s hard to explain. Perhaps all this wasn’t meant to be seen in a day. It had to be appreciated a little at a time, over a period of weeks, perhaps months.

By the end of a couple of hours, I was so ready to see some impressionistic paintings. I wanted to see Van Gogh, Monet, Renoir… all those funky guys with the wild imaginations. I wanted to go to the Musée d’Orsay, which was just next door. Of course, “next door” was probably a kilometer away, but that was just OK.

I never had a chance to go though, as I had an appointment for a media interview for Elmer. I did look forward to the interview… it was one of the reasons we’re in Paris in the first place. I can’t believe I was thinking it, but I was kind of museum-ed out for the day, and was looking for a change of pace. Meeting with Serge and a journalist and talking through the afternoon at an outdoor cafe seemed the best thing for me at the time.

At the interview, Laurent Mélikian arrived with writer Dana Walrath and American comic book artist Dan Panosian (pictured above). It was such a pleasure to meet Dan because career wise, this is one of those artists who I truly admire. He started out as inker and then transitioned to drawing his own comic books and now he’s being published in Europe. He too was having a signing tour of Paris and other France cities and will be there until the end of the month.

Ilyn stayed on at the Louvre to see the other sections of the museum.

Venus de Milo

She then went to the Musée d’Orsay but unfortunately could not take any pictures because it wasn’t allowed. Musée d’Orsay has special significance to the both of us because we’re both big Doctor Who fans. And one of our favorite episodes was “Vincent and the Doctor” where the Doctor meets Vincent Van Gogh and this museum was prominently featured. Ilyn couldn’t wait to see a Van Gogh with her own eyes. She reports being disappointed at not seeing “Starry Night” or any of the sunflower paintings, but some of the self portraits were there and they were just magnificent.

A sightseeng ferry as seen from the Musée d’Orsay. Across the Seine in the background is the Louvre Museum.

Ilyn and I met up at the cafe of the interview just as it was wrapping up and both went back to the hotel, but first we had to find a nice place for lunch. As we were wandering around, we hadn’t realized that Laurent and Dana were walking behind us and Laurent asked us if we wanted to go to a nice place for a vegetarian lunch. Of course we said yes! Walking through the small side streets of Paris we soon found ourselves in a small Jewish quarter and entered a restaurant that was offering falafels. I had often wondered about falafels and what they tasted like, and now I was about to find out. It was very similar to the Mezze Platter that we would have at Middle Eats here in San Pablo, but it had a lot more in it. It was delicious!

Resting for an hour or so back at the hotel, it was soon time the first of my comic book signings, this one at the previously visited Librairie Super Héros.

With Serge

I’m visited by Finnish cartoonist Ville Ranta, who I met in Algiers.

It was my first signing in Paris and it was really nice. I could understand none of what most of those who had their books signed were saying, but I could feel the appreciation they had for the book.

What I noticed from those who came was that there were no teenagers, unlike the case here in the Philippines. Here were mostly older people around my age, men and women alike, which is an interesting look into the kind of readership my book has compared to back home.

After the signing we went to a drawing demo by Ville Ranta at the Institut Finlandais. Serge had gone to the demo a couple of hours before, so a couple of Serge’s interns Ines and Helene helped us get there. Ville’s books are also published by Serge and Ville also had signings in Paris the same time I was. Knowing him and speaking to him both in Algiers and in Paris I got to know Ville quite a bit. And I like him a lot. He’s very funny, very talented, and has a quiet way about him that makes one feel comfortable rather than put off.

After Ville’s demo, we all went out for a really nice dinner some streets away. Then it’s off walking back home to the hotel.

The following morning we went down to our now favorite breakfast place just below our hotel, the Snack Rivoli. Breakfast was very simple, very much like it was in Algiers. The orange juice here was kind of special because it’s always freshly squeezed. We loved it!

Morning was curious at this time in Paris. In the Philippines we were used to the sun coming up at 6am. But here, the sun was just barely coming up at 8am. So after having breakfast at 8, we went right away to see the Arc de Triomphe.

We were lucky because today the sun decided to show itself and it was just beautiful.

Early morning at Champs-Élysées.

My favorite spot, the benches in a small plaza just outside our hotel.

Very soon it was time again for another signing, this time at Comics Records.

Comics Records
76 rue Charlot, 75003 Paris

The following day we set off early again, this time for the Eiffel tower. We had to be quick because by 11 I had another media interview. Unfortunately, this day wasn’t as beautiful as the previous one and we were greeted with lots of fog. Which made seeing the entire tower not really possible. But nevertheless, it was quite a thrill to be there and actually touch it.

With Serge and Lise Benkemoun at the interview.

Serge went back with me to the hotel to say our goodbyes. I haven’t talked about Serge yet, so I will take the opportunity now. Before meeting him in person, I always had the impression that he was kind of stern and serious based on his emails. I had expressed my concerns to Ville back in Algiers and Ville seemed resolute in his impression that Serge was “funny”. I thought it was surprising because I hadn’t got that impression at all.

As soon as I met him at the airport that first day though, my impression quickly changed. Not only was he funny, he had a really strange and quirky sense of humor. And the more I got to know him, I realized that very much like Laurent, he was an incredibly nice guy. I was comfortable with him right away. I really liked it when he was around because the air seemed much lighter when he’s there.

I wish to thank Serge for all the help he offered us and the kindness by which he treated us. We talked about future projects and I knew then that one of my goals were to give him another book that hopefully would not disappoint him, and hopefully be profitable for him and the company. With that, we said our goodbyes.

I rested a bit and went around Paris one last time on my own (Ilyn was off on her own adventures elsewhere).

More amazing architecture: The Paris City Hall.

And of course, I couldn’t leave Paris without having Escargot! This one was called Escargots de Bourgogne, which was snails cooked in butter and parsley. It was actually very nice, specially with Guinness…another new experience.

That night, we went to Laurent’s home for a farewell dinner. There we met Laurent’s wife Sylvie and their son Victor. Laurent prepared an awesome baked cod with steamed vegetables and cream. We had a bit of champagne, cheese and figs afterwards. Figs! I only heard about those things in the bible. This was the first time I was actually tasting one. It was very nice.

We all had nice conversations that lasted well into the night. It really has come full circle for us. Laurent was there at the beginning of our two week trip, and now there he was just at the end of it. It was nice. Laurent is one of the nicest people I’ve ever met, extremely helpful and kind. I am extraordinarily lucky to have met both Laurent and Serge, specially at this point in my life.

Laurent escorted us back to the nearest Metro and then we said our goodbyes. The following day we left before the sun was up. It was bittersweet. We had a terrific time in Paris. Personally, I loved it there. I wish I could have stayed longer. I dreamed of doing just graphic novels, living in some Paris apartment, having coffee and croissants in the morning and creating, as well as appreciating art all day long. But well, it was time to home, and time to go back to work.

It was an incredible two weeks, a short time in my life that seems like years in my memory.

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