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Thursday, June 30, 2011

'Round Paris

 If Montmartre and Harlem don't spring immediately to your mind as naturally twinned neighbourhoods, then I have one word for you - Jazz. Virtual Harlem is one of the oldest sims you're ever going to walk on. Originally made by the advanced technology center at the University of Missouri-Columbia as part of Bryan Mnemonic's  dissertation on 20th century African American literature, it transferred into SL back in 2005, originally by Pleiades Consulting, and the current incarnation is by Mick Huet. 
Bryan Mnemonic: Jazz was introduced to Paris by African American troops who fought in WWI under the French flag. Some of them stayed in Paris after the war and were employed at cabarets in Montmartre. The sims are mostly used for my teaching, projects with students researching the period or individuals within the period, and educational events. There is also a lively artist community being constructed on Montmartre, mainly led by Indea Vahlor in SL. She and her other colleagues have created exhibits, and there are jazz and poetry events held at various locations on both Harlem and Montmartre. For the past 6 years, I've had a partnership with the Sorbonne, and in November I'll be back in Paris, coordinating with students, who occasionally add authentic content to either Montmartre or Harlem.

Speaking of authentic content, you may have noticed that Chrome Underwood has been around a little less lately. That's because he's in the middle of writing a memoir of artist Mick Brady, including
his time as a secret agent, artist, psychedelic pioneer, New York taxi driver, and a whole lot more. Chrome's way too busy these days to hang out with me, so I got Camille to come play with me a little, on the real streets of Paris.
Hills of Paris, I should say - Thank goodness for TP's! we were at the top of Montmartre in no time, without having to climb the 235 stone steps. Of course, our diva just had to talk me into posing in front of Sacre Coeur, which is one of those places that looks less and less attractive the closer you get to it - the opposite of Camille.
We sat down on the steps in front of the church, and looked out at the view. A guy with a guitar and a South American accent was playing Ricky Martin songs. I wondered if that was Chromes sort of thing. She gave me that look:  yeah, right. Ricky Martin.
Camille: Actually, Chrome has been to Paris a lot of times. He came here when he was a young guy, the first time: he was on his way home from doing some spying in Turkey, or something like that. To begin with it was all about the music and the night life. now he's a little more - mature - he's more about the museums and the history, I guess.
We wandered down the steep steps of rue Utrillo (strictly no parking), which in these heels is no mean feat, and at last came to the current location of one of Paris' most famous jazz clubs, Le Blue Note. It's mainly Brazilian jazz here now, and a big sign outside promised karaoke that evening. It seemed like there was something missing, apart, of course from the music itself. An edginess, maybe? We were only a few metres from Pigalle and the Moulin Rouge, but it seemed nothing like atmosphere that the movie Round Midnight calls to mind. Has Paris lost it, maybe?
Camille: Today, I'd say what's missing is the darkness. And the smokiness. And the people. And, I guess, the times, that was another time. I mean, among jazz artists, and artists in general for that matter,   Paris at the time was first, the art itself, then one's status as an outsider; for blacks it was automatic, for others something that you achieved by stepping outside the lines drawn by society... for a young romantic like him, an artist had to be 'pure'; that is, they had to have the courage to follow their muse wherever it led regardless of the cost.
   And what about the original Blue Note, I wondered. Maybe the atmosphere was still alive over there, in the Latin Quarter, on rue Mouffetard.  We went to see. Of course, we'd only walked a little way down the road before Camille found herself an admirer.
He said something like: "Que fait une gentille fille comme toi dans un esprit mal tournè comme le mien?"
 I thought - oh boy, if only you knew. Camille did the whole 'who, me?' thing, and it was only when I reminded her that we were on a quest for pieces of Chrome that she reluctantly followed me around the corner to the site of the Old Blue Note, now this Student Bar.
In the summer, I am not a fan of students, even Sorbonne students, so the name didn't inspire, and being RL, not SL, we couldn't set Midnight in Incongruous Truths, which would have looked better. *Shakes fist at reality.* But it was a glorious day, and before I could turn around, Camille was halfway through her first crepe and ordering 3 more. Dang,that girl can eat, and never puts on a pixel, either.

So this was the place where Our Hero had come to, to hear jazz and feel the soft, dark underbelly of the City of Lights, the place where he had found himself whiling away the time talking to Bud Powell, all those years ago.
Camille: Paris had a deep history as a sanctuary city for creatives, obviously; as a refuge for the Dadaists, the Surrealists, Duchamp, - a lot of them dwell within his work, whether it's his music, visual art of writing. There's  little distinction between them, but for the fact that they use different parts of the brain. They use all of the heart, by the way - when the work is pure.   I think he admired jazz musicians the most during those years; they seemed to be the bravest, and their art was spontaneous, from reaching deep within, as chronicled so beautifully by Kerouac. He always says that it's sad to think that this beautiful original art form has turned out to be no more than a footnote in cultural history. Art itself is a minor player in the culture these days, but what does that matter? It's all about remaining true to one's self.
You know, talking to Camille, sometimes I think I'm talking to Chrome in person. Weird, huh.
She stopped eating, and became thoughtful, as we walked on to the Crocodisc, and admired all those classic discs in the window. Is chrome a CD man, or vinyl?
Camille: Oh, vinyl, for sure, if it were a must buy and he didn't already own it. Or maybe if he did already have a copy, and it was irresistible.
Thirza:  And what would constitute 'irresistible'?
Camille: It would have to be the one and only Kind of Blue by Miles Davis. The one jazz record that should be sent into outer space in a space capsule, so that other life forms in the universe would know we were not only intelligent, but had soul :)
Just then, we got an IM from Chrome.
man, I been buried in it.... just had a meeting today, finalized the table of contents
never knew I had to wrestle with that but i did
the structure of it is now settled pretty much... 2/3 written
and 1/3 will be graphic novel style, shot in sl
 Can't wait to read the book, and who knows maybe he'll do a reading on Bryan Mnemonic's Virtual Montmartre ...

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