11 November 2021

Gainsbourg, whaddya gonna do about it?

I used to regularly drive to Grenoble to stay with friends who live in La Tronche, normally an hour and 45 minutes by autoroute from Dieulefit.

Once in while when I wasn't rushed I would take one of the roads up over the mountains by way of Seyne and Aspre-sur-Buechs arriving into Grenoble from the South. It was obviously longer by more than two hours, but every time I made the trip it took my breath away. It's a lovely drive, as are so many, all over France. Driving anywhere in France is a joy even if its ecologically unsound. 

My life here in Australia is one without breathtaking drives though I am sure there are many, especially out West. But it's different because Outback Australia is mostly a rugged empty landscape, extraordinary; yes, but like Mars maybe. I haven't yet done a road trip but I have been to the Northern Territory and seen the Big Country below Darwin. These are Aboriginal lands full of cave drawings from a prehistoric time. But the drawings are not really old, authentically so, because they have been 'refreshed' over time by tribal guardians of these sacred sites. This disappointed me when I visited. I expected to see the real handiwork which I quickly realised was impossible. Who wants to see graffiti iterations refreshed over these walls?  

Australia is huge, and getting anyway on this continent takes time and resources. Distance is measured by gallons and gallons of both water and petrol. The Outback is a spectacular but empty and remote landscape, a place where one faces one's own insignificance under the stars. 

But to travel in Europe (throughout France for instance) is always to make an acquaintance with oneself through one's relationship to a collective historical and cultural past. And to be honest, as a white guy from Europe, I really miss a landscape full of historical relics, and I often feel a dislocation from my European cultural roots in this regard.
On my way to Grenoble I used to drive by this old stone house La Maison des Cantonniers, tagged, but repainted over with two delicious  hues of cold green. I normally abhor Graffiti but I am occasionally amazed to find a secret delight in it (but don't tell anyone!), and in this case, I kind of like it. Here, one can see that the owner (I presume) had tried to paint over the original graffiti with an Emerald Green. This colour harmony between the tags seem to pull the building back into the vegetation, back into the forest, like an abstract glove from the Bronx. And all this paint feels like an intrusion from another land, another culture, another people altogether. And it's meant to be. It looks like the artiste/vandal, came back over it with a coat of pale Veronese green. Somehow, I can imagine this colourful tug-of-war going on and on for decades.
Otherwise, it's a beautiful, intelligently proportioned building with a substantially high roof gable. It sits aside a small road on a bend situated absolutely in the middle of nowhere. It is always a surprise to see it again and again over the years, like a cousin at a family reunion each year. 

I find that people are generally tolerant of graffiti until it comes to their own neighbourhood. Graffiti, like cockroaches in a home, usually ends up taking over the neighbourhood. For me, it almost always destroys the personal and aesthetic pleasure I take in the unadulterated emptiness of everyday urban experiences. An eroded old brick wall doesn't need anything added to it, neither does the old enormous cement facade of a factory building dating from the 1930's. But hey! I am just an old white guy from another era.

Basically, all graffiti says: 
"F**K You ! I'm here ! Whaddya gonna do about it??"

Graffiti is angry because it's political. Who can argue that there isn't enough to be angry about in this world? Better to respond with a spray can than a gun I think.

But there is one great exception to my bias in this debate and it is on the rue de Verneuil in Paris, where the late Serge Gainsbourg lived. It was always a stupefying experience to walk by his home and now it seems even more extraordinary. Here are various iterations which, like the Aboriginal caves, are apparently always touched up. 

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