Tag Archives: Paris

RUSH THE HOUR

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n 2012, the French city of Rennes, with its fast growing metro area of 700,000 inhabitants, recognized it had lost control of its morning rush hour. Between 7:40 and 8:05 a.m. on the sole subway line, tension was mounting in the overcrowded train. Some riders were getting into physical scraps while others struggled to make an exit at their respective stops. Quips were increasingly made about the public transport functioning as a moving circus container, but there was a deeper unease at play.

By some mysterious force that same year, thousands of Rennes’ local university students had their schedules moved back by 15 minutes. One year later, the city’s notoriously crowded rush hour had thinned out by 17 percent. The unlikely puppeteers were a unit of social engineers called the Bureau des Temps, France’s well-oiled and omnipresent but often invisible Office of Time.

“When it’s crowded, the first reflex for public transportation operators would be to increase the number of subway carriages, not to go talk with the people who have the ability to control the rush,” says Evelyne Reeves, manager of Rennes’ Bureau de Temps.

Determined to find a more fundamental solution, Reeves spent a year meeting with “time producers” at universities, hospitals, local businesses and administrative offices. What Reeves and her colleagues in the bureau discovered was that by staggering the start-time of 18,000 university students at the local Université Rennes-2, they could engineer an effortless commute for the citizens of Rennes. And it worked.

The Bureaus des Temps are the clockmakers of contemporary urban life in France, juggling the diverse daily rhythms of French citizens with those of government and private institutions. Many initiatives have been put into motion in France over the past ten years, crafted from these studied attempts to enable its cities to function better.

Working with local firms, the city of Lyon has developed a virtual carpooling system for employees who live and work in the same area. In Paris, the city’s 20 arrondissements were once accustomed to Saturday morning wedding jams – it was the only window in which City Hall would be open. Now, the halls stay open through the afternoon in 9 arrondissements, transforming scrums of bored and anxious intendeds into blushing brides. In the French capital, where some swimming pools now stay open until 10 p.m., the sports clubs and associations who use them become the defacto employees for a few hours. In the southern Montpellier, the public library is now open on Sundays and until 9 p.m. during the week, holding students and avid readers in its aisles of narrative and out of the rush hour.

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With time becoming an increasingly valuable commodity around the world, in parallel with the greater use of new technologies, time management has become an essential concern, evidenced by vast supply of tips, lectures and books – something more capitalistic societies have been obsessed with since the 1980’s – but without the shrouded society of clockmakers to retool the gears of the city.

Through simple data collection, the bureaus work determinedly to identify the intricacies of their respective districts in order to improve the quality of time. They are governed by the belief that such is equal to quality of life, which in turn correlates to the virtues of a city and its ability to stay relevant and prosperous. “We produce surveys to understand how much time people are taking to get around the city, how they are using their leisure time,” says Lucie Verchère, manager of Espace des Temps in Lyon, where time and space are considered interconnected.

In the wake of World War II, the French went back to work and coined a famous expression anchored to the mundanity of their daily ritual: “Métro, Boulot, Dodo”, or “Subway, Work, Sleep.” It was this way until the city passed a law that would shorten the work week, resulting in leisure time as a new commodity. “It all started with the first Aubry law on the 35-hour working week and the new work-life balance it implied. We all knew it was going to change people’s needs and lifestyles,” says Verchère. But at first, there was a general perplexity around how to manage it.

One out of 8 French citizens now works on Sunday and more than 7 percent of employees have a night job. While the city dwellers enjoy living in a high-speed society, some pinpoint a social pressure to be time-efficient all day long.

“In the 19th century, the way people were dividing their time was easy – family, working in a field or in a factory and the church” says Reeves. But as life expectancy has increased by 31 years since then, French work time has been divided by 3 and leisure time multiplied by 4. “We’ve never had so much time for ourselves,” says Reeves, “yet we are living with a constant feeling of pressure.”

The Bureau des Temps originated in 1980’s Italy where a newly emerging feminist movement started challenging the burden of a double workday. Female breadwinners with children were caught between their responsibilities at work and at home. Recognizing the stakes, city offices organized committees to find solutions and ease the pressure of time by extending hours for city services.

In 1986, a communist deputy, Livia Turco, who would go on to become the Minister of Social Affairs, suggested the idea of “a right to time.” Since 2000, every Italian city with more than 30,000 residents has to feature a Progetto Tempi della Città, or a City Time project.

Similarly, some of the French offices started with a focus on gender equality to improve accessibility to city services such as childcare for women working unusual hours. In recent years, with gender equality inching towards equilibrium in France, the root focus has shifted to reflect a more vast and intricate society.

“We went interviewing all the [Paris] mayors with concrete questions. We did not want to philosophize,” Verchère explains of a 2002 project. After meetings with parents, childcare administrators and associations, the results were more nuanced than anticipated.

Thierry Halay, one of the project’s managers, is by trade an author of books on Paris’s history and neighborhoods, and co-founder of the Association of History and the 20th Archaeology Borough (AHAV). He recalls,“We realized that residents in East Paris – which includes a significant part of low-skilled jobs – would prefer day nurseries opening early in the morning, while residents in western Paris featuring more executives asked for late-afternoon shifts.”

But extending opening hours means longer working hours for employees, which in turn often leads to collective bargaining regarding wages and working conditions. And naturally, cities are inherently full of conflicting objectives and agendas.“You get neighbors in popular nightlife areas who complain more and more about the noise, you get bar owners who complain about legal rules of closing time and liquor-licensing laws and you get night workers concerned by their safety,” explains Thierry Charlois, the nightlife project manager of the city of Paris.

Verchère refers to the early years of 2004 and 2005 as a golden age for these Bureaus des Temps, acknowledging that “… afterwards, we realized that [the subject of] time in urban public policy is a much more cross-disciplinary issue. [So] we have become an innovation lab.”

After working on mobility and flexible working hours, the main focus of her work has been set on leading new projects such as “Gare Remix” which calls on transportation users to share clever ideas on what useful or fun things people could do while waiting for their train. Meanwhile, in Paris, the focus of the Bureau des Temps has shifted towards nightlife.

Verchère concludes, asserting the importance of these near mythical collections of time makers – “Digital technologies cannot solve all issues. Most people consider the fastest way to drop one child at school and another one at kindergarten during their morning commute without the help of an app.”

Artwork by Trash Riot.

Run Soko Run

The self-professed eternal child Soko arrived on the scene in 2006 with a gritty music video threatening to kill a girl. At this year’s Cannes the singer/songwriter/actress held her own among the international A-List and proved she’s an artistic force ready to claim any stage.

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rench singer, artist and actress Stéphanie Sokolinski, more commonly known to her spirited international fan base as Soko, dropped out of school at 16 to move to Paris and took up acting classes with the famed actress and theater coach Eva Saint-Paul. After her bare bones music video “I’ll Kill Her” (2006) took the internet by storm, Soko set forth on a nomadic spirit journey, releasing two sequential albums that continue to reflect a deepening and complex maturity without sacrificing that signature poetic raw spunk that established her sound: the more intimate and personal I Thought I Was an Alien (2012), and the charging synth-pop My Dreams Dictate My Reality (2015) — both of which she toured on relentlessly. For many artists that would be a fulltime job but Soko thrives on superhuman productivity, and her Caesar Award-nominated acting career, largely rooted in French cinema, has been equally prolific with 13 films under her belt. She was a confident and commanding presence on the red carpet at this year’s Cannes, where she was promoting roles in two French films: Stéphanie Di Giusto’s biopic, The Dancer, where she plays the title role of Loie Fuller, and the Afghanistan war drama The Stopover by sisters Delphine and Muriel Coulin.

RUINS caught up with Soko to discuss the joys and the sorrows of unencumbered living, Peter Pan syndrome, and the ghost of Harry Houdini.

RUINS: You spend a lot of time on the road – what’s life like when you’re off it?
SOKO: Last year I was making my second record [My Dreams Dictate My Reality]. And that was it, and I didn’t do anything else. I was living in Venice with Ross Robinson, who was producing and had also worked with The Cure. I really wanted an early 80s /late 70s sound–raw and funky and gothy. I like straightforward guitars and fun bass lines. So I lived in Venice with him. He has a beautiful four-story house, beachfront, and a dog named Carl, that I love. We had such a good rhythm. We were supposed to record for two weeks, and I ended up staying for 6 months. We were just working every single fucking day. Which was awesome. We’d wake up, go to yoga, eat lunch together.

How did such a fortuitous collaboration come about?
I started recording in Paris with an engineer, and because I love arranging and I knew exactly what kind of sound I wanted, I thought, fuck it, I’m just gonna produce it. Then I ran out of money and I was like, “Oh, shit. I need someone. So I wrote a letter to Robert Smith to ask him if he would want to produce my record (laughs) and I really wanted it to sound like early Cure. More bare and more punk. I had the letter transmitted through Ross. Robert Smith never answered but then Ross called me and he’s like, “Hey, are you in LA do you want to come meet up? I’ve listened to your stuff, I really dig it.” And I went to meet him and he was like, “Do you want to start recording in 3 days?”

Sounds like the dream.
We have the exact same lifestyle so it worked out very well. He doesn’t smoke or drink or do drugs. He’s vegan and gluten free…and I’m the exactly same.

Are you usually an emotional roller coaster?
I am, but I’m also really hyperactive. If I go into something without releasing any energy, I will not be focused and have crazy ADD. Yoga helps have clear intentions, like “I’m here to make my record, that’s all I want to focus on.” I don’t want to have any distractions. I don’t want to see anyone. I don’t want to go out. I don’t want to drive anywhere. Six months of not seeing anyone. It’s the best.

Do you ever unpack?
For seven years I was living out of my suitcase. I have a crazy Peter Pan syndrome. I’m an eternal child. I have a problem with having too much responsibility. But at the same time, because I’m a musician and have a whole team working for me, so I have to be a boss—even though I don’t [always] want to. Sometimes I get bossy and I’m like, “let’s do this! and this! And that!” And am really efficient. Other times I’m like—“I don’t want to pay bills, I don’t want to find a house. I don’t want to buy a car by myself. I don’t want real life hassles and responsibilities. I just want to go on adventures and have fun.” It was so hard for seven years for me to not have a house and just couch surf, staying with my friends in their guest room, till they were like…”hmm..I think it’s time for you [to go]! What’s next?” But it never really got to that point because I was moving every two months. That’s the maximum I would ever stay with people. I’d also have to go on a flight somewhere.

How does your creative process differ in LA as opposed if you were an artist living in Paris. Would that album have been different?
I don’t feel creative in Paris. I write a lot because I feel like I don’t belong. And the weather makes me a little bit more sad. And then as soon as I’m in LA I’m creative and bubbling over with energy. It’s weird because Paris’s pace is really fast, but it makes me really sluggish. LA is really sluggish, but it makes me want to fight it and do my career non-stop, everyday.

Have you always been crazy workaholic?
I have. No, I definitely have, but I think LA really gets the best of me in that way because its so easy to collaborate with people and everyone is so open. When you have an artistic goal and you want to just bring in whether it’s like, “Oh, I need someone to DP my video, or I need a focus puller.” You post it on Facebook, an hour later, you’ve got your whole team to make a video. Or even like, finding anything, like whatever you can imagine, as soon as I post it on Facebook, literally the next minute it’s sorted in LA because everyone wants to help out. There’s a much better sense of community, like artistic community.

So you find social media rather useful, then.
I am the queen of social media. The power of social media is fucking insane. I use it in a way that feels so fun.

The walls that you come up against in Europe, is that a money thing? Do you find people are less likely to get involved because they think they’re not going to get paid for it?
Yeah, definitely. I find that in LA people are really charitable with their time. People in LA are really just there to make art, and they move there to be artists. And like, nobody has a day job and also rent is cheaper. So you have less money responsibilities.

Comparing yourself now to yourself say like 5 years ago, do you feel you’re a rebooted version of yourself?
I feel like I went through Satan’s return and it was a really fucking hard one and everyday I wanted to give up, but then I put all of my doubts and fears in my music and the whole time I was making this record, I was like, “I want this to be a transformative record”. And to be like lighter and sunnier, you know, feel happier and help me as a human like pass this sort of like sluggish sadness and depression and just be a happier person and live more in the moment and stop projecting myself and like having crazy high expectations and live in the moment.

What was the highlight of your last tour?
We went to an art school in Savannah, SCAD, and everyone was so young and beautiful and creative. We played in a record store called Grayface and all the people there looked like the most awesome, freaky, stylish, cool, out-there people. And hardcore fans. We were trying to save up on hotels, so we would crash with people. When we mentioned, “We don’t have a place to stay! Who can we stay with?” we ended up at Harry Houdini’s old house. It was amazing. Two stories, really big. There were no ghosts, but there was a safe that hadn’t been opened for a hundred years. It was built into the ground, and you couldn’t take it out. My guitar player thought he could crack it and we just literally barely touched it and it opened. Inside there were three gold metal locks for tricks and some screws, but barely anything.

Is it hard to hold down friendships with your lifestyle?
I hang out with a lot of international people. My two best friends are Latinas; one’s from Mexico, one’s from Argentina. Three BFF ladies.

How do you feel about interviews like this?
I think that everything interesting I have to say is in my songs, so doing interviews is always weird. Everything is in my music; all my failures, all my doubts, all my vulnerabilities, all my strength, passion or love. I don’t know how to do anything else, because it’s completely vital for me to do music. Because I need it! When something happens I immediately go home and then it comes– completely formed. Every lyric, every arrangement, every drumbeat. I used to carry diaries all the time, but my bags were always so heavy. My diaries are so big they look like magic books.

So, where people always think that relationships with others are the trigger points or inspiration for songs, I’m getting the impression that more often than people may realize, you draw on your relationship with yourself.
It’s a mix of everything but its funny because I put so much meaning into every single lyric. So every single sentence I pick, I could like take any sentence and tell you 3 stories about them that makes them relevant and so important and exactly why they’re so meaningful. Like even just the title track, “I Come In Peace” was so important to me to put it as an opening track because of my previous record being called, I Thought I Was An Alien.

So it was still an alien reference, but at the same time, really coming to peace with all my demons. Part of that song is reaching for someone who was a drug addict that I was trying to help out. But I had too many expectations and I saw him as this huge hero and I wanted to get engaged and like get married, and have babies and shit. And I was putting so much pressure on someone to be something that he was not.

I’ve been writing for people too, on their new records and stuff. And preparing 4 movies. I can’t procrastinate. If I go one day without creating stuff, I feel like I’m dead. I feel like boredom is death.

Have you always been like that?
Yeah, on my first record I had that one song called “We Might Be Dead By Tomorrow” and this is really how I live my life. I really feel like if tonight is my last night and I die in my sleep like my father did, I want today to have been the best fucking day of my life. So everyday I try to see friends that I love and try to work and try to finish things.

Did your father die when you were young?
Yeah when I was 5. It shaped my life. For me there’s no love, there’s just proof of love and to me there’s no, “I’m working.” The only thing that matters to me is results. If you pretend you’re working but there’s no result and there’s no end product, you might as well just be doing nothing. So everyday I try to have something that’s finished.

What do you mean by that, there’s no love, there’s only proof of love?
No, I think when people say, “Oh I love you, I love you, I love you” then when you really need them, they’re not here and they can’t give you proof that they love you, and it’s just words. It’s meaningless.

Is anything off limits?
I don’t know any other way. Doing the opposite would feel wrong and would feel like I’m lying.

But even the holding something back – like you just love the unguarded moment. I mean, you just put it out there.
Yeah, I just don’t know how to build walls. It’s like embracing being vulnerable. If I want to be crying one minute and then laugh the next then you know I’ll fucking own my emotions and there’s nothing wrong about that and you’re not going make me feel bad about it. And I’d rather see people cry and then people feel good than like people be completely guarded and have absolutely no emotion and you never know what’s in their head. These people are like dangerous. [I] don’t know how to approach them.

Soko is already working on her next album.

Gail Albert Halaban

“Voyeurism implies that you’re going to look at somebody and not acknowledge the exchange. To me, with this work, you’re acknowledging that there’s actually a two-way relationship.”

Inspired by time spent as a temporary shut-in following the birth of her daughter, photographer Gail Albert Halaban began shooting pictures of her neighbors (with their permission) through the windows of her Manhattan apartment. The exercise soon became her means of connecting to the outside world, an escape from the exile of diaper changes and sleep deprivation. The artful result, Out My Window, a photo series showcasing city dwellers at their most unguarded, caught the eye of Cathy Remy, an editor from French newspaper Le Monde’s M magazine, who subsequently commissioned Halaban for a Paris-focused spread. After the assignment the photographer was inspired to continue shooting the city and temporarily expatriated, gathering much of the material for her book Paris Views (published in October 2014 by Aperture).

Each of Halaban’s images transforms the ordinary and the routine (like the image of a young girl practicing the clarinet, or a lone woman scolding her dogs) into an intriguing world with unspoken backstories. One of the series’ greatest strengths is its ability to confirm aesthetic Parisian tropes—elegantly decaying buildings, climbing-ivy windowsill gardens, and seemingly neverending glasses of merlot—while displaying the reality-bathed day-to-day life of one of the most romanticized cities in history. The result is unretouched and full exposure—unmade beds and all.

While though Halaban’s Manhattan subjects proved exceedingly easy to win over (“From the over 200 people I asked to take part in the New York project only one said no,” she told Ruins), she came up against a few roadblocks with their French counterparts. “In Paris no one wants to admit that they do it [spy on their neighbors]. They are much more private, so at first it was very hard. Some of the initial people I asked said, ‘That must be illegal’, or ‘Nobody is going to do that here.’” However, the photographer’s exposure in Le Monde, coupled with her engaging personality, put potential subjects at ease and elevated her status from peeping tom to esteemed artist.

Halaban may have executed this project with the impersonal gaze of a surgeon (a tad ironic as she originally attended Brown University for pre-med), but she still managed to infuse her work with warmth and compassion, making it feel more akin to a visit from a family friend than a still from Rear Window. “I became a photographer because I’m interested in people, and really wanted to get to know and connect with them,” she says.“My first job out of college was in a pediatric psychiatric hospital. Part of my role was to film kids and their families, and code for certain behaviors and actions for signs of mental illness. I began to realize that there were certain gestures and subtle ways people interact that tell you so much about who they are. I loved that job and how I connected with the families—that has been much of the motivation for my photographic work.” After swapping med school for an MFA from Yale, Halaban went on to study with downtown docu-photographer Nan Goldin, whose intimate and occasionally tragic portrait studies are echoed through her protégé’s work.

While Halaban is essentially inviting the public to peer into someone’s private life, she insists her art is the farthest thing from voyeurism. “Voyeurism implies that you’re going to look at somebody and not acknowledge the exchange. To me, with this work, you’re acknowledging that there’s actually a two-way relationship.”