It’s hard to do photographic justice to a Sunday afternoon of wind and emptiness. Maybe it’s because I hadn’t been out taking pictures in a while, but Rue Championnet felt like a corridor of unarticulated yet continually frustrated expectations, a trip long and gray like those mechanical walkways they have at the airport — so slow, so painfully effortless, that watching your feet becomes the only way not to give in to the impulse to push someone down.
There was definitely something in the air today, I mean other than the cold and pollen ruining my eyes; something like dread, of the kind, so well described by Joan Didion in her “Los Angeles Notebook,” that precedes the coming of the Santa Ana wind (“some unnatural stillness, some tension”). Men in hoodies took shelter in doorways to light cigarettes and crumble bars of hash. The football games looked frozen, hanging, as if someone had kicked the ball over a very high, netted wall and every player had been struck dumb. Most shops were closed, including the gigantic Chinese restaurant that recently opened in what used to be a savoyard fondue joint (the heavy fake-stone-and-wood frames that weighed the restaurant fronts on each side of the corner, like Disney versions of winter coziness, entrances to a big cheery hearth, are still up, and badly suited to the current windows’ display of sleekly-lit aquariums).
A little further on, I intercepted a running route I used to favor, about a year ago — a downhill bit of Rue Championnet where it gets wider, greener, peppered with indoor-decoration stores, and a whole of a lot older. (By which I mean the street becomes literally taken over by old dudes and gals, who looked frighteningly frail this afternoon, hunched against the gusts and weighed upon by threatening skies.) On that downhill bit, I remember, used to sit an abandoned gas station. I passed it every night, back when I still used the running route (OK, back when I used to run), and although it was walled-off by tall chain-link fences a group of people had set up three or four tents under the old gas-station roof (I believe it said Esso in white-on-red letters). On some nights, the coldest, I would see a bonfire, flickering over what had to be hundreds of empty bottles littering the concrete ground.
Now, the old gas station is a sort of pop-up Renault dealership, surrounded by big flags upon which flap huge smiley-faces, yellow and pink. Can’t tell me something isn’t going on.
Kieran Hebden, Steve Reid & Mats Gustafsson – “25th Street (Live)” (from Live at the South Bank, Smalltown Supersound 2011)