Sunday, 6 May 2007

card works

It was a girlfriend called Jean who introduced me to the phrase: "I've never paid for it in my life."

Declaimed with a northern accent to honour effervescent virility, it always struck me as amusing since it was Scottish girl doing a southern accent.

She'd always berate my pitiful efforts to use the flourish. It was probably her way of ensuring that I, as a Londoner, never attempted to recreate her Celtic tones.

Jean has long gone but her bravura lives on as the phrase - now with improved northern diction - has been appropriated into the Myers lexicon.

And it's been gaining extra currency of late. Nothing to do with my rampaging masculinity rather my approach to culture in Paris and London.

Press cards have furnished me with a healthy desire to see any old exhibition. And owning an apartment a five minute bus ride from the Pompidou Centre has been a treat on this score.

I came to live in Paris in 2000 armed with an English press card and I was soon advised to get a French one so that I could get a higher freelance rate. The French card eventually came after the bureaucratic hurdles of applying to a police statistics office in Nantes which then sent a letter verifying that I didn't have a criminal record in France.

As for my serial slasher days in the former GDR.......

Well two cards has always struck me as superfluous especially since the English one has never been refused at any gallery I've visited in France or Germany for that matter.

I did all the necessary paperwork for the 2007 French card back in early February so that a new one would be on my doorstep before the 2006 card expired at the end of March.

There was always the potential for a momentary void this year since the English one would also run out at the end of March after two years of sterling work. But for that I'd just have to wait for the new one to be delivered to the Guardian. Of course it was late.

And there was a hitch with the French press card so for the first time in 15 years, I faced the prospect of having to pay for my culture.

Well at times like this a man gets to wondering: just how deep is that ache? Does the easy availability inspire the yearning? Or is there a real need?

With the family in England on holiday I spent some days in Paris alone. At junctures like this I usually feast on the attractions. I've known myself to take in the Pompidou......the Musée de la Mode et du Textile in the Louvre...and the Musée d'art moderne en route to work at la Maison de la Radio in western Paris.

This time I had no such dynamism.

I didn't bother to hunt for excuses. It was simply that I would've had to pay. What's more I didn't know what I would've had to pay because I've never paid for it in my life.

When I went to rejoin my brood in London I duly picked up my delayed English press card.

Once back in Paris...the French press card was there.

Paradise restored.

To celebrate I headed with the boy to the David Lynch exhibition the Air is on Fire at the Fondation Cartier down in the 14th arrondissement.

It's wild at heart. Scrawls and squiggles from an imagination that's conjured up wacky TV series like Twin Peaks and ethereal chillers like Blue Velvet.

Lynch's titbits were intriguing especially the drawings on postcards etched from his earliest youth.

At a doorway to some of the pieces, there's a warning that they might not be suitable for young people.

This wasn't a particular problem as the boy was happily snoozing in his buggy. Actually I wasn't convinced that they were suitable for anyone.

But that was me being glib. Which is perhaps how I've become with all this easy access. I've lost my stickability — to use a phrase beloved of linguistically innovative English football managers.

I tend to go into exhibitions in a fairly breezy manner. Either because I'm lugging a dozing bairn around and so am poised to evacuate as soon as they wake up and start screaming or I'm with an as yet to be convinced child and am ready to head to the cafe for milk and biscuits once they're certain that the shapes and figures aren't that brilliant.

The boy, all 13 months of him, is already into the gallery groove, mostly with his five-year-old sister and so my stance hasn't essentially altered. Occasionally I realise I haven't been able to form an opinion of a show because I've been so distracted. What's the point of going in if you take nothing out?

The corinthian in me says it's the participation that counts.

And yet there have been times when a visit has met with instant approval. Since a primary school trip a few years ago to the Pompidou to reinforce the techniques of orientation, the eldest shuns the place — preferring now to stare at her verruca with the self-referential avidity of a modern artist. Maybe she did imbibe something from our jaunts. Anyway I well remember repeated trips there to see the Dubuffet retrospective as well as the Daniel Buren when she was younger.

The child's view informed my approach especially at the Buren when the structures and shadows seemed tailor made to an infant's curiosity and impulsiveness and that in turn allowed me to enter into the artist's world of playfulness.

It would have cost a minor fortune if I'd had to pay since we went at least half a dozen times on her Wednesdays off school during both runs.

And it would have been sad to have dampened the eagerness to see it due to cost.

I realise that I'm privileged to be able to take the children around some of the best art spaces in the world for free. And that opportunity should be extended to all parents with children under say 14 or so. It would certainly give them a place to go and make sure they wouldn't feel the need to stay in order to justify the financial outlay.

While not as flamboyant as our Jean's boast, "I've stopped paying for it" would become a welcome rejoinder in many a home.