Bank holiday weekend in the French capital
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It had been a long time since I'd been to Paris properly. I'd passed through on my way to Barcelona a couple of months ago, but now, two friends of mine were living here, so I got a eurostar early one Saturday morning to go and visit them.
We visited Notre Dame. I'd been there before but only to the inside. We decided to go up to the roof. It was a May bank holiday weekend so this involved spending a long time in a queue, creeping slowly across the square in front of the cathedral. It looked like it was going to rain heavily, and I was hoping it would so that some less enthusiastic queuers might go away and do something else, but it didn't.
Eventually we made it up to the heights. By coincidence it was ten years to the day since my first visit to Paris, when I'd arrived utterly broke after a trip across Europe to celebrate the end of my degree. I thought then that I had just left UCL forever. I wondered what I would have made of it then, if someone told me I'd actually have got a job there, ten years on.
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We went to the Pompidou centre and saw some modern art. It was another classic Paris thing to do that I hadn't done before. We also, being scientists keen to communicate what we do, joined in at Paris's first "Science Corner", where people from various disciplines set up stands on the plaza in front of the centre, offering the public the chance to ask us anything they wanted to. Not speaking French obviously made it a bit difficult for those of us from the UK, but none the less we got plenty of interest. There were some press people there and articles later appeared in a few newspapers.
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While we were in Paris, the Villette Sonique music festival was on, and the last night's star attraction was Joanna Newsom. I'd heard her music before, recommended to me with great enthusiasm by two of my friends, but I was not a fan. In fact, I thought it was unbelievably awful and I planned never to listen to it again.
But my friends in Paris wanted to go, and I reluctantly bought a ticket. And as it happened, the gig entirely changed my opinion. She was supported by Roy Harper, who looked pretty messed up and rambled vaguely between songs. But his music was pretty good, with just his voice, a guitar and a delay pedal.
And then Joanna Newsom came on stage. The audience were in raptures right from the start, which put me off a bit, but her voice didn't sound as weird as it had done on the songs I'd heard before. It was one of those gigs where you start off quite liking it, and as the show progresses you realise it's something quite special, where the musician is on supreme form and the audience is ever more impressed. By the encore I was clapping almost as enthusiastically as the rest of them.