After A Tomorrow

Paris & Versailles

The photographs found on the walls of Chapel Street's Bistro De Paris were taken in Paris and Versailles nearly ten years ago.

They are the photographs of a young Canadian photographer, who, having just moved away from home, hoped to discover the Paris he'd read about in High School and University.

This was the Paris inhabited by the likes of Fitzgerald and Hemingway, of Rimbaud, Baudelaire and Verlaine. Its roads, were the ones filled with romantic possibility, those streetscapes explored and photographed by the likes of Nadar, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Brassai and Eugene Atget. This Paris was the same one filmed with such great enthusiasm by Godard, Truffaut and Rohmer. He'd just read Patti Smith's Just Kids and she seemed to suggest this Paris was everlasting...

A Summary

I arrive In Paris, late at night on a friday. I meet my friend Matthieu and his girlfriend at a local bar. Matthieu is a talented jazz pianist I'd befriended while working aboard a cruise ship two years prior.

We'd last seen each other when I was 22 in Alaska. At the time, I'd just been attacked by a guest on the ship and I was changing cruise lines, moving from Radiance of the Seas to Disney. I was now 24 and I'd recently become a teacher. I'd just moved to Sweden for that same reason and hoped to use my teaching holidays to travel around Europe. I'd made friends with Serbians and Ukrainians, Portuguese and English and thought couch surf during my holidays would allow me to document my travels cheaply.

That first night in Paris we stay out late. I spoke my Canadian french and met Parisians who pick up on the accent and acknowledge it immediately. We discuss art and poetry and he feel at home. We eat cheese and baguettes and it feels like the movies. We stay stay out until 2-3 and walk home singing. We jump the metro till and drink wine from the bottle and do so until we get to his front door.

The next morning I wake up early while my hosts sleep in. I was sleeping above them in a nook of sorts, with books lined up from mattress to ceiling. Before leaving, I make sure to take the paper map I'd folded underneath my pillow. I'd placed it there before falling asleep. I was hoping my dreams would absorb the streets throughout the night and give me insight into their secrets. I set off quietly with my camera, notebook and novel.

I wander, I am lost, I am in awe. I recognize so many places and so many buildings. It feels surreal...

We meet later that night. Matthieu's girlfriend comes along and the three of us, tight on money, share a single glass of red wine. The owner knows them and gives us a table outside so that we can people watch. I am distracted. His girlfriend buys a flower from a peddler. We laugh. Matthieu buys two cigarettes from the counter...I'd never seen anyone buy individual cigarettes from a store before. They smoke and we catch up. Life can seemingly be like those described in books here...

During the week, I spend entire days at the Louvre, The Museum D'Orsay, the European House of Photography and Jeu De Paume. I inhale art. Savour it and grow delirious. These paintings, Napoleon's Coronation and The Wrath Of Medusa are even larger than when I first saw them projected in the Ottawa University Auditorium. I hear different languages and see people clothed in stylish, timeless suits and dresses.

As I leave each space, I feel joy and wonder, amplified by the fact that I seem to stumble across different angles of the Eiffel tower everywhere I go.

I mention it to Matthieu and he informs me of an old story. Supposedly, Guy de Maupassant hated the tower. He famously complained that the only way to avoid seeing it when in Paris when going out to supper, was to eat supper within its restaurant...

I take advantage of being a teacher and being under 25 and I enter into certain Museums and Monuments like the Arch de Triomphe for free.

I buy french books from the stalls and visit the old markets, I am told these are the very same ones the surrealists use to pilfer for ideas.

We go to Versailles and Matthieu's girlfriend hikes her skirt and pees in one of the bushes. I go red and ask her if she's scared of getting caught? She reminds me it's a big park and the nobles were doing the same thing less than a hundred years ago. We drink more wine and talk some more. We wonder at the gardens and the leaves changing colours. We picnic and laugh and listen to Edith Piath because I tell them it feels right for the moment.

The sun sets and crowds dwindle and we walk arm in arm towards the road. Matthieu's girlfriends sweet talks the driver and we ride up to the entrance in a horse drawn buggy. I partially close my eyes and the flickering flames seen out the window go hazy. This, alongside the sound of horse hooves, makes me travel in time. I sense my physical self fade into the past, as we move parallel in time and space with the sights and sounds of a hundred years ago...

Mathieu takes me to Montmartre and the Cathedral, we often get there late because we stop for wine and conversation. We see swans at 3 in the morning and mark the territory.

The following day, we got to an old Roman arena called 'Arènes de Lutèce'. I am shocked to discover it exists. How something this large, and old could be so little known and Mathieu reminds me of the size of the city.

The city at night feels full and bright and while I don't have those symptoms associated with Paris Syndrome, I begin to realize life is better when you take the time to take the time. To slow down and experience things deeply with good people and good wine.

I go to the Cirque d' Hiver. Matthieu has been hired as a pianist for the circus. The show is spectacular and we get to chat on break and I get to talk with the performers. We take the staff exit at the end of the show and I feel like Paris is everything the movies and the books said it would be.

I leave Mathieu and at the city at the end of the week. I have a planned layover in Poland because I'd made a mistake with the return date on a Swedish travel website and I needed to buy a cheap replacement ticket. We hit a massive storm on the way back and I spend the entire night in a full bus, driving from one Polish city to another, in order to catch a flight to get back to reality on time...

Since taking these photos, much of Paris has changed. The city of love has been marked by events that have had International repercussions, ones that have irreversibly altered its social landscape. Once known for its free and bohemian nature, its policeman are now armed with semi-automatic rifles, intimidating locals and tourists alike as they patrol the streets, keeping it safe.

I look back and I sincerely believe these images mark a transition of sorts. In November 2015, two weeks after these photos were taken, several terrorist attacks occur in a single day. This is followed by the events of Charlie Hebdo, the machete attack at the Louvre, the attack at the Champs-Élysées and the burning down of Notre-Dame.

The city still exists, but I've returned twice since that initial trip, once prior to Covid and once after and you can no longer share a glass of wine between three people. Things have gotten expensive and more American. The truly wealthy seem to own the restaurants and shops now rather than families hoping to be part of a community. Things have changed but things always do change and maybe, after a tomorrow, one day, they'll go back to the way they were in the movies.

For Print Inquiries Please Email: justinlouislabelle@gmail.com Or Call 0493-499-790

The shop is open to avoid any confusion as to print name but cash of bpay is currently preferred. Prints are ready to be picked up in Brunswick within a week of purchase inquiry, they can also be hand delivered on weekends by the photographer within the CBD. All prints are signed and limited in number to 5 in their print size.

“Eyes mark the shape of the city.”

― Haruki Murakami

After Dark