There are many splendid and glorious THINGS about Europe, sweeties, but an absorbing subculture that flaunts a varied night life raging with idiosyncratic clubs isn't one of them. Now I admit that I'm a spoiled (yet fabulous) Comtesse with jaded sensibilities who is very demanding in regard to entertainment and aesthetics. But it's EUROPE, sweeties! France, Switzerland and Austria to be exact. A nice cozy selection for a month long jaunt. Certainly the night life on the Continent East of the Atlantic couldn't be languishing in a sort of narcoleptic daze?
Perhaps I expected too much from places like Paris (let's all have a moment of silence for the 17th - 19th centuries). Call me haughty, but I prefer clubs, bars, pubs, whatever, that play something other than a lackluster techno/house rave type of music -- that insufferable "I love you and you love me and we all love loving like this together in one big fluffy, candy-covered, fluorescent-lit world" music. It was virtually everywhere -- monotonous, vapid, giggly-poo tempos and sugary skippity-hop-with-the-bunny-poo rhythms that assault the ears with an interminable high-pitched and computerized techno WOOP WOOP WOOP WOOP WOOP. THAT vile stuff. (To clarify: this was NOT "industrial techno" which has a rougher edge to it. This techno was flat, bland, and insipid.) It followed us everywhere. Haunting us. Taunting us. Alarming us.
In Zurich for instance, a city where a general glancing about implied the possible existence of a fairly alternative and interesting subculture, someone commented, "Oh well, we have special retro 70s/80s/goth/fetish/alternative rock/(fill in the blank) events a couple times a year. There's one coming up in July."
(The music in the background taunts: WOOP WOOP WOOOP WOOOP WOOOP.)
"But usually, this is pretty much what we listen to here."
We perused flyers, posters, announcements and ads in local magazines and papers. We wistfully searched out the gay and lesbian sections of each city. Actually, while wandering around we consistently stumbled by accident into these sections of town -- the harbingers of which were rainbow flags, rainbow-embellished accessories, window displays featuring an impressive (and sometimes bewildering) array of handkerchiefs and other really bizarre window displays featuring miniature villages inhabited by stuffed toy teddy bears wearing bondage gear and waiving miniature rainbow flags. It was bemusing to say the least but if you squinted you could almost fool yourself into believing you were near Castro and 18th. Hope surged forth with every step on each of these boulevards -- "join usssssss.......join ussssss" seemed to whisper with the breeze.
So, we diligently roamed streets that were decorated by quaint boutiques with names like or "With Men For Men By Men Because of Men" and chatted up the staff in the fetish, S/M and bondage gear stores, fun fashion stores, unique little cafes and pubs. God, we even approached people who looked like people here that pepper our night life!
The sobering results were very sobering. He may look like Robert Smith from the ruffled shirt up to the kohl-decorated eyes, black hair and luscious, androgynous cheekbones but those orange platform tennis shoes and poly-satin baggy pants in sunshine yellow give it all away.
She may have 40 facial piercings, an arm full of scrolling Celtic tattoos, braided hair extensions in 6 different colors and wear a fetishy latex Victorian corset -- but those radioactive white platform tennis shoes, mint green Adidas jacket and long acid-washed denim skirt say something else all together.
He may have a shorn head, shaved eyebrows, Mr. Universe physique and be wearing a vest made entirely out of sandpaper, sewn together with rubber and leather straps but he ruins it all with chocolate brown cut-off tweed shorts, day-glo blue cotton socks and those damn platform tennis shoes. (In some kind of hideous or day-glo color or nuclear fall-out white but never in black. No one wore black tennis shoes, which would have helped some fashion ensembles CONSIDERABLY. In fact, very few people wore black shoes. They have very BIZARRE shoe-color fashions in Europe.)
When everything was said and done, it was the cruelest of culture-shocks for us. WOOP WOOOP WOOOP WOOOP WOOOOP
My traveling companion, Terrance, and I agreed that possibly Vienna, Austria held the most untapped promise. We'd need another few weeks there to explore sufficiently more of the incredible museums and historical aspects, but from the playbills, flyers and people rushing past us, it looked quite promising for intriguing and alternative recreation as well. And we weren't stalked incessantly by that odious WOOOP WOOOP WOOOP WOOOP WOOOP.
The absolute WORST was Paris. The Parisians have one hell of a lotta nerve bitching and whining that "the damn tourists and those ugly Americans are spoiling the atmosphere of our city." Uh actually, I think perhaps it's the MIMES that are spoiling the atmosphere of your city.
Let's talk about MIMES shall we? Part of the clown family. Closely related to the circus stratum of entertainment. Next of kin to carnivals, Thespian troupes, and improv groups. They were all over Paris -- everywhere. There are more mimes all over Paris then America has homeless people, for Christ's sake!
And is there anything truly WORSE than a mime? Is there anything more embarrassing to view, and annoying to walk by, than some moronic mime pretending to climb stairs while he hands women passers-by wilting flowers, or pretends to be trapped in a box and the only way out is to make yellow or orange balloon animals for some drooling brat and its squalling, sticky, sibling?
We saw mimes making chalk pictures on the street, a mime in a wheelchair making poodles out of those pom-pom yarn things, mimes offering to draw your caricature, mimes showcasing their expertise in balloon animal twisting, mimes posing like statues, mimes wearing angel wings and doing their mime thing. Imagine San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf -- you know the line of street merchants, street performers, vendors, etc? Now put a mime in the place of each. That's right. A sea of mimes doing a sea of different things but always sporting mime attire, behavior and activity. Kind of like being lost in a house of mirrors and all you see is mime upon mime upon mime in every mirror you look until you end up thinking YOU'RE ONE TOO AND...
(Sorry there. My own private nightmare.)
Most egregious of The Mime Horror was that mime activity which took place outside of gorgeous historical sites such as huge, amazing medieval churches decorated with dozens of intricate gargoyle statues or glinting with acres of stained glass and holy water containers that were shaped like ornate fountains the size of our City Hall. They utterly ruined the moment because how can you block out a mime? It's the most insidious of street "things" to accost you. So all through Paris we experienced a bitter duality: The best of the past (awe-inspiring history) and the absolute WORST of the present (the Mime Factor).
But there is something worse than having copious mimes in your midst, and that worse thing was not something we were subjected to -- and it was one thing for which Terrance and I were indeed grateful: that the Dockers/khaki disease hadn't yet infiltrated into Parisian fashion sensibilities. Although I'll wager that the beige-influenced aura of mediocrity that has gripped the fashion sense of most of the General Public here is probably seeping in insidiously through the mimes of Paris. The Dockers/khaki disease also wasn't running rampant in any of the other cities we visited -- although the places we visited in Switzerland had a fashion sensibility that was as perplexing as it was painful to look at.
So anyway, the crux of this tirade is if you are interested in seeking out a darker, interesting, or even intriguing night life in Europe, don't bother looking in Paris. Maybe London, Berlin or even a week in Vienna would yield more lush results, but that's another vacation, another time. I do have a friend, Ursula Starks-Browning, living in England, and she bemoans that it's a veritable Spice Girls Nightmare there at the moment. And my friend, John O'Rourke, who is living in Germany has no real rancorous complaints about night life (his needs are met much easier than mine, however) but does mention that being socially gracious is not in style insofar as waiting your turn is concerned and that once he began to push his way brutishly to the front of any line or waiting queue, his life became much less vexing. He does laud the beer and ale as being rather fine and dandy, and adds that it helps his transformation from polite American to doing as the Brutish Germans do.
Actually, and it's probably a bit arrogantly presumptuous as well to say this, I don't know that anywhere in Europe has a night life/nightclub scene as varied, intriguing and busy as here in San Francisco. But I shall take delight in some day discovering to have erred by this presumption!