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A million enjoy all-night arts party in Paris

October 6, 2003

PARIS — An estimated one million people thronged the streets of Paris Saturday night for a dusk-to-dawn celebration of arts and culture organised by the capital's mayor that, now in its second year, has been emulated by other European cities.

The "Nuit Blanche" – literally "White Night", meaning a night without sleep – was greeted enthusiastically by residents and tourists alike.

Long lines formed at many of 120 attractions scattered across the city as the curious filed in to see imaginative works that ranged from the folkloric to the resolutely modern, with detours through the truly bizarre.

Some 2,600 police were on patrol for crowd and traffic control – and to prevent a repeat of last year's inaugural event, which was blemished when a deranged man, who said he hated politicians and homosexuals, knifed Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoe, who is openly gay.

Delanoe took six weeks to recover from the stomach wounds he received, but on Saturday night he toured the city taking in the sights with a small team of bodyguards in tow, even using the underground metro and waiting in line like ordinary citizens.

"What happened last year doesn't haunt me, even if I think about it from time to time," the mayor told well-wishers on his route who came forward to say that they hoped he would remain safe this time.

The "Nuit Blanche" idea dreamed up by Delanoe and his aides is part of a wider plan to liven Paris up with entertaining festivals and playful initiatives.

It joins "Paris Plage", which transforms a section of the Seine riverbank into a sort of manmade beach for summer, complete with deckchairs and palm trees, and a continuing project to squeeze cars off inner-city roads by enlarging bus and bicycle lanes.

Saturday's edition of the "Nuit Blanche" started out more successfully than last year's, which attracted some 600,000 revellers and inspired Rome and Brussels to stage their own versions.

But at 2:00 am (midnight GMT), a chilly October rain started to fall, thinning out the lines of people and prompting many to head for the shelter of cafes or home.

Those who had already trekked along some of the itineraries thought up by a group of six French cultural mavens, including museum and festival directors, found parts of the city turned into a surreal setting for experimental videos, crazy lighting, booming soundtracks and performance art.

Thus some caught a traditional Persian concert and fable-readings in a theatre in a central shopping centre, while others, amazed, watched an elaborate projection set-up that made it look like a giant was inhabiting the inside of one of the city's historic theatres.

The City Hall formed the nucleus for the activities, lighting up its facade to resemble a Disneyesque haunted mansion, with glowing red windows and a flourescently blue clock face, while visitors filed through an interior courtyard under a cloud of bubbles.

One of the more intense experiences elsewhere involved 100 people crowding into a cellar to watch an almost naked woman take a shower next to a miniature bathtub holding a video projection of another woman masturbating.

"I've had eight showers so far, and the water's now freezing, as I guess you could tell," the dancer hired to bathe for the spectators said after the show.

She explained that her instructions from artist Shu Lea Cheang were to make an erotically ambiguous performance in which viewers didn't know what would happen next.

The whole event was bewildering for some foreigners.

A group of US university students who had just arrived in Paris to continue their French studies said they had no idea where to go and were discouraged by the crowds everywhere.

"It would also be helpful if the programme was printed in other languages (than French)," said one, who gave her name as Alicia. –Sapa-AFP



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