The Paris Negotiations
The Montecito Journal officially changed hands while I was in Paris soaking up the constant rain and persistent chill of a typical late November in the French capital. My son, Tim, did all the heavy lifting and sent me everything I needed to know and had to sign via Internet. And, since writing and editing has been my game for, well, for a very long time, I couldn’t help but try to give readers a quick rundown of Parisian goings-on over the past month or so that I’ve been here.
And, I’m going to tell the story in photos, beginning with:
My stay in Paris included a visit with Lois Grjebine, former editor of the weekly English edition of Le Monde. And, just so you know this was a bi-partisan voyage, Lois has been a member of Democrats Abroad since 1984 and launched the very first national newsletter for Democrats. She even represented the Democrat National Committee in Paris for eight years. She points out that Democrats have some 5,000 members, whereas the Republican Party has made almost no effort to garner support (and votes!) from Americans living abroad. Lois’s apartment, by the way, a grand two-story atelier in Montparnasse where this photo was taken, was built and inhabited by Carolus-Duran, a painter of some repute and mentor of a young John Singer Sargent. Thanks to Sarah Vaughn (no, not that Sarah Vaughn; she passed away in 1990) for connecting us.
While lazily eating lunch on the patio of a small creperie just south of the Place de la Bastille, a large contingent of armed gendarmes jumped out of various buses with helmets and shields to take up positions across rue St. Antoine. Shortly thereafter, the sound of tear gas cannons exploded, sending a noxious cloud spewing towards us. The proprietor, who must by now have gotten accustomed to these disruptions, came out with a large section of plywood to seal off his kitchen, and we all crowded inside behind a closed door to escape the eye-burning, lung-damaging gas. It was the first anniversary of the Gilets Jaunes protest movement.
You’ll be pleased to see that repair of Notre Dame Cathedral continues at near breakneck speed; the rush is on to complete its restoration and the cleaning of all of Paris’s many public buildings, before the beginning of the 2024 Summer Olympics, scheduled to begin in Paris July 26, 2024.
I spent two days in a fifth-floor walk-up hard upon the Seine, where flotillas of Bateaux Mouches floated by every couple of minutes. When passengers saw this strange man on his balcony, they often waved; I waved back enthusiastically.
The Moonshiner is a bar. A very popular bar, chock full of popularly garbed early 21st century young adults. And, the only way to enter this ersatz “speakeasy” is through a freezer door at the back of a no-name pizzeria. There is no sign, no evidence there is anything but a freezer behind that door. One needs only to look in the direction of the pizza chef out front, however, and wait for his Rick-in-Casablanca affirmative nod before pulling the freezer door open and entering a world where precise and creative young bartenders of both sexes concoct beautifully arranged mixed drinks. When I tried to explain that I wanted salt on the rim of my margarita, the handsomely scruffy drinkmeister gave me a quizzically Gallic look, threw up his hands and said, “But of course (‘Mais oui’); it is a margarita, non?” I sat down sufficiently chastened.
The stand-up bar takes precedence but there are plenty of settees and tables for two for intimate conversations. And, holy of holies, a smoking room in a closed-door, haze-controlled back room. Music is appropriately American (though the crowd is decidedly French) and not played too loudly. Service is spectacular. That so many can be served by so few so quickly is a feat deserving of a study in physics.
Starry, Starry Night
It’s a celebration of madness, chaos, and poetry (the larger Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings get, the crazier they look), and if you make it to the Van Gogh exhibit at the eighteen-month-old l’Atelier des Lumieres – Paris’s new digital art center featuring 140 video projectors and 50 speakers that cover every square inch of this nearly 200-year-old building with sound and imagery – you’ll never be able to look at art the same way again.
The hour-and-fifteen-minute show includes two other shorter pieces, one called “Dreamed Japan, Images of the Floating World,” and “Verse,” a contemporary work. All three meld music and art and fill the former foundry with imagery and sounds to please rather than assault the senses. The audience of perhaps 200 inside at any one time (crowd size is limited on purpose) is made up of “art lovers” of all ages, from six years old and on up. Lots of students, families, couples young and old, friends, small groups, and individuals. We sit and stand on the floor, on stairways, hanging over railings, and otherwise make ourselves comfortable, without complaint.
When the production concentrates upon “Starry Night Over the Rhone,” it vibrates the gigantic images and the river begins to move. As a painting, there are just dabs of white on dark blue representing water. In this digital world, those dabs become water.
The music emanating from the 50 speakers – from Puccini (“O mio babbino caro”), to Nina Simone to Janis Joplin (“Kozmic Blues”) – adds another dimension. The brilliant use of the song “Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” (“I’m just a soul whose intentions are good”) plaintively sung by Ms Simone, a song that became a hit for Eric Burden (who now lives in Ojai) and the Animals, is a touch of genius almost as grand as Van Gogh. Other music includes that of Miles Davis, Vivaldi, Brahms, and more.
You can spend an hour or ten hours – your call – just don’t miss it if you are in Paris before the end of the year; the show closes December 31 and I can’t think of a better place to spend New Year’s Eve than inside A Starry, Starry Night.
I did catch the comprehensive exhibit of Toulouse Lautrec’s drawings, paintings, and posters (he was a contemporary and a friend of Van Gogh) at the Grand Palais, and, after you’ve been to l’Atelier des Lumieres, by all means catch this as well as the DaVinci exhibit at the Louvre (if you can get a ticket). It’s quite comprehensive.
French Your Way
I’ve studied at Alliance Francaise in St. Malo and again in Dijon, so I expected to sign up for classes at Alliance Francaise in Paris too, but learned there can be as many as 15 students in one class, and I wanted something a little more intimate. I ended up choosing to attend French As You Like It, which boasts evening conversation classes, micro-groups, and one-on-one lessons during the day. My itinerary was a mix of conversation classes in the evening and one-on-one three days a week, during the day. Although a little pricey (especially for the one-on-one), I got what I paid for. The teachers were excellent, the quality of study was thorough, and the learning environment was disciplined; almost no English was spoken, even when correcting students’ mistakes.
You’ll find them online at: frenchasyoulikeit.com and whether you are a rank beginner or an intermediate speaker, this small boutique school of French language is an excellent choice.
Couldn’t go without mentioning Vins des Pyrénées (25 rue Beautrellis), the bistro/brasserie virtually across the street from my studio apartment. This handsome 100-year-old-plus (founded in 1905) establishment was opened by a man who made a fortune after inventing a mobile ceiling tank that prevented wine from oxidizing. Its history includes patrons such as Charles Baudelaire, Jeanne Duval, Paul Cezanne, Francis Bacon, and even a then 19-year-old Jim Morrison. Plenty of interesting wines to choose from, an excellent menu, good service, and a smoking room on the top floor.
On Sundays, the first floor (one flight up) is transformed into a children’s playpen replete with soft toys, books, puzzles, make-up, and where your little one can even get a pirate tattoo.
Curiously, when I went to pay with a 100-euro note, the waiter really couldn’t make change for me. “Everybody pays with credit cards, and most pay with Apple Pay,” he explained.
Cash is no longer king in Paris.
Oh, and, order the duck: Magret de Canard.