Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Cultural Tidbits from and about France

It's summertime.  Ah, and I'm feeling weary, mes amis.  Weary of contemplating the iPhone4, of finding the Next Best Thing, of being cutting-edge and hip (or vaguely trying). Yes, I think a little nostalgia is in order. 

So here are a few new-but-old happenings from the French cultural scene. Or are they old-but-new?

1.  Step back in time and visit Jean Cocteau's house in Milly-la-Foret. which is now open to the public.

2. Every Sunday evening through August 8, you can (re)discover the tradtional guinguette -- bal populaire -- on the Canal d'Ourcq.  Dance the night away!

3. If you're inspired by the breathtaking television views of ancient architecture as the cyclists from the Tour de France speed by on the country lanes, well, you can dream of buying a chateau yourself.

4.  Remember the days of classic French cuisine without the guilt?  Remember the days of dining with silver and crisply-ironed damask napkins (or at least seeing photos of glamorous celebrities doing so)?  Do the names Elizabeth Arden, Tallulah Bankhead, and Emily Post ring a bell?  Would you like to know their favorite recipes?

You can re-kindle the flames of celebrity gastronomy of yore by picking up a copy of the recently re-published Spécialités de la Maison.  Originally published in 1940 by the American Friends of France (founded by heiress Anne Morgan), the book is now available in a new edition, with a foreword by VF editor Graydon Carter.  Still the same wonderful drawings by Clement Hurd and others.  Still the same old-fashioned recipes that we forgot we needed so desperately.  I drool:  Cold Roquefort Souffle (Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt);  Filet of Sole Veronique (Vivien Leigh); Mrs. George Washington's Crab Soup (Mrs. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, The White House).  And on it goes. 

You need this cookbook.  You know you do.

Friday, July 16, 2010

24 Hours in Paris

So many times when my circadian cycle was off-kilter with the "regular" hourly schedule of my fellow Parisians, I longed for an hour-by-hour guide that might tell me where I could be amused or consume lovely French fare while the rest of Paris slept or ate breakfast or was busy with their charming cinq-a-septs.  To no avail.  "Ah, there's a book waiting to be written," I thought.

Well, wait no more:  24 hours in Paris is here!

I could wax poetic about Marsha Moore's quirky and lovable new round-the-clock guide to La ville lumiere.  But instead, I'll simply offer you 24 reasons why I love 24 Hours in Paris:

24. A turkish bath where you can order dinner
23. La Chapelle Expiatoire
22. Unmentionable!
21. She loves Deyrolle as much as I do.
20. Metro line 14
19. Chapelle de la Medaille Miraculeuse
18. O Chateau -- we love Olivier!
17. The Dog Cemetery
16. Merci
15. Fabulous factoids. "It would take 24 days, using every hour in the day, to briefly view all the exhibits in the Louvre."
14. Drouot
13. Drouot again.
11. A bar that is open from 9h to 7h.  That is not a typo.
10. Midnight movies followed by breakfast.
9. Going to see "Auntie."
8. Berthillon (I drool!)
7. "24 hours with the kids."
5. Polly Maggoo.  Because there's more than one Polly in Paris.
4. Eternal favorite Shakespeare & Company
2. Stripper School.  Non, pas wallpaper: oui, va-va-va-voom!

And -- drumroll please:  numero un is

1.  Cafe de la Mairie (a fave):  Marsha spells it correctly.  Not Cafe de la "Marie," people!

Great book, a must-have for anyone who loves and frequents Paris.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Le quatorze juillet

Happy Bastille Day!

By the way, no one in France calls it Bastille Day.  Or even Jour de la Bastille. Just le quatorze juillet or maybe la fete nationale. And of course, you know the proper way to say "Yay France!" in French.

Since I have the day off, I think I'll pick up a copy of France Today and dream of being in France today.  Or better yet, I'll just subscribe so I have a chance to win a fabulous luxurious trip to France.  (But shhhh -- don't tell anyone, because I want to improve my odds of winning.)

Then maybe I'll order some French goodies from French Feast.

And I'll finish the day singing La Marseillaise somewhere.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Meeting Ella Fitzgerald, part 2

So I ended up at an Ella Fitzgerald concert, totally, totally inappropriately dressed.  Read part one here.

I was entranced, thrilled, watching and listening to every Ella move, every note.  Thankful that the sun was setting, all eyes were focused on Ella on stage and hoping no one could see me in my grungy get-up.  Ella sang all the familiar favorites, and it really was a dream come true. About 20 feet away from my idol.

K no doubt noticed that I knew every tune by heart.  To her, Ella was someone famous that her father knew, but she clearly wasn't in the die-hard fan group with me.

Then.  Intermission.

All I wanted to do was cower in my seat, arms crossing over my lap.  I spotted the Deputy Mayor of Boston, a few other luminaries whom I knew vaguely and I just wanted to don the cloak of invisibility. You have to understand, I looked totally gross and shabby: windblown, unshowered, salty, sandy, wild mane of hair.  Everything unkempt one can look like at the end of a day at the beach.


"Let's go backstage!" says K. "With my VIP pass we can go back there, no problem!  You're such a fan, you can meet Ella."

Daggers of pain, angst.  "No, I can't possibly -- look at me!"

"Jeeeez, Polly, when will you ever have this chance again?  Don't be ridiculous.  Who cares?"

"I care."  Talk about being torn in two.  No. No. No.  Yes. Yes. Yes.

But I bit the bullet.  I rose from my seat, followed K past the "No admission" sign to the back of the stage, and after we waited outside the makeshift dressing room for a few minutes, out came Ella.  Elegant and larger than life in her long shining satin dress.  I think it was purple. Was it my imagination, or was there a halo-like aura about her?

I stammered.  What can you say to Ella Fitzgerald that isn't a cliche?  What can you say to explain meeting her while looking like a bum?  Nothing.  I shook her hand. And I said, "Miss Fitzgerald, you have been my idol since I was 12.  This is the greatest moment for me."

She smiled kindly and looked a little tired. I think she pretended not to notice my insultingly slapdash appearance. "Why, thank you, dear."  At least I think that's what she said. My ears felt filled with cotton.  My brain was in another planet.

"Could I have your .... signature?"  I had never asked for an autograph before.  Damn, that was the word I meant to say:  autograph.

"Of course."  She signed my program.  I think K winked at her or gave some other inside signal, and we left. 

My heart was pounding, and to this day, I don't know whether it was because I was actually meeting Miss Ella Fitzgerald, at long last.  Or whether it was from sheer embarrassment.

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