Saturday, September 30, 2006

Neither a Borrower nor a Lender Be

A quick observation in New York. No shortage of love of French culture here. Why did I even need to leave Paris? In a brief walk on the West Side yesterday, I came across several arrondissements/quartiers:

Pigalle -- -- a pretty authentic bistro, but not many like this in Pigalle, I think.

Le Marais -- -- a steakhouse

Montmartre -- no website, but I laughed out loud when I saw it. Nothing like the Montmartre I know. A trendy upscale women's apparel boutique, descibed by some as for "Stepford Wives". Or was it "Desperate Housewives?" I don't know the difference.

This all reminds me of the restaurant I passed by in Paris in some heavily touristed area. The name of the restaurant, on the awning , is "Authentic Parisian Bistro". Yup. Doesn't get much more authentic than that, n'est-ce pas?

We borrow, we lend names, words, icons, don't we!


Not that I really believe in horoscopes, mind you, but if I did, it would be a great time to be a Capricorn, which I am. I have to admit to reading the daily Yahoo horoscope as well as the back pages in Elle, where I'm learning all the French astrology vocab. All these places tell me that I can expect to have it all in the coming months -- social, career, everything will go my way if I just go for it. Oh happy day!

So I find myself in New York City right now, drumming up support for Lafayette 2007, celebrating two centuries of French-American friendship. (Why don't we ever say American/French friendship? A question to be pondered another day.) Contacts and meetings are productive, and thus the career prospects of this old goat -- er, I mean Capricorn -- are looking up.

Jet lagged beyond mercy, at 6:00 am I am pressing my nose against the window of the Starbucks on Columbus and W. 76th, thirsting for my triple-grande-no-foam-no-fat latte, which I haven't tasted (or missed) for three months. Settling into my window seat with that first magical sip, I take out some light reading. Not Elle magazine, but L Magazine, a hip New York freebie. On the last page, I kid you not, here is this week's horoscope for Capricorns, written by Laps Trinity:

"Why can't the Yanks and the Frenchies get along? Ever since the whole Freedom Fry flap happened, I've been trying to reconcile these two groups, whom I love dearly. I've had transnational adventure camps, quiz nights, key parties ... all the fun things I could think of. But you know what finally did it, Capricorn? Getting them to gang up on Canada. When in doubt, attack the weak."

Now, how can I NOT believe in horoscopes?

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Love in the Afternoon

So here's what got me so mad.

We're all gathered together in a beautiful living room in a beautiful flat on a beautiful square in the 16th arrondissement: several dozen well-dressed ladies drinking delicious iced tea, and the piano concert is about to begin. I'm relaxing on a beautiful upholstered brocade settee, next to an open window, sun shining on my face and a gentle September breeze lilting through the room.

The concert is, unexpectedly, a sublime little jazz/blues recital with William B gliding over the Steinway with tunes such as "Autumn Leaves" and something from the Blue Note. He's so young and talented, only 24 and a true musical artist. I feel as though we should be coolly snapping our fingers instead of simply applauding elegantly.

In my seat next to the balcony, I am on the cusp between indoors and out, so the concert I hear is a blend of children's happy shouts from the park below woven into the mellow, swinging piano music. I am delirious. This is Paris at its finest.

Then, for a finale William plays Nat King Cole's "When I Fall in Love". To look around the room, nothing has changed. The sunlight is still brilliant, the atmosphere is luxuriant. But somehow my afternoon is shifting to darkness and sadness as I listen to the melody. Sad, because I used to really believe in love songs. I am wistful for the naive days of innocent believing. Then he begins to sing, in a soulful but muted voice:

"When I fall in love,
It will be forever
Or I'll never fall in love.
In a restless world like this is,
Love is ended before it's begun
And too many moonlight kisses
Seem to cool in the warmth of the sun.

When I give my heart,
It will be completely
Or I'll never give my heart.
And the moment I can feel that
You feel that way, too,
Is when I fall in love with you."

So that's when darkness turns to bleakness and blackness and I get boiling mad. Damn YOU, Nat King Cole! "Forever"? "Completely"? Who are you kidding? It's just not true.

After the concert, I make the smiling rounds and say my polite goodbyes and thank yous and air kisses, get on the metro and go home and cry.

The Pollyanna in me used to adore the romantic lyrics of Nat King Cole. Now I need to exorcise this song from my brain. Maybe the whole repertoire.

Not in my life. And not in most French lives, from what I can gather.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

L'Ecole Buissonniere

Today I played hooky.

I love the French phrase for playing hooky, which is "faire l'ecole buissonniere," or go to the school of the greenery or bushes. Conjures up idyllic notions of walking through the countryside or wading in a stream. I guess my stream is the Seine. I did check out the scenery and the greenery. But I did not sit at my desk working. Not today.

It was one of those gorgeous blue-sky September days in Paris. I didn't intend to blow off all my work. Feeling rather productive, I made some business calls first thing and then decided to get fit and go for my morning constitutional. Here's the stream I followed.

I headed first to Invalides, which is right around the corner : . One project that I am attempting is to find as many ways to walk across, around and through Paris dodging the rain, for all those winter months when there never seems to be a day without at least a little precipitation. The courtyard of the Invalides is a splendid find in this regard-- gets me across a major stretch, all under the colonnade. Oh, and I did swing by the museum boutique, just to see. Lovely place for Christmas shopping. But true to my exercise regime, I kept moving and didn't stop to buy a single thing.

I wandered around the gardens a bit -- why hadn't I done this before? Beautiful fountains, and I came upon a spot where a ceremony must have taken place just moments before. Fresh white long-stemmed roses were strewn upon a memorial to victims of terrorism. Spread out on the other side of the statue were large, formal floral arrangements with official ribbon sashes proclaiming the bearer's office: Maire de Paris, Le Premier Ministre, le Syndicat du RATP.

Between the Hotel des Invalides and the Seine is the broad, grand esplanade. (Check it out on google earth -- invalides paris.). Let me make a little confession here: I am so comforted by the built environment of Paris that in that sweeping, wide-open space I find myself feeling just a teeeensy bit agoraphobic. Too much free area. I dread crossing it. But today I descended the esplanade to my beloved Pont Alexandre III, heading toward Le Grand Palais. Every time I glimpse Le Grand Palais from afar, with its proud tricolore flying atop the dome, I feel as though I'm looking at a Pierre Le-Tan New Yorker cover.

Today was my day to enter. I hadn't been inside since the 10-year renovations were completed. The feature attraction right now is the Biennnale des Antiquaires, gorgeous paintings, antiques, jewellery. Fortunately I got reduced admission of EUR 12,50 with my Amis du Louvre membership card. The exhibitors were fabulous galleries, and many of the well-heeled attendees seemed to be there to pick up a little Bonnard or Degas for the study at home. Needless to say, in a sea of Chanel flats and Hermes ties I was way underdressed in my black jeans and walking shoes, even though I was wearing Bally sneakers, tres francaise (no one at TJMaxx had known what to do with them, I guess). I sat for a pause at the little cafe de la Biennale and got a Perrier in a plastic cup for EUR 4,50. That's when I knew it was time to leave. Fortunately they did have lots of good free magazines as giveaways, so I grabbed some as I headed out the door.

At this point I realized that hooky was in full swing, so I hopped on the first bus I found -- the 83. I hopped off randomly in the 5th arrondissement and happened upon the Academie de la Biere ( ) The chef's special was moules paysanne, which, with a glass of crisp muscadet and crusty bread, was heaven distilled into culinary form. And at EUR 9,00 for the entire bowl, it more than compensated for that earlier glass of Perrier. After lunch I walked up the boulevard and sat in the sun and drank a cafe at Le Select, reading my French magazines and nibbling on the little chocolate-covered almond that accompanies your express in the good cafes.

Then I walked most of the way home, took the 92 bus for the last bit, landed back in the apartment and took a nap. Absolute bliss. I never do this.

I finished off the day by heading over to "Bunches," my favorite new florist at the corner of boulevard Raspail and rue de Vaugirard. For EUR 10,00 you can choose either 5 bottes of flowers (which can be an entire armload of sunflowers or irises, probably 30 - 40 total, or a botte of 50 tulips or 40 roses. What's not to love? So the apartment is now filled with bright red tulips -- in a cheerful yellow teapot on the dining room table, in a tall glass vase on the marble mantel, in a little tumbler on the bedside table.

Greenery -- by the armful or the dayful -- does wonders for the soul.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Paris Views

Yawn. Too tired to even attempt wit. Just back from the Marche aux Puces at Porte de Vanves. All I can muster is looking at webcams of Paris on and looking at what everyone else is doing, hoping that the weather will be kind to us. Tonight we celebrate the 60th birthday of my friend Mary Blake, artiste extraordinaire, who lives in a cool atelier in the heart of Montmartre with her dog Nina and a few cats. Her work includes wonderful vibrant street scenes of Paris and joyful abstract tableaux.

The embodiment of joie de vivre, that Mary. We're not sure how many people are showing up tonight to wish her the best -- she lost track along the way -- but in any case there are bound to be Memorable Moments, some perhaps not even publishable.
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