Paris Christmas

Grand Rex mural detail

So, Christmas is coming. It’s interesting this year. Folks are afraid to take their kids to see the shop windows, so that means I can see them. It’s an ill wind… Every conceivable place, inside and out, is decorated with plastic snowflakes, lights, the whole deal. They don’t have Thanksgiving here and for all the other holidays, people usually leave town. This is the one time most people stay home, so they make a very big thing out of it.

My favorite thing so far has been the massive party thrown by the legal firm August & Debouzy. They want to celebrate their 20th year in business, Christmas is almost here, a whole host of other winter holidays are on their way or just happened and Star Wars just came out. What better thing to do than rent the entire Grand Rex theater, for two nights, no less. Ice cold Champagne and plenty of it, very decent sandwiches — did I prefer the foie gras or the crab, hmmm, hard to say — and the big movie of the season in 3-D. In the realm of the parties I get invited to, this is about as splashy as it gets. Plus, given that I’m not Christian and way short of family, this qualified as an excellent way to mark the holiday season.

The Grand Rex theater is an old-fashioned movie palace, built in 1932. It claims to be the largest movie theater in the world and that could be true. It features a massive ground floor and three, maybe four, balconies. I think they multi-plexed it but you sure can’t tell from the main theater. I was told that Disney poured a fortune into the place to completely restore it, for use as a showcase for their films. If it’s true, good for them. It looks great. You will find it at the Bonne Nouvelle Metro station, line 9. It’s worth seeing most anything there, as long as it is playing in the Grande Salle.

And the movie? Do you really want to know that the story and characters are predictable and that it seems to be mostly a handover from the Old Guard — Carrie Fisher looks great — to a new crowd? Clearly this franchise will continue for a long, long time. But who cares about all that? The bar scene was worth going for all by itself and the special effects are incredible. As an old movie-reviewer friend would say, this film deserves to be seen on the humungous screen, in 3-D, preferably after kicking back a couple of glasses of excellent champagne.

Fashion Week


Fashion Week is here. I have decided that I like Fashion Week.  Maybe the cabs are all taken. I don’t know. I’m not a big cab person. I just know that there are all these really well dressed people on the Metro, everywhere I go, actually. They might be women who have not changed their look since the Diana Vreeland era. They might be young guys who change their look every day. I’m no Bill Cunningham,  so I won’t be snapping a photo to show you. Suffice it to say that I felt sufficiently peer – pressured that I finally replaced my Keen rubber – toed,  rubber – soled straight-from-Berkeley-REI pseudo – ballet flats, shown at left, for the Repetto loafers that you see on the right. I feel just that much more civilized as a result.

Besides, they were on sale. The whole retail universe cleaned up. Without making a big deal about it, they have sales on some nice stuff. The clothes in the windows and on the mannequins are stunning: elegant and beautifully cut. Not my size but that’s a different story.

And did I mention that all these visitors are nice? Fashion is an industry known for cattiness but out in public, these guys are wonderful. Soft – spoken — what is up with the average loud – mouthed tourist? — well – dressed,  happy, these guys can visit any time.

Fête de la Musique


It’s a lovely Sunday afternoon, a rare, almost summery day. Here in Paris the city has organized something called the Fête de la Musique, which I think means Music Celebration Day, or near enough. The idea is that if you play an instrument,  on this day you should get it out and play it in public. The amazing thing to me is that people do. Everybody is on the street and a lot of them are carrying, even playing, instruments.  It’s free and great fun.

In France, anyone can be an artist. Even me.

car poster

Now of course I am not in favor of vandalism. Surely no one reading this blog, you classy and tasteful readers, you, would vandalize anything, leaving little bits of glass all over the bus stop. Certainly not. That said, it looks pretty cool, doesn’t it? Like that Fiat is just so peppy that it burst right through its little glazed cage? So what’s the story? Artistic statement — in which case Fiat owes somebody a lunch — or smartass thug who got lucky?

I think, best case, it’s a smartass art fart, not yet mature enough to realize that all the world is not his studio. I’m showing my age, aren’t I?

Seeing this poster got me thinking about something I like so much about living in France. People here value the life of the mind, to an extent and depth that we just don’t, in the States. David Lebovitz wrote once about having trouble with some bureaucratic nonsense at his bank, the usual “we’re not sure you’re legitimate” thing. The trouble vanished when, one day, he happened to walk in with a couple of his books in his bag. Almost in frustration he showed them to the banker saying, in essence, look, this is what I do. As it turned out, that melted the final resistance to whatever it was. There were no problems after that. You see, the banker realized that David was an artist. Well, okay, and a wildly successful published author, but he had had the numbers all along. This was something else.

I regularly have similar experiences, though to be sure with much less justification. A while ago I had cards printed with a few of my photos. I hand them out in preference to constantly repeating and spelling every last detail of my contact information. The cards started as a whim, a project for late one night when I couldn’t sleep. They have turned out to have a significant effect on my dealings with people here. It doesn’t matter, who, really, my vet, salespeople, could be anyone, they stop and really study the photo. Then they often say oh, you’re an artist. It goes from there. They could say most anything after that. What those cards stop cold is any question of why I am in France or why in the world would I be fixing up that house. Suddenly it all makes sense to them. Of course an artist would come to France. Of course she would put massive time and energy into creating a personalized environment, away from the distractions of the city. An artist needs a suitable atelier. So just like that, they start to see things my way.

After nearly a decade of coming here for much of the year and another year of living here — I am just about to renew my residence permit — I still feel like I just arrived. Thus I have no explanation or theory for this. I just know that I have this experience pretty regularly. I like it. I want to find out more about it.

Opera Comique

So I am between a tour of the Opera Comique, my favorite theater in the world, and the actual performance. My Christmas wish is that in my next life I will be as attractive as our tour guide. I won’t be around to see if the wish was granted, but no harm in putting it out there. My few snaps don’t give you much idea of the whole but this theater is a Belle Epoque gem and was almost torn down to make way for a parking structure. Obviously it was saved but from what I could tell the major donors for the restoration were Americans. Good for us.






Today’s Paris weirdness

If I can get a decent picture I’ll edit this post to add it. Just in case, I might as well tell you now.

I had a forced march to the American Library — SFR is out Again and I needed their wifi — and found myself going by the tail end of a race, probably a 5K, just for women. By the time I got there, nobody was running but the power walkers and the ladies in silly hats. Still, the bands were playing American rock music and the crowds were out. That’s all normal. This is the weird part. Greeting the women at the finish line was a team of high-school age guys dressed in full American football regalia: uniforms, pads, helmets. Proto-American guys, what’s up with that? A photo would not begin to tell you how odd they looked standing there at the entrance to the Ecole Militaire in those clothes, at least not the kind of photo that my equipment could take or my access would allow. And just before the finish line, microphone in hand, was a French rap singer. Could this be, I thought, a rap singer at an event intended to celebrate women? I had to wonder: is he going to call them bitches? Order them to shake their booty across the finish line? Last one in is a ho? I don’t know. Maybe the French don’t understand that one of the core values of traditional rap culture is disrespect of women. Maybe in France even the rap singers have a kinder, gentler ethic. Anyway, in the few minutes it took me to get past this guy, I heard nothing objectionable. But seriously, what happened to valuing French culture? Couldn’t he have been doing covers of Zaz or Johnny Hallyday?