Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Out & About: Exhibits: Balenciaga: Working in Black

In addition to food and art, another thing Paris is famous for is fashion.
     One of the leading fashion designers of my youth was Balenciaga, whose dresses were delicious works of art, alongside those of Schiaparelli.  So the exhibit at the Bourdelle Museum was a must for me.

When I get to the Bourdelle Museum, I find out just how much I did not know about Balenciaga. For instance, I thought he was French, but no.  Cristobal Balenciaga (1895-1972) was Basque, from the Spanish side of the border.  Learning from his seamstress mother as of childhood, he went on to apprentice as a tailor before opening his own fashion house.  Given his tailor’s training, he was able to design, cut and sew his creations himself, one of the few couturiers who could take a dress from the drawing board to the runway all by himself.  His clientele grew to include Spain’s royal family, but when the Spanish Civil War broke out, Balenciaga closed his fashion house and moved to Paris, where he became pretty much an overnight success.
     Christian Dior called him “the master of us all”, which is high praise from someone most people saw as being the master himself. To Coco Chanel, he was "the only couturier in the truest sense of the word.  The others are simply fashion designers."  And to everyone, Balenciaga was known for his uncompromising standards.
     His creations were always sculptures.  At the start of the 1950's, he drew women’s shoulders wider and did away with the waist.  Then in the mid-Fifties he moved on to the tunic dress, followed closely by the chemise dress.  His looks were many, as the exhibit points out: “the barrel line (1947), the balloon (1950), the semi-fitted (1951), the tunic dress (1955), and, of course, the sack dress (1957)”.  By the end of the Fifties, he had switched his look to Empire waistline dresses and kimono-style coats.
     Balenciaga not only created his own style; he mentored a whole generation of rising designers, the most famous of which were Givenchy, Courreges, Ungaro and Oscar de la Renta.  In addition to his European clientele, his creations attracted attention across the Atlantic.  Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly, Ava Gardner and First Lady Jackie Kennedy, among others, were all faithful to Balenciaga.

This exhibit focuses on his version of Chanel’s proverbial “little black dress”, in all its various forms.  He played on the opposition of matte black, as in wools and velvets, and the “brilliant black” of satin, silk or taffeta.  As one exhibit panel explains, “He used black textures to accentuate the play of shadows and to emphasise the line.”  To that he added accents with embroidery - perhaps borrowed from the “suit of light” of the matadors - or with sequins, paillettes and jet beads.
     Another of the couturier’s tricks was how he used the fabric, how he shaped and cut it.  “In order to get the best out of a fabric, Balenciaga would adapt his technique to its qualities.  According to its weight, its thickness, its hang and its feel, he would cut it or mould it or drape it differently.”
     Even when he used other colors, black was part of the formula.  At one point Balenciaga designed dresses of bright pink cloth visible only as an accent through the black lace overlay.  The lace was reminiscent of Spanish mantillas. As for the pink, sometimes it was gentle, almost flesh-toned, sometimes the bright color of a toreador’s cape.
     It must be remembered that there is black galore in Balenciaga’s native Spain.  Perhaps it was seeing all the widows, sometimes condemned to wear only black as of an early age, that led him to experiment with that “color”.
     As the exhibit explains, “...for Balenciaga, black was more than a colour or even a non-colour; he saw it as a vibrant matter, by turns opaque or transparent, matte or shiny – a dazzling interplay of light, which owes as much to the luxurious quality of the fabrics as to the apparent simplicity of his cut.  A lace highlight, an embroidered composition, some twisted metallic tape, a thick drape of silk velvet and, presto, you have a skirt, a bolero, a mantilla, a cape reinvented as a coat, a coat tailored as a cape.”
     The exhibit is broken down into three sections: “Silhouette & Volumes”, followed by “Noirs & Lumières” (Black & Light), and then “Noirs et Couleurs” (‘Blacks & Colours’).   In total there are over one hundred pieces from the Galliera Museum and Maison Balenciaga:  day clothes, suits, jackets, evening outfits, cocktail dresses and accessories.  All in black.

Initially, I found it a bit perplexing why these dresses were being shown at the Bourdelle Museum.  I mean, yes, Balenciaga was called the sculptor of haute couture so I guess that was the link with the sculpture of Bourdelle.  But once I got there and saw the dresses next to Bourdelle’s plaster casts in the museum’s Great Hall, and even a few in his atelier, it turned out to be a brilliant idea.
     My only regret:  the dim lighting.  Especially for the black dresses set against a black background.  Obviously it’s necessary to protect these works of fashion art, and harsh lighting is not kind.  But black doesn’t show up well in the shadows.  Perhaps they could pump up the luminosity just a bit.
     With that one caveat, if you enjoy fashion, this is a show for you.

Cristobal Balenciaga

Balenciaga:  L’Ouevre au noir

Musée Bourdelle
18 rue Antoine-Bourdelle, 15è
Métro: Montparnasse

Until July 16, 2017
10-6 / Closed Mondays

10 € & 7 € (free under 18 years of age)

Saturday, July 1, 2017

On the Road: Honfleur

It’s only a short trip from Paris to Honfleur - under 200 kilometers (125 miles), but one well worth making, either by car or by train.
     For art historians, it offers a look at what so many Impressionists came here to paint.  First of all, hometown boy Eugène Boudin, actually a pre-Impressionist who influenced Claude Monet greatly in the perception of light, especially on water.  Charles-François Daubigny, also a precursor of Impressionism, captured the port of Honfleur on many canvases, basing himself at the Saint-Siméon farm which became a home-away-from-home for a whole new generation of artists, including  Jongkind and Bazille. Monet and Seurat fell under the charm of the port as well.
     It’s easy to see why.  Filled with fishing boats back then, the small inner port is now booked year-round by sailboats that sometimes reach yacht size.  When I was there last, the drawbridge to the inner harbor twice blocked car and pedestrian traffic, with waiting boats circling patiently outside the harbor as the bridge was slowly raised.  Some were locals; some flew British flags and had booked ahead of time.
     (I see someone in the back of the room waving his hand.  “Why the drawbridge?”  Because there are tides in Honfleur.  It’s at the mouth of the Seine River, but actually on the English Channel, so... tides.  There’s a lock on the drawbridge; otherwise the inner port would go dry, or at least the water level would be too low at certain times of the day.  Oh, and also because of the boat’s masts.)

The fishing port
At the north end of the inner port, there’s a tower near the drawbridge.  The memorial plaque on it reminds you that Jacques Cartier sailed out of Honfleur in 1535 and up the Saint Lawrence River in Canada, claiming the New World - at least this part of it - for the king of France.  In 1608 he again sailed, this time founding the city of Québec.  All of which makes Honfleur a small port, but a historic one.
Musée de la Marine
     On the east side of the harbor is the Musée de la Marine, housed in the old Saint-Etienne Church whose religious activities ended once and for all under the French Revolution.  It became a customs house, then, since 1976, a museum with a collection of maps, engravings, paintings and model ships that trace the town’s maritime history of fishing, naval construction, commerce and ship-related crafts.  (Closed Mondays, at lunchtime during tourist season and all morning outside tourist season).

   All around the inner port runs a wide terrace that has been taken over in its entirety by the port’s restaurants, especially on the west side.  (Parasols are provided to shelter you from the sun.)  It would be hard to find fish or seafood any fresher than here.  It’s brought in by the fishermen in the morning and picked up by the chef’s staff as the boats moor.  Seafood platters are a beauty to behold - as befits an artistic town - and a blessing for the stomach.  You can pick what you want.  If I don’t give in to a sole meunière, I usually end up with half a dozen oysters, some clams, sea snails, pink shrimp and also those little grey ones you can’t find in the States.  All washed down with some chilled white wine.
     After lunch, it’s time to see “uptown”, as I call it.

Eglise Sainte-Catherine
Head down towards the tower at the drawbridge and turn left.  You’ll see the Eglise Sainte-Catherine higher up on your left.  It’s well worth a look inside.  Honfleur being a town of boat-building, this church was hewn by workers from the naval shipyards without the use of a saw, as were the ships of William the Conqueror in 1066, depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry. You’ll probably notice right away that there are not one but two naves, side by side.  The first (the one on the left as you face the altar) dates from the 15th century.  It was built once the English left shortly after the end of the Hundred Years War, to replace the stone church that was destroyed in that war.  If you look up, you’ll find it looks like the keel of a boat overturned. The second nave was added about a century later, when the town’s population had outgrown the little church, and looks less like a ship and more like a modest Gothic church, although there’s still a harmony between the two, at least to me.
     Across the street from the church is its steeple made all of oak.  Yes, you heard that right: across the street.  Given the location of the church on the side of a hill, and the height of the steeple, it would have attracted too many lightning strikes.  Which is bad for an all-wood church (the largest in France).  So the steeple was built away from the church, and the bell-ringer was allowed to live in the ground level space.  You can go in and see vestiges of the old structure.
     To the right of that as you look at the building, the Rue des Lingots heads downhill.  Turn left in the first street, and walk down the Rue de l’Homme de Bois to the Musée Eugène Boudin (closed Tuesdays).  It’s a lot of bang for your 8 €.  Inside you’ll find an old repurposed chapel of the Convent of the Augustine Sisters.  As is only fitting, there are a number of works by Boudin himself, surrounded by those of his artist friends:  Monet, Jongkind, Courbet,  Eugène Isabey, Charles Mozin, Alexandre Dubourg, Charles Pécrus, Gustave Hamelin, and Adolphe Félix Cals.  Upstairs are two levels of modern exhibit space added on in the 1970's to help house the over 2,500 works of art the museum has accumulated.  Not only can you enjoy temporary art exhibits there, but the end wall, completely of glass, offers a wonderful view out over this part of the town’s rooftops to the harbor and the very modernistic Normandie Bridge beyond.
     Music lovers may already know that Erik Satie, composer of Gymnopédies, is a native of Honfleur.  To see his house (closed Tuesdays), turn right as you leave the Musée Boudin, then left down a little alley to the Rue Haute (which means Main Street in French), then left again and it will be about a block down on the right at Number 90.  Or, if you don’t like alleyways, turn left exiting the museum, go a block or two and turn right into the Rue du Trou Miard, then right again into the Rue Haute and it’ll be farther down on the left.  The house is very small, but take the audioguide that will turn on the light-and-sound show as you enter each room, giving a commentary on a bit of Satie’s life and playing some of his tunes.  You’ll get a real feel for how small houses were back then.  But the really fun part is when you reach what I remember as the final room, which has a four-seater merry-go-round that you pedal and it makes music and sounds as you go!
   When you’re done having fun with Satie, go out the exit on the Boulevard Charles V side, turn right and head back to the harbor.  Children might enjoy a ride on a real merry-go-round at the outlet of the inner port. Adults may enjoy a drink at a different place on the inner port before heading back wherever you came from.  Or you can take a boat tour out onto the Seine and under the Normandie Bridge with Cauchois Cruises, leaving from the foot of the boulevard (1½ hr).
     Cruises, water colors, hewn wood churches, seafood on the port... Any way you look at it, Honfleur and water are intimately intermingled.

Restaurants on the inner port:  My particular favorite is L'Abricotier (68 Quai Sainte-Catherine), perhaps for no other reason than habit but I’ve never had a bad meal there.

As to hotels, there are many.
Hotel L'Ecrin
If you don’t mind steep stairs and noise from passers-by, there’s Le Dauphin on the Place Pierre Berthelot, right by the Eglise Sainte Catherine.  It has some bedrooms on the ground floor, which might be handy for people with mobility problems, but then again Honfleur is not necessarily kind to people with mobility problems.
Otherwise, try L’Ecrin a few blocks further “inland”, on the rue Eugène Boudin.  It has parking and a small pool put in recently, plus a garden where you might just get breakfast, or tea, if the weather is clement.

Musée Eugène Boudin:

Satie House:

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Out and About: Tokyo-Paris at the Musée de l'Orangerie

Crépuscule à Venise, Claude Monet, oil on canvas, 1908

Living in Paris, there are constant distractions in the art world.  So many you don’t know which way to turn.
     The other day, I took a visiting friend to see Monet’s Water Lilies at the Orangerie Museum, after having shown him the real thing at Monet’s country home in Giverny and then the Monet collection at the Marmottan Museum in Paris.
     There’s also an Impressionist collection on the basement level of the Orangerie.  I’ve seen it multiple times.  Remarkable though it is, I wasn’t up to seeing it again, so I pointed him in the right direction and then went to the left to see a temporary exhibit called Tokyo-Paris.
     Based on a title like that, I never would have gone to see it if left to my own devices, but seeing as I was already there...  And I’m very glad I did because it’s an amazing exhibit of works collected  by a rich Japanese industrialist named Shôjirô Ishibashi (1889-1976), otherwise known as the founder of the Japanese tire giant, Bridgestone.  (You may have some of his tires on your car right now.)

Marine, Mera - Aoki, oil, 1904

Many late 19th century French artists adored Japanese art, and Monet was one of them.  If you visit his home in Giverny, you’ll see his collection on the walls.
     But at the start of the 20th century, as the Meiji period came to a close and Japan opened up to the rest of the world, Japanese artists started to take some of their inspiration from Western Impressionists.  They called this artistic genr Yôga, which literally means “Western-style painting”.
     The very first piece in this exhibit is by one of those artists, Shigeru Aoki (1882-1911).  It’s simply entitled “Marine, Mera” (1904), Mera being a place in the south of Chiba Prefecture.  This seascape is very reminiscent of other marines by other artists, and the rocky coastline could be somewhere in New England or along France’s north Brittany shores.

Nymphéas, Monet, oil, 1907
Most of the pieces, however, were French in origin, perhaps because, as the exhibit description explains, Ishibashi “admitted to a market preference for French Impressionists”.  And when any were being sold by other Japanese collectors, he bought them up so they would stay in Japan, for instance six Monets from private collections which were being broken up. The exhibit includes the highly acclaimed “Crépuscule à Venise” (Dusk in Venice, 1908), as well as one of Monet’s water lily works, “Nymphéas, temps gris” (1907).  The light in both demonstrated where Impressionism got its name.
Beach near Trouville, Boudin, oil, 1865
     One of Monet’s chief inspirations was Eugène Boudin, a key precursor of Impressionism. As my guest and I had just been in Boudin’s native Honfleur and visited the Boudin Museum, it was nice to see a Boudin among the works on display here. Again, it was a well-known masterpiece, a “Beach Scene Near Trouville” (1865), where city people on vacation laze around in a very dignified, city manner, seated on chairs on the sand, in their full bourgeois regalia.
Saint-Mammès, Sisley, oil, 1884
   Impressionism is all about light, and that light is visible in Alfred Sisley’s “Saint-Mammès and the Hills of La Celle”.  It must be a perfect representation of the light on that June morning of 1884 when Sisley painted it.  (My photo doesn’t begin to do its luminosity justice.)
     Having lived in Montmartre half my life, and now literally just around the corner from the only two remaining windmills, how could I not like van Gogh’s “Windmills and Gardens in Montmartre” (1886)?  He lived here briefly, when there were many more windmills than now, and before the Butte (the hill) was tamed by builders. Its rocky soil can still be seen here, and I think that’s a gardener trying to eke some subsistence out of his veggie garden.
Windmills & Gardens, van Gogh, oil, 1886
     A piece that really caught my eye was an almost-black-and-white oil on canvas by bad boy Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.  “Backstage at the Circus, 1887” (my translation).  It shows three people in the wings:  a clown, a female acrobat and a bearded man who could be Toulouse-Lautrec if he hadn’t had that childhood accident and had grown to a normal height.  The acrobat may be in a bareback riding act that is about to go on and the clown is trying to calm the Arabian horse who seems skittish.  There is very little color here, just a hint of sepia, probably to contrast with the bright lights that will shine down on the act once it rides out from behind the curtain.  So much is said with so little. And that is what great art is about.

So if you’re going through Paris, and even if the exhibit’s title doesn’t “grab” you, drop in on the Orangerie - basement level - and take in over 60 paintings - mostly oils - and a few statues, including Zadkine’s “Torso” (1951) and “Pénélope” (1909), a bronze by Emile-Antoine Bourdelle.
     You won’t regret it.

Pénélope, Bourdelle, bronze, 1909

Tokyo - Paris                      

Musée de l’Orangerie
Place de la Concorde, Tuileries Gardens, 1er
Métro:  Concorde

April 5 - August 21, 2017
9-6 / Closed Tuesdays

12 € & 9 € (free under 26 years of age and the first Sunday of the month)

Au Cirque, Toulouse-Lautrec, oil, 1887

Friday, March 3, 2017

Out and About: Exhibits: Bazille at Orsay

The Musée d’Orsay in Paris is one of the main showplaces for Impressionism in the world.
     This ex-train station turned museum is stunning to seem inside and out.  It also has a nice restaurant tucked away just over the entrance a few floors up, complete with Belle Epoque mirrors and bronze decoration.  And now two - count ‘em, two! - gift shops so you can’t leave without dropping some change.  (But then again, you couldn’t exchange euro coins anyway, so why not spend them?)
     Right now there’s an exhibit of the works of Bazille at the far end of the top floor.  (Take the escalators aesthetically hidden behind the wall at the end opposite the entrance.)

Frédéric Bazille, one of the lesser-known Impressionists, was born in Montpellier (southwest France) in 1841.  His wealthy Protestant family had intended him to become a doctor and sent him to Paris to continue his medical studies.  Mistake!  There he met Renoir and Sisley, and it was all downhill from there.  At least from a social status standpoint.
     Bazille started taking classes in Charles Gleyre’s studio, as had Renoir, Sisley and also Whistler.  In 1864 he failed his medical exam, whether on purpose or from missing too many classes we’ll never know.  So it was the artist’s life for him, much to his parents’ chagrin.  And to the joy of Monet, Sisley, Manet and other artists whom he helped survive financially, spreading his family’s wealth around beyond their wildest dreams.

Bazille met with some success in his artistic endeavors.  The extremely conservative Salon de Paris accepted one of his works, a classic nature morte entitled Fish.  His friend and colleague Fantin de la Tour painted him standing in profile on the right of his famous Un Atelier aux Batignolles
     And then the Franco-Prussian war broke out, stoking Bazille’s patriotism.  A mere month later, in August of 1870, he joined a Zouave regiment.  By late November, he and his unit were on the front lines.  When his commanding officer was injured, Bazille took command and led an assault on the German position. Wounded twice, he died on the battlefield at the ripe old age of 28.  His body was taken back to Montpellier for burial by a bereaved father, whom, I’m sure, wished his son would have stayed in med school.
     Thus ended the brief career - and life - of Frédéric Bazille.

Ramparts of Aigues-Mortes - 1867

The young artist’s talent might have gone unnoticed.  Four years after his death, the first exhibition of Impressionism - held at photographer Nadar’s studio - included not even one of his paintings.  And then in 1900, for the Exposition Universelle in Paris, two of his works were selected by art critic and historian Roger Marx.  That leaves 58 other works to choose from, many of them now hanging in the Musée Fabre in his native Montpellier.
Poêle dans l'Atelier - Cézanne
     The Orsay show covers the range of Bazille’s works as he progressed from the classicism that won him that spot at the Salon toward an ever-more personal expressionism.  It’s organized by both theme and chronology, mixing Bazille’s paintings with those of his contemporaries:   Delacroix, Courbet, Manet, Monet, Renoir, Fantin-Latour, Guigou, Scholderer and Cézanne.  That gives you a better idea of how he fit in - or didn’t - with the trends of his time in portraits, nature morte, nus, and landscapes.
     It was nice learning something new about Impressionism, long a favorite of mine.  I recommend the show.  And even if you’re not won over by this young artist, there are plenty of works by other more sainted Impressionists to make the trip worth your while.

BAZILLE:  The Youth of Impressionism

Musée d’Orsay
1 rue de la Légion d’Honneur; Paris 7è
Métro:  Assemblée Nationale, Solférino

November 15, 2016 - March 5, 2017

Open 9.30 am - 6 pm (to 9:45 pm Thursdays)
Closed Mondays

12 € & 9 €

For a video (in French) which shows many of the paintings on exhibit:

Saturday, January 21, 2017

The Women's March, Paris version

During the Vietnam War, I was in college.  There were lots of demonstrations there at University of Michigan - remember SDS* and Tom Hayden? - but my parents were footing the bill, so I didn’t really feel I could join in.  Blame my upbringing.
     And I never burned my bra with the Women’s Libbers, although I lived my life on my own terms, post-BA degree (and maybe even a bit pre- as well).
     As a matter of fact, I think the only time I went to a real demonstration was in Paris in the 1970s or 80s on the Champs-Elysées, in support of a Russian writer whom the Soviet Union was persecuting.  But it was more of a simple protest.  Small but heavily guarded.
     Nothing like today in Paris for the Women’s March.  No, today was a full-fledged demonstration.  It was not small.  And it was not heavily guarded.  We had a low-profile police escort opening the way and closing it, more for traffic than for crowd control.  No casseurs, no breaking or looting.  No violence of any sort.

The route - about two miles in all - started from the Place du Trocadéro, wound around the perimeter of the park, headed down to the Seine, across to the Eiffel Tower, then around that park to the far side and ending in front of the Ecole Militaire.  (Maybe parks are off-limits whereas the streets belong to everyone, something that was chanted during the march.) To get to the “starting line”, I took the bus.  As I got on, I asked the driver if he could go the whole way to Trocadéro, and he replied that, yes, it wasn’t closed off... yet.
     When I got there, the crowd was already sizeable.  Some men but mostly women.  Quite a few women in hijabs, Muslims marching against hatred toward Islam.  There were all races - white, black, red, yellow and those in between who are “all of the above”.  All ages, from grey-hairs to teenagers, and some parents with small children riding on their shoulders.
     To take a photo of the crowd, I tried to climb up higher, but the wall wasn’t built for that.  A young man - French, probably in his late 20s.- was already up there.  He held his hand down to help the old lady make it to the top.  That kind of solidarity - across nationalities, races, religions and ages - turned out to be the the main theme of the day.

After clambering down again, I walked around, talking to people I'd never met before.  Everyone was still in the “milling” stage, wondering when the march would start.  I talked to two older women, long-time friends, one an American, the other French, both living in Paris.  Both just kept saying they never thought the country - America - would have to fight these same fights again.  And hoped it wouldn’t happen in France in the Spring presidential election.  It’s another theme that kept coming up, no matter who I talked to.
     There was a middle-aged couple behind me as I made my way toward the front of the crowd.  They were chanting loudly any chant that came along.  Out of curiosity at their accent, I asked them where they were from.  “South Africa,” they replied.  They said they knew about inequality, and I’m sure they did.  They weren’t a mixed-race couple, but there were many in the crowd.
     There were lots and lots of chants, led by individual factions, such as the pro-choice people who sometimes chanted in French Mon corps / Mon choix and sometimes in English “My body / My choice”.  The young people on the heights preferred a chant the Obamas made famous:  “They go low / We go high”.  There was the requisite hey-hey chant, in this case “Hey hey, ho ho, Donald Trump has got to go”.  And of course the insult to Donald’s small hands: “Take your hands off my rights”.  There were the Solidarnosc veterans: Sol- Sol- Solidarité / avec les femmes du monde entier (Solidarity with women everywhere), and the veterans put their whole hearts into that one.  I preferred one with a similar message, but more catchy in a multi-ethnic way: “No hate / No fear / Everybody’s welcome here”.  But the one heard most frequently - and the loudest - was definitely “NOT MY PRESIDENT!”
     There were also signs.  Lots and lots and lots of signs.  Here is a non-exhaustive list:

Ethics matter
Listen to science
Dump Trump
Trump’s a 3 at best
Impeach the Creep
Women’s rights are human rights
Stronger than fear
If you’re not horrified, you’re not paying attention
Big ovaries trump small hands
I will not be silenced
There is no Planet B
... and my personal favorite:

It was the signs that offered me my personal take-away memory of the march.  About a third of the way along the route, before we reached the Seine and the Eiffel Tower beyond, I spotted a women trying to hold up a sign made out of cardboard that just wouldn’t stand up straight.  It kept bending in half, hiding the message, and she was trying to hold up both ends and keep an eye on three middle-school-ish girls, one of whom reminded me of my daughter at that age.  Same hair; so probably same heritage.  I told the woman I’d hold the other end of the sign if she wanted. And we spent the rest of the march together.
     As we went along, she said, almost to herself, that her employer wouldn’t be happy if he knew she were here.  When I asked her who she worked for, she literally whispered “The Embassy” (American, of course).  So in case Big Brother truly is watching, we won’t call her by her real name.  Let’s call her Jacqueline.
     I ended up walking right behind the girls, who became even more enthusiastic as the march continued.  “It’s their first demonstration,” Jacqueline explained.  Some how I think there may be many more in the future.
     In the absence of the brass ensemble + drums lost somewhere in the middle of the crowd stretching back over blocks and blocks, far enough to be out of earshot, someone in the very front row, someone with the sound system, started an a capella version of We Shall Overcome as we reached the Seine River, with the Eiffel Tower as a backdrop.  It not only took me back to the Civil Rights Era, but brought tears to my eyes to hear all these people from different countries singing together and knowing the words: we’ll walk hand in hand, we shall live in peace, we are not afraid.  Even the young girls caught on, more or less. Behind me stood a tall man with grey hair and a beard, singing in a powerful voice.  He knew the song well... and turned out to be French.  It was that kind of day.
   The chanting continued all along the avenues, right up to the square at the far end of the Eiffel Tower, from where you could see our starting point in the distance.  I gave Jacqueline my e-mail address and asked her to send me some photos.  And as the crowd started to break up, headed for the Métro and our respective ordinary lives - maybe not so ordinary after all - I asked one of the CRS - riot police once known for having la matraque facile (being heavy-handed with the billy-club) but today just peaceful escorts - how many people he thought had attended.  He told me 3,000 to 4,000 “but we were only at the end”.  I told him there were about as many in the front half.  Final figures came in around 7,000.  Not bad for a place known for la belle vie, the good life, all wine, champagne and Cordon Bleu.
     Until you touch Les Droits de l’homme et du Citoyen (The Rights of Man and Citizens) as covered in a universal declaration written in 1789 by the new government after the French Revolution.
     Then it’s a whole other ballgame.

* “SDS held its first meeting in 1960 on the University of Michigan campus at Ann Arbor, Michigan, where Alan Haber was elected president. Its political manifesto, known as the Port Huron Statement, was adopted at the organization's first convention in 1962, based on an earlier draft by staff member Tom Hayden.” - Wikipedia.  (And Haber’s still at it; I know his French wife well.)

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Sunday morning

Easy like Sunday morning.
     A lyric from a song that doesn’t apply here.  Except that it is Sunday morning, and it’s an easy one because there’s no To-Do List.
     Except food shopping.  Because it’s France and tomorrow’s Monday and that means shops are closed to offer shopkeepers a delayed week-end.

My plan, such as it was, was to head out early, to beat the lines.  But when I wake up and open the shutters, it’s seriously raining.
     So I switch plans, such as it is, and make myself a leisurely cup of tea and read a bit... but not in the garden.  Around 10, the rain stops although the sky is still resolutely clouded over.  I put on a jacket, grab my shopping bag, my camera and my coin purse and I’m off downhill to the Purveyors of Good Things to Eat and Drink.
     I decide to take the High Road, the opposite direction from the square, and come out the far end of my street onto the usual tourists taking pictures of Le Radet, one of Montmartre’s two remaining windmills.  With a “pardon” and an “excuse me” and an “entschuldigen”, I weave my way through the throngs.  It’s just this one spot with its knot of sightseers that’s a problem.  Past that is the green-and white remake of the Moulin de la Galette painted by Renoir which no one seems to want to photograph... and then the Galette windmill itself, the second one remaining.
     This one, Le Blute-fin (they all had names), was refurbished recently by French film director Claude Lelouch, in exchange for permission to build an apartment underneath its base.  His semi-circular bay windows are rarely even visible from the street, but from his windows he has a helluva view out over Paris, including the gilt of the Invalides dome in the distance, with today’s backdrop of clouds.  My zoom makes it look within arm’s reach, but it’s actually half of Paris away, 5 kilometers (3 miles) to be exact.

My needs are few:  boudin from the Auvergne lady, chicken from Jacky Gaudin’s butcher shop, a bottle of Chinon from Manu’s Caves des Abbesses and a red bell pepper from Au Verger des Abbesses.  In fact I don’t even need to make a list.
     First is the Auvergne shop.  I’ve been meaning to buy some of her blood sausage since last week-end, but then Life Happened, as John Lennon would say.  I end up buying not only the boudin, but also a slice of pâté aux morilles (those are morels, which I love), a tiny one-portion raw goat’s milk cheese from Rocamadour, and a box of those luscious, thin, crisp butter cookies from Salers that are called pavés (paving stones).  So now I have a full four-course meal.
    Next it’s back up the Rue Lepic to the butcher on Rue des Abbesses.  Somehow I resist all the other things that he offers for sale and stick to my original two chicken legs.  Jacky asks me if I want them cut in half (thigh + drumstick), which is very professional and considerate of him.  I hadn’t thought of that, but I agree and thank him.  When I go to pay, the woman behind the counter asks me if I’m the chicken thighs.  I smile and say, “Yes, I danced ballet when I was young.”  She looks perplexed for a moment and then breaks out in a huge smile, realizing the other possible interpretation of her question.
    As I leave the butcher shop, I hear a drum roll.  It’s a sound I’ve known for ages:  the P’tits Poulbots de Montmartre.
     (An aside here: In the early 1900's, Montmartre was a slum, with poor health conditions, lots of orphans, and many artists.  One of the artists started sketching the orphans.  His name was Francisque Poulbot and he became rich and famous for those sketches of les enfants de la rue, the children of the streets.  In return, he opened a dispensary for them right down on Rue Lepic.  The drum corps came later, as a free activity for kids too poor to afford extra-curricular activities or go on holiday.  And it’s still going strong.)
     I get out my camera - this is why I always have it handy. Suddenly runners start streaming by.  It turns out to be a 10-km race through Montmartre’s streets to help fund the P’tits Poulbots, which is why their drum corps is present.  There are at least 100 runners taking part, and the Poulbot drum corps strikes up a welcome for them as they pass on every lap.  A race in Montmartre is a real challenge, because level surfaces are few and far between.  The Rue des Abbesses is one, and the joggers  revel in it after that last grueling stretch up the steep Rue Lepic.  I’m used to the hills, but that’s at walking speed, and with numerous stops in various shops.  This is way more serious.  Except for the clown who amuses both the runners and the children looking on, a break from the boredom of Sunday shopping with mom or dad.
     A quick stop into the wine shop for a bottle of chinon, and then across the street to the green grocer, dodging the jogging stragglers (or straggling joggers).  There, my “one bell pepper” resolution goes to pieces and I end up with two (one red and one orange for a Basque chicken dish tomorrow), plus some neatly manicured green beans and a serving or two of those delectably sweet, tiny early potatoes from the island of Noirmoutier.  I get handed a free bouquet of parsley as well, complete with a big smile.  When I ask Fathi why he’s not out there running in the race, he replies that he only runs after women.
     Back up the equally steep Rue Ravignan with a stop into the bakery for half a baguette to go with my goat cheese, and a bit left over for breakfast tomorrow... then I’m home, through my gate and across my garden.  Without any rain, but probably only because I took my umbrella with me.
     It’s time to start lunch.  First boil the potatoes.  That gives me time to do last night(s dishes.  With time left over to peel and cut up some Canada apples to make applesauce for the boudin aux deux pommes - the two apples (deux pommes) in question being apples from the trees and apples from the earth.  They cook down easily and I add the boudin to the pan.  It browns itself while I cut up the cooked potatoes, add milk and butter and smoosh them into mashed potatoes.  It’s all perfectly timed. Now to eat it.
     And then a nap.  The museum will have to wait until tomorrow.