Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Recipe of the Month: Harengs pommes à l'huile

Carnaval in Nice
Carnaval - Mardi Gras - has come and gone. France has many. Most famous perhaps is Nice (pronounced "niece"), which has held a carnaval every year all the way back to the Middle Ages, although the parades didn’t start until 1830. Unlike L.A.’s Rose Parade on New Year’s Day, the floats aren’t made entirely of flowers but the people riding on them toss 80,000-100,000 flowers at the crowd along the route, which is why it’s called the Bataille des Fleurs - Battle of the Flowers.
Fête des Citrons - Menton
     Menton, just down the Riviera (Côte d’Azur) and across the border from Italy, also has a carnaval. As it’s the city of lemons, theirs is called the Fête du Citron - the Lemon Festival - and this is its 79th year. The floats in their parade are made up entirely of lemons and oranges... about 150 tons of them!
 Carnaval in Dunkerque

     At the other end of France, Dunkerque on the English Channel, holds a carnaval that dates back to the old fishing days when the fishermen set sail for the waters off of Iceland, and as their departure coincided with Mardi Gras they put on disguises and lived it up, just in case. (Lille, the largest city in the north, has a carnaval too, but it’s in March this year.)
     Those fishermen segue neatly into this month’s recipe, perfect for Lent. Somehow the Catholic church seemed to think that fish were something you might not want to eat, something that would constitute penance. You’d think they’d look kindly on fish, Christ having been a fisherman of sorts and walking on water. But no, fish, they decreed, was for Lent. And no butter on it; that would be cheating.
     Among the many traditional recipes of France that you used to find on every French restaurant menu was the lowly harengs pommes à l’huile. Herring with boiled potatoes. It came with rings of onion, and sometimes with carrot rounds. But if you had them for your business lunch, everyone in the office would know it when you got back, because herring may be a blue fish rich in Omega-howevermany but it does have a strong... bouquet.
     The whole trick is to have the very best herring you can find. And if you live far from the ocean, that may mean opening a can of them. Or maybe thawing some frozen. If you live on the coast, you might want to get some salted herring fresh from the fish monger and desalt them yourself, which means soaking them overnight (1 c of milk + 1 c of water).

  • 8 good-sized herring filets (can be fresh or smoked)
  • 1 c milk (if desalting)
  • 2 onions, medium-sized
  • 2-3 T olive oil
  • 1 lb redskin potatoes
  • 2 T wine vinegar
  • 8 T olive oil
  • 1 t strong mustard
  • pinch of coriander seed (optional)
  • salt
  • freshly-ground pepper

Remember: If you’re using salted herring, you’ll need to desalt them overnight in a cup of milk + a cup of water.

- Peel the onions and cut them into thin rings. Soak them in cold water for an hour to make them less strong. (Or you could use the red variety, which is milder.)
- If you’ve desalted the herring, dry them off with paper towels. Dry off the onion as well, and separate the rings. Put the herring and onion rings in alternating layers in a bowl. Pour the olive oil over both.
- Wash the potatoes and boil them in salted water for about half an hour, or until cooked but still firm. Drain and peel them, cut them into large pieces and put them into a serving bowl.
- Mix the mustard into the vinegar. Add the salt, pepper, optional coriander seed, then slowly pour in the olive oil while mixing well. Pour it over the potatoes, toss lightly and serve while still warm, along with the herring.

Accompany with a crisp dry white wine

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Out and About: Exhibits: Les Masques de jade mayas

The French love their museums. They’ll turn anything into a museum: the house of a famous painter or writer, an old train station, buildings left over from World Exhibitions... and now ex-offices.
     One of the latest museums is called the Pinacothèque de Paris. That strange word may sound like discothèque, but don’t expect any dance music. When you walk through the doors, you’d think you were in an office lobby - which it once was. Opened in June of 2007, it was the first private museum in Paris and quickly made a name for itself with amazing exhibits widely publicized in the media. So much so that in January 2011, a second venue opened kitty-corner to the first. And now the ground floor and even basement levels of these two corner buildings just off the Place de la Madeleine have been given over to art exhibits.
A captive

     Why the word pinacothèque was chosen I can’t tell you. It comes from the Greek term pinakothêkê and means a room that contains a collection of paintings. I suspect it was just to get people talking... which they did. And with the media blitz that surrounds it, many of the shows have brought in the crowds: 4,000 visitors per day, 2 million in the first three years. One of those first shows spotlighted some of the Xi’an Warriors, those clay statues discovered by the hundreds in an ancient Chinese grave. There was also a show of Dutch 17th-century masters, many from Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum (presently being restored) and another on Jackson Pollock, for which insurance costs were phenomenal.
     The man behind this miracle is an art historian, Marc Restellini, 48, grandson of a Moldavian painter and an expert on Modigliani. A man of deep pockets (other people’s, but maybe now his own), he held his first show at age 22.. Not a huge financial success but it put him in contact with some rich Japanese... and off he flew for 10 years to set up art exhibits in Japan. He’s also been the art director of the Musée du Luxembourg in Paris.
Warrior with
serpent headdress
     All of France criticizes Restellini for his "sense of merchandising", an unpardonable sin in French cultural circles. But maybe he’s not liked because he didn’t bother to take the official - and up to then morally compulsory - French museum curator’s examination. The only person ever to brave the system, he’s been successful beyond all expectations. Of course it doesn’t hurt to have friends in high places, such as the French President. In short, Restellini is a cultural entrepreneur, borrowing from museums and private collectors alike. And he knows who to bring on-board to ensure the word will get out. His usual suspects are the weekly magazine Paris Match and the French radio station specializing in news, France Info. France’s largest bookseller, FNAC, is also a recurring partner and that brings in lots of additional visitors because FNAC also provides some museums - including the Pinacoth que - with Ticketmaster-type services.
     In addition to all that, Restellini is very savvy in what people want. And he knows that when they see an exhibition they like, they want to take it home with them. Which is why he’s set up his own editing venture, putting out catalogues and DVDs for every show since the day the Pinacothèque opened. Slick four-color catalogues plus DVDs playable on every international TV standard. As well as postcards for those who don’t want to spend that much or carry a heavy catalogue home. (He also provides press packets for journalists, right there at the exhibit, instead of saying "it’s on the internet". Smart man.)
Jaguar god

Old man

What brought me to the Pinacothèque on this particular occasion was an exhibit called Les masques de jade mayas - The Jade Masks of the Mayas. You might remember another exhibit of Maya artifacts I covered in the fall (see September 15, 2011.) This one is far smaller and more focused on this one aspect of the Maya culture: the funerary masks. Like the Egyptians recreating an eternal home for their rulers inside the Pyramids, the Maya fashioned mosaic masks out of jade to ensure eternal life for the most prestigious chiefs of what we call the lost cities of the Mayas: Chichén Itza, Palenque, Tonina and others.
     The Maya civilization began around 2000 B.C. and lasted until 900 A.D., which is quite a run! Centered in the Yucatan Peninsula and into Chiapas and even Honduras, Belize, Guatemala and El Salvador, the Mayans excelled at astronomy, mathematics, architecture and the arts. They developed an elaborate system of writing, again similar to the Egyptians in the use of glyphs. This system may have been a necessity in order to govern because unlike the centralized Inca government, the Maya civilization was made up of independent city-states, somewhat like Ancient Greece. All these aspects are highlighted in the exhibit.
     The pièce de résistance lies in the masks themselves. To the Maya, jade was the most rare and precious of all materials. Artists used jade shards to create mosaics, and the juxtaposition of the different shades of green makes the faces more lifelike. Some masks depicted the gods, especially the corn god, whose bounty surely saved them from starvation many times over the centuries. Such masks were worn during rituals.
     But funerary masks were designed to depict the ruling class, such as King Palak. Rulers were buried not only with the masks over their faces, but also in full apparel. And so archeologists also uncovered necklaces, earrings, pectorals, and bracelets as well as clay offerings to the dead kings. Seven tombs are represented at the Pinacothèque exhibit. And they make you rethink the ideas you may have of this "primitive" world".

Pinacothèque de Paris

28, place de la Madeleine
Paris 8

Open daily 10:30 to 6:30
Wed open until 9 pm

Friday, February 17, 2012

Girls' Night Out

I met Fran when I lived at my old apartment. She was friends with the British neighbors two flights down, who had a wonky heater. So anyone who stayed at their apartment in their absence was instructed to go see Sandy to get it working. Among others, Fran knocked on my door.
     That was about 30 years - and two apartments - ago.

I’ve just seen her off at the Gare du Nord     She arrived from London for a two-day stay, which involved a ballet at the Palais Garnier. And a final dinner right across from the train station so she could enjoy her meal instead of looking at her watch every two seconds.
     We walked to the restaurant to work up an appetite. As we waited to be seated, a man strode past us and stood truculently before the maître d’hôtel who looked up and said, "Bonjour, Monsieur."
     Monsieur stood there, mute.
     "Bonjour, Monsieur," the maître-d repeated, with a little more emphasis. The man nodded.
     "You spik Frenshe?" the maître-d asked, raising his eyebrows.
     "Bonsoir," Monsieur responded, icily. "At this time of day you say bonsoir."
     The maître-d looked flummoxed.
     "A table for two," Monsieur added.
     "A table for two for us as well," I piped up, with the most elegant but firm voice I could muster. "We were here before you," I added frostily, staring into Monsieur’s soul.
     "Ah! Eh bien..." said the maître-d, relieved to be able to stick it to Monsieur. "Follow me." He smiled at us broadly as soon as we had covered sufficient territory.
     The Terminus Nord is a brasserie, which means they serve food at any time of the day, as opposed to restaurants, which serve during lunch and dinner hours only. It’s right across from the Gare du Nord which launches trains to destinations north of Paris: Belgium, Holland and England... and in Fran’s case the Eurostar high-speed train from Paris to London. The brasserie has been there since 1925, and its décor makes you expect to see Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald charleston through the door at any moment, even though this wasn’t their part of town.
     We had two hours to spend before Fran’s train. And not only did the food prove excellent but our fellow diners lived up to the French saying, le spectacle est dans la salle. The show was all around us. All the stock characters were there: the British traveler, the lovers, the French businessman...
     First came the English gentleman - probably a businessman - at the next table, reading a paperback by Philip Roth while trying to pick apart whole crayfish. After a moment, he turned to Fran and asked her if she’d mind, nodding at his briefcase. She politely nodded back. Upon which he got up and walked away, probably to the Men’s.
     "I thought he meant did I mind his briefcase being next to me," she laughed, as only Fran can laugh. "But he meant would I mind his stuff!"
     And then there was the more-than-a-midlife-crisis couple. I was at a disadvantage here because Fran had the good seat to enjoy the show. I turned to see that She had stood up from the table and taken a few steps, then pivoted and struck a pose as if waiting for the spotlight to capture her. I half expected to hear her say, "I’m ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille." She held the pose for a few seconds, then slunk back to the table, hips a-sway, plunked herself down on the bench next to Him and proceeded to suck his lips off. He didn’t seem to mind. Upon which their huge seafood platter arrived and she jumped up and counted the oysters, slowly and methodically. Twice! I guess she wanted her money’s worth. Or his. And then She called over the waiter! They huddled. More oysters arrived. Big night in perspective is all I could think.
     As Fran and I were almost ready to leave, our delicious meal now done, a 20-something Frenchman sat down at the table next to ours. He looked like just an ordinary young French businessman, thin, trendily-dressed, busy pecking relentlessly on his Blackberry, fingers a-blur, as if it were his last link to humanity. No Philip Roth novel for him! His meal arrived, a steak so rare that Fran quipped, "My uncle would have said a good vet could have that up and running around in a minute". And then French Business Guy proceeded to do the unthinkable. He washed down his steak with... Coca-Cola! And Diet Coke to boot! In all my years in France, I’d never seen a Frenchman do that. Why, you can have your French nationality revoked for that! And there we were, the American and the Australo-Brit, having polished off a bottle of St. Joseph between us. National stereotypes be damned.

Full beyond all hope with good things that would turn the stomach of many an Anglo-Saxon - steak tartare for Fran (which is basically uncooked ground beef) and grilled foie gras for me - Fran consulted her watch. And it’s a good thing she did. It was 10 minutes to check-in time. Lucky all we had to do was cross the street.
     As we waited for our coats, curiosity won out and I asked the bartender if the restaurant’s decorated plates were for sale. (I have two from another favorite restaurant, Le Trumilo.) He said they weren’t, but that he knew La Coupole and other such restaurants sometimes sold theirs. And promptly walked off to serve the champagne he had just poured. On his way back to the bar, he plunked down two plates, still warm from the dishwasher, and kept right on going without so much as a look in my direction. Surprised, I watched him move off... then put the plates in my carry bag.
     On his way by again, he asked, "Did you get them?"
     I said yes, winked, and handed him a 10 euro note. He pocketed it and winked back. This is what my friend Jan would call flirting with the wait staff. I just say it’s the way things work in France.

I escorted Fran as far as the Eurostar security checkpoint, gave her a kiss and a hug and waved good-bye. Then set off walking back uphill. I was home before Fran’s train even left the station.
     And put the two plates away, smiling.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Joyeux Saint Valentin (redux)

I decided, as it was Valentine’s Day, I should write something about love and Paris - the City of Love - and the whole tradition of love. So I looked into who Valentine was.
     And I didn’t come up with some Tristan-and-Isolde or Héloise-and-Abelard moment. No.
     Instead I came up with some claptrap about there being three Saint Valentines on a list drawn up in 496 by Pope Gelasius I and no one knows which one is the one this Day for Lovers was named after. None of them - martyrs all - seem a likely candidate to me. Nor do any of the four others mentioned since then.
     As for the date, in ancient times February 14th was the festival of Lupercus, the goatskin-clad Roman god of fertility. After drinking lots of wine, his priests would run half-naked through the streets, feeling up all the women who were told it was to make them fertile. Sounds like a plan. (Also sounds a bit like modern Rome.)
     That pagan feast seems to tie in neatly with one of the emblems of Valentine’s Day: Cupid, son of Venus and the god of desire, affection and erotic love in Roman mythology... which gives everyone a shot at the kind of love they’re interested in. And that’s about as far as you can get from the Roman Catholic Church and its martyred saints.
     Instead, Valentine’s Day seems to be a figment of someone’s imagination. The most often-mentioned suspect - and the earliest one - is Geoffrey Chaucer in his Parliament of Foules. He links the date with the period when medieval Europeans said birds paired off for mating purposes, some for a season, some for life.
     Whatever the origin, Valentine’s Day has become the day of lovers - at least in my lifetime. I remember cutting hearts out of red construction paper and gluing them messily onto lace doilies, way back in kindergarten. At first those valentines were for your parents. Then you started exchanging them in grade school, and tallied up who got the most to find out who was the most popular kid in class. Junior high students scoffed at Valentine’s Day... and just about anything else at that age. High school sometimes brought Friday night dances in smelly gymnasiums fitted out with hearts hanging from the rafters along with a shimmering dance ball rotating slowly above. Oh yes, and pink lemonade punch red-ed up with some food coloring.
     Now that we’re adults, we’ve honed our Valentine skills. Flowers. Chocolates (Valrhona, for instance). Champagne (something France does well). It’s a day for lovers. And I realized I had quite a few photos of That Sort of Thing, taken on warmer days than those France has just lived through. So I’ve posted them here for you - ah, l’amour! - and hope they bring you a bit of love à la française.
     May you all have a very romantic Valentine’s Day.

P.S. There’s a map somewhere on the French Internet that shows where you can find your unrequited love in Paris. You enter your desiderata - age, sex, other - and it will tell you where to find someone of similar inclinations.
      Ah, these French. So linked up.

Eternal love
Cimetière St. Vincent, Montmartre

Put a love lock on the Pont des Arts
and toss the key in the Seine

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Who Are the People in Your Neighborhood: Latifa

For a century, Montmartre was the artist’s turf. From Renoir at the Moulin de la Galette to Picasso and Juan Gris at the Bateau-Lavoir, they came for the cheap studios. Look up as you walk the streets and you’ll see huge north-facing windows on top floors, built to provide painters with the perfect light, but not much warmth or creature comforts.
     In those days - and until relatively recently - there were several tiny shops selling artist’s supplies scattered over the Butte and down its slopes. Of them all, only one is left: Saint Rustique, on the narrow street that shares that name, the oldest and indeed at one time the only street in the entire village of Montmartre.
     Ruling over the shop is Latifa. An easy smile, a sun-soaked accent and eyes that twinkle.

The shop
Place du Tertre

     Visible from afar only by the sign of an easel over the door, the shop is smaller than most American bedrooms. Inside hides an Ali Baba’s cavern of anything an artist could ever need. Which is a good thing because only a block away is the tree-shaded Place du Tertre, where artists of varied talents cajole tourists into buying their canvases or having a portrait-drawn-while-you-wait. They pop in, plunk down some coins and take the paper or the colored chalk they need because they know where they are... and because she keeps them close to the door. Pas folle, la guêpe.
     But today, when I went to pick up the painting she had framed for me, there were no artists popping in. Too cold. So I finally got to talk with her a little bit. I’d always wondered what her story was.

     Latifa is from Tunisia (which accounts for the accent). One of ten children, she left her family behind to follow her husband to France. Neither one of them had any relatives here, except for a few distant cousins much further up the Social Ladder, so they hardly ever saw them. Her son and daughter and three young grandchildren live in the Paris region, but she didn’t mention her husband... and I was too polite to ask.
Rue St Rustique &
Latifa's art supply shop
(with easel sign)
     When I asked her how she came to be in this tiny little street - almost a back alley 8½ feet wide - she explained that this room once belonged to the Dali Museum, where she worked. It was a sort of annex. The managers decided it was too far from the museum and too much trouble, so they were selling it. She had no money, and they didn’t want to sell it to her because they felt a woman wouldn’t be able to make it work. But Latifa is a very determined lady, so she called up the old gentleman at the top of the pecking order, whom she’d worked with. And he believed in her. So Latifa took out a loan and bought the place. All 10 x 15 feet of it.
     It was dark and smelly and cluttered up with all the wrong things. So she single-handedly hosed everything down, and painted it, and bought all sorts of artist’s materials with money she couldn’t really spare until it was stocked from floor to ceiling, in spite of her petite size.
     And then she waited. She made sure the artists knew she was there. All the other supplies stores were farther away... and all downhill - which implies walking back up. Artists scramble to make a living, and never know when that golden busload of tourists is going to pull up. So Latifa being literally around the corner became very tempting. Slowly the word got out.
     And here she still is, well over a decade later, the last shop standing. All the others are closed, transformed into souvenir shops or crêperies... businesses that make more money. Latifa knows all the artists by name. And they swear by her. A few years ago I uncharacteristically bought a small oil painting from one of them, a real painting, not one of those awful paint-by-number-for-tourists shams. It was a rooftop-scape and looked very nice in its frame... which he proceeded to remove. When I protested, he told me where to buy the same frame, in fact where he had bought it: at Saint Rustique. "Tell her you’re an artist," he added, "and she’ll give you a discount." Which I did. After all, photographers are artists too, n’est-ce pas?
     Latifa looks out for her artists. She orders what they need. She lets them serve themselves if she’s busy with someone else or on the phone. She counsels them. (The day I dropped by, she was advising an artist on which easel to buy, and it wasn’t the most expensive.) She lends them things.
     Sometimes a tourist will wander in. And then there are some locals, like me. But it’s hard to see how she manages to make ends meet. I guess she gets by on little, although she is always dressed with true French chic.
     And always smiling. Although sometimes it’s hard, she admits. It’s hard being on your feet all day, with no one to give you a break. Hard worrying about paying the bills, especially when a particularly cold February is keeping the tourists away from the Place du Tertre, the old village square. Charcoal and chalk and canvases aren’t flying off the shelves. But she’s got her health.
     And her grandchildren, the mere mention of which makes her eyes twinkle.

Boutique St. Rustique

18, rue St. Rustique
75018 Paris

Closed Wednesdays and Sundays,
and for a lunch hour at 1 pm

Friday, February 10, 2012

Grocery shopping

Now that the snow has melted - just barely - and we won’t fall on our butts getting down the hill or back up, let me take you grocery shopping. Because there’s bloody little "fresh" left in the house to eat after days of hibernation.
     First, a stop by the butcher’s. To go with those delicious prunes Aviva left behind after The Project (see Jan. 22, 2012), let’s buy two joues de porc (literally pig’s cheeks). The butcher asks if I want a left or a right. Butcher’s joke. The braised pork with prunes in a wine sauce will taste great over some rice. And for another day, let’s cook up a specialty of my Pennsylvania Dutch grandmother: a stew with vegetables and smoked sausage. For that we’ll need a saucisse de Montbéliard. Our total comes to 6€35 for the two humanely-raised, no-antibiotics, no-growth-hormones meats. The joue, a cheaper cut, will take a while to cook - two hours - but who cares? Indoors it’s warm and there’s a good book to read curled up on the couch under a cozy throw. And the whole house will smell great. (Sometimes people from my building come down to ask what I’m cooking, and sometimes I end up with impromptu guests.)
     Now we’ll need some vegetables to go with the sausage. There are still some potatoes left and onions, but no carrots. The green grocer asks if I want the "table" carrots or the carottes de sable (sand carrots), which he says are more sweet, so let’s try the sandy ones. (After all, my name is Sandy). The stock of garlic is running low in the kitchen, so let’s get another head. And two leeks, already semi-prepared with the green ends cut off, leaving only the blanc de poireaux, which means less work, less cleaning especially. And five clémentines for some Vitamin C, cheerful color and low-cal sweetness. Total: 6€79 for enough fruit and veggies to last several meals, including leftovers.
     Next, a stop at the cheese shop. As this week-end has a Road Trip scheduled to see some Celtic treasures from 500 B.C., just one cheese I think. The cheese board - three cheese minimum - will have to wait until next week. They all look good, but let’s take something that enjoys a good baguette, rather than a stand-alone hard cheese. Attracted by the zing of its pepper crust on a cold day, let’s opt for a good slice of Brie au poivre at 2€70.
     And to go with cheese, you obviously need wine. A quick stop into the Caves des Abbesses to see what Emmanuel is pushing today. He recommends an organic merlot from the Languedoc region, which is a bargain at 4€60. I inquire after his father, Serge, who is now retired and living in Normandy and who was my purveyor of wines for many, many years. Manu smiles and says that the cold has at least kept him out of the vegetable garden, so he’s playing with his grandson indoors, which is a relief to Mme. Serge.
     After the slog up the steep but ice-free street, the last stop: Christophe’s boulangerie, where we pick up a baguette - the Parisse for 1€10. There’s a slightly cheaper generic version, but this is the old-style one, made using a more traditional recipe with different flour, and that makes for a crisper crust and a richer interior. Which the flavorful brie will appreciate.
     Now the final push back across the square, and a walking chat with a young man carrying his rented municipal Vélib bike up the ten steps with considerable effort.
     "It’s easier riding downhill," I quip. "Not many people bring them back uphill." He agrees, saying it’s the only way he can find one when he needs it, and adds that he’s biked all around Paris already this morning.
     "That must have kept you warm," I say.
     "Not all the time," he smiles. "It’s pretty cold in places, and there’s a chilly breeze down by the Seine."
     We part ways at my corner, him going even farther up the Butte and me passing school children on an outing, two by two.
     And that is how you do the shopping every few days when you’re in Montmartre.

Monday, February 6, 2012

My Neighborhood: Le Studio 28

One thing I remember fondly from my childhood is the neighborhood theater - the one in Upstate New York and the one in the suburbs on Detroit’s Eastside. They were both within walking distance. I don’t know what happened to the one in New York because I moved away, but the one in Michigan is gone now. Turned into shops and office space.
     Sometimes I feel like my move to France took me back a generation, which isn’t bad for all things. For instance, in my part of Montmartre there’s a neighborhood theater. It’s called the Studio 28, because it opened in 1928. February 10, to be exact. That makes it one of the first movie theaters in Paris, and the first "art movie" theater... and the longest lasting, having been in operation continuously.
     The first movie ever programmed was Abel Gance’s Napoléon, shot with three cameras and requiring three projectors. That first owner, Jean-Placide Mauclaire, showed cutting-edge movies, but one of them brought about his downfall in 1930: Luis Bunuel’s L’Age d’or. The audience found it so scandalous that they ransacked the theater. The film was subsequently banned and Mauclaire was forced to sell. The next owner, Edouard Gross, chose safer films, and was the first in France to program the Marx Brothers, along with W.C. Fields.
     But as long as I’ve known it - which means since 1970 - this independent movie house has been run by two men and their wives... and now their son. Edgar and Georges Roulleau bought it in 1948 and built it back up from near oblivion. They were the first to program a Chinese film in France. And the first to show Bunuel’s Los Olvidados - a daring decision, given what had happened 20 years earlier! They set a tradition of hosting painting and photography exhibits as well as jazz concerts - fitting side activities in this artistic neighborhood. By 1950, Jean Cocteau and Abel Gance had become the "godfathers" of the theater. Cocteau pronounced it "La salle des chefs-d’oeuvre. Le chef-d’oeuvre des salles" (The theater of masterpieces. The masterpiece of theaters), and those words are still marked over its doorway. Finally in 2000 the neo-classic Amélie Poulain mentioned the theater, immortalizing its glory.

Full house for The Artist
When my children were young and I had become a single working mom, I would take them to the Studio 28 so I could do my translations. I’d buy them tickets from one owner’s wife and then the other owner’s wife - who acted as a very gruff usher - would seat them and kept an eye on them... so they didn’t act up (which they wouldn’t have dared!) and also so no one bothered them or walked off with them. As gruff as she was, she was always protective of them. I remember Georges more because he outlived his brother by 16 years. In addition to the moviehouse, Edgar found time to make a film on the Paris jazz scene in 1955 called Jazz Jamboree, with Sidney Bechet, and to produce other movies. That’s all the information I have, and it’s tantalizing.
     Both brothers are now deceased, as is one of the wives. The only one that’s left still mans the ticket booth on some days (although the young lady today said she would retire soon). She doesn’t remember me, but I recognize her. She’s not the touchy-feely type, so I never tell her about my memories of those days, but I’m appreciative. It helped my children have the kind of independent childhood that has become pretty much a thing of the past. It was part of their becoming titis montmartrois, children of the Butte, roaming freely as so many generations before them had done.
     But I digress.

The bar
The particularity of the Studio 28 is that it shows about a dozen movies a week, whereas most other theaters show only one. It’s a multiplex with just one screen. It used to run one movie four times a day: at 3, 5, 7 and 9. Now it mixes it up more by scrambling them over the week... but still at the same showtimes. And always in V.O. (version originale). That means that Bergman is in Swedish, Capra is in English, Truffaut in French, Kurosawa in Japanese, Fellini in Italian... and so on (with French subtitles). That wasn’t the case almost anywhere else, and still isn’t. On Tuesday nights, the last show was - and still is - an avant-première, a show that might not get a shot at the silver screen elsewhere. A sort of Sundance before the fact. And once a month there’s a themed soiree followed by a debate. Plus the theater can be rented out for private projections or press conferences or receptions. (God only knows when they do that because now they’re open 7/7!)
Alain Roulleau
     The present owner, Alain Roulleau - who took over from his father, Edgar, in 1996 - loves this theater like the young boy in Cinéma Paradiso, which is kind of what it is. He even lives above the shop. Literally. "I’m like the neighborhood grocery shop that has to stand up to the invasion of supermarkets. (...) If I didn’t own the property, we’d be closed today."* He’s the person behind the latest modernizations: Dolby sound system (which was fun during Scorsese’s Hugo) and digital projector, making Studio 28 the only movie theater in Paris with Sony 4K. It’s a lesson he learned from his father and uncle, who innovated in 1969 by creating the concept Promotion du Cinéma: a different film every day, an avant-première on Tuesday night and a movie pass long before other theaters offered one.
One of Cocteau's two magic lamps

Footprint of Jeanne Moreau
     Although the original 400 seats have been mercifully reduced to 170 more comfortable ones, and the original balcony is long gone, leaving room for the projectionist’s booth probably, tradition envelops this theater. The light fixtures designed by Cocteau in 1950 still grace the walls. The Grauman-esque plaster casts of famous feet are still showcased in the entrance hall, along with notebooks filled with quotations and autographs from international movie stars who actually came here. It’s like cinema time travel, a feeling accentuated as you stand in line and look up at the windmill at the end of the street: the venerable old Moulin de la Galette‘s famous Blute-fin painted often by Renoir.
     American movie-goers beware. There’s no popcorn... which may explain why the family standing in line in front of me were eating those awful Chamallows (marshmallows) out of a bag that the mother put back in her purse when we got near the ticket booth. However, there’s now a restaurant. The courtyard beside the theater is covered with a wedding-type canopy and serves light food such as quiches and salads with beer, wine or other beverages. And you don’t have to go to the movies there to sit and have a coffee over a conversation.
     In short, it’s a part of your family, especially if you like movies. A piece of yesterday still standing today but resolutely looking to the future with a young staff and the latest technology. The Studio 28 has stood in Montmartre since 1928, in spite of the odds, and it will probably be there for many years to come.
      Which is a good thing.

Studio 28
10, rue Tholozé
75018 - Paris
Métro: Blanche or Abbesses
They also have a Facebook page: Cinema Studio 28

Tickets (2012) are 8.50€.
Seniors, students and the unemployed pay only 7€,
children even less at 6€.
Or you can buy a card good for 5 shows over a 4-month period for only 30€

*"Je suis comme un épicier de quartier
qui doit résister l’arrivée des supermarchés, (...)
Si je n’étais pas propriétaire des murs,
aujourd’hui, la salle serait fermée."