Art to see and to buy

Saturday, the weather was cool and rainy and I wanted to draw so my only option was to find a museum. The Rodin Museum is in a large house near Les Invalides not far from the Eiffel Tower. The ‘hotel’ is a splendid example of 18th century neo-classicism – which to my eye is more delicate than its baroque predecessor – though this example errs decoratively with carved heads for keystones. 2 pavilions flank the back which overlook large grounds containing highlights of Rodin’s work – including a casting of ‘The Gates of Hell’. Inside are other landmark works such as The Kiss and The Thinker as well as numerous busts and a room devoted to the work of his protegee and lover Camille Claudel. I made my way through each floor sketching and trying to stay out of the way of other visitors. I felt an immediate connection to his work and enjoyed searching for ways to translate his rough expressive style to pencil and paper. An exhibit of his own sketches and watercolors were interesting as they were radically different from my sketches – looser, freer, not at all the 2 dimensional reductions of his carvings I had made.

I crossed the Seine and the grand Belle Epoque Alexandre III Bridge, past the Grand and Petit Palais, and then up the Champs Elysee through crowds of holiday shoppers getting hot mulled wine, crepes, and saucisson from innumerable christmas stands on the sidewalk.  At the round-about of FDR I was meeting some classmates at a large art gallery – Artcurail –  devoted to 20th century work.  The house is a late 19th century confection that would look at home on 5th ave in New York.  Inside 3 floors are contained mostly European artists with work to be auctioned later in the week.  Many of the greats were represented though the Picasso, Braque and DeChirico were small and minor works.  I was taken with a pencil sketch by George Grosz done after he had moved to New York.  He had taught at the Art Student’s League there after he escaped the Nazi’s and one of my teachers, Lester Polakov, had been a protege of his.  In the sketch, 2 quintessential New Yorkers, one short and fat, the other tall and lean, cranky and lugubrious, and a ragged nest of graphite perfectly expressed their distinct personalities.  A delight of the gallery is their cafe designed in ‘high-french’ with black and white creepy-forest wallpaper.




After I reached home I checked some auction sites for Grosz drawings and found a pen and ink from his prime period – Wiemar-era Germany.  And, in the way of all internet browsing, I also found some old master paintings at the same auction house.  A small portrait of a Dutch woman was valued at $2000 to $3000.  This seemed very low for a 17th century painting – regardless of size or attribution.  This painting was supposedly painting by Gerard Ter Borch.  After some research I learned that Ter Borch was a prominent Dutch painter of the time – where Vermeer was perhaps the greatest.  I e-mailed the auction house to learn about the provenance and the condition of the painting.

Two days later, today, they sent more photos and pictures of the back which had labels from previous galleries.  The condition of the painting seemed almost too good; it must be either a copy or extensively re-painted.  After class, I decided to head to the Louvre to sketch again.  While there, I wandered to the galleries devoted to northern European paintings of the era and found several by Ter Borch, even some of a similar size and subject matter, though none exactly the same.  I took some photos and looked carefully at the brushstrokes and the crackling of the surface.  I don’t know what I thought I was doing – pretending I was in a movie or mystery novel I suppose.

Once home again, I glanced thought the websites of the Metropolitan Museum in New York and the Rijkmuseum in Amsterdam.  the Met had a few Ter Borches – more than the Louvre, interestingly.  The Rijkmuseum, unsurprisingly, had dozens, including one  – though larger and more carefully painted – similar in subject and dress.  I copied both the image from the Rijksmuseum and the largest version I had from the auction house onto my computer and layered them in Photoshop.  I had to flip one and scale it to the same size ( as well as compensate for the perspective of the photo.)  The paintings were astonishingly similar.  The Dutch one was of a younger woman and painted on canvas – the other chubbier and painted on board – which could explain its smoother surface.  The brushstrokes on the ‘one for sale’ were looser but it was a smaller painting and I knew artists sometimes varied their brushstroke scale.  The hands struck me as well – hands are very difficult to paint and his are particular graceful – a bit plump, but delicate and lovely. A few other Ter Borchs from the Rijksmuseum had eyelids and highlights painted in the same limpid manner as the auction house painting.  The weakest area to me is the white blouse which is crisp and honest in the Museum’s painting and seems stylized and pedestrian in the other.

Finally, I noticed that a label on the back of the painting was a gallery in New York.  I tried to find their website but found something more interesting instead.  The Gallery was closed by police several years ago and the owner thrown in prison for fraud and larceny – he is still at Riker’s island.  Apparently, he was involved with schemes to buy and resell paintings for financiers and celebrities and played loose with the profits.  Although many paintings were unaccounted for, there were no charges of forgery.  I sent the auction house a provocative e-mail asking if this painting might be stolen property.  The story ends here for now.


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Jules Verne and a Hurricane

Today we performed our latest ‘auto-cour’, or improvisation.  The theme was L’Ouragan – or the hurricane.  For the past few week we have been learning how to move in a storm, on land and in the sea, as well as other catastrophes – a rushing river, a forest fire.  As I understand it, these cataclysms are part of Lecoq’s method for finding the essential, elemental actor.  We are still performing with the neutral mask – a device designed to eliminate the quotidian minutia of everyday life from our actions so that we are ‘playing’ in a primordial world.

The performance was not the complete disaster I had imagined but it was criticized for being too short.  Our setting, an imagined Haitian house, apparently grew and shrunk in size with each tidal wave and the door knob disappeared on occasion – the joys of mimed theatre!  We were not – as I feared – too quotidian.  I am still at a loss to understand how the other groups are able to accomplish so much in such a limited amount of time.  Working without a leader is slow and excruciating – and that’s when everyone is pleasant and trying hard to get along!

Next week we lose the neutral mask.  But we are to represent the elements in our improvisation – water, air, fire, earth – in a sort of skit.  We attempted something like this a few weeks ago in the LEM course so I think I have a sense the assignment.  It sounds like one of though science films we watch in grade school where fire and water are personified by cute little cartoons.

Just down the street from my apartment is one of Paris’ many little heralded but terrific museums – Musee Arts et Metiers – the museum of arts and engineering.  It is accompanied by a school of engineering, both housed in a range of Baroque, 2nd Empire and Early 20th century buildings.  The museum contains a large assortment of transportation vehicles and Foucault’s pendulum in an abandoned 19th century church..  There are also measuring devices, animatronic figures, and construction techniques throughout the centuries.  2 scale models complete with scaffolding and 6 inch tall workmen show both the Statue of Liberty being carved and then being clad in copper.  I also found the many clocks, barometers, and other early mechanical devises especially beautiful.  It is disappointing to see finely carved wooden inner workings disappear as we barrel into the late 20th century with its transistors, computers and cell phones.  Drab plastic casings are no match for gold and iron gears and rococo handles and hinges.  You can understand why it was named Arts et Metiers.  The subway stop is clad in copper sheathing with portholes and small encased maquettes along the waiting platform – evoking the Nautilus from Jules Verne.

Another Jules Verne – this one even more modern and far more expensive – is on the viewing deck of the Eiffel Tower.  It is a swank outpost of restauranteur Alain Ducasse.  You can experience 4 star, 5 course cuisine while gazing high above the rooftops of Paris. My partner and I went there as a sort of Thanksgiving feast.  The decor resembles the inside of molecule made with dark velvet and frosted glass.  It is a cozy space  – it felt like the passenger cabin of a futuristic zeppelin.  The meal was delicious though the wild rabbit 3 ways was a bit daring for me.


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Robert Wilson comes to Paris, Russell goes to NY

Almost 2 weeks ago I caught Robert Wilson’s production of “Lulu” at the Theatre de la Ville.  Originally produced by Brecht’s theater, the Berliner Ensemble, “Lulu” played in Paris as part of the Festival Automne.  Another Wilson/ Berliner Ensemble production, “Threepenny Opera”, had played in New York earlier this fall.

I saw “Einstein on the Beach” when I first moved to New York in 1984 – and that was a revival.  Robert Wilson – one the late 20th century’s most celebrated ‘post-modern’ directors – shows no signs of slowing down.  However, unlike his earlier works, where a series of very slow moving surreal tableau have sometimes frustratingly mysterious and elliptic meanings, his collaborations with the German group are of established texts and performed, more or less, as written.

Music has always been integral to Wilson – Phillip Glass’ hypnotic repetitions provided the score for “Einstein”.  With “Lulu” Wilson has turned to quite a different flavor with Lou Reed of the Velvet Underground.  The score ranged from guitar screeches, that underlined dramatic flourishes, to jaunty simple rock melodies set with simple lyrics.

Wilson’s visual imagery hasn’t changed much over the last 30 years and, even though he has been much imitated, they still seem fresh.  My understanding is that all of his shows are timed and staged to the millisecond.  His  actors were almost frozen zombies in the past.  Here, they are full-blooded, dramatic and delightfully strange.  I am frankly in awe of these German actors.

In his notes, Wilson said he was as much inspired by the silent movie by Pabst starring Louise Brooks, as the original Wedekind play.  The cast had white faces and the setting and clothes were nearly black and white – with occasional touches of acid green or blood red. In the film, updated to the then-contemporary 1920s, the beautiful bobbed Brooks Charlestons her way through the beds and hearts of a variety of men (and one fascinating lesbian) before she dies at the hands of Jack the Ripper.

Onstage, this last scene was the most stunning to me.  While Lulu entertains a series of ‘johns’ –  having now resorted to selling sex outright to survive – her former conquests sit in a sepulcher portrait upstage, each face gently lit by a ghastly green pin spot.  Although Robert Wilson’s images are sometimes jaw dropping  and strange they are never superficial.  As he is a Waco, Texas native, I feel a special kinship with him. Waco is also the birthplace of the  equally strange filmmaker Terrance Malick, tony-award wining actress Rondi Reed, the soft drinks Dr. Pepper and Big Red, and the setting for the self-immolating David Koresh, I have wondered what is in the sulfuric-tasting water of that otherwise painfully ordinary American city/ town.

Last weekend I jumped across the pond to visit my partner in New York and participate in a workshop with Elevator Repair Service – another ‘post-modern’ troupe but more in the ‘Wooster-Group-vein’ than the sleek austerity of Wilson.  They are most famous these days for presenting classic books in hip, gently-ironic, and very long productions – most notably the entire text to “The Great Gatsby” (clocking in at 7 hours).  Along with the 3 recent ‘literary’ productions, I had seen them years ago at PS 122 and was impressed by their mix of sound effects, quirky observations and Bollywood dance breaks.  My boyfriend at the time gave them glowing reviews in Art Forum partly due to my positive response so I feel a little responsible for their success.

On Saturday and Sunday 20 of us worked on a small section of Earnest Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises” – which ERS has been performing for the last 2 years.  We brought in random video clips and, after introductions and a warmup, we divided into 3 groups and incorporated elements and movements from our videos, as well as a dance taught to us inspired by a clip of the Alcorn College Drill team in Mississippi.

None of these interpolations had anything to do with Hemingway’s book – which was precisely the point.  ERS creates work that tosses disparate ingredients into a charming salad of heartfelt passion and ironic gestures.  They seem most fond of the awkward gestures of untrained performers – something we gleefully supplied.  By the end of Sunday we had combined the 3 improvisations into a very curious version of the fiesta of Pamplona from the book.

On the long trip back to Paris I pondered about how far their zany devices are from the Lecoq’s School’s narrow rules!  Robert Wilson might approve of their irony but not of their mess.  All 3 share one core idea – you should always do something, you have to move the action forward.  A performance dies when it sits back and tries to analyze what the hell it is doing.


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Neutral Mask

It has been 2 weeks since we presented the first installment of ‘Place Jules Joffrin’.  With a cast of 35, we showed a 15 minute take on 24 hours in the life of a very busy urban plaza.

It was not a disaster.  Thanks largely to a group who met yesterday to plot out today’s rehearsal.  Another group had planned the day before ( I was part of that group and we weren’t quite as organized ) I think the plan for ‘direction’ is only now gradually coming into focus.  Each day we will have a group of 5 to determine what we do the next day.  This way everyone gets a voice.  I suppose it is part of the challenge to figure out for ourselves how we are to direct ourselves.

I am cast as the head waiter at Cafe Nord Sud – the only commercial business – and I went up to have a cafe there last evening before our LEM class.  It is a very common but classic Paris style restaurants.  The waiters are older and brisk with a dry sense of humor.  They wear white shirts, black vests, bow ties, and white aprons – quite distinct from many of the more casual cafes and bars in Paris where the staff looks like a bad rock band.  The bistro is colorful and popular but not quaint or cute.  You will not see an Amercan romantic comedy filmed here.  It serves a very business lunch and cafes and Pernod on the sidewalk all day.

The main criticism was that our piece was too technical – we focused too much on insuring we had found the rhythms of the crowds and tried to squeeze them into 15 minutes and did not find the life or some lively moments.  They felt we could be less structured and looser with our ‘plan’.  All true, I suppose, but we are often discovering the goal of each exercise only after we have done it – I suppose that is arts education. ( I know my students complain of the same thing.)  They certainly never have trouble finding fault with our creations.

We also began this week working with the neutral mask.  This prop is the core of Jacques Lecoq’s work and holds a mystical place in the understanding of his performance teaching.  Essentially, the masks are dark leather representations of men and women. Handmade and exquisitely beautiful, the masks are entirely neutral in emotion or feeling.  When a performer wears one his facial gestures disappear and the movement of his body (and his eyes) take on greater presence.  There seems to be a delicate balance in performance style required.  The actor’s movements must be simpler and more direct but also honest and clear – it amazing to see the other students perform with them.  Instead of hiding their faces the mask lays bare our true selves.  We communicate so much with our bodies, perhaps more honestly than our faces.

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Place Jules Joffrin

We have 2 weeks for our next ‘auto-cours’.   After the first 3 I did not think the stakes could be raised higher but they have been.  Like the first season of  good reality TV series, we have been given a more complex assignment.

Instead of groups of 5 or 7, we are now to work in a group of 35;  35  with a bare haiku of an assignment and no director and no script.  Find a place ( in this case a French ‘place’ which means a plaza or piazza) and create a 15 minute piece showing the life that exists there.  We are to examine the place over 24 hours and observe the commerce, the relationships,  the waiting, the homeless, the children, anything and create an event that is honest and engaging.  We will occupy the entire ‘grande salle’ (the main classroom) and the audience will wander among us.

In a rush after last Friday’s performances we gathered and quickly settled on 3 places to vote on – or rather the Parisians among us proposed 3 places.  I was familiar with none of them and my suggestions were dismissed as too touristic.  Already I could sense a pecking order of leaders and followers – many of us mostly lost behind the screen of language.  Later in the day I sought out the places listed and was disappointed to find them all rather urban and utilitarian.( I was imagining the lovely place in Lyon where we played boule last summer.  It had a bar and a pharmacie and could have been a set for a French version of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood.  I suppose I am a little sentimental still when it comes to France.)  After a last minute proposal and e mail skirmish that seemed to go nowhere we were to vote on one of three.  Less than half did – I think due to the hurried nature of the situation.  But in the end the group settled on Place Jules Joffrin.

It is on the north side of the ‘butte’ of  Montmartre – a bit farther down from the touristic center around Sacre Cour.  The place has a grand Marie (town hall for the Clignancourt arrondisement) on one side and a church on the other.  The sides have 2 bars and a few real estate agents and banks.  Altogether not a bad choice, though with 3 bus stops and a metro station dead center, it is a very busy spot.  My concern was that most people there seemed to be passing through rather quickly and unlikely to hang around and create something dramatic.  There are only 2 benches and a small carousel – as well as a newspaper kisok, crepe stand and public telephones.  I have visited 3 times now and taken time to sketch the place from different angles.  I have also created a plan view on my computer to e mail to the group – mostly to let them know I am on board.  This afternoon I met a few of our team there and they all seemed far more blase about the whole situation.  Most were still recovering from last night’s ‘fete-ing’.  One girl had had her iphone stolen out of her hand, been roughed up after chasing the thief, and then fined 40 euros for riding the metro without a ticket.  Others were simply hungover.  I am still finding my place in this mix of 20 somethings, aging yoga teachers and massuers, rising auteurs and wandering souls.



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Un Voyage Imaginaire

On Friday we presented our 3rd piece.  We spent a week developing ideas and creating improvisations. The theme this time was an imaginary trip. If we thought the imaginary man was difficult!?! My group consisted of 2 Japanese, 1 native French, 1 Chinese, 1 Italian and me – the sole American.  We worked in French the whole week – an hour or so a day – and by the good humor of the participants and many creative ideas, we managed to put together a simple piece of theater I could relate to and feel happy about.  On Thursday afternoon after class we found a park nearby and rehearsed our piece for another hour.  The ‘quartier’ (neighborhood) of the theatre is very mixed ethnically (every other shop appears to offer hair extensions or Indian food.)  Some locals from the Ivory Coast applauded our efforts – despite the fact that we had taken over their basketball court.

The movement classes all week are beginning to take on more concrete uses – learning how to move through an invisible body or water – or pull an imaginary rope.  Each cliched mimetic move requires hours of practice and  layers of understanding –  how we walk, how we move, how our bodies can amplify a gesture.  We also had 2 acrobatics classes at which I am a complete disaster I but took a shot at handstands and a few cartwheels.

Friday morning I was nervous but confidant.  Sadly, our performance was not well received.  However, I still felt satisfied with the process.  They are tough. I could see the bored and impatient faces of the teachers out of the corner of my eye.  How many times have they seen these exact mistakes before?  The challenges we face are many – applying recently learned techniques of movement and storytelling, overcoming language barriers (the toughest for me), and creating a credible work of art as a team without a director in 5 or so hours.  Several of the other groups had more carefully worked-out themes and used their bodies more elegantly and resourcefully.  I could not help but feel some envy and frustration. I imagine that the better pieces have had a forceful member of the group direct the piece – something I can’t do – because of the language – but also choose not to do because I think it is antithetical to the process.  But how to take several strangers together…?  I think the aesthetics of the school are valid and as close to universal as any one thing can be, but they are also narrow. Beyond the fairly obvious lack of most language, they don’t allow for boredom or prolonged confusion.

I do think I am gathering tools for pushing the work further – to go beyond the merely comic, clever, or passionate.  We are learning how to engage the audience in a dialogue (the outcome is unknown and perhaps unimportant), to capture their attention,  and to hold it en rapt with delicate intensity.  If I can succeed at that I think I will have accomplished something.

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In a foreign language

Today we completed our second week of classes at the school.  Again, we performed a short improvisation – this time in groups of 7.  The game had been ratcheted up with a surreal addition – an invisible man.  I found the situation more difficult and eventually felt less attached to our creation – this feeling played into the final performance.  I hope my teammates were happier with their results.  I have certainly seen great improvement in the work of the other students whose pieces I could watch.

Later this afternoon the second-year students performed pieces they has spent the first 2 weeks creating – each was devoted to a film and each was an extraordinary piece of physical theater.  Using sound, movement, and small bits of language, 4 films (Psycho, Volver, Apocalypse Now, and Blue Velvet) were brought to vivid life by teams of 8 and 9 students.  They used their bodies to create staircases, helicopters, and abstracted emotions.  I think the teachers were less impressed, but, apparently, a positive critique is rare and muted when it occurs.

The class work goes on each day, movement, auto-cours (self work) and improvisation.  Much of it is still quite a struggle and still deliciously fun.  One movement class was devoted entirely to childhood games.  I learned games from around the world.  We ended with a small performance that captured and fear and joy performing for your parents in grade school.  The improvisation courses this week focused on varying rhythm and creating mounting tension in the piece.  Because there are so many students, not everyone gets a chance to ‘jouer’.  I don’t know whether I am relieved or annoyed when there isn’t time for me to take my turn.

The LEM course has also been invigorating.  The work so far is architectural – creating simple structures with wood ‘baguettes’, string, and cardboard.  Pascale Lecoq (our teacher and Jacques’ daughter)  has been explaining the basics of tensile structure and the expression of objects in space – at least I think she has.  The language is still an obstacle.  I catch words here and there and on occasion an entire sentence but the moment-by-moment effort to comprehend is exhausting.  Even building the simple structures with hot melt glue and wood – an area I should feel completely comfortable in – is a struggle.  Sometimes I miss a key work – often it is ‘don’t’.  In french, the negation is ‘Pas’ as in ‘Pas le construire comme celle ci!’  (Don’t build it like that!).  I am usually so delighted to understand the bulk of the sentence that I miss the first word and end up doing the opposite of what has been asked.

A week ago on Friday evening – most of the school met at the bar across the street – the regular hangout.  (Rue Fauborg St. Denis is a riot of ethnic food, swank restaurants, noisy bars, and enormous food markets; a stunningly perfect Art Nouveau bistro sits between 2 boutiques devoted to African hair accessories.)  After a number of beers and ‘sante’s to the new year and the new class, the party moved uptown to Montmartre to a small garret.  The theme was 1920s Paris and I truly felt I was in either Puccini’s ‘La Boheme’ or regaling Hemingway and Picasso creating a scene for Woody Allen’s recent film.  Dozens of half empty bottles of red wine shared the table with a forlorn bottle of Jagermeister.  Every actor seemed to be sporting a pencil mustache and a jaunty scarf and several of the girls had managed to snag a twenties dress.  The air was almost solid with cigarette smoke.  I stayed late enough to miss the last Metro but some Paris-savvy fellow students were able to point me the way and I walked home through a mostly silent Paris.


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Les Cours Commencent

Classes started yesterday at the Ecole Jacques Lecoq. We spent an hour or so registering and introducing ourselves – there appear to be between 60 and 70 students – most in the early 20s, a few in their thirties, and I fear only one approaching 50…

The school is a large atelier on Rue de Faubourg St. Denis north of the Marais and not far from my apartment – a complete coincidence.  It was once a boxing studio; photos of a few matches form the 1920s line the halls. (I wonder if one of the fights Hemingway writes about in THE SUN ALSO RISES was at this place.)  The architecture is older and it must have first been a factory or business of some sort.

The students are from around the world – from Norway to Turkey to China.  French and Anglophiles – UK, US, Australia –  are well represented but don’t dominate.  We began with a movement class with the entire group and then divided in half for improvisation and and individual projects.  Each Friday smaller groups will present  simple improvisations for which we have an hour each day to prepare.  Today was more of the same.  4 hours a day, 5 days a week. My body can’t yet quite do what they asking – maybe, by the end of the term – and  in the improvisation I feel some of the terror I did when I acted in college.  I am familiar with most of the principles – they are similar to what we have worked on in Lyon and not far from what American schools teach – play, conversation, being alive in the moment, specificity.

Our improvisation teacher today was a bit tougher but he had 2 memorable comments.  After many were having trouble successfully improvising an imagined trip to the public ‘piscine’, he asked how could we play Shakespeare if we couldn’t play a swimming pool.  He also said that an audience has an ascending expectation of a performance as he angled his hand; if it begins frenetically and doesn’t change, they become bored.

In addition, I am taking their LEM course (Laboratory of Movement Study) which is geared toward artists and designers.  That starts tonight.  7 hours a week.

Yesterday afternoon I made my way to Montparnesse to see the house Edith Wharton lived in for a decade after she had abandoned her husband and the US.  It was a large stone neoclassical building in a forbidding area with mostly embassies now – a bit removed from the Hausmann Boulevards with their lively cafes.  While there, she assisted the French during WWI in relief efforts and received the Legion D’Honor.  Later, in the 20s, she split her time between the Cote D’Azure and a chateau outside Paris.  It was during this time that she wrote her most popular novels – THE AGE OF INNOCENCE and others less good but no less popular.  Henry James had commented that Edith was able to buy an expensive German car with the proceeds of her new novel.  From his latest book, he thought he might be able to buy a wagon.  He hoped that with the proceeds from his next  that he could re-paint it.

The streets were rather narrow with not a tree in sight.  Afterwards, I sat at a small cafe and worked on my french – it was great to be finally without a teacher.  I wandered back to the right bank past the antique shops and art galleries of St. Germain de Pres.  If you win the lottery I can give you some hints about where to dispose of your loot.

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Wild Side

It is certainly cooler in Paris; rain came off and on all day.  Finally, big cumulus clouds could be seen through the Belle Epoque buildings down the grand avenues at sunset and I realized that Paris – like Dallas – is in a prairie too.

Earlier, I had lunch at a bistro called THE SELECT in Montparnasse.  I had seen a play of the same name in New York last month. It is Elevator Repair Service’s adaptation of THE SUN ALSO RISES by Earnest Hemingway.  Mr. Hemingway frequented THE SELECT in Paris – as did F. Scott Fitzgerald, Pablo Picasso and other aesthetic luminaries of Paris in the 20’s.  (Woody Allen pays homage to this time in his most recent film MIDNIGHT IN PARIS.)

I had a tough time imagining those intimate ‘goings-on’ in GRAND Montparnasse.  It is the Upper-East-Side of Manhattan times 10.  The take in the play (and perhaps the book though I haven’t read it) is that everyone drank like fishes – anesthetizing themselves with booze and sex during the prohibition.  The bistro now is charming but pedestrian – you would never imagine that anything special happened here.  The food, however, was surprisingly delicious and cheap-ish – entre, plat, and wine for 15 euros.  I had Thai the night before, which was half as good and twice as much. (I have a suspicion about Thai food in Paris that I am stewing over and will share later once I have more evidence.)

Afterwards – a bit stunted by the wine – I had my last class in French.  We were working on the plus-que parfait (plu-perfect in English, I think?)  Happily, most of the time was spent instead recounting stories of French food and wine and terroir and regions.

After saying my goodbyes and sharing a farewell toast of champagne from the momo – or Arab grocery store, I walked home past the art galleries and decorator shops of St. Germain des Pres.  Feeling the need to conserve I grabbed dinner at the Monop (a sort of convenience store) and later wandered the streets of the Marais till 1:00 in the morning listening to Jill Scott on my head phones.  Bliss.  She is coming to Paris on December 6 – I think the French love her.  The Parisians love American culture, of course.  Our teacher said that the Parisians love the ‘other’ – les autres.  I think we all do.  I do.  The foreign is sexier, smarter and more chic.  What happens when we’ve seen the world?  Are there sabbaticals on Mars?

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French Class

The Indian summer has ended and we had cooler weather and rain today.  I think this may be the pattern for the rest for my stay.  I got lost coming back from Montparnasse and discovered the ‘upper-east-side’ of Paris looking at the shops and hotels along Rue Raspail. Swankadoodle. I guess I am a city mouse.

Today was my penultimate french language class at the Alliances Francaises in the Montparnasse area of Paris on Rue Raspail.  This week’s group is somewhat different from the first but, generally, there are few Americans; most are from Europe and South America and looking for work in the France.

As I have mentioned before, the teacher is a loquacious storyteller and charming philosopher of language and french culture.  His motto: “The birds flow in air, the fish flow in water, the French flow in words” or something like that.  I admit I am getting only 20% of everything he says.  However this is much better than before; this past summer in Marseille I was at the bottom of the sea stuck under a rock flowing nowhere.

As you get older you stop doing things where you feel stupid; it is humbling to be the only one in the room to only know one language.  I had a crises this afternoon as he asked me a question and he may have well have been speaking Martian.  EVERYONE in the class chimed in in English with the answer.

It is not entirely my fault – our teacher is still less focused on proper pedagogy. As he explains the difference between the imperative and subjunctive tenses he rushes, a bit bored, and the blackboard starts looking like a complex mathematical solution written by an impatient child.  However, his monologues are rich.  One of his anecdotes described the difference between ‘politesse’ and ‘tact’ – A man accidentally opens the door of an occupied bathroom and there is lady inside.  “Pardon, Madame” is ‘politesse’.  “Pardon, Monsieur” is tact.

I will miss him.





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