Sunday, 2 December 2007

Festive and Feisty

It’s the first Sunday in December, and Christmas lights are up! This year the Gros Caillou neighborhood gets red bells lighting up the streets, and this weekend the annual brocante was crowding the cobblestones and sidewalks on rue Cler. Unfortunately the morning was grey, windy and wet, so the merchants must have been disappointed, along with the families, bargain-hunters and shoppers who wanted to browse.

I got mine in yesterday, spent a couple of hours examining the glassware and silverware, old farming implements and antique mirrors, old well-read books and shiny new editions, paintings and posters, CDs and DVDs. There were brass candelabras, art pieces from Thailand, strands of freshwater pearls, handmade wooden toys, stacks of china plates, precious Limoge boxes. I asked the price of a wine cork with a golfer on top, a perfect gift for Mom, but it was made of silver, and the seller wouldn’t be bargained down from 50 euros. Ran my hands over a soft Moroccan rug, got offered it for only 2,000 euros – a real bargain, I was told, as it sold in the shops for 8,000. New this year were fur coats and fur hats, mink and beaver. The vendor called it “le rat américain” because 100 years ago trappers would claim government bounty for having killed a “rat”, and profit also from selling the beaver pelt.

I managed to stay sage and succumbed only to my usual weakness, came away with a handful of silver forks and spoons, and a few linen pillowcases. So this morning I was just as happy to follow my umbrella through the mist to Tribeca, being followed part of the way by a homeless man singing through the rain, with a smoked-out voice repeating a verse from a French love song. He must have got lucky at a fruit stand because I saw him later walk by munching on a bright green apple.

Lucky him – he got by before a gust of wind shook the café’s tent-roof, flapping a wave of rain water onto passers-by. It also missed a little 3 or 4-year-old struggling to balance a tremendous green-wrapped bouquet of flowers almost as big as he was.

A young man to my left is drawing the street scenes in black and white, the women on my right are conversing in English, and voila - here are Molly and her girls, Esther and Miriam, come to share the festive, feisty morning with me!

Sunday, 25 November 2007

Café Couleur

Heading down to rue Cler for Sunday morning post-ACP, the bakery at the end of rue Jean Nicot is covered in faux log-cabin wood as workers are constructing the annual holiday deco, which if I remember correctly will include a waving Santa from an upstairs window. Walking down St. Dominique, I passed the shiny new Starbucks, just open, and of course there's a buzz of hungry clients and steamy chatter. Sigh. Yes, I will eventually stop in for a coffee milkshake or a fancy flavoured latte, but it's a jolt to know that my neighborhood has been chosen by a mega-chain. It's all the fault of Rick Steves.

Next disconnect comes from a couple pushing their baby toward me down the sidewalk – it’s a colleague from the office! The brain scrambled, sirens blaring, to mesh the Alison personas, fumbled a bit then – clunk, personalities syncronised, introductions, small talk, move on quickly. Turning down rue Cler, passed a gorgeous black sofa upended on the sidewalk, while a meter a way a couple of homeless guys are begging seated long-legged on the sidewalk. I suppose if they sat on the couch it wouldn’t look serious?

Approaching the market, I could hear a violin and classical music, turns out two young women are playing, lovely, while I made my way to Tribeca for a ringside seat and, gasp, the sun pierced through the clouds (direct quote from the waitress). Un grand crème and a warm croissant finally clears the overdose of wine from yesterday’s Salon des Vignerons Indépendents (note: find out how Sabrina did, we kept up with each other at each tasting booth!).

Here comes an elegant French woman with a stylish bright purple hat and scarf set – the red lipstick and heels help pull it off. And there goes a woman in a pomeranian hair style with matching dog. Meanwhile, a little boy in a yellow helmet is struggling with his bike in front of the grocery store, as a dad pushes a toddler by in in one of those push-tricycles, but wheelie style, her front wheel in the air, wonder what she thinks floating off the ground like that. My downstairs neighbour trundles by, no chance to nod a hello, as a waitress walks out looking like she spent the night in an SM dungeon, all breasts and naked arms, outlined in black leather and silver chains, leopard belt on her hips. Friendly enough.

And omigosh, here’s another purple scarf, on a man this time. The sun has faded, I’ve plotted out my mom’s agenda for her visit at Christmas, just about finished my orange pressé, when here comes the purple coiffed lady again, this time with a white fluff dog she is setting on the ground. Looks like it’s time to get home and dig out my own purple scarf.

Sunday, 4 November 2007

Life’s spectacles: Sunday on rue Cler, Paris – pedestrian market street extraordinaire

Coffee and croissant at a terrace table at Tribeca on Sunday mornings, what a yummy and privileged position for watching the Parisian parade, the postures, the clothes, the boots, the ages and energy. Overhearing conversations in French, English, Italian, American, Spanish, the fruit vendors crooning their musical sales pitch, children squealing at the front table, customers shouting for the waitress, the knock of shopping trolley wheels against the cobblestones. So much to absorb, from the clichéd to the crude, the tots and tourists, shoppers and strollers, spotting the occasional jogger and VIP, with street music and Paris chiens oblige.

This morning was lovely, brisk and not sunny enough to over-crowd the terrace, had a clear view of the street after saying goodbye to Damen and Pat, heading home for Christmas. I settled in with a second crème and became an audience of one, craning my neck as I watch a homeless man join the hapless music vendor, singing “La vie en rose”.

Just as a shiny BMW rumbles slowly through the crowd, steered by an elderly gent with a beret and glasses peering over the wheel, his English spaniel leaning on his shoulder as navigator.

And the pretty, tough newspaper vendor across the way leaves the stand to the charge of the fleabitten vendor of toys, tapping the door code of the building behind her, going in for change? The young bookstore owner en face is busily re-arranging books in the shelves outside, and my attention is caught by a young father and his giggling little girl sneaking up on mom who’s walking slowly ahead, waiting to be surprised.

Meanwhile the table on my right has changed couples three times this morning, each pair sitting down, ordering their coffee and settling down to read the morning papers. Here comes a single woman to take the table on my left, and her longhaired pup, with bangs perfectly combed, politely pokes his head between us to say hi. His attention is diverted when the waitress sets down coffee and tartines; an eager bark, and, yes, they are sharing breakfast. The couple on the right snarl disapproval, but the canine and his mistress ignore them.

I look up to see that the music vendor and his crank organ have been liberated of the unwanted accompianist and are now churning out Montand’s “A Paris”. Yes, it’s a perfectly content Sunday on rue Cler, à Paris.

Wednesday, 20 June 2007

Rolling Stones, it's a blast!

The Rolling Stones ROCK! Despite a nasty cold, I got to the Stade de France early, to wait around on the “golden” pelouse, the grassy area closest to the stage, along with colleagues/friends from the OECD. Frances brought along vodka and straws, and I had cookies and water, and we stood there for hours surrounded by thousands of other people, waiting for the show to begin.

Star-something was the opening act, good talent but not really stellar – why couldn’t the Stones have opened with something more bluesy, more soul? Then, part of the problem is it’s so light out – no flashy light show to help the mood.

But Mick and the boys jumped into it with Start Me Up, and it was high energy. Newer songs – Rough Justice, She Was Hot – and jams throughout the first set up to the intro’s, then the golden oldies. Waiting on a Friend was mellow, surprising, and Sympathy for the Devil was HOT (pun intended). Satisfaction and Brown Sugar rocked, and the Brown Sugar video was sexy-soft on the eyes.

But don’t take my word for it – check out the blogs at

And hey, for you fans of Pirates of the Caribbean and Captain Jack Sparrow, Keith Richards is indeed a hoot! I knew Johnny Depp had modeled his role on Keith, but didn't realise how incredibly well done it is indeed. Whenever Keith Richards was spotlighted on stage, it was a giggle to be getting flashbacks of Pirates! And when I watched YouTubes of Keith from the 70s, Cap'n Jack and Keith are twins, NOT son and father.

A better reference for those who don't care for Pirates is the YouTube of Mick Jagger and Dick Cavett's interview from 1972, when Dick asks Mick, "So how long can you keep this up, do you think you'll still be touring when you're 60 years old?" Mick: "I don't see why not!"

Me either, Mick.

Shows coming up in Paris, not to miss!

22 June -
George Michael, Stade de France

23 June – Lou Reed “Berlin”, Palais des Congres de Paris

28 June - Hommage à Serge Gainsbourg: with Marianne Faithfull, Jean-Louis Aubert, Jane Brikin, Carla Bruni, at the Salle Pleyel

30 June – Genesis
, Parc des Princes,,,001.html

30 June – Gay Pride
, street theatre at its most fun!

Sunday, 3 June 2007

Roaring 20s alive and well in Paris

It's not prohibition, but Yves Riquet's speakeasy is the best excuse for drinking rye whiskey that I've found yet. Generous bon-vivant Yves shares his glowing enthusiasm, passion and extraordinary knowledge of the jazz era with friends, musicians, artists, dancers and, well, acquaintances like me. We met at the 4th of July party I organised in 2006 around the theme of the 20s. Lucky me - Saturday or Sunday afternoons at his cave in the 18th arrondissement are convivial, enlightening and sparkling FUN. Players from the troupe of the Josephine Baker musical came along to the opening and chatted and performed, pianists Jean-Paul Amoureux and Pierre Bertrand are regulars, and Axel Zwingenberger and Vince Weber, in town for the weekend, joined us on Saturday 2 June for a four-piano extravaganza. Pinch me, I'm dreaming!

Wednesday, 23 May 2007

Tom Stoppard

I got to shake hands with Tom Stoppard and I am delighted! He attended the play Generation Jean by the Belarus Free Theatre, on the same day that he won 7 awards from New York theatre journalists and critics for his play The Coast of Utopia. In my recent voyage of getting to know theatre I now am a bit familiar with the work and aspirations of Robert Lepage, Bob Wilson and now Tom Stoppard, and it is inspiring, and humbling.

Now I am starting to think that meeting Johnny Depp may not be so impossible after all....

Monday, 21 May 2007

Horses and Irish Luck

Sunday 20 May – It was the annual Irish day for the Galop de Dimanche at Longchamps racetrack, and Hilary and Gael Staunton from Irish Eyes invited me there out for lunch and a bit of gambling. Well, it was a jour de chien, dripping Irish rain all day, and so their green-tented cabane offering shelter and entertainment for children was mobbed. We had our hands full from 2-6pm showing little ones how to mold clay with leaves and then carve their names in gaelic. Great fun, got my kid fix in for a while, and actually watched the last 30 seconds of one of the final races! Bonus: got a free invite to go to the track at Auteuil next Sunday, looking for a gambling partner.

Les excès de Paris

Saturday, 19 May – Les nuit des musées calls. Didn’t even know it was happening until coffee hour after aerobics and a couple of friends invite me to go with to the Musée Branly, which is open until 10pm tonight, and for free, with jugglers, dancers, music, drums. Went along at 8pm, found a line that snaked around the block, so instead we went through the café and ended up sharing a bottle of Pouilly Fumé with a couple of chirpy French women from the neighborhood, Yvonne and Nicole.

The park of the Musée Branly is great, situated as it is practically underneath the museum itself – which interior I’ve yet to see, since the lines have always been exaggerated after it opened last fall! When the foliage catches up to the landscaper’s vision, the park will be lovely, and colorfully exotic.

So instead, after some wine and pasta chez moi (with a superb sauce I scrambled together a l’improviste), Abby, Lynn and I wandered over to the Dome des Invalides and enjoyed the music and lights over Napoleon’s tomb, with neighbor Vincent joining us. Breathtaking, the men’s choir and the Corsican quartet and the horns, the sound vibrated throughout this cathedralic monument, a surreal bit of Saturday midnight pleasure.

Friday, 18 May 2007

Belarus Free Theatre in Paris

NOT TO MISS - the performances of the Belarus Free Theatre at Maisons Alfort this week and next. Saw two performances last night, Technique of Respiration in an Airless Space and Being Harold Pinter, and they were both strong and vibrant. Next Tuesday, 22nd May, Tom Stoppard hopes to be in the audience, and the troupe will be showing their recently finished documentary.


Tuesday, 8 May 2007

Photo: Alvis Hermanis - photographer, Epaminontas Stilianidis

New Realities:
Disturbing the sounds of silence

Theatre in the dark – as in ages or mood, as in approach or “hasn’t a clue”. All were to be found at the recent Europe Theatre Prize, an awards event that took place in Thessaloniki, Greece, from 26-29 April. One theme that threaded its way through the weekend was, as prizewinner Robert Lepage put it, “Theatre as communication: we try to change our public and to change the world.”

Dark ages: Think revolution, dissidence, struggle and art. Hark back to the sixties, when youth had specific issues they were fighting for or against, not just torching cars and spray-painting their 21st century angst. Yes, there is still oppression in continental Europe, and a clandestine theatre company from Minsk talked up their cause and their conflicts

During the breaks between symposia and performances, Belarus Free Theatre spoke with participants about how the theatre they created two years ago got closed by the state; how they secretly produce plays in apartments whose location and dates are obtained by discreet word-of-mouth and cellphone; how the government hinders their travel. Despite the roadblocks, and helped by such notables as Tom Stoppard, Vaclav Havel and Harold Pinter, the company has been nominated for next year’s Europe Theatre Prize for New Realities, and will be performing in France for the next two weeks.

The New Realities prizewinner for this year, Latvian Alvis Hermanis, best known for his breathtaking verbatim play “Long Life”, also talked about growing up under Soviet repression in Riga. He described in an interview in Thessaloniki how he and his friends would secretly gather to tune into Radio Free Europe, to watch forbidden Western videos, exchange forbidden books. It was a dark period, he said, and projected a series of short pieces called Sound of Silence, thespian exercises based on songs from Simon and Garfunkel’s eponymous album. One was a portrayal of people crowding into a tiny room to listen to the radio and moving different metal objects around as receivers to try and capture the elusive radio waves.

Speaking of “theatre in the dark”, he stated his dream to make “light” theatre, arguing that Simon and Garfunkel represented the last spirit of utopia in the 20th century: “There was such positive energy in those songs, before we lost our innocence and purity”.

Taking the idea a step further, Hermanis said, “Today especially, theatre should be about getting people out of their houses and together, so that they’re not just huddled incessantly over their computers, their TVs, listening only to their stereos, cellphones, Ipods.”

Alexandru Darie, head of the European theatre union, also spoke of days as a theatre student in Romania when western materials were forbidden books and videos were smuggled in. “What a change when the walls came down,” he said. Plays were brought in, communications opened up, and he became first head of the state theatre and now head of the union. His voice cracked as he said, “I only got to see live performances by Lepage and Hermanis in the last few years, and it was so moving to finally see these pieces come alive.”

Accepting his New Realities prize, Hermanis said, “In the past, artists were bohemian, self-destructive, alcoholic; but the art they created was always seeking beauty, humanity. Nowadays we artists behave very nicely, more like businessmen, we drink mineral water, do sports, go to bed early. But we create art that is pessimistic and dark, focusing on the dark side of our lives. It would be a good challenge for artists to present a more positive theatre. I think our brains are too large, and our hearts are too small. But we have to try.”

Belarus Free Theatre performs in France at Nancy from 8-12 May, and in Paris from 15 May to 2 June, 2007. See


I recently returned from the European Theatre Prize in Thessaloniki, where Robert Lepage won the top award, and won us all over with his generous personality and passionate ideas. Discovered Alvis Hermanis, one of the New Realities prizewinners, and his incredible piece, Long Life. Met the Free Theatre troup from Belarussie, and a host of other interesting people, too numerous to mention. A few articles will soon be posted, describing the event. Meanwhile, see Michael Billington's inspired yet scathing article for the Guardian Unlimited at