Friday, December 31, 2004

You Say You Want a Resolution?

Jim Haynes' now defunct pet project, TheVillage of The Paris Arts Club, 8 rue Nevers, Paris, 6me, France (December 2000), Photo: Marco Polo

The New York Daily News' Page Sixgossip column reports that Kaiser Karl Lagerfeld, "who dropped from 227 pounds to a scarily svelte 135, advises, 'At dinner parties, slide the food to the center of the dish and later squeeze it all together on the side of the plate. So as not to offend the host, occasionally put the fork to your mouth and make believe.' "

Yum. Now let's make that a Futurists' menu and all of the world will be perfect! To whet your appetite, here's just a taste of what's to come:

Aerofood (formula by the Futurist Aeropainter Fillia)

The diner is served from the right with a plate containing some black olives, fennel hearts and kumquats. From the left he is served with a rectangle made of sandpaper, silk and velvet. The foods must be carried directly to the mouth with the right hand while the left hand lightly and repeatedly strokes the tactile rectangle. In the meantime the waiter sprays the napes of the diners' necks with a conprofumo of carnations while from the kitchen comes contemporaneously a violent conrumore of an aeroplane motor and some dismusica by Bach.

--from The Futurist Cookbook (La Cucina Futurista) by Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, 1932 (translated by Suzanne Brill)

Thursday, December 30, 2004

You say it's your birthday...

And I say, "I'm so glad you were born!"

Of Unexpected Acts of Kindness and Clementines

It is either late at night now or early morning, depending on whether you are a "glass half full or half empty" sort of person. I am sitting here sipping a glass of a lovely unfiltered Domaine la Montagnette 2003 Cotes du Rhone rouge which I bought several weeks ago after noticing a little tag saying it had also been selected for the wine list at Jean-Ro Bistro downtown. (I figured if it was good enough for Jean-Robert de Cavel, it was good enough for me!) The last remaining brownie of the batch is close at hand now, the really good kind with two sides of chewy crust, and I am pleased to report that the wine complements its flavor very well. I am tempted to pull a clementine or two out of the refrigerator to rest on the the kitchen table and warm up for breakfast tomorrow. I must admit, I have a real jones for clementines, but their cost is tres cher. Still, I must have them. What can I say? They always take me back to Paris.

After Jef and I left the Montmartre creperie, we headed back to the Abbesses Metro stop where I noticed little flyers advertising the services of gypsy fortunetellers littering the ground. Although they were wet from the rain, I picked one up as a souvenir. Jef walked me back to the hotel from the Cirque d'Hiver and said he'd call me about our plans for Jim's New Year's Eve party the next day.

Once in my room, I collapsed onto the bed and looked at the clock. It was getting late and I had told Denis when he had called earlier that I would meet him at 8 at the little restaurant to the right of the Fontaine St. Michel. Dolling myself up a little with my new Chanel eyeshadow and spritzing myself lightly with Guerlain's new fragrance Mahora, I waited impatiently for my nail polish to dry. Checking the time again, I decided I had to head out. This time I was not going to waste my time taking two trains to get there. I had decided to take the bus down through the Marais to the Latin Quarter. It wound around through a maze of little streets, but it was fun to see the shop windows full of their Christmas displays. In fact, I had tried it out a couple of days before, just so I would know where I was going in the dark. My little evening bag wouldn't hold my faithful companion, Michelin's Paris par arrondissements. But that was OK. After all, I knew where I was going, didn't I?

The bus was crowded and I had to stand, but I was glad to be on my way. The streets were full of people, too, and I enjoyed watching them. But something was wrong. Suddenly the bus had stopped and the driver was making an announcement. We were at Chatelet and he was yelling, "Terminus"! What I hadn't realized was that on Saturday night, the regular Paris buses just stop operating at 8 pm! Luckily, I recognized the area as one that I had been to a few days earlier, looking for the Théâtre de la Ville where the Japanese Butoh group Sankai Juku was scheduled to perform. Everybody on the bus had the same problem now. I decided to follow the crowd across the bridge and soon found myself at the restaurant.

It was crowded and we didn't have a reservation, but Denis was already sitting at a table, waiting for me. He helped me off with my coat and we exchanged bises on each cheek. It seemed a little drafty, we were so close to the door. But who's complaining. I was in Paris on a date with a handsome, intelligent Frenchman. What's not to like? There was some discussion of le vache fou ("mad cow") and Denis said that restaurants were no longer serving steak tartare. He seemed especially disappointed. But soon we ordered drinks and became engrossed in conversation. Originally we had planned to have dinner and then go somewhere else to hear some jazz, but Denis was as green as I was when it came to where to go. He was not a Parisien, he said, in fact he found them rather cold. Although he worked as a research scientist at the Pasteur Institute, he lived in the suburbs and took the RER to and from work. He was single, played the violin, went faithfully every year to the Verbier Festival in Switzerland, and loved Nigel Kennedy's music. In fact that was our common thread. I had met Nigel a couple of years earlier and we had hit it off. He is a geniunely brilliant musician and a generous, passionate, intelligent human being as well. It was a huge pleasure to be invited to spend a little "down time" with him after concerts.

I was so engrossed in conversation with Denis that I cannot recall a thing I ate, but the time flew by quickly and I realized that I had to leave immediately in order to catch the Metro back to my hotel. Ironically, the RER, which the suburbanites use, runs later than the Metro, so Denis had more time to spend than I did. He walked me to St. Michel station and said he would call me the next day. We still had a jazz club to go to before I left for home!

The train came and I was relieved to see it. It wasn't very full. A short time later, when we arrived back at Strasbourg-St. Denis, my transfer point, I thought everything was cool. I could still hear the sound of trains roaring in the background as I made my way to the other platform. And then, suddenly, I realized that I was the only person left, except for a French couple sitting on a bench nearby, seemingly in the middle of an argument. They were attractive and well-dressed, trés bon chic, bon genre, but yelling at each other over the disembodied voice that echoed high above us in the tiled tunnel. I am not exactly helpless when it comes to speaking and reading French, but the voice came out of nowhere and, with it, fumbling noises, like Inspector Clouseau shuffling around a big old-fashioned desk microphone. This happened over and over again! I gathered the jist of things was that we had just missed the last train and so were out of luck. The French woman kept looking up toward the ceiling and yelling for the disembodied voice to shut up. Finally, they rose to leave and then, without warning, she started screaming. There were rats down there and she had just come eyeball to eyeball with one. I could wait no longer. "Pardonnez-moi, madame. Je suis Américaine. Parlez-vous anglais?" She did and we ran up the stairs to the street where they told me they were planning to take a taxi down to Bastille to go bar-hopping. After asking where I was staying, they offered to give me a lift to my hotel. Unfortunately, the queue for taxis was already quite long, so her boyfriend decided that we would walk. He took off at a brisk pace and seemed amused that I was able to keep up. Little did he know how many months of religiously working out at the Y had gone into my plans. Ironically, now it was all paying off.

I was relieved to be in their company, especially since I had left my map at home. Although I'd been through the Strasbourg-St. Denis station many times over the previous week, I had never been at street level and had NO idea where we were. It turned out that we were fairly close to Republique which was not too far from my hotel. We walked down the Boulevard Voltaire at a fast clip, stopping in at a little grocery store along the way. I bought a bottle of vin rouge to take back to the hotel and the boyfriend bought a handful of clementines. He handed me a couple as a gift and they insisted on walking me all the way to the door of my hotel to make sure I was safely home.

I can't remember their names, but I will always think of them as my special angels, especially after I finally took that first sweet, juicy bite of clementine.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

The Most Beautiful Gift in the World

It's still December 30, 2000 in my mind's eye and I have just left Chez Jim in Montparnasse. It's back to the Alesia Metro station and a return trip to Strasbourg-St. Denis. As the train passed by the St. Germain des Pres stop, I was attracted to the words I unexpectedly saw projected on the ceiling of the station's tunnel. Could it really be an art installation? OOO la la! Only in Paris! I vowed to return soon and investigate.

At Strasbourg-St. Denis I made the "up the stairs, down the hall, down the stairs" transfer trek again. The train came quickly and I arrived at my destination, Bonne Nouvelle, almost immediately. I mounted the steps to the street and, looking around, trying to get my bearings, I turned and made my way in the now heavy rain toward the boulevard de l'Echiquiers, near les Grands Boulevards.

My friend Jef Tombeur had invited me to stop by his apartment before my big date. Since it was my first trip to Paris, he had courageously volunteered to be my tour guide for a little visit to Montmartre. Unfortunately for Jef, I no longer felt much enthusiasm for such a diversion. I was thoroughly wet, chilled to the bone, AND my feet hurt. Not to mention the fact that I hadn't had a thing to eat all day. Understand now, this is probably, oh--4:00 pm or so. And Paris, being so far north, gets dark really early in winter, like around 5 pm. All I really wanted to do was sit and rest my feet in Jef's apartment, get warm, and then go back to my hotel before freshening up to meet Denis at 8. What can I say? I was cranky. But Jef, determined enough for both of us, was geared up for his task. After I finally thawed out, we ventured back to the metro, caught the train, and exited at the Abbesses stop at the foot of Montmartre.

Once on the street, I could see we were in an exciting part of the city, crowded with people and many African markets and shops. We passed a boutique with a window full of beautiful large strands of amber and other African jewelry, as the men inside motioned for us to come in. I was so tempted. But it was getting late and so we trudged on to the funicular and the short journey to Sacre Coeur. Disembarking, we found ourselves in near darkness, but the beauty of the fully lit Sacre Coeur was still evident. A short distance away was the well-known cabaret, Au Lapin Agile. It was really dark now and Jef led me slowly along a tall iron fence, away from the church. I felt tired and hungry and kind of discouraged and then, suddenly, he said, "Look!" and pointed down the hill. I could see, for the first time, that universal symbol of Paris and love, la tour Eiffel, its lights twinkling brightly in the distance. And hanging just above it, to the right, was a beautiful crescent moon, accented by an especially bright star--Venus. It was so unexpected and so incredibly moving that I found myself in tears. It was dark so Jef couldn't see them and soon we made our way back to the street, where we ended up at a small creperie for a snack and some vin rouge. There was a little old man playing the piano and leading the crowd in French chansons. The warmth of the food, the wine flowing through my veins, the charm of the music--at last, I felt revived.

It wasn't Christmas anymore, and to my great regret, I never told him so, but Jef had given me the most beautiful gift in the world.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

My First Time and Jim Haynes

It was December 30, 2000 and I was in Paris for the first time, staying at the Hotel Beaumarchais on the trendy rue Oberkampf. I had ventured out into the cold, grey, rainy morning to travel to Montparnasse where I was to meet the legendary American ex-pat Jim Haynes at his atelier, prior to attending his New Year's Eve party the next night at a bistro near the Pont Neuf.

I had first "discovered" Jim Haynes months before, while doing research for my visit. Only Google knows how I first came to find him, but once I did I knew I was hooked. A sexagenerian, recently retired from teaching "Sexual Politics" at the Sorbonne, Jim settled in Scotland after a tour of duty there with the U.S. Air Force in the mid-1950s. After being discharged, he employed his entrepreneurial spirit to create The Paperback, Britain's first paperback bookshop. With friends, he co-founded the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Later, during the "swinging 60s", he moved to London where he introduced playwright Sam Shepard's work and, with friends, co-created The Arts Lab, an experimental space for performance art and home to John and Yoko's notorious "Bag Piece". He also later co-edited a sex magazine out of Amsterdam called "Suck" along with the feminist Germaine Greer. In the late 60s, after the 1968 student riots in Paris, he was invited to teach at an experimental university there. He has lived in Paris ever since and every Sunday he is in town, he's invited anyone looking for an interesting time, along with a great buffet dinner and unlimited wine, beer, or soft drinks, to call him and make a reservation to be a part of his weekly party. There is a donation of around 25 euros requested, with any surplus money after expenses being donated to charity. And you are guaranteed to have a good time!

It was a two train trip, departing on the #9 train from the Filles de Calvaires station near the Cirque d'Hiver and transferring at Strasbourg-St. Denis. Up stairs, down long hallway, down stairs. Finally on the #4 train headed toward the Porte d'Orleans and, just before it, my stop--Alesia. After a long walk down rue Alesia, I came to 83, rue de la Tombe-Issoire and its "draguerie". After entering the door code on a keypad (Jim had thoughtfully given it to me when we'd spoken on the phone the night before), the gate opened and I followed the walkway to Jim's door. It was unlocked and, upon entering, I found myself inside a large open kitchen with an industrial stove and a huge refrigerator. People were scattered around the room, cutting up vegetables and preparing dishes for the party, as Jim called to greet me from his office loft on the second floor overlooking the kitchen. "Come on up," he called.

I started up the staircase, marvelling at the way he had managed to jam so many videotapes and books inside the shelves adjacent to it. And these were large videotapes, perhaps documenting some of the many "happenings" he had produced in the late 60s. Maybe his old neighbor and friend, the writer Henry Miller, was in there somewhere, too--who knows?

Jim rose from his chair and promptly kissed me on both cheeks, asking how my journey had been. He was tall and craggily handsome with shaggy brown hair shot through with grey and a large mustache, almost curling upwards at the ends. He had a strange way of making me feel as if we had been friends for years and were just picking up a conversation that had begun long ago. He complained lightly of computer woes and then asked me about my trip. I told him that I was supposed to have dinner in the Latin Quarter that night with a French doctor I'd never met before named Denis. I had come across him on a Dutch message board for fans of violinist Nigel Kennedy. I had Googled him, too, and felt safe enough--I knew Denis played the violin, loved both classical and jazz, had recently returned to France after working several years at a university in Australia, and appeared to be quite the athlete--skiiing, scuba diving, hang-gliding. There was a photo, too, and I could see that he was quite handsome. I wouldn't have a problem recognizing him if I could just get Jim to recommend a good restaurant close to the Fontaine St. Michel!

Jim pulled out his diary of business cards and starting thumbing through it, looking for something exotic. His book was huge and I was impressed by how well organized it was, all alphabetical and neat. We finally agreed that it was more important to just establish a rendezvous point, inside and out of the cold and then, if we didn't like it, we could just move on.

That settled, Jim and I went back downstairs where some of his other friends had appeared. There was Bjorn, a student from Sweden; Natalia, a pretty girl from Siberia ("She doesn't want to go back," Jim said. "Can you blame her?"); and Sven, an official at UNESCO from Denmark who had recently returned from Germany bearing a gift of Westphalian ham for Jim's party ("We are drowning in Iraqi oil!" is the comment I recall him making, UNESCO being the arm of the United Nations dealing with the "Food for Oil" program.)

I sat down on one of the banquettes lining two walls of the room and just drank in the conversation, enjoying the aroma of food bubbling away on the stove, all the while admiring the tall narrow windows along the northern side of the room. Extending two stories, they let in the misty grey afternoon light. Did I remember to mention this used to be Henri Matisse's atelier?

Monday, December 27, 2004

Ice, Ice, Baby

Here we are, stuck in the midst of an untimely (for the transportation-challenged, like me, anyway) early winter storm and running out of food supplies. On the other hand, I am safe and at home, snuggled in a warm blanket, the heat in my house is ON, and I am exploring Paris again, only this time via cookbooks. I am yearning for hot soup, perhaps a potato-based potage. There are, after all, nearly five pounds of spuds stashed in the kitchen cupboard. And what could be more inspiring than that?