Rabelais and the Rampart

November 24th, 2014

rabelaisThe other day I was walking in the Marais, in the part down by the Seine, and as I cut up the rue des Jardins Saint-Paul, heading toward the big church of Saint Paul, I couldn’t help thinking about one of my favorite French literary heroes, François Rabelais, who lived on this street in the 1550s.Today we freely banter the adjective of his name, Rabelaisian – “marked by gross robust humor,” as the dictionary says – but let’s not forget that François Rabelais was the first French novelist, famed for The Most Fearsome Life of the Great Gargantua and Pantagruel, rollicking tomes about brilliant prank-loving giants, father and son, let loose on Renaissance Paris, both books published in the 1530s. Much of the writing consists of wildly comical satire by this offbeat Benedictine lay priest of the strict Catholic-run University of Paris’s theological dogma – this in the early days of the Protestant Reformation. Dissenters were being burned at the stake for far less, Rabelais’s own publisher Etienne Dolet being one of them. Luckily, Rabelais had a stalwart protector: the Bishop of Paris.

marais rampartBut the books deal with many other things as well: the Medieval wall of Paris, for instance.

Built by King Philippe Auguste at the turn of the 13th century, a 100-yard stretch of it still stands, the largest vestige extant, nine meters high with two round towers standing. It boards on a large sports field just down from the Lycée Charlemagne. In Rabelais’s time it stood directly across from his house on the rue des Jardins Saint-Paul. In Pantagruel, Rabelais makes fun of the ancient ramparts, which were still the first line of defence on the Left Bank of Paris. In it, Pantagruel’s sidekick Panurge (“a mischievous rogue, a cheat, a boozer, a roisterer”) says:

“Oh, how strong they are! They’re just the thing for keeping goslings in a coop. By my beard, they are pretty poor defences for a city like this. Why, a cow could knock down more than twelve foot of them with a single fart.”

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Giving the Costes Another Try

November 23rd, 2014

costes bastilleI’m not a huge fan of the Costes restaurants, especially their original homebase, L’Hotel Costes, which doesn’t live up to its prices and has a flaky wait staff to boot. HOWEVERRRR, I have to admit that my most recent visit to one of the Costes’ Paris cafés really made me rethink my preset judgment.

I enjoyed a fabulous lunch at Le Café Français. Still not that well known even among the Costes-addicts, this latest Beaumarly (their group name) location opened its doors in the Place de la Bastille less than a year ago – and thank goodness it did.

meal at costes bastilleHere you can enjoy your lunch in a beautifully lit dining room where you’ll be served generously portioned dishes that respectfully represent the link between hard work and quality all while being served by very pleasant, smiling servers. As you can see, they really pull out all the stops.

Sporting a color scheme straight out of India, this place has a very anti-boudoir feel with the tiles leading out to a bright veranda that you only see in your dreams.
That veranda allowed me to enjoy my cig without fighting the blistering cold. To top it off, we were able to enjoy an amazing view of the Bastille.

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Eh ben…

November 21st, 2014

french videoIt’s Friday. This is all I got. Passez un bon ouiquend.

An English-Language Theatre Festival

November 20th, 2014

MD-photo1Despite its hard-to-remember name – Dionysia (Die-oh-nice-ee-a) – the English-language theatre competition and festival has done nothing but grow. I asked Chris Newens to fill us in on The Montmartre Dionysia III. He writes

The third year of this biannual event takes place December 1-6, bringing 4 plays – chosen from 30 entrants – to compete across Paris for the prize, amid a week of other theatrical treats. MD-photo4A total of 11 plays are being staged. The 4 competition pieces will be joined by more warm-up acts, plays from previous festival participants, a couple of Harold Pinter shorts, and a one-off event “Forget the Applause,” where, come the final curtain, the audience will be invited to bite back.

Details here

A Rose is Arose

November 19th, 2014

mtthew rose show at the brooklynYour rentree began last September but it is not complete without taking in a show of art in an independent gallery in the Marais — n’est-ce pas? I recommend seeing “Lost for Words,” which is in its last 11 days of an extended show at The Brooklyn. It’s a collection of collages by Matthew Rose, one of the city’s most prolific expats. You may have come across Matthew, or his work, through his music, art, writing, or in person at Fashion Week translating for the New York Times‘ former fashion critic. His art is exuberant and playful, and I’d say the dude has some pretty Catholic taste for a Long Island Jew. Click here for more images from the installation.

The Brooklyn, 58 Rue Quincampoix 75004

lost for words

7th Annual Fashion Film Fest

November 18th, 2014

shaded view of fashion film fest 2014A Shaded View on Fashion Film Festival is the first film festival dedicated to fashion, style, and beauty. For the 7th edition of the worldwide festival, Diane Pernet has curated a much more versatile program of the fashion film genre, stating, “The worlds of fashion and film both work around the notion of dream and reality.”

ASVOFF 7 will feature cinema luminaries Alejandro Jodorowsky, Mike Figgis, Milo Manara, Ellen Von Unwerth, Bruce Weber, Christopher Doyle, Bruce LaBruce, Adan Jodorowsky, David Lachapelle, Blanca Li, Jonathan Caouette, Sofia Sanchez & Mauro Mongiello and Tim Yip. An impressive list of talent headlines the films this year including Jessica Chastain, Kirsten Dunst, Jim Jarmusch, Tllda Swinton, and Asia Argento. An esteemed list of influential figures in the fashion and artistic world include Dries Van Noten, president of the jury, along with Rem Koolhaas, Eugene Hernandez from the Film Society at Lincoln Center, Sophie Dulac, Li Edelkoort, and Bruce Benderson.

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No Joke

November 16th, 2014

clown bar2When I first moved to Paris in 2005, I frequented Le Clown Bar, a cozy restaurant next door to Le Cirque d’Hiver. Loaded with charm, the interior from the turn of the century had tile inserts with clown motifs, along with an excellent two-course menu for about 25 euros. As I became more familiar with restaurants closer to my apartment, Le Clown Bar fell by the wayside.

Having practically forgotten about Le Clown Bar all these years, I read they reopened with new management, a new chef, and revamped menu. Curious and a little nostalgic, I went back a few weeks ago.

clown bar 1Walking in, my memory was flooded with notable meals and my naiveté about Paris when I first arrived. It hadn’t changed much and I still loved the ceramic tiles with the clowns and the handsome bar, which thankfully were left in tact. The rest of the restaurant had been modernized, adding an airier and lighter feel to than before, along with opening the cramped space a little more.

My friend and I snagged a nice table overlooking the front window. Perusing the appealing menu, hard pressed to single out some our choices, we both decided to go for the double duck, a starter of house made foie gras and a mysterious dish I never heard of before, duck in a pastry crust.

clown bar 3The presentation of the foie gras covered with round disks of razor thin raw mushrooms serve on a light teal blue ceramic plate, was like a work of modern day sculpture or Japanese origami. I am not that fond of raw mushrooms, but the thin slices worked for me. The foie gras was so good on its own, it didn’t need bread to accompany it.

The mystery plat also had a dramatic presentation, a ball of shiny pastry stuffed with meat, with a bundle of spinach leaves in the middle surrounded by a pool of gravy. My friend and I spent a few moments admiring our dish before we dug in. However there was no place setting and we asked the waitress for flatware and she instructed us to open the draw under the table, where we found our knives, forks, and spoons. The pastry was rich and flaky and the duck tender and juicy, and the gravy gave it even more moisture. Too stuffed, we were sorry we had to forego dessert, since our other dishes were so satisfying.

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Tower-Adjacent Dining

November 15th, 2014

bon acceuil restaurantEating around the Eiffel Tower is not THAT difficult, but you can’t really be too picky.  It’s pretty much a choice between restaurants that are overpriced for what you get, restaurants that don’t allow reservations and are packed, or humdrum joints that aren’t worth staying in the area for. This is why I’m so glad to have found Au Bon Accueil (“nice welcome” ).

The restaurant sits in a tranquil street with the Eiffel Tower just right above you. Pretty cool huh? The place itself is pretty swank with not the warmest, but polite, waiters. Albeit full of tourists, I really liked the atmosphere right off the bat.  You have your tourists, with or without their backpacks and children, sitting next to a number of Parisian businessmen.

The cuisine served at Au Bon Accueil is modern French and you have a choice between a set menu starter + main + dessert at 32€ and a 5-course set menu at 50€. I started with a Smoked Duck Carpaccio with Mesclun Salad and Green Pea Puree. The duck was tender and full of great smoky flavor and worked great with the vinaigrette of the salad and the velvety green pea puree.

bon acceuil 2Marinated Salmon with Zucchini and Red Pepper Coulis was equally beautiful, bursting with vibrant color and freshness. This dish was not only light but really savory! The fine slices of salmon were of good quality, and the veggie variations fun to eat.  I’m a huge fan of well-cooked vegetables but there’s nothing worse than overcooked lifeless vegetables.

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An American in Paris, Posthumously

November 14th, 2014

gw1The Jeu de Paume is host to the first retrospective in 25 years of the American photographer Garry Winogrand (1928-1984). He is considered in the same league as the American photographers Walker Evans, Robert Frank and Lee Friedlander. Winogrand captured moments in life similar to the work of French photographers Robert Doisneau, Marc Riboud and Willy Ronis. From the exhibit, I gathered that he admired most the works of Eugène Atget, Brassaï, Walker Evans and Diane Arbus.

garry winogrand 2Garry Winogrand was always on the search for something other than his own backyard. Capturing other people’s reactions and relationships seemed more important than capturing and protecting his personal relationships. It seems that everything to him was a fleeting moment: It happens, it is over, time to move on. He moved on and kept shooting and left many rolls of film unprocessed. Over sixty of those heretofore undeveloped images are now printed and on display.

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The 5-Year Wait Is Over

November 13th, 2014

picasso museum 1After five long years of renovations, the Marais’s Picasso Museum finally reopened to the public on October 25, 2014, and at more than double its pre-renovation size.

The building itself, the 17th century Hôtel Salé, is an impressive structure in itself, and it offers some beautiful rooftop views of Paris.

Unfortunately, I found the layout of the museum to be a bit confusing. There are signs pointing you in the “sense de la visite“, but you end up having to backtrack after hitting some dead ends, and there does not seem to be a lot of logic to the order of the works.

picasso museum 2Despite the less-than-ideal layout, the museum is well worth visiting. A full-price ticket is €11; I highly recommend purchasing tickets online in advance for a specific date/time. This allows you to walk right in without waiting online. The museum is free the first Sunday of every month, though I think it’s worth the €11 to avoid the lines.

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