Head of State

Eureka! They've found it...

...the head of the Good King Henri!

Henri de Navarre is famous for bringing a period of great prosperity and peace to France.  Originally a Protestant, he famously said, "Paris vaut bien une messe!" (Paris is worth a mass) when he converted to take the thrown.  His Edict of Nantes granted religious freedom and saved the country from self-destruction.  He also is famous for promising his people they would have the means to have a chicken in their pots each Sunday.

Dr. Philippe Charlier and twenty of his scientist buddies have verified that the skull belongs to him because of the following characteristics:
  • A small dark spot under his right nostril
  • Evidence that his right ear was pierced, which was the fashion in the Valois court
  • A lesion indicated a slash above his lip that he sustained in an assassination attempt
How, you may ask, did the head part company with the body?  Well, Henri IV was buried with the other kings of France after he was assassinated by a religious fanatic in 1610.  Then the French Revolution hit; things got crazy.  Some people who were rather less than happy with the system of monarchy broke into all the tombs of the king of France, dragged out their moldering remains and burned them in the Commune.  Henri's head got cut off and kept while his body got tossed.  So since, 1793(ish) the head's just been bopping around, passing from one antique collection to the next.

Isn't that deliciously bizarre, gruesomely awesome?  Where can I buy a skull?!

"Alas, poor [Henri]! I knew him, Horratio"

P.S. Here is the article about the discovery in Le Monde, if you want to practice your Franch.


That Time of Year

"I have never let my schooling interfere with my education."
Mark Twain

I generally try to follow the example of Mark Twain, but unfortunately my schooling has to take the front seat for a bit.  I may not post much this week, but I'm still alive. Finals period is as un-fun in French as it is in English.  Who'd have thunk it?

Gros bisous,

La Comédie-Française

Title: La Comédie-Française, aka Le Théâtre-Français or La maison de Molière
Location : Place Colette, Paris 1er
Theatres : La Salle Richelieu, le Vieux-Colombier, le Studio-Théâtre
Motto : Simul et singulis

The Comédie-Française is the national theatre of France.  It plays the "repertoire," that is to say all the French classics. The goal is to keep alive France's rich theatrical heritage and to bring it to the French people. 

The main theatre, the Salle Richelieu, is an enormous, beautiful salle a l'italienne that has been located in the Palais-Royal since 1799.  There is a lot of gold and red velvet involved ; according to a teacher who worked at the comedie-francaise, the chandelier is practically a historical landmark in and of itself.

I'm always in the nose-bleed section...
Sometimes called "La maison de Moliere," this theatre was where the great French playwright played before aristocrats and royalty.  He died there, too, during a not so imaginary turn in "La Malade imaginaire."  The green chair in which he died is displayed at la Comedie.  The color green, considered a harbinger of bad luck, is now rarely used on French stages.

La Comedie-Francaise is made up of sociétaires and pensionaires, all of whom are technically government officials.  It is run by an administrateur général who is elected by his or her peers ; the sociétaires also vote to determine who moves into the company, who stays, and who get kicked out.  All the actors must come from the Conservatoire national supérieur d'art dramatique, which takes about thirty pupils per year.  They are the best of the best, and watching them is a class in acting unto itself :

Les femmes savantes


La grande magie

Standing in line for 5€ last minute tickets,

P.S. Stole all these pictures.  Thanks internet!


Happy Hanukkah!

You may or may not know this about me, but in a previous life I was Jewish.  So last night I celebrated the Festival of Lights by meandering over to the Marais (the Jewish quarter/gayborhood of Paris) to poke around a little. 

I went to Chez Marianne for sweets - they have the whole schmeer.  All of the bakeries in the Marais are mushuggah good.  I don't think what I got was actually Jewish, but it's the thought that count's right?
Chez Marianne
Is baklava Jewish?  Maybe a little?  'Cause that's what I had.  I also got dattes fourrés à la pâte d'amande.  I don't know how to translate that other than "Almond-Date Cookies," but they are scrumptious.  They're Moroccan pastries that come in rose and pistachio flavor, and I can eat about one before I've reached my sugar quota for the week.

The French spell it "Hanoucca" - weird right?

P.S. Paris is a blizzard.


A Table Chez Isabelle

My host mother often tells me, always in a slow voice, "Tonight I'm making something that is traditionally French.  I don't know if you'll like it..." I tell her every time that I will like it and I always do.

Les choses qu'on mange qui sont typiquement françaises :

Le Hachis Parmentier - ground beef and mashed potatoes, kind of like shepherd's pie
Le Cassoulet - white beans and sausage
Le Pain Perdu - "French toast!"
Le Croque Monsieur - a sandwich invented in Paris: ham and cheese topped with sauce ; if it's a cheval, or topped with an egg, it's a croque madame
La Blanquette de Veau - veal in a white sauce with vegetables
La Racquelette - from the mountains, a dish where you melt cheese to eat with charcuterie and potatoes

In France, lots of people eat yogurt or yogurt's delicious cousin "fromage blanc" after dinner as dessert.

Bon appétit!


Un Froid de Canard

Paris is the coldest place on earth.  Okay, probably not, but this week, it's felt like it.  The temperature has been hovering around 0° C and it's been snowing quite a bit.

When I woke up this morning, it was sticking to the ground, which doesn't happen very much.  Here are some pictures of the Parc de Passy in the 16th arrondissement:

Il fait un froid de canard is an expression that means "It's damn cold."  I don't know what that has to do with ducks, but I rather like the saying.

Almost a popsicle,


A first time for everything

As a rule, I don't give money to beggars, street performers, or métro musicians.  You may find I'm unfeeling, ungenerous, tight-fisted, an enemy of the arts - call me what you will (I call myself "broke"), but it's just something I don't do.

However, last night I broke my rule.  When I got on the line 4, a man used the two poles that stand in the open part of the car to hang a black backdrop that had two green cactus-cutouts and a yellow moon sewn to it.  Then the music started (Pat Boone's Speedy Gonzales) and Speedy himself appeared in puppet form, complete with poncho, sombrero, and guitar, to "sing" to us.

All of the riders were surprised but amused.  One girl pulled out her camera to film the show.  We all made tickled eye contact with each other.  I had a front row seat and got special attention.  The most remarkable part of the performance was this : I laughed!  Normally the métro performers makes me want to change cars or crawl into a hole and die.

Anyway, j'ai craqué (I gave in) and gave Speedy a euro.  I figured a good unexpected giggle was worth that, at least.

Getting off at Vaugirard,



The French have some great old music (and some good new music too). Here is a small sampling of classics:

Minor Swing, Django Reinhardt

La Javanaise, Serge Gainsbourg

Le Plat Pays, Jacques Brel

Padam Padam, Edith Piaf

Les Champs-Élysées, par Joe Dessin

The French are still connected to the songs and artists of bygone days. For example, I danced to Les Champs-Élysées a party just this weekend.



I fell from the moon!

My favorite play of the semester so far was "Cyrano de Bergerac" at the Théâtre de la Tempête.  I made the trek out to the Bois de Vincennes, où se trouve le théâtre, earlier this week.

I fell under its spell; I almost couldn't tell you what I liked about it or if the play really lasted three hours, as my watch seemed to tell me.  The production hit many good notes.  The lighting recreated a silvery night like a poem might, the creations of the pâtissier, Ragueneau, looked like they could have dressed the set of Marie Antoinette, for the final Act, the stage was covered in rose petals.  The troupe reminded me of a Greek chorus, speaking and percussing in unison, moving around each other like dancers.  The Cyrano was arrogant, noble, vulnerable, explosive, tender, romantic, heart-wrenching - a poet-magician who had the power to light up the moon.

"I fell from the moon!" says Cyrano to the Conte de Guiche...

CYRANO (beaming with joy):
I have shot back to Paris!
(Quite at ease, laughing, dusting himself, bowing):
Come--pardon me--by the last water-spout,
Covered with ether,--accident of travel!
My eyes still full of star-dust, and my spurs
Encumbered by the planets' filaments!
(Picking something off his sleeve):
Ha! on my doublet?--ah, a comet's hair!. . .
(He puffs as if to blow it away.)

My theatre teacher explained to us that the French view Cyrano as a national symbol : at once grotesque in his timidity and sublime in his sacrifice.

Maybe I fell from the moon too,


American in Paris

Thanksgiving, the most (and only) North American holiday, made me think about being an American.  As an American in Paris, I'm certainly not alone. English is everywhere and American pop-culture has a definite presence here, too.

Here are some of my favorite Parisian transplants from the other side of the Atlantic:

Breakfast In America
B.I.A., as it's called, smells like the significant part of my childhood that I spent in Avalon Diner.  Milkshake of the week a while ago: The Obama - vanilla ice cream, chocolate sauce, peanut butter.

The name of the store that sells a cornucopia of American grocery products.  Aunt Jemima, Pace, and JIF live here.  Go only when desperate ; I had to promise my first born son to pay for my instant oatmeal.

Tea and Tattered Pages
In the anglophone bookstore scene of Paris, if Shakespeare and Company is the twenty-something hipster who wrote a senior thesis on "The Lady of Shallot" at a small liberal art college then Tea and Tattered Pages is the grandmother who had a quietly fascinating life of writing opera and seducing world leaders to shape modern politics before you knew her and who has kept every book she and her children ever read.  Go for used books, cinnamon toast, or to pet the big tabby cat who lives there.

Bagels and Brownies
Inventive sandwiches on bagels, which are thin on the ground in Paris.  Every sandwich has an American city for its name.  I'm partial to the Detroit (pronounced deh-twah) : smoked turkey, cream cheese, and cucumber.

Cinéma le Grand Action
A movie theater in the Latin Quarter that often shows old American movies.  Favorite field trip to date : "Roman Holiday" on the big screen.  Basically, it was a dream come true.

Looking over this list, I realize that 3/5 have to do with food. Hmmm...

Expat love,


Faux Amis

From my recent posts, you make think that I no longer live in France.  Just to prove I still do, here are some French tricks:

assister à - to attend
actuellement - currently; les actualities are the news
un collège - middle school; I have to stop myself from using that incorrectly a lot
ignorer - to not know; to be ignorant of something
un préservatif - a condom (that was a surprise!)
une librarie - a book store 
la déception - disappointment (close but different)
normalement - can mean "normally," but can also mean "theoretically"
         *E.G. My host mom wasn't sure she was going to be able to travel one weekend 
          because of threats of a strike, so she said, "Normalement, je prends l'avion de 

Nice try, faux amis, but I've outsmarted you!  Better luck next time!

Your vraie amie,


Damn it feels good to be a Medici

The Medici family lost power almost three hundred years ago, but from all I heard about them this weekend, you'd think they're still the Corleones of Florence.

The Palazzo Pitti? Sumptuous because of the Medici.

The best, and only, "delux" cell in the monastery of San Marco? Belonged to a Medici.

The collection of the museum of classical instruments at the Accademia? All made for a Medici.

The gelato flavor recommended to me by the girl working at the gelateria? Crema de' Medici.

I think it would sound pretty good with my name...
Maria (de' Medici)

P.S. Just in case you missed it (Dad), the title of this blog refers to this.  Homegrown gangsta rap - what up H-town?


I try not to get too worked up over famous works of art.  Ever since I saw the Mona Lisa and thought, "That's it?" I try not to believe the hype.  Michelangelo's "David", however, delivers.

In life, I am one of those people who says, "Perfection?  That's boring!"  But when I saw the David, I knew that I was wrong: David is perfect, and he didn't bore me at all.  He looks alive, like his skin would be soft if I touched it and like if I did touch his face, his cloudy expression would smooth.  His feet were a little big for him, as if he was still growing, and so were his hands, which have veins that wrap up into his forearms.


Taking pictures of David is strictly verboten.  One man took pictures of people as they looked at the statue instead.  I thought about buying a post card of him, but then I realized that the well-lit pictures took away my favorite part of him - the shadows.  It's the shadows that show the muscles of his back banding around to his chest and abdomen, the indentation where swaying hip meets extended leg, where chin tucks in and becomes mouth.

Don't worry - I'm not harboring any Pygmalion-themed fantasies.  I just wasn't expecting the David, or any statue, to look so beautifully real.  He's too tall for me anyway...



Il Duomo

The walk to the top of the Duomo is not easy.  Neither is paying the 8€ entry fee.  In fact, when I arrived at the halfway point, where you walk around the inside of the Dumo right up close to the Divine Comedy of a ceiling depicting sweet little baby Jesus, other holy people, and some pretty freaky hell-dwellers (the Italians, it appears, do not shy away from depicting human disembowelment, even in churches), I said to myself, "That's cool, but I could have seen it from the ground floor."  What I could not have seen from the bottom of the church was the view that followed.

From the top of the Duomo, Florence looks like a medieval painting.  I actually sighed when I saw it.  The clouds were parting and the butter cream and brick red patchwork quilt of Florence glowed in the intermittent sunlight.  The sky was the refreshed blue of a bird's first song after hatching its shell.  The hills were still veiled in fog and cloud; to the South, I could see buildings in the hills and the individually spiking cypress trees through the haze.

There are so, so many important Italian artists, and now I know why:  Italy is art and Italy makes us all artists.

Ché vista!


Dawn had just broken as I lost my way from the train station to my hostel.  Enormous billowing cumulonimbus clouds were lit a light satiny gold against a sky pink and blue with sunrise.  In some places, an unhealthy gray-yellow interrupted the blue making it look like it was going to rain.  It did rain, in fact.  When it rains in Paris, everything is gray - the sky, the buildings, the people even.  The rain makes Florence more vivid, the yellowing walls and red roofs gleaming.

Florence was divino.  I can't wait to go back to Italy!

Photo record of my trip:

Porto Vecchio
Banks of the Arno
Boboli Gardens
Palazzo Pitti
Palazzo Pitti
Santa Croce
Oh haaay, Dante!
O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo?

Il Duomo
Il Duomo
Baptistry doors

And I got to see an old, dear friend, too!

Amore amore amore!



I was in London over Armistice Day, when they celebrate their veterans.  About between two thirds and three fourths of the people over there were wearing plastic poppies on their coats as a symbol of remembrance and gratitude.

Trafalger Square
Trafalger Square
Outside Westminster Abbey
Votre petit coquelicot.


The Tate

The Tate Modern might be the coolest museum I've ever been to - it's definitely top five, anyway.  You can take interactive coloring books and games throughout the exhibits; you can write the Tate a postcard, a selection of which are displayed on the permanent collection floor; if you read the notes on the sides of the escalators, you will learn interesting facts about modern art such as : Piet Mondrian, in addition to not using green in his art, refused to wear the color or to allow it in his work space.

 Two favorites.

I got there close to closing time, so I only had time to see one exhibit called "Poetry and Dream."  It was interestingly displayed and an interesting framework to give to a lot of famous, well-known pieces, or at least pieces by well known artists like Matisse, Picasso, and Bacon.

My favorite discovery at the Tate was Julião Sarmento, a Brazilian who works with "themes of memory, sexuality, transgression, morality and duality." An especially cool series was the illustration, through drawings, photographs and words, of a sentence from a love letter from James Joyce to his wife : "there is also a wild beast-like craving for every inch of your body, for every secret and shameful part of it, for every odour and act of it." Oh là là!

Julião Sarmento, Dublin-Trieste 2 December 1909
Ecs-tate-ic about art,