Now That's What I Call "Movie Magic"

La Pagode, one of the coolest movie theatres in Paris, was built in 1895 by the then owner of Bon Marché, M. Morin.  M. Morin reconstructed this real pagoda in his back yard to reconquer his wife, who loved all things chinois.  Unfortunately for M. Morin, his wife left him for his business partner the year la Pagode was completed.  Fortunately for us, La Pagode was opened to the public as a movie theatre in the 1930s and is still in operation today.

Walking into la Pagode feels a little like going through the wardrobe.  There is a beautiful, lush oriental garden outside with lion statues, winding little paths, and lights that throw leafy shadows against the abstractly mosaicked walls.  They show lots of artsy films and foreign films in this red-carpeted, two room cinema.  You can buy sparkling water and ice cream cones at concessions.

Unfortunately, the people watching was better than the movie I saw : a woman with bouffant hair, kitten heels, and a full length red coat; the ticket-tearer in a yellow print skirt, a purple turtle-neck, and a sparkly black cardigan; another woman wearing a coat with plum colored fur at the neck and wrists. 




My new favorite winter fruit is the litchi (usually spelled lychee in the U.S. of A., I believe).  These pink bombs of fruity deliciousness, indigenous to China, are extremely popular in France. 

They are pretty bizarre, as fruit goes.  The "skin" of the fruit is a dusty-pink/brown hard shell that must be cracked and peeled in order to eat a litchi, kind of like a hard-boiled egg.  The meat of the fruit is white, slightly translucent, and is approximately the consistency of a rare steak.  There is a large, dark brown, shiny seed in the center of the fruit that looks like one of those fancy pebbles used for landscaping. 

Since I've done such an abysmally unappetizing job of describing litchis so far, I won't attempt to describe their flavor beyond "sweet, with a little something unexpected."  I like them well enough to have had a carton of them for lunch today, anyway.

Try them - they're de-litch-ous!

P.S. Russian doll photo sequence stolen from a "euro-caribbean blog."


How to Dress for the Cold Like a French Person

Today I did not follow these steps.  Instead I dressed for the cold like an idiot and almost froze, even though Paris really isn't that cold.  The cold here has that damp, insidious quality that sinks into your bones...Heed my cautionary tale and follow these guidelines :
  • Neatly wrap and tie your scarf around the collar of your jacket.
  • Layer unexpected things, like tights with leggings.
  • Wear boots, heels encouraged. (re: ice : beauty is pain, pain sometimes caused by slipping)
  • Let your chunky knit scarves, sweaters, and fingerless gloves explode out of your coat, obscuring the bottom of your face if possible.
  • Find a sophisticated, unique, but not too quirky hat to pull low on your brow.
  • Do not let your cigarette catch aforementioned knits on fire. Not chic.


Frida + Diego

On an afternoon foray out of the ultra-touristy Sultanahmet district, I saw a beautiful exhibit at the Pera Museum, not of Turkish art, but of the works of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera.

I like Diego Rivera just fine - he had a real way with calla lilies - but, I kind of love Frida.  Why?  I love the honesty of her exploration of self, I love the mysticism of her art and her persona, I love that she was a woman who was a force of nature, I love her outfits and her unabashed portrayal of her traditionally unfeminine facial hair.

Portraits of Frida taken by Nicholas Murray, her longtime lover.

I'm already planning my Frida Kahlo costume for Halloween 2011.  The Pera Cafe was also outstanding - all leather chairs, cerulean banquettes, and warm chadeliers, A+ hot chocolate, too.

Un Frido,

Turkish bathing

Let me preface this by saying that I hope this story does not make me look like an ugly American.  Chock my discomfort up to American prudishness or the experience getting lost in translation, but I just thought this was too hilariously ridiculous not to share:

My friend and I decided we'd like to try one of the famous Hammams of Istanbul.  We asked our hotel for recommendations and decided on one that was "pretty authentic" and a "good deal."  We quickly realized that "authentic" was not really what we were looking for.  What we wanted was a Turkish twist on a Western spa.  We got something a little different.

We selected the Bath and Massage option.  We were given towel sized cloths and told to wear those into the bath.  The bathroom was a large grey stone room with a high domed ceiling and three alcoves with benches and taps where we were instructed to rinse ourselves off.  There was a sauna, a very thorough body scrub, and rub down portion to the experience, too.  It all smelled a little like, well, I'm not sure - dankness? mold? sulphur?

What we didn't count on was the large quantity of nudity that would be involved.  When we walked into the bath, we were confronted by several older Turkish women taking their actual baths.  Kind of like their American counterpart, the old women in the YMCAs showers, these women were no beauty queens.  As I was being hit in the stomach with a soapy pillow case by the naked Turkish woman who was attending to me, I couldn't quite believe what was happening.

My friend and I used the sauna as a place to engage in some highly middle school maniacal laughter.  We couldn't help ourselves.


The Istanbul Chronicles

Istanbul is a strange combination of European and Middle Eastern.  The city is twisty and windy and thrumming with life.  Crowds were streaming into and out of the Grand Bazaar.  The smell of fish is everywhere along the river, where there are restaurant boats, fish sandwich sellers, and chestnut roasters.  Near the top of the Tünnel, there are bars with open-air-seating lining alleys, where live music is playing, pints are being had, and people-watching is top-drawer.

The weather was coolish and gloriously sunny - perfect for sight seeing.  We stayed in a very touristy part of town, which had is advantages and drawbacks.  It was a less-than-five-minute walk from the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sofia, which I left feeling wiser.  The area is clean and strangely Western looking in odd ways.  On the down side, a lot of Turkish men constantly and persistently tried to practice their English with us as they sold their wares.

Turkish food is wonderful.  Tons of vegetables, lamb, apple tea - separately, of course.  We could almost always see the water from the restaurants where we ate.  Our hotel gave us incredible breakfasts every morning that included home-made yogurt and olives.  Apparently, I am the honey to the standard-touristy-restaurant waiters' bees.  I was once given a half bottle of wine.  It was getting out of hand.

I proved, again, that I am my father's daughter.  At the end of our beautiful boat tour of the Bosphorus, I had the nerve to say "Good thing we're back in the harbor.  Thirty more minutes and I don't think I'd have made it."  I then promptly tossed my cookies off the back of the boat.  TMI? Sorry...

Here is a smattering of pictures:

Turkish delight-ed,



We went to the V&A (Victoria and Albert) to see an exhibit on Diaghilev, the creator of the famous Ballets Russes.

Basically the exhibit was excuse to show the most magnificent ballet costumes : hand-painted silks, futurist creations, diaphanous tutus, richly embroidered maharaja's suits, ikat togas and tiny shoes.  They almost conjured the scenes of Léon Bakst, the music of Stravinsky, the skill of Najinsky.

Videos of a 1964 re-imagining of Les Biches the cocktail party scene from "The Graduate" turned musical dance number.

I fell in love with the drawings Jean Cocteau did of the dancers with their shadow-deep eyes and feathering hands.

Projectors played a performance of Firebird larger than life on the walls of one room; the outline of a ballerina danced against backgrounds of art and fire.

In the museum store, I found funkily-printed silk shirts that almost made me break my rule about not wearing clothes sold by museums.

My heart dances - does that count?

More Tate, Please

I won't go on about the Tate again, though I could, but I just wanted to share this one thing that ignited my imagination during my last visit:

John Latham, Film Star 1960
Books burned around the edged that can be opened to differently colored pages.  The day I was there is was opened to a neon yellow-chartreuse, making the books look like lightening bugs.

Chasing things that glow,


The play's the thing...

I must say, it's nice to see plays in English. I just saw two incredible shows in London: Warhorse and Hamlet.

War Horse is the story of Joey, a horse who is raised in the English countryside to be a hunter by a boy who loves him. The boy's father sells him to the cavalry, so Joey goes to France to fight in the first World War. The boy goes to war to try to find his horse, and the story follows the two friends. It is woven together by a traveling bard, whose songs narrate the feeling of the piece rather than the plot of it.

The moment the colt appeared onstage I knew I was going to cry. It cantered around the stage on wobbly legs as a song of creation knit together string and air and imagination, turning them into horse flesh. The magic of the horse puppets was in the twitch of the ears, the flex of the hooves, and the multi-layered sounds of its breathing and whinnying. These puppets were operated by three puppetmasters each and were so strong that they carried the actors as riders.

Other beautiful puppets were an incorrigible goose, some sweetly chirping birds, and three carrion crows on the battlefield.

With one or perhaps two exceptions, I've studied Hamlet more than any other Shakespeare play. I've read it, listened to it, studied it, done scenes from it, workshopped scenes from it in classes, seen several movie adaptations of it; however, until last week I had never sat in a theatre and watched it. Fortunately this Hamlet, set in a modern state where every move was surveyed by secret service, was the kind one dreams about - rich, high stakes, every moment creating itself for the first time.

Rory Kinnear is an all-star. His Hamlet is smart as a whip, funny, real. Watching him, I forgot I was at a play. Hamlet was entirely his own, modern and timeless.

Listening to James Laurenson play the Ghost and Player King was a masters class in acting. He handles the language of Shakespeare with such facility that for all I know, he may talk like that all the time. He takes his time and speaks to the end of the line so that the language was as easy to understand as a grocery list though it lost none of its beauty.

David Calder's Polonius was pitch-perfect : obsequious, long-winded, clueless, infinitely mockable and misguided, and ultimately pitiable.

Ruth Negga created a lovely but real Ophelia, one of the hardest women to play in Shakespeare. Her death was played as a politically motivated murder instead of a suicide - cool, right?

In truth, it ran out of steam at the end, but we can't have it all. Saw Simon Callow leaving the National theatre!

"All the world's a stage..." - oh wait, wrong play!


We're Not Having Any Fun

Just kidding! You didn't believe that did you?  We're having a blast!

My mother (the ravishing creature above) is visiting me for a little bit. We just spent a couple of days seeing art and theatre in London.  Now we're taking Paris by storm!

Cackling through Europe,


Homegoing and Homecoming

Language is a skin: I rub my language against the other. It is as if I had words instead of fingers, or fingers at the tip of my words. My language trembles with desire.
-Roland Barthes

I return to France this afternoon after a two-week holiday in Houston, leaving one home and returning to another.  More posts on my life à la français to come!

A toute à l'heure!