Salon d'Agriculture

This weekend, I went to the biggest farm in the world.  At least, my host family told me that's what it was.  In fact, it's only the largest French agricultural convention, but I'll take what I can get.  The entire exhibition complex/village of Porte de Versailles was jam packed with all kinds of livestock, regional products, and food from around the world.

The whole thing was vaguely disorienting.  I felt like it was the lovechild of the Houston Rodeo and the Texas State Fair, except everyone was French and not all of the food came on a stick.

I am shocked by my own ability to imitate this technicolor cow.
Highlights included : pigs the size of ponies, a side of fried bananas with lunch, an unnecessary purchase of a jacket that smells like a farm, a kitty commune made of fish tanks, tshirts with horses on them, samples of Italian olives and a moon bounce shaped like a fruit basket.

I never knew there were that many kinds of sheep,



The MAM is the Musée d'Art Moderne de la ville de Paris, and the MAM is awesome.  Both the collection and the traveling exhibits were very cool.

There were lots of things I'd never seen or heard of before:  An artist who makes images appear out of layer upon layer of gloppy, random-looking dollops of paint.  An owl motif running through one exhibit.  An installation that looked like a giant Popsicle-stick house made with rowing oars and bowling balls.

Delphine Coindet, Cosmos
A dark room with a black box in which tiny pin holes light up like orbiting constellations.  A whole section with works from a school called SMS (Shit Must Stop) that included, ironically, Paul Steiner's "Johns in Art Galeries," a series of index cards describing toilets that includes "small, but definitely has atmosphere. EAST HAMPTON"
Steiner, Johns in Art Galeries
(image taken from Washington University in St. Louis' Kemper Art Museum) 

In the basement there is a very strange video installation by Turkish artist Inci Eviner.  Tiny images of dogs, playing cards, cancan-ing legs, belly dancers, buildings, fires, stacks of people, people wearing gray jogging suits and blue plastic dog-cones, doing repetitive actions play over and over to music made of the sounds of whistling, the cheering of a crowd, dogs barking, clapping, and a guitar playing.

Inci Eviner, Broken Manifestos
Looking for a museum off the tourist-beaten path?  Try this one.

Amusée par Art Moderne,


Ashes to Ashes

This is the story of the Catacombs of Paris:

The remains in the Catacombs come from another time, when bodies were still burried in Paris and the living brushed shoulders with the dead.  Eventually, the cemetaries were overflowing and the Parisians wanted to purge the city of this insalubrious excess, so the old quarries on the edge of the city became the catacombs.

There is an aura of dark romanticism surrounding the catacombs - like a gothic novel full of madness, buried family secrets, and bloody deeds done by moonlight.  The catacombs encourage this attitude with a macabre theatricality.  A sign over the entrance to the ossuary reads "ARRETE : C'EST ICI L'EMPIRE DE LA MORT." (Stop! Here lies the empire of death)

The walls are lined with femurs and tibias tightly packed, broken in half by rows of jawless skulls, illuminated and thrown into shadow in equal measure by the wall sconces.  This carefully arranged display is interffupted by plaques bearing quotation on shuffling off this mortal coil, etc :

Ils furent ce que nous sommes
Poussière, jouet de vent ;
Fragiles commes des hommes,
Faibles comme le néant !

And though regularly cleaned, the corners hold the dusty traces of a second death - one of bones - and the promise of what we will one day become.

Dust to Dust,

P.S. It's hard to take good pictures in caves when using flash is verboten...



This weekend I visited a rainy, chilly Rouen.  Rouen, a small city in Normandie (the North of France) famous for its cathedrale, immortalized by a series of paintings by Monet, and as the location of Joan of Arc's trial and execution.  The old city has cobbled streets and leaning eighteenth century buildings.  There is a big clock, called the Big Clock, that tells the day of the week and the phase of the moon in addition to the time.

Gros bisous,


Royale with Cheese

I cannot tell you the last time I did this, but a while ago I went to McDonald's (called "MacDo" here in France) with my host sister.  I got a quarter-pounder.  It was called a Royale Deluxe.

I just couldn't resist drawing this parallel:

See 1:00 for the pertinent part.  Excuse the language - that's Quentin Tarantino, not me.

My meal was happy,

Pardon my French

Hello, reader! Today I'm talking about language, foul language.

There are myriad reasons to curse: to let off steam; to besmirch someone or something; to describe aptly where no other word will do; to wallow in your own creativity or crudeness or both; for the hell of it!  Recently I've found a new reason to swear - to disarm.

I have found that as a non-native, pretty nice seeming (a taxi driver recently told me that I possess a "white heart" - truly, I have the strangest transportation experiences) young woman, a well chosen swear word is the secret password, a shibboleth if you will, that let's me interact organically with the French.  I may have a funny accent, but when I call Monsieur le President "une petite merde," I'm just one of the gang.

Here are a few helpful words with gentle translations:

  1. merde - fecal matter, often used as an exclamation
  2. de merde - something made of fecal matter; crummy; VDM (vie de merde) = FML
  3. emmerder - to bother
  1. con - stupid, foolish; idiot fool; can also verge on vulgarist of vulgars so use it with caution
  2. connard - a jerk
  3. connerie - a stupid thing, as in "I've done something stupid"
PUTAIN - lady of the night, often used as an exclamation

BORDEL - collective home, even a dormitory of sorts, for ladies of the night

SALOPE - can translate as any unsavory word you might want to call a person of the female persuasion

Do try this at home,


Back to School

This week second semester classes began at the Sorbonne, so I am once again a full-time student. 

Here's what my time inside the classroom is going to look like:

Littérature du XIX-XXe siècle : Ecrire la ville
Littérature du XXe siècle : Ecrire la guerre

Histoire de Paris à travers ses monuments

Genre et forme dramatique à l'épreuve de la scène

Atelier de dessin : modèle vivant et nature morte

So far I think my coup de coeur (favorite) is going to be Histoire de Paris because we take a field trip each week.  We've been to the Basilique de Saint Denis, Sainte Chapelle, Notre Dame, the Chateau de Vincennes and the Musée Cluny so far.  I'm also pretty psyched about taking art for the first time in about a decade!



Spanish sunrise

At a lonely crossing of worlds at dawn,
I watched two sisters with round stomachs and cheeks
playing in the waking light.

A blue-eyed father hugged them
and whispered laughing secrets
in their ears. 

At once I saw
my past and future
rolled into one.

And I hoped for a blue-eyed man,
small armed hugs,
and tiny hands pressed against glass.



In Madrid, I spent a day just seeing art.  I imagine I could have spent a week there seeing art and not have seen it all, like I could in Paris.  The best seeing, in my opinion, is to be had at the Reina Sofia, which houses modern and contemporary art. Its most famous resident work of art is without a doubt Picasso’s Guernica.

Guernica is a piece of art with a big bad rep.  I’m not a huge fan of Picasso and I don’t think seeing Guernica really changes that.  However I cannot pretend that seeing it was not surprisingly emotional. 

First of all, the painting packs a punch because it is enormous.  Second of all, it gave me the chills.  Maybe that was because I know its history, maybe not.  When I looked at pictures of Guernica, I felt like the painting was committing violence against me, but in person, it was the painting and not me that was the victim: the world was covered in ash; color was dead, killed along with sunlight and gentle touches.  

Perhaps what I’m about to say is silly, because after all Picasso does have a habit of abstracting reality so an abstract image is nothing new, but there’s half a woman engulfed in flames, reaching up in pain on the far right of the painting, and when I thought, “Where’s the rest of her body?” it almost made me cry.

I had to leave the museum after that and go sit in the sun.

A witness,

Spain Is Different

10 Things I Hate (¡Love!) About Madrid 

  1.  Tapas y churros y sangria
  2.  Painted-tile street signs
  3. Retro decor
  4. The painted façade in the Plaza Mayor
  5. Beautiful Spanish men
  6. Parque Retiro, the saxophone player in Parque Retiro
  7. Long days
  8. Tiny old Spanish women (“I know you’re three feet tall and a thousand years old, but please get out of my way.” my friend Don Burke on the subject)
  9. “Vale"
  10. Afternoons on sunny green lawns with friends and lazy Sundays



Mystery Men

I went to see a play at the Théâtre de Chaillôt last night and, arriving early, went to sit on the terrace next to the theatre that looks over the Eiffel Tower.  I ran across two enormous puppets that looked like they were made out of white bird's nests and illuminated with Christmas lights.  Teams of German puppeteers were manipulating the enormous men - making them play leap frog, do Michael Jackson impersonations, and take forced perspective photos with the Eiffel Tower - for one of their crew members who was filming the whole thing.  It was unexpected and fantastical and a little bit marvelous.

The play I saw was a one-man marionette show about a marionettiste. 
My life is so meta,



One of my favorite cures for the blues, or the grays, or even the angry reds is a trip to the Musée de l'Orangerie.  It might be my favorite place in Paris, and by extension, the world.  The museum holds lots of good art by artists that I like a lot, but the only reason I go is for the Nymphéas.

Monet's Nymphéas, or Waterlilies, live on the ground floor of the museum.  Natural light filters down to them through the old greenhouse's glass roof.  The eight paintings are hung in two ovular rooms that together make an infinity sign.  Somehow the space itself becomes liquid and refreshing; it makes me want to be alone and quiet.  It is beauty, distilled.

In front of my favorite panel.


Find your light

In the Middle Ages, light was considered a manifestation of God's presence on earth.  So in churches, the meeting ground of God and man, God was present in the light that shone through the stained glass windows.

I've been thinking about the importance of light a lot lately.  When it's absent in the winter in Paris, the whole city is gray, and I am gray too. But when the sky is blue and the sun is out, the whole world feels newly minted, as though every moment is a sort of dawn, with the reawakening of my spirit just on the horizon.

I don't care whether it's God or just weather; when the winter sun shines, my heart does not feel weary.


In Over Our Heads : Drowning in Tea

We love tea rooms, Mom and I.  She was in Paris for six days ; we went to five tea rooms for a pause gourmande.  (This phrase might be translated as "gourmet snack" or even "indulgent snack.")  Though we both like tea, it has to be said that we really know nothing about it.  At a couple of these salons de thé we received booklets, which might as well have been written in Greek, of literally hundreds of choices in tea.  We learned a little about it, but what we really learned about is those elusive hybrids, tea rooms, themselves.  Here is a little guide to the ones we frequented:

 Mariage frères*
Carrousel du Louvre (1er)
30, rue du Bourg-Tibourg (4e)
13, rue des Grands-Augustins (6e)
260 Faubourg Saint-Honoré (8e)
Mariage freres is famous for its tea.  Even their simplest brews are delicious - Earl Gray, English Breakfast, bring it on!  I had a Proustian-madeleine moment when I took a sip of Mom's Earl Gray.  A French friend of mine brewed me a cup about two years ago, and I had never forgotten the taste.  Tasting it again made me feel like I had found a lost friend.  The gourmande part of this pause gourmande wasn't as good as the tea.  If you need help choosing from the overwhelming list, the well groomed waiters, dressed in all white suits, are more than happy to lend a hand.

À Priori Thé
35 Galerie Vivienne (2e) 
Ding ding ding!  We have a winner for cleverest tea shop name!  The phrase "a priori" is a cornerstone of the French intelligentsia's lingo; you can't make it through a week in university, or I would guess a week in many work places, without hearing it.  (The phrase is exactly the same in English - thanks Latin!) The "Priori Thé" makes a homophone with "priorité," which means "priority."  A little pricey, but incredibly delicious for lunch as well as a pause gourmande.  Reservations are not a bad idea since this restaurant is cute as a button and about the same size as one. 

L'heure Gourmande
22 Passage Dauphine (6e)
The drink of all chocolate drinks is the chocolat à l'ancienne. (I know, not a tea.)  I think that solid chocolate is melted and poured into ambrosia to make it.  It's thick as mud (almost) and as filling as dinner (almost).  And it's great at L'heure Gourmande.  Tucked away in the Passage Dauphine, this little shop sports an impressive collection of novelty tea pots including a head of lettuce, a cat in a dress, an elephant, an owl, a toad - basically the entire cast of Mother Goose.  These are pleasingly at odds with the slightly Asian, buddha-centric decor of the rest of the salon

21, rue Bonaparte (6e)
16, rue Royale (8e)
75, avenue des Champs Elysées (8e)
64, boulevard Haussmann  (9e)
Ladurée is most famous for its macarons, but it also boasts nice little tea rooms.  In the sixth arrondissement, the salon is done in light teal and 1920s chinoiserie.  It is full of hidey-holes with low slung leather camp chairs and warm, low light.  Mom was convinced that it was an established trysting ground.  Go for the tea, stay for the people watching.

134, rue du Bac (7e) 
The smell of chocolate hits you the moment you open the door of Foucher, the chocolate store with a salon de thé.  The family has been in the chocolate business for over 200 years, and boy have they figured it out.  This was not my top pick in terms of ambiance, but it was far and away the winner in terms of the "gourmande" part of the pause gourmande.  Mom and I had the cake of the day, a rich, airy chocolate situation, and it was pretty out of this world.  Also a great place to shop for gifts made of chocolate. 

* Asterisk denotes top choice, though it was a close race.



I think Terpsichore played the lyre, but my advice to would-be muses is to pick up the lute.  I saw the most interesting lutenist, Jozef van Wissem, give a concert at Shakespeare and Co. this afternoon.

Jozef, a dutch man with longish un-brushed hair who hunches over his instrument as he plays, is a magician of sound and creation.  He has done a lot of work with medieval lute compositions, playing them backward and rearranging them and creating entirely new pieces.  His compositions have  beautiful, evocative names like, "The Hearts of the Sons Are Returned to Their Fathers," "Dew Drops Fall Like Tears," and "Love is a Religion."

I was still sitting in the room, writing, as he was packing up after his session, and wanting to say something before he left, I accidentally and embarassingly effervesced all over him.  I told him his music was iridescent.  What word was I looking for?  Even I cannot say, but what I kind of meant is that there is a colorfulness and translucence to his music.  Or then perhaps the music made me think of those words, themselves - iridescent, translucent - and not of what they mean. 

I cannot say that I have an informed appreciation for lute music, or even that I liked everything Jozef played.  However, there were glimmering moments of great beauty that I couldn't help but feel in the secretly musical parts of my soul.

"The soul has arrived at understanding of her nothingness"

A disclaimer : I only call Mr. van Wissem "Jozef" because that is how he introduced himself to me.  He also told me to follow my dreams!

Trying to follow that good advice,