A Canadian Canary Visits Paris: Incomparable Dance, Theatre, Jazz, Classical and Contemporary Music*

The Opera Bastille, designed by Canadian architect Carl Ott was the venue for a sensational production of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker ballet.

The Opera Bastille, designed by Canadian architect Carl Ott was the venue for a sensational production of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker ballet.

Music, theatre and dance in various forms have always been very healing for me – whether as a performer or as a member of the audience or as a remote viewer/listener via an electronic medium. While my primary motivation to travel to Paris in winter was to attend to wonderful wedding of my fabulous French friends Carole and Gildas, my second priority was to experience as  many performing arts productions as possible.  I was definitely not disappointed! “There are at least 800 performances on any given night in Paris!” Gildas informed me  of this fact during a mystery tour I took with them. (More on that in a subsequent post.)

My first big performance outing was on New Year’s ( called Old Year’s in the Caribbean) Eve. Thanks to Carole, who had secured a ticket for me several months in advance, I was off to see The Nutcracker Ballet, a traditional Christmas favourite entertainment in Canada, as well as in France.  It had been more than 30 years since I last watched this special 19th century spectacle on stage, and here I was in Paris of all places to see it again.  Well, I was beyond delighted!

I have been fortunate to see the Rudolf Nureyev choreographed nutcracker many years ago in both Ottawa and Toronto.  To see it in Paris was definitely a dream come true!

I have been fortunate to see the Rudolf Nureyev choreographed Nutcracker  Ballet many years ago in both Ottawa and Toronto. To see it in Paris was definitely a dream come true!

As I seated myself in the second balcony, I was amazed at the exceptional view I had of the entire stage at the Opera Bastille.  And I could also see the conductor and all the instrumentalists in the orchestra pit.  This well-loved ballet held the 3,000 viewers in the sold-out space  in awe for about two magical hours, with one 20 minute intermission.  I particularly enjoyed watching the harpists in the ‘pit’, as well as the conductor’s baton guiding the musicians through Tchaikovsky’s renowned score.  But of course, it was the dancers who stole my heart and everyone else’s, with their beautiful, precise, flowing movements, demonstrating their strength and agility in this challenging physical art form.   Yet it was more than that.  In Nureyev’s choreographed production, it was evident that the enchanting tale of The Nutcracker was also relayed through the dancers’  facial expressions and mimed  injections of humor, with which the audience could easily identify. The entire Corps De Ballet  and the students in the dance school of the  Paris Opera Ballet gave me a wonderful New Year’s gift with their world-class performance of a timeless tale. I left the opera house in a dream-like state, as is fitting a New Year’s Eve in the City of Light!

The Theatre Chatelet is located in the 1st arrondissement of Paris, alongside the Seine River.

The Theatre Chatelet is located in the 1st arrondissement of Paris, along the Seine River.

During the following week, I was well occupied by outings with Carole and Gildas.  However, when Saturday January 3rd arrived, I was determined to see the world première of An

There are 2,500 seats in the Theatre Chatelet, more recently called Theatre Musicale de la paris.

There are 2,500 seats in the Theatre Chatelet, more recently called Theatre Musicale de la Paris.

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The stage is set for the opening act and the piano is ready to be played!

American in Paris musical before it closed and headed to Broadway!  Again, Carole had tried to secure a ticket for me, but the house was completely sold-out on that last weekend of its run at the Theatre Du Chatelet.  However, she advised  me that rush seats with limited sight lines of the stage would be available for only $10 Euros.  Well, on that Saturday morning, I was at the ticket office as soon as it opened.  I was able to get a ticket with a caution that I might not be able to see the entire stage.  In my mind, something was better than nothing for an occasion such as this!

The  walls of the Joe Allen Restaurnat and Bar are adorned with posters from Broadway musicals and plays!

The walls of the Joe Allen restaurant and Bar are adorned with posters from Broadway musicals and plays!

As I had a few hours before the 3 p.m. start, I wandered around the Halles area of the first arrondissement.  It was a very rainy day and quite cool, so I was glad of my boots, wool coat and hat as I braved the elements with an umbrella for shelter. I was also on another mission:  I went in search of a well-known American

The renowned American Joe Allend Restaurant and Bar is located in close proximity to the Theatre Chatelet and the the Duc de Lombard Jazz Club.

The renowned American Joe Allen Restaurant and Bar is located near  the Theatre Chatelet and Le Duc des Lombards Jazz Club.

Café, as well as the location of a jazz club, called Le Duc Des Lombards.  I lucked out on both counts.  It was really just by chance that I came upon the Joe Allen Restaurant and Bar. I had an ulterior motive too: once I found it, I had hoped to meet the Canadian chef for which the place is famous – Graeme Bent.  My cousins from Nova Scotia are acquainted with his family, so I had hoped to say ‘hello’!  However, he was not in at that time, but I did enjoy my chicken Caesar salad with a mild apple cider on the side.  The place was packed, and by the time I finished my meal, I had to run for the opening of the theatre at 2:30 p.m. so that I could find my seat.  I made it on time, although I did get turned around once and was courteously redirected by a friendly Parisian, who understood my French perfectly!

A polite usher confirmed that it was not possible to take photos once the performance had begun.  This is a standard practise in most theatres these days.  For the same reason, I could not get action shots at Opera Bastille for The Nutcracker.  While I noticed that people did use their smart phones to capture memories from the stage, I respect the rights of the artists, as I wish to receive the same consideration for my own creations.

I was thrilled to discover that the sight lines for the stage were quite good, except for far stage left.  As it turned out, very little of the action took place in that area, so I felt well satisfied by my $10 Euro investment!  The plot is a well-known one, as the original film version starred Gene Kelly, and most people know at least a couple of the tunes, such as ‘I got Rhythm’ and ‘S’Wonderful’.  As the production was set in English, I could easily follow it, while French speakers referred to moving lines of translation above the stage.  Sometimes I looked at it and chuckled to myself.  As I have learned, it is often challenging to translate an idiom from one language to another; they tend to lose meaning.  However, the overall sense of the action was not lost on anyone.

Here I was in Paris, watching a musical written by  Americans George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin, which really created a picture for me of what it may have been like  just after World War II and the end of Nazi Occupation in this City of Light.  The romantic leads were truly incredible: both are professional ballet dancers with fine voices and a great command of the stage.  You can read a complete review here.  They succeeded in thoroughly convincing me about their love for each other despite the challenges of post-war Paris,  as an American GI who stayed behind and fell in love with a French girl of Jewish ancestry.  The stage setting also depicted Paris as it would have looked during that era, and the cast cleverly moved the props on and off the stage without having  to make any big scene changes.  Without a doubt, I was entertained and instructed by these talented professionals, and of course, the music was so uplifting.  The whole creation transported me to another time – in Paris!

It was beyond a thrill to attend the world premiere of An American in Paris on its last weekend in the City of Light.  The show was then heading to Broadway, NYC!

It was beyond a thrill to attend the world première of An American in Paris on its last weekend in the City of Light. The show was then heading to Broadway, NYC!

As I was on a ‘high’ after that magical show, I thought I would try my luck at Le Duc des Lombards, which was located about 10 minutes away.  Unfortunately the two jazz performances were sold out that night, but I was able to return on another evening a few days hence.  I headed back to my cozy AirBNB apartment in Montmartre on the convenient Métro, as I had big  music plans for the next day too.

 

Notre Dame Cathedral is a prominent landmark on an island in the Seine River.

Notre Dame Cathedral is a prominent landmark on an island in the Seine River.

Because Sunday January 4th 2015, was actually the Christian celebration of Epiphany (when the Magi, (aka Wise Men) visited the Baby Jesus).  I made my way to the world-famous Notre Dame Cathedral for the international mass to take place at 11:30 a.m. Although thousands of parishioners and visitors filled the immense sacred place, I was able to get a seat very close to the area where priests conducted the liturgy and the  soloists lead the

One of the amazing stained glass windows in Notre Dame Cathedral.

One of the amazing stained glass windows in Notre Dame Cathedral.

congregation in songs of praise – some of which were in Latin, while the rest were in French! As well, I enjoyed the choir’s rendition of J.S. Bach’s Cantata  BWV 123 for Epiphany: ‘Liebster  Immanuel’.  Although it was very chilly inside, and there was a slight distraction from hundreds of footsteps of tourists admiring the architecture around the perimeter, I was completely mesmerized by the voices and the beauty of the setting.  One of the  largest stained glass windows has been in place since the 13th century and parts of the organ date back to the 17th century!  I felt very joyful when the hour-long service was over, even though I was shivering!

The Epiphany display at the front of Notre Dame Cathedral wa a joyful sight to behold!

The Epiphany display at the front of Notre Dame Cathedral was a joyful sight to behold!

I have already reported about my next musical foray: ‘The Flute Project: Guitar and Flute’ which took place at the Trinity Church on Thursday January 8, 2015.  You can read about that moving performance here.

Yes, I actually did sing a little too:  that surprise performance took place during the happy occasion of the wedding of my French friends Carole and Gildas on Saturday January 10, 2015.  I had slightly modified a couple of verses of ‘La Vie En Rose’ so that the song focussed directly on them.  My a capella performance is referred to here.

It was almost the end of my visit when I got a taste of jazz , for which Paris is famous since World War II.  My return to le Duc Des Lombards jazz club in the Halles district of the first arrondissement with a reserved ticket was a fitting grande finale to my musical adventures in Paris.

Kavita Shah from NYC captivated the audience at the renowned Le Duc Des Lombards Jazz Club. Photo taken from page 9 of Le Duc Des Lombards French Quarter 5th edition Programme 2 -31 January 2015.

Kavita Shah from NYC captivated the audience at the renowned Le Duc Des Lombards Jazz Club. Page 9 copied  from Le Duc Des Lombards French Quarter 5th edition Programme 2 -31 January 2015.

I arrived at 7:30 p.m. on Monday January 12th for the first performance of the evening by Kavita Shah, a New Yorker of East Indian origin.  When I walked in to the intimate venue, the place was already close to its capacity of 65 seats.  A group of businessmen dined and casually conversed while technicians ensured that everything was in order on the small stage. Other jazz enthusiasts seemed to be seated at their favourite spots.  A friendly waiter took my order for mint tea. He also confirmed that photos were not allowed.  When Ms. Shah arrived, she passed casually among the crowded tables and smiled at everyone.  She then went upstairs for a few minutes and then quietly came down to take the stage while she watched her fellow musicians: drummer, pianist, guitarist and double-bassist as they warmed us up with the first selection.  Then she spoke to us in both English and French and told us about some of her own compositions and how she had fused eastern melodies with mystical stories.  The blend of jazz with unfamiliar  foreign musical influences resonated sweetly in my head.  Her clear soprano voice, pure in tone, seemed to melt perfectly into the timbre of the various instruments.  Sometimes I could not distinguish the sound of her voice from the guitar or piano when the notes were in unison. The whole room was spellbound by her low-key demeanor and superb talent. I was carried away be the loveliness of the music and her clarity of the words in each song.  I was completely ‘blown away’ by her duet of ‘La Vie En Rose’ with the double-bassist.  The  two diametrically opposed ‘instruments’ complemented each other despite the extreme differences in their harmonic qualities.  Suffice to say it was a very ‘funky’ upbeat presentation of this French classic. When they finished to loud applause, the double-bassist announced that the song was dedicated in love to the people who had lost their lives in the terrorist attacks  in Paris the previous week.

That was about the quickest hour and a half that I ever experienced in my life!  The show was over all too soon.  I could easily understand why critics call this tiny salon one of the finest jazz venues in the City of Light.

As I reflect on those wonderful and varied artistic performances, I feel truly blessed to have been able to partake of this amazing aspect of Paris life during my short time there. Now I dream of returning for more!

* This piece is dedicated to Leng Sorhaindo, renowned Dominican piano teacher (retired) and accompaniste extraordinaire. She asked me several times about my musical experiences in Paris, with great interest. As a singer, I am privileged to  be associated with  this exceptionally talented musician and supportive friend.   Thanks Leng!

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A Canadian Canary Visits Paris: The Unforgettable Wedding Celebrations of My Special French Friends!

Carole and Gildas await the Mayor of the City Hall in the 9th arrondissement of Paris (where they live) with joyful anticipation. He officiated their marriage, as is customary in a secular ceremony.

Carole and Gildas await the Mayor of the City Hall in the 9th arrondissement of Paris (where they live) with joyful anticipation. This dignitary officiated their marriage in a marriage in a  formal civil ceremony.

Saturday January 10, 2015 was a day that I will always remember.  I awoke to milder temperatures and weak Parisian sunshine and straight away prepared for a long-awaited event: the wedding ceremonies of my lovely French friends, Carole and Gildas!  I had looked forward to this special occasion for months, and this exceptional couple had worked very hard to ensure that it would be a day that family and friends would cherish forever. Their

Gildas, the groom (far right beside Carole) is attended by his good friends: what a coordinated effort in couture (fashion)! I loved it.

Gildas, the groom (far right beside Carole) is attended by his good friends: what a coördinated effort in couture (fashion)! I loved it.

natural inclination to  intricately plan and organize was clearly evident before and during the extensive festivities.  That was no surprise to me, as I have seen them in action before on a smaller scale so I knew that they would pull off their Big Day with finesse and panache. However, I was completely amazed by the originality and creativity that prevailed in all aspects of the wedding ceremonies and celebrations, not only from the bride and groom, but from their longtime friends as well!

I really enjoyed the formal civil ceremony at the City Hall in the area where Carole and Gildas live.  The mayor wisely counselled them in front of the assembly about the responsibilities associated with marriage.  However, a light-hearted, joyful atmosphere  also prevailed in this stately setting.

Carole's quiet joy was captured in this candid photo right after the papers were signed in the Civil Ceremony!

Carole’s quiet joy was captured in this candid photo right after the papers were signed in the Civil Ceremony! The mayor is in formal attire as well (background).

Maid of Honour Sophie and teh groom's attendants exchange pleasantries  just after the Civil Ceremony.

Maid of Honour Sophie and the groom’s attendants exchange pleasantries just after the Civil Ceremony. Gildas just cannot stop smiling!

The happy couple posed before the doors closed to give them privacy for a couple of minutes!

The happy couple posed before the elevator doors closed to give them privacy for a couple of minutes!

 I benefited from this Formal Shot for their official photographer, as I was standing nearby.

I benefited from this formal shot, organized by their official photographer, as I was standing nearby.

Who could not gasp at Carole’s demure beauty and perfect  poise, and then  juxtapose the response with awes directed at her partner Gildas’s flamboyant expressions of joie-de-vivre. Yin and yang – a perfect match. And they’ve known that for a long time.  The couple has been an item for over nine years so they are well acquainted with each other!

The newlyweds left the City Hall in a Tuk Tuk, which tool them to a private family lunch before the next ceremony.

The newlyweds left the City Hall in an auto-rickshaw called a tuk tuk. It took them to a private family lunch before the next ceremony.

I did not take many photos at this session, as I reacquainted with a young lady named Eloise,  a friend of Carole’s who used to live  near me in Dominica.  We chatted away and caught up on our lives in the past couple of years as the extended family posed for pictures.  Then the relatives headed off to a private lunch, to energize for the more intimate, festive celebration which would follow a few hours later.  Eloise and I took the Métro to our respective stops, agreeing that we would meet up again at the next event.

Back at my guest apartment at Montmartre, I ate a quick lunch, showered again and dressed up for the next grand ceremony.  Fortunately, I was less than  a 15 minute (uphill) walk away from the ‘Espace Montmartre’ at the base of the famous Sacre Coeur Basilica, where the secular ceremony would take place.  It’s a good thing that I like to walk up mountains.  I easily climbed a few hundred steps, but did not break a sweat in the 12 degree Celsius temperatures.  Perhaps I was a little pink and it was the perfect occasion for having a subtle glow on my cheeks!

I, perhaps like the bride and groom, was a little nervous about the role that I would play in this ceremony: my five-minute speech about Carole and Gildas when they lived in Dominica was to be a big surprise!  Magali, the mother of the

Carole was escorted down the aisle at the Salon de Montmartre at the beginning of the secular wedding ceremony.

Carole was escorted down the aisle by her father at the Espace Montmartre at the beginning of the secular wedding ceremony.

groom had already reviewed it, so I knew that my sentiments could be understood in French.  I was the second-last person to speak during this chronological and geographical programme (Carole was last  – she was talking about the future), but I was able to enjoy the other presentations by family members, witnesses and friends, who briefly spoke about  earlier times and places where the adventurous couple had previously lived.

Here is what I had to say about my special French friends, translated back into English:

“Newlyweds Carole and Gildas, Their Families and Friends:

It is a big pleasure to be here in Paris for this special occasion. I am particularly honoured to attend the marriage of this charming couple that I met in Dominica. You see, they were my French teachers, and at the same time, I got to know them, and very quickly they became my friends!

Well, they lived near me and I drove them home after our classes.  In this way, I became familiar with them personally, as well as professionally.

When I met them at Alliance Française de la Dominique, I was learning (and continue to try to learn) French at an advanced level (so please excuse any errors in this presentation!). In the preparatory classes for exams, Carole was patient, gentle and friendly. She encouraged me and as well gave me supplementary courses for revising what I had forgotten or needed to practise some more.  She also organized several cultural events at Alliance Française.  Thanks to her, Dominicans enjoyed learning more about France.

As an individual, I discovered that Carole has an incredible capacity for empathy, that she demonstrated when I was experiencing some difficult situations. I have already told her that the world has need of more people with a gift of compassion like hers.  She is an example for all of us to follow, and I am so happy to know her.  Gildas, I know you are very lucky to have this beautiful lady as your life partner.

Perhaps it is surprising to learn that Gildas, like his wife Carole, is a marvellous French teacher. At our Friday afternoon conversation classes, my classmates and I enjoyed the lessons that he prepared for us, which included discussions about daily life in France, and occasionally Canada (the former mayor of Toronto, Rob Ford, for example).  Also, he gave us information for communicating better if visiting France, and techniques for French cooking. As well, he taught us word games to improve our French vocabulary.

This nice young man certainly is competent in the kitchen and I appreciated all of his  French culinary creations.  I could also see that Gildas is a man who is very disciplined and intelligent, who loves to share his knowledge with others and in return,  he receives different points of view with interest. I have also observed that he is very devoted to and respectful of his wife. In my opinion, Carole is very lucky to share her life with this exceptional young man.

I  admire this extraordinary couple because of their numerous interests: in activities, other people and different cultures. They accomplished a lot during their short time in Dominica.  They participated in many activities, including a difficult hike that crosses all of Dominica.  This big walk in the forest and the mountains is very difficult for most people, but they succeeded without any problem. Carole learned to dive too. They attended many cultural events and formed friendships with people who came from various countries to live in Dominica. They additionally travelled to Central America and other Caribbean islands in that short space of time.

Carole and Gildas are now ready to throw themselves into a new adventure, as they are leaving to go ‘across the pond’ (New York City) to live and work in my part of the world. I am certain that they will make the most of this experience. I only hope that they will not acquire an American accent when they speak English, but I am saying that because I am Canadian!

I am here today to honour my special French friends and I would like to wish them all the best in their life together. I thank them from the bottom of my heart for everything that they have done for me – as my charming hosts during my first visit to Paris and for everything they have shared with me about your marvellous country.

Above all, Carole and Gildas, I wish that you will always have “une vie en rose!””

Then I sang a couple of modified verses of this classic French song, La Vie En Rose. I changed words so that it was more personal for them, not me.  Maybe somebody recorded it.  But if you would like to hear the original, sung by Edith Piaf, you can  listen right here.

Carole and Gildas formally exchange their wedding vows.

Carole and Gildas formally exchanged their wedding vows.  They wrote these meaningful words themselves.

The newlyweds had written their own vows, and it was a thrill to hear them recite them to each other in the presence of family and friends.  Then they recessed down the aisle and we threw paper airplanes at them for good luck!  The reception, with the Eiffel Tower in the background was most congenial and there, Eloise and I continued with our earlier discussions. I even learned some new French vocabulary during our conversation!

The view over Paris from the wedding reception room added to the ambiance of this wonderful occasion.

The breathtaking view over Paris from the wedding reception room in Montmartre added to the ambiance of this memorable occasion.

Gildas and Carole pose for an 'extended family' shot on the steps on the Sacre Coeur Basilica in Montmartre. It was right across the road from the Salon for the wedding reception.

Gildas and Carole pose for an ‘extended family’ shot on the steps on the Sacre Coeur Basilica in Montmartre. It was right across the road from the Salon for the wedding reception.

Eloise is a friend of Carole's who used to live in Dominica.  We became better acquainted during the reception.

Lovely Eloise is a friend of Carole’s who used to live in Dominica. We became better acquainted during the reception.

The dinner was divine – several courses – which was too much food for me. But what really grabbed my attention was the way their wedding attendants had created and produced high quality audio-visual presentations about the lives of their dear friends.  They were very humorous and certainly gave me more insight into what makes these two special people who they are today!  Carole and Gildas were also very surprised by the collective gift they received: a cookbook with a

Carole and Gildas admire the gift from all of us:  a  published collection of our favourite recipes!

Carole and Gildas admire the gift from all of us: a published collection of our favourite recipes!

meaningful recipe and related memories of  sharing a particular dish from each guest.  I included Tourtiere, a French Canadian meat pie that I had prepared for them the previous Christmas. They were advised that they have one year to prepare every recipe in the cookbook.  Of course, Gildas accepted the challenge!

What a wedding cake!

What a wedding cake!

A traditional French wedding cake, consisting of several tiers of macaroons was really a sight to behold.  I smiled when the bride and groom exchanged bites, and quietly wished them much sweetness in their lives.

Carole and Gildas sample their wedding cake.

Carole and Gildas sample their wedding cake.

By 10 p.m., tables were pulled to the side  of the room and the dancing began.  I noticed that Carole had changed from her white satin shoes into ruby slippers.  The place was hopping – people of every age took to the floor.  There were plenty of oldie-goldie tunes – in English too, so I sang along for the fun of it.

As I am not a night owl, I departed before midnight but did rejoin the group at noon the next day for a sensational wedding brunch at Ton Ton Jaurès in the 19th arrondissement.  It was one of my most

I am so glad that I have a pic of me with my special French friends in their wedding outfits!

I am so glad that I have a pic with my special French friends in their wedding outfits! Photo taken by Eloise.

delicious meals in Paris.  Perhaps the REAL Canadian maple syrup for the pancakes had something to do with it.  I  became better acquainted with some of the couple’s friends and all of a sudden, it was over.  Time for everyone to move off  and return to their homes.  Gildas and Carole were leaving that evening for their honeymoon in Sri Lanka. You can read about their exotic adventures here.( Even if you don’t speak French, you can admire their incredible photos!)

I bade my special French friends au revoir and agreed that we would meet again sometime, perhaps sooner than we think!

Bonne chance, Carole et Gildas!  À bientôt, mes amis! (Good luck, Carole and Gildas!  See you soon, my friends!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Canadian Canary Visits Paris: Art, Music, and Unity Overcome Dark Days in the City of Light*

Expressions of Je Suis Charlie quickly appeared everywhere in Paris.  This one was painted on to the front corner of an apartment building in Montmartre, the area where I stayed for my second week.

Expressions of ‘Je Suis Charlie‘ quickly appeared everywhere after the horrific  January 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris. This one was painted on to the front corner of an apartment building in Montmartre, close to where I stayed during  my second week in Paris.

It will be difficult to ever forget about the horrific events that took place in Paris, starting on Wednesday January 7, and ending on Friday January 9, 2015. I had no idea that the  regularly scheduled monthly test of the  startling and eerie-sounding air raid siren  at midday Wednesday would be a harbinger of what had just taken place a short distance from my rendez-vous point with a French friend.  That afternoon, just after lunch hour, I was to  meet Magali (the mother of friend Gildas, the groom-to-be) in a café beside the stately neo-classical Notre Dame de Lorette Cathedral.  She was going to take me to some smaller, lesser known museums and sites in the New Athens area of the  9th arrondissement.

I arrived in good time.While I sipped my café au lait, I noticed  that customers seemed to be glued to the TV screen located behind my left shoulder.  I turned my head to take a quick look, and could see police and soldiers  in combat gear with guns and a number of ambulances in front of a building. I hastily assumed that something bad had happened somewhere in the world and immediately thought, “how sad.” In the din of the packed brasserie, I could not make out what was being reported on the  French TV channel.

Then Magali came along, followed by Carole, the bride-to-be.  After a quick greeting and orders for café, they turned their immediate attention to the TV screen.  “What’s going on?” I asked. “There was a terrorist attack at the Charlie Hebdo  satirical  magazine office,” said Carole, “It’s not far from here,” she added.  Feelings of shock, fear and disbelief stunned me momentarily.  “Should we go out?” I wondered aloud.  “Of course, we will be fine,” Magali replied.  Although I was a bit nervous,  we ventured across the road to the  cathedral. We entered its peaceful interior and I immediately felt calmer as we quietly admired the paintings and sculptures there.

After about 20 minutes, we exited that serene setting.  Carole left to continue with her pre-wedding errands.  I then followed Magali along quiet side streets in the neighbourhood and she pointed out where some famous artists, musicians and writers had lived in earlier times, particularly during the Romantic era (ca. 1800-1900) – my

Magali stands in front of the Museum of teh Romantics, the House of painter Ary Scheffer in the New Athens district of Paris.

Magali stands in front of the Museum of the Romantics, the former house of painter Ary Scheffer in the New Athens district of Paris.

favourite époque!  We ducked into a tidy lane-way where I gasped with delight at the sight of a perfectly preserved 19th century mansion, aptly named ‘Museum of Romantics‘. Its contents focussed on the works of some of the then-thriving artists, musicians and writers of the first half of the 1800’s. Painter Ary Scheffer, whose family owned the house at that time, would regularly entertain other renowned neighbours in his studio there, including: writer/painter George Sand; musician Chopin; painter Delacroix; composer Rossini; pianist/composer Liszt; and others. While a  soothing background  of recorded Chopin piano nocturnes diminished my uneasiness about this strange day, I admired paintings, sculptures, letters, and jewelry belonging to these famous French artistes,  which included a cast of pianist/composer Chopin’s left hand!

Chopin once lived here, a short walk from his friend, painter Ary Scheffer and very near to his 'lover' George Sand, a female writer.

Chopin once lived here, a short walk from his friend, painter Ary Scheffer and very near to his ‘lover’ George Sand, a female writer. The space is now part of a business school. A small plaque is on the wall.

We then wandered the streets in search of another little artist’s museum, that of Romantic era Symbolist painter  Gustave Moreau.  However, it was closed that day and I did not have an

I did not get to see the Gustav Moreau museum.  It's on my list for next time!

I did not get to see the Gustav Moreau museum. It’s on my list for next time!

opportunity to return during this visit.  To me, there were few people around.  It seemed too still for a city as lively as Paris. On any other day, I would not have thought anything of it; however, something was going on that was not good and we were as yet, ignorant of unfolding events.  We ended up at another beautiful church: the Sainte-Trinitie.  Again, we went in and gazed in wonder at the plethora of sacred murals and paintings, as well as the Epiphany display for that recently concluded Christmas celebration.

I picked up a pamphlet which advertised a free classical flute-guitar concert the following day and I immediately planned to attend it.  Magali and I then reposed at a pretty café in sight of the church.  While I enjoyed my second café au lait of the day, she read over my presentation for the wedding ceremony of her son, Gildas and daughter-in-law Carole, which would take place the following Saturday. She kindly corrected a few errors so that the speech could be better understood by those in attendance at this memorable occasion. (Sometimes idioms in one language lose their translated meaning in another!)

It was almost dark by the time we parted; Magali left me at the Métro stop  right outside the café while she went in another direction to catch her train. When I reached my AirBNB apartment  in Montmartre about half an hour later, I still had no idea of what had really transpired that afternoon.  I turned on my tablet to find an email message from Elsa, my lovely AirBNB hostess.  She advised me that I might find roads blocked and subway delays in my area, as the terrorists had made their escape on a main route very near to me! My anxiety mounted a bit, but it had been a few hours since she sent the note, so I knew I had to find out what was going on.  I could not figure out how to operate the European TV, so I resorted again to my trusty tablet.  I read  reports from French, British, Canadian and American media outlets to get a sense of the magnitude of this debacle.  Meanwhile, emails and texts arrived from  family members: a cousin who is a retired ‘Mountie’ (RCMP officer) and his wife; as well as from my brothers and their families.  They  wanted to know if I was okay and what exactly was going on.  I immediately responded to all, telling them that I was fine, and that they probably knew more about it than I did! Interestingly, I also felt supported by numerous friends and acquaintances who were sending me ‘good vibes’ telepathically from North America and the Caribbean.  These strong positive feelings really helped me to dampen my fears, and to all of you, heartfelt thanks!

I decided to stay inside that evening, and made an effort to find out what was going on.  It seemed that the terrorists were outside of Paris now, but no one knew exactly where.  I read as much as I could online.  Admittedly, that night I did not sleep well.  The streets seemed too silent: was everyone thinking the same thing?  I even wondered if a curfew had been imposed, but my research disclosed that everything was operating as usual.

Next morning, news reports indicated that someone had identified the terrorists at a gas station and that the police were actively tracking them northeast of Paris. Meanwhile, French President Hollande had declared Thursday January 8th to be a day of mourning in France.  I stayed in the Montmartre area for a few hours and then headed to the Métro just before midday so that I could be on time for the 12:45 p.m. concert at the Trinity

The guitarist and flautist who performed at the free midday concert at Trinity Church sounded heavenly.  They also looked angelic in the dim light, as captured by my camera.

The guitarist and flautist who performed at the free midday concert at Trinity Church sounded heavenly. They also looked angelic in the dim light, as captured by my camera.

Church. It was noon when I stepped into a crowded ‘wagon‘ ( subway car). Right away, an announcement was made that there would be one minute of silence in respect of those who had lost their lives the previous day in the terrorist attack.  The subway stood still and the only sound I heard was silence.  I bowed my head and  quickly prayed for peace.   After a few minutes, we were on our way.  I made it to the church in good time and seated myself about halfway from the performance area.  Before entering, I noticed my first ‘Je Suis Charlie‘ sign on a

The first of hundreds of Je Suis Charlie signs that I noticed around Paris. It was posted on a newspaper kiosk at Trinity Suare, just aacross from the Trinity church.

The first of hundreds of Je Suis Charlie signs that I noticed around Paris. It was posted on a newspaper kiosk at Trinity Square, just across from the Trinity church.

magazine/newspaper kiosk near the church.  I also saw that it was closed for business.

Although the musicians had taken their places,  not one note was played until the MC asked the gathering audience to honour the lives of those lost in the previous day’s attack by paying tribute to them with a minute of silence.  I could see without a doubt that the French were deeply moved by this horrific event and paid respect to their lost countrymen and women frequently during the next several days.

When the flautist and guitarist commenced playing, I really wanted to cry.  The beautiful blend of their sweet harmonies floated to the roof, and perhaps beyond, and the ethereal sounds freely resonated within my heart. I could only feel peace and love in these sacred surroundings, and the joyful noises encompassed everyone in serenity, at least for a short while. For an hour, ‘all was calm and all was bright’ in that lovely sanctuary.  When it was over, I happily made a small donation to the church fund.  I wish I could have personally thanked the musicians for their uplifting gift on a such a sad day.  I hope this brief mention will suffice, in some way.

Trinity Church, located at Trinity Square in the 9th arrondissement had an etheral glow in the late afternoon sunlight following the wonderful concert.

Trinity Church, located at Trinity Square in the 9th arrondissement had an etherial glow in the late afternoon sunlight following the wonderful concert.

I then spent part of the afternoon ‘window shopping’ in a district that was jammed with people taking advantage of  Paris’s semi-annual sales. I contented myself with wandering around in the crowds, unaware of the latest developments in the terror crisis until later that evening. I happened upon a cute little café that caught my eye: The Cat Café, in fact.  Well, with a name like that, how  could I,   a cat lover resist going inside.

The Cat Cafe is a cool place to catch a cuppa. It's located in the shopping district, near Trinity Square.

The Cat Cafe is a cool place to catch a cuppa. It’s located in the shopping district, near Trinity Square.

This time, I had organic English breakfast tea, along with a piece of carrot cake made with wholesome ingredients. After I had finished the tasty treat, I chatted amiably with one of the owners.  We shared stories about our mutual love of cats, and I listened with interest when she explained that tourists were attracted to the café, not only because of its quality products, but because they speak English, as well as other languages! She also updated me on the terrorist situation:  they were still at large and now a police officer had been shot and killed in Paris.Terrorism was felt to be the motivation behind this senseless slaying too.

I had help from friends Jenny, Georgie and Geis to interpret this poster that I saw that I saw on a shop door in Montmartre.  'Je Suis Charlie' was  adroned to a poster of Van Gogh (Absente) and the poisonous drink, Absinthe

I had help from friends Jenny, Georgie and Gijs to interpret this poster that I saw on a shop door in Montmartre. ‘Je Suis Charlie‘ was affixed to a poster of Van Gogh (Absente) with the poisonous drink, Absinthe. Very meaningful!

Once again, feelings of uneasiness surfaced as I headed for the Métro to return to my guest apartment at Montmartre.  However, others on the street appeared to go about their business, and only paused momentarily with frightened looks when  police vehicles with  sirens blaring occasionally roared by.

As everyone knows by now, these traumatic episodes climaxed on Friday January 9, 2015 with the hostage taking and murders of  some of the people in the Kosher Grocery Store, and the  fatal shooting of  three terrorists (two from Charlie Hebdo and one involved in both the grocery store incident and the police officer’s death on Thursday the 8th- the female accomplice is still at large as of this writing).  I would say that the city breathed a sigh of relief, except that there was understandable anger and a collective desire to express unity against these horrific acts.

The American-owned Joe Allen Restaurant and Bar  publicly expressed support of Charlie, along with thousands of other establishments in Paris.

The American-owned Joe Allen Restaurant and Bar publicly expressed support of Charlie, along with thousands of other establishments in Paris.

By Friday, there was a police presence in strategic locations, including tourist sites.  I tried to get used to walking alongside soldiers with sub-machine guns ‘at the ready’, strapped across their chests.  I wondered if it was safer to walk beside, behind or in front of these highly trained military personnel. I also realized that I was learning a lesson from the tenacious French, who throughout their history had experienced many tumultuous events and still believed that ‘Life Goes On’.  Yes, indeed, I was carrying on.  I also witnessed the courage of the people and their firm intention to gather peacefully to show terrorists that they would not ever be intimidated by their heinous acts.  Sentiments about the fundamental right of Freedom of Expression are definitely alive and well in the City Of Light too.  The massive public demonstration  of millions, along with world leaders in the streets of Paris on Sunday January 11th made it very clear to me that Liberté,  Égalité and Fraternité  (Freedom, Equality and Brotherhood) are principles to which we must all aspire for a better world.  I think that my coincidental visit to Paris during these attacks has  reinforced my beliefs about being courageous in the face of fear and  walking freely to my own beat, even  if others might think that my steps should have a different tempo!

Bon courage, mes amis,  bon courage! (All the best, my friends, all the best!)

* This piece is dedicated to Magali Rouland, who took me to see some bright sites  in the City of Light on an otherwise dark day.  I sensed the strength and fearlessness of Parisians everywhere we went and I admired their tenacity and bravery, which is ever-present.

**And to my very special French Friends, Carole Bogdanovcsky and Gildas Lefèvre, I am forever honoured to have attended your beautiful wedding in Paris on January 10, 2015.This special occasion was filled with joy, peace and love, even though it was celebrated only a few days after those horrific terrorist attacks. Because life is a precious gift, we did indeed “carry on!”

 

 

A Canadian Canary Visits Paris: Food, Fabulous French Food!

Bread is a ubiquitous  staple  of countless variations in France!

Bread  (le pain – pronounced ‘pan’) is a ubiquitous staple of countless variations in France!

I expect that everyone knows that France is famous for its gastronomie, among other things. My culinary

Here is a little visual to make your mouth water!

Here is a little visual sample to make your mouth water!

experiences in Paris took me almost completely off of my established tropical régime  (diet)  of bountiful fruits and vegetables in Dominica.  But that was part of the plan and I was well prepared to sample some different flavours and textures, without any regret!

Because of my environmental health challenges, I tend to avoid common processed  and/or refined foods (bread, milk, sugar) that can give me allergy-related problems. However, it was impossible NOT to eat ‘French’ bread: the scent, the texture, the taste and its appearance at EVERY meal broke me down at least once a day.   YOLO (you only live once!), as some of my friends would remind me.

This rich pumpkin soup sustained me for the better part of a day!

This rich pumpkin soup sustained me for the better part of a day!

As I am not much of a meat eater, I fared well with hearty soups:  a pumpkin variety and popular zucchini were rich, energizing and filling as a midday meal.

I'd never had zucchini soup until Paris.  I did benefit from its popularity while I was there!

I’d never had zucchini soup until Paris. I did benefit from its popularity while I was there!

For protein, I did ingest abundant eggs in omelettes and galettes (a savoury crêpe),

French omellettes suited me very well; with home fired potatoes and salad, I was satiaited for many hours!

French omelettes suited me very well; with home fired potatoes and salad, I was satiated for many hours!

occasionally chicken or fish dishes  and mild goat cheese (chevre). I did break down one Sunday afternoon between outings to have a big  traditional dinner:  delicately seasoned pork charcutiere, mashed potatoes and green salad. It reminded me of one of my late  mother’s special concoctions, so of course, it was divine!

As it was still the yuletide season, I appreciated sweet Clementine oranges from Spain and Corsica, which brought back childhood memories of discovering this tasty foreign fruit in my stocking on Christmas morn.  Bins at every grocer and market were spilling over with this Vitamin C rich fruit and I purchased them frequently at very reasonable prices.  I also gorged on apples; while not likely organic, I peeled off the skin and ate them with the chevre and oat cakes for a light supper snack.  Speaking of which, I was able to find organic oatmeal and local honey, which I cooked  into a hot, sweet porridge to start my day when I stayed in a lovely AirBNB apartment in Montmartre.  (Details to follow in a subsequent post).

The cheery staff at the Solar Hotel served me an organic cafe au lait every day!

The cheery staff at the Solar Hotel served me an organic café au lait every day!

But for the first week of my stay, I was situated at the Solar Hotel, where a 100% organic breakfast was offered

The bright dininig room at the Solar Hotel was set fronm breakfast: the organic apple juice was already on the tables!

The bright dining room at the Solar Hotel was set for breakfast: the organic apple juice was already on the tables!

every day as part of its ecological philosophy.  There, I was able to enjoy French foods that had not been treated with pesticides:  cider-like apple juice and compote; jams; yoghurt; croissants and breads; hearty granola;milk; tea;coffee; hot chocolate; sugar; and honey. While there may have been other organic offerings around the city which escaped my notice or knowledge, I did happen upon a pizzeria in Montmartre( Pizza Pink Flamingo), which offered this Italian delight with an organic crust, and other chemical-free toppings, when available.  It was located only a few steep steps from the famous Sacre Coeur cathedral, and did very well from the tourist business! While it was winter, fresh vegetables were scarce, but I was able to eat mesclun (green salad mix) every day. If by chance they were grown in greenhouses, then I would hope that they were organic!

Okay, I admit that I did not suppress my sweet tooth: that would have been a distasteful thing to do in Paris! I didn’t overdo it but I did succumb to the sugary flavours in a few  delectable desserts: the carrot cake at the Joe Allen  Restaurant and Bar was hearty, nutty, spicy, creamy, and rich: a meal in itself!

The Carrot Cake at the Joe Allen Restaurant almost disappeared from my plate before I remembered to take a photo of it!

The Carrot Cake at the Joe Allen Restaurant almost disappeared from my plate before I remembered to take a photo of it! I tried it at my second visit to this popular American eatery.

Isn't this incredible?  This is a traditional French wedding cake - made from macaroons, which was served and Carole and Gildas's wedding!  More on that event later.

Isn’t this incredible? This is a traditional French wedding cake – made from macaroons, which was served and Carole and Gildas’s wedding! More on that event later.

Macaroons, for which France is famous were too sweet for me, that is, after I had eaten two!  Little patisseries (pastries) with coffee perked me up with a café au lait on the side for a mid-morning break. Generally, I avoided bakeries as there were always  other temptations everywhere I turned.  Chocolat chaud, thick and creamy with a biscuit and a bitter chocolate square on the side proved to be the perfect mid-afternoon energizer.

Hot chocolate was the perfect  afternoon pick-me-up during my fun-filled days in Paris.

Hot chocolate was the perfect afternoon pick-me-up during my fun-filled days in Paris.

After a delcious chicken ceasar salad at the Joe Allen Cafe, I refreshed myself with a few glasses of water from that carafe.

After a delicious chicken caesar salad at the Joe Allen Restaurant and Bar, I refreshed myself with a few glasses of water from that carafe.

I also drank lots of tap water, as it did not taste as if it were heavily chlorinated.  I also caught on to the French habit of  asking for a carafe de l’eau (carafe or glass of water) with every meal or even just a coffee.  That way, I stayed hydrated, despite the winter cold.

And as for those extra calories, well, I might now understand why most French people stay slim!  It may be the wine (I only had a few sips of alcohol at the wedding), but it must also be the hundreds of steps or stairs that one encounters everywhere(Métro (subway) access, buildings with no elevators, hilly Montmartre, parks on different levels, basement toilets in restaurants etc.) or the quick movements necessary to cross wide boulevards before the light changes or the collective inclination to walk fast (and keep warm)! I even picked up my pace and was glad of my prior physical conditioning in Dominica.  Therefore, I have NO guilt  about(and nothing to show for)  any of the fabulous foods that I relished in Paris!!!

In Paris, a cafe and a plate of patisseries is sure to provide a mid-morning boost!

In Paris, a café and a plate of patisseries are sure to provide a mid-morning boost!

This Crepe Breton is actually a galette, made from buckwheat flour. It contains spinach, fresh cream, and the soft egg on top. Delicious!

This Crepe Bretonne is actually a galette, made from buckwheat flour. It contains spinach, fresh cream, and the soft egg on top. Delicious! Mild apple cider (2 %) complemented the meal perfectly.

Groom-to-be, 'Chef' Gildas prepared a tasty omellette for Carole and me. It fortified me for the three hour mystery tour that followed our 'dejeuner'.  More on that adventure in a post-to-come.

Groom-to-be, ‘Chef’ Gildas prepared a tasty omelette for Carole and me. It fortified me for the three-hour mystery tour that followed our ‘dejeuner’ (lunch). More on that adventure in a post-to-come.

This was the first of an unknown quantity of  cafes au lait that I enjoyed during my visit to Paris!

This was the first of an unknown quantity of cafes au lait that I enjoyed during my visit to Paris!