Monday, March 23, 2009


I love this town. Marti and I are approaching the 18th anniversary of our move to Paris. Except for the first seven weeks in a hotel, we’ve lived all of our years of voluntary exile in the same apartment at 85 rue Blomet.

Our one-way street on the Left Bank boasts a rich cultural history. In 1921 Catalan artist Joan Miró encountered the Rue Blomet Group -- André Masson, Max Jacob, Antonin Artaud, Tristan Tzara and others. These Surrealists and Dada poets proved to be a profound influence on him. Today children play in the Square Blomet on the site of Miró’s former studio at 45 rue Blomet. His sculpture Oiseau Lunaire (Moonbird) is the centerpiece of the little park.

Joan Miró by Man Ray (1933).

42 Rue Blomet, Joan Miró (1977).

At 33 rue Blomet a music hall called the Bal Colonial -- commonly known as the Bal Nègre -- opened in 1928. Early patrons were predominantly soldiers from the French West Indies and French West Africa who had served in World War I, but soon the venue became the hot spot for hip Parisian clubbers of all hues to hear jazz bands and dance to trendy syncopated rhythms.

One of the scenemakers of that era was the noted Harlem painter Palmer Hayden, who arrived in Paris in 1927. Backed by a wealthy art patron, Hayden studied here for five years. His prolific output captured the vibrant resonances of Jazz Age Parisian society.

Bal Jeunesse, Palmer Hayden (c. 1927).

Rue Blomet is “sandwiched” parallel to two major thoroughfares – both based on routes of ancient Roman roads leading out from the city center. One is our favorite rue marchand (shopping street), rue Lecourbe. In the space of just a few blocks Marti and I can find nearly all the resources we need to happily sustain our life. Butchers. Bakers. Fruit and veggie sellers. Fishmongers. Newsstands. Dry cleaners. Cobblers. Opticians. Even our doctors’ offices are within a ten- or fifteen-minute walk. Our ‘hood is truly a village within the city.

The other main drag, with our closest Métro station and a host of clothing and shoe stores, is rue de Vaugirard, shown here in a period postcard.

As bountiful as our neighborhood is, every once in a while we venture out to find exotic resources. Recently our cheffing gal pal Katy Jane phoned from San Francisco with an ingredient request.

KJ and her husband Nico cook in the kitchen of the innovative chef Daniel Patterson’s Coi.

Katy Jane needed a quick fill-in supply of vadouvan, a Frenchified version of an Indian Masala spice mix, which commonly contains onion, garlic, mustard seeds, cumin seeds, fenugreek seeds, curry leaves, black lentils, turmeric, salt and Castor oil. At Coi it’s used to season a vinaigrette.

I was headed out the next day to obtain a few ethnic cooking ingredients myself, so I started my shopping at Hediard, the gourmet mecca at Place de la Madeleine. I bought a couple of jars of vadouvan for Katy Jane (and one for me), then mailed KJ’s package that morning.

Next stop on my shopping tour was rue du Chateau d’Eau in the Tenth arrondissement.

At the Globus Eastern European food shop I stocked up on Hungarian pickled cabbage-stuffed peppers, envelope soup, Egri Bikavér ("Bull's Blood of Eger") wine, bread, smoked sausage and a poppyseed dessert roll.

Then I walked around the corner to the Passage Brady . . .

. . . an arcade that features a number of Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi restaurants.

I acquired a basketful of Indian goodies (nan, palak paneer, basmati rice, okra, baby eggplants, etc.) and asked the clerk about vadouvan. He showed me a huge one kilo bag, priced a lot lower than the stuff from Hediard.

I love the fact that here in Foodie City I can find almost anything I need to dabble in ethnic cooking projects.

On Saturday afternoon March 14 Marti and I went to the Place de la Concorde to visit the Jeu de Paume gallery.

On exhibit were Robert Frank’s remarkable photographs from The Americans (1959) and his Paris series from the early 1950s. I’ve been a fan of his work for decades (see cover of Exile On Main Street). I always love traveling into his black and white world.



After the museum visit Marti and I strolled into the Eighth arrondissement. En route we window-shopped at the oh-so-chic boutique Colette, which was promoting 7 For All Mankind jeans.

In the avenue Matignon we dropped in at the Galerie Daniel Malingue to see an exhibition of paintings by Fernand Léger.

Next door at the Galerie Pierre Lévy we saw lovely canvases by Armand Guillaumin, Camille Pissaro, Paul Serusier and a personal favorite of mine, Georges Lacombe. (His Ages Of Life from 1892 is pictured here.)

Marti and I grabbed a snack later at a brasserie, then made our way to New Morning, where our friend Elliott Murphy was celebrating his 60th birthday with a marathon show. We had a fab time, enjoyed Elliott’s marvelous songs. Sitting in were friends and family (Elliott’s son Gaspard, a guitarslinger extraordinaire). Olivier Durand, Murphy’s longtime lead guitarist, shredded all night long. We said hi to Elliott afterward and gave him a book of Robert Frank’s Paris pictures for his birthday.

Late-night after show dinner nearby at the impossibly beautiful Art Nouveau restaurant Julien.

Last Monday I went solo to see Vic Chesnutt and Elf Power at the Café de la Danse. Elf Power opened with a strong set, then joined Vic to perform the songs from the excellent Dark Developments album. Vic was in great voice, more powerful than I’ve ever heard him and I’ve been hitting his concerts since the late ‘90s. The Dark Developments material was great, as were the encores of “Independence Day” and “Sewing Machine.”

Had a fun hang with Vic and Elf Power after the gig. Vic was trippin' on the fact that they had done "Everybody Hurts" at the R.E.M. tribute at Carnegie Hall the week before. (Pictured: Elf Power bassman Derek Almstead and Vic at Carnegie Hall.) Vic thought he had sucked at that show! We shot the shit about Bob Dylan, Zimmie’s former bandmate David Mansfield (who had played at the R.E.M. tribute) and our friends in Widespread Panic. JoJo is going back to school and doing his dissertation on Vic's music . . . Todd called Vic recently to ask him to contribute a song to a kids album he's doing.

Elf Power’s Laura Carter told me how she’d first met Vic while she was working at an Athens, GA coffee shop. Vic would roll in with his guitar in hand and entertain the patrons. She was happy on this Monday night that her combustible quest had been successful.

Laura’s “laminate.”

Marti took last Friday and today as vacation days. We kicked off her four day weekend with a trip to see the Sonia Rykiel exhibition at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs.

The museum mounted this retrospective of the couturière’s work late last year to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Sonia Rykiel fashion house. She’s one of my bride’s favorite designers. Nearly twenty years ago, on our first visit to Paris, I bought Marti a velour, rhinestone-studded SR party dress. One Christmas after we moved here, I was given a ticket to a Sonia Rykiel warehouse sale in the ‘burbs. I scored six or seven items to give Marti that year.

The exhibition included clothes, fashion photographs and fashion show videos. There were also tribute creations -- inspired by the Sonia Rykiel style -- from fellow designers such as Karl Lagerfeld, Christian Lacroix and Roberto Cavalli.

Many of the outstanding fashion photographs in this show were by Dominique Isserman, shown here in 1985 with her friend Leonard Cohen.

We had lunch that afternoon at Deda, a beautiful new Georgian restaurant at Les Halles. I discovered this place a few weeks ago with my pal Michel.

The cuisine here is highly refined, incorporating surprising ingredients such as walnuts and pomegranate seeds. The restaurant has its own tone, a traditional beehive-shaped bread oven. The bread, called lavachi, is worth the trip alone. Deda is a winner.

One last word about the tragic passing of actress Natasha Richardson. In 1993 Marti and I were privileged to see her legendary Broadway performance alongside future husband Liam Neeson in Eugene O’Neill’s Anna Christie. We were both knocked out by the awesome talent exhibited on that stage. The Roundabout Theater production won Tony, Outer Critics Circle and Drama Desk Awards for Best Revival.

It was a marvelous night of classic drama for us, a couple who met years earlier while working at The Commonwealth Stage, a regional theater in Massachusetts.

Our thoughts and prayers are with Natasha and her grieving family.