Thursday, May 28, 2009

Saturday, May 9: Marti baking up a storm in her parents’ kitchen.

Get in the kitchen and rattle them pots and pans! It all began back on Sunday, April 26. Marti and her British Telecom co-worker Carolina, a Spanish native who went to college at the University of Virginia, had decided to spotlight American baked desserts during BT’s Semaine du Talent. It goes without saying that I supported this project. For the event, held during lunch in the BT cafeteria the following day, Marti baked pineapple upside down cake, a pumpkin pie and sour cream coffee cake. Carolina did an angel food cake and pecan pie. Their theme was American Desserts: More Than Just Brownies. It was a huge success. Best of all, I got to sample everything!

Marti would be reprising that pineapple upside down cake during her upcoming trip to the States to check in on her parents, but first we had the usual calendar full of activities here in Paris. On April 30 we went to see the Derek Trucks Band at the Alhambra Musical Hall.

This was one of those long-awaited, sold-out gigs. It drew fans from all over Europe and even a number from the States.

We were joined by our friends Oddleif from Norway and his tour buddy Karl from Hamburg.

Derek Trucks and bassman Todd Smallie. I first saw Derek play ten years ago with Phil Lesh & Friends. He just gets better and better.

We ran into a bunch of the Paris Krew at the show: Jean-Yves, Christophe, Stephane, Marc, Gilles and a few others. After a brief post-concert schmooze with DTB keyboard-flute payer Kofi Burbridge, we went with Karl, Oddleif and our bud Daniel to late dinner at the Maldoror.

Stylin’ at our favorite anarchists’ café.

No credit cards here. Joel, our host, tallies up the bill. As we departed, he gave me the fist-in-the-air power salute – ever the unreconstructed Sixties radical. I love him.

During their stay with us, I mentioned to Karl and Oddleif that Marti and I had recently watched Pupi Avati’s 1990 biopic Bix on TV. Born in 1903, Bix Biederbecke was a white Midwestern kid from a well-off background who ran away to play cornet in bands that his disapproving family considered lowbrow and trashy. Worse, he was a raging alcoholic in the midst of the Prohibition era.

Either from cheap, bad hootch or due to chronic bad health exacerbated by his heavy drinking -- the theories vary -- this brilliant musician died at age 28. Like the bluesman Robert Johnson, he left a handful of crude recordings as his only legacy.

I’d been aware of him for a long time. When I was a teenager in the late 1950s, one of the first long-play albums I bought was Eddie Condon’s tribute to Bix on Columbia Records. After seeing the film, I jumped on the ‘Net and found a CD release of that recording. When my order arrived it was like welcoming back an old friend.

Before Oddleif left Paris his return to Norway, he loaned me his just-read copy of John Szwed’s marvelous Miles Davis biography So What.

Years ago I’d read Miles’ own account, Miles – The Autobiography, which was compelling in its own right. Now I devoured Szwed’s book.

I guess I mentioned the Miles bio on Facebook because soon I was given a tip from my friend Nikki Matheson. She said that when I finished So What, I should read Duke Ellington’s 1973 autobiography.

A few keystrokes later, a used hardcover copy of Music Is My Mistress -- long out of print -- was winging its way to me from an Amazon subcontractor. As I write this, I’m nearing the end of Duke’s elegant memoir. Thanks, Nik!

On May 5 Marti flew to the States for one of her periodic solo visits to see her folks, who live in Charlottesville VA. Here is her report on the trip . . .

My parents, Nan and John Gregg, in front of their home. I spent a week with them around Mother’s Day. I thought I’d get some rest and relaxation but they kept me busy!

The colors of their azalea bushes were so intense that they looked like they had been Photoshopped. I promise you, the colors in this photo are un-retouched.

Our dear friend Jody from NYC, visiting several friends in Charlottesville that week, joined my mother and me for a visit to the Clinique counter of the local department store. This is a time-honored ritual for me. With a zillion French brands to choose from, I’m afraid to use anything but Clinique (which seems to be working). Kelly, my longtime Clinique counselor, did make-up demos on Jody and me.

Our friends Dona and Bruce Wylie hosted my folks and me for a delicious dinner that evening.

In honor of my deceased sister Barbara, who was an enthusiastic student of ancient Greek at Mary Washington University, my parents sponsor an annual Greek studies award there. In the picture are my mom, this year’s winner Susan Drummond and her mother.

Barb’s beloved Greek teacher Diane Hatch is now retired but still participates in the Classical Studies graduate reception and awards ceremony.

On the way home from Mary Washington, I treated my parents to an early Mother’s Day celebration at the Bavarian Chef. All of us have been fans of German food since we were stationed with the US Army in Deutschland during my childhood.

The return of my pineapple upside-down cake, this time for my BFF Gina’s visit.

The finished product – yum! Too bad I couldn’t bring some home to Paris.

I was delighted that my gal pal Gina drove down from Silver Spring MD to spend a day with me.

That evening my parents and I visited the lovely Ivy Creek Farm for a charity benefit for childhood cancer research at the University of Virginia Hospital.

The vineyards on the Ivy Creek grounds supply the Prince Michel Winery, a few miles away.

Posing on the grounds at Ivy Creek.

We attended the Mother’s Day service at the Church of Our Saviour. This is actually its tiny old chapel, more picturesque than the church itself.

The main event on Mother’s Day was cheering for the UVA Cavaliers in the opening round of the NCAA lacrosse championship tournament. The “Wahoos” beat Villanova 18 – 6. The weather was perfect and I enjoyed watching lacrosse with my folks for the first time in years.

On Monday, May 11 I left my parents’ home to head back to Paris, wearing a corsage of tiny pink roses from their garden. Most of the Greggs are big gardeners but I just keep a tiny olive tree and geraniums on the balcony and a planter of herbs for cooking outside our kitchen window.

I’m grateful to have both parents still in my life and to have enjoyed such a happy visit with them. I look forward to the next one.

While the cat’s away. . . The morning after Marti departed for the US, I hopped a high-speed train to Amsterdam. My visit wasn’t all coffeeshops and Red Lights, however.

I was jonesin’ for, of all things, some live Classical music. It’s a little-known fact that, when I’m not listening to the Howard Stern Show on the Internet, my tastes gravitate to the live iTunes Radio stream from WQXR-FM, the Classical music station of The New York Times. So I headed that afternoon for Amsterdam’s reknowned Concertgebouw concert hall.

The occasion was a free lunchtime concert. I was surprised to find the beautiful old hall completely filled, but the reason soon became evident.

This was no ordinary free midday concert. The highly acclaimed young Chinese pianist Lang Lang -- who was inspired to play at age two after seeing Tom tickle the ivories in a Tom & Jerry cartoon -- was participating in an open rehearsal with the Concertgebouw Orchestra, directed by Daniel Harding. They ran through a complete reading of Chopin’s Piano Concerto in F, Op. 21, consulted, then repeated the second movement. What a wonderful treat!

Back in Paris, I was invited one morning to a press screening of a film called Violent Days, directed by a woman named Lucile Chaufour.

It was a raw, black and white Indie look at a bizarre little subculture: French rockers and their fans who are frozen in the mythic moment of 1950s American rockabilly. Marti and I have encountered this phenomenon on numerous occasions since we moved here in 1991. Outside of a brief rockabilly revival in the DC area in the late ‘70s, early ‘80s, I hadn’t seen so many greaser wannabes than the ones here in France. The fans and bands here idolize the most obscure American rockabilly performers and tunes they can find. Trust me, I was there in the original rockabilly era. It never was as huge as these folks think it was.

The plot of Violent Days centers around a pair of couples who drive up to Le Havre from Paris to attend a rockabilly show in a tacky little municipal hall. As in too many low-budget French movies, there are endless shots of the actors crammed into tiny cars, achingly long sequences of the moving landscape out the car window. It felt like real time and the trip to Le Havre was taking twelve hours. The heroine gets so bored by it all that on the way home she jumps out of the car somewhere along the Normandy coast and heads for the ocean. Roll credits.

Soon after Marti returned home from the States we hit the scene again. On Saturday, May 16 we went to dinner at La Rotisserie d’En Face with visiting friends from Germany and the States.

Marti with Christian and Christine from Munich.

With Susan and Debbie, from the Washington DC area.

After a long, delicious dinner the six of us walked a block to the Café Laurent, our default jazz bar, where guitarist Serge Merlaud was sitting in with the Christian Brenner Trio. We’re friends with Christian and we’d met Serge last summer at a gig here. It was a great evening, spent in delightful company.

Marti and Jean-Yves in the deep suburbs.

At the Derek Trucks show our longtime friend Jean-Yves kindly offered us a lift to East BF to see the legendary ‘70s band Cactus in concert.

Drummer Carmine Appice, the sole remaining member of the original band, greeted the enthusiastic crowd at the start of the show.

Carmine still hits hard and heavy. I first saw him in Vanilla Fudge, on a bill with the Young Rascals in 1968. I also caught an early ‘70s Cactus gig in Port Chester NY, where they shared the stage with Ten Years After.

On this evening we were the guests of Cactus’ remarkable lead singer Jimmy Kunes, who sat in with Jon Paris’ trio last December at Marti’s birthday extravaganza in NYC. We had spoken briefly that night and he told us that he’d be coming to Paris. So we exchanged e-mails, kept in touch and he generously hooked us up with tickets and passes.

Jimmy Kunes brings it. He has an amazing voice and stage presence. It was a great evening of loud kickass old-school rock and blues. The place was packed. And stiflingly hot, as only a French club can be. Air conditioning? What is this air conditioning of which you speak? Fuck it. We were down. Carmine banged out a textbook Classic Rock Era drum solo – as only he can – then gave one of his sticks to a little kid at the rail. Nice.

Last weekend Marti and I celebrated our 28th wedding anniversary. Time sure flies when you’re rockin’ hard.

Model husband that I am, I bought my bride a bouquet at our neighborhood florist in rue Lecourbe.

We made reservations for dinner at Marie-Edith, a local bistro we’d been meaning to try.

It was Saturday, the place was full. Only one table of tourists, as far as we could tell. The ambience was lovely, the Champagne was sparkly and the food was delectable.

After dinner we jumped into a taxi at the Place Cambronne and rode down to the Café Laurent for digestifs and Christian at the 88s.

Trumpeter-vocalist Larry Browne was featured that night. In the last set a young Dutch woman named Marika, with whom we’d been sharing a table, got up to sing “Autumn Leaves.” Great voice and phrasing. Turns out she’s an opera singer in real life.

It was a super celebration. I’m a lucky guy.

As an anniversary gift, I gave my bride a necklace by a Dutch designer we both admire: Frans van Berkel. His creations are beautiful, clean and elegant. Fits Marti to a tee.

Marti knows the way to my heart. She gave me tickets to see The Pretenders next month at the Elysée Montmartre. I love Chrissie Hynde and the band’s most recent album Break Up The Concrete is a killer. Maybe she’ll encore with “Smelly Cat.”

The other day I was in Montparnasse and stumbled across the little-known Musée Antoine Bourdelle, which honors the work of one of the 20th Century’s seminal monumental sculptors.

Bourdelle was instrumental in the establishment of La Ruche, another 15th arrondissement landmark. Known as “The Beehive” because of its octagonal structure, this edifice had been featured in the Exposition Universelle of 1889, but was repurposed afterward as a studio complex that eventually welcomed the likes of Amedeo Modigliani, Fernand Léger, Constantin Brancusi and Marc Chagall. It’s still in operation today and you can glimpse it through the locked iron gates at 2, Passage Danzig.

I love the rich cultural history and hidden treasures to be found right here in our own ‘hood.