Thursday, July 23, 2009

Jardin Ephémère, June 18, 2009.

It must be summer
Cause the days are long
And I dial your number
But you're gone, gone, gone
I’d set out searching
But the car won’t start
And it must be summer
Cause I’m falling apart

I guess the word of the moment is staycation. Last year Marti and I traveled near and far and wide and often: Amsterdam. Budapest. Madrid. Barcelona. The Dominican Republic. New York City. Washington DC. Hooterville VA. Whatever damage we didn’t inflict on the vacation budget, the Great Bush Recession finished off. This summer we’re enjoying the attractions of our own destination city, which happens to be the most beautiful in the world.

Drop by. We’ll be around.

Marti and I are the product of a summer romance. Our first date was 32 years ago tonight! I took her to a performance by the Boston Symphony Orchestra at its summer home at Tanglewood in Lenox, Massachusetts. We had a late snack afterward in the garden at the Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge. (I was such a class act back then.) This pic is from that era.

Now here’s how this summer has been shaping up . . .

On the night beat. Comme toujours. In early June Marti and I attended a concert at l’Archipel by a world music trio called the Ensemble Oneira.

Bijan Chemirani (zarb and percussion), Kevin Seddiki (guitar) and Maria Simoglou (vocals, percussion) married the melodies and rhythms of Iran and Greece, creating a wonderful meta-Mediterranean/Middle Eastern melange. At the conclusion of their performance they invited guest musicians to the stage who augmented the sound with mouth harp and clarinet.

Strolling down the Boulevard Strasbourg after the concert we encountered the Parisian bladers rollin’ on the Friday Night Skate. This fifteen-year phenomenon attracts wheelheads from all over the world and can number in the tens of thousands on any given Friday evening.

’Round midnight. On our way to the Left Bank Marti and I poked our heads into the recently renovated Duc des Lombards jazz club. Their main act of the evening had come and gone.

Now a young trio was holding forth in a late-night jam. No admission fee. We found a table, ordered drinks and hung out there for an hour or so, as a parade of blowers and singers made their way to the stage.

Takis, Le Bassin (1988). Earlier that day Marti made this photo of her favorite sculpture at La Defense, the office park where she works. All those traffic lights don’t seem to be encouraging that guy to get started on his homeward commute anytime soon.

The next day Blomet Paradiso, our neighborhood cultural organization, held the Sixth Annual Fête du Quartier Blomet. One of the activities was a Children’s Parade.

Marti and I were running errands that Saturday and had plans for the evening, but we checked out some of the Fête as we made our appointed rounds.

En route to dinner that evening we encountered a bride-to-be on the #89 bus. Her girlfriends were putting her on display all over Paris according to a bachelorette party tradition known as “burying the single life.”

We rendezvoused at Au Sud de Nulle Part with our British friends Sally and Mike, and a new friend from Texas named Amanda (seated next to me). We had lots of laughs and of course, dined like kings and queens on superb bistro fare.

As simple as it gets: shrimpies with mayonnaise.

Sautéed squid with chorizo and red peppers.

My favorite: bone marrow. I’ve said it before and I’m not too proud to reiterate: what makes it here for me is the similarity to roasted puppy bones.

Bacon and artichoke. A delectable combination.

Tricked up salmon with olive oil mashed potatoes.

Bar entier rôti au four, pistou, légumes du sud confits. Whole sea bass with basil-garlic sauce and ratatouille-type veggie compote. When I’m dining alone with Marti – and sometimes even in the company of others, depending on how much wine I’ve drunk – I conclude this course with a highly entertaining display of ventriloquism featuring the fish head on a fork.

Grilled lamb chops with that to-die-for olive oil mash.

After dinner the five of us strolled along the Seine, on our way to the Café Laurent. Amanda and I got into such an extended yak-a-thon that I lost my bearings and overshot the street, requiring us to double back. This blunder was not received well by the others. And I repeat, it had nothing to do with the champagne and wine.

Thank goodness I got us there in time for Christian Brenner’s last set.

Marti and Amanda.

Sally and Mike.

It had been too late the night before to send Amanda back to the ‘burb where she was staying, so we crashed her on our sofa. After the three of us regained verticality in the morning, Marti and I whipped up a Sunday brunch.

Ta da! Mr. Phil’s wild mushroom and spinach oven omelette.

Now we sent Amanda on her way. She’s doing this couch-surfing tour of Europe, where you find accommodation on strangers’ sofas via a website. Holy Jeez! Marti and I are such spoiled brats we won’t even stay with our lifelong friends. (Unless, of course, they have a three-story brownstone on Restaurant Row right off Times Square and we get the entire parlor floor VIP Suite to ourselves.)

June blooms in the Square Adolphe Chérioux, a block from our home.

Okay. My mother-in-law grew up in the American Southwest . . . She was raised by wolves. Ba-dump! I’ll be here all week. Try the veal. No, she’s a sweetheart, and for Christmas she gave me a stocking-stuffer packet of Navajo Fry Bread.

One evening I was getting in touch with my Native American roots, as one does, so before riding on the fort I cooked up a typical Parisian Navajo Fry Bread Tacos extravaganza.

Not bad for a Greek-American-French amateur chef whose only encounters with Indians were via grainy black & white 1950s TV westerns, wouldn’t you say? I mean, I never saw Tonto get off his fat ass and fry up a few of these babies for the Masked Man. It was always mystery meat stew and beans à la Blazing Saddles over a campfire.

Lookit that. You got yer pork chuletas, chipotle beans, salsa, salad items, Dutch mimolette cheese subbing for cheddar. Some good eatin’, Geronimo.

Hurry up and finish that. Gonna go get us some scalps while the squaws put the plates in the dishwasher.

Thursday, June 18 was the kickoff of a five-day weekend for Marti. We returned to the Gustave Eiffel exhibition at the Hotel de Ville for a guided tour. Our first visit is documented here. On the plaza at the Hotel de Ville (City Hall) was a sort of garden show. (It helps to know that our mayor is both Green and gay.)

I guess an ephemeral garden means it’s going to disappear after the tourists have seen it.

The gardener . . .

. . . and the scarecrow are wearing the same uniform. Sometimes you just want to have sat in on the brainstorming meeting.

It’s ephemeral. Those flowers aren’t really there.

Our guide to the Gustave Eiffel, Master Of Metal exhibition was the noted architectural and engineering expert Bertrand Lemoine. M. Lemoine provided deep insight into the technology, history and construction of Eiffel’s projects, such as the Garabit Viaduct (1880 – 1884), a railroad arch bridge still in use today.

M. Lemoine proved to be an engaging, complete authority on Eiffel. He’s been studying and teaching and writing about him for decades. Afterward in the gift shop we bought a copy of La Tour de Monsieur Eiffel and asked Lemoine to autograph it. The next day I located a used copy online of La Statue de la Liberté, which is written in both French and English. It arrived last week.

Marti and I went to lunch at Le Felteu, a mom and pop bistro discovered years ago by my cousin Tom. The place is incredible value for money. Excellent cookery, huge portions, very personable proprietress. What’s not to like?

After lunch we wandered around the Marais for a while. I found a straw hat for summer at a boutique in the rue de Temple, then we hit Starbucks for a caffeine hang. Caught a bus on the rue de Rivoli that left us off right across the river from the Musée Branly. Of course Marti struck a pose on the passerelle Debilly, right in front of a certain Tower.

Our destination was the recently-built Musée Branly, one of Jacques Chirac’s legacies. People have raved about this space, but I was profoundly underwhelmed. It’s strange because I normally like architect Jean Nouvel’s creations. He won the 2008 Pritzker Prize for his body of work, which includes the remarkable Institut de Monde Arabe and the Cartier Foundation for Contemporary Art, both here in Paris.

Marti and I were here to see the amazing collection of graphic art, vintage photographs and memorabilia in the Jazz Century exhibition.

Michel Gyarmathy, Josephine Baker est aux Folies Bergères (1927). Winold Reiss, Interpretation of Harlem Jazz (1925).

Alex Steinweiss, Louis and Earl: Hot Jazz Classics (1940). [Cover Artist Unknown], Duke Ellington: Liberian Suite (1947). I tripped out on seeing the Duke Ellington 10-inch cover to Liberian Suite. It’s very rare. I read about it Ellington’s 1973 memoir Music Is My Mistress, then miraculously, I found an mp3 download from the vinyl here.

Romare Howard Bearden, The Block (1971).

Marti and I were guests for dinner that evening aboard the Ailsa, Sally and Mike’s Mini-Luxe Dutch Barge.

The boat was berthed in the Bassin de la Villette. We had a fabulous meal in the company of these folks, Mike’s son Rob and two other water nomads who were docked nearby, Gelinda and Arthur.

Sally and Mike had been barging all over France, stopping to visit small river towns like Tonnerre.

They were here to help celebrate the 200th Anniversary of the Villette Basin.

Dutch barges from all around Europe converged for this weeklong party. We were happy to be included!

Our friend Sarah was in town from the UK on the weekend of June 20-21. She’s one of our favourite peeps, so Marti and I made sure to organize a Saturday shopping expedition and dinner with her and our mutual friends the Faycals.

While the women went shopping, Mike and I savored the afternoon of silence, then we all rendezvoused for dinner at a restaurant in the Marais called Schwartz’s.

The place purports to be a genuine New York delicatessen, a culinary genre with which I am eminently familiar, and of course falls short of that ambitious goal, but ain’t bad nonetheless.

I was the last to arrive at our table. Marti looked none the worse for wear after the long shopping crusade.

My pal Sarah is a fellow fast-food/comfort-food gourmet. She had brought me a goodie package from Britannia: chocolates (some of which I would be forced to regift as my biannual cardiologist appointment was imminent) and Fray-Bentos® pub pies. Ironically, the barge Brits we had hung with two nights earlier had dissed Fray-Bentos® pies savagely when the subject came up. Food snobs. Who needs ‘em? Thank goodness Sarah and I are on the same page here.

Given her thoughtful generosity, I was glad I brought Sarah a few CDs. We’re both music junkies. Here Sarah chats with former colleague Nada.

Nada’s husband Mike and their two charming daughters Sandra and Caroline.

Sandra was Marti’s sewing student for several weeks last year. Together they made a really cool skirt.

The next day was the Fête de la Musique. Free live music everywhere you went in Paris. My bride and I decided to spend it in our ‘hood, where a bigger-than-usual event was being held just a block away on the plaza of the Mairie (our district town hall).

A local producing organization called Le Festival Air Libre (Outdoor Festival) had programmed two days of Jazz concerts. One long set on Sunday was dedicated to the Afro Latin Vintage Orchestra, a tentet who play the classic repertoire.

We invited our pals Jorge and Ileana and their son Antonio to join us for music followed by Mexican dinner at our place.

Ily and Marti.

Afro Latin Vintage Orchestra.

Bailarines del salsa.

The chef allows no visitors in his kitchen . . .

. . . with the exception of beautiful women!

I made a chipotle-chicken sautée served over plain white rice, accompanied by a mache salad with avocado, orange sections and red onion.

Antonio provided the floor show. This is his laff-riot dwarf routine.

Gooooooooooaaaaaaaaaaaallllllll!!! (Kid likes soccer.)

The music never stops. On Wednesday night June 24 my bride and I went to see Ry Cooder and Nick Lowe, two longtime favorites . . .

. . . who these days are looking like a casting call for Grumpy Old Men III.

The old boys are still bringin’ it.

Olympia Music Hall

01 Fool Who Knows
02 Fool For A Cigarette
03 Vigilante Man
04 Losing Boy
05 Chinito Chinito
06 Crazy 'Bout An Automobile (Every Woman I Know)
07 One Of These Days You're Gonna Pay
08 Crying In My Sleep
09 Down In Hollywood
10 The Very Thing That Makes You Rich (Makes Me Poor)
11 Half A Boy And Half A Man
12 One Meatball
13 Teardrops Will Fall
14 Jesus On The Mainline
15 He'll Have To Go
16 (What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love & Understanding
17 Little Sister
18 How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times And Live

Great show. Marti and I saw a few of the (well-heeled) Paris Krew in da house. Tickets were not cheap. We went to post-show late supper at l’Ecluse, Place de la Madeleine.

On Friday afternoon June 26 Marti and I kicked off the weekend by rendezvousing after work at Starbuck’s in Montparnasse.

From there we went to early supper at Fujiyama, a nearby Japanese restaurant that specializes in maki platters.

We caught the 8 p.m. screening of The Hangover at the UGC Montparnasse. Hilarious.

After the movie Marti and I went down to the Café Laurent in Saint-Germain des Prés, to catch the late set by the Christian Brenner Trio. Christian was using an upright piano while the club’s baby grand is in the repair shop this summer.

Joining Christian, J. C. Noël (drums) and J. P. Rebillard (bass) was Nicolas Dary on tenor sax . . .

. . . and flute. Chill music to cap off a fun date night.

Saturday in the park.

Marti and I are fortunate to have a couple of lovely green spaces within a five-minute walk of our home. We enjoyed a sunny afternoon hang in the Square Saint-Lambert on June 27.

We tapped into my ‘Pod to listen to The Pretenders in advance of Monday night’s concert.

Marti gets up to speed on the repertoire.

The sky above the ground below. (Isn’t that a movie title?)

On Monday after work I met up with Marti at the Elysée Montmartre, where The Pretenders were gigging. That’s her standing under the second “r” in Montmartre.

We discovered we had enough time before the show to grab some dinner, so we high-tailed it to a restaurant close by that we’d read about in a New York Times travel article.

It was a Portuguese family-run hole-in-the-wall called Churrasquiera Galo. Cheap. Killer food. I had bacalhau and Portuguese beer.

Marti went for the pork chops.

The Pretenders, 2009.

It was stiflingly hot in the venue. Marti and I hung by the side bar, pounding tiny Evians. At one point, a kind bartender filled a cup to the brim with ice, American-style, and handed it to me. A Godsend. It was a wonderful concert: Chrissie Hynde was as sexy and punky as ever. She stopped to pose before the digimanic crowd, shouting “Go ahead, take my picture, cunt!”

The Best Laid Plans Department. On Thursday July 2 I hooked up with Marti at the Petit Palais. We were to see the exhibition of Greek Icons from Patmos, then go check out the new Woody Allen film. When I arrived they were funneling folks into the museum as earlier patrons departed. But there was no line. Just a clusterfuck on the museum steps. So I’d have to knock over a couple of weasely French old ladies to get inside. I called an audible and opted out, much to my bride’s dismay. We ended up patching up over cocktails at the Rival Deluxe.

New Plan. All of a sudden the possibilities of the evening opened up. We wandered in The Marais for a while, downed more cocktails on the terrasse of a gay bar, then took a shot at Chez Nenesse, a restaurant in the rue Saintonge.

We felt like tourists who had gotten lost cruising around and had just discovered a great little bistro. The food and ambiance were great. Our blown evening turned out to be a surprise success!

On the Fourth Of July Marti and I commemorated with cheeseburgers, corn on the cob, cole slaw. Radio Margaritaville via the Internet, Red Sox with the sound off on the HD flat. Then we hopped in a cab to attend another celebration: our dear pals Ileana, Jorge and their son Antonio had just obtained French citizenship. They hosted a little gathering in their courtyard. This is Ily (at left) with her gal pals.

Jorge and Marti converse en Español.

Think she’s happy?

DJ Antonio spins from his Juliet balcony.

DJ A demonstrates his magic skills.

Egg on a stick. Are you sure Houdini started this way?

On Sunday evening July 5 I received a text from my bud Myra (at right). Her friend Eda (left) had an extra ticket for Britney Spears the next night. Was I interested?

I’m no music snob. And I’m not in the habit of declining invitations from 19-year-old women. The next night I hooked up with Eda and Myra at the Rival Deluxe.

Eda and I jumped into a cab at the taxi rank and drove over to Bercy. Ms. Spears had teamed with the Big Apple Circus for this tour.

This was a whole new concert experience for me – and I don’t mean the circus theme. Britney didn’t really sing and the audience didn’t really listen. Britney was lip-syncing to tracks as she danced her considerable ass off, while the crowd also sang along to the tracks but was more consumed by taking digisnaps and videos of the spectacle. Amazing.

Barry Melton (Country Joe & The Fish) and Stephan Missri (Deadicace).

On July 8 Marti and I met friends at the Jazz Cartoon for dinner and a show by our longtime pals in Deadicace – the French Grateful Dead cover band – and special guest Barry Melton. Shown here: Charles and Sylvette.

Sylvette’s husband Sid, an old-school Deadhead, deep in the music.

Marti was rockin’ her new NRPS shirt (R.I.P., John Dawson; thanks, Cousin Nick) and I wore my Ry Cooder-Nick Lowe They Drive By Night tour tee.

Deadicace bass ace Charles Jannic with wife Armelle and a friend.

Alex Manconi.

Jean-Michel Laugier.

Our friend Gabriel Arnon guested on “Friend Of The Devil” . . .

. . . and "C.C. Rider."

Barry and me. We’d met here a few years ago and now were following each other on Twitter. Hey, we’re no unreconstructed hippies!

July 14. Our other National Day.

The originator of the Friends Of The Eiffel Tower group on Facebook awaits the explosions.

Besides being Bastille Day, we were saluting the 120th Anniversary of the Tour Eiffel. This was a “tie-dyed” nod to the Sixties.

A clip from the Finale.

Afterward Marti and I walked over to the avenue Suffren for a post-fireworks cocktail.

We toasted the Tower at a new bar/restaurant . . .

. . . called Carmine.

It’s a New York-style Italian place featuring excellent pies, in this case White pizza with Parma ham and artichokes. My two favorite cities represent!

Now we’re digging Summer In Paris. Tonight we’ll celebrate the anniversary of our first date by going to see The Durgas at OPA, followed by late dinner somewhere in the Bastille area.

The Paris Jazz Festival is underway . . .

. . . in the Parc Floral.

Soon the same outdoor venue will be host to a Classical music series.

Folks are already gathering along the banks of the Seine for the monthlong Paris Plage festivities.

This summer Marti and I don’t need no steenkin’ airports or body scanners or hotels or rental cars or Mapquests.

Hell, we’ve even got a beach!