Friday, November 27, 2009

This year Marti and I have so much to be thankful for. Our enduring love for each other. Families and friends scattered around the globe. Excellent health and health care. A rich cultural life. And the fact that we live in the most beautiful city in the world.

We celebrated the annual day of thanks by dining this afternoon at our favorite special event restaurant, Le Jules Verne.

The Michelin-starred restaurant, under the executive direction of megachef Alain Ducasse (his ventures have earned 15 Michelin stars), boasts Pascal Féraud in the kitchen. It’s located on the second level of the Tour Eiffel.

View from our table. After riding up in the private elevator and taking seats at our usual window table (a stroke of luck), Marti and I kicked off our T-Day celebration with coupes de champagne. The amuse-bouche was a tiny pumpkin soup with walnuts and lardons. We decided on the lunch menu with wine pairings. As a starter Marti ordered foie gras de canard confit, gelée fine à la figue noire, brioche toastée. I had saumon mariné Bellevue, caviar de France. For her main course my bride enjoyed filet de canard Colvert rôti au sautoir, la cuisse confite, légumes d'automne. On my side of the table it was joue de boeuf cuisinée comme un bourguignon, champignons et lardons.

All this and chocolate truffles too. Marti’s dessert was ananas rôti, tartelette passion/coco/citron vert. I rocked the savarin à l'Armagnac, Chantilly peu fouettée. It was all good.

While we gourmands feasted, a team of painters worked outside. A freeze-your-ass-off gig, for sure. Gawd, I love this town. Even this paintbrush-wielding young woman was hot. After our two-and-a-half hour lunch we were invited to descend a private stairway to the second level observation deck. We hit the gift shop for cheesy souvenirs (Eiffel Tower-shaped pasta!), but it was too cold to hang outside for very long. We returned to the restaurant, rode down and took a cab home.

For Marti and me, today’s meal at Jules Verne was the 20th anniversary of Thanksgiving 1989 -- we dined here on our first trip to Paris. That was the life-changing vacation that inspired our move to the City of Light 17 months later, in April 1991.

On that first journey here our dear friend and travel agent Tara booked us into a modest two-star hotel in the Latin Quarter. I think we paid sixty-five bucks a night.

Unbeknownst to Tara, in the 1950s the Hotel Vieux Paris had been a rat-infested home to the Beat Generation writers. Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, Brion Gysin, Peter Orlovsky and Jack Kerouac stayed here. Fifty years ago William S. Burroughs adopted Gysin’s cut-up technique and wrote Naked Lunch in what came to be known as The Beat Hotel.

I can feel the heat closing in, feel them out there making their moves, setting up their devil doll stool pigeons, crooning over my spoon and dropper I throw away at Washington Square Station, vault a turnstile and two flights down the iron stairs, catch an uptown A train . . . Young, good looking, crew cut, Ivy League, advertising exec type fruit holds the door back for me.

You could feel Burroughs’ words – and the emanations of all the other notorious lodgers – resonating in this place.

It was a thrilling weeklong vacation for us. Marti and I paid a spooky visit to The Louvre at night, followed by late supper at Brasserie Lipp. We attended a sublime concert of Baroque music at the Royal Chapel at Versailles, and stumbled upon a private tour of Louis XIV and Marie Antoinette’s digs. We shopped in the Sonia Rykiel department at Galeries Lafayette and at André Ghékiére in the rue Faubourg Saint-Honoré.

The Berlin Wall had recently fallen, it was still a big story in the news. I wanted to hop on a flight to check it out but of course we had time restrictions. My Berlin adventures would come a few years later, after we’d become residents at 85 rue Blomet. Where we remain to this day.

My bride and I always joke that ya gotta live somewhere. Now we have dual citizenship and we rock this town. Below are a few clicks from our life. Autumn 2009.

On September 15 Marti and I went to the Café de la Danse, one of our preferred intimate listening rooms, to see Steve Earle. We’ve been fans of Steve since he came on the scene in the 1980s, first caught him at the old Birchmere in the Washington DC suburbs. Tonight he dedicated a song to Jim Carroll -- another singer-songwriter fave of ours from the DC days – who had just died.

Steve sang a number of classics, including “Way Down In The Hole,” his Tom Waits cover that was resurrected in the TV series The Wire. The bulk of his set, however, was a tribute to his old friend Townes Van Zandt. He told great Townes stories and performed most of the material from Townes, his most recent album. Wonderful to hear him again.

September 18. Marti’s birthday was a full-on Paris Left Bank celebration. Our pals Jorge, Ileana and Antonio joined us for a wood oven-baked gourmet dinner at Pizza Marinara in the rue Dauphine.

Jorge and Ileana.

My friend Antonio.

B-Day dinner was followed by live jazz across the street at the elegant Café Laurent, Rousseau and Voltaire's favorite hang-out. Our friends Christian Brenner (piano) and Serge Merlaud (guitar) played with Pier Paolo Pozzi on drums and Jean-Pierre Rebillard on bass.

Before we rang down the curtain on the evening I had a little surprise for Marti – a whirlwind cab ride to her beloved Tower.

Just in time to catch the final light show that night. Happy Birthday, Baby!

We received a call from Jorge on Sunday, September 27. He invited us to join him and Ileana at a resto-bar called Le Quinze for an afternoon concert featuring a friend of his. Jorge’s pal turned out to be Serge Raffy, the editor-in-chief of Nouvel Observateur magazine (at left). Imagine our surprise when we discovered that his acoustic guitar mate was our friend, Alain Karadjian!

Ileana, Marti and Jorge. After the set we had a drink and a hang with our musical friends. Nice way to kill a weekend afternoon. It was a pleasant evening, so Marti and I walked a bit, found a sidewalk café and ordered a light supper. I love the fact that you can hit a random restaurant in this town and be pretty much guaranteed a decent meal.

Our globe-trotting friends Su-Yin and Pascal were in town the following weekend. Since we’ve known them they’ve lived in Paris (where we met in 1991), Basel, Tokyo, Sydney, San Francisco, Montreal and now, Milan. We hooked up with them in their old Latin Quarter ‘hood, for a fun dinner at Au Sud de Nulle Part.

Afterward the four of us strolled down to the Café Laurent to catch a couple of sets by Christian Brenner’s Trio. We always have a super time with Pas and Su.

On October 2 and 3, Marti and I attended Edgar Varese 360° at Salle Pleyel, one of Paris’ most distinguished concert halls. This project was conceived by our friend Gary Hill, a world-renowned video artist who has been awarded the MacArthur prize, the Lion d'Or at the Venice Biennale, grants from the Rockefeller and the Guggenheim Foundations. Gary and I first met in the mid-1970s while we were both living in Woodstock NY.

Over the course of an evening and afternoon at Pleyel he and his collaborators presented the complete works of Varèse in two concerts seen as a single autonomous work, designed for interactive dialogue involving the hall, artist, musicians and audience. I first came to Varèse via Frank Zappa, who always cited the composer as a major influence. It was wonderful to hear all of his music in live performance.

Gary’s video installations complemented the orchestral, choral and solo performances. Abstract lines, revolving objects and brief texts, apparently inspired by Varese’s idea that music is “planes and masses colliding and inter-penetrating,” were projected on video screens above the stage and on the walls surrounding the audience.

Live video feeds – including these of totemic objects on a table in the lobby – were mixed into the visual stew. We loved it. But not all of the “classical music” purists got it. When some booed at the curtain call, Gary grinned and gestured, egging them on. Sometimes art upends your preconceptions. Deal with it.

Several nights later Marti and I went to dinner with Gary at Au Sud de Nulle Part. Although we’ve followed his career over the years and seen a number of his installations at the Museum Of Modern Art, the Pompidou Center and elsewhere, we hadn’t gotten together in years. It was great to catch up with one another. We reminisced about our Catskills days when he was pioneering in video art (particularly video synthesis) and running camera on the cable-access TV program I produced called Woodstock Tonight. Marti always reminds Gary of the snowy weekend in the fall of 1981 when he edited our wedding video! Why, she asks, isn’t that listed in his program credits?

On October 23 I went to The Louvre to see Gary’s work-in-progress entitled The Mirror Points. (Marti was attending a play that evening with Ileana.)

This video/movement performance was very compelling, in a sold out auditorium. All about magnetic fields. Live video, choreography with magnets in the costumes, chorus embedded in three areas of the audience.

At one point Gary brought out a cardboard box filled with cutlery, strainers and other kitchen utensils. He shot live video of the performers attaching the items to themselves as they moved around in prone positions on the stage.

There was also a long pipe magnet suspended from the lighting rig. The performers moved under it and caused it to sway with a sonic rhythm. The entire piece was at once visually exciting and witty.

I went to the champagne after party, hung out with Gary and Magdalena, his bride. She and I laughed about the fact that we both have the same (non-)job: slacker. People underestimate us, I explained to her. One cannot pull off the boulevardier thing without a heap of style. Magda and I also share the same birthday: January 11. Now we're bound by natal forces!

Special thanks to Angela Di Paolo for photos of The Mirror Points.

Hollywood in da house! One advantage to living in a destination city is that your pals love to come visit. That fact certainly obtained this fall. In mid-October the Los Angeles krew arrived: Jonathan Spencer, rising star of cinema and the tube (shown here in the hilarious opening sequence of Pineapple Express), is a longtime bud from the Widespread Panic scene. In L.A. he’s befriended our former Parisian neighbors Desiree and Mike; they were back here on vacation as well.

I hooked up with Des, Mike and Jonathan at the Rival Deluxe lounge bar near the Champs-Elysées.

My zany actress-model gal pal Myra joined us as we moved from one overpriced watering hole to another. It was a nutty afternoon.

Des and Mike at the Café Laurent. Marti and I had dined with the Los Angelenos earlier at Au Sud de Nulle Part.

How cute is Jonathan? No wonder he’s been scoring character roles in My Name Is Earl, Mad Men, Gilmore Girls, Southland and other cool TV series.

The night we all fell by the Café Laurent was bar manager Flavien’s birthday. We love “Flava Flav.” He’s so hip his caricature is on the drink coasters.

Fuck it. We should all be on TV.

Marti’s college friend Lee was here at the end of October. We made dinner plans and I invited Lee to join me beforehand for a tour of the excellent Miles Davis exhibition at the Cité de la Musique.

It was a marvelous show, covering all of Miles’ transmogrifications over the years. While waiting in line Lee and I gabbed about our music business adventures. For many years Lee had been a tour professional, supporting many leading artists. I met him in the late Seventies when he was working as an electrician on the road with Frank Zappa. He invited us to an FZ concert in Hartford, CT. All the guestlist seats had been taken, so Lee installed Marti and me on equipment cases at the side of the stage. It was so groovy to watch the genius up close and personal!

After visiting the Miles exhibition and enjoying an apéro at the Café de la Musique, Lee and I joined Marti for dinner at Louis Vins.

At dinner Marti and Lee wandered way down Memory Lane, catching each other up on their old University of Virginia Theater Department classmates. Don’t mind me, I said, I’ll talk quietly amongst myself. Thank goodness I had a strong signal on my CrackBerry.®

Marti and I had been going out a lot, so when Jorge first called to suggest that we join him at the Rallye Bar to hear a friend of a friend of his sing we declined. But our favorite former Secret Agent Man was persistent, following up with an e-mail PDF of the gig poster.

We relented. And I’m glad we did. Jorge was happy to see us. That’s he shooting a vid or something with someone else’s camera.

Courtney Lee Adams Jr. performed with fellow New Yorker Buford O’Sullivan. Now there’s a configuration you don’t see often: (unmic’d) acoustic singer-guitarist with trombone accompaniment. I loved Courtney’s searing Lower East Side songs, kinda punk folk. Or funk poke, as the case may be. Witty. Nasty. Delightful. As soon as we had begun chatting before the gig I realized that I’d met Buford before – he plays with reggae coverists Easy Star All-Stars (Dub Side Of The Moon, Radiodread, Easy Star’s Lonely Hearts Dub Band). We’d spoken briefly a while back after one of their concerts at Elysée Montmartre.

After the Rallye performance Courtney, Buford, Marti and I piled into a taxi and rolled to the Café Laurent. We nudged Buford to sit in with our friend Christian Brenner (piano), G. Prevost (bass), Pier Paolo Pozzi (drums) & Pascal Gaubert (tenor sax) in a third-set guest slot. The players quickly huddled, then kicked down a sweet rendition of Miles Davis' "All Blues." Buford rocked, trading solos with Gaubert. Courtney, Marti and I grinned from our corner banquette. It was a cool hang with new friends. We finished up with a nightcap at the Bar du Marché.

On November 2 Marti and I attended a very special concert at La Maison de la Poesie in the Marais. Our pianist friend Christian Brenner, whose weekend stands at the Café Laurent have become our go-to jazz trip on the Left Bank, was debuting the music from his forthcoming CD Le Son de l’Absence (The Sound of Absence).

In the able company of brilliant guitarist Olivier Cahours and Café Laurent regulars François Fuchs (bass) and Pier Paolo Pozzi (drums), Christian performed the album in its entirety. Sublime compositions beautifully played, including pieces dedicated to his daughter and son, who were in the audience. Marti and I are looking forward to this long-awaited new release, which is at the pressing plant as I write. We’re hoping Santa will deliver copies to a few of our friends this Christmas.

The morning after Christian’s concert I boarded the Iron Horse, destined for Amsterdam on a cultural exchange mission.

While there I hooked up with Billy Goodman, a longtime singer-songwriter pal . . .

. . . and our mutual bud Steve. Looks like Sin City livin’ is treating these boyz just fine.

The following weekend our gal pal Stephanie arrived in Paris for a brief visit. The three of us went to dinner in the ‘hood at our old standby, Le Petel.

Marti and I first met Stephie 15 years ago, when she was working here for a big champagne producer. She’s one of our favorite peeps, as Marti clearly demonstrates.

On Sunday, November 8 I went alone to the morning concert at Chatelet.

Chatelet is one of the most beautiful concert halls in the city. The moderately-priced 11 a.m. performances are a big draw. Parents can afford to bring their kids, who are remarkably well-behaved listeners.

In this program of Dvořák and Schumann the Pražák Quartet -- Vaclav Remes (violin), Vlastimil Holek (violin), Josef Kluson (viola) and Michal Kanka (cello) -- shared the stage with noted Russian pianist Evgeni Koroliov. The playing on this Sunday morning was simply superb all ‘round. Marti and I got into the Pražák after meeting cellist Kanka at the 8th Annual Rialp Music Festival in the Spanish Pyrenees in the summer of 2008. That night he and violinist František Novotný performed the Brahms Double Concerto for violin and cello.

After the concert I walked to the Marais to rendezvous with Steph and Marti for lunch at Chez Janou.

Cuties at lunch. We walked off the calories by strolling around the old Jewish quartier that afternoon.

It’s just all about filling your face here at Foodie Ground Zero. As a special treat Stephanie and my bride collaborated on Sunday night dinner while I languished on the living room sofa.

Steph moved right into my official headquarters and cooked up delicious white clam sauce to top pasta . . .

. . . which was preceeded by a delectable Insalata Caprese. Mmm mmm good!

More wine? What can I say? The girls love me.

A few days later Marti and I were joined at our friend Eric McFadden’s concert by Laura and Matt, emissaries from Maui sent our way by San Francisco-based food pornographer pals Elizabeth and Bobby.

Dan Reed opened for Eric. (Remember his 1980s band, the Dan Reed Network?) He was great. Powerful, moving songs. We spoke after the show. He and his friend Melissa are living here now. We plan to get together for dinner next week.

We first heard Eric many years ago playing with George Clinton’s P-Funk All-Stars. We met him during his first stint with our pal Jerry Joseph’s Stockholm Syndrome. He’s an amazing guitarist and writer. It’s always fun to catch him with Paula O’Rourke on bass. Turns out she’s a Barcelona freak like us, lives there part-time. This Café de la Danse gig was da bomb. Lotsa sit-ins by Eric’s friends. Excellent new material from his most recent CD Train To Salvation. We were happy that Stephanie, who had just trained back to Paris from London, was able to join us. We all went back after to say hello to Eric and krew.

Laura and Matt, post-gig dinner at Le Relais du Massif Central.

I love me some ladies.

On Thursday, November 12 Marti and I went to see a play called Je meurs comme un pays (Dying As A Country) by the Greek dramatist Dimitris Dimitriadis. Directed by Michael Mamarinos, this production was visually stunning, performed mostly in Greek with snippets of French and English, and projected French supertitles.

The theatrical space was quite remarkable: the Ateliers Berthier of the Odéon-Théâtre de l’Europe. Until the 1950s the building served as a warehouse for storing stage sets. It was constructed in 1895 by Charles Garnier for the Opéra de Paris -- Garnier was the architect of that landmark as well.

Although the play ran too long with no intermission, Marti and I enjoyed Dimitriadis’ vision of a mythical civilization – a melange of an ancient, tragic Greece and the Colonels’ regime (1967-1974) -- haunted by a mysterious curse.

Last weekend our friends from Janis Joplin’s old band Big Brother And The Holding Company came to play New Morning. Check out Mary Bridget Davies and the guys below.

Marti and I visited with original members Peter Albin, Sam Andrew and Dave Getz before the show, which was the best BBHC performance I’d seen since the Newport Folk Festival, 1968.

Afterward Marti and I, our actor friend Paul Bandey, drummer Dave Getz, his charming wife Joan, our mutual friend Marc and their bud Jack all crowded around a table at a café-bar called Le Chateau d’Eau, near the venue.

We dug into a delicious late night supper of couscous.

A rollicking time ensued. By 2 a.m. BBHC guitar monster Ben Nieves and lead singer Mary Bridget had joined the festivities. The proprietor cranked up the bar’s sound system and soon we were rockin’ out in an old-fashioned dance party.

Joan had expressed a desire to find some health food, so the next evening six of us reconvened for bio dinner at the Phyto Bar in the Quartier Latin.

Joan and Marti. At our next destination, the Café Laurent. (Of course.)

Left to right: Marc, Jack and the Getzes.

Sharing the banquette with us were two young Greek women, Liana and Sophia. Marti and I immediately began talking Athens with them. I even kicked down a little Greekspeak. When we told them we’d just seen a Greek play, they were mildly impressed but found Dimitriadis’ stuff a bit bleak for their taste.

In the late set Dave sat in with cornet ace Damon Brown, Christian Brenner (piano) and Laurent Fradelizi (bass). Sweet.

Joan and Dave regularly gig together at Bay Area jazz bars, so it was a special treat when Joan got up and sang “The Nearness Of You” – sans microphone. She absolutely killed. Greeted with roaring applause at the outset, then the chattering crowd quieted pin drop style and finally, gave her a roaring send-off. Gotta tell ya, it was yet another memorable night on the town!

My dad would have been 100 years old this month. He’s been gone a long time; I never really had the privilege of an adult relationship with him. But I value his legacy highly. He was one of those guys who relished life, lived it to the fullest. I like to think he passed that gene on to me.

The old man never had much money but that didn’t deter him from enjoying travel, laughter, food and music. Whatever writing abilities I may have are derived directly from his love of word play. For a Depression-era kid who never graduated high school, he could rock The New York Times Sunday crossword. No blank squares at the end of the afternoon. I had all I could do to keep up with him. Amazing vocabulary, self-accumulated.

My favorite memory: when I turned thirteen he took me to my first rock-and-roll concert!

Dad had a definite sense of style. I remember him getting on my mom’s case one time when she brought home a couple of bargain basement shirts that didn’t meet his demanding standards. He was a machinist in an aircraft plant, a blue collar gig, but in his private life – especially later on, after we kids had grown and he had time to hold office in his club and the church vestry – he went to the best men’s shop in town and decked himself out. I still keep one of my suits on an old wooden hanger of his from Haynes Men’s Store, Main Street, Springfield MA (“Always Reliable”).

I picked up on Dad’s style I suppose, but more importantly, I learned from observation how to express emotion, literally how to love. Maybe it was that Mediterranean heritage (he and my Greek uncles always embraced, kissed), but Dad was never reticent about coming up to my mom at the kitchen sink and planting a kiss. Or putting his arm around her on the sofa while watching TV. Small things at the time, but a virtual primer when I think about it now.

I miss him terribly. I know I sometimes disappointed him and I recall that once he really bailed me out of one of those nasty jams you think are the end of the world when you’re in your early twenties. I had been spiraling out of control and broke down in the passenger seat of his huge 1960 Chrysler. Jesus, let it all out, he told me quietly. You can’t carry this shit with you forever.

I’m heartened that he got to hear my first commercials on the radio before he passed. I had just started working at a small advertising agency and was writing and directing spots for Sears with voiceovers by Tony Marvin -- the original voice of Tony the Tiger (Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes). Dad of course knew of Tony from his longtime stint as Arthur Godfrey’s announcer on radio and TV. I guess he figured that if his punk 25-year-old son could hold his own in a recording studio with an old pro like Tony, I was on my way.

Marti and I were talking the other day about how sometimes you incorporate aspects of people you love into your own persona after they die. My dad spoke endlessly about wanting to retire in Europe – specifically, in Greece – when his work life ended. I like to think that in some way Marti and I are living his dream.