"All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players."  --William Shakespeare

Entries in food (15)


Unexpected Pleasures




You can walk out into the world thinking you know what pleasures await you, and have no idea of the treasure in store.

I knew the dinner would be excellent.

I knew that editing a story would be satisfying.

But I'm startled by the acute pleasure of being out in the cold sharp night air after several weeks mostly indoors with the flu. The world is so… solid, so real! Feathers! Flowers! Carytids! The moon! 

The pleasure of crossing a narrow street at the crosswalk, three men talking and blocking my path, the one on the bicycle looking up with great sweetness, "Oh, pardon!" and backing up his bike to let me pass.


The sweetness of men! It moves me even more than their strength. That Celtic douceur that comes from centuries of the troubadour tradition of courtesy (and perhaps from centuries of its opposite, savage wars on one's own soil).

The pleasure of remembering that I have several books to pick up at Shakespeare and Company. I'm carrying a book bag with my laptop and printed-out stories.  Do I want the extra weight? Sure. Better than swinging by too late after they've closed.



I detour, pick up the books. The bookseller with whom I'd been exchanging messages says, "Oh, it's you. I know your face, but didn't know your name."

"Same with me. You have the slightest accent. What is it?"

"I'm French."

"But your English is perfect."

"I lived in the States for a while."

Out into the blue-black cold. The face of Notre Dame across the river makes me think of Rosamond Larmour Loomis. The cathedral reminds me of those four years of boarding school, of memorizing hymns, the strict regimen of classes, study hall, every hour mapped out.



Rosamond was the headmistress of the school. She died last week at the age of 102, several weeks after her boyfriend Henry.

I remember two conversations with her, one when I was 14, and had been called into her office with Miss Moran, the sadistic assistant headmistress. I’ve already mentioned this once on Paris Play, but it made a deep impression on me, hinted at my future. Miss Larmour sternly addressed a most unfortunate incident involving naked girls in high heels and pearls stampeding down the dorm singing an aria from La Traviata. She said, "We thought you were a leader when you arrived, but this is not what we had in mind."



And later at a school reunion, she was no longer the strict head of the school, but relaxed, warm, ageless. We discovered that we'd both been married for the first time later in life, at the same age, though years apart.

Rosamond died the way I would like to die, quickly, quickly, well past the age of 100, with my beloved and friends nearby. I imagine her on her journey, sailing into the mystery.

It is crowded at my writing café. But maybe, maybe that man is not sitting at my table.

The waiter asks.

No, he's just spread out his packages there from the adjacent table where he's talking with a woman. He graciously makes room for me.



I order salmon and scalloped potatoes, the way my mother used to make them.

I open my new James Salter novel, Light Years, and begin to read. Oh. my. god. Oh! Oh! This is music. I cannot help it, I begin to annotate the page with a pencil, making scansion marks above the words as if the lines were a prose poem.

The rhythm of his sentences, the sculptural quality. The weather, the sensory richness.

I know these characters, their lives rich with art, books, friendship, family, storytelling, animals, weather, beauty. (And later, carelessness, sad choices.)

The dinner arrives. The waiter says, “If you finish that book tonight, I’ll give you a free dessert.”

The couple next to me laugh. It's a joke Parisian waiters make only when it’s clear that you’ve just started a book.

The meal is fantastic.



The man at the next table gets up to use the bathroom. The woman strikes up a conversation with me. She lives for literature. She lives in a small town near Brittany. 

The man returns. He runs a poetry and fiction reading series near us in Paris.

She invites Richard and me to visit her in her small village. She offers to drive us around.

He invites us to come to his poetry series next weekend.

They have just met in the Jardin du Luxembourg.  We all exchange cards.

I am flooded with richness.

When they leave I order a glass of cider. The mild alcohol content won't interfere with my editing.

Oh yes it does. I'd forgotten the lingering effect of the flu, am instantly tipsy. Now, how to balance that out? A coffee would keep me up all night. But a hot chocolate wouldn't. That delicate balancing act we do with food, drink and energy.

The hot chocolate warms and awakens me. I edit the story with the music of Salter's sentences ringing in my ears.





Ruminating on Ruminating


So we've been feeling a little pressure.

Self-imposed deadlines, but still, they should be honored. We had a Paris Play due today, but we'd also had an apartment full of flu.

But more importantly, we've been thinking about what to write and how to put it, and that takes time, too.



The world looks too often only at the final results, and ignores the fact that the incubation process, the rumination stage of creativity, is probably the longest and deepest stage. As artists, we do go into the creative trance, and we love to talk about "the flow" when we're in it, but that romanticizes those later stages, to the detriment of the rumination.

So, to regain perspective, and to test our post-flu stamina, we popped into the Metro and popped out at the 50th Annual Salon International de l'Agriculture, the Paris Agriculture Fair, specifically to visit some of our favorite animals, the ruminants--cows, sheep, goats--cud-chewers all.


We also found probably a hundred-and-fifty-thousand Parisians (the four-day fair drew six-hundred-and-fifty-thousand people last year), wall-to-wall with their children and their strollers, since it was Sunday, and the last day of the fair, and because the French are still quite deeply connected to agriculture. Have we mentioned they are foodies? And where does food come from? Voila!

More than 1.1 million people work in agriculture in France, about six percent of the population. France is second only to the U.S as the world's largest agricultural exporter, and is the Eurozone's breadbasket, its top cereals producer.



There were various livestock pavilions, with lots of pigs, and even dogs and cats in abundance (the latter were non-food items). Horses were segregated in their own pavilion, which probably happens all the time, but it made us think of the recent Eurozone scandal involving the lack of horseflesh segregation, an embarrassing glitch in the system. Not that people don't want to eat horse meat here, they just want it labeled. (And, no small favor, the French don't stupidly append the suffix "-gate" to every scandal here, so we haven't had to sit through news reports about Horsemeat-gate.)

There were vast halls full of wine, the 365 different varieties of cheese that DeGaulle famously noted, sausages enough to string to la lune and back, Breton dancers, Basque horsemen, Provence donkeys--and everybody was eating something, since samples were abundant.


And the ruminants? In stalls or paddocks, standing around or lying down, calmly tolerating the massive number of humans uniformly ignoring the massive number of "please don't touch the animals" signs, they had their usual message for us: Hey, chill out. Remember that rumination precedes the fever-heat of productivity. All in good time. All in good time.



As we headed back to the Metro, reminded again of the order of things, we came across the usual demonstration. At the Auto Show, it was Greenpeace; today, it was the good folks from L124, an animal rights organization dedicated to the welfare of farm animals here in France. The name comes from rural law 124, which states (in our rough translation): "Every animal is a sentient being and must be placed by the owner in a manner consistent with the biological requirements of the species."

We don't do the "eat-me-or-don't-eat-me" debate with animals, since we know they return the favor with pleasure when given the chance, but we respect our friends of all stripes who respect animals, and we welcome their nuanced debate. We're just glad that our ruminant advisers were in town, and we were allowed their counsel.


And as a grace note, our Berkeley food critic friend John Harris told us about a fine documentary by the director Judith Lit featuring the family farmers of the Périgord region of southwest France, a rural community faced with the economic and cultural changes that have come in the world's shift to agribusiness. John saw it, and raved, at the last Mill Valley Film Festival.





Open Minds


I was full of inspiration after the evening panel discussion by French, British and American literary magazine editors at Shakespeare and Company Books. I wanted to get home quickly to open my new books (Giovanni’s Room! The Stockholm Octavo! The Tenants of The Hôtel Biron! Londoners! Tin House’s issue on Beauty!). But I was hungry. I took a short detour down one of those twisty golden Paris streets to a little Italian trattoria with phenomenally tasty pizza.

The small black-haired Italian girl behind the counter was talking with the older Italian customer just as if the scene were frozen since the last and only time Richard and I had stopped there.

The Italian man asked where Richard and I lived. Paris, now. And where did you live before? said the girl. Playa del Rey, a beach town in Los Angeles, I said. The Italian girl wanted to know why we’d rather live in Paris. The older man laughed. He knew. He moved to Paris from Bari some thirty years ago.

My pizza was ready. There was a booth at the back, near two women who were belting down red wine.



I opened my book, The Tenants of The Hôtel Biron. It’s a fictional account of the years when the house that is now the Musée Rodin was inhabited by Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Rainer Maria Rilke, Auguste Rodin, Camille Claudel, Vaslav Nijinsky, Eric Satie and Jean Cocteau. I know, you want to read it, too, right? I read with special relish because the author, Laura Marello, had passed the manuscript to me about ten years ago when we knew each other in Los Angeles. I’d been knocked out by the story and the writing, felt it was publication-worthy then, and now, ten years later it had found its publisher, Guernica Editions. Do you have any idea how happy it makes me when a writer finally breaks through?

So I’m savoring the pizza, devouring the book, and the two women speaking Spanish behind me are growing boisterous with gaiety. One taps me on the shoulder and asks in French if I have a cigarette.



Non, je suis désolé, je ne fume pas.

She gets up to ask the only other diner, a man who looks like Serge Gainsbourg, for a smoke. He hesitates, gives her one, and she puts it in her mouth as if she’s lighting up.

You know it’s not legal to smoke in restaurants? I ask.


Street art (mask) by Gregos, additional artist unknown


She scurries over to the edge of my booth and leans in and makes a face at me. Then walks outside to smoke.

Her friend behind me says, Forgive her. She doesn’t understand that you have to respect the cultural customs of the country in which you live. She has a problem with depression.

It’s okay, I say. For me it’s just a matter of health. I’m so relieved that France changed its laws about smoking in restaurants.

The woman and I banter in French. She tells me she talks to her friend about her surly attitude.


Street art by PopEye


The smoker returns. She sits down, her back to my back but turns to look at me as I talk with her friend. She is drunk, with a sweetly cow-like expression on her face, melancholy eyes, and a sprinkling of freckles. Like her friend, she has very short hair.

We ask questions of each other. Discover we are from the same continent, only they are from South America.

It’s the continent of the heart, I say.

South America, maybe, says the older woman.

North America too, I say. It’s all one heart.



Then an odd conversation begins. The older woman begins to talk about her friend as if she isn’t there. She is too closed, she says. She stays at home and is depressed. She doesn’t have any confidence in herself.

The younger woman nods, That’s right.

The older woman says, We’re out tonight trying to cheer her up. Getting her out of her apartment. Having a little wine.



There are four empty bottles on the table.

We talk about living in Paris. I notice that the younger woman’s fluency in French, her accent too, is excellent, and ask her about it. She was educated in Paris.

The older woman is originally Basque—we have rebellion in our veins, she says. Her family emigrated to South America before she moved to Paris. She never wants to leave.

The younger woman asks me if I’ve read Stefan Zweig.

No, I say. Is he good?

Very good, she says.

Do you like Proust? I ask.

The two women shake their heads. There are certain moral problems it seems with Proust. (Do they mean that he was gay?)


Street art by PopEye


He was Jewish, wasn’t he? the older woman asks.

Half Jewish, half Catholic, I say. He was raised as a Catholic, but really identified more with his mother who was Jewish.

I can see in their faces that there’s some difficulty in the way they regard this fact.

But you can’t be two religions, says the older woman.

Well, God, gods, spirits—what difference does it make?

They look at each other meaningfully. (Unspoken: a huge difference.)

You are Catholic? I ask.


Anti-Israel/-American street art in the Marais, artist unknown


They both nod as if to say, Exactly. And then the older woman, her lips red with wine, begins to talk about Jews. How grasping they are. How they try to take over the banks.

No, no, no, I say.

How Hitler tried to save his country from the Jews.

Hitler was a monster! I say.

No, he was trying to save his country.

The Jews were not responsible for the wretched state of Germany after World War I, I say. Germany was economically ruined and Hitler offered a scapegoat, someone to blame. He was a failed artist, a maniac.



I suddenly see that a visor-like armor has fallen over their faces. There is no further place to go in conversation with these two. Closed minds. Time to go. I pack up my book bag and say goodbye.

And the Italian man who still stands talking to the girl behind the counter, says, Dites bonjour à votre mari. Say hello to your husband.

Merci. Et bonne nuit à vous.

Buona notte, says the girl with a big smile. California, she sighs.

I walk home thinking about bigotry and hatred. How an atheist Jewish friend of mine used to talk about Catholics, and mock my spirit helpers, who appear to me in the form of gods and goddesses. She is someone I love, but it cost the friendship. No one wants to have to defend his or her own spiritual beliefs, nor should any of us have to.



I think about how a recent online discussion of a well-known Native-American poet’s reading in Tel Aviv elicited a furor on Facebook. There were those who, objecting to Israeli bullying of Palestinians, said, Don’t cross the picket line. There were those who defended Israel at any cost. There were those who sent her love and blessings on her performance there in the role of poet and musician.

I identified, in some way, with all of them.

It’s so obvious. Peace and love are not clichés. They’re the answer. But when you encounter scapegoating and bullying, where do you draw the line?





Scarfing Cupcakes


After about three days of Indian Summer, autumn turned cold again, just in time for Hallowe'en. It's not a big holiday here, but the turn of the Celtic New Year, All Saint's Day, when the veil between the realms of the living and the dead is at its thinnest, is celebrated, and it also marks the beginning of the Christmas decoration season. There's no Thanksgiving here to buffer the time between Toussaint and Nöel.





We did find one place where Hallowe'en flowered (or floured) for an afternoon, at least. It was the third annual Cupcake Camp, a 100% nonprofit charity bake sale with 2000+ cupcakes, most donated by gourmet and boutique bakeries, that were sold to more than 600 attendees. It's held in a community center next to Canal St. Martin, everyone donates their labor and wares (Paris Play donated the official event photographer this year), and all proceeds benefit the Make-a-Wish Foundation in France. This year's Cupcake Camp raised €5500 (about $7000). 

After celebrities in the baking community sampled the wares that were put up for judging, the public was let in, and the rush to buy cupcakes was on.



We were soooooo good that we didn't even sample a milligram of sugar (we're back on the wagon), but we did get a fashion rush. If there's anything that marks a Paris fashionista, it's the scarf, tied, draped, bound or loose. It's a look that Parisians pull off so successfully, they even wear them indoors. If today was any indication, solid colors and patterns are running neck-and-neck for the coming chilly season, but, given that style is so personal, anything still goes.














More photos of scarves and cupcakes here, and here's the Cupcake Camp website (with links to the best cupcake bakers in Paris, for those who indulge).






Autumn in August

Isn’t it strange how you set out to look for something, and you find something else?

Richard and I rarely decide ahead of time to write about and photograph a theme, unless it’s a scheduled event, like a parade. Otherwise we stumble upon our subjects. Serendipity, or whatever you want to call it.

But yesterday, we thought we’d go to our local market, and show you how it’s done in France. We arrived at the market on rue Mouffetard an hour after it opened. While it’s usually thronged, there was almost no one there. How odd. A few vendors had set up shop. But there were almost no buyers.



Why? We noticed that a funeral had begun in St.-Medard, the fifteenth-century church right where rue Mouffetard begins. Perhaps people didn’t want to mix life-giving food with death. There was a hearse parked between a vegetable stand and the church. Flowers being stacked in front of the church entrance. But no market, if market implies both buyers and sellers.

Then we realized that we hadn’t reckoned with August. The Parisians—doctors, lawyers, butchers, bakers, shoemakers, tous les Parisiens—take their month’s vacation in August, and the town is eerily calm and quiet. One local joke: You can shoot a cannon down any major boulevard in August and not hit a single French speaker. Unless it’s a Belgian, and they don’t count. (Belgian jokes here are like Newfie jokes in Canada.)



We walked back through Place Monge, which had its own skeletal food market going on, and saw the first yellow and orange autumn leaves. Last week it was too hot in Paris to move, and now, autumn is blowing in? Strange.

When we returned home, Richard processed photos and I worked on a short story.

Richard showed me a photo he’d taken in Place Monge of some eels, displayed with tails in their mouths, like an ouroboros, the ancient representation of things come full circle. But there is something terminally Irish in us that begins to play with words at the slightest opportunity.

“Let’s cut across the Eel St. Louis to the Maison Europeenne de La Photographie,” I suggested, when we had finished our work for the day. “Maybe we can do a post on one of the photography shows.”


Fashion shoot, Eel St. Louis, August 25, 2012


And so we did. One floor was full of fashion photos by Alice Springs. I used to see her and her husband, Helmut Newton, around the swimming pool of the Chateau Marmont when I stayed there as a traveling art dealer, and did my daily laps. They seemed infatuated with fame. Besotted with it. They would make great characters in a Chekhov-like story about character. When someone’s conversation revolves obsessively around one thing, you are seeing their character in action.


Photo and reflected photo in photo (c) Alice Springs


Then we looked at an exhibit called “Charlotte Rampling, Albums Secrets.” There were a number of photos of her by famous photographers (Cecil Beaton, Bettina Rheims, Alice and Helmut, and others). The most astonishing one was by Peter Lindbergh. She was wearing an African outfit of sorts, and with short hair, the length of her neck made her look like an African animal, maybe an antelope.

In another room, we listened to Charlotte Rampling’s beautiful, low voice in French and British English talk about beauty. People say it fades, she says, but it just changes.



There was a series of slide shows from her life, many featuring her three children. I watched them in fascination. Why did I never have children? I wondered. I never had the desire, yet I love children, and am always surprised to hear or read about women about to become mothers for the first time, who worry that they won’t know what to do. I feel I’d know instinctively what to do. I was the oldest of five, and loved reading to my younger siblings, directing plays and magic shows for them. And yet.



Everyone I know who has ever had the notion of past lives seems to remember exotic ones. I seem to recall just two (and this is, of course, nothing but fantasy); in my last life, I was a mother of nine, and a good one, too.

As we left the show, Richard said, “It’s hard to take photos of photos.”

“Unless you approach it like Emily Dickinson, by telling it slant. But I know what you mean. It’s hard to write about them too.”

As we headed for Mexican food, the wind came up. For the first time in months, I needed a sweater. “Summer’s over,” I said.

“Oh no, just wait,” said Richard.

Today, it’s hot again. Summer in the air, but leaves swirling in circles all along the Boulevard St. Germain.