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

Entries in religion (4)


Happy Holi-Days

What a delight today was.

How often do you get to find a new way to celebrate a seasonal holiday? Literally, in this case, a Holi day, which celebration coincided this year in Paris with the Christian Easter.


Thanks to Nona and Popeye, two Indian photographer friends, we were invited over to the Cité Internationale Universitaire de Paris, a private park that contains dozens of residence halls for students from all over the world, specifically to the dorm building called Maison de l'Inde.


The occasion? The annual celebration of Holi, a Hindu holiday also known as the Festival of Color, celebrating the arrival of colorful spring, after the monochromatic months of winter. It also commemorates various events in Hindu mythology, but mostly it's an excuse to forget barriers of caste and class, and to get down and funky. Celebrants throw fluorescent colored powders, like turmeric, and drench each other with colored water. One's eventual resemblance to an Easter egg is purely coincidental.

In this case, the revelry and silliness the hundred or so participants engaged in was accompanied by ear-splitting Indian rock music, and the kind of freeform sybaritic dancing that recalled the best days of the old Fillmore Auditorium.


If the multinational Paris celebration also looks suspiciously like college spring break, we won't deny it. The colored powders came out at eleven a.m., and the cases of beer came out about eleven-oh-five. We left about three to come home and process photographs and write this post, but the party was just getting started. If you have a Hindu community near you, be sure and make a friend before next year's Festival of Color. And wear old clothes.


We hope you'll excuse us now, we have to go shower--and have the cameras cleaned.



Happy Birthday, Ganesha!

Paris Play loves a holiday.

And a parade.

And myth.

So a Paris holiday parade in honor of a mythological diety, particularly a diety like Ganesha, the elephant-headed populist hero who is the Remover of All Obstacles, the god of all new beginnings, of the intellect, of good luck, and of creative artists, sends us into ecstasy.



We are not alone.

Paris has Europe's third-largest Hindu community, centered at the border of the hardscrabble tenth and eighteenth arrondissements, near two major railyards, Gare du Nord and Gare de l'Est. Once a year, they (Hindu Indians and the Hindu Sri Lankan Tamil community) have a party to celebrate Ganesha, and all Paris comes. There's singing, dancing, poetry, chariot-dragging, and tons of food--coconuts, bananas, mangos, rice, curries--all manner of food and colorful spices, because Ganesha (note the belly) loves to eat. Men carry entire trees on their heads, and women, burning incense pots.



Flip through our photo album, and join with us in celebrating Ganesha, one of the most widely worshipped gods of the Hindu pantheon; Hinduism is the world's third largest religion, behind Christianity and Islam. Lean close to your computer and inhale the fragrance of jasmine garlands. 







Paris is a clean metropolis, and even on Sundays, the city crews are waiting to sweep up the parade residue, including the remains of piles of tumeric coated coconuts, which are broken open on the streets to feed one and all. Happy birthday, Ganesha, and may your blessings rain on all Paris Play readers.  



If you'd like to see a high-resolution slideshow of our Ganesha's Birthday photos, there's one here.




Voices: Wedding Day


It is difficult to write non-fiction. By that I mean, I heard many compelling stories the day of Porter and Louise’s wedding. And their story alone is worth hearing in detail.

But I cannot tell you any of these stories without being indiscreet.

Porter and Louise were married amid the scaffolds in an eleventh century church, Notre Dame de Rigny, which Porter’s Birmingham, Alabama family is helping to restore.



This Notre Dame, built on an earlier eighth century church, was one of the stops on the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. It was the church where King Louis XI worshipped when he wasn’t slaughtering deer and boar in the royal forest of Chinon.



Their wedding dinner was held in a fairy tale castle, Chateau du Rivau.

Ah, the splendor of the wedding festivities. The bride and groom glowed. If you knew them, or even if you simply glimpsed them for the first time, you’d see that it was a marriage of kindred souls, of true love.

But that story is theirs to tell. I couldn’t do it justice in one short journal post.

What I wish I could tell you are the stories I heard from the wedding guests. Before the wedding, during the ceremony, on the bus to the wedding dinner, and at the chateau that night.



I’m tempted to turn back to fiction, which puts on clothes and names that disguise its origins, and allows you to say almost anything, just as the wedding guests, in donning vintage clothes, freed themselves to tell stories about their twenty-first century selves.

However, I have an agreement with you here on Paris Play. So I will simply weave some snippets of voices that linger in my mind since I heard them on the wedding day.

Voice of a man to the husband of a couple before taking their photos: “Put on your glasses, it’s sexier.”

The voice of the pastor:

    Père…[c]est toi le Seigneur de notre passé,
    de notre présent et de notre avenir.     
    C’est de toi que vient toute bénédiction.”

(Father… you are the Lord of our past, our present and our future. It’s from you that all blessing comes.)



The inner voice of a woman:  Père, Père, Père, and the son and the holy ghost. Where are the women in this spiritual vision which calcified long ago into a religion? In ancient times, vision came from the muses, all of them women. Where are the goddesses?

The voice of moonlight striking water on a warm summer night, Claire de Lune, the voice of Debussy coming through piano keys played by the groom’s oldest daughter.

The voice of the bride and groom’s two-year-old daughter, laughing as she races around in front of the altar.

     “Nous croyons en Dieu le Père.
     Nous croyons qu’il a créé le monde
     Pour l’homme et la femme.”

(We believe in God the Father. We believe that he created the world for man and woman.)

Where is there room in this creed for the voices of women who love women, and men who love men?

The murmuring voices of the bride and groom as they exchange vows.

The sweet innocence of the pastor’s voice in French.



The voices of the naked men and women who climb out of the underworld in a Judgment Day frieze high above the altar. The voices of the dead.

The voice of a man (who is talking to one woman) greeting a second woman outside the door to the church: “Have I ever told you what a fine specimen of a woman you are?”

The voice of a man saying about the groom (whose livelihood is helping people buy and renovate Paris apartments): "Wouldn’t he have to have been married on a construction site?"

The voice of a woman describing how they met:  “Come here,” he said. “Come here, so sexy.”



The voice of a woman who has recently moved from Paris to the country, to someone who has just moved to Paris: “How can you live in Paris? How can you? How can you live in Paris? How can you live in Paris?”

Voice of a single woman describing to a wife what her husband just said about her: 
“He said to me, ‘I’m looking for my wife.’
And I told him, ‘You can always find another one.’
Do you know what he said?
‘Not like this one, I can’t.’”

Voice of a woman who is newly single after many years of marriage: “One day he said to me, ‘I don’t want to be married to you any more.’ No warning. Out of the blue. I’m still in shock. I’d like to move to Paris, but how would I earn a living there?”

Voice of a man watching his daughter and her husband sip champagne together as the desserts are unveiled: 
“I’ve lost a daughter.”
“No, you haven’t,” two women say at once.
“Yes. I have.”



Voice of a woman telling her story of her divorce after a long marriage to an alcoholic: “After the judge heard all of us speak, he said to my husband, ‘You grew up in a good family, you’ve had good fortune in your profession, you have a wife and children who love you, and you’ve thrown it all away. Why? Why have you ruined your life?’”

And I remember the voice of Antonio Machado: “What have you done with the garden that was entrusted to you?” 

The Wind, One Brilliant Day

The wind, one brilliant day, called
to my soul with an odor of jasmine.

"In return for the odor of my jasmine,
I'd like all the odor of your roses."

"I have no roses; all the flowers
in my garden are dead."

"Well then, I'll take the withered petals
and the yellow leaves and the waters of the fountain."

The wind left. And I wept. And I said to myself:
"What have you done with the garden that was entrusted to you?"

—Antonio Machado (Translated by Robert Bly)



Gods and goddesses,

ancestors and muses,

a prayer for Louise and Porter:

May their garden be fragrant with jasmine and roses.

May they tend it together their whole lives long.

May they blossom.

May they thrive.





La FĂȘte de la Musique


Long ago, Ariadne, the Cretan princess, found her way through the labyrinth—where the Minotaur was hidden—with the help of a clew, a ball of thread. The thread changed colors, twelve in all, as she wove back and forth, north and south, east and west, until she reached the center.

I have vague intimations of this mythical life that underlies the present one through all the threads that connect me to memory and the people I love.

Our friend, T., is in Paris finishing up a novel that takes place in France.

She taught at the university where Richard and I got our MFAs in writing poetry and fiction.

Her friend and ours, E., who founded this MFA program, recommended to T. that she go to a Paris restaurant called Le Bouledogue. The owners have two French bulldogs and attract customers who bring their bulldogs to sit at the table with them as they dine.

Though we are Cat People, and T. and E. are Dog Persons, the prospect of seeing a roomful of bulldog diners is irresistible.

And it means we can spend more time with T.

It is not only La Nuit du Bouledogue, it is also Paris’ annual summer festival, La Fête de la Musique. Musical groups from all over the world will be performing all over the city on this longest night of the year.

At 6:00, we meet in front of our building, and begin our meandering towards Le Bouledogue in search of music.

At the Pont de la Tournelle, we descend the steps to the quai along the Seine.

Electronic music booms from a boom box, within view of Notre Dame. Strange dissonance.

Richard dashes ahead, snapping photos.



“Have you seen Midnight in Paris?” asks T.

“Yes,” I say, “have you?”

“Yes,” she says. “What did you think?”

“Since you’re asking, you tell me.”

“I hated it!” she says. “One cliché after another.”

“And we loved it. I walked in expecting nothing, since I haven’t liked his recent films. But it’s what he does best, a light pastry, a chocolate éclair.”

We discuss what she hated and what we loved.

“And The Moderns, she says, “That’s a film I loved.”

“And I hated it!”

“You did? But why?”

“I thought it was pompous, pretentious, static, phony. So did Richard.”

Now we’re both laughing.

We double back to the Petit Pont and cross the Seine.

T. asks me about my first trip to Paris.

I tell her of crossing the Atlantic on the Queen Elizabeth at the age of 19 with my 18-year-old sister, Jane, and of being pursued by an Italian-American writer on the ship. Of resisting him. Of staying in a pension run by nuns with Jane in Paris. Of the French photographer who chased her all over Paris.

And then I had an experience that blew away the last trace of Christian belief in me, since losing most of it at an Episcopalian boarding school.



We are now at the entrance of Notre Dame.

T. wants to visit Joan of Arc, who makes an appearance in her novel.

We enter the Cathedral in the midst of a service. The priest’s voice has an unearthly beauty and innocence, as if he’s singing of the Christ that St. Francis of Assisi knew, the Christ of nature and kindness, rather than the Christ of torture and blood.

To the right is a transparent wall, behind it a priest sitting at a table, facing a parishioner. It appears that there is a confession going on.

If I were to face that priest, what would I confess?

I can’t think of a thing that I haven’t already admitted to myself or to people I love, whom I might have inadvertently hurt.

The priest’s voice is a poem, in an accent I can’t place, though its origin isn’t in France.

I want to sit and listen to him. I move toward the pews.

A sign blocks the way: Do not sit if you are not here for the entire service, it says.

The three of us walk to the statue of Joan of Arc. I do the math from her birth date to her death. She was 19 years old the year she was burned at the stake.

We turn towards the altar. The priest is a young man; his face and accent suggest that he’s from an African country. His sermon is a song.

The choir is singing now. A soloist in a long blue robe stands in front of the altar, and sings.

Above us are flower-mandalas of many colors, fashioned out of stained glass.



Out of Notre Dame, I finish my story. That summer I spent a weekend visiting Giorgio D’Ambrosio in Zurich, where he worked. There was moonlight. A balcony. And love. I lost what I was ready to lose. And it was ecstatic for both of us. Until he began weeping with guilt. Sex was so wrong! He’d go to Mass in the morning and confess!

I was shocked out of my mind. Instant complete conversion: if Christianity called this wrong, I was no Christian, I was a pagan.

Richard is ahead of us, taking photos. We pass the Pompidou, and arrive at Le Bouledogue. People are seated outside, but nowhere are there bulldogs!

I scan the menu, and see what I’m looking for: salmon with salad. T. orders first, the same thing, and Richard wants duck.



I shudder, though it makes no sense. I eat chicken and turkey. But I couldn’t eat a duck. We’ve had duck friends. Most recently, Grace (Kelly) in Playa del Rey, the white domestic duck abandoned in the lagoon, who soon attracted three mallard suitors, because of her exotic coloring, two of whom lasted through several mating seasons.

T. tells us the story of her novel, which takes place in World War II France. It is a compelling tale about identity, about Christians and Jews, French and Germans.

This is a timely subject, I say. The metamorphosis of victim into bully is what is happening now in Israel.

She agrees.

And one of the worst things that humans do to each other is scapegoating, and witch hunts.

The waiter arrives with dinner.

“But where are the bulldogs?” we ask.

“In two or three minutes, they arrive!” He says.

The salmon has arrived too. And it’s raw. How did I miss the word, “tartare?” Look at this beautifully prepared salmon tartare. And I can’t eat a bite. I substitute for the fish a side dish I wouldn’t ordinarily touch, French fries.

Now, two sturdy champagne-colored male bulldogs arrive with the owner of the restaurant. He ties their leashes to a brass rail at the end of the bar, and they plop down side by side, legs splayed.

But no customers come to sit at the tables with their bulldogs.

We head out to hear “Young Talent,” whatever that is, at the Musée Carnavalet in the Marais. But the line to get in fills half the courtyard.



And so we meander, past a Kiehl’s Beauty Products on rue Franc-Bourgeois, where a French rock band plays “Got my Mojo Working;” past an electric jazz band under the arcades at Place des Vosges, with electric violin, guitar and drums; past a folk duo as we round the elegant square; past a Christian choir singing “Jesus, mon fort et mon Rocher,” and back towards the Île Saint-Louis and the Seine.



On the other side of the Quai de la Tournelle is La Rotisserie du Beaujolais, my mother's favorite Paris restaurant. 

We tell T. about the resident cat, Beaujolais, who sits at the front corner table when three or fewer diners occupy his chosen table of four. Just as there were no bulldogs tonight sitting at the dinner table, neither are there cats. 

Strange how almost nothing I was looking for tonight—bulldogs sitting at the table with diners, cats doing the same, a good salmon dinner myself—has happened, yet seeing T. made it all irrelevant. We go out to explore, and what we find is human connection.

We reach Boulevard Saint-Germain and kiss T. goodbye.



On our block of Cardinal Lemoine, we hear the sweetest sound, and see the most enchanting sight: there are couples dancing to an Irish-sounding tune, dancing in the street! There are women dancing together, children dancing, men and women dancing, grandparents dancing with grandchildren.

A band stands on the sidewalk, playing a gay tune.

Richard kneels to take the right shots.

I stand on the opposite sidewalk in a state of delight.

“Is this Irish music?” I ask the woman standing next to me.

“It’s music from Bretagne,” she says. “It’s close to Irish, though.”

“Of course—it’s so fresh and gay! Like the music of the troubadors.”

“Yes,” she says, “it is.”

The band stops playing.

A middle-aged woman drenched in sweat after dancing with a girlfriend, comes over to stand beside her friend.

Her friend asks her to confirm that this is music from Bretagne.

“Oui! Oui!” says the woman.

We push open the big green door to our courtyard, feeling there’s no place like home.