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

Entries in Sartre (2)


Chocolate Soup


Snow is predicted for tomorrow, but tonight it’s just cold. Nonetheless we go out to meet our friend in layers, and I’m glad to be wearing my new lined wool mittens from Le Vieux Campeur.

It’s a straight shot to her apartment on Blvd. Saint-Germain. We pass the UGC theater and muse upon which restaurant we’ll go to for Valentine’s Day, which film we’ll see. How about The Descendants, in honor of our friend Kimo, who grew up in Hawaii, and whose birthday was yesterday? We’ve just discovered that each of our closest friends from college age was born on the same day. Kimo and Polly.

We hold hands as we walk and talk. Richard is in such good spirits lately, it makes me happy too.



He stops suddenly and crouches. A python on the sidewalk! Or rather, a python-nosed shoe, scuffed, muddy, abandoned. It’s the shoe of a fashionable Parisian. As Richard clicks away, I ponder how it was lost. In this weather, surely you would notice the loss of a shoe? Unless you were drunk. Or lately homeless.

Farther on, we come to the statue of Diderot. On one side of the base I spot a stenciled Cupid, holding a machine gun, a red heart over his head. Richard photographs that too.

I tell him of an idea for Paris Play: some of us are paired up this Valentine’s Day, some are not, but almost all of us have been in love at one time or another. I’d like to hear others’ stories of how they fell in love with their current love or one from the past.

He suggests we approach it through the senses. What was the first sense that drew you to the beloved? Like your poem, he says.



Sight, sound, smell, touch, taste. 150 words. Or an image. Or a piece of music. Or a meal.

We meet our friend at her apartment and walk to a Japanese-French restaurant on rue du Dragon. She was born in the Year of the Dragon, she says.

“So it will be a good year for you.”

We know what we want: she and I will have salmon, he will have beef bourguignon.

This waiter is so charming! A quick slender young Frenchman, his spirit so friendly and clear. I ask if I can have scalloped potatoes instead of carrots.



Our friend hasn’t heard this American term. “Scallops—Coquilles St. Jacques?” she asks.

No, scalloped, and I motion to show the waiter that I mean sliced potatoesOhPommes de terre grillées, he says.

Our friend sits with her back to the window, facing the two of us. We talk about the past week’s problems, as well as the usual bliss. Water is dripping from her petit coin into the apartment below. Her heat went out. The count who lives in her building came to fix the heater. This just never happens in L.A., counts who double as plumbers.

For a solid week after we posted “Trouble in Paradise” about our noisy neighbor, she was quiet. Quiet at night, quiet in the morning, quiet all day long. We nearly wept with relief. We attributed it to Group Mind acting on her psyche. Really. What else could it have been but the good wishes of friends and family zipping through holes in space and time and persuading her towards neighborly peace. We turned off our fan at night, since we no longer needed the white noise.



But a week later she started up again.



We talk about Paris apartments. Our friend was of the same mind as her friend, Jean-Paul Sartre: best to own a minimum of possessions, including property. But then her mother died and another friend persuaded her to use her inheritance to buy an apartment, and oh, how glad she is that she did.

I had the same attitude, I say, until I drove into Santa Fe the first time. Driving from the Albuquerque airport over the last rise, and seeing the city like a bowl of jewels in the valley below, I knew I would put down roots there, and buy a place, and I did.

We talk about a dinner that our friend had with the film director, Michelangelo Antonioni, and the actress, Monica Vitti, in the old part of Nice. Antonioni spoke some French, but was not familiar with a certain Niçois dish called amourettes. What was it? he asked our friend.

“Bull’s balls,” she said.


The testicles of a bull. Antonioni balked. “Michele, why don’t you order that,” Monica said. “It’d be good for you.”

“What?!” I say. “I can’t think of anything worse you could say to a man. Were they a couple at the time?”

“Yes,” she says.



It’s hard for women to get roles past a certain age. More so if they are sex symbols than character actresses. Think of Meryl Streep. She’s still going strong.

Anyway, that’s changing now that women are becoming directors and producers and screenwriters.

Richard tells of interviewing several female directors, including Gillian Armstrong.

We don’t eat sugar. Sugar isn’t good for you. But we honor Apollo, and the words engraved in his temple at Delphi, μηδέν άγαν (mēdén ágan = "nothing in excess"). Not too much of anything, including purity.



So let’s see if there’s something on the dessert menu the three of us can split. How about this: Chocolat dans tous ses états. Chocolate in all its states.

Now that is a great title for a dessert. And it includes a little cake, a mousse, ice cream and …yuk! soup?

No, let’s choose something else. What an idea: chocolate soup.

But we are metal returning to magnet. Chocolat dans tous ses états.

Richard, being the consummate gentleman that he is, offers to protect the two women from the unfortunately named chocolate soup, and handle that problem all by himself.

This could be an alchemical revelation: chocolate as water, air, earth and fire! Oui, celui-ci, avec trois cuillères.



And it arrives on a square white plate, four delicate offerings amidst chocolate powdered right on the plate: un petit gâteau, mousse, crème glacée, et la soupe.

It’s so aesthetic, so Japanese, so lovely we almost can’t dig in. For a few seconds. There are perhaps two bites of each for each of us.

But a furious question consumes us: soup is the wrong word for this liquid chocolate. We must help the restaurant to rename it. Three writers go to town. Syrup, Liquide. Tasse. Nectar. Boisson. Soupcon. A waterfall. A pour. Aztec. Maya. I want to name it Ambrosia.

The waiter approaches. We tell him our conclusion: the word soup has to go. “How about ambrosia?” I ask.

He smiles agreeably.

When he leaves, our friend says, “You don’t think he understood the word ambrosia, do you?”

“He seemed to,” I said. “Why not?”



“No. No, when I studied at the Sorbonne, I thought everyone was familiar with the Surrealists and French literature and European history. But most of the students weren’t. And it’s gotten worse since. Nobody knows anything any more.”

We go back to dreaming up a better word than soup, all agreeing on the felicitous title, Chocolat dans tous ses états.

The waiter returns with the check. “What is the French word for ambrosia?” I ask.

He looks puzzled.

I try to Frenchify it. Ambroisie?

He doesn’t know the word.

Oh dear, she’s right.

Across the street a great green door opens in the middle. A French car slides in through the opening and disappears. The door swings shut. “Look!” I exclaim.

“This is the first time I’ve ever seen it open for a car,” she says. “When they were renovating the building, homeless families camped out in the courtyard. I’d bring them food. The count brought everyone hot coffee each morning.”



A circle of lights is blinking to one side of the doors. I glance up. Men and women pass by the window in their Russian hats. Dots and dashes of white Morse code are being sent from heaven to earth. Or maybe it’s ambrosia. “It almost looks like snow,” I say.

The huge green doors open, and the car departs. We all turn to look. And see the first snow of the night falling.



      *     *     *     *

Now we want your stories. Remembering how you met a current or past love, what was the first sense that drew you to the beloved?  Sight, sound, smell, touch, taste? 150 words or less. Or an image with a 150-word caption. Or a short piece of music. Or a meal. Or a food doodle.

Get your contributions in by e-mail <textfile@mac.com> to us by 6 p.m. Paris time on Saturday, February 19. We’ll publish the best contributions as a Paris Play post next Tuesday, February 21.

We're waiting, senses alert.






Der Himmel über Paris


Imagine that you are the two angels in Wim Wenders’ film, “Der Himmel über Berlin,” (“Wings of Desire,” in America, though himmel translates as both "sky" and "heaven"), but instead of Berlin, you are in Paris on the evening of May 17, 2011. You can fly anywhere in the city and overhear conversations inside apartments you pass, or linger and watch and listen to the thoughts of the humans.

You might feel compassion for every human in every dwelling place you pass, including the men and women who make their home on the streets.

But surely there would be certain scenes you'd find more compelling than others. Even angels have preferences.

Surely if you’d passed by the windows of a certain apartment on Boulevard Saint-Germain, and saw a queenly woman dressed in black, with a humorous, wry expression on her face, seated on a divan facing a gathering of men and women eager to hear her stories, you would perch on the windowsill to listen. For this was a woman who’d traveled widely, and interviewed many of the leading artists of our time.

She wore big red sunglasses, red lipstick, and a scarf with a design like black and white piano keys. She wore sandals like those Gertrude Stein wore. She wore a black and white turban on her head like the ones Simone de Beauvoir wore.

And her first story was about Simone de Beauvoir.

Edith Sorel was living in Cuba, married to a Haitian, earning a living as a translator for Fidel Castro of his speeches.  Since he paid by the word and discoursed at length, it was a good job.



Jean-Paul Sartre came to speak in Havana, accompanied by Simone de Beauvoir. The state newspaper, Revolución, wrote an article about the noted writer, Sartre, and his companion, de Beauvoir, without a word about de Beauvoir’s accomplishments.

Edith wrote her first-ever article and fired it off to Revolución, detailing Mme. de Beauvoir’s importance as both a writer and philosopher, whose 1954 book, The Second Sex, was a clarion call for a feminist awakening.

The article was published the next day, and voilà, she received a call the following day from Simone de Beauvoir herself, inviting her to visit them at their hotel in Havana.

Edith knocked at their door, and de Beauvoir opened. She was quite beautiful, with dark hair and blue eyes, yet her voice was shrill. Whereas Sartre, who was the ugliest man Edith had ever seen, had the most beautiful voice.

Edith arranged for the French couple to meet Che Guevara, who now had the post of director of the National Bank. The meeting occurred at 4 a.m. in the bank, and Edith said that because she served as translator among the three of them, she doesn’t remember a word of what was said.

So began her career as a journalist—all because Revolución had not understood the importance of de Beauvoir, but Edith had.


She was hired first by Revolución, then was swapped for a French journalist, and sent to work in Paris. Since she wasn’t paid much, the newspaper supplemented her pay with winters in Cuba.  Her first "major assignment" was covering the 1961 Adolf Eichmann trial.

For years, Edith had lunch in Paris every six weeks with de Beauvoir. The writer liked to break from her work for lunch later than most, for exactly two hours, then return to her writing. She was very disciplined, Edith said.

And throughout the time she knew de Beauvoir and Sartre, they always looked at one another as if they’d just fallen in love, each alert for every word of the other, each acting as if they were seeing the other for the first time.

From Paris, she was sent to interview Pablo Picasso in Vallauris for his 80th birthday celebration.



She was immediately struck by his piercing eyes. Scorpio eyes, she said. Everyone brought him huge, extravagant gifts. Great bottles of champagne and massive quantities of food. Even a large painting painted by the children of the local potters.

Picasso got down on the floor with the children and discussed every detail of the painting: “This bull is very fine, but perhaps his ear could be changed like this…”

He was full of curiosity and excitement, said Edith, just like a child, always curious about everything.

Later, as she was walking in the street with her photographer, a long Lincoln Continental pulled up beside them.

Hola, chica,” came Picasso’s voice from the back seat. “Get in.”

They climbed in, went with him to a café, where he asked Edith, “Did you like my birthday exposition?”

The photographer kicked her under the table.

“I haven’t seen it,” she said (although she had).

“Then I will take you to see it right now!”

And so, just as the photographer knew would happen, the two of them were led through the show by Picasso, who told them all about each painting while the photographer snapped photos.

Henry Miller… Edith was assigned to interview Henry Miller in Pacific Palisades. He was close to 80 years old at the time, and his wife was nearly 50 years younger than he.

Before Edith could get to her first question, Miller said, "Sex.  Right?  You want me to talk about sex."

She was taken aback, but only for a heartbeat.  "No.  I want you to talk about love." 



Miller looked pleased.

“You married five times. Why did you marry so often?”

“Because you had to marry women then to sleep with them.” (Does this remind you of anyone else, say, Elizabeth Taylor?) “But my great love was a woman I didn’t marry. She was 20 years older. I was 19 at the time.”

(Although Miller may have married for sex each time, his last wife, it is reported, refused to sleep with him because, "You are an old man.")

Everywhere you looked there were paintings, Edith said. Covering all the walls, and even on the ceiling. Henry Miller painted a water color every single day.



Edith made an appointment three months in advance to interview Ingmar Bergman the director of famously angst-ridden films. He was directing a play in Munich, Germany. When she arrived, the Nazi-like guard at the playhouse stopped her. No, she did not have an appointment. No, she could not see Bergman. She asked to speak to his secretary. No, he did not have a secretary.

She raised her voice, in German. The guard made a phone call. Down came Bergman’s secretary, who was appalled; apparently she had forgotten to write the appointment in Bergman’s calendar. However, Bergman’s home was not far from the theater. Perhaps she’d be willing to meet him there? This was even better, Edith said. She always liked to meet people in their own homes; it was more revealing. When she arrived, he was not there, so she poked around, and even read one of his letters.  (Or so she told him, though perhaps she didn’t.)

Bergman was a man with big ears and a big nose, so in photos you couldn’t see how attractive he was.  His height and figure and face all together were quite arresting. He was in an anguish of apology with her. He offered her a drink. She had her usual Scotch, and so did he. Still anguished over the forgotten appointment, he apologized, and then as they talked, they laughed and laughed, and had a wonderful time. The master of Scandinavian angst was a man of tremendous humor and joie de vivre.



The interview with Bergman was in sharp contrast to her interview with the comedian-filmmaker Woody Allen ("He had flaming red hair, you know.") in his apartment in New York City. You would recognize it from “Annie Hall,” "Manhattan," and “Hannah and her Sisters.” All the familiar rooms.

She began by asking him about his prolific output, making a movie once a year.

“Yes,” he said.

She asked him various questions, to which he responded “Yes.” Or “No.”

He offered her a drink. It was only 11 a.m., but she needed a Scotch. It was apparent to her by now that she’d need the skills of both a dentist and a psychiatrist to get Woody to talk.



She asked him about the films of Ingmar Bergman.

“Bergman!” said Woody Allen. “He’s my god!”

“Have you met him?” Edith asked.

“No,” said Allen.

“Well, I have,” said Edith, and then, beginning with her stories of Bergman, the interview flowed.



We who were perched on the windowsill wanted more stories from Edith. But a documentary is being made about the ABCs of her great life, and perhaps we’ll hear more of her stories then.

Even angels have to wait for things to come forth in their own time. And we have all eternity to receive them.