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

Entries in wine (2)


Full Moon Plays




We first see her near midnight a few blocks from our flat, high above l’Hôtel de Sens, down-turned eyes, mouth opened in song, cloud plumes scudding across her radiant face so fast you cannot tell if one of the three stars to the right might be an airplane. 

They’re taking down the Christmas lights on the Île St-Louis. From the Pont des Tournelles we can see the Cyclops of the Tour Eiffel scanning the midnight sky.


It’s been a day of plays. Bien sûr, it’s the Full Moon!

First, a comedy on the rue des Ancienne Comédie. Chrystine and I chat in French as she cuts my hair. Her husband, Marc, has a French client; their French is better than mine, by far.

In comes a woman from Mexico with her German boyfriend, bearing gifts. La Virgen de Guadalupe (in chocolate?). She speaks only Spanish. Her boyfriend speaks only German, with a little Spanish. She wants to convey to Marc the haircut her boyfriend wants, only Marc doesn’t speak Spanish.

Ah, but his client does. The German communicates to his girlfriend in Spanish. She tells Marc’s client what he wants in Spanish. Marc’s client translates it into French for him. Chrystine speaks no Spanish; I understand it, but mix it up too much with French now to try speaking. We listen. The communication is full of laughter, and finally everyone understands. The Mexican woman and I speak and I think she’s said she’s from Los Angeles, but no, Angeles is her last name. More laughter.



Next, a surreal dramaRichard and I are on a crosstown bus, late for a party in the 20th arrondissement given by a street artist we dearly love, to honor his friends. We’re standing—the bus is crowded—when we hear the sounds of love-making, groaning, panting and moaning, over the p.a. system. Everyone glances around at each other—was that the bus driver, or are we picking up signals from some other, full moon, dimension?


A few minutes later, the bus driver announces on the p.a. that he’s annoyed with a young man standing near the back door. Everyone looks puzzled. Annoyed? Really? Et pourquoi ça?

The young man, who is tall and self-contained, shrugs, Qu’est qu’on peut faire?

More moaning sounds. There’s a ripple through the bus: do we have a demon bus driver here? Hmmmm…

The bus stops. I ask a French woman near the door what she thinks is going on.

She responds by calling out to the bus driver, Why are you bugging this man?


Street art © 2014 Fred Le Chevalier

The driver calls back in a baritone voice, It’s my bus; I can do whatever I want here.

The woman says, So you are the dictator, huh?

Oui, he says, C’est moi.

You certainly can do whatever you want, she says, but you might do it with a bit more grace.

Now, two North African-looking women at the front of the bus object to this woman’s calling the man’s authority into question, and shout at the French woman. The bus driver, his fans, and the woman at the back are going at it now.

Most of the other passengers laugh, or make that disapproving moue. Two Saharan African men roll their eyes, at either the voice of authority or the voice of rebellion.

And then we arrive at our stop on rue de Ménilmontant. All of us who disembark are laughing, laughing! Richard shakes hands with one of the African men. Good luck, they say in French. The bus to hell goes on.



Finally, a love story. Our friend, Fred, is seated at a long table surrounded by friends. He greets us warmly, makes introductions all around, shows us the buffet where we help ourselves to pasta, salad and tangy, salted feta straight from Greece. He pours us a good red wine. In the room at the back, an exhibit of Fred's artwork, the last day of the show.

Fred, the quintessential romantic, hovers close, protective, around his new girlfriend, whom many of us are meeting for the first time, pouring her wine, bringing one arm around her to do so like a chevalier sommelier.

Two gorgeous women who look like sisters, with bangs and deep red lipstick, turn out to be, not sisters, but band mates for a punk band who write their own feminist lyrics.

A screenwriter and her two friends arrive. Richard and I talk to her about our friend, John Truby’s screenwriting class coming next week to Paris. Oui! She knows his name, would like to take the class, but is about to start a new job.

Next to me, Fred’s oldest friend, Estelle, a lawyer, and I talk about vision quests and love.

A lately arrived artist, Doudou, has an open face, great warmth. He and Richard like each other, stumble through French to a few laughs.


Street Art © 2014 Fred Le Chevalier

But it’s now time for our trek across town home. We tell these new friends it will be an hour walk, and to a person, they are amazed. "Walk? An hour?" In a land of motor scooters and incredible public transportation, the thought of a midnight walk across Paris seems alien to the natives.  

The hour walk clears the head of wine, but not the giddiness of this full moon, full of drama day and night in Paris: language drama, attitude drama and the best kind of drama, gathering with friends to celebrate art and love. 


Street art © 2014 Fred Le Chevalier 



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?