Sunday in Paris in 1957

Above 1957, below 2021

Ever since I saw the top photo of the Louvre metro station entrance, photographed in 1957 for a Christian Dior advertising campaign, I’ve wanted to take a photo of it. Well, I finally did. Last Sunday I grabbed my camera, jumped on the metro and rode the rails to this metro station to take a picture.

What’s changed is the name: from Louvre to Louvre-Rivoli. But everything else seems to be the same: the ornate wrought iron railings, the large map of the city, the buildings in the backgound, the drooping pendant light globes made to resemble lily-of-the-valley flowers. Pure Art Nouveau and designed by French architect, Hector Guimard, between 1900 and 1913. Today, these metro station entrances are protected historic monuments.

As I strolled up the rue de Rivoli towards the Place de la Concorde, I began to think what Paris must’ve been like in 1957. When I got home and began hunting on YouTube, I found this video entitled 1957: Sunday in Paris. (Le dimanche à Paris).

Didion

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Author, screenwriter, essayist, journalist. She is the writer’s writer. Joan Didion….the high priestess of literature. I always have one of her books in my bag to read and re-read on the bus or train (I don’t own a smartphone and I eschew social media.)

Here’s an excerpt that I love from the opening pages of Blue Nights:

The French called this time of day “l’heure bleue.” To the English it was “the gloaming.” The very word “gloaming” reverberates, echos – the gloaming, the glimmer, the glitter, the glisten, the glamour – carrying in its consonants the images of houses shuttering, gardens darkening, grass-lined rivers slipping through the shadows.

Didion’s nephew is Griffin Dunne, actor, film-maker and son of Dominick Dunne. For those who haven’t seen the short documentary film he made on his famous aunt, here it is below. It’s sad and beautifully crafted.

Following the sudden death of her husband in 2003 (as they were sitting down to dinner in their Manhattan apartment), Didion published a magnificent memoir with an equally magnificent title: The Year of Magical Thinking. Tragically, her only child, Quintana Roo, aged only 39 and a recent bride, died two years later in 2005. In Blue Nights she pieced together literary snapshots and retrieved memories about her daughter’s life and death.

Didion’s writing is described as unsentimental and scrupulous. Here’s another favorite excerpt from Blue Nights

At the house after her christening at St. Martin of Tours Catholic Church in Brentwood we had watercress sandwiches and champagne and later, for anyone still around at dinner time, fried chicken. The house we were renting belonged to Sara Mankiewicz, Herman Mankiewicz’s widow, who was traveling for six months, and although she had packed away the china she left out her Minton dinner plates, the same pattern as the Minton tiles that line the arcade south of Bethesda Fountain in Central Park. I put them on a buffet table for the fried chicken.

I remember Diana eating a chicken wing off one of them, a fleck of rosemary from the chicken the only blemish on her otherwise immaculate manicure.

Today, Didion is 86 and lives in New York City.

The Secret Garden

This is my most favourite spot in Paris. If you promise to keep the address to yourself, I’ll tell you about it.

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It’s called the garden of the Royal Palace – le jardin du Palais Royal – and it’s a heavenly and sheltered retreat tucked behind a courtyard near the Louvre. The long, rectangular garden is hemmed in by elegant arcades that border its perimeter. Exclusive boutiques are to be found in 18th-century shopping galleries. As well as two or three restaurants.

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I love the faded grandeur of the buildings. The author, Colette, lived in one of these upper apartments overlooking the garden.

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You could easily spend half a day here. There’s a beautiful fountain in the middle. And tree-lined allées that provide shade.

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There are little squares of rose garden in which to read a book, contemplate life, people-watch … or write that memoir!

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Where young princes once strolled, today local boys play soccer.

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At the far end near the entrance is an inner courtyard containing the controversial columns designed by artist, Daniel Buren.

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I like the interplay between modern and classical.

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I love the jardin du Palais Royal. It’s French, it’s fabulous, it’s forever. Pour toujours.

And remember … it’s a secret.

Portugal, cancelled

So I cancelled my Portugal trip and instantly regretted it. I was due to return to Porto mid-August. (I cancelled because of the high Covid numbers here, there and everywhere. Safer to stay at home, I reckon.) But I’m disappointed. I was so looking forward to doing exactly what I did last August when I spent eleven marvellous days there: walking, exploring, taking photos, talking to people, exploring some more, eating and drinking tasty new foods and beverages, soaking up the atmosphere and wondering if I could live there in the future; taking the train to a beach town called Praia da Barra. It was hot, but a cool and constant breeze blew in off the ocean. It was marvellous; like having permanent air conditioning.

The apartment I rented was in a district called Bonfim. I’ll stay in that area again. One day I walked and walked and ended up at the gates of a huge cemetery called Cemitério Prado do Repouso. I happen to like visiting cemeteries, and was curious to visit a Portuguese one.

You can tell a lot about a culture and society by their cemeteries. This one was spick and span clean.

For a final resting place, it was a hive of activity: municipal workers sweeping and swabbing. Visitors bearing fresh flowers and paying respect to their loved ones. What touched me the most were the widows. Armed with buckets and brooms, they refreshed the flowers and swept and cleaned the gravesites of their husbands. Not wishing to intrude on their privacy, I kept my distance and watched them. Who will sweep their gravesites when they’re gone? Their children, I guess.

Family is tight in Portugal. Parents are revered and respected by their children even past adulthood. I like to read the inscriptions. Here below and at the age of 74, Maria died a mere month after her husband.

Church, family and tradition is apparent in Portugal. Also cleanliness, friendly and helpful people, and a super-difficult language (no, it’s not like Spanish at all.) Lucky for me, I came across retired people on a few occasions who spoke fluent French because they had lived and worked in France for decades. The Portuguese in France make up one of the country’s longest-established communities. The biggest influx was during the 30-year boom that followed World War II. By 1975, the number of Portuguese in France had soared to 750,000.

To see more photos of my trip last year to Porto and the nearby beach town (plus Lisbon a few years earlier), click on PORTUGAL up top.

the disappearance of Jeanne Moreau

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Jeanne Moreau and Marcello Mastroianni 

In the French language, when a person dies they say that she or he disappeared. Elle a disparu (She disappeared.) The first time I heard that expression, I thought it meant that the person had gone missing.

La disparition de Jeanne Moreau headlined all the newspapers on the day she disappeared. Une flamme s’éteint is another poetic French expression for the passing of someone: a flame is extinguished. And yet another, elle a rendu l’âme: she gave up her soul.

This blog post is an homage to Moreau’s passing on July 31, 2017.

Jeanne Moreau - La Notte (1961) car

Tributes, accolades and homages poured in all day in France. The cultural TV channel, ARTE, showed two Moreau films back-to-back, the first one Le journal d’une femme de chambre, 1964, with Moreau and the great Michel Piccoli. I saw both actors, on separate occasions, during my ramblings around Paris. Jeanne Moreau in a restaurant in the 14th arrondissement; and Michel Piccoli who burst into a métro car one afternoon, clearly inebriated, before staggering in my direction to sit lopsidedly on the seat beside me. His leg touched mine. I squealed silently with delight.

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Moreau brought to the screen a singular, inimitable verve, a petulance, and a shameless gaze. Her range was extraordinary and she illuminated such classics as Jules and Jim, The Lovers, Diary of a Chambermaid, and The Bride Wore Black.

My personal favorite is La Notte (The Night), a 1961 Italian drama in which she played alongside the impossibly gorgeous Marcello Mastroianni. There’s something dissolute, complex, sauve and sophisticated about that film.

In closing, watch this clip of Jeanne walking down the Champs-Elysées at night in Louis Malle’s 1958 film Les Amants with the Miles Davis soundtrack playing in the background. Pure French, pure Moreau, pure Davis. She was 30 years old.

Berthillon ice cream on the Ile Saint Louis

Yesterday was hot. I took the day off work, not because it was hot but because everyone takes time off during July and August. I headed down to the river and to Berthillon glacier (ice creams and sorbets). It’s located on the small island of Ile Saint-Louis in the middle of the river Seine.

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What’s funny is that the original Berthillon ice cream parlor is closed during July and August!  Luckily, the Ile Saint-Louis is served with a half-dozen outlets.

You either line up and purchase your ice cream as take-out or you sit inside and have it served to you. It was so hot I had to sit down inside. I ordered a chilled apple juice and perused the list of a dozen or so flavors ranging from fig to litchee to mandarin orange. Sorbet, or sherbet in English, has 30% less calories. I ordered a duo of mango and cherry sorbets.

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Eating Berthillon is an event because the flavor is so intense and the taste so startling, you swear you’re eating a real mango and real cherries. Once the fruit sorbet eaten, I ordered a single scoop of réglisse. Never having tasted licorice ice cream before, I was curious. (I thought it would be black – photo below).  Again, the flavor bursts in your mouth. One scoop is 3 euros 50, two scoops 6 euros 50. For take-out, one scoop is 2 euros 50, two scoops 4 euros.  

I like that the word “flavor” in French is parfum. I like that metal and not plastic spoons are used. I like the edible wafer cup that the sorbet is served in, called a coupelle en gaufre, and I like that they offer a pitcher of water.

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Afterwards I strolled the streets of the Ile Saint Louis then made my way down to the river.  A hot wind was blowing.

why I cannot wear my mother’s crucifix to work

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Last weekend, while rummaging through a drawer in search of one of my three passports, I came across a padded jewelry box. Opening it, I gazed upon one of my mother’s necklaces nestled inside. I pulled it out and held it up to the light. And in a flash I saw it dangling from my mother’s neck during the dinner parties she threw and loved so much. I remembered how it sparkled in the candlelight.

“This will look great against a black dress,” I said to myself. “I’ll wear it to work on Monday.”

Just to be clear and in the interest of avoiding a Kardashian-style copycat heist in Paris, this is costume jewelry. The stones are synthetic and the chain is metal, not silver.

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And then a startling thought occurred to me. Can I wear this necklace wherever I want? I had a vague notion that I couldn’t. On the heels of a recent ruling of the European Union’s highest court that now allows companies (if they so choose) to prohibit staff from wearing visible religious symbols, I paused to reflect. Then I fired up the internet to get more information. 

Enshrined in a landmark 1905 law that prohibits the state from recognizing, funding or favoring any religion, secularism is taken seriously in France. State schools are strictly non-faith and all public bodies must be free of religious influence.

In March 2004 and under the presidency of Jacques Chirac, French legislators felt the need to refresh and reinforce this 1905 law. And so they dusted it off and passed a new law banning the wearing of conspicuous religious symbols in state (public) schools. These symbols include Jewish skullcaps, Sikh turbans, Muslim headscarves and large Christian crosses. As a secular country, we were told, the ban was designed to maintain France’s tradition of strictly separating state and religion; it was also an attempt to enforce “religious neutrality” or “a neutral space.”

OK.

My initial reaction to this ban, I remember, was negative. Born and brought up in Canada (True North, strong and free), I believed it a violation of religious freedom and civil liberties. I didn’t like the idea of a government telling me what I could or could not wear.

Outside of schools, the wearing of conspicuous religious symbols is also banned in public buildings in France (courts and police stations, public hospitals and all government buildings).

Enter President Nicolas Sarkozy and yet another ban, this time prohibiting the concealment of the face in a public space. The law was passed in September 2010. Even though the face-covering ban includes all headgear: masks, helmets and balaclavas, the garments in question were the Islamic niqab and burka. A year earlier, Sarkozy defended France’s “secularism” to attack full Islamic veils in a speech. 

Never before had we heard the words ‘secular’ (laïque), ‘secularism’ (laïcité) and ‘secularization’ (la laïcisation) mentioned so often.

“Secularism is the new religion in France,” someone funny said.

“I want to solemnly say that the burka is not welcome in France,” said Sarkozy. “In our country, we cannot accept women prisoners behind a screen, cut off from all social life, deprived of all identity. That is not our idea of freedom.”

“We must not be ashamed of our values,” he added. “We must not be afraid of defending them.”

So where does my mother’s necklace fit into this story? I was considering wearing it to work. At the office there is one hijabi, a French-Moroccan woman who wears the hijab (headscarf). Well, if she can wear the hijab, surely I can wear my mother’s necklace.

On Monday I discussed the matter with my Franco-Lebanese friend and colleague who is of Christian faith.

“The wearing of a Christian crucifix will be interpreted as a provocation,” she said. “Personally, I wouldn’t wear it in the office. I wouldn’t even wear it walking around outside.”

A provocation? A Christian crucifix? My mother’s party necklace was taking on ominous, no, biblical proportions.

“But we weren’t religious,” I bleated, “The necklace was worn purely as a fashion accessory.”

“Well, we don’t know that.” said my colleague.

Oh, for heck’s sake.

When I was growing up in Canada, religion was not an issue. Now it’s a huge one. Why is that?

Sighing, I put the necklace back in its box and placed the box back in my drawer. If my mother had known, way back in the 1980s and 90s, that her necklace would end up in Paris and become such an object of controversy in 2021, she would have been very surprised indeed.

Portofino on the Italian Riviera

The perfect summer vacation spot … if only it wasn’t so crowded and expensive. Just south of Genoa, Portofino is a famous resort village located along the Mediterranean Sea in the region of Liguria. The town is clustered around a small harbour, and is known for its colorfully painted buildings that line the shore.

I’ve been there twice: when I was 12, and decades later with my Californian cousins. Behind me you can see the colorfully painted buildings that line the shore.

When I was 12, my family stayed in nearby Santa Margharita Ligure which is within walking distance of Portofino. Or you can take a small boat across the bay. Just now, as I wrote that sentence, a line from Truman Capote’s “Ischia” sprang to mind, a travel sketch found in his collection of work entitled “A Capote Reader”:

It was a classic day, a little cold for southern Italy in March, but crisp and lofty as a kite, and the Princepessa spanked across the bay like a sassy dolphin.

Why am I blogging about Portofino? Because I was watching Kylie’s latest film on YouTube and like all her short films – some made by drone camera! – it’s beautiful. I wanted to share it with you. Who’s Kylie? An extremely talented, effervescent young Australian woman who went to live in Italy. And she just got married! Here she is on her honeymoon in Portofino (link below.)

Honestly, you’d think you were watching an Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly, Cary Grant movie; a lost world of glamour, elegance and enchantment. Well, Kylie brings it all back, and I applaud her for it.

Brava, Kylie! Felicitazioni.

(443) PORTOFINO, ITALY: A CINEMATIC VINTAGE LOVE STORY – YouTube

 

 

the shame of Canada

Half a century ago, Barry Kennedy was taken from his family and forced into an abusive system that sought to obliterate his Indigenous heritage. Now, after the discovery of more than 1,000 bodies in unmarked graves at schools including his own, he reflects on the traditions that were erased, the friends he lost – and Canada’s new reckoning with that history.

I am Canadian. And I feel shame, not specifically toward Canadians, but toward my fellow human beings the world over for the evil they are capable of committing. Listen to this podcast in The Guardian –

The Indigenous children who died at Canada’s residential schools – podcast | News | The Guardian