Tag Archives: Paris

Le Flâneur: Paris at Night in 2,000 Photographs

The elegance of Paris is captured in a stunning time-lapse video by Luke Shepard, a student at The American University of Paris.

The undergraduate student’s two-minute video titled Le Flâneur has gone viral since the Boston-native posted it on the popular video networking site Vimeo earlier this year.

The video is composed of 2,000 photographs which Shepard, 21, shot at night and in the early hours while roaming the French capital. Over the course of a few months, Shepard snapped photo after photo with his trusty Nikon D90 camera strapped to a tripod to prevent any unnecessary movement.

The video is set to the song Intro by The xx, an English indie pop band.

“Ever since I’ve been in Paris I’ve been wandering the streets at night either by bike or by foot,” Shepard told the Toronto Star.

“There is a very eerie feeling about it (at night). I wanted to tell its story through pictures.”

Excerpted from the Toronto Star, May 5, 2011.

Interview with Luke Shepard.


In Pursuit of Happiness


There are people who feel compelled to leave the place where they were born and the culture in which they were raised and go to Paris, where they find themselves.

The mere act of going through the motions in another city, in another language, can be a distraction from the mundane. In Paris, every errand requires a new vocabulary, words one would never come across in Molière or Baudelaire: tournevis, crochet, marteau for a trip to the hardware store; tache, doublure, before heading off to the dry cleaner.

But the truth is, Paris also takes one’s mind off troubles in unforeseen ways. Everywhere, something urges you to pay attention: a taste, a smell, some subtle flourish that a person trudging through life might otherwise miss.

From a walk-up apartment half a block from the Seine, you might listen through open windows on a summer night to the chamber-music concerts across the street at the Musée de la Monnaie, with Mozart’s ripe harmonies carried upward on the dense, warm air. Going on midnight, the noise of the traffic might be interrupted by lurching, bleating oom-pah-pah renditions of popular standards as the Fanfare des Beaux-Arts, a marching band of students from the school of architecture, snaked its way through the narrow streets, its gusto fueled by wine.

Shopping for groceries, you might bring home fraises des bois, plump figs from Turkey, and yogurt made from goat’s milk. At the bakery on the corner, you might discover congolais—haystacks of pure, intense coconut or, if it is Christmastime, crystalline marrons glacés. In the Luxembourg Gardens, you might see children sailing their boats in the fountain or, in October, watch a parade of citrus trees in their jardinières, being taken to the Orangerie, where they will sit out the winter.

Many of us in North America share the middle-class values instilled in our parents by their parents: diligence, discipline, thrift, and a particularly Calvinist delight in the virtues of self-denial. Work is every upstanding person’s reason for being, and pleasure and leisure are the rewards for a job well done. From this austere outlook, we might conclude that the self is to be constantly policed and kept in check.

Spending time with the French allows us to loosen our iron grip. We envy their capacity for moderation, and realize for the first time that pleasure makes moderation possible. We begin to build little treats into the day: a walk along a street we love, 20 minutes with a book in the Tuileries on the way to an appointment; a late-night glass of Champagne at a café; Poilâne’s walnut bread for breakfast. Where we might consider flowers a reckless indulgence, except for Mother’s Day, in Paris, no vase ever goes empty.

The French know that pleasure is something to be discovered, there for the taking, and something to be cultivated. Its pursuit, as it turns out, is not a mindless slide into debauchery but a science, rigorous and exacting, discriminating between the merely good and the sublime. The thing about pleasure is that it immerses you in the moment. The present becomes more compelling than the future or the past. There is no better cure for heartache.

Having spent time there, could one ever be happy living anywhere else? That’s not the lesson.

Because in the course of learning to love the city and its inhabitants,  one also learns to savour the texture of everyday life, in Paris or anywhere.

Sacre Coeur Dufy

Adapted from Holly Bruback, Gourmet, September 2008

Image: Arnaud Frich, Montmartre

Image: Eglise St Pierre et Sacré-Coeur par Jean Dufy

Like a Theremin, But More Sophisticated

Jean Laurendeau lives on an ordinary street in West Montreal. But tucked away in a small second-floor studio in his home is something quite out of the ordinary: a rare musical instrument called the ondes Martenot.

At first glance, it doesn’t look very remarkable. Consisting of a piano keyboard on legs with a few mysterious buttons and switches, it could easily be mistaken for an early prototype of a Moog synthesizer. But it’s much older than any synthesizer: It was invented in France by Maurice Martenot in 1928, and is now eight decades old.

“The right hand plays on the keyboard to determine the notes,” says Laurendeau, a soft-spoken, professorial man of 70 years. “The left hand controls the sensitivity – like the bow on a violin.”

In some ways the instrument is like a theremin – famously used to create weird, otherworldly sounds in old horror and sci-fi flicks. Both instruments work on the same principal: “heterodyning oscillators” control pitch and volume. But according to Laurendeau, the ondes Martenot is more sophisticated.
“When you play the theremin, you don’t touch anything. Everything is in the air, and it’s hard to be precisely in tune and to make a clean attack on a note. The keyboard allows a kind of virtuosity that the theremin does not permit.”

By adjusting the settings on his ondes Martenot, Laurendeau demonstrates how it can warble sweetly or penetrate like a knife. By altering pressure on the keys, he coaxes a gentle vibrato from it. When he puts a metal ring on his finger and slides it up and down the keyboard, a distinctive wail is produced.

“Maurice Martenot was a very simple man,” continues Laurendeau, who studied with the inventor in Paris in the 1960s, and later wrote a book about him. “He was not very good at marketing – it was non-existent for him. Once, some people from a bank came to him and said ‘What do you need?’ He said, ‘I want to be left in peace in my studio.’ “During his lifetime, Martenot built fewer than 300 instruments.

On the other hand, the Russian inventor Léon Theremin was an aggressive advocate for his instrument, performing concerts on his invention throughout Europe and America. As well, the theremin soon found its way to Hollywood – and was also popularized by the Beach Boys in the song Good Vibrations.

As a result, the theremin is much better known in North America. But in the Francophone world, the ondes Martenot holds a position of respect. In France, the instrument can be studied at music conservatories in Paris and other cities. And until the mid-1990s, Laurendeau taught it at the Conservatoire de musique de Montréal.

Yet despite its rarity, the ondes Martenot shows no sign of dying out. It also continues to crop up – sometimes in unlikely places. It can be heard in the soundtracks of the movies Lawrence of Arabia and A Passage to India. Jonny Greenwood of the band Radiohead plays one, and it was used in the 1970s by the Quebec rock groups Harmonium and Beau Dommage. As well, the instrument is the subject of Wavemakers, a documentary film currently being made by the Montreal-based Productions Artifact company.

Most significantly, the ondes Martenot is essential to a small but valued body of 20th-century classical repertoire. Messiaen’s opera Saint François d’Assise requires three of them.

Laurendeau, one of the few professional “ondistes” in North America, is often called upon when his services are needed: He’s performed throughout Canada, and in the United States with the orchestras of Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, St. Louis and Houston, among others.

“Its past guarantees its future. There are great works that need the instrument to live, and new compositions are still being written for the ondes Martenot.”

Excerpted from Colin Eatock, Globe and Mail, April 9, 2008

Les Maîtres de l’Affiche

Masters of the PosterAt the turn of the century, Parisian magazine subscribers were treated to colourful advertising posters which were included in the monthly issues. Each magazine contained four small 11 x 15 inch posters. For 60 months, subscribers also received a monthly original lithograph by one of 90 French or foreign artists, numbered and imprinted with the mark of Atelier Chaix, the magazine publisher.

Subscribers paid nothing for these prints, other than the price of the magazine. Today, though, if you want to purchase one of these posters, you are looking at a price of several hundred dollars apiece – more for the works of the more famous artists.

An important catalogue of 256 of these prints, Les Maîtres de l’Affiche, offers a representative selection of art of la Belle Epoque.

Jules CheretPublished in Paris, this collection reflects the well-deserved pride of the French at having invented the artistic commercial poster. Jules Chéret, the artist-director of the printing house, was the father of this artistic genre. For his role in launching the golden age of the poster, he was awarded Légion d’Honneur.

He believed that advertising design at the time was vulgar and lacked redeeming artistic features. Chéret was the first to associate a woman with a product; for example, beverages such as Dubonnet, various pastilles and soaps, music halls such as les Folies Bergère.

His salon artists covered the buildings and walls of Paris with images of beautiful women, turning the city into a plein-air museum.

It was not only the French who collected these posters; it is estimated that 6,000 American subscribers also had a collection. Major museums such as the Metropolitan and the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Louvre in Paris, and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, also acquired these works for their permanent collections.

Alphonse MuchaDuring the 1960s, vintage posters were all the rage, and their themes were popular in the psychedelic art of the time. 60s posters were influenced by the Art Nouveau style, re-inventing the decorative arts of the fin du siècle. The inspiration for their graphics and typography was taken from nature: images of plants and animals represented in the style of the Middle Ages.

One of the best-known Maîtres de l’Affiche was Alphonse Mucha. His images were appropriated during the 1960s for theatre posters, and they often featured actress Sarah Bernhardt. Another well-known contributor was Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, whose art celebrated the Parisian cabaret and the bohemian life in Montmartre.

The complete set of 256 prints illustrated in Les Maîtres de l’Affiche or its English-language counterpart, Masters of the Poster, provide an enticing glimpse into the bohemian life of la Belle Epoque.

A Moveable Feast

“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.”

A Moveable FeastBegun in the autumn of 1957 and published posthumously in 1964, Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast captures what it meant to be young and poor and writing in Paris during the 1920s. A Moveable Feast is considered by many to contain some of his best writing.

A correspondent for the Toronto Star, Hemingway arrived in Paris in 1921 with his young wife, Hadley, and baby son, Bumby (John), and the ambition to be a great writer. In that small tranquil world there was no need for a formal introduction. Everybody frequented the same cafés and ate in the same restaurants. Acquaintances were easily made and in a very short time Hemingway knew everyone who was someone÷or destined to be.

This was three years after the trauma of the Great War and at the beginning of the transformation of Europe’s cultural landscape: Braque and Picasso were experimenting with cubist forms; James Joyce, long living in self-imposed exile from his native Dublin, had just completed Ulysses; Gertrude Stein held court at 27 rue de Fleurus, and deemed young Ernest a member of une génération perdue; and T.S. Eliot was a bank clerk in London.

According to Hemingway, there was nothing lost about his generation. There was no movement, nor any tight bands of pot-smoking nihilists wandering around looking for a cause. There were a lot of people of the same age who had been through the war, and they came to Paris to write or compose or do whatever they had in mind. Paris gave them the freedom they needed.

His territory ran the length of the Boulevard Montparnasse from the Closerie des Lilas at the Observatoire to the Restaurant du Petit Trianon opposite the railway station, and by one route or another down to Saint Germain-des-Prés and the Seine.

Closerie des Lilas

Among these small, reflective sketches are unforgettable encounters with the members of Hemingway’s rag-tag circle of artists and writers, some also fated to achieve fame and glory, others to fall into obscurity. Some of the prominent people to make an appearance in the book include Aleister Crowley, Ezra Pound, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ford Madox Ford, Hilaire Belloc, John Dos Passos, James Joyce and Gertrude Stein.

Hemingway spends a great deal of time in the cafes, drinking and eating rather well for a pittance. His kindest comments are about Sylvia Beach, the American who ran an English bookstore called Shakespeare and Company — it was a hangout for English-speaking authors and others, and was an oasis for individuals seeking English-language books.

Ernest and Hadley HemingwayHe depicts his genteel poverty and his obsession with gambling on horse races. He is deeply in love for most of the book with Hadley, who loses all of his manuscripts at a train station. He courts influential people such as Ford Madox Ford, who is described very unfavourably, and has great admiration for war veterans. His artist friend Pascin invites him to share his models, but he declines.

His friend Ezra Pound is trying to get up a collection for T. S. Eliot to rescue him from mundane bank work. He teaches Pound boxing. He cuts off his friendship with Gertrude Stein, repulsed by her lesbian relationship with Alice B. Toklas. He debates the merits of Dostoevsky with poet Evan Shipman. Ezra Pound charges him with delivering opium to the addicted poet Ralph Dunning, but Dunning rejects the help. Hemingway devotes three chapters to the very annoying F. Scott Fitzgerald and his hawkish and manipulative wife Zelda.

In the bittersweet final chapter, he describes an idyllic time spent in the Austrian Alps with Hadley. Pauline Pfeiffer arrives and an affair develops which eventually destroys his marriage.

It was during these years that the as-of-yet unpublished young writer gathered the material for his first novel, The Sun Also Rises, and the subsequent masterpieces that followed.

“You belong to me and all Paris belongs to me and I belong to this notebook and this pencil.”

This is the Paris that Hemingway knew as a young man – a map drawn in his distinct prose of the streets and cafés and bookshops that made up the city where he, as a young writer, sometimes struggling against the cold and hunger of near poverty, honed the skills of his craft.

Marion Cotillard is La Môme Piaf

Edith Piaf

Non, rien de rien.
Non, je ne regrette rien.
Car ma vie, car mes joies
Aujourd’hui, ça commence avec toi !

‘The first time I heard Edith Piaf sing, I cried,” says 31-year-old Oscar winner Marion Cotillard, who plays the legendary French singer in a heartbreaking new biopic, La Vie en Rose. “I was so moved – and so impressed that in only three or four minutes she could tell a whole story that would make me cry.”

Piaf certainly had a handle on misery. During the 47 years of her short life, she lost almost everyone who mattered to her: her parents ran off to the circus when she was a baby, leaving her to grow up in her grandmother’s brothel; her only child died of meningitis; and the love of her life, boxer Marcel Cerdan, was killed in a plane crash only two years after they’d met.

Yet somehow, despite all this, she soared from the filthy Parisian streets of Belleville to the glitzy heights of stardom, touring the world with a clutch of show-stopping tunes delivered always in that miraculous, seismic voice: it shook her birdlike frame, held audiences spellbound, and transmuted the gloom that enshrouded her life into musical gold.

Cotillard, as Piaf, gives the most remarkable performance you’ll see on film this year.

Whether portraying the scruffy teenage ingénue – spotted singing on a street corner and ushered on to the stage of his nightclub by Louis Leplée (played by an avuncular Gérard Depardieu) – or the aging diva, crippled by arthritis and addicted to morphine, Cotillard’s extraordinary turn seduces the eye and assaults the heart.

Edith Piaf, Marion Cotillard, Gerard Depardieu

Although Cotillard is a talented chanteuse, and already knew Piaf’s music back-to-front having long ago acquired the habit of listening to it in her trailer whenever preparing to act a particularly emotional scene, Piaf’s own recordings were used for the soundtrack.

Cotillard insists that she was undaunted by the prospect of taking on the mantle of a French national treasure, an iconic figure whose funeral, attended by 40,000 fans, brought central Paris to a standstill.

“I was inspired by a great uncle who used to live at home with us,” she says. “I still remember him perfectly, all the movements of the person he was just before he died: the way he walked, the way he behaved, and that horrible life you lead when you are ill inside. For the old Piaf, I took all of that.”

The result, a striking combination of physical frailty with emotional volatility, makes Cotillard’s Piaf a far from straightforwardly sympathetic character. The flip side of her contagious joie de vivre is a selfish capriciousness: she casts off lovers like dirty stockings and, as her fame grows, neglects her old friends, or humiliates them in front of her starrier new acquaintances.

“When I started reading about her life I discovered a bright side and a dark side,” says Cotillard. “Some aspects of that dark side I initially found very hard to accept – like the tyranny that she could use over people. But then I realised that her selfish behaviour was motivated by her desire to keep people around her. She was so scared to be alone. And once you understand that, you stop judging her.”

In preparing for the role, Cotillard read and heard many stories about Piaf – few figures in French popular culture have generated quite so much myth and rumour -but one source she grew to trust more than any other was the singer’s old friend, Ginou Richet, who offered her a surprising insight into Piaf’s character. “Ginou shared with me many things that she thought would help me to understand Piaf,” says Cotillard.

“But above all she described her as a happy person. Yes happy. Even though she lived such crazy tragedy, such huge tragedy, Piaf loved to have fun. She loved life.”

Telegraph UK review

La Vie en Rose is the English-given title for the Academy Award-winning film La Môme, a 2007 French movie directed by Olivier Dahan about singer Édith Piaf, starring Marion Cotillard in her Academy Award, BAFTA, César Award, Czech Lion, and Golden Globe winning performance as Piaf.

Satori in Paris

Jack KerouacAlthough he was born and raised in Massachusetts, Jack Kerouac’s family was French-Canadian, and he was proud of it.

Published in 1967, when Kerouac was at the height of his fame, Satori in Paris tells the story of a ten-day visit to Paris and Brittany in search of his ancestors.

On this hectic odyssey, fascinated by everything and everyone he met, from a faded French beauty in a Montparnasse gangster bar to one of his strange, foppish Breton namesakes, Kerouac experienced a feeling of transcendence, a satori, which was to the Beat generation the culmination of all experience.

Andrew Sarris reviewed Satori in Paris for the New York Times in 1967. Here is his blunt and accurate, in this blogger’s opinion, excerpt.

Satori in ParisIf the latest spiritual adventures of Jack Kerouac lack the ebullience of earlier explorations, it may be because he is hunting down a pedigree rather than an identity. (“As in an earlier autobiographical book I’ll use my real name hear, full name in this case, Jean-Louis Lebris de Kerouac, because this story is about my search for this name in France.”)

By his own admission, Kerouac was 43 years old when he braved Paris and Brittany. That’s a bit old for a Dharma Bum drunk on Dante’s Beatitude, a Rover Boy with a yen for Zen, a traveler of the fifties who managed to bypass Marx and Freud on the road across the American continent.

Kerouac can still write a blued streak, but his skyrocketing prose no longer illuminates the landscape. He now travels alone, out of his time and place, more like a Babbitt than a beatnik.

He now seems to revel in a calculating callousness, particularly in his country-club put-down of “a half dozen eager or worried future writers with their manuscripts all of whom gave me a positively dirty look when they heard my name as tho they were muttering to themselves Kerouac? I can write ten times better than that beatnik maniac and I’ll prove it with this here manuscript called Silence au Lips all about how Renard walks into the foyer lighting a cigarette and refuses to acknowledge the sad formless smile of the plotless Lesbian heroine whose father just died trying to rape an elk in the Battle of Cuckamonga, and Phillipe the intellectual enters in the next chapter lighting a cigarette with an existential leap across the blank page I leave next, all ending in a monologue encompassing etc., all this Kerouac can do is write stories, ugh'”–Ugh, indeed. No there-but-for-the-grace-of-God-and-Grove-go-I feeling in Kerouac’s credit-card sensibility.

At times, his aggressive religiosity resembles Cassius Clay’s: Methinks women love me and then they realize I’m drunk for all the world and this makes them realize I can’t concentrate on them alone, for long, makes them jealous, and I’m a fool in love With God. Yes.”

As for what a satori actually is, he explicates in quasi-religious terms: “Somewhere during my ten days in Paris (and Brittany) I received an illumination of some kind that seems to’ve changed me again, towards what I suppose’ll be my pattern for another seven years or more: in effect, a satori: the Japanese word for ‘sudden illumination,’ ‘sudden awakening’ or simply ‘kick in the eye.'”

Unfortunately, the illumination comes at the end of a shaggy dog story by a saloon Sartre who manages to get gushy over the straighforwardness of a Paris cab driver.

New York Times Book Review (sign-in may be required)