Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Montmartre Dionysia III – Of Honeyed Words But Evil Mind

Evan LaFlamme, Peter Deaves, and Alice Brace in Chris Newens' Tortoise, from the first Montmartre Dionysia.

The Montmartre Dionysia is a biannual, English-language theatre competition, currently gearing up for its third edition. From the 1st-6th December four plays – chosen from thirty entrants – will compete against each other, amid a week of other theatrical delights. Chris Newens explains where the idea came from and how it has grown…

“I want to put on an English language theatre festival in Paris,” Albert said.
“Fantastic idea,” I replied. “And it should be a competition.”
“You’re right, that’d make it more interesting.”
“And we should call it a Dionysia. The Montmartre Dionysia!”
“The Montmartre what?” said Albert.
“Dionysia,” I said.

Once upon a time, in Ancient Greece, the story goes, the Eleuthereans gifted a wooden statue of Dionysus, everyone’s favourite goodtime god, to the city of Athens. However, the Athenians did not welcome the statue with the ceremony it deserved, so, naturally, Dionysus cursed them. He inflicted all the town’s men with satyrism -- a pathological condition of permanent arousal, which sounds fun but almost certainly isn’t. And so, to cure themselves of persistent erection, the Athenians decided to throw a whole festival in Dionysius’ honour, thus the Dionysia was born.

“Why would we want to name our festival after the ceremonial equivalent of a cold shower?” Albert asked.
“Because…” I said, “because…”

Never has theatre been more important than it was at the Dionysia. Competition between comedies and tragedies was the central event of the festival; and come plague, come famine, come war, the whole city would still turn out to watch. Plays were sponsored by large groups of the citizenry, who took to the stage as choruses, while professional actors and playwrights went toe-to-toe, script-to-script, battling for theatrical glory. There was also ritual wine drinking… and orgies.

“I’m sold,” Albert said.

*** ***

That conversation happened over a year ago. It seemed like an offhand thing at the time, the sort of excitable chat friends have on midweek evenings that gets forgotten after the fourth glass of beer. But since then, we’ve staged two Dionysias, and are currently at full tilt on the third. And despite it’s hard to remember name – that’s Dionysia (Die-oh-nice-ee-a) – the festival has done nothing but grow.

Theatre goers enjoy Paris during the interval aboard the Alternat.

The first Dionysia – Against Our Will Comes Widsom – was just a single night of theatre held aboard the Alternat péniche, moored just down from the Institut du Monde Arabe, while the second – A Lie Never Lives to Be Old – straddled a whole week’s worth of performances, with each competition play, backed by warm-up sketches, also getting its own night in Montmartre’s Petit Théâtre du Bonheur.

Now, for the third festival – Of Honeyed Words But Evil Mind – we are hosting an off competition too. From the 1st-6th December this year a total of twelve plays are being staged. The four competition pieces will be joined by more warm-up acts, plays from previous festival participants, a couple of Harold Pinter shorts, and a one-off event Forget the Applause, where come the final curtain the audience will be invited to bite back.

It will still end on the boat, of course – indeed, there are now going to be two waterborne nights – and the Saturday final (after the tears and joy of prize giving) will finish with a party that will continue into the early hours (ritual wine drinking and orgies optional).

Further details and the program for this year’s festival can be found here. Tickets can be reserved by emailing tickets@montmartredionysia.com


Helena Farhi and Eliza McCoy in White Flame Dancing, written by Alberto Rigettini, directed by Peter Brown.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

An American Thanksgiving in Paris with a twist!

A new Thanksgiving tradition - riding on the Grand Roue at the place de la Concorde

I call myself an expat. An American in Paris. But that's a lie. I realized just how much of a misnomer that designation is when I had to dredge up long forgotten memories during a recent interview with a French Ph.D. student who wanted to know about the challenges faced by expats living in France. When she asked which American comfort foods I carry home in my suitcase, my answer proved unsatisfactory. A strange amalgam of cultures, I'm as likely to miss Indonesia's spicy nasi goreng as America's tangy barbecue.

When I received the following message from Rachel on Out and About's Facebook page, I knew I had to come clean.

Hello! Last year I was so appreciative of your post on where to do Thanksgiving in Paris. Are you planning on doing another for this year? I would be ever so grateful!
Sincerely,
Your local homesick American

Rather than write a post with suggestions for where to have an American Thanksgiving with all the traditional trimmings, I'm going to propose that you do something special ... yet completely different this year. Be creative! Think outside the traditional Thanksgiving box. Combine something uniquely Parisian with something from your past. Only you know which of your familial traditions are negotiable and which ones aren't. I can skip the turkey but there's no way that I can forego my mother's Picayune Pecan Pie. It's a must-have holiday staple.

Christmas lights on the Champs-Élysées

In 2012, we stuffed ourselves on (get ready for the twist!) ... spicy fish soup, giant sea bass a la plancha and the best rice pudding that I've ever tasted. There wasn't a cranberry or pumpkin pie in sight, but we still have fond memories of our Carte Blanche Thanksgiving dinner at Chez L'Ami Jean.

In 2013, we gave thanks for France's pivotal role in the American Revolutionary War by dining at 1728. The elegant restaurant is located in the beautifully restored salons of the mansion formerly owned by my hero, the Marquis de Lafayette. Afterwards, we went for a spin on the Grand Roue and admired the twinkling Christmas lights on the Champs-Élysées. In keeping with tradition, the finale of the evening was a big slice of pecan pie.

I'm not yet sure what we'll do this year ... but whatever it is, 2014 will be remembered for its uniquely Parisian Thanksgiving.

If you prefer to have a more traditional dinner, there's a good chance that the ideas listed in my post, Some ideas for where to eat Thanksgiving dinner in Paris - 2013, are still valid.

Thanks to Bridget Wall for forwarding Emily Monaco's entertaining article, Tiny Ovens, Hidden Cranberries: How to Survive Thanksgiving in Paris. It reminded me of my early attempts at recreating Thanksgiving in foreign lands.

And here's a Washington Post article with an excellent suggestion via Anne: Thanksgiving Aha! moment: To relieve the holiday stress, just leave the U.S.

Our Thanksgiving staple - my mother's pecan pie

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Celebrating oysters in Paris! "Meet Paris Oyster" by Mireille Guiliano and L'Huîtrier


Guest post by Lisa Czarina Michaud

It’s been suggested that scent is the strongest sense tied to memories. Just the wave of an essence can transport us to a small moment in time, regardless of how many years have passed. While smell champions the five senses, it can be said that nothing quite unlocks memories as eating an oyster does. The salty and silky mouthful of the sea that slips downs your throat welcomes recollections of a seaside vacation when life was allowed to sit still, pairing your oysters with a light glass of wine long before cocktail hour, tickling the mollusk with the sharp mignonette sauce, and if you’re in France, perhaps there is striped boat neck top painted somewhere in the memory.


An oyster, for us aficionados, is not a matter of simply loving them; it’s a matter of celebrating them. So much that when it was announced that Mireille Guiliano, the tour de force behind the sensation French Women Don’t Get Fat was once again bestowing us with her wisdom with Meet Paris Oyster: A Love Affair with the Perfect Food (Hachette 2014) I had to put my knowledge of my beloved oysters to the test. As suspected, only several pages in, I found that as an oyster devotee, I still had a thing or two to learn about this Parisian pastime.

The book is broken down by thirteen chapters fraught with information ranging from the history of oysters, the author’s favorite niche spot to enjoy them in Paris, the legion of health benefits that these treasures of the sea offer and accounts from women all over the world divulging details of their “first time.” After devouring this quick, delightful and at times seductive read, I closed the book with a satisfied knowledge of oysters, a salacious appetite to slurp down a dozen of them, and was awash with the sounds of the rolling ocean, reminiscing over my last summer vacation spent in the South of France. So perhaps, reading about oysters also revives the senses.


While the book recounts the history and the author’s experience behind a celebrated huîtrerie located in the historic Saint-Germain-des-Prés neighborhood of Paris, I decided to put to the test what I learned from the book at another oyster bar, because after all, not all Parisian huîtreries are created equal. Upon my search, I discovered L’Huîtrier in the refined 17th arrondissement whose éscailler Mr. Francisco Pirès had recently won the first prize champion as the best oyster shucker in all of Europe and second prize in the World Cup competition.

Seafood platter at L'Huiîrier

Set on a quiet street off the renowned Marché Poncelet, I arrived on a chilly Friday autumn afternoon, where the awaiting staff warmly welcomed me with a cozy spot by the window and a small bowl of mini pink crevettes to ignite my appetite. Unlike the classic décor for many seafood restaurants in Paris fashion, Breton decorator Thierry Mahé designed the restaurant with warmer simplistic notes of deep blonde close-set wooden tables and glowing wall sconces keeps the focus less on the seafood and plats that demand center stage.

Once settled in at my table with my little Eiffel Tower statuette (you know, to make sure I knew I was in Paris), Patrice, the handsome server who I learned has known Alain since he was a child, asked what I would like to drink during my exploration of the senses. While Meet Paris Oyster frequently recommends pairing oysters with a glass of Sancerre, I heeded to another one of Guiliano's suggestions flourishing in chapter nine, and requested a glass of Champagne. When in France, right? My first course boasted a selection of raw bar specialties that Patrice and Monsieur Pirès picked for me based on my adventurous attitude. A large platter packed with crushed ice artfully displayed langoustines, crab, shrimp (holding their little lemon wedges!) sea urchins, escargots (I finally had my Pretty Woman moment trying to get the “slippery little sucker” out of its shell. I was too embarrassed to look up to see if Patrice had caught it as it flew across the restaurant.), and of course a rainbow selection of oysters fanned out along the edge that I was instructed to eat in a certain order.

Founded in 1989 by Alain Bunel, the son of a fisherman decided after touring the world on a sailboat to share his passion for oysters and opened L’Huîtrier impressing an image that is “chaleureuse et idéale” (warm and inviting) complete with service that is “souriant et énergique” (friendly and energetic.)

Champion oyster shucker Francisco Pirès and Alain Bunel of L'Huitrier

What makes someone an expert at opening oysters, you may ask. Well first, have you ever tried to open one of those shells that seem almost welded shut? What I learned from Madame Guiliano’s text and saw from Monsieur Pirè’s artistry is that it is not simply a matter of opening the encrusted shell quickly hoping not to slice your hand open, but rather the fine craft of sliding and unhinging it with precision and effortless ease, careful not to spill the oyster’s natural liquid (which is referred to as the liquor) or to get particles of cracked shell that would ultimately tamper your oyster experience. Newly aware of these specifications, it came as no surprise why L’Huîtrier had been awarded with such prestige, as each oyster varying in size, texture and salinity resembled what could without dispute be described as edible works of art.

Meet Paris Oyster: A Love Affair with the Perfect Food out now!

L’Huîtrier 
16, rue Saussier Leroy
75017 Paris
Tel : 01 40 54 83 44

Lisa Czarina Michaud can be found living la vie française on Twitter and Instagram.
Photos with the Out and About in Paris watermark by Lisa Czarina Michaud.


Thursday, November 6, 2014

Ease into the weekend with "Bubbles & Jazz" at Hôtel La Trémoille!

Jazz singer Vita Schmidt and pianist Matthieu Nalleau. "Bubbles & Jazz" at Hôtel La Trémoille.

With a nod to its place in jazz history, Hôtel La Trémoille has come up with the perfect way to ease into the weekend. The elegant boutique hotel located in the heart of the Golden Triangle is hosting a series of "Bubbles & Jazz" evenings in their cozy Louis2 Lounge every Thursday.

As soon as I heard that Vita Schmidt, a jazz singer who has just completed four years at Boston's Berklee College of Music, was performing on October 23, I asked Edouard if he wanted to join me for an evening of jazz, champagne and savory petit fours. In a serendipitous stroke of good fortune, Edouard and I bumped into Girls Guide to Paris Doni Belau and her husband shortly after we settled into our seats in the Louis2 Lounge.

Hotel La Trémoille is located a short distance from the Champs-Élysées
 in the heart of the Golden Triangle.

Live music has always been a strong draw for expats and visitors to Paris. During the smoky jazz scene of the 1960s, Hôtel La Trémoille was the setting for many jazz performances and a regular meeting place for Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington. In the hotel's foyer, there's even a black and white photo of the two jazz giants waving from adjoining windows on La Trémoille's first floor. In keeping with tradition, Vita Schmidt's soulful voice and Matthieu Nalleau's smooth stylings provided a relaxing backdrop for our animated conversation.

Dessert? Yes, please!

The evening had gotten off to such a delightful start that Doni, Robert, Edouard and I decided to prolong it by dining at La Trémoille's Louis2 Restaurant. Unable to resist the homemade duck foie gras served with a tangy chutney and Poilâne bread, I was thankful that Edouard let me sample his equally enticing crab and fennel salad. Following our waiter's recommendation, I had the grilled sea bass and orange glazed carrots with a hint of cumin, one of chef Fabrice Debois' specialities. It was perfectly paired with a glass of Sancerre. Dessert was a buttery sablé topped with succulent raspberries, strawberries, blackberries and red currants.

"Bubbles & Jazz" evenings at Hôtel La Trémoille are an entertaining way to unwind after work or to start your evening in Paris. From 5:00 until 8:00 pm every Thursday, one coupe of Moët & Chandon champagne and assorted savory petit fours are 15 euros.

Insider's tip: Unless you prefer to pass through the main foyer to see the photo of Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington, it's possible to enter the Louis2 Lounge directly from the side door located on Rue de la Tremoille. Warm up next to the marble fireplace!

Hôtel La Trémoille
14 rue de la Trémoille
75008 Paris
Tel: +33 (0)1 56 52 14 00

"Bubbles & Jazz" at La Trémoille

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Chocolate Fashion Show at the 20th Annual Salon du Chocolat in Paris!

French television presenter Sandra Lou wearing a chocolate dress created by designer Agatha Ruiz de la Prada and chocolatier Joël Patouillard escorted by two fellow models. 

French fashion doesn't get much sweeter than the fabulous creations seen gracing the runway during the 20th annual Salon du Chocolat in Paris last week. The inaugural gala featured a retrospective collection of 60 mouth-watering designs worn by French television stars, singers, athletes and models.



I spotted quite a few of my favorite gowns from previous years: a mythological looking garment with diaphanous wings, a dress with four white doves enclosed in a delicate chocolatey flounce at the back and a Hindu goddess style costume with an ornate headdress.



Crowd favorites included French actress Marie-Sophie L. in a nude bodysuit wrestling with the temptations of a chocolate serpent and male model carrying a massive crocodile made out of chocolate. When I posted the photo on Facebook, Donna Kerridge's comment, "Wow, what's not to like... cute guy, half undressed and carrying 10 kilos of chocolate..." perfectly expressed the sentiments of all the women in the audience.

Crazy Horse cabaret dancers clad only in chocolate created a stir during the grand finale of the show’s inaugural anniversary evening. Thanks to the joint talents of the cabaret’s costume department and star master chocolatier Patrice Chapon, the famous troupe performed a chocolaty version of its emblematic number “God Save Our Bareskin” which has opened all Crazy Horse’s performances since 1989.

More photos on Facebook: Chocolate Fashion Show (Part 1) and Chocolate Fashion Show (Part 2)

20th Salon du Chocolat Fashion Show - Crazy Horse cabaret dancers perform in creations by chocolatier Patrice Chapon.