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Sunday, February 1, 2009

Paris Day 24 - tell me again what we're doing

Saturday, my long-deferred day off, was not restful. First I overslept, giving myself a scant hour to straighten up the apartment and buy food for my first guest of any kind in the studio, for brunch. I raced over to the St. Vincent market, on the Blvd. Magenta, where, faced with the ostentatious display, I fell into a stupor - brilliant glistening whole fish beside lobster and shrimp and scallops in the shell at the fish monger's, the cheese stand mobbed so you couldn't get near it, regimented stacks of perfect clementines and blood oranges alongside heaps of chanterelles at the grocer, surrounded by their own throngs, bakers and butchers and wine vendors all chit-chatting with their customers as though this were some sort of time-honored cultural ritual instead of an American queen's mad panic to put brunch on the table.

After darting around from vendor to vendor, unable to penetrate the crowds, I finally settled on a woman selling a wide variety of Portuguese delicacies where I was able to get meat and cheese and dessert pastries and found myself spending twenty minutes chatting with her and tasting this and that and getting in a significant amount of my day's French practice comparing notes on her products, on our travels and tastes in music, and hearing, for the second time this week, that my accent sounds more Italian than American. I'm not well enough versed in local snobbery to know whether this is a good thing.

In any case by the time I left the market I was hopelessly late for brunch and my guest, Charlotte's Dutch friend Edo, had already come and left. But he's a close neighbor and didn't mind coming back at noon, so we had a nice hour here over mango and Portuguese soda bread and goat cheeses and raw cured paper-thin-sliced bacon. Our plan was to apartment-hop, so we then went to his beautiful top-floor flat a few blocks away for whiskey. After hanging out with Edo I thought I would take
Anna Karenina to a cafe, but instead found myself on an impromptu date with Marc, Ryan Philippe's much better looking younger brother.

This was my fault - maybe it was the whiskey, but suddenly
Anna Karenina didn't seem like the right means with which to close the distance between brunch and the three parties scheduled for the evening, and all my resolutions about not getting involved with someone who was not going to further my French studies seemed misplaced on this long-deferred day off, and so, in a victory over my workaholic goal-orientation, Marc and I met a few text messages and half an hour later at Les Halles for a screening of Slumdog Millionaire. I was late, he was later, and by the time we got to the front of the ticket line the 4:45 show was sold out. So we opted for the 6PM screening of Afterwards, the new Gilles Bourdos film starring John Malkovich and Romain Duris.

One of the problems with my inability to focus on a single creative discipline - writing, or film, or music - is that I am stretched thin not only in producing work but in consuming it. I read a handful of novels every year and see a handful of movies and go to a handful of concerts. I am shamefaced admitting this. But there are only so many hours in a day and several of them not committed to finishing the novel and shooting video and chit-chatting with the Portuguese delicacy monger are going to wind up swirling down the Facebook time toilet - it's just a fact of modern life. Everyone's busy - book title spotted today:
I Should Probably Kill Myself but I Can't Find the Time. And this makes actually going to a movie or a concert a kind of dicey experience, because when you have so little time and money and commit a chunk of it to a work of art, you would really like for it to be good.

After about 25 minutes of brutalizing sentimentality, numbing bathos, sledgehammer symbolism, contrived, labored and transparently manipulative plot devices, intelligence-assaulting script and editing, maudlin soundtrack, raw-sewage overflow of philosophical kitsch, and a performance by Romain Duris that suggested that the director had asked him to indicate every emotion by imitating a Parkinson's disease victim, I slipped Marc a note asking if he was having a good time. He wasn't, but wanted to stay to see what happened, so we suffered through the whole 107 minutes, which easily felt like twice that. Did Malkovich read this script before he took the job? The movie encourages you to make peace with death in order to live more fully, and in this it succeeds, because in the 106th minute you find that you have more than reconciled yourself to your own.

The worst thing was that they hardly played any commercials beforehand, and I was counting on those to give me at least some French practice for the evening. I knew better than to expect any from Anglophile Marc. Sometimes I wonder, when Marc is groping for a French word, is he really even French? Is he really 23? Or is he one of those virtuoso hustlers who prey on the gullible, the half witted, half willing mark? What if he's 31, American, wanted on 20 counts of kidnapping and identify theft? He was a little rough in bed. What if he is from Cleveland?

We left the theater and stopped to check out the pool at Les Halles (pictured above) and the tropical greenhouse. We walked through the Louvre, pausing by the blue fountain (below), and, despite the nasty bite of cold, kissed on a pedestrian bridge over the Seine. Over the hour a few parts of Marc's story unraveled. "I have a confession to make," he said when we got back to his place. "My name is not really Marc. It's Matt." Marc, it turned out, was just a
nom d'Internet. The whole thing became even more confusing when I explained to him that I had mentioned him to friends (that's you, dear reader) by a pseudonym - so Marc turned out to be a fake name for a fake name (Matt is a fake name for a real one, presumably, but stay tuned). Matt/Marc/Ryan Philippe's much better looking younger brother was excited to have been named Marc - I had chanced upon a favorite of his - and decided he would be Marc the rest of the evening. Before we left his place for Rive Gauche parties he also clarified his age. He's not 23. He's 22. And I confessed my own age, which is routinely five years older in reality than it is on Craig's List.


Frank Browning's Groundhog Day party was splendid, rich with charismatic natives and expats and we could hardly tear ourselves away to attend Guy Livingston's a few blocks toward the river, where we arrived just as most of the guests were heading out. We had the host and his wife and a friend of theirs to ourselves. Guy is a Facebook find, of sorts, another musician/filmmaker, whose brother Hugh (cellist) was a Yale classmates of mine and my sister's. We rose to leave a half hour later and finally left the apartment another hour after that following a Jewish goodbye of grand proportions that involved being served a plate of desserts and a glass of white port.

Matt and I caught one of the last metro trains back to Gare de l'Est, where we found ourselves locked into the front courtyard along with some other Saturday night Parisian party animals; we all wound up hopping the 8-foot iron gate. At two in the morning we were back in the monastery with my noisy neighbors and unquiet ghosts and thus I had my second guest of my residency and day off.

I haven't given up on getting Matt to speak French with me, but it's an uphill climb. I stumble for everything in French, and he stumbles for basic vocabularly - "pre-cum," for example. "It's too clinical in French!" he protests. "Do you really want me to call it
liquide séminal?" He prefers the English language, he says - he loves it. "You are the French Academy's worst nightmare," I told him, making a point of saying this in French. I botched the adjective-adverb order; he corrected me.

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Paul Festa’s first film, Apparition of the Eternal Church (2006, 51 min), captures the responses of 31 artists to the apocalyptic music of Olivier Messiaen (with Justin Bond, John Cameron Mitchell, Harold Bloom; screenings: Grace Cathedral, Barbican Centre, Library of Congress; “Remarkable”The New Yorker; “Stunning”Chicago Sun-Times; “Sublime”Globe & Mail; numerous awards). Festa performs the Tchaikovsky violin concerto, opposite members of the San Francisco Ballet and The Cockettes, in his award-winning second film, The Glitter Emergency (2010, 20 min), a silent-film drag ballet comedy (“Enormous visual and musical inventiveness…full of pleasure and joy...Festa gives a bravura performance."—Film Threat). He produced, wrote and edited, with director Austin Forbord, and was chief archivist, for the Emmy-nominated documentary Stage Left: A Story of Theater in San Francisco (2010, 80 min: with Robin Williams, Bill Irwin, Peter Coyote; screenings: Geary Theater, KQED; “Intriguing...entertaining...a valuable record”—Variety). Performances as violinist and actor: ODC Theater, Center for Performance Research, Kunst-Stoff, TheatreFIRST, North Bay Shakespeare, Albert Fuller's Helicon Ensemble (Merkin Hall, Weill Hall at Carnegie Hall, Alice Tully Hall). US, Boston, NYC, SF, LA and DC (Coolidge Auditorium at the Library of Congress on the “Betts” Stradivarius) premieres of Messiaen’s Fantaisie for violin and piano. He is the author of OH MY GOD: Messiaen in the Ear of the Unbeliever, based on Apparition of the Eternal Church, and several anthologized essays, and has written for The Daily Beast, Salon, Nerve, and The New York Times Book Review. Current projects include a novel and Tie It Into My Hand (2014, ca. 80 min), a documentary feature that has screened as a work in progress at the Cannes film market and at ODC Theater in San Francisco (with Alan Cumming, Gary Graffman, Peter Coyote, Mink Stole, Robert Pinsky; "A fascinating exploration of the artistic life, as rollickingly entertaining as it is insightful and stirring."San Francisco Bay Guardian). Education: Yale (B.A.; prizes, honors, distinction), Juilliard (Cert., Adv. Cert., scholarships). Residencies: Yaddo, MacDowell, ODC Theater, Centre des Récollets.

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