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Sunday, February 22, 2009

Paris Days 43, 44, 45 - the saddest oysters in Paris




[diarist's note: comments for this blog are now open to anyone - you no longer need a Blogger.com account]

Autobiographical writers are happy, or should be, to have any friends at all, given our propensity to write about people we know, usually without warning or permission. I'm especially happy to know my San Francisco friend Joel, who's living in Paris these days, right in the part of the Marais where the Jews and gays collide, which in Joel's case couldn't be more appropriate. Joel has not only fed me and wined me and given me, in an hour, more French history than I've read since college, but introduced me to his polyglot circle of friends who this weekend gathered not once but twice to kill several hours at his place. These are mostly friends, including the teacher, from an Alliance Français language class Joel enrolled in on arriving here, and everyone - the Spaniard, the Italian, the Texan - everyone but the San Franciscans, actually - has secured a Parisian lover or job and prattles away in apparently perfect French and has the grace to compliment us on our halting attempts to keep up.

The Texan, Gwen, is a beautiful singer and graced Saturday night's gathering with a song:



Saturday's replay was the result of the Italian's having made a big tiramisu for a party the 21st, only she learned Friday that that party was March 21st. So the seven of us gathered, same hour and place, because this tiramisu had to be eaten.

The tiramisu party was my second gathering yesterday, my day off - the first was at the swank Hyatt Vendome, where two American friends I know independently of one another were meeting other friends in Paris in the lounge there before heading out to dinner. When I saw the price of the cocktails people were ordering, I began to get nervous, and when the conversation turned, repeatedly, to the subject of organic French wine, which it sounds like this crowd downs by the case, I saw the rest of the evening in color at once vivid and dismal: these guys living it up, ordering another bottle, appetizers, amuse-bouches, main courses, desserts, French organic dessert wines, and me sitting, stone-cold sober and in fact still a little hung over from Joel's party the night before, in the corner, with a glass of ice water and a little plate of bird seed. "No, I'm fine, really. I had a late lunch."

So I bailed, picked up a 5-euro falafel sandwich brimming with oil-soaked eggplant at that famous place on Rue des Rosiers, and had that and 0-euro tiramisu for my dinner.

I felt ungracious leaving Joel's the moment my licked-clean tiramisu fork clattered to its plate. But in fact it was nearly four hours since the party had begun (people do not rush their socializing here) and I was bitterly tired. Joel said he understood, that when he first came to Paris he would leave a party where everyone was speaking French, go home and sleep for twelve hours. Yes, that's it, I thought, too much French - but this morning I woke up with a sore throat. This was a bummer: I was expecting the judge for lunch, our first date in a couple of weeks and the first time in a nonpublic place. I thought I'd be well enough to get through lunch, but even if I write about people without permission I do try not to give them colds without warning, and so I sent email explaining my condition and offering to reschedule.

The only trouble was, I didn't have the judge's phone number, and what if he didn't check his email before coming over? The maid was coming at noon, the judge might be coming at 1:30, and the market on the Blvd. Richard Lenoir was in full swing. So I took my sore throat and empty backpack down to the Bastille and had a dizzying hour at the market.

Old lady twins at the mushroom stand!


Chickens with their heads still attached!



French organ grinders singing cheesy old French songs that the old folks hummed along to as they bagged chickens with their heads still attached!





I shopped well - I stuffed my backpack. I found great bargains - huge Haas avocados, three for a euro and a half. Fresh large oysters from Normandy, a dozen for eight euros (you have to burn a few gallons of gas getting yourself up to Tomales Bay to get them that cheap at home). Great stuff! Enough for a real feast in case the judge showed up - but he did not. I came home to email from the judge, thanking me for the warning, looking forward to next time
, correcting my French.

And so I stood at the sink for the next twenty minutes shucking the toughest oyster shells I've ever shucked with my new Parisian oyster knife, and I put out the confit duck leg I'd gotten for three euros, and the little round of goat cheese, and the fruit, and the bacon, and the fresh bread, and the eggs whose yolks I knew would be orange and viscous and rich inside, and the firm broccoli and the pineapple and bananas and clementines, and I arranged all of this on the table just so and felt how sad it was not to have anyone to share it with. The whole thing was so pathetic that I took a picture, just so I could always remember how low I sunk in Paris -



- and the more I thought about it the sadder I got, thinking about having to eat all dozen Normandy oysters, all by myself, and I almost roused myself to the computer, thinking I could still email the judge, tell him I was feeling better (which was true), that he should just come over, we would open the windows and I would keep a respectful distance. And then I looked at the oysters, all dozen of them, with their little lemon wedges wedged artfully here and there, all sundered from their shells so I could just suck them down without a fork, and I finally decided, after a moderate amount of reflection, to accept that fortune had dealt me the solitude card that morning, and that it was my fate to eat them, all dozen Normandy oysters, all by myself.

I was midway through this terribly sad experience when I realized I had nothing to drink. This is so pathetic I can hardly bring myself to write it down, but I had had this fantasy of offering the judge a mimosa, and had both orange juice and my favorite bottle of six-euro French sparkling white wine all chilled and ready. The thought crossed my mind that I could open the bottle - but then I thought, no, it's a work day, and drinking alone is terribly pathetic, terribly sad, and I'm already halfway through the oysters, and I decided I would not open the bottle of champagne.

But then, even knowing how pathetic it was to sit there by myself drinking champagne and eating oysters, I did, in fact, open the bottle of champagne, and poured myself a glass, using one of those Eiffel Tower flutes, and I sat there looking out at the sad, sad Parisian Sunday, drinking the champagne and eating the oysters.

But before I had any of the champagne, I took a picture:



I am now totally out of oysters.

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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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