Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Busking in the Métro of Paris

We take the Metro in Paris at least twice every day, especially line 4, the city's second busiest line, from Montparnasse to and from Denfert-Rochereau. This line started in 1908 and continues to be improved. Another station at Maire de Montrouge is planned for 2010 and later more stations to the south.

This commute could be a little boring to some people but I find that it never is even slightly boring. There are always strange characters, people doing bizarre things. Justmeinparis loves the little rough videos that show a slice of life in Paris. Here is one taken in the Métro in Paris of someone busking, probably near the station Sevres-Babylone. And what better song than "Love Street" by Jim Morrison (buried in cemetery Père Lachaise) and the Doors.

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Sunday, October 29, 2006

The Tragic Life of Édith Piaf

Last night I went to the Théâtre Dejazet in the 3rd Arrondissement of Paris to see Piaf, Une Vie en Rose et Noir with Jacques Pessis and Nathalie Lhermitte as Édith Piaf. The title is of course a reference to her well known song Une Vie en Rose.

I well knew that Édith Piaf led a difficult life but it was not until I researched before last evening and saw the show that I knew really how difficult it really was. Here are some points from the tragic life of Édith Piaf.

  • Legend has it that Édith Giovanna Gassion was born on the pavement in front of 72 rue de Belleville, but her birth certificate states she was born in a Belleville hospital in the 20th arrondissement of Paris. She was named Édith after the executed British nurse Edith Cavell
  • Her mother was a 17-year-old girl, native of Italy, who worked as a café singer. Her father was a street performer. She was abandoned by her parents shortly after birth and was given to her maternal grandmother.
  • Returning a short time later, her father took the child and brought her to his mother, who ran a cheap brothel in Normandy, France. He then joined the army to fight in WWI.
  • From the age of three to seven Édith was blind. She reportedly recovered her sight after her grandmother's prostitutes pooled money to send her on a pilgrimage honoring Saint Thérèse de Lisieux
  • From eight to fourteen Édith was deaf
  • Édith suffered from severe Androgenetic alopecia or male pattern baldness most of her life
  • In 1929, age 14, Édith left the brothel and joined her father in his acrobatic street performances
  • She soon separated from her father, going her own way as a street singer in Pigalle, Ménilmontant, and the Paris suburbs
  • When she was about 16 years of age when she fell in love with a delivery-boy, Louis Dupont, and shortly after had a child, a little girl named Marcelle. Sadly, Marcelle died in infancy of meningitis.
  • In 1935, at the age of 20, Édith was discovered by a nightclub owner in the neighborhood Pigalle and changed her last name to Piaf, a nickname for little sparrow because of her small size. Her first record was produced in the same year but shortly afterwards, the nightclub owner was murdered and Piaf was accused of being an accessory. She refused to testify but was later acquitted.
  • Édith met and fell deeply in love with the boxer Marcel Cerdan. Later in 1949, Édith wanted that he join her as soon as possible in New York where she was on tour. Edith insisted that he take a plane rather than travel by ship. He was reluctant, fearing air travel but finally he agreed. The plane crashed into a mountainside in the Azores and all aboard were lost. Piaf never recovered from the loss of her love and took refuge in drugs and alcohol.
  • Édith Piaf never sang the obvious rhymes amours and toujours, "love" and "always".
  • Édith started detoxification in 1953 and started to travel throughout the world.
  • Piaf married in 1952 her first husband who was a singer. They divorced in 1956.
  • In 1958 she was in a serious car accident and took morphine for pain and relapsed into drug and alcohol abuse.
  • In 1959, Édith broke down during a performance in New York and thereafter survived a number of operations. She returned to Paris in poor health.
  • Édith met her second husband, Théo Sarapo, in the winter of 1961. Théo was a twenty-six-year-old hairdresser-turned-singer and actor, and was twenty years younger than Piaf. They married in 1962. He rejuvenated her enough to make her last recordings and performances.
  • Piaf went to a small town in the South of France in early 1963 to recuperate but she fell in and out of a coma beginning in April 1963. At the early age of 47 on October 10, 1963, Édith Piaf died of cancer. Her husband Théo discretely drove her body back to Paris and announced her death on October 11, 1963.
  • Upon hearing of her death, Édith's long-time friend, Jacques Cocteau suffered a cardiac arrest and died.
  • The Roman Catholic Church denied Édith Piaf a funeral mass because of her lifestyle.
  • Piaf was buried in cemetery Père Lachaise on October 14, 1963.
  • Théo Sarapo, Édith's husband died in an automobile accident in 1970 and is buried beside Piaf in Père Lachaise.

Despite the dramatic and tragic life of Édith Piaf, she found worldwide success and was loved by everyone. The day of her funeral in Paris there were 400,000 people in the streets of Paris and 80,000 people at cemetery Père Lachaise. Charles Aznavour recalled that Piaf's funeral procession was the only time, since the end of World War II that all Parisian traffic came to a complete stop.

Édith Piaf's songs are still popular. Her recordings have been re-mastered and have brisk sales. Her songs have been sung by international artists like Louis Armstrong, Joséphine Baker, Marlene Dietrich, Johnny Hallyday, Serge Gainsbourg, Liza Minnelli, and recently Etienne Daho. In 1997 Charles Aznavour made a virtual recording with her. Theatre productions like Piaf, Une Vie en Rose et Noir are common. Last night, the audience sang along with Édith Piaf's character. More than forty years after her death, everyone knew the lyrics by heart.

Here is her song L’hymne à l'amour that she dedicated to the love of her life, Marcel Cerdan.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Tapas Bars in Paris

There is nothing like extending a vacation either through anticipation of things to come before a vacation, or of past memories of a great vacation. My thoughts last evening turned to the Bars à Tapas that I found on my vacation in Andalusia, Spain. A quick search on the Internet found several Spanish restaurants and Tapas Bars in Paris. Little wonder since there are hundreds of restaurants in Paris.

La Fonda, Bar à Tapas

The first referenced on the list of Tapas Bars, La Fonda, is not terribly far from my neighborhood and after a walk past the Jardin du Luxembourg, I was in front of La Fonda, 173 rue Saint-Jacques, not far from the Panthéon in the 5th arrondissement of Paris. This small, narrow bar was smoky and crowded but the tapas indeed were quite close to those I enjoyed in Andalusia, although at Parisian prices. The Spanish, French-speaking hosts were welcoming and helpful in choosing the right combination.

Just three tapas were enough to convince me..., roasted red peppers in tomato sauce; small roasted shrimp in garlic oil; and then, fried tender calamari with small lemon slices. Crusty bread and chilled, fruity white wine complimented the tapas and made this little corner of Paris well worth the stop for a not-so-heavy diner. La Fonda brought me back to the wonderful Tapas Bars and exotic Andalusia, Spain, and indeed made me smile thinking of vacations past.


Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Jardin des Tuileries

This last Sunday afternoon was warm although the sun was low and clouds sometimes obscured the sun. Many people walked in the ancient garden Jardin des Tuileries, that extends from the Louvre to Place de la Concorde along the rue de Rivoli.

Jardin des Tuileries was sponsored by Catherine de Médicis, a very influential woman throughout Europe who was the Queen of France and the mother of three further kings. Today the garden is a popular destination for Parisians and tourists alike.

Home of many statues and classic works of art, I found it strange to see a new artwork in the middle of a fountain that is usually surrounded by families, their children sailing colorful model boats. Families and ducks had relocated to other more classical waters.

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Monday, October 23, 2006

Andalusia, Spain

A Short History of Andalusia

As a deviation from the life in Paris, JustmeinParis took a vacation in Andalusia, Spain. It is very beautiful region and the cities really show the influence of history. There are huge “monuments” such as Alhambra in Grenada that was always an Arabic palace and fortress. Others started as Christian churches before the 6th century like
Mezquita in Cordoba and when the Arabs arrived starting in the year 711, they built mosques sometimes over and as additions of the original churches. When the Arabs were pushed back some eight hundred years later, the Christians again modified the mosques with additions or other changes. One can certainly see the Arab influence in the architecture. The Arabic palaces are quite beautiful such as the Torre del Oro and Giralda towers in Seville. They are much like those I saw in Morocco, with colorful ceramic tiles and arches. Certainly there is a long history in this part of Spain.

Seville, Spain

In Seville, you can visit the fabulous palace Alcazar where Ferdinand and Isabella were married and where later Queen Isabella gave Christopher Columbus the funding and approval for a voyage to the Indies by going west.

Mysteries of Christopher Columbus

In the Cathedral of Seville, there are the supposed remains of Christopher Columbus. There is a set of statues carrying a coffin with a gold box inside containing the remains. However, Le Guide du Routard says that Columbus has two sets of remains, one in Seville and one in Santiago,
Dominican Republic. I visited Santiago but do not remember visiting the site where Columbus was interred. Another guidebook says that the DNA of the remains in Seville was compared with the brothers of Columbus (whose remains are known) and apparently it is not Columbus but an unknown even older unknown male ! Yet another article describes the remains as the illegitimate son of Columbus. There is still another article that says the results suggest there are that there is more than one person in this famous gold box. The officials in Dominican Republic have not allowed examination of the remains there. Oh, well, a little mystery during this year 2006, the 500th anniversary of the death of Columbus. Who is enterred in the gold box in Seville, Spain ? The answer is not as obvious as Groucho Marx's question, “who is buried in Grant’s tomb ?” Expect an update from the research team.

Hillside Villages and Houses of White

The small Andalusian villages with all white houses and buildings are quite a site. These villages started as a fortress or chateau on a hill and perhaps a church surrounded by walls. Sometimes these villages are found along cliffs such as Ronda, Spain that negate the need for walls. Later as these villages grew, the houses clustered around the central hillside. The white color reflects the blazing summer sun.

Spanish Agriculture

The Spanish country is beautiful with many, many
trees of olives, almonds and oranges. The mountains are not so high in Andalusia and often covered with agricultural trees. There is an air of being hot because of the dried grasses and Mediterranean shrubs and plants. During the first part of October, the temperature was quite pleasant, into the high 80Fs. During the 10 days, it never rained.

Spanish Life

Spanish daily life is a little different that what I am used to. The mornings seem normal enough. I did discover a great breakfast with coffee and milk, orange juice and toast with a spread of fresh tomato sauce with olive oil drizzled over the top. Mmmm! In fact the orange juice is wonderful, (almost) always fresh and fairly cheap. There were orange trees as far as the eye could see around Valencia, Spain, and sure this is where Valencia oranges originated.

Lunchtime is quite late, beginning around 2pm and lasting through to the end of the siesta around 5 or 6pm. Lunch was simple, large platters of cold cuts, olives and bread, sometimes the olives or a small snack are free with the drinks.

After siesta, normal stores/shops open at 6pm but the restaurants often do not open until 8pm or 8:30pm. Tapas bars often open a little later than restaurants. Mmmmm. I really enjoyed the tapas bars. One can buy small plates of various items such as fish, meats, vegetables, in sauces, simple or perhaps fried. These dishes can be bought together to assemble an entire dinner or just a snack. The Spanish sometimes ‘bar hop’ from one tapas bar to another until around midnight.


There are many Flamenco shows in Andalusia, some very much for tourists but in Seville there is a biennial Flamenco festival and I am sure the level is quite high (there were no tickets left). There are many types of Flamenco but I could not recognize the styles in the two shows I saw.

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