|Special celebrations call for special drinks, like le Kir Royal...|
A friend commented there was no French twist to last week's story about New York City. My stories ALWAYS have a French twist, she said... Zut. (Rats.) We need to fix this quickly, I say.
Cheer up, friend: Plenty of French twists in this story...
Plenty of friends, too. Friends, old and new, are what makes a trip special.
This New York visit was no exception.
One thing I have learned over the last two years: Friendships born out of blogging are a treat, a gift that keeps giving. Whether we travel near home, or around the world, some of us bloggers will happily grab an opportunity to let go of our cameras and laptops for a few hours, to get out there and meet fellow writers and photographers; wonderful people who take a few hours (or a few days) out of a busy schedule to show us "their city." I treasure these encounters; what they teach me about a place; and the resulting friendships. 2012 has been a good year in that respect. Here's to making new connections on the road in 2013...
On my first day in New York, I had a lunch date. A special rendez-vous, with a special lady, M-T. Through her blog, The French Touch and her consulting business, M-T provides fashion and lifestyle tips to women who want to define their own style... with a French twist! As soon as I met her, I realized that the lady knows a thing or two about style. In fact, she knows a thing or two about French culture, the Opera, good food, good wine, and the power of a good laugh.
M-T was born in the United States (just a few East Coast Falls ago,) but her parents and relatives are French, and she speaks both languages fluently. We kept switching back and forth, since her charming American husband Dan joined us that day. They drove almost two hours from South New Jersey to meet me, and they suggested a popular French brasserie (owned by legendary chef Alain Ducasse,) Benoît. As soon as I stepped in, I felt as if I were in Paris...
For the next three hours, conversation [and French wine] flowed... The food, (typical bistro fare,) was perfectly executed, from les escargots, to le poulet rôti, les moules-frites, and for dessert, a magnificent mille-feuille (it was big enough to share...)
|Le Millefeuille's traditional "glaçage" (icing) was drawn onto the plate, |
instead of on top of the pastry... Oh, la, la!
Talking to M-T felt like talking to an old friend. Her warm personality, and her bonne humeur (cheerfulness) made for a special time in the big city. It was after 4:00pm when M-T and Dan walked me back to my hotel. I was sad to say goodbye, bien sûr, but I know we will see each other again... After all, we both live on this side of the pond, and we won't let a small detail like opposite coasts keep us apart too long, n'est-ce-pas M-T?
A big city like New York can feel anonymous, especially when one travels alone. After my successful encounter with M-T, I was on a roll. I had planned to meet other special ladies on this trip.
My readers may remember the story I wrote about the great artist Josephine Baker. The post remains one of the most popular entries on this blog. Josephine Baker raised a large, international family in a beautiful château in the Dordogne valley, les Milandes. Over twenty five years ago, in New York city, one of her sons, Jean-Claude, opened a restaurant honoring his mother's memory. I had to reserve a table chez Joséphine and hoped to meet him. Unfortunately, Jean-Claude was away for a few days (even successful restaurateurs need des vacances...) On Sunday night, a cab took me to the Hell's Kitchen neighborhood where my table was waiting. The restaurant felt cozy and intimate; "l'ambiance" was romantic; the decor old Hollywood and glamorous. I loved the live piano player! Josephine was everywhere around me, on the walls; smiling at visitors from old posters and vintage photos; all the way to the bathroom where paper hand towels were embossed with her effigy. Do you collect small souvenirs from your travels, too? I confess to snatching one of the towels and brought it home with me...
I was alone that night, and I had time to observe... and dream. If I closed my eyes, I could picture "La Bakaire" making a grand entrance; blowing a kiss to her son as he stood in front of the bar; acknowledging restaurant patrons, actors from popular Broadway shows; sashaying towards her table, the best in the house, of course, in one of her inimitable sequined dresses; and finally, sitting down, surrounded by admirers and friends; the center of attention, always; ready to order the first Coupe (*) of the night...
Mind you, not all my New York friends were as glamorous as Josephine...
Some were dignified, calm, and patient. Others were rambunctious. Like Josephine, they knew life can be messy, but it deserves to be lived fully. Here's to you, my furry New York friends. From Central Park to Greenwich Village; from stores to urban dog parks; you made me smile as I paused and rested my feet, along the way.
|Hanging out at the park with "Mom and Dad." - Joey the Pit|
|Chillin' at Washington Square Park|
|Shopping at Chelsea Market|
|Waiting... Waiting... in TriBeCa|
Yes, big cities can feel anonymous. It is natural to search for des repères; familiar sights; points of reference. Oh, yes, I have been here before. I recognize this street. There used to be a bakery here... a French bakery as I recall... French? Oui.
To my delight, France is everywhere in New York. All day long, I passed French people on the street. Some were tourists. Couples visiting "la Grande Pomme," young families pushing an umbrella stroller; groups of teenagers, enjoying a few hours of freedom before meeting their parents or chaperones back at the hotel... It was good to see that New York still ranks high on my countrymen's list of favorite cities. I also met local French people. New Yorkers by choice. Thanks to them, their restaurants, bakeries, boutiques, I felt so much closer to France, indulging daily in specialties from the Old Country.
|French restaurants at every street corner (well, almost...)|
|The French boulangerie... New York style...|
|Crêpe au Nutella... How bad can that be?|
|Enjoying a cappuccino and a mille-feuille in a beautiful setting...|
Washington Square Park
(my friends at Mille-Feuille bakery use authentic boulangerie paper bags to deliver the goods...)
|The Salted caramel éclair chez Dominique Ansel bakery was simply extraordinaire!|
But I digress (never underestimate the power of a mille-feuille; baba au rhum or éclair au café...)
I need to mention one last friend I met in New York city. Truthfully, she inspired the whole trip; for what French Girl could resist one evening at the legendary Carnegie Hall with a beautiful and talented French performer?
|French Girl and Patricia meet at Carnegie Hall|
(photo credit: unknown)
I have always admired Patricia Kaas, une artiste complète, who can do it all. A working class girl from la Lorraine, in Eastern France, she has been a familiar voice - and face - in France and in Europe since the mid-1980s. Even though I have watched her many times on TV; or on the big screen where she has made a few noteworthy appearances, I had never had the privilege of catching "Mademoiselle Kaas," in her favorite environment, on a stage, performing for a live audience... until New York.
This was a special show, in more ways than one. Patricia Kaas has recently embarked on a worldwide tour to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the death of iconic French singer Edith Piaf (1915-1963) If the name sounds familiar but you can't quite place Edith Piaf, the following might help refresh your memory...
|Edith Piaf - "the Little Black Sparrow "-|
|A short woman. A black dress. A microphone. And that BIG voice:|
Edith Piaf brings the house down at Carnegie Hall, 1957
And for those of you who need a "crash course" on all things Piaf:
Interpreting Edith Piaf's songs on stage is a challenge for any performer. Her iconic La Vie en Rose, for example, has been covered by many French or international artists, more or less successfully. Patricia Kaas, who has often been compared to Piaf (both singers share humble beginnings; powerful voices; and a unique stage presence,) must have been a nervous wreck before she stepped on the Carnegie Hall stage on November 20. If she wasn't, I was for her! The house was packed... French expats; American francophiles; and, to my amazement, hundreds of Russian spectators. I had vaguely heard Patricia is a huge star in Russia, where she has toured extensively over the last 25 years... There was the proof! (Who knew there were so many Russians living in New York city too?!)
There I was, a French Girl in Seattle, only seven rows from the stage, surrounded by a colorful crowd of middle-aged Russian people, all dressed to the nines. "Surely, I thought, this is what Edith meant. This is La Vie en Rose..."
The two-hour show did not disappoint. Patricia sang; danced; acted. She did not imitate Edith Piaf. She chose many songs that were not as well known, and made them her own. Kaas change Piaf. Kaas sings Piaf. And indeed, she did just that.
Mademoiselle Kaas loved the standing ovation after the performance. And in true diva style, she bowed and smiled flirtatiously when audience members presented her with flowers. But the Piaf tribute at the end of the show was moving, and a classy touch.
Like Edith, so many years ago, Patricia, the girl from Forbach, in Eastern France, stood tall and proud on the big stage.
As I crossed busy 7th Avenue to return to my hotel and pack my bags, still humming "... Entourés par la foule, qui nous traîne, nous entraîne..." (**) I knew this had been a most excellent adventure, indeed. I flew back the next day and made it just in time to celebrate a West Coast Thanksgiving with Les Boys and dear friends.
A bientôt, New York.
(*) Coupe = a glass of Champagne
(**) "La Foule," (the Crowd) Edith Piaf
|A bientôt, M-T and Dan!|
Kaas - Piaf: Encore
Kaas sings Piaf. Promotional video teaser
Patricia Kaas (Royal Albert Hall, London, November 5, 2012)
Finally, la grande Edith Piaf...
She had one heck of a life, la Môme Piaf (her nickname, because she was small, like a bird - "piaf," in French slang - and she sang her way out of Paris' slums as a child or "môme"... ) She died in October 1963, at age 47 but sang until she was too sick to stand. She always said life was not worth living without singing..
Edith Piaf "Non, je ne regrette rien," Holland, 1962.
I love the shy smile before the singing starts. Then, after she instructs the musicians "pas trop lent, hein?" (not too slow...,) She jumps in, and belts it out. No regrets, even at the end of her tumultuous life. No regrets. Rest in peace, Madame Piaf.
To end on a cheerful note...
Edith Piaf and Theo Sarapo, her last lover and husband. They sing about love "A quoi ça sert, l'amour?" (What is love for?) Theo Sarapo was good to Edith and stood by her side until the end, as she helped him build a singing and acting career. He died a few years after Edith in a car accident. They are buried together at the Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris.