"All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players."  --William Shakespeare

Sunday
Mar092014

Questions

 

 

 

Has life become craaaaazy intense for you, too, lately?
 
Too much to do, not enough time. What to do? Finish one thing at a time.
 
I head to a favorite café to do some editing. Spirits are high on the streets of Paris tonight. Today was the first warm day of the year. Sky bright blue. First white blossoms on the tree behind l'église Saint-Nicolas-du-Chardonnet, always the first we see to bloom in spring. It seems to have come earlier this year.
 
On Boulevard Saint-Jacques, nine Spanish girls in short skirts, short shorts with tights, are arranged in a horseshoe shape, bending over, laughing and singing the Macarena. Haven’t seen that dance done since the late ‘90s, in Venice. I can’t pass Blvd. St.-Jacques without thinking of my sister Jane who lived on this street the year she studied at the Sorbonne.

 

 
A rare night when I have a whole section of the café to myself; everyone seems to be out celebrating Spring. It’s quiet. Easy to focus. Just me and the resident mouse, who scuttles out to say hello, then retreats to the darkness of the baseboards. I think of Apollo, one of whose names was Mouse.
 
Fuel: a fantastic cup of hot chocolate, dark, no sugar.
 
Three solid hours of work before a couple come in and sit right next to me (why!?), with at least 20 other tables vacant around us. They’re slightly drunk, jabbering away in French. I’m baffled by people’s odd sense of space.
 
But what am I complaining about? So many gifts lately! Two were recycled items, both radically elegant. A delicate, hollow, redwood bowl shaped by a friend of my brother and his wife, a piece out of the bar of a mid-century steakhouse that my brother’s green building company is reshaping into an adaptive reuse, mixed-use community center in Phoenix.

 


The other, a beautiful deep blue hard-bound edition of Balzac’s Eugénie Grandet in French, from a friend’s parents’ library in Seattle.
 
Shall we put Marley le Chat’s ashes in the redwood bowl? The opening is small enough that we could balance a marble on top to close it. It looks so handsome on our mantelpiece, now an altar for our beloveds who have died in the three years since we arrived here--Kimo Campbell, Jane Eliot, Uncle Bruce, Marley, Jane Kitchell. They are always with us; still here, still loved.
 
I begin the Balzac novel. Why is it so much more pleasurable to read this fine leather-bound volume? Is it because once upon a time books were better made? Is it because it’s a gift, and so embodies love?
 
Gifts, opportunities, responsibilities seem to be multiplying lately, a flood of things that must be attended to immediately.
 
I cannot possibly address them all in a timely fashion. Feeling full of inspiration and drive, but also exhausted.

Nothing that a week on a Greek beach couldn't cure. 

Can I possibly do all that is challenging and inviting me now?
 
Somehow I will. I must!

 

 

 

 

 

Saturday
Feb222014

The Resurrection and Triumph of Fred Le Chevalier

 

 

The artist's life has its ups and downs. 

In what now seems like a past life, I worked out of Santa Fe as a traveling art dealer, having canvases by various artists delivered to me by moving van in various cities across the American West, and setting up temporary galleries to show their work, including in a suite at Los Angeles' Chateau Marmont. 

Some of my artists called me often, anxious to see if anything sold. Some trusted to fate, and waited for me to call them. I was sad when I had no good news, elated when I could report that I would bring them back enough money to constitute their first mortgage.

Now, in this community of Paris street artists, Richard and I watch these same fluctuations of fortune, but without the same financial stake.

 


Last June, we were able to accompany the shy, prolific, gentle knight of Paris street art, Fred Le Chevalier, one of our favorite artists and people, as he pasted up a whimsical street mural to say thank you to Paris Play for allowing our photographs to be used in his first book, when Quel dommage! the police caught up with Fred and threatened him with a fine and jail time for putting his craft on the streets. Our story, which caught the attention of Huffington Post writer Mary Duncan, leaves Fred in limbo, the Damoclean sword of justice poised over his elfin head.

Would he exile himself into the suburbs, or return, rolled posters and paste pots in hand, to the Paris streets?

Can you guess?

 


Three weeks after his confrontation with the police, we began to see new Freds appearing in the 11th arrondissement, and then spreading outward from there. Since then, we've been able to follow and photograph him a few times alone, and in the company of his fellow street artist, Madame, as he continues pasting his work up and helping friends do the same.

 


His attitude? If convicted he's willing to do the time, or pay the fine, because the art is paramount. Besides, his work is paper pasteups, which are easily taken back down, and which decay anyway when exposed to time and weather. If he spray-painted, he says, he could understand the attitude of the police and building owners. It's harder to remove, and often it's just adolescent scrawls.

(It's worth noting that the rise of hip-hop culture, which caused a flood of graffiti to wash over every city in the world, helped to criminalize street art here. Where the attitude in Paris was more laissez faire toward poster and stencil artists (who were an important political voice) in the 1980s, the amount of inferior quality, hard-to-remove graffiti and tags caused authorities by the end of the decade to overreact and condemn all street art as vandalism. Seminal French artists like Blek le Rat (inspiration for the British artist Banksy) and Miss-Tic were driven from the Paris streets with onerous fines and jail threats. Thus a Fred Le Chevalier is now equal in the eyes of the law to a 14-year-old with a spray can hidden up his or her sleeve.)

So, we are pleased to report that Fred is back, and his work has grown even larger. Billboard-sized.

 


Yesterday, Fred was honored by the street artist association, Le M.U.R., by being asked (and paid a 500-euro honorarium by the same city hall that criminalizes art work elsewhere) to create a billboard-sized mural on the billboard they manage legally at rue St. Maur and rue Oberkampf, a scant five blocks from Fred's apartment.

The Le M.U.R. billboard has been going since 2007, and features, every two weeks, the work of an urban artist from somewhere in the world, from Sao Paolo, to New York City, to Barcelona, to name only a few cities. The billboard aims to promote all kinds of street art, and each work's limited shelf life is an homage to the fact that street art is ephemeral by nature. We covered Le M.U.R.s last artist's gathering in November 2011.

 

 

But Fred being Fred, the prime exponent of the French troubadour tradition, his Le M.U.R. appearance was not just a chance to decorate a billboard, but for an event, a happening. He designed and created two hundred and fifty masks, each cut out and drawn and colored by hand, and turned the audience into participants at a masked ball celebrating the dance of love. The space was jam-packed. Everywhere you turned there were photographers capturing the play, and the conversations were warm and frolicsome, too.

 

  

I was immediately transported into yet another "past life," Berkeley in the late '60s, where I lived in a commune of artists and we created performance art, in which as many as 100 people would create an Event for one person, the aim of which was to transform that person's life, in some small way. Example: a San Francisco poet whose work was lyrical, imaginative and surreal, but who read his work with all the vividness of a banker counting money, and (unbeknownst to him), needed our help in loosening up his performances.

Michael Haimovitz, the ringleader of these Events, invited a group of men and women to a big, elegant house high up in the Berkeley Hills with views of the San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge. As the poet began to read his poems, the room became warm, overheated, and all the men left, seemingly to try to fix the problem. None of them returned. The poet looked crushed, and kept his eyes locked on the page. As he droned on, some twenty-five women in the room (who were all beautifully, even a bit primly dressed), one by one, shed their silky dresses and lingerie. The next time the poet glanced up from the page, every woman in the room, all of us in our early 20s, was naked. The lights dimmed, and each of us began to chant one phrase from one of his poems. 

Several women cleared his manuscript and glass of water from the long pine table at which he was reading, covered it with a thick cloth, and removed the poet's clothes.

 

 

Several other women guided him to lie down on the table and began to expertly massage him, while the chorus of women continued to chant phrases from his poems, and to tattoo him all over with stamps on which the images of his poems were inked.

The whole time he laughed so hard we thought he might melt.

And then he was dressed, and the lights turned off and the women returned to their seats. When the lights were lit again, every woman was fully dressed, legs crossed, listening as attentively as if we were at the Berkeley Library.

And what a performance he gave after that! And ever after, too, including at Radcliffe College to a standing ovation. When he returned to his apartment that night in San Francisco, it was long after midnight. But he had to call someone, had to tell a friend about the Event. He knocked on the door of his neighbors, two women who were in love with each other, and told them the tale of all these naked women. His two friends insisted on helping him wash off the tattoos, and got into the shower with him, as he told them every last detail. (Many of these performance pieces are dramatized more fully in the novel I just completed, "The Book of Twelve.") These Events we did were not for money, not for power, only for love, of one other human being at a time.

Fred's Events, Fred's spirit, remind me of that time in Berkeley in the '60s. He is not motivated by ambition or power or fame, rather by the spirit of love.

 

 

So thank you Fred, for persevering in your art in the face of government madness, and for putting love at the center of life, where it belongs. You are truly Aphrodite's chevalier.

As for getting Fred his first mortgage? Buy his work and that dream, too, will happen.

 

 

(For a supplement to this post--more pictures from Fred's day at Le M.U.R--see and like Paris Play's Facebook page.)

 

 

Saturday
Feb082014

Crow and Gull Attack the Pope's Doves

 

 


Crow and Gull Attack the Pope's Doves
(Aquarius Sun Square Saturn in Scorpio)

 

The wind howls all around the house tonight

while images flicker on the screen—everyone is rebelling!

Orthodox Jews, refusing to serve in the Israeli army,

dance like black-garbed crows,

waving hands in the air like gleeful children,

as state thugs on horseback beat them to the ground;

 

Chechens saying nyet to Putin,

willing to burn down their cities for freedom;

Bosnian workers fed up—

not enough bread to feed their families;

Tunisia’s constitution includes

protection of the earth.

 

The UN blasts the Vatican

for shielding predatory priests,

for failing to protect children;

social media explodes with women

speaking out against the men

who stole their innocence.

 

I open a window, marvel at the fierce wind

blowing in from the sea, where, to the west,

waves are flooding Brittany and England,

the air so warm you could float on it.

Freedom is in the air

and it is thrilling.

 

Even high above and beyond, the planets

are doing the same dance—take back your authority!

Claim the power stolen by the priests,

the pedophiles, thugs, tyrants, users,

warmongers, thieves, despoilers of the earth—

it never did belong to them. It is yours.

 

February 7, 2014 

 

 

 

 

Friday
Jan172014

Full Moon Plays

 

 

 

We first see her near midnight a few blocks from our flat, high above l’Hôtel de Sens, down-turned eyes, mouth opened in song, cloud plumes scudding across her radiant face so fast you cannot tell if one of the three stars to the right might be an airplane. 

They’re taking down the Christmas lights on the Île St-Louis. From the Pont des Tournelles we can see the Cyclops of the Tour Eiffel scanning the midnight sky.


 

It’s been a day of plays. Bien sûr, it’s the Full Moon!

First, a comedy on the rue des Ancienne Comédie. Chrystine and I chat in French as she cuts my hair. Her husband, Marc, has a French client; their French is better than mine, by far.

In comes a woman from Mexico with her German boyfriend, bearing gifts. La Virgen de Guadalupe (in chocolate?). She speaks only Spanish. Her boyfriend speaks only German, with a little Spanish. She wants to convey to Marc the haircut her boyfriend wants, only Marc doesn’t speak Spanish.

Ah, but his client does. The German communicates to his girlfriend in Spanish. She tells Marc’s client what he wants in Spanish. Marc’s client translates it into French for him. Chrystine speaks no Spanish; I understand it, but mix it up too much with French now to try speaking. We listen. The communication is full of laughter, and finally everyone understands. The Mexican woman and I speak and I think she’s said she’s from Los Angeles, but no, Angeles is her last name. More laughter.

 

 

Next, a surreal dramaRichard and I are on a crosstown bus, late for a party in the 20th arrondissement given by a street artist we dearly love, to honor his friends. We’re standing—the bus is crowded—when we hear the sounds of love-making, groaning, panting and moaning, over the p.a. system. Everyone glances around at each other—was that the bus driver, or are we picking up signals from some other, full moon, dimension?

 


A few minutes later, the bus driver announces on the p.a. that he’s annoyed with a young man standing near the back door. Everyone looks puzzled. Annoyed? Really? Et pourquoi ça?

The young man, who is tall and self-contained, shrugs, Qu’est qu’on peut faire?

More moaning sounds. There’s a ripple through the bus: do we have a demon bus driver here? Hmmmm…

The bus stops. I ask a French woman near the door what she thinks is going on.

She responds by calling out to the bus driver, Why are you bugging this man?

 

Street art © 2014 Fred Le Chevalier

The driver calls back in a baritone voice, It’s my bus; I can do whatever I want here.

The woman says, So you are the dictator, huh?

Oui, he says, C’est moi.

You certainly can do whatever you want, she says, but you might do it with a bit more grace.

Now, two North African-looking women at the front of the bus object to this woman’s calling the man’s authority into question, and shout at the French woman. The bus driver, his fans, and the woman at the back are going at it now.

Most of the other passengers laugh, or make that disapproving moue. Two Saharan African men roll their eyes, at either the voice of authority or the voice of rebellion.

And then we arrive at our stop on rue de Ménilmontant. All of us who disembark are laughing, laughing! Richard shakes hands with one of the African men. Good luck, they say in French. The bus to hell goes on.

 

 

Finally, a love story. Our friend, Fred, is seated at a long table surrounded by friends. He greets us warmly, makes introductions all around, shows us the buffet where we help ourselves to pasta, salad and tangy, salted feta straight from Greece. He pours us a good red wine. In the room at the back, an exhibit of Fred's artwork, the last day of the show.

Fred, the quintessential romantic, hovers close, protective, around his new girlfriend, whom many of us are meeting for the first time, pouring her wine, bringing one arm around her to do so like a chevalier sommelier.

Two gorgeous women who look like sisters, with bangs and deep red lipstick, turn out to be, not sisters, but band mates for a punk band who write their own feminist lyrics.

A screenwriter and her two friends arrive. Richard and I talk to her about our friend, John Truby’s screenwriting class coming next week to Paris. Oui! She knows his name, would like to take the class, but is about to start a new job.

Next to me, Fred’s oldest friend, Estelle, a lawyer, and I talk about vision quests and love.

A lately arrived artist, Doudou, has an open face, great warmth. He and Richard like each other, stumble through French to a few laughs.

 

Street Art © 2014 Fred Le Chevalier

But it’s now time for our trek across town home. We tell these new friends it will be an hour walk, and to a person, they are amazed. "Walk? An hour?" In a land of motor scooters and incredible public transportation, the thought of a midnight walk across Paris seems alien to the natives.  

The hour walk clears the head of wine, but not the giddiness of this full moon, full of drama day and night in Paris: language drama, attitude drama and the best kind of drama, gathering with friends to celebrate art and love. 

 

Street art © 2014 Fred Le Chevalier 

 


Friday
Dec132013

Message to Jane



 

Image of the Milky Way by G. Brammer / ESA / NASA

Message to Jane

Where are you now, Jane?
Have you sailed to the Milky Way?
Do you dwell in the heart of our galaxy,
winking at us from the constellation Sagittarius?

Do you know what you are to me?
Can you feel my gratitude?
I see you walking in beauty still
at home in the immensity,

visiting me in dreams.
Today is your birth day
but you are beyond measure,
pouring your light into the eternal flow.


13 December 2013