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

Entries in French culture (10)


What Fresh Hell Is This?



Yes, he said, yes, he said yes!

We were at dinner at Anahuacalli, our favorite Mexican restaurant in Paris, and he asked me what I wanted for my birthday this year. 

A cat! I said.


Seriously? You mean it?

Sure. If that’s what you really want. It's your birthday.



We’ve been having a certain dialogue for two years, since Marley died in July 2013. Still grieving, we both agreed that no cat could ever replace our white and gold wedding cake cat. But then I started yearning for, not a replacement, but a Marley brother or sister.

But we want to travel, Richard said, that's one reason we're in Europe. Although… if a cat came to our door the way Marley did in Venice in 1997 and asked to join this family, I’d say yes.

But what cat can wander in through our Paris courtyard, unlock the door to the building and find his way to the fifth floor and knock?

Right, said Richard.



We stopped at our veterinarian’s on Blvd. Saint-Germain for the first time since that summer, to ask if he knew any cats who needed a home.

Doctor McCarthy (who revealed to us once that he was really a cat) wasn’t in, but in the waiting room, a woman in army fatigues with a cocker spaniel suggested we go to the SPA weekend offering at Bastille that weekend, a once-a-year event (by the French equivalent of the SPCA). What timing! What a stroke of luck! 

Saturday, we walked over two Seine bridges the twenty minutes to Place Bastille to find a temporary exhibition hall set up under white tents. The canvas cages, with plexiglas windows, were set cheek-by-jowl on top of rows of tables, the cats hunched inside. From the next room, came a staccato cacophony of dogs. We walked through the rows. The first cat I saw was a white beauty who looked like Marley. But no, we couldn’t duplicate him—why even try?

We looked at tiger-striped and calico cats, and various-colored kitten siblings. But the kittens were all sick with coryza, a common shelter cold that comes from close living with other cats, which can be serious.



We chose three cats who appealed to us. But petting them, you could see that they weren’t that affectionate. We returned to the white cat. He’d been adopted two minutes before. I offered to give the woman adopting my card in case the cat wasn’t compatible with a cat she had at home. Oh, no, she said, she would never give up a cat once adopted. Bien sûr, neither would we.

We decided to come back earlier the next day, since a new batch of chats et chiens was arriving. Sunday morning we felt lazy, didn’t want to get out of bed.

Let’s just hop in a cab and go over there and see, Richard said. And so we did. We had a plan. He would start at one end, and I at the other. We each noted a cat that appealed to us, then checked out each other’s choice. No, no. Then went back to look at a tortoiseshell female, three years old, a bomb-shell beauty, with black, red and white patches.

I had the thought that she was like our friend Edith who recently died, who only wore black, red and white. Her papers said she could live in either a pavillon (a house with grounds) or appartement, but advised she needed to be the sole cat in the place, and that we shouldn’t have a child or dog.

I unzipped the cage and cautiously held out my hand. The cat, Jade, came over and lowered her head, asking to be petted. She was sweet and câlin as the French say. A cuddler.

What do you think, Richard?

He put his hand in her cage and she moseyed over to him for more petting.


We asked the woman in the orange vest if we could hold her. Yes, she said, and turned the cage around to unzip and free her. Richard picked her up. She was câlin, then balked, and scratched his hand. Natural for a cat caged and surrounded by chaos, we figured.

We glanced at each other. Yes?


Signed the ream of French paperwork, showed our identity cards, paid 90 euros, got a certificate that she’d been sterilized and received all her shots.

We stood on the curb and tried to flag a taxi. None stopped, though many were free. A French couple on a nearby bench railed about the rude cab drivers in Paris. 

One finally stopped, but seeing the cat in our carrier, said, Not in the car, in the trunk.


No, we said, we can’t do that to this cat, we just rescued her from prison at la Bastille.

He relented and as we headed home, told us he adored cats, but was allergic to them, was so sad to have no cat in his life. But if you’d told us that, we’d have understood, we said.

At a stoplight, he turned around in his seat to get a closer look at Jade. Oh la la, qu’elle est belle! he exclaimed.

At home, we put out food, water, and lined with a trash bag a temporary litter tray cut from a cardboard box. We’d walk the next day to get another litter box at the department store near city hall, having thrown Marley’s away.  

We sat at our oak table and watched Jade pad along the edges of the living room, and then every room in the apartment, sniffing, investigating. And then she settled on the couch, looking regal and quite content. We’ll let her come to us, we decided. Let her determine when she wants contact.


That night, I stretched out on the couch to read All the Light We Cannot See. She approached me gingerly, hopped up and walked across the blanket from my feet to my hand. She butted up against it, looking for affection. I stroked her head, and she ronronnait. (You know what that means.) Then suddenly, no warning from ears or tail or viper mouth, she bit and scratched my hand, hard. It hurt.

It was probably a sign she’d been traumatized with all those dogs and other cats and humans, and being in a cage, and so we’d be patient.

Later that evening, she approached Richard in his office and bowed her head to be petted. Then turned on him and slashed his hand, with no warning.


We went to sleep uneasy. Something felt wrong about this creature. She did not speak, only squeaked as if she’d never been to meowing school.

The next day, the scratches and bites were worse. For both of us. We were now on guard when Jade approached. It was the same pattern; ask for affection, then attack without warning.

That night she bit me so hard that she raised a lemon-sized bump on my right hand that began to turn half-purple. Now I was feeling more than uneasy. I was beginning to be afraid of her. She did the same thing with Richard, biting his finger and drawing a drop of blood.


The next morning, she awakened us with a crash. She’d knocked a sculpture my sister, Jane, made of a bumble-bee bird from the mantel to the floor. Its wing was damaged at the tip.

I had a feeling that morning that I’ve never had about a cat: hatred. Her eyes were not golden, they were urine-yellow like a goat’s. She didn’t cover her shit, had never learned to do so. Was clearly a wild cat. My hand hurt, and I was worried about infection. I said to myself, I cannot live with this cat. I will never love this cat. But I’m married to a man who lived in and out of foster homes from the age of 12 to 14. To bring a cat back to the SPA, how traumatic for the cat. Unthinkable.

I had appointments that day, including a visit to my doctor. She examined my hand and said, I’m sure it’s okay, just bruising. But returning home, I felt a deepening dread of this demon cat and the decision we had to make.


Later that night Jade raked Richard’s hand so badly the wound looked like a red zipper. He called it his Heidelberg dueling scar.

With leaden hearts, we made the decision to return her to the pound. Richard made the call. After 13 weeks of study at the Sorbonne, he was able to navigate a phone conversation in French, describe the adoption, the cat behavior, find out where we could take her back that required no car. 


Street art © 2013 by JAZ

And that is how my birthday began: we rounded her up, cornered in the kitchen, hissing (she knew!), lifted her wrapped in a towel to immobilize her razor-sharp claws, got her into Marley’s old carrier, and boarded the RER train for an hour ride to the nearest shelter at suburban Gennevilliers.

The first French woman we spoke to at the shelter was skeptical and thuggish. No, they could not take the cat there because she didn’t come from this pound. Richard explained that the central SPA office, hearing that we didn’t have a car to drive to the cat’s shelter of origin several hours outside of Paris, had given us permission to bring the cat here. 

She shook her head in that French fashion that says, I will find a way to obstruct this, that is why I exist.


The second, third, and fourth employees were sympathetic. Oui, they said, they would take her, though it wasn’t the center from which she came. 

In our interview, we learned some French as it applies to cats. Câlin, we knew. Pavillon ou appartement? We’d thought it was a rather snobbish way of saying, Certain cats must have estates in Paris, with grounds.

Mais non. Pavillon means: This cat is so wild, so unsuited for living with not just dogs, other cats, and children, but even adults who worship cats. She can only be adopted by humans who have their own private jungle where jaguars can roam.


Street Art © 2014 by Toc Toc

Elle n’est pas une écaille de tortue, this is not a tortoise shell, said one young woman, Morgan, named after the sorceress in the medieval King Arthur’s tales. It’s a tricolore. They are always female, and they’re known for having caractère

Caractère translates in French to bitch. (Our cat-whisperer friend, Lisa Fimiani, told us, “Male cats are supposedly more friendly—females can be bitches, however it all comes down to the cat's personality and their interaction with you.”)

Égratigner means to shred the skin of a human.

Mordu means bitten to the bone.

They looked at our hands and nodded gravely. This cat cannot live indoors.


No, we said, she’s the demon cat from hell.

(We didn’t really say that. We know that cats understand everything you say.) We walked away feeling years lighter, and said it to each other. 


Street art © 2015 by M. Chat

* Footnote: A line attributed to American author/critic/poet and wit Dorothy Parker, who is reported to have exclaimed, "What fresh hell is this?" when her train of thought was interrupted by a telephone. She then started using it in place of "hello" when answering the phone or a knock at her door.









Happy Bastille Day, Serge!

Artwork (c) 2013 Anthony Lemer

As French fighter jets buzzing the Bastille Day parade on the Champs Elysses thundered over Paris, Paris Play chose instead to cover a labor of love, the redo of the Serge Gainsbourg "permission wall" in the otherwise street-art-averse Saint-Germain-dés-Prés quartier.

The famous wall, at the front of the influential French pop musician's former residence (he died in 1991) was a pilgrimage site for fans from all over the world to leave painted and written tributes, but also had become, in recent years, a mess of unrelated tags and random graffiti.


Street artist/photographer Roswitha Guillemin shows Gainsbourg estate representatives photos of the old artwork on the wall. 

So the estate (now controlled by his daughter, actress-singer Charlotte Gainsbourg) wiped the slate clean.


Artwork (c) 2013 Anthony Lemer

After being approached by street artist Anthony Lemer with a tribute concept--Gainsbourg's face in black-and-white surrounded by his song titles and lyrics and other slogans in various colors--the estate agreed to paint over the wall of graffiti and let Lemer have at it. The artist was not paid; he did it as a labor of love, and completed it Bastille Day morning, using a photograph of Gainsbourg as a model for his careful, subtle spray can work.


Artwork (c) 2103 Anthony Lemer

Gainsbourg (Google him if you're unfamiliar) was a fascinating artist, whose work from the fifties through the eighties encompassed a variety of styles, from pop, jazz, disco and reggae to electronic and funk, and he was considered an influence by artists like Arcade Fire, Air, Beck, Belinda Carlisle, and Jarvis Cocker. The son of immigrant Russian Jews who fled to France in 1917, he was profoundly shaped by the Nazi Occupation (he was forced to wear a star of David during WWII), a theme later incorporated into his work. 

He was also a renown "bad boy" whose lyrics were full of wit, puns and sometimes not-even-oblique references to sex. Eleven years before John and Yoko put her orgasms on their album "Double Fantasy," Gainsbourg recorded "Je t'aime... moi non plus" with his lover (later mother of Charlotte), the English actress Jane Birkin. He later recorded a duet, "Lemon Incest," with a fifteen-year-old Charlotte. But, like the seminal writer, Jack Kerouac, Gainsbourg's last years were a descent into public drunkenness and crankiness, too often caught on video.


A fan wearing what he said was an original T-shirt from Gainsbourg's last gig gets a photo with the artist. Artwork (c) 2013 Anthony Lemer.

However, the thousands of fans who trek to his wall each year, most less adept at art than Anthony Lemer, don't care about his last years, only about his profound legacy that seems to keep growing. French President François Mitterrand said, "He was our Baudelaire, our Apollinaire... He elevated the song to the level of art."

The estate hopes this fresh start will bring a wall of elevated art with it, but, as one street artist in attendance said, "Good luck. This is a free wall, and people will do what they will."


Part of the wall before the white coats of paint.  


Happy Mother's Day (And She'd Better Be a Woman)


Today is Mother's Day in France, and those people still dissatisfied with the newly minted French law that mandates marriage equality for all chose this symbolic day to march down Boulevard St.-Germain in the Left Bank and reassert their contention that marriage is only between a man and a woman.



We'd estimate the crowd in the low tens of thousands, but they were loud. France is the fourteenth country to legalize gay marriage, and the first ceremony is expected May 29th, the first day such a union will be possible in France.  The law also allows all married couples to adopt children.







We couldn't help but make a few comparisons between the gay rights advocates and their parades we've attended, and today's Mother's Day demonstration, so we'll sprinkle those observations throughout.

There were many more French flags today.





Many more children.






Many more priests.




Far fewer people of color.




However, we saw many similarities. For example, both groups favor pink.




Both go for wigs.




Both blow whistles.




Both claim interfaith support.




Both sing the French national anthem, "La Marseillaise."



Both have disco blaring from sound trucks that also feature colored smoke.



Both like blowing rainbow bubbles.



And both believe they are battling for the soul of France.






Kaaren is away from Paris. In her absence, this edition was photographed and written by Richard, and edited by her on-line. 




Ruminating on Ruminating


So we've been feeling a little pressure.

Self-imposed deadlines, but still, they should be honored. We had a Paris Play due today, but we'd also had an apartment full of flu.

But more importantly, we've been thinking about what to write and how to put it, and that takes time, too.



The world looks too often only at the final results, and ignores the fact that the incubation process, the rumination stage of creativity, is probably the longest and deepest stage. As artists, we do go into the creative trance, and we love to talk about "the flow" when we're in it, but that romanticizes those later stages, to the detriment of the rumination.

So, to regain perspective, and to test our post-flu stamina, we popped into the Metro and popped out at the 50th Annual Salon International de l'Agriculture, the Paris Agriculture Fair, specifically to visit some of our favorite animals, the ruminants--cows, sheep, goats--cud-chewers all.


We also found probably a hundred-and-fifty-thousand Parisians (the four-day fair drew six-hundred-and-fifty-thousand people last year), wall-to-wall with their children and their strollers, since it was Sunday, and the last day of the fair, and because the French are still quite deeply connected to agriculture. Have we mentioned they are foodies? And where does food come from? Voila!

More than 1.1 million people work in agriculture in France, about six percent of the population. France is second only to the U.S as the world's largest agricultural exporter, and is the Eurozone's breadbasket, its top cereals producer.



There were various livestock pavilions, with lots of pigs, and even dogs and cats in abundance (the latter were non-food items). Horses were segregated in their own pavilion, which probably happens all the time, but it made us think of the recent Eurozone scandal involving the lack of horseflesh segregation, an embarrassing glitch in the system. Not that people don't want to eat horse meat here, they just want it labeled. (And, no small favor, the French don't stupidly append the suffix "-gate" to every scandal here, so we haven't had to sit through news reports about Horsemeat-gate.)

There were vast halls full of wine, the 365 different varieties of cheese that DeGaulle famously noted, sausages enough to string to la lune and back, Breton dancers, Basque horsemen, Provence donkeys--and everybody was eating something, since samples were abundant.


And the ruminants? In stalls or paddocks, standing around or lying down, calmly tolerating the massive number of humans uniformly ignoring the massive number of "please don't touch the animals" signs, they had their usual message for us: Hey, chill out. Remember that rumination precedes the fever-heat of productivity. All in good time. All in good time.



As we headed back to the Metro, reminded again of the order of things, we came across the usual demonstration. At the Auto Show, it was Greenpeace; today, it was the good folks from L124, an animal rights organization dedicated to the welfare of farm animals here in France. The name comes from rural law 124, which states (in our rough translation): "Every animal is a sentient being and must be placed by the owner in a manner consistent with the biological requirements of the species."

We don't do the "eat-me-or-don't-eat-me" debate with animals, since we know they return the favor with pleasure when given the chance, but we respect our friends of all stripes who respect animals, and we welcome their nuanced debate. We're just glad that our ruminant advisers were in town, and we were allowed their counsel.


And as a grace note, our Berkeley food critic friend John Harris told us about a fine documentary by the director Judith Lit featuring the family farmers of the Périgord region of southwest France, a rural community faced with the economic and cultural changes that have come in the world's shift to agribusiness. John saw it, and raved, at the last Mill Valley Film Festival.





Here's Looking at You, USA!

Street art by Speedy Graphito

While April in Paris is the customary month for visitors, October is also huge. We like to say that we've had more visitors from L.A. (and elsewhere in the U.S.) in those two months than in the last five years we spent in Los Angeles itself. 

Top question we get asked, after "How can *I* move here?" is, "Do you miss the States?"

How? It's impossible to walk more than a few blocks in Paris and not see some American iconography, or a reminder of that cultural tsunami.



Back in 1982, the incumbent French Minister of Culture, Jack Lang, gave an incendiary speech in which he blasted the United States's "cultural imperialism," and advised that other cultures enact protectionist measures against the way the American cultural/consumer juggernaut "grabs consciousness, ways of thinking, ways of living." 

In those days, to cite but one example, the Hollywood machine was squeezing smaller French films out of the marketplace in both countries, a cultural trend that required state intervention, Lang thought.



Interesting concept, but there was no way American culture wasn't going to overwhelm the world like a tsunami. The French Academy tried to ban English words like "weekend," and "hot dog," but what do the French now celebrate on Saturday and Sunday?--"le weekend," when they eat "le hot dog." McDonalds, Starbucks, and KFCs are ubiquitous, and American apparel stores dot the Champs Elysses like chocolate sprinkles on a cappuccino.



The list of American words is endless now, as are the American images, for better or worse, that form a great deal of the street art, and advertising, that we see daily.



So, a portfolio of Americana, as filtered through the French consciousness and reflected back. Then just for fun down below, another Paris Play Pop Quiz.








Street art by GZUP






Street art by Shadee.K











Street art by Jef Aerosol, legs by Jerome Mesnager



















Paris Play Street Art Pop Quiz


Below you will find twenty more American-inspired images from Paris street art.

Look at each of the twenty images, then post a single comment listing the names of the person, character, or American cultural icon you see; i.e., #1 is ____________________, #2 is _______________________, and so on through twenty.

We suggest you enter your answers in your own word processing program, then cut and paste them into the comments section below, which sometimes eats or loses comments entered directly.  

The first five people who get every one right will each get their choice of photograph from any 2012 Paris Play post, e-mailed to them in high-resolution, from which they will be free to make a single print for their own enjoyment.

Leave your e-mail when you leave your guesses, so we can contact you with your prize. We will favor longer than shorter answers (i.e. Michael Keaton as Batman), but these aren't essay questions.

If no one gets them all right, we'll take the answers with the best nineteen of twenty, or eighteen of twenty, etc. You have until midnight, Paris time, October 26 to get your answers in.

Good luck, and thanks for playing.












#8. Street art by Jef Aerosol


#9. Street art by Jef Aerosol 



















#19. Street art by Jef Aerosol


#20. Street art by Gilbert Shelton