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

Entries in love (14)


The Pont of Proposals



Here I sit at a high table in a glass-windowed boat on the Seine, facing the Pont Alexandre III about a half block away, that iconic bridge with gold to the right, gold to the left, gold in the center, four winged horses. Old-timey lamps, tridents with globes on each point. The bridge makes a gentle arch over the gray-green waters that never stop moving, trembling between shadow and light.

"Monday, Monday, got me crying all the time" plays on the boat's sound system. On the bridge, black-clad figures, a few in red. A bus with Paris les Cars Rouges passes.



I'm watching, waiting for the horse-drawn carriage. There it is! It stops half-way across the bridge. Two figures, one I know, help the couple step down from the carriage. Blondie sings "One way or another I'm going to get you, I'm going to getchu getchu getchu." The horse tosses its head.



I see the couple now side by side at the edge of the bridge, gazing east, a figure dancing around them. It's Richard, hired by a Paris company to record the moment one partner pops the question, an assignment he does in various romantic spots.



Has anyone ever said no? I've asked. Not yet, Richard said.



Now I see them settling back into the carriage. I imagine Richard is capturing this moment, too. My phone rings: The horse arrived on time, and the woman said yes. It's a good day when that happens.

I go to meet him on the bridge. We're still saying yes.






Back in the U.S.A.: Surprises!




  • How scuzzy Penn Station in NYC is, not a single restaurant with inviting food or places to sit! Cappuccino to die from, not for; and how do you ruin a bagel?  
  • Emily, Richard’s niece, over lunch at Union Oyster House in Boston (where Daniel Webster ate six plates of oysters a day and President Kennedy dined). How can a 19-year-old girl be this focused, grounded, present? 
  • Hawk! A lone hawk on a bare winter branch to the right of the bus just outside Amherst, (my father’s emblem, his totem: the thread of this journey leading back to him).



  • Never have trees seemed so alive to me, living beings breathing all around us in their coats of mauve, burgundy, scarlet, orange, brown, goldenrod, yellow! I remember standing with Dad here on the Amherst Commons under this same flaming tree in ’93. 
  • Walking with Richard, Ron (Rosbottom, the Amherst professor who invited Richard to lecture on Paris street art) and Betty (Rosbottom, the cookbook writer) in Amherst, I’m surprised that everyone is speaking English! 
  • The magic of Richard’s lecture in a red-carpeted amphitheater: three and a half years as a photographer and student of Paris street art and history, and he’s mastered both!   
  • I’ve never seen brussels sprouts attached to a stalk as thick as my wrist the way my aunt Susie serves them. The taste of pork for the first time in years. The sweet comfort of family talk with Susie and cousin Kit and his wife, Gayle.



  • The former frat house where my father met my mother: littered with beer cans, scruffy, post-Halloween party. I suddenly realize he was only 18, 19 years old!



  • The bannister one can see from the entrance window that my mother slid down one night (she was really that frisky?) that now has a newel post half way downto stop Betty Heimark from raising hell?

That a young woman, Maia, answers our knock and invites us to come in and have a look around. She leads me upstairs where all the rooms have images of seal pups on the doors, each with different names. Sealye Hall, no longer Alpha Delta Phi, fraternities banned last year, as my trustee father long thought they should be.

The rooms upstairs are tiny, narrow cells, big enough for a bed, desk, chair. The students are expected to be studious monks, but there are traces of another life downstairs.



  • Julia, a student in Ron’s Imagining the European City class, offers after Richard's lecture to give us a tour of the Mount Holyoke campus, where we’ve come to trace the thread of my parents’ lives. She leads us to three waterfalls near bridges. The first is too accessible. The second bridge did not exist in the ‘40s. The third is the most private, a lover’s lane along the wildest waterfall. Here, we’re sure, is where my father proposed to my mother.

It seems amazing to me that a couple might find true love, so deeply suited for a life together, at such a tender age.



  • That my mother, here in the 1942 yearbook in the library, was in the May court, and not the May Queen. She was surely the most beautiful with that sweep of Veronica Lake hair, full Norwegian lips, character and intelligence in her eyes!
  • That the Asian language we hear in the back of the bus belongs to Nepalese students at Amherst, a language we’ve never heard. Long black hair, these women are light in spirit, confident, breezy.
  • That a college friend of Richard’s from the ‘60s would drive all the way from Newport, R.I. to Amherst, Massachusetts to stay overnight there, and drive us the next morning to Brooklyn! Is she in love with him? Getting to know her, I see that she’s just a super generous soul.
  • As we leave Amherst to drive to Williamsburg, New York—there! A lone hawk on a bare winter tree.



  • That our Williamsburg landlady, Iris, has two big coils of hair at her ears like a Navajo maiden! That a big poster of her hangs above the bed, naked with flamenco hair and pose, with two strategically placed red fans! That the bedspread features a giant tiger, brown and yellow striped, with pink nose! That 36 silver swimming trophies line the shelf at the head of the bed!

That reading Iris’s novel combined with an invitation from my friend, Cassandra, sparks a new idea, and I begin writing each morning here in Williamsburg.

  • Meeting Mona’s two-year-old twins: what a fabulous mother she is, organized, disciplined, gay! How happy she and Gabriel are in Brooklyn!
  • The NYC Metro, its grime and darkness, how slow the trains, how crowded, how badly marked the stations! We can’t help but compare them to Paris.
  • How much NYC reminds me of Amsterdam, the Dutch roots, practical, industrious, extraverted. How consistent spirit of place is: NYC, an Artemis city, tough, armored, status-seeking, just as it was when I lived here in the late ‘70s.



  • Brick buildings: I didn’t like them years ago in Cambridge and NYC, don’t like them now. How enduring is taste.
  • Walking one night on Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg, I discover a 24-hour health food store where a calm Nepalese man presides! In America, rock music rocks—so many memories in each song!


Street art © 2014 Adam Cost

  • In Williamsburg: young "hipsters" with patriarchal beards and short hair, and some with mushroom-like growths on top: a more retrograde, unattractive look I can’t imagine! How can you call a patriarchal look “hip”? The two are an oxymoron.



  • Richard and I set out one day to walk across the Williamsburg Bridge to Manhattan. There at the entrance, a sign on the pavement tells us: no pedestrians, bicyclists only. Richard questions a bearded biker.

He says, “No, it’s fine. Just stay to the right. You know, farther on you’ll cross to the left and it’ll be pedestrian only.” 

Richard says, “No, I didn’t know that.” 

“That’s what I’m trying to tell you!” snaps the guy in that brusque NYC way, startling us both. 

The noise of cars and trucks on the bridge is astonishing! It’s a warm day. My side hurts. I drink some water, and then feel fine. The NYC skyline is striking in a hard glittering way.

Halfway across, the man on the bicycle passes us going the other way. He waves, stops to talk. Four kids, a wife who’s a dentist, maybe she can fix Richard’s toothache? But the challenge is more complex, must wait till we get home to Paris. Luckily, Richard has enough prescription codeine for three weeks.



  • We walk to Greenwich Village, cross Washington Square, find 14 Gay Street, the basement apartment where Sam and Betty swear I was conceived. I wave thank you to my father and mother.
  • Two days later in Manhattan, we duck into a Bank of America lobby to wait out the rain, and this man strides by, grinning and waving! Instead of a helmet, he now wears a yarmulke. What are the chances of running into this stranger three times in three days? And then as we wait by a huge red statue for a lunch date with Richard’s cousin, Paul, the no-longer-gruff stranger comes up and asks us if we’re capitalists or socialists. Socialists, we say, but French socialism hurts entrepreneurs and American capitalism hurts its citizens; we’d prefer a system that values both. He, Avi, is a hedge fund trader. He offers to give us a tour of the Stock Exchange. We haven’t time, but we exchange cards. 


Picasso. Les images peuvent être soumises à des droits d'auteur.


  • The painters I loved most at 19 years old, years later, here in MOMA, are the ones I still love: de Chirico, Ernst, Dali, Duchamp, Kahlo, Matisse, Van Gogh, Picasso; the ones I didn’t love then, like Cézanne with his baby shit colors, still do nothing for me. A show of Matisse cutouts: Joy! Joy!
  • On the crowded Metro, a man facing me has a red face dripping with sweat, sweat staining his shirt. He stares. Something odd going on. The train is delayed, says the well-trained voice of an actor over the p. a.

“Is this the Four Line?” Sweat Man exclaims to the crowd.

“No, the Five,” a young Latina says.

He gets off the train, stands facing our open door, says, “Thank you, Mother,” and grins. “Thank you, Mother,” and grins. “Thank you, Mother,” and grins. No one looks twice at him!


Van Gogh's palette, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam


  • In Iris’s apartment, I read a novel, Van Gogh’s Bad Café, by Frederic Tuten. An extraordinary visionary feat: Ursula, a woman photographer, moves through space and time between two lovers: Van Gogh in late-nineteenth-century Auvers-sur-Oise, France and Louis in 1990s NYC. The story opens into moments of transcendent beauty, reminiscent of William Blake. And then we meet Frederic for drinks, and he is luminous like his novel.
  • I wondered if I’d be tempted by Brooklyn, find it more appealing than Paris, but no, not even close. Paris is Aphrodite, the goddess to whom we feel closest. Returning to Paris, this place—only Paris!—feels like home. 





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.)




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 



Two Men, Two Women, Six Ducks

The Seine meanders through the center of Paris. 

There are two eyes in the middle of the river, the Île de la Cité and the Île St.-Louis. Just look on a map.

Artists tend to gravitate towards the left eye, the intuitive-feeling eye, the eye of dream.

Maybe it wasn’t coincidence that we chose to live within a few blocks of the left eye, the Île St.-Louis.

We often cross the Pont de la Tournelle over the Seine and stop to look at Notre Dame where the river forks around the Île de la Cité, the eye of judgment. Every time you look there are new things to see.



Mid-summer, walking to meet Richard for dinner in the Marais, I saw ahead of me the most startling street person I’ve seen so far in Paris. He had a vast hairy bare belly. Not only was he shirtless, but he was also missing the entire seat of his pants. No problem—it was a hot day. He stood by a trash can and picked out bottles to throw. His face and chest were so red that all the bottles might well have been downed by him. Passersby mostly stayed on the other side of the street, for this was a hairy bum with a hairy bum. Even seen-it-all Parisians kept sneaking peeks at his big furry butt, which at least was covered half an inch down the crack by what seemed to be a pair of cowboy chaps.

I sent him a silent greeting, Bless your hairy bum, oh hairy bum, but kept a comfortable distance.

On the way back from dinner, Richard and I paused on the Quai d’Orléans. It was 9 p.m., still light, the time of year you wish would never end.



Richard leaned over the quai to snap an overhead shot of a group of young people having a picnic.

Below them at the edge of the Seine, I watched six ducks in a row, as if in line at Poilâne Bakery.

Richard showed me the close-up photo in his viewfinder. “Their picnic seems to be mostly chips.”

There was an array of bags open, as well as wine. “Those ducks are smart. They know the picnickers will tire of the chips and toss them snacks.”



“Look!” Richard said, “Someone’s in the water.”

I peered out over the murky Seine and sure enough, a man with his head submerged was struggling back to the quay with choppy strokes.

“That’s one way to get a disease,” said Richard.

We had learned in reading The Secret Life of the Seine, our friend Mort Rosenblum’s book about the history of the Seine, of the dead bodies that are still found in the river. A few Japanese tourists were watching him too.



He seemed to be having trouble lifting himself out of the water onto the steps of the quai. Then, a dripping merman emerged. He was trim, perhaps in his 40s, sun-weathered, with a leaping panther tattooed above his heart. He wore dark blue swim trunks. Up on the quai he pulled a dark blue T-shirt over his head that said “Champion” and something else I couldn’t see, “Barcela?” “Barcelona?”

He glanced up, and seemed to be scanning for any watching females who might be impressed.

Two young women in sundresses and sandals passed speaking American English, their arms around each other’s waists, and stopped at the corner near the bridge. Oblivious to the onlookers, they turned to kiss each other.

“Look how the world has changed,” I said. “American lesbians are perfectly comfortable expressing their love in public.”

“All over the world,” said Richard.

“Maybe the world is becoming a more loving place…?” I wondered aloud.