Around and About in Paris: An Evening at Paris Soirées

Around and About in Paris: An Evening at Paris Soirées
Patricia Laplante’s evenings are as eclectic as can be-from spiritual matters, to literature, occasionally music and always a nice buffet. I am much too busy, too often away, to be able to attend her evenings on a regular basis, but I never regret it when I do, if only because you meet lots of interesting people from all over the place. The events themselves can be very stimulating, depending on the speaker/performer, which was certainly the case, when I went to hear Claudia Hommel give a cabaret evening of French oldies. It may sound old hat and nostalgic to hear, yet again, Sous le Ciel de Paris, but not when delivered by Claudia. She is so vivacious, she has so much charm,  and has fantastic stage personality. Claudia is American, lives in Chicago, but was born in Paris and spent here the first years of her life, which is when and how her love affair with the city began. I felt in total empathy when she told me her mother loved French chansons and brought her up on them. I identified completely because when my own son was a child he too was brought up on a mix of French  chansons and English/Scottish/Irish ballads and folksongs. Although she lives in the US, Claudia looks on stage as though she’d been carved out of the cobbled streets of the Left Bank in their mythical heyday.   She has something of those legendary Montparnasse women – dark hair and dark, expressive eyes and lots of layers of personality. Her parents, actually, were once friends of Sylvia Beach, who lent them (or let them, I can’t remember which) her flat above her Shakespeare & Company bookshop. If you know the musician George Antheil, you may remember the celebrated photo of him climbing down the window into the street. He had lived in the same flat some two decades earlier. So there she was, accompanied by a nostalgic accordionist, pouring out all our favorites, and making us feel exquisitely sentimental. The repertoire included, obviously, some Piaf favorites, which reminds me that the 40th anniversary of her passing is now being commemorated with an excellent exhibition at the Hôtel de Ville. Less than two weeks later, I headed to a Halloween party at Paris Soirées. Halloween in France is not exactly my thing, but I am so intrigued by this recent phenomenon that I decided to be part of it (for the first time), even though I expected it to be an "Anglo-Saxon" gathering, with, perhaps, the odd Anglicized or Anglo-Saxonphile French person thrown in. I was right—there were very few French people around. The place where we gathered was superb, though most people didn’t seem to take it in.  Next time you are in town make sure to walk along rue Dauphine or rue Mazarine in the 6th arrondissement, either of which will take you through a porch and an iron gate into the Passage Dauphine, a gorgeous, leafy alley, yet another one of Paris’s hidden secrets which I describe in my books, including its wonderful salon de thé. The alley also shelters a very well-known language school, where a chunk of the old medieval walls of Paris, from the time of Philip Augustus, can be seen, including one of its towers.  Most of the crowd gave these stupendous surroundings little thought, as they were too busy enjoying one another’s company. As for Halloween, I cannot for the life of me understand why it has taken off all of a sudden in a country, which is so defensive about ‘Anglo-Saxon’ influences. The fad is believed to have started off in the Marais, among the gay community, which is much more open to the cultural winds that blow from across the Atlantic. However, the French boulangers caught on to it pretty fast, sensing a potential for increased revenues. I was shocked a few years ago when I saw for the first time bright orange pumpkins all over the place, including in the most remote villages of La France profonde.   The French television followed suit, trumpeting the event and even offering recipes for pumpkin pies at the end of the news. Of course it’s fun to dress up as witches and skeletons, but why not revive the traditionally French Mardi Gras, which also comes with masks and costumes and is just as fun? Why borrow from other cultures when one has a culture of one’s own? Besides, the ‘trick-or-treat’ bit of Halloween has not caught on in France, so what’s the point? The latest French statistics, it now turns out, indicate that the excitement over Halloween is beginning to wane. Could it be that it was no more than a flash in the pun? Like Sous le Ciel de Paris I may be ‘old hat’ myself too, but I tend to go by the saying, "When in Rome…."  Therefore, when in Paris, give me any day Claudia Hommel’s rendering of Piaf, Brel, and all the others. Which doesn’t diminish the fact that I met great people at Patricia’s Halloween party, and that everyone seemed to have a great time. If you want to find out more about Claudia Hommel, visit her website: The full story of the neighborhood is to be found in Around and About Paris, Volume I, and more background information about the music involved is to be found in Around and About Paris, Volume II and III. ___________________ Thirza Vallois is the author of Around and About Paris, Volume I, II,III published by Iliad Books, UK. Romantic Paris, co-published by Interlink (US) and Arris Books (UK). To find out more and order Thirza Vallois’s books, visit her website:  Before your next trip to Paris, consider buying a Museum Pass.  Imagine, no more admissions and no more lines.   And with this wonderful pass, there is no limit to the number of times you can visit more than 70 museums and monuments in the Paris region, including…
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