I attended a concert at the Conservatoire, one of the loci of new music in Paris. I am told there is an alternative scene to Boulez but I was hard pressed to find its focus. This could take months of research, it is deep underground. I heard a chamber piece by Bacri and a piece by pianist/composer Noel Lee, an American who moved to Paris in 1948, as student of Nadia Boulanger. It is amazing how much influence this woman had on the scene. Her name keeps popping up. I also approached conductor John Nelson for some pointers – he is another American turned Parisian, but he was too busy recording Beethoven and said he didnâ€™t know much about the contemporary music scene in Paris.
The real Mona Lisa â€“ if you ever want to bother going through the crowds at the Louvre – is a small, rather dreary-looking painting in mousy colors, the mystery of it being that it is likely a self-portrait of De Vinci as a female, and this androgynous icon keeps puzzling the viewers â€“ or does it… Marcel Duchamp drew a moutache on a reproduction of it, with the mention of four letters, L.H.O.O.Q., a sequence which reads, in French, she is hot in the buns (or something to that effect).
I desperately looked for an internet cafÃ©, but the yellow pages only listed a couple of locations. The traditional cafes are not what they used to be: they are now lonely and deserted as the pricing is somewhat prohibitive and Parisians will rather spring for a â€˜MacDoâ€™ instead of a coffee at 4 Euros a pop. Due to a clever or absurd law, smoking is prohibited only at the counter, while allowed at the tables, reflecting the pervasive double standard that applies to many categories besides smoking, especially with regards to male domination. For most important matters, it is necessary to see the â€˜man in chargeâ€™ â€“ doctor, lawyer, whatever, which reminds me of the saying â€œIâ€™ve got to see a man about a horse.â€ The woman is not in a position to solve the problem, but she can chat about it with her friends and make a fuss and drive everybody crazy until she gets her way.
The subways are fast and pleasant-sounding, but the seating seems fit for really small people â€“ an average-size male or a large female will take one and a half seat. Also, if you are traveling on foot, beware of the distances from the subway to your location. Using a car is a challenge as the traffic jams and parking problems are worse than in New York.
There are water issues, besides the frequent rain. The hand showers can be a problem â€“ how can you hold the shower head and the soap at the same time? As many Americans will suggest, you are best off taking baths. Most apartments have a washing machine but no dryer, I have no idea why. With the humidity, drying clothes in the apartment can be difficult. Be prepared to bring your wet clothes to the Laundromat (if you can find one within walking distance) for a pricey spin in hot air.
If you need to do an errand, be sure to assess whether the store is closed for lunch hour (some stores are closed between 12 and 4PM!). Once there, you may have to wait on line for a long time as the storekeeper will take the time to chat at length with each regular. Lo and behold, being a regular at the pharmacy for my motherâ€™s medications, I was entreated to one of those long chats myself!
Just remember if you have to do any business, nothing is fast an easy. Be prepared for a loop or a wait in every situation.
The supermarkets are bountiful and loaded with all sorts of â€˜produits biologiquesâ€™ (what we can organic products) but rather expensive.
The clothing styles, once the height of fashion, are either impractical or utterly conservative. Mostly, every creation is contorted and twisted into decadence with unnecessary details, which makes is difficult to find anything usable, especially since the price of clothing is absurdly high except during the â€˜soldesâ€™ where women make a mad dash for it.
As every time I come back to New York, I am overcome with a feeling of gratitude for being able to live here. Next time I will write my Impressions of Paris like Raymond Roussel wrote his Impressions dâ€™Afrique, from the inside of a moving car anywhere.