Sunday, June 28, 2009

Paris - Day 3

Last night we went to a jazz club on the Right Bank to hear a terrific Brazilian singer/pianist, Tania Maria. She's 70 and still swings! Maria works in a variety of styles ranging from jazz-inflected sambas to Brazilian-tinged scat singing; a very good bass guitarist and drummer accompanied her. The club, Duc des Lombards, has been around for a while. A small venue, seating no more than 50, it gives patrons a marvelous sense of intimacy. We enjoyed ourselves immensely.

I was amused to see that martinis, a huge fad in the U.S., have not made similar inroads here. I ordered a vodka martini, which completely confounded the waitress. The menu listed martinis as being largely comprised of vermouth (horrible!); when I asked for a vodka martini--in decent French, mind you--I got, well, a straight shot of unadulerated Polish vodka.

After the set ended, we wandered around the Right Bank, settling ourselves in a little sidewalk cafe. Rod wanted food; I needed water; and we both wanted to watch the parade of humanity saunter by. Hauntingly, Michael Jackson's songs played everywhere, on car radios and on the street. Groups of young people spontaneously broke into song and dance, some attempting to moon walk. It was moving and strange.

We overslept woefully this morning. After a light breakfast at our hotel--good strong coffee, baguette, and confiture--we took the metro to the Père Lachaise cemetary. I expected hordes of people, but with the exception of one tour group, the cemetary was quiet for a Sunday afternoon.

I found Père Lachaise as compelling as the accounts I've read over the years. Some memorials are haunting. Both Rod and I were especially touched by the statue of a nine-year-old boy with his devoted Irish setter. Other tombs were fascinating in their grotesqueness and sheer bad taste. One faux Aztec temple caught our attention as did a 20-foot high sarcophagus decorated with every manner of gargoyle and flourish. I was dismayed to see that the French also ignore their literary and intellectual greats. Astonishingly, Pierre Augustin-Caron Beaumarchais, one of the monumental figures of the French Enlightenment, doesn't merit special notice in the map of the cemetary, nor does Jean Racine, a major figure in theatre history. We stumbled around for half-an-hour looking for Beaumarchais' grave to no avail. At least Moliere is somewhat venerated. Visitors gravitated, perhaps predictably, to pop icons such as Jim Morrison and Edith Piaf. Apparently no one shares my predilection for Sarah Bernhardt or Pierre Bourdieu, both of whom I saluted. While the authorities have erected a fence around Morrison's monument to prevent vandalism, the same has not been done for Oscar Wilde's tomb, which is covered with graffiti and, weirdly, lipstick kisses. I'm still trying to puzzle out their semiotic significance outside of the usual connotation.

The last time I wandered around a cemetary was during my student years in London. I lived not too far from Highgate Cemetary, home to Karl Marx, and I remember giving directions almost daily to radical German students intent on paying homage to their hero. Today was strangely peaceful. The weather was warm, but a refreshing breeze blew through the cemetary. The site is huge--over 100 acres--and traversed with tree-lined cobblestone avenues that mimic the layout of Paris itself. I can see why people want this bit of real estate for their final resting place.

This afternoon we are resting up before heading out for dinner. Both Rod and I have tired of traditional European cuisine--we ate too many elaborate meals on the QMII--so we are opting for North African food tonight at a restaurant called Souk in the Bastille.

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