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the feast continues

Two great excursions yesterday, as the day continued mild and soft. In the afternoon, I discovered the nearby Jardin des Plantes for the first time. Of course, this being Paris, it’s not only a garden – there are several spectacular palatial buildings. But the rest is, yes, a French-type garden, mostly laid out in neat orderly designs of stunning colour – especially beds of poppies in pale and bright yellows, oranges and pinks. I buried my face in lilac for the first time this year, and stood under a blossom tree (plum?) so vast and heavy that there were a dozen of us concealed underneath.  A little enclave, not as tidy as the rest, featured scraggly alpine plants identified by little tags, and I remembered walking among rows like these last summer at Stratford, Ontario, where outside the main theatre, they have a pretty labelled garden.

There were lots of joggers in the Jardin. There are joggers in Paris, but not many and mostly, it’s pretty clear, North Americans.  The French, in general, do not jog. They walk and they smoke, which is how they stay slim, I guess. But I was happy to see the runners in the garden because I thought I might join them occasionally. Otherwise, with all this orgasmic eating of croissants, I soon won’t be able to move at all.
In the evening, carrying my two baguettes, a bottle of wine and Wayson’s book, I walked along the Boulevard Montparnasse, past some of the famous Montparnasse watering spots, La Closerie des Lilas, Le Select, La Coupole, on my way to my friend Almeta Speaks’s in the 15th.  Almeta and I met in Vancouver in the 70’s, where she was singing and I acting. We lost touch and met again last year under the auspices of our mutual friend Wayson. To that first meeting in Toronto, I brought an excerpt I’d found in my diary.
July 13, 1976

Almeta Speaks playing and singing the blues at the Sheraton, over the clamour of voices and clatter of the cash register. She came over to join me for a drink. She’s going back to university to study sociology, with a minor in music.

“You don’t allow yourself to be intimidated,” she said. “You intimidate. I asked one professor on the first day of class, ‘What does it take to get an A in your class?’
And he said, ‘Wuh?’
And I said, ‘What do you want?’
And he said, ‘Well, this and this and this,’ and I said, ‘Okay,’ and that’s what I gave him and at the end of the year, I told him, ‘You remember when I asked you what you wanted and you said this and this and this? Well I want you to remember cuz that’s what I gave you.’

You intimidate. All you need is logic. Nothing university professors hate more than logic. You sit there in the front row and when he says something, you stand up and you say, ‘Man, that doesn’t sound logical,’ and he thinks (rolls eyes to heaven), ‘Lord, what did I do to deserve this?’

And I got 5 B’s and the rest are A’s and I’m ranked sixth in my class. So it works.”
Almeta, who has not changed one iota, has lived in Paris for many years, though she also works in the States and all over the place. Last night she had invited a fantastic group: three literary couples, most American expats who have found the artistic nourishment they need in Paris. Tom Reeves has just published “Paris Insights,” and his wife Monique Wells wrote a cookbook about the African-American food of her childhood; Joanne and David Burke, both documentary filmmakers, have lived in Paris for 22 years and David has just brought out “Writers in Paris;” Jake Lamar is working on his seventh book, and his Swiss-born wife Dorli is a musician.
Mon dieu. An intimidatingly accomplished assembly, and all warm, open, lively. Around the table in Almeta’s tiny living-room, we ate, drank and told stories for five hours, which vanished. There was much talk of their friend Mavis Gallant, who didn’t join us because her new book has just been released, she’s been extremely busy and needed time to herself to write. There was also discussion about the fascinating people these old friends have known through the years, the writers and painters who made Paris permanently or temporarily their home.
We all, black and white, shared a huge love and respect for the new President of the United States.  With what joy did these Americans, at dinner, discuss their president. How long they’ve waited for this day. 
Almeta as always told enthralling stories – about singing for Johnny Depp at the Ritz (after a set, he apologised to her that he had to go upstairs to join Vanessa and the baby, and left her a large token of his esteem), about her friendship with Odetta, about a friend of hers who was a friend of Charley Parker’s. In this group, Charley Parker was just one degree of separation away. 
The English-speaking community of artists in Paris sounds like a pretty tight group – that eventually, through connections and events, everyone meets everyone. They all know the owners of the important bookstores, the Village Voice and Shakespeare and Co., and where other Paris-American writers are with their books and careers. Last night I felt part of a village within a metropolis, and a welcoming, inspiring village at that. 
At midnight, after we’d devoured the last of the exquisite chocolates Monique had been given by a chocolatier about whom she was writing a story and it was time to go home, I discovered that Tom and Monique live one long block from my place. Mellow with wine, food, and stories, I didn’t have to snap my brain into gear and figure out the metro; they led me home. 



5 Responses to “the feast continues”

  1. Unknown says:

    Mavis Gallant!!!! Last February when we were in Paris I looked her up in the phone book, shocked to find her there in the white pages, living in the 6th, thinking,writing, honing, only blocks away. Amazing that you’ve found a circle that actually knows and socializes with her. On that visit, I read one of her short story collections (Home Truths) meted out at what seemed to be the proper pace of one story every two days.

    The one about the daughter re-establishing contact with her father after many years absence continues to live with me (The Prodigal Parent)– I think of it every time I hear the author’s name.


  2. beth says:

    Yes, these folks were very good friends of hers – but as I said, I think the circle of expat writers and artists is a close one. I haven’t read enough Mavis Gallant – will do so now, along with the books of the others who were there last night. I’ll try to find the story you recommend.
    A quiet Easter Sunday in Paris. Thank God.

  3. Chuck says:

    Gallant was my favourite author from the canlit course I took in my undergrad, she just blew me away with her dense, insightful prose. Loved every moment!

  4. beth says:

    If I do get to meet her, Chuck, I’ll give her your regards, and Carol’s too.

  5. Anonymous says:

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    The decline of the East side blues scene was disheartening, but, it also gave rise to the need for a fresh start, which came in the form of the
    next blues-only venue, Antone's, founded by the late Clifford Antone, during the summer of 1975.

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About Beth

I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

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