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Archive for December, 2013

event-piaf

Although she died in 1963, Edith Piaf worked her magic in song again last weekend at San Francisco’s Roxie Theater. Guests stepped in under the venerable marquee in the city’s gritty Mission District to be wrapped in a kind of Piaf-like embrace.

The theater’s black interior walls; the rat traps set at the edge of its dark curtain; the guy in pearls passing out paté; the dashing director of the Alliance Française, which sponsored the event, making the rounds with a scarf draped around his neck; actresses chatting in French; couples of various genders cuddling; the young man in jeans and high top sneakers tossing down his heavy back-pack. “Been to any of these events before?” he asked. “Yes,” I reply, “you?” “Nope. I’m from Google, their new partners.”
Piaf’s people were all assembled. Then she appeared in the person of Raquel Bitton, star of the documentary, “Piaf, Her Story, Her Songs,” in which Bitton pays homage to the great chanteuse and soul of Paris in song, and by interviews with those who had known and worked with her.

Afterwards, the personable and witty Bitton answered questions. No, she was not one of the singers who tried to become Piaf, she merely wanted to pay tribute to her. As for secrets of how to get people to pour out their hearts in an interview, she had one sure tip: cases of good wine. In fact, if she were to actually meet the legendary “Little Sparrow,” what would she do? Invite her to a café for wine, of course, and pizza.

Soon, too soon, it was time to leave the black of the theater to headroxie-marquee back into the black of night. On the streets of the Mission, where dealers of all sorts, street artists and Mexican restaurants festive with Christmas lights all cohabit cheerfully with prostitutes, cops and visitors who come and go on the BART train, a Piaf refrain kept playing through my head. This was not her famous “vie en rose,” but rather the world depicted in the song “Milord” where a girl of the shadow world of the port addresses an elegant gentleman in company with a beautiful woman: “Mais vous pleurez, milord/Ça je ne l’aurais jamais cru.”  But you’re crying milord; I never would have believed it.

Piaf played here. It was as black as her dress, illuminated by neons and flashing lights. Her kind of people. Her part of town.

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What a terrific, blow-out event last week at the Alliance Francaise as our Wanderland Writers wandered into this wonderful San Francisco venue to share bits of their Paris stories from our latest volume: Wandering in Paris; Luminaries and Love in the City of Light.

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A finish from co-editor, Linda Watanbe McFerrin’s wonderful piece, “Inside the White Gorilla,” with its nod to the exigency of existentialism set the tone.

For tumbling through the layers of time and era in Paris, there is that sense of wait, where am I? In the Middle Ages, or café society in search of Gertrude Stein? Tripping over the highest heels of fashion, tripping out in a steamy hammam, or tripping up the stairs of the Garnier Opéra? Cavoring with Descartes or Thomas Jefferson or Napoléon? Or communing with the spirits of the dead artists and writers (Berthe Morisot, Voltaire anyone?) in cemeteries, streets and the bowels of the Panthéon?

Or maybe, like the characters in Woody Allen’s 2011 film, Midnight in Paris, we were all those places together, filled with happy Francophiles drinking wine and nibbling cheese, quiche and Madeleines right there in San Francisco.

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