Sunday, October 30, 2016

Parisian Halloween

Halloween has always been a bit of a paradoxical holiday for me. On one hand, I love all things ridiculous and historic and that involve costumes of any kind. I also love candy. But on the other hand, it can easily become one of those holidays rife with anticipation that goes sour. Yes, like those patch kids. When I was young, I would look forward to the day just like any other pre-teen. And because I lived in a suburb and had a magician of a seamstressing mom, I rocked around town with decadent Glinda the Good Witch or Jem and the Holograms attire. I know my best friend in middle school and I continued trick-or-treating until the year some idiot high school rabble rousers thought it funny to throw eggs at us. Apparently my hometown was more fierce than I thought. Then there was a gap in high school when you probably had to dress slutty to be apart of it all, and I just hadn't achieved that sort of confidence yet. And so the years went by. Being a theatre dork in college furthered the tradition with group theme costumes and then I moved on to New York where ostentatious apparel doesn't raise an eyebrow no matter what day of the year.

Finally, I came to Paris and after three years of living here, I finally decided to engage in Halloween abroad. It is absolutely not as big of an event in France. The younger generations are embracing it more and more, and if I were to go out and about on the 31st,  I would certainly see various spooky figures scattered around the arrondissements. But I have learned that for the most part, the French assume that you are supposed to wear scary costumes only, and until recently costumes were hard to come by on the cheap. So it was no surprise when I decided to throw a bit of a to-do and found out that I had to pressure people with my charmingly aggressive flare to get with the program.

As mentioned in past, I sometimes organize a British Meetup group that I began attending about two or so years ago. This was the first time that I decided to push a theme, though the idea had dangled itself over my mind grapes in past. (Weird.) But because Halloween lands on a French long weekend this year and several regulars were to be out of town, I decided to plan the event on the usual mid-week festivities this past Wednesday eve. I did my best to provide a few decorations, lots of candy, and I even made up a Halloween quiz with accompanying prize. Little did I know that the bar was going to give us an entire private area for our 30-50 guests, otherwise I absolutely would have bedecked the scene with far more than a few plastic pumpkins. Live and learn.

While most people couldn't be prevailed upon to get together a real costume, several people at least had masks or a funny hat, and a few came through with a certified ensemble. I tried to let it be known that in the States at least, costumes need not be frightening or grim, they can be slutty or ridiculous, funny or just weird. I myself chose from among many pre-existing options in my closet and decided to feed my obsession for the 1920s and finally become a flapper. And let's be real, I looked absolutely radiant. As I wandered through the crowd, drinking aperol spritzes, handing out candy, and at some point standing on a chair to read the answers to the quiz, I found myself back in my natural habitat: costumes, ridiculousness, and center of attention. Hopefully I convinced my european compatriots that Halloween is meant to be embraced because being ridiculous is always meant to be embraced. Happy Halloween to all.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

The Socialite Season

Whenever school goes back into session, my social life seems to simultaneously take off. And since August is essentially no man's land in Paris, there is an influx of people back in town once September hits. I also like to think that the change in atmosphere from lethargic and lax to brisk and bustling has us all raring to run about town. That being said, the past week or two was especially full to the brim with social savoir-faire, combining a myriad of cultural concourse.

Two Saturdays ago, for example, I ventured with my best French friend to a local speakeasy-esque bar called Mabel-Cocktail Den. There are many such locations sprinkled around Paris: cocktail meccas hidden away behind so-called ordinary restaurant facades. This one adjoins a small cafe that specializes in grilled cheeses, and thank goodness you can order them at the bar as well. Alongside my Goldfinch aperitif served in a darling cocktail cup, we shared a regular and a pulled pork grilled cheese, both oily and greasy and infinitely delicious.

In opposition, this past Saturday was spent at my best work friend's apartment a bit outside of Paris. Her boyfriend is from Cameroon, so she has been developing her cooking skills under his influence. She invited another mutual coworker as well as a few of her own friends over to her sweet abode for a Cameroonian feast. We were treated to the delights of a dish called Ndole, which is a special kind of leafy green. Thank goodness I noticed just before she was about to add a heap of shrimp to the dish or I wouldn't have been able to partake in its scrumptious, and insanely spicy, sapidity. 

Sunday night was an outing with my meetup pub quiz friends at one of the more well-known pubs around town, the Bombardier. As our own beloved quiz has been on hiatus for quite some time, we took the opportunity to try this one out, as it is a standing engagement at the end of every weekend there. Not only did we discover that it is always on, but it is incredibly well attended to boot! Not a table was left in sight when we all arrived nearly an hour early. Luckily, we stalked around the room long enough for us to finally snag a seat when some sports fans left the scene. The quiz was delivered both in French and English, but no matter the language it was definitively hard. We managed to scrape an average score, nowhere near the top, but not so pathetic as the bottom either. Since I have an irritatingly competitive spirit, not even three aperol spritzes could make me feel good about our lack of information and insight. Perhaps the next time we will do better! Or perhaps we just won't go again.

From American grilled cheese to Cameroonian cuisine to British pub antics, my international life represented its potluck spirit of late. Amidst additional meetups and dinners and drinks, my liver was quite happy when I took a few days off this week. It may not be the most momentous month, but it's definitely a busy one.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Nuit Blanche

One of the best things about living in any big city is the fact that there are cultural events at your finger tips on an almost daily basis. Now that I have lived in Paris for three years, I sometimes find myself getting into the normal tunnel vision routine of the same daily grind. There are also many events that I have already discovered or revisit as often as I can. But despite all that, there are still many experiences that I have yet to partake in. So when the stars align, I do my best to jump at the chance to have a new adventure. Last weekend, for the first time since I've lived in Paris, I finally took advantage of the annual artistic exhibition, Nuit Blanche.

On the first Saturday of October every year, the streets of Paris are bedecked with various art exhibits, installations and live performances for visiting and local Parisians to pursue. The theme this year was Love, specifically following the story of Poliphile from an early Renaissance romantic tale. The original rendezvous point was at Hotel de Ville, where you could pick up a booklet and map, join one of many tours that seemed to have manifested, or utilize the app specifically downloadable for the event. I met one of my friends who had been to Nuit Blanche in the past, and we spent a little while trying to figure out how on earth this year's theme was meant to be experienced. Though we both read French moderately well, it was difficult to understand exactly what the best route would be, so in the end we decided to wander around the Marais and take a look at whatever seemed interesting. There were so many clusters of exhibits jam-packed into that district, we had no problem filling our night with interesting sites.

Hotel de Ville itself was swarming with people surrounding a massive installation in the square where executions and guillotines once dominates. It was a giant circle akin to an ice rink with various wooden structures resembling antlers sticking out in different places. It seems that there was a story to accompany every exhibit but rather than battling French all evening, we decided to just soak it all in and enjoy. From there, the next exhibit we ran into was initially a bit of a paradox. We saw a group of people standing in front of what looked like a graffitied garage door. We figured that there must be some sort of performance about to be unveiled and we asked some others who were waiting, but after about 15 minutes we became hesitant. At long last, circa 9pm, the door rose up and we were treated to a rather avant-garde display of functional fire extinguishers. Since I am the size of a hobbit, I couldn't do much more than view the spectacle through other people's raised smart phones filming the event: the one benefit of egocentric technological whores.

We saw various things throughout the night, ranging from a pinball machine whose techno music would alter based on the moves of the player (I wonder how Tommy would have fared) to live opera in a beautiful cathedral to an enormous square completely cloaked in darkness other than a small circle of glass objects lit up in the center with the haunting sound of bells chiming in the background. My personal favorite was a projection displayed in a small church. The piece was entitled Eclats d'Âme by Pascal Boyart and it consisted of pieces of cellophane draped across the courtyard and illuminated in bright blue. If you viewed the pieces from one side of the yard you would see what looked like the hologram of a face hovering in the center. It was eery and mystical and completely beautiful all at the same time.

Throughout the night, my friend and I partook in some wine we had brought with us as well. It was probably the first cold evening we've seen in Paris so far this autumn, so a bit of France's finest served us well. There was definitely more security on the streets and in the buildings than in past years, according to my friend, and definitely far fewer wanderers on the streets. The plague of terrorism has tragically tainted the streets these past couple of years. If I hadn't had to work the following morning, I would have spent many more hours perusing the beautiful art laid about town, but I was happy with the exhibits I was able to see over the course of a few hours. It was truly remarkable to experience all the pieces that artists created for us to see for free within such a stunning landscape as Paris.