Home to My Cultural Mecca—Paris
Re-entry to Paris was a bit of downer, but later was redeemed. The TGV was 40 minutes late arriving in Paris, rendering a 25 percent discount on the train fare (see their site for your SNCF benefits). The taxi line was long because so few taxis were available, adding another 45 minutes to the delay to get home, and my suitcase ended up much heavier than anticipated so the haul up 70 stairs at close to midnight wasn’t much fun. C’est la vie. At that moment, however, it felt good to be home in Paris after having been gone for six weeks, with the worst of it behind me.
Paris was cool, gray and rainy, just like one might expect. That was the biggest culture shock of all—to come from the warm, colorful and blue-skied color palette of the Riviera, to land in a palette of “greige”—that blend of gray and beige that is oh so Paris.
All was redeemed on Saturday when I took advantage of the culture Paris has to offer, rivaled by very few cities in the world. It’s the reason Paris was always such a Mecca for me from the first time I stepped foot in a Paris museum—the incredible amount of life-enriching things there are to do and learn, offered everywhere you turn.
FIGHTING FOR RESPECT
A friend visiting from the States and I attended a matinee showing of “Fighting for Respect,” a “documentary on the story of African Americans in France released in October 2021 capturing the plight of African American soldiers who fought in WWI, receiving the Croix de Guerre military decoration from France, while still fighting discrimination and hatred at home in America.” It played at the…Cinéma Saint-André des Arts, an independent art theater founded in 1971 by Roger Diamantis. The Festival International Des Films De La Diaspora Africaine—FIFDA—sponsored the screening of the film.
The producers, Blue Lion Films, is made up of a group of Americans living in Paris who have a passion for telling this riveting true story that needs desperately to be told. The production company is led by producer/director/editor Joanne Burke and her husband, producer/writer/cameraman David Burke. She was a top documentary film editor for CBS, NBC, and PBS in New York for twenty years, the editor also of three feature films for Sidney Lumet, and co-editor Gimme Shelter, the Maysles Brothers’ classic documentary about the Rolling Stones. David Burke was a longtime writer/producer for CBS News 60 Minutes and other CBS and NBC programs before gaining acclaim as an author. Since moving to Paris in 1986, the Burkes have produced, written and edited many independent films together, including “Paris Noir: African Americans in the City of Light.”
Americans in Paris are well known to support other Americans in Paris—something in which I strongly believe. I’ve known the Burkes and the rest of their production team for most of the years I’ve lived here, so I was thrilled to have the opportunity to see their new film. I knew to expect tough images to see—footage of the war, footage of lynchings, and other atrocities imposed on African Americans by their own white countrymen. And while that might not be at the top of my list of pleasurable things to do on a Saturday afternoon, these 54 minutes was one of the most eye-opening hours I’ve ever spent.
First off, the footage from World War I is incredible. How they uncovered the films taken 100 years ago, long before cinema was possible on an iPhone (!), is beyond understanding. Second of all, the story is sadly unfathomable, but true—when looking back at how the U.S. treated its African American heroes as if they were slaves, and not too distinctly different in today’s world, while the French celebrated their accomplishments without reserve.
I would urge all of academia and organizations to invest in the small cost of the film to show their students and members as the world really needs to know this truth. Congratulations to the Burkes and the entire team on a master work.
(Special personal note: In all the years I’ve lived in France, having celebrated my 28th anniversary just yesterday, I’ve never witnessed any difference within the American community here between blacks, whites or purples. The community is as united as any community should be with no lines drawn between us. It’s one of the things I’ve enjoyed so much about living here among my fellow Americans who really don’t see race, religion or sexual preference as something to separate us.)
That one hour in the theater was just a prelude to the rest of the day, which can only be described as “spectacular.”
LA GALERIE DIOR
Next on our list after lunch, was a visit to La Galerie Dior. La Galerie Dior opened its doors on March 9th, 2022. I may be late getting around to visiting the new museum/exhibition, but “better late than never” and you won’t want to miss this one.
When you think of the giants in French fashion, a few names come to mind: Chanel, Vuitton, Givenchy, Cardin, Saint Laurent, Mugler, Gaultier and none other than Christian Dior. France has been home to fashion design and production since the 15th-century. During the 17th-century, fashion exploded into a rich industry, for exportation and local consumption. The Royal Minister of Finances, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, said “Fashion is to France what the gold mines of Peru are to Spain.”
Dior today is a French luxury fashion house controlled and chaired by French businessman Bernard Arnault, who also heads LVMH, the world’s largest luxury group. The House of Dior was established in December 1946 at 30 Avenue Montaigne in Paris, however, the current Dior corporation celebrates “1947” as the opening year. Dior had his backer, which was originally a vanity project for wealthy businessman Marcel Boussac.
In 1947, Christian Dior launched what he called the “New Look” for Spring-Summer 1947. The show of 90 models of his first collection on six mannequins” was presented in the salons of the company’s headquarters. The names of the first two lines were originally “Corolle” and “Huit,” but the new collection went down in fashion history as the “New Look” after the editor-in-chief of Harper’s Bazaar Carmel Snow exclaimed, “It’s such a new look!” And it was.
“We were witness to a revolution in fashion and to a revolution in showing fashion as well.” The silhouette was characterized by a small, nipped-in waist and a full skirt falling below mid-calf length, which emphasized the bust and hips, as epitomized by the “Bar suit” from the first collection. The collection overall showcased more stereotypically feminine designs in contrast to the popular fashions of wartime, with full skirts, tight waists, and soft shoulders. Dior retained some of the masculine aspects as they continued to hold popularity through the early 1940s, but he also wanted to include more feminine style.” (Source: Wikipedia.org)
Other designers have kept the Dior name and spirit alive since his death in 1957. Yves Saint Laurent succeeded him, and became the world’s youngest couturier at the age of 21. When he was drafted into the army in 1960, Marc Bohan replaced him. Gianfranco Ferré was then the first non-French designer to the label. In 1996, John Galliano took over, who was fired from Dior in 2011 after openly making anti-Semitic remarks in a local Marais café. Bill Gaytten stepped in temporarily, while designer Raf Simons was put in control. Today, Maria Grazia Chiuri is the label’s new creative director, making her the first woman to pave the way for the French fashion icon. Their designs are among the garments on display throughout the exhibit.
The Galerie could be the most awe-inspiring fashion exhibition I’ve ever seen. Be prepared to spend hours as it cleverly winds you through one magnificent display after another, each more brilliantly executed and presented than the next, each garment and accessory more beautiful than the next. As we wandered through the multi-level space, we wondered how much investment Dior had made to open the Galerie up to the public.
It was a two-year labor of love and a hefty real estate investment by luxury conglomerate LVMH in the French capital. The newly expanded complex stretches over 10,000 square meters (107,640 square feet), with cafés, gardens, a restaurant and a private apartment for overnight visits from VIP clients, in addition to floors of retail space stocked with clothing, accessories, tableware and makeup. The museum is next to the store, by a separate entrance. It traces the label’s history from the 1940s, including dresses from that era, as well as the late Christian Dior’s own desk and an original fitting room packed with hats, gloves and jewelry. We may never know how much the renovation of the space cost, as they don’t want to divulge it, but it’s clear it must have been in the multi-millions.
We wandered through in awe, using the word “spectacular” at every breath. You don’t need to be a fashionista to enjoy the exhibition, so bring your macho men with you for a big surprise when they are as amazed as you!
JEWISH HERITAGE DAY
An old French friend declared her dislike of Marcel Proust, but that was reason enough for going to the Musée d’Art et d’Histoire du Judaisme (MAHJ) to see the exhibit, “Marcel Proust. On his mother’s side She said that given her disdain for the illustrious French author seeing an exhibit might change her mind.
In the spirit of Judaism, I suggested we first have lunch at L’As du Fallafel on rue des Rosiers, Paris’ best Israeli restaurant…or at least its most popular. My friend didn’t know about it, for which I was really shocked. Could I really enlighten a long-time Parisian?
The one-time Israeli market, which grew to a mega-restaurant over time, is well known internationally as the best falafel this side of the Bosphorus. Sunday is always its busiest day. The line at the window to order falafel or schwarma in a pita to go (plus other goodies) was all the way down rue des Rosiers, almost to the intersection of rue Vieille du Temple, but somehow we scored a table inside very quickly. It’s loud and raucous, just like one might expect of an Israeli restaurant. And the portions are huge while being insanely delicious. My friend just laughed —she was having a whole new experience, even in her own town.
In the same Jewish spirit, we then made our way over to the MAHJ to discover that a) the Proust exhibition had ended last week (guess I missed seeing that!), b) entry was free because it was the first Sunday of the month and c) the courtyard was filled with a book fair!
The authors were set up in the courtyard with their books. They included dozens of writers, translators and specialists of the Ukrainian Jewish world there to meet the public and sign their books. The Editions de l’Antilope, the Galerie le Minotaure, the editions of the Cercle de Généalogie Juive were present. What a lovely surprise to compensate for the lack of Proust! Plus, we had the opportunity to wander through the museum at our own pace to take in the displays—my favorites being the antique candelabras, of which there are a few that resemble one of my own that is of Polish origin, perhaps 19th-century, that I bought in a flea market in Israel.
When we left and headed home, my friend thanked me for having given her a kind of Jewish experience, one that she hadn’t expected, but thoroughly enjoyed. And having celebrated my 28 years in France under the auspices of my family’s religion and heritage, I thought, “My mother would be proud of me!”
That sent me home smiling.
A la prochaine…
The Adrian Leeds Group®
P.S. With La Rentrée behind us, we’re ready to host our fall sessions of Après-Midi. Have a look at our round-up and be sure to not miss a one!