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Here’s Johnny…Dead or Alive…or in Wax?

Johnny Hallyday in waxJohnny Hallyday in wax

Jean-Philippe Léo Smet, a.k.a. Johnny Hallyday, died last week of lung cancer. Did you know who he was? I certainly didn’t before coming to France.

He was France’s answer to Elvis Presley and while one of France’s biggest claims to fame — with 18 platinum albums, 191 tours, sales of more than 110 million records worldwide over the course of 57 years — he never reached much notoriety outside of the country. He was often described as “the biggest rock star you’ve never heard of.”

I saw him perform once at the Eiffel Tower in the summer of 2000 — a concertn he called “Le Feu.” We picnicked on the Champ de Mars while he did his thing — sing-scream out his famous lyrics, while he was accompanied by the beautiful and talented TOPLESS dancers from the Crazy Horse Saloon de Paris…live and in person, up front and public. I swear this is true. See it for yourself.

At the time I was amazed (not shocked) that such a performance could be performed in an open arena like that and thought “only in France” would something like that be possible. I have to hand it to him — it was bold and the audience adored him, even if I personally didn’t really appreciate his style.

The French who do adore him made a spectacle out of his funeral, in spite of certain facts about his life — mostly his avoidance of paying French taxes by declaring his chalet in Switzerland as his primary residence, then openly admitting he’d move back to his beloved France if the tax laws were to change. And then even Switzerland found him guilty of not spending enough time there to qualify him as a resident. According to the press, a million fans were present while the French President Emmanuel Macron called for “a people’s tribute” and called him a French hero. A host of other major officials attended the ceremonies: former president Nicolas Sarkozy with his wife Carla Bruni holding hands, and former president François Hollande, along with Prime Minister Édouard Philippe, First Lady Brigitte Macron (of course), Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo and a slew of stars from the entertainment world, including Jean Reno.

This wasn’t so surprising, even though all this took place for a guy who evaded paying taxes. They did adore this rogue personality of theirs. I personally never could quite get what was so appealing about him, but I’m not French. One article in The Guardian remarked that “His French fans could not care less that unkind foreigners considered him uncool and mocked the cheesy glitz of his performances.” Meanwhile, he didn’t want to be buried in France, so his body has been flown to Saint Barts in the French West Indies to be buried there.

The day after his passing, I saw his likeness at the Musée Grevin, in wax of course, alongside a host of other famous waxy personalities. Visiting the wax museum is a highly touristy thing to do, but I highly recommend it for anyone wanting an amusing afternoon, residents and tourists alike. It probably hasn’t been at the top of your list of “things to do in Paris,” but when you’re as jaded as a resident and have exhausted just about everything else, it can open your eyes to a Paris undiscovered.

Hall of Mirrors at the Musée GrevinHall of Mirrors at the Musée Grevin

Vladimir Putin alongside Donald Trump at the Musée Grevin - Paris, France

Barack Obama with Adrian Leeds - Musée Grevin Paris, France

The Dome in Brasserie Printemps - Paris, FranceThe Dome in Brasserie Printemps 

GoBee bike up a tree - by Patty SadauskasGoBee bike up a tree – by Patty Sadauskas

The museum was founded as long ago as 1882 by Arthur Meyer, who was a journalist for Le Gaulois. He named it after its first artistic director, caricaturist Alfred Grévin and is one of the oldest wax museums in Europe. The baroque architecture includes a hall of mirrors based on the principle of a catoptric cistula — a theater or a chest, like a box with many sides lined with mirrors so that images can be magnified or multiplied. Before you enter into the realm of the wax figures, you are taken into their Hall of Mirrors for a light, image and sound show that is pretty impressive. It was built for the Exposition Universelle in 1900 and was originally housed in the Palais des mirages designed by Eugène Hénard. (Source: wikipedia.org/)

There are about 450 characters in the museum, “arranged in scenes from the history of France and modern life, including a panorama of French history from Charlemagne to Napoleon III, bloody scenes of the French Revolution, movie stars, and international figures such as Albert Einstein, Mahatma Gandhi, Shah Rukh Khan, and Pope John Paul II. The tableau of Charlotte Corday murdering Jean-Paul Marat includes the actual knife and bathtub used.” (Source: wikipedia.org/)

Our illustrious leaders are there — Barack Obama is an arm’s length from Vladimir Putin who is next to a thinner, younger, Donald Trump. We found that to be a bit ironic. Hilary Clinton was not there, nor Emmanuel Macron (yet), but Nicolas Sarkozy is and so is François Hollande. They chose certain characters to don Christmas sweaters, obviously just for the silly fun of it and while out of character for most, added a bit of holiday spice to the tour through the museum.

Two sets of friends this week have been guests at what I jokingly call “Hotel Leeds” — my guest room that sees an awful lot of “bookings.” When they visit the city and tell their tales filled with enthusiasm, it’s like rediscovering the city all over again and a reminder of how jaded one can become living here, taking so much for granted…like rarely visiting the Musée Grevin and so many other things in the City of Light.

As part of our touring, we lunched at the Brasserie Printemps, under the dome of the cupola of the Printemps department store, in existence since 1923. It’s truly “magical and emotionally evocative,” just as their promotional material describes it. The acoustics there are what amaze me even more than the visual beauty. Thanks to the curved dome that sits high above the diners’ heads, and the curve of the seating, you can hear your dining partners with perfect clarity while hearing nothing from your neighbors. It makes you feel as if you alone are in the vast dining room and this can be very romantic as a result. The mirrors on the tables play games with your eyes, as they render your partners upside down, the multi-colored tinted glass dome as the backdrop. The food is quite acceptable and while just a touch pricier than most brasseries, well worth the trek to the fifth floor.

The departments stores are in full holiday bloom and decorated to the nines. Galeries Lafayette’s annual Christmas tree is certainly not one of the flat varieties (see adrianleeds.com/parler-paris/parler-paris-nouvellettre for more on flat trees), and is not made of needles and bark, but of oversized gumdrops and candies — their theme this season. Again, for those of you living in The City who likely haven’t made a trip the the “Grands Magasins” in quite a while, make it a point to go see them in all their holiday glory.

Meanwhile, in Wednesday’s Nouvellettre®, I complained about the strange places one finds the new Gobee Bikes…but I never expected to see one up a tree! Thanks to Patty Sadauskas for the photo.

A la prochaine…

Adrian Leeds - upside down at Brasserie Printemps Paris, France

Adrian Leeds
Adrian Leeds Group

(upside down at Brasserie Printemps)

Respond to Adrian

The Adrian Leeds Group

 

PARIS NOIR, African Americans in the City of Light - Joanne & David Burke

P.S. Join us to view the film and hear about the making of “PARIS NOIR, African Americans in the City of Light” with producers David and Joanne Burke…tomorrow at Après Midi! See our website for more information.

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