Singing the Paris Blues
Like most Americans, I’ve lived in a lot of different places. Even if you didn’t move around as a kid (although many do), most likely you went off to college in some other city or town at the age of 18, married someone from another part of the country, moved to take a job in yet another environ and lo and behold, you became a transient, shallow-rooted multi-cultural American with a blend of regional accents and tales of many lives.
From each of these different environments, we gathered a bit of moss along the way that inevitably left its scars, even when stripped of the growth that formed during the years we nested, made friends, built a life and a created a routine we pleasured. Some stints were more memorable or profound than others. Some may even have been painful, some meaningful and others provocative.
This past weekend, I was brought to tears on several occasions — not really from sadness, but of joy, from the memories of these past lives and how they have touched present life in the City of Paris.
While wandering through the current exhibition at the Centre Pompidou, “Los Angeles 1955-1985, Birth of an Artistic Capital” Saturday afternoon, I was touched by the artists whose work was displayed, some of whom I had come to know personally during the seven years I lived in the land we called “La La.” It was one of the things I enjoyed so much about L.A. — the city I think of as the ‘most progressive place on the face of the earth,’ where the freedom of creative expression is tantamount to the importance of the French Revolution to France.
At mid point, I remarked to my friends, “Steven Arnold should really be represented here.” He was an artist/photographer whose work I collected in great quantity and with whom I became very close, until his death at the hand of AIDS in 1994, one month before moving to Paris. His baroque tableau images and his powerful personage envelop me daily in the works that surround me. Toward the end of the comprehensive showing, we surprisingly came upon five of his photos taken in the early ’80s, one a self-portrait. There he was for all to appreciate, and the tears flowed.
It happened again last night at Paris Soirées where I made a slide presentation about “New Orleans After Katrina” — my home town, a place where the roots run deeper than in the other places I’ve lived. During the evening, the guests had an opportunity to say who they were, where they were from and something interesting about themselves. Each person had come to Paris from a different place, had come for different reasons, had lived many lives, worn “many hats.” It was the one thing we all had in common. Many Louisiana natives came to share their stories. One in particular was special: Leah Chase.
While the photos were turning, images of destruction, I could hear Leah sobbing in the background. I learned about Leah Chase from a Louisiana cousin of mine who is a neighbor of hers, both of whom lost their homes in Katrina. Leah is the daughter of bandleader Dooky and chef Leah Chase of restaurant fame, is a New Orleans vocalist who has been here the last several weeks as part of a special program sponsored by the French government.
wake of Katrina, when representatives of the French Embassy asked “What can we do?” the answer came promptly: musicians need to keep working while the city is being rebuilt. Four Louisiana artists were provided with apartments, plus stipends, and had the opportunity to work and perform in Paris. Leah was one of them. She performed several times to warm and exuberant receptions. I was among a large and appreciative audience last Wednesday night at the Mairie of the 10th Arrondissement.
“I went to Dooky Chase
To get me something to eat
The waitress looked at me and said
Ray you sure look beat,
Now its early in the morning
And I ain’t got nothing but the blues…
– Ray Charles, “Early in the Morning Blues”
When the slide presentation ended and Leah regained her composure, she graced us with a song about New Orleans. We all felt the tears welling up inside us…not for sadness, but of joy, for all the places in our hearts we ever sincerely called “home,” including Paris.
A la prochaine…
Editor, Parler Paris
Email [email protected]
P.S. STRIKE! Tomorrow beginning at 12 noon, demonstrations will begin at place d’Italie protesting against the CPE employment contract, marching to place de la Bastille, and then along the boulevards to place de la République. A major transportation strike follows suit. Most of the TGV and regional trains will be affected along with the Métro, RER and bus lines. Put on your walking shoes, your skates or take a ride on your wheels, but don’t plan on using public transport.
P.P.S. For more information about Paris Soirées, visit Parler Paris Previews Community Calendar at /parlerparis/calendar.html and mark your calendar, too for Tuesday, April 11th Parler Paris Après Midi, /parlerparis/apresmidi.html