Thursday, December 18, 2014

James Baldwin's Unhappy Paris Christmas

James Baldwin's first years in France were filled with adventure, tribulation, merriment, and hardship. He describes what may have been the greatest transformational event during this time in his essay "Equal in Paris":

On the nineteenth of December, in 1949, when I had been living in Paris for a little over a year, I was arrested as a receiver of stolen goods and spent eight days in prison...

After having been hospitalized in Aix en Provence, Baldwin returned to Paris and moved into the Grand Hôtel du Bac on rue du Bac in the 7th arrondissement. (The exact address of this hotel is unknown.)

Rue du Bac, Paris
Creative Commons License

An American acquaintance moved into the hotel as well, bringing with him a bed sheet from the Hôtel des Deux Arbres, where he had previously lodged. He gave the sheet to Baldwin, who had been having difficulty in obtaining clean sheets from the staff at the Grand Hôtel du Bac. Baldwin promptly placed the sheet on his bed.

On the evening of December 19, feeling lonely and depressed, he went to his friend's room. He found two policemen there. They politely asked if they could see his room and he accompanied them there without fear or concern. It was only when one of the agents approached the bed and reached for the bedspread that Baldwin realized what was happening:

Sadly, and without a word to me, the inspector took the sheet from the bed, folded it under his arm, and we started back downstairs. I understood that I was under arrest.

The policemen accompanied Baldwin and his friend to the police station and placed them in a cell, where they stayed overnight. The next day they went to the Préfecture de Police on Ile de la Cité, where they were fingerprinted, photographed, and placed in a holding "cell" that Baldwin described as a

great enclosed shed in which had been gathered the very scrapings off the Paris streets.

Later that day, he and his friend were led out of the Préfecture and into a police van that took them off to separate prisons. Baldwin went to Fresnes (located in a Paris suburb); his friend went to La Santé (located in Paris' 14th arrondissement).

Suffice it to say that things went downhill from there.

Baldwin's first trial was scheduled for the day before Christmas Eve. He was brought back to Paris to stand before a judge at the Palais de Justice. He and his friend waited most of the day for their case to be called, only to have the trial postponed because there was no interpreter present. The new trial date was set for December 27.

Palais de Justice
© Discover Paris!

Thanks to the kindness of a prisoner who had been acquitted of the charges he faced, Baldwin was able to send word of his plight to the outside world. His contact, an American patent attorney for whom Baldwin had worked as an office boy, came to the prison on Christmas Eve and told Baldwin that he would send an attorney to defend Baldwin at his trial on the 27th. He would also send character witnesses to testify, and assured Baldwin that he would be one of them.

At the trial on December 27th, the case was dropped. Baldwin says that when the full story behind the incident was told, it

caused great merriment in the courtroom, whereupon my friend decided that the French were "great."

But Baldwin found the laughter in the room to be chilling.

When he returned to the Grand Hôtel du Bac, he was told that he needed to pay his hotel bill within the hour or leave the premises. Despairingly, he took one of the dirty bed sheets that had been the cause of the entire incident and used it to try to hang himself from a water pipe in his room.

The pipe gave way, spraying the room and Baldwin with water. At this, he began to laugh. He gathered his belongings and left the hotel, never to return to it again.

James Baldwin
1955 Carl Van Vechten

Baldwin wrote "Equal in Paris" in 1955. It was first published in a magazine called Commentary. The information about his last visit to the Grand Hôtel du Bac was published in the biography James Baldwin by David Leeming (Alfred A. Knopf, 1994).

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Thursday, December 11, 2014

Designer Fashion Accessories by Cheryl Pegues - A Photoreport

All photos in this post are © Discover Paris!

Cheryl Pegues held her annual Christmas trunk sale of custom-made scarves and earrings last weekend. It was a private show hosted at the home of a long-time friend of Cheryl.

Cheryl Pegues




As usual, the quality and variety of her creations were breathtaking!





Cheryl discussed how she selects her fabrics and demonstrated how she wears her scarves.





Then guests at the show selected items that struck their fancy.




Cheryl answered questions and helped attendees make selections.



Lots of items were purchased.




Cheryl was quite pleased!


For information about purchasing Cheryl's designer accessories, contact her at .

Read about Cheryl in Black Paris Profiles.



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Thursday, December 4, 2014

Adelaide Hall's Paris Years

I recently had the occasion to review some notes on performer Adelaide Hall's Paris years that I had taken from the biography called Underneath a Harlem Moon by Iain Cameron Williams. To remind myself of the details behind these notes, I took up the book and re-read several passages. The energy and passion with which Williams recounts Hall's life story are infectious and I was once again quickly swept up in the story of the time Adelaide spent in Paris.

Book jacket for Underneath a Harlem Moon

Underneath a Harlem Moon vividly describes the summer of 1929, when Adelaide and the troupe of Lew Leslie's Blackbirds of 1928 took Paris by storm. Beginning with the splendor of the ocean liner SS Ile de France that transported the cast from New York to Le Havre, Williams paints a vibrant picture of Montmartre, the performance run at the Moulin Rouge, and the accolades from the press and the public that gave Adelaide a new and broadened view of what her ideal lifestyle could be. She vowed to return to Paris to live and a few years later, she did just that.

Adelaide Hall in her "Diga Diga Do" costume
Image by Waléry Paris (public domain)

Williams presents intricate details of Hall's return to the City of Light with her husband, Bert Hicks, in 1936 and recounts how the couple came to dominate the nightclub scene during the year 1938. After a couple of false starts, including a short-lived upscale club on the Champs Elysées, they settled on a location at 73, rue Pigalle. They opened the doors of La Grosse Pomme (The Big Apple) on December 9, 1937 and weathered a slow start to become the toast of Paris. Joseph, their Senegalese doorman, was the man to impress if you wanted to gain entry. Within a short period of time, Adelaide became known as the "Queen of Montmartre" and the club was dubbed the most fashionable of the city.

During its heyday, La Grosse Pomme employed almost 40 persons. Even the great Bricktop worked their briefly, just a few yards from the club that she had to close for lack of business.

The loom of war and the September 28th announcement by the U. S. government that American citizens without a compelling reason to remain in Paris should plan to return home prompted Bert's decision to sell the club. It closed on December 10, 1938.

Williams punctuates the narrative in these sections of the book with information about the activities of Josephine Baker, Mistinguett, Maurice Chevalier, and other stars of the French stage. He pays particular attention to the relationship forged between Adelaide and Maurice Chevalier. He also provides a compelling back story by highlighting the feud between Josephine and Mistinguett and reveals the influence that Adelaide's success in Paris had on it.

Williams knew Adelaide and Josephine personally. Both he and Adelaide anticipated that she would be alive when the book was published, but she died nine years before it went to press.

Underneath a Harlem Moon is a fun and fantastic read. I recommend it!

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Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving!


Discover Paris! wishes Americans all over the world a

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

We'll be back next week with more stories about
African Diaspora history, culture, and contemporary life in Paris.

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