Thursday, April 17, 2014

Black Paris Divas Are Back! - Le Vésinet

Discover Paris! had the pleasure of cooking and touring with Black Paris Divas again this spring. Two separate groups enjoyed our Josephine's Suburban Paradise excursion in the nearby town of Le Vésinet.

We began both visits with lunch at the private villa La Riante.

In front of Villa La Riante
© Discover Paris!

Our gracious chef and hostess, Kristie Worrel, prepared a sumptuous, four-course meal fit for kings and queens!

Passing the hors d'oeuvres
© Discover Paris!

Kristie (standing) and group participants
© Discover Paris!

Kat St Thomas of Black Paris Divas raises a glass
© Discover Paris!

Stuffed cornish game hen, Amaretto carrots, and wild rice
© Discover Paris!

Kahlua cheesecake
© Discover Paris!

Then we walked to Le Beau Chêne, the villa once owned by Josephine Baker, and strolled around the periphery of the property. The house is undergoing extensive renovation. The owner hopes to have it inscribed on the list of historic monuments in France so that the government will subsidize the substantial cost of restoration.

Group at main gate of Le Beau Chêne
© Discover Paris!

Le Beau Chêne
© Discover Paris!

Showing photos of the property in Josephine's time
© Discover Paris!

Afterward, some participants from the first group elected to walk through the town with me to see the church where Josephine worshiped.

In front of Sainte Marguerite church
© Discover Paris!

We also visited the town hall, where I explained how, many years ago, Josephine petitioned the mayor for assistance in finding a new property to purchase after she lost her château at Les Milandes.

In front of City Hall
© Discover Paris!

We were blessed with fair weather for both excursions. Le Vésinet is truly an idyllic town and it is a pleasure to stroll through its mansion-lined streets!

Next week - cooking with Black Paris Divas!

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Thursday, April 10, 2014

Rio Dos Camarãos Restaurant: A Review


Rio Dos Camarãos is an African restaurant located in the eastern suburb of Montreuil, about a five-minute walk from the metro station Robespierre. Tom and I first learned about it when we were surfing the Internet for restaurants serving Afro-centric cuisine. We found an intriguing photo of a banana-chocolate tart presented on a place mat made of bottle caps and followed the information trail to this spacious eatery.

Rio Dos Camarãos - façade
© Discover Paris!

When we saw the African statuettes in the window, we knew that we had arrived.

African statuettes
© Discover Paris!

The interior is simply decorated but the elements that chef and owner Alessandro Bella Ola and his wife have chosen to embellish the large dining room are unmistakably African. Handsome cloths cover the tables and large and small dolls dressed in colorful cloth are placed throughout the restaurant. Color photographs of Africans hang on the walls.

Table setting
© Discover Paris!

Dolls and wine rack
© Discover Paris!

Our waiter, whom we later learned was Chef Bella Ola, invited us to take a table. There, we studied the menu that listed a wide range of traditional African dishes, including Mafé, Ndolé, and Yassa.

We decided to order apéritifs while pondering what to order. Tom chose a blond beer from Cameroon called Castel. Served in a 65cl bottle, it was refreshing with a slight bitter taste. I ordered a Punch au bissap - a cocktail of rum and hibiscus juice. While suitably bracing due to the rum, I found that the flavor of hibiscus was not as strong as I expected (or would have liked). I felt the same about the non-alcoholic ginger juice that I ordered to accompany my meal.

Chef Bella Ola brought over a dish of spicy peanuts and corn nuts to accompany our beverages. Tom also ordered a small side dish of green banana chips, which really did taste like green (slightly unripe) banana. These were fun to crunch on.

After Chef Bella Ola served the beverages, he disappeared into the kitchen. A woman, whom we later learned was his wife, took over the table service.

We are always wary of ordering too much food at African restaurants, so when I spied an intriguing starter called Nyam ngond on the menu, I asked Chef whether it was copious. He assured us that we would receive a "truly appetizer-sized" portion, so we decided to order it. Chef graciously invited us to split it between us so that we'd be sure to have enough room for the main dish.

Nyam ngond
© Discover Paris!

Nyam ngond is a cake-like preparation of pumpkin seeds. It was presented as a flat disk resting on a mound of julienned carrot, zucchini, and cabbage. Instead of containing crunchy morsels of seeds, it was spongy and it had a flavor slightly reminiscent of fish broth. We later learned that it is a dish that is generally served as a main course on the day after family celebrations. We found the salad to be quite refreshing.

We both had a difficult time deciding which main course to choose from the wide variety on the menu. Tom finally settled on Mafé poulet fumé, otherwise known as smoked chicken in peanut sauce. This turned out to be an excellent choice. Madame Bella Ola brought a dish containing a mound of fluffy, white rice and a steaming cast-iron pot containing chicken with carrot and cabbage smothered in peanut sauce. The chicken was tender, the vegetables flavorful, and the rich sauce tempting. Simply delicious!

Mafé Poulet Fumé
© Discover Paris!

I decided to try the national dish of Cameroon, called Poulet D. G. I received a sizzling-hot iron plate containing a copious portion of stewed chicken legs, plantains, leeks, and red and green bell peppers. The chicken was tender and juicy and the plantains were just sweet enough to add balance to the spices in the dish. The vegetables added color and texture to this heavenly preparation.

Poulet D. G.
© Discover Paris!

The dessert menu offered some unusual choices. Tom opted for Tatin banane, a large slice of caramelized, upside-down banana pie served with two dollops of whipped cream. It was fashioned after the traditional Tarte des Demoiselles Tatin that is made with apples. The bananas were dense and chewy and tasted somewhat like the sun-dried bananas that one sometimes finds at specialty stores. Tom loved this, declaring that he could eat a slice every day!

Tatin banane
© Discover Paris!

I sprang for Crème brulée au citron vert. It looked like a traditional crème brulée with its burnt-sugar crust, but it had the bright pick-me-up flavor of lime rather than the mellow-me-down flavor of vanilla. I quite enjoyed it.

Chef Bella Ola, who hails from Cameroon, honored our request to come out from the kitchen at the end of our meal to pose for a photograph.

Chef Alexandre Bella Ola
© Discover Paris!

He proudly shared that Rio Dos Camarãos restaurant will celebrate twenty years of existence in November 2014. He is planning an entire remake of the menu at that time. We're looking forward to returning in the fall so that we can sample his new culinary creations!

Rio Dos Camarãos
55, rue Marceau
93100 Montreuil
Tel.: 01.42.87.34.84
Métro station: Robespierre (Line 9)

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Thursday, April 3, 2014

Black Paris Profiles™ II: Toli Nameless


When I interviewed Toli Nameless last year about the phenomenal work that she does with Paris Girls Rock, I immediately knew that I wanted to feature her in a Black Paris Profile. Between her hectic schedule and mine, it has taken several months to gather the information that I present below. Enjoy!!!


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Toli Nameless
Photo courtesy of the artist

Toli Nameless studied music and dance on the competitive high school circuit in New York City. She went on to the New School Conservatory for Jazz & Contemporary Music in New York, making a stop at Goddard College in Vermont along the way. As a performance arts activist at Goddard, she was able to play along side the likes of Marshal Allen, Lester Bowie, Fontella Bass, and Mad Professor.

Toli learned to play six instruments while she pursued her music education, one of which is the trombone. I was impressed when I saw her playing this instrument at the 3rd Annual Brothers Spring Gala in May 2013, not only because it is unusual to see a trombone player in a jazz ensemble these days, but also because it is rare see a woman playing one. She began playing trombone as a means of strengthening her voice tonality when she was a music student in Vermont.

When I asked why she plays so many instruments and how she stays in practice on all of them, she replied:
Because it's fun and a great way to express yourself. Most composers will play a variety of instrument fairly well. At conservatory, additional instrument dexterity is compulsory. One is required to know one's main instrument, sight-read on piano and voice for solfeggio. So the average musician will play three instruments by the time they leave school.

In general, a little bit of practice each day goes a long way. Also, as I receive bookings or create projects, this keeps me going with the rehearsal schedule. It also helps to have a rehearsal studio where late night noise making hours are not only encouraged but the rule.

Toli came to Paris in 2008. She has found a comfortable home as an artist-in-residence at Le 6b, a cultural center in the Paris suburb of Saint Denis. Saint Denis has become a haven for musicians, artists, and other creative professionals and Toli attests to the fact that there are many attractions to living in the area:

For one thing, there is space to produce and perform serious art. We are welcomed by the people and community of Saint-Denis as well as encouraged by the support of the other artists in the building. We have created an intentional community and a legitimate association and collective. This helps us to not only take from the community, but also to give to our surroundings.

Our means of sustaining our creative endeavors are diverse. A few of the year-round activities include hosting expositions in our gallery, presenting workshops that develop the creative," and produce cinema in our onsite screening room. In the summer, we produce a festival every year called Fabrique à Rêves that is free and open to the public.

There are other spaces similar to ours elsewhere in Saint-Denis and also in Paris. But the 6b is truly a unique place that permits artists like myself to incubate.

Le 6B
Photo from Le6B.fr

Toli performs around Europe and in the U.S as well as in the Paris area. Her travel schedule varies - she says that some years her "feet can't seem to touch the ground" while others "are a bit slow going." Last year was an "up year" - she worked in Norway and New York and scheduled a recording session in London. In Paris, she loves performing at
l'Olympia, l'Internationale, and at le 6B. She also loves working at local festivals such as Fabrique à Rêves, Sons d'Hiver, and Les Estivales Musicales.

Because Josephine Baker performed at L'Olympia many times and because Toli chose to name her Girls Rock Camp after Baker as a means of "honoring the first female international superstar and activist of France," I asked her whether her fondness of performing at the Olympia was due to the "Josephine connection" and whether she seeks to emulate Baker in any way. She replied:

Yes of course, that completely adds to the mystique of the moment. She, as well as Nina Simone and other artists that I consider major influences are the type of inspirations and vindications that make the moment all the more special.

Josephine was and still is an exemplary classic figure, who can be looked upon as the first, a pioneer. In my work and performance, I look to her as a model of how to strive and push past the impossible. So in that capacity, indeed there is an intentional emulation. As an artist based in an improvisational art form, the challenge is to reinvent yourself with in your art on a daily basis. That is to say, it's like playing a self-challenging sport like golf. Your greatest opponent is yourself. Because there will never be another Josephine.

Toli will host the 4th edition of Paris Girls Rock Camp in July & August 2014.

To finish our interview, I asked Toli what advice she would give to musicians who are thinking of coming to Paris to live and work. Here is her reply:

As with any new adventure, do your research, come for a visit of at least three months, and try to take a language class before and during your stay. Be prepared to enjoy yourself in a new place and culture!


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Thursday, March 27, 2014

Cameroonian Fashion Designer Is Featured on Canal Boat Cruise

The tourist bureau of Seine Saint-Denis, a French administrative department that lies just north of Paris, is actively promoting the numerous artists, musicians, and designers that live and work there. Last Saturday, it focused on two exceptionally creative designers who work with textiles - Andreéa Talpeanu and Lamyne M. - during a fun-filled boat cruise on the Canal Saint-Denis and the Canal de l'Ourcq.

Embarking for Fashion Cruise on Canal Saint-Denis
© Discover Paris!

While the boat cruised slowly along the canals, attendees were able to enjoy the scenery and learn about the history and architecture of the area thanks to commentary provided by photographer, architect, and historian Patrick Bezzolato.

Full House
© Discover Paris!

Patrick Bezzolato
© Discover Paris!

Andreéa Talpeanu is an artist of Romanian origin who creates sculpture from textiles. She performed in a thought-provoking one-woman show during which she seized and ripped items of clothing that she had distributed to the audience. Her goal was to raise awareness of the poor quality of many fabrics that are manufactured today and the waste that the use of these fabrics engenders.

Andreéa Talpeanu
© Discover Paris!

Lamyne M. and his fashions were the main attraction of the event. Lamyne hails from Cameroon, where he began his training as a tailor at the age of 13. Like Ms. Talpeanu, he is particularly mindful of the origin and quality of the fabrics that he uses to create his designs. He constructs fine garments with remnants recuperated from bolts of cloth used by design houses such as Yves Saint Laurent and Smalto to construct the finest garments. He also experiments with new, environmentally-friendly materials—such as fabrics made from cactus fiber. His design house is called Wonu An, which means "Be yourself" in Fula (a language of West Africa).

Wonu An Designs Worn Presented the Cruise
© Discover Paris!

Lamyne specializes in men's fashions, though he designs for women as well. All of his garments are hand-sewn by craftsmen in workshops in Morocco and Cameroon. During his presentation, he proudly announced that hip-hop recording artist Kanye West has purchased his designs.

Lamine M.
© Discover Paris!

Lamyne is collaborating on a fascinating project with Professor Maya Thebault and students from La Source, a vocational high school in the town of Nogent that trains textile professionals. Together, they are to crafting "Giant Robes" three meters (9.8 feet) tall that are based on the designs of gowns worn by French queens and princesses of medieval times. The recumbent statues of these women are found at the royal necropolis of the Saint-Denis Basilica.

The students have been making careful drawings of the gowns in which the women are dressed. They have selected Holland Wax print fabrics, typical of those used for contemporary African fashions, to create the robes and accompanying accessories.

Professor Maya Thebault and Students Displaying Drawings of Giant Robes
© Discover Paris!

Mock-up of Giant Robe
© Discover Paris!

Photo of Accessory for Giant Robe
© Discover Paris!

The giant dresses will be shown in an exceptional exposition at Saint-Denis Basilica in 2015.

Instead of selecting professional models to present his fashions during the cruise, Lamyne chose everyday people from the town of Saint-Denis.

He also invited the audience to participate in the show. Two persons volunteered. This young woman...

Volunteer Model from Audience
© Discover Paris!

...and me!

Monique Modeling a Wonu An Blazer
© Discover Paris!

Lamyne's workshop is located at 9, rue Moreau in Saint-Denis.

Lamyne Takes a Bow
© Discover Paris!

For more information about Saint-Denis tourism, visit http://www.tourisme93.com (site in French).


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