Thursday, September 26, 2013

Josephine's Suburban Paradise - Le Beau Chêne

For the Journées Européennes du Patrimoine last weekend, the grounds of Josephine Baker's idyllic villa - Le Beau Chêne - were opened to the public for the first time!

Journée du Patrimoine flier

After standing empty for several years, the property was finally purchased by Philippe Baudry, architect and CEO of the environmental ecosystem development company ARTEA.

Philippe Baudry and Monique Y. Wells
© Discover Paris!

Le Beau Chêne
© Discover Paris!

Le Beau Chêne (rear)
© Discover Paris!

M. Baudry graciously opened the gates to the 3.7-acre estate and allowed scores of visitors to walk around the grounds and gaze upon Josephine's former mansion and its "Temple of Love," stable, garage, and hothouses. So much has fallen into disrepair that restoring the property will be a big challenge.

Temple of Love
© Discover Paris!

Stable and garage
© Discover Paris!

© Discover Paris!

This may well be the last time that the public will see the grounds as they existed during Josephine's time. Permission has been granted to divide the property into three lots, to build two new houses and carports on it, and to alter access to the property.

Construction permit
© Discover Paris!

The mansion itself was not open to the public, but Mr. Baudry invited me inside to wait for him while he searched for a business card. Renovations are in progress – I could see that some of the rooms have been completely gutted and several of the rooms on the ground floor are currently being used as offices. Still, it was easy to imagine the splendor that Josephine once enjoyed!

Because of this visit, I now have new photos of the villa and additional anecdotes about Josephine to share with those who participate in the Josephine's Suburban Paradise excursion with Discover Paris! We are launching a DELUXE version of this private, guided tour for individuals and groups of up to 6 persons, which includes private transportation to and from Paris and an exclusive lunch in a private Le Vésinet bed & breakfast. Le Beau Chêne is the highlight of the tour but participants will also visit several additional sites in this town where Josephine enjoyed the most successful and carefree years of her life. For more information, contact us at .


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Thursday, September 19, 2013

57th Anniversary of the 1st International Congress of Negro Writers and Artists

The First International Congress of Negro Writers and Artists convened at the Sorbonne on September 19, 1956 - 57 years ago today. I was reminded of the date because I recently purchased the complete proceedings of the event from Présence Africaine, the bookstore and publishing house that was responsible for organizing the conference.

Proceedings of the 1st International Congress of Negro Writers and Artists
© Discover Paris!

I frequently refer to James Baldwin's report of the proceedings when I take clients to the Sorbonne on my Black Paris after World War II walking tour. He wrote about the congress in his essay "Princes and Powers" and I have always wanted to read an independent source of information about the event. During a recent tour, I noted with delight that there was a book in the window at Présence Africaine (which is also a stop on the Black Paris after WWII tour) containing the proceedings and returned to purchase it at a later time.

Présence Africaine - current façade
© Discover Paris!

Roughly a third of the entries in the book are in English.  Topics range from the tonal structure of Yoruba poetry to a philosophical discussion of segregation and desegregation in the United States. Final resolutions of the congress are presented in French and English. There are also messages at the back of the book in French and English from persons who were unable to attend, including one from Josephine Baker (in French, signed with her married name "Bouillon"). But the presentation that interested me the most was that of Richard Wright. I had long been intrigued by Baldwin's sardonic commentary on it and was looking forward to reading it for myself.

Wright was the last person to give a formal presentation at the Congress and he felt awkward about what he had prepared because things that he learned during the course of the conference inspired a desire to modify his discourse. Because there was no time to do so, he decided to "correct" his paper as he presented it at the conference. Baldwin refers to this as Wright "exposing, in short, his conscience to the conference and asking help of them in his confusion."

Baldwin and Wright Collage*
© Discover Paris!

Wright did just that, saying "...midway in my text, when I start criticizing my own formulations, I hope you would understand what I am trying to do." He proceeds to question several of his own statements, such as thanking "Mr. White Man" for freeing the black, brown, and yellow peoples of the world from the "rot" of their irrational traditions and customs.

Prior to broaching the subject of his discomfort, Wright talked about the absence of women as organizers and presenters at the Congress. He said the following:

— I don't know how many of you have noticed it there have been no women functioning vitally and responsibly upon this platform helping to mold and mobilize our thoughts . . . When and if we hold another conference—and I hope we will—I hope there shall be an effective utilization of Negro womanhood in the world to help us mobilize and pool our forces . . . we cannot afford to ignore one half of our manpower, that is, the force of women and their active collaboration. Black men will not be free until their women are free.

Indeed, among the messages at the back of the book is one addressed to the Congress by "Un Groupe de Femmes Noires" (a group of black women) that emphasizes the vital role that women play in the construction of black nations.

The "Euro-African" dialogue that occurred after the presentation of the final resolutions of the Congress and just before the closing of the conference is also presented in the book. Wright was the only Anglophone invited to comment during this exchange. He expressed his feelings about the event as follows:

Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen, I want to congratulate the Conference upon the successful termination of its work. I feel that this is a moment in history, a moment that is terminating a five-hundred-year domination of European culture over African culture. There is something that one feels when one is caught up in a historical situation: you are gripped by it, claimed by it and you know that history is in the making. It seems as though at such times an impersonal tide sweeps men up, irrespective of their will, and pushes them on in their direction whether they want it or not. It is irresistible and irreversible and I say "So be it."

*Image of James Baldwin taken by Carl Van Vechten in 1955; image of Richard Wright from the Michel Fabre Collection


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Thursday, September 12, 2013

Toli Nameless and the Paris Girls Rock Adventure

I first saw Toli Nameless at the Brothers Spring Gala in May 2013. As the party after the award ceremony was heating up, Toli took up her trombone and hit the stage as part of the jam session that began just after midnight. Months later, I was delighted to receive her e-mail informing Entrée to Black Paris about a music camp that she runs for young girls each summer as part of a larger initiative called Girls Rock Camp Alliance (GRCA). I was fortunate to be able to attend the graduation concert for Paris Girls Rock Camp 11ème at the end of August and decided that the story of the camp merited further investigation. Here's the scoop!

ETBP: What inspired you to create this music camp?

TN: There were several factors involved. It was mostly a culmination of the evolution of my career in music, education, and women's development, and the opportunity to provide this type of service in my community.

Toli Nameless and 2013 Paris Girls Rock Camp participants
© Discover Paris!

ETBP: How long did it take from conception to the first camp?

TN: We had 6 weeks.

ETBP: How did you find out about Girls Rock Camp Alliance?

TN: My first introduction to the GRCA was through the Willie Mae Rock-n-Roll Camp for Girls in Brooklyn, NY. A female musical force by the name of Tamar Kali asked that I perform on a benefit concert for the camp.

ETBP: How many girls have participated in the Paris camp over the years?

TN: Our participants over the past years include 30 girls and 5 women. We've logged 222 hours of public service.

Scenes from the 2013 Paris Girls Rock concert
© Discover Paris!

ETBP: How much interaction do you have with the parents in enrolling the girls?

TN: We know that parents are busy so we make every effort to answer every question. This can happen at a community event where we have a table, contact by email, or even meeting in a café. This is a combined effort between myself, our volunteers, and presentation partners like Le 6b*. We communicate with parents "by any means necessary."

ETBP: Who are your partners and what do they contribute to the camp?

TN: Our main year-round partners include Le 6b and the GRCA of which we are actual members. We also have project-based partners. This year our lead project partners include Bertie Ernault at the Maison de la Jeunesse in St. Denis and Jean-Christophe Arcos at the Cultural Department in the 11th arrondissement of Paris.

ETBP: Where does the camp take place?

TN:Our mission is to deliver our service throughout the Paris region. So far we have been able to present the camp in the northern Paris suburb of St. Denis and in the 11ème. PARIS GIRLS ROCK CAMP coming to a neighborhood near you!

ETBP: Is it in the same place every year?

TN: We have been able to work in St. Denis consistently, and that has been a huge accomplishment of which we are very proud. This year we expanded to give our first camp in central Paris and we have a long-term plan for expansion. Each time we give a camp in a different place, we hope to add it to our yearly plan. It take so much care and attention to foster the relationship with that particular community that it only makes sense to continue our presence in that location.

ETBP: Who does the teaching?

TN: Our teachers are the "TOP" of Paris and the world. The teaching staff are professional musicians and educators that come from Paris and beyond. Some receive a stipend salary and others give freely of their time. This is a huge part of why we are able to offer the camp at reasonable rates with large results.

Monique and Toli at the concert
© Discover Paris!

ETBP: What is the cost for participating?

TN: The camp costs 10 euros per hour @ 35 hours = 350 euros. Together with our partners, volunteers, and sponsors, we are able to offer reduced rates and bourses d'études (scholarships) to our public. This way ALL girls from ALL backgrounds can attend the camp.

ETBP: Why is the Mairie of the 11th arrondissement involved?

TN: The Cultural Department of the Mairie decided that this program would greatly benefit the residents of the 11éme, and enhance their notoriety for their arondisement as a leading provider of cutting edge public services.

ETBP: You include exposure to Josephine Baker during the camp. You took this year's participants to the Josephine Baker pool and they performed one of her songs during the graduation concert. Why this focus on Josephine.?

TN: Back in 2011, like many of the other camps in the GRCA, we wanted to choose an inspirational person to name our camp after. Josephine Baker is an historical and inspirational figure of epic proportions and we chose her as a means of honoring the first female international superstar and activist of France. Because she lived her life conquering all boundaries and accepting no limitations, she is exemplary of what we hope to instill in our participants. Although we were unable to support the estate of Josephine Baker with the contribution for the licensing of her name, they were very supportive of our efforts nonetheless.

*Le 6b is a new cultural center in Saint-Denis. It houses over 150 artists, musicians, craftsmen, and other creative professionals.


Thursday, September 5, 2013

Crêpes on a Summer Day

A crêperie is a restaurant that specializes in the ultra-thin pancake that has become a gastronomic cliché for France. Americans commonly mispronounce the word "crêpe" - the true pronunciation rhymes with the word "step."


As Tom and I were enjoying one of the last glorious days before the rentrée (the return of all French citizens to their homes and jobs after summer vacation), we happened by a crêpe stand across the street from the Jardin des Plantes. Lo and behold, a young black woman was behind the counter producing these lovely confections!

Our server
© Discover Paris!

Crêpes can be sweet (sucrée) or savory (salée) and they are one of France's most popular forms of fast food. The crêperie that we spotted was on the corner of rue Buffon and rue Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, right next to an Italian restaurant.

Adjoining Italian restaurant and crêpe stand
© Discover Paris!

Crêpe menu
© Discover Paris!

I ordered a beurre/sucre (butter and sugar) crêpe and Tom ordered one filled with crème de marron (chestnut paste).

Our server uses two griddles to produce a single crêpe. She butters the first griddle and ladles the batter onto it. As it begins to cook, she butters the second griddle.

Buttering the griddle
© Discover Paris!

Ladling the batter
© Discover Paris!

Once the crêpe is set, she moves it to the other griddle to continue the cooking process. She can begin cooking an additional crêpe on the first griddle if there are a large number of customers waiting, thereby reducing the wait time. On this particular day, we were the only people there so we were able to watch the process and photograph it at our leisure.

Moving crêpe from one griddle to the other
© Discover Paris!

Our server "dressed" the crêpes with the fillings that we ordered, wrapped them, and handed them over to us. We both preferred Tom's crème de marron crêpe - it was sweeter and more consistent!

Handing over the goods!
© Discover Paris!

Next time we come to this neighborhood, we'll order the Nutella crêpe as a comparison. My mouth is watering just thinking about it!

One of the stops on the Discover Paris! Ile Saint-Louis gourmet walking tour is a crêperie. Click HERE to view the Love2Eat video where I tell Lové Anthony all about crêpes during this walk. Then contact me if you'd like to book your own gourmet walk with us!


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