Thursday, February 27, 2014

Black History Month 2014 at the American Library in Paris: Reimagining Blacks in the American West

The Body Guard of Yosemite
Yosemite National Park File Photo

Almost a year ago, Naida Culshaw, former External Relations Manager at the American Library in Paris, contacted me to ask if I'd brainstorm ideas for the 2014 Black History Month exposition at the Library. The movie Django Unchained had recently been released and Naida was intrigued by a BBC article by Sarfraz Manzoor entitled "America's Forgotten Black Cowboys." She told me that she was thinking about mounting an exhibit about black cowboys and because she knew that I am from Houston, Texas, she wondered if I could help her with possible sources of information on the topic. I could not refuse.

"Go Texan" Day and the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo are an indelible part of my memories of growing up. My brother, Malcolm Wells, and his best friend, Ed Williams, work the rodeo every year. Ed also participates in trail rides prior to the annual Livestock Show and Rodeo. Could I help with sources of information? YES!

Ed uncovered two gems for us - Captain Paul Matthews, who is at the helm of the Buffalo Soldier Museum, and Mollie Stevenson, Jr., current owner of the Taylor-Stevenson Ranch and the American Cowboy Museum. Both sites are in Houston and I visited them during my annual trip home.

To make a long story short...

When Naida and I sat down over lunch to discuss what I had discovered during my visit home, it became quickly apparent that the subject of Blacks in the American West went far deeper than Naida's original concept for the exposition. In addition to black men, there were also black women who played an important role in settling the American West. There were not only cowboys, but also fur trappers, Pony Express riders, and soldiers. What's more, the black cowboy and cowgirl are an integral part of contemporary life in the American West.

Naida, who is a brilliant and passionate researcher, went to work on all of this information. The current exhibit at the American Library - Reimagining Blacks in the American West - is the result.

Reimagining Blacks in the American West exposition
© Discover Paris!

On February 19th, Naida delivered a talk during which she presented facts and anecdotes about much of what is displayed in the library's exhibit case. She then invited participants to the back of the room and responded to questions about the many colorful people and stories that she shared during the presentation.

Black Women of the Old West
© Discover Paris!

Mollie Stevenson, Jr. and the Taylor-Stevenson Ranch
© Discover Paris!

Black Cowboys of the West
© Discover Paris!

Nat Love, a. k. a. Deadwood Dick
© Discover Paris!

Cheryl Ann Bolden, educator and curator of Precious Cargo and one of the African Americans featured in Black Paris Profiles, catered the event with mild and spicy chicken wings and cornbread.

An exceptional event is programmed at the Library on March 8th at 2 PM, when Captain Matthews will deliver a presentation on the history and achievements of the African American military experience from the Revolutionary War to present day conflicts. Particular attention will be given to the legacy of the Buffalo Soldiers, who were originally members of the U.S. 10th Cavalry Regiment of the United States Army formed in 1866.

The "Buffalo Soldiers" of the 24th Infantry on patrol in Yosemite National Park, 1899.
Source: Yosemite Research Library

For more information and to sign up for the presentation, click here. SEATING IS LIMITED!

The Reimagining Blacks in the American West exhibit will be on view through March 16, 2014.

American Library in Paris
10, rue du Général Camou
75007 Paris
Telephone: 01 53 59 12 60
Metro: Ecole Militaire (line 8), Alma-Marceau (line 9)
RER: Pont de l'Alma (line C)


Entrée to Black Paris!™ is a Discover Paris! blog.

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Thursday, February 20, 2014

Art and Food Pairing™: La Galerie Africaine and La Kaz

La Galerie Africaine, the itinerant art gallery owned by Aude Minart, has returned to the Cloître des Billettes in the 4th arrondissement for yet another marvelous show!

Ubuntu features the works of painter Patrick Nupert (Guadeloupe) and sculptor Niko (France-Benin). The name of the show is inspired by the word that South African Archbisihop Desmond Tutu is credited with making known to the West. President Barack Obama referenced ubuntu in his tribute to Nelson Mandela at Mandela's memorial service:

There is a word in South Africa -- Ubuntu -- a word that captures Mandela’s greatest gift: his recognition that we are all bound together in ways that are invisible to the eye; that there is a oneness to humanity; that we achieve ourselves by sharing ourselves with others, and caring for those around us.

Patrick Nupert's paintings have been displayed at numerous group and private shows throughout France and in Belgium since 2006. Minart chose his work entitled "L'Ebouriffée" for the flier that promotes the exposition.

She has selected fourteen of the artist's paintings to display on the walls of the cloister.

Cloister corridor
© Discover Paris!

Black Code from the Ground
Patrick Nupert
2013 Mixed media on wood
© Discover Paris!

Niko is one of Minart's favored sculptors. His towering carvings fill the courtyard of the cloister and punctuate two of the corridors as well. His work will be presented at the prestigious Dakar Biennial show in May 2014.

Sculptures by Niko
© Discover Paris!

Le Dormeur
2011 Walnut wood
© Discover Paris!

Ubuntu runs through Wednesday, 5 March 2014. Visit the show on Saturdays from 12 noon to 2 PM and have a glass of wine and snacks as you view the works! For more information, contact Aude Minart by e-mail at audeminart[at]hotmail[dot]com.

Just a 15-minute walk from the cloister is a wonderful little Caribbean fast-food establishment called La Kaz. Tom and I went there to have lunch after visiting the Ubuntu exposition.

La Kaz
© Discover Paris!

As we had no experience with the cuisine, we needed explanations for just about everything! A friendly server showed us the three types of bread that we could choose for our sandwiches and happily explained the menu in its entirety. We learned that the sandwiches take their names from the type of bread selected.

Tom ordered an agoulou complèt, which consisted of a ground beef patty, a fried egg, bacon, ham, and cheese on a huge round of agoulou - a brioche-like bread that is grilled on top. You can think of this rendition as a large Caribbean hamburger - even bigger than a Burger King Whopper!

Agoulou, coconut water, and coconut cake
© Discover Paris!

He selected a can of green coconut water as a beverage and a serving of coconut layer cake for dessert.

I went for a bokit légumes grillées - chopped, grilled eggplant, red and green bell pepper, onion, and zucchini - served in a pita-like bread called bokit. For my beverage, I selected fresh jus de prune de Cythère (ambarellas juice). I had never heard of ambarellas before and decided to try this juice as opposed to the guava and passion fruit juices that were also available. I was happy that I did!

Bokit, prune de Cythère juice, banana turnover
© Discover Paris!

I chose a banana turnover for my dessert. The pastry was flaky and tender and the filling (surprisingly red in color) was tasty, though there was not enough of it in my opinion.

Everything was fresh and flavorful and Tom and I definitely plan to return. One of the things that we'll try next time is the side order of sweet potato fries!

Cloître des Billettes
24, rue des Archives
75004 Paris
Metro: Hôtel de Ville (Lines 1, 11)
Weekdays and Saturdays: 12 PM to 7 PM
Sunday: 2 PM to 6 PM

La Kaz
20, rue des Halles
75001 Paris
Mon to Thurs noon - 10:00 p.m. Fri to Sat noon - midnight
Métro: Châtelet (Lines 1, 4, 7, 11, 14), Châtelet Les Halles (RER A, B, D)


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Thursday, February 13, 2014

Black Paris Profiles™ II: Nicole Pembrook

Nicole Pembrook is perhaps the best known African-American hairstylist in Paris today. She has built her stellar reputation over the past thirteen years and is primed for an extraordinary year in 2014. We met at a private party several weeks ago and I took the opportunity to invite her to share her story with Entrée to Black Paris.

Nicole Pembrook
Photo courtesy of Nicole Pembrook

Nicole moved to Paris in June 2001. She was a “freelance” stylist for the first five years, working her magic for fashion models participating in runway shows and photo shoots as well as for performers on television shows. All the while, she was establishing a private clientele.

After winning first place in the 2005 Golden Scissors competition sponsored by SoftSheen-Carson (now L’Oréal), she decided that she needed a salon. She went on to open Polished Hair Care late in the summer of 2007. While she still does a couple of photo shoots a year, her primary activity now centers on the salon.

Nicole’s current client base is 15% European, 20% African-American, 15% Middle Eastern, and 50% African-Caribbean. Her francophone clients need not worry about communicating with her and her staff because the predominant language spoken at Polished Hair Care is French. When I asked her how long it took for her to learn the lingo of the black French hair salon, she replied:

I'm still learning! Learning another langue is never easy. I still pick up new lingo even today. But I was always determined to "speak." I'd say that maybe after about 2 1/2 years, I was able to communicate enough for the job.

Polished Hair Care is located in the Arcade des Champs Elysées (Arcade du Lido) at 76-78, avenue des Champs Elysées. Because it is central and the metro and RER lines are close by, clients from all over Paris and the neighboring suburbs can reach the salon easily.

Nicole notes that some people think that the services offered at the salon are financially inaccessible because of the salon’s decidedly prestigious location. Despite this drawback, she is not currently planning to move or to look for a second location. Her staff of five stylists provides excellent service and Nicole says that this would be the case regardless of where the salon is located. She’d love to have a larger space though, so who knows where her success will lead her!

Polished Hair Care interior
Photo courtesy of Nicole Pembrook

Polished Hair Care’s primary source of clients is referrals. Most of Nicole’s American clients find her through the Internet. Regardless of how they find her, delivering quality hair care is her paramount concern.

I asked Nicole about the “natural hair movement” that is growing among African and Afro-Caribbean women in Paris. She says that a large part of this community is embracing natural hair due to “extreme failures” with relaxers and extensions. She thinks that her francophone clients are becoming more aware of this problem and are trying to seek out better solutions for their hair.

Here in Europe, it's different from back home. A lot of us (African Americans) were used to getting our hair washed and oiled as children and going to the hairdresser with our moms. We were educated about our hair, but here in France, a lot if women are not. Many black women who frequent the salons in Château d’Eau rarely see the same hairdresser twice. So I feel that we have to go back to the basics. This is essential to feminine beauty.

Client education is most important. The more you learn about your hair as an individual, what it needs and how to take care of it, the better choices you can make about who does your hair.

I think the [natural hair] movement is way overdue and I love it! Hair loss has forced some women into natural hair – my clientele has shifted to about 40% natural hair within the last five years!

Each client deserves to have the best hair possible. For some, natural hair is the best way to achieve length retention and volume and find healthy hair again.

Nicole keeps abreast of the latest techniques, products, etc. by attending professional hair classes and hair shows as well as through the Internet to keep Polished Hair Care on the cutting edge of the salon business. She favors the use of natural beauty products and says that Aveda and Alterna are some of her favorite brands. She was a finalist in Tribu-te Magazine’s "The Big One" hair competition at the Caroussel du Louvre in 2011 and did her first trade show – Beyond Color – in Paris in June 2013.

Born and raised in Richmond, California, Nicole learned to be a stylist at her mother’s knee. Her mom, who’s still in the business, is her inspiration, her trainer, and her mentor in hair care. These two ladies continue to support each other professionally by exchanging techniques and other information gathered at educational classes and training events.

Nicole moved to Paris because she was ready for “another experience.” Though she never consciously considered moving abroad, she has always liked “beautiful things – art, fashion…” as well as history and traveling. She says that she needed to know what was going on outside of the African-American community in northern California, which was her comfort zone. During a visit to France in 1999, she fell in love with the lifestyle, culture and the food, and decided to make her move.

Shortly after relocating, she met her husband, Stéphane who hails from Cameroon. She recalls the events leading up to their first encounter as follows:

I called some friends to see if they were going out one evening. When they showed up I said great this should be fun! The only problem is that I forgot about the language barrier. They all spoke minimal English and my French was horrible! By the end of that evening I had to break away for a breath of fresh air and bumped into what was to be my future husband. He asked in English if I would like a drink! I was sold...

The happy couple has two beautiful children who identify strongly with their American and Cameroonian heritage. Nicole and Stéphane love to read and research history from both cultures and share this information with the kids. The family spends as much time as possible picnicking and playing in Paris’ beautiful parks.

Nicole says that she doesn’t really have a favorite neighborhood in Paris – she’s lived here so long that she loves all of it! She loves the nightlife, saying that you are sure to have an unforgettable evening dining and dancing here.

When asked what advice she would give to someone who is thinking of moving here and wanting to work in Paris, she simply said:

Anything is possible!


Entrée to Black Paris!™ is a Discover Paris! blog.

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Thursday, February 6, 2014

Global MLK Day of Service Launches in Paris

On January 29, the Union of Overseas Voters (UOV) held the first Martin Luther King, Jr. Global Day of Service event at the Fondation des Etats-Unis (United States Foundation) of the Cité International Universitaire in Paris' 14th arrondissement.

Tony Frank Clouin-Paschall, founding chair of the organization, says the following about this day:

The Union of Overseas Voters has launched Global MLK Day to promote the celebration of Dr. King's birthday with a day of humanitarian service everywhere around the world in his memory. We believe, like Dr. King, that "Everyone can be great, because everyone can serve" regardless of nationality, national origin, or country of residence. We believe U.S. citizens overseas can, and should, lead this global effort to commemorate Dr. King's legacy by building bridges in our international communities, alongside our foreign neighbors, hand in hand with them, across the globe. But ultimately, Dr. King's day belongs to the world and to people of all nations, because we all belong to Dr. King's "beloved community."

Tony Frank Clouin-Paschall
Founding chair, Union of Overseas Voters
© Discover Paris!

He opened the evening with an introduction of UOV (a nonpartisan, non-profit association), spoke about the purpose of the MLK Global Day of Service, and presented the speakers for the event.

First, Debra Russo-Haley read a message from Thich Nhat Hanh, a Zen Buddhist monk who was exiled in the U.S. for 40 years and nominated by Dr. King for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1967. Hanh wrote of how he and Dr. King talked about the importance of community service.

Debra Russo-Haley
Treasurer, Union of Overseas Voters
© Discover Paris!

Then, Pam Pappas Stanoch spoke about the service project that UOV has adopted for the MLK Global Day of Service - collecting books for the non-profit organization Books for Africa.

Pam Pappas Stanoch
Member, Board of Directors, Books for Africa
© Discover Paris!

The mission of Books for Africa is to end the book famine in Africa. Books are donated by publishers, schools, libraries, individuals, and organizations; sorted and packed by volunteers who carefully choose books that are age and subject appropriate; and sent to children in rural schools who have never before held a book. Most of the books sent are in English, but French-language books are collected and sent to Francophone countries as well.

Screenshots from video "Shadows of the African Book Walk"
Books for Africa

Stanoch spoke passionately about the organization. Though she lives in the U.S., she comes to France frequently to help coordinate efforts around the country in support of the collection of French-language books. She fielded many questions about Books for Africa after her presentation, during which time Clouin-Paschall announced UOV has collected over 2000 books for the cause to date and is now in search of a larger space to store them.

To close the event, Clouin-Paschall invited everyone to pick an activity through which to serve his or her community. No matter how big or small, these actions will honor the spirit of the MLK Global Day of Service throughout the year.

The Union of Overseas Voters has established a website - - designed to help U.S. citizens overseas, and non-Americans alike, publish details about their MLK Day activities around the world each year. The site will not only allow them  to reach potential volunteers but will also help the Union consolidate information about the shared commitment to Martin Luther King's legacy and give greater weight to the campaign to expand the recognition of this global day of community service.

Dr. King was born on January 15, 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia. MLK Day is celebrated in the United States on the third Monday of January. In 1994, at Coretta Scott King's urging, the holiday was transformed into a national day of humanitarian service.

Martin Luther King, Jr.
1964 Library of Congress
New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection

For more information on Books for Africa, click on the image below.


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