Thursday, March 26, 2015

Ishmael Reed in Paris

Author and activist Ishmael Reed recently spent a few days in Paris with his family before heading to eastern France to participate in the international colloquium “American Multiculturalism in Context”. Organized by l’Institut de Recherche en Langues et Littératures Européennes (European Languages and Literatures Research Institute) at the Université de Haute-Alsace in Mulhouse, the conference seeks to “reassess American multiculturalism from today’s perspective, look back at its history, its development, [its] success[es] and finally [its] celebration as politically correct dogma.”

Ishmael Reed
© Discover Paris!

The organizing committee selected Reed as its special guest because he is an expert on the development of art and journalism within the context of the American multicultural experience and because,

As a prolific writer and opinionator, he has been in the eye of the storm ever since he first promoted the American “multicultural artist” in the late 1960s.

As a songwriter, Reed has collaborated for years on musical works with jazz saxophonist and Paris resident David Murray. One of their most recent collaborations is the 2013 CD Be My Monster Love, with three new songs with lyrics by Reed: “Army of the Faithful,” "Hope is a Thing With Feathers," and the title track, "Be My Monster Love."

Be My Monster Love by David Murray
CD cover

For this special occasion, Murray’s wife, Valerie Malot, organized a dinner reception for Reed at their Ménilmontant home. Malot is the executive director and founder of 3DFamily, an agency that produces concerts and books international tours for performing artists.

Murray was unable to attend the event due to a prior commitment to perform at a Tunisian jazz festival, which he honored despite the recent terrorist attack at the Bardo Museum in Tunis. Among the invitees were novelist and playwright Jake Lamar, fashion model Chrystèle Saint-Louis Augustin, former senior vice president of marketing and communications for the US Fund for UNICEF Veronica Pollard, special advisor to the president of the National Committee for the Remembrance and History of Slavery Florence Alexis, and author and book critic Thomas Chatterton Williams.

Ishmael Reed regales guests with an anecdote
© Discover Paris!

Chrystèle Saint-Louis Augustin and Mahamadou Lamine Sagna
© Discover Paris!

Veronica Pollard and Florence Alexis
© Discover Paris!

Thomas Chatterton Williams
© Discover Paris!

Invited to a reception that was to last from 6-8 PM, guests were pleasantly surprised to find tables set for dinner and were regaled by an Algerian feast consisting of a cooked tomato and red pepper entrée and a main dish of couscous served with chicken and meatballs, followed by oriental pastries and fresh mint tea.

Jake and Dorli Lamar at table
© Discover Paris!

Feasting on couscous
© Discover Paris!

A good time was had by all!


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Thursday, March 19, 2015

Ase Theodros - Ethiopian Food in the 5th Arrondissement

On the spur of the moment, Tom and I decided to dine at Ase Theodros, an Ethiopian restaurant that is located on a short, nondescript street about 10 minutes walk from our home. We've known about it for years, but because it's off our beaten path, we've never gotten around to eating there before Monday of this week.

Ase Theodros façade
© Discover Paris!

The restaurant is named after Tewodros II, a 19th-century Ethiopian emperor who sought to unify Ethiopia during his reign (1855-1868). The front room consists of a bar and a small dining room and the back room is a larger dining room. Tables are comfortably spaced.

Rear dining room and view of front room
© Discover Paris!

We are somewhat familiar with Ethiopian cuisine and were cautious about ordering too much because we always regret leaving food on our plates. As we studied the menu, we munched on a tasty mix of peanuts and toasted barley.

Our meal: Upper right - peanuts and toasted barley; Middle right - avocat exotique;
Lower right - Beyayenatou; Lower left - mango/coconut sorbet sundae;
Lower middle - injera; Large image - serving dish
Collage and individual photos © Discover Paris!

We each ordered a starter - Tom selected avocat exotique (avocado and mango salad) and appreciated the generous size of the mango wedges surrounding slices of tender avocado that had been drizzled with a mayonnaise-type dressing. I chose samoussas et salade, which are small triangular, savory pastries. Both starters were accompanied by rolls of injera sliced at an angle, which made for an unusual presentation of this standard food item.

Assuming that they'd be filled with beef, chicken, or vegetables, I didn't think to ask what type of samoussas was being served. Unfortunately for me, they were stuffed with tuna and because I don't eat most types of fish, I asked if I could have a replacement. Our server took away my plate without hesitation and a few minutes later, returned from the kitchen to inform me that tuna was the only stuffing available. So I forewent having a starter.

We were pleasantly surprised with the portion size of our main dish, Beyayenatou. This consisted of a platter of several preparations of beef, a single chicken drumstick, a single boiled egg, a crumbly white cheese called aib, and a large variety of vegetables and legumes - beets, sweet potatoes, carrots, spinach, cabbage, lentils, chickpeas, and salad - all resting on a round of spongy injera. There was plenty of food for both of us.

The condiments served with the main dish were intriguing. There were three preparations, all with a base of chiles. One was a mix of fresh red peppers blended with an alcohol similar to ouzo or pastis, spices, and olive oil. The second was a mix of three types of peppers - Antillean pepper, "regular" green chile pepper, and pili pili. This concoction also contained ginger, lime, shallots, and loads of garlic. It was the spiciest and most flavorful of the three. The third condiment was a powder made from finely ground pili pili peppers. All were delicious!!!

© Discover Paris!

For beverages, Tom ordered an Ethiopian beer called Meta Premium. Blond and slightly bitter, it was a good accompaniment for his meal. I ordered the house cocktail, made from rum, pineapple juice, orange juice, and spices. It was so refreshing that I ordered a second one to accompany my meal.

Meta Premium and house cocktail
© Discover Paris!

Our server told us that Ethiopians do not have the tradition of eating dessert, so the dessert selection was limited to fresh fruits, ice creams and sorbets, and a couple of French classics. I decided to forego dessert, but Tom selected two sorbets - mango and coconut - to finish his meal. He was delighted to receive not simple scoops of sorbet, but rather a sorbet sundae - complete with whipped cream, caramel sauce, and a crispy tubular tuile.

I have to say that this was the finest Ethiopian meal that I've ever eaten! Prices were modest, with the main dish that we ordered costing only 17€. The service was kind, gracious, and accommodating. And the restaurant opens at 7 PM, which is a favorable hour for early diners like Tom and me. Our only regret about Ase Theodros is that we didn't come here to eat when we first learned about it years ago!

Ase Theodros
7, rue de la Collégiale
75005 Paris
Metro: Censier Daubenton or Les Gobelins (Line 7)
Open Monday through Saturday: 7 PM to 11 PM
Closed Sundays


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Thursday, March 12, 2015

Selma Screened at the U. S. Ambassador's Residence in Paris

Last Thursday, Ava DuVernay’s biopic Selma was screened at the U. S. Ambassador's residence in Paris.

It was an avant-première, as the film was released in France on Wednesday, March 11.

The crowd that assembled was lively and diverse. The house was full.

Guests at the Ambassador's residence...
© Discover Paris!

...awaiting the screening of Selma
© Discover Paris!

Among the invitees were notables such as sculptor, poet, and novelist, Barbara Chase-Riboud;

Barbara Chase-Riboud (left) in conversation
© Discover Paris!

choreographer and dance instructor Rick Odums and theater director and playwright Samuel Légitimus,

Rick Odums and Samuel Légitimus
© Discover Paris!

and Esther Kamatari, writer, fashion model, and exiled Burundian princess.

H. R. H. Esther Kamatari (center) takes a selfie with friends
© Discover Paris!

Crystal Nix-Hines, the U. S. Ambassador to U. N. E. S. C. O., and her husband, David Hines, also attended the event.

David Hines and Ambassador Crystal Nix-Hines
© Discover Paris!

Prior to the beginning of the film, Ambassador Jane Hartley addressed us warmly and informed us that the film had been screened at the residence for high school students the night before. She expressed regret that Congressman John Lewis, who was to have been a surprise guest for the evening, was unable to attend due to his presence in Selma, Alabama for the 50th anniversary of "Bloody Sunday," the Selma-to-Montgomery march, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Jane D. Hartley, U. S. Ambassador to France and Monaco
© Discover Paris!

Congressman Lewis recorded a video for the occasion, which was shown just before the screening.

Video of Congressman John Lewis
© Discover Paris!

Congressman Lewis' video and the film were shown in English with French subtitles.

It was my personal pleasure to attend two events in as many months at the residence that featured topics pertinent to African-American history.


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Thursday, March 5, 2015

Black Paris Profiles II™: Waymond Anthony Grier

I had the pleasure of meeting Waymond Anthony (Tony) Grier last December at a Christmas caroling party. The hosts had hung one of Tony's paintings in the corridor and were proud to show it off. One of the hosts introduced Tony as the artist and one of the first things I learned about him is that he signs his paintings "WAG". I was surprised to find out that he is a long-time Paris resident and we both marveled that we'd never met before that evening.

Tony first visited the French capital in 1967, when, fresh off the boat from New York, he passed through Paris on a bus with a group of college juniors that were going to Fribourg, Switzerland for a year of study. Paris awakened his artistic yearnings, which had been crystallizing after more than ten years of classical piano training, modest attempts at painting, and an attraction for architecture. He fell in love with the Paris and vowed to return to live here.

Later, working in the banking industry, he moved between the U.S. and Paris a few times before finally setting up permanent residence here in 1981. Because his story is so unusual, I determined to feature him in this Black Paris Profile™.

Waymond Anthony Grier at Christmas caroling party
© Discover Paris!

ETBP: You have a very interesting mix of careers – banking and art (painting). Tell us how this came about.

WAG: I came to banking by accident. I worked part-time in a Philadelphia bank during my college years and when I graduated I was promoted to a managerial position. I started to paint seriously when my salary allowed me to afford oils and canvas. So banking and painting were intertwined in my early working years. But the non-inspirational nature of the banking environment was not my passion. Only as I shifted towards training bankers did I find satisfaction enough to at least continue to earn my living.

ETBP: Where and when did you develop your love of painting?

WAG: Probably in Philadelphia, which has a world-class art museum, coupled with my year abroad in Switzerland during college.

ETBP: Did you paint when you were working in the States between your stints in Paris (prior to your permanent relocation)?

WAG: I painted a lot while working at the bank in Philadelphia. I tried to do the same in Paris but the demands on my time and energy left little spirit to paint in the evenings as I had done in Philadelphia.

ETBP: What did you do as a banker?

WAG: I was a credit manager for most of my banking career. This basically involves analyzing businesses’ ability to repay a bank loan. That’s called credit analysis. I am also a financial analyst to a special charter. A credit analyst looks for solvency in a client (Can they repay?) while a financial analyst looks for value (How much would I pay to buy the company?).

ETBP: Did you love banking the way you love painting? Or was it a means to enable you to paint?

WAG: Not at all! I love the bank training activity, which I actively developed to replace the full-time office job, but its utility is to allow me to “pay the rent.” I love painting even more. The color combinations are infinite. And I love to create things that are pleasant to look at. As John Keats wrote, “A thing of beauty is a joy forever.”

ETBP: You went for a long period without painting. How did that feel?

WAG: I felt frustrated and lost. I tried to tell myself that maybe I was meant to be a teacher (trainer) and not a painter.

ETBP: Have you always painted in the same style? Always stripes?

WAG: No. In my early years I did landscapes, portraits, and still life paintings in oil. I shifted to abstract (and the “tube” idea) in the late 1970s as a way of putting together colors without the shape actually meaning anything—at least not to me.

Books and paintings chez WAG
© Discover Paris!

ETBP: Do you also sketch?

WAG: Oftentimes I do pastels as small versions of my larger oil paintings to come. I won recognition for my pastels at the Prix de Peinture de l'Ebouillante contest in early 2013 in Paris, which resulted in a solo exhibit at the restaurant of the same name here in Paris.

ETBP: Tell us about the business of being an artist – booking shows, getting commissions, searching for patrons…

WAG: [It's] not very easy. I sent out nearly a hundred letters to galleries in Paris with pictures of my work. Only one answered: Galerie Thuillier, a stone’s throw from the Picasso Museum. The artist pays for practically everything if unknown and that can be very expensive at times.

ETBP: Tell us about the Galerie Thuillier.

WAG: This was my first real gallery recognition. I had already shown and sold at an “art barn” near the BHV department store but I was among hundreds of artists whose work was stacked up against the walls.

ETBP: You show your work in New York and the south of France as well as in Paris. How did you find the galleries that you work with there?

WAG: Actually, it was a coincidence. I was walking along rue Saint-André-des-Arts going towards the Mabillon metro station and fell upon a gallery called Carré d'artistes, which displays small format paintings. I entered and asked how to show there and was informed that application and submission of samples happens on the gallery’s website. I submitted an application and was accepted, but not for the Paris or other French galleries. Rather, I was accepted for the opening of their new gallery in Greenwich Village in New York. That was July 2013 and I’ve displayed there ever since.

ETBP: Do you plan to give up training to become a full-time artist?

WAG: When the painting starts to sell well enough to replace the training income, yes.

ETBP: Do you paint in places other than your home in Paris?

WAG: No. Only at home in Paris. I’m looking for a bigger place as storage is becoming a challenge.

Paintings at Tony's home
© Discover Paris!

ETBP: Do any particular artists inspire your work?

WAG: Cézanne for structure and Matisse for color.

ETBP: Your signature water drop in inspired by your attempts to create a glass eye with spray paint. What was the inspiration behind the glass eye? And how did it evolve?

WAG: I’m fascinated by a drop of water on a surface, its reflection and transparency. To me it shows the underlying color in a special light. Since I do not have the space to spray paint as I did in the late 1970s, I’ve evolved into a “painterly” manner of rendering the water drop. It seems to attract admirers so I’ll continue to feature it - almost like a second signature.

WAG paintings with signature water drop
© Discover Paris!

ETBP: How do you feel about Paris street art (appliqués, graffiti…)?

WAG: Not very happy. I love Paris for its beauty. Seeing meaningless scrawling everywhere does not appeal to me. If colored forms are represented I am more open to admiration but there not many of them. And the phenomenon is not just in Paris. Take a train ride to, say, the south of France and there is not a single bridge pillar along the way that isn’t splattered with graffiti.

ETBP: What is your favorite pastime (other than painting)?

WAG: Reading and listening to music.

ETBP: What advice do you have to give for someone who wants to relocate to Paris and earn a living as an artist?

WAG: All things are possible, if you only believe. Isn’t that a gospel song?


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