Thursday, July 27, 2017

Alexandre Dumas in and around Paris

By Tatiana Balabanis

Alexandre Dumas père (1802-1870)
1 January 1855 - Nadar

France has produced a considerable number of talented and timeless artists, including one Alexandre Dumas. Dumas was a French-born writer of Haitian descent who did great service to the belletristic world of literature. He wore many literary hats, from playwright to novelist, and his works have had a global impact, with some of his novels having been translated into nearly 100 languages! But Dumas’ lasting impression on the world is not exclusively through the magic of his pen to the paper. His reach extends much farther than The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers, and this presence can be seen all around Paris.

First, a little background. Alexandre Dumas was born in Picardy, France in 1802 as the youngest of three children to Marie-Louise Élisabeth Labouret and Thomas-Alexandre Dumas. Not much is known about his mother, but his father was mixed race and born in Haiti to a French nobleman and a Haitian slave. When Thomas-Alexandre was 14, his father sold him to a French lieutenant and that marked the beginning of his journey to France.

Thomas-Alexandre went on to be the first man of color to become general-in-chief in the French Army. In his adulthood, he took his mother’s name “Dumas” and was known as General Dumas in the army, or at times less tenderly known as “Black Devil” by lower ranks who were resentful of his power considering his skin color.

Choosing “Dumas” as the family name was an interesting choice considering the juxtaposition of his father’s status as a French nobleman and his mother’s status as a slave. Nonetheless, Thomas-Alexandre kept his mother’s name and passed it down to his son, and now that name carries pride and all of Alexandre's accomplishments with it.

At the ripe age of 20, Alexandre packed his bags and moved to Paris. This is when and where he began his literary career. Just as much as the city left its mark on him, he returned the favor and left his mark on the city.

Probably one of the most evident parts of Dumas’ lasting impression is the metro station named after him on the border of the 11th and 20th arrondissements. The station was renamed to honor the writer on September 13th, 1970.

Alexandre Dumas metro station - Line 2
Clicsouris (Creative Commons License)

In addition, a bust of Dumas lies right outside of the metro station at the intersection of rue Alexandre Dumas (named for the author in 1875) and boulevard Voltaire.

Bust of Alexandre Dumas
Apartment block at 201, boulevard Voltaire and 2, rue Alexandre Dumas
FLLL (Creative Commons License)

Additional representations of Dumas can be found at the Comédie-Française theater in the 1st arrondissement

Bust of Alexandre Dumas
Comédie-Française theater
© Discover Paris!

and place du Général Catroux in the 17th arrondissement.

Statue of Alexandre Dumas père
Place du Général Catroux, 17th arrondissement
© Discover Paris!

Until recently, a reproduction of Dumas' recipe for escargots à la bourgignonne was part of the decor of the dining room at Au Bourguignon du Marais, a restaurant in the 4th arrondissement.

On what would have been Dumas’ 200th birthday, November 30th, 2002, former French president Jacques Chirac honored the great writer by holding a ceremony moving Dumas’ coffin to the Pantheon. The guards who transported it were even dressed as four musketeers! In the Pantheon, Dumas lays right next to two other amazing authors, Victor Hugo and Emile Zola.

President Chirac said a few words at the ceremony about his decision to transfer Dumas to the Pantheon:
Cette année est aussi celle du bicentenaire de la naissance de Dumas. Il était le plus populaire des romantiques. Il reste à ce jour le plus lu des écrivains français dans le monde. Il était juste que notre pays lui manifeste sa reconnaissance. Voilà pourquoi j'ai décidé le transfert de ses cendres au Panthéon, où il retrouvera un ami.

This translates to:
This year is the bicentennial of Dumas’ birth. He was one of the most popular romantics. Today, he remains one of the most read French writers in the world. It was only right that our country should show its gratitude. This is why I chose to transfer his ashes to the Pantheon, where he will reunite with a friend.

Dumas’ legacy doesn’t end there. Right outside of Paris in the department of Yvelines lies a beautiful castle, Château de Monte-Cristo, where the author made his home for quite some time before he fled to Russia to evade creditors who were after him for his large sums of debt. This castle was turned into a museum and has operated as such since 1994. It is open to visitors Monday through Saturday and it also harbors various contemporary art exhibitions.

Château de Monte-Cristo
Moonik - Creative Commons License

Alexandre Dumas served Paris well and he is never to be forgotten for all the pieces of literary art with which he provided this world.

Tatiana Balabanis is a rising junior at Stanford University. She is currently serving as a summer intern for the Wells International Foundation.

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

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Thursday, July 20, 2017

Haïti at Home: La Cuisine Créole - Part 1

By Tatiana Balabanis

Food has the incredible ability to transport you to any location at anytime. Whether it’s the smell of freshly baked baguettes that reminds you of your favorite boulangerie in Paris or the preparation of your favorite meal that brings you right back to your kitchen at home, the power of food is insurmountable and incomparable.

Being in Paris means that I'm a a long way from my home in Miami. I often miss eating a home cooked meal with my family, which happens to be comprised of several great cooks, each with their own specialty. To remedy this homesickness, I’ve taken to the kitchen. I made some FaceTime calls to get the recipe from my mom and was lucky enough to have my aunt visiting me when I tackled this project. She was on the scene to offer some help and guidance when I got stuck.

Paris is, without a doubt, one of the gastronomical capitals of the world. It also happens to be home to a diverse group of communities from all corners of the world. This comes in handy when I’m looking to buy all the ingredients to make one of my favorite meals - poulet créole en sauce avec maïs collé (chicken creole in sauce with cornmeal and beans). So I hopped on the metro and went over to the 18th arrondissement to find all the ingredients I needed.

The Ingredients

My first stop, naturally, was Haiti Market. This is where I purchased all my produce: a lime, 2 onions, and a bulb of garlic. I also picked up some Maggi, a specific brand of cubed seasoned salt. and for the main dish, I bought a kilo of coarse maïs moulu (cornmeal) and a kilo of dry red beans. This was a much greater quantity than I need to make one meal but those were the smallest packages available and the deals couldn’t be beat! All of this cost under €10!

Ingredients from Haiti Market
Photos courtesy of Tatiana Balabanis
Collage © Discover Paris!

Next, I went down the street to Rue Dejean. This street is packed with vendors and their loyal buyers on Saturdays, selling everything from watches to watermelons. The hustle and bustle of this street is unique to the people who bring it to life, and it’s quite the experience getting to be a part of that, even if just for a few moments.

I made my way over to one of the butcher stands and proceeded to buy what I needed for the protein of the dish- chicken thighs. After a friendly exchange with the butcher, I was on my way back to my apartment to commence the preparation of this meal.

Left: Marché Dejean; Right: Chicken Thighs
Photos courtesy of Tatiana Balabanis
Collage © Discover Paris!

The Preparation

Fixin's for Poulet créole en sauce avec maïs collé
Photo courtesy of Tatiana Balabanis

This meal is not the quickest in terms of preparation and cooking time, but the final product is definitely worth the effort. The bulk of the preparation time comes from cooking the beans.

To start, rinse the beans thoroughly with water. Measure out ½ cup of beans, place them into a bowl, and run water over them. Run your hands through the beans to make sure you get all of the dirt off of them.

Next, drain the beans and place them into a pot with 2 whole cloves of peeled garlic, a pinch of salt, and 3 cups of water. Put medium heat under the beans and cover them.

Let the beans cook for 1 to 1½ hours, until they are thoroughly cooked and semi-soft. Make sure to check them periodically as the water may completely evaporate. In this case, simply add more water and continue cooking.

Left: Washing beans; Right: Red beans and garlic
Photos courtesy of Tatiana Balabanis
Collage © Discover Paris!

While the beans are on the stove, season the chicken. The pieces of chicken I purchased were on the large side, so I cut them in two. This, along with making incisions in the flesh (see image below) allows for more surface area to absorb the seasoning.

Scored chicken
Photo courtesy of Tatiana Balabanis

Next, the chicken must be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected. To do this, start by boiling approximately two cups of water. Then, with the chicken in a heat-resistant container, rub it down with lime halves (two should suffice). When the water comes to a boil and the chicken has been coated in lime, carefully pour the boiling water over the chicken and let it sit for 2-3 minutes. I recommend doing this in a sink for minimal cleanup in the event of water spilling over.

Cleaning chicken
Photo courtesy of Tatiana Balabanis

After the chicken has sat in the hot water for 2-3 minutes, drain the water and move the chicken into a container big enough to season it.

For the seasoning, mix the juice of 1 lime, 1 cube of Maggi, 1 onion (chopped), and 3 large cloves of garlic (also chopped) in a small bowl. Pour this mixture over the chicken and turn the chicken over in the seasoning repeatedly to assure that every inch of chicken is seasoned. Next, cover the chicken and place it in the fridge until you are ready to cook it.

Chicken with onions and garlic
Photo courtesy of Tatiana Balabanis

After about an hour, the beans should be soft. Using a draining spoon or a skimmer, transfer them into another pot. Keep the water that they were cooked in; you’ll use this to cook the maïs (cornmeal).

Transferring beans
Photo courtesy of Tatiana Balabanis

Sauté the beans in 2 tablespoons of oil with ¼ of an onion, chopped; 2 minced cloves of garlic; and salt to taste. After these ingredients are sautéed, add the water from the beans and 1 cup of cornmeal to this pot.

Adding bean water to the pot
Photo courtesy of Tatiana Balabanis

Stir continuously for 3 minutes or until the cornmeal begins to absorb most of the water. Then, leave the pot covered and on low heat for approximately 10 minutes, stirring the cornmeal and beans every minute or so.

Cooking beans and cornmeal
Photos courtesy of Tatiana Balabanis
Collage © Discover Paris!

Now to cook the chicken. Place the seasoned chicken in a pot with roughly 3 tablespoons of water and set it on the stove over medium heat. If you have tomato sauce or tomato paste handy, add 2 tablespoons to the pot to give the chicken some color. The tomato flavor also helps bring out the flavors from the seasoning. Leave the chicken cooking on the stove, covered, for approximately 25 minutes, checking on it occasionally and flipping it halfway through.

Browning chicken
Photo courtesy of Tatiana Balabanis

Once the chicken is fully cooked and tender (there should be no pink parts when it is cut into), remove it from the pot. Preserve the juices it made while being cooked; this will be the base of the sauce.

In the same pot in which you cooked the chicken, add ¼ cup of water and ¼ of a onion, chopped. Feel free to add some tomatoes or red bell peppers as well, if you have some available. Let this simmer before pouring on top of the chicken, la pièce de résistance!

Photo courtesy of Tatiana Balabanis

The Final Product

The meal is officially complete! All that is left to do is serve the chicken with the sauce and maïs with the beans and enjoy your home cooked Haitian meal!

Left: Chicken and sauce; Right: cornmeal and beans
Photo courtesy of Tatiana Balabanis

Tatiana Balabanis is a rising junior at Stanford University. She is currently serving as a summer intern for the Wells International Foundation.


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

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Thursday, July 13, 2017

Taste of Haiti: A Glimpse into the Haitian Community in Paris

By Tatiana Balabanis

Paris is home to a large variety of distinct cultures and a plethora of people who nurture those cultures so that they may continue to thrive in the diverse City of Lights.

One of the cultures that has found its place in contemporary Paris and continues to bloom outside of its island of origin is that of Haiti. Over 32,000 Haitians have made Paris their home, bringing with them the exotic flavors and tender charm of the Caribbean.

The Haitian community in Paris is strong and various parts of the island’s history can be seen are represented across the city. Examples include the plaque honoring the beloved leader of the Haitian Revolution, Toussaint Louverture, at the Pantheon across from the Luxembourg Garden and the works of Edgar Degas, notable painter and sculptor of Haitian descent, at the Musée d’Orsay.

As a Haitian-American who is interning in Paris this summer, I am excited to discover Haitian history and culture here! Upon my arrival, my mother and aunt (both of whom were born on the island) and I took a brief tour of the city to see what we could find of our heritage.

For formal affairs such as obtaining a visa, renewing a passport, or legalization of documents, we learned that Haitian citizens should go to the Ambassade d’Haiti (Haitian Embassy), found on 10 Rue Théodule Ribot. It is one of 169 foreign representations within Paris.
Haitian Embassy and flag
Image courtesy of Tatiana Balabanis

Tatiana's mother (left) and aunt (right) at the Haitian Embassy
Image courtesy of Tatiana Balabanis

During our visit there, we found the people to be incredibly helpful and welcoming. They represent Haiti with pride and strive to do well by their fellow citizens. Though we were allowed to enter the building with no problem, we learned that we’d need to make an appointment if we had business to conduct there.

The next stop on our abridged tour of Paris’ Haitian community—abridged only because it would be impossible to cover all of Haiti’s presence in the city in just a few days—was the Haiti Market. This storefront market can be found in the heart of the 18th arrondissement amidst an assortment of African and Caribbean markets and shops.

Haïti Market – rue des Poissonniers
Image courtesy of Tatiana Balabanis

Awning at Haïti Market
Image courtesy of Tatiana Balabanis

With a constant supply of fresh produce, freeze-dried fish products, and various beverages from the island, Haiti Market provides its neighborhood with an authentic feel of food shopping in Haiti.

Dried fish
Image courtesy of Tatiana Balabanis

Down to the island’s own famous rum, Rhum Barbancourt, this market has it all. And for those in search of how to spice up any dish, go here for the finest selection of Scotch Bonnet peppers.

Scotch Bonnet peppers
Image courtesy of Tatiana Balabanis

While Haiti Market is a wonderful place for finding the ingredients required to make Haitian food at home, Paris also has many restaurants in which you can experience the art of the island’s cuisine. Haitian cooking combines a wide range of rich and powerful flavors, each one amplifying the next, all coming together to produce a culinary experience unlike any other.

For a genuine gastronomic experience, make your way to the 13th arrondissement and visit Twoubadou. Located at 70 Boulevard de l'Hôpital, this intimate eatery is a must-go for enjoying Haitian food the way it was meant to be experienced. The ambiance of twoubadou music (the genre of Haitian music after which the restaurant is named) playing in the background combined with the incredible food will transport you to the island. With traditional dishes being served all day long, you can stop in for a midday snack, a full meal, or even just a few specialty drinks native to Haitian culture.

Twoubadou dining room
Image courtesy of Tatiana Balabanis

Whatever takes you there, don’t leave before trying the Blanc Mangé—a childhood favorite of mine. This sweet, coconut-based gelatin dessert spiced with cinnamon and anise will complete your meal and leave you feeling very satisfied with your Twoubadou adventure.

Blanc Mangé
Image courtesy of Tatiana Balabanis

These are just a few of many stops for Haitian culture in Paris. The list goes on and on, but at the heart of it all is the fact that Paris has been a cradle for Haitian culture unlike any other. It is easy to see the ways in which this rich and dynamic culture is and always will be greatly valued and appreciated here.

Tatiana Balabanis is a rising junior at Stanford University. She is currently serving as a summer intern for the Wells International Foundation.


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

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Thursday, July 6, 2017

Music is Medicine 2017 Tour - Jazz Musicians Against Cancer in Paris

Sandra Booker
Jazz Musicians Against Cancer

In October 2016, jazz singer Sandra Booker was diagnosed with early stage kidney cancer. After her diagnosis, music gave her the will to live -- she listened to more of it in the four days after her diagnosis than she had in the previous five years:

It was my “light bulb” moment. I thought I couldn’t be the only one in this situation. I wanted to do something to help others discover the power of music and art to achieve improved health and wellness from my experience. I used music from all genres as an integral part of the psychological and emotional therapy.

In short, music became medicine, my first line defense against this insidious disease.

Through coverage under the Affordable Care Act - Obamacare - Booker was able to seek medical advice for unexplained blood in her urine. She was initially treated for a urinary tract infection but her symptoms returned. An ultrasound and a biopsy revealed the true diagnosis - papillary urothelial carcinoma.

The diagnosis came three days after a two–year screening cleared Booker for breast cancer. It was nothing short of devastating.

At that moment, she began laying the groundwork for the Jazz Musicians Against Cancer (JMAC) Fund. She created a crowdfunding campaign so she could pay musicians to visit cancer support centers and provide no-cost concerts to patients, their families and friends, and caretakers. She produced the very first JMAC concert on November 28, 2016 in Burbank, California.

In December 2016, Booker had surgery to remove her left kidney, ureter and a portion of her bladder. There was a 30% chance of recurrence but she felt that, all things considered, the odds were in her favor. Two weeks after her surgery, she was cancer-free.

Because of Obamacare, Booker was going to live and she wanted to use her “NOW LIFE” to help others battling this disease. She began working with the weSpark Cancer Support Center in Sherman Oaks, California, giving talks on the importance of universal healthcare and sharing why she believes music can change the lives of those struggling to overcome cancer.

The JMAC fund raises money through on-line donations to its crowdfunding site. It allows Booker to compensate musicians performing at no-cost concerts throughout southern California, instead of asking them to donate their time. The music is presented in a safe space for patients who might have compromised immune systems or be experiencing significant physical changes such weight or hair loss.

Booker and her musical director Tamir Hendelman began planning a European tour in 2015, for completely different reasons. When Booker received her diagnosis, she and Hendelman decided to make the tour happen with a message that has real meaning and purpose for both of them. JMAC is currently touring in France, Holland, and Germany.

Tamir Hendelman and I have worked together on and off for nearly 20 years. I respectfully refer to him as "The Genius" and couldn’t think of anyone else I wanted more to be on this tour with me.

To recruit the musicians for this tour, Booker relied on Paris-based jazz vocalist Leslie Lewis, her husband pianist Gerard Hagen, and saxophonist Mike Ellis. Among those participating in the tour are Nicola Sabato, Germain Cornet, John Betsch, Alex Stuart, Juan Sebastien Jimenez, Acelino da Paula, Michel Julien, Daniel Gassin, and Pablo Campo. She has formed a new trio with Sabato, Cornet and Campo and hopes to bring them to the U.S. next year as part of the Music Is Medicine (MIM) Part II series. The band is called "The French Connection."

Booker says that the response to the Paris tour has been positive:

Being born in New Orleans, the birthplace of jazz, I regard Paris as the second greatest jazz city in the world so getting so much support here for JMAC and as an independent artist is a dream come true. The shows, the musicians, and the audiences have been nothing short of amazing! It’s been word of mouth from the musicians and audiences that have given us sold out shows.

To have the social message behind JMAC embraced validates all the hard work. We are our brother's and sisters' keepers and I’ve been treated like a favored daughter here. I am proud of the work and friendships being created and humbled by the overwhelming generosity of the people of France and elsewhere.

Booker's performances highlight her social justice activism. As part of the 2017 MIM tour, she presented the very first Loving Day concert at L’Entrepot in support of the JMAC Fund. In the U.S., June 12 is Loving Day. It celebrates the love and marriage of Mildred and Richard Loving and commemorates the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case "Loving v. Virginia" that legalized interracial marriage in all fifty states.

Booker dedicated JMAC's "Remembrance" performance at Cav du 38Riv to the life and memory of Philando Castile, an innocent black man killed by police in 2016. The officer was acquitted despite the incident being filmed live on Facebook.

Booker believes that hatred, racism and intolerance are societal forms of cancer and she uses her work to spotlight the tragedies that continue to polarize the U.S. She believes that jazz music has always had to power to reverse this and has galvanized people the world over.

At the time of this writing, JMAC has five additional performances scheduled in Paris. They include the Sunside on July 13, with an expanded band featuring two drummers and a saxophone.

Façade of Sunside Sunset Jazz Club
© Discover Paris!

Booker will also perform in a special duo concert with Tamir Hendelman ( that will feature classical and jazz selections at the Fenix Music Factory in Rotterdam, The Netherlands in association with the North Sea Jazz Festival. Full details are available at

Booker's crowdfunding goal is to raise $50,000 before the end of 2017 so she can continue to offer concerts across the U.S and in Europe. To support U.S. concerts, visit

To support the European tour, visit sandrabookerinparis at GoFundMe.

ALL proceeds from the European funding campaign will be used to support the tour to France, Holland and Germany. Expenses include round trip airfare, hotel/lodging, food, inter-continental travel, insurance, VAT fees, and most importantly, an "archival documentary" of the experience. Booker is seeking one hundred and fifty (150) patrons from across the globe to donate $50 to this cause to make her dream a reality for those who are battling cancer. The first 150 donors of $50 or more will be invited to a special online screening of the mini-documentary called "THE PARIS CONCERTS."

Sandra Booker's cancer returned two months after her surgery. She currently has Stage III bladder cancer.


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

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