Wednesday, December 27, 2006

‘Twas the Night before Christmas

by Jack Frost de Leffler

'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through Paris, France
Not a store was open, not even to buy pants;
My menorah was mounted by the chimney with care,
In hopes that Hanukah Harry soon would be there;
I was planning Chinese and a movie, like any good Jew,
Perhaps an afternoon showing of “It’s a Wonderful Life” with some pork à la moo-shoo? ;
A bottle of Sancerre and a large Evian were on tap,
As I settled onto my couch for a long winter’s nap,
When my phone started to vibrate, it caused such a clatter,
It was Aurelie, I said “what’s the matter?”.
Our friend Corinne had been rushed to the hospital in a flash,
About to give birth to her baby, getting ready for diaper rash.
So we hopped on our horses and trudged through the snow,
No just kidding, this is 2006 of course we traveled by metro,
We brought a gourmet Christmas dinner, have no fear,
Guided by a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,
“I’m celebrating Christmas,” I thought, ‘Am I going to hell?’
What’s the harm in a little tree and visit from Père Noel?
It was my Christmas mitzvah, Moses would be proud,
The reindeer were even Jewish, so we yelled their names out loud,
‘Now Dasherstein! now, Klezmer Dancer! now, Prancercohen and Rabbi Vixen!
On, Cometchaim! On, Challah Cupid! on Prima Donner and Cantor Blitzen!
To the top of the Eiffel Tower! to the edge of the Seine!
Trying to avoid deportation from Jean-Marie Le Pen!
We prepared a gourmet feast of scallops, salmon tiramisu, fancy French cheeses, foie gras, and chocolate cake,
A bit different than the traditional brisket and latkes my Mommaleh used to make,
So up to the hospital we flew to see Mary,
She was in the maternity ward, which wasn’t so scary.
We were like the Magi bringing gifts and cheer,
Even though Baby Jesus wasn’t quite ready to come out, but the doctors said the coast was clear.
And then, in a twinkling, we dined under the roof
Using plastic knives to cut our filets de boeuf.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the hallway the nurses came with a bound,
We offered them something to eat, an alternative from their gross hospital turkey and gravy,
It’s the least we could do until the arrival of the baby.
A bundle of Toys we had flung on our backs,
We fit so many Christmas decorations into Aurélie’s backpack.
Corinne was thrilled - her eyes-how they twinkled! her dimples how merry!
Her cheeks were like roses, her nose like a cherry!
She had a pretty face but a little round belly,
And we made sure to add to our foie gras a bowlful of fig jelly.
We piled the presents by the tree on the shelf,,
and I was so happy to do this mitzvah, I felt good about myself;
With a wink of her eye and a twist of her head,
We decided to leave and head off to bed.
There was not a taxi in the whole city,
So we waited in the cold, the site was not pretty,
But finally – a Christmas miracle! – a taxi appeared,
Much sooner than we all had feared;
We hailed the bright yellow sleigh, to the cabbie gave a whistle,
and away we all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard someone exclaim, ‘ere we drove out of sight,
‘Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good-night.’

Monday, December 11, 2006


Those crazy frogs are at it again. Here's what they're saying ... and why (according to advanced etymological theories courtesy of yours truly).

Crazy French Expression: Purée!
Meaning: damn!/heck!/a nicer way of saying Putain! (F—k!)
Literal Meaning: mashed potatoes
Leffler's Etymological Theory: "I'm so upset I feel like someone mashed me up … like a potato!"

Crazy French Expression: Oh, la vache!
Meaning: wow! Gosh!
Literal Meaning: Oh, the cow!
Leffler's Etymological Theory: In France, cows are exciting animals. Thus, seeing a cow begets feelings of exclamation and bewilderment.

Crazy French Expression: Il pleut comme vaches qui pissent.
Meaning: It's raining cats and dogs/ It's pouring.
Literal Meaning: It's raining like peeing cows.
Leffler's Etymological Theory: French cows urinate with intensity.

Crazy French Expression: Parler français comme une vache espagnole.
Meaning: To murder the French language.
Literal Meaning: To speak French like a Spanish cow.
Leffler's Etymological Theory: Spanish cows don't speak very good French. (I'll be sure never to take a cow named Fernando to dinner in these parts.)

And enough with the cows…What is with these people and their cows? They do make good cheese though, I guess I can't complain. Anyway ...

Crazy French Expression: Avoir la gueule de bois.
Meaning: To have a hangover.
Literal Meaning: To have a face of wood.
Leffler's Etymological Theory: If you've ever had too much French wine, you know what they're talking about.

Crazy French Expression: Avoir un chat dans la gorge
Meaning: To have a frog in one's throat.
Literal Meaning: To have a cat in one's throat.
Leffler's Etymological Theory: In France, frogs legs are a delicacy so lots of people literally do have frogs in their throat all the time. Cats, however, are more rare. Or, perhaps, French people have larger throats so a tiny little frog won't make one hoarse – it takes a large feline.

Crazy French Expression: Faire une galette.
Meaning: To vomit.
Literal Meaning: To make a pancake.
Leffler's Etymological Theory: French people vomit on their pancakes.

That's all for today, stay tuned for CRAZY FRENCH EXPRESSIONS: Part Deux. With Parts Trois, Quatre and maybe even Cinq to follow. Hey, Stallone just came out with another Rocky movie, eet eez posseebull.


Oh the weather outside is frightful…And, no there's nothing delightful about it off the top of my head (perhaps it's the large wool hat covering it). I love Paris in the Springtime … I love Paris in the Fall … But what the f- ...oie gras am I supposed to do in Paris in the winter? Goodbye days of strolling along the Seine, sitting on the "terrasse" of a café for hours on end, running through the Luxembourg Gardens, walking all around the city ice cream cone in hand, people-watching at Café Flore. And Bonjour to thick scarves, travel by metro, and cramming indoors. Okay okay, so there are far worse places to be in the winter (Hanover, NH immediately comes to mind). While I will have to take a hiatus from Amorino's head-sized cones of gelato, endless walks along the Seine contemplating my existence and making out passionately on the Pont des Arts for hours with tall, gorgeous French men (ok let's be honest, that's not even a frequent activity in any season), there are ways to pass the (daylight savings) time during l'hiver à Paris. Here are my top 10 ways to stay warm in Paris in the winter.

10) Drink Warm Beverages

The Classic: Hot Chocolate at Flore
The French Traditional: Thé sur le Nil from Mariages Frères
The "Yes, I'm American, so What?": Chai Tea Latte from Starbucks
The "Wow That's a Lot of Foamy Milk": Cappuccino at Les Philosophes
The Disgusting: Vin Chaud from Just About Anywhere

9) Take Line 4

Traditionally known as the Porte de Clignacourt-Porte d'Orléans line, La Ligne 4 is more famous for being perhaps a warmer location than a metal-filled beach on the Equator. Not only is the temperature always fluctuating between a crisp 150-298 degrees (and I'm talking Celsius here), but be sure to take advantage of the body heat factor as you'll definitely be pressed up against your neighbor as you cram into the cars like sardines and enjoy the "Eau de Body Odor" as you inhale the humid air.

8) Eat Comfort Food

The Classic: Croque Madame from Les Editeurs. A large slice of Poilane bread, gobs of creamy Bechamel sauce, slices of ham topped with a thick layer of gooey melted Gruyère and a fried egg. They try to give you a small side salad to maintain some degree of health and equilibrium, but don't be fooled, ask for French fries on the side instead, they will concede.
The Healthy: Fresh Soups from Cojean. Pumpkin with Vanilla, Eggplant and Coriander, Tomato/Coconut/Lemon … the varieties are endless, sinless and delicious.
The Italiano: Penne ai Bisi at L'Altro. Pennette with a thick, cream of pea sauce with crispy slices of ham served piping hot with unlimited fresh bread and parmesan cheese. Or any of their pasta dishes really, you can't go wrong – linguini with pumpkin sauce and pecorino cheese, penne with radicchio and gorgonzola, not to mention the best chocolates ever in life served with their coffee.
The Sucré: Tarte Tatin from Les Philosophes. I owe much of my happiness to the Tatin Sisters, God Bless them wherever they are, for their mere quarrel years ago that turned an ordinary apple tart upside down, carmelized it and served it hot complemented with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, has changed my life forever. Les Philosophes does a mean version, both in the traditional apple dessert and also a tomato appetizer variety.

7) Steal a Warm Coat

I am not a thief. Au contraire, I am a victim of thiefdom (thiefness? Thiefety? Oh right, theft – apologies, but my eengleesh is leaving something to be desired these days). The scene: Cuisine de Bar, rue Cherche-Midi in the 6th. Circa 2 PM on a Wednesday. The Lefflers – yes, all four were in town – sit down for a casual meal of tartines. We hang our jackets on the coat racks adjacent to our table. There are tartines, there is salade, there are cafés, and then, hélas!, it is time to go. We all retrieve our jackets from the coat racks. All of us, that is, except for me. Yes, alas, my brand new Tara Jarmon coat has been removed from its hook, and not by its rightful owner (read: moi). I will spare you the details of what followed, but the point is this. If you are cold – and lacking morals – then why not steal a warm coat? Invade the coat check at a fancy restaurant when the girl handling them is in the bathroom. Or, better yet, put on a black dress or tuxedo and stand in front of said fancy restaurant and ask "Can I take your coat, Monsieur/Madame?" then run off into the night with a warm Chanel parka (and maybe even a Hermès scarf if you're lucky). Or, perhaps easier, just have lunch at the Cuisine de Bar, you can have your pick of the season's hottest trends in fashionable insulation. Trust me.

6) Live on the 6th Floor in a Building Without an Elevator

By the time you arrive at your door, you will be ready to open all the windows, take off all of your clothes and pour ice down your back. Trust me.

5) Join a Gym

I am by no means endorsing exercise (hello, I'm French now, my only form of exercise consists of raising pastries to my lips, running to catch the bus I'm about to miss almost every morning, or punching slow-walking tourists as I attempt to navigate through the crowded streets of St Germain des Pres with 15 bags of groceries.), however, I recommend just joining Club Med gym, and standing in the main workout room. It smells like the armpit of a Frenchman who has bathed in cheese and hasn't taken a shower in 15 years, but you will sweat those winter worries away, I promise. They also have a sauna.

4) Take the Bus

This is a double whammy. Not only do the buses here all have heat (God Bless the RATP!!), but they never tend to arrive when I do and the next one can take up to 20 minutes, so it is necessary to run after said bus as fast as my heel-ridden legs can carry me when I see it in the distance. I'm proud to say I've clocked my fasted time from Odéon-the rue de Rennes Monoprix as a victorious 40.3 seconds. I will take on all challengers (or at least those wearing heels). I take the 39 bus to work every morning and, by the end of the winter, I will have calves of steel, you just wait.

3) Get a Slingbox

(see previous entry for details) This incredible demonstration of the miracle of technology is called the Slingbox, but a more appropriate name might be "Reason to Not Leave Couch Ever Again." I mean what could be better than a hot date with Dr McDreamy, with the heat turned up to maximum temp, in comfortable pajamas and a cup of hot cocoa in hand, to combat the cold? (Don't answer that, I know what you're thinking, but, admit it, it is a wonderful alternative.)

2) Shake What Your Maman Gave Ya

If staying in isn't your thing (you obviously don't own a slingbox), then I recommend a hot night at Le Baron to get the blood rushing through your veins for the following reasons. A) You can dance until the French cows come home or the fat (or more like skinny model doing coke in this place) lady sings or until you're sweating to the tune of Justin Timberlake or old school hip hop beats. B) The tiny space and large crowd ensure a minimum inside temperature of 171 degrees (298 on the dance floor). C) You'll almost definitely run into your favorite hot celebrity. I saw Romain Duris there the other night and don't think I'll be cold again until March at the latest. And D) They sell alcohol. Point finale!

1) Body Heat

Find French lover. Bring he/she home. Your electric bill will thank you.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Ode to Cojean

As if the invention of the Slingbox wasn't enough exhilaration for one week, another extremely exciting event occurred right in my own neighborhood last week. Cojean opened another café on the lower level of the Bon Marché department store! Yes, I know, this news makes Tom and Katie's recent Rome nuptials and the Iraq war seem almost obsolete. To those of you living under a rock (or in any city other than Paris, France), Cojean is a chain of cafés offering healthy (or at least disguised as healthy), Anglo-style sandwiches, quiche, salads, soups, drinks, desserts and snacks in a très chic atmosphere complemented by the world' most smiley waiters and waitresses. The atmosphere is zen, the food inventive and delicious and, with locations all over Paris, Cojean is the perfect spot for a quick, take-out lunch on the go, an intimate tête-à-tête with a friend, or a relaxing solo lunch hour complete with both French and English-language magazines for one's reading pleasure. Their toasted sandwiches put street paninis to shame; today, I sampled (read: scarfed down) the mozzarella, tomato and artichoke on toasted organic sesame bread variety, and also enjoy the chicken Caesar on poppy and goat cheese, pesto and fresh veggie versions.

The soups, sandwiches, quiches and salads change seasonally, and this autumn's menu offers a mélange of the traditional (mini ham and cheese sandwiches on fresh baguette, 3-cheese quiche, molten chocolate cake) and the original (chicken-coconut-pineapple-mango chutney mini brioche sandwiches, sweet potato-pear-mint soup, white chocolate raisin cookies). There is something to satisfy everyone's tastes, even the pickiest of eaters. And the employees are an international pot pourri of could-be models in blue aprons whisking your empty tray away before you have a chance to swallow your last bite, attending to your every desire (or at least culinary, that is) and never ceasing to smile in the process. A few of the employees from the Madeleine location (my former stomping ground before the opening of this new location) have now moved to the Bon Marché venue and I am now welcomed with friendly faces who have upped me to official Cojean VIP status. Some of my current seasonal favorites include their homemade granola ( which makes for an excellent mid-afternoon snack at work), their turkey-swiss-tomato brioche sandwiches (with real turkey, a rarity in this city of myriad ham sandwiches), pretty much any of their soups (although the pumpkin-vanilla and eggplant-coriander stand out), their cakes (chocolate, carotte and lemon), their fresh slices of mango (apparently delivered daily from Ghana especially for Cojean), not to mention their thai chicken or poached egg-parmesan-green bean salad varieties, their freshly-made fruit smoothies and their wrap sandwiches.

Not to mention free copies of The International Herald Tribune and every luxury magazine printed in France to peruse while chewing. Cojean represents the new trend in modern Parisian "luncheries" (a word I just invented seconds ago referring to cafés with modern design that offer lighter, more inventive cuisine for the new generation). Cojean is the pioneer, but these modern, usually organic, luncheries are popping up all over the city: Naked (healthy salads and snacks on the rue Colisée in the 8th), Lood (juice bar), Jour (make-your-own salads), Bioboa (organic café near Opéra offering perhaps the city's best veggieburger), La Ferme (fresh-from-the-farm "bio" products, and a mean Sunday brunch) and Eatme (a French nutritionist's dream). Long gone are the days when one had to choose between a steak frites or a street crêpe for mid-day nourishment. And while these other establishments are all delicious and enjoyable, no one holds a candle to the original "snack chic" Master, Cojean.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Ode to the Sling Box

I watched “Gilmore Girls” with my Mom today. She pressed fast forward when there was a commercial, and I pressed pause for periodic bathroom breaks. Incredible, isn’t it? Oh, and P.S. I live in Paris, France and my mother, in Cedar Grove, NJ.
Ostensibly a banal mother-daughter activity, my little TV-watching moment with Mom was actually a miracle in modern technology. At 9 am EST and 3 PM in Paris, as I sat on my couch in my Paris apartment, I was able to join my mother in New Jersey for a morning/afternoon TIVO break. With the same remote, mind you, which, for the untrained Slingbox user, can be a bit strange. As the first segment of the show made way for a long commercial break, I went to click the fast-forward button on my remote (aka virtual remote on my computer screen) but noticed that the images were already moving forward quickly, then stopped right as the show came back on. After checking my apartment for French TV-loving ghosts, I soon realized that it was not a Gallic “Gilmore Girls” fan who had broken into my computer, but rather my own mother, sitting in our living room, using the actual remote (and scaring the merde out of me). It was the epitome of laziness; not only was I lying on my couch watching TV on a Wednesday afternoon (G-d bless the 35-hour French work week), but I had my very own assistant to fast-forward through the commercials and “play” as soon as the show came back on. Incredible. However, trans-Atlantic TV viewing sessions do have their drawbacks; our bathroom breaks weren’t timed accordingly and there were admittedly some remote-control battles as I attempted to rewind when Mom had already seen a scene and vice versa. At least we couldn’t kick each other for leg room on the couch.
While I admit that a 24-year old young woman watching a cheesy WB – sorry, CW – show with her mother on a Wednesday afternoon is perhaps questionable, the fact that I was able to do it is quite extraordinary in my opinion. An exciting – if not imperative – addition to expat life. While the “Live TV” aspect of the Slingbox is perhaps its most interesting feature, let’s be honest: how many times will I actually want to watch my favorite show at 4 AM Paris time? Especially when I can watch commercial-free at a more reasonable hour. Even so, if I do happen to be counting French “moutons” (sheep) I’d much prefer a romp through the sordid love triangles at Seattle Grace (of Grey’s Anatomy, for those of you living under a large rock… or in a Slingbox-free household abroad) or a laugh with Pam and Michael and co. (The Office).

Tomorrow I’m having breakfast with Barbara Walters (The View) and perhaps a mid-morning snack with Martha (Stewart). Then maybe I’ll fall asleep with Dr. McDreamy by my side (Grey’s again- are you noticing a trend here?). When I recently expressed my extreme joy at this relatively new invention to a friend, the response was “So? You can download everything to itunes.” Yes, this is true, but a) I cannot download everything to itunes – some of my favorites such as Boston Legal and Without a Trace are still not available in that format, and a morning without Regis (of the Regis and Kelly variety) is well, no morning at all if you ask me; b) I can’t watch itunes downloads with family and friends overseas; and c) Slingbox shows don’t cost $1.99 per download. So back to b). Yes, I realize that perhaps a phone call, email, text, or “poke” on are perhaps more sociable ways to communicate with my loves ones across the ocean. However, it was amazing just how close I felt to my mother today when we were watching “Gilmore Girls” together. I can hear you thinking: “Oh, what’s the big deal?” Yet for that one hour (or, let’s say, around 45 minutes minus the commercials), my mother knew where I was, what I was doing – even when I stopped to go the bathroom – which, for a mother whose daughter lives in another country, is a very big deal indeed.
Despite its assets, the Slingbox is surprisingly unknown even to many technology buffs. I was amazed at how easy it was to set up. I simply downloaded the software, typed in our access code and password and – voilà! – minutes later, our home remote appeared on my screen and everything that had been taped Chez Leffler for the past months appeared for my viewing pleasure. It was a historical moment in the life of Rebecca Leffler, you should’ve been there. Not only can I catch up on my favorite shows whenever I want, but I will also be able to catch major televised events – the Oscars, the Superbowl – in real time, rather than waiting for the re-runs to appear dubbed on French television. And although I am now immersed in French culture and enjoy my life here, sometimes it’s nice to cuddle up with Mom to watch TV as I munch on my peanut butter sandwiches and Oreo cookies.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Foie Gras and Peanut Butter Sandwiches

“America is my country, but Paris is my hometown.”
-Gertrude Stein
Trudy was so right on. She took the words right out of my mouth (and good thing, because now there is more room for croissants and cigarettes). Like Stein, I am an expat. An expatriate. According to my Latin roots (as in the italic language spoken in ancient Rome, not of the “I’m still jenny from the block” variety), that comes from “ex” (former) and “patria” (native land, stemming from pater, or father). Thus, I no longer live in my native land, and have taken up residence in a foreign country, namely France. Gaul. The Western European Republic. Home of Jacques Chirac, Gérard Depardieu, and 951 million cafés (approximately). I moved here a little over two years ago, and plan to stay until Nicolas Sarkozy sends large French soldiers with hungry watchdogs to escort me onto a plane back to New Jersey. Yes, I’m here for the long Gaul … Yet when most people (more specifically, American people) learn of my choice to reside overseas, the conversation usually goes something like this:
Ignorant American (sorry, Mom): “When are you coming home?”
Me: “I am home.”
Cue the cheesy music and close-ups of the Eiffel Tower.
Oui, it’s true, I am a cliché. I live in St-Germain-des-près. I sip coffee at Café Flore while reading Le Monde. I walk the streets with a baguette under my arm. And every time the Eiffel Tower sparkles for the first ten minutes of every hour at night, I am giddy with emotion. Paris is indeed my hometown.
Many people associate my love – yes, love – for Paris with a consequential hatred for America. That is not the case. I don’t necessarily think that France is “better” than America, I just think that the life that I lead here vs. the one I would be leading across the Atlantic, is. Many people move across the ocean to escape from something, or someone – a traumatic childhood, an unfulfilled life, a violent lover. I’m not running from anything – I’ve had a mostly happy life filled with pleasant memories, plenty of friends and family. My government did not exile me for treason. I am not fleeing the law (I did pay the one speeding ticket I was ever issued, thank you very much.) And, while I think that Jessica Simpson may have done a better job in the Oval Office than Monsieur Bush, I am not a political zealot fleeing the idiocracy of Washington. America is still my country.
I’ve developed a sort of Dr.Jeckyll, Mademoiselle Hyde complex here. I am still the American girl from NJ who misses Skippy Super-chunk peanut butter, un-dubbed episodes of Grey’s Anatomy and Desperate Housewives and reading the New York Times in print. But I am also the Parisian girl who eats Nutella, watches Le Grand Journal and Les Guignols and reads The International Herald Tribune cover-to-cover. How can I be both? How long can I lead this double life? Maintain these two personalities? Won’t one have to win in the end? If I stay here indefinitely, will I be disgusted at the thought of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich? Become disinterested in Meredith and Dr. McDreamy’s up and down love affair? Trust the weather report on and forego my loyalty to
Do I want to be a Parisian? Or an American in Paris?
Is it possible to have two souls : one French, the other American? It’s a battle between peanut butter and foie gras: may the best disgustingly unhealthy substance to spread on toast win.
I can’t leave. I have a life here now – friends, a job, VIP status in my local boulangerie. But the thought of never going back to America scares the merde out of me. Will my childhood friends forget about me eventually? Are email and phone conversations (and, I confess, enough to sustain lasting relationships? Will my family eventually get used to an empty seat at the Thanksgiving table? Or, worse, will they fill this seat? Turn my bedroom into an exercise facility? Adopt a small child from Cambodia and name her Rebecca?
My mind has become a croque-monsieur of languages. There’s now a thick layer of cheese (French) covering the ham (English) and though the croque needs both to be a croque, the cheese definitely overpowers the taste of the ham. (yes, I just compared my bilingual brain to a ham and cheese sandwich, I think I’ve been living here for too long.) “This is your brain.” “This is your brain on France.” I think in French. I think in English. I speak in a strange mélange of both. I dream in Franglais. To me, I’m the same person, just in different languages. I am a human DVD – press 1 for French, 2 for English. But do my French friends and my American friends see the same person when I speak?
Do my mannerisms, my personality, the inflection in my voice, change when I switch dialects?
And then there are all of the cultural differences and misunderstandings – things I missed because I grew up in the Garden State and not outside of the Tuileries Gardens, or ostensibly banal things they’ve never heard of. Cupcakes, for example. Who has never heard of a cupcake? Apparently, the majority of the French population. I actually had to google a picture of one to show a confused colleague who couldn’t understand what a “small muffin-like cake covered with frosting and little colorful candies” could possibly look like. But it’s moments like that when I realize that, although I fit in to this strange land where pregnant women smoke, men cheat on their wives and the coffee is served AFTER dessert no matter how badly you want a little caffeine with your lemon tart, we are different. A childhood without cupcakes? A tragedy. A Halloween without candy corn? Heartbreaking. Waking up to old French men yelling at each other instead of Regis and Kelly? Traumatic. And – are you sitting down? – they eat cheeseburgers with a fork and a knife. I know, my eyes are tearing too. Yet, for reasons I cannot explain, I love these strange people who think Jerry Lewis is funny and Gérard Depardieu is sexy. I love that nothing here is easy, that I have to call 467 different people who yell at me in French and charge me 34 cents per minute to listen to a voice message telling me that it will take 15 years and cost me five million dollars and my first born child to fix my television reception. I love that pretty much everything is “eemposseeebull” from making a deposit in another branch of your bank that doesn’t happen to be the exact one in which you opened your account to having your salad dressing served on the side. I love that I have to make plans ahead of time, that I don’t have 700 friends that have known me since birth deciding what our Saturday night plans are. I love that I don’t always understand why my French friends are laughing or why the metro has suddenly stopped moving; it makes life interesting. It makes me more independent. Life shouldn’t be easy. It should be challenging and tough and even sad, lonely and horrible at times. It should also be exciting and passionate and crazy and wonderful. And any expat knows that on a typical day, life can be all those things.
My country ‘tis of thee, sweet land of liberté, égalité fraternité. I am an American. I am a Parisian. And proud to be both. Just no foie gras and peanut butter sandwiches, please, I might get sick.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006


When I was just a tadpole, my mother told me: “You have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find your prince.” So I decided to move across the pond to Paris, France, a city filled with frogs ripe for the kissing. French kissing, that is…
What many people don’t know is that Paris, France is actually a Third World Country disguised as an aesthetically beautiful and civilized land filled with art, poetry and artery-clogging pastries. It’s mathematically quite easy to adapt to culture here – just multiply the time it should take a task to be accomplished by 147.46 and that’s how much time it will take for this task to be accomplished in France, or by a French person. Opening a bank account? TIST (time it should take): one hour. TITIF (Time it takes in France): minimum 4 weeks. Painting the door of a building. TIST: 3 hours. TITIF: 3 months. And if you purse your lips together and make no attempt to smile, laugh or emit any signs of emotion while performing said undertakings, you’re totally in. Félicitations, you’re French.
Anyway, so back to my amphibious animals across the Atlantic. Frogs are often slimy creatures. The French have a word for this. It’s “drageur.” In reality, a “drageur” is just a synonym for any male of Gallic origin, but a more official definition might be “player” or “a male of Gallic origin who enjoys hitting on unsuspecting females with the direct goal of sleeping with said females.” Drageur-radar is a learned skill, and one that I can now boast that I do in fact possess. They come in all shapes, colors and sizes, but they all have one ultimate goal: to say absolutely anything necessary to get you into bed with them. You can’t blame them – it’s in their (extremely tight) jeans. All of the old philosophers did it. I mean, just picture Jean-Paul Sartre sitting pretty at Café Flore and seductively telling the lady next to him “In love, one and one are one.” I can just see her heart melting (mine certainly is.) Or Victor Hugo: “To love another person is to see the face of G-d.” Oh Vic, stop, you’re making me blush.
Before you start kissing said frogs, you need to redefine your definition of a “man.” French men are not athletic, they smoke, they’re skinny, they have big noses and order girlier drinks than you. And even the most heterosexual of them kiss each other frequently and enjoy shopping – many even cry. The hair gel industry in France must be breaking records, since the average hair gel-to-strands of hair ratio is currently at an all-time high among French men; I’d estimate around 7 kilos of gel per strand.
Being an American female in Paris is comparable to a bone being thrown into a cage filled with rabid dogs; one is inevitably poked, prodded, licked and barked at until the canines get bored and move onto another. While the French-English dictionary boats thousands of words, there are really only a very few indispensable phrases for every American female to know. “Dégage!” (Get out of here!) “Fut-moi la paix!” (Leave me alone!) and, if need be, “Je suis lesbienne!” (I am a lesbian.) Even that one doesn’t necessarily always work on this carnivorous, persistent species we call the French male.
Unfortunately, Hollywood has romanticized “le French lover” causing many American females to dream about gorgeous, charming men who speak only in a dull whisper, rolling their r’s as they roll onto you in a passionate embrace. Think: Olivier Martinez in Unfaithful, Vincent Cassel in Derailed, Gérard Depardieu in My Father, The Hero (no just kidding, I was just making sure you’re paying attention.)
That’s not to say that all French men are of the “drageur” variety. Au contraire…there are many good-looking, even tall and muscular, kind, more reserved Frenchmen all over the country. 99.999% of the members of this rare species however are, in fact married (and/or have an affinity for the male race.) However, just because the French man of your dreams is married, certainly does not mean that you should give up hope. In fact, the fact that he is married, enhances your chances of sleeping with him. In America, cheating on one’s spouse is looked down upon. Not that it is never done, but, if/when the act of adultery is committed, it is usually done in secrecy (or attempted secrecy at least.) In France, adultery is considered less of a crime than speaking loudly into one’s cell phone in a restaurant. Bring your mistress home while your wife is asleep in the next room, Pierre, but if you even think about talking over a whisper when she calls your cell… When Bill Clinton “did not have sex with that woman,” it caused a huge political scandal. Yet, at François Mitterand’s funeral, his wife and mistress were photographed side by side, sharing a sob over the death of their lover. That, mes amis, is the difference between France and America. We’re not more moral in America, we just try to act like it in public. Do you expect of a people who eat cheeseburgers with a fork and knife?
There are bi-racial couples walking all over the streets of Paris. By this, I mean of course, the “scrawny, ugly male” race interbreeding with the “tall, beautiful female” race. They’re everywhere. Snuggling in cafés, making out in the subway… everywhere. At first, I simply thought that French women are genetically partly blind. Now, however, after vast scientific research, I have come to the conclusion that they just simply have no choice. For every 27 tall, thin, painfully gorgeous, well-dressed, put-together French women, there is one arguably attractive French man. Thus, the other 26 females are forced to forego Gérard the Gorgeous for Pascal the petit, Hugo the hairy and François the funny-looking. Just look at the discrepancy among French movie stars. Juliette Binoche, Cathérine Deneuve, Nathalie Baye and Ludivine Sagnier vs. Gérard Depardieu, Daniel Auteuil, Jean Réno and Romain Duris. Sure, these actors are very talented but, let’s be honest, they aren’t aesthetically worthy enough to be in the same room as these beautiful women, let alone sharing the same screen. Yet, who is to say that it’s only the good-looking frogs who turn into princes?

So with that, I return to Le Pond, in preparation of my next amphibious adventure.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Nos Jours Heureux

Nos Jours Heureux
Amidst a sea of Hollywood summer blockbusters, a little French movie is by far the best film I've seen all summer. Nos Jours Heureux (In english, Our Happy Days) is a funny, poignant and entertaining romp through French summer camp. The film explores the lives of the young campers and their counselors who have a little growing up to do themselves. Directors Eric Toledano and Olivier Nakache have created a bildungsroman in the wilderness where the children experiment, explore and learn a great deal about themselves in the process. It was almost surreal how this camp resembled my experiences of going to camp every summer since the age of 8 then working there as a counselor. This film proved our old adage that "camp is for the counselors." The counselors - or "animateurs" - in Nos Jours Heureux complement each other perfectly and deliver an impressive ensemble performance. Jean-Paul Rouve plays the director of a three-week sleepover camp for kids whose ages range from pre-school to pre-adolescent. Hormones rage as love blossoms throughout the camp - I, in fact, have never seen 12-year olds make out so passionately, but, well, I guess there's a reason we call it the "French kiss." As the children grow up over the course of the summer, the "adults" taking care of them mature as well. The painfully shy Caroline, unable to express herself or, for that matter, form complete sentences, joins hunky playboy Daniel, portly camp nurse Nadine who shares a summer of lovin' with Joseph, a smiley black guy, and Truman, a frumpy Québequois whose accent I could not understand and, finally, Julie, an attractive Parisian who avoids responsibility and acts like she's on vacation. As the children go hiking, play sports and try to digest the food prepared by the amateur yet jovial Moroccan chef Mimoun, the counselors hook up (Daniel and Julie then Daniel and the horse-back riding girl then Daniel and Caroline then Julie and - well, I won't give it all away, but you get the idea). The children aren't much better, locking lips whenever their supervisors aren't looking, but their performances are impressive and I think that all moviegoers will be able to see a glimpse of themselves in many of the characters. Many of the scenes are quite humorous without being ridiculous or over-the-top and, when the bus rolled out of the camp towards the end of the film, I couldn't help but remember how I used to be so sad to say goodbye to the friends I'd made over the summer and the carefree days of not having to worry about anything at all. This is certainly among my favorite films - it's the perfect summer flick to escape the Parisian heat (the theater is air conditioned!) and return briefly to the insouciance of childhood.

Monday, July 17, 2006

An Alien in Paris

Fatima. Min Ha. Ayomide. Habibah. Rafi. Masego. Ji Wong. These are the names their parents gave to them when they were born, but today they are numbers 322-327. They're standing outside, baking under the grueling summer sun, sweating not only from the heat, but also from the fear of what will occur once they walk through the doors ahead of them. They stand in silence, gripping tightly large manila envelopes containing their passports, birth certificates, medical information … their entire lives smeared over sheets of A4 white paper. The line moves slowly, and everyone stares around them trying to paint a historical portrait of their neighbors in ten seconds or less; "what are you doing here?" Their backs and legs begin to ache as one hour becomes two then three then six, but feels like ten. Their stomachs begin to sing in unison, begging them in different languages for something to eat. Finally, the man in uniform takes a passport, glances at the photo then at the human being standing beside him, with a look of such condescension that, for a brief moment, the human being no longer feels human.
They follow the man in uniform up the stairs and enter the room on the right. They each take a number from one of those machines they recognize from the butcher shop. Only this time they are on the other end of the knife. They sit down in the metal chairs, most of them rusty and falling apart, the edges digging into their backs, but they are relieved to be finally resting. They approach the desk one by one as their numbers are called, shaking in trepidation as they stare into the eyes of the woman possessing the power to either ruin or ameliorate their lives with one signature. On what side of the bed did she wake up this morning? Will my children be able to eat tomorrow? They explain their situation, show whatever papers she asks for, then are given another number and herded into another room. It's sweltering inside and smells sort of like a grilled cheese sandwich, but they all know it's not the smell of a grilled cheese sandwich. There are no chairs in this room, and the silence that has followed them since 7 AM is now interrupted by babies screaming and the sobs of those leaving the room empty-handed, tears spilling onto their manila envelopes. "But my mother is French…" "But I've lived here for 11 years now…" "But my son is in school…" "But I can't go back there, I can't go back, I can't, I-"
Paris, France is traditionally synonymous with the Eiffel Tower, Gérard Depardieu, Impressionist paintings and any food involving cream, butter or lard. Tourists flock from all over the world to taste Alain Ducasse's latest culinary creation, to sip a coffee at Café Flore and watch the Bourgeois stroll down the Boulevard Saint Germain or to earn air miles as they run their credit cards through the machines of the boutiques on the rue du Faubourg St Honoré. Yet, for those from other countries hoping for more than just a passing visit to France's capital city, life is anything but a walk in the Tuileries Gardens…
I get the same reaction from pretty much everyone to whom I complain about the "nightmare" I've been through to secure working papers and stay in Paris: "Oh please, you're a young, pretty American female, you have nothing to worry about." Usually followed by the inevitable not-meant-to-be-racist-probably-just-ignorant-but-nonetheless-awful "They're concerned with the Africans, the Arabs, the Chinese … they're not going to bother with someone like you." Well, I hate to break it to all of you, but "someone like me" - namely an educated, 23-year old female American citizen who grew up in a New Jersey suburb and went to private school and summer camp - is no match for the French government's rigid bureaucracy. Sarkozy's veritable immigrant witchhunt has led the tens of thousands of illegal immigrants in France to fear for their lives and attempt to escape a fate of expulsion. You've probably all been reading about the tens of thousands of illegal immigrants lining up in front of government offices across the country to file applications for naturalization? Well, last week I joined these "illegal immigrants" for a fun day in the sun, aka an eight-hour romp through the streets of Paris' 17th district complete with 90-degree weather, crying babies and clouds of cigarette smoke. I believe Frommer may have left this kind of tour of Paris out of his latest guide. I've been in Paris for almost two years now, first studying, now working, and, lately, just simply finding a way to continue to live and work here has become a full-time job in its own right. I applied for my carte de séjour (residency card) as soon as I arrived in February to start my new job, went through my medical visit (which, by the way, consists of waiting in a hot smelly room only to be herded into another hot smelly room, told by a mysterious man claiming to have a medical degree to "take off your shirt" at which point an x-ray is taken of the lungs without any form of magnetic protection and, after ensuring that you do not have tuberculosis nor are you blind, deaf or allergic to foie gras, you are deemed worthy to reside in the fine French capital) and sent every document detailing pretty much every movement I made since birth to a furtive French governmental black hole. This file has since come back to me three times asking me for things - and I swear on the croissant I had for breakfast - they never once asked me for before. Finally, I went to the Prefecture in person to investigate myself which turned out to be one of the more miserable days of my life, but, in retrospect, as most miserable days turn out to be, a great learning experience.
When you stand on line with people for eight hours, you make a few friends. The chinese couple behind me spoke neither a word of English nor French, but, by the end of the eight hours, I had figured out that they were from China (hence their moniker of " the Chinese couple "), the wife is expecting a baby during the 11th month of the year, and they like to smile a lot. Fatima, from Morocco, and my self-proclaimed "best friend of the day" (Congratulations, Fatima!) explained to me that both of her parents are French but that, having grown up and gone to school in Morocco, the French government considered her to be an alien, able to care for herself and thus not eligible for citizenship in the country where her parents were born and live. Then there was the man in the wheelchair who came with his son so that his son could continue to live in France and go to school. We read about these people in newspapers all over the world - Sarkozy's "40,000 immigrés" - but they are not just numbers, they're people. People with histories and hopes, dreams and fears. People who ride the metro every day, shop in the supermarkets, go to the movies. What is a nationality anyway? Just the stamp on one's passport? My passport was issued by the United States of America, but my life is in France. From my job, my friends, my apartment, my bank account to the corner boulangerie where I buy my baguette each day, the little old man who gives me free coffee at my favorite café and my "reserved" seat for people-watching on the quai of the Seine. Every time I complain about French governmental bureaucracy, people ask me, "So why do you put up with it? Why don't you just go home?" And to them I reply, "I am home." In Alexander Payne's short, "The 14th Arrondissement," at the end of the recent film "Paris, Je T'aime," Carol, an American woman with quite possibly the worst French accent I have ever heard, sums it all up "Paris, je t'aime et je sais que tu m'aimes aussi." ("Paris, I love you and I know that you love me back.")

Friday, June 02, 2006

Cannes: Part Deux

There's nothing like your first time. You go into it all wide-eyed and innocent, not knowing what to expect, and experience feelings of deep pleasure that you never knew were possible. Though it's hard to come down after your first climax, when it's all over, you can't wait to do it all again. Yes, there's nothing like your first Cannes Film Festival: the Riviera sun, the yachts, the villas, the 10,000 blackberries buzzing on lunch tables all over the Croisette as film execs attempt to avoid cardiac arrest amid the overcharged festival rhythm. It's almost indescribable to those who have never done it. I lost my Cannes Film Festival virginity last year on a warm, summer today in May and, while I'll never forget my first time, this year I
returned to the Croisette with knowledge, experience, skill… and a few more VIP passes than last year. This is my story.

May 14, 2006
I gazed out the window of my first-class window seat as the train slowly approached the Gare de Cannes. Even the skinny, hairy French men wearing tight speedos on the beach didn't ruin the incredible view of the Riviera beaches to my right and the swank hilltop villas to my left. The sun was shining as the train screeched to a halt, and, after a tumultuous struggle with my seemingly 400-lb suitcase for a few blocks, I arrived at my hotel. The Hôtel Alnea, a charming two-star hotel just a (Sharon) stone's throw away from the Grand Palais, should be listed in the Guiness Book of World Records as "The Smallest Hotel in Cannes." I was in fact able to simultaneously sit on the toilet, wash my face AND take a shower - without moving a muscle. How many world-class hotels can boast such a luxury I ask you? Though small, the hotel is conveniently located right down the street from the Grand Palais (where I would be spending nearly the next 184 hours of my life) and the husband and wife who own the place welcomed me with open arms. They gave me the same room I had last year so I felt right at home, and even remembered what exactly I required for breakfast each morning - I stumbled into the dining room each morning with a croissant, strawberry jelly, yogurt, granola, honey and orange juice waiting for me at "my" table. I ate with the Cannes Market News team (or the French side at least) at Farfalla, then went to bed early for some pre-festival sleep.

May 16, 2006
On the day before the festival/market began, the Grand Palais resembled a construction site and the Croisette merely a boardwalk. Yet, year after year, the night before it all begins, the Palais is transformed into an international movie Mecca as stands spring up all over the Riviera and Palais Level -1 and film posters and gratuitously outrageous publicity stunts take over the major hotels on the Croisette.
Ever since 1946, when Louis Lumière took on the duty of the festival's inaugural jury president, the Cannes Film Festival has evoked images of red carpets, sunny beaches and glamour. For two weeks each May, international stars and film industry executives make their way to the French Riviera to celebrate "la septième art" with as much gratuitous
luxury as possible. Cannes is the setting for two parallel plots intertwining, namely the Cannes festival and the Cannes film market. As famous directors and their beautiful muses stroll the red carpet outside of Le Palais, inside, the international film market is at its highest peak of activity as multi-million dollar distribution deals are made every minute. The Croisette becomes a veritable college campus where it's all "work hard, play hard" as champagne flows like water and securing party invites becomes an extra-curricular activity.
Colossal film posters and animations decorate the Croisette as film fans line up outside, cameras in hand, ready to snap their way to stardom … or Ebay. The Cannes Film Festival is so unique it is almost indescribable (though clearly I am not at a loss for words to describe every detail of my second trip to the Croisette).
Most of the activity in Cannes takes place at Le Palais du Festival, an enormous building right on La Croisette (the large strip separating the beaches from the major hotels that runs throughout the city - also known as a "boardwalk" of sorts to those of you more familiar with the Jersey shore than the Côte d'Azur). Outside, the red carpet is the scene of the premieres of the
films "In Competition" and the inside is filled with "stands," i.e. veritable offices for sales agencies, digital imaging and the film commissions of various companies. Each stand is decorated with film posters, big-screen televisions and often hors d'œuvres served to buyers during important business meetings. The stands are located both in the Riviera section of Le Palais and on the bottom level. Outside of the Riviera, the pavilions of the "International Village" line the beach as each country's flag hangs proudly over its tent, usually the base of national film commissions offering a warm welcome to its inhabitants in town. The American Pavilion, for example, is a haven for citizens of Les Etats-Unis where festivalgoers can have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich outside on the terrace, check their email on computers with QUERTY keyboards or participate in round table discussions between directors and stars such as Brett Ratner and Nick Nolte. Further down the Croisette is the Pantiero, the site of UniFrance, the Ile-de-France Film Commission and the Rendez-Vous des Exploitants (a huge modern space dedicated to partners of the festival such as Nestle who offered free ice cream ,and coffee) and the Plage des Palmes, a high-class restaurant right on the water reserved only for very important
business executives discussing distribution deals over some foie gras in the sun. Other companies set up camp in the luxurious four and five-star hotels lining the Croisette such as The Majestic, The Hotel Martinez, The Noga Hilton and The Carlton. Just a few minutes in the lobby of any of these hotels ensures at least one celebrity sighting and makes even the poorest of Franco-American journalists (cough, cough) feel like a star for a brief moment in time.
As almost the entire city of Los Angeles arrived in town and battled jetlag, we at the Cannes Market News were already hard at work preparing our first issue of the 2006 Festival. As Managing Editor (aka "Coordination" on the masthead thanks to the politics of working for a rigid French company) of the Official daily of the Marché du Film (the international Cannes Market) I was responsible for coordinating the publication of the daily magazine. Our editorial content was provided by indieWIRE, the leading, news, information and social networking site for the international independent film community. I also added to the CMN layout this year a more in-depth calendar of events, profiles of industry execs (including photos and responses to more "fun" Who, What, When, Where and Why questions), the quote and fact/figure of the day and FOCUS stories on various international territories in addition to the screenings guide for the following day and a double page of photos of Cannes events. In one ear, the American journalists and, in the other, my French "team" of an editor and graphic designer. Needless to say, my head was spinning by the time we closed at around midnight, but "one down, seven to go" echoed in my head as I prepared for the rest of the week's work.

May 17, 2006
Festival and Market Day One finally arrived as I reached a level of stress I never before thought physically possible. As English flew in one ear and French out the other, my brain became a pot pourri of "franglais" as I tried to remain calm and organized among the international mayhem sweeping the French Riviera. As I awaited the day's market news to arrive, I attended a cocktail for Greenestreet Films International at the Majestic Hotel terrace and the DDA PR Cocktail Party at the Majestic Beach with our photographer to take a few photos for the following day's issue.

May 18 - Da Market Code
While Market members from all over the world anxiously await the annual Marché du Film Opening Night party, I dread it. Not only do I have to wait to layout and put captions on the photos pages until our photographer completes his tour of the bash (usually around 11 PM), but there is inevitably a problem with an ad page that requires me to run around like a "poulet" with my head cut off until the problem is alleviated. Last year, my boss chose to sell an ad page at 1 AM requiring me to change the entire layout of the issue and, this year, he realized at around midnight that he had sold the back cover to two different clients, forcing me to assuage one angry client, remove the ad of another - soon to be incensed client - in the midst of putting captions on the photos pages/identifying every market member smiling next to Jérôme Paillard complete with title and company, editing the other sections of the magazine, and trying to remain somewhat social to the myriad market executives greeting me hello as they sipped champagne and nibbled on gourmet food along the docks of the Majestic Beach.
Earlier that day, I'd attended a Press Breakfast in the Carlton Hotel for Focus Features International during which time I spoke with Focus CEO James Schamus and new company President Andrew Karpen as they unveiled their slate for the new season.
After the Marché du Film hoopla and subsequent late close around 1:30 AM in the Palais, I downed two paninis from the stand outside the Palais and headed out on the town. I can honestly say that I have absolutely no recollection of where I went or what I did on that particular evening, but I woke up in bed with Brad Pitt. No, just kidding, but I probably dreamed about it that evening as my head hit the pillow…

May 19, 2006
I saw my first film of the fest at 11:30 AM: Richard Linklater's FAST FOOD NATION, which may have been more appropriately titled "Why Rebecca Leffler Will Never Eat a Hamburger Again nor Travel Anywhere in the Vicinity of a McDonalds." Though the film was somewhat preachy, clearly targeted at the average moviegoer whose IQ, according to Richard Linklater, must not exceed .005, the performances were strong (despite a talentless Avril Lavigne seemingly trying to break the world record for "most lines said in a movie while keeping long, blond locks perfectly in place") and the film an eye-opening look at the entire spectrum of the inside world of the American Fast Food industry from the poor Mexican immigrants at the slaughterhouses to the company execs basking in immoral exploitation of the nation's youth.
May 19th soon became "Fast Food Nation Day" as I ran into Greg Kinnear in the elevator of the Carlton later that day, then later that evening, managed to make my way (and that of two equally uninvited friends) into the private, invite-only party for the film at the Century Club on the beach.
Nearly the entire cast was there including Avril Lavigne (who, again, was still working on her record for least long blond locks of hair-moving), Catalino Sandino Moreno (say that five times fast), Ethan Hawke (why are good-looking actors always way too short in person? Our love affair is over, Ethan, I'm sorr.), Ashley Johnson (who I still can't dissociate from her oh-so-cute stint on Growing Pains), the Gregster (as in Kinnear, but hello we were already on a nickname basis as of our hot elevator encounter just hours earlier), Bobby Cannavale (who, not only remembered meeting me a few years earlier at the Toronto Film Festival, but also hails from Hoboken and we are now official best friends and armpit-of-the-United-States compatriots - Jersey represent!), Wilmer Valderrama (whom I informed that I watch speaking fluent French on French television's version of "That 70s Show" which seemed to amuse the much-shorter-in-person-but-certainly-charming-although-I-still-can't-see-how-he-snagged-the-likes-of-Lindsay Lohan-Jennifer Love Hewitt-and-Many Moore actor), in addition to Brett Ratner (also of the "I-still-can't-see-how-he-snagged-the-likes-of-Lindsay Lohan" category of men and whom I also attacked, informing him that as he will be filming RUSH HOUR 3 in Paris this summer and I happen to live in Paris, we should, thus, be best friends and hang out. He agreed and took my business card and I plan to hear from him any day now of course…) Yes, somewhere along the line, I have lost my gene for shame. I am convinced that I no longer have any and will talk to anyone with ears and feet.
As Young Hollywood schmoozed the Croisette Beach, an older, more refined crowd à la Vanity Fair made their way around the party including my friend - and Dartmouth alum - renowned UK Publisher Ed Victor who introduced me to the likes of Paul McGuinness (U2's manager) and other high-class British elite.

May 21, 2006 -
Today, I saw how "the other half" lives, and I must admit I quite liked it. After all, as they say, "a day witout a yacht, a villa and a few dozen celebrities is no day at all." (I'm not quite sure if anyone has actually ever said that actually, but they should have, it's kinda catchy, non?) Someone must have exchanged my women's extra-calcium multivitamins this morning with lucky pills, because from the moment I awoke, I lived the life of someone other than myself. And, while I do like being me, I am, as I discovered, also a fan of being this wealthy, important alter-ego who enjoys lunches on yachts, parties in villas, private cars, fine dining and French celebrities.
I was awakened at 8 AM by a phone call from a publicist wondering if I indeed would be attending the FLYBOYS luncheon on Ralph Ellison's yacht that afternoon. Flyboys? Lunch? Yacht? Did I mention I hadn't slept since May 14th? The message sounded something like this: Booboo mooma paca fifi woowoopajama bananatahiti supercalifragilisticexpeealodocias, and I responded abruptly with the only word my Franco-Anglo jargon would pronounce: "Oui?" I soon found myself, at around 1 PM, pointing to my name on a private list and then boarding a tiny boat headed out to sea. After running around all morning preparing for the day's CMN issue, this short voyage out to sea was a tranquil and welcome change from the craziness of the Croisette. We arrived at the Ellison yacht (which, I am told is the largest yacht in the world) and, after taking off our shoes, went upstairs for a gourmet buffet lunch featuring delicious food and water imported from Finland, apparently the purest water in the world. I mean really, who would drink anything else? The lunch aboard The Rising Sun Yacht was hosted by Electric Entertainment and Voltage Pictures. The lunch celebrated their presentation of the film FLYBOYS (starring Jean Reno, James Franco, and David Ellison among others) in Cannes and also the unveiling of their forthcoming slate. I spoke with David Ellison, one of the stars of FLYBOYS, and owner of the Rising Sun yacht. Here is a short excerpt of the script of our encounter (see: loss of gene for shame, above)
Me: "What an amazing boat. I think I may hide in that cabinet over there and stay on board forever."
David Ellison: "Yeah…it's my boat."
Cue the red cheeks …
I had a wonderful time aboard the Rising Sun - I ignored all calls to my cell phone (only to be greeted by the lovely voice of SFR telling me "you have 450 new messages" as I arrived back to shore later in the day) and was able to briefly escape the madness of the Palais and the Croisette. I can say without hesitation that I was absolutely the least important, poorest and youngest person aboard the yacht, but if inferiority always bring such happiness - in the form of a beautiful view, interesting company and gourmet food - I am game for a lifetime of underachieving…
Later that evening, I joined some of my colleagues from Le Film Français for dinner at La Cantine, a swank New York-esque restaurant in town, then met a friend at the Majestic Hotel where a private car (Sony's private car for the record) picked us up and escorted us to the Villa Khayat for Wild Bunch's party to celebrate the Cannes premiere of SOUTHLAND TALES, showing In Competition. The villa itself was extraordinary - I estimate around 400 million square feet (and to think I'd forgo a career in architecture or interior design!) for the edifice itself, but the party was spread out all over the premises, from poolside, to the dance floor, to nooks and crannies spread throughout the hilly back and side yards, to the large blow-up Bar Mitzvah-like jumping paraphernalia. There were girls in bikinis covered in slime dancing to my right, and Bai Ling shaking her groove thang to the left. Studio execs mingled with B-list American celebrities, Greek shipping heirs and a woman wearing the strangest white dress I've ever seen that took up about 20 square feet of dance floor space. I was in French movie nerd heaven as everywhere I turned I caught the gaze of A-list Gallic celebrities including Edouard Baer, Jean Dujardin and Alexandra Lamy (who were making out all over the place in a very un-French public display of drunken affections) and Guillaume Canet, aka the love of my life who momentarily rendered me speechless (a rare occurrence I might add) as his arm brushed mine as he left the bar area.
I then spent the rest of my visit mingling with the self-proclaimed "it boys" of Hollywood, Danny Masterson and Wilmer Valderrama. Though it was a bit odd to hear them speaking English after almost two years of watching "Zat Sevendeez Shoo" dubbed en français, we are definitely new best friends and I'm waiting to see a photo of our bonding session on the cover of US Weekly. Not to mention that I'm that much closer to finally consummating my love affair with Ashton Kutcher…
We took the Sony car back to Cannes and, unfortunately, back to reality … okay, not quite reality, read on …

May 22, 2006
After yet another day breaking human stress records, I closed the daily early, ran to my hotel to break human clothes-changing records and made it to the red carpet of the Palais to "monte les marches" for the world premiere of XMEN: THE FINAL STAND. Following my footsteps was director Brett Ratner who joined his all-star cast for a stroll down the most prestigious red carpet in the world. As if there weren't enough mutants on the Croisette, Halle Berry, Hugh Jackman, Rebecca Romijn (with beau Jerry O'Connell in tow), Famke Janssen, Ian
McKellen, Shawn Ashmore, Anna Paquin, Kelsey Grammer and Patrick Stewart all took a stand in front of the Palais to present the film. And what's a red carpet without Paris Hilton? Well, probably a classier red carpet but anyway, she was there and surprisingly wearing a dress that I admittedly adored, a Roberto Cavalli crystal studded dress with wide, flowy arms.
Though I had to struggle to keep my eyes open due to extreme festival-induced fatigue, the film was a welcome distraction of mindless entertainment and it was exciting to see the visuals on the huge screen in the Palais as the entire cast watched from below. While I enjoyed the first two films in the XMEN franchise much more thanks to deeper storylines, the third installment lacked a coherent plot, but the special effects were impressive and the A-list cast impossible not to love.
After the film, I made my way to the private, "invite-only" post-screening party at Le Baron in the Hotel 3/14 (yes, this time I actually had an invite). The entire cast was there and I joined them in the VIP section for some champagne (served in glasses with red lights on the bottom- très cool.) Halle Berry is even more beautiful up-close and Hugh Jackman is actually very tall (and, unfortunately, married) in person. I schmoozed with (also very cute, but dating
Michele Trachtenberg) Shawn Ashmore and (my future best friend in Paris this summer as previously announced) Brett Ratner, then was introduced to the almost-Mr. Paris Hilton, THE Paris Latsis who was rumored to be frolicking on his yacht with Lindsay Lohan all weekend,
but was in reality, conversing with yours truly. Again, the boy was teeny tiny in person - I've heard the camera adds ten pounds, does US Weekly add ten inches? What is with the ubiquity of shortness among the Hollywood in crowd? LA: Lilliputians Abound…

May 24, 2006
Before the festival began, I set goals for myself, namely: 1) to publish a high-quality magazine daily with no mistakes, 2) to meet interesting people from all over the world and 3) to walk the red carpet for the world premiere of Sofia Coppola's MARIE ANTOINETTE. However, I wasn't the only person with such an objective; tickets to the nighttime showing of MARIE ANTOINETTE were gradually becoming more coveted than the Palme d'Or as even members of Sony's elite team struggled to snag a seat to the screening. From the beginning of the week, I set out on Mission: Im-Coppola and, by May 24th I had secured a ticket. As The Cannes Market News daily had wrapped the night before, I was officially a free woman and could think of no better way to celebrate the end of one of the most stressful weeks of my life than letting myself eat cake with Princess Sofia and her muse. However, that afternoon I received a call from my boss telling me that he and I had been invited to a private dinner with Ivana Trump and that whatever plans I had for the evening should promptly be canceled. After a grueling wavering between my two options (all decisions should be this hard), I decided that I can always see the film in Paris, but that Ivana Trump may not indeed be inviting me to any of her private gatherings anytime in the foreseeable future. As the mysterious evening commenced, I arrived at the Majestic Hotel where a private car was waiting for us to drive us down the Croisette to the Pangea club on the beach. The swank leopard-print decorated lounge soon became a stomping ground for the fabulously wealthy (and me) as Ivana swept through the crowd to celebrate her birthday. At around midnight, my entourage and I (or rather my boss and his friends, but doesn't entourage have a nicer ring to it?) were famished (no wonder Ivana stays so fit at such an old age - the woman served nothing but finger food for smurfs all night) so we headed to the nearby Félix restaurant for some late-night grub. Along the way, we ran into Prince Fayed and a few other Saudi Arabian billionaires who invited us to dinner and regaled us with tales of their new "toys," namely jets, yachts and new shipping boats. It was a scene of world peace: nice Jewish girl from New Jersey breaking bread with Saudi princes. Can't we all just get along?
After a 2 AM 3-course dinner (definitely a nice change from the 3 AM street crèpes I am used to in Paris), we head to the "it" spot of the fest, Jimmy'Z where I danced all night alongside French stars such as Alain Chabat and Jean-Pierre Roussillon.

May 25, 2006
At around noon, I received the following phone call: "Hi Rebecca, We just bought a new yacht and want to take it for a spin. Are you up for lunch in St. Tropez?" Now, all of you who know me will know that I have spent the past 23 and a half years dreaming of a phone call like this. A Yacht? Lunch? St. Tropez? I soon jumped from Cloud 9 (where I'd been since my arrival in Cannes) to cloud 459. However, I'd been warned the night before by their client that - and I quote - "When Saudi princes ask a nice young girl onto their boat, she's not just going for a ride on their boat." Thus, as visions of the next day's NY Times headlines flashed through my head - "Nice Jewish Girl Disappears on Yacht with Arabian Billionaires" - I had to decline the invitation, but it was certainly the best trip I didn't go on in my life.
That night, I went to Hugh Hefner's 80th birthday bash, which took place (again!) at Pangea on the beach. Hugh and his girlfriends and many scantily clad women were present, and I left after about 10 of the trashiest, must unenjoyable minutes of my life and joined some friends at Le Baron for a fun night of dancing (in the company of actresses Jena Malone and Emilie Duquenne).

May 26, 2006
I spent the afternoon at the International Press Day for Guillermo Del Toro's PAN'S LABYRINTH. I met Guillermo and the cast, and entertained the international journalists as they waited around for their interview. That night, I attended the red carpet premiere of Xavier Giannoli's QUAND, J'ETAIS CHANTEUR. I had been anticipating this film as Giannoli is one of my favorite French directors, and the cast includes the ubiquitous Gérard Depardieu and the charmingly unique Cécile de France. The film is about an affair that develops between a down-on-his-luck ballroom singer (Depardieu) and a young estate agent (De France). The film is a typical Xiannoli, namely slow and deeply introspective, but it was an enjoyable romp through the French music hall scene and Depardieu is, well, Depardieu and what a smashing job he does at that. He's at his best in years. The chemistry between the two is surprisingly believable and de France displays once again her powerful on-screen presence.
After the screening, I dined at a restaurant on a hill in the Vieux Port called Le Machou. I have been to few restaurants more "French" than this one. The restaurant itself is small and charming and, were it not for the many Americans speaking loudly all around me who battle to the death to get a reservation in this popular Cannes eatery, I would have felt as if I were in a French farmer's kitchen. The menu isn't much more extensive than a meal on a budget airline, offering a choice between "poulet ou bœuf?" ("chicken or beef?"), but the experience is memorable and the food delicious. We started with complimentary glasses of sangria (or at least I think they were complimentary, it became hard to distinguish after a week of being offered food and drinks wherever I turned) and then toasted, buttered bread with dipping sauces. Then, they brought out a huge plate of ham and melon followed by the largest basket of crudités I have ever seen in my life. There was an entire farm before my eyes. Finally, they brought out my meal. When I ordered "the chicken," I really did order a whole chicken.
After the hearty meal, I went to the after-party for the Xiannoli film at the Carlton Beach. Again, I found myself in French movie nerd heaven as I danced with the very energetic Cécile de France and grooved next to Emmanuelle Béart. Sami Naceri was there, as was Tim Burton, Daniel Bruhl and Sandrine Bonnaire. I told Firmine Richard that I was her #1 American fan and she humble responded that I was probably her only American fan. (Sadly, she's probably right but I do love her subtle supporting performances in some of my favorite French films of all time).

May 27, 2006
I went to the red carpet premiere of Guillermo Del Toro's PAN'S LABYRINTH. The film is a darker, more gory Alice in Wonderland-type bildungroman that tells the story of a young girl who travels with her mother and adoptive father, a cruel Captain, to a rural area in the North of Spain in 1944 after Franco´s victory. The little girl lives in an imaginary world of her own creation to escape the horrors of her daily life and the post-war Fascist repression. Though I am usually turned off by such detailed blood and gore, I was captivated by the stunning visuals and unable to turn away from the screen even at the most gruesome moments. The fantastically realistic cinematography juxtaposed with powerful performances by talented Spanish actors including Sergi Lopez (who, in real life is a smiley, down-to-earth guy much unlike his cold, pitiless character in the film), the young Ivana Baquero and Maribel Verdu, make for a uniquely marvelous cinematic experience.
After the film, I headed to the post-party at the Carlton Beach where I danced with Del Toro and his wife, who were all smiles after receiving a long standing ovation after the screening. I chatted with Harvey Weinstein, had a glass of wine along the pier, then headed back to my hotel as I ended my run at the 59th Cannes Film Festival.

So I came, I climaxed midweek at incredible soirées and then it was suddenly all over, merely a distant memory. Though, once I've done it, I have to repeat the experience and hope to make it back to the Croisette for next year's milestone 60th Cannes Film Festival. Does anyone have a cigarette?

The Best of the Bests:
Best Quote: "Are you going to take our picture with that thing?"
-Sting, on my ghetto Elph digital camera when I went to take a picture of him at the First Look cocktail on the Majestic Hotel Terrace for the Cannes Market News.

Best Meal: Félix (a warm asparagus salad followed by some kind of scallops and shrimp with beans and veggies in one of the most delectable sauces my lips have ever touched, with fresh grain and olive bread and a strawberry-shortcake-like dessert - delectable)

Best Party: The Southland Tales bash hosted by Wild Bunch at the Villa Khayat

Best Drink: The Bellini at the Hotel Martinez bar

Best Film I saw: Pan's Labyrinth

Best friends:
Danny Boon
Jamel Debbouze
Emmanuel Béart
Cécile de France
Guillaume Canet
Alexandra Lamy
Jean Dujardin
Firmine Richard
Gérard Depardieu
Xavier Giannioli
Sandrine Bonnaire
Sami Naceri
Alain Chabat
Jean-Pierre Roussillon
Romain Duris
Edouard Baer
Patrice Leconte
Fanny Valette
Emilie Duquenne
Julie Gayet

Tim Burton
Ivana Trump
Ethan Hawke
Trudie Styler
Ian Mckellen
Anna Paquin
Shawn Ashmore
Samuel L. Jackson
Helena Bonham Carter
Rebecca Romijn
Halle Berry
Paris Latsis
Daniel Bruhl
Guillermo Del Toro
Alfred Molina
Hugh Jackman
Greg Kinnear
Bobby Cannavale
Bai Ling
Sydney Pollack
Harvey Weinstein
Wilmer Valderrama
Danny Masterson
Catalina Sandina Moreno
Avril Lavigne
Brett Ratner
Francis Ford Coppola
Kelsey Grammar
Famke Jansenn
Paul Greengrass
Paris Hilton
Jena Malone
Sergi Lopez

Saudi Arabians
Prince Fayed