Thursday, December 27, 2007

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Christmas Sausage

On the eve of the birth of Christ, French television is giving birth to … “Johnny Saucisson” (aka “Johnny Sausage" in French). Canal+ will air the humorous glimpse of French life through the eyes of foreigners starting this Christmas Eve, Dec. 24 at 6:15 PM local time then every night in the same time slot through Dec. 28. The 26-minute series follows five Anglo-Saxon authors and journalists – including yours truly – as we experience the ups and downs of expat life in France and, in turn, highlight the foibles of the country. My segment is called “Une Américaine à Paris” (“An American in Paris”). Les Inrockuptibles magazine (see excerpt below) wrote this week: “Special mention to Rebecca Leffler, a sort of pest straight from Sex & the City…” and VSD magazine (last week’s top selling magazine thanks to their breaking story about President Nicolas Sarkozy hooking up with singer/model Carla Bruni) wrote: “A dynamic show without pretension, well served by mischievous reporters without complexes.” My fellow “mischievous reporters” include lovely ladies Sophie “I’m British, sorry!” Davidson and Susan “Paris is so sensual” Oubari and British blokes and talented authors Stephen “A Year in the Merde” Clarke and Mike “An Englishman in Paris” Sadler. The show is produced by Story Box Press and DERALF, and directed by the fabulous Fabien Constant and Loic Prigent. Please watch! Merry Christmas and Joyeux Saucisson!

Click here to see clips of the show:

(I’m in the “une américaine à paris” and “French lover” segments)

Wednesday, December 12, 2007


The King of the world met the King of Morocco as the Marrakech International film festival rolled out its red carpets in the “Red City” for the 7th annual celebration of global cinema. Under the patronage of King Mohammed VI, the fest kicked off Friday Nov. 7 with hommages to Leonardo DiCaprio and Moroccan director Mustapha Derkaoui followed by a royal screening of “Elizabeth: The Golden Age.”
Director Martin Scorcese made his way to the mean streets of Marrakech to honor his star actor during the lavish ceremony at the city’s Palais des Congres. “When I come back to Marrakech, I feel like I’m coming home,” Scorsese told the crowd. The director also gave a Masterclass the following day for public and professional cinephiles.

“Cinema for me is the great modern art form. It allows us for limited moments to escape ourselves and be transported to alternative circumstances,” DiCaprio said accepting his honor. Festgoers too were all able to escape to sunny Morocco as the laid-back atmosphere provided a welcome change from the awards season frenzy in the rest of the world.
Speaking of laid-back… Marrakech is officially the only film festival I have attended where I didn’t see one film! I had quite a wonderful weekend of sun, souks and stars.
The stars were all out under the Arabian night sky from American actor Matt Dillon to French actresses Marie-Jose Croze and Marina Hands, not to mention Milos Forman’s high profile eight-strong jury including John Hurt, Parker Posey and French director Claude Miller. Dior held a lavish dinner during opening weekend, Canal Plus Cinema held daily poolside director’s lunches, Dessange made sure everyone was well-coiffed and what glamorous film festival would be complete without a visit from Catherine Deneuve? I wined and dined my way through the city from the swank très French Café de La Poste to the more authentic Moroccan Tangia to the Costes look-a-like La Villa Rossa. Then went for some Fez-abulous dancing at Pacha and the Jad Mahal. A hammam/gommage/massage at the Hotel Sultana turned my skin to fine porcelain and my body to jello.

Yet behind all of the glitz, festival organizers made sure to shed the spotlight on its panorama of global film. Egyptian cinema blew out its 100th birthday candles and a retrospective of the Moroccan films of 2007 screened as a sidebar to the diverse competition line-up with titles from 23 countries including Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi’s “Actresses” from France and Tamara Jenkins’ “The Savages” from the US. James Mangold’s “3:10 to Yuma” and Florent Emilio Siri’s Algerian War drama “Intimate Enemies” screened out of competition.
“The festival is really growing year after year. Even the Festival de Cannes wasn’t as big as us after seven years!” the festival’s artistic director Bruno Barde told me.
Theaters were packed throughout the week and crowds swarmed to the Place Jemma El Fna for a series of open air screenings including a special visit from Scorcese and DiCaprio who came to the city’s large bustling marketplace center to present “Aviator.”
“Marrakech is a unique opportunity to meet directors and authors from the Maghreb region. It’s a bridge between Morocco and France,” Canal Plus’ Director of Acquisitions of French films Manuel Alduy said.
Barde agreed. “Marrakech isn’t a market for buyers and sellers. It’s an economic platform where people meet each other and talk about movies,” he said.
From the herds of cinephiles who descended on the city from all over Morocco to the professionals and talent from all over the world, the Marrekech International Film Festival’s 7th edition certainly gave everyone something to talk about.
Just a three hour plane ride from Paris, Marrakech is a completely different culture, filled with beautiful landscapes, friendly people and the most amazing mint green tea I’ve ever had. Not to mention that everything there is half the price it is in Paris. So shout out to King Mohammed VI and His Royal Highness Prince Moulay Rachid for the couscous-coolest weekend ever.

Actor of the week: Gilles Lellouche

You can read my interview with him in the soon-to-be on newsstands January issue of French PLAYBOY, but if you can’t wait….voilà le scoop. Gilles Lellouche is THE it boy of the moment here in Gaul. Matt Damon may have been chosen PEOPLE magazine’s Sexiest Man of the Year but the Sexiest FRENCH Man of the Year is by far Monsieur Lellouche (no relation to Claude Lelouch, mind you – this bad boy’s got his own blood boiling.) Sorry Guillaume Canet, but your BFF has replaced you in my heart. (which is OK since I hear you and a certain rumored to be Oscar-nominated actress are seeing the world through rose-colored lenses together these days? Cough cough.) Not only is the ubiquitous actor in pretty much 99% of all movies out in Gaul currently and soon to be released, but he also directs and writes … not to mention he’s très handsome and incredibly charming. His first film as a director, “Narco,” is on tap for a remake in the US through Spyglass Entertainment so I think what he needs is a remake by an American in the way of loooove (I have someone in mind!) He’ll soon be starring in the on-screen adaptation of Frederic Beigbeder’s popular novel “Love Lasts for Three Years” but I believe that our love willl last forever. No just kidding, but I’d take 3 hours to start!

A few Lellouchalicious quotes from the interview:

“I’m capable of foolish acts if I love a woman. That’s what romantic comedies are all about. It’s all about the acts. In the movies, we see people who do things out of the norm, out of the box all for love. I think that love merits nothing less than that, to be outside of the box.”

“I’m profoundly in love with Paris… It’s truly a city that I love and that’s in my blood. I stop when I’m on my scooter when the sun goes down over the Seine. I’m still blown away by the city.”

Monday, December 10, 2007


I was called upon for “jury duty” last week. This position entailed hours upon hours of time spent examining the subjects, long and sometimes heated deliberations and a verdict capable of changing someone’s life.
This year’s case featured handicapped Norwegians, a lost girl in Afghanistan, a poor Russian family, an unusual interpretation of Moby Dick, a lost horse in Mexico, internet romance in Canada, a wandering man on the streets of Paris and even Arab-Israeli relations.
These ostensibly mutually exclusive themes were all part of the 13th edition of the Rencontres Internationales de Cinéma à Paris, an eight-day event devoted to global independent cinema organized by the city’s film center and archive the Forum des Images. I was on the jury for the Press Award, a prize given to the best first or second film in competition.
This year’s contestants included: Bard Breien's "The Art of Negative Thinking" (Norway), Hana Makhmalbaf's "Le Cahier" (Iran-France), Philippe Ramos' "Capitaine Achab" (France-Sweden), Laura Amelia Guzman and Israel Cardenas' "Cochochi" (Mexico), Antoine Cattin and Pavel Kostomarov's "La Mere" (Switzerland-France-Russia), Aurelia Georges' "L'Homme qui Marche" (France), Denis Cote's "Nos Vies Privees" (Canada) and Eran Kolirin's "La Visite de la Fanfare" (Israel-France).
All of the directors were in Paris to present their films, with the exception of Denis Cote who was stuck in Canada due to inclimate weather.
We saw Bard Breien’s self-described “feel-bad comedy,” “The Art of Negative Thinking,” first. The Norwegian dramedy about handicapped people who join a “positive thinking” focus group is both depressing and uplifting at the same time. The dark humor had the audience both laughing and crying – often both at the same time. “I wanted to show that human misery can be funny,” director Breien told us. He added: “We really don’t need to smile that much.”
Next, we traveled across the globe to Afghanistan, backdrop to 18 year old Iranian director Hana Makhmalbaf’s second feature film “Le Cahier.” The film, featuring non-professional actors from the small village in Afghanistan where the action was shot, follows a young girl who becomes entangled in children’s war games as she searches desperately for a notebook in order to go to school. The drama, which has already made its way along the film festival circuit from Toronto to Rome to San Sebastian, was a moving postcard from Afghanistan through the eyes of the next generation. Not to mention an impressive coup for such a young director. “I went into cinema because I saw the love my father had for cinema,” Makhmalbaf said of her movie-making father, head of the prolific Makhmalbaf Film House.
Next up was Swiss-French-Russian co-production “La Mere,” a close-up on the life of a poor Russian farming family. While the innocence of the children – these “Russian dolls” forced to grow up in poverty yet who always find a way to laugh – is moving, the story itself was somewhat underdeveloped and, oftentimes, quite boring. The next few titles were equally disappointing - Philippe Ramos' "Capitaine Achab" was an interesting idea – namely, a look at the background of Captain Achab from “Moby Dick” told through the eyes of five different characters – but failed to deliver an interesting film. Aurelia Georges' "L'Homme qui Marche" captured the loneliness of a Parisian expat with beautiful shots of the streets of Paris’ Saint-Germain-des-Pres district, but left a hole where the plot should have been. The synopsis: an emaciated man walks along the streets of Paris (yes, that’s it.) Denis Cote's "Nos Vies Privees" was a disturbing portrait of a Bulgarian couple vacationing in Canada after meeting on the internet. Laura Amelia Guzman and Israel Cardenas' "Cochochi" followed young Mexican boys looking for a lost horse (again, yes, that’s it.)

Eran Kolirin’s “The Band’s Visit,” however, was definitely the best “witness” in this case for me. The Israeli comedy despite itself is the story of a brass band featuring members of the Egyptian police force who find themselves lost in Israel on their way to play at the inaugural ceremony of an Arab cultural center in that city. “I started with just an image of a man in an Arabic uniform, very serious and very closed-in, but underneath you can feel a heart beating,” director Kolirin explained of his film, fresh off a nomination for an Independent Spirit Award. The mélange of humor and fable is a light, enjoyable romp through Arab-Israeli relations that explores more profound themes beneath the surface.
“People think that because it’s a big screen, you need to fill it with big things. But movies are a way to make small things big,” Kolirin said.

From big films to small films, this week’s Rencontres Cinematographiques took all of us on the Press Jury on a long voyage through different cultures. We met on the last day of the fest to discuss the films in detail and determine which candidate most deserved such an honor, not to mention help with the film’s distribution in France. We finally chose “The Art of Negative Thinking” for its audacious premise, its biting script and incredible performances by its cast. The “feel bad” comedy finds the humor in even the most dire of circumstances. We presented the award at the closing ceremonies as the fest wrapped Tuesday evening. “The Band’s Visit” won both the Public Prize and a prize given by French film students. Case closed.

Restaurant of the Week: Livingstone

“Dr. Livingstone, I presume?” For those of you looking to explore Thai cuisine, definitely pay a visit to my not-so-recent-but-still-kicking discovery, Livingstone. I’d eaten there many times last year, but had almost forgotten about it until last week. After waiting at a nearby restaurant (to remain nameless to protect the innocent) for almost an hour, a friend and I decided to venture into unchartered territory (namely, the right bank) in search of food. Friday night. Paris. Circa 11 pm. Thus, “sorry, we’re full” was the response we got from pretty much every place we stopped in. And then I remembered – “Eureka!” I screamed (no, just kidding, nobody has used that expression since the 1700s I believe) – a small Thai place right on the rue St. Honoré. The décor is très chic and very Dr. Livingstonesque, with animal print lining the walls. The silverware and tables are modern, as is the light yet delicious Thai cuisine. Their pad Thai is delicious – the sauce not too creamy, and topped with fried tofu and shrimp. Start with the chicken satay with peanut sauce, the steamed shrimp dumplings or the shrimp and mushroom spring rolls, continue on with the shrimp and scallops in a coconut milk broth or the fish cooked in banana leaves, then finish with fresh mango or sweet rice with mango. The highlight of the evening may have been the automatic electric, light-up saltshaker (yes, you read correctly) – it’s so fun to use, I guarantee sodium-filled fun all night. And ask for the sesame nougat to accompany your coffee or dessert. Not to mention that, in a city where Thai food is typically ridiculously expensive or ridiculously disgusting, the prices are reasonable for the high quality of the cuisine and experience. Definitely an expedition worth embarking on.

Quote of the Day (or, again, why I adore Gertrude Stein) :
“I do want to get rich, but I never want to do what there is to do to get rich”
Gertrude Stein quote

Friday, November 30, 2007

Haynes HIS Way: The touch, the feel, of Dylan

He’s been spinning through awards season like a rolling stone, but director Todd Haynes left the Hollywood hoopla for Paris, France to present his critically acclaimed Dylan biopic “I’m Not There.” The Dylan biopic, which recently nabbed four 2008 Independent Spirit Award nominations, will screen as part of a retrospective of Haynes’ work during independent film festival Les Rencontres Cinematographiques organized by the city’s Forum des Images. (and during which, yours truly is a member of the prestigious Jury) Haynes sat down with me to talk about the film’s success, working with an A-list cast and how to get Bob Dylan drunk enough to finally sit down and watch his movie.

“I’m never reluctant to come to Paris,” Haynes said, wearing a sweater and jeans and sipping un café in a boutique hotel in Paris’ très chic Le Marais district. He looked very relaxed for a man whose film may quite possibly be in the running for every major prize as awards season gets underway.
But let’s cut to the chase, the question we’ve all been waiting for … drum roll please… will the film’s most buzzed about star Cate Blanchett, be nominated in the “Best Actress” or “Best Supporting Actress” category should she be nominated for an Academy Award? “I really don’t know,” Haynes said. Oh, come on Todd, stop playing it “Safe” (that was a reference to the helmer’s 1995 film of course) – give us the scoop! “A campaign for Cate in the ‘Best Actress’ category would bring a lot of attention to the film as a whole,” he explained, but, based on the film’s recent success, “That’s not necessary.” “I’m proud of the performance no matter how it’s categorized,” Haynes said. While some may say that Cate has “outgrown the supporting actress category,” Haynes told me: “It’s Cate Blanchett. She’ll always be someone of note and it’s all good for the film,”
Haynes also emphasized the fact that “I’m Not There” “is really an ensemble piece” but added that he’s not surprised Blanchett’s performance has been highlighted: “Jude is the central performance in my film. It’s Dylan’s star turn, Dylan’s electric period. He’s the most famous of all the Dylans in the movie. And Cate Blanchett is extraordinary in the role.”
However, Haynes added: “I’m so proud of all the actors in the film.” Including – bien sur! – Gallic actress Charlotte Gainsbourg who plays Dylan’s wife Claire in the film. “Charlotte was the only actor I thought of while writing the script,” Haynes said of the “composite character, who is really a mix of several women.” But was the half-anglophone daughter of Jane Birkin who speaks perfect English “French” enough for the role? “I wanted her to be more French,” Dylan admitted, “I told her to put on the French accent.”
Gainsbourg is a big star in her native country, not unlike the other members of the A-list cast – Heath Ledger, Julianne Moore, Richard Gere and co. So how did these big stars feel about not being alone in the spotlight for a change? “They’re all big stars but they were all up for the challenge of such an unprecedented, experimental approach to a film. They all jumped in whole, they were all just so with me. They’re all true artists,” Haynes said. Not to mention, “These actors all worked for nothing. They basically paid me to be in the movie,” Haynes added, laughing.
While filming went smoothly, Haynes said that money to fund such an ambitious project wasn’t exactly “blowin’ in the wind. “American films over the past few years – specifically those made by the major studios – have been fairly risk-averse. It’s hard to get things like this financed,” he said. “Audiences really are more sophisticated than we give them credit for. If you give them crap, they’ll eat crap. But this film has really covered a whole range of venues and audiences.”
However, despite the wide critical acclaim and strong box office stateside, the iconic musical legend and subject of Haynes’ film has yet to see the finished work. “Hopefully he’ll see the film. But it’s hard to be Bob Dylan and sit and look at yourself everywhere. He’s always kind of on the run from himself. I hope he’ll be able to sense a lightness and sense of humor the film has, not just the over-worship he’s used to.”
Haynes laughed. “I don’t know if it’ll take an Oscar or just a couple of brandies to get him to watch it.”

Culinary genius of the day: Pierre Hermé

I always thought ambrosia – the Greek “nectar of the gods” – was a myth. How could anything possibly taste so scintillatingly delicious? It had to have been just a page from Zeus’ book of lies. And then I wandered into Pierre Herme, tasted his famous macarons and had what can only be described as a culinary orgasm. Yes, I admit. I’ve lived in Paris for over three years and just tried Pierre Herme macarons a few days ago. Why, you may ask? Because I have been loyal to La Durée and couldn’t possibly imagine anything better. They say you always remember your first time, and I certainly do. It was a cold winter night and I will never forget wrapping my lips around that hard …. cookie shell and decadently soft filling. It was a “green tea and chesnut”-flavored macaron, a brassy gold on the outside and a green circle surrounded by light brown chesnut filling around it. It was a cacophony of flavors entertaining my tongue and waking up my taste buds. I had to do it again. I tried “vanilla and olive oil” – ostensibly a horrible combo, but actually quite good – and rose-flavored, which made La Durée’s version of the flower-flavored cookie taste far less blooming. And those are just the macarons… The desserts themselves look almost too beautiful to eat. I said, ALMOST. The vanilla millefeuille is just that – “one thousand sheets” of pastry goodness filled with a light yet amazingly flavorful vanilla cream. Pierre’s (yes, Pierre – I feel we should be on a first-name basis, don’t you?) desserts are, as we used to describe my grandmother’s matzoh ball soup “so light and fluffy,” They are calorie-ridden sins disguised as light bites from heaven. Try a bite-sized or full-sized macaron, some of the pastry master’s famous chocolates, millefeuilles or perhaps even an “ispahan” – featuring rose-flavored macarons, cream of rose petals, whole raspberries and litchi – and you will not be sorry, I promise. And, if I thought my neighbor hood was “dangerous” before (see: hundreds of fabulous boutiques tempting me at every turn), with a shop on the rue Bonaparte, my life – or more specifically my health – and wallet – Herme’s treats aren’t exactly a steal – are at risk.

Quote of the Day (or “Why Gertrude Stein is my hero”):
““It takes a lot of time to be a genius, you have to sit around so much doing nothing, really doing nothing.”
-Gertrude Stein

Thursday, November 29, 2007

What do Tom Cruise, George Bush and I have in common?

Not much actually (well, Tom's high school guidance counselor was my high school chemistry teacher and come on, who hasn't sung "Old Time Rock and Roll" in only a tshirt? But I think the similarities end there.) However, Tom, George and I are all featured in this video clip from TPS' "StarMag" about the recent Hollywood "franchise" of Iraq war movies:

Sunday, November 25, 2007

French Literary Snobs, Princesses and Pumpkins

La Fleur à la Flore

Nov. 7, 2007. It was the epitome of the French hipster chic intellectual Parisian literary and media snob scene. Lanky girls with bangs and flowy dresses mixing funky music on stage as Gallic author/ modern-day dandy Frederic Beigbeder slammed prose by Proust and chic men and women smoking cigarettes, sipping champagne and snacking on mini croque-monsieurs shook their moves (or lack thereof) on the dance floor of the legendary hub of international intellectuals, the Café de Flore. This image is immortalized every year at the annual Prix de Flore, a French literary prize founded in 1994 which aims to reward young writers judged by a panel of prestigious writers and journalists. The nominated books must be written in French, but the author doesn’t have to be French (there’s hope for moi just yet!) The winner gets not only the respect of everyone in the room, but also a free glass of Pouilly-Fumé at the Café de Flore for all eternity (or at least until death do him or her part) and 6,100 euros. This year, Belgian author Amélie Nothomb took the coveted prize for her 16th novel in 16 years “Ni d’Eve, ni d’Adam” (in English: “Neither Eve nor Adam”) about a young woman in her early 20s who has a relationship with a young Japanese man. Justice was certainly served for the occasion – no, I haven’t actually read Nothomb’s book, but – literally – Justice was there! The Gallic electro house duo made a surprise appearance! Apparently they ARE our friends! (that was a reference to their hit club tune “We Are Your Friends” for all of you allergic to the club scene.) Journalist and writer Nicolas Rey told the crowd “I am a writer who doesn’t write, it’s better that way.” The lovely waiters of the Flore made sure that no champagne glass went unfilled the entire night (or mine at least!) and I think I may have broken the world record for most mini croque-monsieurs consumed in a 3-hour period. (Unfortunately, I get neither 6100 euros nor unlimited Pouilly-Fumé for such a feat.) But a good time was had by all (and by “all” I of course mean modern French literary talents and a few TV personalities sprinkled among the mostly Germanopratin crowd.) So “Neither Eve, nor Adam” were there, but it was definitely a sinful evening nonetheless.

Movie of the Week: ENCHANTED

An appropriate title for Disney’s latest cinematic voyage into the land of happily ever afters because I truly was “enchanted.”
The story is this: “Once Upon a Time…” (like the film’s French title “Il était une fois…) a princess who believes in true love and a perfect cookie cutter prince charming who really exists somewhere out there is banished to New York City by an evil queen and meets a real man. But can her storybox view of romance survive in the real world? I know what you’re thinking – Disney stole my life story and made a movie about it, right? Well I’m not aware of any evil queens (although a few French girls I know certainly fit that description), that’s pretty much the situation over here in a nutshell (no this is the situation over here in a nutshell – help, I’m in a nutshell. How did I get in this nutshell? What a shell for a nut! Apologies for the poor Austin Powers reference). The princess who believes in true love (me of course.) …the perfect cookie cutter prince charming (haven’t quite cast this one in the giant film of my life but I’m thinking along the lines of Louis Garrel or Andy Gillet – thoughts?)…the real man (well of course there aren’t any of THOSE in Paris, France and Dr McDreamy is already taken in the Disney version so that leave limited options here)…and the big city (Paris) filled with cynical people (Parisians) who don’t believe in the power of true love. But enough about me…”Enchanted” is enchanting. It’s all the magic of Walt Disney catapulted into modern day New York. There are singing forest creatures, wicked witches, prince charmings on horseback and poisonous apples but in this version, there are also rats and cockroaches, bitchy businesswomen, divorce lawyers and pizza. Amy Adams plays the naïve Giselle whose whiny voice finds a perfect home in Disney animation and Patrick “Dr. McDreamy” Dempsey her knight in shining…divorce lawyer armor. The story is completely implausible and ridiculous – be prepared to evoke those wild imaginations of yours – but also absolutely enjoyable and entertaining as well. It’s a film for children – Disney movies were all so scary when I was young, but this film definitely earns its PG rating – and for parents (and any childless adults lucky enough to have an excuse to go and see it such as yours truly). The humor is simple and unpretentious, yet also subtle and witty at the same time. It’s a movie for every princess who still believes her prince charming is out there somewhere- even if, as Giselle discovers, he may not necessarily be the perfect cookie cutter, sword-bearing knight on horseback she’s envisioned since childhood. After seeing so many important yet disconcerting films about the war in Iraq this season, thank you Disney for reminding me of the power of true love and happily ever afters.

While we're on the topic of princesses and pumpkins...


Roast turkey. Gravy. Stuffing. (Three different kinds of) sweet potatoes. Corn Bread. Cranberry sauce. Broccolini. Asparagus and beets. Butternut squash soup with toasted pecans and gruyere. Cranberry bread. Pumpkin seed bread. Pumpkin cake. Pumpkin pie. Pecan pie. Apple crisp. Toffee cake. Whipped cream. All topped off by my entire extended family. Vive les pilgrims!

Quote of the day:
“To write is to write is to write is to write is to write is to write is to write is to write.”
-Gertrude Stein

Monday, November 05, 2007


Voilà! A Clip from TPS' entertainment show StarMag featuring ... moi talking about the strike threat in Hollywood. (I realize that as of today it's no longer just a threat but it was when I filmed this segment.) Enjoy!

Saturday, November 03, 2007

"OOOH OUI!" : Mark Ronson in Paris

"OH MY G-D!" Mark Ronson in Paris for the first time -- "oooooh OUI"! (sorry his songs are just asking for pun-tification.)
The "toxic" music producer turned superstar came to the city of lights for a concert at the Elysées Montmartre on Friday night. Ronson, dressed in a dapper dark suit, played his classic tunes -- "Toxic," "Stop Me," "Valerie" etc -- and surprised concertgoers with an appearance from the very talented Sean Lennon. Ronson and Lennon played a cover of Stevie Wonder's cover of the classic Beatles' hit "We Can work it Out" - very cool. Lennon also played a song from his album "Parachute" that he recently recorded with popular French chanteur M. (Mathieu Chedid, aka Mr. Audrey Tautou) which blew me away. After the show, the Markster enjoyed perusing the new PLAYBOY France ... and hanging out with yours truly.

Restaurant of the Day: L'Hôtel Amour

What do you get when a chic hotel meets one of the world's most loved nightcrawlers? The aptly titled "Love Hotel" of course.
Welcome to L'Hôtel Amour where the oh-so-chic Costes family meets (or rather, makes sweet love to) king of the hipster chic Parisian scene André. As its name implies, the establishment caters to French lovers in need of a quickie before or after - or during - dinner and rents rooms by the hour. You can even stay the night, the week, the month if you'd like. The popular Montmartre haunt also serves as a fun, laid-back restaurant. The food and drinks are well-priced - even poor journalists like moi can enjoy the fare worry-free - and, while the food is not earthshatteringly delicious, it's definitely, as they say here, a "bon rapport qualité prix." I recommend the Ceasar salad with grilled chicken, one of the best I've had in Paris (that's not saying much I realize, but it's good!), the mac n'cheese (well technically it's pasta with bechamel sauce and comté cheese, but what did you expect Kraft Cheddar?) and, for smaller appetites, the "assiette verte." I also recommend the "Who's Your Daddy?" wine. The Hotel Amour is unpretentious, the service is friendly and efficient, but I recommend reserving a table if you plan to eat anytime between the hours of 8 pm and 1 am since it gets packed. Usually filled with hipster chic Parisians on their way to le Baron. Bon app!

Soundtrack of the Day: "Into the Wild" from Eddie Vedder. Vedder is back (pearl) jamming his way through the heart of America with this incredible music accompaniment to an incredible film.

Lyric of the Day: "Love is like an aero plane
You jump and then you pray
The lucky ones remain
In the clouds for days
If life is just a stage
Let's put on the best show
And let everyone know"
-Sean Lennon, "Parachute"

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Just another “Wild” day “In the Valley of…” Paris

Yesterday was just a day like any other. Rendez-vous at the Plaza Athenée and the Bristol with Sean Penn and Paul Haggis, a premiere presentation on stage at a big theater on the Champs-Elysées, then a night cap at the Ritz with Sofia Coppola. Really just a typical day in the life of --- well certainly not me.

I don’t know about you, but my typical day doesn’t usually start with a private screening of Sean Penn’s latest film over two months before its release, followed by a meeting with Sean P. at the Plaza Athenée hotel then a quick meeting with Paul Haggis at the Bristol, an on-stage presentation of Monsieur Haggis in front of an audience of hundreds of oh-so-chic French media people at the UGC Normandie theater followed by a drink at the Ritz (featuring the world’s smallest cheeseburgers may I add) with Sofia Coppola and Thomas Mars. (Okay, so admittedly I wasn’t actually WITH Sofia and Thomas, but the Hemingway Bar is so small that really it was like our own little private party, right?) (Don’t answer that, let me bask in my “I’m-not-actually-rich and famous-but-like-to-pretend-that-I-am” glory.)

So let’s start with Sean, shall we? Now, Sean Penn and I go way back to summer of 2003 when I was working part-time at the Soho Anthropologie store on West Broadway. Sean walked in with his daughter while I was manning the front of the store (yes, a scintillating, intellectually-stimulating task as you can imagine) and we exchanged words. “Hi” he said as he walked in, then “Bye. Have a good day,” he added on his way out. We were BFF from the getgo as you can see. So you can imagine Sean’s happiness when he saw me again in the last row at the press conference for “Into the Wild” then again on stage at the “In the Valley of Elah” premiere. I haven’t seen him so happy since he won the Oscar for “Mystic River.” He was simply glowing. After I presented Paul on stage at the premiere (then, may I add, translated what he said into French for the audience all while maintaining an impressive sangfroid despite the bright lights, tough crowd – well they liked the movie, but they’re French so that means SCARY – and the fact that I had to simultaneously translate a speech about the Iraq war into a language not my own before a crowd of hundreds of people.)

I sat down right in front of Sean (who, may I add, was AT the premiere thanks to MOI. Oui oui, I told the Warner Bros. publicist that he was in town so she called his publicist and invited him. He came, and will probably go on to make an Oscar-winning film with Paul Haggis all because of a young American girl who will get neither credit – nor financial compensation – for such brilliant intervention.) and said to him: “I loved the film this morning, thank you. It was truly amazing.” He smiled and said “thank you” then winked at me as if to say: “Thank you. You are so beautiful and intelligent and lovely and I am simply in awe of you.” (or that’s at least how I translate it from English to …ok, English.)

Earlier in the day, Monsieur Penn gave an Oscar-worthy performance as a typical French man at the press conference for “Into the Wild” following the morning’s screening. He sat at the desk on the stage smoking a cigarette and looking blasé and not very happy to be there. Très French, Sean, way to go! “We’ve become a country of fences… Alaska is as it claims to be, the last frontier,” he told us. “Everyone can relate some part of themselves to this film,” he told the crowd. (well not really crowd, I think there may have been 20 people there max.)
“This was a classic judge a book by its cover situation,” he explained. “When I got to the last page, I thought: ‘Did I just see a movie?’ So I read it again the same day.”
He added: “You write a movie three times – on the page, while making the picture, then again in the editing process.” (That Sean Penn is so profound right now.) The film’s star, the young (only 22, incredible) and talented Emile Hirsch was also in town for the event. While the questions were directed mostly towards Mr. Penn, Mr. Hirsch also got his two cents in. “I immediately focused on getting my body into shape for the role,” he explained. (And that he did ladies!) “Running stabilized me mentally and gave me endurance physically,” he said. Feel free to demonstrate said “endurance” on me any time, Mr. Hirsch. (KIDDING. Again, he’s the ripe old age of 22.)

After the press conference, I walked (yes, I know – crazy huh? My private jet was in the shop and my chauffeur not to be found, so I traveled by foot.) to the Hotel Bristol where I met the wonderful and talented Paul Haggis who was nothing less than a perfect gentleman – very professional and very nice. “I love French audiences. I love France. The film points the finger squarely at the US so it’ll naturally do better elsewhere. We all love to feel superior to another nation,” Haggis told me.
He also told me that the film is based on a story he read in PLAYBOY magazine. Speaking of PLAYBOY, the French version landed on newsstands all over the country yesterday featuring Juliette Binoche in the nude and the world’s ugliest photo of a certain Mademoiselle Rebecca Leffler on the contributor’s page (Ok so it is next to Bob Dylan’s photo and bio, but still … sacré bleu!) and my monthly film page on page 24. Check it out!

So back to my day ... Or actually, let’s forward to my night. After the presentation, I met a couple of friends at the Hemingway Bar at the Ritz. Sofia Coppola and Thomas Mars had the same idea (so it IS true – great minds DO think alike!) and I sat and ate the tiniest cheeseburgers ever created while sipping cucumber-infused water and trying to avoid blindness from the light reflecting off of the enormous diamonds worn by the women around me.

And then I went back up my 81 steps to my 30 square-meter apartment and climbed up the ladder to my coffin/bed and went to sleep. I think I may have broken a rib or two on the steep fall back to reality. ;)

Quote of the Day: “Oh shit – I left my brain in the other restaurant!” –Fabien, after we accidentally left the brain (yes brain) I purchased at the Triperie during the filming of “Une Américaine à Paris” for the new show “Johnny Saucisson” last weekend.

Restaurant of the day/week/month/year/forever and ever: L’Altro

Now, this is against traditional culinary rules in Italy AND France, but let’s start with the chocolates served with the après-dinner coffee. They are simply divine. As many of you may know or if you don’t here it is: I DO NOT LIKE CHOCOLATE. Yes, it’s a handicap that has crippled me at dessert time since I was a child, but I have finally come to terms with my lack of affinity for the cocoa bean and embraced my difference. I have come out of the chocolate-hating closet and I am proud! Anyway, so back to the chocolates. For those of you who actually like REAL, dark cocoa-licious chocolate, stay clear. This is more hazlenutty/nutella-like then real chocolate but they are delicious. While we're on the subject of dessert...their panna cotta is light and delicious -- a sweet ending to what is without fail always one of my most delicious meals of the week (okay okay so sometimes I go 2-3 times in one week) and one of the most reasonably priced. About ¼ of the price of Armani Caffe around the corner, and equally if not better tasting, L’altro is one of my top choices to dine in my neighborhood. Not only are the staff welcoming and always greet me with a friendly “Buena Sera Rebecca!” but the food is wonderful. My staple is their “pennette ai bisi,” pennette with a cream of pea sauce and crispy ham. Other favorites include their smoked bufala mozzarella with grilled zucchini appetizer and their “pennette dell altro” (pennette with garlic, arugula, cherry tomatoes), pennette with lemon cream sauce and pennette with grilled eggplant, ricotta and tomato sauce (their version of “pasta alla norma” my favorite Sicilian memory!). Delicious parmesan cheese and crusty bread marry the decadent flavors of every bite here. The loft-like atmosphere makes for a cool, chic Paris-meets-NYC vibe. Buono appetito! (That is probably not how you say “bon appétit” in Italian but it sounds pretty, si? ;)

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Have you seen this man ?

Wanted : Mean old French man
Crime : Attacked an innocent American girl with his cane while she was talking on the phone.
Time of attack : Approx. 9 PM Saturday, October 26 2007. Corner of rue de Buci and rue de Seine, Paris France. After 48 hours of being followed around by four cameras in the hopes of filming examples of mean French people for my new TV show and discovering that most are actually very, very nice…. As soon as we wrapped filming for the night, I went to meet a friend at the Bar du Marché. I stepped outside to talk on the phone when all of a sudden a little old man with a cane whacked me in the knee with said cane, causing me to fall to the ground in excruciating pain in front of everyone at the BDM. I did absolutely nothing wrong (to which the witnesses sitting at the nearby BDM can attest) – I was simply standing on the corner talking on the phone when I guess I was inadvertently blocking Monsieur Crazy’s route so instead of a) moving right or left to get around me or b) simply asking me to move…he took his cane and whacked me so hard I thought I’d never walk again. It all happened so quickly so by the time I regained my composure (and my ability to feel sensation from my right ankle to lower thigh), my attacker was out of sight. And what was I supposed to do, go to the police “Yes, I was attacked by a 125-year old skinny tiny old man.” Sure the irony is incredible – here I spent two days searching for such a cretin and as soon as the cameras leave, this happens. Not to mention that for most of the day, I was wearing knee-pads for a segment I filmed using the new bicycles which would really have come in handy had I known I’d be slain by a crazy Gaul on the way to dinner.
If you have any information on this elderly assailant, please call 1-800-WHYME??

For the record, this is not the first such assault I have suffered in the city of lights. Not only do I have permanent pigeon-magnetism (I've been splashed with pigeon poop on numerous occasions and once, in 2002, I was crossing the street when a pigeon flew into my head and knocked me to the ground. Yes, true story.) but it appears that human beings also enjoy attacking me. Two years ago, I was standing on the rue de Rennes minding my own business when all of a sudden a crazy man came from out of nowhere, gave me an evil look, growled, then hit me hard on the back of my neck. It was broad daylight and I was surrounded by other people, but Monsieur Crazy II (this must be Monsieur Crazy #1's equally loopy son) attacked MOI. Then there was the time I was mugged in the metro for my ipod (again, surrounded by a crowd of people and I was the one targeted) or the time back in NJ when my car was stolen BEFORE MY VERY EYES. As if Paris isn't dangerous enough what with the crazy moto drivers, the ubiquitous vélibs swerving all over the streets (see previous blog entry for my feelings on the matter) and non-pasteurized dairy products, but now I have to worry about crazy french men assaulting me as well? SACRE BLEU!

Saturday, October 27, 2007


Juliette Binoche AND Rebecca Leffler in one issue -- does it get any better than that? ;)
Check it out!

Sunday, October 14, 2007


Ok so can whoever had the brilliant idea to install a series of DEATH TRAPS all over the city of Paris where one can simply swipe one’s credit card and become the proud owner of a DEATH MACHINE please stand up? Yeah you over there with the beret and the little dog. Merci beau-f***ing-coup. Bertrand Delanoë (Mayor of Paris), are you trying to kill me?
July 15 –the day after Bastille Day, the symbol of the end of monarchy and beginning of freedom in Gaul. It’s also the first day that thousands of bicycles became available in Paris at hundreds of self-service docking stations installed around the city. They call them “vélibs.” I looked it up in the dictionary, here’s what I got:
Vélib (vay-leeb) n. 1. A vehicle with two wheels and a seat that is moved by pushing pedals with the feet and steered by handlebars at the front wheel and available throughout the city of Paris for residents and tourists to partake in such an amenity for a small sum. A mélange of the words “vélo” which means “bike” in French and “Liberté” which means freedom. Get it? Bike. Freedom. Freedom on a bike. Oh those Français are so clever aren’t they?! 2. THE MOST ANNOYING, DANGEROUS AND ALL-AROUND RIDICULOUS CREATION TO ARRIVE IN FRANCE SINCE JERRY LEWIS.
Yes, the new 24/7 “wheels of freedom” are apparently all the rage in the French capital. Tourists can see the city without paying for a tour bus or exhausting themselves from walking all day. Financially-challenged party animals can have that last beer before the metro closes and still avoid paying for a taxi to get home. Parisians can avoid the hot, crowded metro on the way to work every morning. And what better way to burn off those croque monsieurs and croissants than sweating it off with a long bike ride around town?
Yes, to many, the velibs are just as veliberatingly velibicious as they sound. However, with 15,000 bikes all over the city, the new bikes are more velibirritating than they are velibeffective. While walking the streets of Paris, I now not only have to avoid wreckless drivers of motor vehicles, “motos” (scooters) swerving in and out of traffic, buses and crowds of Japanese tourists rushing at warp speed towards the entrance of Louis Vuitton, but now I have to get out of the way for the wackos on wheels coming at me at full speed on the velibs. In Amsterdam, bikers are kings. In the fight for right of way, the biker always trumps the pedestrian. But that’s how its always been so the rules are respected and we read about very few “death by bicycle” stories coming out of Holland, am I correct? The streets of Paris, however, have now become a war-stricken battle of all forms of transportation as bikers try not to get run over by buses who are forced to swerve out of the way for sneaky swervy motos trying to avoid the speeding cars who are trying not to kill amateur bikers. And what about us poor pedestrians? I swear I come very close to being a victim of velibassassination at least five times a day. The scene: the all-pedestrian rue de Buci, filled with tourists eating oysters, hipster chic French kids smoking cigarettes at the bar du marché and way too many pigeons. Sunday afternoon: the day G-d decided to rest and so did everyone in France. I’m walking to café Flore (because what else does one do on a Sunday in Paris on a sunny day in October?) when all of a sudden three bikers come barreling through the crowd, forcing everyone in their paths to rush to the side to get out of their way. It was mayhem I tell you – Amorino ice cream cones flew in the air, babies wailed tears of fear and I flung myself into the air to save a dear old French lady from falling to her death. (no that last part totally didn’t happen, but it sounded pretty impressive, didn’t it?) Then, this morning, as I stood on the corner innocently waited for the bus to come - freshly showered, all dressed and dirt-free mind you - a lady on a velib rode right by me, splashing muddy water all over me! Who do these bikers think they are? They’re not even wearing helmets, and that’s another story entirely. The crazy kids on their scooters at least are forced to protect whatever brains they may or may not have with helmets by law. The bikers however? Pas du tout. Plus, if you’re in a car or on a scooter, you need a license which means that at least you’ve had some sort of training or had to pass a test in order to use said mode of transportation. However, anyone with a credit card and a pulse can use the bikes. Actually, I take that back – simply anyone with a credit card – pulse optional. If Lance Armstrong feels the need to pummel through a crowded street in Paris, ride in the bike lane or cut off a Smart Car, then Go Lance! But for all of you amateur bikers threatening MY life simply because you’re on a new exercise campaign or don’t want to pay for a new metropass, STAY OUTTA MY WAY!

Resto of the day: BioBoa

Tofu. Veggie burgers. Green tea cake. No, you haven’t crossed the French border. From the same people who brought you foie gras, buttery croissants and cream of pretty much everything comes a café serving organic AND delicious food (yes, the two are not mutually exclusive contrary to popular belief.) Located just a stone’s throw away from Opéra (but please don’t throw any stones from Opera, its dangerous enough over here what with the bikes situation thank you), BioBoa offers American-style sandwiches, salads and drinks “to-go” or a series of hot “plats du jour” to eat in the chic, simplistic surroundings. Some of my favorites include the tofu stir-fry, the cheeseburger (yes, a decent cheeseburger in Paris – sacré bleu! The bun itself earns its own accolade), the goat cheese and grilled vegetable panini and the “detox” soup which certainly lives up to its name. For dessert, the “Green tea cake” – not a tea cake that’s green, well it is green but it’s also made out of green tea – is delectable (not to mention good for you!) as is the fromage blanc with honey and meusli and the fresh mango. BioBoa also has free wireless internet and, despite the minimalist décor and mostly fashionable clientele of the “ladies who lunch” variety, the staff are friendly and accommodating.

Quote of the day: “Venice when it’s not the film festival is like seeing someone naked you don’t want to see naked.” –a colleague, on how the Italian town is much less sexy in its birthday suit.

Movie of the day: Rush Hour 3

I cried at the end of “Rush Hour 3.” No really, I swear. There were tears in my eyes. “France and America – if we work together, anything is possible.” Awwww. So true! Chris Tucker, who knew we had so much in common? It’s like we’re twins! You like France, I like France. You make $25 million per movie, I make about $25 per story. Your ancestry was traced back to the Mbundu ethnic group of Angola, mine was traced back to the Yiddish ethnic group of Warsaw. You were in a Tupac music video, I just hung out with Kanye West last weekend. It’s uncanny – really. Anyway, I must admit I expected a disaster of a film and was pleasantly surprised by what is in fact a very funny, action-packed romp through Paris. Sure, the film plays upon the cliché postcard of Paris – the Eiffel Tower, the Champs Elysées, the Hotel Plaza Athenee – but it’s funny, simple humor that works. Yvan Attal is perfectly cast as the initially America-bashing turned USA-loving cab driver. The scene where he sings the national anthem is absolutely hysterical. Of course the movie is far from Oscar-worthy, but Ratner certainly knows how to please a crowd. I’m not usually a huge fan of the action genre, but the fight scenes on top of the Eiffel tower were particularly impressive. Noémie Lenoir is fantastic as the dangerous femme fatale and Julie Depardieu makes a fun quirky cameo (although the verisimilitude factor went way down when she and Attal had an argument in ENGLISH – what was THAT all about?) The humor is very typically American – the scene where the bilingual nun is forced to translate between the Americans and an angry Asian French guy is wonderfully done. (Not to mention that apparently I’m not the only bilingual nun in Paris!) – but let’s be honest, I definitely heard a few chuckles here and there from French critics in the press screening. The film bows in Gaul next Wednesday, Oct. 17 (also the birthday of my father Steven Leffler – shout out to papa who will turn 60 on the big day. Allez Steve!)

French actor of the day: Louis Garrel

Not only is Louis a formidable thesp and Adonis-like hunk of fine French "boeuf," but he's also a) intellectual and b) benevolent as I discovered today. Not only did Garrel quench his literary thirst at the Ecume des Pages bookstore, but afterwards, the generous Gaulois stopped to give a homeless man on the street some money. Oui oui, les filles, he's not only absolutely gorgeous (offscreen and on), but Louis Garrel is also a thinker and a giver (and I can think of plenty of things he can give me ;)*

*such as a nickel, a quarter, fine conversation... get your minds out of la gutter!

Photo of the Day: “Jesus Walks” … right into the PLAYBOY launch party
Me and my man Kanye at the VIP Room. Holla!

Monday, September 24, 2007









Et en English ...








Friday, August 24, 2007

L'Age d'Homme

Au revoir, les enfants … hello to les hommes. Raphael Fejto, aka Jean Bonnet of “Au Revoir, Les Enfants” fame, has grown up into quite the director. The John Galliano look-a-like’s sophomore feature film, “L’Age d’Homme…Maintenant ou Jamais” (“The Age of Man…Now or Never”) is an entertaining, provocative romp through the male passage to the age of adulthood, namely 30 years old. The plot is ostensibly identical to pretty much all other French movies ever made – a French guy cheats on his girlfriend and mayhem ensues. In this version, however, the guy is the magnificently talented ubiquitous thesp Romain Duris, the girlfriend is the also magnificently talented ubiquitous thesp Aissa Maiga and the mayhem that ensues is actually quite funny. I even laughed out loud periodically. Duris is perfect as 30-year-old Samuel, a writer/director living with his photographer girlfriend of one year, Tina (Maiga). Samuel adores Tina but wonders if there’s something – or someone – better out there for him. He’s aided on his quest for the truth by Leonardo Da Vinci (also played by a bearded, beatboxing Duris), a caveman (Duris) and, because no quest for the truth would be complete without him, Jesus Christ (again, Duris). Not to mention his friends. Jorge (Clement Sibony), Mounir (Rachid Djaidani) and Vittorio (Tarubi) who form a smart entourage of eclectic characters. Not to mention the fact that, as Sibony spends almost an entire scene buttoning up his shirt in the bathroom while he talks to Duris, I was desperately wanting to UNbutton said chemise. What a stud. With a soundtrack featuring Mika, Amy Winehouse and LCD Soundsystem, pretty much 1h28 of Romain Duris shirtless and beautiful views of Paris, the film is definitely worth seeing “now” rather than “never.”
While the movie explores male coming-of-age, I definitely related. A guy turning 30 is a lot like a girl turning 25. (yes, it’s been scientifically proven that we do mature more quickly, gentlemen) In France, if you’re female, 25 and “célibataire”, you may as well have the plague.
Célibataire: adj. literal meaning: single; actual cultural meaning: what’s wrong with you?
Being single in this country is a fate considered to be worse than death. Thus, if a girl turns 25 and isn’t married, she has to go and pray to Saint Catherine.
Here’s the scoop on Cathy (thank you random website
“St. Catherine was a brilliant young woman of noble birth who went before the Emperor Maximinus to correct him for worshipping false gods and to upbraid him for his persecution of Christians. He sent some of his greatest scholars and philosophers to debate her -- but she ended up converting many of them, and they were put to death and Catherine was beaten and jailed. […] she was condemned to die on the wheel, but when she touched it, it shattered. She was then beheaded. Legend says that the angels carried her body to Mt. Sinai. She is the patron of unmarried women, students, philosophers, craftsmen who use wheels (e.g., potters), lacemakers, and milliners.”

Thus, on St Catherine’s day, unmarried women over 25 all over France (I think there may be about 3 of us) called “Catherinettes” go to pray to St Catherine and ask her to find a husband for them. On September 6th, I will be turning the big 2-5 and will thus be forced to put my love life into the hands of poor, beheaded Cathy. Oh and I forgot to add that the Catherinettes are supposed to wear a hat all day long, and “they are usually feted with a meal among friends.” Does it say “The Ritz” anywhere in that Bible passage does anyone know? I think I saw that somewhere… Because of this hat-wearing custom, French milliners have big parades to show off their wares on this day.
Apparently, this is what I am supposed to say:
“St Catherine, St Catherine, O lend me thine aid
And grant that I never may die an old maid.”
As if turning 25 isn’t scary enough, there go those French to remind me that I may indeed die an old maid with 300 cats in a dusty old attic resembling the remains of Miss Havisham in Dickens’ “Great Expectations.” (okay so maybe they don’t go THAT far but hello “old maid”?? sacré bleu.) Oh and if you thought that was enough, it continues…”A husband, St. Catherine. A handsome one, St. Catherine. A rich one, St. Catherine. A nice one, St. Catherine. And soon, St. Catherine.” HA. They took the words right out of my mouth. I’m going to adapt my version to add: “A French one, St. Catherine. A Jewish one, St. Catherine. A Tall one, St. Catherine. A funny one, St. Catherine.” Or how specific are we allowed to be? How about: “One named Guillaume Canet, St. Catherine. Or George Clooney, St. Catherine.” I feel that Catherine and I would really relate. I mean, I don’t worship false gods or plan to be beheaded anytime soon, but her body was carried by angels to Mt. Sinai, I was born at Mt. Sinai hospital. She was a brilliant young woman of noble birth. So was I. (well perhaps no noble birth although I’d say Beryl and Steven Leffler are pretty noble people, wouldn’t you?) And when she touched the wheel, it shattered. I’ve broken so many glasses simply by touching them, I swear. I think we’d be BFF. Maybe she’s on myspace?

Friday, July 13, 2007


I’ve finally figured out why everything takes so long in this country …
Everyone is high! A new study was just published in Gallic newspaper Le Monde with the headline: “Cannabis: a French Addiction.” According to the report, 1.2 million French people regularly smoke “hashish,” 550,000 of whom smoke every day. By age 17, half of the French population has already experimented with marijuana and 200,000 Frenchies admit to growing their own “shit” (pronounced “sheeeet”).
So THAT’s where the famous expression “Paris is burning” comes from. This explains so much. Why is my waiter taking 1.76 hours to bring out a boeuf tartare not even in need of cooking? He’s smoking a doobie with the pastry chef in the back room. Why can’t I get anyone on the phone before 11 am? They had a little “herbal tea” with breakfast. Why are there no taxis to be found on a Saturday night? Because the cabbies are cultivating their plants at home, of course. France spends an estimated 832 million euros per year on the drug (yet they can’t afford to give me free health care mind you.) French history makes so much more sense now.
Take this weekend’s upcoming Bastille Day celebration. Why did the people of Paris rise up and storm the Bastille on July 14th, 1789? Well, because the state prison symbolized the absolutism and arbitrariness of the Ancien Regime, right ? Mais non. In fact, there was a secret stash of weed hidden inside so storming the place with force was the only way to get a hold of the hash. When authorities questioned said druggies, they simply responded « it was in the name of freedom ! Vive la revolution ! » and the holiday was born.
The « Dark Ages » actually represented the years when the hashish crop was suffering and the French had to endure years of limited marijuana supplies.
And Louis XIV ? Nicknamed the « Sun King » of course because he was always wearing protective shades to hide his red eyes. Napoleon was so short because his growth was stunted from all of the pot his mother smoked before he was born. And how else do you explain all of the mirrors in Versailles ? When Marie Antoinette said « let them eat cake » she was actually referring to the munchies. The Eiffel Tower is really just a very tall joint. And why do you think Jacques Chirac always has that sly smile on his face ? Not to mention that US comedy “Weeds” is one of the most popular TV shows here. And you’d need to be high to laugh at most French humor. It’s all so clear now.

Resto of the Day: La Ferme Opéra. It’s the only “farm” you’ll probably ever find me at. “Le Ferme,” located just a stone’s throw away from Opéra, is my latest obsession. Totally “bio” (organic), La Ferme offers homemade, fresh products for breakfast and lunch. My personal favorites include their heavenly scones (dipped in a “noisette noisette,” an espresso mixed with milk, hazelnut syrup and shaved hazelnuts), amazing carrot cake, healthy salads (quinoa with avocado, almonds and tomatoes or bulgur taboulé with feta, olives, tomato and a mint pesto), wraps (chicken with eggplant spread, coriander and cucumbers or lemon-marinated chicken with avocado, carrots, and cucumbers), quiche (feta and sundried tomato or cucumber carbonara), rice pudding with mango and strawberries or fromage blanc with dried fruit, meusli and honey. Sit in the cute “garden” in the back room or take advantage of their free wireless in the main area in the front. And – sacré bleu! – they’re open on Sundays! (and do a great Sunday brunch mind you).

Crazy French expression of the day:
“Il ne faut pas vendre la peau de l’ours avant de l’avoir tué.” (“Don’t sell the bear skin before you’ve killed the bear.”)
In English, we say “Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.”

Musical selection of the day: Martin Rappeneau’s “Poupée Russe.” Martin Rappeneau, son of director Jean-Paul Rappeneau, is currently wowing France with his soft, lyrical tunes such as this wonderful ballad from his CD “L’Age d’Or.”
“Oh ma poupée russe, Le passé est semé d'embûches.” (“Oh my Russian doll, the past is scattered with traps” – yes doesn’t everything just sound better in French?) and “Sous ton visage d'autres visages, Dans tes yeux d'autres paysages Bien difficile à effacer. Dans tes mains d'autres caresses, Dans ta mémoire d'autres adresses,
Que l'on devrait laisser cachées. Oh ma poupée russe, On trouvera bien quelques astuces. (“Under your face, other faces. In your eyes, other landscapes, difficult to erase. In your hands, other caresses. In your memory, other addresses, that we should leave hidden. Oh my Russian doll, we’ll find tricks.”) Martin, feel free to Rapp(eneau) your hands around me any day ;)

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Night with the French Rat

No, I'm not referring to my latest boyfriend, I'm actually talking about a French rat. THE French rat.
Step aside Mickey Mouse, there’s a new rodent in town. Remy the rat joined Disney execs and a stew of French stars at the Paris premiere party for animated hit “Ratatouille.” Following an afternoon screening on the Champs-Elysees, waiters with giant forks and knives, valets on stilts and singing waitresses animated the red carpet before guests enjoyed a night of dining and dancing under the Alexandre III Bridge.
Disney served up a magical evening with the Eiffel Tower sparkling in the distance and a massive food tent filled with gourmet grub from caterer Le Notre wishing all guests a bon appetit.
“I’m so proud of this film. I love Paris so it makes it really fun that the film was set here,” said director Brad Bird who flew into Paris for the occasion. Producers John Lasseter and Brad Lewis, Disney President and CEO Bob Iger and Chairman Dick Cook also made their way to “zee most beautiful city” for the gastronomic gala.
“It’s really quite a love letter to France,” said Cook. He added: “There’s no sequel in the works yet but a little dessert would be good.”
Speaking of desserts, Le Nôtre can be “le mien” anytime – not only was the room decorated with a giant puff pastry, but the chocolate fountain and colorful, tasty mini-éclairs were like out of a dream (actually, I’m almost certain I’ve had dreams just like that.) If you are what you eat, I’d like to be an éclair from Le Notre – long, lean, sweet, hard on the outside and smooth on the inside. Le Notre served up palette-pleasing cuisine fit for a king…or a seven-inch high rat with a keen sense of smell.

It was the cheesiest party I’ve been to in awhile. Literally – there were at least ten different kinds of fromage to choose from, and bread to accompany it. Chefs in white hats served differnt kinds of pastas, raviolis, meat and potatoes on tiny little plates. The Disney execs sat at reserved tables in a special “VIP” section as waiters brought them a selection of the culinary offerings. Us plebians, however, had to visit each food station ourselves, carry our own plates, lift our own forks to our own mouths – it’s a rough life, I tell you.
A handful of sommeliers also proposed wine-tasting for guests. After 178 glasses of said wine, the rat pack moved to the large dance floor of Showcase for night of tail-swinging and booty shaking.
Brad Bird told me on his way inside: “It’s great to be in Paris, especially when someone else is paying for it.”
I’m sure it is, Brad. Disney, would you care to donate to the “Rebecca Leffler is a poor journalist” Society? Cash, check or free catering from Le Notre accepted.
The event was star-studded, but certainly not a celebrity galaxy. French B-list stars brought their children to the event, and, to my utter disappointment, Guy Savoy was a no-show. However, celebrity chef Cyril Lignac, who lent his voice to the French version of the film, did make an appearance. It was love at first bite. No, he didn't actually bite me (not yet anyway) but I think his soup of life could use a little sprinkle of Leffler sauce. "The cooking world is very enclosed, so in order to achieve such detail, Disney needed to consult real chefs. It's thanks to their precision that the film succeeded," he told me. The conversation continued as follows:
Me: Do you make a Ratatouille in your restaurant?
Cyril Lignac: Actually, yes, it's funny, I make a stuffed zucchini flower filled with [insert long, complicated amazingly delicious sounding french recipe details here, I was too focused on his beautiful eyes and inviting smile to really pay attention but I know it sounded good]
Me: So when are you coming over to cook for me?
Cyril: Is that a proposition?
Me (speaking): Ben non!
Me (thinking): Of course, anytime baby!

Bob Iger told me: “We’re very pleased with this film. The reviews are well-deserved. It’s a magnificent film. It’s animation in its most evolved form. You could almost smell the food when you watched the film.”
He’s right. Pixar’s attention to detail is so incredible, I wanted to stick a fork into the screen and taste the little rat’s creations. It was honestly one of the best films I’ve seen all year – and not just the best starring a rodent, humans included as well. I had a smile on my face from start to finish. I sincerely hope an animation Oscar will fly into Brad Bird's nest of awards come February.
“One of the challenging things we didn’t anticipate was how difficult it would be to get the food to be delicious-looking,” said executive producer John Lasseter.
Well they certainly succeeded – santé!