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!