I Do Not Want to Work; I Only Want A Puff

paris eiffel tower by eva the dragon 2014

Je ne veux pas travailler
Je ne veux pas déjeuner
Je veux seulement oublier
Et puis je fume

I discovered this song several years ago. Dreaming of running away to Paris, I picked up a “Paris” compilation album. In the midst of diapers and cheerios, Julia Child’s 1950s Paris seemed like the place for me. I only understood the woman when she sang,

I do not want to work
I do not want lunch
I only want to forget
And then I smoke.

Washing the dishes, I joined in during the chorus.

Fast forward a decade.

All over Bahrain were banners with a fantastic photo of a grey-haired man with a bow tie and a woman with an umbrella who obviously traveled by hot air balloon. Paired with an elegant Japanese woman – together they were Pink Martini and Saori Yuki. I had no idea what their music was but I loved the photos. My friend called and said she bought us front-row, balcony seats for the National Theater show. YEAH.

Pink Martini’s lead singer China Forbes stepped out wearing a bright green Bahraini jalabiya embroidered with silver. We were expecting a Japanese diva. In an American accent, China sang Let’s Never Stop Falling in Love. She had a fantastic voice. Wow!

“I bought this dress yesterday in Bahrain,” she announced. “I love it.” Everyone clapped their appreciation.

Thomas Lauderdale, the piano player, welcomed us and gave a little speech in Arabic, obviously thanking everyone for inviting them to Bahrain. The Bahrainis were thrilled and applauded his effort. Pink Martini was off to a crowd pleasing start.

China introduced the next song, Sympathique.

“This is the first song we wrote,” she said.

Suddenly I was back washing dishes. It was my theme-song. China was the woman who only wanted to smoke and daydream. She was my soul sister; the singer I am not.

Finally, in a long, sparkling red dress, Saori Yuki appeared moving like an elegant geisha. I have decided to adopt her graceful small steps that made her move like a mermaid. After singing Yuuzuki from their album 1969, she said,

“I was in City Center the other day and I saw a big photo of me near Shoe City. That is me? I was so surprised. Thank you, thank you, thank you,” she said with beautiful delicate bows.

Thomas Lauderdale introduced Uskudar as a traditional Turkish song the ALL Turks know the words to.

“Are there any Turkish people here?”

The lady sitting next to us raised her hand and hooted.

“Would you please come up on stage and sing it with us?” Thomas and China asked.

Nobody moved.

“Please all Turkish people know the words to this song.”

I reached over. “Go on, go sing.”

That was all the encouragement she needed. The woman jumped up and made her want down to the stage. She radiated pure joy as she sang and belly danced.

How do I describe Pink Martini? Excellent orchestra. China Forbes has beautiful, clear voice. Thomas and China know how to engage the audience with their jazzy songs that evoke a playful era. Pink Martini has a crowd-pleasing show.

Near the end Saori Yuki sang Puff, the Magic Dragon in Japanese.

With that, my evening was complete.

My mother took me to my first concert. It was Peter, Paul and Mary at the Red Rocks Amphitheater. The only song I remember was Puff the Magic Dragon.



Before QEII there was Misia

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec cover for La revue blanche featuring Misia

Queen Elizabeth II may be the most photographed woman in world but my guess is Misia, the Queen of Paris from 1890-1920 was probably the most painted woman of her era.

So how did having dinner with the daughter of a Polish sculptor born in St. Petersburg become the sought after invitation by all Parisian society?

Misia literally became the muse for nearly every important artist, musician and writer during her life, a kind of pre-film Elizabeth Taylor of Culture.

As a young woman, Misia’s magnetic personality, piano playing and ample bosom caught the Nabi artists’ eyes.  Toulouse-Lautrec, Vuillard, Bonnard, Vallotton and Romain Coolus formed the core of avant garde painters who turned away from realism.  For inspiration they looked toward medieval art, Japanese prints, ancient Egypt and Misia.

As the number of painting featuring her grew, Misia figured out how to keep her circle of admirers without having to live with their melancholic poverty.  She possessed the ability to meet and marry the right men.

In 1893 Misia married Thadee Natanson who published La Revue Blanche with his brothers.  Revue Blanche was THE progressive magazine attracting the best writers and artists of the time.  The magazine provided the platform for every political, social and artistic issue during the transition from the 19th to the 20th century.  Misia became the embodiment of the magazine’s elegant Parisian readers.

The plot around her personal life thickened when millionaire Alfred Edwards, the publisher of La Matin newspaper, agreed to bail out her husband’s business in exchange for Misia becoming his fourth wife.  With Edwards’ money, yacht and newspaper, Misia became the friend to musicians Ravel, Stravinsky, and Debussy.

However that life was short lived.

Within a couple of years Edwards fell under the spell of true courtesan and actress Genevieve Lantelme.  Misia attempted to keep her husband by dressing and acting like her young rival.  Misia’s efforts failed and the actress became Edwards’ fifth wife.

Misia countered by becoming involved with Catalan artist Jose Maria Sert.

Through Sert she was introduced de Diaghilev, the director of the Ballet Russes.   Using her large monthly divorce allowance, Misia evolved into the Godmother to Diaghilev’s ballet company.  Her Bonnard decorated Qaui Voltaire drawing room became the center of Paris’ new artistic elite.

Misia (striped robe) with Coco Chanel (white pantsuit) 1923 in Venice

After WWI, Misia called Gabrielle, aka Coco, Chanel her BFF. Together they were a legendary duo of popularity.  As they partied, addicted to heroin and cocaine, Misia’s figure slimmed into the living model for Coco’s creations.

In 1920 Misia married Jose Maria Sert.  Having learned from her previous mistakes, instead of trying to compete against Sert’s young mistress, she too fell in love with “Roussy” and moved her into their house.  Seven years later, Misia tired of the ménage a trios and divorced Sert.  Interesting enough, like Misia’s previous rival, Roussy died young leaving Sert free to reconcile with Misia.

And the dramas continued.

Why my sudden interest in Misia?  She is currently the key subject of a temporary exhibit at the Musee d’Orsay in Paris.

Looking into Les Tuileries Garden from Musee d’Orsay

Misia was the center of a cultural universe that included the rich and the famous at the turn of the century.   Had I read about her before our visit, I could have added some interesting details to nearly half of the museum’s exhibits.

The Musee d’Orsay’s works are world famous.  An art neophyte would recognize many of the paintings.

The museum’s building, located in the Saint Germain dstrict on the left bank of the Seine, is an attraction in itself.  Orginally a train station, Victor Laloux designed the building in 1898.  After sitting empty when the trains stopped, the government transformed the interior.   It reopened in 1986 housing the French Republic’s painting, sculpture, furniture and photography from 1848-1914, D’Orsay acts as a link between the Louvre and the National Museum of Modern Art .  D’Orsay provides an excellent tour through a diversity of trends: realism, impressionism, symbolism, Nabis and divisionism.

The Misia exhibit continues through 9 September 2012. 

Having read more about her, I think the exhibit is dull and does not do her life justice.  If you go, I suggest either reading Gold and Fizdale’s book Misia: The Life of Misia Sert or the blog It’s About Time  http://bjws.blogspot.com/2010/09/muse-misia-godebska-sert-1872-1950.html which features more photos than the exhibit.

It’s About Time is a fantastic blog.  The art historian author has created a virtual art museum.   http://bjws.blogspot.com/2010/09/muse-misia-godebska-sert-painted-by.html

Don’t Pick Me Up – Eurostar Eavesdropping

Riding the Eurostar through the Chunnel from Paris to London I mused on how technologies continue opening our private lives to the general public.

After thwarting the Gare du Nord pickpockets, we waited in the Duty-Free lobby for our train.  Sipping my latte, I people watched and noticed a young woman.  Her platinum Annie Lenox (who sang at the Queen’s Jubilee Party) haircut and high-heeled boots with 4-inch metal spikes caught my attention.  As she sashayed through the lobby, Mojo looked up from his Ipad.

“The walk of shame,” he grinned, referring to people/women caught in the morning wearing their party clothes from the night before.

Of course – on the train she ended up sitting in the seat in front of Mojo and across the aisle from me.  Mojo again mouthed “walk of shame” as the smell of alcohol wafted in our direction.  I giggled remembering my own days of wine and song.

Fumbling through her enormous handbag that carried everything a girl needed for a quick trip to Paris, she pulled out her mobile.

“Hello Brian.  I just wanted you to know that I am on the train from Paris and will arrive at 10:30.”

“You lost your debit card?…You don’t know where?….So you cannot pick me up.  I don’t need you to pick me up….You don’t have to be sorry…….Brian, I just wanted to tell you, it’s over.  I am tired of it all…..No, don’t pick me up from the station.  I was out last night and I am tired.  I am just going to go home to sleep…..Of course, you go and pick up your card.  I can get home by myself.  It doesn’t matter.  I am done with it all. You and the drama.  I am done.  That’s it…..No, don’t pick me up from the station.  Go get your card.  I am tired, all I want to do is sleep.  I will talk to you after I have slept… I just wanted to tell you I am going to be in London at 10:30.  But don’t pick me up.  I will go home and sleep.  Okay good-bye and don’t pick me up.”

She fumbled through her bag and the phone rang again.

It was Brian.

“Yes?…I don’t want to talk to you until I have slept. …. I called to tell you I am arriving at 10:30.  I don’t need you to pick me up….. Look I am shattered.  And I am sick to death of you and your issues.  I cannot take it anymore.  I am done. That’s it.  Finished……I don’t need this in my life.  You go and get your card.  I am arriving at 10:30 then I will go home and sleep….I don’t want you anymore.  It’s over.  I am finished….I understand.  Go get your card but I am done.  Don’t pick me up.  I need to sleep.  Okay good-bye.”

Ring, ring.

“Hello?  Hi darling… I am great.  How are you?….. I am on the train coming in from Paris.  I went for a quick visit….No, without Brian.  It was great…I will be in London at 10:30.  Sorry, I am exhausted after last night and I need to sleep when I get in.  But I can meet you around 5:30…..Yes, I just need a little nap and I will be fine…. Okay see you at tea.  Bye-bye.”

She turned her phone to silent but felt it vibrating and swiped her finger across the face.

“I wasn’t ignoring you.  I was talking with someone else.”


“I cannot talk to you now.  I am not interested in your drama.  I’m done.  Finished.  I DO NOT CARE.…..Go get your card.  I can get home by myself….I will arrive in London at 10:30…. No – don’t pick me up.  Good-bye.”

Emotionally and physically exhausted, she slipped her phone into her bag.  Lulled by the train, she snored within seconds.  She woke up in time to powder her nose and to check to see if Brian had called before the train pulled in at 10:30.

Pick Pockets in Paris

Becoming a Tourist in Paris for a few days requires changing our island mindset.  In Bahrain designer purses get their own chair at the restaurant table.  In Paris, the centuries-old city of pickpockets, purses are a liability.

Around Notre Dame where 16-year old Esmeralda and her goat danced and performed tricks, Tourists are prime targets.

This was my first European trip using my iphone as my primary camera.  Lifting my arms to take Susan’s photo outside Notre Dame, I decided it was not a good idea.  It was too easy to have my phone snatched from my hand like the Paris police chief.  A stolen iphone would be a bigger loss than a stolen camera.

Entrance to Notre Dame Cathedral is free but often there is a long line.  As the unsuspecting Tourist waits, people try to “sell” you tickets.  Inside the cathedral as Tourists maneuver around the darkened shrines among a throng of jostling people, the church fathers posted more signs warning about pickpockets than signs asking for Silence.

Convincing children to keep quiet in church is easier if ice cream becomes a goal.  However, even an ice cream expedition can become a Tourist trap.

As our five children shouted their double-scoop orders, the young man suggested sitting down at a table where the waiter would serve us.  After three hours of walking, it sounded like a good idea.  The nine of us began crowding around tables and pulling up chairs.  Upon reading the menu we realized of course ice cream served “inside” was not 3.95 euros but 9 euros each.

We jumped up and went back to the young man for the ice cream cones.  He unapologetically took our orders.  The trouble being a Tourist is your money is your most important aspect.

Lagging the others, I was walking up the steps to the Musee d’Orsay when a woman holding a child’s hand bent over in front of me.  As I side-stepped her, she lifted up a gold wedding band.  “Madame,” she said.  I glanced at the ring.

“It’s not mine,” I said and continued on.

“Madame!” she called again.

I turned around and said “Lucky you.”  I heard a French couple following me click their tongues.  Then I realized she was pulling the well-practiced Gold Ring trick on me.  Once engaged the Trickster tries to get the Tourist to open their wallet.

The Gare du Nord train station’s edifice is magnificent but when we went inside to catch the morning Eurostar to London I felt uneasy.

The elevator to the second floor was broken.  Mojo in the lead, we wandered around like a family of ducks trying to find a way upstairs.  Laden with suitcases, we were spotted by a band of pickpockets.  Going up the escalator Mojo and I both noticed a couple of young men standing at the bottom watching me.

Outside immigration, we had to fill out UK landing cards.  Although I tried traveling light, I still had to carry my wallet, passports, phone and ipad in my purse.  Opening my bag, I got a pen and set it down on the table.  As I reached in to get our passport information, a young man on my right grabbed the pen.

“Hey, that’s my pen,” and I snatched it out of his hand, still holding my purse.

As I filled out the forms another young man came up on my left and asked to borrow my pen.  I glanced at him.  He looked nice enough with his curly hair and sweat shirt jacket.  My mind flashed forward to my own boys traveling through Europe with backpacks and no pen.

“Sorry, I am using it,” I said politely but firmly.  As I wrote he hovered over me and repeatedly asked for my pen.

“You’ll have to wait until I am done,” I said using my annoyed mother voice.   I knew giving him my pen meant losing it.  By the time I finished, he walked away.

We went through immigration and customs and waited in the lobby for our friends.  They told us the police had hand-cuffed two young men with curly hair who had been following them.

“Those were the same guys who kept trying to distract me,” I said realizing how lucky I was.

The reality is when consulting a map while taking photos you cannot help but look like a Tourist.

I took precautions like placing our passports, extra credit cards and health insurance cards in the hotel safe.  Outside, I carried my hotel room key without the room number, one credit card and big bills in different pockets.  In my leather purse which wrapped around my body was an old wallet filled with a few euros as bait for the pickpockets.  But when I was busy trying to navigate while watching children, I became the easily distracted Tourist.

After a sight-seeing vacation, I really appreciate being at home.  Despite standing out, I am not a Tourist.


Tales by Chapter

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