Saturday, October 3, 2009

Elton John Concert

Of the 79 concerts Elton John will do in 2009, only 7 are with the percussionist Ray Cooper.

Last night we saw the last at Palais des Congres, a large modern amphitheatre seating 3,723 on the west side of Paris beyond the Arc de Triomphe, before he continues throughout Europe for the rest of October on his Red Piano tour and then back to the states for Face to Face with Billy Joel.

The Maillot station (Line 1) actually lets you out underneath the complex (which is like a mini-mall) and you just have to go up a couple flights to reach the ampthitheatre.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, for some reason I thought (until 2 days ago!) the concert was in the Grand Palais in central Paris and that we were on the floor among possible tens of thousands of fans. Instead we were in an intimate, though large, ampthitheatre in comfortable lush red seats.

Though we were one row from the back, we still had a great unobstructed view of the stage containing nothing but a grand piano and a really large set of every imaginable percussion instrument.

There was no opening act so, at a few minutes after 8p, Elton John walked alone across the stage wearing a black jacket with tails and the words “Stardust Kiss” in pink down the right lapel and “Elton John” down the other. He immediately received a standing ovation while bowing repeatedly to the audience.

After sitting at piano and making a few brief remarks in French, the show began and did not end until almost 11p with no interruptions, almost 3 hours (compared to less than 2 for Coldplay and Diana Krall).

The first segment was 15 songs with Elton John solo followed by 15 songs and 1 encored with Ray Cooper who joined him about 80 minutes in.

The complete setlist for the tour can be found here. I am a very casual fan and know almost nothing about Elton John other than his popular songs on the radio, especially his hits from the 70s and 80s.

Most of the 15 opening songs were from his new work. I recognized only 3 or 4 (Rocket Man, Tiny Dancer, Your Song).

He occasionally made political remarks, which I am not usually fond of at a concert since I am not paying an artist to listen to their political commentary, but he made them only to introduce the inspiration for a particular song which I think is acceptable. One was a reference to the beginning of the AIDS epidemic and the Reagan Administration's inaction which led do "Ballad of the Boy In The Red Shoes" and the other was a reference to Matthew Shepard who was murdered in Wyoming 12 years ago for being gay which inspired "American Triangle."

The solo segment started to sound all the same after a while; there was little variation in the vocal or musical tone. John's voice was deeper than I recall from the radio and many of the high notes (from, say, Rocket Man) were sung an octave lower which I assume is simply the result of age (and maybe the throat surgery he had years ago) or a way of preserving his voice. He also plays a very muscular piano, by which I mean he hits many keys at once to create a big sound rather than tinkling a sequence of individual keys.

After a long instrumental introduction to the 16th song ("Funeral For A Friend"), Ray Cooper lit up at the drums and suddenly the energy level for the show went up a big notch. Ray Cooper is a trip; it is no just his sound but he is visual fun to watch. I never thought of a percussionist choreographing his performance but the way in which he played his instruments was mesmerizing.

I recognized a few more of the songs in the second set (Levon, Daniel, Sorry Seem to be the Hardest Word, Don't Let the Song Go Down on Me, Honky Cat and Saturday Night for the encore). He said "Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word" always reminds him of France but he doesn't know why. The part in the song where he sings "it's sad... so sad... such a sad, sad situation" illustrated the limit of his voice again. Instead of the falsetto from the original, he simply dropped it an octave. It sounded fine but it lacked the range and, therefore, excitement, of what you expect to hear.

However, this was made up for by the addition of Ray Cooper which resulted in some fun, interesting, and extended variations of familiar songs. I prefer an artist mix it up a little rather than simply play the CD version of a song.

During the last song of the second set ("Crazy Water"), fans started exiting their seats seemingly spontaneously and walking down the aisles to the front. If I didn't know better, you would have thought Elton John was singing "Just As I Am" at a Billy Graham Crusade. (Can you just imagine that!?)

After returning onstage for the encore, he spent about 5 minutes shaking hands and signing autographs for the fans fortunate enough to be a stage-side. He even gave his glasses to one lucky fan. He then finished with a rousing version of Saturday Night. On the metro back home, we met an Israeli couple who happened to have stage-side seats and got his autograph in their program.

These are some pictures and some audio/video recordings from the concert. The pics are Brit's and mine; the audio is mine (iPhone) and the two short videos are Brit's. As you would expect, the lighting was spectacular and the sound system was flawless.

60 Years On

Weight of the World


Original Sin

Your Song

Better Off Dead

I Think I'm Going to Kill Myself


Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word

Carla/Etude and Blessed

Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting

Tell Amanda You Want to Hear from Her Too

I keep telling Amanda she needs to make more contributions to this blog.

Oftentimes, I stay back at the apartment to work and she visits this museum or that or discovers something different about shopping in Paris or a great new recipe in her Provence cookbook or some other seemingly insignificant discovery that she thinks would be boring but actually is, in my opinion, the kind of facts that make a blog personal and interesting.

I did get her to post some of her photos and she did post a couple of items early on but that's it.

Tell her you want to hear from her too!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Start of Crazy Weekend

This weekend has been on the calendar for some time and much anticipated.

First, Elton John tonight (Fri).

Second, Nuit Blanche tomorrow (Sat) night. As in ALL night... 7p till 7a.

Third, Qatar Arc de Triomphe horse race on Sunday starting at 11a.

Finally, Green Day Sunday night at Bercy.

Of course, I will have posts and pics for each.

Bring on the Red Bull.

Elton John Tonight

Brittain, Brandon, Amanda and I are going to Elton John tonight.

He and Ray Cooper (drummer on most of John's 70s albums) will be peforming at Palais des Congres de Paris on the west side of Paris between the Arc de Triomphe and La Defense. That is, if you continue past the Arc de Triomphe on Champs Elysees, which turns into Avenue de Grande Armee, you will reach Maillot, which is where the concert center is located, splitting the 16th and 17th arrondissements.

I actually only discovered this two days ago. I mistakenly thought (as I believe I stated a few times earlier in this blog) that Elton John was peforming at the Grand Palais in the 8th arrondissement, centrally located beween Place de la Concorde and Les Invalides right near the river.

It was only in planning our trip out to La Defense two nights ago that I saw Maillot on the map and the building called Palais Des Congres and was immediately confused, thinking that was also the name of Grand Palais. I quickly did a little research and found out the concert was at this new arena, not the one I originally thought.

Whew! Glad I figured that one out.

Also, the main ampthitheatre in the Palais des Congres only seats 3,723 which is small (only twice as big as Olympia Hall, where I saw Diana Krall).

I was expecting a massive concert experience with at least 10-20K screaming people. Now it appears it will be much more intimate although I don't expect the crowd to be quite as "polite" as Diana Krall, but probably not quite as insane as Coldplay.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Balenciaga Fashion Show (Catherine Deneuve Sighting)

This week is Fashion Week in Paris, not that I knew that before today.

Today was another one of those serendipitous Paris moments in which I just stumbled onto something interesting through no credit of my own except for the fact that I keep putting myself in places where good things keep happening. (I think there is a life principle in there somewhere.)

I certainly didn't plan on meeting Catherine Deneuve when I woke up this morning.

Ok, I didn't actually meet Catherine Deneuve but I did see her up close and get her picture... sort of. Of course, I didn't know it was her at the time but I did find out later tonight.

The original plan for the day was to catch a boat for a Seine-St Martin Canal river cruise at 9:30a just across from Musee D'Orsay. Unfortunately, the cruise did not run today -- broken boat -- so we had to change plans.

We decided to go to Montmartre since Brittain and Brandon had not been yet and Amanda and I could walk some of the back streets.

First, however, we walked over the nearest bridge to Place de la Concorde and then towards the American Embassy which is located just off the northwest corner of the plaza and right next to the Hôtel de Crillon, one of the oldest luxury hotels in the world. (It was also occupied by the German high command during the World War II occupation of France!)

As we approached, we noticed quite a crowd of people outside one of the front entrances to the hotel, many of whom were obviously photojournalists covering some event.

We positioned ourselves on each side of the entrance among the throng and began snapping picture of whoever the professionals were snapping. The last picture was taken by Brittain on the other side of the entrance and shows your truly playing paparazzi (look carefully...I'm on the left with camera held vertically covering my face in black leather jacket and purple shirt).

I had no idea who anyone was but figured I would find that out later. There was a nice italian guy next to me who spoke English who identified them for me but I didn't have time to write anything down. I did ask him what the event was and he said it was the Balenciaga Fashion Show. I asked him to repeat it about 5 times and then finally spell it as I typed it into my iPhone.

I found two sets of wire images for "Balenciaga - Paris Fashion Week Spring/Summer 2010 - Arrivals" here and here. By comparing these images to mine I was able to figure out who was who. You can compare their images to mine. (For pictures from the fashion show itself, click here.)

Proabably the two most famous arrivals I saw were Catherine Deneuve and Lily Cole. I had obviously heard of Deneuve but not Lily Cole. (Apparently Rihanna was also there but I missed that.)

(There are two problems with the following pics: 1) I was not always in the best position and 2) my Nikon D80 is having problems with overexposure.)

Catherine Deneuve (I can't believe this was the best I could do)

Lily Cole (back of head shot... nice, huh? If I had known who she was, I would have gotten a better pic)

She arrived with her boyfriend Enrique Murciano, best known for playing SA Danny Taylor on Without A Trace (Brit's pic).

Marie-Josée Croze (French-Canadian actress Amanda thought for sure was Claire Danes, who apparently is here)

Amira Casar (British-born French actress)

She arrived with Pascal Greggory, a French actor (Brit's pic).

Carine Roitfeld is the Editor-in-Chief of French Vogue (Brit's pic, I'm rubbernecking in upper left hand corner).

Mathilde Agostinelli (in pink) and guest (in my favorite outfit) (Agostinelli is Prada Executive with impressive Paris home who recently married fashion photographer and posed with Deneuve but I missed it)

Jeanne Balibar (French actress... note Amanda standing just to her right)

Marena Galanter, French actress and former beauty queen

Mademoiselle Agnès is a French TV fashion columnist (right picture is Brit's)

The following pictures I think are either actresses or fashion executives but I haven't identifed them yet. Can anyone help? Amanda's favorite outfit is the first one, which is Brit's pic.

Paris Fashion Week lasts through next week. This is the schedule. I am definitely going to see if I can sneak into an "invitation-only" event. :)

Brittain and Brandon Arrive (with my new iPhone!)

I've known Brittain since she was 18. She is now 23.

She worked at a pizza pub I used to hang out at for lunch everyday and we became friends.

Brandon is her boyfriend of almost 2 years.

When we planned this trip back in the spring, I offered her the opportunity to join us and they did, arriving Monday morning after much anticipation.

Also, after I sent my broken iPhone back to the US for replacement (see earlier post), Brittain picked it up from my daughter and brought it with her, saving the cost of shipping it back to Paris.

After a few hours of syncing and reloading applications, my world is now back to normal. I don't know how I survived without my iPhone Paris2Go and Paris Metro apps except that I spent 4 days in Biarritz where they were not needed.

As is now becoming customary with our new guests, we first took them for a walk around Luxembourg Gardens. In this case, we also had a picnic, buying paninis and wine at the boulanger (bakery) around the corner.

Later Amanda fixed another one of her amazing dinners from her Provence cookbook and we took an evening walk down to the Seine River via Blvd St Michel and then over to Notre Dame.

I think Luxembourg Gardens for a lunch picnic and then a walk to the river to bask in Notre Dame again is about as perfect a first day as one could have in Paris.

Also, the weather since we got back from Biarritz last Thursday night has been perfect... low 50s at night and mid 70s in the day, with occasional cloudiness.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Roman Polanski and Avenue Montaigne

In reading the recent news about Roman Polanski, I discovered he lived in Paris.

A little further digging showed that he lived in the 8th arrondissement (roughly just across the river from the Eiffel Tower).

Even more digging showed that he lived on Avenue Montaigne, 43 Ave. Montaigne, 75008 Paris FRANCE to be exact.

Avenue Montaigne is not just any avenue.

According to the Wealth Bulletin, it is the most expensive street in France as measured by the cost of residential real estate and the fifth most expensive street in the world.

According to the article:

Avenue Montaigne in the 8th arrondisement – which includes the Élysée Palace, official residence of President Nicolas Sarkozy, maintains its fifth place on Wealth Bulletin’s list, proving the eternal allure of Paris among the world’s wealthiest.

Estate agents say there have been little changes in the prices paid for top properties on the street in the last year. The strong euro also makes the dollar prices for residential property in the city higher than they have been for some time.

Avenue Montaigne is part of the city’s Golden Triangle, which includes the Avenue Champs-Elysees and Avenue Georges V.

Furthermore, according to Wikipedia, "Avenue Montaigne boasts numerous stores specialising in high fashion, such as Dior, Chanel, Valentino and Ralph Lauren, as well as jewellers like Bulgari and other high-class establishments such as the Plaza Athénée hotel."

Here is a map.

I have marked off the "Golden Triangle" with the blue lines. The vertical line is Avenue Georges V, the diagonal at the top is Champs Elysees and the lower diagonal is Avenue Montaigne. Roman Polanski's penthouse apartment is designated by the blue pushpin on Avenue Montaigne. The Arc de Triomphe is marked at the top of the map with the Eiffel Tower in the lower left. Finally the marker at the bottom point of the triangle is the tunnel where Princess Diana died, only 1/3 mile from Polanski's home.

View Avenue Montaigne in a larger map

If you visit 43 Avenue Montaigne, you will see the Paris branch of Bank Melli (Iran) at street level. The entrance to the apartments above is just to the right. If in fact I have the address correct, Polanski's apartment is the one at the top.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Recovery Saturday

My sister and her family arrived back in Paris Friday night after driving all day from Biarritz.

We ate a late dinner -- late, as in 11p late -- at Les Deux Magots, the famous cafe I referred to in an earlier post ("Would you eat at the two maggots?"). While the kitchen menu changes at 11p, you can still order food until they close at 1a.

We sat under the awning outside and watched the traffic and people along Rue St Germain in the area of Paris referred to as Saint-Germain-des-Prés.

If you think food is expensive in normal cafes in Paris (and it is!), Les Deux Magots takes it up another notch. A pint of beer, for example, will set you back about $15. Still a great way to spend a last night in Paris together.

If I were to return to Paris for an extended period again, I would choose this part of Paris... the upper 6th arrondissement between Luxembourg Gardens and the River Seine.

Linda and Joe and kids left out the next morning (barely catching their flight after getting stuck in traffic returning their rental car to the airport) and Amanda and I had a chance to recover after a week at the beach and hosting visitors, as much fun as it was, until Brittain and Brandon arrive Monday morning for their two weeks.

We ate lunch at The Moose, my new favorite pub and Amanda spent the afteroon at the Musée Marmottan Monet, an impressionist museum on the west side of Paris featuring Claude Monet while I took the time to catch up on some work back at the apartment. That night we ate in and I followed the FSU-USF football game as best I could on the internet since I couldn't find the broadcast anywhere. Just as well, since we lost.

Blue Ceilings, Yellow Stars

After visiting Sainte-Chapelle, I start wondering why all these churches seem to have blue ceilings with yellow stars.

For example, before Sainte Chapelle, we had visited the Church of Saint Germain des Pres and this is the ceiling:

The upper chapel of Sainte-Chapelle had this ceiling:

Furthermore, I have noticed this in other churches in Paris as well as the Duomo of Siena, Italy which was built at the same time as Sainte-Chapelle.

Also, the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel originally was "nothing more than a blue pincushion sky full of golden stars" before Michaelangelo painted over them (and the rest, they say, is history).

St. Patrick's Pro-cathedral in Newark, NJ, built in the 1850s, also has a similar ceiling "representing the vault of heaven" which is a too-obvious and very boring explanation.

The more interesting explanation, which requires more research on my part, is that given for the Uppsala Cathedral in Sweden:

The only remaining indication of the original intention of the chapel are the painted yellow stars against a blue background on its vaulted ceiling, symbols of Saint Mary in Catholic tradition.

So why is a blue sky with yellow stars a symbol of Mary? I don't know.

As an interesting alteration on this standard ceiling, the lower chapel in Sainte Chapelle also has a blue ceilinng adorned with yellow figures but the stars are replaced with fleur-de-lis. In fact, fleur-de-lis are imprinted on just about everything in the lower chapel. The explanation appears to be that the lower chapel was dedicated to the Virgin Mary and the fleur-de-lis (literally "lily flower") is used as a symbol or metaphor for Mary, especially during the 13th century when the chapel was built.

PS The blue background with yellow stars is also the scheme for the European Union flag, although there doesn't appear to be any direct connection with the ecclesiastical symbolism. Still seems a little too coincidental to me.


Having returned late Thursday night by plane from Biarritz, we decided to visit Sainte-Chapelle on Friday, with my sister and her family due to arrive Friday night by car.

Friday was a beautiful early Fall day with clear skies and temperature in the mid-70s.

We ate lunch at The Horse's Tavern, a popular cafe just north of The Odeon Theatre and the Luxembourg Gardens. It's an easy 10 minute walk from our apartment.

I then took Amanda through St Germain, retracing some of the roads I had walked with my sister while Amanda was in the states attending to her father. (See earlier post.)

We visited St Sulpice two blocks away, then stopped by the main headquarters of the fire department (sapeur pompiers) to buy a t-shirt for Zachary and a friend back home who is a fireman.

Then up to Saint-Germain-des-Prés where we visited the "modest" 6th Century (!) Church of Saint-Germain-des-Prés right on the main square across from Les Deux Magots, where we were planning on dinner with my sister and her family later that night.

If you were just driving around Paris, you probably wouldn't give this church a second glance. It was only in reading about it later -- one of the great benefits of blogging is that it forces you to learn about what you are writing about! -- that I discovered that it was so old and also encompassed a much larger land area as an Benedictine Abbey before all but the church were largely destroyed around the French Revolution (as so many structures were, unfortunately). It has a significant and fascinating role in the development of Paris. Now that I know a little more about it, I need to return.

René Descartes, the famous philospher whom a nearby medical school is named after, is buried in a side chapel.

This is the inside of the church looking back to the pipe organ over the entrance.

We continued our walk towards the river, stopping briefly to show Amanda the Serge Gainsbourg house, and then crossed over the Pont Neuf bridge, which ironically means "New Bridge" despite being the oldest standing bridge in Paris.

Saint-Chapelle is a gothic chapel located within the walls of the Palace of Justice (Palais de Justice), which is the former royal palace of Louis IX (aka "Saint Louis") in the 13th Century who commissioned the building of Sainte-Chapelle to house Christian relics.

Because it lies in the courtyard of the current massive "Ministry of Justice," it is difficult to see Sainte-Chapelle, except from inside the courtyard. This is illustrated by the following two images. The first is a satellite image fully contained by the Palais de Justice complex with an arrow pointing to Sainte-Chapelle. The second is a picture taken from the top of Notre Dame (also on Ile de la Cite to the east of Sainte Chapelle) which illustrates how you can really only see the spire of the chapel above the walls of the palace.

To enter the courtyard, you must pass through an x-ray conveyor belt and metal detectors just like you are boarding an aircraft. Once through security, you also must pay 8 Euros to gain access to the chapel. For an additional fee, you can visit the Conciergerie, the former prison famous for housing Marie Antoinette (among others) during the French Revolution.

The chapel itself is relatively small, measuring 36 m (118 ft) long, 17 m (56 ft) wide, and 42.5 m (139 ft) high on the outside.

It has two levels. The lower level, formerly the parish church, now houses a gift shop and includes a statue of Saint Louis at the front. It has relatively low ceilings at 23 feet and has a very intimate feeling.

As is apparently standard in these old churches, you access the upper levels by way of claustrophobia-inducing spiral steps. Fortunately, compared to Sacre Coeur or Notre Dame, this is a short walk to the upper chapel, which is the star attraction.

Only 100 feet long, 67 feet high, and 34 feet wide (note the 3:2:1 ratio), it reminded me of being in the Sistine Chapel in Rome (134'L x 44'W x 68'H) except slightly smaller and with Michaelangelo's frescos replaced by stained glass windows (the surface area of the stained glass is about half that of the frescos, but the frescos were also on the ceiling). Indeed, the sense of "vertical" is accentuated by the 15 fifty-feet high windows encircling the chapel.

Unfortunately, the chapel is still undergoing restoration of the stained glass. The right (south) side has been completed (I assume it was done first because it is the side facing the sun during the day) and they are just finishing the front but have yet to start the left side. Note the difference in the clarity of the stained glass between the two sides.

This is the view from the front looking towards the back of the chapel with the famous "Rose Window" at the top of the back wall (added a few hundred years later). The people sitting on the benches along both sides give you a good sense of the small scale of the chapel.

For a more unusual wide angle that illustrates the "before" and "after" of the renovation work, I set my camera on the floor towards the back under the Rose Window and shot the ceiling.

Much of the chapel was damaged during the French Revolution (again!) although the current structure is a faithful recreation and 2/3 of the stained glass is original.

Also, according to Wikipedia:

Saint Louis built Sainte-Chapelle to house the Holy Crown, a fragment of the True Cross and other relics he had acquired from Baldwin II of Constantinople. This made the chapel itself an immense reliquary, housing the crown, the True Cross fragment, relics of the Virgin Mary, the Holy Lance, the Holy Sponge and the Mandylion, a supposed image of Christ.

After the revolution, many of the relics were dispersed but some remain in the treasury of Notre Dame and are displayed on the first Wednesday of each month. Hmmmm.... that would be next Wednesday.