Gloria in Paris

Fabienne Gondrand (translator), Gloria Steinem, Lauren Bastide (Interviewer)


In honour of Women’s History Month (is there a Men’s history month or is that just called history?), Gloria Steinem was invited to speak at the Mona Bismarck American Center for the Arts in Paris. I was one of the lucky few invited to hear her be interviewed. In spite of the fact that I wrote my dissertation on a particular organization in the Bay Area of women helping women, I realized on Tuesday night that I knew very little about her.

First of all, she is eighty-five years old! Or about to be the day after next. Yes, that woman you see in the photo is eighty-five years old. She doesn’t look it and her voice certainly doesn’t sound it. She has a strong voice, not a shake in it and she is just as clear a thinker as I remember her back in the 70s when she started MS magazine.

She wrote her book, My Life on the Road, in 2016. The french translation (Harper Collins) arrived in time to celebrate Women’s History Month. The book is riveting (I’m reading the English version) and centres around the fact that she is always traveling and cannot see her life any other way. She grew up on a farm in Michigan and her family would probably have been called gypsies if they had lived over here. Her father made his living by going to flea markets, trying to find good jewellery and then selling it to stores. They never had a dime to their name. Gloria didn’t go to school until her teens but instead wandered around with her father. She says her traveling to India, ending up as a journalist, much of her twenties were what she considered “things I was doing before I settled down, got married and had children” As she turned thirty, she began to realize that she was her father’s daughter. She liked life on the road. She wasn’t waiting to start her life. This was her life and she loved it. To this day, she spends more days each year traveling than she does in her apartment in New York.

Gloria Steinem and Lauren Bastide

So with traveling as the theme, she tells her story and what a story it is. How she became the symbol of feminism even though black women were far more active in the beginning of the feminist movement than white women. How she dealt with being “pretty”; how she learned to overcome her fear of public speaking and how the Lakota Indian women became so important to her.

English version

Towards the end of the interview, Lauren said she had to ask her a personal question. She had mentioned many times that Gloria was a heroine to her. She prefaced her question by saying her heart breaks when she sees the pain and cruelty in the word, she never sees her children because she works so much, she is getting a divorce and that she has only been a journalist for three years. With tears, she imploringly looked at Gloria “How did you do it, how do you still do it?” Many of us leaned forward to hear the answer. Gloria is the epitome of equanimity. There is a quietness and humility about her. I’m sure we were all wondering how she stays so calm when she deals with so much injustice every day. She shook off the question as unanswerable. She seemed to be saying “It’s just what I do, who I am.”

I left the evening having had my eyes prodded open one more time. Someone in the audience asked her about being a privileged white woman and yet she was the perceived head of the feminist cause. She took a breath and said “yes, privilege is an interesting concept. White women have the privilege to be dominated by men” which took me aback. And yet when I think about it, how many of my friends and I spent years and years of our lives looking for a man we could marry and who would take care of us.

A bientôt,

Sara

The most famous rock star you’ve never heard of (unless you are French)

Two weeks ago, I was invited to the Mona Bismarck Centre for a screening of a documentary “The Second Act of Elliott Murphy”.  Because I’m a member, I could bring someone with me: two for the price of one!  I invited Barbara.  She was so excited and told me she had followed him for a long, long time. Really? There is a rock ‘n roller that she knew about and I didn’t? How could that be?

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As we waited in the bar to go into the screening, a man stuck his head out the door.  I turned to Barbara “There’s a guy back there. I’m sure I know him.  But I don’t know how I know him.”  I ran through a long list of acquaintances in different parts of my world and landed ……in Paris! I’d seen him a gatherings of my friends a number of times over these past four and a half years.  “Why didn’t you tell me?” I asked Barbara.                                             “Just wanted to surprise you.”  She had a cheshire cat look on her face.

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The documentary was terrific.  I kept thinking that I’ve known this guy and no one ever mentioned he was a musician.  The film narrated the story of Elliott and his brother who played music together from their teens.  After a bad car accident, the brother never played again but became Elliott’s agent.  Both Billy Joel and Bruce Springsteen, good friends of Elliott’s, talked about him throughout the film.

It described his move to Paris in the late 70s and he has never left.  His French fan club is huge.  He married a french woman and now has a grown son who is also a musician.  And all through the film, we were treated to his music.

After the documentary, we stayed for a concert.  Elliott was accompanied by Melissa Cox playing an electric violin.  His tunes are catchy and many are uplifting.  The violin lent a dreamy air to the music.  He finished by playing “On Elvis Presley’s birthday” which he said is his most popular song.  I liked it but liked some others better.

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At the end of the concert, he announced that the following weekend was his birthday and that he would be playing at New Morning, a jazz club in the 10th.  Barbara and I bought tickets.  The concert was to be at 8pm so we showed up at 7:15pm hoping to get good seats.  The club hadn’t yet opened and a long line was building up.  We waited and waited.  It rained a little and still we waited.  The doors finally opened up at 8:10pm.  Is that called building up the excitement?  We found good seats on the right side.  By the time Elliott came out with his long time guitar player, Olivier Durand, the place was packed.  People were standing everywhere.  There was very little English spoken.  He indeed has a French fan club.

Elliott and Olivier played three or four songs together and then out came, as Elliott called them, the Murphy Family band.  Gaspard, his son, was on the electric bass.  Although I had only heard some of the songs once, I was humming along as if I knew them by heart. The French were ecstatic, singing with him, screaming, clapping along, jumping up and down.  It was wonderful.  There is a quality of total happiness about Elliott’s songs and singing and the french response make it only more so.

 

Want to know more about Elliott?   http://www.elliottmurphy.com

If you get the chance, go hear him.  You’ll find yourself grinning and dancing—just like the old days!!!  You too will fall in love with the greatest rock star you’ve just now heard of!!

A bientôt,

Sara

A day in the Arts

I was invited to join a group of women who go on guided tours of museums and/or areas of interest in Paris.  Having visited most, if not all, of the tourist places, I thought it would be a lovely gift to me.  I didn’t have to do anything, just show up twice a month at a designated place sent to me in an evite.  Two of the group did all the heavy lifting, hiring Kelly Spearman from Kelly Tours and figuring out the perfect size for the group.

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Eglise Notre Dame des Victoire with Kelly Spearman standing in front

Yesterday, we all met at Place des Petits Freres in the 2nd arrondissement. The small square is home to Notre Dame des Victoires and this was our fourth tour of the Fall.  It was entitled Squares of Paris.  Before I go further, I want to say a word or ten about Kelly herself.  Kelly doesn’t just give you a tour pointing out sites of interest.  She first orients you.  Which direction is La Seine? Where is east and where is west?  Then she proceeds to take you back into history and tell fascinating stories of how Paris came to be Paris and all the lively characters living in and out of my fair city.  I’ve never met a guide like her and I highly recommend her to any of you coming to Paris.

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The Church’s organ.  It can only have been left behind by the French revolutionaries because there was so much else to plunder

La place des Petits Frères, where we started our journey yesterday, is in a rarely visited area of Paris. Though we were in the 2nd arrondissement, we were close to the original walls of Paris.  Therefore, at the time of the construction of the church, the land was cheap because it was outside Paris.  A unique addition to this church is the plaques/bricks that cover the inside floor to ceiling.  Each one is numbered and dated.  Each one thanks Mother Mary for a miracle.  Some are more detailed than others,  They are in French, English, German, Italian.  All say Thank you.  It is a space of intense gratitude and even someone like me who was raised a Quaker and not familiar with such religious symbolism couldn’t help but be deeply moved.

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The interior back of the Church.  This part of the church is always built first and the builders move forward.  

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We made our way past the “Cour des Miracles” to Place des Victories where Francois Mansart first placed his mansard roofs–a four-sided gambrel-style hip roof characterized by two slopes on each of its sides with the lower slope, punctured by dormer windows, at a steeper angle than the upper.  Architects were admiring of Italian renaissance architecture and the results in Paris are very pleasing to the eye.  In the middle of most squares (really Places as none are square anymore) there is usually a statue.  This is the first thing built when a new Square/Place is being designed.  Here, as at the Place Vendome where we went next, the stories of statues going up, coming down, going up, being destroyed so material could be used for bullets, is a fascinating journey through the Kings, the Napoleons, the french revolution and the Commune.

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Look carefully and you can see the original name of the street

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Place des Victoires with the third or fourth statue.  This one is of Louis XIV but is so unbalanced that the tail had to become part of the structure making sure it didn’t fall over.

Place Vendome is a masterpiece of urban designing and left no doubt about the amazingly privileged social position of all those who claim it as their personal address.

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Napoleon stands at the top of this column.  Poor guy, he went up and down four times before he was allowed to stay there.

I show you photos as I could never do justice to what we saw today and can only urge you to get in contact with Kelly, tell her how long you will be here and let her suggest a tour for you.  You will not regret it.IMG_1626.JPG

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In the evening, I was invited to a cocktail party and “Talk with the Artist” at the Mona Bismarck American Center.  The show is Landscape with a Ruin by Evan Roth, a Paris based artist.

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I was looking at things I didn’t understand when I saw Evan, went up to him and said “You have to explain this to me”  And he did.  Each of the above scenes is an 18 minute stream shot with infrared light of a place where a fiber optic cable goes into water or comes out of it.  The brochure says that he ‘has measured the impact of the Internet on society for over ten years.’ The internet took him to these places.  I found them haunting, lonely and beautiful.  I think that’s the point.

I came away with an understanding that one has to know the heart and mind of contemporary artists.  We aren’t looking at a Monet where all that’s said is in the painting.  These works like so many others include thought process, a lot of travel, interpretation of things in everyday use and creating art.  I liked Evan and was grateful for my private tour and talk.

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Bianca Roberts, Executive Director, introducing Evan Roth

It is lovely Indian Summer in Paris these days.  We had winter all September so we are luxuriating in this weather for as long as it lasts.  The sun sets around 7pm and the lights and colors on the Avenue Mozart during the waning light remind me why I love Paris.

A bientôt,

Sara