"Did you see any riots?" asked my colleagues upon learning I was just back from an unplugged (hence the lack of blog updates) break in Paris. Since I stayed in the Marais area, a posh neighborhood whose idea of a clash involves uncoordinating your socks and scarf, I had to admit that no, I hadn't seen anything. I did catch the end of the public-transportation strike, which meant walking everywhere—lacking a helmet and being conditioned by NYC laws to wear one while biking, I felt too daunted to get on one of the ubiquitous vélibs. Still, it was hard not to be impressed by their success: easy access to public bikes is precisely what a civilized city must set up. I'm not holding up my breath for a similar venture in New York, however.
My lone theater outing was a production of Eugène Labiche's Un chapeau de paille d'Italie (1851) at the Théâtre National de Chaillot. Alas, director Jean-Baptiste Sastre was rather clueless, refusing to trust either the play's infernally precise farcical mechanism or his cast, led by the gifted comic actor Denis Podalydès. Instead of building up to a frenzy, as the plot required, Podalydès remained on the exact same tepid pace throughout, depriving the play from the required momentum.
Better theater was indirectly gleaned from the exhibit honoring the 50th anniversary of Sacha Guitry's death at the Cinémathèque Française (now located in a Frank Gehry–designed building originally meant for the American Cultural Center). Born in 1885, Guitry was a dandy with a ginormous ego who made his name as a playwright and actor, but also quickly grasped the impact of film and made over 30 of them. For a stage monster of his generation, he handled the transition to the screen with surprising ease and bite; too bad he's so unknown in the US. It was particularly fun to see again the likes of plain-faced but sharp-witted Pauline Carton, who always played maids for Guitry but also turned out to be an unsung collaborator, giving suggestions throughout the creative process, helping with research, etc. Guitry's wives, on the other hand, were upfront and glamorous, from operetta star Yvonne Printemps to the gorgeous Jacqueline Delubac. I couldn't find much Guitry on the web, and what's there is completely opaque if you don't understand French, but here's an excerpt from one of his 1950s historical epics, in which Edith Piaf plays an anonymous revolutionary singing out against Louis XVI. (Completely unrelated but found while looking for Guitry are these mesmerizing clips from the 1935 movie La Garçonne, in which blond Suzy Solidor—a seducer of all possible genders in real life—sings to a roomful of inverts then leads Marie Bell into opium and sapphism.)
Another good surprise in Paris: multiplexes often scramble cell-phone reception. Yesssss! Add this to the fact that unlike Americans, most of the French are able to spend a couple of hours without eating, and you get a much quieter filmgoing experience than here—where the constant, regressive munching drives me up the wall.