Sunday, February 22, 2009

Paris Days 43, 44, 45 - the saddest oysters in Paris

[diarist's note: comments for this blog are now open to anyone - you no longer need a account]

Autobiographical writers are happy, or should be, to have any friends at all, given our propensity to write about people we know, usually without warning or permission. I'm especially happy to know my San Francisco friend Joel, who's living in Paris these days, right in the part of the Marais where the Jews and gays collide, which in Joel's case couldn't be more appropriate. Joel has not only fed me and wined me and given me, in an hour, more French history than I've read since college, but introduced me to his polyglot circle of friends who this weekend gathered not once but twice to kill several hours at his place. These are mostly friends, including the teacher, from an Alliance Français language class Joel enrolled in on arriving here, and everyone - the Spaniard, the Italian, the Texan - everyone but the San Franciscans, actually - has secured a Parisian lover or job and prattles away in apparently perfect French and has the grace to compliment us on our halting attempts to keep up.

The Texan, Gwen, is a beautiful singer and graced Saturday night's gathering with a song:

Saturday's replay was the result of the Italian's having made a big tiramisu for a party the 21st, only she learned Friday that that party was March 21st. So the seven of us gathered, same hour and place, because this tiramisu had to be eaten.

The tiramisu party was my second gathering yesterday, my day off - the first was at the swank Hyatt Vendome, where two American friends I know independently of one another were meeting other friends in Paris in the lounge there before heading out to dinner. When I saw the price of the cocktails people were ordering, I began to get nervous, and when the conversation turned, repeatedly, to the subject of organic French wine, which it sounds like this crowd downs by the case, I saw the rest of the evening in color at once vivid and dismal: these guys living it up, ordering another bottle, appetizers, amuse-bouches, main courses, desserts, French organic dessert wines, and me sitting, stone-cold sober and in fact still a little hung over from Joel's party the night before, in the corner, with a glass of ice water and a little plate of bird seed. "No, I'm fine, really. I had a late lunch."

So I bailed, picked up a 5-euro falafel sandwich brimming with oil-soaked eggplant at that famous place on Rue des Rosiers, and had that and 0-euro tiramisu for my dinner.

I felt ungracious leaving Joel's the moment my licked-clean tiramisu fork clattered to its plate. But in fact it was nearly four hours since the party had begun (people do not rush their socializing here) and I was bitterly tired. Joel said he understood, that when he first came to Paris he would leave a party where everyone was speaking French, go home and sleep for twelve hours. Yes, that's it, I thought, too much French - but this morning I woke up with a sore throat. This was a bummer: I was expecting the judge for lunch, our first date in a couple of weeks and the first time in a nonpublic place. I thought I'd be well enough to get through lunch, but even if I write about people without permission I do try not to give them colds without warning, and so I sent email explaining my condition and offering to reschedule.

The only trouble was, I didn't have the judge's phone number, and what if he didn't check his email before coming over? The maid was coming at noon, the judge might be coming at 1:30, and the market on the Blvd. Richard Lenoir was in full swing. So I took my sore throat and empty backpack down to the Bastille and had a dizzying hour at the market.

Old lady twins at the mushroom stand!

Chickens with their heads still attached!

French organ grinders singing cheesy old French songs that the old folks hummed along to as they bagged chickens with their heads still attached!


I shopped well - I stuffed my backpack. I found great bargains - huge Haas avocados, three for a euro and a half. Fresh large oysters from Normandy, a dozen for eight euros (you have to burn a few gallons of gas getting yourself up to Tomales Bay to get them that cheap at home). Great stuff! Enough for a real feast in case the judge showed up - but he did not. I came home to email from the judge, thanking me for the warning, looking forward to next time
, correcting my French.

And so I stood at the sink for the next twenty minutes shucking the toughest oyster shells I've ever shucked with my new Parisian oyster knife, and I put out the confit duck leg I'd gotten for three euros, and the little round of goat cheese, and the fruit, and the bacon, and the fresh bread, and the eggs whose yolks I knew would be orange and viscous and rich inside, and the firm broccoli and the pineapple and bananas and clementines, and I arranged all of this on the table just so and felt how sad it was not to have anyone to share it with. The whole thing was so pathetic that I took a picture, just so I could always remember how low I sunk in Paris -

- and the more I thought about it the sadder I got, thinking about having to eat all dozen Normandy oysters, all by myself, and I almost roused myself to the computer, thinking I could still email the judge, tell him I was feeling better (which was true), that he should just come over, we would open the windows and I would keep a respectful distance. And then I looked at the oysters, all dozen of them, with their little lemon wedges wedged artfully here and there, all sundered from their shells so I could just suck them down without a fork, and I finally decided, after a moderate amount of reflection, to accept that fortune had dealt me the solitude card that morning, and that it was my fate to eat them, all dozen Normandy oysters, all by myself.

I was midway through this terribly sad experience when I realized I had nothing to drink. This is so pathetic I can hardly bring myself to write it down, but I had had this fantasy of offering the judge a mimosa, and had both orange juice and my favorite bottle of six-euro French sparkling white wine all chilled and ready. The thought crossed my mind that I could open the bottle - but then I thought, no, it's a work day, and drinking alone is terribly pathetic, terribly sad, and I'm already halfway through the oysters, and I decided I would not open the bottle of champagne.

But then, even knowing how pathetic it was to sit there by myself drinking champagne and eating oysters, I did, in fact, open the bottle of champagne, and poured myself a glass, using one of those Eiffel Tower flutes, and I sat there looking out at the sad, sad Parisian Sunday, drinking the champagne and eating the oysters.

But before I had any of the champagne, I took a picture:

I am now totally out of oysters.

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Monday, January 26, 2009

Paris Days 18 and 19 - pseudoflaneur

I've always understood the flaneur to be the guy who has time to just amble around town, checking things out, seeing if life might happen to him on his rounds, no big deal if it doesn't. My American friend Joel here in Paris has that written on his card - I almost wrote business card but a flaneur with a business card is oxymoronic (and there's the difference between here and home in a nutshell - the French word for business card is
carte de visite). The online dictionaries give other definitions for flaneur: an aimless idler; a loafer, according to; an aimless and usually self-centered and superficial person, according to the Word Tutor on the same site (take that, Joel). According to Edmund White, whose book by that name I haven't read, "a flâneur is a stroller, a loiterer, someone who ambles (ambles!) through a city without apparent purpose but is secretly attuned to the history of the place and in covert search of adventure, aesthetic or erotic." Or he might just be looking for something to blog about.

My first stop on today's afternoon rounds was the Church of the Trinity, where Messiaen was the organist for six decades. I have an idea for a project there and went to see if I could bounce it off someone. On the walk over, I alternated between getting carried away by the second and third of the Vingt Regards, and suppressing a looming panic attack - the movie's a little racy here and there and I have this persistent paranoia that someone in Messiaen-land is going to clock me when we're introduced. The woman at the office showed neither any indication she'd ever heard of the film or me, nor any inclination to violence, and pressed a brochure into my hand with generic contact information. I sat at the nearly deserted cafe across the street, imagining that Messiaen and his wife must have been regulars, and wrote Juliette a letter almost entirely in French - who knows what it says. On my way out of the neighborhood I climbed a pole and posed with the street sign, above.

Flaneurs who don't know the history of the place they're ambling through are condemned to keep finding things that remind them of friends. Has Milton scholar and Apparition of the Eternal Church star John Rogers walked the length of Milton Street, as I did today?

When I encountered it, Rue Milton was overrun with elementary schoolchildren just getting out of class:

I looked for one of those historical markers, wondering if Milton had lived there or otherwise earned the naming rights locally - did he flee to Paris after the regicide? - but when I found history on the wall it was of a more recent vintage:




And then, after standing in front of that plaque along with a dozen mothers who were waiting for their children to come running through the front doors, I continued on my walk, stopping in at a little Armenian grocery where half the items were named for my friend Artashes:

I bought Artashes eggplant spread and fig jam.

Today's diary entry is supposed to account for yesterday as well as today but yesterday was one of those days I spent the last diary entry worrying about - nothing happened. Back in San Francisco, Tony and Kristen had a baby, but here there was less going on. I woke up, I wrote, I drank my freeze-dried coffee crystals, I wrote some more, I prepared food and cleaned up after myself, I contributed to
La Creation du Monde, I wrote, I moved the furniture around, I ate, I posted a diary entry, I passed out. I had made a resolution not to spend any money all day, and as a result didn't once set foot off the monastery. You could even say the day was monastic.

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Thursday, January 15, 2009

Paris Day 8 - la crise

My Parisian honeymoon is apparently over. Evidence: I had to take a sleeping pill last night, not because of insomnia, but because I was so freaked out from two distinct and seriously bloody hypnagogic nightmares. After a day of biking blissfully around Paris, an old foot problem has resurrected itself. A family with what sounds like a three-year-old child has moved in next door and every footstep of this busy group creaks to rouse the dead nuns of the Récollets along with us living residents (I was actually grateful for the summons at five this morning, having taken that pill last night and being anxious to preserve my pre-dawn writing schedule, but the presence of a young child shouting and babbling on the other side of a thin wall for the next two and a half months of trying to write and to shoot video is considerably harder to envision). And after a week of blogging daily with compulsion and abandon, I posted something I shouldn’t have in last night’s blog, which was actually my second stab at a Day 8 posting - it having been a more than usually interesting day. Said posting was probably the catalyst for those nightmares and so I did something I’ve only done once or twice in my life as a blogger, which was to delete it.

I have dim expectations for this replacement posting, because most good prose but particularly the diary-blog relies on transparency and candidness and yesterday’s transgression has spooked me into being cautious and obscure. It's hardly the first time in my life as a blogger that I’ve screwed up like this – made an abrupt left turn on the high wire, special to blogging, between publishing immediacy and judiciousness (a word I hate in this context but the only one I can come up with that's vague enough to not start replicating yesterday’s foul). I’m reminded of my experiences at Burning Man, a place I felt, from my first sight of it, had been created for me: a tabula rasa of creative and social flagrancy. And while it wasn’t flagrancy that got me into trouble, it took three increasingly awful trips to the playa (debilitating nausea that followed any exposure to the dust or mud) to realize that while Black Rock City perfectly satisfied vital elements of my character, I was fundamentally unsuited to be there. I was allergic to it.

I hope the comparison to blogging doesn’t go that far, because posting these dispatches has been fun and has probably served my primary project in ways I can’t fully gauge. But it’s also sucking up a lot of time and with La Création du Monde, the City of Paris, the French language and a three-year-old next-door neighbor all competing for my attention I’m not sure if I’ll be able to sustain this as a daily discipline, especially if it persists in presenting me with ethical and strategic difficulties like Day 8's. As a record of my life, how could it do otherwise?

Blogging was so very much easier when I was in my 20s.

The poster above (“Pendant la crise, l’architecture continue”) accompanied the deleted Day 8 posting, which had me, as I waited on my bike on a Place de la Bastille traffic island, declaiming to the swirl of Parisians jetting by on their mopeds and sensible tiny European cars, Pendant la crise, le blog continue aussi. It's a much different story if la crise is of my own making.

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Thursday, February 21, 2008

Southern Circuit 7: Paul Festa's last gasp

I hate to intrude on Socheata's tour, but I couldn't bear the thought of just vanishing from the blog without saying goodbye, as though some horrible disease had come and carried me off midsentence. That was only part of the problem.

Albert Fuller onscreen in Mobile, AL

In fact, the conspiracy against my blog was joined by several agents, disease being just one of them, and if I may say so it was overkill.

Justin Bond as Kiki DuRane onscreen in Mobile, AL

Even if I hadn't been denied Internet access at every turn, and even if I hadn't fallen prey to a numbing demoralization and loss of will facing down my Oh My God deadline, it was certainly enough to have gotten that nasty bug that left me, from Beaufort to Orangeburg to Montgomery through New Orleans (canceling my Mardi Gras) to Baton Rouge to Palm Beach to Mobile, writhing in bed with fevers in a sea of mucus, praying, in my secular-humanist way, for death.

John Cameron Mitchell onscreen in Mobile, AL

So now here I am, midway through someone else's tour, and I've just filed the final draft for the first edition of the book, and the mucus has dried up, and I'm preparing to head to New York for the screening there at St. Bart's, which will double as the book launch and triple as the New York premiere performance of Messiaen's Fantaisie for violin and piano, with my Yale and Juilliard classmate Melvin Chen tinkling the ivories.

Shanti Carson onscreen in Mobile, AL

I can't express how luxurious--almost irresponsible--it feels to be blogging after the nasty, brutish and short deadline of putting that book together, conception Thanksgiving to first edition Feb. 27th.

Ned Stresen-Reuter onscreen in Mobile, AL

And so I hate to waste my last Southern Circuit blog entry complaining about all the things that went wrong on my tour--they were acts of God, for the most part, and clearly she did NOT like my movie.

Elizabeth Povinelli onscreen in Mobile, AL

But amid the viruses and tornadoes there were incomparable moments of human error, such as scheduling my movie to coincide with both the Superbowl (Orangeburg) and Ash Wednesday (uber-Catholic Baton Rouge), and screening my movie at a South Carolina high school for 10th graders without bothering to look at it beforehand (Wayne Koestenbaum: "It also sounds--this is obscene--like being fucked by light. Fucked by light!" "OK THAT'S ENOUGH, THIS SCREENING IS OVER AND NOW WE'RE GOING TO SPEND THE REST OF THE CLASS PERIOD TALKING ABOUT CENSORSHIP.").

Wayne Koestenbaum onscreen in Mobile, AL

Since I know full well you get what you pay for, should I have been surprised that there was a dead pizza in my fridge at the Montgomery airport Motel 6? And I got so much great press that it would be absolutely churlish to point out that the Mobile Vanguard chose to alternate spellings of my name between Festa and Zesta.

Justin Bond as Kiki DuRane onscreen in Mobile, AL

The abovementioned conspiracy against this blog and its author had so many layers of redundancy built into it, so that before long an elaborately choreographed dance of fuck-ups began to emerge from the ruins of my Columbia happiness, and I saw that I could literally set my watch to the pace of disasters.

John Cameron Mitchell onscreen in Mobile, AL

Something went wrong approximately every 12 and a half minutes. I missed my flight out of Columbia after Orangeburg. I left a Thin Man book-on-CD disc in the rental car and my computer lock on the keychain. In Montgomery, I had to rent an SUV. I continued getting hate mail from Athens. The wheel on my suitcase broke. The Motel 6 WiFi in Palm Beach was broken. The Motel 6 WiFi in Baton Rouge didn't exist. I cannot blog under these conditions!

Michael Warner onscreen in Mobile, AL

My movie played to audiences of a dozen people. In Beaufort it played to fewer than that in the back of an office.

a sold-out screening of Apparition of the Eternal Church in Beaufort, SC

In Montgomery, my name on the marquee of the Art Deco Capri Theater brought in a total of 13 people.

"Control Paul Festa"

I am box office poison!

I have seen my name in lights, and it isn't pretty

In Baton Rouge, in the most beautiful modern theater I've ever seen, much less screened in, I forgot to give them the new DVD and the one they had tiled up and froze halfway through, eliciting a panic attack by the director.

In Baton Rouge they didn't know I was box office poison and gave me a star dressing room.

In Florida the movie screened at the Palm Beach Community College to an audience of 11 undergraduates who made NOT ONE SOUND from the moment they entered the theater to the moment they fled from it. A perfectly silent Q&A, which calls into question my use of the letter Q.

Harold Bloom onscreen in Mobile, AL

And then--Mobile. Closing night. In a jewelbox theater at the public library, following blanket press coverage--two stories in the Mobile Press-Register and ads and write-ups in every tabloid and posters around town--a full house!

wrap that blanket press coverage around me

More people saw the film in Mobile than the rest of the tour combined--including Greenville.

Squeaky Blonde onscreen in Montgomery, AL

Great questions afterwards, good sales at the Bar Nothing Boutique. And then, after sushi with the delightful and miraculously competent Charlie Smoke of the Mobile Arts Council (on whose Website is posted the unedited transcript of the Mobile Press-Register interview), a celebratory Oreo McFlurry at the downtown MacDonalds and a glorious, complimentary night's rest at the Holiday Inn, with a 14th-floor view of Mobile and a bed with a 1000-thread-count sheets and a pillow menu.

Manoel Felciano onscreen in Mobile, AL

At the Motel 6 I'm not 100 percent sure those things on the bed were pillows.

Ilan Greenberg onscreen in Mobile, AL

And the next day, feeling like Jack Bauer speeding down the highway on a mission of harrowing consequence, I drove my PT Cruiser into the French Quarter, parked it, and staged a commando raid on the Cafe du Monde, where I slammed down a plate of beignets and a cafe au lait before I ran back to the car, returned it, and got my flight out of Louis Armstrong International with minutes to spare and powdered sugar all over my shirt.

Jackie Beat onscreen in Mobile, AL

Socheata, back to you.

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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Oh My God: Messiaen in the Ear of the Unbeliever

I haven't updated this blog in three weeks because I've been obsessed with a new project: turning my movie, Apparition of the Eternal Church, into a book: "Oh My God: Messiaen in the Ear of the Unbeliever." I started this project over Thanksgiving, sneaking hours while visiting James's family in Aurora, IL, to prepare the transcript of the movie, and now I'm jamming to get it finished and self-published and delivered in time for January screenings of the film. So I am under some deadline pressure.

Here are a few of my favorite pages from the book so far. They are incomplete--the white space at the bottom will hold a sort of "director's commentary," possibly in my illegible handwriting. At this point I have no idea what it will say. In any case, this is a work in progress, so whether or not you know the movie, feedback is welcome! Share your thoughts in the blog comments or email me (paulfesta at gmail dot com).

Also--remember to click on the images for bigger versions (important when there's 10-pt font to read!).

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Sunday, August 12, 2007

diary: day (two) of the blog

I know that with my sprawling posts I am violating blog decorum but I enjoyed yesterday's prolix experiments so much and was up until three in the morning monkeying with them. Part of being up until three in the morning was ending my monthlong abstinence from alcohol and caffeine and getting further amperage from the cataclysmic electrical storm that blew through last night. The sky was constantly flickering at the horizons and then, after midnight, it was exploding with light. While it was still at a distance--we had stars overhead--I threw a blanket down on the lawn and blasted Holst's Planets: Mars, the Bringer of War, from the colony sound system, which with the clouds at the periphery of the valley lighting up as if under bombardment was the ideal accompaniment. One of my great experiences as an orchestra musician was playing first fiddle in that piece with Paul Zukofsky conducting the Juilliard Orchestra. He took it twice slower and drier than anyone I've ever heard and the resulting sense of menace was devastating. Zukofsky understood the Planets intuitively--as the violist in my quartet observed, the suite is a sort of "Ma Vlast" for him.

I have five hours left in my studio and have only blogging ambitions. Lots of photos to go through and edit and post, and also I owe the blog a piece of literary criticism promised near the launch.

I will try to keep my entries short.

But first a word about alcohol and caffeine--the latter came exclusively from a bittersweet chocolate souffle with Earl Grey custard sauce that I made for the group because everyone was ending their residency with a massive egg surplus. Even though I had to substitute soy milk for cow's, the dessert was a big success--especially the sauce. Here's the recipe, which is by far the most basic I've used for souffle.

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Saturday, August 11, 2007

day of the blog

an angry Wyoming mob

Jentel Artist Residency Program
Banner, WY

I spent the first three and a half weeks here writing as though I had a publisher and a deadline--you know, money at stake. I took the novel and the comments of my pitiless writer's group (in last night's dream Barry called the last draft "morally bankrupt"), the notes I'd fed into a tape recorder on my drive out here, the dark suspicions I've harbored about the work but never faced, and I brought all this knowledge and self-loathing to bear on a pack of 4x6 note cards, each of which became a chapter outline for the third draft. These three days of work, among the unhappiest of my creative life, propelled the subsequent 21 days of difficult but fluent labor, which have resulted in 80 pages (40,000 words) of a brand new draft, typed into a new Word document, that I hope I don't flatter myself to think are almost readable.

I almost made it to the end of Part I (of IV), but twenty-three days of writing seven hours a day, with one day off in the middle, have slowed my output to a stingy, viscous drip. I may not be done with Part I, but I'm done with the novel, at least for this residency. Confronted with the attractions of the Wyoming landscape, the Jentel movie collection and library, and my four congenial colleagues here, who are all winding down their work too, I have decided that I will spend the day blogging.

Having blogged early, with the year-long site for daily writing (launched on my birthday in May, 1999), I've gotten some encouragement to blog seriously now that so many are doing it for so much money. I've been sorely tempted to follow this advice, having enjoyed D&P so much and being so long unemployed, short on money and loath to squeeze myself back into the cubicles of industry. But when I'm going full-tilt on the novel, I can't even write in my diary. I certainly don't have the mental capacity or motivation to blog, even half-heartedly. Blogging and fiction are mutually exclusive, and only someone with much more effectively delineated mental cubicles than I could pull it off.

Blogging is about immediacy and impulse, throwing it away, shouting outrage into tunnels and hoping angry mobs come stampeding out of them. Fiction is about writing it, loving it, rereading and hating it, revising it, then throwing it out and starting it over. I've tried to harness the energy of the blog for the purposes of fiction, having it out with my sadistic writer's group in blog format, also churning out rhapsodies of vocabulary enrichment. But I cannot write fiction and blog seriously. So today, when I will not write fiction, I will blog.

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