Monday, February 23, 2009

Friday night services

Last Friday night, t'was I the Rabbi. Well not exactly. What really happened is that I led the Friday night services for our Parisian synagogue Kehilat Gesher . Our real and actual rabbi was on a well deserved vacation (you're allowed that in France). And even when Tom (he's American so we can call him by his first name) is here, he alternates between two locations, one in Paris and another in the Western suburbs outside Paris, I really like that because each variation has its own good qualities. Either we follow the effervescent Tom or we "do it ourselves". And even when Tom is there, the numbers are a smidgen of what they were/are in my gigantic Reform synagogue where I grew up in New Jersey (like 600 families or something like that). We're full up if we have 60 in Paris! Which I love. When we "do it ourselves", it's very special because it's a small group of "fideles" (regulars) who are really open and friendly.

Back in the States, in L.A. where I lived just before moving to Paris, I was a member of a Renewal synagogue. That means bringing spiritual values back into Judaism – values cut out by reformers in W. Europe in the 1800s. More and more Tom is bringing in those values. On Friday night basically all we do is recite and sing. In three languages (Hebrew, French and English) There really is something comforting about ritual that was also cut out of our lives. I'm happy to be bringing it back. And yes there are some rabbis who have a "feeling" for music. Such as "The Rockin' Rabbis", the group in the picture above. Tom, on the right is joined by former rabbinical classmates who were all in a rock band together. They still get together for special occasions. Too cool, right?

So I got roped into leading the services alone because I thought I'd be leading them along with someone else who turned out not to exist. Thank" you know who" that there's a marked prayer book for lay leaders like myself and a congregation who knows the service better than I do! Every week there's a Torah portion to comment on. Thank "you know who" again for internet! I found the portion for the week plus ideas how to interpret it on one of the many Renewal websites. Plus, there was one sentence that really sprang out at me: "He who insults his father or mother shall be put to death" (Ex 21:17). Whoah! But then I thought about it, and it seemed to me that in fact, if you don't respect your parents, something dies within you because you've cut off your connection with your own identity. Yeah – that I could relate to. And it was also interesting to note that the beginning of the portion is totally legalistic and detail oriented while the end is a magical feast with a vision of God appearing above a cobalt blue road. Now that's an interesting combination that reveals a lot about my religion.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Mailman

I recently had a most unusual conversation with my Parisian postman. Actually, I trace the source to the local swimming pool. You see, it was at the municipal pool that I met Marcelle. And it was Marcelle who connected me with Veronique, my hairdresser. Veronique is about 50 yards down the street from where I live (and is the best coiffeuse I've ever had in Paris!). But - outside her door it says "Messeiurs" (Men) because she inherited her father's barber shop and never bothered to change the sign. I had passed her salon numerous times without ever noticing that she cuts WOMEN's hair. And frankly, without Marcelle's recommendation I never would have noticed (being a head in the clouds intellectual well suited to the "intello" atmosphere of Paris). It was while having my hair cut that the postman delivered mail to Veronique's salon. I realize this may be hard to believe, but our postman is a doll! He's always happy, beaming, polite and recognizes everybody in the neighborhood (otherwise known and the 'hood). When I see him outside on his mail route we always say hello to each other in a very friendly way. So of course he commented on my new haircut! (Thank goodness he came in at the end while Veronique was brushing out my hair.) Then he left and continued on his mail route. The next day, he happened to come into the lobby of my apartment building just while I was leaving. So of course I had to whip off my hat to reveal Veronique's latest masterpiece haircut! He was duly impressed, we laughed and chatted together, and the circle was complete. I love Paris.

Monday, February 09, 2009


I'm afraid I was a bad girl this weekend – I didn't go to the gallery.

It's been over a week since the exhibition ended with 6 of my photos (!) – and I didn't take them down and bring them home as I promised myself I would on Saturday. Thank god the gallery owner is a French artist himself and therefore TOTALLY flexible with dates and deadlines. I promise I will go this week, although it will be sad to take my photos down from the gallery wall of my first exhibition.

The exhibition included me plus 12 other artists. I was the only photographer and was really lucky to get in at the last minute. I mean literally at the last minute. What happened is that I was wandering around the Goutte d'Or neighborhood with a (thankfully now ex-) boyfriend and we visited the small gallery Echomusee, 21 rue Cavé. La Goutte d'Or, despite its glorious name ("golden drop" – apparently in the middle ages it was covered with vineyards for white wine), has one of the worst reputations in Paris. Poor, immigrant, dangerous and ugly. But did you know that artists are gifted in real estate! They find "poor" neighborhoods, with low rents, that are not bad at all. Such is the case with La Goutte d'Or. It is filled with young artists. Let's hope that as the neighborhood is "renovated" the artists will not be pushed out as the rents go up (as is often the case).

While we were in the gallery, the owner, Jean-Marc Bombeau, mentioned the upcoming exhibition "L'Écho de Noël Les Artistes en Fêtes" that was beginning the next week. Now I've been taking photos for years and have been looking for a gallery – an impossible task when you are an unknown and don't have much time to promote yourself because you're too busy doing other work to survive. I suppose that's why I asked Jean-Marc if I could exhibit some of my photos along with the other artists. We agreed that I was only to propose photos of the neighborhood because Echomusee is not merely a gallery, but is also an association that supports La Goutte d'Or. After bringing Jean-Marc a CD with sample photos, he agreed to take 6.

To see them go to:

Then I had to actually develop and frame my photos for the exhibition several days away, while working at my management training job during the day. But I did it. I had to have the photos developed twice because, did you know that the measurements of digital photos do not fit standard picture frames!

I and several other artists chose to invite people to the closing party Saturday night, January 31 rather than the opening. It was a blast. And little did I know that I was to provide most of the refreshments! But I suppose this is where being Jewish comes in handy. I prepared enough food for the 12 people I had invited and of course this was enough to serve 25. I did, however, manage to hide 2 bottles of Moet and Chandon champagne (a Christmas gift from the audit company where I work as a trainer) and reserve it for my very own guests.

At the end, I walked home, late at night and alone, in the "dangerous" Goutte d'Or. Nothing happened. I suppose an oldish (not old enough to be old yet!), lady pulling a shopping cart (used to bring the refreshments for 12 people) and blowing her nose as she walked was not a very attractive target. Or maybe La Goutte d'Or is exactly that, hiding under all the poverty and neglect on the surface.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Back yet again…

I've been overloaded with work since September, 2007, and it's only now that I finally have time to myself. Hallelujah!

Today's adventure involved getting to and from my dentist. Don't worry. In Paris, even going to the dentist has a story attached. In fact, it's not easy to find a good dentist in Paris. I have finally found one. This was through my former dentist who insisted I get my teeth cleaned once a year by a periodontist. I liked her (the periodontist). But not the dentist who was abrupt, rude, cleaned too hard and left too large a space between a new filling and the tooth next door. And didn't want to admit it. So I contacted the periodontist who recommended a new dentist. He's a bit far away which defeats my plan to stay within my own neighborhood (otherwise known as the 'hood) as much as possible. Although it normally takes awhile to get there, I can simply take one bus starting from a bus stop 1 minute from my apartment going directly to his office. But wouldn't you know that just the morning of my appointment, it had snowed all over Paris! This just doesn't happen! At least not often. But of course on the day of my appointment there was not only snow but ICE all over the roads and sidewalk. Which means – no bus (and not even a strike). Yikes.

By leaving early and taking FIVE different metros I managed to get to the dentist's office on time. Yes, that's right – FIVE (line 12 to line 4 to line 5 to line 3 to line 3bis = one route of the 60 bus). Yup – Paris continues give us on the spot emergency training. I believe I did rather well this morning so I'll give myself a 17 out of 20 mark (this is the French system of grades which I know because I teach in a French university). Good girl, Jeanne!

On the way back I decided, given my new time freedom, to keep trying for the bus since the snow and (most of the) ice had melted by then. First the 60, right near the dentist's office. No go. The panel noted a 60 minute wait. OK – so I'll take the "bis" Metro for one stop. Then change to line 3 until Republique. Try for the 65 bus there. "58 minutes". Nope. Get back on metro and take line 5 to the Gare du Nord. By this time it's 11:30 am, about 2 hours since the ice has melted. Voilà! The 65 bus arrives, and we all clamber on. I don't bother to validate my ticket – I'm now a proud inhabitant of Paris and they made me wait a good hour for them to get their busses ready. Hummph!

At the next stop, a man boards the bus carrying an enormous (I mean Enormous), Blue Metal Box. Then – oops – the inevitable woman with her baby in a stroller board. There is literally no space to move until one more stop when one man gets off and I shift to stand behind a pole. Then another man alerts the Blue Metal Box man to the extra space and helps him shift his box, followed by an alert and help to the woman with the baby in a stroller. We all just fit until I get off at my stop and slowly walk home along the still icy sidewalk in the 'hood.

Yes it's cold – and grey – and drippy droppy water all over you. But hey, Man, it's still Paris! Enjoy the adventure. Even to and from the dentist.