It’s hard for today’s American expatriates to fathom the lives of our forbearers who lived in France before the internet, commercial airlines, the telephone, or even the telegraph, completely cut off from their homeland for months at a time. When I first arrived in Paris as a student in 1995, France’s communications industry was suffering from a full blown identity crisis. They seemed both behind and ahead of the US, determined to modernize but only on their own Gallic terms.
I was invited to a dinner in Paris earlier this year by a travel writer friend of mine, Marcia DeSanctis, who lived in the Menilmontant district with her husband and daughter for many years before returning to the US. We ate at their former neighbor’s house, an amazing architectural space built entirely with recuperated and reclaimed building materials. What was once a parking garage was now a warm and inviting space of age-worn wood, marble, slate, and glass. I envied the working fireplace in the open kitchen. “You have to go to their daughter’s restaurant near here, it’s called Yard.”
If you’re in Paris this week, you’ve still got a chance to buy tickets for an award-winning Broadway musical in one of the city's most beautiful historic theatres: Stephen Sondheim’s Passion is at the Théâtre du Châtelet, in English.
Sondheim is one of the greats of the musical theatre genre (with eight Tony awards, an Oscar, eight Grammy awards, and a Pulitzer, among others), and creator of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, A Little Night Music, Sweeney Todd, Sunday in the Park with George and Into the Woods. He also wrote the lyrics for West Side Story. After 280 performances on Broadway in 1994-1995, Passion became the shortest-running show to win a Tony Award for Best Musical. At least that’s what I read online.
Before we go any further, a confession...
For centuries Paris was at the forefront of medical research, and at one time there were a half dozen museums dedicated to its fascinating history, from the earliest hospitals and the fight against contagious diseases to the first medical instruments and preserved anatomical specimens. In 2012 the Musée de l'Assistance Publique (History of the Hospitals of Paris) closed to the public indefinitely. On March 25th the little-known, super-creepy Musée Dupuytren will close as well.
Living in Paris? Consider it part of your civic duty to learn basic first aid, who to call in an emergency, and other useful skills such as how to use the public defibrillators found throughout the city.
To make it super-easy, on Saturday March 26th the Mairie de Paris at Hôtel de Ville, as well as each local arrondissement’s town hall, will be hosting free first aid workshops (in French…essential vocabulary!) conducted by the SAMU, Red Cross, and the Pompiers de Paris as part of their annual Samedi Qui Sauve campaign. #samediquisauve
You’ll need to register online for the 2-hour classes at your mairie by March 24th (ages 12 and up), or you can simply show up to the Hôtel de Ville where there will be first-aid demonstrations, blood donation tents, Q&A sessions, and a chance to learn about volunteer and career opportunities with the Paris emergency services. And kids can check out the paramedics’ trucks!
Please call me Dr. Bryan. Yes, I hold both a master's and a doctoral degree from the Sorbonne in Paris. The Sorbonne, or more generally the University of Paris, has existed for centuries, educating the likes of Victor Hugo and Marie Curie, among others. Most people around the world, at least those in academia, know the name “Sorbonne,” which elicits the same sort of reaction as “Harvard” or “Cambridge.” I am proud of these degrees, but most importantly, I am happy about their price tag. For five years of graduate study, I probably paid in total about 1500 euros, including registration fees and social security charges.