Archive for October, 2012

Happy Halloween from Henri the Existential Cat

Halloween isn’t a big deal in Paris, but I can think of no better hommage than “L’Haunting” by Henri the Existential Cat. I first posted about Henri way back in 2010. I’m glad to see he’s out with a Halloween edition.

My thoughts go out to all affected by Superstorm Sandy. I hope some humor helps!

Magic Moment: Glen Hansard at Shakespeare & Co

Last Tuesday Glen Hansard played an afternoon acoustic set in Shakespeare & Company bookshop. Hansard is perhaps best known  for his part in the movie “Once,” but he’s a veteran musician (with The Frames and more recently The Swell Season).

What a privilege to be in such an intimate space listening to gorgeous, unadorned music! One voice and a guitar. That’s it.

“Lots of traveling takes a toll on the flesh,” Hansard said, “but not the soul. Voice may sound broken but it’s singing its heart out.”

His voice sure didn’t sound broken to me. Strong, emotional, and yes, full of heart. In an age of cynicism I find Hansard’s earnestness – those life and love songs he belts out at the top of his lungs – so refreshing.

(Poor quality video, but to give you an idea):

Shakespeare & Co’s upstairs library doesn’t hold many people; we packed in as we could. Hansard recounted the first time he came to play in Paris in 1993 or ’94. He heard that Serge Gainsbourg and Samuel Beckett were buried in Montparnasse cemetery near the Irish bar where they were booked. He decided to pay his respects.

Continue reading ‘Magic Moment: Glen Hansard at Shakespeare & Co’

The Next Big Thing

One of my overflowing bookcases.

A fun Q&A has been circulating around writers’ blogs of late. Each person answers questions about their work-in-progress then tags other writers to do the same. I was honored that Ann Mah, author of Kitchen Chinese and the forthcoming food memoir Mastering the Art of French Eating, thought to tag me in “The Next Big Thing.”

While I rarely do these sorts of chains or talk about works-in-progress (makes me so nervous!), I thought I’d take the plunge and tell you a bit about my novel. Plus, I love sharing the love; I’m excited to introduce you to some writer friends.

What is your working title of your book?

WHEN THINGS WERE GREEN

Where did the idea come from for the book?

When starting any piece of writing, it’s usually an image or a small detail that arrives first for me, not an overarching idea.

I was walking through Harlem one day and overheard some teenage girls gossiping. One said: “she’s pregnant and never even had sex.” Well, wow, how does that happen?!

I wondered about those girls and their beliefs and knowledge of the world. I went home and immediately wrote a scene, though what came out featured a young girl in a small town in Georgia in an era before I was born.

Continue reading ‘The Next Big Thing’

The France Project: Inspiration!

Hi friends,

If you’ve ever wondered what I sound like, here’s your chance to find out!

I’m thrilled to be featured in the fourth episode of The France Project, a podcast “exploring the je ne sais quoi about life in France.”

For six years, Katia Grimmer-Laversanne co-hosted a humorous Internet radio show about expat life. When her co-host moved onto other adventures, Katia took a brief hiatus – then realized she missed talking to people and that there was much more she wanted to explore.

And so, The France Project was born. Each episode tackles a different aspect of life in France. This episode’s theme? Inspiration!

Katia is absolutely delightful and we instantly clicked when we met over coffee. (The fact that we both have full-bodied laughs – which people often comment on – was certainly a bonus.)

When she then invited me to her home studio for an interview, I was honored – if a little nervous. It sometimes surprises people to learn I suffered from an almost debilitating shyness when I was younger. So much so that I would even have to write a “script” before making a phone call!

Well, I’ve come a long way, baby. But now I worry I ramble to keep from clamming up. Interesting to see what comes out when a microphone is placed before you. Eep!

My interview starts at minute 47, but feel free to listen to the whole episode. The biweekly show is great when you need a France fix!

P.S. I was on the tail-end of a cold when we recorded, but that’s basically my voice. Does anyone else shudder when they hear their own voice? That’s what I sound like? : )

Thanks to Katia and her adorable Burmese cat Symphony who sat on my lap during the entire interview. Recording the podcast was a lovely experience all-around!

Listen and enjoy here!

Aja Monet at Dorothy’s Gallery

At the age of 19, Aja Monet became the youngest person ever to win the famed Nuyorican Poets Café grand slam champion title (2007). She has performed on Broadway, at the Apollo, and at the NAACP Pre-Inauguration Event for Barack Obama, among many other venues.

Though still so young, she is an “old soul” and has served as a mentor to at-risk youth in New York, as a program coordinator at Odyssey House and as a teacher of poetry as a therapeutic art at Omega Institute. Her charismatic stage presence is already legendary.

Aja moved to Paris last year to work on a poetry anthology with acclaimed poet and musician Saul Williams. (Chorus was just released this fall.)

I had the great pleasure of serving on a panel with Aja this summer at the Paris Writers’ Workshop and getting to know her a little bit. This past Friday it was my absolute thrill to see her perform a solo show/lecture at Dorothy’s Gallery (which also doubles as the American Center for the Arts).

As a Monday treat, here’s one of the powerful pieces she performed. You can find out more about Aja at her website. Enjoy!

Bike from London to Paris! (And Other Wild, Realizable Goals)

I haven’t heard much fanfare about it, but I recently learned that a cycling route between London and Paris opened over the summer. L’Avenue Verte is a 406 kilometer (252 mile) low- to no-traffic itinerary linking the two capitals (via the Dieppe-Newhaven ferry; they haven’t figured out biking on water yet!)

The route winds through a changing landscape of pretty villages and past picturesque chateaus. On the French side, the shortest line runs from Paris to Dieppe, with part of the trip following the old Paris-Dieppe railway line. An alternate option passes through the Oise Valley toward Chantilly and Beauvais before heading to the Normandy coast.

The British side uses small paths already in place from the National Cycle Network allowing riders easy access through the English countryside. The former railway lines on this end include the Forest Way and the Cuckoo Trail. The ferry from Dieppe to Newhaven takes about 4 hours and allows bikes (with a “bicyclette” fee).

While I’m not much of a cyclist, I like the idea of this “Green Avenue.” It also got me to thinking about how great it can be to have a goal – especially when it’s achievable! Maybe this will motivate people to say, hey, why don’t I bike from London to Paris – and then do it!

Continue reading ‘Bike from London to Paris! (And Other Wild, Realizable Goals)’

*GIVEAWAY!* The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo

The Black Count by Tom ReissInvoke the name Alexandre Dumas, and one might inquire, père or fils? (Father or son?) Alexandre Dumas père was the novelist behind The Three Muskateers and The Count of Monte Cristo and his son, Alexandre Dumas fils, was also a writer and playwright.

There is another Alexandre Dumas, however. One who history has largely forgotten, though his story is truly the stuff of legend.

Forgotten until now.

Tom Reiss has recently published a soaring account of Dumas (the father of Alexandre Dumas père) in what is sure to become a definitive volume.

The Black Count is a tour-de-force, an ambitious and awe-inspiring tale of a man born into slavery who eventually rose to become a four-star general and a hero of the French Revolution.

Dumas’ audacious exploits in battle – including almost single-handedly pushing back the Austrians in the Battle of the Alps as well as commanding more than 50,000 men – would later inspire his son to write his famous books. So would Dumas’ years slowly being poisoned in an Italian prison after being captured; Napoleon ultimately betrayed the bravest of military men by letting him languish there and worse.

Author Tom Reiss (photo by Aventurina King 2008)

Epic biographies aren’t my usual reading fare, but this book may change all that. The Black Count was absolutely riveting, combining the thrills of a great adventure story with the concrete fact and context of the best historical work. I myself was in a battle between reading so quickly because I couldn’t wait to turn the next page and trying to slow down to absorb the enormous amount of information contained within. I literally felt I was learning something new on each page.

From France’s brutal slavery regime in Saint Domingue (now present day Haiti) where Dumas was born up through the French Revolution and Napoleon’s dreams of empire after, Reiss expertly takes us through a complicated, layered history to create a vivid portrait of the late 18th century. From the large scale issues of how Dumas, a mixed-race man, negotiated his life in a society whose rules regarding race were rapidly evolving, down to the smallest of details including why wearing black became fashionable in Paris, Reiss seems to have left no stone unturned.

If this weren’t all meticulously researched fact, it would be hard to believe such tales were true. I found myself gasping at much of what I read!

I am DELIGHTED to be able to offer a giveaway copy of The Black Count (courtesy of Crown Publishers) to one lucky reader so that you, too, may gasp.

Leave a comment below by 1 PM EST Friday, October 5 for your chance to win. I will randomly select a winner by drawing names out of a hat.

If you don’t win the copy, please do yourself a favor and pick up this book anyway. It was engrossing, illuminating, and a tiny bit heartbreaking. It’s always so wonderful when a book can crack open more of the world.

Read an excerpt from The Black Count here.

UPDATE! The name has been picked from the hat! Congratulations, William Sandles! Thank you to everyone who entered.


paris (im)perfect?

Sion Dayson is paris (im)perfect. Writer, dreamer, I moved to France on – no exaggerating – a romantic whim. As you can imagine, a lot can go wrong (and very right!) with such a (non)plan. These are the (im)perfect stories that result.

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