Carnaval at the Cabaret Sauvage

Carnaval at the Cabaret Sauvage

Saturday, 10 PM and I’m ready for bed. Only I’m at my friend’s house and we’re heading out to an all-night Brazilian dance party in honor of Carnaval.

Raphaele is my only bona fide French female friend. I mean, the only one I’ve made entirely on my own without there being any other connection – not a friend of a friend, not a colleague. Just two strangers who discovered an interesting enough spark to want to keep the conversation going.

I met her in a dance class and she invited me over for tea right afterward. My jaw practically dropped open when she did; it was the first time in four years a French woman who I didn’t know spontaneously extended an immediate invitation.

Though I had pulled a muscle in my neck in the dance class and could barely move my head, the novelty of her offer made me accept. I held my head at an awkward angle for the next hour as we pursued interesting introductory chit-chat.

Thankfully, we’ve moved beyond the introductions (and my neck has healed). She’s a breath of fresh air. The same formal social rules she dispensed with to invite me over that first time have made her that much more fun to get to know. We’re planning a “wig night” in Paris – I have a blue bob, she has a white one – simply because we know it will cause a stir. She’s into cultural arts programming (or mediation culturelle, which neither of us have successfully been able to translate). She’ll be working at the Grand Palais’ huge annual contemporary art event, Monumenta in a couple months.

Batacuda in the Big Top

The only thing is, she’s still in her 20s, as are most of her friends. While 5 years isn’t that significant, something about the difference between twentysomething and thirtysomething sometimes feels big. Like the difference between putting on uncomfortable shoes and not enough clothes to go to a club instead of staying at home in my pajamas.

But I’ve been hiding out most of the winter; I know I need to go forth into the world and stretch my legs every once in awhile.

And stretch the legs I did. I know nothing of the samba or other Brazilian dances, but I faked my way through a majority of the evening. I guess this old fogey can still shake it when she needs to. (Also, I did not reinjure my neck. Score!)

The Cabaret Sauvage is a cool space on the outskirts of Paris’ nineteenth along the Canal de l’Ourcq in the Parc de la Villette. (Ah, I miss living in the nineteenth). It’s like a huge circus tent, only it’s a solid structure with great acoustics. Something about the circular dance floor makes it very appealing.

At 1:30 AM, the crucial question arrived as it always does: go home with the last metro or stay until they start running again at 5:30? Or cough up for a cab?

We stayed. I shook. Sometimes I’m almost 27 again.

Clip of a batacuda from Saturday. Sorry it’s so short. I had to get back to dancing:

Cabaret Sauvage
Parc de la Villette
Metro: 7 to Porte de la Villette or 5 to Porte de Pantin

May 11-June 23
Grand Palais
Featured artist: Anish Kapoor

What did y’all get up to this weekend?

14 Responses to “Carnaval at the Cabaret Sauvage”

  1. 1 Paris Karin (an alien parisienne) March 7, 2011 at 5:04 pm

    Sounds totally fun, and in my ‘hood, too! But yeah. If you think there is a difference between the 20s and 30s, there is a giant, sucking gulf between the energy I had in my 30s compared to my 40s, lol. It’s what reading blogs is for: vicarious living! 😉 No need for me to go and do it when I can read blog posts like this one which make me feel like I am there. With video! I am so glad you had fun. 🙂

    What I want to say most of all is that I could barely get past the initial paragraph. My jaw dropped open when you wrote about your authentic FFF: female French friend! WOW. I am genuflecting like those guys from Wayne’s World (“I’m not worthy!!”) — so impressed am I with your great luck to find such a friend as Rafaele. Amazing! If you ever feel it would be appropriate, tell her I think so. I’m so happy for you both to have found one another as friends. I know you are terrific (not trying to be an a** kisser, lol — it’s true), and she sounds truly exceptional. Kudos to Rafaele for blowing away my stereotypical cultural beliefs!


    • 2 paris (im)perfect March 7, 2011 at 5:14 pm

      Hi there. I KNOW. I almost made the whole post about how incredible it was to have an actual French female friend. A rarity! I think I’m a nice enough person, but it’s been really hard to break the barrier.

      Time will tell. She might just be using me for me English 🙂 In the meantime, she gets me out the house and makes sure I don my blue wig. Can’t complain about that!


  2. 3 Kristin March 7, 2011 at 5:16 pm


    This story is as fun and inspiring as the samba must be… so much to relate to — and hats off (and dance shoes on!) to your outsmarting the regular ol’ routine at home! (not that yours is a regular ‘ol one…!)


  3. 5 Linda March 7, 2011 at 6:35 pm

    EXCELLENT! And, erm, I’m surprised that you’re surprised about finding a French girlfriend. *thinking aloud here* I’ve got women friends born and raised in France. We met through shared interests (like your dance class) Since my French is about as bad as their English – ok, my French is much worse than their English – they speak French, I speak English. What frustrates me most is that it’s hard to have a GIRLfriend when we have that language gap. It’s a tantalizing no man’s land between acquaintances and true girlfriends. We obviously enjoy each other’s company and drop into really real conversations and come up against that stone wall of the language needed to convey complex ideas. To me, the mark of a girlfriend is that she hangs in there, meets my eyes as she keeps trying to make herself understood, that we both keep our wonder and sense of humor as we discover our joy in the connection. And, heck, dance is a universal joyful communion!
    And – as someone WAAY older than you – I can say with authority that age just a number until it hits your bones. (thankfully, it hasn’t hit mine yet!) Until then, it’s merely an attitude.
    Thanks for sharing the great video. Makes me wish I’d been there.:-)


    • 6 paris (im)perfect March 7, 2011 at 9:48 pm

      Hi Linda. Do you live in France? That is the difference, I think. I actually had a couple French friends when I lived in New York. I think it’s different in France. There’s usually a very formal social culture here in a way. People are friends with people they’ve known for a long time. I am super friendly and used to have no problem making friends. But I’ve found it really difficult to make true French girlfriends here. (And from the other comments here, I know others have experienced the same). So yes, it’s always a feat to break through!

      And yes, I totally believe that age is just a number. I just kind of laugh because I know already my style as a thirtysomething is different from when I was a twentysomething. I feel a bit like going back a few years when I hang out with Rafaele. Good for you for keeping a great attitude! I look forward to having many more fun dancing years ahead 🙂


  4. 7 Opal March 7, 2011 at 7:37 pm

    I get it! I only have 1 French female friend too…one that is a connection of my own and not thru my man. Old fogey here! This sounds like it was worth busting out of your cave for! I took part in a batacuda experience once and boy did I shake it!!!! Fond memories! Hope to see you one of these days lady!


    • 8 paris (im)perfect March 7, 2011 at 9:49 pm

      Yay, backup! I know, right? Yes, I made connections through Jerome, too. But it’s different making a French female friend all on your own, right? Glad I’m not the only one who gets it! I’m back in the bat cave for now, but it was good to get out a bit. 🙂


  5. 9 Linda March 7, 2011 at 11:01 pm

    Interesting comments, Sion. They really make me think about my own experiences and how they evolved. You make me wonder if I really had such a different experience or if I just remember it that way.:-)

    I don’t currently live in France, though I have. This is memory talking – about how I met girlfriends while I lived in France. I can’t say that I made girlfriends as easily as I did in England or Ireland or Italy, but I did manage to form French friendships. Some have stood the test of time, and others have fallen away…as they will anywhere.

    As I think aloud, I find myself wondering if a key difference is that I never permanently moved to France. Like a temporary visa, did my French girlfriends welcome me because I wasn’t going to be permanent? I dunno. I always understood my home was NYC, and so did my French friends while I lived there. And again, most of my time was spent outside of Paris. Perhaps that made me exotic, I dunno.

    lol I *do* remember that I had to overcome some of their misconceptions and ideas about Americans. I remember one professor of literature asking me what part of Britain I came from. When I told her I was an American, she said, “Oh, surely not! What part?”

    “New York City.”

    Before I could utter another word she waved her hand as only a French woman can do. “Ah! Well, there you are!”

    I blinked a couple of times, she walked away, but it was my laughter about it that introduced me to another Frenchwoman who did become my friend.

    Putting on my Yoda hat, I think being accepted into a new social circle, native or otherwise, is always a bit of a …dance. (including all the metaphors of grace and partnership that dance implies) I hope you enjoy your adventures, and that Raphaele is the first of many French girlfriends. It’s always tough in a new town, but I think you’re going to be just fine, kiddo.:-) (And, PLEASE, I hope my bare text doesn’t sound patronizing!) I so enjoy your blog and the fresh perspectives it gives me.

    Hmmm…may be time for Paris again….

    Warm regards,


    • 10 paris (im)perfect March 7, 2011 at 11:42 pm

      Hi Linda,

      Thanks so much for sharing. I love hearing other people’s experiences! I think you’re onto something there with the temporary versus permanent status. I know when I first fell in love with Paris, I was only here for a month, but it seemed so easy to meet people. But once I moved here, that seemed to go away. Was it my attitude? Or did people respond that first time because they knew I’d be going back home again?

      I’m not sure, but it’s just been a very interesting time in Paris. I studied in Mexico and Ghana, I got my degree in sociology and anthropology, so I’m actually pretty comfortable in diverse environments and trying to pick up on different social and cultural cues. And I can say hands down France has been the hardest to make friends. Is it because the word for “foreigner” is also “stranger” (etranger)? I am considered both foreign and strange here.

      Anyway, not to worry. I have lots of friends – American, British, German, Italian…and finally maybe a few French ones, too 🙂


  6. 11 Oneika March 8, 2011 at 8:46 am

    I lived in France for two years and also found it difficult to make an authentic FFF. I’m not too sure why it was, either- I speak the language fluently (though with a tinge of a French-Canadian accent) and think that I’m pretty darn cool. I’ve also lived in Mexico and now in HOng Kong and have found it way easier to make friends with the locals in France. Weird!


  7. 14 Ann March 9, 2011 at 3:36 pm

    I’m so impressed! Wild horses couldn’t drag me out at 10pm. Maybe next time I’ll consider it, especially if it leads to great evenings like yours!


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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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