Hebrew School

…Jew Non Plus

This past week, Hebrew School took a much-needed respite from poring over ancient texts, Talmudic commentary, and delightfully kitschy 70s rock prayer albums. And where, you might ask, does a Jew go for such a time out? Why, to the goyishe territory of Paris, with a faux-French rock band, of course!

Yes, Paris has the gay (that is, happy) Marais, where Golem, the punk-klezmer band I occasionally appear with played a few weeks ago. And even Sarkozy is of Salonikan Jewish descent, but, come on, at least a synagogue?? Okay, yes, there are those, too, if not in abundance…

And okay, yes, France has the largest population of Jews in Europe, but it’s only about 600,000… it’s a Charlotte, North Carolina! Okay, so I wanted to eat trayf, and drink burgundy, and rock out yé-yé style… c’est pas ma faute…

Bonnie Day and I– (François, your French protagonist) disembarked in Paris from the Eurostar via Heathrow on the afternoon of Bastille Day, long after the parades had cleared, the decorated soldiers making their way to the brasseries on a hot Parisian summer day. After making our way to our respective lodgings, a little nap and freshening up, several members of the group made our way to a friend-of-friend’s rooftop in one of the highest parts of the city, near the Gare du Nord. With an unobstructed view of the city all around us, we watched as the Tour d’Eiffel lit up and sparkled, and the fireworks exploded.

photo by Emily Welsch

The next morning, we made our way via car to the coastal town of La Rochelle, where we were to play at the Francofolies, a large outdoor festival where all manner of bands– the vast majority of them French– play on 5 or 6 stages scattered throughout the town. As it turned out, we were the only American group out of the almost 100 bands playing. There in La Rochelle were hobos and hippies and their dogs sitting and peeing outside our hotel, and little gypsy and faux-gypsy bands playing on the corner just like every other seaside town in the first world, it seems. Later that night, after possibly the most delicious catering a band on the road has ever known, we saw Yannick Noah (rrrr!), former tennis star, on the big stage. There he crooned to 1000 15-year-old girls, all pumping their fists and singing along word for word, as we handed out flyers in the rain.

Our show the following day could not have gone better– We played to a packed 400-seat auditorium on a huge stage. The French clapped timidly if not eagerly along, though many abandoned their seats and took to the aisles as our show reached a crescendo with the perennial favorite, 99 Luftballoons.

More when we made our way back in Paris, with a show on Tuesday night at Le Paris Paris. The following night, with the evening off, we went to La Relais de l’Entrecôte (in the 6th arrondisement, close to where we were staying in the Latin Quarter), an amazing steak place where, to order, you simply say how you would like your meat done, and what you would like for wine and dessert. You are then served two generous portions (yes, the portions!) of rib-eye, covered with a special (“secret”) basil-butter sauce, with plenty of frites. Moo lover that I am, I was pretty elated. Finally, on Friday and Saturday nights, two sweaty shows at La Flèche d’Or, notably with Frenchies Vanessa and the O’s and Brooklynites Mia Riddle and Her Band.

I’m happy to report that Jews were allowed everywhere we went and that France is for the most part a noble and enlightened place.

The atmosphere upon our arrival in La Rochelle

The banner at the Francofolies venue

Packed house at the Francofolies, blasé until we riled them up

front of Flèche d’Or, an old train station

back of Flèche d’Or

bathroom, le Paris Paris

Graffiti at the Pont des Arts