Oui! Grégoire Maret on Jazz Harmonica

Oui! Grégoire Maret on Jazz Harmonica

By Patricia Tennison

Warren and Julie at our terrace dinner across from Notre DameThe June session of Paris Cafe Writing started with champagne at a small French restaurant behind the historic winter circus (Cirque d’ Hiver). It ended with more bubbles at the boisterous La Coupoule brasserie, a ’20s Art Deco hangout for Picasso and Josephine Baker and Henry Miller.

In between, we wrote. About Paris, about ourselves, about that stranger with the high heels who refused to acknowledge us in the elevator. 

Some inspirations came from readings, others from exercises, still others from music we heard together, walks we took alone.

And each, of course, brought his own life experiences: the nautical archeologist, the pastel painter, the hospitality sales coordinator, the 1st grade teacher, the technology sales representative, the former dance teacher turned politician–businesswoman.

(After several days of shared experiences, certain shared words—parapluie, heretofore, rats—would pop up and just got us all laughing. Sorry, you had to be there …)

Chicago Tribune columnist Dawn Turner with Patricia Tennison at Paris Cafe Writing 

Chicago Tribune columnist Dawn Turner Trice was a surprise guest at lunch one day. She later interviewed and wrote a column about one of the Paris Cafe Writing traveler/writers who was seated across from her and who is working on a particularly moving memoir.

Where (not) to eat in Paris

The American author Debra Spark was reading at Shakespeare & Co., so we all hopped the #96 bus and walked through the Latin Quarter, resisting the gyros and fries and the three-course dinners at 11.99 euros.

Actually, a few of us did later succumb. We decided to experiment to see if it’s possible to get a decent meal on, say, rue de la Huchette, where the apron-clad waiters hustle you right from the sidewalk. Without even being lured, four of us just walked into La Braserade, which made the waiter’s mouth drop and his hair fly up. Well, actually, his hair was already fashioned straight up, in the porcupine style that bachelors on TV seem to favor. The experiment was on.

The pasta and the duck confit met minimum standards. The iceberg (!) lettuce salad at least was fresh. The previously frozen french fries disappeared from our plates without a grumble.

However, the evening confirmed my experiences that this area is the one spot in Paris where you are almost guaranteed to get canned vegetables. As I ran my tongue around the inside of the small button mushrooms in the sauce, I could taste the salty water from the can. The green beans in the salad tasted a little better, more like they were straight from a glass bottle, rather than a can, if you know what I mean.

None of this would kill your experience in Paris, but the wine might. 

I ordered a carafe of the house red wine, which in most Paris restaurants you are wise to do. This is France, for goodness sake. Here, however, one sip of the house red brought back memories of college years and those ’60s jugs of Gallo. A sure headache. If you could even swallow it.

The solution in the Latin Quarter—buy a bottle. We bought the St. Emilion, overpriced at 35 euros but worth it when you consider the alternative.

Jazz harmonica? Oh, yes!

I’m always amazed at how little I know about music. If someone asked me to quickly list the usual instruments in a jazz group, I would not have added harmonica. But as I write this in my Paris apartment, a CD is playing the moody “Lucilla’s Dream” by Grégoire Maret.

I can visualized how the Swiss-born Maret grimaced and rocked, squatted and paused on the stage of Duc des Lombards as he played this song about a girlfriend.

Our small group fit neatly into a close row of seats at the jazz spot where the soft vibrations of the quartet—clavinet, bass, drums and harmonica—filled the room.

Catch the Grammy winner Maret live, if you can. In the meantime, here is a link for Maret playing “Lucilla’s Dream”:  www.youtube.com/watch?v=7AwnLuIGQvk.

(As I was searching on the internet for a link about Maret, there was Stevie Wonder playing his … harmonica. Of course, of course. But I’ve never seen Stevie Wonder live, so it didn’t sink in.)

The photos: From the June 2012 session of Paris Cafe Writing: From the top, Grammy winner Grégoire Maret, who we heard play jazz harmonica; Warren and Julie at our terrace dinner across from Notre Dame; lunch guest Chicago Tribune columnist Dawn Turner Trice.

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