Monday, July 25, 2011

Time-Tripping Back to Paris: Part 1:

  How long has it been since we last went to the Sunday morning flea market in Pamiers? Must be months. The sun came out yesterday morning, so we drove over, downed café crèmes and had a leisurely browse around the stalls. Did I really need an Yves St. Laurent olive green cape? If I did, I could have nabbed one for 25 euros. As always, the folks who profit most at flea markets and vide-greniers are parents of small kids. If I had a euro for every Barbie doll or action figure, I'd be rich. This time, nothing caught my fancy. Even the DVD stall failed to deliver. But it wasn't all weeping and moaning as we left because, tucked in my purse, were two small but wonderful finds.
     The story of the items I uncovered in a box under a stall has its beginnings in the hands of a local man--"very cultured" said the lady who sold them to me for two euros. Whoever he was, he obviously hung on to programs from shows he saw. They ended up in an attic somewhere and, from there, had made their way to a flea market stall
      I've always been a huge fan of American-born chanteuse Josephine Baker who had a heart as big as her international reputation. Here she is dancing her bananas off (or nearly) around 1927....

   Three years after she filmed this, she appeared in a show at the Casino de Paris along with "400 artistes, Girls et Boys". Paris qui Remue was billed as a "super spectacle." This revue had it all. Towering feather head-dresses (and we'll come to more of those later in this post), magnificent toe-tapping dance routines, glamour galore and Baker belting out one of her most famous songs:

     It all happened back in 1930 and one of my discoveries in Pamiers was this little promotional pamphlet. Here's its front cover:

Completely unfolded, it displays the show's highlights.

     As famous around that time as Josephine Baker--the two were fierce rivals--was French star Mistinguett who was born with the somewhat bourgeois name of Jeanne Bourgeois. Her stage name came from a friend who wrote a song called "Miss Tinguette."
      In 1920 (see how we're sliding further and further back in time) Mistinguett starred in a revue, also at the Casino de Paris. Its name was.....dim the lights, raise the curtain....Parikiri!!!

      This little program--my second flea market find--details the 42 scenes starting with "Un roof-garden à New-York" and including "The Magic Stairs Case." I couldn't find any footage from the show but you can bet that the costumes were jaw-droppingly magnificent.
      Allegedly the first performer to do that 'watch me walk down the staircase' routine, Mistinguett once wore a feathered head-dress so spectacularly tall that, when she took her last curtain call, the plumes stretched right out over the orchestra pit and touched the audience in the front row. Check out the costume she's wearing in this clip and that's not hard to picture. I just love how she sparkles in every sense of the word.

Mistinguett - Oui je suis de Paris par le-pere-de-colombe

  More French vintage trivia: Also appearing with Mistinguett in Parikiri was a dapper young boulevardier called Maurice Chevalier, her lover for many years.
   Finally, my favourite quote from her: "A kiss can be a comma, a question mark, or an exclamation point.  That's basic spelling that every woman ought to know."
   Expect longer, and more frequent, posts as rain continues to sweep across Europe and the temperature stays in the unseasonal mid-teens.


Floss said...

What a wonderful slice of hostory! I saw Josephine Baker somewhere yesterday - now I'm wondering where. She was in action so it must have been the TV - whar a wiggle she had!

Looking forward to more posts until the weather bucks up.

Chris Tyle said...

Angela - I just started reading your book, "Hot Sun..." and I thought I would check for your webpage.

It was a treat to see the Josephine Baker brochure, as a few years ago I was a musician playing in "La Recherche de Josephine," a show originally based in Paris involving a pastiche of themes including Hurricane Katrina and a flashback to "La Revue Negre."

A nice flea market find (I'm a bit jealous!)

I'm travelling to the Dordogne and the Languedoc in a few weeks and hope to stop in Mirepoix.