It is a union that suggests the essential mystery of the world. Art for me is not an end in itself, but a means of evoking that mystery.
— René Magritte

We choose destinations for random and not-so-random reasons. Brussels interested me, but I probably wouldn’t have journeyed there if not for the art of René Magritte and the chance to see where he lived. It would be shorthand to say that I “love” Magritte’s work. I do, but he occupies a deeper part of my psyche. He’s a sort of uncle who offers artistic advice by example. Magritte never dies; he just goes on smoking the pipe that is not a pipe. More… “Magritte’s 3.5-Room Apartment”

Marian Calabro is the author of The Perilous Journey of the Donner Party (Clarion/Houghton Mifflin) and 20 other nonfiction books, including several business histories. She leads creative writing workshops at the Adult School of Montclair (NJ) and in other adult-education settings. Her poetry has appeared in various journals and her plays have been produced at community theaters in the New York metro area. She lives and works in New Jersey.

Kader Attia is a multi-form French visual artist, recipient of the Prize Marcel Duchamp, a prestigious national honor for contemporary artists awarded in France. The following essay is based on a French-language interview between Attia and Thomas Baumgartner on Radio Nova in October 2016. In it, Attia investigates the many layers of fracture that underpin social crises in Western Europe — and a hope for dialogue. All quotes are translations of the writer.

Explaining what motivates his work as an artist, Kader Attia speaks in his native French of réparation. He does not simply mean “fixing” as we might be tempted to translate into English. Instead, réparation can be thought of as transformation. You get a semblance of the original, but in the process of mending an object is always made new.
More… “An Artist’s Search for Cultural Reparation in France”

Jared Spears is a writer based in Brooklyn. His work has recently appeared in Philosophy Now and on Jacobin, Lit Hub, and elsewhere on the web.


What is so American about Edward Hopper?

This is the question I pondered at this huge retrospective of his work in the heart of Paris. There seems to be a Hopper retrospective ever few years or so in the United States. His images have become so familiar, so iconic in their simple compositions and their isolated characters sitting silently in public and private spaces. His most famous painting, “Nighthawks” (1942), has been reproduced and caricatured so often you are surprised when you actually stand in front of it, the dramatic contrasting light between the diner’s inner, yellow hues and the shadowy street never match a reproduction. The painting practically glows from the interior outward, the light indistinct in source. It seems as if the whole canvas must be illuminated from behind. “Nighthawks,” like many of his works of the era, have become iconic of the mid-century era, their compositions inspiring… More…

On a gray morning in Paris, I pushed back the heavy velvet curtains in my hotel room. There, just across the street, almost close enough to touch, was Charles Garnier’s extravagant opera house — the Palais Garnier. I didn’t know where to look first. The Corinthian columns with gilt capitals? The rose granite friezes? the shiny tips of gold Pegasus wings?


I left the curtain open and padded into the bathroom. A glance in the mirror over the sink revealed a sight anything but grand: the face, so pale; the multidirectional hair, frizzy with split ends; the pajamas, gaping around the shoulders. After gazing at the confectionary Opera, my reflection nearly gave me culture shock.

Mustn’t look in the mirror again today, I thought, and dressed quickly, keeping my gaze trained out the window.

The Opera’s busy style… More…

Some parties are fun, others are un-missable “cultural experiences.” The strange and exotic festivals held during the French Revolution would have to fall in the latter category. There was one particular event — the Fête de l’Être Suprême, or Festival of the Supreme Being — that was easily the most bizarre. Held during the height of the Terror, with the guillotine casting its gruesome shadow over Paris, it was a giant street party organized to celebrate fraternity and fuzzy warm feelings. It may not have been a barrel of laughs — at least not intentionally — but it was definitely something to see.

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Celebrity Chefs Fête Moderne Weimar Clubs

The Revolution, the Catholic Church had organized France’s hectic calendar of festivities. But from the moment the Bastille was stormed in 1789, patriots had been… More…


I’m just back from Paris where the architecture is dazzling and the food scrumptious. In the matter of fashion, however — that third prong in the Parisian esthetic — I was disappointed. It’s just not what it used to be. French women are still thin (their secret, presumably, is small portions — I say it’s smoking). They are also enviably ass-less, which helps enormously in the draping of clothes. But the clothes themselves, once so original, have become pedestrian. What is it with blue jeans? How do they manage to replace all the pencil skirts and twill trousers? Jeans are American hegemony run amok; they are to fashion what Disney World is to architecture, McDonald’s to food. But where the French have fiercely opposed the latter two incursions, they have left themselves open on the fashion flank. The… More…

The end of the Reign of Terror unleashed a wave of euphoria in Paris as citizens celebrated the fact that they were still alive. Hardly had the guillotine been trundled out of sight than some 100 dance halls opened in Paris, using any space available — even abandoned monasteries and half-wrecked churches were turned into all-night clubs. Finally allowed to don their finery again, men re-emerged as powdered dandies and women wore scandalous dresses of a diaphanous white gauze that was almost entirely transparent (although they did wear flesh-colored body stockings underneath). But the most frenzied events were called the Victims’ Balls, which could only be attended by family members of guillotine victims. Some historians have suggested that they never actually occurred; most of the references to the balls are recollections published some years later. And yet the popular memory is so strong that there is probably some element of… More…



Last Saturday morning my family slept in. The Saturday before as well. And the Saturday before that. This fact might sound banal — especially since by “sleeping in” I mean we got up at 8 a.m. But for me and other parents with grade school-aged children throughout France, it was practically revolutionary. As far back as anyone can remember, French kids have had classes on Saturday mornings — if not every weekend, then every other week. And now, rushing to get the kids out the door on a day one might normally consider part of the weekend is a thing of the past.

I grew up in Western New York, and recall learning in Madame Keller’s high school French class that in the faraway country where people spoke an unpronounceable language and ate smelly cheese, kids had… More…

While today a certain type of traveler heads for Las Vegas, Havana, or Bangkok, in the 18th century, Paris was the unrivaled sin city of Europe. Even the uproar of the 1789 revolution, which was initially supported by many French aristocrats, only helped promote its hedonistic reputation — at least until the Terror of 1793-4 squelched tourism.

No sooner had the Bastille fallen than the capital was flooded with foreigners, curiosity-seekers, and political delegates from the French provinces, all looking to enjoy carnal delights while they savored the newly-democratic ambiance. To help out-of-town gentlemen navigate the underbelly of the city — and to control the problem of over-charging — a unique and practical guidebook was quickly published for those seeking prostitutes in the Palais Royal, the enormous entertainment complex that doubled as a red-light district. Today, this pocket-sized opus — List of Compensation for the Ladies of the Palais Royal,… More…

Wander through the 11th arrondissement of Paris toward the dead celebrities of Pere Lachaise Cemetery, and there’s a decent chance you’ll stumble across a small gallery called “Le Musée du Fumeur.” Unlike the hallowed halls of the Louvre or the Musée d’Orsay, there is no tyranny of expectation in this tiny, smoking-themed museum. No smiling Mona Lisa or reclining Olympia dictates where the random tourist should focus his attention. Thus left to meander, the drop-in visitor may well overlook the more earnest exhibits here — such as Egyptian sheeshas or Chinese opium pipes — and note the small, red-circle-and-slash signs reminding guests that, in no uncertain terms, smoking is strictly forbidden in the Museum of Smoking.

In spite of this startling contradiction, there is a notable lack of irony in Le Musée du Fumeur, which crams an eclectic array of international smoking-culture relics into a 650-square-foot storefront near Rue de… More…