A new home for a new friend…

There is a new addition to our home who only recently became officially ours. He is a rescue cat that had been living on the streets in Paris, we don’t know for how long but it’s safe to assume that it had been for some time.

We found out about him online when we came across a post on an animal rescue forum from a woman who acts as an independent rescue shelter and was trying to find him a home. This cat and another cat he was with had been used on the street by a homeless man, as happens often in Paris, and had been chained (to not get away, I imagine). These are not often loving companions, but rather a means to get people’s sympathy. As this woman went to her full time day job every day and passed this man she began to see this cat in a state of declining health to the point where one day she even had to check to see if the cat was breathing because he was so lifeless. She began befriending the homeless man in the hopes of convincing him to give up the two cats. She told him that if he ever got tired of having them to let her know. One day, he told her he was leaving Paris and asked whether she wanted to take the two cats and she agreed. The two first went to stay in a veterinary office. The other cat, a gorgeous long haired persian was adopted very quickly. But this guy went so long without being adopted that he needed new lodgings because it was taking too long to find him a home. I can’t imagine why nobody was interested in him for several months. Perhaps people thought he looked too common, perhaps people are afraid of a cat that’s been on the street having problems of some kind. If you know us, we have a bit of a mission to find shelter cats or those with difficulties in finding a home because several cats over several years have turned us into rather well versed cat behaviourists. That’s the part in the story where we came along. We spoke with this woman, followed a very professional adoption process and after a one month trial period (in truth, after about an hour) we decided this cat would be fine with our current cat and just this past week we became his official owners.

This cat needed a home that knew how to address his fear issues, his high sensitivity to people, and his slightly defensive behaviour. In our experience with cats, we don’t think he was abused but he was clearly treated as an object and very roughly physically. It is at once a particularly alarming and heart breaking thing to see a cat react so abruptly and so full of fear upon just seeing a hand move. He definitely was never given anything resembling affection or care or proper food. What’s most important today is that he and Susie, our current cat, are fine together. This of course was after a strict and detailed process of proper cat introduction to which they both responded well. He adapts more each day and we hope he continues to do so. What we can promise him is that he’ll never sleep on sidewalks night after night, he’ll not feel weak from a lack of food, he’ll not hide during rainstorms and cower from thunder, he’ll not fear hundreds of noisy footsteps and buses as he tries to sleep through the day outdoors. The cat in him will be nurtured so he can be who he’s really meant to be and not who a human is forcing him to be.

While I’ve had cats in my life since childhood, there haven’t been that many. Learning how to properly care for them and give them what they need to be happy and balanced has afforded me the privileged company of three cats who lived well into their late teens, with the exception of my first who died at 14. Susie, our current cat, turns 18 this summer. My life has been accompanied at all times by cats and wherever I’ve gone they’ve gone with me. They’ve all been very lucky to have such a caring home but ironically it’s we that feel lucky to have had their company as late-night study partners and screenwriting partners, sous-chefs (albeit only observing and never helping), and all around companions. There isn’t a part of our lives our cats haven’t touched; lying on instructions while building Ikea furniture, diving into boxes while packing for a move, coyly commanding the attention of all our friends during dinner parties, watching as video game worlds are explored, sleeping and waking and then sleeping again through countless films, living not only through the agony of defeat during sports events (this is, after all, a Toronto Maple Leafs household) but also through the thrill of victory and the excitement of being raised in the air like trophies for what to them must seem absolutely ridiculous. Even if you were to have a momentary lapse and think your existence was little more than survival to them, it is in the moments when you wake in the middle of the night to turn over or adjust your pillow and find one of your cats joined as if magnetically to your body that you realise that the completely exposed and vulnerable belly, the limp paws, and the slightly ajar mouth with dangling tongue are all signs that you are, in terms any animal would understand, trusted. And that ability of an animal (be it feline, canine, or ‘otherwise-ine’) to sleep so defenselessly and deeply next to you is, even mid-sleep, capable of touching a part of you that few things know how to even reach.

Because of the little marking on his head that we immediately thought looked like a hairstyle with a strong part on one side from the 1930s and because of the delicately high-pitched voice that he has, we named him ‘Bowlly’ after one of our favourite singers from the ’30s, Al Bowlly, who possessed the same hairstyle and a similarly high-pitched tenor voice and strong vibrato. Al Bowlly was English and grew up in South Africa but spent the majority of his life in London. Though he’s not widely known today, if you study the development of popular music vocalists,  he is essentially the first real solo ‘crooner’ or singer in the world. I’ve always loved his music and as you may have noticed from my film work and other social media ramblings I’m particularly obsessed with music from the 20s, 30s, and 40s. In our home, we’ve always thought of him as someone truly special. Guys like Bing Crosby and Rudy Vallée started out by singing as part of a band or vocal group, but Al Bowlly was the first to be just a solo artist and found bands to sing in front of and record with. He was one of the first artists to have his records sold around the world and often found as he toured early in his career that people already knew the songs because of his records. While this is something that’s normal today, that degree of distribution was rarely heard of 100 years ago. It’s shocking when you know his music, that he’s only known today by scholars and aficionados but one reason is surely because he didn’t live long. Al Bowlly died tragically in 1941 in his sleep during a Nazi raid on London, when a parachute mine detonated outside his flat in the middle of the night. He was only in his forties. Time hasn’t been kind to the pioneers of what we today call popular music so I like to pay tribute when and how I can. Bowlly, the cat, has a grand name and we’ll see that he gets an equally grand life. I’ll be sharing some of his moments online in addition to those I already share of Susie with those of you who are kind enough to keep in touch via social media. Welcome, Bowlly!

For those of you that are curious, here’s a recording of Al Bowlly: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8bw5h-WPYBQ

Bowlly.. (you’re moving along quite nicely, pal)
WP_20150331_003

 

 

 

 

 

 

…and Al Bowlly.
al_bowlly

A year ago today…

It was a year ago today that I received the wonderful news via email that the French Consulate in New York had approved my application for the visa that allowed my wife and I to move to Paris. Now, settled like batter poured into and filling every crevasse of a mold, we find ourselves looking forward towards less preparing our new life here and more towards enjoying living our new life here, not that that hasn’t been happening already since the day we arrived. If you’re open to exploration and know how to look around, Paris is a town that happens to you without the need to go hunting for experiences.

With the commencing of this second year, I’ll be beginning to write the screenplay for the film I am making here as the project for my visa. As I’ve told those who’ve asked me before, I don’t know what it’s about, nor do I like to have that outlined before starting. But it will definitely be, as with everything I’ve ever written, a dialogue-driven (some would say “dialogue-heavy”) comedy/drama. It will be set in Paris and will be in English to try to make the point that there is an English-speaking world in this city. There are Parisians, that is, people who have been here long enough to be thus called who are Anglophones, and also Europeans who simply use English as the only unifying linguistic link between them. My theory is that a large number of Anglophones sadly stay away from watching films set in France which, let’s face it tend to be in French, because of the language barrier, the mechanics of reading subtitles, the understanding by audiences that subtitles are poor conduits of a film’s dialogue, and the fact that there is some cultural connection that they’ll fail to make with a film. Not to mention the wretched and appalling misrepresentations of France and Paris in particular to be found in several films aimed at Anglophone audiences. The solution, to me, is to acknowledge that there is an English speaking world here and to tell a story that takes place in that world.

So, to mark the year since the email that changed our lives, this is a tiny note of thanks for those of you that have been around since the short was released and those of you that have started following in the last year. The majority of the small crowd that follows me online got connected to me via my short film and the efforts I made to promote it online via social media to continue to push my idea that independent filmmakers can use nothing more than word of mouth and social media to promote their work if they’re willing to be clever (logistically and financially) in how they produce their films. So far so good. Because of the fact that I am just me and I’m not doing this under the flag of some distributor or outside producer or investor like a lot of “indie” filmmakers out there, I don’t have any specific targets or financial goalposts to reach for so each person that watches my short or my shorter videos and decides to stay in touch is like currency to me because it increases the pool of people who know what I do, increasing my audience for next time. This is not easy, but it beats having a producer tell me what to do with my work.

It’s hard to justify doing this if nobody is there to watch the films and stay in touch. If it feels natural, I’ll talk about the process as I write. I hope you’re all there, and more of you as well, when I get to the other side of this part of the process and I’m ready to begin the production.

Thank you,
Phil

Perspective

Perspective

La fontaine Médicis in the Jardin du Luxembourg

 

You don’t need me to tell you how beautiful Paris is. I might do that some other time.
Moving on…

Perspective.

This one word keeps coming up time and time again since moving to Paris. Literally. Because I keep repeating it. As I immerse myself in the thick of the streets, the people, and their sights and sounds, the concept of perspective constantly reemerges.

In the past weeks, I’ve been exploring this French world for the first time that I’ve spent years learning about, understanding of course that Paris is Paris and that France is, well, in many ways something else entirely, and that therefore “French” doesn’t work as an all-purpose adjective. I’ve found myself coming face to face with views of things, accepted norms, which have been hard for me to understand. I don’t know if it’s because I’m comparing what I know to what others say, but I’ve found myself leaning towards and enjoying things that seem to be considered quite “uncool” for lack of a better word. Uncool I can deal with. I’ve been uncool my whole life. But “unrefined” is something that begins to feel more personally offensive no matter how self-assured you are. And the fact is that it would appear that not liking a certain world of desserts, a certain culinary world, and a certain world of social activities makes one markedly unrefined among a certain demographic in a way that I can only relate to having the wrong kind of running shoes when I was in grade school. Because it’s not just about having the other shoes, it’s about the lowly status you have by choosing the other shoes on purpose. Perspective: I don’t need my shoes to be expensive or popular, I just need them to work.

Footwear aside, this is ultimately about opportunity. I have no problem whatsoever saying that I simply don’t have the opportunity to indulge frequently in restaurants that serve dishes for 20-25 euro or more. Living life the way my wife and I choose to live it means we don’t use our money for expensive restaurants. So, that opportunity is also a choice. There are other things I prefer to spend money on: good ingredients for cooking at home which we do often, we have a cat we like to care for as best as we can, having a nice evening in a café with a little dessert, live music, and other such comforts and material things I choose to place more priority on than eating in the newest restaurant. Not to mention an aversion to any chef that feels that their original creation is something that deserves to be expensive just by virtue of being different. In my book, to ask someone to try something that original, you should be making it cheaper in case they don’t like it. Don’t think that would work? Just imagine an unknown independent musician saying, “Well, you’ve never heard my music before and it’s really different so my album is $50. Hey, I have to pay for my studio time!” Food is worth what you want to pay for it, fine. But must we look down on those who choose to eat for less and must we imply indirectly that not eating in expensive restaurants is tantamount to not eating well? The reason I’ve never felt the need to pay a lot for restaurants is because I’ve always felt that paying more money hardly ever seems to be directly proportionate to the quality of the food you get. Perspective: it’s just not what I like.

As you read sites online and study the social dynamic of how the “coolest” places are talked about and how the more authentic, old-fashioned places are talked about or not talked about at all for that matter, you will see a clearly established norm revealing itself that dictates that only the new, the challenging, and the different are of any value and worth discussing. And to not like those new places, somehow makes you the kind of uncool that borders on making you and your opinion irrelevant. There is, I believe, an unspoken philosophy that to enjoy traditional French food in traditional French restaurants means that you’re clearly not just missing out on something, but missing out on something better. To prefer it, essentially makes you profoundly boring and decidedly uncouth.

Why is a regular sandwich from a boulangerie so frowned upon? Why don’t people write about traditional food with the same fervour they reserve for molecular gastronomy? Why are there so many pictures of foamed food online and hardly any of croque monsieur and pot au feu? Why does more expenisive equal “better”. A noted blogger in Paris recently ridiculed “Tati” on Twitter, a local discount clothing store chain equating it with basically being trash. Coming from a home where my immigrant Masters-student parents got us whatever clothes they could afford and often mended them to fit, I wondered what this blogger would think of my childhood photos, where a discount clothing store would have been a treat. With respect to food in particular, are we so bored with the past that an expensive dish in a fancy new restaurant trumps a traditional well-prepared dish just because of how much it costs? Or are the traditional dishes simply too vulgar for our contemporary refined tastes? In an episode of his series on Paris, Anthony Bourdain suggested that it seems that nowadays, to be new and relevant you have to come out against the establishment. I think he’s right, but why does that have to be the case? He uses the example that to be a new rock band and be relevant you have to attack U2 and posits the idea that to be a new restaurant you have to do the same: attack the croque monsieur, the cassoulet, and the poulet roti. Perspective: I don’t eat food because it’s in a new, interesting place. I eat it because I enjoy it and my body can digest it. If it’s native to my surroundings, all the better. (That’s the psychological element I choose to include in my dining choices).

Of course anyone can like whatever they like, and all of this is admittedly a bit “first-world-problems” to even be talking about. It just seems to me that so much of this phenomenon is about enjoying a certain kind of experience, certain restaurants, and certain neighbourhoods, which can be had in most any cosmopolitan city in the world. And I just wouldn’t ever move to a country to not partake in how that country eats and lives. I know this isn’t only happening here, and it is of course just my opinion, just my perspective. I just think it’s a perspective that isn’t often heard because it’s perceived as less glamorous. In any event, it’s what has come up repeatedly since moving here: the idea that how you take this place, and any other place I suppose, depends on your perspective. And my only thermometer for measuring the relevance of mine is that the Parisians I’ve met have been either completely unaware of this phenomenon or have laughed in the face of it with a wave of the hand and a “pfff…whatever” when I ask them about it. I will simply ignore it as well and just continue to do my own thing regardless of how uncool it may seem to others.