November 29, 2016

A BRIEF AUTUMN TALE OF WICE AND GOOD WINE, IN PARIS

It was a brisk, dark evening in the 5th arrondissement of Paris, but from inside a shop with wooden floors and beams on the ceiling, lights beckoned.

The lights … were in the shape of wine bottles. And so began the introduction to Thierry Givone’s “Wine Tasting in Paris”, a company that partners with WICE to offer courses in appreciating and recognizing different kinds of wine.

Thierry Givone pours a Beaujolais.
On this particular night, Nov. 18, Givone focused on the Beaujolais region for a course that comprised tasting seven very different wines, including two types of Beaujolais Nouveau. This is of course the most known wine from the area located just south of Burgundy, and the course took place a day after its official release and national fete, with people filling cafés for a glass or two.

In fact, much of the Gamay wine that Beaujolais produces is sold and drunk before the harvest year is over. But what can be confusing to new drinkers is the disconnect between Beaujolais’ image and the taste of its top wines – whose producers aren’t too enamoured of the stereotypical representation, Givone hinted. 

So, along with the “nouveau”, WICE members got to sample a Julienas and two surperb Morgons, among others. They additionally learned about the producing region, its history, and the kind of grape involved (gamay).

Givone describes the region.
“For me, it’s an interest and a passion,” Givone said of the initiative he launched two-and-a-half years ago, after working for 20 years in marketing. “I hope those who participate in the course will develop this passion too, and remember everything that I explain to them.”

His wine-tasting “school” consists of a shop-cum-office decorated with neatly stacked bottles of wine and publications about the beverage. Light-hued wooden floors and dark beams on the ceiling add to the cosy atmosphere in the room reserved for tasting, where course participants sit on high stools at a long wooden table. Buckets are there for those who wish to spit out the wine after tasting.

“I never spit out good wine,” commented one course participant, and indeed some of the wines presented were excellent, totally "unspittable". Most members agreed that only one – a Beaujolais Nouveau – was not up to scratch. With its candy-sweet taste and artificial aroma, it was “not at all recommended”, Givone said frankly.

WICE member Tracey samples the wine.
In contrast, participants were soon raving about an organic Beaujolais cru (superior wine) from the small region of Regnié, and about a Morgon that was produced at one of the best vineyards in the area, located 350 meters above sea level. Givone said the latter could be kept for up to 10 years.

“It’s a spicy, peppery, full-bodied wine with great aging potential,” he told participants, teaching them the vocabulary as well for describing the wine. He also offered saucisson (sausage) and bread as accompaniment to the wines, apparently a perfect combination for Beaujolais.

The nibbles were a welcome idea, because after tasting, and swallowing, sips from seven bottles of wine on an empty stomach, the average person could become quite light-headed, not to mention light-hearted. In fact, at least one participant had to resist the temptation to giggle all the way home (via public transportation, naturally).

Givone is one of two instructors that partner with WICE for a wide range of wine-tasting sessions, and each has different approaches to the world of wine, according to Andrew Hunt, the director of WICE’s Living in France section.

“We hope participants will benefit from the knowledge that the instructors impart and from the joy of tasting different wines each month,” Hunt said. "Cheers!"

The next wine-tasting courses take place on Dec. 1 and 16, focusing on champagne – how to pair it with foie gras and how to appreciate the full “bubbly” experience. For registration information: http://www.wice-paris.org/event-2267862 and http://www.wice-paris.org/event-2267878

Thierry Givone with WICE members after the wine-tasting course.

November 17, 2016

THEATRE DES CHAMPS-ELYSEES: MUSIC AND A PARIS SAGA

It’s the theatre where American icon Josephine Baker performed in a variety of revues and where Russian dancer and choreographer Vaslav Nijinsky caused an uproar in 1913 with Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rite of Spring), a ballet set to the music of Igor Stravinsky. The story goes that the reaction to the ballet was so intense that spectators came to blows – a battle between those who adored the show and those who despised its “avant-gardeness”.

The concert hall at the theatre.
Such sensational times may now be the stuff of legend, but the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées is still putting on exciting and thrilling concerts, with internationally renowned artists.

The current season features recitals, concerts by resident and visiting orchestras, chamber music performances, dance, and famous opera productions, among other events. Earlier in November, the illustrious Saint Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra played to a packed house, with the musicians and French pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet receiving enthusiastic applause for their virtuosity.

Concert-goers get not only the performance on stage but also the unique atmosphere of a theatre rich in the history of France’s capital city. The current location on Avenue Montaigne was at the time of the theatre’s construction (1911 to 1913) quite a different place from the street of luxury brands that it is today.

Yuri Temirkanov, conductor,
The Saint Petersbourg Philharmonic Orchestra
According to a theatre historian, this area was on the “periphery of Paris” back then, close to the red-light district, so prospective concert-goers were not at all impressed when the site was acquired by founder Gabriel Astruc, a man of various professions including journalist.

The first drawings of the building were thought to be too “Germanic” (on the eve of World War I), so the originally contracted architect, the Belgian Henry Clemens van de Velde, was soon replaced, while observers wondered if the project would ever get off the ground. His successor was the Brussels-born French architect Auguste Perret, who with his brothers decided on simple clean lines, a striking departure from ornate theatres such as the Palais Garnier. Also brought in were the artists Antoine Bourdelle – who created a bas relief for the façade and frescoes for the atrium – and Maurice Denis, who painted the ceiling of the main concert hall.

A view of the theatre's foyer.
Even the latter was not without controversy, as Denis depicted members of his family for the portrayals of mythological scenes, including a nude picture of his second wife among the characters; she was recognizable to concert-goers of the time and is still clearly visible on the domed ceiling.

All this added to chatter about the theatre, which was inaugurated in 1913 and later came to be considered Paris’ first Art Deco building – although that movement didn’t really come into being until the 1920s. The fact that Astruc’s dream was built of reinforced concrete signified a remarkable achievement as well, and that sense of "solidity" was important in uncertain times.

Art was also an essential part of the theatre’s interior design, and the foyer still contains the works of female artist Jacqueline Marval, who produced a series of paintings based on the Greek story of Daphnis and Chloe. Meanwhile, though now faded, the frescoes of Bourdelle continue to evoke a certain ambience in the atrium, where one can sip champagne or wine while waiting for the show to begin. 

As for real-life pictures, concert-goers can sign up for a tour and get to see original posters and press photos of “La Baker”, Nijinsky and other stars who have played a part in the history of this Paris institution.

The Théâtre des Champs-Élysées has partnered with WICE to offer discounts to members. Below are the details for shows in December and January.


Mozart's Don Giovanni 
5 to 15 /12
30% discount 
101€ -73€ - 52€ - 24€ instead of 145€ - 105€ - 75€ -35€
Reserve here :http://www.forumsirius.fr/orion/tce.phtml?offre=GIOTEX·          
Bach's Weihnactsoratorium 
6 /12
15% discount
72€ - 55€ - 38€ - 25€ instead of 85€ - 65€ - 45€ - 30€
Philharmonia Orchestra 
28/01
30% discount 
59€ - 45€ - 31€ - 21€ instead of 85€ - 65€ - 45€ - 30€