Like many a Londoner, Brit singer ALA.NI finally tired of all the building sites and construction mess in Blighty’s capital, and made her way to Paris – where erecting ugly new skyscrapers is relegated to aesthetically-challenged bastions of business like La Defense. The creative results of the move were a glorious new album, You and I, which is a dazzling, unapologetic paean to the glory days of jazz-pop divas like Billie, Ella and, surely, Mdm. Piaf.
Her greatest inspiration, other than maybe Paris itself?
“Love!,” she exclaims. “It leads us all. In its ups and downs. The album is a tale of a love affair that takes place over a year – from the first look, the first kiss, the anticipation of what’s to come, the longing, the reality, the heartbreak and the renewal.”
To be sure, tracks like “Roses & Wine” and “Ol’Fashioned Kiss” sparkle with a sexy, retro cool, and are delightfully free of trendy embellishment. While “Darkness at Noon” is a simmering, anguished bit of noir heartbreak, just waiting for a David Lynch scene to soundtrack.
But surely our favorite is “Cherry Blossom,” the sound of new love blossoming in springtime (“Fall for me / Long for me / Always be a friend to me”), in all its languid, hopeful, sensual and unbelievably irresistible beauty.
“I wrote ‘Cherry Blossom’ whilst in Grenada,” she recalls. “At 3am, with the crickets and sea stirring, the lyrics and melody came to me. This combo very rarely happens with such ease, so I took the moment fully. The lyrics express, like cherry blossoms, the impermanence of life and love. For that moment of existence, you must embrace it all and declare yourself as lost, taken by the wind.”
She’ll be appearing live at NYC’s Rockwood Hall Music Hall June 19, and Central Park Summerstage on the 21st. But hoping to catch a bit of her inspiration, we asked ALA.NI to take us through her perfect Paris day, from the patisseries to the bookshops to a grand, historic venue where she did cartwheels onstage.
Parisians don’t really do breakfast. Being a Brit, if I go out for breakfast I want a large fry up! It’s all cafes and croissants here. But I’m not a coffee drinker, so its patisseries and boulangeries for me; and I am in the best city in the world for making flour and water into fantastical culinary delights. I love the cocoa bread from Maison Landemaine and anything and everything from Dalloyau. A “Millefeuille Vanille” for breakfast is perfectly acceptable. Best apricot jam to have on your croissant is Alain Millet.
The Yard is my absolute favorite for lunch. Its described as “Modern French.” For me it’s a bit Scandinavian too, rustic and delicious comfort food. The menu changes every day, the best are the three times cooked potatoes, cut in a cool cross hatch design. Details, I like the details. Rabbit in tarragon sauce. Wonderful mackerel salads, grilled marrow in the bone. It’s hard to practice vegetarianism here. Great wines too.
Le Chocolat Alain Ducasse has the best chocolate in the whole wide world! Take it from a girl who wanted to marry Willy Wonka. The factory shop in Bastille is worth a visit; as a choco-phile, I often find myself in the courtyard of the factory, just sniffing the air and letting out sounds of sheer delight.
Yvon Lambert bookshop. I can spend hours in there looking at art and photography books. And fighting for the one chair in the whole shop.
The Phono Museum is a must visit if you have any interest in the history of music. Wax cylinders, phonographs, huge vintage twin gramophones, specially designed for those old school 1900’s bashment “soundsystem” parties! So much to see to make you appreciate that your mini iPod player has come a very, very long way.
I love Lapérouse for dinner. Its secret little Salon Privé is dripping with all kinds of antique, scandalous bad behavior. It’s a rabbit warren of a building dating from 1766, with secret passages hidden in the walls. Wonder what they needed those for?
Chatelet Theatre is one of my favorite venues in Paris. I have seen Pina Bausch dance company there a few times, and it is magnificent because the stage is so huge. I had the opportunity to perform there last autumn and during soundcheck I was doing no-handed cartwheels across the massive stage. I just wanted to feel the space. Luckily I didn’t land on my head.
I’m always hungry. I have endless munchies and I’m not much of drinker, so any late night food spots are good for me. There are no 24-hour bagel shops like in London or New York, but Babylone Bis creole restaurant is like a “knock twice” speakeasy that is open from 8PM-5AM. Perfect for midnight feasting.