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This weekend: Get a little culture at the Spoleto Festival

By JD Rinne
updated September 29, 2021
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Konstantin Sergeyer

The Spoleto Festival USA in Charleston, S.C., does not involve cow chips or crawfish like other festivals we've written about. Quite the opposite. It's a 17-day feast of cultural events, ranging from rock opera to chamber music.

The 33rd season kicks off Friday, and more than 120 performances will take place through June 7. The festival is known for focusing on emerging and edgy artists. Since 1977, there have been more than 100 world premieres and 93 American premieres at the festival, with visionaries like Twyla Tharp and Yo-Yo Ma performing early in their careers.

Notable productions this year include the debut of Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet, a tribute to the Spoleto Festival's longtime chamber music artistic director Charles Wadsworth, and the cabaret-style, punk-rock operetta Addicted to Bad Ideas: Peter Lorre's 20th Century, which explores alienation in the 20th century. Also interesting is Gustave Charpentier's opera Louise, sometimes called "the French La Boheme," rarely performed because of its complicated plot—there are more than 30 characters. Plus the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater performs this weekend and celebrates its 50th anniversary.

Tickets range between $10 and $180. Also going on is the Piccolo Spoleto festival. It's the same idea—cutting edge fine arts performances—but many of the activities are free.

So why the funny name? The event originated in the Italian town of Spoleto before a version was launched in the states. The Festival of the Two Worlds is in its 52nd season.

The Spoleto Festival USA runs until June 7. You can buy tickets online. Hotel packages available through Charleston's CVB.

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Inspiration

Great Paris 'hoods: Around the rue de Belleville

A funny thing happened last year while I was living on rue de Belleville. The street suddenly became hip. Not because of me, of course, but because Gourmet's correspondent in France, Alex Lobrano, penned a lengthy article spotlighting the lesser-known quarters of Eastern Paris. He wrote about Belleville with respect, or at the very least curiosity, and it was a source of some local pride. But it was the source of some anxiety, too. Would our cafés be overrun with tourists? Would we still be able to book a table at our favorite small bistro? I needn't have worried, because the fact remains that very few visitors are willing to venture "all the way" to Belleville. Never mind that Belleville is only a ten-minute subway ride from the center. The perception remains that this neighborhood is far away. It also has a reputation for being filthy, a rep that dates back to Belleville's industrial days and that has persisted throughout waves of twentieth-century immigration. 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(It's no surprise that the annual Portes Ouvertes festival is held here.) To discover this neighborhood, I recommend taking the subway line 11 to Pyrénées. As you begin to descend the rue de Belleville, keep your eyes open for a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower twinkling in the distance. One of the first sights is on the southern side of the street at 72 rue de Belleville. Here, a plaque marks birthplace of the Edith Piaf, subject of last-year's Academy Award-winning film La Vie en Rose. Unveiled by cabaret star Maurice Chevalier, the plaque reads "On the steps of this house was born in the greatest destitution Edith Piaf whose world would later take the world by storm." A few steps further down the hill, you'll see the rue de Rébeval snaking off on your right. This up-and-coming street is home to a growing number of good restaurants, my favorite of which is Le Chapeau Melon. Run by Olivier Camus, this wine shop and restaurant serves outstanding meals on Tuesday through Saturday nights. The four-course menu €29 ($40) offers no choices, so be prepared to put yourself in the capable hands of the chef. Pick a bottle of vin naturel (untreated organic wine) from the shelf, or ask them to pour you something by the glass (92 rue Rébeval, 19th arrondissement, 011-33/1-42-02-68-60). Zoë Bouillon, a cheap and cheerful lunch place, is further down the street at 66 rue Rébeval. This brightly-colored soup bar also serves fresh salads and desserts, along with wine and good coffee. Coming back to the rue de Belleville, cross the street and then make an immediately left to find one of the best bistros in Paris. Le Baratin is a poorly kept secret that's frequented by journalists, chefs on their day off, and in-the-know food travelers. Their two-course lunch at €16 ($22) is one of the best deals in the city. Dinner a la carte is also outstanding—traditional bistro fare tweaked by the creative hand of Raquel Carena—but be prepared to spend closer to €45 ($61) per person. The bill at night has a tendency to climb because of their exceptional selection of natural wines (3 rue Jouye-Rouve, 20th arrondissement, 011-33/1-43-49-39-70). Continue south along the rue Jouye-Rouve and you'll hit the Parc de Belleville, one of the city's more interesting parks. The panoramic view from the top (at rue Piat) is what earned this neighborhood the name of belle vue. In good weather, the park is filled with people reading, kissing, playing soccer, eating a picnic, or simply gazing out over the horizon. It's a long and sloping park, descending all the way to the bottom of the hill and dotted with fountains and flowering trees along the way. When you exit the park (after a short nap in the grass), you'll want to check out large-scale murals in the place Fréhel at the intersection of rue de Belleville and rue Julien Lacroix. The one on the left was created in 1993 by Ben Vautier and depicts two workers lowering a giant blackboard that reads 'Il faut se méfier des mots' (beware of words). The other work—a painting by Jean Le Gac that's several stories tall—portrays a detective who's looking for clues along the rue Julien Lacroix. Also in this place is the newly cool Culture Rapide, a bar that hosts an English-language Spoken Word night every other Monday (103 rue Julien Lacroix, 20th arrondissement, 011-33/1-46-36-08-04). Continuing toward the bottom of the rue de Belleville, you'll see a pack of Chinese eateries and a good number of divey cafés. The most historic of these is La Vielleuse (2 rue de Belleville), but my favorite is Aux Folies. This building at 8 rue de Belleville used to host performances by Edith Piaf, Maurice Chevalier, and other stars of the cabaret scene. Its lively terrace today serves as a microcosm of the neighborhood, mixing old-timers, young hipsters, and plenty of middle-aged "bobos". Sitting here on a sunny day, drinking a cheap demi (small beer) and watching the motley procession of people along the rue de Belleville—this has come to feel utterly like Paris, and also a bit like home. MORE ON PARIS We asked Gourmet 's European correspondent, Alec Lobrano, for his advice on dining cheaply but well in Paris (55 reader comments) Great Paris 'Hoods: Quartier d'Aligre Paris celebrates 120 years of the Eiffel Tower

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Paris bistro buzz: Frenchie

Open for only a handful of weeks, Frenchie is a bistro worth checking out. The fact that I've allowed a full six days to pass since my last meal there is a source of deep and personal regret. I love its location on a tiny street at the very top of market street rue Montorgueil. I love the décor—exposed stone and brick, with timbered ceilings and chic industrial lighting. I love the friendly chef—the namesake frenchie who probably earned that nickname during stints at New York's Gramercy Tavern and with Jamie Oliver in London. Most of all, I love the inspired, careful and altogether delicious food. The menuShort and seasonal carte changes daily based on what's best at the market. Only two to three choices for each course, but every one of the available options looked delicious. Star starters during my visit included truite fumée, asperges (house smoked trout with green, purple and wild asparagus) and salade tomates cerises—a revelatory mix of heirloom tomatoes, baby basil, cherries, and white balsamic. The winning main was canard au miel carottes aux epices fenouil—a honeyed duck breast whose sweetness was balanced by shaved fennel and spicy carrots. For dessert, I passed on pavlova and went for tarte au chocolate amer, caramel au beurre sale—bitter chocolate tart with salted butter caramel. To say this was 'rich' would be an understatement. The bill At dinner, the prix fixe is €27 ($37) for two courses and €33 ($45) for three. Sharing two nice bottles between six people, our final tally was €42 ($57) per person for three courses plus wine. Less expensive wines are available by the carafe, and the lunchtime menu is cheaper at €16/19 ($22/26) for two or three courses. The buzz It's mainly French press at this point, but (English-language food blogger) John Talbott clocked an early and adoring review. En français, Le Fooding loved Frenchie, as did Le Figaro, L'Express, and blogger Chrisoscope. The coordinates 5, rue du Nil, 2nd arrondissement, 011-33/1-40-39-96-19. Métro Sentier. Closed all day Sunday and Monday, and Tuesday at lunch. MORE FROM OUR PARIS BLOGGER Slimming down the lunch bill at Paris restaurants (10-plus comments) Practical Paris: What's closed on Sundays, Mondays, and Tuesdays?