And the lights went out…and stayed out…

For reference, the title of this post is referring to my state of mind at this very moment as the latest nonsense out of the US with the Kavanaugh hearings pours in. Is it really all that unbelievable that, once again, a woman’s voice is essentially silenced, even though—and especially since—she had nothing personal to gain from speaking in the first place? First Anita Hill 27 years ago. Now this. I am aware that the official vote of confirmation still has to take place, but I am not optimistic. The cynicism is back in full force, friends. Long may it live.

 

 

Funnily enough, I think my general feeling of internalized rage and disgust with everything somewhat mirrors a show I saw on Tuesday evening at the MC93. Le Père is, as the title suggests, about a father. A father figure (a figured father?). There is only one actor on stage, and other than a large square of grass hidden under a panel that rose up halfway through the show and some well-placed fog machines (again with the fog machines), the stage (this was in their smaller upstairs theatre that sort of resembles the salle transformable in Nanterre in terms of size and design adaptability) was relatively bare.

 

 

Speaking of space, there is still a lot of talk around what exactly the theatre-going experience is, in terms of the level of connectivity between audience members (or audience members and actors/what is being performed on stage). One of the generally-accepted approaches towards this is to think of the theatre as a site of communion or better community creation. In other words, it is in this shared moment that all involved—audience predominantly, but actors as well—are brought together as one whole for a brief moment in time. How very special.

 

 

I snark on this mostly because I have encountered some interpretations of this idea that posit that the community created inside the theatre is capable of continuing to be nurtured outside of it. To be clear, I do not deny there is something that happens in that instance of a shared moment, but I don’t really think it has the capacity to last beyond the exiting of the theatre and the returning to one’s lives. This is not to say a true long-lasting community could never be created just from one night spent with a particular group of people at the theatre. It is possible that that could happen, but unlikely.

 

 

I tend to eschew the question of community and prefer to think of going to the theatre of a moment in which I and several other people will happen to be in the same room at the same time watching the same thing play out before us. Maybe this is a result of the fact that 99% of the time, I end up going to see things by myself (because I have work to do, and I can’t really afford to let my showgoing schedule depend on the decisions of others), but I will say that, even though I am by myself, even though I don’t usually have someone to turn to to make a quick comment at or share a knowing glance with, I don’t actually feel solitary at the theatre. I mean, half of watching a performance is watching other people watch it, and it’s kind of hard to separate yourself from the fact that you’re not the only person in the room.

 

Director Julien Gosselin takes a slightly different approach to the question, stating in the show program that he considers theatre to be a very solitary experience. Fine. I was kind of hesitant about how this was going to be communicated during the show, but honestly, I think he found a way to make that work.

 

 

Basically: if Wagner turned off the lights briefly to shut people up, Gosselin kept them off to remind people of how lonely, how solitary in our chairs we really were.

 

 

The performance was a good 90 minutes long, and I would say about half of that was in total darkness, the kind of darkness where its more comfortable to keep your eyes closed rather than strain them and risk a headache. And in that darkness, pierced only by the voice of the actor playing the father (I’ll get to him in a minute), unable to quickly gauge the reactions of those around me, those who I knew were still there, I shut my eyes and closed off the main portal to the world around me.

 

 

Eventually—from fear of falling asleep maybe, though the at times ground-shaking volume of the, for the moment, disembodied voice, made sleep impossible—I felt okay enough keeping my eyes open, and it was around then that faintly, a light far upstage slowly started to come on. Excruciatingly slowly. After a moment, it was clear that the light was backlighting something—a figure, the father—and this something started to also take on discernable movements, slowly coming closer out of the shadows.

 

Pure figure. This is a thing come from the abyss. From nothing. Suspended in an unmarked time and place.

 

 

The content of the piece surrounds the lament of the titular father over the state of his life. Growing up, he was told what he had to be, what he had to do in order to eventually become this figure, to fully realize it. But—as with several promises made by previous generations as to the general order of things in life—what he was promised never came to fruition. The farm he settled on and cultivated in order to provide for his family must be sold. He has no legacy to pass on to his children. He has failed, miserably, spectacularly at the role he was told he would take on if he followed certain steps. But if he cannot fulfill the supposed requirements for becoming said role, what is he then? He both is—by virtue of his producing children—and is not—by his lack and loss of anything to give them—the title which is conferred on him. Suspended.

 

 

It is weird though writing about this in the current context of life in general. I think the one thing that kind of pulled me from fully resisting to what was happening entirely was the fact that, at the end of the performance, he talks about how he burned all the bills and notices from the debt collectors. It’s not an ending that speaks to a revolution, but I think instead of the bleakness, I saw the potential for something different. Something that had to come from hitting absolute rock bottom.

 

 

The lights never fully came back on. In the end, the stage was more brightly illuminated, but by that point, at least for me, the cocoon effect of the first half of the performance had done its job. I didn’t particularly care about what other people were thinking. Maybe something like that was what I needed in this moment, to be really alone (or at least have the illusion of being really alone) again. To gather myself…

 

 

Sometimes it’s hard to fully get back into that mindset when all you want is to cocoon in a very large warm hug. Ah well. Life.

 

 

Anyway, moving on.

 

 

I closed out the month by seeing two shows at La Colline, both of which addressed questions of historical trauma, and more specifically, coming to terms with it.

 

 

The first, Révélations from the Red in Blue Trilogie by Cameroonian playwright Léonora Miano addressed the notion of trauma and loss in the context of the transatlantic slave trade, and more specifically, the questions of the nameless lives lost at sea during the voyage, whose souls err in the afterlife, unable to find the repose (and eventual reincarnation) of those buried with proper funeral rites. Interestingly, when she was asked about who she would like to stage her piece, she named Japanese director Satoshi Miyagi, whose troupe is known for their highly stylized, ritualized performances.

 

 

And holy shit before I say anything else, the costume design of this show was absolutely amazing. Like…go look at pictures of it. It is gorgeous.

 

 

Ahem…anyway.

 

 

The play was in Japanese with French subtitles, and the members of the company took turns alternating between performing on stage, and playing one (or many) of the several instruments in the pit. Stage design was geometrically minimalist, with two large circles—one black, one white—hanging down over the center of the stage, whose deliberate slight shifts were often used to cut the light in such a way so as to suggest pathways (to the world of the living) or isolated chambers for the realm of shadows. At the back of the stage, the limbs of several mannequins lay scattered, looking almost like drowned bodies. To be honest, this was the only element that felt slightly out of place to me, design-wise, as everything else seemed far more suggestive or abstract than literal.

 

 

The theatre itself had also undergone a bit of a facelift—well, at least the seats did—over the summer, and I have to say the new ones are pretty comfortable. Removing the last few rows of chairs in order to make room for the orchestra pit, further helped to cut back on what I think is one of my least favorite things about the space: its sharp depth. I don’t know if saying it’s too vertical would be exactly what I’m going for, but sometimes I feel as though, after a certain point, the distance of the seat to the stage coupled with the fact that the stage is not nearly as big as the main stage in Nanterre makes me feel as though I am in a different room entirely than what is being performed in front of me. Thankfully, going to see things alone can have certain advantages sometimes, such as the fact that I can literally pick almost any seat I want when selecting my ticket, meaning I was seated relatively close to the stage this time.

 

 

And it almost felt immersive. Almost. The fact that at the end, some of the actors came in the audience to shower us with pink confetti—as well as hand out little pink papers shaped like…something. I honestly have no idea what it is supposed to be other than maybe a cotton bud…maybe—kind of helped bring us in, so to speak, but still, it’s hard to feel completely wrapped up in something when you can see a very large pit, and a very grey platform separating you from this living painting being composed in front of you. Yeah, I still can’t get over the costume design.

 

 

 

The second play, Points de non-retour [Thiaroye], written and directed by Alexandra Badea, comes with a disclaimer [from me] to immediately go and look up the Thiaroye massacre of 1944. Needless to say, it is one of several “incredibly not bright, yet we’re still going to stubbornly deny the monstrosity of it” events of colonial France that the country needs to reckon with. In short, towards the end of the Second World War, around 1600 Senegalese soldiers—recently repatriated to Senegal, after having both voluntarily fought for France and being held as prisoners of war by Nazi Germany—were gathered at the military camp in Thiaroye, Senegal where, on the night of November 30, 1944, they were fired upon by their white superior officers. The reason? The soldiers had recently called a strike after finding out the pensions they were promised were both not equal to those of their white compatriots, as well as very likely not coming anyway. The government justified the massacre by saying the soldiers were prone to revolt, or had otherwise been corrupted by the Germans—claims that were of course, absolutely unfounded—and the official death toll only numbered 35. Those that were assassinated were buried in a mass grave. Furthermore, the distinction “mort pour la France” or “died for France”, a distinction that itself came with a sort of family pension, was denied them.

 

There has recently been some calls to reopen the investigation into this event to try to provide answers, if not closure. In the play, this is seen through one man—Senegalese, but adopted by a French family when he was very young—returning back to Senegal to find answers about his father who went off in the war and never came home, leaving his wife—a Romanian woman who was conceived during her mother’s brief affair with a German soldier following the disappearance of her Jewish fiancé to Palestine—and newborn son in Paris. The son, whose parents never told him the stories of the gaps and weights in his history, and who bears the name of his grandfather gunned down in Thiaroye, grows up without a means to grapple with the [to him] unknowable trauma passed down from previous generations. Meanwhile, the grandson of one of the French soldiers who carried out the order to shoot finds his grandfather’s old diaries, detailing not just what happened that day, but the haunting presence of the monstrosity of the act that never quite disappeared.

 

Tying this all together is a journalist who, after she gets a hold of the research of a recently-deceased [I think, that part was either unclear or I spaced out…] colleague, decides to try and finish the work he started, creating a radio broadcast about the event, and ultimately bringing the grandson of the soldier and the grandson of the officer who killed him together.

 

 

Yes, the stereotypical inter-generational moment of reckoning/reconciliation happens. So do some rather too on the nose speeches about how we have to change the system, it’s the system that allows for this thing to still be kept in the shadows, and we can change that even by just talking about this event.

 

 

Yeah, the writing got a tad clunky sometimes. Several story beats were easy to spot, as the narrative followed a pretty typical structure. But I am glad this play happened still because, yes, I did learn something.

 

 

Stage design consisted of two walls angled together to suggest the corner of an apartment, with large windows on which were projected videos of whatever outside setting we happened to be in. And yes, this did also mean that at times they did that thing where an actor leaves the stage and then appears on the video, suggesting a seamless transition into an invisible ‘beyond’ backstage. The front of the stage, meanwhile, was absolutely covered in red sand. Blood red sand. At times it was laid in, picked up, held and run through fingers, and then inevitably tracked along the platform of the stage, traces of blood red footprints on a steel-grey floor.

 

A final thing: there were times when the performance was intercut with the live typing out of notes being projected onto the wall right above the windows. I’m not entirely sure about that choice, but there you go.

 

Other than that, I still feel like I’m in a bit of a limbo state. I want to both curl up against something and stretch out and run headlong into something/-where unknown. It’s a strange feeling…

Finding my footing (again)

I really want to try and make more of a point to update this thing more frequently than I did this past year, hence why I’m writing now after scrambling to finish up some last-minute lesson planning.

 

To start, the question many (?) of you are wondering: how am I doing?

 

Raw

 

Raw but supported. Still hopeful, still feeling like I can give of myself, which I’m surprised by but in a pleasant way. Also feeling like I want to reach out to something but then having to contend with the fact that what’s in front of me is just air. Heavy air. Heavy, nostalgic air. Sometimes, I get a whiff of something in the air as I’m walking that sets off a chain of memories, and I feel a small pang in my heart because of the uncertainty of things, specifically, uncertainty as to the possibility of recurrence of things. And then the feeling passes, but its mark lingers on for a while. The weather’s also gotten crisper now, and I’ve begun to notice the exposed skin on my cheeks and my hands more acutely. The urge to be wrapped up in something is getting stronger, but I’ve found that sometimes confronting that urge doesn’t have to be as lonely as it first seems.

 

 

Besides, I was surrounded by friends this weekend: strong, wonderful, understanding supportive women. Oh, and chocolate. Like, literally a mountain’s worth of it.

 

 

Friday, I met with Isabella at Brasserie Barbès for a quick drink (okay two), during which time we discovered some croquettes that I would say almost rivalled the crack dumplings at Le Pacifique. We then moved on to grab dinner at Bouillon Pigalle, which was a bold choice since—considering how incredibly inexpensive it is—there is always a line to contend with. Thankfully, getting there close to 22h30 on a Friday proved to be an excellent idea, since whatever line there was moved very quickly, as most other patrons were finishing their dinners.

 

And really, for some steak-frites, red wine, and (first chocolate appearance) an absolutely massive profiterole filled with ice cream, I’d say the wait was worth it.

 

Side note though: strangely enough there were about three separate parties celebrating birthdays that evening, one of which was seated at the table next to ours. The birthday boy was gifted, among other things, one of those stereotypical, incredibly fake Native American headdresses (complete with plastic tomahawk axe and bow and arrow set). It’s times like this that I remember that a good majority of the world has an incredibly long way to go when it comes to reasons why nobody should be buying/gifting these things…ever.

 

 

Saturday was much more quiet during the day, but at least it involved some tarte au chocolat baking (yes, I’m baking again…that’s got to be a good thing…right?), and sitting on my floor consuming massive bowls of popcorn and cookies and said tarte with some other girlfriends. The original plan was to watch a film. As these things usually go, conversation kind of took over, which, honestly, is almost always the better outcome.

 

 

As to theatre-goings, there were two shows up this week, both at Nanterre, and one of which I…was not particularly fond of. Boundary Games sounded pretty up my alley on paper (I mean, an experimental piece with that title, and me working on questions of space…like…how could it not be perfect). Instead it was an hour of people pushing blankets around to ambient noise.

 

Ok, fine, perhaps there was more nuance than that. Perhaps one could say something about the fact that the sound effects played alternated between urban and rural/natural, or the fact that the manner in which the actors interacted/moved the heavy woolen blankets around suggested, at times, attempts to create or seek shelter, and other times literall world-building (what I called the ‘Pangea moment’ when, at a time when all the lights were almost off, leaving nothing illuminated save for the glow of the grid taped down on the floor under the black lights overhead, the blankets, now resembling small mountain ranges, were slowly pushed together into a sort of continental mass), but see the whole thing ended with some stage hands in the rafters throwing down large empty cardboard boxes. And really, all I can remember thinking at that moment was ‘dear god I hope we don’t have to watch them put the blankets in those boxes’.

 

Thankfully, we didn’t.

 

 

It’s a shame the show—silent, by the way, other than the aforementioned sound effects—didn’t take advantage of the stage setup to explore the notion of boundaries even further.  The fact that the audience was seated tri-frontally could have provided, at least in my opinion, some opportunity to play with the stage/audience boundary that was never really tested. There were a couple moments where crossing that boundary came close to happening, but from what I saw, I think that was more due to a blanket that just so happened to fall a certain way rather than a deliberate choice to test a limit. Pity.

 

 

The second show was one I saw this afternoon, and honestly was almost coincidentally perfect in terms of its content, given that Saturday night’s conversation ended with me expressing an interest in possibly modifying my 1er (11th grade) lesson plan to focus on teaching The Laramie Project. Milo Rau’s La Reprise. Histoire(s) du théâtre (I) is only slightly connected to Laramie in that one of the central narratives deals with crafting a sort of documentary piece around the April 2012 murder of Ihsane Jarfi, a gay man, in Liège, Belgium. Like Matthew Shepard, Jarfi was getting a ride home from a bar when the men driving him started beating him senselessly, for no other reason other than he happened to be gay. Also like Shepard, Jarfi was left outside, in the cold, on the side of the road, the difference being that instead of being tied to a barbed wire fence, he was stripped of his clothing and laid face down on the street.

 

There was no mention in the program of any connection to Laramie or Matthew Shepard, and it’s a shame that the talkback with Milo Rau happened yesterday (Saturday) because I really wish I could have asked about this. I mean, really, how do you go about creating a piece of (somewhat…and we’ll get to that in a bit) documentary theatre about a  homophobic hate crime and not think of Laramie? And yes, I am aware that Laramie was a piece of American theatre, but it made the rounds in Europe as well…so…

 

 

Anyway, the other big thing that separates the two is the fact that La Reprise is just as much about the process of creating the piece of documentary theatre about the event than it is about the final theatrical product. I mean, the first thing that happens is that one of the actors comes downstage to give a monologue on the difficulty of beginning, of starting the performance and at which point (and to what extent) does the actor become their character. Really, you’d almost think this was a play about the nature of acting, if what followed was not a recounting of the events that happened on that day in Liège. The piece then proceeded to show the ‘auditions’ of those who would be taking on the roles of several of the real-life figures, and at this was the point where, once again, a camera was introduced. Yes, everyone, once again we have a situation where a camera is simultaneously filming something while what is being projected on the screen above/behind the actors is at times a live transmission, and other times something previously recorded (though the transition between the two coupled with the fact that the actors’ movements on stage often closely matched/were only slightly out of sync with what was on screen definitely heightened the hyper-theatricality of the whole thing). To be honest, I’m still trying to grapple somewhat with the connection between the two threads—there were times where I felt as though the show was tackling two separate themes but, who knows—, but this is probably also due to the fact that I could not get the Laramie connection out of my head the entire 90 minutes of the show’s runtime.

 

And with that, another week gone. I’m feeling this sense of tiredness that’s been creeping up on me these past few nights come round again. That, and a general feeling of suspension.

 

Oh, but I did manage to write some thesis-related things this week, so there’s that at least.  Yeah, I’ll try and hold on to that for now.

Parallels

I’ve been thinking a lot since my last post about when to update again. At first, I thought I’d write something during my vacation in Greece this August, but internet connectivity being almost non-existant where I was, I put that off.

 

Besides, disconnecting for a while felt pretty nice.

 

Then I came back and what with la rentrée/back to school in full swing, and the general hectic nature of September, I almost felt as though I had no time to myself to think of anything but what was happening the next day — hell, the next few hours.

 

And so I figured the best way to come back would be to write a post after seeing my first play of the season, Infidèles by tgStan at the Théâtre de la Bastille.

 

The play happened.

 

Then this past weekend, the rug was pulled out from under me once again.

 

I couldn’t help but think of parallels today while I was teaching, how similar certain events in my life have been, how I’m in a somewhat similar place now that I was a year ago. Somewhat. The difference is in the details, and the circumstances being what they are, I feel a slight tinge of hope this time around. Not necessarily  for any particular outcome, but hope in the unknown, in the not closing of a link, a connection. Hope in realizing that there are wonderful people who we want in our lives, who we choose to want in our lives. And who, sometimes for reasons we can barely comprehend, choose to want us around as well, even and especially in the shit times.

 

And I feel lucky this time around that, when loneliness almost snuck on and grabbed hold of me, I knew exactly who I could contact. That’s a pretty wonderful thing to be confident about, isn’t it?

 

I’m going to be wading through some heavy things these next few days, so you all might have to bear with me. For now though, I can say that I feel okay. Someone dear to me told me I was strong this morning, and I believed them. So there must be some truth to that.

 

I am a lion. I can still roar.

 

With that, the plays I saw this week.

 

 

The first, as I mentioned, was Infidèles at Bastille. I figured going there for my first show of the year was a good choice, given that it is still my favorite theatre in the city. And this show did not disappoint. It’s based off a script of a similar name by Ingmar Bergman, and I’m just going to take this moment right now to say I have never seen anything by Bergman. So, we can all just get that little bit of nonsense out of the way.

 

The play centers around the retelling of a woman’s infidelity, her journey from faithful wife and mother to woman who sleeps with her husband’s best friend (and the fallout that follows, especially for her 9-year-old daughter, here played by an actress in her forties. Trust me, it actually really works). The opening sees the four actors – two men, two women – standing downstage, and instead of launching straight into the narrative, begin by performing a sort of character creation exercise. Essentially, one of the male actors turns to one of the women, and asks her to describe the woman at the center of the story – who she, it becomes abundantly clear, will eventually be playing. She in turn gives a bit of information about her – her name, age, career, a bit of her personality – before, in the course of describing her family, designating the principle roles the other  actors will play (her husband, her daughter, the husband’s friend who she eventually sleeps with). From there, the play moves into the narrative, but not before some comments are made over whether or not this retelling will ‘work’ (sly glance at audience who they know are there to see a play).

 

In some ways, this sort of putting into performance of the process of ‘becoming’ that often defines a large part of an actor’s work seemed very similar to what I saw in Bovary last year. Exposing the invisible processes of the actor’s craft to draw attention to the theatricality, the fictionality of what was about to happen. It renders the whole thing less illusory but also more honest…? As in, there is no question here of anyone trying to get  anyone else to believe, truly believe anything. And it works rather well in cases like this because when small flubs happen, there is already an understanding in place about the possibility of imperfection. Imperfection, in fact, becomes part and parcel of the whole experience. And in the end, when the actors reconvene back downstage and – while sometimes quickly glancing back out at the audience – ask if what they did worked, if it ended up being a show after all, there was in that question a recognition that, despite anything that did/did not go as planned, it was still theatre. Theatre in its (almost) entirety, creation to presentation. The moment before to the moment after. Yes, none of it is « real », but does that really matter?

 

 

And the second show was one I saw yesterday, Sunday, at Nanterre. How appropriate, to find a temporary moment of solace in something I love.

 

Hilariously, the play was called Hate, but that didn’t really have much to do with my current state of mind. Just a weird coincidence.

 

The subtitle of this play (and I’m going to translate from the French), is « an attempted dialogue with a horse », and yes, before any of you ask, there was an actual horse on stage.

 

A horse, and a naked woman. Well, almost naked. She wore a belt with a fanny pack full of carrots (for the horse), and a small holster where she placed a plastic sword.

 

It goes without saying that this whole thing was really more of a monologue than a true dialogue, although about a third of the way through, the actress, Laëtitia Dosch, who also wrote the piece, also started speaking as the horse. That choice itself speaks to the overall question of power that underlines the production as a whole. As Laëtitia slowly begins to develop a more and more intimate relationship with the horse – don’t worry though, no actual sex happens, though the possibility of it is very explicitly alluded to – the question arises as not really the ‘authenticity’ of this relationship (again, horse), but the agency of one of the two parties involved. The horse’s voice can be provided artificially, but this nevertheless still anchors him as an object, as a piece of whatever narrative his human counterpart is in the process of creating. He has no true agency, at least not enough to make him a subject. The relationship, in other words, exists within the context of only one of their points of view.

 

 

It’s a rather interesting way of exploring this kind of relationship, these imbalances of power.

 

Anyway, I should perhaps write more on this, but I’ve got dinner to make. And to be honest, my brain is a bit exhausted.

 

 

But if anyone wants to reach me, you know where I am. I may be a bit under water right now, but I’ll be ok. I’ve got good people in my life, people who choose me to be in their lives in various capacities. And something else I’ve started to realize over this past year is the value of that. Fine comes with time. Besides, the sun was out today. How wonderful that life can still have such beauty in it like that.

One year on (302 – 306)

My how time flies…

 

 

According to Facebook, it’s been a year since I originally started this thing. One year. I honestly almost can’t believe it, especially when I think back to where I was physically, mentally, emotionally this time last year, and just how much has happened in the meantime.

 

 

Taking stock : I feel stronger, happier, more confident in myself than I did a year ago. Oddly enough, I think the general feeling of hopelessness and desperation I felt after the rug was pulled out from under me contributed in large part to this. Looking back, I think I figured that I had already sunk so low, felt so small, that stumbling along, being a bit more daring even, wouldn’t hurt as badly as the hurt I felt in those early weeks. And it was hurt. Body-aching, mind-stripping, cry until you can only heave out air because the tears are dried up hurt. But I made it. I surprised even myself and I made it.

 

 

Throwing myself back into this city when I did pushed me, helped me get back in touch with a kind of strength that I could feel somewhere within me, but hadn’t accessed for a while. It also made me more vulnerable, or rather more comfortable with being vulnerable. I used to hide a lot of the rawer parts of myself from people, thinking that I had to keep up this act of having everything together, of everything being fine. For whose benefit? I’m not entirely sure. If I had to guess : to prove to myself the extent of my independence and ferocity.

 

 

But one night a few months ago, I was asked why I was hiding how upset I was about something. This came as a shock to me because I thought I had been putting on a pretty good façade. Apparently not.

 

 

And so I decided to open myself up more, to speak out a bit more when something was bothering me. I was allowing myself to experience even small moments of vulnerability and it felt good. And then this good feeling extended outwards into how I projected myself into the world. I knew I could still stand on my own, that I could still handle almost any bullshit life (or bureaucracy…) decided to throw in my way, but this time I could do it knowing that I could allow myself to feel small, bare in front of someone again.

 

As to the name change. The old blog title hasn’t really been true for several months now for a number of reasons, from the content of my posts to the state of my personal life. I wanted something that, going forward, would better reflect my relationship to the city and my work now.

 

 

I also really like alliteration, and have been very into the letter ‘S’ lately so…there’s that.

 

 

Beyond that, the content of the blog isn’t really going to change much, though I’ll probably start to pepper in more dissertation-related thoughts in the near future. Yes, everyone, the time has come to finally begin the long process of writing the thing. Am I nervous about it? Oh god yes. Is there nevertheless a thrill coursing through me when I think of my impending jump into an intellectual abyss of my jumbled thoughts? Definitely.

 

You need a bit of fear to push you along through this I think. Makes it all a bit more exciting.

 

 

With that, I leave you all with a picture of a salad – yes, you read that correctly – I had a couple nights ago while I was out with two friends from the theatre workshop. Normally, this salad is served with a fried egg on top. Unfortunately, no matter how much has changed for me in the past year, I still can’t stand eggs (exceptions, again, being in quiche, frittata and strata forms). Sometimes it’s nice to have a bit of consistency.

 

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287 – 301

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I like pretty cocktails from Combat

 

It’s been a little over two weeks since I’ve settled into my new place, and slowly but surely, things are finally starting to feel like home.

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Finding creative ways to hang photos helps

Quite a number of notable events happened in those two weeks, at least one of which was witnessed by pretty much the entire world over in one way or another. I closed my last post with my housewarming party, and all the leftover chips I (still) have in my house, sitting on my table…just waiting to be consumed…at some point.

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Old mustard pots make great vessels for desserts…just saying

In the days that followed, I reoriented myself with my (not so) new surroundings, trying to establish a routine that could follow me through into the rentrée. I planned new walking routes (because of course I did), I acquainted myself with my new smaller kitchen, I made things, gifted things, stocked my tiny fridge to the brim with things. I got back in touch with two old friends, one of whom I hadn’t seen in about five years, and who I had originally met in my first study abroad program when I was an undergrad. They work as an actor full-time in New York now, and were in town as part of an independent production : a reworking/reimagining of sorts of La Vie d’Adèle (Blue is the Warmest Color). I won’t go too much into the details of how this went because even though my friend and I had a long and incredibly cathartic on their end, at least from what I gathered, talk about all the almost unbelievable nonsense that muddied the overall mood of the production, I’m not sure how much negativity I want to put out into the world right now when there are so many others (two world leaders in particular are coming to mind…) doing the job so astoundingly well already. Suffice it to say that an overinflated ego that all but blinds you to the – I know, astounding – reality that your audience is more than fully capable of interacting intelligently with and drawing informed conclusions from your piece, is never the best way to go about things.
On the bright side, the aforementioned cathartic conversation with said friend did allow me the opportunity to add a new restaurant to my list, Le Cadoret, located about 5 or so minutes from my apartment. It’s going right up there with the three dumpling places, and the proximity to my favorite café on my list of reasons why I’m really glad I moved into this apartment.

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Beets and boudin noir to start
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Pork and the fluffiest pommes dauphine I have ever tasted
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Cheese…because of course.

This first reunion was followed up on by another with another friend – from the Cité U days – who I also hadn’t seen since the last time I moved out of Paris in 2014. Unfortunately, schedules never worked out in our favor to meet up during my subsequent short visits, and right before I moved back, she took a job in Vienna. Luckily though, she was in town for the night of July 14th (Bastille Day), so a small group of us were able to get together for dinner before heading over to the Pont Alexandre III to watch the fireworks with a slightly smaller crowd than the masses on the Champ de Mars. Let me tell you, watching the fireworks with an incredibly, excessively belligerent human squawking the Marseillaise – along with several other chants relating to France’s semifinal win the night before – right behind you is quite an experience. I mean really, it was almost as though we were right there, on the champ de mars, listening to the soundtrack of various pop songs that no doubt accompanied the (several) ecstatic bursts of color. The theme this year was Paris in Love. I have no doubt that nothing illustrated that theme better than the love that was shown between that man the the robust capacity of his vocal chords (really though, the show lasted just over 30 minutes, and he kept at it the whole time…yes people asked him repeatedly to knock it off…and yes after a while we realized that this, like the fight against our own mortality in this journey called life, was a futile endeavor).
Anyway.

Speaking of celebrations, France won the World Cup. I met up with the boyfriend at a bar near his friend’s place, a bar that, once I walked in, gave me strong California vibes, with a touch of New England maritime aesthetic.
Despite the very palpable feelings of stress that permeated the room during a large part of the first half (let’s get this out of the way now: France did not play well at all during a very good portion of that game), once the goals started happening – and especially once victory became almost inevitable –, the mood changed, as one might expect it would during an event like this.
Really though, I don’t think anything can quite capture the absolute joy that radiated out into the streets after the match was over. I didn’t really feel up for heading down to the Champs Elysées that evening (or the day after for the team’s welcome home parade), but honestly, it almost didn’t matter where you were in the city (I’m going to stress that last bit here because, of course, access to the celebrations from the banlieues was all but cut off that night), the celebration all but found you.

All this to segue into another victory, a smaller, more personal one, perhaps, but a victory all the same.
I installed a washing machine.
A bit of background: before I moved in to my apartment, the friend of mine who was living there before me informed me that the in-unit washing machine was smoking. This is, of course, not normal. Not a problem. I strategized my laundry at my old place, a new machine was ordered, and two weeks later, there it was in my ‘living room’.
Now here’s a thing about France that I did not know at the time: technically, if you order a large appliance like this to replace an old or broken one, the delivery service, by law, has to take the old one out of your place when they deliver the new one. The former is then dropped off at an appropriate recycling facility where it is either repaired/refurbished (if possible), or taken apart and its materials being put to use elsewhere. Of course, this system does at times mean that you will encounter people who conveniently ‘forget’ to take your old machine, meaning you find yourself in a conundrum of being on the top floor of a 5th (US 6th) floor walk-up with one more washing machine than you really know what to do with.

One thing was for certain though: I needed to do laundry. For that, I had to install the new machine.
Shout-out here to the boyfriend for helping me figure out how to do it over the phone, and for granting me the realization that it really isn’t quite as annoyingly complicated as I thought it would be.
Well, the actual installation part at least (apart from this moment where I almost had a breakdown because the damn faucet thing wouldn’t stop leaking until I realized that the tube was screwed on slightly crookedly and that there really was a very simple solution to that problem). The moving the old machine out and the new one into place was slightly less so.
Honestly, that part was a bitch. But at least now I have clean underwear so…

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*Victoriously sips on a really quite excellent Freddo Cappuccino from IBRIK as a way to mark the completion of an initially daunting task…

 

As to the old machine, thankfully I had a few friends willing to come lend a hand to bring it down the stairs (and a neighbor who caught us about 2/3rds of the way down and offered his help as well), otherwise that thing was (metaphorically) going right out the window.

Finally, the week was rounded out with another first for me: my first trip to a public swimming pool in Paris. Yay!
My friend Isabella and I were keen for a bit of sun/sunning, and since going to the beach was not an option (1: last minute train tickets there were a bit too expensive, and 2: all the trains back were full), we figured why not do the next best thing and go to an open-air swimming pool (conveniently located near both the Parc des Buttes Chaumont and my apartment).
Contrary to my expectations, the pool wasn’t overwhelmingly crowded that day, and was actually very nice and clean (as in, the water was crystal clear, and did not smell overwhelmingly of chlorine clean). We mostly sat out on the pool ledge to get some sun and dip our feet in (no lounge chairs in the immediate area, unfortunately), but after a bit, we did end up donning our (mandatory) swimming caps and taking a quick dip in.

Coincidentally, this is also the thing that reminded me of why I never really sought out going to public pools here. I hate swimming caps.
Another side note: someone is going to need to explain to me exactly why it is that in France the rule is that you must take a quick shower – with soap, provided in the changing rooms – before going in the water. This seems counterintuitive.
As I am going to be off to Greece in a couple of weeks, I don’t fully anticipate visiting the pool again this summer, but given how pretty excellent their access packages are price-wise, maybe this could become a weekly thing next year. Who knows?
Hell, maybe by then I’ll have bought myself a swim cap that’s a slight more comfortable than the 2eur one I bought from the vending machine in the entrance lobby. There were two colors available: black and navy blue. Take a wild guess as to which one I picked…

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As you can see, this is not a swim cap. No, this is some apricot jam I made. Another mini-success

259 – 286

A few things to update on this go-around, one of which will probably explain more than others why I’ve been even more silent than usual…again.

 

I’ve moved apartments.

 

Other than my prospectus, apartment hunting has been one of my biggest sources of stress for the past month and a half or so. For those unfamiliar with the way it works here, renting an apartment in Paris is, for lack of a better word, a bitch, even more so when you’re a foreign national. Chalk it up to the fact that demand far exceeds supply – which is the case in pretty much all major cities in the world –, itself exacerbated by services like AirBnb, but trying to find a new place here, or a place at all, demands a lot of patience.

Basically, what it almost comes down to is apply for literally everything in your budget range, put together an impeccable dossier (which includes documents such as a cover letter, CV/resumé, last three pay slips or a school acceptance letter if you’re a student, bank statements, bank statements from your guarantor, passport copies…you get the idea), and then hope that your application gets chosen out of the…several…other applicants.

What makes it more difficult if you’re a foreign national is the question of the guarantor. The majority of property owners will, in fact, not even consider your application if you don’t have a guarantor who lives in France (not necessarily a French citizen, but someone who lives in the country, and more importantly, has a French bank account). The general course of action at this point is to go through an agency, but that always involves added (and many times overinflated) fees, which are not accessible to everyone.

 

The rise of the start-up industry in Paris, however, has provided something of a solution to this problem. Now there are several agencies that offer up their services to stand in as guarantors for foreign students or young professionals. Usually there is a fee of some sort involved with this, but more often than not it is nowhere near what an agency might charge.

 

This is the route I ended up going, and good thing too because it allowed me to avoid an agency all-together.

 

The apartment I have now is actually one formerly occupied by a friend of mine who was going to be moving out and getting a place with his girlfriend at the beginning of summer. As things move very quickly in this city, apartment-wise, I made it very known several months ago that I wanted to take over the lease on his place, hoping that the owner would take my offer instead of putting the apartment up on the market. Clearly she did – and quite frankly, signing up with a guarantor service helped – and now here I am.

 

I’m actually not that far from my old place – just a couple stops on the metro. What’s honestly the weirdest bit to me in all this is that I’ve actually changed arrondissements from the 20th to the 19th (though the edge of the 20th is like…a block away).

 

Moving was…not as annoying as it could have been to be honest. To save money, and also because I had a lot of time on my hands, I decided to do it all myself instead of hiring a service. Major, MAJOR thanks have to go to the boyfriend however, who sacrificed sleeping in on a Saturday to help me lug three giant suitcases to the new place (on the top floor, no elevator, again…though it is one floor less than my old place).

Also thanks to him for attempting to fix my IKEA bookcase that I…hastily…put together, but let’s be honest, putting those things together can be such a pain in the ass that at some point you just want it to be done and over with rather than impeccable. Or you know, actually stable…oops.

And of course, this past Friday, July 6th, the official day that I both turned in my keys and became a full-time occupant of the new place, I celebrated with a housewarming. I am now the proud owner of an exorbitant amount of chips and bottles of wine. Seriously though, if anyone here wants any chips, please come take them. Seriously.

 

On to another update : my prospectus. It has been accepted. It is officially filed in the system. I am officially ABD (all but dissertation). Now I just have to write the thing.

 

A propos of all this : if anyone wants to read the prospectus, I will gladly send it to you. I get asked about what I work on all the time. What better way to explain what it is I do than to read this thing.

 

In the meantime, some other things I’ve been up to.

 

I went down to Marseille for a weekend at the end of June, for one thing. Due to a bit of a mix-up in terms of scheduling (namely the friend I was meeting forgot to use 24hr time when telling me what time his train/his girlfriend’s flight were arriving so I could check out tickets, meaning I would be arriving a good twelve hours before they did) I ended up having a bit of a solo adventure around the city.

 

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I have been to Marseille before, but last time I was there it was with the NYU Paris program back in 2011, so my memories of the city were pretty vague. And even though the weather was hot as only the Mediterranean sun can make things, I ended up spending the majority of the day walking.

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Inside Épicerie l’Idéal

I started off the day with a quick stop at Épicerie L’Ideal to grab a quick lunch (potato and green bean salad with ham, all drizzled in a very nice olive oil) before making the trek up to the cathedral of Notre Dame de la Garde. This is actually the one thing I do remember doing the last time I visited, and it was nice to be able to marvel at the place again…especially the little boats hanging from the ceiling.

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Oh and also all the German tourists. Literally. There were so many of them there that day.

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After sitting and enjoying my lunch in a patch of shade, I made my way down the hill, around the port of Marseille – which, what with all the boats docked there, made me even more impatient for my upcoming return to the homeland that is Greece next month – and over to MuCEM, or the Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilizations. This space is absolutely gorgeous, especially the exterior architecture. I’ll just let the photos speak for themselves.

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To be honest, at this point in the day I was getting a bit tired, especially considering that I had not gotten very much sleep the night before as my train left ridiculously early in the morning, so I didn’t quite register too much with regards to the exhibits currently on display. I will say that the one focused on the history of agriculture in the Mediterranean was rather interesting, especially the display of different artifacts from various Mediterranean cultural traditions, along with excerpts of traditional folk songs being played in different parts of the room. One of the first ones played was a Greek folk song about gathering water from a well. Not going to lie, my ears perked up hearing it.

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This is actually from another expo currently on, focusing on the gold trade/industry.

In any case, by the end of the day I wanted nothing more than to sit and do nothing, so I ended up killing time at the train station until my friend arrived. Then it was off to the airport to pick up his girlfriend, and then off to his family’s house where we would be spending the weekend. Doing nothing. Well, doing nothing and going swimming. And eating. It was wonderful.

 

Another highlight : going to an all-night event at the Musée du Quai Branly in conjunction with their expo on nightmare and monster imagery in East Asian cultures (though the focus was more concentrated on China, Japan and Thailand). As the event was free, there was quite a crowd at the beginning of the night, but one of the perks of choosing to arrive later was that the crowds – many of them families with small children which…why – started to dissipate very quickly.

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There were some cool light and sound installations in the gardens to set the mood (and also made me wonder why they didn’t wait until October to do this because what better time for a haunted garden than Halloween). There was also a silent disco which, to put it lightly, could have been better organized. I mean, is it really that hard to put up signs indicating which line is to pick up and which one is to turn in headphones? No. Thankfully the disco was a blemish on the beginning of the night rather than the end because the expo itself was excellent. And at times even a bit frightening (looking at you small room in the J-horror part of the exhibit that was projecting images of the girl from The Grudge just standing there…also a wall of tiny baby doll heads). Totally worth the walk to catch the night bus at 4am.

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Oh hi there…

I’ve also got a new restaurant to add to my list of places : Les Niçois. As the name suggests, this place specializes in food from the south of France, and also offers a pretty good lunch deal of a starter + main or a main + dessert for around 16euros. I ended up going there to meet a friend/fellow Harvard French PhD candidate, my suggestion to grab lunch there being primarily motivated by the fact that it was hot and I wanted fish.

 

And fish I got.

I started, however, with a gazpacho, while my friend ordered the grab salad with grilled prawns.

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We both ended up going for the grilled salmon with summer vegetables and pistou (kind of like a pesto) for our main course, and I think the fact that we devoured both our portions rather quickly pretty much confirmed that we made the right choice.

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We did, however, decide to forego dessert there, instead opting to head down rue du Temple to Pastelli Mary Gelateria, a small shop owned by a Milanese transplant (Mary) who not only makes all her gelato in-house, but also uses only seasonal, organic ingredients.

 

I thought deciding on a couple of flavors would be a challenge. Then I saw that black sesame was on offer. I also asked for pistachio to keep within the nutty flavor profile. Best decision ever. This gelato was wonderful.

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And that pretty much catches us up to now.

 

A final highlight : yesterday I headed back to Cité U for another reunion with the old gang, which also included a surprise birthday celebration for one of them. A few rounds of Molkky helped us work off a bit of the delicious apple tart that stood in for a cake.

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And then I took a long walk home. A nice thing about that now: I no longer have to climb up the monster of a hill that is rue de Belleville (or rue de Ménilmontant for that matter) to do it. Thank goodness.

 

 

231 – 258

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Every year, around spring, there comes a point where things both start to pile up and converge into a sort of machinal monotony, during which nothing terrrrrribly exciting happens. A large part of this – at least in my case – has to do with the fact that the school year is winding down, and going into the home stretch means paper grading, exam proctoring, teacher meetings, etc., etc., etc.

Oh, and also writing and sending off what I hope to be my final prospectus draft (just need to wait for email responses…any day now…hopefully).

Needless to say, I haven’t really felt the impulse to write much, first because not a ton of things were happening, but then mostly because the prospect of trying to condense the increasing number of days between my last post and this one into a reasonably long text seemed more and more daunting as the days missed racked up.

But there were some wonderful things I would have liked to mention. Like how my theatre students gave their final performance and blew me (and our audience…yes we had an audience, including the principal and vice principal of the school) away with their energy, dedication, and commitment. To say I’m a bit sad that some of them will be graduating and off to new projects next year is somewhat of a given, but on the bright side, my eleventh graders will be back next year (and we had some students in the audience express enthousiastic interest in joining next year). This is probably one of my biggest regrets about leaving when I did the last time I taught this course: I wasn’t able to start a legacy, to establish a sort of permanence. Hopefully, since I’m not planning on leaving any time soon, this thing will grow into a slightly larger group of misfits instead of a relatively small one (though there’s nothing wrong with either).

Then of course there were reunions with friends from Boston (including one that involved a visit to some galeries in the Upper Marais that I had never visited before, but will probably try to more often when I have the time for it, mostly because…they’re freeeeee), discovering a potentially new favorite restaurant with the boyfriend (Buffet…you are wonderful, I love you and your delicious food and incredibly affordable prices), picnics, impressionist art expos, starting up round two of the physical theatre workshop I joined about a month or so ago…

And best of all, securing an apartment for next year. Other than waiting for feedback on my prospectus, this was probably my biggest source of stress for the past month.

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Could probably also call this the month of avocado toasts…

One thing that sort of got pushed to the side more than it should have though was my theatre attendance. I missed…probably more shows than I should have. I can tell myself that I let the hectic-ness of my schedule get the best of me, but I think a bit of show fatigue had started to set in as well.

Not for too long though because now I’m back with another mini review of a show that I have already seen…well kind of.

Back in the fall, I saw a production of Je suis un pays at the Théâtre des Amandiers in Nanterre. As part of this production, there was also a companion piece programmed on the same evenings – Voilà ce que jamais je ne te dirai – that spectators were meant to see before seeing the longer main show (but the two could not be seen on the same night). Now, last fall, I kind of dropped the ball on seeing the companion piece (the first one – which, need I remind everyone, had a running time of about 4 hours – was more than enough for me at the time), but I figured that since both plays were coming through La Colline this month, and since a) spatial dynamics are my focus and b) La Colline is one of the theatres I’m focusing on, why not go and see both again…and in the right order this time.

I should point out right away, that I wasn’t exactly the ideal spectator for Voilà… considering I had seen the longer show already, and a large part of the aesthetic of the smaller piece plays with the confusion of walking into a space that has been from all appearances largely destroyed, and trying to piece together what the hell just happened. I will say though, that enough time had passed between the first time I saw the show that I didn’t remember every detail of what transpired before, but I was able to recall enough of the ‘plot’ details that I didn’t remain confused/perplexed for long.

The experience of this show starts with arriving at the theatre about two hours after the initial start time of Je suis un pays. After checking your ticket, the ushers hand you a wristband, and instruct you to go to the coat check downstairs to drop off your bag, and pick up your white hazmat suit and small headlamp. You had twenty minutes to get dressed before meeting back upstairs with the other suited-up spectators. While this was happening, Je suis… had in the meantime entered the second of its intermissions, meaning that for a good fifteen minutes, the spectators of both shows were mingling together in the entryway/bar area, with those who had already gone through our ‘experience’ looking on knowingly, while others remained more or less confused as to what in the world these people were doing.

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At the appointed time, after the spectators for Je suis… had been called back into the theatre, we were lead down into a small room located somewhere in the backstage area. There, a video was playing showing an interview between a journalist and a ‘Finnish’ expert on the artist that features prominently in the larger work (but who I don’t think ever actually appears). The conversation quickly descends into absurdity – notably: removal of all artistic works from museums and privatizing them is a way to fight against elitism because all museums really do, instead of being democratic, accessible spaces, is cultivate an even stronger level of elitism and exclusivity…and then everyone must sing the chicken dance – before two of the principle actors from the show come in. One is wearing nothing but briefs and bleeding from the head; the other has just been doused in tar. After a long discourse by the former, we are told that there has just been an explosion, the population has been decimated, and it is up to us to repopulate the planet.

Oh, and there would be beer.

At this point, we were lead out of the small room and into the main theatre – walking through the audience space – in a cloud of fog. We were then lead onto a bank of seats on the stage itself, an act that transformed the formerly primarily frontal dynamic in a bifrontal one, and as the fog cleared, we slowly discovered the mess on stage before us. Almost total destruction. I emphasize the almost because, once again, the audience space remains untouched. Untouched by dirt, by fake blood, by tar. Even though the stage itself  was relatively level with the start of the audience space – in contrast, the stage at Amandiers is raised up, creating a notable gap between itself and the audience – there was still a noticeable division between the two.

Anyway, what to say about the rest? We watched the last fifteen minutes of the show, it ended, we were all given free Heinekens, and then the techno music started. Fun.

Yeah, I’m not entirely sure what else to say about this that I hadn’t already said when I wrote about the longer show a few months ago. In any case, I am actually seeing Je suis un pays (or, well, the first part of it) again this week so…there’s that.

I’m just going to end this here with an image from this sort of immersive, light show expo, thing that the boyfriend and I checked out last Saturday. On the downside, it being a Saturday, it was pretty crowded. On the bright side, these flowers…

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223 – 230

Memory is an odd thing, especially when it comes to theatre.

 

I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit lately for several reasons, chief of which is the fact that, as it is the 50th anniversary – to the month – of May 1968, several events and expositions have been popping up around the city commemorating this very pivotal moment in Parisian/French history.

 

But what does commemoration serve when an event of this kind is concerned? An event rooted primarily in anti-establishment rhetoric, crying for change in the way things are done, cries that – yes – turned violent, but when is that not the case when the people dare to speak out and law enforcement answers with guns and batons (we can add tear gas to this now, useless canisters of tear gas flung into otherwise peaceful clusters of protesters who dare to sit down in the shade for a minute). I don’t think it would be too far-fetched to say that, ultimately, the wished-for upending of the status-quo was never truly realized. Not really. Instead what we get now is neat repackaging of slogans and posters at 5eu a pop, and perhaps a fleeting moment in front of an image of a student alone in a deserted street throwing a paving stone at a cloud of smoke and the mechanized enemy behind it, imagining that we too could imbibe some of his Force™, his Fervor™, his Revolutionary Spirit™.

 

Last Monday, May 8th, the Odéon theatre held a ‘restaging’ (link to an article, in French, for those who want to know more) of sorts of its occupation by students and artists in May of 1968. The idea was to re-evoke the spirit of the event – a giant happening of sorts – while paying tribute both to the event that was, and arts (especially theatre’s) central role in it. The audience gathered, pleasantly, tickets in hand, for what promised to be an otherwise non-eventful evening of nostalgia and ‘playing-at’ revolutionary occupation.

 

And then, when the spirit of 1968 came to them in a form of a group of current university students – many of whom are still on strike protesting against proposed reforms in university admissions, among other things – who attempted to pass the metal barriers surrounding the theatre in order to enter into the space, but ultimately resigned themselves to remaining outside (security guards were rather on point that night), the tone shifted. Several speakers and invitees began to question whether or not it was not a bit obscene to be celebrating this way when, in a weird twist of fate, 1968 came to find them again. Would it not be best to invite the students in, let the new generation speak on its desire, its attempts to create, as the event organizers evoked of the protesters of 1968, a new sort of utopia?

 

No. It would be too risky for the theatre, at least according to management.

 

I wanted to start off by evoking this event before getting into the show I saw this week at Nanterre. As part of their spring festival (this one titled Mondes Possibles, or Possible Worlds), the theatre programmed a reprisal/adaptation of a rather legendary 1968 production : Paradise Now, staged by the Living Theatre in Avignon, and rendered rather infamous at the time for the scandal it provoked.

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Rather than go into a plot breakdown – because really, there isn’t one – I’ll just briefly sum up the general gist of it as being a sort of giant happening. The idea is to eventually bring the audience in through several ritualistic, trance-like ‘movements’. Late-60s spiritualism (rife with cultural appropriation and all) is very much present here.

 

This production was originally programmed to be staged outdoors, but given the rather unpredictable weather (last weekends sunny skies quickly gave way to clouds and rain again this week), was instead staged inside the rest design shop. As we all filed in and took our places around a makeshift stage (a large, white, painted floor flanked at the back by a large black curtain acting as a sort of flimsy wall between this space and the space of the shop), the actors began to move about us, then began speaking, repeating phrases such as “I do not have the right to travel without a passport”, “I do not need money” and “I am forbidden from taking off my clothes”, first calmly, neutrally, then with increasing fervor and anger.

 

As you can probably imagine, eventually the point came when the actors stripped down to their underwear (or entirely), and it was at this point that the following phrase “Théâtre Libre! Faites ce que vous voulez!” (“A free theatre! Do whatever you want!”) was pronounced for the first of what turned out to be many times. Each time the phrase was chanted throughout the 1h50min production, the actors all stopped, looking around at us, as though waiting for someone to answer the call.

 

And though there was a part of me that did feel a bit of a tug to react, I also couldn’t help but wonder whether they actually meant what they were saying, in the literal sense (my friend that accompanied me confessed to feeling similarly). The idea behind the phrase was, of course, to divest oneself of cultural norms and obligations, to throw aside established order and convention in the embracing of spontaneity, of creation, of a return to something more utopian, more human. But was the intention behind the phrase really to spur this into action? If this was an actual happening, with no time limit to adhere to – and if it was not weighted down by the memory, history, the rhythms of what came before it – I would say that maybe, yes, yes it was. Give people enough time, and maybe the change will happen. But see, there was a wall clock directly across from me, a wall clock that I glanced at from time to time, and that served as a reminder of the fact that this little ‘revolution’ was only temporary.

 

So, what was this then? A return of sorts, yes, but, at least for me, a somewhat hollow one. 1968 repackaged again. Perhaps some of this had to do with the fact that I was familiar enough with the original production to know what ‘beats’ to look out for in this revival, and therefore couldn’t get into the spirit of things. I would contest though that the format of a 1960s ‘happening’ itself no longer corresponds to the way we interact anymore, how we form connections with one another. It’s not inconceivable to imagine a similar kind of event that corresponds better to life as we live it now in 2018, but this was not necessarily it.

 

And anyway, there was actually a moment where it could have been done, a definitive break with convention, a step towards the ‘revolution anarchiste’ the piece also called for. Upon the performance’s conclusion, we were all lead outside by the actors into the parking lot that is itself adjacent to a very large – and at the time rather empty – park. The spirit of the crowd and the actors had turned jovial again, everyone was dancing together, clapping and humming along to a rhythm that had been established an hour beforehand. If only, at that moment, instead of heading back inside and signaling that the time for theatre was over, they had all lead us into the park and let whatever wanted to happen, happen. But this time sincerely letting it.

 

To be clear, I am very glad I attended this show. Honestly, even though I saw it on Friday, I’m still trying to think it over in my head a bit (which is to say…apologies in advance for the rambling haha).

Anyway, other than that, the week was rather quiet, with the exception of an unexpected but very pleasant reunion with a former supervisor of mine from the theatre camp I used to work at over drinks on Thursday, pie-baking on Saturday, and generally doing a lot of nothing, something I haven’t done in a rather long time.

 

 

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213 – 222

 

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Iced coffee season is back…finally!

 

 

So I guess I needed a week to process seeing Hamilton before writing about it.

 

Let me get right to it though: I loved this show. Hands down, definitely deserves all the hype that is still surrounding it. Really, I can’t think of what else to say about this that hasn’t already been repeated ad infinitum, other than, yes, it was definitely worth avoiding listening to the cast recording so that I could experience everything fresh in real time.

 

 

And yes, I want to recommend everyone who hasn’t yet had the chance to see it to grab a ticket, but this show is still incredibly prohibitively expensive. Welcome to one of the (many) problems I have with the musical theatre industry in the United States. The other major one of course being the fact that one gets the impression – especially when one doesn’t live in a major theatre city like New York (hell, especially New York) – that musical theatre is theatre in the US. That is, that to be a theatre-lover is necessarily to like and want to do that kind of theatre. Granted, when musical theatre is some of the only kind of theatre most people have access to – if they have access to any theatre at all -, it is easy to get the impression that that’s all there is. I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had with people here where I’ve had to say that no, I have not heard of such-and-such underground company in New York. Why? Because I never lived in New York, nor do I go there often enough to be able to take the time to discover/stumble upon such-and-such group. Aside from visiting family back east, whereupon a visit to New York would almost always include a ticket to a matinee, my theatre exposure was, other than what we did in school, whatever came through the local community theatre stage. And nine times out of ten, that was musicals. Musicals, especially the old standbys, make money. And when you’re constantly teetering on the edge of the abyss in terms of funding, getting butts in seats is pretty essential to survival, so creativity and innovation kind of goes out the window. It also leads to the creation of a sort of gatekeeping culture, in which being a ‘theatre kid’ means having memorized the entire catalogue to every show ever, and being able to belt out the latest show tunes at the drop of a hat.

 

 

Honestly, there’s only so many times you can hear “La Vie Bohème” or “The Bitch of Living” before you want to tear your hair out. But maybe that’s because for a long time I felt out of place because I wanted to do something, to follow something other than all that.

 

 

As imperfect as the system is, I will say that a major advantage of the French system of funding and subsidizing the arts is that situations like those seen with Hamilton where an $800+ ticket became almost normal don’t happen. I’ve mentioned before that I’ve had conversations with people here before about the effects of the incredible lack of State support for the arts in the United States, and even though Hamilton is something of an anomaly even by American standards, there is something rather disturbing about the fact that throwing down just over $100 to see a Broadway musical is almost expected.

 

Anyway.

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London scenes

Speaking of things being prohibitively expensive…I’m pretty proud of myself for how not expensive this little trip to London turned out to be. Staying in a hostel helped. Eating on the cheap was even better.

 

Not going to lie though, I think one of my favorite things was this tiropita + Greek coffee combo I had at Ergon with my cousin just after I arrived. There aren’t really any Greek cafés in Paris (pity…), and although there are numerous places where I could buy Greek products, sometimes I do wish there was a place where I could grab one of my preferred indulgent breakfast treats of tiropita + frappé. Of course, until I decide in a moment of pure impulse to drop everything and throw myself full-force into opening one, I’ll settle for this.

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This is my heaven.

Ok fine, the next morning, my friend, Caitlin, who came down from Sweden to join me in this little adventure, and I hit up another Greek café, although this time instead of another Greek pastry, we split a cinnamon roll.

 

Other food highlights include: dinner on the first night at Yalla Yalla, a Lebanese restaurant located down an alley in Soho that also provided a bit of entertainment in the form of a woman doing what looked like moving her furniture into her apartment via several back and forth trips on a pedicab.

 

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All the tapas…

 

An Ethiopian curry lunch at Borough Market the next day before the show, followed by some wonderfully spicy lamb vindaloo and an assortment of other curries later that night for dinner definitely helped fight off the (annoying but also kind of expected because…London) cold.

 

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Only 6 pounds too!

 

And of course, because it’s London, we had to stop at a pub for some fish and chips.

 

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Another wonderful thing about London, free museums. We took advantage of this on our last day there, first by checking out the Tate Modern.

 

 

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Then by heading over to the National Portrait Gallery, where I finally got to see a portrait I had been wanting to see for a long time.

 

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And also one that, let’s just be honest, I wasn’t quite expecting.

 

 

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Surpriiiiiiise

 

 

Some people might wonder if going from one major city to another really counts as a vacation, but honestly, considering I hadn’t been out of Paris since I went to California over the Christmas holidays, I was pretty much down for anything at this point. Besides, getting out of the city to go…anywhere…is a recharging act in and of itself. Hell, even the fact that my return train back to Paris was delayed by 90min (no, not because of the ongoing strikes; an electrical problem), meaning I had to sprint to make sure I caught the trains I needed, couldn’t put a damper on my little holiday.

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We’re cool

 

And then of course it was back to work. We’re in the home stretch at the high school now, which is fantastic on the one had because soon I’ll have even more time to get back to my own work, but chaos on the other hand because I did a silly thing and assigned mini writing assignments to all my classes to turn in after the break that I now have to grade…oops.

 

 

Tuesday the theatre workshop I’ve been involved in for the past month had our final presentation, but hopefully I’ll find a way to fill that little performance-void in my life again soon. It’s hard to stay away for long anyway.

 

 

 

A new art space opened up in Paris a few weeks ago, that I had been wanting to check out with another friend of mine, but our schedules kept getting crossed until finally we were able to head over on Friday night. The Atelier des Lumières is located in a former ironworks factory on rue St Maur in the 11th arrondissement. Its aim: render artistic works more immersive and accessible through the use of digital technology. While I can definitely get behind the immersive aspect, I’m not sure the 11,50eu price tag was really worth it, considering all the expo consisted of was a room that projected a (admittedly rather impressive) digital art expo on almost every exposed surface. Currently on view is an exhibit on Klimt, which, if you want to inaugurate an immersive art space, was a rather good choice in subject. We definitely enjoyed exploring the space as the different art works projected above, below, around, on and over us, but the lack of visible informational context to accompany the projections was a bit disappointing (the informational panels that were available for consultation, were a bit hidden in a random corner of the mezzanine area, and could have perhaps served better were they placed in the lobby before the exhibition entrance).

 

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After the expo finished, we ended up grabbing dinner at a small restaurant nearby, and chatted with the owner a bit about his new neighbor. Apparently, before its official opening, the Atelier (which is run by a private company, hence the ticket prices) invited local business owners and families for a visit. The restaurant owner and his wife attended along with their young daughter. While we all agreed that in general, the ticket prices left something to be desired, he did mention that his daughter was now pointing out all the posters advertising the gallery space and exclaiming excitedly that she recognized the Klimt painting depicted on them (“The Kiss”, for those wondering). So, if nothing else, at least it’s getting kids excited about something they might not have been exposed to otherwise.

 

 

Saturday was a bit quiet (and yes, this does count the little demonstration against the current occupant of the Élysée Palace), and today was rather on the relaxing side as well, starting with brunch at L’Heure Gourmande with Anne.

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Followed by a stroll up to La Fontaine de Belleville for an iced coffee to accompany my grading spree (which, yes, was actually incredibly productive).

 

 

197 – 212

 

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Spring!

 

 

 

 

The usual two+ week not writing gap continues, only this time I can definitely say it has more than a little to do with the fact that I’ve spent the last two weeks doing a whole lot of nothing (other than reading + workshop rehearsals + occasionally going outside…last week was insanely gorgeous). We’re coming up to the end of spring break here though, meaning that come Monday it’s back to teaching, only this time with heightened levels of senioritis to tackle from my Terminales (can’t say that I blame them though).

I will say though, being outside as much as I have, not just with all the walking I’m doing again, but simple things like reading my books in the park instead of at the library, has been positively magnificent for all the recharging I wanted to do.

 

 

 

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A café en terrasse at La Fontaine also helps…

For the most part, though, I think the word I’d use to really describe what the past couple weeks have been like is patience. To be more precise: relearning patience. I had spent the better part of a good number of days constantly refreshing my email, waiting for responses/feedback on the new version of my prospectus (yeah, I know, I’m a bit behind…technically…in getting this approved, but that’s what happens when your project gets a much-needed giant overhaul). Thankfully some incredibly constructive feedback came (and honestly, given how I wrote the thing when I was feeling pretty blocked and just sort of hammered things out, I’m surprised that there wasn’t more noticed paid as to how very obviously rushed it was haha), but there was a point where I just had to mentally take a step back and remind myself that I could (I should) just keep pushing on as though getting feedback was a non-issue. We can call this an attempt to regain control over how my life goes.

 

Thinking back, I’ve also realized I haven’t really been writing too much about my dissertation specifically, which is funny, considering that it’s such a big part of my life right now. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that, other than going to see shows (more on a recent one I saw in a minute), the majority of the work takes place sitting in the reading room at the BNF. Not exactly the most exciting of times.

 

Really though, it also has to somewhat do with the fact that I’ve always felt a bit nervous about publicly sharing my intellectual/academic work. Call it another manifestation of imposter syndrome, but I’ve always been someone who likes to get this kind of work out little by little to people I trust to give me feedback instead of just shoving it out there like a baby bird out of a nest. This is also a bit funny to think about because when it comes to performing, I literally have no issues putting myself out there, or being vulnerable in front of an audience. Might have something to do with the sense of power that I have doing that. Or if not, then with the fact that oftentimes I still don’t trust words completely to get across what I’m thinking/feeling. I find abstract (or not so abstract) gesture to be more conducive to that, as far as my own means of expression are concerned.

 

 

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This has nothing to do with the above…just some chickens I met on the way to rehearsal a couple weeks ago

 

Anyway, on to the show I saw.

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Jusque dans vos bras is a satire on the notion of identity, and French identity in particular. Taking a humorous look back at the history of France and some of its major players, the play puts front and center a question that pretty much characterized the tone of the last presidential elections : what does it mean to be French?

 

As someone who is definitely not French, I will say it was interesting being in the audience as a sort of outsider, especially given the fact that a good portion of the beginning of the show involved a direct address wherein the audience was (unless I’m misremembering) addressed not only as being of French origin, but also of a certain socioeconomic demographic that is characterized by the fact that they all (myself included here) took the metro from Paris to get to the theatre that evening (the MC93 in Bobigny). Generally though, a good satire should be able to transcend these sociocultural/-ethnic bounds – and I will commend the piece for starting off almost immediately with a sketch that put front and center questions of Frenchness with regards to ethnicity, race, religious affiliation, etc. -, but I’m not entirely sure this one quite got there, given how specific some of its jokes and references were to a certain cultural understanding. Honestly though, I did feel pretty proud of myself for being able to pick up some of the more subtle digs at the current president.

 

A high point: during one of the sketches (there wasn’t really a through-line in this piece), the actors are wheeled out on a raft, which is then parked up center stage. A rope is thrown out. The actors are tired, weary. One of them stands and stretches out their hand asking for help being pulled to shore (downstage). This, of course, is an explicit reference to the current refugee crisis, but at the same time it also interrogated the relationship and ‘gap’ between the fiction being played out on stage and the audience. After the initial request was made, no one moved. The actor pleaded again for help, and then when no one in the audience still climbed up on stage to grab the rope, said actor, plus a few others, started making cheeky remarks about how heartless everyone was, and really they were sure that being in Bobigny (which is a historically left-leaning area) would mean that people would be scrambling to do something. It was at this point that the audience understood that yes, they were meant to take that step and cross the gap between themselves and the stage, inserting themselves into the fiction being played out before them. And yeah, this is going to be a bit silly, but almost immediately after people scrambled up to help – it never ceases to amaze me how eager people get to participate only the minute they are assured that it’s ok and no, they won’t be breaking any rules -, two other actors wearing silly shark costumes came up to attack. I died.

 

Oh and at one point there was also an inflatable dancing bull.

 

 

Low point: the blackface.

 

Oh yes. That happened.

 

 

« But, Effie, » you might be asking, « they painted their faces/hands red, not black, and besides isn’t there a completely different cultural context here that you have to take into account? »

 

No, there isn’t. I don’t care if the whole point of the sketch was for skewering white families for taking in immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa (a good chunk of which was, let us remember, colonized by France), and then making backhanded comments to try and demonstrate a level of cultural superiority, thereby in a sense reconstructing the colonizer/colonized dynamic. There are ways to do that without painting white actors’ faces. End of story.

 

I’m going to end this post with just a short note that on the evening of April 26, I officially added a new restaurant to my list of ones I readily recommend to people who come visit. Unlike the other restaurants on my list, however, this one happens to also be vegan. Given that I always like to be aware of friends’ diet concerns/preferences, I’m more than happy to say that Le Potager de Charlotte is a restaurant that anyone can enjoy!

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The only time I will eat a deviled egg…when it’s an avocado and there are no eggs involved.

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I’m off to London now to meet a friend for a last weekend of adventure (and rain), which also includes seeing a show I’ve been waiting to see for years. Three guesses as to which one…