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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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…
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…
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.
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.
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.
Oh and also all the German tourists. Literally. There were so many of them there that day.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
And of course, because it’s London, we had to stop at a pub for some fish and chips.
Another wonderful thing about London, free museums. We took advantage of this on our last day there, first by checking out the Tate Modern.
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.
And also one that, let’s just be honest, I wasn’t quite expecting.
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.
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).
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.
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).
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.
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.
Anyway, on to the show I saw.
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!
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…
To say it’s been a while would be an understatement.
It’s not that I’ve lost the inspiration to write, it’s more that things just started piling on one right after the other, and I kept just pushing all of this back further and further, saying I’d get to it. Eventually.
Eventually is almost 20 days later, apparently.
The one good thing about this though is that other than a few shows to write on/other significant events, the past few days weren’t incredibly overloaded with things to the point where writing about them would be impossible. For the sake of time, however, I’m going to keep things brief again.
Let’s start with the first of the two shows I saw over the course of the past few days, Le Récit d’un homme inconnu at the MC93.
Those familiar with Checkhov (and who also know French) might recognize the title, as the play is an adaptation of one of his stories. The plot can basically be summed up as follows:
Young woman in an unfulfilling marriage leaves her husband to seek refuge at the house of her lover – a young, rich playboy type – who really had no idea she was serious when she said she was going to leave her husband for him and is thus rather surprised to find her at his door.
Said young man has in his employ a valet – the titular unknown man – who is not quite what he seems. You see, he is not merely a valet. No. He is a revolutionary, one who has taken up the position as valet in order to obtain information on the young man’s father : a prominent political figure and, I should note, someone who never appears on stage. He quickly realizes the futility of this, as his employer only seems interested in half-reading books while laughing to himself like someone on the verge of transforming into a Bond villain. However, the valet also develops a liking for the young woman.
As these things usually go, the young woman falls pregnant. The young man casts her out – not knowing that she was pregnant – , and the valet, because he just really likes her, whisks her away to Italy where they live blissfully in Venice for a few months before the young woman goes into labor. She has the baby – a girl – and then dies immediately after, likely by suicide. The play ends some years later with the now disillusioned valet returning to his former employer to deliver him his daughter, who he is now responsible for.
Unlike the dance piece I saw at this theatre a few months ago, this piece was staged in their smaller salle transformable or transformable space (think a large black box). Upstage was a long white partition divided by three white doors. A row of empty wine and champagne lined the front of said partition. Hanging from the ceiling was what looked like a closed blue umbrella (this was, of course, opened later when the young woman and the valet flee to Venice). Given the smaller size of the space, most of the seats were raked, but there were a few placed on the ground, on the same level as the playing space, shaped in a sort of proscenium arch.
The staging remained more or less frontal, with a few exceptions. First, at the start of the second act, the valet began by reciting a long monologue about how he came to work in the house, culminating with the reading of a rather bellicose letter he wrote to his former employer. At one point during the reading, the actor pulled out actual copies of the letter and began distributing them amongst various audience members. Think of it as a way of bringing us partially into his world – the monologue was addressed to the audience as well -, thus a first sort of spatial-temporal blending that would occur in this production.
The second involved the use of a video projector onto which was shown a pre-recorded video of the valet and the young woman in Venice. At first corresponding somewhat in ‘real time’ to the events being narrated by the valet (yeah…it was a long monologue), the temporality of the video soon began to distance itself from the narrative being crafted on stage, creating a second fictional space within the framework of the principle one.
Though not even this twisting and folding of spatial-temporality could distract from the fact that this was a four hour play that could have easily been condensed down to two – at most three. Not really helping was the fact that the actors spoke in an affective manner that over-emphasized the passage and rhythm of time.
The second show I saw though was more like a homecoming than anything.
Let me preface: when I was a freshman in high school, I was cast in a workshop production of Complicité’s Mnemonic. To say this show changed my life might sound a bit cliché, but it’s true. This was the first time I fully immersed myself in something truly experimental and ensemble-based (because listen, when you live in the suburbs, it can sometimes feel like it’s musical theatre or nothing which…merits a post of its own because I have so many thoughts, too many, to fit here), and I can say that my fervor for all things theatrically strange and daring could find their roots here.
Anyway, on Friday, March 30, I saw Simon McBurney’s The Encounter at Odéon.
This was pretty much a one man show – or well, one man plus an absolutely intense team of sound designers and engineers that he actually took the time to acknowledge, something not many do, at least not in speech – but the premise was more about a crossing of narratives. During a talkback the seminar I’m taking had with McBurney the afternoon before the show, one of the things he emphasized was how we are all storytellers. That storytelling was at the heart of his theatre practice. This play had at its center the recounting of photographer Loren McIntyre’s 1969 expedition into the Amazon and subsequent contact with the Mayoruna tribe. What starts as an attempt to document them through photographs to later be sold to National Geographic later turns into an exploration on the very notion of time, and the nature of those moments that photography seeks to suspend, to pull from a timeline (or time-wheel) to remain in stillness.
Rather than telling McIntyre’s story in one go, McBurney punctuated it with moments of interruption by his daughter, who – via a pre-recorded voice-over – kept entering her father’s workspace, asking him why he was still up working so late, and whether he could tell her another story to help her fall asleep. And really, in the end, this little girl who both was and was not there becomes the most important thing, this potential future that has the potential to respond to the mistakes of those that came before her. Though, unlike the most recent of Mouawad’s plays, this almost ecological message was not hammered into our faces.
I should go back to the presence/non-presence thing because the most fantastic thing about this show was without a doubt the way it played with sound. Upon taking their seat, each member of the audience found a pair of headphones attached to the back of their chairs. Oh yes, we wore headphones throughout the entire show – and this was almost mandatory, as taking them off would have plunged you into almost complete silence and torn you out of what was in the process of being crafted on stage. And really, I don’t think I could say enough about the sound design because there were moments when I honestly could not tell if what I was hearing was happening on stage or if it was something/one in the house. Granted, having this kind of experience means in part giving yourself over entirely to what is happening, and opening yourself up to be affected, but really, it is incredibly difficult not to. Hell, I was sitting in the second row of the first mezzanine, and I found myself leaning over, wanting more than anything to dive in even further.
Anyway, enough of the theatrics. On to other things!
Namely, food-related things.
I’m happy to say I have two new restaurants to add to my ever-growing list of places I like going out to eat here. Coincidentally, both of these places involve small-plates dining.
First, L’Arbre Jaune, or, what happens when you and your dining companion (but really, mostly you because your hunger makes you indecisive) can’t decide on where to go for dinner, and end up making a last-minute reservation on the one place you’ve managed to find that lets you do that online.
We started with an order of chicken liver pâté and saucisson, then moved on to a cauliflower velouté, clams, beef cheeks, pig’s trotters in filo, and finally concluded with cheese (yeah…the problem with this having been two or so weeks ago, I cannot remember what cheese we had). All of it washed down with a nice half bottle of red that I also can’t remember the name of because I don’t take notes on this thing, and there is obviously a reason why I don’t blog about food.
As someone who usually does quite a bit of reasearch before going out to eat, I was slightly apprehensive about coming here at first. Thankfully, my fears were assuaged with a more than pleasant meal (holy shit those beef cheeks were amazing), that came out to a more than reasonable price (less than 40eu per person for all we had).
The second food adventure though was one that was a very long time coming – and one that I got to share with an old friend I hadn’t seen in a while.
This past week, one of my very good friends from high school came to visit me (!), and other than the usual pastry/coffee/cheese/charcuterie stops I usually take visitors on, we decided to treat ourselves to one night of indulgence. So I made reservations this past Tuesday at Au Passage.
Maybe it wasn’t a good idea to schedule this meal on a Tuesday, as it sort of set the precedent rather high for the rest of the week, but when eating here has been something of a goal for the past few years, all of that nonsense pretty much gets thrown out the window. We had a bit of trouble deciding what to order at first – everything looked so good, and I don’t doubt that any choice we made would’ve been a good one -, but then our waitress mentioned that they only had two portions of the scallops left for the night. Thus our choices were made: terrine, radishes and butter to start, followed by roasted carrots and chèvre, then asparagus, ramps, and lardon, then the famous scallops with celery, celeriac purée and saffron, and finally papardelle with lamb ragout. As to the wine, the thing I do remember is that it was a red from the southwest and that it, like all their wines, was biodynamic. I never claimed to be an expert on these things, so I’m going to chalk up remembering this much for a win. Maybe next time I’ll remember the cépage…
And so began a week filled with insanely long walks (of course), consumption of viennoiseries, and picnicking during the first legitimately nice day of spring (yeah it started to sprinkle on us – and just us – a bit towards the end of our picnic lunch on Saturday, but that’s what umbrellas are for).
And since I started this post by speaking about theatre, I’m going to end it with theatre as well, but this time on something that directly involves me.
A few weeks ago, I put out word on Facebook that I really missed performing (which…yeah the back and forth I do with myself sometimes over whether or not I should have tried balancing performing more with my research is still a thing that happens relatively often). One of my facebook friends (whose show I had seen in the beginning of the fall) here reached out and mentioned they had a friend coming into the city soon who would be starting up a workshop, and would I be interested in learning more/possibly be involved? I said yes, connected with the workshop director via sending in an intro video , and things jived well enough to the point that last night I was back in a studio playing with a group of other performers, something I haven’t done in far too long. Really, I felt like I was coming home again in a room of (mostly) strangers. Sometimes I get a bit of anxiety when meeting new people. Theatre – and actually rehearsal spaces more specifically – is the only place where that does not happen.
And it’s getting a bit late now, so I’ll close with a quick note on a discussion I attended this evening on architecture and the banlieues that also incorporated the question of theatre (in part because it was held in a theatre, but also because one of the panelists was theatre director Karim Bel Kacem). I’m still sort of processing this one, since it literally just happened, but I’ll just give a little shout-out here to a boyfriend who was very on-point with this recommendation.
Yes, yes, I know I’ve been silent for a while but things have been…hectic…to say the least (blame in part the practice baccalaureate exams my seniors had to take + the fact that I have to grade them).
But I did see quite a bit of theatre this week, so let’s just speed through all that. Yes, it’s the return of bullet point thoughts.
First: La Démangeaison des ailes at Nanterre (not pictured because for some reason the photo won’t transfer from my phone, and I don’t have the energy to figure out why).
This show just happened to fall on the last day it snowed and of course to enter the theatre we had to go around the back. Meaning, we had to wait outside. There was a point to all this, as the idea was to have the audience enter from backstage, cross through the set (in a way that mimicked the way that other actors would enter on stage) and then find our seats, but I just found it hilarious that of course it was snowing.
There’s no real plot to hash out here, since this thing was more of a mix between theatre, performance art, and art installation (the use of multimedia elements contributed to this last bit the most). Just…a lot of wings and…flapping about.
Oh and there was a dog. An adorable little papillon (or papillon-corgi mix maybe) named Salsa.
On to the next!
M comme Méliès at the Théâtre National de Chaillot. Yes, a love-letter to cinema in play form. Overall, cute. For a show designed for young audiences, the energy was a bit low for a good part of the beginning, which is a shame since a large part of it was devoted to trying to re-capture the playfulness and whimsy found in Méliès’s films. They did have some fun with mirrors though which was…nice. And it made me remember why I fell in love with Méliès/that time period in general.
And now, this.
One thing I’ve never done in my life is walk out of a show. Usually it’s because I figure that I basically paid a decent amount to be there, I might as well get my money’s worth (need I remind anyone how annoyingly expensive theatre tickets can get in the States?). The great thing about living here is that because going to the theatre is actually more or less affordable, any of that sort of guilt has essentially been washed away. And thank goodness because…oh boy.
Those who can read French will note the listed run time as just under 4.5 hours. To be more precise, that’s 4.5 hours without intermission. I mean, there’s definitely a bit of daring in that, but you’d think that if you were going to ask people to sit for over four hours you’d give them something stimulating to distract from the time passing. No. This was like watching molasses run through a river of mud. I left after an hour. Did I feel a little bit of remorse? Maybe. Who knows? Perhaps it got more interesting. But I had work to do, and I wasn’t in the mood to stay up until who knows when finishing it.
In other news, I had some other friends in town this week that I got to show around a bit, which was an excellent change from my normal routine. Research-wise, still waiting on word back about the second draft of my prospectus I sent out about a week ago. In other words…feeling in a bit of a rut. But that happens.
We all thought it was over, that winter would finally give way to (a rather grey but still sometimes sunny) spring. We were wrong.
Today, Saturday March 17, 2018, it snowed. Big, fluffy snowflakes. Just plopping down from the sky in little ploofs. Silly mocking ploofs. Thankfully, I didn’t really have anywhere to be until later this evening when I met up with friends for dinner at Ahssi (see photo of sizzling pork bibimbap above), so I got to glare at the fluffy white puffs from the inside of my warm apartment. With tea. A big mug of it.
Enough of that though. On to this week’s theatre recap.
I honestly feel like I’m just going to go ahead and add the Théâtre de la Bastille to my list of theatres I’ll be focusing on for my thesis just based on the mere fact that I really like going to shows there. Yes, the set-up is essentially frontal and whatever, but the sheer immensity of the stage and its almost lack of separation from the (at least to me) smaller audience space lends the whole room a sort of intimacy and coziness that I haven’t really seen replicated in other theatres here yet. Really, it’s almost as if the actors are standing right on top of you, as if at any moment any semblance of a line between their space and ours as audience members is blurred, prodded, torn, and just generally fucked with. I love that.
And to tell the truth, I wasn’t expecting to like this show. Actually, I wasn’t really quite sure what to expect, as the only thing I knew going in was that the director (who is Portuguese, I believe) had quite a good reputation. Judging from the very packed house on Monday evening, I’d say I’d agree with that assessment.
Instead of being a direct adaptation of Madame Bovary (a novel that, I will confess, I am not a fan of), this play takes as its starting point the trial over the book’s publication. As we filed in and took our seats, the actors were already on the stage, scattering about pages of Flaubert’s manuscript, the words that soon were to be put on trial for their potential to incite immoral thoughts and disturb the public order.
Funny how some things never change.
Anyway, the actor playing Flaubert eventually spoke, reciting a letter sent to a friend that at the same time acted as a direct address to the audience. It was here that he specified that during his own trial, he would not be allowed to speak to defend himself (only his lawyer could do that). Instead, his words, the text, the words that came from his mind onto the page would speak for him – the novel as both direct descendant and link to the author (Barthes would have a fucking field day with this one). And this is how the story of Madame Bovary was woven in. Quite frankly, the retelling here was much more raunchy, dark, disturbing, sad and exciting than what I remember reading in class. Then again, as Flaubert remarked in another letter to his friend towards the last third of the play, the prosecution was right: this book is full of quite a bit of naughty things. Maybe our focus – in the act of ignoring the naughtiness to try and ‘rise above’ it or prove a ‘moral high ground’ – has just been slightly off.
I don’t know if I can put into words completely what it was that made me really like this, so I’m just going to copy (and translate because this conversation was happening in French) below what I sent to my boyfriend when he asked me why I liked it so much:
“The energy, the humor [and oh yes, this play was indeed very funny]…there was just this ludicness about it all that I really appreciated [side note: at one point, someone’s cell phone started ringing. Instead of carrying on and trying to ignore it, the actors started rifling through their pockets, as if to check and see if it wasn’t one of theirs that had gone off. Result: not only have they now officially brought forward the very plural nature of their position on stage – existing, as they do, in between our present and the fiction in the process of being constructed, one foot in each but never completely one nor the other – , they have also enveloped us as audience in it. Yes, the relationship remains essentially frontal between ‘us’ in the house and ‘them’ on stage, but our worlds converged in that moment. That’s one of the things I mean when I reference the possibility for intimacy in this space.]
“Indeed the whole thing basically played with a certain kind of plurality that is very specific to the world of theatre – that makes theatre what it is. Actors are on stage in the process of becoming their characters (Madame Bovary et al are called up and (re)created in the course of the trial), but at no point is there any attempt at temporal ‘vraisemblance’ or cohesion. That is to say, there is a constant back and forth between the narrative in the novel, and the trial itself. The actress who played Madame Bovary, for instance, at times would directly call out Flaubert for what he wrote about her, for how he – her ‘creator’ – crafted her story. And then Flaubert, who was denied the right to speak during his own trial, could only ‘speak’ through his novel, itself the product of his ‘act’ of writing. And of course, throughout all this, they are very aware that there is an audience in front of them, watching.”
Audience awareness took on another meaning on Friday night with Wajdi Mouawad’s newest creation, Notre Innocence at La Colline.
The premise here: a group of about 20 actors – all between the ages of 20 and 30, so…millenials – gather together the morning following the suicide (through jumping out of a window) of one of their classmates at their acting conservatory. Questions abound: what was her motivation? Did anyone know she was thinking about this? Did anyone provoke her? What was to be done about her 9 year old daughter? Etc. Tensions are high. The group begins to tear at the seams, ripping apart over accusations not just of who – if anyone – could be held responsible, but over everyone’s individual attitudes, and how the girl, Victoire, should be mourned (or maybe she was too flawed to be mourned right away and thus had to be torn up again, verbally, first…grief does interesting things to people).
This, however, wasn’t the most interesting part of the show. No, the most interesting came at the very beginning when all the actors were on stage speaking in unison for about a half hour. Imagine 20 voices chanting at you in perfect synchronization, the closest thing to a classical chorus I have seen in recent memory. And just like a chorus, they are a reflection of the polis, or at least a part of it. Namely, people my age…those of us who sometimes think we are a new lost generation thanks to the actions of the generations before us. We, as the chorus chanted, have to deal with the possibility of never being extraordinary, the impossibility of reaching mythological, legendary status, of becoming something beyond ourselves. We were robbed of that, in a way.
And this bit might make more sense in the French context because while in the States, whenever the question of millenials gets brought up, it’s almost always done in comparison/contrast with the Baby Boomer Generation – the generation that made the mess we have to deal with. The generation that left their mark so brutally in both extraordinarily good and extraordinarily bad ways that to surmount it is unthinkable. And yet, we are often asked why we cannot be like them, why we cannot reproduce the same gestures they did, knowing full well that the world can no longer sustain those gestures. That we need something different.
In France, the generation that was taken to task that night was that of May 1968. The former revolutionaries…actors of a movement that some say succeeded in some ways, but that many also say ultimately failed, becoming a shadow, a myth of what it really was. Imagine being in this room, this room filled not just with other 20/30-somethings, but with those who were definitely part of that movement 50 years ago and hearing this wall of words, of criticisms come at you. Talk of the ‘revolution’ is sick if you use it to refuse to acknowledge the complete bullshit engrained in the whole act of reminiscing over how ‘wonderful’ and promising everything was then, how wonderful you all are in your political acts compared with this new generation who is seemingly so ‘unaware’ about everything. This generation is not unaware. This generation has been betrayed. The wall of twenty voices pushed outwards into the house, and for a moment, in sensing the energy around me as the barrage of insults (that were quite frankly, not that far off) kept coming, I thought that, should this keep going, and going further, it might end up inciting something.
It didn’t though, and then after a bit, the narrative described above took over. To be honest, as much as I found moments of the main narrative interesting, I feel as thought the thing could’ve just stopped right after the insults were done and just left us with that. That’s it. No lesson to ponder, no possible solutions to put forth. No moral to think on. I mean, the play itself closes with Victoire’s daughter, Alabama – who may or may not actually be real, and instead be a sort of allegorical stand-in for all children, that is, the future generation waiting in the wings to see what ours is doing – claiming her ascendance to the rise of ‘mythical’ figure, reminding the group of friends around her that she and those of her generation were watching them, that we have, in a way a responsibility to them.
And I really wish this bit was ironic – hell, maybe it was and I just missed the point – because for one thing, if anyone wants to talk about theatre and ascendance to figuration, Genet has probably some of the best examples of this, and another, why does this moralizing need to happen when the whole first third of the piece (rightly) called out the very dangers of this sort of intergenerational relationship and behavior?
So anyway, yeah I guess you could say I liked the first half better than the second.