Sunny days have finally started to give over to the grey gloom of fall.
Confession time: I’m kind of into visiting old cemeteries. More specifically, visiting old cemeteries in the fall (something about the juxtaposition of the changing leaves against the cool grey of gravestones, especially just after it rains…). As a tutoring session I scheduled with a student near Montmartre got pushed back fifteen minutes, I figured I’d kill (ha) some time by walking amongst some grave stones.
The Indian summer has been nice and all, but I’m glad fall is finally creeping in (and just in time for Halloween too…though no one really celebrates that here).
You know what’s fun? Reading through archived newspaper articles from fifty years ago detailing the very violent reactions against a certain play you are studying, and realizing that you could replace any number of the outraged comments with a certain orange man’s tweets and no one would be the wiser.
My, how little things have changed.
It seemed only fitting, then, that drinks on Friday night involved going the Illegal Mezcal popup at Red House, where there were various iterations of the following image:
The weather has been rather…unseasonably nice lately, so this morning when I woke up, I was determined to walk from my apartment to the Comédie-Française where I was seeing a matinée at 14h. It took about an hour (so, a bit over twice as long than if I had taken the metro), but given that the show was scheduled to last for two hours, I didn’t want to risk not getting any sun time. As to the show itself…I honestly don’t know what to write because I’m still kind of speechless.
I say kind of because although there were elements of this show that really blew me away – the sound design in particular, especially the way music transitioned from Bach/Strauss-esq melodies to what I think was Rammstein, or if not, something like Rammstein, was especially on point – I think I am slowly coming to the realization that I don’t like the architecture/spatial dynamics of the scène à l’italienne (i.e. your basic stage setup with a proscenium, box seats, balconies, etc.). Something about the way the seats curl into the stage space makes it seem so constricting, which can be a detriment when, particularly in a show like this one that harkens back to the tragic familial downfalls of Classical theatre, you almost feel as if you want the stage to be invading your space, rather than the other way around. One of the closing images involved a character who, after having bathed in the ashes of his dead relatives, strips down, takes up a machine gun, climbs onto a platform upstage and shoots out into the audience while strobe lights flash and machine gun blares louder and louder. Knowing that the original production of this show was staged in Avignon in 2016, I can’t help but wonder if the openness of the Palais des Papes would have made that moment more impactful (not that it didn’t leave an impression because believe me, mentally juxtaposing that image with what happened in Paris two years ago definitely left its mark).
For those who are familiar with his films, yes, this play is based on Luchino Visconti’s The Damned (1969), which was itself nominated for Best Screenplay in that year’s Oscar ceremony. The premise revolves around the Essenbeck family, steel industrialists – loosley based on the Krupp family, themselves still based in Essen, Germany – who, after the Reichstag fire, choose to begin doing business with the Nazi Party, despite the reservations of the family patriarch, himself a holdover of the former German order. As you can perhaps guess from the title of the play, things do not exactly go well for them. Indeed, once all the machinations, backstabbing, betrayal, incest and walking-on-a-tightrope nervewracking paedophilia (I honestly have no other way to describe how unsettling this particular scene was), the family is but a shell of what it once was, a monster ready to openly weaponize the Third Reich. And really, there is no point in which you see this people as anything other than damned. A key element of the staging were cameras that followed them around, projecting close-ups of actors’ faces on a screen upstage as well as small screens on the sides of the proscenium, sometimes in real time, sometimes integrating pre-recorded footage (during a depiction of the Night of the Long Knives, two male actors dance on stage while behind them, their virtual selves, as well as the virtual bodies of other men, embrace in a frenzied orgy), sometimes using a stylized filter. This latter element in particular, what with the usage of mise en abyme, turned these actors into more like disjointed bodies, especially when there was a slight delay between the movements of the physical body on stage to its ‘real-time’ projected image. There was no mistaking the fact that we were in a hellscape. Sometimes video elements can be overkill. Here, they worked just fine.
But of course, with the weather being as nice as it was, I needed a bit of a pick-me-up after all that intensity, so my last stop of the day was to Montmartre for one of my favorite Paris events : the Fête des Vendanges!
This is an annual celebration organized around the grape harvest in Paris’s last working vineyard (pictured above). Throughout the four days of the festival, the neighborhood organizes exhibits, concerts, talks, tours, workshops all with the aim of both celebrating Montmartre as well as wine/food in general. Honestly, it’s probably one of my favorite events of the year, and it serves as my annual reminder of why I love fall (although, you’d think it was late summer with the weather…).
I started my afternoon with a visit to the Musée de Montmartre to check out their exhibit on Montmartre on film, as well as take a stroll around the gardens before the museum closed. The expo itself was very well organized and extensive, featuring clips, posters, props and memorabilia from various Montmartre-set films. This one, for instance, might be familiar to some:
I’m glad I set aside some time for strolling around the garden as well, because I managed to catch the tail end of this little choral concert near the museum café:
I’m not sure if I’ve really gone into detail as to how things have changed regarding security measures in the city since the events of two years ago, but I definitely noticed a difference between this year’s Fête and the others I’ve attended. Previously, the food and wine stalls around the Sacré Cœur were open access, and crowds could just flow in and out as they pleased. This year though, that area was fenced off with two security checkpoints, one for entry, one for exiting. The downside of this – other than the disruption of the normal crowd movement – was that people tended to bottleneck up near those two points, making navigating the area a bit cumbersome at times. I have more thoughts about the État d’Urgence measures, but I’ll save those for another time.
Fortunately, even with the bottlenecking, I was able to find the two friends I was meeting up with, as well as snag a commemorative wine glass:
As we were not too keen on spending the whole evening crammed amongst the crowds, the three of us pooled together to purchase a bottle of white wine (only 8eu I think!), as well as some Comté cheese, cured ham and bread, and then made our way to the back side of the church for our apéro-picnic. As I had not had anything to eat since my bowl of leftover butternut squash soup at lunchtime, let’s just say that I thoroughly attacked that cheese with all the muster my plastic knife could afford.