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.

 

 

133 – 140

 

 

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Oh hi….

 

You know who’s really excited there’s only one more week before schools go on a two-week holiday? Me.

 

 

 

In the meantime, the week that was.

 

The theme overall for this week was snow, namely, the 8 or so inches we got on Tuesday. Last time I was here when there was snow that actually stuck around for a while was in winter of 2013, and although there wasn’t quite as much this time as there was then, what we did get made for some nice looking landscapes.

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Just a light dusting…

 

It also meant I got to revive my snowman-on-the-windowsill…thing…from earlier this year.

 

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Featuring black bean eyes and a carrot nose

 

 

Now to the usual breakdown:

 

Sunday

  • Ah the Super Bowl, an event I only half-watch anyway, and almost entirely forgot was happening until I was reminded of it. This year, instead of going to a small bar (likely all the way near Saint-Michel, aka, the other side of the city) to watch the broadcast (which started at 00h30, yeah that’s half past midnight), I had some company to watch it at home.

 

  • You know what’s a fun thing? First, realizing that yes, French people (like two of them) have actually gone to play in the NFL before, and second, the game is actually broadcast on French TV with French commentators. This does mean that you miss out on all the commercials, but being French TV, the broadcast actually doesn’t cut away to ads all that much. It actually makes the pacing of the whole thing a lot less frustrating. Imagine that.

 

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Instead of wings…chicken tenders

 

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I dreamt of this all week.

 

  • On the menu were orange chicken-inspired chicken tenders, carrot and celery sticks, and a skillet cookie for dessert (no ice cream though; forgot to buy it). Oh, and beer. Because America.

 

I passed out pretty much right after halftime, and good thing too because at least I got some amount of sleep before going in to teach on Monday. From the look of some of my terminale’s (senior’s) faces, however, I think some of them may have stayed up watching even past when I did.

 

Tuesday

 

  • You know the movie Quills? The one with Geoffrey Rush as the Marquis de Sade? Well, continuing in the tradition of adapting films for the stage, this was the latest in my long list of plays I’ve seen this year.

 

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Unrelated, but everyone should read at least a bit of Sade at least once in their lives if possible.

 

  • The best description I can come up with for this: 1980s new-Romantics, decadent, Robert Mapplethorpe, neon, tantalizing nightmare. Yeah. The stage of La Colline – normally very large and imposing – was shortened from above with an overhanging set of lights, giving the whole scene a rather squat, rectangular look. On the stage itself was a platform flanked by two large mirrored panels who, at their apex came together on a circular part of the platform that periodically rotated to signal a change in setting. Actually, the use of the mirrors – two-way mirrors, to be more precise – was perhaps the most intriguing part of the production aesthetic, as at times, the fact that the lighting could be used to illuminate (either partially or fully) a person or persons on the other side of the mirror made for some rather marked spatiotemporal traversals. Flashbacks, for instance, saw the image of an actor physically onstage reflected in the mirror, interacting with the physical body of another actor on the other side of that mirror, present but approaching the illusion of ‘image’ by virtue of the lighting design not completely highlighting certain facial/corporal features. Further, although this was another frontal show – to be expected from pieces that are designed to go on tour and thus be easily adaptable – the fact that the mirrors, when the two-way feature was not in use, reflected the audience back at ourselves created, in the first place, an illusion of theatre in the round. Secondly, given that the play takes place in a mental hospital, I could not help but liken the almost pit-like effect created on stage by the coupling of image of the audience with the actual layout of the room to that of a surgical theatre. Knowing how the play ends – that is, with the continued dismemberment of Sade’s body to deprive him from writing – I wonder if this was intentional.

 

Jumping ahead to Friday…

 

  • The big event this weekend was, without question, the wedding of a good friend and former Cité U housemate of mine to his girlfriend of five years (who he met when a bunch of us crashed her friend’s Halloween party…funny how life is sometimes). Friday saw the arrival of another of our Cité U comrades from Grenoble, and as she was staying with me, I decided to take the afternoon off to check out an expo with her.

 

  • The expo in question – dialoguing the works of Sophie Calle and Serena Carone – was held at the Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature (or the Museum of Hunting and Nature), à museum I had been curious about for a while, but had yet to visit. The photo at the top of this post is from said museum, and hints at its rather extensive and…eclectic collection of taxidermied animals. Aside from a room on the ground floor dedicated exclusively to Calle and Carone’s works/pieces, the expo itself was interwoven amongst the permanent collection of the museum, making it something of a ‘hunt’ to walk through to try and find all the objects/texts, in other words, everything that did not necessarily belong, inserted among everything else.

 

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A literal interpretation of feeling trapped in a relationship…

 

  • Part autobiography, part fiction, the expo explored questions of life, death (which…makes perfect sense given the setting), and the relationship we have to ourselves, our bodies, and those closest to us. My absolute favorite part, however, came at the end when Calle posted a compilation of personal ads through the ages – written by men seeking women, or rather, hunting for them -, which were at once hilarious and unsurprising in terms of how much they reinforced the fact that although the modes of male objectification of the female body have changed through the ages, the basic structure of said objectification has not really gone anywhere (a woman ‘sans tache’ or unstained at the turn of the century became a woman with an ‘ample bosom’ in the 1980s). I will say though that the panel featuring statements culled from Tinder profiles that rounded out this section kept my friend and I laughing for quite a bit (photo below, but be warned…it’s in French).

 

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Should note how much proximity has risen to prominence in these sorts of interactions

 

  • Dinner that night was somewhat strategic: eat enough to feel pretty full to the extent that a small breakfast and perhaps a snack would tide us over until the feast that awaited us Saturday night. As such, we went out to Crêperie Josselin near Montparnasse (side note: yes, this is my favorite crêpe place in this city).

 

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There’s chèvre, spinach and cream stuffed in that buckwheat galette, and it’s beautiful

 

Saturday

  • After a quick breakfast of tartines with butter and jam, coffee, and a pear, it was off to Poissy (spare croissants in our bags for an afternoon snack) for part one of the wedding festivities. In France, weddings take on a decidedly civil affair, with the legal ceremony taking place in the town hall, presided over by the mayor (couples can then choose to hold an additional ceremony at a church if they wish). The majority of the talking is done by the mayor, as well as, at times, by another civil servant, who, among other things such as mentioning one or two points about the couple and their history, reads the portion of the French civil code relating to the statute of marriage. Thankfully, this means that the whole thing went by pretty quickly, and before we knew it, our friend – the second in our group – was a married man.

 

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After the ceremony…yes, we were freezing

 

  • Following the ceremony, we had some down time before we headed 40km out of Poissy to the reception venue, so we headed to a café to caffeinate ourselves up in preparation for the evening ahead. Then it was off to the Domaine des Clos Vallées for a night filled with food, wine and dancing. We got back into the city at around 4am. I promptly passed out upon reaching my bed. What a marvelous way to spend an evening reunited among old friends!

 

Sunday

  • And because I never take a break from anything, this afternoon saw a trip to the Théâtre du Rond Point to see Emma Danté’s Bestie di Scena (Bêtes de scène).
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A rarity these days: a show with a run-time shorter than 2 hours

 

  • You know how in the opening number of A Chorus Line, the actors end by forming a line downstage, holding their headshots over their faces, vulnerable under the lights in front of an unseen, but vocally present, director? Imagine that but the actors, as they come downstage, start to disrobe, ending up naked and attempting to cover themselves up against the stares of the audience. As the name suggests, this show has, at its center, the notion of actors as performers, as bodies that are both watching and, notably being watched, observed, judged in some cases based on their capacity to entertain and thus sometimes reduced to performing animals instead of being recognized for what they are – human beings with their own opinions, projects, agendas, insecurities. An actor, in sum, is never just a shell for a character to inhabit; an actor occupies that in between space of being in the process of both leaving and retaining themselves, being doubly-present. But, what if, for an hour, the actor fully descended into animality, into pure physicality, slowly leaving behind any corporal insecurity to stare down openly, frontally, those who watch them?

 

  • There were also times when, while watching this, I was reminded of my time doing Viewpoints workshops at Irvine (minus the whole being naked thing), what with the way the ensemble moved together through the space, the dynamics of their relationships to one another, and the fact that the show felt at once both choreographed and partially improvised. Ah to be back doing that again…

 

 

 

 

 

 

98 – 101

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From the William Forsythe installation at La Villette

 

Thursday was not terribly exciting (basically, another library day…of course), so here’s a quick rundown of the weekend:

 

Friday:

  • Managed to finish all my Christmas shopping in one go. I know, I’m surprised as well.
  • Went to a farewell dinner for a dear friend who is off to new adventures in Singapore. One of the troubles with being an expat among other expats is the fact that while some stay, others head off, either temporarily (like me) or permanently (like some others in my group of CitéU friends). On the other hand, the perk of this is being able to point to almost any place in the world and say I know someone who lives there. For her send off, we surprised her by meeting at Bouillon Chartier – a restaurant I had never been to, but that is pretty popular because of how inexpensive it is. Back in the day, large restaurants like this were the haunts of the Parisian working class, and this is reflected still in the food served there: straightforward, no-frills, what many would consider French ‘classics’. The quality can be slightly hit or miss, depending on what you get, but really with a group of good friends and one or two bottles of red wine, do you really need much else?

 

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A small fraction of the CitéU gang 🙂

 

Saturday:

  • I am so bummed that the William Forsythe + Ryoji Ikeda expo (pictured at the start of this post) is closing at the end of the month because I kind of want to run around in it again. Forsythe’s contribution, as the photo above suggests, entitled Nowhere and Everywhere at the same time (see why I just had to come see this thing) involved moving through a room of lightly swinging pendulums, with the one caveat being that one could not touch them. The racks to which the pendulums were attached would also shift in regular intervals, changing both the direction of the pundulums as well as, at times, the speed of the swinging. Walking amongst them, I almost lost all awareness of what others around me were doing, instead zeroing in on the swinging objects, trying to decipher or predict their movements, finding those moments where I could sweep through the gaps they created. From above, however, it was fun observing how others moved through the room, whether there were any general patterns of movement that were followed – conclusion: people really like diagonals – or any parts of the room that were, for one reason or another, avoided (the corners, oddly enough). I don’t have any photos of Ikeda’s installation – test pattern [nº13], a sound/light experience -, but the video published on La Villette’s website gives a pretty good idea of what the experience was like (also, for those who have seen the new Twin Peaks, very strong sound design for the Black Lodge in parts 2 + 3 vibes with this one).

 

  • After the expo, a walk through Pantin – a suburb just to the north of La Villette – to check out some street art before heading to the MC93 in Bobigny for what I can only describe as an anti-dance dance show. Jérôme Bel’s The Show Must Go On stirred up quite a bit of controversy apparently when it first premiered back in the early 2000s (and, granted, a show that in large part consists of either empty stages or not dancing does go against pretty much all expectations when it comes to what a dance show “should” be), but time has proven very friendly to it, as given the audience reaction (including mine), it was one of those light bits of fresh air that are very much needed these days. I mean, the first piece of fully choreographed dancing was the Macarena. A further plus: the many different kinds of bodies represented, which in itself further highlighted the marked absence of differently-abled bodies on stage.

 

  • Finally, the evening ended with a get-together at another friend’s house with other PhDs from various American Universities, where of course one of the first topics discussed was the frustration that comes with trying to exercise our basic right, as graduate employees, of forming a union in the face of at times hostile uni administrations.

 

Sunday:

  • I bought some books. I find this to be a very productive use of a Sunday.

 

Only a few days left before I head back to California for the holidays, and I still haven’t packed a thing. Procrastination is fun.

 

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Overhear Paris, and other pre-conference activities (64 – 66)

Will I ever get tired of fall foliage? No, no I will not.

I think by now it should be relatively obvious that any time I do a post on a clump of days like this, it’s because I’ve been reading all day. Of course.

Last-minute prep for Boston has been contributing to this as well. Before anyone asks: yes, it feels weird to be going back. No, I don’t necessarily think I’m going to break down. But who knows.

In any case, today, at least, proved a good final distraction before conference prep, editing, and packing got in the way.

Visions in red.

First, a visit to the Palais de Tokyo to check out the expo Medusa bijoux et tabous (Medusa, jewelry and taboo) before it closes on the 5th. As the name suggests, the primary focus was on jewelry, but more specifically, the different ways in which jewelry is used or appropriated by the wearer not only to create, affirm, or subvert an identity, but also establish or undermine cultural norms and values. I’ve never really given much thought to how my own choices in jewelry are/can be seen as a reflection of myself – as my style/preferences have changed frequently throughout the years –, but maybe next time I’m getting ready in the morning, I’ll take some time to examine what it means to have so many pieces shaped like triangles.  

No lie, would probably actually wear this if given the chance.

The evening’s second event was more in line with my usual wheelhouse of artistic interests, namely experimental/experiential theatre. About a week ago, a friend posted a link to It’s Not a Box Theatre’s Overhear Paris project, a theatrical experience advertised as an interactive walk through part of Nation, punctuated by periodic performances. The first night of performances was this evening, and, as I have been doing for pretty much every show I end up going to and as this would be my only chance to see this, I pretty much said, why the hell not and signed up for a slot.

The way it works is that you show up to a designated meeting spot (in my case, just outside metro Avron), where someone from the troupe will meet you and hand you a phone – having a good set of headphones is a plus for this, but they can provide those as well – with a preloaded app open and ready to guide you along your journey. At your start time – only one person can take the walk per slot – the app is launched, and a recording starts guiding you along the designated route. Every so often, you come across a performer, who also has a phone with the app preloaded, and when you do, your phones pair up, and their narrative starts playing as they in turn – through dance and gesture – perform their story in front of you. It’s a strange sort of intimacy that happens when you have a situation like this where two people, seemingly isolated with their headphones on, are in fact connected via virtual and corporeal transmission of a narrative. In any case, there were moments where I couldn’t help but also watch some of the passerby who stole sometimes intrigued, sometimes confused glances at what was going on.

The theme of the show was on immigration, expatriation, generally, leaving one’s home to move abroad, and the trials and tribulations that come with it. At the end of the show, once you turn your phone back in, the team asks if you would like five minutes to share your story. Which I did.

If anyone reading this is currently in Paris, the show is still on for a few more performances. I highly recommend checking it out if you have the chance.

Picasso (59)

I have a tendency at times to get a bit restless. The downside of this is that in moments where I’m hitting a block mentally, my mind tends to race in about as many directions away from what I want to focus on than I can possibly imagine. Normally, when a situation like this hits (like it did this morning when I was staring at my conference paper draft that I knew I needed to add…something to, but could not put my finger on what), I tend to seek solace not just in my usual walks, but in something more intellectually stimulating.

Like art exhibits.


The Picasso Museum in Paris is currently hosting an exhibit titled Picasso 1932, année érotique (Picasso 1932, an erotic year). There’s been a bit of good buzz around the exhibit, so I figured that, since studying erotics has been, if nothing else, at the background of a lot of what I do, why not spend some time around a thing that is both familiar yet has absolutely nothing to do with the paper I am currently blocked on.


And, as these things usually go, I think that may have worked.


I’m not an art expert by any means, but even I can say that the praise surrounding this exposition is not entirely unfounded. The whole thing is laid out like a sort of calendar/journal tracing Picasso’s life and art in the year 1932, with letters, newspaper clippings, posters and personal photographs interspersed amongst the paintings themselves.

And I’m not sure if this had anything to do with why I left with such a good impression of the exhibit, but I couldn’t help but freeze momentarily when, after stepping into one of the exhibit rooms, I came face-to-face with this :


If you are familiar with Hokusai’s “The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife”, maybe you’ll agree that there is something about this piece that harkens very strongly back to it. Or at least, I thought so. There was just something about the way the female body has become so refracted, so broken down, reshaped and manipulated that it regains a sort of animalistic quality as it reaches back to envelop the head in repose that I could not look away from for what seemed like the longest time. In any case, I think that somewhat snapped me out of my tailspin because I went through the rest of the exhibit with an almost clear head (let’s be honest with ourselves, my mind is never not racing on something, but better one or a few things than a hundred).

The rest of my afternoon before my 5pm tutoring session consisted of stopping by the FNAC to pick up a book recently recommended to me (a French translation of an Icelandic novel) and then grabbing a quick snack before having to stop myself from getting too far into the book too quickly. Yes, this is a legitimate problem.

Paris theatre : Une Hache pour briser la mer gelée en nous (32 + 33)

Right.
So before I get into discussing the show I just returned from seeing, I thought I’d start off with something pleasant, calming, pleasing to the eye. Like these photos I took while visiting the Dior exhibit at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs yesterday : 

Elegance
Symmetry, clean lines…so pleasing.

Behold all these gowns that I could never hope to afford.

As an aside, the exhibit runs through at least mid-January I believe, so if you are in the area during that time, I highly recommend checking it out (be sure to buy your tickets online though; the line was insanely long for non-ticket holders).

Now onto this evening. 
I think I mentioned in my introductory post (or in one of those early posts in any case) that part of my research involves going to see live theatre in the city, and trying to see what – if any – trends seem to be making headway. Because of this, I will periodically be posting my thoughts on what I see because it’s always good to share and open a discussion on live theatre, even if its ephemerality means that no one who is reading this will probably ever see the show(s) I am talking about. In any case, I’m not sure if it’s the slight optimist in me that is managing to peak out again just a little bit (surprising considering last evening was…not good mentally to say the least), but I am really hoping that tonight’s experience is a sign that things can only go up from here.
Because if not…then I am in for hours of misery and annoyance.
Tonight’s performance was an adaptation/reworking of Georges Feydeau’s Occupé-toi d’Amélie (Keep an Eye on Amelie, 1908) titled Une Hache pour briser la mer gelée en nous (literally : an axe to shatter the frozen sea within us), directed by Grégoire Strecker and performed on the main stage at the Théâtre des Amandiers, Nanterre. I had chosen to come to this show primarily because the blurb I read on it in A Nous, Paris, emphasized that the potential for disorder and chaos that underlines Feydeau’s work would be brought to the forefront, and that the mise-en-scène would see the action extracted from a turn of the century bourgeois setting to something more closely reflecting modern sensibilities. 
Now look, Feydeau is fine, I suppose. He is not my favorite writer, but his plays do still carry some humor in them that can still translate well to a modern audience. Would I go out of my way to see a production of one of his plays? No. But, when I first studied abroad as an undergrad, I remember going with my theatre class to see two of his shorter works and having an enjoyable, if not particularly theoretically stimulating, evening. 
Why do I say this? Because I think a reworking of Feydeau that emphasizes the trouble lurking beneath the surface, the tension that threatens to boil over and consume every one, could be an excellent way not only to revive his work, but rethink it even in its own context of théâtre du boulevard. What it does not entail, however, is 3 – yes…3 – hours of what can only be described as a frenetic mess of a play that was not even sure what it wanted to be. Oscillating between affected/stylized and more ‘realistic’ performance styles – hell, there were even some sci-fi elements thrown in with an inexplicable giant orb that showed up towards the end of act one and then just…hung out – the production struggled to find its footing for the majority of the evening, making it difficult to connect with anything that was happening. People were talking over each other at times, making the few crowd scenes almost impossible to follow, scenes involving characters switching back and forth from French to what can only be described as vaguely Slavic gibberish were set so far upstage, I almost wondered if we were supposed to be following what was happening. But, for me, the biggest offense came towards the end. One of the final images of the play is intended to be rather violent : Amelie gets manhandled and has very rough, I would say consentually ambiguous, sex with the valet of Leprince-Collette while the latter watches. Normally, something like this – especially considering that what happens immediately before is her sham(?) wedding, and so she comes before the two men in a wedding gown – would deal a final punch, but in order to do so, work had to be put in building the tension on everything that came before that moment : lingering on certain gestures, speaking deliberately, conscious of the rhythm of the words coming out, aware to an extent that it is only through personal willpower that the snap into chaos is kept at bay. Unfortunately, this work did not happen. There was, in fact, a lack of urgency or energy through much of the evening, resulting in moments meant to act as energetic bursts of built up tension reading as nothing more than following a stage direction to yell. Hell, the fact that the audience was unsure about when to clap at the end – not out of wanting to keep the suspension of disbelief hanging on for a bit, but out of genuine confusion – should say more than enough.
On the bright side, the theatre at least did provide shuttles back to Châtelet, so getting home was not as annoying as it could have been.
Tomorrow, I am actually seeing play number 2, this one hitting a liiiiiiiiittttle closer to home. Hopefully, it is an improvement on this evening.
In the meantime, here’s one last picture from the Dior exhibit :