Sunday, December 14, 2008

Sorry...been a while...

Ok soooooo haven't been posting in a bit. That is because as the finish line for Maguire Fellowship Part I draws near, there has to be more time for doing stuff and less time for blogging! This will probably be my last post before I go home for a month, so I'll try to cram a lot into it. First, quick summary of Thanksgiving:

I bought all the ingredients at an American food store called Thanksgiving, appropriately enough. This was the first time, and I hope it's the last, that I spent 6€ on pumpkin pie mix, but it was worth it. I did not manage to find a turkey (it wouldn't have fit in the oven anyway) but I had all the other musts (the French actually say un must!): mashed potatoes, cornbread, green beans, and two kinds of cranberry sauce, i.e. the good kind and the kind I like. New cultural experience of the evening #1: they all initially thought the jelled cranberry sauce was sliced beets. Fun fact: there is a word for cranberry in French, but no one knows what it is except me and the dictionary because they just don't talk about them here (it's canneberge). New cultural experience of the evening #2: no one at the dinner had ever had pumpkin pie before, and they loved it. By the way, "they" are Marie-Claire, her son Jean-Louis, his copine Valérie, and my American-French friend, Marie-Catherine. (Hypens!) Jean-Louis and Valérie got to take the leftover pie home.

Next on the agenda was Disneyland, Paris, although I like to call it Euro Disney for the sake of being retro and funny. It's such an unappealing name. Anyway, Main Street USA and Frontierland (mysteriously combined with a Mark Twain-esque Mississippi River scene) was a little slice of home until they started singing "Hakuna Matata" in French. Disneyland, Paris really isn't much like the Disneys at home; it's really just a theme park with Mické running around. I remember Disney World being a paragon of technologically advanced fun and paradise faked to perfection...of course, I was only 8, but still. However, we had a lot of fun and it wasn't bad to have a break from the floods of culture, culture, culture! that are my life. I really haven't been to an amusement park since I was 13 (the Cyclone at Coney Island does not count), and I am proud to say I went on every single one of the roller coasters and the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. You know, the plummeting elevator. While waiting an hour and a half for that one, my French companions told me that the word "twilight" sounds like "toilet" to them. So next time you turn on Nick at Night, try not to laugh when The Toilet Zone comes on.

Last week I gave a presentation on Broadway in my theater management/economics class. It was the first work I've done in class, since there is no homework, but of course I didn't really have to do any research and no one knew enough about it to contradict me anyway! I recorded some showtunes on my little dictaphone and played selections from Damn Yankees, The Pajama Game, Hair, and Spring Awakening for them - it was pretty ghetto, but they enjoyed it. Broadway is so expensive. But it's still got good stuff. Bernstein's On the Town is playing here right now to great reviews.

I will probably see just one more show before I go, and oh how French it will be: Cyrano de Bergerac at the Comédie Française! I hope we can get in. I've managed to see a great variety of things here, my favorite being the very classical (but comic) interpretations of Shakespeare and Molière, with the performers in white-face and doing an almost commedia dell'arte clowning act. It's very charming and theatrical, not really part of the American repertoire. And it's especially nice when seen in a cute little theater that serves hot mulled wine.

Well, I hope to see you for noël - stop by and have some French chocolate, because I will have a lot of it! Bisous!

Friday, November 28, 2008

Bruxelles


Well, no sprouts, but lots of chocolate and beer.

My friend Lia and I got train tickets, leaving on Sunday and returning on Monday, for the hour and a half ride from Paris to Brussels - we thought we were smart for getting them at half price, but then we realized that all the museums are closed on Monday and most of the shops are closed on Sunday and Monday. Since it snowed both days, we wanted to spend time in museums and shops, but had to spend the time in bars instead. Oh well!

The center of Brussels is called the Grand Place (and something else in Flemish) and it looks like a cross between Amsterdam and Prague contained in a souvenir snow globe. Seriously, it is too cute...yes, a little too cute. It really was a tourist haven, full of chocolate and lace shops, and several guide books warned us strongly against eating around there. Sunday the city was absolutely deserted, and Monday it was a little more lively but not crowded...most likely because it was blizzarding and smart Belgians were staying home.

The Jacques Brel Hostel (so artsy!) was clean and pleasant, except for the huge enormous trucks that started revving outside the window at both 2 and 4 am. So not a lot of sleep, but yes, a lot of cafe hopping and beer. Beer! Including Hoegaarden, Leffe, Mort Subite, Duvel, and a lovely combo of white wine and champagne called a Half and Half (that was the non-beer option). Plus the classic mussels and frites for dinner, and a waffle (square...the round ones come from Liège). And by the way, Manneken Pis is only like a foot tall.

On facebook, check out the photos of the musical instrument museum - a truly unique and fun place where you wear headphones and stand in different spots to receive (via said headphones) music played by the instrument you are looking at. People dance as they check out the different instruments and if you walk quickly through the exhibit, you'll walk through all the different areas of broadcasted music and hear the song clips one after another.

Below is a goofy video of the restaurant singing happy birthday to someone. This was not a yucky tourist joint - they actually do sing the birthday song in English as a regular thing.

Account of the Thanksgiving dinner I made all by myself to come!


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Monday, November 17, 2008

Oh Play That Thing!


Thursday I was feeling confused and irritable because I had watched an incomprehensible play in my theater class. Basically, a guy starts an argument with his friend because his friend said, "C'est bien, ça" ("That's great") and drew out the "biiiiiiieeenn" and paused before the "ça." The guy found this condescending, and the play goes from there. At the end, nothing is resolved. I suppose I need to practice my abstract-emotional French.

But then I went to a see Paula Spencer by Irish (and popular in NYC) playwright Roddy Doyle, in French translation. That play wasn't hard to understand at all. In fact, it was very simple, so simple that I wondered why it had been translated in the first place. All the interesting Irish inflection and vocabulary was gone, and what was left wasn't terribly groundbreaking. But after the show, the theater held a Q&A with Roddy himself, the best part being the French translator who scribbled down his entire 10-minute answers and then repeated them in French. The audience was a mix of French, Irish, British, and American - when Roddy spoke, certain members of the audience would react, and when the translator spoke, the rest would react. I happened to have been seated next to a fellow Bostonian, who convinced me to try to talk to Roddy after the discussion. So I asked him to sign my program and whether or not he thought the Irish government was generous with its theaters (always on task, I am). He said he didn't know because he wasn't sure what qualified as "generous," but he suspected something better than America but not as good as France.

The following day I had my History of Cultural Policy class and my Theater Management and Economics class, where I guess it was talk about the USA day. First, the history professor got in an argument in which banging on the desk actually occurred: a student mentioned the existence of private foundations and the theoretical possibility of theaters getting money from them, to which the professor responded, "Non non non! There's no stability that way -- it has to come from the government, it has to be the law." I knew I was going to be dragged into this at any second, and then she started pointing at me: "Ask her! Ask her! Ask if artists in the US get any money. Ask her!" No one said anything; then finally a different student said, "So, do artists in the US get any money?" I said, "Sometimes - it depends," but the professor insisted at that point that we get on with the classwork.

Economics class was taught by the professor's much more interesting assistant, who it seemed was more of an expert on economic theory. She touched on the expense of producing art in the US, and as the students were saying, "Wow, that's crazy," she said, "But who has the most grands artistes?" Another student said, "And America has the best athletes. Well, there are more of them than there are of us." The professor said that if you count all of Europe, there are more Europeans than Americans, but still not nearly as many big names. So why does this happen? I'm not an expert on the topic, but it seems to me that even though France distributes more money to its citizens, the US of course has more money, both in the government and privately (I've worked with private donors for 4 years...American industry reaches the farthest corners of the globe and there are plenty of filthy rich people in the country) and if someone has the potential to do great work (and, as an added bonus, generate more money), that person will get funding, and a lot of it, from somewhere. The difference lies in the way the money gets distributed. Perhaps American artists strive for excellence because they know they won't survive otherwise.

Of course, there is the question of the culture of innovation in America that doesn't exist in France. The school system here is so specialized; they put students on a professional path that plays to their strengths, but that doesn't seem to leave much room for creativity. But I didn't say that part out loud. Also though, making money isn't such a priority here. But I later heard the professor talking to a student, saying that France was 10-15 years behind the US. Interesting - it's 1993 in France? Shouldn't they all be wearing flannel?

Photos of Père Lachaise cemetery on are facebook. Here is a video of the Eiffel Tower glittering as it does the first 10 minutes of every hour at night. Sorry for turning the camera sideways. I though it would take a verticle shot. For those of you who know the Tiger Lillies, I happened upon a shop that was playing their album. I was trying to be subtle with the camera, so please excuse the low and jumpy angle. The shopkeeper knew them but had never seen them -- I told her she should to get the full experience.


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Thursday, November 6, 2008

Election Night 2008 in Paris


Thanks to Babysitting Children with Colds in St. Nazaire, followed by Halloween Night 2008 in Paris, I was pretty under the weather on Election Night. :( But that didn't stop me from staying out all night and getting sicker! Of course, it was worth it.

A quick re-cap of Hallowen first: friend from Vassar and future groomsman Tim is attending Sciences-Po in Paris, and hosted an excellent Halloween party for his classmates and...me. In preparation, we found a Halloween store and bought cobwebs (blacklight-sensitive and not), a cardboard skeleton, paper plates with skulls on them, a pumpkin garland, and orange and black napkins. Then we bought blacklights, pinlights, and a mirrored ball. The morning of we got frozen hors d'oeurvre from this place called Picard (make it so) that sells frozen stuff, plus frozen quiches and pizzas, and of course candy and mixers. Everyone came in costume, Americans and non-Americans alike. There was a Japanese butterfly, a South American Desperate Housewife, a French Barak Obama (an ingenious stroke of genious) and at least twenty others. An informal game of Mafia was played in which the killers got away, and then, as all things do, it turned into an 80's dance party until concern for the neighbors made us turn off the music. Then I took one of the few cab rides I've experienced in Paris to go home at about 5 am.

On election night, I made the decision to stay up watching CNN even though I knew I'd pay for it later. The other option was to get up at 5 am and find a TV, but then I'd miss the closing of some of the early and important polls, so a nuit blanche it was.

I ate dinner with my friend Gregoire in Meudon and then at about 11 pm headed back to Paris to meet up with American friends Lia and Laure, Canadian friend Yvonne, and Lebanese friend Sarah T. (I pick up Sarahs wherever I go). We knew of five places to watch the election: Harry's Bar, Breakfast in America (a little restaurant), Joe Allen's pub, the Town Hall in the 3rd Arrondissement (event called Nuit Americaine, which is a term they use in film for making a scene look like nighttime when it was really shot in the daytime, but also has a figurative meaning for something that's flashy but fake), and Americans Abroad for Obama at the Palais Maillot. Nuit Americaine was actually organized by the district, and screened movies (including the unflattering to the US Crash) and served breakfast until it was all over. At 11, there were already lines to get into all these places, so we had a little pow-wow, and decided that standing in the cold for an hour and then (if we got in) sitting either on a bar stool or cafeteria bench for the next seven hours would be no fun. Sarah T., who has CNN, graciously invited us over to watch what was not even her country's election when she had to go to work the next day. We were disappointed not to be amongst a crowd when the results came in, but it worked out in the end. (As for the people crowding up all these places, many were Americans, but there were also Parisians, and I'm sure there were other nationalities too.)

Back at Sarah T.'s apartment, we had a little trouble with the cable, but we watched French coverage and streamed CNN until we could get it going. The nicest thing about her neighborhood was the view of the Eiffel Tower, which was all lit up blue with the EU stars on the front (we think they did that because Paris just hosted a EU meeting). It was nice to watch an American channel, but boy is CNN flashy with all their hologram craziness...the French channel looked awfully sober in comparison. We ate junky food and had our first mini-celebration when Obama won Pennsylvania...and then it was just too easy! Right after he won Ohio, CNN started outlining how McCain really couldn't win. And we just looked at each other like, It's over! This was probably at about 3 am. But of course we kept watching, and then CNN basically interrupted all the results coming in to project Obama as the winner. We still weren't sure if we could really trust it, but then we saw the insane crowd in Chicago, and that was it! It took a little while before it sunk in and we got up and danced around. I started getting calls from Mom and Dad and Matt, since I'd told them to call in case I fell asleep. Then we danced around more. We left at 6:30 am, right after Obama's speech. It was raining and the streets were quiet - there had actually been a very hoity-toity 100€ per person event right near where we were, but we didn't see anyone. I took another one of my rare cab rides home, snuck in at 6:45 even though Marie-Claire was already up! and passed out for a while despite not having had Tylenol in at least six hours. I sent and received a few text messages saying Go Obama! Congratulations America!, but unfortunately was not well enough to go out and celebrate. Luckily though, election coverage was on all six channels that we get chez moi, so I still got to bask.

Now that I can love America again, I wish I were in NYC! But now I can get a flag to sew on my backpack, 'cause who has the coolest President now...?

As usual, new photos are on Facebook.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

La vie quotidienne
















Well, its been a month, and life is getting...quotidien! The daily schedule goes:

Monday, do something until early afternoon and then Skype with Matt.

Tuesday, do something until late afternoon and then babysit Olivier. Teach him English by playing poker and watching the Simpsons.

Wednesday, go to internship. Have coffee for two hours, have lunch for three hours, then read theater magazines while trying not to inhale too much second-hand smoke.

Thursday, go to French as a foreign language theater class.

Friday, go to history of French cultural politics class and French cultural economic policy class.

Saturday, do something.

Sunday, do something.

Something usually means something, but sometimes it means nothing. I don't know whether to count gossiping in cafes as nothing...I think the French would call it joie de vivre! I have seen six plays so far and will be doing some formal interviews within the next couple weeks. I'm also organizing my vacations, which is also very French (I just learned that French companies not only give you five weeks of paid vacation, but they also subsidize your vacation expenses). In November I'll be going to Belgium with my new friend Lia, and in the spring I'll be in Bratislava, Italy, and elsewhere. Anyone have connections in non-Schengen territories?

This weekend I had a little getaway to Bretagne to my hostess's family estate - well, it was really a getaway for the grandkids, who both had colds. Stay tuned to see if they gave their colds to me. Check out the enormousness of the main house in my photo album; we stayed in the "outbuilding" with a mere four bedrooms and maid's studio apartment.

As alluded to in the previous post, here is a scene-by-scene description of the weirdest French play I saw:

1. MC talks to the audience, pretends theater is a cabaret and play is a soiree. Tells audience he will die before the end of the evening.

2. Disco lights come up on MC singing and dancing to "Sex Bomb."

3. Pregnant woman stands in front of mike talking about l'avenir (the future), raises voice to a screech and then falls down.

4. Some other woman tells the story of her mother working in a factory and cutting off two fingers.

5. Ella Fitzgerald song plays and everyone sings.

6. MC talks about his love for an older woman. Lights come up on woman on couch and MC standing twenty feet away. Lights fade and come up on woman on couch and MC lying on floor. Lights fade and come up on MC sitting on couch. Actress playing older woman has been replaced with actress thirty years younger.

7. Behind a scrim, someone saws off someone else's limbs one by one. Sound of saw is turned way up. "Can't take my eyes off of you" plays in the background.

8. MC goes to dinner with his two pregnant girlfriends. The sound of them gulping water is turned way up.

Intermittently: actors remind us that life is hard, love makes you miserable, and we're all going to die.

I don't really remember much else about this play. The dialogue or what passed for dialogue wasn't hard to understand, but as I can't let my mind wander and still follow the thread of the plot or what passes for plot when it's in French, I kinda stopped trying about halfway through. The play was called Je tremble, or I Tremble, parts un et deux, and it was written in two installations and played at the Avignon Festival in 2007 and 2008. That explains a lot.

Click here for photos.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Quick post


More to come this week, but in the meantime I wanted to post a video of some musicians I saw last weekend. Also, I have seen two wacked-out French plays that make Sarkozy's philistine tendencies pretty understandable...

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Monday, October 13, 2008

Activités!


Now that my blog has been removed from Google's black list (not that it's a good time to be complaining about oversight, but really!) I can continue on with the non-spammy task at hand!

The leisurely days have begun to fill up, even though they are still pretty leisurely. Last Wednesday I went to my first official day of internship. I arrived at 10 AM, and eventually Anne-Marie (the theater director), Laurent (finances guy), and Joel (semi-involved guy...he wrote a book about the Carthoucherie) showed up. The theater is really hurting for money, and that Friday they were going to meet with the Ministry to ask for more. The situation was actually perfect for my project. So I sat through the meeting, most of which I got but some of which was a little out of context. It eventually deteriorated into calling the director of the theater next door nasty names (and she's an American...eep!) Then we had lunch for a couple hours, and then they kept talking about the money issues and ignored me. I pretended to read Joel's book for a while, and then I said I had to go, but that they should call me when they needed me. I didn't want to be in the way when they had something serious to discuss, and anyway I had to get out of that windowless room in which about thousand cigarettes had just been smoked. Ick ick ick. The highlight of the day was when one of the actresses said she thought the houses on Long Island, where she has family, were gaudy. I asked if she had seen The Sopranos...did she think the houses looked like theirs? And then they all talked about how big the Sopranos' fridge was, and how it was always completely full. Anne-Marie said the first time she saw an American refrigerator was in 1969, and it had an ice dispenser on the door...she couldn't get over it.

So except for the refrigerator talk, the internship is not at the top of the "awesome" list. But moving on, Friday my classes started, and I missed the first one through no fault of my own: the time was misprinted in the schedule. :P I was lucky to find the professor later on and tell her that I'd be there next week. She was overwhelmingly nice and talked with me forever about the class, offering to arrange interviews for me and all sorts of stuff. Then I actually made it to the next class, where I thought I'd be the only non-native French speaker. I had to go first when we introduced ourselves, but soon it became clear that the French were the minorities in this class. The students are from China, Holland, Bosnia, Greece, Colombia, Brazil, Lebanon, and other places I'm forgetting, so there will be plenty of non-native French. Also, there's no homework. So I'll just sit back and absorb the knowledge.

I also have a book club going (English-speaking...I know, I'm cheating) and a babysitting job (also cheating, since I'm supposed to be talking to the kid in English). It's amazingly easy to speak English in Paris, so I will have to get creative on avoiding it whenever possible. Come to think of it, I shouldn't be writing this blog at all... ;)

And lastly, I have seen two enjoyable plays: Master Class by Terrence McNally and Equus by Peter Shaffer. No Harry Potter in this version, but I think I prefer it that way. And no, those are not French plays! But they were acted in French, so that's ok. I will be writing reviews of them (Aaron) to be posted eventually and to be used in my final report, which will probably be a whopping five pages or so.

Here is a video of a didgeridoo player in front of the Centre Popmidou and more photos.


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Monday, October 6, 2008

Semaine No1 (hey, that word looks like the name of my street in NY!)


Well, it has been about a week. The days are still pretty leisurely...not that I'm complaining! There's nothing wrong with taking a little vacation. I wrote to the officer of fellowships at Vassar today to confirm the length of my first report. I had the idea that it was about five pages, which is nothing...it's just that the report is due in November and most people start their projects in September. For me, classes didn't start until this week, and I thought perhaps my report would be less informative than some others'. Anyway, the response: 1-2 pages, "reflective" in nature. This is truly the best gig ever.

So I got on a bus and went blindly to find my internship contact, with whom I had been emailing but who had mysteriously stopped contacting me. Luckily I noticed some people reading scripts on the bus so I followed them to the theater. The area is full of former munitions factory buildings since there is a chateau there, and the theaters are all in these little houses situated around a field. I've never seen theaters configured this way before, but it makes a nice little community. Luckily, I found the director and she let me sit in on what I assume was one of her routine 3-hour Thursday afternoon lunches. She is the only one who works every day; everyone else comes in once or twice a week. Some other very artsy-types arrived, and the conversation turned to strange men who had stopped them on the street and told them how lovely they were. Then I got a tour of the little black box theater and even littler tech room, and went on my way with an appointment to start the following Wednesday.

Otherwise, I've done several ex-pat outings including scoping out Nuit Blanche: literally "white night," but the phrase means a sleepless night. Museums stay open late and art exhibitions are displayed around the city. The Metro runs until about 2am (but that doesn't mean there aren't HUGE crowds until the very last minute). We saw a bit a Bollywood movie being shot, but unfortunately shootings aren't very interesting to watch, and even less so when it's raining. (See the clip below.) Then the next night I attended a dinner the next night which has spawned a book/film club! I've already seen the film and read the book, but that's ok!

My first classes at Paris 8 are Friday, and a possible babysitting job is in the works. I also hope to continue my English conversation hour with the possibility of tartare and more tartare to come!

Approaching highlights:
*French movie entitled Being W. The poster pictures George in a Napoleon-esque outfit and throne; he's saying (in English) "God bless me!"

*Haircut at a place called SpaceHair Cosmic: funky or foolhardy? We shall see!

*First play of the trip! And it's by Terrence McNally!
I added new photos, but Facebook was being temperamental. I'll check in on it later, but you can see at least a couple new things. (click)

P.S. If you want to know when I've updated the blog, you can sign on as a follower (even if you're a leader at heart). See upper right-hand corner.

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Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Sarah is in Paris!


C'est vrai - it's true! I have tricked Vassar College into thinking that hanging out in France and seeing shows was worth an academic grant! Well, you can't put a price on life experience.
I arrived on my birthday, Saturday, September 27th. I am living with a family friend in a fancy part of town, rent-free. There is a bus stop literally outside the front door and a metro stop across the street. I am also allowed exclusive use of a new laptop. So in order to say thank you, I cooked chicken for my hostess and me tonight. I think we're even now.
Hee hee. For those of you who remember my correspondence from Japan, this one will be less funny. France is not as funny as Japan. But I will try to maintain a sprightly tone in the blog, and it is more than possible that my being in Paris will be funny to Parisians. Like, for example, when I spilled my coffee yesterday morning.
It's been less than a week of course, but so far I have:
*peeked just around the corner from my front door and seen the Moulin Rouge
*bought an International Herald Tribune and had a petit cafe in a cafe-bar
*spilled the petit cafe all over the floor but got the French waiters to be nice to me and give me another one
*been treated to steak tartare
*bought a monthly metro pass
*met a French professor who said, when I was concerned he wouldn't be able to find me at the cafe, "People who are looking for each other always find each other." Then when I said that maybe the French didn't like the Jeff Koons exhibit at Versailles because it was too modern, he said, "But what does that mean, modern?"
*made friends with everyone by giving them Sweet Sloops candies

Please click this link for my photo album on Facebook. Yes, the university is a dump. But it's free (to some people).