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.