Saturday, August 11, 2007

French Internet: This is the Titre!

TUESDAY: Class with Professor Roach and invitee William Gaskill, a man who was part of the founding of the National Theatre (you know, with Olivier) and who served as a director for the Royal Court when it was first producing some of the plays we are now reading as definitive moments in the development of Modern British Drama. He also directed the production of Calderon’s “The Great Theatre of the World” we saw last night, so we had questions for him. Oddly enough, he didn’t really have academic answers to some of them, i.e.: why did you do this play? “Because I like it.” Interestingly, the play made for some polemical discussion in class after Mr. Gaskill left – there was a pretty strong Christian bent, which is apparently totally neutralized in the eyes of most Brits (like Mr. Gaskill) because it’s just not an issue here in England – “no one is that religious.” Some Yale-in-Londoners felt it proselytized uncomfortably while others saw it as quaint and amusing and harmless, and we had a long debate about the merit of doing a play that may or may not translate well through 400 years, especially if one doesn’t have a reason better than “I like it.” After class we grabbed lunch at Marks and Spencer, took a tube to the river, and then caught a boat up to The Globe. The ride was short but nice – it’s an old river, and it feels nice to move about on it, especially while traveling to see Othello. The Paul Mellon Centre had purchased us tickets for seats, but I preferred to stand: the sitting spots all have some sort of restricted view and it is difficult to hear. Plus, how often do you get to stand four feet from actors with big swords and lovely costumes? Not very. The play was great – The Globe does a nice traditional rendition of all these plays, with actors in period dress and little scenery. Iago was pretty terrific, Othello was very good, and there was a nice Roderigo who actually stood out as notable. Desdemona is a difficult part to make compelling, but the smothering scene was pretty terrific – she actually fought back, and it was not as peaceful and willingly sacrificial as in other productions I’ve seen. The whole thing ended with a terrific jig, and we left happy. Stopped for Pimms at a nearby pub, then took a bus home to make tortellini and write our third review. I slept, and wrote, and slept and wrote, and hit the hay (what a great phrase! Of course there is no real hay, but what must it be like to actually hit the hay…) in the wee hours.

WEDNESDAY: Turned in my review, then took the tube with Sandy and Emmett and Ashley to for a field trip to Hampstead Heath, where we saw 2 Willow Road, the modernist house of modernist architect Erno Goldfinger. The house was “extremely forward thinking for it’s time” according to our very slightly David Brent-esque guide, and we did see neat things like sliding space saving doors and partitions and some of the first ever built-in closets, as well as a priceless collection of modern art that belonged to the family. After the tour, Ariel and Sophie and I strolled by the duck pond and continued on past the Keats house to a bakery where we bought mochas and ciabatta. Then the tube back to the PMC for some source material collection: I now know a bit about the area north and south of the Millennium Bridge… before the bridge was built. Great. Then home, napping, and the impromptu decision to see a BBC Prom. Sophie and Cassie and I caught the tube to South Kensington and joined the gallery queue at Royal Albert Hall. We bought our five-pound tickets and scored a spot peering through the narrow space between a pillar and a wall, pretty close to center. We were quite a ways from the stage, but once the music started, the sound was terrific. The headliners were John Dankworth and Cleo Laine, and the first act featured Dankworth jazz pieces that figured around lines from Shakespeare like “where the bee sucks, there suck I.” Then some Ellington (Take the A Train, etc.), some long jam sessions, and the interval. Post-interval, another woman came out, and she was charming, and she sang a little more Shakespeare and some terrific standards including an epically long It Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got that Swing and a reprise of Take the A Train. It was long but great, and all those older big-band British musicians on stage sure could rock. We each bought a Proms tote bag, then tubed back to ye olde HPH to check Proms off the list.

THURSDAY: Class with Professor Roach and a lively discussion of “Othello” and the Polish “H of D” (Conrad’s Heart of Darkness) from a few weeks ago. I think we decided the former was objectively good and the latter objectively bad. Then lunch at the legendary Valparaiso Snack Bar near Hughes Parry, where Cassie and I shared that oh so delicious and nutritious tomato/onion/cheese fried omelet with chips. Then home to nap and pack and organize and try to plan for playing… and, er, working… in PARIS. Oh goodness. Some discriminating outfit choosing and tortellini later, and we were ready to go. Sarah and Cassie and Paul and I tubed to Waterloo station, and after a minor setback (Sarah accidentally left her passport in Hughes Parry, and Ashley the Saint delivered it by hand with time to spare), we were on our way. I think The Chunnel is cool? I mean, you can’t see anything as you go through, but beforehand the English countryside at sunset was lovely. On the flip side it had become dark, and all one could see were neon signs that read things like “Babou.” I didn’t know what they meant to advertise, but I felt excited because they were very clearly FRENCH. I do not speak the language, so we’ll see how this whole thing goes. I’ll just remember: S'il vous plait excusez-moi. J'ai un problème. Parlez-vous anglais? We arrived at the station, took the tube to Paul’s INCROYABLE apartment in the 14th Arrondisement of PARIS where we put our STUFF. Then some wine made by Paul’s GODFATHER. QUOI? Then we went out, because it was only 12:30. We walked. And walked and walked. And walked (in a meandering, Parisian sort of way) past things like Les Halles and the cathedral of St. Eustache (with a big stone head-in-hand sculpture and many birds outside) to a club called Tryptiche, where, despite the fact that it was 3 o’clock in the morning, there were many French folks. Several wanted to dance with Camille. One girl walked in carrying her motorbike helmet and also a rose. C’est joli. We were tired, so we found ourselves a bus for the way back and turned in at about 4:45 in the AM.

FRIDAY: Woke up late, got dressed like quick rabbits, and walked hurriedly to the market in Paul’s neighborhood, which apparently closes at noon. Paul had already bought a roasted chicken and it’s accompanying potatoes, and we found some lovely tomatoes and raspberries and bread and cheese. Then lunch in the apartment at the dining room table – the whole thing felt like some sort of Thanksgiving, with the roasted bird and the potatoes and the wine and the French radio. And also, the fact that we were celebrating an e-mail from Sir Professor Isenstadt that in no uncertain terms granted the whole Yale-in-London group a big fat extension on the architecture paper. Vive la France! After lunch, some lying about and planning, then a long, Parisian meandering past the Gertrude Stein’s house and the Louvre and the Army Museum/Invalid Hospital and the Ecole Militaire (ou mon cousin Pierre habite) and the Parc du Champ de Mars to the… EIFFEL TOWER. It is huge. I mean, you see post cards and what not, and it looks delicate and graceful, which it is, but it is also GIGANTIC and STURDY. We walked to it then under it then past it to the Jardin du Trocadero on the other side of the Seine. A man was playing the Godfather theme on an accordion while some small children raced their Eiffel Tower keychains down the stairs. Check plus. We then walked down the Avenue du President Wilson to the Palais du Tokyo, a modern art museum/community center/restaurant bar. Then to a small restaurant near a metro stop where we all had oeufs. Then to THE LOUVRE. We had an hour. Greatest Hits of the Greatest Hits: Winged Victory, the Mona Lisa (why this painting? I liked DaVinci’s woman with a black background just as much), then Venus de Milo (THIS IS CIRCA 2100 YEARS OLD. Not 16th century as I had thought for all my life… 2100 YEARS OLD). Then Psyche and Cupid – stunning – then Psyche and Mercury – stunning – then we got le kicked out. We took photos near the I.M. Pei glass triangle, and watched the “10 O’Clock Sparkle Time at the Eiffel” (the tower flashes and glimmers every night on the hour) from the Louvre driveway. Then a walk to the Palais Royal and its pristinely trimmed archway of trees to the metro, which we took to Paul’s favorite Parisian bar, communist themed Polit Buro. Some Sex Sur La Place later and we met friend Pierce near the Opera House for some wandering and vino before taking a bus back to Montmartre. Our walk back to Paul’s house took us past the neighborhood prison (“it’s not still a prison, right?” “er…there’s no tourist sign” “look there’s a light on!” “allons-y allons-y”) and back to the beautiful flat. It is the good here.

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