Friday, July 30, 2010


I began my 38th birthday in England, but finished it in France. Not a bad way to spend the day! This is my fifth year doing this program, but the first time I’ve spent my birthday out of London; so I wasn’t sure exactly how I wanted to spend it. In the end, I spent it mostly reminding everyone, all day long, that it was my birthday. And also doing lots of fun stuff.

Our taxis picked us up at 4 am, an ungodly hour by any stretch, but even more so when you are a theatre student who says up all night talking and/or Skyping your peeps back in the US. All the same, my students were ready on the button, gratefully, and absolutely nobody forgot their passports (except for Daniel and Jacob.) Our taxicab journey to the train station was obviously inspired by Mr Toad’s Wild Ride, except less safe. And I had a really nice few minutes with a security guy at St. Pancras who completely unpacked my bag, waived it with a bomb wand, and then sort of helped me repack.

The train itself was mostly a blur. This because I was tired, and also because the Eurostar goes pretty fast and everything really is a blur. Alta let me listen to her ipod, and I watched half an episode of Flight of the Conchords and zonked out. I woke halfway through the chunnel and laughed at Daniel, who was still awake but completely glazed over. And then I realized I had the Atlantic Ocean on top of me. And then I went back to sleep.

There’s not much to report about the trip from Gare du Nord to the Hotel Ajiel except that I tried really hard to be Professor Positive so the students would be less cranky. This was met with some, though not complete, success. And if I ever felt that a someone was being a Negative Nancy I just reminded them that it was my birthday! That seemed to work.

Once we checked into the hotel everyone crashed for two hours; it was just what the doctor ordered. As soon as everyone had a snoozer and little food in them they were magically transformed. We set out, as you do, for the Eiffel Tower. Via Trocodero. The day was warm, but not too much so. The Eiffel Tower view from the Trocodero is one of the wonders of the world, or so I think. The only bad part is that it’s impossible to find Eiffel Tower keychains and/or knockoff designer bags anywhere up there. (Some of you will get that joke.)

We walked to the Musee D’Orsay to pick up our museum passes. The students went in for a couple of hours, but I wanted to explore Saint Germain Des Pres, which is the intellectual center of Paris. Not like I’m smart or anything, but I almost have a PhD and I felt like I could be among my people in St Germain. Turns out, my people smoke a lot. And I didn’t feel that intellectual. But I did see the following:

The Deux Magots, a cafe that Hemingway used to frequent:
St. Germain-des-Pres church, the oldest church in Paris:

Picasso's homage to his good friend and poet Guillame Apollinaire:
The Musee Delacroix, which inhabits Delacroix's own home, where I found three great faces:

This little mosaic on the corner of a cafe on the Rue de Buci:
A statue of Danton, who I know so much about now. But didn't know was so portly:
The Rue de Furstenberg, a tiny square with old-fashioned street lamps that is in a bunch of movies - basically any movie set in Paris:

I knew that my birthday dinner had to be spent at CafĂ© a Gogo, my favorite creperie in Paris with the best service. This year was an extra special treat. Once the manager found out, via a lot of deliberate hinting, that it was my birthday, he brought out a tiny sliver of cake with a candle in it and then sang to me. And from that moment on, I had a very special new friend. He kept coming back and teasing us and asking us how we liked our food. Then he told us to stop laughing. Then he told us he was just kidding and he wanted more laughing. Then he fed me bites of my crepe “airplane” style, like you do with toddlers. Then he sat on my lap for pictures. Then he tried to kiss me. I ate there last year with Lisa and I thought THAT was romantic! Happy Birthday, Clark, and way to kiss a French waiter.

By this time we had what was probably our fifth wind. We set out for Montmartre, by way of the Moulin Rouge. We wound our way up the back alleys of my favorite borough of Paris, looking for Amelie and the Lapin Agile. It’s always fun to see students discover Montmartre; London doesn’t have anything that bohemian and quaint, though I’ve found something close in Hampstead Heath. But it’s fun to be up there when evening hits and all of the lights of Montmartre blink on. Sitting on the steps of Sacre Couer as the city view slowly illuminates, eating gelato and watching street artists, and all under colorful lights strung from the windows. I had grand hopes of ending my special day on a Seine Riverboat, mostly for the chintz factor, but I got the next best thing: the Carousel underneath Sacre Couer. They even gave us our own special ride. And at this point we should have gone home, but we got our sixth and possibly last wind, and made a trek across town to catch the 11:00 twinkling of the Eiffel Tower. Laying underneath it, basically spent and laughing at the dumbest things, we watched the full ten minute light show in awe and appreciation for new sights, new cities, and new friends. Also, did I mention that it was my birthday?