Saturday, July 31, 2010


I wasn’t in a hurry to go to the Louvre again this year. I feel like I’m always complaining about the Louvre, but I really do like it. I just like it once every five years, maybe. It’s the crowds that get under my skin. And the heat. And the Da Vinci Code. So I escorted the group to the gates, and then left them to brave the Venus De Milo alone. I didn’t feel bad about leaving them alone; they deserved it for teasing me about my genie pants (they’re NOT.)

Instead, I explored the nearby neighborhood of Le Marais. Le Marais was originally a marshland until it became fashionable in the 1800’s. Then it went out of style, and became home to the homeless; it was the immigrant center for a long time. It’s still the Jewish center of Paris. After WWII it became gentrified, and now it is a center for arts, literature, and people like me who walk around looking for the Picasso Museum.

Not knowing the the Picasso Museum was under repair, and will be until 2012, I had the good fortune of wandering the backstreets of Le Marais. Here’s what I saw:

Along the Rue de Rosiers, a Jewish deli. Or what looked like a Jewish deli but was actually a store for hipsters.
At the Carnavalet Museum, a goddess with lobster claws for hands!
A little revolutionary propaganda.
Also at the Carnavalet Museum, two awesome faces. The first one looks a lot like me. The second one looks a lot like the devil:

This fountain at the Place des Vosges:
Victor Hugo's house!
Inside Victor Hugo's House! A Chinese room. With nobody in it. I could have touched EVERYTHING! AND I DID!! JUST KIDDING.
Two more awesome faces. The girl reminded me of Phoebe:

I met up with the group again and we went to the Paris Opera. I’ve never been there. I guess I felt that since I had seen The Phantom of the Opera it was basically the same thing. Well, wowzers. That is some opera house! I’ve never seen anything quite that opulent:

Sing, my angel of music! Love NEVER dies!
The ceiling of the theatre was painted by Marc Chagall:

After the Opera I walked across the street to the famous Café de la Paix and had some strawberry melba ice cream. It’s been said that if you sit for long enough at the Café de la Paix the whole world will pass by. I had that experience. I can’t remember the last time I saw so many nationalities, so many economic classes, and so many different energies pass by in one spot. And then there was some kind of traffic incident, so there were a bunch of cops. I moved on.

Tonight we took the Seine Riverboat tour. It’s my third time doing this, but I always love it. It was fun sitting again by Daniel Whiting, who I sat with two years ago on the same boat ride. We kept "raising the roof" to see if passersby on the banks would respond. We had some success. Our group was first in line to board the boat, which was lucky; we got to all sit together. It was fun to joke, take pictures, and smoothly pass under these beautifully lit bridges as the sun went down.

We got back to our hotel in Convention at midnight, but some of us were starving so we went to a nearby café, which appeared to be in no rush to close down. So I went ahead and had myself a club sandwich. And a diet coke that was 8.50 euros. I drank that Diet Coke like it was liquid gold, because it was. Cherie and Becca had crepes. Daniel and Jake had giant hamburgers. Scott and Alta split some kind of waffle. And now you are fully caught up on stuff we ate.

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 Café 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?

Thursday, July 29, 2010

england then, england now

I spent the morning doing errands. A morning of errands at home might be a trip to Jiffy Lube or dropping something off at the library. Over here a morning of errands is buying train tickets to France, topping up my phone, or buying passes to castles. In the end, it’s basically the same thing. Gotta be done! But when I finished errands I found myself near Regent’s Street, so I worked my way over to Carnaby Street for some window shopping.

I’ve never been to Carnaby Street but I’m familiar with it generally because of Austin Powers. As with most things in England, Austin Powers has done more damage than good, since Americans now assume that all English have horrific teeth, wear ascots, and dance with women in mod outfits. Carnaby Street was famous for fashion in the 60’s, and it’s still pretty cutting edge. There are a lot of well-known shops, most of which you can find at any mall in the US. But there were a lot of shops that I didn’t know; little holes in the wall with plenty of clothes I would really like to buy if only I had the money, or if only I wouldn’t be beaten up for wearing them in Provo.

I also found the Vintage Magazine store, completely by happy happenstance. I found this place five years ago and have been looking for it since. It’s one of those places you only find when you are not looking for it, like Narnia! It’s full of old movie memorabilia and t-shirts.

I ended up eventually at Savile Row, and who cares what you're wearing as long as you're wearing a smile? Savile Row is full of shops I not only can’t afford, but feel too intimidated to even enter; nothing like clothing shop with a doorman to make me feel that the neighborhood Banana Republic may actually be my limit. But I wandered along, stopping briefly at Alexander McQueen and past the Royal Academy of Arts, which was showing an exhibit called “Sargent and the Sea” which sounds nice, as well as something called “Haunches of Venison.” Uh, what?

We spent six hours at the Globe today, and I loved pretty much every minute of it. When I was planning the shows for this trip I thought it would be fun to book performances of Henry IV Part One and Henry IV Part Two back-to-back. It sounded very adventurous. As the day approached, however, I started worrying that 6 hours of standing might be a bit too much for my brain to handle and for my feet to support. But then Part One kicked into gear and it was funny, offbeat, and beautifully directed. I think Henry IV Part One might be in my top five favorite Shakespeare plays. I know how boring it sounds. I wish it had a better title. But it’s so great. And this production, with special note of Roger Allam as Falstaff and Jamie Parker as Hal, was witty, sad, and moving. And the atmosphere at the Globe is so alive; you feel like you are watching the play for the first time. You feel lucky.

In between the shows they kicked us all out, which was fine since we were starving. Our friendly little usher - remember her? – recommended Leon’s, a little nearby deli that I have never been to. They create little boxed lunches for you; I had some Morroccan meatballs. While there I also used the ladies bathroom and caused some panic in the kitchen over a cup of chocolate mousse.

We were first in line for Part Two. You have to line up at the Globe if you want to get the best seating; and by that I mean the best standing. The goal is to get up against the stage so you can rest against it. It’s nice to lean on something. So, by golly, we were there 90 minutes early, camped out at the head of the queue. We entertained ourselves by making up games and doing Little Britain impersonations.Do you know this gentleman? Is he your husband or father? You should know that he walks up to strange women, in this case Alta, and tells them to “mind” their “boobs.” Will you please help him learn that this is inappropriate?
Do you know this gentleman? Is he your husband or father? Maybe your uncle? Well, just so you know: HE BUTTS IN LINE. He thinks no one sees, he assumes no one notices. Well, we did. Listen, we didn’t wait in line for an hour and a half so your Uncle Chester could butt in line. Will you let him know please, thanks.

Henry IV Part Two is not the exciting conclusion to Part One. It feels like a completely different play because it basically is. It tells a whole new story. But it’s all the same characters from Part One and it was fun to see the same actors in both productions so we got a nice sense of continuity. And our proximity to the stage gave us the opportunity to be vomited on (twice), winked at, peed near, and spilled on. It’s very interactive in the sense that you come away slightly soiled. Again, superlative acting, thoughtful and inventive direction. So much fun, and how great to see a play that is rarely performed done with such integrity and passion. It made the 90 minute wait all the more worth it.

On the tube ride home I read a poem that had been taped up inside the car. It's by Gillian Clarke, and it somehow felt appropriate:

Exultation! Salutation
to the long midsummer days,
to the light lost by the minute,
sing, and sing the dark away.

In the park the lovers listen,
blackbird's last song of the day.
Bats are scribbling verse on twilight.
Owls are calling, Kyrie.

Soon a gathering of swallows,
like a stanza on a wire,
voices rising in crescendo,
in hall and stadium and choir.

In the theatre of summer
stars ascending in their arc,
company and conversation.
Sing, and sing away the dark!