Saturday, June 30, 2012

three days in paris

Wednesday, June 27

We were up at five this morning to get moved out, and we were all at the Gloucester Road Station by 5:30. Even Kaitlyn Lamb, who had a broken wheel on her giant neon pink suitcase. She thumped down the road and didn’t seem to mind it. I was expecting everyone to be groggy, since most of them got less than two hours of sleep. But they were surprisingly alert and in good spirits. Which is good. I needed that.

Once on the train we whizzed along and everyone seemed to settle in nicely. Nobody saw mermaids out the window as we passed under the English Channel, but that’s only because nobody looked hard enough. Bonnie was my seat partner. We had a great chat, and Steven, sitting across from us, listened to incredibly loud music (Tool?) on his ipod. Then I fell asleep and woke just as we pulled into the Gare de Nord.

There’s nothing really remarkable about the next two hours; getting to the Hotel Ajiel in Paris is always a little bit tricky, and it’s tough with little sleep and all of our baggage. But I’m proud of this group for keeping their heads together and making baby steps until, finally, we made it. We all split up to eat, and then I gave a mandatory nap time. Which everyone needed and seemed to appreciate.

By 3:30 we were ready to head out. Everyone seemed refreshed and ready to bring on la Paris. We headed first to Solferino where we got off the metro and headed to the Musee D’Orsay. While buying museum passes I encountered this pleasant lady, who felt the need to count our passes four hundred times to make sure she wasn't giving us an extra one. And she needed to count in English, so it sounded like ", let's that right?....let me start"

It’s been a few years since I’ve been inside the D’Orsay. They had an exhibition called “Degas et le Nu,” (Degas and the nude) but I couldn’t get in without paying extra money and paying to see naked people just seemed dodgy. So I had a nice sandwich in the cafĂ© and read my book. Then I headed upstairs to see some Van Gogh.

I’ve seen the Van Goghs before, but they’ve taken on new meaning for me since I started working on Vincent at Brixton. I feel like I kind of know the guy a little, now.  The paintings that really grabbed me were

Eugene Boch

La Sieste

La Chambre

La Nuit Etoilee

Portrait of the Artist

We all met up for crepes on the steps of the Musee at five pm, and decided we wanted to go get a proper look at the Eiffel Tower. The trip to the Trocodero was uneventful, except that I danced in the metro station for an old lady on the opposite train. She encouraged me with a big smile and a thumbs up, so I danced a little more. It was all in the hips, with a little roof raising.  Pretty soon that entire train car was watching me dance, which was fine because eventually the train pulled away and I won’t see any of them again (in theory.)

I love watching students see the Eiffel Tower for the first time. It’s pretty spectacular. I’m always amazed at the size of it. Every time. We walked down underneath it and met Antonia, an irrepressible English girl, who was going to be our guide on the Fat Tire Bike Tour.

I’ve done the Fat Tire three times now. The first time was the day trip, but the second trips have been at night. I prefer the night trip. You get a beautiful breeze, and there’s no better time to see Notre Dame than by twilight. My first bike, King Louis, had a flat tire right out of the gate! But I switched it for another bike, this one named Charlie Sheen. Winning! Antonia kept us on our toes with her energy, which was unflappable. St. Germain-des-Pris was packed with cars, so the first hour of our ride was mired in traffic. This isn’t awesome.  All the taxis honk and swear at you, despite being twenty bikes strong and all wearing neon vests. But eventually we crossed the lovers lock bridge onto ice cream island, where all my dreams come true.

As we waited in line for ice cream (caramel and pear) I saw Harriet Walter sitting at a restaurant table about ten feet away from me. Of course I spotted her immediately and no one seemed to care that it was her, but I was excited. I love me some Harriet Walter. That cut-glass English accent.

Antonia took us to the Louvre and made us ride around the fountain three times and make a wish. I made one, and it better come true because I was very earnest about it.  Then I took off on my own for a bit and had a free ride around the I.M. Pei pyramid. I did this last year on my birthday, and I still submit that the Louvre courtyard in the evening is one of the most peaceful, beautiful things you’ll ever see.
Then we hit the boat. I’m not sure how much to tell you about the boat. Or how to tell it. But suffice to say that I got embroiled in a love scandal with the chubby loud American ladies behind me. They were a little drunk and a lot in love with me. I’m not the sort of person who assumes everyone is in love with him; this was legit. Ask Kaitlyn and Emily. These gals took a million pictures with me and kept making excuses to sit by me. I gave them a fake name: Monty. And then it was Monty this and Monty that, and then I was very mysterious and quietly made my way to the other end of the boat. Those ladies drove me crazy. But it sure entertained my students! 

I will only say briefly that, as we passed under a bridge, someone up there threw some urine on us. I told everyone it was beer, but I lied. It was totally pee. Ah, Paris! Nothing a good shower can't fix. 

After the bike ride we made a quick dash to the Tower for the midnight twinkling. We watched it from the Champ de Mars, which I’ve never done. Surprise! It looks the same as it does from the front. But it’s still spectacular. I always stand underneath it and wonder if I’m really here. Paris is a little surreal.

Thursday, June 28

I like breakfasts at the Hotel Ajiel, even though they are carb-oriffic. ("Bread. It's what's for breakfast.")  It's a nice way to start the morning, and with cheese and Nutella I always feel like it gives me a little ready-set-go for the day. When I'm in Paris I work double time; I never feel like there's enough hours in the day and I'm always going and going and seeing whatever I can. So who's to blame me for a little bread and hazelnut spread?

The street market was going full-force on the street outside our hotel this morning. It's always fun to poke around there and smell the fish. I like looking at everything without the nagging need to buy anything. Nothing I could buy will keep long enough to get back home. So I can browse without temptation.

I accompanied the ladies as far as the Louvre, and then bid them farewell. They were planning on seeing the Mona Lisa and Notre Dame, which are both amazing and wonderful, but I've seen them both and I've learned that repetition sucks the life out of my experience. I'll repeat when I have to, but when I don't, I won't. I instead headed to Bercy to the Cinemathetique Francais, which you and I might call The French Film Museum. I tried to go to this museum a few years ago with Dan Whiting and Joe Spear, but it was closed for repairs. This time it was open, but I was a half hour early and so they made me wait in a nearby park. Which was nice, since it had a cool fountain:

And then I laid down on a park bench and had a nap. And I know I had a nap, because I woke myself up three or four times with my own snoring.

The museum was hosting a very special exhibit on Tim Burton which I was excited to see. I don't actually love Tim Burton as much as people think I might (just as people always assume I love Moulin Rouge, a movie I can't stand) because I feel like he's a great auteur with a genuine vision who has been completely engulfed and trapped in the vacuum of the Hollywood system. Dark Shadows? Did any of you see that? But in the beginning, Tim Burton was quirky and dark and really a lot of fun to follow. (Incidentally, I remember my mom writing me a letter while I was on my mission. She had seen Batman Returns, and wasn't sure if she liked it. She described it as being "dark, weird, and very creative. It reminded me of you.")

But once I was inside the exhibit I remembered many of the things that make Tim Burton special. I'm not particularly goth, and I though I love ghost stories I don't really love the macabre. But Burton has this wonderful childlike quality in his work. He's a kid, and he's letting us play in his sandbox. And just as I marveled at standing just feet away from the Van Goghs at the Musee D'Orsay yesterday, I got the same thrill standing in front of the four Batman cowls that Micheal Keaton wore, or one of Johnny Depp's scissor gloves from Edward Scissorshands. I remember watching Pee-Wee's Big Adventure over and over as a teen, and loving the Large Marge sequence; we would rewind it and watch it again in slow motion, trying to understand the stop motion work. Here I was, just inches from a series of Large Marge's eyeballs used in the claymation. Somehow, that gave me as much, if not more, of a thrill than The Chambre. And then I got to see the severed heads of Sarah Jessica Parker and Pierce Brosnan from Mars Attacks! as well as Johnny Depp's razors from Sweeney Todd. It was kind of exciting. And I realized that Tim Burton has had a bigger effect on me than I originally thought. After this I briefly walked through the regular film museum itself. There's a bunch of cinematic memorabilia in there and they were showing an early print of Nosferatu, a film I made into a play at UVU a few years ago. It's still strange for me to watch that and not see Jason Sullivan, Heather Murdock and Tom Fernlund in every shot.

After a quick lunch at a sandwich joint I headed up to Le Centquatre, an art center near Ricquet, to see Leandro Erlich's incredible art instillation, Batiment. Erlich specializes in optical illusions, and Batiment is pretty fantastic. He has constructed the facade of a building on the floor, and people can lay on it. It's reflected onto a giant mirror, which creates the illusion that people are hanging from three and four story balconies and window sills. When I was there it was packed with children, and it was so funny to see groups of children hanging and rolling up and down the walls. I could have watched that for hours. It gave me so many staging ideas; I'm always looking for something to steal!

Next I headed to the Luxembourg Gardens because I wanted to sit down and enjoy the sun. Which I did, reclining in a garden chair just outside of the fountain. I baked myself brown like a bear, but it was too beautiful to sit in the shade. I also dipped my feet in the fountain for a bit, which felt pretty awesome after walking so much. I explored the gardens for a bit, and then headed out. I stopped at a little store and got some water and three nectarines. Nectarines, incidentally, are my favorite fruit.

I met back up with the group at six in the lobby of the Hotel Ajiel, and everyone was ready for new adventures but needed massively to eat. So that was item number one. Feeding. We went to Crepes a Gogo, which is still my favorite restaurant in Paris. It takes a little hill climbing, but it's so worth it when you get there. The crepes are amazing and the service is always wonderful (sometimes a little too wonderful) and I always feel good there.

Then we headed to Montmartre. Which you should always do in the evening. The lights come on and the bars and bistros open up and the entire hill comes to life. There's music everywhere and artists working and people dancing and it feels like a Disney movie. I warned everyone a billion times about the stair climbing and the hill walking so nobody complained; they knew what they were in for. And they are troopers, this group. We gathered on the steps of the Sacre Couer as the city started to come alive for the night. We took pictures, and watched other people take pictures, including this man, who hated having his picture taken despite his wife taking about 400 of him.

I'm not exaggerating when I say that Montmartre smelled like lilacs. If it weren't for the graffiti I would swear it was a film set. The graffiti is there to remind you that you are still in dirty old Paris, where people smoke like chimneys and pour urine on you. Because you forget it up there. The streets are covered with hanging lights and the gelato is perfect. And you forget that your feet ever hurt, or that you sweated profusely on the overground train, because it's evening and you're happy and you're with wonderful people that you've come to love.

Friday, June 29

We made our trek south on the train this morning to visit Versailles, home of the richest idiots in history. I love going to Versailles as long as I don't think about the mess these people made of their country, and how they filled the long palace hallways with dirt, trees, and game so they could hunt indoors, or how much gold and how many mirrors were being put up all over the ever-expanding palace while the poor people were literally eating each other. If you can forget all that, you will love Versailles! Also, if you like moving at turtle speed from room to room with forty thousand people who need to take pictures of everything. Will they seriously look at all of those pictures at some point? Do people really sit around and look at pictures like that?

Speaking of taking random pictures, I was delighted to see that a completely pointless art installation was happening all over the palace. Giant stuffed animals had been arbitrarily placed all over, and it was exciting to try and figure out what they were. Some were easy! Like, for example, this crab:

Some were a little harder to decipher. Like, for example, this suspended camel:

And then there were giant high heeled shoes made out of pots and pans:

And a feathery helicopter!

None of these made any sense. They were whimsical, sure, but also really random. Was there a connection with these stuffed objects and the Sun King? If so, I missed it. But I sure had some good laughs!

Finally we made it out of there alive and found ourselves on the steps of the gardens, which is where I want to be, anyway. The gardens of Versailles are spectacular, and you feel like you can breathe. You walk down several grand flights of steps and the Grand Canal stretches out before you and the sky always feels wide and full of clouds. I've never been to Versailles on a rainy day and it's hard for me to imagine that they exist. It's always sunny out there. Sunny with a 90% chance of school groups. If you're lucky, you can score a water bottle and some ice cream. If you are unlucky, you can try to get lunch at a cafe out by the Grand Trianon but run into this:

Eventually some sandwiches turned up and we had a nice meal in the shade. It was fun to chat and get off of our feet for a bit. Dan bought a Laduree book on making macaroons, and we couldn't help but giggle at the toddler nearby who was freaking out in his stroller. He wanted out. His dad was incredibly patient, possibly medicated, and probably deaf. That kid would not stop. It was funny, and Bonnie and I extoled the blessings of parenting without any babies.

We wandered over to the Queen's Hamlet, which is still my favorite feature of Versailles. I've seen it plenty of times, so I sat under a big tree and listened to music while everyone else explored. It was so calm and peaceful there that it was easy to forget the huddled masses, yearning to take more photos of more chairs up at the palace. The Queen's Hamlet is ridiculous; Marie Antoinette built it to look like a French village, and she liked to pretend to gather eggs and sweep porches. But there's no denying the charm of it. And the quiet of it. And the fat, wriggling carp in the main pond, fighting over little crusts of baguette.

We made a plan to hop a train back to Paris at four, but Versailles is deceptively huge. You think it will take you fifteen minutes to get back to the main entrance, but it takes more like an hour. And it's not helped when you stop to explore the grotto, eat some peach ice cream, and get lost over the by the canal. But golly. It's beautiful. And there's nothing else really like it anywhere in the world.

We made it back to the hotel for a little siesta, well earned, and then decided to head out to the Arc de Triumphe for our final night in Paris. While on the metro a saxophonist got on and started playing "I Will Survive." Having warned my students that they will not acknowledge these metro performers on any account, lest they make you pay them, everyone became stone faced and stared straight ahead. Once off the train, though, we all exploded into "I Will Survive," singing and dancing all across the Pasteur Metro Station. It was hard to hold in, but I was proud of their stoicism in the face of unexpected Gloria Gaynor.

The sun was going down just as we made it to the top of the arc, and the city was golden and coming alive again. The clouds were actually pink in some spots! Somebody told me that this was a phenomenon of Paris: pink clouds. But I'd never heard that or seen them. Until tonight.

And we waited for the Eiffel Tower to twinkle at 10, but it didn't. At least not at 10. And some of the students stayed to wait for it to twinkle at 11. I hope they weren't disappointed.

As for me, I paid a short visit to my friend Alex, who lives across the street from the Hotel de Ville. Literally, he looks at this out of his windows:

But he also has a Parisian flat the size of a Ford Focus. It's a little nook full of books and a kitchen and somewhere there's a shower but I never saw it. He claims there are no mice, but I'm not so sure. We had a great catch-up and he showed me some of his photography. He's moving to Denmark to open a studio; I'm excited for him. But the hour grew late, and I had an 8:00 taxi to the airport. So we said goodbye, and maybe I'll be in Copenhagen next year! I rode the metros home to the Hotel Ajiel, paid for the rooms, climbed into bed, listened to Paris outside my window, and closed the books on another great month abroad.

My 2012 music playlist:

Plan B, The Recluse
Hey Champ, Anything at All
Ingrid Michealson, Breakable
Guster, Center of Attention
Santigold, Creator
St. Vincent, Cruel
Cristina Martinez, Dog Hit
Calvin Harris, Feel so Close
The Vaccines, If You Wanna
The Like, In the End
Ellie Goulding, Lights
Robert Francis, Little Girl
Little Boots, Meddle
Right Away, Great Captain!, Oh No, I Tried
Jukebox the Ghost, The Popular Thing
The Cribs, Pure O
Wilco, Rising Red Lung
Walk Off the Earth, Somebody That I Used to Know
Rufus Wainwright, Sometimes You Need
Benjamin Britten, Songs from "Friday Afternoon"
Janove Ottesen, This City Kills
Grouplove, Tongue Tied
Fun., We Are Young
Camille, Ta Douleur
Rachid Taha, Tekitoi

My 2012 reading list:

Will Bagley, So Rugged and Mountainous
William Goldman, Adventures in the Screen Trade
Roger Ebert, Life Itself

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

the stuff that dreams are made on

Today was out last day in London, or at least our last day together in London. Tomorrow some folks head home (for Taco Bell, which everyone seems to miss passionately) some are traveling on to other European spots, and some are coming with me to Paris for three days. All the same, it was our last class together, and we spent some time discussing and voting for the London Tony's, which are Tony awards we give to the shows we saw here this summer. The group was split about many of the awards, which is part of the fun of it. But here were my votes:

Best New Play: The Collaborators, National Theatre

Best New Musical: Matilda, Royal Shakespeare Company

Best Book of a New Musical: Dennis Kelly, Matilda

Best Original Score: Tim Minchin, Matilda

Best Revival of a Play: Long Day's Journey Into Night, Apollo Theatre

Best Revival of a Musical: Kiss Me Kate, Chichester Festival Theatre

Best Perfomance by an Actor (Play): Jonjo O'Neill, Richard III

Best Performance by an Actress (Play): Laurie Metcalf, Long Day's Journey Into Night

Best Performance by an Actor (Musical): Bertie Carvel, Matilda

Best Performance by an Actress (Musical): Imelda Staunton, Sweeney Todd

Featured Actor (Play): Simon Russell Beale, The Collaborators

Featured Actress (Play): Kirsty Bushell, Twelfth Night/The Comedy of Errors/The Tempest

Featured Actor (Musical): Adam Garcia, Kiss Me Kate

Featured Actress (Musical): Rosalie Craig, Ragtime

Best Direction of a Play: Nicholas Hytner, The Collaborators

Best Direction of a Musical: Jonathan Kent, Sweeney Todd

Best Choreography: Stephen Mear, Kiss Me Kate

Best Scenic Design: Rob Howell, Matilda

Best Costume Design: Robert Jones, Kiss Me Kate

Best Lighting Design: Jon Clark, Twelfth Night

Best Musical Director: Peter White (duh)

After class I headed out for another day of errands. These errands involved buying precious items for precious people, so I can't be specific. But if you were a four year old girl who was obsessed with cats, or a fourteen year old boy obsessed with ironic t-shirts, you might guess what I was picking up. I knew it was going to be a day on my feet, so I fortified myself with lunch at Byron. I've never been to Byron, but it's a very swank little burger joint by the Gloucester Road station, so I gave it a shot.

As I sat down I noticed that the big group of college kids at the table next to me got strangely quiet. I even caught them exchanging indeterminant glances. My initial thought was that they thought I was odd for eating alone, but I do it all the time and never feel it's strange at all. Gradually they began to talk again and it only took me three to four minutes to peg them as BYU students. I was thrown at first because they dressed uncharacteristically hip and seemed to have a working knowledge of TV and film. You can probably guess that I listened in on their conversations, because that's my special hobby. As they left, one of them, the only girl at the table, came to me and said "You're Chris Clark, right?" I said I was, and that I had already worked out that they were cougars. She then told me that they were film students, and they had been working on "Pretty Darn Funny," a webseries that Lisa produced and I had a really small part in. So that explained the awkwardness. Some of these kids had probably stared at my face for hours at some point. Imagine if I'd had Lisa with me! That would have been a real celebrity sighting!

Then I was out on the town. I went to Primark and it was mayhem. Mayhem on a Tuesday morning. Madness. Never seen anything like it. I bought socks and a tie. Then I peaced right out.

I walked around Piccadilly, went to Islington, and then headed to Spitalfields Market. What took me thirteen words to write in the previous sentence took me three hours to accomplish; so I felt like I deserved a reward for walking. Walking is hard, you guys! So I played in this fountain a little:

And then I bought a pastry and sat by this goat statue:

The pastry actually squeezed all over my shirt. Oh well! It was taaaaaaasty.

After a trip to Hamleys, which is insane and packed and never brief enough (I'm no fun) I finally made it to Chalk Farm to have a quick dinner with my friend Gary Reimer. Gary is English and lives in London, but once upon a time was my student at UVU and BYU. You might recognize Gary from that very special episode of the reality dating show Excused, where he was evicted for being chaste and pure and LDS. No girl wants that! Anyway, Gary and I shared some chicken and had a great chat. Then I sent him on a very unique mission which I can't go into, because that would be a present spoiler, but it's for a seven year old boy who is obsessed with The Phantom of the Opera.

Tonight we saw our third and final show at the Roundhouse: The Tempest. I acted in the Punchdrunk Tempest back in 2001 and I directed The Tempest at UVU in 2006 (which you can watch, in entirety, here) and so I'm pretty familiar with it. But I must have been confused because I remember that play being magical and funny and exciting. Not some boring old rocks and wood planks and actors taking giant pauses between all of their lines. Let me put it this way: I had three Diet Cokes at dinner, took two caffeine pills before the show, and I still needed a Red Bull at intermission. The second half seemed to wake up; there some loud fireworks and some people dressed as rabid dogs and some semi-naked goddesses on swings and, most fantastically, Ariel dropping from the ceiling dressed as a giant terrifying bat. I loved that! But it was almost too much too late. It was fun to see these actors for a third time (and I even ran into the actor who played Trinculo at Sainsbury's before the show - very nice guy) but it was not my favorite show. Topher, Nick, and Rob laughed a lot at intermission, but other than that it was grim pickings.

To celebrate our final evening, Kate gathered us in a circle after the show and thanked all of the students for being such a great group. Kate, Micheal, their daughter Miranda and her friend Mallory all leave for the US tomorrow. They were so fun and I'll miss spending time with them. Then we walked through Regents Park to the top of Primrose Hill and, on a grassy patch overlooking the lights of London, we had a little impromptu talent show. Nick did the famed Chattanooga Choo-choo, Rob did some of his own poetry, people did cartwheels and tricks, and I performed the rap solo from "American Boy" by Estelle featuring Kanye West. It was fun, and the night was warm, and we all realized how much we were going to miss each other.

(Incidentally, the reason I took this picture isn't very easy to see. But can you see the dude massaging the girl's foot? Where I was sitting it looked like he was massaging the feet of the the man in the white t-shirt. Kind of a funny optical effect. But my camera didn't catch it very well. Anyway, Nick's having a nice time.)