I learned a new thing about myself this week. Despite my eternal and unwavering love of all things spicy, I may have finally met my match: spice level 4 at Trois Fois Plus de Piment.
(For reference, the spice level goes up to 5. I’m just going to go on the record now and say that I probably won’t be attempting that any time soon…at least not yet.)
I figured since I had, on several occasions, devoured bowls at level 3 with little difficulty, a 4 would present a welcome, but doable, challenge. Let’s just say that although I was able to – very slowly – finish my noodles and pork, the rest of the broth remained untouched (a shame really, because even though the burning sensation lingered for what seemed like forever after each bite, the broth was just too flavorful to not keep eating. There’s a word for this kind of behavior: masochism).
Honestly, I have no shame in saying that maybe I found my limit. On the contrary, if anything it almost makes me more determined to surpass it. Mostly, I find it hilarious that this new discovery happened in Paris of all places, considering how spice-averse many people still think the city is.
You know what else helped my coming down from what I can only describe as spice nirvana? This:
Other than the fact that Paris felt more like the upper ends of Siberia this week – what with winter making a last-minute appearance to remind us that no, spring wasn’t here quite yet – , not too much to report in terms of significant events. The week was mostly spent shuttling my sister + her boyfriend around to various (mostly food-related) places, though I did extract myself from the grading and whatnot I left for the last minute (yay!) to join them on a visit to the Pompidou.
I also finally consumed something at La Fontaine de Belleville that wasn’t coffee or a sablé…
I even stole a couple of bites of my sister’s (very delicious) croque-monsieur, so at least now I can say that lunch here is definitely a good idea (for those who may have been curious).
And as with most visits, when it all came to an end on Saturday, looking back on the week that was felt like staring a whirlwind in the face. But that’s just what happens when you change up an otherwise regular routine.
Speaking of which, class was back in session today. Going to have to get used to running at high energy on little sleep again. Oh and finish drafting up my first version of a bibliography for my prospectus tomorrow.
I forget sometimes how tricky it is to blog when one has visitors over. Suddenly going from routine, and at times dull activity to a flurry of things makes it difficult to keep up with what happened when. In lieu of trying to revisit every detail, I’ll just go through some of the highlights (also known as: things I actually took photos of).
I want to start off with this bit, not just because it came first chronologically, but also because I really feel as though I need to mark this rather monumentous occasion in which I actually convinced my sister – who neither speaks nor understands a word of French – to come see a show with me. Granted, I actually had a copy of this play (Martin Crimp’s The Treatment, for those wondering) in English from when I worked on Crimp in a class for my Master 2 at Paris IV a few years ago that I gave her to read beforehand, but there is definitely a difference between reading a text and having to sit through hearing it being performed to you in a language you don’t understand.
The title of the play is used primarily in reference to what, in the film industry, would be the name for the outline of a screenplay, but certain other connotations – notably, ‘treatment’ as in a means to curing an ailment as well as ‘treatment’ as in how one behaves towards another – are evoked as well. The narrative revolves around a woman, Anne, who at the play’s opening is seen telling her story to two New York film producers. Said producers – a married couple – are rather fixated on a portion of Anne’s story in which she recounts how, occasionally, her husband would tie her to a chair, tape her mouth shut and just speak to her. They ask Anne if she struggles, if he beats her, berates her, touches or assaults her during these episodes. She answers no. It quickly becomes clear, however, that the producers are not very satisfied with this “No”, and here marks the moment in which Anne’s story starts to become no longer entirely ‘hers’, where Anne’s person is no longer ‘hers’, where it is in the process of ‘becoming-creation’ or ‘becoming-character’, ready to be re-embodied – and I mean this in the almost vampyristic sense that Method actors use to talk about their process of transforming into a role. Deprived of her story in the sense that she no longer has exclusive autonomous control over its presentation or interpretation, Anne is slowly reduced to object – a means through which the producers could reach their final product: a successful cinematic experience.
Given how central the art of filmmaking is to the arc of this play, it’s not that surprising that the staging and technical elements – especially in terms of the ever-present use of projections, with title cards, and even scrolling credits at the end – borrowed very heavily from cinematic tropes/language. Beyond that though, the play itself seemed very…traditional, I guess. Frontal, of course. Moments of stage violence were performed using gestures/choreography that would be very familiar to actors or even anyone who has ever sat in on a stage combat class (there was, for instance, a slap that was telegraphed to the point where I had to wonder if eliminating the illusion of it by making the choreography big enough to notice that it was, indeed, choreography, was not a deliberate choice). Really, to be quite honest, I’m not entirely sure what more I have to say about this. It was…fine…I suppose, but I feel as though I’ve seen enough examples (notably Dans la peau de Don Quichotte) of theatre that used video projection/cinematic elements in ways that allowed the two forms to engage or dialogue with one another rather than just having the latter be…there. Ah well. At least we had excellent tacos at El Nopal before the show (mmmmm).
Back to the BNF for another day of reading before I start to put together something resembling a lit review for my eventual prospectus. Honestly, given what a long mess my notes doc is starting to look like, I’m pretty amazed at how much reading I’ve been able to get done/how easy it’s been to fall back into old research habits (namely: if the thing doesn’t seem like it’s going to work, put it down, and shove it to the side. No use in trying to force anything).
Another cold front has hit Paris this week (and will continue into next…yay), but that didn’t stop my sister and me (and what looked like literally everyone else in the city…seriously, what in the world were all those people doing there) from heading over to the Grande Mosquée de Paris for some tea and pastries. Ideally, the time to come here would be when the weather is a bit nicer so that one could actually sit and enjoy the garden, but…eh, beggars can’t be choosers. Besides, no one should really complain when the (really excellent) mint tea costs only 2eur (the pastries are 2eur each as well).
If you guessed today started out with yet another trip to the BNF, you’d be absolutely correct. See, even with people visiting my life is sometimes annoyingly predictable.
The evening though did end up being pretty epic, what with meeting up with a friend for Happy Hour at l’Ours Bar (hello 6eur cocktails), then a quick stop at Urfa Durum for Kurdish pitas (holy shit the lamb one was so gooooooood) before going to some other bar for dancing (the name of the place still escapes me. I blame the pita…yeah that was it). Really though, any night that ends with a ride back on not one but two night buses is one that definitely deserves to be marked as a good one.
Saw Black Panther (yay!), then went back to Mamma Primi for dinner (another buratta pillow…double yay!). Otherwise kept things relatively low-key.
This may (or may not, for those who know me really well) come as a surprise to you, but when my sister finally confirmed the dates of her visit, one of the first things I thought was ‘Yes, finally I have an excuse to go get dim sum.’ Not that one needs an excuse per-say, but it’s definitely more fun when there are multiple people involved. The same friend who we met up with on Thursday also tagged along, and together the three of us trekked allllllll the way down to the 13th arrondissement to the institution that is Tricotin. I first came here about five years ago with an acquaintance who I had met up with to watch the Chinese New Year’s Day parade near Hôtel de Ville. It was freezing (like today), snowing (unlike today), and both of us really craved a big bowl of noodles in scorching hot broth. She suggested Tricotin, and I followed. When I arrived and saw that not only did they have a large selection of soups but dim sum as well, I was sold. It helps that it all tasted really good too.
I won’t lie though, I was a bit worried about going back there today, as it had been a couple years since I had last eaten there, and the restaurant had undergone a renovation project in that time. Needless to say, my fears were promptly assuaged as the three of us quickly polished off: bbq pork spare ribs, pork and shrimp dumplings, bbq pork buns, beef in a rice noodle crêpe, those same five-spice and pork fried dumplings that my friend and I had gotten at Le Pacifique a few weeks ago (though the ones here were slightly less successful) and sticky rice and chicken steamed in a lotus leaf. Someday, I’ll try and get a more substantial group together to see if we could order the whole menu of dim sum offerings at once, but for now, I’m content with working through the thing slowly. Given that we each only paid around 10eur for the meal, I don’t think my wallet will complain too much (and honestly, knowing how much the ‘trendier’ dim sum places around here charge, there’s really no other reason to be going anywhere else).
Today marked the arrival of my sister’s boyfriend from Chicago, and so began another day of walking. Or semi-day, rather. The plan was to start near the Eiffel Tower (hence the photo at the top of the post) and then make our way back towards Hôtel de Ville while walking along the river, but as they seemed keen on visiting the Musée de l’Armée (and as I had no interest in spending money on a ticket), the walk was cut a bit short on my end. Ah well, not too much to complain about. The annoyingly biting cold has made the whole idea of walking rather unappealing to me lately. Spring seriously cannot come soon enough…
I’m going to call these next two weeks “The weeks of catching up on as much sleep as I can, although this could be determined by the loudness of the hammering next door”.
Overall, other than a rather…strange…incident on Monday in which I walked into my premiere (junior) class only to be greeted with a broken-English version of ‘Happy Birthday’ (no idea where they got this idea, or why…also, my birthday’s in November), the beginning of the week was relatively quiet. This may, however, have something to do with the fact that I purposely planned a very low-key week for my students, what with the holidays coming up.
Moving on to Thursday:
I never saw a show at the Cité U theatre when I was a resident there, though this would be very much in keeping with this strange thing I do of not frequenting places that are insanely close to where I live. Maybe it’s my affinity for walks, but I always preferred venturing out a bit to a destination. But I digress…
In keeping with the whole ‘international’ vibe of the place, this particular play was produced by the New York City-based Nature Theatre of Oaklahoma, an independent company primarily focused on producing experimental work. (Though…is it really still that experimental if everything is kept frontal? Then again, this is a touring production, and budgets and constraints have to be respected). The basic premise – at least in the first thirty minutes – was an incredibly stylized scene set in a saloon, employing many of the codes and mannerisms associated with Hollywood’s vision of the Old West. Characters would stare one another – and at times, the audience – down, burst into violent fights seemingly at random, spit tobacco into a spittoon, all while musing over the nature of happiness, and the conditions that may have to be in place to attain it.
I’ll be honest, I was a bit skeptical about this show during the opening act, mostly because, given how stylized it was, things moved very slowly, deliberately, and my energy level was not at a point where keeping up for two more hours would be a real possibility. Then the rest of the show happened.
At around the 30-minute walk, the actor playing the bartender, who, up until that point had remained silent, called his brawling customers to attention and pulled out a screenplay he had been working on. This, he said, was his masterpiece, and he would very much like to get some feedback on it. The next hour and twenty minutes (oh yes) essentially consisted of him monologuing, telling the story of a troupe of dancers (who ‘coincidentally’ shared the same names as the performers on stage…who were also collectively part of a dance troupe back in Ljubljana) who went off to Irak to settle the conflict between the insurgents and UN/US soldiers through dance and performance. Needless to say, it did not end well for them, but the level of absolute absurdity being displayed on stage made me almost forget how close to falling asleep I was during the first part of the show.
After the performance ended, there was a talkback with the directors and the cast organized by the professor of the seminar I am taking this term. A couple of take-aways from this: first, none of the actors performing that evening had actually ever spoken on stage prior to doing this show. They were all dancers, and thus more accustomed to using their bodies to communicate with their audiences. As the directors specified, though, part of what they seek to do with their theatre is find moments of tension and discontinuity (the deeply existential text coupled with the Old West aesthetic and gestures in the first part of the performance is a reflection of this as well), so for them it was a deliberate choice to take this element of performance entirely unfamiliar with their actors and make them not only confront it but work to become more comfortable with it.
Second, and also related to the notion of speech and performance, none of these actors were native English speakers (I picked up on this almost immediately when they started speaking – the show was entirely in English, by the way – but on the metro ride back afterwards, some of my fellow classmates pointed out that it took them a bit to pick up on that. Accents, markers of foreign/otherness, are funny that way). When asked about the experience of premiering the show in New York, one of the performers mentioned she felt a bit strange at first doing so because – to an American audience – these people on stage were not only co-opting – or ‘stealing’, as she said later – their language, they were playing with it, breaking it down, bending its codes. Quite frankly, given the current sociopolitical climate in the United States, a play performed in English by non-English speakers could not be more perfect or timely.
Friday was rather quiet – a much-needed moment of decompressing before the holidays really set in.
The photo at the top of this post is taken from the museum portion of L’Aérosol, a repurposed space in the upper part of the 18th now dedicated not only to the preservation (or rather ‘museumification’) of notable street art/artists, but also to the ever-constant creation of new works on the outside of the building. I had been wanting to check this place out for a while, and was finally able to coordinate a time with a friend of mine to do so.
According to their website, once nicer/warmer weather finally sets in, the outdoor area around the building hosts food trucks, performances, workshops and more for the community and visitors. There’s a lot that can and should be said about the process of taking works/artists that were formerly subversive and, in a way, ‘legitimizing’ them by displaying their works in an organized fashion in an incredibly codified space (and thus layering on to said works the same codification that they were actively created in opposition to), but when the only other option is another abandoned building right next to the Peripherique, a museum and art space is not the worst of things that could happen, particularly when, other than the actual museum which costs 5 euros to visit, the space remains open and easily accessible.
Then it was off to le 104 for a quick coffee (as well as to watch a guy juggle clubs for a good 45 minutes) before walking down to République to meet some other friends for, yes, another coffee. I don’t think my caffeine intake has been that ridiculous in a while.
This morning signaled the arrival of my sister from New Orleans, and the official start of my semi-vacation (punctuated of course by periodic moments of working because not only do I have some exams to grade, I’ve got a bibliography to organize)! We celebrated her arrival in style with brunch at Holybelly (thank goodness she arrived insanely early so we could get there before the crowds truly descended on the place).
The rest of the day was mostly filled with walking around/attempting to stave off her jet-lag. As far as touristy things go, we did manage to fit in a stroll through Père Lachaise which was pretty nice, given the sunny (yet still cold) weather we’ve been having lately. Now, if only it were sunny and warm…
You know who’s really excited there’s only one more week before schools go on a two-week holiday? Me.
In the meantime, the week that was.
The theme overall for this week was snow, namely, the 8 or so inches we got on Tuesday. Last time I was here when there was snow that actually stuck around for a while was in winter of 2013, and although there wasn’t quite as much this time as there was then, what we did get made for some nice looking landscapes.
It also meant I got to revive my snowman-on-the-windowsill…thing…from earlier this year.
Now to the usual breakdown:
Ah the Super Bowl, an event I only half-watch anyway, and almost entirely forgot was happening until I was reminded of it. This year, instead of going to a small bar (likely all the way near Saint-Michel, aka, the other side of the city) to watch the broadcast (which started at 00h30, yeah that’s half past midnight), I had some company to watch it at home.
You know what’s a fun thing? First, realizing that yes, French people (like two of them) have actually gone to play in the NFL before, and second, the game is actually broadcast on French TV with French commentators. This does mean that you miss out on all the commercials, but being French TV, the broadcast actually doesn’t cut away to ads all that much. It actually makes the pacing of the whole thing a lot less frustrating. Imagine that.
On the menu were orange chicken-inspired chicken tenders, carrot and celery sticks, and a skillet cookie for dessert (no ice cream though; forgot to buy it). Oh, and beer. Because America.
I passed out pretty much right after halftime, and good thing too because at least I got some amount of sleep before going in to teach on Monday. From the look of some of my terminale’s (senior’s) faces, however, I think some of them may have stayed up watching even past when I did.
You know the movie Quills? The one with Geoffrey Rush as the Marquis de Sade? Well, continuing in the tradition of adapting films for the stage, this was the latest in my long list of plays I’ve seen this year.
The best description I can come up with for this: 1980s new-Romantics, decadent, Robert Mapplethorpe, neon, tantalizing nightmare. Yeah. The stage of La Colline – normally very large and imposing – was shortened from above with an overhanging set of lights, giving the whole scene a rather squat, rectangular look. On the stage itself was a platform flanked by two large mirrored panels who, at their apex came together on a circular part of the platform that periodically rotated to signal a change in setting. Actually, the use of the mirrors – two-way mirrors, to be more precise – was perhaps the most intriguing part of the production aesthetic, as at times, the fact that the lighting could be used to illuminate (either partially or fully) a person or persons on the other side of the mirror made for some rather marked spatiotemporal traversals. Flashbacks, for instance, saw the image of an actor physically onstage reflected in the mirror, interacting with the physical body of another actor on the other side of that mirror, present but approaching the illusion of ‘image’ by virtue of the lighting design not completely highlighting certain facial/corporal features. Further, although this was another frontal show – to be expected from pieces that are designed to go on tour and thus be easily adaptable – the fact that the mirrors, when the two-way feature was not in use, reflected the audience back at ourselves created, in the first place, an illusion of theatre in the round. Secondly, given that the play takes place in a mental hospital, I could not help but liken the almost pit-like effect created on stage by the coupling of image of the audience with the actual layout of the room to that of a surgical theatre. Knowing how the play ends – that is, with the continued dismemberment of Sade’s body to deprive him from writing – I wonder if this was intentional.
Jumping ahead to Friday…
The big event this weekend was, without question, the wedding of a good friend and former Cité U housemate of mine to his girlfriend of five years (who he met when a bunch of us crashed her friend’s Halloween party…funny how life is sometimes). Friday saw the arrival of another of our Cité U comrades from Grenoble, and as she was staying with me, I decided to take the afternoon off to check out an expo with her.
The expo in question – dialoguing the works of Sophie Calle and Serena Carone – was held at the Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature (or the Museum of Hunting and Nature), à museum I had been curious about for a while, but had yet to visit. The photo at the top of this post is from said museum, and hints at its rather extensive and…eclectic collection of taxidermied animals. Aside from a room on the ground floor dedicated exclusively to Calle and Carone’s works/pieces, the expo itself was interwoven amongst the permanent collection of the museum, making it something of a ‘hunt’ to walk through to try and find all the objects/texts, in other words, everything that did not necessarily belong, inserted among everything else.
Part autobiography, part fiction, the expo explored questions of life, death (which…makes perfect sense given the setting), and the relationship we have to ourselves, our bodies, and those closest to us. My absolute favorite part, however, came at the end when Calle posted a compilation of personal ads through the ages – written by men seeking women, or rather, hunting for them -, which were at once hilarious and unsurprising in terms of how much they reinforced the fact that although the modes of male objectification of the female body have changed through the ages, the basic structure of said objectification has not really gone anywhere (a woman ‘sans tache’ or unstained at the turn of the century became a woman with an ‘ample bosom’ in the 1980s). I will say though that the panel featuring statements culled from Tinder profiles that rounded out this section kept my friend and I laughing for quite a bit (photo below, but be warned…it’s in French).
Dinner that night was somewhat strategic: eat enough to feel pretty full to the extent that a small breakfast and perhaps a snack would tide us over until the feast that awaited us Saturday night. As such, we went out to Crêperie Josselin near Montparnasse (side note: yes, this is my favorite crêpe place in this city).
After a quick breakfast of tartines with butter and jam, coffee, and a pear, it was off to Poissy (spare croissants in our bags for an afternoon snack) for part one of the wedding festivities. In France, weddings take on a decidedly civil affair, with the legal ceremony taking place in the town hall, presided over by the mayor (couples can then choose to hold an additional ceremony at a church if they wish). The majority of the talking is done by the mayor, as well as, at times, by another civil servant, who, among other things such as mentioning one or two points about the couple and their history, reads the portion of the French civil code relating to the statute of marriage. Thankfully, this means that the whole thing went by pretty quickly, and before we knew it, our friend – the second in our group – was a married man.
Following the ceremony, we had some down time before we headed 40km out of Poissy to the reception venue, so we headed to a café to caffeinate ourselves up in preparation for the evening ahead. Then it was off to the Domaine des Clos Vallées for a night filled with food, wine and dancing. We got back into the city at around 4am. I promptly passed out upon reaching my bed. What a marvelous way to spend an evening reunited among old friends!
And because I never take a break from anything, this afternoon saw a trip to the Théâtre du Rond Point to see Emma Danté’s Bestie di Scena (Bêtes de scène).
You know how in the opening number of A Chorus Line, the actors end by forming a line downstage, holding their headshots over their faces, vulnerable under the lights in front of an unseen, but vocally present, director? Imagine that but the actors, as they come downstage, start to disrobe, ending up naked and attempting to cover themselves up against the stares of the audience. As the name suggests, this show has, at its center, the notion of actors as performers, as bodies that are both watching and, notably being watched, observed, judged in some cases based on their capacity to entertain and thus sometimes reduced to performing animals instead of being recognized for what they are – human beings with their own opinions, projects, agendas, insecurities. An actor, in sum, is never just a shell for a character to inhabit; an actor occupies that in between space of being in the process of both leaving and retaining themselves, being doubly-present. But, what if, for an hour, the actor fully descended into animality, into pure physicality, slowly leaving behind any corporal insecurity to stare down openly, frontally, those who watch them?
There were also times when, while watching this, I was reminded of my time doing Viewpoints workshops at Irvine (minus the whole being naked thing), what with the way the ensemble moved together through the space, the dynamics of their relationships to one another, and the fact that the show felt at once both choreographed and partially improvised. Ah to be back doing that again…
You know what’s fun? Showing up to yoga only to find everyone standing outside the studio looking confused. No, class was not cancelled. Train delays (caused, in part, because of the Seine overflowing into some of the lines) meant that the girl who was usually at the front desk was…not at the front desk. And our instructor did not have her keys. Normally this would not have been an issue for me, but I was counting on class ending relatively close to on time that evening, as I had to run to a show after and needed to figure out my dinner situation. Thankfully, one of the owners of the studio – who lives like two doors down – was just reaching home and came running down with the keys, cutting a potential 30 minute delay down to 15.
I decided to stick around anyway – even though I was going to be cutting it pretty close in terms of being able to eat something. We practiced head stands. I…almost got it this time haha.
Staying did, however, mean I had to book it over to the Théâtre de la Bastille afterwords, but at some point during my post-yoga sprint, I remembered that there was a small café/bar on the premises. This being France, I assumed – correctly, thank goodness – that they would be serving some sort of actual food there, and that it probably wouldn’t be too expensive. The (very generously-portioned) quiche and salad pictured below cost me 6 euros. Just going to add this to the list of reasons as to why allocating a good portion government funding to theatre/the arts is a good thing (along with ridiculously affordable ticket prices).
The show I saw that evening – Quoi/Maintenant – was something of a social satire, and probably one of the only outright comedies I have seen since being here. Premise: rich, bourgeoise, liberalist/capitalist family hires a maid to look after their house/their 12 year-old son. The matriarch of this family also fancies herself an artist, and works as an assistant for some eccentric painter/sculptor who she also probably slept with at some point. In the end, the maid kills the family with the bouillabaisse.
Oh and the son and painter are both played by the same actor – an older, bearded gentleman who, although he did not look like a 12 year-old, had the same boundless energy and mischievous playfulness of one.
And I think that was my biggest takeaway from this performance: how just plain fun it was. There were moments when it became evident that one of the actors fudged up a bit, but instead of trying to cover it up, they just rolled with it – one of the advantages of satire, you can actually get away with this sometimes if you’re already a pretty solid ensemble to begin with – drawing the audience in to their world as they did so. This isn’t groundbreaking theatre or anything. But sometimes it’s just good to have a bit of cheeky fun with it all.
Thursday (yeah, Tuesday and Wednesday were pretty quiet)
I have a feeling a new tradition may have started today: Thursday evening drinks with a new friend, who also happens to be a PhD. Tonight’s edition was held at Red House, and I can safely say that I and my _____ negronis really welcomed the moment of relaxation after another long week of teaching and BNF…ing.
Right, now to the photo at the top of this post. Back when I first moved back, I had taken my mom to grab food at this place called Pizzeria Popolare, one of several restaurants run by the Big Mamma group. Although our meal was very good, I still wasn’t convinced that I understood the hype around this and all the other ‘Mamma’ restaurants that justified nightly hours-long waits. Well, the meal I had this evening changed that. I understand the hype now.
The night before, I was invited by some friends to join them for dinner Friday night at Mamma Primi, located in the 17th arrondissement and, as the name suggests, heavily focused on primi piatti, aka pastas. As we were five – and this restaurant, like all their restaurants, does not take reservations – we made sure to show up early, like 45 minutes early, to get our places in line before the restaurant opened at 19h00. We were originally thinking of showing up at 18h30. Let me tell you, those 15 minutes made a huge difference.
I’m going to skip over the décor and whatnot, except to say that the whole place was very tastefully decorated with a keen eye for the fact that literally everyone would be taking multiple pictures of everything during their meal (and yeah, I’m including myself in this too….whatever). On to more important things, namely, the food. We started the meal off with cocktails – for me, a twist on a gin fizz with gin infused with eucalyptus that provided a nice counterbalance to the drop in temperature outside to make me wish it were summer again – as well as some parmesan and olives (top photo) and that bouncy, bulging burrata ball pictured just above. Then came the main courses – and wine, of course – and this is where I had my little ‘epiphany’. And it came in the form of pasta with braised rabbit.
The minute I saw rabbit on the menu (which, being seasonal, changes relatively often), I knew I had to have it. I actually quite like rabbit – surprising, I know, given that I used to have a pet bunny -, but it’s not really something I usually make for myself at home, since my preferred way of eating it involves the kind of low and slow cooking that demands a few hours of one’s time. This one was served with fresh, homemade pasta with a sort of sweet/sour sauce. I’m not lying when I say I had to struggle a bit to keep from devouring this thing in one fell swoop. The rabbit was melt-in-your-mouth tender, the pasta perfectly al denté, the sauce layered with a depth and complexity of flavor that almost makes you want to run your finger along your empty plate to pick up any stray drops. Hell, this thing almost made me miss American-sized ridiculously gargantuan portions at Italian restaurants. I say almost because first, quality generally outweighs quantity in my book when it comes to food, and second, having correctly-portioned food meant that I was able to make it through all the courses feeling pleasantly satisfied but not overstuffed to the point of bursting.
We ended the evening with some cocktails and dancing at Lulu White, whose playlist was pretty on-point that night, what with all the 80s Madonna, Prince, Michael Jackson (among others) they were playing. It helped also that we were incredibly lucky to snag a table, thus able to set our things off to the side while we danced off our dinner.
So for the past couple of weeks, the people in the apartment next to mine have been embarking on a big renovation project. Given that I’m usually away teaching/at the library in the mornings, I haven’t been subject too much to the nonsense that comes along with these sort of things. Until today. That’s right everyone, 09h30 found me being woken up by a hammer banging something on the wall directly on the other side of my bedroom. Sigh.
As a way of consoling my annoyance, after doing my weekly market run, I ventured out to le Caféothèque (yeah, wanted to get pretty far from the noise…) to grade some exams over a hot chocolate, the universal cure-all. The night ended with some drinks at a bar near Ménilmontant, as well as the hope that Sunday morning would not result in another rude wake-up call.
Yes, yes, I know. Another week with nary a daily update. Once again, the week got the better of me.
But, I’m not really complaining either because if anything, this week was absolutely packed with theatre.
Let’s start with Tuesday night.
Unlike pretty much everything else I choose to see, this play was a pretty straightforward drama, but I will say that as far as 3+ hour plays go, I can’t remember the last time one went by so effortlessly.
And really, you have to give a show credit for being able to draw you in for that long, but given that the subject matter was a story that travelled back and forth between the last days of the French colonial occupation of Vietnam to the country’s eventual reopening in 1996, it’s almost amazing that the show was only three hours long.
Also, one side of the stage was set up as a real, functioning kitchen run by one of the characters. And by functioning, I mean that they were actually making and serving food to some of the other characters/restaurant patrons. There are only so many steaming bowls of pho you can see being consumed before you really start to lament the sad little sandwich you grabbed at the last minute because you knew otherwise you would not be eating until incredibly late that evening.
Yeah, I got home pretty late that night (thankfully there was chocolate cake at home!) and I had to be up at the crack of dawn the next day. 8am teaching everyone. It’s real.
Right, on to the next thing:
Imagine mixing theatre, cinema and radio together into one cohesive show, and you’ll get this. The premise: while poking around at a rummage sale, the troupe – La Cordonnerie – stumbled across a script for a never-produced re-imagining of Don Quixote centered around a library worker – furiously trying to digitize the catalogue before the Y2K bug ‘hits and deletes everything’ – imagining himself as Cervantez’s titular hero. What results is a projection of the film the troupe made from this script, yet what becomes very clear from the start is that, although the film was clearly produced with modern cameras, it is otherwise silent.
Yeah that’s right everyone, the actors on stage were also acting as foley and voice-over artists, the stage slowly filling with gadgets and knick-knacks that by the end made the whole space look rather like a garage right before a yard sale.
What’s more, at a certain point, after it becomes clear that the actors on stage not only appear in the film, but also provide their own voice-overs (using a rather clever trick of holding a mirror up to see the screen behind them as they remained facing forward), the otherwise very frontal space begins to take on a sort of stratified depth. Maybe it had something to do not only with the simultaneous – yet also temporal-crossing – appearance of certain actors’ bodies on stage and screen, or even with the displacement of voice that although it resonates from the body present on stage is difficult to disassociate from the image of the actor on screen, but I wonder if one could consider this a way of using frontality that otherwise avoids a regression towards a flattening mimetic representation.
And speaking of mimesis…
I’m not entirely sure how well I can describe the trip into uncanny valley I took last night with Susanne Kennedy’s adaptation of Fassbinder’s Warum Läuft Herr R. Amok? at Nanterre, but here’s an attempt anyway.
First thing’s first: the play, as mentioned, is based on a Fassbinder film, but to be more precise, it is a literal word-for-word staging of a film that, as emphasized by Kennedy, was largely improvised. Imagine, then, the process of taking improvised text – text that is by nature not only impulsive and fluid but also firmly anchored in a present sociotemporal situation – rehearsing it and codifying it to a point where it loses almost all semblance of humanity to become merely an approximation of it. This reduction of ‘natural’ or ‘ordinary’ behavior to its bare-bones, its ‘skeleton’, its ‘codes’ extended into the movement and gestures of the actors, who seemed more like avatars on the SIMs, aliens behaving in ways they assume a human behaves than – I don’t want to say ‘real’ bodies, at the risk of seeming to promote a realistic aesthetic that I am quite frankly…not a fan of for the most part – an actual….body…if that makes sense. This SIMification extended into the costume and makeup design. The banality of the costumes made it so that several characters were switching characters back and forth, with everyone playing either the lead male or the lead female at least once. As to the makeup, the photo above doesn’t really do it justice, but this is where the uncanny element was incredibly evident. Instead of traditional makeup, the actors wore latext masks that were designed to mold to their natural faces, while, once again, only producing a surface-level approximation of all their individual characteristics, bone structures, wrinkles, dimples, etc. The end result of all this, other than the previously mentioned inescapable presence of the uncanny, was an almost agressive mimesis, made even more so by the fact that on the rare instances in which unmasked actors did appear, it was – with the exception of a moment at the end – via video projection, corporeality and materiality rendered flat.
There was a point to the whole rendering strange of otherwise banal, quotidien speech and gesture (the play closes with the titular Herr R (Mr. R) killing his wife, son and an unfortunate neighbor), but one thing that’s still itching at me is the question as to why there was a need to tell this story about a man who, driven mad by the aggressive mundaneness of the everyday, ends up releasing his frustration in an act of violence, at this present time. Not to take away from the staging itself – there is something to be said about the use of frontality, the literal screenifying of a stage with a wooden frame, in the creation of a simulation of human interaction – but as I was walking in Ménilmontant afterwords on the way to meet people, I couldn’t help but linger on this question.
Anyway, I’m going to be returning back to this thing during my seminar on Tuesday, so we’ll see if my thinking changes at all.
Some final highlights:
Friday was another house party at a friend’s place where I once again confirmed the difficulty I have with staying away from really good cheese.
Technically today, I was supposed to have a tutoring session with a student. Unfortunately, this student did not choose to tell me about a tournament they were attending this weekend until after I not only crossed to the other side of the city, but also waited outside their building trying to contact them for twenty minutes. There’s a reason that, back when I still took private voice lessons, my teachers insisted on charging for any non-emergency cancellations less than 24hours before an appointment. Ah well. Not to be discouraged, I took advantage of the fact that not only was it not raining, but it had also been a while since I had a nice long walk to trek all the way from Porte Maillot to Ten Belles for a gooey, cozy croque monsieur and a noisette. Oh and also a pasteis de nata from the Portuguese bakery next door. Silver lining, everyone.
Hard to believe that exactly one year ago yesterday, I was marching in Washington DC. My how things have changed since then (to say nothing of things that still remain…for now…PSA: midterms are this November).
There was some questioning on some of the Facebook groups I follow as to whether or not a march/gathering was going to be happening in Paris this year, as the annual Woman’s Day march will be coming up in a couple of months anyway. I’m not sure if it was the somewhat last-minute organization effort, the rainy weather (or really, a mix of both), but from what people I spoke with told me, the turnout was a lot more sparse than last year. Not that there weren’t a good amount of people at Trocadéro that afternoon, just that you could actually still move freely about the place.
I didn’t end up staying very long, due to the aforementioned shitty weather, as well as the fact that I still had lesson plans to finish, but it felt good to be there at least for a little bit, even though the event felt like a shadow of the march I participated in a year ago.
Today was back with another week of teaching. Let us all take a moment and reflect on how absolutely exhausting an hour with 22 sophomores right after lunch can be. It’s no wonder I almost fell asleep in my incredibly relaxing, thank-god-I-do-this-on-Mondays yoga class this evening.
Hectic week (and a bit of a stray cough from losing my voice from talking so much) means I’m a bit behind. Anyway, here’s a rundown of the past week, in no particular order with regards to dates.
First off: I just want to bring everyone’s attention to the fact that Raviolis Chinois Nord-Est offers 10 dumplings for just 5euros. Aside from adding this to the ever-growing list of reasons as to why I love the neighborhood I live near (and will hopefully continue to live in next year), this is probably a good time to once again reiterate some difficulties I have whenever I get asked for restaurant recommendations by people visiting. It doesn’t really need to be specified that the kinds of restaurants usually sought-after are French ones (you know, kind of a priority when visiting France), but the thing is, when I go out to eat, I don’t usually go for French food. One: I can pretty much acquire all the cheese, charcuterie, breads and pastries I desire from my local market (and also, when it comes to classics like soups and stews, I can make those at home). Two: it’s not exactly the most affordable of dining options, with one or two exceptions. You know what is both affordable and delicious? 10 dumplings for 5 euros, that’s what (I highly recommend the pork, cabbage and mushroom ones).
To continue on the dumpling theme, this evening included a midnight snack of sorts with a friend of mine at Le Pacifique, another establishment not terribly far from my place, and which has the added bonus of offering continued service from 11h00 to 01h30…yeah as in AM. Prior to stopping there, we paid a visit to a couple bars in the area (namely Combat and Le Renard) for Paris cocktail week.
Anyway, back to Le Pacifique. I’m not sure how, but during the course of the evening, the conversation turned to dim sum (more specifically, whether or not any places that served dim sum cart-style existed in this city), which later developed into a craving for some late-night dumpling snacking. As it was around 23h30, Le Pacifique was really our only option, but as it had caught our eyes on the way to Le Renard from Combat anyway, the lack of other options wasn’t really that disappointing. We ordered two kinds of dumplings : pork sui mai, and one only labeled as ‘fried with five-spice’, along with a small Tsing Tao to share.
I’m not entirely sure if it was because of the late night, or the two cocktails from earlier in the evening, but those fried dumplings – or, to be more accurate, little football-shaped puffy, gluant, pillows of joy – were just about some of the most heavenly things I put in my mouth that evening. The fact that they were fried and filled with what we assumed to be pork – the menu didn’t specify – probably had something to do with it, but believe me when I say we sat rhapsodizing about them for a good half an hour after we were finished. For the sake of preserving the memory, I’m going to wait a bit before heading back there, but given their pretty decent dim sum offerings (cart or not), I have a feeling I’ll be back soon to make my way through the menu anyway.
Right, moving on.
This week I also happened to see two shows involving video projections. First, La Maladie de la Mort (an adaptation of the Marguerite Duras text of the same name) at the Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord (for all you theatre geeks, yes this is the theatre Peter Brooke used to work in).
I want to preface this commentary by saying that although I’ve hinted at my let’s call it ‘suspicion’ at the almost default status of the frontal relationship in theatre/staging, I do think it is still possible to use the format in a critically successful way. Case in point: the stage here was set up not unlike a film set (complete with an ever-present camera and sound crew), meaning that there were points where a good part of the stage – or from my perspective sitting on the extreme right side of the mezzanine, most of the stage – was obstructed from the audience’s view. In light of this, a screen was set up above the stage onto which was projected both what was in the process of being filmed as well as some pre-recorded segments.
Given that the narrative – for those unfamiliar with Duras’s novella – revolves around a man paying a woman to come visit him nightly in a hotel room to teach him how to love, the use of the screen and video, in juxtaposition with the real-time staging and recording of the action, was, to me a logical way to explore the way in which we consume images/media, and that involving women’s bodies in particular. The connection to the pornography industry is, of course, evident, and put even more in the forefront by the fact that, periodically, the Man would open a laptop to watch a pornographic scene with relative indifference. Interestingly though, even though there were moments where I wished I could simultaneously watch what was happening on stage as well as on screen (especially during moments where one character was being filmed and the other was prepping for their next scene, or when a pre-recorded moment was playing while the actors themselves were readying for their next cue), thinking back, I feel that one of the results of this permanent denial of the gaze is how it enhances the flatness or lack of depth that comes with sitting in front of a screen to consume images/media. The background work, the bodies, the in-between cuts are missing all for the sake of constructing a singular narrative. Maintain the image over the body that brings it forth.
Coincidentally, the piece I saw last night was also an adaptation – this time of Strindberg’s Ghost Sonnata – that used simultaneous recording/projection as a central part of its staging.
I was back at the Theatre des Amandiers in Nanterre for this one, only this time instead of the usual audience/stage set-up in the main theatre, a tri-frontal stage was set up on the stage itself. As we all filed in to take our seats around the playing space – on which were set up a couple of what looked like cardboard house-type structures as well as a crude paper mâché fountain in a baby pool – a large quadri-frontal video screen projected images of other audience members as they walked in, not unlike a video surveillance system in a shop. Coincidentally, this is also how I discovered my thesis advisor was in attendance. Amazing what this quasi-Big Brother-like gaze can do.
The play opened with director Markus Öhrn walking on stage, looking not unlike a more zombie-like Marilyn Manson, to welcome everyone, as well as to set the general vibe for the evening by inviting audience members to switch seats as they wished or, should nature call within the next 90 minutes, get up to use the restroom and then come back.
I always find it interesting how, especially in theatre settings, whenever audiences are told they have the option of movement, they rarely, if ever, take advantage of it.
In this case though, this may have had to do with the fact that we were more reliant on the projected images than I think I would have liked to take advantage of the fact that there were a few empty seats around that we could move to. Granted, I don’t think keeping much of what was happening enclosed in the cardboard structures helped matters, nor did the lack of places to sit anywhere except in one of the four banks of seats around the stage. If the goal is to break with spatial codes or the architectural imposition of theatrical spaces, a spatial design that not only, to an extent, reinforces a certain set of frontiers and boundaries between space reserved for playing and that for observing, but also functions on a system of surveillance both with the early video projection as well as the fact that it was very easy to train one’s gaze on the other audience members sitting on the other side of the room, does not necessarily invite divergence. If anything, this show that at first seems to want to move away from frontality actually ends up reverting back to it.
I also think I made the somewhat poor choice of sitting in a front row of seats, as I had to crane my neck up to watch the videos (the play was in Polish with surtitles in French and English, so reading along was almost necessary on a linguistic level as well). Towards the end of the show, however, I found that I was paying less attention to the videos, and more to the little moments that these Jack in the Box mascot-meets-a-flamethrower grotesque clown figures moved about the stage, peeking out of the cardboard box windows, playing a bit with our gaze on them. Perhaps if there were a bit more of that – actually, I think the production could have done away with the text almost entirely, aside from the little intro video played in the beginning to explain who each of the characters were – the frontal relationship could have been broken down further. Then again, one of the first major sequences involved a rather violent rager in a concert hall (which followed honestly one of the funniest sequences in which a character tries to find his seat at an opera house, all in the very frustrating but incredibly real style of a dream sequence in which you know the thing you seek is right in front of you, yet your mental state refuses to let you accept this), which was maybe a bit too reminiscent of the In Yer Face theatre of the 1990s in the sense of, “can this thing which has been done to the point of transforming into an almost codified aesthetic still be impactful”.
Anyway, enough of that. Here’s to hoping for more frequent postings next week.
It’s funny how so many things can change even within the span of two short weeks. I had forgotten how much the Seine tends to rise in the winter months – what with all the rain – , and so I was a bit taken aback when, on my walk back to the metro today, I saw water sloshing up paths I normally walk on.
I’m also not entirely sure those people in the photo above have the best idea of standing literally inches away from the water, but hey…choices.
Anyway, today was mostly a day of laundry, tutoring and lesson planning, save for a lovely few hours this afternoon at tea with a friend.
At her suggestion, we met at a lovely little place called L’Heure Gourmande in the 6th near Saint-Germain. I don’t often venture over to this side of the river (exceptions being venturing to get pho and/or dim-sum in the 13th), but given how warm and cozy this place was, I might make a point to try and swing by a bit more often. It’s a bit hidden away in a passage of the main road – although there is a little sign right above where you’re meant to turn, it can be a bit easy to miss – which means you’re far enough away from the hustle and bustle of the area that you can really sink into your chair and dig in to a very generous slice of pie with abandon.
Back to the grind again tomorrow. Thankfully, I managed to plan my lessons for the week so I can actually get back to spending the majority of my downtime focusing on my prospectus…thing.
I feel like today is the first day I’ve really had to just sit and do nothing – recharge, if you will – from my trip. Considering I pretty much hit the ground running with teaching right when I got back (including back-to-back 8:00am classes on Wednesday and Thursday…oy), it’s a wonder I hadn’t collapsed yet.
Given my teaching schedule, I’ve had to push my market days from Wednesday to Saturday, meaning there was a point during the end of this week where I had to get a bit…creative with my meals. This is what happens when you’ve got almost no food in your house, save for a few things in the freezer, and you’re just too damn tired from jet-lag mixed with incredibly early mornings (because yes, I still insist on sticking to my workout routine) to really care.
Maybe it’s just that time of year, but I’m also starting to get into that mindset of feeling as though I really need to expand my social circle. Funny how you don’t really think about these sorts of things until you are knee-deep in a professional track that, for the lack of a better word, can feel somewhat isolating from time to time. This could also have something to do with the fact that…and this is something I started to realize right before I left for California…I actually miss being in classes with people. Like seminar-style classes. Even if I never see those people again afterwards, something about that kind of intellectual exchange never ceases to stimulate me. I was too wrapped up in figuring things out (and in tutoring gigs…if we’re being honest) this fall to really take advantage of the fact that I legitimately could go sit in on any seminar that interested me at pretty much any university here (point to you, Paris, for that bit of intellectual accessibility), but I am set to take one starting in a couple of weeks. If nothing else, at least it’ll keep my mind busy. I find I work best under pressure.