Friday, August 10, 2007

Paris & wrap-up

***Note: if you want to read this vacation blog in the order that it was posted, you have to go to the next page and start from the end!***

I finally had the real TGV experience on Sunday night --- that's the high speed train. We went from Avignon to Paris non-stop in 2 1/2 hours. The train was really moving fast and steady, no hesitations or stops! It was cold waiting for a cab outside the Gare de Lyon in Paris, but what a relief! I was at the hotel in no time flat and slept extremely well with the window wide open for the first time in weeks. On Monday morning, I took the #67 bus from the Place d'Italie up to the Montmartre district and did the tourist bit with my old Michelin guide to Paris, but this time included the Cemetery of Montmartre which I'd been reading about...Emile Zola, for instance, is buried there. Paris in August....lots of small stores closed, very light traffic, Parisans gone on vacation, and loads of tourists right where you'd expect them! City looks real clean, there are rows of new city-bikes for the locals to use, the buses are modern and clean and there did seem to be more gardens and green space than before. I flew past the folks eating on the overcrowded, overpriced Place du Tertre at lunchtime, and followed my map to a restaurant recommended by my friend Regine, who is French and owns an apartment in the neighborhood. Lunch was at the Villa des Abesses, which looked just like any other bistro from the outside; in fact the sign was covered up by the awning. I chose from the daily specials and had caviar d'abergine for an appetizer (it's a mix of cubed sauteed eggplant with olive oil, lemon juice and other spices) which arrived with two crunchy toasts and a leaf of endive sticking out of the mound. It was sublime. Can I make this stuff?? I have since actually found two recipes for it. Next, I opted for the whole pan fried trout with green beans. The trout arrived, and it was whole! After I stared him down I chopped off his head and proceeded to dismantle him with this special big flat curvy knife they gave me. It was very good and I had two rounds of goat cheese on some greens for dessert. This was a very good meal and cost about $15 Euro. For dinner I went to the Asian district around Place d'Italie and had a bowl of good old Pho!

On Tuesday morning I went to an exhibition at the Foundation Cartier for Contemporary Art called Rock 'n' Roll 39-59. I'd read about it back home somewhere on some internet newspaper and I had brought the address with me....just in case. It turned out to be just the right made me laugh and dance and it was easy to get to and very comfortable to appreciate. An hour long, american-made film Rock 'n' Roll The Early Days (subtitled in French) was shown in a room where I watched, lying on a cushion on the floor. The film began with people picking cotton, as did the picture exhibit which continued in the next room! A high point for me was the 'Elvis at 21 Photos' by Alfred Wertheim which I had never seen...real sharp b&w...young Elvis in Penn Station, Elvis french-kisssing some girl....just gorgeous photos. There was a '56 Cadillac on hand, a jukebox to play with and guitars under glass belonging to Elvis, Buddy Holly and Carl Perkins. I do love to observe the French fascination with Americana.

I departed the museum at 11.30, bound for my last french lunch at Le Comptoir at the Place d'Odeon. I had really high hopes for this place, but got an uneasy feeling when I found myself out front at 12.00 in line with ten tourists. This meal was a flop, and it' s my own fault. I ordered the special which was steak. I should have ordered something more complicated like a terrine, and then a vegetarian dish for the main course. Well, I was a fool and a hungry one at that, so I had a tough piece of undercooked meat on my plate which I had to send back. They cooked it some more, it had a lovely sauce but sparse vegetables, and I just ate half of it and bailed out. I went next door and to the creperie run by the restaurant and got a giant hot buckwheat crepe dusted with sugar, folded in quarters, and ate it right on the sidewalk.

In Paris, as in Avignon and all the other cities I visited, I found young men & women in shops, post offices, restaurants, train information booths etc., all polite, and genuinely courteous & interested. Where are all those crones that used to insult us and our french language skills when I was a student?! In the Maison de Retraite, no doubt! Anyway, what a pleasure: not one person made a big deal about my being a non-native speaker of French. It was like they were just interested in my unusual accent. I was quite busy on this trip and I had not counted on the heat factor in Southern France in the summer. Actually I had thought about it, but decided to ignore it when I made my plans! The theater festival (I saw about 20 plays) and the course were wonderful, and that's why I went. I did manage to fit in some good bicycling (I did three long rides, about 140 miles) and tourism, ate local food which I prepared myself & had some fancy restaurant meals, but I think those things could be done more pleasurably in the Spring or Fall because of the heat. I'd love to go back and rent a house in Apt in the Spring and just cycle, eat, tour and cook with food from the markets. And I would avoid Charles de Gaulle/Roissy Airport.

Any takers for the next trip?

Thanks for all your e-mail and comments! --K

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Link to OFF program on line

I just found this-- it's everything in the 300 page OFF catalogue. You can read about all the shows.....I am bringing a copy of this home.


Just wanted to quickly mention again that it's hot here, the kind of hot where after lunch you nap with the fan on all afternoon until it's safe to go outside again around 5 o'clock! I leave for Paris tomorrow on the train at 8 p.m.

I took a walk around the part of Avignon this morning contained in the ramparts and it took me just about an hour, so that's about three miles.

My last play (this is the last day and the town has really emptied out --- August is around the corner and that's when nearly all french people go on vacation) was this evening at 6 p.m. It was called Antigone, Tragedia dell' Arte, directed by Carlo Boso (a known person in Commedia circles). It was done as a comedy and mixed greek tragic theater (masks, audience participation) with the commedia. I can't begin to list all the creative things in this play...and it was outside in a courtyard, which made it all the better as a breeze had kicked up. Okay, there were six people playing about 15 characters, they had masks, both painted and sculpted, there was singing, drums, a flute and funny references to french politics. Very clever and very well done. The name of the troupe is Compagnie Alian Bertrand, once again from Grenoble. What a nice note to end on!

I am now off to an end of festival party hosted by CEILA, the place where I took the course.

Friday, July 27, 2007

On Wednesday I saw another commedia dell' arte romp: The Enchanted Flute by the troupe Comediens & Compagnie from Paris. They used masks on all the players, there was some pretty fabulous opera singing and the jokester, or sidekick to the main male role stole the show-- Pappageno was his name and I have never seen a human being move and jump around like that for an hour and a half!!!! Loved it!

This evening I went to an 'IN' show called Nine Fingers. I thought it looked like trouble, but I got the ticket free so--- My worst fears were realized. A guy hitting a dirty matress with a microphone. I had to cover my ears. Not my thing. Some people gave them a standing ovation--- I would have loved to talk to these people & find out what I missed!

Yesterday I put my bike on the intercity bus and went south to Aix en Provence for the day. I rode right through town down the Cours Mirabeau (which is nothing like Champs Elysees as I'd thought from reading MFK Fisher's description of it!!) & came out on the east side of town. Six kilometers later I was looking the Mount St. Victoire, which Cezanne painted many times. I had lunch in the Relais Cezanne and then took a nap under this big line of plane trees next to a field. Refreshed, I went back and explored town for two hours and then proceeded to find a shady cafe to wait for the bus back to Avignon. Aix is bigger, brighter and more southern looking than Avignon.

I've been very fortunate with the weather since I got here--- it has been cool and pleasant especially in the evenings. That's over-- it's hot here now and it makes me tired.

One word about the people and I will close. All month long I have encountered relaxed, friendly, warm people here, even in the stores and banks. People start conversations with you waiting in line, on a bus, in the market. Is it the south? A younger generation that is more relaxed and open than the French we met in th 70's? I don't know --- maybe this will change when I get toParis!

Ciao--- this is almost the end!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The 'Nouvelles'

On Sunday I finally got to take my Luberon bike ride. I got off the bus with my bike in Cavaillon and immediately spotted the signposts for the Tour de Luberon ride which I'd gotten off the internet site of the Luberon tourism bureau. This was a gem of a ride that took me through Les Tailledes, Robion, Maubec, Oppede-le-Vieux, Menerbes, Lacoste, Bonnieux, ending in Apt where I caught the last bus back to Avignon at 4.30. I got to see some hill towns here and I see what all the fuss is about --- they are so high, so ancient! The tough parts about this ride were that I had to start late because of the bus schedule and then follow the signs, not a road map because this ride was designed to use back roads, which it sucessfully did. I was just high enough up in the valley to see over it. Thank god I found all the signs--- what a cliffhanger that was! The big climbs were to the three hill towns & I was not alone out there on the bike. I had lunch in Bonnieux at a carefully chosen restaurant that had a patio overlooking the entire valley and then a totally downhill finish into Apt--- what a plaisir that was. This ride was 47.5 km or about 30 miles but the hills made it harder.

Lunch: I opted for something light. I had marinated uncooked rouget fillets with roasted marinated peppers. The fillets were in the middle of the plate, they were small, light and firm, and three whole peppers were arranged around them: one red, one green, and one yellow. All fresh! Over it was drizzled olive oil and it was garnished with a whole sliced lemon and fresh rosemary. This was not a fancy place, mind you. The people at the table next to me were eating fries and pizza. The lemons taste great here--- different.

On Monday I caught up on my Avignon tourism and saw the Palais de Papes and took in a wonderful play in the afternoon: Le Malade Imaginaire by Moliere, interpreted by Theatre Kronope of Grenoble. These are mature professionals and the show was excellent. It included masks on top of the face, two characters on stilts, a swing (or trapeze), fabulous costumes and a giant bed. The actors were constantly adjusting the height of the bed, etc., a good visual gag. This morning I saw a children's show called Jeux de Fables-- Hommage a Jean de la Fontaine. It was very elementary theater for children, I was dissapointed.

Today I took a van ride with 7 other tourists to see the Abbaye de Senanaque and the hill towns of Roussillon and Gordes. Very nice day in country with a fun group.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

I have some time this evening so I thought I would just write a little bit about my day in town to give an idea of what it's like here.

The festival is winding down, this is the last week! Posters still up but tattered, actors still doing publicity --- every time I go out I come back with three or four 'tracts' or cards for shows!

I was planning a bike ride this morning but could not get to the bus depot at 6.25 am (that was a bad plan, I should have known I wouldn't make it!!) so I had to rethink my day. I made it an easy one, to deliberately relax now that I don't have to show up for the course every day. I decided to see two plays and take the bus out to the 'centre commercial', a mall that is, of course, 'extra-muros' (outside of this walled city) First I went around the corner to a miniature supermarket to buy something to cook for lunch. This particular store has a real butcher in the back and I asked the guy if he had any ground beef, seeing none in his showcase. He said 'of course, right here!' and pointed to this groovy machine with some nice lean meat sticking out of the top. I ordered up just enough for a petit hamburger and he ground it right in front of me! It cost 1 Euro.

My first play was at 10.15 am and I started over there about 9.30 so I could just walk slow and enjoy the cool part of the day, the quiet and the clean and empty streets. At the Theatre du Petit Louvre, I had time and was invited to wait in the courtyard restaurant. This theater is in an old church (all churches built before 1789 now belong to the state, which maintains them as they do other monuments!!) The courtyard is beautiful, set up to be a restaurant/cafe. Trees provide shade, beige walls lined with ivy are on one side and the exterior walls and architecture of the church on the other. Underfoot is sandy gravel. There are many tables in the courtyard set in groups of 2 and 4. There is a slight breeze stirring and there are faint sounds of instruments and voices warming up in the background. This is only one very lovely place outside a theater here. There are many like it, some not so fancy but places to gather outside for the patrons seem to be de rigeur, nonetheless. These places are particularly breathtaking at night when you add the clink of glassware, the sound of forks and knives on plates; people's voices and laughter, candlelight and of course the smell of food!! If this place existed in Atlanta, it would be booked solid all the time. Here, places like this positively abound.

The play was Les Temps de Machettes, having to do with the genocide in Rwanda. Recommended by the prof., and this director came to talk to us. Well done, important topic but it was just four people talking and a fellow with a stand-up bass playing from time to time. The next play was Phedre/Jouvet/Delbo--39/45 also recommended by the prof. Two stories here, main one is Louis Jouvet, a prof at the Conservatoire and his secretary Charlotte Delbo. Well done for scenes of Jouvet directing his students in Phedre. Afterward, I hopped on the bus and had a very interesting tour. If I had taken my bike I would have gone straight out there and missed this--- the bus, of course, meanders. There is a main road like a beltway about a mile outside the ramparts with just building after building over 5 miles of neat but depressing public housing, as only the French can manufacture it! Such a shock after looking exclusivley at the center city these last few weeks. I would bet that more people live out there than in the center. New thing on some buildings is graffitti. Plenty of it.

The mall felt very American! I got what I needed and got back in time to have a simple, light dinner in an outdoor place before coming in to check my mail. Thanks again for your notes!

Friday, July 20, 2007

This week's plays & other things

It's Friday afternoon and my theater course of two weeks is over. It was really worthwhile in terms of meeting people and figuring out the festival. Honestly, I can't imagine that I would have gotten as much out of the festival as I have without some guidance, and in many ways this was some pretty high quality guidance. At least three directors of OFF plays came to speak in class and just told us how they came to be here-- the work, the contacts, the good luck, the financing; of course we had the wonderful actress for the first three days who knew everything and in addition, had us imitating chickens, writing two page plays and excercising our jaws besides listening to her stories! The second fellow was much more organized/academic but I did learn a lot from him. What is a PAIN is the french language when everyone is at such different levels-- most of it not great, either. More people joined our course along the way and we were about 10 today. I am making a point of never taking another course for non-native speakers of french!!

Plays this week: The Chess Player by Stephan Zweig---very well done; Les Monologues du Vagin (that's right!) and Nicole Croisille, a great dame of Chanson Francaise was one of the 'readers' -- very good; film for the class 'The Miser' starring Louis de Funes (the french answer to Jerry Lewis) very funny; Rendezvous au Chat Noir-- social politics in Montmartre, songs and satire--- good but hard to understand.

I will be spending the next week touring around and seeing plays before I leave here on Sunday July 29.

A note on the fish dish I mentioned the last time -- I found out from the deli lady that sells me my lunch everyday that the fish is actually 'worked' with olive oil as you would work a mayonnaise. That may explain the flavor. I am eating brown rice from the Camargue region just south of here with salt from the same area; the heirloom tomatoes are positively BODACIOUS! but they have the ordinary ones too; the famous Caviaillon melons are totally in season and are selling for 3 for 2 Euros and ordinary garlic is super crisp and powerful. I'm not buying anything that is organic.

That's all she wrote....for now.