Friday, February 26, 2010

Cultural Activity: Maison de Poupée

Paris has presented me with a lot of firsts - first falafel, first opera, first conversation with a French person - and today it offered me yet another: first celebrity sighting. You may have heard of a little lady named Audrey Tautou. She’s best known for her role as Amelie, but she has also starred in the Da Vinci Code, He Loves Me, He Loves me Not (which will inspire a lasting fear of crazy people), and many other films. Last night I was lucky enough to see her in person.

Maison de Poupée is the French translation of Henrik Ibson’s classic play, A Doll’s House. Laura was kind enough to send us a quick summary of the play, and I actually found the whole thing online through google book. It’s a pretty quick read, so take a look if you're interested. Having read most of the play definitely helped me when we went tonight. My French is definitely lacking, but I was able to follow the story without any trouble. I even got a lot of the jokes! Audrey was fascinating to watch as Norah, since she took on a playful, almost childish personality in the beginning. She actually seemed more immature than her children.

At the beginning of the play I was really distracted by all of the actors' heavy makeup. I couldn’t understand why such a well-known production with high profile leads wouldn’t be able to afford a good makeup artist. It was only on the train on the way home that I realized that Audrey’s makeup had been toned down throughout the course of the play until she looked normal. The makeup change was intentional, since she was leaving the doll’s house to enter a real life where she would care for herself. Yeah, I’m a little thick sometimes.

Overall, I loved the production. A Doll’s House is now one of my favorite plays, since it emphasizes the importance of women being able to take care of and live for themselves without being derogatory to men. I felt that Audrey was the perfect choice for Norah, since she can seem impish and powerful in the same role. I’ll have to see the English version of the play at some point, but I felt that the power of the story carried through the French translation, and I recognized the universality of its themes.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Cultural Activity: Symphonie Fantastique

I’ve been a fan of Berlioz since I took humanities a few years ago, but I didn’t really know much about his music until recently. The whole group went to see Symphonie Fantastique at the Salle Pleyel Concert Hall tonight, and I was definitely glad we had done a little background preparation. Overall, the symphonie tells the story of a young man’s obsession with the woman he loves (the young man happened to be Berlioz). Eventually he becomes so heartsick that he takes opium (definitely the best remedy for heartache) and imagines his beloved as a witch leading him to the scaffold. Ummm…this isn’t quite what I had imagined when listening to my humanities CD.

Anyway, the symphony was probably the best one I’ve ever seen live. Before beginning Symphonie Fantastique, they performed Antony and Cleopatric, with a woman singing the operatic part. She was incredible! Apparently the entire audience agreed with the assessment, because they brought her out for at least four curtain calls. It turns out that when a French audience likes something, they don’t just do a quick standing ovation and then clear out. Instead, they clap, and clap, and clap, and clap. The clapping eventually takes on a rhythm and everyone’s hands start to tingle. I don’t really get it.

The main Symphonie was also incredible. I always love watching musicians, and I particularly enjoyed watching the violinists tonight, since they were doing all kinds of crazy plucking things with their instruments. Definitely cool. For a taste, go here.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Walk 5: Place de la Concorde

I saw Monet today! Well, not the painter, obviously, given that he’s a little bit dead, but I got to see his paintings! I love Monet! Okay, that’s enough exclamation points for now.

Wait, maybe I need a few more exclamation points because I had an Audrey moment today. I got to “step out on the Champs Elysée,” just like she does in Funny Face! And I saw the stamp market from Charade! And I also might have been near Carla Bruni, since I went past her house! What a great day.

Okay, I’m going to focus now.

The walk started outside the Elysée, which is the French equivalent of the white house (and home to my favorite French singer and, oh yeah, that president guy she married) and then went past various embassies and ritzy boutiques (think Cartier, Hermes, and Chanel). Everything was going well until I tried to take a picture of the U.S. Embassy. Turns out that this is not a good idea. Guards will come after you. They will make you delete your photos. They have guns.

After my narrow escape from a lifetime in French prison for suspected terrorist affiliations, we saw the Place de la Concorde, which was built to honor Louis XV, but is better known as the home of the infamous guillotine. Yup, this was where Marie Antionette, Robespierre, and 1343 friends lost their heads. It’s also the home of an obelisk that I’m pretty sure the Egyptian government wants back. And it was the sight of a modeling shoot when we were there – what’s more Parisian than that?

Then came the best part – The Orangerie! We spent very little time in the Jardin des Tuileries, since it had started raining, but I didn’t mind since I was in a hurry to see Monet’s work for the first time. We saw paintings by Picasso, Renoir, Matisse, and others as well, but my heart belongs to Claude. The Nymphéas (water lilies) were breath taking, not to mention enormous. Take a look:

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Walk 3: A Walk in the Park

After leaving the Marais area, the three of us then met up with Emily and Bart at McDonalds to do Walk 3 “Montparnasses and the Jardin du Luxembourg.” I must admit that we were all feeling pretty lazy at that point – maybe it was the McDonalds influence. Or maybe it was just the fact that it was freaking cold by then. Whatever it was, we ended up hanging out at McDo for a while listening to Emily’s running commentary on the pedestrians passing the window before we decided to go see a movie instead. Unfortunately, any English versions (just look for the ones that say VO, not VF) of Avatar were starting too late in the evening, so we had to do the walk. Bummer.

Despite our lack of enthusiasm, the walk ended up being pretty interesting, and I definitely want to come back to explore certain parts of it. Right outside our Metro stop we could see the Tour Montparnasse, which is probably the most modern looking building I’ve seen in Paris. I really have been surprised by Paris’ lack of an obvious, skyscraper-filled downtown, so it was kind of nice to see Montparnasse, even if many people think it’s an eyesore.

Although we did see a statue of Alfred Dreyfuss, most of the sites we saw along the way to the gardens were cafés and brasseries – many of which were popular with famous American expatriates. Since I always seem to write about my food experiences on here, I’ll mention that we stopped at Jean-Paul Hévin, where I bought an amazing chocolate-hazelnut tart for later (after trying to pay with a button from my pocket – that was embarrassing), and Amorino, where I ate the most incredible vanilla gelato in the history of creation. Seriously.

Even in January, the Jardin du Luxembourg was lovely, with its green grass, tree-lined paths, beehives, and beautiful sculptures (including a mini Statue of Liberty). I can only imagine what it’s like in the springtime.

We only had a short time to look around, since security asked everyone to leave before six o’clock. They also make everyone stay off the grass – a level of regulation that seems unenforceable in the U.S., especially on the BYU campus.

A few steps into the park, I gasped, hit Rebecca on the arm (sorry about that, Rebecca), and said something unintelligible in a squeaky voice, because I was pretty sure I was in the park that Audrey Hepburn and Peter O’Toole wander through in How to Steal a Million. I now realize that they may have been in the Tuillery Gardens, but I don’t care, I was having my first Audrey in Paris moment. Any moment’s a good one if you can feel just a little bit Audrey.

Walk 7: Marais Walk 1

Thursday was a beautiful, sunny day, so Rebecca, Dan, and I headed out to complete Marais Walk I. Most of the walk consisted of seeing historical hôtels (private residences, not hotels in the traditional sense), and it was pretty cool to see the homes of Victor Hugo, Cardinal Richelieu, and Sully – people we’ve been reading about in class. Naturally we had to step into a little patisserie we passed along the way, where I ordered some kind of tart that required three hours of gnawing to get through. It tasted pretty good, but I think it was meant to be eaten with a chisel. We also had a chance to see another piece of the wall built by Philippe August around 1200. Rebecca was, of course, extremely excited to touch the wall again – I’m pretty sure she confirmed any suspicions that the students at the lycée across the street may have had about crazy Americans.

Although I was fine with seeing the wall, my favorite part of the day came when we paused in the garden of the Hôtel de Sully to take pictures and I had a chance to share my pastry (or at least its crust) with some birds. I soon had quite the little avian fan club, and some of them even tried to eat out of my hands (that’s why I’m flinching in the picture – that little blur near the bushes is an overly-confident sparrow). I felt just like Belle in Beauty and the Beast.

We also made a quick stop at the Musée Carnavalet and took pictures of Louis XIV statue, but we decided to wait to go through the museum on a rainy day. As you can see from my picture of our final destination, the Biliothèque Historique de la Ville de Paris (where I discovered that I remember what Corinthian columns look like – go humanities class), this was a day made for a walk.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Walk 12: Time Travel, Tricks, and Treats around Saint-Sulpice

Yesterday we had a couple of hours between classes and FHE, so a group of us decided to do walk 12 “Time Travel, Tricks, and Treats around Saint-Sulpice.” We first saw the Hôtel Lutetitia, where Josephine Baker, Picasso, and other famous individuals have stayed. Then we walked through an interesting neighborhood with buildings from the 17th and 18th centuries, but we were most excited to see Poilâne, a famous boulangerie. Although several people in the group purchased pain au chocolate, I was saving my pennies for an even better treat: Pierre Hermé, a fantastic patisserie best known for its macarons. This was my first true macaron experience (I wish I had taken a picture of it), but I have to say that I prefer cheap nutella crèpes from vendors around Paris. I had chosen the chuao flavor, which I thought would be entirely chocolate, but it had some kind of yummy fruit flavor as well. Tasty - just not what I was expecting.

We then went into Saint Sulpice, which you may have heard about from the Da Vinci Code. Although I really enjoy Dan Brown’s books, I realized at the church that I remember practically nothing about the Da Vinci Code, apart from that fact that it involved a crazy albino monk and a search for the Holy Grail. Oh well, I still took pictures next to the gnomon and rose line like any other tourist, and I’ll have to do a reread when we get back to the states.

We left Saint Sulpice and hurried past some shops I’d like to come back to visit when I have more time (namely a vintage clothing store and an Anglo-American bookstore) and made our way to the Abbaye Saint-Germain, which dates back to the 6th century. Although the building was beautiful and had some interesting statues, I think some of these churches are starting to look pretty similar. I can’t believe I feel so blasé about these amazing sites! As we headed out to the metro, I was struck by the irony of a centuries-old abbey sitting among the chicest of boutiques – Louis-Vuitton, Cartier, Swarovski. I’m guessing the nuns didn’t have much use for $1500 bags, but I could be wrong.

Fighting my OCD

I've realized that I’ll forget important information if I keep playing catch-up rather than writing about recent events, so I’ve decided to write entries out of chronological order for a while. This probably bothers me more than it does you.