Saturday, November 21, 2009

Nature is one hot mama

On Friday night I went to Theatre de l’Atelier in Montmartre to see a free (courtesty of the tuition of the trustfundergrads—I’m going to use that beautiful neologism to refer to them from here on out) one-man play by Samuel Beckett, called Premier Amour. It was performed by Samy Frey, who’s apparently a big deal if you’re French, female and over forty. I love theatre in general (and Beckett), but I really wasn’t feeling this show. Although cute, the theater was small and not air-conditioned, and the lack of leg-room and breathable air became a little distracting by the end of the show. The solemn, one-man staging (which translated to no dialogue and very few gestures) was a little tiresome and made the language barrier more pronounced. They also tried to do some edgy things in the staging with a siren and a strobe light that, for me, only detracted from the continuity of the show. This isn’t the first time I’ve been disappointed with the staging of an absurdist play in France (in the version of Cantatrice Chauve/ Bald Soprano that I saw a few years ago in Nice, the director did some strange things with cell phones, sirens and video screens, and at one point the father ripped the maid’s dress open and did coke lines off her chest as he delivered his lines). In my opinion, the beauty of absurd theatre is that the text is already absurd in and of itself. It seems like there’s this urge to “out weird” the script in the staging, but the two should compliment each other, not compete…

We followed up the play with a much more enjoyable nibble and a drink at the nearby Café des Deux Moulins, famous for being the “Amélie café” that she works at in the movie.

When we first arrived I sneered at the way Audrey Tautou’s face and autograph were splashed around everywhere, but after an hour soaking in the ambiance, the reggae band and the 3.90 happy hour cocktails, I couldn’t help but embrace the cliché experience. I particularly enjoyed the way that the bathroom where Georgette’s famous café-shaking sex scene takes place has been transformed into a sort of shrine for the garden gnome (probably as much to discourage would-be copy-cats as to celebrate the movie…heh heh heh). I watched the movie when I got home, reveling in the esoteric glory of recognizing every intimate corner of Paris that showed up on screen.

I woke up to such a beautiful morning that I couldn’t bear to waste the day inside doing work like I had originally planned. Instead, I took advantage of my Ile-de-France weekend train privileges and hopped on a train to Fontainebleau. I spent a half hour or so wandering around the cute, small town (and passed a huge line of teen girls waiting for the Twilight movie…yup, it’s crazy here, too) before I picked a small café to settle down in. I read medieval French literature in between leisurely bites of my artichoke and ham pizza then wandered over to the famous Chateau of Fontainebleau. As an under-26 French resident, I got free admission (this is also the case in most museums now, thanks to a new law—it’s a great time to be young in France). This took the pressure off of making it an educational experience and allowed me to stroll leisurely around the house and gardens, picking out the standard Chateau features (trompe l’oeil, furniture that matches the wall tapestries, short but elaborate four-poster beds, freezing private chapels) and a few new ones (elaborate mantle place clocks in every room, royal initials stamped everywhere, a bed in almost every room [apparently Napoleon II liked to be able to sleep on a whim]). Certain parts of the Chateau were being used to display modern art furniture exhibits, featuring a strange array of artistic and impactical arm chairs, sinks, and light fixtures. The pieces were cool but seemed oddly out of place, much like the jarringly modern light posts I saw in Metz. It's interesting to see how France is trying to hold onto its rich and decadent history even as it modernizes.

My favorite find in the Chateau was a statue representing Nature. It almost seemed to be an afterthought, tucked away as it was in a hallway nook between rooms with no plaque or audio guide entry devoted to it. It portrayed a woman nursing a handful of babies and animals, which seems normal enough until you realize that she has not just two but an entire body of breasts. Delightfully bizarre.

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