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Posts Tagged ‘Parks’

So, let me start off by saying this: I’m so happy to be Europe during the World Cup. Even though I won’t be in a country where the home team is playing a match again until Thursday and my arrival in Berlin, it has been a real wild ride, especially watching our American boys win — and subsequently lose — down there on the pitches in South Africa.

Even better was reading the French newspaper headlines when Les Bleus lost to World Cup host South Africa in the last match of group play. Every paper — even Le Libé, the French socialist/leftist daily — had such lovely post-loss headlines as “Les bleus: L’honte” (“The Boys in Blue: The shame”) and “Pourquoi la France est le pire au Cap” (“Why the French were the worst in Cape Town”). The federal government even ordered a controversial review of the French Football Federation.  It was truly a wonderful moment in French history — VIVE LA FRANCE!

But of course, the best thing about watching the World Cup in France was watching the America v. Algeria game in a bar that just HAPPENED to be an Algerian bar. As in, the bar owners and frequent clientele were all Algerian — Algerian flags, jerseys and cheers. Chris, Char and I — and the awkward American family sitting on the terrace in front of the café — kept our cheering to a minimum, until the American boys scored that great stoppage time goal that sent them on to the next round…only to lose to the Ghana Black Stars, again.

Still, it was a great time, and even though Belgium — where I currently find myself — didn’t qualify for Le Mondial, it still has plenty of vuvuzela-blowing, horn-honking fans of such great remaining teams as Brazil, Portugal and the Netherlands, meaning that night time here is hardly the right time for sleeping. I understand the lingering media fascination with the vuvuzela — it is an obnoxious, grating and all too exciting instrument of fandom, and you can’t help but notice when you hear it, and suddenly you feel like you are taking a direct role in the game, even though it is taking place far, far away.

HOWEVER…

…I am not in Europe to observe the lingering effects of World Cup Football Fandom, as fun as that may be — GEHT DEUTSCHLAND — rather, I am in Europe to see opera and write about it, which is just what I am continuing to do.

Besides visiting such old Parisian favorites as L’As du Falafel, the Caféotheque and my old friend, the Canal St. Martin, as well as spontaneously deciding to march in the Paris Gay Pride Parade,  I also saw Leoš Janáček’s delightful little opera, “The Cunning Little Vixen,” at the Opéra-Bastille.

The Opéra-Bastille is one of those unfortunate buildings that makes you realize anew that no one should have been allowed to build anything between the years 1968 and 1980. Almost any building constructed during that hellish period — please see the UNC-Chapel Hill Pit area and the always disgusting, riot-proof Hamilton Hall — is pretty much ugly and soulless as a rule. It was in one of those buildings that the opera was staged last Friday night.

Fortunately, the whimsical opera was full of life, making the dead space surrounding it lively and joyous. The opera, with a libretto written by the composer himself, is based on a beloved Czech folk comic about, what else, but a witty little fox. The way I’ve explained it to people is that the opera is akin to an operatic adaptation of, say, the American “Garfield” or “Peanuts” comics.

There really isn’t a plot — it’s just a series of colorful sketches featuring the fox, her woodland creature friends, and the hunter who chases her around — but that was okay at the Bastille, because a large chunk of the audience was probably under 13, meaning the usual elaborate operatic type plot lines would have been wasted, anyway. But the set was beautiful — Sunflowers! Train tracks! Oppressive Soviet-Era Chicken Farming Collectives! — and the costumes were really nifty. My favorite were the mosquitos — dressed like macabre milk men with giant syringes and milk bottles full of red liquid. The bourgeois chickens were pretty cool, too, as was the titular Vixen herself — who sang her role quite well.

The youthful nature of the audience was great for my research project; it seemed the Opéra-National de Paris was trying out creative, child-friendly operas presented in cute, inventive ways as a method to launch the opera going careers of younger people. Plus, the ads for the opera were everywhere, complete with a picture of the happily triumphant Vixen and all her cunning animal friends celebrating their takeover of the grumpy old Badger’s house. It looks like a true picture of summer fun, full of zest and wine and vigor. Personally, I’d want to see that opera if I hadn’t already, so I suppose the ad campaign is working.

With my remaining time in Paris, I also got to explore the beautiful Viaduct des Arts, a renovated train viaduct now used as a beautiful  rose-line and trellis-filled park. It was a wonderful discovery on my last day in Paris — until I return in late July, of course — and I’m glad my friends and I decided to explore another side of the city I thought I knew so well. I suppose that’s how Paris works — you think you know it well, and then it surprises you with a new park, a hidden side street or an artfully tucked away public monument to a bygone artist or political leader or scientist.

For now, I’m in Brussels, Belgium, where I’ll be taking in Verdi’s “Macbeth” tonight at La Monnaie de Bruxelles. Brussels is a funny city — but more on that in my next post. Until then, aideu!

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Hello loyal blog readers! I know that many of you have been coming here in the last few weeks, expecting glowing, exciting reports from the summer opera trail.

Well, up until last Monday, the only thing you would have read would be my impressions of my brief and chaotic return to the States (lovely, quick and overwhelming) and reports of my incessant jet lag out of my decision to make said return home (probably one of the worst travel decisions I have ever made in my life — this is why I don’t like / don’t know how to travel).

BUT

Now all that changes. Here I am, on the floor of my friend Victoria’s lovely apartment in the 8éme arrondissement of Paris, getting ready for another week of opera exploration and viewing.

Monday night, I bid goodbye to my parents after a whirlwind weekend in Metro Detroit — MOTOWN AND THE 313 GET IT —  and got on what I am going to call the smallest plane I have ever been a passenger on and travelled to not scenic and not lovely Newark, New Jersey, where I awaited my flight to Heathrow Airport in London, England.

Flying into Newark, one cannot help but feel bad for New Jersey. Not only is it a state that everyone loves to hate, it also is right next door to New York, a state and city that is breathtakingly magnificent — it is the Empire State, after all — making the lousiness that is New Jersey all the more apparent. Newark’s airport? Passable. Newark’s skyline? — especially when compared to the staggering skyline that is downtown Manhattan Island — Pathetic.

But I was on to bigger and more European things. I landed in London early Tuesday morning, and groggily wandered through British customs — incredibly Hellish, by the way. I do not recommend flying into England unless you absolutely have to — and took the famous London Tube to meet John, my roommate from my first two years at Carolina. He is staying the city studying British approaches to Imperialism, so he generously offered to let me stay with him during my brief sejour in London — by offered, I mean, I begged him and kind of forced him to accept my request.

Even though I was completely exhausted and felt the need to take an unforeseen four hour nap, I managed to force myself to go for a jog through London, running by Kensington Palace and through Hyde Park. I have to say that, after fiveish months in Paris, I was not prepared for the casual, comfortable sprawl of British parks. French parks are carefully coifed, delicately maintained and full of fierce and furious gardiens, who make sure that visitors don’t use the park in an incorrect way — i.e. walk on the grass or touch a flower or something that disturbs the natural beauty of le beau parc parisien. London? Pish posh. You want to walk on the grass? Go ahead! You want to touch a flower? Hell, pick the damn thing. It’s a park! Admittedly, as a result London parks did seem a little less polished than those in Paris. But it was a wonderful and a good thing to do after flying all day and night.

We then went to a Thai pub — literally a traditional British pub that served Thai food in the back under an awning of fake flowers — with John’s British and Australian roommates and some Carolina friends in town for the summer, and wandered around expensive neighborhoods in Kensington.

Wednesday was my big opera day, so naturally I slept most of the morning. Hooray jet lag! I woke up in the early afternoon, dressed in my very best, and prepared to walk all the way to Covent Garden, taking time to wander though a beautiful and eerie cemetery — albeit one where people were LITERALLY SUNBATHING SHIRTLESS AMONG THE GRAVESTONES — and along the surprisingly tidal Thames River.

It was a great walk, and I got to see both Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, which were at the moment hosting the wonderful weekly Prime Minister’s Questions Session, but it turned out to be a little too far for my 5:00 meeting with the communications director of the Royal Opera House, so I hopped on the tube and rode the last couple of stops to Covent Garden.

Unlike Paris, the London Opera House is tucked away in a weird little alleyway. Granted, it’s big and impressive and beautiful and all that jazz, but it’s hiding in the corner when the Paris opera houses are huge central gathering places — one even has a major metro stop named after it.

The communications director was wonderful, and he gave me a fantastic start for my project. We talked for over an hour, and he gave me some great reading material about the Royal Opera House’s annual budgets and projects and audience outreach efforts. I ran out for a quick dinner alone — in a French restaurant, of all places — and returned for the 7:00 curtain of Bizet’s great “Carmen.”

The opera was pretty wonderful. They did so many things right — the fast-moving Act III, the brilliant Michaela, the quietly serious Carmen — but also did a lot of unnecessary things, too — a live donkey and live black stallion, a not so brilliant Don José, weird rock climbers in the mountains in Act III. It was a great time, and “Carmen” is perhaps the work I know the best out of the 6 that I will see this summer, so I was very happy to get a chance to see it live in such a historic and beautiful setting.

After two more days of London wandering, including trips to the fabulous Tate Modern Museum and the exquisite Kew Gardens in Greater London, I boarded the Eurostar to Paris and returned to that place that I thought I was ready to leave: Paris, France, my home for the last five months.

It’s great to be back here, but I’ll save that for the next post. Until then, my dear readers, know that I am safe, happy and living a life full of beautiful music. This is what summer is meant to be.

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So, it’s been a week since I last updated this blog. And while I do mean to cut down a little on my blog posts — the once-daily regimen of earlier in the term just can’t happen anymore — I never intended to move to once a week posts.

But this last week was some kind of busy. What, with schoolwork, visiting Germans and the full onslaught of spring weather here in Paris, I had a hard time finding space to squeeze in a quick update. Eventually, it just got to the point that I decided a full report this morning would be better than a few tiny dispatches from the field during the week.

Monday, after my idyllic run through springtime Parisian streets to class, I went to the dinner party gang’s house to make Gypsy Soup for dinner, a favorite recipe from Molly Katzen’s incredible veg-head tome, the Moosewood Cookbook. The soup went over well — although I did get a rather nasty blister on my left middle finger — and we had quite a lovely evening together.

Tuesday, I didn’t have class in the afternoon, so I went back to the dinner party gang’s apartment to plan our spring break and steal/drink some of their delicious, French-pressed coffee. After much cajoling and convincing, I gave in and purchased a ticket to Valencia, Spain for 7 glorious late April days on the Mediterranean beach. All things considered, it isn’t going to be a terribly expensive trip — especially if my girl Merkel keeps delaying a Greek bail out, driving the Euro down a little bit everyday — and I think it will be good to have a relaxing week by the sea. In the warmth. With friends. In a country where everything is cheaper than here in Paris.

Plus, the night of our return to Paris, we have tickets to the She & Him concert, which will be a lovely, but not completely satisfactory, makeup for the missed Joanna Newsom concert in Durham this month. But I can’t hate too much, because Zooey Deschanel is a true delight, and I can only imagine how much her gleeful energy will be doled out in generous portions when she is on a brightly lit stage in front of me.

We then spent the afternoon in the Jardin de Luxembourg, fighting the scores of other sun-starved Parisians and tourists for the green metal lawn chairs scattered around the park. As the resident runner of the group, it was up to me to dash around La Grande Fontaine, scooping up empty chairs as they became available. Needless to say, by the time I left to go home to run and do homework — sort of — we all had a chair.

But Wednesday is when the real fun started. Tim, an old German exchange student from my junior year at Cranbrook, flew in Wednesday night from Berlin, where he is spending his year of public service looking after old West Berlin shut-ins. I haven’t seen Tim since the summer after my senior year, when we had a reunion of sorts in Munster with our other German chum Friedemann after Friedie and I backpacked around the continent.

And yet, when he got off the OrlyBus, it was like it had only been a few weeks. Granted, we both look a little older, and a lot has happened in both our lives since that year at Cranbrook and that late summer day in Germany, but I instantly knew that my weekend with Tim was going to be a good one.

Plus, Tim was quick to let me know that even though this was his first time in Paris — which surprised me, considering that he is from Dusseldorf, has spent considerable amounts of time in the UK, and will be a student at Cambridge next fall — and he hadn’t seen anything yet, he didn’t want to do the touristy things. He wanted to see MY Paris, the Paris that I lived in.

Which suited me just fine.

We had dinner at Breakfast in America, which was tasty good, per usual, and bought a bottle of wine to split and catch up over in my apartment. Tim loved my neighborhood, and the funky weird vibe of my apartment. Also, Flocon, our cat, loved him, and in turn seems to like me a little bit more now. Go figure.

Thursday, I took Tim to the St. Germain neighborhood by school, and he wandered around while I had my French reporting class, where we finalized the details for our culture feature stories. I will be working on a story on the Ciné du Réel documentary film festival at the Centre Pompidou — more on that below — which I am very much looking forward to.

Since Thursday was such a pretty day, we walked back to my house, passing through the Jardin des Tuileries, the Grands Boulevards area, and everything in between, speaking snatches of French as we walked. Tim hasn’t studied French in a year or so, but he still is really good at the language, so it was fun to have another non-native speaker to mumble incomplete French thoughts with.

That night, we went to the dinner party gang’s house Thursday night to make my famous French toast and scrambled eggs dinner. It was a huge hit, and we left fat and happy.

Friday, we picnicked in the Jardin de Luxembourg, pausing for my class in the evening. We then joined up with Claire of the dinner party gang for a film at the Ciné du Réel festival, which was lovely.

I had to get my press accreditation, which I managed to successfully do all in French, and the helpful (!) women at the press desk were amused with my obvious excitement.

“This is your first press accreditation, isn’t it?” one asked gently. When I responded in the affirmative, she smiled and said, “Well then, this is a big moment for you!” And it was.

The press accreditation — thanks to my French reporting prof —  allows me to see any and all of the films for free. Meaning that I probably won’t get much homework done this week. Maybe.

We saw two interesting short films, and then headed back for dinner and cards at their apartment. A truly successful, evening, indeed

Saturday was the day of walking, with us visiting my favorite park — Buttes Chaumont, of course — heading down to the beautiful Musée de Rodin — where the grass was closed off, or “La pelouse interdite” as the signs helpfully indicated — and pausing occasionally to speak French with each other, still returning home for tea.

By Sunday, I decided that, even though Tim didn’t want to be a tourist — and truly hadn’t been — one can’t come to Paris and not see La Tour Eiffel up close. So we bought a picnic lunch from a street market — complete with an absolutely delicious pistachio macaroon — and found a bench in the Champs de Mars on which to eat and people watch in the shadow of the towering symbol of la France.

By the time Tim left Sunday evening, I realized that not only had I spent the weekend enjoying the company of a good friend, I had also spent the weekend enjoying Paris — pointing out things I liked about the city, telling stories about my time here, taking my visitor to secret spots and boasting of things I loved about the place.

In short, having Tim here reminded me — or rather, made me aware — of how much I have come to truly love Paris. Sure, there are problems sometimes. I am homesick sometimes. France isn’t the most welcoming of countries, it’s true.

But having Tim here, and seeing his obvious delight with the city and my life here, really just pushed me over the edge. I love it here. I’m glad to be here. Really.

I’ll leave you — after this massive post — with some thoughts from storied film maker Albert Maysles, part of the team that produced the legendary cult film “Grey Gardens,” detailing the lives of Big and Little Edie Beale, living in splendid squalor in a decrepit Long Island manor home.

Maysles, who was in Paris for the Ciné du Réel festival and who I was lucky enough to see speak after a showing of “Grey Gardens” on Sunday evening, told the audience that he often was criticized for filming these supposedly “crazy” women. He is often accused of exploiting their story for his own benefit, he said.

“I respond, ‘Well, they’re just like everybody else, only maybe more so,'” Maysles said.

I’m aiming to be more so, too.

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I had a rather relaxing weekend, something I realize I truly needed. I needed two days to sleep, to laze about, to eat good food and have nice runs and enjoy the almost-spring like weather here.

And that’s exactly what I had.

I started off Saturday with a long and leisurely solo breakfast, followed by a visit to the Hotel de Ville (City Hall) for a free photography exhibit with the dinner time gang, replete with images of my absolute favorite artist, Marc Chagall — turns out Izis, the photographer in question, was a big fan of Chagall — followed by an equally long and leisurely lunch.

But the lunch was not long by our choosing. You see, as a very astute article in the BBC pointed out just yesterday, customer service here in Paris is virtually nonexistent. In order to obtain our food, our coffee, even our check, we were required to perform elaborate and difficult maneuvers — it was almost as if the waiter didn’t want us to leave.

Granted, this is quite different, and at times more welcome, than the traditional American idea of waitstaff — hover around until you are finished and then throw you out in favor of incoming customers — but you want just want to leave, the welcome feeling of being left alone wears off rather quickly. I am actually pretty sure that our waiter’s shift ended in the middle of our marathon meal, leaving us with completely new garçons to deal with to obtain our dessert coffees and final check. It was quite the meal time ordeal.

We then headed off towards one of the biggest shopping districts of Paris, searching for “la saison de soldes” (Sales, illegal here in France except for very specific periods of the year) and find them, we did. We also found most of Paris.

The stores were an absolute ZOO. It was impossible to move, and the lines at the cash registers snaked around the outside of the store multiple times over. I think this shopping atmosphere must be a truly Parisian thing, because I can’t even imagine this kind of chaos in New York. It was a true migraine in motion.

But the evening was lovely, as we made a carrot-honey soup and garlic bread dinner together and cozied up to watch “The Little Mermaid” and “Aladdin”  — both movies of which the majority I have largely forgotten — feeling fat and childish after the end.

Today, I went on a brisk and refreshing jog in my favorite park, and then headed out to the Musée des Arts and Metiers for a school assignment, meeting up with some friends in another part of the city for a quick lunch.

Then, it was off with another friend for dinner and a scooter ride, and back home for a quick edit of my next Daily Tar Heel column — see it tomorrow here! — before drifting back off to sleep in preparation for another busy week of school work and French-ness.

Stay tuned, mes enfants! Restent ici!

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