[Scene: a very small flat somewhere near the Cowley Road. A short girl with damp hair is writing about the ideological fragmentation of 1890s Shakespeare performance, which makes a change from teaching Harold Pinter and reading about Sarah Kane.]
This is a short post to say that I should like to go to Paris, now, and leave my various written commitments to, ah, dispose of themselves as they think best. I shall probably have to settle for a French lesson this afternoon.
It seems ridiculous not to be in Paris when Paris is still there. I suspect the vast majority of you reading this are also NOT IN PARIS. We could ALL be in Paris, and are managing our lives SO BADLY in not being so.
Just think, the French are at least in the same country as Paris. ALL the time. Except when they misguidedly go on holiday to places which aren’t Paris.
Stop reading this and book your tickets. Go quickly. Many of us could be there within HOURS.
[the curtain descends. DPhil student is heard to cry ‘PARIS!’ in manner of displaced Chekhovian not-Muscovite, as the lights fade.]
Fellow dead Victorian things enthusiasts may well enjoy photographer Ingrid Newton’s latest, absolutely beautiful post on London memorials. I am a big fan of Ingrid’s work, but particularly enjoyed this photograph. Ingrid describes the Postman’s Park memorial to those who have died via acts of self-sacrifice. The designer, as the above image shows, was George Frederic Watts (1817-1904), the first husband of Ellen Terry (who, of course, is a major subject of my thesis – though Madge Kendal may usurp the no. 1 spot). Watts had proposed a national monument to unsung heroes to coincide with Queen Victoria’s 1887 jubilee; when he received no response, he decided to go ahead with the idea himself. I suppose the online memorial sites, newspapers, and things like the Pride of Britain awards fulfil a similar function today, but there’s something infinitely more poignant about the little ceramic tributes. They remind me of the tablets offering thanks for answered prayers you find around shrines in French churches.
The emotional impetus in Postman’s Park seems far sadder – but, then again, Watts’s memorial is still about thanksgiving. Several of the tiles commemorate children.
As Ingrid’s post reminds us, the length of time for which someone is remembered is a fraught issue. Who is remembered, how, and by whom? It’s an issue I’ve been grappling with thanks to an unexpected and exciting development in my research. When I started investigating the writings by these actresses, I automatically discounted the possibility of contact with anyone who knew them. Even “discounted” is too strong a word: it didn’t enter my head. And yet, I am now in correspondence with one of my subjects’ granddaughter and great-granddaughter, and hope soon to read some of their family manuscripts. The granddaughter is now 91; the link is there (there are other issues, about biographical vs academic remembrance, and whether some people should be remembered at all, but that’s a different post).
My next London research trip will probably constitute a return to the Garrick Club Library, but one of the many tangential/side project/should-never-see-daylight .docs attached to my DPhil describes an alternate tour. Without particularly knowing why, I started listing places where Victorian actors are buried. My supervisor’s built a fantastic SAA paper out of recording examples of the Early Modern &c, but somehow I doubt my tramp round Brompton Cemetery will have the same result…
These thoughts are rather disconnected, but then I am mid-chapter-edit. Alex is between drafts, in that glorious limbo of “free”/anxiety “time”. I am not. So type type type.
Just blogged another photo to my photography blog (please, Sophie, make your written style more repetitivephotoblogphoto). I got incredibly lost the first time I tried to find Shakespeare & Co (my mother, should she read this, will interject to say that I’d seen Shakespeare & Co. before but mother that is another of those great cultural experiences you gave me in earliest youth & which accordingly I do not recall). Rue de la Bucherie is a street of lies, it’s split in two and Shakespeare & Co. is not where you would think. In the middle there’s a square to an homme politique and upstairs there’s a bed where a girl and her boyfriend were sleeping. They liked photography and time machines, according to their books. I left a message on the glass.
The next time I got lost again, which was much less of a laughing matter – I had Chloe with me in the wheelchair, and the Left Bank (while not as bad as Opera, after which I became like a bird with broken wings) longs only to chuck its wheelchair users into the traffic via potholes. But we found the homme politique again and there’s a lovely photo of us flanked by tramps in a dustbowl. Chloe looks winsome but I look Satanic, so it won’t be published here.
(tumbleweed is sort of the way I currently feel about this blog. But watch this space. Also, you know what I do not love? Christmas theatre tickets costing an arm and a leg yet giving you space for neither, at the edge of row X …wow, that last phrase sounds like the title for a kinky if clinical B-movie.)
We are in Paris, having survived the tender mercies of Eurostar’s ‘special assistance’ (v kind, v helpful, v unpleasant experience of being a kind of disability Prince Phillip), a terrifying cab driver (who, I am sure, called us ‘whores’ all the way to 1st), our equally terrifying German landlord, and the deathspiral that is our building’s staircase.
You reach Eglise Saint-Eustache via Les Halles, which on Sundays is a kind of big abandoned Disneyland, all shiny concrete steps and cheerfully hairy hedges. There’s a huge central avenue which, on entrance, I managed to miss entirely; it’s full of listless teenagers and very elderly French couples, whom I adore because I can actually understand their accents. The church rises behind Les Halles – above and behind, in fact, sunkissed and complacent, beautiful and self-assured in its cloud of pale stone. The rather hit-and-miss English of the .50 euros guide-sheet describes the church as an ‘harmonious edifice’, which I think gets it about right. The southern side of the church (like all of Paris, like the building in which I currently live) is undergoing the inevitable dusty renovations, and so worshippers enter across planks (accessible planks, though, so A+), greeted by an elderly woman (really quite arrestingly toothless) hoping to attract extra communicants for the morning or evening services.
I love big Catholic churches; they manage to be simultaneously cavernous and warren-like. The stations of the Cross and the individual chapels make exploring much more of a journey than the simple, see-what-there-is layout of your average Anglican church. Predictably beautiful, Saint-Eustache foregrounds its vie culturelle and its vie solidaire as much as the usual routine of messes, and the practical opportunities the place offers suggest that the church’s commitment is genuine. As well as confession, you could see the sacristan or a priest for lay counselling, join any number of groups for various secular or spiritual purposes, and, well, there was the free organ recital, in which the organist managed to predict exactly the sounds of the Day of Judgment approximately once every ten minutes. An odd thing, to see people all sitting in a church listening not looking. I started wondering what would happen if it actually were the Day of Judgment, and if the CoE has a contingency plan for such an eventuality, but then I realised I was feeling dehydrated and decided to head home.
France is supposedly a secular state but a Sunday in Paris – the juxtaposition of ubiquitous metal shutters with their ubiquitous aerosol coating of ethnicity-based slurs – indicates that, well, it’s still a country of, er, religious racists. The one supermarket we managed to find (we ended up using a tramp as a landmark, oh dear) was, apart from us, patronised entirely by North African women and incredibly skinny gay men. It had the weirdest vegetable selection I’ve ever seen, but also JAMBISCUITS. I don’t know what these are called, because we’ve thrown away the box, because we’ve already eaten them all. After discovering that they were made with pectin, my vegan-to-the-point-of-obstreporousness companion developped an instant addiction. They come with pictures of kittens on. We’re going to buy more tomorrow. In a shock twist of fate, the French have yet to embrace the ‘free-from’ section of supermarkets. In deference to said militant veganism, no products containing DEATH have been purchased, although I did eat the world’s largest tuna-and-cheese crepe last night, in a move to establish my RIGHTS and personality. Vegan ran from room. Steak-eating friend arrives on Friday; I look forward to sharing some tasty, tasty murder.
Postviral, postcontract and pre-jobcentre, I am now also pre-Paris. Parents and self in hotel for the night before, in compassionate deference to the fact that two train journeys in one day would probably kill me (I get sick on trains; Interrailing, the darling of Sophies, Tamsins and Tristrams everywhere, would probably put me on a drip by Belgium). Tomorrow, I Eurostar.
Breaking it down, this means that tomorrow I have to get on a train, under the ground, under the sea. This is not news to anyone who either uses Eurostar regular or feels no qualms about doing so, but for me it has to combine the worst of all possible worlds. A plane may be a screaming metal death bullet, a tube in the sky with only death and oxygen between you and terra firma, but the Eurostar takes the train’s one virtue of sticking firmly to the earth, and, quite literally, buries it. I don’t like trains. I don’t like tunnels. I don’t like the sea, for ANYTHING except swimming or surfing or eating things that come out of it (nb fish and not trawlers or swimmers). I don’t see why on earth it’s a good idea to combine all three and create a means of transport that, if it doesn’t drown you by drips, will quite possibly set you on fire.
I am, of course, v lucky to be having a holiday, and will probably have to put off complaining about my unemployed penury for at least a fortnight post-return. Unless the tunnel does what I expect and EXPLODES, in which I case I will be poor and crispy and entitled to a bloody good whinge.
Thank god it’s Paris. I am, despite the visions of a claustrophobic, water-clogged death, very excited. My tiny French students (flirtatious and well-dressed, admirably fulfilling the national stereotype) recommended various cafes, shops, and bits of grass to sit on (oh, my lost youth), and I have strict instructions from friends regarding cheap bars, arty squats, bicycles, balconies ‘where beautiful people will make googly eyes at you’, shops in which to feel stylish, onion soup, and a possibly apocryphal ‘Lesbian Street’ (guess which two suggestions came from the same source?).
Next time I check this, I will be IN PARIS (god & chunnel willing), and I want suggestions. Stories. Recommendations and dark, dark threats. Where should I go in Paris? And, since I have a couple of semi-commissions from a fresh-faced editor who I think is now in Iran, or somewhere, what should I write about?
Much love, your still-dry and still-sentient author. This hotel serves free cakes.
The long horrifying slide towards my essay deadlines has got appreciably smaller. Last week the only thing getting me through was custard creams; this week, I’ve gone from being totally demoralised (two nights ago) to actually quite chipper. I’m not sure whether this is genuine progress, hormones or some sort of kick-save-brain protection that’s blanking the truth in order to keep me out the Isis. I have essays. I could hand them in if I had to. I am eating quite a lot of pitta&-based meals.
Although I feel roughly the size of a whale and my skin has exploded (coruscations last scene during Finals, also the era of my last largest-ever-mammal impression), this kind of hard work is actually good for me. Having to be so diligent during the day makes my brain more active at night, and the intensity of work means I can genuinely take the evenings off (without, as happened so often in undergrad – my god I am tempting fate here, tomorrow my hard drive’ll explode – having to work through the evening because I cocked about morning and afternoon). That said, I’m still not a morning person, and although I’ve got good stamina when something fascinates me (currently: typing up the MOST HEARTRENDING Sarah Kane quotations into an irrelevant Word document and/or playing with manuscript reproductions), starting earlier doesn’t actually increase my productivity – I’ve only got so many productive hours in the day (as far as work goes, anyway).
Meanwhile, Oxford’s experiencing the sweetest, softest Spring weather, and I am mouldering in libraries. But I do, at least, have things to blog about, namely PARIS.
Chloe – the worst person in the world, my beloved friend & the Richard II fail king to my excellent Carlisle – and I are spending September in Paris. We are looking for accommodation. We are sharing copious links. We are writing to each other in terrible, pidgin French. My grasp of French language is totally unhelped by my grasp of French literature, since the only phrases I learnt out of books were about furrowed brows, trampled mint and underage teenagers losing their virginities in, I seem to remember, haybales (or, in other words, Collette’s Le Blé en Herbe, available at all good vendors of underage teenagers and mint, hurrah A Level coursework). Mostly I can remember the grammar and unhelpful phrases like <<en ce qui concerne>> and << revers de la medaille>>, but NOT, sadly, the French for ‘sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof’, which I distinctly remember learning out of an old purple book just before GCSEs. There are a few issues to be addressed in our search for an apartment; we need certain things like a lift if above a negociable number of floors, etc and I am enjoying resurrecting LE SUBJONCTIF in order to explain to bemused proprietors (all of whom reply in peerless English) that BIEN QU’ELLE NE SOIT PAS UNE MALADE, etc. It should be noted that I feel compelled to print French in capitals to convey a subtle sense of ENGLISH GIRL BELLOWING and a sad lack of accent. This is because this is how I speak. I also worry I won’t understand a word of what is said to me, possibly leading to our deaths at the hands of white slavers (n.b., my view of Paris, where I have not been since reasonably young, is STRONGLY INFORMED by the later Radlett novels of one N. Mitford – ooh, Chloe, that’s another place we should go, we can go to the Rue Monsieur and I’ll read you all the dreadful bits where she’s dying). I am also attempting to look up exciting arty/gay/theatrical places for us to go and things to do. I’d really like to see some theatre while we’re there.
I like how this post makes me sound cultured and not as if I’m also GREATLY looking forward to the food…
Anyway, to people who know Paris: suggestions! Recommendations! We are two students who steadfastly avoid sport but like pretty much everything else. Unless, in my case, it happens somewhere high.
For inspiration, I’ve been checking out – and, um, gacking (shut up Jay it’s better than Googling) photos from my friend Shim on Flickr. I don’t have anything intelligent to say about them, except the somewhat macabre ‘oh, I’ve always liked graveyards‘ and hurrah for the Pompidou! I do love graveyards, though, they’re so interesting – especially foreign ones – and I adore the image I’ve chosen for the top of this post. You can see Shim’s full Paris 2009 set here.