Paris.

[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.]

Advent Calendar Day 12: Global!

Decorated trees, lit buildings, and Father Christmas in Beijing, China.
A woman wearing a niqab is photographed alongside a shop selling Christmas decorations in Cairo’s Shubra neighbourhood. Photograph: Odd Andersen, AFP.
An underwater Father Christmas in Malaysia, 2010.
The Bolshoi Theatre at Christmas, Moscow, Russia.
A Nigerian woman prays on the beach at Lagos, Christmas Day 2011. Photograph: Reuters.
The Apollo Theatre, 125th Street, Harlem, New York, illuminated for Christmas.
In Chandigarh, India, little schoolchildren dressed as Santa Claus sing Jingle Bells (and do the actions!). Photo: Reuters.

{not the} Thursday Retrospect

Previous Thursday retrospects can be found below! Some were even published on Thursdays.

  • Travel plans are afoot; Berlin in June/July, Kent in August and (I so hope) Positano (with Ravello and Sorrento, oh my god) in November. Recommendations for Berlin & Positano extremely welcome!
  • It was my birthday! I am now 24, which is older than practically every fictional character I’ve ever loved, except for Harriet Vane and several of the Forsytes. I am also the proud owner of MANY SHOES, a dress, MOLESKINES, lovely jewellery, my very own tiny turning-into-John-Simm watch-on-a-necklace, Henry Holland tights with the Eiffel Tower on (from Chloe) and Much Ado tickets (<3!!). Yes.
  • Continuing the #acquisitionspam, I am now reading Keith Osborn’s Something Written in the State of Denmark and will shortly begin The Invention of Murder.
  • How to get The Selby in your place.
  • I have taken my own advice from a year ago, and registered for Britgrad 2011.
  • On that note, if you need to write on .pdf forms electronically, PDFExpress is your friend. One of the most useful things on the internet.
  • I am tempted to get a Tumblr.
  • The final articles have been chosen for Issue 4 of Victorian Network, which will have the title Theatricality and Performance. As Submissions Editor, my part in the cycle is largely over… as Editorial Board member, I’m sure there will still be plenty to do.
  • Also, this cartoon.
  • My favourite Easter poem is after the jump. Continue reading “{not the} Thursday Retrospect”

In Memoriam: Postman’s Park and George Frederic Watts

(c) Ingrid Newton, 2011.

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.

Notre Dame, 2009. In a shock twist of fate this was taken by my amateur self, notice how the most interesting tablet's in the bottom-right corner and I have OMITTED it.

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.

oranges and lemons, say the bells of —

I’m in London Wednesday to Friday this week. Thursday’s fully booked during office hours but otherwise parental unit and I are free. I mean my mum – dad’s filming in Bristol, replete with masses of Sunday roast leftovers destined for some apocalyptic fry-up. He took them in a Pyrex bowl, it feels a bit like he’s the student.

Our natural stomping ground is always Soho, Covent Garden, Charing Cross way (food, shops, books) – we used to stay in Piccadilly but this time, for various reasons, it’ll be the City. This is our second visit – until the first, I don’t think I’d ever set foot in the place before. I’m wondering about the bits of London I don’t know so well, and which to explore this time.

I/we already know Southwark, Spitalfields/Aldgate/Aldgate East/Petticoat Lane/Middlesex Street/Liverpool Street way, Shepherd’s Bush, Notting Hill Gate, Camden, Haringey, Hampstead, Mayfair, Marylebone, Waterloo, Kensington, Camden and Maida Vale/Warwick Avenue/Little Venice way reasonably well. And no, that list wasn’t in any kind of geographical order, thank god, it was by emotional association – Shepherd’s Bush is my friends Lucy and Jenny, and the Oxford Tube. Haringey is at least five Oxford friends. Charing Cross is Rhian, Kensington’s a recent addition, the South Bank is school trips, Maida Vale’s my uncle and Hampstead is my mother. Camden is the summit of ALL my EARTHLY AMBITION when I was about sixteen.Waterloo is the Old Vic first night party where Jack and I almost disgraced ourselves (Jack really wanted to run up behind John Suchet and shout BONG, possibly my clearest memory of the evening).

I don’t know where else to go. I welcome suggestions! Help me, lazywebs, you’re my only hope (&c).

Les Halles, Saint-Eustache and kitten biscuits

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.

Paris, with an option on drowning.

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.