Monday, April 30, 2007

Quaddro Philio

**LOVE AMONG THE BUTTERCUPS**

Love Among the Buttercups







It was a grand day out, rain or not. But I have to say that the races at Argentan were not, for me personally, its high spot.

Earlier in the day, Jack, Hilary and I called in upon their friend Bill Green, a businessman and trainer from Manchester, England, who is currently setting up a new harness racing establishment at Thiéville, near St Pierre-sur-Dives, on some 90 acres of glorious Calvados countryside. The vast project has been ‘en chantier’ for a couple of years, and is as yet incomplete, but like all good horsemen Bill has seen first and foremost to the comfort of his horses who are housed in luxury in three magnificently restored and organised barns.



The big, old farmhouse – where the people live! – has yet to be put to rights, but in the meantime Bill has constructed what he calls ‘the apartment’ above the stables. Apartment? I’d call it a luxury penthouse!
We brunched there on fresh baguettes, French cheese and charcuterie, before going on to stroll around the stables where I was introduced to the inmates, most notably Jack and Bill’s four year-old Perfect Future (I am the Best – Java Dream by Blue Dream) a stunning young entire of haughty mien and, apparently, lively manners. Teddy Petitjean, the stablehand, has been put out of action twice by ‘Blue’s’ front-footing activities, and no one was game to count up the debris of the back heels job. The previous day, too, he had gone tempestuously through a concrete fence. And had come through with barely a scratch.
Work was finished for the day when we arrived chez Bill at near midday, but apparently there was one horse still to be jogged.
By me.
When I planned this trip to France, there was one thing I wanted to do more than anything else. Not the Louvre, not the Eiffel Tower or Notre Dame. No. I wanted to sit behind a French racehorse. Nothing fancy. Not this first time anyway. No racing. Not even fast work. I just wanted to get into a French sulky and take a whirl round some sort of a track behind a real French horse. And Jack and Bill had set it up for me.
I was introduced to Quaddro Philio, a three year old bay horse by Esotico Star. And, yes, thank goodness – unlike most male horses in a country where many races are reserved for entires – a gelding. I quickly realised that Quaddro and I would get on fine together. He is one of those wonderfully relaxed horses that seem almost to go to sleep while being geared up! And he gave me a nice, crooked smile of complicity as if to say ‘I’ll look after you, old feller’.
Bill fitted Quaddro out with what was to me an entirely unfamiliar shape of work cart – great stuff! it is (for someone with very short legs) not nearly so hard-to-reach-with-the-feet as the ones I’m used to – handed me a pair of very wide, short leather reins with hand grips, and we were on our way. Off to the track.
The training track is something that is still under construction, so for the moment Bill has set up a grass track of something like a kilometre in length around a huge paddock. It is quite a sight, for the bits of the paddock which aren’t ‘track’ are, at this time of the year, a solid mass of golden buttercups. Something like the poppyfields in The Wizard of Oz. And so, Quaddro and I set out at a lively jog, carving our sometime rather bumpy way through this almost unreal world of flowers. I don’t think I shall ever forget that quarter of an hour. It was as if there was nothing else in the world but me, Quaddro and millions of flowers. Only on the corners, even tighter than Argentan, was it advisible to come briefly back into the real world and do a tiny bit of weight shifting.
All too soon, our half dozen kilometres, and the subsequent walk around and home, were over. But I’d had my ‘fix’ of horse. Better, my first French ‘fix’. And it very, very certainly won’t be the last.
But best of all I have an imperishable memory.
Thank you Bill, and above all ‘thank you, my friend Quaddro. I hope you go on to win a heap of races’.

Kurt in Calvados

Kurt Gänzl, roving reporter, here. And this week I’ve roved to the rolling, hyper-green fields of the Mayenne district of France, somewhere, a good hour and a half’s comfortable train journey, out to the west of Paris.

I’ve come here as the guest of Jack Dowie and Hilary Claire, objectives: rest and recreation after the high life of Paris, good food, good wine, and a good dollop of horse.

Today, I had my first experience of French provincial racing, at the town of Argentan in the Calvados. Argentan itself (or the bits of it that I saw) might not be a tourist’s dream, but the racetrack itself is delightful. A gloriously green oval – like Enghien, set up to serve both harness racing and steeplechasing -- with charming countryside as a backdrop. Again like Enghien, the racecourse at Argentan is organised first and foremost for the horses and horsemen. By far the best buildings on the course are the series of hangars and boxes which receive the horses. The stand itself, seemingly built in several stages, reminded me a bit of Hutt Park 1990.
The sand track is quite big – 1325 metres round – but of unusual proportions: the straights are very long, and the corners extremely tight. But I guess French horses and drivers are used this combination, as very few horses galloped on the turns.
Once again, I’d accidentally turned up on big race day: the running of the 1-mile Criterium de Vitesse de la Basse-Normandie. A glance at the field’s form showed a lot of 0s and Ds (disqualified), but a look at the ‘money won’ showed that every horse in the race had 500,000 euros in the bank, and a couple had pocketed a million. It was one of these latter, a palomino named Lady d’Auvrecy, who shot from draw 7 to the front, and she nearly held on, being run down only in the last strides by 49-1 outside Laura d’Amour which, in spite of the pace at which the race was run, a 1.58 mile rate on a wet track, finished down the outside with gulp-making acceleration.




Argentan being ‘country’, not all the races were of the same level – although nearly all sported 18-horse fields, with considerable numbers having been denied a run! - and some were virtual maiden races. I say ‘virtual’, because they don’t have actual maiden races here. The system is one that I’ve been trying to get New Zealanders to listen to since forever. All fields are made up on the basis of ‘money won’. Between 10,000-20,000 euros, for example. So there are no ‘professional runners up’, managing to just get beaten to avoid promotion to a higher class. You win your prize-money, and its down against your name permanently. A rather effective pulling-preventer?
Anyway, some of today’s races were made up of umm ‘less-experienced’ horses and the starting methods – both mobile and stand - were put to test. One race had to be started three times, and in another one horse delayed the start by turning away, and then by tipping its driver out. And, after all that, it galloped and got disqualified. But at the end of the race the dreaded speakers doomed forth and driver Pointeau (no monsieur!) was summoned before the stewards. I fear for him. I am sure they had the black cap on.
The day included the usual monté –once again, truly exciting – and the final race of the day, which took place just as the skies which had been deposing intermittent rain on us and the track all day, opened up in full diapason, was an amateur drivers race. With both stake money and betting. Not to mention with fifteen starters of a fair (winners of over 65,000 euros) level. One or two of the drivers seemed to be suffering stretched-arm syndrome in the ‘fast’ section of the warm-up, but what was my surprise to see one ‘gentleman’ hooning his horse down the front straight, laying into it with a whip which went well over his shoulder. Like many amateur races, this one was colourful. Much action, some wild gallops, and finally a terrific finish in which the winner came from last to triumph in a three-horse finish where the drivers involved showed skills of a high degree.
(continued in next posting)

Saturday, April 28, 2007

A bientot Paris!




A BIENTÔT, PARIS

In the Mayenne countryside, Friday 27 April.

I’m here. Of which more anon.

However, I have since my last communication had the first and only so far hiccough in my plans and voyage.
In England, I bought a return ticket on the Eurostar for something like 150 pounds. I asked for an ‘open return’, and was given a ticket with a dummy return date on it. To be exchanged in Paris when my return date was decided upon. Straightforward. Should be.
Wasn’t.
The young lady at the Gare du Montparnasse bent double to help us (Chris had, fortunately, taken charge of the event), but without joy. Everything was wrong. The fare was a ‘special’ one, and thus couldn’t be used on this and that train. It would be 40 euros extra to travel on the day I wanted. I got out my debit card. But… to no avail.
I had, not unnaturally, got rid of the used ‘outward’ half of the ticket, and this apparently made my return half totally invalid (nothing of this kind was ever said, nor written on the ticket). This apparently because, ticket-sellers being considered by their employers as having no brains, everything has to be done by machine. And the machine needed to eat one of the umpteen reference numbers off half one (why is it not also on half two, please?). So, no exchange. There were of course no refunds either.
I offered to buy a single, Paris-London. The price was over 200 euros. Since return tickets at 60 euros are advertised all round the place, this was simply nonsense.
Finally, I discarded the useless ‘return’ ticket, and Christophe has undertaken to find me a ‘cheap return’ (of which I will again discard the ‘return’ half) to get me to London.
There will be an empty seat on the Eurostar of 27 July 2007.
Seems to me that the whole system of fares and ticket sales is thoroughly ridiculous, ought to be illegal, and that the European Parliament or someone else of the kind needs to regulate the railways of its member countries severely.

My train to Laval, on the other hand, couldn’t have been better.
Jack and I met up at the pre-arranged platform, at the pre-arranged time, to board the pre-arranged 14.05 to Laval. It arrived on time, left on time, was extremely comfortable and clean and quiet, had reserved seats … everything that one could wish for in a train. And when, after an hour and something of a very pleasant cruise through the green fields of the Mayenne, with its pretty grey villages and occasional cement quarry, we arrived at Laval, I decided – especially in view of what had just happened -- that now was perhaps a good time to purchase my ticket for the trip back to Paris. On 2 May. And, with a little trepidation, I approached a charming young clerk…
Well! What a difference! We had a little mishap owing to my unclear pronunciation of ‘deux Mai’, which she heard as ‘demain’, but otherwise… I got my ticket for exactly the time I wanted, reserved seat, and … forty percent off because I am over sixty! Goodness, I’d forgotten about that. The reductions that France does, I mean, not being over sixty.

I am writing this bulletin in the living room of La Grande Métairie. The Grande Métairie is not actually ‘at’ anywhere. The best one can say is that the nearest village isa roman remain called Jublains which is about 5 minutes away. Laval, the closest town of size is at 25 minutes.
La Grande Metairie is the home of Jack Dowie and his wife, Hilary Claire, he a Professor Emeritus of London University, she an author and teacher, and variously ‘from’ New Zealand (Jack), South Africa (Hilary) and England (both)., My connection with the Dowies is, of course, equine, as you will have understood from my Enghien bulletin.
Jack, I have ‘known’ for a good few years on the air, and in person for a few less, thanks to his TrotBritain and familial visits to Christchurch, to Sefton and to Gerolstein in recent years. Hilary is the latest addition to the long list of new friends whom I have met on my voyaging.

La Grande Métairie is exactly what its name says – an ancient share-cropper’s farm. It has, in more recent times, been divided up, with the original and not very large share-cropper’s house (‘Le Logis’) being left with a portion of the land, while the outbuildings, including two large barns, have been transformed into the living quarters on the land which now belongs to Jack and Hilary.
I’m an expert on barn conversions. I’ve seen them hundreds of times on programmes like ‘A Place in the Sun’. I always think that 9 times out of ten they are not a success. They don’t have the homely feel. Well, this one does. Probably because whoever originally did the transformation hasn’t attempted to do too much. The vast main barn has been divided (not physically) in half, and just one of the halves has been made into the ‘house’, the other half remaining as an enormous machine and tool barn. Enough to hold all of Christophe and Pierre’s books several times over, not to mention the workings of an entire trotting establishment.
And so, the ‘home’ part is indeed cosy and welcoming, not to say mildly spectacular with its view out over the gently flowing green fields of the Mayenne countryside. Although there are two other habitations, one sees neither from where I am sitting, but one does see the home paddock, swathed in buttercups, where Nicole des Baux (who didn’t make it as a racehorse) and Green des Baux (who did, who won, and is now retired) spend their days in almost perpetual, lazy motion (he leads, she follows) from one corner of their field to the other.

I won’t go into vast details on the Dowie home and horses, as you can see details and pictures of both one and the other displayed in all their glory on Jack’s blog at http://ecuriejack.blogspot.com

During the previous owners’ time here, they began to transform the second huge barn on the property into an ‘artistic retreat’. The idea was going to be that amateur painters would come and stay (and pay) for easel-and-canvas holidays. Thus the downstairs was turned into a huge open-plan living-dining-kitchen, and the upstairs into a number of bedrooms-with-bathroom. The most enormous of these is where I am installed. After my tiny room in the Hotel Plaisance, it is like moving from a dinghy to an ocean liner!
The whitewashed, black-beamed ceiling looms high above, the walls are stone and a good half metre and more thick, the deeply encased windows look out over grand fields for sheep … you can imagine that I am very much at home! It is a room that would be a writer’s dream live-and-work place. Something like this, somewhere in France, with the necessary boulanger and bistro at hand .. yes, I can see me doing that, can’t you?

Our first evening was an idyllic one. We dined al fresco on roast duck and trimmings .. and ventured into the Époisses when cheese time came, also into Pierre’s splendid bottle of Bourgignon (between the apértif and the Chablis).
Ah, yes, Jack and Hilary have certainly got life sussed.
I am taking notes busily.

Yesterday, I devoted much of the day to becoming a blogger.
Under Jack’s instruction, I set myself up a google blog, on which from now on I shall be able to post all these bulletins, instead of sending them laboriously to you all – one by one – via webmail.
I have now entered the twelve ‘so far’ bulletins from March and April – from Jersey to Mayenne – thereon, along with a selection of pictures and intend to elaborate it further in days or weeks to come. If, that is, the Mayenne Internet acess (which is decidedly friable) decides to settle down and let us all in.

To access the blog of ‘Kurt of Gerolstein’ – which will now replace the Bulletins -- you go to http://kurtofgerolstein.blogspot.com

Yesterday also, the oppressively hot weather we have been having broke, and for much of the afternoon and evening, curled comfortably before the TV with the Enghien steeplechases and the Vincennes trots (at which Maryon Hue won with his only starter, Querido des Baux. at 65-1 after a top notch drive) we were able to watch great gouttes of water pounding down outside the windows while the lightning sheeted in the distance in a way I haven’t seen since we were in St Paul, and the Mediterranean storms came regularly to crash against the Bayous.

Blogging, it eventuates, is better in smaller slices than Bulletins, so without more ado, I shall post this along with a couple of happy snaps taken here in Mayenne before the storm struck..

Until soon
Kurt

Rue Gergovie

Kurt in Paris (Part 5)

PARIS Part 5

Wednesday morning, and my last full day in Paris for the moment.

I was going to be so ‘sage’ yesterday. Starting with lunch. While Christophe dove into a two course meal, I lunched simply on a delicious bowl of fish soup with croutons and garlic mayonnaise such as Ian and I used to gourmandise on in our earliest days in the south of France. Accompanied by two large carafes of … water.
After which we adjourned to the flat for Chris to get his deadline-today articles written, and for me to make my way through a tiny proportion of the music and books that the place contains.
At 4pm the phone rang. Alain Marcel had arrived at the Chineur. So Chris picked up the three volumes of my Enycyclopaedia and down we all went. Since he hadn’t finished his articles (and had just had an extra one dumped on him), he then disappeared, leaving Alain and I to talk.
Alain, who is an elegant gent in his fifties, was Chris’s mentor as a director/translator in the theatre. As I said, I know his work above all by his superb French translation of Little Shop of Horrors. Alas, we didn’t have that book to show him, but he does turn up on half a dozen occasions in the Encyclopaedia, so we were able to gallivant through those before moving on to other bits and pieces of mostly not too recent theatrical chatter and gossip.
Our conversation must have seemed very droll to anyone listening in, for we swapped languages (Alain’s English is very good indeed) every second or third sentence!!!
The said conversation also went on non-stop for a couple of hours before Chris reappeared, and then, as Alain headed off to meet his other half, Pierre arrived home from his day at the Institute, bearing a book he had received for consideration entitled A Dictionary of Appearances of the Virgin Mary. There have, it seems, been enough of these to fill what was a distinctly fat volume. I’m afraid that I didn’t dip into it. Appearances of Emily Soldene are rather more my area.
The three of us decided on a light supper at the Pizzeria Nellie (right by my hotel), and so I dined on delicious spinach ravioli and rose wine. Which, added to the beers I’d had with Alain, and the red wine I’d had as aperitif, meant that my ‘sagacity’ at lunchtime with the bottles of water was pretty well wiped out. And so, more or less, was I!
Anyway, I slept (with a 2am aid from my mini-half-pill) extremely well, as I now seem to do. Soon, I am sure I will do it without the pill. Though I’m not sure about without the wine!

And so its Wednesday. Today I shall pack my bag and decide whether I shall take the whole caboodle to Mayenne. Probably don’t need to. (Note: But I have)
I also need to get Chris to do something about my train tickets back to England.
Before which I need to get to Le Chineur and see whether the wifi, which wasn’t working properly yesterday, is back in service so that I can catch up on my emails.
In the evening we were to dine with ce cher Jean-Baptiste, but he’s come down with the flu, so instead it will be a quiet evening in the home regions… which, with the train trip to the Mayenne coming up tomorrow, is probably altogether a better idea..

Goodness, life is speeding along … and I must admit that occasionally I do find it a little difficult to keep up!

Reprise at 6.15pm. Well, maybe it was the red plus rose wine, maybe just that, as I was already beginning to feel, I’m a bit out of breath after the events of the last weeks .. anyway, today I just wasn’t up to scratch. Lunch at the Chineur (with Internet) and including gaspacho and something called an Italian assiette full of parma ham, melon, mozzarella and .. pizza!, which was far too large for me, lasted three hours, after which having discovered that Monoprix doesn’t do Eurostar tickets, I left Chris to his eternally vast pile of work and quite simply came back to number five and spent 3 hours being feet-up inactive. I think I feel brighter for it. But I’m not sure!
Pierre gets to the café at 6.30pm, so I’ve showered, changed and finished packing and am off to join him for my – for the moment – last Parisian night.
Actually, not for a very long moment at all, for I’ve just booked in for another five nights here after my visit to Mayenne!
Tiger for .. well, not exactly punishment, but its just as well those five peaceful weeks afloat are not too far down the track!

A gentle couscous in an open restaurant where a sweet, cool breeze took the edge off the truly oppressive heat we are suffering…
Then bed

And now it is 9.15 am Thursday, and I’m all ready to go.
At 12 noon!
So I shall go and get a L’Equipe and read it in front of the open windows, with Paris rattling and shrieking around below me…

See you in Mayenne

As ever
Kurt

Friday, April 27, 2007

AN ATTENTE DES TRIPES, or Bliss on the way

Kurt in Paris (Part 4)



PARIS Part 4

ELECTIONS AND INTERVIEWS

8.15am Tuesday 24 April 2007

Election night, and the whole of France talking its collective head off. Loudly.
But I didn’t need the wax earplugs. Surprised? Me too.
Why? Because when the action was on, I wasn’t in bed, I wasn’t trying to sleep. At 1 a m I was out the on the streets of Paris being a part of it all. It’s taken me more than 24 hours to really recover.

The day started off with a trip to ‘les urnes’. Pierre and Christophe needed to vote. Like much of France, they couldn’t make up their minds among the rather unpromising list of candidates, and they both ended up taking the middle route – Pierre, who shares my politics, as a tactical vote, and Christophe for negative reasons .. he simply couldn’t vote for the others! But at least they voted .. along with an incredible 85% of Frenchmen and women. It was a record turnout. Never since the war had the figures been so high and it is easy to see why. For once, the first round of the ‘Presidentials’ was a real contest. Only two could pass to the final round, and there were three distinct possibles, not to forget the National Front man who made it through to the final last time.
The physical act of voting, I have to say, was pretty unimpressive. One had to queue twice. First to be identified and receive ones voting papers, secondly to vote. The queues were long (no-one expected the 85% evidently!) and slow, and I sunned myself outside the schoolroom where all this was going on for a good half an hour whilst Pierre and Christophe did their civic duty.

Duty done, we lunched gently – I on a most delicious baked goat’s cheese and salad – after which Pierre went home to do some housework before the evening’s election-rendez-vous, and Chris and I headed back to Parmentier for the last day of, and the jury’s decisions in, the Festival.
We had just one play to see, at 4pm, and the title should have warned me. Une femme assise qui regarde autour. Very Picasso. Very impressionist. Ah, well. I’d had it all. A vaudeville-farce to start with, a powerful drama second, a camp monologue third. And I’d done pretty well. I’d understood pretty well everything. Story and dialogue. I was getting quite cocky.
Pride comes before a fall. Une femme assise was, there is no other word for it, ‘difficult’. By Samuel Beckett out of Charles Pierce. Once again it was a monologue (with two mute assistants). A middleaged woman in a red ball gown, surrounded by what I imagine was the paraphernalia of her life, reciting great detailed lists of the items in her room, items which mostly seemed to bring her back to what was obviously THE moment of her life when, aged 19, she picked up the trumpeter with bushy eyebrows to whom she lost her virginity (I think) at the Alcazar. Since some of his possessions are in the list that she babbles at crisp and beautifully-articulated high speed, I imagine he moved in. ‘She’ of course, when she finally removes her clothes to bathe, at the end of part one, is a ‘he’. Big surprise, I mustn’t say.
The trimmings of the piece included the release of a dove (symbolic or just a circus trick?) who spent the next part of the evening perched ridiculously (intentional I am sure) on Madame’s head. Plus some filmed items which were then played onto the wo(man)’s naked body. I don’t know why. And plenty of so forth. The assistants, alas, played in old-fashioned white-face.
The second portion of the play was on film. A drag queen turning herself from a man into a woman. Rather old hat and much too long, not to say a real anticlimax after the first part, for the stage performance of the man/woman was actually quite a tour de force.
I came out of it all mildly confused but relieved that it had nevertheless been a much more professional affair than the awful thing we had last seen, and was then even more relieved to find that the French people around me were equally bemused by what had been going on.

Christophe then headed off for the deliberations of the Jury. I not being one of them, cosied up in a corner with my book and a beer and waited. I didn’t have to wait too long, for during a brief reappearance of Chris – in mid-deliberation – I was introduced to well not exactly ‘my partner’ for the evening, but the man who was to make up our ‘fourth’ for election night dinner. Jean-Baptiste Bour (yes, we even got as far as surnames over the next half dozen hours) works, like Pierre, at the Institut francais where he builds and organises technical things. He has his own business constructing Internet sites and suchlike (‘Come up and build me an Internet site’ I murmured internally), and in fact it was he who originally set up the recording studio where I did my interview the other day. However, this was Election night, so we didn’t get into things technical (nor, actually, thank goodness, too much things electoral!), and by the time Chris had done his thing and was ready to lead us back to Plaisance, the Frenchman and the demi-semi-Kiwi were getting on in a rare fashion.

I interrupt this personal piece of remembering to record that, to my delight, the drama that we had loved so much did win the Festival’s Grand Prix, that its very young leading man rightly carried off the Best Actor award, and that the piece also won the prize for Best Director. In other words it took away all three prizes (of four) for which it was eligible, there being no female in the cast to take out Best Actress. Given the personalities and politics which usually go on in the awarding of Festival prizes, the result was very sensible and satisfactory. Bravo, le premier Festigay de Paris.

We taxied across Paris to home base at the Chineur, before heading on to Rue Alesia for dinner and the start of the results broadcasts.
Now, I think I have already given a glimpse of the home of Christophe and Pierre. Let’s just say that it is a 4 room flat which contains enough books and other possessions to fill a 24 room flat. Plus Berenice the thankfully small dog and a black and very un-small cat. So steering one’s way around can be just a little perilous.
Anyway, the essential (for this particular evening) TV lives in the bedroom, so Pierre’s morning ‘housework’ had consisted of shuffling enough towers of books from one area to another of the bedroom to create just sufficient space for four middle-sized people and dinner to squeeze in. Thus, I can report that I spent French election night sprawled across a double bed in le 14eme, alongside three Frenchmen – one conservative, one middle-of-the-road and one socialist – sipping a delicious white wine and pigging on a magret de canard stuffed with foie gras. before – while Chris made a lightning visit to Les Bains Douches to do his thing at the festival prizegiving -- devouring almost an entire bottle of Armagnac (Jean-Baptiste 1er, Kurt 2eme, Pierre 3eme) along with some of my magical Epoisses cheese (Kurt 1er, Pierre 2eme, J-B zero).
The evening made one thing clear. I am quite converted it seems! To white wine, that is to say, certainly not to socialism! And, of course, I don’t need to be converted to Frenchmen … although after some of the dreary monsters whom we watched parade across the screen during the course of the night, I should perhaps qualify that statement. But politicians are, alas, politicians, in no matter what part of the world, and French ones are just as sententious and self-important and lying as their British, Japanese or Bulgarian equivalents.

I should add here that I did get a few laughs from them. Daniel Cohn-Bendit, the red firebrand of my youth, now it seems converted to ultra conservatism, and as desperately spotty and dreary as ever! And, the height of horror, the appalling, cheating, sometime Marseille football chief Bernard Tapie, now out of prison and sufficient of a national personality that even if he is surely banned from ever re-entering politics, the TV still treats as a known face and invites to be a pundit on the nation’s screens. Ugh. Well, if you didn’t laugh you’ld do the other thing.

The election, truthfully, was a bit of a bore. It was quickly evident that conservative and the socialist had it all over the middle-man and the National Front, and the only real interest was looking at the figures with the second round in view. It seems to me that the little fellow on the right is a shoo-in. He topped the poll with a solid advantage over the lefty lady, he will surely inherit the ten percent part of the poll of the Front National and, I would imagine, a good share of the middle-man’s 18 percent.. So? That would make it no contest. But who knows in politics? Who knows above all in France? Anyway, the alleyway between the book-piles and the bed is staying for the moment, and I am planning to be back in Paris for the Big Night on 6 May before heading on to England on 7th. My ‘partner’, the delightful sort-of-socialist, is already booked for the spot next me on the bed for the return date!

Am I having fun? You bet. Am I behaving myself? (chuckle) of course I am. So far. Give or take the odd cigarette. And a few nights looking on the wine when it is red. (Or, these days, white).

The evening ended, of course, in Le Chineur where, just short of 1am, I embraced my flagging companions with French flair before trotting the few metres down the road to the Hotel Plaisance and my unencumbered white bed.

Le Chineur



Much to the annoyance of my utterly po-faced Chinese host, I didn’t make it to 7.30am breakfast, and I got an injured sermon as I snuck out at 9.15am for my morning coffee and Internet session au Chineur. I actually got in a particularly long session, as Chris – who had firmly posited the 9.30 start – crawled in after ten! However, we were still in plenty of time for our first event of the day: a showcase of the musical The Lion King (which will be produced here, at the newly refurbished Mogador, in October) at no less a venue than the magnificent and large Theatre du Chatelet.

The Paris production of Le Roi Lion isn’t being done by Papa Disney, but has been subleased to a European firm which clearly believes in extravagance and in safety first. This ‘showcase’ was evidently designed to let the Parisian press (who, as everyone knows, doesn’t actually READ anything so simple as a Press package) know exactly what the show was, and it was very impressively done. A Parisian TV presenter talked and talked and talked, and introduced that nice man from Disney called Ron who I think I met with James Thane at some stage, whom she translated (or, rather, DIDN’T translate or even paraphrase .. she just said her thing) at too great a length for my tastes in versions of the various tales which are in any case in the Press Package. A short film of colourful extracts was shown, Julie Taymor was seen on film talking ... but happily, in between all the chunks of decidedly wearisome talk, and what were veritable filmed commercials, there was some music. The very fine South African lady who will play Rafiki yowled out several numbers in characteristic fashion, and some of the leads chosen for the French cast were introduced and/or sang. The young woman who will play Nala – by name Leah (Why do so many French artists lose their surname?) – was – give or take an unfetching frock -- quite splendid, the handsome, tall, very young and evidently inexperienced lad who is to be Simba will doubtless improve in rehearsal. He has a pretty if unformed voice which is an adequate (if it lasts) pendant to his looks and charm. But he also has a great deal to learn as a professional performer. The Mufasa was pleasing but, alas, we didn’t get to see the Scar – the token white man of the production, who has apparently trained 20 years in the Japanese method – do his thing.
The showcase – which started half a hour late, leaving le tout theatrical Paris to do its “Dahling haven’t seen you in ages’ stuff for a full thirty minutes, was followed by a vast champagne party in the glorious Covent-Gardenesque foyers of the Chatelet. We stayed briefly, Chris introduced me to several people whose names – given the noise, my hearing, my French and all the rest – I shall have to write down later, and then we sidled off, leaving the tout Paris théâtrale to its ‘Cherie!’s.

For we had a better date. A much better date. At the Bistro Beaubourg. Where they serve … tripe!
A long, cold beer (for the temperature was well up in the twenties) and a not-too-large-for-lunch bowl of steaming tripes a la Lyonnaise! How deliciously restful. How wonderfully real. How perfectly French can you get.
And then a familiar sound hit my ear. Our adjoining table was populated by .. four New Zealanders! Their German tour-guide had tipped them off about the Bistro Beaubourg: ‘no tourists’. So I think they were as shocked as I when I addressed them in New Zealandese. I couldn’t persuade them, alas, to try the tripe.

My ‘laziness’ too was about to get its comeuppance. Hup and away, and next stop the Bibliotheque Nationale de France. Oh boy! It’s like a French version of the old British Library, domed reading room and all, with hall after hall of towering statues and 19th century relics. Like the British, the BN itself has actually been relocated to a spectacular quadruple-tower new centre which is I am told a model of artistic and user-friendly efficiency. But the ‘Arts et spectacles’ division has been allowed to remain in the original glorious old buildings, and that of course was the department to which we were heading.

With the 50th anniversary of the death of Sacha Guitry coming up early next year, the BN theatre division is devoting itself to preparing a whole vast series of events and publications around that famous writer and actor. Chris is, of course, involved.
And thus I got to penetrate into the ‘centre of operations’, a room in the library where boxes and boxes of scripts and scores, scrapbooks and folders of papers and photos, posters and music, all appertaining to Guitry and including his own (his secretary’s?) huge and all-embracing collection, are stored. Noelle Guibert, the chief executive of the thing, pulled down several of the boxes for me to leaf through. Amazing stuff! The first 2-act version of Mariette, as played for a Benefit, with no less than Sarah Bernhardt as the aged actress! A letter from a functionary at the French Embassy in London, explaining his efforts to get some pressure from the British aristocracy (Lord Cromer, for heaven’s sake) put on the Lord Chancellor’s office which had forbidden the production of the utterly delicious L’amour masqué on the British stage. For reasons, of course, of morality! The piece was eventually played in England. In French. Thus only the upper classes could be perverted, and the masses were left to their moral purity. Then there was a wonderful telegram from a minor English or Irish aristocrat, trying to hire Guitry and Yvonne Printemps to come and play the last act of their naughty play in her ballroom as after dinner entertainment for her guests. Name your price. Delicious stuff!
Box after box, treasure after treasure …

The Bibliotheque nationale Guitry archive




Alongside us, two young men with a computer were engaged in playing through the entire Guitry film opus, looking for illustrative material and film clips to be used in the various events. What a job!

I think I shall have to come back to Paris for some of this. January?
Hmm. So far I have events to attend in Paris in January 2008, February, March and April…. And October.
Is the drift of events trying to tell me something?

PS Chris brought with him, valiantly, a volume of my ENCYCLOPAEDIA. Noelle was impressed. If Gale Group get their sales department off its collective backside, I shall it seems have a book on the shelves of the Bibliotheque Nationale francaise!

Five o’clock. Time to drop anchor at Le Chineur. It has to be a taxi trip (11 euros). I am really weary. Last night’s late hours and slight excesses, the Lion King, that divine tripe and two large beers (although the New Zealanders found and ordered larger!) at lunchtime, all the excitement of the BN ... its been a big, big day.

But it is not finished. Chris had alarmed the skin off my tripe over lunch by dropping the fact of another interview! In French of course. And tis time not ‘entre amis’ but for ‘le grand publique’. On no less than France Inter, the country’s main radio station. The first of a new series on musicals which, with tongue a little in cheek, was to deal with ‘Musical Comedy and Religion’. I had begun to rack my brains for examples of this unlikely combination when the trip to the BN intervened, and by 5 o’clock I had relaxed into thinking that the thing was a non-event. For today, anyway.

No such thing.

As I sat sipping my second beer at Le Chineur and thinking, perhaps, of a nice wee sleep, a pretty young woman with a large handbag appeared. And out of the handbag came a microphone and a recorder…
I wasn’t sure whether I was wishing that I had had four beers .. or none!
I wasn’t sure whether my French was in top gear, or cruising to a weary halt..
Anyway, under the newly respectful gaze of the staff of the bistro (who now know me pretty well, if not what I ‘do’), Mme Jocelyne Giani and I were given a corner in an unpopulated area of the restaurant (typical French background buzz!) and away we went.
Unfortunately, Jocelyne’s first question was about the current state of the musical theatre worldwide, so I had to pretend that I knew what was going on. I’d noticed, anyway, that there is a decided increase in activity in France, so I leaned on that. Then we got on to the religion thing. She mentioned Jesus Christ Superstar. Heck, I hadn’t thought of that! I managed to come up with the Nuns’ chorus from Casanova of which I rendered several lines in my rich basso profondo, – to Chris’s and the animatrice’s delght and to the amazement of passers-by and the folk in the bistro -- I remembered the awful Noah’s Ark musical we did in London where God’s Voice was heard – though not singing! – I remembered Valmouth with its singing camp Cardinal (but maddeningly I forgot to say that Robert Helpmann had played the part), and its babbling nun .. and happily that was sufficient.
Of course, when I got back to our table, to which Pierre Philippe had now been joined – other more obvious examples (eg La-haut, although its not God there but, as in Carousel, St Peter) came forth, but ‘tant pis’.
I wasn’t sure that I’d been very good or interesting, but my interviewer seemed perfectly satisfied, and to my delight told me that I had a very attractive accent. I think perhaps that I was a little Marlene Dietrich-ish. After the previous night with the Armagnac and cigarettes, I was (when speaking softly as one does for radio) down to my double bass register, complete with sexy (?) crackle!

Showbiz is showbiz. Before the interview, I’d been all ready to call it a night. Now the ‘showoff’ adrenalin was running, and I had a second wind.
The wonderful Pierre had come in from his country home in Bourgogne, and he had brought me a present. A whole Epoisse cheese from the very home of that unparalleled fromage! Alas, no-one else among les amis seems much to care for it .. in fact Pierre had telephoned Chris while we were at lunch to demand where the hell were we so that he could offload the ‘smelly monster’! .. but that means all the more for me. I shall let it ripen a wee bit more and take it down to La Mayenne to share with Jack and Hilary!
Pierre had also brought me a bottle of his local wine and .. a dedicated copy of his novel L’air et la chanson. I’ve almost finished reading Chris’s copy, but I shall definitely venture very soon a second time, perhaps on the ship as long as there is a French dictionary there. For Pierre’s flowing language is rather like his flowing personality – full of rich and recherché moments – and I need to investigate both with care.

Around 8.30 we had to call it a day. Chris had magazine articles to write which should have been delivered that day, Pierre had been up at 6.30am in preparation for a professional breakfast (the morning after an election! What was someone thinking of?) and was wilting, le grand Pierre had a rendezvous, and my second wind had dropped to a tiny breeze. So, with my wine and my cheese and my book under my arm (oh! Vive la France) I toddled back to the Hotel Plaisance and a 10 hour sleep.

Tuesday

Its 10.30am. Christophe is theoretically (and I hope in reality) hard at work on his many due, overdue and soon due articles, Pierre will have been hours at his desk at the Institut, le grand Pierre is at Gaumont doing something inscrutable with morceaux of the ancient film stock of which he alone knows the secrets, while I …
I have taken my coffee and croissant in the hotel (I WILL get a smile out of Monsieur le Chinois!), bathed, transferred yesterday’s photos to this machine, and done my six pages..

I have theoretically only another two days in Paris. But I am coming back. Next week. In the bit of my journey – the only bit – that wasn’t set in aspic before I set out from New Zealand. After my visit to Jack and Hilary and the horsey countryside of Mayenne, I plan a few days more at the Hotel Plaisance, at Le Chineur, and in the company of Christophe and all my other new French friends. And, of course, I have a date on the double bed for Elections Act Two: the Final.

Goodness, it is funny being back in ‘the world’. And when you have Christophe Mirambeau around, you are thoroughly ‘in the world’ like it or not. (I do). No backsliding. No gentle retirement. He is now talking of an hour interview on France Musique … an HOUR! .. next week, already….
Merde alors!
Who needs an agent?

I guess I had better harbour my forces, so an hour of feet up, I think, in preparation for this afternoon. Then off to the Chineur for my emails and a double expresso. Then .. who knows? .. except that at 3pm we return to the Chineur to meet up with Alain Marcel, another Parisian writer and director whose translation of Little Shop of Horrors I raved over in my Musical Theatre on Record. How grand it is to meet folk about whom you have written with enthusiasm. The other face of the coin I prefer cowardly not to face! Anyway, Chris tells me he is another ‘grand raconteur’ like le grand Philippe. Suits me! For, you might be surprised to learn, I love to listen…

As well as talk.

Which you know already.

Until soon
Kurt

Kurt in Paris (Part 3): The Horses





PARIS Part 3

A DAY AT THE RACES

A splendid day!

But it could have been a transport nightmare. Travelling round a large city is all very well when you know your way but, although I have started learning I have about ten years to go before I can be a connoisseur of the Paris train and metro system.
Originally I was to meet Jack at the Gare du Nord, but I pleaded instead for the nearby (to here) Gare Montparnasse. Just as well I did. Chris led me to the right place at Montparnasse (the one I had reconnoitred was in fact that wrong one … that would have been jolly!) and although we missed the arrival of Jack’s train from Laval, we soon met up.
From Montparnasse to the Gare du Nord is not a train trip, but a Metro trip, so we now changed stations from one of the three (!) train ones to one of the two alternatives amongst the underground ones. We decided to go by the slower, no-change line and duly started to walk. I would never have found my way. Hundreds and hundreds of metres of tunnels, a moving staircase, a moving pavement, more tunnels .. and finally we are at Montparnasse-Bienvenüe. Bienvenue indeed!
Ine number four to the Garde du Nord, and from there, a suburban train and just half a dozen stations to ‘Champ de courses’ plus a 60 second walk from the station to the racetrack…

We were a little early. Jack’s horse and Jack’s trainer had not yet arrived, so we had a wee wander around the very attractive course and buildings, and … well, here’s an article I wrote on my return which is probably too long for Mike to put in Harness Racing Weekly, but it can be my diary instead or as well




A NEW ZEALANDER IN PARIS
Meets another New Zealander in Paris

Kurt Gänzl here. Sometime of Sefton, these days on a ‘twenty years around the world’ voyage which this month has brought me to Paris.
Why Paris? Well, apart from ‘Paris in springtime’ and all that -- and it feels more like very high summer this week--, apart from the fact that I’ve got the odd book-writing colleague here and a date for some bookish interviews at the Institut Français, it’s to meet up with another far-from-home Kiwi and get a fix of the harness racing which already, less than two months into my open-ended tour, I am missing pretty horribly.

Jack Dowie is the president of TrotBritain, the most important harness racing body in England. He is also a New Zealander, with a brother, Fred, in Christchurch who races horses in familiar (to us) places. Jack, like other ‘Brit’s with any real ambition, races his horses in France.

Jack and I came together thanks to this magazine. When, umpteen years ago, in the days of Davey Crockett, I penned my first article for ‘the mag’, Jack got in touch. We had the same kind of enthusiam, the same attitudes to the game, and very soon we were sharing a horse. We got a couple of wins together, the horse went off to become the mount of 11 year-old Lara Deniz of Leithfield, but Jack and I kept in touch. Otherwise, he did better than I. I got my 28 (so far??) wins, but Jack Dowie bred the magnificent Orlando des Baux, a trotting (for, as you know, France has no pacers, just trotters) entire who has in recent years become both a group race winner and latterly a first season stallion in France.

My arrival in Paris coincided not only with the French Presidential election but, more happily, with the end of the breeding season, and with the return of the decidedly fecund 5 year-old Orlando – distanced from racing very largely for well over a year through injury, apart from his conjugal duties – to the race course. So Jack and I arranged to meet up for what would be my first visit to a French race track for something like 30 years.

Where to start? Getting to Enghien race course is theoretically simple. A quick train from the Gare du Nord. I had to get first to the Gare du Nord from the 14eme arrondissement: via a metro carriage over-populated by skull-drugged Turks loudly discussing the state of their cocaine stash and a violent skirmish between a fat policeman and a thief of some sort on a station platform. But it was worth the effort.
Enghien race course is truly delightful, especially on a sunshiny Saturday in April. Grand facilities for the public, green green grass, white fences, and the poshest horse boxes I have ever seen. I hadn’t known that we were going to see the Group One International Prix de l’Atlantique, and I don’t know whether the vast crowd that turned out was there for that or the sun or whether they are always there every week, but wow! What an atmosphere. Even the gogo girls in gold lame, crimped hair and too much make-up who intermittently jiggled their backsides to excruciatingly loud music during the afternoon on the MC’s podium (Deano… don’t!), even the lousy can o’ beer with baguette-n-ham at $15NZ a pop, couldn’t spoil it. Almost nothing could. My first day at the Paris races was a joy and an eye opener.

My eyes opened up first at the luxurious horse boxes. I felt quite ashamed of New Zealand’s breeze-block affairs in the face of these Ritz Hotel quarters. But there was much more to come When trainer Maryon Hue arrived with Orlando, I got my first glimpse of the cart that the horse was to pull. Cart? You can’t call a thing like that a cart. It looked as if it had been made by Ferrari! Quick hitch, of course, so lacking the long-lined elegance of a ‘real’ cart, but with the sweeping style of a formula one, equipped with body-bars which operate as something like a boring pole but on the body of the horse, and above all ... so wide! These sulkies must be half as wide again as ours. My first though was… merde! What happens to the poor blighter who gets caught three or four wide? He’d be right off the track!



He wouldn’t at Enghien though. Because the track is of thoroughly adult proportions. None of your nasty little half mile dust saucers, this one. A lovely, real race track for real racehorses. And, much to my joy, as a result, a good proportion of the afternoon’s winners came from what in New Zealand would be considered bad draws.

If the carts are bigger, however, what to say of the horses? I mean, I’ve owned some big horses in my life. Davey Crockett was no midget, Lite Gasp must have knocked 17 hands, and my (unraced of course) 2 year-old, Elena de Gerolstein, promises to be a giantess .. but here ? They are all that size, or so it seems. During the afternoon, I slyly checked out French semen for New Zealand, but I’m told that Prebbleton and the mag have got there before me.

The big surprises, however, hadn’t even begun. How about this? Horses warm up for their race .. one and a half hours before the event. Yes. You bring your horse to the course, you gear it up, you take it out on to the track and give it a couple or three medium pace rounds, plus a half lap or so of almost flat out, and then you depart, leaving the race course to the contestants in the next race. You ungear your horse, wash it down, take it back to its box.. and then an hour later you gear it up again, wander forth down the rather too narrow alleys to the sort-of-birdcage, make the same sort of desultory appearance there as we do, and then head for the track. Six minutes – and not a second less before start time, and not until all the warmers-up for three races later have finished doing their thing. Imagine what NZ stable-hands would say to such a ‘double gear-up’!

But it gets much, much better. There are, as chez nous, both mobile starts and sort-of-standing starts.
Personally, I think that mobile starts in NZ stink. The ‘false starts’ provoked accidentally or on purpose have become so numerous as to be rather a bad joke. Don’t try that on here! There is a digital clock ticking, just like in a basketball match. Big red figures, so no excuse for anyone. And it doesn’t stop. If you aren’t there, up behind the arm .. and RIGHT behind the arm, messieurs .. when the clock says zero, then woe betide. And if you mess up the start, with a gallop or an insufficiency of any kind, you can expect a whopping fine or even a suspension. What a civilised country!

Standing starts are not standing. They are ‘walk in’, and the ‘tape’ is often an electronic beam. Break it at your peril. Once again, there is a strict countdown before the horses trot on to the track, turn at the starter’s instruction, and get loosed. I don’t know if French horses are simply better educated than ours, but it worked perfectly in every race today. There were no false starts, and only a few breakers at the beginning of the races.

I must admit, however, that there were a heck of a lot of gallopers during the races, including on several occasions (the big race being one of them) the leader, which simply flew out of its gear at very high speed. Is this just because, here, all the horses are trotters? (They actually call pacing ‘Ambling’ and it counts as a sin!).
Anyway, here again the rules differ from ours. Break or trot unevenly for over fifteen strides at any time in the race, and a loudspeaker booms. Desqualifié numero whatever. And you are out. You have to pull up, or go to the outside. You are, in plain English, disqualified. None of the good old Kiwi ‘how to have a horse gallop for half a furlong on the rails and only lose a nose’ business. You can’t cheat this system. Above all, because the stewards operate from a vehicle which runs right alongside the horses throughout the race. You try anything unorthodox, like a psuh-out, and ‘wallop’.

The differences between Us and Them don’t end there by a long way. The last race of the day was a ‘monté’. No cart. The ‘jockeys’(all drivers are ‘jockeys’) sit on the horse’s back. And the races are curious, to say the least, by our standards. Sudden moves. Swoops from the back to the front. A horse that races away 5-10 lengths clear. And sitting parked seems – as in all races -- less a disaster than a recipe for a win. Excitement! I loved my first live sight of ‘monté’. Orlando won his Group Race in ‘monté’ so when he is fully fit I hope to see him at it. It is spectacular.

Ah. I should report that, with his mind rather visibly on other, feminine things, and a little hanging which hinted at perhaps an incomplete recovery or preparation, Orlando ran a stout race, finished 6th of 11 and collected .. over $2000NZ for the effort. Well, it was a ‘Course Europeen’, the next best thing to a Group Race. So New Zealand was meritoriously represented. Mostly of course by Jack, but just a little by your servant who got to tag on behind, on to the green steeplechase course which circles the trotting track, up to the very trackside, where trainers and owners are allowed to gather during the warm up to watch and finally lead back their horses… I felt very much part of this scene.



And guess what! In spite of the cost of living here it seems I can race a horse here (if I’m smart) for no more than it costs to race one in New Zealand!

I’m bitten. Just as I got first bitten at the Nelson HRC meeting all those years ago. I’m off to do more racing in other parts of France in the next couple of weeks, before I move on to the next leg of my voyage. I suspect I shall be back quite soon. You should come and try it. Apart from being great fun, it can I believe teach us a very great deal.

*******

After the last race, the monté, we wended our way gently back to the 5.30 train to the Gare du Nord, and there I left Jack to catch his train to London. He has a conference and a dentist’s appointment, and he returns on Thursday when we shall meet up at the now less unfriendly Gare Montparnasse to head off to his home in the Mayenne.

Now I was faced with a choice. Did I take a taxi back to Rue Gergovie, or did I brave the metro, solo for the first time, and save the taxi money for a couple of very big beers at the Chineur. Money and Alcohol overcame Fear and Loathing and I plunged into the gulf of the metro. One euro 9 centimes instead of probably 30 euros. You would have too. The signs to the platform were pretty obvious, a train arrived in one minute, and I managed to squeeze myself into a tiny strapontin seat. There were some elegant young ladies standing but, sorry, the time has come where I don’t do the chivalric thing anymore. Gare du Nord – Montparnasse, happily, is only about a 15 minute journey, but having reached Montparnasse I had to negotiate that kilometre of underground walkways with their frequent ‘left or right’ decisions. After what seemed forever, I made it to the front of the mainline station. From there, I knew my way, and ten minutes later I flopped myself over the bar at Le Chineur, hot, sticky, sunshined-out and extraordinarily weary…
Two pints. Well, they aren’t even pints. And then back to base for a very necessary shower and a review of my clothes. I have travelled now for what? Six, seven weeks? And I have kept my wardrobe in good, usable condition. So what happens the moment I get back near a horse? Filth everywhere. Tomorrow I shall have to go to the cleaners.
I decided to put my feet up and write the above article, after which I would sneak across the road for a quiet cous cous. Surely I would be hungry by 9pm. After all, apart from my little hotel breakfast and the aforesaid bit of baguette and squinny ham, I’d eaten nothing all day. But come 9pm, I postponed till 9.30, and then -- dressed, ready, my hand on the doorknob -- I said to myself ‘do I really WANT this meal?’. Answer? Bed seems better. So bed it was.

And now it is Sunday. Election day. I wonder what that will bring. There was enough shouting and dancing in the Avenue Raymond Losserand (off which Gergovie runs) last night just because the pretty awful Paris football team won. And scored four goals for what must be the first time in a year. What will it all be like on election night? I am glad I have my wax earplugs, I have a feeling I may need them.

Ah well, off to Le Chineur for a strong coffee, the morning Internet and rendezvous (10am), and the day’s planning. I do rather feel like an easy one. I suppose a sampler of the last day of the Festival would be a non-active activity? We shall see…

Until soon
Kurt

Kurt in Paris (Part 2)







PARIS Part 2

Friday 20 April 2007 6.15pm Hotel Plaisance

I have just half an hour. I’d love to close my eyes a little, but I daren’t as in ¾ hour I am on my way again. More theatre. And I have so much to remember in writing that if I don’t get it down today – and I know I can’t tomorrow – I shall get so far behind that I shall forget things I don’t want to forget…

So much has happened in the last day or so that I am really just going to have to skate over some bits or I shall never make it..

So.. brief continuation of Thursday.
First event, some time spent at Christophe’s apartment going through (whilst he took the usual urgent bite out of his writing and directing obligations) the heaps and heaps of musical theatre material of all kinds he has there. Goodness, a great deal has happened since the last edition of my ENCYCLOPAEDIA came out. Books, for example. All these new books, especially the biographies, of which I knew nothing. And, of course, in any collection of old music and texts I am bound to find evidence of some musical show of one kind or another that was produced in Baden Baden or Montpelier and evidence of which I have previously failed to dig up. And thus it was. Interesting, frustrating, and convincing me more and more (which I didn’t really need, as I’d concluded thus already) that if and when the Enyclopaedia goes into a third edition I must have the help of these young Europeans (Kevin & Chris) in getting it done. Edition four, they can take over all by themselves.

Event two, another trip to the other side of Paris for our third play in the Gay Festival. It can’t, we thought, be as good as number two. If it’s even as good as number one, that’ll be something.
Well, it wasn’t. It was everything that’s bad about gay – about any kind of minority theatre – self-indulgent, badly written, uninteresting, the lot. We should have guessed from the pathetic, ‘provocative’ title:.Penis Desideratis. Pah! There was only one good thing about it. It lasted less than an hour. So we soon turned tail and headed back across Paris for drinks at the Chineur with the two Pierres, befre continuing on to a delicious cous-cous restaurant just a few doors from my hotel.
I had to work hard on the conversation, for, after starting off being, of course, theatrical it turned – as things this week in France are inclined to – political and historical. Chris’s Pierre is an historian by profession, and he had chapter and verse and figures on things, Pierre Philippe has his 75 years of life at the centre of Parisian life and a blithe and wonderful ’knowledge’ of everything. So the table resounded to a conversation which mixed big words with the background music (a little too loud) .. and I, as I say, had to work hard. Having already worked hard at the theatre (where Chris had very sensibly nodded off with boredom).
A convivial evening – with Pierre P around spreading his vast personality and person around with rolling richness, impossible to be anything but! – and a really delicious cous-cous, and only a few steps to go to my bed for which I was rather grateful.

Re: Pierre P. Having been fairly knocked over by Pierre P at our first meeting, I was kind of curious to see what my calmer ‘second thoughts’ would be. Well, they mostly confirmed the first. He is quite simply a delightful, vastly larger than life figure. Even if I discover at closer quarters that the shoulders are partly due to the exceedingly well cut raincoat. But I don’t understand how I saw anything of Ian in him. Even in whatever is the opposite in miniature.

Friday morning. Up for 7.30 breakfast. A quick chapter or two of Pierre P’s novel. Then, 8.30 off to Le Chineur for morning coffee and a rather longer list of emails than usual before Chris arrived for his breakfast. After which, we headed for the tube. Perhaps I hadn’t listened properly the previous night, but I had the vague thought that we were going to the Instittut Français to visit Pierre in his office and to allow me a quick glance around the august halls of the building in which it is siutated and which was donated to the nation back in the umpteenth century by Cardinal Mazarin.

Well, we were. But I had to earn my tour. Chris had sort of mentioned something, days before, about recording some interviews with me about all sorts of musical theatre topics relative to France and to me (notably my new Emily Soldene biography) .. but I hadn’t quite realised that they were (a) today and (b) at the Institut Français! Also, I had at the time of the suggestion boldly offered to be interviewed in French. Well, perhaps it was just as well that I didn’t realise. I didn’t have time to get nervous.
For when Chris and Berenice and I turned up at the Institut, and passed in through its gloriously imposing courtyards and halls (where dogs are not permited!), we headed not for Pierre’s office but for a full-sized and well equipped recording studio. Dedicated engineer and all.
I don’t think I made a fool of myself. In fact, I think I actually started very well. Poised and clear and making very few errors of language. But, as my confidence rose a little, and we started to beetle along a bit, I had a few hiccoughs. Mostly the sudden disability to remember a word. (Well, I get that in English sometimes these days!). Like, what is the French word for ‘sexy’? I took me a pause of one-two-three-four to remember that it is … ‘sexy’! I guess we did about 40 minutes in all, and I didn’t fall apart. Also, I think what I said was really quite sensible. I think.
But then what did we do? We did the whole thing all over again … in English! It was really hard remembering what I’d said in what interview so that I didn’t threepeat my self, but once again I think all went amazingly well.
It was knocking midday when we finished, and everyone seemed happy … although Chris had the odd qualm about his English! ..
Anyway, apparently the colleagues of the Institut (which initiated this studio, but which now has subleased its production to someone else) have a website on which such interviews are posted so it seems that, before long, the world will be able at the click of a mouse to hear the two of us having our chat on the world wide web. I shall make sure you all have the reference. I mean, the world will probably never again have the opportunity to hear your friend Kurt being interviewed in French!!

From the studio we hastened on to Pierre’s office, where we picked our way through the piles of books tottering in ever corner of the floor. Pierre’s office is the nerve centre for the series of literary prizes given by the French Academy of Beaux Arts, and every book of any pretension finds its way there in search of glory. There seem so MANY! And Pierre, as secretary to the Institut, is charged with making a pre-selection amongst them, deciding which ones go before the Academicians and/or Members of the Institut for the final round. No wonder he comes home absolutely bushed each night!

Since little dogs are not in theory allowed inside the buildings, Berenice and Chris stayed in the office whilst Pierre gave me a quick tour of the imposing rooms of the Institut. I haven’t quite worked out what al the parts are, but there are five of them, including the Institut de Beaux Arts which is part of Pierre’s. I think it is also Sciences morales, but I’m sure there is a website which gives all the facts and details. Anyway, the building houses amongst many other splendid places, two very beautiful meeting rooms, and the Institut’s own library, plus the library of Mazarin of which the foundation books were the Cardinal’s own collection. All of which I visited. The rooms are joined by long corridors flanked by endless, endless rows of white marble busts. It appears that every member of every academy during the C19th had his bust done. And here they all are. I spotted a few familiar names amongst them, the odd not very famous musician, the odd familiar politician or author, but most of them left me none the wiser. Sic transit etcetera.

From the impressive halls of the Institut we retired to a tiny French restaurant named Le Balto for lunch. I determined to be modest, as I really have been eating too much (for me), and so I satisfied myself with a large plate of lentils and southern French sausage. Oh dear, I cannot resist those sausages and they are without doubt on my ‘definitely no’ list for the blood pressure, the cholesterol, the liver .. not to mention the waistline!

After lunch, Pierre returned to his office and Chris and I set out for a small tour of the heart of Paris. Opposite the great dome of the Institut is the Pont des Arts, spanning the Seine in the most picture postcard style. One way, you look up to the Ile de France and Notre Dame, the other way to the river and a host of other beautiful ancient buildings. We duly crossed the bridge amongst surprisingly few tourists, to arrive at the great original courtyard of the Louvre. Who needs to go inside the Louvre? Just looking at the outside is enough, But where were all the tourists?
We crossed into the second courtyard, with its famous glass pyramid, and THERE were all the tourists!
The pyramid? It is undoubtedly a success. The blend of ancient and modern, linked by fountains, works most undeniably.
But ‘modernisation’ has brought other benefits too. The arcades on the ‘new’ bit of the museum (formerly the offices of a government ministry which has been booted out to Bercy to give the museum more space – imagine THAT in any other country?) house a busy, bustling, lively (and expensive) café, and under one once gloomy arcade, windows have been pierced in the walls so that you can (if you can get past the crowds of Japanese) look through and see the galleries of antique statuary inside the museum. It is stunning, and totally, totally successful.

From the Louvre, on to the Comedie Francaise and to the Theatre du Palais Royal (all grand, although the Palais Royal – a really lovely building -- is cheapened by a nasty neon light sign) at the beginning of what turned out to be a tour of C19th Parisian theatres. Well, Chris and I together, what else? The old Italian Opera House (now a bank, but preserved very well), the famous Bouffe-Parisiens of Offenbach, Yvonne Printemps’ Theatre de la Michodiere, the Daunou of Jane Renouardt ... and best of all the delicious little Théâtre Edouard VII, set in a tiny pedestrian square with a vast equestrian statue of Edward VII of England in its centre: the most beautiful little theatre I think I have ever seen. Anyone want to give me a large birthday present?! That’ll do nicely!
Just around the corner from the Edouard VII is the Athénée, where Lecocq’s first opérettes were produced, nearly a century and a half ago. Again, a wonderful, welcoming piece of architecture. Paris has so many of these beautiful theatres. Unlike London or New York or anywhere else I know, which I don’t think have one that could equal the best of these. However, like London and other cities, these beautiful buildings are rather lacking in worthwhile material with which they may be filled. Very small cast plays of little interest seem rife. But in France, unlike elsewhere, many of the theatres have a state subvention, so they keep open through hell and high water and a succession of bad plays, even if not so many people go to them.
We ended our tour with a visit to the new Olympia (moved stone by stone 100 metres along the road to allow a big building speculation) and finally to what was once the tiny Théâtre des Capucines where so many of the little opérettes of the 1910s and 1920s that I love were first produced. Its now a perfume museum, sponsored by Lancôme, but they have retained the original front-of-house and auditorium and have melded the exhibition into it. I shall have to buy Lancôme.

By this time my feet were tiring, although Berenice, who has to take six steps to our one, was still twittering along, allowing herself to be admired and patted by every second passer-by. But the coming evening was to be another theatre trip, so around 4pm it seemed advisable to say farewell to the rue du Rivoli and the Jardins des Tuilleries, pop down the Concorde underground station and head back to base.

I had intended to write this diary before a quick aperitif and a taxi back to Parmentier for the latest part of the Festival, but instead I had a snooze, and awoke with a start 30 minutes before rendez-vous time, 7 pm. I hurriedly showered and dressed and hastened to Le Chineur where Pierre was waiting, but no Chris. I shouted myself a whisky (one and only time – whisky 6 pounds ($18) at Hoar Cross Hall? Here 15 euros ($30!) -) and at 7.10 Pierre phoned the house. Chris had fallen asleep too.

Well, we didn’t make it to theatre. Paris taxis are pretty irritating, and although we tried for 20 minutes we simply couldn’t get one to stop and pick us up. So we threw it in. The boys went off to a Japanese restaurant to dine, and I quite simply came home, curled up with my book, and by 9pm was fast asleep.

Its now 8.45am Saturday. I arose at seven, breakfasted and have been sitting here typing for the last hour. Now I shall pop on my red shirt (identification), and head for Le Chineur for a large coffee (sigh $9) but no Internet (I don’t want to carry the computer around all day). I meet Chris there at 9.30, and he will take me up to the vast and confusing Gare de Montparnasse where I am to meet Jack Dowie at 10.30 to head for Enghien, somewhere beyond the Parisian suburbs, for a day at the French races. My first Parisian race meeting, and my first French one since the couple of times that Ian and I walked to Cagnes-sur-mer, Good Lord is it 25 years ago. I still remember our strugging home up the unlit roads to St Paul de Vence at the ending of the ‘twilight’ meeting…
Anyway Jack has a horse running, which he tells me is a big outsider with little chance (so much the better), so it will not just be any old day at the races..

So today no theatre. Just horses…
I think I will realise how much I miss them when I see this!

Of all of which more anon.

Kurt

Kurt in Paris (Part 1)




PARIS Part 1

If I don’t sit down and do this regularly, I am never going to remember what I’ve done and whom I have met and what I have seen, and all the other things that ought to go into a diary.
So, since today Thursday is a bit grey I think I shall take some time out ‘at home’ and write a little. Its almost an excuse for not going out wandering, but I have done a heap of wandering these last weeks and I don’t feel the desire or the need quite so much right now.

So, back to Tuesday.
After a couple of hours wandering round le 14eme, investigating the whereabouts of those utter necessities of French life – the andouilette (found), les tripes lyonnases (not found), l’epoisses cheese (bought) and les espadrilles (not yet) – I made rendez-vous with Christophe at lunchtime. He is absolutely overwhelmed with work – writing books, articles, reviews, not to forget preparing for the four musical productions he is directing on stages around France before the end of the year – but he cannot help himself, he seems never to turn down any sort of a job, while still leading a very merry social life. Which means that in the few years since he bewailed to me his inability to get his career off the ground, he has established himself nicely in a large number of the areas of the Parisian and French theatre and journalistic world. Actors and theatre directors now bob gently at the knees when they see him coming. Well, some of them. But soon it will be all. As I sussed long ago, he is a young man on the move. And I am very pleased, when we meet people here, to acknowledge him as ‘mon heritier français’.

Anyway, lunchtime rendezvous at the bistro Le Chineur. Christophe is a fixture there (breakfast, lunch and all and any rendezvous) and I am already becoming one. Not the least because it has WiFi and I can thus keep more or less in contact with anyone who is an xtra client, and occasionally with the rest of the world as well. With your coffee (Chris) or beer (me) you get a little card with a number. You light up your computer, praying that you haven’t forgotten to recharge the battery during the night, tap in a code number from the card, and voila! Internet for free. Well, not quite free with beer at 3.90 (NZ$7.50) a small glass. I can see why one who lives his life in bistros (a very natural habit in France which, should I drop anchor in this country for a while, would doubtless be mine) can easily spend his budget week by week without any extravagance! And I don’t even think of those who lunch AND dine …

Anyway Tuesday we lunched: Chris and I and Berenice who, I discover, is not a caniche (poodle) but a bichon (which I think we would also classify under poodle but is, it seems, different). Berenice has an enormous talent for a yearling. She captivates even the most unlikely allcomers. I would say that three of every four patrons of Le Chineur who passed by our table stopped to pat her nose or scratch her neck, or seated themselves next to us merely for the pleasure of watching her beg on her hind legs for attention. Which she inevitably gets. Mehdi, the barman at Le Chineur makes the most enormous fuss of her, and when I decided to snap her and Chris in their ‘natural habitat’, her self-appointed ‘godfather’ snuck behind the window and joined in the photo.



Lunch lasted, as French lunches do, after which Chris had a meeting at the headquarters of the magazine Têtu for which he is chief entertainment correspondent. Têtu is a vast, glossy, classy, rather serious magazine which has the style of Vogue about it. It is in fact the most successful and best selling magazine of its kind in Europe. Its kind? It is gay publication. Well, all I can say is, there must be a large gay French-reading publication around with money to spend (the thing is definitely not cheap) .. and I mean ‘reading’, for Têtu is definitely branched towards articles – political (especially on the eve of the election here), social, interviews intended to be slightly genteelly ‘with it’ – rather than the usual gay magazine’s ummm illustrations. That isn’t to say that it doesn’t have plenty of alluring photos for those who fancy the under-30 male (and female), but it staunchly favours politics and arts over nudity (of which there is none at all). Given its title (which means ‘stubborn’) I imagine it was once a crusading gay rights paper which has now become seriously gentrified. Now, for however many euros it costs, the middle class gay can pretend he is still crusading while in fact living that comfortable, acceptable kind of life that the activists of today find less than acceptable. Tant pis for me. Because. of course, that’s where I fit in. And I have already come to gently verbal blows with one ‘activist’ who thinks all gay men should dress up as Zarah Leander and flap their wrists. Yawn.
Anyway, as part of his climb to the top (next step, same job with a major paper which isn’t gay-based), Chris writes extremely clever and witty monthly reviews and articles for this bon chic-bon genre paper, and wins therefrom a little money and rather a lot of respect.

Needless to say, while he was have his tetu-a-tetu summit meeting (I made a French pun, please notice!), I was otherwise employed, and I took the chance to have a good wander around the nearby Cemetery of Montparnasse. Fascinating. Beautiful, as few cemeteries are (its up there for me with Waverley, Sydney). There is a list at the gate, pointing to where what they think are the famous people are buried. I, of course, had views abut the list, but most of the visitors were there for just a handful of people: Sartre and Simone de Beavoir, Samuel Becket, Man Ray and the like. I strode purposefully past those trendy tombs in search of Chabrier (composer: see ENCYCLOPAEDIA OF THE MUSICAL THEATRE by Gänzl) whom I duly found and photographed and, alas, without success, Adolphe Crémieux, who is part of a nice story I have prepared for VICTORIAN VOCALISTS. Should it ever happen. Alas, the Jewish part of the cemetery (well, it was once, but the people of Israel seem to have spread too all parts in recent years) was crowded and ill-indexed and unless he is part of the ‘Famille Cremieu-Loa’, I failed. In the end, the only other photo I took was of what is undoubtedly the most vulgar grave in the place, one which by its lack of taste stands out shockingly alongside one of the main alleys of the cemetery. It is the grave of Sylvia Lopez, the glamorous – and apparently adorable -- early wife of the extremely vulgar (and not adorable) composer of LA BELLE DE CADIX (see also my book) and so many other operettes, who died of cancer aged 26.
Amongst the other graves was another which was clearly meant, in a rather less vulgar way, also to catch attention. It is a grave for two men. One has dates 1958-2004 (I think), the other has dates 1956-2039. And on the side, in French and English, ‘Not Dead Yet’. I wonder who they are/were, and what is the story behind the curious inscription. Does the survivor of the couple plan to top himself in 2039, should he last so long? Maybe Christophe can find an article in this! Anyway, in such a truly dignified cemetery as Montparnasse, where so many great and grand (not to forget rich) folk of the last centuries lie in their magnificent tombs, a touch of humour was the last thing I expected. Well, give or take the Lopez thing.

For dinner, it was decided we would have a meal chez Christophe and Pierre. Yes, it is Pierre. And I really knew that. For ‘Mon Jules’ is a time-honoured French slang expression which means simply ‘my bloke’. Pierre, if I haven’t mentioned it before, has a most impressive job. He is the secretary (ie chief executive) to the French Institute of Arts and Sciences, which as far as I can work out is one of the five divisions of the Institut francais. Wow! Unfortunately this means that he works all hours that God gives, so I probably shan’t see a great deal of him during my stay, which is a shame.

Anyway, Chris, from another brief period at his writing-machine, I, from a quick wash and brush up plus a brief sieste, and Pierre, direct from his office, all met up at Le Chineur to celebrate together the beginning of the evening, before walking the dozen doors down to 182 rue Alesia. I thought it was to be just we three, but no, odd numbers are apparently not permitted. We were to be joined by a fourth. One Pierre Philippe, a longtime and successful author, novelist, film-writer, poet cum lyricist and homme du theatre. He was, it seemed, hastening to join us at Le Chineur by taxi.
It was I who spotted the taxi pull up, and a very broad back in one of those very theatrical raincoats (you know, long, flared, big collar .. normally with obligatory accompaniment the dashing broad-brimmed hat of which I forget the name) bed through the window to pay the chauffeur.

Enter Pierre Philippe. He simply filled the door. A big, broad man in every way, and with a personality to match. And with twenty-three yards of the latest Parisian film and theatre gossip at his fingertips. Not to mention an incomparable fund of tales of the past. Also a way of recounting it and them which is totally engrossing, even if some of the time you don’t have the faintest idea who the people are about whom he is talking. He is, it appears, THE French expert on the music-hall and – from what I gathered -- he had just been asked that day by the French TV channel Arte (yes, they have a public channel for the arts here) to host a new series on the still hugely popular French music hall of last century. Anyway, he is one of those exuberant vital people who quite simply cast a spell, and I don’t mind admitting that I fell under it (even in French!) in about two minutes flat.

Two facts. Pierre, after a few glasses of wine (all round), when the subject of ‘heritiers’ came up – and I suspect he too has lined up Chris as his for music-hall! – predicted his own not too distant end in what I suspected to be rather artful fashion. When I made the right ‘non-non’ noises, he informed me that he was old enough to be my father. Well, technically maybe. It appears that this joyous YOUNG whirlwind is 75.
I am sorry I didn’t have my camera, so you’ll have to believe me on this one. When he first entered the bar, I gave Chris a very sharp look. A very suspicious look. An ‘are you up to something’ look. For Pierre Philippe is in many ways a heightened, brightly coloured and vastly enlargened (he is surely over six feet with matching shoulders and .. well, yes, a sort of matching bon vivant waistline), version of .. Ian. Chris promises me he had no arriere-pensee, and in fact had never seen a picture of Ian. All the same, until we had all had a few glasses of wine and got to know each other a little better I felt just a wee bit uncomfortable. But the wine and the spell the man casts soon cured that, and a vastly enjoyable evening was had by all before – amazing fact, it was I, with Chris’s night-time writing session in memory, plus my own need of sleep, broke up the party round 11pm and wandered home the hundred metres or two to the Rue de Gergovie.

Chris wrote until 3.30am, sent off his copy and duly slept until 10am. By which time I was somewhere way down the Boulevard Pasteur heading for a touristic glimpse of the brilliant gold dome of Les Invalides and – in the other direction – what looked like the matchstick construction of Le Tour Eiffel, in the middle distance somewhere past the end of Boulevard Maréchal Saxe’. I also tried to pre-suss out the details of the Gare Montparnasse where I am due to meet Jack Dowie in a day or two .. but failed miserably. Chris as promised to lead me to the right part of this vast, messy triple station when the time comes.

Midday, rendez-vous . where else? .. at Le Chineur, where I had my beer and its free WiFi before we continued on across the road to a different bistro. Why this unfaithfulness? Because Bistrot the second had … andouillette on its luncheon menu. Now andouillette is a southern dish, and in the south they are hearty eaters. The plate of food – the wonderful tripe sausage (and it was wonderful), some dauphinoise potatoes and a green salad filled a large plate in true New Zealand fashion. Thank goodness I had not ordered anything else. I’m afraid some potato and much salad got left. The audibly southern lady who served us was almost offended, and drolly taken aback that I refused dessert, coffee and indeed anything else. And, thus, I got my first andouilette in years, and it was all I had remembered.

Since, amongst the revelry and chatter of the previous night, I had forgotten to bring the époisses, this was stage one of my French Musts.

The afternoon, Chris had a double job on and, since it was theatre, I decided to go along for the ride. The doubleness came from the fact that (a) he was to be there as a critic, but (b) this was a competition and he was also part of the Jury.
The Paris Gay and Lesbian Festival of Theatre in a tiny room-theatre (‘Théâtre Coté-Cour) quarter of Paris into which I have never ventured. And probably won’t often again.
Now, as you know, specifically Gay events are not really my thing. However, one should not have a closed mind, and although I refused to take in such well-known pieces as Kiss of the Spiderwoman and The Tears of Petra Kant which have been dragged through theatres round the world for too many years, I was quite agreeable to taking in a new piece or two. Chris warned me that they were unlikely to be much good, but I’d rather something new and less good than take a fresh ride on some warhorse. At least people are trying.
So we tube-trundled out to the other side of Paris (metro: Parmentier, and don’t ask me where it is), and to the tiny auditorium which reminded me of nothing less than the old Elmwood Playhouse, Christchurch, NZ, where I took my own first steps as a rather bad actor 45 years ago.
The second play for the afternoon (four plays a day, in 2 hour slots … plays are shorter, thank goodness, than they used to be, in the 21st century) was a comedy entitled Son mec à moi. The title is untranslateable really, because of the French masculine and feminine thing, but basically its Her (or His) boyfriend for me. Executive lady with two gay ‘best friends’ (one traditional camp, the other middle-class professional) finds her boyfriend has walked out on her. Because of a man. It turns out to be, of course, our middle class professional.. but that is just the beginning. The action (?) goes on for 1 ½ hours. Which was a shame, because the beginning of the play was fair, the middle excellent, and the rest pretty poor stuff. And anyway, it was just another variation on the kind of tiresome tale with the kind of tiresome characters that have been far too often used in the theatre over the past few decades. The actors were fair enough (although it took me a scene or two to get attuned to the rapid, colloquial French), but in the end the whole thing was only saved by one hilarious scene of about 10 minutes in the middle. Still, all in all, it was better than I’d expected, and Chris too.
While Spiderwoman was on we popped into a neighbouring bistro for some light refreshment (and an escape from the perpetual journalists who, in what I found a rather incestuous way, kept wanting to interview Chris), returning for the 8pm show. This one was a drama. A drama about AIDS by a 25 year-old neophyte Parisian. Oh dear. This was clearly going to be a bit of a trial. And no fin at all. But the organisers of the festival were enthusiastic, the house was almost full (lots of women, which I thought was good, if odd) so I smiled, nodded and hoped I would be able to have a doze in mid-play.
DOZE?! Nothing could have been less likely. The two handed play turned out to be superbly written, taut and exciting, and even though it was built round a message (‘don’t have unprotected sex or you could get AIDS’) the message never interfered with the drama. If I say it was about a young man who kidnaps the fellow who, in what he avers was his only ever homosexual encounter, infected him – resulting in the death of his wife – and … Well, again it sounds decidedly overused as a plot. But the quality of the writing made you think you’d never heard anything of the kind before, and one of the two very young actors was quite simply powerful beyond belief. The play lasts only 1h 20. Just as well. I cannot see how he could have kept up the pitch of emotion that he projected for any longer without collapsing. I saw him afterwards (he cant be more than 20 years of age) and indeed he looked wiped out.
So, all in all, the day in the theatre turned out to be a rather amazing surprise. And, as a result, I’m going to go back for day two (just one play this time) today. And… to vote.

After the show I met some of the local actors .. actors of my vintage who remembered Singin’ n the Rain, Barnum and, of course, Ziegfeld and the time when I came to cast in France..

And then home. Christophe to write, and me… to bed with a novel on the wartime music hall by Monsieur Pierre Philippe…
Sigh. I get by in spoken French pretty well, but the moment we get into ‘proper’ writing the words I don’t know turn up page after page. Still, Pierre isn’t quite as impenetrable as Chris can be when he gets into his dictionary language, and I am enjoying the book a lot. And even learning a bit!

Well, Its nearly midday. Time to head for Le Chineur and luncheon. I have decided that it is not possible to do luncheon AND dinner in one day without blowing up to the size of ... of … Pierre Philippe, so I think luncheon is probably a good bet. Especially when we have evening theatre (6-8pm today, very civilised),,
And I shall do my WiFi and check out on all your letters…
And the little Chinese lady who is waiting to clean my room will be happy too,,

So, off I go into a mixture of the known and the unknown once more…

Until soon
Kurt