Friday, April 27, 2007

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.


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