13 Dec 2012

Men and Montana

It's 7.06pm and the metro is packed with agitated people.  I become ensconced in the masses who begin to push the capacity of the train as well as my lungs and I feel my new Longchamp bag being tugged on as I'm violently jammed into a nonexistent space.  In my other hand is a plastic bag filled to the brim with lettuce and other salady ingredients.  I'm praying that the tomatoes don't burst their juices under the pressure and that the cucumber won't break through the seal and prod someone.  Oh the endless possibilities.  I realise my direct line of vision is a woman's assets and there are no bars close enough to hold onto.  She does the typically french "ooh la la" as she expresses her aggravation at being squished, explaining how the whole thing is "fou".  I catch sight of a young man who apparently finds this quite amusing and watch as he sniggers, which instantly sets me off.  There's something so contagious about a laugh.  The nervous giggle which comes about when a teacher shouts at you, when someone is telling you a sad story about their pet, or when you're stuck in an elevator with 13 hysterical people.  Yes, the nervous giggle which always makes you feel uncomfortable, but the more you concentrate on keeping a straight face, the harder it is.  We've all been there.

I catch his eyes burning into my face as he grins and without thinking I smile back at him.  Rule no.1 - never reciprocate the smile; it only encourages them.  Having said that, he was rather handsome so maybe this little eye-lock could have turned into coffee.  Rule no. 2 - never, ever engage in conversation.  This just ruins the moment (and let's face it - if you're going to meet your future spouse/boyf/lover, the metro isn't the classiest of places for your first rencontre).  Instead, I suggest you engage in utter silence, holding the stare for a little longer than is polite, or normal.  What else are you supposed to do when it's that crowded?  The ceiling is only so interesting up to a point.  However, I do struggle with this little charade, worried that the nervous giggle might come rolling back which is never worth the colour it turns my cheeks.  Thankfully we didn't get off at the same stop, but don't think I didn't notice his little eyebrow movement.

There's something about taking the metro which makes me uneasy.  It seems to be the preferred hotspot for creepy men and the ultimate place for dodgy encounters.  Another culprit on the metro once took it upon himself to laugh every time I laughed, mirroring each "haha" that rippled from my mouth.  I was simply chatting to a few friends of mine, sharing a few witty remarks, when he decided his hand would be put to better use on my shoulder.  I was a little disturbed.  But if you think that's bad, I won't mention the leg-humping wonder who blockaded me on the RER train to work one afternoon.  He was probably old enough to be my grandfather.  After what I believed to be an accidental elbow-into-breasts session which lasted for five minutes (granted it was quite busy), I decided to turn around to avoid such close interaction.  On second thoughts, I wish I'd stayed with my chest facing him because my leg has never felt so molested in my life.  And don't even get me started on the arse grabbing.  Should have brought my pepper spray.

So far, I am yet to meet a French man I would consider taking home to meet the parentals (don't sound too surprised..) A recent encounter with another French man who was walking past a bar I was standing outside went something like this: "I like your dress. Would you like me to French kiss you?"  As flattered as I was by this generous and spontaneous offer, the idea of being kissed by a man probably 15 years my senior who thought it was acceptable to ask an innocent female such as yours truly to embrace him on the street was rather shocking.  I politely declined, explaining how my ''petit-ami'' in the UK wouldn't be too happy about it, to which he replied: "so? your English boyfriend doesn't know how to French kiss you.  Let me show you''.  I stuck my tongue out, wiggled it around a bit in the air, and walked back into the bar.

Whilst rocking out to tunes in the aforementioned bar which had an underground cave-like club, I was approached by a young man who very politely asked me if he was allowed to talk to me.  I was confused as to why he was asking for my permission since I'm perfectly used to the bum-pinching, leg groping men who frequent clubs in England.  However, I approved his request nonetheless and waited to see what he was so eager to share with me.  As soon as a friend of mine came to my rescue, the Frenchie decided it would be a fabulous idea to set up his friend with my friend.  I could see where this was going so promptly explained how we both had boyfriends.  The next second I turn around and he's nowhere to be seen.  I shrug and continue busting my moves until I feel someone pushing me.  Next minute, little Frenchie is hitting on and "French kissing" another lady.  Jealous much.

Watch this space!


10 Dec 2012

Helping the Homeless

Homeless: This should NEVER happen in AmericaYou don't have to walk very far in Paris to catch a man rummaging through leftovers in a bin, a kid fumbling for coins on the street side, or a crippled woman sitting in a tunnel with nothing but a used coffee cup to collect loose change, her face full of flagrant desperation.  The same words are repeated day in, day out.  They need food, a restaurant ticket, money, anything to keep them alive.  They sell magazines that no-one wants to read.  The metro smells of piss and sweat but it's the only place for them to keep warm in winter months before the last train departs and they're forced to leave.  Living in Paris is so ridiculously expensive that I'm not surprised so many people have taken to begging as their only source of income.

Roma (gypsies) hold malnourished children over their arms as they crawl through the metro with one hand hanging limply to collect money.  They have the notorious reputation of being thieves and under Sarkozy's government a large number of illegal immigrants were repatriated in 2010 which spurred on accusations of France's racism.  Many of these Roma live in camps scattered across France in urban settlements lacking secure or sanitary conditions.  Their situation is dire.  According to Sarkozy, these camps are sources of crime, prostitution, trafficking and child exploitation which is why he wanted to put a stop to it. 

Being part of the EU means that Bulgarian and Romanian citizens have the right to come to France without a visa, but French immigration laws require them to have work or residency permits if they want to spend more than three months in France.  Understandably, these permits are difficult to obtain which means many Roma are forced to either return home, or stay in France illegally in unliveable circumstances.

It's far too easy to become desensitized; to walk past a homeless person with your iPod headphones in, on the way to a cafe where you proceed to spend extravagant amounts on coffee and cake.  A coffee in Starbucks will cost you €4, while a baguette can be as little as 80 cents and could cure a child's hunger, be it temporarily.

The other day I saw a man clinging onto a bar, sobbing.  The pain in his eyes was unbearable and his uncontrollable tears were heart wrenching.  Person after person walked past him, unwilling to be the Good Samaritan.  And I did the same.  

Luke 3:10-11 : And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?” And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.”

8 Dec 2012

West SLide Story

http://www.concordplayers.org/00productions/WestSideStory/graphics/WestSideStoryLogo.gifThe reviews were fantastic and phones were ringing nonstop in the theatre's reception as everyone tried to get their paws on the coveted tickets to see West Side Story in Paris's Chatelet Theatre.  December 2nd had arrived and I was wearing a new sparkly dress - courtesy of Zara - my favourite Dorothy Perkins' purple heels, a rabbit fur neck wrap and my new Longchamp handbag hanging off one shoulder.  I looked every inch the theatre-goer.

I was certain that this would be a night to remember, that I'd literally be singing its praises for all to hear.  And as a lover of heart wrenching romance and bursting into song, there really was no reason why West Side Story shouldn't deliver.

Sadly for me, this particular production of West Side Story fell flatter than a crepe (now that I'm in Paris, I'm abstaining from using the phrase ''flat as a pancake''). Imagine going to a restaurant which has received rave reviews and ordering the michelin star salmon only for it to be over-cooked to the extent where it can't be improved with a squeeze of lemon or a shake of salt.  You're desperate to enjoy it but there's something stopping you from fully appreciating it because it's lacking a vital kick and frankly, it's a little dry and flaky.

Comparing West Side Story to a piece of pink fish might seem a little odd, but bear with me on the analogy front.  Salmon is a delicious fish, much like West Side Story is a fabulous tale, but if the chef doesn't know how to properly cook the salmon, and the director doesn't know how to successfully direct his cast, you're left with something which is just about edible or watchable, but bland and unfulfilling.  Your final product is a piece of fish, or a play, which had so much potential because the raw, untouched original had so much going for it, but it was placed in the hands of someone who lacked creativity.   Instead of savouring each mouthful, or each moment of stage-time, you spend it thinking about how you should have been the one putting the icing on the cake.

Part of me is happy to blame it on the fact that nothing will quite match the lustre and skill of West End or Broadway.  I'm in Paris after all, not London or New York.  And there is certainly no Cameron Mackintosh lurking behind the red curtain.  This time it is a German company who are producing Sondheim's grand oeuvre.  The theatre's director Jean-Luc Choplin was desperate to bring the musical back to the Parisian stratosphere after its successful run five years ago, but this mark of success seemed foreign to me and I still struggle to accept its flawless ratings.

I wanted to see the actors bring the story to life, to live and breathe the stage they were standing on, but there was a lack of chemistry and freshness.  The show's director Joey Mckneely explained how “believability” was a huge factor in casting his leads because “I always have to believe their love story” he said.  His intentions were all too accurate, which makes my confession all the more painful because he was just off the mark.  Believability was exactly what the show was lacking.  I wanted something a little more edgy, more pumped, and oozing with vitality.  Instead I felt deceived by the wishy-washy ''love'' between Maria and Tony which left me begging for a refund.

Maria's sweet youthfulness needed to be sung with a girly vibrancy which the lead actress just didn't grapple.  I had to accept that the vocals of Marni Nixon in the 1961 movie production were simply unbeatable.  The Maria on stage lacked the sensitivity and raw emotion apparent in Nixon's voice, replacing it with a matured operatic falsetto which gave a faux representation of the naive, love-struck heroine.  Tony similarly took the notion of vibrato to new heights and was lacking in manly fecundity.  I struggled to see why and how Maria would fall in love with the effeminate Tony who looked like he needed a scruff in the mud and a few Turkey sandwiches in him.  Their duets were painfully unmoving and doing the odd large breath and semi-passionate sigh at the end of a note isn't going to make me believe it any more.  Crackling voices, painful whispers, sob-style singing, clogged up throats and frozen vocal chords are things I can live with, because at least that would show genuine emotion.  Best leave the Opera to Mozart.

Whether it's melodrama, opera or vaudeville, a successful performance requires an actor to use emotional memory to be believable.  There's something telling about an actor's ability to experience the part during a performance whilst creating their own depth to the character which might not be inherent in the narrative.  Yet for me, in this production of West Side Story, the actors hinged far too much on the narrative when they needed to go deeper.  Of course a love story evolving over the course of two hours is nay impossible, but I was simply yearning for a bit of profound passion.  I don't cry in The Notebook or Love Actually for nothing.  Their duets needed to be more than just a shallow sound; to be the passionate unison of two people whose love can conquer all odds.

It probably didn’t help that our seats were disappointing, but that's what you get for €22.  It’s never ideal when you’re vying for the best view with a stubborn pillar for two and a half hours.  But this minor detail shouldn’t have been the be all and end all, and for such a big stage, I expected the passion to be bouncing off it left right and centre, invading each heart in the auditorium.

It's hard to fully pinpoint aspects of the performance which I disliked, after all, the dancing was beautifully choreographed, in time, acutely professional.  If the emotion had matched the dancing, I would have been on the edge of my seat.  I don't regret going to see West Side Story, but I was still left unimpressed with one of those anticlimactic hangovers that comes at the end of a performance which doesn't quite deliver.

7 Dec 2012

10 Shades of Paris

10th installment


He presses a button on a slim remote and a silver screen appears from behind the sliding wall.  ''You hide your TV?'' I ask, impressed at such a high tech furnishing.  The huge wide screen glimmers from a gap within the taupe coloured wall and I wonder to myself whether, like the kitchen, he ever has time to use it.  He drifts through a few channels until he finds one in English and pauses.  ''Are you interested in nature?'' he asks jokingly as we both stare at a butterfly hovering over a  leaf.  I giggle, not knowing how to answer.  He leaves the remote on the table beside me and slides away from the sofa, scruffing my hair up slightly with his hand.

I turn around and watch him open a tall ivory cabinet which appears to be concealing a mini fridge and some rather expensive looking bottles of scotch and whiskey.  ''Don't look'' he orders, pretending to shelter his eyes with his hand.  I obey him and stare at the butterfly on the screen, the vibrancy of the colour intensifying each flutter of the wing.  I become so engrossed in it that I almost forget where I am until he clears his throat and I turn to look up at him, holding a Margarita in one of those fancy crystal glasses with a salty rim.  ''I almost forgot'' he says, walking back to the cabinet and popping a little umbrella into the aqua blue concoction. ''Where did you learn to be so classy?'' I joke.

I take a sip and sink back into the sofa with my arm stretched out.  ''Cheers'', I say with a wide grin. ''To us'' he replies, returning the grin.  For a short moment I find myself staring deeply into his piercing blue eyes, over-analysing the word ''us''.  He knows as much as I do that I only have two days left in this gorgeous city but we both refuse to discuss my imminent departure.

''Are you hungry?'' he asks, startling my thoughts.  My stomach is starting to quietly grumble and I nod my head at him guiltily.  ''Me too'' he replies triumphantly, ''what do you fancy?''  ''If you have a take-out menu I don't mind ordering something in'' I say smoothly.  ''Are you sure?  I can make you something, it's no problem at all'' he suggests.  I wince slightly, not wanting to cause a fuss.  He winks at me the way he always does when he's in control of the situation, so I fold my arms and bite my lip.  ''Whatever you say'' I reply softly.
While he busies himself in the kitchen, I walk over to his CD collection which sits beside a box of records and smile at the quintisentially English rock bands which sit on the top rack, clouding the few French bands whose names are alien to me.  I'm stopped in my tracks by the pungent scent of fresh herbs and spices coming from the kitchen and become immediately intrigued.  I tiptoe quietly into his sanctuary to watch the chef at work, admiring the multiple pots and pans bubbling and frothing.  I don't want to distract him from the task at hand so I quietly step out of the room and return to the butterfly.