December 19, 2012

A social media satire – write well not oft

A writing exercise – write oft no matter how well

Catharsis – write for thyself only

Merry Christmas and a happy new year to all, J.
(from Anders too)

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The End

December 18, 2012

The French seem adept at mixing the macabre with the humorous.

Recently, my wife and I went to see an American film in Paris. Unfortunately only one seat remained, as it was very popular and had just been released. We drew straws.

No, we didn’t do that – who likes to go to the cinema on their own? Crazies.

We went to see a different American film. We bought one of the few remaining tickets – they were suddenly selling fast – and when we arrived the cinema was full, mainly I suspect with people wanting to see the other American film.

What remains with me is not the American film at all, but the French short film that preceded it. It took place on a nondescript shopping mall rooftop. You can tell it’s in Paris because Sacre Coeur is in the far distance. Everything else is plain, in fact for 5 full minutes the audience stares at a concrete wall.

After five minutes of watching a concrete wall and a strange man doing Tai Chi, activity starts to increase. More and more people, with rising intensity, rush past the Tai Chi man and disappear behind the wall. Then, at the height of the panic, a group of young men and women appear. They are highly organised, and quickly paint the wall white, standing on each other’s shoulders when necessary. A final rush of people, seemingly seeking refuge behind the wall. The young people then put down their brushes and paint tins and form letters with their bodies. Two fighter planes fly overhead. A magnesium flash that lasts 20 full seconds, a horrible noise. A nuclear explosion.

Focus resumes, and nothing remains other than the solid concrete wall and the after-image of the young men and women on the wall, like black shadows.

‘The End’.

Our time in Paris is almost at an end. I have found myself again.


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December 17, 2012

Once, I was bedridden in Florence. I was trapped in my third floor hotel room for three days and nights. Every necessary and pressing trip to the bathroom allowed me, once each crisis had passed, to look through the small window out across the city. What dominated the skyline were church spires and bell towers as they rose above the red-tiled roofs. There were also thousands of television antennas – clusters of crucifixes.

Every hour the church bells rang out, reminding me of what I was missing. But it was also comforting, as the experience was a new one and something I could not experience at home. Limited to this view and these sounds, the essence of Florence was concentrated. Undeniably, church spires and bells and television antennas are key features of Florence, regardless of what else you may notice and experience while staying there. They certainly were for my first three days and live in my memory.

Thanks to the architect Haussmann, the Paris skyline is very uniform, which likewise serves to accentuate its key features and landmarks.

Our long-term memories are like city skylines.

Looking back over a long day’s walk to the Eiffel Tower, having traveled next to the Seine, and in and out of the various city blocks, we look out over the city from our starting place, to the landmarks. We remember the greater secrets we have seen in the smaller places, but these are inexplicable and invisible to others.

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à oublier

December 16, 2012

Occasionally, one wakes from a sleep so profoundly peaceful that it is an imagining of death. Time has passed, and that is all; time has passed. There were no markers to break up this passage of time – no rising to just below the surface of consciousness. No memories.

Then the realization occurs: in this place of forgetting, there were no troubles. In this place, nothing concerned you and nothing was concerned with you.

To forget. To disappear. To let one’s mind dissolve.

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Rain in the Marais

December 15, 2012

Each time I visit the Marais quarter, it rains.

It stains the grey walls a darker grey, the heavy clouds roll over the crooked laneways. Umbrellas jostle each other on the narrow footpaths. The black trunks of the savagely pruned trees clutch at the sky.

Shops line the streets selling warmth. Falafels and spiced red cabbage, Jewish braided Challah bread, chocolates, coffee.

After every second city block, formal gardens appear, adorned with classical sculptures and topiary.

The largest and oldest, the Place des Vosges is at the centre of this grey labyrinth. Its red-bricked apartments gleam. We rest at Café Hugo. We circle the square many times, looking at the art galleries under their vaulted arcades.

We return to cross over the Seine again, along the grey streets, between grey walls and under a dark grey roof.


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Soiree de Gala

December 14, 2012

First nights are always a mixture of nerves: excitement and fear.

This combination of emotions tends to produce the very best and the very worst in a performance. Senses are hyper-aware, self-critique is overwrought. What is remembered from first-night performances are mistakes that were not as large as they seemed. What is forgotten is the way emotions charged the performers and the audience to create a bond that cannot be re-captured.

The second night is the worst.

The adrenaline has drained out. Already, the experience is not new and a strange complacency sets in.

From the third night of performance, there is a reliable standard and the performers blend familiarity with enjoyment. If you are going to a show or production, go on the third night or later, unless you like being part of the adrenaline – for this I also recommend the final night – more of that some other time.

I remember playing in the orchestra for a season of Die Fledermaus. The conductor was a crazy Russian who communicated not through his arms and baton, but through telepathy. But no-one could read his projected thoughts. Tempos were wild fluctuations at the mercy of the singers’ nightly fancies, the beginnings and endings of arias were always unpleasant surprises. Everything about this production was like walking the tightrope, 100 stories high. The first night was truly an exercise in fear control.

The National Paris Opera (l’Opera national de Paris) has just launched their Christmas season of Carmen. Spare a thought for the performers. Millions of hours have brought them to the Opera Bastille.


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Le Mood

December 13, 2012

As we all know, the French are fiercely protective of their heritage, and proud of their cultural history. In their capital this is very evident. Notre Dame is about to celebrate its 850th year.

They are also proud of their modern history. Sylvia Beach’s bookstore ‘Shakespeare and Company’ maintains its own traditions – aspiring writers can sleep on one of the many beds located on the two floors, surrounded by shelves and towers of books. George Whitman, Sylvia’s successor, died on the 14th of December last year. The bookshop is still crowded every day, even in winter, and stays open until 11 pm.

There are also national laws protecting the institution/ heritage of France’s food culture. Unfortunately, sometimes these laws are ineffective, even within its own borders.

I recall a meal I once had in a restaurant near the Louvre, and while not terrible by any stretch of the imagination, it did require some appreciation of comedy – Fawlty Towers was uppermost in my mind.

Despite itself, the restaurant was full – we were lucky to get a table. We ordered off the set menu, 22 euros for 3 courses – not bad considering what was on offer: our usual favourites of Confit de Canard and Crème Brulee.

Things started to unravel from the entrée. As we tried our ‘entry-level’ foie gras and shrimp cocktail (complete with just picked, unripe avocado), the music mix flicked over to George Michael’s Careless Whisper. The table of four Frenchman behind us loudly declared: “Le Mood!” There was no returning.

We were interrupted many times for plate clearing, still chewing. The boeuf bourguignon was prepared l’ancienne – which seemed to mean that it was simply covered with a concealing crust. The Crème Brulee was, as my broken French described to our nearby Parisian diners ‘Tres, tres Oeuf’. I indicated that the tiramisu was, however, tres bon.

They had arrived shortly after us, and as the waiter relayed their dessert order to the kitchen (shouting directly over us), we couldn’t help but giggle: ‘Quatre Tiramisu’.  The tiramisu emerged soon after, ugly but good. At this point we suspected an Italian French-fraud in charge of the kitchen.

A good thing the heritage of French food is being protected.


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