Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Bienvenue en France, il y a une grève!

Hello there everyone.  Yes, it's been a little while.  Thanks to the wonderful academic scheduling of France, I have been on vacation yet again.
It does seem a bit excessive, doesn't it?

But I'm not complaining, espcially since before this break, a bunch of 6 year olds made me cry.  It was time for a break.  The fabulous thing about this break was that my parents came!

They arrived in France on Wednesday April 7 and were immediately immersed in a true French experience: an SNCF strike. (Learn French! bienvenue = welcome, grève = strike, il y a = there is) SNCF is the train company in France.  France has a very intricate and well-connected train system.  I'm not sure, but it may be the most utilized system of transportation.  So when the good people at SNCF decide to strike -- which they do somewhat regularly -- pretty much all hell breaks loose.
So my parents made it to the Charles de Gaulle airport, only to discover that there were no TGV trains leaving from the airport, and they would have to take a Paris RER train to Montparnasse in the center of Paris in order to catch a train to Angers.
The thing about train strikes in France is that they are simultaneously the most organized and most insanely unorganized thing ever.  For example: there are still trains running.  They even tell you how many are running, what percent that is of normal train traffic, and what alternate forms of transportation SNCF is providing (mostly just coach buses).
But what that also means is that while less trains are running, the same amount of people are attempting to travel on those trains.  The result: very very crowded high-speed trains, full of very very over-heated and annoyed French people.
Trains will also be delayed and/or cancelled.
The story of me and the train strikes goes on, but for now I will say I was very proud of my parents for making it to Angers amongst the, pardon my language, cluster**** that was the Paris train stations that day.

When they got here, we did a lot of walking around Angers and visiting the tourist-y things and eating and drinking.  It was nice.  I got to visit the castle, which I hadn't actually done yet.  My parents visited one of my schools (the good one).  They met my friends.  We had afternoon snack/tea with Christophe, Karine, and baby Luz.  We walked around my favorite parks.  My friend Katie's family was visiting too, so our Dads bonded over being fathers in France or something.
The hotel was nice, and I enjoyed sleeping in a bed that was marginally better than my own and didn't make me wake up with a backache everyday.
I guess there's not too much to say about seeing them, other than it was great and I miss them!
We ate at a brasserie near the hotel, and I had Coq au vin, a very traditional French dish involving chicken, red wine, and vegetables.  There were very buttery and fresh green beans on the side.  It was delicious.

We went to Nantes, which I think was maybe not the most interesting place to take them.  We had a nice time, but our hotel was kind of ... um... Well, the guy at the desk was the most friendly unhelpful person I've ever met.  We couldn't connect to the internet and his response was "Oh, really?  It's working on my computer. I'm very sorry."
He also had a pet turtle wandering around the lobby.  Yes, a turtle.
When I asked him about it he said, "Oh yes, she is from Spain.  I was in Spain, and my friends had turtles, so I took her home with me."  And apparently let her wander wherever she pleased.

We did get to see a pretty cool art installation at Le Lieu Unique in Nantes.  Last time I went, it was a art/video installation that all had to do with music.  This time it was called Tanguy et La Biscuiterie.
Le Lieu Unique is a former biscuit (i.e. hard butter cookies, American folks) factory that has been redesigned as a art venue/bar/café/restaurant/bookstore place.  It is rather industrial looking, which is the appeal.  Tanguy et La Biscuiterie kind of played on the LU's history as a former cookie factory.  It's hard to explain, but it was set up kind of like a palace with all these cardboard walls just covered in images.  Mostly they looked like framed picture in a palace, but they were somewhat grotesque/disturbing.  Many of the people were Tanguy (the artist himself) done up in lots of makeup and looking like a crazy person.   There was a lot of sexual imagery as well as violent/warlike scens and pictures of food. If you click on the link above you will get a rough idea of what I'm talking about. Click on the video, even if you can't understand you can get an even better idea.

Cedric Tanguy présente son expo au Lieu unique
envoyé par presseocean. - Découvrez plus de vidéos créatives.
It was really intricate, though, and interesting to look at.  At the end, there was a video interview with him.  He basically said it was about our over-consumptive culture, and in an over-the-top  kind of way he totally acheived a representation of it.  Although it was so self-promoting itself it was hard to tell if that was the irony or if he had fallen prey to the draw of over consumption.  And that is my art review for the day.

We also ate at this mussel restaurant that I ate at the last time I was in Nantes.  It did not disappoint in anyway.  I had mine with Roquefort sauce, and we had a huge plate of shared fries.  The dish, Moules Frites, (mussels and fries), is very typical in coastal France and Belgium.
When I was in Lille, we learned the appropriate way to eat your mussels.
This is how:
The mussels are all still in their shells, so you eat one then you use the shell as a kind of fork-tongs and proceed to pull the rest of the mussels out of their shells and insert them in your mouth. Yum.

Also in Nantes, we went to see the Elephant, which continues to be impressive.  The elephant is housed in this massive former warehouse looking place.

Nantes has a history as an industrial city, and in recent years that industrial element has been played up in places like Le Lieu Unique and Les Machînes de l'Île.  In my opinion, it's working out well for the city, giving it a kind of funky post-industrial feel.
Just now I read the wikipedia article on Nântes, which mentions something I had never heard before: a form of execution supposedly practiced in the city during the French Revolution called a Republican Marriage.  I'll let you click the link and read the wikipedia article.

Well, I'm waiting for my parents to send/post pictures from their vacation, so that I can remember what else we did.  I'm going to sign off for now and enjoy the AWESOMELY beautiful day:
High of 78˚F (26˚C) perfectly sunny skies...

Saturday, April 3, 2010

A night at the Opera...

(to be said in an affected British accent)

Last Friday night, I went to the Opera.

Going to the Opera is something that you hear about other people doing, or you see people on TV do, or you see Looney Toons making fun of the fat lady.
Sometimes when (if??) you flip through radio stations while driving, you're lucky enough to hit the classical station when a fat lady somewhere is hitting some ungodly octave of "Figaro, figaro, FIGARO!"

But when do normal people ever actually go to the opera?  Where does the opera occur?  What motivates them to go?
Well, I went to the opera Friday, March 26th at the Grand Théâtre d'Angers because my friend Anne who also lives in the foyer asked me to go.  Student tickets were only €10, and it sounded like something different to do on a Friday night.
A very brief history of opera:  The first operas were written and performed in Italy toward the end of the 1500s.  The art form caught on in the rest of Europe, with Lully (someone who I vaguely remember from a special topics: Versailles class) a composer, courtesan, and friend of Louis XIV, spearheading the establishment of opera in France.  Blah blah blah.
If you've heard of anyone in the opera world, however, you've definitely heard of Mozart.  He wrote the opera that I saw, Lucio Silla.  It was one of his earliest pieces.
I love wikipedia's plot synopsis: The story concerns the Roman dictator Lucio Silla (Lucius Silla) who lusts after Giunia, the daughter of his enemy Caius Marius. Giunia, on the other hand, loves the exiled senator Cecilio.
That, really, is pretty much it.  Giunia is held captive by Lucio Silla. Cecilio plots with his friend Lucio Cinna.  At the end Lucio Silla surprises everyone and relinquishes Giunna, and everyone lives happily ever after.  Seriously.

Things that were interesting:
Cecilio and his friend Lucio (not the evil Lucio) were both played by women.  The two parts are written for Soprano.  Anne's theory on this is that Mozart was a young man when he wrote the opera, and traditionally young men are played by women (perhaps to distinguish their age by their voice?).  And Cecilio and Lucio C. are young in contrast to the evil dictating Lucio S.

The artistic director went super modern for the set, and it worked surprisingly well.  On the stage there was this giant rotating semi-circular thing.  On one side it was a stone wall with stairs curved around it.  When it turned, the inside was white screens with which they did some cool shadow-y things with light and candle light.  The costume was very 18th century; the male characters were wearing coats with tails, and the women were wearing long dresses with bell shaped sleeves.  It was beautifully put together.  A lot was done with lighting and the color white, which made the stark set interesting.  At one point Giunia was going kind of mad from captivity and the screens behind her lit up with the shadows of people moving around while she was singing.  There was another part where Giunia and Cecilio met in a cemetery.  She was with 15 other women, all wearing white dresses and holding candles.  Very eery and cool.

The singing itself was impressive.  There's not much else I can say about that.  They are all professional singers, and the appropriate emotions were spectacularly conveyed.  Of note, however, was that the opera was in Italian.  So, the theater actually had a subtitle screen above the stage with the French translation.  This was great because I don't think I would have understood what they were saying, even if I spoke Italian. And the lyrics in opera (or at least this one) are surprisingly simple.  Mostly they say things like "You are always my love; I will love you forever..." over and over again.  This made the story very easy to follow.

Finally, it was a whopping 3 hours long.  I really didn't even notice.  There was so much to take in, to see, to hear, that I didn't get restless at all.

On a blogging note: I tried to embed a Looney Toons, Merrie Melodies** video from youtube on this page.    Apparently youtube disabled embedding for that particular video. You can click on "Looney Toons" at the beginning of the post or here is the link for your viewing pleasure:

the fat lady sings.

**My fabulous friend Lauren recently shared a Merrie Melodies video with me; I had forgotten all about such things.  I'm glad she reminded me about it because it made this post much better.  Plus who doesn't miss the good old days of Looney Toons dropping anvils on each other's heads?