Bye Bye 2016

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As the end of 2016 is over, it’s been a great year for theatre in the French capital. I decided to write about some of my personal highlights.  I think this blog and lot of others need to talk a bit more about the art form of theatre. Some say, it’s a dying art and I find that when I go outside large cities, I am sometimes forced to agree. But 2016 in Paris was a great year to highlight good theatre in Paris.

I know that this is predominantly a tourist blog and theatre is an art form that doesn’t really translate well. I’ve always been jealous of my musician friends who can transport their art everywhere and I can never do the same with theatre. The first thing that is important to know, is that not all theatre contains words, or sometimes they only contain very few words. So, if you’re put off by the idea of loads of dialogue and you sitting in a chair not being able to understand a word, remember, that may not be the case.

Secondly, Paris has a good English theatre scene. Some amateur projects are still developing but every so often you get major shows that decide to do performances in English. This year the British productions of Oliver Twist and Mary Poppins were added to a growing list of West-End shows here.

But the best news for English theatre fans was the announcement of our own dedicated theatre festival. The festival happened in May for 4 days and was very exciting. The name is Festival International de Theatre Anglais or simply Paris Fringe in English.  A similar atmosphere to what can be found in Edinburgh at the world-famous Fringe Theatre Festival. The events in Paris were also fringe. The benefit of this, is that fringe theatre is more accessible to people as it tends to be considerably cheaper that mainstream (West-End, Broadway) theatre and the venues are also less formal and thus it attracts a younger more diverse audience.

I feel confident that 2017 is going to be an even better year than 2016 (which to date, has seen marvellous breakthroughs in the English theatre scene). The best place to find out about these events is through TimeOut, but it’s important to know that TimeOut normally don’t review or advertise shows that only have a limited run or a limited budget. I find the best way to get in the loop is actually through Couch Surfing. Don’t worry, you won’t have to give your sofa up, if you don’t want to. But it’s got an events page and it’s really good and most of the stuff is in English. Music and comedy are also to be found there. Eventbrite is also a great platform to find out what’s going on. You can use location and language settings to find stuff that’s near you and affordable.

In Praise of…Cinema

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So, this is my third trip to Paris and I’m staying for the entire month of December. My sister lives here and I try and visit as often as I can, but sadly haven’t made any friends of my own. Well, maybe that’s lie, I do try but as my sister would say, “I could make more of an effort”. I never really identified with Paris. It’s not that I didn’t like it. I think it would be absolutely impossible to walk around these streets and think to yourself, this is boring or this is ugly. You would to be a bit of an idiot to think that. But there was always something that I couldn’t put my finger on, but it just didn’t seem to “fit” me. I’m not a massive fan of museums and I know that might make me seem a bit stupid, but it’s the truth and I’m not a huge fan of history either.

“This King built this. This Queen built this. OK. OK”. My country has Kings and Queens too, but I was never really bothered about what they built. At first, I thought it was my sisters fault. Maybe it was her friends or maybe I was jealous. I certainly wouldn’t have been the first time, I felt a little jealously. But I don’t think it was that.

It is so silly, that if you don’t like something that everyone likes, you think there is something wrong with you. You never think that you are just an individual. Well, I certainly didn’t. How can anyone not love Paris. Now, I could just end the story there and it would be a very negative piece but I wanted this to be a positive one.

A recent trip to the cinema would become the first in a series of events, that would slowly change my mind and help me to see the city in a different light. We saw a movie called Angel.A (If you do a Google search, make sure you don’t put Angela because you will be searching for quite a while). I don’t know if you have heard of it. It’s not a new movie at all. I think it is over 10 years old (2005). It’s all set in Paris but the cinematography is simply stunning. It’s shot all in black and white, from director Luc Besson (he’s the legend behind such iconic movies like the 5th Element)

This cinema trip got me thinking. We left the cinema and walked home. I don’t think it happened that night but I started to look at the city a bit differently and then something really important dawned on me. I was seeing Paris through a completely traditional, generic, iconic tourist lens. As the most visited city on Earth, you can imagine that monuments and streets are filmed a lot. I ‘m not sure if I can put the idea into words effectively but when you visit the city, it is hard to escape the stereotype image. You’ve seen it since you were a child and now you’re actually in the city, it’s hard to get rid of it. Let me see, if I can give you a good example.

Take Woody Allen, the iconic American director. When he makes films in New York, he makes them look completely unique. He shows scenes and parts of the city, that really make you feel like it’s a real place. He clearly identifies with this city and sees it as a native. Now, compare that to his recent movie Midnight in Paris. It was a good movie, right? I enjoyed it, a lot. But the scenes are all shot like a generic postcard. The typical, standard image of Parisian streets and Parisian life that every non-Parisian director shows in their movies. The uniqueness and realness, is gone.

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To put it really simply, I’m happy I’ve discovered movies set in Paris by Parisians because they have helped me to see the city in a different light and it’s a great pastime to see the most photographed city, look dark, gritty, and real. I’m a big movie fan and the risk of sounding like a complete idiot (I suppose I’ve already admitted to not liking museums), I don’t really watch a lot of non-English movies. I just used to like movies as a way to relax and sink into a story and I didn’t want to be forced to read but my opinion is now changing.

For the record, the movie Angel. A, is ok. It’s fun to watch and it’s shot in a very artistic way, but I wouldn’t go running back to see it a second time. But with that in mind, I wanted to write this post about some other movies I’ve since watched which I think showcase Paris in a real and cool way.

Diva.

This is a cool movie but only really known to movie buffs outside of Paris. A love story, mixed with crime and gangsters and of course, art. A great score helps you sink into the gun shooting and car chases around the ring roads of Paris, in the 1980’s. The one image, I remember really well is the fashion. It was so 80’s, it’s kind of comical. Definitely worth a watch. I was fortunate the see a rather strange version of this movie. The “Diva” character refers to an opera singer and a lot of the movie is set in an opera house. I saw it an opera house with a live score with about 50 different musicians. I think the company was called Secret Cinema Paris. A little more expensive than your regular trip to the cinema but if you’re a cinema buff like me, it’s worth it.

 

The Dreamers.

 

It’s in English, so don’t worry no subtitles ( well, I think there is a bit of subtitles). It’s in 1968, a time of cultural revolution and this movie captures the energy of the Parisian streets beautifully. The “Bande de Parte” scene has become risen to semi cult status as the main trio in the movie attempt a world record by running from one side of the Louvre to the other. It’s definitely the most unique way for a movie to highlight the most popular museum in the world. The film celebrates a love of cinema and focuses on a homage to 1960’s Parisian cinema ( which is perhaps why I like so much). The movie was actually made in the 1990’s and it’s not a Parisian director (it’s an Italian one. Shhhhh).

 

La Haine.

A word of warning, this will probably not make you want to visit the city but it is an awesome film and its very honest. Set in the suburbs of Paris, it presents a very different type of city, far removed from the romance of the Eiffel Tower. This is crime, gritty, gangster greyness but you will feel like you are watching something authentic and not out of a postcard. But unlike famous Parisian movies like Amelie (which interestingly, was much more successful internationally than domestically), you probably won’t want to visit all the places where it was set. But although violent, it also celebrates a love of film. But obviously in a totally different way that The Dreamers.  And rather than focusing on the standard escapist ideas typically associated with Paris, the movie talks about segregation and multiculturalism in a modern European city.

 

 

Les Enfants du Paradis

Iconic and a true masterpiece of cinema, if you’ve already heard of this movie then you can consider yourself a cultured movie lover. It’s long been considered a classic by French and International movie critics. One of the few movies to be made in Paris during the Second World War, the film was released between 1943 and 1945. It’s in black and white, but that only adds to the magic of the movie. I’ve often thought that colour is perceived to add a lot to a story but this romantic love story is a fine example of how minimalism (sometimes) is all you need and if it’s not broke don’t fix it. Expect to see a lot of streets from the 3rd and 11th districts of Paris but do remember to use your imagination, just a little bit. The film is actually set in the 1880’s. But don’t let that worry you too much, the idea here is to see and feel the city in a different light and get a good energy for the place. So, yes, it is unlikely that you will watch this movie and then do a tour of the city and retrace the scenes (it’s not exactly Harry Potter) but take my word for it, you will be surprised when you see just how much you recognise. And you can’t help but not be moved by the movie

 

Weekend

You may have heard of this one. I had to study it in school. Made in 1967, it’s director is the famous Jean Luc Godard. They say in France, when you talk about cinema, there is before Godard and after Godard. So, he’s a pretty important director. This is probably not his most important or celebrated work but it’s definitely my favourite. The movie is basically about people who want to get away from Paris for the weekend. I’ll say no more than that and just tell you to watch it. Needless to say, weekend traffic, with cars filled with people trying to leave Paris is famous, in no small part because of this movie.

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So, there you have 5. I thought about adding number 6 or number 7 but they seemed like strange numbers to finish on and I sense if I went all the way to 10, you might forget some of them. Or the blog post could accidentally turn into the beginning of a novel. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time. I tried to pick quite a varied range and I think it did that. We’ve got modern, then we have 1990’s and then the 1980’s and the 1960’s followed by the 1940’s. I figured that any of the majorly successfully ones in the last 10 years, you would already know, such as La Vie en Rose and Amelie (as I mentioned above).

I guess the overall conclusion, is that French cinema is amazing and there is so much more to Paris then the beautiful lights lining the Seine or the wonderful view from the Eiffel Tower. We’ve grown up with those images. They are embedded in our brain because that’s how adverts and movie directors choose to shot this city. But there are so many out there that choose to break the mould. Go find them, go watch them and then, best of all, go explore the city.

Xmas French Style

A quick search on Wikipedia, or a couple of glasses of wine with your European friends and you’ll quickly realise that not everyone celebrates Christmas, exactly the same way. This was not new information for me. Like all aspects of culture, of course there has to be variations but I didn’t know quite how much.

Santa Claus is red because of Coca Cola. Yes, this I knew but I was surprised and sad when I found out (a couple of years ago,). Christmas day is actually on the 15th of December in Holland and rather than coming from the North Pole, Santa is Spanish. That’s right, Spanish. He comes to Holland on a boat and gives the good kids oranges and steals the bad kids. I’m happy with our Anglo traditions. It would seem that we took the scarier Dutch version and made a happier, more magical version.

But what about France?

Well, they do a lot of stuff like us in Britain.  Most of their traditions come from Germany and Austria. They put Christmas trees in their houses. Originally they were decorated with apples and pears and other kinds of fruit but from the 1830’s they became nationally popular (I think this was a little bit before Britain, as it was during the reign of Queen Victoria when this happened in the UK).

Virtually every town has a Christmas market with the city of Strasbourg claiming to the have the oldest. Most of the large ones in Paris are open every day of the week. In the smaller towns or the Parisian suburbs, you can expect them to only be open during the weekend.

I suppose the major difference, is the 24th of December. It’s still regarded as a Christmas Eve and the 25th is Christmas Day, but the 24th seems to be more important. The French sit down for a dinner on the evening of the 24th, whereas we tend to have our Christmas feast the next day. This dinner is probably the most important dinner of the year and can sometimes last up to 6 hours long, with some delicious food.

Santa Claus comes on the same day as the UK and smaller children put out their Christmas stocking but older children and adults tend to open their presents on the 24th of December at midnight.

Mass is still an important part of Christmas in France. Although, fewer and fewer people are religious, the Christmas holidays do tend to draw in the crowds, particularly for the carol singing. Whether you are religious or not, if you are celebrating Christmas in France this year, you should check out your local church.

Finally, the food. It is pretty similar to what we eat. Turkey is a popular option although, I like to also cook Goose on some alternating years. Foie gras, an expensive type of liver pate is also popular and don’t forget to try Buche de Noel.