Sunday, February 21, 2010

L'Étrangère au Théâtre, no. 2: special arrested-development edition

We at the Department of the Foreign Person at the Theatre may have mentioned here before, in that plural way of ours, that a few weeks ago we went to see Les Marionnettes de Paris, a puppet show intended for ages approximately 1-5. As this department mentioned at the time, this is probably the only theatrical experience wherein everybody else understands the language better than you, but you are the only audience member who does not pee. Indeed, this department defies any other theatre-goer to encounter another such experience, even at the Comédie-Française.

Anyway, here is an expertly taken photograph – not to brag, but this is from our personal camera – of two of the principal company members. They did not give their names:

Les Marionnettes de Paris is, or possibly are, conducted by a puppeteer who devoted more energy and verve to this eensy-weensy show in an eensy-weensy room than this department saw from the entire cast of the last Broadway show it watched. (Although, as a loyal new-yorkaise à l’origine, we must say that this puppeteer and his puppets had NOTHING on them in terms of – and we mean this from the bottom of our heart – hair gel.)

The story of the week was Jack and the Beanstalk. You may have heard of it. This department had, but not in this particular incarnation, which includes a repeated sequence wherein Jack, trying to climb the beanstalk, makes a comical puffing noise with each climbing motion, only to pause – for a brilliantly timed second – and then AAAAAHHHHHHHHH fall out of sight. Let this department tell you that, in the glorious tradition of Sideshow Bob stepping on the rakes,* this bit -- which happened approximately 5,695 times throughout the show -- went from medium-funny to medium-rare-funny to suddenly THE FUNNIEST THING IN THE WHOLE ENTIRE WORLD AHAHAHAHAHAHA well, you had to be there.

Anyway, it was a truly lovely afternoon of theatre, marred only slightly by the fact that this department finally completely lost its composure at the beanstalk gag and had to be whapped upside the head by assorted French parents who, fortunately, had come prepared with strollers. But we are getting off track here. The best part of the afternoon was the audience participation; when prompted, even the parents called out (often without any evident awareness that they were doing it). Everyone in the eensy-weensy room was completely lost in the moment, given over only to deriving his or her own, unique brand of enjoyment. In a weird way, this department has seen few other productions that come so close to exemplifying what an experience of theatre should be.

As for the hair gel deficiency, this department supposes it is a Cultural Thing, and therefore we will have to give this nation a pass. THIS time.

* And if you do not know what I am talking about, it means you are a failure as a human being.

©2010 Nicola McEldowney

Saturday, February 13, 2010

I don't get why academics trash-talk Wikipedia

If not for it, I might never have known the meaning of the French word connivence.

I reprint verbatim:

Connivences est le 7 épisode de la saison 7 de la série télévisée Buffy contre les vampires.

And what did you learn today, hmmm?

P.S. SPECIAL NOTE TO ALL YOU ACADEMICS OUT THERE: I know, I know. You guys are tearing out your hair. "GAH! The MONSTROSITY of it all!" you are screaming. "Any FOOL knows it's season SIX!!!"

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

For those who parlent français: L'Étrangère au Théâtre, no. 1

Heads up, or as they say here, têtes up: I've begun guest-blogging, as a theatre critic, at my French school's blog, where they've just posted my review of the formidable Je l'aimais, at Paris' Théâtre de l'Atelier. (It's the first review under the picture.)

This is potentially the first of a series of critiques (French for "critiques") I'll be doing for that blog throughout the semester, so, stay tuned!


Monday, February 8, 2010

Winter Olympic Preview

The Winter Olympic Games are upon us, once again affording us sports fans worldwide the opportunity -- in celebration of the extraordinary talent and unfathomable skill the world's best athletes have to offer -- to sit back and eat chips.

Not that I am suggesting that is ALL we will do; naturally, we will eat pizza, too. Meanwhile, we will get reacquainted with the famous "viewer-friendly" Olympic programming format, which breaks down as follows:
  • Commercials for State Farm (77%)
  • Network "fluff" pieces about, for example, a snowboarder who went through a Rough Life Patch after he did the nasty with a goat, for which the Olympic committee punished him by sternly making him take a pee test, but he's a Stronger Person Now (22.9999995%)
  • Athleticism (.0000005%)

Of course, I say this from an entirely American perspective. Right now I am living in France, where I'm sure the broadcasting breakdown is entirely different, in that probably at least 40% of those commercials are for yogurt. At any rate, we at the Bureau of Olympic Geekdom are very much looking forward to seeing some of the amazing sports we don't normally see, because frankly they are boring as shit.

No! Joke! We at the Bureau are only kidding, in that Bureau way of ours! Obviously, the Olympics showcases many diverse and fascinating sports, which - get this - actually happen year round. In fact, a common grievance among us sports fans is that casual viewers tend to think a given Olympic sport happens only once every four years, despite the fact that this is clearly not true. For example, we are pretty sure, based on an exhaustive survey of our personal viewing habits, that the "luge" happens only every eight years, and that "curling" never happens at all.

Figure skating, on the other hand, happens every day, and totally coincidentally also happens to be our personal favorite sport. So we are very excited to watch our favorite skaters get out there on the ice in Vancouver, despite the fact that the sport's judging system has become so screwed up that every skater must now do the same exact program with the same exact jumps, footwork, transitions, term paper on Gender Studies, etc. The new judging system has its strong points, to be sure, but (a) it tends to really piss off ice dancers, who never get credit for ANY jumps, and (b) it is now completely anonymous, which means that technically speaking the judges can award the gold medal to whoever the hell they please, including the snowboarder who did the thing with the goat.

But it's all worth it when, in the end, someone has their triumphant Moment of Olympic Joy, a euphoric, magical, once-in-a-lifetime experience from which you can be sure the camerapersons will swiftly avert their lenses for to focus on someone else's Moment of Olympic Pain. Priorities, after all. So enjoy, and eat hearty. The Bureau knows it will.

©2010 Nicola McEldowney

Thought for the day, after attending a show at the Théâtre des Marionnettes de Paris

Attending, as an American, a French puppet show intended for 1- through 5-year-olds is the only theatrical experience where you are the only audience member who neither pees nor cries, yet everybody else understands the show better than you do.

(More on this soon.)

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Minisnark: Hey, stupid

This is an ad campaign by Diesel (the clothing company, I'm assuming). I noticed it last week on the Rue de Rivoli (literally, "Roo of Ravioli").

I really like this ad campaign, and at the same time, it bugs me -- basically because I don't think they quite have a bead on their definition of "stupid." Furthermore, who do they think they're targeting, exactly? How does this get anyone to buy their product? And why are the ads in this town, where the nuances of the meaning are likely to be lost? Hell, I don't think even the copy writers knew quite what they meant.

Or maybe it's just me. Suddenly I feel kind of ... well ... stupid. Hey! Maybe I would feel better if I bought their product.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Love's Language's Lost

Today's message comes to you from the Bureau of Expert Travel Expertise, where this week's Hot Tip for Travelers to French-Speaking Countries is:


We at the Bureau of Expert Travel Expertise base this on our whole entire three weeks of experience in a French-speaking country, where we have quickly found out that speaking the local language leads to horrible and destructive things, such as confidence. Here is what happens: when you first get really comfortable with your new language, you will suddenly find yourself, without warning, in the crushing death grip of the urge to say "okay" to everything, like this: "D'accord." Only problem with this is, d'accord means okay. It gives French people the impression that you understand what is going on. Whereas in fact:

→ EVER ←

No, instead, you are in the thick of the Gross Over-Confidence Stage of Language Learning. This is a stage in which you THINK you're making sense to everyone around you, when really you sound something like this:

YOU: Fnuh fnuh fnuh fiddle diddle widdle whee hee heee! I was go to the movies. Waka wa waa. Ee-ee oo-oo!
FRENCH PERSON (backing away slightly): Bonne journée.

Now this is not to say your French will not improve. Au contraire. Your French is certain to improve as long as you use it for practical situations. Of course this will never happen, because practical situations involve stress, and there is an old French rule that states, "Stressful situations require English." Take the other night, when, in a bold and rash moment*, I made the decision to do something. As you may know, this is in flagrant violation of another key traveler's rule:


Especially don't do what I did, which was attempt to go out to the suburbs. I was going to see Shakespeare's Love's Labour's Lost in French. Now this turned out to be one of the most beautiful productions I had ever seen, the kind of theatrical gem you keep in your heart and mind for the rest of your life. This in no way made up for having to get there and back, both of which involved - you guessed it - practical situations. First there was the bus situation. I should preface this by explaining that in New York, there is a certain question one might ask the bus driver without thinking. The question, asked while the bus is moving, goes like this: "Can I get off here?" What it MEANS is, "Can I get off at the next stop?" Not what it was taken to mean HERE, which was (I swear), "Can I leap from this moving bus?" Hence the following authentic transcript of my conversation with the Paris bus driver:

ME: On peut descendre ici? ("Can I get off here?")
DRIVER (after a beat): Non. C'est dangereux, mademoiselle. ("No. It's dangerous, dipwad.")

(The lady next to him then contributed to the occasion by smiling at me in the gentlest, most comforting of manners, clearly to reassure me that no, the leopards would not eat my brain.)

Of course I, frazzled comical foreign traveler, did not put two and two together until perhaps the next day. Instead, I took this to mean that GETTING OFF AT THE NEXT STOP was somehow dangerous, and I was promptly - you guessed it - spirited further and further and further away, into the Deepest Bowels of the Banlieue. By the time I got it into my head to descendre the hell off of there, I was God only knows where, equipped with an arsenal of approximately three remaining French words ("bien sûr" and "Danette," the latter being an excellent local yogurt that makes a world of difference to remember in highly frightening situations).

But naturally my language problem did not stay the same; no, with the passage of just a little time, it became much worse. This happened after the show, which as I have mentioned was wonderful, but in my opinion the night would have been vastly improved had the Earth been hit by an asteroid directly following the curtain call. Instead, it was time to wait for: the navette. This is a French word meaning "shuttle that is your only means of transport back to safety, which is supposed to leave the theatre at an unknown time, which will not occur within your immediate lifespan."** I asked French person after French person where to find the navette, and nobody knew, yet - and here is the bit that sticks with me - all of them were going on it. Yet time and again I had the following exchange:

ME: La navette part d'où? ("Where's the shuttle leaving from?")
FRENCH PERSON: J'ai pas. ("Meh.")

I don't know how we EVER would have connected with the navette if not for the actors from the production, who helpfully trotted out to the lobby about an hour later, consumed a series of rejuvenating beverages, and led everyone else around approximately 2,000,000,000,000,000 corners to some other place, presumably Sweden, where we finally got on the shuttle. From there we went to the Métro, on which I happened to meet and have an extraordinarily broken conversation with one of the actresses from the show. This was a terrific turn of events unless you count the facts that (a) all my three French words were long gone by now and (b) I was traveling in the wrong direction. The actress noticed it before I did, whereupon we had the following conversation:

ACTRESS: Oh, you actually meant to go the other way.
ME: Yes, I too am fond of yogurt.
ACTRESS: No, I said you meant to go the other way.
ME: I knew that.

At which point I lurched comically off the train, narrowly missing falling on my face. It was easily the highlight of the evening.

Now please understand, travelers: this does not mean that in such situations you will always lose your French. No, sometimes you will also lose your English. The other day at school, for instance, I attended a cross-cultural “atelier de conversation." This is a crosscultural activity in which French and American students gather and -- in a brave sociolinguistic effort to partake of one other's languages and cultures -- suppress snickers at each other. Yes, the results are typically imperfect, in that you*** sound like a person with a grave nerve disorder -- yet you will find, if you give it your best, most confident effort, you will sound like a confident person with a grave nerve disorder. I myself sat with a French guy, bluffing my way through French, for an hour before I finally started to feel really fluent. Then it came time for us to switch to English, at which point I realized – surprise! – my English was gone, too. It was really … like … a thing. Or something. Totally.

And yet there is always hope in the end, in that you will always have the words you need AFTER you need them. On which note, I would like to thank my actress acquaintance from the other night, wherever she is; without her help that night, I would most certainly be somewhere around Budapest by now. But it’s important to remember that these sorts of unplanned adventures are all part of the Fun of Traveling! One day, we will look back on such experiences, and we will say fondly to our grandchildren … oh, you know … something.

* This is a moment in which you get a bold rash.
** It is quicker to say "navette."
*** Yes, you personally.

©2010 Nicola McEldowney