#5 The Clown Diaries - Neutral Mask
It's Monday morning on the 16th November. My room is currently being hounded by a very peristant and irritating wasp*.
The plan was to publish this article on Saturday, however, it's hard to attempt editing an amusing travel blog when one is still reflecting and processing the horror of what happened on Friday in the city the blog is based around. A large silent wave has washed over the city, people seem sullen and shell-shocked.
Paris as a city is so petite in size that when looking at where the attacks happened it is as if the gut of the city was stabbed. Unlike London which is so vast in size and depth, Paris is the type of city where you can walk around it all effectively within a day. It's not big at all. No matter where you were in the city on Friday, you felt the tremors of what occured and everyone feels fragile and delicate because of it.
Sunday morning a group of us from the school all met at St Basille Church in Etampes. Unlike previous weekends were the church is fairly empty, the church was rammed - many people of different religions too filled the aisles. There was a severe atmosphere of serious thought and melancholy. The priest asked everyone to join hands and pray outloud. It was a significant moment of meditation and union amongst everyone at a particularly confusing time.
After church many from the school gathered at our house for coffee, tea and baguettes. Our home has become the 'bucket of Etampes'. Everyone has been in our kitchen at some point and it's usually full of vegans. The running club are now having galettes and couscous in the kitchen and later tonight more of us will be having a roast. Later on this week we'll be having our second poker meeting. Keep calm and carry on.
Everyone at the school is working closely to deal with the shock. There is a large group of us all going to give blood on Thursday morning. Overall, it's important at times like these to unify together, stay strong, give as much love as one can and focus on the beautiful aspects of day to day life. Let not the horror of Friday tremor into our confidence and love of the city and crack it open.
Anyway, on cheerier topics, below is the blog from last week.
Currently at the time of writing this Tom is in the kitchen. He is making an assortment of sweet and savoury crepes for the house. Because that is the type of amazing man he is.
Tom is my housemate and in Group A at Gaulier. We rarely work together on projects at school but we get to bond on the 'big issues' when we are home alone in our kitchen. Big issues such as 'How many macarons are too many macarons?', 'Is it too soon to bake that Camembert' and 'Who is your celebrity crush?'. I asked this particular question to Tom and he replied with 'The French Education Minister'. Because that's the type of amazing man he is.
He asked the same question to me. My reply was 'Robert Redford... but not young Robert Redford. 63 year old Robert Redford in The Horse Whisperer'. Because that's the type of woman I am.
If you can't get from my writing tone, I am going insane in Etampes. It's week 5 of the course, week 7 in France, and my Englishness is battling with the classy and weird ways of the french.
In order to deal with this growing derangment I popped back to London at the weekend.
Crucially the reason I popped back was to visit the hospital to get some scans done. Mid scan the nurse asked, "Have you travelled far to get here?", "Paris" I replied. "Oh gosh!" she said " I do love a baguette".
I forgot how much I'd missed the cacophony of London, the grumble of the tube, the sludge on the road, the variety of accents and languages you hear layered over one another on the streets. However, god, having spent nearly two months in France it puts in perspective how rubbish English bakeries are. I spent the whole weekend craving Macarons and when I arrived back in Etampes the first thing I did was bulk buy about 6 from Benoit & Sabrina's bakery. Soft crisp strawberry discs of lusciousness.
I also made the impulsive decision to get all my hair chopped off back in London. This hadn't been the original aim of going to the hairdressers but when I sat down in the chair, my hairdresser said the following words:
“Your mum has told me not to cut your hair too short”
This statement resulted in my immediate response being "CHOP IT ALL OFF" - because if there is one thing all daughters hate, it is obeying their mother.
Subsequently I now have hair that makes me look like a Mowhawked David Beckham in the morning and a mildly glamorous Mia Farrow in the afternoon.
Halfway through the haircut the Hairdresser and I ended up getting onto the light conversation topic of Feminism. Whilst chopping my hair she stated "That feminst stuff wouldn't work here... We've GOT to wear lipstick' before waiting 20 seconds to shout "I didn't realise you were a feminist. Your Mum said you had had a boyfriend."
After chatting a bit further about the feminist fight for equality we ended up having a nicer, calmer chat about the new John Lewis advert.
Back in Etampes I feel relieved to have returned to the land of the bizarre. I've accepted that almost everyone plays the Ukulele and that almost everyone suffers from anxiety dreams involving Philippe Gaulier shouting at you and banging a drum.
In the last week Gaulier has had an operation on his eyes, and whilst he waits for his new glasses to arrive he now uses a giant magnifying glass to look at text messages and the track listings on his Ipod. Arguably it does make you question how much he can see when you are on stage - but his comments and directions remain as astute and cut-throat as ever, so we conclude it's only short distances he has problems with.
Back at School it is the beginning of Greek Tragedy and Neutral Mask for the first years. It is a completely different kettle of fish to Le Jeu. Unlike Le Jeu which often encouraged comedy and ridiculousness to erupt from performers Neutral Mask is a more considered form of performance. It's intensely physical. So far our first week has involved us pretending to be 'the elements' - using our bodies to embody water, a tempest or fire. We have a new movment instructor called Juan who looks like a young Jack Sparrow, if Jack Sparrow was from Barcelona and phenomonal at the Splits. His dance classes are the dance equivalent of the film Whiplash and almost everyone is now covered in bruises.
As school has gone on and Gaulier has started to become familiar with each student one thing that he does love is a nickname. He is not one for shouting surnames like an old boarding school master. He hears your name, interprets it in a way he thinks is best fit and then from that he'll exaggerate and tease with whichever pronounciation he finds produces the most amount of sniggering and laughter from his students...
For this reason, Ryan will always be Brian, despite constant correction. Marcus is 'Cous Cous' unless he does something wrong, Myles is 'Kilometers', Scarlett is 'Skeleton', the Parisians are 'The Frogs' and anyone from Britain is 'Roast Beef'. If you are a clumsy walker you are coined 'John Wayne with an erection"and if you're too competitive in a game you're nicknamed 'Napoleon'. If you have a lot of facial hair, be prepared to be called 'Moustache'.
I was originally given the name 'Asparagus', - then since I've got all my hair chopped off I am now referred to as "YOU boy, with the horrible fucking haircut".
Ah well, at least he knows who I am. I think.
Have a lovely day,
Until next week,
* Shouting at him to 'Fuck Off' is not helping the situation.