You would find it hard to believe that christmas has ended here in Paris, because the french have a very ‘laissez-faire’ attitude to Christmas decorations. They can’t really be bothered to take them down. Despite it being the 24th of January there is still a Polar Bear standing awkwardly in our pharmacy shop window and Notre Dame in still has it’s Nativity scene set up outside the Cathedral entrance, with Joseph Mary and Lil J shivering in the January winds.
Although January is meant to be the most depressing time of year, there is no more beautiful place than Paris in January. The leaveless trees stand long, waiflike and elegant in the Jardin des Tuileries, their black silhouettes spread out against the sky like a cigarette smoker’s bronchi. The whole city is a soft charcoal grey, as if the whole place has been rubbed out with a dirty eraser and as the sun moves across the sky the Seine transforms from spruce to stone with flashes of indigo. On Saturday evening whilst walking across the Passerelle de Solferino at dusk - with the old lamps lit up and fog resting over the city eating up the tops of the buildings - the city looked hauntingly gothic.
It feels good to return to this city... however, I return to the city a different woman in comparison to the woman I was when I left. Crucially sober. No more Bordeauxs and carafes of Cote-du-Rhone for me. I’ve given up alcohol for 2016 and I’ve become vegetarian. This means I‘ve turned into what the french people call ‘boring’. On top of that, I’ve got my ‘work hat’ on - my new show is previewing at the Leicester Comedy Festival in Feb and I’m in the midst of perfecting the first draft. It’s about Mother Daughter relationships so in research for the show my bookshelf is full of academics such as Adrienne Rich, Simone de Beauvoir and Nancy Friday. So, I am also what the French people could call ‘pretentious’ or definitely ‘someone who shops at Shakespeare & Co’.
But anyway, as much as I try to come across as a ‘Parisian city girl’, the fact of the matter is, I live in Etampes... Paris’s dumpy little sister. And although she’s not at all as exciting, I have missed the quiet boring streets of the town and her unique character traits.
Since the end of first term I’ve moved out of the old house which homed Greg, Tom and Ryan and into a new one where the rent is cheaper, the rooms are more angular and where when the trains pass through Etampes Station the house vibrates and the beds sway. By chance I’ve moved in with three men again - all as odd as the last lot.
The three men are the following: Oliver, Viggo and Luke. Oliver looks like a cartoon of a good looking man (Imagine Gaston but ginger). He naturally walks like a marionette and is constantly eating eggs. I love him dearly. Viggo is a 2nd year student, from Norway and looks like John Travolta but if his head was a rectangle and with a nicer nose. He sleeps in the kitchen and has hung up only pictures of himself on the wall which means if you didn’t know it was his own room you would think Robin WIlliams’s character from ‘One Hour Photo’ was sleeping there. He is a babe. Finally there is Luke, who is what the gay community would describe as an ‘otter’*, he is heavilly moustached, only wears vests and enjoys lip-syncing to pop anthems. They are all wonderful.
We’re all back for the second term of Ecole Philippe Gaulier. On Monday it was evident that our first year class has shrunk considerably since the days of Le Jeu. There are only 30 in our class and thus we are all taught together rather than split into two groups. From 1pm until 6pm we dedicate our time between our movement teacher Rene Bazinet and our demon headmaster Philippe. The great positive is that we all are able to share in our failures and successes as we try our hardest to not be ‘fucking fucking awful’.
Our new movement teacher, Rene, has already hypnotized all our class with his serene eccentricity and deep focus as a teacher. In less than a week we have already learnt how to do some innovative stretches with tennis balls, full body undulations and how to be a dog. Rene, a “star of circus” according to Philippe was a student of his at the Le Coq school in the 70s. His face resembles a harlequin mask - his features as delicate and precise as if they had been carved into wood. He has the most immaculate eyebrows I have ever seen and constantly looks quizzical. I like him immensely. His hair is so white it is as if he has dipped his head in snow.
The school’s leader, Gaulier has become a grandfather, which apparently means that he is “becoming an old man now” - yet despite becoming a grandfather this has not meant he has mellowed in the slightest. In fact, his tongue is sharper than ever. He is teaching us Commedia dell’arte, Melodrama and Bouffon this term and already one week into class new quips to students include “Your body looks like gelatin”, “Does she not look like a vaccuum cleaner in Soviet Union before Stalin died?” and “She walks like a dog who feels pain in her balls’ alongside also getting another student on stage to kick another student “hard in the arse!”.
It’s fair to conclude that his teaching of different theatrical forms is also unique and possibly unlike the teaching at more traditional drama school such as RADA... For example his explanation of the infamous red dot on the Truffaldino mask in Commedia dell’arte? “Universities wank alot around this red symbol” he coughs, before moving onto something else.
As we are all trying and failing to find our way around playing with mask in first year class, the second years are studying Vaudeville this term. At the beginning of the course this involves them improvising around the one act plays of Feydeau. If Second Year Autocour on Friday is anything to go by this module mainly involves students such as second year student Sami using it as an opportunity to take their clothes off, which, for some audience members, is a highly positive experience.
Anyway, the weekend is nearly over... time for bed. Let’s see what the second week of second term has in store Gaulier’s comments haven’t been harsh enough to turn me to drink yet, but we will see... there is still time for the Tormenter to torment....
Keep your eyes peeled for my next blog where I talk about my adventures with my godsister Florence Morrissey...