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Drunk Theatre: “Hamlet” by Hiraeth Productions, Riverside Studios

Photo by Adam Trigg.

Adam Lawrence as Hamlet. Photo by Adam Trigg

 

I went to see Hiraeth ProductionsHamlet thanks to what is unquestionably the best email I have ever gotten, which began, “Hi Kerry, We at Hiraeth Artistic Productions loved your drunk review of our Richard III so much that we wanted to invite you along to review our next production”.

LIFE SUCCESS, GUYS! Truly I have forged an excellent future for myself in this important line of drunk arts criticism and it’s all G&Ts and midweek press nights from here on out: life sorted! Now however I went to the show in early June and it closed in late June, and if you’ve spotted the flaw in the fact that this post is going up at the end of July then congratulations you and well done on self-sabotaging your glorious would-have-been future me, and I deeply apologise to Tabitha, Hiraeth’s very kind press officer.

Nevertheless: The second Saturday in June was the first warm weekend day of the summer, and in the afternoon I went to Hammersmith to eat tacos and drink pitchers of margaritas, followed by prosecco followed by cider followed by gin, in the park by the river with Ewan and two single friends who I was idly hoping would hit it off. It was a very warm day and we got through A Fair Bit Of Booze before two of us peeled off to the Riverside Studios, where it remained very warm inside the theatre. This caused the actors to get a bit sweaty (helloooooo) and also resulted in me doing something I am very not proud of.

(Did I order another drink for the first half? I think so? Why did I do that?)

Director/HAP artistic director Zoe Ford picked out the concept from one of Hamlet’s more melodramatic lines, and set the story in a literal prison. Hamlet (Adam Lawrence) came on in a funeral suit and changed (onstage, helloooooooo) into grey sweats; the guard bringing him back inside murmured, “I’m sorry for your loss”. First question: why is Hamlet in prison? It’s presumably not for his father’s murder if he’s just been let out to go to the funeral; has Claudius framed him for something? Has young Hamlet actually killed a man, like Moses? Are they a mob family and has Hamlet been charged with something that stuck? Is he a fall guy?

The lack of explanation isn’t a fault with the concept, it’s excellent. Shakespeare has no problem throwing unexplained setups at us (Why is Lear splitting up his kingdom? Why did Duke Frederick depose Duke Senior? What war are the Dons coming back from?) and the imprisonment of the crown prince was the same thing, a fact that told us a lot about the rules of the world were dealing with – one in which it is acceptable to jail the queen’s son – and the character of this Hamlet – violent and very capable of decisive action.

Claudius (Russell Barnett) and Gertrude (Joyce Greenaway) were like George and Lucille Bluth played straight. Gertrude was naturally concerned for her son but I think slightly relieved that she didn’t have to deal with him at home any more. When she spoke with him after The Mousetrap, it was during contained visiting hours, and was broken up by a guard. When she drank from a poisoned water bottle, Claudius stepped back and watched her fall.

Ophelia (Jessica White) was a therapist who led group sessions among the prisoners (a lot of rejigging of lines here: The Mousetrap was awesomely staged as a therapeutic work that Hamlet’s parents were grudgingly coming to see, like parents to an awful primary school play). Her affair with Hamlet was a transgression in the opposite direction than it usually is, since inside the prison she had more social power than he did. Administrator Laertes (Darcy Vanhinsbergh) and warden Polonius (Antony Kernan) warning her off him was shaded by that implication that she was taking advantage of him, as well as potentially getting in over her head with a convicted felon.

The setting also brought out how much in the play Hamlet prefers the company of outsiders. He wants to leave Denmark for Germany; he blows off the royal family and the aristocracy to hang out with non-courtier Horatio and the palace guards; he overidentifies with Norwegian prince Fortinbras, and bonds with pirates and gravediggers. The grey prison sweats and the physical separation of bars and visiting hours really underlined that solidarity with Horatio, Bernardo and Marcellus, and distance from Ophelia, Laertes and the royals.

I can’t remember what they did with the gravedigger scene but I really liked it. Ditto the line reading of “Well, well, well”. These are scrawled in my notebook with big tick marks next to them, which is how I know they were good. I do remember the excellent lighting design when Ophelia killed herself; I can practically still smell the chlorine of the institution’s swimming pool.

The only bit I didn’t feel quite came together in the prison setting was Laertes’ part in the second half. In the play it’s really Laertes, not Hamlet, who leaks the outside world into the palace, when he opens the doors to the commons and threatens to lead a popular insurgency against the royals. In Hiraeth’s production the ‘court’ world was (intentionally) much more vague than the prison, so it wasn’t clear what a crowd calling “Laertes shall be king!” meant. His fight with Hamlet was heart-in-mouth – boxing with concealed shivs – but it didn’t have the weight and feeling of tragic balance that it can have when Laertes is grounded politically as well as emotionally.

To be honest I’m not sure if that could have been brought in while keeping the prison setting, and anyway I don’t need all Shakespeare productions to nail every part of a play; I expect in a few years there will be a fringe production that’s All About Laertes and leaves the audience going ‘wait, who’s that Horatio guy?’ or something. (And I will be there every night because Laertes is the besssst.)

Anyway, now that I’ve seen two Hiraeth productions I’m a definite, committed fan, not only because they don’t seem to mind when I turn up plastered and enthusiastic. They do Shakespeare energetically and really seem to enjoy cracking apart the plays and working them over to see what happens. They’ve also got over the slightly hand-wringy hesitance some fringe companies have, of feeling like they have to justify Doing Shakespeare, King of the Dead White European Men, and so treat him distantly, gingerly or ironically. Hiraeth is more like, because he’s a genius that’s why (and he is a genius), now everybody sit down and let’s theatre.

Characters in Hiraeth productions also take their shirts off and say “Fuck” a lot, choices I strongly approve of. So I’m planning to keep going to see them. And you should too! Only you can’t see their Hamlet because it closed last month. Sorry.

0

Foyles Bookshop, Charing Cross Road

Foyles Charing Cross Road
Foyles Charing Cross Road
Foyles Charing Cross Road
Foyles Charing Cross Road

Aren’t bookshops great? Apparently when I was a wee Portlander of six or seven, I asked my parents if Powell’s did birthday parties (it doesn’t, which in retrospect is probably one of the main reasons I fled America for the land of my ancestors). Powell’s is an excellent bookshop and probably one of the world’s best, although like most of Portland it suffers from overexposure these days among the twee bourgeoisie (I include myself in this group). It has very high shelves of medium brown wood, big crowded rooms organised by topic, and my favourite ever sign in a bookshop or any shop: Nautical Fiction / Erotica.

Foyles is the exciting big bookshop where you want to have your birthday party of London. It’s the best in the country (Blackwells is better organised, therefore less interesting), mostly because it’s trying to be a Bookshop in the way I think a bookshop morally should be, getting people excited about books as well as putting on really good events for people who are already excited about books and want to share that with other excited people. It puts on international literary tours and live-action Where’s Wally? hunts for kids and says lovely earnest things like, “Wherever possible we make our events at all of our branches free of charge so that everyone can experience the joy of hearing an author talk about or read from their work.”

In June the main branch moved a few doors down Charing Cross Road to a bigger space, in the building that used to house Central Saint Martin’s art college. In an Age of Dying Print and the Rise of the E-Book I find it very pleasing that Foyles is confident enough to move from its Grand Flagship to a Grander Flagship. Chris Foyle, the current majority owner (and grand-nephew of the Founding Foyles, William and Gilbert) said in the Guardian before the opening that he intended people to come to the new shop like they do Harrods or Hamleys, for the experience of being in an attractive place selling interesting things.

It’s light and airy inside, which I’m not sure a bookstore should be, but it is very pleasant. On the opening weekend they had displays showing off how much of an Institution Foyles is: a table of proper published books that mention the bookstore, by eg VS Naipaul, Mary Wesley, MC Beaton, John le Carre, and a “literary beginnings” table of (I think) books originally published or championed by Foyles.

The displays in the front room and the entrance to each floor are well spaced out, so you can stop in front of the staff recommendation shelves to look through them without feeling like you’re about to be in someone’s way. Walking up the stairs takes you past a recommendation shelf on each floor, an architectural choice hilariously patterned on Yo Sushi conveyor belts that was very successful for me, at least, as I was trying to speedwalk up to the café but kept going “ooh, that looks interesting!” and pivoting around to flip through books on the history of the drinking horn or the Year of Four Emperors.

The shop’s free wifi sends you to a book search page that shows you the exact location in the shop of the book you want, which is delightful.

Café
Cafe bar at Foyles
Cafe at Foyles

The Jazz Café at old Foyles was a famously great place to park yourself and read, write and generally Do Literary Café Things all afternoon, if you could get a seat. The new one is less cosy wooden coffeeshop and more minimalist warehouse loft. There are exposed pipes, the lights are bare bulbs in mason jars (seriously) and a large stained glass partition blocks off the back corner, which has some faux-Kabbalah designs and the phrase, AN IMAGE OF TRUTH, in block white letters; this is The Gallery and is apparently an installation by a former Central St Martins student. The font in the toilets is Helvetica.

Double espresso (£2.25) was good and it was easier to find a table than it was at the old one, at least at 11am on a Thursday. It’s light and exactly noisy enough that you can eavesdrop if you want to or pay attention to your book if you want to. I wavered about having lunch there or one of Soho’s many very good restaurants, and decided to stay put as the food seemed good value; this was the wrong choice. “Free range chicken pomegranate salad with giant couscous” (£8.50) sounded peppy but was commitedly tasteless; the chicken was pale, soggy and flaccid, the pomegranate was unripe and the couscous was like eating soft clumps of white noise. It was a completely joyless dish and I felt sad and embarrassed that an animal had died for it.

That said, I partially blame myself since bookshop cafés (like National Heritage sites) are traditionally not great for meals but usually good for cakes. I tested this and it was borne out at Foyles too. Orange lavender slice (£3.50) was lovely, thick, ideally iced and exactly the right place on the dry-moist spectrum to be beautiful with tea. I ate it and watched some builders wandering around the next level up, where there is a piano and a mic stand, implying there will be a dedicated music space like the old café had (hooray!).

I like a little bit of nook and cranny in my bookshop and the new Foyles does have a few among the straight clean lines and natural light. Half the third floor is foreign-language books, since in 2011 Foyles bought Grant and Cutler, then the biggest foreign-language bookseller in the UK. Crime and Sci-Fi are right next to each other, as are Film and Philosophy. It’s easy to accidentally go up or down a floor, which is fun. It’s a good building to wander around in. And yes, it does birthday parties.

2

“It’s a bad country for Jews”: Anti-semitism in Europe when Israel and Palestine fight

Statue of Alfred Dreyfus at the Jewish Art and History Museum in Paris

 

To hear some of my friends tell it, moving to Paris meant plunging into a roiling pit of anti-Semitism, Vichy, Le Pen and the Dreyfus affair all rolled up and ready to attack.

“You know France is really anti-Semitic.”

“It’s the largest Jewish community in Europe,” I said.

“It’s because of their history.”

“Actually, France was the first European country to make Jews full citizens.”

“The leftist movement there is really anti-Semitic.”

“Oh, the leftist movement everywhere is a bit anti-Semitic.”

“The number of people making aliyah from France is massively increasing.”

“That’s just scaremongering.”

“It’s a bad country for Jews.”

On Friday, the day after I left Paris, someone firebombed a synagogue in Belleville. In my last week, a 17-year-old Jewish girl filed a police report saying she was pepper-sprayed and called a ‘dirty Jew’ near Canal St-Martin. On Sunday, protesters attacked synagogues off Place de la Bastille, about ten minutes’ walk from my flat, trapping people inside for hours until the police used tear gas on the crowd outside.

Ewan came down to see me the first weekend of July, and we visited the Jewish museum. “I really hope there isn’t an attack!” I said. “I hope so too!” Ewan said cheerfully. There had been a shooting at the Jewish museum in Brussels a few weeks before. I didn’t really doubt there would be something similar in Paris soon; I was just hoping it missed us.

I am of course much safer than people in Israel and certainly than people in Palestine. Friends in Israel have been watching the Iron Dome destroy rockets aimed at them a few hundred feet above their heads, and making black jokes about waiting for ‘the boom’; friends in Palestine, who don’t have the same access to social media, have still been able to share stories and pictures of the rubble of their homes and communities.

(I’ve never been to Israel or Palestine, despite the gentle pressure, which I suspect comes both from the religious community and Israel’s tourism board, to visit Israel as some kind of Jewish duty; my opinion of what’s happening there is a fairly basic “HEY GUYS MAYBE STOP TRYING TO KILL PEOPLE?” But then again I am not a specialist in the region.)

Still, safer doesn’t mean safe: when ‘tensions’ (bombings and deaths) rise in Israel and Palestine, people start attacking Jews in Europe.

On Sunday night I was at a pub in north London watching the World Cup final. When an early Argentina goal was declared offside, a drunk Germany fan whooped and gestured at the screen with his right hand, palm down, arm stiff. “…I think that guy just did a Nazi salute?” I said. My friends looked up. He was waving both arms around. “Mm, I think he’s just drunk.” Twenty minutes later when Germany came close to scoring he did it again, then faced the room and did it to us. “Oh. No, okay. Yeah.”

In case you’ve never experienced it yourself, I can tell you that it’s very difficult to sit in a room and enjoy a football match when someone is gesturing, “I think exterminating you and all people like you is a good idea or at least an amusing one” ten feet away. I’m slightly embarrassed to say I felt personally unsafe, even though in the end he didn’t do anything more aggressive than blocking the view and expanding his repertoire to the quenelle (très international!).

The worst part is you really have no idea when something is going to kick off. Jewish museums and synagogues are obvious targets, but it could happen anywhere. Aside from avoiding synagogues and Jew-y places like museums (which I’m not going to do) and not looking obviously Jewish (which I’m not ethnically; I’ve also stopped wearing my chai necklace in public for now), I don’t think I can really do anything but reiterate my main opinion on the whole mess: HEY GUYS MAYBE STOP TRYING TO KILL PEOPLE?

0

Ten Things I Hate About Paris

Don’t get me wrong, Paris is brilliant. This is a list I’m making so that, when I go back to London in a little over a week, I’ll be doing it gracefully and not while uglycrying and digging my nails into the Eurostar check-in desk.

1. Parisians don’t quite understand what the handrails on the Metro are for.

Example:

Guys, what am I supposed to do with that? I’m assuming they’re Parisians because they’re the ones speaking French and archly smirking as we wide-eyed foreigners look baffled about where we’re supposed to put our hands and try not to fall over, but hey Jean-Paul, can you not instead just déplacer tu derriere?

2. Everyone here speaks English.

How is this a problem, you ask. It’s because I am IN THEORY here to improve mon francais, but what has instead happened is that everyone listens to me speak for five words and then cuts gracefully in in English. The result of this is that now when someone approaches me and speaks to me in French, or I meet one of the few people here who doesn’t speak English (usually someone in a shop when I am trying to find plastic cups to drink wine out of at a picnic, or something similarly urgent), I go “Uhhhhh, uhhhhhhhhhhhhh, le, um, oh god I’m so sorry” and run away. (Not chic.)

3. My flat has a few issues:

  • It is up six flights of stairs.
  • There is no oven, or microwave, or any way to heat things other than two stovetop hobs.
  • The stovetop hobs are currently covered in books and empty wine bottles (to be fair this is my fault).
  • The washing machine doesn’t work. I discovered this after attempting to run a load of laundry, and when I emailed the landlord (Airbnb renter) to ask about this he went “Oh yeah, I should have mentioned that! There’s a laundromat just around the corner! Really easy!” “Great,” I muttered as I stared down at my damp powder-covered underpants.
  • Toilet makes gurgling noises and pipes knock randomly, meaning I am in constant fear of a sewage explosion.
  • Lots of great bars and cafés around means I am staying out late drinking avec locals and watching la Coupe de Monde, leading to sleep deprivation, grumpiness, purple hollows under eyes, puffy face, etc. (NOT CHIC.)
  • Has a view of the Eiffel Tower, but you have to wedge yourself into a really odd corner next to the stove, so you’re either uncomfortably going “Hmm, yes, that is the Eiffel Tower all right! It sure is tall and iconic!” or comfortably sitting somewhere else going “HEY WHY AREN’T YOU LOOKING AT YOUR AMAZING VIEW OF THE EIFFEL TOWER RIGHT NOW, PARIS WASTER???!!?!”

yes good can I go to bed now

4. Really pushy dudes.

Really pushy! Sometimes they are grabby-pushy (I had a lovely experience with a guy who didn’t even seem very drunk, who grabbed my arm when I was walking home from house party near Pere Lachaise at 3am and, when I tried to keep walking, shouting some very rude words at me) or sometimes they just slide up and sit next to you while you are reading at a bar or café and start talking to you without checking for any kind of interest whatsoever, but either way I am really missing the awkward London don’t-make-eye-contact stranger shuffle.

5. Walking all across the city in any spare time is wearing out my favourite shoes and sometimes scraping the skin off my feet.

(Of course the alternative, which would be not walking around Paris all the time whenever I can, would still be worse.)

6. Gorgeous fluffy crisp-crusted baguettes for less than a euro fresh-baked at every hour of the day or evening

wait that’s for the other list dammit

7. Deodorant is five euro.

Not even posh deodorant, but the Monoprix own-brand stuff that slowly comes apart in your hands after a few days and drips on the floor when you’re putting it on. Yesterday I came home and saw three drops of thick white fluid drying on the floor, so of course I immediately thought, Is that semen? Has someone been sneaking into my flat to masturbate? Is that something that’s likely to have happened? My laptop and camera are still around so probably not? Anyway it doesn’t smell like semen? So I wiped it up and forgot about it until this morning, when I picked up my deodorant and it was OOZING. Floor semen mystery solved! Why this cheap plastic applicator costs more than £4 = case still open.

8. THERE ARE PEOPLE EVERYWHERE.

Yes, I appreciate that I am also a tourist and therefore also clogging up the streets with people who are goggling around going “ooh look it’s a big famous thing! Or a café! Or a dog! Que Parisien!” and taking lots of photos.

“Look, a street with a restaurant on it! I must photograph this immediately for such things do not exist anywhere else in the world”

EG Shakespeare & Company is objectively a fantastic bookstore, but it’s also crammed (when I walked by there was a queue to get in!) with 19-year-old Americans who think Jack Kerouac is deep, and while many of us have been such a 19-year-old American, that doesn’t mean I particularly want to spend time with them now. I am particularly resentful about this because the sort of pretentions expats I want to hang out with aren’t around during the summer: my attempts to lurk around the Sorbonne and eavesdrop on arguments about political philosophy have been thwarted by classes being out.

9. I am legitimately coming close to finding out whether there is such a thing as peak baguette.

10. The fact that this, whatever it is, took place before I got here but the poster is still up in my favourite local wine shop, taunting me:

Guys, I have no idea what’s going on here but I really want in on it.

15

Uncool in Paris

After the Portugal-Ghana match, I went to dinner at Candeleria, a trendy Mexican bar/restaurant in the 3rd. Standing next to me at the bar was a rail-thin American woman in a tied-up crop top that was basically a long-sleeved bra, who was pouring drinks all over herself (and me) and wailing insincerely, “I’m soooooooo sorrrrrrrrrrrry!” In an attempt to set a good counterexample of My People I sat up straight and pointedly read Eric Hobsbawm, although this was on my Kindle so I think the snobby leftist intellectualism failed to come across. The bartender was an exasperated geek girl aged about 20 in a white-and-black-striped cotton shirt and dark blue skinny jeans, who looked like Velma from Scooby Doo and had not yet learned the Parisian customer service art of blithely not giving a shit.

I ordered a plate of guacamole and a chorizo taco (both excellent) and a SoCal-Mexican-style frozen margarita. The bar had two frozen margarita mixers, one pale green (lime) and one red (hibiscus). The man accompanying the drunk American woman pointed to the red one. “We’ll have two of those, I guess? Liz?” He was also American and had a beard and looked like an annoying Ryan Reynolds. Young Velma poured them and handed them over with a hopeful openness that made me want to take her home and explain about everything terrible in the world.

Two minutes later the woman had a sip and set the drink back on the bar, and waved over Young Velma. “I’m soooooooo sorrrrrrrrrry,” she said. “But I don’t know how it happened, but we ordered regular margaritas?”

“…”, said Young Velma.

“I just,” she said to the man, “I can’t.” She gestured. “Drink this, I can’t. Drink it.” To Velma. “I ordered a normal margarita.”

“…”, said Young Velma. After a fifteen-second eye contact standoff that I don’t think Liz understood was happening, Velma poured a regular frozen margarita and handed it across to her.

I moved the hibiscus margarita away from the edge of the bar, as I was wearing a white sundress and Liz had been tipping drinks all over the place. She knocked back the one in her hand in about five minutes and started holding onto her man friend like he was the hand rail in a metro carriage. He looked torn between feeling like he should be delighted at having a Hot Drunk Woman in his arms and genuine concern for her wellbeing. Liz looked around. “Where’s my drink?”

“You drank it, hon,” he said.

“No. There it is!” she said, and grabbed the red margarita. A third of it went onto my skirt. “Oh my god, I’m sooooooooooooooo sorrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrry!” she said.

Young Velma wordlessly ran a clean dish towel under the tap for ten seconds, and handed it to me to dab at my dress.

I got stain out and decided that was about as much Cool Bar as I had the energy for, so I finished my own drink, paid up and tipped Young Velma 50%, and slid past Liz’s man, who had moved through confusion into full anxiety (“Hon, don’t you think you should have some food?” “People are always saaaaaying that! You sound like my rooooooommate!”).

As I walked towards Republique metro station, from a first-floor window I heard glasses clinking, people laughing and someone playing a guitar and singing in a French accent one of my favourite ever songs: “Well, our luck may have died and our love may be cold, but with you forever I’ll stay/We’re going out where the sand’s turning to gold…”

I stopped to listen. I felt a very simple happiness. I started to sing along quietly.

An incredibly handsome man sitting at the window noticed me. He leaned out and said, “Bon soir!”

“Bon soir!” I said. I was embarrassed and lightly drunk.

“You like it?”

“I like Bruce.”

He laughed. “Come up! I mean it. The door code is B1467.” I had to make him repeat this three times. I crossed the street and buzzed inside. Upstairs he had opened the door to the flat, and greeted me with two cheek kisses and a hand grazing my lower back.

Everyone in the room was very good-looking and (this is crucial) cool. The women were thin, with long, unbrushed hair and bright red lipstick; they all looked like Kate Moss body doubles. The men were also all thin in a wiry-muscly way, and were wearing white or blue button-up shirts and pressed jeans, and everyone – everyone – had a glass of wine in their right hand and a cigarette between the first two fingers of the same hand. I was immediately and unquestionably perceived and treated as The Fat One. (I am a UK size 14.)

A Belgian woman named Mathilde introduced herself (everyone also spoke English). “So what are you doing in Paris?”

“Er, je suis journaliste.”

“Oh, de la mode?”

“Uh, no, de, um, terrorisme.”

Wide eyes. “Wow! …Do you read much about fashion?”

I determined that Everyone usually met at this place before going on to Wherever. “How do you know Michel?” she asked. Michel was presumably the ridiculously handsome man whose flat it was. “Oh, I don’t actually, I was, um, just passing by after dinner–” “Oh, you’ve had dinner? Already?” It was 9pm.

Michel slid by and pulled me up by the hand. “You can drink whatever you want!” he said, guiding me to the kitchen bar. There was a bottle of room-temperature rosé and a nearly empty bottle of Jack Daniels; I poured myself a full glass of the rosé.

I went back to the sitting room, where after the contractually obligated singalong of “Wonderwall”, Michel announced, “OK, bar! We are leaving here in two minutes!” I thought, what the hell, it’s only nine-fifteen, I’ll go on to the second location (which by then was technically my fourth location). It was after dark but still so pleasant that no one needed a jacket. As we walked over to a bar I chatted with a tall woman from Thailand. “You live in London? You’re so lucky!” She was extremely pretty and turned out to be a model.

At the bar drunken conversation followed and I hated all of it. Every time I made a joke people looked blank and smiled politely, and I don’t know whether it was because I couldn’t speak French and they were all getting back at me by pretending to not get jokes in English, or I’m just not very funny, but each time I felt more insecure and retreated, so my contributions got more and more obscure and incoherent until I was just chugging red wine and paraphrasing All’s Well to make myself laugh.

I finally decided to cut my losses and go home, and au revoired everyone, who half-heartedly waved me off and kept talking to each other.

Michel stopped me on the corner with a hand on my wrist, and slid his arm around my waist.

“But, you’re not coming home with me?” he said. He seemed genuinely confused. “I thought we were going to sleep together.”

Reader, he was banging hot, and I had a sudden flash of what it would be like to kiss him, and it was very excellent indeed. I was sincerely tempted to go back to his flat and make out frantically for twenty minutes before jumping up and running home in a fit of self-loathing (this was my MO in university). But I discovered I really didn’t want to, because I love my husband so much.

It was one of the most illuminating moments of my marriage. I’ve never had such an enticing temptation so obviously laid in front of me, or had such a clean response to it. I could see that it would be a delightful experience, but also I just didn’t want to do it.

When I got together with Ewan I was much younger than I thought I would be when I met my husband – I was 23 – but I have never felt anything that was automatically so right and made me feel so happy, except maybe moving to London when I was 20. I can’t believe that I’m 27 and I’ve been married for three years. 22-year-old me would be so skeptical. But getting married to Ewan was both the easiest major decision I’ve ever made and the one that has made me the most happy every day since making it (you’ll be excused to go vomit in a plastic bag).

Anyway, I couldn’t remember whether I’d mentioned my uxorial status, but I thought my ring was a clear signifier, so I said, “Um, I’m married…?”

Michel shrugged. “Not in Paris.”

I didn’t have the skill or sobriety to argue against such urbane sophistication, so I stepped back and said, “Okay, bye,” and shook hands with him and walked off through the Marais back to my flat. I got in about 1am and I’m pretty sure I was still drunk in the morning when I got up and went to work.

I think a cool person would have been comfortable at the crowded noisy bar and resigned to Liz dumping drinks all over the place, at home in the strange house party, and possibly even okay with having a one-night affair with the hot (he was so hot) Frenchman who was so clearly into me. But guys, I am really not cool. Even including the first and last extremely flattering exchanges with said Frenchman, I was uncomfortable and awkward in every conversation I had. Not that the people weren’t nice – they were, or seemed to be, generally good-natured, friendly and welcoming, and even Michel took rejection very easily, with a Gallic shrug and a handshake – but because I just didn’t have anything to talk about with them.

Really what I think this means is that I need to get a paper copy of Hobsbawm, so that when I am stroppily reading mid-century revolutionary theory in a trendy bar, I can do it at people.

7

BLOWS DUST OFF WORDPRESS CONSOLE

Hello there! I haven’t been around for a while because my life’s been kind of boring and nobody needs to hear about that, but now it is slightly less boring!

UK citizenship

I have this now! After all my fretting over the oath of allegiance to the Queen (which I still think is bullshit), it turned out at Islington Council’s ceremony, at least, everyone says it at the same time; at my ceremony there were 84 people becoming citizens (exciting!), so I could cross my fingers and mumble it, which was enough for me to feel like I wasn’t perjuring myself and enough for the council not to care.

Also I still got to wear my sweet new shirt from Republic:

And a month later I had the opportunity to vote in the UK for the first time, in the European elections! I feel very proud to have helped make my very red ward a little bit more red.

Travel

Paris: I’m living in Paris for a month from yesterday! What? I’m still a bit surprised and pleased by this! My company has an office in Paris, and a few months ago I just said to my boss, “Would it be possible for me to work from Paris for a month? I think that would be fun?” and he said “That’s a great idea!”, and then it happened! That was it! I’ve mentioned before, I hope, that I really love my job, which has a lot of the excitement of reporting on Marie Colvin style immediate danger without any of the, er, immediate danger to myself, but I also really love my job because when I go “Hey, Paris?” they go “Absolutely yes!” Way to go me for somehow making good career choices despite all appearances.

Now although I do not technically “speak” “French”, last week I spent on holiday in Loiret and Normandy, so I’m basically fluent. (This is a lie.) (But that’s fine because Parisians famously love it when English-speakers come over and can’t speak French and expect everyone to be able to speak English at them.) (I have a juvenile learning edition of Les Miserables and a copy of a political magazine I don’t understand very well, it will be fine.)

TRANSLATION: “There are all the failings of nuances in this brunet chap, who is a train in the tomb of Europe. Proving this is the English UKIP, which is nationalist and isolationist, but not a patch on the French Front National, the son who didn’t intend to speak with the Greek Golden Dawn, which is neo-Nazi.” You see? Voila!

Also here’s the view from my balcony:

RIGHT? RIGHT? NB however here is the inside of my flat (it is very tiny):

Tres, um, bohemienne.

Wales, Yorkshire, Padua, Venice, Troyes, Orleans, Rouen, Antwerp: Oh cripes maybe I haven’t been that boring lately after all. But I have been stuck on writing about it. I’ve been to all these places this year and I’ve gotten plastered in each of them, except Wales (despite my best efforts, it is very difficult to get plastered in small-town Wales) and Orleans (where I got food poisoning, which had all the aftereffects of drinking heavily but none of the fun). My favourite was Rouen, which was very unexpected – I tagged it onto the end of a Joan of Arc trip and ended up loving it best of all. It’s a lively friendly city with exactly the right proportions of history, food, university students and outdoor bars (ie lots).

Books

Favourites I’ve read lately:

I Wonder As I Wander, by Langston Hughes: I read this in college and reread it last month. It’s the best travel writing book I’ve ever read. Langston Hughes is one of the best writers of the 20th century and best American writers ever, and his prose is so clear and engaging it would make me grumpy if I weren’t so *_* over it. Hughes was contracted to go to the USSR to advise on a film being made about racism and class in the US, written by the Soviet culture committee and focusing on fictionalised solidarity between northern white industrial workers and southern blacks, based on class consciousness and union membership. Hughes and a group of black American actors lived in Moscow for around six weeks while the film slowly fell apart, then travelled around the USSR, which was just getting off the ground, as guests of the government. Later he drove around the southern US on a speaking tour, went to Mexico for his father’s funeral and ended up hanging around with Diego Rivera et al for several months, travelled to fascist Japan and Shanghai, where he met Madame Sun Yat Sen, and covered the Spanish Civil War from Madrid. It’s a fascinating period in history for all of those places, and Hughes is a very clear observer and again just so, so good with putting words into sentences. I strung out the last twenty pages for three days, and was very sad when I didn’t have any more to read.

Great White Way: Race and the American Broadway Musical, by Warren Hoffman: First let us take a moment to marvel at the sublime title. This is a witty, incisive look at the way race and racism have operated in American musicals. Hoffman picks one or two musicals to illustrate each problem, moving forward about a decade per chapter, and looks at both racism in musicals and musicals in race. Lots of musical fans know that West Side Story was originally about Jews and Catholics clashing in New York, for example, but Hoffman connects the dots that this was changed because, between the time the musical was conceived and it was produced, Jews in New York “became” white, meaning the ethnic tension between whites and non-whites needed to come from different groups. Hoffman draws attention to the ‘missing’ non-white characters in Oklahoma! and The Music Man – plays that aren’t generally perceived as being ‘about’ race, which as he points out is exactly the problem. Oklahoma! is set in ‘Indian territory’, making all the characters white European colonisers on the front lines of a terrible ethnic cleansing, which is never mentioned in the script except for the implied threat behind “Territory folk should stick together…the farmer and the cowhand should be friends” – in case of an attack from indigenous Americans. Hoffman is also hilarious and I laughed a lot while reading this, often on the train and in other public places.

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, by Susanna Clarke: I have good memories of reading the big paperback of this while taking trains all around the UK in 2006. It was my first introduction (well, after Harry Potter) to what I’ll wankily call the English character, and I’m pleased to see it holds up both as a fun and witty historical fantasy novel and an excellent illustration of Englishness. It’s a Regency novel pastiche set in an early-1800s England in which magic exists, but it’s really about hilariously petty academic spats, Northern England, the ethics of technology (in the sense that magic is a technology), different ways that men marginalise women whether they intend to or not, rational attempts to catalogue and tidy up the irrational, and very good jokes. There’s a miniseries coming up on the BBC this autumn that has promising casting and which I’m looking forward to.

Films

So yep that was pretty enjoyable

Theatre

The day before I left London I went to Hiraeth‘s production of Hamlet, which riffed off one of Hamlet’s more melodramatic lines and set the whole thing in a prison. I’ll write about this more in a proper post, because it was really interesting – Hiraeth, judging by this and precedent, does a good line in my favourite kind of Shakespeare, which is getting fingers stuck into the text and pushing it around and seeing what happens, always with an eye on what makes the play work. I hate reverently hands-off Shakespeare; Hiraeth does reverently hands-on Shakespeare, which is what everybody should do but doesn’t. also shirtless dudes

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Header art by Tod Wills.