Anatomy of a Steak Tartare

This blog is teetering on the edge of total disarray because so much has been going on that I almost can’t keep up with it. In addition to teaching, field trips, and a couple of other fun excursions, I’ve been to the doctor three times this week with sick or injured faculty or students. THREE TIMES. Today when I sat down in his office, “our” doctor looked at me across the desk and said “Vous savez, nous sommes fermé le dimanche.”* Everybody wash your hands and be careful out there, okay?

So in between trips to the doctor’s office I have managed to get in some top-quality cultural experiences. Last night with Dr. Kirk’s class I saw L’Anatomie de la sensation by Wayne McGregor at the Paris Opera Ballet. It was an incredible experience. I have plenty of background with ballet but none with contemporary ballets such as this one, set to a piece of music titled “Blood on the Floor” and featuring a high-tech movable set. The dancing was simply extraordinary. Contemporary dance is fairly easy to do badly but incredibly evocative when done well. This ballet does not have a storyline but instead focuses on the quality of movement and the shifting relationships among the dancers, so it really shows off the artistry and the technical prowess of the company.  I was thrilled at the opportunity to see it and disappointed when it was over–I probably won’t get a chance but I was tempted to attend a second performance just to study the dancing again.

Today’s highlight was a visit to Les Tontons with the 4 students who had signed up for my “Dinner Club.” Dinner Club is one of the optional activities our program is offering; professors choose a restaurant for dinner and students sign up to go with them. I picked Les Tontons on my Parisian friend’s recommendation because their specialty is beef tartare. Two years ago I discovered that I love tartare. Meanwhile, most Americans probably haven’t tried it and/or are horrified by the idea of eating uncooked chopped beef. So I was surprised when I posted my Dinner Club on Facebook and 4 students immediately signed up. Three of them ordered tartare poêlé (seared), which I think is cheating, but you have to start somewhere, right? They were all very enthusiastic and everyone cleaned their plates, so I’m calling this Dinner Club a success. Les Tontons is relaxed and friendly, not at all touristique, and of course the food is excellent. Next time I might splurge and get the Tartare A.O.C.–see if my little American palate can tell the difference.

My choice: tartare traditionnel, frites, salade (not pictured: a 1664 en pression and a chocolate mousse for dessert).

The students with their meals.

Tomorrow we go to the Loire Valley to see the châteaux for the weekend. I am so excited. Get ready for LOTS of pictures.

*”You know, we are closed on Sundays.” He was teasing me, and in fact I was amused and touched that he cracked a joke because he has seemed very deadpan and shy in the past.

Breakfast in America and Dinner on a Boat

Field trip day #2 for my World Lit. class. I think this means half of our field trips are already done! Holy cow. That makes me feel like time is flying, but in fact we do not have a field trip next Tuesday because that’s Bastille Day. So it doesn’t really mean the program is half over. Whew.

We went to the Musée Carnavalet which is an eternal favorite of mine. It is the museum of the history of Paris and it illustrates the ways in which Paris has changed throughout its history. It’s also a beautiful structure–2 hôtels particuliers put together–and worth going just to see the building:

This was my third time at the Carnavalet so I did not take very many pictures inside but I still love the shop signs:
18C cats: vaguely horrifying, at least when made of metal.

My first take was a barbershop but I’m sure these scissors probably represented a tailor.
Also found this great painting of Voltaire dictating to his secretary while getting dressed:
The audioguide said that the painter, Jean Huber, was a friend of Voltaire’s and did a whole series of paintings of him in distinctly domestic/non-glamorous circumstances. Voltaire ultimately felt that Huber had imposed on their friendship, which is probably true, but I love the reminder that this great philosopher and writer was also a real person and didn’t just look like this all the time:
This summer I’ve been requiring students to participate in field trip planning and execution, including input on where we eat lunch. Today they picked Breakfast in America, a place I’ve known about for years but never visited. Although I am a “When in Rome…”person and don’t choose to eat American food when overseas, I know how evocative and comforting food can be when one is homesick. And I have to admit that B.I.A. knows its way around a burger and fries. The class was pleased with their American-style lunch; the server was incredibly nice and obliging; and now we have a place to go when Daniel gets really desperate for eggs and bacon in the morning.
(But next time we’re going to L’As du Fallafel. Because I’m the teacher and I said so.)
No sooner had we returned from the Marais than it was time to get ready for the dîner croisière a.k.a. Dinner on a Boat. This is the second year we have done a “formal” dinner on the Seine and it is a lot of fun. Everybody got there in good time and looked splendid. Luckily the few drops of rain that started to fall as we were waiting to board did not dampen us or our spirits too much as we boarded the boat. Daniel and I sat with Dr. Guglielmi and his wife and we did so much chatting during the meal that I did not take a single photo. This might mean we have to do another dinner cruise once our friends get here in a couple more weeks, right? Then, unfortunately, the sky opened as we were disembarking and we got pretty wet on the way back to the RER. But by then everyone was in the mood to have fun and took their best “soaking wet in Paris” selfies on the walk while laughing it off and huddling under umbrellas. 
The company we use is Bateaux Parisiens; while I have not tried any others and can’t compare, I think the food is pretty good, the service is pleasant, and it’s overall an enjoyable atmosphere. It’s a relaxed and unique way to see the monuments of Paris. And the students really have an excellent time. After a few days in the routine of classes and field trips it is good to put on a nice dress and be served a nice meal. It’s even better if you bring your dance partner and he gets you out on the floor as dessert is being served. I’ve heard there is video so I’ll see if I can add a link to this post later on.
In the words of Samuel Pepys: And so to bed.

2015’s first field trip: Musée du Moyen-Age

The program calendar turned out a little weird this year with our first classes happening on a Friday (yesterday) and the first round of morning class field trips today (Saturday). I was very happy with the weird calendar because it meant I could take my class to the Musée du Moyen-Age–that is its official name, Museum of the Middle Ages, but most people still call it the Cluny. It’s a natural fit for my class (World Literature I) but it’s closed on Tuesdays, which is my usual field trip day, so I’ve never been able to take a class there before.

The Cluny consists of 2 buildings that have been renovated and put together through the addition of some modern hallways and staircases. One building is the remains of an ancient Roman bath dating to the 2nd or 3rd century A.D., the Thermae. The other is the Hôtel des Abbés de Cluny, a 15th-century hôtel particulier (city mansion) that originally belonged to a monastic order and the abbot thereof. It houses a collection of medieval artifacts of which the best known is probably the Lady and the Unicorn tapestries. They are breathtaking!

We arrived at the museum in plenty of time to sign up for a guided tour in English at 11 a.m. and, in fact, to take pictures in the courtyard before the tour started. I saw a group of women–tourists from Beijing, as it turned out–photographing each other and decided to ask if they wanted a picture together. They very excitedly said yes so I took their picture and then they all wanted to take pictures with me! One of my students said that Chinese people are very grateful and excited when Westerners are nice to them. I don’t know if that’s true as a cultural value but it certainly was in this case and these ladies were very sweet.

After the photo op it was time for the tour to start. Our tour guide was a very knowledgeable woman named Florence who not only taught us all a lot about medieval European culture but also answered the students’ questions in impressive depth. The guided tour was worth the extra 4€ we paid for it, I think. Sometimes I scorn guided tours but then they almost always turn out to be good. Let’s click through for some photos, shall we?

Courtyard of the museum
Students waiting for the tour to start

Another view of the courtyard

The gate into the courtyard

The Hôtel du Cluny had its own well–a sign of the wealth and prestige of its owners.

Detail of a stained glass window. Florence explained that elements like eyes and hair were painted in even when they would be too far away for people to see: it was more important that they be there than that they be visible, which is a sort of allegory for Christian faith.

My students checking out the ancient Roman frigidarium (cold room). You can’t underestimate the thrill, for an American, of just standing in a place that’s 1800 years old.

Florence explains the Lady and the Unicorn tapestries.

Students listening with the “Mon Seul Desir” tapestry in the background.

Visigothic votive crowns from 700 CE, around the same time Beowulf was probably composed.

Infant Christ giving a blessing. I just realized that I love this statue because he looks like a baby version of Buddy Christ.

The Pilierde Nautes is the single oldest surviving monument in Paris, dating from 17-34 CE. This side is a dedication to the gods, carved in Roman capitals.

Another part of the Pilier de Nautes

Detail from the Lady and the Unicorn

Flamboyant Gothic ceiling in the Cluny chapel

Original heads from Notre Dame cathedral’s Portal of Kings

One of my students pointed out this face in the carving around a courtyard window.
This was a great first field trip. After the tour we went to lunch and all of the students agreed that they wanted to go back to the museum in the afternoon. I was not sure whether they would be interested in the Cluny at all so I was very pleased!

Friday, August 1: Giverny & Val d’Oise

To round out the program we took the whole group to Giverny (Claude Monet’s home and garden) this morning and to Auvers-sur-Oise (village where Vincent Van Gogh is buried) in the afternoon. It was a beautiful day; Giverny was miraculously not-horribly-crowded; Auvers is lovely and seemed like a real change from the city despite being part of the Île de France region (i.e. part of “greater Paris,” sort of). As we drove into town I was entertaining myself by choosing the houses I’d like to live in. Unfortunately the one I liked best had an asking price over 500,000€ ! So I am not moving to Auvers-sur-Oise any time soon.

We did have an unexpected adventure when it was time to come home but even that turned out all right as I got to come back on train “H,” which I think is one of the suburban lines that Annabel mentioned a while back. It was a really snazzy train! Now I am taking a break from packing. I decided to start tonight so I could have more of tomorrow free. So far, so good. I’ve stopped worrying that my suitcase will weigh 100kg and there are no longer clothes all over my bed. Tomorrow will be strange as I will feel like the clock is ticking–because it will be! So let’s hold that at bay a while longer and look at some pictures instead. Fair warning: if you don’t like flowers, you should NOT click through . . .

Toward the entry to the Japanese garden at Giverny

The famous water lilies

Maybe the best pic I took all day?

I love this flower.

A mum that has not even begun to think about blooming

They claim that this fluffnugget is a chicken. I’m skeptical.

“I’m not just a rooster; I’m a rooster that lives at Monet’s house!”

Unfortunately you can’t take photos inside the house.

Notre Dame d’Auvers-sur-Oise. Originally built in the 12th century.

WWI memorial in the church

Vincent and his brother Theo Van Gogh’s grave

A statue of the other well-known painter from Auvers, Charles-François Daubigny

Main street in Auvers–
we had a cold drink under one of those red umbrellas and it was very pleasant!
Fair warning #2: Depending on how tomorrow goes, I may or may not have a chance to blog. Next entry may be datelined “Macon, Georgia.” Stay tuned! 

Tuesday, July 29: Returning to the Musée Carnavalet

Some of my students in World Lit. expressed interest in the Musée Carnavalet, so today we went there as our last field trip for the course. It was my second time there (first visit, last summer, reported here) but the museum is extensive enough that I know I saw some things I had not seen before. The only downside of today’s visit was that a good bit of the museum was closed for renovation. I was more disappointed for my students’ sake than for my own, but they all enjoyed it regardless and reported that they had learned a lot. Tomorrow I am going to ask each person to share something specific that he or she learned. I also have my own interesting fact in reserve–but I’m saving it for tomorrow!

So the Carnavalet is in the Marais district, which has evolved over the centuries from an aristocratic neighborhood of hôtels particuliers to a Jewish quarter to a gay neighborhood. The first time I visited Paris (ten years ago!), the Marais was thought of as not being very touristy, but nowadays it sees its share of tourist traffic. In fact, the Marais itself represents a phenomenon that the Carnavalet illustrates: the ways in which Paris has changed and continues to change. Because Hausmann so radically reinvented the city starting in the mid-19th-century, it’s easy to believe that Paris has always looked the way it looks now. Very little of medieval and Renaissance Paris remains. A lot of what one sees at the Carnavalet is paintings of the city in its earlier incarnations, restored rooms from various hôtels particuliers of the 18th century, and even archaeological findings from the days when the Romans lived here and called it “Lutetia.” All in all it is a great education. I don’t know whether I want to read a book on Parisian history to understand the Carnavalet better or just keep going to the Carnavalet until I understand the history of Paris better. Maybe both.

In addition to the Carnavalet, which is the museum of the history of Paris, it offers a lot of good shopping and a lot of good falafel. The famous L’As du Falafel restaurant is there; I like to be iconoclastic and hit the falafel stand across from L’As because the line is shorter. After the Carnavalet I enjoyed my falafel and went for a gelato at Amorino next to the Place de Vosges–gotta eat enough this week to give me good culinary memories to last a year, after all.

Meanwhile, I did take some pictures at the Carnavalet. Click through!

The garden is taking more of a potager direction this year.

Still some beautiful flowers, though, too.

The first room you enter is my favorite: full of shop signs from before the streets began to be numbered. This one offers a free croissant to anyone who buys a coffee for 15 or 20 centimes.

Model of a tram car from the beginning of the 20th century

A cat from a shop sign

“Au Persan” (At the Sign of the Persian), a cashmere shop

Newspaper sign

The Carnavalet is another “worth going just to see the building” museum.

Obligatory mirrored-room selfie

Rousseau’s seal: “Devote your life to the truth.”

A clock depicting Voltaire and Rousseau arguing–
the sort of thing that makes me think I will NEVER fully understand the French.

Louis XVI-era room–the Carnavalet has several rooms like this, 
salvaged/reconstructed from other hôtels particuliers.

The invention of the hot-air balloon spawned a craze for ballooning-themed decorative arts.

This hand and a foot are the only remaining pieces of a statue of Louis XV 
that was destroyed in the Revolution. 

A painting that depicts public celebrations of the birth of the Dauphin, 1782. This area is Les Halles which, today, is a large underground mall and a rather disagreeable metro/RER station.

17th-century painted and gilded ceiling from a different hôtel particulier. It was conserved in the town hall of the 8th arrondissement until it came to the Carnavalet in 1879, and was restored in the late 90s/early 2000s. 

The back garden.

My students taking a museum break

Model of the Arènes de Lutèce, which we visited last week

L’église St-Paul St-Louis: you will see it en route from the St-Paul metro stop to the Carnavalet.

Thursday, July 24: Where they make Brussels sprouts

Today I went with Dr. Scalera and her class to Brussels for the day. It only takes 80 minutes in the Thalys high-speed train to get there. I love trains! In the morning we visited the EU parliament building and the “Parliamentarium,” which is a museum all about the EU parliament. Trust me: it’s a lot cooler than it sounds. Dr. Guglielmi met up with us and escorted us to Chez Leon for a traditional lunch of moules frites (not “fried mussels” but “mussels and fries”), then in the afternoon we went to the chocolate museum (CHOCOLATE MUSEUM), saw the Mannikin Pis (because you have to), and bought souvenirs around the Grand Place. Brussels is gorgeous and I’m just sorry we couldn’t stay longer and get to know it better. The day seemed to go by in a flash and now that I sit here thinking back on it I can’t believe how many things we did.

On with the photos!

Paris’s Gare du Nord and its clicky schedule board, which I love

Looking down the platform at Gare du Nord

EU Parliament chamber

This photo is for one person–she knows who she is.

EU Parliament selfie!

Flags of all the EU nations

Outside the Parliamentarium

Inside the Parliamentarium: all kinds of multimedia exhibits

A representation of the parliament’s membership, divided into its political groups. 
Notice that the little wooden “people” are also differentiated male/female.

Nobel Peace Prize certificate awarded to the EU
Nobel Prize medal–never seen one in person before!

On this map of Europe, you roll the little stands around to different cities on the map and the screen in the stand plays something about that city and its role in the EU.

Globes representing the EU’s work in various sectors and subjects 
like human rights and election monitoring

Lunch at Chez Léon: moules!

In the Grand Place (great square) in Brussels

Dr. Scalera’s class with Dr. Guglielmi

Looking back toward the Grand Place from a side street

Inside the Chocolate Museum, dresses and hats made of chocolate

A Napoleon III-era traveling chocolate set

Collection of chocolate pots and their whisks

Demonstrating the making of pralines (filled chocolates–different from what pralines are in the U.S.)

Outside the Chocolate Museum

Another view of the Grand Place

The streets are full of these tall, narrow, side-by-side buildings

It was a gorgeous day!

The Mannikin Pis is really tiny.

And at the moment he is dressed up for Belgium’s national day, which was Monday.

Back to the Grand Place

St. Nicholas Church, originally built in the 12th century

Looking up at a building façade from a café terrace

Tuesday, July 22: “Que le paix et le salut soient sur Lui”

Today my World Lit. class took its field trip to the Grande Mosquée and the Arènes de Lutèce. The mosque is beautiful with “Hispano-Mauresque” architecture, mosaic tiles, and calligraphy everwhere. We had this very kind tour guide named Yamina who explained what the different rooms in the mosque were used for and at the same time explained a lot of the basics of Islamic beliefs and rituals. For instance, I did not know (or maybe had forgotten) that the 5-pointed star represents the 5 pillars of Islam. I did know that when Muslims say the name of the prophet Muhammad they follow it by saying a little blessing for him, but I did not know how to say it in French. Now I do, for which please see the title of this post. The tour was entirely in French so I was on translator duty. I think I mostly did well! One thing I am learning is that the person being translated also needs to know how to work with a translator. Yamina was very easy to understand but sometimes she’d tell us a LOT of information and I’d have to try to keep it all in my brain and roll it back out in English. In any case, we learned a lot at the mosque and I was happy to have this new experience. We were allowed to take pictures, which I was not sure about going in, so that was exciting as well.

From the mosque we went to the Arènes de Lutèce, which is right around the corner. It’s the other ancient Roman ruins site in Paris in addition to the Thermes de Cluny (now part of the Musée du Moyen-Age). It is an amphitheatre that was built around the first century C.E. and was, as such things frequently are, almost demolished to make way for new construction. To be honest, it isn’t much to look at but for an American it’s exciting just to visit something that survives from so long ago. I wanted the class to be able to say they had been there!

Afterward we returned to the mosque, which has a café adjoining it, and we made a record amount of couscous, lamb, sausage, chicken, and vegetables disappear in a very short while. Memo to my students: now, if someone asks you if you like North African food, you can say yes! And hot mint tea with sugar–that went down very nicely on what felt to Southerners like a slightly chilly day.

This afternoon after we got back I made a run to Gibert Jeune (huge bookstore with a great stationery section as well), grabbed 2 more Pierre Lemaitre books and a used copy of Notre-Dame de Paris (i.e. The Hunchback of Notre Dame), and ran across a question-and-answer book of Paris trivia called Connaissez-Vous Paris? (Do You Know Paris?) so I grabbed that as well. Someone remind me not to buy any more books here. This makes 6!

Photos after the jump!

In the “meeting room,” stained glass and a plaque with the name of one of Muhammad’s successors

Looking through a grate into the garden

The calligraphy on the blue plaque is the Shahadah, the Muslim profession of faith.

Students taking photos in the garden

The minaret, crescent (representing the Islamic lunar calendar), and star

The garden

Another view of the garden

Flowers and mosaic tiles

This Qur’an was given to the mosque by the king of Jordan.

In a small courtyard off a side door

Decorations in the Grand Courtyard

A close-up of the decorations

I love how detailed everything is.

The basin in the center is used for ritual ablutions.

My class at Arènes de Lutèce: Sam, Delaney, Jessie, Lindsey, Shannon, Kira, 
Lauren, Hillary, Michael, Erika, Nathalie, Christina, and Kayla.

I stopped to photograph this beautiful container garden and got caught in the act! 
The owner is shutting the window.

Inside the mosque café

The café’s resident cat–as you can see, he is a celebrity!

Saturday, July 19: Chantilly

Fun language fact: in French, whipped cream is called “Chantilly” (pronounced something like “shawn-tee-yee”) because it was supposedly invented, or at least popularized, at the dairy on the Chantilly estate. If you are not into castles, gardens, horses, art, books, or military history, you should go to Chantilly just to have whipped cream at the source. However, if you are like me and you enjoy at least 4 out of those 6 other things, you can skip the whipped cream and have plenty of other stuff to look at instead. Chantilly is the château-turned-museum that was passed down from Anne de Montmorency to Henri II de Montmorency to the Grand Condé (Louis de Bourbon, Prince of Condé), destroyed in the French Revolution, and ultimately rebuilt and donated to the Institut de France by Henri d’Orléans, duc d’Aumale. The Duke insisted that the artwork remain as he had hung it and not be rearranged within the château, sold, or loaned to other museums. So, for instance, if you want to see Raphael’s “Three Graces,” you have to come to Chantilly.

The château also features a library of thousands of printed books, several hundred incunabula, and about 300 medieval manuscripts including Les très riches heures of the Duc du Berry (sadly, only a facsimile of the latter work is displayed in order to preserve the condition of the original). Chantilly also features the Great Stables (the Grand Condé thought he would be reincarnated as a horse, and built accordingly), a hamlet (faux-rustic village as at Versailles) and a Le Nôtre-designed garden. In short, Chantilly checks all my boxes. My only regret is that I didn’t get to spend more time there: 4 hours including a relaxed café lunch with one of our students. I took a good walk through the château and got lots of pictures inside and out, but did not make it to the hamlet and our tickets did not cover the Great Stables. However, as I’ve been telling our students, you have to believe that you will come back and hold some things in reserve for the next trip.

So . . . who wants to see some photos? Click through! Actually, get a sandwich and then click through. There are a LOT of pictures.

The château as you walk up to it from the entry gate

It was overcast when we arrived.

Anyone who has been to Versailles will recognize Le Nôtre’s work when they see it.

Another view of the garden

This is the side of the château from which visitors enter.

Dog butt!
(Downton Abbey joke, sorry.)
(Not sorry.)

You can tell that the château was used as a hunting lodge.

Arms of the Duc d’Aumale

The Duke’s monogram (H O for Henri d’Orléans) is everywhere.

The library is beautiful!

2 volumes of this polyglot Bible were on display.

Frontispiece to one of the Bible volumes

Page from another Bible volumes showing the 4 languages in which it is printed.

Another view of the library

Will Madam require a reading chair? Yes. Yes, she will.

Mourning stationery–a letter written from Twickenham outside London just after the Duke lost his son. “Believe me, my dear Count, your affectionate H. d’Orléans.”

Chantilly’s “regular” stationery

Selfie-ing in the “Grand Cabinet de Monsieur le Prince.” The Grand Condé was styled “Monsieur le Prince” when he became first prince of the blood after his father died.

Another view of the Grand Cabinet

A fire screen in the “Galerie des Singes”: the walls are painted with images of monkeys acting like people.

A monkey about to fire a gun?

Here is the Grand Condé about to throw his marshal’s baton so his troops will follow it.

The music room

China figurines in the music room

China figurines in the music room

Monsieur le Prince again

Now I am just playing around with the camera

More monkeys!
The Grand Condé himself

The upper level of the library

The books are shelved by format to some extent. These are tiny
the red one at right is probably only 3″ tall.

The card on each chair says “Please don’t sit here.” But surely the monogram conveys that message?
“Is your name Henri d’Orléans? No? Then DON’T SIT HERE.”

The “Hall of Stags,” used as a dining room

Glassware with the Duke’s arms

Facsimile of an 18C dinner menu

Joan of Arc listening to her voices

The princess of Condé says “Mmm, I don’t think so.”

One of the most important art collections in France

A door with the HO monogram

Miniatures from The Book of Hours of Etienne Chevalier

Close-up of one of the miniatures

Raphael’s “Three Graces.”  Had hardly given this painting a thought before today; 
now I am utterly in love with it.

“A good king; happiness” 

Chapel ceiling

“God helps”

“May God protect France” 

In the “Chapel of Hearts” where the hearts of the Condé princes are interred

The chapel altar

Super-elaborate stair railing leading down to the private apartments

Château exterior

More playing with the camera

On the way out . . . 

Au revoir, Chantilly!

Tuesday, July 15: Musée du Quai Branly and Paris Opera Ballet (now with 100% fewer strikes!)

Tuesday was a huge day. In the morning I took my class to the Musée du Quai Branly, “the museum where cultures dialogue.” It’s a large museum focused on non-European art and artifacts and some innovative temporary exhibitions. One of the current ones is on tattoos and tattoo artists and that was incredibly cool to see. I did not get to spend enough time at the Quai Branly and would like to go back if time permits. I think the students liked it as well–if nothing else it’s a nice break from marble statues and Impressionism. They came up with smart things to say about the stuff that they saw and the values that multiple cultures seem to have in common. It turns out that everybody is interested in birth, death, marriage, and social standing. Not a surprise but I’m glad they noticed!

In the evening I went with Dr. Kirk’s Music Appreciation class to see Roland Petit’s ballet Notre Dame de Paris at the Opéra Bastille. I hadn’t been to the Bastille before, only the Garnier. If the Garnier is the old world, the Bastille is the new. It reminded me of the Meyerson Symphony Center in Dallas. And then the dancing started and I could barely sit still, it was so good. Modern-ballet choreography performed with all the precision and technical expertise the Paris Opera Ballet has to offer. Amandine Albisson danced Esmerelda and of course she was wonderful, strong and light and beautiful (she looks a little like Eva Green to me). It seems like a difficult character to play as she is almost always reacting rather than acting, but her dancing was beautiful and so were her interactions with the other characters. There was a touching moment when Quasimodo (Karl Paquette) is holding her, asleep, across his arms and swings her like a pendulum–recalling the bells of Notre Dame, surely–ever so gently down to the floor. I actually had tears in my eyes! As a bonus, Yves St. Laurent, my current obsession, designed the costumes. I can’t say that this ballet entirely made up for missing Robbins/Ratmansky . . . but it came close.

After the jump, pics from the Quai Branly. No pics from the ballet because they are not allowed. You’ll have to come and see for yourself.

“Slit gongs” from Papua New Guinea

Contemporary aboriginal paintings from Australia. I love these.

Another aboriginal painting.

Chinese traditional clothes

Indian saris–so beautiful!

Can’t remember what these are called but they are the coat/capes that Afghan men wear

Statue from Mali

“Kente cloth” which is properly called something else (I should have taken more notes).

Statues of kings (obviously not realistic/representational)

Early patent for a tattoo machine based on Edison’s automatic writing machine (hello, History of Print!)

Stencil for a 50s-era paratrooper tattoo. Presumably this is the tattoo my dad didn’t get because his mother would have stopped speaking to him. Good call, Dad.

Tattoo design by a current Japanese artist. I think I’d have to be taller . . . 

Friday, July 11: “So actually you are not French?”

Stayed up late to have time to talk to my beloved Daniel on Skype so I did not get an early start today at all! My first step was to scout my field trip for Tuesday. We are going to the Musée du Quai Branly, an easy RER journey (actually 2 RERs) that will put us right next to the Eiffel Tower. I am excited to see this museum and I think it will be a nice change for the students, who have probably seen many paintings and sculptures by DWEMs (Dead White European Males) by now.

From the Quai Branly I made my way to the Fondation Pierre Bergé-Yves St. Laurent to see its “Femmes Berbères du Maroc” exhibition. After seeing the documentary L’Amour Fou a while back I’ve been a little fascinated by Bergé & YSL’s relationship and I wanted to see their museum. My only regret is that I did not book a guided visit and thus did not get to see YSL’s private studio and some other behind-the-scenes stuff at the Fondation. But the exhibition was fascinating–textiles, jewelry, and some household goods like baskets and cosmetic pots made by or belonging to Berber women, mostly from the first half of the 20th century when Morocco was a French protectorate. There were also large video screens showing high-resolution images of complete traditional outfits from the different tribes. To be honest I’m glad I did not have to try to wear an elaborate headdress and heavy jewelry while, e.g., milking a goat. But it suggests a certain kind of strength that these women must have had. The variety of styles was also a good reminder that the different tribes were distinct cultures and not to be “Orientalized” with a broad brush.

Leaving the Fondation I noticed a cameraman and reporter on the street corner obviously doing the “interview random passers-by” trick. I passed close to them never expecting to be acknowledged (in my mind I have a giant flashing “I’m American; ignore me” sign over my head), but sure enough the reporter said “Excuse me, Madame, would you like to answer a question for Télé Monde?” Dear Readers, I must admit that I’ve been on TV a couple of brief times and actually liked it, so I answered “I can’t possibly say no!” while praying she wouldn’t ask me something obscure about French politics. The question was both obscure and political, but not in the ways I expected. “Have you noticed that François Hollande has new glasses?” she asked. I was reeling a bit at this unanticipated topic and fumbled through answering that I had not seen him, not even on television. “Ah,” the reporter said, comprehension dawning, “So actually you are not French?” While I was disappointed not to get to appear on TV, I was gratified to be meeting my goal of passing as French until I open my mouth. (Must be the new pants.)

After the exhibit and my brief encounter with the French media I went in search of lunch (is it possible that culture makes me hungry?) and had another quiche-drink-pastry formule, this time at Pomme de Pain. Maybe I should think twice about having dessert with lunch but who can pass up viennoiserie and patisserie when they are offered? Hopefully I walked it off–I did walk a lot today because I had one destination at St. Placide and one at St. Sulpice and got them mixed up. So I got off the metro at St. Sulpice and got to walk a few blocks to where I meant to be, at H&M across from St. Placide. (Or it may have been the other way around. *cough*) I know at least one reader of this blog who is cringing right now at my affinity for cheap clothes, but I love H&M. It never does me wrong and I always find good things there. Today I got 2 t-shirts, a sleeveless top, a genuinely really nice skirt, and a package of socks (my socks have been an unexpected casualty–one lost, one got a hole and we’re barely 2 weeks in) for just under 30€. Yes, it may all fall to pieces in 6 months but right now I am just not bothered.

With the shopping done I had to put on my Assistant Director hat and go back to work. In the process, I had a cultural experience that I’m grateful for, and we got some good material for our next program meeting.

In the middle of writing this entry I stopped to talk to Daniel on Skype; now I’ve finished it and it is definitely bedtime. Stay tuned!