Up until now, I’ve been virtuously writing up events in the order they happen, but I really do have to start with Paris today and go backwards. You see, I’m sitting right now at a beautiful, old-fashioned, fold-out desk like my grandmother used to have, with the fireplace on my right and the open window on my left, through which I can see a courtyard garden and hear what I suspect is a blackbird singing.
My bedroom has wallpaper with little sprigs of flowers, and antique-looking furniture and a rug on the floor, and is basically the most idyllic possible place to be writing. I might never leave.
This is my room in Paris.
If I walk out into the dining area, I can look out over the park which hides Les Arènes de Lutèce…
…where the Romans once held their games…
…and where local Parisians now play boules on sunny afternoons.
If I cross the street, I am in front of a ridiculously picturesque Metro station (which has, alas, eight rather un-picturesque flights of stairs – alas for me and my suitcase! Fortunately, Paris provided the statutory attractive young Frenchman who offered to carry my suitcase up the last few flights. This appears to be part of my contract with Paris, and I am not complaining one bit.)
If I walk down the street at random for a block or two I will suddenly spot the Pantheon out of the corner of my eye. And if I decide that I am not in a Pantheon mood and turn away, well, halfway down the hill, I can see Notre Dame.
Have I mentioned that I really, really like where I’m staying? I arrived this afternoon, feeling rather tired and sick – I’m still coughing and it keeps me awake at night, and then my Eurostar train (which was, however, extremely comfortable) was an hour late. While I fell in love with the room at once, my hostess and I originally found each other a little inauspicious – I couldn’t understand her English and she couldn’t understand my French. This really must have been a tiredness thing, because while my French is horribly rusty, it’s fundamentally pretty sound and my accent is, I am told, fairly good. Also, I’m pretty good at understanding English most of the time.
Anyway, I had a bit of a sit down and some water, and then decided to head out in search of a late lunch – the train had been a breakfast sort of thing but it was after three by the time I got to my B&B (by, I might add, a route of my own devising that was much cleverer than what my metro app told me to do – my intensive study of the Paris Metro has borne fruit!). I wandered about a bit, feeling seedy, and located a chemist, to whom I managed to explain my cough in somewhat mangled French. I now have a soothing syrup, so that I can stop subsisting on codeine. (I am, in any case, clearly past the cold now and simply doing my usual Endless Cough of Doom, exacerbated by the fact that I have been chattering away with friends I rarely see instead of resting my voice like a sensible Catherine…)
A local shopkeeper talked me into a crepe – orange and cinnamon and very, very good – I suspect my body is craving fruit, because I have never enjoyed an orange so much in my life! – and then I wandered down to accidentally locate Notre Dame and then rather more intentionally visited Ile Saint Louis.
Incidentally, this must be the first time I’ve stood on the banks of the Seine taking photos without feeling or looking like a tourist – with the Seine in flood, everyone has their cameras and phones out right now…
The Ile Saint Louis is very gorgeous and full of devastatingly tempting shops. I spent nearly an hour in one that makes the most spectacular jewelry, furniture and accessories out of coloured resin. I’ve never seen so many things I absolutely adored all in the one place before.
There was a chocolate shop, where I bought chocolates flavoured with saffron, jasmine tea, and spiced mango, and a shop selling confectionary from the Vichy region where I bought violet pastilles to soothe my throat (that’s my story and I’m sticking with it – the shopkeeper also had a bad cough and he approved my strategy), and candied orange slices for no good reason at all.
There was an amazing shop that sold incredibly intricate, hand-cut wooden jigsaws, but by this point I was having difficulty being coherent in any language, and the shopkeeper kindly directed me to a little bistro, Les Fous de l’Ile.
I was craving vegetables, so I went with their rather mysteriously described vegetable platter, which turned out to be a pea puree topped with peas and finely diced beetroot and carrots, grilled and caramelised endive with balsamic vinegar, and roasted potatoes. This description does not do it justice – it really was fabulous (also the first time I have ever enjoyed endive), and precisely what I needed.
The table next to me acquired a couple from Arizona who didn’t speak a lot of French, and I must have been more coherent at the waitress than I had thought because after a few minutes she asked me if I spoke English and could help translate some of her more complicated descriptions of menu items. So that was fun. The American couple told me about their adventures with floods and rail strikes, but seemed to view this as all part of the fun of travelling, which was nice. They were excited about medieval things after Cluny, so I have sent them to visit Vincennes tomorrow.
And then I walked home to my beautiful B&B, feeling rather hot and footsore, but very much like a Catherine who is in Paris. And, as if by magic, my hostess and I were able to have quite a reasonable conversation in French, so evidently my brain has now managed to switch back on sufficiently for the purpose. This bodes well for the rest of my time here (and so much better than last time, when I felt as though I had made a terrible mistake from the moment I walked through the door).
That brings us to tonight. Now for some time travel, by which I will return us to England, and in particular to Wednesday and Thursday.
Wednesday was basically my ‘sick day’. I was in the worst phase of my cold, and was feeling generally awful – but I also didn’t want to waste an entire day on lurking around the house being ill. Fortunately, my friend N lives about ten minutes away from the William Morris Gallery, a small museum in one of the houses Morris lived in as a child.
It’s a good size of museum to visit on a day when one isn’t up to much. One could do the whole place very thoroughly in two hours or less; it took me around one hour, because I am, alas, a bit useless about the visual arts. I can tell they are pretty, but I don’t really understand what people see when they stand there and look at them for ages and ages and ages…
But I did love the Saint Cecelia window. And the museum shop was brilliant for Christmas shopping. (Yes, I do my Christmas shopping in June. Or I do it in June if I’m overseas, anyway.)
I then went home and was pathetic again, but Wednesday evening must be mentioned because my friend N went out of her way to make a proper English roast, complete with Yorkshire puddings, and very good it was too. Alas, this could not be said for dessert – indeed, the less said about the ‘crackers and cheese’ flavoured chocolate that I had bought in York to surprise her with, the better. There is really no circumstance under which chocolate ought to smell like cheddar.
Thursday was my day at the Globe, and also my cue to move on to my next visit! I got thoroughly confused by the Tube (and by London generally), and reached the Globe only just in time for a brief tour before the first of our plays started. I have no idea why I can navigate the Metro without hesitation, but am completely bamboozled by the Tube.
When I went to book tickets to see Shakespeare at the Globe, I had the option of Midsummer Night’s Dream or Taming of the Shrew. Honestly, these were both disappointing options – A Midsummer Night’s Dream is fun, but I have seen it and read it many times, and was unlikely to get anything new out of it. On the other hand, The Taming of the Shrew is basically a horrible play. But it is a horrible play that lends itself to a variety of interpretations, so that’s what we went with.
This version was interesting. There were a lot of Irish songs of a vaguely revolutionary bent, that I think were meant to be Kate’s inner monologue, and she sang them well. The servants were all excellent, and played by women, adding a certain something to the whole battle of the sexes. The widow who one of Bianca’s suitors marries at the end was actually on stage for a lot of the play, dressed in black, and providing scowling, eyebrow commentary, which relieved my feelings nicely. Bianca herself was well-played, neither a bimbo or submissive, but clearly just as obedient as she needed to be to get her way. And Kate and Petrucchio were both excellent and they had good chemistry.
And none of this gets me past the fact that this is a play about domestic abuse. All my sympathy is with Kate from start to finish – nobody values her at all, frankly, and it’s just awful to witness.
Interestingly, by the time we reached Kate’s final speech, which starts ‘I am ashamed that women are so simple’, I took one look at her, standing at the top of a flight of stairs, with Petrucchio directly below her, with Bianca, the widow and her father looking on, appalled, and for one glorious moment I thought she really was going to push him down the stairs and kill him on ‘my hand is ready, may it do him ease’. And I thought that this was such a clever way to look at domestic violence and at those situations where an abused wife winds up killing her husband in a sort of preemptive self-defense. But alas, it was not to be. She just came down the stairs, sort of arm-wrestled him to his knees, but I wasn’t convinced. His murder at the end of the play had just become my head-canon, and nothing less would do!
E and I then went out for an early dinner and dissection of the play before running back to the Sam Wanamaker Theatre in time to watch our second performance of the day, Read Not Dead.
This was a huge amount of fun. The premise was that four teams of actors, directors and academics each had twenty minutes in which to present one of the Henslowe plays and try to convince the audience that this should be the next play produced. The plays were A Knack to Know a Knave, A Wife Killed with Kindness, The Taming of A Shrew, and Orlando Furioso.
Team Knave were my secret favourites. Their play was terrible and they knew it, but they gave it everything they had. They freely admitted that their play was awful, pointed out that it contained some of the un-funniest comedy ever perpetrated, was xenophobic, pedantic, misogynist tripe and was, in fact ‘a play for the UKIP voters’, but they pleaded earnestly for its production on the grounds that viewers would rise up in revolution after seeing it.
A Wife Killed With Kindness actually looked like a really interesting play, and was both well-written and well-acted. I suspect that will get the votes.
The Taming of A Shrew was closely related to Shakespeare’s play, but rather more consensual, given what we saw, and I need to look it up and find out what happens. Also, apparently it spends most of its time parodying Kit Marlowe, which is always a good strategy.
And Orlando Furioso was like a reverse Othello, only with more madness and blood. Not my thing.
And then it was back to E’s house for the night as we were leaving for Bath in the morning!
I’m still feeling a bit hellish, so I think I might call it a night, and tell you about Bath and London part 2 tomorrow… I’m settled in the same place for nine whole nights in a row now, so my odds of catching up are pretty good…
I’ll leave you with some pictures of Paris, at high tide…