Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Ça tombe comme à Gravelotte…

If you're not French, you're unlikely to have come across that saying. In fact, I get the impression that even those under a certain age will find it unfamiliar. It's used to describe a downpour, but its origin is far more tragic.

Gravelotte, about 11 miles west of Metz, was the scene of some extremely bloody battles in August 1870 during the Franco-Prussian War. Seventy-five thousand died in three days of fighting. Gravelotte also hosts a museum to the memory of this episode of history, its antecedents and life in the occupied regions of Alsace and Lorraine from 1871 till 1918 and the 1940 - 1945. Opened in 2014 after its German-built predecessor had been closed in the late 1990's, it's an excellent structure which will tell you all you need to know and more in its thoughtfully-planned exhibition rooms. With an entire section devoted to the tensions and ambitions which led to France declaring war on Prussia in July 1870, it's a comprehensive lesson in a significant thread of nineteenth century European history.

If you do go, have lunch in the nearby restaurant and bar, Le Quinze. It's just a minute's walk away, by the roundabout.
The museum from the German War Cemetery, opposite.

Aformentioned cemetery with memorial shrine.

A cannon. How would you cope without me?

Your lunch awaits…

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Latchave and the Guerilla Girls

No, I didn't know what it meant, either. It's Lorrain dialect for To Leave, Go. That would have been unusual enough in itself had I not come across this expression in Metz, a city in Lorraine. Latchave is the name of an art installation by Thomas Clémente in the Eglise des Trinitaires, just around the corner from the extraordinary cathedral. I came across it by chance after leaving an appalling exhibition by the Guerilla Girls, devoted to thirty-odd years of moaning about the underrepresentation of female (and non-white) artists in major galleries, notably those in Europe and, principally, the US. I'm probably missing something here, but if you do then get the chance to have a considerable space for three months, why not fill it with art by women, white and non-white alike, instead of covering every available space with posters denouncing the lack of opportunities this group has had to show its wares since Eve bit into that Pink Lady?

Anyhow, after bidding farewell to the nice girl with the short-back-and-sides at the entrance, I stumbled across a former baroque church-turned exhibition space almost opposite. Free admission, so why not have a look? There was mysterious, deep electronic music playing so I guessed there was probably an explanation leaflet somewhere. Yes, there was. However good the artwork was going to be, nothing could have prepared me for the well-intended but dreadfully pretentious blurb a certain Ms Boulc'h (pronounced: Bullsh) had written for the visitors. Here's a sample: A call to insubmission against fatality, the exhibition leads us to understand that emancipation could reside in our ability to perceive our life as fiction. The anonymous protagonist who appears to consider himself invincible is Achilles, fighting against everyday events; his heel (the centre of his vulnerability) incarnated by the imposed social order. It's not the worst part, I'm afraid; the next paragraph scuttles off up its own large intestine without even touching the sides, but I'll spare you the prose. I hope the writer never marries anyone called 'Itt'.

The artwork itself is highly accomplished. Thomas Clémente is a fine draughtsman and expresses much with simple images. I was particularly impressed with the video, The Tomb. I'm not sure I experienced what the artist was intending, but the notion of juxtaposing the image of a tomb which slowly appeared and disappeared ion a forest setting made perfect sense to me.

So if you're in or around Metz at the moment, pop in to the Eglise des Trinitaires and have a look. The Guerilla Girls opposite pack up their spotlit grumble tomorrow, so you've missed that one, I'm afraid.

Sunday, 21 August 2016

The annual cultural trip to Santiago de Chile.

I've now been here for just over half a week and haven't let the grass grow under my feet. The first high point of my stay was being upgraded by the hotel from a suite to the penthouse duplex because of necessary plumbing in the original flat. Nice start! There's even a roof terrace with a parasol which I've been able to use as it's really not cold here, despite it being winter, apparently.

As I've written before, cinema and theatre are cheap to attend here, so I don't spend much time at home in the evenings. I'll gradually add to this list as my stay progresses:

 Not a bad film, the Chilean critics being pretty kind to this sub-Hollywood love story which nevertheless adequately paints the broad brush strokes of that extraordinary settlement a few hundred miles south of Santiago as well as bravely implicating the collusion of the German government of the time in covering up for Paul Schäfer and some vile practices of Pinochet's henchmen in the basement.

Now this was a completely different kettle of fish. Tired of always being asked by his family when he's going to get married and settle down, a forty-something filmmaker decided to make a film about his situation. It sounds quite promising but the result was dreadfully boring and pretty pointless, to say the least. Oh well.

I've just got in from seeing this theatre piece. It was excellent, an interesting and highly amusing take on swingers and what could happen if it all goes wrong. If you're in Santiago, I really recommend you see it.

You have to see this film, it's a must. I only went as it was playing in my favourite little art house cinema near my luxury penthouse duplex, but I'm glad I did. Once again, very thought-provoking and highly amusing at the same time with a fairly unexpected twist in the tail.

Paolo Sorrentino's film, Youth, is worth watching. Interesting performances by Michael Caine as a retired composer/conductor and Harvey Keitel as a waning film director, on holiday in a sort of Swiss spa-cum-sanitorium, reflecting on life, observing youth etc. The girl on the poster is Romanian model Madalina Ghenea, who plays a freshly-crowned Miss Universe, spending a week at the establishment. It's really a bit part, she has hardly any screen time, the story concentrating on Michael Caine's gradual rapprochement with his family via a series of unrelated events as well as Harvey Keitel's attempts to make his career-defining magnum opus. It's a gentle, slow-moving film with the odd kitschy moment and worth a couple of hours of anyone's time.

Nice performance last night of this classic with an exclusively South American cast under the expert baton of Pedro-Pablo Prudencio. A couple of debatable casting elements, but otherwise worthy of this reputable stage.

Dios es un lujo - God is a luxury - has been running, on and off, at the Teatro del Puente here in Santiago for the last six years. It tells the story of three prostitutes, a trans and a drug addict lumped together in a police cell. They talk about their lives, their fears, their beliefs…it's extremely well done with no special effects - in fact, there's no scenery whatsoever, just lighting - but acting talent to burn. There are still a couple of performances to go, so if you're in Santiago, head over to the Parque Forestal and take it in. It's more than worth the CLP6000 (c.€8) ticket price. Runs an hour.

Just got back from this pleasant piece of burlesque comedy. Excellent performance from Magdalena Max-Neef as the successful psychiatrist and sexologist Luisa and wife of the somewhat 'busy' Andrès:

The camping up is a bit OTT, but the point is well-made in a still extremely conservative society. The Teatro San Ginés is the largest neighbourhood comedy theatre I've been to here and the ticket price reflected that: more than double some of the others but still respectable at around €16. It's a larger operation all round.

Teatro Ictus always puts on good work and the diction is invariably excellent, so I get more for my money. Tonight was the dress rehearsal of Okupación, premiered in 2005 and revived now. It's a reflection on whether secondary schools should be privatised…
…or whether they should remain entirely publicly funded. It's a Mrs. Merton question of course, and I didn't get the impression the piece or the debate had been updated since it last played here. The central question - should pupils be trained to be marketable products or should schools continue to form rational and inquisitive human beings - is over-simplistic and didn't address the subject in sufficient depth, neglecting the more important issue of whether our schools should be more pragmatic in orientating pupils towards the existing job market; an important shade of grey which, sadly, made no appearance in this play. Still, a well-performed, entertaining way to spend ninety minutes.

El Biógrafo conveniently had a programme change the other day, bringing in La Chispa de la Vida for Se Dio Vuole. Released in 2011, the English title is As Luck Would Have It and features Salma Hayek as the wife of a somewhat depressed, out-of-work former advertising whizzkid who tries reactivating old contacts to get his working life back on track. The rest of the cast, which includes José Mota and Juan Luis Galiardo, is excellent, though largely unknown in the English-speaking world, hence all the advertising centring on Salma Hayek, I suppose. It's a nicely done, albeit not terribly subtle commentary on contemporary society's obsession with celebrity. The plot lacks depth and the end predictable. Worth seeing, nevertheless.

Tonight, it's the premiere of Puccini's La Bohème at the Teatro Municipal. It's a nice production which makes no waves, is decently acted and well sung. It'll be a good evening.

So that's pretty much it from Santiago this year. In addition to those activities listed above, I've been to the National History Museum, The Violeta Parra Museum and The National Museum of Military History, before taking a trip out to Lonquén yesterday. Got back into yoga with ten early morning classes, sampled some excellent Chilean red wines and had a few excellent meals out, of which Bocanariz was probably the best. It's a great place to be. Don't just take my word for it…

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Chile in winter. But it's not chilly.

It seems that the only times I post now are when I'm not actually in Toulouse, which rather negates the original point of the blog. Toulouse is taken up with family, work and the rest and, in any case, I don't honestly see how my everyday life could interest anybody. Not sure how my irregular life could either, but there you go.

I've now been back in Chile for just over thirty-six hours and have already started getting my fill of this worthy country's cultural cornucopia. OK, so I started reasonably light this evening, taking in Colonia Dignidad or The Colony as it's known in English. I've known about this rather shady establishment for a few years now, so was intrigued when I saw a film had been based around it. Seeing the cast, it was clear that it wouldn't be too hard-hitting, but the important points were made and Michael Nyqvist was exceptional as cult führer Paul Schäfer. I've been wanting to take a trip down to see the place, now rebaptised as Villa Bavaria and open to tourists; it must be beyond surreal.
Tomorrow, it's off to see Godard's Adieu au langage, or Adios al lenguaje, as it's billed here. Never knowingly seen one of his films before.

This summer is unusual in another way, too. It's the first time in twelve years I haven't gone to northern Bavaria to participate in the world's oldest music festival. Going on holiday with the family instead and coming to Chile to work on Puccini is infinitely preferable.