London: Eurostar, Brexit and Theatre

Since March 4, the French Border Control have been “on strike” to protest the upcoming Brexit. Work was not stopped 100% but slowed down 90%. They feared much more work if Brexit actually happened saying they would have to treat UK citizens as any non-EU country therefore requiring more work, extended hours, etc. “The customs agents are demanding an increase in overnight pay, a danger allowance, and more staff and resources to help with greater controls that will be put in place once Britain breaks away from the European Union, currently scheduled in just over two weeks.” The Local/France. People traveling to London on the Eurostar were queued up four to six hours for the trains. By last week, when I was due to go to London, Eurostar had managed to organise the lines somewhat but also had to cancel three or four trains a day. So last Friday, I arrived at Gare du Nord, lengthy book in hand, ready to sit on the floor and wait whatever time it took to get through all the security, passport checking, etc. This process usually takes about 50-60 minutes in Paris and 30 minutes in London.

Passengers wait in front a British flag depiction near the entrance of the Eurostar terminal at the Gare du Nord railway station in Paris on March 15, 2019 a day after British MPs voted massively in favour of asking the EU to delay Brexit. – The British Parliament on March 14, 2019 voted by 412 in favour and 202 against on the government’s proposal — a rare respite for British Prime Minister following a chaotic week. (Photo by Philippe LOPEZ / AFP)

I arrived at Gare du Nord at 10am on Friday and…..voila, no queue at all. I had arrived 130 minutes early and it still took 90 minutes to get through all the hoops but so much better than 5 hours. People were calm, no big upsets, very accepting. Eurostar even held the train back 30 minutes to make sure that everyone ticketed for the train actually was on the train. Then everything ran smoothly as it usually does with Eurostar. I’ve heard interviews from tourists saying they will never take Eurostar again as if this was Eurostar’s fault. So sad. Eurostar did an amazing job of trying to manage an extremely difficult situation. Brexit has been extended three weeks so for a short time, things are back to normal.

Queue on the left wrapping around Gare du Nord before going up escalator to Eurostar

Saturday morning, I took the Northern line to Bond St. A huge protest against Brexit had been planned. Over a million people coming from all over the UK, met at Hyde Park, marched through Picadilly Circus and other tourists highlights and ended at Parliament. It was called “Put it to the People” march as these protestors and many more people vehemently want a second referendum. According to Reuters, it was the second largest protest since a march against the Iraq war in 2003.

Protesters taking a break.

Everywhere I went, I saw protesters. Little kids carried wonderful placards begging “No Exit”. I saw no violence, people seemed happy to live in a place that allowed freedom of speech–more and more a threat these days. The crowds were massive and one had to plan extra time to get anywhere. I didn’t mind, I’m a supporter of these people. Brexit, to my mind, is not only a stupid plan, but a dangerous one for a wonderful people. I love living so close to London. I love having the Eurostar available and to be able to jump over here for a long weekend of theatre and seeing friends. What will happen is as much a mystery to me as all the shenanigins going on in the US.

Jonty Graham with daughter PoppyAnna Stewart, CNNAnna Stewart, CNN

I’m in London to celebrate my friend, Barbara’s, birthday! For the first time in three years, I found tickets to HAMILTON and grabbed them immediately. We will see it tonight. We made a long weekend of it and Saturday night went to see a musical I had never heard of (I think I’m one of the few people in the world who hadn’t) called COME FROM AWAY. A lovely, uplifting, brilliant story of the friendships that grew out of the forced landings of thirty four planes in Gander, Newfoundland on Sept 11, 2001.

From humble beginnings at the La Jolla Playhouse in California in 2015, COME FROM AWAY has taken theatre goers in the US by storm, won a couple of awards along the way and arrived at the Phoenix Theatre in London in February after spending Christmas in Dublin. The writers Irene Sankoff and David Hein, a Canadian couple, decided to spend a month in Gander on the 10th anniversary of 9/11. A large percentage of the original people were celebrating in Gander the amazing kindness, friendship and love that were extended both ways during that week in September 2011. The writers experienced the same kindness, generosity and love that the 7000 people stranded in September 2001 experienced.

The characters in Come From Away are based on real people – including Beverley Bass, American Airlines’ first female captain (Credit: West End Production Photography)

Though it has been dubbed the 9/11 musical, Sankoff and Hein prefer to call it the 9/12 musical. Most of the passengers on the diverted planes were not allowed to leave the planes for 12-24 hours. Can you imagine being held on a plane not knowing what was going on, why you were in God knows Where and hearing all sorts of rumours. It’s about time these people were celebrated.

The people of Gander offered comfort, hospitality and friendship in a time of crisis (Credit: West End Production Photography)

At the end of the show, something happened that I have never before witnessed. The entire audience jumped to their feet, en masse, as if it had been pre-planned. They cheered and yelled for five minutes while all the musicians came on stage and played until finally everyone left the theatre.

If you live anywhere near a production of COME FROM AWAY: https://comefromaway.com I urge you to go see it. As a reviewer wisely said it is an uplifting story of art for our times. A celebration of the best of humankind. – Tim Teeman, The Daily Beast.

A bientôt,

Sara

Gloria in Paris

Fabienne Gondrand (translator), Gloria Steinem, Lauren Bastide (Interviewer)


In honour of Women’s History Month (is there a Men’s history month or is that just called history?), Gloria Steinem was invited to speak at the Mona Bismarck American Center for the Arts in Paris. I was one of the lucky few invited to hear her be interviewed. In spite of the fact that I wrote my dissertation on a particular organization in the Bay Area of women helping women, I realized on Tuesday night that I knew very little about her.

First of all, she is eighty-five years old! Or about to be the day after next. Yes, that woman you see in the photo is eighty-five years old. She doesn’t look it and her voice certainly doesn’t sound it. She has a strong voice, not a shake in it and she is just as clear a thinker as I remember her back in the 70s when she started MS magazine.

She wrote her book, My Life on the Road, in 2016. The french translation (Harper Collins) arrived in time to celebrate Women’s History Month. The book is riveting (I’m reading the English version) and centres around the fact that she is always traveling and cannot see her life any other way. She grew up on a farm in Michigan and her family would probably have been called gypsies if they had lived over here. Her father made his living by going to flea markets, trying to find good jewellery and then selling it to stores. They never had a dime to their name. Gloria didn’t go to school until her teens but instead wandered around with her father. She says her traveling to India, ending up as a journalist, much of her twenties were what she considered “things I was doing before I settled down, got married and had children” As she turned thirty, she began to realize that she was her father’s daughter. She liked life on the road. She wasn’t waiting to start her life. This was her life and she loved it. To this day, she spends more days each year traveling than she does in her apartment in New York.

Gloria Steinem and Lauren Bastide

So with traveling as the theme, she tells her story and what a story it is. How she became the symbol of feminism even though black women were far more active in the beginning of the feminist movement than white women. How she dealt with being “pretty”; how she learned to overcome her fear of public speaking and how the Lakota Indian women became so important to her.

English version

Towards the end of the interview, Lauren said she had to ask her a personal question. She had mentioned many times that Gloria was a heroine to her. She prefaced her question by saying her heart breaks when she sees the pain and cruelty in the word, she never sees her children because she works so much, she is getting a divorce and that she has only been a journalist for three years. With tears, she imploringly looked at Gloria “How did you do it, how do you still do it?” Many of us leaned forward to hear the answer. Gloria is the epitome of equanimity. There is a quietness and humility about her. I’m sure we were all wondering how she stays so calm when she deals with so much injustice every day. She shook off the question as unanswerable. She seemed to be saying “It’s just what I do, who I am.”

I left the evening having had my eyes prodded open one more time. Someone in the audience asked her about being a privileged white woman and yet she was the perceived head of the feminist cause. She took a breath and said “yes, privilege is an interesting concept. White women have the privilege to be dominated by men” which took me aback. And yet when I think about it, how many of my friends and I spent years and years of our lives looking for a man we could marry and who would take care of us.

A bientôt,

Sara

Remembering Rue Git-le-Coeur

Before Elodie, my downstairs neighbor, went on a rant to tell me I was once more doing something illegal, I tried to have a window garden in my apartment at Git-le-Coeur. My window was quite large and looked out over the Seine to Pont Neuf. I had an arm chair pulled close and would sit there for at least twenty minutes every morning filled with gratitude at living in this beautiful city I call home. I’m sure I didn’t need the garden but, as an adult, I have always had green things growing, something to care for. I certainly didn’t need Elodie as the Apartment Police pointing out the laws I was breaking. I want to be clear that I never set out to break the law! I didn’t know better and french administration being what it is…… It seems there truly is a law in Paris that no one can have a window garden that has the remotest chance of falling on the sidewalk and hurting someone. I can’t help but look up in my wanderings around Paris to see who is committing a window garden felony!

My apartment building on Git-le-Coeur sat on the corner of Quai des Grands Augustins. There is one apartment per floor. Elodie lives on the first floor, I lived on the second floor, the apartment on the third floor is rented by a family living in Brussels who visit Paris once every other month or so. The fourth and fifth floor is one apartment owned by Mr. and Mrs. X. Everything that happens in the building has to be voted on by the owners. Elodie and the Xs hate each other so Elodie always loses as she has one vote to the Xs two votes.

Notre Dame at sunrise

My living room was huge for a Parisian apartment. Two windows looked north, over the Seine to 36 quai des Orfèvres where the infamous Paris Homicide Unit resided until a year ago. If I leaned out one of those windows and looked right, I had a full view of Catedrale de Notre Dame. I took dozens of photos of the sun rising behind the cathedral. Once I caught a full rainbow hanging over the spires gracing a dark grey sky. It was magical.

Le Seine and Pont Neuf from my window

Two windows looked out on Git-le-Coeur, the Canadian Pub and Pont Neuf. It was this view that became my North Star for the almost three years that I lived at Git-le-Coeur. Everyone knew how I loved that view. Artist friends would draw it and give the drawings to me as presents. After Elodie and I made our peace with each other, she presented me with a copy of a painting of our building and the Seine. She had seen the painting at an Expo at the Musee d’Art Moderne although it was painted in 1904. She went to great trouble to get it copied and then had it framed for me.

Elodie is truly the only person I know who speaks no English at all. Befriending her was a challenge. She is a very bobo frenchwoman. My friend, F, says she always has her nose just slightly in the air. I decided to kill her with kindness. After the tenth leak from my bathroom down to her apartment (three happened while I lived there), I wanted to help her confront the owner of my apartment. He lives in Madrid and is a lazy owner, only wanting money and ignores all pleas to fix the many things wrong. I bought her a small present at BHV and wrote her a note saying that we would figure this out together. She melted slowly even inviting me to coffee one day. Because my french is mediocre, I would find myself avoiding opportunities to talk with her. Now that I live in the 16eme, we have developed a schedule of meeting every other week for coffee so that I can practice my french. She still plays police only now she is the Academie Police. I wrote her an e-mail this winter beginning “Salut Elodie”. When I arrived at her apartment a couple of days later, she sat me down telling me one never ever uses Salut in writing. It just isn’t done. It is for waving and greeting a friend on the street. Of course, that evening, I saw it used in writing by someone of a much younger generation.

Av. Mozart, Paris 16eme

I miss Git-le-Coeur sometimes. I love my new neighbourhood but it took months to adjust. I will dream of that large living room and my window gazing out on the Pont Neuf. Elodie tells me the apartment is still empty. Little strings get tugged in my heart but then I remember my lazy landlord, my nasty, greedy agent and think how wonderful it was to live there and that I now live in a real Parisian neighborhood.

A bientôt,

Sara