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Posts Tagged ‘french’

Photo: Charles-Foix Hospital.
At “l’Orbe,” a hospital for the elderly in a suburb of Paris, some patients are getting visits from delightful strangers. Remote visits are offered worldwide.

What a great initiative this is! Free and in many languages. Maybe a poetry-loving Farsi-speaker who misses her family would like me to send her one of these poetic “consultations” sometime when she’s not too busy with work. I need to check.

Laura Cappelle reports at the New York Times, ” ‘I am calling you for a poetic consultation,” said a warm voice on the telephone. ‘It all starts with a very simple question: How are you?’

“Since March [2020], almost 15,000 people around the world have received a call like this. These conversations with actors, who offer a one-on-one chat before reading a poem selected for the recipient, started as a lockdown initiative by a prominent Paris playhouse, the Théâtre de la Ville, in order to keep its artists working while stages remained dark.

“It’s free: Anyone can sign up for a time slot, or make a gift of a call to someone. The exchange generally starts with simple questions about the recipient’s life, then ranges in any direction; after 20 to 25 minutes, the actor introduces the poem.

“As coronavirus restrictions in France stretch on, the program has become such a hit that the Théâtre de la Ville now offers consultations in 23 languages, including Farsi, its latest addition. It has also been expanded to encompass different subjects and formats: Since December, the actors have held consultations at a hospital and at emergency shelters run by the city of Paris.

“When Johanna White, the comedian who called me, asked how I was doing, I answered honestly. We may tell white lies to reassure loved ones, but there is no reason to skirt the truth with a kind stranger. White and I shared our pandemic coping strategies and talked about the ways in which theater has adapted in the past year.

“And then White picked my poem: ‘Incantation,’ by the Polish-American poet Czeslaw Milosz. ‘Human reason is beautiful and invincible,’ she began after a pause. …

“When I hung up the phone, I felt a little lighter. White, who has a rich, deep voice, was adept at putting an audience of one at ease, and Milosz’s words held hope.

“ ‘Through the phone it can be intimate, because generally you’re isolated,’ White, a trilingual voice actor, said in an interview the next day.

“She estimates that in the past year, she has talked to between 400 and 500 people, from places including Wisconsin, Los Angeles, Chile and Niger. A man based in Beirut told her about local riots in which he had lost half of a hand; from Mexico, an 85-year-old woman shared her grief about being separated from her 92-year-old lover by pandemic-mandated rules.

“Consultations involve a great deal of improvisation, White said, including choosing a poem for a person you’ve only just met. ‘Each of us has our own method,’ she added. ‘I file them by emotions, by feelings.’

“For the director of the Théâtre de la Ville, Emmanuel Demarcy-Mota, the idea of individual consultations with actors didn’t come out of the blue. In 2002, when he was at the helm of the northern French theater La Comédie, in Reims, he initiated in-person sessions at a local bar. …

“Other institutions have taken an interest in the program’s popularity. The Théâtre de la Ville has partnered with a handful of European playhouses [to] expand its roster of actors. Additionally, Demarcy-Mota and his team are in the process of holding phone training sessions with around 100 actors from nine African countries, including Benin and Mali, so theaters there can replicate the program.

“Demarcy-Mota acknowledged that the consultation format didn’t suit all stage actors. ‘Some were scared. You’re no longer performing while someone else watches: Instead, you’re in the position of listening to someone.’ It involves a degree of psychology, White said, but ‘we’re not psychologists.’ …

“The Théâtre de la Ville also brought back in-person consultations this winter in partnership with public institutions. The Charles-Foix hospital in Ivry-sur-Seine, a Paris suburb, was the first to allow performers to come for conversations with staff members and patients. …

“For some residents, especially those with dementia, the performances were adapted: Instead of asking questions, Kontou sang to them directly, in a transparent mask so they could see her mouth. Still, the music inspired interaction. At one point, a 97-year-old woman, Simone Gouffe, almost rose from her wheelchair and started singing, her voice powerful despite her slight frame.” More at the New York Times, here.

Photo: Artisanal Paper
A classic poem that could be read to you by a French actor doing a poetry “consultation.”

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Even though she lived in Paris for several years, Melita is frequently startled by how kooky and fun the French can be.

Today she told me she just learned that they’ve been making a Riviera-type beach along the Seine for the past 12 summers.

I checked out Wikipedia: “Paris-Plages … is a plan run by the office of the mayor of Paris that creates temporary artificial beaches each summer along the river Seine in the centre of Paris, and, since 2007, along the Bassin de la Villette in the northeast of Paris. Every July and August, roadways on the banks of the Seine are blocked off and host various activities, including sandy beaches and palm trees.” More here.

The mayor’s website notes, “The summer transforms Paris. The cityscape dons greenery and the riverside thoroughfares become car-free resorts. The Paris Plages (Paris Beaches) operation kicks off on or around 20 July and lasts four weeks.  …

“A Seine-side holiday. That, in a nutshell, is what Paris Plages is all about – complete with sandy beaches, deckchairs, ubiquitous ice cream sellers, and concerts for French and foreign guests. …

“The first beach [opened] in 2002. It spans three kilometres through historical Paris, and features open-air attractions (rollerblading, tai-chi, wall climbing, boules etc.). Refreshment areas, play areas and deckchairs are available for your time out unwinding by the river.” More.

Photo: Wikipedia.org. Many amusing pictures here, too.

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Loved this Wired article about an unusual artist underground in France that preserves antiquities under cover of darkness.

Jon Lackman writes that the Urban eXperiment (UX) “is sort of like an artist’s collective, but far from being avant-garde — confronting audiences by pushing the boundaries of the new — its only audience is itself. More surprising still, its work is often radically conservative, intemperate in its devotion to the old. Through meticulous infiltration, UX members have carried out shocking acts of cultural preservation and repair, with an ethos of ‘restoring those invisible parts of our patrimony that the government has abandoned or doesn’t have the means to maintain.’ …

“What has made much of this work possible is UX’s mastery, established 30 years ago and refined since, of the city’s network of underground passageways — hundreds of miles of interconnected telecom, electricity, and water tunnels, sewers, catacombs, subways, and centuries-old quarries.” Read more.

I’ve been collecting stories of people doing good by stealth. In fact, if you type the word “stealth” in the search box in the upper right-hand corner, you will find five other stealth stories I have blogged about.

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