samedi 24 octobre 2009

Looking up from the page to admire the trees

Here I am again, writing a blog entry in a warm coffee shop called "Déjà brew" - Bethlehem does not lack coffee shops!- instead of venturing outside in the extreme wetness and dampness of this Pennsylvannia October day...
And since it's so yukky outside, why not post a few photos of a previous day, not so long ago (last thursday, in fact), where autumn was at its best: invigorating breeze without ever being cold, beautiful light, radiant colors...
I biked around a bit on the North side of town that day, and finally abandonned my bicycle to venture by foot in the beautiful old Nisky Hill cemetery. It was so beautiful, and peaceful, and restful.
I finally sat down and read "Moby Dick", very often looking up from the pages to stare at the trees surrounding me, just because they were so pretty.

And, behind the trees, another structure, dilapidated now but intrinsic to Bethlehem's character - the steel mills.

And, just to reassure people, I am doing things at the theatre: we have started the teaching programs in local high schools, and both me and Zach are on "prop and costume duty" for the show that's coming up, Shakespeare's "Tempest"... more theatre stuff in future blog posts.

vendredi 23 octobre 2009

L'université du quartier

Et si je me décidais à montrer à quoi ressemble mon quartier? J'ai commencé à me ballader avec mon appareil et à regarder autour de moi. Juste à côté de chez moi, il y a la Lehigh University. C'est un de ces campus qui multiplie les stéréotypes de l'université américaine: locaux magnifiques, grosses fêtes étudiantes, rivalité sportive (et nottamment en football américain) avec Lafayette University... pas exactement le genre d'université dans laquelle je me serais sentie à l'aise. Quasiment tous les étudiants portent des tee-shirts et des sweatshirts avec LEHIGH écrit en grosses lettres... à croire qu'ils n'ont rien d'autre à mettre! C'était une université reservée aux hommes pendant très longtemps, et ouverte aux femmes à la fin des années 60 ou début des années 70. Comme a dit une dame à qui j'ai parlé hier: "it's not a very female friendly environment". Je suis assez d'accord avec elle. Si j'avais à choisir, j'irais à Moravian College, l'université de l'autre côté de la ville. Ecole plus petite, plus "geeky". Mais bon, puisque j'habite à côté de Lehigh, je profite du campus pour me ballader, et je profite beaucoup du café à l'entrée du campus pour internet. Il y a d'ailleurs une télé dans ce café (qui est d'ailleurs plutôt une sandwicherie, ou plus précisément, a "bagel shop") qui est toujours branchée sur la chaine sportive, parlant soit de football (américain, bien sûr), soit de baseball. Au fait, quelqu'un pourrait-il me dire ce qui se passe au niveau des qualifications pour le mondial 2010? La France est qualifiée? Peut-être, pas encore? Je me demande si l'Irlande s'est qualifiée cette fois-ci, parce que je me souviens en 2006, elle avait perdu contre la Suisse (ou c'était un match nul, je ne sais plus), ce qui l'avait éliminé, et ironiquement aidé la France à se qualifier. J'étais allée voir le match dans le pub de Trinity, et vu la deception de mes amis... donc j'aimerais bien voir l'Irlande dans le mondial cette fois-ci. Il faut donc que je me renseigne sur ces questions fondamentales. Mais en attendant, quelques photos du campus de Lehigh et des environs, lors d'un joli coucher de soleil:

La vue du haut de la colline:

dimanche 18 octobre 2009

Broken English version Renaud

Speaking of broken English... J'écoutais l'album best of de Renaud que Stéphanie m'a offert pour mon anniversaire, et je suis tombée sur la chanson It is not because you are qui est tout simplement hilarante.
Juste un petit mot d'avertissement: ne pas faire écouter ça à quelqu'un qui apprend l'anglais ou le français parce que it will mess with the cerveau!

Coffee shop post

This is something I wrote a few days ago, in a coffee shop. Reading it again, I thought it could be a suitable blog post.

I am sitting in a coffee shop and trying, as much as possible, to relax. I purposely didn't bring my laptop. I wanted to write for the sake of writing, and not be gulped into the computer screen, where nothing besides the screen matters. I wanted to be aware of my surroundings.
This coffee shop is really lovely. It's as close to a comfy living room as you can get, with a big leather sofa and a low table filled with magazines. I think I will be coming here again! This is a place Juliette would like. Although, since it's so small, you can't really have a private conversation. It's more of a solo coffee shop, where you will most likely end up conversing with the person behind the counter, or with another coffee-drinker.

That's actually what ended up happening when I was there. The lady at the counter asked us what music we wanted to listen to, and the young woman reading the newspaper (about my age) suggested a group - the ravonettes (?) - and said she was going to see them in concert. The conversation continued a bit, then we went back to our separate occupations : me writing, the other customer reading the newspaper, and the waitress knitting.

We often refer to cafés as "alone in the crowd" places where authors could write: Hemingway, Sartre, Beauvoir, Fitzgerald... But coffee shops are also places where so many friendships have blossomed. Juliette, the Amnesty Café in Dublin and I had one of those relationships, where the coffee shop becomes the special place for a friendship to grow. Is it still there, on Fleet Street (not the big London Fleet Street, the tiny Dublin one)? I hope so. Not much of a coffee shop, really. More like a gift shop, and a deli, and the front room of the Amnesty headquarters in Dublin. The waiters were always cute, and friendly. We ended up wondering if one of the recrutment criteria wasn't actually to be good-looking...and then we would think "pas plus mal"! Juliette and I would sit at one of those square tables for hours on end. We would often end up having more than one coffee, or eating something since their sandwiches were mouthwateringly delicious. We really were excellent customers, since we didn't have much else to do at the time, except going to a few classes at Trinity and occasionnally writing essays and preparing presentations. I didn't have a job (for a change) and Juliette did end up getting a job, but it was flexible. It didn't hinder our Amnesty sessions.

And this is how The Wise Bean, little coffee shop in Bethlehem, PA, is bringing me all the way back to Dublin. As I look at the walls of this place, I realize that all my music-conscious friends would be proud. There are posters of : Bob Dylan's Love and Theft album, The Velvet underground and Nico and Warhol's famous banana, The Ramones, Miles Davis and Johnny Cash. I am well surrounded! And, as a customer was buying his coffee, he asked the lady what she was reading these days... good music and book lovers! What else can one possibly want from a coffee shop? Good coffee, perhaps. It passes the test in that category, too.
Et comble du comble, as I sat down, Serge Gainsbourg's Bonny and Clide played as if saying with a wink, "this is for you, Frenchie" (in incredibly broken english, a glass of whisky in one hand, and a gauloise in the other).

samedi 10 octobre 2009

First show at Touchstone!

I have been thinking about writing a blog entry for some time now, but never hit the "publish" button. Not for lack of things to talk about, nor for lack of time, really. Just, because.
But I feel like now is the right time to describe the whole Walden experience. I was working on sound for this show, which ran twice. The first run was in a conference room, where ten people showed up. The other was in a "real" theatre, where there were between 350 and 400 people in the audience. Life in the theatre! Feast or famine!

Both shows were ordered by Northampton Community College (which insured Touchstone's paycheck on both nights. The tickets were free). This college has three campuses in the Bethlehem area and beyond. The first night, we went to the Poconos, about 45 minutes away, and the second night, we were closer to Bethlehem. Since this was a one-man show based on Thoreau's Walden, the props were sparse and simple: A small table, a chair, a stool, a music stand, a costume and boots. That was pretty much it, and it all fit in Bill's (the performer's) car.

First night: off we went, Bill, Emma (the flautist) and me, to meet with our ten audience members - at the time, we thought there would be more - and transmit Thoreauvian thought theatrically. The car ride was lovely. We were driving through woods and could see the trees changing color - from green to red, or orange and yellow. The light was bright yet subdued, in that very special autumn way. I enjoyed watching the scenery so much, I didn't even fall asleep! (detail worth mentioning, since I invariably fall asleep in moving cars - habit I share with my sister). Looking at all those trees also made me want to hike.

Anyway, we got there. We found the conference room, where groups of students were hanging out and being loud. Not the ideal setting to test sound cues, but hey, at least there was a decent sound system. The space finally cleared, the show started (late - always hoping for more people to show up), under fluorescent lights. Bill worked with what he had: a few people interested in hearing about Walden Pond. He sat amongst them, addressed a particular member of the audience, then another. He whispered, he shouted. Bits of text that I hadn't understood in rehearsal suddenly became much clearer. Bits of transcendental philosophy shared with integrity and enthusiasm. The show ended quickly, since only the first act of the play was performed that night. There was a talk-back session, where interesting questions were asked by the few students who came to watch.
Emma and I got a ride back with the philosophy professor from Northampton who had organized these gigs. He's a very fun guy, triggering lively conversation and laughs and driving us, by mistake, all the way to New Jersey.

Next day, 9 am (or thereabouts), the team met up at the theatre in the Northampton Bethlehem campus for a tech rehearsal. This was a completely different space from the previous night. We were in a pretty cool rounded theatre, with a proper sound and lighting booth, and lots and lots of fancy lights. Four of us were working on this evening's performance: Lisa, Touchstone's producing director, had joined us to work the lights.
The tech rehearsal was tedious, as are all tech rehearsals. It lasted longer than expected as do all tech rehearsals! The sound cues were fairly easy to handle, so I wasn’t too stressed out, but just stressed enough not to mess things up.
4.30 pm, and we were back for a run-through before the actual show was scheduled to start at 7.00.

Doors opened at 6.30. The theatre packed up, almost to a full house, and at 7.30 (late, again!) Thoreau came alive to talk about the woods, the meaning of life, and the importance of leading one’s life as one wants. Bill was starting to feel comfortable with the material, playing with intensity levels, bringing spontaneity within the confines of the text. Bill the performer was transmitting the 19th century American philosopher’s words to a group of 21st century people thirsty for some philosophical direction.

One of the final passages is particularly powerful, where Thoreau basically gets to the bare essentials of life in one paragraph. In the talk back session, Bill said that “this passage got me through some tough times”. And I can see how such a passage could help in times of doubt.

In Thoreau’s words:

“I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him; or the old laws be expanded, and interpreted in his favor in a more liberal sense, and he will live with the license of a higher order of beings. In proportion as he simplifies his life, the laws of the universe will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness weakness. If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them. If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer”.


Emma and Bill in rehearsal, in the fancy Northampton Community College theatre.

Bill in rehearsal, with a nice tree light effect

Performance time! Emma at the flute ..

...And Bill as Thoreau.