Friday, May 02, 2008

The sun rises bright in France.

Story contd.

Julia, my friend and mentor, decided she would do a public production of ‘Sweeney Todd.’ And as her productions were always events, most of us were eager to take part. The town was twinned with Le Puy en Velay and the committee decided that we would take the production over to France, provided the play was a success. I had read for the younger female lead – which was really just a pretty face so was excited when Julia asked me to read for the young boy apprentice – Tobias. She explained that I would have to de- glam: wear scruffy clothes, a dark, sprutty wig and a dirt- smudged face, which made a pleasant change.

Somehow we had to get over the language barrier so the French would appreciate the full horror of this Victorian melodrama - about a barber who murdered his customers with a cut- throat razor (straight razor in US) and the victims would be made into pies by Sweeney’s neighbour, Mrs Lovett. Tobias was ’a rather dim boy’ – taken in by Mrs Lovett after Sweeney had murdered his previous guardian. We needn’t have worried; we acted our hearts out and one of the cast - an undergrad with excellent French, came on stage before each act, like an ancient town crier. He thumped a heavy staff on the ground to signal silence and then gave the audience a précis of what was going to happen. The French really got it and entered into the spirit of the play. It was great to hear them murmur:

‘Oh la pauvre!’ every time I was mistreated.

We were billeted in the hotel and were all deeply interested in what rooms we would have and with whom we would be sharing. I was with two teenage girls and I was never quite sure who was chaperoning who. The French were very welcoming; each morning, as we were having breakfast the mayor would appear and, whilst drinking, what looked suspiciously like vin rouge would regale us with tales which would be translated for us. One morning there was a roar of laughter and everyone seemed to be staring at me. Monsieur le Mayor had said that when he saw me as Tobias on stage, he thought about becoming homosexual. He really was an outrageous scallywag.

I made friends with the boy who was playing the other apprentice. We were usually waiting in the wings together and it became a ritual for him to make my face dirty and smudgy. We had perfect weather – neither of us liked crowds so we went for walks and climbed up the rock of Chapelle St Michel d’Auguille. We longed to explore the beautiful countryside and one day, when the alternative was a coach trip we explored the area between Le Puy and Clermont Ferrand. We had a picnic of bread and goat’s cheese with only the sound of bees buzzing; it was the start of a love affair with France.

On the way home a few of us stopped off in Paris and we visited all the places associated with Hemingway, Gertrude Stein et al - being especially captivated by Pere Lachaise cemetery and the beautiful museum Jeu de Paume which I think no longer exists. The whole trip was one of those experiences one relishes for ever. One day after my return, I was listening to Desert Island discs and heard music which immediately transported me to that French countryside. I wrote to the presenter – the original who devised the programme: Roy Plomley, and asked him what the music was. He very sweetly sent a handwritten post card telling me it was ‘Chants d’Auvergne’. The Auvergne is the area that includes Le Puy. Do listen if you have time.

35 comments:

gautami tripathy said...

It has been a while I visited anyone via Michele or otherwise. It seems I have a lot of catching up to do.I am very glad to be here today via you know who!

OldOldLady Of The Hills said...

BEAUTIFUL Music...And great to listen to this and see the gorgeous pictures, too!

When you said...'this began a love afair with France'...I thought you were going to say, 'this began a love affair with my young companion'...lol! It all sounds GLORIOUS, Pat!
Have you ever seen the Sondheim Musical of SWEENEY TODD? I LOVE IT!! I would have loved to see you as Tobias....That great great song, "Nothings Going To Harm You, Not While I'm Around" is sung by Tobias and then by Mrs. Lovitt....!

About Joan Didion: I think you would very much enjoy her writing....THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING is quite extraordinary.
She and her husband had written some Screenplays together, many many years ago when they lived in Hollywood...In fact I met them very briefly back in 1971 at a going away party for a dear friend of mine, the actress, Norma Crane, who was leaving for Zabgreb to film FIDDLER ON THE ROOF...she played the wife, Golda...! The party was at Dominique Dunne and his then wife, Lenny Dunne's home. John Gregory Dunne, Didion's husband was Domique Dunne's brother....! Both of them, John Gregory Dunne & Joan Didion are WONDERFUL WONDERFUL writers...!

PI said...

Hi Gautami: nice to have you around:)

Naomi: I have just ordered two books by Joan Didion but have to wait longer for the one you mentioned.
I knew you would think that about the love affair:) I didn't see the musical of S Todd. I could just about have sung then but my singing voice, what there was of it, has disappeared.
So interesting that you have met them. I was just going to walk to the hairdressers - about a mile and a half, but now its raining again. Drat!

R. Sherman said...

The countryside is beautiful. Paris is fine, but I would love to explore the rest of France. It's the old conundrum -- not enough vacation time in the year.

Cheers.

Last Girl On Earth said...

Hi Pat. Michele sent met today, and I'm so glad she did. I've been near this area before in France, and it is truly a beautiful place. I have some great memories of my visit there. Thanks for jogging my brain! I'll have to come back and listen as I'm running off now. Have a great weekend!

LAST GIRL ON EARTH

Lynx said...

Hi Pat, were you in Kent at this point? I'm sure that Le Puy en Velay is twinned with Tonbridge. I used to drive past a sign telling me so every day for about 10 years, so I'm as sure as I am about anything these days!

I've never been to Le Puy en Velay, but do have fond (mainly drunken) memories of exchange trips to twin towns in both France and Germany. They were officially to play table tennis, but it was mostly eating and drinking.

PI said...

Randall: than you must continue to keep very fit, try to retire early and then you'll have all the time in the world. OR once the kids are launched have a gap year.

LGOE: so glad to awaken happy memories. the you tube thingy has started to jump but if you listen to the original it should be OK- it was when I first played it. and the pictures are great.

PI said...

Lynx: right on the money my dear Watson! I remember fondly the eating and drinking. The French love to see the Englishman drinking too much. I, of course, behaved impeccably at all times.

John said...

Hi Pat. Michelle sent me. Hope you're having fun today.

sablonneuse said...

I did enjoy the music and the scenery. It's many years since we travelled in the Auvergne. It's given me the urge to go back.
I think you were all very brave to perform to a French audience but it was obviously a huge success all round.

Janet said...

What a fantastic story! I loved reading it, and the part about the "outrageous scallywag" really made me smile. Thank you :-)

Oh, and hi, Michele sent me.

PI said...

sablonneuse: I wonder how far yu are from the Auvergne?

Hi Janet! I'm glad you enjoyed it. It seems a long time ago now.

OldOldLady Of The Hills said...

Michele sent me back, my dear....! Was I the only one that thought that??? LOL! Well, it is romantic and kind of exciting, I guess....I am a HOPELESS Romantic, at heart! But, a love affair with France is pretty damn good, too!
One of these days I will write about my 18 days in The South Of France back in the summer of 1969....! I fell in love with that place!

Sam, Problemchildbride said...

We took French country holidays when I was a child and I agree that France has a very special feel about it.

It's lovely you have a piece of music that can transport you back to that time and place.

I'm a fan of Joan Didion too and can heartily second Naomi's recommendation to read her.

PI said...

Naomi: I can't wait to read about your time in France- I know you met Picasso. That will be a post to look forward too. Yum Yum!

Sam: I have just been reading Charles Spencer's review of the play 'The year of Magical Thinking'. He obviously warmed more to the play than the book but that is probably down to Vanessa. I find what little I know of Joan Didion makes me eager to learn more and I hope the books arrive soon.

Scarlet said...

I'm here via Michele's blog and I am jealous, I'd love to experience a love affair with France and take a peek at Hemingway's Paris. Maybe one day. You've inspired me.

PI said...

Scarlet: great! somebody has to carry on the torch!

Jean-Luc Picard said...

A French version of 'Sweeney Todd'? Very unusual! Michele sent me here.

Kanani said...

Ahhhh...Sondheim! Did you ever perform in "Company" as well? Wonderful memories Pat. Once again, they were vivid and I could picture you there.

sablonneuse said...

Pat, we're in the north of the Ardennes, so basically we'd have to travel south through Champagne and then go through Burgundy. Quite a long drive for us nowadays!

PI said...

Jean-luc: the play was the English version - with a little help from the guy who played the town crier.

Kanani: I think many of us are Sondheim fans. I enjoyed 'Company' but as an audience member - not cast.

Sablonneuse: do you mind if I use Sandy? It is a long drive but at least it is in the same country.

Carmi said...

Growing up in Quebec, French influences were everywhere, and I always wanted to go to France to see it for myself.

Haven't gotten there yet, but your exquisite storytelling has brought me that much closer. Thanks for that, Pat!

Popped in from Michele's today!

SpanishGoth said...

Ma cherie - as you may or may not know, 'mi mariposa' is French - by nationality.

I would be interested in further tales of "Père Lachaise" - but that's just the Gothic tendacy in my erstwhile, poetic soul

PI said...

Carmi: I'm guessing you can speak the language which would double your appreciation. Thank you Carmi.

Spanish goth: no I didn't know. Lucky you! Pere Lachaise was fascinating with execrable loos. I visited Wilde(minus member)Gertrude Stein(alas I didn't have a rose)Proust,Bernhardt, Piaf and Colette as I remember.

Jean-Luc Picard said...

Michele sent me this way before. Hope you're having a good weekend.

Sarch said...

A wonderfull story! Thank you so much for taking us along with you on your visit.
Michele sends her best.

Guyana-Gyal said...

This reminds me, my neighbour's brother bought a home in a small village in France, he says he refuses to have a phone, the place is truly idyllic. It's funny, I don't remember craving big city, bright lights as a teen. I've always been a outdoor gal, I guess. I love this post for taking me there.

PI said...

Jean-luc: yes thank you.

sarch: you can come along any time;)

GG: I'd love to see what your home town is like. Oh dear that reminds me - I meant to sort out m;y printer today. Oh well - maybe tomorrow.

apprentice said...

Quite an adventure! I love the bit about the handwritten note, he sounded just the sor of person who'd do that.

PI said...

Anna: I think he was one of Nature's gentlemen. Not many left.

Daphne Wayne-Bough said...

Ah, you're making me remember my 14 years in gay Paree, most of them close to Montparnasse and Hemingway's old haunts, such as La Closerie des Lilas. In the early days I knew some crazy American arty types trying to recapture the spirit of the jazz age. I was a bit of a Zelda myself in those days to be honest. Voh-de-oh-doh!

PI said...

Daphne: now you're bringing back memories. I remember the Closerie des Lilas; didn't it have a sort of green hedge/ bush outside. It was the sixties and we could only take £50 out of the country in a whole year. I used to send money to my sister in the States and she sent it back to the hotel in Paris - thanks to Harold Wilson. I hope you didn't lose your marbles like Zelda. I think she would have been fine if she hadn't married Scott. A typicle example of a destructive marriage.

moon said...

Having just come back from France last saturday, I can totally relate to your feeling about that lovely country. My husband took me to many parts of france. I have been so fortunate to have travelled through some of Normandie, Bretangnie, Basque, the Pyreneese and to even visit Mont Saint Michel...the gardens of Monet and his home, among many special places in between...My only wish now is to revisit France again soon.

moon said...

Having just come back from France last saturday, I can totally relate to your feeling about that lovely country. My husband took me to many parts of france. I have been so fortunate to have travelled through some of Normandie, Bretangnie, Basque, the Pyreneese and to even visit Mont Saint Michel...the gardens of Monet and his home, among many special places in between...My only wish now is to revisit France again soon.

PI said...

Moon: I can't think of anything nicer than to be shown France by someone you love. Lucky girl!