Monday, February 15, 2010

Finding Your Way Around A Doll's House

So, since we're all just students of French, I thought, oh, I don't know, maybe some of you would like to have a summary of the plot of A Doll's House before we see it transformed into Maison de Poupée by Audrey Tautou. Back in the day, right about the time you were all born, I used to have to buy Cliff's Notes to get a nice, concise summary like this, but luckily we now have Wikipedia. And if you want to get a really detailed overview, check out the Spark Notes. Seriously, with resources like this, I would have graduated college with honors.

No pressure though.

A Doll's House opens as Nora Helmer is telling Helene to hide the Christmas tree. Nora is treated as a silly, childish woman by her husband, Torvald. Her friend Kristine Linde, recently widowed and short of money, has heard about Torvald's recent promotion to head the bank and comes to ask Nora for help in persuading Torvald to give her (Kristine) a job. Nora promises to ask Torvald to give Kristine a position as secretary. Nora confides to Kristine that she once secretly borrowed money from a disgraced lawyer, Nils Krogstad, to save Torvald's life when he was very ill, but she has not told him in order to protect his pride. She then took secret jobs copying papers by hand, which she carried out secretly in her room, and learned to take pride in her ability to earn money "as if she were a man." Torvald's promotion promises to finally liberate her from having to scrimp and save in order to be able to pay off her debt. However, she has continued to play the part of the frivolous, scatter-brained child-wife for the benefit of her husband.

Meanwhile, Dr. Rank, a family friend, flirts with Nora before revealing that he is terminally ill with tuberculosis of the spine (a contemporary euphemism for congenital syphilis), with only a month to live, and that he has been secretly in love with her.

Frightened after being fired by Torvald from his minor position at the bank, Krogstad approaches Nora, declaring he no longer cares about the remaining balance of her loan but will preserve the associated bond in order to blackmail Torvald into not only keeping him employed, but giving him a promotion. Krogstad informs Nora that he has written a letter detailing her crime (forging her father's signature of surety on the bond) and puts it in Torvald's mailbox, which is locked.

Nora tells Kristine of her predicament. Kristine says that she and Krogstad were in love before she married, and promises she will convince him to relent.

Torvald tries to check his mail before he and Nora go to a Boxing Day party, but Nora distracts him by showing him the dance she has been rehearsing for the party. Torvald declares that he will postpone reading his mail until the evening. Alone, Nora contemplates suicide to save her husband from the shame of the revelation of her crime, and more important to pre-empt any gallant gesture on his part to "save" her.

Kristine tells Krogstad that she only married her husband because she had no other means to support her sick mother and young siblings, and that she has returned to offer him her love again. Krogstad is moved and offers to take back his letter to Torvald. However, Kristine decides that Torvald should know the truth for the sake of his and Nora's marriage.

Back from the party, Doctor Rank gives his letters of death to the Helmers, and Nora talks to him as if nothing is going to happen. Torvald goes to check the mail; Nora does everything to stop him but fails. Torvald goes to read his letters and Nora prepares to take her life. Before she has the opportunity, Torvald intercepts her, confronting her with Krogstad's letter. In his rage, he declares that he is now completely in Krogstad's power—he must yield to Krogstad's demands and keep quiet about the whole affair. He berates Nora, calling her a dishonest and immoral woman and telling her she is unfit to raise their children. He says that their marriage will be kept only to maintain appearances.

A maid enters, delivering a letter to Nora. Krogstad has returned the incriminating papers, saying that he regrets his actions. Torvald is jubilant, telling Nora he is saved as he burns the papers. He takes back his harsh words to his wife and tells her that he has forgiven her. He also explains to her that her mistake makes her all the more precious to him because it reveals an adorable helplessness, and that when a man has forgiven his wife it makes him love her all the more since she is the recipient of his generosity.

By now Nora has realized that her husband is not the man she thought he was, and that her whole existence has been a lie. Her fantasy of love is just that—a fantasy. Torvald's love is highly conditional. She has been treated like a plaything, first by her father and then by her husband. She decides that she must leave to find out who she is and what to make of her life. Torvald insists she must fulfill her duty as a wife and mother, but Nora believes she also has duties to herself. From Torvald's reaction to Krogstad's letters, Nora sees that she and Torvald are strangers to each other. When Torvald asks if there is still any chance for them to rebuild their marriage, she replies that it would take "the greatest miracle of all": they would have to change so much that their life together would become a real marriage.

The play ends with Nora leaving, marked by a famous door slam, while Torvald hopefully ponders the possibility of "the greatest miracle of all".

Joyeux Anniversaire Cher Skye!

Be sure to wish Skye a Happy Birthday today!

You only turn 20 in Paris once!

Happy Birthday Skye!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Band of Gold

So, why the so bad it's good 70's Soul Train?

Because today, while walking around the Place de Madeline, Steve was confronted with one of the oldest Paris street scams out there, the "Gold Wedding Ring" scam. Here's how it went down:
Steve was looking around trying to find the street to the Madeline Theater to buy our tickets to "A Doll's House" when a young woman walked up to him with a gold wedding ring and asked him if it was his and if he dropped it. He said no, it wasn't his, and then she proceeded to try to give it to him. He just looked at her, and then said if someone had dropped it they should leave it somewhere so they could find it. He then leaned over to put it in a nearby phone booth, and the woman grabbed it and ran off.


So, what's the scam, you might ask? Well, since we had never been confronted with this one either, we looked it up, and here's the answer. Be sure to read through this and beware of anyone who comes up to you asking if you speak English, the sure sign you're being targeted. Also check out some of the people who've written into Rick Steves' (no, not Steve Ricks') website with the scams they've encountered while traveling in Paris and Europe, it will help you keep your eyes open, and hopefully keep you from being left with "just a band of gold."

Monday, February 8, 2010

Brooklyn and Skye's Birthday Surprise

Okay, if you want to know just how mean I am, check out what we did to Brooklyn and Skye last night at their Birthday dinner at chez nous....

The good news is you all get to come to dinner at our house.

The bad news is you all get to come to dinner at our house.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Joyeux Anniversaire Cher Brooklyn!

If you haven't already, be sure to wish Brooklyn a Joyeux Anniversaire today!
And here's a little something special for the birthday girl from Max and Jack.

Monday, February 1, 2010

London Calling

I'm about to age myself here, but click play on the video to get a nice little authentic accompaniment to this post:

Okay, now you're ready.

So, there are a lot of reasons to get stoked for our upcoming trip to London, not counting EVERYONE SPEAKS ENGLISH THERE! Steve and I loved living there while he was getting his PhD, and every trip back feels a little bit like going home. I've put together some of our favorite spots in London for you to check out, but don't let our experience limit you. Let London take you where it will, and I promise you'll have a smashing time!

Getting Around:

First of all, you gotta get around, and you will all have three-day passes to the Underground (or Tube). I'm sure you will find it to be a very similar system to the Paris Metro. Here's a London Underground Map to use as a reference, and, like in Paris, they have one at each Tube stop. Be sure to plan your trips by area to make sure you get the most of our time in London. Less than three days is going to go very fast! Also, if you're out late, you may want to take advantage of the Black Cabs. They are expensive, but can come in handy. Just be sure you get into a black cab vs. what the British call a mini-cab. Many of them are reputable, but they aren't certified and controlled like the black cabs, so I'd avoid them if I were you. I've taken the Tube late at night many times, and it's usually no big deal, but be sure to stay in groups to minimize the chance of a problem.

Historical Sites:

If you're into history, London is a fantastic city for you. For ancient history and anthropology, you might want to visit the British Museum. If you're into WWII history you can check out Cabinet War Rooms. One of my favorite historical sites in London is Tower of London & Tower Bridge. Here' where you can see the Crown Jewels, classic English Beefeaters, and Tower Bridge (what we American's usually think of as London Bridge).

You also can't go to London without visiting Big Ben & Parliament and right next door is Westminster Abbey, the coronation and burial site of most British royalty. And since we're talking about royalty, you must see the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace if you haven't, and if you want to travel out of London a bit you can go see the royal family's place in the country, Windsor Castle.

Parks & Gardens:

If you want to see some of the most beautiful parks in the world, you won't want to miss Hyde Park & Kensington Gardens. Kensington Gardens also holds Kensington Palace, the home of the late Princess Diana. It has a nice tour with the history of the building and area as well. Another of my favorite green spaces in London is Regent's Park. It's close to the Camden Market (more on that in a minute), so if you make it up there, it's a great walk along the canals to Regent's Park.


If you like to go shopping, you will not be disappointed in London. Probably the most popular and famous place for London Shoppers is Oxford Street, which is full of people, noise, and just about any other store you can imagine.

If you want to go more high end and see where the royals shop, you have to go to Knightsbridge, home of Harrod's, where the Queen shops, and Harvey Nichol's where Princess Di shopped and the young royals still go to get fashionable and fabulous. This neighborhood is also full of high-end designer shops like Gucci and Prada, so you pretty much have to be a royal to afford anything here. But a little window-shopping never hurt anybody, right?

My favorite shopping area in London is in Soho, around Covent Garden. Here you find a lot of interesting and unique shops that are less pricey and more interesting than the high-end neighborhoods. The areas around Charring Cross Road are some of my favorites, and like The Marais here in Paris, it's a great place to get lost for an afternoon.

Two other favorites of mine are Portobello Road and Camden Market. Saturday will be the best time to visit both. Portabello Road is the area of Notting Hill featured in the film of the same name, and is a great market to check out interesting antiques, funky new and vintage clothing, handbags, and just about everything else. There's a German guy who sells the best bratwurst I've ever had on one of the corners there, and I'm hoping he's still around. Camden Market is more youthful and funky, and full of tons of amazingly cool shops selling clothing with a London street vibe. There are also open-air markets on Saturday, but everyday is cool in Camden.


Some of my favorite memories in London are from some of the great theater we saw while we lived there. First and foremost, no one does Shakespeare like the British; they just get it more than the rest of us I think, and I saw some amazing productions while I lived in London. You can check out plays at the South Bank Center, but for a more authentic Shakespearian experience, check out a play at the Globe Theater, also on the South Bank.

More great theater can be found in the West End, where you'll find Broadway style musicals and plays. You can see all that is running online, and for the best prices you'll want to go to the Leister Square Box Office. It's similar to the TKTS box office in Times Square in New York, and you definitely get the best deals there. If you want to try your luck, many theaters sell last minute tickets for a discounted rate. It's a bit of a gamble, but I scored front row center seats to Les Miserables this way, and it was amazing. Check with the theater box offices themselves to see if they offer these kinds of last minute deals.

Art & Architecture:

We are definitely getting a ton of great art here in Paris, but there's also a lot to be seen in London. If you're into modern and contemporary art, you'll want to check out the Tate Modern and Tate Britain. The building of the Tate Modern is worth seeing in and of itself. There's also the National Gallery at Trafalgar Square; it's London's equivalent of the Louvre (no where near as big or overwhelming though). One of my favorites is the National Portrait Gallery, where you get a little bit of art, a little bit of history, and a little bit of pop culture all in one place. Right now they're having an exhibition of 60's rock photography from the Beatles to Bowie. Sounds good to me, and like the National Gallery, it's FREE!

If you're at Trafalgar Square, you should also check out St. Martin's In The Fields. There are tours of this historic church and it's crypt, and they host many free classical concerts there on a regular basis. Not far from Trafalgar Square is one of London's most famous churches, St. Paul's Cathedral. You can climb the dome and get what I think is the best view you can find of London. Oh, and the architecture isn't bad either.

Other Fun Things To Do:

If you have never been to a wax museum, Madame Taussaud's is something not to be missed. It's cool and creepy and really very London. Another great way to get the best views of London imaginable is to go on the London Eye. It's just across the bridge from Big Ben and is a great way to see all of London in a covered, temperature-controlled pod. And every time someone came to visit when we lived in London, the first night we always took them to see the view of the Thames and London from Waterloo Bridge. Check it out if you're near it at night, you won't forget it.

What to Eat:

So in doing all this sight seeing you're bound to get hungry, so here's my favorites in London. First and foremost there's Wagamama, a cool Asian noodle bar that has locations all over the city. Seriously, you can't turn around without seeing one somewhere, but they really are one of my favorites. When I was in London last my friends introduced me to Gourmet Burger Kitchen, and it was the best burger I've ever had. They're also all over the place, so you are bound to find one in whatever neighborhood you're in. If you want to have some good, cheap Indian food, be sure to go to Kahn's, near Hyde Park. And if you want something a little more mainstream, check out both Pizza Express and ASK. They're pizza chains, but have good salads and are not too expensive. All these restaurants' websites have menus so you can check out the prices before you go. But really, for a cheap meal on the go, all the sandwich bars in London are pretty good, and I always liked Prêt A Manger.

So, that's my take of London. I can't wait to see what you all find during your time there. Remember, the only thing we have scheduled is the opera at Covent Garden Opera House on Friday night. Be sure to be there early because they won't let you in until intermission if you're late, and you'll miss half the opera that way!

It's going to be great to be there with all of you, and be sure to let me know if you have any questions!

À Bientôt!