Saturday, May 19, 2012

Where's Karl? Contest #4

We have a winner!  Or, err, two.

Mystery Location #4: 

Clue #1: À Paris! à Paris, tous les deux! Nous vivrons à Paris!  We mentioned this place in an early blog post.  There!  Have at it!
Clue #2:  Those are song lyrics quoted above.  If you can figure out where they came from, you'll realize that there's only a limited number of venues in Paris where we might have heard it.  Now, have at it!

Winners:  Daniel and Stephanie
Answer: backstage at Opéra Bastille, Opéra National de Paris

We have two winners this week, because Daniel first correctly identified the Opéra National, then Stephanie specified Opéra Bastille as the correct opera house.  And, it occurs to us that perhaps we should have awarded two winners for the last contest, since our first answer (Libya) identified the building, while the second (Bridget) identified the museum to which the building belongs.  Can it be wrong to try to multiply the winners and multiply the joy???

A couple weekends ago, La Potiche got word that Opéra Bastille was putting on a program called "Opera For All," welcoming visitors to a free backstage tour!  There's only one thing La Potiche likes better than opera, and that's getting something for nothing, so we scuttled on over to the opera first thing Saturday morning for a 75-minute tour.  We had a delightful time looking at the sets and the big machines and going down into the bowels of the Opéra, and that's what we photographed.  The text is a little background on the Opéra and information we got on the tour.

set pieces for Prokofiev's The Love for Three Oranges
This is the history I've been able to glean from the Opéra National's web site and Wikipedia français:  the Académie royale de Musique, also known as l'Académie d’opéra or Opéra, was founded in 1669.  During the Revolution it became the Théâtre des Arts, then the Théâtre impérial de l'Opéra, then l’Opéra de Paris, moving, over the course of two centuries, in and out of thirteen different venues.  In 1858, after Napoleon III survived a bomb attack at one of these venues, Le Peletier, he commissioned a new opera house, Opéra Garnier.  In 1873, Le Peletier caught on fire and burned for two days.  (Cue synthesized organ music!)  Opéra de Paris opened in Opéra Garnier in 1875, joined with the Théâtre national de l’Opéra's Opéra Comique in 1939, to become La Réunion des théâtres lyriques nationaux, and dropped the Opéra Comique in 1978.  Finally, in 1982, François Mitterand decided he wanted a new opera house, moderne et populaire, and started soliciting architectural designs for the Opéra Bastille, which would be coupled with the Garnier as the Opéra national de Paris.  (Theater historians can feel free to correct me--I'm having a little trouble keeping it all straight.)

All this background is to prepare you for the narrative developed for us on the tour, which was that neither revolution, nor empire, nor bombings, nor fire, nor phantoms, was half so dramatic as what happened over the next thirty years with Opéra Bastille.  Six years of construction, changes of government and changes of heart when nobody, not even Mitterand himself, wanted to keep going with the project; strikes and snafus with conductors and the failure to figure out, in advance, how the orchestra of the Opéra Garnier was supposed to be able, under the rubric of the Opéra national, to play simultaneously in two theaters.   There were accidents, spectacular failures of the state-of-the-art stage equipment, and every kind of aesthetic compromise.

set for The Barber of Seville
But this disaster narrative was full of affection:  it is not easy, our tour guide suggested, to maintain the idealism of building a people's opera through the bureaucratic and material failures that accompany any major project--moreover, when your Opéra acts like a cute dog (or sea monster) with unpredictable behavioral problems.  The "democratique" public spaces of the galleries are democratic in the way of claustrophobic airport tunnels where everybody's pushing forward to the seats.  The "democratique" open-access ramps and stairs, intended to allow nosebleed seat-holders to take their seats as quickly and directly as the privileged orchestra-level visitors, turned out, after they'd been built, to violate both fire laws and later standards/notions of security, and were hastily refitted in such a way that, if you're a €5 ticket holder, as Le Prof and I were for Manon, you have to go up and down and up and down and ask three bartenders, a security guard, and a group of other lost, confused opera-goers why on earth your level eight seats are five floors up.  (But still, €5 seats?  Whoa.) Two years after the grand opening, the building began to fall apart; notably, when the exterior tiles began to fly off onto the sidewalk below, the Opéra began waging a sixteen-year lawsuit against the contractor for the replacement of the 36,000 tiles.  And down in the lobby--though the architect had stipulated that no artwork was ever to distract from the minimalism of his design--is the world's least minimalist sculpture, of which nobody on the Internets appears to have a photo. Imagine a steampunk contraption of gears and belts (which, incidentally, don't work) topped with a gigantic rainbow-painted, lumpy plaster statue of a naked Roseanne Barr, and you'll come close.

Architecture, opéra, sculpture....  At Opéra Bastille, all these arts are in a state of flux, being born, shifting, breaking down, and being taken down to the shop and fixed up again.  What better kind of People's Opéra, than an opera that's always a work in progress!

Contest #1: Winner:  Anne, and her correct answer!
Contest #2:  We are the winners, because we get to walk along it all the time.
Contest #3:  Winners:  Libya and Bridget, and the correct answer!
Contest #4:  Winners:  Daniel and Stephanie

Thursday, May 10, 2012

"Where's Karl?" Contest #3: Solution

Well!  We never thought it would happen, but...a Gentle Reader has requested another contest! Thanks for reading, Bridget!

Some of you may have thought that Le Prof and La Potiche had eaten too much fromage and untimely expired.  Mais non!  We were busy planning and packing, then running around the city with friends, and finally departing with said friends for central France, the Dordogne and Lot river valleys, for a vacation.  Another vacation away from Paris!  We will show you pictures, once we've finished uploading all 3,000 of them, and sufficiently detoxed on steamed vegetables to be able to think of blog-length things to say about the Wonders of Périgord et Haut Quercy.  So.

Mystery Location #3: 

Clue #1:  It's an apse!  It's a plane!  It's...Karl!

Clue #2:  WYSIWYG.  If you just describe what you're seeing in a web search, you'll probably find the answer on the first page of hits.  Because that is the kind of nice people we are, and that's the kind of nice clue we write.  Have at it!

Answer:  the former priory of Saint-Martin-des-Champs, now part of le Musée des Arts et Métiers (Museum of Arts and Crafts/Trades)
Winner:  Blibby, by a nose!  Blibby, who are you?  Are you somebody we know, posting under a Blogger name?  We had two correct answers this week, but Winnerdom goes to the first!  Thanks to Bridget, though, for providing me with a source to plagiarize for this blog post!

The Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers was founded in 1794 and its museum collection of machines, tools, and documents related to science and industry established in the Priory in 1802.  Under normal circumstances, Le Prof would've been all fired-up about the Priory, built around 1130-1140.  Under normal circumstances, La Potiche would have been all fired-up about Foucault's pendulum, though she has to admit that she remembers nothing about the Eco novel, which she read in 1997, except the resemblance of one scene to a scene in Northanger Abbey, and a feeling of dismay about her complete inability to understand HOW the pendulum demonstrates the rotation of the earth.  She stared and stared at the pendulum and the placard and understood NOTHING.

But it wasn't normal circumstances!  We were touring Paris with friends who were all fired-up about their discovery that the Musée hosts a demonstration of old automata every Wednesday.  Suddenly we, too, were all fired-up about automata, because we want to be like our friends, and we also want to be like the French.  The French have been fired-up about automata since Descartes and Jacques Offenbach.  There is a Musée des Automates in Paris--just automates, all the time!--that we'd visited the day before.  Le Prof had also just come back from a robots conference at Penn State; as a result, he has been going about saying, "I like robots," at every opportunity.  LIKE A ROBOT!  As for La Potiche, when she was little, she had not one, but two clown dolls whose heads spun around, and sometimes she still cries a little about missing Clownie and Clownie.

So we snagged 4 of the 40 available tickets and sat in on the demo and a very rapid, engaging, and somewhat technical 40-minute lecture, along with about twenty extremely quiet and interested children, ranging in age from about 6 to 11, and their attendant grownups.  Only one of them (the children, that is) spoke out of turn, but only because she was excited about the show.  The children were so attentive and intellectually engaged that we would suspect they were automata themselves, programmed to demonstrate the superiority of French yuppie parenting methods, except that none of them had monkey heads or dogs popping out of boxes in their groins.

The demo des automates took a lot out of us.  Or maybe it was the long march in the rain earlier that day to buy a gazillion euros' worth of sweetmeats (gentle readers, I bring bad news:  Pruneski has been discontinued.  Or something.  We couldn't quite grasp the blitz of français that thundered upon our heads when we inquired after the greatest candy in the world, except that the new version, with a slightly bitter raw walnut in it and no date, is nowhere near as good).  Or the fascinating visit to the Musée de la Vie Romantique for a show on 19th century theater, and out to Belleville for a grand couscous, and then back to Arts et Métiers to be BEWILDERED by Foucault's pendulum.

At any rate, after marveling at the airplane in the apse, and marveling at the steam-powered bat plane (above.  Really!  Avion III of Clément Ader, called "Chauve-souris," or "Bat"), and the History of Bicycles bike rack with the wooden bike in it, and the human-sized early model for the Statue of Liberty, we each downed a coffee, and two of us slunk home to do laundry and get ready for the (unbeknownst to us) seven-hour journey to the Dordogne the next day.  But the awesome things we saw that day have convinced us that a second visit to the museum is in order.  It goes without saying that somebody who named both her clown dolls Clownie is never going to understand the pendulum, but maybe she can catch a breeze in the Chauve-souris!

Thanks to our participants!  We'll have another contest ready for you, like, tomorrow or Thursday or something, maybe.
Contest #3:  Winner, Blibby.
Contest #1: Winner, Anne. Link to the answer!