Saturday, February 28, 2009
a dutch interlude
On a train again and so much has happened in such a short time its hard to keep track. We have just left Avignon, having dashed away from the Provence region in a high speed train. Through the window fields of lavender and vineyards lie in wait for when they will burst into colour and activity. In the distance small villages cluster below ancient stony fortresses that seem hewn from the very hillsides upon which they perch.
Within a half hour we have covered two thirds of the distance of this journey in half the time that it will take us to get from Valence, where we change to an older, statelier, slower train that will amble towards Alps country and to our destination Grenoble.
Avignon is a walled city that is home to the Palais Du Papes – a giant catholic castle that took forty years and three popes to build – which was the papal seat from 1309 – 1377. There is a massive gold statue of Mary standing sentry high up on top of the huge building gazing perplexedly at the mess of shops and bustling cobbled narrow streets teeming with slutty Italian teenage tourists in gaudy shiny puffy jackets. Dani and I took a lovely lazy stroll in the sun in the Gardens above the Palais and surveyed the River Rhone and the Pont d’Avignon standing unfinished in the middle of it’s waters. The bridge has been immortalized in an old song that everyone here sings at the drop of a hat. The night before Dani had suffered at the hands of some terrible stomach bug that had her throwing up and mewling in pain for much of the night. It was a long hard night and it took us along time to emerge from our hotel room the following day to discover the sunniest and warmest day of the tour yet. So I piggy-backed Dani up for some of the way up to the gardens and once there we sat on the old stone walls, her head in my lap and we basked in the afternoon sun.
The show in Avignon felt really good. In the beginning of the show I stand behind the four long white screens that hang suspended from the bars, dressed in a black suit with a woolen balaclava pulled over my head. This makes visibility somewhat problematic as I peer into the half light of the pre-set lighting through the weave of the wool. I am then supposed to manipulate the screens by pulling on two pairs of strings in either hand for two screens. It normally goes off without incident but on this night I was disorientated and found as I started tugging on the strings to make the screens ‘breathe’ that I had one string form the left hand screen and one from the right in my left hand and only one string in my right hand. There were a few moments of panic as I stumbled around back stage like a blind drunk tangling myself up in strings and trying not to trip over the floor lights. Eventually I managed to figure it all out in time for my entrance. The surge of adrenalin served to make me feel really present and the performance was aided by this heightened state of awareness. I was reminded of the Bruce Springsteen blog that my good friend Duncan sent me recently in which the ‘Boss’ recounts his recent Superbowl performance. He talks about sometimes purposefully playing the wrong chord to make himself more present , more in the moment, more there - if he feels he is not giving it his all. Very inspiring to read about a legend like that who still has the kind of passion for performance that he does. I guess that’s what makes him a legend. Thanks Dunc.
Prior to Avignon, Dani and I had taken leave of the company in Lille after a few relatively boring days in suburban Roubaix and headed off to visit my friend Bram, his lady Rosa and their 8 month old baby girl Lena. I met Bram in 2002 (I think) whilst shooting a Dutch feature film in Cape Town for a couple of months. The movie was very kak, it must be said. However, we (the actors) got to do some very exciting things during shooting – like ride go-karts through the city and on the unfinished highway near the waterfront, climb the last pitch of Jacobs ladder on table mountain with its terrifying sheer drop all the way down to Camps Bay and its ascent to the backside of the cable car, swing from bridges – and all manner of crazy thrill-seeking activities. The film was also, incidentally, the breeding ground for the Most Amazing Show as Louw and I were cast (alongside KerenTahor and our dear departed friend Brett Goldin) as the South African members of the thrill seeking adventure gang that did all these stupid but fun activities. Some of my fondest memories from the shoot are driving back, with Louw and Bram in the front of the huge pick up truck that Bram (as Art director) had sourced for the film, to Cape Town after a long days shooting. These drives were a heady mix of hilarity and exhaustion. Warmed by the glow of new friendships igniting we would fan the flames of this burgeoning fire by setting a new gold standard in ‘kakpraat’. Bram was a surly bastard at the best of times who walked around with a dark cloud brewing above his head. He was unlucky in love and seemed always to be in a reckless kind of self-destruct mode, but through all this shone an amazing capacity for love and a shockingly insightful and refreshing honesty. Louw has kept in contact with him over the years and on one of his visits back to SA, Bram even built much of Louw and Janine’s kitchen. A kitchen, I must add, which they put to splendid and delicious use.
I hadn’t seen much of Bram in the intervening years and im not sure what prompted me to contact him but I will be forever grateful that I did. We changed trains at Amsterdam Centraal and got off at Haarlem about twenty minutes by train outside the Dutch capital. As Bram walked across the road to meet us I recognized him immediately, the same lanky lope of those skinny limbs, the shock of dark curly hair and the steely yet soft eyes, but it was like I was looking at a different person. There was no cloud. His face was clear of worry and his whole being radiated a kind of peace and love that had not had the opportunity to blossom before. We drove back to their place and he told us in his gruff deep voice of how this incredible woman and their amazing baby had changed his life forever.
They stay in a village called Hillegom on the coast. Their house is on an old abandoned mental hospital estate and their house was where the craziest of the crazies were kept. No. Really. Rosa is an art director of high repute and their guest rooms bare testament to this. Each room is themed and decked out with strange beds and wonderful furniture and cool stuff sourced for films. It’s a massive sprawling house filled with a great energy and warmth. Upon meeting Rosa and Lena its easy to understand Bram’s personal revolution. Rosa is a generous, intelligent, interesting, interested, warm, gracious, beautiful woman. She opened up her heart and her home to us, cooked up a mouthwatering storm and those post dinner conversations over a bottle of wine or a beer were so honest, so easy and so much fun. Lena was a little under the weather with her first cold or flu (not sure which) but nonetheless she was an absolute delight. It is an unfortunate truth that some children are more beautiful than others and Lena is one of the most beautiful babies I have ever seen. With a blaze of light orange hair, exquisite porcelain features, an extraordinary musical talent and a smile that would light up the corners of the coldest heart she kept us well entertained and in awe of her. She is one of those babies that ‘skrik vir niks’ and doesn’t let anything or anyone get in her way.
On our first day there after a glorious sleep in on the best bed ever and Brams delicious breakfast pancakes made especially in Dani’s honor the big man took us into Amsterdam for a day trip. He showed us around his old neighborhood in the centre of the centre of the centre (as he puts it) , where he still owns an apartment that he rents out to a friend and took us on a tour of the notorious red light district and its many ‘coffee shops.’ We took an eye popping shuffle through a narrow alleyway of lust with the ladies in their lacy underwear chatting away on their cellphones and tucking into late lunches of greasy slap chips and burgers. Dani, who has taken to filming everything with her little digital camera nearly got bliksemmed by one of the ladies of the night (or in this case one of the ladies of the afternoon) who stepped out of her glass cubicle and flowered all manner of colorful suggestions down on Dani with regard to exactly what she could do with her camera. We did some shopping , checked out the canals and bought some new music in the coolest little music store I have ever been in. On our drive back we drove into the setting sun, talked about the collapse of the capitalist economy and listened to our new music. As the sun sank into a fiery orange, red, purple, yellow supernova we fell silent and bathed in the transient glow of this one magic moment stretching out into eternity. I was again struck by the bare trees like spider veins bleeding into the sky but never more so than on this drive for the blood was there to see – its crimson life force spreading across the horizon.
The following day I left Dani cuddled in bed and went for a walk in the estate. The property is huge, forested and populated with a cornucopia of birds, little dams and yes, a river runs through it. As I stood there in the tangle of graying grass i watched as a cold soft breeze, breathing in whispers through the threadbare branches of the trees, urged a school of fallen copper leaves in a slow tumble across the overgrown park into the still pond. In the distance the low hum of traffic mumbled half heard suggestions of a gossiping metropolis. Wow, lank poetic. But that’s how it honestly felt in the moment. I decided to ignore the city and its ‘skinnering’ and went to wake Dani. We took Bram and Rosa’s bikes out for a ride and cycled to the beach. The wind howled and rain spat half heartedly down on us as we explored the little hamlet. We returned to the estate and continued to explore the grounds on our bikes. We drove along the river and down paths that took us through forests of eerie thin trees glowing in a sickly green from the moss wrapped around their trunks. In the winter this estate is the perfect location for a horror movie. I loved it.
We managed to squeeze in another day trip to Amsterdam – just Dani and I and we walked through the streets, did some shopping , checked out the theatre institute and Dani went to the Van Gogh museum. We didn’t have enough money for the both of us so Dani went in to see the ‘Van Gogh and the colors of the night’ exhibition as I took a stroll through the park and watched a man hit a tennis ball for his dog on the public ice rink. It was a beautiful day and the trip to the Netherlands to visit the wonderful Bram, Rosa and Lena was drawing to an end.
Thank you, thank you, thank you dear friends for your generosity and love in sharing your home and lives with us for that wonderful weekend. It was a very special experience for us.
We are in Grenoble now and it is lovely. The Alps rise up in snow streaked splendor all around us and the centre of town sprawls in a Haussman-esque elegance. We even took a cable car (France’s oldest) up to the Bastille high above the city yesterday and marveled at the view. Awesome. Although I did feel a little like my dad when he took us up the cable car in Cape Town when I was a kid. My knuckles were white as I gripped onto the handles inside our little glass egg dangling in the sky.
Going to rehearse now and set up for the show tonight. Much love