Tour Montparnasse

It doesn’t matter how many times you cross the channel and go to Paris each trip you discover something new and each trip is never long enough.

Last Saturday I dragged my tired self out of my bed at 3:45am. well actually 3:55am swearing under my breathe. All I had to do was get dressed check all window and doors were closed and wait for my 4:15am cab to arrive. Somehow I managed this – honestly could not tell you how or even remember it.

St Pancras at 4.45am is actually quite busy. some of the cafe shops are open, somewhere there is a Starbucks and a costa open as I saw people clutching their coffee fixes as I consumed a energy drink to start my energy.

Catching the first train out on a Saturday morning is rather fabulous the check in is smooth and  there are seats – beware of the over charged amount for a croissant after the gate though….

Solo seat, note pad, planning, snooze, ply slap on and as if by magic I arrive at 10am in paris and that first inhalation of air seeps into my pours.

I walk straight to line 4 and in 25 minutes exit via the escalator at the start of Rue odessa. It Saturday and the market is in full swing, I check in to the hotel leave my bag at reception and look for Breakfast.

Cafe Liberte Edgar Quinet Montparnasse Pic by L Brennan 2017

Adrien my usual waiter at Cafe Liberté welcomes me and bring Petit dejeuner and un cafe noir and I feel the happiest and most relaxed I have been in months. No more edits, No more book two, No more job hunt, No more self doubts and fears about what has happened to my life and it current state of utter mess. It was just me and Paris reconnecting like old friends.

I always stay near Montparnasse. I always stay in the same hotel, Hotel Odessa. I love the food market on Saturdays with the variety of fresh food and clothes. But I must be the only person I know, who loves the Tour Montparnasse. For me when I see in life or in pictures my hear sings. But until this trip I had never ventured up to the observation tower. Over my cafe and croissant I decided it was time to head up the building that meant so much to me.

The motivation for this decision was that days before my stay, the Parisian mayor, Anne Hidalgo, had announced a renovation program for the 1970s skyscraper. The new plans involve a sky garden like that in the Gurkin in London and a lighter new modern exterior look. But I wanted to see her before her make over, she her as my memory loves her.

Tour Montparnasse image by Laurent Gerard 2017

The view was magic. I found myself spellbound. My heart drummed in my chest and I felt alive. The crisp autumnal sunshine showed the city off to her best. I decided then and there that I needed to stop dreaming and start working towards making this city my new home. As the minutes passed the bells of the major churches chimed; they reminded me to not dream too long but to get back into the city and feel her while energy while I could.

Paris, Je T’aime image by L Brennan 2017


The price for the entry to the tower is 17€ for an adult and that would get you access twice. If you wanted to be there very early or late to see the sun rise or set then the ticket was 24€. You can still enjoy the view if it is a bad day as the tour has an inside viewing deck on Floor 56. also on that floor is tacky a gift shop and a place to get refreshment. There were also guys trying to get you to pose for a picture like a theme park ride. This area is tired but in all honesty if you were going all the way up the Tour Montparnasse for a cafe then you are doing Paris wrong.

Was it worth it? For me yes but that might be because The Tour Montparnasse holds a very special place in my heart, but for others I would urge you to wait until the renovations are complete and take go and take in the best view in all the world in the luxury of a renovated observation area.

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Update and Happy Birthday Agatha Christie

I know its been a while since I sat and typed you a post. Life’s been busy. Temp role then a second edit of Monmouth and another temp role. I am now juggling time between writing book two and job hunting. I now know what music artists claim the second album is “difficult” especially if you are finishing off the production of Book 1 (a learning curve from the beginning) trying to incorporate what you learnt first time, trying not to let negative experience affect future work.

There have been positives, health wise Thyroid is at a great level where both myself and the GP are happy (only taken 8 years body!) and while working I have lined up a few treats to get through the next few months. On 7th and 8th October I will be back in Paris I hope to get 5-8K more words down on the Elizabeth MS in that time. Projected publication date for Monmouth should be spring 2018 as long as we do not hit any more snags.

Agatha Christie Image not Mine 


Which brings me to the topic of the new post HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Agatha Christie author and creator of one of the most beloved fictional characters of all time Hercule Poirot.

Christie was born in 1890 in Torquay Devon on the south coast of England. During the events of the second world war she worked in the pharmacy of the local hospital where it is thought that she expanded her knowledge about the various different types of drugs and poisons. it was just to this period in the interwar years that she eventually managed to get her first book published. It was the first of the Hercule Poirot novels The mysterious affair at styles and her writing career was off. like many great authors she had been rejected several times before she was finally accepted.

She went on to write 39 books featuring Poirot, 14 novels about sleuthing spinster Miss Marple, 5 books about husband and wife duo Tommy and Tuppence, 6 works under the pen name Mary Westmacott, 2 autobiographies and a selection of stage plays the most famous of which is  Mousetrap which is the longest continuous running play in the west end of London and highly recommended click here for my review.

Her creations have gone on to be reproduced for TV and Film and played by some of the best actors of the age but for me there will only ever be one Hercule Poirot – David Suchet. My favourite books of hers are the ones set in foreign climes, Murder on the orient express Murder in Mesopotamia, Death on the Nile, An appointment with Death and Evil Under The Sun.

Christie left us an amazing legacy of literary art and characters who help us to escape the modern world. reading on of her books literally feels like stepping back in time due to her style of language and the way her characters speak. to some modern tastes it might feel politically incorrect now however she was merely reflecting the times she wrote in and I have no issue with them.

Happy 127th birthday Agatha and thank you for the stories and hours of pleasure.

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The Death of a Duke

15th July 1685, Tower Hill. A 35 year old man climbs the scaffolding erected on Tower Hill the purpose of this moment, the moment of his death. The last person on his mind is not his long suffering wife or any of the children that he had with her, but his last mistress with whom he loved passionately, Lady Henrietta Maria Wentworth. The man in questions name was James Scott, the late Duke of Monmouth, eldest illegitimate child of the late King Charles II, traitor and rebel, condemned to die upon the orders of his estranged uncle and rival, King James II.

Even though these events happened 332 years ago, they have had a get impact on my life personally. I fell in love with the Duke of Monmouth when he was the subject of my MA dissertation, I found the times he lived in, the politics, and socio religious climate at the dawn of the early modern period fascinating, and in some ways we are still seeing the ripples of this time reflected in todays politics.

So today on the anniversary of his horrific and botched execution upon Tower Hill it gives me great pleasure to reveal the cover for my first book which happens to be about The Duke of Monmouth. It seems I found the Duke so unforgettable that 8 years after completing my MA I have a book on him about to be published.


Currently the manuscript in in the editing process with my publishers, Pen and Sword books and we are looking towards a publication date in spring 2018.

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Otello Live from the ROH

Time has slipped away and sadly I have neglected the blog and for that I apologise.

After the success of Wolf Works live via the cinema I wanted to see how the opera faired live via the big screen compared to seeing it live in Covent Garden.

I sit in the first interval in a truly uncomfortable seat in the Odeon Maidenhead blown away by the detail and atmosphere of Otello – arguably Verdi’s best operatic work.

The front screen as I entered the cinema at Maidenhead

Based on the play by Shakespeare, Verdi transforms this most human of plays to some of the most beautiful music ever composed.

The cinema is the closest you will get to seeing the opera live. Unlike listening to a recording of the opera, you get the full experience of seeing the opera and it is a feast for the senses, visually, as well a sense of feeling the music. Unless you live in the middle of nowhere rarely would you get the opportunity or have the quality of recording to play at a volume en par with hearing the orchestra and singers live. Cinema is as close as it will get.

This production is also Jonas Kaufmanns debut part at the Royal opera house he plays the Nobel venetian moor to perfection.

Left Iago Right Otello image filched from ROH live on instagram

Originally Verdi wanted to call his version of this Elizabethan play Iago after the Machiavelli villian, played by Marco Vratogna. The cinematic experience allowed us to see the acting of the performers up close. Vratogna was the perfect mix of Bond villian and Right Said Fred to get a boo at curtain call – when playing that character you can only assume that is a good sign to get boo-ed.

The staging was simple black backgrounds that were manipulated to change location and atmosphere. The simplicity was similar to more traditional performances at the Globe which I happen to like.

Traditionally the Shakespearian character is played by a Black actor depicting a black a moor, however the term Moor was also used to describe, in Shakespeare’s time, what we who understand as an Arab or Muslim. It was this root that that this performance chose to depict the lead character. It is worth noting that Venice was extremely multi cultural and traded heavily in Constantinople, now Istanbul, where they had a thriving Venetian community.

Cinematic experience also allows the audience to see the small details of the costumery up close – something you would miss from the rafters in the cheap seats. The attention to detail in both costume and make up adds to the marvel of the performance.

Before Love turns to jealousy Desdemona and Otello Image not mine

The cinematic audience also get to download a free digital programme offering interviews, rehearsals and interactive information.

I feel for the costume and prop departments having to wash the white linens after the final bloody scene.

Overall the experience in the cinema is as close as you will get if you can not be in the opera house itself. The bonuses are the HD up close visual of the performance normally only preserved for those in the front few rows.

This was the last live performance of this season, however you can book now for the 2017/18 season. Check your local Cinema for details.

 

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Nell Gwynn at the Globe

Editing phase 1 has been completed for my Monmouth book and I am happy to announce that the title has officially changed to The Duke of Monmouth, His Life and Rebellion and after a few weeks off and settling into a new Temp assignment it is time to start working on Book two before proofs arrive to be checked.

This weekend I therefore book my annual treat at the Globe to end this phase in the process. when looking at what was on this years Nell Gywnn seemed to be the perfect play to go and see.

My Programme and Ticket

There is a certain irony that my two favourite plays seen at the Globe on London’s Southbank have both been contemporary plays about real historical women. Until yesterdays annual visit to the Globe Anne Boleyn by Howard Brenton was my ultimate favourite experience of the last 12 years. But Nell Gwynn has just equalled it.

As part of the Summer of Love season at the Globe which unfortunately is still under the artistic directorship of Emma Rice, Nell Gwynn is a relatively new contemporary play based on the real life of Eleanor Gwynn one time the girl from the gutter who rose to be an actress and the favourite mistress of Charles II.

The stage set as both Kings Theatre and Restoration Court photo by LBrennan taken prior to start of Performance NOT DURING

The play written by Jessica Swale was debuted with Actress and starlet Gemma Arterton as Nell to rave reviews in October 2015 at the Globe. The production has been revived as of this season’s repertoire.

As far as staging is concerned it was one of the more prop heavy productions I have seen at the Globe but that did not take away from the experience. the costumery was fabulous especially the male costumes and they gave a real visual taste of 17th century.

Having just finished writing a book of this period based on the one of the leading political and court figures of Charles II restoration reign, I can attire than the historiography was mostly sound with even some excellent use of quoted Primary sources. however Charles II was not at his fathers execution. having additional knowledge was a bonus as small references made in the play such as the Royal Oak, Lady Castlemaine trying to trick Charles into executing the Earl of Clarendon tickled me. There were even brief references to the Exclusion crisis although no mention of the duke of Monmouth, but it was enough to make me smile.

The play was witty and funny, the actor playing Charles II, Ben Righton, had comic timing and was the right side of truth and caricature. Gwynn was played by Laura Pitt-Pulford captured the spirit of Charles’s Little Nelly well. the biggest star of the show however goes to Esh Alladi, for a performance that would have been just as on point in La Cage aux Folles. He played Edward the kings company’s “leading lady” with Linen Tits and who found himself demoted when the company of players promoted Nell from Orange Seller to Actress to compete with the Dukes company of players who had Moll Davis within there company.

In fairness the full cast were amazing, witty, great fun and excellent. There were quirky and contemporary points on Europe that raised a laugh. all in all very good.

The only oddities if I am being very very picky would be that maybe Clarendon would have been a better choice of minister than Arlington and he certainly had as many caricature and satirical elements to him. I was unfused with the depiction of Catherine of Braganza but will happily say that is due to too much knowledge and a soft spot for her. this was a caricature artistic exaggeration not a history lesson. I can not help but think this may have been better suited to the Sam Wannamaker theatre due to its 17th Century content but I am glad it was staged on the Globe stage as I am still unsure if I will see any shakespeare at the Globe while Emma Rice is Artistic director – Last years bizarre interpretations have put me off.

Bawdy, witty, comic, fun and satirical all in all what the spirit of the Globe is all about. it is a must catch. Tickets can be brought via the Globe website and start from £5.

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ENO’s Pirates of Penzance

I did it – I submitted the manuscript at the end of February. Who knew that the writing was actually the easy bit. All I will says is that editing is a whole different ball game and not one I particularly like. Research into book two has started and job hunting is frustrating. It seems for the time being I am living the dream as a history writer.

My reward to myself for submitting the Monmouth MS was a trip to the ENO. I hoped to see Rigoletto however sadly when I attempted to book the final performance anything I could justify paying for a ticket was long gone. Shame as I hear from a very reliable source that it was indeed very good. So I set about booking something and decided on Pirates of Penzance.

Image not my mine. The ship in the first scene ENO Pirates of Penzance 2017

Last night I learnt that I prefer Italian operas to Gilbert and Sullivan. Firstly I should say that the performance in its self was great some of the female singers were slightly weak and hard to hear – either that or I am going deaf. The staging was minimal and clever and I found it worked well, the costumery was superb it was just the content that I found not to my taste.

I was also pleasantly surprised that the much of the score was familiar and had been used in contemporary ways my favourite being the Element song which can be heard here.

I have never really been a big fan of pantomime and Gilbert and Sullivan’s Pirates is the theatrical lovechild of a Carry on film, Punch and Judy and Pantomime, fine in its place but not what I personally enjoy or wanted to see last night. In many ways a great show to bring children to in order to start their love affair with the theatre.

Image not mine. Andrew Shore as the Major General and Ashley Riches as the Pirate King

There was one stand out performance that I have to mention, the General Major stole the show and was performed by Andrew Shore. The evening was worth it just for his performance alone.

The minimal stage setting and props reminded me of the Globe in its simplicity. The staging of the boat in the first scene was very clever. The seats have not gotten any more comfortable and I must try and remember to bring a cushion for my next trip. For the regal sum of  £12 there was as far as I could see very little in the way of restriction in my view and in now way was a bad view. However if you hate heights the balcony is not recommended the steep steps are heady to walk up and down to your seats.

The last performance of this run is this Saturday, 25th March.

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Ballet Live 2017: Woolf Works

Image not mine – ROH2017

With 19 days until my manuscript deadline and a new job to find I should not be blogging and probably should not have gone to the Ballet live last night but dear reader I am very glad I did.

For the last few years The Royal Opera House have used selected cinemas around the world to show key performance live each season for one night only, enabling more people to access the arts close to home.

I Now, I Then – Image ROH 2017

Last night the Maidenhead Odeon in Berkshire and 850 odd other cinemas in 20 odd countries were treated to a live performance of the award winning ballet; Woolf Works. The ballet is the masterpiece of the in house choreographer Wayne McGregor.

Woolf Works is split into 3 parts using selected works and Virginia Woolf’s diaries and letters to create 3 unique and very different ballets. I should now confess that I am not particularly familiar with Woolf’s literally works, I am more familiar with the authors story rather than her legacy of words.

I should now say that the medium of ballet works on the big screen, especially for those of you, who like me would be in the cheap seats at the top with awkward views and have bad eyes. The performance is captured in digital precession up close and details that would be lost from the rafters can be captured.

The first performance was entitled I now, I then and is inspired by Mrs Dalloway but also Woolf herself. For me this was the most emotionally powerful of the three performances. Woolf herself is depicted on stage by the legendary and inspiring Alessandra Ferri. The visualisation of Ferri’s  depicting the remembering of youthful love sensuality and friendship is beautiful. The ballet moves on to the heart wrenching depiction of grief, the physically and mental pain that anyone who has experiences the full force of the loss through death will understand. If grief could be shown visually this is raw real tragic and beautiful in its depiction.

When you think that the average age that ballerina’s retire is 35 years old due to the toll on the human body, at 53 Alessandra Ferri is amazing inspiring and beautiful as a performer and as a woman.

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Becomings – Image ROH 2017

The second part of the ballet was Becomings inspired by the Orlando by Woolf. where I Now I Then was reflective emotional, classical Becomings was contemporary, powerful modern and androgynous. if you were in any doubt of the power and skill of the ballet dancers body this performance will prove that these men and women are athletes.

Visually the performance is modern, with the setting, costumery and use of lasers. elements of Jacobean costume is reinvented in modern materials and as the performance evolves the costumes evolve to until they are skin toned body suits leaving the viewer feeling more voyeur and the human bodies move in front of you, in powerful shapes and positions, making gender hard to define – a theme that is reflected in the literary work as well.

The last section was named Tuesday and was inspired by the work Waves. Woolf is again depicted by Alessandra Ferri and for me it was a moving and beautiful yet a painfully acute visual expression of a depressive crisis. The words read at the beginning of this final part of the performance are resonant of the self analysis  that will be familiar to anyone who has had experience of depression. Like Woolf herself, this ballet ends in death, but it is a reflective beautiful, sacrificial death, freeing her lover as she is grateful for their love and exhausted from the mental struggle. I openly wept as the end scene unfolded and instead of finding it melancholic I found it inspiring – live each day fully, make memories, beautiful memories, feel all emotions, both good and bad, live life fully so that when you come to your end the memories of your swan song replay they will as beautiful as this ballet.

Contemporary, modern, beautiful, physical, emotional and visually stunning Woolf Works is hands down one of the best performances I have ever seen.

Woolf Works runs until Valentine’s day at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London. ROHLive performances coming up include The Sleeping Beauty 28/2, Madam Butterfly 30/3 Jewels 11/4. Check roh.org.uk/cinema for your local theatre screening.

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