Monday, 9 November 2009

take care of yourself

Am way behind the times here. This is no doubt due to the increasingly frequent nightmares where the board who sit on my viva line me up against a wall and shoot me instead of just failing my thesis. Hence writing thesis, not blog. Good times.

Having said that, I've still been out and about to see and do lots of interesting things in the last few weeks (yes, aside from work and nightmares): Ravel's L'Heure espagnole and Puccini's Gianni Schicchiat the ROH - amazing, hilarious, and beautifully performed - and who knew this ravishing aria was in the rather unassuming one act about a cheeky Italian farmer. Divine dinners at L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon (the third best dining experience I've had in London in the last year, after Landau at the Langham and the fine food and wine evening at the White Swan) and on the old Pullman Orient Express train. If I have the time, I'll write these up properly but I did want to single out one thing in particular: the Sophie Calle show on now at the Whitechapel Gallery until 3 January.

It's a sort of retrospective of Calle's work but the clear star of the show is Take Care of Yourself (as vile a phrase in French as in English: prenez soin de vous), a piece which won rave reviews at the Venice Bienalle in 2007. After receiving an email in which her then lover breaks up with her, Calle whizzed the email off to 107 various women and asked them to use their professional skills to interpret the missive. While the exhibition is simply unmissible and anything I say about it here would only get in the way of your own response to and enjoyment of what is a very, very clever piece of artistry and social engagement, there was one thing that really stood out for me and that was the email itself.

I don't know about you, but I've been broken up with by letter before (and it was handwritten, baby. One up on Madame Calle) and while his letter was as polite as the situation demanded, it wasn't anything like the email Calle's lover sent to her. I kept thinking over and over (you practically come to know the letter by heart - in French and English- if you stay in the exhibition long enough), god, why have I never gone out with a French bloke before! I don't want a boring 'I hope one day you may forgive me. It's nothing you did, nothing I can explain, blah, blah, blah' break-up letter, I want a mysterious, freakishly formal email about 'the others' and how he will always remember the 'unique and beautiful way I interpreted the world' - I still never did quite figure out what the hell he was referring to with 'the others'. Trust me, it's not as obvious as it sounds. But the disconnect between his letter, grounded in the rhetoric of courtly love, the fact that he sent it via email, and well, just that men actually exist who write letters like that sort of turned my world upside down. I think it's a sad day indeed when a gal starts looking at the men of another country differently (favourably, even) by the way the write break-up emails. Obviously, I'm not getting out of the library enough.

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