Wednesday, 29 May: I left work in a hurry to catch the 1713 Thalys train from Gare du Midi in Brussels to Paris. Having arrived at the train station 15 minutes before my train was scheduled to leave, I stopped to buy a bar of chocolate. When it was my turn to pay, I realized that my cardholder – which contained all my ATM and credit cards, as well as money – was missing. After getting together some coins to pay for the chocolate, I continued to search in vain for my worn-out but favourite yellow birdy cardholder from Habitat.
After frantically retracing my steps for a few minutes, I realized what had happened. I was the victim of a pickpocket. More accurately, I should say that I had fallen pray to a syndicate of pickpockets!
Rewind: I was in the metro and waiting for the train to arrive at the Midi station. A man in front of me moved from my left to my right and held onto the pole by the door nearest to us. On the other side of the pole was an older man who was also holding onto the same pole. When it was time to alight, neither man would budge nor release their arms which were blocking my way, until I forcefully pushed my way through, following which the older man said in what seemed like a taunting slur “excuse-moi”. I shot him a dirty look (and he looked filthy enough with a beer can in hand and unshaven). It must have been in those two seconds that the younger man on the right picked my cardholder out of my zipped pocket, but somehow missed my Blackberry which was in the same place.
Fast forward: I made my way to the train platform and started calling my banks and card companies in Singapore and Belgium to report the theft and cancel all the cards that were in the cardholder. This was the first time my pocket has been picked but no way was I going to let those thieves get anything more out of me. Not surprisingly, I was informed that someone had just tried to use my American Express corporate card but had failed to get any money with it. Damn, these people work fast.
Eventually, I put my phone away and ate some chocolate. I wanted to eat a boiled egg that I had brought along with me, but ended up spilling half-cooked egg over my dress as it was not thoroughly cooked. Talk about rotten luck.
At least I had my phone with me + 1 Paris metro ticket. Just enough for me to get to AB’s place, which I did with no hiccups.
When we met, AB remarked, “I’m not surprised… it was bound to happen, especially in this part of Brussels.” Himself, he was once splashed with white paint at Gare du Midi by someone who claimed it was “bird shit” as his partner tried to make a grab-and-run with AB’s phone and bag (but failed). The police patrol the train station occasionally but often it seems like there’s an invisible barrier that the criminal syndicate has built around them in the area as the police seem almost completely unable to do anything about the lawless situation around and in Gare du Midi.
Anyway, we had to make our way to Théâtre des Champs-Elysées for the performance that AB had bought tickets for since several months ago. It was Le Sacre du Printemps / The Rite of Spring, a ballet + orchestral piece composed by Igor Stravinsky with original choreography by Vaslav Nijinsky. First performed in 1913 in Paris by Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes company at the inauguration of Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, it caused much controversy and almost a riot in the audience for its unconventional and primitive display. This eyewitness account shared with the Financial Times tells it all.
Just as we arrived at Théâtre des Champs-Elysées – pursued by a stranger who wanted to buy the extra pair of tickets that AB was holding for a friend – a riot suddenly broke out at the entrance with police pinning people to the ground. These people were protesting against the newly passed law in France that grants same-sex couples the right to marry and jointly adopt children. The first marriages in France to be acknowledged under this law were scheduled for 29 May 2013.
We swiftly got through the doors of the theatre and the lobby was buzzing with excitement. As we climbed the stairs, we were suddenly “accosted” by a young lady who was enthusiastically speaking to us in a Slavic language. Apparently, she explained, as we arrived at our stop, this was to create an ambience prior to the performance. Soon we were in our seats, in the balcony, and waiting. The suspense weighed heavily in the air.Before the performance started, there was a speech and we learnt that Le Sacre du Printemps was the act that launched the theatre on 29 May 1913 at the inauguration of Théâtre des Champs-Elysées. There we were on its centernaire / 100th anniversary – quelle surprise!
The first act was a recreation of the original 1913 choreography by Ninjinsky – which was so controversial and poorly received in its day, as well as marred by various unforeseen external circumstances that it was performed only six times before it disappeared, only to be reconstructed in 1987 by Kenneth Archer and Millicent Hodson. Heavily inspired by primitive Russian pagan rituals, the performance was both striking yet repetitive, and I struggled to stay awake even though it was the first time I was watching a ballet performance. AB, on the other hand, said that he was speechless throughout the performance.During the intermission, the entire audience was treated to une coupe de champagne in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the theatre and this historic performance. Yay, one can always trust the French to throw a good party!With just enough time to sip some champagne and gawk at the crowd – which included the Prime Minister’s partner and several notable political figures and ministers – the bell rang and it was time to return to our seats.
What followed was the first ‘screening’ of a brand new and contemporary version by Sasha Waltz, which seemed more intense with a rapid momentum, had me on the edge of my seat. I was in awe all the way until the chosen sacrificial girl manically danced to her death around a descending metallic dagger. As the French would say, “Bravo!!!”After most of the audience left, we had the chance to admire the grandeur of the Art Deco interiors of the theatre:If you are interested to see these two performances, check out this screening on Acte channel. Happy viewing and have a great weekend!
P.S. All pictures were taken with my Blackberry which survived the theft. While the pickpocketing incident was a bummer and rather annoying, I’m happy that the evening ended on a high note, topped off with a hearty cheeseburger at the lively Pause Café after the concert!