Saturday, December 29, 2012

My Year with Les Mis, My Life with Les Mis

December has been a whirlwind, but a very Merry one! I can honestly say it was a good month, a good end to a very, very good year.

Old Fashioned Christmas Tree at Paris Bakery
A definite high point of the year was getting to go see one of my favorite books, Les Miserables, transformed into a raw, moving movie musical full of hope, on this the 150th year since its publication in 1862. 

It is interesting to me that I've come here in my life, to this point, this place, this home.  It isn't perfect, and I know I tend to view things with a little romance, but it is still very serendipitous.   

For example, I live thirty minutes from Hugo -- a little spot in Oklahoma across the Red River, named after Victor Hugo because he was the favorite author of the wife of an important army officer stationed there.  Now, Hugo is home to several circuses, which means that it is also home of the elephant graveyard, I kid you not.  (Go to the movie and read the book to see what particular importance an elephant statute has on the lives of one of the poor unfortunate sweet dear orphan boys named Gavroche.  Ok fine, I will tell you -- it is Napolean's brain child elephant statute that was never taken past its plaster, which becomes Gavroche's home in the book.  The movie shows this wondrous ill-fated thing -- The Elephant of the Bastille). (Go check out the link for more -- but come right back!)

Hugo's Elephant Graveyard

Victor Hugo

I first came to love Les Miserables in 1987 when I read the book.  I still vacillate between Les Miserables and War and Peace as my very favorite book; Hugo or Tolstoy as my favorite author  (depending upon which I book/author I've read or last encountered).

Leo Tolstoy


Anyway, I read the book before my boyfriend took me to the musical.   Now, it is a fact that I never can encounter Les Mis without getting a headache from crying, but I was truly a mess the first time I saw it.  I believe in grace and mercy, I try -- try - to give it, although I know I have failed many a time.  Les Miserables is a story of grace and mercy and failure; it is the story of life. Better, it is the story of living to hope for another day. The hero Jean Valjean lives it, breathes it, and gives us the hope to do so, over and  over, and over.  

Perhaps I believe in grace and mercy because I have needed them so many times in my life.  Perhaps it is because I recognize that I have failed to give them at times that I needed to.  If you are the same, then you know what I mean when I say that the Bishop and the candlesticks moment in Les Mis is a "sink to your knees" moment for me.   As soon as the Bishop sings his song on stage, I cry; and in my first musical theater experience of Les Mis I don't mean tears running down my cheeks crying, I mean crying, crying. Some people just need grace. Jean Valjean needed it; I need it.  I know many of you who need it (and a few of you who don't).  Grace and mercy.

Mercy, I'm afraid I was a little loud with my sobbing.  I remember thinking:  "These people are going to think that this guy sitting beside me was just REALLY MEAN TO ME!!"  Actually, they were probably just wanting to sock me to shut me up.  

But they were merciful, and allowed me to cry through the whole first act, so that I  had such a raging headache that I don't know how I managed to take in and love the show, but I did. I loved it all over again. Incidentally, my boyfriend stayed around and married me.  A little crying can't scare off a man such as he.

Our one year anniversary picture.  Yes, we purposely copied an old fashioned picture. 

Les Mis, since that time, has definitely been something that has been one of those core of our marriage things.  If all else fails, by God, we can pull out the soundtrack.  We can watch the 10th anniversary PBS production.  We can watch the 25th anniversary production.  Or, I might go out on the back porch, while hubby is stoking the fire, to find that he is listening to it with his earphones on and tears streaming down his face.  It truly is a powerful story, and I don't know of a better musical adaption of any story.  Take such story writing and combine it with some of the best musical writing ever, and you get something that will resonate through the generations.    If you want to know some of the backstory that leads up to the candlestick moment that makes it so powerful, read this link of mine (but come right back!):  Some Things You Need To Know About "Les Miserables" -- Valjean and the Bishop

So, we love Les Mis. And, it just so happens, we live in Paris, Texas, this lovely little community that truly lights up the West with its Art, and I mean Art with a capital A -- all encompassing Art: painting, acting, singing, writing, even stand up comedy. We got it, and I love it.  I'm proud to be a Parisian by choice, and live in this exciting atmosphere of a small city with big dreams. I live here, and I have traveled to Paris, France; the Paris that plays a big part in Les Miserables.  You may think this has no relation to us here in the second biggest Paris of the world, but trust me, if you ever say you are going to Paris (meaning here), you are likely to encounter someone in true raptures.  It is up to you to decide whether you explain or just basque in the glow. 

We thought we would never get to see Les Mis again, but then Susan Boyle came out with Fantine's song I Dreamed a Dream (that I have sung over, and over, and over, and over as if preparing it for an audition, -- what woman hasn't??).  The composers realized that the story wasn't finished (how could they have ever thought that?).

Dallas Winspear Opera House
Inside the Winspear
The revival began, and when we got the opportunity on December 31, 2011 to go see it at the still new Dallas Opera House -- the Winspear, we didn't hesitate.   I vowed not to cry, and failed at that vow, but it didn't matter because everyone cried.  I have never heard so many sobs and sniffles in live theater before. 

We also saw it there with some of my besties, you know who  your are.   It was the best musical theater viewing experience of my life.    Especially because we got to see it with those friends of ours, who are each going through their own hardships, their own Les Mis moments.

Pirate Queen Stephanie Block
And then we saw a celebration of it and other music by the composers at the American Airlines Center, (where I fell in love with the song "Woman" from Pirate Queen,  written by the same team, but that is another story)(And, lest you think we only experienced Les Mis, we had an interlude with Incredible Sondheim Summer, but that is also another story).  The composers made a surprise appearance at the event, that is how I know the back story as to the revival.  Thrilling!

Then, we saw the musical again, with many of the same performers at Bass Hall, in Fort Worth, with another set of friends.  Our teenagers loved it, but wondered when the madness would end.

Still,  when we asked them if they wanted to go see the musical movie with us on Christmas Day, they said:"Yes, yes, a thousand times, yes!"  (Actually, they just said yes, but when you have teens and they agree to do anything with you, it feels like quite a victory).  While we LOVE the book, and LOVE the musical theater version, we also LOVED the raw edge that this movie musical gave us.  It was the ability to experience the story in another venue, to see more of the story, to be reminded of some things, like the fact that Marius really is the romantic hero of the second half of the story.  

(Side Note:  If you are into this story, Les Miserables,  you need to download this interactive book on the movie musical right now!)            Les Miserables Musical Phenomenon  

The point here is that we were some of the millions who saw it on Christmas Day, again with our good friends, (Love you!!).   

We stood in front of the theater for hours in the freezing rain (ok, it was more like 15 minutes) in order to fight the crowds for a good chair.  (Who am I kidding, this is Paris, there weren't crowds.  The reason we stood outside is because the theater wouldn't open and let us in, for some reason.  This might be the unromantic side of Paris, Texas, but we survived).

We went and watched, and got chills, and cried, and laughed, and applauded, and I got a headache, albeit a very satisfied headache.  Then we came out to a White Christmas.  And it was all very, very serendipitous. 

It has truly been a Les Mis year, and I wouldn't have it any other way.  There is always, always Hope, and may we strive to give more Grace, Mercy, and Love.  Love you guys.

Link to P.S. Les Mis, Paris Texas style 

Some things you need to know about "Les Miserables" -- Valjean and the Bishop

Les Miserables, the book written by Victor Hugo, was published in December of 1862.

Portrait of "Cosette" by Emile Bayard, from the original edition of Les Misérables (1862)
It became an instant bestseller and is still viable today.  But, it is long.  My unabridged translation, published in March of 1987, is 1463 pages.  I encourage people to read the abridged translation in order to encounter the strength of the writing and the story as a whole;  in this case I think it is better to encounter it in part than not at all.

Still, many people today will learn the story only through the musical.  Those of us who love this musical are quite die hard about it, as you can tell from my post titled "My Year With Les Mis."  (For more with a dose of realism, also see P.S. Les Mis, Paris Texas style ).  Many have seen movies, but with few exceptions they do not do it justice.  There was a TV miniseries of it that I watched in highschool, that was the only screen encounter of it that I ever liked, until I saw it on Christmas Day.

Here it is -- it is pretty dated, but it is the most true to the book that I have encountered.

Now, the recent  Les Miserables the musical is based upon the book and the musical theater show, and it does give you more of the story (there were several in our group who had "Aha!" moments).  But of course, the movie cannot last forever, so here is is my short list of book facts that you need to know in order to more fully appreciate the story: 1.  Jean Valjean's original prison sentence was just for 5 years.  He truly was stealing a loaf of bread for his widowed sister's seven starving children.  That was in 1795, so France was still going through the rigors and horrors of the Revolution, France's experiment with liberty that became "The Terror" as the victors fed off of their martial control and began beheading each other.  At that time, Valjean was still a young man. The terms of the penal code were explicit.  In our civilization there are fearful times when the criminal law wrecks a man.  How mournful the moment when society draws back and permits the irreparable loss of a sentient being.  Jean Valjean was sentenced to 5 years in prison. All for stealing only a loaf of bread, which he dropped when the baker chased him and caught him.  The children never received it.    2.  Valjean was the only person standing between his sister's family and starvation. While they were riveting the bolt of his iron collar behind his head with heavy hammer strokes, he wept.  The tears choked his words, and he only managed to say from time to time, "I was a pruner at Faverolles."  Then still sobbing, he raised his right hand and lowered it seven times, as if touching seven heads of unequal height, and from this gesture one could guess that whatever he had done had been to feed and clothe seven little children. So what happened to them? It is an old story.  The poor little lives, these creatures of God, thereafter without support, guidance, or shelter, wondered aimlessly, who knows where. 3.  Valjean's final prison stay was nineteen years because he tried to make a number of ultimately unsuccessful prison breaks.  From 1976 to October of 1815, the world had changed quite a bit while he was on the chain gang.  Napoleon had come and gone, and had come again, briefly in 1815, only to devastating losses in Waterloo. Life for the French had changed, and changed, and changed again. That wasn't the only thing that had changed. Jean Valjean entered the galleys starving and trembling; he left hardened.  He entered in despair; he left sullen.   What had happened within this soul? In short, though he had started with admitting his crime and the punishment that went with it, after much thought he had concluded that society should be more tolerant of the poor.  He made society responsible for his fate, and determined to call it to account for this gross injustice.  So he resolved to sharpen himself and he partook of the prison classes taught by "by some rather ignorant friars."  His despair was such that it could only have been purchased by a man like the Bishop,"anything less than the first could have failed to soften the second." 4.  On the Bishop.   Interestingly, the Bishop is the first person encountered in the first section of the book, entitled Fantine, where he proceeds to shock his town by being utterly good, and giving to the poor, except for his one point of pride -- the silver that was his one luxury -- "It would be difficult for me to giving up eating with silver."  He had so impoverished himself by giving every single thing away that Valjean thinks he is simply a lowly sort of priest.  When the Bishop sees Valjean, a destitute parolee, he calls him Monsieur  and let him eat with his little household, with full place setting of the silver, and said that he knew him, said that Valjean's name was "my brother." 
Then he proceeded to give him great detail about work that could be found in the region that the Bishop's family had been from before being driven out by the Revolution, dropping names and information that could be used to gain admittance to good society there.  He told him what to do to survive, basically advised him to jump parole without actually saying those words, then he led him to bed, leaving one of two precious silver candlesticks on Valjean's nightstand, and he blessed him.  In return for which, Valjean challenged him, rather like a starving dog biting the hand that is feeding it: So now!  You let me stay in your house, as near to you as that! . . . Have you thought I might be a murderer?" The bishop replied, "God will take care of that." And He did, but not in the way that Valjean would have ever imagined.  After the miracle of the Bishop, Valjean's dark soul must flee, as there is only room for the Bishop's goodness. The songs, "The Bishop" and "Valjean's Soliloquy" explain the rest of the story.  But something important to note with both songs is that they show up at other times in the musical.  The Bishop  tune is used for Marius's moment in "Empty Chairs and Empty Tables"  when he considered the death of his friends, and wonders "what your sacrifice was for," making for a very strong parallel.  Then Valjean's musings turn into Javert's Soliloquy, with very different results, making for a strong comparison of the two men.  But what is important here is what moved Valjean (Thank you Hugh Jackman for singing your heart out as Valjean and Colm Wilkinson as the Bishop (he was the original Valjean, what a thrill to see him come full circle in this role!) From The Bishop: But remember this, my brother See in this some higher plan You must use this precious silver To become an honest man By the witness of the martyrs By the Passion and the Blood God has raised you out of darkness I have bought your soul for God!   If only we Christians, myself included, were more like the Bishop. Or more like Valjean who responds to grace:  From Valjean's Soliloquy: What have I done?  Sweet Jesus, what have I done?   Become a thief in the night  Become a dog on the run  And have I fallen so far  And is the hour so late  That nothing remains  but the cry of my hate . . .  Yet why did I allow that man  To touch my soul and teach me love?  He treated me like any other  He gave me his trust  He called me brother  My life he claims for God above  Can such things be? . . . One word from him and I'd be back  Beneath the lash, upon the rack   Instead he offers me my freedom,   I feel my shame inside me like a knife  He told me that I have a soul,  How does he know?  What spirit came to move my life?  Is there another way to go?
. . .
Yes.  There is, for all of us.  I like to be reminded of this, because I get world weary and cynical.  And I don't think it is just because I am a lawyer, I think we all do, it is just life.  So these words renew my hope.  My hope in myself and in my fellow man. P.S. -- Just for fun, here is an interview with Colm Wilkinson, the original Jean Valjean, about playing the Bishop in the musical.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Lincoln. At this very time.

Movies are good for your savvy, too. Apparently, according to the data, they engage your mind in story engagement. They take you as you are, in that deep dark movie theater and lift you into other lives, other times, other places, then they drop you back into reality, looking no different on the outside, but utterly changed on the inside.

At least, the good ones do. Actually, the bad ones do, too, so I say choose wisely.

I'm proud to say that my husband and I just encountered such a movie. Of course, it was based upon a book:  Team of Rivals.  (A very small portion of the book, but what a portion!)

Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln

Lincoln. Go see it. Go see it. Go see it. Do not tarry.

 Here is a trailer for the movie that goes back in time and finally settles on the movie, with some scenes that show Lincoln's immense trials that he faced while pushing for the amendment.  Go check it out, then come right back!

Lincoln Trailer 

The movie really is that exciting.  So, I hope you go see it.

And when you are done, consider our current political crises. Call or email your Congressional Representative. Surely, if such an event could occur with all the political division of that day, Congress can do something now to save us from this next "self inflicted" recession. It doesn't matter which side of the issue you are on, compromise is that important. The time is now. I have watched so many of you in this great recession dig deep and face difficult choices with bravery, and based upon the fourth quarter in real estate sales in our area, I believe we are working our way out of it. So this crises is coming at the worst time possible to a people who have a government of the people, by the people, for the people. I am one of those Washington outsiders that simply does not understand how an agreement has not already been reached on the fiscal cliff crises.

But this movie, Lincoln.  This movie has given me hope, although I do not compare our current crises in any way to the importance of the crises at that time, and though I do recognize that it was created in Hollywood, which takes the history of the victor to the history of whatever sells.   Regardless, we are in crises, and it's a very important one. If they could do it, our leaders can, too.

But, even without the politics of this very day, I'm thankful for the chance to have seen Lincoln.  And I'm thankful for the man. I have hope for our country yet.

Now, if you don't know what I am talking about, regardless of who you voted for or your political leanings, please take a little time to educate yourself on what is at stake. Watch this Presidential speech, or just google "fiscal crisis" and educate yourself through your chosen venue.  But I believe today's speech is accurate and, more importantly, is an plea for bipartisanship.

December 28, 2012 Presidential Speech

 I hope you go see the movie, or read the book, and I hope you take the time in the next three days to contact your rep.  Rally time!

Monday, December 3, 2012

December Giveaway, just for fun!

So, just for fun, in the spirit of another year of reading, I am hosting my first give away event.  

In November I went on a military book treasure hunt, and listed 4 books/poems from the WWI era that I read and loved, you will find that link to the side or right here: 

Now, just for fun, I am hosting a give away of either this coffee mug to the right (Famous First Lines)
 Or this fun book lover's coffee mug below (Banned Books):  

(Winner's choice, I have already ordered both of them)   

So, to WIN, simply be the first person who tells me the name of:

1.  The song  __________________;

2.  That was mentioned in one of the books reviewed in the link above (tell me the name of the book)  ____________________; and

3.  That was sung in Season Two of this currently very Popular TV Series (Name that TV Series) !  __________________________

So  you must give me all 3 answers to win.

Ready, set, go! 
(We'll work out the delivery details when you win)

Now, I will give hints if I have to, later on in the month, so if you have questions ask and as the month progresses I will answer them.  I do think there are a couple of you that could name the series right off the bat, and if you have paid as much attention as me you will probably get the song, but you may have to work a bit on the book, still it isn't all that hard.  

And, by the way, I purchased the mugs from a very cool book catalog called Bas Bleu .  
Check it out! I have loved it / ordered from it for a very long time.  And consider reading or listening to one of those books / poems, they are all short reads and quite satisfying.