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#1 - The Clown Diaries - First Week in Etampes

Welcome to my first entry on this blog in AGES!

At the time of writing this, there are six men, all of different nationalities and different languages, seated in my house kitchen. They are all fighting over a baguette and the remainders of the butter and the honey. One of them is playing a drum, one is singing a song in a language I am not sure of, one is talking about the benefits of Ashtanga Yoga and one Italian gentlmen called Pietro is cutting a large cauliflower. Three are talking about the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei . All of them are wearing knitted jumpers. In other words, they are performers.

To give context, it's Thursday evening on the 15th October. It's coming to the end of my first week as a student at L'ecole Philippe Gaulier and my second full week as a local resident of the small suburb of Paris called Etampes. All the people gathered in my kitchen are fellow first year students of the prestigious clown school and we are all prepping for our first 'Autocour' tomorrow. Autocour is an event which takes place every Friday at the school. Students are required to perform pieces they have prepared in front of one another and the school's terrifying and entrancing patriarch Philippe Gaulier and his scary big drum. It's our first Autocour tomorrow and everyone is understandably excited and flustered***.

The school itself, which is situated in the middle of Etampes, offers a first year course and a second year course that one can select (like a buffet menu, depending on your commitments) to be apart of. Each term you specialise in a different area such as Le Jeau, Bouffon, Vaudeville, Shakespeare and Chekhov, amongst others. In my year there are fifty students studying for the first term. The group is incredibly diverse with students of varying ages and walks of life. Some are trained actors, circus performers, comedians, whilst others have never acted or performed before in their lives. The group is also very international, with students from parts of the world such as Portugal, Brazil, Sweden, Norway, Lithuania, Germany, Italy, Canada, China, Taiwan, France, Australia and New Zealand. There is a high contingent of Brits, specially from London, but this comes as little surprise considering the school was based in London for a perod of time. Everyone seems very kind and lovely.

Last Tuesday I moved into my french house, which I live in with three other first year Gaulier students. I had only met my three future housemates once last month in a Prett in Farringdon - where we had all agreed collectively that we all 'seemed relatively sane' to move in with. We had all met via facebook, so when travelling to meet everyone in the flesh in our new home last week nerves were high. - thoughts included prayers such as 'PLEASE LET NONE OF THEM BE RACIST. PLEASE LET NONE OF THEM LIKE SIMPLY RED. PLEASE LET NONE OF THEM PLAY THE UKULELE'.

Turns out, so far, everything is going beautifully well. The house is a 17th century lime green wonky floored curvy staired jumble. It has its own cave and so far I've only flashed the neighbours a total of five times because I've accidentally forgotten to pull the old blue french shutters that lead into my bedroom window closed.

We live next door to a boulangerie which means the house is full of baguettes, macaroons, pastries and obscure delicacies which I can't pronounce but I'll eat anyway. This situation means that we are all slowly getting very fat. It also means that, as I am the one that has been practising my french by buying our food in the boulangerie, I have accidentally been telling the lady that owns the boulangerie that she has a 'beautiful arse' every day as I have only learnt today that I have been pronouncing 'Merci Beaucoup' wrong.

The flatmates, who I will be writing about often, are the following. GREG, RYAN and TOM. To visualise Greg, imagine a cross between a baby labrador, a Young Woody Allen *** and a yoga instructor. The type of man who practises mindfulness, can explain coherently how the American voting system works and plays the drums, all at the same time. Then there is Tom. The most organised of us all (he knows how to sort out a french bank account) - Tom is a graduate from the Slade, sprightly and can speak three languages fluently: English, Spanish and French. Insanely calm and open hearted, he is the type of man who knows lots of things that you can do with lentils and who you could trust with an important package.

Then there is Ryan, an actor, as a neurotic as me. He's tall, long fingers - imagine a friendly young Count Olaf or every character in a Twin Peaks film. We both seem to own the same clothes, and share a bedroom door. So we've bonded.

We've all adjusted to living in Etampes in our own ways. Etampes, if you've ever been, or are planning to go, basically resembles the type of french surreal street you'd see in your dreams. It's like Tales of the Unexpected - every street seems identical, you have no idea where you are going half the time, and the clothes modelled on delapidated mannequins in shop windows look as if they have been there since the Berlin Wall came down. There is a cat on every street corner loitering or killing a pigeon.

There is one pub, an Irish pub, called oddly Loch Ness, which prides itself (I'm being optimistic) on having the most lacklustre barman of all time. The best way to describe his style of serving customers is 'selective'.

Crucially, one of the most important lessons I've learnt about France whilst I've been here is the answer to the mystery HOW DO THE FRENCH STAY SO THIN?!?

"Well how?" I hear you ask.

Simple. They don't like shops being open. If you are a human person and you enjoy eating food, France will do everything in its power to prevent you from finding it. No shops are open. It's as if they disappear after 6pm, or what I call 'The normal time when normal people want to find food'.

I honestly believe the Specials wrote 'Ghost Town' based on spending a Sunday in Etampes. At 8pm on Wednesday the only place I could find open to get chocolate was a shop with the words 'Exotique' in neon on the door and all I could get was a Kitcat from the owner which was grey when opened and I think went out of date in 2009. On Sunday our plan as a house was to do a huge Sunday roast together, until we all realised that the local food shop, Carrefour was closed on a Sunday... so the only place close enough to travel to go get food was IKEA. By train. Our fridge is now full of Ikea condiments.

It's now time for dinner. We're having baguette, cauliflower with Ikea Smoked Mackeral.

Until next week.

Elf xxx

*** My performance, without giving too much away, involves A Midsummer Nights Dream, a re-enactment of the handshake from The Parent Trap and some epic patty cake skills thanks to the wonders of Youtube. It is a very serious piece.

*** Not the potential paedophile bit

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