13 October, 2006

Paris ici nous venons!

That's "Paris here we come" to you, Avery. Got to brush up on that French homework! We're off tomorrow morning on the Eurostar for... Gay Paree! It will be such fun to meet up with Sarah and Eve at our cute little hotel in the 5th arrondissement (much plushier than any of the questionable places I stayed as a doctoral student lo these 15 years ago). I think our first-day plans include a marionette show, a carousel, some shopping, and dinner at my old haunt, Cafe Max. We'll report back as soon as we get home on Monday evening.

Wednesday saw us at church for the autumnal Harvest Festival Thanksgiving concert. Avery was most disconcerted to find that since she did not take violin, and chose Book Club over Choir, she did not get to do anything more special than deliver food to the altar and sing "All Creatures Great and Small" at the end. So violin lessons are a high priority, should Mrs D allow it, in advance of any more concerts. But it was lovely anyway, and darling Becky shared her girls' flowers with Avery.

We were then off in the clearing rainy day to visit St Paul's, a possible senior school for Avery. Everyone had said, "Oh, it's the top school for girls in all of England, you won't believe the facilities [a word I really dislike]," so we were prepared to be impressed. But oh MY. As you can see, just the building itself is lovely, and it's situated on Brook Green in Hammersmith, a lovely little villagey corner of West London, the most perfect verdent little common you can imagine. Then once in the entrance doors of the school you find yourself treading black and white marble and looking up at an enormous, carved-wood ceiling in the great Assembly Hall, with seats up in the gallery set alongside a huge floor-to-ceiling many-paned window through which the sun began to stream as the High Mistress gave her welcoming speech. We found ourselves seated next to Susan, Sophia's mother, and so clutched at each other as babes in anticipation of the forest of competition, pressure, and hothouse preciousness that is the famed reputation of St Paul's. But I beg to differ. It was warm and friendly, openly competitive and high workload, but the gulls who led us around were completely charming and relaxed, informative and cute, and the general atmosphere of the school as far as we could infer, was one of happiness and total fun and fulfillment.

And even more to the point: there are THREE libraries! Avery's mouth simply dropped open and stayed open. Floor to ceiling books, with sliding library ladders just like she has always dreamed of. She fell ecstatically upon a copy of "Jane Eyre" lying on a table and said, "I am officially in heaven." There were several state of the art computer labs, art studios that rival Hunter College (and several artworks on display that I would have happily shown in my gallery in New York), a swimming pool, an English lab with professionally-published magazines containing the gulls' prize-winning essays and short stories. Completely impressive. All this in surroundings that just oozed with Victorian charm, carved woodwork, old wooden floors, worn concrete stairwells, bell chambers and outdoor spaces that overlook all of Central London. And the cafeteria! Ten or twelve food stations with everything you can imagine to eat. And in the last two years the gulls can go out to lunch in the nearby High Street, where we saw a gorgeous fish shop, a florist, lots of little cafes.

Let me see if I can possibly relate the Byzantine structure of the school years. They begin in Lower Fourth, then go to Upper Fourth, then Year Nine and Lower Sixth, then Middle Sixth, then Upper Sixth. I think. Or maybe not. I couldn't keep track. And sometimes they call the Lower Fourth "Year Sevens." I will never be able to keep track. Our guide, Amy, could not have been more poised. Wearing a little blue polka-dotted dress with a Peter Pan collar, topped by a short tartan jacket and with little embroidered flats, she was like a book illustration for "Charming English Teenager." But sharp as a whip. Taking four A-levels in chemistry, physics, biology and... art! She's a photographer on top of all her scientific skills. And she's the first person I've ever met in real life who is planning her Gap Year! And no, it's not a year spent folding clothes and dressing mannequins, it's the year between high school and university when upper-class English kids get to bum around and play, presumably before the unbearable pressures of Oxford or Cambridge dig in their claws. Would you believe: 40% of all Paulinas (isn't that an almost too-sweet designation for girls at the school) go to an Oxbridge school. Incredible.

We all emerged with the definite sense that whatever it takes, within reason, for Avery to get to go there, we will try to achieve. She absolutely loved it, and I can definitely see her at home within those walls. So fingers crossed! The entrance exam isn't until a year from January, so I'm actually glad we had a chance to see how wonderful it is and have a year to prepare. We'll see. Avery has the right attitude: "It would be perfect for me to go there, but if I don't get in, another school will be wonderful too." She's right.

Thursday saw me at my screenwriting course, screening the first half hour of "Ed Wood," which left me completely cold. But it was good to analyze another film. Next week Dalia and I are meeting up in advance of the class to compare notes on the one-page film outline we're meant to bring on Thursday. And big sigh of relief: I hve finished my 2500 words for the following Saturday's fiction class. It's so hard to read aloud! I read it to John who had suggestions, and I think if I read it several more times I'll be bored enough with it not to care how it sounds in front of 20 strangers.

Today was a half-day for the beginning of the half-term break, so the gulls were allowed an "own clothes" day. I will never forget a year ago today, going back to King's College after Avery's interview, once we had decided to attend the school, to tell Mrs D she would be coming, and feeling at home in her "own clothes." The gulls then donate however much money they like to a named charity, for the honor of leaving their uniforms at home for a precious day. I remember Avery going up to Mrs D holding out her pound coin and smiling shyly. "I'd like very much to come here to school, if that's all right." It's been quite a year. It was funny at pickup to see all the outlandish clothing items that emerge to celebrate their freedom to choose what to wear! Fake fur, sequins, much-tattered jeans, and the SHOES! Dress-up pumps, cowboy boots, Avery's own blue furry Mary Janes, which beloved shoes turned out to be too small, and so they belong to Anna now. The girls and I went to lunch with Becky, in the cool blinky October sun in the Marylebone High Street, and now we're on our way to the Friday skating lesson and dinner out. Then, we must pack! And go off on our French adventure. I hope I remember the language?

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