Le cul entre les deux chaises

An American Spaniard in France or: How I Learned to Make an Ass of Myself in Three Cultures

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Cutting cheese in French

TerryTateThe Empire Magazine podcast turned me on to an old series of Reebok ads called “Terry Tate, Office Linebacker” (compilation). The shorts are about an American football (handegg) player who works in a cubicle farm, intimidating workers into being more productive. They are crazy funny. Two particular highlights for me included

This ain’t your home so don’t use the speakerphone.

You can’t cut the cheese wherever you please.

This last line reminded me of a day in my French class in high school, when someone passed gas and another person mumbled, in the way that one does, “Who cut the cheese?” Our teacher looked up from his desk and addressed the person who’d spoken, reminding him that in French class, we speak en français, so my classmate cleared his throat and loudly asked, “Qui-as couper le fromage?

And the whole class roared with laughter while our teacher blushed. Be careful what you wish for.

For the record

In English, you fart. In French on pète. In Spanish, tiras/hechas un pedo. There’s a funny discussion here on colloquial ways to say “cut the cheese” in French. I find all these kinds of exchanges so amusing since they’re basically what I imagine conversations with aliens would sound like.

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orange peppers 1

They’re so mignon!

These brightly colored peppers are sold at my green grocer along with some banana-yellow ones and some brick-red ones, but the orange are my favorite. They are really small (shorter than a finger) and have a sweet yet hearty flavor and they’ve become my new shallots.

orange peppers 3

Mini-peppers with chicken and lentils.

orange peppers 2

Mini-pepper and cheddar quesadilla with guac.


2013 Summer Playlist

Summer officially ended over the weekend. The weather turned here a few weeks ago, but I was too wrapped up in reading everything on the Internet to consider that it might be a good time to close out the 2013 Summer Playlist.

The only thing I have to say for myself this time is that since I wasn’t online for two whole months, I didn’t get a chance to hear a lot of new stuff.

2013 Summer Playlist

  1. Arctic Monkeys, “R U Mine?” — if you like AM, Bloc Party, Hard-Fi, etc. this is more of that.
  2. Awolnation, “Sail” — like Muse, but good.
  3. Daft Punk, “Get Lucky” — this is the song that will endure as the song of the summer.
  4. Fitz and the Tantrums, “Out of My League” — if John Hughes were still alive, he’d score a teen comedy to this song.
  5. Kings of Leon, “Wait For Me” — someday, I’m going to stop loving KoL as much as I do.
  6. Kings of Leon, “Supersoaker” — this year isn’t going to be when that happens.
  7. Owl Eyes, “Pumped Up Kicks” — Aussie girl covers a 2011 Spring Playlist selection and makes it more fun.
  8. Reptile Youth, “Speeddance” — this song makes me vogue.
  9. San Cisco, “Fred Astaire” — the happiest of the bunch, kinda like Vampire Weekend.
  10. Andre 3000 and Beyoncé, “Back to Black” — is it wrong that I like this Amy Winehouse cover better?
  11. will.i.am, “Bang Bang” — I’ll grant that the lyrics are terrible, but it’s very catchy.
  12. Woodkid, “I Love You” — a French guy who sings Wall of Sound-ish tunes in English.

The back catalog: 2012 Winter, 2012 Summer

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Word Mystery: cold / catarro / rhume

Every Wednesday, I explore the linguistic origins of one word in different languages I speak.

DOWNTON ABBEY returned to British screens this past Sunday, reminding me that I hadn’t yet addressed the Spanish flu. “Wait, what?” you’re probably saying.

In a 2011 episode of the second season of the popular ITV show, now in its fourth year, several characters contract the Spanish flu and one conveniently dies of it. Once I got over how incredibly dumb and poorly plotted the show had become, I was pissed at how everyone was so casually blaming all these dumb contrivances on the Spanish, when they had nothing to do with the flu (except dying of it, like everyone else).

The reason the 1918 H1N1 flu, which killed between 3 and 5% of the world’s population, was known as “Spanish” was because the most press coverage about the epidemic came from Spain…but not because there was more flu there than elsewhere. It was because the rest of Western civilization was busy fighting in a war and wartime censoring precluded the journalists from reporting anything bad that was happening on the home front. I guess they thought that if everyone was busy with their victory gardens, no one would notice that all their neighbors were dropping dead.

Unless you believe in the coming zombie apocalypse, the chances of you catching such a deadly virus are slim. But the chances of you getting sick in the coming months are high because non-lethal flu season is nigh.

To the WordMystery Machine!

EN → cold — a common viral infection in which the mucous membrane of the nose and throat becomes inflamed, typically causing running at the nose, sneezing, a sore throat, and other similar symptoms. ORIGIN related to Dutch koud and German kalt.

ES → catarroInflamación aguda o crónica de las membranas mucosas, con aumento de la secreción habitual de moco. [Acute or chronic inflammation of the mucus membranes, with an increase in secretion of mucus.] ORIGIN Latin catarrhus [flow, leak].

FR → rhumeInflammation des muqueuses des voies respiratoires, rarement accompagnée de fièvre ou de faiblesse. [Inflammation of the mucus membranes, occasionally accompanied by fever or weakness.] ORIGIN Latin rheuma [flux, flow].

Weird that Spanish and French both come from Latin words meaning “flow” but not the same one. It’s like another Word Mystery incepted this one! Just for that, I’m giving the win to English for being awesome and not knowing whether its antecedent is Dutch or German. (I suggest a paternity test.)

Girl, you know it’s true

DOWNTON is a terrible program (programme). Part of the cultural conversation surrounding television in recent years has been about the division between character driven shows and plot driven ones. DOWNTON fails on both counts. The characters, while dressed beautifully and artfully placed inside gorgeous settings, don’t exhibit the same traits from one episode or season to the next, have no institutional memory and are generally eligible for Upper Class Twit of the Year. The plots, such as they purport to exist, stretch and contract, depending on the whims of a madman (Oscar-winner Julian Fellowes) and don’t occur organically or on a reasonable timeframe. Honestly: how many YEARS passed between Mary and Matthew meeting and that thing that happened at the end of last season? Consider how many other characters DID NOTHING during that whole period. It’s mind-boggling how dumb the whole enterprise is. And now they’ve added a Cousin Oliver! An Oliver, for god’s sake!

But it sure is pretty to look at. Also: dog butt every week!

→ A good account of the likely series of events that led to the spreading of the “Spanish flu” here (spoiler: it probably started in the Midwest).

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Updates on stuff I’ve written and your comments.

→ In case you missed it, expatlingo asked me to expand a recent Word Mystery and I did. More about ways to bandage wounds here.

→ I frequently joke that the US started to go to shit after I left, but I do suspect that the lack of my patronage directly led to the end of Linens ‘n Things and Filene’s Basement since they were both stores that I went to monthly and rarely left empty-handed. Now, there’s a new building going up where the original Filene’s used to be in Boston’s Downtown Crossing and I wonder if the guy who ran a cart called Boston Red Dogs (the only grilled hot dog cart in the area) went out of business too.

→ I haven’t read any Junot Díaz yet (Pulitzer winner for The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao), but his place on my list moved up several notches when I saw this:

Junot Diaz quote

→ For the record: this motherfucker will not read a book that’s in Elvish because that shit is BORING. Also: We’re totally taking over.

→ Mavis Gallant is apparently going to be an annual thing. The destitute divorced Canadian writer who lived in Franco’s Spain and who I first heard about last summer is worth another look. Someone quoted in an Atlantic story about her work said,

“The first story I read is called ‘The Ice Wagon Going Down the Street.’ It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that it changed my reading life forever.”

Even though I don’t generally like short fiction, I’ve picked up a couple of her books. The mentioned piece appears in a collection called Paris Stories, so I’ll clearly be starting there.

→ Coming across “jejune” recently, something struck me about the word and I dug a little deeper. Turns out that the modern meaning of “naive, simplistic, and superficial,” comes from the Latin jejunus [fasting] and that “without food” became “not intellectually nourishing.” There’s my old rabid friend! You won’t get by me so easily anymore! I’m onto your tricks.

→ Presented without comment: this Buzzfeed list of things that you love about America after you’re not living there. I will say #1, #5, #13 and #34.

→ While I was offline, so many fun things happened on the Internet, including this gem which will have me laughing forever:

the ham is melting, the turkey is suspended in midair, the salami is hatching from its own egg. why did we even come to the salvador deli.

→ After lots of soul searching, I have definitively decided that my favorite activity is sleeping because I can do all my favorite things while dreaming, like watch movies, eat yummy things and go on adventures. Imagine my astonishment at learning that sleeping could be even better! If I were, say, a sea lion, I could sleep with only half my brain while the other half was awake. This ability is called unihemispheric slow-wave sleep and I would do almost anything to have it. I could sleep while actually being productive which is what I will dream about tonight because that would be AMAZING.

→ Possible evidence that everything in the US really did go to shit after I left: nowhere I’ve ever lived ranked on this beer consumption index. Had I been around, I would have certainly impacted the results. New Hampshire may come as a surprise to people who don’t know that it was illegal in Massachusetts to sell alcohol on Sundays (boo, Puritans!). When I lived in a house full of men, someone always made the drive up to get provisions, so, in a way, I’m pretty sure that I *can* claim that first place ranking. [Ed. This blue law was changed in 2004 (yay, libertines!) so I’m back to being confused.]