Le cul entre les deux chaises

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

Mon pied-à-terre

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Only once in my life has anyone actually referred to a pied-à-terre in my presence. The setting was an informal getting-to-know-you lunch between the people I was obliged to spend several hours a day with and the new hotshot guy the network had brought in to spice up our programming.

Before we’d even ordered, he corrected my pronunciation of “forte” to French which started us off on the wrong foot. I argued that if I actually pronounced half of the French words regularly used in English in the French manner, no one would understand me. “When in Rome…” I said and his eyes glazed over as he turned to speak to the person on his other side. (I still contend that this is the correct way to communicate with people and is the way to least appear to be an asshole.)

During the course of the meal, he frequently mentioned, as some types of New Yorkers do, various street intersections and shops that indicated that he lived in a very nice neighborhood and he also dropped the name of the expensive school his kids went to. As he was so clearly devoted to the City That Never Sleeps, I asked how he was managing the transition to living in DC.

“Oh,” he snidely replied. “I don’t live here. I still live in New York. I have a pied-à-terre in town.” It was my turn for my eyes to glaze over because I am not capable of absorbing so much pretension in one session without having primed my body in advance.

I thought of this jerk recently when I made a joke at his expense. (I am the best at amusing myself.) “My pied-à-terre is in Paris,” I mumbled as I closed the door to the cave I’m renting in the center of town. “Beat that.”

ma cave

Uniform boxes is the key to good stacking.

A non-murder cave

Caves are French personal storage spaces, typically found in the basement of buildings in cities. Generally, each unit in a building has a corresponding cave and the residents store all their extra stuff there. The cave I’m renting is part of a vast system of tunnels under a building near République. Many years ago, a Spanish woman had lived in the building and when she got old and decided to return to Spain she put her apartment on the market. When she turned in the deed to the agents in advance of the sale, it turned out that she also owned all the caves as well as all the unused space under the building. She promptly sold the apartment but kept the cave system for herself and leased it out to a management company that specializes in such things. She’s back in Spain and getting monthly income from schmucks like me who can’t figure out where to live. Some people have all the luck.

It turns out

That guy, the pretentious ass? Over the course of the time that the company was under his influence, my best friend and I joked that he was the Devil since he was all about flash over substance and seemed not to care at all about actual journalism. Any time his name would come up, we’d imitate an Albert Brooks bit of business from BROADCAST NEWS where Brooks jokes that a character is the Devil.

In 2004, we met the woman who was the inspiration for Holly Hunter’s character in BROADCAST NEWS and after introducing ourselves she quickly made the connection that we had worked under the guy in question. “Did you know that XXX was based on him?” she asked us. We hadn’t actually known, but somehow, we’d sensed it all along.


Author: le cul en rows

I'm an American Spaniard, living in France. I like to tell stories.

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