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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Interesting Iberian Information, Vol. V

I never thought my brain would be engaged while watching FAST 6, the fifth sequel in THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS franchise, but damned if it wasn’t anyway.

The plot isn’t worth going into but in one scene, a group of criminals is about to steal some military equipment. Here’s the establishing shot with the dateline.

Fast 6 NATO base

My inner Annie Wilkes reared her head and screamed, “There’s no cockadoodie Lusitania in Spain!”

But there was a ship called the RMS Lusitania which I know about from war movies. It was torpedoed by a German U-boat and sunk, killing almost 1200 people. I thought that it was important (historically speaking) due to its being connected with the cracking of the Enigma code, but as that code was used in WWII, I probably conflated two separate boat-sinking-in-war time events.

Another bugbear

Earlier in the film, characters and another establishing shot claim that Interpol is based in Moscow which was pretty annoying. The actual headquarters is in Lyon which I know almost entirely because of its location right by one of my favorite movie theaters. The building is so nondescript that every time I showed it to people, they thought I was joking. The actual Interpol looks like a stock photo of a government building which I think is really clever. Hiding in plain sight.

Interpol_Lyon

And just to get my last dig in for the day, I find it funny that the big heist at the center of the movie takes place in Spain where incompetence and apathy rule. If I were going to steal something, I’d totally do it there too.


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The greatest thing about Paris

Everybody loves Paris for different reasons. I’d guess most people like the art or the food or the fashion. Some might opt for the light or the architecture or the general ambiance of romance or loucheness. What I really love about the city is the movie theaters.

If you’ve ever lived in a Real City, you might have experienced something like this.* Every week, there are dozens of old movies playing all over the city. (To be fair, they are mostly playing near la Sorbonne in the 5è and 6è, an area filled with students and expats, but not exclusively.) You can check out the list of only English language movies and see what you’re missing out on, but if you love all kinds of movies, there are too many wonderful places to sit and worship at the celluloid altar, though the cathedral of cinéma is a good place to start.

Some of my favorite moments from the past year include:

→ Seeing FIGHT CLUB on the big screen again and hearing French people love the idea of space monkeys too.
→ Watching GOODFELLAS and hearing a young couple gasp and poke each other as actors they recognized from THE SOPRANOS came onscreen.
→ Hearing people titter during VERTIGO, highlighting both how old-fashioned and how sexually perverted it was.
The time I saw BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID and you could hear people smiling practically during the whole thing.

But the best moment for me (so far), a highlight of the last five years of my life really, was seeing GREMLINS on the big screen for the first time in my life at the end of December. If it’s been a while since you’ve seen it, you may need reminding that, along with DIE HARD and LETHAL WEAPON, GREMLINS is one of the great Christmas movies of all time.

Probably the only time I will ever take my phone out during a movie.

Probably the only time I will ever take my phone out during a movie.

He deserved what he got for being a bigot.

He deserved what he got for being a bigot.

It’s another one of those movies that I’ve seen a million times and I quote it all the time but seeing it projected bigger than I ever had made it so much funnier and scarier and more impressive. The effects, which were mostly practical / in-camera ones (not computer-generated) still looked great and were convincing as hell.

But the best part of this best moment was an older French guy who was guffawing at all the xenophobic comments Mr. Futterman (Dick Miller), the hero’s grumpy old neighbor, makes. I’ve always been a big fan of Mr. Futterman’s character but it was so great to hear the very people he was railing against laugh at him. It made me crazy happy to see that we, the foreigners Futterman hated so much, got to have the last laugh.

And that’s what Christmas is all about.

* The only Real Cities of my connaisance are New York and London. Not even Boston counts, as much as I love it, since the only good old movie houses were all by Harvard which is in Cambridge. I was a member of the Brattle Theatre (the cult of Humphrey Bogart was born there), so I still went over the Charles, but I didn’t like it.


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The Expat Oscar Experience

Watching the Oscars in Europe is pretty tricky. The time difference is the main obstacle since the show starts at 5pm Pacific which is 2am in Spain and France. If you can manage to stay awake, which I generally can, the next issue is access which isn’t at all easy to manage. The couple years I had cable TV in Spain, we didn’t have the extra subscription channels that may have broadcast the ceremony live and since I’ve been in France, I’ve been TV-less, so it’s always a struggle.

Ways I’ve managed to “see” the show include:

→ Listening to ABC’s “back-stage mic” via a speaker plugged into my computer next to my pillow.

→ Watching some Scandinavian show where the people were dressed in tuxes and evening gowns, sitting on a set, watching the actual Oscars on a TV in the background.

→ Listening to the NYT’s David Carr and A. O. Scott do basically the same thing, but in English via the NYT’s iPhone app.

→ Toggling between live-blogs on sites like Entertainment Weekly, The AV Club and Television Without Pity.

This year, I kind of gave up after thirty minutes of trying to find some way around all the restrictions and country-blocking that seem in vogue online now and just followed the whole thing on Twitter. I’d never done anything like this before since I don’t care about most of the “events” that are big enough to warrant much action on Twitter (singing competition shows, the Super Bowl), but I have to say that it was a better substitute than some of the other ridiculous things I’ve tried (and certainly less dangerous than having electronics in bed). Lots of people actually posted Vines of the best moments, blurry snippets recorded directly off TV screens, but they were better than overhearing what was happening or watching a screen within another screen.

And if I had found some way to watch live, I would surely have missed Rolling Stone Magazine proving that PC-culture is a dangerous thing to impose upon people who don’t use their brains.

Sigh.

Sigh.

In case it’s not clear

Not all black people are African-American. Certainly British director / artist Steve McQueen (no relation) is not any kind of American. Black people can be from the Caribbean or Africa or Europe or anywhere really, not just the US, a possibility which is lost on many Americans trying their hardest not offend anyone, ever.


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The Rape of Europa, 2006

The notsohot reviews of George Clooney’s all-star THE MONUMENTS MEN prompted me to watch the documentary on the same subject. THE RAPE OF EUROPA is the story of art during WWII — how Hitler coveted it, how the Nazis stole it and how a group of American soldiers were tasked with trying to protect the cultural history of Europe. (The doc is based on a book of the same name which has an excellent website of its own.)

The documentary is really powerful, but the most shocking revelation to me in the whole Joan Allen-narrated thing was just a few seconds long. Hitler only came to Paris once, early in the morning after it fell in June 1940. One of the places he visited was the church de la Madeleine. They show footage of him jauntily running up the steps.

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I took this pic on the same steps.

I took this pic on the same steps.

I have sat on those exact same stairs on several occasions so that I could enjoy an American-style hamburger from France’s first food truck, Le camion qui fume, which frequently parks nearby. According to some theories of spacetime, this means that he and I exist simultaneously on those stairs. Me and Hitler, sharing space, under circumstances neither of us could have imagined.

Living in Europe is incredible. Colonial Williamsburg and Springfield, Illinois can say whatever they want, but History is Alive in Europe and it’s phenomenal.

Other interesting insights from THE RAPE OF EUROPA

→ My opinion that the Nazis are, were and will always be the worst people in the history of all things is unchanged. They make the greatest on-screen villains, but in reality, they were such unspeakably horrible people, committing such tremendously heinous acts, that it’s hard to believe they were human.

→ I hadn’t realized that the Jeu de Paume‎, a fairly innocuous museum tucked in at the end of the Tuileries Gardens and above the Concorde métro station, played an integral part in salvaging important artifacts. I will have to revisit it with this new appreciation for the space in mind.

→ When the Louvre needed able bodies to help crate and cart away the contents of the museum, they employed shop workers, old men and women since all the young men were fighting. The story about the moving of the Winged Victory is one of those human-spirit-triumphs-over-adversity that I don’t usually like but it was one of the times I was moved to tears.

→ Lots of Nazi art and some of Hitler’s original artwork is stored under a building in Washington, DC. (The works are deemed too controversial to exhibit which is probably true, but is still sad as I think it’d be interesting to see them.) I’d never actually seen any of the Führer’s paintings before and was surprised to see that they look exactly like streetscapes people sell in tourist areas. They appear to be accurate representations of things and have no artistic vision, flare or unique technique. The doc makes a pretty compelling subtle argument that much of Hitler’s motivation came from not getting into art school and that his systematic campaign to destroy and ridicule “degenerate art” was really his way of trying to teach people to value his uninspired style.

burt-lancasterFurther viewing

John Frankenheimer (THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE, RONIN) directed a fictional version of this story in 1964. THE TRAIN stars Burt Lancaster as a Parisian station master who helps the French Resistance spirit a train full of French art away from the Nazis. Unlike Steve McQueen, no one needs to tell me why Lancaster was appealing.

I can’t science but I can Google

→ A theory of compressed spacetime was recently highlighted on HBO’s TRUE DETECTIVE. I don’t really understand what Matthew McConaughey’s talking about, but you can see if it makes any sense to you here.

→ Apparently, it’s a form of M-theory which I also can’t make heads or tails of.


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Too short for the Star Wars universe

Well, I always knew I was too short for a storm trooper, but I’m apparently too short to talk STAR WARS with French nerds too.

Star Wars hostess job

First “qualification”: must be over 1,68 m tall (5 foot, 6 inches).

This is kind of a bummer because I’d actually really like to see what a bunch of French sci-fi fans are like but would only attend such a gathering if I was working.

On not actually being a nerd

My parents didn’t love me so I never had any STAR WARS toys growing up. I am a child of the 80s though, so I love me some Degobah system references and was one of those people who saw THE PHANTOM MENACE multiple times in the theater because I couldn’t believe that what I’d seen the first time was the actual movie.

UNA!

UNA!

In college, I met whole communities of nerds while working at a video store and learned that they’re generally very nice, socially awkward guys with whom I share a lot of interests. But I am missing that elusive characteristic (obsession? total immersion? loneliness?) that makes a true nerd, so I have to content myself with just being really, really into stuff (like ASOIAF).

I am the right size to be Salacious Crumb though, so that’s something.