Le cul entre les deux chaises

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


Friday Thoughts

2014_World_CupThings to consider over the weekend:

→ The World Cup is going on and America doesn’t care. Freakonomics Radio explores the possible reasons why. One theory that’s offered up by a Stanford-educated NFL quarterback is that,

“Our mindset in this country is that we have to be the best.”

What he doesn’t explicitly say is that if Americans can’t be the best at something, they won’t even try. This is both true and truly sad.

→ My mother recently asked me what the deal was with inches and pounds and ounces. I told her that I thought inches were based on the length of some king’s nose (untrue, as it turns out) and that 16 ounces made a pound (still true). There’s no logic to the US measuring system, only memorization of weird quantities.

It hadn’t occurred to me to wonder where the kilo came from since the metric system did seem logical, but it turns out there’s quite a good story there. Radiolab reports on how a kilo became a kilo and the actual (French) kilo that all others are measured against. The story has inspired me to put the Musée des Arts et Métiers on my list of things to do when I have a spare afternoon.

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Things I Learned in New York, Part 1

→ The kind of underwear I’ve been buying for years was discontinued. This meant a trip to Macy’s to find a new kind. “Intimate apparel,” a euphemism I loathe for how pervy it sounds, is located on one of the top floors, necessitating riding up the wooden escalators. I think I always forget these, the first of their kind in the world, exist so that I can be surprised every time I go up them. They’re worth a visit, if nothing else to make you take a moment and think, “Man, escalators used to be wooden and made horrible clacking sounds.”

→ Even though I might not need reminding, when taking the subway to Macy’s, I think of MIRACLE ON 34th STREET and get off at 34th (Herald Square).

Korea Way NYC→ Right by Macy’s: the best couple blocks in the whole of the continental US. 24-hour Korean food street. Every damn day of the year. Whenever you want it. It’s too upsetting if I think about it for long.

→ It is not advisable to eat four cheeseburgers in two weeks. This having been established, I will surely try for five next time.

→ There is no such thing as too much Korean though, as I ate it at least five times in the same time period. A favorite is MANDOO BAR  [site] because you can watch them make all the yummy mandoo [dumplings] in the window, it’s pretty fast and they serve super-cold drinks. Downside: their bathroom is not insulated.

→ Paragon Sports [site], a kind of snobby sporting goods store near Union Square, sells Wigwam brand wool socks. These are my favorite winter socks since they’re thick and warm and don’t fall down. Sadly, I’d already bought two pairs of wool socks from JCrew (they were on sale) and couldn’t justify getting more pairs, which is just as well since they wouldn’t have fit in my suitcase anyway. But now I know.

→ Cheerios that haven’t crossed oceans of time to find me taste noticeably fresher. Another point in the column of how unfair life is.

Unrelated, but everything about this is perfect (via)



I like New York in the fall

Midwestern high school football weather is my favorite time of the year. It’s when the days are sunny and warm enough for jeans and a t-shirt, but the evenings require a jacket (and if you’re me, a hat and scarf and gloves). You can still feel the sun heat your skin but at night, you might see your breath.

I haven’t actually been in the Midwest since 2001, so I had to make do with New York in November this year. It was a touch too cold (and windy, which the Midwest usually isn’t — flat land and land-locked means nowhere for the wind to come from), but the colors were pretty and almost New England-y (which does leaves better than anyplace else).

Learn something before the weekend

New England is made up of, from north to south with a westerly heading: Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut. In many respects, sports fandom in particular, they function as one state of mind, so it’s not that surprising that Ben Franklin made them the (collective) head of his famous woodcut “Join, or Die.”



Rue Montmarcel in Paris

Walking down this street, you couldn’t be blamed for thinking you were on the Rue Montmarcel.

Rue Montmarcel, Paris 2è

Rue Montmarcel, Paris 2è…or is it? (Spoiler: it’s not.)

When I first noticed this misdirection, my French Spidey sense went off because the name didn’t sound right. Closer inspection of the actual street sign on the lower-left corner of the building reveals that this is, in fact, Rue Étienne Marcel in the 2nd.

Rue huh? 2

According to a sweet book I have, Paris dictionnaire du nom des rues by Jean-Marie Cassagne, Étienne Marcel (1310-1358) was the provost of merchants and a mayor of Paris. Most memorably perhaps, was the role he played when he tried to get the young French dauphin, Charles V (later known as “The Wise”) off the throne in favor of his buddy, Carlos II de Navarra (known as “el Malo” [the bad]). Marcel opened the gates of Paris to Carlos and his band of troublemakers who overran the city, but he didn’t live to see all the havoc they wreaked as Marcel was killed by an arrow shot by city alderman Jean Maillart. (And I thought city politics was tough on THE WIRE.)

Further research reveals that all of this has to do with the Hundred Years’ War and a lot of stuff that I find really confusing. As has been mentioned on the Internet before, it’s pretty sad that I can keep track of several generations of fictional families like the ones in the ASOIAF series and the wars, battles, skirmishes and petty jealousies that they harbor, but I have a hard time keeping track of all these European kings.

In case you’re wondering, the jerks who are responsible for confusing people by making up a street are Marithé + François Girbaud whose flagship clothing store is behind the sign. You can see their typically French webpage here. (The French part is that it has auto-playing music, something the French don’t seem to understand is immensely annoying.)

Moral of the story: never open your gates to a Spaniard. Seriously, they’re all assholes and may end up getting you shot with an arrow.

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Why is this man smiling?



Upon closer inspection, he isn’t smiling at all, is he? In fact, his face is properly sinister, made up as it is by two curved lines and two square eyes. What is initially happy becomes properly creepy. When you add in this second image, my mind starts heading off in all kinds of crazy directions.



This guy is signaling the emergency exit in one of the lower levels of Le Forum des Halles in central Paris. In case of an emergency, there is NO WAY I’m going through that because it looks like on the other side, there’s “bum-bum-bum-buuuum, certain death!

Also, this humanoid is child-sized and therefore exponentially scary.