Le cul entre les deux chaises

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


Leave a comment

Sunflowers in the land of the Sun King

The first time I came to France was in 1985. We took the train from Spain, crossed the border at Irún in the Basque Country, headed to Marseilles and caught the TGV to Paris. It was easily the best trip, in terms of actual traveling, that I’ve ever had.

I’d been on public transit trains before but never one with a sleeper car and definitely not a high-speed one. I immediately thought it was the best way to get anywhere since you were actually moving but you could still enjoy the scenery and there were lots of food options. (In Spain there were women who yelled up at the open windows from the platform when the train pulled into a station selling chorizo sandwiches; there were friendly German backpackers who shared sausage and cheese; there was a dining car, something I’d only seen in movies.)

It was also the first time I ever saw fields of beautiful colored things. On my grandparents’ farm, there were fields of grains and grass and some corn; lots of potatoes and various kinds of roughage; an orchard with different kinds of fruit trees, but nothing like what I was seeing zip by as we made our way north.

It felt like I spent lifetimes looking at the lavender go by and I definitely couldn’t have held my breath as the seas of sunflowers zoomed past. Watching the Lance-Armstrong-is-the-world’s-biggest-jerk-in-addition-to-being-a-huge-liar documentary THE ARMSTRONG LIE, I was reminded of the trip, the train, and the sunflowers since the Tour de France riders cover much of the same ground we did, but I doubt they appreciate the view as much.

They ride too quickly to appreciate the scenery.

They’re not even looking at the flowers!

Thing that makes me say, “Christ! When did I get so old?”

The pyramid in front of the Louvre wasn’t there when I visited the first time. I now know people, adult humans with Master’s degrees, who were born after it was already installed in 1989.


Leave a comment

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.


Leave a comment

Stephen Fry continues to be wonderful, highlight America

As an expat, one of the things I love are reading and seeing accounts of other expats in the places I’ve been. Part of the pleasure is in how much or little I relate to someone else’s experience; sometimes it’s surprising to learn that an altercation with the locals is universal while other, seemingly mundane situations are unique to me.

The flip-side of this is how foreigners understand the US. My parents fall into this group which is probably why it’s taken me so long to enjoy the large collection of such insights. After all, stories about how weird America and those who inhabit it are were a common occurrence in my house. Maybe it’s just that I’ve been away so long (seven years and counting) that I’m far enough away to see that yes, those people are nuts and that I was a fool for not seeing it sooner.

Here’s what Stephen Fry had to say about experiencing a college football game for his 2008 BBC docuseries, “Stephen Fry in America”

I really don’t know if anything sums up America better. It’s simultaneously preposterous, incredibly laughable, impressive, charming, ridiculous, expensive, overpopulated, wonderful. American.

You can watch the whole thing online or just the part I’m referencing below.

I can’t wait to see what he says about where I grew up.