Le cul entre les deux chaises

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


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.


French Housekeeping

A collection of random things I want to share with you.

→ A gallery of color photos of Paris in the early 1900s.

→ Cool video with great graphics illustrating the neighborhoods of Paris. It’s funny that my favorite spots don’t come off particularly well.

→ Ever since I read From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler as a kid, I’ve thought about how cool it would be to be alone in a museum. If the museum were the Louvre, the experience might be like this.

→ The screenshot I took for the post about CHARADE was featured in an article about Audrey Hepburn’s cinematic Paris. I told the editor to credit Stanley Donen and Universal since I don’t own the rights to the image, but it’s still my screenshot!

→ A joke poster from CollegeHumor for the Oscar-nominated AMOUR which is funny but inaccurate. Michael Haneke, the writer/director, is German. Reminds me of “the most French French film” ever made.

Amour alternate poster

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Come with me, Ro-man, to the sea

One of the first classes I signed up for in college was Intro to Roman History. I did this simply so that if anyone ever asked me if I’d studied Agrippa, I could respond, “I have.” My professor was a bad lecturer, but I did love a lot of the stories (like Remus and Romulus) and connecting Important Historical Moments to places I had visited just months before with some high school friends was entertaining.

Now, I live in a place where evidence of their existence is everywhere, in big and small ways and the Romans are even making their way into my reading. Guys with names ending in -aunus and -ius, or with titles like Maximus feature heavily in the first chapters of Winston Churchill’s A History of the English-Speaking Peoples (Vol. I The Birth of Britain) in ways that are interesting enough to warrant a mention. Something intrinsic to the Roman people was a total surprise to me. As Churchill clearly states

The Romans hated and feared the sea. (pg.4)

Sure, the seat of their empire was a peninsular land, but the Romans weren’t seafarers. Additionally, the Mediterranean as a body of water has totally different properties from, say, the North Sea. They tried to invade Britain many times but were beaten back again and again by tides and storms that they didn’t understand. On a couple of occasions, fleets departing France from the modern Calais area, within sight of their destination only 26 miles away, were blown completely off course and beached miles and miles off course on the French side.

In my mind’s eye, I see a whole wave of those armored centurions yelling, “Aw, belanus!”

Learn something

Of course, the Romans eventually did successfully invade Britain. Caesar first made it over in 55 BC, but after all the difficulties getting there and not being able to immediately subjugate the native Celts, the Romans gave up the desire to possess the island for a hundred years. It’s impressive to think that after their initial failure, they went back and gained control over so much of Britain, especially when you think about how little they cared for traveling across water.

The Roman Empire, 117 AD

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The worst

As a college student in Boston, unless you lived in on-campus housing, a lot of your life was spent apartment hunting. In all seriousness, finding one decent place took anywhere between six and eight months. Basically, you’d move into one apartment, unpack, then immediately start looking for new digs.

In DC, I kind of fell into an apartment and ended up staying there for five years.

Spain was a complete nightmare that I won’t get into here, but at least when I was living there I didn’t have a lot of stuff and was a bit more flexible.

What am I getting at? I’m looking for a place to live again, and it is the worst.

I’m subletting from a guy right now. Our initial arrangement was that I’d stay for a couple months and then… we’d see. He was looking for work abroad, so there was maybe the possibility of staying on longer. Instead, he decided to put the place on the market and has asked me to move out by the end of the month.

In case you haven’t looked at a calendar recently, it’s August. In France. This means that most of the population is on holiday (i.e. not at home). Another fun factor is that I am looking during the period favored by college students, so the majority of the apartments available are the size of suburban walk in closets. Again, I’m not kidding; you can find listings for 9m2 which is about 10 feet by 10 feet.

If you want to join in the fun, you can look at Le Bon Coin (The Good ‘Hood) for a place that’s at least 30m2 (about 300sq ft) which I feel is the smallest possible space I can occupy without going crazy. Make the search parameters match the screenshot below and get ready to be blown away by how badly designed and decorated some places can be. And laugh that your life isn’t like this.


The French may love to read…

Apparently, the French are big readers which I find a bit surprising. According to some figures, they buy a lot of books, which isn’t the same thing as reading them. (I know I’m a pedant, but without clarity, there can be no accurate communication.) Quoth the Times (without citing a source)

France boasts 2,500 bookstores, and for every neighborhood bookstore that closes, another seems to open. From 2003 to 2011 book sales in France increased by 6.5 percent.

I see people reading in public all the time: in bars and restaurants; on the Métro; on benches; in parks. What I have yet to see is an apartment with a nightstand which is where people generally have books.

My stylish solution

This has mystified me for however long I’ve been in France. (At this point, it’s been more than a while.) I’ve sublet a whole hell of a lot of apartments and not a one has had a place to park a book at night, never mind other important bedside items like a lamp, an alarm and a box of tissues.

And I just don’t get it. Why don’t the French read in bed? I suppose the joke answer is that they’re all too busy having sex, but I’ve never heard any neighbors getting it on, though I do hear their phones ringing, their alarms going off and their dishes being put away.

I’ll quote Jerry Seinfeld here (whose new web series is promising) and say, “What’s. The. Deal. With. That?”

UPDATE: Ha! I’m not alone!