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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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.


Word Mystery: flag / bandera / drapeau

Every Wednesday, I explore the linguistic origins of one word in different languages I speak.


Passerelle de Solférino (where there are “lovers locks” too), October 2013

Listening to a podcast about two of Steven Soderbergh’s recent films while crossing a bridge near the Musée d’Orsay here in Paris led to a Word Mystery double whammy: drapeaux!

The connection is that Antonio Banderas co-starred in one of the movies being discussed (Haywire) and the bridge was decorated with colorful camo-patterned flags.

EN → flag — a piece of cloth or similar material, typically oblong or square, attachable by one edge to a pole or rope and used as the symbol or emblem of a country or institution or as a decoration during public festivities. ORIGIN probably Scandinavian, related to Icelandic flag [spot from which a sod has been cut] and Old Norse flaga [slab of stone].

ES → bandera — Tela de forma comúnmente rectangular, que se emplea como enseña o señal de una nación, una ciudad o una institución. [Cloth, generally rectangular, which is used as a sign or signal of a nation, a city or an institution.] ORIGIN From old French bande [strip, band].

FR → drapeau — Pièce d’étoffe attachée à une hampe, portant l’emblème et les couleurs d’une nation, d’un groupe. [Piece of cloth attached to a pole, bearing the emblem and colors of a country or a group.] ORIGIN Previously, the word enseigne [sign] was used but in the 1750s, a word from the Italian drappello [military squad] was adopted in its place. As a historical note, the 18th century was an active one for the French armed forces.

Today’s winner: I love it when Norse shows up ’cause then I start thinking about cool words like Ragnarök and Led Zeppelin so the win goes to English. The real test will be the day a Norse root goes up against a Hebrew word. That’ll be a real Sophie’s Choice moment.

My brain also says

press-your-luck-whammy→ The Whammy on the syndicated game show Press Your Luck was animated by Savage Steve Holland, the man behind the classic 80s movies Better Off Dead and One Crazy Summer.

→ “This American Life,” the popular public radio show/podcast, did an episode in 2010 (“Million Dollar Idea“) about the guy who beat the Press Your Luck system in the 80s to become the show’s biggest winner. Spoiler: he was super dedicated to cheating.

Haywire is a passably entertaining movie as long as you don’t mind an action movie that’s kind of slow. A good portion of it takes place in Barcelona (Visca! Barça!) so a significant amount of my enjoyment came from recognizing places and seeing the little architectural details that I’d forgotten (like how floors in many private homes are tiled with tiny octagonal designs). Banderas probably gives his best performance in English. Here he is having a drink in Plaça Reial where the street lights were designed by a young Antoni Gaudí.

Banderas Haywire Plaça Reial


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.