Le cul entre les deux chaises

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



Updates on stuff I’ve written and your comments.

Paul Klee's The Angler is there. I <3 Klee.

Paul Klee’s The Angler is there. I <3 Klee.

→ Don’t know if anyone actually reads these things, but I’ve updated my About page and added a Features page that collects all the recurring stuff. I’d appreciate any input on if this was a good use of my time or if people prefer to navigate with tags.

A recreation of the famous “degenerate art” show held in Munich in 1937 is at NYC’s Neue Galerie through the end of June 2014. An interview with the curator on WNYC gives lots of historical perspective and is worth a listen. A review of the show, with more context is here. Finally, the NYT on the making of the exhibit.

→ Speaking of Nazis and their art-thieving, VANITY FAIR reports on that trove of art stolen by a Nazi found in a Munich apartment.

→ A BBC reporter and film crew got a tour of the art. Can you imagine having this stuff in your house?! We had art in my house growing up, but this stuff is ART. Like, super serious good stuff by actual masters. A. R. T.

Pollution→ The Paris smog situation was really dire. On the days that it was worst, I got home and felt like I’d smoked a pack of cigarettes without any of the actual fun of smoking a pack of cigarettes. Since the pollution was higher than in Singapore, I guess I wasn’t exaggerating (see left). An explanation via Gizmodo says that, in addition to the weird weather patterns we were having, France’s love of diesel engines is at the root of the problem. (Lots of interesting links in the story.)

→ The NYT hasn’t gotten my memo about Catalan cooking; their story about fideuà is mostly correct… except that they spell the name of the dish wrong. It’s made with fideus [noodles], not called that. This would be like calling paella “rice” or a cheeseburger “meat patty.” Angry sigh.

→ My sister suggested that maybe the translation of the Latin mulĭer to “mistress” is less sexist than I thought. My dictionary has the primary definition as “a woman in a position of authority or control,” so maybe it’s my mind that’s corrupt and not the Spanish language. (Regardless, Spanish wouldn’t have won that day.) (Also, Spaniards are totally sexist, so I doubt that she’s right but concede that it’s possible.)

Look at the # of retweets/faves!

Look at the # of retweets/faves!

→ I love how the “fact” at right is presented, as if there’s ONLY ONE place in ALL OF FRANCE that does this. I’m sure variations on this happen all over. For instance, I know that MOST places in the tourist-frequented areas of Barcelona charge foreigners more on principle, so I’m not sure why UberFacts thinks the French would be so different. I mean, the French are better than Spaniards, but not by that much.


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.


Foreign to me now: laundry chutes

There’s a dishwasher in the apartment I’m subletting and, after several months, I’m finally getting used to it. It’s the first time in my post-high school life that I’ve had one. Unloading the lave-vaisselle, I got to thinking about other things that used to be commonplace to me but are now totally weird concepts to me.

Like laundry chutes.

A laundry chute is a ventilation duct that’s installed vertically through a central part of the house so that you can throw clothes into it on one floor and it will fall to the laundry room in the basement. Needing this kind of thing sounds completely insane to me now but everyone had one. The house I grew up in was both big enough and had enough people in it that the chute’s existence was justified, but my BFF’s house was a ground floor and then a sunken basement and I remember thinking that hers, an actual trap door in the hall closet that revealed a chute no more than a few feet long, was preposterous.

John McClane knows what it feels like to be in a duct. (A TV dinner.)

John McClane knows what it feels like to be in a duct. (A TV dinner.)

Besides the convenience factor, having a laundry chute enabled my brother to pull one of the greatest pranks in my family’s history. He stuffed a pair of jeans with dirty clothes and attached his sneakers (I think with safety pins) to the bottom seams. Then he fed the half-dummy into the laundry chute from the third floor where there was a bend in the chute… and then he started yelling for help. At the time, we were all terrified because he was making like he was going to suffocate and my father was pissed that somehow we were going to have to rip the wall out to save him, but it was all just the creation of a teenager bored out of his mind. Over the years, I’ve found this memory to be more and more funny, but I doubt my mother would agree.

Fun French Fact!

“Chute” comes from the French word that means “the action of falling.” A French chute can also be a waterfall or a place where water runs very quickly, making it the cousin of “sluice“!


Fun French Facts, Vol. II

So, the Seven Years’ War was a conflict too complicated for me to understand, but something I do understand came from it: mayonnaise!

The basics of the conflict, which took place between 1756 and 1763, pitted Britain against Spain & France. The latter two were unified by the Bourbon family, members of whom currently sit on the thrones of Spain and Luxembourg.

The story behind mayonnaise may be apocryphal, but as I learned in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

Armand de Vignerot du Plessis, then the Duke of Richelieu, led the French troops against the British in 1756 in Minorca, one of the Balearic Islands off the coast of Catalunya. (The others are Menorca and Ibiza.) The Brits eventually surrendered and Richelieu, it is said, was hungry and ordered food. The chef didn’t have any cream on hand (the island had been besieged by one force or another for a long time), so he substituted olive oil when making a sauce and Richelieu loved it. He dubbed the creation mahonnais [of Mahon, the capital city of Minorca].

Try it yourself

Real mayo is super easy to make at home and has a flavor that’s very unlike the jarred variety. Alton Brown‘s is pretty basic and can be mixed up in lots of ways by adding just about anything you want. I stopped eating mayo after I made it once because, while it tasted delicious, I was severely grossed out by what it actually was (olive oil + raw egg).

Americans swear by the taste of Hellmann’s, even fancy chefs. I also insisted on it for every turkey sandwich I ate for probably 20 years. It’s one of those things where I’m not sure if we love it because we all grew up with it or because it’s actually, empirically better than others.

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Fun French Facts!

Normandy takes its name from the Norsemen who added it to the Viking portfolio of property in 911 AD.

In 1066, a date known to all French children, William (the Conqueror), Duke of Normandy, began the invasion of England. Within five years, he’d pretty much taken over the whole damn island and installed French monarchs. They spoke French for 300 years in England.

The French did not officially regain control of Normandy until 1259 when the Treaty of Paris was signed.

Giverny, where Claude Monet lived, is one of the region’s most popular tourist sites. He painted lots of things that you can still see there, like water lilies. My favorite part is the kitchen, which the man himself painted an incredibly vibrant (but not obnoxious) yellow. I love thinking about how even though he was a great artist, he still had to do things around the house. It’s easy to get to by train from Paris. You should go.