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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Great Word: cogombre

One of the things I’m always thinking about is James Bond, mostly the movies, though sometimes I’ll compare and contrast the novels from the films and, on occasion, I’ll have a think on Ian Fleming. As GAME OF THRONES‘ fourth season was approaching a few weeks ago, that program was also stewing around my brain pot and, while waiting in line to see a 35mm print of Stanley Kubrick’s BARRY LYNDON, I started cross-referencing actors in my mind.

The cast of GoT is mostly young so there isn’t much overlap that I could think of while idling on the sidewalk. Sean Bean is the most memorable of the three I came up with (also Diana Rigg & Charles Dance) and I got to ruminating on how he was a hero-protagonist in GoT but he was a really great villain in GOLDENEYE, one of my favorites, in fact.

Having already spent copious amounts of time thinking about both Sean Bean and the best of the Brosnan Bonds, I started ranking the other recent villains, wondering who I’d put behind Bean’s Alec Trevelyan.

This is where I need to cut in on my own story to remind you, dear reader, that I was minding my own damn business, standing on a side street in Paris on a Monday afternoon, just thinking about Bond villains as I’m wont to do, when this guy stepped right in front of me and stopped less than two feet from my face.

Amalric quantum_of_solace

This guy is Mathieu Amalric. He’s a big-time French actor. He also happened to be the villain in QUANTUM OF SOLACE, the least-good of the Craig Bonds (through no fault of his own).

Amalric had just come out of the cinema I was going to enter and was enjoying the patch of sun that I’d strategically placed myself in. It was a really good spot and he stayed there for maybe half a minute during which time it’s possible I wasn’t breathing because I felt like my brain had summoned him from the ether, Stay Puft Marshmallow Man-style.

Again, I feel I need to mention that I was in line at a revival movie house to see a 35mm print of a 40-year old movie in Paris with a bunch of people who were interested enough in movies to seek out such a screening and spend a lovely sunny afternoon watching it instead of being outside…

… and no one reacted to seeing a really famous French actor right in front of them. This is a guy with two César Awards (French Oscars) and NO ONE WAS REACTING. I spun my head around, trying to catch someone’s eye to verify that Mathieu Amalric was rightthere, but no one was paying attention. And it wasn’t even the New York kind of not paying attention where everyone is pretending not to notice the famous person but there’s still a frisson in the air of people looking / not-looking. No, this was a genuine French moment of people just not looking because they were all too involved in what they were doing to notice a Bond villain right in front of my face.

I blinked a bunch of times and breathed in and out and I can tell you for certain that he was definitely there (the appearance of an effortlessly beautiful woman by his side moments later clinched it) and that I’m pretty sure I made it happen by sheer force of will.

What’s this whole story have to do with today’s Great Word? Well, cogombre is Catalan for “cucumber” and, as I made my way into the theater, all I could think to myself was, “Man, these French are as cool as cogombres.”

Learn something

“Cool as a cucumber” is an expression that means untroubled, calm, relaxed.

About BARRY LYNDON

It was one of the few Kubrick films I’d never seen because the most noteworthy thing about it was how it was supposed to be screened. The persnickety director famously wrote a letter to projectionists about how, exactly, it was meant to be shown.

The film is set in the 18th century and the indoor scenes were filmed without electric light. To be clear, Kubrick and DP John Alcott shot the movie mostly with candles using film stock developed by NASA, as it worked best in low light. You know, like you’d find IN SPACE.

As for the movie itself, it’s not going to join a list of my favorites. Ryan O’Neal plays an Irishman (poorly) and the plot follows the same beats as other picaresque tales like Candide or Tristam Shandy. But it sure was beautiful to look at.

Just ’cause

This is the funniest thing I’ve seen in a long time but it’s not for everyone. My mother, for instance, will have zero concept of what this is, what it depicts, to whom it’s referring or why it’s funny.

The Internet is my peeps.

The Internet is my peeps.

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Things I Did While I Didn’t Have Internet

→ Tried to remember the Greek alphabet. I got 15 out of 24 letters which is pretty good, especially considering that I never actually studied Greek. (It ain’t Latin.) Easily ten of them came to me by thinking of fraternities and sororities in teen comedies. Despite their poor academic standing, those Deltas taught me something after all!

→ Got a haircut. ‘Cause, you know, another year had gone by. (I think I need to schedule them in my calendar, ’cause I clearly need reminding.)

→ Started re-reading the A Song Of Ice And Fire series, (from which HBO’s GAME OF THRONES is adapted). I’ve gotten through 3949 of 4931 pages. There are so many hidden clues to stuff and connections to be made once you know where the story’s going. It’s even better than the first time!

→ Watched all the special features and audio commentaries on the first two seasons of GAME OF THRONES.

→ Re-watched THE SOCIAL NETWORK and then watched all the special features on the DVD (but not the two audio tracks because I can only take so much). David Fincher is one of my favorite directors.

→ LESSON: Physical media is still the best. I likely would have gone insane without actual things to keep me busy.

le guide vélo→ Pulled my bike out of deep storage and tuned it up following the advice in an awesome book I have, Le guide d’entretien de mon vélo by Peter Drinkell. I now know more words for bike parts in French than in English.

→ Got off my ass and actually rode the damn thing. It was awesome. The weather’s been ideal for biking, in the high 60s, low 70s.

→ Had my first dépannage and was able to fix it on the fly ’cause I’d read my book! Now I know to pull back on the galets by the rear cassette to put the chaîne back on the plateau! Tour de France, here I come!

→ [Cassette is the gears which explains where cassette tapes got their name. BOOM! Learning!]

→ Caught up on a podcast backlog of several months, clearing my external iTunes drive of weeks’ worth of audio. Of course, I’ll have over a month of episodes to listen to as soon as I’ve downloaded all the ones I missed, so this is kind of a wash.

→ Put all my summer shoes away in their original boxes and put those boxes in one big box labeled SHOES from which I pulled my fall shoes. There are few things I love more than fitting smaller boxes into bigger boxes, Tetris-style.

→ And, of course, I missed all you Internet people. Since I had visitors fairly constantly from July through the time my Internet connection crapped out, I’ll have to read what you’ve all been up to. I think I need a vacation just to get caught up on everything again!


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They’re out to get me!

Finding a cute enough place mat to replace the one (which I’ve used as a backdrop to many pics) I bought in Barcelona many years ago had been one of my goals for this soldes season. C’est pas evident to get the right level of cute without tipping over into annoying or twee, but my search concluded with this découverte in the gift shop of the Pompidou Centre.

By PetitJourParis

Trop cute! (By PetitJourParis.)

The only issue I have with it is that it prominently features both a slug and a rabbit right in the middle of the scene. The coincidence is too great to not be part of a conspiracy against me.

Why are you tormenting me so?

Why are you tormenting me so?

Other “they’re after you?” scenes

→ Arya and Gendry in GAME OF THRONES S2E02

→ ALADDIN, a movie I watched every day after school for a year

→ When BUTCH CASSIDY & THE SUNDANCE KID are being chased by the Pinkertons.

This better be the last I hear about either of these creatures for a long time because I seriously don’t like them and am starting to take this personally.


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Egg on Bryan Fuller’s face

Hannibal

Mads Mikkelsen is Hannibal (NBC).

Take a gander at this list:

Apéritif
Amuse-bouche
Potage
Coquilles
Entrée
Sorbet
Fromage
Trou Normand
Buffet Froid
Rôti
Relevés
Savoureux

You see the pattern, non? All the words are French and are food-related. No problem-o, right?

The list corresponds to the episode titles of NBC’s Hannibal TV series, which was just recently renewed after several weeks of speculation that it would be cancelled. Media reporters expected that the combo of the graphic nature of the series, about Thomas Harris’s Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter, and its existence on NBC, a network that has been imploding for several years, would be the death of the show, but an angel of mercy (or desperation) means it’ll be back to kill more people in grisly ways.

After initially being on board for the latest adaptation of this iconic character, I was hoping it would get cancelled after the fourth episode because their méconnaissance of français was insulting to me and to Hannibal, a well-known gourmand and cultured individual. You see, the episode I didn’t list above was one called “Œuf,” which the producer of the show, Bryan Fuller, spelled with a “c” (“Ceuf”) and pronounced “suhf” so that there’s no mistaking that he had no idea what the hell he was talking about.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-UmTxgb9JLU

Learn Something, Bryan Fuller!

In French, “egg” can be written œuf or oeuf, but it’s always pronounced /ɶf/. There is NEVER a sibilant sound in the word, even when it’s plural.

The diphthong of o + e (œ) is called an ethel in English and, charmingly, in French is known as an “e dans l’o” [an e in an o]. A well known perpetrator of patricide and incest (besides Lannisters) is Oedipus whose name is not pronounced “See-dipus” or “Oh-ee-dipus” because an ethel is a ligature of the two vowel sounds into one. It’s /ˈedəpəs/.

Further Thoughts

In 1990 and 1991, my friends and I probably paid to see Home Alone in the theater ten times. Nine of those times, we used our tickets to sneak into rated-R movies. One time, it was The Silence of the Lambs, the best of the Lecter movies. I had never seen anything like what happens in that movie before, nor had I known that Tom Petty could be used to ratchet up tension. It was awesome. I trace my taste for crazy murder narratives to this moment. Also possibly my daily moisturizing routine.

Even though I am so, so, so disappointed in Bryan Fuller, I still wholeheartedly recommend the first season of Pushing Daisies, a charming, whimsical, wordplay-filled show about death, pie and true love. It’s really great. You can see the trailer, which doesn’t do the show justice, here.


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White asparagus

Asparagus falls under the Fibrous category of the Consistency Rule which delineates which foods I won’t eat. (Other divisions include Gristly and Gelatinous.) Green asparagus tends to get caught in my teeth and leave tiny fibers hiding in corners of my mouth and I generally won’t have it.

But when I saw a bunch of super cheap white asparagus at my market after reading an appreciation in the NYT, I brought them home to experiment. I watched a José Andrés video and checked out some recipes on Epicurious and ended up liking them best raw, served here with an incredible avocado, some olive oil and salt and pepper. Texture-wise, they’re crunchier than hearts of palm, like a raw onion but not pungent.

white asparagus

Cultural Misunderstandings (Another Internet Warning)

Non-Americans say the funniest things. In one of the corners of the Internet I lurk around, a viewer of HBO’s adaptation of the epic fantasy series Game of Thrones complained that it wasn’t fair no new episode would air last Sunday because (they assumed) all US TV is dedicated to Memorial Day celebrations like parades and pageants. I actually laughed because, in a way, that’s a logical conclusion to come to but is so far off the mark. In the US, practically no good TV is ever aired on holidays or three-day weekends because Americans are too busy traveling, spending time with family, playing or watching sports, or getting drunk and eating too much. Conversely, in the UK, it’s common to have special Christmas episodes of popular series which actually air on Christmas day, something that would just never happen in the US.

This leads to my second consecutive Friday warning: if you read or follow anything slightly pop culture-related, all those sites are going to break and possibly melt the entire series of tubes which house the Internet on Sunday night, Eastern Standard Time (GMT-5) because the penultimate episode of the third season of Game of Thrones is going to make people freak the hell out. It’s going to be great… unlike the fourth season of Arrested Development which I am not caring for at all so far. Wish I could take a forget-me-now and wake up on Monday so I could step right into Westeros.