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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Interesting Iberian Information, Vol. V

I never thought my brain would be engaged while watching FAST 6, the fifth sequel in THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS franchise, but damned if it wasn’t anyway.

The plot isn’t worth going into but in one scene, a group of criminals is about to steal some military equipment. Here’s the establishing shot with the dateline.

Fast 6 NATO base

My inner Annie Wilkes reared her head and screamed, “There’s no cockadoodie Lusitania in Spain!”

But there was a ship called the RMS Lusitania which I know about from war movies. It was torpedoed by a German U-boat and sunk, killing almost 1200 people. I thought that it was important (historically speaking) due to its being connected with the cracking of the Enigma code, but as that code was used in WWII, I probably conflated two separate boat-sinking-in-war time events.

Another bugbear

Earlier in the film, characters and another establishing shot claim that Interpol is based in Moscow which was pretty annoying. The actual headquarters is in Lyon which I know almost entirely because of its location right by one of my favorite movie theaters. The building is so nondescript that every time I showed it to people, they thought I was joking. The actual Interpol looks like a stock photo of a government building which I think is really clever. Hiding in plain sight.


And just to get my last dig in for the day, I find it funny that the big heist at the center of the movie takes place in Spain where incompetence and apathy rule. If I were going to steal something, I’d totally do it there too.

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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.


I am the Benjamin

UN CONTE DE NÖEL posterI finally got around to watching UN CONTE DE NOËL over the holidays and because of it, I figured out why French people don’t understand me when I say I’m the superbaby of my family — they’ve got a whole other term for that: benjamin(e).

FR → benjaminLe plus jeune des enfants d’une famille. [The youngest child in a family.] ORIGIN Benjamin was the youngest son of Jacob (himself son of Isaac, son of Abraham).

I don’t know what to think about this Jewish term being in such common usage in modern French. Despite having a visible presence and a well established neighborhood (the Marais), actually *being* Jewish in Paris doesn’t seem to be a thing that is very tolerated here. If I come across any more on this, I’ll report back.

Just in case you missed it

All of this could have been avoided if someone had just told me that this word existed and was used in such a manner but that’s not the French way. One must earn the knowledge before one can have it. And I respect that.

Cultural confusion

In American, “a Benjamin” is a $100 bill, as Benjamin Franklin is depicted on its face. There’s a cool brief history of the bill on the Wall Street Journal’s site which you can read here.

The new (2013) Benjamin

The new (2013) Benjamin

Further learning

I’d only come across the city of Roubaix, where UN CONTE DE NOËL is set, after watching the Danish documentary A SUNDAY IN HELL [En forårsdag i Helvede, 1977] not too long ago. The film centers on one year of the Paris-Roubaix spring classic bike race. I think you have to really like cycling to enjoy the film, but there were several other elements that might make it a good watch. The style was reminiscent of The Maysles Brothers’ work and many of the scenes of the riders off their bikes seemed to have inspired LES TRIPLETTES DE BELLEVILLE since the men actually behave like horses (one of the gags in the animated film).

On the conte

UN CONTE DE NOËL stars a bunch of people, as you can see from the poster (above), but my favorite part in the movie was a pseudo-ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT joke. The mother, played by Catherine Denueve, makes a disparaging comment about her daughter-in-law, saying something like, “I never liked her much anyway.” The meta-joke is that the daughter-in-law is played by Chiara Mastroianni, Denueve’s real life daughter which made me think of this:

arrested-development Lucille I love all my children equallyarrested-development Lucille I don't care for Gob

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Links / Enlaces / Liens

One Link...

One Link…

On this day, God said, “Let there be links!” and there was much rejoicing.

→ France’s continued problems assimilating immigrants into the culture is against the founding principle of the Republic; Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité. But, writes Justin Smith in a NYT Op-Ed piece, the French can justify everything:

“…when equality is invoked … it is understood that this is equality *among equals*.”

Other interesting thoughts on the perceptual differences between expats and immigrants in France follow. (Spoiler: one group is welcomed, the other reviled.) 

→ David Crystal is my new Richard Lederer! If either of those names mean anything to you, you are a word nerd and we can be friends. Leonard Lopate reran an interview with the former over the holidays. Crystal’s books The Story of English in 100 Words and Spell It Out are currently top-lining my ebook reader. Tl;dr — the French are to be blamed for everything wrong with the English language (see 1066). 

→ Stefan Stasse, the German co-host of my favorite ASOIAF podcast, posted the second in a series of occasional podcasts he’s doing with a history PhD candidate about different cultural perspectives vis à vis Important Historical Events. In this most recent episode they discuss what Europeans know about the American Civil War and how Americans understand WWII. Asking Germans about the war (even though you’re not supposed to mention it) is a hobby of mine, though you really have to get to know one before you broach the subject. They’re pretty touchy about it. 

→ Speaking of die Deutschen: “Not one frown in the place, which is exceptionally rare for such a large gathering of German people.” The blog Oh God, My Wife Is German is consistently amusing to me.

Two Links!

Two Links!

→ Boston neighborhoods corresponded to their Manhattan equivalents (based on median rent). Interesting to compare the two and see what the locals value most in each city. Freakishly (or maybe totally predictably), my dream neighborhoods in each city are counterparts.

→ Do you ever get totes emosh about something and think, “I can’t EVEN handle this because”? If you have no idea what any of that means, you need to read “A Defense of Internet Linguistics” cuz it’s amazeballz. 

→ Wikipedia “is like walking into a mental hospital: the floors are carpeted, the walls are nicely padded, but you know there’s a pretty good chance at any given moment one of the inmates will pick up a knife.” 

→ My brother, the only other person I know who also loves podcasts a lot, told me that 60 Minutes is available in an audio-only format. I got crazy excited about this since the show was, as the NYT once said, “one of the most esteemed newsmagazines on American television.” The writing is significantly less good than it used to be — any given story has copy filled with clichés or misuses of words like “literally” — but they still report some fun things. 


Word Mystery: hangover / resaca / gueule de bois

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

My first hangoverChalk this Word Mystery up to another one that would have possibly been better served posted on a different date. There are plenty to choose from, last Wednesday would have been a good one, but since I was on hiatus and am the worst at remembering holidays…

Well, there’s no time like the present so grab your favorite libation and take a swig after you’ve ingested some knowledge drops.

EN → hangover — a severe headache or other after effects caused by drinking an excess of alcohol. ORIGIN comes from the original meaning, “a thing that has survived from the past”, in this case, yesterday’s booze in today’s body.

ES → resaca — (3rd) Malestar que padece al despertar quien ha bebido alcohol en exceso. [Ailment afflicting those who awake after having drunk excessive alcohol.] ORIGIN resacar, a nautical verb related to pulling a boat out of harbor and to the ebb and flow of tides.

FR → gueule de boislangue pâteuse et sensation de lourdeur dans la tête le lendemain d’un excès de boisson. [Thick tongue and feeling of heaviness in the head the day after excessive drinking.] ORIGIN Latin gula [throat] + bois [wood], modern meanings of gueule include face, facial expression, animal with a muzzle/snout.

Today’s Winner: Before I researched, I was going to go with French because I love the descriptive nature of “wooden throat” and how that does kind of describe a hangover (though mine tend to be focussed on the head and stomach). However, after looking into all the origins, I’m going with Spanish because I find something terribly poetic and sad about a hangover being like an ebbing in your mind and body.

Bar snacks

Things I never would have guessed were related: French fabric, George Washington’s brother and the word groggy. I’ve got to pick this book up since it sounds crazy interesting.

Today’s image comes from a Worth1000.com gallery imagining real-life Precious Moments figurines (which is weirdly restricted now) but any thought of those knickknacks makes me think of, yes, SNL and Maya Rudolph’s genius incarnation of Donatella Versace who would warn people not to “trash that curio cabinet over there filled with my Precious Moments figurines.” Sadly, no one has uploaded the complete sketches, but here’s a compilation of other great moments from the recurring character. Now, GET OUT!