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.


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.



Updates on stuff I’ve written and your comments.

Simply the best (game).

→ I stopped playing Candy Crush. I got to level 169 without paying for any upgrades and, after a couple days stuck there, I decided I was out. Additional proof that I’ll never be a bona fide nerd: I don’t really get into video games. (N64 GoldenEye and Tetris excepted.)

→ Benedict Cumberbatch offers the famous person’s version of “Leave Me Alone” face:

“If you pick a point far behind [people on the sidewalk] they perceive you as not seeing them, and you’re the obstacle they have to get around. The greatest disguise is learning how to be invisible in plain sight.”

→ This year when I finally found a copy of the Oscars online to watch, I already knew all the good and bad moments, significantly lessening my enjoyment. Maybe next year I’ll try to play The Knowledge and just wait till I can see the whole thing for myself.

An episode of RADIOLAB made me “Rabies!” at my iPod since they mentioned that “right” also means “correct.” Another way that “left” is demonized.

→ Google Translate continues to be the worst and to do more harm than good. To wit, when it’s used to translate menus.

→ Complaining about lack of editing on the Internet is a bit like being angry at the sun for emiting light. That I’m not the only person to poke fun at those who don’t right the write word makes me feel better.

I will always love you.

→ An interesting take on why some of my favorite retailers went out of business from THE NEW YORKER. It wasn’t my fault and is instead due to Americans wanting to buy high-end goods in a luxury environment and low-end goods in a warehouse. Huh.

→ On a related note, I realized why I liked those stores so much: there were no salespeople. I hate being asked if I need help, if I’m finding what I want, if I’d like to see another size. This is another way in which I’m well suited to life in France.

→ More ways to clear out your life. I especially agree about the microwave. “Science ovens” aren’t worth the counter space they take up and make your food taste worse.

→ Elizabeth recommended I read the comments on that NYT article about tortilla and I did. Many were very angry, which amused me, but I’d like to think that part of the ire came from a translation misunderstanding. Spanish doesn’t allow for the distinction between must / should / have to. In English we know that these are degrees on the same spectrum, but Spaniards have a hard time with them, thus, when they give instructions in English, they often sound like commands. More on modal verb forms here.

Topics -> Hot Topic -> Hot Probs -> poor little Heather (McNamara).

→ But the person who was railing against “TOPICS!!” regarding Spanish people and their cooking was digging their own grave. They meant “clichés” which are “tópicos” in Spanish. Sigh.


2012 Winter Playlist

The weather’s been a bit crazy of late, but I feel that it’s safe to say that winter in northern France is over, so here are a bunch of songs you can ignore or enjoy. As a reminder, these aren’t all necessarily new songs, or even new to me, but are connected somehow to the season that just was. My 2012 Winter playlist. Links are to videos or artist sites.

2012 Winter playlist

  1. Skyfall, Adele — instantly one of the best Bond themes
  2. Locked Out of Heaven, Bruno Mars — Like a really good new Police song
  3. Feel So Close, Calvin Harris — Florence Welch does vocals on a propulsive dance beat
  4. Gold Dust (Shy FX mix), DJ Fresh — big brassy beat with a “Verve Remixed” feel
  5. The Head I Hold, Electric Guest — neo-soul with piano
  6. Calipso, Francis White — happy song with hand claps
  7. Major Happy, Fred V & Grafix — like watching the clouds go by on a sunny day
  8. Man Like That, Gin Wigmore — like Amy Winehouse but alive and Australian
  9. Two Weeks, Grizzly Bear — The Beach Boys + Caribou
  10. Don’t Save Me, Haim — The Go-Go’s if they’d had a heavy bass line
  11. Sexual Healing, Hot 8 Brass Band — An amazing brass band cover of the Marvin Gaye classic
  12. Heartbeat, JJAMZ — happy girl version of The Cure
  13. I Wish It Was Christmas Today, Julian Casablancas — The Strokes’ frontman covers one of SNL’s Xmas songs
  14. Disintegration (Mike Luck remix), Monarchy — makes you want to close your eyes and spin
  15. Otherwise, Morcheeba — Morcheeba is like James Bond’s house band with heavy orchestration, sexy vocals and brass
  16. Origins, Tennis — soul + early 60s
  17. Secret Weapon, The Whip — like something Michael Mann would have put on Miami Vice
  18. Skirts, The Other Tribe — like Erlend Øye and Miike Snow (not a typo)

Summer 2012 playlist is here.


Crocodile eggs for lunch

Do you ever look at food and wonder what the hell ever compelled someone to eat it the first time? Avocados are like that for me. They look like crocodile-skin eggs or freaky space rocks but someone somewhere decided it would be good to ingest one. I imagine that the person came upon a split open avocado on the ground and was drawn in by its color (“Oh pretty! Put in mouth!”) and the world rejoiced, but that doesn’t change the fact that they’re still totally weird-looking.

Here’s one I had for lunch recently with my beloved Thai meatballs with hoisin sauce and risotto done up Japanese style with my rice seasoning.

Avocado lunch

Related-in-my-mind things

→ When I was first wandering around Barcelona one of the things that made me think that maybe I’d made a huge mistake was seeing all the signs were in català, a language I did not speak. I feared I also wouldn’t understand the people since many, many, many signs were for Avocado Buffets [buffet d’avocat] which seemed insane to me. Who needed to eat so many avocados? Turns out that not a one of them specialized in tropical fruits — they offered legal services. Buffet : firm, avocat : lawyer (personal advocate).

→ On “Call The Midwife,” a BBC series set in 1950s London, one episode featured the characters saying “avocado pear” over and over and me double-blinking every time because that sounds ridiculous.

→ Technically, avocados and lemons are berries. This last thing I learned over the weekend in the charming Danish older person romance Den skaldede frisør (:”The Bald Hairdresser,” “Love Is All You Need” English title.). Mark Kermode said it was like “Dogme does ‘Mamma Mia!'” which was mixed praise. I’m a fan of the Dogme 95 movement, but “Mamma Mia!” is one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen. However, it also stars Pierce Brosnan (I will watch anything a James Bond has been in) and Kermode said it’s “really rather good and really rather charming” he was right (as usual).


French Bandstand: La vie en rose

Bienvenue à French Bandstand! This is where I adopt the motto established by Dick Clark on “American Bandstand” and introduce you to French music that’s “got a good beat and you can dance to.”

The starting point for pretty much any conversation about popular French-language music is Edith Piaf, but you can’t really dance to her songs. I suppose one could sway from side to side, but I require something with a bit more jump and jive. That’s why this inaugural edition of French Bandstand is going to knock your (bobby) socks off. Préparez-vous !

Here’s disco dance diva and 80s Bond girl Grace Jones doing <<La vie en rose>>. You’re welcome.

The song is off Jones’s 1977 debut album, “Portfolio.” I had to special order my CD copy at Tower Records in Boston in the 90s because after scouring used record stores for a long time, I couldn’t find it. (There are many things in that last sentence that don’t exist anymore and that makes me sad.) The wait was totally worth it because this version of the song is the best one. (Also, it’s no coincidence that the cover art looks like an 80s issue of Interview; Richard Bernstein designed both.)


YES to everything that’s happening here.