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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It’s Memorial Day!

Thanks to a practice which really annoys me, I am now going to be able to remember which holiday marks the beginning of the summer season and which one ends it. The key came in the form of a movie I will never see called LABOR DAY. Here’s the US poster:

labor-day-poster

And here’s the French one:

last-days-of-summer-poster

 

Can you guess what, under normal circumstances, would bother me about this? It’s changing an English title into another English title. I mean, I get it: no one in Europe knows what Labor Day is but this practice is generally dumb and confusing.

Even before I heard and read the positively dreadful reviews for this movie (notice complete absence of reviewer quotes!), I wouldn’t have seen it for one big reason: it’s based on a book by Joyce Maynard and I don’t like her at all. I was studying writing when her book At Home in the World came out and one of my professors was exactly the kind of hippy-dippy person to eat it up and she made us read it too. I found the whole thing to be in poor taste and indicative of a person who was still not mature enough (then aged 45) to own up to any decisions she’d ever made. Other opinions are available but that’s the nice version of mine. The mean version is quite nasty and includes lots of foul words used to describe women of whom of I have a very low opinion.

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Word Mystery: blackout / apagón / panne d’électricité

Wednesdays, I explore the linguistic origins of the same word in different languages.

Things I was forced to learn learned recently include:

1. French fuse boxes don’t look like any fuse box I’ve ever seen.

Curious.

Curious.

2. French fuses come in different wattages (or whatever), look like bullets and live in little Japanese-pod beds.

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3. Spent (or used or broken or whatever) French fuses literally blow their tops off, revealing a tiny red mark that indicates they’ve gone to illumination heaven (which I imagine is actually a really dark place where they can all rest for once).

French busted fuse.

4. Those things from IKEA that look like surge protectors are actually not protecting anything.

EN → blackout — a failure of electrical power supply. ORIGIN Darkness is black. It’s not hard to figure out, people.

ES → apagónInterrupción pasajera del suministro de energía eléctrica. [Temporary interruption of the power supply.] ORIGIN Noun of apagar [turn off], from Latin pacāre [calm, mitigate].

FR → panne d’électricité — Arrêt momentané et accidentel du fonctionnement d’électricité. [Momentary and accidental shutting down of electricity.] ORIGIN Variation on penne [pen] from Latin penna [wing].

General note: all three terms refer most commonly to large-scale power outages. What happened to me recently, I remembered after thinking long and hard, was that I “blew a fuse” but that wasn’t Word Mystery fodder so out it went!

So angry, Howard. Why don't you calm down?

You’re so angry, Howard. Why don’t you calm down?

Sad note: I actually lived through a big blackout in Barcelona in July 2007 that made international news. I filmed a video of the immediate aftermath (which I’d love to share with you but WordPress wants me to pay to upload video and I refuse) because Catalan people be crazy.

Imagine the oddest reaction to massive electrical failure that you could possibly think of having. Now let me tell you what the citizens of the whole affected area did en masse — hang out their windows, just like Howard Beale wants you to, and bang on pots with wooden spoons. Other people uploaded their videos to YT and you can check some out here and see that I am not lying.

English note: disappointed again.

Spanish note: A thing about me is that telling me to “calm down” makes me super angry. This is because it’s a common thing Spanish people do and they mean it in the most condescending way possible. Suggesting that someone else is in hysterics is a great way to make oneself look infinitely superior which is a national pastime. Spain loses just for that and may get put in the penalty box for being such a jerk.

French note: I understand how “wing” became “plume” but am a bit confused about its jump to meaning cut or rupture. Maybe ’cause a wing has an articulation in it? I don’t have science, so I can’t say if that’s even true.

Today’s winner is nobody since all of these stunk. Next week better improve or I’m going to get as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!


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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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French Housekeeping

A collection of random things I want to share with you.

→ A gallery of color photos of Paris in the early 1900s.

→ Cool video with great graphics illustrating the neighborhoods of Paris. It’s funny that my favorite spots don’t come off particularly well.

→ Ever since I read From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler as a kid, I’ve thought about how cool it would be to be alone in a museum. If the museum were the Louvre, the experience might be like this.

→ The screenshot I took for the post about CHARADE was featured in an article about Audrey Hepburn’s cinematic Paris. I told the editor to credit Stanley Donen and Universal since I don’t own the rights to the image, but it’s still my screenshot!

→ A joke poster from CollegeHumor for the Oscar-nominated AMOUR which is funny but inaccurate. Michael Haneke, the writer/director, is German. Reminds me of “the most French French film” ever made.

Amour alternate poster


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Word Mystery: drown / ahogar / noyer

Word mysteries are where words in languages that I know don’t correspond to each other at all despite those languages often sharing lexical histories. These words are both mystifying (why are they different?) and annoying (why must you be different?!).

lifeofpiI finally caught up with Life of Pi which I saw in English with French subtitles. Had it not been for this viewing experience, I probably never would have come upon this particular word mystery.

EN drown — (Old Norse drukkna ‘to be drowned’) die through submersion in and inhalation of water.

ES ahogar (ah-oh-gahr) — Del lat. offocāre, apretar las fauces. [From the Latin offocāre, squeeze/tighten the gullet]

FR noyer (nwah-yea) — (latin necare, faire périr) Faire mourir quelqu’un, un animal par immersion [(Latin necare, to make perish) Make a person or an animal die through means of immersion.]

One of the things I really like about the English language is its precision. One French or Spanish word can have multiple possible English translations because English seems to value nuance and exactitude. Note that only drown specifies death by water.

The Spanish ahogar has always bothered me since “choke” can also be defined this way and drowning and choking are distinctly different propositions; one is generally accidental and the other is homicidal*.

In French, you can choke on food (s’étouffer: asphyxiate oneself) or be choked (étrangler: compress someone’s throat for the purpose of blocking respiration and killing them).

Tune in for another Word Mystery soon.

On Pi: The film is visually interesting but too long and assumes that the viewer is too dense to understand the story. There is a character whose entire purpose is to carefully spell out everything that happens which takes away from the main pleasure of the story. Verdict: read the book.

*This makes me think of Michael Hutchence, the lead singer of INXS, whose death was the first time I heard about autoerotic asphyxiation. Hutchence makes me think of Bob Geldof (they had a babymamma in common) and Geldof’s daugher Peaches who shouldn’t be allowed to procreate.