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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Man at work

Being a major metropolitan area, Paris has a thriving urban art scene. The first few times I saw a real Invader piece on the street I was really excited, but now it’s smaller things that catch my eye.

This little guy was meticulously attached to a “no entry” sign. I had to get really close to see which parts were the mods. He’s in the area by the National Archives where there’s actually a lot of good urban art. (And see the doc Exit Through the Gift Shop if you’re at all interested in the subject.)

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A dash of Catalan in your diet

A classic Catalan-looking guy

I finally caught up with the documentary about Ferran Adrià and his famous (now closed) restaurant El Bulli. The doc, called “El Bulli: Cooking in Progress,” was produced by a German company and has English subtitles, not all of which were correct.

One of the best things about the film for me was that people were speaking mostly in Catalan, which I totally miss. I still use some Catalan words every day, especially when making out my grocery list, since many of their food words are just better (my opinion). There are also a lot of really good phrases in Catalan that I use all the time, but the doc reminded me of so many great words that I need to reincorporate into my daily vocabulary.

Here’s a selection that you could add to your repertoire:

  • Que canto [keh kahn two] : “what do I sing?” Use: “what do I say?” or “what do I call it?”
  • Em sembla [em semblah] : “it appears/looks like.” Use: “I think” (opinion).
  • Agafar [ah-gah-far] : v. “to grab” or “take hold.” Excellent in the imperative, “agafa!

Great Catalan food words that I use all the time:

  • carxofa [kahr-cho-fah] : artichoke
  • pastanaga [pasta-nah-gah] : carrot
  • enciam [n-see-am] : lettuce
  • llet [yet] : milk
  • pollastre [poh-yas-tra] : chicken
  • formatge [for-mat-dza]: cheese
  • maduixe [mah-doo-sha] : strawberry

Get cooking with some Catalan!


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Who are you people?

This is a map that displays all the countries where readers of this blog come from. This blows my mind. It makes perfect sense that Spain and the US have the most frequent readers since those are the countries where I know people and about which I write. But the rest of you — I know neither what to make of this nor what to say. I wish you’d say hi so I knew who you were. I also take requests, so leave a comment and I’ll get right on it.

(I hate that dialogue from the first Austin Powers still comes readily to mind. When I first saw this map, I thought about this.)


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Great Word: sluice

This is a great word. Let it roll around in your mind for a minute. Sloose. Say it out loud. Notice how your mouth and tongue have to twist and contort to make the sounds come together. Sloose.

Apparently, “sluice” comes from Latin via Old French, but I like it because of its onomatopoeic quality. It’s best as a verb, where it describes water traveling down something. It’s the aquatic version of whoosh; a gush of water just barreling towards… somewhere.

This video is a fun way to visualize sluice both as a noun (the thing that controls the flow of water) and a verb. It also has a great Nanook of the North “documentary” quality since you’re left wondering, who filmed this? Who framed the shots? Did they storyboard before they went out? How much planning went into the video? (If you want to see just sluicing, skip to about 7m16s, but the whole thing is oddly mesmerizing.)

It’s existential shit like this that keeps my mind working at all hours of the night.


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A rose by any other blahg

It never fails to amaze me how things can look totally different depending on where you’re standing. Where I grew up, we were politely referred to as “the Spanish people” (the locals being too dumb to know there’s an actual word for that – Spaniards) and impolitely called lots of other things. In Spain, my siblings and I were “los americanos” and we were both despised for our perceived worldliness and valued for the cultural information we could impart.

This phenomenon is why I ended up in a third country. In my homeland (the US) I was aware of being different for most of my life and in la patria, people were quick to point out that I wasn’t really from there. Here in France, people think I’m American or Spanish or just plain foreign and they don’t really seem to have any negative feelings either way.

All of which means I have something in common with Count Ladislaus de Almásy and frozen bagels sold at a national chain here in France: we are all identified by how people experience us, not as we are.

The Count in question is the protagonist of The English Patient, Michael Ondaatje’s novel (later adapted into Anthony Minghella’s film). Almásy gets his alias after he’s found almost dead by Allied forces in the remnants of an airplane in the desert. Since he’s mostly covered in burns, the only means of identifying him are his accent, which is determined to be English although he’s Hungarian. Over the course of the narrative, which is told mostly in flashbacks, we come to learn that earlier the Allies mistook him for a Nazi sympathizer due to his foreign name, a mischaracterization that ends up causing lots of death and destruction. It’s ironic and tragic.

Bagels are delicious bread products that came over to the US with Jewish Eastern European immigrants. Any city with a self-respecting Jewish population has a decent bagel, but New York clearly has the best. Marketing them as “Little American breads” is a much easier sell, but that doesn’t really justify the misnomer.

I think everything should be referred to in a way of its choosing, which is problematic on the bagel front since they’re not sentient. I think the count would have self-identified as Lover of Katherine since nationality didn’t mean anything to him.

Me, I’m like Rick from CASABLANCA, “a citizen of the world.”