Le cul entre les deux chaises

An American Spaniard in France or: How I Learned to Make an Ass of Myself in Three Cultures


What’s in a bodega?

An interesting international discussion cropped up around my shop Word Mystery post regarding what exactly a bodega is. For me, it falls into the category of words (I should come up with a name for them) that mean totally different things or are completely unconnected in my mind depending on what accent they’re pronounced in. Reading it in an English context, I immediately think of New York City corner stores. In a Spanish voice, I go to wine cellars or pantry-type rooms.

GIF by Nathan Pyle

GIF by Nathan Pyle

By a weird coincidence, The Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC did a segment about bodega cats that I heard right around the time this conversation was happening. It’s more cute than informative but if you’ve been to an NYC bodega, you’ve met one of these cats.

If you’re not familiar with the concept, these are cats who live in convenience stores. Many NYC bodegas have them (the one near where my sister lives likes to sit on my nephew’s head) and they are, in fact, illegal. During the course of the conversation, it’s revealed that the fines for having a cat in a food shop are essentially equivalent to the ones for having rodents so it’s a wash.

If you have a few moments, you should scroll through the listener-submitted photos of their favorite bodega cats — it’s such a funny and weird collection and I somehow love the hashtag #bodegacat more than anything else right now.

Other amusing things for the day

Today’s GIF was part of a promotional campaign that Nathan Pyle did for his book about how to be in NYC. He has also designed some of my favorite things online, like another Schrodinger’s cat joke and a clever ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT joke. If you need a laugh, you should look through his stuff. Bonus: so many PRINCESS BRIDE jokes.


Word Mystery: flag / bandera / drapeau

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


Passerelle de Solférino (where there are “lovers locks” too), October 2013

Listening to a podcast about two of Steven Soderbergh’s recent films while crossing a bridge near the Musée d’Orsay here in Paris led to a Word Mystery double whammy: drapeaux!

The connection is that Antonio Banderas co-starred in one of the movies being discussed (Haywire) and the bridge was decorated with colorful camo-patterned flags.

EN → flag — a piece of cloth or similar material, typically oblong or square, attachable by one edge to a pole or rope and used as the symbol or emblem of a country or institution or as a decoration during public festivities. ORIGIN probably Scandinavian, related to Icelandic flag [spot from which a sod has been cut] and Old Norse flaga [slab of stone].

ES → bandera — Tela de forma comúnmente rectangular, que se emplea como enseña o señal de una nación, una ciudad o una institución. [Cloth, generally rectangular, which is used as a sign or signal of a nation, a city or an institution.] ORIGIN From old French bande [strip, band].

FR → drapeau — Pièce d’étoffe attachée à une hampe, portant l’emblème et les couleurs d’une nation, d’un groupe. [Piece of cloth attached to a pole, bearing the emblem and colors of a country or a group.] ORIGIN Previously, the word enseigne [sign] was used but in the 1750s, a word from the Italian drappello [military squad] was adopted in its place. As a historical note, the 18th century was an active one for the French armed forces.

Today’s winner: I love it when Norse shows up ’cause then I start thinking about cool words like Ragnarök and Led Zeppelin so the win goes to English. The real test will be the day a Norse root goes up against a Hebrew word. That’ll be a real Sophie’s Choice moment.

My brain also says

press-your-luck-whammy→ The Whammy on the syndicated game show Press Your Luck was animated by Savage Steve Holland, the man behind the classic 80s movies Better Off Dead and One Crazy Summer.

→ “This American Life,” the popular public radio show/podcast, did an episode in 2010 (“Million Dollar Idea“) about the guy who beat the Press Your Luck system in the 80s to become the show’s biggest winner. Spoiler: he was super dedicated to cheating.

Haywire is a passably entertaining movie as long as you don’t mind an action movie that’s kind of slow. A good portion of it takes place in Barcelona (Visca! Barça!) so a significant amount of my enjoyment came from recognizing places and seeing the little architectural details that I’d forgotten (like how floors in many private homes are tiled with tiny octagonal designs). Banderas probably gives his best performance in English. Here he is having a drink in Plaça Reial where the street lights were designed by a young Antoni Gaudí.

Banderas Haywire Plaça Reial

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Where I grew up

Radiolab recently turned me onto 99% Invisible, a great little (short) podcast about why things are designed the way they are, and I’ve been catching up on past episodes. #29 particularly caught my attention since it’s about culs-de-sac: where they came from, why they’re horrible, how they symbolize everything that’s wrong with suburbia, etc. The funny thing is that I technically grew up in a cul-de-sac, but where I come from, we call ’em dead end streets, which is way less pretentious.

Something that really struck me was one person interviewed mentions that when you’re a kid, a cul-de-sac is a great place since you can ride your big wheel up and down the street and play into the night in the middle of the road but that when you’re a teenager, not living on a through street can be confining and, if you don’t have a car, can leave you totally isolated. While listening, I kind of did a double take since it felt like the guy had verbalized thoughts that had been floating around in my head for years. It’s possible that I became the charming person I am today because I lived on a dead-end street and always had to cajole people into giving me rides since I had no form of transportation of my own. That blows my mind a little bit.

I was also reminded of one of my first Catalan classes in Barcelona: cul-de-sac came up on a worksheet and I was really excited that I knew what one was since, initially, Catalan was completely mystifying to me. “Oh! That’s French for ‘bottom of the bag’!” I volunteered. “No,” my teacher quickly snapped. “That’s Catalan for ‘bottom of the bag.'” If ever there is a country with a greater inferiority complex than Catalonia, I don’t want to go there.

And I’d love to link to Joe Walsh’s song, “Where I Grew Up” since I think it’s a lovely paean to childhood and youthful innocence, but I guess the Internet doesn’t appreciate the solo efforts of classic rock gods since I can’t find it anywhere. You can probably listen to the beginning on iTunes.