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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The Pentagon Papers

I’m pretty sure there’s a file on me at the Pentagon. It may not have my name on it, but for the years I lived in DC, I’m certain that someone was tracking my movements. If they weren’t, they should get fired ‘cause I was totally asking for it.

I was still a heavy smoker back then and a serious cyclist and a person who likes to get good deals on stuff. (I am still two of these things.) These three character traits meant that every two weeks, I’d ride from my Northwest DC neighborhood to the Costco in Virginia to buy cartons of cigarettes.

Look how close they are! They were clearly asking me to bike from one to the other by being so close.

Look how close they are! They were clearly asking me to bike from one to the other.

I did this because it was cheaper, Virginia tax being much lower than the District’s, and partly because it gave me a clear destination for my ride and was a good hour-long trip each way.

I’d start in Rock Creek Park, one of the bigger urban parks in America, and cruise along the bike trails through the trees and over streams and around joggers, yelling “On your left!” every once in a while so people would get the hell out of my way. Then I’d jump onto the bike path that ran alongside the major roads, passing the Watergate and thinking of Nixon and Forrest Gump, and then past the Kennedy Center and I’d completely skirt the Lincoln Memorial to cross the Potomac, avoiding Arlington Cemetery entirely and getting to my favorite part of the ride: crossing through the Pentagon parking lot.

I’m not gonna lie; every time I did it, I was anxious I’d get stopped and questioned but that was part of the fun. This is where my file comes in: I’m sure someone somewhere in the building noticed me and I suspect that there was a log of my regular trips around all the barriers they had set up because I was the only cyclist I ever saw there, and I did look a little suspicious. Keep in mind that this was all Post Terror (after 9/11) and I had a black pannier on my bike and was usually wearing wrap-around reflective biking glasses and singing along loudly to my iPod.

An hour later, I’d come back through the parking lot, my pannier filled with 40 packs of cigarettes I shouldn’t technically have as well as other weird Costco items like a 2-lb bag of dried mango slices or a bunch of blank VHS cassettes. (Even before DVRs existed, I time-shifted all my TV-viewing because I don’t like people trying to sell me crap.)

I’ll never know if there really is or was a file on the girl who used to show up on odd days of the week, cruising at top speed through the parking lot of one of America’s most secure buildings, but I like to think that I at least amused some security guards who wondered what the hell I thought I was doing. If I had ever been stopped, things could have gone badly for me, but I wasn’t and I live to tell the tale of defying the US Department of Defense right to its face. ¡Toma!

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Housekeeping

Updates on stuff I’ve written and your comments.

Paul Klee's The Angler is there. I <3 Klee.

Paul Klee’s The Angler is there. I <3 Klee.

→ Don’t know if anyone actually reads these things, but I’ve updated my About page and added a Features page that collects all the recurring stuff. I’d appreciate any input on if this was a good use of my time or if people prefer to navigate with tags.

A recreation of the famous “degenerate art” show held in Munich in 1937 is at NYC’s Neue Galerie through the end of June 2014. An interview with the curator on WNYC gives lots of historical perspective and is worth a listen. A review of the show, with more context is here. Finally, the NYT on the making of the exhibit.

→ Speaking of Nazis and their art-thieving, VANITY FAIR reports on that trove of art stolen by a Nazi found in a Munich apartment.

→ A BBC reporter and film crew got a tour of the art. Can you imagine having this stuff in your house?! We had art in my house growing up, but this stuff is ART. Like, super serious good stuff by actual masters. A. R. T.

Pollution→ The Paris smog situation was really dire. On the days that it was worst, I got home and felt like I’d smoked a pack of cigarettes without any of the actual fun of smoking a pack of cigarettes. Since the pollution was higher than in Singapore, I guess I wasn’t exaggerating (see left). An explanation via Gizmodo says that, in addition to the weird weather patterns we were having, France’s love of diesel engines is at the root of the problem. (Lots of interesting links in the story.)

→ The NYT hasn’t gotten my memo about Catalan cooking; their story about fideuà is mostly correct… except that they spell the name of the dish wrong. It’s made with fideus [noodles], not called that. This would be like calling paella “rice” or a cheeseburger “meat patty.” Angry sigh.

→ My sister suggested that maybe the translation of the Latin mulĭer to “mistress” is less sexist than I thought. My dictionary has the primary definition as “a woman in a position of authority or control,” so maybe it’s my mind that’s corrupt and not the Spanish language. (Regardless, Spanish wouldn’t have won that day.) (Also, Spaniards are totally sexist, so I doubt that she’s right but concede that it’s possible.)

Look at the # of retweets/faves!

Look at the # of retweets/faves!

→ I love how the “fact” at right is presented, as if there’s ONLY ONE place in ALL OF FRANCE that does this. I’m sure variations on this happen all over. For instance, I know that MOST places in the tourist-frequented areas of Barcelona charge foreigners more on principle, so I’m not sure why UberFacts thinks the French would be so different. I mean, the French are better than Spaniards, but not by that much.


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Kitchen Nightmares

I loved you most of all.

Coke Zero means I don't need you.

Coke Zero means I don’t need you.

Red is my least favorite color. That’s a lie. I don’t dislike red, I hate red. A lot. Just seeing it makes me angry, which is apparently the opposite of what it’s supposed to do. (Color theory info.) For many years, I wasn’t able to get away from red as it was the predominant color in both of my sustaining substances, Coke Classic and Marlboro reds.

Now, I can avoid it pretty well and generally manage to do so, but French interior designers seem to love red. They put it in all over the place, especially kitchens. Here are some screen shots from different listings, all featuring variations on the last thing I want to see ever, and certainly not every day.

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But maybe…

It could be that there are so many red kitchens because no one likes red. That’s why American barns were typically red: it was the cheapest paint color.


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Thank you for smoking

This is a sign from the tabacconist near one of the places I lived in Barcelona which always made me smile.

"Thank you for smoking. In moderation."

“Thank you for smoking. In moderation.”

I still kind of think about how much I miss smoking all the time, by which I mean that I don’t obsess over it but that if I could peel back the layers of my consciousness, I’m pretty sure the whole not-smoking issue would be close to the surface.

This past week, I’ve thought a lot about how I haven’t smoked since November 26, 2006 and it’s all Matthew McConaughey’s fault. That guy knows how to smoke, which is to say that he relishes smoking as much as I did. Seeing him on HBO’s TRUE DETECTIVE and in DALLAS BUYERS CLUB (for which he’s favored to win the Oscar) smoking the hell out of things is making me miss the days when I could just light up anywhere (even in a bank!) in Spain.

But then reality sinks in and I remember that being sick isn’t fun and that the pleasure I derived from smoking wasn’t enough to compensate how terrible I felt all the time so I just mute the sound and watch McConaughey light one cigarette off another and contemplate the injustices of the world.


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French steam engine

This outdoor concert’s speakers and DJ booth was solar- and bike-powered which is a fine idea.

bike power 1

I do question the sustainability of having the people be powered by cigarettes though.

bike power 2

This reminds me

One day, after a particularly bad day at work back in the US, I was riding my bike home and smoking a cigarette. The tobacco wasn’t helping me release as much tension as I needed, so I called my best friend to vent. Holding the cell phone and smoking at the same time meant that I was riding with no hands up a low-numbered street in DC on a Sunday. There was no traffic for a couple blocks but then a young woman who was probably about my age turned down the street I was going up and, when she saw me, her car stalled out because she was so surprised by the picture I made. I glared at her (I was super pissed off) and she just started laughing and said, “Rough day, huh?” And I laughed too because I am sure I looked ridiculous.