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.


Cold weather cocktail

I don’t actually drink cocktails (not enough liquid to sate me) but when I get sick, I do enjoy whipping up a little medicinal mixture as needed. In the US, this is infinitely easier since over the counter (OTC) drugs are fairly effective, can be purchased without a prescription and are available at the nearest 24-hour drug store. In Europe, substitutions must be made and dosages increased to reach a nearly equal level of efficacy.

This past week I had to make just such adjustments as, despite actively avoiding touching people or touching things that other people have touched, some jerk gave me the flu. Wisely, I always keep my drugs case within easy reach and came up with this recipe.

cold meds

From France, Strepsils, a very nice tasting (honey and lemon) soothing throat lozenge. They have some kind of numbing powers so that throat tickles and almost-coughs are stopped before they attack.

From the US, generic Benadryl (diphenhydramine) which I take sparingly because it is potent and hard to get.

From Spain, Desenfriol, a powder that is similar to Emergen-C but both tastes better and is stronger. If you ingest a couple of these when you feel a cold coming on, you can usually preempt the fucker.

The most important item: Puffs Plus with Aloe. I don’t understand why these aren’t available internationally but they are absolutely necessary if you’re going to be blowing and/or wiping your nose several times a minute. If you’ve had other brands of facial tissue “with aloe” and not been impressed, I can assure you that Puffs Plus with Aloe is an entirely different proposition. They’re soft like moleskin and not greasy and they are wonderful. I only pull them out when I have a Serious Cold because they’re too precious to waste on everyday use.

Of course, if this particular cold gets to DEFCON 1, I’m going to have to go nuclear on it which means breaking out both DayQuil and NyQuil and my super secret weapon: Vicks Vapo-rub.

This made no sense

This made no sense

Actual information

I wish I could say that I learned about the DEFCON alert system from someplace classy like Sidney Lumet‘s 1964 movie Fail-Safe, but that would be a lie. (You can watch the whole thing here! Thanks, Internet!) I probably first heard about DEFCON from cheesy 80s movies like WarGames. The numbers indicated military alerts levels; the higher the number, the lower the perceived threat. The way to remember which way it goes is that the men in the War Room were counting down to mutually assured destruction (5, 4, 3, 2, 1, boom). The Homeland Security Advisory System, adopted after 9/11 replaced the DEFCON system with a rainbow, creating total confusion. They stopped using it ten years later because it was completely idiotic.

Something happier to bring the tone back up!

One of the longest slogans in modern marketing history has to be “The nighttime sniffling, sneezing, coughing, aching, stuffy head, fever, so you can rest medicine.” It’s one of the best though, and is truth in advertising.

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This is my pea coat.

peacoat 1There are many like it, but this one is mine. My pea coat is my favorite coat. It keeps me warm in coldest weather. Without me, my pea coat is useless. Without my pea coat, I am cold.

peacoat 2I got this coat about a decade ago from the J.Crew clearance catalog. (Do they still mail out catalogs?) There may no longer be many like it in use, though I’ve found it to be incredibly durable. The general construction of the garment is quite good. As you can see, the only wear has been caused by my general insistence to sit on the back of the coat to protect my bum from cold surfaces. Someday, maybe I’ll darn those spots. (Out, darned spots!)

The big selling point for me at the time was that the coat was lined with Thinsulate™, one of the great wonders of the modern world (as far as I’m concerned). I remember there was a non-Thinsulate™ version and I thought then (as I do now) what the hell the point of such a thing is.

peacoat 3Thinsulate™ alone would have been enough to make me favor this coat over the dozen I have for winter wear (each one has a specialized use, I swear!) but this coat earned my enduring love for a secret detail that I didn’t discover right away: an inside breast pocket. In case you don’t know, the percentage of women’s clothes that have an inside pocket is 0. No women’s clothing has enough or appropriately sized pockets. Apparently, designers think that since we carry bags, we don’t need to keep things on our persons. Well, I for one love having the option to go bag-free and this coat is the perfect thing. Back when I still smoked, I could put my wallet in the inside pocket, my smokes and lighter in the left one, keys and phone in the right and gloves in the top hand-warmers. And all was well. And warm.

Learn something, you maggot!

Full Metal Jacket, whose “This is my rifle” speech inspired this post, was filmed entirely in England. Stanley Kubrick was American. There is a Christmas scene in this movie which makes it eligible for my Unconventional Xmas film series.