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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Spanish Bandstand: Lobo-hombre en París

The Bandstand series, where I expose you to non-English language music and we all dance.

La union lobo-hombre

1000 silhouettes!

There isn’t much good Spanish-from-Spain music, but this song is one of the great exitos of the Iberian peninsula.

Around 5:30 on a day before Daylight Savings, night was coming on fast as my foot touched the street in front of the Opéra Garnier. At that moment, my iPod shuffled to one of the few Spanish songs on it, La Unión’s 1984 classic <<Lobo-hombre en París.>>

The video, which I just saw for the first time, is appropriately moody and has pretty decent production values considering the era and that it’s Spanish.

It’s impossible for me to choose just one part of the lyrics to translate, as the whole song, about a werewolf named Dennis on the prowl in Paris at night is across the board fantastically 80s and therefore amazing (to me).

Here’s the beginning, just to give you a taste of what the rest is like:

Cae la noche y amanece en París,            Night falls and begins in Paris
en el dia en que todo ocurrió.                    on the day in which everything happened.
Como un sueño de loco sin fin,                  Like a lunatic’s endless dream,
la fortuna se ha reído de ti,                        Fortune is laughing at you.
ja, ja, sorprendido espiando                      Ha-ha! Surprised while peeping,
el lobo escapa aullando                               the wolf escapes, howling,
y es mordido, por el mago del siam.        and is bitten by a wizard from Siam.

The song goes on to talk about how in the dark streets of Paris, Dennis becomes a man and meets a woman who’s most likely a prostitute. Just after paying her “some francs,” he starts howling, so we can assume that whatever transpired made him turn back into a werewolf. (Keep in mind this was almost 15 years before BtVS’s great two-part “Surprise / Innocence” which has a similar plot point. I think this song is way better.)

If you don’t like 80s music, you will probably think this song is terrible. If this is the case, I am sorry that your life is devoid of fun and pleasure, but please do tell me what things bring you happiness.

Racism note: just in case you missed it, in the 80s, Spaniards were still calling Thailand Siam. In English, this hasn’t been the case since 1939. One could argue that Spain was a little busy in 1939 and didn’t get the memo, but by 1984, they could have caught up on the inbox.


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Sunflowers in the land of the Sun King

The first time I came to France was in 1985. We took the train from Spain, crossed the border at Irún in the Basque Country, headed to Marseilles and caught the TGV to Paris. It was easily the best trip, in terms of actual traveling, that I’ve ever had.

I’d been on public transit trains before but never one with a sleeper car and definitely not a high-speed one. I immediately thought it was the best way to get anywhere since you were actually moving but you could still enjoy the scenery and there were lots of food options. (In Spain there were women who yelled up at the open windows from the platform when the train pulled into a station selling chorizo sandwiches; there were friendly German backpackers who shared sausage and cheese; there was a dining car, something I’d only seen in movies.)

It was also the first time I ever saw fields of beautiful colored things. On my grandparents’ farm, there were fields of grains and grass and some corn; lots of potatoes and various kinds of roughage; an orchard with different kinds of fruit trees, but nothing like what I was seeing zip by as we made our way north.

It felt like I spent lifetimes looking at the lavender go by and I definitely couldn’t have held my breath as the seas of sunflowers zoomed past. Watching the Lance-Armstrong-is-the-world’s-biggest-jerk-in-addition-to-being-a-huge-liar documentary THE ARMSTRONG LIE, I was reminded of the trip, the train, and the sunflowers since the Tour de France riders cover much of the same ground we did, but I doubt they appreciate the view as much.

They ride too quickly to appreciate the scenery.

They’re not even looking at the flowers!

Thing that makes me say, “Christ! When did I get so old?”

The pyramid in front of the Louvre wasn’t there when I visited the first time. I now know people, adult humans with Master’s degrees, who were born after it was already installed in 1989.


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The best insult I’ve heard in ages

MuppetBabies-BabyAnimalIn his 2012 standup special “Dangerously Delicious,” Aziz Ansari of PARKS AND REC, tells a story about an exchange he had with a mean border control agent he came across in Toronto, Canada. Not nice things were said by both parties, but things really escalated when Ansari said* the greatest thing I’ve heard in a long time:

“Your English is slightly better than Animal from The Muppet Babies.”

As with many things, it’s the specificity that takes this from a schoolyard insult to a serious burn. According to the Muppet Wiki, Animal from THE MUPPET SHOW “speaks in a guttural shout, often repeating a few simple phrases¹,” which would be enough to belittle most people. But this poor woman was less articulate than that. Compare classic Animal with some of his younger work and see if you agree.

On a personal note, I hope you all appreciate this joke because after researching this post, my childhood was rocked by the information that Baby Animal, as he’s officially known, was initially voiced by Howie Mandel (who did Gizmo in GREMLINS) and then Dave Coulier (the annoying uncle on FULL HOUSE). I have seen behind the Muppet Babies curtain and can never go back.

I was laughing, now I'm not.

I was laughing, now I’m not.

*He surely didn’t say this and the comment was most likely an esprit de l’escalier thing but it’s still funny as hell. I am going to picture this the next time I deal with people whose speech I don’t understand.

Animal Muppet Babies


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French Bandstand: Édition spéciale

quelqu'un-de-l'interieur albumI’ve written at least a dozen different drafts trying to get today’s post right but none of them do the subject justice. Possibly the only way to share all the feelings and memories and emotions I have about this song would be in multiple entries or in a really long list like my Neil Diamond story, but every time I think I’ve narrowed down the salient points, another three things crop up in my mind and I have to start another version.

Instead, I’m just going to say that BROADCAST NEWS is one of the best American movies of all time and you should watch it. I’d probably say that to you anyway as it’s a good piece of advice, but for today, it’s also got to serve as the preamble to one of my favorite French songs.

If you’ve seen the movie, you know which one I’m talking about. It plays when Aaron, Albert Brooks’s character, is getting drunk alone in his apartment in the middle of the day, singing and reading: “I am read-ing while I’m sing-ing. I’m read-ing, I’m doing both!”

A million years ago, I’d copied the name of the song from the end credits on my well-worn VHS copy of the movie. It’s called <<Édition spéciale>> by Francis Cabrel.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that I had been looking for the album this song appears on, Quelqu’un de l’intérieur (1983), since the early 1990s. I didn’t actually get my hands on it until 2007 when my sister called from the train station in Geneva on her way to the airport to ask what the name of the album was that I’d just spent the whole weekend trying to track down in that city. They had a copy right there. Just waiting for her to find it and send it into my loving embrace.

The song itself seems to be about a crush on a late night TV presenter, though the only show I come across with the same name started just a few years ago. Regardless, the beginning goes

D’abord y’a cette fille / To start there’s this girl

Dans la boîte de verre / In the glass box

Qui dit “Bonne nuit, à demain” / Who says, “Good night, until tomorrow”

Sur un bout de musique / Over a piece of music

Des bonshommes à l’envers / The dolls [little men?] go upside down

Et puis après plus rien / And then there’s nothing

The last part I’m guessing refers to the “end of broadcast day” image that was shown before the channel shut down for the night, but I can’t find any examples of what that might have been online.

Further appreciation

Since living in France, I rejoice every time Cabrel comes on the radio, which is often, since he’s both prolific and his acoustic guitar + rambling voice style is easily identifiable.


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Too short for the Star Wars universe

Well, I always knew I was too short for a storm trooper, but I’m apparently too short to talk STAR WARS with French nerds too.

Star Wars hostess job

First “qualification”: must be over 1,68 m tall (5 foot, 6 inches).

This is kind of a bummer because I’d actually really like to see what a bunch of French sci-fi fans are like but would only attend such a gathering if I was working.

On not actually being a nerd

My parents didn’t love me so I never had any STAR WARS toys growing up. I am a child of the 80s though, so I love me some Degobah system references and was one of those people who saw THE PHANTOM MENACE multiple times in the theater because I couldn’t believe that what I’d seen the first time was the actual movie.

UNA!

UNA!

In college, I met whole communities of nerds while working at a video store and learned that they’re generally very nice, socially awkward guys with whom I share a lot of interests. But I am missing that elusive characteristic (obsession? total immersion? loneliness?) that makes a true nerd, so I have to content myself with just being really, really into stuff (like ASOIAF).

I am the right size to be Salacious Crumb though, so that’s something.