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 Rape of Europa, 2006

The notsohot reviews of George Clooney’s all-star THE MONUMENTS MEN prompted me to watch the documentary on the same subject. THE RAPE OF EUROPA is the story of art during WWII — how Hitler coveted it, how the Nazis stole it and how a group of American soldiers were tasked with trying to protect the cultural history of Europe. (The doc is based on a book of the same name which has an excellent website of its own.)

The documentary is really powerful, but the most shocking revelation to me in the whole Joan Allen-narrated thing was just a few seconds long. Hitler only came to Paris once, early in the morning after it fell in June 1940. One of the places he visited was the church de la Madeleine. They show footage of him jauntily running up the steps.

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I took this pic on the same steps.

I took this pic on the same steps.

I have sat on those exact same stairs on several occasions so that I could enjoy an American-style hamburger from France’s first food truck, Le camion qui fume, which frequently parks nearby. According to some theories of spacetime, this means that he and I exist simultaneously on those stairs. Me and Hitler, sharing space, under circumstances neither of us could have imagined.

Living in Europe is incredible. Colonial Williamsburg and Springfield, Illinois can say whatever they want, but History is Alive in Europe and it’s phenomenal.

Other interesting insights from THE RAPE OF EUROPA

→ My opinion that the Nazis are, were and will always be the worst people in the history of all things is unchanged. They make the greatest on-screen villains, but in reality, they were such unspeakably horrible people, committing such tremendously heinous acts, that it’s hard to believe they were human.

→ I hadn’t realized that the Jeu de Paume‎, a fairly innocuous museum tucked in at the end of the Tuileries Gardens and above the Concorde métro station, played an integral part in salvaging important artifacts. I will have to revisit it with this new appreciation for the space in mind.

→ When the Louvre needed able bodies to help crate and cart away the contents of the museum, they employed shop workers, old men and women since all the young men were fighting. The story about the moving of the Winged Victory is one of those human-spirit-triumphs-over-adversity that I don’t usually like but it was one of the times I was moved to tears.

→ Lots of Nazi art and some of Hitler’s original artwork is stored under a building in Washington, DC. (The works are deemed too controversial to exhibit which is probably true, but is still sad as I think it’d be interesting to see them.) I’d never actually seen any of the Führer’s paintings before and was surprised to see that they look exactly like streetscapes people sell in tourist areas. They appear to be accurate representations of things and have no artistic vision, flare or unique technique. The doc makes a pretty compelling subtle argument that much of Hitler’s motivation came from not getting into art school and that his systematic campaign to destroy and ridicule “degenerate art” was really his way of trying to teach people to value his uninspired style.

burt-lancasterFurther viewing

John Frankenheimer (THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE, RONIN) directed a fictional version of this story in 1964. THE TRAIN stars Burt Lancaster as a Parisian station master who helps the French Resistance spirit a train full of French art away from the Nazis. Unlike Steve McQueen, no one needs to tell me why Lancaster was appealing.

I can’t science but I can Google

→ A theory of compressed spacetime was recently highlighted on HBO’s TRUE DETECTIVE. I don’t really understand what Matthew McConaughey’s talking about, but you can see if it makes any sense to you here.

→ Apparently, it’s a form of M-theory which I also can’t make heads or tails of.


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Word Mystery: slipper / zapatilla / chausson

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

Last summer, my sister bought me these slippers while she was in Paris.

FLASH slippersShe did this because everyone in my family loves slippers, they were on sale (we love good deals) and when I saw them, I said, “FLASH! Ahh-ah!”

Flash tweetI’m not the only one who does this last thing (see tweet at right), but I may be the only person who does it who doesn’t like Queen and who can’t remember having seen FLASH GORDON (1980), the movie whose theme song‘s chorus I repeat every time I see lightning bolts.

You know what else is like a flash of light? Realizing that I wear a Word Mystery every day.

EN → slipper — a comfortable slip-on shoe that is worn indoors. ORIGIN From Middle English slip [move quickly and softly].

ES → zapatillaZapato de comodidad o abrigo para estar en casa. [Comfortable or warm shoe for use in the house.] ORIGIN Diminutive of zapato [shoe] from Turkish zabata [shoe].

FR→ chaussonChaussure d’intérieur, souple et légère. [Light and flexible indoor shoe.] ORIGIN Variation on chausser [to put on shoes] from the past participle of Latin calceare [to put on shoes].

Spanish note: The Spanish verb calzar also comes from the Latin and has the same meaning as the French. Interesting that all the related words, like those for “footwear” [calzado] and “bare foot” [descalzo] and “sock” [calcetín] in Spanish share the same root tree as the French, but that it strayed so far in one instance.

Man, I’ve got to hand it to Spanish for fairly consistently coming up with crazy origins (that’s why it’s Today’s Winner). This is the first time Turkish has appeared in a Word Mystery and is probably the first time I’ve ever thought about the language of the Ottoman Empire.

About those slippers

The ones pic’d above have been made in France since 1947 by a company called Collégien. On the packaging, which is basically a cardboard hanger from which the slippers are suspended, it says that these are a classic indoor shoe worn in schools since forever. I figured they were being hyperbolic but a visit to a friend’s house over the holidays suggested otherwise.

terminator2thumbsup

All five people who were staying there had their own pair and there were a few for guests as well. They’re really comfy (though they offer zero arch support) and nice and toasty and are also good for doing yoga since they have soft spiked soles. They don’t get this site’s highest award, but I’ll give ’em the ole T-800 salute.


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Ampule me once, shame on you

Here in la France, I’ve seen people taking pills at restaurants and in bars, something which I’m not sure I have seen in the US. I’m just speculating here, but it’s possible that for Americans, having to take any medication is a fraught topic. If I were having lunch with someone and they popped some pills in between courses, I’d certainly ask what was wrong with them. The wording of that question (“What’s wrong with you?”) is aggressive in the extreme, implying (or hoping for) weakness on the other person’s part. I think it’s the natural reaction any American would have and the most likely way they’d express it.

On the occasions that I’ve noticed people ingesting medication here, no one seems to find it comment-worthy which makes it note-worthy in my mind. The good news is that such blasé attitudes means that I’d actually seen people interacting with ampoules before, so I had a vague idea of what to do when I was confronted with this:

ampoule

But, to be honest, seeing people from afar ain’t the same as actually knowing what to do, so I thought of movies where I’d seen people with ampoules and tried to remember what they did. In WWII movies like THE ENGLISH PATIENT, morphine addicts and nurses always had a tool like a file to saw through the marked ends to get to the drugs held captive inside. I ended up with a markedly less precise way of releasing the goods, but it got the job done.

Now I know that whenever I get a prescription, I need to request that the medicine come in an easily accessible form and that it not taste vile. Two important lessons learned and all I had to do was shatter an ampule all over myself to learn it! Another victory for expat-ery!


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String Bean Arm

My sister was totally grossed out by my dirty distorted foot (um, that was partly the point), so I thought I’d add another pic that makes me look all deformed. (It’s really hard to take pics of one’s own body.)

Attack of the Foot-Long Beans!

Attack of the Foot-Long Beans!

To me, these things are called judías because the only time I ever had reason to call them anything was in Spain. Sometimes I’d help my grandparents’ housekeeper shell a big bunch, but as the task was significantly tedious, I would often “accidentally” send some of the beans flying and would be dismissed from assisting any longer. My sister claims to have done it for hours but I don’t buy that. (We didn’t eat them that often.)

Anyway, my sister’s also the person who pointed out a while ago that a whole continent of people call string beans “Jewesses” (as that’s what judías are, female Jews) and, despite generally thinking that politically correct language has gone way too far and that people should just chill the hell out about a lot of things, even I have a problem with this based solely on the fact that I don’t see any connection. Even the Real Academia Española doesn’t explain anything beyond that the name may have come from Latin iudaeus from the Hebrew yəhūdī [Jew] but I don’t see what’s particulary Jewish about them in any case. Anyone have a clue?


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Footloose and Frenchy Free

I generally avoid the high-traffic tourist areas in any city I live in because I don’t like people, but I made an exception this past Sunday as I have visitors and it was la fête nationale here. For reasons I won’t go into now, in English it’s known as Bastille Day but in French it’s just 14 Juillet.

This angle reminded me of the Brooklyn Bridge.

This angle reminded me of the Brooklyn Bridge.

Alons enfants de la patrie....

Allons enfants de la patrie….

Truthfully, the crowds weren’t as bad as I expected. It was the urban filth that surprised me. Cities can be nasty places. As they say here, beurk [yuk].

Eiffel 3 feet