mardi, février 28, 2006

...And Happy Mardi Gras

One of the unanticipated cyber implications of living in France is that your computer knows where you are. Why or how this is, I don't know. But more to the point, the websites you visit know where you are. So when I want to go to Amazon, I first get kicked over to the French site, and then the UK Amazon site (I had to rejigger it to get me to an English language site--and it doesn't want to give me the 'States! It'll only give me the UK).When I do Google searches a lot of the answers will come up in English, but the banner ads and sidebar ads will often be in French. And I get the French eBay popping up a lot, tho' I've never bought or sold anything on eBay, U.S or French. Weird, huh? I rarely surf French websites because I can't read a damn thing, yet they are often where my machine wants to direct me.

Is that, like, globalism or something?

The People In The Carrefour

Here are some of the folks one would see at Les Editeurs, and walking through the adjacent little traffic island type area thing, the carrefour, an architectural phenom depicted in the previous post.

lundi, février 27, 2006

Anouk Aime Me

Yeah, we saw a celebrity, right in the home furnishing store across the street. Anouk. She aimées me. This gave me the excuse to sing the theme from "Un Homme et Une Femme" for the next three blocks (seemed to be killing a little of Dear Wife's pleasure by the third block, sadly). You know the song,




Da-Da Da-Da DA

I wanted to ask her about working with Démy and Raoul Coutard (one of the three greatest cinematographers of all time), ask her how much of a genius he was. Dear Wife reminded me of Justine, the late George Cukor adaptation of Lawrence Durrell's fantastic book, and that reminded me about the alleged difficulties she had with Cukor, and how the picture suffered for it (but seeing Anna Karina speak English and be so wonderful as Melissa--and bare her breasts--makes the film worthwhile). I would have loved to ask her about that, (the fueds, not Anna Karina's breasts), but she looked crabby, and the point wasn't to bug her, the point was to bask in the cinema-chic that is Paris.

We hope she lives nearby.

My cityscape skills are shabby and sad, but this should give you a taste of the view from the windows of Les Editeurs, a café/restaurant that's rather posh for that genre of eatery, and just what you'd hope for with such a name: a rarefied literary air, an intimate, bustling place for people in the business of writing (and those of us aspiring), with red velvet seats that are nicely broken in, and a decor that's 1950 Royére modern, with lots of dark woods and an extensive selection of books that you are encouraged to pull from the shelf and read. To their credit, Les Editeurs does not just look the look; there are hung throughout the entire two floors of the establishment a series of very fine, large format photo portraits of contemporary authors, with their names printed on cards posted next to their portraits. And not only that, this is not merely a one-time gesture that has been left to hang on the walls for years--these portraits have been completely replaced with a new series of new authors shot by a new photographer not once, but twice in the six months we've been here. Word.

The Sprig and The Hoarfrost

Dear Wife and I were chatting one day not so long ago, (we like to chat), and I began to speculate on possible titles for my pre-natal Anatomy Book (you'll be the first to know); and then we began proposing titles for her (well along its way) dissertation, and thus descended into the silliness that is the typical "grabber" title you get in Academia.

Titles for Academia, titles from Academia.

So I began making some up.

Some of the better ones:

Fealty and Friendship: Courtly Gossip in the Age of the Enlightenment

Fecund Fires: Apocalypse Imagery and The Burning of Moscow, A Survey of Russian Genre Painting, 1832-1850

Rebuilding the Rain: The Forestry of Perserving Taboo Architecture in Pol Pot's Cambodia

Rude Health: X Chromosone Transmission Among the Puritains of 18th Century New Bedford

From Vomitorium to Vestibule: Transforming the Secular into the Sacred; A Redefinition of Roman Public Building, C.E 238-496

These are all completely bogus, yet they sound so right. You can see the pattern emerge; the colonate sentences, with their initial "Hook" to open you up for the assault of pompous, prissy exactitude.

How about a couple more?

The Sprig and the Hoarfrost: Agricultural Imagery in 20th Century Insurance Brochures

Completeing the Circuit/Making the Switch: Electrical Design in The Weimar Republic

Rind, Casing, Meat and Gristle: The Inception of the American Weiner Industry

Tender Tenaments: The Rise of the Babysitter Squatter in the Slums of N.Y., 1865-1965

I can't decide on my favorite for this one:
Tantrum At A Tea Party:
either T.S. Eliot and Aldous Huxley at Emma Thornbush-Thruxhall's, The Confrontation That Defined a Generation
Ritual Disruptions of the Victorian Garden Party in the Time of Byron

I'm crazy you say? Well, I resuscitated these invented titles and wrote this entry because, while doing a search on Google, I stumbled on the thesis title below (without even looking for such nonsense!), and was accordingly agog, realizing writing is a hell that you build for yourself, one dependent clause at a time.

The thesis was titled:

"My Favorite Mask is Myself:" Presentation, Illusion and the Performativity of Identity In Wellesian Performance

That's a real one! "Performativity of Identity In Wellesian Performance"!! Someone got an advanced degree for that.

Jey-sus, I can't even make that up.

Another Sign I've Been Too Long In France

Had a dream last night (I know, "yawn"): Dear Wife and I were traveling, and staying overnight in some obscure-ish American Motel, in a locale possibly not unlike Victorville, or even Chino (God love it). We wanted to hit the pool in the dark, predawn hours--I don't know why.

And I decided to wear a Speedo.

Now, I've never worn a Speedo.

I don't even own any brief-style underwear.

But in the dream I was merely a little self-conscious about my swim wear choice, not mortified, like you'd expect; my dream persona comforted himself and his dream Dear Wife by insisting they'd be the only ones at the pool at 5AM, and therefore ran little risk of offending any "American" sensibilities—also, the hotel seemed practically empty—I was just wearing it so, you know, I'd have less visible tan lines, I explained. It was all I had! I also said, "I wore it in Europe," or "They wear it in Europe," I can't be sure which.

Over the Speedo I wore a robe, and walked with Dear Wife out to the pool; but while standing at the water's edge, and having just unlashed my belt, a dozen or so young girls appeared—unsettling enough. But these girls looked familiar.

In the darkness I couldn't be sure immediately, but they looked like girls I'd known in High School. I was confused because the girls seemed, on the one hand, to be too young to be actual classmates of mine, but on the other hand, looked very much like specific girls I recognized as fellow students during those Chino years. I didn't disrobe, I tried to act unaware, but it seemed they were all part of a junket celebrating a High School Reunion for my Alma Mater. They were dressed in prime late-Eighties fashion, but worn in an unfamiliar, costume-y way. I could overhear little bits of their conversation, and they clearly were not the girls I knew, yet they were using the names of those long-ago friends to address each other in a mock-serious way that sounded like play-acting.

Then it began to dawn on me; they were lookalikes hired to represent the girls I used to know. Not for my benefit alone, no; they all seemed to be actresses of some low order, employed for mimetic purposes; we seemed to have stumbled upon another installment of my High School Reunion, but this time with phony classmate impersonators. These girls had been hired to "hype up" the reunion crowd by imitating notable female personalities from our graduating class as they appeared in the late eighties, aged eighteen.

(Like those actors who are hired to dress like Abe Lincoln or Marilyn Monroe--or Mickey Mouse and Captain Hook, and are even willing to sign autographs in the name of their "persona".)

And evidently, such folk like to kick off such jobs with a pre-dawn pool party for themselves, to, y'know, "get in character."

There was an ersatz Beth Stare, a faux Erin Gibney (with nasal prosthetic, even!), a counterfeit Tara Simonson and Tanya Zimmerman....

And I was standing in a Speedo.

The dream, however, didn't seem bent on challenging my threshold for embarassment and/or sexual humiliation, like that ubiquitous, everywhere-repeated, "naked-in-front-of-the-classroom" jag. No, this one seemed bent on testing my commitment to eschew the frail architecture of embarassment altogether: these girls meant nothing to me, and I had promised Dear Wife I would go swimming in a Speedo ("threatened" may be a better word), and so I would....

The dream ended with me hesitating, shrugging deeper into my robe and whispering to Dear Wife, "I don't know, it's awfully chilly...."

dimanche, février 26, 2006

Can't Cheat a Bottle Unbroke

There's a great little restaurant next to the Marché St. Germain that Dear Wife and I used to eat at often. It's called Bergamote, and if you visit us here we will probably take you there.

It isn't fancy, and the menu is simple. The concept behind the restaurant, (which makes it a little different than most French eateries for having a "concept" behind it at all), is to showcase the herbs used in each and every one of their dishes (including the deserts). When you read the menu, you'll see the dominant herb denoted in bold type-face. This is for emphasis, stressing Bergamte's herb-o-centric raison-d'étre. But the herbs are never excessive, and the fare is pretty standard for a mid-priced French restaurant, (a magret de canard, an agneau, a cassolette, etc.); it is neither a bistro nor a fine dining establishment. This makes it comfortable for everyone, esp. foreigners trying to find their footing in the Paris dinning scene, (which is vast and intimidating); it's casual, and the staff is friendly. There is no pretension in the ambiance, which is instead sprightly, but gently so. The place appears to be run by a woman who is not old, yet already wears that matronly mantle, and she is enthusiastic and kind. They always provide a fine meal.

We hadn't eaten there since we'd taken Dear Pal Pete, which was well before our January holiday, way back in November of last year. On the Thursday of this week passed, the day we moved back into the Bonapartment, I kept myself motivated while hauling our bags up the stairs with thoughts of a return to Bergamote. Let's go tonight, I decided while sweating and heaving—we deserve it! So that's just what we did once our legs had stopped trembling. We walked (slowly, gingerly) to our dinner, which we justified as a celebration of our return to the old apartment and to our old neighborhood, and so too, a celebration of our moving success, (no luggage had been lost, and no one had died). I remembered the last time I'd been there, and how the kind lady overseeer had been clearing off the table next to us and in doing so, upset an empty bottle of Pellegrino, and sent it tumbling toward the floor. I just happened to see it in time to catch it, not my best save but pretty good, and words of thanks and appreciation had been spoken to me by Dear Wife and the young matron. I felt good remembering that.

And the staff remembered us, which was nice because we haven't always received the warm welcome back we'd hoped for at all of our former haunts. OK, expecting the impassive cashiers at the Champion grocer to smile and welcome us "home" is just wrong. It's a cold capital, afterall. But we took a remarkably smoke-free table in Bergamote, and once we'd made ourselves cozy and decided on a couple of apéritifs, we relaxed over the menu and looked for new dishes. It had been a rough day, and we'd been snippy for too long now, so in the vague spirit of all alcoholic rationales, I suggested we get some wine. Y'know, sort of whoop it up. Well, we're light-weights, barely above bantam I'd say, and accordingly ordered just a half-bottle of rosé, which is amateurish in the extreme if the point is to do some real drinking, but is well into our bleary spots if the point is to get into those bleary spots.

Dinner was very good; for our entrées, Dear Wife had the brick of goat's cheese with a tasty accompanying salad, and I had the curried mussle soup (for my muscles)—for our main course, the breast of duck, or magret de canard was ordered by both of us; then orange and chocolate tart with mint for my desert, apple and pear crumble with violet ice cream for D.W.; all really good. This meal cost about 80 Euros, with drinks, etc. We'd polished off two apéritifs, a (half) bottle of wine, and a full litre of sparkling water. I was feeling a little sloppy, which on my scale is probably where most people would be getting to a good "buzz." We'd settled the main bill, but found ourselves without cash for a tip. This is one of the maddening things in the restaurants here for us American types: they take credit cards, but they don't have a line for you to add a tip; the bill comes pre-totalled. Since the French State decrees a 15% gratuity be included automatically in your bill, (I think), there is no chance for you to tack a little extra onto your charge card as a tip. This means you need to have a little cash with you at all times. If you are just flying through the city on a one week "touristic" jag, you could probably skip tipping in most places (I wouldn't), but when you plan to revisit these places, and you are unsure of the proper French custom for tiping, (as we remain), you feel compelled to errr on the side of generosity. "Afterall, we have so much, and they..."

But after two taxi rides and various unexpected moving expenses that day, I was without anything but a 2 Euro coin, and we didn't feel good about leaving the friendly folk of Bergamote like that. So after paying the main bill, I pulled out the table and helped Dear Wife to her feet, promising Lady Matron that we would be right back, we were shy of money... All this was very confusingly explained, or half explained, in fake French and quick English spoken with a fake French accent and a couple of authentic french words, probably incorrect (Dear Wife rarely extricates me from this sort of thing). My rambling excuse about not having money raised the eyebrows on many of the faces of our fellow diners nearby. It sounded like we were leaving without paying the bill, but were promising to come back and pay later! This was seen as bad form on a variety of counts. But I pushed on ahead, and pushed our table back in so we could scoot out to the ATM, and that's when the table legs got hung-up in one of the deep seams between the wide stone tiles of the flooring. The table then jerked, and the half-dozen glasses upon it shivered one way, and then another as I sought to calm them—they steadied, but the movement that pulled them back to equillibrium was too much for the tall glass bottle of sparkling water, which heaved the opposite direction. I knew it was going to fall, and though it was falling very slowly, taking its time bobbling on the table edge, I knew I couldn't catch it, not without upsetting every glass on the table, not in the state I was in.

In this woeful moment of suspension, without too many people other than myself paying attention, but knowing fully that the bottle was going to crash onto the floor, I could not stop myself from letting out a long, dreadful, anticipatory, "Shhhit!"

But what was heard by Dear Wife, and indeed the rest of the room, was just my drawn-out introduction of the curse, "Shhhhhhhhhhhhhh...!"

As though I was shushing them!

So everyone shushed.

And turned to see why I was shushing them.

And we all got to watch the bottle finally tumble from the table and hit the stone tile and explode with a satisfying F-WHAP! Which was superbly audible because the room was absolutely silent at the moment of impact.

Then I said, "Shit!"

It took everyone a moment to recover, a stunned pause which I took advantage of to say, "Desolé! I'll be right back!" and dashed out the door.

Visit for menus and other glassware anecdotes.

samedi, février 25, 2006

Two Movers Resettled

We are back in the Bonapartment after nearly a month squatting at a friend's very nice, very posh piéd-à-terre. Moving leaves our energies depleted. Our volume of luggage has burgeoned to the point that moving required two separate trips in taxis of minvan proportions—which is embarrassing. Too much baggage!

The apartment remains on the sixth floor, the narrow spiral staircase still the only means of ascension. We've been training at the gym for this move, and it helped us survive. We'd been short with each other since the day before the move, dreading it, and when moving day came, we were crankier still—cranky and snappish all day (mainly me), until all the climbing was done.

Now that it's over, and we are recuperated, we find it's very nice to be back here, in our special little aerie.


mercredi, février 22, 2006

Bad Day For French Creatures

While walking down the Rue Antoine Bourdelle today, I looked down at an odd grey shape between two parked cars and saw that it was a pigeon, flattened and bloody, crushed by a car so completely that he looked like a bleeding caricature of the American Eagle on the back of a quarter. His head and neck, which were extended beyond the outline of his body, were flattened too. The carcass hadn't begun to mummify or disintegrate, or whatever process it is that occurs to make most dead bird bodies you encounter look like bloodless, crumbling sheets of cardboard pasted with feathers--no, this kill looked fresh. It was the first time I'd seen something like that, I mean so gory and vivid, and on a small side street near a very nice museum. I moved on, to the café on the corner, where I'd never been before, and where I ordered a nice rumsteak (as they call it), and there forgot about the pigeon and instead lamented my rotten couple of hours drawing at the Bourdelle. We have to move again tomorrow, and this has me in a bad mood, and maybe that's why the drawing was so rough this afternoon.

Then on the walk home I looked down at another odd grey shape in the street and couldn't believe that it was another crushed pigeon, as fresh and as comprehensively flattened as the first, just around the corner from our borrowed apartment. Jesus! What is suddenly wrong with the pigeons here? I've hit a bird ONCE and killed it, and one time a bird flew right into the antenna of a truck I was driving, but lived. Each time I was in a vehicle and the bird was flying and complex vectors and high rates of speed were involved, and I can understand how every once in a while someone could get something wrong in a situation like that. But these pigeons were cut down by cars trying to park. Have you ever seen a bird so absent-minded or unconcerned about his own well-being that he let a car back over him?

Perhaps it is the winter that is getting to them.

So I was a little unsettled, as much by the implicit abandonment of animal instinct as the sight of twin grand guignal spectacles. I made it home, and Dear Wife let me in the front door and faced me with a shaken look. "What is it?" I asked.

"I've got something horrible to tell you." I immediately think of the pigeons.

"I went to ED," (the unsavory market at the end of the block, adjacent to pigeon #2), "And I was looking for some chicken and they had steaks there that were horse meat." She blanched even more and looked ready to vomit.

"It said 'Filet à Cheval' on the packaged and," she took a deep breath here,"They had a little sticker in the corner with a horse head on it."


We hugged and I tried to calm her, and she calmed down and I didn't know what to make of commercially available horse meat. She told me it hit her especially hard because before visiting ED she had been to our old grocery store, the much nicer but still kinda' skanky Champion, and there she had seen a mother and her children all dressed up in their riding kit, with jodphurs and dirt and horsehair on them, and it made her think about her days riding and how she hoped to do it again, and it was in this hopeful, horsey mood that she came across the horse steaks.

Paris. Cruel capital.

mardi, février 21, 2006

A Parisian Gym

OUR GYM (click on pic for better view)

The walls of our gym were raised in the 13th Century, and the interior is largely from the 17th Century. This impresses us mightily. The photos above give a sense of the spectacular appearance such history imparts. You can see the splitting wooden colums I described in the previous entry on the gym.

The vaulted room on the left is the basement area, where the leg and neck machines are found. To the right is the main exercise room, where the weights, weight macines (non-leg and neck), and cardio machines await. Including the group room pictured below, these three areas define the entire workout space in the gym, and exclude only the byzantine locker setup and welcome desk. These photos do a less good job of showing how odd the spaces are, or how cramped everything is (notice the lack of people in the rooms, and the extreme fish-eye lens in use). But the lack of elbow room, and the narrow range of exercise machines available does not kill the joy of having such a pleasant place to go for our workout.

Check out the website (it includes an option for an English translation) for Club Jean de Beauvais.

It is a good blend of necessity and aesthetic treasure. If the place looks too pousty (pousty: adj. : given to airs and/or attitudes of hauteur derived not from traditional power sources per se, but from an excess of hip 2: at once too cool and too conscious of said coolness 3: trafficking in artificial or mannered chic), let it be known that a gym in Paris proper is not an easy thing to find. Ancient book stores? Hell yes. 24 Hour Fitness? Mais non.

This is the group excercise room, where sometimes séances or "meetings" are held for yoga, stretching, or aerobics. Neither of us has taken a class yet. Notice the eight-foot tall windows, which are open. Similar windows are located in the room to the right, hidden behind the charmingly rustic walls, where the three treadmills on offer do their duty. These windows are supposed to be left open, no matter the weather, and little signs taped to them command this; they might not always be WIDE open, but they are always at least ajar and usually more, even when it is snowing outside. I don't mind this in priciple, but it can get a little breezy while dressed for the warm indoor conditions, and running on a stationary treadmill placed right in front of the full winter blast. Yesterday I wanted to run, and feeling the cold wind on me, reached up and swung partially closed one of these panes. I statred my run and one minute later a gym staffeer appeared with a long stick which they used to swing the glass wide open again. I just ran faster.

Treadmills are called le tapis over here, which I think is the word for rug.

dimanche, février 19, 2006

Smokey Folks

I could write a long entry on all the smoking anecdotes we've been party to, but I'd rather summarize: smoking kills.

Smokers have freedom here to light up whenever and where ever they like. The common complaint on “the Paris Street” has it that the anti-smoking lobby is a rampaging beast, well-nigh unstoppable, and already everywhere truncating their liberty. I don’t see it quite that way. Yes, the small Chinese traiteurs hang one or two “defense de fumeur” notices on the wall, but these are comically amateur, small-scale computer print outs, not even a full-sized page, (and run off in that wonderfully primitive, lo-res, florid script that would be the first choice for a “fancy” print out by an eight-year-old); and what’s more, there’s no enforcement. Many times have I sat in one of these places and witnessed smokers blithely igniting and inhaling right below the signs. I don’t wish to blame the immigrants running these places, they’re in a desperate situation half the time, and it seems unimaginable that they would confront a customer, esp. a native Frenchman, over smoking--I say this, and then I remember the brutal Korean floor boss at JAPORAMA, and I amend my statement to say, they just don’t think smoking is worth the battle.


1. So few people who smoke really seem like hard-core smokers. They smoke in a restaurant or café in the same way people who don’t smoke will take a cigarette and smoke at a night club: they smoke as an affectation. We sat outside at a pizza place with a couple behind us and the girl lit and extinguished I kid you not 5 cigarettes in a row. The boy joined her on half. The pleasure seems to come from lighting up, blowing out the intial humid, tangy cloud, and then holding the thing as it moulders down, and finally, killing it with a flourish--or maybe just chucking it. Cigarettes are lit by a boy and a girl at a small table in a brasserie; these cigarettes are held in all sorts of interesting postures, they are used to emphasize gestures, they dramatize a hand reaching across the table to touch some paper they are both reading, and coyly lift it for better viewing, ashes are tapped off in satisfying flicks, and an increasingly dense cloud forms above them, and they make a very continental picture. But it’s bloody obvious hardly anyone is inhaling. Nothing new in saying “people smoke because they believe it looks good.” But funny to see the streets of Paris scleromatic with poseurs. What did I expect, right?

2. Diverse types (but never pretty girls) feel free to approach you and ask for a cigarette. Not a light. A cigarette.

3. The engineering of the non-smoking sections in most restaurants is cockeyed: more often than not, the non fumeur section is just a random group of tables that are well within sniffing distance of the vast swathes of smokers. And there’s the difficulty in producing effective smoke-free havens--it’s the non-smokers who are ghettoized over here.

4. The guys like to roll their own. Is that so it’s less filtered? These smell legal, but particularly bad.

5. Amusing and perhaps ultimately humbling sight (humbling to see how human all of us are, whatever our pretenses, postures and protestations of superiority) to see so many of the young, and beyond the young, the self-consciously political, (political in the way everyone is political, as a public posture of superiority), so readily pouring money into the pockets of some of the most clearly villainous corporations on the planet, (uh, that’d be “tobacco companies”), most of ‘em American (tho’ Brit cigs seem popular--isn’t Lucky Strike British?). There is a popular photo here, which is sold as a poster or postcard at many of the book stalls along the Seine, and it depicts 3 intellectuals, none of ‘em recognizable to me: the era seems to be 1968, probably during the student uprisings (I have a suspicion one is “Danny the Red”), and the three are seated around a dingy table (strewn with papers I want to say--and ashtrays) with a microphone or two in front of them (I could be wrong); the vibe is “marathon session,” and they all three look unwashed, but not fatigued, more like possessed with a weary look of shabby exultancy in their power, a power that has kept them up for a long time; they are all in self-consciously casual dress, one in a sort of Che Guvara military jacket (I could be confused, as this image is invariably displayed next to an image of Che), one in a thick turtle neck; they could be three intellectuals being interviewed on the conclusions reached after an all-night Marxist slumber party, or they could be three radicals making demands of the State. All three strike their self-mythologizing poses holding cigarettes.

(The image is interesting because you get the sense this photo was snapped at the absolute apex of these three guys’ lives; it’s so clear that they are so fully involved in the moment, so conscious that this is as good as it's going to get, their moment in the sun, etc.--and you rarely get an actual shot of that moment--it seldom comes on the victory podium, when the medal is placed around your neck; and if that moment does truly represent a person's apex, then we are left with very poor evidence of any transcendance--we can only feel sad when such a moment is spent in reflexive tears [as if running from self-knowledge], or leering triumphalism, both of which seem empty and pre-conceived and more than a little vapid, and worst of all, are completely unaware of the moment in the way these three guys with their self-importance and manufactured stance could find that bright doorway to...illumination.)(This train of thought makes the poster much more palatable, as opposed to the read, "What the hell are those three gas bags pontificating about? Tell them to get a shave and get a job!")

6. However bad Paris may seem, it is much better than Rome, where the people are truly smokers, and the air can be oppressively foul with body and breath exhaust.

7. Paris does acknowledge that not everyone smokes, and that everyone should not have to put up with smoke, so there are strictly enforced non-smoking zones, like the Louvre and the Metro.

BUT here is the worst thing I’ve yet encountered: now, I may be sounding like some anti-smoking crusader here, a very routine American phillistine, and I agree that is disagreeable. You are not wasting good electricity to read predictable rants. Let me contextualize the preceeding by saying I am really allergic to smoke fumes, and therefore a little sensitive to the whole thing, but I recognize that I am in a foreign country, and I do not seek to impose my values on these people; however, I do see inconsistencies in the fashion of smoking, and I comment on these. But I can take the smoking, and do, everyday, however silly it is (I guess I’m resentful because I’d love to see somebody step up and define a new way of living, a new way of being, a rearticulation in today’s terms of all the things we should believe in, a sort of force to counter, and in some way to fight the nihlism and short-sighted anti-moral vacuum we’re all living in--but I guess the French are a little too busy worrying about how they look)(that’s OK, so am I).
--The worst thing I’ve encountered is at the gym. The gym is very small, and all the machines are very close together, especially the cardio machines; there’s hardly room enough between two stationary bikes to dismount without upsetting the rider beside you. So I find it incredibly disturbing--unbearable, in fact--when I am into my workout, and here comes somebody who plants themselves ten inches away from me just REEKING of smoke--not just a smoker mind you, someone who is practically trailing visible clouds of nicotine burn. AND THEY’RE IN THE GYM?

Only in Europe, man.

jeudi, février 16, 2006

A Few Quick Notes

1. Blogger no longer lets me determine the date on a post. Hence the final, definitive word on the "back fill" debate.

2. We have been in Paris since the 2nd of Feb., but arrived to find our apartment, the Rue Bonapartment, which we were assured would be ready for our re-occupancy on the 2nd, had in fact been rented out by the owner until the 23rd. Rented to a Norwegian, and his wife. And their dog. (Very nice people, actually.)

3. Fortunate we are, though, for our friends who were storing our obscene load of luggage during our January absence have told us to go ahead and stay in their (fortunately vacant) flat until we get our old one back. And their flat is very lovely, posh and very convenient to everything, with a lovely concierge and nice folks residing throughout the building.

4. The scanner is still at the Rue Bonapartment, so no drawings to share.

5. I haven't posted fer shite since the start of 2006. It's a mid-blog crisis.

6. The fellows at are sharing great drawings and droll comments for everyone on the web to come see--free of charge!

7. MOST IMPORTANT: when one of you (very lovely, very appreciated) people post a comment, I receive it as an email, but I can't fer the life of me figure out how to get a message back to you. Steve, Skribbal, you others, let me know how to remedy this. Contact me at Straighten me out (Dear Pal Pete probably knows how to solve this).

8. I took Dear Wife to a cooking demonstration at the Ritz Escoffier Cooking Scool Monday night for a pre-Valentine's Day soirée. Then we went to Disneyland Parc Paris for Valentine's Day (unplanned, spur of the moment). Both were good times.

9. Stay tuned for more Paris madness!

First Day I've Missed Driving

That would be today, after reading an article on the new Corvette Z06. I am not a big fan of most contemporary auomobiles, but I was seized by some small thumbnail photos of the new 'Vette in yellow, photographed in a setting that looked like the Angelus Forrest, and I vividly imagined driving such a sporty car on one of those dry mountain roads.

Mildly remarkable that I, a life-long So-Cal, and therefore drivin' fool, have not felt the pangs of loss sooner. Not having to drive, not having to worry abot a car (except the sporty one we left with Brother Jon in CA), not having to park a car or provide fuel and insurance for a car, or even consider a car has been intensely freeing. But today I missed that old sensation of roaring through the backroads. Here it is cold, miserable, and just damn expensive for car rentals. I was reminded of an old Chevrolet slogan:

"It's not just your car, it's your freedom!"

Workouts in Paris

A gym in Paris--what would that be like? We assumed it would be expensive, and came to the city without any leads on where to look, or what to expect.

After a few uncertain inquiries into possible health clubs (mainly pricey Yoga studios, all a bit too far away to be “convenient”), we were one day taking a side street shortcut between the Rue des Ecoles and the Boulevard St. Germain, and were fascinated by the sudden sight of a gym. “Jean de Beauvais” the sign said out front, looking like the insignia for a denim jeans manufacturer, but inside the tall windows we could clearly see a spectacular gym, with aerobics class stepping and swinging in French. The club, it seemed, was named for the tiny rue on which it lived.

We’d long wondered whether French people, or at least Parisians, worked out, and if so, where? Because if they did workout, we needed to join them. With the constant caloric assault of Kir’s, pain aux amandes and so many bread-y things, we knew we’d be lost without a return to regular (if half-hearted) exercise. All around us French people went about their business looking, on average, supremely svelte, and untroubled by the amount of carbs they were daily consuming.

“How do they manage this?” many people have wondered. You’re probably aware of at least one book on the subject, “The French Woman’s Diet,” or “The French Aren’t Fat,” or something. Wine drinking figures into the popular diagnosis, so does walking and self control, I think. And after living here for a while, I could see that. Just looking at some of these strictured, deadly earnest female faces, and their convincingly slender silhouettes, it was obvious their shape was the product of nasty discipline, less an individual than a cultural creation. I say cultural because there seems to be an accepted template/mold/look many Parisian women fit; seen from behind, gals of 22 and women of 58 are indistinguishable, wearing (right now, in the cold) the same 3/4 length winter coat in flattering A-line cut, the same fine denim fashion jeans with the narrow cut and flaring boot hem (their derriere discreetly hid), the same high heels--and the same mid-length hair, often wildly uncombed and even unwashed (all this hype about the finicky coiffure finishing of the average Parisienne is bosh). This defines the uniform for the majority of women we see here, their code of appearance.

Do they work out? We weren’t sure. Most have ambiguous, old-fashioned frames, the sort you’d see on Jean Harlow or Irene Dunne, bodies that were proudly displayed and admired in the days before six-pack abs and Bowflex. Un-toned, with contours that haphazardly, only faintly, briefly comply with our contemporary understanding of how an arm should look, which dictates recognizable muscle groups and no hint of lassitude. There are the sinewy among the population here, a minority among the women, but we believe few have come to this appearance by way of Nautilus machines or Stairmasters. At least not in the way an American woman would, with her proud display of veiny biceps and incisively inserted lateral delts.

No, these French women seem to come by their appearance in a charmingly old fashioned way: they seem to will it. Why the thin look? It is elegant, yes, but it seems deeply appropriate over here, with the emphasis on the mind, and where complexity is celebrated, in food especially, which means very rich dishes that can be taken only in measured doses; but this complexity extends to a physical preference for the brain over the body, too. You see someone, a pretty young girl, for instance, walking down the street, and she is eating a plain baguette. If you want to keep reading or keep looking at a painting, or otherwise don’t have the time or inclination to sit down for a proper meal, and by proper I mean aesthetically satisfying, then you just skip it, and satisfy yourself with a baguette, or coffee and pastry later on, after your intellectual curiosity is sated. Paris is emphatically not an on-the-go, American style hustle-ocracy, where your go-go results directly in your get-get: but neither is it as acquisitive, with as much routine gluttony. Haven’t I written how our old apartment building, with a dozen apartments to service, offered us one regular sized trash can to share among us, with one slightly smaller recycling can, and how these cans were rarely even full on trash day (admittedly, twice a week)? Everything’s more measured here, and the energy that is spent on work and the physical in the ‘States is here expended on flights of inspiration and pursuit as often as not having to do with some intellectual or emotional concern that is ultimately a private matter, whether it be meeting a friend for coffee, reading a book, or getting laid. This is most pleasingly manifested in the low-profile of cell phones in Paris, where they are less often seen or heard than in the U.S or Italy or the U.K.; and when used in public, the user’s voice is typically hushed. Cell service is continuous in the tunnels of the Metro system, but rare is the audible ring, or obvious phone-talker. This helps in making it the most peaceful public transport system in the world.

The gym Jean de Beauvais is in an 18th Century looking building, with stone walls and Romanesque vaults in the downstairs, basement level; most of the doorways are low and narrow, and there are surprisingly tight, winding staircases, with all sorts of half-steps up into little hidden rooms. The men’s lockers are in a compact pair of rooms, split into two stories, with one shower and a steam room in the lowest level, and three more showers and a sauna in the upper chamber. No toilettes. The girl’s locker room is similarly split-level, with conditions that sound even more compressed than the men’s. But all the architecture looks recently refurbished, and the fixtures look very new, and things seem clean, even if the occasional dust-bunny drifts across the locker room’s travertine floor while you’re undressing.

The weight room itself is a very airy, high-ceiling’ed place, with chiseled stone walls and intricate, highly polished dark-wood beams above, supported by authentically antique wooden pillars. These pillars are carved in a doric profile, but time has left them each individually afflicted by splits, which carpenters years ago sought to remedy through a series of beefy, black iron bands and anchors. The workout equipment is arranged between this architecture. It’s all quite spectacular, and impossible to imagine in America.

They also have a similarly lavish room for aerobic-type exercise classes. It all looks so good, you can’t wait to workout there, at least we couldn’t, and after the tour, we gladly signed up. 1,400 Euros for two people for 6 months of unlimited use.