The funk of forty thousand years

October 24, 2008 at 3:29 am | Posted in spectacle | 4 Comments
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Okay, has everyone already seen this?  It’s a bunch of kids at Universite de Rouen who made a video of themselves lipsynching to Michael Jackson’s Thriller…  made particularly amazing because it’s all one long take.

Although, if you ask me, there’s something else remarkable about it: I have never before seen French kids who actually knew the real lyrics to an American pop song.  We need to get these kids to show up to karaoke night at some point.

Via: Electrolicious


Happy 4th!

July 5, 2008 at 9:46 pm | Posted in food, spectacle | 6 Comments
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I’m generally opposed to taking photos of fireworks, because no photo will ever even approach how beautiful real fireworks are — most photographic depictions wind up looking like so many celestial koosh balls. So why bother watching them through a camera instead of enjoying them first hand?

But hey, the display I was watching was really long, and I figured one hasty snap wouldn’t ruin my enjoyment all that much. Especially since, as you can tell, I didn’t even bother to hold my hand steady:


So instead of koosh balls, my fireworks look like fibre-optic cables.

I never really experienced July 4th as a kid, because I spent all my summers in Paris, celebrating le quatorze. But the holiday has grown on my in my adulthood. How can I resist any celebration that encourages mass consumption of blinky-sparkly things?

Flashy Things

And hey, it wouldn’t be an American holiday without a little gluttony:

Clam Belly Roll

Fried and fried! This delicious clam belly roll was purchased right on the beach at my favorite Rhode Island clam shack:


That friendly guy is an anthropomorphized doughboy. Because faux-cannibalism makes everything taste sweeter. Happy Independence Day!

Les Nouveaux Negriers

April 7, 2008 at 12:42 pm | Posted in spectacle, vie quotidienne | 2 Comments
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This was the scene outside my window Saturday:


Good thing I didn’t have any big plans that day…


Ooh, flares! Pretty.

RESF= Nouveaux Negriers

If that guy would be so kind as to move out of the way, you could see they’ve written “RESF = Nouveaux Negriers” (RESF = New Slavers) on my street. Not having any idea what this could possibly mean, I did a little research. RESF, apparently, is the Réseau Éducation Sans Frontières, itself a newspeak kind of term for a policy intended to allow children to remain in France even if their parents are being deported.

It’s pretty educational to check out RESF’s website, compare it to its Wikipedia page, and then again with the protestors outside my window. The website makes it look as if RESF is protesting a horrible government policy. The wikipedia page, on the other hand, makes it seem as if the RESF is working with the government. The protestors, meanwhile, are comparing the principles of the RESF to the atrocities of the slave trade. So… wait. This counter-government group outside my window is actually protesting another counter-government group? Now I’m confused.

It just goes to show how challenging it can be to make sense of politics in another language. In English, I’m well-practiced at disassembling the rhetoric of both sides to find the real issue underneath. In French, I still often feel bewildered.

(A propos: please feel free to jump in and clarify the details of this conflict, if you understand it better than I do — I had to wade through a lot of propaganda, which is the hardest kind of French for me to read.)



My better informed sister has this to add:

I think the Negriers comment was written ahead of time by right-wing, anti-immigrant folks, trying to speak against the RESF parade. Here are some sites that indicate the right is not happy about the pro-immigrant RESF. The RESF are “slavers”, in that they encourage immigrants, who then serve as cheap labor to undercut “real” French workers.

At Least They Can’t Vote

March 5, 2008 at 2:12 pm | Posted in spectacle, vie quotidienne | 9 Comments
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As my readers may or may not have noticed, there’s a presidential election going on back home right now… and yesterday, my tiny state (not to mention a giant state and two normal-size states) had its primary.

Of course, since I’m currently in absentia, I actually cast my vote about a week ago, by mail. My darling little state chose to enclose this rather excitable note along with my ballot:


Y’hear that? Two exclamtion points. Don’t mess with the democratic process.

I don’t know if you’ve been following the race, but it’s currently a pretty close one, at least on the Democrats’ side. The French press, however, seem to have already picked a winner:

Hillary in France

To be fair, most of the books in that display are merely English books translated into French. Still, I looked around quite a bit, but found nary a copy of The Audacity of Hope, or Dreams from my Father — to say nothing of McCain’s Hard Call. Yup — looks like as far as the French are concerned, this is a one woman race.

Les Convulsionnaires

November 12, 2007 at 11:23 am | Posted in books, spectacle | 2 Comments
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St Medard

Just a few blocks from me, at the bottom of the rue Mouffetard, is the church of St. Médard. Dating from the 12th century, it’s a completely ordinary, unremarkable neighborhood church — that is, until you know its story.

In the early 18th century, a jansenist deacon known as François Pâris was buried in the (no longer extant) cemetery of St. Médard. Celebrated in life for his piety and asceticism, his grave became a site of prayer and pilgrimage, and before long, there were reports of miraculous events on the site: visitors — mostly teenage girls — were afflicted by ecstatic fits, trances, and “collective psychosis”. Known as the Convulsionaries of St. Médard, these passionate young women barked and meowed, committed “indecent acts” — some even demanded to be whipped, beaten , or strangled by on-lookers to demonstrate the purity of their devotion.

Predictably, crowds began to gather around the cemetery to watch the divinely-inspired theatrics, and eventually a royal ordinance was put in place to close the cemetery. The following day, some local wit had posted this sign on the door:

“De par le Roy, défense à Dieu de faire miracle en ce lieu”
By order of the king, God is forbidden from making miracles in this spot.

From the Guide de Paris Mystérieux.

Vivre Ivre ou Mourir

July 16, 2007 at 3:01 pm | Posted in spectacle | 2 Comments


The sound broke through the summer heat Saturday morning as we were hanging around the apartment, recovering from the previous night’s festivities. Brumaire ran to the window.

“Look!” he cried. “Come quick!”

Bleu Blanc Rouge

Apparently the French air force (l’Armée de l’air) had patriotically decided to break the sound barrier right outside our window. Bon Quatorze!

Later that day, we joined some folks out at Invalides to drink wine in the sun, watch the various festivities, and wait for the evening’s fireworks. I was a little surprised, however, by the military character of the celebration:


There were helicopters and tanks and paratroopers everywhere you looked. But isn’t Bastille Day about celebrating the Revolution — the triumph of the citizens, liberté, égalité, fraternité? What does a government sponsored military parade have to do with any of that?

I don’t mean to criticize the army folks — they were fun to watch, and they looked like they were having a good time, despite the heat. I guess I was just hoping to see a guillotine on display, or maybe some guys selling Phrygian caps.

Tenir Bon

July 2, 2007 at 2:32 pm | Posted in spectacle | Comments Off on Tenir Bon

A little something I picked up at Paris’s gay pride parade on Saturday:


Diaper rash, indeed.


June 28, 2007 at 5:46 pm | Posted in food, spectacle | 3 Comments

So… is anyone but me surprised that, among all the photos from my week in Japan, only a small handful are of anything but food? Honestly, I did try to capture a more complete picture of my time there, but of course you can’t take photos inside the shrines and temples, or in the museums, or during any of the six hours(!) of Kabuki theater I attended, as gorgeous as it all was. And I figure you guys have probably all seen photos of Harajuku girls and neon-plastered buildings, so really… what was left?


Kobe Beef

Even back in the States, I had heard stories about Kobe beef — how the cows are fed beer, massaged with sake, and the meat itself is so marbled it offers no resistance to knife or teeth. So of course I was dying to try it, but even in Japan, this is easier said than done. There are steak joints all over the place, but which ones would give me the truest version of the experience I craved? And in a country with unreadable street signs and an absence of numbered addresses, even recommendations aren’t too useful.

Nevertheless, after an hour or so of wandering around Kyoto’s nightlife district, my mother finally answered the question that plagued so many American television viewers in 1984. “Aha,” she proclaimed, “so there’s the beef.”

Raw Beef

That’s the plate of beef they brought us at Misono, a restaurant famed for inventing the teppanyaki style of steak preparation. It’s certainly a more dramatic technique than you’ll find in any French bistro, as it involves a personal chef coming to your table, then chopping and cooking the beef right in front of you on a vast table-top grill.

Kobe Beef Teppanyaki!

Once it’s done, they sort of push it toward you (no plates) and you eat it directly off the grill with your chopsticks. And to keep you from feeling like some crazed carnivorous beast, they also supply you with an assortment of grilled vegetables, a heap of bean sprouts, and a plate of cinnamon bread.

Cinammon Bread

Yeah, I have no idea. Apparently this coffee cake resembling item is considered an appropriate garniture for teppanyaki.

But enough about the bread. Was the steak any good? Readers, it was. Perhaps not the most intensely flavored cut of meat you’ve ever had, but luscious, sweet, and delectable… kind of like steak-flavored pudding. Just the thing to bring tears to your eyes next time you find yourself sawing through a gristle-y bavette at your neighborhood cafe.

Wow, I totally didn’t mean to devote this entire post to one meal. I guess the Kaiseki and okonomiyaki will have to wait for another day.

Movie Date?

June 26, 2007 at 5:07 pm | Posted in plans, spectacle | 7 Comments

I promise, I have a big post (or maybe two) about Japan coming as soon as I have the energy… (the photos are already up here). But in the meanwhile, is anyone out there interested in joining me to see Une Vielle Maitresse? I saw a preview for it a while back, and it looked… well, see for yourself:

Oh, the melodrama! So cheesily delectable. Come on, you know you want to.  Let me know via comments or email.

The Air Is On Fire

March 19, 2007 at 1:21 pm | Posted in art, spectacle | 5 Comments

The Air is on Fire?

Friday I joined what seemed like all of Paris for the David Lynch exhibit at the Fondation Cartier. Earlier in the week, I had prepared for this experience by seeing Lynch’s latest movie, Inland Empire, but I was somewhat disappointed to see that there wasn’t much relationship between the film and the exhibit. I guess, deep down inside, I’d been hoping that the exhibit might provide a key to making the movie a bit more comprehensible, but who was I kidding? This is Lynch we’re talking about: there will be no clues.

Instead, there were three or four big rooms full of paintings, drawings, and photos, mostly undated and unlabeled, but apparently drawn from Lynch’s entire creative lifespan. Of particular interest were the three long walls filled with many years’ worth of painstakingly archived doodles and sketches — for a man as visual as Lynch is, scanning his doodles feels almost like reading his diary. My personal favorite was a scrap of note paper on which was jotted: “Blue Velvet. Pleasant beginning, ear, nude woman, tumor on brain.” Ha!

As for the actual art works, they were more or less what you would expect: dark, creepy, incomprehensible, but with a strange Jungian undercurrent that makes everything feel like you might have seen it before in a dream. You know those psych tests people give kids sometimes, where they tell them to draw a tree, and a house, and Mommy and Daddy, and supposedly the shrink can tell if the kid’s being abused from what his drawings look like? If Lynch were a little kid, he’d be going straight into foster care.

That's Me in Front of My House

This one, for example, is called “That’s Me in Front of My House.” Another, similar picture was labeled, “Shadow of a Twisted Hand Across My House.” The house shows up again in a painting labeled, “Oww God Mom The Dog He Bited Me!” I tell you, it gave me the jeeblies.

All in all, though, it was a pretty satisfying exhibit: as haunting and disconnected as your average Lynch movie, with the main advantage that, if things started getting dull or repetitive, you could just move a little faster toward the end.

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