Tag Archives: france

What’s Wrong With Me? Part II

In the off chance that you dont know what Samuel Johnson looks like.

In the off chance that you don't know what Samuel Johnson looks like.

Samuel Johnson did lots of stuff. He published a dictionary in 1755, he wrote all sorts of things, in short, he was “arguably the most distinguished man of letters in English history.” I don’t know all that much about him to be honest, but I once dedicated a poem to him. Then today, I was thinking about habits because I recently came to a revelation about a sort of bizarre one that I’ve developed. Anyway, upon doing a Google search for quotes about habits, I found this quote from ma’ boy:

The chains of habit are generally too small to be felt until they are too strong to be broken. 

There was also this one:

To fall into a habit is to begin to cease to be.  –Miguel de Unamuno, The Tragic Sense of Life

Think I’ll pick up The Tragic Sense of Life from the library for the next time I’m feeling intellectual.  I get what Miguel is saying about habits.  That’s how I used to feel when I worked at McDonald’s or in factories or filing for a law firm.  Once you get in the habit of doing monotonous labor, yeah, you begin to “cease to be” a little bit. 

The habit I’ve noticed myself doing, though, isn’t all that dangerous…except maybe to my social life.  So here goes.  It’s kind of like those jokes where people yell “Your mom!” only completely different.  My thing is, I find myself telling people about my mom…all the time.  And it’s not interesting stuff, either.  I just tell people stuff that my mom loves.  At work last week, a coworker and I were talking about how Heidi Klum waxed Ross the Intern’s arm on Leno and how funny it was.  Then, for no reason (except to unintentionally kill the conversation), I go, “My mom loves Heidi Klum.” 

Other examples.  My roommate brought a humidifier back to our apartment: “My mom loves humidity.”    My Bulgarian neighbor offered me dried cranberries: “My mom loves The Cranberries…you know, that Irish band.”  And comments like these, not surprisingly, receive no more than a blank look or an unenthusiastic, “Oh, really?”

This weekend I visited home.  My mom and I watched In the Valley of Elah on HBO last night.  And I got pretty excited because she provided me with a new conversation piece when she announced, “I love Tommy Lee Jones.” 



My roommate said, “Your mom would be really happy if she knew.”  And I was like, nah, she’d probably tell me to stop.  You know, something like, “Stop telling people the least interesting facts you know about me.” 

Anyway, if Samuel Johnson’s quote is true, this habit, now that I’ve felt it, is too strong to be broken.  So, I apologize in advance if I happen to tell you all about how my mom loves cucumber sandwiches or how she loves to sculpt lifesize likenesses of Saint Michael. 

Oh, and here’s that poem I dedicated to Mr. Johnson (I especially urge you to use the photo I provide above to help you visualize him in the south of France):

For Samuel Johnson

Not to toot my own horn playing the theme from Rocky
(soundtrack no longer available on Virgin Records),
but according to Philadelphian folklore, men with
high tolerances for confined spaces and neutral colors
are more likely to succeed in life, i.e. cubicles,
which of course all depends on one’s definitions
of success, life, and men.  Everyone is entitled
to their own dictionary, but my predilection belongs
to Webster.  Yeah, yeah: we all want to make babies
and vacation on a nudist colony in the south of France with Samuel Johnson,
but what about the creator of Dictionary.com? 
Don’t try to tell me that women and men alike don’t dream of built-in thesauri,
translators, and words of the day, especially the kinky ones.
Take that, you abridged bastard!  I know who your
mother is and word at the water cooler is everyone short
of Stallone knows her, too.  I won’t mention word at
the vending machine (soda, not candy), but let’s
just say I wouldn’t want to be a product of
her poor excuse for 21st Century lexicography.

I Feel A Manifesto Coming On…

Despite a $4 fine on my account, I picked up Dawn, Dusk or Night: A Year With Nicolas Sarkozy at the Queens Library earlier tonight.  I’m not particularly interested in politics, which is good since Yasmina Reza (the most celebrated playwright in France, I learn from the flap) writes, “I am not looking to write on power or on politics, but rather on politics as a way of being.  I’m more interested in watching a man who intends to trump time.”  She follows him for one year while he is running for the presidency.

Please note: I always do this.  I get really excited about books before I’m even at page 25, so I want other people to get excited, but then the more I read, the less I’m excited, and then I feel bad for plugging something that I returned to the library without bothering to finish. 

So far, though, it’s a refreshing read.  Reza’s writing is so…efficient and refined.  It was translated from French, so it’s fascinating to take in the style.  It’s not dumbed down like a lot of American non-fiction (or just plain writing) seems to be.  It wasn’t written in hopes of making it onto Oprah’s Book Club.  It was written by a woman with a sincere curiosity.  Maybe it’s appealing to me so much (so far) because it’s a little choppy, but in a good way, like poetry.  She jumps around and you’re greeted on the page by small passages, like the following one, before she returns to something else:

Later, I am talking with my friend Marc in a cafe. 

Anyway, you’ll reinvent him.  Writers, like tyrants, are capable of bending the world to their will.

Isn’t that beautiful?  And provocative.  Sometimes she doesn’t use quotation marks, but that just means you have to pay attention.  Or, she’ll start writing about Sarkozy in a new setting, talking to a new person, and Reza won’t tell you where or with who right away.  In one such passage she waits until the end to reveal that he’s in Barack Obama’s office.   

That’s the thing about the way we’re taught to write in America–we’re given these strict rules that are good, in the beginning, but there comes a point where you have to allow freedom.  More freedom than the 5-paragraph essay’s Introduction-Body Paragraph-Body Paragraph-Body Paragraph-Conclusion can give you.  An American would be instructed to start the paragraph with something like, “Nicolas Sarkozy meets with Senator Barack Obama in his office while they are both in the midst of presidential campaigns.”  But Reza stays vague, knowing the effect is so much stronger with this ending:

Looking up, one sees Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Gandhi, J. F. Kennedy laughing with some black musicians.  In the office of the splendid Barack Obama, the idea of America itself is hanging on the walls.

Reza’s writing shows she is that breed of observant that few people are.  The kind where you pick up on the tiniest of tiniest details that most people would never consider warrant their attention.  Then you make connections between the tiniest of the tiniest to the biggest of the biggest: identity, religion, politics, love, sexuality, the universe, all that.  That’s the kind of writer I want to be.  Oh, and funny.  Because there’s humor in the profound.  There’s humor in everything.

The Michael Moore in the Bathwater

Ever stop to think about sayings like, “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater”?  Yeah, me neither, but tonight I did.  In my 3am post-work haze it struck me as a hilarious image. 

I watched Michael Moore’s Sicko today.  It reminded me that I should really do something about that whole lack of health insurance thing I’ve got goin on.  Started watching it at the library, but two men began watching it over my shoulder, which got a little awkward.  I finished watching it at home, in bed, but I fell asleep around the point when they travel to (spoiler alert) Guantanamo.  I liked it, though.  It reminded me of this PBS Frontline report, Sick Around the World, only with your added Michael Mooreisms. 

Sicko made me want to move to France…who wants to join?  We’ll splurge on Rosetta Stone.  The five weeks of vacation time per year minimum is totally worth being referred to as an “ex-pat.” 

Ill just use Team America images whenever I have the chance from now on.  (See Kim Jong-Il.)

I'll just use Team America images whenever I have the chance from now on. (See Kim Jong-Il a few posts down.)

Watch Me Tonight?

I’m glad the movie musical is making a comeback, but let’s get back to its roots.  I’m not talking Mamma Mia.  There will be no singing Pierce Brosnan in the film I’m referring to.  Forget Hairspray.  You will not be seeing Ricki Lake dancing or John Travolta in a dress.  Step away from all that 21st Century silliness, and into Golden Age Hollywood. 

Okay, Love Me Tonight from 1932 is still pretty silly, but in a completely heartwarming, timeless, black & white film kind of way.  It comes from director Rouben Mamoulian who went on to direct the first Broadway runs of Oklahoma!, Porgy and Bess, and Carousel.  In Love Me Tonight, with French hottie Maurice Chevalier and blonde beauty Jeanette MacDonald, Mamoulian sets out to satirize the beloved movie musical.  The writers didn’t even bother coming up with different first names for Maurice and Jeanette.  And apparently no one told Jeanette that the whole bit was a spoof because you can just tell she’s taking the whole thing quite seriously. 

Maurice plays a Parisian tailor and Jeanette a princess.  The film is a fairy tale of sorts, making it easy to get swept away.  Maurice ends up at Jeanette’s castle after getting ripped off by her cousin.  And that’s when the whole mistaken identity thing begins.  Suddenly all the important people take Maurice the tailor for Maurice the baron.  So he sings and dances and they all fall in love with him, including prissy princess Jeanette.  A pretty run of the mill fairy tale, but it’s the songs by Rodgers and Hart that really wow, along with the performances by supporting actors Myrna Loy (her first “non-exotic” role) and comedian Charles Ruggles.  Be sure to watch out for Ruggles talking about his “flute” and dancing with 1 pound dumbbells.     

Reasons to watch: Mamoulian was one of the most innovative directors of his time.  You know how musicals integrate songs into the storyline so you don’t just have a random performance that’s really an excuse for men to stare at some pretty lady sing?  Yeah, that was Mamoulian.  He also said, hey, we should make the camera move and we should use more than one microphone.  Which are obviously terrible ideas.

Warnings: You will likely have the songs “Mimi” and “Isn’t It Romantic” stuck in your head for days, if not weeks.  Also, this film gets pretty risqué for the Hays Code era (see Will Hays left).  Not sure how Maurice taking a tape measure to Jeanette’s boobies got past the censors, but I’m not complaining!  They also end up in bed together via split screen action. 

Who to watch with: Well, I watched Love Me Tonight alone, but that’s just because I’m a terribly lonely woman who can’t find anyone to love and would rather spend the evening on the couch with her cats.  But in your case, watch it with a sense of humor and a lover.  Watch it with a deep appreciation for French men and silly situations.  If you can find a French man watch it with him.  If you do not know any French men, you can always put an ad out on Craigslist. 

Who not to watch with: Frat boys or anyone who takes themselves too seriously.  Or, on second thought, do watch it with them.  If any movie can free them from their “I’m too cool for movie musicals” delusions it’s Love Me Tonight.