ONE DAY AT THE MUSEE D’ORSAY…
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Bon Jour, my slippery pamplemousses, here, as promised, is more art from the Louvre. Today, we start with pieces from the French sculpture collection.
This, very lifelike piece is
“I’m ’bout to lick your bald head.”
Is by Pierre August Rodin, from 1891
This one, from Felix Lecompte, is from 1868, commissioned by the Royal Academie, it’s
“Look, I found this kid hanging on a Tree.”
Here’s a closer look.
Is this guy hanging the kid on the tree, or picking the kid off the tree? Is he trying to breast feed it and thinks it will be easier if the kid’s feet are tied to a branch? This is a confused sculpture. I’m confused.
We’ll never know.
Most, if not all pieces commissioned by the Académie, had to have Mythical Subjects. It was the same with the painting and the Acadamie and the Salon, which were more or less the voices of art of the time. You could paint or sculpt the most heinous or erotic stuff, but it couldn’t be real. It it had to be myth. One of the most popular motifs was Leda and the Swan, in which the God Zeus comes to Leda in the form of a swan, shags her, then she lays two eggs, from which hatch Helen and Polydeuces, (the latter named for his incredibly horrible luck at dice). Funny, you never see any paintings of Leda laying the eggs, only shagging the swan. Makes you wonder. Anyway, here’s one where it doesn’t look like Leda is going to resist that much.
Jean Thierry’s work in marble from 1714,
“Bring a Sweater, Daffy, ‘Cause I am Going to Fuck the Feathers Off of You.”
A compelling theme, don’t you think? Go ahead, say it. You know you’re thinking it.
There, that’s the release that fine art gives the soul.
Here’s one by Edme Dumont, from 1753, and it’s either Cronos or Hercules,
but the title is.
“Sigfrid, bring the stun gun!”
It’s very mysterious. The subtitle is:
“Dude, I’m serious. He’s biting my fucking Leg!”
Of course my translation may be off somewhat. It may be, “Le Dude”.
This is one of my favorite sculptures in the Louvre. Really. It’s by Francios Joeffry, from 1839, it’s a sculpture of Venus, called.
“About your Operation, I’ve Got Some Good News and Some and Some Bad News”
It would be 40 years before Degas would exhibit his sculpture of a fully-clothed dancer of the same age with the Impressionists, and it would considered an outrage, obscene, because, well, because she was real. Things were going to change in art, and it was going to be a big deal, the beginning of Modern Art, which I’ll catch you up on.
Degas “Little Dancer, Age 14″ 1881 (Not in the Louvre
Hang tough. Here’s a couple other pieces that caught my eye.
In this piece from 1782, Claude MICHEL dit CLODION needed to fill a long base-relief, so he just threw in myths until the panel was filled up. It’s Venus, Cupid, Cherubs, Nymphs, all kinds of stuff. I like to call it:
LESBIAN SPANK INFERNO!
(with deference to Stephen Moffat and BBC’s Coupling – a hilarious episode, by the way, if you get a chance to see it.)
But who is this?
Yes, Leda again. Being a little more coy.
Like she’s going to make the swan buy her dinner this time.
But back to painting for a bit. As you’ve probably gleaned from my posts, I only know how to say about six things in French. One of them, which seemed somewhat useless, was “The Monkey is on the Table.”*
So, imagine my ecstasy, when, while coming up a wide staircase in the Louvre, I happened onto this:
Deux Singes sont sur la Table!
I stood there, middle of the staircase, pointing out to people who passed, that there were, indeed, two monkeys on the table. In perfect fucking French. Really? Would you like to discuss the monkeys? the table? perhaps the number of monkeys? You noticed that they were on the table. I felt like Sister Wendy with a refreshing breeze blowing up my habit.
But then, on the very next landing, this:
That’s right THREE! Three fucking monkeys on the motherfucking table. Or “Trois singes sur la Table,” as I pointed out to all who would listen. Several German people hurried away, even as I followed them up the stairs, pointing out the exact number of monkeys and where, exactly, they were located. (sur la table! sur le table!). Germans have a well-known fear of monkeys, so I forgave them, but how could the guards, the docents, indeed, the skinny guy with the mace and the helmet, not see the importance of such a major work of art? (Frans SNYDER, by the way, Dutch,early 17th Century.) Then they all turned, like pod art people from Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and pointed to this huge piece, which hung in the same stairwell as the various monkeys on the tables.
They might as well have served Leda a big thanksgiving roasted swan and rubbed its greasy, tumescent giblets in her hair. EVERY-FUCKING-THING was on the table. And, I didn’t know how to say any of that stuff? Hell, I didn’t even know what most of that stuff was. And it wasn’t all “sur la table” like any self-respecting monkey, it was “sous la table” it was all over the place. I hung my head and and mumbled, “Well, fuck you, smug art ninjas, cinque singes sur la table. Cinque!” With equal fluency in both languages. And I skulked away to the Starbucks in the basement of the Louvre to wallow in my own artistic inadequacy.
Sure, I could learn to say, “The evicerated eagle ray is on the table,” in French, but when is that ever going to come in handy? I’m going to have to wander the earth waiting to identify that, and it’s let’s face it, it’s not ever going to be like the monkeys. We always remember our first monkeys.
Next time we’ll have a short visit from this guy, who we haven’t seen in a couple of years.
*Yes, I learned that from Eddie Izzard. Didn’t everyone?
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A Note from your host, Sac Poubelle:
Today, my greasy chipmunks, we will have a visit to the Louvre, and I will have to lose my outRAGEous French accent, and along with it, my magnificent animal charm, non? I will let the pig dog Author Guy guide you through our treasures d’art. Commencé imbiceel d’livre.
The Author Guy:
As you know, the Louvre was mostly mythical, until 2005 when it was built as a set for the movie, The DaVinci Code, and Audrey Tatou was installed as the queen of France, overseeing all the French speaking world with her cheeky cuteness, or mignon de joue.
Okay, that’s not exactly and completely true. The Louvre as originally built in the 12th century as a fortress, and over the years was used as a royal palace and residence, and even after the French Revolution (1789), when the revolutionary government established the Louvre as a museum to keep French treasures (yes, including Audrey Tatou) and the French Academy of Art was established there. Until the mid 1800s, the Louvre was surrounded by a slum of lean-tos, and shacks, and even the center courtyard was a slum where poor trades people and scumbags lived. The great impressionist Renoir actually grew up in the slum in the courtyard of the Louvre and recalled teasing the palace guards as a child. Unfortunately, none of the walls or horses that he and his pals tagged have been preserved, otherwise they’d be priceless.
In the 1980s, the a two large glass pyramids were designed by I.M. Pei, and built by the Hebrews in the courtyard (as depicted in the movie The Ten Commandments, with Charlton Heston.)
The giant glass pyramid as an entrance probably seemed like a good idea at the time, but on a hot summer day, it catches sunlight coming into the courtyard and bounces it around, leaving only one small portal for all the heat and people to get out of, so it gets hot. Really hot. This is called the greenhouse effect and is exactly the same way that global warming (and intestinal gas) works, which is why you don’t find any polar bears in the Louvre (or in your butt.)
The first thing you need to know before you go to the Louvre is that it’s huge. I mean really huge. You know how Douglas Adams describes the size of the Universe in the Hitchhiker’s Guide? The Louvre is that big, except inside of a building. A couple of weeks ago the New York Times published an article about how people go to the Louvre but they don’t look at the art. That’s because they only take one day, and you can’t look at all that stuff in one day if you’re going to stop and actually look at stuff. I’m not sure you could even jog the Louvre in one day unless you were an ultra-marathoner. So, what I’m saying is, if you like art, allow more than one day to look at the Louvre, and if you don’t like art, don’t go, because that’s sort of their specialty and you will hate it. (Unless you are friends with Audrey Tatou and you guys just want to hang out and have some coffee and croissants.)
Here a visitor to the Louvre illustrates to his girlfriend how excited he is about the Louvre. (Note her “You Wish” smile.)
I spent most of the day at the Louvre yesterday, and I didn’t see even see a quarter of the stuff, so I’ll share some highlights with you from the Ecole de Nord (Schools of the North, meaning Dutch, Flemish, and Belgian painters, for the most part) and a few from the French painters collection, which is ginormous. (The photos are from some weird angles and some are a tad fuzzy. You’re not allowed to use flash, and with some of the paintings, the varnish on the surface is so shiny that you have to shoot them at an obtuse angle or you can’t see the image at all.)
I didn’t Photoshop this. It really is John the Baptist telling you that you can’t use flash.
It’s not really like I need to come up with a caption for this. But let’s call it, FINE TUNING, just for giggles. I swear I thought the Monty Python guys made this one up, but no. This is a portrait of Gabrielle d’Estres, (left, presumably) who was the mistress of this guy:
This is Henry IV, and the thing I love, is how he looks a little embarrassed about killing the dragon he’s standing on. Like he did it by accident. You don’t get that with a lot of royal portraits. I’m guessing from this and the painting of his mistress, that Hank had a pretty fun court.
“Oh, was that your dragon? Sorry, my bad.”
Some royals were not confident enough to show a sense of humor. Like this guy: King Louis VIII
“No, of course I am not gay, despite my outrageously gay outfit.
You can tell because this angel behind me has her breast out, which I love!”
And this painting of the Cardinal of Granevile by
the Dutch painter Anthonis Vor van DASHORT
“I can’t believe I’m shorter than my dog.”
(The real title is,” The Cardinal de Granville with a really big Dog” which kind of says the same thing, really. Like the Cardinal went, “You’ve got to paint the dog smaller. No? Well, then tell people it’s a really big dog.” )
Now that we’re into the Dutch painters. Let’s look at some Rubens, from who we get the phrase, Rubinesce, typically referring to women who are, let us say, booty-enhanced, or shall we say, gadonkidly gifted, or as the French say, avoir la junque dans la trunque.
This one’s called, “Am I buggin’ you? How ’bout now.”
This is an interesting Rubens as well:
Clearly, not only does Rubens give props to curvalicious ladies of his day, in this one he tells us that not only will old, bald guys get to heaven, they are going to get some action as well.
An old, bald angel makes his move…
Something I’ve noticed about Rubens is that he also had the buffest Jesuses, although there weren’t any in the Louvre, they have some awesome buff Rubens’ Jesuses in Italy and Chicago.
This is Rubens’, The Resurrection of Christ, which shows an awesomely buff Jesus, especially considering he was dead just minutes ago. I think it’s obvious from this painting why Jesus is more popular than Wolverine, despite not putting out a new book in 2000 years.
(Oh, don’t roll up on me all santimonious about Jesus paintings. They weren’t really painting Jesus, they were painting the skinny guy down the street who could take the day off to model because he sold weed for a living and his hours were flexible, so just back off. I’m surprised some paintings didn’t end up with a hacky sac and a vegan girl with dreads in them.)
Think I’m kidding. Check out this anonymous painting from the Dutch School entitled, Virgin, Child and Angels. Notice anything?
No? Look again. IT’S ALL THE SAME FACE! The artist could obviously only afford one model, so he just had him pose as every character. You can rest assured that the angels, Mary, and Baby Jesus HisOwnSelf were pot dealers. Baby Jesus, in fact, appears to have twisted up a toothpick spliff to get him through the painting.
And what about this Jesus in the Last Supper by Dutch painter Joos van Cleve (Yes, his real name was Joos.)
Remember the teacher on Beavis and Butthead? Mossy beard in hemp pants guy? Here he is. Yes children, witness,,,,,,, the Beavis Jesus!
Here’s another one by Joos:
I call this one, “Bitch, I Don’t Think So.”
Why? Check out the detail:
“Bitch, I Don’t think So”
Well, this post is getting a little long, so I’ll report tomorrow with more painting and some sculpture. Let me leave you with this one by French scultor, Jean-Baptiste Pigalle, entitled:
“Hey, has anyone seen my tarantula?”
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Bon Jour, le bitches, it is I, your professeur, Sac Poubelle, with some observations from the Bastille Farmers’ market, and your first French lesson.
But you say, “Mais mon ami, Sac, your French is, how you say, shit, how can you you teach us?”
You see, my little love piggies, I have been doing the writing for many years, and it is my experience that as soon as a person can string seven words together, they begin to teach creative writing, so how can French be different? Trés brilliant, no?
First, let us look around the Market:
All around, people are arriving in their quaint and deadly cars:
There are many crafts and objects d’art as well as foods
And the square is dotted with pitchmen touting the latest gadget:
And customers who can’t wait to try their wares…
Now, let us look around the market and learn some useful fucking French words:
A good way to remember the word for pink, is how rosey auntie Estelle’s cheeks were after you walked in on her in the bedroom while she was playing with her very special flashlight. In French, the word “rose”, is pronounced with several “d” sounds. Like this “rrrrdddoodddesdds”. Now you try it.
Ah, many hats. Could this be the plural word?
Remember “blanc” is white, by thinking of a blank page, and that blanche is feminine for white, by thinking of Blanche Dubois, from A Streetcar Named Desire, who was– yes, that’s right, a crazy white woman.
Let us review some colors, because I like this picture of flower pots.
I know that bleu was new to you, but here is an easy way to remember it: it’s friggin blue, pronounced bloo. Don’t be dense, chers, it is how you say? annoying. Ah, but I cannot stay angry with you.
Now, let us explore some more advanced concepts in French.
The concept of “into it”. Regard:
Let us try again. Can you tell which person is “totally into it”? :
If you guessed the American in the vest, you were right. The vest serves two purposes, to identify the American to pickpockets in the Metro, and to keep the thief busy checking all his pockets until he reaches his stop. It’s good manners to put a cigarette in each pocket for the thieves and beggars. Much the way you leave cookies and milk out for Santa at Christmas. This is a Christian tradition and is loved the world over. Muslims wearing similar vests, however, are often shunned on the Metro and sometimes hurt feelings result. Be a bon homme, or a mench, as they say in the Middle East: if you see them, smile and steal their shit. If they are in a burkha, it’s okay to feel around a little to see if they are wearing a vest. Just be sure to say “sil vous plait”, and “Allah Akbar”, as that is the polite thing to do, and in fact, is a good idea any time you’re feeling someone up on the Metro.
Let’s try it again. Can you tell who is into it? Very into it? And not into it all all?
If you guessed that the dick head wasn’t into it, you are absolutely correct. Perhaps he just doesn’t like juggling.
Oh, very good, my dirty monkeys, very good. Trés bon! Now it is time for you to rest until next time. Now, put on your clothes and go home. Sac needs to smoke and, how you say, blaspheme le toute monde.
This is Sac Poubelle, saying, Bon Journee!
So, I think we all know from A Tale of Two Cities, that the French Revolution was the worst of times, and that it all started by the storming of the Bastille, the great medieval prison on the right bank in Paris. So I went there today, totally pumped to see the guillotine guys out steam-cleaning the blades and a woman with an enormous, scary mole, leading some filthy peasants in a chant of: “Guillotine! Guillotine!” if only for the benefit of the tourists. (Come on, we keep the cable cars running in San Francisco, and they’re not exactly the cutting edge of public transportation.)
But no, when I got to Place Bastille, what I saw was this:
And instead of forboding, rat infested prison, there was this:
I know? WTF? It turns out that the first French Revolution of 1789 didn’t take. While it was more or less inspired by the American Revolution (and the writings of Jean Jaques Rousseau, who had the audacity to write about the individual rights of man, which had also influenced Jefferson and Adams) it was different in that the people who were revolted against were in the same country as the people who were revolting, and the revolutionaries, or at least their leaders, held this thing they called The Reign of Terror.
Basically imagine this: Jefferson, Adams, Franklin, and Washington kick the bejeezes out of the British, kill all their families, then go, “Well, that went well, let’s take this newly realized power and just continue to slaughter people we disagree with.” That was the Reign of Terror, which led to a military coup, we’ll call that, oh, Napoleon Bonaparte (should be something about him on Wikipedia) who was a little full of himself. Well, stuff happened, Napoleon lost power, the royal aristocracy got power back, so the French had another revolution in 1830, this one creatively named, The July Revolution, so as not to confuse it with the first one, which, of course, also started in July, but on a totally different day. In this second revolution, they kicked out King Charles X. (No, not the ancestor of Malcome.)
This, is the famous painting by Eugene Delecroix, Liberty Leading the People, depicting the July Revolution.
Clearly, Liberty has found the way to motivate her troops.
So, the French had a couple of more revolutions, which brings us to today, when I went to the Bastille and there was a Farmer’s Market going on…
But the main thing I found were fruits, vegetables, and people snogging in public, which is what people do in Paris. Joni Mitchell even wrote a song about it.
On the Right Bank of the Seine:
Park Benches are prime real estate for Public Snogging:
Sometimes it’s a glance across a crowded market:
It’s more or less what everyone is doing or thinking about, unless they’re smoking. Below, one of the new non-smoking sections in Paris:
And we’ll look at the rest of the market and learn some French.
Just a few things I’ve seen out and about in Paris. Short of time today…
At the Jardin Du Luxembourg
No pressure or anything, but God is always watching when you shag.
At the Museum of Natural History
The Area for the Conservation of Special Sausages
(as far as I can tell)
In the 1st Arronidisment, before everything opens in the morning.
At the Mannaquin Store in the Marai:
Can you say FABULOUS!!!?
I just have one question?
Everywhere, semi-naked people holding clocks:
Paris: 6:00 AM
It’s been years since I’ve seen 6:00 AM from either side of the clock. Let’s face it, it’s too fucking early to get up, unless you’re a fisherman or a soldier, and even then it’s still too early, and it’s too late to be up, unless you’re 20 or snorting meth, and then it’s still too late. But lately, I find myself in a time-warp jet lag that’s so bad I’m afraid I’m going to run into myself sitting in front of the EURO FRIED SNAILS BISTRO and create a disturbance in the time space continuum which will all cause us to be enslaved by our smart phones, or a black guy to become president causing mouth breathers to show up at health insurance rallies with light arms to intimidate him, despite his commanding the mightiest military force to ever menace the planet…
Hey, wait a minute…
Whew, it was just an Iphone app alerting me to send a Facebook update about brushing my teeth. No worries.
So anyway, Paris: 6:00AM
The rose sky is streaked with purple clouds — the perfect backdrop for the stone guardians of the Gothic cathedrals, St. Jaque’s, Notre Dame, St. Eustachian’s, St. Severins and so forth. The streets have just been scrubbed slick, the steps by the Seine steam-cleaned,of urine, blood, and wine, and the traffic is so light that the gray choke of exhaust hasn’t yet risen in the air. Most of the traffic, in fact, is pedestrian, out early, and yes, they do make eye-contact and say bon jour, and smile, and it seems, very unlike what you would think you’d find in an enormous, ancient/modern city. At the bolangeries, (the bakeries of bread, distinct from the patisseries, makers of pastries, although some do both) the baguettes are coming out of the oven and that warm, yeasty smell that almost seems to carry comfort and carbs wafts down the sidewalks, drawing in nearly everyone by turns.
Cops pull up, step quickly in, and emerge with baguette under their arms, one has his tucked in a leather portfolio. The dog walker, the amblers, the hipsters coming back from the clubs, the rasta man, the gay couple, the painter, the street sweeper, the wedding couple out early to get their photos done in front of the Cathedral: they all check in, get their baguette – one euro – and move on. You really have to have one to be out there, to be on the street at that hour. Legend says, that the man who walks the streets of Paris at dawn without a baguette, risks attack by the gargoyles come alive. They swoop down, take you, do unspeakable things to you, and the next time you are seen, you’re turned to stone, perched on the corner of an ancient tower, watching, waiting to swoop down on the next breadless victim. I would not risk it, being unfamiliar with Paris, the French language, and having a mid-level fear of heights. I take my baguette, walk to the cathedral, and tear a warm swath of it, eat it while I watch the wedding couple pose and the gargoyles scowl above.
The proper French baguette is about two feet long, about two and a half inches wide, and the crust has a leathery, crunchy, flaky texture that’s not to elastic, nor too hard, nor too tough–perfect to the tooth: it resists and gives in like a teasing lover, just in time, just enough to make it more than worth your effort, to heighten the taste and satisfaction. That crust can only be achieved with the exact balance of moisture, heat, air and amour. There are variants, of course, rustic, speckled with raisins, currents, olives or chocolate – double, triple, quadruple the size, giant brown barges of yeasty flour, waiting to ship off a load of meats and cheese, but the classic, the baton baguette, that’s the best frantic hungry fuck of French bread you can buy, and I have. I do. I shall.
When I’ve finished this trip, I may have what I need for a book, but I’ll be as round as as tick, a turgid torso man, my tiny limbs protruding from my bread bloated body like toothpicks from a Peep. Already the apartment floor is beginning to drift with crumbs, like a flaky edible beach, and there’s a satisfying crunch when you walk. If you drop a chicken leg it will be breaded for frying when you pick it up. Unfortunately, so are my socks.
Alas, it is my destiny, unless I find the French cure for this ongoing spasm of breadgasm. Because it’s true, there are few fat people in Paris.
American woman growl at their French sisters seemingly effortless slim. And I must admit, I’m not quite sure how the balding French hipster is pulling off the high-carb cool with so much thin, but it is so. There’s something they know.
No pain, no gain.
I saw this vigilante across from the Louvre yesterday. There’s someone out there fighting for the right to be round. God bless you, scary cape lady, God bless you.
God Bless You Crazy Cape Lady!
I will carry on for you, my noble readers, to test the limits of baguette consumption, even if I’m forced to endure a cloud of stinky cheese to do so. Even now, our tiny fridge reeks with the fumes of a Camembert, which tastes great, and is mild and creamy and cheap (I mean really cheap, like cream cheese cheap), yet smells so ripe-feety, that if you open the fridge door, you can smell the fumes down the hall, and after one day in the fridge with the cheese, a baguette is so infused with the aroma, that you don’t even need to spread the cheese on it to get the flavor. (I’m not kidding.) And as the Buddah said, “with stinky cheese may come friends.”
There are two boxes of something called Rat-Soris under the sink in the kitchen, and I’m pretty sure, without checking my French/English dictionary, that that means Rat Smiles*. Who can blame them? I expect to awaken any morning to find a half-dozen smiling rodents surfing the fumes of stinky cheese from our fridge to mystic breadcrumb dunes of rat nirvana – not to worry, you’ll hear my scream in the States, and wonder how such a rotund fellow can sound so impossibly feminine.
Next time, I really will visit the mannequin store and show you some public sculpture to be found around the city.
* I’ve since looked up souris to find out it means mouse, but smile is sourire, so an understandable mistake, I think.
For those of you who are following my French adventure, and trying to learn from my mistakes, let me give you tip. France is far. If you don’t live in California, it’s probably not quite as far, but for me, it’s far. Like far enough that I completely left Friday and most of Saturday in the sky somewhere, and even after spending much of Sunday looking at statues and buying stinky cheese, the lying was only just getting started on Meet the Press and ABC’s What Kind of Tree Do You Want to BE with George Stephanopoulos.
So, I walked around Notre Dame Saturday evening, and there was a huge crowd there, and priests with flags and incense and whatnot because it was the Assumption, which I guess is a huge deal if you’re Catholic, but I’m not, so I’m not sure what it is. I assume it’s about Jesus and Mary, and for all I know, that’s how the holiday got it’s name…
“Pope Petey, we need another three day weekend in August, what should we do a holiday for?”
“Well, I assume about Mary or Jesus, like most of our other holidays.”
And Cardinal Mookie was all, “Hey, that’s a pretty good assumption.”
And the Pope was like: Dominus Omis Arabica Palmolive Cadabra (Which is Latin for: “Make it so, Number One.”) So there you go.
Anyway, there are a lot of people at Notre Dame on holidays. Fucking ghost town Sunday morning, but Saturday night, it’s like Blow-Job Day at the ball park. (Which is to say, popular.) One of the books I’m reading, one on architecture, says the best time to look at Notre Dame is on Sunday, during mass, because no one is around. (Like the day after Blowjob Day at the ballpark, when fans realize that the baseball wasn’t really the best part of the day.)
But any other time, there’s a metric buttload of people outside of Notre Dame, milling around and looking at the stories on the walls, which were kind of the summer blockbusters of the Middle Ages, since most of the churchgoers were illiterate, so they could only enjoy James Patterson books, and even he was only writing three or four a year back then, and film hadn’t been invented yet.
So, I’m in Paris, living in an apartment that’s about a hundred yards from the Notre Dame, in the very same building as the hunchback. I’m not kidding. I haven’t heard him going up and down the steps, but here’s a picture of the mail boxes.
Uh huh. Uh huh. That’s what I’m saying. And Esmeralda lives in a totally different apartment, so apparently that didn’t work out.
She got a little sanctuary and kicked a hunchback to the curb, so Quasimodo is back to riding the titillating tintinnabulation of the bells, bells, bells, bells, bells. (And if you haven’t seen Charles Lawton giving the dong to the ding to the dong, in the 1939 version of the Hunchback of Notre Dame, it’s worth your time.)
Having an awful time embedding the video. Just play and jump in about 7 minutes to watch Quasi get freaky with the bells, bells, bells.
So, anyway, I’m living in this apartment in this building that seems pretty old, although not as old as the Isle de Cite, where it’s located. This island in the middle of the Seine river is where the city of Paris began around 250 BC when some guys looked at the island and said, “This would be an awesome place from which to defend our stinky cheese.” Now it’s the center of the city as well as the geographic center of France. (There’s a plaque and everything). At one point the royal palaise where the King lived was on the island along with the Notre Dame, so it was the spiritual as well as the governmental center of France. Since then, the Kings have moved their palaces down the river bank, further and further away, as it occurred to them that being in the center of a giant city with no sewer system wasn’t as swell as they thought, (The Louvre was originally built as a royal residence) until finally, in 1692, King Louis VIII moved everything out to Versailles, ten miles west of the city.
But today, you can’t throw a stick in Paris withouthitting a palaise. Something you should know, if it’s called a palaise, it’s not necessarily a palace, and if it’s called a hotel, it’s probably not a hotel. Many of the giant houses that were built by the wealthy in the Marais (the Right bank of the Seine – I ‘splain later)are called “hotels” and while they are now museums or apartment buildings, they’re still called hotels.
Here’s a sign directing you to Hotel Dieu, or HOTEL OF GOD – go ahead, steal the towels, see that picture above, with the guys being led by demons? They stole the towels. Also, directions to the Place Parvis, which means, the park where your dog can get parvo virus. I’m pretty sure
This is a picture of the Hotel De Ville, or Hotel of the Town. It’s more or less, Paris City Hall, and you definitely can’t get a room here.
So this post is taking ridiculously long to finish, so I’ll save some stuff for next time,when we’ll explore crusty French bread, stinky cheese, a visit to the mannaquin store, and the secret smiles of rodents, but let me leave you with a statue which sits in the gardens outside the Louvre.
Until next time, Adieu!
So I knew some time ago that I was going to go to France to research my next book, and my entire French vocabulary consisted of: “Two coffees and two croissants”, “please”, “thank you”, “hello”, and “the dog is on the table” I didn’t figure that it was enough to get me through a long research trip.
Scientists all agree that there is no better time to learn a foreign language than in your 50s, when you begin to forget words in your native language as well as other useless stuff, like the PIN to your checking account, the names of your children, and where your car keys are, which leaves room in your brain for new words and phrases.
The first thing I did was buy some software we’ll call Mosetta Stone, where you are given many French words, and you click the picture corresponding to the word or phrase. You’ll immediately learn to say things like, “The Boy is on the airplane. The boy is under the airplane. The airplane is on the boy,” and so on. By the third lesson you are able to understand complex things like, “The two boys are under the blue airplane.”
Within a week I could identify any number of boys in nearly any attitude to any colored airplane, and I could do it with 100% accuracy, which would be about useful in Paris as my ability to shred Baba O’Reily in Guitar Hero would be if I were thrown on stage at Royal Albert Hall with the Who and a Stratocaster. (In fact, my ability to mow down enemies with a warthog in Halo will probably serve me better in the roundabout at the Arc de Triumph than all of Mosetta Stone’s airplane boys will at anything.)
So, on the lookout for a kid under an airplane, I enrolled in a course at Alliance.
I know you think that I enrolled at a placed called A-LIE-ANCE. But that’s because you don’t know French, where absolutely nothing is pronounced how it’s spelled. (It’s Al-eee—anz” you American pig dog.) I know, I shouldn’t really criticize, when English has words like “know” and “enough”, which appear to have been put in the language just to fuck with foreigners. In fact, during WW2, instead of having an Enigma code machine, for security, our spys were instructed just to use Enough and Phaeton in a lot of sentences. What you absolutely need to know about French is that with the exception of that hairball sound you find in words like Jaques, all consonants are silent. This is one of the reasons that the French make such great mimes. In fact, when I got to Alliance, I totally expected to be handed a striped shirt and a beret and to be walking white-faced in the fucking wind from the jump, or le saut , as they say in France. But non. Non, non, non.
First, Alliance is in the Tenderloin, which means that if I wanted to pick up modest rock of crack and or get stabbed on the way to class, I was totally in the right neighborhood, and, in fact, when I walked into class a few minutes late that first day, my excuse was that I had to wait for the guy lying in the doorway in a pool of his own sauce to be bagged and rolled off to his own Champs-Élysées before I could get in. But I didn’t know how to say that in French, and Alliance uses an emersion teaching method, which means you’re only allowed to speak French. So there were eight of us who didn’t know a fucking word of French, and one teacher, who knew a bunch of French and English, but she wasn’t allowed to tell us what she was saying.
So, after I explained that I was late because of the dog on the table, we all sat there for an hour, listening to our teacher spout French nonsense, while the realization rose like a specter in our Anglo-speaking minds, that we were being taught by France’s only mime-challenged teacher. So that went on for nine weeks – up early every Tuesday morning, picking out a shirt that wasn’t red or blue so it didn’t attract any gang attention, then hop-scotching through the unconscious and life-challenged “Loiners” to watch a pleasant French woman talk incomprehensible vowels at us for an hour while we traded glances which said, in the international language of raised eyebrows and furtive nods:
“Know what she’s talking about?”
“No fucking idea.”
So, I turned, as is often the case with those lacking communication skills, to the internet.
And after a couple of false starts with some immersion-based podcasts (really, the Ipod equivalent of being water-boarded), and a couple “French word a day” programs, (and by this time, three months from leaving, a word a day was going to give me just a little better vocabulary than a cocker-spaniel by the time I got to Paris (and unlike a cocker-spaniel, I was well past my cute, tail-wagging-charm sell-by date) I stumbled across the Radio Lingua Network, and Coffee Break French.
French taught by Scottish people! Can I get an Amen? Can I get a hallelujah?
As many of you know, it was my experience while in Edinburgh a couple of years ago, that it is easier to understand a French person speaking French, when you don’t know French, than it is to understand a Scottish person speaking English, and somewhat less humiliating, because French people are not, ostensibly, speaking your language. (While in Edinburgh I ate almost exclusively at Pizza Hut because A)I could order by number, and B)I didn’t figure they could sneak a haggis on a pizza without my knowing. I tried a Chinese restaurant once, going on the number theory, but I’m pretty sure those sneaky fuckers slipped me some Moo Shoo Haggis under false pretenses.)
Anyway, Coffee Break French was awesome. Fifteen to twenty minute lessons, which was about the length of time it took me to walk to the gym or the grocery store, where you build phrases up as you go along, and the instructors actually tell you what in the hell they are saying. You don’t get immersed in French, just a little damp, and dampness is something the Scots rock at.
The course is taught by Mark and Anna. Mark seems to be one of the very patient teachers who knows way too much about his subject, but still has some sense of what it is to be a complete neophyte, and Anna is learning along with you, so you don’t feel like a total knob, and while you get the sense that she’s dumbing down a little for you, I’m used to being treated that way, and her accent is cute as hell, so it’s okay. If Disney had a Scottish princess maybe, or there had a been a sweet, single-malt whisky dancing with the teapot in Beauty and the Beast, Anna could play that part. Don’t get me wrong, she’s Scottish, and you know that at the drop of a hat she’d be half-painted blue, shirt pulled up, waving her semi-azure bosoms and a sword at Edward Longshanks, and harshing out “you kinna take our freedom” in deeply mucousy Gallic, but still, very pleasant, is what I’m saying.
A few lessons in, they have some video specials, and then you see that Anna is, indeed, a cute young college student, and Mark is one of those sturdy, bullet-shaped fellows you find on the internet, patiently explaining stuff to you that no one else seems to be able to completely grasp. (LikePatrick Norton) Forty years ago his kind would have been milling the heads on your Sunbeam Tiger so you could pull 300 horsepower for Sunday’s rally, and a hundred years ago he would have been urging you not to lick the contacts on the dry cell battery that ran your doorbell because it corrodes the contacts and it is, incidentally, poisonous.
Both of them, of course, are complete strangers to the sun, as is any good Scot. They have enough color from wind burn, so as not to appear eye-less albino cave people, but just. This is perfectly normal and let’s you know that they are legitimate Scots, even if you can actually understand them when they’re speaking English and they seem strangely comfortable speaking fucking French. (Once I was in Edinburgh on a brisk fall day of about forty-five degrees (F), and when the sun came out from behind a cloud, people started shedding their clothes like they were on their way to the annual autumn shaggathon at the Sir Walter Scott’s grave. (Sorry if that’s a real holiday, Scotland. I dinna know.) The park near the art museum looked as if there were fleshy inflatable sheep-people floating across it as the sun-blissed Scots frolicked and steamed through the frost. You know that one insane guy at the Denver Broncos or Buffalo Bills game with his shirt off in mid-December, painted blue, spilling a beer all over himself even as everyone else is dressed for arctic conditions? Put that guy in kilt, give him a red-haired wife, and two kids eating ice-cream, that’s what I’m talking about. Then the sun went back behind the cloud and everyone was back in black. They have a lot of Goth boutiques in Edinburgh, they call them boutiques. But alas, I digress. )
So anyway, one of the first things I learned from Mark and Anna, is how to say, “I am Scottish.” It sounds kind of cool: Je suis ecossaise. I’m going to go with that. I’m about fifty lessons in, and I’m starting to learn a little grammar and verb conjugation and so forth, and while I realize that seems, at first, like a good reason to develop a drinking problem or a suicide pact, the amazing thing is that I’m far enough along in the language that grammar’s actually useful. I mean, I have no idea if I won’t just be the victim of a fun French game of “Let’s Murder the Scotsman”, but I’m feeling much more confident than I was when all French class was getting me was a chance at meeting a one-legged hooker or being gunned down in a drive-by and gasping out my last words about the boy under the yellow airplane with no audible consonants. (Back then I had started wearing plaid to my lessons so it couldn’t possibly be interpreted as gang colors. Ironic, non?)
If you want to learn some French, or a dozen or so other languages, give Radio Lingua a try. The podcasts are free and are available on Itunes, but they also have enhanced podcasts and lots of printed material if you subscribe, which I would have, except they only took Paypal when I checked them out and I would have to stop ignoring all my Paypal spam if I use that account. (They may have started taking credit cards more recently.) Hang in for some of the later lessons, in the late 30s, I think, where they actually go to a French beach and you can hear Mark and Anna softly sizzling in the sun while they speak French to natives. It’s fun.
I’m off to Paris. Adieu.
If you haven’t been there, it seems all too romanticized, all very cheesy, existential, bohemian — LaCroix dahling, LaCroix — so so fucking French. If you have been there, you have your own Paris, it’s yours, and believe it or not it is, will always be, better than mine.
I just learned this last night. Everyone has his or her own Paris. Parises are like snowflakes, or maybe more appropriately, like Rorschach tests. Each is unique, and you see only what YOU see.
“You have to go to this restaurant in the Fifth, called Frommage. Cheese! It’s called Cheese, that’s all they serve,” said a friend of my who is (and I’m not kidding) a cardiologist.
The “Fifth” refers to the Fifth Arrondissement, or district, which is how people talk about Paris. (Yes, I know you know that, from your semester abroad, or your honeymoon, or your back-packing trip around the Europe right out of college, but I didn’t know that until I’d marked nearly a half-century in small to medium-sized American towns, so other people may not, so shut up.) Like New Yorkers talk about Uptown, Midtown, Downtown, The Village, etc. In Paris it’s The Fifth, the Fourth, the Eighteenth, and some Arrondissement’s have very distinctive personalities and characters, they rise and fall in and out of fashion. But now you know what that means when someone says something like, “Oh, there’s this amazing Chocolatier in the Sixth.” Something that makes up their Paris.
“Look at all the figures over the doorway in Notre Dame,” says my friend Barry. “They’re supposed to be apostles, but they gathered all the Jews from the Marais to model.”
The Marais is the traditionally Jewish neighborhood of Paris, there will be more about that, but that’s where Barry, a New York born Jew living in Marin found his Paris.
“I proposed to my wife on the Pont Neuf,” said my publisher when I told him I was going to write a book set in Paris. “And then we were robbed at gunpoint and escaped by jumping across the path of a moving car.”
The Pont Neuf is the oldest bridge in Paris, dating back to the 16th century, and covered with stone masks of old gods and heroes that have had to be replaced many times over the years as they were eroded away by the acid rain. It’s also where my publisher found his Paris, clearly in a scene out of a Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn movie. (There will be photos, but I haven’t left yet.)
“Pont”, is the French word for bridge, by the way, so you haven’t wasted your time. You’ll always know that now.
“I love to just sit in the Place du Royal in the Marais,” says my friend Valerie. “Just sit there, reading a book, with the sun on my face, watching the people go by.”
“There’s a little restaurant, about half-way up Mont Martre,” says my agent. “Called La Maison Rouge, just the kind of place you want to stop and have a sandwich and a coffee and take stock of your day.”
Everyone has his Paris, I’m fixin’ to go find mine, and I’m going to share it, as much as I can, here, with you.
Oh, I’m going to get shit wrong, seriously wrong. I’m going to misspell the shit out of French words, and I’m going to tell you stuff that your art history teacher back in 1983 told you completely differently. That’s okay. I’m always the last one to know, and I’m sort of used to you guys always knowing how to spell and whatnot. And your shit is right in your Paris, but this is my Paris, we’re talking about. Paris is like The Forbidden Planet that way – where the aliens reached into your mind, then constructed your own fantasy for you out of your consciousness. ( And I’m not going to have time to stay up all night Wikipeding and spell checking – and French just about makes the spellchecker ‘splode with frustration. So there will be wrong shit. That’s why God gave you Google, because I cannot be trusted.) My Paris!
Oh, I’ve been there before, just a couple of years ago, when I was researching Fool, and I was really just stopping over on my way to look at some Medieval cities in other parts of France, but if I had to say now, my Paris, beyond the Polar Bear sculpture at the Musee D’Orsay, or the hot dogs served in a hollowed-out baguette, with melted brie and Dijon mustard off a cart on the Champs de Elysees. (Which you pronounce, more or less, shaaamps d’leesay, and means, Elysian Fields, or “Field where our heroes are buried”. It’s one of the wide boulevards in Paris, a highly fashionable one, at the end of which is that big-ass arch you always see in pictures, The Arc de Triomphe, which Napoleon built because he felt that Paris should have a Big Ass Arch. ), my Paris is summed up in the picture below, which was taken by Charlee, the mysterious woman who has lived with me for the last 15 years and whom I have met several times.
This was taken at about 8:00 in the morning, on a Tuesday, on MontMartre, which is the almost rural butte right in the middle of Paris (where the Impressionists lived and painted, as well as Van Gogh, Lautrec, Gauguin, the composer Eric Satee, where the Chat Noir nightclub, that you seen the poster for a million times, was located, and were Amelie was filmed — for the most part.)
I call it “Morning Love.” These two have obviously had a long night looking for their own Paris. Dancing may have been involved.
I leave in a couple of days. I’ll report in soon from Paris. Come on, it will be fun.