mercredi 24 décembre 2008


I just read that Claudie Haigneré tried to commit suicide. She is a French scientist who is best known as France’s First Lady of Space Travel. Later, and many mauvaises langues would say she was trading on her fame, she was appointed to a ministerial position in the Raffarin government (he was a Prime Minister under Chirac). Apparently, she took a bunch of pills Tuesday night in her Paris apartment, but was found conscious and taken to the Paris hospital where all the government people are taken for care, the wonderfully named Val-de-Grâce. It is being reported that her life is not in danger.

Claudie Haigneré (née Claudie André-Deshays) is an exceptionally well-educated 51-year old woman. The joke in France is that she has a "bac + 13." In other words, 13 years of higher education after high school. She has studied biology, sports medicine, aeronautics and rheumatology and probably I'm just skimming the surface. So she’s like a PhD and an MD all rolled into one “sur-diplomée” they say in France. Over-educated, we would say in America. She's a super nana, quoi.

She fell in love with an astronaut, Jean-Pierre Haigneré, who was sent on a space mission with the Russians three years before she was. They got married in 2001, and she continued her life in space for awhile. Then she got the call from then PM Raffarin–and made her political début as minister of Research and New Technologies. This was perhaps the first time she had ever encountered anything but success and applause; she was quietly transferred to another government post—European Affairs—where she stayed until May 2005, when the third government of Raffarin resigned. In France, when PM’s get into trouble, they tend to do cabinet shuffles, moving the same old people around, getting rid of a couple, adding a couple.

For now, nobody knows why Claudie Haigneré tried to commit suicide. I am tempted to make what would come off as an untimely joke. I hope it wasn’t because she had invested all her savings in a feeder fund that in turn invested in Bernard Madoff.
Because we learned yesterday that another Frenchman, Thierry de la Villehuchet, an aristocrat (un particule) who had invested other people’s money in Madoff, tried to commit suicide and succeeded. He was 65 years old. I read that he had spent the last week frantically trying to get some money back for his investors. I doubt he was part of the Ponzi scheme. He was fleeced. He was an avid sailor, had no children, and had invested more than one billion euros on behalf of a number of his friends.

Claudie Haigneré is someone I have always admired, in a way. She never came off as a show-off or a smarty-pants. She always seemed kind of reserved, but not exactly shy, under the gaze of the media. But I always thought she looked a little sad, a little depressed, a little affectless. As an astronaut, she was liked and admired. As a politician, she was suddenly under fire. It wasn't as if she was unused to stressful situations and having to think on her feet -- she trained for and carried out missions in space, after all -- but I don't think she was prepared for the nastiness of politics. She looked like a deer caught in headlights much of the time. I don't know what she has been doing for the last three years. The government she was part of was dissolved about eight months before I left France. Maybe the key to her gesture is to be found in her life since May 2005. On some level, and I think many French people would agree with me, ça la regarde. In other words, it's her business but not ours. Her husband has just stated that, although she had many "soucis," and wanted to sleep, she did not intend to commit suicide. The blogosphere is dubitative.

mardi 23 décembre 2008

Since when am I friends with Hot Moon?

Does anyone ever read the ads on the right-hand side of Facebook? I usually don't, but one caught my eye this morning. This may be because it was tagged "for a woman over 40." Underneath this teaser is a photo of a large (excessively large) handback slung over the shoulder of a headless woman (over 40, I presume). I don't mean she has been beheaded, only that her head has been cropped out of the photo. I guess that's so all of us women over 40 can relate.

I cannot say I wasn't forewarned. I was told that the link would take me to a site called Hot Moon, described as "the name of a new friend. A friend with a philosophy of style and life who understands your needs and who you've become." Right. So I have just visited the site and have seen some terrible things. Sophisticated comfort, ombre wraps, all very expensive. We're talking 500-dollar sweaters that you order online.

The actual philosophy page comes as a bit of surprise given the prices and emphasis on the material world. Maybe my standards are too high. I should never have gotten that master's degree in philosophy. My sister was so right. It did not prepare me for life; it did not provide me with a philosophy of style. It has made me cynical and skeptical and horribly agnostic.

On the philosopy page, you can buy (yes, it is all about buying stuff online) something called The Soothing Soak. It is a bathtub reader; a completely waterproof book of "sensuous and spiritually uplifting" stories, poems and so on. And that's not all. You can buy all sorts of waterproof books about yoga, simple food, travel, stuff, swimming pools... et j'en passe. Eat, Pray, Love and Gag Me With a Spoon.

Well, if you haven't guessed by now, Hot Moon is "a friend you can expect to be there with that ideal something to make your day a little better." For example, let's say you need a framed photo of Francesco Scavullo. You can get one for only 950dollars and, what's more, if you aren't sure who Scavullo is, there is a brief description of why Scavullo is an icon of American design. That's all you really need to know. How about a Zebra wrap in cashmere or a Chinese porcelain vase? The latter costs 2,000 dollars. If your budget is a little stretched this season, why not go for the Métier tea pot, marked down to 55 dollars. It is a one-person tea pot, by the way.

Is there a market out there for this kind of thing? Is Oprah Winfrey fat and rich?

Why does this irritate me? I don't like the use of the word philosophy to describe personal style, for one thing. I don't mind the notion of a philosophy of life, but this website's use of the terms has nothing to do with philosophical issues and what it means to be human. This is all about creature comforts and middle-class fantasies of luxury, bound up in vague suggestions of simplicity and sustainability. The implicit claim, never stated outright, is that not only will these products make you -- you being the 50-something American woman -- feel better, they will also serve as your contribution to making this world a better place. And the idea that there is something spiritual about purchasing this shit and buying into the lifestyle it promotes just kills me.

samedi 20 décembre 2008

Liberating the Nazi Librarian within

Yesterday, Mr. Wonderful, Neko and I went to pick up my snowed-in, stir-crazy mom and take her to her boyfriend's place before she went berzerk and killed a neighbor or the postman. Remember how I said we used to love to sled on Fentonwood hill? It seems that is still the tradition, although my inner child took one look at the ice and said no fucking way do I want to do that again. My inner child seems to have matured along with me, and now prefers indoor activities and sipping hot chocolate when the weather outside is frightful. Give me a warm indoor fire any day. And a project or two, the kind you never seem to get around to.

Every adult I have spoken to is organizing closets and deep cleaning kitchens. I got this sudden rage to organize our bookshelves. Actually, this was not so sudden. We built them last year, after my books and many of my belongings finally arrived from France. This was a 25-year accumulation of stuff, people. Mostly books, music and knick-knacks. We needed someplace to put the books, fast. I tried to find a suitable system at IKEA and other places, but nothing seemed quite right.

So we talked to Sean, our friend and the architect who designed our house, and he came up with the perfect solution for a space we really did not know what to do with anyway. It is not really an entryway, but not suitable for anything else. Except the three bookcases we installed. Walt had his shop guys weld the frames and we bought the wood at Home Depot. We used rusted rebar that was lying on the ground in the scrap yard at Machinists Inc to support the wooden shelves. The great thing is that the shelves can be adjusted to any height, since they rest on the rebar, which itself rests on the welded metal.

But we built them one-by-one and started putting the books on them as we built. Well, okay, I did that. I couldn't wait and I couldn't stand tripping over all of our books. We have a lot of books, many in duplicate or triplicate. As a result of this piecemeal arrangement, once all the shelves were in we had to move stuff around and the organizing system I had put in place fell apart. We repeated this same mistake for our CDs. The result in both cases is that for the past year, we have been unable to find any of the books or CDs we might wish to get our hands on. Plus, we had no light in the area, so after dark we could not find them even if they were organized. We finally (And just so you know, whenever I say "we" it usually means Walt executes what I mandate. I mandate and mandate until it gets done.) got some little clip-on lights at IKEA, and that's when I realized just how jumbled all the books and CDs were. A few days ago, I tackled the CDs. I already had these cool wire baskets from Staples; now all of our CDs are neatly arranged. Listening to the music we own has been an indescribable pleasure.

Now for the books. I just dove into the project this morning and kept at it until it was done. Now Kingsley Amis and Martin Amis are reunited, as they should be, although Amis junior's biography of his father is not, as it is shelved among the biographies. Not to be confused with the autobiographies. I started with fiction in English and, now that it is done, I have conflicting feelings. On the one hand, it doesn't look like there are too many books. Even though we have two of an embarrassing number of works. On the other hand, I saw many books that have been shelved unread. Somehow, between the urge to buy and the trip home, fell the shadow. But there is an upside, as usual. Now I know where the many bought but unread books actually are. If anyone wants to read Bernhard Schlink's The Reader before the film version comes out, just ask. I have it, filed between Catcher in the Rye (J.D. Salinger) and Riotous Assembly (Tom Sharpe). Alphabetizing books leads to some incongruous pairings, though. I had a hard time allowing Nabokov's masterpiece Lolita to stand beside The Good People of New York by Thisbe Nissen (who? you are asking yourself, I know you are). Vladimir, forgive me.

jeudi 18 décembre 2008

Snow story

Any Seattleite will tell you: it doesn't snow very often here. And when it does, any transplant from the Northeast or the Midwest will tell you: people in Seattle do not know how to drive in or otherwise cope with snow conditions. But I digress. This is not my problem because I work from home. And when it snows, I have a perfectly good reason not to go outside at all. Not that I need a reason any day. Still, it feels good to look at Neko and say "Sorry, Poops, but no walky-walk today" and know that she will understand why.
They said to expect an inch or so, but it has been snowing small but steady flakes for at least 4 hours now. In other words, at least two inches and mounting.
When I was a kid, growing up in Seattle, it did not snow often enough. And when it did, we did not get enough full-day school closures. I used to listen to the radio obsessively, waiting for the announcement that the Highline School District was closed. There were far too many one-hour late starting times. Bummer.
The hill we lived on, Fentonwood, would immediately become treacherously slick and impossible for vehicles to navigate. For this reason, it was one of the best places to go sledding. And because of its exposure, or lack thereof, Fentonwood remained an icy death trap long after the snow had become but a distant memory.
I live today on a treacherous hill not unlike Fentonwood. I'm staying inside today.

jeudi 4 décembre 2008

Here's a poem by my niece, Josie.
It's called I Am Josie. It was sent to me by her proud dad, my brother Carl.

I am Josie
I am caring and generous
I wonder what I will look like when I grow up
I hear piano notes rushing through my head
I see myself having babies
I want my cat to grow up with me
I am caring and generous

I pretend to be a mom
I feel protected around my parents
I touch music
I worry I will hurt myself badly
I cry about my future death
I am caring and generous

I understand you don’t have to be perfect
I say I love my family
I dream of being a teacher
I try to make things fair
I hope to have many kids
I am caring and generous
I am Josie

This poem by Josie was written from the heart. I didn't meet Josie until she was about six. The was three years ago, when I moved back to Seattle. I took this picture of her. She had written all these names on a big piece of paper and when I asked her what it was, she said she was listing the names of all the children she was planning to have. There must have been 30 names on the list. And she had 32 dolls, which she lined up on the staircase the next day.

lundi 1 décembre 2008


What's so special about Northern California? Pretty much everything.