jeudi 30 juillet 2009

Michael Kimball Writes Your Life Story (on a postcard)

Michael Kimball Writes Your Life Story (on a postcard)

I heard Michael Kimball on the radio today talking about his Michael Kimball Writes Your Life Story project. He writes 600-word biographies of people and posts them on his blog. Sounds like a good idea, though I suppose he attracts some people for whom it is just another vanity feather in their narcissistic cap. There are some poignant stories which, if true, should make most of us feel that we led remarkably sheltered childhoods -- even if our parents did get divorced, even if one of them was a raging alcoholic, even if we were abandoned on a doorstep as an infant.

In the era of Twitter and Facebook, it sometimes feels as if we have more information about what large egos people have and how good they feel about their accomplishments than we could possibly ever need. Is is really necessary to use Facebook as a tool for telling the world how darn pleased you are with yourself for having just done a power run, followed by a two-hour pilates class and power yoga? Or about your killer tomatoes (anyone in my neck of the woods who doesn't have killer tomatoes coming in this year has a toxic thumb), brilliant children, gifted grandchildren or favorite television shows and how cool you are for watching them? As if doing so required something more complicated than plunking your ass in a chair and manipulating the remote with your index finger.

Sometimes, when I read Facebook I feel like an enabler of something ugly and narcissistic. And Twitter? Is it really necessary to let the world know what you are doing every second of the day? Does it feed some deep need to be connected? All I know is that All That Twitters Is Not Told, and I personally would rather read Michael Kimball's postcards from the edge than mindless though often ironic "thought" bubbles in an age of monumental ego inflation. Because the thing about Facebook and Twitter and all the rest is that the snippets we see rarely tell us anything meaningful about who a person is. They are merely recitations of all the meaningless shit we do every day but which, because it concerns our self-identity via our brand choices, never makes it into the annual Christmas card about how wonderful we and our peeps are. Apparently there are many people out there who opened Facebook accounts so they could tell their friends every time they consume a tall soy latté from you know where or buy a gadget from the apple store. They are our proudest intimate Kodak moments; they are not the stuff we hide away in the darkest rooms of our soul, hoping that no one will enquire about them.

I fear that in the not-too-distant future, I'll read on someone's Facebook wall that they have just had the world's nicest poop. Large, soft, relatively odor free. And there will be comments, encouragements, acolades. You go, girl! Or maybe: you went, girl! Or maybe: No shit! Good for you!

mardi 28 juillet 2009

Desperate Housewives of Seattle

From a recent article in Le Figaro on Seattle:
Mon «I Phone» en poche (pourrais-je vraiment vivre sans lui ?), je découvre Seattle : la cité n'a ni la puissante beauté de Vancouver, au Canada, ni le cosmopolitisme de Melbourne, en Australie, mais ressemble, par son côté «culturellement correct», à Göteborg, en Suède. Ses banlieues aplaties autour des sièges sociaux luxueux des groupes «high-tech» sont autant de jardins magnifiques, ou des milliers de «desperate housewives» tentent de positiver leurs existences, derrière les volants de leurs cabriolets de sport. Pendant qu'elles déjeunent avec d'autres femmes stressées par l'ennui dans les restaurants à la mode, leurs époux désertent des bureaux paysagers pour se détendre sur les terrains de football ou de rugby. On travaille ensemble et l'on joue ensemble. Il faut démontrer que l'on a toujours le feu sacré, c'est-à-dire l'esprit d'équipe et le goût de la compétition. Le soir, si l'on veut être fou, on va au restaurant «Crabpot» de Kirkland, où l'on vous revêt d'une bavette avant de déverser un chariot de crustacés sur votre table.
Seattle est tellement contemporaine, bien sous tous rapports, qu'elle sue l'ennui et l'angoisse existentielle. Un ami psychanalyste me confie sa bonne fortune : de nombreux cadres japonais travaillant ici finissent sur son divan, lessivés par tant de perfection.

Translation to follow.

mardi 21 juillet 2009

Le rayonnement français

André Malraux, 1901-1976. Résistant, romancier, aventurier, gaulliste, ministre.

Yesterday I had my first contact with Alliance Française in Seattle. AF now has chapters in many of the world's cities. It was created in 1883 to promote the propogation of the French language in France's colonies at the time and also in foreign lands. In 1884, AF formed its first board of directors. Many famous names in the francophone world were among the members of the founding board: Ferdinand de Lesseps, Louis Pasteur, Ernest Renan, Jules Verne, Armand Colin, etc. The first AF branch in Europe is located in Barcelona.

I was a student at the mother of all Alliance française schools, the one located at 101 Boulevard Raspail in Paris. I only attended for one quarter, because I met Jeanne, a 76-year old woman who became my French teacher... but that's another story, for another time. If Jeanne is still alive - and this is a strong possibility - she is close to 100.

In the history of AF, here is an amazing incident. In 1940, during the Occupation, the archives of AF were moved to Berlin by the Nazis, as part of a project to destroy "the instruments of propagation of the French language in general and the Alliance française in particular".

Today, AF has 1,072 associations in 130 countries.

The Seattle chapter is in Wallingford, on Sunnyside street, in the Good Shepherd Center. A new executive director was appointed recently, and I met her yesterday. She is young (this is great - AF in Seattle had a justly earned reputaiton for being a bit poussiéreux, which is why I had stayed away until now) and bicultural (French mother and American father from the state of Washington). Actually, she is tricultural, since she spent much of her childhood in Germany. She has lots of ideas for updating AF. I'm going to fill in next week for a friend who is going on vacation, but Christine is interested in further collaboration. She wants to get some French business culture classes going (again - a great idea) and thinks I can help, since my background in France is in business rather than teaching per se. I haven't been in the classroom as a teacher for a very long time and I am really looking forward to it. I met the students in one of the classes yesterday. An eclectic mix of widowers, high school students and everything in between. They are beginners; this is a challenge. I can't wait! Teaching at AF will be the perfect complement to my classes at the UW starting this fall.

Why am I doing this? I can't speak for others, but I really like embarking on new careers every once in awhile. I love my work as a translator/editor. However, I find myself wanting to have more physical interaction in a work context and, above all, my eyes are starting to feel the strain of looking at a computer screen all day. I would like to find work that takes me away from the computer, challenges me to use my skills in a new way and requires me to gain new ones. When I worked as a freelance translator in Paris, I saw my clients and fellow translators and interpreters regularly. I worked on projects that took me to their offices. Now I am very far away and see them once a year, when I do my annual business trip to France. This may be why I feel like making a change. But maybe not. It just may be time to try my hand at something new.

vendredi 17 juillet 2009

Le temps d'un été

The month of July has been and will continue to be busy. The weather is cooperating. My birthday celebration began on July 3 with an early morning bike ride to Ballard, with Walt, and ended on July 15 with a bike ride to Colman Pool (and a swim in the fabulous outdoor saltwater pool), with Caroline, pour fêter l'après 14 juillet. In between, many fun things I don't have time to write about just now. Including an evening with Gloria Steinem! I don't have time because the fun continues. Caroline, Jacqueline and I plan to ride to Colman Pool today for a swim. My friend Linda arrives from Toronto tomorrow for a four-day stay. Wednesday we're going to see the Cowboy Junkies at the Zoo. Friday we're going to Ellensburg for the Jazz in the Valley Festival. We return on Sunday for a BBQ with my distant cousin Shavaun, who coincidentally used to work with Walt years and years ago.

Sometimes I look out at the sailboats in Puget Sound and miss mine just a little. She is still there, in La Rochelle, and still mine, but not easily accessible for obvious reasons. Like mountain climbing, sailing is a great experience and I am glad to have had both of them in my life so far. But there is so much to do and see in this world, and sailing takes up so much time.

I used to run. After running in a few 10K's, I decided to run a marathon. I was working fulltime and had little time to train. So I followed a 50-mile a week plan for three or four months. Every week, I did a 10-mile run during lunch on Wednesdays. Every weekend, I did a long run, adding a mile each week. On the other days of the week, I did what I could - usually three to five miles. I finished the race in just under three-and-a-half hours and was ecstatic. Up to the day of the race, I had never run more than 20 miles and hadn't even done a half marathon. From 20 miles to the end I was in uncharted territory and it was both fabulous and horrible. I wanted to stop. After completing the marathon, I found that I didn't enjoy running as much. I became acutely aware of the aches and pains I felt in vital places, like my feet and knees. When it got to the point where I only felt good about running when I slowed down to walk, I decided I had had enough. And I had done enough. I had gotten through a marathon. Since then, I have been a dedicated walker. My feet thank me; my knees thank me. In fact, in retrospect and although I am happy to have done a marathon, I would have been better off just walking. I have not undone the damage to my knees, feet and hips, though I no longer feel pain in those places all the time. So I am happy to have finished a marathon, and happier still to know I will never put myself through that again.

jeudi 2 juillet 2009

Lou and Laurie

It seems that many people are not familiar with Laurie Anderson, whose quirky and haunting album Big Science, released in 1983, is one of my favorite works of avant garde pop art. But everyone knows who Lou Reed is, even if they are only really familiar with Take a Walk on the Wild Side and his iconic band The Velvet Underground. He is obscure and yet hugely famous, while she is obscure and very discreet.

When people learn that they are married - they wed in April 2008 and have been together as a couple since 1995 - the reaction is usually "Who's Laurie Anderson"? Except among those who know who she is, and they say "It makes perfect sense". One reason is that Lou Reed is famously bi-sexual and Laurie Anderson was pretty much openly lesbian. Both of them transcend gender, if you ask me. It isn't that she is masculine and he is feminine; it is as if the two of them belong to some alternative gender that few people can pull off. So it makes perfect sense that these two talented musico-poetical creatures from the Third Gender Universe and the New York music scene would have come together.

How lucky and wonderful that they are doing a show, together, at Salle Pleyel in Paris on September 4. I was planning a trip to Paris but could not seem to decide when to go. I bought tickets for the concert online. Now we have to go! September is actually my favorite month in Paris. La rentrée, everybody back from summer vacation with a vengeance, trying to figure out how to prolonger le bronzage. Fewer tourists, as they have scampered back home to their own back-to-school madness. Generally nice weather, though mercifully cooler.

mercredi 1 juillet 2009

On a la pêche ici !

Je ne sais pas comment la saison se présente dans l'Hexagone, mais là où je suis, les pêches, brugnons et autres nectarines sont somptueux cette année. Succulents, juteux, bien fermes mais pas trop... c'est le top de chez top. Je viens de mettre une pêche sur mon yaourt matinal, après avoir mangé une belle nectarine hier.

La saison est courte. Donc, il faut en profiter. Ne vous en privez pas. Cherchez la pêche et vous l'aurez. C'est promis !

Un peu d'histoire

On dit que la culture des pêches a commencé en Chine quelques 2000 ans avant la naissance du Christ. Ensuite, ce sont les Grecques et les Romans qui les ont introduits en Europe, et les Portugais et les Espagnols qui ont porté ces beaux fruits jusqu'en Amérique.

Un peu de géographie

Aux Etats-Unis, la Californie, la Géorgie et la Carolina du Nord sont les trois états qui produisent les plus grandes quantités de pêches. En France, comme la carte ci-dessous le démontre, le lieu de culture est le Midi (Drôme, Gard, Ardèche, Pyrénées Orientales).

Et un peu de science : c’est quoi un brugnon ?

Alors, quelle différence entre la nectarine et le brugnon ? Vaste question ! Mais la réponse est simple :
La chair de la nectarine n'adhère pas au noyau, et elle est généralement jaune, juteuse, ferme, et un peu plus acide que la pêche.
Quant au brugnon, la chair adhère au noyau, il est généralement à chair d'un blanc tirant sur le vert. Juteux, ferme, savoureux.