jeudi 30 décembre 2010

The Coen Brothers nail it with True Grit

As we left the movie theater the other night after seeing the Coen Brothers' rendition of True Grit (I am not going to call it a remake, so there), I was feeling the happy buzz one gets when one has no particular expectations and they are wildly surpassed. It isn't that I expected the Coen Brothers to do a bad job, they never do, or that I was worried their True Grit would not be as good as the first movie version, the John Wayne vehicle made in 1969. In fact, I never much liked the 1969 movie, perhaps because I never much liked John Wayne. It seemed he was always in the boring movies that played at the Burien Theater, the ones that dominated the Saturday matinée line-up. You know, like The Sands of Iwo Jima. I never liked his voice much or his looks. Somewhere, I once saw a photo of him wearing short shorts. I think it had to do with rumors about his sexual orientation. I have been unable to locate the photo since, but I found a website forum devoted to a discussion of his manhood in which a poster refers to this famous photo. He couldn't relocate it either.
The forum is hilarious, by the way. Lots of trite statements such as "He was a man's man" on one side and "Of course he was gay" on the other.
I didn't hate the first attempt to bring True Grit to the screen, and it was Wayne's best role, in my opinion. He played a bit against type and he was getting old. But Kim Darby as Mattie Ross just did not work. For one thing, she was too old at 21 to play a 14-year old. And Mattie Ross's wisdom beyond her youth is central to the story. She has true grit and she eventually brings it out in the other two.
So back to the present. We were leaving the movie theater and Walt said, with disappointment, "that was good but it wasn't so much about Rooster Cogburn." He said this just as I was thinking, with elation, "that was good because it wasn't about Rooster Cogburn." What makes the Coen Brothers' rendition so winning is that they have stayed truer to the story and made it about Mattie, told from her point of view. And after looking at more than 15,000 aspiring Mattie Rosses, they cast Hailee Steinfeld in the role. She is 14. And she gives a commanding performance. Her partners, Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon, are outstanding as well. And to their credit, they treat her as an equal acting partner and not a child. It shows through in the resulting film.
Whenever a Coen Brothers movie comes out, people debate over whether it is a "major" or a "minor" Coen Brothers. I don't get involved too much in these debates. I have liked almost everything they have done, even Intolerable Cruelty. No matter what story they are telling, they know how to write dialogue and shape plot and they film beautifully. Their movies are beautiful to look at. In addition, the casting for the minor roles is always perfect, with some great faces and voices. The opening scene of True Grit is beautiful to look at. Just the camera pointed at a boarding house in the dark, with the voiceover of the mature Mattie Ross. It isn't until the end that the eye is drawn to a dead body lying on the ground below the steps. It's a small thing, but a beautiful thing. And the scene near the end, where Rooster carries the injured Mattie to safety on the back of her horse Blackie, is almost like an animated fairy tale. The night, the prairie, the little house in the woods. Beautiful.
It's major Coen Brothers.

dimanche 26 décembre 2010

Maureen Dowd meets Patti Smith

I have nothing to add to what she said.
Walt and I saw Patti read from her book in Seattle last year. She is magical; she is mystical; she is ageless and full of grace. She's what I want to be when I get older.

jeudi 23 décembre 2010

Livraison avant Noël

A Elisabeth, maman de Mathilde, ainsi qu'à toute sa famille, nous vous souhaitons un Joyeux Noël! On vous a envoyé un paquet cadeau ce matin à midi. Le paquet est parti en bon état et nous espérons qu'il vous arrivera en pleine forme! Le voici hier soir avec son nouveau tapis de yoga. Namaste!

lundi 20 décembre 2010

Mon jardin d'hiver

C'est pas triste, ça?

Demain, c'est la nuit la plus longue de l'année. Après, les nuits se raccourcissent petit à petit... Décembre, le mois le plus redouté (et redoutable?) de l'année. Il fait froid, le manque de soleil est pesant et cruel. La grisaille quoi. Les grises mines. Les âmes grises aussi. Tout le monde semble avoir le cafard, ce mélange néfaste de tristesse et de déprime. On a envie de ne rien faire, de tout faire mais ailleurs. Bon, c'est mieux que la pluie de novembre. Demain, c'est aussi la pleine lune. C'est rare de voir coïncider la pleine lune et le solstice d'hiver. Soyons joyeux! Plus rarissime encore, l'alignement terre/lune/soleil qui produit les éclipes est également prévu pour demain, le 21 décembre 2010.

jeudi 2 décembre 2010

Calendrier de l'Avent

Le nôtre est rempli de petites friandises.
Maintenant, il ne nous reste plus que 23 jours d'attente!
Avec une chanson pour chaque jour (il faut cliquer sur le titre).

mercredi 1 décembre 2010

Noir Désir n'est plus

After Téléphone, Noir Désir was France's most popular rock group. Its musical career was abruptly cut short when lead singer Bertrand Cantat "accidentally" killed his then companion, actrice Marie Trintingant, in Vilnius (Lithuania), where she was shooting a made-for-television film. He only wanted to shake her up a bit, according to Cantat, but unfortunately her head came into contact with the heavy metal radiator in their hotel room and she died, presumably while Cantat slept.

This happened in July 2003 and Cantat was tried, found guilty and sentenced in Lithuania to eight years of prison, from which he was conditionally released in late 2007. Marie Tritingant's parents, devastated by her death and what they considered to be overly lenient punishment for Cantat, were not happy when Cantat was let out early for good behavior. Since then, he has quietly pursued his interrupted musical career. But the band's recent "retour sur scène" did not sit well with some observers (myself included). I was not really surprised to hear that the guitarist Serge Teyssot-Gay had decided to leave the group, citing "la situation d'indécence qui caractérise la situation du groupe depuis plusieurs années" in addition to musical, emotional and human discord with Cantat. Ouf! I'm glad someone said it! This statement was followed a day or two later by one from the drummer, who said he was speaking for two other members of the group, announcing the end of Noir Désir.

Did I mention that Bernard Cantat was actually married to or living long term with another woman when he met Marie Tritingnant? Her name was Kristina Rady. In January of this year, she hung herself while Bertrand Cantat slept upstairs in the house they were apparently sharing. She was found by one of the couple's children. If I remember correctly, she stood by her man throughout the aftermath of Marie Tritingnant's death, and even went so far as to state that he had never, ever been phsycially violent with her, though others contested this, insisting that she had complained of physical violence in the past.

The whole thing is incredibly sordid and sad. I don't feel pity for Bertrand Cantat, but I do wonder where one goes from here. How does a person continue on from such a dark place? Is there any possibility of redemption? What kind of Act Three would not be indécent?

lundi 22 novembre 2010

Où sont les neiges d'antan?

Ici, apparemment.
This is the world we woke up to today. White rooftops, tiny flakes, cold temperatures. Can chestnuts roasting on an open fire be far behind?

dimanche 21 novembre 2010

An office that is messier than mine

This is the office of novelist and Bainbridge Island resident Jonathan Evison. Jonathan (we are on a first name basis now) was kind enough to come and talk to a group of about 20 people in West Seattle, most of whom had read his first published novel All About Lulu. Jonathan would probably not be happy to know that I found touches of John Irving in All About Lulu. I say this because he made an offhand comment about Irving getting into trouble sometimes, because he has too many people and too many coincidences cluttering his stories. I think this is a bit harsh; Irving is a great storyteller and, like Evison, focuses on the traditional stuff of fiction: a good story, interesting people, unfortunate events, tragedy even, told with a touch of humor.
Jonathan Evison has a new novel coming out in February 2011 called West of Here. Consider this a plug. It sounds promising: sweeping, tons of complex characters, set on the Olympic Peninsula, 41 different narrative voices, the story weaves in and out of the 19th century and our own time.
I recommend this author, so shut up and read.

vendredi 19 novembre 2010

Le bruit qui court...

In France, the firing of three employees for writing derogatory comments about their bosses and the HR manager on Facebook has just been upheld in a labor court (industrial tribunal) decision.

This whole Facebook thing has me troubled. I de-activated my account some time ago, after a cyber-friend got upset (freaked out) when I friended one of her cyber-enemies. Having written horrible things about this cyber-enemy, the cyber-friend was afraid that the cyber-enemy would see photos of her grandchild and come after her in the dead of night. I'm not kidding. I was in trouble for friending someone without consulting every other existing friend to see if anyone had a problem with me friending the cyber-enemy. I decided the whole thing was too ridiculous to spend time on and shut down my account altogether.

And you know what? Betty White was right: What a time suck facebook is! Goodbye Facebook, hello 90-minute flow yoga class at 8 Limbs. Goodbye Facebook, hello longer walk with Neko at Lincoln Park. Goodbye Facebook, hello an extra chapter of A la recherche du temps perdu... tiens, tiens. A post-modern meaning of the title of Proust's book has just hit me in the Face! Goodbye Facebook, hello real books!

And tonight, at the Columbia Tower Club, I'll be tasting the 2010 Beaujolais nouveau at a fancy party put on by the French American Chamber of Commerce in Seattle. I know it is all just a marketing ploy and blah blah blah, but you can't beat the top of the tower and a delicious buffet! Who needs Facebook friends?

mardi 16 novembre 2010

Magical Thinking

One of the smartest people ever. And certainly one of America's best writers ever. Slouching Toward Bethlehem. Miami. Play it as it Lays. The Year of Magical Thinking, of course. A Book of Common Prayer.

She once described herself as the perpetual outsider. A shy, bookish child. Devoted to her craft.

mercredi 3 novembre 2010

Mourning in America?

In the silver lining department, here are a couple of things to be thankful for:

1. Tea Party darling Christine O'Donnell was defeated.

Give me some time, folks. I'll find some more...

Okay, here's another one:

2. Jerry Brown is back. Does anyone remember him? He was governor of California from 1975 to 1983 (something like that). He was then the youngest elected governor of California and dated cool people like Linda Ronstadt. Now he is the oldest ever and, in the meantime, has gotten married. California always has cool governors. At least some things never change.

What else?

3. The Democrats have shown themselves to be more cooperative than the Republicans, so perhaps politics will become a shade less divisive. Actually, while I believe the first part of the equation, I know the second part is just wishful thinking.

The fact is, the vast majority of Americans do not take the time to consider the issues and weigh the consequences of their voting decisions. We get the governance we deserve. People are upset about the economy but not interested in getting mired down in thinking about the causes. They just want it to be fixed. Those who have been relatively spared are more desperate than ever to hang onto what they have. Incidentally, it was not a good time to ask voters in the State of Washington to think rationally and responsibly about taxation. The results -- disastrous for our state -- are fairly predictable. I live in a state where, apparently, it is okay with the majority to have everyone either home-schooled or wealthy enough to go to private schools. No one seems to think that the public schools deserve any funding at all. And, apparently, we have no qualms about taking an important source of funding away from our state government because it is more important to be able to buy booze at 3 pm and at 3 am from all-night convenience stores. I can't wait to share the road with these people. And forget about replacing that source of revenue with another; the voters have decided to make it even more difficult to raise taxes. What a fun state we live in! I love potholes, by the way, which is a really good thing because there are bound to be more and more of them.

The irony of the image at the top is that without public funding, effective law enforcement becomes impossible. I guess we are headed towards privatizing that too.

dimanche 31 octobre 2010

Fall hues

It was a perfect day to visit Seattle's Sculpture Park. The autumn chill was unmistakeable in spite of the sun. We also managed to get the yard and deck ready to hunker down for fall/winter. And our candy bowl is filled with treats for the costumed; we may have to take it to the streets again this year. Nobody comes our way because we live on a steep hill. Walt's grandson stopped by for a treat yesterday, but he wasn't wearing his lumberjack costume. However, I think what he was wearing is indistinghuishable from it.

samedi 30 octobre 2010

A little bit of Picasso visits Seattle

The Musée Picasso in Paris is closed for renovation and expansion. Il était temps! That splendid museum, which is actually a converted 17th century townhouse in the Marais, could only display 300 of Picasso's works at a time (out of the 5,000 in its possession!), faute de place.

Some 150 of these works have made their way to Seattle, and other works have been packaged and shipped elsewhere, for public viewing while the work is carried out on the museum.

We got to go last night as part of a special evening sponsored by Alliance française. Our visit included wine, cheese and a brief but very informative pre-tour talk by SAM's Chiyo Ichikawa. Is it worth seeing Picasso in Seattle? Yes, I think so. The selection made available to SAM gives viewers a sense of the breadth and diversity of Picasso's long and protean career as an artist. And it is always exciting to see actual paintings and sculptures as opposed to photos of them in books. Like the work of any great artist, Picasso's needs to be viewed the flesh to be fully appreciated, I think.

Everyone will find something to like. Personally, I enjoyed watching a couple of Robert Picault's black and white videos of Picasso at work in the studio circa 1950. I also liked some of the photos, including a couple of self-portraits.

It was strange to see Picasso exhibited in Seattle, out of his element somehow. Maybe this is because I associate Picasso with the Musée Picasso in Paris, which I lived very close to for a couple of years during my Marais period. My apartment was on Rue Saint Antoine, which is near St Paul, La Bastille and La Place des Vosges. I used to walk by the Picasso museum on my way to visit a friend who -- get this -- was living in the magnificent Paris townhouse owned by the Farah Diba, wife of the deposed Shah of Iran. I won't get into why or how my friend ended up there, or even where it was located exactly. But it was an incredible place by anyone's standards. My friend was the daughter of an ex "political analyst for the State Department" (wink, wink). National security prevents me from saying another word about her or the Farah's townhouse. I value my ongoing existence.

vendredi 29 octobre 2010

Dysfunctional family

Yesterday I dropped a teeny tiny little thing behind the sofa (I was trying to move a huge and heavy painting 2 millimeters to the right), which meant pulling out the sofa to find it. Yikes! If anyone out there is missing anything, chances are Pushy has hidden it under our sofa. I could not believe the stash. Too bad I have forgotten to recharge my camera batteries for a week now, or I would have photographic evidence that my non-disabled cat, in addition to being evil, is a hoarder.
Nothing is too small or insignificant for her. She apparently loves wine corks and beer bottle caps. There were dozens of them. Straws too (we had a six-year old living in our basement for three months recently), not to mention paper clips, pens and pencils (many chewed on by Neko), dog toys, cat toys, chunks of dog and cat food, half eaten dog treats, balls of dust and hair (I'm not sure Pushy is to blame for this stash), several of Neko's cherished bones, money (spare change mostly), Jimmy Hoffa's dead body.... You name it, it was under the sofa.
But that's not the worst of it. In addition to living with a hoarder, we live with a bulimic. Neko, who has been particularly cunning of late in her never-ending quest to sneak a bite of cat poop as soon as our backs are turned, immediately began trying to eat the huge pile of gross, greasy, dusty stash that was under the sofa. She's bulimic! Except that she only binges, never purges. At least she doesn't eat her own poop. That would be really gross.
On that cheery note, I'm outta here for some yoga. Namaste y'all!

mardi 26 octobre 2010

The face of evil

You can see it in her eyes: she loves nothing better than thwarting our desire for a quiet cup of coffee in the morning before facing the day. Before reading and reponding to emails. Before anything. Just a quiet cup of joe and, in my case, a tiny square of dark chocolate.

Pushkin Nosy Parker has other plans, however, and if she can include us in them in some way, then she is happy. You can tell by the way she spends the rest of the morning (after coming out of hiding, post-prank) sleeping on her favorite perch.

This morning, I heard what sounded like a thousand tiny beads being poured on the floor upstairs, followed by the sound of little cat feet, scampering for cover, followed by a very specific Neko bark, which I think translates as "You are going to be in so much trouble."

Did I mention that Pushy likes to get into the wicker trash can upstairs? We usually put it out of reach, which means putting it on top of the dresser. I have tried to see this as an innovation in home décor, but frankly I don't think this new placement idea will be taking the world by storm any time soon. Sometimes the trash can ends up on ground level, where it belongs. Usually, it is empty when this happens. This morning, there must have been a packet of that silicon stuff that gets packed with stuff you order that comes in boxes. You know, like lamps and stuff. Pushy found one and through a deft combination of pushing, clawing and chewing, somehow got it open. I am pretty sure Neko got involved at some point. I have no idea how the opening of this teeny packet produced a noise that sounded more like a thousand beads or marbles being dropped to the floor from a great height. Perhaps I'll have a better idea after we install the video surveillance camera that will be on 24/7.

Anyway, this is why at 7 am we were vacuuming upstairs, moving furniture to get every little bead of poisonous silicon, instead of enjoying the freshly brewed coffee that awaited us below. Of course, the vacuum cleaner bag was full and had to be changed. That's how these narratives work.

Remember the song by the Seeds?

All I want is to just have fun,
Live my life like it's just begun,
But you're pushin' too hard on me (too hard).

mercredi 20 octobre 2010

This little boy

One of the unexpected highlights of my stay in Paris last summer was the famous défilé du 14 juillet. July 14th is what we Americans call Bastille Day, and what is officially La Fête Nationale in France. Some Americans call it the French Fourth of July, which it kind of is, though I don't like to hear it referred to in this patrio-centric way.

Anyway, I used to watch the military parade on television when I lived in Paris, even when I lived on rue de Courcelles, which is right next to the Champs Elysées (the focal point for the parade). Since everything was closed on the morning of the parade and since all of my friends were out of town for the holiday, I decided to actually go to the parade. Without my umbrella, although I knew the forecast called for rain. And it poured. I ducked into a café at one point, just before it began to really come down. I drank an espresso and watched the parade on television for awhile. This little boy was in the café and kept running out every time the television indicated that the planes were flying overhead. He was so excited. Jumping up and down. Unable to contain himself. I had to take a picture of him. But I didn't want to be obvious about it. I always feel like I am invading someone's privacy when I take a picture of a stranger (as opposed to a group of strangers, which seems okay). I tried to be discreet. I had forgotten about this photo until I came across it this morning as part of a work avoidance exercise. I hadn't noticed that the photo also contains an arm and a hand of an unseen passerby, who is smoking a cigarette. Mais oui, bien sûr. This is France, after all.

dimanche 17 octobre 2010

Les bons tons

Quel week-end magnifique!

mercredi 13 octobre 2010


Well, that was interesting. Mathilde and I got free tickets to see Manu Chao last night at the Paramount. And we had great seats. First balcony, third row. Had it not been for the writhing woman in row one of the balcony, who for some reason felt she needed to stand up and dance, though she looked more like she was writhing in agony or had to pee, I would have had an unobstructed view all night. Luckily, she could not keep up with Manu and sat down every so often and then permanently. She was a really bad dancer, with no sense of rhythm at all. It was actually kind of hilarious.

But the real thrills were down below, in the mosh pit. Call me old, old-fashioned, no fun, whatever. But a mosh pit--what a stupendously horrible idea. Lip-service crowd control for a bunch of stoners pushing and shoving one another in random fashion, interspersed with random people being lifted off the ground and used as human projectiles. It doesn't look like fun at all. (Je sais que la maman de Mathilde lit ce blog, donc: Pas de panique! Mathilde et moi étions très sages, assises et loin de la mêlée.) It just looks like a bunch of vaguely unhappy, usually overweight, slightly awkward, mostly male humans with free-floating anger issues that they need to work out. Ick. Just ick.

Manu was pretty amazing. Quite energetic, especially considering he was born in 1961 and thus is a mere five years younger than me. In fact, he has more energy than a five year-old on speed. There are lots of influences in his music, from years of wandering around the world, from being born in Paris to Spanish parents and having a musical father with (I think) some Cuban roots. Manu is also un chanteur engagé, which is always a nice plus. Anyway, you can read all about him on the Internet if you are interested in knowing more about Manu Chao (and his original band, long since disbanded, Mano Negra). I am sure one of the influences on Manu Chao is the French rock group Les Negresses Vertes. Check them out. And Manu has produced for Amadou and Mariam, a truly amazing duo. Check them out too. Yeah, world music.

Unrelated: I found this on the Internet. It is by my dear friend Pierre Vella. You can see his name (and that of the late Cathleen Vella, his lovely wife and my dear friend) and address on the postcard he illustrated and sent to a friend.

mardi 5 octobre 2010

Touche pas à mon cirque!

When I lived in the 18th (Rue Camille Tahan, near Place de Clichy), there was a vacant lot on Avenue de Clichy (on the right side facing north, which is important because the left side of Avenue de Clichy is in the 17th and the right side is in the 18th, two arrondissements that are totally different, one populaire, the other not) that one day spawned a circus. It was winter; it was a cirque d'hiver. Just a small affair -- a tent, a caravan and a bunch of tziganes (gypsies). When I was a kid, I wanted to run away and join a circus. Maybe most kids entertain this fantasy; I'm not sure many almost do it, as I did. I made a plan with my friend from across the street, which included throwing a pebble against her window in the middle of the night. I got as far as the front door of my house before I really saw clearly that this plan of ours would end badly. I touched the door knob but couldn't turn it; I went back to bed and gave up my circus fantasy.

I used to walk by the little circus on Avenue de Clichy every day. Sometimes I would see the tziganes sitting around and smoking or practicing their routines. I wanted to join them; I wanted to run away and join the circus.

The French government has recently decided to get tough on its tzigane population. The pretext is that with Roumania and other Eastern European countries joining the European Union, France is being overrun by these "gens du voyage". A little legislative history is in order: until 2000, the Loi Besson dated May 31, 1990 required cities with more than 5,000 inhabitants to set aside a patch of land for nomads. In 2000, another law was passed (Loi n°2000-614 du 5 juillet 2000) to deal with complex cases (cities with just under 5,000 inhabitants, for example). In 2003, another law (la loi sur la sécurité intérieure) placed further restrictions on the rights of these gens du voyage to occupy these encampments. In 2005, France's legislators decided to make them pay residency taxes (property taxes).

So what's happening now and getting everybody up in arms is really just part of a process that was set in motion years ago. The problematizing of itinerant people did not begin yesterday; in fact, it goes back way further than the law passed in 1991.

Back to the Cirque parisien Romanès: it winters in Paris and performs across Europe the rest of the year. It even represented France at the Shanghai World's Fair. Now Eric Besson, France's Ministre du Travail, has caused a stir for revoking the work permits of a couple of its musicians. Alexandre Romanès, the colorful and eloquent head of the Cirque, claims there is a link between the way his musicians are being treated and the government's larger crusade against gypsies and their encampments. The current winter home of the Cirque Romanès is on another street I used to live on, Rue de Courcelles (actually, the address is 42-44 Boulevard de Reims in the 17th; I was further down on Rue de Courcelles and my apartment was in the 8th arrondissement). I was listening to one of my daily podcasts (Pascale Clark's Comme on nous parle) when suddenly I heard the familiar voice of Alexandre Romanès. The France Inter program was initially aired on September 27. Romanès announced that a soirée de soutien au cirque would be held on October 4 and that he hoped his troupe would be able to perform as planned starting on November 6. Vive le cirque! Vive le Cirque Romanès! If you live in Paris, please go and see these talented people perform. Think of it as a nice way to flip the bird at Nico and all the pretty people who apparently want to rid the landscape of gypsies. Where is first lady Carla Bruni, l'artiste, when we most need her to go to bat for her fellow artistes?

vendredi 1 octobre 2010

Good news, horrible news

I was driving up to Hiawatha for a walk with Neko before dark, feeling happy and cheery because damn it the sun was out! I turned on the radio just in time to hear a weather forecast for the month of October that was awesome. It called for fog overnight and in the early morning, burning off around 11 am and giving way to sunshine and temperatures in the mid-60's. That's what I call an Indian Summer, folks! I couldn't believe it and even now wonder if I really heard this at all. My euphoria was short-lived, though, because the next item up on the radio was the event now referred to as the Rutgers Suicide. One of the saddest stories I have ever heard.

RIP Tyler Clementi.

dimanche 26 septembre 2010

Talk Talk

In Seattle, we had a fantastic last summer day yesterday. It was the perfect date for my friend Susi's annual Oktoberfest party, which features great German beer and food (pretzels and sausages and potato salad and german chocolate cookies and other light fare) and Susi in a dirndl looking pretty durn cute.

Today, fall is here. Just in time for the rain and gray skies, my friend Dahli sent me a link to TED (click on title), which bills itself as bringing riveting ideas by remarkable people to the world. Behind the cool website, where you can find talks by topic or by date or by most emailed and most blogged, is a "small nonprofit devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading." TED, which has been around since 1984, started out as two conferences a year devoted to Technology, Entertainment and Design. TED still does the two conferences -- one in Long Beach and one in Palm Springs each spring -- but has added a third in venerable Oxford UK each summer. The great thing is that the website brings these talks in podcast format to the world. I just watched Annie Lennox give a talk about AIDS. And, though I hate to admit it, I watched a few minutes of Elizabeth Gilbert on writing and genius. I actually find her oddly engaging; I just wish I could say that I loved her planetary mega-best selling tsunami of a book better. I guess someone had to write THAT BOOK and she is a better writer than most who would have been tempted to do so.

Anyway, enjoy TED. And if you are a Seattleite, think about supporting Town Hall this fall and winter. Turn off the damn television and get out. Go downtown and pay as little as 5 bucks to hear some pretty good talkers who come to town to talk. They are generally hawking a book they have just published, but many are really interesting people and good speakers. You can also go to Benaroya for the SAL (Seattle Arts and Lectures) series, which brought Jonathan Franzen to Seattle and is bringing TR Reid on October 5 to talk about health care. In 2011 -- this is exciting! -- the writer Richard Ford is coming. And so is Joyce Carol Oates.

Coming up at Town Hall this week: Deborah Fallows, about learning Chinese; Nancy Pearl, in a talk about travel books called Book Lust To Go; and most exciting, Mary Catherine Bateson, the cultural anthropologist, giving a talk called Aging With Purpose.

I am ready to accept that summer is over and that I live in Seattle, where the rainy season can be pretty depressing and very long if you just stay at home and watch television. I bought myself a pair of incredible rain boots in Paris last summer. They weighed a ton and I was afraid I would be unable to get them in my suitcase. But they made it back to Seattle with me, leaving me with no good reason not to go outside when it's raining. Remember Winnie the Pooh and Christopher Robin? It was said of Christopher Robin that he didn't much care what the weather did, as long as he was out in it. My boots are like his wellies, and I thought of him as I walked through mud puddles in Lincoln Park this morning. Is there anything more fun than walking through mud puddles with wellies on?

In fact, Milne wrote a poem called Happiness, which simply goes like this:


John had
Great Big
Boots on;
John had a
Great Big
John had a
Great Big
Mackintosh –
And that
(Said John)

lundi 20 septembre 2010

Overheard at the Social Security Office

A very fat old man wearing a proud to be a veteran t-shirt.

At the Burien Social Security Office.

This morning.

The situation: Fat old man comes in to see someone about a letter but does not have his social security card with him. He complains, quite loudly in an otherwise silent room, about benefits having been cut off without warning. He explains in a loud voice that the last time this happened it fucked up everything, especially his mortgage and utility payments. Says his wife works full-time running a shop and can NEVER come to the Social Security office to deal with this issue herself, after being told that the recipient of the letter needed to come in person. In reply to an inaudible question from the increasingly exasperated teller, the man booms out:

"Cleopatra is my wife!"

vendredi 17 septembre 2010

Who invented proud parent of college student decals for cars and why?

So in my yoga class this morning, we were asked to come up with a resolve. This is a sentence that expresses an intention or a wish. For some reason, that line from the zen hot dog stand joke popped into my head, so my resolve was "Make me one with everything". I'm not sure I want to be one with everything, though, or even what it means. The punchline of the second zen hot dog stand joke is "Change comes from within". I'll let you ponder that one.

In the meantime, and although I am supposed to be feeling one with everything, I have been thinking about one of my new pet peeves ever since I saw a big ole SUV with a decal in the back window that read "Parent of a Dartmouth Student". I had never noticed this cultural phenomenon before, and since I saw the Dartmouth sticker it seems I can't escape these proud parents. My other car is a Mercedes.

Why do I find this phenomenon so irritating? After all, what's wrong with parental pride in offspring? Nothing, except that it is so overdone here in America that you just want to scream sometimes! You would think that all we produce here are Einsteins, Picassos, Curies and Galileos. It costs a lot of money to send kids to colleges these days; in some ways, the display of these decals is a way of telling the world you can afford the 60,000 dollars a year it takes to attend Harvard or Yale, and that your kid (probably after graduating from 23,000 dollar a year Lakeside) got in! Woo hoo! Whatever, right?

I would like to know when these stickers started popping up, so if anyone can enlighten me on that I would appreciate it. They sure didn't exist when I was going to college -- or maybe my parents just weren't into that. I suppose they could have had regular decals, and theirs would have been pretty impressive: Harvard, Occidental, Mount Holyoke, University of Washington, WSU. Except for the last one, cough cough. But I don't recall such decals on my parents' cars; and I certainly would have found it an irritating expression of superiority with no legitimate basis.

This leads me to a related pet peeve, known as résumé embellishment or lying about your education and/or career. The funniest recent example I saw is a local Seattle journalist who tried to shave twenty years off her life by indicating she had gotten her journalism degree in the 90's instead of the 70's. She tried to pass it off as a typo, but no one was fooled. A typo involves one letter or number, not multiple ones.

But consider the true story of Marilee Jones, the dean of admissions at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who:

...became well known for urging stressed-out students competing for elite colleges to calm down and stop trying to be perfect. Yesterday she admitted that she had fabricated her own educational credentials, and resigned after nearly three decades at M.I.T. Officials of the institute said she did not have even an undergraduate degree.

“I misrepresented my academic degrees when I first applied to M.I.T. 28 years ago and did not have the courage to correct my résumé when I applied for my current job or at any time since,” Ms. Jones said in a statement posted on the institute’s Web site. “I am deeply sorry for this and for disappointing so many in the M.I.T. community and beyond who supported me, believed in me, and who have given me extraordinary opportunities.”

Ms. Jones said that she would not make any other public comment “at this personally difficult time” and that she hoped her privacy would be respected.

Ms. Jones, 55, originally from Albany, had on various occasions represented herself as having degrees from three upstate New York institutions: Albany Medical College, Union College and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. In fact, she had no degrees from any of those places, or anywhere else, M.I.T. officials said.

A spokesman for Rensselaer said Ms. Jones had not graduated there, though she did attend as a part-time nonmatriculated student during the 1974-75 school year. The other colleges said they had no record of her.

Source: NY Times, April 27, 2007

It took a lot of guts for Ms. Jones to come clean, I think. Especially in a culture where some folks judge others on the basis of the decal in the window of their SUV. Man, that's just so messed up.

mercredi 15 septembre 2010

Franzen Live

Jonathan Franzen was in Seattle last night to kick off the SAL author series and promote his latest novel, Freedom. Seattle has the reputation of being a book-loving city, and Franzen was recently touted on the cover of Time Magazine as perhaps America's only living great novelist or some such hyperbole, so it wasn't surprising to see a nearly full house.

I always like to people spy at events like this - I try and come up with words that capture the crowd as a whole. This one was pretty gray, pretty dowdy on the whole, with an inordinate number of large groups of elderly women. I think it was a book club outing for many. I heard a woman behind me refuse a single one of six empty seats to someone (festival type seating, except for the big benefactors) and then realized she was saving it for her five book club mates. As an aside, I don't think that's right when it's festival seating and the crowd is near capacity. Unfortunately, at least one of the people in the book club was either hard of hearing or hard of listening. Repeatedly, she loudly asked the person sitting next to her what Jonathan Franzen had just said. In the row directly in front of me, a woman (who was with a man) worked on a quilt during the entire presentation. I don't know why, but this seems unacceptable in a way that discreetly knitting would not be. I wonder how she managed to get the quilt past security. She dropped her scissors a couple of times, as well as her thread. I don't think she was listening to the presentation at all.

The crowd started showing its love the second Franzen walked on stage. They laughed when he stopped to remove his coat. I'm not sure why that was funny, but apparently it was. They wanted to show how appreciative they were that he - a man who had made the cover of Time - had decided to grace little old Seattle with a visit.

He read his remarks, which didn't bother me in the least, though Walt was a bit disappointed. I thought he gave serious consideration to the 4 questions he had decided to answer, including the question of influence and of the autobiographical factor. I wasn't surprised to learn that he admires Kafka and I wasn't surprised to hear that he doesn't admire Virginia Woolf or James Joyce. I thought it was kind of brave of him to say this aloud, especially about Virginia Woolf. She is revered by feminists, after all. But her novels are nearly unreadable, I'm sorry to report. Her essays and journals are much more interesting to read.

I came across Franzen several years ago, when I was living in Paris and had a subscription to the New Yorker, a Christmas present from my mother. My mother would always give me checks that cost more to cash than they were worth, until I finally begged her to stop. So she got me a subscription. I read a Franzen short story (or was it an article) about his mother's illness and his father's dementia. It was intensely moving and grimly comic. I was hooked. I bought The Corrections, his massive novel about family life in the 90's, and devoured it. Then I forgot about him, until Time put him on the cover with that hyperbolic headline.

He has written a new novel, Freedom, and it is getting heavy promotion for a serious work of fiction. I think I'll check it out. Click on the title above for a link to the NY Times review of Freedom.

Michael Chabon, Jonathan Franzen, Tom Wolfe, and Gore Vidal

jeudi 9 septembre 2010

Back to the Island

The weather was better on Whidbey Island last weekend than it was in Seattle, apparently. We enjoyed the cool nights and mostly sunny days, and didn't feel too bummed out on Monday, when left the Island in the pouring rain.

I am really tempted to post photos of identifiable individuals gesture dancing to Leon Russell singing Back to the Island, an annual Labor Day Weekend ritual. But I know better:

dimanche 29 août 2010

A year's worth of reading, recommended by the Super Librarian

I've always thought that back-to-school, post-Labor Day was the natural beginning of the year. La Rentrée littéraire is a French tradition that honors this vérité.

Earlier this summer, everyone's favorite librarian Nancy Pearl (author of Book Lust)offered up a list of lesser-known books that should be on everyone's to read list. It's always humbling and challenging to come across a list of books that sound like they are worth reading and not see one familiar name or title! Click on the title here for a look at the Lusty Librarian's List.

Right now, I'm reading Le dernier mort de Mitterand by Raphaëlle Bacqué. It begins with the suicide of François de Grossouvre, a member of François Mitterand's political entourage, in 1994. He was not the only Mitterand proche to end his life: who can forget the sad story of Pierre Bérégovoy (and his outraged widow, who clearly blamed Mitterand for the death of her husband)? But his suicide was kept more in the shadows for a long time. Bacqué does a great job of telling the story of a friendship that had all the markings of a love affair and that became as worn and frazzled as the power wielded by the enigmatic, mysterious François Mitterand. Details about Mitterand's double life are recounted here too, since Grossouvre was instrumental in attending to its details: Anne Pingeot, Mitterand's mistress, the mother of his daughter Mazarine, hidden away for so many years and then thrust into the public eye when Mitterand died.

mercredi 25 août 2010

Best shoes! Ever!

I don't like object worship, fetishism for possessions or the tendency to turn compulsive shopping into a noble pursuit. But I do like well-crafted things, especially shoes. Good craftsmanship is not enough, however. And being beautiful is not enough in a shoe. A shoe has to be more than tolerable or comfortable to wear. It has to be heavenly to walk in. I walk a lot; I enjoy the feeling of walking and like to be conscious of what my feet are feeling when I walk.

This may be why I have never been a fan of super high heels. They are uncomfortable to walk in. Anyone who tells you otherwise is a liar. Women wear high heels because they think this will attract men. Wearing high heels is a desperate act. At least in my opinion. So there.

The rant above is just a lead-in for the photo of my new shoes. They are made by CYDWOQ (see video). They have a slight negative heel, but any resemblance with "earth shoes" ends there. Remember earth shoes? My dentist and I were laughing about them today -- both of us are old enough to have worn them and dumb enough to have bought an original pair. Man, the pain! The tendonitis! And what ugly suckers they were!

Compare earth shoes

with my CYDWOQs:

dimanche 22 août 2010

New tenant, new lamp, broken dryer

I decided yesterday was about time to get ready for Mathilde, who will be living in our mother-in-law apartment for several months as she does an internship at Alliance française. Mathilde is 22 and from Perpignan, France. I started my clean-up with a load of laundry and immediately broke the dryer. I didn't do anything special to break it; it just started making a really strange noise, like someone had dumped about 15 dollars worth of quarters inside. In fact, this was my first thought: that a pocket (not mine, mind you) containing an extraordinary amount of change had not been emptied before the article of clothing it was attached to was thrown in the washing machine. That would have been great, in retrospect. No such luck. So the next thing I did was take out two items with zippers, in the vain hope that the noise was coming from some innocent metallic object and not some vital inner mechanism. In the meantime, I should add, I had put a very expensive, very loved pair of trousers in the wash on the "delicate" hand wash setting. I was petrified they would shrink or lose their exquisite shape. I took the extra precaution of reducing the number of rotations on the spin cycle. I got so distraught over the impending dryer disaster (Month of August! Repair guy on vacation! Intern coming from France in a week!) that I wasn't really paying attention to the wash cycle in progress. When the washer stopped I tried the door but it wouldn't open. Thinking the cycle was done, I turned the setting to "off" and then waited a minute before opening the door. When I did, a ton of water came spilling out onto the floor. Water, water everywhere! That's right, the reason the door would not open was that the cycle was still in progress you idiot! I was so dumbfounded and distracted by the dryer problem that I just held my trousers in my hand and looked on as the water continued to spill onto the floor and my shoes.
The important thing is that my trousers look fine -- they have their same basic shape and color. They were pretty water logged, though, since the spin cycle had not been completed. So I wrung them out as delicately as possible, which is actually impossible, and now they are hanging to dry for the next three days....

After I hung them up, I did the most sensible thing I could do: I decided to put off the apartment clean-up for a day and took the wet clothes from the broken dryer up to the coin-op laundromat. Neko and I went for a walk while they were drying, and we happened to go by Click! Design That Fits, a really great little shop in West Seattle owned by a couple that makes beautiful jewelry (Smersch, check 'em out). My favorite lamp in the universe, which I have wanted to buy ever since I first saw it there at least two years ago, was beaming at me from within. It was on sale. Finally! So I bought the last one in stock and ordered another. The lamp is so beautiful. I was an avid lamp collector when I lived in France. I love lamps, beautiful lamps. What makes a lamp beautiful? It's a mystery. The shade on this one is called "hot dog". Ain't that cool?
It looks great by the side of the bed.

Today I got throught the big clean-up, which included taking scary things out of the refrigerator and freezer. Caroline left some food items behind, thinking they would get eaten. I could not tell what any of them were. I also sent a couple of huge spiders packing. I vacuumed the whole place. Now it looks really cozy, don't you think?