dimanche 29 mai 2011

Costco nation

Costco: I didn't know if it was day or night/I started buying everything in sight.

I am freaked out. Costco depresses me. I know everybody doesn't have the same opportunities I do to visit farm stands and little markets, but I will fight to the end for inspirational shopping. Costco doesn't even look like it belongs on our planet. It could be on the moon. It has no relationship to the outside world as I know it. The lighting, the temperature, the outrageous abundance. The store has no life and no contact with anything that comes from the earth. Everything is packaged, sterile, clinical. Nothing about the food is emotional. And there is a wicked genius at work, mixing the organic with the terribly processed.

That's not me I'm quoting, but it could be. It's Eric Ripert, one of many Frenchies who have made it in America as a master chef and television star. I don't know which channel he's on. It could be the food channel, or one of them (assuming there's more than one). I don't know because I don't watch television in general; and if I had to choose one thing to never watch, it would certainly be daytime television. He's been nominated for an Emmy, by the way.

I found the quote above by googling the words "Costco depresses me". I googled those words because I actually went to Costco yesterday, a rare event in my world. I am not even a member! That's like saying you are a Commie in this country. Well, I am pretty much a Commie. I believe all members of a community should share their gains instead of stocking up like maniacs at Costco and then hoarding it all. Anyway, Costco. What can I say? You get there and notice that on a rare sunny Saturday afternoon on a holiday weekend, the parking lot is full. What few places to park you see have people standing in them and saving a spot for one of the thousands of grocery getters driving recklessly around the parking lot.

You go inside and it is like stepping into the Twilight Zone or a casino in Vegas. You lose all sense of time, and not in a good way. There is no natural light whatsoever. It could be midnight. In fact, it is midnight -- the midnight of the soul. I always feel I am part of some end-of-the-world hoarding spree when I step inside Costco. For the record, we do not shop for food at Costco. That would be like.... an apt metaphor escapes me at the moment. Let's just say it would not be nourishing in any meaningful way. We were looking for some flowers to plant on the deck. A neighbor told me Costco had a good selection at incredibly low prices. In fact, Costco never has a good selection of anything, but it always has unbeatable prices. The quality of these plants was mediocre at best, which made me want to buy every single one and give them all a loving home. How healthy can it be for plants to live inside Costco, far from the light of day and nature?

I will spare everyone the depressing tally of what my fellow shoppers were stocking up on. But let me just ask if other people besides me believe that five-gallon bags of chips, even if they are labeled "organic", are probably not the kind of food item that is going to help America win the undeclared and mostly unfought war on obesity.

On the way home, Walt and I were ranting about all the bad drivers out on Saturday afternoon. I realized that the vehemence of my rant had more to do with the way Costco makes me feel: like the world is going to hell in a handbasket and that's not such a bad thing considering the state it is currently in. So I said, "Going to Costco makes me..." and Walt finished my sentence for me: "...hate Americans". Or maybe he said "hate America" or "hate the American way of life". Whatever. Yes. What he said.

Going to Costco makes me want to go to the nearest fruit and vegetable stand or farmer's market and just breathe in the odor of ripe tomatoes or ripe peaches. It's too early for either where I live. But I'm sure there are many seasonal olfactory treats at the farmer's market in my neighborhood. I think I'll head up there and take several really deep breaths.

France has a few "hard discount" stores like Costco, but not located inside city limits. It also has supermarkets and even hypermarkets. However, you can always find someone to worry that the the local marchés are an endangered species. Thankfully. I mean, for as long as people worry aloud about them, they stand a chance of surviving. I shopped daily in France without ever getting into my car. I didn't have a car, in fact. In Paris, it was always on foot. In La Rochelle, on foot or by bicycle.

Below, the open market in La Rochelle(the covered market, which you can see on the left in the photo, is superb); my bike in La Rochelle (the pretty mauve one with the basket); some melons.

samedi 28 mai 2011

mardi 24 mai 2011

Memorial Day weekend plans are a wash

In Montana, when it rains it floods

It would have been nice to spend five days under the open skies of south central Montana, on the banks of the Stillwater river, in the shadow of the Beartooth mountains.

The closest airport to our place is in Billings, which is just over an hour away by car. If you click on the title, you'll see a photo showing what the recent heavy rainfall has done to this part of Montana. Though nothing like the wave of tornadoes ripping through Missouri and now Oklahoma, the recent weather event has caused one death so far and flood warnings remain in effect. According to meteorologists, otherwise known as The People Who Ruin Your Vacation Plans:

Montana is at the soggy center of the weather pattern. Flood warnings already have been issued for 35 counties...[and] a series of storms is expected to further soak the state through the next week. Colorado and Wyoming also could get hit.

Driving fourteen hours to spend several days cooped up in a house does not seem like a necessary thing to do, even though thunderstorms are promised. I like thunderstorms, but not that much. Mathilde will return to the south of France without having seen Montana. And we will not get back to big sky country as soon as we hoped. I have been known to leave my home base for a vacation without checking destination weather conditions. Once I had to buy a sweater in Sweden, having left the sweltering August heat of Paris without bothering to see what was happening up in Stockholm. Up is the operative word in that sentence, as in up north. When I went to Iceland in 2003, it was so hot in France that 15,000 people died. It was pouring rain and about 45 when the plane landed in Reykavik; it felt like Seattle in February or March (or, let's be honest, May). The first time I visited Ireland, also in the month of August, I was coming off the crushing tropical heat of Shanghai and a month in warm and sunny Paris. In fact, my last memory of Shanghai is the torrential downpour that happened just before I left for the airport. The taxi I managed to find drove through streets that were quickly becoming little rivers. Faster, I kept thinking, drive faster, before we are swept away. So anyway, Dublin: I really wasn't expecting rain and 55 degrees. It felt like Darkness at Noon. Is this exceptional? I asked a shopkeeper. No, he said, this is typical summer weather for Ireland.

The good news is that we're not in Reykavik right now. A second volcano has erupted; ash is swirling all around; flights are being cancelled left and right. The reason to go to Iceland is to see some of the most extraordinary scenery on earth. The food is not even mediocre and costs a fortune. A glass of wine sets you back something like 15 euros. Imagine being stuck there without the consolation of the landscape and being unable to drown your sorrows without going bankrupt. About the only option remaining would be the famed Blue Lagoon geothermal spa, which specializes in treating psoriasis.

dimanche 22 mai 2011

Yes we Cannes

Nothing could be finer on this post-rapture Sunday morning than listening "en direct" to my friends at Le Masque et La Plume (France Inter, tous les dimanche soirs ) comment on this year's winners at Cannes.

They spent a few minutes reviewing the scandal created by Lars von Trier when he extricated himself from an unfortunate sentence about his recently discovered German roots by saying "Okay, I'm a Nazi". No scandal = no Cannes. Lars von Trier delivered this year. He said he was sorry, but it is kind of hard to recover from saying that you can kind of understand where Hitler was coming from. His apology just made things worse.
Frankly, I was tired of the whole damn thing before it was even over. Before Von Trier was kicked out of the festival. It's like he got a red card from the referee. Whatever. I am not a Nazi sympathizer by any means, and I think his comments were most unfortunate. I bet he thinks so too. The story is that his mother told him on her deathbed that his real father, not the Jewish man who raised him, was actually a German. I think that would throw just about anyone for a loop. The fact remains that his film, Melancholia, is unanimously deemed to be magnificent. Its female lead, Kirstin Dunst, got the palm for best actress. I'm going to refrain from getting embroiled in this debate or even commenting on it: he has made a magnificent film. That's all I have to say on the matter. If you are interested, you can watch a youtube video that shows Kirstin Dunst reacting with growing alarm as Von Trier tries to find a way out during the press conference. I find the whole thing painful.

Here's the trailer for Melancholia. It has a Robert Altman at his best feel to it.

The Palme d'or went to Terrence Malick this year for The Tree of Life, starring Brad Pitt and Sean Penn. The trailer (below) looks like a life insurance commercial with a very dark underside:

See you at the movies.

samedi 21 mai 2011

Rapture status: rejected!

I got my rapture rejection notice in the mail this morning. Looks like five months of hell on earth for me and anyone reading this.

We're on a highway to hell, people!

The world as it appears is a sad, strange, beautiful and hellish place, all at once. That being so, I think the rapture will go unnoticed. A missing person here and there, perhaps.

Like in this song:

As Judgement Days go, this one is pretty ordinary so far. Camus once said words to this effect: Don't talk to me about Judgement Day. Every day is Judgement Day.

It's just that many self-described believers act as if this is not true, or as if their God weren't watching.

vendredi 20 mai 2011

A great song of enablement

And if you're somewhere out there passed out on the floor
Joey I'm not angry any more

mardi 17 mai 2011

Meet the Fokkers

"Permit me to introduce myself. I am Pepe Le Pew, your lover."


I was working on Saturday afternoon when the NY Times news alert arrived in my inbox. I could see most of the headline: IMF boss arrested in New York and...

Normally, I don't stop what I am doing and read the breaking news. I figure it broke without me and can develop without me. But this was intriguing. At first, there was no article, just a banner and then a clickable link to the the NY Daily News. The headline spoke of sodomy, the running copy of oral sex, a naked DSK, a chambermaid, a locked room, a call to 911. Wow!

I was in a state of shock. I said to myself, it is 2 am in France. The French are going to be in a state of collective shock on Sunday morning. And they were. Mathilde and I wanted it to be une machination politique. After all, Strauss-Kahn and his wife Anne Sinclair had just received and filed suit over unflattering press coverage about their gauche caviar lifestyle, complete with a photo of them getting into a porsche (not theirs, but never mind, it's all about symbols) and details about the 125,000 dollar custom kitchen in their DC townhouse (the stove hood alone cost 3,000 euros).

Strauss-Kahn had already cultivated a proud reputation as a ladies man. Everyone remembers his "one-night stand" (according to a forgiving Anne Sinclair) with a Hungarian IMF staffer in 2008. Now reports are surfacing that he attempted to rape a journalist who wanted to interview him for a book, and who did not come forward at the time. Others, speaking on condition of anonymity, say he has long been a little too... insistent. Decode this and you get: refuses to take no for an answer. He is not the only Frenchman, or indeed the only man (or woman, why not?), who won't take no for an answer. Her lips said no but her eyes said oui, oui, oui.

The issue of rape and consent is complex. Strauss-Kahn, after denying he was there and promising to produce proof of an alibi (lunch with his daughter in Manhattan), has now got the bad news from the DNA results and has changed tack: consent, he now says. She wanted it, that chambermaid. That's why he sequestered her? She wanted that too? Some kind of twisted rape fantasy?

Okay, never mind. Innocent until proven guilty. We have not heard from or seen the alleged victim. In fact, no one seems to care about her. She is just a bit player in the larger drama. But what about her? And what about Anne Sinclair? She has stood by her man in the past. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Is she his enabler? His handler? And the rest of his family? A detail from one of the French reports on the story: the daughter he is said to have had lunch with, who is married and a student of politics at Columbia, showed up at his arraignment with her husband. They both wore jeans and grim expressions.


No matter what happens next, and I think it is likely he will go directly to jail as we say in Monopoly, he will not be the socialist candidate for President in 2012. I think I am not the only person out there who is deeply disappointed. Sarkozy, though his approval rating is below 30%, is already claiming privately to have won the "bataille de la morale". Carla Bruni's pregnancy could not have come at a better time. Just a few months ago, people were whispering about her possible affair with Benjamin Biolay. Now she is the smiling Madonna, Nick's "Carlita". She has put out her cigarette. Word on the street is she is expecting twins. In one of the unauthorized biographies about her, the author claims that she was one of many who "tried out" for the role of French first lady after Cécilia packed it in and headed to New York to marry her true love. Carla got the job, beating out several other aspirants after Laurence Ferrari declined the offer.

Meanwhile, in Italy, Berlusconi must face the music over his alleged relations with a minor, 17-year old Ruby; back in the US, we have just learned that former California governor The Terminator fathered a child with one of the domestic staff a decade ago. He kept that hidden from Maria until earlier this year; hence the recent announcement of a split. And how's this for a funny coincidence: Carla Bruni, in the novelized version of the real-life story of how she stole Justine Levy's husband (it's complicated), goes by the name of Paula, aka Le Terminateur (because of her extensive plastic surgery). That may not exhaust the subject, but let's end with the posthumous: Osama Bin Laden, though he now sleeps with the fish, apparently had an incredible stash of porn in that compound of his. This is definitely something I feel better knowing.

There. I feel like I got a lot of crap off my chest this morning. The world is sometimes less a sad and beautiful place and more a ridiculous place. A vanity fair. Everyone was expecting a dirty fight in France if DSK was chosen, as expected, to run against Sarkozy. Now it looks as if he did himself in. Hoisted by his own pétard, hidden beneath a towel.

UPDATE: In the icky detail category, I just read a Daily Beast article with this tidbit, in a rather lurid paragraph ostensibly chastising the French for being interested in sordid details about the alleged victim:

“Physically, accounts differ,” writes the website of Paris Match. “The lawyers for DSK [Dominique Strauss-Kahn] apparently declared they were surprised to discover her face was ‘not very seductive,’ ” when they saw her at the lineup where she formally identified the head of the International Monetary Fund as her attacker. But the French tabloid France-Soir interviewed a limo driver who works with the hotel, saying the housekeeper “was a very pretty woman in her thirties, with big breasts and a beautiful rear.”

So I take back what I said above: that nothing is known about the alleged victim. Now we know that she isn't all that pretty but she has big knockers and a nice ass. Where is the dismay emoticon when you need it?
Il ne manquait que ça.

vendredi 13 mai 2011

My lifelong fantasy, come true for someone else

Last Saturday in Toronto, a woman named Rayna Ford went to a Paul Simon concert. She called out to the singer: “Play ‘Duncan!,’” or words to that effect; Simon heard her better onstage than we do in this video taken from the audience. “You learned to play guitar in this song?” Simon replied, and invited her to get up alongside him.

What happened next was very sweet, and genuinely moving: It’s the moment of Rayna Ford’s life, and a chance for Simon to show us that he’s a bit less crazy after all these years.And it made us think that you can be as far as possible from a punk rocker and still buy into rock and roll’s ultra-democratic premise (which is also a promise): Given a level playing field, any of us could simply switch places with our favorite performers. (Although, of course, that Platinum Amex card does get you closer to the stage in the first place.)

When I was a kid and until I was almost an adult, I had this fantasy about being asked to join Simon and Garfunkel. At one point, I actually thought it could happen if I just kept working on my poetry. I had the soul of a singer and was trying to learn to play the guitar. My voice was not so great, but I saw myself more as a back-up singer anyway. It never happened for me, but after seeing this, I think it may not be too late. It is never too late.

You rock, Rayna. You are a rock!

vendredi 6 mai 2011

The Lost Coast

When it's 51 degrees and overcast in Seattle in May (there is nothing unusual about this by the way), if you are me you might be thinking about the Lost Coast. Especially when you get an email from a friend who lives there that says: "It is lovely here right now. You should come and visit."

It's a good thing Montana is only three weeks away, though I was kind of alarmed when my brother said something about possibly frozen pipes.

dimanche 1 mai 2011

More Gretchen Parlato

I woke up to her this morning, being interviewed on NPR. I heard her talking and thought, that sounds like Gretchen Parlato. She is quite amazing in person, in the most understated way.