Monday, January 30, 2012

Quelques choses que j’ai appris depuis mon arrivée

January Trees in the Jardin des plantes

(for why my prose style is so weird, my topics so constrained, and why, for this particular reason, I'm a lot less interesting than La Potiche...and why I've included what looks like a bad French translation, see my first post here)

Several things that I've learned since my arrival:

my words stagger along; my broken-down French stumbles. But I knew this already and you are learning it from this blog. I wanted only to use a handful of the new words that I've just learned;

not too far away, close by the church of St. Germain l'Auxerrois, the Vikings set up camp during one of their ninth-century sieges of Paris;

the same church rang its bell to announce the beginning of the St. Bartholomew Day's massacre...or, I read this but I believe it announced the second day of the massacre. The difference matters only to scholars and to the victims themselves. And in any case, the cruel church was mixed up in the massacre;
St Germain-l'Auxerrois

in another wonderful book by Graham Robb, Parisians: An Adventure History of Paris (if you haven't read The Discovery of France, add it to your list), I learned that during the 1870 Siege of Paris, the farmers around Paris burned their fields to prevent the Prussians from supplying themselves with provisions. But the fire destroyed only those things on the surface; many things yet survived in the soil. Therefore, the new Republic had the potatoes and other root vegetables that had escaped the fire harvested; to do the job, it invited other farmers, the starving ones, living outside the fertile regions. With full stomachs, these farmers, this plague of locusts, soon returned to their homes. And I imagine that Paris starved more than the Prussians did.

I have a lot of other things about the subject of new ideas and words, but that's enough for now. Soon I'll talk about this show.

Quelques choses que j’ai appris depuis mon arrivée :

mes mots vont cahin-caha ; mon français délabré bronche. Mais je le savais déjà et vous l’apprenez par ce blogue. J'ai voulu simplement utiliser une poignée de nouveaux mots que j’ai appris tout à l’heure ;

à quelques encablures, près de l'église Saint-Germain-l'Auxerrois, les Vikings ont établi un camp pendant un de leurs sièges de Paris au neuvième siècle ;

la même église a sonné sa cloche pour annoncer le commencement du massacre de la Saint-Barthélemy...ou, je l’ai lu, mais je crois qu’elle a annoncé la seconde Saint-Barthélemy. La différence n'importe qu'aux érudites et aux victimes eux-mêmes. En tout cas, l’église sanglante s’est trouvée mêlée au massacre ;

dans un autre livre merveilleux de Graham Robb, Parisians : An Adventure History of Paris (si vous n’avez pas lu The Discovery of France, l'ajoutez à votre liste), j’ai appris que pendant le siège 1870 de Paris, les fermiers autour de Paris ont brûlé leurs champs pour empêcher les Prussiens de se fournir des aliments. Mais les feux n'ont détruit que les choses sur la surface ; encore plus de choses survivaient dans le sol. Donc, la nouvelle république a fait moissonner les pommes de terre et les autres racines comestibles qui ont échappé les feux ; d'accomplir cette tâche, elle a invité les autres fermiers, les affamés, habitaient en dehors des zones fertiles. Leurs ventres rassasiés, les fermiers, cette nuée de sauterelles, ont bientôt retourné à leurs maisons. Et j’imagine que Paris aient affamé plus que les Prussiens.

J’ai beaucoup d’autres choses aux sujets d'idées et de mots nouveaux, mais ça suffit pour le moment. Bientôt je parle à cette exhibition.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

A Word of Explanation

Qu'est-ce que c'est, la potiche?

It all begins with François Ozon. He is the real reason we came to France. We love three of his films, Gouttes d'eau sur pierres brûlantes (Water Drops on Burning Rocks), 8 Femmes (8 Women), and Potiche (hey!). We are kind of "Ehhh" about Swimming Pool but look forward to seeing the other films. Ozon's work has all kinds of queerness and feminism and awesome technicolor set designs and more Douglas Sirk, Jacques Demy, and Rainer Werner Fassbinder references than Rock Hudson could shake his manly fists at, but sometimes there are things, little touches, that we can't resolve as misogyny or fetishism or cattiness or humor or all of those things at once, so that we're kept on our toes. When we have an apartment of our own, we will have a room decorated entirely in İznik tiles and a room that looks like the Nouvelle Vague, the Nouvelle Nouvelle Vague, and the Neuer Deutscher Film all wallpapered together IN VELVET.

Which brings us to Potiche. What exactly is a potiche, you ask? It is, in the first place, the 2010 film starring Catherine Deneuve. In the second place, it means "trophy wife." Deneuve plays the meek wife of an umbrella factory owner who takes charge of the works after her mean, philandering husband's heart attack; the film asks not only what is the role of the trophy wife, but also what she's supposed to do with herself when she no longer plays a decorative role in her husband's affections or status-seeking.

The film does some very charming things with gender and labor and politics. It's also a highlight, and a skew, of Deneuve's transition into playing dignified, sexless, matriarchal supporting roles. I think that there are times when she seems to show traces of discomfort, even bewilderment, that is not entirely confined to the roles themselves, as though she too is wondering, "How did I, Belle de Jour, the Mississippi Mermaid, Peau d'Âne, always the gorgeous lead little more than a decade ago, get typecast this way for the new millennium?" Ten years ago, when hers was the face of Chanel No. 5, she might have thought it would be a fun experiment to allow Lars von Trier to cast her as Kathy, Bjork's sidekick at the stainless steel sink-making factory, and had no idea that she was letting herself in for another decade of sexless supporting roles. Or maybe she was sick of being typecast as beautiful and seductive? Or thought it would be funny? Or thought that it was the only thing for an actress of her age to do, to keep working? Or she wanted to invest those roles with variety and great acting and wanted a new challenge? Or maybe it was a relief?

There is a similar mystery in watching Lauren Bacall play Ma Ginger in Dogville. "Don't give me any of your lip, Thomas Edison Jr.: I'LL HOE AS I DARN WELL PLEASE." Lars wrote that line because he's a sadist. But it's also an incredibly amusing line, and it's more interesting to speculate on what Bacall herself might have been thinking as she hoed her gooseberries. Similarly, we can suppose that Deneuve has all these thoughts, or none of them, or something else entirely. All we can do is sit around obsessively watching the quirks of her expressive mouth and wondering just how much irony she's investing in her performances--or watch films like Potiche, which seem to comment on and critique not just WOMEN and WORK and the PLIGHT OF AGING WOMEN ACTORS, but also Deneuve's career in particular.

So. In case anybody is wondering, the title of our blog is my idea. Karl wouldn't have gone anywhere near it, if I hadn't insisted. I like that it's funny and also very uncomfortable. There is nothing terribly amusing about calling oneself La Romancière (The Novelist), though there is some value in claiming the name itself. La Potiche, on the other hand, carries with it so much ambivalence and provocation; there's no way you can talk about the word without discussing misogyny, money, and power, and no way you can disclaim it, without having to say something positive about women's unpaid domestic labor and so forth. All this stuff is present in my mind every time I sit down to write, but more often when I'm sitting down to not write--but in a funny way! Like Catherine Deneuve, I am profoundly ambivalent about the roles I've chosen. Like Catherine Deneuve, I often think back on that time that I was the allegorical figure representing la République Française, and wonder, WHA HAPPENED?

The idea of La Potiche is my bugbear, my memento mori, and also, not unproblematically, a comfort, because there is nothing technically wrong with being one--that I must admit as both a feminist and a pragmatist. When I reckon the possibility that I will never write a sellable novel, and my dedicated, hardworking agent will never get paid, I comfort myself with the fact that Le Prof wakes up every morning with a big old grin on his face, to realize once more that he has won the competition and I AM THE PRIZE, and even if I did cook a completely inedible egg and rice soup for yesterday's lunch, he was still grinning with joy as he dumped the leftovers in the toilet. Seeing that grin, I sat down to write some more, because I, La Potiche, am une artiste tragi-comédienne, and if there's something rather misogynist or fetishistic or catty about all this, it's keeping me on my toes.

Which brings me back to the Republic of France! We came away to Paris not just for le fromage, but also to get uncomfortable with language and culture and how we fit into the place where we're living, which is to say, who we are. That discomfort is meant to stimulate our work, our imaginations and criticisms and readings, so that we write, not about Paris, but because we've been provoked and shaken up by Paris. Or at least that's what we're telling ourselves this morning, because the dryer takes 6 hours to dry the socks, and the sink pipe dripped all over the floor, and the microwave fell off its stand, and last night's Fête aux Cris lasted till 3 A.M. (they really did scream till 3 A.M. Screamed. Really. Repeated high-pitched whoops and screams, as they danced to le techno). But, undaunted, we are eating oatmeal and drinking our second pot of coffee and coughing, and, around brunchtime, going forth again, Le Prof et La Potiche, to hoe as we darn well please.

Postscript: Une potiche is also a kind of ceramic vase, like the one adorning the sidebar on our blog. And holy moly, but Le Prof is a big fan of ceramics, certain ceramics. More on that in a later post.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Les roches : ses courtes durées

Louvre, Cassini statue

(for why my prose style is so weird, and why it's followed with what looks like a bad French translation, see my first post here)

(and of course, read La Potiche's most recent post first, before reading mon flux de conscience)

For two or three years, more or less, my friend Jeffrey Jerome Cohen has been writing a book on the subject of rocks and time. Is it possible for a human being, living for perhaps eighty years, to imagine the time of stones, which endure through ages that seem an eternity to us? However, for the universe, stones endure a few short moments between two abysses, the one black and the other hot, the end and the beginning of all. Too long and too short, rocks escape and hide themselves. So the book will be difficult, slow, and, of course, hard, like others.

Here's a statue, I think, on the Louvre. There are many statutes like this one on the Louvre, all with famous names: Montaigne, Cassini, Rousseau, Rabelais, and also yours, my readers, I swear it. But this statue is the only one wearing a net. For what crime, I ask myself? Is this evidence that punishments continue openly, despite the analyses of Foucault?

captured statue, Louvre

This is not such a stupid idea, nevertheless, I have another one, more amusing: thinking that the net is doing its best to stop the outflow of stones. According to Cohen, and according to geology also, even stones flow. The others without their own nets have soft surfaces. All the hazards of a wild life in the open air have made them multicolored. I chose to believe that the net is trying to do the impossible: to capture one statue, only one, to encourage it to remain itself.

Depuis deux ou trois ans, plus ou moins, mon ami Jeffrey Jerome Cohen écrit un livre au sujet de roches et de temps. Est-il possible pour un être humain, vivant pour peut-être quatre-vingts années, d'imaginer le temps des pierres, qui durent à travers le temps qui semble, à nous, une éternité ? Toutefois, à l'univers, les pierres durent quelques instants courts entre deux abîmes, le noir et le chaud, la terminaison et le commencement de toutes choses. Trop longs et trop courts, les roches échappent et se cachent. Donc, le livre sera difficile, lente, et sûrement dur...comme les autres.

Voilà une statue, je crois, sur le Louvre. Il y a beaucoup de statues comme celle-ci sur le Louve, toutes avec les noms célébrés : Montaigne, Cassini, Rousseau, Rabelais, et aussi le vôtre, mes lecteurs, je le jure. Mais cette statue est la seule qui porte un filet. Pour quelle félonie, je me demande ? Est-il l'évidence que les punitions continuent ouvertement, malgré les analyses de Foucault ?

Ce n'est pas une idée trop bête, néanmoins j'ai une autre plus amusante : penser que le filet fait de son mieux d'arrêter l'écoulement des pierres. Après Cohen, et après la géologie aussi, même les pierres coulent. Les autres sans les propres filets ont des surfaces mouillées. Tous les hasards de la vie sauvage en plein air les bariolaient. Je choisis croire que le filet essaie de faire l'impossible : capturer une statue, seulement une, pour l'encourager à rester soi-même.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Plus ça change...

La Potiche started this blog writing about the Daily Life. Le Prof weighed in, in his inimitably Duboisian way, to preserve the mystery of sacs. "Oh look, we have created enchantment!" And it's true! There is a great deal of mysterious enchantment to be gotten by the performance of everyday tasks and the observation of everyday things in an unexpected place. Imagine this scenario, which we played out our first night in Paris: what would you do if you had a pot of pasta boiling over on the stove?

a. Turn off the heat.
b. Remove the lid.
c. Move the pot to another burner.
d. Panic and wring your hands, because French pots and French penne and French water and French stoves are entirely too mysterious and enchanting to be understood!

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. (The more things change, the more they stay the same.) I hear that that's meant to be an expression of more-or-less bitter resignation. But for Le Prof et La Potiche, it has been a good thing. In our first days of head colds, travel exhaustion, and linguistic idiocy, the presence of familiar things and routines has eased our culture shock, while leaving us relaxed and ready for the appreciation of all that is wondrous and new (to us) here.

Chores here are a mixture of the humdrum and the exciting. Our vacuum is mysteriously efficient. Our toilet cleaner is mysteriously familiar. Our microwave, which is also somehow an oven, mysteriously opens from the top. What's up with that, Professor? Our washing machine is also a dryer, and it takes four hours to efficiently (?) dry two towels. In Brooklyn, we are accustomed to going out in the morning for a walk, during which we run errands and buy our groceries at the co-op. On our street in Paris, there is an organic grocery with familiar bulk foods bins, whole grains, herbal teas, and even my usual brand of tampons. The store also, enchantingly, sells bottles of dirt-cheap delicious wine, jams made of fifty different fruits (mirabelle ET reine claude plums), and raw mare's milk. The eggs are kept at room temperature, in that way of a people (that is to say, the members of the Economy of the European Union) who know where their eggs come from and don't wash off the protective coatings along the way. A nicely kept egg that won't kill you is an enchanting thing.

Le Prof interjects, "'I keeelled a man,' says the little egg." In Paris, all the eggs sound like Rossano Brazzi, who was the real reason we came to Paris. In South Pacific, Rossano Brazzi played Emile de Becque, who, in his native FRANCE, keeelled a bad man, who was a booolly. Every day, and especially on enchanted evenings, we are inspired by Rossano Brazzi.

Speaking of bullies, last night we went to see the Metropolitan Opera's new baroque pastiche, "The Enchanted Island," broadcast live in HD to a cinema in Montparnasse. They took The Tempest and bits from A Midsummer Night's Dream and set them to arias from Handel, Rameau, and Vivaldi. For all of you in New York, or with the chance to see a rebroadcast: go see it. It is robust, glorious fun; one of our fellow audience members commented, approvingly, of one of the leads, "Il est silly!" (he's silly). It was lovely to see our old friends Joyce, Danielle, and Placido in such fine form. Also, there was the most gorgeous use of Zadok the Priest ever. You know, Zadok the Priest.

Le Prof et La Potiche have been Met subscribers since 2004 (long before Le Prof was un prof or La Potiche was une potiche!!! More on that, in a later post), and during that time, have seen a wide range of bad behaviors both in the opera house and at the movie theater broadcasts. Opera-goers tend to be vigorous, passionate, irritable people between the ages of 36 and 106. We have witnessed bullying, yelling, scolding, grabbing, slapping, and the sneaking in of food. It is all part of the fun, till somebody gets hurt. We have engaged in none of that behavior except for the sneaking of Opera Snackies, usually chocolate, which can be eaten swiftly and silently without crumbs and hidden under one's playbill, and which hurt only us. We were nervous about doing this in Paris, where people might, we thought, enforce anti-outside-food rules with similar vigor, passion, and irritability. But were we ever surprised! No sooner had we sneaked our two little tarts out of their box, than we looked up and saw people all around us pouring champagne into real glasses that they'd sneaked in, opening plastic containers of homemade tabbouleh and green salad, unpacking dessert tarts and quiches and sandwiches. Six or seven women opened up their tiny handbags, pulled out whole baguettes, like rabbits from top hats, and started tearing at them with their perfect teeth (this is where the rabbit simile ends, I suppose). And we felt sad, because the tabbouleh and baguettes were beautiful, while our tarts were not so beautiful. They were, in fact, cheap-ass tarts bought along the way in St. Germain from a boulangerie that was not on La Potiche's list of Boulangeries Approuvés! Le Prof et La Potiche felt so bad that they decided to reserve the right to speak of themselves in both the third and the first person, even in the same sentence, whenever we so desire.

This morning, Le Prof et La Potiche set off on their Daily Errand Walk. This, mes amis, is our Daily Errand Walk:


View from Pont Royal

"Shall we take the shortcut through the Louvre?" we say, every morning. The only answer is, "Duh." We will never get sick of the shortcut through the Louvre.

Then we say, "What is that?"
White-faced primate, I think, escaping from Louvre

It is one of the mysteries of Paris, not that there is a large white singe escaping from a window of Louvre, but rather, that only one other person on the internets seems to be remarking upon it.

Back home in Brooklyn, Sunday mornings are for walks to the greenmarket. So, today, we walked to the greenmarket. And we bought juicy pears. And a savoy cabbage. A sac full of mâche, which we may report on later. A pot of forest honey. A sac of spinach. A sac of dried green flageolets, which we may also report on. A ripe raw milk cheese, handmade by a farmer named Agnès, from the milk of a Jersey cow. I can't remember the last time I knew what kind of cow my cheese came from; I am particularly fond of the doe-like aspect of Jersey cows.
Sunday market haul
A bunch of parsley, which we forgot to take with us. A bag full of clementines, which were not grown in France. Then we walked the two miles home, bought a baguette from the other award-winning boulangerie a block from our apartment, and went home. We will not get to some of that food till tomorrow, but le Prof ate half the cheese for lunch. It had a strong smell and a flavor like fresh white cheese--very interesting and strange to us. Tonight for dinner we ate the spinach cooked with green lentilles de Puy and caramelized onions, topped with fried eggs. We also ate a DELICIOUS slice of tart from the good boulangerie: apricots and pistachio paste, the apricots so juicy they soaked through the wrapping paper--but not through the buttery crust. YUM.

Not all the street markets in Paris are actually farmers' markets, and not all the food is organic. This stuff is, though. And it all clocked in at about $20.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Un énigme dans un sac.

Hi everyone, it's Le Prof!

Before leaving, I had the idea for this blog, namely, to write in French and then to translate what I wrote into English. The result, I believe, would be a kind of foreign English, where I would become a stranger in my own language and, at the same time, I would learn French a little. Of course, my French will have many mistakes, but after several months, maybe I can write with the lightness, but certainly without the precision, of the masters, like Lacan, for example.

Okay then. Here is a little bag in or near the Tuileries Garden. There are many like this in other trees; I could search for their purpose, but I prefer to imagine that they contain druidical eggs or, perhaps, only the fingers of druids, but with the regenerative power of starfish. For now, I want a Paris full of mysteries.

And for you, now, a druidical song. Make the most of it! Learn something!

Avant de notre départ, j’ai eu une idée pour cette blogue, viz., d'écrire en français et, puis, de traduire mes écrits en anglais. La conséquence, je crois, soit un type d’anglais étranger, dans lequel je deviendrais un étranger dans mon propre langue et, au même temps, je apprendrais le français un peu. Bien sûr, mon français aura beaucoup des fautes, mais après quelques mois, peut-être je peux écrire avec le légèreté, mais certainement sans l’exactitude, des maîtres, comme Lacan, par exemple.

Ah bon. Voici un petit sac dans ou près de jardin de Tuileries. Il y a beaucoup comme ça dans les autres arbres ; je peux chercher pour leur but, mais je préfère d’imaginer qu’ils contiennent les œufs druidiques ou peut-être seulement les doigts des druides, mais avec le pouvoir régénératif des étoiles de mer. Pour ce moment, je veux un Paris plein d’énigmes.

Et pour vous, maintenant, une chanson druidique ! Profitez ! Apprenez quelque chose !

Thursday, January 19, 2012

On Not Going Out in Paris

first bottle of wine on this Paris sojourn

Scott was sick in Rome, and Byron was sick in London. Karl got sick in London and brought it to Istanbul, where Scott was, and, as it turned out, was still a little bit sick. Karl coughed directly onto Alison's face, twice, at close range, though he had the excuse of being asleep. But it was Amy who got sick next. Back in London, Alison got sick, though it is entirely possible that she caught it from one (or a hundred) of the couple hundred thousand people who also had colds in London, Istanbul, Paris, on the planes, and in the Chunnel. Or from a passing Euro/lira/pound coin she'd licked. There are probabilities, and good ones too, but no certainty on this point, without genetic testing of germs.

What this means for you, O lucky readers, is that Karl and Alison aren't going anywhere in Paris. Not anywhere YOU want to hear about, that is, though they have already gone to the bank, to make a deposit! And to the FNAC in the otherwise earth-swallowingly purposeless mall at Les Halles, to pick up theater tickets bought online! And to the Bio for lettuce and a demi-litre of organic red wine, very fruity but very dry (5 euros, or $6.48), and to the Boulangerie Julien for their award-winning Baguette Tradition (1.15 euros, or $1.49)!

Which is to say, daily life in Paris has commenced. Daily Life in Paris is the reason we came here, and it is the reason we had time today to put together our travel blog and bring Le Prof and La Potiche into existence. There is no time for blogging (though there is, apparently, plenty of time for Facebook), when there are mosques to marvel at and puddings to eat and a bazillion cobbled steps to climb and even more whimsical ceramics to photograph--and friends, because friends are more important than the internet. But now La Potiche is sick, and Le Prof kindly declines to adventure without her, so they have put together this blog.

KTS washes up. Paris apartment

interior Paris apartment. wavy hands, clean teeth