Wednesday, October 12, 2011

On the road again

I will be leaving Paris again tomorrow morning, to visit my friend Yvonne, who is a choir director in Edinburgh. As I'll only be gone for a few days, I won't be taking my little Acer with me, so the next update to this blog is not likely to happen until after I get back on Monday evening.

There is, of course, another reason for traveling to Edinburgh besides seeing Yvonne. It is a veritable mecca for those, like me, in search of sheep-themed gift items. I have high hopes for the weekend ahead, and am taking a spare credit card or two, just in case. Based on past experience, while Ireland is good for sheep-themed trinkets, in Scotland the sheep has been elevated to an art form. So it could be expensive. But, oh the joy that a fine sheep gift can bring to the right recipient!

Be afraid. Be very afraid. You know who you are!


(picture courtesy of Andre Segarra, my first French professor at ACCORD)

The Owls of Saint Germain des Pres

After today's visit to the new Cezanne exhibition at the Musee du Luxembourg with Ellen and Leslie, I got slightly lost in the 6th on the way back to the metro. There were lots of owls, despite it being mid-afternoon. One was quite pugnacious:

That last one seems like some kind of owl ouija board.

There was lots of other fun stuff in Saint Germain des Pres, a very tony neighborhood indeed. More photos can be seen at this link, over on Facebook:

dans le 6eme

The Cezanne exhibit was pretty cool - a nice manageable size. My only concern was that Mrs C. looked pretty glum in all the portraits of her. Perhaps she was upset at being compared to an apple by the curator of the exhibit! With some justification, IMO, because there was no perceptible difference between the portraits and still lifes, in terms of style or vivacity. But who am I to criticize? The man, we are told, was a genius.


On Monday I went to lunch with Vincent, the other Irish guy in my class. We went to a very nice traditional Italian restaurant just around the corner from school. It was a very pleasant meal, introduced by a selection of delicious antipasti. As my next linguistic destination after I have mastered French is likely to be Italy (while I was in Ireland, the Dublin cousins lobbied enthusiastically on behalf of Bologna, on the grounds that Russia was still overrun by gangsters, and that other Italian cities would be overrun by tourists), I have since given some thought to the quality of Italian cuisine. During my desultory internet research, I came across the following article, about the Italian futurist, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, possibly best-remembered as "the man who tried to ban pasta".


I strongly suggest you read the article, which is short, and hilarious throughout, for yourself. Here is one of my favorite parts, a description of some of the menu items in the "Tavern of the Holy Palate", the restaurant that Marinetti founded and ran in Turin, with some of his other futurist buddies:

Eating was made a sensual experience. The food was sculptured in shape and colourful, and perfumes enriched its taste and smell. The diner was stimulated by eating a startling combination of sweet and savoury flavours while stroking a piece of velvet, silk or sandpaper during his meal. However, as speed was of the essence, a serving might be merely one mouthful or less. Knives and forks were abolished and traditional kitchen equipment was replaced by scientific implements like ozonizers to make food smell like ozone or ultraviolet ray lamps to activate vitamins.

Marinetti's main objective was, however, to abolish pasta. He believed pasta ‘mentally paralysed' the Italians and made them lethargic, pessimistic and sentimental. He thought that those who defended pasta were ‘shackled by its ball and chain like convicted lifers, or carry its ruins in their stomachs like archaeologists.' For him, being anti-pasta was part of being anti-past.

Marinetti's no-pasta menus included dishes like Taste Buds Take Off, a soup of stock, champagne, and grappa decorated with rose petals; the Excited Pig, a whole salami cooked in strong espresso coffee, flavored with eau-de-cologne; Chicken Fiat, a chicken roasted with ball bearings inside and garnished with whipped cream; and Italian Breasts in the Sun, two half-spheres of almond paste each with a fresh strawberry in the centre, sprinkled with black pepper.

There is a hilarious discussion of the futurist menu in this extract from the incomparable QI:

QI Season I Episode 2

The food discussion begins at around the 11:45 mark, but I highly recommend watching the whole segment, and any other episodes of QI you can find. It has to be among my all-time favorite TV programs. Unavailable in the U.S., most past episodes are available on YouTube.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The good life

It's make-your-own-kir night here at the Chateau Giltinan.

And if that gets boring, we have our secret weapon in reserve:

If the crumbles don't get me, the booze will. I just hope Maggie isn't reading this.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Frankie goes to the Élysée Palace?

The results of yesterday's Socialist Party primary elections are in, and this man is happy:

With 39% of the vote, versus the 31% obtained by his nearest rival, Martine Aubry, chances are good that Francois Hollande will carry the runoff election next Sunday, and go on to face the widely despised incumbent, Nicolas Sarkozy, in next year's presidential elections. It is widely believed that Sarkozy is so disliked that Hollande would have little difficulty in ousting him.

Of course, the gap between Hollande and Aubry is not so large that his victory next Sunday is assured. This has provoked the usual attack of logorrhea among the talking heads on TV, though their remarks are notable only for the unique combination of pomposity and vacuity in which French pundits truly excel. It hurts my brain just to listen, though I leave the TV on in the background, in the faint hope that it will act as a subliminal aid to my French.

The political discourse has now been replaced by yet another program about books, but the level of clarity has not improved in any noticeable manner. The one bright spot on the horizon was a little 15-minute filler program called "Poubelle Quizz" (Garbage Quiz), in which mayors and city councillors from local jurisdictions were quizzed on their knowledge of environmental policy and issues. The three contestants acquitted themselves quite well, and the program was both fun to watch and informative.

Another man who is happy today is this guy:

He is Marc Lievremont, trainer of the French rugby squad, who advanced this weekend to the semi-finals of the Rugby World Cup. They will face Wales, who dashed the Irish hopes very early on Saturday morning, while I was on a flight back to Paris.

In other news, as far as I have been able to determine from her Wikipedia page (which is more interesting than that of most first ladies), the spouse of Monsieur Sarkozy, Carla Bruni, has not yet given birth, though the happy event must surely be imminent.

I didn't actually get to any museums today, but I have high hopes for the Musee d'Orsay tomorrow morning, before Gabriella joins me to help me pick out new glasses. Something I don't trust myself to do on my own. Assuming the optometric excursion goes well, there may even be photographic evidence to follow.

Watch this space.

Poem : Under Which Lyre

I've always loved this poem by Auden, despite (or perhaps because of) his dig at statisticians towards the end. Given my recent career trajectory, it's not hard to figure out why.

Under Which Lyre
A Reactionary Tract for the Times

(Phi Beta Kappa Poem, Harvard, 1946)
W. H. Auden

Ares at last has quit the field,
The bloodstains on the bushes yield
To seeping showers,
And in their convalescent state
The fractured towns associate
With summer flowers.

Encamped upon the college plain
Raw veterans already train
As freshman forces;
Instructors with sarcastic tongue
Shepherd the battle-weary young
Through basic courses.

Among bewildering appliances
For mastering the arts and sciences
They stroll or run,
And nerves that steeled themselves to slaughter
Are shot to pieces by the shorter
Poems of Donne.

Professors back from secret missions
Resume their proper eruditions,
Though some regret it;
They liked their dictaphones a lot,
T hey met some big wheels, and do not
Let you forget it.

But Zeus' inscrutable decree
Permits the will-to-disagree
To be pandemic,
Ordains that vaudeville shall preach
And every commencement speech
Be a polemic.

Let Ares doze, that other war
Is instantly declared once more
'Twixt those who follow
Precocious Hermes all the way
And those who without qualms obey
Pompous Apollo.

Brutal like all Olympic games,
Though fought with smiles and Christian names
And less dramatic,
This dialectic strife between
The civil gods is just as mean,
And more fanatic.

What high immortals do in mirth
Is life and death on Middle Earth;
Their a-historic
Antipathy forever gripes
All ages and somatic types,
The sophomoric

Who face the future's darkest hints
With giggles or with prairie squints
As stout as Cortez,
And those who like myself turn pale
As we approach with ragged sail
The fattening forties.

The sons of Hermes love to play
And only do their best when they
Are told they oughtn't;
Apollo's children never shrink
From boring jobs but have to think
Their work important.

Related by antithesis,
A compromise between us is
Respect perhaps but friendship never:
Falstaff the fool confronts forever
The prig Prince Hal.

If he would leave the self alone,
Apollo's welcome to the throne,
Fasces and falcons;
He loves to rule, has always done it;
The earth would soon, did Hermes run it,
Be like the Balkans.

But jealous of our god of dreams,
His common-sense in secret schemes
To rule the heart;
Unable to invent the lyre,
Creates with simulated fire
Official art.

And when he occupies a college,
Truth is replaced by Useful Knowledge;
He pays particular
Attention to Commercial Thought,
Public Relations, Hygiene, Sport,
In his curricula.

Athletic, extrovert and crude,
For him, to work in solitude
Is the offence,
The goal a populous Nirvana:
His shield bears this device: Mens sana
Qui mal y pense.

Today his arms, we must confess,
From Right to Left have met success,
His banners wave
From Yale to Princeton, and the news
From Broadway to the Book Reviews
Is very grave.

His radio Homers all day long
In over-Whitmanated song
That does not scan,
With adjectives laid end to end,
Extol the doughnut and commend
The Common Man.

His, too, each homely lyric thing
On sport or spousal love or spring
Or dogs or dusters,
Invented by some court-house bard
For recitation by the yard
In filibusters.

To him ascend the prize orations
And sets of fugal variations
On some folk-ballad,
While dietitians sacrifice
A glass of prune-juice or a nice
Marsh-mallow salad.

Charged with his compound of sensational
Sex plus some undenominational
Religious matter,
Enormous novels by co-eds
Rain down on our defenceless heads
Till our teeth chatter.

In fake Hermetic uniforms
Behind our battle-line, in swarms
That keep alighting,
His existentialists declare
That they are in complete despair,
Yet go on writing.

No matter; He shall be defied;
White Aphrodite is on our side:
What though his threat
To organize us grow more critical?
Zeus willing, we, the unpolitical,
Shall beat him yet.

Lone scholars, sniping from the walls
Of learned periodicals,
Our facts defend,
Our intellectual marines,
Landing in little magazines
Capture a trend.

By night our student Underground
At cocktail parties whisper round
From ear to ear;
Fat figures in the public eye
Collapse next morning, ambushed by
Some witty sneer.

In our morale must lie our strength:
So, that we may behold at length
Routed Apollo's
Battalions melt away like fog,
Keep well the Hermetic Decalogue,
Which runs as follows:

Thou shalt not do as the dean pleases,
Thou shalt not write thy doctor's thesis
On education,
Thou shalt not worship projects nor
Shalt thou or thine bow down before

Thou shalt not answer questionnaires
Or quizzes upon World-Affairs,
Nor with compliance
Take any test. Thou shalt not sit
With statisticians nor commit
A social science.

Thou shalt not be on friendly terms
With guys in advertising firms,
Nor speak with such
As read the Bible for its prose,
Nor, above all, make love to those
Who wash too much.

Thou shalt not live within thy means
Nor on plain water and raw greens.
If thou must choose
Between the chances, choose the odd;
Read The New Yorker, trust in God;
And take short views.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Operation Baked Goods Update

The week in Ireland was marked by a distinct failure to observe the guiding principles of OPERATION HEALTHY FOOD CHOICES (sorry, Maggie!). Frankly, it was more or less a non-stop orgy of lunches, dinners, cups of coffee, pints of cider, and other occasions of dietary sin. In my defence, there was no real way out, and the conversation and general craic were excellent throughout the week. But I am under no illusion that the four visits I made to the excellent fitness center at the hotel made up for what bordered, at times, on gluttonous excess.

In the end it wasn't the Bakewell tart alone that did me in. Nor was it the ganaches, or the delicious "dessert tasting menu" available at Les Gourmandises. No, gentle reader, it was the crumbles that were to be the major contributors to my gastronomic downfall. Apple crumbles. Rhubarb crumbles. Home-made. Store-bought. It made no never-mind to me. I scarfed them down with carefree abandon, never stinting on the whipped cream.

They say confession is good for the soul. I hope so.

And yes, I will be walking everywhere this week. No metro for this sinner, until that belt-notch issue is rectified again.

But, damn, there is nothing like a delicious rhubarb crumble!


At the money laundromat

During the week in Ireland, I caught up with an old college friend, now an eminent member of the legal profession in Cork. While waiting in her office, I picked up a copy of the following, highly useful, brochure:

Further comment seems superfluous.

Geek's Corner 21 : The News in Slow French

Gmail has a way of throwing up user-targeted ads on the borders of one's e-mail messages. For the most part, I find these ads to be creepily intrusive - though I know that they are a result of bots, and not actual people, scanning through my mail messages, they are nonetheless kind of scary.

Occasionally, though, there are some gems among the dross. This link is a case in point:

News in Slow French

The site contains free downloadable 30-minute podcasts, updated weekly, each featuring 4 news stories of about 5 minutes each, with a 5-minute section devoted to a particular topic in grammar, and a 5-minute concluding section given over to a particular idiom. The presenters are excellent, though the guy is a bit of a dweeb. But it lives up to its name - all the segments are in slow (but not exaggeratedly so), intelligible, French. It is a terrific resource.