Monday, March 30, 2009

Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned

Sorry for the lack of posts of late. As you can see from the photo, my family came to see me in Paris last week and I spent all my free time with them. And though they left Saturday morning, one of them gave me a nice little stomach flu that kept me up and over the toilet all of Saturday night and rendered me incapacitated and in bed all of Sunday. Thanks, Mom! Now I'm behind on work and finding it more difficult than normal to focus in French.

But otherwise, I'm doing just great! If anyone has any recommendations for budget accommodations in Kotor, Montenegro they would be much appreciated. These next few weeks will be a mad dash to get to April 10th and my Balkan invasion: Zagreb, Split, Hvar, Dubrovnik, Mjlet, Kotor, Peja, Zadar, and everything in between. I hope to take many pictures, eat well and cheaply, and enjoy the Adriatic sun for a few weeks. But until then, back to work for me.

But for you reader with free time and an adventurous heart, please do read this short story by Wells Tower, Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned. The New York Times gave his collection of stories a great review and I am looking forward to picking it up when I get home.

And check out the trailer for Where the Wild Things Are. Dave Eggers + Spike Jonze + Arcade Fire + Wild Things = a good movie.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Smells like Teen...Eau de Toilette?

So last night I went to my first Parisian club -- Mix. Free on Thursday nights for international students, my friends convinced me to go. The place crawled with the usual crowd of American social girls, popped-collared Brits and Italian and Spanish guys with enough hair gel to hold down a lawn chair in a hurricane.

I held out okay (it is actually somewhat enjoyable to silently mock the people who take that place seriously). That was until the DJ played "Smells like Teen Spirit" and I imagined Kurt Cobain rolling over one more time in his grave as everything he, Nirvana, and grunge itself stood for (a reaction against the decadence of the 80s) got turned around and spit back out of French club speakers so the jet set crowd could feel liberated in their struggle against...being cut off from Daddy's credit card (?). Didn't work for me.

But it was a good "cultural" experience and fun to be with friends. I should get a post about Lille up soon, but in the meantime, here are a few good links.
  • Check out the band Cymbals Eat Guitars listed in the "Music" section. Have a great sound, almost like early Modest Mouse.
  • David Brooks's column today.
  • Seattle Sounders FC beat the New York Red Bulls 3-0 last night in their inaugural match. As much as I love seeing the Red Bulls get beat, I am so down with the way Seattle is doing everything. Great website, players, and organization. It's so nice to see a city give a damn about the sport after watching DC's indifference over the last few years. Match highlights below. Fredy Montero's going to be good.
  • Speaking of soccer, D.C. United has a new website. Well done.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Le rêve français

I’ve always found my host father Thierry’s fascination with Andrew Carnegie odd. Why would a Frenchman admire an American steel titan? There are certainly powerful figures in French history from kings and emperors (Henri IV, Louis XIV, Napoléon) to artists (Louis-David, Rodin, Picasso) and writers (Sartre, Baudelaire, Hugo), but can anyone name a French businessman? I can’t. Who runs Airbus?

These thoughts came to me yesterday as I read David Brooks's column in The New York Times. Writing about the future of American capitalism in the face of this discrediting financial crisis, Brooks, like many before him, put the American Dream in the context of Andrew Carnegie’s Gospel of Wealth. As some claim this crisis has cracked the foundation of American capitalism, Brooks argues that each successive depression has only furthered our commitment to enterprise. It is during trying times that we seek out those rags-to-riches stories embodied by Andrew Carnegie to reaffirm our faith in the American Dream: that wealth, riches, and, most importantly, happiness rest on the horizon for those who work hard enough to find them.

But in France, where the term for middle-class (bourgeois) has become synonymous with empty materialism and passé values, it makes sense for any French businessman to look elsewhere for inspiration. The poor and the wealthy in France look down on the bourgeoisie. They are a hunted class. Even as the landed aristocracy of France eschewed business and pissed away their savings believing commerce and trade to be the games of the middling classes, the term remained pejorative.

While we use the word bourgeois in English and its meaning is pejorative as well, someone was smart enough to brand our commitment to free enterprise as the American Dream, and oh how lucky we are to have placed our faith in capitalism right there in the fabric of our own society (or are we?). While the French may look down on a Carnegie, we idolize him.

The difference between the rêve bourgeois and the American Dream as I framed it earlier, rests in the concept of happiness. The bourgeois dream is materialism for accumulation, but the end point of the American Dream is not the house in the suburbs, the two car garage, and 3 children, but the happy life you live together in sepia-toned photographs of 1950s perfection (a note for skeptics of the American Dream: watch read Revolutionary Road and see Richard Yates spill April Wheeler's blood all over this often misleading image).

Interestingly, Nicolas Sarkozy was elected in 2007 promising a new rêve français. He wanted to commit France to growth and expansion to cure the country’s economic stagnation and high rate of unemployment. But his measures have been met with major criticism and his approval rating hovers around 40%. And tomorrow another set of strikes are planned to protest countless numbers of reforms aimed at changing the make-up of the French economy, putting another dent in the rêve français. And I'm fine with the country not putting a great emphasis on capitalism. The French can do what they do best and I can sit back content to indulge in their culture and history. But strikers, since you have made that choice, why do you continue to complain?

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A Beautiful Day

The sun came out today and I walked through the Luxembourg gardens and ate crepes for lunch and talked about the aftermath of the Franco-Prussian War in the afternoon. While many of my posts seem to be climate related, it is true that here in Paris, the weather dictates so much more of my day than it does back home.

Since I don't like to sit around the house all day, it's nice to have sun and clear skies no matter what the temperature. But so often it has rained and soured my plans for long promenades down Baron Haussmann's wide boulevards that I end up ducking into cafés and museums. While they are great, I'll take a sunlit French garden over the Louvre any day.

That's all for now save for a quick note. Some people (coughmymothercough) have asked why I don't publish any photos of my friends on this blog. And she's right I should put some pictures of them up so enjoy them and the weather wherever you may be.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Thank You, Barbara Robinson

This post has nothing to do with Paris. But it is about soccer and I like soccer so I hope you'll read it and like soccer as much as I do.

With my local club D.C. United trying to get a stadium built in Prince George's County, the team President Kevin Payne has asked United supporters to send emails to the members of the Maryland House Appropriations Committee and the Maryland Senate Budget & Taxation Committee to ask for their support on the project.

I wrote a nice little note to them, paraphrased from an earlier post on why I love soccer, and was thrilled to get a response from Barbara A. Robinson minutes later saying, "I agree with you." Barbara Robinson, you are new favorite Maryland State Delegate (that does assume I had a favorite delegate before're it now). One has to love Democracy in action!

Plus she's from Baltimore and I love The Wire.

So. Support D.C. United, too! Follow this link and send an email if you get the chance.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Warm Reading for a Cold Night

Paris flirted with the sun this past week, but the gray and rain roared back yesterday and the forecast says will linger this weekend (although blue skies poked through the clouds for a minute today). Rather than venture out into a cold night far from my warm bed in the 15th arrondisement this evening, I decided to do some reading and writing. In an unwitting Google search, I stumbled across this fantastic WSJ article on Paris and how it used to be. It's insightful and well-written, examining the once powerful, but now defunct American literary expat community in Paris.

There is no shortage of Americans over here, but the days of Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Stein, and later even Plimpton and Wright (the focal point for the author of the WSJ article) have disappeared, leaving behind a tawdry mix of students and tourists, moving in and out, leaving no mark.

Maybe I can do something about it.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

But She Don't Have On the Menu What I Want

Does this mark the end of Western civilization? Then again, if you can't call the police when are wronged, who can you call? Discuss.

Bordeaux Rosé, Take Us Away

First of all, congratulations to Caitlin, for winning the first ever Sacrebleu! trivia contest. Her knowledge of The National's musical catalog surely merits a fine bottle of Bordeaux (which I now know is actually not very helpful when purchasing wine since Bordeaux itself is divided into upwards of 50 AOCs -- Appellations d'Origine Controlée). I will bring another one of these contests along soon and I assure you it will be much more difficult. Caitlin, your prize awaits.

I had a great weekend in Bordeaux. Sun, wine, cheese, saucisson, baguettes, markets, churches, blue rivers, cheap hotels, and new French friends. Only 3 hours on the TGV so a good bet for those looking for a weekend out of Paris.

For those without cars, the tourism office runs guided tours into wine country, visiting two Chateaus each with a degustation des vins following a presentation of the vineyard's history and production methods. Preferably, one would have a car and could drive into Medoc and Saint Emilion and study the differences between the different styles of Bordeaux wines, but for travelers on a budget this guided tour was not a bad deal.

So, this is all true. Go to Bordeaux if you need some wine and sun.

Bordeaux rosé, take us away: