Saturday, October 29, 2005

L'Amour dans tous ses états

Last night, I had the great privilege of seeing Manon Landowski and André Nerman in concert. The show, entitled L'Amour dans tous ses états (Love In All Its Forms), was an enthralling series of theater vignettes interspersed with classic chansons. I especially liked Manon's rendition of Mon amant de Saint-Jean; she gave it just the right amount of sweetness and sadness.

The show itself was wonderful--the songs and scenes chosen were perfect for showing the different ways that love plays out, from the couple who just needs a good argument to make them realize how in love they are, to the golddigging woman who has convinced herself she is in love with a rich man until she finds he's really penniless.

The issue I had--and, as I think we've all learned by now, I wouldn't have a blog if there weren't an issue--was with the show's title. L'Amour dans tous ses états was the most fitting title I could think of, after having seen the show. For advertising purposes, however, the Alliance Française decided to change the title to Bons baisers de Paris, translating it as From Paris, With Love.

This upsets me on multiple levels: First, the original title (and its direct translation) was absolutely perfect for conveying the content of the show. Why mess with that? Second, the translation between Bons basiers de Paris and From Paris, With Love is loose at best--and doesn't really convey what the show is about. Lastly, those two titles tend to reinforce something I find undesirable about Americans: namely that they think that everything that is French must come from Paris by default.

Of course, this is not so, but when you say you've lived in France, Americans automatically ask if you were living in Paris. Last I checked, France had many more major cities that could be asked about. I can't tell you how many of my friends and acquaintances still refer to my time abroad as "When you were living in Paris." This bothers me, as France has many more cities to offer with tourist destinations more exciting and awe-inspiring than the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre.

So, I was disappointed in the title-swapping that went on...the show was geared toward francophiles to begin with, so why even try to market it to a wider audience? We had the theater pretty much packed as it was--I don't think changing the title had anything to do with ticket sales. There was a table of two elderly couples immediately in front of me that evening, and they were very vocal about the fact that they couldn't understand a thing. I don't know where they got the idea that the show would be in English...oh, wait--MAYBE it was because the TITLE was in English! I think they were expecting Maurice Chevalier-style "French" songs, which consist entirely of heavily-accented English.

Needless to say, they had four very unsatisfied customers at the theater last night.

photo: Manon Landowski, from

Wednesday, October 26, 2005


A while back, I posted about the Pittsburgh Penguins having earned the right to first pick in the 2005 NFL Draft, and in so doing, were bequeathed the right to teenage phenom Sidney Crosby's rookie season.

I was excited that we'd have yet another bilingual player on our team. My 15-year-old sister, however, was excited that we'd have a teenage player on our team. She begged me to watch the game with her on TV last week. I agreed, figuring that I could just fall asleep if it got too unbearable (I'm chronically allergic to sports).

It turns out that the Pens were playing the New Jersey Devils. This would seem like an ordinary match-up to any average hockey fan tuning in, but for me, it brought back a flood of nostalgic memories.

My first boyfriend was a hockey nut (His younger brother was actually drafted by the Pens about a year after we had broken up). He was also a francophile (but has since kicked the habit, so I hear). He loved the New Jersey Devils, and, in true 14-year-old fashion, I set out to memorize every player stat and jersey number I could in hopes of impressing "Paul". Paul was one of my best memories of high school--I still can't believe that my parents let me date him. He was 19 and a freshman in college; I was naïve jailbait. Paul took me to my first (and so far only) professional hockey game, and I was trying my darndest to pay attention so that I could actually talk with him about it later. I figured that out of all the sports, hockey was most worth my attention, since at least I could work in the French angle.

After all these years, the only name I remembered was Martin Brodeur, the team's goalie. Brodeur, miraculously, is still playing for the Devils 8 years later. 8 years! I've gotta hand it to the guy--hockey players age like dogs. I suppose it's one of the more rough-and-tumble sports that's not too friendly to a guy after hitting 30.

The reason good ol' Marty remains the last one standing of the 1997-1998 New Jersey Devils in my memory is because I always got a kick out of hearing the sportscasters say his name:


At least they put the accent on the right syllables!

I told my sister that I'd take her to a game the next time the Montréal Canadiens "Mon-TREE-All Can-ADE-y-ENNS" come to town (November 10). I won't really be interested in the game much--I'll be too busy trying to get on Canadian TV with my cleverly-worded French signs, bien sûr!

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Cherchez le cheval

Due to "popular demand" from my last post, I did a little research into the French habit of horsemeat consumption, and here are a few interesting tidbits for you:

The official term for the phenomenon is hippophagy. From Wikipedia (which, as we all know, is not the definitive authority on anything, but informative nonetheless):

According to legend, the French taste for horse meat dates from the Battle of Eylau in 1807, when the surgeon-in-chief of Napoleon's Grand Army, Baron Dominique-Jean Larrey, advised the starving troops to eat the flesh of dead battlefield horses. The cavalry used breastplates as cooking pans and gunpowder as seasoning, and thus founded a tradition.

Today many European countries including France, Italy, Romania, the Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, Switzerland and Belgium consume horse meat in notable volumes. In France, specialized butcher shops (boucheries chevalines) sell horsemeat, as ordinary butcher shops do not have the right to deal in it.

I don't know about the claims made in that article, but I know that the last part about special butcher shops is wrong. Those shops do exist, but other places do have the right to sell horsemeat--it was for sale at my local Atac supermarket in Tours. You can't miss that huge mass of bright (and I do mean BRIGHT) red meat lying there.

Another interesting discovery was a film on this subject (from the NY Times):

Result of Eating Horse Meat--1908

PLOT DESCRIPTION: The plot and comedy content of this Pathé film are both summed up by its title. The incredibly stupid hero buys horse meat at the local butcher then takes it home and wolfs it down. As expected, the dimwitted diner begins behaving like a horse himself. He gallops around the city, knocking over people and props with furious abandon. Arrested by the gendarmes and thrown in jail, the hero finally overcomes his delusions. Too bad: With a little luck, he could have become another Nijinsky, or might even have won the Kentucky Derby.

From what I read, there is no breed that is off-limits to this sort of thing. Presumably, you would not want to butcher an animal that had some sort of value, such as a race or work horse. There are farmers who breed horses specifically for butchering, but I couldn't find a listing of specific breeds.

So there you go--maybe I answered your questions, maybe I didn't--but it was interesting to try to find out more about the subject.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Tastes Like, Not Quite

Sharing the photo in my previous post with you all, along with reading about Spam in Neo's blog, put me in mind of the only unpleasant culinary memory I have of my time spent in France:

I ate horse.

Before anyone goes all PETA on me, let me explain:

My first night in Tours, I was invited to dine at the home of my host family's friends. I had come in on the train from Paris that morning and hadn't taken a nap (trying to get acclimated to the time difference, like a good little international traveler). I didn't realize that this family followed the "tradition" of late-night eating on weekends. Now, dinner time in Europe is generally two hours later than dinner time in North America, but I was already used to that, since my family normally doesn't sit down together until nearly 8pm on a regular basis. We arrived at the house around 8 and I was delighted to see that dinner was sitting on the kitchen table, already prepared.

But we didn't eat at 8...

...we didn't eat at 9...

...we didn't eat at 9:30...

...we finally sat down at the table at 10pm, having sat around shooting the breeze for two hours straight. I was STARVING! I had been trying not to overdo it on the munchies (which were SO good, I was really having a hard time) in anticipation of that delicious-smelling dinner I knew was awaiting us on the kitchen table. I was famished by the time we all sat down.

Needless to say, having not slept all day after a long international flight and a train ride, I was exhausted. Combine that with the fact that among the 10 dinner guests were two 11-year-old boys and a 9-year-old girl, and you can imagine that things were a bit chaotic.

The hostess put the meat course down in front of me, mumbling something as she did. As a rule, I shy away from eating too much meat in Europe--I like my steaks pretty rare, but definitely not "rare" by French standards. I can't eat meat that has a warm outside and a totally raw, cold center...but, I digress. I took a small piece of the meat and heaped up on the mushrooms and other yummy offerings on the table.

End of story? Not quite. Several weeks later, my host father and I got into a discussion about what foods we liked and disliked. I said I wasn't a fan of blood sausage, (except boudin, that's so good, but you have to eat it blindfolded, otherwise you'd throw up right there on your plate) and said I wouldn't eat brains, liver or horse. He looked at me in surprise and said, "But, we ate horse at Michelle's house--don't you remember?"

I was absolutely horrified. I couldn't get the image of Philippe, the horse in Beauty and the Beast, out of my head. Looking back on that meal, I did notice that that "beef" didn't have quite the texture I was used to. I had chocked it up to the preparation being different or something to that effect. I sat there, racking my brain, trying to figure out when exactly Michelle had announced that we were eating horse for dinner, but I had been so exhausted and my brain had been so overstimulated from hearing wall-to-wall French for the first time in my life, that it just got by me.

I suppose eating horse isn't so much different from eating beef; when you think about it, they're both beasts of burden...but for some reason, horses have more of a "personality" in American culture. There aren't any movies (that I know of, at least) about children befriending cattle. Have you ever seen a movie about a cow who overcame the odds in a national race? How about a cow saving someone's life? What about a magical cow who could fly? I've never heard of a half-man, half-cow. We have a separate name for cow when we're eating it--calling it "beef" removes it just enough from the living, breathing animal to make it palatable. We don't have such a moniker for horsemeat.

So, I ate horse. I'm not proud of that fact...although it is a conversation piece when people bring up how other peoples of the world eat dogs or termites.

Merci Mille Fois!

I would just like to take a moment to thank Johnny Retail for designing a new title graphic for me.

He used a photo I took while visiting Chinon. It is a statue (by Roulleau) of Jeanne d'Arc totally trampling a bunch of Brits on a charging horse. It's by far the best statue of her I've seen--a great "action shot". Here's the full version:

Somehow, I thought it would be an appropriate header for this blog. Just pretend those Brits are Americans and we're all set.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Stuff This!

I have a cold.

It's not a bad cold, but just enough to give me a stuffy nose.

Do you know the first thing most people say to me when they find out I've got a stuffy nose? They say, "Your nose is stuffed? That must make it a lot easier to speak French!"

Do you remember how Peter, the disgruntled main character in Office Space felt when someone said, "Sounds like someone's got a case of the Mondays!"? That's how it makes me feel to hear people ask about how my stuffy nose improves my speaking abilities. It actually makes it much, much harder, seeing as four vowels and two rather important consonants in French are made using the nose as the sole point of egress for the air. I understand that most people who say this to me are trying to be funny or trying to incite me into a rant. They think it's funny to imply that French people are stuffy snobs, so that if a Frenchman has a stuffy nose, he can actually speak better than normal.

I blow my nose in your general direction.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Can't We All Just Get Along?

Have you ever noticed that the French are the only ethnic group that Americans can pick on and get away with it? Canadians might come in as a close second, but the French get the brunt of all the bashing. For instance, several years ago, some idiot at my college wrote an article titled American Misinformation: What the French Knew that was basically a laundry list of stereotypes with a byline at the top.

I hesitate to call the aforementioned article an "opinion column", since I've always been under the impression that to write such a column, one had to actually have an opinion. When your "opinion" consists of nothing but stereotypes thought up and perpetuated by other people, it is time to seriously re-evaluate your effectiveness as a writer.

The United States has more than its fair share of home-grown conspiracy theorists--what's so wrong with a foreigner weighing in with his opinion? Let's face it: if L'Effroyable imposture, the book that triggered the article, had been written by anyone other than a Frenchman, this column would not exist. Would the columnist have been able to write such things about an African-American, a Mexican, or a Jew? Of course not! That would risk arising the wrath of a veritable swarm of activist organizations. The letters and phone calls would be pouring in. What happens when the target is a Frenchman? Absolutely nothing.

There's no support network for the French. When they get bashed, there is no massive boycott; there is no Franco-American community support. Maybe that's because there really isn't a Franco-American community, period. There was no French diaspora, which I guess is good for them, since they didn't have to leave their country en masse to avoid poverty and disease...but this has created a real problem for them in the present day. Of course, the French in France are very big on activism. Strikes and demonstrations (manifestations or, simply manifs to keep things short and sweet) are the norm--one would be hard-pressed to go an entire month in France without encoutering a national strike or half a dozen smaller ones protesting various human rights issues. So I know the problem isn't general apathy...I think the French can be picked on simply because they don't have the numbers it would take to effect real change in the American attitude.

During the ludicrous "freedom fries" fiasco, I carried out my own boycott. I refused to patronize any business that took part in the free publicity stunt, which is what the whole thing ended up being. Maybe I was the only one doing it, but with Jeanne d'Arc as my alter-ego, I guess have a lot to live up to.

Needless to say, I wrote The Pitt News a letter about the column. I understood that the columnist was attempting to be humorous, (and to prove that I am able to have a sense of humor about these things, I closed the letter by saying "I fart in your general direction!") but it turned into pure stupidity from about the second paragraph. The only real way to get away with writing this kind of stuff is if you happen to belong to the group you're bashing. If you're going to insult the French, at least stick to insulting things that are actually of French origin! Hockey is Canadian. French fries are Belgian. Do a little research next time you want to write an anti-French column!

That, my friends, is more effroyable than a controversial book.

Ben Rubin, if you're reading this, I've said it before and I'll say it again: You're so Jewriffic, you make me want to convert right here and now!