Big Wide Streets

I am sick as a dog, hacking my lungs up and wandering around bumping into things. I stayed healthy the whole time I was in France, thanks largely to my "why the fuck not" sleeping in almost every day until 9 or 10am, but all the germs of the world finally caught up with me following the 23 hours of travel home. B and I also experienced the worst jet-lag of our lives; I've been flying since I was a baby, but I have never been so thrown off by long-distance travel. We're stoked because we finally managed to sleep until 6am today, instead of, like, 4.

But anyway! Happy new year's eve to everyone. Those of you in SC will forgive my absence at the history + astro grad party...new year's is one of those holidays B and I love to hate (too much screaming of "woo!") and, um, I'm sick. Like I said.

I wanted to note a few of my impressions on being back in Cali:
  • The streets here are amazingly wide.
  • The sidewalks are not only amazingly wide, they are almost completely clear of both dog shit and people running into you (me).
  • People dress like hobos! But it's a relief!
  • People sure do have stupid cars in California.
  • My apartment is huge. Palatial. You could fit the whole Wu-Tang Clan in here, circa 1997.
Re: the stupid cars, B and I were out getting food and going on walks yesterday and I was quickly reminded of just how many would-be tough guys live in SC, with the hats and the pants and the cars and the bass. But then I realized that I have, in the past, been overly critical of what is really just a part of the quaint regional culture. If I were to go to New Jersey, for instance, and I bumped into a bunch of guys saying 'feggedabouit' and acting like Tony Soprano, I would take it like an anthropologist and be like "this is part of their culture! They have cultural CODES!" The same standard ought to apply here, for every doofus in a lowered Honda with a backwards hat. Enjoy your cultural codes, fellows!

So despite being sick, being home is so rad I can barely handle it. Join me in hoping that 2009 only sucks a fraction as much as 2008 did for most people, the Obama win notwithstanding.


Your Airport Sucks, Frenchie. Also: I Am a Master Criminal

I am back in the United States. I am really, really happy about that. Let me tell you about my travels over about 23 hours yesterday.
  1. The shuttle van showed up right on time yesterday morning and we cruised off into the sunrise, with a last glance of the Ile St. Louis. Leaving from Charles de Gaulle proved quite a bit more complicated; in classic French customer service style, one security line was there to serve about three planes worth of people trying to leave, then we had to take a frigging bus to the plane itself. It was an appropriate "we never liked you anyway" moment from Paris to me on my way out.
  2. Speaking of frigging buses, if you're going to spend over four billion pounds upgrading your international terminal, does it really make sense that your customers have to take buses from plane to terminal? They might as well just have you run across the tarmac trying to dodge those stupid little trucks. Anyway, we had a tight connection, made tighter by all the unanticipated bus rides, but we made it.
  3. Ten hours is a lot of time to be on a plane.
  4. Um...then I got nailed by the fuzz. Apparently, someone with my name (I am not making this up) has been out there committing felonies, so I showed up on the watch list when they ran my passport in SFO. Of course, I was there with B and I look like a dorky 30 year-old academic, so the TSA guys were all like "um...we don't think we're looking for you." Then I had this funny conversation:
Young TSA guy: "Do you have any tattoos?"
KFR: "Um, yes."
YTSAG: "Where?"
KFR: "On my arms."
YTSAG: "Any on your neck?"
KFR: "No."

It was then that I realized I was wearing a great big scarf wrapped several times around my neck. For the first and only time in history, wearing a scarf made a man look more like a threat.

Anyway, I hope they catch that one of the 1636 people who share my (our) name(s) who's out there being nefarious so that I get pulled off the stupid Dick Cheyney fascism-in-action list.

In the meantime, who cares, I made it. Tune in for a lot of long-winded "France is like THIS, America is like THAT" posts in the future. You lucky kids.


Or Revoyer

This morning we brewed an extra-black pot of coffee (quote of the day from Airplane: "No, thank you, I take it black, like my men.") We cleaned the apartment something serious. We did the online check-in with British Airways, which worked out despite a few hiccups. We did one last jaunt around the island, leaping over the piles of dog shit and dodging the usual attempts of oblivious Parisian pedestrians to run into us. We picked up one more baguette tradition for us and some treats for our current bunny-sitter back home. We've just decided to abandon the idea of remaining completely sober tonight in favor of one last bottle of cotes du rhone, which should take up the last of our euros.

Tomorrow a van will hopefully arrive down in the street at 8:45am and take us to CDG. We fly from there to London, then have a very brief layover before hopping on a plane to SFO. I have anti-anxiety drugs queued up and ready to go and BA is one of those wonderful carriers that has those little personal video screens for each passenger on its international flights, so even though it's a 10-hour flight it shouldn't be too awful.

I fully expect to fall on my knees and kiss the floor when I reach the end of the ramp at SFO. Hopefully that isn't some kind of profile thing the TSA agents look out for ("He seems too happy to be returning from Europe. Strip search!")

I'm counting down the hours to big cups of coffee, riding the (Santa Cruz) Metro, tromping around UC to the SC's silly ewok village campus, cheap(er) food, going otter spotting, Dungeons and fucking Dragons w/ my gang of erudite dorks, and seeing my homies in California and Oregon in general.



The shot to the left is meant to send a little blue sky back to everyone currently buried under several feet of snow and ice. My policy with snow has always been that it's great fun and pretty to look at for about the first six hours, after which it just becomes a complete pain in the ass. So: hang in there to everyone in the NW, NE, and MW.

B and I had a fun Xmas morning. She made crepes with raspberries, nutella, and chevre, and I made scrambled eggs. We drank a lot of coffee. We exchanged presents. Highlights for me include some fancy-ass charcoal pinstripe slacks, a new scarf, and the Great Outdoor Fight book from achewood. I got her a few funny kids books in French and some other stuff.

Plans for the rest of the day are extremely limited: a walk, food, wine, and a viewing of the holiday classic Van Helsing. You can feel the peace of the holiday season.


Our Relationship Is Built on Retribution and Defiance


So, ahem, fuck Parisian laundromats. Fuck 'em up, down, left, right, fuck 'em six ways from Sunday. B and I were so foiled today, and it all started with the laundromat (the ENTIRE laundromat) being broken this morning. I was reminded several times over why I'm so happy to be going home to California...I love being here with B, but that's to B's credit, not Paris's.

So let me break it down.

We wake up and I try to do our laundry but the whole laundromat doesn't work because Parisian laundromats all operate off of a central machine bolted to the wall but it doesn't work and the two women sitting there waiting for the guy to show up to fix it fail to mention that fact to me so I lose four euro down the slot before I pipe up with a "il y a une problème?" and find out what's going on so I go back to the apartment with a giant thing of dirty laundry and our schedule is all screwed so we decide to go to the catacombs anyway and it's SUPER WEIRD, you guys, with a 40 minute wait in line and then a 500 meter walk and then a giant, well, catacomb full of hundreds of thousands of bones and it takes like forty minutes just to walk through it all and then we use my last two metro tickets and get back to the apartment and then we have to go back out and do Xmas shopping and then back again and then back out for dinner and the FUCKING CAFÉ I'd been planning on taking B to the whole time is closed so we eat fried duck at this cheapo place down the street and we FINALLY make it back and watch the last episode of Top Chef season 3 and stupid ass-wipe HUNG wins even though we totally knew he would. LAME.

But. Before Top Chef and after dinner. We walk back. And B remembers that I have said that the Ile St. Louis is famous for ice cream. So we get two scoops each from a funny dude in a little place. And it is absolutely delicious.

So fuck the laundromat, fuck closed cafés, fuck how exhausting this stupid city is, but let's hear it from the Maison de Berthillon and the delicious ice cream they make.


(Actually, I thought the catacombs were pretty dope. Oh, and "our relationship is built on retribution and defiance" is part of a conversation B and I were having earlier while we were giggling about stuff.)


Opera: 1, Louvre: 0

Paris is not like Hawaii. You don't relax here; you look at things. We did the obligatory Louvre day yesterday and today got a wonderful guided tour of the Opera from C, the professor for whom I played computer tech all term.

That's the big Xmas tree at the Galeries Lafayette, the huge-ass super-ritzy department store just on the other side of the Opera. We went up to the roof to check out the view.

That's the original Swan Lake tutu...or actually, one of the original tutus, since the dancer who toured the world doing Swan Lake burned through quite a few of them in the process.

That's the ceiling of the Opera. It's the 1964 replacement for the original, which is still intact underneath.

This is how B feels about the Louvre.

This naked three-thousand year-old Egyptian chick is holding on to a large beach ball.

It is really quite remarkable just how much shit the French stole from Egypt in the nineteenth century.

Our conclusion? That the Louvre is actually kind of tedious. I think we already knew that, but both of us noticed that our moods improved considerably on being able to check it off the "have to do in Paris" list.* And, while I have no particular connection to or relationship with opera music itself, the Parisian Opera (the old one, not the crazy space-age one at the Bastille) is absolutely gorgeous inside. We were really lucky to have C as our guide, as she did her dissertation research on the Opera and knows more about that place than the people who work there, I'm sure.

As ever, buttloads of pics on Flickr.

* I still like the Egyptian stuff.


Paris: An Okay City

To the left, a shot of one of the two carousels they have set up in front of the Hotel de Ville right now, next to the ice rink they built for yuletide revelers. B and I went out after it got dark to take pictures of Christmas decorations down on the Rue de Rivoli and discovered its extreme prettiness.

We've had two days of scampering about town; yesterday was a walk around the Marais followed by the afternoon in Montmarte. We found Charles Fourier's grave in the Montmarte Cemetery and took a buttload of pictures. Then we drank a lot of wine, ate bread + cheese, and watched some episodes of Top Chef that I got in a very legal manner.

Today we started slow, owing to afore-mentioned a lot of wine. We checked out the Cluny Museum (unicorns!) and Montparnasse (my favorite cemetery!) before running out of steam, buying food from the incompetent slobs at the Monoprix, and kicking our way through the tourists to get back to the apartment.

So here's the thing that I discovered yesterday: I like Paris now that B's here. I think it's really beautiful and neat. I continue to ignore the people and just pay attention to the streets and the shops and the monuments and the museums, and it's so much fun to do it all with B. Her deal is that she never really cared about France; she managed to dodge European history in school, she doesn't speak a word of French, so for all she cared we might as well be in Poland. That makes it so that neither of us really have any expectations; when things are beautiful and fun, great, and when they're not, screw it. We go back to the apartment and watch more Top Chef.

In short, it's nice that my last few weeks here will be happy ones and that I'll be able to look back at this weird-ass episode of my life with a more balanced set of memories. Yay for me.


A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Mt. Saint-Michel

The only thing I was worried about was catching the bus from Rennes to Mt. Saint-Michel itself. The online schedule was confusing and the only directions were vague; something about going 50 meters north of the train station and voila! You were all set. We arrived on time and stood in front of the station looking around for a bus that definitely wasn't there. At the last minute we realized that the building off to the right of the station proper (east, fool, not north) was the bus station...but it turned out that the bus had left an hour earlier and the next one wasn't until that evening.

We stumbled back out onto the street and a funny little dude came up and, in French, asked if we needed a ride. Five minutes later we had hired a part-time minibus driver who picked up stranded tourists at 20 euro a head on his days off and drove them to St. Michel in his little Peugeot. I proceeded to discover a few things:

* I can understand French just fine, as long as the speaker is from Normandy or Bretagne.
* I can carry on a conversation in French for an hour just fine...as long as the speaker is from Normandy or Bretagne. They speak SO much more clearly and SO much slower than Parisians. I was thinking "he's talking like a French class!" the whole time I was in the car.
* It's pretty in NW France.

An hour later we were there. In mid-December, along the English Channel, while it was pouring cold rain back in Paris, it was a gorgeous blue day over St. Michel. We got our hotel room (real bathroom! TV!), we took about 160 pictures each (must create new set in flickr!), and we ate tasty food (little fancy pizzas and a bottle of cotes du rhone!)

The next day, the trip back went as planned: we were there when the bus showed up and the TGV always seems to run on time. It was a crazy 36 hours, but by 8pm we were back in the little apartment on the Ile St. Louis.

I highly recommend checking out my many pictures, some of which are pretty (the ones with B in them and/or Mt. Saint-Michel.)


This Is Way More Fun

B arrived as planned on Sunday evening, although British Airways did everything in its power to screw up her London - Paris hop. My first thought on seeing her was "my dear lord but she is pretty..."

Since then, we've been running around town. We did the walking tour of the islands and the Latin Quarter yesterday, came back to the apartment to de-freeze, then back out for a hike to the BNF and back. Using the power of technology, we watched the first few episodes of season 3 of Top Chef whilst munching on bread + cheese + charcuterie. Today we hit the Musée D'Orsay, Jardin de Luxembourg, and more Latin Quarter walking. Right now, we are on the wine and just got back from taking nighttime photos of Notre Dame and its big-ass Christmas Tree.

More the point?! Tomorrow, we are off to Mont Saint Michel, which promises to be highly photogenic so long as we manage to find the right bus once we get to Rennes via TGV. In the meantime, please to be referencing my flickr site for a few shots.


Bleach Substitute

My three-day prep for B's arrival has just culminated in the incredible success of day 2: cleaning the living snot out of the apartment.* I haven't seen any straight-up bleach (javel, noun, feminine) at the Monoprix, so I'm using this kitchen/bathroom spray stuff. It works just fine, although it's not quite as caustic and potentially life-threatening as I'm used to with my cleaning products. Word is, France Info and Le Monde are sending people over to interview me about how I made this place so unbelievably clean.

Our last grad night on Thursday was fun, although I drank too much and stayed up too late and carried that legacy around with me all day yesterday. Meeting those guys was definitely one of the highlights of this gig for me; now they're all off to finish dissertations and have babies and get jobs and kick asses.

Anyway, clearly, I have little to add. Posts to follow once B is here (arriving 6:30pm Paris time tomorrow) and we start being very mellow, very cheap tourists.

* Technically, I am the living snot. So I guess I should leave.


Some Things I've Learned in Paris

(Forgive the mopey, drama-queen tone. I think it's unavoidable with this kind of blog post.)

I’ve learned that the default state of a human being, alone and sober, is profoundly alienating. It’s the whole crux of existentialism, yet again. Gorz devoted a vast amount of effort to understanding and explaining how that works, of how the consciousness can possibly feel alienated from the world it exists in. How can we be born into the world and yet discover it to be a foreign, hostile place? His answer, like Sartre’s, took about 600 pages to work through. I feel very close to him right now, in that weird and kind of creepy way scholars always say they feel close to the people they study intensely. That alienation from one’s self feels incredibly acute when I’m alone.

I’ve learned that Becky and I have grown together, like a grafted tree, in ways that I never noticed when we were together at home in California. We are both profoundly different people than we would have been if we hadn’t been together, and together for this long. I experience her absence as a kind of maiming, a crippling of who I am and what I’m capable of.

I’ve learned that it takes an incredible amount of courage to live in a foreign place. It makes me think of immigrant communities, with people who live somewhere their whole lives but never learn the language, with profound sympathy. It makes me think of Brecht’s poems about exile during WWII, “trapped” near a beach in southern California, longing for Germany.

I think I mentioned the end of David Byrne’s movie True Stories way back when I arrived. He, as the narrator, says “I really enjoy forgetting. When I first come to a place, I notice all the little details. I notice the way the sky looks. The color of white paper. The way people walk. Doorknobs. Everything. Then I get used to the place and I don't notice those things anymore. So only by forgetting can I see the place again as it really is.”

The movie is all an enormous put-on, a tongue-in-cheek take on 80s America saturated with a knowing, false naiveté. So, at first, that quote seems kind of cruel, another stupid thing said by the stupid American he’s playing in the movie. But I now feel like there’s a profoundly human element to that idea, of needing to forget. When you arrive in a new place, you notice everything because everything is threatening. The noticing arises from the kind of vigilance you have to maintain, because you never know what all of these foreign objects could do to you or how you could be injured or humiliated by them. To forget the details is to be comfortable enough somewhere that you no longer feel like you have to do that.

In that sense, enjoying the process of forgetting is nothing more than admitting the fact that almost no one is strong enough to keep up that kind of vigilance indefinitely.


Run, Penguin, Run

I mean...as much as I like killer whales, penguins are so charming it's hard not to hope they win.

Today was the last day of the term for me at the UC center, so I covered the crap out of the lunch shift (which has been my job all term, besides laptop repair.) Tonight is the goodbye grad potluck at P's, then I have a couple of days to wrap up logistics before B arrives. The apartment will be all spiffy and there will be non-pasta related foods in the cupboard. For the first time since August.

I'm going to apologize in advance if I feel like writing up some big awful philosophical treatise on what Paris has been like for me. Happily for everyone, I'm not going to do that YET.


1461 Days Late and 24,000 Dollars Short

In keeping up with my tradition of being years behind the times, here are my latest so-called discoveries:
  1. Google Reader. I have so many damn blogs to keep up with, I finally cracked and started using RSS. Now I just fire up google reader and I've got everything waiting for me. Google is kind of like that city everyone lives in in Logan's Run. I think we'd all be quite happy there, and getting sacrificed at 30 would be okay (especially if Jenny Agutter was in effect in the meantime, obviously.)
  2. LCD Soundsystem. They (he?) fulfill(s?) my need for bleeps and boops.
  3. Real-time experience with just how much Windows Vista truly, madly, deeply sucks. I went back over to the prof's pad for round two with her husband's laptop. After some brutal knock-down drag-out registry editing and crazy fixes I found online, we declared an official state of Fuck It and reinstalled with a highly legal copy of XP he got from someone. Vista reminds me of what it was like when I got into IT back in about 2000: by definition, if it says Windows, it probably doesn't work.
As an aside: who is this "Chica" person who called me out on my definition of hipsters and postpunk in the comments of my happy birthday to E and Ransom last post? Out of context, Chica! And everyone needs to have a public profile for their blogger accounts if they do comments. Stand and deliver.

News on my end: B's here in less than a week. I'm writing (in / on) my dissertation in my pajama pants and hoodie today. I don't really want to leave the apartment, but I promised myself back in August that no matter what, I'd do two things every day: maintain hygiene standards and get out far enough to see the river (which takes about two minutes. I live on a tiny island, remember?)


Important Birthday Note(s)

Everyone who has ever earned a graduate degree at the University of Oregon, worked for a certain prominent computer security corporation, listened to country music without irony, cherished cowboy boots, fought through horrible migraines and somehow remained cheerful and sane, drank their fair share of boozahol, watched Deadwood a lot, read their way through a lot of 19th century Victorian fiction, or shaken their ass at 80s night ought to stop by the blog of E, AKA Bug, AKA Another Kind of Nerd, and wish her a happy birthday. That is all.

P.S. I'd say the same thing about Ransom's birthday yesterday, but for the fact that he never updates his blog. Oooh, snap!


This Should Come As No Surprise

As many of you have probably already seen, the NY Times ran this article a few days ago about how a university education is rapidly becoming so expensive that practically no one can afford one.

For me, this is probably the most concise statistical summary of the legacy of Reaganomics:

"Over all, the report found, published college tuition and fees increased 439 percent from 1982 to 2007 while median family income rose 147 percent."

You get that? 147% That's the raw percentage, not adjusted for inflation or cost of living.

Everyone knows that they're supposed to go to college, but it's now reached the point where it isn't clear if it's worth the 50,000+ in debt it takes to get that BA in art history. In a sense, it's a assault on the possibility of democracy, if we think of democracy, at least in the social sense, as a state in which there is a reasonable chance for any given person to achieve the same things as any other person, regardless of background.

As a (would-be) historian, what drives me crazy about this shit is the fact that things really did get better from about WWII - 1980. Income was distributed more equitably, and despite everything that was wrong with that period culturally, American society was closer to the democratic ideal than it ever had been and, quite possibly, ever will be again.


On a happier note, the Onion AV club ran this interview with rapper Kool Keith and DJ Kutmasta Kurt (who is from Santa Cruz) in which it was revealed that of his many pseudonyms, Kurt's favorite for Keith is "Fly Ricky the Winetaster." I have one thing to say about that:



The Devil's Sausage

So Germany was rad. The trains ran on time, my homie S was waiting at the station when I arrived in Heidelberg and she had an extra pass for the tram system for me, good for the whole time I was there. During the course of the long weekend, we did a late Thanksgiving (with real imported American stuffing)*, we hung out at the Christmas market, we tromped around the old city and the little village C+S live in, and I spent a lot of time playing with their two year-old kiddo, just the latest in the line of kids of my friends who will be unable to avoid becoming geniuses. Should their sexual orientations end up recommending it, I'm going to make sure he marries the daughter of our SC buddies E+N.

So: the devil's sausage, or Teufelswurst, was what I had for lunch at the Christmas market, along with a mug of Gluhwein, the traditional hot rum-infused red wine. The devil's sausage, it is rather spicy. Keep that in mind should you encounter him it.

I discovered that over two years in California has rendered me useless for actual cold weather. It was around freezing the whole time I was there and I felt like a beleaguered orphan in a nineteenth-century novel whom you're supposed to pity. This had no impact on fun-having, however.

Mostly, I'm coming away from the trip sort of shaken by the niceness of everyone in Heidelberg. People smile there. They make change without getting pissy. They seem relaxed and unselfconscious. It's like the anti-Paris.**

C+S were wonderful hosts and I was sorry to leave. But now it's only two weeks until B's here and I can really, actually start counting down the days without it just making me crazier.

There are a buttload of new pics up on flickr from the trip.

* B shipped them to me in a care package. They totally made the party happen.
** Granted, the teenagers in Heidelberg have really ugly haircuts. When oh when will the euro-mullet die and stay dead?


Through the Glass Dirtily

I feel like I'm looking at the world through a greasy, dirty windshield right now. I stumble up this-or-that Rue de quelque chose, halfheartedly dodging people, feeling enervated and sort of half-blind. I'm drunk too much and I'm so sick of Paris.

Fortunately, as mentioned in earlier posts, I finally get to leave Paris for a few days. I'm heading out of Gare de l'Est tomorrow at 9am, bound for Germany. I'm meeting up with my friends C+S and their tiny kiddo in their village outside of Heidelberg, about three hours from Paris by train. I'm hoping and expecting that it will be relaxing, having conversation be the default for a few days instead of the exception, not having to worry about trying to say the right thing in public (since all I remember of German at this point are a few clumsy tourist phrases and some Rammstein lyrics, I can simply claim complete ignorance), and just not being HERE for a little while. Even if you think Paris is the best city in the world, I would retort that my situation is the municipal equivalent of the old saying 'you can't survive on ice cream.'

This is a picture of the funny man who writes the Chunklet zine holding a small dog while it is fed malt liquor. Apparently, he just released a book called the Rock Bible full of funny, pithy, and accurate things about playing in bands. I want this book. I will get a copy on returning to the states.

Hope everyone has a turkey day as happy as a dog all liquored-up on Colt 45.


Snowing in Paris

Picture out my window. You can't see it, but it's totally snowing.

It got very cold over the last two or three days. There was an article in Le Monde this morning about homeless people freezing in the Bois de Vincennes, the big park by my friend M's apartment in the SE of the city. I braved a short trot around the island to see how it felt, and yeah...it would be a lousy week to be homeless in Paris.

Besides meteorological anomalies, I don't have much to report on. I've done a good job being social over the last week, having peeps over for dinner, running around the city, and reducing the beer and wine surplus. Being around people serves two functions for me: it makes me less depressed and it makes the time go faster. This week I've got another professorial compu-intervention to attend to, then I leave for a long weekend in Shriesheim, the little village my friends live in near Heidelberg.

I'm not getting much done on the so-called "research" front. Gorz's 600+ treatise is like climbing one of those frozen waterfalls you see crazy people climbing on afternoon shows on the Discovery Channel. I shoot for 10 - 20 pages a day, taking notes. I started writing the other day as well, but I'm just doing the thing where I write a bunch of jumbled, disconnected paragraphs that I'll stitch together later. It's an effective approach in that you just keep shoveling text into the pile, and all of a sudden you have enough for whole pages, which leads to whole chapters, which leads to whole dissertations...

For everyone back in the states, I hope you've remembered to line up some outstanding Thanksgiving plans. Remember, it's the best holiday. Just mix up a big bowl of stuffing, dark meat, veggies, and red wine, and then hop right in.


Drunk Bunnies

Rocking it on the Parisian scene with one of my former students, looking forward to going to Germany next week to see a former co-worker and his lovely wife, counting down the bloody days until my own lovely wife arrives, ignoring everyone and everything on the stupid streets of Paris. Watch the video. It is bunnies.


Worst-Case Scenario: No Internet

Well, my internet died this morning. My cable modem has been going offline every couple of days since I arrived in August, but normally the old unplug / replug technique (known in some circles as the Microsoft Universal Fix, although in this case it's for a non-Microsoft product) would always bring it back online. Not so this morning. I'm typing this up at the UC Center and sort of walking through the scenarios that are going to be involved in trying to get it fixed (best-case: it fixes itself while I'm here. Medium-case: I have to go somewhere with free internet and e-mail my landlord and tell him to call the ISP. Worst-case: somehow I have to call the ISP. Did I mention I don't have a phone?)

So, my apologies if I'm not e-mailing, updating, or poking anyone on Facebook for a while.

God. Fucking. Damn it.

Addendum, Back at Home: So, there are phone company trucks everywhere and a notice on the front of the building that they'll be upgrading stuff until Tuesday the 25th. Looks like I'm back online for the moment, but I'd imagine it's going to be pretty hit and miss. My favorite part: someone who lives in the building wrote in bed red letters on the official notice:

Pas Confiance dans une PHOTOCOPIE! ("(I have) No confidence in a PHOTOCOPY!")

At least I share my pissy indignation with mes voisins


Human Contact, with Computers. Also: Sexy Terrorist?

ITEM 1!!!

I returned to the lovely apartment of one of the profs in the UC program to work my magic on her and her husband's computers again yesterday evening.* This is a good deal for everyone: they get free computer repair / configuration and I get to be around other human beings. I was fed foods including:
  • Green vegetables!
  • Shallots (which are so much better and more interesting than onions! Who knew?)
  • Steak!
  • Beer!
So that part was great. The part that wasn't great was the husband's new laptop's operating system. I've only had a few brushes with Windows Vista, since it was just coming on the scene as I was on my way out of the temp tech job at the astrophysics dept. two years ago. The press on it has been uniformly awful, and GOOD GOD DAMN, people, the press was right. It's a bloated, slow, confusing, convoluted sack of shit. Things that were straightforward and responsive in Windows XP take four times as long in Vista, assuming you can find them at all.

The thing that really frustrated husband was that his reliable old workhouse of a printer doesn't work with Vista, either. And no one has or is going to write a new driver for it, so now he and prof have to think about buying a replacement, on top of the money they just spent on the new laptop.

ITEM 2!!!

While making the rounds on my usual news sites this morning, I came across THIS charming fellow:

Per this BBC article, this is supposedly the military leader of the Basque separatist movement the ETA. At first I thought "my goodness, what a dashing swarthy rogue is this!" But then I noticed something: the fashion mullet. He's sporting what appears to be a teased and product-using party in the back with a fashionable close-cropped deal in front, all held together by the George Michael facial hair scene.

He was probably captured because it was so easy to track him down by the smell of hair gel and the moans of disappointment from the ladies as they realized he had a mullet. Unless Basque separatist girls are into that kind of thing.

Anyway, I'm back to the BNF this afternoon after trudging over to the Monoprix to deal with the checkout ladies this morning. I am out of wine, pesto, and cheese, you see.

* By "my magic" here, I mean magic comparable to a primitive card trick. Or anything that GOB would have done on Arrested Development - say the Aztec Tomb.


Bringing a Little FABULOUS to 64 Rue Saint-Louis en l'Ile

What is it about Bravo shows? I hate that I fall prey to them, their polished exteriors, their money spewing out of every orifice, and their endless legions of FABULOUS gay men decorating things. I just sit there watching until the episode is over, eyes wide like an eight year-old boy seeing boobs in a movie for the first time, and when it's over I click on the next one.*

These people are aliens. They're all artists in the design studio, the design firm, or the design kitchen. There might be vague allusions to hardship, but it comes off like their shit smells like potpourri on the show. They wear the craziest outfits I've ever seen in the mini reality-show interview segments, and it makes me want to dress like that. The editors make it seem like they're running out of time, but then you see the outfit, or the newly-decorated loft, or the pig cheeks with wasabi, and it's clear it was just done like that for dramatic tension. Every motherfucking time, it's impossible not to fly my one-man studio apartment spaceship right into the wormhole to planet FABULOUS.

* Thanks again, internet thieves, for doing all of my dirty work for me.



Please see my flickr site for my brief scarf fashion show. As you can see, I am befuddled by scarves. Keep those scarf-wearing ideas coming! Remember, I'm working with a medium-length, broad, plaid, acrylic scarf, so nothing that involves elaborate looping will work.


Day in the Life: Aujourd'hui Edition!

  1. Up! Coffee! Cheerios! Interwebs while I drink the coffee. With the showering!
  2. AAAAAGH! It's a "I have to go to the laverie day!" Might as well (um, finally) wash the sheets while I'm at it. Everything goes in the pillowcase (thanks for the tip, B.) Walk walk walk. 4.50 euro / load.
  3. Return chez moi. E-mails! Call the UC center: "S, do you know anything about my train tickets that I don't have. No? Ok." Call ACCENT: "ACCENT guy, do you...you do?! Hot damn!"
  4. Back to the laverie. Stuff in the dryer. Go for a walk around the island for 30 minutes. Stuff out, back to the apartment.
  5. Get tickets! Get package from my mom! Hey, it's a scarf! Now I will be virtually invisible, lost in the crowds of scarf-wearers!
  6. Still time to go to Monoprix! Walk walk walk. 28 euros for basic things to eat for a few days! Also: toilet paper and new sponges for dish-washing.
  7. Wolf down sandwich. 20 minutes to sit and stare blankly at the wall. To the BNF!
  8. Walk walk walk. Ignore spitting rain. Ignore option of taking the metro instead.
  9. Aaaaaah...Gorz's journalistic pseudonym Michel Bosquet's Critique du Capitalisme Quotidien. Light reading for a few hours. Notes!
  10. Ugh. Bored and tired. I've been here for 2.5 hours...good enough. Walk walk walk.
  11. Decide not to work out. Legs hurt. Stretch.
  12. Blog post update!
For next time: how the fuck do you wear a scarf, anyway? I will ask you, my fashion-forward readers, to chime in. Also, I will model various possibilities I can think up. Expect both Blue Steel and Magnum.


Sorry, Paris

I received an e-mail from my homie C earlier today filling me in on odds and ends she thought I should hear about. One odd/end was the fact that she knew someone who knew someone who was doing PHD work in Paris the same time I was and who, apparently, was also "hating" being here. I immediately felt like a schmuck reading that e-mail, thinking about how 80% of what I've told people about back home has been negative, about my constant complaining and chickenshit avoidance of stressful situations. I'm not crazy about returning home with the reputation of being the guy who got to go to Paris on someone else's dime and spent the whole time bitching, although that's certainly the case.

So here's an open letter to Paris expressing my feelings:

Ma Chere Paris,

I'm writing to apologize for my behavior over the last few months. It's not like an obscure graduate student from a random state university could really besmirch your reputation, but I still wanted to make sure that we understood one another.

First and foremost, you've been more than welcoming during my time here. Parisians, while curt and businesslike, are also polite, civil, and very professional. No one has been openly rude during my entire stay, and I want you to know that I appreciate it. In particular, everyone has been very understanding with my French, tolerating the mispoken word or the mangled phrase and making it clear that the important thing is communication, not perfect grammar.

The thing is, it doesn't matter that I'm here, in the Ile de France, versus anywhere else on the planet. I'm essentially a "local" - I like to hole up in a place and surround myself with familiar things. There's no way I can do that here or anywhere else outside of the United States; I'm too much an American, too much given to the blundering, overly generous, naive and bright-eyed kind of attitude that marks us off from Europeans. And I miss my wife too much; you have to know that the major reason I've been unhappy here is that she and I spend almost all of our time together, and that we like it that way. I can't be away from her for more than a few weeks and keep it together.

There's another issue. I don't blame you for this so much as I blame...well, as we academics call it, "late capitalism." You're too expensive for me, Paris. All of the ex-pat love stories about Paris, all of the literature from the 20s - 40s, the happy memories of my parents' generation travelling through in the 60s, even the generation of academics who earned their degrees in the 80s, they all experienced a Paris with a weak currency, with cheap housing, with restaurants and bistros and cafés that you could afford to eat at every day. You and I both know that that's completely impossible now. By my calculations, it costs TWELVE TIMES as much to eat out as it does to stay in, and I'm talking about a modest café meal! You really leave me no choice but to camp out in my (expensive) apartment and have pasta fourteen times per week. Again, it's not your "fault" in so many words, it's just a neutral fact that makes it tough to be here.

I don't want to ramble at you, so I'll cut this short. Thank you for your beautiful architecture, for the way the light looks different here than anywhere else I've ever seen, for the bridges and the happy dogs on walks and the efficiency of the metro. Thank you for your smartly-dressed citizens, for the helpful staff at the BNF, for the 2-euro Vieux Papes wine.

Thanks for everything, Paris, but I want to go home.

Bien Cordialement,



After two days' hindsight, I realized why I had been so terrified, in such a specific, peculiar way. It wasn't just the idea that Obama could lose. It was the memory of 2004, an election that the Dems should have won like a basketball game against a quadriplegic.* Instead, they nominated a decent, honest man with all of the charisma of a wet sock and got shot full of holes by the Karl Rove ugly-campaign machine...and they still only lost 51/49%.

This year was similar in that there was no way the Dems should have lost, but people like me, we're just too used to watching it all go to shit. After eight years of the most disastrous presidency in our history, after two horrific and pointless wars, after a total financial meltdown, there should have been no ambiguity about who was going to win...but there was. And what I was most scared of was that, if we lost this time, what hope was there for the future? How could circumstances ever recommend a Democrat more strongly than it did RIGHT NOW?

I am so grateful that they (the Dems) finally got a powerful campaign going, and more grateful that Obama himself has the most unshakeable resolve of any human being on the planet. Personally, I'm pretty sure he's a rad presidential cyborg.

* This is the only metaphor that I could think of off of the top of my head.



I checked as soon as I woke up.

Like most of you, I'm sure, I can't even express how excited and relieved I am. It looks like we're not out of the woods on the idiotic right-wing Christian ballot measures back in California, but at least the big race was won.

P.S. As usual, the Onion nailed it: nation finally shitty enough to make social progress.


I Will Be Holding my Breath...

...until the election results are in. Which, for those of us in Paris, is Wednesday morning.

Your Occidental Reporter,


It's Come to This

...I finally broke down and joined Facebook. So, if you're on there, find me and OHMYGOD TOTALLY FRIEND ME, YOU GUYS!!!

I'm going to keep the KFR online identity separate from Facebook; I'm flying under my real name there and will be keeping my identity all scrubbed-clean and sanitized, since I wanted to join in part to network academically.

This is just the latest foray in my life project to be four years behind everyone else.

Addendum: Hot damn! My submission to Cake Wrecks is online! I found this one on some random flickr person's site (saw a cake, thought "hmm...could be a wreck") and sent it to the Cake Wrecks lady a few weeks ago.


Zeitgeist c. 1990

I was born in 1978. That put me in middle school (6th grade) when 1990 hit. That was about the time I started watching MTV, back when MTV played a lot of music videos and hadn't yet hit on the idea of show after show of masturbatory consumer culture schlock. I was pleasantly surprised yesterday to discover that, apparently because they're tired of people watching ripped music videos on Youtube, MTV has put up a free video site.

This, of course, forced to me to look for shit I remembered from my early adolescence. The elements of the 1990 musical zeitgeist were as follows: treble, a certain kind of electronica, and the beginnings of the intersection of hip hop and pop/rock:

The KLF, 3am Eternal

Snap, The Power

There's this beautiful aesthetic in some of the videos from this era, the whole projection of what the future would look like when everything was computerized, before everything being computerized really served any useful purpose:

Information Society, Think

And it was also just the era in which some 80s bands successfully matured into something else. This was my favorite song all through middle school; Violater was the first tape (yep, tape) I bought for myself:

Depeche Mode, Enjoy the Silence


A Thousand Words is Worth a Picture

...I've been pretty bad about taking pictures since my mom and stepdad visited at the start of the month. I've been very tired and avoiding the exploratory hikes, for one, and the one place I do go to consistently is the BNF, which doesn't allow cameras, for two. I'll try to take some interesting pictures as the weather changes in the next week or so. In the meantime, apologies for lack of illustrations for a handful of things I've seen in the last few days around Paris:
  1. Two grown men on those little razor-scooter things, using them as normal transportation. They were spotted on separate days and in different neighborhoods, but may still be in cahoots.
  2. A group of five wild swans happily swimming around in the Seine. I have never seen a swan outside of a city park before.
  3. Various hobos drinking what looked to me to be entirely decent bottles of red wine. It looks as miserable being homeless here as anywhere, but at least they're not reduced to Thunderbird or Old E in Paris.
  4. A kid really, seriously throwing up a lot (the lack of a picture on that one is probably for the best.)
  5. The worst buskers in France and, possibly, in the entire world: two old farts with a boombox that was playing some kind of horn music, kind of like Herb Alpbert and the Tijuana Brass. Old fart number one was playing along with about 1/4 of the music with a trumpet, and old fart number two was playing along with at most 1/10 with a baritone horn. In essence, they were playing a CD on the street and holding out a hat. The bar is set pretty low in the Ile St. Louis.
We've entered into a new phase in the KFR-in-Paris saga: I'm not depressed anymore, just stupefied. Things don't really seem "foreign" as much as just "really inconvenient." The weather really broke over the last few days, with temps plunging toward freezing and a big week-long front supposedly moving in, so maybe it's just as well that all I really want to do for the next month is hide and watch Sopranos, Trailer Park Boys, and clips from Def Comedy Jam in my apartment. (Thanks, internet thieves, for doing all of the dirty work for me.)


Stockholm Syndrome: A Research Update

It's almost November: my favorite month (for the weather, of course.) This coming week is the first of the many school holidays kids get in France. The UC decided it would be a good idea to do as the natives, so our students are scattering across Europe for a week while we broke-ass TAs stay right where we are.

So, a research update is due. The thing is, if I were ever apprehended by a gang of bank-robbing cultist psychopaths, chances are they'd barely have to use the old sleep-dep / malnutrition torture routine before I'd sign up to help out. My whole bright-eyed eager-to-please personality defect would translate into the strongest case of Stockholm Syndrome anyone's ever seen.

I bring this up because of how I feel about the Bibliothèque Nationale. When I came here, I couldn't have been more terrified about the prospect of getting access to the research library and dealing with the people there. Now that I've settled into a routine, showing up a couple of times a week and plugging away deep in its missile-silo-esque subterranean heart for three or four hours before my brain gives out, I love it. I can't get enough of that place. The happiest I am in Paris is walking to and from the BNF, across the Pont Sully, down through the Jardin des Sculptures en plein air, past the Gare d'Austerlitz, and along the Quai F. Mauriac. To get in to the BNF from the west, you have to climb up these enormous steps that surround it like an Aztec pyramid. Even without the blood sacrifices, it feels sort of...sacred. The Stockholm Syndrome manifests in how grateful I feel that no one has yet come up to me while I'm reading, screamed "you HACK!", zapped me with a taser, and tossed me out on my ear. Again, that's "yet."

Other stuff: Gorz died in 2007. He and his wife committed suicide together so that they would never be separated - she was dying of cancer. Per his request, his personal papers were shipped to an institute in northern France that organizes and archives the effects of writers to make them available to scholars. It having been over a year, however, said institute hasn't even started sorting through them because they're underfunded and understaffed. This is a point of contention not just for me, but for a wonderful French scholar I interviewed the other week who had known Gorz well and considered herself one of his "disciples." She's been commissioned by a French publisher to write "the" book on Gorz in French, but she's stuck being unable to get at the papers.

This isn't such a huge deal for me. I wouldn't be financially able to leave Paris and go up north for weeks anyway, nor would I be able to get away from the program for that long. I can write grants to return some time next year, albeit for 3 or 4 weeks MAXIMUM (I am never, ever being away from B for this long again.) And, frankly, I can write my shit without looking at his drafts, I'd just want to look at them for historian street cred. I guess we'll see how it goes.

So, yeah. Did some interviews. I've read a lot of books and I'm reading more. In November I'll finish reading all of his books except for the 600-page philosophical treatise, which is going to be an ongoing thing. Also, I'm going to start writing while I'm still reading. I am a one-man rock n' roll party machine.

P.S. Internet co-blogger extraordinaire Count Fosco is back in effect, much to my unholy delight.


Tiny Beers in Paris: An Epic Poem

I'm just kidding about the epic poem part.

I've long been a fan of nice, clean continental lagers (those "crispy Stellas", for instance). Some of B + my earliest shenanigans revolved around getting a 12-pack of Beck's and a large pizza (for six bucks, fool!) from the now-defunct Pizza Answer in Eugene for pizza + beer date nights when we were 22/21, respectively. As I recall, we'd wind up trashed by 8pm.

In Paris, the default size of beers is 25 Centileters (=8.4 oz.). They are simply adorable. The novelty, however, ran out after the first six-pack, when it occurred to me that I am getting less beer for more money, which is shitty math. That said, some of my better alone-evenings (read: 6/7 nights a week, generally) have revolved around my fondness for golden lagers from the little market down the street.
  • Carlsberg is just delicious.
  • Kronenbourg is kind of mediocre...but it's really cheap.
  • Stella Artois is great.
Right now, for instance, I'm listening to Elvis Costello and mixing up a batch of my pasta-sauce-from-scratch that has made me the toast of the Ile de France,* accompanied by some tiny beers and a backup bottle of 2-euro wine.

Being alone is just fucked. I'm not complaining this time, just commenting. I have to hand it to my single friends: I've been paired up for so long (since I was 16, essentially) that I have no sense of how hallucinatorily weird it is to spend lots of time by yourself. In a way, it's surprising that more people don't routinely smoke a huge load of opium and paint their walls with the blood of captured pigeons, or the equivalent. I mean...I watched four hours of Trailer Park Boys the other night.

In my more lucid moments, I wonder how just being in Paris could make this less like living alone in...Norwich. I go on walks, I admire the unique cast of the light, I gaze appreciatively at the Seine, but I still end up in my apartment drinking tiny beers sooner than later.

Research update next time.

* I'm also making that part up.


I Would Like some Cheese with my Whine

Feeling tired, cold, and a bit beat-up today. It is possible that this has something to do with staying up till past 1am the other night drinking wine w/ other grad students, and it is also possible that it has something to do with the weather finally shifting toward actual autumnal patterns. Either way, today I'm feeling especially nostalgic for the states. Above and beyond missing B and my friends, there are many insignificant things that I find myself missing more than I should. Here are some of them, featuring bullet-point format:
  • Being able to keep a week's worth of food in my kitchen (i.e. having enough room.)
  • How I dress, there vs. here. I feel like I'm always dressed up just enough that if Interpol happens to detain me, I won't look like a sloppy American.* In a word, I miss being a pretentiously attired post-punk grad hipster.
  • TV. I really, really miss Deadliest Catch, Tony Bourdain, Iron Chef, etc. I can watch some of it online, but there's something depressing about hunching over a laptop to see a show.
  • Having access to a washer and dryer that only cost 2.25 American, total, per load.
  • Having enough clothes on-hand that I don't have to wash them every 9 days, because that's when I run out of socks.
  • Space. And for those of you who know how big our apartment is in SC, that should give you some perspective on apartments in Paris.
  • Access to (my) music.
  • Pints of beer for only (!) 4-something bucks.
  • People who are hesitant to honk at people, because those people might turn around and shoot them. It is clear that no one in Paris is afraid of the consequences of an uncalled-for honking fit.
  • COFFEE. This one-cup-a-day routine is horseshit.
It's funny, B and I have been talking about upgrading to a 2-bedroom apartment at some point in 2009, but for now even our tiny-ass 1-bedroom sounds like the Taj Mahal to me. On the short-list of good things to come of my Parisian sojourn, perspective on what is great about living in SC is right there in the top 3.

* Interpol the International police organization, not Interpol the kind of mediocre NY-based indie rock band. Although either way, proper attire would be a must.


KFR Movie Reviews: Tropic Thunder

I went out last night with C + K to see Tonnerre sous les Tropiques, AKA Tropic Thunder. It was awesome, you guys. The jokes revolved around:
  1. An ongoing retard joke.
  2. Robert Downey Jr. in blackface.
  3. Jack Black's character being addicted to heroin.
  4. Lots of hilarious people-being-blown-up scenes.
Even the creepy Tom Cruise character couldn't derail it.*

The movie struck me as one of those serendipitous moments in pop culture in which a comedian (Stiller) was able to sneak past the gatekeepers of media mediocrity and put together a project based on jokes he actually found funny.

My official verdict: two Parisians up.

* I'm not sure why Ben Stiller decided to cast Tom Cruise. Maybe they're friends. The thing is, we all know better...at this point you just can't drain the creepy out of the Cruise.



This is a dissertating post.

In his life, André Gorz published 19 books, by my current count.* His longest one is over 600 pages of dense phenomenology and his shortest is really just a pamphlet. He went through three phases: his Marxist philosophy and labor-movement strategy theories from the 50s and 60s, his writings on political ecology and kinda-sorta post-Marxist stuff in the 70s and 80s, and his work on new forms of labor and contradictions within postmodern capitalism in the 90s and 2000s. I like to read all of it. I've been making good progress over here and I'm confident that I'll be finished with the books and able to move on to reading his journalism when I get back to the states.

But! The problem is that the next book on the to-do list is the first book he ever published, his autobiographical Le Traître (The Traitor.) It's a very complex piece of writing, shifting between first, second, and third-person narratives, exploring the inner workings of Gorz's mind, and generally making itself a nuisance to someone who has no business dealing with "real" literature (not to mention reading it in his second language.) I feel way out of my element trying to make sense of something that wasn't meant to be a straightforward narrative or an argumentative essay.

This got me to thinking about the disciplinary status of history again. We're the worst poachers in the business. Not only do we raid other disciplines (mostly philosophy and anthro) for theories to explain things, but we invite ourselves in and use the kinds of materials that other disciplines would like to keep as their own whenever we feel like it (especially literature.) It can be uncomfortable, because we don't always know what we're doing and we usually lack the kind of training to keep from saying really naive things about these kind of sources.

For me, the most iconic examples of this are with art. Historians suck at using art. The only person I know who has any business using images as sources is K, because she's spent years working with art historians and learning their game.** I've always been amazed seeing professional historians who use art in their presentations, because as often as not the analysis is incredibly shallow and totally under-theorized.

I worry that I'll end up doing the same thing with Gorz's autobiographical stuff. Pray for me.

(That all said, I will add that other disciplines are just as bad about using history. All of us have had the experience of reading some lit or anthro person's use of history and talked a load of smack about how they don't know what they're doing. I guess it's all just part of the charm of academia.)

P.S. On a completely unrelated note, check out pictures of Robocop on a Unicorn. Brought to my attention by the lovely and talented NinjaHQ, who needs to update her blog.

* I read in an obituary that he also wrote fiction, but I haven't seen any evidence of that or come across any more pseudonyms. The guy already had too many pseudonyms.
** I think I'm allowed to use philosophy and social / political theory stuff for the same reason: several years of bothering people who study it full-time.


The Only Reasonable Response to Heidegger

Rob Wright, from legendary Canadian punk golems No Means No, reading from Heidegger's seminal Sein und Seit. I feel pretty much the same way about Heidegger.

I should add that probably the only really cool thing about me is that I have loved No Means No since I was 14 years old, which was, incidentally, when they were also 14 years old as a band.


Told Ya So

Just a few notes on the financial collapse (fuck "crisis": the dow is hovering around 8000 after only falling under 10,000 for the first time since 2004 last week.) Everyone, I think, ought to read and listen to the following:
  1. This blog post and its attendant quotes and links. The short version: even if you're gung-ho pro-capitalism, favoring the rich undermines the prosperity of a consumer society, because everyone who isn't in the top echelon is forced to borrow A LOT to maintain their lifestyle, which is in turn unsustainable in the long run. As we're seeing right now.
  2. The This American Life episode The Giant Pool of Money: a very concise and entertaining explanation of how the collapse happened.
  3. The This American Life episode Another Frightening Show about the Economy, an update on the collapse as of last week.
  4. A recent article by Francis Fukuyama, formerly one of the great visionaries of the neo-cons, who has been back-peddling ever since the Iraq War proved to be an utter disaster.
  5. Finally, a recent article by Immanuel Wallerstein, the great Marxist macro-economic history guy, with a very calm, measured account of the shift that all of this will probably bring about in global capitalism. He's old enough not to get too worked up, I think...
And it makes me think of my guy, André Gorz. Some of his last writing before he died was about precisely this phenomenon, a capitalism that was originally based on physical labor producing tangible products now being based mostly on information and speculation, things that fundamentally don't fit the system because you can never determine how much an idea is "really" worth, and hence you can't buy it and sell it in any kind of stable way...as we're seeing right now.

So, yeah, the lefties have the right to say "told ya so" now, but I don't think there's much call for schadenfreude, because we're all taking it on the chin as a result of the financial policies of Reagan, Bush 1, Clinton, and, especially, Bush 2.

(I admit, however, at least a little schadenfreude knowing that thousands of hedge-fund vampires are now broke and desperate...I'd love to see a little more 1929 action with assholes in suits jumping off of buildings on Wall St.)


A Word From Our Sponsor of Monsters

I expect you all know that my wife makes adorable beasties. This weekend she'll be in Seattle with her middle-big brother at Plush You, promotin' her stuff and meeting some of the other left coast masters of plush-making. This is my official plug for her and for the event; if you're anywhere near Seattle, you should go, and if not, you should take a gander at her stuff online if you haven't already.

The thing that amazes me about B is the same thing that always amazed me when I was getting tattoos from our main guy in Eugene: artistic intelligence operates at its own level of brilliance. B does everything by herself; the designs, the patterns, the armatures, the wire-wrapping, the stuffing, the sewing, the more sewing, and the more sewing. She doesn't even sketch much; she just thinks really hard, gets some fabric, and goes to work. It was the same way with Julien at Black Lotus; he could just look at an arm or a leg or a back and know what he was going to tattoo. Most of us don't think like that.

So, anyway, it sucks every single day being away from her, but I'm glad B will be kicking it with a whole posse of her fellow artistes this weekend.

Also, I still have high hopes that we'll be able to retire on the revenue from plush beasty sales.


New Notes on Paris

So the moms and the stepdad took off this morning from the Gare de Lyon for Provence with their friends C + R. They've rented a little house down there and plan to spend a lot of time basking in the 70-something degree weather and, I suspect, partaking of the local beverages.

Their visit was great, not least of which because it prompted me to do the museum thing, the eating-at-cafés thing, and the other touristy things that I feel ridiculous doing by myself (and, hence, haven't done since I came here in August.)

Our touristic exploits resulted in several surprises as well as a handful of unsurprising confirmations of suppositions already supposed:
  1. The Musée D'Orsay is easily the best museum in Paris. It's large but not overwhelming, packed with famous art but also equipped with a host of lesser-known works of equal quality, and the café there is really good.
  2. The Eiffel Tower is, in fact, really fun. The views are amazing and the crowds (at least when we went, mid-afternoon on a Tuesday) were totally manageable.
  3. It's really hard to go wrong with any café in or near central Paris, especially if you're wise enough to get a croque madame for lunch (that's kind of a grilled-cheese sandwich with ham inside and an egg on top.)
  4. Versailles, on the other hand, is a load of bullshit. It's so crowded you'll wish you were dead and the chateau is kind of "meh" after seeing everything in Paris proper. The gardens, however, are really neat, so if you go there, just get the 13.50 ticket for them and skip the gilded crap inside.
  5. The trick with the Louvre is going to the Sully or Richelieu wings; all of the most famous stuff is in the Denon wing and the crowds are easily twice as big there. It's like being on a bus to campus in Santa Cruz at the start of the term.
  6. You have to use your RER ticket to get out of the stations as well as in, so don't throw it away once you're on the train.
  7. Beef tartare is goooooooooood.
That's all I've got for the moment. Far too many pictures on my flickr site.


Highlights of the Louvre

Yesterday, my mom, stepdad and I went to the Louvre. There, we kicked our way through the crowd and looked at paintings and sculptures. Here are a few favorites.

I mean...it's nipple-tweaking at the preeminent fine arts museum of the entire world. That is so awesome I can't handle it.

The official court dwarf of some pope or another. Popes have dwarves. They, the dwarves, mine gemstones and fight orcs for them, the popes.

A Dutch artist's seventeenth-century painting "paying taxes." Just click on it and look at the guy on the right's expression. Also: what are they wearing on their heads?! I will visit and bring hugs and kisses to whoever can figure it out.

Me and a 3000-year old Egyptian cat sculpture. I also like kitties.


Disco Stampede

I don't mean to be horrible and callous (too late!), but using the term disco stampede in an article pushes it toward comedy and away from tragedy. And I quote:

"The stampede was caused by (a) commotion in the disco."


Complaints about France, part deux (following the exact-change bitch-fest from a few weeks ago): it is too hard to stay fed in Paris. Crazy bullshit, right? "Shut UP, kungfuramone! Paris is the world capital of cuisine!"

Well. If you're rich, maybe. Normally, places don't open until 8pm and everything is so expensive, you are forced to kill yourself with a hatchet. I'm not kidding.

Today, happily, there was a nice café in the Musée D'Orsay that provided us with food, then later we found another café in the Marais (that's "the swamp" in English) that was grudgingly willing to exchange food for money at 6pm.

Here's the thing. Let's say that it costs X dollars/euros to buy some stuff from the grocery store and make dinner. If it cost, say, 2X dollars/euros to get dinner at a restaurant, we'd all do it all the time. 4X euros, sure, fine. 5x...uh, ok. But it's something like 8 - 10X at most places in Paris, certainly at proper restaurants. The food is good...caramelized onions, meat falling off the bone, nice salads with homemade dressing, the works. But, uh, dude. The world economy is collapsing. Who among us can honestly afford 30 euros for a plate that has some food on it? I can make all kinds of pasta and scrambled eggs and stuff, and it's only going to set us back 5 euros.

Anyway, my mom and stepdad are visiting. Go look at my flickr pics of museums and related man-about-town activities.


One and a Half Months

Yesterday's picnic lunch: fresh baguette, charcuterie, camembert, washed down with a good Bordeaux. You could do worse.

I've been here long enough that I've finally arrived at a kind of quotidian calm. I'm not doing the daily expeditions and I'm not pushing myself to get a whole lot done every single day, but I'm also not counting down the seconds like I was.

Speaking of daily expeditions, I've kind of run out of destinations. I've hiked to all of the obvious ones within walking distance. Today I'm going to do the Cité Universitaire, but I'm not sure about tomorrow. My mom and stepdad arrive Thursday, at which point I can relax into a tour guide routine for places I've already been to. The funny thing is going to be figuring out where to eat; I've been to a total of two restaurants, two cafés, and two bars since coming here and I don't know the deals, the routines, or the hidden hot-spots at all. I suppose we'll figure something out...millions of tourists who know less French than I do manage to pull it off every year.

"I really enjoy forgetting. When I first come to a place, I notice all the little details. I notice the way the sky looks. The color of white paper. The way people walk. Doorknobs. Everything. Then I get used to the place and I don't notice those things anymore." - David Byrne in True Stories.

P.S. I found out that my homie C, one of my fellow grads here, has a blog. And now that blog has a link, and the circle of life is complete.


You're Only a Virgin Once

...isn't that great? There are lots of things that give me that same amazing feeling I got when I lost my virginity, that special "hooray! I never have to be a virgin again!" feeling. In contrast, there are other things that I don't mind being a virgin of or for until I'm dead. Examples!

Happy to not be a something-virgin (France-related activities category):
  1. A having done actual research in France virgin!
  2. A figured out the laundromat virgin!
  3. (Probably should be the first one): A survived getting here from SFO virgin!
  4. A discovered the automatic checkout machine at the monoprix so I don't have to deal with the bitchy exact-change-crazed checkout ladies virgin!
  5. A developed rudimentary speaking skills virgin!
Things that I'm fine with never losing my something-cherry of (generic category):
  1. Shooting a gun virgin.
  2. Operating a motorcycle virgin.
  3. Voting Republican virgin (sorry, cheap shot.)
  4. Wearing a cowboy hat virgin.
  5. Drinking a wine cooler virgin.*
All of this is, of course, inspired by finally having gone and done actual real-life research at the BNF. I made an idiot out of myself in front of all but one of the people I had to talk to (this time, not so much with French, just with not knowing where I was or what I was supposed to do next), but overall it was still a neat experience. It's very quiet there and the people look very serious while they sit in their little rows reading and tapping away on laptops. I think it'll be a good place for me to spend my days once it gets cold; I could happily spend all of November in the rez de jardin, ignoring the outside world.

Unrelated notes: It's a warm and sunny day in late September here in Paris, and it's Saturday. This means that the Ile St. Louis is awash, nay, immersed in tourists. Happily, my apt. is on the troisieme etage, so I am slightly above the fray. I expect the idiots will be out in force this evening for the official weekly woo-screaming. Tomorrow, I'm meeting my homies for a picnic in the Luxembourg Garden. Next week, my mom and stepdad are visiting, and our shared touristy outings will inspire more picture-taking on my part.

* I wish I could say that I was a bitch-beer virgin, but I'm not. But it's not my fault. Matt-O: if you're reading this, remember when certain fruity drinks were offered to us as "beer"?


Classy Bitch

...that's me. Check my flickr page to see what I mean.

Also, be sure to read this awesome, and accurate, article from CNN/Time: United States of France. (Don't worry...it's short.)

So I want to announce my emotional, spiritual, and eschatological revival. Since coming to France, I have been very sad, because I miss my wife and I miss my friends and my command of French vacillates wildly. But I figured it out, guys. Here's my secret: I just don't pay attention to the fact that I happen to be in Paris. It makes a HUGE difference. I just walk around, I buy some food sometimes, I read for my dissertation, and I happen to be in Paris while I'm doing it! Also, as was re-confirmed by the little reception thing tonight at the place I work at, I got really lucky with my fellow grads. They are rad and they make me less depressed.

On the agenda for right now: more pasta. Listen to Motorhead on my iPod.


How to Get Set Up at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France

  1. Fill out the online Pre-inscription form. Wait until they e-mail you back.
  2. Go to the east entrance of the BNF. You go through security, which is quick, and then take a left. The Service d'Orientation des lecteurs is over on the left. You go in and sit down and the two front desk people get to you when they get to you. They'll give you a number after they briefly sound you out.
  3. When your number comes up, you go back to one of the cubicles behind the front desk people. If you're lucky, like I was, an incredibly nice grandmotherly lady will fill everything out on the computer, take your picture with a webcam, and produce your card. You have the option of getting a 15-day pass or an annual pass; they're almost the same price, so especially if you're a student, you might as well get the annual pass.
  4. You don't pay for the card there. You have to go back to the main entrance hall and go to the caisse (I know, I know, I should have already known this word): the cashier. You pay him and your card is activated.
  5. You then have to go the big long security desk by the escalators and turn in your bag, if you have one, and put all of your stuff into an transparent plastic briefcase thing (my phrasing for this: "Il faut prendre une...une valise en plastique?") This is to prevent you from stealing all of their shit.
  6. Then you go down an escalator after you beep a kiosk thing with your card, which registers your presence there.
That's as far as I got today; it turns out that the material you request can take up to an hour to show up if you haven't reserved it, so I figured I had pulled off enough heroics for one day and I'll reserve stuff online before I return on Friday. I'm just relieved to have jumped the initial hurdles.


Atsa Spicey Blog Post

IM Conversation between my homie K and I the other day regarding the tranny contestant on the latest America's Next Top Model:

"I don't think the tranny can cut it."
"I know, I'm just wondering how long the tranny can hang in there."




Those of us in the UC system have been known to shake our heads in bewilderment at the existence of the newest campus: UC Merced. First off, we don't know where it is. Last year I remember a group of three history grads speculating that it must be somewhere in the wasteland east of LA, possibly in the middle of the Mojave Desert. Further, we can't imagine what it must be like to work there, with the predictable dearth of facilities and the rest of the system looking down its collective nose at you.* Finally, it's one of those issues that doesn't have an easy answer: the state system guarantees that its top 10% of high school graduates can enter the UC, but it lacks the facilities. It had to build somewhere.

It turns out that Merced is due east of San Jose, not LA. It's out in the central valley a few hours from the south bay. Back in August, the NY Times ran this brilliant article about how Merced is also on the short list of worst-hit American cities in the housing bust. There's a lot of compelling stuff in the article, but here's the most important paragraph, IMHO: "He was selling houses for $300,000. That means a buyer would have needed a household income of about $100,000 to comfortably make the payments. But Merced’s per capita income of $23,864 ranks among the lowest for metropolitan areas in the country. “None of us paid much attention,” Mr. Glieberman says."

To me, this is the essence of what has happened and is happening as the world market goes bananas, the inevitable endpoint of the "free market." So long as there's a short-term profit to be made, the fact that it's predicated on absolutely nothing doesn't bother anyone. I'm not even going to throw an anti-capitalism hissy fit here; I'm just mad from my family's solid centrist Democrat perspective that the last four presidents (yes, Clinton too) did everything they could to unleash speculators, the blood-suckers of commerce, from any and all regulation.

And now even the mainstream media is starting to come up with "that was a bad idea" op-ed pieces. I just wonder what's going to happen next. Is it possible to move away from the model of constant growth toward something approaching stability, or is that just absurd naiveté on my part based on reading far too many European lefty theorists over the last few years?**

Personal notes for the day: Almost got run over by a bus on this morning's hike out to the Observatoire de Paris. There's a park there I wanted to sit in and read, but it's closed for some reason. Lunch tomorrow with the other grads in my program...I'm bringin' the wine. My stress was alleviated somewhat earlier today when I discovered that I actually can get the journals Gorz wrote in, all of them, back in the states. That means if they laugh me out of the BNF on Tuesday, I can still write a dissertation. Still very lonely and bored most of the time, but I'm hanging in there.

* Which I am doing right now. I am now part of the system.
** Don't answer that question.