Tuesday, April 19, 2016

FRANCE




I have always been a Francophile, hugely fond of France. There has been only one thing that I didn’t like about it: the French. To be exact, not all the French, only the petit bourgeois variety, as petty as bourgeois can get: miserly, xenophobic, small-minded.

The more educated classes, including the snooty quasi-aristocrats, are something else again, although during my year as a Fulbright fellow I didn’t get to know many of those. Though I was supposed to be working on my doctorate in Comparative Literature, I did not frequent the libraries, and only met my very congenial adviser late in the game for a very amiable session. I did however avail myself of the cultural and aesthetic bounties the capital could bestow, which proved altogether sufficient. As Rabelais said, the city of Paris was a better teacher than the Sorbonne University.

I have written about the time I did miss big when I did not attend a Sorbonne lecture by Thomas Mann, guest speaker, who committed a hilarious error. I have also written about the time I earned Mann’s gratitude when during his tiring book signing session, I did not, unlike most others, ask for a wordy dedication, merely his signature.

Typical of middle-class stinginess were my landlady and her retired engineer husband, from whom I rented a room. She would drop in on me periodically and compliment me on the French books I had bought, not a few of them the expensive, prestigious Pleiade complete-works editions, but never went so far as to invite me for a cup of coffee or glass of wine in her part of the apartment.

Even more damning was her boasting of having been classmates with Edwige Feuillere, a great stage actress we both admired. But, I was told, not to expect an introduction to the great lady. I assured her I wasn’t thinking of anything like that.

On the other hand, consider the genuine friendship that evolved with Simone Danloux, the charming proprietress of the delightful bookstore Librairie du Pont Neuf on that lovely Seine bridge. True, I was a faithful client, who spoke commendable French and spent much of my Fulbright Fellowship money there, but it went beyond that, as we always chatted like best of friends.

And something else. In France at that time quite a few genteel young women earned  a living by artful bookbinding. French books overwhelmingly come in paper covers, and the purchaser has them bound at his expense in buckram or leather, often in very imaginative bindings—I still have a few of them.

Well now, at Simone’s store I met and ordered some bindings from her favored relieuse, Arlette Duparquier. I met her only a couple of times but was bawled over by her stunning looks, unassuming intelligence, and enchanting personality. To this day I recall her name and person, and wish to hell I had invited her out for a meal or what the French call un verre, a glass. She lived in a distant town but came in often enough to accept an invitation from me. Why in hell didn’t I do it? I can attribute it only to shyness, to having felt too unimportant, too unworthy, to do so.

I did have an affair with an American girl, Marty, an American ballet dancer, June, and later with a French girl, Jacqueline.  Departing France, I left Jacqueline the legacy of my favorite French poet, of whom she had never heard, Stephane Mallarme. In the only letter I ever got from her, she informed me that his stuff left her cold until she came upon his one love poem, the one to Mery Laurent. I think Jacqueline entertained the notion that I’d be back for her, which never happened.

But to get back to the French. What other nation has produced a marvel like the croissant? The crescent-shaped breakkfast pastry, but the one that is feather light and flaky, not what passes elsewhere for a croissant, the firm and heavier thing that is really the Austrian kipfel, merely a breakfast roll in crescent shape. There are also French and other bakers who produce the correct thing, but in a straight, non-crescent shape, with the excuse that it is easier to spread butter and jam on it without staining one’s fingers and tablecloth. Somehow, though, that doesn’t feel right.

Historically , Dan Bilofsky writes in the Times, the shape was suggested by “the Ottoman emblem, to celebrate the defeat of the Turkish forces that ended the Turkish siege of Vienna in 1683.” But he continues “some food historians say the kipfel appeared in Vienna as early as the 13th century.” What pastry, I wonder, will the defeat of the ISIS forces yield?

Charm, like the croissant’s, is something very French, which is exuded par excellence by French women. Take for instance my one meeting with that greatly gifted and enormously charming French film actress Anouk Aimee, whom you may  remember from “A Man and a Woman,” “La dolce vita,” and “8 ½.” Or else from any other of her 70 plus films under some of cinema’s greatest directors.

I was walking in Times Square one late afternoon when whom should I bump into but Anouk Aimee and her then husband, Pierre Barouh. I can’t recall who first addressed whom, but we stopped briefly and she asked, concerning a matinee they had just come from, “Quest-ce que c’est que ‘fiddler’?” I replied, “Violoniste,” and her face lit up like a klieg light as he laughed and said, in the most musical French, “Ah, didn’t I think so?”  The French, and not only the women, can say the simplest things unforgettably.

This is true not only of pretty actresses. Thus my friend Bill Hedges was
 a fellow Fulbright somewhere in the South, the Midi, as the French call it. I used to call him on the phone to chitchat, often and quite lengthily. His landlady, whom he described as a jolly, corpulent, outspoken, middle-aged woman, would usually first pick up the phone and came to refer to me as “le roi du telephone,” which I rather liked, and which, email notwithstanding, I may still be.

Then again, there was that reception at New York’s French Consulate at which I noticed a very attractive young woman looking somehow lost. I accosted her and she turned out to be a beginning film actress with a rosy future named Audrey Tautou. I sat next to her at the dinner (there were such things in those days), and we enjoyably exchanged views about movies, sometimes agreeing, sometimes not. She gave me her address to which I later wrote a jovial letter, identifying myself—even then—as the vieux monsieur she had chatted with, but never got an answer. By then, she had become a star.

A tribute is due, too, to a French diacritical mark: the circumflex. The aigu (acute) and grave are common enough in other languages as well, but the circonflexe (as Keith Houston in the Times of February 20 entertainingly informs me) figures, besides French, only in Romanian, Portuguese, Turkish, Slovak and Vietnamese-- languages rather beyond my purview. In French, though, it is a jauntily pointed cap sitting pretty on top of various vowels, lengthening or darkening their pronunciation. It was near-extinct before the Academie Francaise resuscitated it, and serves mostly as replacement for a discarded S in such words as bête, cout, and huitre, but thriving in English as beast, cost and oyster. It serves other purposes as well, like differentiating between du (due) with, and du (of) without circumflex. In French, it derives from circumflexus, the Latin rendering of the Greek perispomenos (bent around). And sometimes it is just there for no good reason, as in paraitre.

In popular English parlance, French stands for elegance, as in dry cleaning, cuisine, couture, pastry, cuffs, heels, windows, doors; and somewhat more equivocally in dressing, toast, fries, bread, and French kiss. But because of British jealousy of France, there is also the negative French leave (although based on an old French custom) and the now obsolete French letter (condom) and French pox (syphilis).

Most interesting of all is the euphemism “Pardon my French,” an apology for potty mouth, which surely derives from Americans’ equating French with erotic, as also in French kiss. If so, all I can say is “Vive la France!”




18 comments:

  1. God! I remember my time in France like it was yesterday. I had a small apartment on 3rd street overlooking the Sane. Yes, that famous river in Paris—the Sane. Anyway, my apartment was small (yet expensive, go figure). All I had was a bathroom and a closet. The closet is where I had a one burner cooking unit, a tiny stool, and a coat rack. The bathroom was a toilet, a sink, and an ashtray; nothing else. When my roommate wasn’t home it was quite comfy.

    One night, I had a few of the boys over for a game of poker, and I must have gotten a little drunk, because in the middle of a hand I threw the card table against the wall (it was tiny table made for a doll house) and demanded that everyone leave. “GET OUT!” I screamed. I told them I wanted to run out into the cool Paris evening. (I just needed to clear my head.) I was confused. I was in love. I was in love with Paris. I wanted to walk the banks of the Sane. Either that, or I was down two hundred bucks in the card game.

    Anyhow, after they beat the living shit out me and took my wallet, I DID go out and walk around MY beloved Paris. I walked up to the theatre where my girlfriend made popcorn and served popcorn balls to the hungry German soldiers. Her theatre was right across the street from the Leaning Tower of Pizza. Above the theatre was a huge glitzy sign flashing out the newest French film. Across the cobblestone road a man sold beer, French fries, and funnel cakes.

    I could never help myself, and I always had to have a funnel cake with extra powdered sugar. The powdered sugar would always get all over my face and hands, and I mean a lot of it. I had a beard back then, and the white powder and greasy dough would cling everywhere inside my French goatee. The Parisians always laughed at me and called me “le retard”, but I didn’t care. I loved my French funnel cakes.

    And, I loved MY Paris. The Sane was beautiful at night. I would walk along its banks drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon, and then I would belch and throw the empty cans into the Sane---the Sane, that famous French river near Paris---yes, that one. Some nights I’d take off my shirt and go shirtless while scarfing down my beer and belching.

    One evening, I was especially melancholy. I was feeling blue; the kind of blue you could only feel in Paris. I stood shirtless next to the Sane and pondered it’s lovely ripples. The Leaning Tower of Pizza was lit up in the background. The moon was setting over the Sane, and I began to cry. The beauty was too much for me to endure. I cried and cried as I emptied my bladder into the Sane. Then, I realized my beer was all gone, and started to blubber even harder as I squeezed out my last few drops of urine.

    Yes, my days in France went by like the snap of fingers. I couldn’t have been happier than I was in those days. Swimming in the Sane---that famous French river. Eating French toast. Climbing the Tower of Pizza. It was a young man’s dream.

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  2. I'm reading Rousseau for class and am losing my love for France, fast. I'm realizing how lucky I am to have born under a Lockean constitution, dry and boring and legalistic and devoted to property rights. The French have in their bloodstream the Rousseauean passion for equalitarianism.

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  3. "There has been only one thing that I didn’t like about it: the French. To be exact, not all the French, only the petit bourgeois variety, as petty as bourgeois can get: miserly, xenophobic, small-minded."

    Yes, it is more pleasant to be generous, welcoming, and open-minded. But it is expensive to be able to afford such.

    Unlike academic types like Simon who got to attend elite colleges, rub shoulders with the 'best', and make a living by enjoying theater, opera, movies, and dance, some people like the French petit-bourgeois actually had to make a living, which is why they are 'miserly'.

    Also, so-called 'xenophobia' is understandable given that most people don't have much. They don't have the privilege and means to travel around the world and meet with fancy folks in ivory towers like Simon has all his life.
    Also, rich folks don't need a nation. They can live in nice places any place around the world. But people who don't have much at least have their own nation, a homeland. It is a a sense of pride and belonging.

    But alas, that is called 'xenophobia' by the Jewish globalists who, while pushing open borders on all nations, demand nationalism, border security, and strict immigration policy for Israel. Talk about hypocrisy.

    Anyway, look at France today. All that generosity and cosmopolitanism, the product of fusion of globalist capitalism and May 68 leftism, has led to massive invasion by primitive black Africans and hotheaded Muslims. Yes, this New France is the creation of cosmopolitans that Simon adores so much.

    A France dominated by 'miserly' and 'xenophobic' people would still be a proud white European civilization, but who wants that when we have 'diversity' with all these Third World invaders.

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    Replies
    1. Accidents of birth, one cannot control, hence, Mr Simon's place in life. The consequences of empire must be addressed; citizenship, education, and a job are fair redress.

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    2. The consequences of empire? Gimme a break. French conquered other parts of the globe and did some bad things but they also spread civilization and culture and lots of good stuff. On balance, it did more good than bad.

      Also, it was Western Imperialism that forced the rest of the world into modernity and new ideas/possibilities.

      Besides, the empire ended and the French were kicked out of Vietnam, Algeria,and etc. French came home. Since the natives won back their homelands, it was their responsibility to develop them. The problem is some of them are too corrupt, lazy, or dumb to do so. And don't gimme this shit about how white exploitation held those places back. Non-white societies had been stagnant for 100s, even 1000s, of yrs. Indeed, parts of the world that were never colonized by whites are now doing worse!

      And the logic that France must take in immigrants cuz of empire is nuts. Because UK sold opium to China, does that mean tons of Chinese should flood into UK? NO! The Chinese must build their own economy and fix their own problems.


      Worse, this diversity disease is now spreading to white nations that never had overseas empires. Sweden is taking in tons of invaders. And Poland and Hungary is under pressure to take in invaders. Why? They didn't invade Africa or Asia.

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    3. I always wonder how many readers this blog has (not many, probably, judging from the comments), and I commend Simon for keeping it up. But if, in the near future, he finds something else to do with his retirement, I wouldn't be surprised if he cites the quasi-Nazi ramblings above as the last straw. When he began this blog he no doubt envisioned a small but discerning audience of beautiful, brilliant young women; aspiring artists, critics and writers who appreciate the subtleties of humor and wordplay; sensitive, cosmopolitan pacifists like himself; and so on. Now he may be thinking, "C’est des conneries! One-fourth of my readership is [unpronounceable Greek guy]!" It's enough to make one expatriate (again).

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    4. The average blog recieves 1000 hits for every comment/post, so this site gets its share of traffic. Also, many people may be intimidated by Simon, for a variety of reasons, so his hit to comment ratio may be even higher than the ordinary blog.

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  4. "But to get back to the French. What other nation has produced a marvel like the croissant? The crescent-shaped breakfast pastry, but the one that is feather light and flaky, not what passes elsewhere for a croissant, the firm and heavier thing that is really the Austrian kipfel, merely a breakfast roll in crescent shape."

    With all the immigration from Muslim nations, some parts of France has gone from pastry croissant to Islamic Crescent.

    Thank you, globalists with cosmopolitan delusions.
    And of course, the 'progressives' also pushed 'gay marriage' since, of course, marriage is about fecal-staining anal penetration among men.

    French culture is nothing without elitism, hierarchy, refinement, and all such quasi-aristocratic exclusive characteristics.

    French created something uniquely lofty and unique. But due to Revolutionary ethos, the French have been trying to democratize what is essentially high elite culture. Also, even though French culture is distinct, its greatness was such that it inspired universalist impulses: share it with the world. (There was more than a bit of arrogance in French cultural generosity: 'our culture is better than yours, so take ours over your own.')

    But French culture is too high for true democratization and universalization.
    American Culture is much better suited for that, which is why Lingua America beat Lingua Franca in just about everything in the globalist game.
    Today, young French -- native and immigrant -- acculturate to American rap music and Hollywood.

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    1. Sorry, Sport, but the term "lingua franca" is unrelated to things French. Perhaps you might wish to review your foreign-language notebooks.

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    2. I believe our Greek friend was trying to say that the English language is the more common lingua franca when compared to French.
      Do I care? No. I'm bored off my ass today, so I thought I'd post something smart-ass.

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    3. I like the use of the nickname 'Sport'. One of my favorite characters in the movies was 'Sport' from Taxi Driver. A great turn by Keitel. That was a really creepy character, with his long hair and weird accent, loving up on 13-year- old Jodie Foster. Then, when De Niro sticks the gun in Sport's stomach and says, "Suck on this," I thought I'd go nuts!
      Here's another great scene.
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wD9_Sil8CDU

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    4. Regarding the lingua franca, you might be correct; I stand semi-corrected. Thanks for the cinematic reference.

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    5. Great scene, Larry! I like this one, with Peter Boyle giving advice to De Niro:
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rDgXeYlpbOE

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    6. That one may be even better. Both actors are super. That ability to communicate the inability to communicate, realistically and with style, is a tough one, but they both do it superbly.

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    7. Here's some Scorcesean pics of Times Square back in 'Taxi Driver' days:

      http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3560664/A-time-capsule-bad-old-days-Shocking-photo-series-captures-underage-prostitutes-Times-Square-late-1970s.html

      I feel almost bad for this poem I wrote, prolly after watching 'Gangs of New York':

      The films, the films
      Of Martin Scorcese
      Watch them enough
      And you’re sure to go crazy

      Saw ‘Taxi Driver’
      When I was 13
      And ever since then
      Life’s lost its sheen

      Love Bobby De Niro
      Yes he’s ineluc-
      Tably great, he’s my hero
      So I always say “f--k”

      Hate f-bombs and why-oh-lence
      With a Hollywood gloss?
      Skip the films of Scorcese
      You’ll feel “no big ross”

      (Will his films mellow
      As onward he goeth?
      Quoth Whitney Houston:
      “Hell to the no-eth!”)

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