France Insider/Paul Ben-Itzak

May 19, 2008

I went fly fishing and all I caught was a fly

Filed under: Uncategorized — franceblogger @ 2:14 am

You’d think that I’ve had learned from the Great Flood and Fishing Expedition of ’08 but no, there I was again yesterday, feet soaked, scouring the dirt paths and the fields for crickets for Bernard & Stephan, after I’d succeeded in 20 minutes in losing Bernard’s olive and my weight thing-a-ma-jig to the etang and been demoted from apprentice fisherman to rookie scourer for bait. Stephan had just finished saying they were the ideal bait for the interesting medium-sized fish that kept sniffing haughtily at his faux-fish bait when we heard them and I said, “I’m on it.” Five minutes later I returned and told a skeptical Bernard, “Um, they’re enclosed in a fence on the field.” ‘C’est rien!,” “That’s nothing!” Bernard chided me, “Climb the fence!” I instead took a different chemin, returning 20 minutes later with one of those thin things that kind of looks like a wasp without a stinger — pretty pathetic, I couldn’t even catch a fly but had to settle for an insect slower and more vulnerable. “Will this work?” Stephan was game to try it, ditto the beetle that was my next catch. Finally Bernard got into the game. “Paul! Paul!” he called. “Give this to Stephan.” “Mais — ca pique!” I demurred, looking down doubtfully at the struggling bee Bernard held at bay at the end of a sprig of weed. He stabbed at it some more but it still struggled on, whereupon brave Paul took the sprig and life in hand and carried it over to Stephan on the other side of the etang.

On the way home Stephan suddenly pulled up the car and he and Bernard bolted eagerly out on the road. I thought maybe they knew the man and two kids arrested behind us and got out to say hello, just in time to see what looked like one of the hybrid pig-boars I’d heard about (in vogue among some cheating hunters because they’re slower then full boars) — color of a pig, face of a boar but not quite so ugly — scurry awkwardly across the road and disappear into the woods. It turned out to be a moccasin or baby boar. I rushed excitedly down the road to get a closer look; when I came back Bernard scolded, “Be careful, it’s mother is probably somewhere.” I’d forgotten the lesson I’d learned 18 years ago in my short-lived story as the Great Moose Hunter of Anchorage.

Last night I was back to the one hunting metier in which I’ve demonstrated some success and — snap, it’s official, I’m now into double digits on mice.


May 16, 2008

The cat came back

Filed under: Uncategorized — franceblogger @ 9:13 pm

The death of my cat Hopey was messy. I can’t stop thinking myself culpable. That’s why whenever I have to go back to the village of Le Buisson, where I took Hopey to be treated by the three veterinarians at the clinic, I freak out. I had to go back today, to see a dentist, and therein was the means for Hopey to come back and grant me, I think, some absolution.

Hopey’s death was messy because I still wonder if it’s the medicine that killed her. And I remember the moment after I started her on it, when she had a reaction — a catch in her throat — and I promised to stop giving her the medicine. I stopped for a day but she seemed to have a reaction to that so I, so I, so there I go again. Because in fact we depend on doctors in cases like this. We depend on them not to expect that we know how to manage. We depend on not having three doctors from the same clinic not always telling us the same thing, what medicine to start and what to stop, what dosage to take. We depend on not having one be distracted as if he has better things to do. But Hopey I tried, I tried to do always what was right by you and now today, you came back to help me take care of myself learning from your experience.

My teeth have been aching in three different sectors for three weeks. Last week-end it was excruciating, so I made appointments with various dentists, finally today I had one with a dentist no one had recommended and I wasn’t sure until the last half hour before the rendez-vous that I would go through with it. I went back and forth. Could I afford to wait until I was closer to Paris and then see my Paris dentist, who I not only like but totally trust? (And not only because in his waiting room there’s a poster of Seberg and Belmondo from Godard’s Bout de Souffle, perhaps a reflection of his having an American mother and a French father.) Finally somewhere, somewhere on that street, where I used to roam between visits to Hopey, where I found a church to pray for forgiveness, finally Hopey came to me and said, or rather communicated, one thought applicable to two situations, her health and mine that yes, I should take care of myself, but it didn’t mean I had to go to a doctor I didn’t know if there was another possibility. Learn from my experience Paul, let me leave you with something besides guilt.

May 5, 2008

En fin, on va parle de mai ’68

Filed under: Uncategorized — franceblogger @ 7:10 am

Ever since candidat Sarkozy said he wanted to liquidate the heritage of May ’68 (I exaggerate a bit), the French media seems to have been marked by a certain timid restraint to not over-commemorate this year marked in France by a student revolt linked to a labor revolt. That reticence seems poised to end now that the month has arrived, if one can take as an indication a week dedicated to the anniversary on France Culture radio, commemorated today by a quote (sorry, didn’t catch the name) in which a ’68 veteran said it was distinguished by the fact that before ’68 adulthood had the highest value; after, youth. The image that highlighted this shift, he said, was Jean-Paul Sartre at the foot of an easy chair in which sat Daniel Cohn-Bendit. Time to go now! They’re about to broadcast “Le printemps des ondes,” the Springtime of Radio.

May 2, 2008

The dumbing down of France Culture

Filed under: Uncategorized — franceblogger @ 8:19 am

My first summer in Paris, one of my many zeniths was when the night arrived where I would finally see Godard — a new Godard, yet! — in not just Paris but a small cinema hall in an artsy theater-cinema-bar complex in the neighborhood where Camus and Hemingway used to live a few steps from the Luxembourg Garden. The film was “Eloge d’Amour,” freshly minted from Cannes and faithful to Godard’s credo that cinema isn’t just filming plays but using the camera as a pen. Autrement dit, the medium is the message. The film started at the end and worked its way to the beginning; and the first half was filmed in black and white, the second shot in color with a digital camera, the enhanced color possibilities part of the focus. Along the way, Godard got in a swipe at Hollywood blockbusters; one of the characters, a young female producer type, is (as I recall) interviewing a Holocaust survivor in France, and at some point picks up the camera to check in with Spielberg.

But the surprise came offstage, in the audience. This was the film’s first release; if it was being shown in New York in such circumstances, the line would be around the block. Here in Paris — in Paris, birth of the New Wave! — it was being shown in the tiniest salle in the building to all of ten people. In the first week of release! Not only that, I, fresh off the boat in France, knowing hardly a word of French, was perched on the edge of my seat with my mouth open in a constant incroyable for the entire 90 minute duration, while my friend Sabine, not only French but an actress to boot, spent the whole time clutching her hair in frustration. In effect, the French person found the film too intellectual, and the American guy was enthralled — not because he’s an intellectual, but because of the richness of the images. I’m not saying I wouldn’t have gotten more out of the film if I spoke French, but rather, for Godard the premiere language is the film and it spoke to me.

Flash forward to this week when, with it’s regular host on vacation, the morning show of France Culture — France Culture the state-owned radio station — has taken a frustrating sharp turn to the middle-brow. Earlier this week, the guest was the author of a new book on blacks in France, who was immediately hamstrung by the host, who began by stating, “Of course, in France we’re universalist.” In other words, we were about to discuss the problems of one racial group in a state where officialdom still refuses to acknowledge that race matters, a 60-year legacy of France’s collective guilt over deporting any and everyone with a trace of Jewish blood to their deaths. Then yesterday, May Day, with at least three huge topical newsy angles to choose from — the 40th anniversary of May ’68, the recent push by sans papier workers to get their papers and the unique decision by France’s biggest and long-time quarreling unions to march together in the parade (at the front of which were the sans papiers workers), who does France Culture choose for a guest? A guy that, basically, has written the French version of How to succeed in business without really trying.

But today was the worse. If I told you the special guest is a, er, supposedly professor, who animates weekly seances on cinema and philosophy, your first reaction might be great, how French, how meaty, Godard, Godard, and Godard. But no, apparently, this pseudo-philosopher sees Descartes and Spinoza in the Matrix and Fight Club. (Predictably, in seances at MK2, one of the more insidious chains.) Godard didn’t come up until the last half hour free-for-all, when Olivier Duhamel asked the man if Godard ever made it into his sermons. “I’ve avoided Godard,” said the philo-punk, “who tends to make the cinema a classroom and rend the cinema more difficult to access.” After a pause, he admitted, almost condescendngly, “Actually, I don’t know Godard that well, and I try not to talk about things I don’t know.” If the young man doesn’t see a connection between the cinema of Godard and philosophy, if the young man thinks Godard wants to turn the cinema into a classroom, the young man understands little about the potential of either.

May 1, 2008

Barbu fishing in Pre-historic France

Filed under: Uncategorized — franceblogger @ 10:33 am

Sorry I haven’t written sooner but Friday I was up to mid-thigh in water, this time by choice, trying to become the Great Southwestern France Fisherman in 24 hours. Caught the fish, couldn’t figure out how to cook it.

On Thursday morning, the farmer, a.k.a. M. Marty and his friend almost literally speared two Barbu (kind of looks like a catfish, but isn’t) in the new pond left by the Great Flood of 2008, on Mr. Marty’s side of the path that leads from my house down to the river, right near the terrace. Speared because Mr. Marty used his pitchfork to hall them in. That night, with the assistance of Bernard (the mason-neighbor who’s done most of the work on this house, in which he used to play 40-plus years ago, when horses still lived in it), I propped up the bright red aluminum fishing pole I’d bought at the vide grenier on a branch planted in the soil after casting the line into the middle of the new pond. That netted nothing. Friday morning, Mr. Marty was out there again, or rather on the road looking over the pond; he’d seen at least two more fish. I saw them soon too, jumping out of the water. They might even be brochet, a fish which, as it happens, I’d seen the night before on “Louis the Brocante,” which stars Victor Lanoux as a brocanteur (kind of like an antique salesman, but better) working around Lyon who solves crimes and/or family dramas, usually associated with artifacts that also come into the purview of his work (old paintings, a guignol puppet, etc.). The fish was there because after turning up her nose at the idea of actually eating it with Louis, his ex-wife had seen a stuffed version at a taxidermist she’d gone to after Louis suggested that stuffed beasts might be just the thing to please the English lady who’d commissioned her to decorate her new chateau. There, the ex had seen a stuffed fish. She rushed back to Louis, evil taxidermist at her side (evil because later she tried to steal a pre-historic crocodile discovery from a kid), for the brochet, only to find Louis savoring his lips above its skeleton. “You ate the whole thing?” “Well, no, of course I used some for mousse and some for quenelles!”

I’ve recounted this episode at length because perhaps it was the prospect of a similar culinary/Frenchy experience that prompted me to repeatedly insist to the farmer that I’d be happy to jump into the water to help catch the theoretical brochet. He finally consented, with this scheme: He’d put a length of fencing across the mouth of the gulch at the far end of the new pond which had no doubt conducted the ‘brochet’ to the pond, and I’d jump in at the other end, then stomp through the water like a sea monster scaring the fish towards the barrage. Jump in I did, ‘protected’ by nothing but my blunstone shoes and yellow rain pants. Result: The fish immediately hid, then were obscured by the mud I stirred up, and my shoes and slacks under the rain pants got very wet.

Finally, late that afternoon, a friend of the farmer’s came by with full pro fishing gear, including water-proof over-alls, a whale net and a hand-held net. Anxious to defend my eating rights, I insisted on helping out as spotter and soon spotted one mother of a two-feet long theoretically brochet hanging low in the reeds at the side of the net, so still I thought he might be dead. The pro fisherman told me not to budge as he crept towards the fish, but when he swept his net down the brochet suddenly came to life and darted away. A few minutes later we saw another, with the same results, and finally one of the two again, who this time jumped out of the fisherman’s net. I decided to take a break to dry off and switch to my fifth pair of pants for the day. About 20 minutes later the fisherman finally landed a beaut, two-feet long and more than six inches across. We put him in a mucky barrel outside the farmer’s. Later, Bernard and Stephan came by (I’d spread the word earlier; when Bernard said I probably shouldn’t go around telling everyone in the neighborhood about our new pond full of fish, I assured him, “The only person I’ve told so far was the postman.” Er….) Stephan got in with his water-proof thigh-length boots and infra-red sunglasses, I waded in to aid him, and after a lot of reconnoitering and stirring up of muddy waters, I finally spotted three ‘barbu’ practically tail to tail. Stephan bagged the first immediately and, so as to make room for the second, handed the creature to me charging me to take it to land; I instantly realized the only way I’d be able to do this was to follow Stephan’s instructions to hook it by the throat with my thumb, whereupon the fish immediately produced a choking sound.

I threw this one into the barrel with the carp — the big ‘un we’d caught earlier. The farmer said I could retrieve it in the morning, but my appetite for fish had suddenly diminished, or at least for this particular fish that I’d practically choked to death with, as the US corporate media might say, ‘harsh fish retaining methods,’ and that was now brewing about it in muddy water. I was in luck, because by the time I opened my storm-windows the next morning, the pro-fisher guy was back in the water and had already netted four barbu. “Do you want to eat barbu today?” he asked, handing me the fifth. I handed it off to the farmer while I found a deep blue pot to hold it in while I hurried to town to buy the white wine vinegar everyone told me I’d need to marinate the barbu in to separate it from its bones. This I did, but unfortunately did not think to rinse the vinegar before I cooked it the next day, even adding to the citron content by squeezing a lemon over it in the frying pain, producing a dish that tasted more than lemon than fish, except for the blue-green things which Stephan later explained to me by pointing to his wrist.

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