France Insider/Paul Ben-Itzak

October 1, 2010

My French crisis

Okay, I miss it. I really thought I was French at heart. How can you love so much of a culture and not find your place?


September 30, 2010

Tra la la

July 21, 2009

Leçon raté or, one 40-year leap backwards for mankind

Until these last few days, the July 20/21 moon landing remained a local event for me. I watched it from Miami Beach, where after much pleading my grandparents had let my brother Aaron and I stay up late. I even remember the room we were in, their bedroom, the specific images of the astronauts on the moon, and the hour flashing across the bottom of the screen. It was local because Florida was also the home of Cape Canaveral. And of course I remember the planting of the American flag.

What’s striking about remembering the event from another country, France, is how, while giving the Americans their due, the achievement is regarded as all mankind’s, an accomplishment without borders. (That makes three American moonwalkers in three weeks who have received unprecedented French media attention.) Usually the French, or at least the French media, are quick to claim primacy, and even to exaggerate France’s role in a particular historical event. But here’s a feat which is not particularly theirs to claim, and yet the French media has been lavish in the media time accorded to Apollo’s acheivement. (Although I just couldn’t watch a docu-drama recreating the lives of Armstrong, Aldren, and Collins around that time in which their typically suburban circa 1960s American families all spoke French.) Radio and television has been saturated with coverage, to the point where I’ve got ‘magnificent desolation’ imprinted on the brain.

The most striking — and tragic — juxtaposition is that of the observation by one of the astronauts, Collins I think, of how tranquil the Earth seemed from up there with the turbulent reality we returned to shortly after that parenthetical instant of unity embraced in ‘mankind’ — too many small steps in reverse which added up to a giant leap backward for mankind. Vietnam was not the last war fueled by territorialism, by nations believing themselves more individual bands who need to protect what’s theirs because the other guy wants to take it than one ‘mankind.’ If today’s newscast began on the moon, it ended by reporting that British and Spanish boats are still squabbling over who owns Gibraltor. And that’s the way it is.

It’s enough to make a man resort to the sentiment expressed by another local hero from Miami, Jacky Gleason: To the moon, Alice, to the moon!

May 25, 2009

Out of the past

“Je ne suis que ‘pour le moment,’ comme je le chant. Je me passioné pour l’air du temps, pour le succes de l’heure, pour l’esprit de l’instant.”

— Juliet Greco, Para Vendu weekly newspaper, May 22, 2009

Of all my collections, my assemblage of Pastis 51 carafes, ashtrays, glasses, key-chains, serving trays, ice-tongs, and mirrors is emblematic of how for eight years (at least) I’ve taken refuge in a secure past — not even my own — to avoid the risks of trying to secure a vivant present, specifically with someone else. I don’t even like Pastis, except as a traditional Frenchy thng in which to indulge now and again, especially now that I live in the south (when I’m not in Paris). But one day at a vide grenier (literally: empty the attic; kind of like a neighborhood-wide garage sale) I found an orange Pastis 51 carafe at a bargain price and bought it intending it to be a gift for one of my brothers the next time he visited; as it was plastic, I figured it would be good for travelling. Five years later, the old stone house where I live in an isolated village in southwest France is crowded with the Pastis 51 memorabilia enumerated above, and its sister memorabilia from two other Pastis marks, one gentiane brand, Aveze, Pelforth brune and various Belgian beers, Martini, etc., etc. Some of the stuff I’ve found in eight years of ‘chine-ing’ at the vide greniers (literally, empty the attic; kind of like neighborhood-wide garage sales) of France is actually useful: My raclette maker (I left two behind in Paris when I moved to an isolated village in Southwest France in 2007), my fondue maker, my vintage churro maker with a Franco-era family on the box happily eating the fried dough, the three thermoses I just got in Paris for 5 Euros, two of them so vintage they’re closed by corks, and the three mixer-babies I got, hand-held blenders with various attachments.


My collection is not life.

It’s a museum in which I’m interred.

And which scares women away. (I thought it might impress French women with my engagement in their own history; in the past two days two French lady friends have confirmed that my ‘stuff’ is more likely to send the messages that I live in the past and that I don’t have room for them.)

So when I saw that glass Pastis 51 carafe on sale at a bargain price at a vide grenier in the Latin Quarter last week-end, I passed.

It was the best deal I never made.

April 1, 2009

Sheepish about Mutton

Okay, so, besides picking more pissenlit (dandelions to you bub) for lunch (in a salad this time, rubbed with lots of garlic) I was supposed to use the walk past the horse and donkey farm (sans the dog, whose owners have — cruelly to my mind — tied or him up while they’re on vacation) to think about whether it’s worth it to go to Paris for a month even if the dance assignments I’ve got will just allow me to break even, and even then not pay right away, but instead I found myself pondering the mutton.

Riding the Metro one day when I still lived in Paris, I caught an ad for a computer or Internet company in which a (stereo)typical sheep-herder, his charges on the plain behind him and beyond that a vast vista of Pyrenees-like mountains, was staring into his computer screen with a look of satisfaction. The intended message: Now you can reach out wherever you are. My received message: We can reach you wherever you are. (Never mind that the intended message is a lie; when I moved here to the Valley of the Dordogne in 2007 France Telecom promised to connect me right away; it took two months before two technicans arrived with a radar detector to find the line.) I remember thinking: If I were in those mountains, that tiny computer screen is the last thing I’d be looking at.

So here I am looking at my computer screen telling you that here I have a chance to look at real sheep in the tiny pasture in my backyard, with gigantic limestone shrub-covered pre-historic cave-filled cliffs hovering in the background, and I’m saying non?

Okay so if I say yes, what are the potential complications, besides the moral one of turning my pauvre baby over to the hunters after he’s slaved for four months to mow my lawn, and then eating him and having a party for the occasion?

Well, what would I do if the mutton got sick? Where I live there is no veterinarian. When Hopey got sick, I had to walk her to the train station and take it two stops down the tracks early in the morning. And that was before the train workers went on strike, when I needed to take a cab back and forth. So…. presuming the sheep wasn’t so sick that I could walk him to the train station, would he have to buy his own ticket, like my cat? (Which actually has to buy a ‘small dog’ ticket.) Or maybe I could take a cab. The cab driver who occupies himself with Les Eyzies and the surrounding area would probably be more amenable to the sheep than the train company, considering that he has two donkeys of his own. (I know what you’re thinking, but unlike my doomed sheep, his donkeys are not killed and eaten after cleaning his yard, never mind that donkeys make great salami.) Hey, considering that when he was filling in for the noon train from Les Eyzies to Perigueux, the cab company owner/driver not only helped me move my stuff from Perigueux to Les Eyzies on the train company’s tab but brought his moving van, maybe, if it’s among his 18-vehicle fleet (in addition being the taxi, M. Tardieu is also the ambulance and the hearse, thus providing cradle to coffin service), to transport me and my sheep he can harness his donkeys to a donkey cart! Then I would truly feel I’d retrieved the France d’autrefois.

Another potential complication would be what to do with the mutton if it floods here again, but I guess Mr. Marty would let my sheep bunk with his chickens, across the path and on higher ground.

On the plus side, having the sheep would mean I could write it about it and writing about it would probably mean I could write it off my taxes — including up-keep. Which includes food. And if I was able to write off keeping the sheep in caviar, or whatever sheep eat besides grass that’s good, who would notice if I siphoned a little bit off for myself?

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