Monthly Archives: August 2011

me want bert

Nearly 20 years ago, my sister gave me one of my absolute favorite possessions. It is a large picture of Bert from Sesame Street. This is not just any picture, however, it is a monoprint from an artist who lived in DC at the time named Jonathan Blum.

One of the more interesting things about this picture is that, although it is surely Bert, it is a picture of him from the nose upward.  No mouth, no chin, just nose, eyes, unibrow and hair.  The story goes, that Jonathan Blum had some sort of obsession with foreheads and intellectualism, so he only made pictures of people from the nose up – the rest of the face was unimportant to him.  He chose Bert as one of his main subjects at that time because absolutely nobody has a better forehead than Bert.  Or a better unibrow, for that matter.

This piece of art that hangs in our living room in Vermont is large and although it is clearly Bert, googly eyes and all, it usually takes people a couple of glances at it to see the Bert in it.  It looks kind of abstract because Bert’s mouth isn’t visible, but then once people start to focus on the unibrow, within seconds they start to recognize the subject.  They usually exclaim, “Wait a second…………………..is that BERT?”  I would venture to guess that he has one of the most recognizable faces on the planet.

That’s why, when I was at the Louvre last week, looking at some great art, I stopped right in front of one of the giant Easter Island heads.  I was trying to ignore Eamon as he kept saying, “ME WANT GUM GUM,” in direct reference to the Easter Island head scene in the movie Night at the Museum (hilarious, by the way).  But because I am much too sophisticated for such sophomoric thought and behavior, rather than focus on the Night at the Museum reference, my mind went directly to Sesame Street and my favorite felt guy, Bert.  I realized that this Easter Island guy has a really great forehead and a great brow ridge – much like Bert. So, in honor of Jonathan Blum, and as a shout out to Bert back in Vermont, I decided that the Easter Island guy should be Blumified.  Personally, I think he looks great in this artistic rendering, what do you think?

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Here is the real deal back in VT:

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Thanks for the great gift, TT!

Side note:  I have a friend in Vermont who so loved Bert, he went to Jonathan Blum’s studio in Park Slope, Brooklyn to score one of his own.  Sadly for him, Bert is no longer a subject for Jonathan Blum – he has moved on to rabbis, goats, and animals with fruit on their heads.

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forgive me

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I am not a line waiter. I am a line hater.  My maximum patience-o-meter doesn’t really allow for a lot of line waiting because I need to save every ounce of patience I have for dealing with my two kids. That takes a lot and therefore, I have no patience for lines.

When Tim told me that he and the boys were going to Paris for the day to go to the top of Notre Dame, my mind immediately went back to the last time I was at Notre Dame and saw the giant line snaking around the building for this exact event (which is a different line than getting into the cathedral).  Also, given that I’d used up my line-waiting annual allotment at “free museum day” a couple of weeks ago, I figured that I would take a pass on this line waiting bonanza. But……………………then I realized I would miss the view.  There is only one thing that I hate more than lines and that is the feeling that I missed out on something cool. So I sucked up all my remaining patience and joined them for their Paris excursion.

We got there about 20 minutes before the opening and there was already a line snaking down the side of the building. I could feel my desire to wait in this line plummeting. But the allure of the view kept me going – barely.

As you may have realized from previous posts, the French don’t know how to wait in lines. The good thing was that most of the people in the line were not French and therefore had a better understanding of line etiquette, however I was taking no chances and I  stepped up my Frenchified anti-line-cutting moves.  That meant gluing myself on to the back of the person in front of me.  I think he was a bit scared by my proximity to him, since he kept checking his pockets to make sure his cell phone was still there.

Finally, after about 1.5 hours, we made it in!  The walk up the tower was gruelling, with over 400 tiny steps to the top.  Once we got there, it was worth every second of line waiting.  In fact, it was worth every nano-second.

I busted out my camera, to take some outstanding photos of the gargoyles and the Eiffel Tower, only to find that my batteries were dead.  I then put in the back-up batteries, and guess what?  They were dead too.  I think it was my cosmic payback for being a line-hater outside of a holy place, since I had at least 1.5 hours to check my camera and buy new batteries at any number of shops around Notre Dame.

At least I had my iPhone and my memory.

marais

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So the Eiffel Tower is cool and so is Notre Dame, but the real “best” parts of Paris lie out of the downtown area.  We’ve been slowly winding our way through all of the neighborhoods and finding nice places a bit more out of the way.  One of the best places so far is the Marais – a hipster neighborhood that has some nice art, cool used clothing and some killer falafel.  A recipe for success every time – at least in my book.

Like any hipster place, it is fun to visit, but it would be challenging to live there. This is mainly because there are a lot of hipster-gawkers like me in the Marais. Hipster-gawkers are people hanging around trying to remember what it was like to be a hipster.  Now that I’m married with two kids, I am slowly coming to the realiziation that I’ve compeltely lost that hipster vibe that I may have once had (or at least thought I had).

Now, most of my clothing has butter or jelly stains on it and I haven’t had my haircut since I moved here since I’m worried that my rubbish French will have me leaving the salon a scarily unsatisfied customer. Frankly, I am looking more like a hippy than a hipster. It doesn’t make me like the Marais any less though. I feel like my presence in the Marais gives a fair warning to the hipsters – enjoy your hipsterness while you can because soon you, too, may have butter on your shirt. But if you live in France, at least it will be really good butter.

masterpiece

20110812-083611.jpgThere are so many times that I’ve waited to see a piece of art that I’ve heard so much about, only to be completely underwhelmed when I finally get to see it. Not that I’m not happy to have the opportunity to see great art, but sometimes I am left wondering how art is judged and how greatness is achieved.

And then there are other times when I am completely caught off guard by how beautiful a piece of art is, when I had absolutely no expectation of it at all.  That was how I felt when we saw the Winged Victory of Samothrace (see at a distance above) at the Louvre last week.  It was nearly impossible to take my eyes off of her. I realize that she has no head and no arms, but because of her lack of parts, she seemed very mysterious.  Like someone you’d like to know more about.

And you can see by the picture that I wasn’t the only one who had a hard time taking my eyes off of her.

We showed up at the Louvre for “free museum day,” which happens the first Sunday of every month.  Not totally sure I would recommend this, because what you don’t pay in admission, you pay by waiting in a giant line with all the other geniuses who thought they were getting a deal at “free museum day.”  But we got in eventually and had a great time.

At the Louvre, we stopped by to say ‘hi’ to the Mona Lisa, painted by one of my favorite guys Leo and she met all expectations.  Ok, so she’s smaller than you would hope, and behind bulletproof glass, and there are about a billion people standing in the way of a clear visual on her, but I could tell she was looking right at me.  I just know it.  She may have even winked.

science with steph

I am sorry I have been absent from the blog for a week, but with guests in town and my attempt at some deep thought about French culture, I have been otherwise occupied.  That, and I was drinking wine and could not focus very well.

Science with Steph:  My Scientific Analysis of French Culture

I am not a scientist and therefore my skills for proper analysis are shabby, but that doesn’t stop me from trying.  I like to think of this as science for the everyman/woman.

I should not admit that I attempted to create a chart in Excel to give you some legitimate visual evidence with my analysis of French culture, but when I could not make Excel be simple enough, I chose to hand draw it instead. Be prepared to be impressed.  Either that, or be prepared to feel bad for me that I actually spent some time on this.

Here is my analysis in a nutshell, proving that I am neither a scientist nor very good at art (I even Instagramed it to make it look more like art):

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To consider modern-day France, you must first conjure of memories of the US in the 1970s.  Close your eyes and try to remember life before seatbelts and lawsuits…………………

Hypothesis:  When it comes to personal health and welfare in France, the motto is “You’re on Your Own, Bub.”

Supporting Evidence #1:

Remember those merry-go-rounds on the playgrounds of our youth on which a kid broke his/her arm on an annual basis?  The kind where, it you weren’t careful, you could actually get barfed on if your recess was after lunch?  Yes, they are still the hot playground accessory on all of the very few French playgrounds.  And the kids still gravitate to them like flies on shit.

Case in point:

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And the merry-go-round is just the tip of the iceberg on a French playground. Metal slides perfect for sliding fast while ripping your skin off in the heat? Got ’em.  Hammock-style swings with big wood bars on the ends perfect for noggin damage (as seen in the background behind the merry-go-round)? Yep.  See saw perfect for breaking your tailbone or your leg? Oh yes and the list goes on………………

Supporting Evidence #2:

Walk on to any cultural landmark in France and there is no disclaimer in sight. Not one: “Enter at Your Own Risk,” or “The Owners of this Property Cannot Be Held Liable for Any Type of Accident,” sign in view.  Rather, there are sheer cliffs without guard rails, almost tempting you to jump off or at least go close enough to the edge to look over it and subsequently fall off. I think that if you were to actually fall off, they would automatically check the box that says “American Tourist” on your death certificate because only a person who lives in the US, in a culture of fear/lawsuits, would be so fascinated by the lax safety rules of France to walk to the edge of a sheer cliff.  I know this for a fact.

Supporting Evidence #3:

Pools? I have never seen a “No Running Around the Edge of the Pool” sign. Nor a “No Diving” sign.  In fact, I’ve never even seen a sign of rules at a pool here. You must wear a speedo and swim cap, but other than that, you’re on your own.

Supporting Evidence #4:

Raw meat.  Tim gets steak tartare on a regular basis at the cafeteria at work.  It is truly a pile of raw hamburger on a plate with a raw egg cracked on top of it.  Can you say “botulism lawsuit” or at least “severe abdominal distress?”

Scientific Conclusion:

The hypothesis is correct.  The French attitude toward health & welfare is, “You’re on your own, Bub.”  This could also be called, the “We can’t save you from yourself,” style of living, popularized in the US in the 1970s.

warning

Living in a rental property seems strange.  Tim & I have owned a home for the last 10+ years and for all those years we spent most of our off work time on a house/property related project.  We’d fit in fun around that, but most weekends you could find at least one of us with a paintbrush, shovel or hammer in hand at any given moment.  Now, in France, in a house we don’t own, we have no obligation to do anything related to the house except to change the lightbulbs (which can be a challenge of its own, since French lightbulbs are strangely hard to change).

When we moved in, the landlord said that he was going to have a handyman come by to do some jobs to make things a little bit better at our new house.  A handyman that’s not named Tim and/or Steph?  Bring it.

There was a spot in the bathroom in the shower/tub area that needed immediate attention, so about a month after we moved in, the handyman showed up to deal with the moldy part near the shower head.  Prior to this handyman’s work, we had a moldy but passable French ‘shower’ with the hand-held nozzle stuck on to the wall with this bar-like contraption that it snapped on to.  At that point, you could (somewhat) comfortably stand in the shower and linger a bit, your only worry being how to minimize the amount of water going on to the floor, since we don’t have a proper shower curtain, only a French half-glass wall.  After the handyman’s work, we had a mold-less tiled shower wall with no mounting bar, just the traditional French hand-held shower.

Owen, who just recently recognized the difference between clean vs. dirty (except in the case of his underwear), was immediately perturbed. Since he had only recently found the joy of standing in a hot shower, he was now at a crossroads – how to relax in the shower while holding the nozzle over your head and worrying about how much water you’re spraying on the floor……… Obviously, not so relaxing.

If we had been at our house in VT and faced with a similar problem, Tim (or I) would have channeled our inner Bob Vila and drilled through the nicely/newly tiled wall to mount the bar to hang the shower nozzle. But…..this is not our house.  That, and we didn’t bring a drill.

So, now we are left with a very traditional hand-held shower and a half-glass wall. Very French.

Occasionally, Owie will start to complain about this situation and it always turns into one of my “Despicable Me’s Mother” moments.  I usually end of saying something like, “I feel so bad that you are being forced to take a shower in a sub-standard bathroom in France!  Where is the justice in the world!?!?”

All of this hubbub with the shower has really diminished the number of showers being taken in our house.  However, instead of focusing on how stinky everyone is, I have chosen to focus on the great benefit to the planet, since we are saving so much water.  I am also trying to ignore the fact that Eamon’s hair is about 4 shades darker than usual, since his showering went from infrequent to impossible.  And for those of you planning a visit to France, you have been warned.

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i am the beholder

There is a great place for junk I’ve found which is not too far from our house.  It’s called Emmaus Brie and it seems to be epi-center of French junk – set on an old farm property.  If you live in VT, it’s very similar to ReSOURCE and if you don’t live in VT, think of the Salvation Army, with a training program for it’s workers. In this case it’s workers are formerly homeless or drug addicted individuals who are learning appliance repair and retail skills while working at the farm.

So what seems like a common concept in the US is considered very innovative here.  Since the government structure is so different here, the concept of “charity” is also different.  There are not so many worthy causes to support here and a LOT less non-profits looking for funding.  I think part of the reason for this is that the government provides so much more to it’s citizens (great healthcare, great maternity leave, discounts on train/bus tickets for families, and the list goes on……)

Here is a sample of what is offered to women around the birth of a child:

France offers all women workers a paid, job -protected maternity leave six weeks before and 10 weeks after the births of the first two children, eight weeks before and 18 weeks after the birth of the third child, 34 weeks (12 prenatally) for twins and 42 weeks (24 prenatally) for triplets or more. Maternity leave, pre and postnatally, is mandatory. 

At the end of maternity leave, the mother or father can take parental leave until the child reaches the age of three, with entitlement to re-integration into the previous or a similar job. Parents receive a parental leave allowance if they interrupt their employment, totally.

See what I mean?  Nice.

Sorry for the tangent.  So what’s the big deal about Emmaus Brie in particular? Apparently Emmaus is an international organization working on 4 continents to help formerly homeless people in need.  All of the profits from this organization go back to supporting it’s mission.  It’s also the best place I’ve found to buy some quality French junk that I can feel especially good about.

So here’s the scene:

It’s Sunday afternoon and Tim decides to take the kids for a bike ride.  Hmmm. What should I do?  I guess I’ll take a drive to Emmaus Brie to support their cause. After I arrive, I walk into the first part of the glassware section and what is sitting on the top of a pile of French dishes?

Here it is:

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A lovely mint condition souvenir from someone’s trip to my home turf.  What are the chances? Ok, maybe the chances are good that someone from this area has visited the popular US tourist destination of Cape Cod, but I still think it’s amazing that I found this.

I had no choice but to buy it.  Only €.50 later it was mine.

When I got home, I was so excited about my plate, I pulled it out of the bag proudly.  Tim’s first reaction?  “It’s cool that it’s from Cape Cod, but don’t you think it’s pretty ugly?”

Apparently beauty lies  in the eye of the beholder.