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Thursday, September 15, 2011

An Ange Passe

The other day while having lunch with some French speakers (in a fancy Chinese/California cusine-y place,) there was a sudden silence as the dozen or so of us stopped chattering. "Ah! Un ange passe," said the facilitator from the Alliance Francaise. The expression was new to me. I can't think of an American equivalent.

I love figures of speech and colloquial expressions. The way one culture sometimes chooses to express something so differently from another. I seldom get to hear or speak French these days.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The God of Carnage by Yasmin Reza (translated from the original French by Christopher Hampton)

The play begins unremarkably. Two couples in a living room--strangers come together to discuss the fracas in the park between their little boys that left one with a split lip and two missing teeth. The tone is tensely polite. Imagine George and Martha without the booze, the madness, and the tragic history. These two couples in the stylish living room in Ms. Reza's play are civilized despite the dynamic that pits a call for justice against justification. One might wonder how this foursome will fulfill our expectations for a scintillating evening of theater, but it's right about then that the alliances onstage begin to shift. The parents of the boy who wielded the stick begin to wield their own weapons at each other, and in a dizzying escalation, the upset wife vomits all over the art books on her hosts' coffee table. The collective shriek from the audience will not be the last of the evening.

As the politeness behind the proscenium  is pulled away like a restrictive necktie, the audience is forced to let its hair down, too. We can look all we want for a solid protagonist, but there's only whiplash waiting for us. By the time the booze comes out, we have loved and reviled each of the four characters, and we're not finished yet.

Reza examines love, marriage, the gender gap, parenthood, and the very nature of the human animal, but   given the escalating antics onstage, the experience is more visceral than cerebral. I was too busy laughing   to get a headache from thinking too hard.

The God of Carnage is at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis until August 7th, 2011.
It won a Tony in 2009 for best play.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Following Sophie Calle

Lounge area at the Walker
I love this room. For me it embodies its setting--Minneapolis, Minnesota 
where snow and ice are likely to be part of the environment half the year.

I took break from my home improvement chores the other day--an art break. The Walker Art Center is one of those museums I could go to over and over again. Iconic modern masterpieces. Surprising temporary exhibitions. This visit I spent almost all my time at a traveling exhibit called Exposed: Voyeurism, Surveillance and the Camera Since 1870. Here's a quote from the Walker's website, "Exposed offers a fascinating look at pictures made on the sly, without the explicit permission of the people depicted. Investigating the shifting boundaries between seeing and spying, the private act and the public image, the exhibition reveals the myriad ways photography has brought to light the forbidden and the taboo. Homing in on sex, celebrity, violence, and surveillance, it provokes an array of uneasy questions at the intersection of both power and pleasure."

There were photos from Brassai's series "Secret Paris of the 1930s." And more photos of people in Paris by Henri Cartier-Bresson. But I think one of my favorite parts of the exhibit was a series of photos by Sophie Calle, a French photographer, writer, and installation artist that I've written about HERE. The photos I just saw at the Walker are a project of hers called The Shadow. Ms. Calle had her mother hire a private detective to follow her for a day while she went various places in Paris that were personally significant for her. She wrote journal entries throughout the day, and these are included in the project, too She wanted photographic evidence of her own existence, she said.

The are so many significant days in a person's life. People and places that are like the sun to us as we revolve around them. Would we see them differently if we had a photographic record of them? Would we see something new? Change our minds about someone or something? What would that surveillance expose? Would it change us?

Monday, May 23, 2011

Truffaut's The Man Who Loved Women

Mr. Ex and I went out to see "The Man Who Loved Women" back in 1977 when it was first released. We were especially amused by the scene where The Man drives his lover around in the fresh air with the windows rolled down in an attempt to erase the post-coital flush from her cheeks. When I saw this movie all those years ago, was quite simply a movie about a man who loved women.

I just watched the film again last night and was completely stunned to find it's really a movie about writing--more specifically, writing memoir.

Book-ended by scenes of The Man's funeral, the movie establishes his addiction to women in a few brief scenes, and then after an unexpected rejection by a woman he's expressed interest in, he is thrown into an evening of self-reflection. He combs through photos of old lovers, thinks back, and asks himself why he is so addicted to serial love. Inspired by his question, he grabs his typewriter from the top of his bookcase and begins to tap out his story. After he's completed several chapters, he takes the book to a professional typist who finds his story so disturbing that she refuses to type the next installment. The Man is devastated by her rejection.

To write is to express yourself, the man muses later, sitting alone at home in the dark. It is also to expose yourself to judgement.  My very first reader had blacklisted me. From a somewhat later vantage point, he continues,  At first I stopped writing. I lost interest in everything. Then I began to read nineteenth century autobiographies. How do you write about yourself? How did others do it? What were the rules? I realized there were no rules--that each book was different and expressed the author's personality. Each page, each sentence of an author belonged to him alone. His writing is as personal to him as his fingerprints. 

There's even a scene about self-publishing when The Man's physician shows him the book he's written about fishing, and admits that he himself bore the cost of publishing it. Luckier than his doctor, The Man finds a publisher for his story. Before the book is released, The Man runs into a former lover that has not been revealed in the scenes from his book. After their meeting, he phones his publisher in a panic, telling her that he needs to re-write the book because he's just realized that he wrote the book because of a woman whom doesn't even mention. You want to write one book, you end up with another, the publisher tells him. She explains that this is what happens sometimes, and that the man now has a reason to write a second book.

At the end of the movie as the parade of women arrives for the Man's funeral, there's voiceover narration from the publisher as she observes first-hand the women she's read about. The Man is dead, but There is something that will endure, she says. A remembrance. A rectangular object. 320 bound pages. We call that a book.

Memoir. A story that answers a big question. A story that reveals something not just to the reader, but to the writer. Something that will endure. A book.

Sunday, March 27, 2011


"The Illusionist" is a movie that made me want to own it frame by frame and hang it on my walls. A strikingly beautiful piece of animation, it is also full of humor and pathos.

We hold our illusions close to us in this life. But things are often not as they seem. We think shoes will bring us happiness, that we can by some miracle do justice to a  job that we are unqualified for, that if we take care of someone and bestow upon them the things they desire that we can bring them happiness. Maybe sometimes we manage to pull the rabbit out of that hat. But other times, we have no choice but to release the poor bunny and let it fend for itself.

Maybe the only way to manage is to keep making magic as long as we can. "The Illusionist" certainly does a fine job of working its movie magic.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

A New Book by the Charming Jamie Cat Callan

Jamie and I were housemates when we were both Auvillar fellows at Moulin à Nef. I enjoyed her joie de vivre then--and now it's captured in a book.


cheese (6) France's 100 Most Beautiful Villages (3) French food (3) Paris (3) Shopping (3) writing (3) Domaine de Thermes (2) French language (2) French words (2) Sophie Calle (2) figures of speech (2) foie gras (2) friendship (2) les plus beaux villages de France (2) lingerie (2) living in France (2) open air market (2) wine (2) " our illusions (1) "Bonjour Happiness" (1) "The Illusionist (1) 2009 (1) Athens (1) Bakken Trio (1) Brassai (1) Carcasonne (1) Cartier-Bresson (1) Christopher Hampton (1) Edward Beckett (1) French fashion (1) French slang (1) French style (1) French woman writer (1) French writer (1) Jamie Cat Callan (1) Julie Mueller (1) Mark Robson (1) Mary Wigman (1) Monsieur Vilette (1) Mr. Ex (1) Olivier Messiaen (1) Pasadena Conservatory of Music (1) The God of Carnage (1) The Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis (1) The Man Who Loves Women (1) The Walker Art Center (1) Tony Award for best play (1) Truffaut (1) VCCA (1) Valence d'Agen (1) Valentine's Day (1) Valentine's menu (1) Willing Workers on Organic Farms (1) Yazmin Reza (1) birds (1) brussels sprouts (1) café (1) cats (1) chickens (1) dessert (1) divorce (1) duck gizzards (1) eau de vie (1) ekphrasis (1) expressions (1) hats (1) hot chocolate (1) joie de vivre (1) laundry (1) magic (1) memoir (1) old French houses (1) older women (1) paint colors in Auvillar (1) photograhy (1) picking grapes (1) self-publishing (1) sense of place (1) shopping in France (1) studying in France (1) surveillance (1) terms of endearment (1) terroir (1) whipped cream (1) writing in France (1)
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