More than a year after visiting Paris, I'm finally getting around to writing about it. What is there to say about the City of Lights that other (better) writers haven't already covered? Orwell, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Joyce, Perec -- and now, me. So, in no particular order a few thoughts about this enchanting (?) place.
You will feel dizzy at the Louvre.
Not all Parisian food is good.
You will see a Frenchman with a beret riding a bicycle with a baguette under one arm. Do not take a picture of him. He will, in no uncertain terms, tell you to va te faire!
The crowd of tourists at the Louvre will dissipate somewhere between Liberty Leading The People and Raft of the Medusa.
Musée d'Orsay's collection will inspire you to brea
You can avoid long lines at the Louvre by entering through the mall at Jardin du Carrousel.
You will not realize this until you are exiting the Louvre.
It's perfectly normal to see a mouse in the restaurant in which you are eating.
It's perfectly normal to see a mouse in the Airbnb in which you are staying.
It's perfectly normal that a mouse will cut in front of you in line on the Métro.
Parisians don't believe in installing screens on their windows.
Everyone takes public transportation.
No one smokes while taking public transportation.
Everyone hates Montparnasse.
You can make a lot of new friends if you talk about how much you hate Montparnasse.
The Paris Pass is a worthy investment.
The Galeries Lafayette Haussmann is a beautiful architectural sight from inside. However, it smells like the makeup counter at Macy's.
It is really really really hard to get a good picture of Tour Eiffel while riding on a double decker tour bus.
You will, without realizing, begin to hum Edith Piaf's Le Foule after about the 4th day.
There is a writers group that meets every Sunday on the second floor at Shakespeare & Co.
Shakespeare & Co. is a lot smaller than you imagined.
It is really really really easy to have Parisians point and laugh at you while you ride on a double decker tour bus.
Thick skin is très necessary.
Somewhere along Saint Martin's Canal is a bar on a boat called The Centipede. Go there.
There is a writers group that meets every Tuesday evening in Saint Denis.
At least one writer will tell you he's writing something about bullfights.
It is very possible to walk into a bike rack.
Parisians will point and laugh at you when you walk into a bike rack.
There are no apparent yoga studios in Paris.
However there is Crossfit in Paris.
A writer from the Tuesday group used to date a writer from the Sunday group.
If you see a gang of children coming up to you with a clipboard near the Seine, don't talk to them. They are gypsies.
If you see a woman singing and breastfeeding on the Métro while riding to Châtelet, don't talk to her. She is a gypsy.
There is a Spoken Word reading series every Monday night at Au Chat Noir in Belleville. You will see the same writers from the Sunday group and from the Tuesday group.
The two writers who used to date won't talk to each other at Au Chat Noir. They will sit on opposite ends during the Spoken Word performance. They will stand on opposite sidewalks to smoke their cigarettes during intermission.
After about the 4th sample at Fragonard, all perfumes will start to smell alike.
Don't ask friends back home if they want you to bring anything for them from Paris. They will. And you will regret it when you have to pack up and check out by 3pm.
One artisan American chocolate chip cookie costs 4€ on rue Saint-Bernard. A bag of 22 Chips Ahoy! costs 5€ at Franprix.
There are three other Leonardo di Vinci paintings at the Louvre worthy of a selfie.
You can have a great meal for under 10€.
Your 6 years of off-and-on French language studies will get nothing more than a glare from the boulanger.
If you happen to lock yourself out of your Airbnb in Belleville without your phone, your wallet, or your French phrase book to help explain that you've locked yourself out of your Airbnb, you can speak Mandarin to get let back in.
One of the most enigmatic artists to have ever lived now has a new documentary streaming on Netflix, curiously titled Hieronymus Bosch: Touched By The Devil (2015). But as this viewer noted from watching it last night, only about half of that title is accurate.
Produced, written, and directed by Pieter van Huystee, the film follows a group of art historians and art conservators across several different museums around the world as they cut through bureaucratic red tape to x-ray, scan, photograph, and examine the intention of the artist and perhaps in the process, gain a deeper insight into the inner life of this figure.
Essentially two unfolding plots -- one, a story about discovering the real Bosch through meticulous analysis of the artist's hand; the other, a much less interesting story about a group of prim & proper gents fussing over details of an exhibition and where to host it. The latter was a bit of a missed opportunity, especially considering the amount of effort it must have taken to request access.
About 37 mins in, a group of art historians launch into a (heated?) 10 minute-long conversation about wall plaques. And if you've worked in a museum like me, you know this is a hotly contested item among academics. A sample of the transcript:
- Will there be a sign underneath saying Hieronymus Bosch? Or from the studio of Hieronymus Bosch?
- In some cases the sign will say Hieronymus Bosch. In other cases it will say Studio of Hieronymus Bosch.
- Or the Artist and His Assistants. It will often be a combination.
- I think we will also have to explain the concept of Hieronymus Bosch. Hieronymus Bosch as a signature, as a brand name, as a group of paintings. We will also have to find a place for Bruges. I don't like the idea of branding it as from his studio or in the style of Bosch. That goes against the whole idea of the studio.
- The piece from Philadelphia presents exactly the same problem. The fact that you don't like the idea is not really relevant. The visitors will ask for it. You have to say something. You can’t hide behind…
- But the clarity we want to provide points the other way, Hieronymus Bosch. The concept of Hieronymus Bosch must be broad enough to include all of this.
- But for the visitors, it isn’t acceptable to take a painting where you can say this looks like a Bosch, but isn’t one and to identify it as a real Hieronymus Bosch. Whether you want to or not, you must provide the visitor with some certainty.
- We’ll really have to discuss this further.
And further they did. So much so that I had trouble staying awake.
However, the film was exceptional in parts. I think it was especially strong during the segments when the narration focused back on the artist -- exquisite details of Bosch's vignettes, x-rays of his underdrawings where he changed his mind, the sometimes very unsettling images of torture and pain, and the intentional ambiguities he left throughout. In Christ Carrying The Cross (currently at Palacio Real in Madrid), the figure leading Christ to crucifixion is painted with a gaze directed at the viewer, making us complicit in the his death, with the moon of Islam deliberately embroidered on his shoulder. In another polyptych painting, Visions of the Hereafter (currently at Gallerie dell'Accademia in Venice), Bosch's fourth panel suggests a powerful longing for salvation after a life in hell. Fire is a recurring theme, which the art historians attributed to a fire in 1463 in his home town of Den Bosch in Amsterdam. It made an impression to the 13 year-old artist. In his most famous work, The Garden of Earthly Delight (at Museo Nacional Del Prado in Madrid), his firescapes dominates the upper right panel for hell -- the smoky rays of light cutting through darkness, demons in the shadow calling to the dead, gargoyles that have come alive to circle the buildings they once adorned.
These are all moments when the real Bosch surfaces -- an artist way ahead of his time, wildly innovative, deeply conflicted, and searching for redemption. His work marked a turning point between the Medieval art mode of replication to the Renaissance art of invention and imagination.
Yet, this crucial aspect of Bosch's humanity was at times hard to get across with the bland academics in charge of his show. But this is not to say they aren't experts. I have a great deal of respect for their work as Bosch Scholars, but as dramatic subject of a story, they leave little to be desired. Or perhaps the writing could have dug deeper, the way that an Bosch might have done with his figures.
Towards the end of the film, about 2/3 of the way through in an interview, historian Luuk Hoogstede (also the main character of the film) dropped his facade for just a brief moment and revealed that he was always interested in studying artists because they created things. "And what do I do?" he said, "I just read books and type on a keyboard."
If only the story opened with that.
I love football movies of all kinds (though I strongly dislike watching actual football games) -- The Blind Side, Little Giants, Remember The Titans, Jerry McGuire, Forest Gump. Bring on the sentimentality and the cliches because I love them all! But Rudy (1993) based on a true story starring Goonies alum Sean Astin, which I watched for the first time last night, is the current contender for #1.
10 minutes into this movie and I'm already crying. It has all the right ingredients for an American football film icon: an unlikely hero from a working class town with a heart of gold, a big seemingly unachievable goal for higher education, a constant chorus of you-can't-do-its, college branding, fall colors, and wide-angle shots of quiet misty mornings. It's got it all. Needless to say that I was an emotional mess by the end of it. Sean Astin was absolute perfection in his acting, along with Jon Favreau as the sidekick who never gives up and a young Vince Vaughn as an arrogant jock who Rudy ultimately inspires. I gave Rudy a 5-star review on Amazon streaming, tissues still in hand.
Out of 709 reviews, 85% were 5-stars, 8% 4-stars, 4% 3-stars, 1% 2-stars, and 2% 1-star. What cruel people would give this wonderful heartwarming film a 1- or 2-star review? What could they possibly hate about it?
Most of the negative reviews concerned technical challenges -- the DVD was broken, the streaming quality was bad, the sound was too low, and etc. One person complained that there was too much "potty mouth." Another expressed his dislike that the characters "took the Lord's name in vain." Someone else said Rudy was a "pathetic" character with an unhealthy obsession for Notre Dame, which 12 people found helpful on Amazon.
But one 2-star review in particular stood out:
Unremarkable. Trying to make a hero out of someone who was just dishonest. Read up on the guy and he actually was dishonest in business after college as well.
A quick Google search confirmed the bad news: in 2011, Daniel "Rudy" Ruettiger along with a dozen associates were charged by the Securities and Exchange Commission for misleading investors. It was a "pump and dump" scheme for a sports drink company named "Rudy." It's tagline: "Dream Big! Never Quit!"
“Investors were lured into the scheme by Mr. Ruettiger's well-known, feel-good story but found themselves in a situation that did not have a happy ending,” said Scott W. Friestad, Associate Director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement. “The tall tales in this elaborate scheme included phony taste tests and other false information that was used to convince investors they were investing in something special.”
The New York Times wrote about the fraud, here. Forbes did too, here.
First Disney and now this. Is there nothing we can believe in anymore? It's hard to not get angry. Where's the responsibility of the filmmakers? The writers? The book publishers? The people peddling his brand? Who's fault is it? Rudy's fault? Big business'? Notre Dame's? Hollywood's? Evil corporations'? The finger pointing can go on and on.
And on and on it goes.
Such is the story of man's folly in The Garden of Eden. When God asked who took the fruit from the serpent, Adam pointed the finger to Eve, "She made me do it." And out they both go...condemned to suffering for all of eternity.
We have Adam and Eve to blame for this too. So at least there's that.
I have many questions and no answers. Instead, I'll leave you with a quote from Father Cavanaugh's character from Rudy, which I think encapsulates the ironies:
"Son, in 35 years of religious study, I have only come up with two hard incontrovertible facts: There is a God. And I'm not Him."
So like seriously and I don't see this woman often in terms of living in LA
But like, I love this woman so much.
I love you so much.
She's so cool
No, but I haven't see her in forever
Like, she's so cool
She seems pretty fucking cool
Oh thanks Matt.
And like she shows up with a roll of toilet paper
That’s cuz you’re the shit. She's the shit. Like she repackaged that show for JJ Abrams. So I got her toilet paper to celebrate today
A whole show
Like that’s pretty fucking cool
Is this Hank Williams?
You’re not as hot as you think you are. Did I tell you about that story? Did I tell you about the roll of toilet paper story?
Oh no no you weren’t here
So I’m walking around with a roll of toilet paper and some guy yells that out and I'm like, really motherfucker?
Like I’m strutting
That was hilarious
I had this big roll of toilet paper I was carrying under my arm but he rolled down the window and was like, you’re not as hot as you think you are. And I just started laughing because I was like, I’m carrying a giiiiant thing of toilet paper!
Oh my god who says that?
It was a way...
Look, look...men project their weird shit on women all the time, ok.
It was a way to diminish me but I thought it was funny because I’m carrying a roll of toilet paper
It's not like I'm walking like this.
In my fucking heels like this.
Like I was carrying a big thing of toilet paper and I just started laughing hysterically.
Like he was insulting me but I thought it was funny
Women get all kinds of shit
But I thought it was funny I’m carrying a roll of like 16-ply right here and you think I’m the shit?
Like I know when I look hot and those days are not the days when I’m carrying a 16-ply of toilet paper like, fuck yourself I thought it was hiiilarious
What you gonna do...
You’re not as hot as you think you are. And I’m like, yes I am, actually
Goddam these taquitos are so good!
Why is the food so good here?
I was a chef you know.
At KFC. I was a chef. I was frying all that chicken. Like hundreds of chicken.
Oh no way.
I studied cooking in Italy.
Wait, where'd you go to school?
Well, I was only there for like a semester. But I loved cooking.
You learned to make fried chicken in Italy?
No, I made like Italian. Like so much Italian. Like meatballs and shit.
What'd you major in?
Oil painting. But I was like thinking Literature.
Oscar Wilde is my favorite poet.
No, Oscar Wilde was a playwright.
Oh no way.
But anyway the art department was like, you are soooooo talented you should be an oil painter. You like are the most talented oil painter.
You still painting?
When I watch films on the touchy subject of multiculturalism, I am often frustrated by the tendency of the writer/director towards easy stereotypes, predictable bad guys, and victims with no agency of their own...in other words, propaganda. Thankfully, this is not one such story.
Originally released in 2003, Yu Ming Is Ainm Dom, Gaelic for "My Name Is Yu Ming," is a splendid short film with a poignant take on language, heritage, and belonging. Available to watch for free on Youtube. I won't spoil it for you, but I recommend it. 13 minutes of your day well spent.
A nod to writer and director, Daniel O'Hara, for this masterful piece of storytelling. Bravo.
Call him old-fashioned or elitist or whatever other stodgy names, but Sir Roger Scruton makes a damn good case for the need to preserve beauty in this 2009 documentary film. You can watch it for free on Youtube.
While Postmodernism turned establishment art on its head (think of the Dadaists, the Surrealists, the Abstract Expressionists, the Brutalists, and onward), an unintended consequence of that movement has led us now to a slew of contemporary works of art and architecture stripped of beauty, which Scruton argues is a virtue we desperately need to defend.
Human beings need beauty to thrive, to have hope, to keep living....maybe, even to touch the divine. Think of the prehistoric painters in Lascaux for example who decorated their otherwise dark cave walls and ceilings with art. What was that about? Or the early Mesopotamian sculptures used for worship? Or the Ancient Egyptian works of Ra, the Sun God? Has there always been a connection of art with something deeper and higher? Scruton thinks so. And I do too.
Form follows function was once a noble cause, but take a walk through any modern high-rise cities and it's hard to tell one glass and steel structure from another. Or artists who create work only to shock the viewer, instead of helping to transcend and find greater truths? What happens to us when utility and commodity becomes the establishment? Do we even recognize beauty anymore? I believe this is something important for all of us to contemplate for ourselves.
A few nights ago I watched a 6-episode series on Netflix of Bill Moyer's 1988 interview with master mythology scholar Joseph Campbell. In their final conversation, the two talked about the circle as the most divine shape in nature, a kind of godly manifestation in aesthetic form (think of the mandala for example, or the halo, the sun, the moon, the planets, etc).
If the divine is circles, then are we humans squares? Who invented the square? How did it come about? What were its functions? Where would we be without it? And why is the word associated with boring fuddy-duddies? (a real search result, by the way, from my computer's thesaurus). Some contemplation and a little research later, I found myself with a copy of Italian artist/designer Bruno Munari's 1965 book, The Discovery Of The Square. Surprise surprise, it's shaped like a square!
A fascinating work of curiosity, Munari traces the use of this four-walled shape from paleo-Babylonian, to Ancient Rome, to Le Corbusier, to logarithmic spirals, to a simple game of chess. Did you know that "in ancient times, the square was believed to have magical properties including power to prevent plague, and it was common practice to wear a silver disk, with a square cut in it, on a necklace" (p 22).
From the opening essay:
"The square is as high and as wide as a man with his arms outstretched. In the most ancient writings, and in the rock inscriptions of early man, it signifies the idea of enclosure, of house, of settlement. Enigmatic in its simplicity, in the monotonous repetition of four equal sides and four equal angles, it creates a series of interesting figures: a whole group of harmonic rectangles, the golden section, and the logarithmic spiral, which also occurs in nature in the organic growth of plants and in parts of animals. With its structural possibilities, it has helped artists and architects of all epochs and styles by giving them a harmonic skeleton on which to build an artistic construction."
A fun and quick read for the aesthetically curious. So take a peruse! It's probably the squarest thing you can do this week.
Wendy's Twitter account caters to weed, man. No that's Arby's. Wendy's has the best Twitter account. The actress for Wendy's is married to one of the managers at Wendy's.
I work at Denny's.
That guy's wife is her. She doesn't wear her hair like that in real life, right. Never talk about Subway. Subway never even had a guy. But she's super chill. And she get hella wasted. When you're making that money. She got that Wendy's money.
Battle of the Sexes on Netflix.
His grandfather did that shit, man. His grandfather invaded South Korea. And the US has to come in on the landing. And it's crazy, bro. Trump doesn't know what's going on. She knows the game. He didn't study the fucking Korean War.
I can't eat rice. You don't have to eat the rice just eat the meat. Oh it's closed. What? No it's 24 hours, dude. No dude there's two. The one closer to us is open. I'm like part night rider.
Alright Andrew night to meet you.
White Republicans going to war. You talking about 2000 vs. now.
I'm taking the dog.
The name "Jordan B. Peterson" inspires either great awe or great ugh. A bearded middled-aged man is not exactly what we all think of when we think of a Youtube Sensation in 2018. His channel recently surpassed more than 1 million subscribers, his talks at rock star-style concert venues from earlier this year were sold out, and when he posts one ordinary picture of an overcast street on Instagram, 18,000 people go to like it. Makes you wonder, does he know about Insta filters?
His newest book, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote To Chaos, is currently the No. 1 International (as well as National) bestseller on Amazon. Its antecedent, a post on Quora, has generated almost 5 million views to date. By the way, Jordan B. Peterson is not a musician or a celebrity -- he's a professor of Psychology -- with a camera on his home computer.
For those unfamiliar with his brand, JBP was kicked into stardom in late 2016 when he publicly denounced the gender pronoun law in Canada, citing a conflict of morality (and of philosophy) between democracy and tyranny. A couple of videos surfaced online shortly thereafter of university students shouting him down at a rally. It went "viral," as the digital-age saying goes, and a star was born.
I don't actually dislike him. I've read his book cover to cover and I admit I like it. I also admit I read Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code cover to cover and liked that too. I mean, JBP is no Dostoyevsky or TS Elliot (both of whom gets frequent mentions in his lectures), but he is as good (or maybe even pretty great) of a writer for a clinician and academic. Clean up your room, he says! Last Sunday I spent 8 hours straightening out my apartment from top to bottom like I'm back living with my parents again. Stand up straight, he says! He sounds more like my college ballet instructor than some devilish patriarch. Any moment I expect he'll post a video reminding me to not talk with my mouth full.
For all the forthrightness however, JBP also has his moments of weakness. On his much watched interview with Cathy Newman (which just passed 10 million views) he stumped Newman when she asked, "Why should your freedom of speech trump a trans person’s right not to be offended?” His response, “Because in order to be able to think, you have to risk being offensive. I mean, look at the conversation we’re having right now. You’re certainly willing to risk offending me in the pursuit of truth. Why should you have the right to do that? It’s been rather uncomfortable.” Newman was suddenly dumbfounded. She couldn't formulate the words back to him. But instead of letting the viewer decide in that moment, he slides in a snide, "Gotcha." It was one of the few unsportsmanlike moment I've witnessed from JBP, though to his credit, he did keep his cool during the remaining 30-odd mins of the heated interview.
Peruse the Youtube comments that follow and very quickly you'll see them degenerate into vulgarity and petty jabs at Newman. What a conundrum this must be for a man who believes in individual transcendence and freedom of words. What a pity. But this is not to say that JBP's videos are not also full of positive comments. Just as a casual observer, his followers often leave very intelligent and thoughtful notes, more than the vast majority of channels I follow elsewhere. So there's that too.
Love him or hate him, he is a product of our time, in every sense of the word. With the democracy of Youtube, viewers now choose their own content of consumption. 1 million + people have chosen JBP with more flooding in. He has a book deal. He's touring the world on talks where ticket prices average around $50 a pop. He is no friend of the Far Left. He is vehemently opposed to being with the "Alt Right." For all the decries from the University of Toronto, it looks like JBP's position as professor is more than secure. According to Reddit, he surpassed $66K annually from the online membership platform Patreon. What to make of him? If only there was a singular narrative.
In more than one interview, Peterson himself said that traditional media was dead. He's living it. And that's something worth noting.
Bits & Pieces
A place for experimentation, a place for pieces unpolished and unpublished, a place to work out thoughts and ideas for larger collections. Typos aplenty. Enjoy (or not).