April 30, 2008


I've been reading an interesting book about globalization, language and the French by Denis M. Provencher and came across a section that rang true. You see, each morning on my way to work, I pass this McDonalds. At first I felt really embarassed by it. I don't really know why I internalize or think that I have anything to do with it, but sometimes I take my nationality personally. So do they (the French, I mean).

Anyway, Provencher discusses the ongoing tension between France and the United States in the context of globalization and American hegemony. I feel this tension from time to time with my students when I teach. The other day, for example, one student was discussing television programs and said, "Well, TV is getting worse and worse the more you send your programs to us." The possessive pronoun 'your' was an interesting choice and I wasn't quite sure it fit. But I'm sure she just meant American programs, so fair enough.

All this tension started after WWII when America had its hands in numerous countries, in the rebuilding effort. Provencher points out that in France, General de Gaulle set up the Ministry of Culture (in 1959) in reaction to all of this, which was created to preserve and fortify French culture - to transmit it to the masses in France. De Gaulle had a big part in preventing too much privatization in France; he nationalized gas, electric, coal, insurance companies, banks and airlines.

Back to McDonalds. Globalization is part and parcel of the 20th and 21st centuries - transnational companies are everywhere. But what is interesting, perhaps, and what is not so frequently noticed is the way particular cultures localize the process. Check out our little McDonalds above. They even serve the McCroque - the globalized version of le croque monsieur, the famous french ham and cheese sandwich. So, as Provencher insists, local Frenchness persists even through American hegemony - a process he calls "Glocalization." I love it.

April 28, 2008

On a Sunday Afternoon

We went strolling along Canal Saint-Martin yesterday.

We saw unanticipated things like this:

And rather unsettling things like this (that is a toilet on wheels):

And although I didn't witness the act, I can only imagine the aggravation or delight driving this one:

We saw splendor:

And most delightful of all, Mlle. Marguerite (who, when determined to stay in one place and continue playing, does not mind if you walk away and 'disappear' in an attempt to get her to follow. She just continues on, as stubborn as her dad, unperceptive to the fact that she is alone - or at least undaunted by it. She is going through the appropriation phase of childhood at the moment. She distinguishes everything by announcing to whom it belongs: c'est a moi. c'est a papa. c'est a mimi. But mainly c'est a moi (it is mine) - including the entrance gate at the playground, which she guards, and from which she monitors and directs traffic. She extends her analysis of what is hers to her dad. When she sees a photo of Xavier, she points to it and says, "papa! il est a moi!" (papa, he is mine!), and pats her chest with her hand for emphasis):

April 25, 2008

SEINE-ing It

Today, I dashed away from work at lunchtime, grabbed a velib (rentable bicycles with automatic stations all over Paris), and flew to Pont Neuf (pont = bridge) to attend an "Obama Peace Rally." I was interested in what Obama supporters were like on this side of the Atlantic. Well, the mantra YES WE CAN wasn't quite that...the turn-out looked something like this:

But otherwise, I think this is a good moment to feature that lovely waterway which flows through this city. There are many coves and walkways along its banks and some of my favorite places to lounge about like a big fluffy cat and read a book are here. Or, for instance, to watch dogs. (Can you believe how remarkably charming this one below is?)

The pathways along the Seine are also obviously great places to romp with lovely friends who come from New York (e.g. Chris Melton) ---->

Chris - the sepia one is for you...

L'Ecole de Séduction

The other day I was sitting in front of the computer with my niece, Louise. She was showing me her favorite games on-line for kids. She clicked on one link and brought up a page called, "Les Jeux de Séduction" (Seduction Games). I took a quick glance and thought for certain she had landed erroneously. I was wrong. In fact, these games were among her favorites.

We looked around on the site (click here to have a look) and found a plethora of games of 'seduction' for young girls. In the various scenarios, it was Louise's job to dress and make-up the girls with the objective of charming a dashing young man. These games were deemed: Pour Reines de Beauté (For Queens of Beauty), with the assurance that, "Les jeux de séduction sont sûrement les jeux de filles les plus complets du net." (Games of seduction are surely the most comprehensive games for girls on the net).

I was disturbed. I asked Louise if the following scenario actually made for a fun game to play: Romane et Benjamin sont en couple depuis peu de temps. Ils cherchent encore beaucoup à se séduire et ils font très attention à leur look quand ils ont rendez-vous ensemble. (Romaine and Benjamin have been in a relationship for a short time. They are still hoping to seduce each other and they pay very close attention to their 'look' when they get together).

Later on in the week, my Irish colleague, Derek, plopped a magazine in front of me on the table at work. I looked down and I saw this:

I couldn't believe my eyes. What? A seduction school? Amazing. And who, exactly, did that woman, featured so prominently (and so unflatteringly), in the ad think she was?

I decided to do a bit more research. Perhaps I was missing an important cultural element here. I took a peek on the seduction school's website, and found a gold mine. Literally.

I thought L'Ecole de Séduction (The School of Seduction) was maybe a bad joke, or perhaps the term 'seduction' was being used loosely to encompass the idea of being successful and charismatic with people. Not at all.

The founder, Veronique J. was featured prominently throughout the website and thoroughly explains her intent when she created the school. She answers such pressing questions as "comment garder l’homme qui me plaît?" (How can I keep the man I fancy?). And she insists that the approach is: "un credo de "féminine" plus que de "féministe" ! (The credo is "feminity" more than "feminism"!)...

She continues (and please note, I have added her original french below, because it is highly amusing. In my translation of it, I have tried to remain as true to her unique and very heavy writing style as possible...):

D’une façon générale, la femme est trop en attente du Prince Charmant. Elle est toujours en contradiction, oscillant entre rêve et réalité, entre Harisson Ford (Les Aventurier de l’Arche Perdue) et Michael Douglas (Wall Street), entre nature et sécurité … exigeant la fantaisie…en plus ! Elle pourrait trouver son idéal dans James Bond. Mais, il faut bien l’avouer, les 007 ne courent pas les rues !

In general, women wait too much for Prince Charming. They are always in contradiction, oscillating between dreams and reality, between Harrison Ford and Michael Douglas, between nature and security...demanding fantasy...and more! Women could find their ideal man in James Bond, but you must admit, 007's aren't running all over the place!

She explains, however, that the school and training are not just for women:

On le voit : il s’agit de tout un programme pour transmettre aux hommes d’aujourd’hui le pouvoir de séduire qui leur permettra de mieux choisir leur partenaire ou leur conjointe.

It is all about a plan to teach modern men the power of seduction which will allow them to best choose their partner.

She insists that men must remember that:

Même si aujourd’hui, il fait ressortir son côté féminin – ce dont je ne le blâme pas – il doit néanmoins veiller à ce que son côté masculin ne s’endorme pas. Le fait de montrer ses émotions est positif mais l’homme ne doit pas pour autant oublier de montrer sa force. L’homme trop "tiède" instaure une relation insipide qui ne fait vibrer personne.

Even if nowadays, men show their feminine side (for which I do not blame them), they must always make sure that they don't put their masculine side on standby. Showing one's emotions is positive, but at the same time, men must not forget to show their force. The man who is lukewarm in his approach establishes an insipid relationship that will excite no-one.

She then explains the general cause of waning seductive powers:

Mais hélas, souvent à cause d’une éducation trop rigide ou d’un milieu où l’on n’exprime jamais ses émotions, la séduction se rendort et s’évanouit. Séduire peut se faire avec naturel chez certains, comme cuisiner … Mais la différence est dans l’art avec lequel on exerce sa séduction. A ce propos, je tiens particulièrement à préciser que le but de mon Ecole n’est pas de faire de mes élèves des séducteurs mais des êtres plus séduisants.

But alas, it is often caused by a too-rigid education or a social environment where one never express his/her emotions - seduction gets put to sleep and fades. In certain people, seduction is natural, like cooking...but the difference is in the art with which one exerts his/her seductive power. In this regard, I maintain in particular that the goal of my school is not to make my students seducers, but rather, more seductive beings.

So, tell us...

Comment, concrètement, se déroulent vos stages ?

How, concretely, does the training proceed?

Fidèle à mon mot d’ordre : Agir, agir et encore agir ! mes stages respectent le pourcentage suivant : 20 % de théorie pour 80 % d’action.
Après un profil de personnalité et une évaluation par notre psychologue, après avoir redéfini précisément les objectifs de chaque élève, nous personnalisons un stage étalé sur 9 mois

True to my motto: Act, act and act again! The training follows this percentage: 20% theory, 80% action.
After a personal profile and evaluation by our psychologist, and after having precisely defined the objectives of each student, we personalize a program spread over 9 months.

And extremely important!

ll faut beaucoup de motivation et de courage pour faire la démarche.

It is necessary to have significant motivation and courage to start the training.

She finishes with:

Je considère mes élèves comme des oiseaux en cage à qui je dois montrer le chemin de la liberté.

I consider my students as birds in a cage, to whom I show the way to liberty.

She even has a whole team of people to help her in her passionate effort:

And she is pretty much famous and celebrated for all of this! Check out all the publicity in France:

April 21, 2008

The Hamam

I went to a Hamam (a Turkish Bath) today at the Mosquée de Paris in Paris' 5th Arrondissement. It was a fascinating cultural experience. You see, up to this point, there have been a shortage of public bath houses in my life. I went with a lovely British friend of mine from work. We walked in and signed up for a good steam, gommage (scrub), massage and mint tea.

I was initially sort of startled by all the women's total inhibition when it came to removing clothing and walking around. I suppose it is very American to believe that nudity is inherently sensual. Clearly, in this case, that was not the case. There were 80 year-old women and there were 15 year-old women. There were mothers and daughters and then there were women in their 20's who met their friends there for the afternoon. The variations of bodies, shapes and relative forms was impressive.

The Hamam consisted of several interconnected rooms: a series of massage and scrubbing rooms with tables, a large shower room, and then three steam rooms in a row, the first was cool, the second - warm, the third - hot - really hot.

Women sort of wandered through these rooms freely, cleaning themselves and each other in a ritualistic fashion, using buckets and water from the spouts that were installed all over the place to splash water everywhere, which was promptly sucked down the ducts and drains in the walls and floors.

We spent a long time in the hot room, lying on the side of the pool of very cold water that seemed to float in the middle of the room. The room was constantly emitting hot-mint smelling steam from the perforated walls. The steam was hot enough that my nostrils burned when I stood up. And the steam hovered in the air; there was a visible line about halfway up in the room of where the steam had chosen to concentrate its efforts. But periodically, when the heat of it felt crushing, you would plunge into the pool of water (frigid) and when you came back up, you felt (as Emma, my friend, put it), "almost reborn." Entirely invigorated.

The whole thing - essentially bathing in a sense, surrounded by other people - was culturally anomalous to me. It was rather gritty, but at the same time, extremely clean by essence. When I was scrubbed down by two Turkish women with brillo-pad gloves on their hands, piles of skin seemed to come off at their command. I had no idea I was carrying around so much muck.

And then, after all the scrubbing and soaking and washing came the massage. I lay down on the massage table, where twenty women before me had been that day, on the same towel. I was basically sharing in the oils and whatever else from all the others. The ample Turkish woman wore a bandana around her head and with her strong hands covered me with oil that smelled faintly minty, like most things in the bath house. Covered me. Poured oil. And then she used her elbows and her forearms and her hands and massaged away. All the while she was chatting with the other Turkish women who were also giving massages in the room. It was clear that this was not meant to be a spa. There was no clean towel, and she was not employed to give me a 'serene experience.' I liked that very much.

All in all, I decided this sort of thing was for me.

Since the Hamam itself is a private, if not sacred, area - I only took pictures of the mosque and the areas outside the Hamam, but I think they still evoke the sense of the place and the beauty of the experience.

Spring in Paris

I took a walk in Jardin des Plantes today. I love poppies (les coquelicots) especially here - their vibrance in contrast with the gray looming sky. And then the cherry tree below, in full bloom - popping.

I spoke to my Grandpa Johnson on the phone this afternoon, who is not feeling very well. He asked me what I remembered about my Grandma (who died a few years ago). I told him that what I remember most about my Grandma is her love for small things. Her awe of squirrels, of the stems of flowers and of cardinals - their deep red color. I learned the way to look at these things from her.

April 20, 2008

Peering Faces (étranges visages aux fenêtres)

I love this little road close to our apartment that winds up to Montmartre. It's called rue des Martyrs. One of the most obviously charming aspects of Paris is the fact that everyday shopping is basically done in a series of markets or little specialty shops. So, there is la boulangerie (the bread bakery), la patisserie (the cake bakery), la boucherie (the meat shop), la charcuterie (the sausage shop), la poissonnerie (the fish shop), le marchand de fruits (fruit seller), and of course, la fromagerie (the cheese shop). Well, several of each of these shops can be found on the rue des Martyrs, and much more.

One day I was having a little walk up this road to do my shopping and I looked up and saw a rather ugly building covered in graffiti. I thought to myself, ah - such a shame - most of the buildings on this road are well-maintained and then there is this. But then I saw the faces peering from the window at the top of the building. And then I was charmed. Check them out.

They are grotesque - comical - much larger than they should be - totally bizarre and almost horrific. What are they doing up there?

April 14, 2008

If I Were You

The health care system in France, as you may well know, is significantly different from the system in the United States. People in France see the doctor. A lot. While teaching a class on the conditional tense I learned just how much my French students consult their physicians and medical centers. In the class, I read examples of different maladies aloud and then the students offered me advice. It went like this:

Example 1: BAD HEADACHE / "If I were you, I would go to the doctor."
Example 2: NOSEBLEED / "If I were you, I would visit the hospital."
Example 3: STOMACHACHE / "If I were you, I would visit the hospital."

"Really?" I queried after the exercise was completed. Shoulder shrugs and nods. Yeah.

At Tea Time, vegetarianism was discussed and Bruno (the guy who loves Yellowstone and who kind of resembles Yogi the Bear) offered his opinion on the matter. (Keep in mind, vegetarianism is a rarity in France). He said of vegetarians, “They’re nice. They’re calm. They don’t drink alcohol.”

Later on, in another class, we were using adverbs of frequency (always, never, sometimes) and I asked the students how often they did things, like eat sandwiches, for instance.
Claude replied, “Unfortunately, I eat sandwiches 2-3 times per month.”
I was confused. Perhaps this guy didn’t really understand the meaning of ‘unfortunately.’
“Why is that a bad thing, Claude?”
“No good for the health. My doctor tells me not to eat sandwiches.”
I still didn’t get it. The other students were with Claude.

April 10, 2008

Xavier I

While I was a student, I lived in Provo, Utah. My abode was an old historical mansion on Center Street, a street lined with soaring Sycamore trees. And I took up a tiny studio in the big house. The tiny studio featured a terrace. Not really. Not officially. But the big, south-facing windows opened up onto a portion of the roof. A nice, flat portion, which offered plenty of nearly-nude sunbathing opportunities.

(As an aside, I have a history of roof appropriation. While living on the North Shore of Oahu, I would climb a tree, across a walkway, up a ladder, and onto the forbidden roof. Once I had reached the roof, I would either spend the night sleeping under the stars, or spend the day lying under the heat of the sun – both activities veiled by the solar panels.

It was my bizarre landlord, Mary Lou Whipple who forbade such tricks (a white woman who had adopted Polynesia into her heart, even if Polynesia had in no way adopted her). She lived next door with her “nieces” – a group of 8 girls from all over the place (Fiji, Poland, Wisconsin, Australia…). This was her way of getting around the town’s laws that restricted the number of unrelated people living under one roof. She always introduced the girls that way, anytime she was outside and someone else came along. “These are my nieces,” she would chime, their faces signifying their annoyance or confusion, depending upon which niece you were looking at. She also had a son named Amigo, who visited once in a while, and whose visit would always bring her odd, but sincere request for us girls to ‘accompany Amigo to the hot tub.’ None of us indulged her.)

Back to my roof in Provo. One morning I awoke, crawled out my window and gazed into the high branches of the gigantic pines above me. I saw a very large, intimidating bird with his wings spread, just like those Michael Jordan posters that showcase his arms outstretched, indicating just how tall he really is. It was a spectacle. He was clearly proud of his wings and I understood why. Every so often, in his spread-winged stance, he would rotate a quarter-turn. I was in love. This rather big guy was probably wet from the night and was strategically placing himself in patches of sun to dry his wings and body (which looked rather feeble in comparison to his massive wings).

He seemed so showy, and also so ugly. This was a bird with what we might call bad posture and a very ugly beak. His head and neck seemed to bend toward his stomach. Slouching. But somehow, this did not take away from his impressive intimidation factor. Clearly, he was into his bad posture.

I started making a point of watching his morning routine and then I noticed he had friends. Four. Xavier (the first), Cassidy, Oliver and Astrid, they were called.

They were high flyers and my best view of my friends was from the roof plank. Out through the window I would crawl and winch my neck upwards and there they would be, circling, gliding all together. These four glided – they were not flyers; in fact, they almost never flapped their wings. Their wing-span was probably 6-feet.

And then they would sit. High in the pines, after their circling in the sky, all four of them. Sometimes they liked to chat and they would perch on the same branch – four black bowling pins in a row. Other days, when skies were greyer, they were more often scrambled in the branches. Xavier and Astrid high above, close together and then Cassidy on his own sulking with Oliver below, his slumped neck craning up to survey the others once in a while.

My late summer/fall that year was spent watching my friends with devotion. Their wingspan, their gliding capacity, my admiration grew by the day. Then one late night, in the basement of the BYU library, sitting and studying operant and classical conditioning, I wanted to classify my friends.

I found the section of the library containing wildlife and birds and started thumbing through different descriptions to try to pin them down. I thought I would love them more if I knew what they were. So I searched for a bird their size in Utah, who performed the morning show-off ritual (they all did this, not just Xavier – four of them on the branches, wings spread, wimpy body, spectacle).

My conclusions were totally unexpected and somewhat distressing. Xavier, Cassidy, Oliver and Astrid were Turkey Vultures. To my dismay, I realized that all of this time I had been obsessed with buzzards.

For a few days I protested. I refused to be their audience for the morning display. Or to watch them in the sky gyrating high above.

But then after some thinking, I came to relish the fact that they were buzzards, scavengers. I imagined them circling around different places for food scraps, namely the best little bakery in Provo, which dumped a whole lot of donuts every night in the parking lot dumpsters out back. (I know this because my siblings had a tradition, called ‘dumpster diving.’ My sister started it and we (sometimes me) would sneak to the dumpsters and steal whole bags of baked goods – donuts and cupcakes and rolls. Julie would even serve them at parties she hosted).

So, I related with them and stopped resenting them. They were like me, or at least like my siblings. Poor, but they still had refined taste and very little will-power when it came to certain delicacies, even when pronounced ‘expired.’

At this point I was emotionally attached to my birds. And then one day they vacated their branches and left me behind. Without ritual or ceremony. They didn't even say goodbye.

I went to Mexico that winter to try to find them. I drove to Baja California with two friends, half-way down the coast. I thought I spotted them a few times – I was sure this was their destination. Turkey Vultures go to Mexico, after all, for the winter, and other warm places too, but I thought Xavier, Cassidy, Oliver and Astrid would like Baja. I liked Baja. I found two dogs named Bobby and Pinto, but no Turkey Vultures.

There have been other animal attachments since then. Many. Anthropomorphizing animals is a specialty of mine, but Xavier, Cassidy, Oliver and Astrid have a unique, sort-of mangy place in my heart. I think it is one reason I was drawn to Xavier the human. He was actually Xavier the II when I give credit where it is due.
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