April 30, 2009


I feel like such a traitor.

First, some background: every neighborhood in Paris is serviced by a really excellent market. It is an aspect of Parisian life that I increasingly relish...the experience of mulling over the three types of cheeses you will select, of going from one little vendor to the next, for your fish, for your flowers, for your fruits and vegetables, even for mending your clothes. Last week, Xavier and I went to the covered market closest to our house for all of these things. We bought fruit and vegetables from one of the very nice fruit/vegetable vendors, who, at the end, gave us raspberries and strawberries as little goodies to try. He handed them to us gingerly and with care. He was very sweet.

Yesterday, I went back to the market and wanted to buy some more vegetables. I approached the same stand, but couldn't see the nice guy anywhere. It just so happens that there is another fruit and vegetable stand directly next to his. I mean almost touching. And there were two guys there who told me to come over to taste one of their strawberries. So, while still looking over my shoulder for my missing guy, I gave in to the draw and then, naturally, I also started selecting my avocados, endives, eggplant, potatoes, tomatoes, carrots, apples and oranges. Well, of course, not more than 3 minutes later he returned. I tried to avoid his gaze, because I could feel the heat of it from where I was inspecting the avocados. Eventually I couldn't help it. I looked at him with a sorry sort of grimace. He literally shook his head. This is not done. No loyalty. I've said it before, but sometimes I feel like I live in a little village in France.


Standing in front of a mirror with a close friend. I watch her face as she watches herself. It changes, is transposed into an expression I've never seen before. Only she knows this face, yet she believes it represents her. She is watching herself watch herself.

I guess we all do. We have an in-front-of-the-mirror expression. Hers included slightly pouty lips, lowered eyelids, cheeks sucked in just a tad. It was a bit saucy and from the side, always at an angle. Others look wide-eyed, almost surprised or fussy with their discovery, because consistently it is that - to find yourself in the mirror is a continual revelation, a sighting. Others literally back away when the glass stands in front of them. For some, the exercise immediately becomes a meditation on bangs - they shift them to and fro across their brow, which is crossed in concentration, a means of avoiding the rest. Washing my hands at the long basins, I always have a look at the figures beside me in the mirror in public bathrooms. In this way, my own reflection is muted, but I watch theirs, trying to discover something about these unknown faces discerning themselves.

I've seen other sorts of mirrors lately too. The gazer, the one who sees the reflection, is always visibly transposed in some way, sometimes a full octave higher, or just a shift in the mode of the scale.

The Rue du Faubourg Poissonnière is a Parisian street lined with mirrors. In-between shops, there are vertical panels of mirrors awaiting absorption from the passersby. She is walking in front of me. A tall form, a tall French form with her black tights, long legs, uncoiffed hair, and stern look. A beauty, no question. She verifies this fact in every mirror panel we pass. I stay behind her, fascinated by what seems like a belief that she might dematerialize, or at least change from one square of the sidewalk to the next. Rabid. But then he appears on the horizon, walking toward her with his wing-tipped shoes and silk-lined suit and his hands gripping a paper. She hesitates, literally debating between the reflecting surface on her left or the reflecting surface in front of her. I watch her vacillate. At the last minute she chooses his eyes.

Another one. Less unsure of herself. Bold. She click-clacks on cobblestone with resolve, with heavy steps. She only hesitates when she comes upon her shadow. It is underneath her and she is so used to looking up. But there it is and her shadow undoes her. In the dark form she sees her mass of hair, which had been painstakingly pinned down and is now somehow freed from those anchors. Magnified by the distortion. Magnified in her mind. Her hands frantically find their way to remedy the ruckus, almost dropping her bags in her discomfort.

I am on a run. Past the arch at Faubourg St. Martin, all the way down to the backside of the Pompidou, across the huge square, down past Hôtel de Ville and freed at the river. Along the quais of the Seine. The forms of a couple are small in front of me, but grow bigger. Holding hands. I am almost face to face. She turns her head, her eyes pivot up to her boyfriend's eyes, watching. As if his reaction is a mirror into their relationship.

Premier’s Roving Eye Enrages Wife, but Not His Public

Front page headline of the New York Times this morning. As an addendum to my post on Berlusconi, Italian TV, the rest. Apparently, Berlusoni's wife, Veronia Lario publicly rebuked her husband this week for his philandering. It seems the rest of Italy doesn't mind.

April 28, 2009

Georgia Russell

At CEA, I teach with an artist named Georgia Russell. She teaches drawing. She is a crazy artist. I mean crazy in all the incredible ways. Crazy good. Crazy compelling. Crazy innovative. Crazy thrilling. She is also a magnificent human being - sparkling, beautiful, funny and humble (a rare quality for an artist as successful and brilliant as she). Here she is:

Georgia spoke last night at the institute where we teach and talked about her experience as an artist. Georgia is from a small village in Scotland, but she came to Paris as part of her studies in art. When she arrived, she spent a lot of time walking along the Seine, where all the old books are sold. She bought books and used them as sketchbooks, drawing on top of the language that, at the time, was a source of alienation for her. She would read the words and draw the city around her. Eventually, she started cutting into the books with a scalpel and felt it was a thrilling and emotional experience to destroy something - to literally take apart layers of meaning in a book. In this way, her books became sculptures of their own.

The Story of Art 2006

In her presentation, she talked about how "books modify you," and by taking the book apart, she was playing with this idea of layers and layers of meaning within a text.

Spectacle – Jacques Prévert 2006

L'Erotisme (detail) 2008 (Cut and painted book in a bell jar)

She also uses sheet music and cuts into the score, playing with the concept of timing, of measures, of movement within a piece of music.

Les Saisons de Haydn 2007

She exhibits at a gallery in London called England & Co. See her stuff on their site.



I am going through old family videos and editing them as part of a project with my dad. This one was a silent video that I cut and edited to take just the best parts. The video starts with my older sister, Julie, and then includes me and my beautiful mom. My dad was vigilant about recording our lives and now, looking back at these videos, it is clear how valuable that is. (Let's qualify that statement: ...how valuable that is for me and for people close to me. Home videos are, to be fair, veritable torture for people outside of that category).

April 23, 2009


One more note on Italy:

Italians are crazy drivers. They are notoriously so. Most people know this even if they have never stepped foot in Italy. Southern Italian drivers and Sicilians take it to the next level.

Xavier is also a crazy driver. But watching the Italians he was aghast. He was angry. (Mostly because he wasn't the fastest of all, like he is in the rest of his life). He continually shouted at other cars, with the gleam of admiration in his eyes. He secretly loved what they were capable of doing, and regarded their behavior as an open invitation to do the same. Delighted.

"Quelle bande de bandits!" (What a band of bandits!)

"Malade mental!" (Sick in the head!)

"Mais, qu'est-qu'il fout cet abruti?! Oh non, ce n'est pas possible, ça!" (But what is he doing this moron?! Oh no, this is not possible!)

One example of what Xavier was marveling at was the "third lane" (this is the name we gave it). Most of the roads we drove on were just small, two way roads - one lane in one direction, the other lane in the other. The first time it happened, we were behind a truck, going uphill and wanted to wait to pass until we had reached the crest of the hill. A car approached from behind and clearly had no intention of waiting for anything. He overtook us, all the other cars around us and the truck straight away. We watched the other cars as he did this: they all cowered to the shoulder, as far over as possible. And then there was an oncoming car who caught sight of the crazy one just as he was coming up over the hill. Immediately, the oncoming driver tugged on his wheel and rode as far over on his shoulder as possible. In this way, the third lane was created - the sea of cars parted and the crazy one sailed through the middle. Xavier was entranced. The reaction of the drivers around us was apparently no big deal, rather instinctual, it seemed.

The third lane. Recently, Berlusconi informed Italians that the use of the third lane is not safe. I don't think his concern for public safety was taken very seriously.

For the rest of the trip when Xavier drove, he employed the third lane technique as much as possible. Oncoming traffic would move to the left and the cars in front of us would move to the right magically. But the rule of driving in Italy still applied: there is always someone faster than you.

This is what it looks like - and yes, there is a whole line of oncoming traffic approaching the 'third lane' vehicle featured here (above).

April 21, 2009

Noelle Cordier - La Complainte de la butte


Stephen (my brother) has created a phenomenal site, on which he will post a new illustration of an animal every day. Must tune in: cyberstephen.com


April 20, 2009


Here was the trajectory of our trip:

This was our equipment:

A lot of fun, a little cabriolet, like that. We drove a lot, as you can see. All nice aspects of a little trip to Italy. The only catch was that Xavier is obsessive. This is not new, but during our trip, it took the form of keeping the roof of the car open at all times. Unless rain was pouring from the sky, he insisted that the roof be open. Now in Sicily (as you can see further down), nothing could be better. But further north, I was shaking in my seat or trying to blow as much heat from the heater on my hands that could no longer grab the steering wheel, as they had frozen over. Had to take advantage of every moment.

Dragging Main

We went to Termoli, a town on the Italy's eastern coast on a Sunday. Apparently, it is tradition on Sundays to get all dressed up and walk down the main drag of a town. Now, to clarify, 'getting all dressed up' means something special in this part of Italy. For example:

Once you have arrived in your finest, you mingle and spend a good portion of the day walking up and down that same street. It is like what my mom and dad used to do in a little town in northern Utah called Logan, where as teenagers they would drive their cars up and down Main Street on Friday nights: 'Dragging Main.'

All the folks together:

A particularly funny aspect of all of this was the people's reactions to Xavier's shoes. Xavier, in general, is a stylish brute. However, on this trip, he decided to shame himself by taking only his Crocs (yes, Crocs - red) and these Birkenstocks:

This is relevant because if Italians are obsessed by one thing, it is shoes (well, shoes, motorcycles, cars, women - I guess the list is quite long), but they do know how to do shoes. Every person we passed while dragging Main that day stared at Xavier's feet and almost gasped in horror. I was delighted. (Marco was walking, ashamed, on the opposite side of the street). It is usually Xavier doing the gasping. Ah ha ha.


Xavier's friend Marco is half-Italian half-Belgian. He bought a little house in the small town where his mother was born and where much of his family still is (but he is not - Marco works in London). On our trip to Italy, we went to this town: Guardialfiera. It is on the opposite coast from Naples. We spent our first couple of days in Italy with Marco and his family there in that charming Italian, stone village (of about 1500 people).

Marco and his mother

During our stay, Marco kept telling us not to do certain things, like squeal the car's tires (Xavier) or wave and smile at people (me) because we were embarrassing him. He, apparently, knows everyone in the village and he is sort of like the king of the hill, because he bought a house at the very top of the village, directly next to the church and its crazy, loud bells. The bells are another story. Apparently in Italy, there was a decree from the Vatican stipulating how much the bells should be rung every day. A sensible decree, something like to mark the hour, the half-hour and maybe the quarter hours. However, the bells were psychotic and they rang for one hour. Even for Easter Sunday this seemed extreme and there was visible tension in the air between the town's people and that bell tower.


Easter indeed. We were lucky enough (I use that word, 'lucky', somewhat loosely) to be there for the holiday. Enzo, a great, charming, warm and handsome gent (Marco's mother's beau) made us an Easter feast. It was a feast many many many people the world over would thoroughly enjoy. But not me. It included four different parts of a lamb. Frightening parts. Other parts. (You see, it is impossible to be a vegetarian in France or in Europe for that matter, I have resigned myself to the fact that I will just have to relinquish that part of my dreams for the time-being. Xavier claims he had never even met a real-live vegetarian before meeting me. It is that extreme). Vegetarian or not, this was another level of meat eating. Maybe even brains. I tried my best to smile and not to choke or throw up. Easter celebration. But then there was great chocolate and to give Enzo credit, he made spectacular homemade pasta for us (also including parts of the lamb), but that pasta knocked my pink socks off. (I have to wonder if Enzo didn't slaughter the lambs himself).

And then we had the pleasure of watching some Italian TV. I couldn't believe my eyes. Berlusconi is a thug. Obviously. Everyone knows and accepts that. I didn't realize what a passion he had for women's (to be defined very precisely) legs and other body parts. Channel 5 (Berlusconi TV) seemed to be dedicated purely to displaying the greatest showpieces of Italy in their most seductive getups. Now, to be fair, beauty is wonderful. We all like it to a certain degree. But this was something unknown to me. Like a perpetual Miss America pageant enjoyed by the entire country, not just the country's obtuse truck-drivers or gay men. Nobody thought that it was a problem that these women had nothing to say (and they certainly weren't given the chance). I had to flee upstairs to take deep breaths to avoid berating my lovely hosts. (To read further about Berlusconi's impeccable taste, here is a link to the article, "Models for Parliament!". And if you are interested in another of Berlusconi's most offensive political gaffes, read this).

(This is a very conservative version of Channel 5. Astonishingly, these gals are wearing an inordinate amount of clothing and one of them is even holding a microphone, which indicates the rare possibility of a speech-act).

April 19, 2009

The Heel of the Boot

Adventures at the tip end of Italy:

Taormina, Sicilia

And then it was Sicily.

We were most amused by:

What Xavier thought looked like James Bond buttons at our 1970's plush hotel.

And baby Jesus being carted around by his Ringo Starr-esque parentals.
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