April 28, 2010

Park Avenue Mitzvah Tank

Betwixt the scores of tulips on Park Avenue sits the Mitzvah Tank, the eve before Shabbat. (A "portable educational and outreach center").

The gentlemen come out on the streets and ask the passersby if they are Jewish.

After I responded in the negative, I inquired, "what if I want to be Jewish?" and in an affable tone, they replied: "You are good as you are."

April 25, 2010


Oh how I love idiomatic expressions in French. Xavier was given a great gift: a book of running idioms between English and French. The premise is to take a French expression, find its literal translation and an equivalent expression in English. The result is hilarious.

Nous sommes comme culs et chemises!
We are like arses and shirts. (We are best friends).

C'est du tout cuit!
It's all cooked. (It's in the bag!)

Ce n'est pas demain la veille.
It is not tomorrow the day before. (We're not about to do it).

Je n'ai pas la frite! (or) Je n'ai pas la pêche! (or) Je n'ai pas la patate!
I don't have the french fry. I don't have the peach. I don't have the potato. (I'm not in great form).

C'est la fin des haricots.
It is the end of the beans. (It's the last straw).

Tu vas marcher à la baguette.
You will walk at the stick. (I will rule you with an iron hand).

Ça ne mange pas de pain.
It doesn't eat bread. (It is not important).

Mettez le paquet.
Put the package! (Pull out all the stops!)

Minute papillon!
Minute butterfly. (Wait a minute!)

Vous arrivez entre la poire et la fromage.
You arrive between the pear and the cheese. (You have arrived at the wrong moment).

Et ta sœur?
And your sister? (Mind your own business).

J'ai d'autres chats a fouetter.
I have other cats to whip. (I have other fish to fry).

April 24, 2010


I've said it before and I'll say it again: Spring this year has been a fireworks show. Now even the residuum, the left-over trails, spine-tingle. The ground is scaled with fallen blossoms, which fly through the air like snow. Go to Central Park without delay if you possibly can.

April 23, 2010


A certain mademoiselle has finally arrived. Although a volcano arrested her last weekend from taking off in Paris, she is here now. Boy, are we glad.

April 22, 2010

The Inferior American.

I've had several conversations in the past week hovering around the topic.

First, it is language.

It started for me as a graduate student in England. My disapproving tutor handed me back the first drafts of my very first essay with the words, "Let's focus on the grammar first, then I'll have a look at the content. Sentences do not end with a preposition. Split infinitives remain unacceptable." Indeed.

A friend of mine from Oxford, who is both British and French, was visiting New York this week. We laughed when she remarked that we don't really speak the same language. "Americans don't actually use the present perfect much, do they?"

I taught English when I first moved to France and I realized that, before that point, I didn't even know the name of that tense (although I did use it). The "present perfect", for a quick a review, is that verb tense that hovers between the present and the past. We should use it with words (or ideas) like "yet", "already", "just" and "never": Have you seen that one movie? (yet) Oh yes, I have seen it. (already) In fact, I've just seen it. (yesterday) Oh, I haven't. I've never seen a film in my life. (Not the simple past: did you see that movie? Yes, I did. I just saw it...). Americans, as Lucy pointed out, have this way of just dropping the tense altogether and opting for the more simple (and firmly-fixed) past tense.

Many of my French students agreed with Lucy's idea that she and I speak different languages. They would tell me, "Oh good, we have an American instructor today. I want to learn American." Or alternatively: "OH NO! She speaks American not English!".

American the language. I love it.

It is quite similar to the way the French regard the Québécois...they certainly don't speak French according to many Frenchies.

It is tied up in class too. I've written before about how surprising the heavy emphasis on class was in France for me (and in England, but I expected that more, being in Oxford). Then I realized why. At our roots, Americans are often from some of the lowest rungs of whatever society from which we originated. Not directly, of course. Yet, it remains: so many of us are immigrants or a form of 'immigrant:' people who often shed class distinctions by leaving. And so, we are a huge melting pot of yokels, even if to ourselves, there are deep distinctions. Sure, we've construed our own system of class, but it is really just about money - so anomalous to the class system of Europe - where money is often the first bad sign when it comes to class.

There was a small reprise for me during my three years in Paris. When Obama was elected, I recounted how I was immediately regarded differently by the French - from one day to the next. He even saved me from a close call in the dark byways near Gare du Nord. This is one case where American inferiority has been granted breather. Long after American papers have been finding fault, French papers continue to revel in his glories (health care #1, which, according to the French, is a barbaric situation in this country of ours).

But the American as inferior remains. I'm pretty sure that most of my American counterparts in Euro-foreign lands would agree. The yoke is shared. I just like when Xavier tells fellow French-folk that he is married to an American and their first question/concern is: "Aren't you scared she is going to get fat?"

The Plaza.

April 20, 2010


Xavier was traveling this week and I came home from an eventful evening with plenty of news to tell, called him and started recounting. He was in Kentucky. I finished and he began to tell his things (and I do mean to insist on 'began') because a half an hour later, I was suddenly aware that my feet were in such pain - totally asleep - under me and I was in fetal position on the couch. I was drooling on my phone. I had done the same thing as my feet. In my confused torpor, I looked at my phone and realized all that time had decamped and Xavier had tried to call back several times (my ringer, was of course, off) and...well, how preposterous. I was debilitated by exhaustion. And no, it really was not that what Xavier was saying was fatiguing, per se.

Yes, it is true that I work a normal 9-5 hour work week. Nothing more. Don't fall out of the 9-5 job habit if you ever plan re-entering. Savage.

April 17, 2010

April, Clarisse, Scooter.

In the morning, now that it is beautiful, we've changed our route. Enter Central Park on 72nd ----> across the park -----> south through the zoo ----> and onward on the other side. 30 minute walk. The park, as I've recently brandished, breaks my heart every morning - the blossoms make it want to spurt. Equally irresistable are the sea lions. Yes, the sea lions. As you walk through the zoo grounds, their outdoor pool is on the direct path.

One day, we were lucky enough to walk past them at exactly 8:30 am. At exactly this hour (and other disciplined junctures like it) a certain magical clock chimes. It is the famous Delacorte Music Clock, which features a merry-go-round of sculpted animals carouseling: a hippo playing a violin, monkeys, goats and bears - all strumming in the band. Their ditties include: I Had a Little Nut Tree, Old King Cole, Three Blind Mice, Frère Jacque, Au Clair de la Lune and Hickory, Dickory Dock.

As Frère Jacque tintinnabulated in the air, I looked over at the sea lions and gasped. There they were, their enormous hides settled on the large rocks of their pen, like giant hunky slugs. They were swaying to the tune. Their noses would point to the north and then to the south in time. It was almost like they were closing their eyes, sipping slowly the treasured portion of their day - the part with the music.

April 12, 2010


Cézanne Elms.

A candy-coated tree on 23rd Street.

Buds coming from everywhere.

Not a tree exactly, but there is a likeness.


April 11, 2010

Notre chaton.

Her name is Marie-Antoinette de Trianon de Versailles (deux). Cats are not easy creatures to capture, but here, she's captive (with very dirty paws from our roof/terrace).

April 9, 2010

Popcorn Trees.

Growing up in a Mormon household, 'Primary' songs were always on continuous replay: in the air, in our heads, on the piano. What is Primary? 'Primary' is the children's organization of the Mormon Church: a series of meetings on Sundays and various age-based rankings (starting with Sunbeams ~ age 3, up through Valliant ~ age 11). In Primary, the name of the game is singing songs. Sundays are days spent on cold metal folding chairs, warmed by the hot breath of kids crooning all around. My mother was generally poised in front of the crowd shepherding the voices with her hands, her eyes and her smile. To us, her singing children, she would send secret hand signals ('I Love You-s' with her two middle fingers bent).

Primary songs pertain to these trees in that there is one tune that has always had my heart. When, as a 12 year-old, I was trying to get the mental image of the Elephant Man out of my head on my way to dreamland, I would trill this particular tune repetitively. (Why my 6th grade teacher thought The Elephant Man would be a good thing to show his students is still beyond me). The song is called "Popcorn Popping on the Apricot Tree" and it goes like this...(pretend like you know the tune, and if you do, sing along):

Oh I looked out the window and what did I see?
Popcorn popping on the apricot tree.
Spring has brought me such a nice surprise,
Blossoms popping right before my eyes.
I could take an armful and make a treat,
A popcorn ball that would smell so sweet.
It wasn't really so, but it seemed to be
Popcorn popping on the apricot tree.

[Georgia W. Bello, 1924 and arranged by Betty Lou Cooney]

In addition to all these lovely trees, a spring self-portrait.

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