Showing posts from February, 2007

Duck Soup

There is a kind of shop here called a fruitier. Or rather a shop that is run by a person with that title. A fruitier’s shop deals mainly in fresh produce, but they also sell local and imported specialty items: jars of confitures (fruit preserves), wines, olive oils, meats.

What marks a fruitier is his commitment to his occupation. He can tell you where each piece of fruit has come from and whether it is a better crop this year than last. He is enthusiastic about his product. A fruitier is not the same as a shopkeeper. He does not merely mind the store. He is a man as happy to receive a good-looking case of eggplants as he is to sell them. He would not sell anything less than a good-looking eggplant.

We have a favorite fruitier here. His shop is on one of the more upscale streets, and though it has more meats and fewer vegetables than another fruitier’s, we like to visit him because he is a genuinely interesting person. He speaks very good English and is always happy to practice with us.

Vivre sa vie

It’s been hard to post recently because I’m in love with the photograph at the top of the last post. I didn’t want to move it. I kept visiting this site like I was returning to a favorite room, the spot in the house that collected the most sunbeams.

I haven’t anything to say, really. I’m going to play this one loose, see how it feels. I’ll put some work into it, so by the time it’s done, I’ll have to post it. I’m not going to write any more tonight and I need to post something or I’ll lose my readership, which, judging by my over-scrutinized counter, is about five people a day. Even discounting my friends and parents, I have six siblings who could stop by to at least create the illusion that someone’s out there!

I live in Avignon, France, which I’m going to try to make read as exciting as it deserves. It’s four thousand years old, a World Heritage Site, and was once home to the popes, as things got pretty seedy back in Rome in the thirteenth century. Because the Roman Catholic Church wa…

...And God Created Woman

Cineastes are nothing if not nostalgic—or perhaps, atavistic. We are self-invented devotees of a nearly ancient medium and a quickly disintegrating language. We are committed to one of the most rapidly growing artforms in the history of humanity: the evolution of cinema in its first century can only be compared with its sister, pop music, in that same era. Trace the line from a YouTube-esque smattering of dalliances with a new “cinematographic technique” to the modern deconstruction and reconfiguration of the sound-and-image experience and see a train that never really stopped anywhere long enough to get settled, but did manage to pick up some people along the way.

There is something that each of us fell in love with to be here; invariably, it was a single film that did it. That movie ignited a frisson in us and caused our mental filmstrip to jump its track. Nothing on the screen looked the same after that; we went Technicolor.

Films are released slowly. Every Friday we get one to ten …

Make Way For Tomorrow

In a short story by Edgar Allan Poe, a man flies to the moon in a hot-air balloon. The story ends deflated, revealed as a hoax, but Poe’s description of the journey to the moon is so filled with possibility that all I can remember is an image of a man very high above the earth, suffering from a change in the atmosphere—but accommodating it—and rising higher until he leaves blue sky altogether and floats gently and speedily to our very moon.

I read the story 170 years after it was written, and it was so improbable and scientifically untrue, I couldn’t help but think that it wouldn’t have flown with its original audience either. But why did I believe it?

It was written with great attention to detail and a full confidence that although the story hadn’t taken place, it was inevitable that it should take place. Poe knew full well that he wrote a lie, but he described the journey so completely and with so much verisimilitude that he seemed to be in defiance of himself. He guides us to the moo…

Last Action Hero

As part of the Contrarianism Blog-A-Thon conducted by Jim Emerson at his Scanners site, I offer this piece about an action hero contrary to our general idea of one. It may be stretching the parameters of contrarianism, but I wanted to share it nonetheless.

One of the many amazing things Alfonso CuarĂ³n’s Children Of Men does is hang its story on the acts of an antihero. Not antihero in the classic Bogart sense—although Theo Faron seems to fit that mold: rumpled trench coat, hangdog expression, “I stick my neck out for nobody” attitude. No, this character is something different, a new breed. He goes against the grain of the common action hero; he is a passive hero.

Children Of Men is a classic narrative. It presents an unlikely hero given a quest. It establishes its setting and spends the second half of its running time on a flight, a chase, and a race against the clock. What distinguishes the film is the setting itself. The film is subversive. It creates a world twenty years from now, an…

Review: The Last King Of Scotland

Forest Whitaker gives an intense, unnerving performance as Idi Amin, the charismatic and maniacal president of 1970s Uganda in The Last King Of Scotland. It is a performance outside of the film’s league, which tells the recycled tale of a white man in Africa working selflessly to better the lives of those who need it most. Late in the film, Amin declares that he will donate money to help feed the starving people of Great Britain, who suffer from labor strikes and unemployment.

Thankfully, the film isn’t as sanctimonious as its genre tends to be. The white man here is a young Scottish doctor, bored with home and ready for adventure. He comes to Uganda on a whim, and on his first day there delays his bus trip in order to have a sexual tryst with one of the many beautiful native girls that populate the film. It is the first of many boneheaded hedonistic acts that will deliver the doctor to his comeuppance and loss of innocence.

It is the popular, overriding theme in cinema these days: the …

Dark Passage

Due to the intricacies of French bureaucracy and the complete inability of a non-native speaker of the language to navigate said labyrinth, the office of Sancho Panza has been without electricity for a day and will continue to be so for a couple more days.

We’re fine here. We still have gas, if not heat or hot water, and we actually passed one of our most romantic evenings together. I wore a spelunker’s head-lamp to cook fajitas and we ate by candlelight. They were really great fajitas, maybe the best in the country, as the French have no appreciation of real Mexican food. I’ll say something about French food: I came here expecting rich and decadent meals, but was disappointed to find that the French don’t go for powerful flavors the way the Americans do. I think the Moroccan and African cooking we’ve tried has some flavor, but not the domestic stuff, which is based more on the natural flavors of vegetables.

Of course, we are vegan and are missing a substantial part of French cuisine—me…

The Agony And The Ecstasy

To continue a theme here at Sancho Panza: is it better to live or to dream?

It occurs to me that there are two kinds of people (at least). There is the man in the present tense, Socrates’ unexamined liver. He bounces through life, from one experience to another, from one high emotion to another, and may not know the value of his days or the sum of his wisdom. He does not write about his life, he lives it, for good or bad.

The other man does write about life, but rarely his own. He chooses as his subject this other kind of man and studies his life as if it were important to him how it were lived. I wonder that the contemplative man has spent so much time thinking that he has left out an important part of life. The image of Socrates (who, while having left no writing behind, is the quintessential thinker) is of a man at the Parthenon talking about how a life should be lived. But if I had to choose between the life of Socrates and the life of Alexander, I would pick the latter.

Libraries ar…

The Best Years Of Our Lives

I have a selective memory. I don’t remember a great deal about my childhood. Rather, all the memories of my childhood exist in a data cloud, and it would take a lot of work to catalog them. I went through my computer’s hard drive today, cleaning and labeling my photographs. I do that sometimes. It took six hours.

I need to do the same sort of thing for my memories. As it is, I know things are there, and I can search for them and sometimes find them, but it’s a messy process. I can usually find single memories if I try, but they exist independently. I could not say how old I was when an event happened or where I was living, unless that was part of the memory.

Remembering for me is a bit like historical fiction. I recall a person and an act and I construct the most reasonable story around it, and then I believe in it. If I’m wrong, one of my sisters will tell me so. The way I know I have a bad memory is because my sisters remember everything.

In the film Blade Runner, a character finds out…

The Age Of Innocence

We don’t hear anything out here.

There were air raid sirens this morning. I was in the shower.

“What do we do?” Apollonia asked.

“It’s probably just a test,” I said. It’s what I would have said in New York.

We don’t read the newspaper. I still can’t put together two French sentences. The way I read French is the way I read Latin. I read roots. Apollonia is better at French, but she gets her news from me. I get my news from London.

I remarked one day about how safe we were here. It’s like Frenchland at Walt Disney World. Everything is picturesque, just like it would be (or should be) in a real French ville. It all shuts down at dark, the shops at seven, the restaurants at ten. Everything is closed. There are shutters on all the windows. They’re always closed.

We’re getting fat here. We’ve tried to get up in the morning to go running, but it’s winter, even here, and it’s really hard to go running in the cold first thing in the morning. So we went running at midnight. We ran through the cobble…

Before The Revolution

My sweetheart—well, you’ll get to know her, but maybe not yet, so for now I’ll call her Apollonia. That is, my sweetheart says I shouldn’t be modest. There’s no reason for me to stare at a blank page for two hours trying to write the perfect introduction to a site that doesn’t exist yet. After all, introductions get written after the fact, and usually by someone else, someone scholarly or famous.

I should just dive in, she says. Just start writing. Do what you set out to do.

But then, that’s just it. I don’t know what I’ve set out to do. I was kind of hoping that was going to become clear in the introduction. But there’s not going to be an introduction. Not yet, anyway. Maybe after someone reads this—that is, someone scholarly or famous—they’ll condescend to do a little introduction for me. Nothing too fancy. Maybe it would start with some quote in Latin juxtaposed with some modern soundbite. Then it could go into a description of my milieu, a little bit of my personal story, and then t…