Showing posts from March, 2007

Girl, Interrupted

Until a man is twenty-five, he still thinks, every so often, that under the right circumstances he could be the baddest motherfucker in the world. If I moved to a martial-arts monastery in China and studied real hard for ten years. If my family was wiped out by Colombian drug dealers and I swore myself to revenge. If I got a fatal disease, had one year to live, and devoted it to wiping out street crime. If I just dropped out and devoted my life to being bad.

From Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson

A reverie is not the same thing as a dream, for the reason that it does not allow the possibility of nightmare. We fantasize about our other happier selves, succeeding at everything we fail at, living the full lives we deserve and would have if only we weren’t born so unlucky. Or comfortable.

We do not imagine the dark sides of our fantasies, even when they are founded on unpleasant thoughts, such as a traumatic event that pushes us to finally appreciate life. The first time I was tested for HIV, th…

The Discreet Charm Of The Bourgeoisie

There are fifty-three episodes of the late sitcom Arrested Development. This is a longer run than many failed shows are able to achieve, and three or four times the amount of episodes of nearly all British comedy series. This includes Fawlty Towers (12 episodes), The Office (14 episodes), and Monty Python’s Flying Circus (45 episodes). By these standards, it had a good run, and, like those timeless shows, its wealth has been secured for posterity.

Why, then, the indignation? Why the great sense of loss? Why can’t we let go of the fact that Arrested Development is dead dead dead, no matter what we heard of Showtime wanting to pick it up or a possible feature film?

It debuted in November 2003 to critical acclaim. It was an instant classic, something unlike nearly everything else on television: a single-camera farce, irreverent as Python, fast as Fawlty, and more brilliantly cast and timed than anything since Seinfeld, or beyond. In short, it was the very best comedy anywhere on the planet…

City Of Hope

Most striking about Deadwood, creator David Milch’s revisionist western series, is its sense of place. The show is exquisitely photographed, staged grandly and with an obsessive eye for detail, and cast perfectly. It is less a narrative than an evocation of a lost place and an elegy for a lost time. I recall Deadwood the way I recall real towns; it has the ability to ignite all of my senses. The muddy streets, the glowing lamplight, the never-ending din of the bustling crowds, the stink of manure and human filth, and the sweet tickle of a lady’s perfume are all impressed upon me as truly and permanently as the heat-stroke sewer-stench of Manhattan and the baker-blessed stoniness of Paris.

Deadwood is the new paradigm of the west, the way Saving Private Ryan became the template for cinematic combat. Everything before was whitewashed kid’s stuff, typical Hollywood misguided refinement, or ignorance. Deadwood is early America as rough and Darwinian, survival of the meanest, and all in ser…

The Exterminating Angel

This month marks the tenth anniversary of the premiere episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and I am celebrating the event by watching the entire series from first to last, a feat I have never accomplished. It is not that I never had the motivation: Buffy caught my attention in its second season with a series of episodes that succeeded at doing things that no other show had even attempted. I had settled easily into Buffy’s universe, a funny, scary, sincere take on the horrors of high school that played like the best satire: so strange and implausible, its truth hits like a mirror on the forehead.

But it wasn’t enough that each episode concentrated the monstrosity of growing up into actual monsters (the girl so unpopular—so invisible—that she actually became invisible; the roving band of bullies whose malevolence was supplemented by their being possessed by hyena spirits), the makers of Buffy gave their characters such depth and authenticity, and then put them through such terrors, the …

The Passenger #1

Tonight: TV Wasteland, or: In Between Episodes.

On last week’s broadcast of the radio show This American Life, host Ira Glass confessed his love for The O.C. He actually listed all of his favorite modern TV shows, but most striking was his passion for that prime-time teen soap opera. You see, Ira Glass is your classic smart guy, the host of an NPR radio show and certified horn-rimmed glasses-wearing hipster nerd. (If you are not fond of either hipsters or nerds, don’t be put off—the positive qualities of each cancel out the negative qualities of the other. Think John Cusack in High Fidelity.)

I missed The O.C., so I cannot speak for it, but Mr. Glass made a good case for why he loved it—or how he loved it. It was a regular highlight of his week, a time when he and his wife could sit together (on the couch, I presume, under a comforter and behind an array of fabulous comfort foods) and follow a serial drama, presumptively played out smartly and honestly, but not without its share of iron…

State Of The Union

We are in the midst of a presidential election here in France. I have not followed it except in the international section of the British newspaper The Guardian, where I also read the news of the American election a full year-and-a-half before it will take place.

I will write with as little hint of ignorance as I can. The candidates here are M. Sarkozy, who currently holds some kind of office and is the chosen successor to the retiring President Chirac. He has been in a tight race with the Socialist candidate Mme. Royal, who has caught flak recently for undervaluing her expensive vacation home on her tax documents. It turns out this socialist candidate is quite a wealthy person; she is one of those people who would lose out in the socialist equalization of wealth.

M. le Pen represents the far right. I know little about him, except that some raw graffiti on a wall we passed on our country hike declared him the Nike Hitler and that he belongs in his tomb.

France is a country in turmoil, but…

Sweet Smell Of Success

Drizzle a tablespoon of olive oil into a stainless steel skillet on medium-high heat. Throw in a minced clove of garlic, or, even better, a whole clove of garlic. It sizzles, and in a moment, the garlic releases its flavor. Drop in some sliced onions and sweat them out. Crack some pepper and sprinkle sea salt. Pick your favorite herb—I like rosemary—and toss that in there, too.

You haven’t made anything, but, God, isn’t that better than reading the news? Keep going with it, add tomatoes and zucchini, let it cook and fill the whole house with something beautiful and basic and right, if only for the act of it.

I spend hours in the kitchen. Yesterday, I filled a large stockpot (which we usually use as a breadbox) with ten different vegetables and herbs. I found out the French name of allspice (piment jamaïque) and bought some at the local spice-&-specialty shop. I filled up this pot of vegetables and spices with water and cooked it down to a beautiful stock. That took about an hour.


Love Me Tonight

Sometimes it all hits at once, the history of the world and humankind. It builds up over time, laying down easy; deep fleeting thoughts, like looking down while leaping over a bottomless fissure in the earth. There’s the thrill of leaping and never mind what you saw.

Then it all comes, too much of it has accrued over time, and everywhere you look there’s some reminder of it. I’m in a black mood tonight, and I’ve put off writing for fear that I’ll scare my mother. But here I am. I’ve been circling the corral all day and there’s no room to gallop. So I thump at the keyboard.

Every living creature on Earth dies alone. It was spoken in a movie by the actor Jake Gyllenhaal, who also played one of the cowboys in the film of Brokeback Mountain. I finished the Annie Proulx collection tonight with that short story. I sat at the table alone, eating and reading, and when the end came, and all that hurt and loss, I was thinking of my own life and the people I’ll lose and the chances I’ll miss and t…

Midnight Cowboy

There are the cowboys: hard-edged and lean, frequently mean men and spitfire boys, weather-beaten and bitten by too many years in bad situations. They tramp on red Wyoming earth and bounce on rough roads in miracle pickup trucks, vehicles as old as their daddies and probably more inspiring of tender affection.

Annie Proulx draws them in prose as sparse and achingly beautiful as the land they inhabit. Not that they’d notice, caught up as they are in their pursuits: a safe and comfortable home or maybe just a real feeling for once. They never get them, because they’re not wired for it. They can’t sit tight for a minute. They’re haunted, and haunters, the lost men we left behind. Or maybe they parted company when the future came along, choosing that other road—but not the one their daddies took, hell no.

The movies did right by Annie Proulx, at least once. Brokeback Mountain, the story and the film, are nearly interchangeable—or complementary. The film is the story, start to finish, same …

Distant Voices Still Lives

The wind shakes the walls, the roof. It blows everywhere: it skips you over the grass in the field; buildings form canyons like wind tunnels. The thermometer reads for a picnic, but when you stick your head outside the weather-sealed window, you doubt you’ll be outside longer than it takes to buy dinner.

It is the mistral wind—the master wind—that blows from the Rhone Valley toward the Mediterranean. Our walled city is pummeled. Lines of trees form windbreaks outside of town. Shutters remain closed throughout the day.

There’s loneliness in the wind. It carries French voices up to our fourth floor windows. It bellows louder than our home sounds. Billie Holiday sings in 1945 and we listen to her dead voice moan with the wind, not over it. Sometimes loneliness won’t be restrained.

We were kids and there were more of us then. We sank in oversized furniture under heavy blankets. We had no reason to be unhappy, though sometimes we were. Still, there was no reason and it didn’t last. Now we rem…

Drifting Clouds

I’m trying to lead a well-rounded life. It’s difficult. There are a lot of things I want to do, plus all those things I need to do. It bugs me just as much as it bugs you to come to this site and see a three day-old story as the first post, family or not.

How on earth do we find the time to do all the things we want to do? Here’s a tip: don’t quit your job. You lose your inertia. You walk around half the time feeling guilty for not doing something productive. Sometimes, I sit in a chair with a stack of cookbooks in front of me as I try to decide what to make for dinner. An hour will pass before I get so frustrated that I just get up and buy some potatoes and salad.

Don’t ever stop moving. There are marathoners who race across America. The man who has won the most trans-American races says that the worst thing you can do is take a day off. You have to run three marathons a day everyday if you are going to finish. And people do it. How infuriating is it that something like that is even po…

Jour de fête

They call her River Cougar. Well, that’s what she says. I have never once heard anybody call her River Cougar, except for her baby brother, who decided that he should be called River Hawk as long as people were handing out cool nicknames.

She told me that the people at Olympic National Park called her River Cougar because of her propensity for jumping in water all the time. Any kind of water, any time of day or night. She couldn’t keep herself out of it: lakes, rivers, waterfalls, oceans. The country girl who grew up landlocked on the Florida peninsula knew what freedom tasted like (cold iron with a hint of giardia).

When I went hiking with River Cougar a couple of years ago, she showed me how she’d earned her name. She spent more time wet than dry. I was impressed. Not only did she show me some of the most beautiful and picturesque spots I’d ever seen, she became a part of the living scene. Nature is incomplete without man; waterfalls are imperfect without someone beneath them.

At one p…