Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Mucha at the Fabre

Today, while waiting for various things to happen, I decided it was time to check out the exhibition of Alfons Mucha, the great Czech Art Nouveau icon and creator of some of the most famous advertising art of the 20th Century.

I've been a fan of Mucha ever since hippie days, when his Job cigarette-paper ad was omnipresent, and was even appropriated for one of the Avalon Ballroom's most famous posters. I remember visiting Prague, right after the Velvet Revolution early in 1990, and seeing, just off Wenceslas Square, what appeared to be an old department store whose facade had been designed by Mucha. His work is over-the-top sentimental, eye-bustingly crowded, and yet, with its curves and fripperies which seem never to stop, it manages to keep your eye very, very busy. The overall feeling is somewhat overwhelming, but still fun.

Of course, that applies to his commercial art, which, until today, was all I knew of him. As it develops, his story is a lot more complex than I had imagined. He was learning to become an academic painter, the kind of guy you'd hire to paint a family portrait or a picture of yourself on horseback or a picture of your house and grounds if you were immensely wealthy, although he himself was of pretty humble stock. The patron who was putting him through school cut him off suddenly, and young Alfons was stuck in Paris. No big deal: he just took whatever illustration work he could get.

A chance meeting with the actress Sarah Bernhardt proved to be his great break: he painted posters showing her in her most celebrated roles -- Salome, Tosca, Gismonda -- and, in a way, turned her not just into an icon, but something of a logo. The posters were all over Paris, and Mucha's career was born. Still, he was thirsting for that recognition as a great academic painter, and produced some rather tortuous allegorical pieces which wound up in books. He also was a Mason, and he illustrated the Lord's Prayer, verse by verse, in a book called Pater:

This sort of thing proved to be his way out. While he was pimping Nestlé and a brand of cookies and various other corporate clients, he was also refining a style which would eventually allow him to create his masterpieces. If you're ever in Paris, the Musée Carnavalet, the museum of the history of Paris, which has a number of whole rooms from historical places, has an entire jewelry shop designed by Mucha. Some of the sketches for that place are in the Fabre show, rondelets with women's heads in them. This was where he was headed.

The 1900 Universal Exposition in Paris was a big deal: it was what the Eiffel Tower was built for, after all. The nations of the world showed off, and Bosnia-Herzegovina, a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire like Mucha's homeland of Moravia, was no exception. They commissioned huge murals from Mucha to show Bosnian history from cavemen to the present. That any of it at all survived is pretty amazing, and some of it isn't in great shape, but the reconstruction of what there is in a huge room in the Fabre will give your eyeballs a workout. Its one drawback -- and judging from what came later, it appears Mucha was thinking this, too -- was that it was flat, not three-dimensional, and no amount of arrangement of human figures and curlicues of smoke could disguise that fact. Still, it's hard to look at the mammoth depiction of Catholic, Orthodox, and Muslim Bosnians practicing their religions in peaceful coexistence without feeling a little twinge.

Two further huge projects remained. In 1910-11, Prague erected a new town hall, and gave various Czech artists free rein to design its rooms. Mucha drew the Lord Mayor's hall, with a cupola and sconces in which he put a dozen paintings with Czech virtues, as personified by various heroes and heroines. Each virtue has also got an avatar, a spiritual figure who looks over the historical figure. Meant to be inspirational, I found them deeply disquieting: they're way too intense to be decoration, way too kitschy to be art. But next to what he attempted next, they're bubblegum cards.

The Slav Epic consists of 20 paintings, each a modest 24x30 feet -- yes, feet (and that's 7.3x9.1 meters) -- in size. Unsurprisingly, the Fabre's only managed to get two of them -- the last two in the cycle -- for this show, but that's plenty enough. You want 3-D? These are, at least in technique, the exact opposite of the Bosnian paintings. You want detail? These paintings each contain a book's worth. You want a very, very creepy feeling of nationalism stealing over you? Just stand there and stare into them, particularly the Apotheosis of the Slavs, the last painting, which has, well, just about everything Slavic in one mammoth, yellow-tinted orgasm of paint and detail. You want to end a museum show with a great crashing major chord? Mission accomplished. (And if you want to really test your limits, except for the two which are on tour here, the entire thing, which, incidentally, was funded by a Chicago Slavophile and industrialist named Charles Crane, is on view in a castle near Brno called Moravsky Krumlov.) You'll stagger out of this room, I promise.

* * *

As beguilingly weird as the art, and Mucha's story, is, given my druthers I'd wait for the show to hit Munich, where it will be at the Kunsthalle der Hypo-Kulturstiftung sometime this fall. When I first moved here, I was moaning that I now lived in a city with one art museum, whose central collection had the definitive collection of a genre of art -- 19th century French landscape painting -- that I just cannot abide. The good news is, of course, that shows like this come to fill in the space between the dull pictures of woods and fields, but the bad news is that the Fabre seems not to understand how to display art -- even the stuff I don't like. I suppose it's possible that the lighting in this behemoth was installed so that it cannot be moved a millimeter, but it's odd that a museum would countenance such a thing, and anyway, it doesn't seem technically possible.

But the overall impression of the Mucha show is gloom, deep, deep gloom. For someone whose whole thing was colors -- albeit usually subtle ones -- and light, it isn't until the very last room, with the Town Hall and Slav Epic paintings, which takes advantage of natural light, that you actually get to see the art. To make it worse, each exhibition room has an introduction to its contents in French and English. I usually like to read both, because the English translations are invariably awful and leave out information that the French captions contain. (One example: at one point, Mucha moved his studio to one on a street in Paris which I didn't recognize, although reading the French caption, it would appear to be on the Ile de la Cité near the Sainte Chapelle -- and lo, so it is!) But the poor French are doomed to squint at gold lettering on dark charcoal-grey walls, moving their heads back and forth to catch the reflection of the tiny, dim bulb that's not quite focused on the writing. We lucky English-speakers get ivory lettering. Of course, if you want to decode the captions on the Pater series, you'll be fortunate if you're a practicing Catholic, because the captions are about an inch off of the floor, and you'll have to kneel and get up before each one. And forget stuff, like the books Mucha illustrated, in the vitrines. They're so dark you can't even make out the type, let alone the smudge which is presumably, from its circular shape, one of those iconic Mucha women-in-a-rondelet.

I was also confused: what did Mucha do between the time he finished the Slav Epic in the early '20s and his death in 1939? I left the big, well-lighted room and decided to backtrack and see if I'd missed something. My way was blocked by a guard. "This is an exit," he said. "I know," I said. "I wanted to see something again." "You have to go around again and enter at the beginning." "Why?" He glared at me, then said, in English, "Sorry." No, I thought, you're not. I spent eight years reporting museum shows, among other things, and have never once had this problem. (Well, there was one guy who refused to let me into a hall at the Documenta in Kassel, although I had a press pass, because he'd never heard of the Wall Street Journal and I didn't have a German Federal press pass). The guards at the Fabre are notoriously rude, and, along with the lighting rendering stuff hard to look at, are part of the utterly unacceptable experience the museum as a whole gives the visitor. I figured I could look it up on Wikipedia or something, and walked out into the sunshine.

* * *

Alfons Mucha, Musée Fabre, Montpellier. June 20-September 20, 2009. Open daily except Wednesday, 10am to 8pm, Wednesday 1pm to 9pm. Admission €8, €7 with Pass'Agglo, €6 concessions and children.

Friday, July 24, 2009


It's true: Book in Bar is for sale.

Peter, of the Languedoc Page (your one-stop resource for living, working, and hanging out around this part of the world), asked me via e-mail the other day if I had any idea what was going on, and I had to say no. I hadn't been by the place in ages. It's the only English-language bookshop here, stinks.

When I first came to visit here about five years ago, there were two English-language bookstores, Book in Bar and one which didn't seem to have a sign or was just called Books in English, over on the rue de la Université. The Book in Bar folks were young and enthusiastic, the Books in English folks older and a bit crusty, although they seemed nice enough once you broke the ice. Book in Bar had all kinds of novels, non-fiction books, and lots and lots of books about France, its culture, and the Languedoc in particular. It also served coffee, tea, and the kind of snacks that go along with that, and had a couple of newspapers lying around for people to read. Books in English was more no-nonsense: it was there for students taking American Studies, English, and related courses, and, since those sorts of books didn't fill it, there were other books (and videos) for sale. It seemed like there would be enough trade in the ecosystem here for both.

Apparently not. Or maybe the Books in English people decided to retire. At any rate, there was a sudden change as one closed and the other bought their stock. The Book in Bar management, too, seemed to change. A German woman took over. A section of the upstairs was cleared for the student-required books, another for German titles. The stuff on the French shrank to two shelves' worth. The entire upstairs suddenly got a lot duller. Downstairs, a huge selection of fiction appeared, mostly British, mostly aimed at women.

Now, I didn't watch this happen. This is based on a visit or two each time I came to Montpellier to look for an apartment or, once, to help distribute a magazine I'd helped edit. There's probably a lot of nuance I'm missing. But the bottom line is this: I'm hardly surprised that the place is for sale. Sauramps, the gargantuan bookstore just off the Comédie, has a small English-language section in which I found more books I wanted to read than in the entire Book in Bar, which I'd just come from the day I discovered it.

I have more opinions on how to run a bookstore here that I'll gladly offer someone who might be interested in either buying this place or taking a chance on a new one, but I will say this: someone at Book in Bar has missed a bet. They've done a lot of stuff right: they had a web presence early on, at least in terms of sending out a monthly e-mail newsletter detailing readings, book-signings, and conversation groups. (Unfortunately, they sent it out as a Microsoft Word file instead of just typing it into the body of the e-mail, which I never understood). They participate in every possible local function -- they were at the literary festival in the Comédie a couple of months ago, and I've seen stands at other events. They've held writing workshops and lots and lots of readings by local authors -- mostly retired Brits who are taking a stab at writing novels, from what I can see.

But they've blown it on other fronts. The most notable way they've blown it is that a sizeable percentage of the help there doesn't speak English. That may not sound so bad, but it is: instead of being over in a student ghetto with kebab shops every other storefront like Books in English was, they've got a prime location on a very picturesque, very narrow back street lined with cute little boutiques. In short, they're in an area where the foot-traffic is as likely to be tourists as it is to be locals. Yet an English-speaking tourist coming in there is going to be daunted by the look of the place upstairs and disappointed in the stock: most of the time there are very few books dealing with the Languedoc, be they coffee-table picture books or the Rough Guide or even a Michelin map. The clerk will be harried (or, if they get the German owner, rude), and if this tourist is anything like me, they'll get the feeling that this isn't a place to hang out -- which is exactly the opposite of the vibe a bookstore's supposed to give off, since the one and only advantage a place like this has over Amazon is that it is a place to browse, to find something you'd never heard of and didn't even know you wanted.

I honestly wonder what happened here. The store has another presence, which I think is the original, in Aix en Provence, and its website hasn't been updated since June. Or there may be a more bizarre explanation: down by Checkpoint Charlie on Mauerstr. in Berlin there used to be a wonderful place called the British Bookshop. It originally wasn't so wonderful, but it was taken over by two women, one American and one Irish and they turned it into a dynamo of a place. American authors visiting Berlin clamored to do appearances there because the crowd that came was so much fun. A visit would always include a discovery of some title you just had to have. Amazon came on line and made not a dent in their sales. And the prices were far better than at any of the other stores in Berlin offering English-language books. But it died: the shop (and the building it was in) was owned by a woman in Frankfurt, the wife of a German banker, who owned the British Bookshop there, and she became jealous of the success the two women in Berlin were enjoying -- so she shut the store down.

Like I said, I have no idea what's going on here, but I do know that between the students, the residents, and the tourists, Montpellier could do with a first-rate English-language bookstore. And like I also said, I have some ideas past what I've written here on how that could be accomplished.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Market To Table, Plus Plantation Again

As I noted last time I was at the market, eggplants are coming in like crazy, so before heading out today, I spent some time researching things to do with them. Paula Wolfert had an astonishing-looking dish of duck legs with olives and sauteed eggplant which I'll almost certainly attempt next time I have something to celebrate (if eggplants are still in season then), but a more down-home idea was ratatouille, the classic eggplant, zucchini, and tomato stew. I found a recipe in Susan Herrmann Loomis's French Farmhouse Cookbook and made a list.

Weirdly, a lot of the stupendous-looking eggplants that seemed to be everywhere on Saturday were missing today. There were white ones that looked like cast alabaster, and white ones with purplish blotches, but they were missing today. Also, the ones that looked like they were made from obsidian were missing, but there were enough choices that I finally got some decent-looking ones. Without buying anything exotic, I managed to hit my ten-euro limit today. Some representatives of the haul:

More very thin green-beans, one of two green peppers, some heirloom tomatoes of various sorts on the left of the zucchini (one of two), two of the three eggplants, a nice head of lettuce and a couple of the roma tomatoes that would be integrated into the dish.

Because of the amount of cooking involved, and the fact that I had to listen carefully to a record I have just gotten (easily done while going through motions like cutting green peppers into tiny cubes) I decided to cook the ratatouille early in the afternoon and warm it up later. I also wanted to be able to smell it as it cooked: the chronic sinusitis is still with me, and my ability to smell and taste fades suddenly about 8:30pm. I have no idea why this is. Some day I hope to have the money to see the oto-naso-laryngologist just up the hill who's been recommended to me, but it hasn't happened yet.

Thus, I slowly sauteed onions in olive oil, followed that up with the green peppers, then the zucchini, all while the eggplant cubes, tossed with oil, were roasting in the oven. After the sauteeing, there was a bit of boiling as I took a pound of roma tomatoes, peeled them, cubed them, and put them in a pan with some garlic and some thyme. Here, minus the still-roasting eggplant, is the result:

Clockwise, from top left, peppers, onions, tomatoes, and zucchini. Dig how tiny my stovetop is, too. Cooking here is a true pain in the butt.

The tomatoes and the eggplant were done at the same time, and I had a surprise: the eggplant was crisp, airy, almost weightless. I mixed everything together, and here's what it looked like:

I'm not at all sure about this, though. I took a couple of spoonfuls to see if it needed salt or something, and the eggplant was weirdly textured. I'm thinking that perhaps roasting it wasn't the best idea, or perhaps the oven was too hot. Another good reason (besides the flavors blending) to leave it sitting for a while is that some of the moisture from the other stuff can perhaps leach into the eggplant. I'm definitely going to research a couple of alternative recipes for the next time I do this: this is a quantity that'll last for a couple of dinners, after all (it also works as a side dish to an appropriately strong main dish), and I don't like the idea of dreading my own cooking.

Ms. Loomis notes that this should be served with a Côtes de Languedoc or Côtes de Provence rosé, and, as the astronauts used to say, that's a big can-do, ma'am. I think I'll also score a baguette.

Meanwhile, the growing-stuff-at-home experiment continues, and just check out the huge advance since my last posting. Once again, tomatillos at the top, jalapeños on the left, serranos on the right. I still don't anticipate a harvest before September, but I'm very encouraged by how quickly these things are growing.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Market & Miettes

I Never Will Marry: Well, I don't know about that, although, based on the next line of the song, I know I will be no man's wife. But summer is a great time to get married, and so a weird custom I thought was relegated to Germany has risen its head: the pre-marital embarrassment. What happens is that you and a bunch of your friends get dressed up, you in an outlandish costume, they in matching t-shirts, and you go out and do silly things to unsuspecting bystanders, although "unsuspecting" is probably the wrong word for someone approached by a woman in full clown regalia with a multicolored Afro wig.

As I said, I saw a lot of this in Germany, the most spectacular of which was a woman going through the main train station in Cologne dressed as a witch with little toys and packages sewn to her outfit. She and her entourage would walk up to people and beg them to take a gift, but she'd do it in a weird affected voice. When an American friend in Berlin got married, he wanted to go to a strip club. There turned out to be none: it's either cabaret or full-on sex, apparently. So his friends suggested he do...I forget what, but it involved dressing funny and giving out Obama buttons on the subway.

Then I started seeing people here do it: a guy wearing only a cardboard box (and, of course, boxers) walking around while his friends wore shirts that said "This is what she'll do to him." I just saw a girl wearing a t-shirt that said something about "thug life" rapping in French at a patron at an outdor café while her giggling friends took pictures.

I can't imagine doing this, myself. Not just now -- when I can play the "old grump" card -- but even in my 20s and 30s. Ritual self-abasement just isn't my thing, I guess. But if you're wandering around Europe some time and a clown offers you a cigarette, this is probably the explanation. I wonder if it has a name.

* * *

Speaking of names, there are always names in foreign countries that cause English-speakers to smile inappropriately. One of my favorites in Berlin was the newsagent on Kastanienallee whose name was Frank Offer. I always figured you'd go in there and he'd say "Okay, I knew someone smoked those cigarettes. I ordered them a long time ago, and they're probably stale. I'll sell 'em to you for two euros. The magazine just came out today, though, so that's full price. And that's my frank offer."

The one I see around here is all too appropriate to the United States: a heating and refrigeration tech whose trucks are all over the place with his name, Christian Rage, in large letters. Weird thing is, Frank Offer's name is meaningless in German, but according to my dictionary, the French for "rage" is rage. Guess his family would have been good to have on your side during the many battles that raged through this country in the dim past...

* * *

It's July, which means Estivales. This is a deal whereby artisans and food sellers set up along the Esplanade starting at 6pm every Friday, bands play, and everybody on the planet seems to hang out. I had some friends from Austin come in last night, and figured this would be a cheap enough place to get some food, so I went to the Tourist Department's website to see how long this went on (12:30, in case you're going to drop in). I discovered this on the English-language info page for the Estivales, along with the fact that they are "musical, greedy, and cultural evenings."

Hello, City of Montpellier! You have a native speaker who's made his living from his native language not 300 meters from the Office of Tourism who'd like to help you!

Yeah, yeah. I know how much good that does. Anyway, machine translators work cheaper.

At any rate, the shrimp, oysters, and sea-snails were delicious, and only 5 euros for four of each, although I'd like to go back with a bunch of friends and get a big coquillage and a couple of bottles of rosé like the friendly people with whom we shared a table last night did. And if you snake your way through the website there, you can download a .pdf file which will tell you which winemakers are showing on which week. Very impressive list.

* * *

Back to the market, since no holiday or bicycle race seems to be happening today. Those cherries are all but gone, but check out those tiny strawberries! More than I wanted to spend at 3.50 for 500g, and probably more than I can eat before they go bad, but who could resist? A couple of other pricey purchases: a saucisson sec covered with herbes de Provence which will provide lunches for some time (as well as seasoning for tomorrow's breakfast dish of eggs and potatoes and little cubes of the sausage), and a liter of La Colombe olive oil, which was 7.50. There are more expensive oils around (and one vendor at the market who must have two dozen olive oils marked with the place of production, some of which cost up to 30 euros per liter), but I found I liked this one for everyday use, cheap as it is. I also noticed that it's from Aniane, as is my favorite wine from around these parts Mas de la Seranne, so that tiny town is at the top of my list for a visit some day. Finally, nice organic lettuce, the usual half-dozen eggs and some funky-looking tomatoes that will probably be exquisite. And Tuesday's just around the corner, but I have to start finding some eggplant recipes because they're arriving in quantity, and are some of the best-looking ones I've ever seen. Til then!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


The market is closed today, something I should have thought about when I saw the date: today is Bastille Day, of course! So we'll have to wait until Saturday for pix of those tiny strawberries.

And, of course, there are things the market still can't give me, which is why, when I was back in Texas in March, I bought some seeds. Jalapeño and serrano chiles, and tomatillo seeds. I can get green chiles from Thailand at Wei Son, the "exotic products" store down the street (other exotic products include lemon grass and tofu, as well as sesame oil, Vietnamese rice, and Indian spices), but they're not quite the same as jalapeños: there's that green taste on top of the hot that's missing because the Thai chiles aren't as fleshy.

I have a small balcony just off my bedroom, and was monitoring it pretty much all winter long to see if it got any sunshine. It doesn't get a lot, because the surrounding buildings are so tall, but it started to get more as spring approached, so I took the plunge and bought the seeds. A friend with a much larger balcony gave me a few pots and a couple of window boxes, I bought a bag of soil, started the seeds in a few of those throw-away pots, and when the sprouts got big enough, I transplanted them.

As of Saturday, here is the result:

Just looking at the picture four days later makes me realize how well I'm doing. That's the jalapeños on the left, the serranos on the right, and the tomatillos on top. The basil that went into the windowboxes is steaming right along and I'm really going to have to go in there and thin it. Sadly, it's the big-leaf variety, not the super-spicy local variety. Next year, I'll know better.

All of the plants in the picture are bigger right at the moment, and they also have more leaves. This came after a period of inactivity during which I assume they were sending down big roots. Now, I suspect, the leaves will keep on coming, and we should have fruit on the chiles, at least, sometime in September, when the weather will still be fine. I expect to be harvesting basil all along and freezing pesto for wintertime consumption. Tomatillos are still a mystery area for me. I know they're physalias, and I've seen physalia plants, but don't know how long they take to fruit or exactly when the tomatillos are ripe and not over-ripe: they tend to go yellow, at which point their flavor is, allegedly, not very pleasant.

Expect more pix from this ongoing agricultural enterprise as the summer continues.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Market Report, Early July

I didn't really realize how accustomed I'd become to hiking over to the Arceaux Market every Tuesday and Saturday morning until I fought my way through the crowded streets this Tuesday and discovered that the entire area had been sealed off for the Tour de France.

Now, I pay as much attention to the Tour de France as I do to every other sports event, which is to say none whatever. I trace this back to my childhood, when I was becoming a baseball fanatic and doing pretty well at it -- well enough that I was really enthralled by the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. when my parents took me there -- until my chosen favorite team, the Brooklyn Dodgers, announced they were moving to Los Angeles. At about that same moment, I met a new kid in my class whose brother had become obsessed with rock and roll. When I discovered that there was this statistical side to that, too -- chart positions! -- I figured it was a lot more fun. Well, that and the fact that I was a totally miserable athlete. I wish I could remember who it was that said that the only thing their friends had in common was being picked last for teams in gym, but boy, did I relate: "Coach, do we gotta have him? We had him last week..."

Anyway, this means that I'm as far outside the sports mainstream as it gets. Sports plays as large a part in my life as the bond market. I vaguely knew the Tour would be in town, and that it would be in the Comédie, but that was all I knew. So while the rest of the world watched guys on bicycles zooming around, either live or on television (hence the noisy helicopters all day long) I stayed home and wondered how I was going to get fruit and vegetables. I got them at the supermarket and, while they didn't suck, they weren't very good, either.

But today we were back on schedule, and once again I was amazed at how little it costs to stock up. Here's today's haul:

That basket of what looks like plums is actually tomatoes. I have no idea what the yellow ones, let alone the purple ones, taste like, but at 2.30 for the basket, I couldn't resist. The melons are the type called Charentais, and are very close to American canteloupes. I bought them from a mute farmer who works at the very back of the market. He had tons of tiny yellow plums and a couple of other things, and weighed his produce on an ancient balance. He really can't talk, and when I payed him 1.50 for the big melon, which came out of a box offering two for €3, he made all kinds of signs that I should take one from the 3/3 box, too. They're both quite ripe, so he was probably trying to get rid of them since it was late.

There are a few of the fine green beans -- the French seem to esteem beans by diameter, which is unsurprising because most of the green beans I've bought here have had strings -- that I've been getting from a young guy who's in constant motion at the market, processing people's orders, but looks like he probably kicks back with a fattie when he gets back to the farm. I've been making salade niçoise a lot recently, because it's a great hot-weather meal. I cut a small, peeled potato in to coins and steam it until it's soft, then a handful of these green beans. Then I let them cool off. Put down a bed of lettuce, drain the oil out of a can of tuna, plop that into the center, ring it with beans and potato coins, and toss a bunch of the teeny tiny Niçois olives over the whole thing. I then take a shot of vinegar I bought at the market from a winemaker (€3 per liter), add a bit of Dijon mustard to it, whisk it like a madman, and drizzle in some olive oil and dump that over the finished salad. Serve it with a nice baguette de tradition from Ortholan, the bakery on my corner (half of one is in the shot), and pour one of the many cheap-but-amazing rosés in the shops.

Finally, some more of the fantastic organic eggs -- €2 for six -- and €1.30 worth of the cherries from the family whose stand I always hit. They have tons of peaches now, and I'm going to pick some up on Tuesday, along with the wild strawberries everyone's suddenly got here, which they have in quantity. They're just a bit larger than a pencil eraser, and I'm really looking forward to them.

Adding this all up, I spent €8.80 on all of this, and have breakfast, lunch and dinner -- once I score some lettuce and tuna, another maybe two euros -- for much of the week.

Just more proof that I'm broke, not poor. Mind you, I wouldn't at all mind not being broke, either.

Sunday, July 5, 2009


Personally, I don't find the Place de la Comédie to be the most picturesque or interesting sight in town, but it certainly is the one people seem to want to publicize, mostly because it's the venue for a lot of city- and regionally-subsidized goings-on, like last night's Maghrebi pop concert and giganto-paella feed, both of which I didn't attend but got to hear. The city has two webcams, one at the Amazon jungle exhibit at the zoo, and the other at "la Com."

The Com webcam is a cheat: it's hardly in real-time, although you sort of expect that from a webcam. No, it's a loop of several minutes which plays for a while until another loop is recorded. I guess this way, if something bad happens in front of the camera, they can just not put it up. Also, the camera's on the side of the Tourist Office, and there's a rather large police station just behind it, something that might produce non-tourist-enticing video from time to time.

But in the interests of showing those of you who are curious what this place looks like a bit more, I present a very short video by Richard Cotman, whose excellent blog etnobofin often contains marvellous photography. Most of this takes place on la Com, though. Maybe you'll find the place more charming than I do.

Hm. Except that I can't figure out how to paste it in here. Well, go visit the video here instead.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Mountain: Envoi

There was one more thing I wanted to add yesterday, but for some reason, once I put up that last picture, I couldn't type any more copy underneath it.

One of the glories of this place is the American Library of Montpellier. In some ways, it's like a library: it has the entire Library of America series, which means I get to read all those old Philip Roth books. In other ways, it's like a jumble sale, with a very weird selection of titles, 99% of which are either donated or cast off from the American Library of Paris.

Anyway, recently, I found a nice biography of the Dutch-American painter Willem de Kooning, and I took it home. Not that I'm such a de Kooning fan, but I'm very interested in the milieu he inhabited, and the only other member of it I'd read about was Jackson Pollock, whose story was pretty predictable.

Each of the chapters was introduced with a de Kooning quote, including a nice one about there being no harm in re-inventing the harpsichord. But the one that grabbed me, the one that I wanted to turn into a t-shirt, was this one:


And that, if anything, is the ending of yesterday's post. Moving down here, I've had a resurgence of energy. As someone else who recently moved to France said, "I don't know why, but I wake up happy." When I work, the work I do is very good, if I may say so myself. I'm actually proud of a lot of the stuff I've done, even if that hasn't been reflected in what I've gotten paid.

I'm not poor. I'm surrounded by riches. I'm just short on funds. When that ends, I can hardly imagine what will be possible.
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