Saturday, March 12, 2005

Challenge: get those dangling-in-perpetuity little work projects done tonight!

Strategy: rent numerous videos* at Blockbuster, load them in and sit in the kitchen, half listening, simul-working.

Stage One: Go to Blockbuster, look for interesting videos. Find none. DVDs? Sure, but I may as well put the video player up for sale on ebay, because there are now only two videos for every thousand DVDs available for rent.

Stage Two: Play the video with the greatest potential: the Terminal. No! It’s all about the US government being mean to a poor traveler whose country (sounding, in accent, awfully like someplace in Eastern Europe) suddenly disintegrates while the traveler is in flight to the US. When I get to the point where he is eating saltines with mustard and ketchup for the second time in a row at the airport, I turn it off. Certainly no officials in the Office of Homeland Security would let a man under virtual house arrest subsist on saltines. Would they?

Stage Three: Play video that I have now watched maybe 865 times. Embarrassment prevents me from posting the title, it is THAT low brow. This is more like it! I can tune out (you don’t have to be a frequent viewer like me to move in and out of this story and still know exactly where the next scene is heading), or I can tune in. Abstract of paper is completed to the tune of La Vie on Rose as the precious Meg Ryan frolics in the vineyard of Southern France [yeah!].

Stage Four: Look at title of third movie and decide that it may well be even more low brow than the one about Meg Ryan in the vineyards. The title alone gives me pause: Ladykillers. Why would have I rented a movie called Ladykillers? After an afternoon with Sartre, she settled down for an evening with the Ladykillers. Beyond weird. But let me remind you: there are no videos out there anymore. It was either that or the Catwoman, for which Halle Berry got an award for the worst performance ever in a leading role. Of course I am going to pick the Ladykillers.

Stage Four, however, is interrupted as I receive phone call from Very Gloomy Person. That takes the spunk out the evening. Forget the Ladykillers for now. Out comes the blog, time to post. Will return to dangling-in-perpetuity projects next week-end.

I did not rent DVDs because there is no DVD player anywhere near the kitchen. Question to mull over: why not move downstairs to where the DVD player resides, with stack of excellent DVDs instead of watching trashy videos in the kitchen? Answer: it didn't fit my image of how this evening should look.

Isn’t it like taking the apple from Newton’s outstretched hand?

For one reason or another I found myself reading a biography of Jean-Paul Sartre this afternoon*. I noticed that he was born in 1905. Given the fact that he had fallen in and out of favor with writers and philosphers, one has to wonder if 100 years later he'll be commemorated in any significant way. I did note that, among other events, the National Library in France has put together an exhibit of Sartre-nalia to honor him.

All this in itself would not be especially bloggable. The tone of Ocean has been such that my Sartre moment should feel oddly out of place here.

Enter the Net. Because once my Sartre Saturday inquisitiveness hit the keyboard, it was only seconds before I discovered an article in today’s Telegraph on the Sartre exhibition.

It appears that the French are worried about the message they would be sending by using a typical photo of Sartre. [To those who do not happen to have a latte and a biography of Sartre before them, the man was known for his habit of pushing through at least two packs of cigarettes a day, in addition to indulging a few sessions with a pipe and an occasional popping of amphetamines.] And so, to remain in compliance with strict laws banning any promotion of smoking, they airbrushed the cigarette out of Sartre’s mouth in the photo used to promote the exhibition.

This fascinating and grotesque, if you ask me, act, lead me to Net surf some more to see if anyone was commenting on this and sure enough, I hit bingo at boing boing. There, a note was posted by someone who points out that many a famous person has had a cigarette removed by an airbrush ex post facto for similar reasons (the list includes the Beatles, Jackson Pollock, James Dean and Paul Simon)

Not right! Ocean is all about clean air and environmental protection, but defacing history in this way seems plain wrong. Therefore, in my efforts to counterbalance such censorship, I am posting a photo of protest, to demonstrate Ocean’s commitment to truthful reporting.

* I have previously stated here that I find biographies about as irresistible as lattes. I know, It’s an odd comparison, but at the moment I have both in front of me.
the correct way to remember Sartre Posted by Hello

March in Madison: morning walk

snow caps Posted by Hello
white on gray Posted by Hello

So the custom hasn’t died…

I’ve lived in the States long enough now that sometimes I cannot tell if an old familiar Europeism has vanished from the continent by now, or whether it remains firmly in place.

This one apparently has survived (Chirac greeting IOC committee member, via

I have to say that I am quite comfortable jumping from one set of customs to another. And a man kissing the hand of a woman isn’t in itself so jarring as to make an outsider sit up and stare in disbelief. But when I returned to Poland (after six years in NY) as a young teen, I was utterly astonished to see my high school (boy) friends deftly kissing the hands of older women, including my mother, in greeting. Grown men in suits and ties, with hats quickly removed for the greeting – yes, fine. But my gawky classmates who still had some growing to do?? The ritual was fraught with tense moments for me even though I was a mere bystander to the entire event.

It did not help that my mother oftentimes did not cooperate. The norm is that the woman extends her hand in greeting. She would not. She’d start in on a brief verbal exchange (very brief, and only if circumstances placed her momentarily in the same physical space where my friends and I would be standing) while the poor boy would frantically keep his attention riveted to the moment when she would extend her hand, so that he’d be there to catch it. She rarely did and the moment would pass.

It was an overall good lesson in furthering a kid’s understanding of human nature: some people take pride in flaunting convention, some people are oblivious to it and some people are a combination of the two. Those in the latter category are a challenge, especially for a thirteen year old, who just wants that whole scene of parent-meeting-friend to pass as seamlessly, effortlessly as possible, so that parent likes friend and friend likes parent and you, there, in the middle, never have to worry about it again. The unkissed hand was like a bad omen, portending of rocky future friend-parent associations. Unfortunately, most often it proved to be a reliable indicator of exactly that.