Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Gropiusstadt und weiter

Partly in honor of the recent riots or émeutes (which reached my neighborhood in the center of Paris briefly one night) -- and which the New York Times has semi-seriously claimed were the result of architecture, in a piece titled "Revolting High Rises" -- I visited one of the earliest Modernist High Rise developments in Europe, Gropiussadt.

Gropiusstadt is just one section of Neukölln (a neighborhood in Berlin that I happened to live in for a year, of David Bowie fame -- just listen to Hero -- as well as fantastic Turkish, Afro-German, Polish, Russian, and Vietnamese mixing -- in my old area, not in Gropiusstadt, you could buy baklava by the kilo). However, it has roughly 50,000 inhabitants, more than many small towns. All of them live in modernist functionalist Gropius-designed houses which were built between 1963 and 1973 -- experiments for a new utopian living. Space for the proletarians! And this was in West Berlin.

Apparently the actual slogan at the time for it was: "Licht, Luft, und Sonne!" I find it amazing that they were able to use so much space in the little fenced-off island that was West Berlin -- 264 hectares. Of course many of Gropius' original intentions were changed by financial practicalities and/or the lack of space in West Berlin:

Gropius sah als Elemente der recht einheitlich gestalteten Großsiedlung kleinere, überschaubare Wohnviertel mit eigenen Geschäftszentren vor. Seiner Idee war die Einbettung von Elnfamilienhaussiedlum gen, zum Beispiel die Hirtsiferzeile, am Gaudigweg oder am Lenzelpfad, zu danken. Gropiuus hatte für die BBR eine Zonierung hinsichtlich der Wohnungsgröße angestrebt. Die kleinen Wohnungen sollten an der Peripherie entstehen, während die größeren Wohnungen zur Mitte hin orientiert werden sollten. Denn dort, im Umfeld des Wäldchens, gab es die besten Spielangebote für Kinder. In der Praxis entstanden die größeren Wohnungen allerdings schwerpunktmäßig am Rande der Großsiedlung.
Das städtebauliche Konzept von Walter Gropius sah - in Anlehnung an die nahe Hufeisensiedlung - kreisrunde Baukörper mit maximal fünf Etagen vor. Durch die Insellage änderten sich ab 1961 die Entwicklungsbedingungen West Berlins grundlegend. Der Mangel an Bauland zwang dazu, viele Projekte neu zu überdenken.

Which is mostly to say that the city built the buildings higher than Gropius wanted, denser, added some parking places, and eliminated some of the large green spaces he envisaged.

But it's still awfully green. I walked through it and kept thinking of contrasting public projects which are now being torn down, particularly Le Corbusier's Garden Cities and Towers in the Garden in Paris and Marseilles.
Revolting? Not so much. These buildings have an awkward beauty of their own -- and I don't feel alienated thanks to all the trees and winter berries hanging on stems. To me, more, it seems like a lost opportunity for high Modernism -- a road not taken, the clues for a corrective rather than an outright rejection of high-rise buildings, and affordable projects for workers and other people to live in. After all, the dream of affordable housing for all and high-density living (to slow down the sprawl of habitation in the natural world, and make cars less necessary) wasn't so bad now, was it?

Here, unlike in Le Corbusier's dreams, you walk between high-rises instead of driving. You can also take the metro, and some Plattenbau actually have grocery stores inside them, on one of the lower floors. (Although a monstrosity called the Gropius-Passagen was built -- it is a shopping mall, snore). You could take a subway which makes several different stops throughout the complex (U7), but you can also just walk. I don't know how long that would take people, since the project is very large, but I got the feeling you might see a lot of neighbors on the way -- really wish I had had a chance to hang out there around the time that commuters would be coming home from work.
There's mixed-level and income housing, allowing for the "housing career" of potentially upwardly mobile income earners (which Le Corbusier did not consider, as the NY Times points out -- so less ghettoization or feelings of humiliation at being trapped in a bad quartier -- as well as ways for the economically mobile to move around without leaving should they so choose).
And did I mention how green it was?
Lucky mushrooms, Glückpilze.
The weather is colder in Berlin than Paris, so the leaves changed color more, and there were bushes full of sparrows roosting together to stay warm, and twittering when you walk past. And then a dusting of snow fell. Almost Schubert Winterreise weather, in the Plattenbau.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Berlin's Mahnmal an den ermordeten Jüden Europas

I went to Berlin for Thanksgiving, where I spent all sorts of time up in the Fernsehturm or walking around in Gropiusstadt (which is awfully green and pretty for a housing project, aka Plattenbau in German), in several contemporary art galleries. including the Hamburgerbahnhof where I bought a book of photographs by Bernd and Hilla Becher and Kunstwerke, which had a rather forgettable 1970s gender/identity exhibit up by Katherina Sieverding but which I loved visiting because the building -- a former squat -- incorporated a silver slide which takes you breath-whippingly fast on a whirl outside and then back inside the building, a three-story ride in all, and which had a little window inserted into the top half of the slide for the portion of time that you were outside the building. It was a snowy day. There must have been a theme to my trip because after Thanksgiving, when we were recovering from all the turkey cooked in brandy and savory applesauce and whatnot, we also slid down the 8 story outdoor tobogganing slope in the middle of the skyscrapers of Potsdamer Platz, buzzed on (ahem, really strong) Apfelpunsch. That was on the way back from a tour of the pneumatic tube system in Berlin and its role as a precursor of the underground subway. Before watching two Brecht plays at the Berliner Ensemble, erected by Brecht himself in the DDRzeit from the rubble of bombed out post-world war two East Berlin. But what I took enough photographs with to share here is not the art, punk, squat, Turkish, high-design, or high-culture sides of Berlin that are so alive and exciting right now. I paid a visit to the Denkmal für die ermordeten Jüden Europas or Monument for the Murdered Jews of Europe designed by Peter Eisenmann. It is probably the most effective and -- strangely -- beautiful memorials to anything I have ever seen, and it is an experience that interacts with the viewer rather than a visual object.

Above, you can see how close to the Reichstag and the Brandenburger Tor it is -- the heart of Berlin, while below the photographs give more of a sense of what it is like to walk inside the monument.

Near the edges the stellae are short and squat, like tomb-monuments, but as you walk in further the ground artificially slopes up and down, but mainly downwards, and you lose sight of the external world. The granite blocks off sound as well as sight, so that you can lose yourself in an interior world. Inside the stellae is unimaginably related to its appearance outside until you yourself have been in, and even so it is deceptive, surprising. Companions disappear quickly, navigation among the stellae becomes tricky, and you pick your way between the stones, catching and losing quick glimpses of other people.

The walls are unmarked, abstract. They both provide a metaphor for the experience of the Holocaust (desolation, being cut off from the outside world, being reduced to your own lone self, the inhumane rational abstract logic of the ideology that tried to radically transform the world according to its own dictates) and refuse to depict. The monument both encourages remembrance by cutting off the distractions of the outside world -- severing one's connection -- and rejects any sort of attempt at identification. The chasm between one's between one's own experience (or representations of experience that one sees) and the experience of these dead cannot be bridged.

The Mahnmal's website, also available in English, gives the most information about it, although there are also some interesting articles on the NPR website as well as reviews from FAZ and other German newspapers.

It's interesting how people use it, as well. There were no schoolgroups when I was there, but I counted four different couples playing hide-and-seek, including one pair who were well over 30 and engaging in shrieks and giggles. A teenager was jumping from stella to stella, and another man jumped on top of one to photograph the site. This last is against the rules which are engraved very, very inconspicuously in German only, near the area walkers are most likely to enter the site from. How do I feel about this, both rules and rule-breaking? Ambivalence...

And a last, happy photograph of Berlin as I remember it in my salad days, and maybe its too, with bright kindergarten-colored cranes sweeping the sky-line in almost every direction and energy, energy, nothing had to remain the same...

Saturday, November 19, 2005

attention aux tondeuses

the other day I was walking down a fasionable part of Paris when I heard the triple clop-clop-clop of three mounted police coming up the street behind me. Their horses were impervious to the traffic and noise, despite no blinders. I decided to ever-so-discreetly take their picture, it being a childhood dream of mine to be a mounted police. policewoman. mountie.

Being the discreet person I am, on the second or third take the rider in the middle notices me and shouts out something along the lines of: "Did you get a good picture?", I think, although it was hard to make it out exactly over the traffic din. And I was so startled I answered in Italian!

Apparently I just couldn't imagine a government employee being both "French" and "not rude to me" at the same time.

Apparently my French communication skills have gone to hell in a handbasket. I also went, that day, to be a hair model at the Jean Louis Davide Training Center for provincial hairdressers come to Paris to learn the latest styles. AND I WAS ATTACKED WITH AN ELECTRIC RAZOR, a.k.a. une tondeuse. It turns out the trademark style of this hair salon is to ONLY use an electric razor to cut, trim, layer, or in any way alter the length of your hair. This was somewhat alarming because I do not sport the crew cut, and it involved a lot of standing up to check if everything is even, and also: I have a lot of hair, people. It takes a long time to layer it by electric razor. But by far the most perplexing part of the afternoon, from my point of view, is that I specifically asked not to have bangs cut into my hair. Looking at the laminated booklet of the dos available, I asked the haircutter trainee: "Pourquoi ont tous ces modèles une frange?" And, although she was totally uninterested in my opinion of the best way to layer hair or learning the fabulous English term "mullet" which I think captured at least three of the models astonishingly well, we did get across that I was not interested in bangs. In fact, I think it is the only time in going to get a haircut that I specifically requested NOT to get something. Well...dear reader...
I have bangs.
Or, as my friend A has helpfully pointed out in German, "du hast ein Pony?!"

Thank god they actually don't look that bad. But I'm not sure why my haircutter had to disprove my prejudices against bangs ON MY OWN HEAD.

My latest theory is that I must be saying things in a way that seems slow and circuitous to French people when I am reaching for an idiom. Especially impatient fast-firing Parisians, who want to cut to the chase and don't do irony. Because otherwise it would be uncanny (or sadistic) how many times French people take me to be saying the exact opposite of what I am saying.

It could also be related to the fact that I feel much more comfortable listening to Hélène Cixous talk about Kafka, Freud, and Derrida's Résistance au pluriel for several hours than I do trying to explain the latest DSL connection problems to my landlord.

This still doesn't explain "pas de frange" though!

Thursday, November 17, 2005

thanks, Gtude

"She needed privacy: on my wall there hangs a letter from her to an
editor or writer: 'My dear Glass, / I am sorry not to see you but I
am already in the country. / You must not take Europe too seriously,
it is a comfortable place to be alone and that is for many purposes a
necessity. / Good luck to you always, / Gtude Stein.' "

now this is more like it! feeling better about étrangèretude... as well as enjoying g-tude's anachronistically hip-hop sign-off.

(found in Dick Higgins's _A Dialectic of Centuries: Notes towards a
Theory of the New Arts_. Higgins's Something Else Press reprinted
Stein's writing in the 1960s and 1970s along with a lot of concrete
poets that she inspired.)

Wednesday, November 16, 2005


Someone brought this quote to my attention:

The man who finds his homeland sweet is still a tender beginner; he to whom every soil is as his native one is already strong; but he is perfect to whom the entire world is as a foreign land.
-- Hugh of St. Victor

Except that skipping straight to stage 3 is not exactly a recipe for happiness or joy in life. But then medieval Christian mystics have different goals; I should remember that happiness is (rightfully) not what Hugh of St. Victor's everyman is practicing for.

Monday, November 14, 2005

20th century version of the passage

Besides the shopping mall, its obvious descendant, this reinterpretation of the Marché St.-Honoré by Jean Nouvel has got to be the closest thing I have seen yet to a homage to the 19th century passage. And yet (maybe this is the problem with focusing too much on forms from the past) it is not at all well-beloved by Parisians, unlike some of Nouvel's other buildings such as the Fondation Cartier in the 14e or the Institut du Monde Arabe (which I am constantly being asked if I have been to... hm). A woman I stopped on the street told me it had "sterilisé" the neighborhood, which (she continued) as I could see had no life left. She was right: the cold steel and glass was not pedestrian-friendly, and the light structure hardly protected us from the sweeping wind or cold, unlike the small and cozy 19th century passages which blocked out the outside world and became a world of their own, like aquariums. In fact at first sight it was hard to tell if the building had been finished or was still under construction -- which would have explained its eerie emptiness as pedestrians rushed to get past it back to the livelier streets. One expected a security guard to declare it off-limits, or a corporation to own the unpublic public space. Still, this building was exciting to me not only for the pleasure of discovery (I had no idea it would be there) but also for the way it turned the city into undulating images on its glass, steel, and net screen -- or series of screens.
Inside, it was filled with stores selling furniture and design -- not decor -- items for modern living. How appropriate -- like the surrealists said, to be really modern you must learn to live in a glass house.

Here's one site with Nouvel's biography and works:

as well as his own, slow-loading one:

Meanwhile, today is the first day of the year that I have turned the heat on. The radiator is making a burnt electric smell while a small blue japanese bowl filled with water balances on top of it, and I listen to my neighbor the trumpet player practicing his scales.

Friday, November 11, 2005

a partial history of the bicycle

To my great luck I live just down the street from a museum set up inside a deconsecrated monastery which is home to nineteenth century flying machines, early bicycles, and Foucault's pendulum. Some weekends they even have actual scientists in there demonstrating the workings of golden adding machines, astrolabes, and various chemical reactions near a model of Lavoisier's lab. All it is missing is a history of mail by pneumatic tube (hint, hint). However, I was glad to see the bikes because they are important to the history of the nineteenth century, the development of fashion, and women's lib -- not to mention modern eros.

The first bicycle precursors were developed perhaps simultaneously in Germany and France, and were known as velocipedes in French and the draisine (after the inventor) or Laufmaschine in German. [This invites the question: can machines undergo a Darwinian evolution just like organisms? Or, are bicycles like other machines a proxy for evolutionary forces on humans -- speeded up like everything else in the modern era a.k.a. Machine Age?]

The early bicycle was a hilarious affair. Here is a description from a bicycle historian: "The German Baron Karl Drais von Sauerbronn invented the "Laufmaschine" or "Running Machine", a type of pre-bicycle. The steerable Laufmaschine was made entirely of wood and had no pedals; a rider would push his/her feet against the ground to make the machine go forward. Sauerbronn's bicycle was first exhibited in Paris on April 6, 1818. The celerifere was another similar early bicycle precursor invented in 1790 by Frenchmen, Comte Mede de Sivrac, however, it had no steering."

The couple above is riding a Penny Farthing, a.k.a. the "High" or "Ordinary" bicycle (of which there is at least one in my photo above). According to the same historian above, "the Penny Farthing was the first really efficient bicycle, consisting of a small rear wheel and large front wheel pivoting on a simple tubular frame with tires of rubber." Before that, various bikes called the "Hobbyhorse," the "Dandy Horse," and the Velocipede or "Boneshaker" (as it was known in the United Kingdom; think cobblestones) were popularly in use. "The tires were iron, and the pedals were attached to the hub of the front, or driver, wheel, which was slightly higher than the rear wheel." Ah, moments when I remember why I am glad not to have lived during the nineteenth century.

The name of the modern vehicle dates from 1869, when a patent was taken out in England for a new machine with solid rubber tires mounted on steel rims -- phew.
In 1873 Jamse Starley, and English inventor, produced the first machine incoporating most of the features of the so-called ordinary, or high-wheel, bicycle. The front of Starley's machine wasas much as three times as large in diameter as the rear wheel.

None of them sound quite as good as Leonardo da Vinci's (unrealized) sketch of a bicycle from 1490, do they?

The rise of bicycles encourages the fledgling modern trend for women's clothes that allow greater freedom of movement.

Benjamin notes the "similarity of the arcades to the indoor arenas in which one learned how to ride a bicycle. In these halls the figure of the woman assumed its most seductive aspect: as a cyclist. That is how she appears on contemporary posters. Chéret the painter of this feminine pulchritude. The costume of the cyclist, as an early and unconscious prefiguration of sportswear, corresponds to the dream prototypes that, a little before or a little after, are at work in the factory or in the automobile. Just as the first factory buildings cling to the traditional form of the residential dwelling and just as the first automobile chassis imitates carriages, so in the clothing of the cyclist the sporting expression still wrestles with the inherited patttern of elegance, and the fruit of this struggle is the grim sadistic touch which made this ideal image of elegance so incomparably provocative to the male world in those days."

"Who still knows, nowadays, where it was that in the last decade of the previous century women would offer to men their most seductive aspect, the most intimate promise of their figure? In the asphalted indoor arenas where people learned to ride bicycles. The woman as cyclist competes with the cabaret singer for the place of honor on posters, and gives to fashion its most daring line."

Okay, for Benjamin: women cyclists = a hint of sadism, provocative seduction, and for me: women cyclists = freedom of movement and the beginning of the development of women's clothes for comfort for herself, not visual pleasure for others. Maybe there's a bit of evolution going on as well in the development of critical analysis of nineteenth century material.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

in which there is discussion of anthrocyanin, the tribulations of air travel, and Onion Recipes

The best part of visiting the East Coast of the US for a few days is the almost edibly beautiful fall colors against (just a few hours later, in the afternoon) skies so blue they resurrect the old meaning of gay. And suggest larks. Even after a freakishly mild November, so much brighter and more exhilerating than old europe; hooray for the chemistry of living colors: green (chlorophyll), yellow (carotene), red (anthrocyanin).
The conference went well -- so well that I wish I could give you the details without hopelessly revealing who, where, what. No red nametags in sight, or at least in my line of vision. And it was good: I was in a seminar-style panel with mostly asst. profs, some of whom had solid and fascinating arguments but some reassuringly did not -- were in fact easy to see through despite the talkers being assertive. It's not schadenfreude -- just the relief of seeing that I really was in the right place, despite being a grad student -- and at a conference where the chair of my department was actually on a panel too, the chair of a related major department in attendance, and I had to make small talk with both of them!

There was of course the "Welcome back to France " experience on Air France to deal with. I alternate between loving the perks of A.F. transatlantic service and getting scarred by the steward/esses -- scarred I say. On the way over, my vegetarian meal arrived (although it was interpreted as "vegan," so lots of soy yogurt and odd ingredients, but that's perfectly okay). However, it was accompanied with a sarcastic remark and raised eyebrow from the stewardess (who was beautiful, but apparently bitter) because I'd finished -my meal before the regular meal was served - because, you know, they served my meal 20 minutes before the other meals and, call me crazy, eating IS what i usually do with meals. There may be other options but personally I get hungry and yes, indeed, I do EAT my food. On the way back to Paris, I was less lucky. The vegetarian meal order mysteriously disappeared. After explaining several times that I did order my meal in advance -- NO I REALLY DID, you can ask a third time but despite the obvious suspicion (wtf?!) I really am not lying on this point -- my waiter kindly brought me a mishmash of items from the other trays consisting of: naan bread, a roll, butter, canned pineapple, and two plates of salad. Which was great of him. After I pointed out that vegetarian means "not meat", he even brought me the yogurt and poppseed cake everybody else was having and I felt less like a starved rabbit (how much shaved carrot can a girl take?). But when I carried my trash back to the steward work area myself because I had gotten my meal so much later than everyone else, and politely asked a different stewardess if there was a garbage can I could deposit these things into -- thinking I was doing something nice by taking care of it myself -- she lit into me! My god. What was I doing trying to throw those things away when clearly half of them should be recycled - and WHY was I not finished when the stewards came around SEVERAL TIMES for trash, and what, WHAT, how could I have correctly ordered a meal and not had it delivered! Why didn't I confirm the vegetarian meal a second time for the return leg of the flight -- how foolish to think that ordering it in advance was enough -- what kind of fool doesn't know you have to return for the return leg of the flight too, specially and at LEAST 48 hours in advance?? Passengers order these meals and change their minds and don't want them anymore (insert large disdainful sneer here) -- because don't you know medical conditions and religious issues FREQUENTLY disappear on return legs of flights -- and then the meals are WASTED, and it costs Air France LOTS OF MONEY -- lots more than all those tickets that angry customers stop buying from Air France with the dear hope that you will lose your job because of it, I wanted to add, but she had already stalked to the back of the cabin and turned her back to me after the last sally. And can I please note, please, that all I did was smile at her, holding my trash, and ask: "où est la poubelle?"

So here I am, an unregenerate foreigner WHO WON'T EAT MEAT in France again (I think the vegetarian business is somehow personally offensive to Frenchpeople, in ways I will never fully understand.) [(And I note that it's just a personal thing, with no reference to anyone else's eating habits, done for health and ecological, not bleeding heart, reasons: so that I am happy to eat rabbits or snails or squid or most fish, anything that is not endangered or (over)farmed -- including venison -- Bambi!).] On a happier note despite the pleasures of visiting friends it is lovely to be in my own apartment again, where I can eat and nap and be jetlagged however I want and which is happily NOT burned down by the rioters, although apparently they got very close a few days ago when they ventured into the center of Paris -- 4 blocks to the north and also a second site a few blocks to the west, in the Marais. Tomorrow in daylight will be plenty of time to reconnoiter -- as well as to consider what it means that Villepin has invoked the law of 1955 from the time of the Algerian uprisings and troubles to impose curfews on the banlieues. On French t.v., it is refreshingly non-racist sounding, however: all the announcers seem to be worred about les jeunes and ways to occupy their spare time or educate them so they have plans and activities and (apparently) no time for Rage.
Also the onions in my kitchen have sprouted in my absence and are so big they are rivaling my actual plants. It is time to eat onions.

Onion Toast

  • 1 TB organic extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp clover honey
  • 1 tsp low-sodium soy sauce
  • 1/4 tsp ground red pepper or African Bird Pepper if you like it hotter
  • 21/2 lb onions, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 tsp dried thyme
  • favorite bread, sliced thin

In a large, non-stick skillet, over medium heat, combine oil, honey, soy sauce and pepper. Add onions and stir. Cover and simmer over medium-low heat for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in vinegar and thyme. Cover and simmer about 20 minutes until the onions are very soft and thick. While onions are cooking, place the bread slices in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Bake at 350°F for about 10 minutes on each side. Spread slices with warm onion mixture.


(Serves 6)
4 large yellow onions, thinly sliced
4 Tbs. butter
6 cups rich beef broth
1 tsp. Worcestershire
2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. paprika
1/8 tsp. pepper
1/4 cup dry white wine or Vermouth (optional)
Pinch of powdered thyme (optional)
2 hard rolls
Grated Parmesan cheese

Melt butter in a large pot with a cover. Slice onions and saute until golden. Pour beef broth over cooked onions. Add seasonings and wine. Simmer for 15 minutes, covered.

Pour soup into individual earthenware bowls or a large earthen casserole. Slice rolls and toast. Sprinkle slices with Parmesan and float them on top of the soup. Slide casserole or bowls under broiler about 4 inches from heat and broil until cheese turns brown. Remove and serve immediately.


1 pound shallots (about 12 small ones)

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

2 teaspoons brown sugar

Salt and pepper

Peel the shallots and slice them thinly. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add in the shallots and stir to coat. Reduce heat to low, add in the balsamic vinegar and sugar, season with salt and pepper, and stir again.

Cover and cook over low heat until the shallots are very soft, about an hour and a half, stirring from time to time. If the mixture starts to dry out or stick to the pan, add in a touch of water. When the shallots are soft, taste the confit and adjust the seasoning. Let cool to room temperature. Store in the refrigerator for up to a week, or freeze.

Serve as an accompaniment to cheese, grilled fish or meat, add to sandwiches, mix into a vinaigrette, or spread on little toasts with a bit of smoked ham.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

"welcome new members"

i will be away for some time in the US at a conference, so my updating may be a bit spotty next week. And, judging from the email I just got for from the v.p. of the association, i am going to a conference full of crazy people!

cf. second paragraph.

my god.

unless that's because of the presence of [insert name of very famous old writer known for getting drunk and hitting on women and behaving in generally misogynous ways] -- in which case, ha, maybe i need to get me one of those red tags.

Dear Colleague,

This year a number of members are coming to the annual meeting for the first time, including junior professors and graduate students as well as older hands, and we want to make sure that everyone feels at home with the literary family of [acronym deleted]. [Field deleted] academics and imaginative writers are not necessarily the most gregarious of mortals, but we encourage each of you to make bold to sit down with total strangers and introduce yourself—and persons who have been sat down by not to be affronted but to introduce themselves in turn. Moreover, we want to facilitate forming groups to go out to dinner on Friday night after the reception and the president's address. For this purpose, we suggest that persons interested meet together in the second-floor foyer fifteen minutes after the president's address (c. 7:15), count themselves off by sixes or eights, and decide where to go for dinner without making a federal case of it. Obviously a member from the [city deleted] area could be especially helpful in each group, but a short list of recommended restaurants will be circulated by e-mail before the meeting and on paper at it.

If you are a loner and wish to stay that way, please ask the officers to supply you with a red name tag.


[name deleted]

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

a stroll through town

Having a visit from a friend from out of town lets you see your familiar surroundings in a new light...or in my case learn really obvious things about them that you should probably have known in the first place, except that you just got the fact that the Eiffel tower turns into a SPARKLY PILLAR OF LIGHT for five minutes on the hour, every night. Otherwise it sends out this incredibly dorky beam of light that makes it look as though Big Brother resides chez vous or as though a World War Two air raid siren is about to go off, while this beam searches out zeppelins and enemy aircraft in the sky. But for the five minutes that it shimmers, it doesn't seem to have a fixed volume -- it could be a pillar just as easily as a pointy cylinder. So much for my claims that the Tour Eiffel is really not kitsch! really! which was already a hard argument to make in certain quarters...but on the other hand there is something to be said for a light effect that makes the Paris nightscape seem to have been colored in by preschoolers.

We went right up to the Tour Eiffel, on the Champs de Mars (Field of Mars) right by the Ecole Supérieure de Guerre (France's national Superior School of War), and looked up the Eiffel Tower's skirts... as you can see she looks red-gold at night.

Walking through the Louvre, we found this bold chestnut seller, who not only dares to set up shop in the middle of the main walkway of the former king's Jardin des Tuileries, but had the foresight to prepare for the arrival of the police. Should they possibly think he didn't have a license to sell chestnuts on the street. Illegally. And I have NO IDEA why they would.

Quick getaway, anyone?
We may have looked a little suspicious ourselves... in the beautiful light of a freakishly warm October day (low 70s) on the Place de la Concorde...

Though not nearly as suspicious as when I dragged my m-bag containing two boxes of books home through Paris, two blocks on a muddy day, because the postman refused to deliver them to my door. You will just have to imagine that teetering moment where it hung in balance whether I would be dragging the books up the stairs or they would be dragging me down. Ph.D. student vs. diss books: the Cage Match. Also just what I needed to improve my image with the neighbors: young American imitates homeless population and drags large shapeless sacks around the street for kicks.

It only took 7 weeks for them to arrive. Maybe that's because they labelled my m-bag "Domestic Mail, 1.47 lbs"???