dimanche, février 25
posted by Gina at 12:52

A cult comedy came out in France last year called Camping. It's about a snotty Parisian driving through the south of France, whose Porsche breaks down, forcing him to wait for a mechanic on a campsite surrounded by vacationing blue collar folks. I thought it was funny. All my French friends thought it was HIL.A.RI.OUS. A year after seeing the film, they still repeat its lines and everyone roars with laughter as though it's the first time they hear it. They keep repeating "Bah, il n'y a plus de Benco" though I found it as unfunny the 20th time as the first time I heard it.
They say humor is the hardest thing to translate and the Camping example is just one of many that prove this true. And what's so frustrating about it is that joking around is supposed to be about having fun, not holding your head in your hands trying to understand this crowd who calls their actors comédiens and their comedians humouristes.
It would be saddening to count how many times I've had a good laugh at something only to turn and see the blank expression on Husband's face. Or how many times we've unsuccessfully watched French stand up comedians together (a humor totally lost on me). While Husband, or even worse, Husband and a few friends are rolling on the floor laughing with tears in their eyes, I sit in the middle of it all trying to remember if I need to do laundry this weekend or not.
If I've run out of hair product and complain that I look like Roseanne Roseannadanna, it falls on (practically) deaf ears. We know a family who's last name is Le Hech, but I don't even get a smile when I refer to them as the What Le Hech's. Monsieur! What Le Hech!
My sister-in-law and her husband live nearby so we have dinner with them once or twice a week. Too often, I have tried to toss out a sly, witty remark that I'm sure will make someone smile, just to have the three of them look at me blankly and cock their heads to the side. Crickets. This is usually followed by a quick phone call to the US where an American is reached to appreciate the humour, thus ensuring the joke does not die in vain.
Here, they love to joke about Belgians and mock the accents of Quebeckers, but are good enough sports to ask me what jokes Americans make about them, putting me in a difficult spot. Uh... how do I explain that there are those who joke about Frenchmen as stuck up womanizers with body odor, but that those are usually people who've never ventured out of the US, let alone met a Frenchman...?
In a counter movement, I attempted to coin a joke in French. So French it's almost impossible to translate:
Pourquoi a-t-on cedé de trouver une sosie pour le president du FN? (Why did they give up the search to find a lookalike for Jean Marie Le Pen, presidential candidate for the Front National party)
Parce que c'était pas le pen! (Because it wasn't Le Pen, which also translates to it wasn't worth it. A play on words... I warned you it doesn't translate.)
But guess what? They thought it was funny. Voilà, laughter!
samedi, février 17
posted by Gina at 14:21

The vino and jazz at Caveau de la Huchette on Monday night was just the start of it all. I began what was a very musical week at Huchette, which is similar to another jazz joint-slash-former medieval torture chamber in the area, except here, you've got dancing. Before the band hit the stage, dancers warmed up with what they call le rock. As in, "Excusez-moi, mademoiselle. Can I invite you to dance un rock with me?" The crowd kept swinging after the band came on, led by an awesome singer who sang the standards in a low raspy voice and could scat like a pro. She was French but sang the American songs without an accent and even did that "squirmish, squirmish" thing at the end of Just a Gigolo. The crowd was a mix. Shaggy-haired Asian kids dressed by Urban Outfitter. Smartly dressed and perfectly made-up middled aged Parisiennes. On the dancefloor, a big, muscley guy in wingtips swung around a lady in a little circle skirt. Another man led a Sienna Miller lookalike onto the floor. Then a guy dressed like a cowboy stepped out with a homeless looking lady and swung her around so hard that if he'd let her go, she would have flown and landed onstage.

On Tuesday, I went to the Frenchiest French concert of all: Johnny Hallyday. Johnny (real name Jean-Philippe Smet) is so popular in France that I think I can speed up the process of getting French nationality by telling the prefecture I saw him in concert. He's been a big rock star here since the 60's and some label him as the French Elvis. But instead of getting fat and dying young, Johnny does commercials on tv for eyeglasses and is about to become a tax refugee. He says he pays 70% of what he earns in taxes and to escape that, he's leaving France and moving to Monaco. His show had some original music, but was full of American classics that he sang in French: Johnny B. Goode, House of the Rising Sun, Blueberry Hill, Hey Joe. The crowd sang along to the Frenchified versions, which sounded weird but I wasn't about to stand up with my hands on my hips and yell to the 18,000 other concert goers "You're all singing it wrong!" Anyway, I was not to be heard over the singing and dancing crowd that was almost upstaged by a gentleman in front of me who appeared to be having a religious experience. Johnny finished his show by smashing his guitar and leaving audience members to fight to the death over it.

Then came last night's show, the best of them all: Shakira. Normally, I'm not into pop music. It somehow takes the innovation and coolness out of discovering music if you know school girls are listening to it. But Shakira's concert was like a New Years party down to the confetti everywhere at the end. She performed barefoot as usual, in tribute to Fundaciòn Pies Descalzos, her foundation that benefits Colombian children living in poverty. My friend Carlos once told me that her voice wouldn't last long since she strains it when she sings, but he said that years ago and yet here she was, still belting it out. She sang some stuff from her first albums, before she made the English crossover, but the show also had a heavy Arabic touch complete with plenty of belly dancing, which I read was taught to her by her grandmother. (Who doesn't learn that from their grandmother?) I don't know how she shakes her hips like a paint mixer while singing, but she does it with a smile. Ironically, I found myself dancing not far from a group of school girls. And it was great. The only bummer was that I didn't even think about seeing who was opening for her and we wasted the preshow time eating croque monsieurs across the street when we could have seen Cut Chemist. But we caught his last few songs, so I can't totally complain. A good finale to a good week. Now if you'll excuse me, I've got some cds to go buy.
dimanche, février 11
posted by Gina at 01:17

Until now, the only time I'd run into the mayor of my town was seeing Willie Brown on the Van Ness bus in San Francisco. Here in our little town on the Parisian outskirts, I run into Monsieur le Maire all the time.
Last year during the banlieu riots, everyone back home called to see how we were surviving the "war zone." Our area didn't see any car torchings, but in the sense of unrest, our mayor set up a booth in the street and camped out with his team in the evenings to reassure his public face to face.
A few months later, I passed him in the street on a summer evening. A few weeks ago, we saw him going into a store with his wife. Our last encounter was at the sushi restaurant around the corner from my appartment. Walking out of the restaurant with two bags of takeout, I looked up to see Monsieur le Maire holding the door open for me.
He's a friendly guy who always smiles and says "Bonjour." Last month, he organized several meet and greet cocktail hours to personally give town residents his best wishes for 2007- not a bad idea in an election year. His relationship with Nicolas Sarkozy could bring him into higher office should Sarko win the ballot. What strikes me most about our mayor? He looks just like Scottish actor Alan Cumming:

This realization led to hours (that could have been spent productively) of reflection, pondering the casting possibilities should someone make a musical comedy out of the upcoming French presidential elections. It would probably be called something like A l'Elysée! with the permanent ! as popularized in such other musicals as Oklahoma!
The Interior Minister/UMP party's candidate would be played by Dustin Hoffman, taken back a few years to match Sarkozy's age of 52. (Yes, in this fantasy time travel is possible. And Hoffman's played everything from an autistic to a cross dresser, so I see no reason why he couldn't do a French political figure.) In the 2nd act, he'd break out in song saying that, during the 2005 riots, the reaction to Sarkozy's use of the word racaille was blown out of proportion. He'd defended himself on a tv interview later, stating that if you see a kid lighting a car on fire, you're not going to address him as Monsieur. He's got a point there, our Nicolas. And in any case, my dictionary translates racaille as riff raff. It's hard to get worked up over someone calling you a name that hasn't been in wide use since the '60s. Is it really going to get to you if someone calls you a scallywag? You'd probably have to look it up before having a laugh that someone would actually use that word. Anyway, here's one of our leading men:
For the elections' leading lady, the role of the Socialist party's number one gal goes to our friend Anne. I don't know if Anne can even sing or dance, but that doesn't matter. She gets the part simply because everywhere she goes, everyone always tells her she looks like Ségolène Royale. Luckily, Anne doesn't read English and isn't into blogs, because she's getting tired of those comments and would very likely roll her eyes that I'm posting this. Anyway, her opening solo could be "My Opinion is the Opinion of the People," the answer Sego gave when asked her opinion on Turkey possibly joining the European Union. She's had a few blunders along the way, but she just outlined her plans as president, which include a guarantee for every university graduate employment or further training within 6 months of graduation. That's nice, but how? Hmm.... she'll need a dance solo.
Last but not least, is the part of the faaaar right's Front National leader and presidential hopeful, Jean-Marie Le Pen. Extreme as the party's views are, Le Pen fared surprisingly well in the last presidential elections, winning enough votes to get into the second round. As seen in the photo below, Jean-Marie is about to bite this lady just like he'd like to take a bite out of immigration. He'd like to bulldoze the cités (France's projects, on the outskirts of big cities), expel immigrants believed to contribute to unemployment and unrest, and bring back the death penalty. Talk about putting the party in political party! I can't think of the right actor who's got the bite (ha ha, groan) for the part, so until then, let's substitute with an attack dog.
After that, there's the UDF's François Bayrou and the Green party's Dominique Voynet, neither of whom strongly resemble actors, so we'll not worry about their casting for the moment. Let the show continue....
dimanche, février 4
posted by Gina at 17:20

On a job interview, when the French interviewer switched from French to English:
Him: What are your OB's?
Me: (Oh crap, is this some more paperwork that I haven't even heard of, let alone filled out? Or maybe it's some language competence test I was supposed to have done? No one told me about that! This has been going well so far... Do I tell the truth or play along like I totally know what he's talking about?) Excuse me?
Him: You know, your OB's...
Me: Um... I'm not sure what you're talking about.
Him: What do you like to do for fun?
Me: (relieved) Oh, my hobbies!
Him: Yes, your OBs!