"She's an "au pair" girl. That means the father gets her."
(PP)

 

 

LET'S BE FRANK . . .

I was hired to host (in French and English) the gala online and offline interactive CD-Rom awards presentation for the Milia d'Or, February 12th, on the main stage of the Palace of the Cannes film festival, capping a 3-day "Cannes-vention" that drew 10,000 participants from 51 nations.

I wrote and rewrote right up to the last instant, leaving me 15 minutes to jump into my tux and no time to get "nerveux." It was a fabulous experience and a great personal and professional success, further embellished by a series of exquisite dinners hosted (in one instance) by the Head of Tourism, since the mayor of Cannes is, well, "in the can" due to an unfortunate extortion incident.

Afterwards, to celebrate our good fortune, my wife and I leased a shocking green VW Polo and tooled around the South of France before boarding the TGV (high-speed train) to Paris on Valentine's day.

I hadn't been back in Paris for 38 years, and I found it little changed, except that the Parisians are friendlier. Maybe it's because the world has gotten smaller, the tourist trade more important, Europe more united -- or maybe they just missed me!

What a city -- "Cest le Paname!" How could I have stayed away so long?

We were booked on the top floor with a balcony overlooking the imposing, ancient Pantheon, in "L'Hotel des Grands Hommes," but I knicknamed it "L'Hotel des Petites Chambres." All the hotels in the Latin Quarter are similar, with tiny rooms and no dressers; but ours, it turns out, is somewhat special, as a white marble plaque affixed to the front proudly proclaims that it was, there, in the spring of 1919, that Andre Breton and Philippe Soupault "invented automatic writing and in penning 'les champs magnetiques,' gave birth to surrealism." And perhaps that explains the radio-in-a-drawer that I found on my side of the bed!

"On foulera l'aire comme on foule la terre..." This quotation, which means "They will crowd the air as they crowd the earth," is printed on the entrance stairs to the Jules Verne restaurant on the second tier of the Eiffel Tower. We stopped by for some tea late one cloudy afternoon and were informed (half in jest) by the maitre d' that they only serve "Perrier and champagne" and were booked solid for two months in advance.

Probably just as well, since no matter how much French you know, you will never be able to read an entire restaurant menu without asking the waiter to explain several dishes, and even they will freely admit that often they have to ask the master in the kitchen since it's quite obvious that the chefs just "make it up."

If you try to translate a dish yourself, you may lose your appetite. For example, does "Les tartares d'avocats des Iles" really mean "Raw Island Lawyer Meat?" And never order a dish because it sounds great, either in French or in English. You're likely to end up with a traditional Breton dish like "Bones in Mashed Potatoes."

In fact, it's wise not to translate anything in France. A case in point: we bought up a large quantity of ("Gants de Toilette") for special gifts this year. They're really quite "handy" even though when we first came across them in our "can" in Cannes, we thought they were for polishing shoes. So, if you get a "Toilet Glove" from us this year, don't use it to swab out the porcelain throne. It's for your face.

Other items are closer to "franglais" and easier to understand, such as their "porte-phones." Ironically, they call their beepers "bip" which few young people recognize as the name of the mute Marcel Marceau made famous -- no wonder they never return your calls.

In Aix-en-Province, we called several ladies that a dear friend and acting teacher of Melinda's, Joe Leon, had gotten to know when he lived there a few years ago; and I had several jolly conversations with them to set up meetings at the "Deux Garcons" bistro. Neither of them showed up.

Melinda, of course, thought that telling Americans you'll "meet them at the Deux Garcons" is local slang for "pulling a fast one" and since we never did connect later for an explanation, we called Joe upon our return to the States; and he said, "Don't take it personally -- something else must've come up." French.

It is important to remember that the "les francais" are descendants of folks who lived in medieval walled cities -- many of which still exist, either at the top of great hills or right in the middle of their great old cities like Avignon and Aix-en-Province -- and it's really easy to get hopelessly lost in the maze of tiny twisting streets. No "grand surpris" that this is the way the French think.

Or, it could just be the more recent result of the Nazi occupation in WWII. In fact, we noticed that in both England and France (where they share a preoccupation with hiding street names placed in unlikely spots on tiny plaques high up on old buildings) getting from one place to another, even with a map in hand, is a formidable challenge; and my wife and I are thoroughly convinced that it's just another way to "confuse the Germans". . . or the German tourists, at least.

An anecdote of our experience in the famous Paris Metro system sums it all up.

First you need to know that when in England, Melinda and I were as proud as partridges that we had so mastered the London Underground, we could zip from theatre to theatre with the cocky assurance of a Cockney, so just imagine our despair when confronted by our first Metro map under the bustling streets of St. Germain des Pres where there appeared to be three kinds of subtly tinted lines, aimlessly criss-crossing one another, some thick, some thin, some labeled with letters, others with numbers, and the destinations??? The line would end in a little box saying: "Neuphle-le-Chateau/Haricots de Racine/Orly Sud". Which would be WHAT? "Neuphle?" "Racine?" "Orly?" "-le-?"

It is an embarrassing exercise in futility to ask for assistance from the token booths, protected as they are by thirteen sheets of Plexiglas and serviced by surly public servants with little microphones and bassy speakers. Anyway, after an hour of getting thoroughly lost, turned-around and bewildered, we gamely trod back into the light of the city of the same name, from a station a good twenty blocks from our little hotel, and humbly begged our lovely concierge, Virginie -- all french women are beautiful, and they all dress to kill -- if there wasn't a closer metro station than the one she had directed us to.

She patiently explained that the transportation system in Paris is actually THREE systems: The Metro, which serves the city proper; the RER, which services the Suburbs as well, and the Transit which -- well, actually, I don't know what it does, other than clutter up the map. And in fact, the closest station to our hotel is not a metro station, but a RER station, straight down good 'ol Rue Soufflot!

And at that moment, I had a kind of epiphany -- or rather, "une epiphanie" -- as I realized that the French will always answer your question to the best of their ability, but will never volunteer any additional information. You see, Virginie had told us earlier where the nearest Metro station was, but the nearest "station" was the RER.

Which simply means that when asking for anything in France -- you have to ask the RIGHT QUESTION!

 

 

MORE FOREIGN NEWS

While in Europe, the International Herald Tribune published a review by Sheridan Morley of a musical that opened on February 18 at the Apollo in London. It is so delicious, I'm retyping it in toto:

It is difficult to describe the sheer awfulness of Cliff Richard's "Heathcliff" . . . without risking a severe handbagging by his myriad fans. If you can bring yourself to imagine Liberace as "King Lear," you will perhaps have some concept of what takes place in what is indubitably the worst musical since Mel Brook's "Springtime For Hitler."

As the doomed Cathy, Helen Hobson wanders among the plastic crags of this Yorkshire Disneyland with all the agonized despair of someone who has not only read Sir Cliff's script but also had to learn and rehearse it with him. Sir Tim Rice's lyrics (and at this point we should, I suggest, withdraw both knighthoods for the duration of the run) are mercifully inaudible thanks to a bizarre sound system at the Apollo whereby the orchestra sits not in the usual pit but in a kind of Portakabin by the stage door. An extremely small supporting cast tries to pretend it is not there at all, lest they never work again, and I would advise arriving with several handkerchiefs, not to wipe away tears, but to stuff in the mouth to prevent unseemly guffaws at a collector's piece of such bizarre and baroque inadequacy, cobbled together as it has been out of old Palladium pantomimes and leftover bits of "Peer Gynt."

Sir Cliff appears in a series of fetchingly dry-cleaned carpets, and when he sings to Cathy's grave, it whizzes around on a turntable like the star prize in some necrophiliac game show. The Hammersmith Apollo, built in the heydey of the picture palaces, resembles some vast Egyptian tomb, probably as good a place as any to witness the living death of the British Musical at 20 quid a ticket.

(But come on, Sher, what did you really think?)

 

 

UGLY AMERICANS?

(Actual comments re: Edgar "Bathwater" Bullington taken from Bridger Wilderness registration and comment cards last year.)

Trails need to be wider so people can walk while holding hands. . . Instead of a permit system or regulations, the Forest Service needs to reduce world-wide population growth to limit the number of visitors. . . Ban walking sticks in wilderness. Hikers that use walking sticks are more likely to chase animals. . . Found a smoldering cigarette left by a horse. . . Trail needs to be reconstructed. Please avoid building trails that go uphill. . . Too many bugs, leaches, spiders, and spider webs. Please spray the wilderness to rid the area of these pests. . . Please pave the trails so they can be plowed of snow during the winter. . . Chairlifts need to be in some places so that we can get to wonderful views without having to hike to them. . . The coyotes made too much noise last night and kept me awake. Please eradicate these annoying animals. . . A small deer came into my camp and stole my jar of pickles. Is there a way I can get reimbursed? . . . Reflectors need to be placed on trees every 50 feet so people can hike at night with flashlights. . . Escalators would help on the steep uphill sections. . . Need more signs to keep area pristine. . . A McDonalds would be nice at the trailhead. . . The places where trails do not exist are not well marked. . . I brought lots of sandwich makings, but forgot bread. If you have extra bread, leave it in the yellow tent at V Lake. . . Too many rocks in the mountains.

 

 

GIVE UP THIS DAY

And finally, from Dear Abbey's column in the L.A. Times, a typo sent in by Jane Barnett from a recent church bulletin in Fort Collins, Colorado:

"Burning Bowl Service: Jan 5, 2 p.m.

"During the burning bowel service you are given the opportunity to let go and release anything unwanted in your life."

 

 

Allez-y, mes amis!! Philippe P.

 

Published 3/04/96

PLANET PROCTOR
1996/2002 by Phil Proctor