As I was sitting in Charles de Gaulle awaiting my flight to Bologna today, almost everyone was on an iPad, iPod or iPhone.
Jim Morrison's and Oscar Wilde's graves in Pere Lachaise are famously visited and defaced; JFK's Camelot is invoked almost every day; and it's a rare week that the memory of the murders caused by Hitler or Stalin are not brought up by some writer, but how many people live on in what we use, love and take for granted?
Steve Jobs has left his stamp on the planet; Thanks Steve; we miss you.
In a book review entitled "The Finest Life You Ever Saw," crackerjack novelist and even better short story writer James Salter writes "The Finest Book Review I've Read in a Long Time" in the NYRB recently. The review is a stand alone piece that makes Hemingway and "Hemingway's Boat: Everything He Loved in Life, and Lost, 1934-1961" even more fascinating than they were. A terrific read.
Stuff Parisians Like: Discovering the quoi in the Je ne sais quoi; by Olivier Magny, Berkley Books, New York, 2011 is one of the funniest books I've ever read and one of the cleverest concerning the French. Normally I'm turned off by these cultural diffrences tomes but this isn't one of them anyway.
Magny, in case you've been sleeping through the last decade, is the same guy who straightfacedly runs the wine tasting/wine bar/restaurant called O Chateau but it's clear he has done a lot of thinking between sips.
The "stuff"referred to in the title includes everything from black clothes to Barack Obama and scarfs to Clint Eastwood and only mentions three food references, O Chateau, Le Reminet and Hugo Desnoyer. The chapters are zippy two page things with at least a laugh a paragraph - and they're in almost perfect English, no translator involved, which is all the more impressive.
I have a feeling there are some anti-Sarko-istes out there, even in the wine biz, because today's throwaway newspaper Metro announced a new Beaujolais made by/in l'Astrolabe, in Bully, called Fucks@rkozy.com. And no, I haven't tried it.
Yesterday, as I was settling into my next to last United Airlines trip to Paris (they've foolishly turned the route over to a Continental 3-3-3 plane with no possibility of upgrading - so bye-bye United, it's been great to know ya), two flight attendants wanted to know what psychiatric/psychological books I would recommend they read to understand people better. Mind you, this was pay-back time for the info they gave me last trip on how they handled dsk. Easy, I said, Dostoevsky, Gogol, Chekhov (and went on muttering Hugo, De Maupassant, Ibsen and so forth.)
Like movies that are so bad they're good, Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay, St Martin's Griffin, NY 2007 is a frustrating experience.
Based on one of France's most shameful episodes, which quite simply stripped the varnish off their long and deep streak of Antisemitism, the deportation, separation and slaughter of innocent French citizens, men, women and children, in 1942, who just happened to be Jewish, Ms. de Rosnay lurches between telling an exciting mystery story and (bear with this run on sentence) providing boring after boring page of rather meaningless descriptions of the heroine's sappy husband, the worst of French men and women's cultural prejudices and deathly slow descriptions of incredibly banal events.
According to news reports, the manuscript was turned down by almost two dozen publishing houses, and one can see why, before the hapless d'Ormesson/Cohen-Solal team took her on. They had gold in their hands - a horrible still-hidden and to-this-day-denied event, a suspenseful plot and interesting characters, but they forgot one thing; a good book needs a good editor.
I’m walking down my street in the 18th this week and I feel a tap on my shoulder (something that has not happened to me in 57 years in France) – “Monsieur, Monsieur, excuse me, but…” I turn, it’s my newslady, from whom I buy 4.40 E’s worth of news every morning, “I’m so sorry, but I forgot to give to the supplement that goes with the International Herald Tribune today.” “Ah, what is it?” say I, immediately suspicious that it’s one of those worthless Sunday NYT things that has a few real articles, a lot of fluff and so many watch, jewelry and European property ads that I know that for much of the world, there has been no Great Recession. An “agenda.” Well that doesn’t help, but she’s so earnest, I promise to pick it up that day or the next. And frankly I forgot all about it. Until I walked into the news shop the next day to get my fix – “Here, Monsieur, I’m so sorry.” “Pas grave, Madame, pas grave.” As I leave, I look for the nearest Vigipirate trash bag to toss it in but get distracted by the bums on the street trolling for cigarettes, money or restaurant tickets; they know not to approach me but bock my route anyway. Get home, toss it on the floor, ignore for three days.
And then I pick it up, hoping to clear up the debris for my wife’s arrival and wow, this “thing” is first rate. This “thing,’ edited by Serge Schmemann, whom you may recall won a Pulitzer and an Emmy and whose byline graced the front pages of the Times for years, has several simply wonderful articles on the theme of “Shifting Power.” The article by Matthieu Ricard, son BTW of Jean-Francois Revel (ring a bell)), an ex-cell-geneticist, now a Monk in Nepal, is the most sane article I’ve ever read on global warming; an article by Katrin Bennhold, another European transplanted to America and the NYT, on the FB Generation reveals such technological generation gaps between herself (36 yo) and students at her German high school (19 yo) (not to mention their parents and grandparents) you despair; and a panel of folks who are not your usual talk-show or op-ed folks discussing America’s Lost Power (or maybe not) are intelligent and way above the level of discourse now polluting American politics.
I can only hope they give old Serge the money and support to continue doing these; this is what the print folks (including me) should be doing; serious analysis, thinking and presenting. To read these articles you have to go here and click on each one of the authors. Sorry. That technology they haven't mastered.
Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes, Atlantic Monthly Press, New York, 2010, may be the best novel about the Viet Nam War ever, certainly ever written by a former Marine. Like Oliver Stone's Platoon and Michael Herr's "Dispatches," it has the ring of authenticity on every page.
The fact that he worked on getting it published for almost 40 years says something terrible about the publishing business; this should have been grabbed up by the first person who read the manuscript. It is a stunning work. My only concern is that after 566 pages, he won't write another, which would be a shame.
And my only reservation about recommending this book is his portrayal of one Navy nurse as uncaring and detached: my experience as a physician and surgical patient flies in the face of his description; I've never seen more empathic, caring, self-sacrificing women in my life than the nurses serving in Viet Nam.