Wednesday, November 27, 2013

End the Tyranny of the Turkey

My Chinese-American friend Mary, a foodie in her own right, was complaining that this year yet again, it is the season to perform mass slaughtering of Big Bird. Not that she cares for animals that much. She simply laments having to eat it.

With her eyes full of lust and envy, she sibilated "Ah! You, French people. You know better. You don't eat turkey". And she's right, at least partially. We, French people, don't eat turkey for Thanksgiving, for the simple reason that we don't celebrate Thanksgiving. I proceeded on doing a little unscientific survey and I found that more than 100% of my American friends believe that the French don't eat turkey. Ever!

My aforementioned Chinese-American friend then proceeded to telling me about this guy, Jean-Francois. "He pretends that he's French, but he's not! He claims that the French eat turkey". As I said, more than 100% of my friends believe the French don't eat turkey, and as majority rules,  Jean-Francois must be wrong. Therefore he can't be French. Jean-Francois should be guillotined for making such allegations, along with the 46 millions turkeys.

So why do you eat turkey? My little survey showed that most of you don't really like turkey that much. I suspect that some of you might have become vegan to be excused. My friend M, who required anonymity given the gravity of the topic said "I think turkey is like the Satanic Verses of meat. As with that iconic book which everyone bought but no one actually read, turkey is a must on Thanksgiving, but not something anyone ever eats other than on that day." I would venture to say that turkey is a satanic meat. No redeeming virtue to be found in this obese animal engineered to pollute our ovens at the end of November. Yet, it's the tradition.
The "first Thanksgiving" likely included 
wildfowl, corn, porridge and venison

Historians know that turkey was not the centerpiece of the first Thanksgiving feasts. Duck and goose were the pièce de resistance, together with venison. And yet today 88% of Americans surveyed by the National Turkey Federation eat turkey on Thanksgiving.

The beast is everywhere, in miles and miles of supermarkets meat counters, on TV, in ads, at a movie theater near you. Every cooking show, every food magazine is talking about it, trying to make it sound like a gourmet affair. Recipe writers offer advice such as "Ask your butcher to reserve this, chop that, add those..." which is wishful thinking, infuriating advice, because the 88% of Americans who eat turkey for Thanksgiving don't have a butcher. The recipes make it sound like you have a butcher as you have a family doctor. Butchers are not covered under Obamacare, and we don't buy our turkeys from "our butcher". Turkey is an object sold under plastic wrap in supermarkets and turned into food by overcooking.   

Yet, I feel I have to come clean. I confess. I'm not exactly proud. But we, French people, recipients of good taste, wardens of brilliance, vestals of food mastery, rulers of bon goût, we do eat turkey. And we can't even blame it on Thanksgiving! We don't celebrate Thanksgiving, because we are mostly not a thankful people.

We eat turkey for Christmas. La dinde de Noël is as traditionally French as a Gitanes cigarette, and probably as lethal. Turkey is disgusting. In French, even its metaphorical meaning is derogatory. "Ah, quelle dinde" is a very offensive way to describe a woman, conjuring thoughts of stupidity, clumsiness and a fat ass.

How do we prepare a French turkey, you're begging to ask! No bread stuffing. No cranberry accoutrement. We stuff our dinde with chair à saucisse (chair is not a piece of furniture you sit on, chair - pronounce shehr - means meat in French), chestnuts, foie gras. We also waste an inordinate amount of black truffles and Armagnac brandy on it. We try to improve it. And we fail.

Mon dieu! Why is turkey on French Christmas menus? One cynical explanation would be that we are eating the Thanksgiving leftovers from our American cousins. But it's not even the case. There's actually an embargo on American turkeys. We are just closeted turkey eaters. It is a tradition that no one confesses to following, except very unfrench Jean-Francois.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

When in doubt, blame it on Napoléon

If everybody loves Raymond, who does everybody hate? No, not Ted Cruz. Napoléon!
The French emperor and dictator has long been the subject of hatred and ridicule.
As he should be - this great man of diminutive size is exactly the type people love to hate. Even after all these years.
(I should mention that I personally love and adore Popoleon, as we affectionately call our great Emperor in France.)

Why exactly do you hate Napoléon? At this point, for anything and everything. But let me be more specific. I can tell you that Napoléon is responsible for all the affliction, torment and suffering of today's world.

 When in doubt, blame it on Napoléon.

- Why do we drive on the right and the Brits drive on the left?
Blame it on Napoléon. During the Napoleonic conquests, Napoléon, who was a lefty, forced his entire army to lead charges on their horses from the right, holding their weapon in their left hand. As he conquered most of Europe, the whole continent adopted his horse-riding  style, with the exception of the Brits. 200 years later, we still hold on to this schism.

- Why do men think they are superior to women?
Blame it on Napoléon. As you know, Napoléon was an emperor, a warrior. But he is also the man who promulgated the Napoleonic Civil Code, the civil code that still today is used in the majority of countries throughout the world. Article 212 of the Code Napoléon legislates the rights and duties of spouses. Right before the code was proclaimed, Napoléon insisted that a line be added. In 1804, the new Code Napoléon proclaimed the legal inability for married women. The Emperor famously said at a State Council meeting: "What is unfrench, is to give authority to women." Which is slightly ironic when you know that Napoléon's own sister, Elisa Bonaparte was a bona fide ruler, Princess of Piombino from 1805 to 1814 and Grand-Duchess of Tuscany from 1809 to 1814.  

- Why do Arab Muslims hate us?
Blame it on Napoléon. First, Arab Muslims don't hate us. But, if we're trying to understand the complex relationships between Arab Muslims and the Western Christian world, here's to Napoléon: in 1798, Napoléon realized that the French Navy was not quite ready to face off the Brits in the English Channel. Instead, with his Foreign Minister, Talleyrand, he decided to launch a little stroll through Egypt. His goal was to forge alliances in Egypt and Syria to reach India and get in the way of England in their possession. Nothing worked the way it was planned but nevertheless, Murad, the Egyptian ruler who led the Mameluks, engaged in a series of battles with the rigorously trained troops of Napoléon.
Murad suffered a terrible and bloody defeat at the battle of Abukir, under the pyramids. The loss was crushing and humiliating. The Mameluks, who had expressed the greatest contempt for Napoléon when he arrived, realized the extent of their own weakness and their ignorance of 'modern' European military capabilities. They developed immense resentment for that humiliation, which historians credit as the root of today's hostility.

- Why do you have your Facebook timeline polluted by ads for Rosetta Stone, which makes you feel like a cretinous moron because you have not yet mastered Swahili and Pashto during your last summer vacation.
Blame it on Napoléon. See paragraph above. Napoléon invaded and conquered Egypt. While at it, on his way to Cairo from Alexandria, he discovered the Rosetta Stone!

- Why do you suffer heartaches and believe that you should marry someone you love?
Blame it on Napoléon. You might think it's a progress to marry for love, but actually, it causes so much heartache that some argue it is cruelty. In any case, before Napoléon, people married to forge alliances and to protect patrimonial assets. But our great Emperor met a lovely lady, a widow with bad teeth. And he fell for her - his large- head over his heels, which was not too bad because he was short. He fell in love and he decided to pursue the object of his love. Breaking with French monarchs before him, he married Josephine despite her less than perfect pedigree, sending a message that marrying for love was utterly acceptable, even commendable. If you can't find a man, if your heart is bleeding because she left you, just blame it on Napoléon.

- Why do you read about scandals in magazines at the nail parlor or at the barbershop?
Blame it on Napoléon. Napoléon invented the scandal. Let's say more accurately that he was the victim of the first full-fledged tabloid scandal. While trying to conquer Italy, his heart was aching from being so far from Josephine. He begged her to join him in Milan but she was reluctant. Many rumors arose that Josy was having fun while her man was fighting for the grandeur of La France. He became suspicious and jealous. To get her pissed off, he took a mistress (or two), then decided he did not love her anymore. He wrote a letter to his brother confessing to his change of heart. The letter was intercepted by the Brits and published on the front page of the newspaper. If you don't like tabloids, don't blame Murdoch. Blame it on Napoléon.

- Baldness
Blame it on Napoléon. Previous French kings were wearing wigs. Napoléon abolished this practice, revealing his calvicie. Without Napoléon, Phil Collins would never have achieved rock star status! If you're a fan of Phil Collins, you probably don't mind. But for all of you who do like men with a full crop of hair...

- Hemorrhoids
Blame it on Napoléon. Or more exactly, Napoléon should blame hemorrhoids. He did not invent them. But he suffered a very bad case of the disgrace. Some historians go around spreading the word that he lost the battle of Waterloo because of a bad case of piles.

- Finally, you could have been elegant, refined, smart and superbly arrogant French, rather than being rough around the edges, unsophisticated, stodgy and superbly arrogant Americans.
Blame it on Napoléon, who sold Louisiana in 1803. Sly Jefferson went ahead with the transaction, although it was probably unconstitutional. Pause for a second and imagine: Bobby Jindal as a frogs-leg eater.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Boobs, Ha! What Are They Good For? Absolutely EVERYTHIN'

If War was Good for Absolutely Nothin', as Edwin Starr sang in 1969, today one has to admit that the female mammary glands are good for absolutely everythin'. From selling concerts tickets to launching human rights campaigns, the boob has never been so present, powerful, pregnant and perky in our society. For better of for worse, 2013 will be remembered as the Year of The Boobs.
Charlize Theron fake-cringing
The Oscar for best body part was celebrated by Seth Macfarlane in his now famous We Saw your Boobs ballad, in which he gave us a full source book for a little sight of our favorite actresses' cleavage, in full frontal view. In case you forgot the lyrics, let me summarize that Jennifer Lawrence has yet to show hers in a movie; as for Kate Winslet, she's made a generous use of her upstairs assets.
The little swing-y song was meant to be funny. It made humor-less feminists cringe, actresses fake
cringe, with fake horrified, pre-taped shots of their mortified faces rather than boobs. And it probably generated thousands of Google searches with key words such as Mulholland Boobs. So what's the big deal?

When I was growing up in France, I was totally accustomed to seeing boobs everywhere. You might say that French are pervs, and you might be right. In my country, women show their breasts on the beach, on billboards, in movies, in TV series, in commercials, with no restrain. It is understood that the boob is made to sell, and no one is prudish about it. My favorite boob perk was the commercial for a fruit juice brand named Joker. The slogan: The Naked Fruit. The advert: a naked girl drinking fruit juice. Simple, straightforward, efficient.

In the U.S., the relationship to boobs is more of a peep tale. The breast tissue can be shown, the cleavage can be deep, the side of the breast can be revealed and shown fairly freely. But the nipple is a big shocker. It retains this magical, powerful peekaboo effect.
Ursula Ofman, Psy. D. clinical psychologist from New York, explains that humans are hard-wired to seek and react to this fundamental body part that we all depend upon for our survival.
Of course, the boob is much more that the sum of its parts.
During the Superbowl half-time show in 2004, America reaffirmed its reprobation of the nipple flashing. Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake sang a duet. As the song reached the final line, "I'm gonna have you naked by the end of this song," Timberlake pulled off a part of Jackson's costume, revealing her outer right breast, the breast ornamented with a sun-shaped nipple ring. Janet Jackson's incident was qualified a wardrobe malfunction. It allegedly had the potential to traumatize children and grown-ups alike for a split-second sight of the nipple. It was deemed indecent.

Yet, Lady B, Beyoncé herself, launched her 2013 The Mrs. Carter Show world tour with a striking wardrobe, a highly-functioning wardrobe. At her opening concert, in Belgrade, Serbia, Beyoncé wore a gold corset with fake breasts and nipples, with realistic looking appendixes the size of cherries, or maybe simply the size of Beyoncé's own. The provocative outfit was designed by The Blonds, the brothers' duet Phillipe and David Blond, and leads one to wonder why the fake nipples are acceptable while the real ones are persona non grata, subject to fine when shown on TV.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

I'm not grumpy, I'm French

When you see a cute bunny rabbit, I see dinner. When you see a fluffy adorable animal, I see gibelotte de lapin or civet de lièvre. This is just the beginning of our cultural differences. You might think that I'm angry all the time, but actually I call it realism. One time, not too long ago, I was happy. It was horrible.

The French are known for being grumpy, unfriendly, moody, curt, and impolite. You worship positive thinking. We soak in negativism. Is it depression, at the level of the whole population?  In the 1960's the French singer Barbara was singing Le Mal de Vivre. Are we afflicted by a bad case of spleen and ennui?

I remember when I moved to New York, 16 years ago, people kept asking me what I thought of New-Yorkers. "Argh, poor you! They're not too rude?!" they kept asking. "Rude?! New-Yorkers rude? Are you kidding? They are as harmless as a litter of new puppies. They're not rude at all! They are nice and charming and smiling people. They say 'good for you' for every little piece of toot that you produce."

Instead, the French wear their rudeness like a medal. We invented rude! You think it's a figure of speech?! Not at all. Rude is a French word. It means rough, harsh, hard, rugged, coarse, mannerless.
What do you expect from a country that produces the best wine in the world, the most delightful food, exceptional fashion, a superb health care system and a movie industry so sublime that it is granted a cultural exception? All these blessings should make them happy? They are miserable, not fools! The French will give you all their malaise, their mal de vivre, their spleen. Baudelaire was madly in love with melancholy. "I can barely conceive of a type of beauty in which there is no Melancholy", he wrote.

We also invented Joie de vivre, the opposite of Mal de vivre, but somehow it was short lived, and the French collectively settled for the Mal!

Last I was in Paris, I stopped at Aux Deux Amis, a diminutive wine bar in Paris. The name of the bar means Two Friends. Naively I though that the service would be friendly.  The name was terribly misleading. I ordered a glass of red wine from Loire Valley. It was so abrasive that my front teeth hurt. When I dared say that the wine recommended was a bit young, the bartender reacted as if I had insulted him and his family over twelve generations. It was not annoyance that the bartender expressed, it was wrath. I still want to believe he's suffering from Tourette syndrome. Or he is French. That's all.