Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Rite of Passage

This is the Bureau Chief's fifth visit to France in this century. On each previous visit I considered trying a French delicacy of somewhat dubious reputation, andouillette. It's a sausage stuffed with pork chitterlings. Today, as I sat at lunch with Madame Le Chef, in a brasserie outside the grounds of the Chateau de Chantilly outside of Paris, I decided today was the day. I ordered the andouillette in mustard sauce and this is what arrived.

The sad truth was that it wasn't bad, but wasn't very good either. I've had beef tripe Italian style (tomato sauce) and Polish style (cream sauce) and I find a strong family resemblance between them and andouillette. All dishes had a very mild taste, tasting mostly of their sauces, and were tender but with a  bit of tooth resistance. They all had the same shredded rags look and mouth feel (as the foodies say). I don't get the point. I ate about half of the sausage. It may have been better grilled to a crisp and simply served with mustard but my experiments with this odd shaped object are over.

Paris 1st Report

Madame Le Chef and I are great fans of Paris Walks, which are walking tours in English led by very well prepared, intelligent and amusing guides in various neighborhoods in Paris. Unfortunately we've been on almost all of them so we were happy to discover a new one which had a history of science emphasis and centered around the Jardin des Plantes in the Latin Quarter.

The tour started with the remains of a Roman arena. The original stonework had been repaired with modern additions but the basic structure was there. Instead of blood, guts and fake naval battles there were some guys playing soccer.

The Jardin des Plantes has a zoo and, although we didn't visit it, the animal images over flowed.

Even the merry-go-round had a didactic slant.

The actual building.

Science and commercialism.

Under the trees on a hot day.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

les vacances

Madame Le Chef and I are going to France, and then to New York and Rhode Island, before returning home. Unlike in past years, we will have reasonably easy internet access part of the time and I intend to post occasionally.

Last week we walked down Valencia street, which has become the Mecca of hip in the city (I knew it when), but is still very pleasant. There was some new street art.

A portrait?

Really fresh art.

A detail from a family portrait where the parents are alien mutants.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Hayao Miyazaki

When Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki’s “Spirited Away” won the Oscar for best animated feature film in 2003 it was a truly rare moment for those awards. They actually honored the best film nominated in that category and, even more rare, if not unique, they honored the filmmaker for what seems to be his masterpiece. Then the Academy got back to business as usual by giving the best picture award to the grossly over-praised and completely ephemeral “Chicago” over Polanski’s “The Pianist”.

This observation was occasioned by looking at a DVD of Miyazaki’s latest film, “Ponyo”, which is delightful, beautiful and odd, as usual. I’m happy to report that while the plot has several “what the…?!” moments, it is basically coherent, which distinguishes it from his previous film, “Howl’s Moving Castle”, whose plot is not capable of being followed by mere humans.

What I like most in Miyazaki’s films is his interest in the specificity of things, particularly mechanical things, and of the natural world. In “Ponyo” the two children go sailing through a flooded landscape in a toy tin boat, powered by a candle heating water into steam. The toy has been enlarged to kid size by magic. What I like least about his films is his penchant for conjuring up various deities (in “Ponyo” a nature goddess) who by their very nature tend to be presented with broad and somewhat generic strokes.

In contrast the magical creatures in “Spirited Away” are interestingly idiosyncratic. My favorite scene in the film is the ride the heroine takes on a mid-twentieth-century trolley accompanied by a bizarre spirit companion and ghostly passengers. The specificity of the trolley and the landscape and the spectral strangeness of the superhuman crew is one of the many pleasures of this great film.