Friday, April 08, 2011

Just home from eight days in Paris.  Michael’s brother Joel lives there, and we've been wanting to go for a long time.  Mulan began taking French at school this year, so she was eager to try out speaking French to real Frenchians.  Joel’s favorite impressionist painter is Gustave Caillebotte, whose best known work: "Paris on a Rainy Day" hangs at the Art Institute here in Chicago.  Joel had this idea that we should restage the picture now.  He knew the exact location of the painting. So one day, we all traipsed out – on a rainy day in Paris – to take our version of the picture.  And there you have it – one Caillebotte’s version, and one Joel’s starring me, Michael and Mulan as the person walking towards us.  Unfortunately we had only one umbrella.  But still, it's an approximation.    Cars really take the romantic out of a place, don't you think?

I've travelled quite a bit in the last six weeks.  Since Feb. 19th – only 42 days ago, I have been on the road for 25 of those days.  Hawaii, the Pacific NorthWest, France.  Truthfully, I'm always scheming for another trip and my urge to travel has the markers for addiction.  For example, in a moment of downtime in Paris I found myself googling rental houses in Hawaii for next year.  Something that I not only canNOT afford to do, it's way too far in the future, and isn't even advisable from a time available vs. other commitments standpoint.  

Wow, just writing that caused me to stop and shudder.  My mind is an “I want” machine.  It can get out of hand.  Plus, as much as I love to travel, I have an equal feeling of hate towards it.  The getting ready, the re-entry back into routines.  It's all much more effort than the trip itself.  After this much travel, I am practically on the verge of entering a contemplative convent which observes the offices of the day and has only bland un-spiced food.  Now, where could I join a convent like that?  Should I start googling it?


Fortunately, now I have a large swath of time without guests or travel.  I am feeling greedy and ambitious about it.  I want a schedule.  I want a slow encroachment towards completing tasks. I want organization and plodding effort. I don't want that zing.  Travel is like sugar, it gets me all hopped up.  

But back to Paris for a moment, shall we?

It was such a dreamy, lovely trip.  Every day in Paris we went to a museum and also did some major area site seeing and a whole lot of walking.  We rode bikes on Sunday when the express-ways near the Siene are blocked off for just that purpose.  We wandered all around Monmartre with a nice walking tour in English (called “Paris Walks.”)    We did another tour called: The History of Fashion.   Mulan was riveted.  Me too.  Our guide started with Louis 14th showing off his great legs in tights and went on from there.  On top of all this, Joel invited us to join him to see several historical exhibits I would never have gone to without prodding.  For example:  The Paris Commune of 1871 at City Hall.

Oh, I want to live in Paris!

I'd only been to Paris once before.  In 1981, just after I graduated from college. I went backpacking with my brother, Bill, and we camped. That’s right, we camped in Paris. I'm not sure where, just outside the city.  We had to walk everywhere in Paris with huge backpacks.  We ate canned food, heated on a butane stove outside our tent, IN PARIS.   I barely remember anything from that trip except glimpses of the glimpses we got of the Mona Lisa and the gardens at Versailles and the Eiffel tower – although I don’t believe we had the money to go to the top and just hung out at the middle level. 

So, now I’m in love with the city.  I didn’t realize how easy it was to get around (the Metro system is so efficient and reliable and widespread) and how knowing only English was almost never an impediment.  I had a big fantasy going while I was there about how I could live there for a whole year.  I am always like that, falling for every place I visit.  What a tart!

Speaking of which, the pastries were great.  Joel’s apartment (originally built around 1650) in the Morais was an ideal spot for people-watching from his large second floor window.  Orthodox Jews mixed with gay people and hip fashion stores next to kosher falafel stands.  Every morning Joel would make us great dark rich coffee while Mulan and I went to his favorite boulangerie and got croissants.  Mulan would order them in French.  I simply beamed with pride.

Just before this Paris trip I went on the road with Jill Sobule. We did four Jill & Julia Shows in six days: Spokane, Portland, Seattle, and then Los Angeles.   Dave Carpenter came along to play the bass.   He's such a great addition to our mix and we all laughed so hard on this trip.  It was an absolute joy.  The travel was also grueling, but somehow the days felt light-hearted and breezy.   Wow, just writing about Jill and Dave causes me to wish we were on the road again. In Spokane they made it "Julia Sweeney Day" (truly embarrassing to everyone except my mother) and the mayor, Mary Verner,  came to our show and gave me a calligraphic official proclamation.  She was really cool and funny as we joked around backstage about my "day."      

Okay, let’s get on to the lists:

Books read in the month of March, in the year of 2011:

1.     After The Ice, A Global Human History 20,000 – 5,000 B.C. by Steven Mithen. I finished this book, I had started it last month.  It knocked my socks off.  It’s not that I learned anything completely surprising, it’s just the detail of knowledge, the big overview of prehistoric man was world-view changing.  It’s like when I took my first Economics class and suddenly the world and it’s myriad of transactions were forever altered.  I knew how money worked, I just didn’t realize – I didn’t see how it invaded everything.  That’s how I feel about his book.  It’s heart wrenching, and deeply poignant and inspiring - reading about what we know about societies and groups of people scraping out a life so long ago.  It’s bone-chilling when you think how our climate is probably going to be changing dramatically in the next 100 years – in fact it could very well be as different from the weather we have now as the Last Glacial Maximum was from the warm, perfect-for-farming weather that we have experienced (more or less) since, say, 10,000 B.C.  There is an extreme likelihood of major population movement (and decline) drought, and warfare over dwindling resources.  I feel we're living in a Belle Epoch, in the future people will look back and say that the 100 years around just now - here in this place - in an affluent democracy – in relatively calm weather very conducive for humans and farming, it was a paradise.  But am I just an ego-maniac trying to imagine a horrible future, but just after I die?  Am I so guilty over giving up a belief in God that I have latched onto an apocalyptic world-view in another way?  I really don't think so, but then, I can't read what I just wrote - and not wonder if I'm being hysterical.  My answer: no!  It's real and it's happening.

And so, lets calm ourselves by thinking of... bad mothers.

2.     Bad Mother by Ayelet Waldman.   This book is funny and smart.  I'd read the reviews, and various articles written by Waldman before, but never read this book.  I love this woman!  God, it’s hilarious, relatable, provocative and bracingly truthful all at the same time.  It's inspired.

3.     The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks and Giants of the Ocean by Susan Casey.   Waves happen to scare me deeply, and not just because of the recent tsunami tragedies.  Long ago, in Santa Monica, CA, I was driving home late at night, and I looked over my left shoulder at the ocean - very dark and big and foreboding.  The moonlight was just so.  Suddenly I was overcome by the idea that there was this huge mass of water so close to me, and the only reason it stayed put was because of gravity.   I know that's true for everything.  But to me at that moment, the ocean looked like a docile gigantic monster that just happened to be sleeping.  I verged on developing an out and out panic attack - my heart rate climbed, I pushed down on the gas pedal, I broke out into a sweat.  I drove home to Hollywood quickly, flying down the freeway, as if I had to outrun the ocean which was chasing me.  (A psychologist may have pointed out that I was also driving home from a boyfriend who had just told me two very disturbing things: the first was that he feared my vagina was going to bite his penis off  - he had had some horrible dream about it.  And this was not he scariest part of it!  The double punch was that he insisted he'd never heard of vagina dentata before.  The second very disturbing event was just after this, while I was trying to configure my face into an expression less like Munch's "The Scream."  He confessed he had waxed his entire back, to get rid of hair, by himself.  This had caused his entire back to erupt in disgusting oozing pustules that he wanted me to dab with some special ointment.  Btw, I had never said a think about his back hair, hadn't even thought about it.  But alas, I feigned an illness and basically bolted out the door.  Yes, cruel.  But yet - unavoidable.  In any case, true, this may have contributed to my sudden fear of the ocean.  Let me also add: I was 24 years old.)  Bottom line: Waves fascinate and scare me.  Surfers intrigue me.  Tsunamis seem to be on the rise. (he he) This book delivered.

  The  Kill by Emile Zola.  Finally, some fiction!  I really want to read fiction, I really do!  But jezhus sometimes I just cannot get there.  On the plane to Paris, I began this novel which I enjoyed thoroughly. My brother-in-law Joel had recommended it.  Joel is currently in the thrall of a particular time in French h history: the Second Empire and the Haussmannization of Paris.    Haussmann was the prefect of Paris in the mid-1800's.  He oversaw a great modernization effort that destroyed much of medieval Paris and introduced the big boulevards and iconic apartment buildings that define most of Paris today.  There was a lot of back-room dealing, fortunes were lost and made, and much graft and profiteering.  This is the backdrop of the book, The Kill.  It's filled with  real estate scheming, debauchery, incest and excess of every kind.   I wish Zola were alive to write the stories of New York financiers during the last ten years – it all rings so familiar.  Joel took us on walks around many homes that were of the type the characters in the book lived in, and we even walked around a park that is featured prominently in The Kill.  

4.     Global Catastrophes: A Very Short Introduction by Bill McGuire.  I know.  I know!  I'm so hungry for doom.  This book concentrates on Ice Ages and Warm Ages, Earthquakes and Tsunamis, and Volcanic Eruptions.  It also addresses human induced global warming and possible ice aging (for example, if the gulf stream shuts down there is a marked possibility that the British Isles and northern Europe would experience a mini-ice age.)  The most surprising frightening thing I learned is that global warming causes more earthquakes.  That association was never made clear to me before.  Why?  Because water is heavy.  When there is more water in the ocean, and less of it seized up in ice, it’s weighs down on the earth’s crust.  Every additional inch of water is a significant difference is weight.  The fault lines get much more pressure, and they give way more quickly, therefore more earthquakes.

5.    Now I've just started “Scream-Free Parenting” (ha – just writing that made me laugh.  And then, sadly, wince.) by Hal Edward Lunkel.  Then, I hope, I swear, on to another book of fiction. 

I’m much more of a risk-taker with non-fiction than with fiction.  With non-fiction, at least I’m going to learn something, it doesn’t have to be extraordinarily written.  I get eager just because of the subject matter.  But fiction.  God – it’s hard. I want to read it – but it must be stellar or I’ll stop.  I give up pretty quickly. 

These are the non-fiction books piled on my office desktop right now: Bossypants, by Tina Fey, Great American Hypocrites by Glenn Greenwald, The Most Human Human by  Brian Christian, Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman by Jon Krakauer and finally Leaving The Saints by Martha Beck.

The fiction books, piled on the other side of my desk are: William Trevor’s Selected Stories, Peter Carey’s Parrot and Olivier in America, Zola's The Belly of Paris. 

If I can start a book of fiction while not first grabbing Fey's Bossypants, it will be a miracle.

In fact, I can say with confidence right now that I cannot resist Tina Fey.  In all her forms. I might have to stop writing this blog to go read her book.

Okay, I did.   It was great. I actually laughed so hard at the list of things to do to get a break from your baby that I snorted and lost control of my laughter in a freaky way that would have terrified anyone if they'd been home to witness it.  Get this book.  She is just, oh - Tina Fey! 

Okay, the list of MOVIES!

1.     Salt, Phillip Noyce
2.     The Ghost Writer, Roman Polanski
3.     Devil’s Doorway, Anthony Mann
4.     The Last Emperor, Bernardo Bertolucci
5.     Marie Antoinette, Sofia Coppola
6.     Meet Me in St. Lewis, Vincente Minnelli
7.     Music Man, the TV version directed by Jeff Bleckner
8.     Cairo Time, Ruba Nadda
9.     Joan Rivers, A Piece of Work, Ricki Stern & Annie Sundberg
10. An American in Paris, Vincente Minnelli
11. Me and Orson Welles, Richard Linklater

Mulan got a cold a few weeks ago, something that almost never happens.  She missed two days of school – unheard of!  This kid has the immune system of a child raised for a sixteen months in an orphanage.  She is strong like ox.  But there she was, with a cold and a fever and home from school.  We had a great time.  I realized that without intending to, I had gotten two end-of-royalty epics from Netflix: "The Last Emperor" and "Marie Antoinette."    First we watched The Last Emperor – and had lots to talk about – the end of the dynasty in China, the rise of the communists.  Then the next day we watched "Marie Antoinette."  It was awesome.  The whole experience made me want to home-school Mulan.  When I suggested this, it was her turn to reconfigure her face into something that was as much NOT Munch's "The Scream" as humanly possible.  

I think "Marie Antoinette" is my favorite Sofia Coppola film.  I thought it was poignant and sad and emotionally realistic in ways I didn't expect.  Jason Schwartzman as Louis 16th, how perfect!  He is so tragic.  Their relationship - dear Lord, there has to be more women directors.   I keep seeing movies that have an emotional truth about them and they are inevitably directed and written by women.  I want to see "Marie Antoinette" again.  (I guess I am still musing about "Down to the Bone" written and directed by Debra Granick. It blew me away.)

Both "The Last Emperor" and "Marie Antoinette" had the same emotional tug and pull.  You're outraged at their excess and luxury, you feel for the central characters thrown unwillingly into this world, you are firmly waiting for the "people" to rebel and burn the place down, but on the other hand, how fantastic are those shoes???

Although it hit me with a wallop in Paris last week – oh yeah…. The French Revolution didn’t exactly take.  It’s much easier to be a disgruntled and frustrated citizen than to figure out how to maintain a real meritocracy over the long haul.  This brings me to my latest musing.. do revolutions really work?  And also, why do we call our cessation from Britain the American Revolution?  It wasn’t a revolution.  It was a cessation from Britain.

I loved "Me and Orson Welles."  I'm a big admirer of Richard Linklater.  I wanted to drop into that movie and roll around in it.  All the performances were spot on.  The end broke my heart and felt like pure hope and possibility. 

I did not like "Joan Rivers, A Piece of Work."   So depressing.   I don't understand how she could be so un-self-aware as to allow that movie to even be released.  Her jokes were terrible. She was desperate for attention, a bottomless pit of need, masked as "ambition" and she exhibited no real inner life.  Even at the end, when she's crying about her associate not working with her anymore – it was all narcissistic and self pitying.  No real concern for him.  Michael and I were debating weather to watch the Joan Rivers documentary or the documentary "The Pat Tillman Story.".  After we watched Joan Rivers, I said to him, I think the Pat Tillman film would have been less depressing than that doc.

Of course "An American in Paris" was a treat.  Mulan referenced it constantly in Paris.  Especially since Joel's small apartment was much like Gene Kelley’s in the film.  And  Leslie Caron, what a body, what a dancer – my GOD!

Okay. I am out of steam. I have no energy to write about any audio books.  Plus, my hard drive crashed and I lost all my audio books (I am in them midst of doing some damage control) and the only one i listened to was Patton Oswalt's "Zombie, Spaceship, Wasteland."  It was fun and funny and made me miss Patton who I used to hang with in L.A. quite a bit.

I have no energy for music lists.  I must get back to my work.

Oh, but first a word about Libya.

I just cannot take it. I can't let it in.  I can't even read about it.  I am livid with Obama.  It may be the right thing to do, I really hope it is, I really hope there is so much I don't know, so much that supports this ADDITIONAL FUCKING WAR.

I feel as though Obama were my husband and let's say he's a banker, and one of the things we first bonded on together was how we hated - let's say people who cheated on their taxes.  And then, I find out my husband is cheating on his taxes!  And worst of all he didn't act like it was all that big of a deal. Oh yeah, I cheated on my taxes.  And then, I am so stunned, and there's nothing I can really do at the moment, plus - as I said, I am stunned and cannot even think about this reality - so I just go around in my regular life with him - to the pharmacy, let's say, and it rushes up to me when I'm least expecting it, when I'm standing in line.  My husband is a big cheater!!!

Is that the most convoluted analogy?  I dunno. It's just - what?

And then, when Obama's allowing a military commission at Guantanamo try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed instead of in a civil court - after everything he said he would do about it...  To me, that is this addition to my shocked stupefication in line at the pharmacy-analogy.  It's this: oh yeah, and your husband also sleeps with a drug addicted whore when he has time.

Oh.  Really?  Huh.  Huh.  Huh...

All righty. Just had to add that rant.  Take care, and thanks for reading!