10 February, 2010

Back-B-Log: 1990: Cannes - Dread And Victory (V Retreat and Victory)

[From the 2nd and final issue of the Tuesday Express/American Voyeur Paris/Cannes Issue! 1990]

Sunday, May 20th: Retreat

I wake first and, after a shower to remove the crud of another Mediterranean swelter night, I head off to the bakery to find goodies. Back in the apartment we manage leftovers breakfast and coffee. I step out on the balcony, complete with its trellis with fake plants and large plastic crustaceans (a wall which would have been at home in any Seafood Shanty restaurant). I survey Cannes below me, an overblown dream; harsh, Sunday morning sunlight glancing of beige yellow and white condominiums. After cleaning up breakfast, I head out, arranging to meet Angela and Barrett at lunchtime.

I laze my way through the streets, I can hardly be bothered. I've peaked and the festival is winding down around me. I try to go into the Carlton to visit their booths, but suddenly there is security, and they won't let people in - there was no security before, and by now everybody except the judges and the competitors have left town. I go to the American pavilion, looking for Int. Her. Trib., I scrounge the last one for the crossword. I look over the last of the promo materials, on one table I see a postcard announcing 'Nazi Zombies - we have the title, we have the story' and a contact for interested investors. I go by the Palais, but I don't bother getting a daycard. I've decided to change my plans and leave as soon as possible. I meet up with Angela and Barrett to say goodbye, they're on their way to lunch with the Navy guys. Barrett says she'll contact me when she got back to London, I never heard.

Trained to Juan Les Pins, changed flight. Haggled with the hotelier as I'm checking out late. I don't pay the extra, but the French hotels get their own back when I arrive in Nice too late to retrieve my deposit for the hotel there. Grab lunch at Freetime (the dubious bernaise burger). I make the airport with so much time to spare, I change my flight again. Nothing to do but browse the airport shops, I see the commemorative festival watch, ridiculous (film canister face, movie clapboard hands), but handsome, I buy it, my last strange souvenir.

Boarding the plane I argue with the guard who insists on putting my loaded camera through the x-ray machine, I want a handcheck in the end he tears it from my hands and throws it onto the conveyor belt. I relent, the French thug cops. (a photojournalist friend of a friend has an unpublishable photo he took of a French cop shooting and killing an unarmed suspect falsely accused of shoplifting)

I sit next to an elderly couple from Boston on the plane, they spend time in Nice every year, they don't know anything about this 'festival thing.' I turn to the last daily festival issue of Variety. The back cover has a still from Basketcase II, a picture of the gloopy monster grinning, large caption underneath 'GOODBYE'.

Epilogue: Victory
Safely ensconced in my apartment far from the madness, after an exhausting day back at work, I tune in the very end of the presentation ceremonies. I see 'Wild at Heart' Win the Palme D'Or - now I know how it feels to see your team win the World Series....

Never saw Barrett again. While when I wrote this I implied that I hadn't heard from her, I vaguely recall finding out, too late to matter, that she had left a message for me at my work in London, which I didn't receive until I returned from Paris.

My beloved Cannes watch stopped working after about five years, and even after the drastic replacement of its workings it still is only correct twice a day. Attempts to find other copies on Ebay have been fruitless.

The Fourth Reich strangely has disappeared from IMDB, although this article (The Cinema of Manie van Rensburg) esteems it one of the director's best films. This may be an oversight by IMDB, but perhaps it is an issue of data confusion as there is a new film by the same title coming soon to our screens which is not about South African National Socialists, but is about.....
Nazi Zombies! (The 4th Reich at IMDB, not to be confused with the 2009 Norwegian skiing Nazi Zombie flick Død snø). Even great ideas take a long time in the movie business.]

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09 February, 2010

Back-B-Log: 1990: Cannes - Dread And Victory (IV Wild Thing)

[From the 2nd and final issue of the Tuesday Express/American Voyeur Paris/Cannes Issue! 1990]
Saturday, May 19th: Wild Thing
I'm not about to give up. The press screening for 'Wild At Heart' is at 8:30 this morning. There's no way that everyone is going to be there after all the late night action. The sun is strong, it gives everything a rigid edge, I'm toned and energized as I stride from the train station. There were only two trains that could have gotten me here on time, and I ran for the second. I'm in by 7:40. There's no one in front of the Palais yet.

The Film Societe offices are closed, and I weigh the wisdom of giving up on the Lynch and sticking with this more assured way of at least getting into something. In one of the windows a dozen monitors are set up as an advertisement for European Cable, each tuned to a different channel, some of which are giving Festival coverage. I learn of the deaths of both Jim Henson and Sammy Davis Jr. (I flash on the day at College a few years back, when I thought I had heard a rumour that Henson had died of a virus - deja vu?).

I return to the steps of the Palais. A crowd has started to form. With some bravado I join the crowd in line and wait. After listening to the conversations going on around me, I start to chat up a few of the Americans. One of them, Joan Cohen, develops some film festival for, of all places, Fort Lauderdale, Florida. She works for the Broward County film commission, whose offices are in LA. She's sort of a fortiesish slim overtanned Jewish maiden aunt, with what anti-feminists look on as a hobby-career. I mention that my parents live down there half the year; on hearing she's looking for indie productions, I go so far as to tell her about "Ramblin' Gal". I stop short of trying to sell it to her, but I promise her the information on how to contact the Person's. She tells me that you get the tickets to the official screenings at the Unifrance desk in the Grand Palais, but I don't have the credentials for it. It also turns out that she has an extra ticket to this morning's screening.

She starts ransacking her handbag for it. I try not to show my nervousness. An American couple have joined in the conversation, one of them thinks she misplaced her ticket, can she have the extra one. Joan says its been promised to me, and she's not sure she can find it. Almost at once, both women find their missing tickets. Wheww!

Joan hands me the ticket. Selection officielle. I experience an ungodly rush of endorphins. I remain calm, keeping the party to myself. This is it!

I am horribly and unbearably impatient. When are they going to let us in? They wouldn't start the film precisely on time without letting everyone in? How inefficient the French are, that would be just like them. I'm so tense I don't even look for famous people.

We're going in. WOW! Apparently the tickets designate whether you're on the floor or in the balcony. I'm in the balcony, more prestigious, but less to my taste, who's complaining. I find a seat, they are filling up at an amazing rate. I scan the audience. I have that half-awake mid-morning lustful-hope, it would be the crowning achievement if some ravishing Lynch fan were to sit by me, and there are plenty here, but, Ok, so I get some strange looking Europeans, fine, I'll be able to watch the film better. OHMIGODIMHERE WOW!

Wild At Heart. The film washes over me. Lynch's over-the-top strangeness, violence and sex, with sprinklings of incoherent allusions to Elvis and Wizard of Oz. I enjoyed immensely, but I'd really have to see it again to tell you whether I liked it (the more I think about it, the more I like it). And this is a REAL audience, a congregation of the church of mine own, they applaud before it starts, they stop talking and only make mostly group responses (I was one of the few people guffawing at the Wizard of Oz stuff), and they cheered and applauded enthusiastically at the end. No celebs showed up, they are to go to the screening this evening, but that doesn't matter, we're here for the MOVIE.

Afterwards, although in a contented, sated daze, my instinct manuevers me as quickly as possible past the security, to get my Day card, and straight down to the Unifrance line. I can't actually get tickets here, but maybe I can talk someone into giving me one of theirs, it worked once already. And magically, again, I'm standing next to two American women, thirtysomething New Yorkers, one manages one of the major art house cinemas, is basically here to shop for films, and the other just finished an MA at NYU film school, is trying to flog her school project to distributors, and get money to produce her next. They both seem glad to talk to someone who is here because they love film, they seem tired of the industry, show-the-"product" people. One of them has a few extra tickets to the screening of Cyrano De Bergerac which starts momentarily (a bunch of her friends desperate to get a break from the festival drove to Monte Carlo, and aren't making it back). I weigh the opportunities, take the ticket, stay here and hope to get something better, when we make it to the beginning of the line, I also hear that there's going to be a 'Wild At Heart' Press Conference in about an hour.

The way the ticket system works is that you apply for a certain number of tickets for each of the screenings ahead of time. Depending on your status in the pecking order, Industry, Market, or Press, you may or not get what you want. All the REALLY important people are just given theirs outright.

I opt for Cyrano. I probably couldn't BS my way into the press conference, there's nothing much else that I want to specifically see. So why not, by the time I get out, it'll be just about time to get in touch with Barrett who's been trying to introduce me to some PR girl all week because we're both film buffs (sure, I'll bite).

Cyrano was excellent, one of Depardieu's best, and a real surprise given that I'd seen him in mostly inarticulate roles previously. The adaptation captures both the literary zeal of the character as well as injecting some enjoyable swashbuckling. I later find out that Anthony Burgess did the verse translation for the subtitles.

I wander around the Palais again, picking up souvenirs like a tourist. Things are definitely winding down, only half the booths seem open. I contemplate asking for or stealing film posters, one for 'Comic-Book Confidential' with examples of various cartoonists, and one for some dutch film the poster was done by one of their better graphic artists. Moral and practical reasons prevail... how would I transport them? I buy the T-shirt with this year's Festival Poster on it. I buy the official program (an outrageous 120 francs). I buy a pin.

Meeting Barrett at the boat, she finally introduces Angela, the American PR film-buff she wants to fob me off on romantically. O.K. by me, Angela is very cute: petite, sleek short dark hair, and a Lynch fan to boot (I'd never met a woman who not only liked, but loved Blue Velvet), but unfortunately, Barrett has failed in her well meaning research again, Angela is meeting her BOYFRIEND down in Italy in a few days. On top of this Barrett has arranged to meet up with some Navy guys on leave, who she takes a perhaps sisterly interest in being a Navy brat herself.

There are four Navy guys, two pairs of buddies from different ships, they seem alright. They are good old boys, but without the clichéd patina that exudes from many of the military I've met. They all seem to be chasing Barrett in a surprisingly mellow, laid back fashion (considering that they've been at sea for three months). We troop about the harbour, passing Karreem Abdul Jabbar, the second and last famous person I saw that week. Angela is going to the big gala screening of Wild At Heart that night, I balk at asking her to get me in (what would I wear, do I want to see it twice in the same day?). She does offer to get me into one of the films her company is promoting. We all split up 'til later.

American Pavilion - I'm trying to leave Joan Cohen a message to get her hooked up with Carl Person - returning her favour. I barely recognize her as she comes to the desk while I'm writing it. She thanks me and goes on her way. I look for materials and food to scrounge, then I go to L'Ambassades to the screening that Angela gets me into.

The film is called 'The 4th Reich' it is pretty much at TV movie level, but it is interesting because it tells about the foiled Nazi coup attempt during WWII in South Africa, which adds to my pitiably small store of historical knowledge of South Africa.

Finally grabbing my first meal of the day (Quick, again), I chat up a trio of Scandinavians, who oddly hold English as the common language between them. I then meet up again with Barrett and the navy guys. We go to an open air bar attached to a condo where the Screen International people are hanging out, they disdain the American Navy personnel, and while I had been interested in getting to know a bit more about the film journo scene, their pretentious black garbed artsyfartsiness goes a long way to putting me off. We sit there for quite a while as its getting dark drinking our beers and rum and cokes.

I'm waiting for Angela to show up again, having fixated mildly, and wanting to discuss the Lynch with her, she's the only person I've talked to since I got here who seems interested in movies the same way I am. Even to most of those who are interested in the films themselves, its just commerce. The journo's are modishly blase, they don't mention the films, just the stories, or the pictures they're doing, they don't talk about the content, they talk about the work. Gossip here is all money related, who's backing whom. The film reviews in the dailies here seem as much interested in appraising a movie's marketability as itself. No one talks about what films they've seen, they drop which parties they've been to what execs they've met. I've seen no celebrities here because they aren't really here, they are just part of the product... producers and their money are the real matin-fuckin-ay idols.

Angela appears modestly dressed to the nines, just being at the gala showing of Wild at Heart, I'm somewhat awed, she has been to the promised land.

The evening degenerates from here. We walk down one end of the Croissette to find a bar near the Carlton where we're supposed to be meeting yet another navy guy. It becomes like a long march after that we troop all the way over to the other side of town, wandering up into the old port, a hilly area, with great Saturdaynightlife. Along the way we lose Barrett and one of the guys, we spend too much time looking for them and finally sit down to eat at a pizza place by the docks, the fugitives show up while we're just on our drinks, and tear us away from the restaurant. After much more walking and drinking, Angela and I peel off for dinner at a place called Cannibal Pizza.

The rest of the staff of her company have left town, she is alone in the apartment they've rented. I beg a place to crash because its too late to catch a train back to Juan Les Pins. She takes me in. I fight the urge to make a pass at her which I don't think would be a welcomed response to her generosity (she's mentioned her boyfriend just once too often). Exhausted and fed I collapse happily onto the bed, thinking irrelevant thoughts of a pretty film buff in the next bedroom. Frustration and contentment merge in a quiet pleasant buzz as I fall asleep.

[to be continued in V Retreat and Victory...]

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08 February, 2010

Back-B-Log: 1990: Cannes - Dread And Victory (III Banana Republic and the Grand Palais)

[From the 2nd and final issue of the Tuesday Express/American Voyeur Paris/Cannes Issue! 1990]
III Friday, May 18th: Banana Republic and other guises.

Morning is hot, I head straight for the Carlton, just to get inside while I wait for Barrett. I look around the booths in the foyer, one - pushing subscriptions to the Hollywood Reporter, others - video sales for schlock films. I leaf through publicity material, but in some cases this is snatched from me, as it is obvious I'm not going to be doing business with them. An English woman working for the Australian Film Commission admires my Banana Republic T-shirt (Minister of Propaganda). Her daughter goes to school in the states and buys out the store. She is very friendly, and generous with the leaflets. After all, I'm the only one whose been loitering through here all day.

I head across the Croissette, wait for a free phone booth. There is a huge inflatable siren, a Thanksgiving Day Parade sized balloon of The Little Mermaid from the Disney film of the same name, she basks in the sun floating about fifty feet from the beach. I call Barrett. She comes down from the office to meet me, I'm sitting out in the sun doing origami. Boss lady isn't around so she takes me up to the office, introduces me around, I'm already a story to them, legendary embarrassment. I assure them, I'm OK now.

Colin the photographer shows up trailed by an artsy media-type in her early thirties, she's does freelance research for an English independent TV company, she's living in Paris. After I tell her I'm working there she gives me her business card, 'Carina B.' it says, maybe she couldn't afford to print the whole of her last name.

Barrett has to stop by the Palais to grab some of the competitors dailies - she has to classify and count the advertisements, and she has to get something at the boat. While we're waiting around for Barrett to change a small group forms chatting and scarfing down free pretzels, nuts, chips and OJ. I chat up one of the two women crew members, she's an Aussie ex-nurse working her way around the world. Two of the freelance writers show up, one in his forties a film critic, he seems interested in knowing how well I know Barrett... there seems to be a good deal of male posturing floating about here.

About this time my lie begins... a line of bull that I pitch in various forms to people while I'm down here. The gist: I'm here first and foremost a film buff, I work for a Computer consulting firm that is vaguely interested in acquiring a firm that does computer generated special effects (this is a left turn from the truth, we do acquire other firms, and most of the software we deal with has some sort of graphics capability). This seems enough to justify my presence, without making me look a complete tourist.

We finally head off to lunch, Barrett, myself, Colin, and the critic tags along; I invite Aussie girl, but she has boat stuff to do.

We have mediterranean pizza at crowded outside tables with authentically rude terrible service. We fight over the bill, I pay. We want more than one copy of the receipt so that we can all claim it for our expenses. The restaurant refuses, but we've already left the tip.

We wander back up the Croissette, towards the Carlton. I wander back towards the Palais alone, thinking I should just give the film idea up and go bask in the sun on the sand, but I'm afraid of ruining my camera (in tow). Anyway, I'd just hopelessly ogle the topless tannists. I stroll the promenade by the beach. I'm wrong, of course, when the whole beach is by and large topless, you lose that prurience, leaving only vague attraction without lust. I head towards the Brit pavilion, hoping to run into one of the women I met who works there.

Chatting up one of the workers in the Brit pavilion, I finally begin to find out some sensible things about getting into the barred screenings and convention rooms. There are three kinds of pass that I could conceivably get: press pass (which I thought I might have been able to sleaze out of Barrett, before the fiasco), to get one on my own I would have had to apply with credentials and clippings months ahead of time; market pass (this gives access to pavilions and to market screenings - non-festival related, popular entertainment films like Amazon Island of Cannibal Women) for which I'd have to pay 1000 francs (roughly $200, which seems tempting, but it's a little late in the game to blow that kind of money with only 2 days left); and day card, as I soon found out, all you need to get a day card is a business card and proof of identity (a passport), but the day card only gets you into the pavilions, not into the screenings.

On the way over to the pavilion, I tried the Film Societe office, if you pay a membership fee, they might be able to get you some tickets. After getting some pretty inconclusive answers as to the availability for the films I'm interested in, I finally wind up speaking with a French woman who lives in London, she is pleased by attempts at French, and says that I would have to get to the office early. Anyone who I mention trying to get tickets to the screenings of 'Wild At Heart' the new David Lynch film, just shakes their heads, it's the hottest ticket in town.

I go to the pavilion entrance to the Palais, but I'm barred entry by the thugs. I eventually manage to explain that I need a day card, they eventually manage to explain where the office is, but they insist I take the separate entrance to get to it. Nervous as hell, I enter the festival office, it's nearing the end of the day, so things are pretty sparse, I finally get the attention of one of the workers, she doesn't seem to want to be bothered, but after a cursory glance at my passport and business card, she gives me the day card.

I'm in, I proudly stride past the thugs. The inner sanctum, the Grand Palais du Festival, is just a convention center, on the lowest level there are partitioned booths and 'room's for various companies ranging from rival manufacturers of movie theater seats, to porn video distributors trying to channel some of their profits into more legitimate ventures - R-rated exploitation films - no, I didn't ask for samples. Film boards of various European countries, including the East Block (It's like 'ROAD WARRIOR', only with farm machinery). I stifle the urge to gorge myself on free publicity materials for films I may never see, or even hear of again. In one area a largescreen video is set up showing the French TV and European cable coverage of the Festival.

The meandering corridors seem endless. I duck up a deserted stairwell coming out in the lobby of the second largest theater in the building, I quickly go in before any security show up. There is a screening in progress. I simultaneously try to make sense of what is going on on screen and leaf through the dailies for details about this screening. Credits are running, oh great, I just missed something, no, it turns out this is a program of short subjects, ok, not the big thing, but something. The next one comes on: it starts off arty strange b/w, woman in an apartment suddenly realizes that the ceiling is slowly descending, she tries to cry for help, but can't open her windows looking out high above the city, she tries to prop up furniture, but that is crushed by the inexorable architecture, nearly impaled by her chandelier, in the last possible moments she begins to hit and tear at the ceiling, she breaks through, she is suddenly seen to be breaking through and emerging astonished from beneath the surface of a city street. After one other brief short, the program ended. Oh well, I've gotten my feet wet.

They're clearing out the theater, and ostensibly, the Palais, I duck into another stairwell and head back to the convention area. It's ghost-town time. Turning a corner, there are some chairs by one of the booths, I sit down exhausted. There are two women conversing loudly, a man and a boy, the only other people I've seen in twenty minutes. They are Americans of course; the guy, middle-aged well vetted, casual, figures out I'm American too, strikes up conversation. He is Carl Person, a New York Lawyer, he specializes in copyright law and is about to score big for his early involvement with the multimillion case against Mattel by the guy who invented the flanges on the Hot Wheels track; until now he's had no experience of the film industry. His wife, one of the women, Lu-Ann Horst Person, was a singer/songwriter, decided to add writer/director and made this musical inde movie on a sizeable shoestring (Carl's, he has shoestrings to spare). The movie is called "Ramblin' Gal", it's about a singer/songwriter who leaves her family to go to the big city, its a serious drama. Carl is under the misapprehension that I've sat through their film in a little video screening they just had. He seems quite glad, if not relieved to talk to me, another industry outsider. In New York he's a flash savvy lawyer, here, naive sitting duck.

His wife is talking to this faded American ballerina who's living in Paris. They're going to be working on a children's musical together. It turns out that this and the film are second ditch efforts after an Off-Broadway production they were trying to run ran out of steam and money in rehearsals. No, these are bland Americans, nothing Runyonesque or even Damonic about them. Their kid is assembling a cardboard working camera, probably a freebie from the Fuji booth. About nine years old, obviously bored, but not impatient, which seems surprising, he seems intelligent but he's not at all enthused or interested by being here, this is reason enough for me to ignore him, though I usually like smart kids.

Carl's telling me about some of the new developments in copyright's regarding 'intellectual property' and how that's going to be applied to software. I recall both: Lotus suing one of their competitors for making their program 'look and feel' too much like theirs, although the 'program' behind it is different; and: my friend Ken, has written a program which he's marketing through his company - he's been concerned about the ethics of the French company - apparently the French are close to the Japanese in idea stealing. Lawyer Person tells me Ken should almost hope that they steal, then whack them with a lawsuit. I get his business card to forward to Ken, who knows? I wish them good luck with the film, I feel strangely sorry for them, they'll need it.

This is fantastic, the palais is empty, I explore, the grown-ups are gone. I run around the several levels, ducking up stairwells, I find the roof and survey all around. I go down a corridor with mostly shut offices, risking discovery; I try to appear as if I know where I am. It's about six o'clock, it occurs to me that I could just stay in the building and then sneak into the Premiers that night with all the celebs, but, I'm not dressed to get away with it, and the film that night is Nouvelle Vague, the new Godard, which I'm not interested in. After a bit more on the roof (I'm joined by some lost Italian tourists), I leave the Palais before the magic grows thin.

I meander towards the cinema where I saw the Russian movie yesterday - maybe I'll get another offer, (maybe 'Plot Against Harry'?). No luck, I explore my way towards the train station, trying to decide whether to eat here or back in Juan Les Pins. The lagged tiredness is returning. I'm eyeing a cafe, when I notice this tall thin plain woman who looks familiar, not just because she's American, and is sort of a type... it's Ellen McWhirter, one of my professors from the U of P English Dept.

I approach her timidly and ask. She remembers me. She taught a course on Alfred Hitchcock, for which I developed my impersonation of the same to tease her. She's fairly blasé, she's waiting for a group of friends for dinner. We sit down for a coffee with a butch American woman and a somewhat fey Oriental guy. She's here as an instructor for PENN in CANNES some absurd summer program for rich Penn students. She's got tickets to 'Wild at Heart' and tells me to give up hope of getting any, they're impossible. The group they've been waiting for arrives and I leave, somewhat put off by what seems like gloating or mere disinterest.

Back in Juan Les Pins I rest for a bit, debate whether to bother doing Laundry, it's too late. I must eat to stay healthy, about 10:30 I stalk about, settling once again on Pizza (just about the only reasonable places that are open), but I go for the seafood (Pescadore) for a change, annoyed that it arrives with no cheese whatsoever. Afterwards I wander past the closed tourist arcades and a restaurant for tourists with a live conga band and umbrellaed cocktails. Down another street I am greeted with the welcome sight of a gelati place, and I splurge nearly 35 francs for a waffle sugar cone dipped in chocolate with stracciatella (chocolate chip) and framboise gelati. Strolling back along the promenade, gropers and interlopers on benches, it's a Felliniesque heaven, dimly lit by strings of coloured bulbs swaying slightly in the breeze, trespassing in the sky amidst the quiet stars.

[to be continued in IV Wild Thing...]

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07 February, 2010

Back-B-Log: 1990: Cannes - Dread And Victory (II To Juan Les Pins)

[From the 2nd and final issue of the Tuesday Express/American Voyeur Paris/Cannes Issue! 1990 ]
Thursday, May 17th: To Juan Les Pins
10 AM, it is 28 hours since I last slept. I spent the last few hours wandering up and down the beach and between the beach and the train station, waiting for the tourist office to open so I can get the numbers of hotels in nearby towns, and a Cannes streetplan. I'm also waiting to talk to Barrett, who said I should call at 10:30. We might have lunch, I'm also holding that small glimmer of a hope that she'll find me a place to crash (a notion not helped by my vague juvenile attraction to her).

It is a pleasantly glaring hot, mediterranean-breeze cooled day. I can't be bothered waiting, I call the SI office, Barrett's not even in yet (I bet she slept). I resist the urge to call vindictively at five minute intervals. I call again at 10:30, not there, at 10:45 she's in, has no time for lunch, and hints that the chances are next to nil of finding me a place, but suggests lunch the next day. Also, there is no chance that she'll be able to get me any kind of press-credentials. I sign off, I need to crash, I go back to the boat. Demonic boss-lady is not present, the captain and one of his crew seem concerned, I chat them up, casually pretending that it's no big deal, I'll sleep eventually. They give me orange juice, which is the only thing I have an appetite for. I pick up my pack, get to the station just in time for the train to Juan Les Pins, the twenty minute ride seems like an hour.

I only picked Juan Les Pins because I already knew I could book there, and because more trains stop there than at the towns closer to Cannes. At the tourist office I get another list of local hotels, I balk at phoning the one I just cancelled with two days ago. I choose something within close walking distance from the train station. After paying for the three nights I intend to stay, I attempt to collapse, its hot I feel grungier than an entire summer camp, I shower, then collapse. It is between noon and one, roughly 30 hours since I woke up early to pack for the trip.

I sleep. An hour later I wake up. I sleep. Again, almost exactly an hour, I wake up. I sleep. Deep, fitful. At three I'm awake again. Alright, I must have trained my body to stay awake, now it rejects sleep. I decide to use the jet-lag cure, stay awake until the normal time, then sleep.

I go back to Cannes. I contact Barrett, arrange a time to meet for lunch the next day. She's been saying there's this American woman working as a publicist, she wants to introduce us, we're both film buffs. I'm game of course. But she won't be available that night. I have a good wander around town, check out the local fast food joint ('Quick'), I track down the locations for the non-official (not in the festival) market and press screenings, at the towns small ordinary cinemas a two and a five plex, one of which is screening the film 'The Plot Against Harry', which I'm interested in seeing, I find out that while some of these screenings are invitation only (like the official selections), you can buy tickets to some of the others. As I'm heading away from the theatres, a young woman approaches me on the street and hands me an invitation to a film that starting shortly, urging me to go see it. I figure if its no good, I can at least get some rest, and maybe the theater will be air-conditioned.

The film is 'Raspad' a Soviet-American co-production about the horrors of Chernobyl. It was pretty grim, with touches of bizarre humour, and surprisingly frank about the way the truth was initially suppressed, about the disaster. And all things considered, I did stay awake through two hours of subtitles. Given my own minor disasters it seems to fit perfectly into the odd logic of my experience here.

Mellowed, more optimistic, dog-tired, sleepy, I trundle to the train, back to JuanLesPins, and to sleep.

[To be continued with III Banana Republic and other guises...]

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Back-B-Log: 1990: Cannes - Dread And Victory (I.c.)

[From the 2nd and final issue of the Tuesday Express/American Voyeur Paris/Cannes Issue! 1990 Part I. Early hours of Thursday 17th May, homeless, wandering through Cannes nightlife, continued]

{The snack bar - Petit Carlton. }
We walk back down the Croissette. I'm talking to Colin, this photographer who Barrett obviously has something going on with, but which she won't let on to. He seems likeable enough, which makes this puzzling. She grabs him, my buddy, she says. He has a room to himself, but he can't offer me any space because he has to dash back there by 2 or 3 to develop the nights pics for tomorrows issue.

He's the only one who seems to know where we're going, we turn up this street, he remembers because there's the bar with the transvestite hookers out front. And sure enough one is standing in the middle of the street, looking desperate for curb crawls, forming a landmark which we navigate by. We turn parallel to Croissette, we ascend a few streets until we get to a seedy, bar-bistro, cranked up with festival people, spilling out onto the street, an international sprawl on the pavements. The sign reads SNACK BAR PETIT CARLTON. Obviously the French have no infringement laws, as the use of the Carlton's name is disastrously out of place here. From what Barrett says, this is the late-night place of the festival workers, low profile insiders, those who don't get to the big studio exec parties, or those who are slumming after dealing.

We have a few drinks, and the atmosphere is at once festive and dire, vetoing dodging the broken glass on the pavement we stay inside the bar, its beginning to get chilly outside. We run into an American guy working on the boat next to hers, whose name is something like Brad. She tries dropping me onto a greasy black haired lesbian friend of hers, who nods knowingly as if I chased down here to see Barrett and not the festival. We talk about movies for a while before she drifts off.

Barrett is dozing off standing up. A few guys hit on her, she seems utterly defenceless in this condition, perversely I begin to feel concerned for her. She occasionally recalls her absurd sense of mission to introduce me to someone who will offer me a place to stay, a cause I have considered long lost. I'm not drunk. I can see their eyes glaze over, nod their pities, shrug shoulders. She leerily says if she can't find me a place, she'll join me on the beach. I take this as joking, as much as wishfully thinking on my part, I don't detect a hint of anything from her except a self-induced guilt play.

Suddenly she realizes that she left something undone in the office-suite in the Carlton, that she MUST check on before going back. The guy from the boat-next-door and I decide to use this opportunity to steer her back to the boat. I've been trying to tell her that at least she should get some sleep, she'll be no help to me, or anyone else for that matter if she doesn't. That Bradley from the boat and I both insist on accompanying her, its really 50's like we're assuring each other of our 'honourable intentions'.

{The Carlton, counting the steps.}
We half run through the barely lit streets, drunk on moonlight etc. The Carlton security is really blasé at this hour, here we are in this palace/hotel, Barrett, being the tippler trying to keep her voice down, but it comes out as a loud stage whisper. We count the steps going up in French. She goes into the rooms being used as offices, there is no point even asking to stay on the floor there, she would get fired.... She has more or less forgotten her reason for coming there. We count the steps going down in German, slowly, as Barrett remembers how. Somehow the number of steps up and down are not equivalent in any language.

{The boat. The cafe. The snack bar 2.}
Brad and I get her back on to her boat. She suggests I sneak on, crash on the floor and sneak off again, but I think that it is unlikely that I will be able to sleep less than four hours, and I dread getting caught out pathologically, and that seems childishly worse than staying up all night. Also, I don't want Barrett in any more trouble, though at this point she doesn't seem to care.

Then Bradley wishes me luck and goes back to his boat. I wander back down the jetee. By the small 'place' across from the Palais, there's a café-Restaurant, obligatory snotty waiters, brightly lit, the atmosphere puts me off, I try to go to the one next door, but they're shutting down, its 3 A.M.-abouts. I sit down, order my café-crème. I can't sleep, in the parks, on the beach, on the street - I'll probably be attacked, robbed, or arrested. Make the most of the situation. See what happens.

I decide to wander back to the Petit Carlton to watch the nightlife. I'm not sure of my way, as I go down the Croissette, there are a few sleek long stemmed prostitutes leaning over cruising limousines (should I go with them, just for a place to doze? no, they have no place, they get in the cars that stop for them). I walk quickly up the street where I spot the transvestites, but at least I think I'm going in the right direction. The hotels have all darkened, noise and light both sparse, I'm not sure I've turned up the right street, nothing looks the same as an hour before, but I stumble onwards. And there it is, affirming my sense of direction even in my present state.

Even more of the crowd has spilled onto the street. There is a sort of a waiting-for-the-end-of-the-world mood. I'm feeling too tired to mingle, observe like a mutated wall-flower, avoiding the gazes of all around. I run into the lesbian again, she seems more sympathetic, but no more helpful. Dreadfully loud German demanding his beer in English, over and over again, as the staff slowly get through to him. The actually attractive people are dwindling, leaving a layer of desperation over the remaining population. I decide, for once not to be the last to leave. I head out.

{The Restaurant. Coffee 1. Writing. Soup. Coffee 2.}
Nearby, I turn down a relatively well lit side street, cobbled pavement, probably blocked to traffic. There is a very ordinary little restaurant, seemingly normal sane and french, like the little places in Paris. Its tables litter the street, annexing the areas that belong to the other shops and cafés, hastily scribbled sign promises longer festival hours.

I collapse, I have my café-crème. I need to stay awake. I need to write this down, if I have to go through this, I can at least use it to write. My notebook is back in my pack on the boat. I finally go to the toilet. I think of moving on, but I feel comfortable here. I order soup, it is the lovely soupe-de-poisson, with cheese and croutons and sauce all on the side, the first time I've had it. It restores me. One of the trees has large cardboard ad for the pre-Cannes issue of the French Premiere - I free it from the tree, and start writing on the back the bracketed text that begins, and pervades this story. But the notes are not enough, after my second café-crème the restaurant finally closes, and I move on my way.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

{Orange half moon like a croissant (over the croisette). Blue 5:30 AM mediterranean blue cloud covers white moon (not light or dark enough to distinguish cloud from sky, the moon dissolving, a small miracle). }
I am walking around the park and the place deGaulle. In fluorescent reflective uniforms, the street-cleaners appear. The gnomes of our world, unseen normally, but I have the magic of insomnia.

{The chime of the park sweepers - broken glass. The unseen sleeper on the next bench. 5 45 the streetlights go out. I realize I should attempt to watch the sunrise. }
I drag myself towards the beach looking upwards at the moon. It seems like the sun has already risen, or it's just that the brightness of the haze on the horizon obscures the sun.

{Beach cleaner (Lucinda).}
There is a fleet of beach cleaners going to and fro. I think of the Randy Newman blues song about a woman getting ploughed under after falling asleep on the beach. No wonder I didn't trust sleeping here.

Also, I see, out at the very tip of the jetty, where last night there only seemed to be the lights of an ordinary group of yachts, a life-size galleon.

{A fucking Galleon.}
It just seems to absurd that such a thing should exist here, as if it sailed out of the all-night-long-mare that I've just walked through waking. Nothing can hurt me, you wake up just before you get killed in your dreams.

{6 05 nearly fell asleep watching the faraway static of ripples to hum of beach cleaner and the insistent coo of pigeons. }

[end of Part I. To be continued in II. Thursday, May 17th: To Juan Les Pins....]

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06 February, 2010

Back-B-Log: 1990: Cannes - Dread And Victory (I.b. Finding The Boat)

[From the 2nd and final issue of the Tuesday Express/American Voyeur Paris/Cannes Issue! 1990 Part I. Wednesday May 16th, lost and homeless, looking for the boat, continued...]

{Finding the boat, dumping my stuff. Finding Barrett.}
I wandered back down the Croissette, toward the Grand Palais where the official part of the festival is held. I divert along the beachside promenade, this goes behind the Palais, there are a few pavilions set up, with catered affairs going on inside, it's like a Long Island community with a triple Bar-Mitzvah, barely anyone outside, except the security wearing the international dresscode of bouncers.

At this point I have absolutely no hope. At the farthest point that the promenade reaches out on the quay a small marina begins, just a set of tying up points along the promenade on the other side of the Palais. there are obviously a few parties going on on some of the boats, little catering huts dot the shore, more goons on gangplanks, but it seems fairly low key. I work up the nerve and start talking to a few catering people, there is a lot of English being spoken here, so I don't even bother with the French. I am talking to a Japanese man, who I at first assume is a caterer, but it turns out he owns one of the boats, his English and French both leave something to be desired. I ask him if he might know where the Screen International boat might be, he shrugs, and asks the name of the boat, I misunderstand, I just said THE SCREEN INTERNATIONAL BOAT, but he means the 'name' like, 'Fred', 'Autumn Insomnia', 'Filthy Rich', or 'Satanic Film Producer' (we all know that Rich people should be barred from naming boats, horses and children). Unfortunately, I gather from this question, that without this vital piece of information I have no chance of getting directions to the boat. Some English speaking woman stops in on the conversation, she's been party hopping, avers that the boat is around somewhere. Finding, this rather more discouraging than useful, I trudge on.

I do not go very far before I miraculously see a banner on the back of one of the smaller yachts, Screen International. This makes me really doubt the intelligence of the guy, who along the same stretch didn't even know this boat was a distant neighbour. There doesn't seem to be any activity, the party I heard on the phone has since dispersed, probably to other parties.

I timidly walk across the short gangplank, I stand at the edge of the boat, peering into the cabin. The captain comes up from below, eyes me suspiciously, I ask about Barrett, this or my manner put him at ease. He says she's probably at the party in the American Pavilion. I wander off in the direction he points.

There seems to be many parties down here, I'm not sure if this is the right place, there are security goons looking at invitations. I turn back to the boat. I tell the captain that Barrett said she might have a friend put me up, I ask to leave my pack until I find her.

Back at the party, a good deal more presentable, I try to crash in. Goons adamant about invites. I ask if I can get a message in to someone. They don't buy. I hang around the outside for ten or twenty minutes, the fence is easily climbable, but what do I do once inside? I try talking to the goons again, but its the same story. Just as I'm about to give up, I turn around and there is Barrett and some young woman, laughing, walking into the party.

I grab Barrett, she says she is glad to see me, she was worried. It was someone's birthday party on the boat, some guy who was drunk hung up the phone. She brings me into the party. She'll talk to me in a moment, she has to 'work' some of the advertiser clients at the party. She circulates, I descend on the buffet, which has already been gutted, just some baked potatoes and coleslaw left, I crouch in darkness under a tree and shamelessly devour the potato and an apple, I have no appetite after this.

{The other side of tipsy. The explanation.} {The Party.}
Barrett gets back to me. The story is this: A month before the festival, the original publisher and half the staff split and left their magazine conglomerate to form a rival publication, Moving Pictures International. They pirated clients, sources, and resources. Her boss is somewhat inexperienced and under a lot of pressure to bring things up to speed for their Festival issues. She has turned dictator and under her auspices, and the general crazy pressure of the Festival business, everyone is at each others throats.

This is what I've stepped in.

Under the circumstances, people aren't talking to each other, Barrett confesses she almost quit the previous day and spent half the time on a crying jag, it's unlikely that she can convince anyone to put me up for the night. She feels bad, but she suggests that I could sleep on the floor of her cabin on the boat. This would be O.K., but I don't want to get her into trouble, I suggest we would really need her boss's permission. Barrett says just tell her and tells me to go back to the boat to ask. After some cajoling, I get her to scrawl a note to give some credence to my request.

Back at the boat, boss lady(rather heavy set, on the young svelte side of what any year now will be instantly corpulent) and a woman friend of hers are sitting on deck. I approach, and after introducing myself, just as I'm saying what I'm about, I sense that it is already a mistake. I hand her the awfully scrawled note as if it is some absurd talisman that could defend me. Boss lady is none too happy about my request, which I couldn't imagine putting her out. It just seems like I'm the Nth person to ask her for a favour that day, and N is the number just past her tolerance.

She is angry, she demands to speak to Barrett about this, she points out that Barrett is here to WORK not to holiday. I know all this, but boss lady has already made up her mind. I'm not sure who or what she thinks I am, but obviously I can't stay. She insists I go get Barrett out of the party, she HAS to speak with her. I don't want to get Barrett into trouble, but I don't seem to be able to deflect the anger, except to generate more of a sense of strange distaste for me.

Back at the Party, after more hassle getting back in, though it's obviously winding down, Barrett at first makes light of the situation, I describe her bosses demeanour again, and she gets it this time. She introduces me to some arty friends of hers. And goes back to the boat.

I converse with the crowd, they are trendy English people working the fest as reporters, freelance photographers, and minor staff at the Brit Pavilion. I tell them my tale of woe, which makes me an instant curiosity, an object of pity, yet not actual sympathy, no one actually offers to help me, but they all wish me luck.

I spot Danny Aiello again, for a second, I get this strange feeling, like he saw me, thinking suspiciously of me, having remembered me from the crowd at the Carlton. These paranoid film actors.

Barrett returns. She got torn apart. I can't stay on the boat. No kidding. She has a mission to help me find a place. But she also wants to keep partying. The live pseudo-American band has wound down (Born-in-the-USA, and La Bamba). We've all dived on the free bar as it shuts down. I carry Barrett's extra beer as we leave.

[to be continued...]

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05 February, 2010

Back-B-Log: 1990: Cannes - Dread And Victory (I.a.To Cannes (and hell))

[From the 2nd and final issue of the Tuesday Express/American Voyeur Paris/Cannes Issue! 1990 This tale is so epic I'm serializing within the confines of this blog. This includes, somewhat awkwardly chopping the first chapter into three bits. If I ever wrote anything to deserve my tragically lost "Heart of Gonzo" T-shirt, this is it. Welcome to the rollercoaster of Cannes Film Festival 1990.]

Prologue - 4AM Thursday May 17th
{O.K. So, I found something to write on. A moment ago I was thinking of stealing some toilet paper for the medium. Sleep, don't think of sleep. Order another cafe creme. Don't listen to the Variety people at the next table - they might mention sleep; they just noted that the restaurant is only open til 4 AM. That was twenty minutes ago. Write! That will keep you awake! I always wanted to come to Cannes for the festival. It was one of those 'just because' things. I figured, being in Europe, I'd finally do it -- but, until I was sent to Paris, I thought I'd do it next year as part of vacation to get it right. Paris was too close - it didn't make sense to be in the same country and NOT go. My soup had arrived. Eating will keep me awake. Haven't eaten since lunch with exception of an apple and baked potato scrounged from the buffet at the American pavilion party I crashed. Food will help me concentrate. }

I - To Cannes (and hell) Wednesday May 16th (and before, ending late morning the 17th){arrangements from Paris, rearrangements, What I should have noticed}
Plane bus and train.

May is a month fraught with holidays, at least three, all of which fell midweek this year. When a holiday falls midweek on either Tuesday or Thursday, they take the extra day between the weekend, calling it 'le pont' the bridge, for a four day weekend. Knowing that I wanted to take off some time, for both the festival and also to see a friend visiting London, I worked on four of the days that everyone else was off. Helena, an office secretary, arranged my flight for me, leaving late afternoon on Wednesday to Nice, returning very early Monday morning (I wanted the maximum time possible, even if I had to go directly to work). This meant I had to stay in Nice Sunday night, after abortive and confusing attempts for me to make the arrangements over the phone with my little French, I again enlisted Helena's aid.

I had kept in touch with Barrett, the girl whose room I short term let when I first got to London. She was working for Screen International (a British Film Industry Trade Publication). They attend, work and publish a special daily edition at Cannes. Barrett was PA to the main publisher. Before I left London, she gave me the phone number of the boat she was going to be staying on.

I called Barrett from Paris two days before going down to ask if she wanted to get together when I got into town. I told her I was staying in Juan Les Pins. She said, don't bother, she could find a floor for me to crash on in one of the staff hotel rooms. I cancelled my reservation.

What I should have remembered was that on the few occasions when we had met since I moved to Streatham, she had proved somewhat unreliable, with place, time and changing plans. This was to the slight annoying degree which I have the bad habit of forgiving people that I am even vaguely attracted to.

Left work early Wednesday, overloaded pack on back (I did not anticipate having time for laundry). Internal Air France flight like a bus ride, no food, not even a hot towel. Waited half an hour for hour bus ride to train station. Three quarters of an hour to Cannes. I arrive at roughly 10:30 PM.

{The Phone call.}
Noise, very loud, sound of a party? I have to yell into the phone to be understood. Someone goes and gets Barrett. Now I can't quite make out everything she's saying. It takes her a while to get to the point. She's sorry, but she can't offer me any accommodation, before she gets to explain, someone hangs the phone up for her. I'm not sure I've heard correctly. I dial again. Busy line. This seems too much like a nightmare. I try to be rational. Wait a few minutes. Dial again. Busy line. Loop with ever increasing panic. Stay calm.

I spot a girl reading (Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance). I strike up a conversation, explain my situation and receive some sympathy. She's a student from Atlanta, taking the next train to Nice, hostelling towards Italy. I should have followed her, but momentarily soothed by English conversation, I decide to head towards the Hotel Carlton where I know Screen International have booked a suite, maybe they'll know where the boat is.

{Wandering, picking a room in hell.}
I didn't get very far from the train station before coming back and having another go at memorizing the map on the wall (the tourist office is closed and no maps are available). After calling the hotel, being treated like an idiot for asking directions to one of the world's most famous hotels, I set off again. As I walked I silently devised tortures for Barrett, I knew I would be pleased and relieved to see her, but all the same, in that moment I knew a vast hatred, and I thought of a many particular Dantean niche in hell I would have gladly seen her rot in.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

{Not sleeping = drug.}
There is that point in a college all-nighter when caffeine just won't help anymore. The warmth from the coffee makes you drowsy, and your stomach is so acid, you don't dare pour another cola down there, for fear of becoming one of those gee whiz science fair experiments 'as you can see here Billy, the Duodenal Ulcer is erupting just like Mount Vesuvius!'

Now it's only the steely nerves that used to keep me slumped over a typewriter until dawn of the day that the papers were due, these wired past the assistance of caffeine nerves, like an extra skeleton. I am walking, shambling, shuffling, staggering, through the dark night of the half lit streets of a tourist nightmare. Every lone figure that slinks by in the deChirico'ed deserted streets (though not as bad as getting lost in Venice at night), holds menace, and it is a combination of fear and a sort of grisly determination. I have left behind the café a bit before 5 A.M. after three café au lait and soup. I don't need such comfort, I don't need sleep, I can do this I can stay awake. At least try to think about what I'll write. The drug of awake keeps me moving, aimlessly, I am exhausted, even during my worst collegiate adrenaline at 4 AM marathon, the farthest I would venture is down the block to the Wawa for those sugar and chemical wonders known as Entenmanns Chocolate Donuts. I continue to move, like a shark, I think I'll die if I stop. Then I see it.

{The Bank Machine.}
Most of the Bank Machine's I've seen in France are just the side of the wall jobs... but in front of me is card locked foyer, and I have a card that will let me in. I try this, just to be sure that yes I can do it, and also just to get off the street for a few moments. I could just lie down here. I'm scared, although it seems relatively secure, I now fear the helplessness of the deep sleep that I know I will fall into. I also have some vague, paranoid notion that I could be arrested for vagrancy. I think, of the homeless guy that used to live in the Mellon Bank Machine on Walnut, just up from the Wawa. I might be crying. I lean forward against the wall, hoping its support to ape that of a non-existent companion. The most deserving self-pity of my life envelopes me.

{The only homeless people in Cannes are the hookers and me. Oh! I'm wrong.}
I leave the machine, and continue wandering in the general direction of the park by the quay. I reach there and sit down on a bench. The air is pleasant. It is nice although I feel somewhat vulnerable here in the open. It is so silent. Just as I'm writing the above comment about the homeless, I hear a stirring which is someone asleep on the bench around the corner of the tree mine is propped against. Only momentarily alarmed, he is more down and out, and more sensible for being insensible, asleep.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

{Finding the hotel. Spotting Danny Aiello.}
After leaving the train station a second time, I meandered down to the Croisette, the main drag, a strip along the beachfront, gold-coast hotels, billboards for films, the two-person-wide sidewalk threepersondeep with the nightlife, life-threatening to spill over onto the streets congested with maniacs in sportcars, BMWs, convertibles: you don't see one of those beat-up Citroen shacks-onwheels. I follow the flow. The night is dazzling, confusing, I double back towards the station, thinking I might have passed, the Carlton, which of these opulent high-rise mausoleums is it? I turn again, continue on, finding that my original turning point was just short of my goal.

As I go up the drive to the pillared entrance, I see flashes going off, I move to the wall, to observe. Danny Aiello is coming out of the Carlton, looking harassed, his group of thugs, possibly his stunt-man relatives, are pushing at the journalists. I feel embarrassed for him. He gets in his limo. I go into the lobby of the hotel, I politely ask, first in French, then English, about the Screen International Suite, they don't know anything about the boat, or where it might be (the coastline is dotted with marinas).

I peer around into the foyer, there is a large dark deserted area with booths set up, distributors, publications, video... I'll be seeing lots of this sort of thing in the days to come. I see no sign of a booth for Screen International. I'm painfully slow in admitting this to be a dead end, and in realizing how my scruffy appearance, back-pack and all, is making the staff nervous and uncooperative.

[to be continued...]

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04 February, 2010

Back-B-Log: UK20: Language Barriers Or Pollini's Revenge

[From the 2nd and final issue of the Tuesday Express/American Voyeur Paris/Cannes Issue! 1990
This is a blast even further into the past circa 1981, with it's implications on my time in Paris.]

The story always starts this way: we're talking about French, I start saying how bad my high-school french experience was.... Our text-books had the most irrelevant vocabulary. Every year the books would study a 'typical French family'. The first year the typical French family (the Dutour's) lived in Paris, the only thing remarkable about them was that they had a baby elephant in their courtyard (l'elephante bebe est dans la cour, l'elephante bebe l'aime du chocolat). The second year wasn't so bad, the typical French family lived in the Midi and grew tulips for a living (this puzzled the hell out of me - I thought that was a Dutch thing). The next year was the real problem: in the typical French family, the father was a... speleologist. This means he was a cave scientist (voulez-vous voir la grotte?). It gets worse. His son Paul wants to grow up to be a...speleologist. And their next door neighbour, M. Lamothe-Cassel was a speleologist who specialized in cave insects (l'entymologie de la grotte).

Needless to say I would have no trouble finding my way around the caves of Lascaux (ou est la grotte?), but I would not be able to articulate my desire for a bathroom.

However, my sophomoric response to this irrelevance was to formulate a brutal antagonism towards my French teacher, Madame Pollini. In 9th grade she was O.K. I was in the very back row in a crowded alphabetized room in which she called upon us in order; so I could easily doze off or spend my time contemplating the mathematical delights of Pam Stephen's rump which fate and the greco-roman tradition had placed before me. Trouble began in 10th grade - French was no longer required, class size dropped to a third of the original, and, no pun intended, I had no one to hide behind. Called on more frequently, no longer inconspicuous, agitated by a useless lexicon and bearing the shoulder-chip of suburban adolescence, I sought refuge in sarcasm.

Pollini, was not phased, worse she did not really notice, as my compatriots and I made fun to her face. She had done nothing to deserve our scorn, excepting that she did not see what was wrong with our curriculum and that she was so easily duped into letting us run away with any given lesson, as if she were a permanent substitute teacher. This was reinforced when she was supplanted for a brief stint by Madame Truite an Alsatian whose germanic control would brook no deviation from French grammar - she bred fear and respect, which we could barely bring ourselves to grant to relatively hapless Pollini.

One day I engaged Pollini in a mild argument after one of the more absurd installments of the educational film series 'Tout La Bande'. An American exchange student was portrayed thinking (voice-over) in French. This I pedantically claimed was a virtual impossibility. I think this is when Pollini began to take me personally.

Collectively we terrorized her, leaving issues of Paris Match open to all the most embarrassing pictures, suggesting field trips to racier French films, subverting every lesson with puns and innuendo. Probably worst of all we developed an in-name for her, Sweaty Betty, which we never used to her face.

All joined in, even the kindest of my friends drew some blood, but I was the worst offender. Not knowing where to stop, I was so horrifyingly obnoxious, I, without shame then (rarely now), am ashamed. Should I tell of how I flossed my teeth in class, purporting to be an example of good hygiene? Was this all possibly my self-destructiveness, seeing how far I could push things before getting squashed? Should I have heeded Mrs. Lamb's advice and read 'Appointment in Samarra'?

Granted, Mrs. Pollini did try fairly hard. I don't believe that we disliked her at all. She did attempt to liven up the fairly dead curriculum which the school had forced equally upon both us and her. We made the obligatory attempt at 'Le Petit Prince', a little too idiomatic for us beginners. Then she dug up some circa '50's French History text-books, the major failing of which was its distortion - in its slant Catherine DeMedici was painted as some kind of saint (for bringing the Renaissance to France) not as one of the ten most infamous people in History (as she was named by a panel of historians, perhaps for the small matter of the genocide of French Protestants etc.)

11th grade midterm - essay question, discuss your favourite character from French history, open book (a concession to us) using the history book.

I should note at this point that my failings as a language student did not end with the social graces. The mechanics of grammar came fairly easily, but my vocabulary, relevant or not, had a retention period roughly the length of an advert for Pop-In-Fresh Croissants.

For my favourite personage in French history I readily chose Joan of Arc. After all, Bernard Shaw, Bertolt Brecht wrote plays about her. I saw her as a strong nationalist, and an effective early propagandist. Lacking a strong ending to the essay I peeked at the glossary in the back of the History book. There I found the words for 'executioner' and 'pastry chef. So... I said that Joan of Arc's executioner was a pastry chef.

This was probably the strongest, best written, most grammatically correct essay of my pitiful high-school French career. I received an 'F' on it.

I was shocked, outraged, astonished. But what hadn't occurred to me at all was that Pollini was Catholic. To her Joan of Arc was SAINT Joan. The voices she heard weren't clever propaganda but instructions from GOD. Given how I had goaded Pollini, and the particular bad taste of my culinary quip about Joan's demise, hardly anyone would believe that I had not meant it maliciously.

I hadn't. Tasteless, thoughtless, yes; malicious, not really. For once I had worked hard at something so as I could impress her, say, well I fool in class, but I still learn, I'm clever. Not even my friends in the faculty would come to my aid. Although I didn't mean it, I was getting what I deserved.

This is where I usually end the story, but.... The real problem was this - I had been tripped up by intellectual elitism, which will always dog my heels and those of many of my friends - faced with a harmless, slightly ditsy teacher my snobbery said, no thank you, how could I possibly learn from YOU. By assuming fool in her, I not played but made a fool in me.

The rest of 11th grade I was fairly subdued in French class. I had done well enough on the other sections of the midterm, so the overall result was not damaging. I attempted neither reconciliation nor revenge, too full of pride and guilt for either. I did not take French the next year. In college I chose Spanish over French because there was no proficiency exam to finish the language requirement for Spanish. After four semesters of Spanish I couldn't string together more than two and a half sentences in the language. I couldn't find my way out of a cave in Spain, I can barely get to Pepe's house.

Coming back to Paris after a weekend in London. Checking out women as we queue up for immigration, I spot a lovely young woman who has a large plastic shopping bag with two large film reel canisters inside. This simultaneously sends impulses to my obsession, sex, and serious movie buff glands. I manoeuvre to parallel her in the non-EEC line. I nervously manage to strike up a conversation about the film. Miraculously she boards the same bus to Paris that I must take. I politely ask to sit next to her. I ask her her name which is Miriam she has curly black hair wears eyeglasses which just enhance the vision, she sounds and looks perfectly lovely. I determine that a. she works for a video-clip (music video) company and after apologizing for my french b. she claims to have no English. I make some vague comments about film and weather, the conversation founders. She puts on her walkman. I stare out at Paris, absorbing Miriam's beauty painfully peripherally. I say good-bye and good night to her, and she smiles sweetly returning the courtesies.

O.K., so in some ways I did better than I do when there is a common language. But what worse torture can you imagine? My French improved greatly over the rest of my stay in France. Could I have done better? Would I have done better?

I kiddingly speak Franglais with Sylvie Binet my adorable, but knows it all too bloody well, co-worker. I try to explain the concept of 'Pigeon English' and I ask if there is a phrase for my bad French. She says 'tu parle comme une vache espagnol!' I repeat, I speak like a Spanish cow!

La vache (espagnol) qui rit... c'est la vie!

[Addendum: Those of you who are Eddie Izzard fans all this happened to me and was written down before the much more amusing Mr. Izzard stuck his "singe"....."sur l'arbre." I would have compared francophonic experiences with him when we met, but I was too busy trying to ask him to teach a Theatresports workshop, and attempting unsuccessfully not to be a stand-up hanger-on. I may recount that experience another time as one of the three times I inadvertently annoyed Ivor Dembina.

Looking back, although I was in the wrong in loads of ways with Mme Pollini, I should have tried to make some proper direct rapprochement, but also, I shouldn't have let that bad grade stand because of the guilt I felt for having been a prick. At the end of the day, she had no right to give me a bad grade for a well written paper just because it offended her. At least I didn't come up with her nickname.

Finally, to make matters worse, I did on one occasion find myself thinking in French, spanish cow that I am.]

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Back-B-Log: UK20: Paris Vs. London

[From the 2nd and final issue of the Tuesday Express/American Voyeur Paris/Cannes Issue! 1990
After just over 2 months in London, Comshare seconded me to Paris. I was there for about 3 and a half months. I was particularly lucky as I had an old friend living there and instantly hit it off with a whole raft of his French, Brit, Dutch and ex-pat friends. And, unlike my slightly miserable tourist experience of Paris, I was on EXPENSES.]

Mini-cab ride to Heathrow, under grey sky, past the gloomy architecture of council flats and reactionary edifices of industrial revolution, looking like so many leftover workhouses stuccoed by the pollution of a million smokestacks and the dirty grey rain since the flood. The Smoke is the old slang term for London; I have been here a short time, the different/sameness weaving together oscillating waves of manic wonder. The glow of an unknown street like a pulse from a drug. The first month I was here I had to process London as a waking dream. The awe wears off leaving only the thin all-enveloping film of alien terrain.

Paris, the briefest of air flights away and I'm in a cab middle-aged French driver some English, me some French, loud American rap on radio. Driving through Paris, all buildings, all streets, one, with vague variation. This is an organized hallucination, surreal, every street is the same and language is comprehension just beyond each corner.

The taxi halts in front of 73 Boulevard Haussmann. Did I, as a tourist last summer, remembering the Paris address of the company, poke my head into the shade of this archway? This seems more a notion than a memory. I am more the American tourist now, overladen with overstuffed luggage which I drag like a pair of reluctant alsatians to the first stairwell. 4eme etage. The particularly narrow cage elevator accommodates only myself and half my luggage. Although I'm expected, no one seems in a particular hurry to get on with the work... I'm gradually led around, introduced bewilderingly to virtually everyone in the office, spouting my enchante's and je suis tres heureuse de faire votre...s to a pleasantly patient audience even when a I lapse clumsily, quickly back into my native tongue.

It would be unfair to say that the women in Paris are more attractive than those in London. At first it seemed that there was an abundance of the various physical/style types that fit particularly into the subset of what I find attractive. No, London is just as frustrating, if not more so, and this is probably the crux:

On the Tubes women sit cramped, crossed, closed, not talking. On the King's Road they walk, fashionable, aloof. On the Metro, on the street, Parisian women seem open. They smile and converse in public. They look back at you when you look at them. On top of which French men are either fairly handsome, or by and large repulsive, completely weird, short chauvinistic bad dressers. So even if the women in Paris are no more accessible than women anywhere else (especially less to non-French speakers)... they just seem more available, more possible.

Here's the really horribly sexist statement... because they walk everywhere and eat little, the plainest of them still have fantastic legs and asses. This is true, and makes me generally ashamed of all Americans (of both sexes)... our tourists literally waddle down the Champs next to the Parisians. Who cares if they shave those toned legs? As long as they don't build up shag pile.

Everyday all you hear is 'Bonjour!' In London, its 'Morning.' Just that, simple statement of the time. Don't try to add 'Good...' to it, they look at you as if you're from Mars. 'Good Morning1 to the Londoners is either a presumption or simply impossible. I couldn't imagine the French saying simply 'Jour' or 'Matin', no its 'Bonjour, ça va!' And they mean it.

Londoners thrive on complaint, Parisians understand comfort, to the lack of which the Brits are constant martyrs. You may have heard of the smelliness of French. Parisians, at least, are quite the opposite. Bidets, perfume, good showers. The English have yet to discover the crucial element of water pressure necessary to a real shower, it's like standing under a leaky tap. rain

Rain in London is cold, dreary and wearing, what is wearing is the nearly constant threat of rain, even when it is already pissing down, it is still threatening to rain. Rain in Paris is sudden, intense, brief, large full bodied raindrops that pelt like myriad kisses. This is rain to dance and fuck in. English rain is rain to avoid all contact, it's isolating, don't touch me sort of rain.

coffee vs tea, wine vs beer
Tea is comfort and easement, it is personal, private comfort, yet you offer it to all around you, and you share, with soothing milk, separate, alone. Coffee is frenetic, boosting, basic black thick, or calming with clouds of milk, or luxurious with froth and cinnamon. The French take their coffee, espressos, the cafeterias, and fast food joints have these machines that half-fill demitasse cups black bitter, sugar cubes drop, 3 or 4 sometimes, maybe a third of the volume - this does not get rid of the bitterness, it just brings an unbearable sweet sludge to partner it. Don't mention tea with lemon to the English, that's foreign, and iced tea is disgusting to them - tea is for shielding against awful weather, not for quenching your thirst while enjoying good weather... that's what beer is for (in any weather).

Wine is the calm for the French. Europeans don't believe that alcoholism exists within their number - no frenchman on wine is a drunkard next to the English on lager and bitter who couldn't be at all out of hand next to the Irish and Scottish with their whiskies.... I like my café au lait, lemon tea (milk in tea is for the worst chills of winter), I will drink enough wine not to offend the French, I'll never even attempt to keep up with the Brits in booze, but I do appreciate the various brews.

All that can be said in favour of London architecture is that there is more variety; its a hodgepodge, each item thrown up with a total disregard for its neighbour, the concept of vernacular architecture just hasn't hit here yet. Only in the more well-off controlled areas will you see either commonality or stability, but in these cases they are forbidding, private shells. And everywhere else the thick coating of industrial grit.

The facade of Paris, the rows of windows, thin vertical zigzag shutters, railings outside the windows. Ledges, the stuff for adulterers in farces. The tall wooden doors, arched doorways, dark foyers, cage elevators held by squared spiral stairways, afternoon light courtyards. The plaques bearing streetnames on each corner. The outsides, polished, clean, or with a thin atmospheric layer of grey-green. The real brilliance of the view from the Tour Eiffel is that you can really see how uniform the buildings of Paris are on the outside... it's easy to spot the landmarks, they're the only different buildings. The Parisians had the sense to ban most of the ugly modern architecture to La Defense a corporate box ghetto. O.K., there are the few atrocities, the Montparnasse tower, I.M. Pei's pyramids, the Pompidoux centre (which I love, I don't care what anyone says), but these are so isolated that they can't help but be cause celebre.

The aerial view also provides you with some sense, though hardly universal of organization, planning, the stars of boulevards spreading from rond-points, so, the streets between may meander, imitating straight lines. If these courses are the paths of tipsy frenchmen, the street plan of London is most certainly the footsteps of drunken lager louts. It only takes a 40 page booklet to show Paris, two for each arrondissement. It takes books of well over 140 pages to describe London ( + another 90 for street index), and this is not in particularly thorough detail.

A new add for a Chanel cologne: a woman arguing swearing angrily, pacing back and forth caught in skewed tight shots, jump cut together, Prokofiev - Montague's and Capulet's, she flings open her windows, portico balcony, she screams out to her (male?) tormentor 'egoiste!' But its two women, adjoining, balconies, simultaneous, no, four in a square, then the whole side of the building, women opening shudders crying 'egoiste! egoiste!' as it echoes. Well, I'm here, I guess maybe they were expecting me.... It must be the right time for me to be in Paris.

[Addendum: Yes, that's me looking good lounging on some sculpture in La Defense. I say "looking good" as this photo later got me a date the one time I ever answered a personal ad. The Eiffel Tower shot is really for people from New Jersey and Environs, it's titled "Eiffel via Margate."]

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