Sunday, June 30, 2013

The stuck bus that enthralled us all

It's not often a sporting event can capture the attention of everyone in the family, but the conclusion of yesterday's first stage of the TOUR DE FRANCE did just that.
Germany's MARCEL KITTEL won the stage, but not before a team bus became stuck under the finish line.
Organizers scrambled to free the bus as the riders barreled down the streets of BASTIA, CORSICA.
We watched transfixed as the bus finally came free, only for a large group of riders -- including some of the favorites -- were wiped out in a late crash.
It made for a sporting drama that enthralled all of us.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Une de mes filles est un chercheur, l'autre est un espion

Combine the singing talents of FRANCE GALL and the songwriting prowess of SERGE GAINSBOURG and you're probably going to have a hit on your hands.
That's the case with "LAISSE TOMBER LES FILLES," a French chart-topper from 1964.
I'm listening to the irresistible FRENCH POP of Gall this morning, a day after our daughters ANNIKA and KERSTIN told us about their adventures.
Annika studied social sciences at the UNIVERSITY OF IOWA for a week, including research in the archives of a presidential library.
Kerstin toured "l'HEXAGONE" for two weeks, examining the landmarks while honing her future in counter-intelligence by surreptitiously photographing hot French men.
Combine the talents of our daughters, with some of Gall's finger-snapping music, and you have me smiling broadly this morning. 

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Je veux manger une pizza dans une station d'essence italienne

Our daughter KERSTIN returned from FRANCE last night, thrilling us with tales of her experiences.
She bought fancy shoes along the CÔTE D'AZURE, ate chocolate during a brief foray to GENÈVE and toured a bull-fighting ring near UZÈS.
Her stories range from bonding times with fellow French Club travelers, visiting World War II museums, and purchasing Christmas ornaments at an abbey. 
She also ate the best pizza she had ever tasted. The meal came from a rather unexpected place -- a gas station along an ITALIAN highway while en route to the TUNNEL DU MONT BLANC in the Alps.
There are thousands of tales yet to tell, and we can't wait to hear them.
Kerstin has already decided she will return to France.
We have already decided we want to join her!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Enjoying a deftly handled tale of double-crossing con artists

"Because grifters, it seemed, suffered an irresistible urge to beat their colleagues. There was little glory in whipping a fool -- hell, fools were made to be whipped. But to take a professional, even if it cost you in the long run, ah, that was something to polish your pride."
The above passage by JIM THOMPSON sets the scene for his 1963 tale of double-crossing con artists, "THE GRIFTERS."
I am reading the novel, part of an exploration of Thompson's work this summer.
Many people know the novel only through its 1990 film adaptation.
I honestly haven't seen the film starring John Cusack and Annette Bening, and I am glad -- it means I can take Thompson's work on its own merits.
That said, the novel seems cinematic, like a great FILM NOIR where you are surprised by the deftly handled plotting.
It's a highly enjoyable read, and I find it difficult to put the book down.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

I thought Boston had knotted the series...

Raise your hand if you thought the BRUINS had forced a Game 7 of the STANLEY CUP FINALS after Milan Lucic scored at 12:11 of the third period against the BLACKHAWKS last night.
I admit that I thought Boston had knotted the series.
Bryan Bickell and Dave Bolland proved me (and I think many other people) wrong in a crazy 17-second span.
I paid more attention to this year's Stanley Cup Finals than I had in recent seasons, I think because the traditionalist in me was intrigued by the match of ORIGINAL SIX franchises.
Chicago celebrates today, with the Cup returning to the Windy City. They deserve it.
These celebrations make me wonder, though: 
What would it be like in the city if the CUBS ever did win the World Series?

Saturday, June 22, 2013

"The Spirit" on a stormy day

Rainy, stormy, yucky...
It's a good day to stay inside and read, so I am enjoying some of WILL EISNER'S original adventures of "THE SPIRIT."
Launched in 1940, Eisner's comic creation broke ground, with artistic elements that included characters stretching beyond the panels meant to contain them and plots that mixed crime drama and comedy gumbo style.
The Spirit was the "long believed dead" criminologist Denny Colt, who emerged from a spell of suspended animation to fight crime just beyond the reach of the law.
It's delightful stuff when you wish to avoid an unusually wet, hot-and-sticky day.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

L'équipe a gagné si souvent il est devenu ennuyeux

No offense meant for the club nicknamed "Les Gones (The Kids)," but FRENCH FOOTBALL was never more boring to me than when OLYMPIQUE LYONNAIS were winning seven consecutive titles from 2002.
It's just that nobody likes "Goliath." We have a propensity to cheer for the "Davids" of the world -- the underdogs, not the overlords.
I mean to take nothing away from Lyon. President Jean-Michel Aulas created a marvelous team. I just grew tired of the club's hegemony of the era.
We're approaching the 10th anniversary of the title-winning 2003-04 Lyon team. The talent in the team was undeniable, with Florent Malouda, Giovane Elber, Michael Essien, Juninho Pernambucano and Grégory Coupet in goal.
Lyon took that year's title by three points over PARIS SAINT-GERMAIN and four points over MONACO in a close finish.
Lyon would continue their winning ways in the seasons to come.
I recognize their accomplishments while wishing rivals could have unseated them at least once during their championship streak.
I just can't cheer for Goliath.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Le voyage de notre fille en France se poursuit cette semaine

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Le film qui a commencé mon amour du cinéma

Our ever-growing collection of foreign and classic films stems from "LES QUATRE CENTS COUPS (THE 400 BLOWS)."
I saw the FRANÇOIS TRUFFAUT film during a college film series. One of my work-study tasks was promoting the films with posters. Once I made the poster for "Les Quatre Cents Coups," I knew I had to see the film.
JEAN-PAUL LÉAUD plays a boy who attempts to run away from his increasingly unbearable school and home life.
A period of incarceration in a youth facility follows.
It was the film that started my love of cinema. I made sure it was one of the first films I purchased on DVD as an adult.
I watched it again last night. It retains the magic of its first viewing -- a sign of all great films.

Monday, June 17, 2013

J'ai aimé cette chanson depuis des années

It was the summer hit of 1980 -- at least, it was in the coastal areas of the NETHERLANDS where I was staying.
"MARIANA" by the GIBSON BROTHERS seemed to pour from every radio, and it introduced me to the joys of FRENCH DISCO.
We're all FRANCOPHILES this week because we're envious of our daughter KERSTIN, who is in "L'HEXAGONE" for a French Club trip.
"Mariana" is an exceedingly catchy hit that reached No. 11 on the U.K. pop charts.
The song must have charted on the Dutch lists, too, since it was so ubiquitous.
I've loved the song for decades but didn't know until recently that it was written by French pop savant DANIEL VANGARDE, who wrote a clutch of catchy French disco songs and whose musical lineage continues in the form of his son, DAFT PUNK'S THOMAS BANGALTER.
I've listened to "Mariana" several times since Kerstin traveled to France.
We're listening to loads of French music these days. In the case of "Mariana," some of it relates to my own first trip to Europe. 

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Il s'agit d'une course de vélo à venir

One aspect of French life KERSTIN will miss experiencing during her current trip to FRANCE will be LE TOUR DE FRANCE, which kicks off its 100th edition on June 29 in CORSICA, a few days after her return home.
From Corsica, riders will head to the Côte d'Azure and the Pyrénées. Up north, riders will visit a pair of places Kerstin will see this week -- Saint-Malo and Le Mont-Saint-Michel.
Riders then take a diagonal route from northwestern to southwestern France for some Alpine stages.
The tour concludes in historic fashion, with a first night finish on the Champs-Élysées in Paris.
We'll have to watch some of the stages on television, so Kerstin can point out some of the locales of her adventures.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

J'ai bien aimé l'un de mes films préférés.

We're all FRANCOPHILES these days because our oldest daughter KERSTIN is on an extended French Club trip to "L'HEXAGONE."
Last night, I got a healthy dose of French film.
"TIREZ SUR LE PIANISTE (SHOOT THE PIANO PLAYER)" is among my favorite films.
FRANÇOIS TRUFFAUT manages to combine romantic comedy with almost unspeakable heartache in this tale of a man who focuses on his piano playing when the rest of his life shatters.
CHARLES AZNAVOUR plays "Charlie," who hammers away on a barroom piano when he should (and once did) play the biggest concert halls.
The movie's layers are deceptively thick. What appears to be a love story, for example, is also a crime thriller featuring gangsters of almost universal ineptitude.
MARIE DUBOIS plays the spunky waitress who loves Charlie and knows his secret. Truffaut's exploration of the early stages of the pair's relationship -- Should I hold his hand? Am I being too forward? -- is one of the truest depictions in film.
"Tirez Sur Le Pianiste" is a great example of having fun at the movies even when the story breaks your heart.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Cette musique est absolument merveilleux

I imagine it's difficult to explain the JOHNNY HALLYDAY phenomenon to the English-speaking uninitiated, but here goes:
In short, it might just be the COOLEST MUSIC ever created by human beings.
At least, that's what I thought today as I listened to the early '60s albums "HELLO JOHNNY" and "LES ROCKS LES PLUS TERRIBLES" while completing some chores around the house.
Cleaning the toilet is never fun, but doing so while Hallyday belts out "Souvenirs, Souvenirs" or "Johnny Reviens" almost makes it halfway pleasant.
That should be recommendation enough for you to find some early Hallyday tunes and listen to them right away.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Au moins, je peux écouter de la musique de France

Today I'm listening to "OUR MAN IN PARIS" in honor of our daughter in Paris, KERSTIN.
She begins her first full day in FRANCE today, part of a lengthy French Club trip. Those of us left behind can only travel to "LHEXAGONE" vicariously -- eating Brie on French bread, sipping Cabernet Sauvignon (even if it's from California) and listening to French jazz.
"Our Man in Paris" is a 1963 jazz album by tenor saxophone legend DEXTER GORDON.
Gordon made it while he was living in Copenhagen, but it features expatriates Bud Powell (piano) and Kenny Clarke (drums), who both lived in Paris, along with Parisian bass player Pierre Michelot.
It's a wonderful album, featuring standards such as "A Night in Tunisia" and "Willow Weep for Me."
If I listen to it and close my eyes, I can almost envision myself strolling along the Champs-Élysées.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

A jazzy antidote to a day's worth of construction noise

Tenor saxophone great STANLEY TURRENTINE and organist wife SHIRLEY SCOTT leading a group playing some classic COUNT BASIE songs.
"A CHIP OFF THE OLD BLOCK" was the antidote I required yesterday after a workday of construction noises shattering the office calm.
Contractors are replacing windows and the resulting noise makes it difficult to hear oneself think, let alone complete an intelligible phone call.
The pounding, drilling and other grating noises came to a head in the afternoon -- shortly before I made my exit for home.
I knew I would have to medicate myself with jazz.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Mangling a great language

Est-ce qu'il y a des marches organisées?
"Es keel ya day marsh or-ga-nee-zay?"
Are there guided treks?

Our oldest, KERSTIN, travels to FRANCE this week with the French Club.
She'll travel to Paris, Normandy, Amboise, Uzès, Juan-Les-Pins, Chamonix and points in between.
We'll be traveling vicariously, munching Brie on bread, sipping red wine and mangling the language while thumbing through a FRENCH PHRASEBOOK.

Je n'ai plus de médicaments.
"Zher nay plew der may-dee-ka-mon."
I've run out of my medication.

Sunday, June 09, 2013

"Bande à Part" remains a real joy

We're all FRANCOPHILES this week as daughter KERSTIN prepares for a school trip to FRANCE.
Last night, I marked the occasion by watching a French movie masterpiece.
"BANDE À PART (BAND OF OUTSIDERS)" is JEAN-LUC GODARD'S 1964 NOUVELLE VAGUE classic, a film so stylish and so obviously fun to make that subsequent filmmakers have reused its elements freely.
Godard jumbles genres in the film, combining a heist movie with musical comedy and love-triangle drama.
I've seen this great film enough times to anticipate favorite moments -- the "minute of silence," when the soundtrack shuts off, the "Madison" dance routine and the race through the Louvre (breaking the "record" of Jimmy Johnson of San Francisco, the narrator explains).
There is much to love about "Bande à Part," and I never tire of seeing it.

Saturday, June 08, 2013

Je souhaite que je voyageais en France

KERSTIN leaves for FRANCE next week, and we all wish we were accompanying her on the French club's 15-day trip.
I plotted the sites of her overnight stays on GOOGLE EARTH this morning while sipping coffee and listening to SERGE GAINSBOURG.
Besides Paris, she'll be based in Commes in Normandy, Amboise, Uzès, Juan-les-Pins and Chamomix -- the trip makes a remarkable circuit of "l’Hexagone."
The Gainsbourg tunes and some Brie on French bread will be the closest I get to France while she's gone. Oh well, vicarious trips are better than no trips.
Vous êtes d'accord avec moi?

Friday, June 07, 2013

Can I go back to sleep for just one lick?

My alarm went off this morning just as I was being handed an ICE CREAM CONE in a dream.
That just might be the absolute worst way I have ever woken up.

Thursday, June 06, 2013

'Dimestore Dostoevsky' offers glimpse at journalism's past

JIM THOMPSON tells a great story.
The noir writer produced several novels turned into films, including "The Getaway" and "The Grifters." His own film work included collaborations with STANLEY KUBRICK on "The Killing" and "Paths to Glory."
I am currently reading "THE NOTHING MAN," a 1954 novel by the writer nicknamed "THE DIMESTONE DOSTOEVSKY."
The protagonist, Clint Brown, is a newspaperman seemingly caught up in a series of murders. I say "seemingly," because Thompson's brilliant plotting often means things aren't always what they seem in his works.
The novel offers a bonus to me. As a journalist, I enjoy reading Thompson's descriptions of the newspaper business from the middle of the last century. Thompson provides a glimpse at how many things have changed.
Brown's own position at the paper has become an anachronism. He serves as a REWRITE MAN, an office-based journalist who would receive telephoned reports from the field and type them for preparation of publication. In the era of laptops and smartphones -- not to mention copy and paste functions -- such a role need not exist today.
Reading "The Nothing Man" is like taking a trip with an unknown final destination, populated by forgotten scenes of journalism's past.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Live recorded jazz at its best

I've been listening to a wonderful, double album the past couple of days.
"UP AT 'MINTON'S'" is a 1961 live recording that pairs tenor saxophone player STANLEY TURRENTINE and his quartet with the excellent guitarist GRANT GREEN.
It's a rewarding musical experience.
Turrentine sheds light on the venue and the creation of the album in Sharony Andrews Green's book about her guitarist father-in-law, "Grant Green: Rediscovering the Forgotten Genius of Jazz Guitar:"
"At the time, I was working with a quartet, Horace Parlan, George Tucker and Al Harewood. And Alfred Lion said, 'Hey man, I'm really interested in doing a live date, a record date at Minton's.' He said, 'Have you heard about Grant Green?' I had already met Grant Green and jammed with him a lot of times at Wells, and he came into Minton's and sat in a lot of times. I was really familiar with him. So I said, 'Solid.' And it turned out real nice. It was a lot of fun. It was packed. It was always packed. At Minton's, you'd never know who would stop by. Miles would drop in. Everybody, Dizzy, Monk, all of them, would be dropping by. Eddie 'Lockjaw' Davis, everybody was there. That was the place where all the jazz musicians hung out and they jammed."

Monday, June 03, 2013

I'll never spill anything on my England shirt

When my daughter ANNIKA wasn't on stage during yesterday's DANCE RECITAL, I was surreptitiously checking my phone for updates on ENGLAND'S friendly with BRAZIL.
After a poor first half, England revived with goals from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Wayne Rooney in the second, actually leading for a spell until a Brazilian equaliser leveled the contest for the hosts and the match finished, 2-2.
I wore my allegiance for all to see -- yesterday marked the first time I wore the 1966 REPLICA ENGLAND SHIRT my mom got me for my birthday last month.
A 1966 England shirt had long been the No. 1 item on my LIST OF DREAM ARTICLES OF CLOTHING, and I am treating this shirt with appropriate reverence.
When the recital was over and we headed to a restaurant for an early dinner, I quickly changed out of the pristine white shirt and into a red Rooney T-shirt before eating. The threat of spilling anything on the England shirt was too big of a risk to ever take.

Sunday, June 02, 2013

When picking an NHL team to support, Fransaskois count double

I cheered for the CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS against the LOS ANGELES KINGS last night for a simple reason.
To be exact, that reason was No. 5 of a series of rules called "HOGSTROM'S HIERARCHY OF HOCKEY," otherwise known as "How I choose the team to support in an NHL game."
Here is how it works:
When teams line up for the dropping of the puck, I rank them according to the following seven criteria:
1. Les Canadiens de Montréal
Mon père aimait cette équipe.
2. Vancouver Canucks
Trevor Linden and Pavel Bure made me a lifelong fan.
3. New York Islanders
They were the most exciting team to watch when I was an impressionable young hockey fan.
4. Any other Canadian team except the Ottawa Senators.
It's Canada's game, eh?
5. Any other Original Six.
I sometimes wish the NHL was only the Original Six, and the other teams were like the Triple A clubs.
6. The American team with the higher number of players from Saskatchewan.
(6b. In case of an equal number of Saskatchewan natives, Fransaskois count double.)
Except for the Pittsburgh Penguins. I hate them for continually poaching Canadians (Lemieux, Crosby, now Iginla).
7. Ottawa.
I know, it's Canada's capital and we should all be happy. I cannot cheer for these upstarts, though, until hockey returns to Ville de Québec. Vive les Nordiques de Québec!

Saturday, June 01, 2013

Oingo Boingo dominating my recent listening

I've been listening to OINGO BOINGO a lot this week, celebrating the recent, 60th birthday of leader DANNY ELFMAN.
The quirky Southern California band notably spawned a trio of film composers in Elfman, guitarist STEVE BARTEK and keyboards player RICHARD GIBBS. During their 1980s heyday, I remember them being among the most original of American bands.
From the catchy first-person perv pop of "Little Girls" to the bouncy film theme "Weird Science," Oingo Boingo's songs always seemed the best-arranged of the New Wave era. They're still fun as heck to hear today.
I've been listening to them every time I get into the car the past three days.