(Mun)ich liebe München!

Top 10 things about 5 days in München:

1. Biking all over the city in gorgeous sunny weather. Other than Angry Town (which doesn’t count because I live here), Munich is the first European city I’ve been able to explore by bike. Of all the cities I’ve visited—listen up, Portland!—it was second only to Amsterdam in terms of bike accessibility and popularity.

Here I am on a borrowed bike outside of the 1972 Olympic Stadium. I think the futuristic roof looks like a whale skin stretched too tight over a metal skeleton.

2. Urban surfing in a landlocked city. No joke.

This canal that runs through the city is a hotspot for awesome surfers like this guy, and decidedly less awesome onlookers like yours truly.

Weird image: dudes carrying their surfboards through the middle of the city.

3. Meat, meat, meat. Stay tuned for a post on my almost exclusively carnivorous Bavarian diet.

4. I went to University with Andrea one day, for her Advanced French Grammar class. For the rest of my life, I will tell this story as, “I did some graduate work in Germany.

5. Bavaria had some nutty kings, namely Ludwigs I & II. Ludwig I was fascinated with female beauty, which he considered a manifestation of moral purity. He commissioned portraits of the 36 most beautiful women in Bavaria to hang in the “Hall of Beauties” at Nymphenburg Palace.

It was difficult for him to commission my portrait since I wasn't born yet, so I did him the favor of inserting myself.

6. Bavaria Day! Stay tuned for a post on…
7. Wearing a dirndl to visit…
7. The castle in the sky (!) and…
8. Swan Lake!

9. It felt really good to be in a society that values beer for the first time since I left Minnesota. Restaurants and beer gardens sell it by the liter!

10. But the very best thing of all was visiting this lovely lady!

My dear friend Andrea, former fellow teaching assistant and resident of Angry Town.


DSK: not OK.

I’m really excited to tell you about the 5 delightful days I just spent in Munich, but before I do that, I’d like to take a moment to say my piece about the DSK affair.

Are Americans following the story of Dominique Strauss-Kahn at all? It’s huge news here in France. Here’s my summary of the story:

DSK, (now former) director of the International Monetary Fund and the frontrunner for Socialist candidate in the upcoming French presidential elections, is charged with attempted rape of a chambermaid at the Sofitel Hotel in Manhattan. Police boarded his Air France homebound flight to arrest him. He was then placed in custody at Rikers Island in New York, but he was released Friday on $1 million cash bail, now living under 24-hour house arrest.

The French are outraged at what they consider to be humiliating treatment of DSK by the American legal system. “Innocent until proven guilty” plays out  differently here in France, where perp walks and ubiquitous pictures of defendants in handcuffs n’existent pas. What frightens me is that, according to a poll conducted last week, 57% of French people believe he is an innocent  victim of a plot.

Here’s my two centimes’ worth:

It’s deeply frightening to me that the French were so quick to jump to DSK’s defense, especially considering the man’s reputation. A known womanizer, he was investigated for abuse of power in 2008 following an affair with a subordinate at the IMF. Another woman has finally decided to press charges against him for attempted rape in 2002. According to a number of articles that have interviewed IMF insiders, it was an unspoken rule not to leave him alone with women. The whole IMF is the sort of place where, according to the International Herald Tribune, “Some women avoid wearing skirts. Others trade whispered tips about overly forward bosses.”

Pardon my French, but, are you fucking kidding me? Here we are in the 21st century, and yet powerful men—some of the most powerful men in the world!—still get away with sexual harassment and abuse, every single day.

To jump to DSK’s defense is to permit, even promote violence against women and a culture of harassment and disrespect. In this as in nearly every case of rape in human history, popular opinion condones men’s behavior and instead blames the female victim for her misfortune.

In a column titled “The impunity of the strong” in yesterday’s IHT, Katha Pollitt said it better than I ever could:

It took a powerless outsider in a foreign country—the housekeeper had no idea that DSK, as one of the world’s most powerful men, was entitled to make violent use of her body—to take action. Now DSK’s defense attorney is saying the sex, if it took place, was consensual. Because nothing is more likely than that a housekeeper—a Muslim widow in a head scarf, no less—will leap at the chance to fellate a 62-year-old hotel guest who springs naked out of the bathroom. […] Powerful men molest with impunity, enabled by friends, wives, political cronies, a servile press and a culture deeply hostile to women. Tell me again how feminism’s job is over.

One final note, completely beside the point:

As the head of an immensely powerful international organization ostensibly dedicated to reducing global poverty, I find it tactless that DSK was staying in a $3,00o-per-night hotel in the first place.

I read an editorial in a French paper that blamed the whole scandal on America’s rampant francophobia. To that, I roll my eyes and say: Yeah right, France—your military strength, superior capitalism, and fabulous customer service are so very threatening to us that we just had to take it out on your potential Socialist presidential candidate. Now will you please pass the ketchup for my Freedom Fries?

Minuit à Paris

I’ve you been following me on here lately, you might get the impression that going to the cinema is basically all I do these days. You would be correct. I’ve been six times in two weeks.

Last night, I was particularly cultured and saw an Argentinian film (in Spanish with French subtitles) called La Mirada Invisible (The Invisible Eye). It was interesting and extremely tense—excellent direction and acting—but I can only recommend it if you have a personal interest in the film’s political context of 1982 Buenos Aires. Otherwise, the disturbing final scene is not worth your anguish. I had to watch an episode of Glee when I got home to shake my disturbed heebie jeebies, but the feeling lingered. Even today I felt disturbed until…

I saw My Favorite Movie So Far of 2011! The (albeit potentially temporary) award goes to…Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris.

I usually have mixed feelings about Woody Allen, but this one I loved from beginning to end. It’s as if he timed it just for me. Not only was it a pleasure watch a montage of scenery in Paris and think, check, been there this year, done that this year, seen that this year, but because I’m in the middle of Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast, which was wonderfully perfect for reasons I can’t explain without spoiling the entire movie. I will only say this much: Adrien Brody’s small role is magnifique.

It was released here in France last week. It opens in the U.S. on Friday, and I really hope that all of my readers stampede to the cinema that day. And when you see it, please note that the Rodin Museum guide is played by none other that the First Lady of France.

A pretty good week in Angry Town

You haven’t heard much from me this week. Is it because
(a) the internet has been even more infuriating than usual,
(b) I’ve actually been doing stuff,
(c) I found Season 1 of The L Word in the bargain bin at the video store, tried to make it a productive exercise by watching it in French, but couldn’t stand the dubbing, so I gave up on the French part and just let my addition spiral out of control, or
(d) all of the above.

Last Saturday, Abby and I went to the Angers Tattoo Show. “Angry Town Tattoo Show?!” you ask, perplexed by what seems to be an oxymoron. We were rather surprised ourselves. But indeed, there was a big convention of tattoo artists right outside this un-inked town. Booth after booth of tattoo artists at work, people walking around with bandages on their freshest ink, and a delightful parade of subcultures we didn’t even know existed in France, all set to the constant buzz of tattoo pens.

Abby's face pretty accurately sums up our excitement.

On Monday, I stumbled upon this concert in the big square.

Piano dans la place

The banner says “United in diversity.” My first thought was, “Really? In Europe, a white guy playing piano counts as diverse?” The occasion was legit, though. A speaker explained that May 9 would have been the 200th birthday of Franz Lizt, who purportedly visited and loved Angers.

As my attempt to watch The L Word dubbed in French suggests, I’ve been making an effort to watch more TV and movies unsubtitled while I have the chance. Tuesday night, I watched a thoroughly delightful film called Le Petit Nicolas, based upon a beloved series of books. An English-subtitled version exists, though sadly, it has yet to be released in the U.S. After you watch this trailer, you will want to join me when I sit in Hollywood with a sign until they release it in the Land of the Free.

On Wednesday, a colleague invited me to see a film called Tomboy. I adored it, and I hope it gets released in the U.S. and if it doesn’t, I may have to personally procure pirated Region 1 copies to share it with the queer theory and film theory professors I had at Macalester who would gobble it up and immediately add it to their syllabus. You should watch this trailer even if you don’t speak French. The premise, just to help you out, is that a kid who’s new to the neighborhood introduces himself as Mikael and proceeds to have a delightful summer. The twist at the end of the trailer is when the mom asks, “You told everyone you’re a boy? Why did you do that?”

On Thursday, my now constant partner in crime Abby and I attended one of Angry Town’s best events yet: a night of electronic music and video games! They set up arcade games and consoles in a classy theater, and the place filled up with that rare elusive species of Angry Town ‘ipsterz.

Is it me, or does the forum of the theater look like a red version of the room in The Matrix with the drawers?

The bartenders dressed to match the theme of the night.

Last night, Abby gave me a new ‘do for a night out on the town.


Pomme de plastic

In this post from about six weeks ago, in which I lamented the absurd plastic packaging that plagues me every time I visit the French supermarket, I gave the award for the most ridiculously, absurdly, infuriatingly, stupidly, selfishly wasteful package to…

these individually packaged slices of ham. Whoever buys these must be the laziest people in France, if not the world.

Yesterday, however, among the refrigerated produce, I noticed for the first time a package that one-ups even the individually boxed slices of ham. And so, I now re-award the the most ridiculously, absurdly, infuriatingly, stupidly, selfishly wasteful package to…

pre-steamed potatoes in a plastic box.

To me, the potatoes are an even worse offense, because unlike ham, it is possible to consume potatoes sustainably. Eating animals—especially mammals—is terrible for the planet, period. Meat production is outrageously wasteful and has a gigantic carbon footprint. (I say this without the slightest bit of self-righteousness because I do eat animals, albeit in great moderation, partly because it’s so expensive in France.)

Potatoes can be grown without much help from chemical fertilizers and pesticides just about anywhere in the world. They can be transported and stored at room temperature, no packaging necessary, which is a vast carbon savings over the giant, ugly footprint of the refrigerated trucks necessary to transport individually-boxed slices of ham.

As I stared at it, jaw agape, I picked it up, not really believing that French manufacturers would cater to such extreme laziness. And then I nearly blew up from anger.

Apparently, one layer of plastic isn't enough to preserve a food that does just fine uncovered at room temperature.

I wouldn’t be surprised to find this package in the U.S. of A. Lay’s, Pringles, and McDonald’s hash browns are even worse abuses of the potato. But I expected more of France. Something I’ve always loved about the French language is that potatoes are called pommes de terre, literally “apples of the earth.” Why would a culture that seemingly has such great respect for the apple of the earth suck the life out of it and vacuum-pack it?

Evidence that people in Angry Town don’t know how to have fun

Last night, I passed by this giant box full of bubble wrap just sitting on the sidewalk. Because I am human and have normal human impulses, I crossed the street, popped some, and then took half of the bubble wrap home to stomp on later. I considered taking all of it to carpet my stairs in a most satisfying fashion (we’ve discussed how I like to decorate my home with packing materials…), but no, I thought, I’ll leave it for child passersby.

This afternoon, however, I passed by the same spot and the bubble wrap remains. I ask you, I beg of you, what kind of person leaves free bubble wrap just sitting there unpopped?!?!

This is the saddest thing I've ever seen.

Edit: The story gets even better. When I passed by a third time and popped some more bubbles with relish, I looked up and saw one of my students staring at me from inside the house that had thrown out the offending bubble wrap.

Back to school

It’s back to school this morning after two weeks of vacation. I’m actually relieved, because the boredom was getting me down. The trouble is, I don’t remember how to plan lessons. I stared at a blank page in Microsoft Word for about 30 minutes, trying to remember how to teach.