Saturday, February 26, 2005

It's my birthday!

No new bloggings for a few days. Will report back when we return from Clonaslee.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Abu Crotch

Welcome to Europe, Mr. President!

Tag team blogging...

Jeremy arrived Friday. Now, instead of chuckling along to French jokes that I don't really understand, I can have a gut-busting laugh. That's something you don't get that often traveling by yourself. Jer, how good was the Boeuf Bourguinon I made tonight, and how pretentious was the presentation?

How good, you ask? Le Boeuf Bourguignon was glorious, like unto the view today of Champs Elysees with the sun illuminating not only the L'Arc du Triomphe but also the dog peu lining that grande rue.

The French have quite a knack for presentation. Pretentious? Perhaps, but tastily indulgent. What, if you had to guess, will Mr. Bush serve for Mr. Chirac during their exclusive din?

Hmm. I'd guess canard.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Bohbohs in Paradise

Dear Citizens of Baltimore,

Last night, after having arms smuggled to the front (National Bohemian and cocktail sauce smuggled directly by General Masenior, and Old Bay sent by post by my mother), General Masenior and I conquered Paris.

A toast to sisterhood between the City of Light and the City of Blight. BRRAAAPPPP!!!

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Human Rights

Sorry, I try to keep the political content off of here, but...

Bush just nominated John Negroponte as the new intelligence chief. I first came across his name 10 years ago when The Sun published an exposé of human rights abuses that took place during his tenure as U.S. Ambassador to Honduras.

The evidence that Negroponte turned his head when human rights abuses were occuring is not totally conclusive, but certainly damning enough for the Senate to oppose his nomination as Director of Intelligence. There must be a reason Bush keeps appointing people who are either blindly loyal or mushy on human rights. Imagine an America in 2007 with Alberto Gonzales as attorney general, John Negroponte as Intel Chief, Donald Rumsfeld (or someone worse) as Secretary of Defense, 60 Republican Senators, and two newly appointed Supreme Court Justices. He won't even need Condoleeza Rice to go around the world selling his next scheme; he can just go right ahead and do it.

If you live in Maryland, I urge you to call, write, fax, and e-mail Barbara Mikulski and Paul Sarbanes to ask them to oppose the nomination of John Negroponte as Director of Intellligence.

Paul Sarbanes
Phone: 202-224-4524

Barbara Mikulski
: 202-224-4654

Update: Here's the 1995 article from the Baltimore Sun that documents Negroponte's negligence in Honduras. Why am I not surprised that Bush would nominate someone who suppressed intelligence on human rights abuses by a CIA-trained Honduran army intelligence unit as Director of Intelligence? If I could write screenplays like this, I'd be making three times the GDP of Honduras.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Love you, Paris. Loovvvve You.

Where else in the world can you see a double-short feature of Roman Polanski's La Rivière de Diamants (1963) with Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali’s Un Chien Andalou (1928)? At noon on a Tuesday?! Around the corner from a dusty little jazz record shop? Strike that--it wasn't dusty, because when I walked in, the proprietor was vacuuming the CD bins. Just so. I'm telling you, everything is just so over here.

Un Chien Andalou was last. It's always a little odd walking out into the light after a matinee, but after that, the daylight made me dizzy. Homesick, too. Such a strange movie, and then to walk out into the freezing cold and hear nothing but was the first time I could viscerally sense that I was standing on another continent, and my mind could add up the distance back to Baltimore, foot by foot.

Any cineastes out there want to tell me what ever happened to Nicole Karen? Google doesn't get you far with a name like that, and IMDB hasn't got much. She might have dragged La Rivière de Diamants all over the screen like it was an Old Navy commercial, but still, she owned it. Not an easy face to forget.

Sunday, February 13, 2005


Sorry for the detour off the continent over the last few posts. Back to France.

I spent Saturday at the Salon Vins de Terroir in Vincennes with my friend A.L. and a bunch of his French pals. These “salons” come through Paris every few months. Around 100 vignerons, as well as several cheese and sausage makers, set up stands in a pavilion to show off the products of their regions. At Saturday’s salon, there were wine producers from every region in France: Bordeaux, Côtes du Rhône, Burgundy, Loire, etc.

It’s difficult to keep French wines straight: they are highly regulated, and labeling requirements are mind-boggling. Most unhelpful is the fact that the grape variety used to make the wine is rarely displayed on the label. Most prominent on the label are geographical clues: region, village, and estate. This helps, because certain regions are told which varieties they can and cannot grow; however, the variety of grape can vary within a region by village or even the specific estate making the wine.

Further complicating things is the Appellation Contrôlée system. It’s supposed to clue you into the quality of the wine. At the bottom is vin de table, which is not heavily regulated and hence considered to be of low quality. Next are the vins de pays, which are tied to certain grape varieties, production methods, and regions. Next is vin délimité de qualité supérieure, followed by the most strictly regulated wines, Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC).

In the U.S., you can pretty much get by just remembering which grapes you like. In France, you have three options to help you remember which wines you like best and which bottles are sympa with which dishes. One, a really good memory for taste. Two, a comprehensive French wine guide. Three, wine tastings, or, as they are called here, les dégustations.

At a salon du vin, you can really get an idea of which bottles you like. Every region and many villages are represented. We spent about 15 minutes at each table we visited. The vignerons would pour us the newest vintage of a particular bottle, then move back through the years, sometimes as far back as 1996. (A St. Emilion producer poured a mystery bottle and asked us to guess the year. It was a 1989, and one of the best wines I’ve ever tasted.) Then they would do the same with another wine.

I realized just how much these people care about wine about halfway into the evening. I had been chatting for about 10 minutes with Christopher Lacaille, a very friendly Beaujolais winemaker who had lived in the States for a while. I had just asked him a question, which he was eagerly answering, when a woman behind me dropped a box of wine bottles. Everything stopped. Before I realized he had stopped talking, Christopher was practically jumping over his table, the jovial winemaker now a solemn first responder. Judging by the look on his face, you’d think a child had fallen out of a third story window. As he gently wiped up the wine that was oozing out of the box, the other vignerons gathered around to support him. It felt like someone was being administered last rites.

Later in the night, as the producers were closing up their displays and the customers—magenta strokes of crusty “wine lipstick” dotting their lips—were stumbling out of the pavilion, I stopped in front of a table to rearrange my bags and make the bottle-hauling a little less awkward. An older French woman, who was on her way back to this table, decided to help me out. She was probably in her late 50s, but made up to look considerably younger. “Oh, monsieur!” she giggled, with a slight slur. In an unsteady and flirtatious voice, she told me that she was going to fix all my bottles up in a nice box. For some reason, this process involved evil grins, sotto voce chuckling, and leaning into me. “Madame Robicheaux, you’re trying to seduce me. N’est-ce pas?”

Finally, after going through half a roll of masking tape, my jerry rigged carrying case was finished. The handle lasted about halfway to the metro. Fortunately, I was holding the box as low to the ground as possible--thanks to the advice from a stranger at the salon who had seen me carrying a bag of wine bottles at waist level--so nothing broke.

Later, I joined A.L. and his copains at his little studio by Pere Lachaise. We were a bit tipsy by this point. A.L. cooked chicken in a garlic, butter, and crème fraîche sauce, while the rest of us polished off his new bottle of 2004 Sauvignon. We spent the rest of the night noshing, drinking red wine, cracking cheesy jokes, listening to Husker Du, and watching old Depeche Mode and KMFDM videos on his computer. It was just like high school, except we had replaced the Doritos and Boone’s Farm with crème fraîche and Bordeaux.

Friday, February 11, 2005


Walter Murch is a legendary film editor. He did sound for Apocalypse Now, he has won several Oscars, and he pioneered 5.1 sound. (If you ask nicely, in person, I'll tell you about my first experience with Apocalypse Now in surround sound. I'll never forget it.)

"Dense Clarity, Clear Density," an essay Murch recently posted at, is a pedagogical masterpiece. In it, Murch--after cobbling together neurological research, the physics of light, the history of orchestral music, harmonic theory, and reliable laws and principles of sound that he stumbled upon serendipitously during his work on Coppola and Lucas films--serves up a seemingly flawless system for mixing soundtracks. His ultimate goal is to have all the individual elements of the soundtrack that serve the story--dialogue, orchestral background music, footsteps, city noises, etc.--stand out on their own, while simultaneously having all the sounds work together as a harmonious, coherent whole. Mixing all these sounds without turning them into white noise is complicated stuff. Somehow, through Ginsu-sharp metaphors and fascinating multimedia examples of his work on Apocalypse Now, Murch makes it seem as easy as painting-by-numbers.

Even if you are not a gear geek, even if you have no interest in how movie soundtracks are assembled, I cannot recommend this essay strongly enough.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

R.I.P. Jimmy

Jimmy Smith died Wednesday. Smith, while never as elegant or prodigious as Duke Ellington or Charlie Christian, was just as important in changing the sound of jazz and how it was played. Smith singlehandedly adapted the Hammond B-3 organ to jazz. The sound of jazz today is inextricably linked to him, and rock, funk, and soul even more so.

There was just something undeniably cool about his sound. It sounded like sweat, like the sweat flying off dancers at some early 1950s R&B club, like the patch of sweat under the arms of a Baptist preacher's suit. Beyond that, he could swing like crazy. The dirty attack of a B-3 keyboard sounded like a drumset under Smith's control, and he--unlike so many B-3 players now--had Parker's harmonic bebop acrobatics down pat. You could almost feel the organ getting dizzy, never having been played like that before.

I regret not having gone to see him live. I had several chances, but--as with James Brown, Elvin Jones, Jim and Jesse McReynolds, and Tony Williams--I took him for granted. I'm going to go see McCoy Tyner before the year has passed.

If you haven't heard Smith, check out Cool Blues and Root Down. Cool Blues is a document, capturing Smith still developing his sound at a tiny, packed Small's Paradise in Manhattan in the late 1950's. It's rough around the edges, and on some tracks is propelled by a frenetic Art Blakey.

Root Down is an early 1970s album with electric bass and electric guitar that will explain--practically explain away--Medeski Martin and Wood, the Beastie Boys, and any other electric B-3 funk. Perhaps only the Meters stand up to it. If you've ever wrinkled up your nose and slowly bobbed your head to a B-3 album, this one will win your allegiance after 5 seconds.

Smith swallowed the Hammond B-3 organ whole. He so dominated the sound that no one after him has been able to create a truly individual identity on the organ without incorporating other keyboards or without being hailed as the "new Jimmy Smith." We'll miss him.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Et (Peter) Cetera

God, this is embarrassing to admit.

I hereby retract all vitriol I've directed at Peter Cetera over the last 15 years.

There. I said it. Not an easy thing to admit. Once he got away from Chicago, it was one war crime after another, often on the soundtrack to an equally painful and degrading movie. But "If You Leave Me Now" is a top drawer song. It's no "Yah Mo B There," but it's still pretty good. It was released in 1976, but it presaged--for better or for worse--everything that would come to define the gooey ballads of the 1980s.

I realized this while I was having an awful meal at an awful café. The wine was too cold, the coffee was too hot, the steak came with a half melted pat of butter on it (not exactly the "sauce" that the menu advertised), and to top it all off, the music was aw-ful aw-ful aw-ful. The closest I ever get to finding religion is when I picture myself at the gates of Hell, Cerberos relieving himself on my shoe and Hades handing me an iPod. The radio station that was on at this café had the same playlist as my iPod of Eternal Damnation. The worst of late '90s Elton John imaginable, and all its kith and kin.

Then I heard it. That hook. "Ooo-oo, no, baby please don't goooo," dummm dummm dumdumdumdumdum... Something was missing, though. It was a cover! Apparently, Chicago's "If You Leave Me Now" wasn't sappy enough for this station, so they had to play some terrible cover version.

I'll tell you what. As many times as I had considered poisoning Peter Cetera, I realized at this moment that it's his voice that makes that song work. The chorus always comes out of nowhere, and only Cetera's paper thin voice could make it convincing. These hacks were making me want to go find this Cetera wannabe, seduce him, then leave him, just so I could walk out on him as he butchered the line again: "ooo-oo no, baby please don't go."

So that's how I learned to love Peter Cetera. By hearing a damnable cover of what I used to think was a damnable song, and realizing that only He could redeem it.


Escargot To Hell

The Parisian café. Oh, the imagery that thought stimulates. Intellectual conversations. Outrageous fin de siècle fashions. Les Deux Magots. Sartre. Picasso. Jake Barnes and his sotted friends bickering into oblivion. Skinny Gauloises hanging from skinnier lips, covering the room in a haze of white smoke.

I had dinner tonight at a café across the street from my apartment. Forget all your romantic notions. My apartment is right by the Eiffel Tower, so every establishment caters to tourists. The cafés look typical, but as soon as you see the English on the sidewalk chalkboard menus, you know you’re not in for the real thing.

I wasn’t planning on eating at a café: on my budget, dinner is cooked at home after a round of “pas cher” at the local grocers and butchers. But tonight, instead of cooking, I indulged in that non-culinary French passion, cinema. Consequently, all the shops were closed when I got home. I was starving, so a day old half-baguette and a slice of ham wasn’t going to cut it.

I had been told that pretty much any café or brasserie in my neighborhood had something tasty to offer, so I popped into Le Beaupre across the street around 9:30. The waiter was at the door.

“Bon soir, monsieur. Une table pour un?”

“Oui, monsieur.”

So far, so good.

No further.

I tried speaking French, hoping he’d speak French back. I don’t mind stumbling a bit, as I really am trying to learn the language. Nothing doing. He spoke in English, and even translated the items in the prix fixe menu, even though I knew what they were. For an entrée, I ordered the escargot. For a plat, entrecôte (rib steak). For a drink, half bottle of Côtes du Rhône.

The wine came first. Brainfreeze! It was probably 40 degrees. Fahrenheit. I’m sure he knew I was American after I tried to order in French, but did he really think I wanted my Côtes du Rhône to go down like a Slurpee? I was so insulted. I’ve been here for four weeks; can’t you tell? I'm not a tourist. I'm different!

Then the escargot came. They had me here. Last time I had it, the snails were out of their shells, drenched beyond recognition in a green mush of garlic, wine, and herbs. This time, they were in their shells. Now, I’m from Maryland. I’m not intimidated by a shell. Crabs, mussels, oysters, clams, shrimp—give me anything from the sea, and it will be slithering down my throat in three seconds. But this landlubber had me flummoxed. To make things more confusing, they had got out the specialty utensils. The tiny two-pronged fork was easy to figure out. With that, I’d stab the slothful straggler and slurp it down. It was the funky reverse tongs I didn’t get. As you squeezed the tongs, they moved out. This isn’t what I wanted. I wanted to hold the shell so I could pick out the snail, but it wasn’t happening with this contraption.

My Baltimore roots kicked in. When we see shells, we destroy. Hammer the claw. Pick off the legs. Hell, give me a walnut, too, I’ll break it into a thousand shards. I decided that I needed to stick the tongs into the shell, then squeeze, opening the shell so I could pick out the snail.

ZOOM! Thank god the dining room was nearly empty, or that projectile shell would have left one slimy bruise.

Eventually, I managed to pick the escargot out by holding the shell with my hands. When no one was looking.

Then the steak came. With fries. Not just any fries, but the incomprehensibly salty, burnt to a crisp and hollow on the inside type of fries you see in the typical suburban American diner where the men behind the counter have fake Italian accents and your best friend’s little brother is bussing tables. Don’t get me wrong, I love those fries. But I need ketchup, lots of ketchup, and I wasn’t about to ask after the waiter had scored a point on me with those ridiculous tongs.

The steak wasn’t very good. Come to think of it, neither were the escargot. I was getting upset. I’m not a tourist, damn it, I live here! I’ve been here for…um…four weeks! I see through this tourist trap crap! But I was starving. I’d only had a small sandwich. If I had been in Baltimore, I would have gone out for a burrito at Holy Frijoles or a cheesesteak at Never on Sunday. I ate every speck of this bleu plate special.

Since I had ordered the prix fixe, I still had dessert to look forward to. I ordered the chocolate mousse, knowing full well it would look like cat food. When I say look like, I mean it would have that ribbed, curdled consistency and still be in the shape of the can. I was right. On top of that, two finger-shaped cookies were sticking out of it, looking like they had been waterboarded in the mousse and left for dead. (Sorry, I know torture allusions are a little off-color right now, but goddamn if the terrorists or my government are going to take my metaphors away. The government has already taken our freedoms, and the terrorists have taken our safety. We must go on living, or they win! Besides, this meal was torture, seriously.)

Cat food it was.

This meal was an injusTICE! But of course I slurped down the mousse. Finally, I was ready to relax with a coffee and a cigarette. They couldn’t screw coffee up. I’d been in worse cafés than this already and still had delicious coffee.

Oh. My. God. They fucked up the coffee. The Côtes du Rhône had given me a brainfreeze, and now this coffee was leaving third degree burns from my lips, down through my esophagus, right down to—anyway, it also burned my beard out of its follicles. Even after ten minutes. Was this punishment? Was this an anti-American attack? “American national victim of scalding at Parisian café”?

I decided to be a good Christian—heh, heh—and forgive everything. I made nice with the waiter, even though he was cleaning tables, stacking chairs, bringing my check early, doing everything possible to let me know that I was the one keeping him late. I asked him—in English, since it seemed that’s all he knew how to speak—how exactly I was supposed to have used those utensils for the escargot.

“Oh, you just hold the shell with the tongs and pick the escargot out with the fork.”

Impossible! The harder you squeezed the tongs, the further they got away from the shell.

Ah, well, that’s the beauty of Paris, right? The paradoxes, the coquettishness—you only get so close, and then whoosh, the rug’s out from under you.

I wonder how long it will take them to find that escargot missile I shot across the room.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Ne me touchez pas! Part III

Guh. This was a problem, both in terms of physics and practicality. Physically, I worried that we'd be stuck on the platform until the end of time. There was no room on the metro car for people to move out of the way for anyone to get off, and there was no room on the platform for us to shift around. If I'm going to be stuck staring at a bunch of people for all eternity, I want them to speak my language.

Practically, if anyone was able to make the switch, I didn't want to be left behind. This was the last train of the night. It would have been two hours walking to get home, and I didn't have money for a cab.

I considered feigning a sudden vomiting attack. But then I'd be stuck on the train with some of the people I'd duped. On top of that, if I piped up to apologize, they'd hear my awful French and realize I was American. My German wouldn't have been convincing enough to get them to surrender, so I simply shoved my way onto the train. Problem number one solved.

The doors closed. I had never, not even in seven years of Metro delays in Washington, been on a subway car this crowded. I couldn't even grab a pole. The train lurched forward, and the crowd crushed me up against a little man who was unfortunate enough to be stuck between me and the wall. He and I got to know each other very well, because more people got on the train than off over the next ten stops.

Now a crowded subway car, even one this packed, I could handle. I'm not claustrophobic. However, I wanted to finish my book. I had decided earlier that I'd finish my book by the end of the day. It's David Sedaris. You tear through his books like a stoner tears through a box of girl scout cookies after five bong hits. So good, soooo good. Sedaris is to be devoured, not savored. I had whetted my appetite with a couple stories on the bus, and now I wanted to finish it.

See, once I've decided to finish something, I have to finish it. Absolutely have to. It's just the way I am. It's a trait that an employer would refer to as focus, or initiative, or followthrough, although a shrink would probably have some other terms for it.

Somehow, in negotiating my way onto the train, I had managed to keep the book pinned to my chest. I looked like I was saying the pledge of allegiance. I tried to tilt the book out just a little bit, thinking I might be able to read if I got it to a 11 or 12 degree angle. This didn't work very well for the little man I had pinned against the wall. His face was chest level, so letting the book out even 6 or 7 degrees would have given him a paper cut on the delicate skin between his nostrils, and I wasn't about to let that happen. Do you have any idea how hard it is to get blood stains out of tweed? I mean, heh heh, it's probably pretty difficult, right?

I gave up on the book, and I managed to slither my hand back down to my side, thanks to some deft wiggling on the part of the little man. If I could just make it through this train ride, I could finish the book in bed and fall right asleep.

Unfortunately, this entire episode had just been a prelude to a kiss. The couple in front of me--well, attached to me--decided that as long as they were shoved up against each other, they might as well suck face. As I indicated in Part I, kissing couples are part of the Parisian charm. But this one took all the wind out of my Byronometer, and my Deweymeter was going off the charts trying to find a way off the train. Had they been 20 meters away, that would have been fine. But buddy, I could write a book about each nanometer of skin between each of the hairs on your lame-ass five-day George-Michael Euro-trash beard! I'm that close! Not only am I close, but I'm touching you. I'm pressed up against you. I'm part of this kiss now. It's a menage à trois. No, you know what, every freaking person on this entire subway car is pressed together. It's a menage à trente! Menage à quatre-vingt-dix-huit! This is the freakiest shit I've ever done! You better hope my Byronometer doesn't start registering, because if it does, you're going to know it.

It was awful. No one should ever be that close to any kind of affection, unless you're actually involved in it. And you want to know the grossest thing? The sound. Squish. Squish squish squish. The sounds they edit out of movies. Right in my ear.
Finally, I got home. After watching the Eiffel Tower--catalyst for millions of sloppy kisses--blink itself to sleep, I walked inside, took a shower, finished David Sedaris's new book, and settled in for a round of nightmares involving Lord Byron, John Dewey, Fire Island, George Michael, Bobby Seale, and a subway car.

Ne me touchez pas! Part II

No one knew what was going to happen next, least of all me. I had just finished Alistair Horne's Seven Ages of Paris, and I wondered if Parisians were still capable of the caprice that had led them to revolt at the drop of a hat in the past. Here was an injustice, and the possible culprits looked like they might be of Algerian descent. As I understand so far (not very well, honestly), Algerians and Arabs in general are villified more than any other group by the comparatively tolerant Parisians. It was an Algerian Islamic group that had gone on a bombing spree in Paris twenty years earlier, killing several people at Metro stations, in fact. So what's going on here?

I was only connecting the dots, and there weren't many dots. It would be like a Frenchman in America, who spoke poor English and didn't know our history, trying to tie together Bobby Seale-Vietnam-Kent State-Watts-Columbine into something coherent. I decided this little subway tiff wasn't going to be a major event.

To make sure, I looked at faces around me, trying to gauge the situation. There were a lot of them. The train still hadn't arrived, and I had been there ten minutes. It was getting very crowded. Crowded enough for...a revolution?!?

I caught a glimpse of the screaming man, a black man in his late twenties. He was handsome and well-dressed, which was relieving for two reasons. First, he seemed mentally stable, not given to unpredictable outbursts like maybe unloading an Uzi into the crowd or pushing someone onto the tracks in front of an oncoming train. Second, he probably didn't want to mess up his fab outfit getting into a fight with these kids. I think he just wanted to be heard.

Some of the faces I saw betrayed a little worry, though. I mean, it was a slightly volatile situation, right? But the group of young, chic black girls next to me giggled and rolled their eyes every time the man barked out his accusations. Perhaps they were too young to appreciate the history of racism in France. But wait, didn't African-Americans flock to Paris in the 1920s to live in a more tolerant atmosphere? Sidney Bechet? Josephine Baker? Why did the white people in the Metro station look worried? Okay, nervous white people, outraged young black man, Arabs potentially making racist comments...okay, it's a...uh...race thing, I guess. But rich black girls laughing off the whole thing, obviously class is trumping race, here,

Okay, screw it. I have a lot to learn about race and class in France. Or maybe there's not much to learn, and I'm just hung up on it because I'm American. "Surely you must make life difficult for each other based on wealth and skin color! How else will you determine your self-worth?"

Finally, as the platform was starting to fill up beyond capacity, a light appeared in the tunnel. Crisis averted. I could get on the train, have a few laughs finishing the Sedaris book, and be home in time to watch the Eiffel Tower blink itself to sleep.

As the train pulled into the station, every single person on the platform groaned. The cars were packed to the gills. Merde.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Ne me touchez pas! Part I

My friend Dana requested the following when she heard I was in Paris:

"Please take note for me of all that is Paris - beautifully arranged fruit on street carts, people kissing EVERYWHERE, and the many wafting perfume and cologne scents on the Metro."

It's true: a day doesn't pass here without my seeing a Parisian kiss. It's one of the many charms that gives Paris its romantic air. I can't tell you how many times I've seen a couple walking down the street toss their heads back in laughter, halt, kiss, smile, and start walking again. It never gets old. It keeps my Byronometer running high.

"Byronometer?" Yes. Another friend of mine explained it like this. If we can take Lord Byron as our archetype for romanticism, then we each have a Byronometer to gauge the state of our romantic feelings and desires. If we do the same with John Dewey for pragmatism, then we also each have a Deweymeter. A while back, I have to admit, my Byronometer was running high. It wasn't off the charts--it never is--but I was footloose yet standing still, full of the sort of ennui that I thought only Paris could cure, missing the beauty and adventure I had recently left behind after my first trip to Europe.

Eventually, my Deweymeter kicked in, as I absorbed and cooled the humors that had been roiling my Byronometer. "I'm not going for adventure," I thought. "I'm just feeling anxious because I've been living in essentially the same place my whole life. I'll never appreciate home the way I should if I don't get away for a while. Plus, I'll learn French much more quickly there. It just makes sense, is all. It's a good deal, win win, why not."

Still, when I'm walking along the Seine and someone is playing an accordian off in the distance and everyone is speaking French and I see a couple stop and kiss as thousands of others have probably done in the same spot over hundreds of years, the Byronometer kicks in.

After riding Metro tonight, though, I'm going to have to go get my Byronometer recalibrated.

I had gone to see a concert just outside of Paris. It's a bit of a haul: you have to take Metro to the city line, then catch a bus. The concert ran pretty late, so I ducked out of the last set around 11:30 so I could catch Metro before it closed.

I hopped the bus and pulled out my brand new paperback copy of Dress Your Family In Corduroy and Denim. The bus grew more crowded as we approached the city. By the time we got to the Place d'Italie metro station, it was positively rambunctious, full of drunk 19-year-olds.

As the bus pulled to a stop, two teenagers knocked into me and pushed past to get to the front of the exit line. No "excusez-moi"; they only giggled as if they had just pulled a prank. From the back of the bus came aggravated shouting. I didn't understand the French, but it sounded like a fight was starting. It was a deep, booming cry, the sound of someone who feels he has been truly wronged. In fact, it reminded me of the most chilling screaming I've ever heard, that of Art Washington after the Los Angeles riots. Mr. Washington, an older black man, owned a store that was destroyed in the riots. PBS's Frontline caught him on camera the next day confronting the crowd. "How can you do this?!? This is MY store! I built this business!" He couldn't believe--especially after Watts--that other African-Americans would destroy what he worked so hard to create. He was stuck--on one side was the injustice inflicted on his race by the Rodney King decision that had started the riots in the first place, and the injustice of the destruction of his store, wanton nihilism perpetrated by those who were reacting to the first injustice. A totally helpless man, helpless against the system and against individuals, helpless against the debris in front of him, helpless against circumstance and chaos. No one's voice has ever seared itself into my memory like his has--true howls of desperation, the sound of the near total failure of the human race to hold society together. But this voice at the back of the bus was close.

At the front of the bus, one of the boys shouted at the driver: "Ouvrez la porte!" The driver opened the door amid louder shouting from the back of the bus. The two boys scurried off. I and several others kept looking back as we were walking away, unsure whether we should get involved or not--to call the cops, intervene, or run away, we weren't sure. The voice disturbed all of us.

I saw the boys again in the metro stairwell, still giggling. As I walked the long hallway to the platform, I heard the voice again. It was like Art Washington's voice, a sonic boom on the first word of the sentence, the rest trailing off into oblivion. Then another boom. The boys seemed to become more amused when they heard him again, although they also sped up their gait. I began to wonder if they had done something to him. They looked Algerian, and I wondered if this was a case of one minority group battling another to stay out of last place in the social order. Did these kids insult the man whose voice was getting closer and closer?

I found myself a spot halfway down the length of the platform, which was packed with young people awaiting the last train of the night. The two kids walked down to the end, repeatedly looking back down the platform. The booming voice got louder and louder, very slowly. At one point, everyone on the platform stopped talking. It was as if we were all wired the same way--we had all heard him for some time, but now our animal instincts told us that he wasn't just crazy. He was looking for someone, and he was looking for a fight. Then, just as quickly, everyone's voice picked back up again.

"InjusTICE! RaCISTE!" Americans tend to emphasize the first syllable of a word, Italians the middle, and the French the last. Here he came through the platform, walking slowly. Like in a western. "L'injusTICE! La raCISTE!" Maybe he was with a group, maybe not. I couldn't tell. He just walked slowly, barking. He passed me, and as he got closer to the two kids who may or may not have insulted him or possibly picked his pocket and farther away from me, the cries became fainter: "EES! EES! ees! ees..."