Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Aphorism Forty-Five: (One of a Series; Collect the Whole Set!)

Life is a long series of humiliations. If you're lucky, anyway.

Aphorism Forty-Four: (One of a Series; Collect the Whole Set!)

The best way to make sense of things is to be stupid.

Aphorism Forty-Three: (One of a Series; Collect the Whole Set!)

Travel can be so narrowing.

(Attributed, falsely, to Rick Steves.)

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Aphorism Forty-Two: (One of a Series; Collect the Whole Set!)

Maybe I haven't been dumping out as many aphorisms lately, or maybe — and it may be a sign of extreme mental health — I haven't been listening to myself as much. Probably that.

Anyway, I fell across this one in a Chinese cookbook. A great Chinese cookbook, maybe the great Chinese cookbook in English: The Key to Chinese Cooking by Irene Kuo. The first cuisine I ever really got involved with (unless you count cooking as a short-order cook in a wino cafe named "Stanley's," even though the neon outside said "Swede's," just right across from the post office in downtown Phoenix, Arizona, as being involved with a cuisine) was Chinese. It's a long story that I'll spare you, because I like these aphoristic deals to be brief. Or brief by my standards, anyway. But brief, just the same.

To this day I still cut almost everything with a cleaver, just as I learned in Chinese cooking, in those Chinese restaurant kitchens in Oakland and San Francisco, and Ms. Kuo's very thorough and accomplished book is clear and direct on cleaver technique, as it is on anything she touches. Discussing the great kitchen truth — the Great Life Truth — of why a sharp knife is safer than a dull one, she says:

"A razor edged cleaver sobers one's mind and sharpens vigilence."

If fortune cookies read that crisply, well, we'd probably stop putting "in bed" on the end.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

My favorite sentence this year; Este Es El Historia de El Camino

My absolute very favorite sentence I've written this year just fell off of me, like one of those muffler-tailpipe assemblages you've been meaning to get out and get under and get down and take a look at, because it's sure been rattling a lot lately, but every time you think of it, you're wearing something you don't want to get all greasy and grimy and and covered in shit. And then the next thing you know, there you are, a million miles down the road from nowhere, all late at night and all, and there's this blinding brilliant explosion of friction-sparks and a pretty blinding glorious grinding noise coming from right directly behind you. And your engine is suddenly roaring louder than hell too.

It came forth sideways from an exchange of letters with a friend, whose son has . . . well.... anyway:

"What year El Camino?"

That's the kind of writing I expect from me, and it's nice to know that I can just fling that stuff forward at will.

Poor long gone Faulkner is probably grinding what's left of his teeth. Hemingway — or what's left of him after the academic coffin-worms have chewed him and deplored how minty-fresh he didn't actually taste — is very likely super-dead-fuckin' jealous at the elegant, concise, abrupt perfect smix of Spanglish-AmSpan. And Kerouac, who, it must be said, if sadly, mournfully, dolorously, never even rode in a damn El Camino, would certainly get it, but not actually envy it, if only because he'd also have wanted to know what color it was too. Neal Cassady would've wanted to know what was under the hood.

I would hasten to remind him, and them,and other dabblers, other tip-tapping typers of aggregated language-hunks'n'chunks , that not every sentence can hold everything.

And only ever so few can be so ultra fine-ass.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Fuck A Duck; A Flocking of Canards

The way the story gets told, he was, at bare minimum, bisexual. And that's to be gracious about the waterfowl. His most notorious film, 1926's Le Canard, was titled, allegedly, supposedly, in English, Fuck A Duck. Although that may itself be yet another canard. This is the kind of story where we'd better question everything, each and every quacking duck we stumble across.

Bernard Natan wasn't his real name. He was a Romanian Jew, so it's likely that Natan Tannenzaft, or Tannanzapf, probably wasn't really his real name either, though it does suggest he made his way across Germany at some point. And before he was shuttled back across Germany, he ended up owning Pathé, France's biggest film company. The one whose proud symbol is a rooster. Le Coq.

That's an actual fact — though declaring facts in the life of Bernard Natan is to take a swan-dive into the murkiest of French duckponds, into the cluckingest of coops poulet, into the near- impenetrable bird-poop of the closed-shutter French business-banking-judicial-governmental hierarchy of the 1930s. And then, even worse, to paddle into the time of the Vichy government, when the Nazi occupiers were pleased and bemused to discover that they'd at last invaded a country whose citizens were not only willing to rat out the Jews but to help provide the proper enforcement mechanism too. Worse yet, when you come up for air, all you can do is breathe in the successful silence that followed the grand national collaboration. Which became known, in the ex post facto aftermath myth, as le Resistance. Vive le Resistance!

Bernard Natan, Jew, foreigner, financial wizard, technological visionary, marketing seer and distribution innovator, studio chief and new owner of that ultra-modern French institution, Pathé, had appeared, the French courts were told, in scandalous stag films, lewd movies with elaborate sets and scenarios, films he wrote and directed and produced and then performed in as well. (As it was still The Silent Era, translation was a simple matter of, shall we say, inserts.) He was, they let it be known, a sodomite, a foreigner, a pornographer, a Jew, and, of course, surely, a swindler. En plus, he had purportedly fucked a duck. It was enough to make a judge's knife hesitate above his medaillions de maigret.

He was accused of fraud, of financial mismanagement, and he was, let it be said over and over again, a foreign Jew who fucked ducks on film — native ducks, noble French ducks. (Natan had, as well, been the first presenter of the much-beloved Mickey Mouse in France, though under the circumstances this probably didn't much help his case. Donald, uncharacteristically, retained his spluttering silence, as did les jeunes Huey, Dewey et Louis.) Early in his career, an emigrant, he had established a film company that produced nearly three dozen movies, and then he created his own production lab, Rapid Films, on rue Francouer, with labs and studios, workshops and soundstages that have since been transformed into le Femis, the French national film school. He created a advertising/publicity firm that still exists (under a less-troubling name, of course); he created the first footage of the 1924 Olympics; he built studios and stages and distributors and labs and projectors, and he produced major commercial movies.

In 1928, Charles Pathé, announcing that film was no longer profitable, stripped Pathé Cinema down to a shell company and sold off its assets. Bernard Natan risked acquiring it, transforming it into the extremely dynamic Pathé-Natan. He began purchasing theaters, sixty-two of them across France; in September of 1929, he produced France's first talkies, licensing RCA-Victor's sound system for his new theaters; he re-launched Pathé's newsreels and added sound to the pioneering international news source that would be be both distributed and widely imitated worldwide and which would lead to television news; by November of 1929, he had created France's first television company; it developed a transmission of television using telephone lines. He funded the research that led to the anamorphic lens, which led to Cinemascope and the contemporary wide-screen film. He innovated what we would now call vertical integration, controlling not only the means of production but the production labs as well, and the distribution and the theaters themselves. By 1930, no longer so convinced it was impossible to make money with movies, Charles Pathé wanted his company back.

Articles began to appear, to occur in the press, so many that they could surely be considered a well-organized campaign. Despite the fact that he'd been married to the same woman since 1909, despite the fact that he had two children, despite the fact that he made at least 60 major movies during the first half of the 1930s, Natan was now under steady attack: a Jew, an etranger, a pornographer, a pederast, perhaps even a foul violator of feathered French fowl, and yet with his grasping grip clutching such an important economic institution of la France. A swindler, an embezzler? Surely. How could he not be?

The anti-Semitism of France in the 1930s is only so little remembered because France's next-door-neighbor was so successfully raising the standard, and because . . . well, there are other reasons. After years of steady slander and innuendo, of gossip, and rumors in the press, all meant to destroy Natan's unpatriotic grasp on the proud nation's most famous film company, in 1936, at the height of the Depression, the Tribunal de Commerce succeeded in appointing a receiver who proceeded to declare Pathé-Natan bankrupt. Bernard Natan continued to produce films; his firm continued to operate at a profit. But by 1938, just after the Kristallnacht in Germany, Natan was arrested, and indicted, accused of fraud, of bilking investors, of negligent management and of hiding his heritage by changing his name.

Natan was imprisoned in 1939, and indicted yet again in 1941. This time he got convicted. Released in September, 1941, the Vichy Government efficiently arranged to have him placed on what is said to have been the very first train from France to Auschwitz. He was not seen again. Pathé (sans Natan) carried on with proper French management into the 1980s, based on the armatures Natan had created; the theater chain he established lives on today.

If you should visit France's national film school, le Femis on rue Francouer, in the 18th, occupying the buildings where once Bernard Natan first established his film lab, you will enter the gates under a striking antique arch that still says, so quaintly, "Pathé Cinema" with the fabled rooster emblazoned. On a sunny day, you will see France's elite young film students smoking underneath solemn marble plaques with the names of those who died defending La Belle France against the Nazis. They are the cream of their generation, these film students. As ever in France, to succeed, to advance, to prevail, you must absolutely attend the proper school; all politicians, left, right and center, attend the same school, and all up-ranking military officers uniformly attend another. And le Femis is where the future of film in France is being instructed. There is, of course, no mention of Bernard Natan on those memorial plaques. In fact, to the degree that he is remembered at all — and he isn't, not much — he is noted in French film history as a swindler, an embezzler, and as a dirty duck-fucking pornographer. There is reason to believe he never did any such things, and much proof that he didn't, but he never got a chance to tell his tale. Putain. Fuck. Fuck a duck.

(Note: In 1999, Gilles Willem published an article, "The Origins of Pathé-Natan" in Screening The Past, Issue 8, and it was translated by Annabelle de Croÿ. I'm indebted to this remarkable effort at re-examining the restructuring of Pathé, Natan's innovations, and the financial and judicial machinations of that time. Without it, I would have joined in understanding Bernard Natan — his name; the name he chose for himself — as he has been understood in all the years since he was escorted out of France.)

Escoffier, Stanley & Me (& Danny, Tiger of the Balkans)

My cooking has direct lineage to Escoffier. I wish I could say that was true from my initial professional experience in the kitchen, but that would be fudging the facts around a bit. And Stanley's Cafe — the sign outside still said Swede's Cafe but now Stanley owned it, and he'd had the the front window repainted to say so; besides, the neon on the sign only lit up on one side, and even then it didn't say Swede's Cafe, because only the part that said Swede's still lit up — anyway, Stanley's Cafe, a wino diner directly across from the post office next door to the Westward Ho in downtown Phoenix, Arizona in 1974 was not my direct connection to Escoffier. Unless, perhaps — and while I can't prove this, I guess I also can't prove it wasn't maybe possibly so — there was a Escoffier hook-up through Danny, the regular cook. Danny whose professional name had been "Danny, the Tiger of the Balkans."

Danny Unpronounceablelastname (and thus, in the Arizona of 1974, known forever and ever as merely "Danny") had been an Olympic Greco-Roman wrestler representing Yugoslavia. He was five and a half feet tall, and four and a half feet wide, and made up of mainly muscle, and neckbone.. He didn't speak much English, just enough. The first actual words he ever spoke to me — he had grunted at me previously a lot; actually, a whole lot, actually, as in "Get out of my way" or "Go home" — were when Stanley appointed me the new night cook since Danny wanted the last couple hours before downtown Phoenix deflated like over-used condom, and since I was always hanging around drinking free Sprite while waiting for my girlfriend the waitress to get off work because we only had the one car. (Imagine, Americans, Arizonans, Phoenicians — only just one single car! What were we thinking? Gas cost somewhere between 19 cents and 29 cents and 36 cents; gas stations pretty much didn't need any of the other numbers — and it was our duty and responsibility to burn it up — but anyway, the first actual ungrunted Move Your Boots words Danny ever spoke to me was when Stanley took me back into the kitchen to make formal introductions.
"Danny, this is Bart. He's going to take that last shift."
I'm guessing that Stanley would have liked it if we'd shook hands and all, but it would have probably put me out of commission. So I kind of nodded and smiled and grinned and tried not to wet my pants and all.
Danny, perhaps the most exotic chef in all of downtown Phoenix at that stage, stayed focused on the cuisine. He gave me my very first professional cooking lesson. It's one that rings in my ears, that resonates in my spirit, that inspires my soul, that clenches my testicles to this very day. "Don't Touch The Soup." Then he turned his back on me.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Exclusive! Hank Williams' Pulitzer Prize Acceptance Speech, April 2010

(Pre-recorded on 78 rpm vinyl, as Mr. Williams was unable to attend the awards ceremony due to prior commitments)

Well, howdy, friends and neighbors, I would give anything to be there with you on today, or tonight, for the receiving of this fine award. For which I thank you kindly. But since I can't be with you there in Pulitzer, I just want all of you to know just how much this important trophy will mean to me, now and at future times.

It's not every day that a old shirt-tail boy from Alabama gets to receive such a trophy and a honor award, and I want you to know that I intend to make sure to be worthwhile of such a trophy and honor. It's not so long ago that I was a-travelin' between these here little towns and church centers or fellowship halls where I couldn't hardly go stray off the straight in narrow path, and where there was nothing to do but maybe go see a bootlegger or to write a new song off of you, the people that give me this award and trophy. And this has been my inspiration. A lot of people feel it hasn't been nothing like this, and if they mean how it ain't been nothing like they would of guessed at, well, I'm here to tell 'em so. All I know is that its a lot of hard-working days that I ain't ever gonna see again, so let's just say good night and set off the fireworks and then head on home before they commence again.

But meantimes, I want to be sure and thank my dear Mother and my late old dead Father, who was a big influence for me on account of his running of a log train when I was a child. And also thanking my big sister, Irene, who rooted around and did a lot of the dirty work when I was not around to do it, like taking out the wet slimy trash from out of the bathroom where it belongs at, and for [message garbled] So thank you kindly. But enough of about me. Let's all of us get into a nice good mood here tonight, and anything that they do, either whether they're on the right side or the wrong side of the road., well, you can see how they're still having trouble finding whether they're in the Bagdad Hilton or the... [message garbled] ....and the creek don't rise....[message trails off]

Monday, April 12, 2010

En Dernier Canard

Seeing as how this whole darn Duck deal has landed in my lap, it occurred to me that I better do that orderly asymetrical three-on-a-plate thing. Went to the market, and there were the usual absurdly cheap "canard manchions." Duck drumsticks, basically. And the reason they're so absurdly cheap is because they're so absurdly tough. Because ducks are made for swimming, and that's just what they do. They're muscle-y, tendon-y little bastards, those canards enchainé, and you've got to cook them slowly. You can make confit from them, if you have the patience, but I decided to see if I could swim against the current, and paneé them, poelle' them. Ever so slowly. We shall see.

I'll be missing Malcolm's funeral, and Bernard Natan, among a great number of of others, wasn't given one. I'm not so sentimental as to suggest A Last Meal — knowing Malcolm, he would have been trying to pitch Bernard a movie, and then would have stuck him for the dinner check — but I'm inclined to savor my canards in both their honor this lovely evening. It's wonderful to be currently alive, it's wonderful to buy duck for so little, it's wonderful to hear it sizzling rather than to be sizzling. I wonder what they would have thought of one another, that pair of odd ducks? I wonder what kind of movie they might have made? I wonder where Russ Meyer is? I wonder what Roger Ebert would order?

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Duck, Duck, Duck! Malcolm McLaren: Sex Pistol Man, That's What I Am...

Only just a mere six or seven million years ago, I dined with Malcolm McLaren. There were others in attendance as well, like James Truman and Roger Trilling and so forth. It was a good deal like a Hollywood version of The Drones Club. I had nothing to do, I hasten to assure you, with the choice of location, with the food, with the mise en anytheeng. Of this you may be sure, because it was a Chinese restaurant in Beverly Hills, which you can be double-damn-dead-certain I would never have suggested, thank you very much (and as Malc was famous for never even considering picking up the check, I don't know that we can blame him either) and I damn sure wasn't going to have us eating at a hoi-toi Chinese place in Beverly for God's sake Hills, when with a merest jaunt East on the freeway we could have been in Monterey Park, the largest assemblage of astonishing Chinese food on the North American continent. No doubt over the course of the meal I ingraciously mentioned this. I probably couldn't help myself.

More, I also couldn't help myself from butting in with a question or two, but not about the Sex Pistols, or Johnny R. or Sid the V, or even Sir Richard of Branson. What I wanted to know was what had happened, by this late date, to The World Famous Supreme Team. Because to my mind, as earth-shatteringly important as Les Pistoletes du Sexe were — and continue to be — what Malcolm McLaren achieved on Duck Rock, his own solo record, the album that pioneered hiphop album-ism and dovetailed it with South African mbquanga Zulu jive and hillbilly square dance and double-dutch jump rope songs and Cuban/Dominican voudon chants and all that scratchin' that was makin' us itch, and meant it, man, as emceed by two late-nite Newark-to-NYC deejay party-promoter knuckleheads that Malcolm's big Brit freckled ears had flapped wide enough open so as to be invited to the party as an honor guest and patsy . . . . well, it was a stroke of trouble-brewing genius even broader, even brighter than the Sex Pistols, if never as widely, whitely notorious. And it was even then still sending off ear-freckling reverberations in the culture, as it continues to do to this day. While he was discovering hiphop, he pretty much innovated that funny stuff, that greasy kid stuff called "World Music." And, remarkably for a Brit, did both without ever mussing his ginger hair with a pith helmet. And made super-silly '80s Britpop-poses for the photo sessions too.

Malcolm was all too plainly pleased to talk about 'em again, the World Famous Supreme Team: See Divine the Mastermind and Just(ice) Allah the Superstar, two high-pitched h/h hustlers who were absolutely capable of sweet-talking the frilly panties off lovely ladies from remarkably remote boroughs (and Philly, even! and Rochester! long distance!) with their magical radio-wave microphone skills. They were natural hustlers, born to brag and boast and to receive hot butter on their breakfast toast, and Malcolm's respect for such fast-talking past-masters of his own grand-ceremonial game just reeked and radiated and rattled forth. The last time he'd run across them — surely he hadn't been sharing any publishing checks with them, after all — they had headed West, to the Coast, to Cali, to Hollywood — just as he himself had done — and were now throwing nearly-official after-parties for the pre-HIV Magic Johnson.

I got in contact with Malcolm in Paris a couple of times a while ago with the idea of going back in and having a look at how Duck Rock came to be, exploring how it happened, and how all the variations on "Buffalo Gals" and "Double Dutch" and "Lookin' Like A Hobo" "D'Ya Like Scratchin'?" wandered their way back into the world, but now guess I was a little too late. (Which is fine; I'm usually the reverse, and it's nice to feel that other way. I guess that's why there's so much affection for nostalgia/nostalgie.) I regret it, but not entirely. I'm pretty sure I couldn't have afforded all the dinners. I know I wouldn't have let him choose the restaurants, that's for sure.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Aphorism Number Sixty-Four; (One of A Series: Collect The Whole Set!)

What could be more repulsive to a woman than a rock critic?

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Aphorism Sixty-Three (One of a Series; Collect the Whole Set)

Real rednecks think dumb is a virtue; fake rednecks are even dumber than that.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Aphorism Sixty-Two: One of a Series; Collect the Whole Set!

"I don't want to talk to the angels — I want to talk to God."

Patrick Foynard, hier soir