Sunday, February 20, 2005

France - Land of Enchantment/Diving for Cheese

This article reflects the growing disenchantment Americans have with France. There has always been a bit of conflict between the French and English, French and Germans, French and...well, besides that though, for ages, the French and Americans got on quite well. Maurice Chevalier was big here once, and French cooking was all the rage in the days before the Center for Science in the Public Interest was no longer considered a bunch of loons looking for some way to creatively apply Fascism to dietary guidelines. They still are of course, but people don't say it out loud anymore for fear of being pelted with mixed greens and a (very) light vinagrette, carrots, celery, and alfalfa sprouts.

These days, politics, and the growing suspicion both here and in Gaul that Jacques Chirac is a giant weasel disguised as a human being, have soured things a bit.

Anyway, I know a few Frenchmen myself, and they are very nice, considerate, and thoughtful persons, whose company I enjoy...even if one of them runs circles around me on the football pitch. Which reminds me to add that I am also an Arsenal supporter who thinks Thierry Henry, Patrick Viera, and Robert Pires, not to mention the mercurial Arsene are fabulous. (Stew's a Spurs guy...nobody's perfect.)

The following article is not reflective of them, but of a recent mindset here in the States. It's from 2003 as well. Enjoy.


Introduction to “An American’s Guide to France” (Revised)
(Editor’s note: I’ve added some changes to reflect the current political situation. We don’t want to end up like the friggin’ Dixie Chicks. Please note the *edits* and [additions].)

*Ah,* France*!* […] Land of *romance* [adultery], *passion, fine* [a moderately regarded] cuisine, and *the *arts! What American traveler hasn’t always wanted to *visit* [avoid] the land of *Lafayette and DeGaulle* [Robespierre]? What *vacationer* [simpleton] hasn’t longed to view the *majestic* peaks of the French Alps [albeit second-rate when compared to the Rockies], the grand and *inviting* [topless] shores of the Riviera[, even if Monaco is the finest part], the lush[es] *vineyards*, and the *illuminated* [tobacco clouded] and *illuminating* [incessantly rude to the point of boorishness] streets of her capital, Paris?

In this edition, we’ll help you *get ready for* [endure] what will surely be *the journey of* a lifetime[‘s regret]. We’ll tell you how to make the necessary preparations so that your trip will be a *pleasant and *swift one, but also one in which you’ll be able to sample from a variety of all that this wonderful *Gallic* [Garlic] nation and her [un]pleasant and *friendly* [hairy] citizens have to offer [in the unlikely event you should care to do so].

From booking your flights with the *major and* minor air carriers [such as Air Saddam] that all have routes to France, to choosing from hundreds of *sumptuously regal* [obtusely maleficent] hotels and restaurants that regularly *earn the highest world rankings* [feature rude and condescending waiters Ed. Note – this one was actually supposed to be in the original version], to visiting *all* [one] of the most famous museums and historical landmarks renowned across the globe, we’ll *guide* [warn] you every step of the way.

This guide is also carefully designed to help you avoid any [of the normal] difficulties that you *may* [would otherwise] encounter due to the differences between France and the U. S. We cover key travel and customs regulations [including how to gain easy visas by using Iraqi surnames], as well as driving laws and regulations [as if there were any]. We’ll also help you get the most out of *currency exchange and* the use of credit […always use credit as the Euro and all it stands for are completely unreliable].

This guide also contains the best *times of the year and* day for visiting the most popular French attraction*s such as the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, and the Louvre’* [ EuroDisney]. We’ll also give you the run down on how to see *the best* [some] shows and get into *the best* [some] eateries.

France is a *beautiful* country, with a long *and colorful* history. The Romans invaded France [(being the first of many)] before the birth of Christ and since then France has had many *rulers* [despots], both beloved (*Charlemagne, Louis XIV, De Gaulle* [Napoleon]) and infamous (*Napoleon*, [Chirac]). The events of French history themselves are as memorable and numerous as her leaders. Who can forget *landmark* [telltale] moments such as the storming of the *Bastille* [Maginot Line] or such battlefields as *Orleans, Reims, etc…* [Agincourt, Waterloo, etc…] Almost every village has markers that are [grim] reminders of episodes from this *storied*past.

The nation’s history *is* also *underscored by the wealth of geniuses from every realm of* [includes] the arts*: painting (Monet, Van Gogh), music (Bizet, Berlioz), sculpture (Rodin), and film (Trauffaut, Renoir) *. The arts are on display year round. The Cannes Film Festival, for example, attracts [left-wing, unpatriotic] actors, directors, and great [foreign] films from around the world to the [did we mention topless] French Riviera culminating in the awarding of the Palme D’Or. The Paris Opera House hosts a variety of *classical and cutting edge works* [ghouls – see Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical], and the Georges Pompidou Center not only houses radically new works of modern art but has been called one itself [but modern art is crap as we all know. I mean come on, who really gets Kandinsky and Pollack anyway, and Warhol is just a big drug-addled fraud. Ed. Note - OK I may have gone overboard a bit here… I’ll shorten it in the last rewrite]!

*Great c* [C]ooking *reached its culmination* [can be found] here as well with the development of famous dishes like *Chicken Cordon Bleu, Beef Bourguignon, and Coq au Vin* [snails in butter]. France can lay claim to countless of the world’s great foodstuffs, including *Roquefort, Brie, and Camembert cheeses, Hollandaise and BĂ©arnaise sauces, baguettes, and the croissant* [freedom fries]. In addition to foods, the French have the world’s [second] most famous wine tradition in the world [behind California]. Champagne not only refers to a wine made in France, but the region it comes from! [?]

France also has many *notable* sporting events to attend each year [but not the Super Bowl of course]. [Because they apparently can’t grow a decent patch of grass, t] *T*he clay courts of the French Open attract *the world’s best* tennis players, while the entire nation plays host to the *premier* [only] cycling event in the world, the Tour De France[, also known as the Lance Armstrong Invitational]. For the sportsman who prefers to be a participant instead of a spectator France has numerous quality golf courses[, for the continent at least,] and tennis facilities, plenty of recreational water sports[, such as water polo and diving for cheese], and traditional pastimes such as fencing for the adventurous [traveler who enjoys body piercing].

There’s [some] shopping to be found in France as well, with a[n] * dazzling* array of *unique* shops and markets where you can find *the finest of * [some] *goods and* souvenirs. Paris is also the world capital for fashion [and backstabbing, self-profligating diplomacy] as well and one can hardly *walk* [run] down a street there without passing a boutique [or call girl] that sports the latest [ridiculously overrated] styles and the most famous designers[, with the notable exception of Mr. Levi].

What guide would be complete without mentioning the romantic lure France, and in particular Paris, has held for *lovers* [fornicators] throughout the generations. From the *brilliant* [blinding] evening lights of the Champs Elysees to *cozy* [overcrowded] sidewalk cafes, couples can find a place to *wander, to embrace, to kiss* [fornicate], and to feel *together and somehow alone in* [watched by] a city of millions.
Yes, we know that you’ve picked up this guide to *experience all that and more, and so* [burn it in disgust, but] we’ve tried to pack as much information *and more* inside as you could ever possibly *hope for* [need, in the hopes that you will take out your frustration on the guides to Belgium and Germany]. We hope that after reading through our guide carefully [and not burning it] that you will be able to have the trip that you have dreamed of, a magical adventure in a country of love, passion, class, and adventure [that is the United Kingdom]. * Ah, * France*!* […]*Enjoy her many treasures! * [You could do worse!]

Monday, February 07, 2005

Celebrity Best-Selling Authors OR Is Larry King the Devil?

This is an article I wrote as one of those sample pieces you send off to newspaper syndicates so they can send you back lovely, impersonalised correspondence wishing you the very best in finding a home for your work, with another syndicate. Perhaps the subject matter wasn't really that attractive to those actually in the publishing business. I prefer to think it simply hit too close to home. It helps me sleep at night.


Is Larry King the Devil?

Just the other day I was pondering the type of question that typically crosses my mind when I’ve had too much Pepsi-Cola™ to drink. After mulling this about in my brain and deciding that yes, everyone in the room would hear that particular noise, another question shimmied into my brain like quicksilver: “Is Larry King the Devil?”

Before I answer this important question I should note that Larry King, in addition to being a nationally syndicated radio and television talk show host, used to have a column in USA Today on Mondays in which, to put it kindly, he rambled on like a senile auctioneer. Many writers, comedians, political commentators, and approximately 80 percent of the English speaking world have already commented derisively on this column, so I will spare you my own sarcastic example of how the thing reads. (Oh, all right... “Hey kids, I just saw ‘Lost in Space’ and it’s the kookiest thing. William Hurt, say hello to another Oscar, and that Matt LeBlanc is something else! Isn’t he related to Mel Blanc? I hear his favorite food is pizza, hold those anchovies!” ). Apparently he had to recently give up the column because it was too taxing. Perhaps it was taking away from his suspender-shopping time?

Nonetheless, the column raises certain questions (beyond the theological one described above), such as, “What on earth were the editors at USA Today smoking, rock or powder?” I mean, what was it about the column that led USA Today’s editorial staff to believe that Larry would say, have won the Pulitzer for commentary anytime in the next 10,000 years, much less the Life Section award for column of the day. No personal offense meant to Mr. King, who is a talented radio bloke, but if it theoretically takes an infinite number of chimpanzees with typewriters to produce Hamlet, one of his USA Today columns could be produced by a single rhesus monkey with a broken pencil .

The reason USA Today printed the article is simple of course. Let me spell it out for you: “$$$$$$$$$$”. Larry King is a celebrity. USA Today could put his picture over a column of gibberish... all right, different gibberish... and someone would read it simply because their brains would reflexively respond (making a telltale clickity-clack sound, like the Tube on the Victoria Line): “I know him! He’s the radio guy on TV! Wow, in this day and age radio guys can even do TV! Isn’t that against the law?!? And he writes too! My head is swimming!! Marge pass me an asprin!” This is one of the peculiarly western phenomena explaining how William Shatner was able to cut a rock album.

Now I really don’t mean to pick on the likeable King (unless he surprisingly turns out to actually BE the devil, in which case I will abandon all remorse in this regard) or the colorful simpletons at USA Today. There are plenty of other people who deserve ridicule for getting a byline or a book deal simply because they are famous. The first lady, Hillary "Rodman" Clinton (No relation to Dennis), wrote a book called “It Takes a Village” and her groupies went berserk, propelling it to the bestseller lists, until they found out it was not actually about the Village People. Congressmen, such as Newt Gingrich, have written incredibly dull and popular bestsellers. Comedians such as Jerry Seinfeld, and Tim Allen (“My Stand-up Routine in Print”), sports figures (they generally resemble children’s books but with expletives included) and actors (although all of these books are actually ghost written by Chris Kreski of course) have all taken their turn churning out a quick page-turner, ready for the rough and tumble, cutthroat world of print profitability...and made millions doing so.

The idea is that if you’re famous, people will be interested in what you have to say, even if it is obnoxiously boring, trite, self-indulgent, semi-literate, and occasionally rude (Like this particular column). The interest jettisons upwards if your work involves personal revelations damaging to your reputation, or your husband’s in the case of Mrs. Clinton’s newest opus. This deeply important civic duty to probe the minds of celebrities is really just a symptom of the publishing industry's attempts to collect enough money to collapse itself into a black hole.

Of course this makes things extremely difficult for the obsessed, crackpot loners who actually choose professional writing as a career, competing as we are with celebrities whose book selling ability may have as much to do with their rumored relationship with Frank Sinatra or Madonna as it does the inexorable power of their prose, or lack thereof. Prose, I mean. One can almost sense the steady flow of volumes from “Survivor” castaways and ex-“Price is Right” models. It’s a miracle Kato Katelin hasn’t written a novel yet. (Please, no.)

Now back to the original question, that is the one after the question involving bodily noises, “Is Larry King the Devil?” Of course not, he’s just an experienced radio personality with a penchant for suspenders. However, you read all this way to find out didn’t you? That’s yet another currency-vacuuming publishing strategy, strategy number one being the addition of the words “Harry Potter” into the title of your book. When in doubt, name-drop with a strong hint of controversy regardless of the relative innocuity of the piece.

With a name like Earl Fando I can’t count on celebrity sales can I? Now where did I put that rhesus monkey?