The Frogmarch

"I've got to pull up my stakes and roll, man." --Jean-Jacques Libris de Kerouac

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Object At Hand: Revealed!

Here's where you, loyal Frogmarch reader, get to test your powers of deduction in determining the identity of this secondhand-store find:

The object at hand is of wooden construction, with heavy ~3cm oak side panels joined by dovetailing. It stands about a meter high.

The top is hinged to open upward, allowing access to a deep, unlined compartment. There is also a single drawer at the bottom of the compartment.

Although it has feet for standing on the floor, there is also a loop at the top of the structure which would seem to allow it to be mounted on a wall--although the loop could serve as a handle instead or as well, as a smallish hand could fit comfortably in the loop.

The methods and materials of its construction point to the early-mid 20th century. Others like it are not necessarily as sturdy, being constructed of thinner wood, veneer, or even wicker in some cases.

The item was purchased at The Box of Used Stuff for 14 euros, and successfully carried home on the Metro without clunking anyone in the head.

Although this item still has use in its intended purpose in France, in the present-day US it would not.

What is it? Post your answer in the comments.

The first correct answer gets... I dunno, something.

EDIT: The prize has been determined! The first correct answer will receive the most interesting item I can buy for under €5 at La Boite d'Occases that will fit in a smallish, airmail-able box. Pernod promotional cigarette lighter! Johnny Hallyday's Greatest Hits on CD! A funny-looking doorknob! Who knows?

THE SECRET REVEALED! It's a baguette box. French kitchens are usually tiny, with very little counter space (in fact, large kitchens with lots of counters and modern appliances are known in real-estate listings as "cuisine americain"). So when you bring home your meter-long baguette in the morning--which you do every morning--there's no place to put it except to balance it across a chair (where the dog will lick the flour off) or stand it in the corner with the dust and spiderwebs and such (see note concerning dog). Hence the baguette box. The next day, after the remaining few inches of bread have hardened into a railroad spike and been thrown out for the pigeons, the drawer is taken out and shaken to get rid of the crumbs.

When we get back to the US, land of no baguettes (except those soulless, flaccid, preservative-ridden lumps of sadness sold as "French bread" at Harris Teeter), this particular example is destined to hold umbrellas, or maybe disassembled fishing rods.

As the correct answer was not arrived at, I'll go find something interesting under €5 at the Boite for myself. And if it's sufficiently interesting, I'll post about it.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

They're Lining Up to Mad-dog Your Tilt-A-Whirl

Some years back, V. and I went to the NC State Fair along with her friend Tammy. Along the midway, among the funnel cake stands and ring-toss games, was a trailer housing a carny freakshow billed as "The Incredible Beastman", allegedly a half-man/half-beast found wandering dazedly in the aftermath of the San Francisco earthquake. This being a 5-ticket show, and V. being as stingy (um, I mean "sensible") with fair tickets as with real money, Tammy went in alone to check it out and see if it was worthwhile.

She came out a few minutes later. "It was just a hairy redneck in a cage," she said, laughing. Then her face took on a strange cast. "You know, I think I went to high school with that guy." She wasn't joking. For the next little while, as we gawked at the Snake Lady and V. milked a cow in the 4H barn, Tammy seemed distracted, as if trying to get her head around a memory, maybe of a person and a place and time, and how life and choices can lead you somewhere you never thought you'd end up. Maybe I was imagining this, I dunno; doesn't matter.

A few days later, as a writing exercise, I wrote an imagined description of the inside of the Beastman's trailer. It came out fairly well, so eventually I built a story around it. The good folks at the Southern-Lit journal StorySouth were kind enough to publish it (as a "Featured Selection", no less), and you can read it on-line here.

While the story is sorta-vaguely based on an actual incident, none of the characters are based on actual people (and particularly not you, Tammy, so don't be mad) except for Tree... who I'm fairly certain will not be reading this.

There's a great photoset on of pictures of carnies and carnivals in Missouri; check it out. It captures in pictures some of the atmosphere I was trying to get at in words, if you're a visual-type person. Or you could listen to Tom Waits' "Who Are You This Time", off the Bone Machine album, which I was listening to a lot at the time.

Anyway, if you like the story, feel free to pass on the link to anyone you think might care (especially if your friends include literary agents and/or acquisitions editors at major publishing houses). If you don't like the story... keep it to yourself.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Into the Scrum

Have you got Rugby World Cup fever? Jeepers, I sure do!

OK, maybe not. Maybe I don't know a scrum half from a chili half-smoke, and couldn't name a single rugby player except the square-headed French dude who's in all the ads here and the frightening Australian guy from the old Energizer TV commercials.

Rugby doesn't remotely approach the popularity of soccer in France; though it is probably the #2 sport (or #3, depending on how you want to categorize Formula 1 racing), it's a distant #2, and something of a regional sport, far more popular in Western France than here. Lyon has a club team but they're in the 2nd division, roughly equivalent to a AAA baseball team.

Still, Lyon is hosting a number of matches in this world cup, and it's made for some interesting flavor on the streets as the city has been flooded with supporters from the competing countries on match days. A brief field guide:

Wearing yellow, boisterous, lost = Australian
Wearing kilt, drunk at 10AM = Scots
Wearing sleeveless St. George's Cross T-shirt, drunk at 10AM = English
Wearing red, calmly resigned to ultimate crushing defeat = Japanese
Wearing black, smug = New Zealander or bandwagoning French

Shops, cafes and restaurants have gotten into the act as well, with rugby-themed window displays and big-screen TVs for watching the matches. The local McDonald's restaurants have limited-time-only burgers representing the competing nations; I have not yet determined what makes an Argentina burger, and it is unclear how they decided whether Tonga or Samoa would get the pineapple.

Anyhow, somehow I managed to get invited to a reception at the Lyon Hotel de Ville (City Hall) for the USA Rugby team. Turns out that the US Consul offered an invitation to officers of the American Club of Lyon, which includes V. because she runs the children's playgroup and Mom's Night Out. But she was feeling poorly thanks to a cold, which is how I was able to give my name to the cops guarding the gate and stride confidently in as if I were somebody important.

The meeting rooms at the Hotel de Ville are not normally open to visitors, presumably so they can use them to, y'know, govern the city. But I was able to take a few dimly-lit snaps of the delightfully over-the-top Third Empire (baroque) interior.

The Thomas Blanchet frescoes are allegorical, though you can't make out a thing in these pictures thanks to the dim lighting and flash glare off the oils.

After taking a few clandestine pictures, I headed to the security checkpoint, where I was given one of those groovy translation headsets you see at UN meetings (yes, we have them at my workplace as well, but I never get to mess with them since all our official meetings are in English).

Inside the reception hall, there was much milling about; the rugby players were easy to spot due to their enormous size, generally Pacific-Islander ancestry, and unfortunate cauliflowering of the ears. I spoke briefly with these three guys, not wanting to be too annoying or reveal my utter ignorance of rugby. They were all quite polite, down-to-earth, and seemed honestly happy to be there.

It turns out that almost every member of the US team plays for an amateur or semipro team, while most of their opponents play in the big European leagues. In rugby, unlike soccer where it's possible for an inferior team to win some games thanks to a fluke goal, the better team almost always wins, sometimes by a tremendous margin. So despite a strong performance against heavily-favored England in their first game, the USA is likely to go home winless again.

There was some speechifying from the mayor, Gerard Collomb (he's the short guy at the podium; hey, he has a Blogger account!), and the team presented him a jersey with his name on the back, which seemed to confuse him a little. There were also a few words from Jean-Pierre Rives, former France captain and Rugby Hall-of-Famer who retired to become a sculptor of some renown--which seems like a very French thing to do.

This being France, I probably don't need to tell you that the hors d'oeuvres and champagne were spectacular. I managed to sneak some macarons into my jacket pocket to take home to V.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Spot the Difference

Back last year some time, I posted a bunch of vintage postcard pictures of Lyon to accompany a post about hookers (oddly, according to sitemeter, one of the most-visited pages of this blog, after the one about Hitler's Benz). I find cityscapes and urban architecture fascinating, not so much in a Le Corbusier-idolizing way, but more in terms of a historical perspective--the ways in which historical and cultural changes affect the way cities are built.

So then-and-now photo books--you know, here's a picture of a New York street corner in 1895 and the same corner in 1995-- have always appealed to me, even if I'm not intimately familiar with the city (like New York). For some time I've had on my to-do list, down toward the bottom, "Take Place Republique photo", and Sunday morning on the way to the marche I actually had the presence of mind to take along my camera and a printout of the 1909 photo to find the correct spot.

Here's the result: compare and contrast. You'll probably want to click the photos to enlarge them. I had to stand a little further back than the original photographer did to get everything in frame--difference in camera format, I suppose--and it appears he was also standing on something--possibly the steps of the statue of Emperor Napoleon that was once here (it was once called Place Imperiale, and the street was Rue Imperiale).
  • Our building is second from right, and you can just see our living room at the corner of the building. There are so few people in the modern photo because it was taken at about 9AM Sunday morning. Ordinarily the street is jammed with pedestrians and cyclists, and the occasional delivery van nosing through the crowd.
  • The tram tracks are long gone (though one can see a tram from this line at the Musee Malartre).
  • The Place de La Republique fountain, the ugly lamppost, the trees and the benches date from the 1980s.
  • In the modern photo, you can see street lights mounted on the side of the buildings just above the second floor; I had assumed that they were quite old, and was surprised that they came after the earlier photo.
  • The spire at the far end of Rue de la Republique in both photos is the Ritz-Carlton on the far side of Place Bellecour.
  • The former piano shop is now an expensive Italian menswear store, and the Gaz de France office is now the French version of Lenscrafters.
  • The cross street, Rue Childebert (delineated by the row of posts in middle distance in current photo), has been narrowed to a single lane to accomodate a pedestrian access to the underground parking garage just out of frame to the left.
  • The hardware store (quincaillerie) advertised on the tram no longer exists; I checked.
  • The golden chicken atop the Pathe theater is in an early Deco style but was not present in 1909.

EDIT: Dad converted the color photo to B&W, did some cropping, and put the two photos together in the same JPEG for your one-click viewing pleasure.