Bayeux Tapestry Odds

Faux spring no mo’. Woke up this morning to a light coat of snow. Not even enough to warrant shoveling, but snow all the same.

I check the Paddy Power web site now and then, not because I’m interesting in betting, but because its predictive powers seem pretty good. Usually. The Irish bookies got the 2016 election wrong, but they get a pass for that, since everyone else did too.

Last week Amazon winnowed its second headquarters site selection to 20 cities, something I’m following as a professional matter. I was a little surprised to see that the odds favor Boston right now, at 2/1, with Atlanta, Austin and Washington DC next.

All very interesting, but what really caught my attention on the site was, “Bayeux Tapestry Location Display.” What? It’s going to be displayed somewhere outside Bayeux?

Apparently so. At some point in the next few years, at someplace in the UK. Exactly where is the betting matter.

Paddy Power puts the British Museum as the clear favorite, at 1/2, which seems reasonable, but also possible are Canterbury and Westminster Abbey at 5/1. Less serious possibilities are at Paddy Power Tower or “Any Carpet Right store.”

I assume the tower is the company headquarters in Dublin. As for Carpet Right, which is actually styled Carpetright, that’s a carpet retailer with 426 stores in the UK and 138 in the Low Countries and Ireland. Just a spot of fun from the Paddy Power bookies.

The Internet, being what it is, allows me to find out about other things related to the Bayeux Tapestry with ridiculous ease. For example, if I wanted to spend $230, I could have my own Bayeux Tapestry tablecloth, 95 percent cotton and also made in France. Nice, but no thanks.

Casablanca at 75

Yesterday we all went to see Casablanca on the big screen. It was in a few theaters nationwide on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of its late 1942 release.

At $4.50 a pop, how could I pass that up? I checked, and the other movies showing at the same multiplex are Thor: Ragnarok, Daddy’s Home 2, Murder on the Orient Express (starring Kenneth Branagh’s facial hair, I’ve read), A Bad Mom’s Christmas, Jigsaw, Boo! A Madea Halloween, Happy Death Day, Geostorm, It, My Little Pony: The Movie, Seven Sundays, and, interestingly, two Bollywood features: C/o Surya and PSV Garuda Vega.

I’ll never live long enough to confirm this, but I suspect that not a single one of those other titles will be revived for a 75th anniversary showing, or for any other year.

Ann had never seen Casablanca before. I didn’t expect her to know, for instance, much about the geopolitical background of the movie, such as why “Vichy” might be important, so I spent a few minutes beforehand explaining a few things to her. I went as far as whistling a few bars of “La Marseillaise.”

She said that sounded familiar — of course it does, it’s an aural shorthand for “France” in English-speaking media — but she didn’t know what it was. I said it was the national anthem of France, and that the movie puts good use of it.

Rick Blaine has been characterized as a stand-in for the United States and its isolationist ways before Pearl Harbor, and I suppose there’s something to that. After all, Victor says to Rick (and I think it’s too-good-by-half Victor Laszlo’s best line): “Welcome back to the fight. This time, I know our side will win.” An optimistic line, that. It’s sobering to think that the movie was not only set when the fate of mankind was in the balance, it was made then.

I’ve seen Casablanca a number of times (not sure how many) since the first time in film class in 1983, so I could focus on details, such as the evocative sets, especially Rick’s. Carl Jules Weyl, who did the splendid sets on The Adventures of Robin Hood not long before and on The Big Sleep a few years later, was the art director.

It also occurred to me how well Victor and Ilsa were dressed. Awfully stylish for a couple barely staying ahead of Nazis pursuing them across the Mediterranean and then North Africa. We never see the luggage that Rick sends Victor off to deal with at the airport, so he can have a moment to tell Ilsa what’s what, but it must have been a steamer trunk or two.

But that’s overthinking the matter. This is the Golden Age of Hollywood. Of course the luminous Ingrid Bergman is going to be dressed to the nines, even in a war-torn world.

Something else I noticed this time was a line with distinct foreshadowing, spoken by Major Strasser to Ilsa: “My dear, perhaps you have already observed that in Casablanca human life is cheap.” Indeed. As it turns out, cheap for Major Strasser, the only major character who dies on screen. And I never get tired of hearing Capt. Renault say, “Round up the usual suspects.” When my film class heard that, we cheered.

Ann wasn’t entirely sure what nationality Renault was supposed to be, so she asked me after the movie. I suppose that’s a function of not watching enough old movies with French policemen or soldiers in them. The kepi is all earlier generations needed to spot a Frenchman, but that must not be so any more.

I also suggested to Ann that she pay attention to the supporting and minor characters, who are widely regarded as one of the chief delights of the movie. Especially these two.

I’m glad to report that Ann liked the movie. It’s entirely possible that she’ll see it again when she’s older, and get more out of it, as one does with good movies re-watched or books re-read. Maybe she will see it around the 100th anniversary. I’m sure Casablanca will still be watched then.

Normandy 1994

Normandy was surprisingly green in November 1994.

Normandy94Then again, that winter was, at least until December, reportedly mild. I believe the shot above was taken from the train near Bayeux, where we stayed a few days.

The coast near Omaha Beach, so busy 50 years earlier in a way that doesn’t attract tourists, was comparatively empty by late fall.

Omaha Beach 1994I’ll bet there were a lot of visitors, of the tourist kind, along with old soldiers, during the summer of ’94, especially in June. Pennants hanging in the town — which unfortunately I didn’t document on film — still welcomed such visitors in English for the 50th anniversary, especially the old soldiers.

Former German pillboxs, left to the elements.

img507All well and good, to visit Normandy. But I need to get back to France someday, to see former trenches.

Upon Saint Crispin’s Day

I’ve posted this before, but it was nine years ago, and besides, you can’t watch the St. Crispin’s Day speech often enough.

Laurence Olivier’s version is, of course, very accomplished, but somehow it doesn’t resonate with me like Kenneth Branagh’s.

As it happens, I’ve been reading about Agincourt in The Face of Battle by John Keegan (1976) these last few days. I’ve had the book a long time, though not 41 years, and only recently decided to get around to it. In Keegan’s capable hands, the historical Agincourt is every bit as interesting as Shakespeare’s.

Toul 1956

Why my parents picked Toul, France as a destination in May 1956 is probably lost to time, since I doubt that my mother remembers. I’ve read that there are impressive old fortifications there, and a cathedral worth a look, so perhaps those were considerations. There used to be a NATO air base near the town, but my father was in the Army, not the Air Force, and probably didn’t visit on official business. Maybe someone they knew recommended the town for a look-see.

Anyway, they went. Many years later, I came across this slide my father made in Toul. Fortunately, he wrote down the place and time. Otherwise, I’d have no idea beyond it being somewhere in France.


I think it’s most interesting because it captures an ordinary street scene in a French town more than 60 years ago, though the cathedral is in the background. Looking at image — peering back in time and far away in place — I notice certain details: the proliferation of telephone wires, the relative lack of parked cars, and the two figures beside the street: a schoolboy and a man.

Back when schoolboys were known by their short pants, it seems. I don’t know much about French fashion habits, but I suspect that’s long gone. Looks like the man is telling the boy something, maybe even dressing him down for something. Impossible to say.

Maybe the boy is still around, about 70 now. A grumpy old Le Pen voter? Again, I don’t know enough about France to know whether Le Pen captured the grumpy old man vote, though somehow I suspect she did.

I played around with Google Streetview for a little while today, looking at the area around the cathedral in Toul, though I didn’t get a precise fix on exactly where my father stood when he took the picture. Maybe I could, if I didn’t have anything else to do. I will say this: it looks like there’s been a fair amount of redevelopment in the area since 1956, and the telephone wires, probably the height of la modernité at one time, are gone.

Sometimes I try to capture street scenes myself. Here’s one in Shanghai in the spring of 1994, near the Bund.
Shanghai94And one of State St. in Chicago, looking north. Just last month.

State Street April 2017Looks ordinary now, but it might look a little odd in 60 years.

Paris 1994

November was a good time to be in Paris. So were the 1990s, as far as I could tell, though people sometimes pine for the Jazz Age or La Belle Époque in curious cases of nostalgia for times they never experienced. I take an interest in the history of places that I go, but I’m more interesting in seeing them as they are now.

Which, after some time (say, 22 years), becomes places as they were then. Here I am on the Champs-Élysées.


I spent a few minutes with Google Maps trying to figure out exactly where I was, without conclusion. But I think Yuriko took the picture with her back to the Arc de Triomphe.

Here she is in front the Louvre Pyramid, which was fairly new at the time.


Even though it was November, the museum was ridiculously crowded. I’d hate to experience it in July.

Liebling for the New Year

On January 1, I picked up A.J. Liebling’s Between Meals, subtitled “An Appetite for Paris,” which is a 1959 collection of essays about his eating experiences in that city and other parts of France, which were vast and diverse, beginning in the 1920s. It’s an immensely charming work, not just about the food and drink he encountered, but also with bits about other gastronomes, life as an expat, technically as a student in Paris, boxing — he wrote a lot about that elsewhere — and other asides.

It’s a somewhat different expat-Paris-in-the-20s than Hemingway’s. For Liebling, eating and drinking were the point, and not just in the context of hanging out with other expats (Liebling seemed to eat alone a lot). Hemingway drank a lot, of course, because That’s What Men Do, but for Liebling his “feeding” — his term — was purely aesthetic. In France he found a lifelong devotion to being a gastronome, and by the time he died in 1963, at 59, it had made him very fat.

I doubt that he regretted it. In Between Meals he writes: “Mens sano in corpore sano is a contradiction in terms, the fantasy of a Mr. Have-your-cake-and-eat-it. No sane man can afford to dispense with the debilitating pleasures; no ascetic can be considered reliably sane. Hitler was the archetype of the abstemious man. When the other krauts saw him drinking water in the Beer Hall they should have known he was not to be trusted.”

You’d thinking eating to excess in Jazz Age Paris would be enough for any man, but Liebling asserts that Belle Époque gastronomes had it better: “In the heroic age before the First World War, there were men and women who ate, in addition to a whacking lunch and a glorious dinner, a voluminous souper after the theater or the other amusements of the evening. I have known some of the survivors, octogenarians of unblemished appetite and unfailing good humor — spry, wry, and free of the ulcers that come from worrying about a balanced diet….

“One of the last of the great round-the-clock gastronomes of France was Yves Mirande, a small, merry author of farces and musical comedy books [1875-1957]. In 1955… Mirande would dazzle his juniors, French and American, by dispatching a lunch of raw Bayonne ham and fresh figs, a hot sausage in crust, spindles of filleted pike in a rich rose sauce Nantua, a leg of lamb larded with anchovies, artichokes on a pedestal of foie gras, and four or five kinds of cheese, with a good bottle of Borbeaux and one of champagne, after which he would call for the Armagnac and remind Madame to have ready for dinner the larks and ortolans she had promised him, with a few langoustes and a turbot — and, of course, a fine civet made from marcassin, or young wild boar, that the lover of the young leading lady in his current production had sent up from his estate in the Sologne…”

Liebling also touched on another puzzling phenomenon, in the context of eating, but which applies to other things. Namely, why wealth often seems to narrow, rather than broaden, experience: “A man who is rich in his adolescence is almost doomed to be a dilettante at table. This is not because all millionaires are stupid but because they are not impelled to experiment. In learning to eat, as in psychoanalysis, the customer, in order to profit, must be sensible of the cost.”

Mid-November Quietude

I was going to post pictures taken on the Champs-Élysées and at the Louvre about 21 years ago, but with word from France of the latest murderous barbarian outrage, recalling a pleasant November visit to Paris doesn’t seem right. Another time.

Here in northeastern Illinois this weekend, we enjoyed remarkably mild weather. The kind of afternoons during which you can sit in some comfort on your deck, should you be fortunate enough to have one, and eye the sun in the branches of the bare trees.

Nov 15, 2015Your dog, should you be fortunate enough to have one, joins you on the deck to watch for squirrels and rabbits and other intruders.

Payton, Nov 15, 2015Naturally it’s going to cool off dramatically soon. Winter wouldn’t be so tedious if there were occasional interludes like this in January and February, but that’s not how it works at this latitude.

Waterloo and All That

Been quite a week for multi-centenary anniversaries. After Magna Carta earlier this week came Waterloo today, so famous you don’t even need to call it the Battle of Waterloo. It was the occasion for a lot of showy commemorations in the UK and Belgium (and what are they doing in France? Calling it jeudi, probably).

I guess everyone was busy with other things during the centennial, so the bicentennial got star treatment. The Daily Mail has a fine collection of photos for the commemorations. The pics made me wonder: will the fellow who’s playing Napoleon, according to the caption a French lawyer named Franck Samson, be sent to St. Helena for a while now? You know, to buttress the re-enactment’s authenticity.

The Daily Mail again (man, they know how to use the Internet): pictures of St. Helena. Apparently the island’s going to get a real airport soon, so that the not-so-frequent royal mail ship from Cape Town will be a thing of the past.

One more thing about Waterloo re-enactments: I wonder who played Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher? That’s a pretty important part, after all. An elderly German with a taste for re-enactment, no doubt, made up to look like his horse had fallen on him.

As I look around, I find more things inspired by Waterloo. That’s one of the time-eating dangers of the Internet, but also its prime joy. The song that helped propel Abba to a higher income than the GDP of Sweden (or something like that) was named “Waterloo,” of course, but there’s also a song lost to time of the same title, recorded by Stonewall Jackson in 1959, which hit the country charts just after Johnny Horton’s “The Battle of New Orleans.” It was the golden age of battle-themed honky-tonk music, clearly.

Stonewall Jackson’s song includes the following deathless lyrics. Punctuated as I hear it.

Little general, Napoleon of France
Tried to conquer, the world but lost his pants.
Met defeat, known as Bonaparte’s retreat.
And that’s when Napoleon met his Waterloo.

Incidentally, at 82, Stonewall Jackson — reportedly not a stage name, and I believe it — is still with us. That’s good to know.

Thursday Debris

Snow’s back in some quantity. We even have a minor drift on the deck, caused by persistent wind. Doesn’t seem to bother the hound.

Dog in Snow

Yuriko’s been back from Japan for nearly a week. Just got around to copying the pictures she took from the SD card. Here’s one I liked.

Osaka Public Hall, Late 2014

It’s the Osaka City Central Public Hall on Nakanoshima, aglow in the night. I used to walk by that pre-war structure often (almost pre-first war, since it was finished in 1918). It had to good fortune to survive the Pacific War, as they call the second war in Japan, and post-war urban uglification, too.

She also enjoyed some artful eats.

Sushi in Japan

Japan’s a good place to find that.

The worldwide competition for Barbarian of the Year got an early start in ’15, alas. We don’t even really know who the latest entrant is. Last year it was a toss-up between ISIS and Boko Haram. The jury’s still out on that one.