If Only Liz Hadn’t Forgotten An Umbrella

We all know The Great Gatsby. It is rooted in a variety of its author F. Scott Fitzgerald’s experiences. Fitzgerald’s writing in general revolves mostly around the rich, decadence, and insanity.

“He wrote what he knew,” my wife noted as we discussed him. He had also lived for years in France, and had naturally once been an aspiring author. In Babylon Revisited we encounter essentially still more Fitzgerald autobiography wrapped up as fiction.

After his death, “Babylon” was adapted into the 1954 film, The Last Time I Saw Paris. We happen to have bought “The Last Time” among others in a DVD old film series, but had never actually watched the movie. Last night, on impulse, my wife suggested with a grin, “We need to, in honour of my mum and aunt.” So, at long last, we did.

A personal observation on U.S. expat stories. I find solid non-American characters are vital when a tale is set outside of the U.S. Otherwise what is the point?

Again, though, we have to remember this is based on Fitzgerald’s life, and I am not an authority on that. What we do see on screen is that this film is almost all Americans – except for brief appearances by Eva Gabor and Roger Moore (yes, really). Although it’s Paris, the French seem mostly for background. They hardly register as actual people, doing little other than uttering a few French words and providing necessary “local color” to remind us it isn’t London, or…. Sacramento. Save for George Dolenz, who plays the thoughtful, French brother-in-law, and the bartender (it’s a Fitzgerald adaptation so there is drinking throughout) and some individuals doing their jobs (doctors, nurses), there don’t seem all that many French in Paris.

So this film didn’t have to be set in Paris really. It could’ve been most anywhere. That said, here’s the crux of the tale, including certain of my own, uh, personal “margin notes.” Who needs Wikipedia?

***** WARNING: SPOILERS *****

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Happy Independence Day, 2014

A few thoughts on today’s U.S. Independence Day. It’s an extra-special one for us because it’s my wife’s first as a U.S. citizen. And she is – as you know if you visit regularly – British.

It’s also the first one for some time in which we are actually physically present in the U.S. We have often laughed on our trips around the U.S. over the years as to how the history of “1776 and all that” seems a bit awkward at times. Invariably, at some point, she’d hear some tour guide say something like this:

“Welcome. This is where George Washington lived. He was our first president. He led the American army in battle against the British.”

Or:

“This is the home of Thomas Jefferson. He is most famous for writing the Declaration of Independence during the war with Britain. He also once said he would have sunk that whole island into the sea.”

Or:

“Here, at Yorktown, this is where the Americans and the French cut off the British under Lord Cornwallis, and the British army eventually surrendered.”

She accepts all of that. That was then, she jokes; and things have changed rather a lot since. And, earlier this morning, she reminded me with a smile that this is “her country” too now.

However, one matter she is never too happy about is, uh, that “the French” were here! ;-)

Photo that is the source for the Passports novel cover. [Photo by me.]

Photo that is the source for the Passports novel cover. [Photo by me.]

The famous Tricolor we know so well is not the French flag under which France aided the U.S. in the war. The French flag then was that of the Ancien Régime. During the 1790s, Americans became split on whether they owed the new French revolutionary regime anything, given that regime was not the one that had helped America win independence.

And the U.S. Stars and Stripes was not the flag under which independence was declared either. But never mind. It all gets too complicated. :-)

Happy 4th of July!
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UPDATE: That said, one Lynn Cole, resident in Italy, shares this view in The Guardian:

I am not a god-fearing, gun-toting, flag-waving, red-blooded American but a world citizen, and always have been.

She would hardly be the first to fancy herself a “world citizen.” To confirm it, my suggestion for anyone who holds that opinion is the next time you approach a border officer in airport arrivals in New York, London, Paris, Rome, or wherever globally, that you inform the officer of that status. A U.S., or other country’s, passport will no doubt not then be required of you as you are warmly greeted, “Welcome, World Citizen.”

Ok, I Know I Haven’t Been To Wizard School

Our Dublin friends, and their 2 kids, have settled in now at our shared vacation rental. They had been meandering around central Florida for the last week, hitting all of the big tourist attractions. Pretty much where you might expect. (“Rick” had to give in. There were no manuals available, so he rented an automatic. However, he said cruise control thoroughly impressed him: “I was fiddling with it. Ah, it was grand to have on 95. But then I had nothing to do with my right foot too.”)

Their 9 year old daughter is frighteningly precocious. Indeed, I’m surprised her photo is not next to the word in the dictionary. The child is jaw-droppingly articulate.

Last week, she had bought – actually Daddy had bought – a Professor Dumbledore magic wand. As she showed it to me at the kitchen table yesterday, she emphasized the wand is the “official” one. “It is the real wand,” she declared.

Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a wizard hat.

Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a wizard hat.

She handed me the wizardry device, and asked me to look at it closely. As I took it, I pointed it across the room at nothing in particular and cried out, “Islamorada!”

Islamorada is the town north of us here, in Marathon, in the Florida Keys. Wand in hand, that name had also struck me as sounding a bit like some spell used in that particular book and film series. Hence my Dumbledore impersonation.

She recognized the town, and my effort at magical humor went over well. Anytime you get a genuine laugh out of a 9 year old, I suppose you are probably doing okay. I gave her back the wand.

Seeing my iPad and its Bluetooth keyboard open on the table, she then inquired, “Rob, are you writing another book?”

Yes, I am,” I confirmed.

After a pause while she apparently gathered her thoughts, she continued, “Is it different from the other one? Or does it have the same people, like Harry Potter?”

“It has most of the same people, a lot like Harry Potter,” I replied. “But mostly adults. And without the wizards of course.”

Wand in hand, she smiled and walked off toward the sliding doors that open out to the pool. Another thought then crossed my mind: if I could eventually sell even one-half of one-half of one-half of one-half of one percent of what that book series sold, I’d be seriously pleased!

Hmm. I wonder if there’s a spell for that?

Uh, “Islamorada!” ;-)

Let’s Smile

I created this site slightly more than six months ago. I’ve noticed I’ve just passed 150 posts. I’ve also just realized some of them recently have been disproportionately heavy reading.

That was never my intention. Above the banner photo I declare that things aren’t always serious here. (By the way, where was that picture taken? I snapped that in Pléneuf-Val-André, Brittany, France, a couple of summers ago.)

You may have also noticed I have tags for “humor” and “humour.” (The latter is a concession to those who – and you know who you are – assert there is no such thing as “American-English” because there is only one way to speak English and every other way is just, uh, wrong. ;-) ) So if you are “new” here, and have seen perhaps too much that is too “serious,” let me rebalance things a bit. Here are a few links to posts you may not have seen which fall decidedly under the heading of, shall we say, the “not so seriously”:

Or is it, uh…. because maybe you’ve developed, urr, an “online crush”?

In case you somehow haven’t noticed, I’m a massive Mad Men fan. :-)

Our pal’s biggest “doggie quirk,” however, is for some reason he does not like “high visibility” jackets.

Smitten by her? Well, what a surprise? As she introduced us at a party, I sensed immediately he also wasn’t exactly thrilled she knew me.

It’s nice you’ve gotten to know each other, uh, so much better at 39,000 ft. International relations and all that….

Lunch, Malahide.

Very interesting. By far, my most “visited” post is, uh, on the Fifty Shades Of Grey film.

Have you seen Groundhog Day?

Who’s needs water? Wifi is far more important!

I was also one of those guys who at the time could never figure out how “Ross” could possibly have chosen “Rachel” over “Emily.”

Obviously, the most accurate statement is “Juliette Binoche is…”

Suppose you are “with someone who truly turns you on”…. and the choice is either Paris or Rome…. or Cleveland?

I had not created any of my characters with specific actors in mind… not even, urr, Tom Cruise. ;-)

Yes, yes, there is s-e-x in the novel!

We can’t always take everything soooooo seriously. The best thing to do – especially after some less than encouraging news – is to count our blessings, remember to try to be optimistic about life, and not to forget to smile:

Illustration+of+a+yellow+smiley+face

Hope you are having a good Wednesday….

Do You Fancy Them Maybe A Little Bit?

Twitter wants to know why do you follow those you follow?:

Twitter knows whom you follow. But Twitter does not know why you follow them. So the company [is] doing something fairly straightforward—and, for a tech company with reams of data bout its users, unlikely: It’s asking. Politely.

The same question could be explored here on WordPress. So let’s.

For starters, I’d like to follow more than I do. But I don’t follow for following sake; I like to read what writers/bloggers actually write. So I have to control myself in following or I’d find myself overwhelmed with reading.

Generally, I follow those who strike me as interesting and honest and real. I usually read lots of a blog – including the “About Me” – before following. (Do you do the same?) There’s so much junk and spam out there, some judiciousness is required.

Overall, do you follow in hopes those you follow will follow you back? Or is it because you really like what he/she blogs and don’t care about a follow back? Or is it, uh…. because maybe you’ve developed, urr, an “online crush”?

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On that last one there, behave yourselves. No passing notes under the desks. Yeh, you know who you are. They’ll be detention… ;-)

Hope you’re having a good weekend. :-)

Rural U.S. Healthcare In Action

We flew from Heathrow to Newark, N.J. yesterday. It was a decent flight, but flying is always wearying – the time change never helping. Unsurprisingly, we’re a bit tired today.

Before it’s back to the Catskills, we’ve detoured to see my parents. My soon to be 73 year old Dad’s recently recovered from a bout with pneumonia. When my Mom took him to the urgent care two weeks ago, this is how the initial sign-in went:

The admitting nurse/ receptionist, questioning him: “So tell me what were you doing when you first felt that pain in your back?”

My Dad (having trouble breathing and barely able to speak): “Uh, I was outside, pulling weeds….”

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The nurse: “You were smoking weed?”

The waiting room went dead silent. Welcome to rural Pennsylvania. I’m trying to picture an NHS nurse making that observation. ;-)

When Americans Meet

Yesterday, I discussed romance at 39,000 ft over the Atlantic. Today, we return to earth. Uh, “foreign” ground, to be specific.

Since Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, oh, and John and Abigail Adams (geez, never leave out John Adams, or he goes volcanic), Americans in Europe have provided storylines in countless books and films. Tourists form one distinctive source. Expats another:

“You’re American, right?” she asked James.

He answered, “You’re an American, too.”

“We’re from L.A.,” she said. “My husband works in Paris, and we’re on vacation. He had to go to the States for a time by himself. I thought the boys would like to see Normandy.” She concluded as one of her sons gestured restlessly that he wanted to sit on her lap and she waved a hand trying to dissuade him.

I’ve lived in Britain for over 15 years. I’ve run into Americans now and then. A few years’ back I read somewhere that there are around 250,000 non-military Americans residing in the United Kingdom, of whom some 100,000 live in London. (But please don’t quote me on that.)

When we bump into one another, of course we never quite know “who” we each are at first. I’ve always had the distinct impression we sort of eye each other up decidedly more than if we had met in the U.S. It’s as if we are trying to ascertain, “Who are you really? And why are you here too?”

Perhaps the major reason we may be rather wary of one another initially is because back at home we are sooooooo nastily divided politically. That often translates on this side of the water into meeting Americans who may be quicker to attack U.S. policies than even the most fault-finding, stereotypically “anti-American” of Europeans, while simultaneously also admiring Europe more than even many Europeans. I’ve also stumbled on the polar opposite: the expression “What’s that in real money?” may no longer be heard, but there are still Americans for whom the U.S. can do nearly no wrong and Europeans almost nothing right.

Myself, I’ve always been “careful” over here. Some right-wing Europeans think I’m rather conservative. Leftists often think I’m more left-wing than I am. Very good. Keep ‘em guessing….

But regardless fellow American let’s not draw swords on each other about whatever is bugging you about back home and wash our dirty laundry among these non-Americans listening to us because many of them have not been to the U.S. so are looking at us to provide them a first-hand glimpse into what our country is because their usual insight into life in the U.S. is through the media prism provided by the likes of the BBC and Le Monde. Oh, I should take a breath? You can tell I’m from New York originally? Buy you a drink, friend? ;-)

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I also recall once meeting the proverbial “American in Paris.” Politics wasn’t his obvious interest; but a certain woman definitely was. Working there for a time, he had within weeks of arrival become infatuated with a French friend of mine whom he had met through mutual acquaintances. (Editor’s note: this was well before Robert met his future wife.)

Smitten by her? Well, what a surprise? As she introduced us at a party, I sensed immediately he also wasn’t exactly thrilled she knew me.

“This is Robert,” she grabbed my arm, “my friend from in New York….”

Yep, that’s right, dude, I am from New York. And I’ve known her a lot longer than you. And you are, from, uh, some town in some state no one in this room’s ever heard of. ;-)

The intra-Yank “tension” bubbled hotly just below the surface. Moreover she had already also told me she was not interested in him “that way” anyway. “And he’s Protestant. I would not go with a Protestant,” my Catholic friend had made quite clear.

Thinking back on it, I would characterize the scene as akin to an awkward bit we might see in a Woody Allen film. At some point years after, I came to think nonsense like that might serve as a launching pad for a little literary endeavor of my own someday. Yep, Henry James, watch out. ;-)

Nil Points

It almost never happens, so it’s hard to know how to interpret a post that gets no reaction whatsoever. I have to believe if no “likes” appear after a decent period of time, you must have essentially disagreed with it. After all, you didn’t “Like” it.

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And that’s fair enough, of course. One can’t always hit the blogging nail right on the head. Yet some posts do matter more than others. Therefore, regarding yesterday’s post – And Robert Vows To Lighten Up – which (as of this morning) has thus far drawn “nil points,” I gather then that you guys prefer the sequel being totally….

….stuffed with nightmares, stalking, other ugliness and viciousness, clinical depression and fatal illness.

I guess I should bear that in mind as I go forward?

However, that said, if I also get absolutely no reaction to this post either, well….

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….after that drink, and a second one, I’ll slam the office door, tell the secretary to hold all my calls, and take a 3 hour power nap on my sofa. Surely an amazing solution will have revealed itself to me while I’ve been snoozing? ;-)

Views vs Likes

I’ve recently stumbled on advice from a blogging “guru” who asserts bloggers are best served by placing their sidebar to the left side. I think his sidebar also says he’s 20 years old. So clearly he must know what he’s talking about!

Fine. I’ve now moved mine from the right side to left. Okay, impress me. ;-)

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While making that shift, I had a fiddle with the “Top Posts and Pages” listing. Doing so, I noticed that in altering it from “page views” to “likes,” only a couple of posts manage to make both groupings.

Very interesting. By far, my most “visited” post is, uh, on the Fifty Shades Of Grey film. However, it was also not “liked” nearly enough to make it to the top list based on “likes.”

That’s it: Get the rope. ;-) Many of you clearly do “read” stuff, but you also don’t always “like” it. Then again, of course I know you aren’t always going to “like” everything you “read.” :-)