More “Distances” Cover Fun

I know this post appears much later in the morning than usual. However, when you have an unexpected light bulb go off over your head you have to drop almost everything and get the idea into your manuscript as quickly as possible. If you don’t, it may vanish forever….

Having done that, on to this post. Yesterday saw me pass 40,000 words. So with Distances looking daily more and more like an actual book, rather than just bits and pieces, I took a break and decided to have another mess around with a potential cover. That’s always fun:

“Distances” draft cover, April 28, 2015.

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Sneak Peek: “A girl in the apartment”

A “sneak peek” into another chapter I finished drafting recently in Distances. James’s father, who runs the family’s Long Island construction company, has just come home from work. He found James’s mother, Joanne, sitting at the kitchen table.

Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a house.
Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a house.

Joanne had spoken to James in Paris hours before. She’d rung their son at about two o’clock in the morning New York time (Jim had been asleep and later went to work without knowing she’d had), catching James, she believed, with a female overnight guest at his apartment. It had been too early in the morning in Paris, Joanne is sure, for that to have been innocent:

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Sneak Peek: Marathon Man

I am dreading this “writing streak” drying up. I had another “productive” day yesterday, when I finished a draft chapter. It features “James,” “Isabelle” and “Béatrice” in something of a light-hearted situation.

It also includes an unexpected reference to “Uncle Bill.” After all, when you are connected personally to someone “famous,” well, you never know who else out there might also “know” that “celebrity.” Nor do you ever really know where you might encounter a fan.

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More Late 20th Century Paris Photos

I’m glad a bunch of you liked yesterday’s post.

I’ve now about finished going through those 1990s 35mm photographs – sifting through them for any that might serve as cover art for the 3rd novel. Of course I won’t use nearly all of them: they may be good shots, but aren’t appropriate for the books. And sometimes I just plain can’t use them: that’s usually when they contain (non-public figures’) easily recognizable faces, and in a couple of instances that’s seriously frustrating stuff because I think they might work well. Ah, c’est la vie.

Regardless I converted a few into .jpg files. I figured just in case I do find I can use them, or even parts of them, I don’t have to go digging them up again later in the year. I thought I’d put up a few more today:

Bastille Day parade, Paris, July 1995. I don't recall which unit this was, but there are women in it. [Photo by me, 1995.]
Bastille Day parade, Paris, July 1995. [Photo by me.]
I don’t recall which unit that was. Look closely: there are women in it.

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From The Travel Photo Archive

In scoping out potential cover photos for the 3rd book, I paused yesterday to have a dig through old 35mm prints. Remember those (if you’re old enough)? It was called F-I-L-M.

I’d almost forgotten about this one. I can’t believe this is now approaching nineteen years ago. Almost TWO decades!

A famous landmark. In the foreground, a singer of some unidentified nationality was shooting a music video. [Photo by me, 1996.]
The Eiffel Tower (of course). [Photo by me, 1996.]
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What Qualifies Someone To Be A Cable News “Expert”?

In the past, I know I’ve taken good-natured jabs at U.S. morning television, especially ABC’s Good Morning America:

Good grief, have you seen it? I mean really watched it? No wonder half of Americans think Beirut is in Northern Ireland.

One minute of frenzied “news” every half hour. Darting from Story A to Story B to Story C in seconds. Bells and whistles. Flashing graphics. Hurrying to get to the latest cat video.

We understand why. The more we have at our wifi’ed, iPad’ed fingertips, the tougher it’s assumed to be to hold all of our attention. That belief’s no doubt now impacting even how novels are written.

U.S. 24 hour cable news is in its way worse in that regard than even network morning TV. For it purports to be able to provide grounding and more in-depth “analysis.” Yet in the immediate aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo murders this came out of the mouth [starting at about 1 min 15 sec] of a Fox News “expert”:

“I’ve been to Afghanistan and Iraq, Kashmir, India. At times it [Paris] felt like that.”

L.A. resident Parisian cook and food writer, Cécile Delarue, ridicules his take. (I had never heard of him before reading her tweet.) And reasonably so: image

In a full response to that “expert,” Muslim Parisian Sened DHAB composed an actually serious and thoughtful analysis. If you’re interested, have a click over.

Fox may have apologized for that “expert’s” comments by now. They seem to be apologizing all over themselves during the last couple of weeks. But it’s unlikely to be the last time we’ll be confronted with a mile wide and a quarter inch deep being passed off by cable news as “expertise.”

* * *

His “expertise” is apparently amply demonstrated to us viewers by his offering the most basic of factual errors. An egregious example: he states France is “10-12 percent” Muslim. Almost no one reputable believes the percentage goes that high. Okay, perhaps that’s debatable. Yet he himself also notes it having “5 million Muslims.” Presumably, he also knows its total population is about 66 million, so simple arithmetic therefore tells us that’s nowhere near “10-12 percent.”

If an “expert” gets something so elementary so wrong right in front of us, frankly I’m going to be very suspicious of just about everything else he has to say. We all should be. And that’s even leaving aside his opening by ridiculously stumbling over a vital – in the realm in which he is sharing his “expertise” – French word, which as an “expert” surely he should have been able to pronounce without having to apologize for possibly mispronouncing it.

Watching the video, I wanted to turn down the volume and look away. He’s like an undergrad doing a weakly prepared presentation in a Politics of Western Europe class. I found myself almost feeling sorry for him, and wishing someone would please get the hook and pull him off the global stage because he’s embarrassing himself.

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Moreover he’s also greatly embarrassing that news channel; but evidently that channel isn’t easily embarrassed. It is also exceedingly fond recently of citing a July 2014 ICM survey that claimed some “16 percent” of French citizens supported the terror group Islamic State (also known as IS, ISIS, and ISIL in English-speaking lands; in France, it’s referred to mostly by its derogatory shorthand in Arabic: Daesh). That poll is, unsurprisingly, dutifully once again referred to during his segment.

However, the accuracy of that poll has also been reasonably questioned elsewhere. Fox News here, perhaps unsurprisingly also, says nothing about that. Neither does its “expert.”

* * *

Sadly ignorance, exaggeration and errors do not make that “expert” unique on U.S. cable TV news. There’s just too much airtime to fill and all channels (even my preferred CNN) seem to rely heavily on way too many “talking heads” whom harried producers know are readily available to rush before cameras within the next hour. (Full disclosure: a relation of mine is a producer on a well-known U.S. news program.) Yet what truly forms the underpinning for their expertise is often anyone’s guess. Sometimes you suspect you would learn more from a well-sourced Wikipedia entry or two.

It’s no laughing matter either. Disinformation and ignorance enters routine discourse all too easily. Suddenly someone has a new “fact” which gets shared and shared and re-shared: “Darling, my father was watching Fox yesterday. He said they had an expert on who explained how Paris is now almost run by ISIS. The girls want to go there on vacation?”

A rule I try to live by in our media-saturated world: if it sounds outlandish, count to ten. As viewers, we don’t have to have an opinion immediately. Seek a “second” or “third” unrelated source before quoting it to anyone else, because what you just heard may well have been sloppy half-truths at best, and quite possibly outright garbage.

* * *

To end on a lighthearted note, Cécile is “French and perfect” …. you understand. She is also self-deprecating, witty and entertaining. This is one of her YouTube videos, in which she demonstrates how to make mousse au chocolat:

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Hope you are having a good Monday, wherever you are in the world. :-)

Always Be “Cautious” Worldwide

In the wake of the terror in Paris, unsurprisingly the U.S. State Department has issued a “Worldwide Caution” for U.S. citizens:

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Naturally it is very difficult to “watch everything.” But you aren’t being urged to hide under a bed and stay home and away from every pub. The gist of a “caution” like this is to remind us to be extra-mindful at certain locations, and be particularly alert to what’s going on around us, wherever we are.

Of course “caution” in daily life can’t prevent one simply from being in the wrong place at the wrong time. On July 7, 2005, when we lived in north London, I happened to drive to work that day. I also regularly took the London Underground’s Piccadilly Line – which was attacked by a suicide bomber that morning.

But as we know being at home in the U.S. is hardly a guarantee of safety either. Consider, for example, the Boston Marathon bombing and its aftermath. That to me seems the closest comparison to what Paris has endured for the last several days.

I’ve been to the U.S. Embassy in London several times over the years. Once you get past the heavy U.S. military security, you’re “inside the United States” in a way. That reality makes it, and other U.S. embassies and consulates, “magnets” for protests and even possible violence.

Looking South from Upper Brook Street at the new security pavillions and entrance area. [Photo on U.S. Embassy, London web page.]
Looking South from Upper Brook Street at the new security pavillions and entrance area. [Photo on U.S. Embassy, London web page.]
Occasionally, there are “anti-U.S.” demonstrations in the vicinity – although never too close; British authorities don’t permit that. But they can be near enough that you could “blunder” into something by accident – which is also the sort of thing a “caution” like this wants you to be aware of as a visitor. Especially when you are around anything “American,” open your eyes a bit wider, be cognizant of what’s happening around you, and don’t, for example, wander into the midst of some “anti-American” demonstration because you’re snapping photos of buildings.

The Embassy is apparently due to relocate from its current location at historic Grosvenor Square to a larger building that’s also more “secure.” In Britain. Shows the world we live in now, and probably will for the forseeable future.

A last thought here: Vive la France !

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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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. ;-)

The World’s Most Photographed Places

The Global Post tells us:

While an American city (New York) takes the top spot, Europe dominates the world when it comes to being photographable. Eight out of the top 10 cities are located on the continent.

However, notice that none of the top ten on either the world or the Europe lists are…. London.

View from the London Eye. [Old photo, by me, 2004.]
View from the London Eye. [Old photo, by me, 2004.]
Paris is #4 in the world. It’s #3 in Europe, behind Rome and Barcelona.

A Paris view. [Very old photo, by me, 1994. Look vaguely familiar? It's on the back cover of Passports.]
A Paris view. [Very old photo, by me, 1994. Look vaguely familiar? It’s on the back cover of Passports.]
Recently I noted the “dispute” between London and Paris as to which city is the most visited in the world. London reportedly had more visitors than Paris in 2012. In response, Parisian officialdom responded there were “reasons” for London’s perhaps surpassing Paris that year (such as “Greater London” covering a much larger geographic area than “Greater Paris,” and the Olympics, and the birth of the royal baby, etc.).

That global photography ranking comes from Sightsmap:

….it uses Google Map’s Panaramio platform, Wikipedia and FourSquare to determine what everyone is taking photos of these days.

Something is not quite, right, though. Think about it. London is massively visited…. by masses of tourists who don’t take masses of photos?

Who knows? Regardless, wait until London mayor Boris Johnson finds out.

An Italian soldier stands guard outside the Colosseum. [Photo by me, 2005.]
An Italian soldier stands guard outside the Colosseum. [Photo by me, 2005.]

As we finish here, a Rome photo was required. ;-)