For Halloween: the Monster Mash, by Boris Pickett and the Cryptkicker Five


This isn’t the original, but it’ll do.


Happy Halloween!


And whatever did happen to the Transylvania Twist?



Travel tips from Apollonia

My colleague Apollonia has been to Europe many times over the past few years (she has family in Italy), so naturally I sought her advice before our recent trip to France.

She gave me ten euro in bills and coins, and some travel tips.

Here are the tips, and some commentary:

#1: “Wear this scapular on the plane. I wear it when I fly. It couldn’t hurt. You don’t want anything to happen, do you?”




No, of course I don’t want anything to happen. I wore the scapular on the flight from Boston to Paris, and sure enough, nothing happened. Then, as a control experiment, I carried it in my hand luggage on the return trip. Nothing happened then either. (Actually, the return trip was faster and easier than the away trip.)

#2: “You’ll need the change I’m giving you. You have to pay to go to the bathroom, you know.”

Only partially true. Some bathrooms have an attendant (whom the French call, charmingly, “Madame Pipi”) who collects her fifty cents as you go in. Some have an honor system: a little box outside the bathroom into which you can drop a few coins. Many are free altogether (we encountered many of these). Some, interestingly, are self-cleaning. Here’s how they work: you put in your money (usually thirty cents) and the door unlocks. You do your business and leave. After the door closes behind you, an infernal device sprays the toilet – and the whole room – with water and disinfectant.

(At the Deauville train station, an elderly couple taught us how to get around this: you pay your thirty cents, use the facilities, exit – but you don’t quite close the door. Your accomplice / partner dashes in while you hold the door, and voila! Free bathroom!)

(Of course, if you were to let the door close while your friend was in the bathroom, he’d get a blinding faceful of disinfectant.)

(Which would be very funny.)

#3: “Versailles was filthy. There were dust bunnies under the furniture. All the glass surfaces in the Hall of Mirrors were dirty. It was worse than Nazi Germany in there.”



Okay, I didn’t see any dust bunnies in Versailles. The mirrors are plenty warped, but – hey – they’re over three hundred years old.

As for Nazi Germany, here’s Partner’s comment:

“I used the bathroom in the Visitor’s Center in Honfleur. It smelled worse than a barn in there. I still have the stink in my nose. Please tell Apollonia that, if she wants to experience Nazi Germany, she should go there and give that bathroom a try.”

Travel is so broadening, isn’t it?


Our very first day in Paris – though we were both still deathly weary from the plane flight – we went, on foot, up into Montmartre.

(This seemed appropriate to me, since my favorite composer, Erik Satie, used to walk back and forth between le Chat Noir (the Montmartre bar in which he worked as a cabaret pianist) and his home in Arcueil (south of Paris) every day. He drank his way from bar to bar on both trips, and he carried a hammer in his pocket, just in case he was attacked on the way.)

So we climbed Montmartre. It was a brilliantly sunny early-autumn day. Partner knew the way, as he’d visited it several times on Google Earth, and he amazed me; he knew exactly which streets to take.

We ended up in front of Satie’s house on the Rue Cortot:


Next door is the Musee de Montmartre. It is a huge rambling old house, in which Renoir worked, and Suzanne Valadon and Maurice Utrillo lived, and Aristide Bruant, and many others.

It is beautiful. All of Paris is laid out at your feet. Look:

Partly we were still dazed and jet-lagged. But partly also we were wandering in an earthly paradise. If I didn’t have a photographic record of it, I’d swear it was a dream.

Two of my friends in Tunis used to call me “Hajj” as a joke; it’s the title of respect given to a man who’s visited the Holy Sites in Mecca.

Well, I’ve earned the title, because Montmartre is my Holy Land.

But don’t call me Hajj.

Call me Monsieur Hajj.

For Sunday: Plastic Bertrand sings “Ca plane pour moi”


Long ago, in the late 1970s / early 1980s, a friend of mine used to sing this song incessantly. It drove me mad.

Now I kind of like it.

Hurricane Sandy

There’s yet another bizarre unseasonable hurricane headed our way: Hurricane Sandy. (“Sandy!” snorted Apollonia when I showed her the NOAA chart the other day. “And look! There’s Hurricane Tony in the mid-Atlantic! Sandy and Tony! What is this, an Italian wedding?”)

Sandy is churning its way up the coast as we speak. Predictions show it veering inland somewhere near Long Island on Monday or Tuesday. It could bring Rhode Island high winds, and drenching rain, and even snow!

I am philosophical about this. I don’t much care. It’s a shame, though; Monday’s the office Halloween party, when staff members bring their kids to the office, and they trick-or-treat down the halls, and we give candy (or not). It’s a nice system; people who don’t like it just make a point of being absent, or putting a bowl of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups on their doorsteps. Some of us dress up. I usually just wear my skull necklace; it’s one of the few times during the year that I can wear something religious and get away with it.

I have come almost to enjoy this particular party. I like seeing the kids (even the kids who are just a wee bit too old for this) go from door to door; I get a kick out of it. Last year one of the athletics staff patrolled the hallway wearing a bear mascot outfit; I nearly died laughing when I saw him.

I would hate it if the hurricane deprived me of innocent pleasures like these.

So, Hurricane Sandy, go away. Come again some other day.

(And you Rhode Islanders: go out and buy bread and milk, and make it snappy!)

Les Maisons Satie, in Honfleur

Erik Satie, one of my favorite composers, was born in Honfleur, on the coast of Normandy, in 1866. His birthplace has been transformed into a –

A what?

Not really a museum. Not really a performance space.

A happening.

Satie was an oddball: a medievalist, a surrealist, an independent. He wrote his odd little pieces of music while working as a cabaret pianist. He wrote pieces called “Dessicated Embryos” and “Three Pieces in the Shape of a Pear” and “Next-to-Last Thoughts.” He was probably at least a little mentally ill. He died of acute cirrhosis (too much bourbon and absinthe) in 1925.

The good people of Honfleur have transformed his place of birth into a kind of performance / representation of Satie’s music. In one of the first rooms, you encounter a six-foot-tall pear, slowly flapping gigantic albatross wings. There’s a room of shadow puppets and cutouts. There is – outrageously, unexpectedly – a carousel, which you are invited to ride. I mounted one of the bizarre-looking bicycle-creatures and began to pedal, and the mechanism activated itself, and a cabaret piece of Satie’s – “Le Picadilly” – began to play, and the carousel opened up, brandishing peculiar hybrid musical instruments: shoe-trumpets, umbrella-trombones. An inscription on the wall says (in part): “It won’t hurt you to be ridiculous. And remember: Satie is watching you.”

Then there’s the white room: white walls, white benches, and a white player piano. The piano, eerily, plays one Satie score after another.


Finally, you enter a small movie theater. You’re greeted by Satie himself – a voice from an empty armchair. He narrates a film showing scenes from some of his late ballets – “Parade,” “Mercure,” “Relache.” I knew the music to all three, but I’d never seen the dancing; it was beautiful and odd and otherworldly. Picasso designed the costumes and sets for “Parade,” and it shows: the circus managers who open each scene wear bizarre cubist outfits that look completely alien.

I was idiotically happy through the whole museum.

Here’s a video that gives you a nice impression of the place, through the eyes of an excited child:

My dears, do yourselves the favor of a lifetime, and visit Normandy. Sample the cheese and the fish. See the churches, and the villages.

And visit the house of Monsieur Satie in Honfleur, and ride the carousel.

It won’t hurt you to be ridiculous once in a while.

And remember: Satie is watching you.

RuPaul’s All-Star Drag Race 2012

RuPaul’s All Star Drag Race

I am only half alive when RuPaul isn’t on the air. I have barely survived over the past few months, eating flavorless food and breathing stale air.

But all that changed on Monday night.

Ru’s back, bitches!

This season is different: Ru has brought back twelve of the top queens from the past seasons. We have Nina Flowers, and Pandora Boxx, and Shannel! We have Yara Sofia, and Manila Luzon, and Latrice Royale!

Naturally I have my favorites. I love Manila (though I notice many of the queens on the show aren’t crazy about her; I suspect she’s pretty high-intensity in person). And Chad Michaels is a consummate professional, and I never before realized how very beautiful (both as a man and as a woman) Shannel is. And Nina Flowers is as funny and energetic and engaging as ever, and Latrice is herself (as always).

I’m not a drag queen myself; I have no impulse to dress as a woman. (I only wish I had that much fashion sense.) But I love the energy, and commitment, and bravery that the queens on the show have. I love their humor. I actually think I learn a little something about color and design when I watch them put their outfits together. So I suppose this counts as educational television too.

Also, I think there’s a deeper subtext here, about performance as a natural human act. Don’t we all construct characters and perform them for other people? Don’t you portray one person on the job and another at home? Don’t you act differently with your family than you do with your friends?

I thought so. Me too.

So: if you’re going to create yourself as a character, make yourself a memorable character, or a beautiful character. Or (preferably) both.

There’s a moment in the Mahabharata when Yudisthira, a prince in exile, is sent into exile with his four brothers. By the terms of a wager they’ve made (and lost), they must spend a year in hiding. Yudisthira asks his father, the god Dharma, what to do. And Dharma says: “Let your disguise be guided by your most secret desire.”

So Yudisthira, a gambler, becomes a teacher of gambling. His brother Bhima, a glutton, becomes a cook.

And their brother Arjuna, the greatest and most powerful warrior in India, becomes a woman.

And he goes on, after exile, to win the war.

You go, girl!

Theater review: “The Winter’s Tale,” Brown/Trinity, October 2012

I saw last week that Brown/Trinity was going to stage Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale” downtown, in the Pell/Chafee Center. I bought tickets immediately.

“The Winter’s Tale” isn’t staged very often. It is an odd play, which Shakespeare most likely wrote late in life. It’s about the king of Sicily, Leontes, who becomes irrationally jealous of his wife Hermione, who (he’s completely sure) is having an affair with his best friend King Polyxenes of Bavaria. He tries to kill his friend the king, unsuccessfully; he imprisons his (pregnant) queen; he has his little son sent away.

The Oracle of Delphi tells him that he’s wrong about everything. He erupts into a rage, and then his wife dies, and his son. Unrepentant, he sends his newborn daughter to be eaten by wild animals.

One of his courtiers takes the baby girl to “the seacoast of Bohemia” (there ain’t no such place). He abandons her there, and is then (in Shakespeare’s most famous stage direction) “pursued by a bear,” who kills him.

The play’s last two acts are about redemption. The wife, Hermione, lives, and so does the baby girl. The son of the King of Bohemia marries the daughter of the King of Sicily. And so on.

It is sweet, and bittersweet.

This production was lots of fun. The sets were minimal: some sheets, a toy ship. A few of the actors are worth mention: Elise LeBreton, a dignified Hermione; Catherine Dupont, a wonderful Emilia; Ben Grills, a funny / dignified Shepherd; Mark Larson, a very funny Clown; and Zdenko Martin, a convincingly roguish Autolycus.

At the end of part one – “exit, pursued by a bear” – there was a whole chorus line of bears, performing a very athletic dance number. Then they ran up into the audience, and one of them stuck her bear-masked face into my face and growled, and I laughed like hell.

Then, at the beginning of Part II, after the intermission, the minstrel / scoundrel Autolycus came onstage, wearing a hat that looked just like the one I bought two weeks ago on Montmartre.

He’d taken it from under my seat. He came up into the audience after his musical number and returned it to me, very sweetly, and told me to be more careful in future.

Imagine! My hat’s a Shakepearean actor!

French as she is spoke

A long time ago – in the 1980s – I spoke French pretty well. I got a Foreign Service score of 4, which means that I could converse on a university level with people; I still had an accent, however.

And this years, after twenty-five years, I was going to France.

Imagine my nervousness after twenty-five years of not speaking French on a daily basis. I was terrified. I read a lot of French to prepare myself, and tried to practice as much as I could.

As it turns out, I was worried about nothing. Language is funny: once it’s in your brain, it’s there forever. It took me a few days to get going (mostly nervousness, I think), but by Day Two of the trip, I was having long involved conversations with people.

(Please note: my accent was still atrocious (even I could hear it), and my grammar was not the best. But I could make myself understood.)

I’d forgotten the picturesque phrases: all the different ways to say “goodbye,” depending on the time of day and the situation. “A tout a l’heure.” “A bientot.” “Adieu.” “Au revoir.” These came back quickly, thank goodness.

Then there are all the English-language borrowings (I think there are more of them now than there were in the 1980s): “sandwich,” “parking,” “weekend.” I bought a package of Petit Ecolier cookies with a contest advertised on the front: “GAGNEZ UN BABY FOOT!” Can you guess what a “baby foot” is? It’s a foosball table. Charmante, non?

Then there are the faux amis – the “false friends.” These are words that look like English, but aren’t the same at all. These work both ways. “What’s that sign?” Partner asked one day on the bus.

“Deviation,” I said. “It means ‘detour.’”

“Why don’t they just say ‘detour’?” he asked. “Isn’t that a French word?”

“Well, yes, but –“

There’s no explaining these things.

Best of all: we were watching the French version of “The Price is Right” (“Le Juste Prix”), and the contestant – a man named Fabrice – mentioned his “conjoint,” a man named Emmanuel. “Aha!” I said. “Now I know the correct French term for ‘partner’! It’s ‘conjoint’!”

“As in conjoined twins?” Partner said darkly.

“Well, indirectly, yes,” I said, “but – “

“I don’t like it,” he said positively.

“I do like it,” I said. “Maybe I’ll start referring to you as le conjoint in the blog.”

France has an effect on people. Partner looked at me with Gallic disdain. “Non,” he said definitively.

And that’s the end of that.

(But I still think it’s a better word than “partner.”)


Paul Ryan; or, this year’s Sarah Palin

I should open this article by saying something nice about Paul Ryan.

Okay: he has pretty eyes.

Now on to some other issues.

Ryan is a “fiscal heavyweight.” He actually concocted a budget!

(Actually, budgets are easy to create; an intelligent ten-year old can put one together. Income should equal expenditures; if it doesn’t, then you need to spend less, or earn more, or some combination of the two. The question is: what kinds of things do we spend less on?

(Oh, that’s easy. The arts. Education. Social programs. Who needs ‘em?

(Not to mention health care – which, after all, is a non-issue, since (as G. W. Bush reminded us some years back), everyone can always go to an emergency room.

In any case, I don’t think Ryan is quite ready for the national stage. Take the following incidents as examples:

–          He appeared in a soup-kitchen photo op, madly scrubbing a pot. Turns out the pot was already clean, and the soup kitchen didn’t even want him there in the first place.

–          He made a personal appearance at a football game and made a long congratulatory speech to the quarterback. Except that it turned out he was the wrong quarterback.

–          Then there’s the whole issue of those workout photos. Remember that adorable picture of Sarah Palin wearing a bikini and holding a gun? Same thing. Except, of course, that the Palin picture was photoshopped, and the Ryan photos are real.

The Right likes to portray Joe Biden as Mister Malaprop. Perhaps they should have given their own VP choice another look this year. They have a history of choosing doofuses for the position, like Dan Quayle and Sarah Palin; I do believe they might have done it again.

But those eyes: it’s a day’s work just to look into them.

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