Showing posts with label offbeat. Show all posts
Showing posts with label offbeat. Show all posts

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Beautiful burqas

Maybe burqas might be nicer if they came in an assortment of different colors, like those delicious French cookies called macaroons, made of egg whites and ground almonds.

Dumb cops

Just in case certain readers of Antipodes have been busy navigating their space ships in remote corners of the galaxy over the last few days, preventing them from keeping up with the latest fantastic news on the planet Earth, here's a summary of a recent hilarious fiasco within the most powerful and advanced nation in the world.

As everybody knows, the great US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has been getting ready to pounce upon one of America's most notorious public enemies: Osama bin Laden. Click the FBI seal to access the list of their most wanted fugitives, where bin Laden appears in third position.

Back in the days when an authentic flesh-and-blood bin Laden had the habit of posing in person to get his photo taken, he looked like this. But that was long ago. For years now, like a movie celebrity or a princess chased by paperazzi, he has made a point of avoiding photographers. During this time, he has no doubt aged, and we would like to have an idea of what he looks like today. Consequently, FBI image specialists have exploited high-tech equipment to produce the following plausible portraits of present-day bin Laden... with and without a beard.

Nice work. It's amazing to see the miracles that can be achieved when skilled US specialists use nec plus ultra state-of-the-art electronic devices capable of artificially aging the image of a fugitive who has disappeared from the daily scene. The only problem is that this resuscitated bin Laden appears to have an identical twin, as revealed in the following exhibit:

This bold fellow who dares to usurp the appearance of Osama bin Laden is a Spanish politician, Gaspar Llamazares, the former leader of Spain's United Left communist party and the caucus spokesman in the Spanish parliament. Not surprisingly, he wasn't too happy to find his face on the FBI's latest wanted-dead-or-alive poster. Besides, the Spaniard reacted in a strange unsportsmanlike way to this masterpiece by America's cutting-edge cops: "Bin Laden's safety is not threatened by this, but mine certainly is." Really, how dumb can you get?

Monday, January 18, 2010

Snake oil

I've always suspected that one of the reasons why certain disgruntled customers complain that snake oil doesn't cure all their ills, as it's supposed to do, is that they simply forget to obey the all-important instructions on the label: Shake well before use! Applying a reputable brand of snake oil without having shaken the bottle vigorously for a sufficiently long period of time would be as silly as swallowing a suppository instead of inserting it into an appropriate orifice... or vice versa in the case of an aspirin for a headache. I think it was Confucius, or one of those wise old guys, who put it nicely in his famous dictum about not stuffing pearls up the rear end of swine, or something like that.

I've just heard that, on the final day of January, in the UK, there'll be a massive happening that's as potentially dangerous, for each of the 300 participants, as it would have been to drop in for a cocktail and salted peanuts with Jim Jones at the Peoples Temple in Guyana back in 1978. The event that's planned at 10.23 am on January 30th is a little like a cross between Russian roulette and a nation-wide rave party. Let me give you the ghastly details of what all these crazy folk plan to do. All together, at exactly the same instant, they're going to stage a mass homeopathic overdose session. In other words, they plan to gulp down, deliberately, huge quantities of homeopathic products: enough milligrams to cure a horse of herpes.

And why are they doing this? Well, in a nutshell: simply to let the world know whether or not they can survive this terrible ordeal. Statistically, some of the participants will have indigestion or back aches at the start of the experiment, whereas others are likely to be constipated or maybe suffering from flatulence. Well, believe it or not, they don't even care whether this massive homeopathic treatment will cure them or not. Maybe it will. Maybe it won't. Who knows? Maybe there'll be miraculous switch-over cases in which a fellow who hasn't achieved anything whatsoever on the throne for at least a week will suddenly find himself gurgling melodies like the Paris Pétomane. [If ever you've never heard of the latter gentleman, click here to obtain information about him on Wikipedia.] As I said, the daring participants have nothing to win or lose. They're participating altruistically in this operation for science alone, like Louis Pasteur inoculating himself against rabies. [Did he really do that? I'm not sure he did. Maybe I'm confusing him with another hero. But it sounds like a nice idea, whether or not it's a fact.] Through the selfless participation of these 300 brave souls in this operation, future researchers will have access to vital raw data revealing what happens when a group of volunteers receives a massive overdose of homeopathic snake oil. In any case, I suggest that it would be fitting if we onlookers were to accompany them, in this ordeal, with our prayers.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Like God, the G-spot doesn't exist

My son François found that this cover of the excellent French weekly Charlie Hebdo, with a drawing by Charb, brings to mind my article entitled Fashion lexicon [display]:

[Click the drawing to visit the French website of Charlie Hebdo.]

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Fashion lexicon

In France, certain mediocre journalists throw around technical terms from the clothing world without going to the trouble of making sure that their language is correct. Concerning garments that have recently been at the heart of lengthy discussions here in France, the following images indicate clearly the difference between a niqab and a burqa:

As you can see, a niqab is a far more revealing robe than a burqa, in that outsiders can actually see the wearer's eyes and distinguish vaguely the shape of her skull. Now, the reason I've brought up this fascinating subject is that I'm intrigued by an enigma that Christians might describe as Byzantine:

If a naked female were to drape herself in a see-through burqa (or niqab, for that matter) and stroll down the Champs-Elysées, should she be hailed as a militant feminist or arrested for indecent exposure?

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Funny catwalk, amused cats

One of the funniest aspect of this video is the way in which two males can split their sides laughing at the problems encountered by a female wearing high heels.

Would women get an equally good laugh out of watching a guy trip over the long pointed toes of his Santiago boots?

Surplus flu vaccine

Roselyne Bachelot, the French minister of Health and Sport, is shown here receiving her shot of flu vaccine:

I, too, behaved as a good citizen in baring courageously my arm a few weeks ago. But there are still a hell of a lot of unused shots in France, and nasty critics are starting to suggest that Roselyne may have overestimated the requirements. What we need now is some creative thinking about ways and means of getting rid of all the surplus stuff in such a way that France doesn't lose too much money because of this fiasco. In the environmental domain, it would be an interesting idea to see if flu vaccine can be used as an additive to enhance the efficiency of new kinds of ecological fuel products for automobiles. We should investigate the possibility that flu vaccine might give rise to spectacular increases in productivity in agricultural domains such as wheat, soja and fruit and vegetables of all kinds. Then, we must not forget that the cycling season will be starting soon. That should be an excellent commercial outlet for a lot of this stuff... maybe mixed with other molecules to create an explosive cocktail. Last but not least, it's perfectly plausible that, with a bit of good marketing, male users of the Internet could be persuaded that a series of flu shots, spread out over a month or so, can result in an extra few centimeters at the level of their vital organ.

Once upon a time, French innovators patted themselves on the back with a popular slogan: "France has no oil fields, but we've got ideas." So, let's get together to see how we can help Roselyne to flog her junk.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Funny spam

It's rare to receive spam that's frankly funny. Here's a delightful specimen that reached me a couple of days ago:

Good Day, I am Fadhil Mohammad an accountant with Turk Ekonomi Bankasi A.S in Turkey. I want to ask your attention to receive Funds on my behalf, as you co-incidentally bears the same name with my late client. The purpose of my contacting you is because I need someone who can receive it for our mutual benefits. On your response, I will send you the full details and more information about myself and the funds. Yours sincerely, Fadhil Mohammad

As you can see, I'm about to become a wealthy man for a precise reason: namely, Fadhil Mohammad's "late client" was apparently named Skyvington. What an extraordinary surprise. I was totally unaware that I had a wealthy relative in Turkey. The funniest aspect of Fadhil's email is the header, which is particularly user-friendly:

He was smart enough to send off his shit email to a list of "undisclosed recipients". Nevertheless, Fadhil doesn't seem to have a firm grip on the English language. Somebody had apparently informed him that emails of this kind fall into a category known as spam. So, to make sure that his email is recognized as belonging to the correct category, Fadhil has inserted the word SPAM, explicitly, at the head of his subject line. That way, there's no way in the world that his email might be mistaken for something that it's not intended to be.

Fadhil sounds like a nice guy, and he has given me a good laugh. So, I plan to reward him with a sizable cash bonus for kindly informing me about this money left by my late relative in Turkey. In fact, my inherent generosity and highly-developed spirit of Christian charity persuade me to let Fadhil keep the whole bloody jackpot.

CORRECTION: The joke's on me. After examining more closely the header of Fadhil's email, I realize that the term SPAM was not actually used by the author of the email. It has beeen inserted, somewhere along the line, by a diligent spam filter. That's the first time I've ever seen such a warning, which probably indicates the exceptional purity of Fadhil's production. On second thoughts, I've decided to reduce the cash bonus I intend to give him. And I've been thinking of using this windfall money from my late relative in Turkey to buy a yacht and go sailing down along the coast of Somalia.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Gérard dislikes automobiles

Mounted on his old horse, Don Quixote attacked windmills with nothing more than his knight's lance.

France's celebrated actor Gérard Depardieu is suspected (but not yet formally accused) of having attacked an innocent automobile parked in a Paris street in the vicinity of Gérard's apartment. He operated almost barehanded, so it appears. The damages are brutal: a broken windshield and doors kicked in.

Observers are wondering what might have motivated such an assault. It has been suggested that this act of destruction might be interpreted as fallout from Copenhagen's failure to achieve what had been expected in rules stipulating cuts in carbon dioxide emissions. It's a fact that the automobile is looked upon as a major culprit in this domain, along with farting cows. So, maybe the actor's behavior was a symbolic personal expression of his profound desire that our children might inherit a cleaner planet. In that case, though, why did he perform this noble act in the middle of the night, in a somewhat stealthy manner, instead of operating in broad daylight, in front of a crowd of environmental activists and joyous spectators?

If indeed this hypothesis of an aversion to automobiles turned out to be correct, then it would be nice if Gérard were to go along to the police station, when he is summoned, on horseback, like Don Quixote. This would make a huge positive impact upon global-warming protagonists throughout the world... and might even persuade the municipal authorities in Paris—who have already reintroduced bicycles with much success—to examine the possibility of reverting massively to horses for transport inside the City of Light.

Realistically, we must not exclude the possibility that alcohol and aggressiveness might have played a role in this act of violence. If that were the case, then the lucky car-owner should look forward to the pleasure of soon being able to drive around Paris in a famous pristine vehicle. He could put photographic banners on his brand-new doors to thank publicly the benefactor... referred to affectionately as Gégé.

This automobile—the Gégémobile—could rapidly become a unique and highly-priced collector's item.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Sleep problems

Fortunately, I've never been affected by insomnia or sleep problems of any kind. Admittedly, I have early-morning dreams of a vivid and often disturbing nature, on precise subjects that I generally recognize. I often have the impression that I would be less anguished and generally happier during the day if only I were to cease having lugubrious dreams during the night... but that's no doubt bad psychology. Still, I mention that silly possibility because I'm in good company. Shakespeare, after all, suggested (in Hamlet's famous To be or not to be speech) that even death would lose its sting if only we could be certain beforehand that we won't have bad dreams. Consequently, if researchers were to inform us that they've located a tiny organ, or maybe a gene, that causes us to dream, I would gladly think about having it removed surgically. For the moment, though, it's a little too early to start looking around for such a medical specialist... and I'm not at all certain that the otherwise-generous French medical-benefits infrastructure would reimburse the costs of such an intervention.

But I'm getting sidetracked (railroad metaphor). Let me return to the case of people with insomnia and sleep problems. I would recommend that such individuals attempt to get in contact immediately with a 19-year-old French student in Brittany who surely deserves the title of the world champion sleeper. Maybe he could be coaxed into revealing his secret solution for sound sleep. In fact, I think I can already say that the quality of his sleep resulted from a powerful sedative of alcohol and cannabis. But let me describe the exploit for which he deserves some kind of survival award. Everybody has heard of those fantastic high-speed French trains called TGV.

Well, at the end of a September evening of copious drinking and smoking, our hero wandered off on foot, in a dazed state, into the misty Breton countryside. Feeling a little drowsy, he decided to bed down for the night between the rails of the TGV line between Paris and Quimper. Not unexpectedly, a few hours later on, a TGV happened to pass by, at a speed of a few hundred kilometers an hour. The train driver had the visual impression that he had run over a human being. He promptly stopped his train, 800 meters further down the track, and walked back to inspect the situation. He came upon our hero, apparently unharmed, and fast asleep. Finding it impossible to wake him, the train-driver phoned the local gendarmes, who soon arrived on the scene. With all these intruders gazing down on him, and trying to shake him out of his deep slumber, our hero was disturbed, indeed rightly annoyed. He sat up, yawned, half-opened his eyes, discovered the gendarmes, and promptly made a meaningful greeting sign with his extended middle finger, of the following kind:

He would have liked to get back to sleep, but the gendarmes insisted upon taking him to a cozy spot down at their barracks. Yesterday, a judge ordered him to pay 3,000 euros to the French railway authorities, to cover the expenses incurred by stopping the TGV and arriving late in Quimper. The wise judge said: "It's rare for a judge to tell an offender that he's lucky to be brought to trial. But you're a miracle case." Hearing this boring admonition from a wide-awake judge, our hero no doubt yawned and resisted with difficulty the desire to fall asleep.

PS: Do you know how we refer to wooden railroad ties in Australian English? They're called sleepers.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Have suitcase, will travel

A long time ago, a TV ad for a detergent for washers demonstrated how you could squirt tomato ketchup onto a dish towel, then tie it in knots before putting it into the machine, and it would emerge spotless thanks to the power of this powder. Coluche, the much-loved French comic who was killed on the French Riviera in 1986 when his motor-cycle collided with a truck, used to point out that it was time-consuming and wearisome to tie knots in all your dirty clothes, and then have to untie them after they're washed clean.

For reasons of a similar kind, I would be reluctant to invest in the suitcases shown in the following ad:

I've grown accustomed to suitcases on tiny wheels that you can drag along behind you in train stations and airports. Besides, I'm getting on in years. For me, it would be a rather strenuous burden if I now had to master this amazing new way of moving around with a suitcase.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Things to see in St-Marcellin

If ever you imagined that the only thing to be seen at St-Marcellin is their famous cheese, then the information I'm about to reveal will surely surprise you. First, there's an exotic intersection in the middle of the town.

There wasn't much light, and my photo is not very good. Besides, I was making an effort to avoid being run over by vehicles on the busy road where I was standing to take the photo. In the foreground, on a landscaped island at the center of the intersection, you can just make out the presence of a makeshift sun-shelter, erected with wooden poles, with a straw roof. Beneath it, there's an elegant wicker garden chair. If you didn't mind the busy traffic, you could sit there in the cool shade and contemplate the flowers and the shrub planted by council gardeners.

The façade behind the oasis is interesting. The owner of a flat on an upper floor has stuck her collection of toy animals out in the cool air, giving them an opportunity to gaze down upon the oasis and the road traffic. Here are closeup views:

The first time I discovered this balcony zoo, a month or so ago, there was a huge felt gorilla in the left-hand group, but he probably got blown away in a recent tempest and crushed by a truck.

The black and white cow in the right-hand window reminds me of a trivial anecdote yesterday at the local supermarket. A little girl, jumping around alongside her mother, was carrying a huge gray felt cow in her arms. At the place where you weigh your fruit and vegetables, the child had decided to place her animal upside-down on the scales, and she pressed randomly on a button that informed her immediately of the weight of her cow, and the animal's price if it had been a bag of tomatoes. Seeing me waiting for the scales, the child glanced up at me with a cheeky grin, as if to say: "Why shouldn't I weigh my cow?" I said to her, in a serious tone of voice: "Give me a carton of milk and a kilo of beef, please." The puzzled expression on the little girl's face suggested that she was analyzing my request. Her mother, on the other hand, must have thought it was a great joke, for she burst out laughing.

Back in the domain of sights to see at St-Marcellin, there's an affair that has amused me for ages. You can well imagine a businessman with a fleet of utility vehicles who decides to publicize his activities through an Internet website. Well, in St-Marcellin, there's a young entrepreneur who's handling his affairs the other way round. He has built an Internet site, designed to display small ads, and he uses his fleet of stationary vehicles to publicize his website.

When I say "fleet", I'm exaggerating a little, since he only seems to have a pair of little yellow vans, which are parked constantly at strategic spots in the town.

The fellow often turns up at the weekly market in St-Marcellin, where he has a small stand that publicizes his website... which is rather dull. [Click the photos to visit it.] He even has a scrapbook with photos of pages in his website.

Long ago, somebody asked me: "William, we want to sell our house through the Internet. Do they have a phone number, or maybe an office in the city? How much do they charge, roughly, for a house-for-sale ad?" Readers will have understood that, in this person's questions, her use of the word "they" represented the staff of the mythical company that owns and operates the Internet. At the time, I wasn't quite sure how to reply. Today, if she were to ask me the same questions, I would tell her that the ideal way of moving into the vast new Internet world is to go along to the St-Marcellin market on a Saturday morning and browse through the scrapbook of the fellow with the two yellow vans.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Age of Aquarius

If ever you were thinking about the idea of maybe trying to win a Nobel prize, my advice is to forget about stuff such as science and literature. Aim at peace. It offers you by far the biggest potential ROI [return on investment]. Start out by searching through the numerous nice websites that sell Saturday-evening hippie gear of the soft peace-and-love kind. It's not at all expensive. For a few dozen dollars, you can look as Woodstock as Hendrix. Naturally, the costs of the operation are likely to climb considerably if you insist upon smoking the genuine kind of stuff that caused a dense cloud to hang over the '60s... but there are so many laws against lighting up anything at all, these days, that you're probably better off cheating at this level. You might think about chewing on an unlit pipe, or maybe a stick of liquorice root candy... but you run the risk of not appearing to be authentic. In any case, smile non-stop like a born-again Christian, hug everybody you meet, and don't stop talking about peace and love. After that, the important thing is to get elected to some kind of prominent job, where onlookers will have opportunities of admiring you and your colorful clothes. Then, just wait around politely and peacefully until something happens... like the dawning of the Age of Aquarius. You'll get the prize you deserve.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Deplorable habit

French youth are shocked to discover retrospectively that the former president Jacques Chirac once had a deplorable habit.

Even at public meetings, when he should have been paying attention to what was being said, he was constantly taking or making calls on his iPhone. Observers affirm that Chirac was such a heavy phoner that, at times, smoke could be seen coming out of his iPhone. It can be said today that Chirac's phoning habit was therefore dangerous, because everybody knows that iPhones tend to explode from time to time.

[Click the image to see the original photo.]

Sunday, June 28, 2009

National styles of behavior

For years, one of my favorite innocent pastimes (serving no useful purpose) has consisted of comparing characteristic behavior from three nations that happen to concern me in different ways: Australia (my native land), France (my adoptive home place) and the USA (which hits me in the face every day or so on my TV and computer screens). Hardly a week goes by without my being tempted to write an article entitled It could only happen in X... where X designates one of the three above-mentioned nations. In my title, I've used the term "styles" for such idiosyncrasies. If nations had brains, I wouldn't hesitate in referring to the cases that intrigue me as national neuroses.

In Australia, a couple of weeks ago, the press published an alleged email suggesting that an automobile dealer was receiving favors from Kevin Rudd, maybe because this fellow had once made a gift of a utility vehicle to the prime minister. It was soon revealed that, like countless emails that all of us receive regularly (requesting our personal banking details, for example), this one was an amateurish fake designed to smear Rudd. But this affair is still making front-page news in the Oz media... along with the death of Michael Jackson.

In France, a case of behavior characteristic of a brain-damaged nation was provided by the president Nicolas Sarkozy himself when he used a big bag of taxpayers' money to stage an in-house show for parliamentarians and senators in the ancient royal palace of Versailles, with the aim of spreading the message that the French people will have to accept the fact that times are hard.

And the background to this sermon was a recent audit revealing that never before in the history of the 5th République, from a budget viewpoint, has the president's Elysées Palace lived so extravagantly. As a young queen with her head in the clouds (prior to falling into a basket) might have said: "The people are crying out for a better deal, more jobs, increased purchasing power and overall prosperity? Let them admire us, eat cake and listen to my sweet songs!"

In America (only in America, to use CNN-talk), another story of sinful sex has come to light with the brief disappearance of Mark Sanford, the Republican governor of South Carolina.

Believe it or not, he was down in Argentina with a lady friend, following up on an encounter established during a state-funded economic-development trip. "She's no lady; she's an economical female contact."

I liked a joke from the senator John Kerry, whom we don't normally imagine as the funniest celebrity in the US: "Too bad, if a governor had to go missing, it couldn’t have been the governor of Alaska. You know, Sarah Palin." Meanwhile, we are told that Sanford's dear old mother is praying for him, whereas Sanford's wife didn't give a screw about where he might have been. "Don't pray for me, Argentina." As for Sanford himself, he has promised his electors to reimburse the cost of his fact-finding mission to the land of Evita Peron.

As I said, the common feature of these three trivial happenings is that each one could only ever have occurred in the land where it did in fact take place. Can you imagine Kevin Rudd disappearing for a week in Bali, say, with a mysterious local lass? Or Sarkozy getting into trouble because a friend gave him an old 2-horsepower Citroën? Or Obama renting a palace in Las Vegas to make a down-to-earth policy statement? Who are the idiots who claim that the world has become a more uniform place, where everything's the same?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Amusing link to Antipodes

I've just been told of an amusing link that can take you to the Antipodes blog by way of Richard Branson, the French photographer Stéphane Gautronneau and Stéphane's girlfriend. Click Stéphane's portrait to go there.

Incidentally, there's a woman who's not at all happy to find her photo on the web in this Wondertrash context. I'll let you guess who it is, but here's a hint: It's not the naked wench on Sir Richard's back.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Of mountains and men

I would not normally go out of my way, as a tourist, to visit the Mount Rushmore abomination:

But that's because I don't have starry striped blood flowing in my veins.

This giant bust of Ataturk, currently under construction in a suburb of Izmir in Turkey, looks pretty impressive from afar:

Unlike the American kitschfest, Turkey's monstrosity is not carved out of the mountain, but built of concrete on a scaffolding. To my mind, that's worse.

In a nightmare, I see myself waking up one morning, looking out my bedroom window, and discovering with horror that they've carved Sarko's effigy in the limestone cliffs of my beloved Cournouze.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Personal defects

People swear that they're prepared to talk openly about their personal defects, but they generally find subtle ways of avoiding to do so. And I'm no exception. So, don't expect to find me revealing the truth about myself, the whole truth, etc. Worse still, whenever I decide to mention one of my weaknesses, it's often just a pretext to hit back with an explanation concerning one of the more positive aspects of my character. I give the impression that I'm opening my front door and welcoming you in... but, meanwhile, I'm sneaking out of the house through a back window.

Let me start with a weakness that is totally undeniable: I would be a lousy worker on a construction site such as that of the Eiffel Tower.

I'm simply scared of heights. Once, when I was holidaying with my children in Bangkok, I was suddenly overcome by vertigo at the top of a stone staircase, just a few meters in height, in a Buddhist temple. My legs were jelly; I was so giddy that I could no longer even stand up straight. Consequently, my children, along with other tourists, were greatly amused to see me bumping down the steps on my backside.

Now, here's the exit window. Many years ago, when I was a student in Sydney, I got a vacation job working as a welder's assistant on a construction site. My boss, a friendly German guy named Horst, was erecting steel staircases and platforms around an industrial boiler. My job consisted of following him around with his tools, and I was generally draped in coils of rubber tubing connected to oxy-acetylene cylinders. At one stage, I told Horst, naively, that he didn't seem to be generous with the amount of welding he was applying to attach the steel platform to the façade of the boiler. He said he was using a rule of thumb that consisted of applying a centimeter of welding for every meter of platform. To me, that rule didn't sound serious, because the weight of the platform clearly varied from one point to another, depending on whether or not it was supporting a section of stairs. I let the matter drop, since I imagined that Horst knew what he was doing. Suddenly an entire ection of the platform dropped to the ground, and I was left dangling in the rubber tubing: my first and last taste of something akin to bungee jumping. I was not injured in any way whatsoever, but Horst and the people handling the site were frightened that I might be wounded internally (which could lead them into a costly damages situation), so they preferred that I should remain seated and do absolutely nothing during my remaining days on that job. Incidentally, a humorous conversation has remained in my memory ever since that experience. With his charming accent, Horst had described to me his attitude towards working as a welder in Australia: "I do it, not because I like welding, but to make money. When I arrive at the factory site in the morning, I deposit my brain with the gatekeeper, and I pick it up when I knock off work in the afternoon." Horst also taught me how to say, in perfect German: "The only rays of sunshine in a worker's life are fornicating and boozing." Needless to say, Horst was happy in Australia...

Getting back to my personal defects, I have no memory for faces. This works in two directions. On the one hand, I can fail to recognize a person I've already encountered. On the other hand, I can imagine that I know somebody who's in fact a total stranger. Let me relate two trivial anecdotes, both of which concern women. Once, at an outdoor Bastille Day ball in Paris, I overheard a girl speaking Greek, and I was immediately convinced that I had met up with her a few months earlier on. So, I started talking with her (in French) as if we were old friends... and we soon did indeed become very close friends. The next morning, in bed, I asked her to remind me where it was that we had initially met up. She was surprised but amused: "Last night was the first time I ever saw you. It's a fact that I found you exceptionally affectionate for a stranger..."

The second anecdote dates from yesterday. For my regular medication (run-of-the-mill stuff for blood pressure and cholesterol), I decided to change to a pharmacy at St-Laurent-en-Royans, a little closer than my usual shop at St-Jean-en-Royans. The female pharmacist welcomed me warmly: "I worked for years in the pharmacy at St-Jean, and I have a wonderful recollection of your visits, because you had the habit of rambling on about all kinds of things, quite unlike most customers in a pharmacy. I always had the impression that my contacts with you were... enriching." Wow! Now, guess how I reacted to these nice words from an attractive young lady. Sadly, you'll see that I've lost my touch since the evenings in Paris when I was capable of picking up an unknown Mediterranean damsel. I said to the pharmacist: "That's funny, I don't remember you at all." What an idiot I am! That's no doubt one of the worst statements a man could ever make to a woman. Fortunately, I have to purchase pills once a month... so I should have time to redeem myself. Meanwhile, let me crawl back into my house through this open window.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Funny Amsterdam

The civic authorities in Amsterdam have a side-splitting sense of humor. Look at this Photoshop montage they concocted for their forthcoming festivities for the late queen Juliana's birthday, characterized traditionally by the color orange (I wonder why):

France's queen of morality, Ségolène Royal, has become famous recently (as if she weren't so already) for making apologies to foreign nations and leaders concerning Sarko's faux pas. This time, she should probably apologize to Berlu for his being cast in this role as a drag-queenish duettist. Maybe she should apologize directly to the Dutch people, for their being obliged to see these clownish faces staring down at them from the walls. Or she could create a surprise by apologizing to the citizens of Italy and France for this shocking exploitation of the images of their cherished leaders. Ideally, Ségo could also apologize to readers of Antipodes, since the author is too dumb to do so, for their having to endure such a stupid blog article.

ADDENDUM: I was trying to be mildly ironical when I wondered out loud why Queen Juliana's birthday evokes the color orange. Every schoolchild of my generation in Australia learned that a Dutch prince, William of Orange [1650-1702], became William III of England. As a teenager, I remember my paternal grandmother telling me that we had ancestors in Ireland who were Orangemen, which was the funny term designating bigoted folk in Northern Ireland and Scotland who were members of the so-called Orange Order, inspired by the staunchly Protestant monarch.

The Orange term in the name of the Dutch royal house is derived, of course, from the ancient city of Orange in south-east France, which used to be a principality. For its Roman builders, that city had a Latin name, Arausio (designating vaguely an anatomical part of the head), which was later transliterated into Orange.

As far as the fruit and the color are concerned, the original Arabic term was naranj, which was later transliterated into the French word orange, at a time when the city of Orange had already existed for many centuries. Maybe the transliteration of the name of the fruit, of a crudely approximative nature, was influenced at a purely auditory level by the existing name of the city. The French name of the fruit and its color was then incorporated identically into the English language.

People might imagine that the French city acquired its name because it was connected in some way with oranges. This was not at all the case. So, there is no profound reason whatsoever why the queen's birthday in Holland should be associated with the color orange.

Observers might object that the arms of the city of Orange contain an explicit allusion to the fruit tree. In the relatively serious domain of heraldry, this is a case of a mild joke. The creator of the arms thought it would be amusing to take advantage of the homonymy, so he decided to include an orange tree. Why not? There are so many cases of this phenomenon in heraldry that it received a special name. Arms that exploit coincidental homonymy are described as canting arms (literally, arms that talk; in French, armes parlantes).

Today, it might be said that the Orange joke has come a long way... attaining a zenith in the comical photo-montage of Berlu & Sarko on bus shelters in Amsterdam.

Place of the skull

All four evangelists agree on the name of the place where Jesus was crucified. It was called Golgotha, which is a Hebrew term meaning the place of a skull. Note that the word "skull" is singular. There's no suggestion whatsoever that Jesus might have been crucified in a place strewn with skulls, in the plural. Golgotha may have got its name because it was a small hill that looked like a skull. In other words, a skull-shaped mound. Look at the following photo:

Does that image correspond to your vision of the place where Jesus and the two thieves were nailed to crosses? Unfortunately (or fortunately, if you prefer), that curious mound does not lie in the Holy City. In fact, it's a limestone outcrop located in a corner of the cemetery of Saint-Romans, a village about twenty minutes away from where I live, on the road between Pont-en-Royans and Saint-Marcellin.

Many Christian pilgrims who visit Jerusalem are frankly disappointed by the place that is alleged to be the real Golgotha. It simply does not correspond to what most people imagine as the place of the Crucifixion. Visitors are astonished to discover that, to reach Golgotha, they have to enter a dull-looking church and then walk up a tiny narrow staircase. It's as if a tourist in New York were to be told that the Statue of Liberty is in fact hidden away in a basement zone of Rockefeller Plaza.

In the Greek gaudiness of the official Golgotha, there's nothing in particular that might remind us of a skull. It's no more nor less than a kitsch bazaar. If ever you approached the site with surging thoughts of the terrifying tales of the final hours of Jesus as related in the Gospels, these mental images are soon chased away by the omnipresent garishness, and the bustle of excited Orthodox pilgrims who must find the atmosphere just right. It's a question of culture and sensitivity. Nobody brought up, like me, in the subdued harmonious ambiance of Anglican traditions could feel at home in the church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. On the other hand, I have no trouble envisaging their Golgotha as a great place for a good Christian fight.

In another corner of the Holy City, there's a place known as the Garden Tomb which corresponds more closely to the legendary image of Calvary on the top of a small hill. With a little imagination, the rocks at this place might be seen as skull-shaped... except that they're half-hidden behind an Israeli bus depot.

That faded photo, attached to a pole, is intended to show Protestant pilgrims what this particular "place of the skull" once looked like, at an unspecified date in the recent past, when the surroundings of the Garden Tomb might indeed have reminded passersby of a skull.

Frankly, between the Scylla of having a brass lamp thrown at me by an Orthodox monk, and the Charybdis of having a bus back over me while meditating religiously in the vicinity of a Byzantine rock tomb, I would find it far more fulfilling to embark upon a research project aimed at revealing that the real Jesus was whisked away at the last moment by CIA operatives and brought in chains and an orange jumpsuit to the village of Saint-Romans, where he died in mysterious circumstances.

When you think about, that name is surely a code that starts to explains various loose ends: Saint, because Jesus was saintly, and Romans because Pontius Pilate and his Roman employers were behind this whole execution affair. Admittedly, there are quite a few details that have to be filled in before we can expect hordes of pilgrims to start thronging to the cemetery of Saint-Romans. But I'm sure the local tourist authorities will help me to assemble the missing facts. Maybe a local stone mason and sculptor might be employed in remodeling a little that limestone façade, to make it look even more like a human skull. Here's a view of this fabulous site as it would be seen by approaching pilgrims, gazing with fervor across fields that have been plowed by humble pious peasants ever since Biblical times (which could be transformed at little cost into a vast parking zone):

The convenient thing about religious beliefs and traditions is that nobody ever expects you to be overly concerned about reality, or even plausibility. On the contrary, the taller the tale, the better it generally goes over.