This past Sunday, Tina and I set out on a mission to be lazy.
This weekend, we kept the list in a French ballpark. We started with Once Upon a Crime (1992). Then French Postcards (1972) and ended with Spoiled Brats (2021).
Once Upon a Crime is a comedy that takes place primarily in Monte Carlo with John Candy, Jim Balushi, Cybill Shepherd, Sean Young, Richard Lewis, Giancarlo Giannini and a very beautiful Ornella Muti. Directed by Eugene Levy. There were hilarious gags and fun dialogue sequences.
French Postcards was a surprise find on Hulu. It stars Miles Chapin, Mandy Patinkin, Debra Winger, and Blanche Baker among others.
The third film Spoiled Brats (“Pourris Gâtés “) was a recent release on Netflix.
All three are worth a watch.
But it was French Postcards that really grabbed my attention. The plot is about a group of American students who spend a year abroad in Paris. Some students really want to be there. Others are doing it just for school credit. Others to explore. All walk away with life-changing experiences and will never be the same.
I found myself wondering why I had not watched the movie before spending a semester in France back in college. I’m not sure it would have done any good. But maybe it would have enlightened me to what the experiences of others might have been like.
My study abroad was the most challenging, life-changing, life-improving, mind expansion I could ever imagine. When I came back from France, I was unrecognizable to my friends. While they could dialogue about all their shared experiences, I was left in a mental state of unshared experiences in different languages with a culture that was so different than ours. Upon return, I was close to bilingual. I had seen and done things my American friends would never do, because most would never live overseas like that. Not as a student.
I was raised super evangelical, deathly afraid of everything secular and sexual, living in what some view as a very liberal land (because their views of sex, food and alcohol were diametrically opposed from where I came). I had a girlfriend at the time who spent the same semester abroad in Madagascar. Staying in that relationship was a huge mistake. But the fear of intermingling with a godless French girl was paralyzing. That didn’t prevent me from meeting them. It just prevented me from exploring relationships with one, or two or more.
If I would have had a French girlfriend, good god, my French would have been so much better.
Needless to say, French Postcards resonated with me and brought me back to those days of self exploration and culture shock. For example, when French students asked me what my American culture was like, I responded, “We don’t have culture.” I wasn’t being cheeky. I just didn’t understand that insipid American culture was actually “culture.” How is a fascination with American Football cultural? How is religious fanaticism cultural? How is blind allegiance to American politics cultural?
It was mind bending. My religiosity bubbled up and defined my identity. It prevented me from overt exploration. I tended to repress feelings, you know, for Jesus. But the experience also pushed me to question it as well. Here were French students studying to live on a world stage, to learn English, Spanish, Chinese, because those were universal languages. I was in the south of France, and in sixty minutes I could be in Spain or Italy. I could ferry to Africa. I took a quick trip to Holland to meet my dad and 100 family members at a reunion of whom I looked nothing like.
In France, I looked French. Since I came from a world and a Homelife in which I rarely looked like anyone, it felt good for a change. I was often mistook for Arabic or mediterranean. By the end, I felt at home. But I also couldn’t wait to get back home; only to get back home and deathly wish to get back to France.
There’s a scene in French postcards in which one character says to the other toward the end of the film, “Fine, go back to America to get a job where you’ll have to work for 10 years to afford to return here someday to visit!”
When I got back from France, I assumed I’d never be back. I was poor. I barely scrounged up enough money to do the trip.
Twelve years later, I got married and we honeymooned in France. Tina fell in love with it, too, and we’ve been back almost six or seven times since. We were just in Puerto Rico, and the same sentiment our friends have towards the island is what we feel in France. We feel at home there. The people. The culture. The food. The lifestyle. It agrees with us.
Like most cultures, the French are a proud people, who love to eat and drink. They are concerned for the environment. They know what war looks like. They know what pleasure looks like. They will stop to watch someone perform mundanity in arts, because their joie de vivre is centered on creativity and expression. They are far more conservative than we think they are. Conservative, though, in the conservation sense of the word. Not in the association that we Americans have for conservative = religious.
One of my favorite scenes was after an American student named Joel got a tongue lashing from his American roommate to get out of the apartment and stop hanging out with their old lady hostess. “There’s more to France than studying,” he told him. I had a similar experience. One night a month and a half into my study abroad, my house mother barged into my room where I would be reclusive and she said, “Get out of this apartment. Go to a bar and say, “Bon soir, tout le monde!” And let the chips fall where they may. I hated her at the time for it, but it was the best thing for me. Hell, it’s been the best thing ever since.
So Joel calls and asks out a French girl named Toni he met at a bookstore. The girl wasn’t there, but her co-worker decided to play a trick on her and him. She pretended to be Toni and agreed to the date. When Joel went to pick her up, he found himself in the dining room full of Toni’s family laughing at him. Joel wanted to jump out the window. He says he’s going to leave, but Toni intervenes and says, “I’m going out on a date with Pascal. Just go with us.”
So the three of them go to dinner and then a disco. Joel is miserable, but so is Pascal, who’s sharing his date with a dumb American.
At the disco, Pascal — irritated — turns to Joel and they have this dialogue:
Pascal: Ten years!
Pascal: In ten years, America will be finished!
Toni: Shut up, Pascal! You’re boring.
Pascal: America is polluted, corrupted, sick and dying.
Joel: Speaking of which, it’s getting late. I think I better go.
Toni: Don’t go! Let’s go dancing.
Pascal: [Smugly] The only dancing will be the Chinese dancing on your capitalist graves.
America clearly made it past 1982 when Pascal thought America would implode. But did we? Pascal was partly right. Or at least the film’s writer was right. In 1982, that flop Reagan was president setting the stage for internationally corrupted, b-list TV celebrity to become president in 2016.
In 2008, Mr. Obama was pulling the country from economic disaster that George Bush’s agenda drowned us in.
When we were in a bus to Monte Carlo, our driver was talking about how strong the US economy is to the rest of the world. “When the U.S. sneezes, the world catches a cold,” he said. I’d never heard that before. And it’s proved true again when Trump had a sneezing fit and brought the world economy to its knees by fucking up his response to covid.
When a person fingers the pulse of American politics, he can’t help but wonder if the democracy is dead. It’s on life support now, maybe even a ventilator, since the January 6 attacks and the subsequent shit show of increased racism, homegrown terrorism and violence. The Trump cultists are taking what insipid culture America had and shitting all over it.
Maybe China, and Russia, will be dancing on our capitalist graves. The music has already started, what with all the interference into our social media and diseased information circulation.
But I’m a brainwashed liberal with a penchant for loving things that don’t suck, like cuisine, life, culture and healthcare for all.
I heard something recently that rung a little bell: corporate America doesn’t want Americans to have affordable healthcare so the disseminate shitty info about Obamacare. Or healthcare for all. If people have access to affordable healthcare, they wouldn’t be tethered to working for big corporations who offer the best America has to offer in healthcare. Meanwhile, entrepreneurs like me and Tina suffer shit-ass healthcare, even under the guise of Obamacare, because it’s not as lucrative to a capitalist society.
But the freedoms of spending time together, enriching our world with togetherness and familial bonding would tear the economic fabric of this country apart.
The best thing the pandemic did for Americans, the people not the corporations, was show families a glimpse of what Tina and I enjoy every day. Sure, it’s not as economically satisfying. It’s humanly satisfying. Human satisfaction, living life now, living life to its fullest, that’s for children and the elderly.
But when culture sees how life can be less about spending 40+ hours at an office, it’s mind-bending. It’s that experience abroad that informs how good life can be if you get a taste for how shitty life is in American when you spend all your time suckling the teats of the masters.
The problem is that the “they” don’t want us to have these experiences. They want us too busy for family and friends. They don’t want a culture where we share time. They want us to say, “Mom, dad, we don’t have much time to spend with you. We’re too busy with work. And kids.”
The pandemic infected many with a taste for not making these excuses anymore. And I value that. I value togetherness over the alternative. But that doesn’t make a country rich.
Values. Values. Values.
What do you value? People? Friends? Family?
That’s why I preach liberal values and subscribe to that way of thinking. The thing is, my conservative family and friends value it, too. But they also can’t interrupt their thinking that corporate values are more important. So while they love spending time with us and complain when we aren’t there, somehow the corporate value machine plays their music louder.
And that’s why Pascal’s prophecy will eventually come true. But it doesn’t have to. Right?