Monday, 29 August 2011

Beignets - French Doughnuts in your kitchen or your mind?


So it's like my birthday. I'm going to be 17 tomorrow... and mom & dad gave me a World Market gift card to ease the pain of spending another birthday in America. I promptly drove over to High Point road and entered the market like a drug feign needing her next fix. It's how I balance the whole reality of finding one's self in a world she doesn't belong in. As Sam Tyler might say "Whichever strange place you find yourself in, make that your home".

So I exited with my drugs. Some Japanese apple sake, a couple bottles of Belgian monk made beer, some Italian wine-infused sausage, several British chocolate bars, and something I've been wanting to try for quite awhile. Cafe Du Monde's Beignet Mix. So you might be wondering why I've not bought it before? Well, first of all, deep-fried doughnuts aren't the healthiest thing in the world (but it's my birthday, so 'what the hell!?') and this mix is from the French Quarter, not France- but Beignets are French:

The word beignet is French for fritter or doughnut meaning "to raise".The early French colonists of the 18th century brought the recipe and custom of making fritters (fritters beignets) to New Orleans.

So being I had a week-long "Being Erica" marathon, and I needed something French, I decided to give it a go, and I'm glad I did. Cafe Du Monde's Beignet Mix is the perfect answer to a weepy, emotional week of door unlocking and epiphany bringing television. So the first thing to do is for you to imagine a door and walk through it... suddenly you're in my kitchen rolling out the dough:



The cool thing is you just add water and mix, roll it out like biscuits and cut it into squares. Light up the deep-fryer, or a cast-iron pan with oil and drop the gooey French goodness into the bubbly:



It only takes about 1-2 minutes per side, and they're done. Talk about fast-food, you've got to love the French. They puff up to a golden brownish color which is then sprinkled in powder sugar:



I'm told you can also fill the beignet with your choice of creams or fruit fillings, or butter and sprinkle with cinnamon and brown sugar. If you're going with the Cafe Du Monde version of the beignet than they should be served in batches of 3 with a lovely cup of coffee or hot chocolate.

And that's it. I sat down for Erica therapy with my coffee (though not from Goblins :( ) my beignets and my fantasies of Toronto, Paris, and Cafe Du Monde in Louisiana. It's like having a little box of regrets in my pantry that I can pull out at any point, deep fry, and eat so that they become part of me.

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Gavin and Stacey | For the love of God, bring it back.

We just got the recently released series "Gavin and Stacey" through Netflix. Highly recommend it to all. It's seriously one of the best TV dramas I've seen in awhile. It's much like a chick flick type of love and cry movie but broken into a series.... but it was amazingly fantastic.

Basically it chronicles a love story of a boy from the city falling in love with a girl from the country. The two families and their "normal" lives as they collide. I honestly haven't laughed as hard as this in years. Oddly enough the writers are in the show....

I think one reason this show hits home with so many people is you see yourself and your family in much of the characters. For instance Bryn West who is played by Rob Brydon reminds me so much of my father in law. He's so amused by the simple things in life... like the Internet, and digital cameras:

"It's got sepia... although i think it's faulty because it just makes everything look brown"

and protecting his niece:

Bryn - "If I show you how to use the rape alarm and you go to London, England and come back Sunday raped. It's not on my conscience and I'll sleep easy at night coz' I showed you how to use it."

Nessa reminds me of our friend Becky in some odd way:

Assistant: Nessa, you look fabulous

(Nessa waddles in wearing a black PVC dress)

Nessa: I know, I feels it...

Then there is the two moms. These scene reminded me remarkable of the the movie Fools Rush in which deals with the taboos of a rich wealthy Caucasian, marrying a Hispanic girl in Vegas and their subsequent cultural clashes.... As a couple we always identified with the movie because of the huge differences in culture in our family.... so this made us laugh too:

Pam - “Barry Island? You're having the wedding in Wales? Over my dead body. Where you having the reception, on the log flumes? Hot dogs and candy floss served up by some gyppo on a donkey???”

Gwen - "Perhaps Stacey doesn't want to get married in Essex. What is she going to do here, totter down the aisle in a mini skirt and white stilettos?"

Pam - “Shut it you leak munching sheep shagger!”

Seriously... Queue this series immediately...

Fiction Mania | The Book of Judith

The Book Fiction Mania, changed her life .
Judy sat crouched in the corner, tears rolling down her face as her blood swollen lip, and bruises ached with intensity. A nightly ritual for her as her husband, Fernando, came home. This attack however was one of the worst. After finding out she had recently became impregnated by her drunkard of a spouse, Judith as her mother called her, endeavoured to escape without Fernando knowing, but ultimately, was caught mid-act, and wrestled back into capitulation. Judith knew she couldn't bring a child into this nightmare, so each morning when Fernando left for work, Judith would prepare for her escape. The instructions for her departure came by way of a single book, a 17th century leather bound novel called "gwallgofrwyd: tynged newid", or in English, "Fiction Mania: Destiny Changed.", that she had found in the attic by chance. It was an Welsh childrens' book, or so she believed, an epic about two children who use a device known as the Antithesis Machine, an ancient Welsh relic, washed upon the shores of Wales to change history. Oddly enough, the author included an unusually detailed description of how to build this device. For months Judith sat in the kitchen floor fashioning her hopes into a single cog, clock-work apparatus, born from sacrificial parts of the toaster, blender and other appliances.

During the next nine months Judith continued to endure Fernando's feverish assaults. She'd do her best to lessen his anger as she attempted to shield her womb and unborn child. Upon one occasion, gumption arrived at Judith's tongue and she bravely announced, "Can you see yourself? Who you've become? This isn't who I fell in love with, and I want out!" Fernando responded to his fears and to his wife's strengthening mentality by screaming "Shut your mouth trollop! You ever try to leave and I'll cut you into a million bits."

I can see myself, for who I really am.
Eventually child was born, named Hope, and Judith for the sake of that child became the savior against the Grendel to which Fernando had become. In the end, Judith and Hope would try to make one last attempt to escape. For one week a month, Fernando would refuse to sleep in her bed, "unclean" he would tell her, as he laid in the living room chair hairy chested without a shirt, a burnt-out cigarette still between his fingers, and half-drunken beer bottles at his feet. "Quiet, sweetheart" she whispered to little baby Hope as she walked down the hall hoping the infant did not sense the fear and cry. Swaddled in a blanket, Judith reached into the hallway closet for her invention and her coat. A golden bronze box, with a small mechanical number-counter on the side. As she did, she made her fatal mistake. On top was the book, Fiction Mania, as it flew to the floor with a thud, stirring dust as it did; its pages sprung open by the wind of the awakening adjacent giant. Fernando was lucid. He thundered towards Judith and the baby spewing atrocities into their ears, grabbing them like a rotten tree, throwing them to the ground. The baby now screaming, as Fernando in his madness reached for his axe that sat in the closet. Judith, more clever than ever, slid the child into the safety of the far corner of the room, knowing the impending battle which must be fought. She kicked at his legs as he approached with the axe, screaming as he thrusted it downward through her skin, slicing through muscle, and bone. Judith a siren of agony, covered in blood, as Fernando swung again and missed into the wall. Begging for her life, screaming for help; Fernando exclaims from his dripping red faced hairy cheeks "It's your fault! You made me him!" The axe now overhead and falling fast comes slamming through Judith's left arm, the blade now dulling, stretches the meat like rising dough before finally breaking through to the wood floor below. The Antithesis Device no longer clutched by a functioning appendage falls to the floor. Nearly unconscious, Judith has only one hope as her lone limb reaches for the the button on the device. She presses it with the entirety of her hand. The cog turns, the numbers count-down from 86 almost instantly, and Fernando's third swing, now in motion slows down and with it time. A flash of blue light, a deep thundering boom, and eyelids shut. When it was over, Judith now stood over Fernando in his floral white dress, covered in blood. She was now him, and he was now her. "No!" he screamed from his new found voice womanhood in the depths of humanity. The axe and its momentum was too much to stop as it severed Fern's final feminine arm. Judy, now standing over herself asks Fern one final question before life escaped him "Can you see yourself for who you are now?"





Saturday, 27 August 2011

Fanciest Mickey D's Ever? | European Café McDonald's

So I mentioned it before the trip, but had to share. On the last day of our trip we hunted down, Orlando's uniquely one-of-a-kind European Cafe McDonald's- one of three themed Bistro Gourmet McDonald's exclusive to the Disney World area.

This new McDonald’s features in-house chefs providing such pleasures as gourmet pizzas, Panini sandwiches, coffees and delectable desserts.

The two-story restaurant, complete with a two-lane drive-thru, has the appeal of a European café and is outfitted with walls of glass windows encompassing the spectacular view of both Sand Lakes.


This was as close as I was getting to Europe on this vacation. In fact, oddly, it may have been the highlight of my trip. If I squinted real hard I could pretend I was Europe. Actually no I couldn't, this was nothing like the McDonald's in Europe. This was a bastardization of Europe, a Americanized impression of romanticized European fast-food; however, I didn't quite care. This is what a McDonald's should be. Breakfast Enchiladas, Belgian Waffles (technically nothing like them), and tons of other uniquely freshly prepared foods. Chance loved the waffles, and me and Shannon got this sausage and egg croissant sandwich which included two layers of eggs, two patties of sausage, cheese, romaine lettuce and tomatoes. Huge. Definitely not very European... much more American, but then again- distinctly different.

The kids wanted to go upstairs of this castle facade McDonald's where there was trash cans that audible munched your trash, and balconies served for a place for you to sip your coffee. Gourmet Bistro, and the European Cafe McDonald's may not be anything like what real Europe is like, but it's also nothing like anything we have in America- especially in the fast-food landscape- which made it very refreshing.

One thing we did notice though, is that we were the only one's ordering from the Bistro Gourmet menu. Is that the reason we don't have "better" food on every street corner, do people detest freshly made food with a twist in place of recycled, over processed automatically assembled generic adaptations? Or do we just hate Europe that much. I'm not sure... but please McDonald's bring one to Greensboro.

Lost in Austen : Watch it.




A Time Travel Romance Movie For Europhiles!
I've read it so many times now the words just say themselves in my head and it's like a window opening, it's like I'm actually there. It's become a place I know so intimately I can see that world, I can touch it.

Probably one of the most favorite things I've had a chance of watching in quite some time was ITV's mini-series called Lost In Austen. Loved it. Loved it. Loved it. If you love Darcy, love Jane Austen, and if you love quirky time travel plots, then this is must. Better yet, they're making it into a movie for the U.S. market. Sadly it probably will lose some of it's greatness because it's Americanized, but go Netflix this version which is about 3 hours long. You won't regret it.


Mr. Bingley: We shall have 25 children and name them all 'Amanda'. Even the boys.

It stars one of my favorite British actors, Jemima Rooper, who is just wonderful playing a modern British woman who accidentally stumbles upon a door to the world of pride and prejudice in her bathroom. In a Alice in Wonderland style, she switches places with Elizabeth Bennet who takes her place in Hammersmith in 2008.




Amanda Price: [to herself, incredulous] Elizabeth Bennet is lending me her mobile.

It's really too great, of an idea... and if you've ever read some of my writings then you'd know this is so me. Jemima's interpretation of Elizabeth is so-o me. Which is actually quite ironic if you knew what was going on in my life right now. (shhhh....) So go watch this. It's a perfect Friday night date video, worthy of a proper pizza and a package of twizzlers.




Amanda Price: What's the deal here? Are we live on cable or something? Is this like the Jim Carrey thing, but period? Where are the cameras? Come on! What are you after, guys? A bit of girl-on-girl action under the covers? What do I have to do to get out of here? Snog her? Show you my pubes?
Lydia Bennet: What have you done to yourself?
Amanda Price: That's called a landing strip, Lydia. Standard pubic topiary.

So go on, go rent it....

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

From (a goat in a Argan Tree in) Morroco with Love...

As many of you know, my sister is somewhere deep within Morocco staring at goats. She sent us a lovely postcard of some goats in a Argan tree. Interesting thing about Argan trees is that they produce a fruit/nut which produces Argan oil. One of the rarest, and most expensive oils in the world. (Because the trees only grow in one place: Africa) Cool thing is, while it cost hundreds of dollars here in the States she can go up to one of the Berber women there and buy a coke bottle of the stuff to bring home to me. I will cherish it and keep it on a shelf to stare at.

The tree is a relic of the Earth's Tertiary Period, which ended about 1.6 million years ago, and it grows in only a few other places in the world. It is tenacious, withering and fruitless during extended droughts, and it lives as long as 200 years. So there was alarm that the Argania spinosa, as the tree is properly called, was headed for extinction, along with its precious goat-related oil. (cite:wikipedia)

So if you're ever in Morroco and you see a woman run up to a tree and start beating it silly with a huge long stick... she's either a) knocking out the Argan nuts, or b) knocking out the goats.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

"I Realize The Entire Horror Of My Nature" - Mankind




One of my more favorite hobbies as of late is watching French music videos. One in particular stuck out for me sung by an artist called Zazie. It got me thinking about how the song is an almost perfect description (within a few sentences) of our history as a species. While I do concede it does tend to show us in a not so glowing light, one can not argue the truth of the facts. The song begins at mankinds begining as cavemen and ends with man becoming "Gods" (Kings) [in their self belief] and through their idiocy and consumerism they become their own punishment as they destroy the earth and themselves. Armagedden musical art... or simply a metaphor for a breakup of a bad boyfriend? You decide. (or maybe you see it completely different?) Either way it's a really cool song:

I'm alone and then millions
At war whatever the season
I make love and the revolutions.

The king of illusions
I build the world my way
out of gold and concrete

I'm in denial, my reality
learned through television.
Product of consumerism

I am doomed.

It's me, the master of fire,
The King, the master of the world
And see what I did,
My frozen Earth, my scorched lands.
The Earth that men abandoned.

I realize the entire horror of my nature



One of the key verses in the song, I didn't completely comprehend when I originally wrote this was the "walk around" bit.... Because in the song they use "tourne en rond", and I wondered why not just use "walk" aka "marche"? Anyways my professor cleared it up.... Tourne en rond is a phrase meaning "trying to go somewhere but not going anywhere" literally "running around in circles"....

Really some deep stuff for a eco pop-singer... of course we here in America have Britney Spears...

It's rather tragic.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Give your child a better life... Leave them in Europe.

So this article got me thinking. While I doubt they were trying to better their children's lives by dumping them in Italy...

The mother, Caterina Remhof, 26, and her partner, Sascha Schmidt, 24,
abandoned the children after ordering a pizza at a restaurant in the northern town of Aosta on Sunday, according to police.

I'm wondering, how often it happens internationally? I mean we all grew up with movies and cartoons that depicted the downtroddened mother leaving a basket on somebody's door with a message that says "take good care of her" attached. Mexican immigrants often send their children ahead of themselves to better their lives. I'm just thinking with the state of the economy, the super poor health care in the U.S. and so many people being out of work, that if you were a mother what better thing could you do then abandon your child in a wealthy nation with low crime, great health care, and prosperous expectations. Sweden comes to mind.

I'm not suggesting people do it, (and of course it wouldn't work well if the kid can speak) but it does seem like a sacrifice that might be worth making if your walking the streets, lost your home, and can't get a job.... Use those forgotten frequent flyer miles one last time, and find a nice hospital waiting room corner to set the child in?

Perhaps there's an argument that doing so is even better than putting them in the American adoption system? There are arguments to be made that they would find a loving home, quicker because of Sweden's more inclusive base of adoptive parents.

My 8.6 Minute Bucket List

The Bucket List.
You know how they say your life flashes before your eyes when you die?

8.6 minutes. That's approximately the amount of time you have after your heart stops beating before brain function ceases. When we die, our eyes close, our body is paralyzed, and if we're lucky enough to die of old age; we will do so with loved ones standing over us, mourning, as we're lost for all time. But, we're not actually gone yet; not for 8.6 minutes. The brain continues to function for 8.6 minutes after the body dies. That's practically a lifetime to live through past emotions; a last poetic gift of the experiences and memories you've collected in this life. It will either be 8.6 minutes of tragic regret, or something so transcendental, maybe one last synapse will fire a final smile.

When I visited my friend Christie in Belgium, I noticed her bucket list taped to the desk. She, like myself is what you call “life addicts.” Us “lifers” spent the afternoon of my departure trying to find her a cheap seat so she could join me in Cairo. It was on both our lists. After checking that one off, I've now replaced it with meeting the Dalai Lama. No, that's actually number two. Number one has always been to do good and changing the world.

For a longtime, I wanted to write a book. I'm now finishing my second. It's about my tragic fascination with another one of my bucket list items, living abroad. There I said it, and as corny as that sounds, I want the freedom to try it and to see myself in another culture, to understand others by living through their lives. I ache to do more, to feel more, to be more than who I am right now. To punch a hole in the wall of expectation and live a life with no regrets.

Somewhere on the list is to love more. Love my children, love my love, and love myself.

Then there's sailing across the Atlantic, and driving to the tip of South America someday. I also want to go dig wells for the thirsty in Africa, visit the Kremlin, and spend one night outside sleeping in Champ Du Mars, under the stars, and the Eiffel Tower. I'm also dead set on writing a book on homeless immigrants by living in the Brussels metro for three months, if I can only interest a publisher.

In the end, Christie's, mine, or anyone's bucket lists for that matter, are really about the same thing: benchmarks for existence. Collecting life's moments inside ourselves for our final performance. If life, like art, isn't about all the wonderful joys, all the laughs, all the tears that we feel and experience, then what's the point?  Because in the end, we all get the same 8.6 minutes to rewind the story of our life, and believe me, mine is going to be a blockbuster.

You know how they say your life flashes before your eyes when you die?
What if this, right now- what we’re living is that flash?

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Mario's Cafe Bar - Westhougton -"The £10 Breakfast"




This guy looks a bit too much like Dustin Hoffman
You know, I tend to think of North Carolina being the queen of places to get great breakfasts. I missed my chicken biscuits, bacon and gooey, greasy country ham biscuits when I spent a few years in California. I feel it's one of the perks of being a citizen of NC to be able to get biscuits and gravy almost 24/7 here... and don't get me started on redneck heaven: "Waffle House." (Unfortunately it's not a house made really out of waffles.) The problem is, I think we had it handed to us on this one. Lets say you're hungry. Like 5,000 calories of food hungry. Where do you go? Apparently to the airport for a 9 hour flight. Why should some place in Britain offer this gastronomical atrocity, while local governments look-on and do nothing?

For just over £10 (£10.95) patrons of Mario's Cafe Bar at 67 Market Street, Westhougton will serve you the fullest-full English breakfast in the country. At 5,000 calories (two days worth), owner Mario Frappola will deliver to your stall a platter the size of small bus covered in the following:

10 eggs, 10 sausages, 10 rashers of bacon, 10 slices of toast, five black pudding slices, tomatoes, mushrooms and baked beans.

£10 may seem like a great deal, but how about free? That's right, gratis! Mario, personally will double-dog-dare-you to eat his monolithic breakfast, cotton-mouthed, without a drink in under 20 minutes, and if you do... the meal is on him. Dr Atkins would be proud, your heart doctor; not so much.

Somewhere in NC, someone is reading this from their hover-round scooter on their laptop while in the McDonald's drive-thru asking "Why me?"

Knorr Aromat in America?

I get a little upset when I realize there's some product that is supposedly "really darn good" that most of the rest of the world is familiar with, but I can't have because I live in America. Spent nearly 3 weeks tracking down something called Knorr Aromat as it was a part of my "recipe research" and I believed it was a part of a recipe I was trying to clone. It wasn't, but in the process, I did find out that this is an amazing seasoning. It's called Knorr Aromat, and from many of the reviews online, apparently most of Europe, especially Sweden and Germany, pour this stuff on every food they can imagine. Why do we not have it in America if it's so good? I had to try it for myself.

So I started looking locally. Food Lion, Harris Teeters, even World Market. Couldn't find it. Then I looked it up online. Found tons of retailers supposedly selling it, but when you went to check out, it would say "out of stock". Even went so far to place an order, then got an email a few days later saying they couldn't get it, and none of their vendors could either. I was perplexed. Finally I hit success a few days ago with these guys, a caffeinated mint company that also imports other products. I got the package today and they even sent me a sample of their mints, so I was so chuffed!

If you're interested in trying Knorr Aromat, it's only $8.99 and here's the link I ordered it from.

I immediately opened it and it smelled sort of like French Onion soup, potato chips, and all-season salt. Decided to try it on a burrito and it was really, really good. It wasn't what I was looking for, for my recipe, but I can see how addictive this stuff is. With my minuscule experience with the product it appears to turn everything from vegetables to meat into a rich aromatic McDonald's French Fry taste. In fact, I bet it's killer on potatoes. Give Knorr's aromat a try if you're looking for a new way to cook or impress yourself.

So why can't we have it in America?

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Hiraeth and The Homing Human - The Internal Calling

Homing Pigeon (Chicken?)
And I'd never in my life been so happy.


All my life I've wanted to see London. I used to go to English movies just to look at streets with houses like those. Staring at the screen in a dark theatre, I wanted to walk down those streets so badly it gnawed at me like hunger. Sometimes, at home in the evening, reading a casual description of London by Hazlit or Leigh Hunt, I'd put the book down suddenly, engulfed by a wave of longing that was like homesickness. I wanted to see London the way old people want to see home before they die. I used to tell myself this was natural in a writer and book-lover born to the language of Shakespeare. But sitting on a bench in Bedford Square it wasn't Shakespeare I was thinking of; it was Mary Bailey.


I come of very mixed ancestry, which includes an English Quaker family named Bailey. A daughter of that family, Mary Bailey, born in Philadelphia in 1807, was the only ancestor I had any interest in when I was a little girl. She left a sampler behind, and I use to stare at that sampler, willing it to tell me was she was like. I don't know why I wanted to know.


Sitting in Bedford Square I reminded myself that Mary Bailey was born in Philadelphia, died in Virginia and never saw London. But the name persisted in my head. Maybe she was a namesake. Maybe it was her grandmother or great-grandmother who had wanted to go home again. All I knew, sitting there, was that some long-dead Mary Bailey or other had finally found a descendant to go home for her.


-The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street by Helen Hanff
One of the concepts I've written about off-line this year was hiraeth, a Welsh concept vaguely similar to homesickness. As I read the follow up book to 84 Charing Cross this morning, I felt the above passage demonstrated the concept of hiraeth well.

What draws us to certain places, why does the concept of yearning for our ancestral home rise up in some of us, while others are so blind to the concept they spend their entire lives without leaving the same county, or state?

Is it some sort of built in homing signal in our DNA, like a pigeon bred to always return, some us are designed to find our way back home?

Is it coincidence I grew up one block from Wales road, or that my grandmother gave me a Teddy bear named Cwtchy, a name I never realized was Welsh for 'hug' until last year by some serendipitous discovery? This, my most beloved childhood toy, I had now passed on to my children. The night I found out, I ran into their room grabbed Cwtchy and immediately laughed and cried at the idea I was 32 years old squeezing my childhood teddy bear which I had just now discovered was Welsh, my grandmother dead, and I could no longer tell her I went home just months before. Why she chose that name is, and will be a mystery for ever more but something inside me wonders if Grandma didn't have a bit of hiraeth inside of her too.

Monday, 15 August 2011

I want to be an illegal immigrant. | Fake British Passports

See, I need to find me some local news producer wanting to do one of those undercover news stories to fund my pet project. I want to become an illegal alien, and I believe for a few thousand dollars I probably could pull it off. Basically you need a fake passport, and you're practically good to go. The cost? About $1500.00 and you too can fly to Europe, find employment and get free health-care. Sounds good, right? Skeptics are saying it can't be that easy! But it is. See here or here. You can easily order them online as 'camouflage passports'.

What's more is after talking to many of my friendly Nigerian scammer aquaintances, the way to go is "Student Visa". It's the real deal, and you can even work part-time. All you need is a bank account that "shows" you have the funds set aside for college, and an acceptance letter. Okay then, but where are all the Nigerians (regardless of their intention to actually go to school or not) coming up with the money for tuition? I didn't know know Nigeria was such a rich country? With tuition in the neighborhood of £9000-10,000 to go to a University like Swansea or Cardiff, how in the world are they affording it? They must be faking it somehow. I of course am not going to risk my real identity and fake papers. I'd be devastated to be banned from Britain, and sure as crap can't afford $16,000 right now.

What amazes me about all this is that it can still be done in a post 9/11 world. While even if I got my hands on steady work through a fake visa, it's utterly mind boggling that it would pass immigration, but according to the above articles... they have, and do.

So until News 2 calls me up for an in depth story, I'm thinking of heavily going to my local community college this summer. $50 a credit hour, and they take anyone, including me.

The Choker. Why so serious?

Learned an interesting tid bit the other day that just fascinates me. The choker, a woman's necklace- typically a ribbon worn tightly around the neck, is a fashion trend that is derived from the "Reign of Terror" during the French revolution when people were beheaded on the guillotine. The choker represents the slice mark of the blade.

As the Reign of Terror was winding down, social gatherings called "bals des victimes" or "victim's balls" became popular. It is thought that perhaps the balls were a cathartic means for people to freely express their emotions over the horrors of the Revolution. Basically, to get in to these functions you had to have had a relative who was beheaded. I like those odds! As with most scenes, members had a particular dress code known as "costume a la victime." Both sexes would wear mourning clothes or the plain, shabby attire they were left with in the wake of the upheaval. Women would wear red ribbons around their necks, mimicking the bloody slash of the guillotine.

Le Royal Deluxe


Of course the quote below is the infamous line from Pulp Fiction where John Travolta's character explains how the American Quarter Pounder became Le Royal Cheese when it emmigrated to France.

Jules: Do you know what they call a Quarter Pounder with cheese in France?
Brett: No.
Jules: Tell him, Vincent.
Vincent: Royale with cheese.
Jules: Royale with cheese. Do you know why they call it a Royale with cheese?
Brett: Because of the metric system? 

Of course more recently I watched the movie "From Paris with Love" where Travolta: a shoot-em-up American agent, takes a break from terrorism for a Royal Deluxe. The movie was complete crap, but that one darn ironic line has made me about mad for a Royal Deluxe since I've watched it. Craving it like a mad woman... Luckily I went on a 3.5 mile bike ride today, followed by a 1 mile walk and I decided it was time to allow myself McDonald's for lunch. Of course in the backwoods of central North Carolina, the closest I'll come to the French version of the Royal Deluxe is the oddly coincidentally named Angus Deluxe. It's a suitable replacement to its French counterpart due to it's high-end mayonnaise, (also high calorie). Burgers are burgers, but the French know their mayonnaise, and this one (the American one) mixed with mustard is spot on. (Though the sandwich is 1/3 lb not a 1/4 for us U.S. fatties.) I mean, hold up- wait a minute... Is the American's symbol of fast food secretly disguising a French favorite, the burger every French person loves... as an American item without a disclaimer? [i]"Warning you're about to eat a burger that will infect you with Obama care and make you a socialist!"[/i] What? Hmmm... that's almost treason. I guess for now they're enough different to keep most Americans confused, while I, if I squint real hard looking at Chiquita- my toothless slobbering drive-thru concierge, can pretend I'm on Avenue des Champs Elysees noshing on a Royal Deluxe.







Monday, 8 August 2011

By the time you read this, I'll be gone. Love, Stella Artois.

To my love, Cooter.

My real name is Stella. Artois, yes, like the beer- not "Candy", which you have come to know me at the club. I of course wish we could have clarified this at the beginning of our relationship. My mother conceived me one night on a bar counter in Houston, next to NASA, in 1973, with a French engineer passing through town. We always referred to my non-existent father as "Pierre", but the truth is, mother never actually got his name during the one night stand. There's still an occasional twinkle in her eye when she recounts the story of that fateful night. Usually this occurs when she arrives to the part about his French accent, only to immediately frown upon realizing that he then disappeared, leaving her "knocked up", and was never heard from again. She always finishes the story with, "Stella, never trust the French, they're frogs!"

My mother arrived last Sunday for her usual visit, and as normal, through the course of conversation; she persisted to advise me exactly what she thought of me. I've found, through my many years of her rearing, that I cannot win at arguments such as these where my own character is assassinated through cynicism. This time was no different, as I silently crawled into the kitchen in my mobile home to shield myself from her sharp ammunition, just like I had almost every weekend since I was child. While I'll admit that many times in the past, I've felt hurt by her unusual style of parenting; I can attest that this particular occurrence left me even more painfully perplexed, awash in my own self-doubt. Am I really like that? I knew the answer was no. I thought the answer was no. Now the seeds of self-doubt were planted. I was a positive person! Wasn't I? A week earlier I had written a letter to my dear friend Charlotte expressing optimism, beauty, and the gifts of living in this world. Mother did not now this, and I did not care to bring up Charlotte again. She is after-all, not American, and while merely my childhood pen-pal; Charlotte represented everything wrong with me to my mother, because Charlotte was nothing like her. Mother also was always a bit fearful I'd drop everything and take Charlotte up on her offer of living in Antwerp, leaving her behind. "Imagine that! Stella Artois, living in Europe!"- I'd laugh to myself in private, pretending from atop of my bed to channel La  Mode as I wrapped a scarf around my neck, and then cringing when my deep southern twang could not properly pronounce "bonjour!'

My worst fear, is I'm not who I believe I am, that I'm not a good person. So when you, the love of my life, at least for the last week or so, crawled into my body; I asked you to tell me the truth. I expected an endorsement that indeed my life stood for something positive. As silly as that sounds, that's what I needed. I needed consolation, I needed confirmation that my whole world wasn't inside out, yet apparently the truth, according to you, is that, my life fails to reflect such attributes.

So I'm faced with the realization, that I'm this horrible monster, or merely surrounded by people insistent on my own failure, to retain me, to master me. Do you see what you two have done to me? I've created a conspiracy out of my own life. I'm going mad trying to reconcile what I believe to be my reality, with what people now tell me that they think me to be.

So I spent much of last night crying, while you slept beside me. Trying to figure it all out between the dogs howling and your snoring. I wrote out a list of things I did good, and those things which by my own actions resulted in a negative outcome. Then I realized I really didn't care. If I believed I was a good person, then that's all that mattered, right? What I need now is people around me who see me for the person I could be. Maybe I do sing bad, and you will always cringe when you look at my crooked teeth or wrinkled smile, but somewhere out there is someone who hears my song, and doesn't cover their ears. They don't hear finger nails on a chalk board, they hear an opera singer, a rock star, or a sweet lullaby. Somewhere out there, that same person, sees me from just a little be different angle than you do and finds me beautiful, wonderful, maybe even amazing. I'm positive of that.

So by the time you read this, I'll be gone. On some train, or plane, in some foreign country, in some place where Stella Artois is more than me, more than beer, one night stands, or just some story. Maybe one day, our paths will cross again? Maybe, I'll even see my mother again when this letter causes her to abandon her life of indebtedness in that Houston bar, and comes in search of me. There in some tiny in village that she's tracked me down to, she'll walk up to some local woman with a photo of me, a good kind woman in my mother's opinion, and ask her, "Have you seen my daughter?" And I'll reply, "It's me mother! Stella Artois! You've found the real me."

Goodbye, my love.

Stella Artois.

**The above is a work of fiction.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Why We Fight and Why We Remember December 7 1941



The USS California is seen on fire after an attack by t
he Japanese on Dec. 7, 1941, in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
 
This is the story of how my grandfather died. This is the story of war on earth. This is the story of the bravest man I knew: my grandfather.

Several years ago, almost a life-time away now it seems I stood there and watched my grandmother barely able to stand as she pressed her hand against the wall screaming and crying, reaching into the void for her husband. On the other side of that wall was my grandfather, a WWII veteran lost for all time in the void of space and time. His life-less empty shell of a body carried away for the last time in a casket by his grandchildren; loaded into a hearse and driven away to be cremated. But, grandpa was far from dead. There stood, in his absence: us, the children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren of a man who went to war, who risked his life, who gave up so much so that we could live. This however was little consolation for my Grandmother who was now so grief-stricken she cursed the wall and vowed to reach through it. If she could not pull my grandfather back through, then she would follow him into it. Death would not do them part. As Dylan Thomas might say, “death shall have no dominion.”

My grandparents weren't strangers to breaking down walls. When my grandfather enlisted with the Navy, he met the biggest obstacle of his life- my grandmother, a waitress in a naval pub/dance floor. To borrow from Top Gun, she “saw new hot shots every 8 weeks” and had no interest in the advances of the boyish grins just out of basic training. But grandpa wasn't just anyone and on one starry evening he showed up with a “borrowed” Willys Jeep before her shift. “you just can't expect me to get in?”, she asked him, the story goes. He retorted “If you don't you'll spend the rest of your life wondering.” Apparently Grandpa's psychological warfare worked, and they drove to a airstrip where he managed an impromptu dinner of bread and cheap beer watching military planes land and stargazing from the hood of a Willys MB. He pointed up at the stars and said “You and me, we're just specks of light in the darkness of space.” If my grandfather's charm had softened my grandmother's reluctance, she didn't let on and stopped his attempt at a kiss by saying she “didn't see the point kissing men she couldn't see herself marrying.” The next day he would be deployed as apart of tactical exercise and training in the South Pacific. They would write to one another the next few months and during December 1941, he arrived back at the bar only to surprise her from behind and request a dance. By now my grandmother had capitulated to her heart through his words and quite likely, they were heading to their happily ever after when war walked in the door: Pearl Harbor had been attacked, the Earth was at war and according to the story, Grandpa then turned to her and said “looks like that kiss might just have to wait” then walked out the threshold.

War; I think, is about love. If not love, then the antithesis of love. You must love something to fight for it or else hate something enough to die for it. War without sacrifice or risk of sacrifice defies the human experience. You must risk losing it all, to have something ripped from your hands and torn apart in front of you for it to be meaningful. The truth is the events that superseded that evening in the bar was rarely talked about by my grandfather. On one occasion my father recalls his attempt to take my grandfather to visit the USS Wilmington which sits permanently anchored off the shore of North Carolina when he came to visit in the 1990s. The answer was “no”. Grandpa had absolutely no intention of resurfacing memories he had purposely forgotten. Memories so grotesque it's difficult to imagine that they were my own families story of this world. Maybe more legend than fact, better articulated with each retelling. This I suppose is common among the families of war veterans, and deservingly so. It's how we want to remember our veterans, and as they say “when legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

In this Dec. 7, 1941 file photo, the battleship USS Arizona
belches smoke as it topples over into the sea during
a Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor
We know his best friend died in his arms while at war, and countless friends were killed, but the clarity- the vividness of detail was something only grandpa knew and he censored, and protected us from. We knew it had a profound effect on him though just by looking at photos prior to his World War II deployment compared with after the war. A grinning young man transformed into the stoic face of my grandfather as if his wrinkles were made of war. The war had shaped who he was, and who he became, perhaps on some core genetic level which would later be passed on to us. Some of the stories throughout the years yielded a bit of luminance upon the war he fought, but much of what was experienced; was never ever told. It was mostly factoids where he'd criticize the cop on television for how many rounds were in his gun, or Rambo for holding the grenade longer than five seconds. He was a master of tying knots, and was the master of handshakes. You don't hug Grandpa... oh no, there is protocol with grandpa! The darker side of war, the unspeakable bits were rarely shared other than with grandma. Only after his death would she share some of former unspeakable moments in his life. My grandfather's best friend mortally wounded and in anguishing pain grabbing my grandfather's hand- begging that he ends his misery, and asking him to tell his family he died bravely. Holding death, witnessing the extinguishing of existence and my grandfather somehow then managing to stand up again and replace his friend's position manning artillery. His destiny was to survive while others perished, the war became personal, and justified as he witnessed death around him. He was no longer a soldier fighting a war for his country- but a man, a single human with a vendetta against the evil he had witnessed. For any force capable of such vile must be pure evil I imagine he must have thought. When orders came down of a joint allied attack to take back France he quickly found a way to be apart of it. The night before operation he felt that he wasn't going to be coming back, and wrote a final letter to my grandmother. Knowing he was likely writing his concluding words he chose to say “I now know why we fight, or more importantly why I fight. I fight so that someday you can give that kiss to the man you're going to marry. I hope someday you find him, because that's something worth dying for. Remember me as that speck of light in the night.” The next day was D-Day.

Under those same stars on June 6, 1944, the landing of Normandy commenced. It served as “the single largest amphibious landing in the history of war.” My grandfather later remarked an often used phrase to describe that day: it was “the day the world stood united together against a common evil.”. This was the end of times, this was Armageddon and my grandfather was kneeling down in a landing craft vehicle under the full moon armed with the intentions and the ability to protect the world as he knew it.

The English channel was filled with an armada as the dawn broke over the bow of the rough waters. Sea-sick soldiers climbed netting down into swamped landing vehicles that required the use of their helmets to bail out the water. According to the recollections of my grandfather via my family, a silent sand filled beach gave way to mayhem just shortly after the first landing craft vehicle's barge gates lowered and the soldiers waded in. The ocean midst transformed to the smoke of land mines. The crack of the the waves were over-powered by the sounds of guns. “And then?”, I ask. But according to everyone in my family Grandpa recounts nothing of the events that would follow on the French shore. In the 30 years up to his death he maintained that the run up to the barbed wire was “a dance with shrapnel where he imagined he was back at the bar dancing with Grandma.”vi The events of this historic day had been rewritten in my grandfather's mind into dancing with a lovely woman three-thousand miles away. My grandfather's account of the war seems almost poetic, almost sort of beautiful in contrast to the accounts of entrails and dismembered bodies upon the beach you watch on tv. He wasn't fighting against the Germans that day, he was fighting for love. Fighting for grandma. What is war with no purpose, no one to fight for? What is love if there is no sacrifice?

As they say, the rest is history. My grandfather would end up surviving that day and eventually return back home to find grandma waiting. They would run up to one another, embrace, and alas kiss. He would propose, and marry then have three children, 6 grandchildren and 6 great grand-children living out the American dream. A dream uniquely his, born on the sands of Normandy.

The final battle for my grandparents occurred just a few short years ago after my grandfather passed away. This time, he could not save himself and died from heart complications. I like to believe his heart loved so much it wore out. My grandmother became depressed and eventually quit taking her medicine, and shortly thereafter we lost her. Her final words were “I'm coming to find you Don.” She left this world under the belief she would find a way to save him, just as he saved all of us. Indeed none of us could find fault with her logic despite the obvious.

WWII was a war about walls. Walls around people who believe they're better, against those who are different, fought by allied countries who also artificially created walls and borders. In fact the only true wall is that which separates humans which we cannot control is death. In the end all of us, German, Jewish, American or Japanese end up on the other side of that wall. Our bodies incinerated, our ashes spread, we become apart of the Earth, the soil which we rage war on. From space, this Earth is but a speck of light- a star. We are that speck of light. I often look up at the nights sky and find two twinkling stars and think of my grandparents, and their sacrifices which have gotten me where I am today.

Because of their existence, their journey, I exist. Last year I chose to travel to France and stood out under those same stars to gain some perspective on my grandparents deaths. Here I stood where men such as my grandfather brought down the walls of fascism, of genocide, of man-made borders. His contribution evident as I journeyed from Belgium to France through the Schengen zone, made possible by a post WWII agreement (The Schengen agreement, a broader expansion of a 1948 accord to eliminate borders) that sought to tear down “walls” which returned Europe to a pre-WWI state where you could travel from from Paris to Saint Petersberg without a passport. Here I was traveling freely through the walls that had been torn down by the successes of my grandfather. As my Eurostar train crossed the English Channel in complete darkness I had several minutes to take in the gravity of the situation. Just a few feet above the Chunnel were the waters my grandfather crossed to risk his life and now his DNA in me, a part of him was back. As we pulled into London, and traveled by Underground which platforms and stations doubled as bomb-shelters during the Blitz, we made our way by rail to Wales, home of Dylan Thomas who writes about that final wall, death:

And death shall have no dominion.
Dead mean naked they shall be one
With the man in the wind and the west moon;
When their bones are picked clean and the clean bones gone,
They shall have stars at elbow and foot;
Though they go mad they shall be sane,
Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again;
Though lovers be lost love shall not;
And death shall have no dominion.

The above is a partial work of fiction based on real events.

Obesity: A New World of Possibilities

“...they eat with the greatest possible rapidity, and in total silence...”
-Fanny Trollope

“They wolfed down their food, cramming corn bread into their sloppy maws during meals that were devoured in silence, punctuated only by slurps, grunts, scraping knives, and hacking coughs. “
-Simon Schamaii

On Christmas day 1827, Fanny Trollope arrived in “The New World” from Europe, and wrote a detailed account of her travels and observations of the newly formed country and its people a mere fifty one years after its independence from England. One could argue, what Trollope witnessed was the early moments of a country doomed to an epidemic of obesity. Two words tend to stick out from her chronicles of her encounter with American cuisine and foods: “abundant” and “inferior”.

“...for excellence, abundance, and cheapness, can hardly, I should think, be surpassed in any part of the world, if I except the luxury of fruits, which are very inferior to any I have seen in Europe. There are no butchers, fishmongers, or indeed any shops for eatables, except bakeries...”iii

Is this the moment America sealed its fate, when it veered off from its European roots in some post-war adolescent spite of independence combined with an almost careless attitude towards unrestricted consumption? Ignorance of the consequences would only last for a couple centuries for this naive country and in less than ten generations, the obesity epidemic in America would be the cause of more deaths than its wars (112,000 die per yeariv), slow the country's productivity and lead to a historic precedent with The United States becoming the most densely populous of obese and overweight people in the history of the world.v Good going forefathers!

What's worse is The U.S. ignored Trollope then, and today despite our enlightenment in science and health, we appear to be continuing to neglect advice in exchange for instant gratification. I am reminded of the dystopian future of the Disney movie “WALL-E” where humans become too overweight to walk requiring levitating recliners rather than their legs for movement.

Shelby Forthright:
"I'm sure a few laps around the ship's jogging
track will get you back in shape in no time!"
Captain McCrea:
"We have a jogging track?" vi


Consumerism in America would like you to indulge the fantasy of a future where your self image is a photo-shopped model and the processed foods we eat are healthy, but in reality, we can barely recognize ourselves let alone the food we eat. Today, we generally think of our foods arriving to us partially already prepared. The companies preparing these foods do so for profit, not for health. We are, after all, a capitalist nation. Worse yet, some of us rarely even use our kitchens other than storage for snack foods or drinks. We don't even expel energy to cook our meals. We turn to fast food; and that is turning 66%vii of Americans overweight and on the path to chronic obesity.

Prior to discovering Trollope's work, I had formed a working hypothesis I labeled the “box theory”, based on my personal experiences and the differences between The U.S. and Europe. I argued that much of America's obesity epidemic, was the result to The U.S.'s lack of social skills: education, communication, and personal interaction. Trollope's quote that begins this paper suggests this isn't a recent phenomenon. Americans typically live in isolated boxes of tract homes where we eat our preprocessed boxed food from a “big-box” retail grocer. We observe the outside world (rather than participate in it) through a box called the television. When we're forced to leave, we get in a “box” with four wheels (typically not public or communal transportation), isolated once again. We go to work in our cubicles, then go to lunch-break and order our food through a drive through with a square window. The metaphor could go on and on, but tomorrow like the movie “Groundhog Day” many of us will get up and do it all over again. We avoid social contact, we avoid conversation, and we've built an infrastructure on this deviant behavior. One that lends itself to obesity. People driving around parking lots for hours on end; too lazy to park and walk. Single occupants driving cars, sparse public transportation, and absolutely no walkability in our cities. Disagree? Consider this statistic on American walkability:

People in the five most obese states make about 5.2 percent of all trips by bike or on foot, according to data published recently in a 2010 benchmarking report. In contrast, people in the five least obese states made twice as many trips -- 10.2 percent of them -- by bike or on foot.viii

We hide nutritional information on the back of foods. We have politicians like Sarah Palin who argue Americans have a “God given right” to be fat.ix If we never think to look outside the box then how can we ever see ourselves as others see us?

While both the Europeans and Americans are suffering from an obesity epidemic; metropolitan areas of Europe tend to have healthier foods, and less overweight citizens. I've voyaged to many western European nations, and found the lifestyle to be one of the major reasons for our differences in obesity. A infrastructure based on walking, with less cars, requiring social interaction on public transit and a national collective willingness to tackle issues like transportation, and health-care that bridge into their nutrition and wellness. In contrast, recently here in America, a Colorado infant named Alex was denied health-care coverage for a pre-existing condition at the age of four months old. His condition, was obesity:
“They joked that when he is ready for solid food, they will start him on Slim-Fast. “x
From nutritional labels on the front of food, to the U.K. ban on trans-fats, comparable fast-foods like Big Macs or Domino's pizza are several grams less fat than the American equivalent. (As of this writing it's 5 grams less.xi) Visit K.F.C. in Belgium and be offered the choice of tomates cerise (cherry tomatoes) as an option on their version of the “dollar menu” (1€ menu). Europe has chosen “fight over flight”, and they start it at an early age. In the U.K. after their public schools switched to nutritionally balanced foods, the students preferred the healthier meals. xii In nearby Scotland, sweets and sugared drinks are banned in all schools.

The social aspect in Europe continues to influence eating habits. Take for instances the soiree though not exclusive to French culture (found common in Italian and Spanish cultures too) it is a four to five hour gathering with friends over dinner. It has less to do with food, and more to do with conversation and social interaction. Served smaller portions in comparison to American standards, the meal could be more described as a elongated snacking session among friends over drinks. Even in name, the British pub, short for public house embodies community before consumption, while the American “bar”, was named for the counter barring theft of alcohol. While Americans dress in their Billy May's infomercial procured Snuggies™, and settle in for prime-time TV of a jaundiced doughnut loving Homer Simpson, our European counterparts are traversing their cities on foot to meet friends, and engage in life outside the “box”. Here we've chosen to ignore and shy away, even to hide in our cars, homes, and cubicles while ridiculing anyone who might suggest that: we, though a great country, should consider the American way negotiable when non-Americans succeed and we fail.

It's not like it's not obvious too. We can't even fit in our seats on airplanes or theaters. Kevin Smith, known more commonly as Silent Bob from the movie “Clerks” was removed from a Southwest flight last year due to safety regulations in regards to his weight:

'Dear @SouthwestAir, I flew out in one seat, but right after issuing me a standby ticket, Oakland Southwest attendant Suzanne (wouldn’t give last name) told me Captain Leysath deemed me a “safety risk”. Again: I’m way fat… But I’m not THERE just yet. But if I am, why wait til my bag is up, and I’m stated WITH ARM RESTS DOWN. In front of a packed plane with a bunch of folks who’d already I.d.ed me as “Silent Bob.”'
-Kevin Smith via Twitter

Then there's the recent Federal Transportation Authority recommendation to manufacturers of buses who provide public transportation to upgrade the tires, and chassis to support the new more obese Americans.

The Federal Transit Administration, based in Washington, proposed raising the assumed average weight per passenger...
...suggested it increase the average passenger weight “to an amount that more accurately reflects the changes to the average weight of Americans over the last several decades.”
Bus manufacturers, may choose to upgrade chassis, tires, wheels, brakes or suspensions to carry more weight, the transit agency said in the proposed rule. xiii

Oddly, at the same time the British are proposing smaller seats on their trains.xiv And, it gets worse: obesity is partially to blame for global warming:

We tend to think of obesity only as a public-health problem, but many of its causes overlap with those of global warming.xv

What can be done though? We're too scared to change. Too embarrassed to admit we might have got it all wrong. Just this last week a man died fused to his living room chair:

A 43-year-old morbidly obese man in Ohio died after police found him literally fused to a chair. He reportedly had not moved from the chair in two years, causing his skin became stuck to the chair's fabric over time.
The man had two roommates, one of which was his girlfriend, who fed him because he was unable to move from the chair.xvi

Change begins with our willingness to accept correction. If not as a unified country then by each individual itself. We must first admit we're wrong, and that we're apart of it. I myself am obese. The result of my own ignorance and actions, it was only when confronted with how people in other countries live their lives was I able to properly judge the value of my own decisions. With my choice to step outside the box and experience the world, the world has changed me. I've seen the reasons that enable Americans into obesity, and our attitude of entitlement preventing our change. The way we choose to see ourselves often limits who we can be.

Whether the government has made the people what they are, or whether the people have made the government what it is, to suit themselves, I know not;
-Fanny Trollope

Unlike Trollope's doubt of America's ability to change, I believe the answer lies within our individual capacity to influence one another. Whether country to country or person to person. The choices we make define who we are, they shape our past and our future, more importantly they shape us more than obesity ever could.

“Every choice that I make, changes the course I take.” -Lily Frost

Napoleon Bonaparte, a love story.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...” is the epic phrase made famous by author Charles Dickens who used it to describe the time period of The French Revolution. In 1793 when the fictional character Sydney Carton of A Tale of Two Cities sacrifices himself on the guillotine for the love of his life, Napoleon Bonaparte age 24, had just begun to fulfill his legacy as a revolutionary. By 1795, in a maddening state of love, Napoleon had begun to rip apart the world and rebuild it in the name of Joséphine de Beauharnais; as no sacrifice was so great to prove his love. Indeed his internal revolution did bring out the best in him, and the worst. For Napoleon the lover and Napoleon the revolutionary were the same man unlike Sydney Carton and Charles Danay; and it is this distinction that would change the structure of France into a manifestation of Napoleon's heart.

'I am worried and unhappy. I feel numb. Come to me without delay. Only the sight of you will cure me. ' 
-Clisson and Eugénie by Napoleon Bonaparte

In fact Napoleon began his rise to a revolutionary in an eerie similarity to the book by fleeing mainland France in 1793, then spending ten days in 1794 under house arrest. It's during this time Napoleon would write Le Souper de Beaucaire. It was also during this time we begin to see a new Napoleon rise from the ashes of war, and conflict. Injured in a successful attempt to purge the city of British troops from Toulan, Napoleon had discovered a secret to winning war. Rather than play a game of a series of chance coincidences, outmaneuvering the opposing troops- he would simply destroy them. A deathly game of chess had been turned into a concept whereby the infliction of mass casualty and damage to infrastructure proved success.

Heroes are not born heroes, they are made heroes by reluctance, and such I believe is the case with (young) Napoleon. Exemplified in the war with Vendee, Napoleon was brilliant enough to avoid unfavorable postings or situations which might have killed less clever men. He spent his time writing romance and seemed almost distracted of the revolution by beautiful women such as Desiree Clary. His reluctance and often insubordination became unavoidable fate as he soon realized he had been fired as a general. On the verge of no job, and no money, the question became love or war?

“You to whom nature has given spirit, sweetness, and beauty, you who alone can move and rule my heart, you who know all too well the absolute empire you exercise over it!”
-Napoleon Bonaparte

Napoleon Bonaparte's hand may have been forced by war but it would be love that would revolutionize the future leader of France. A woman named Joséphine de Beauharnais during this time would cause him to break off an engagement with Desiree and subsequently lead him to prove his manhood in a series of battles from Italy to Egypt. Each time Bonaparte used improvised military tactics that were innovative and deceptive. He was an intellectual strategist, one capable of breaking complicated military puzzles thus leading to victory. It was however his heart, and his love for Josephine that proved to be the war he could not win. Though head over heels in love with her, and for all his successes and triumphs, Josephine would lovelessly commit an adulterous affair with Hypolyte Charles in 1796. This was Napoleon's kairotic moment. The moment when it all changed. In a maddening rage, Napoleon so infuriated, and so broken hearted; that he alas, shed of himself of his own humanity and became a machine of destruction. A hero turned villain. Napoleon the revolutionary was now fully realized.

“Power is my mistress."
- Napoleon Bonaparte

In the days and years to follow Napoleon conquered far away lands like Malta and Jaffa. Napoleon was said to have “robbed and murdered” its citizens for “three days”4. The vacant face of Napoleon stood in witness of thousands whom were slaughtered to death without the least bit of empathy. A no longer reluctant Napoleon would soon seize a chance while in Egypt to sail back to France and overthrow the government when it attempted to threaten Napoleon with dissertation. A writer turned warlord he drafted a constitution empowering him as the leader of France ending lawlessness and disorder. Napoleon was now France, and the world would be Napoleon's. If it would not love him, he would tear it down and rebuild it in his eyes. A man, now a corrupt God; could only succeed as long as military France was willing. With Europe praying for peace after years of bloodshed; his own military would commit mutiny on April 4, 1814. Faced with his own hubris, Napoleon stepped down as a “personal sacrifice... ...in the interest of France”5

But it was far from over. Napoleon would escape exile and return to confront the army that was sent to intercept him. It has been recorded that he walked up to them. I imagine his arms out like a sacrificial lamb, head bowed and then at the last moment like a crazed mad man he lifts his gaze upon the troops and challenges to them saying "Here I am. Kill your Emperor, if you wish."

For 100 days Napoleon returned to power as the rest of Europe joined together in plans to remove Napoleon once and for all. At the battle of Waterloo in modern day Belgium, a now broken and damaged Napoleon was narrowly defeated by coalition forces comprising of the many of the European countries Napoleon had waged war on. It was his war on these countries that led them to join together and defeat Napoleon. Napoleon was exiled for good, and King Louis XVIII was placed in power.

Many would attempt to forget Napoleon's crimes against humanity and paint him as a romantic hero. While there was the romantic hero Napoleon, there also was the the ruthless and bloody villain Napoleon too. We could argue that there were glimpses of the old Napoleon as he emancipated the Jews, created bodies of law and government under Napoleonic code that parallels our governments today; but, unfortunately in the end it would be Napoleon who would have to be sacrificed himself to save France and the world. The end of Napoleon's rule, much as the death of Dickens's Carton at the guillotine would prove to be the ultimate revolutionizing action of their lives.

“It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known. “


—Final sentence of A Tale of Two Cities

Though he envisioned a unified Europe, it would be only by the “death” of his reign that we would see the end of the French Revolution, and a more unified Europe. If not for the suffering of his own heart by Joséphine de Beauharnais- France and Europe may not have been transformed by the suffering imposed by Napoleon. A revolution inspired by pain. Pain inflicted by a revolutionary that in the end healed the heart of Europe.

Napoleon's last words were:

“france, armée, tête d'armée, Joséphine.”

No translation is needed. His final mortal word, screaming into the vast, empty, darkness of death was her name: Joséphine.

NOSH! - The International Cookbook