Bookworming

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: The Dud Avocado

Today’s book is an almost forgotten classic which remains cherished by some. I never heard of it before I found it randomly but I’m glad I did find it.

er-thedudavocadoThe Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy

Category: Books

Find it on: LibraryThing

What it is:
A not-so-well-known classic from 1950s. Sally Jay Gorce is spending her carefree time in Paris thanks to generosity of an uncle. She gets mixed up with the bohème, aristocratic elites, diplomats and some shady characters but will face everything with vivacity and wild hair colors.

How I found it:
It was on the list of Greta Gerwig’s favorite books. When I read that it was about Paris I read a few first pages of an online preview and fell in love.

Summary judgment:
It doesn’t entirely live up to the spectacular beginning but I still really liked it.

Best things about it:
Everything I loved best about the book is already there in the first scene: Sally’s joie de vivre, her perfect carelessness, spontaneity, all of them spilling through to the language itself. Her voice is very well-defined and seductive. Oh, and Paris.

Worst things about it:
I feel like in the second part of the book, as Sally leaves Paris, the book loses some of its focus. The discovery about Larry seems slightly too intense for the tone of the rest of the story.

Other pluses:
However, it also speaks to Sally’s resilience that she can take the darkest side of life with bravado (except for that short panic mode) and with the same carelessness that makes her endearing…

Other minuses:
✤ …Even if it makes her either unrealistic or callous.
✤ On an unrelated note, south of France is not shown with the same level of devotion as Paris and the characters related to the movie-making didn’t strike me as very interesting or convincing.
✤ I sort of liked the fairy tale romance at the end, if only because the photographer was so enticing, but it did come out of nowhere.
✤ Maybe the best part of this reading experience is that it gives you all the fun of a trashy novel with the veneer of a much better language and style.

How it enriched my life:
I enjoyed reading it on trains and it made me want to go to Paris again.

Fun fact:
It seems (from the foreword) that Elaine Dundy was quite a character herself.

Follow-up:
I’m not sure I’m planning to read any more of Dundy on the strength of the Avocado alone but if I come across something, I’ll give it a try. I might also re-read this one in the future.

Recommended for:
Americans in 1950s Paris or those who wish they could be them.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: Song of the Sea

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Rotten Tomatoes

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Dangerous Liaisons

It’s time for a classic adaptation of an even more classic book,

er-dangerousliaisonsDangerous Liaisons 

Category: Movies

Find it on: Amazon

What it is:
An adaptation of an 18th-century epistolary novel by Choderlos de Laclos. It tells a story of the corrupt aristocratic elite and their immoral sexual lives. It focuses on the corruptest of the corrupt: Madame Merteuil and viscount de Valmont, who run the game – until they don’t. The movie was made in 1988 and stars pretty much only stars, including Glenn Close, Michelle Pfeiffer, young Uma Thurman and very young Keanu Reeves – all of them outshined by John Malkovich as Valmont.

How I found it:
Well, it’s one of the classics. You don’t really have to look for those. The first time I saw it, probably in high school, it was on TV. This time I watched it after Cruel Intentions to compare the two movies.

Summary judgment:
It’s one of my favorite adaptations, managing not to ruin the book – which is great – at all.

Best things about it:
It captures the book perfectly, even managing to manoeuver around its epistolarity, which is never a good thing for a movie. The movie looks great, with the costumes and the interiors building the lavish, outlandish world of the 18th-century French aristocracy. The actors, unsurprisingly, deliver amazing performances, managing to be both dramatic and funny, when needed.
Malkovich deserves an entirely separate paragraph in this. When I watched the movie for the first time, he surprised me with his sex appeal, despite his looks. But this time I was more impressed with how sinister he is and how every sentence he says reminds the viewer that Valmont is acting all the time: all his lines are declamations.

Worst things about it:
That is hardly the movie’s fault but it’s very difficult to root for any of the protagonists. This is only an actual problem with Pfeiffer, whose character starts as an irritating prig and ends as an irritating doormat, while she should make us feel sorry for her.

Other pluses:
✤ Glenn Close. Malkovich gets perhaps a more showy part and manages to steal the show sometimes but they play off each other beautifully. The Marquise impersonates hypocrisy and deception but still remains a human being, even with a thin layer of feminism somewhere there. Her failure at the end (spoiler?) does not feel entirely triumphant for the viewer.
✤ Keanu Reeves. He comes as close as the movie has to a likeable character, even if he remains in the background.

Other minuses:
The ending leaves a bit to desire, with the somewhat heavy-handed montage and Valmont’s theatrical death (spoiler?).

How it enriched my life:
This is undoubtedly where great cinema meets viewers’ actual enjoyment and there are way too few such movies.

Fun fact:
Is it possible to watch this story or read the book and not wonder how many characters had syphilis? I’m betting all of them.

Follow-up:
I will probably re-watch it but now I feel I should return to my snaily read of the book in French, which I started a few years ago and then dropped because life.

Recommended for:
People who like period dramas and large décolletages. Fans of the original. Lovers of Rococo. Cynics with ideals still there at the bottom of their hearts.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: Cruel Intentions

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Personalness

Ten Days in Paris

I had to sit through some embarrassing things today, which builds character, I hope. This, or stomach ulcers, so I’d rather have character, please. But I won’t be talking about it because it’s a public blog and because it was generally icky and I have something way more awesome to talk about, namely our recent trip to Paris.

It wasn’t our first one: we went once before for a Patti Smith concert. But the concert happened in January: it was dark and muddy and we caught terrible colds and spent half of the stay in a hostel so I’d say it was only Almost Perfect. This time I can skip the Almost because Paris is amazing. It has beautiful buildings with high windows and iron-cast railings, painted classy white or cream (not scrambled-eggs-yellow and puke-peach pink like most houses here) and you can just get off the metro anywhere and are pretty likely to find a charming spot nearby. And I know it’s way cooler to like post-industrial ham can factories and tuberculosis hospitals covered in graffiti but I’m just not that cool and the postcard charm of Paris worked for me. So much.

We had an intense stay because we couldn’t decide what to skip (we did skip the sewage museum in the end though) and tried to see it all, in which we only partially succeeded. Because it would take long to talk about everything and because you don’t really care, I’ll give you my random list of favorite things about our Paris stay.

1. Notre-Dame. I love that place and when I say love that’s exactly what I mean (or almost exactly because you can’t really kiss a building and expect it to be very satisfying; true fact). As you might have already inferred I’m not all that original in my tastes but neither very apologetic about it and can tell you straight away that the Notre-Dame cathedral, and the little park behind it, where you can see all the intricate detail of the outer design, is my favorite place in Paris. It’s got that rare effect of stopping me in my tracks every single time I see it. We participated in the mass there, too, and it does make an impression to have the familiar ceremony in that interior. That, and having it read in French, of course.

2. All the museums and all the works of art. From the point above you’d be justified in expecting my favorite painting to be Mona Lisa, only you’d be wrong and not even close. If I had to pick a favorite it would be Vermeer’s Lacemaker, also not that surprising but still better than Mona Lisa. We saw Centre Pompidou, the Louvre, d’Orsay, Petit Palais, Orangerie, Musee d’Arts Decoratifs, and a few places with exotic art but I’m sure there was more and I’m forgetting something. It just felt like gorging on art, minus indigestion.

3. Of all the museums, the Louvre makes the strongest impression with its sheer scale and architecture. It’s as far from modern white boxes as can be and I find it extremely refreshing.

4. Politeness. There are many stereotypes about French people (as about any people) and while one often finds stereotypes disconcertingly true, the one about French rudeness couldn’t be more ridiculous. Everybody has an “Excusez-moi” and a “Merci” ready and says it with a smile, without the silent part we’re used to (which goes something like “Excuse me (can’t you damn see I want to go through and do you have to play with your phone in the way?)”). And even when people smirk at your French (as this trip has shattered a few of my precious illusions about the communicative value of my French) they will try to make sense of what you say or immediately offer English. It’s really hard to practice French in France.

5. Montmartre cemetery. It was one of our first trips and we almost gave up on it because like dummies we walked around the wall almost twice before figuring out the entry was on the other side of the road and on a different street level (don’t judge us). But the cemetery was impressive, full of half-broken neo-Gothic monuments (at least I assume they’re not actually Gothic) and wet, creepy cats (what is it with the cats I’ve no idea). It’s probably not everyone’s cup of tea and those who prefer their cemeteries brighter and with wider alleys should go to Pere-Lachaise and those even less morbid should stay away from cemeteries altogether. But we enjoyed it, if it’s the right word to use.

6. Bookstores! There’s nothing we love more than visiting foreign bookstores and we were not disappointed. We came back with so many new books that we were seriously worried about excess baggage on the airport (needlessly, though). We bought some bargain albums, many children books (none for children though, it’s all for us), two fantastic books of Paris watercolors and a collection of romantic comics for girls of the 50s. It did hurt our backs but it was worth it.

7. Paris streets. Last time the weather did not favor walking trips so we mostly kept to museums, metro and beds but this time we walked whenever we could, breathing in the city’s atmosphere. Metro is a wonderful invention that we’re having a hard time to do without again but it does separate you from all the views and the pleasure of crossing the street on red light (everybody does it and you don’t even get fined).

8. Inner gardens. Parisians apparently love greenery and walking around the nice areas, you get to see a ton of charming green spots. You don’t get to see the rest because they’re cut off with gates rather than just grilles but luckily we lived in an apartment with such an inner court with greenery (and, needless to say, cats).

9. Biking around Versailles. We did the whole Versailles trip, with visiting the king’s apartments and going through the gardens among the fountains. Towards the end we discovered you can rent a bike and it was only thanks to that that we also saw both Trianons because we wouldn’t have been able to walk anymore. After days of walking, though, biking turned out to be just what we needed.

10. Temporary exhibitions. As if the permanent collections weren’t great enough, we also happened upon two temporary exhibitions that were as if to my order. In Centre Pompidou they had Roy Lichtenstein (the book about comics for girls might have tipped you off), who always fascinated me and, in fact, did not disappoint. It was also gratifying to find out he meant his art to be as cerebral as I always took it to be. The other one was pre-Raphaelite’s (albeit the lesser known ones) and we had to run around Paris to find it, thanks to a misleading poster (or just our misinterpretation, probably). It was fascinating in a very different way because I simply can’t think of a better example of art as an escapist activity. The patience and care with which they painted all the ornaments on princesses’ dresses and flowers behind the mythical goddesses suggest they wanted to live it the worlds of their own making. I get how people can judge it kitsch but their technical mastery impresses and it’s possible to understand their escapist longings. And, who am I kidding, like almost every girl I’ve been in love with pre-Raphaelites since high school.

I could go on for a long time because, as disclaimed before, this list is pretty random, but ten is a good number to stop at. To sum up, the trip was everything we hoped it to be and we don’t have a complaint to make except that it makes it doubly difficult to get back to some of the things one has to wrestle with here (or more like rub against its slimy parts, sorry for the disgusting but appropriate metaphor).

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