It’s a question of…. bad sex scenes

The “Bad sex in fiction” award 2009 has just been announced. The winner this year is American-turned-French writer Jonathan Littell for his book The Kindly ones (originally published in French as Les Bienveillantes). Now this is not just any writer or any book. It’s the one that won the Prix Goncourt and the Grand Prix de l’Académie française in 2006. Supposedly a good piece of literature (I haven’t read it), but the sex scenes in it are really bad (I have read some of those – well I had to, didn’t I?).

I’m not pouring water on a drowning man. Littell has sold thousands of books and will probably sell even more after this. And writing good sex scenes is very difficult, even for the best of authors. Be honest, how many times have you sat in the middle of page-turner to find yourself suddenly cringing over some over-explicit and often totally unrealistic sex scene?

Danielle Steele provided me with my first literary sex. It was OK – except men were always “exploding” in the heroines. I remember being extremely disappointed when I started having sex because I never felt the “explosion” (all I felt was the body on top suddenly going heavy and crushing me). But I suppose what’s bad (or impracticable or downright laughable) literary sex for some, is good for others.

I can safely say that my “awakening” came with The Godfather and the scene at the wedding where Sonny’s having stand-up sex with his mistress and she walks away from there with the aftermaths still between her thighs. I haven’t re-read it for many, many years, but it really had a great  effect on me in my early teens. (In the film it doesn’t come  across nearly as arousing). I “stole” the book time and time  again from my parent’s shelves as some forbidden fruit.

Why exactly? I have no idea. Maybe if I had already had  sex at the time and had known how difficult perfect stand-  up sex really is, it wouldn’t have captivated me so much…

It’s hard to say what makes a sex scene good in writing. Recently, I came across an author who pens down sex massively and explicitly but gets away with it fine: Adele Parks. But there are many more. For some strange reason (and despite The Godfather), most are women. I’m not making this up; it’s a fact. Women writers are better at it, maybe because they are more truthful. You need proof? Amongst the short-listed authors for the “Bad sex in fiction” award there was only one woman for nine men…

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It’s a question of… Nutella

It should be forbidden by law to have Nutella in the house. As it isn’t, I installed a personal rule many years ago banning me from buying it – except in case of an emergency. I’m trying to find what critical situation might excuse me having Nutella all over my face this very moment, but have difficulties concentrating:  I’m eating it directly out of the jar with a spoon. And, despite me putting the jar back in the kitchen after every spoonful, I know I’ll continue going back and forth till there’s nothing left.

Maybe I’ve seen too many Nutella commercials lately. You know, the ones with children and how it’s really good for them to eat two slices of white bread with Nutella every morning (as long as they drink a glass of juice at the same time). If it’s good for them, it’s good for me, right? Of course, the enlightened person I am knows about the 1173 calories hidden in the jar I’m about to finish, but I keep reminding myself that Nutella’s mostly a hazelnut spread and that nuts are good for you…

Many French people believe that Nutella is French. When I was younger, I thought it was Austrian because it was always shown beside what I believed to be mountain flowers (I had a long “Sound of music” phase). I’ve just found out that it is in fact Italian (a Mr Pietro Ferrero made the first version in 1946).

I’ve also learnt that it’s sold in over 75 countries across the globe but doesn’t taste the same according to where you buy it. The Italian version has less sugar than the French one, which is softer than the German version, and so on. But apparently, the addictive side of Nutella is common for all.

On the official homepage, it says that Nutella outsells all brands of peanut butter combined worldwide. This I find strange (my own peanut butter consumption taken into account), but believable: the three Nutella fan pages on Facebook have over 5 million members; the biggest peanut butter fan page I could find hardly has 5000.

My jar of Nutella is now empty (and my keyboard sticky). I wonder how many of these I’ve finished off since I was a teenager? Quite a lot – after all, it has always been the first antidote for heartbreaks and despair. I don’t even have that excuse today. But then again, do I really need an excuse to eat Nutella?

 

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It’s a question of… making Christmas simple

In the stack of magazines collecting dust next to my bed there are many old Christmas issues. Every year at this time I go through them, reading for the hundredth time about how to make the perfect Christmas dinner, diet in time to fit into my party dress, decorate my tree and make my own Christmas cards. None of which I ever really have the intention of doing, but I’m under the impression that reading about it somehow awakens my “season spirit”.

The main mission of these magazines seems to be “to  keep Christmas simple”. My 2005 issue of Prima has no  less than “430 ways to make Christmas simple” written  on the front page. The year after, 33 more ways  apparently showed up. Oh yes, the 2006 issue of  Prima offers “463 ways to make Christmas simple” on  the remarkably similar cover.

To think that there are more than 400 things to do in  order to make Christmas simple seems awfully complicated. As for the omnipresent advice about how important it is to plan ahead, well, if I had done that, I would probably be thinking about Easter right now instead of reading about the “1001 tricks, tips & clever ideas” for Christmas…

It’s not that I don’t want to plan ahead. Every year, a few days before Christmas when I’m all stressed out about the things I still haven’t done (like presents…), I promise myself that next year I’ll do better (I could hardly do worse). It never happens, because as my son said today (about something entirely different): “We’re always eaten by time”.

And in the end, it doesn’t matter. Christmas has never been a failure because I didn’t make my own pudding or because I wrapped my presents in newspaper, 10 minutes before putting them under the tree. As for the dinner, well I have to admit, we spend Christmas with my parents so no worries there; my mother’s the best cook in the world.

The best way to make your Christmas simpler is probably to stop comparing it to the ones pictured in the December magazines. Although even they seem to show a sense of humour nowadays. Guess what Prima’s front page advice for 2009 is? “Relax, it’s Christmas”. Now that’s funny.

 

 

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It’s a question of… high heels

One of the (many) things my mother never succeeded in teaching me was how to walk in high heels. Or let’s just say heels, because they don’t have to be many inches or centimetres high for me to look like a drunken duck when I wear them. (I once strained my ankle badly falling in flat mules).

Mums don’t give up easily (which, generally speaking, is probably a good thing). So every now and then she still buys me a pair of high-heeled shoes I wish I could wear. I have quiet a collection ready for me to “slip on” for whenever I’m invited to a place where I never have to stand up.

I know high heels make you taller and thinner and give you a killer posture. All of which wouldn’t do me any harm. But how people actually walk in them remains a mystery to me. I for one would never criticise Victoria Beckham for anything because I’m in total awe of her extreme high heel walking talent (though I have read she’s going to need a bunion operation soon…).

A few months ago, a special Heels Academy (“Talons Academy”) opened in Paris to teach women how to walk in heels. Strangely enough there’s a course for “day heels” and another for “night heels”. Not sure what the difference is (the height assumingly?), but it’s not making things easier if you also have to adopt your walk to the time of the day! There have also been several “races in heels” going on round the world and I’ve seen videos from Sweden and Holland of “workout in heels” classes.

According to podiatrists and insurance companies though, wearing high heels is a health hazard. Thousands and thousands of women are injured every year when they fall in their stilettos and many more suffer bone deformities and long-term knee injuries. Last year, Scotland’s biggest railway stations even put up posters asking female customers not to wear high-heeled shoes because so many had slipped and tripped and hurt themselves causing havoc for other train passengers.

All this to say that despite the high heel epidemic amongst the “celebrities”, despite all those beautiful and sexy stilettos I pass every day in the shop windows, and even despite my mother’s continuing efforts to try and get me on the wagon, I won’t be wearing heels any time soon. Except maybe lying down, but that is an entirely different question.

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It’s a question of… having a gaydar

My lack of gaydar has cost me a lot of time and relationship failures in past years. It’s even become a laughing matter amongst my friends. Every time they hear I’m into someone they automatically ask if he’s gay. Sadly for me, he often turns out to be.

You’d think that missing a gaydar is only problematic when you’re gay, but no, it can be just as bad when you’re straight.

My long string of “intuition deficiency” induced stories started when I was 17. I spent a whole year with an extreme crush on a friend everyone seemed to know was gay except me. I finally got the message one day when we met for lunch. As I approached him (with a big smile) he hissed: “Go for a walk and don’t come back before at least 10 minutes. I think the guy sitting on that bench is going to hit on me”. That was how he told me. The only small consolation I had that day was when the guy on the bench’s girlfriend turned up.

I have since fallen in love with gay or bisexual men time and time again. I met my first bisexual boyfriend on holiday in the south of France. He worked in a hotel kitchen doing pastry but after hours he did stripteases in a nightclub where, well yes, I suppose there were a lot of male customers. Maybe that should have given me a hint. Or the fact that he always wanted to borrow my clothes.

Actually someone told me he was “à voile et à vapeur” (literally “in sail and steam” – French expression for bisexual), but my French wasn’t that advanced and l just thought that he liked to sail (duh!). Then one night we had dinner with two of his friends. He introduced the girl as “my ex-girlfriend” and the guy as “my ex-boyfriend”. And I finally got the message. It didn’t bother me. But the fact that the two ex’s were dating somehow did.

My second bisexual boyfriend cheated on me with a skater (clichés happen…). But to this day, he’s the best kisser I’ve ever met – and he taught me a lot. In my opinion though, bisexual men are not a good option. I have a tendency to be jealous. Having to be “double-jealous” is really too hard.

After my last (very recent) gaydar failure I did what I usually do and once again turned to my best friend (who’s gay) for advice. I mean, why can’t I learn to see if a guy is gay BEFORE falling in total obsession? What can I go by? After all, not all gay men like musicals, Cher and design objects – and a lot of straight men do.

My friend can’t really help me. Neither can any of my other gay friends. They all say they don’t have gaydars either. Or, well, they do, but theirs have a defect too: they assume that practically everyone is gay. And that kind of wishful thinking can lead to a lot of dispappointment too!

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It’s a question of… getting lost in translation

English is not my first language; neither is French for that matter. Even after 25 years in France, I sometimes say funny things – that aren’t supposed to be. Normally this happens when different languages get entwined. When I use a word from one language and transpose it directly to another, or when I translate an expression word by word. Even something simple like “no hard feelings” or “you should take that with a pinch of salt” doesn’t really make sense when said in French. (Not to mention “I was bored stiff” or “I’m going to wet my whistle first”).

I’ve also sometimes had difficulties when the same word has different meanings in the same language. When I first came to a French-speaking country (and hardly understood a word), I was sent to the school doctor for a check-up. She asked me something about “règle” and I gave her my ruler. Had I been using my head I’d probably thought it strange that a doctor would want my ruler. But how was I to know that “règles” also means “period” (yet another word with different meanings!)?

All this to say that I have a big tolerance and a lot of affection for confusion and comical situations that happen when different languages merge or meanings get lost in translation (for example when you use a translator found online). It makes me laugh when I hear stories like the one about Scandinavian vacuum manufacturer Electrolux using a slogan in an American advertising campaign saying “Nothing sucks like an Electrolux”, or about Parker marketing a ballpoint pen in Mexico with an ad saying “It won’t leak in your pocket and make you pregnant” (instead of “and make you embarrassed”).

A few days ago, I found a website where people send in photos of translation mishaps. A lot of them made me laugh out loud. If you need to smile a little (and who doesn’t?) – the link is here.

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It’s a question of… school reunions

Every now and then, I listen to the “Wear Sunscreen” CD my mother gave me a decade ago. It helps me put things in perspective. One of the phrases that always sticks with me is: “the older you get, the more you need the people who knew you when you were young”.

This makes perfect sense. I get a real kick out of talking with people who knew me “back then” when I was bolder and more adventurous, when I wore black nail varnish and dog collars and spent much energy on falling in love and writing poems about it.

And I’ve been very lucky in that sense. A lot of my close friends today are the same I went to school with. We’ve accomplished to stay in each other’s lives despite the fact that we’ve followed different paths, often in different countries. I’m deeply grateful for that.

But through the years, I had also lost contact with quiet a few others who had contributed in making me the person I am today. Enter Facebook. Thanks to which I’ll soon be going to my forth school reunion (I changed schools a couple of times). By now though, I am well prepared and know what to expect. I won’t even be contemplating going on a diet, buying new wrinkle cream or sweating over “what will they think of me?”. Because I know now that it won’t change a thing (and it’s too late anyway).

My very first school reunion made possible thanks to Facebook was with my old primary class. Most of us had not seen (or heard of) each other in over 25 years.

Actually getting an answer to the “I wonder what’s become of…” and seeing everyone again was an intense and strange experience. Of course people change physically over time and course, not all turn out the way you thought they would. But all in all, “the way we were”, in the group, with each other, doesn’t change that much. Old patterns and old roles stay and that’s unsettling. As is discovering how your former classmates remember you (rarely the way you’d want to be remembered!)

Memories are without a doubt the most surprising thing with these reunions. Friends you spent hours and hours with, in school and outside, remember things you don’t recall – and the other way round. It’s like you sometimes each lived in parallel worlds.

And then of course, there’s seeing the boys you were once so smitten with that you wanted to die, and actually being able to tell them. Except that they are now men, often married and don’t always look like your idea of super hunk anymore (though I must admit I had much better taste then than today!).

And when the evening is over and you’re all high on emotion and visions of your youth, you make the promises of “staying in touch this time”. You might not always follow up the way you think you’re going to, but it doesn’t really matter. You know now where they are, and thus, where some of you is. And that’s nice.

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It’s a question of… not liking Mondays

When the Boomtown Rats had their ”I don’t like Mondays” hit, I was about 10. It took several years of listening to it on the radio however before I understood that the song was not about someone hating school, but about a real-life school shooting.

What at the time was still a rare event – a 16-year-old girl opening fire on a school playground across her home – has since become a recurring and horrifying news item. Though the shooter is not often a girl and does not often live to tell why she committed such a senseless act. The answer Brenda Ann Spencer gave when she was arrested was that she “didn’t like Mondays”. Would it have been better if there had been a rational reason for an absurd act? She’s still in prison and was denied parole for the forth time this year.

I know many people who don’t like Mondays. After all, Monday is generally the day you choose to start on something “life-changing”: diet, stop smoking, going to the gym… Good intentions, but not always something to look forward to. It’s a “back to work” or “start looking for a job again” day. It’s also a medical fact that there are more heart attacks on Mondays.

As for me, I pretty much like Mondays. It’s the day I start looking forward to the weekend again.

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It’s a question of… getting a Zhu Zhu hamster

I’m pretty sure that there have always been must-have-for-Christmas toys around. Right now, I can’t remember exactly what it was when I was a child. Most likely some TV-advertised device that looked fun on screen but turned out disappointing in real life. Like the Barbie-doll that didn’t really dance by itself or the game that only had a drawing of an explosion (unlike the real “bang” seen on television).

From what I can understand this season’s hottest toy is a robotic hamster from Zhu Zhu pets. I myself have always been a guinea-pig person, but I have no difficulties seeing the appeal of a Patches, Chunk, PipSqueak, Mr Squiggles or Num Nums. These hamsters are cute. They make sweet sounds, run around and play, but don’t need to be fed or have their cages cleaned (they don’t have one), and they don’t bite if you wake them up (probably because they don’t sleep). Also, you can (did you even doubt it?!) get a whole lot of cool accessories. Because every hamster needs a skateboard and garage…

The best thing about the Zhu Zhu hamster however is its price: under ten US dollars (or English pounds or euros – currency isn’t what it once was). So even though my son has not yet been hypnotized by a Zhu Zhu hamster on TV (apparently they’ll only go on sale in France in 2010), I’ve been surfing around the web to find one for him (and admittedly also for myself… Even fake hamsters need playmates).

Its turns out, not surprisingly, that all toy retailers in the US as in the UK are out of stock. And Amazon and eBay resellers have them at over six times the original price. So he/we won’t be getting a fake hamster for Christmas. And no, not a real one either. My mother won’t let us…

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It’s a question of… getting the flu shot

This time last year, I hurried out to buy the regular flu vaccination as soon as it was available. I found it in my refrigerator in June. When I threw it out I told myself “good luck that I never used it” – but that’s only because I was lucky enough to pass winter without getting ill.

Forgetfulness was not the reason I didn’t get the shot, nor was fear of needles. Fear of side effects from the vaccination was.

Now I’m not against vaccines at all. On the contrary, I think the parents who don’t get their children the “classic” shots are irresponsible. I did however spend several months constantly nauseous and generally “off” after a hepatitis B vaccination. Since then, I haven’t been as “shot-popping” as I once was. I do the strict minimum.

This year I didn’t even bother to buy the regular flu shot when it came out. But now I’m asking myself if I should get the H1N1 flu shot. And even more important: should my son get it? Is it wrong to do it – or not to do it?

In France (where I live) parts of the population considered “at risk” were offered to get the shot this week. Of the people I know, some have done it, others haven’t. None of those who asked their doctor “should I get the vaccination?” got a clear answer.

When French medical workers were offered the N1H1 flu shot the week before, only 10% got vaccinated. Is it any wonder why 76% of the French population say they’re not getting the shot either?

As for me, well I still haven’t made up my mind. People often criticise the police state side of society. But in this case, I’d really like someone to take over – and take the responsibility if the wrong choice is taken…

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