Cabbage

Why did she have to raise cabbage? Anything but cabbage. Charles hated cabbage, and she knew he hated it.

Since they were married for the past twenty years, Helene had been obsessed with cabbage. Just try it this way, she said time and again. This way or that way was never going to work for him. He hated cabbage.

“Charles,” she said to him a number of times, “the rabbits are eating my cabbage.”

“Good,” Charles responded. “Now you don’t get to force it into me.”

“You know you would love my cabbage strudel if you would give it the old college try.” Just the thought of cabbage strudel about drove Charles insane.

He gave murder some thought over the years. No judge would convict Charles. “Your Honor,” he would say, “you will understand when you hear the circumstances of my crime. You will have no reason to convict me of the murder of my wife.”

After the judge heard his plea, he would immediately release Charles. “Justifiable homicide. No man could live with the persecution Charles has lived with for twenty years.”

This was Charles’ reasoning for some years, but no more. The country had gone cabbage crazy. It was becoming harder and harder to find a restaurant, a tavern or a friend who did not serve a cabbage dish with every meal.

Finally a solution came to Charles. A one way ticket to America. He had heard that America was a savage country where men and women ate only meat. America, everybody claimed, was a barbarous place.

The westward voyage was such a comfort. Not one meal on the menu offered cabbage. The ship passed the Statue of Liberty with its promised freedom from the tyranny of cabbage. As the ship moved into its berth at the port of New York, Charles smiled his broadest smile. He had turned his back on the religious persecution of his home country’s love of cabbage. Before him stood a cabbage-free life.

The ship docked. Charles gathered up his bags and headed into the city. His plan was to follow Horace Greeley’s advice of “Go West, Young Man.” Soon he would be on a train to California. First he must try a meal at one of New York’s finest restaurants.

Charles opened the menu and read. He just about vomitted. It seemed America’s finest restaurants too had embraced the contagion. Before him were offerings of cabbage and potatoes, cabbage rolls, boil-that-cabbage-down, cabbage stew and cabbage burgers. Cabbage mania had struck America when Charles wasn’t looking.

On and on the cabbage dishes ran until he came to the final offering. “Cabbage strudel topped with a dab of vanilla ice cream.” It was named, of all things, Cabbage a la Helene.

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Post # 300 Uncle Bardie’s Movie of the Week: A two-fer

Once a week on Monday, Uncle Bardie shares a movie with his Readers he gives a big two thumbs up. It will simply be a short excerpt or a trailer. Uncle Bardie might even throw in a reflection on the movie. If so, it will make an appearance below the video. So pop some popcorn and give yourself a treat. This week’s movie is “Jean de Florette” (1986) & “Manon of the Spring” (1986):

A good movie is like a good novel. It tells a story well; with characters we deeply care about. Sometimes it takes more than one novel/film to complete the story. This is the case of the three novels/movies: “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”, “The Girl Who Played With Fire” and “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest”. And this is the case of “Jean de Florette” and “Manon of the Spring”.

“Jean de Florette” is the story of an undiscovered crime; “Manon of the Spring” follows with the revenge. One film does not make sense without the other. “Jean de Florette” opens with a man returning to his village after serving his time in the army. Ugolin (Daniel Auteuil) is young and ambitious. He has returned to grow carnations, feeling that this is a way for him to do well financially. There is only problem. He doesn’t have enough water.

His uncle, Papet (Yves Montaud), knows where there is a hidden spring on a neighbor’s property. Unfortunately the two of them offer the neighbor a price and he refuses. Papet gets in a fight with the neighbor and accidentally kills him. The neighbor’s sister’s son inherits the property.

Jean de Florette (Gerard Depardieu) is a city fellow who decides he wants to farm. Ugolin and Papet scheme to prevent the farm from prospering. Like the good neighbors they are, they do not reveal the location of the spring. Jean de Florette does not give up trying to make a go of the farm. Ugolin and Papet “help” Jean de Florette out with lots of false information.

It is the clash of two obsessions. Ugolin and Papet’s obsession to buy the farm, Jean de Florette’s obsession to be a prosperous farmer. It is a terrible thing to watch an honest man’s dreams die. Eventually the hard work hauling water from miles away and the struggle farming kills him, thanks to Ugolin and Papet’s schemes. Resigned, Jean’s wife, Aimee (Gerard Depardieu’s wife, Elisabeth), sells the farm to Ugolin. Just as the mother and daughter are leaving, Manon, Jean and Aimee’s daughter, sees Ugolin and Papet loosen the rocks from the hidden spring. Their greed has got the best of them.

“Manon of the Spring” picks up some years later. Manon (Emmanuelle Béart), Jean and Aimee’s daughter, is now a woman. She returns to the village to avenge her father. But it is more than a drama of revenge. It is about obsession and how it can destroy. It is about lost love. It is about discovery. And it is about family.

Based on the novels by Marcel Pagnol, Claude Berri’s epic masterpiece introduced audiences to Provence. For me, I was so impressed with these two films I went on to see the films based on Pagnol’s memoirs, “My Mother’s Castle” and “My Father’s Glory”. I have seen all four movies several times and they remain some of my favorite French films.

Not many films move me to say, “Wow.” Marcel Pagnol and Claude Berri have done that with “Jean de Florette” and “Manon of the Spring”. And please remember, the two should be seen together. If you can see them in one evening,  please do. You won’t regret it.

To Gatsby or not to Gatsby, that is the question

Most writers want to be somebody else. Joseph Heller wanted to be Groucho Marx. Norman Mailer wanted to be Ernest Hemingway. Ernest Hemingway wanted to be God. But that job was taken. So he became Ernest Hemingway instead. Mark Twain did not want to be Edgar Allan Poe, though Sam Clemens did imbibe from time to time. He had way too much Mississippi River in him to be anybody other than Tom Sawyer. After all, Tom could tell a whopper with the best of ’em. That’s a fact.

Thing is that Shirley Jackson wanted to be Edgar Allan Poe and H. P. Lovecraft. Flannery O’Connor wanted to be a saint. They both just about made it. Jonathan Franzen wants to be John Updike. John Updike wanted to be Henry Green and Proust while J. D. Salinger wanted to be Scott Fitzgerald.

Scott Fitzgerald wanted to be Zelda’s husband. Jay Gatsby had a lot of Fitzgerald in him, especially his desire for Daisy Buchanan. Thing is Fitz was that he was as much Nick Carroway as he was Jay Gatsby. Seems to me that Nick went east to become Herman Melville and go after the great American novel, the “Moby Dick” of the twentieth century. As John Lovitz used to say, “Could happen.” Nick managed to gather the material when he arrived East. Jay Gatsby was Captain Ahab and Daisy Buchanan was the whale. Daisy always wore white and her palace in East Egg was white.

The point of all this is that few things are as they seem on the surface. As my granny used to say, “It just ain’t so. You got to dig deeper, Boy, to get to the marrow of the thing.” And, as far as I am concerned, “The Great Gatsby” is not Jay Gatsby’s story. The character arc points elsewhere and that elsewhere is straight at Nick Carroway. Nick is the one who changes in the novel. From beginning to end, Gatsby is after Daisy. As he floats facedown and dead in the pool, he still believes he can have Daisy.

The movie folks don’t seem to get it. They continue to make movies, doing a Somerset Maugham where the Narrator Nick is barely a character and making Gatsby the protagonist. All through the novel, it’s Nick the reader sees change. It is Nick, the country bumpkin, who comes to the big bad city to make his fortune. It is Nick who gets the Daisy treatment. It is Nick who is impressed with Gatsby and all his parties. It is Nick whom Tom Buchanan confides in about his trysts with Myrtle Wilson. It is Nick who is sadder but wiser at the end of the novel.

If the focus is going to be on Gatsby, then what we get is a character study with a plot thrown in at Act 3. And one thing is for sure. Character studies do not good movies make. By the end of the novel, it’s obvious that Gatsby has been scratching at the wrong door all along. But Gatsby never gets it.

Why would Daisy give up everything for Gatsby? Things like a husband who got his wealth the legitimate way. He inherited it. Jay Gatsby got his the nouveau riche way. He gambled for it. Plus Tom Buchanan treats Daisy like a princess. Daisy is no Jordan Baker. She has enough self-understanding to know that she is fragile. It won’t take much to break her. Plus she and Tom have a child together. Old Gatz forgot that. For a mother, a child trumps a dream any day.

Besides she’s pretty happy in the cocoon her husband has made for her. He may be an s.o.b. but he’s the kind of s.o.b. who will give her the security Gatsby will never give her. The Gatz has beaucoup cash now. But her family warned her about the Panic of 1907. “Here today gone tomorrow,” her daddy wisely pointed out to the darling of his eye.

So where does this leave the film maker? With an older, but wiser, Nick Carroway. Mature enough to know that maybe, just maybe, he can make a life with Jordan Baker while he writes that “Moby Dick” of a novel he’s been meaning to write.

I know. That’s not in the novel. But who knows? It could be in the movie.

Do you have a favorite novel or a favorite writer?