Wednesday, October 31, 2007

I'm so there

Looking for a new gem to add to your musical collection? One that will cause envy and strike fear into the hearts of your pretentious, indie-licious music aficionado friends? Look no further.
The "I'm Not There" soundtrack. The movie itself, in case you live in a trench, is due to hit the States Nov. 21. It's about Bob Dylan's life, and it's supposed to be pretty ill. If the all-star cast (Heath Ledger, Richard Gere, Marcus Carl Franklin, Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Julianne Moore, Charlotte Gainsbourg) doesn't sell you, check out the 2-disc soundtrack, released Oct. 30.

Disc one
1. "All Along the Watchtower," - Eddie Vedder and the Million Dollar Bashers
2. "I'm Not There," Sonic Youth
3. "Goin' To Acapulco," Jim James and Calexico
4. "Tombstone Blues," Richie Havens
5. "Ballad of a Thin Man," Stephen Malkmus and the Million Dollar Bashers
6. "Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again," Cat Power
7. "Pressing On," John Doe
8. "Fourth Time Around," Yo La Tengo
9. "Dark Eyes," Iron & Wine and Calexico
10. "Highway 61 Revisited," Karen O and the Million Dollar Bashers
11. "One More Cup of Coffee," Roger McGuinn and Calexico
12. "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll," Mason Jennings
13. "Billy," Los Lobos
14. "Simple Twist of Fate," Jeff Tweedy
15. "The Man in the Long Black Coat," Mark Lanegan
16. "Señor (Tales of Yankee Power)," Willie Nelson and Calexico
Disc Two
1. "As I Went Out One Morning," Mira Billotte
2. "Can't Leave Her Behind," Stephen Malkmus and Lee Ranaldo
3. "Ring Them Bells," Sufjan Stevens
4. "Just Like a Woman," Charlotte Gainsbourg and Calexico
5. "Mama You've Been on My Mind" / "A Fraction of Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie," Jack Johnson
6. "I Wanna Be Your Lover," Yo La Tengo
7. "You Ain't Goin' Nowhere," Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova
8. "Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?," The Hold Steady
9. "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues," Ramblin' Jack Elliot
10. "Wicked Messenger," The Black Keys
11. "Cold Irons Bound," Tom Verlaine and the Million Dollar Bashers
12. "The Times They Are a-Changin'," Mason Jennings
13. "Maggie's Farm," Stephen Malkmus and the Million Dollar Bashers
14. "When the Ship Comes In," Marcus Carl Franklin
15. "Moonshiner," Bob Forrest
16. "I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine," John Doe
17. "Knockin' on Heaven's Door," Antony & the Johnsons
18. "I'm Not There," Bob Dylan

It's a gold mine- I'm SO there.

Un-magical Camelot

This past weekend I saw the musical Camelot at the Civic Center in Des Moines and was sadly disappointed. The songs from Camelot have formed a bond between my mother and I, for she listened to the record while doing chores when she was young, and I also listened to the CD when I was little, to the point where I had all of the words memorized. The recording of the 1960 original Broadway cast that we shared featured the voices of Richard Burton as King Arthur, Julie Andrews as Guinevere, and Robert Goulet as Lancelot - an all-star musical cast. After hours of listening to the soundtrack, the innocent trills of Andrew's singing and the depth of Burton and Goulet's rich, masculine voices were second nature in my mind.

Since my mother and I had both not listened to the recording for years, we decided to put it on repeat in the car the day before the performance. However, ingraining these magnificent voices into our heads prepared us, instead, for a let-down.

This performance's King Arthur, played by Lou Diamond Phillips, could not carry out the majesty of the songs that Richard Burton accomplished. Since the majority of the songs in the musical are sung by the king, the music became a bore, with voice cracks, stiff acting, and weak vocal power. My mom and I agreed that we wished the actor playing Lancelot, Matt Bogart, would have taken the king's role, for his two songs were more powerful and moving then any of Phillip's numbers.

I've noticed a pattern of let-downs like this after listening to Broadway recordings obsessively. The same thing happened to me when I saw Phantom of the Opera, both the live and the movie version, after accustoming myself to Sarah Brightman and Michael Crawford.

I guess the lesson learned is to skip pre-performance prepping and go into the experience fresh, without the expectations set by the Broadway recordings.


Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Christian Rock / Steven Curtis Chapman "This Moment"

I went to a Catholic school for 13 years before attending the UI this fall so I've obviously heard my fair share of inspirational and sacred music. While I enjoy attending Mass, you won't find me listening to the weekly hymns on my iPod between classes. You will, however find numerous songs that fit into the Christian Rock genre. I'm sure many of you have heard of some of the following artists: Switchfoot, Relient K, Jars of Clay, Third Day, Jeremy Camp (my personal favorite), and Steven Curtis Chapman. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. There are so many other artists and groups out there promoting the same faith-related cause.

A week ago, Steven Curtis Chapman came out with a new album entitled This Moment. After listening to it on repeat about... oh, a thousand times, I give it an A-. I love how each song sounds different musically, as well as has a different message or moral. Sometimes you buy CDs where half the songs sound the same and this is not the case with this album. Also, several of the songs pertain to family life, which is something different from Chapman. However, the songs, especially "Cinderella," are incredibly moving. This album really just makes you feel good when you're having a bad day, and is great for background music when studying.

Track List:
1. Miracle of the Moment (highly recommended)
2. Broken
3. Cinderella
4. Yours
5. Something Crazy (fun to rock out to)
6. Children of God
7. One Heartbeat at a Time
8. My Surrender (good pick-me up song for when you feel helpless)
9. You Are Being Loved (another fun song to get crazy to)
10. Definition of Me
11. With One Voice
12. Run Home


Strikes and Things

Isn’t transnational travel so easy? That’s what they say. So there’s a gargantuan mammoth of a mountain separating Spain from France; who cares if the Alps have held off the Italian and Swiss countryside for centuries? Hasn’t the invention of the train changed everything? These days one can make it across the continent in mere hours via rail or even less via jet.
But in Europe it often feels impossible to plan ahead and actually expect things to move on accordingly. At least this unfortunate statement is true for those like me — young, aspiring university students studying outside their home country’s boarders. And, one who didn't know of the trials and turbulations present when training it internationally from small countryside cities.
From trains late in French: “retard,” Spanish: “tarde,” German: “spät,” Italian: “tardi,” Dutch: “laat,” etcetera and so forth, to the inevitable public service strikes brought on in autumn, traveling with only days to spare can become an unnatural disaster.
A round trip from France’s Southwestern city of Pau to Germany’s Munich via TGV and SNCF trains can run upwards of 300 euros, nearly $450 these days, which includes the lost time aboard creeping trains or simply, watching and waiting for a connect.
“My limit is 150 Euro,” said a friend of mine at the Université de Pau, Jenna Grubbs. “As long as it’s not more than that, sure, I’ll go to Belgium for one weekend before we go home.”
The 20-year-old brushed her short brown bangs away from her face as she stood attentively watching the SNCF employee search for an outgoing train to Brussels, Belgium. She didn’t mind the nine hour voyage as taking a night train would prevent her from having to pay for a night in a dreary hostel for upwards of 20 euro.
“No, no, this one is cheaper,” the man said as he pointed to the 1998 Dell PC in front of him. As he flashed the screen at her, she nodded in silent agreement.
“Ok, I guess, I don’t have to go to that last class on Friday,” she said to me, her fellow traveler.
Situations like these are all together too many in French train stations. What’s more is the overall overstatement of the benefits involved in European rail lines. Or perhaps frustration has simply gotten the better of me. Recently countries like France and Germany have taken off their uniforms and formed barriers around train stations across their countries. Paris’ Montparnasse Station was overwhelmed with let-down travelers who were unable to enter the station Thursday, October 18. The strikers hoped to prevent the new government, headed by President Sarkozy, from moving the retirement age of train and bus workers up five years to a young 60.
Over the third weekend in October hopeful voyagers looked up at the boarding call in search of their platforms, but were met with the common phrases: “Train Cancelled” or “Train Arrives Later.” The latter had to do with the overflow of vacationers boarding trains without tickets praying to go unnoticed as they walk from car to car eying empty seats. I was one of them. Armed with my Eurail Pass, Passport and Reservation ticket, I planned for a weekend journey to Barcelona, Spain, across the Pyrenees Mountains. Upon arriving at the first station I found the supposed one-day strike from the day before lasted another making my train a victim.
Holding firm that European Public Transportation was the best and wouldn’t let me down I took the seven hour catastrophic alternative to train — a bus ride from Pau, France to Toulouse. The Toulouse station was amassed with daunted rail riders missing trains left and right. Arrival on time is a sparse event in Europe.
“This, this is not the right train for you,” said a Spanish rail employee as he circled the date and time on my ticket. I had boarded a train 12 hours after my scheduled train left. The conductor glanced at my Eurail pass, pointed at the clearly wrong ticket, and I mumbled “France is on strike” in pathetic Spanish boardering on Franglais, in attempt at explaining why I was more than ½ a day late for the train.
The man, whose nametag read Antoine, starred again, said, “Ahh,” then walked on scooting by those with seats and squeezing by those standing in the aisles or near the toilettes. When trains are on strike everyone is in the same boat: an angry, sad, destitute boat.
“We caught a train to Perpignon after somehow getting out of Paris and now we’re trying to get to Barcelona,” said Eric Sader, a Canadian University student traveling abroad. “Paris was insane. I couldn’t even take off my back pack once we get on the train it was so packed.”
He added that while it only cost three euro to get from Paris to Perpignon with their Eurail Passes they lost a full day of travel due to the French strike.
Strikes have been an eminent part of European rail travel. In “Europe by Rail” the book slides in at the beginning of the 1000 page guide that trains can be a shady business during strike season. In France it always feels like strike season...or really is.
It should have taken the two Canadian’s less than 10 hours to get from Paris to Barcelona, Spain, and it should have taken me no more than nine hours from Pau to Barcelona. Train lines are full of “should haves.”
Although the Eurail pass offers the bonus of only having to pay for a reservation, when it comes down to it, time is money, and study abroad students simply do not have it. Eurail Passes can’t make trains run quicker or more efficiently. After excruciatingly long amounts of on the road travel, once one arrives at their final destination all is forgotten of the unbearable journey — until forced to return home.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Rejoice, Rejoice! Boss is Back!

During his stint playing the Seeger Sessions, Bruce Springsteen brought his energy in full force to the stage and actually made bluegrass look semi-cool. This energy he brought, however, was from years of rocking the blue-collar dream. Strumming his guitar and blowing into his harmonica in his basement into a tape recorder connected him intimately to thousands of fans. Screeching sax and wild key changes from the E Street Band only sealed his fate deeper in the American Rock dynasty.

Then he went bluegrass. It was good. The "Seeger Sessions" brought American folk into the modern scene. And for that America is grateful. But the entire country felt empty without the plaid cutoffs, the gargantuan saxophonist, and stories Bruce told that ended up choreographed to music. It seemed that Bruce had found his niche and was strumming alongside banjos, tubas, and accordions for live.

But the Boss never dies-he just takes a breather.

His new album, "Magic" is self-explanatory.

The same bells, same back-up vocals, and same screaming sax. That's right, you heard right, the E Street Band is back.
"Nebraska"-like Harmonica on the track "Gypsy Biker", "Jungleland"-like piano on "I'll Work For Your Love", and "Badlands"-like unison vocals on "Terry's Song"

It doesn't matter if you lost your job, broke up with your girlfriend, or found out your parents don't love you-Be thankful you were alive to see the Renaissance of the Boss

A Letter to Garth Brooks

Dear Garth Brooks,

I always knew you were a country superstar (I grew up listening to cassette tapes of "Long Neck Bottle" and "Friends in Low Places" in my mom's mini-van), but no one ever told me that you were Santa Claus, too!

Okay, so maybe you're not Good Ol' St. Nick, but your upcoming feat originally seemed like you'd need a little "holiday magic" if you hoped to accomplish it.

I'm of course talking about the promise you made us country music fans that you would perform 300 concerts worldwide — all in one night.

I thought, "This has got to be a joke."

Well, as your website proved, it wasn't.

So, Garth, let me get this straight. You're actually only performing in one location, the Kansas City Sprint Center, on Nov. 14 — but that concert will be simulcast to 300 movie theaters worldwide? And you're preceding that performance with eight other concerts at the Sprint Center the week before? Oh, and there will be an encore broadcast the following night?

Wait — and your fairly recently-wed wife, country star Trisha Yearwood, will perform with you, too? Someone pinch me, I'm obviously dreaming.

Wow. For a country artist who has been "retired" since 2001 — and hasn't toured since 1998 — you sure do know how to make a comeback.

And you're kind of on a roll with the comebacks. I mean, hey, congrats on setting music history by debuting straight to No. 1 on the Billboard charts with "More Than A Memory" last month! Oh, and also congrats on tying your own record of selling the most tickets in any U.S. city! A whole nine concerts selling out in under two hours, when you had originally only planned one show — but, of course, you kept approving more until all nine were on the books.

Oh, and thanks for pricing your tickets so reasonably! Only $32.50 for a seat at the concert and only $10 (plus costs) to watch it in a movie theater? At that rate, you're raking in a hefty chunk of more than $4 million for the shows and broadcasts.

But I do intend to be there. I've purchased my two tickets for the rebroadcast performance at the Sycamore Mall movie theater (definitely the last place I pictured myself taking in a concert while in college...or ever) in Iowa City, but I'm still left with a few questions for you:

1. Does this mean your "retirement" is over? I mean, there's the concerts and the broadcasts and the new single and the soon-to-be-released three-disc greatest hits album. Surely, you're back, right?

2. Tell me about these rumors of you headlining with the Eagles for the Super Bowl halftime show.

Okay, Garth, so what's the secret? You've virtually been in hiding the past nine years — only releasing a couple previously recorded, but not released, singles through Wal-Mart alone, and in the meantime marrying Trisha in 2005.

Tell me: is this your big comeback?

If so, I'm excited.

"Pass the popcorn, movie goers, 'cause Garth is coming to town."


Into the Wild

Two weeks ago, I was in Des Moines, and (lacking confidence in Iowa City's movie theaters) went to see Sean Penn's Into the Wild, based on the book by Jon Krakauer.

Into the Wild is one of my favorite books. I read it during a particularly formative time in high school and connected immensely with the book's real-life protagonist, Christopher McCandless, an Emory graduate. Rather than begin a life similar to his parents, a suburban household preoccupied with social standing and material possessions, he burns his money, cuts up his credit cards, and disappears, literally, "into the wild." Ultimately, he ends up living alone in a deserted bus in Alaska, and perishes from starvation.

The book presents McCandless' tale from both sides, and Krakauer inserts a great amount of his own analysis. The amount of internal monologue, diary entry, and additional information from the author composes most of the book - presenting a difficult challenge when making the transition to film.

At first, I was convinced it would suck. How could this amazing book be changed into a film without losing the meaning and depth? But then, after watching Oprah (OK, laugh if you will, but I freaking love Oprah), my mind was changed. Sean Penn and the adorable Emile Hirsch appeared to tap into McCandless' psyche, and the McCandless family and Jon Krakauer endorsed the film as accurately depicting the book.

"So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservatism, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future. The very basic core of a man's living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun."
-Chris McCandless, March 1992

So when I sat down to watch the film, I was ready for it to change my life, just as the book had five years prior.

That did not happen. While altogether a fabulous film, it cannot pack the emotional punch the book wields. After pondering why this is for the last two weeks, the only thing I can come up with is the absence of Krakauer's voice. In the book, he plays such a prominent part, providing analysis of events and conjecturing the thoughts behind McCandless' actions.

The movie is beautifully made, Hirsch is gorgeous (he should always walk around in a tattered sweater and five o'clock shadow), and for those that haven't read the book, a compelling story. While I'm not of the school of thought that books are always better than the movie (Harry Potter, for example), that thinking fits this book.

This movie should be seen as a supplement, not a substitute, for the book. I have some serious issues with how Penn chose to close the film, since they deviate so far from what he can accurately conjecture really happened. But I won't spoil it, because hopefully the movie does get the wide release it deserves.

— Susan

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Hey Big Tuna!

I know that I may have given Rolling Stone harsh treatment in last week's "Medium," but the magazine's website is pretty sweet. Call it making amends, but here is my favorite thing on the site as of last week;

Very impressive, but I'm not preparing to eat crow anytime soon.


Tuesday, October 16, 2007

If I could trade lives with anyone...

... it would be this girl.

Paramore performed "Misery Business" off the (relatively) new CD Riot on Conan last week, and I'm still not over the awesome-ness.

I shared this video with my mom, and her response was "But I thought you didn't like female singers?" Well, although there are some notable exceptions (ahem, Alanis Morisette), I am generally annoyed by girls trying to act hardcore.

Perhaps that's not very feminist of me or whatever, but the large majority of them (well, mainly the Avril Lavigne's of the world, but even Jenny Lewis most days) are undeniably annoying.

Hayley Williams, however, is the definition of badass — and who can hate that? I've met her at Warped Tour the past two years, and each time felt slightly creepy since she's ridiculously young (18!) and I was ridiculously giddy.

The Paramore lyricist is everything record labels would love Avril to be: A talented singer, electric frontwoman, and adorable. And I love her for that.

— Susan

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Within In Rainbows

What's truly amazing about In Rainbows, Radiohead's apparent record-label-killer, is how much it actually promotes the survival of the record itself — an entity which used to aspire to greatness in the whole, rather than its radio-single parts. While trying something as seemingly insane (for Radiohead, read: brilliant) as allowing consumer-chosen pricing in exchange for a must-download of all ten tracks, the band delivers more than just a collection of songs a la 2003's Hail to the Thief — though it must be said they're a typically outstanding batch of tunes. In Rainbows, however, is Radiohead at its best, an actual album that's worth devouring in whole, their best since Kid A.

Is it better than that shattering 2000 release? It's too early to tell (I'm only on my fifth listen-through), but I don't think so. Better than OK Computer ? Must you ask? Of course not. But Radiohead isn't going to reach the pinnacle of those releases by trying to recreate "Paranoid Android" on GarageBand. If you must compare, In Rainbows is like The Bends fed through the digital era of Amnesiac's like: strange yet melodic, beautiful yet alarming.

It starts with a "15 Steps" kickstart, falls into its most rocking track since "Electioneering" with "Bodysnatchers," but then slows with the rolling "Nude." And once the post-ballads start, In Rainbows flows through its the seldom upbeat, but never uninventive, remainder. Further standouts include "All I Need," "Reckoner," and "Videotape." Come to think of it, there isn't a single track that's out of place. And once again, I'm reminded why Radiohead is my favorite band (though it better not make me wait another excruciating four years for my next fix).


Monday, October 8, 2007

That Is What My Youth Was For

My life would not be the same if it were not for cable television. I've always had a TV in my bedroom, and it has always had cable. I was one of those overweight, socially inept latchkey kids that Bill O'Reilly rants about. Some would argue that I still am. However, I think my steady diet of VH1 and E! has brought me to where I am, so let that be a lesson to all the parents out there: Let your kids watch cable and they can grow up to be cynical, overweight, socially inept semi-journalists!

This point came into focus last weekend, when I performed my Saturday routine; sleep until noon, do the essential grooming, sit in bed cloaked in pajamas and find whatever mindless crap is on TV. I have a fascination with Nickelodeon favorite "Drake and Josh," a show starring two obviously twenty-something actors as teenage stepbrothers and best friends. The show isn't remotely smart or subversive but Drake is hot and it lets me relive my awkward adolescence instead of living my awkward collegiate experience. Anyway, imagine my surprise when I turned on Nickelodeon and found a message scrolling across the screen. The message was encouraging me to go out and play. The voice also told me that Nickelodeon was going to air nothing but the scroll until 3 p.m.

In a huff I flipped a few stations down to CNN. An investigative report about Americans as an overfed population was on. Apparently, we eat too much and exercise too little. I found both of these occurrences to be a sign. So I took the signs to heart, went to my computer, and now is the final draft of my blogging. (You didn't really think exercise was going to be the result, did you?)

As a fatty, I can attest to the detrimental nature of junk food and the culture of sugar-pushing that we inflict on our children. It is a problem for which we all have a hand in; The politicians pushing corn subsidies (sorry Iowa) so that all foods contain additives (like corn syrup) in place of real ingredients, poor nutrition and health education for kids and parents, parents that work too hard and too much because they are struggling to make ends meet and can't cook for their kids every night. Yet, I don't think it is fair for Nickelodeon to go dark once or twice a year for a few hours and act like they aren't part of the problem. Losing viewers for two days a year does NOT equal absolution.

Nickelodeon is the real evil facing our children. Yesterday, I saw a commercial for a Barbie that comes with a credit card and some sort of shopping accessories (like a rack of clothes, and a cash register). The girl in the commercial swipes her Barbie card and the cash register lets her know how much "money" she has "charged." She looks at the camera, full of tween joy, and says, "Shopping is SO easy!"

That's the message we should teach kids. Swipe, swipe, swipe your problems away. I didn't see the girl balance her checkbook, and she was a tween so I doubt she had a job to pay off her BarbieCard balance. There are only three kinds of commercials that I ever see on Nickelodeon (though I am not the best source on this); food, toys, and media (movies, music, video games, the occasional book which is usually based on a character who originated in another medium). The shows on Nickelodeon are twenty-two minutes in length, but each segment often only lasts for two to three minutes. The shows and commercials often feature neon colors and fast guitar riffs. We are raising our children to be bloated, corn-fueled automatons with short attention spans! And Nickelodeon is molasses over the good parenting that is available.

Am I being too harsh? Probably, but isn't there a little truth to the fact that Nickelodeon is a significant force in the lives of American children? The fact can be found in the fact that they have this campaign to get kids exercising is self-acknowledgement of the influence they have on kids' decisions and lifestyle choices.

The network can't have the influence it has, and attempt to use it "for good" by encouraging kids to get off their butts and play, and then return to hours of the Short-Attention Span Playhouse. Nickelodeon should constantly be doing things to push kids in the right direction, encouraging positive behaviors DESPITE its advertisers.

Of course, being a fatty with access to a blog isn't so bad either. But I've had great parents to help me out, and we can't assume that all of Nickelodeon's viewers are so lucky.


P.S. Nickelodeon should bring back reruns of "Clarissa Explains It All," too.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Something Like Something Else

Over the past month DI Arts & Culture reporter Brigid Marshall has been trekking through the French countryside in hopes of becoming more cultured. Thus far she has been accosted at French grocery stores among other very important cultural situations. Here comes the piece of writing that most accurately displays the events that took place no less than one week ago.

Something like Wal-Mart should have been familiar, but then again, it was just something like Wal-Mart. And France's chain super store, "E.Leclerc" isn't Wal-Mart.
Yeah, it's got Neutrogena body products, back packs and a fruit section, but it's also got a milk section that neglects refrigeration and security guards prepared for those inevitable thieves: French masterminds and bien sûr! — foreigners too!
E.Leclerc and Wal-Mart were to us, simply different shades of the same color.
Fifteen minutes before the prompt start of class was definitely enough time to scour the store for delicious French pastries and delicious French pop with delicious French sweets, all practically leaping off the shelves (and obviously jumping into my starving university student mouth).
Hypothetically, fifteen minutes felt like enough time to do anything — and that included the necessary sprint across what often feels like a super highway, but is really a typical French intersection, Allés Condorcet. Hypothetically.
And it's not as if you've got a French mindset that tells you otherwise, meaning the truth that fifteen minutes is not enough time.
So I took my chances and searched for that delectable fruit tart that a friend and I had indulged in for the past two days. Who am I to break my newfound tradition? Three's a charm right? Or is that just a phrase fitting in the United States (Aux Etats-Unis, I mean.)
Friend in tow, the two of us paraded down the stretch of side walk separating the French version of Wal-Mart and the French version of college.
It's not like we looked suspicious, no, we didn't look suspicious at all. So, we were matching. It's not like we had planned it. There were no calls made: white "T" with jeans, gym shoes, yeah, any color.
We were in a rush, and honestly, we were American, and looked it. They don't make short red-heads in France. It was all too obvious and easy. We were unfamiliar people in what looked like a familiar land. Sugar is the same everywhere, right?
Marching toward the back wall, nothing but an aisle of diapers between us and les sucres, we eyed the lower shelf. Yes, it's us again our faces said to the French women who now recognized our salivating mouths.
"Oui, bonjour! I would like one tarte s'il vous plait, oui, un euro, forty centièmes. Oui, merci beaucoup."
I had barely noticed my friend announce her choice, preoccupied with the pending joy of calorie indulgence.
"Oui, me too ! But, I would like la petite tarte. Un euro. Merci beaucoup!"
In unison: "We’ll pay here."
"D'accord," they said in return.
We needed to get back though, we had learning to do. Oh, no, ten minutes until class, I mean, dix minutes.
Glancing at the golden pastry box with Pau’s local celebrity King Henri IV, we bustled out quickly not realizing we’ left through the entry door. She scuttled through without a hitch. She didn't look like a thief, but neither did I. Matching outfits, but whatever, it’s not as though they called us the GAP bandits.
Beep, Beep, Beep. Three seconds later the security guard yanked my small orange backpack and shuffled through as if it were an accomplice to a crime.
Taking each item out one by one and starring suspiciously at that MADE IN AMERICA SPF 55 Neutrogena sunscreen. He thought, “That pale skin doesn't fool me Miss USA.” No one in France ever carries sunscreen apparently, and if they do, they’ve stolen it from E.Leclerc.
"Come with me" he barked in French. This is the most action he's gotten all week. No, my friend couldn't come in the back room to get searched like me. Padded down at a grocery store, E.Leclerc doesn't fool around. Definitely not.
Five seconds into the back room a blond French woman came toward me with a metal detector. After tracing the metal up and down, my palms began to sweat. What if I did steal something? Did I stuff some cookies down my pants? They can have the sunscreen!
"Where did you get your pants mademoiselle" she said in French.
The detector was going off down south, oh no, please don't take my pants!
I panicked, "H et M." That was a lie! Intimidation had gotten the best of me. I was a liar and a criminal. The pants were American made, GAP.
My mind flashed questions: Do they have firing squads in France? Did that door lead to their secret shotgun room?
"When did you get those pants?" she followed up.
"Yesterday." Another lie. I got them two months ago, but there was no turning back now. I was a GAP bandit. The E.Leclerc police had no more questions.
They said to leave and remember to cut off the magnetic strip inside all pants after purchasing them. Their detectors were very sensitive.
Apparently I had forgotten this necessary precaution mischievously hidden on the left inside pant leg. That GAP employee is laughing now as they think of their customers pent up in bag rooms at French super stores.
"You can go," I heard them mutter in disappointment.
"I can have my sunscreen?"
Exiting the death chamber the color in my face returned. Was it warmer out here? Breathing became easier as air exited the confines of my lungs.
"What happened?" asked the concerned friend.
She hadn't eaten her tart just yet, but I wouldn't have blamed her if she had.
Placing the crumbling crust, melting custard and sugar coated fruits onto my tongue, I thought, "French pastries are worth the interrogation."

by Brigid Marshall