“Why do you look so upset, Adam?”

Adam looked up as Cosette, her face concerned over the seaming tea in her cup. Even though she’d been born abroad, as he had, she never looked more comfortable, confident, or radiant than in France, the land of her ancestors for uncounted generations.

“This just doesn’t seem right,” he said, looking around the airy and expansive cafe with a view of the Seine. “I think I might have made a mistake.”

“Don’t be so hard on yourself, Adam,” Cosette said. “Did you try the tea?”

Adam sipped listlessly at it. “Yeah. It’s good, but…something is missing. The taste isn’t quite right.”

“We can recalibrate that,” said Cosette, her eyes wide an earnest. “I see a few things wrong here or there. The weave is wrong on the tablecloths, the waiter knew what to do with that customer’s tip, that customer left a tip in the first place…but you know that a simulation is more than the sum of its parts.”

“I do know that,” said Adam slowly, deliberately. “But that also means that it’s more than a matter of simple programming.”

“You’re too hard on yourself. You’re always too hard on yourself.” Cosette said. “Just promise me you’ll try and correct what’s wrong with the simulation, okay?”

Adam sighed. “You’re sure?”

“Of course I’m sure,” Cosette laughed. “You’re one of the best simulation designers I’ve ever loved. You can get this French cafe running so well that the President of France would be fooled. You can get it running so well that even a Gallic gal like me would be fooled.”

Adam reached across the table and gave Cosette’s hand a squeeze. “All right,” he said, his face a featureless mask. “I’ll try again.”

With a predetermined gesture, he ended the simulation. The cafe, the patrons, the Seine…all gave way to blackness. Cosette, too, vanished into the ether a split-second later.

“I’ll get it right,” Adam said softly. “Sooner or later, I’ll get it right.”

Inspired by the song ‘Intervista’ by Hiroki Kikuta, released under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license.

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“I love this waterfront. Nobody does a riverwalk like the Europeans.”

“It probably wasn’t as romantic a hundred years ago when this was all pollution and ooze.”

“Still, look at it now. All that stonework…ships in the river…everything is so clean and orderly.”

“Just like the stereotype of France, I’m sure.”

“Can’t you just enjoy the experience? Look at that sky! Look at those buildings!”

“No, I can’t. And I’ll tell you why.”

“Why?”

“See that aviary over there? Those birds have been staring at us through their old-timey bars since we got here.”

“Probably just looking for a handout.”

“No, that’s not what scares me at all. One of them has something in its beak.”

“What is it? I can’t quite see.”

“It looks like…the key to a Renault. What kind of car did we rent again?”

Inspired by the song ‘Heckle and Jeckle’ by Hiroki Kikuta, released under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license.

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I have to admit I’d never heard of Charlie Hebdo until it became the epicenter for the worst terrorist attack on French soil in two decades. It would be like the offices of Cracked or Mad had been raided here in the States, though Charlie Hebdo was certainly far more openly political and leftist than those safely zany lampoons of pop culture. But even if the comparison is imprecise, to see such a publication attacked by violent zealots, leaving its best and brightest minds bleeding out on fresh newsprint, is a kind of directly censorious assault that leaves the mind reeling.

It was censorship of the most direct kind, practiced since Mark Antony had Cicero’s severed head and hands displayed in the Forum, and like all such acts it was designed to breed censorship of the most indirect kind. Self-censorship is the ultimate goal, to get the satirist to give up attacking a sacred cow before they even begin.

Now here’s the thing. People have already begun responding with hashtags and solidarity to the barbarism, which is always welcome and a good sign. But ultimately it won’t be the person on the street or even the government that decides how much self-censorship will come from this assault. It’ll be the lawyers.

It’s all well and good to loudly proclaim the virtues of free speech in the face of terrorism designed to intimidate people into self-censorship. But what of the next generation of satirists and cartoonists, the magazines and rags that are struggling or yet to be born? What happens to them then they try to incorporate, to get insurance?

I can see it now: an insurance underwriter denying a satirical publication coverage after they refuse to self-censor. A staff lawyer preemptively putting the kibosh on a potentially inflammatory issue for liability reasons. Remember just a few short weeks ago, when The Interview was pulled from theaters? “Liability” was the fig leaf there, too.

And it’s not just a fig leaf for a satirist or cartoonist. Imagine if you, uninsured and unprotected, publish something that gets someone on your staff–or, hell, even an innocent person elsewhere–hurt or killed. In today’s climate, that’s a huge liability and you could find yourself on the hook for expenses that no modest income could cover.

That’s my big worry out of all of this. Not just that there will be self-censorship, but that it will be perversely driven not from ideology or fear but simple liability and actuarial charts. I hope that’s not the case. I hope that, whether through the use of new media or decentralized distribution, such prosaic issues aren’t enough to kneecap people’s speech and especially their humor. After all, such wasn’t the terrorists’ intent–they aren’t that smart. A suppressed bullet and car bomb are all the subtlety they know.

I hope that we won’t allow mundanity and prosaic interests to do to us what naked fear cannot, but I’m afraid I’m just too cynical to believe it will be so.

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What do many words using Y and W instead of proper vowels have in common? They’re Welsh, of course. Wales was systematically looted of its vowels after its conquest to feed the English hunger for unnecessary vowelery after the French fashion. That’s right, the “u” in “colour” doesn’t just make its natural pronunciation “coh-lure,” it’s also a blood vowel stolen from a people so vowel-poor that they had to scrape by with Y and W.

Yes, the vowel-mines of Wales were long the envy of English monarchs, as England itself exhausted its own vowel reserves during the ongoing and debilitating Shouting Wars against France. The Welsh at first were able to simply sell their vowels to an England anxious to be able to match French words like “eau” or “nouveau.” English looting and purchase of vowels was so prevalent that even the last leader of Wales, Llywelyn, was forced to make do with a single vowel in his name while his English conqueror, Edward, has two.

England is not alone in the exploitative harvesting of vowels. French and Italian vowels mines, long the most productive in the world, had all but run out by the 1700s, forcing them to look elsewhere. For a time the French were able to import vowels taken from North America by force or trade, but with the cession of their vowel-rich territory of Quebec, they were forced to look elsewhere. That somewhere was Poland, which was rich in vowel mines but had been undergoing a language crisis since looting the Ottoman camp at the Siege of Vienna, as Ottoman Turkish was at the time written without vowels altogether.

As a result, Poland was partitioned, with the lion’s share of the territory going to the Russian Empire. With no need for Poland’s Latin vowels, having their own Cyrillic vowel mines deep in the Urals, the Russians instead exploited Polish vowels for export, selling them to the French and Italians. Napoleon Bonaparte invaded Russia to guarantee his vowel supply, as he needed eight vowels to say his own name alone, and a steady supply of Polish blood vowels were guaranteed in the later French-Russian alliance. All the while, Poland was so looted of vowels that they had to make do with words like “wszystko” and “cześć.” The downtrodden Polish made creative use of diacritics to make up for their looted syllabary, but their vowel mines were ultimately entirely depleted.

Of course, Americans are not blameless. The constant insertion of British-style blood vowels into words to make them seem sophisticated is a constant bane, and many of the blood vowels so used now come from Africa, where once vowel-rich places like Ouagadougou are now exploited for foreign sale by warlords.

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Les trois Juliets (1970)
Director: Auguste Des Jardins
Producer: Jens Dardis
Writer: Auguste Des Jardins & Jens Dardis
Cast:
Juliet Delacroix
Marguerite Delacroix
Géraldine Delacroix
Sid Jendras (voice)
Music: Georges Delerue
Editing: Auguste Des Jardins
Distributor: Union Générale Cinématographique

Long considered the masterpiece of French auteur Auguste Des Jardins and overshadowing the other projects he completed before his death in 1976, Les trois Juliets reportedly came about as part of a dinner conversation about the minimum number of actors that would be required for a fantasy film. Des Jardins’ longtime paramour Nadeau Struggs argued that a large cast was necessary, while the filmmaker himself insisted that it could be made with as few as two people, which he later revised to one and a half (with the half person being a voice-only role).

The resulting film follows a lonely woman named Juliet (spelled in the English fashion rather than the more Gallic Juliette) who lives in a Montmartre hovel working an unfulfilling job after the collapse of her dream to move to Paris to become an actress. Through an inventive use of ambient sound, camera angles, and deep focus techniques, Juliet is the only person ever seen onscreen despite the bustling inner city setting. She speaks only to herself or in telephone conversations to her father (Des Jardins’ frequent leading man Sid Jendras in the aforementioned voice-only role).

Only when Juliet spies another young woman in her neighborhood who looks exactly like her does another human being appear on screen, and the meat of the film revolves around her discovery of not one but two young women who seem to share her appearance, background, and even memories (albeit with some key differences). The film plays out as an extended metaphysical meditation with the occasional moments of levity as the three young ladies, each presided over by a father on the telephone that may or may not be the same man and is evasive in his answers. The ambiguous ending, which can be interpreted as a suicide, a merger of the three Juliets into one, or a belated agreement to live their lives as if they had never met, is still cited as an influence by filmmakers to this day.

One noteworthy piece of trivia revolves around the casting. While Jendras is clearly and unmistakably the telephone voice, the situation with the three credited actresses (Juliet, Marguerite, and Géraldine Delacroix) is much murkier. Des Jardins himself claimed that he had happened upon a set of triplets of the proper age and appearance purely by chance (and counted the three as one as a “clever trick” vis-a-vis the original wager). Nadeau Struggs and many critics disagree, insisting that it was a single person filmed with camera tricks, with the reason for the farce cited as a liaison between the star and the director with a triple credit for triple pay (Struggs, for her part, did concede the wager). No triplets Delacroix have ever been located, and Des Jardins’ insistence that the girl or girls weren’t professional actors has made the topic an occasional cause of friction among cineastes. None of the three girls have been seen in public since accepting various awards in 1971.

That point aside, the film is and remains widely popular among devotees of minimalist and fantasy cinema; Kubrick and Tarkovsky both lavished the film with praise and an English language remakes were released to lukewarm reviews in 1977 (Three Juliettes) and 2003 (The Three Juliettes), both notably using the French spelling of “Juliette” rather than Des Jardins’ preferred “Juliet.”

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Even though he was a trusted advisor and friend of the king, the Comte de Vézelay always attracted scandal at the court in Paris largely because of his family life. His first marriage to the Vicomte de Foix’s daughter had led, on the latter’s death, to an expansion of his lands but the marriage had been loveless and when the Comtesse de Vézelay died, many suspicions were voiced, especially after the Comte married again less than a fortnight later. This second marriage was with Madelaine de Lara, and the scandal of the first liaison paled in comparison to that of the latter. For one, the new Comtesse was from a branch of the nobility so debased and degraded in the eyes of the court that the marriage was practically a morganatic one. But King Henry was fond of the Comte and would brook no gossip about him within earshot, even after the new Comtesse gave birth to a son with bright red hair–a trait which neither his father nor mother shared.

The child, Charles, was precocious. He walked and spoke at much earlier ages than his contemporaries, and by the age of eight had composed poetry and chamber music that were performed for adult audiences. This did little to dull the harsh whispers about Madelaine de Vézelay; one of the long-running rumors about the de Laras was that their fall had been in part due to dabbling in witchcraft and making pacts with darker powers. Madelaine’s quietness and Charles’ intense and aloof demeanor for a youth were often cited as proof.

Eventually, young Charles de Vézelay was presented at court to Henry IV; the king enjoyed the youth’s seriousness and dedication, so unusual in an era of decadent and spoiled princes. Not long afterwards, Charles approached his father, troubled, and declared that he had a secret that was only for the king’s ears. The Comte, unable to glean the nature of this secret or how Charles came by it, arranged the meeting.

Observers in court saw Charles approach the king and whisper in his ear, after which Henry reacted by violently pushing the youth away. He called for the guard and ordered that Charles be executed immediately. This order, so out of character with the normally conscientious and fair King Henry, was questioned by many but the king was resolute and refused to discuss the secret. Charles, likewise, refused to reveal what he had said; indeed, the young man reportedly never spoke another word for the rest of his short life.

At the exhortation of Madelaine de Vézelay, Henry consented to tell her (and only her) what Charles had said. The interview, in the king’s private chambers, lasted scarcely five minutes. Madelaine emerged, shaken, and agreed that her son needed to be put immediately to death. She collapsed not long after and spent her remaining months as an invalid.

Charles was executed by swordstroke on the first of May. With the assassination of Henry fourteen days later and death of his mother in a sanitarium seven months after that, no one ever learned what the fatal secret had been.

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Some days, Marco liked to slip away from work or study and stake out a bench along the Seine and spend some time thinking deeply in his native tongue.

It was often not an environment conducive to contemplation, as the Seine was often jammed with tourist boats packed to the gills with giddy, tipsy tourists. Returning their exaggerated waves made Marco feel appreciated, though, and he liked to speculate on the tourists’ country of origin based on their apparel and behavior, especially when it frustrated stereotypes. There were plenty of thin, desperate-to-be-hip Americans, just as there were more fat and jolly Germans than one might otherwise expect.

Sometimes, staring into the river eddies and the bits of flotsam that passed by, Marco’s thoughts took a morbid turn. The Seine was, after all, the most romantic place in the world to commit suicide. The French had built up an entire industry out of reproducing the death mask of a mysterious and hauntingly beautiful 16-year-old suicide, after all. If that line of thought became to heavy, Marco would remind himself that most CPR dummies had faces based on that girl, making hers the most kissed face in the world by any sort of definition.