Rue Amelot

Manga Mon Amour: On French Passion For Japanese Anime

The visiting American writer pieces together how the French culture of comics (bandes dessinées) mixes with their deepening love of Japanese anime'.

PARIS — When I was in sixth grade, Cartoon Network aired episodes of the TV show Code Lyoko almost every day around 3 p.m. I was a loyal fan — watching practically every day when I got home from school.

In the show, a group of teenagers wage virtual battle against a virus-like artificial intelligence force that threatens to wreak havoc on the physical world. If I had to categorize it, I would place it loosely into the "anime-influenced Western animated series" box. Uninformed as I was, I had simply assumed the show was a real Japanese anime, when in actuality it was a French animated television series. Fast forward a decade: I had just moved to the Paris region and begun work as a middle school English teacher. About halfway through the day, it was time for free reading. As I told my students to take out their reading materials, I was struck as, one by one, virtually all pulled out the same thing: Manga.

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Why All The E-Scooter Bashing Is Just Urban Myth

European media is failing to state the obvious about electric scooter reality: Our cities have to adapt.

Across Europe, newspapers and magazines continue to warn the public about the Biblical scourge of electric scooters. The stream of articles have turned into a tired trope: Start with the story of a recent electric scooter accident. Then move on to explain how the driver violated decades-old traffic rules — maybe he rode on the sidewalk or didn't wear a helmet or two people rode it at the same time. Then rant about how chaotic our streets have become after the coming of the scooters. And the article inevitably wraps up with a scathing indictment: Electric scooters should be banned or heavily restricted.

Such articles litter the media across the continent. We've seen them in Paris, where electric scooters are a mighty fearsome time bomb and prompted public outcry after an accident on the sidewalk caused the death of a young woman, as Le Parisien reported. The city of Lisbon has levied hefty fines for the electric scooters parked on its sidewalks. And the latest has come from Italy, where national media thundered against them after a young man died in an accident. (Plot twist: The man who lost his life was the e-scooter rider; a motorbike plowed into him. But I digress.)

If we find electric scooters so annoying, it's because most of our infrastructure was built to serve cars.

A few telling details are often missing. Accidents frequently happen on sidewalks or roads, because there is no adequate infrastructure for e-mobility. Often, it's the driver that gets hurt. In Italy, media emphasized that four people have lost their lives in e-scooter accidents in 2021 so far — but failed to compare that with the number of casualties of car, motorbike, bicycle, boat or plane accidents. Demand for this new technology is high, and it's not hard to see why given how inexpensive it is, how little public space it takes and how convenient it is for short-haul commutes.

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Confessions Of A Recovering Meme Stock Trader

MILAN — There were a few moments of silence when I told my girlfriend what I'd done. I'd kept the information from her for a few days, fearing her reaction and forced to explain: I had chucked a few hundred dollars at shares of the so-called "meme stock" extraordinaire GameStop on the New York Stock Exchange. Then, still dissatisfied, I'd come to own shares of AMC, BlackBerry, Plug Power. I'd never even heard of these companies until I saw them, well, trending on the internet. And in just a few clicks, the same internet made it easy to invest my hard-earned money in these stocks.


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Italy To India To Brazil, How COVID Has Trivialized Mass Death

We've gotten used to too many people dying, and too many dying alone.

-Analysis-

MILAN — I was recently alerted to an event I had missed here in Italy: A couple of weeks ago, as the government announced the easing of coronavirus restrictions and restaurant workers protested because Italy wasn't reopening fast enough, funeral parlors also took to the streets of Rome. It was "a funeral of funerals," they said.

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Rue Amelot
Alessio Perrone

Balkan Scars And A Secret Plan To Redraw The Borders Of Bosnia

The colored tattoo of a fortified bridge towering high over troubled waters takes up almost all of my friend Ivan's shoulder. In his early 30s, Ivan has a footballer's build and flawless cockney accent. He's been a British citizen almost all his life, but was born in Mostar, in present-day Bosnia, in the late 1980s — a bad time to be born in Bosnia..

He says he remembers the din of the bombs falling on his town when he was a kid and the Yugoslav Wars broke out, in 1992. Ethno-nationalist groups seceded from Yugoslavia and turned on each other. They fought prolonged, bloody conflicts that killed at least 140,000, and committed genocide on at least one occasion. In Srebrenica, Bosnia in 1995, pro-Serbian forces executed at least 8,000 Muslim Bosnian civilians. Ivan's family, ethnic Croatians, fled Mostar as refugees, resettling first in Germany, then in London.

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Rue Amelot
Anne Sophie Goninet

How A Road Trip And YouTube Saved Me From A Bad TV News Habit

Watching the nightly news on television was a recipe for unhappiness. It's just one lesson from two years on the road in Europe, even though the depressing headlines will follow you through other channels.

In 2018, I set off with my partner in our camper van on a road trip across Europe that would wind up lasting more than two years. The experience has, not surprisingly, changed us in many ways: from how we think about bigger questions of work and life, but also our daily habits. For one thing, it has ended our attachment to television — but not for the reasons you might think.

Before beginning the van life, in our Nissan Primastar nicknamed Foxy, we lived in an apartment and had a nightly rendezvous of watching the news on TV while eating dinner. Most of the time, those 30 minutes left us, well … depressed. Even before COVID, the news mainly revolved around bleak events and bad politicians.

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Rue Amelot
Anne Sophie Goninet

Happy Birthday, COVID: The Moments Missed We’ll Never Get Back

When I blew the candles on my 29th birthday cake, on March 27th 2020, it was only 10 days after the first lockdown had begun in France. Still, I felt lucky. I remember telling myself that, even though the day included no friends, at least in 2021 for the much more momentous passage into la trentaine, I could celebrate properly. Alas...

Besides a fleeting opening up over the summer, France, like much of the world, has largely remained in lockdown mode for what in fact has now been more than one full year. Three weeks ago, when I turned 30, I was able to invite some family members to share a slice of delicious chocolate cake and a champagne flute, but my parents and my brother, who live in another region, couldn't make it because of the curfew restrictions. A big party with friends was of course out of the question.

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Rue Amelot
Ranjani Iyer Mohanty

Say It Proud, Joe! Stutterers Of The World Will Be With Biden

Our New Delhi-based writer will be watching with pride as Kamala Harris becomes the first woman of Indian descent become vice president — but is also very much aware of the glass ceiling the incoming president is breaking.

-Essay-

NEW DELHI — On January 20th, four glass ceilings will be shattered in Washington: the United States will have its first woman vice president, first vice president of color, first vice president of Indian origin… and first president with a stutter.

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Rue Amelot
Carl-Johan Karlsson

Sweden Revisited, From Nordic Model To Pandemic Pariah

MALMÖ — On one of the final Fridays of 2020, I passed through the Malmö airport customs and underwent that subtle metamorphosis from The Swede to a Swede. This crossing from the definite to the indefinite is familiar to all returning expats, and its downside (deflated exceptionalism) and perks (nostalgia, familiarity) are felt at the first native exchange, and then sporadically with depreciating force — until, if you stay long enough, you're once again part of the herd.

At this year's homecoming however, the usual reassimilation also included a new adjustment: to a country that had lost its international shine. Yes, Sweden is still perceived abroad as exceptional. But this past year, the government's refusal to impose rules to restrict contact to combat COVID-19 led to a death toll higher than all of the country's northern European neighbors combined. By flirting with a strategy of so-called "herd immunity," decades of reverence for the Swedish model of common sense and social protection has steadily turned from doubt to outright disdain.

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Rue Amelot
Hannah Steinkopf-Frank

Tale Of Two Tests: Universal Health Care In Times Of COVID-19

PORTLAND — I'm far from the first American living in Europe to extol the virtues of universal health care. It's almost a cliche at this point, but may have renewed relevance as the pandemic has laid bare the failures in medical systems around the world. After living through COVID-19 in France, a trip home would give me at least a glance at how that old comparison is holding up.

Working for several years as a freelance journalist in the United States, I had experienced the struggle of obtaining health insurance. The cheapest plan (determined by my limited income) under the Affordable Care Act still cost over $100 a month with few benefits. When I needed a dental procedure, I had to pay out of pocket and went to a student at a dental college instead of a licensed professional to save hundreds of dollars.

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Rue Amelot
Alessio Perrone

Foreign Eye On The Descent Of American Democracy, 2008 To 2020

In the midst of America’s election limbo, our Milan-based writer looks back on the first U.S. campaign he followed — from up close — and wonders what comes next.

On Sept. 15, 2008, a teenaged version of me with shaggy hair, cheap Wayfarer sunglasses and a The Clash t-shirt, stood in a packed crowd under the dry sun of Pueblo, Colorado, waiting for the candidate to arrive.

I was a month into spending my junior year of high school with a host family who lived just outside Pueblo, where locals prided themselves on hailing from Colorado's ninth biggest city. The year 2008 was also when the financial crash was tumbling global economies, and had already sent much of my host family's savings up in smoke. As for the U.S. presidential campaign in full throttle, I didn't know much, but someone had explained to me that Colorado was a swing state, which had brought both candidates to Pueblo.

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Rue Amelot
Ranjani Iyer Mohanty

Dinner With Netflix, When A Lockdown Drama Turns Extra Dark

From the moment the movie began, I had a funny feeling.

First, there were no opening credits — nothing to tell us who the producers or director were nor what famous actors would appear. No sign of even the author's name, like they showed in The Godfather. But I had seen Batman Begins, so I wasn't too worried.

Then I noticed there was no opening theme song (think Charade or Manhattan) to set the tone and tell me what to expect. But, during the past six months of online on-demand bingeing, I had seen all the James Bond movies and was used to waiting five minutes for the action and beautiful people and pulsating music to burst on the screen.

For the moment, all I saw was a table out in a pleasant backyard set with plenty of food and drink. The time was evening and the season was fall. The movie was in color — not high-definition, but it would do.

Then suddenly a couple entered the frame and sat down. I scanned their faces carefully. They looked strangely familiar but were neither famous nor beautiful. In fact, they were quite ordinary and frankly a little plump. Their clothes seemed a touch too festive for the informal occasion. But they looked friendly, rather flushed, even a bit excited. They started talking right away, exchanging some pleasantries, making a few small jokes — not particularly funny ones — that they laughed at themselves. Then, they looked deep into the camera and asked the most ordinary social questions … How are you doing? How's the family? Not the greatest dialogue and I couldn't quite figure out where the plot was going, but hey, the movie was just beginning.

They sat quietly for a while, looking back and forth at the camera and each other. I wondered if parts of this would be silent like in The Artist. Then they laughed nervously, reached out for the food, and began eating. They talked of very mundane things, and continued to periodically look at the camera nervously. Their awkwardness reminded me of the dinner at the in-laws in Shrek 2.

I wondered who these two rather pathetic, middle-aged people could be. Maybe he was a Nobel Prize winner, but she was the real brains behind the work. Maybe he was an adventurer and she owned a large farm in Africa. Or perhaps he was a famous resistance leader and while she admired him, she actually loved a short surly heart-broken café owner with a piano-playing sidekick. But in this movie, there would be no character development to speak of.

I couldn't quite figure out where the plot was going, but hey, the movie was just beginning.

Suddenly, as a contrast, I thought of that scene in Pulp Fiction where John Travolta takes Uma Thurman to a restaurant — and I hoped fervently that, like in the Tarantino masterpiece, a great song would start up and this couple would break out on the dance floor. But they didn't do that either.

Indeed, there was no music at all in this film. How was I to know what to feel — when to laugh, when to cry, when to empathize with the characters, when to suspect them, when to get scared, when to know everything would be just fine — if there were no musical cues?

Photo: jeshoots

Still, I felt certain that something dramatic must be about to happen, something like Mr. and Mrs. Smith each pulling out a long knife. Or Timothy Spall announcing to Kristin Scott Thomas that he was leaving her. Or maybe this couple was like Martha and George — although you wouldn't know it from their stilted dialogue — and another dysfunctional couple would join them.

The suspense was killing me, but I had to get up to go pee. I told my husband to hit pause.

When I came back, the movie was still running. I angrily asked him why he hadn't hit the pause button. My husband looked at me with glazed eyes and said that he couldn't find the pause button. As Dickie Greenleaf said in The Talented Mr. Ripley, "Spoo-ky-ky-ky".

Then, suddenly, there was some action on the screen. The couple had pushed back their chairs and were standing up. They were both looking straight at the camera and appeared visibly upset. Now at last there would be some exciting dialogue. "I don't know what the hell you two are playing at, inviting us here and not talking to us all evening," said the man. "But we've had more than enough." The woman, sobbing quietly, added: "And to think that after months of isolating, you two were the first friends we had wanted to see."

Truly experimental, so avant-garde!

OK, now things were getting interesting. We watched intently. The couple looked at the camera expectantly for a few moments, then shook their heads, sighed heavily, and left the frame.

My husband and I sat for a minute, watching their empty chairs, waiting for them to return; they did not. Then we sat for another minute, waiting for the closing credits; there were none.

Disgusted, I turned to my husband. "What a ridiculous movie! Didn't you read the RottenTomatoes reviews?"

He looked gobsmacked — like First Officer Murdoch after shooting two passengers on the Titanic — and whispered, "I thought you had."

But later on that night, I began to reevaluate what we had seen. No opening or closing credits. No music. Unattractive actors. No plot or character development. A script that perfectly captured the utter boredom of our reality. Breaking down the fourth wall ... Truly experimental, so avant-garde!

Or wait. Maybe this was just the first episode of another one of those series they label "slow burn," designed to suck you in whether you want to watch or not. Anyway, I'm hooked and we'll definitely be there for the next episode.

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Rue Amelot
Alessio Perrone

Lombardy Postcard, The Autumn Of Our Second-Wave Angst

MILAN — I recently spent a weekend at the Lago d'Iseo, a picturesque area of Lombardy at the foot of the Alps east of Milan, the city where I live. The air was hot and still, resting damp and heavy like a warm towel placed over your face. Dark clouds loomed all day across the lake, but the sun scorched everything. My girlfriend and I hiked, sipped local sparkling wine, soaked in the light. Wary of the heat, but without swimsuits, we dipped in the lake with our shorts and socks.


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Paris Calling
Rozena Crossman

Bad American Art — How Trump Looks In France

A self-described American aesthete has no good answers for her French friends aghast at the reality show in the White House.

-Analysis-

PARIS — Even as the Republican National Convention invades our screens this week, I keep going back to an unlikely sentence written a few months ago about Donald Trump's presidency: "Artistic institutions should be taken seriously."

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