Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Croquis Madame

Since I was a kid, I've been obsessed with the "sound" of languages, their characteristic tones and rhythms. To this day, it drives me crazy when I overhear but can't identify a foreign language.

Not long after this obsession took hold, I realized that — although I would get better and better at recognizing by sound languages of which I had no knowledge — I would never, ever know what English sounded like to foreign ears. Just as Dutch and Hungarian and Japanese all "sounded" like something to me, so did, to others, English. But this characteristic sound is something I would never get to hear (unless I were to suffer some overwhelming neurological impairment).

It's much the same with places, with countries, cultures. What is to us as water is to fish is the most interesting possible thing to someone who doesn't live in our water. Parisians don't even notice those guys in the green jumpsuits, while to me they are the most charmingly weird thing in the world, no matter how often I visit. And so I am grateful to
Corine Lesnes
, the New York correspondent for Le Monde, and author of the excellent blog, Big Picture: Croquis d'Amérique. She helps me see how weird and wonderful, how beautiful and stupid is my city and country.

Did you know about Henry Waxman's series of investigations into Haliburton's overbillings? I mean, who knew? Not me, and I'm giving myself a pass, since a search of his name in Yahoo News retrieves forty-two stories about steroids in baseball before one damn word about Haliburton.

Mme. Lesnes' tone is bemused, exactly as it ought to be for someone trying to describe the water. Everyone's water is weird, and she can tell you exactly how ours seems weird, whether it be politics, Michael Jackson's pajamas, or just silliness like the Idiotarod. We know that all New York journalists read the Onion (at least do all the ones you'd want to read). Mme. Lesnes says so, and why.

Mme. Croquis' sketches are no blague.


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