Wednesday, April 27, 2005

French Jews on my mind

How did it come to pass that I'm studying and am mildly obsessed with French Jews? I've taken French since third grade and have been Jewish since--and here the phrase "since God knows when" would be appropriate. It occurred to me that I'm taking three classes, one of which is a French class, one Hebrew class, and one BA "class" which involves everything French and Jewish all rolled up into one, like a Marais falafel sandwich followed by a crepe (and I wonder why a gained a few pounds in Paris). For some reason, I feel more of a connection to the late-19th-century French Jews than to most American Jews or, certainly, than to most modern-day French people. I could go into why this is the case, or better yet...

This first chapter of a biography of Marcel Proust and this one of Woody Allen make for a good back-to-back read. The Allen first chapter mentions Proust ("'...the twenty-nine pictures that, all together, form a cumulative portrait of Woody Allen's life — documents comparable in obsession if not in depth to the seven volumes of Marcel Proust's Remembrance of Things Past.'"), which I find worth noting because in a paper I wrote for a Proust class a while back, I argued that Proust's Freudian, Jewish sense of humor is not unlike Allen's, with the omnipresent mother and so forth. But beyond that, there's this sense that neighborhoods like the Faubourg Saint-Germain or the Upper East Side have a certain hold over Jews, who swallow whole the mystique in ways that non-Jews tend not to. Then again, I'm sure that if Nan Kempner were to swallow anything whole, it would be the mystique of the Upper East Side, so, as I do with most of my blog-debuted theories, I may have to abandon this one along with the rest.


Julie Fredrickson said...

Phoebe darling,

James Liu says I should get a link from you. Of course I think you probably don't like me much but hey we had cute catty words in print but I think you are damned entertaining.
It will make your blog look smarter because you focus on actual events whereas I think I mostly write on spring fashion

Petey said...

Those two chapters do indeed make a good back to back read.


I'm somewhat perplexed by your repeated use of UES when UWS seems more appropriate. It seems to me that the UWS is the heart of the NY Jewish imagination, much like the LES was several generations ago. The UES is the WASP version of the UWS.

The only way I can understand this is if, (as I'm guessing), the UES is your ancestral homeland, and thus your personal touchstone. Native NYers tend to be oddly provincial and miss the point about many NY neighborhoods - take your envy/loathing complex about Williamsburg, for example.

While there are obviously merits to the UES (like Via Quadronno), the thing that strikes me whenever I'm there is how ugly most people look, and how badly they dress. It's as if you've stumbled into Westchester South. Now, I'm admittedly always disappointed whenever I venture North of 14th, but at least folks in the UWS make an attempt to have some minimally acceptable sense of style. The UES, on the other hand, is like being stuck in a Robert Redford movie marathon.

Anonymous said...

UWS more stylish than UES? This I have not seen. Harry's Shoes and Tip-Top--these I've seen.

Petey said...

Shops are one thing. People are another.

Anonymous said...

Who do you think shops at Harry's Shoes? Look at people's feet!!! The UWS is, well, a little bit of Vienna.

Phoebe said...

My point wasn't that the UES is more Jewish than the UWS--hardly--but that the WASP, or at least upper-class American, mystique of the UES has a certain hold over the Jews who live there or who, like Allen, dreamed of living there.

Petey said...

I'll buy that explanation for a dollar.

And I'll tangentially add: I'm a fan of many post-AH Woody movies that most folks have no patience for. I think flicks like Celebrity and Curse of the Jade Scorpion are quite good, and that Shadows and Fog may be his masterpiece.

But I find his purely WASP aspirational pieces to be utterly unbearable. In the anteroom to Hell, September will be playing in an endless loop.