Recently by Richard Goldstein
Arts journalists whose beat broaches popular culture bear a special relationship to slang. For us it is a vector of transgressive impulses that are often the source of vitality, one of the ways we can measure the influence of outsiders who intrude upon the signifiers of propriety. It announces the alter-identity of an emergent group. Indeed the replacement of black slang with the jargon of the internet is one sign of a shift, not just in the status of minorities but in the authority of tech over the social imagination. Think of it: a medium has replaced a class as the basis of linguistic innovation. Give me a think piece on that by midnight, and keep it to 500 words.
All the more reason why cultural journalists should be drawn to the new and authoritative dictionary of slang by the British scholar Jonathon Green. He happens to be a good friend, but he also knows a fine French cheese when he smells one, and he's a recognized expert on the subject of this book. The fruit of 17 years' work, Green's Dictionary of Slang (Oxford University Press) contains within its three volumes copious discussions of 110,000 words from all across the Anglophone world. Here you will find everything you always wanted to know about language that makes you feel like a badass when you use it, and more than you could have imagined about its endurance.
They were out in force at Cannes, in black T-shirts bearing the name of the martyred artist--not that Iranian director imprisoned by his government to prevent him from attending the festival, but Roman Polanski. Here in France quite a few filmmakers as well as some prominent politicians and intellectuals have joined the crusade to free him.
Reflecting the mood on the Croisette, Woody Allen told an interviewer that Polanski had paid a fair price for his "mistake." That would be 42 days in a hospital prison before he decided to flee the country--a fair price for drugging and seducing a 13-year-old girl, according to Allen, who added that Polanski had suffered enough over the years. Allen's empathy may stem from his own run-in with the courts. In 1993 he lost the right to unsupervised visits with his children when a judge ruled that his 7-year-old daughter needed protection from him, and after he ran off with her 22-year-old sister.
Despite the ample publicity it has received, the Polanski Liberation Front is hardly a mass movement in France. But it isn't hard to find men--especially men of a certain age--who regard his arrest in Switzerland and possible deportation to the United States as a grave injustice. And since Polanski is a French citizen, even the government got involved at first. The president talked to his Swiss counterpart, and the foreign minister voiced the hope that the whole affair would "come to a favorable resolution." The minister of culture, an important figure here, proclaimed himself "astonished" by Polanski's detention, but he grew silent after it was revealed that he had written a memoir in which he confessed--ruefully, it must be said--to engaging in sex tourism in Thailand. Since then the state has been, at least publicly, hors de combat.
I don't go to the theater in Paris to experience the cutting edge. For that I look to the vast and astonishing art of the French graphic novel (known here as bande dessinée, or BD) and to the fusive music of African and Eastern European performers. Paris is an entrepôt for both those forms, but in the theater you're more likely to see a stimulating production of something that's been around the block. Greek tragedy is hot this year, along with classic American musicals.
Last month I saw A Little Night Music performed so discerningly, by an elegant cast (including Leslie Caron) and a large symphony orchestra, that it actually seemed like more than Stephen Sondheim's typical blend of Ravel and The Fantasticks. Last fall I caught the Odéon theater's rendition of Sophocles' Philoctetes, which felt like an entirely new experience. I'd seen Ron Vawter's version in New York during the AIDS epidemic, and so I remembered the play as a harrowing account of stigma. But at the Odéon it was a deeply moving study of conflict and devotion between fathers and sons. I've aged into this second interpretation, but I was still surprised. And that, for me, is the essential Parisian theatrical experience: rethinking.
There are many words for gypsies, most of them spoken with a snarl in much of Europe. But no city is more willing than Paris to honor the most traditional market niche for the Rom. You can see them on the metro, mining for euros with an accordion or a guitar, an amplifier on a wheelie providing a rhythm track. They're called upon to entertain at fairs and fests, and there's a vital jazz scene here that goes by the name manouche. That's a Belgian word for gypsy, as well as the nickname of that country's most famous Rom, the greatest genius of European jazz, Django Reinhardt.
Give a Parisian promoter an excuse and he'll put on a festival honoring Django, and this year--the centennial of his birth--has produced all sorts of commemorations. But only one musician practices jazz manouche as taught to him by his celebrated grandfather, and this year he's in especially great demand. Last weekend I caught David Reinhardt and his trio at a tubular boite in the club district around Châtelet. I expected to hear the propulsive fluency branded by Django and imitated by many jazz guitarists since. What I got instead was a surprise.