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This Recording

is dedicated to the enjoyment of audio and visual stimuli. Please visit our archives where we have uncovered the true importance of nearly everything. Should you want to reach us, e-mail alex dot carnevale at gmail dot com, but don't tell the spam robots. Consider contacting us if you wish to use This Recording in your classroom or club setting. We have given several talks at local Rotarys that we feel went really well.

Pretty used to being with Gwyneth

Regrets that her mother did not smoke

Frank in all directions

Jean Cocteau and Jean Marais

Simply cannot go back to them

Roll your eyes at Samuel Beckett

John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion

Metaphors with eyes

Life of Mary MacLane

Circle what it is you want

Not really talking about women, just Diane

Felicity's disguise

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Monday
Apr022012

In Which Hedy Lamarr Refuses To Stand Still And Look Stupid

Beauty as the Beast

by RHAGEN RUSSELL

When I first met Hedy Lamarr, about twenty years ago, she was so beautiful that everybody would stop talking when she came into a room. I don't think anyone concerned himself very much about whether or not there was anything behind her beauty; he was too busy gaping at her. Of her conversation I can remember nothing: when she spoke one did not listen, one just watched her mouth moving and marveled at the exquisite shapes made by her lips.

— George Sanders

The 2004 documentary Calling Hedy Lamarr finds its most compelling moment during an episode at the Hollywood Wax Museum. The camera follows Hedy Lamarr’s adult son, Anthony Loder, as he fails to locate his mother’s wax representation and approaches an employee for assistance. Loder’s demeanor wilts at the explanation offered – Lamarr’s figure was dismantled to make room for a Tomb Raider (Tomb Raider!) display.

Loder is a son haunted by his mother’s legacy, and by the need to reconcile that legacy with his recollection of her imperfect personhood. The scene’s implications are wider, though, and speak to our primal dread of impermanence. As awareness of past distinction expires with the memories of those who observed it, and the atrophy of culture-specific meaning threatens even former luminaries with obscurity, we scramble to rescue these icons as compact, portable myths. We are all lucky – luckier than Anthony Loder – to be satisfied with the condensed versions.

The condensed version of Hedy Lamarr appears more relevant and more contested than it has been in many decades. A wealth of post-mortem publicity over the past several years has centered primarily on the scientific innovations she co-conceived, recognition for which during her lifetime was little and much too late. She is now touted, quite suddenly, as the embodiment of beauty plus brains – and the true story of her role as inventor has shown to be no letdown. Interestingly, this occurs as the bulk of her work as an actress gradually proves no opponent to the test of time. Biographies, newspaper write-ups, and memoirs by her contemporaries are littered with lamentations that MGM was never able to put her to proper use.

Criterion Collection buffs skim past the array of vamp roles that seldom did Lamarr justice, and few folks these days could name three of her films; what lingers is the charisma and “real-life” image of the woman. Calling Hedy Lamarr colors that image a tragic one, in effect if not intent. But was Lamarr’s life (which was dotted with major successes, but which culminated with seclusion and litigiousness) a tragedy? Difficult to say. If so, it was as much the tragedy of an entire society as a single woman.

Lamarr was born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler in 1913, to wealthy and vaguely Jewish parents in Vienna. She was by all accounts nurtured, well-adjusted, and (up to the point of her departure from school at 16) academically capable. As early as that, she possessed both the reckless confidence necessary to pry her way into film roles and sufficient body image issues to drive her to a stimulant-induced seizure during a weight-loss scheme. By the age of eighteen, she had graduated from bit parts in light Austrian films to stage roles under Max Reinhardt to the lead role in the controversial Czech modernist picture Ecstasy.

The movie was a terrific source of international career hype for Lamarr, as it’s impossible to put a price on public outrage. Blocked by U.S. Customs and condemned not only by the preposterously named Legion of Decency but also by Hitler himself, Ecstasy was the first theatrically-released film to depict sexual intercourse. It also afforded Lamarr the lasting distinction of having performed cinema’s first female orgasm. The sequence in question — replete with insinuated male-on-female oral gratification and the heavy-handed imagery of a snapped pearl necklace — feels transgressive even now. The film in full is a languid expressionist ramble, presented in sun-doused nature shots, juxtaposed symbols, and sensuous, soft-focus close-ups.

Billed under her given surname and exhibiting an adolescent fullness of face, Lamarr was already no stranger to the embrace of the lens. She had posed for the renowned Austrian photographer Trude Fleischmann when she was merely sixteen, and the results — housed at the New York Public Library’s Photography Collection — remain affecting, even startling. Her sloping shoulders and clavicle pull Fleischmann’s lighting into a syrup-wet luster, making a harsh mockery of Photoshop’s every capability. Her face is immaculate, positioned to signal either vulnerability or accident. The rigidity of her torso suggests more effort; her courting of the camera feels unwieldy, for perhaps the last time.

At 19, Hedy married the third-wealthiest man in Austria, politically powerful arms baron Fritz Mandl. The relationship went sour quickly, as Mandl’s controlling nature led him not only to track her phone conversations and forbid her to work in film, but also to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in an effort to suppress prints of Ecstasy. At the point that she left Mandl, it had reportedly become necessary that she do so without his knowledge and then immediately flee the country.

When Louis B. Mayer introduced Hedy to America that year, having de-Germanized her and christened her Lamarr in the memory of a recently deceased actress, she was newly divorced and hungry for stardom. She had also become more adept at managing her beauty as an asset. This was intelligent on her part, of course, but very likely launched the preclusion of any happiness in her life. The next two decades saw the high peak and rapid decline of Lamarr’s film career, which comprised some very good roles (in 1938's Algiers, for example), some awful ones (in The Story of Mankind), and a great deal somewhere in the middle. Lamarr’s appeal was clearly not contingent on the quality of her roles, and its nature is still difficult to define.

The idea of Hedy Lamarr, when it happens to enter the mind of the younger public, stands distinctly apart from that of other paragons of cinematic appeal. Her head is not the head of Audrey or Marilyn, screen-printed and spackled across commodities ranging from lampshades to cigarette cases; similarly, her persona has resisted incorporation as a generic stamp of taste status in the vein of Katharine, Marlene, or even Rita Hayworth. Her roles were arbitrary, her acting skills largely belittled and to little consequence.

The characters she embodied most effortlessly were exotic femme fatales or remote beauties, underdeveloped or ethereal to the point of near-two-dimensionality. That she was able to breathe life into these restrictive roles — with an intrinsic warmth that remains kinetic via black-and-white prints — is the measure of her gift. Take, for example, her turn in 1940's Boom Town, as the exquisite and unscrupulous married woman who lures Clark Gable’s wildcatter-come-oil-millionaire from his wife. The role hearkens eerily back to Lamarr’s stint as Mrs. Fritz Mandl, which she described as time spent silently eavesdropping on the conversations of important men at dinner parties. In Boom Town, Lamarr’s character capitalizes by leaking information on her husband’s deals; in her own life, Lamarr made mental notes of control systems advances and arms secrets that would aid her in her later scientific efforts.

Outside of this context, though, the part is thin and typical vixen fare, offered as a wordly contrast to Claudette Colbert’s prim and childish Aryan comeliness. Lamarr’s beauty is grounded to accessibility only by her character’s simple moral repugnance; she is striking on screen but not substantial. The actresses’ real-life character was equally difficult to pin down. Hence Jeanine Basinger’s designation of Lamarr as an example of her “dream image” archetype of Hollywood woman, which Ruth Barton cites in Hedy Lamarr: The Most Beautiful Woman in Film. Her very “unreality,” Basinger posits, was the key to her effect. She “created her own legend…[and] was the last of a movie star type in which we never really knew what her story is.”

While she was alive, Lamarr managed and protected her image as only an egomaniac could. She self-policed with the trademark fastidiousness of a woman with a warped sense of her own value. She offered revisionist accounts of her past, bits and pieces of self-revelation, and rescinded even these more often than not. Her autobiography, published when she was in her fifties and purportedly gleaned from hours of recorded dictation, was a depressing and scandal-centric narrative sprinkled with moments of seeming vulnerability. True to form, it found her projecting an alternating abundance and lack of confidence, and summarily dismissing entire stages of her life (“The trouble is I love him for the same reason everybody loved him. There was no special love.” An entire marriage waved off in two sentences.) Hedy later proclaimed Ecstasy and Me the work of a ghostwriter run amok and set about suing her publisher. It seems the book, like her six marriages themselves, was an offer of intimacy followed by a healthy punch of never-mind.

With Lamarr dead, we’re left very little from which to sculpt a notion of her person. The few larger themes of her life which feel certain also feel uncomfortable, because they feel discordant, and the discord rings true and familiar. She was intelligent enough to utilize her searing beauty as the asset it was, but she couldn't manage to outsmart a world that reduced her to a mere body. To any female striving to self-actualize as a whole individual, that is just plain scary. Hedy Lamarr was the ordeal of The Beauty Myth, manifested in a single life.

Can an intelligent *and beautiful* woman ever truly step away from the mirror? Lamarr’s tale was one of extremes — extreme beauty, extreme gifts – and doesn’t bode well when taken as a case study. Everyone’s favorite merry, potato-headed anecdote bank, Robert Osborne (I mean this sincerely – he is my absolute favorite), objected to the characterization of Lamarr as a “sad figure,” but conceded that the allure which brought her stardom wrought only heartbreak in her personal life. “Lamarr’s beauty was also her burden,” he remarked, “and from it she would never escape.”

It wasn’t for lack of trying. What’s clear about Lamarr’s persona circa 1940 is that she found the typical Hollywood nightlife distastefully rambunctious. She preferred to socialize in small gatherings of friends, avoided alcohol completely, and spent her spare time building an impressive art collection and, well, inventing. While she spoke four languages and had an apparent understanding of technology, she wouldn’t have been mistaken for an intellectual. She considered invention as a hobby, by all accounts, and approached it lightheartedly. But the idea she conceived with inventing partner George Antheil, an avant-garde American composer just returned from Paris, was astoundingly ahead of its time.

Drawing from her conversational exposure to the intricacies of arms technology during her first marriage, Lamarr proposed that they explore radio control of torpedoes. The next step, according to Richard Rhodes’ Hedy’s Folly (an unflowery but immensely readable 2011 examination of the pair’s work), was Lamarr’s consideration of enemy interference. The key innovative aspect of Lamarr’s concept was her solution to the interference issue — that is, the issue of enemy forces deliberately “jamming” signals they detected at set frequencies. The idea was to synchronize both transmitter and receiver to switch together between frequencies in an unpredictable pattern, or to “frequency hop.”

Antheil’s particular expertise was put to use as the pair determined a method for synchronizing the frequency switches of the transmitter and receiver. As it happened, the best-known of his musical works was (and still is) Ballet Mécanique, a piece which happened to call for the synchronized play of sixteen pianos. The “ballet” Antheil had in mind was a performance by machines as opposed to human dancers, and he had labored to regulate the exact tempos of multiple pianolas playing paper rolls. He applied this hard-won skill to the new radio control device, deciding that the transmitter and receiver would be programmed by means of similar rolls of paper, slotted and attached to a vacuum and pushrod system. After the pair worked out the remaining electronic and logistic details of their “Secret Communications System,” they submitted an application and received U.S. Patent 2,292,387 in 1942.

While the idea of a Hollywood glamour queen patenting a military invention is novel in itself, more extraordinary is the fact that it was an invention of consequence. According to Rhodes, the military worked to establish systems of communication based on frequency hopping (or “spread spectrum, as it came to be called) from 1945 to 1978. While the technology was not implemented until the Cuban Missile Crisis twenty years post-patent, it eventually formed the basis for a secure radioteletype method, missile guidance systems, the Air Force Phantom radio system, a navigation system, and systems for secure voice communication. Equally important were its implications within the civilian communications industry. The early-1980s FCC authorization of spread spectrum communication within ISM bands led to the development of cordless phones, Bluetooth, GPS, wireless cash registers, RFID systems, and WiFi.

So, why did Lamarr and Antheil’s act of innovation go unrecognized until they were eighty-two years old and deceased, respectively? Many have suggested that her contributions were dismissed out of hand on account of her gender and appearance, and that is probably true to an extent. In the current age of Danica McKellar’s math books and Geena Davis’ Mensa membership, it’s slightly more difficult to buy into the mutual exclusion of beauty and intelligence. In Lamarr’s era, it was much more feasible that a woman’s contributions would be automatically regarded less-than-seriously. Probably more to blame for the oversight, however, were the pair’s unfortunate timing (directly prior to the military upheaval caused by the Pearl Harbor attack) and a short-term patent that resulted in government ownership of the invention. It’s necessary here, however, to discern the exact basis of Lamarr’s unhappy ending. Her most important struggle was obviously one of self-worth and wholeness, not one for public awareness. It was a personal struggle, and it doesn’t require a leap to conclude that she failed.

In a culture that compels women to view themselves as they imagine others view them, and to act always in anticipation of or response to that assessment, the camera is a perfect catalyst for self-objectification. The vast public eye becomes a special Panopticon for women already given to excessive body discipline and commodification of self. Selecting to consciously utilize one’s feminine sexual assets (and thereby present oneself as an object to others) in a bid for empowerment is a far trickier game than most anticipate. To put it simply, we more often than not fall for our own tricks — we become the objects we imitate, and buy into the gender roles we contrive to exploit.

This was Lamarr’s story, on a grander scale than most. She expressed her dissatisfaction with superficial vapidity, famously quipping, “Any girl can be glamorous. All you have to do is stand still and look stupid.” She endeavored, at least for a time, to make her mark outside of the realm of entertainment and looks. But for all her intelligence and ostensible self-possession, she shouldn’t be accused of role-model status, feminist or otherwise. Her string of dissolved attachments to men evinced a repeated failure of execution, not a disavowal of necessity. She was ever-aware of her aesthetic allure, and deftly wielded it to get ahead in her career and manage her love life. The same maneuvering may well have engendered the inescapable emptiness of her film roles and real-life romances, and deeply distorted her personal standards of success.

If Lamarr was indeed youthfully playful and high-spirited into her old age, as Osborne asserts, then her capacity for dissociation may have been tantamount to her beauty and talent. She was, after all, the same woman who denied Forbes Magazine’s 1990 request for an in-person interview before quickly adding this comment: “I still look good, though.” At 75, she was consumed with and debilitated by her failure to remain gorgeous forever. She lived alone and carefully avoided photos and publicity, going so far as to sue national magazines when they speculated at her condition. When she was finally acknowledged with a Pioneer Award from the Electronic Frontier Foundation in 1997, Lamarr refused to be seen at the ceremony, accepting through an audio message instead.

Rhagen Russell is a contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Shreveport. This is her first appearance in these pages.

Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you. On one level, we all know this stuff already — it’s been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, bromides, epigrams, parables: the skeleton of every great story.

- David Foster Wallace

Saturday
Mar312012

In Which We Learn The Meaning Of Platonic

You can view our Saturday fiction archive here from now until the sun dies.

Covert

by JOHANNA DEL RAY

No one but myself knows what I have suffered, nor what I have gained, by your unsleeping watchfulness and admirable pertinacity.

- Black Arrow

"The better way," Miss Hamm said with a glib smile, "is to pat it down with your hands."

"Someone taught you that?" Lira asked.

She shook her head. "I read it in a book." Lira had to learn from Miss Hamm's lips, as there were only five books in the manse. Two chronicles by Robert Louis Stevenson, and the rest may as well have not existed. They were in French. Lira spent the afternoon dusting the two attic rooms, preparing them for what her employer called "new arrivals." They had not been in use for some time, since long before the last war.

It was her task to sort the produce, celery from lettuce, avocado from cucumber. For each patient she cut up some in a little cup. The gals were evidently thankful by the way they nodded to Lira. The ward was all women except for a few token males: Miss Hamm's young son Daniel was the gardener, there was a border collie who had impregnated a stray somewhere on the property, Alex Pearl and his brother Ben were the only male employees, and Miss Hamm had a friend named Veld. It was how Lira learned the true meaning of the word platonic.

Veld took her aside suddenly as she was packing up the little crates for the food service. She could not imagine what he was going to say, but after a foreboding prelude, he asked her help in picking out a gift for Miss Hamm. She was both a little disappointed and relieved. Then she felt panicky, for in truth she could not know what someone with fine tastes would even want.

Brushing his long hair from his brow, Veld asked her to not tell Miss Hamm, but she went to do so anyway, at the first opportunity. Her supervisor was sewing the pocket of a long trench coat.

"Lira," Miss Hamm said after hearing the story, bouncing a thimble on her bottom lip, "you must like someone." With the excretion of a border collie no doubt somewhere in her hair, it did not seem like a moment to admit to anything, even if the confession was a lie. She told her mistress what Veld had said earlier.

Miss Hamm stopped sewing and began writing something. "What did you tell him?" she asked. Lira found herself saying, "I couldn't have answered him if I wanted to, and I found that I did not want to anyway."

Later that week a new patient arrived, a young woman by their standards, younger than Miss Hamm, named Miss Darlington. Miss Darlington was a lovely blonde shaped something like a crane. She and Miss Hamm had known each other in some previous life and acted like old friends. In the mornings Lira got in the habit of serving the two women and Veld tea in a leisurely fashion. They would ask her to sit with them if she did not have some other work, which was rare. She found that Veld paid roughly the same amount of attention to his two friends. He spoke to her infrequently, only to ask a question or to suggest he would fetch the next cup himself.

At the onset of spring, Miss Darlington did the opposite, catching a virus that weakened the feeling in her legs. The bug was not contagious. Veld did not mind sitting in the attic; it was not Lira's favorite, but Miss Hamm begged off due to her claustrophobia. Without her boss around, she found Miss Darlington altogether different from Miss Hamm in a way she had never seemed during their placid tea-times.

In the evening when everyone was sleep she sat on her bed and read one of the Robert Louis Stevenson novels. She heard him say, that others may display more constancy is still my hope, and felt the urge to obey.

By the following Friday, Miss Darlington seemed to have recovered, a refreshingly full cast came over her cheeks. She took Lira into town of Tunstall on a wandering pursuit of a new collar for the border collie; she had named the dog Leslie. After ten or so minutes of small talk, Miss Darlington said, "She's quite unused to this, you know. She's doing her best."

Lira knew to tread carefully. "Yes, ma'am."

"When I knew her," she said, "she would read our palms and tell us our fortune. Give me yours. If there's a war, your friend Veld will be called off. Does that bother you?"

Lira thought for a moment. "No."

"It should, Lira, it should. Suppose you were called off. Don't you think he'd be sad?" She look Lira to a fashionable store, one she would have never dared enter on her own. Miss Darlington tried on a few jumpers, nothing particularly seemed to suit her. When they were alone in the dressing room she opened a large black purse and showed her a small silver box.

"What's in there?" Lira found herself asking.

Miss Darlington said, "A gift from Mr. Veld. I'm returning it." Inside was a necklace that glowed with anticipation.

"You don't like him," Lira said.

"No, I don't," Miss Darlington said. "Does that surprise you? Well perhaps it does, you're not used to condescension. It's when someone is saying something they half mean."

"Doesn't that make everything condescending?" Lira said.

"Nearly so," Miss Darlington said.

In the bathroom of a diner, Lira made what small changes she could in her appearance.

Johanna Del Ray is a contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Atlanta.

"Kill For Love" - Chromatics (mp3)

"Lady" - Chromatics (mp3)

"No Escape" - Chromatics (mp3)

 

Friday
Mar302012

In Which We Stroll Into The Voided Place

On Foot

by KARA VANDERBIJL

In this part of California, it is too hot to walk. My mother pulls us in a red Flyer wagon to Target over shimmering pavement. If somebody remarks that their house is twenty minutes away, they mean that there are several hills, valleys, and sinuous freeways between us. I cannot read for more than ten minutes in the car without getting sick. Since the heat has kept us from opening a car or house window for five years, I remain convinced that the entire state of California smells like a Budweiser factory, the only odor strong enough to penetrate glass.

Before, our small blue house was the destination, raspberry fields and dairy farms dotting the countryside along the way. Odors of cow manure and freshly cut lawns crept across the northernmost part of Washington State. We sang “Home, Home on the Range” every time our old Honda passed a collapsing barn. I was always in the backseat, pulled along by a series of small, stable explosions.

More than to any one person, my childhood memories cling to nooks and crannies of the world: the high, diesel-smelling inside of a moving truck carrying all of our belongings from the Pacific Northwest to Los Angeles; the smoggy freeways, the blur of a water reservoir on the right, the diamond window panes of an old house; a library, concealed in the basement of a church; a crosswalk in Burbank, and my mother holding our hands with both of hers; the Redwoods and the Canadian border, deep in the night.

These places are now, as they were then, only accessible by car.

I wish to speak a word for distance, for absolute inconvenience and dependence, as contrasted with what is expected, saved up for in childhood piggy banks or on the backs of greasy hard-earned high school paychecks, – to see People fueled by the strength of spirit and limb, rather than by horsepower. I wish to make an extreme statement, for there are enough champions of driving – if you don’t believe me, you haven’t been spending enough time at the Department of Motor Vehicles.

I have met but a few people in my life who remember how to walk, much less appreciate it; for a sad number among these, the greatest pleasure in walking is the pleasure in arriving at their destination, normally a place in which to buy food or beverages, the consumption of which they justify by recalling the “great” distance that they have walked. As for those who not only remember how to walk, but also treasure the activity in itself rather than viewing it as a simple means, I have only heard rumors of their existence. I believe that the entire race died out at the birth of the internal combustion engine.

Although born bipeds, we’re convinced from the cradle that the best way to travel is on the backs of four or more wheels, preferably endowed with slaughtered animal seats, a decent sound system, and air-conditioning. (Never mind that one of our greatest infant accomplishments is a series of uninterrupted steps.) We have forgotten the usefulness of distance, the necessary separation between two points, and the blissful ignorance of both that immediately follows a stroll. We should go forth on a two-block jaunt, only to forget ourselves and walk past the places public transportation will take us. If you are ready to leave behind perfect pedicures, impractical shoes, wireless hotspots and many faint hearted companions, then you are ready for a walk.

In this, I like to think of myself as a proselyte of an old faith, one that has sadly not escaped cynicism. This creed isn’t bound by left or right, nor is it defined by an environmental frenzy or a cosmetic narcissism that takes stock of post-weekend belly fat and runs, half-wheezing, around the block. In this religion, the faithful err; in their deepest devotion, they stray off the beaten path. But they are few – my fellow walkers and I think of ourselves as the last converts, frequently bypassed, gawked at, honked at, catcalled and almost run over by the skeptics surrounding us.

Were there not a half-mile stretch between my home and the El, and then between the El and my place of employ, my existence would take a dishearteningly pedestrian turn. I gladly sacrifice the extra hour of sleep many of my colleagues enjoy in order to make my way up stairs and over curb, through rain and snow and freezing wind. That a person could spend – without committing suicide – but a cumulative five minutes outside every day, spanning only the space between one seat and the next, seems incomprehensible. Why such complacency? Complete immobility, which once only attracted the people whose lives of combat or extreme curiosity had spent their legs, now enthralls some of the youngest members of our society.

I am determined not to be one of them.

Like all pure things, the best walk is born out of necessity, not desire. It begins as a crossing and ends as an offering, a sacrifice of the mind to the body.

I first saw the ocean through the creaking boards of the Santa Monica pier. Paralyzed with fear, I couldn’t pay attention to the fragrance wafting from churro stands or to the chiming of arcade games. I watched the Pacific churn gray and green beneath my feet as my mother tugged on my hand, reassuring me that the boards wouldn’t fall to pieces, that the relentless pull of the tide would not – as my child mind had already imagined – drag the entire structure away from the shore as soon as I stepped onto it.

The act of walking generates a voided space which is no more a village than it is a forest, no more civilized than wild. Fully engaged, your senses will not allow you to get lost the labyrinths in your mind. In rhythm with your steps your thoughts will follow the paths that your body prescribes.

If I simply become a body, or if I indulge in thoughts best left undisturbed during my walk, I have done it an injustice. A walk is neither a form of exercise nor a moving meditation. It is both or nothing at all.

You will walk far before you know where you must go. Consider first the places that you must visit out of obligation to yourself or to others. Pick a long and roundabout way, including at least one place to rest and one place of magnificent natural beaty. Guarantee that your walk is a quarter to a half-mile longer than you expect you can manage, and extend it when it becomes too easy for you. Walk it as many times as it takes to know it by heart. Then choose a new one.

All roads tend towards parking lots, benches, retailers, public parks, large bodies of water, and sheer cliffs. For every route you choose to walk, there are a dozen places to stand and observe. If you reach the end of a road, stop for a moment and consider that there will never be enough sidewalk for the amount of walking you plan to do. Then turn around and walk to the other end.

Beware of roads that do not frighten you. Avoid any philosophy that makes the world seem smaller or larger than it appears to be from your place on the road. Allow yourself to have a favorite route, or perhaps more than one. Go back to them only when you have changed enough to forget why you loved them.

Along the coast in Marseille there is a path that we call la corniche, a generic French term for any road that curls along the edge of the city in tune with the shoreline. Alternately hugging limestone cliffs and jutting out bravely over the Mediterranean, it is a favorite among joggers, Sunday strollers, and fishermen. Beginning at the Old Port, you'll weave between impromptu stalls where freshly caught sardines and other fruits de mer wait to be sold; from the port’s left shoulder ferries leave, transporting sunburnt tourists to the Chateau d’If where, in spite of its foreboding exterior, they will listen to a very dry lecture about how the Count of Monte Cristo was not an actual historical figure.

You will continue down the port’s left arm, past small yachts and smaller fishing boats on the right, and on the left past various theatres and scuba diving schools and hotels and young men riding scooters far too quickly and restaurants where bouillabaisse is the specialty. Before heading up the hill past one of Napoleon’s many fortresses and an abbey from the thirteenth century, you turn around briefly to survey Marseille: whitewashed, salted, preserved in a sort of sun-dappled glory. This is the oldest city in France.

Across from the fortress is a palace, and many apartment buildings, some with laundry floating out kitchen windows. There is a bakery at the top of the hill where you might buy a particularly crusty croissant. Beyond a very small gas station, the road curves sharply; here is a beach, and here, at last, an open expanse of sea to marvel at. Young people, oiled, play volleyball in an enclosed court. Middle-aged women with skin like leather wring out their hair on the sand as they emerge from the waves.

Stand here for a moment, as I have done, convinced that all of France must smell as wonderful as the combination of salt water and the breeze from Morocco and the buttery remnants of pastry on your fingers. Then keep walking. I believe in bridges, and trying my luck under scaffolding, and purposefully wearing flats when I plan on going ten miles. I require small inconveniences in life, if only to remember my great fortune.

Kara VanderBijl is the senior editor of This Recording. She is a writer living in Chicago. She last wrote in these pages about The Hunger Games. You can find an archive of her work on This Recording here. She tumbls here and twitters here.


 "Total Nirvana" - Noir Coeur (mp3)

"Hizzouse" - Noir Coeur (mp3)

"Wet Souls" - Noir Coeur (mp3)