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Leonard's Irrelevant Storytime: Hey, kids. This is where I start telling a story that meanders off on odd tangents and doesn't have the conclusion I thought it would have.

Today's story is about Saudi Arabia's own Sheik Mohammed al-Fassi, who recently was posthumously slapped with an enormous divorce settlement. Actually, this story is about his old house. That CBS news article will tell you that al-Fassi had a house in Beverly Hills which was burned down in 1980. What it won't tell you is that there's still nothing there[0]. It's a vacant lot with some statuary lions or something near the Sunset sidewalk.

My mother said this was because the Beverly Hills zoning laws prohibit any new development whatsoever, but I don't think that's true. I admit that the inhabitants seem interested in turning any arbitrary piece of fire-scorched land into a park, but assuming the house is zoned R-1, I see no reason why you couldn't build a new gaudy mansion there if there was a gaudy mansion there before.

I think a more likely explanation is that the land has been a pawn in the divorce proceedings, and that now that a judgement has been rendered, something will be built there. If development is in fact being held up by the restless natives of Beverly Hills, it's surely only because of their superstition that anything built on that lot will be as tacky as al-Fassi's place was.

Incidentally, on my trip through the Beverly Hills Municipal Code I discovered that the city enforces a blanket ban on mining and severe restrictions on oil drilling, presumably in some sort of preemptive anti-Beverly-Hillbillies move.

[0] As of the last time I passed by that way, which admittedly was several years ago.

Arty French Film--It's Good For You!: Last night I watched the ambitiously obscene La Grande Bouffe (IMDBwhack: "antique-car"), which translates as "The Big Blow-out" but which I shall hilariously mistranslate as "The Big Beef". The brilliant conceit of this movie is that four Frenchmen[0] decide to commit suicide by eating themselves to death. I feel churlish complaining about such a gifted premise, but we're never given any clue as to their motivation for doing do. There are hints that this appetite for deadly overindulgence is born of some Fight Club-ish desire for the jaded modern soul to feel something real and true, no matter what the consequences. But what actually happened was the film made it look like any given Frenchman wants to commit suicide, and lacks only the resources to do so in truly spectacular fashion. This, I suppose, was the 70s.

If I, myself, were planning to commit suicide by eating myself to death, then I, like the characters in the film, would want the relevant food to be really good. Unfortunately, I would then feel guilty about putting the cooks (for such there would have to be) through all this trouble to make all this food that I was just going to use in a suicide attempt. The characters in the film cleverly sidestep this problem by enlisting among their number a gourmet chef, whom they all assist in preparing the food. I really like this idea, and to me it's the most touching part of the film. It's not a big, wasteful, impersonal catered bachanal like I was expecting: the characters are intimately involved in preparing the instruments of their suicide.

Oddly enough, the last half-hour, the climax of the film, is pretty boring. But there are some funny scenes near the beginning, and great French movie lines like "Le deluge universal... du merde."

There is lots of pointless French movie sex in this movie. Also, the characters die like Muppets (I don't think I'm giving away anything when I say that people die in this movie). They're living, living, living, then suddenly they sort of thrash around and stretch out, dead. This fits into my mental picture of Muppet death, in which the animating force, or "hand", leaves the Muppet body and lays out the Muppet prostrate on the nearest table.

To get into the spirit of the film, I gorged myself on the following food while watching it:

I was pretty full after that, but I survived.

[0] Three of the Frenchmen are actually played by Italians. Sure, why not. I couldn't tell.


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