May 10, 2014

The Eurovision Factor: Coeur Estragon


Drumroll please...It's time for the 59th annual Eurovision contest: the Europe-wide hunt for the best, newest, freshest, and undoubtedly cheesiest new song and performer from each country. We have Eurovision to thank (or blame) for ABBA (1974, Sweden, "Waterloo") and Céline Dion (1988, for the song "Ne Partez Pas Sans Moi", representing Switzerland despite being Canadian. I call shenanigans). It's like the Oscars, the X Factor, the Olympics, and the Miss America pageant all rolled together, with more fog machines and floor lighting and almost no commercial breaks (God, I love Europe sometimes!).

This year's French entrant is a trio called Twin Twin, whose song is so very French French and current current. Mysteriously, the three unrelated Twin Twins are followed by Russians who are actual identical twins. Twin Twin's song for the contest, "Moustache", sounds like what's on French radio these days.

The contestant getting the most attention this year, however, is certainly Conchita Wurst, from Austria, a glamorous transvestite who, coincidentally, has a mustache. I am not a fan of the Céline Dion style soaring ballad, so fully aside from the incongruity of the her bearded look with evening gown and full make up, I think her song is simply the wurst.

But I'm not judging. 50% of the vote is by public phone or text vote for about 15 minutes after the singing stops. The other 50% comes from representatives from each of the represented countries (a panel of five music experts, who can't vote for their own country). It feels something like watching Olympics during the Cold War in this respect, as the Baltic states all band together, and the Scandinavians, etc. ("Ve vill trade wotes, yes? Excellent, my comrade! Let us toast wiss ziss wodka!"). There are 37 judges, and the Eurovision official site says "All the spokespersons will be announcing the votes in English, except France who will announce their votes in French." It figures.

In the beginning, France won repeatedly. But more recently, in a streak not quite as dramatic as the Red Sox, the last time we've won (I'm in France now, so who else would I root for?) was 1977. That's about the only aspect of Eurovision that's less dramatic than, well, anything else, ever, in the whole history of the world. Eurovision makes Riverdance look like a Cotillion at the WASPiest country club in Connecticut. I think Twin Twin's chances look bad bad, frankly frankly, with only 950,000 YouTube visits to their song, compared with Conchita's 4.6 million views and counting.

There are 26 countries in the final, ranging from the usual suspects to what I like to think of as "the handball countries" that you've either never heard of or couldn't place on a map: Montenegro, San Marino, Azerbaijan. This year, the competition is being held in Denmark, because it is home to last year's winner, Emmelie de Forest (for "Only Teardrops").

And now, for some real-time reporting and some of my personal faves, in addition to France (#14 on the roster):

#2, Belarus sings a song called "Cheesecake", and the lyrics include mention of Patrick Swayze, along with "I don't wanna be your cheesecake." Brilliant, and true. I don't want to be your cheesecake.

#4, Iceland. Very colorful and choreographed. They look like they're having fun and they win for sartorial splendor (no-sequin category, that is).

#5, Norway is one of Gigi's favorites. Of course it's also the second one she's seen; it's mellow, but pretty.

#7, Armenia. By now, both Pippa and Gigi have gotten out of bed (it's 9:40pm). Anthony has thrown me a dirty look for letting the girls stay up and has returned to the other room to work on setting up online access to a banking account. Yes, he would rather do that than watch Eurovision. The girls and I agree we hate Armenia -- the song and the singing, that is, not the country.

#8, Montenegro. We don't like the song, but we're all about the skater who appears to be an ice skater, despite the fact that it's on a non-ice stage. We're mesmerized.

#9, Poland. The song is "We are Slavic" and though it's sung in traditional costumes, it's a hip-hop kind of song, mixed with a little traditional dancing, that seems to be mostly about dispelling sexist stereotypes. Me likey.

#12, Germany. The song is modern, and jazzy, with a slight oompa-pa feel and an accordion. I either love it or hate it. I'm not sure which.

#13, Sweden. Along with Conchita, another one favored to win. Not gimmicky, just good. Gigi's 2nd favorite. Pippa's 1st. I'm unabashedly in it for the cheese factor, however, so I'm sticking with Belarus, Iceland, Poland, and France (so far...).

#15, Russia. Also a less gimmicky number, despite the fact that they are identical twins singing while standing on a huge teeter totter. My girls like it. I don't.

#19, Spain. It's 10:30pm now, and I've told the girls they have to go to sleep after this one. It's not a great one to end on, though. Kind of boring and slightly off-tune? The next song, Switzerland, involves whistling, handlebar mustaches, fiddling, and cute young men. But it's not so great, either.

#21, Hungary. A serious themed song about child abuse. Not your typical Eurovision lyrics. But the disco lights are still there.

#22, Malta. This shows how deeply American music permeates world culture. Perfect English with a country twang, these guys sound like they could be from Tennessee. Not my favorite, but I like it.

#23, Denmark. "Cliché Long Song" is super poppy and rather catchy. I'll be humming this one tomorrow, whether I want to or not. Home country advantage, and the crowd goes wild.


And in the end, not only is this not France's year to win, they are in absolute last place. By a long shot. And, of course, the song I called the wurst turns out to be the best. You will notice that all of my top picks are in the bottom half. You should know that I also predicted both of my daughters would be boys. Just don't ever rely on me at a race track.

Despite the embarrassing, crushing loss for France, it is, in the end, very sweet to see Conchita's emotional, Miss America-style win. She dedicates her win to a world of tolerance and peace.

THE CHEESE: Coeur Estragon

It looks almost exactly like the more famous Coeur d'Arras, but a Coeur Estragon has, as the name suggests, added "estragon" or "tarragon". It's made from raw cow's milk and washed and aged till it has a nice, stinky, orange crust. Do they really think the tarragon is strong enough to cancel out the overpowering stink? I certainly don't. Made in the far northern part of France in the same tradition as the also stinky Maroilles, or Vieux Lille, this cheese is not for the faint of heart (pardon the pun). It comes from the town of  Étrœungt, which barely looks like a French word because it's barely in France, and is located just inside the Belgian border.

The texture is somewhere between rubbery and creamy. It would undoubtedly get creamier and runnier if I left it out to really warm up, but I am perfectly happy to content myself with a small sample and, especially, a cool, small sample. The last thing I want, frankly, is for the flavor of this cheese to get more pronounced as it warms up. I think I'd eat it from the freezer if I could.


Like the Eurovision contest, this cheese is......drumroll please....very cheesy. Sure, that's a cop-out, and I could have used any cheese, especially any strong cheese. But this one resonates specially for me, as I feel like the word "estragon" always makes me think of the word "estrogen" (for obvious reasons and despite having absolutely no linguistic connection), and estrogen, in turn, makes me think of Conchita Wurst. Nevertheless, my cheesy heart belongs to Twin Twin.


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