31 March 2006

Happy Retirement, MoMom!

At looooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooong last, we have come to a very momentous day in history. At the end of today, my mom will never have to do ANYTHING that she doesn't want to do again. That's right, it's her second birthday: she's retiring! Woo hoo!

So, today's entry is short and sweet:


Happy Retirement, MoMom!

In tribute, I refer you all to this classic scene from the movie "Office Space." (Don't crank it up too loud if you're at work -- the music is bound to call negative attention to you.)

A little tip to MoMom's (almost former) boss: if you're missing any office equipment on Monday, check the pastures.

30 March 2006

The Hussy of Justice!

At long last, here he is: the Hussy of Justice, Jean-Louis!

We finally remembered to have the camera ready for his big moment on A Prendre ou A Laisser. Colin did the honors, and I think he did an excellent job of taking pictures of the TV.

Perhaps the only disappointing part is that he's not wearing a hideously colored tie. He is however ....

Coordinated with his wife, ensemble-wise. (OK, and skin-color-wise.)

Eat your heart out, ladies. He's on five times a week. Take THAT, Howie Mandel!

29 March 2006

Labor pains


Yes, I did have a good birthday yesterday ... but someone had an even better birth day! My cousin Lindsay gave birth to her second child, Marlee Grace, on March 28. Now, I'm not normally good at sharing, but I suppose I can make an exception for this. Of course, that makes three people in my family -- me, my Great Uncle Ben, and now my first cousin once removed -- who celebrate birthdays on March 28. Plus, we're all blood relatives of my mom! Go figure. Anyway, congratulations to Chad (dad), Lindsay (mom), big sister Maryn, and of course, Grandma Lee!

Fortunately, my birthday did not involve any pains or labor. Rachel was kind enough to take me out to lunch, where we got a chance to try a crêperie that I've been wanting to check out for a while. She also *made* me a birthday card, which is pretty impressive. :) On the walk back from lunch, Colin and I stopped off at the gourmet bakery Le Nôtre to get my birthday presents. I have been asking for a cake from this bakery for about three months now, partially because they have AWESOME desserts and partially because I wanted to try a new flavor. My creative boy went one step further and told me to pick out six mini cakes, so that I could try a bunch of different flavors. You can see my choices, as pictured to the left. From top to bottom, left to right, the flavors are: "Savarin Chantilly" (sponge cake soaked in rum, topped with cream); "Masai" (chocolate and caramel); "Schuss Fruits" (cream cheese, raspberry sauce and fruits); "Plaisir" (chocolate mousse, cream cheese and toffee); "Concerto" (dark chocolate cake and mousse layers); and in front, "Tartellette Citron" (a lemon tart). Geez, I can feel my waistline expanding just looking at the picture! But hey, it was my birthday ... I'm allowed to pig out. Right?

As if this isn't enough, we're having my birthday party this Saturday, with the theme of "dessert and wine." Fortunately, I will have a few people to help me celebrate (and eat), so I won't be quite as much of a mess. I hope.

Ah yes, as I previously mentioned, there was no labor on my birthday. Even though I'd like to say that I gave everyone the day off, the truth is that there was another massive countrywide strike yesterday. Aside from the protest parade, most businesses were shut down, too. That included most public transportation, all post offices, the media outlets, and even the Eiffel Tower. I can't say that I was inconvenienced, but the streets were noticably quieter yesterday. What really made me chuckle, though, was the night before when the reporters were interviewing people at the train stations, asking what they would do without the trains and buses. Seriously, every person started their answer with, "Well, like usual ..." That's just how common strikes are around here. No big deal!

The sad part was seeing more violence on TV last night. The police seemed to have better control this time, but what was abundantly clear was that the protestors are NOT the ones causing the violence. Instead, there is a group of youth that target the end of the parade route, where they start fights and do lots of property damage. It almost seems like they are purposefully doing this in an attempt to give the protestors a bad name. What a sick way to show your political differences!

The controversial CPE law goes into effect as soon as Chirac signs it, unless de Villepin withdraws or postpones it. Chirac is going to make some kind of a statement later this week about the whole thing, but thus far, he has said that he supports de Villepin. I don't think that de Villepin is going to back down, but I also think that the protests will continue indefinitely. They just aren't losing any steam - in fact, yesterday's protest was about twice as large as the one we attended about a week ago. But, our friend Muriel says that, if de Villepin retracts the law, he will have to resign as prime minister (that's the way it has always gone in the past). Both sides have a lot to lose by backing down.

Anyway, Colin and I are going to avoid "labor pains" of our own by staying away from the protests from now on. It's a shame that a small group of violent people can ruin a peaceful expression of free speech. Here's hoping for a resolution soon ...

28 March 2006

Happy le birthday, Amy !

[Posted by Colin.]

Well, today is Amy's "29th" birthday...though I promised her I wouldn't tell anybody how many times we've celebrated her "29th" birthday. I guess it's time to run out and get her a present but, before I do that, let's just wish her

Happy birthday
Bon anniversaire
Gueter geburtsdaa
Kul sana wa intai tayeba
Zorionak
Yumi selebretem de blong bon blong yu
Deiz-ha-bloaz laouen deoc'h
Som owie nek mein aryouk yrinyu
Vsechno nejlepsi k Tvym narozeninam
Hartelijk gefeliciteerd
Zorionak zure urtebetetze egunean
Bonne fête
Alles gute zum Geburtstag
Fortuna dies natalis
Vill Gleck fir daei Geburtsdaag
Grattis på födelsedagen
and, as the Dalai Lama would say, Droonkher Tashi Delek!

26 March 2006

Menu #6: A springtime meal from Centre

[Posted by Colin.]

The culinary adventure for us this week takes us to Centre, a region south of Paris that includes the famous Loire Valley chateaux. The main dish for this meal is lapin aux petits légumes aux jardin (rabbit with garden vegetables) and the dessert is tarte Tatin (a famous apple upside-down cake invented at the Hôtel Tatin in Lamotte-Beuvron).

Lapin aux petits legumes aux jardin (Rabbit with garden vegetables)
Serves 4
Prep time: 20 min
Cooking time: 50 min

Ingredients

  • 1 rabbit
  • 250 g (1/2 lb.) of carrots
  • 200 g (1/3 lb.) of green beans
  • 200 g (1/3 lb.) of pearl onions
  • 500 g (1 lb.) of peas
  • 10 cl (1/3 c.) of white wine
  • 50 cl (1 pint) of chicken bouillon
  • 1 bouquet garni (a mixture of fresh herbs)
  • 3 Tbsp of olive oil
  • 12 g (2.5 tsp) of salt
  • 5 g (1 tsp) of freshly ground black pepper
Directions

  1. Peel the carrots and cut them into spears. Snap the ends of the green beans. Peel the pearl onions.
  2. Heat up the olive oil in a stewpot, then brown the pieces of rabbit. Add the wine and cook over medium heat for a few minutes. Salt and pepper toward the end.
  3. Add the bouquet garni, the carrots, the onions, and the peas. Bring to boiling, then cover and simmer for 20 minutes.
  4. Add the green beans and simmer for 20 more minutes.
Tarte Tatin
Ingredients

DOUGH

  • 450 g (4 sticks) of butter
  • 450 g (about 3 c.) of flour

PIE

  • 150 g (1 1/3 stick) of butter
  • 125 g (a little more than 1 c.) of sugar
  • 1 kg (2 lbs.) of apples (i.e., about 5 or 6 of them)
Directions
DOUGH

  1. Sift the flour into a large mixing bowl.
  2. Separate the butter into four equal pieces. Cut in one piece of butter, until it is well blended. Add some cold water to make it into a dough.
  3. Roll out the dough, until it is about half a centimeter thick.
  4. Using a fork, flake in another piece of butter. Fold the dough into quarters and then roll it out again. Repeat until all of the butter has been used up.
PIE

  1. Preheat the oven to 190° C (375° F).
  2. Butter a cake pan. Spread the stick of butter on the bottom of the pan. Cover this with the sugar.
  3. Core and peel the apples. Cut them into thick slices and arrange them on the bed of sugar and butter.
  4. Bake for about 15 minutes (the butter and sugar will have formed caramel).
  5. Take the pan out of the oven and lay the dough on top of the caramel and apples.
  6. Bake for 15 more minutes.
  7. After the pie has cooled for several minutes, cover the pan with a serving plate. Quickly flip the pan and plate upside down.
  8. For a traditional tarte Tatin serve as is, without any accompaniments.

[Note: This recipe is my translation of the "authentic" recipe originally made in 1898 by Stéphanie Tatin. If you would like the recipe in the original French, check out the Site Officiel de la Tarte Tatin.]

25 March 2006

Confusion!

The theme of today's post is confusion!

Confusion #1 -Another bizarre sign

First things first -- the new contest. We spotted this sign on an entrance ramp to the highway that heads west out of Paris from La Défense. I am utterly clueless on what it is supposed to be advising drivers. I must figure it out, though -- this is the same road we'll be taking when we drive to Normandy with our parents (mine and Colin's, on different trips).

So, the contest is simple: write your own caption. As usual, I will value the funniest/most creative, but if you actually know what the sign means, I would really like to know! Post your entries in the comments section. Multiple entries allowed. Good luck, everyone!

Yesterday turned out to be more eventful than I originally expected. The plan was to eat lunch in the Latin Quarter, then head out to the cemetery in Neuilly to take a couple of pictures. Maggie and Rachel were good enough to join Colin and I for lunch, though unfortunately, we didn't do the greatest job picking a restaurant this time. I can't complain too much, though, since I got a main dish, dessert, and drink for 6 euros flat! I just wish the food had been more memorable. What *was* memorable, however, was our conversation. Hence...

Confusion #2: What are we really saying?

During lunch, we were talking about our recent experiences with the French language (successes, failures, helpful tips, etc), which is always good for a laugh. Maggie lamented that most of her conversations are more of a guessing game than anything else. For example, while asking for help in finding butcher-block oil, "I have a piece of wood in my kitchen. I cut things on it. The piece of wood is dry. I need some liquid to make it wet again." Ah, how many times have I played that game with salesclerks around Paris? The most memorable for me was the first time I went looking for dental floss, unknowingly using the Quebeçois translation of "soie dentaire" that I learned from a pack of floss that I had in Michigan. Of course, when the salesclerk corrected me (fils dentaire), I couldn't figure out why anyone needed to buy a dental son. It took a while to figure that one out...

Maggie's worry right now is that she is misunderstood when she thanks someone for their time and help. Why worry about this? Well, the word for ass is cul, so she thinks that when she says merci beaucoup, she thinks that the other person might be hearing merci beau-cul instead. (Thank you, nice ass!) In a way, I suppose it's a compliment: "Thanks for your help, and by the way, you have a nice ass." Maggie parted company with us after lunch (and a hearty exchange of "nice ass"), and the remaining three of us went on a hunt for the cemetery in Neuilly. Here it comes:

Confusion #3: Ceme-where?-ies

To make a long story short, there are two Neuilly cemeteries - an old one and a new one - and we went to the wrong one for who I needed! To make matters worse, we couldn't figure out how to get into the wrong one, so we ended up wandering around the edges for a good 20 minutes, culminating in walking along the side of a busy, dirty highway entrance ramp. (On the bright side, this adventure provided the fodder for the new contest.)

Thanks to a phone call from the folks at the new cemetery, we found ourselves in the conservation of the old Neuilly cemetery with a very helpful manager. Unlike the other cemeteries I've visited, neither Neuilly cemetery has a printed map or a list of celebrities that tourists can use. So, the very kind people who work there had to look up all six of my names in a computer. Even better, the head conservateur at the old Neuilly cemetery gave us a walking tour and pointed out many celebrities! As it turns out, he's writing a history on his teeny little cemetery, and is very curious to learn more about its "residents" from researchers who are visiting. He was so thoughtful and helpful, and the cemetery itself was really neat. It's very small, but well landscaped and very interesting. Thankfully, Colin was able to interpret when Rachel and I couldn't understand, so we got a good French history lesson.

The one drawback to this cemetery confusion is that there are no less than 5 entries for the same cemetery on the Find A Grave website! So, I'm holding off on posting new entries until the administrators can clean up the duplicate entries. And finally...

Confusion #4: DST, sort-of

We just learned that Daylight Savings Time starts tomorrow in all European Union countries. It does not, however, start in the US until April 2 (one week later). Geez, as if I had enough trouble remembering what time it was "back home" before now!

With that, I think I'll go watch a book or read a movie.

21 March 2006

Unfortunate Juxtapositions

Learning to speak English? Be careful which dictionary you choose...


At least the editors of our French-English dictionary were careful to keep drink and drive off the same page.

[insert your own tasteless Eddie Sutton joke here]

20 March 2006

Menu #5: An Aquitainian Feast

[Posted by Colin.]

This weekend, Amy and I continued our culinary tour de France with a some excellent recipes from Aquitaine. For the appetizer, foie gras de canard poêlé aux pommes (duck foie gras with apples); for the main plate, magret de canard aux cérises (duck filets in a cherry sauce); and for dessert, gâteau basque aux cérises (Basque cake with cherry filling). We had Banyuls (similar to Kirsch) as an apéritif, and our wine was a lovely Saint-Emilion Grand Cru.

I recommend waiting until cherry season for these recipes...they're darn near impossible to find in Paris at the moment!! (After visiting our street market, three local fruit markets, and about four supermarkets, the organic food store next door came through for us!) This marked our first experience with foie gras. We're not converts yet, but I think we're both at least willing to try it again. The main dish and dessert, however, are definite keepers for our return to the US—especially since Michigan is cherry country!

So...here we go:

Foie gras de canard poêlé aux pommes (Duck foie gras fried with apples)
Serves 4
Preparation time: 20 min
Cooking time: 15 min

Ingredients

  • 4 slices of duck foie gras
  • 4 golden delicious apples
  • 50 g (3.5 Tbsp) of butter
  • 1 Tbsp of honey
  • 4 Tbsp of cider vinegar
  • 25 g (about 2 Tbsp) of flour
  • 1 Tbsp of apple jelly
  • 15 g (1 Tbsp) of salt
  • 5 g (1 tsp) of pepper

Directions

1. Wash the apples and cut them in quarters. Cook them in a frying pan with the butter over low heat for 10 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, salt and pepper the foie gras, then roll each slice in flour. Shake off any extra flour.
3. When the apples are halfway done, heat up a non-stick frying pan and cook the foie gras in it for 2 minutes on each side. Salt and pepper at the end. Remove the foie gras and keep them warm under a sheet of aluminum foil.
4. Add honey and the vinegar to the frying pan and heat it for 2 to 3 minutes, until the sauce has a syrupy consistency. At the end, add the apple jelly.
5. Serve the foie gras with the sauce. Garnish with the apples on the side.

Magrets de canard aux cerises (duck filets in a cherry sauce)
Serves: 4
Preparation time: 45 min
Cooking time: 25 min

Ingredients

  • 2 filets of duck (about 400 g each)
  • 500 g (about 1 lb.) of cherries
  • 10 cl (about 1/4 c.) of kirsch or Banyuls
  • 2 tsp of vinegar (ideally, vinaigre de banyuls or a wine vinegar)
  • 2 Tbsp of olive oil
  • 50 g (about 3.5 Tbsp) of butter

Directions

1. Cut a criss-cross pattern into the skin of the filet. Place it skin-side down in a frying pan and cook over medium heat for 5 minutes.
2. Turn the filet and sear it over high heat.
3. Reduce the heat and continue to cook the filet for another 5 to 10 minutes, turning it often and making sure that it stays pink in the center. Salt and pepper at the end of cooking.
4. While the filet is cooking, wash the cherries and remove the pits.
5. Heat the olive oil over high heat in a frying pan. Add the cherries for 2 to 3 minutes. Spread some sugar over them, stir, and simmer for 2 to 3 more minutes. Remove the cherries with a skimmer and set them aside.
6. Add the kirsch to the frying pan and let it boil for a couple minutes. Add the vinegar and thicken the sauce.
7. Add the cherries to the sauce and stir. Then add the filet and spoon the sauce over them. Cook for 2 minutes, turning the filet once or twice.
8. Cut the filet in thin slices and serve with the cherries.

Gâteau basque aux cerises (Basque cake with cherry filling)
Preparation time: 30 min (plus setting for a couple hours)
Cooking time: 45 min

Ingredients

  • 280 g (about 3/4 c.) of flour
  • 200 g (about 1/2 c.) of sugar
  • 1 whole egg
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 200 g (about 1 2/3 sticks) of butter
  • 1 tsp of grated lemon zest
  • 1 jar of cherry pie filling (confiture de cerises noires entières)
  • salt

Directions

1. Sift the flour into a large mixing bowl. Make a crater in the middle and place in it a pinch of salt, the sugar, the whole egg, and one of the egg yolks. Mix the ingredients by stirring outward from the center. Gradually add the butter. Also add the lemon zest.
2. Shape the dough into a ball and wrap it in cellophane. Leave it at the bottom of your fridge for a couple hours so that it firms up.
3. Preheat the oven to 190° C (375° F).
4. Separate the dough into two parts, one a little larger than the other.
5. Butter a cake pan. Press the larger ball of dough into the bottom of the pan. It should be roughly the same thickness everywhere and should climb up the sides a bit.
6. Spread the cherry pie filling on the dough in the pan.
7. Roll out the remaining ball of dough and cover the cake with it, sealing the edges.
8. Add some water around the edges to moisten the dough. (NB: this step is important, otherwise the edges will be dry out way too much.)
9. Cut some slits in the top. Mix the second egg yolk with a little bit of water, then brush it on top.
10. Press hatch-marks into the top with a fork. (To make it look like a traditional gâteau basque.)
11. Cook for 45 min. (NB: Gâteaux basques are usually served cold, but Amy and I liked this recipe better when it was still warm.)

19 March 2006

George Mason vs. Wichita State in the Sweet 16???

What in the H-E-double-hockey-sticks is going on with the NCAA tournament this year? I leave you guys alone for one year, one lone March Madness, and you literally go mad! Did anyone predict that George Mason would be playing Wichita State in the Sweet Sixteen? Up until this week, I wasn't actually aware that either school even had a basketball team! And what about the "B" schools, Bradley and Bucknell? (Also known as my two new favorite schools because they both have the distinction of whoopin' up on Kansas in the first round of the NCAA tourney.)

But most important of all -- how can I be missing this?! I haven't watched a single basketball game this season. Crazy. (Needless to say, my bracket is ... um ... less-than-accurate.)

CNN's coverage of the CPE "Riots"

[posted by Colin]

While we're over here, we often use cnn.com to keep up on the news back home. Last November, their coverage of the riots in Paris was amusing to us, since it reflected absolutely nothing of our experience of those weeks!! We saw galleries of photos of burning cars and violent confrontations between the youth and the police. We're not saying that stuff didn't happen, but the actual violence was blown out of proportion in their coverage.

The coverage has gotten even worse regarding the CPE demonstrations. I just read the CNN story about the manifestation that we watched today. There's also a really dramatic gallery of photos. Be sure to check them out.

All right...here are my problems with that story.

#1) The headline is: "French Labor Law Protests Turn Violent." That is not news today; that was news Thursday when some 50 police officers were injured (most with minor injuries as I understand) and a couple hundred youth were brought in for questioning. That was also news last week when the students occupied the Sorbonne and were subsequently forced out by the police. That was also news when politically right students who wanted to resume their studies confronted the politically left students who were blocading the university.

#2) Again, the headline is: "French Labor Law Protests Turn Violent." That is a gross misrepresentation of the facts. More than a million protestors took to the streets in France today (350,000 in Paris, according to the Agence France Presse). By and large, it was a perfectly routine manifestation, despite its unusual size. According to AFP and Le Monde, the "violent clashes between demonstrators and police" actually involved about 50 people who showed up at the end of the march and were spoiling for a fight. According to France 3 news, only one car in Paris was overturned and set on fire. One. CNN happened to get a photo of it and put it in their gallery.

#3) There was indeed violence associated with the protests today and last Thursday. But, CNN does a terrible job representing the relationship between that violence and the groups protesting. The left side of the French political spectrum contains somewhere around a dozen parties. What I've been gathering from French news sources is that all of the violence is being attributed to one or two of the most extreme parties. These parties have been consistently described as anarchists and I think it highly plausible that the government and French journalists have them pegged correctly—they are consistently showing up at the ends of the demonstrations and are consistently picking fights with the police. In other words, the violent groups are using the anti-CPE demonstrations as a publicity vehicle for their own political motives.

#4) On cnn.com you will also find a video that carries a variety of titles, such as "Watch protestors charge riot police" and "French labor law makes people really mad." Jim Bitterman and Miles O'Brien severely disappointed me on this one. Bitterman's description of the law was a poor description, considering he's a foreign correspondant for a major news organization. Not that he got much help from O'Brien: "Obviously the students are for it...I guess the business leaders are against it?" [paraphrased]. Come on, what kind of question is that? The real question is—who is supporting this measure? (Business leaders, de Villepin, Chirac, the UMP.) Who is against it? (At least 9 political parties and almost all of the unions in the country; according to a poll today, more than 60% of French voters oppose it.)

#5) The gallery of pictures related to this story shows 10 very violent pictures. Folks, we were there, too. Take a look at Amy's pictures and videos. Do some searching around on the internet, you'll find a ton of pictures like Amy's. For the first four hours, this was a completely peaceful, family-oriented demonstration.

In summary: I certainly don't consider myself a leftist, and am usually pretty luke-warm when it comes to labor unions. In this case, if you believe CNN, the French unions and students have France perched on the verge of complete civil disorder. If you were actually there today, watching 350,000 people march, sing, and dance in front of you, you know better. My hats are off to the organizers of today's demonstration! I'm still not sure where I stand on the issue, but I do know that the unions and students did not disgrace their cause today.

So...I guess the moral of all this is: consumer beware. Always remember that (at least in American journalism), "if it bleeds, it leads."

[Colin now steps off his soapbox and hopes that this blog quickly returns to its regular programming.]

18 March 2006

Ré-si-stan-ce!

Colin has covered the facts of the protest, so I'll just interject with some of the photos I took. (By the way, I only took 70-some-odd photos and videos, which is lower than what we originally thought I had!) You can see a couple of the videos that I shot on my Youtube.com site. (Link is in the right-hand menu, or you can click here). My favorite video is the Sorbonnards' Polka.

Here is a long line of CRS (national police) vans, leading up Général Leclerc toward Denfert Rochereau. Police presence was very heavy today!

Some of the setup at Denfert Rochereau. Even at 1:45 pm today, there was a lot going on. If nothing else, it was weird to walk down the middle of this normally busy intersection.

On the left side of this photo, you'll notice a van with the side open. This guy is selling food (sandwiches, sodas, and the like). Colin and I were both surprised to see the abundance of makeshift food stands that appeared in the area for the "festivities." It felt like a street carnival!

There's always at least one guy -- you know, that guy -- who comes up with the most bizarre costume imaginable. Here is "that guy" for the day. (Secretly, I think de Villepin is behind that mask!)

This picture begins to show you the masses of people that were involved in the protests. France 3 News just gave the official estimate of 350 thousand people in Paris today. They also said that the anarchists and the CRS are clashing at Place de la Nation (the normal place I meet Isabelle for conversation!), and that there is at least one fire.

This one shouldn't need any translating.

Hey mec, just because we're protesting, doesn't mean we can't enjoy a brewskie on a nice Saturday afternoon!

Do you think this guy is climbing the stoplight because he wants a better view? Or is he just using this as an excuse to climb a stoplight without getting arrested?

A newly formed group, les Familles contre le CPE, represents families who oppose the law. According to France 3 News, there were a lot of multiple-generation families marching today.

As for Didge, he just doesn't seem to understand what all of the fuss is about. I guess if you go through life with a knee-high view of everything, labor laws just aren't as big of a deal to you. Ah, it's a dog's life, n'est-ce pas?

The Mother of All Protest Marches

In blatant disregard of this morning's e-mail from the US Department of State, Amy and I walked up the street to check out today's manifestation against the CPE (the controversial new labor law, more details at the bottom for those who haven't followed the story). This is my response. Amy will post hers later today, rife with some of the 118 pictures that she took.

The march began at Place Denfert-Rochereau (at the top of our street) and ends this evening at Place de la Nation (some 5 kilometers north and east of us). In addition to nearly all the universities in Paris, several of the most prestigious lycées (high schools) and a couple collèges (junior highs), twelve major unions and a ton of small unions participated. After walking through the staging area and marvelling at the food vendors and the masses of people, we walked up the Boulevard Arago to the official starting point of the march.

As we passed the prison, all the inmates with windows overlooking the street were shouting out to the crowds. One even shouted some compliments to Didg and thanked him for supporting the protests!

Once the march began, it was simply overwhelming. Realize that I have been in huge crowds before. For New Year's 2000, I was in the mass of people standing shoulder-to-shoulder at the Sydney Harbor Bridge. That crowd didn't even begin to compare to the size of this march.

We had front-row seats on the curb for 75 minutes, leaving early because Amy was getting cold and Didg was irritated by how many people were stepping on his tail. While I can offer no promise of expertise, here's my estimate of how many people we saw. An average of 30 people passing directly in front of us at any given moment, about 30 rows per minute, for 75 minutes. For the mathematically challenged, that's roughly 67,500 people. That doesn't count the hoards marching on the sidewalks (many of the unions were marching up the sidewalk behind us while the students were going in front of us on the street), nor does it include the tens of thousands of people still in the staging area.

The sheer size of this crowd--from high-school groups through to the most experienced veterans in the unions--was simply mind numbing. Of course, the other shoe is yet to drop. If the law isn't repealed by Tuesday, the unions have promised a general strike nationwide to support the 64 universities already on strike. (BTW, France only has 84 universities.) We'll see what happens...

*****************
Colin's summary of the controversy for those who haven't been following it:

Prime Minister de Villepin passed a law last Monday called the "Contrat Premier Embauche" (First Job Contract). If the law stands, it will go into effect at the beginning of April. The basic idea is that employers of large companies (those with more than 20 employees) will be able to offer a new type of job contract to people who are 25 or younger. The key feature of this contract is that, during the first two years, the employer can fire the employee at any time and for any reason.

A few quick facts. In this age bracket, the nationwide unemployment rate is about 20%. In some areas (for example, the depressed banlieus that saw rioting last November), that number climbs to more than 40%. French workers currently enjoy some of the most generous labor laws in the world.

According to the supporters and de Villepin, this measure will encourage employers to take chances on hiring young, inexperienced employees. As it stands right now, it's almost impossible to fire an employee if they are merely incompetent at/inappropriate for the job or lazy. They believe that this law will only adversely affect bad employees. Their hope is that the law will reduce youth unemployment and (tacitly, I think) improve the work ethic and habits of a generation that seems to be oft-perceived as lazy and underachieving.

According to the critics (the unions, the students, the Communists, the Socialists, and other leftist parties), this law (and a similar one that is already in effect for small companies) are a significant threat to job security and represent a form of age discrimination. Many also feel that this will provide a vehicle to increase racial/ethnic/gender/sexual-orientation discrimination in the workplace. Most importantly for them, it is in direct opposition to one of the three cardinal virtues represented by France--Egalité (equality).

17 March 2006

Relic-Kissing


Colin, Rachel, Maggie and I checked out the Veneration of the Relics ceremony at Notre Dame this afternoon. If what this church says is to be believed, we saw a piece of the True Cross, a nail from the Passion, and the Crown of Thorns. Given that there are at least 700 versions of "the" Crown of Thorns scattered about the world, I suspect that we didn't actually see the real thing. It was interesting to think about, though.

The ceremony wasn't too long, considering a typical Catholic service. Fortunately, it wasn't a Mass, so we didn't have to sit in the back while everyone else took communion. But, it was really neat to see some of the Knights Templar, as well as the Catholic regalia of robes, incense, and so forth. The service was in French, so I understood a teeny little bit of it (much like three-quarters of the people around us, who were also tourists who had hardly a clue as to what was going on).

The cool part of the service was that everyone who participated was allowed to file past the relics so that we could see them up close. Since the Crown of Thorns is "the most precious and the most revered" of the relics (according to the English version of the handout), you get to walk right up to it and give it a kiss if you like! I *almost* chickened out because the woman who cut in line in front of me didn't give it a kiss. But, then I figured, it's *expected* that I give it a kiss, so why not? The attendants even had a special cloth to wipe it off between kisses, so they were ready for me.

No doubt you're wondering by this point if I took a thorn to the lips. I can assure you that I didn't because A) there are no thorns left (they've all been given away over the centuries) and B) the whole thing is in a protective glass cylinder. Since we couldn't take pictures, I bought a postcard with a picture, and then took a picture of that, which is what's posted with this blog entry. The nail and the piece of the True Cross are in custom-made glass containers, too, but we didn't get to see it as close up as the crown.

So, I don't know if I really had a brush with greatness today, but it was an interesting cultural/religious experience nonetheless.

Tomorrow, Colin and I are going to participate in another Parisian tradition: rioting! OK, just kidding. Actually, there is supposed to be a HUGE anti-CPE rally at Denfert Rochereau tomorrow, which is just up the street from us. Curiosity has the best of us, so we're going to walk that way tomorrow with our camera and see what happens. The good part is that, if it's scary, we can just go back home to the safety of our apartment.

You know, I used to joke that no tour of Ann Arbor is complete if you don't participate in a protest. Little did I know that Paris is WAY ahead of the measly little war protest groups in front of the post office!

16 March 2006

Avoid public demonstrations and other civil disturbances.


"Avoid public demonstrations and other civil disturbances." -- US Department of State

Now look, I'm all for following the advice of the US government when it comes to my safety abroad. But what are we supposed to do when the public demonstration is right outside our apartment? This photo is taken from one of the windows in our apartment, looking out at Général Leclerc. You'll have to look through the trees on the left, but there is a massive group of protestors on bicycles there. Their chants and songs woke Colin and I up this morning.

We initially figured that they were gathering to protest CPE, a set of proposed legislation that, among other things, would allow employers to hire anyone aged 26 and below on a 2-year probationary period. During this time, the employee could be fired without a reason. Needless to say, the 26 and younger crowd is not terrifically excited about this prospect, so they've been protesting in droves for about a week now. The oddest part for me is that the college students are striking. (I think it's a bit strange that students refusing to go to class is an effective form of protest, but then again, the system is quite a bit different here than in the US!) There was a big sit-in at the Sorbonne earlier this week, that ended with the police raiding the building and tear-gassing everyone.

After unsuccessfully trying to convince Colin to get dressed and go down there, I decided to throw on some clothes and take the dog out. There were police all over the place, and the protestors looked very organized and under control, so I figured I wasn't in any real danger. I got a great video of them as their protest parade got rolling, which you can see on my Youtube site. (Link in the right-hand menu bar, or just go straight to it at http://youtube.com/watch?v=MCzjlF__sy0. Some highlights to watch for:

  • Didge got wound up by all of the noise and started barking. In response, one of the protestors barked back. Another protestor called out, "Ooo let the dogs out?" which was met with a loud chorus of "Woof, woof, woof, woof!!" from his colleagues.
  • At the very end of the video, there is a rather sad looking chap on a La Poste bike. He totally cracked me up - it was all I could do to keep from laughing at him.

Since I couldn't quite read what their shirts said, Colin ended up surfing the internet to figure out what this protest was all about. Turns out, they are angry future P.E. teachers. Apparently, the government recently cut a ton of positions from an annual competition to earn teaching positions at the high school level. In response, all of these students decided to stage a big protest today, culminating at 9 pm at the Eiffel Tower. Most of the people we saw had biked from either Marseilles or Bordeaux, perhaps both! (Look at a map of France -- that is NOT close by!)

In the meantime, there are still tons of protests going on around the city regarding the CPE controversy. So, we're going to have a large mix of unrest throughout the entire city today, not all for the same cause. I guess it's a good day to be angry in Paris! (At least the weather is good today.)

Postscript: CNN really needs to get a new correspondant in Paris. We watched a video from their website in which this guy did a mediocre job of explaining what the protests were all about. But, the worst part is that most of his protest footage was from the WRONG protest! He had all of this great footage of the angry P.E. teachers, and it was really obvious to anyone who knows what's going on. Maybe if this guy spoke a little bit of French, he could have gotten directions to the right protest, or at least explained what the cyclists were actually doing. (OK, I don't know if he spoke any French or not, but I think I could have done a better job than him, just based on Colin's internet research.)

14 March 2006

Through the looking glass

I mailed the job application today, so here's hoping that there is an interview in my future! (And here's hoping that the resulting extra plane ticket and car rental in Michigan won't be too terrible.) Keep your fingers crossed for me on both accounts.

On a less-than-stellar note, we are now on day two of no elevator. For the next six weeks, our building's elevator is being renovated. Colin jokingly said that, at the end of the six weeks, we'll probably have the exact same ricketey old elevator, except that it will have new carpet in it. I laughed, but then I realized that it could come true, so I sobered up really fast. Anyway, you wouldn't think that losing an elevator would be that big of a deal, but it sure makes a difference when you need to haul groceries up 5 flights of stairs! Instead of a weekly trip, I have to go every two days or so because I can't carry much more than that. Ugh.

Other than that, life is good around here, albeit quiet. The weather was great today - not a cloud in the sky - so Didge and I went for a walk (the picture above shows part of where we went in the Cité Universitaire). OK, I walked, he RAN. I think this must be a dog's favorite time of year because I see them all act the same way once the weather starts to get warm again: they want to run around with a crazed look in their eyes, and nearly hang themselves on their collars and leashes in the process. I guess they feel like they had been locked up all winter.

On a more philosophical note, have you ever looked in the mirror and hardly recognized yourself? I used to have that experience all the time when I was in college, or when I was going through a particularly stressful time at work. I'd look into my eyes, and the "spark" was completely gone, suppressed by lack of sleep, poor nutrition, or just general stress. It's a strange feeling, like you've forgotton what life was like when you were truly happy and doing the things that you loved.

Well, I looked in the mirror today, and I really saw myself for the first time in a long, long time. As it turns out, months of rest and exploration have been an amazing form of rejuvenation for me. For the first time in years, I have real clarity about who I am and who I want to be. I know I'm going to miss my largely carefree existence here when it's time to go, but I feel like the benefits are going to stay with me for the rest of my life.

Maybe this little diatribe seems a little cheesy. So what if it is? I don't care. I'm just glad to see my old friend on the other side of the glass again. I hope she sticks around for a good long time!

12 March 2006

Joaquin the line (ha, ha, get it??)

Just to add to my post about pollution, check out this picture that I took back in November. I never noticed it before, but look at the skyline behind this minaret on Sacre Coeur. I took this picture on a clear blue, cloudless day. Look at the brown layer of pollution! Wow, that is disgusting! I remember seeing a brown "casing" over Los Angeles when we drove to Anaheim from San Diego. I never thought I'd be breathing that stuff long term.

On to other topics, though. Colin and I went to see "Walk the Line" this afternoon. Wow, I loved it! I got totally wrapped up in Johnny and June's love story. It was really touching. (I won't go into detail so that I won't spoil it for anyone.) Overall, I thought Joaquin Phoenix did an amazing job of imitating Johnny Cash, especially with the singing. Reese Witherspoon did a good job, too, but I don't know June Carter's voice as well as Johnny's.

In terms of actors portraying real people, though, no one can touch Jamie Foxx in "Ray" -- he was astounding. I had to keep reminding myself that it wasn't Ray Charles himself. Who would have thought that a former comedic actor would end up delivering such a remarkable dramatic performance? (Of course, I think back to Tom Hanks and his "Bosom Buddies" days, and realize that anything is possible.)

11 March 2006

Pollution is evil!

I recently encountered a map in my European Geography textbook that highlights areas of particularly high airborne pollution. Guess what had a big, black spot over it? Yep, good old Paris. Now, I was never under the delusion that the air I was breathing here was as fresh and clean as an OutKast song, but it's still a bit unsettling to be graphically reminded that I live in the smoking section of France.

While I've never really been a "health nut" per se, I do care about my overall health and well-being. As such, I've been concerned about the effects that the increased air pollution exposure would have on me while living here. In fact, once Didge's gray hair started accumulating at a faster rate, I began to think more seriously about what I could do to counteract the effects of pollution. For example: I've been enjoying the sauna at the gym a few times a week, drinking more water, and (when I think of it) buying foods high in antioxidants to help combat the notorious "free radicals" attacking me. (Sounds like I've joined the war on terrorism, huh? Stop free radicals from controlling our ports!)

But then, it happened.

Yesterday morning.

I found a gray hair.

On my head.

Clearly, this is a DIRECT, one-to-one correlation with my exposure to pollution. It has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that I turn 29 later this month. I am unequivocaly prematurely aging because this city is so dirty! Come on, Europe, diesel fuel might be cheaper and more efficient, but seriously, it makes really nasty air!

Complicating this further is the fact that you can't go outside without encountering a wall of cigarette smoke. People smoke *everywhere* here. It's so gross! There is something wrong when I leave the gym and almost immediately run into someone's gray exhalation. Of course, you can't really begrudge someone for smoking outside. However, I really hate the fact that it is simply not possible to avoid smokers in restaurants. Sure, there are non-smoking sections out there ... they usually consist of no more than four tiny little two-person tables, situated approximately 12 inches away from the gigantic smoking section. Alas, many a good meal has been ruined by an eye-watering, lung-choking cloud. In fact, when Colin and I tried a new restaurant on Monday night, I could *see* the curls of smoke as they passed over the ceiling lights. The haze was so unbearable that we left as quickly as we could.

What can I do about this? Not a lot, and I'm resigned to that. My only refuge is Starbucks and the Métro. (And even then, you sometimes have to remind people that they are smoking while standing right next to a no-smoking sign.) And, there's always my apartment.

As for the gray hair? I did what any self-respecting woman would do. I plucked it and threw it away.

10 March 2006

Contest Winners

OK, so it took me a few extra days to announce the contest winners ... I got busy! Anyway, it's not like I'm awarding Oscars or anything.

Best Long E-mail: Ryan C., for "GIS and other topics..."
Ryan not only gave me practical information about brushing up/improving my GIS skills, but also gave me an update of what's going on in his life. A nice blend of info made for a great e-mail!

Funniest E-mail: Sue R., for "Weird news"
Sue gave us a quick, but hilarious update about the goings-on in her part of South Dakota. From government embezzlement to a guy who drove his car into a slow-moving train, there was much to chuckle about. So much for all of you who thought nothing happened in South Dakota!

Best Short E-mail: MOMom, for "Here's your e-mail!"
While the subject line isn't brillant, Beth made up for that in substance by giving me a really juicy piece of information about her soon-to-be-retired lifestyle. (Nothing dirty, folks ... this is my mom, after all!) Just in case this tidbit of info is still under wraps, I'll refrain from sharing her news here.

Best Cop-Out E-mail: Tom & Sue R., for "Fwd: FW: Rejected Titles for Brokeback Mt."
Not only was this a lame way to enter a contest (come on, did you really think a forward would win??), but "The Good, The Bad, and the Fabulous"?

Rookie of the Year: Kate W. for "Hello"
To be fair, Kate is pregnant and as such is probably too busy nesting to send e-mails in her spare time. Or maybe her pregnancy amnesia caused her to forget me until her husband told her that I wanted e-mail? Either way, don't worry, Kate. I was glad to get the e-mail anyway! Keep on gestatin'.

07 March 2006

Divine intervention

After meeting Colin for lunch today, I headed over to the Cimitière Montparnasse to pick up where I left off on my grave picture-taking project. As I think I've already mentioned, there is a guy in Spain who sent me a request for several photos, so I planned to get the last of his requests from this cemetery today. As I was trying to locate one particular person, two "random" events happened that have me baffled to this moment.

"Random Event" Number One: The Spaniard had also sent me a list of some people's graves that he couldn't locate (i.e. he didn't know what cemetery they were in). Since they all died in Paris, he figured I could check the cemeteries while I was there. While I was looking for one particularly well-hidden grave, I stumbled across the name Saul Yurkievich. As luck would have it, this is one of the people on the "can't find" list! I'm amazed to have found this proverbial needle-in-the-haystack. So, here one of the pictures of the grave. (By the way, he was a poet and a friend of Julio Cortazar's.) It's kind-of a sad grave because there really isn't a formal stone. It's just a basic, minimal grave with a small plaque on it. Of course, you have to have a certain amount of money to make it into this cemetery anyway, so it's not like he's in a pauper's grave.

"Random Event" Number Two: After finding the long-lost poet, I continued my quest for the elusive grave of Roger Ibáñez. Unfortunately, he's in a section that is very difficult to discern because the cemetery has filled in the allée (path) marking the north end with graves. So, I can't tell where to start counting. After a good 20 minute search, I still hadn't found him and was starting to get really annoyed. I stopped where I was and looked around with a perplexed look on my face, only to discover that there was a man walking toward me.

My assumption was that this man was one of the unofficial cemetery tour guides. This is an odd cultural phenomena that I would love to explore more ... if only my French were strong enough! Basically, there are people who seem to hang out in the cemetery and look for people who appear to be searching for specific graves. When they find a lost soul, they walk up and pleasantly ask if you are searching for someone. Normally, if you're looking for a famous person, they can walk you directly to the grave. Of course, this is really helpful, but I also wonder what compells these people to spent their days tourguiding in a cemetery. Further, does this happen in other cemeteries that have a lot of famous people? I'll be curious to see if there are unofficial tour guides in Père Lachaise when I head back that way.

Anyway, back to my story. A man approaches me and asks (in French) if I have a map of the cemetery. He wanted to pick one up at the gate on the way in, but the guard had stepped out. As I was digging for a cleaner copy of my map, he asked if I was searching for someone specific. I said yes, and told him who. He replied by saying that he was searching for Georges Auric. Whoa! Did he pick the right person to ask or what? I lit up and told him I knew exactly where M. Auric was, and that I would be happy to show him. (We were close by anyway.) I went on to say that my husband is studying Auric's film music, which was received with a very pleased and interested look. In response, he told me that he was the Secrétaire Général for "Les Amis de Jean Cocteau"! (Auric did all of the music, or was music director, for all of Cocteau's films.) By this point, we had reached Auric's grave, and stopped there to chat more. He asked me if I knew Auric's wife, and I assumed that he meant whether or not I knew where he wife was buried. I told him yes, that she was in the same tomb. Ah yes, he recalled, the first wife. What he was really asking was whether we knew Michelle Auric, his widow. "Non, I said. "Et vous?" "Oui."

Oui. Oui? OUI! Yes folks, I met a friend of Michelle Auric's today. Not only that, but he has her current address, and he's going to contact her to see if she is ready to accept communication yet (she just moved into a new place)! My jaw nearly hit the ground when I realized what was transpiring here. I made a research contact for my husband today! After a few more minutes of excited chattering on my part, I had his business card and he had Colin's contact information. (Fortunately, when my French conversation skills finally fizzled out, he let on that he knew English.)

Sure, you can call this chance. You can call it luck. Call it dumb luck, even. I say it was divine intervention! I truly believe that everything (good, bad, or otherwise) happens for a reason, and as such, this is the precise reason that I "randomly" decided to start photographing Cimitière Montparnasse.

On a different note, I plan to announce the winners of the e-mail contest tomorrow. So, if you still want to enter, there is a little bit more time! Let me know what's going on in your life!!

05 March 2006

Menu #4: A Breton feast

[Posted by Colin]

This evening, Colin and Maggie were guinea pigs for my latest adventure in French cuisine—a feast from Bretagne. They gave a thumbs-up to the meal—even though I just discovered that I forgot to add the heavy cream!—so I'm hurrying to post the recipes on the blog. Hope you enjoy them, too!

Plat: Côte de porc aux cocos de Paimpol (Pork Chops with White Beans)
Feeds: 4
Preparation time: 15 minutes (but begins the night before, see step 1)
Cooking time: 60 minutes

Ingredients
  • 4 pork chops
  • 300 g (about a cup and a third) of cocos de Paimpol (white kidney beans)
  • 2 onions
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 2 carrots
  • 1 tablespoon of bouquet garni (an herb mixture)
  • 10 cl (about 1/2 cup) of chicken bouillon
  • 20 g (about 1.5 tablespoons) of butter
  • 70 g of (about a pint, I think) of thick cream
  • 2 whole cloves
  • Sea salt
  • Pepper

Directions
  1. The evening before, begin soaking the beans in cold water. When it's time to cook, strain them and toss out the water.
  2. Put the beans in a stewpot, cover them in water, and bring to a boil. Skim, then add the carrots (sliced), the bouquet garni, and one onion (whole, speared with the two cloves). Cook at a low boil for 45 minutes, or until the beans are tender. Add salt during the last 10 minutes.
  3. Sear the pork chops in oil over high heat. When they are browned on both sides, cover them and lower the heat to medium-low. Cook for another 20 minutes, adding salt and pepper at the end.
  4. In a pot, sautée the garlic and the second onion (this one chopped) in butter. Drain the beans and carrots and add them. Add the chicken bouillon, salt, and pepper, then simmer for 15 minutes. Stir in the heavy cream.
  5. Serve the beans with or on the pork chops.

Dessert: Terrine de riz bretonne (Breton rice pudding)
Feeds: 4
Preparation time: "5" minutes (it took me a half hour...)
Cooking time: 3 hours

Ingredients

  • 250 g (about 1 cup) of round rice
  • 125 g (about 1/2 cup) of brown sugar
  • 100 g (about 7 tablespoons) of butter ("beurre demi-sel" or half-salted butter)
  • 2.5 litres (about 2.5 quarts) of milk
  • 1 vanilla pod
  • 1 orange zest

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 150 degrees Celsius (300 Fahrenheit).
  2. Wash the rice and put it in a large oven-safe dish. Add the brown sugar, the butter (cut into little pieces), and the orange zest. Slice the vanilla pod lengthwise and scrape out the black beans. Add both the vanilla beans and the pod to the rice.
  3. Boil the milk and add it to the oven-safe dish. Stir.
  4. Bake the pudding for about 3 hours. A dark-brown crust will form on the surface.
  5. After the pudding cools, remove the crust and serve.

Drinks

  • With the main dish, a lightly-chilled Saumur rouge.
  • With dessert, a sweet cider (as opposed to a "brut" one).

Bon appétit!

03 March 2006

Feeling a little crowded?

Yesterday, I had yet another midly entertaining encounter at the grocery store. Invariably, when I go during peak hours (i.e. after 5 p.m.), there is at least one person who is absolutely freaked out about being made to stand in line. Admittedly, I used to feel impatient when I waited in line at the grocery store, but this has more to do with the fact that the lines end up blocking the flow of traffic in the store. As such, when you're in a long line, you are always in someone else's way. So, there are always people pardon-ing you right and left, trying to squeeze through the bottleneck.

Anyway, to my point. The victim du jour was a middle-aged man in line behind me at around 6 pm. He was really anxious to start unloading his cart, so he kept edging up on me. After he put down 5 or so items, he took off back into the store. A few minutes later, he returned with more items and discovered that the line hadn't really moved that much. (The use of paper checks is still common here, so as soon as someone whips out their checkbook, you can count on waiting at least another 5 minutes.) As he unloads the rest of his cart, he purposefully bumps me at least three times in an effort to get me to move further up in the line. Apparently, if you're not standing on top of the person in front of you, you're taking up too much space.

The crowning moment came after he unloaded his cart. That's when - no kidding - he pushed his cart into my side. Assuming that this was another "subtle" hint that I should be in the checkout lady's lap, I just stood my ground. Then, he had no choice but to say, "Excusez-moi" and explain that he wanted to go put his cart away while he was waiting for his turn to check out. I'm not exactly sure why he didn't say that in the first place ... I guess the hip-check was more rewarding for him?

Tonight, however, I found out the real reason that I am feeling so crowded these days. According to the US Census Bureau POPClock, the Earth reached the 6.5 billion people mark on February 25th! And since that day, we've added another 1, 180, 597 people. That is simply mind boggling.

The good news is that only about 12 of these people are in my grocery store at around 2 pm on a weekday. Guess when I normally do my shopping?

02 March 2006

The things you learn at the gym

Two days ago, the management of the building posted a notice: our elevator is going to be "modernized" in mid-March. This, of course, is good news because the current elevator is a bit scary. (It groans and creaks, and often stops about 6 inches above or below the floor you've selected.) Plus, I've already discussed the ridiculous number of button options that are supposed to help you if things go wrong.

The bad news is that I won't be able to take this "thrill" ride for six weeks.

I won't lie. I hate taking the stairs. I probably hate taking the stairs more than Didge does. But now, I'll have no way to avoid them. As such, I have been re-inspired to visit the gym so that I can train for my six-week marathon of stairs.

Since I don't really know anyone at the gym, I listen to my iPod and let my eyes wander around to see what others are doing. Here are some of my observations from the last few days:

1. There is an elderly man there who wears a "Property of G-Unit" t-shirt. I'll be honest, I didn't think that the older French generation was big into rap, but I can't think of any other "G-Unit" besides the buddies of American rapper-turned-movie-star 50 cent. (By the way, do you think the French call him "Cinquante Centimes"?)

2. An inordinate number of men feel the need to practice pelvic thrusts while laying on their back. It's gratuitous. Today, I saw a 70+ year old man laying on the mats with a large rubber ball under his lower back to aid in the process. Now, I'm all for working your "core muscles," but I have yet to see a woman thrusting her hips into the air.

3. Short-shorts are entirely too popular here. You know what I'm talking about. There's got to be one guy in your home town who goes running in them. You know what the back of his oh-so-white thighs look like. Now, imagine seeing them walk by you while you're doing sit-ups. It's not good, people. It's not good.

4. When the French run out of American TV shows to dub, they turn to the Germans for bad afternoon programming. For the past two days, I've been watching a show called "Rex" while I row away on the rowing machine. The TVs are on mute, so I have to make up my own dialogue. (I'm pretty sure my narration is better anyway.)

The star of the show, Rex, is a german shepherd. And, I'm sorry to say, Rex is not a good actor. He gets all kinds of camera time, usually in the form of face shots where the dog is cocking his head to the side in an inquisitive fashion. The rest of the time, he basically follows around the lead actor, who is a hot-shot detective solving crimes such as kidnapping and murder. What gets me the most is that, when the cops are busting into a dangerous room (i.e. they kick in the door and go in with guns pointed), the dog just trots into the room ahead of the people. The dog never gets shot, of course. Today, Rex was even the hero of the show, when he knocked down a bunch of flags on stands, amazingly collapsing on the bad guy in mid-escape. Of course, the criminal is trapped under an improbably heavy pile of flags and poles, and the hand with the gun in it is flattened out right in front of Rex's handler, who scoops it up triumphantly.


Lest I get too full of my "cultural superiority," I must finish this blog entry by giving full credit to the French for nailing one on the Americans. Last weekend, there was a show on TV roughly translated as "The Night of the Strange." Think of it as David Letterman's "Stupid Human Tricks" for an evening. Our favorite game-show host, Arthur, was on the judge's panel, so we tuned in for a bit to see what he had to say. Over the next 30 minutes or so, we see a parade of such talents as: the guy who puts a tarantula in his mouth and then blows bubbles, then switches to a scorpion; and the guy who can play the fiddle while contorting his body in uncomfortable ways. (Actually, it wouldn't have been so bad, but I'm pretty sure that Wranglers are not supposed to be that tight, and aren't good for doing the splits or putting your leg behind your head.) As this parade of "talent" goes on and on, Colin and I start to notice a pattern: every performer is -- yep, you guessed it -- an American.

So, for all of the snickering that I do in a given day over minor grammar points, I must bow to the superiority of the French when it comes to laughing at other cultures. How brilliant is it to get Americans to willingly display their stupidity on national TV? Folks, that's a much higher form of comedy than any joke I've heard about the Frenchies!