31 May 2006

Berlin, Day One

Since posting pictures on my blog is a bit of a time consuming and often unreliable process, I'm going to make use of my photosite to share trip pictures. You can see the first installment at caroust.photosite.com.

In general, I'd say that Berlin is a very vibrant city in a state of constant progress and change. Between WWII bombings and Soviet determination to destroy anything Nazi-related, the history of the city now consists of a lot of "this is where X used to be." In a lot of ways, it's too bad - so much history was lost in the last 60 years. On the other hand, it leaves a lot of room for building up industry and commerce that is on the cutting edge.

I was troubled by the fact that nearly every square inch of this city bears an apology for some form of crime against humanity. There were so many different victimized groups that you can hardly turn around without remembering more people who were falsely imprisoned, tortured, or murdered. It seems unfair to me: how long should these people have to apologize for the sins of their forefathers? Clearly, they have atoned -- and continue to atone every day -- for the atrocities committed by the Third Reich and the Soviets. Are they condemned to spend eternity in a perpetual state of apology? How many memorials and tributes are enough, and how long must this go on?

And yet, I wouldn't change a single thing that they have done so far. Every memorial is appropriate and poignant, as well as vitally necessary for many people to heal emotionally. I guess, in a way, this is a culture shock for me. I'm used to living in the optimistic culture of the USA, where people are encouraged to aggressively go after "The American Dream" and succeed against all odds. In Berlin, you don't feel that sense of excitement, except maybe in Potzdamer Platz or some of the other more contemporary structures being built throughout the city. I'll be curious to see what happens in this city over the years!

Yeah, I know ... I'm getting all moody on the blog again! I hope you'll indulge me for a few days as I recall the amazing things that, as a child of the end of the Cold War, I never thought I would see in person. If you need something happier, visit Life Begins at 30! You can't help but smile at pictures of Jack. :)

30 May 2006

Home is where you hang your chapeau

Hi everyone! I'm back in Paris again for a few days before heading off to Normandy with the 'rentals. It's going to take me a few days to get reorganized, so I'll report on the details of our trip to Berlin and Prague throughout the coming week or so. Overall, we had a great trip and I have many stories to share.

One of the more unexpected outcomes of this trip is that I have a renewed desire to learn more French, as well as to perhaps start on another language. I just didn't realize how much French I actually knew until I set foot on German soil and suddenly couldn't communicate anymore. It was initially a very frustrating experience because I'm used to "simply" switching into French when people don't speak English. Suddenly, that "instinct" didn't work, and I had to rely on the other person's ability to speak English. (I didn't find any French speakers.) Once again, I was struck dumb and illiterate because of the language barrier.

By the end of our stay in Berlin, however, I had picked up a few words and phrases and was eager to learn more. Perhaps the best part of my time in France is that I have absolutely no fear in going up to a complete stranger and making an attempt to communicate in his or her language. (My dad was stunned when I asked for the bill at a restaurant in Prague, and the waiter understood me completely. Pretty cool!) If I had to live in Germany for a while, I would definitely start taking German lessons so that I could start to make use of that language in more complete terms. Who knew language could actually be fun??

Perhaps the most interesting personal moment for me was returning to Paris yesterday. I don't know if anyone else does this, but I generally get a bit of a "warm and fuzzy" feeling when I'm flying back home. For me, there is just something comforting in the transition from tourist to local. So, as we were landing at Charles de Gaulle airport, I felt a profound sense of homecoming. And, as soon as I stepped off the plane, I could communicate again -- I could talk to the customs officials, I could read the signage, and I could understand most of the PA announcements. It was an absolutely amazing feeling! I never thought about the possibility that I would actually view Paris as "home," but there I was, feeling a sense of belonging and community to a city that sits an ocean apart from where I grew up.

And, as I mentioned before, I have a renewed desire to learn more French as a result of this experience. Now that I know that I have truly made progress and that it has paid off tremendously, I hunger for greater fluency. French has - at least temporarily - ceased to be the albatross that I carry on my shoulders. If you'll indulge me to carry the bird metaphor one step further, I now view other languages as the wings I need to fly through other cultures and civilizations. Why stop at French? There are SO many languages that I could learn. Sure, it's really hard for an adult to learn a new language, but that knowledge opens so many new doors for you in the long run. I used to think that Americans were lucky because they didn't have to learn more than one language. Now, I think we are an impoverished culture because of it, sheltered from the way the rest of the world operates.

OK, that should be enough personal epiphanies for one day.

27 May 2006

Sports heaven, here I come!

[Posted by Colin]

Those of you who know me well, know that I really enjoy watching sports on TV...particularly when there's something else I ought to be doing (like, say, a dissertation). One thing I've discovered this year, is that there just isn't as much to watch in France as there is in the US. Of course, that fact is mainly attributable to the fact that we have the "Basic 6" cable package (i.e., the free one), meaning that we don't get Eurosport and Canal+ goes to static about 10 seconds after kick-off of every soccer game they show (ditto for the San Antonio Spurs games, which are all shown here).

But, at last, after months of waiting...

Sunday is the Grand Prix de Monaco. Yes, Formula 1 racing on the streets of a major cosmopolitan city! Plus, who knows, I might be able to see the house where Auric's widow lives.
[ADDENDUM: Yeah, I might see her building...I couldn't quite make out the building numbers as the cars flew through Monaco, but after checking some maps, let's just say that (assuming she was home) Mme Auric needed only to lean out her window and look straight down to watch the race.]

Sunday is also the start of Roland Garros, or as the rest of the world calls it, the French Open. Fifteen days of the best clay-court tennis has to offer. I've become a fan of Amelie Mauresmo this year, and here's hoping she gives a good showing on her home court!

The Tour de France is still several weeks away, but I'm curious to see how the dynamic of the race changes without Lance Armstrong. Will Hincapie be the breakout star after serving Lance Armstrong so well for so long, or will Jan Ullrich finally get the big win? Of course, Alexandre Vinokourov has been really improving a lot the last couple years—if he changes teams, he might have a good shot of taking it all. The only sad news is that, now that we have our plane tickets to go home, we're leaving three days before the Tour arrives in Paris! Arghh...stupid, stupid, stupid...such poor planning on my part!

But of course, the most important, the grand-daddy of them all, is the event that bridges the time between the French Open and the Tour de France—le Mondial 2006, the World Cup! 31 days filled with 64 matches of le beau jeu (and an event that's encouraged about a million prostitutes from across Europe to get work visas for Germany...they're all banking on the fact that soccer fans also like to get drunk and horny). Finally, I'm in a country that cares about soccer, and I look forward to jamming myself into the crowds in front of the Hôtel de Ville so I can watch les Bleus with 10,000 of my newest and closest friends!

As far as Amy goes, well, there's a play opening soon in Paris that I think she'll be interested in. The English title is The Soccer Widows.

25 May 2006

A quick note from Prague

Quote of the day from Jerry, Amy's dad:

"Remember when mom and dad said they walked 'five miles uphill both ways in two feet of snow' to get to school? Well, I'm here to tell you, we walk 10 miles up stairs both ways every day, no matter where we go!"

(apparently, Dad doesn't dig stairs...)

We are sitting at a computer in our hotel in Prague now. Except for our "Trail of Tears" on the train today, the day has been pretty good. (We didn't even know we had assigned seats until we got to Dresden, where a bunch of American kids told us that we had to move. Between getting on a full car to begin with and then getting kicked out of our seats, we basically wandered the whole length of the train while carrying luggage. Not fun.) On the bright side, getting kicked out of our first set of seats worked out better than expected because a really noisy group of adults with whistles filled up half of that car after we left.

Berlin was great, except for a lack of good customer service from Original Berlin Walks. (Don't use this company!) We saw a lot of the major sites in the city, and took a day trip out to Sachsenhausen, a concentration camp about 45 minutes north of the city. One thing we've learned is that a concentration camp is actually a work camp, i.e. the prisoners had to do hard labor and weren't necessarily put to death. Of course, a lot of them died from the brutal conditions, but they weren't marched into gas chambers in large groups like we've all heard about. That type of stuff happened at Auschwitz in Poland. (They still had an execution building, but most of the men who stayed in that camp died from beatings, torture, starvation, exposure, overwork, being shot for following one order while breaking another, etc.)

There is MUCH more to come, including pictures, of course. Right now, I just want to wash the cigarette smoke smell out of my hair and get a good night's sleep. Cheers!

24 May 2006

Rising to the occasion

[Posted by Colin]

Hope you haven't missed us! Amy and her parents left early Monday morning—early, as in the shuttle picked them up at 4:35 am. They are currently in Berlin and head to Prague tomorrow, then back to Paris next Monday. Again, they're traveling early, the plane arrives in Paris at 7:45 am! Even though Amy is suffering greatly by taking such early flights, at least we can look forward to seeing some cool pictures in a few days!

Meanwhile, Didg and I are holding down the fort. He really misses his mommy. The first two days they were gone, he barked everytime he heard someone on the stairs, thinking mommy was coming back. Now he seems to have given up his lease on life. When I got home from Rachel's this evening, he very energetically (but silently, thank goodness!) greeted me at the door as if to say, "Phew! I thought you had left me, too! I mean, you disappeared and left me alone for a whole four hours!" Right now, his head is in a puddle of drool and I just heard a very labored sigh that seems to say, "I miss my mommy." I'd post a picture, but Amy took the camera.

Other than Didg moping, I'm just trying to get some work done. I spent this afternoon working on the paper that I'm giving to the Royal Musical Association in July. Let's not talk about what I've done the last two days. Let's just say that I've finally reached the point where I really appreciate and understand the comic strip "Piled Higher & Deeper."

Last bit of news—tomorrow is another jour férié (like a federal holiday in the US or a bank holiday elsewhere), Ascension. For the non-Catholics out there, this marks the fortieth day after Easter and the day that Christ ascended to Heaven. More importantly for the French (after all, France has an official separation-of-church-and-state policy), this means that a four-day weekend starts tomorrow! Even better for some, this Sunday is Mother's Day. That's right, two of the four French holidays in May in one extra long weekend (the other two, Labor Day and Victory Day, were the first two Mondays and meant that May started with back-to-back three-day weekends). Does life get any better?

So...in the spirit of the holiday season, let me rise up and say to SDMom:

Happy Mother's Day, don't work too hard, and here's to another election victory in November!

21 May 2006

More Photos of the 'Rentals in Paris

A few more pictures from our adventures in Paris over the last few days...

Beth and Jerry in the garden behind their hotel, Cecil Hotel. (By the way, we HIGHLY recommend this place! It is amazing. I can't believe it's only a 2 star!) The owners speak English and French, and the accommodations are spectacular.

The sign announcing the entrance to the Parc Floral de Paris.

Jerry and Colin walk down one of the many rhododendron-lined paths in the park.

A closeup of an iris with coloring that we've never seen before.

A little boy in the playground was very eager to demonstrate how the zip line worked! We had fun laughing at him as he loaded up and flew down the line again and again and again. (Poor grandma!)

20 May 2006

Thank goodness Newton didn't sit near hedges...

Before I go any further, let us be clear about two things:

1. Didge does not like traveling mariache bands.

2. Didge cannot walk on hedges.

I will explain more shortly.

Yesterday, I had the odd experience of running into someone I know from back in the US. One of the French faculty members from U of M, Kathryn Ibbett, happened to be at the same tiny restaurant in the 15th as us last night. Talk about surprising! We took a few minutes to visit, and it sounds like she is doing well and enjoyed her sabbatical immensely. (Who wouldn't?)

OK, on to today. Colin and my parents took off for Versailles early this morning to beat the crowds into the chateau. Since I have already seen it, and didn't particularly want to deal with crowds again, I decided to meet up with them at lunch so that I could see the gardens again, and enjoy the fountain show. (The fountains only run on weekends.)

Bear in mind that, up until today, Didge has spent a lot of time by himself in the apartment. So, when push came to shove, I just didn't have the heart to leave him behind again. (Never mind that it had been raining earlier and was likely to do so again.) Anyway, once I had lunch all packed up, I got Didge on his leash and headed out to the train.

Mishap number one: I almost didn't make it out of my neighborhood. One of the transit officials yelled at me for not having a muzzle on Didge. (Apparently, you're supposed to muzzle larger dogs on the metro, but in Didge's case, that would actually make him unbearable.) Anyway, he let me go on, so no harm, no foul.

Mishap number two: Unlike the metro, the RER trains are very tall. So tall, in fact, that Didge couldn't get on by himself. So, I had to sling the food in ahead of me and pick his overweight ass up. We barely made it in before the doors closed, and it was NOT a graceful sight.

Mishap number three: As anyone who has been to Paris can probably attest, there are many musicians who make their living by playing in the stations and often riding the trains. To everyone's great misfortune, the RER car I happened to be on with Didge was "blessed" with a traveling mariache band. Now, anyone who has owned a dog can tell you that dogs do NOT like musical instruments being played in their presence. When I saw them get on, I just had one thought: "Dear sweet Lord...." Within about 5 seconds of the start of the lively little song, Didge was barking his head off. Fortunately, they didn't stay to play another song. (Amazingly, they still expected to get money from me!)

Mishap number four: In between rain squalls and wind gusts that nearly knocked us over, my parents, Colin, Didge and I made our way into the garden to find a place to eat our lunch. At this point, Colin had Didge on a loose leash (he was on one of those 6 feet retractable leashes) and Mr. Doo was taking full advantage of his freedom. True to form, he was basically running around erratically, intoxicated by the smells in the air, the new surroundings, and the freedom that comes from leaving our apartment.

Now, before I explain what actually happened, I will pause to give my dog some credit. The French trim their hedges into perfect shapes, and they probably look pretty solid to a dog. But in fact, as Didge discovered, you cannot walk out on top of one and expect to stay on the top for long. Didge's downfall in this case was a hedge-lined level of concrete path. The path itself sloped downward, but was about 4 feet tall where we were walking. Didge assumed that, if one were tired of walking on the concrete path, one could just continue walking at the same level by stepping on to the hedges that were trimmed to the exact same level.

You know that look that Wile E. Coyote gets when he has just run off the edge of the cliff, but hasn't started falling yet? He knows he's in trouble, but there really isn't much he can do about it? Well, that was Didge once he stepped a bit too far out on the hedge. He tried to double back and jump onto the concrete path again, at which point Colin's surprised downward gaze was met with an equally surprised (if not more panicked) look from Didge. Moments later, I was screaming, "Ohmigodohmigod!" while Didge plunged helplessly into the shrubbery.

Fortunately, the thick hedge broke his fall, and he really didn't have that far to go. (I panicked because I thought he was really falling a LONG way down.) We ran to the edge of the walkway and looked down while Colin ran down the stairs to get to the level that Didge landed on. Suddenly, we hear some rustling around, and pop! Here comes Didge, the happiest dog in the world, out the bottom of the hedge. He only gave one little cry through the whole ordeal, and that's only because his leash was caught in the bushes and he couldn't get it loose.

Anyway, once we determined that Didge was completely unharmed and had already forgotten what happened, we all had a good laugh and went on our way. And, as I type, Captain Adventure himself is passed out on the couch, blissfully unaware of any of his adventures from today. Ah, to be a dog.

19 May 2006

On seeing The Da Vinci Code

Well, we succumbed to all the hype and publicity and saw The Da Vinci Code tonight (it opened on Wednesday in France). Jerry was lost and confused for about 75% of the film. Beth enjoyed it. Amy didn't care for it. Colin thought it was okay. So...even though the critics seem to be remarkably unanimous, we are anything but. Here are some thoughts from Colin and Amy:

Ron Howard is simply not a great film maker. His cinematography was tremendously predictable and unimaginative, at times even over-done. The script was weak (our audience laughed-out-loud at the same line that sent Cannes tittering): characters were poorly developed and some of the story lines too thin to be followed. The script's greatest flaw--it assumes that all of the viewers have read the book. (Just to clarify, Jerry was lost for two reasons: #1 because the French dialogue was not subtitled and the Spanish and Latin dialogue was subtitled in French; #2 because he has not read the book.)

As far as the actors, a mixed bag. The only character I felt any sympathy for was Silas--Paul Bettany did a very nice, very subtle job of showing Silas recognizing the realities of his situation. Sir Ian McKellan did fine, as long as you don't mind imaging Teabing as a doddering old Brit who's watched Monty Python and the Holy Grail a few too many times. Hanks, Tautou, Réno, et al.--I thought they gave mediocre performances that were hampered by a weak script.

Of course, the film's been surrounded by "scandal" and "blasphemy." If you think that this book or the film are blaspheming religion, you're probably overreacting, especially where the film is concerned. Opus Dei isn't really demonized in the film (the book paints them in much worse light). The Catholic Church itself hardly appears. And, let's face it, the theories that Dan Brown put so much stock in--very provocative, great potential for a fictional novel, and...well...rather dubious. [And for the record, can someone explain to me how a fictitious group that was allegedly founded in 1090 AD can have been battling the Catholic Church for 20 centuries?]

Bottom line--if you haven't read the book, don't waste your money. If you have read the book, it's probably worth seeing, probably on video or on HBO.

I was pretty disappointed overall. For me, a great movie sucks you in and makes you forget that you're in a fictional world all together. It's an escape from the normal, everyday world. Da Vinci Code the movie just didn't suck me in. Granted, I was lost every time the actors spoke a different language and there was no English refuge for me to fall back on ... that definitely put a damper on things. But even when English was being spoken, I found it very difficult to get immersed in the story. In fact, in a few spots, I wished I had read the book more recently because I couldn't remember/figure out what the motives of the characters were. I'll second Colin's statement that reading the book is a prerequisite.

Having said all that, I still love Audrey Tautou and Paul Bettany. I think the script killed them because they had no opportunity to offer depth to their characters. If they had had the opportunity, I think they both would have shined. Paul Bettany was a great Silas, but again, if you haven't read the book, you don't really understand what he's doing or what his motivations are. As for Audrey Tautou -- she's just so darned cute! I suggest renting Amélie instead of going to see Da Vinci Code in the theaters. You'll get a better mystery with clues, and undoubtedly a much better movie.

17 May 2006

Jerry and Beth do Paris, Part I

Just a couple of quick photos from sightseeing with Amy's parents today! More to come when I have a bit more free time.

Dad and Mom, next to the Seine and in front of Notre Dame Cathedral.

Mom enjoys her first taste of Lenôtre's finest: in this case, a feuille d'automne. (Think rich chocolate cake and cream.)

Mom and Amy stand in one of the fireplaces in the Conciergerie (the prison where Marie Antoinette was kept until she "lost her head.")

13 May 2006

Where's the bear, honey?

[Posted by Colin]

Amy and I always get a chuckle when we talk about the first time I took our friend Muriel shopping at an American grocery store. Even though it was her first full day in the US, she had already noticed several striking differences between Ann Arbor and Paris. The most shocking difference yet was the size of the vehicles. Then we went to Meijer.

For those of you not familiar with Meijer, it's one of those behemoth one-stop-shopping meccas where you can live for several days without going outside (like Super-Walmart, Super Target, or Super-K-Mart). The size of the store didn't shock Muriel, however, since the "hypermarkets" in the Parisian banlieues are often larger than Meijer. No, no. The culture-shock moment for Muriel arrived when we got to the dairy section of her list:

"Next, I need butter."

"Okay, that's over here."

She stood in front of shelves and just stared. "Which one is the butter?"

"Well, that depends on what you want. This shelf has butter, this one has margerine, this other one has a variety of butter alternatives." As I pointed to the shelves, I noticed--for the first time ever--that there are a lot of brands of butter in the US! [In hindsight, Muriel was probably confused by the packaging--in France, butter comes in different shapes and sizes than in the US.]

"What's the difference between them?"

"Butter is made from milk and margerine is made from vegetable oil. I have no idea what I can't believe it's not butter! is made of."

Muriel continued to stand there and stare, her petite form dwarfed by the shelfs of creamy goodness. Finally, she looked to her right and saw the shelves of yogurt. "I think I'll just get yogurt instead."

That was then, this is now.

I made a lovely dessert last night that called for honey. If you're like me, then you find your honey in the US by searching for the little plastic bear that looks like this:

So, I walked across the street to our neighborhood supermarket (significantly smaller than an American "supermarket") and headed toward the miel (honey). When I got there, all I could do was stand there and stare. Not only were there no bears to be found anywhere, I had 30 different options. Yes, that's thirty! Miel d'acacia, miel des fleurs, miel de mille fleurs, miel de Jura, miel de Provence, miel de Normandie, miel des Pyrénées, miel de lavande, miel romarin, etc. etc. etc. Plus, many of the flavors came in both liquid and creamy forms.

I guess I should have been better prepared. While having lunch with the staff at an archive, one of the archivists mentioned that his hobby was apiculture. He went on to passionately describe the drastic differences between honeys made in different regions or made from the nectar of different flowers. His favorite was a creamy honey made from the nectar of lilacs in Ile-de-France.

So, feeling overwhelmed and not being a honey connoisseur, what did I do? I grabbed the closest thing to a bear I could find...
Only later did I discover that I had picked a generic-brand blend of miel de fleurs and miel d'acacia. As much as I'd love to describe for you the flavor of this generic gourmet treat, all I can say is: "It tastes like honey."

12 May 2006

LA is for ...

Today's theme is LA, which stands for...

Los Angeles - The title of quite possibly the worst art exhibit I have ever seen in my life. Isabelle and I checked out the art exhibit under this name at Centre Georges Pompidou today. I guess the location of the exhibit should have tipped me off that I wasn't going to see photos of the American city. But, I had such fun with Isabelle last week that I hated to go back to sitting at a café table for two hours. Oh well, live and learn. Isabelle left thinking that LA is an incredibly violent place (which, depending upon where you are, is kind-of true!) I left thinking that the performance "artist" Chris Burden is in desperate need of some therapy. Sorry, Chris, but nailing yourself to the back of a Volkswagen Bug is not my idea of art. It's a cry for help!

L'Ascenseur - Otherwise known to those who parlez anglais as the elevator ... which WORKS!! Finally!! The inside is exactly the same (no new carpet, oh darn), except that there is a new control panel with only one, clear option for calling for help. The other fun part is that: A) it moves silently (Didge won't be provoked into barking when someone takes the elevator now!) and B) it doesn't bounce suddenly when you reach your floor.

MoMom and MoDad, don't be alarmed to see the read-out to the left (floor one-half). We actually want the elevator to stop between floors! (If it doesn't, we'll be stuck in a box slightly larger than a casket.)

11 May 2006

Dakota sasses, Jack arrives, and we visit the 20th

I'll start today's post with a couple of photos from back in the US.

First, the shot at left is my brother's dog, Dakota. A friend of his is cutting up meat, and Dakota is a little bit ticked that she's not getting any. So ticked, in fact, that she's sticking her tongue out! Talk about a great shot -- this picture is awesome! I haven't met Dakota yet, but she sure seems to have a lot of personality. (Just wait until she meets Didge...)

Second, the big news from back in Michigan: our friends Joe and Kate had their baby! Jackson Edward Michael Weber joined the world on May 6, weighing in at 7 lbs 6 ounces. You can see the little guy to the right. Jack has got to be one of the cutest newborns I have ever seen! Normally, newborns look a little funny for a while, but he just looks darling. I can't wait to get back to Michigan to see this little guy (and take his mommy shopping!)

On a related note, I highly recommend checking out Joe's blog, Life Begins at 30. You can read a first-time father's observations on becoming a daddy, which are both hilarious and endearing. While you're at it, click on the ad on his page ... you'll help pay for diapers!

On a more mundane note, Colin, Rachel, and I checked out a park that we haven't been to before. Le Parc des Buttes Chaumont is in the 20th arrondissement, a bit of a haul from our apartment. But, it allows dogs if they are on leash, so we decided to check it out.

The shot to the left is a gazebo on top of a limestone bluff in the park. (You can see Colin and Didge in the middle.) Unfortunately, the whole thing is horribly vandalized, but it still makes for a nice view of the park itself. It's always disappointing to see graffiti in an otherwise gorgeous place -- you'd think that the "artists" would be satisfied with the metro, the trains, the sidewalks, and regular building walls in the city. I guess I'll just never understand why people feel the need to express themselves with cryptic names and words in public places.

The other shot is also in the park, looking at the lake that surrounds the hill that the gazebo is on. In a lot of ways, this park reminds me of Parc Montsouris in our neighborhood, except that it is a lot hillier! OK, that, and I have yet to see a naked man sunbathing in our neighborhood. (Ew!) No, I didn't get a picture of Mr. No Tan Lines. There are some things that are better left to the imagination. (At least you, my dear reader, can picture a much finer specimen on display than what we saw in reality.)

Tomorrow, I'm off to the Centre Georges Pompidou with Isabelle, and Saturday, Colin and I are going to Doug and Stephanie's for a party to celebrate Rachel's acceptance into Juilliard. And then ... the 'rentals arrive! That's right, folks, MoMom and MoDad will arrive on Tuesday. This can only mean one thing: May is almost half over! Man, that is mindblowing. Before I know it, I'll be on a plane back to Detroit! Where did the time go??

09 May 2006

Seeing St. Denis

I am a bit overdue on blogging about our adventures on Sunday, but better late than never! Colin and I were guests of Muriel's for an afternoon in St. Denis, a northern suburb of Paris. Muriel cooked us an AMAZING lunch (seriously, I'm still drooling thinking about it) and we got a chance to meet her family. Her mom, step-dad, and brother are all such delightful people!

Fortunately, my French held out well enough to understand the gist of the dinner conversation, which quickly turned to a heated political debate. Even though I was too slow to participate, I had an absolute ball listening and watching the whole event. And seriously, did I mention the food? Oh man. Awesome.

Here are a few pictures from our afternoon.

Unquestionably the jewel of St. Denis is the basilica. Built on the site of a cemetery where St. Denis himself was interred, this house of worship is now the final resting place for all of the kings of France.

A shot of the inside, as seen from behind the altar. I love the inside of the basilica. It's just so much warmer and brighter than Notre Dame is, and yet it still showcases some amazing gothic architecture.

St. Denis also has a spring tulip festival, which we managed to miss by about a month. Fortunately, most of the tulips were still there, so we got to see the remnants of the magnificent display. The dark red tulips in this particular section are called "Ile de France" tulips.

Just trying to be artsy again. I can't help it! Colin thinks it looks like a sci-fi shot: walking through the tulip forest.

These are two of my favorite things! ;)

06 May 2006

Everything but funnel cakes and a tractor pull

We made our mark on a one-thousand-year-old tradition today by attending the annual Foire du Trône in the Bois de Vincennes. This turned out to be much more like a summer carnival than I expected. In fact, it was exactly like a summer carnival, except that there were no funnel cakes. (I suspect that the French, upon explanation of what a funnel cake is, banned them from the country all together.) All we really needed was a good tractor pull / monster truck rally, and we would have been all set!

The lack of American Midwest flavor was not the only difference in the French version of the traveling carnival. First off, the prizes can be WAY better! There were many games in which you could win such things as flat-screen TVs, home entertainment systems, and dune buggies! Of course, the best prize was the one that Stephanie pointed out: you could win rims! How ghetto-fabulous is that?

Colin will also want me to point out the booth in the background of the photo at the left. It's for a game called "Mexico" -- but none of the flags flying above the booth are Mexican flags. You have the Union Jack, the Portuguese flag, the French flag, and the Italian flag. What the heck?

The rest of the day is best expressed in pictures ...

Doug and Stephanie on one of the two ferris wheels. Stephanie is a teensy bit afraid of heights, so I left out her death-grip handle on the gondola itself. Unfortunately, the child that secured us in our gondola also thought it would be really fun to spin us around as fast as he could. We managed to stop it fairly quickly, but everyone left a little bit dizzy. (I'm not kidding about the child part, by the way. There is no way that this carnival worker was more than 10 years old.)

Doug and Stephanie had seen this character before, but in a better context. While this one is holding a sign with the menu, the one that they saw had a "No Smoking" sign in its hand! (Doug pointed out that the fry in his mouth looks an awful lot like a joint, and the expression on its face doesn't really help matters.)

In the first of a several part series, here is my first photo under the heading of "things you wouldn't see in the US." Maybe you can't see what the fuss is about in this shot, so allow me to zoom in on the game ...

To be fair, though, it is a beach theme and going topless on a European beach is no big deal. However, there is NO WAY you could get away with the following theme on a haunted house in the states.

Yes, that is a painting of a "woman of ill repute," right next to a slogan that says "For The Family"! Other than lots of paintings of scantilly-clad women, there was also a notice in English that said, "A dollar for a dance!" (I can just picture the look on Bill O'Reilly face over this one!) Anyway, we decided to pass on this ... um ... attraction.

Colin and Doug took a spin on the rollar coaster. Unfortunately, it was the kind that shakes so much that you end up with a headache (or in Colin's case, a jaw ache because he was too tall for the head pads.) Yet another difference in Frenchie-Land ... no one is going to sue here if they get a headache on a ride!

05 May 2006

If the shoe fits ... it must not be fashionable

Last fall, I complained a bit about the true price of "choo-chee" shoes. Vowing never to get blisters again, I tucked my sandals away and stuck to tennis shoes for months. This was pretty easy in the dead of winter, but spring just begs for sandals and open-toed shoes! So, I broke my vow ... and I'm sitting here with blisters on my feet again.

I don't blame myself, however. I blame the Parisian women. Here's why.

First, just look at the picture of my nearest shoe store window! Have you ever seen so many strappy heels in your life?? Well, every single shoe store in the entire city is loaded full of them. Sparkly silver. Metallic gold. Black leather. White satin finish. Clear with fake flowers. You name it, and there is a strappy heel in Paris to meet your needs.

What's worse is that every woman in Paris is wearing a pair of these shoes. OK, there are a few pairs of tennis shoes running around town, but they, too, are very stylish and trendy. In fact, I've never seen so many bright red tennis shoes in my life, either. When faced with these options, I have to either follow the strappy trend or stand out in my white tennis shoes. I never thought I would have to choose between foot health and fashion!

Up until yesterday, however, I just assumed that the Parisian women had just grown accustomed to tight, pointy, spiked-heel shoes. After all, I never see a woman walking around with a pained look on her face. But yesterday, I went to the Foire de Paris with Isabelle, who was wearing a pair of very stylish black heeled boots for the occasion. (Bear in mind that the Foire de Paris is more or less like a GIANT home and garden show.) By the end of our five-hour exploration, Isabelle was just about ready to collapse because her feet hurt so bad. Heck, even in my flat everyday sandals, I was working up a decent blister! I can only imagine how bad it was for her.

And yet, this is exactly why I blame the Parisian women for my predicament. They collectively made the decision to value fashion over foot health, and they act like they have both! Not fair! All I wanted was to fit in ... but is the dark side of the fashion club worth it? I guess some days it is, but at the moment, I'll take my tennies.

04 May 2006

Good news on a sunny day

Another unbelievably gorgeous day here in Paris! It actually hit 75 degrees today. Man, I love it! I hope the weather holds out through the weekend, since we have some outdoorsy plans. Saturday, we're off to the Foire du Trône (sounds like a carnival with rides, games, food, etc). On Sunday, we'll get a personal tour of St. Denis, the suburb that our friend Muriel lives in. There is much to look forward to.

Anyway, there is no better complement to a sunny day than some good news. So, in no particular order:

  • Colin was offered a 12-month fellowship from his department, which means that he does not have to teach in the fall. This is great news, of course, because it means that he can focus entirely on writing his dissertation. Plus (assuming we have the money) it will be easier for him to fly back over here if he can visit Mme. Auric or some other useful resource.
  • Rachel was accepted into Juilliard, beginning this fall! Now, she gets to coordinate a move from Paris to New York City. (Too bad her van is in Kansas, huh?) We are absolutely thrilled for her, not only for the prestige that the school brings, but for the challenges and benefits that it will bring her. If you would like to congratulate her, leave comments and I'll forward them to her.
  • Seeking closure, I contacted the community college that I applied to teach at, and asked what the status of the position was. As it turns out, they haven't even picked up the applications from Human Resources yet, much less finalized a selection committee! To think, I had already given up hope. Maybe by the time they get around to interviewing, I'll be back in the US, thus saving me the cost of an extra plane ticket to the US. Regardless, I'm glad to know that I'm still in the running!

03 May 2006

More pictures from Keely & Brandon's Visit

OK, I'm having more luck with posting photos today, so here are the rest of the ones from Keely and Brandon's visit last week.

Happy birthday, Colin! I hired a cherubic artist to paint you a cow. (This is one of a series of cow sculptures around Paris right now. We can't figure out why the cow is the medium for expression, but then again, why not?)

While walking next to the fountains between the Trocadero and the Eiffel Tower, we came upon this naughty little statue. I can just hear the stern words coming from the scantilly clad woman's mouth: "I swear, if you try to tweak my nipple one more time, I'll break your finger off." Looks like he tried because his finger isn't there anymore.

OK, I've heard of art imitating life, but life imitating art? (Note to Brandon: watch your finger.)

How would you like to have your wedding day photos in front of the Eiffel Tower? Ah, if I did, people would probably just look at them and say, "That's a fake backdrop. You weren't really there!" By the way, I totally dig the bride's style here. Check out that hat, ladies!

But Mom, all the French kids are wearing this ... pleeeeeeeeze?

Rachel and I try out artsy photography while wearing our new sunglasses. Creative genius? Or just another Eiffel Tower sprouting from someone's head? You be the judge.

"Sudden catastrophic failures" are never sudden and don't have to be catastrophic

Our mechanic in Ann Arbor impressed on us a very important fact: "There is no such thing as sudden catastrophic failure in an automobile engine." After Amy and I began following his advice, we soon discovered that we were saving money on repairs and our 10-year-old cars were running like new (except for the suspension problem in the Corolla that we were monitoring).

After another round of computer problems this last weekend, we started thinking: "There shouldn't be any sudden catastrophic failure in a computer, right?" So, with this post, Amy and I are asking for your help. What kind of regular computer maintenance routine will help us prevent future computer emergencies? Naturally, problems will occur, but we'd like to be able to plan for and budget for them (rather than being surprised by the need to, say, replace our motherboard).

Here are the maintenance options/software that we already have on our computer.
  • McAfee Anti-Virus software (scans everytime the computer boots and every Friday afternoon)
  • Ad-Aware
  • Spybot
  • Disk defragmenter utility
  • Disk cleanup utility
  • CheckDisk utility
  • Windows Update automatically downloads any new stuff from Microsoft when it's released
  • And, of course, we back up everything once a month.
But, how often should we run these? Is there anything we're missing that we should have?

02 May 2006

And, we're back!

Hey folks, sorry for the long hiatus. Many, many thanks goes to our friend Doug for fixing what ailed the computer. So far, it's working like a charm. Apparently, we corrupted some files. (I always knew I had a corrupting influence ... I just didn't know it applied to the computer, too!)

As promised, you see a photo of Mia Marcella, my friend Sabra's new little girl. Pretty cute, don't you think? :)

Speaking of birthdays, Colin celebrated 28 years of circling the sun last Thursday, though "celebrating" is probably a strong word. We did go out for dinner, but beyond that, all was quiet. (The next installment of Colin's stipend came this weekend -- we were broke until then!)

Keely, one of my former co-workers, stopped by on Thursday and Friday with her boyfriend, Brandon. I think my favorite moment was when I led them around the corner and Notre Dame came into view. Keely had to stop us and say, "Holy shit!" before being able to move on. (Pico would be proud ... another "holy shit, we're in Paris" moment). Her excitement reminded me just how cool this place is. How can you not get excited about this city? (OK, if you had asked me that when I was a kid, here for the first time, I would have said, "It's small and dirty." Eh, what did I know?)

Anyway, here are some photos from their whirlwind tour of Paris.

Here they are, the happy couple! We were taking a break on Pont Neuf so that the jet-lagged folks could catch their breath. Gee, I don't know why they were so tired ... they had only just gone from Sacramento to Minneapolis to Detroit to Paris in one day. (If I were them, I sure as heck wouldn't have been smiling!)

Keely and Brandon love to take "artsy" pictures of themselves, which normally turn out really cool. I got jealous and decided to try it with Colin. That's Paris behind us (we're on the Tour Montparnasse). I think the only thing artsy about this picture is that I grayscaled it. Oh well, I tried.

OK, I have more photos, but Blogger is being stupid and not letting me upload more. I'll try again later.