Saturday, September 12, 2009

Leak in the Ceiling

As I was sitting at my desk early this morning after Amanda had left and Stephen and Heidi were packing, I noticed water on the floor behind my chair. I looked up and saw small droplets of water forming at a small crack in the ceiling and then dropping to the floor

I called Cedric the Manager who called his own plumber this time (read earlier post on previous plumbing problem) and will supposedly be here by 2p.

For now, the water has stopped dripping. I took a shower reluctantly for fear of starting it again but it has remained dry. I could try running the shower or sink in the other bathroom (which I suspect triggered the leak earlier this morning; that is the only sustained water flow that would have been running in the apartment at the time) but I think I will just wait until the plombier gets here.

Sigh.

Postscript: Plumber showed up about 2:30. He did not speak English but my brother-in-law speaks decent french. The plumber ended up re-caulking the lining of the drain pan in the shower figuring water must have seeped between the pan and the wall. We will continue to monitor.

Heidi, Stephen, Amanda Leave; Linda, Joe, Zachary, and Zoe Arrive

Amanda left early this morning on an 8:25 flight. Stephen and Heidi left for their 12:30p flight after a fun week.

My sister Linda, her husband Joe, and their children Zachary and Zoe are arriving now for their two weeks, although they will be spending the second week in the soutwestern French resort town of Biarritz, which actually lies in Basque territory, normally known for its association with northern Spain.

Amanda and I were planning on joining them for 4 days in Biarritzbut those plans are now up in the air due to Amanda having to return home to attend to her ailing father.

Plus I now have to figure out how to operate the combination washer/dryer which takes 3 hours to wash, then 2 hours to dry the tiniest of loads.

3½ Weeks and No Television (almost)

We've been here 3½ weeks. The first 2 weeks, we couldn't get the TV to work right Then, when Cedric the Manager visited last week and showed us how it worked, we had television but there really wasn't much to watch. It also isn't much of a television.




The one exception was the 8p Wednesday night Obama healthcare speech to Congress (which came on at 2a Thursday morning here). I didn't exactly stay up to watch but I was up anyway. To be honest, I was actually searching for US Open tennis coverage of the quarterfinal match featuring the 17 year old American girl from Atlanta, Melanie Oudin. With the tennis match nowhere to be found, I ended up with Obama instead of Oudin. I think his speech turned out beter than her tennis (she lost 6-2, 6-2) so maybe it was just as well.

At first I found the speech on a French news channel but I had a hard time hearing Obama over the dubbed translation. Then I found it on BBC and then CNN World without dubbing.

All the other 50 or so channels seem to be in French including the only sports channels I could find (which did not include tennis.

In the age of the internet, this of course does not mean I am totally disconnected from the world.

I am able to watch internet broadcasts of both golf and college football and keep up with world and local news at CNN.com, NYTimes.com, TDO.com (FSU Sports), and charlotte.com (Charlotte news) as well sports on espn.com and pgatour.com.

But it does mean that I don't just idly watch television as I might in the states. I have to really want to watch something to make time for it, especially when you have to stay up so late to catch most programming.

And, given that I'm in Paris, when I'm not working, I'm sightseeing and there's not much on TV that's more interesting than that.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Introducing Rhapsody on the iPhone (and other music options)

In the states, I have a Rhapsody To Go subscription for $14.99/mo.

Rhapsody is an unlimited online streaming music service that allows you to select any song or album to play on your computer or approved mobile device. I previously owned a Samsung Blackjack II and could copy any song from Rhapsody to my Blackjack II for offline playing. I had to re-license the songs by syncing with my computer once a month while connected to my online Rhapsody account through the Rhapsody player.

When I switched to the iPhone before my trip to Paris (primarily due to its wi-fi capabaility on the mistaken assumption that Paris was all wi-fi -- topic for another post), my biggest concern was no Rhapsody app. Therefore my Rhapsody collection of albums could only be played on my computer, not my mobile device. (A second issue with iPhone, which hopefully will be remedied soon, is lack of MMS - multimedia messaging - support.)

However, much to my pleasant surprise, I received an email from Rhapsody yesterday indicating that their iPhone app has been approved! This is the first time Apple has allowed an on-demand streaming program on its devices in the United States.

So these are the mobile music options for iPhone/iPod users as I see it for an American in Europe.

1. iTunes - Purchase the songs and download them to your PC and mobile device. Only requires an internet connection to purchase and download, not play, as the song are resident on the device. This is the best but most expensive option because you must buy everything you listen to but you don't need to be connected to the internet to play.

2. Pandora - Streaming internet radio. The application and music are free for up to 40 hours per month on both your PC and mobile device, although you will have to tolerate ads. A $36 annual subscription removes the ads and the time limitation. Pandora does not play the songs you select but instead plays "channels" based on artists you say you like or based on pre-selected genres. You must be connected to the internet to use Pandora and it only works in the United States. However, as I described in an earlier post, you can get around this by purchasing a mobile VPN subscription from Secure Tunnel for $5.95/mo. This routes your European internet connection through a US Server so that it appears that you are in the US. I use it and it works perfectly.

3. Rhapsody To Go - streaming library of music. This is like iTunes except that you do not purchase the music or download it to your device. You stream your selections which requires an internet connection which means you cannot play your music off-line. This makes it different than Rhapsody To Go for non-Apple devices such as the Blackjack II I used to own. However, it is Rhapsody's intent to have an update out by the end of the year that will let you cache tracks for later off-line playback. So, for $14.99 monthly fee and you can play unlimited music from their vast library and create your own library and playlists but you have to be online. Also, while they hope to migrate the service to Europe, it currently only works in the US. However, the same trick I use with Pandora appears to work here -- using a VPN service based in the US. (My guess, however, it that this will only work if you have a US account with iTunes; non-US iTunes accounts will not be able to download the App from Apple and use a US VPN service to get around the US-only restriction. I base this guess on my experience with Spotify... see next comment.)

4. Spotify - The same model as Rhapsody To Go but only available in Sweden, Norway, Finland, the UK, France and Spain. It has the added advantage of allowing caching of 3,333 songs (why 3,333?) for off-line playing, something Rhapsody does not yet offer but is obviously a big plus. A blog reader referred me to this service but I discovered I could not download the app because I am a US iTunes customer. I tried changing my country in my iTunes profile to France but Apple is apparently too smart for that trick and probably uses my credit card for country identification. So while this initially appeared an attractive option, unless I figured out a way to create an iTunes account in one of the approved countries (and I think it would require a bank account in Europe!), this option won't work and would be too much of a hassle anyway. A European traveler in the US could probably use this service in the US by obtaining a European VPN service, essentially the same strategy I am using for Pandora and Rhapsody while in France.

So for now, if you want to play your music off-line, your only option appears to be purchasing songs from iTunes, something I am not willing to do, having become accustomed to unlimited music monthly from Rhapsody.

Rhapsody will now be my online streaming music source although I like Pandora a lot if I just want to play a music I like without having to worry about making selections.

Does anyone else know of any other options?

Zachary to Attend Lycee Lavoisier on Monday

Upon returning from Montmartre late this afternoon, I stopped to talk to several girls outside the school. They all spoke English so I explained my plan to have my nephew Zachary, who is 15 and arriving tomorrow with my sister, spend a day (or more?) attending their school next week.

One girl thought it was possible and said I should talk to administration. Not knowing my way around the school, she escorted me to the office of a gentleman and explained (in french) what I wanted.

He smiled and spoke fine English (he is married to an Australian) as we further discussed the plan (while the girl returned to her friends). He thought it would be quite beneficial both for Zachary and his students. The school is for ages 15-18 so Zachary just qualifies for the first level.

The gentleman was Andre Poveda and he is apparently 3rd in command behind the headmaster and whoever is second in command (vice-headmaster?). I believe he primarily functions as what we might call the dean, who is under the principal and vice-principal. He provides both discipline and positive counseling. He struck me as way too nice of a man to punish someone though. I certainly don't think the students are afraid of him.

He made a quick phone call and then we walked down the hall to the office of the headmaster, a tall slender man who quickly said "no problem," the only English I understood.

I told Andre I needed to contact my sister and see if Zachary would be interested and that I would call him back.

I quickly went back to my apartment (which took all of 30 seconds since it is literally across the street) and called Linda, who said Zachary would love to do that, and the sooner the better so that he might meet some friends for the week.

So, we have arranged for Zachary to attend this French High School on Monday. Andre (Monsieur Poveda?) will be waiting at the gate at 8a.

Well. That was easier than I thought. Took all of 30 minutes to arrange.

Maybe now we can find Zach a cute french girlfriend for the week. I think he might have quite a selection of girls interested in showing the new American boy around.

A Day at Montmartre and Sacre Coeur

Today, Heidi and Stephen's final day, was spent at Montmartre visiting not only the Sacré-Cœur Basilica but the surrounding area.

Montmartre, located in the 18th arrondisement to the north, is the highest point in Paris at 425 feet and offers a wonderful view back across the city to the south. All of the significant landmarks are visible -- Notre Dame, Pantheon, Montparnasse (unforunately), Napoleon's Tomb, Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe -- plus the modern business buildings on the outskirts of Paris including La Defense to the west.

Getting there requires 2 metro line changes. First we take RER B south to Denfert-Rochereau (1st stop), then Line 4 west to Montparnasse-Bienvenue (3rd station), and finally Line 12 north to Abbesses (10th station). Kind of a pain but there's no easier way.

The Abbesses station, however, is historic:

Abbesses is one of the few deep stations of Paris métro, at 36 metres (118 feet)[1] below ground, as it is located on western side of the butte (hill) of Montmartre. Access to the platforms is usually by elevators, but they can be accessed by decorated stairs.

The station's entrance, designed by Hector Guimard (1867–1942), is one of only two original Guimard entrances left in Paris. (The other is located at Porte Dauphine.) The entrance was originally used for the Hôtel de Ville metro station, but transferred to its current location in 1970.


We wondered when we exited the train at the Abbesses stattion why so many people were waiting for an elevator rather than take the stairs. We soon discovered why. While the stairs have wonderfully painted walls, it's a lot of steps to get to the top.

This is the picture of the entrance, with the glass canopy:




Once we re-oriented ourselves, which is always necessary when you pop out of a strange new metro station in an unfamiliar area, we were able to start walking to the base of Sacre Coeur.

There is a funicular that will take you to the top, but we walked up the many steps. This picture, taken from the top of Notre Dame several days ago 4 miles away (and thus a little fuzzy), shows the terraces in front of the church that must be ascended, which actually begin a little below the tops of the building in the picture.




The church itself is actually relatively new, having been constructed in the late 1800s after the Franco-Prussian War:

The purpose of making a church dedicated to the Sacred Heart, with its origins in the aftermath of the French Revolution among ultra-Catholics and legitimist royalists, developed more widely in France after the Franco-Prussian War and the ensuing uprising of the Paris Commune of 1870-71. Though today it is asserted to be dedicated in honor of the 58,000 who lost their lives during the war, the decree of the Assemblée nationale, 24 July 1873, responding to a request by the archbishop of Paris by voting its construction, specifies that it is to "expiate the crimes of the communards."

I will leave it to interested readers to check out the Wikipedia link and official site for more details on the history, construction, and role of the church.

While Notre Dame is more important in most respects (as well as being larger), Sacre Coeur occupies the most prominent spot in all of Paris. The church rises magnificently among the local apartments and neighborhoods (see picture below, also taken from Notre Dame) in an area known as a "centre of free-wheeling and decadent entertainment at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century" as well as a den of artists and bohemians (many buried in the nearby Montmartre Cemetery), although most of that is in the past now too. Downhill to the southwest is the red-light district of Pigalle and the travel guides also warn of more frequent petty crimes, such as pick-pocketing and harrassment by immigrants seeking to pawn cheap goods.




Pictures or video are not allowed inside the church, which seems to more strictly emphasize decorum than other churches we have been in.

We wanted to ascend to the top of the dome (actually it is not the very top -- it is along the rim at the base of the dome).

5 Euros earns you the privilege of ascending 300 steps in a dizzying, narrow, spiral upwards. There is no elevator so your quads will be feeling it at the top. (Actually, there is an intermediate horizontal section that crosses outside across the back of the roof to the next spiral staircase which takes you to the top.




When you reach the top, you are rewarded with a balcony that encircles the base of the dome, allowing for panoramic views in any direction. In particular, you can see to the north, a view not normally accessible from other high viewpoints such as the Eiffel Tower or Montparnasse (yes, you can see north but those towers are situated many miles south of Sacre Coeur). Furthermore, this is the best point north of the city to look back over all of Paris and literally see every significant building with one 180 degree sweeep.

Unfortunately, while the day was beautiful, the light was too bright which combined with Paris smog, creates a hazy, rather than crisp view, which is apparent in the photographs, none of which are worth showing. We were there at noon and I suspect that early morning or evening would make for more spectacular views.

Note also the soot or grime on the walls in the picture above. We noticed that Sacre Coeur for some reason was dramatically dirtier than the other churches (or any other building for that matter).

We descended a different spiral staircase and proceeded west from the back left side of the basilica to the more artistic section of Monmartre along cobblestone street (Rue de Chevalier de la Barre) only to be greeted by several artists seeking to sketch your portrait for, I believe, 30 Euros.

This picture is looking back at the side of Sacre Coeur from Rue de Chevalier de la Barre. Heidi is actually in this picture so if you want to play Where's Waldo?..... (hint: you will at least need to click on the picture to enlarge)




And this is one of the portrait artists, although normally the subject is a woman.



You can easily see that this area caters entirely to tourists, with all the gift shops and street artists and the attempt to recreate the bohemian atmosphere of years long gone. But it is still fun. In fact, Stephen wished he had come on Monday and may have spent his whole week here!

After a left on Rue de Mont-Cenis and then a right on Rue Norvins, which brings you immediately to Place due Tertre, a small square at the heart of artistic Montmartre. The square is lined with restaurants but in the middle are artists under umbrellas with canvas and paintbrush ready, both displaying their existing inventory of paintings and working on something new.

Contrasting with my previous memory from 6 years ago, it seemed to me that half the courtyard was filled with restaurant tables where artists once painted.

We stopped at Au Cadet de Gascogne and obtained an outside table looking into the square (where the restaurant also had seating as you can see by the sign):




We were served by a wonderful waiter, Stephen, who actually didn't seem so wonderful at first but we cheered him up. The "formula" (set menu for fixed price) of the day called for salad mixte, poulet frites or steak frites, and creme caramel or ice cream for dessert. It wasn't clear to me weather "poulet frites" and "steak frites" meant "fried chicken" and "fried steak" or "roasted chicken with fries" and "steak with fries." As it turns out, it is the latter.

Stephen illustrated the difference by writing on our placemat, which I have pictured below:




This says that "poulet frites" does not equal "poulet fris." The latter is fried chicken. The former is roasted chicken with fries, which is what I wanted and got. Nice to know. In fact, I believe we all ordered "poulet frites" but Stephen (our Stephen, not the waiter), who order beef burgundy and claimed it was the best "pot roast" he had ever had.

I had two 50cl glasses of Grimbergen. I'm really getting the hang of this beer thing now. All in all, the price at the restaurant was quite affordable by Paris standards and I would recommend it.

Stephen then agreed to pose for a picture at the end of our meal. He claims the bandage on his hand was from punching a customer who had walked out on a 80 EUR tab who he happened to run into near his home that same evening. I suspect it was a hint. :)


In any case, it was a wonderful afternoon.

Amanda and I returned while Stephen and Heidi wanted to explore on their own for their last evening, not arriving home till 12:30a!

Amanda is Returning to US to Attend to Ailing Father

Amanda and Heidi received difficult news yesterday that their father was not doing well. He has been in declining health for some time but the recent news was more serious than we had anticipated.

Heidi was already scheduled to return home tomorrow (Sat) but, of course, Amanda and I had planned to stay until Nov 3. Indeed, my sister, her husband and two children are due in tomorrow and we have other friends and family scheduled to visit in subsequent weeks.

In something of a miracle, I was fortunately able to obtain a frequent flyer ticket for Amanda to return tomorrow also. Her return date is unknown at this point.

Obviously this throws some of our plans (and psyches) into chaos but that is the way life is. You play the cards you are dealt and, in this case, her father's health clearly takes priority.

I will remain in France unless or until circumstances require I return also.

Your prayers are welcome.

Beer #14: La Trappe Quadrupel

How's this for a nice french dinner tonight?

Beer. French Fries. Apple crumble cake with cream.

Thank you very much.

Now for the beer.

A quadrupel, 10% -- La Trappe Quadrupel. It is actually from Netherlands, not Belgium.

Copper in color. Pours very little head. Stronger beer flavor but no bitterness. Pretty glass. 33cl. Works for me.

(By the way I had two 50cl glass of Grimbergen at lunch to day during our trip to Montmartre -- see upcoming post.)

French Burlesque

Last night Amanda and I attended the Gentry de Paris Revue at the Casino de Paris on Rue de Clichy. Translated from the site:

"The glamorous Paris is finally back on stage at the legendary Casino de Paris - The Gentry de Paris Revue with Dita Von Teese revived the lost tradition of opulent extravagance theatrical song and dance of the 1900s. "

"This production in the traditional style of the Ziegfeld Follies production this time is modernized by the presence of volcanic and petulant finest vintage Burlesque strippers of the world."


The following, translated from the website, is an accurate description of the 2-hour show, which started at 8:30p:

18 original paintings [Poor translation. I think it should be "preformances"] in two acts or mix songs and dances through special effects, exquisite decor and extravagant costumes. In this fantastical world, you will travel through a ballet a ballet danced in heaven on the clouds with twinkling stars, the sound of languorous tangos, music, jazz, tap and happy Burlesque stripping. In addition, a static trapeze performance will take you in a lush dream.

The show is not ongoing (like the more famous Moulin Rouge or Crazy Horse or Lido) but is only performing Sep 7-17. Tickets were 99.50 EUR each so it was not cheap, although not expensive compared to other Parisian extravaganzas.




The venue was very intimate with the floor arranged in rows (we were row "O") of small cocktail tables with two chairs behind (for one couple) and two chairs on each side (for another couple).

The clear star of the show was Dita Von Teese (see also here), who I had never heard of before but is apparently referred to in the press as the "Queen of Burlesque" which would probably explain why I have never heard of her before!

For pictures from both of her performance several days before -- which I must admit were quite amazing -- click here. You will see, as is the case with the other "strippers," that while the clothing does get pretty skimpy, she does not actually reveal anything, so compared to what you might see at one of the other Paris Shows (or Vegas for that matter), this was quite tame.

By the way, Teese (her real name is Heather Renée Sweet) admits "extra-strong glue to assure her crystal-decorated breast accessories don't slip out of place and expose too much flesh." Well, that explains that.

The first thing Amanda and I noticed was her bizarrely thin waist. She is a small woman to start with (5'6", 105 lbs) but, "through the wearing of a corset for many years, she had reduced her natural waistline to 22 inches (56 cm), and can be laced down as far as 16.5 inches (42 cm)." Yikes!

Perhaps even more oddly, she was married to goth rocker Marilyn Manson for a few years, which is almost impossible to conceive.

Ok, enough about Ms. Teese. What about the rest of the show?

Actually, it was quite fun also. The list of acts was summarized nicely above and the performances and music were entertaining. While some of songs were in English, others were in French, and the emcee spoke in French so we probably missed out on some of the explanation that tied some of the acts together. But music and dance and skits are universal.

Of act of particular note was the imitation of the Josephine Baker "Banana Dance" by a man.

This is a picture of Josephine Baker in her famous banana skirt and I must admit that the man looked quite a bit like her.




I didn't make the connection with Josephine Baker because I am an expert on Josephine Baker. In fact, I didn't realize until today, as we were walking around Montmartre, that the dance was not original to this performance but was, in fact, a classic originated by Josephine. This next picture in a street-side shop clued us in:





Then when I got home and did a little Googling, I realized the dance was original because it was done by a man, but it was clearly a tribute to Baker.

Would we do it again for the money? Probably not. But for a one time experience, it was worth it.

Here are a few other pictures from the night. No pictures from the show itself, but you can see the theater, although the lighting was not conducive to a quick pic.





Thursday, September 10, 2009

Blogging to Create Memories

(This post is more philosophical and as such will probably remain a work-in-progress as I think of new things to add, modify or subtract. So what you read now may not be the final version!)

I have referred a couple times to a book I just finished today: Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives by the neuroscientist David Eagleman.

The book is a collection of short -- very short, 4 or 5 pages each -- imagined versions of the afterlife. Most of them are fascinatingly clever.

The last was titled Reversal and begins:

There is no afterlife, but that doesn't mean we don't get to live a second time.

At some point the expansion of the universe will slow down, stop, and begin to contract and at that point the arrow of time will reverse. Everyhing that happened on the way out will happen again, but backward. In this way our life neither dies nor disintegrates, but rewinds.


He then goes on to illustrate how this would happen beginning with you being "born" by being dug out of your grave!

However, the really astute observation comes at the end of his tale (as usual):

In this reverse life you have blissful expectations about what will come next as you experience your story backward. ....

But you have a painful surprise in store. You discover that your memory has spent a lifetime manufacturing small myths to keep your life story consistent with who you thought you were. You have committed to a coherent narrative, misremembering little details and decisions and sequences of events. On the way back , the cloth of that story line unravels. Reversing through the corridors of your life, you are battered and bruised in the collisions between reminiscence and reality. By the time you enter the womb again, you understand as little about yourself as you did your first time here. (Empasis added)


So true.

I am often thought to have a near photographic memory. I don't believe this is true but I do have a knack for storing lots of facts (oftentimes trivial, at least to others) that I can recall on demand (for example, past news or sport events).

But my memory is also highly selective. (Ask my wife!) There are many periods of my life (e.g. college) for which I have few concrete memories. Had I kept a diary during my college days, I would probably not even recognize myself if I read it now. My current misrememberings are so great as to probably bear little resemblance to my contemporaneous recordings.

This does not however mean that the contemporaneous recordings are more true recollections than the current ones, except so far as they simply note "factual" events. This is because all memories are processed memories. Not every sensation that enters our awareness is recorded. Our mind quickly filters what is important and not important according to a larger narrative we have constructed about who we are, as Eagleman suggests, and the more "meaningful" sensations become more permanent as they are fitted into this myth pattern.

Blogging is just a public form of journaling. But it is not simply a contemporaneous recording of events; it is the creation of a myth. In a very real way, I am creating the memories of my time in Paris by selectively reconstructing what I have experienced. Blogging forces me to re-live my day and in so doing I give some meaning to what happened and that meaning becomes the reality, regardless of what really happened. I mean what does it matter whether this is that happened if your mind has constructed a different memory?

In Eagleman's tale, he refers to being battered by the "collisions between reminiscence and reality" but really what he refers to as "reality" is just the same events being processed by a mind that has a completely different perspective than it did the first time. The reverse trip through his life simply creates new misrememberings, new myths based on, hopefully, a more nuanced and complete understanding of who we think we are.

My life has gone through several re-rememberings, in which the meaning I assigned to past events, gets reinterpreted based on a new philosophical or religious perspective. I think we are all constantly doing this. Like a cow chewing its cud, we regurgitate suppressed memories (conscious or unconscious) and attempt to make them "fit" into meaningful digestible patterns.

So, yes, my 11 Weeks in Paris becomes a new myth that involves me applying my current self-understanding to these new experiences. I am creating memories, not simply recalling them. I am shaping what will be for all intents and purposes the reality of my time here in Paris and integrating that into the larger reality of my life, which will in turn shape my experiences when I return home. Indeed that is a large reason for doing something like this.

I could do this privately of course -- in a diary -- but it's not the same.

Since blogging is public, it forces me to view my stories as if someone else were reading them, which forces me to step outside of myself, so-to-speak, and shape my story in a more reflective and detached fashion.

In the distant future, when I look back on what I have recorded here, it will not be so much to remember (or refresh my memory of) specific events in order to recreate the pleasure of those experiences (although that might occur) as it will be to observe who the person was that created these memories because he won't be the same person who will be reading it.

[If you have thoughts on this line of thinking, please post them.]

French Kisses

As I left off with the previous post, I noticed the students from the high school across the street typically greeted each other with a french kiss (regardless of gender combination).

Not that kind of french kiss, however.

In France, it is referred to as faire la bise (literally, "do the kiss").

I had observed it was common among adults but I didn't realize that teenagers did it also. If anything, they do it more, which I guess shouldn't be surprising.

A nice article How to Kiss Hello in France describes the etiquette(another article is here):

How to kiss: The French air kiss - ala “Mmmmwah, dahling” - is more of a stereotype than an actuality. Still, you’ll want to avoid planting your lips firmly on anyone’s cheeks unless you know the person quite well.

In general, gently touching your cheek to your recipient’s while pursing your lips and making a kissing sound does the trick. There’s no rule as to which cheek should get the initial kiss, but people often start the kissing to the right. The occasional embarrassing moment—when you’re forced to change your trajectory halfway through to avoid wayward lips—is inevitable.

How many kisses: It depends on the region, so observe the people around you and follow suit. In the southern city of Toulouse, for example, two kisses is the norm, while in some Parisian suburbs you’ll be expected to give four and in the agricultural departement of Aveyron it’s three.


My own very casual observation is that you start with each other's right cheek (that is, you each turn your head to the left) and then to the left cheek. And that's it.

The students at Lycee Lavoisier have obviously either not gotten the message from french education and health officials or are ignoring it:

French education and health officials have warned against "la bise", the cheek-to-cheek greeting most people associate with French nationals. So far, the French mainland has lost three people to swine flu.

One town mayor said: "I asked the children not to kiss anymore. I felt that the protections sought — to wash hands regularly, not throw used handkerchiefs around, and not cough any old way — had no meaning if we let the kids keep kissing."


(See also this CNN video.)

I would probably ignore the warning also.

I mean, what's a little swine flu among friends.

Lycee Lavoisier

Directly across the street from our apartment entrance is a french public high school - Lycee Lavoisier. (Antoine Lavoisier is the father of modern chemistry... shame I had to come all the way to Paris to learn that... he was apparently beheaded for selling-watered down tobacco. Huh?)




The first couple weeks we really didn't notice because it was August and school was out.

But last Thursday, that all changed.

Suddenly, we noticed what seemed like hundreds of students milling around the street.




Finally, yesterday I asked some of them why they weren't in class. One student in particular seemed interested in chatting.

Apparently, this school (all schools?) has classes from 8a-6p (Mon, Tue, Thu, Fri) and 8a-12p (Wed, Sat) with three breaks: 15 minutes at 10a and 3p and 90 minutes for lunch.

Well, lunch doesn't take 90 minutes so they just hang out in the street. There's really no place else to go.

Needless to say, the street isn't as clean as it was in August. Sometimes they are blocking the entrance from the street into our apartment courtyard. Most seem to smoke.

They also greet each other with a french kiss.

But that's for the next post. :)

Beer #13 - Furstenberg w/ aperitivos and no Julia

I skipped Giverny today -- Monet's Garden.

Amanda, Heidi and Stephen got up at 5ish (I went to bed at 4:15a!) and I decided I had too much work to do and I've already been there and I didn't want to spend a whole day at one house looking at flowers.... even if it is Monet's house and the flowers are important. Maybe another day.

Got up late and went to Beer Academy for a light lunch: Aperitivos and Beer.

I've had most of the beers on tap now and the bottles are normally only 33cl and I wanted 50cl so he recommended a german beer: Fustenberg, which comes in 50cl.




One of the things I like about beer is it is such a beautiful drink. I love watching the chemical-like reaction in a nice tall glass. You have the head (I like to pour it fast!) which takes up most of the glass and then gradually you watch the carbonation at the bottom of the glass work its way up and the beer starts to clear at the bottom while still churning in the middle as the foam begins to shrink.

It just looks like a magical potion.

By the way, this is the Aperitivos (nacho chips, boiled potatos with olive oil, and pepperoni):




PS By the way, Julia wasn't there today. I had mentioned to the server that they seemed unusually busy today. He replied there were only two people working. I asked where Julia was. He said she had a rather late night and was in no condition to report to work.

Huh?

I have heard of calling in sick before, but calling in drunk? Julia, you have so much to tell me about tomorrow!

By the way, in her defense, Wednesday and Thursday are her "weekend" and she was only supposed to come in today to cover for another person.

Beer #12 - Heineken

Tuesday, we went to Notre Dame (Monday, we went to Coldplay and I had another Grimbergen Tripel, one of my favorites so far) and on the way home, stopped at a little italian restaurant (that was actually one of the more reasonably prices places we've been, especially for the Latin Quarter). The name slips my mind at the moment but I will look it up and post it.

They didn't have a large beer selection so I settled for an ordinary Heineken with my Penne Bolognese.




Whatever. It was ok, but lacked that special flavor. I don't know yet if it is hops or malt or what that gives the substance to beer but some of these beers taste like beer-flavored water.

Plus, it just wasn't the same without the branded glass.

This is Amanda, Heidi, and I having a little ice cream after lunch:

Beer #11 - Westmalle Dark

After our long day at the Louvre and walking up Champs Elysees to Arc de Triomphe, we stopped by Beer Academy for a refreshing drink.

This time I went for a dark: Westmalle Dark. Compared to the Guinness (Beer #1), this did not have the strong bitter aftertaste. It was noticably drier and more bitter than the blondes and ambers I've been drinking but still smooth. I could do this again. Unfortunately, they must not have Westmalle glasses so they served it in a generic Duvel glass.

Beer #10 - Abbaye de Leffe

After our visit to the Louvre on Sunday, we had lunch in the Tuileries Gardens at a small outdoor cafe.

I ordered the Abbaye de Leffe, another Belgian beer, with a ham and cheese sub.

There is a clear pattern here. Everytime I have a beer made by monks it is great. Whether Trappist or Abbey or whatever, they know how to make beers.

Very smooth, nice flavor, very drinkable. Plus I love their glasses.

Beer #9 - Cruzcampo

While at Versailles last Saturday, we ate dinner at a Tex-Mex restaurant and I ordered a Cruzcampo (Biere d'Espagna).

I thought it was one of the worst beers I've had so far.... really bland.... no oomph. (When was the last time you read a beer review with a highly technical word like "oomph" in it.)




By the way, it is a little disorienting to be served a Spanish beer in a Tex-Mex restaurant in a Paris village by an Asian girl who speeks English!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Wednesday is Workday

Had a nice dinner last night at Le Vin Sobre just around the corner with Alex and Andrea and Heidi and Stephen.

I had stayed up Monday night till 7:30a, slept till noon, then joined Heidi and Stephen at Notre Dame (post upcoming) before returning for a couple hours work before dinner.

Actually went to bed at 11p and got up at 9a.

Heidi and Stephen are going to Musee Orsay today while I catch up on work (and maybe have time to catch up on this blog with posts about our weekend activities at Versailles and the Louvre).

Amanda and I had nice little picnic lunch at Lux Gardens first and now I'm settling down for a relaxing afternoon in the apartment just me and my pc.

Tomorrow is Giverny, home of Monet's Garden, and then a burlesque show (!) - Gentry De Paris Burlesque Revue at Casino de Paris on Rue de Clichy. That is going to make for an interesting blog article.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

FSU v Miami Kickoff at 2AM !

Now that football (American football, that is) season is starting, the six-hour time difference is going to be a real challenge, especially for night games.

I haven't missed (in person or on tv) a Florida State-Miami game since I saw my first one as a freshman at FSU in 1978. That's 31 straight games.

I was there in person for the first wide right in 1991 against Miami, perhaps the most famous game in the rivalry.

This year the game was being played on Monday night (last night, Labor Day) at 8p EST. That Eastern Standard Time, not Paris Standard Time. In Paris that is 2a.

Furthermore, I didn't expect to find it on TV anywhere which meant streaming internet radio was probably the best I was going to find (or worst case, ESPN Gamecast, which simply logs each play in real time on a web page), but for the first time I discovered ESPN360 which broadcasts selected college football games throughout the season over the internet to your computer including, as it turns out, this one. A single game pass was 9.95 EUR.

I grabbed a Red Bull, put together my Colplay in Paris blog post (which was a little trickier than normal due to videos), and settled down for the usual 4 hour contest (I don't know why but FSU-Miami games always last 4 hours), ending after 6a this morning in Paris.

For excitement and drama, this one ranks in the top 10 of the 32 I have now seen. And as so often is the case, FSU (favored by 5) lost a heartbreaker 38-34 after failing to score on 3 attempts from the 2 yard line at the end of the game with the receiver dropping a catchable pass on the last play.

Sigh. Where have I seen this story before.

I crawled into bed at 7:30a this morning after doing a few other housekeeping chores on my computer and was up at noon.

I hope FSU doesn't have any more night games in the next 8 weeks. I don't know how many more times I can do this.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Coldplay in Paris

Now that's what I'm talking about!

How a band could go from my worst concert experience (relative to expectations) to my best in exactly one month is beyond me but that is what they did. Yawn to goosebumps.

August 7 I saw Coldplay at Verizon Amphitheatre in Charlotte, NC with Brittain who had won 2 lawn tickets at work and invited me. (Brittain and her boyfriend will be joining us in 3 weeks where they will see Elton John and Green Day with us.) This venue has a seating capacity of about 18,500 with 10,000 being lawn seats and 8,500 being reserved seating (some under cover).

The concert was particularly disappointing because I had heard so many rave reviews about Coldplay live. We were in the very back of the lawn section and the sound just didn't carry well apparently. It was quite underwhelming, no energy whatsoever. The review in the paper the next day was great and I have heard that others had a great time so I had to attribute my experience to our seating.

Tonight, I gave them another chance.

As I described earlier, we obtained two tickets yesterday; Stephen and Heidi were able to scalp two tickets when we arrived early at the venue. They chose to enter early to establish a spot close to the stage (since they had standing room tickets on the floor) while Amanda and I relaxed at the nearby Les Princes restaurant with a couple beers and some appetizers.

The weather could hardly have been more perfect -- fair and mid-70s in the early evening dropping to just below 70 after the sun set.

The venue was Parc des Princes, a football/rugby stadium owned by the city. The seats completely encircle the arena in two tiers. While the stadium is open on top there is a roof that extends inward to cover the seats, leaving only the field exposed. Seating capacity is 49,000. While one end of the stadium (behind the stage) was unusable, this appeared to be more than made up by the fans on the field.




Since the concert was sold out, I would guess there were more than 50,000 people in attendance, obviously significantly more than the concert in Charlotte.

And did they make their presence known!

After the first two acts (who were really bad), it took about 30 minutes to set up for Coldplay. During this intermission, the crowd did "the wave," clapped in unison, and otherwise demonstrated they were ready for the show to begin. The contrast with Charlotte was palpable. You could sense the place was ready to explode.

Our seats were in the far end zone, upper tier, row 25 (out of 33), dead center. In fact, we were so far up and back that we could not see out the opening in the stadium due to the slope of the roof covering the seats. From our perspective, the stadium might as well have been an enclosed arena. This was the view from our seats:




Comically, at then end of the string of songs played during the intermission was this classic waltz which the crowd enthusiastically clapped to in time. Maybe this is a concert tradition in Paris or for Coldplay or Europe or just concerts in general. I don't know but I had never heard it before. Watch this 14-second clip (you can see crowd swaying near stage):

video


Coldplay opened (as they did in Charlotte) and also closed the concert with Life in Technicolor, which is a near perfect opening song because of the instrumental opening, in which a new instrument is added to the mix as it loops through the opening chorus repeatedly, finally reaching a crescendo when the vocals begin.

The staging and lighting were much more impressive than in Charlotte. The main screen behind the band displayed a famously unique French picture, Liberty Leading the People by Eugène Delacroix:




This was particularly ironic because we had just seen that painting in the Louvre Museum yesterday!

It was only in writing this post that I discovered that this image is actually on the cover of their Viva La Vida album (which means it wasn't on stage just as a tribute to the French concert audience):




I mean what are the chances of seeing a British band playing in France displaying the same image on stage that you had just seen in the most famous museum in the world the day before.

This 25 second clip on the song Clocks not only illustrates some fancy laser lightworks, but you can (faintly) see the Liberty Leading the People image on the screen behind the band.

video

However, it was Viva La Vida, the Grammy's Song of the Year for 2009, that really got the crowd going about 50 minutes in. Until then everyone in our section of seats had remained seated. It was this song that brought them to their feet.

And they loved the catchy little interlude at the 3 minute mark and the end (which I believe was the basis for the copyright infringement lawsuit):

Oh, oh oh-oh oh, oh oh-oh oh,
Oh oh-oh oh, oh-oh oh, oh-oh oh,
Oh-oh oh, a oh oh oh



In fact, when the song was over, teh crowd insisted on continuing it. Between other songs, they continued to repeat it. When the concert was over, they continued to repeat it. You couldn't sleep without hearing this "hook" ringing in your ear.

I have to admit Chris Martin, the enthusiastic keyboard player, vocalist and clear leader of the band, is infectious. At one point, he turned out the lights, requested cell phones to be raised, and choreographed a light "wave." (I recorded it but you wouldn't recognize it.)

As in Charlotte, they performed an acoustic set on a makeshift stage in the middle of the infield, which included a version of Billie Jean, in which the crowd sang along on the chorus (as Martin so often prompted them to do on many songs and which they loved). I have a brief audio recording:



Unfortunately, after about an hour and forty-five minutes, they were done.

They did return for an encore of two songs, starting with the poignant piano ballad (with Chris Martin falsetto) The Scientist and finishing as they began, with Life in Technicolor.

This was everything the previous concert was not. The sound and energy were probably better than any concert I have seen. The video and light production were likewise astounding. Of course, 50,000 people helps. Maybe its Paris. (I mean, if you are a band, how can you not have Paris circled on your tour calendar as a stop you really want to have your A-game at?)

One concert down. Five to go. If the others come anywhere close to this, it's going to be an amazing next 7 weeks.

PS By the way, here is someone else's review of the concert in Hong Kong. The song sequence looks similar (except they got a 3rd encore song which we didn't) to what I vaguely recall, so I'll assume they are the same:

Life In Technicolor
Violet Hill
Clocks
In My Place
Yellow
Glass Of Water
Cemeteries Of London
42
Fix You
Strawberry Swing
God Put A Smile Upon Your Face
The Hardest Part
Postcards From Far Away
Viva La Vida
Lost!
Green Eyes
Death Will Never Conquer
I'm A Believer
Politik
Lovers In Japan
Death And All His Friends

Encore:
The Scientist
Life In Technicolor II
The Escapistoutro

Palace of Versailles vs Biltmore Estates

The Palace of Versailles, the center of political power in France for about 100 years (1682-1789) during the reigns of Louis XIV through Louis XVI, lies about 12 miles outside Paris.




The Biltmore Estates is a large French Renaissance home built by George Vanderbilt in the late 19th Century just outide Asheville, NC, only a couple hours from where we live.




Both are tremendously large "homes" and I was wondering how they compared.

As it turns out, it really is no comparison. You can research further details yourself but the basic fact is that Versailles appears to be about 3 times larger than Biltmore and contains many more objects and features.

Square Footage - 551,000 to 175,000
Rooms - 700 to 250
Staircases - 67 to 13
Fireplaces - 1,250 to 65
Painting - 6,123 to 185

The only statistic that Biltmore appears to win is acreage of land, approximately 8,000 today (originally 125,000!) to 1,800.

Basilica of St. Clotilde

During out walk to the Eiffel Tower on Saturday, we accidentally bumped into a gothic looking cathedral on a side street off of Rue de Grenelle. I recognized the two spires from panoramic views of the city in the past but had never been able to attach them to a specific structure. Now I know.

It is the Basilica of St. Clotilde. It is known both for its two spires and its organ, which unfortunately we did not get to hear. Also, the style is neo-Gothic, the church having been built in the mid-19th C, much later than its appearance suggested. (What can be more boring than a church that is only 150 years old.) I have one picture from the inside and outside below. It appeared that it was preparing for a wedding later in the day.




Coldplay Tickets

Coldplay performs tonight (Mon, 9/7) in the Parc des Princes stadium..

I have known this for some time but the concert is sold out.

During our walk up the Champs Elysees yesterday, we happened by the humongous Virgin Megastore, which sells concert tickets.

They claimed to have 98 tickets at 84 EUR each but the seats were on the side of the stage. We thought the price was too high for the location.

We continued up the street and happened upon FNAC. I went to their ticket line, waited behind a girl who was picking up concert tickets, then asked the man if he had any Coldplay tickets and said they were sold out. Then the girl who I had been waiting behind said she had just picked up two Coldplay tickets for her and her boyfriend who unfortunately (for her) was stuck in New York City and she didn't really want to go by herself.

She showed us the tickets which were upper level end zone on the other end of the stadium. Ok, at least a straight on view but a long ways away (the stadium seats 49,000). Face value was 68 EUR each. She was happy to sell them for 50 each. Win-win for everyone.




Two tickets down. Now I need two more.

The plan is to show up early and see what we can scalp. Rather not pay more than 50 EUR each.

I saw Coldplay in Charlotte last month and was terribly disappointed. Yet all the reviews (both "official" and unofficial) were that the concert was great. It was at an outdoor amphitheatre (Verizon) and I had lawn tickets and sat about as far back as you could sit. The music was such a low volume we basically just talked the whole time without difficulty and left early. There was just no energy to the show or the environment.

Given that I am the only person in history (apparently) to give Coldplay a bad review, I figured I should give them another chance.

If they can't impress me in Paris (where they are immensely popular), then I guess I will just have to give up.

I will let you know (of course).

Obligatory Eiffel Tower Postcard Pictures

I know these pictures have probably been taken 100s of millions of times by tourists from all over the world (given that the Eiffel Tower is the single most visited paid monument in the world!), but I feel an obligation to throw mine into the mix..... for what its worth... which isn't much. Check out the last one... I know there isn't another like it.












OOPS!!

Apartment Manager Pays a Visit

As I detailed in an earlier post, we had some problems with the apartment that sort of festered for a while before we took matters into our own hands to fix the sink and got taken advantage of by a local plumber.

Well, Cedric the manager -- a much younger man than I had expected -- visited late Friday afternoon.

First, he delivered my Fleetwood Mac tickets (Oct 17) which I had ordered in the states but were not ready to be delivered till we arrived in Paris so they were shipped to Cedric's office.

I also gave him a copy of the invoice for the plumber. He confirmed what my friend Alex said which is that estimats must be given for jobs costing over 150 EUR, not 500 EUR as the plumber insisted. In fact, this law was written in plain Engl...err.. French right on the back of the invoice he gave us as Cedric pointed out. Cedric promised to reimburse the 423 EUR we paid and then have his lawyer contact the plumber.

He confirmed that the DVD player does not work and sent for a replacement which was brought over within 30 minutes except that it wasn't useful because the old TV we have does not accept traditional AV inputs, but instead requires old kind of adapter, so she left and said they would bring another.

I showed Cedric the springs that had fallen out of the couch and he was surprised, saying the last guest must have done it.

He showed me how to operate the TV and it turns out that it has several dozen channels that come in quite clearly, although all in French from what I can tell.

He showed Amanda how to operate the hot water heater (which is located on the wall above the counter in the kitchen) and now we have plenty of scalding hot water for showers.

He acknowledged that the cleaning lady had been overwhelmed by the task after the previous tenant and it had not been cleaned properly.

So, in any case, things are looking up.... unfortunately, it took 2.5 weeks longer than it should have, largely due to Cedric being on vacation and his assistants in the office not really being very responsive.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Saturday Walk to Eiffel Tower with a Croque-Monseiur for Lunch

(Instead of chronicling some of our longer day-trips with one long post, I will sumamrize the walk and reference highlights in later posts. Remember you can click on any picture to enlarge.)

On Heidi and Stephen's first full day, a Saturday, we repeated the walk Amanda and I had done last Friday evening to the Eiffel Tower. Given that this was a Saturday early afternoon and Paris had returned from holiday, we hoped the streets would show a little more life, which they did. Also, weather was a little overcast and cool with threat of small showers.

This the map of our walk, which was followed later by a train ride to Versailles (see later post).


View Walk to Eiffel in a larger map

The walk through Luxembourg Gardens was largely for Heidi and Stephen's benefit as they had not see the western side yet, with all the children's areas (playground, pony rides, etc.). The walk along Rue de Fleurus and Blvd Raspail was unremarkable except for the many retail stores along the boulevard.

We turned left on Rue de Grenelle for reasons I do not recall except those were the instructions in the walking tour that Amanda had been given as a gift by her friend Liz Edwards. Obviously however when you look at the map, we ended up circling back a block to Rue de Varenne and I don't recall anything notable on Rue de Grenelle.... except I just happened to glance down a side street -- Rue de Martignac -- and noticed the two spires of a gothic cathedral just a block away. I recognized the two spires from panoramic views in the past but had never been able to associate them to any structure I was familiar with. Now I know. It is the Basilica of St. Clotilde (see later post).

We returned back to our our path, and on to Rue De Varenne where the Rodin Museum was on the left. You can see into the courtyard with several of his sculptures in plain view. We did not have time to visit the museum on this walk but it is definitely something we wish to return to.

With Les Invalides now in clear view as we approached the Blvd les Invalides, we stopped for lunch at the Café Du Musée Rodin on the corner, a pretty typical Paris corner cafe.




(The golden dome of Napoleon's Tomb is faintly in the background)

I had the Croque-monsieur, which is the fancy french name for a grilled cheese sandwich! (The Croque-madame has a fried or poached egg on top.) Actually, the recipe is a little more than that and this is considered something of a french classic, although I had never heard of it before. The literal translation is "crunchy mister."

After the meal it was time to tour Les Invalides, home of Napoleon's Tomb and the Army Museum. Amanda and I had visited the outside last Friday at night but of course it was closed. Now we would be able to devote a little more time (see later post).




At this point, I was starting to drag a little. While the others stopped in a little shop to get a cheap bottle of wine, I quickly popped in the adjacent shop and bought a Monster Energy drink. I had never had one before but I knew it was going to be a long day.

We then followed the same short path as previously to the Eiffel Tower, walking up the Champs de Mars ("Field of Mars," the God of War), the long public green space that connects the Eiffel Tower to the Military School (École Militaire).

(Picture is compressed due to zoom lens. People in foreground are actually under the Eiffel Tower, with Military School and Montparnasse Tower in background. For better picture (not mine), of the Champs de Mar from the Eiffel Tower, click here.)

We stopped on the grass for a brief wine picnic. They drank the cheap wine they had purchased at a shop after lunch while I finished off the Monster Energy drink which wasn't tasting so good as it did when I started it.




There was an impromptu croquet game just ahead and off to the side a troupe of "actors," led by a guitarist, were performing some goofy dance that was being filmed.




After walking under the Eiffel Tower again so I could take a picture from directly underneath the center of the tower straight up the middle.


Pretty cool, huh?

We then proceeded to the RERC, 350 metes away along the Seine to begin our journey to Versailles (see later post).

Charlotte Hornets Jacket in Paris

Yesterday, while walking through Luxembourg Gardens with Amanda, Heidi, and Stephen, I notice a young man (of course, with two young women) sporting a Charlotte Hornets jacket.




The Charlotte Hornets were a professional basketball team from 1988-2002 in Charlotte, NC, our home town, before relocating to New Orleans. The logo for the New Orleans Hornets was slightly modified so I am quite certain this is a jacket from the Charlotte franchise.

What are the odds of seeing such a team jacket in Paris on someone who would have been an early teen at best when the team existed?

Oct 2 Update

Walking out of our apartment on our way to see Elton John I noticed another Charlotte Hornets jacket on a student at the high school across the street.




In talking to him briefly, I saw it was definitely a Charlotte Hornets (rather than New Orleans Hornets) jacket. He said it was his brothers.

Now, comparing to the first picture, I can see it looks like the same kid and jacket.

He definitely has it going on with the girls, huh?.

Must be the jacket.