Saturday, September 19, 2009

Technoparade Paris 2009

When was the last time you attended a parade where they handed out foam ear plugs?

I didn't know there was a parade today until I heard it from my apartment.

When I left for lunch, I discovered Blvd St Michel covered with masses of people rather than cars. I was told it was a TechnoParade. In 2007, it was attended by 500,000 people! They only do this once a year so I guess I got a little lucky.

According to the official website, the parade started at Denfert-Rochereau at noon and will end 4 miles north at the Bastille by 8p. That's only 4 miles but takes 8 hours.

View in a larger map

My apartment is just below the second marker from the bottom.

A technoparade is a caravan of flatbed trucks equipped with powerful sound systems and DJs playing techno music. They move very slowly, oftentimes stopping, and stay spaced a 100 yards or so apart so as not to overlap the music. They are also loaded with partygoers.

Unlike traditional parades, the "spectators" are also participants, following closely behind each truck, dancing, drinking, and otherwise acting really silly.

Instead of trying to describe this event in words, I think it is better to just give you selected pics and videos. Most of these were taken with my iPhone (before it died... maybe the sound waves damaged the hardware!) while standing on a cement road barrier on the side of the road. Click to enlarge. And turn up the speakers for the videos :)

The Moose Canadian Bar

Today I tried a new bar, The Moose, a Canadian bar in St Germain just north of Luxembourg Gardens. It's an easy 10-minute walk.

Unlike WOS Bar, they have a full menu. They also have 11 TVs and show 4 NFL games on Sunday.

And today they had a cute bartender working lunch which certainly doesn't hurt.

Lauren is from Brooklyn and her story is classic cliche.

She came to Paris 5 years ago to finish her final year of college, majoring in French and International Relations.

Got a job as a bartender.

Dated a French guy, violating the #1 rule of bartenders worldwide -- never date a customer.

Still here.

Still a bartender.

Engaged to French guy.

Getting married to French guy next year.

Living in a one room 330 sq ft studio apartment at $1000/mo!

Finishing her master's in Political Science, which will permanently establish her credentials as a bartender in Paris. I mean what's more interesting than talking Politics and International Relations with your bartender.

In her defense, her fiance is apparently stupid smart, finishing his PhD in neuroscience and she said he it not your stereotypical French womanizer. Then again she is from Brooklyn so she is not your stereotypical American woman (if there is such a thing)!

Now I know I made that sound perhaps a little too pathetic but cliches become cliches for a reason and she seems quite happy with her validation of this one. And I suspect there are more than a few American women who wouldn't mind becoming cliches themselves. I thought the story was fun.

Ironically, the one thing she said she misses most about America is the food, although she does love the paninis here (I have to agree)! What she likes about Paris is the quality of lifestyle -- less frenetic, although compared to Brooklyn, anything would seem peaceful.

Speaking of food and drink, I had Scapa for a little apertif which was nice. I haven't had a single malt scotch since I arrived in Paris. That was followed by my first burger -- The Works -- in Paris and a Newcastle Brown Ale on tap. Yummy. The pecan pie with vanilla ice cream wasn't a bad finish.

After spending a few hours dealing with my iPhone issues, I returned for dinner to also watch the Florida/Tennessee game which started at 9:30p in Paris. Turns out there is a large contingent of Florida students in Paris where the university has a partnership with a local college. I'll probably be back tomorrow night for NFL games.

Great location. Full menu. Different selection than the standard Belgian beers (although there is nothing wrong with Belgian beers!). Lots of TVs. Friendly English-speaking employees.

iPhone Dead

Today, inexplicably, my iPhone suddenly displayed a message that I could no longer send or receive phone calls and to re-sync with iTunes. I tried rebooting but it would only display a graphic indicating I needed to resync and would not allow any access to any of the applications.

My iPhone has been indispensable in Paris. The Paris2Go Street Maps (with GPS) and Paris Metro apps are used everyday. I have data roaming turned off to avoid exhorbitant data fees but if I am in a wi-fi zone, I have full internet capabilities, including email. While text messages are $.50 a pop, it is worth it when used selectively. (If I am at the apartment, I can send text messages to the US for $.11 and then receive replies on my phone.)

When I got back, I re-synched but iTunes could not recognize my SIM card. I went up to the local Orange store just down the street (Orange is the brand name for France Telecom's mobile and internet services.) They could not fix the problem.

I called the ATT Store in Charlotte (using Skype) where I bought the phone and they referred me to the Apple Service Center in Charlotte who in turn referred me to AppleCare's main support number.

After a 30-minute phone call trying everything including a restore, they concluded my phone had experienced a hardware failure and the only solution was to replace my phone.

One problem.

Apple cannot ship US iPhones to France. I assume it's a contractual issue with their French partners.

Instead, I need to ship the phone back home, have someone exchange it for me, and then either ship it back to me or bring it to me.

My plan is to ship it back home where my daughter can exchange it in the Apple Store, then give it to Brittain to bring to me when she arrives next Monday (Sep 28).

So, it looks like I am without my iPhone for about 9 days.

All Alone In Paris (Part 2)

While I was being facetious when I said earlier "what is there to do in Paris all by myself," I actually didn't expect to do a whole lot. Just get some work done and grab a bite to eat and maybe catch a college game at a local sports bar (as well as stay up all night trying to find the FSU-BYU game).

But Paris has a way of changing ho-hum into WTF really quickly.

In this case, it was mostly good but one bad.

I was working through noon getting ready to go check out The Moose, a Canadian bar several blocks north of Luxembourg Gardens in the 6th arrondissement.

Then I heard what sounded like music and cheering. It continued. And continued. It seemed like it was coming from the other side of the building which happens to be where Blvd St Michel is. (We can hear the RER B rumbling late at night and early in the morning as it runs directly underneath this road.) I thought perhaps it might be the construction workers several apartments down who are always making noises.

Around 2p, I finally left for lunch and discovered that a parade had arrived on Blvd St Michel -- The Techno Parade. I will describe it in a separate post but suffice to say that it only happens once a year, it is nothing like you've ever seen in the states, and it takes 8 hours to go 4 miles (from Denfert-Rochereau to the Bastille), and they pass out foam ear plugs to the spectators/participants because the music is so loud.

After 30 minutes or so of following the parade on the road (literally, on the road) to The Sorbonne I took a left to try to find The Moose and happened across the French Senate building on the north side of Luxembourg Gardens (Rue de Vaugirard), which actually is where the French Senate meets, it's not just a reference to a historical building. There was a long line of people waiting to get in which was interesting because I've never seen anyone go in the building. I just assumed the Senate was not in session and it was closed except maybe for minimal office staff and security.

After talking with several policeman who were trying to redirect traffic disrupted by the Techno Parade, I discovered that this weekend is the only 2 days of the year that the public is allowed in the Senate Building. And it's free.

Well, I was hungry and Amanda was arriving in the morning anyway so I figured we could do it tomorrow. Odd though that the public is not routinely allowed in a legislative building. I don't think you could do that in the US.

Anyway, that's two surprises already.

I found The Moose, albeit not quite as directly as I had planned. Checked out the menu and tv sports schedule. Met the bartender, a nice Brooklyn girl named Lauren. Ate lunch. I'll tell the rest of the story in a separate post.

While at The Moose, the bad surprise happened. My iPhone crashed -- it said I could not longer make or receive calls until I re-synched with iTunes. Easy enough, I figured. I would just re-sync back at the apartment and life will return be blissfully normal again. Turned out -- after a couple hours of phone calls -- its not going to be that easy. Separate post but the short story is I have to ship it back to the states for replacement. Ouch.

I "skyped" Amanda during her layover at Dulles and everything is on schedule for her to arrive in the morning. (I guess I need to talk about Skype in a separate post also. Best thing to ever happen to international travel since trans-atlantic

So, for a day I expected to be pretty slow and routine, I

- stumbled across the biggest party parade in Europe,
- discovered that the French Senate is only open this weekend out of the year
- found a nice new bar with friendly American bartender with full menu (something WOS Bar doesn't have) and they show 4 NFL games every weekend.... 2 from the early games and 2 from the late games.
- broke my iPhone.

Well, 3 out of 4 ain't bad.

Watching Football (American) in Paris

Trying to follow American sports in general, and American football - both college and pro - is a bit tricky in Paris both because of the time difference and the fact that American football is just not that big in France (with interest in college football being understandably almost non-existent).

For the NFL, games start at 1p and 4ish EST and then you have the Sunday and Monday night games.

College games are all over the place time-wise but typically the major games at noon, 3:30p, 7:30p and then a really late west coast game.

With the 6 hour time difference, you can do the math. Day games become night games and night games become early morning games.

Florida State (my alma mater) played Miami on Labor Day at 8p EST, which meant I had to catch it at 2a. It was not on TV here so I discovered ESPN360 which broadcasts selected games on the internet for a fee (about $15 for a game, although they also have month and season passes).

Last weekend I caught the 4p Giants/Redskins game at a local bar which kept me up till almost 2a.

Here's the deal on American football in Paris bars as best as I can tell.

There are two NFL games broadcast on Sunday, a 1p (i.e., 7p) and 4p (i.e. 10p) game. They are pre-selected by the satellite company (Skysports?) it appears and you can pretty much count on one of them being the NY Giants against someone.

Last week the early game was Minnesota/Cleveland and the late game NYG/Washington.

College football is also shown but as you can imagine the pickings are slim. Sometimes the matchups on the schedule are comical in the mixup between college and pro teams.

The first week had the Cincinnati Bengals vs Rutgers. Now there's a game that Cincinnati might win! Of course, they meant to say the University of Cincinnati Bearcats.

This week they are showing the TennesseeTitans playing Florida State, when they mean the University of Tennessee vs Florida Gators. The confused the college and pro team in the first case and got the wrong college altogether in the second case.

There are two bars nearby for sports that I have been to: WOS Bar (International and all employees must speak English) and Highlander (Scottish Bar). I am going to check out The Moose, a Canadian bar near the Odeon today I think. I'll let you know.

WOS Bar's sports TV schedule can be found at Allomatch (although they are the ones that confuse the teams and get the times wrong) whereas Highlander has it posted on their site here.

WOS Bar is on Rue St Jacques one block south of the Pantheon in the Latin Quarter. Highlander is one block from the river south of Pont Neuf (which means New Bridge even though it is the oldest bridge -- go figure -- and connects Ile de la Cite to both banks).

This is a list of all the bars in Paris that use Allomatch to broadcast sporting events. (Tip: The last two digits of the Paris postal code refers to the arrondissement so 75005 means it is in the 5th, which is the Latin Quarter.) It claims there are 120 sports bars in just the 5th and 6th, which I have a hard time believing. Where are they?

Both bars are open till 5a on the weekend and I believe Highlander is open till 5a all nights which allows them to show both the Sunday and Monday night NFL games. I believe WOS Bar is working on getting a permit to do likewise.

All Alone in Paris

My sister and family left this morning for Biarritz (albeit a couple hours later than planned) and Amanda is on her way to the airport in Orlando and will be arriving in Paris early in the morning so while everyone else is in transit, I am stuck in Paris all by myself.

What a shame to be stuck in Paris all by myself.

I mean like, really, what could I possibly find to do?

Friday, September 18, 2009

Google Maps Distance Calculator

Just found a very cool site -- a Google Maps Distance Calculator by Daft Logic.

Just search for a location anywhere in the world and click on a beginning and ending point, and it will tell you the exact disatnce using the longitude/latitude coordinates.

I use it to determine distances between points when I take panoramic photos. For example, in my earlier post about Parc des Buttes Chaumont, I took a picture of Sacre Coeur, the basilica that I had earlier taken pictures of from Galeries Lafayette and Notre Dame. The distance calculator allowed me to quickly identify how far away I was for each picture.

It also draws a straight line on the map showing the perspective which you can take a screen capture of and place the image on the blog.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

New Orleans Jazz at Le Petit Journal

A huge jazz friend back home recommended I visit Le Petit Journal, referred to as the "high temple" of New Orleans Jazz. Their website (in French) is here.

They have a different show every night except Sunday, with most acts returning monthly, looking at their calendar brochure.

The club is just a 5 minute walk from our apartment at 71, Boulevard Saint-Michel in the heart of the Latin Quarter across from Luxembourg Gardens just as you exit the Luxembourg RER B station.

I will get a better picture of the street entrance later but this was taken at night with my iPhone.

There is also a Le Petit Journal on Montparnasse.

The name comes from the daily newspaper published in Paris from 1863 to 1944. I assume the jazz club now occupies the same building as there are framed copies of old newspaper on the walls.

As you can see from the picture above, it would be very easy to pass this non-descript storefront and assume nothing interesting takes place there.

You would be wrong.

This is some of the best New Orleans Jazz you will ever hear. Take it from someone who knows nothing about jazz :)

The price is 17-20 EUR which includes a mandatory first drink. Subsequent drinks are normal price. You can also have dinner for 44-47 EUR which also includes the first drink. And of course you get about 3-4 hours of jazz in a cozy cellar.

When I say cozy, I mean cozy. I don't think you could fit more than 100 people downstairs and even then they might have to be standing. Some of the tables are so close to the band you could almost reach out and touch them. I would guess there were no more than 50 people there for this show.

The peformer was a soprano sax player named Marc Laferriere although the band was a quintet (acoustic guitar, sousaphone, clarinet, and drums).

I have to admit though that the clarinetist was the star of the show, Aurelie Tropez.

I was able to talk to the drummer, also a woman, during their first break and discovered that the clarinetist and drummer (Deborah Tropez) are sisters and later found out that the drummer is dating the guitarist who is the son of Marc Laferriere. Only the sousaphonist was disconnected :)

I discovered that they play about 43 "gigs" a year, with greater frequency in the summer. They live in the Paris region but travel to jazz festivals and other events primarily throughout France. I also learned a little about the French "welfare" system as I asked if they could support themselves playing less than one night a week. She explained that part-time workers receive government subsidies. I don't believe the US has "part-time" unemployment compensation -- maybe they do -- but this allows them to focus on their music and still support themselves apparently.

The other interesting fact is that they had only played with Marc once before and they do not practice with him in advance. As he travels from location to location, he simply brings in the people (and instruments) he needs and they improvise from there.

You could see Aurelie reading a song sheet between songs and discussing with Marc what to play next. They would ask each other which songs they knew and when they settled on one, off they would go. Solos were very frequent as each musician would "hand off" to the next and then all would come together on the "chorus." As a non-musician, I found it all rather fascinating the way they could make it work.

My brother-in-law Joe played the alto sax for 7 years and thought all the musicians were flawless but was particularly impressed with Aurelie.

If you Google her, she shows up quite a bit. One site, Jazz Lives, shows several videos of her paired with a pianist at the Whitley Bay International Jazz Festival in July.

Around midnight, two other musicians showed up, a trumpeteer and alto saxist. Aurelie later told me that they had finished performing somewhere else and just showed up to "jam." So now we had 7 musicians and each would take turns with a song and do a little showing off.

I was able to record 3 of their songs (5 to 8 minutes each) with my iPhone to give you a taste of what the evening was like. If you listen carefully, you should be able to distinguish the instruments in each solo section.

Here are a couple of grainy pics with my iPhone, the second taken from our table. You can see how cozy the jazz cellar is.

American Dream Diner

Before Diana Krall on Tuesday night (see earlier post), I recommended we all eat at the American Dream Diner which I had noticed on a previous walking tour of this district. It is located a mere one block from Olympia Hall, where Joe and I were attending the concert, and Linda, Zach and Zoe could visit the Opera House and Galeries Lafayette department store one block in the other direction.

Located at 21, Rue Daunou in the 2nd arrondissement, the restaurant is so over-the-top garish, one gets the sense it is an intentional caricature.

The main floor is the restaurant with a jazz cellar below for the weekend and go-go bar later each night which features a variety of crazy shows.

The booths were small, menu large, prices outrageous and food was adequate.

Probably not going back.

Nos Ancêtres les Gaulois

A friend had recommended I check out a different kind of restaurant on Ile St Louis -- Nos Ancêtres les Gaulois.

We stopped by on Saturday night just to check it out on our walking tour when Linda and Joe arrived, and decided to eat there Wednesday night.

It attempts to be a throwback to an earlier Gallic dining experience with an abundance of food and unending wine.

For a fixed price of 38 EUR (recently marked down from 41 EUR), you get a 6 course meal: salad bar, vegetable basket, meat, cheese plate, fruit, and dessert. Plus you can constantly refill your table decanter with wine from real wine barrels.

Sounds pretty good huh?

Well it is for the most part.

The dining halls are definitely old world. The patrons are loud and roudy, led on my an older gentleman playing a guitar while standing on a nearby chair (and who seeks tips from all the tables afterwards).

And the food was fine, except unfortunately for the main dish -- the meat. We each had different meats and all were either too fatty or chewy or not very tasty.

The corbieres wine was fine, the veggy basket was pretty cool -- I particularly liked the radishes and onions.

The restaurant opened 40 years ago and has continued to expand but you get the sense that a novel idea and atmosphere has become a little too formulized over the years.

I would go back again and hope our meat experience was an abberation. It is certainly worth one trip just for the novel experience and to visit Ile St Louis.

Couple of iPhone pictures in low light:

Parc de Belleville and Parc des Buttes Chaumont

After visiting Pere Lachaise Cemetery (see previous posts), I split from Linda and Joe (who were heading to Montmartre where I had just been last Friday) to visit two local parks in the 20th and 19th arrondissements (northeast Paris), respectively - Parc de Belleville and Parc des Buttes Chaumont, one of the larger parks in Paris.

I got on Line 2 at Pere Lachaise station and went two stops north to Couronnes station (site of the worst catastrophe in Paris Metro history in 1903).

I popped up in the median of a busy road (Blvd due Belleville) and immediately realized that this neighborhood -- Belleville -- was definitely not the Latin Quarter. First, I found my self right in the middle of a large open-air market. Second, it was very ethnic with what appeared to be a large immigrant population with significant Arab or Muslim representation. I didn't want to get swarmed by aggressive vendors so I took a quick picture and got out of there.

It wasn't till I got back to my computer and checked with Wikipedia that my observations were confirmed:

Today, Belleville is a colorful, multi-ethnic neighborhood and also home to one of the city's two Chinatowns.... A fairly large and popular outdoor market is held there every Tuesday and Friday along the Boulevard de Belleville, where many local Île-de-France farmers sell their produce. [Hmmm... today is Thursday] ...Many artists now live and work in Belleville and studios are scattered throughout the quartier... The demographics of the neighborhood have undergone many changes throughout the decades. While Armenians, Greeks, and Ashkenazi Jews were once the predominant ethnic groups, North Africans, and more recently, sub-Saharan Africans have been displacing these others.

This is a map of my walking tour of the two parks (start at the bottom):

View in a larger map

Once I got my bearings, I headed down the Rue des Couronnes 3 blocks to Parc de Belleville. Although relatively young (1988), it is the highest park in Paris at 108 meters with a terrace presenting a panoramic view of Paris, which of course is why I wanted to visit.

Unlike most parks, this was very sloped and more a garden than a park it seemed. I simply walked up the center steps canopied by an overgrowth of vines so I could get to the terrace at the top. There apparently are several other features that I missed in my haste ("1200 trees and shrubs, a 100 metre-long waterfall fountain (the longest in Paris), and 1000 m² of lawn accessible to the public. It also contains a wooden playground for children, ping-pong tables and an open-air theatre.") so maybe I will return with Amanda, especially since there is a Flower Decoration Competition every September (including the International Dahlia Competition tomorrow!).

The panoramic view was not disappointing but the weather was. We have had cool, overcast weather all week and the skyline has been quite hazy as you can see by the pictures below. The first shows the terrace in the foreground and the second shows the panoramic view with a couple notable sites labelled against the haze.

With the aid of my handy iPhone Paris2Go Street Map with GPS tracking and Wikipedia descriptions, I made the 10-minute walk further north to Parc des Buttes Chaumont, crossing over into the 20th arrondissement. I entered the park, which opened in 1867, from the south. Knowing what I know now, I would recommend entering from the north. Although there is Buttes Chaumont station (Line 7) on the south edge of the park, I would take Line 5 to the Laumière station and walk the two blocks south on Avenue de Laumière to the main entrance on the north side at Place Armand-Carrel, which is the much nicer part of the park (and neighborhood!) across from the town hall building.

This is certainly not the immaculate Luxembourg Gardens, which I have been spoiled by, but more resembles a typical municipal park in the US and is apparently quite popular with Parisians. The grass, while dark green, is motley and bare in spots.

I was initially confronted with a small hill which I marched to the top of only to discover a rather plain packed-gravel plateau with a few park benches. All paths led back down so I continued toward what I hoped was the center of the park, noticing that the entire park appeared to by quite hilly (hence "butte" in the name?).

Eventually I saw a lake and bridge in the distance and continued to walk before stumbling across the following (description from Wikipedia):

The most prominent feature is the belvedere of Sybil, which sits atop the rocky peak at the center of the park. The belvedere, added to the park in 1869, is a Corinthian-style monument, modeled after the ancient Roman temple of Sybil in Tivoli, Italy. A suspension bridge leading to the peak, presently closed for renovation, is also found in the park. Access to the belvedere involves crossing the stone bridge on the south side of the park.

Soon after I arrived at this monument, positioned some 100 feet above the lake encircling it below, a private tour group appeared. Fortunately they were not there long, leaving only two lovers to admire the view to the north.

I took this 360 degree video while walking the inside perimeter of the monument, starting with a view to the east:

More importantly, I had an awesome view of Sacre Coeur from the side strategically positioned between two apartment buildings. The park is almost 2 miles due east of the basilica, closer than Notre Dame (2.3 miles), but not as close as Galeries Lafayette (1 mile), although they are both mostly to the south. Unfortunately, as before, the weather was not the best and I was also fighting with my Nikon D80 camera battery, which had just enough juice in it to squeeze out an extra picture or two if I left it off for a while and took the picture quickly!

I struck up a conversation with a couple (he was French, she was Japanese) after volunteering to take their picture for them (with their camera, not mine). He informed me that the park was not natural, the result of excavation of stones for the surrounding buildings. (This was later confirmed by Wikipedia: "site of a former gypsum and limestone quarry mined for the construction of buildings in Paris and the United States.")

He was also a musician (confirming the earlier Wikipedia note about musicians and artists in the neighborhood). I told him about the concerts I had scheduled as well as tonight's visit to Le Petit Journal Jazz Club (see later post). He recommended a club called New Morning which I guess I will need to check out now.

We then watched two young Chinese girls (remember there are two Chinatowns in Belleville) as they added their own personal inscriptions to the metal plate on the stone in the middle of the monument. The musician explained to them that I would put them on my blog, whose address I wrote in their notebook. So here it is:

I walked back down the hill and circled around to the front of the park to get a view of the monument from below.

This is the suspension bridge, which approaches from the west and was indeed closed.

The park appeared intended for children (it had a merry-go-round, children's theatre, large sandbox, etc) and while there were a smattering of mothers/children around, this afternoon was disproportionately represented by the senior citizen set.

It also had a modest grotto-waterfall.

Finally, one feature which should be imitated in gardens everywhere: a diagram of each flower bed displaying the location, arrangement, and type of each flower. As usual, the picture unfortunately does not do justice to the flowers. Remember to click to enlarge if you want to read the flowers.

Well, that ended a lot better than it began. The back side of the park is not very inspiring but the front side was quite nice. I can see where this would be a popular hangout for young and old alike, especially on the weekends (and a little warmer weather).

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Stupid Airline Rules

Both of my daughters - Christina and Angela - as well as Christina's boyfriend and one of her girlfriends were scheduled to visit Oct 10-18.

Unfortunately, the girlfriend had to cancel.

Angela was then told she could invite a friend and I would just switch the names on the ticket, which was purchased with frequent flyer miles.

When I inquired about switching the names on the ticket, Continental informed me that the procedure is to cancel the first ticket and redeposit the 50,000 miles back into my account then re-purchase the second ticket with those miles. There is a $150 fee to cancel/redeposit the first ticket, which I was aware of and prepared to pay.

The problem, however, is that the seat that was being held by the ticket no longer qualifies as a frequent flyer seat at the standard 50,000 mile ("Saverpass") level. It only qualifies at the 100,000 mile ("Easypass") level and I am not willing to pay the extra 50,000 miles.

It is absurd that simply switching names on a ticket is not possible. I can understand the cancel/change fee but once the seat has been paid for, you should be able to switch the name of the passenger on the ticket.

I checked the surrounding dates but there are no longer any frequent flyer seats available and, unless they do come available, my daughter's friend will not be able to come.

How stupid.

Amanda Returns Sunday Morning

Amanda's father is doing much better.

While the initial dire predictions may have been somewhat panicked, it was good that she was able to spend a week at home.

Since things on the homefront have stablized, she will be returning on Sat morning flight arriving early Sunday morning.

When we booked the emergency flight home, we randomly picked Mon Sep 21 as a return date. However, Continental moved the date up 2 days at no additional charge since it was related to a health emergency.

Monday, we will be flying to Biarritz - a southwest French resort in Basque territory - to join my sister and her family (who will be driving down on Sat) for four days so it was important that Amanda return by Sunday at the latest.

It will be nice to have her back.

Diana Krall at Olympia Hall

Eight years ago, Diana Krall released her first live DVD Diana Krall - Live in Paris. The two-hour show was recorded live at Olympia Hall on December 1, 2001 and featured the Paris Symphony Orchestra as well as Jeff Hamilton on drums, John Clayton on bass and Anthony Wilson on guitar.

Well, now she is back (apparently touring for the first time in five years after marrying Elvis Costello and bearing twin sons), with three nights at Olympia Hall, the oldest music hall in Paris and one of the most famous in the world, rivaling Madison Square Gardens and Carnegie Hall, despite only seating 2000 people.

I had two tickets for the first night. Due to Amanda returning to the states to attend to her father's health, Joe, my brother-in-law, took her place.

Unlike her live DVD performance, there was no orchestra. Anthony Wilson was still her guitarist, but Benjamin Wolfe was on bass and the drummer was Kareem Wiggins, although it appears that she switches up her bassist and drummer frequently based on the reviews I have read of her other performances on this tour.

This could not have been more different than Coldplay 8 days ago (really? it was only 8 days?), while still being as good as it gets for what it was.

-There were 2000, not 50,000, in attendance.
-Inside, not outside.
-The crowd did not do the wave.
-There were no large inflated balls bouncing around the crowd.
-Diana Krall does not run the stage from side to side while singing, although I was hoping!
-She doesn't walk into the middle of the audience to play a set.
-She definitely doesn't collapse dramatically from faux exhaustion, although that also would have been a nice touch in her black gown.
-There were no large video screens.
-Average age of fans (and band?) was maybe 50, not 20.
-Clothes were nicer both on the band and the audience.

Coldplay was pure music energy. The crowd was electric.

Diana Krall was pure music finesse. The crowd was polite but entranced.

In tennis terms, it would be Nadal vs Federer. Both are amazing to watch -- Nadal for his aggressive muscularity, Federer for his effortless grace -- but generate different reactions.

You had the sense that Krall, a contralto, could kick it up a notch if she wanted to be a power diva, but her performance was so nuanced and subdued at times that it pulled you in, forcing your attention to focus on every note, every decibel, every syllable.

Coldplay had no problems holding your attention.

If Krall was not your cup of tea, I could see someone snoozing or getting perhaps a little bored during her performance.

Good luck sleeping through Coldplay.

This tour promotes her new album Quiet Nights, which has a dominate bossa nova theme, with several selections written by Tom Jobim.

If you want to read some professional reviews from some of her other stops on this tour, try these. I think the first one matches my experience the most:

Calgary, Alberta, Canada, April 14, 2009

Livermore, CA, August 13, 2009

Chateau St Michelle, WA, August 29, 2009

London, May 31, 2009 Radio Recording

The stage set was extremely simple... just the four musicians and their instruments and necessary monitors surrounded by tall curtains on all sides whose colors changed frequently and vividly throughout the show. Our seats were in the balcony. This is a picture of the stage before the concert from the balcony behind the sound guy followed by a slideshow (click Play) of the different lighting effects from stills I took from my seat with my iPhone throughout the show:

She opened right on time at 9p with "I Love Being Here With You" which was one of the most energetic and jazziest songs of the night and gave each musician significant solo time (to warm up?). The video of this song from her last appearance in Paris can be seen here, but this is a 3 minute clip I recorded with my iPhone (which actually came out much better than I expected):

This was followed by a very subdued but heartfelt "Let's Fall in Love":

They played for almost 20 minutes before she finally spoke to the audience, introduced her band members (who she frequently deferred credit to) followed by a relaxing piano introduction to "I've Grown Accustomed to His Face."

She oftentimes tried to be funny with dry humor that sometimes didn't connect but she was clearly relaxed and it wasn't always clear how much was improvised and how much was actually scripted.

Later in the show, she played "I Get Along Without You Very Well"

They were done after 80 minutes but returned for two encore songs, the first of which was "Walk on By"

By the way, the opening act was a quite energetic young French girl named Carine Erseng. She came on at 8p and sang for 30 minutes (with a guitarist and bassist for backup). All her songs were in French as was her conversation with the audience so it was hard to follow but she was still quite fun.

Joe bought her CD afterwards and she was there to sign it enthusiastically.

According to the somewhat awkward translation (which I have edited for clarity) of her Wikipedia entry:

the young singer goes on unabated concerts across France. Never short of energy, ideas and determination, she decided to self-produce her first album. In five years, she has published three albums which sold more than 60,000 copies and are distributed only live at her concerts.

If she was a stock, I'd be buying based solely on the force of her personality.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Clock Runs Slow (and other electrical issues)

We knew that European household electrical current was different than US. There are two basic issues you have to deal with: 1) different plugs 2) different voltage (220 in Europe, 110 in US).

Most appliances function under both voltages so all that is needed is a plug adapter. For those appliances that only work with US voltage, you need a converter. As I discussed in an earlier post, I made the mistake with my electric beard trimmer of assuming it was switchable. It was not and I fried it.

Knowing this, we brought an electrical alarm clock from home.

We used an adapter to plug it into the French outlets but noticed that the clock was running slow.

We switched to a converter, thinking maybe the 220 voltage was causing the problem somehow but it still ran slow.

Turns out it's not the voltage, but the frequency, that is the problem.

This website explains the issue (as well as all international electrical matters) well:

While it is easy to convert voltage, it is virtually impossible to convert frequency. Fortunately, the latter is of little importance. The difference in frequency between American and European current is of no concern. You will not damage any American item by running it on its proper voltage, but at 50 Hertz instead of 60 Hertz.

There is one caveat: electric clocks and clock radios will not keep proper time. This is because most electric clocks count cycles to keep time, advancing the second hand one second every time they count 60 cycles. Since at 50 cycles per second it takes 1.2 seconds to reach a count of 60, any American electric clock, be it electronic (digital) or motor driven (analog), will run slow by exactly four hours per day. You will not harm your clock, but it will keep terrible time.

For this reason, it is suggested you obtain an inexpensive travel alarm clock that either operates exclusively on batteries or is spring driven and wound manually. Not to worry about your computer’s clock, however: It keeps time via a quartz crystal and not by cycle counting, so it should keep perfect time in Europe.

Diana Krall Tonight!

I have two tickets to Diana Krall at Olympia Hall tonight at 8p. Should be amazing.

Since Amanda is unfortunately still back in the states, Joe is going to go with me.

We are all going to try to eat dinner at the insane American Dream Diner just a block away.

Linda, Zach, and Zoe are going to visit the Palais Garnier (Paris Opera) and Galeries Lafayette while we are at the concert. Each are just another two block away.

Monday, September 14, 2009

I SO Wish I had Seen This

My camera (or iPhone video!) would have been clicking like crazy:

Catfight in Luxembourg Gardens

Would You Eat at The Two Maggots?

In St Germain, we ran across the following cafe located prominently on a corner in the Saint-Germain-des-Prés area (a very nice area, by the way, that we must return to):

Hmmm... why would anyone eat at Les Deux Magots - "The Two Maggots?"

Well, they wouldn't.

As it turns out, the café's name (pronounced le dø mago) comes from the two wooden statues of Chinese commercial agents (magots) that adorn one of the pillars which are a reference to an early 1800s play (the cafe was opened as a drapery store in 1813) called "The Two Magots of China:" (image from Wikipedia)

However, when I did a translation of the word magot with Google Translate, it returned baboon, which I suppose is a little better than maggot as the name for a cafe but rather insulting to Chinese businessmen!

Indeed, this Wikipedia reference gives two definitions:

- The Barbary Ape
- A fanciful, often grotesque figurine in East Asian style rendered in a crouching position

Hmmm.... that doesn't help much.

Further research indicates that it colloquially can mean loot as in a stash or hoard of money, which I suppose could be an oblique reference to commercial agents. Other sources indicate it might be an old french term for "Chinese commercial traders" or "Confucian wise men."


It wouldn't really matter I suppose if this was some obscure cafe in an obscure corner of an obscure little french town but it just so happens that this is one of the most famous cafes in all of Paris:

It once had a reputation as the rendezvous of the literary and intellectual élite of the city. This derived from the patronage of Surrealist artists, intellectuals such as Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre, and young writers, such as Ernest Hemingway. Other patrons included Albert Camus and Pablo Picasso.

In fact, the square that it is located on is now called "Place Sartre-Beauvoir":

It also has provided the Duex Magots literary award to a French novel every year since 1993. (Click the link for list of winners)

Perhaps it doesn't really "mean" anything anymore... Les Deux Magots is simply recognzied as the name of a famous cafe.

Where to View the Venus de Milo From Outside the Louvre

When visiting the Louvre on Sep 6 with Heidi and Stephen and Amanda, I noticed the windows in the hall where the Venus de Milo was located looked out into the Cour Carrée courtyard which is freely accessible through gates on all four sides.

Satellite View:

When I returned this past Sunday during my walk around the right bank with Linda, Joe, Zach and Zoe, I was determined to locate the windows from the outside.

I found them.

Both windows have highly reflective glass. Although I was able to see in, the lens of the camera simply captured the reflection. I tried putting the lens directly against the glass, but the auto-focus would not engage which prevented the shutter from operating. I solved this problem by switching to manual focus.

I took one picture from each window. The original pictures (here and here) were very dark and the Venus de Milo was faintly visible. With a little digital editing I was able to lighten the photo so you can see the statue, although it is somewhat grainy. Because the windows are double-paned, you can see the reflection from the second pane of both my lens as well as the courtyard. Because I had to put the lens flush against the window, I could not obtain a direct view but I still think they are pretty cool pictures.

View from the right window:

View from the left window: