Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Mom! Dad! I'm on Swan Fungus!

I am on Swan Fungus! They reviewed my CD, and even filed it under "collector's slum." And to top it all off, they have ripped the CD and made it freely available. I have finally been pirated.

A wonderful picture of the rooftops juxtaposed with a coming storm.

Phrase of the day: J'ai ma tête dans mon cul. (Zhay maw tet dan moan cool.) This colorful saying translates literally to, "I have my head in my ass." However (calm down people), what it means is that I am in a confused fog, like when I wake up too early and my eyes are half open, and I am oblivious to everything around me. This is very different from what such a saying means in English. Perhaps I would even call this phrase a faux ami.

Speaking of faux amis, I forgot in my previous post one of the greatest faux amis ever: préservatifs. Before I knew what it meant, if someone in France offered me préservatifs, I would pull out my baguette, toast it, brew some tea, and ask, "What flavor préservatifs?" Or, if I went to the store looking for natural beef, I would ask for some meat sans préservatifs. In both cases I would be incredibly sorely mistaken, since préservatif is a prophylactic.

A Perfect Tuesday Morning

Did you know most of the countries in the EU have daylight savings? Bobby and I did not know this. On Sunday morning, we woke up to find our computers, cell phone, and TV showing the wrong time. "That is odd", we thought. So we turned to our most trusted source of information, a source we turn to often: to settle disputes (Iowa, it turns out, is next to Kansas), find random facts about endangered Red Squirrels, and look for funny photos. The source is Google. So now we know that France moves an hour ahead on the last Sunday of March.

Because of the time change, it's pretty hard for us to wake up in the morning. Well... ok, to be perfectly honest, it is always hard for Bobby and I wake up. We are not morning people. More like afternoon people. But this morning, Bobby got up and ready for work at a reasonable hour!

On Tuesdays and Fridays, there is a marché en plein air (an open air market) on rue Richard Lenoir, blocks away from our apartment. Far from the largest, the Richard Lenoir market offers at least a dozen vegetable and fruit stalls, 4 or 5 fresh seafood stalls, 3 or 4 cheese vendors, a man who only sells potatoes, another vendor selling olives, and an odd assortment of other products. I accompanied Bobby on his walk to the metro and together we bought fresh produce for tonight's stir-fry and some lovely salmon for tomorrow night. I love mornings like this! It is so wonderful to stroll around the market, smelling the ripe fraises (strawberries), marveling over the abundance of seafood, and listening to the vendors yell their specials. It is also great to know you are buying really fresh food from local farmers. Unlike the open markets in Los Angeles, the prices are very reasonable. I bought a pound of fraises for under 1 euros, 4 healthy potatoes for 85 centimes (cents), and a head of broccoli, a zucchini, and a red bell pepper for 2 euros and some change. The total cost of the produce is less than the cost of the tofu I traveled to the 13th arrondissement to buy!

Bon appetit!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Visiting Dead Celebrities

Here we are, having embarked for a visit to Cimetière du Père-Lachaise. I have on my new Italian wool hat, and Carla is bundled up against the chilly winds. On days like this we are reminded that Paris is so nice for visiting many famous people who have lived forever unsuccessfully. More than 300,000 people are buried at this cemetery, and many more have had their ashes entombed here as well. We have on our list to visit the graves of F. Chopin, F. Poulenc, J. Morrison, and O. Wilde.

Here is F. Chopin's grave. His heart is supposedly entombed in Poland.

Here is a lovely picture I took of F. Poulenc's grave. Carla reminded me he composed a unique "cubist" piece that she played at her first graduate recital... which I have resurrected here! (NB: Against Carla's wishes).

We saw Jim Morrison's grave, but it really was not all that much: some flasks of whiskey, some cigarettes, flowers, an apple bong, etc. And we completely missed Oscar Wilde's grave. We did come across Balzac's grave however. Which reminded us to learn who Balzac was.

Now I see that we completely missed Joseph Fourier. We will have to return then.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Real Friends

Here it is: 154 rue Legendre, in the 17th arrondissement of Paris, France. On the sixth stage of this building (seventh floor), is our apartment! Thanks to our BFF Guillaume, we did not have to compete at all with the hoards we encountered before. After hearing our trials and tribulations of searching and searching, Guillaume took pity on us and sent an email to his familial network stretching throughout Paris. It turned out that his mother is good friends with a woman that lives in this building, who is good friends with the woman that owns the apartment. That latter woman was about to hand over the vacancy to an immobilier, which most certainly would have made it impossible for us to compete. And with the low rent, it would have been a bloodbath, or bain de sang.

There are the usual strange amenities, such as the shower in the kitchen, and the bathroom out the front door of the apartment. And being at the top of the building (which can be reached by an elevator of moderate size) the ceilings are a bit slanted. But these are elements we call "charm." Plus, it is about 35 sq. meters (315 sq. ft.), which by Parisian standards is large.

The neighborhood is excellent too. We visited a local café where we read for about an hour. We ordered two café cremes (espresso with milk) and the total cost for sitting inside was 4 euros! Usually it is 4 euros for a single café creme quickly consumed while standing at the bar.

What is more, we do not need to pay the fees of going through an agency. These fees are usually about one month's worth of rent, so there we are saving money. We were just about to throw in the towel and hire an agency to find us a place --- which would have cost more money probably about 1500 euros. We prepared the map below, showing us all the immobiliers in Paris to visit.

In other news, last night we attended a concert of students from the Paris Conservatory. It was held in the beautiful cathedral of St. Eustache (pictured below). This is my favorite cathedral in Paris, partly because it is where Hector Berlioz premiered his Te Deum in 1849, partly because this is where the funeral was held for Mozart's mother, partly because it houses the largest organ in France, partly because the front and rear of the cathedral have incredibly contrasting styles, but mostly because where it is located makes it look even more huge.

Anyhow, grand gothic/classical cathedrals, good concert spaces do not make. The instruments were incredibly muddled, and while this worked well for one slow movement of piano and saxophone, everything else was obscured by a thick and heavy veil of reverberation. Even the massive organ, playing a piece of Bach, gave the impression of my ears being wrapped up in that thin tin foil. Excusez-moi, can we hear some music that works well with a 6 second reverberation time? We left at intermission.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Fake Friends

Today's post will introduce the fun to be had with fake friends, or faux amis. They have given us much torture in learning to speak and read French. First we have some real friends. For instance, probablement means probably; immédiatement means immediately; rapidement means rapidly; and évidemment means evident. So what does actuellement mean? Currently, or at this present time. Actuellement, c'est une faux ami.

We have
dîner, which means to have dinner; and we have regarder, which means to regard or watch; and we have quitter which means to quit; there's trembler meaning to tremble; and there's comprendre, which is to comprehend; and tourmenter which is to torment. Hey, this is pretty easy! Then there's attendre, which means to wait. Attendre, c'est une faux ami.

What would you think if I spent 500 euros on a costume? Is it authentic Bozo you ask? No. Un costume is a business suit. Costume,
c'est une faux ami.

I see a sticker in the Metro telling me I should stand up where there is affluence in the carraige. Is this a vestige from the days of kings? No. Affluence means a crowd of people. Affluence,
c'est une faux ami.

We went to a cemetery the other day, and on several headstones there were various things that said souvenir. We thought, how cheap! I wouldn't like it if someone left a pewter Colorado thimble on my grave. Mais non! Souvenir means to remember, not a cheap memento.
Souvenir, c'est une faux ami.

And now for some photos.

Carla is nearly lost in the affluence.

Carla attend pour une photo.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Mahler's Third, Rugby, and not Renting an Apartment in Paris

These three things have something in common: we have experienced all of them this week. In fact, we have experienced "not renting an apartment in Paris" for the past two weeks. But more on that later.

Tonight we attended a performance of Gustav Mahler's Third Symphony accompanied by the Paris Opera Ballet, described here:
At the Opera Bastille from March 13th to April 11th 2009. Choreographer John Neumeier translates Gustav Mahler's tormented universe into expressive and elegant movement: the human condition and Man's inextricable bond with nature, the exaltation inspired by love and the attendant perception of its fragility. A fresco bringing together the Paris Opera Ballet, Orchestra and Chorus.
Indeed it was all of this and much more. I (Bobby) have a long history with this music; Mahler and I go way back --- even before the time my voice had changed. And I was reminded of this at many points during tonight's ballet, particularly when I recognized a similarity between what the dancers were doing to the music, and the crazy tumbling, diving and gratuitous awkward movements I would "perform" to the same music when I was, oh, I don't know, 16 years old? Vindicated is what I feel tonight; no longer am I ashamed.

This third symphony is the longest of all of Mahler's, and in fact it is one of the longest symphonies in the standard symphonic literature: one hour, forty-five minutes. During the whole performance, from our vantage point, we could see various people "texting" under their coats, taking pictures with their cellphones, and some making little movies with their cameras. In the dark theater their screens shot like lasers through the room. It was annoying, but I put it aside. Not so for another man close by --- another taker of the 18 euro ticket. He swallowed his frustration until a split second before the climax of the entire piece (at approximately one hour and forty-three minutes) finally violently belching "Turn it off!" while extending his arm with a rolled-up 10 euro program and swatting at two rows ahead populated with giggly girls taking movies. (Carla swears she didn't hear him yell in English, but I don't think my French is that good yet.) We waited afterwards to see if there would be a riot, since Paris is known for that kind of thing, mais non, (but no). Anyhow, the piece was so fabulous that we are going to try to go again. I might even perform a little recreation in our tiny apartment.

Moving on then, out in the Parisian suburbs of Puteaux lives the sister of my best friend Phil (Katie) and her husband (Olivier). I practically grew up with Katie, who I get to call Katie because I have known her for more than 20 years. Carla and I have had two excellent visits with them, and each time there is a lot of great food and lessons in proper French manners (elbows ON the table, not OFF). Last weekend we went for brunch and rugby --- each of which provides a nice counterpoint to the other, like a petting zoo in Miami and lobster trawling in the Arctic.

The local team in Puteaux was playing another local team (we think), and the crowd of a dozen or so was loving the action. In fact, some of the players were sitting with us until their turns came. During the match people yelled Allez Puteaux (Let's go Puteaux), but to my insensitive ears it sounded like Allez putains (Let's go whores). There were certainly other kinds of colorful language being used, but to us it all sounded so pleasant. Je voudrais un croissant.

Now onto not finding a place to rent. We could upload another picture of us competing with the crowds that show up to look at the same apartment, but the image would show nearly the same thing. Here is how the past two weeks have been like:
  1. Carla goes on-line, finds the latest listings of places offered to rent, and creates a listing of all their information.
  2. I take this list and begin to make calls to the numerous immobeliers (agencies that specialize in property rental).
  3. When a person answers the phone, my first question is Parlez-vous angalis, peut-etre? (Do you speak English, maybe?)
  4. Then they say Pas de tout (not at all).
  5. Then I do my darndest to speak fast enough so they don't hang up, and accurate enough that I don't say "Can I watch you, maybe?"
  6. I set up an appointment to see the place and present ourselves, and then I repeat this procedure for the rest of the listings.
  7. Carla and I jump on le Metro, and off we go to each apartment.
  8. We arrive and see maybe one other person waiting if we are lucky, a dozen others if we are unlucky. We are often the foreigners.
  9. The agent invites us in, speaking French the whole time, and after we take a cursory look we give him or her our "dossier" --- which is like a resume that proves we make enough money and have enough friends that make enough money that we will not be delinquent.
  10. If we are lucky, the agent says we will be called soon; if we are unlucky, the agent hands back our dossier with a grin. Does our dossier look like it was done with craft paper and crayons?
  11. The last step in this whole process, before returning to the beginning, is getting a terse email or voicemail "Owner go with someone else. Thank you."
When I call an immobelier now, I have a little easier time. Today I made an appointment where I understood every question asked of me. At the end I asked, C'est tout? (Is that all?) My BFF in the lab laughed at that. I asked him what I did wrong, and he said, "You speak perfect French and it is understandable, but when you say, "C'est tout?" you are not asking "Is that all?" You are asking, "Are you done annoying me so that I can go take care of more important things?"

Needlesstosay, we do have some leads on apartments; and we are no longer under pressure to find something before April 1. So it looks like we won't be living sous le pont (under the bridge) just yet.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Apartment Hunting

Paris, week 3 and 44 to go. Bobby and I (Carla) are apartment hunting, which is a lot like hunting the endangered Red Squirrel in the Guinea-Bissau: you look, creep around, stalk, and then finally find one and pay to shoot it to death to realize that even though the Red Squirrel is pretty, there is not a lot of meat on it. But good lord! We have successfully shot ourselves a Red Squirrel. As the French would and do say, "Ça alors!" (Hot damn.)

What does all this mean? It means we will pay a lot of money to live in a tiny, 23 square meters (that's 23x9=207 sq. ft), corner kitchen, toilet in the hallway outside the apartment, on the 10th floor without a lift, apartment in a really nice Haussmann-style building. We wait outside with our dossier (a French rental application standard; includes copies of your bank statements, work information, yearly salary statements, promis to give first child to landlords... normal stuff) for a tardy rental agent to show the apartment. So far Bobby and I have looked at 7 apartments, and 4 fit this description. No shots have been fired.

The fifth and sixth apartments we looked at seemed like a great deal initially. They were both 30 square meters and on the ground floor or second floor. One of them even had a normal oven, and not a toaster oven! And both of these apartments are in the 18th arrondisement, home to Sacre Coeur, the Dali museum, and the bohemian Montmarte. The 18th arr. is also heavily populated by immigrants from North and Central African, the Middle East, and China. It is known as 'La Goutte d'Or', or The Golden Drop, because of it's ancient wine-making history. We thought, "Great! We'll finally find hot spices at the grocery store and get some good couscous at an affordable price!" Needless to say, we thought these apartments were great; but these thoughts occurred while we visited the area in daylight.

*Side note before continuing the story: Bobby and I lived in a pretty bad neighborhood in Los Angeles. While living on the corner of San Pedro and 49th, we witnessed a drive-by-shooting, were familiar with 3 local gangs (the 18th St. gang, the Playboys,and the 42th St. 'Lil' Criminals'), and lived next to a "sex worker" who was previously an elementary school teacher. The night we moved out, there was a quintuple homicide two blocks from our apartment.*

So before we make any decisions about living in the South Central of Paris, we decided to visit the area around our potential flat at night. What a different story! Practically every street corner was packed with young men; we saw very few women walking alone. The street that crosses over the train tracts seemed like something from the beginning trailer of Law and Order: SVU; surely a bad guy or two were lurking in the shadows! We only saw one prostitute (maybe the others were 'busy'). The apartment itself is located on rue Myrha, which after a little Googling we discovered is notorious for its drug problems and is often called the most dangerous street in Paris--however, over the past 10 years the French government has cleaned it up. The overall feeling of the place was one that does not invite a woman walking by herself. I felt like I had to keep my eyes down, attract as little attention as possible, and walk really, really fast. Bobby didn't feel the same and keep smiling and repeating, "Bonjour, nous sommes arrivées!"

Because of our experience of living in LA, we thought we could handle anything. I mean, come on, it's Paris! How bad could it be?! The big difference is that in LA, I parked my car right outside of my front door. I only had to walk 15 feet. In Paris, the nearest metro to the apartments in the 18th arr. is a half mile away, and through a corner bustling with young men aggresively hawking cigarettes.

Long story short: we will not be living in the 18th arr. -- but we will be going DURING THE DAY to have some great couscous and obtain our spices.

"But wait", you say, or "Mais non!" if you speak French. "You've only talked about 6 of 7 apartments. What about the 7th apartment? The one you saw today!"

Ah yes. (Or "Ah, Oui" since we are trying to learn French.) Located in southern part of the 15th arrondisement, the apartment is directly south of the Tour Eiffel and consequently Champ Mars. Apartment #7 is in a super retro building from what must be the late 1960s, but it has an elevator that can hold more than two very thin and short people. The hallway on our floor is covered in carpet wallpaper; our front door even has carpet on it! Aside from this insult to our senses, the one-room apartment has a large bathroom (separate), an OK kitchen, a Go-Go Gadget bed that comes out from the wall, as well as a lovely balcony overlooking un grand jardin. The neighborhood is very quiet, but a bit out of the way, and far from the 18th arr. (I now have a new appreciation for a bit out of the way). The rent is also very cheap by Parisian standards, and with our habilitation help from the government we will be paying even less.

Though we are looking at two more apartments tomorrow, I think we have found 'the one'. It is now in the hands of the owner, who has asked for nearly every detail of our financial statements, as well as those of Bobby's boss/professor who is acting as a "Garant", just in case we decide to hole up in our carpet-walled bungallow without paying rent. As if!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

So what am I (Bob) doing out here?

For you people back home who are wondering what I am doing out here in Paris, this note is for you! The question has usually gone, "So, Bob. What exactly will you be doing in Paris?" "I will be doing research." "I see. Like looking through encyclopedias and writing book reports?" "Well, not exactly. I will be working with a professor who specializes in my discipline." "What discipline is that?" "I am glad you asked. Let me tell you with the help of some helpful pictures."

The title of my post-doctorate proposal can be seen above: Applying Overcomplete Methods to Scalable Audio Indexing, Search, and Retrieval. Since submitting this proposal in January 2008, and completing my dissertation in the meantime, many things have changed. For instance, I would now title this work: Applying Sparse Approximation to the Efficient Description and Indexing of Audio Data. (What is an "overcomplete method" anyway!? ha ha.) Furthermore, we won't worry about scalability until some later time when we have tackled some important questions, like:
  1. Can we effectively deal with the shift-variance of greedy pursuits? A sparse approximation generated by greedy pursuits of a signal can change dramatically with even a slight time-shift in the signal, or transforming a signal with an allpass filter -- even one with a single pole. The best thing would be to find a way to represent a signal in a sparse way that is independent of the time-domain waveform.
  2. Given two sparse approximations of signals, how may we compute the distance between them, or their content, such that meaningful (or at least useful) comparisons are made?
"So what is your day like then?" Well, let me use another helpful picture to give you an idea.

That paper, entitled "Gradient Pursuits," is one that I am currently studying. You see, I find and read research articles, conference papers, Ph. D. dissertations, even my own work, that are relevant to our big questions. I read them and I spend some time summarizing each one, framing their work in terms of ours, seeing what can be useful, and what can be improved. The most satisfying part is making an "X" in the top-left corner with a date, and sticking it in a pile of "has-reads." Seeing this pile grow is like looking at the marks on a wall denoting my height.

There is also the copious amounts of tea and little biscuits. I think I must have about 4 to 5 cups a day of this wonderful fuel -- from orange pekoe, to Barry's Irish blend, to lapsang souchong, terry souchong, pu-erh, French blue, etc. All of these provide wonderful pauses between my clauses.

There you have it. Research. French style. I think it will be hard to return to the states, because I won't be fitting in no aeroplane.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Musings, deux

If you are lost and looking for information, do not follow signs that say "Salle Informatique" -- or information room. I had only a few minutes to spare until the commencement of a thesis presentation in some odd corner of the campus, and so I followed these signs up a deserted flight of stairs, down a dark hallway, and into the room labeled "Salle Informatique" to learn that I had discovered the school computer lab. Students were busy typing emails, papers, burning music, but not dispersing information.

I evntually found the information booth, labeled "Accuiel." This is pronounced with an "a" as in "faster", "koo" as in "kool-aid", and the last part I think sounds like "way-el" with the "el" pronounced only in thought -- as are most letters at the end of French word(s).

Do not confuse "accuiel" with "ecureuil". To me they sound very similar, but the latter is a tree-climbing nut-eating squirrel.

My BFF laughed when I tried to pronounce "ecureuil." I laughed harder when he tried to pronounce "squirrel." It's a two-way street mon ami.


One of the first things you will notice upon arriving in Paris is the thinness of their aluminum foil. In the US we must be using double-ply.

This morning (Saturday morning) I bravely made a call to a person who listed her flat in a Paris classifieds. A tired sounding woman answered and I said, "Parlez-vous anglais?" "Non, pas du tout." (Not at all.) I understood that! but now I must speak French.

"Oui, je vous appeler pour voir ta apartment, et ..." (Yes, I call you to see your apartment, and ...)

"Oui, monsieur. Déjà prix."

"Uh. Donc, je suis étudiant avec ma femme, et nous habitons in Paris a Decembrè. J'ai une bourse de government francais. Nous voulons voir ta apartment, si'l vous plait." (Oh, so, I am a student with my wife, and we live in Paris to December. I have an award of French government. We want to see your apartment, please.) (This took a while to say all this.)

"Oui, monsieur. Déjà prix. Déjà prix."

(Long silence) "Prix? Je ne comprends pas sur mot." (Prix? I do not understand this word.)

"Déjà prix! Déjà occupé!"

"Ah! C'est occupé mantenant?" (Oh! It is occupied now?)

"Oui, monsieur!" (Sounding very exhausted.)

"D'accord. Excusez-moi je vous demanger. Au revoir" (Ok. Excuse me for itching you. Goodbye.)

It turns out that "pris" is a form of the verb "prendre" to take. So she was telling me the apartment was "already taken." C'est très difficil!

Thursday, March 12, 2009


Dear Bob,

This afternoon, after we parted ways at the University, I bought a crepe avec sucre. I ate all of it. It was really, really good.

Much Love,

A Public Admission

Dear Carla,

I must admit what I have done. And doing so in a public forum might make the shame real and lasting. On my way to the office this afternoon, at around 4:30, I stopped by a boulangerie and bought myself a single large piece of flan topped with cassis. I bought only one piece of flan, and it was large. And upon arriving to my office, I immediately ate it all up. In fact, I am eating it as I write this. I will not save one single piece -- the flan will not survive the dozen metro stops to our residence. I am scraping the wrapping paper bare now. I will be coming home 0.5 pounds heavier. Tonight, I promise to take you to a boulangerie for the dessert of your choice -- and another for me.

Love ton cornichon.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

C'est inévitable.

Nous sommes malades. Carla and I have come down with some European bug -- or perhaps it is from California and Carla brought it here. So today I stayed at home, which gives me time to get caught up on this here collection of stories.

Seen in this picture is Carla making soup in the 10 pound Le Creuset Dutch oven she insisted on bringing from California. It contributed 1/5 of the permitted weight to her suitcase, which shows you the devotion she has to it -- there is no telling how many shoes she had to sacrifice. However, she has made me a believer in this pot; and her fresh and healthy soup made the effort well worth it!

We have discovered one of the best stores for us busy people: Picard, specialists in surgelés. Not surgeries, or sugarless food. But frozen food. ("Surgeler" means to deep freeze.) Seen above is the exciting atmosphere: numerous deep freezers containing all kinds of fruits and vegetables, fish and quiches, desserts and desserts and desserts. And most of it is extremely cheap! Visiting Picard gives me the crepes. People somberly walk through this colorless maze accompanied by happy muzak -- frostbite for the ears.

The metro is necessary for moving around this big city. And sometimes dogs accompany their owners. This little dog had an exceptionally long and fast flapping tongue. You can see that, like the wings of a hummingbird, I have captured the extrema positions at which the tongue spent the most time. We could estimate the speed of the tongue based on my shutter speed, but let's not ruin the moment.

On Sunday we had out BFFs over for brunch. Carla made some excellent potatoes and scrambled eggs. I made tea and fried four thick slices of bacon. Our BFFs brought some very nice Pain aux raisins, and pains du chocolates. After a couple of hours of eating, talking, and eating, we went for a nice long walk until late in the afternoon.

We passed by the opera house where we will be going to see Mahler's 3rd Symphony -- with accompanying ballet! You might not be able to see it in the picture at left, but at the top of the stairs were a couple dozen goth kids and skaters "hanging out." At first I thought they were trying to be the first in line to see the show. Hey, what's that smell? No respect for Gustav. Kids these days.

Word of the day: goûter. This can be a verb, meaning to try, to taste, or to enjoy. It can also be a noun, meaning a snack, or a children's party.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Thé, thé, et plus thé!

Aujourd'hui (today) Carla et moi went to our favorite tea shop in the world, Mariage Frères. The history of this business stretches back to 1660 -- about three centuries before Ronald Reagan became the 33rd Governer of California. Mariage Frères literally has several walls of tea literally manned (there are no females) by professionally trained tea sellers who keep the line moving fast.

Their most excellent walls of tea. We could stay here all day sampling.

They even had special tea wrapped in 24 karat gold leaf. The least expensive of these is priced at 400 Euros per 100 grams. My palette is not that rich.

When it was our turn we were helped by a very knowledgeable (and patient) man, who let us smell several teas before buying. Carla bought some French Blue (a variation of Earl Gray) -- a tea we enjoyed during our visit in 2007. She also bought some interesting green tea with lavender and rose. Pour moi, I wanted only extremely stinky teas for my advanced palette, i.e., smoked teas, and teas that smell like a moist barnyard. This means a souchong and a mature pu-erh. I bought some "Terry Souchong", which is described: A large-leaf tea impregnated with smoke from special, rare Formosan woods. Heavily smoked, giving a special aroma and flavour. Highly appreciated by connoisseurs of smoky teas. Excellent accompaniment to English-style breakfasts. I am excited to give it a try tomorrow morning at our brunch with our BFFs.

Then we got a real treat. We got to smell pu-erh from 1988. (Pu-erh, like wine, is often categorized by its age.) My face lit up until I learned that 100 grams would cost me 55 Euros. Instead he found me a 1998 vintage (24 Euros per 100 grams), which is described: This 10-year-old vintage with broad, brown leaves yields a highly aromatic cup that features flowery notes with mineral accents; its warm, sustained, balanced flavour is slightly sweet and enveloping even while remaining alive and lightly astringent.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Mon bureau, pour votre information

I (Bob) have settled into my office, the location of which is pointed to in the figure above. Since the university is undergoing a five-year-long construction project (which has lasted for five years already and will last another five I am told), the research team I am a part of is located in a different location from the university. No qualms from me, however, as le Tour Eiffel is very near; which means I can visit the once-derided "iron suppository" as often as I like -- as long as it does not interfere with my research. And then there is the 1889 World Exposition, to which they are no longer selling any tickets I have been told, malheureusement.

Le mot du jour: pénible. This is a nice way to call someone or something annoying or tiresome or difficult, as in "Tu es pénible." Another way to say the same thing is, "Tu es ennuyeux." (sounds like ahn-way-YOU). A less nice way to say the same thing is "Tu es chiant." Example: "Ce chien est chiant", which means, "That dog is extremely annoying." So much fun we can have now!

Oh, and last night after visiting a bar with friends we watched the pompiers (firemen) put out a blazing fire on the sixth story of an apartment building.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Ma femme, elle est arrivé!

Carla has finally made it to Paris! And to commemorate this momentous equation I have sat her down with a fresh French baguette (pictured). It was unfortunately a rainy and cold day, but fortunately her luggage was lost. Fortunate because we didn't have to roll it all through the streets, and they will instead arrive tomorrow afternoon to our front door! Unfortunately however, she only had one pair of shoes, which are high heels -- exactly the Paris fashion for a rainy day. So out we went, and found a wonderful crêperie.

Crêpes are an essential part of the French food pyramid. They are actually what gives the pyramid is sheen. And when eating crêpes, you must drink "cidre," or fermented apple cider. We each ordered a nicely priced formulè, which included a savory crêpe, a sweet crêpe, and a drink -- all for one low prix. I chose "le Bistrot", which included chèvre chaud (warm goat cheese), tomate, and something called "lardon." Goat cheese pretty much trumps everything on my palette, i.e., I love it, so away I ordered. And when my crêpe arrived I suddenly saw "lardon" is cubed bacon! What nice flavors together; but now a dilemma: it appears I have a salad on top of my crêpe. Should I eat the crêpe first, and then the salad?

For her sweet crêpe, Carla ordered a chocolate one. Actually it appeared she ordered chocolate with some crêpe. What is the bien élevé way to eat such a thing? In a way reminiscent of Mr. Bean ordering steak tartare without realizing what it was, Carla scooped some chocolate up and added it to her café. Then a little spoonful on my plate. No matter; once the crêpe was gone, she still had a large chocolate puddle. Blame it on the rain.

After filling up on crêpes and cidre, we decided to try to use "le mot du jour" (word of the day). Today's word is provided by our BFF Guillaume: "putréfaction," which means decomposing, as in "Bonne putréfaction Cher Beethoven." So we visited the Cimetière Montparnasse, one of the largest cemeteries in Paris. And was thereby able to committ "putréfaction" to the list of words we have mastered.

Strolling through the muddy graves in high heels was so Paris. Nous sommes arrivés, aussi. We spent about an hour looking for the grave of Man Ray, and then César Franck, but to no avail. We did find, however, the grave of Serge Gainsbourg. Serge who? Only one of the most significant French poet, songwriter, and singer that helped define French popular music in the 60's, 70's, and 80's. Sa musique sont mega super bonne! Ca, j'adore.

Finalement, we came home and made our first meal in notre apartment Parisienne (pictured, left). Counter-clockwise from the right, we have toasted baguette topped with chèvre (goat cheese) and drizzled with miel (honey). We made a nice salade with epinards (spinach), and pieces of Ementhaler (Swiss cheese). And for dessert, a wonderful piece of gâteau Basque (Basque cake). I asked, but Carla did not want it topped with chocolate.

Bonne nuit Carla!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Le Premier Jour de Mon Post-Doc

Wowie wow wow, it is the first day of my post-doc, and this is Paris, so I decide to go all out and wear a clip-on 8-bit tie, as well as put some wax (not purchased at the Institut Mahler) in ma coiffure (hair style, not New York coffee). This is a good move because I get nothing but respect all day, but looming is an expectation that I should wear a tie every day. Then I go to see Madame Zisso about my long stay visa and ask at reception, "Excusez-moi, je voudrais regarder Madame Zisso." This translates to, "Excuse me, I would like to watch Madame Zisso." Or, "Excuse me, I would like to look at Madame Zisso." Ok, so that didn't happen; but I was about to say exactly that until I realized my mistake and substituted the less weird "voir", which is "to see".

This first day of my post-doc was really nothing but dealing with paperwork: getting my lunch card, figuring out how to obtain a long stay visa, finding official translators of our legal documents, etc. By the end of it I was really feeling like a failure because I had not produced a paper ready for submission. I mean, I am a doctor now. Pure and unpublished knowledge should be flowing from every word I say.

Luckily, mes amis (previously mentioned BFFs) invited me to dinner at their home so that I could forget all that. Guillaume made some steamed vegetables, and saumon (salmon). Sa copine Isabelle made a nice salad with compté (some of my favorite cheese). When we had sat and the obligatory "Bon appétit" had been said, I dressed my plate with a side of salad and passed the bowl on. The two of them just stared at me and Guillaume said, "Go ahead. I want to see what you do with that." It turns out that salad is eaten AFTER the main course, to provide light fresh greens as a counterpoint to the heavier main course. It also turns out to be extremely bad manners to return salad back to the bowl after serving. So much I have yet to learn! Mal élevé! Lucky for me, the tie more than made up for my air of inelegance.

Mon Premier Jour

Ah, a nice hot café on a brisk day; and several at that, to stay semi-arabica-awake. I have learned that one should drink this after lunch. Last time I was here I would go to the canteen with folks from the lab, and after lunch while they would order un café, I would order un thé (tea) -- which would still be steeping while theirs was finished and they out the door.

Imagine my excitement when, from the distance, I see "Institut Mahler." Gustav Mahler is my favorite composer, and to see his institute in our new neighborhood is exciting. But why are there pictures of women and women parts in the window? Was this an exhibition about Alma, his wife, who was apparently praised for smooth skin and shapely buttocks? No! This is a beauty and health store that uses Mahler's good name to promote the resurrection of youth. How trite! C'est fou! (It is crazy.) Ils sont complètement frapper. (They are completely knockers.)

Right down the street I found a huge brocante, or antique sale, and buried my sorrow in the people selling all kinds of things, from furniture to furs, from books to hooks, all of it extremely expensive and unaffordable by us.

At the end of the day, all the sellers break down their stuff, pack it in trucks, and leave. Sometimes they leave a box or two of items that were minutes before several euros. And sometimes I plan to be there to look for useful items. (Je sais, je peux être complètement frapper.) This time I found the magazine, "Le petít Leonard, le magazine d'art des plus de 7 ans," or, "The little Leonard, the art magazine for those older than 7 years." Hey! That's me! Inside each one are interesting stories about art and artists in easy French. Ce sont parfait pour nous! None of my friends at the lab seem to know this great magazine, publised in the late 1990's. "How come you didn't have a subscription when you were 20?"

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Chez nous (our home)

For the month of March, Carla and I are fortunate to be staying at the Paris residence of an eminent researcher in computer music -- who is an Associate Professor at McGill University in Montréal, Canada. We are in the 11th arrondisement, which my BFF (best French friend) Guillaume tells me is historically (in the 19th and early 20th centuries) was where many immigrants lived and worked. In fract, in the square in front of our building are the remnants of iron tracks used for a small mining car used to transport heavy items, such as rock, up and down the length of the building (pictured left).

Our large (Paris standards) 35 square meter (377 sq ft) apartment is located on the 3rd floor, which is actually the 4th in non-metric units. We have a nice living room with a great table to be used for Saturday morning brunches with our BFFs.

The bedroom/office is comfortable, and gets a lot of light. (Mr. Seedbottoms can be seen enjoying the luxurious roost after a long flight.)

The relatively thin kitchen is fully equipped with a fridge, oven, and shower.

C'est correct. Il y a une douche en notre cuisine! My BFF tells me that such a thing is not unusual given that this building is very old. All the plumbing is there, so why not make economical use of it. And les toilettes? Our private toilet (pictured below) is outside the apartment and to the right -- also not uncommon in such an old building. Notice the arrow loop, through which "arrows" used to be fired.
Just kidding! That is a picture of the castle toilet in the Tower of London.