Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Lack of gum stimulation

Here I am standing in front of François-René Chateaubriand, the French writer (and politician) acknowledged as the founder of Romanticism in French Literature. To escape the violence of the French revolution he journeyed to North America (Louisiana) in 1791, and returned later the next year to the join the army---after which he was seriously wounded and then exiled to London when he became critical of "B." Napoleon (real name abbreviated to protect identity).

Well, long story short, I (Bobby) was born, went to school, gained some research acumen, and won a Chateaubriand Fellowship to support my work in France, after which time I might be exiled somewhere --- I think it's in the contract.

Speaking of "B." Napolean, here is a wonderful picture I snapped without even thinking about its composition. This obelisk (3,300 years old), located in the Place de la Concorde, was a gift from Egypt to France in 1833. Its delivery from Luxor took five years, but it would have taken 10 in the regular post.

This weekend we went to the Rodin Museum, where there are lovely gardens, and numerous famous sculptures.

Here The Thinker (originally intended to be The Poet after Dante) sits between wonderfully trimmed shrubs, while the dome of Invalides shines behind, but in front of a forming tempest. Under that dome is the tomb of "B." Napoleon, who was himself exiled (perhaps after a Chateaubriand fellowship).

We have gradually be getting settled in our new apartment. Here you can see a shelf for spices, and above it an entire shelf for teas and jams. Our next big project is painting.
What we don't have out here however, are gum stimulators. No one has heard of such a thing. All we have found instead are things that look like pipe cleaners for gappy teeth. My dentist is going to be testy.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Tour Eiffel Adventures

Ah, spring time in Paris! All of the trees are in bloom, petals fly through the air, and the pristine Parisian parks are overflowing with tulips. What better way to take in the beautiful weather than with a picnic at the Tour Eiffel? On Monday, Emily and I did such a thing. At a nearby grocery store we picked up some litchi and rose yogurt, apples, cumin Gouda cheese, and a log of goat cheese. Accompanied by a demi-baguette (half the size of a regular baguette), we dined like queens! We sat on a bench in a park next to the Tour Eiffel. The park is quite lovely; there is a pond filled with ducks and Koi fish, a little waterfall, big leafy trees, and walking paths through the very manicured lawns. Pretty romantic, right? It must be, because as we were finishing our lunch, we noticed a young couple 20 feet away, sucking face. They finally came up for air, then the man dropped to one knee and proposed! The woman said yes and Emily and I cheered and clapped for them. What a fantastic place to propose!

Emily and I then walked around and under the Tour Eiffel, laughing at the prices to walk up (5 euros to walk! That's a lot of steps. And quite a bit more to take an elevator up), mocked those waiting in the snaking lines (at least several hundred people deep), and ignored the pushy peddlers, trying to sell us cheap Tour Eiffel key chains ('1 euro; 1 euro, good deal! Where you from?'). I happened to notice the name Sturm written on the Tour Eiffel. I have no idea what kind of contribution this past Sturm gave, whether it be financial or engineering, but I figured it was worth a photo. We then crossed the Seine river and walked up to the Palais de Chaillot, where we watched young kids in rollerblades do really stupid things. I think this is a sign of aging. I watched these kids going down stairs backwards and kept thinking to myself, 'Man, they could really hurt themselves. Do they know how long it takes to heal from a broken arm? Do they know how much a doctor's visit will cost their parents?' I'm definitely getting old.

After spending some time people watching and soaking in the sun, Emily and I headed back across the Seine, past the Tour Eiffel, and walked through the Champs Mars, the large park behind the Tour Eiffel. Mini-lecture: most of the parks in Paris are, as mentioned above, in pristine condition with perfect lawns. The lawns stay so perfect becauce you aren't allowed to walk, sit, picnic, or poo your dog on them. Some parks have designated areas where you can be on the grass, but the majority of the lawn is for viewing purposes only. Because of this restriction, whenever I see a lawn that can be sat on, I have a strong desire to roll around on the grass like a kid. So far I've been able to restrain myself. We'll see how long that lasts.

Continuing on... Emily and I walked trough the Champs Mars, around the Ecole Militaire, and headed to a café near Bobby's lab. I have read that if you want to sound like a local, you ask the waiter for un crème instead of un café crème. If you ask for un café crème, the waiter, knowing you to be a foreigner, will bring you a huge latte instead of a normal sized one. The huge latte includes a huge price tag as well. I decided to put this theory to test and I ordered us deux crèmes, s'il vous plaît. I got really excited when the waiter brought us two small cups. The theory, however, was not true. Either the waiter mis-heard me or, more likely, my accent fuddled my request, but whatever the reason, Emily and I ended up with deux cafes (two espressos). Too embarrassed to correct the order, we drank the jet-fuel, um, I mean espresso, after went on our way.

That night, we took our new rice cooker on her maiden voyage. In our tiny kitchen/shower, the three of us squashed together to peel, chop, and slice for our tofu and vegetable stir-fry. I only got burned twice, the rice cooker slightly foamed over, and we discovered I accidentally bought sushi rice. All in all, a success! Accompanied by Bretagne cidre, we ate our hearty meal and followed it with one of my favorite desserts, mille feuilles (literally, a thousand leaves, but in the States we call it a Napolean).

Ah, spring time in Paris!
Just a quick picture to show how excited, in an Ed Grimly way, I am to be here in Paris.

Word of the day: menton. That means chin. Donc, double menton means double chin.

Carla should have some more to say later today; but right now I must focus.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Une amie a arrivé

As is required when anyone visits us, our friend Emily is shown above having arrived to Paris with a nice baguette.

We took a nice long walk from rue Legendre to Sacre Cœur, where we found throngs of tourists. Carla and I felt like we were in another country because we have gotten used to living in Paris off the trodden-track.
On our way back we found this humorous scene of a dog playing fetch, except here the owner would throw the ball up the street, the dog would catch it, and then drop it to roll down to the owner. They repeated this process many times.

In other news, Bob has a new computer at work. Its huge 24-inch screen hides his head quite well.

What is that? Bread? Butter? Halva? Some sort of Middle Eastern delicacy? No to all! It is soap; in particular it is savon d'Alepp, or soap of Alepp. As a general rule we don't talk about soap on blogs; but this stuff is special. It is quite possibly the oldest soap in the world. It comes from Aleppo Syria, and it has been made there the same way for at least 5000 years, and it is called the ancestor of all hard soaps in the world. It is made from olive oil, oil of laurel berry, and soda ash, or glasswort, and it makes showering in our kitchen all the more pleasant.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Living in the Dark

Life seemed so perfect: we had finished our cross-town move into the new apartment, we correctly assembled our new Ikea furniture, we successfully cooked a meal in the mind-boggling tiny kitchen without burning the food or each other, and the apartment was transforming itself into notre maison. True, my laptop's hard drive crashed and died, taking my resumes, iTunes music, recordings of my performances, scanned sheet music, and past school work with it to its grave. Luckily for us, though, there is a Mac repair shop blocks away from us, so we were able to purchase a new hard drive. Wednesday morning, Bobby made us our pot of Irish tea and took a nice hot shower. I cut the previous night's leftover baguette to make toast, popped the bread into our new toaster, pushed down the lever and... nothing. It didn't work. I unplugged it, put in into a different socket, checked it over, but nothing I did made it work. I told Bobby, who proceeded to repeat all of my steps. Then he tried to turn the kitchen light on... again, nothing. It seemed as if our power had gone out. We went to the circuit breaker, switched everything off and on and off and on, and still no power. Thinking the whole building might be without power, I went to the outside hallway and tried the light switch. It worked just fine! So it seemed as if only our power was switched off.

Bobby had to leave for the lab; he had a paper submission due that evening and had a full day of writing and researching and whatever else it is he does ahead of him (this photo was taken around 10:30 pm, when he finally finished the paper). So I had to go to the electricity company, EDF, by myself to sort out the problem. No one spoke any English, so I used my limited French vocabulary to explain the problem. "J'ai besoin d'électricité pour mon nouveau appartement" (I have a need for electricity for my new apartment. I used the adjective nouveau incorrectly, though; should have used nouvel since it precedes a vowel). Somehow, I was able to communicate with the EDF worker and set up an account in the Sturm name and was informed that the electricity would be turned on on Friday.

Friday?! That means Bobby and I will go without electricity for 2 1/2 days! In our apartment, like many Parisian apartments, everything runs on electricity. The water is heated with an electric water heater and the two cooking burners are electric. Until Friday, we have to eat all of our meals out (such a shame in city with as bad a culinary reputation as Paris, I know), use candles at night, and take very cold showers. Luckily for us, the Spring sun stays out until 9pm and the weather is fair, so we have no need for heating.

Aside from a lack of hot water, we love the life we are creating in Paris. Bobby is finally getting in a lot of time at the lab now that we don't have to look for an apartment, my knowledge of French is sluggishly growing and will hopefully move closer to turtle pace once we are in formal language classes, we are discovering our new community and enjoying all it has to offer, and soon friends will be coming in soon to visit.

The best part of it all? The desserts!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Moving Like A Parisian (via the metro)

Bobby and I have completed what I imagine to be two out of the three biggest hurdles of living in Paris: finding an apartment and moving to an apartment. The third hurdle? The language, but we are working on that.

Last Thursday night Bobby and I signed 30 pages of paperwork to move in to our new apartment. What was in those 30 pages we are not quite sure, but if the building's owner wants our first born, they'll have to get in line behind Sallie Mae. On Friday, we did a walk-through with the building's owner, a wonderful older woman names Madame Casano. For some reason, Bobby is unable to remember her name; he refers to her as Madame Casanova or Madame Cassoulet. After the walk-through (which included more paperwork that noted everything in the furnished apartment, including two ugly statues and a hideous single bed), we determined the quickest, easiest, and least number of stairs Metro route for our move. True, we could have spent 40 euros to pay for a taxi to take all of our luggage from on previous apartment in the 11th arrondisement to the new place in the 17th arrondisement in one trip, but Bobby and I have been living a student's life for over 6 years now, and we are cheap! We instead decided to make three round trips via the metro.

A little lecture on wheel-chair (and heavy luggage) accessibility in Paris: it does not exist. I can think of only one metro stop that has an elevator (Cité, the metro stop that drops you off at the foot of Notre Dame). If you are lucky, your metro stop has escalators. If you are slightly less fortunate, there is an elevator that only goes up. More often than not, there are just a lot of stairs.

Unfortunately for us, the route we took offers neither an elevator nor escalators. From the apartment in the 11th, we took the Parmentier stop on line 3, transferred at Saint Lazare to line 13, and exited at La Fourche. The old apartment is on the 3rd stage (the French don't consider the 1st floor a stage, so the 3rd stage is actually the 4th floor), with 56 stair steps in between. From metro to metro, there are 162 stair steps. Our new apartment is on the 6th stage, but luckily for us, there is an elevator. Each trip we took included at least two very full suitcases, weighing a minimum of 50 pounds each. Phew!

On Friday, we made one trip. After arriving at the new apartment, we measured walls and took an inventory of what we would need to buy. First and foremost was a bed. The apartment came with a tiny single bed. Bobby and I love each other very much, but a bed that size will ruin any marriage. We headed back to the old apartment and looked online for Ikea furniture (remember, we have the cheap student mentality). We were hoping to get a bed and possibly a futon delivered, but it would take 10 days to arrive! No way we were sleeping on a single bed for 10 days. Luckily for us, the Ikea website stated you could rent a truck from them if you came into the store and bought large items. Though neither of us has any desire to drive in Paris, this seemed like the best idea. So on Saturday morning, we made another trip to the new apartment, then headed into the suburbs via metro, train, and bus to Ikea.

Before we even walked through the store, we went to the truck rental center at Ikea only to discover that we needed a ridiculous amount of proof of identity to rent a truck. Along with the standard driver's license, identification, and credit card, we also needed proof of residency in Paris. They wanted us to bring our entire rental contract! This 30-page document is not something we keep in our pockets, so we thought, "Great, we're screwed." Mais non (but no)! As long as we purchased our items before 3:30, we could pay 59 euros and have it all delivered to the apartment building that very day. What a deal! So we rushed through the store and picked out a bed frame, mattress, and other knickknacks and made it in time to have them delivered that day.

Like I said above, the Ikea delivery people deliver your furniture to the apartment building. Not to your apartment, but to the front door of the building. Another lecture: Parisian apartment buildings are very old and often do not have an elevator. We are very fortunate to live in an old building that installed one. However, the Parisian elevators are not American sized. They are very, very, very small. Two people fit comfortably in our elevator, which makes it quite spacious by Parisian standards. A bed frame and mattress do not fit. Poor Bobby carried up the frame and mattress up to our 6th stage apartment! Needless to say, we were done moving for the day.

On Sunday, we went to the apartment and assembled our new Ikea bed. This required: assembling the frame, assembling two separate slat-frame-thingys, and unwrapping our mattress. We also re-assembled the single bed, which we are using as a couch/guest bed in the sejour (living room) until we buy a futon later on.

On Monday (a public holiday in France), we finally completely moved out of the old apartment. We swept, mopped, dusted, scrubbed, and laundered, then made the final trip to our new home. We spent the rest of the day re-arranging furniture and making the place feel like 'home'. Now thoroughly sore, we are enjoying our new bed and exploring the neighborhood. Time for visitors!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

No health insurance? But my jaw really hurts.

During the summer of 2008 I (Carla) discovered I am more evolved that Bobby: he had four wisdom teeth, while I have two (partially compacted, which I guess contributes to my stupidity). They started to rip through my gums last summer, right when my university health insurance became void. Before coming to Paris I visited an oral surgeon to see if they needed immediate extraction, and to get an estimate: $500 per tooth with my mom's Kaiser insurance. Since they were only a teething risk, we decided it best to wait until either Paris or Morocco.

Finally, like Bobby and oysters, my wisdom teeth have decided it is the season to bloom. I woke up yesterday and could barely open my mouth. My whole right cheek was tender and it hurt to chew. "Great", I thought, "My tooth is either coming in more, or I have a jaw tumor." In typical Carla fashion, I decided the best thing to do was to ignore the problem and hope it would just go away. This false hope even lead me to try to eat a baguette sandwich and apple for lunch. Bête moi. Well, the problem didn't go away. It got worse. I woke up this morning, still unable to open my mouth more than 1.5 cm, but now it hurts to swallow. "That's it", I thought, "That's the end of my flute career. They'll have to cut out part of my jaw and I'll never play again. Can I even teach if I can't play? Probably not. Maybe I should go to law school."

In St. Malo, Bobby heard my pleas and gave me several numbers to call to make an immediate appointment. But I am scared of using the phone in France. I don't speak French, and really, after taking a few aspirin I was feeling better. I can last another 10 months. I was scolded though when Bobby returned to town.

On the way back home from signing the lease to our new apartment, we decided to visit the dental floor at a nearby medical center. I have no health insurance. I have no dental insurance. I have no appointment. I do not speak French. But I can't eat a simple baguette. So when we arrived, imagine our surprise when I was immediately looked at by a dental surgeon. "Yes, the gum by your right wisdom tooth is infected. I will prescribe you a course of antibiotics and some mouthwash. At some point you might want to make an appointment to have them extracted."

She prescribed 4 different medicines, all pictured above! We got Amoxicilline to antibioticize the infection. Then for the pain that comes with normal mouth operations I have some Nureflex. And to help keep my gums more clean I have four boxes of Eludril mouthwash. To help with the tummy aches attendant with taking multiple medications I also have Ultra Levure. The years of plain Levure are over. We are now living in Ultra Levure times.

Did I mention, Dr., that I am uninsured, and that I came in without an appointment? So how much will this be? 21 euros for the doctor's visit.

And for this plethora of medicine, for someone without insurance? 27 euros.

Total cost of unscheduled visit to a dental surgeon and medicine: 48 euros.

Total time spent on this impromptu visit: 35 minutes.

And this was a modern facility, in a real building, not in the Metro, not in a bad part of town. We have decided to do the same thing when it is time to extract my teeth.

St. Malo, Part 3

I could surf that! As long as my fins are smaller than 3 inches.

I (Bobby) have returned from St. Malo, and the awesome SPARS conference. This is the first time I have attended a conference just as a spectator and not a presenter, which provided me the opportunity to focus on the doings of leaders in the field of sparse representations, and concentrate on finding perspective on my life.

A particularly salient time came about two hours after attending the evening oyster tasting organized for the conference participants. Another salient time came about thirty minutes later, then five minutes after that. After a tense pause to let my roomate quickly brush his teeth before going to sleep, the salience continued through the night. At about 4 AM I was reminded of the Homeland Security colors.

Brittany is world-renown for its sea food, and oysters are a specialty of the region. I have never has oysters before, so I followed what my colleagues did: open the shell, squeeze some lemon juice on it and watch the oyster shrivel up (because it is still alive), scrape it off the shell with a fork, slurp it up, chew, swallow, repeat. Six times.

Several days after that episode, I have a new appreciation for oysters. They are not to be messed with. They are alive, they get angry when squirted with lemon juice, and they will hurt you.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

St. Malo, Part 2

On day two of our weekend trip to St. Malo, we woke up hungry and in need of a morning caffeine fix. Both Bob and I grew up in households that firmly believe in huge weekend breakfasts. We're talking eggs, pancakes, bacon, fruit salad, potatoes... all the good stuff. As far as we can tell, this belief had not made it to this side of the Atlantic. During the week, our breakfast consists of the previous day's left-over baguette, toasted, and a pot of our favorite morning tea, Barry's Irish Tea. Such a small breakfasts gives us an excuse to gorge during lunch. Finding a place to eat breakfast in St. Malo was a bit difficult. We walked around the walled town, looking for places that were open. We finally stepped into one and ordered the petit complet petite dejeuner, or the little breakfast menu. The waitress gave us our glasses of juice, two decent sized cafe cremes, and then ran out the restaurant to the neighboring boulangerie to pick up the accompanying bread! It was a good start to a great day.

After our breakfast, we headed to the bus stop to catch a 30 minute ride to the Grand Aquarium. I love aquariums and force Bob to accompany me if there is one in a city we are vacationing in. We have been to aquariums in Monterrey, Boston, Hawai'i, Long Beach, and even Thailand (admittedly, it was a pretty dodgy aquarium). The Grand Aquarium in St. Malo did not disappoint. We saw some fish we've never seen before: lumpsuckers, great barracudas, red damselfish. Two things especially interested us: the giant crabs and the sharks. Some of the sharks looked like they had been gnawed on by their buddies!

After the aquarium we headed back to the walled town. We found a cozy little crêperie and enjoyed another wonderful meal of crêpes with salmon, eggs, tomatoes, ham, and caramel (but not all together). We then decided to check out the beach and tide pools sounding the outside of the town's walls. We walked around the entire length of the Atlantic-facing walls, climbing over the rocks, collecting shells, and peering into the tide pools for signs of life. By the time we reached the other side of the town, the tide was quickly coming in, trapping some of the tourists checking out the fortress. The fortress is located 300 yards or so from the walls. When the tide is low, it's accessible by a stretch of exposed beach. When the tide is high, however, the stretch of beach completely disappears. Bob and I watched as the tourists realized the tide was rising and made mad dashes across the now covered beach. The last people to leave waded through water knee deep!

Having learned from the night before, we set out for dinner around 8 pm. We decided to take a risk and try a restaurant with glossy menus, located right next to the main entrance of the town. "Risky? What do you mean?", you say. Going to a restaurant located right next to the entrance of the town is like going to the first coffee shop you see by the train station, or parking at the lot closest to the airport: you're bound to get ripped off. Luckily for us, the risk paid off. After reviewing the menus (which were glossy but not translated into English... a good sign), Bob went with the 23 euro menu and I went with the 19 euro menu. I asked for the mussels as my main course, and the waiter told me they weren't in season! "What? They aren't in season? But I had them last night?!", went through my head. "This place must be bad." The waiter pointed to another option and said, "This is very good. It's very fresh. You will like." "Ok", I said, having no idea what I would be eating. Bob then asked, "What is choucroute?" In broken English, the waiter replied, "It is like, you know, garbage, but made with fish. You know garbage?" Bob and I looked at each other in astonished disbelief. "Garbage? You mean like trash?" "No, not, no, not trash, garbage. It is very good," replied the waiter. Well, as risky of eaters as we are (eel head and fried whole baby chicken in Cambodia, street food in Thailand, weird vegan food in Singaore, fresh fruit in Turkey, goat meat in Isla Vista), we decided to pass on the garbage.* Instead, Bob ordered the steak. As our
entrée (French for appetizer; the main course is the plat), we both ordered fresh seafood. We had no idea what to expect, but hoped it wouldn't be oysters. The waiter came back to our table and added several utensils to our utensil arsenol, then brought out gorgeous plates of crawdads, shrimp, and seasnails. It took us almost 45 minutes just to eat through them! Our main courses arrived and they were good, but the highlight was the appetizers. Finishing off the meal with a crème brûlée for Bob and a chocolate mousse for me, we headed back to the hotel, full and and quite satisfied with our first weekend vacation.

*The waiter meant to say cabage, not garbage. Choucroute is the French perparation for pickled cabbage. We still aren't sure how seafood choucroute is made.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Weekend in St. Malo, Part 1

This week, Bob is attending the SPARS conference in St. Malo. We decided to leave a few days before the conference started in order to relax in the Atlantic coast town, explore the Bretagne region, and partake in some of their famous food culture. What a wonderful weekend trip!

First, a little history lesson. St. Malo is a walled port city that traces its origins to the 6th century, when it was a monastic settlement founded by Saint Aaron and Saint Brendan. In later centuries it was home to pirates who forced ships passing through the English Channel to pay a tribute. In 1491, Jacques Cartier was born in St. Malo. He became an explorer and is credited with 'discovering' Canada. Also born in St Malo was François-René de Chateaubriand, a writer, politician, diplomat, and namesake of Bob's fellowship! The city also has a tragic past. In 1944, a terrible fire was caused by incendiaries launched between the German and American troops fighting in World War Two. Many building were hits by shells and bombs. It is estimated that 80% of the walled city was destroyed by the end of the war. However, it was rebuilt, stone by stone, and little has changed since then.

Day 1: after a 3 hour train ride from Gare Montparnasse in Paris, we arrived in St. Malo hungry for lunch. After checking in at our hotel, which was inside the walled city, we walked around, searching for a place to eat. We noticed that many of the restaurants were crêperies. "A restaurant that only serves dessert? Awesome!", I hear you saying. But you are mistaken, my friend. While many crêpe stands in Paris only sell sweet crêpes with Nutella or sugar or chocolate and bananas, crêpes are actually from the Bretagne region and come in two basic varieties: sweet or savory. The savory crêpe is made from buckwheat flour and is filled with savory things like ham, eggs, salmon... you name it. It is also traditionally accompanied by a glass of cidre, or alcoholic cider. My lunch crêpe included smoked salmon, fresh cream, chives, and lemon. Bob's sweet crêpe was covered in home-made caramel, also a traditional Bretagne food. The best part was that all of this food was cheap! Besides being on the coast, hosting fantastic fresh seafood, and being home to crêpes, this place is inexpensive! Man, we really need to get out of the city more.

After our great lunch, we explored the town. Filled with tiny streets that curve and twist, revealing new treasures around every bend, we let ourselves get lost. Sometimes the town felt like an Escher painting; we'd walk up a flight of stairs only to find ourselves in a courtyard we had just climbed from! We walked on top of the city walls, which afforded us beautiful views of the coast. "You know, Bobby," I said, "I think I want to retire here."*

After a very long stroll, we were ready for dinner. After reading that the region in well-known for its seafood, we were excited to see what the many restaurants offered. At around 7:30, we walked around, checking out the menus of different places. They all looked good, but they were all empty! Many years of traveling by both us and our parents has taught us that you don't eat at an empty restaurant. But it seemed like all the restaurants were empty. "They can't all be bad," we reasoned, so we picked on with a nice set menu and went inside. My meal started with soupe de poisson, or fish stew. Bob began with a terrine plate. Both were delicious.

Our main course was mussels and fries, a delicious combination. After eating the mussels, we dipped our fries into the onion and wine sauce that the mussels had been steamed in. All of this was accompanied by a Kir Bretagne. Unlike regular kir (white wine with a flavored syrup), Kir Bretagne is made with cidre. We ended the meal with a shared frommage plate and a plum cake. All for under 30 euros! By the time we were finished with our meal, most of the restaurants were busy. We've noticed this in Paris as well. It seems like many of the French take a very late dinner by our American standards. It is not uncommon to be invited to a dinner party that doesn't start until 8pm or later. We will have to work on adjusting our body clocks.

We ended our first day in St. Malo with moonlight meander through the ancient streets. How appropriate.

*Don't worry. I say this a lot when I'm in a beautiful place. I now want to retire to Hawai'i, Ireland, Maisons-Laffitte, and now St. Malo. I'm going to be a very busy retiree.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Homme Super

I (Bob) finally got myself a hair cut -- something I had been putting off because of the conversation necessary to describe what I want. I entered the salon de coiffure as if I was fluent in French, with a Bonjour Monsieur. Comment allez-vous? Je peux avoir une coupe? (Hello Sir, how are you? Can I have a cut?) To which he said yes, told me to sit, and went to fetch a fresh cape. When he returned he said something to me, so I inferred he was asking me how I would like my hair to look. I asked if he spoke English. Pas de tout Monsieur. (Not at all.) D'accord. Mes cheveux sont trop loin. (OK, my hair is too long.) That was all I had, as if he didn't know why I was visiting his shop. At least this time I didn't say Mes chevaux sont trop loin (My horses are too long.)

He set to work with a 10-minute flurry of thinning shears distributed around ma tête (my head). At around minute 7 I knew that if I told him my hair needs to be cut, not thinned, it would be offensive. Then he took out a straight razor and set to cutting short select hairs, and dry shaving my neck. For his final act he took a hair dryer and heat-set a strategically placed part opposite of my hair's natural part. When he was finished he said, Voila! Je suis artist non? (There you have it. I am an artist, no?) Oui! Trés bien. Merci beaucoup Monsieur. (Yes. Very nice. Thank you very much Sir.) No scissors used; just thinning shears and a straight razor. And now I look like Superman when he excised his powers to become a normal human for Lois and he ends up getting his butt kicked at some truckstop diner in Alaska.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Le Premier Avril

Here is my BFF Guillaume working at his computer on le premier avril (the first of April). What is that attached to his back? C'est un poisson! (It's a fish!) Guillaume has a fish stuck to his back. Pourquoi donc? (But why?) In France, le premier avril, as in the US, is April Fools Day. French children celebrate this by attaching fish to the backs of their friends, enemies, and frenemies -- as I have done to Guillaume. Now people in the lab are suspicious of me.

It has been over a month since I last surfed, so I was excited to get back into swimming shape by going to a public pool. I bought a set of 10 tickets for 24 euros, which can be used at all public pools in Paris. One must pay careful attention to the proper etiquette, such as the mandatory speedo, swimming cap, and extremely wide nipple distance. After I entered the dressing room to change I saw several women drying their hair. My evolutionary instinct told me to exit and find the door marked Hommes, but Guillaume assured me that, as in Ally McBeal, all sexes share the same room.

The pool is situated near le Tour Eiffel, and on every other breath I could see it out the window. It is a fantastic way to swim! When we exited the building people surrounded us and started taking pictures. We paused, posed, and saw the Eiffel Tower sparkling behind us.