Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Memories of Berlin

I (Bobby) haven't been back to Berlin since 2000, so it was nice to return, even if for one day just to remind myself that big cities can be inexpensive --- when compared with Paris. I arrived to my hotel with about an hour to spare before my talk, so I walked down to Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche, i.e., the protestant church that was damaged by bombing in 1943 --- one of 363 bombings suffered by Berlin.

My talk went well, but the highlight of this trip was a tour of the Deutsche Telekom Laboratories, which in several ways resembles Google. Above is a picture of the PROGRAMMABLE office mailboxes. When mail is deposited in someone's box, the button on the right is pressed and an email is sent to the person alerting that mail has arrived.

Here is the interface to the office. Each morning you pass your RFID tag in front of it and tell the central computer system at which desk you will be working for the day. The computer then routes your phone number to that desk. You can also see what events are planned for the day, what rooms are available to use, and so on.
After a second free cafee latte from their coffee bar, in the room with foozball and an Xbox, we went to the demo room. Above is a box of rocks, but when you rub your hand over the rocks you hear splashing water. It is a simple but effective interface that has found use in making rehabilitation from strokes more interesting.
Lucky for me, I came to Berlin on the day my host, Georg Essl, was having a going-away party. He is moving to U. Michigan to become a full-time tenure track professor. (Incidentally, I applied for this position too, but with Georg in the pool too I had no chance.) At this party Georg assembled his mobile phone orchestra and played their greatest hits: 10 people wearing powered speakers attached to wrist sweat bands, and each one holding an iPhone running special softward Georg designed.

And here is Georg discussing his unique invention!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Monday Berlin, Wednesday London, Thursday Cambridge

Friday, the world? I don't know, but the state it is in now, I don't think I want it. Just kidding, just kidding. How are you all doing tonight? Good?

So tomorrow morning very early, I (Bobby) fly to Berlin and within a few hours of landing I present my research to several speech and audio engineers at Deutsch Telekom Laboratories. Then that night my host Georg is giving a small concert of a mobile phone orchestra. This is a music group where each individual wields a cellular telephone that acts as a musical instrument. Check out the Stanford Mobile Phone Orchestra, cutely named MoPho.

I fly back on Tuesday afternoon, and then get to take the train to London to repeat my presentation --- but that is another note on another day.

Here is an absolutely wonderful treat: a wedge of warmed brie cheese topped with fig jam.

One of the nice things about Paris is that so many famous people have died here. We recently took a stroll through the Montmarte cemetary, not more than 10 minute walk from our flat. We came across the grave of Nadia Boulanger, one of the most influential teachers/composers of the last century.

And of course, Berlioz's bones are a must-see too. I was hoping for a more elaborate grave, with witches and skeletons beating on tympanum.

Finally, a final picture we took in St. Malo in April. Someone added the surfer at top. But in less than 22 days we will be surfing in the Atlantic off the coast of Porto, Portugal! Ce sera super bon!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Happy Anniversary

Today is our wedding anniversary! Four years ago today we were married in Glendale, California in front of many friends and family members. Tomorrow we celebrate our four year leaving-for-our-honeymoon-anniversary. Okay, we don't actually celebrate that, but it is fun to think back to our three week honeymoon, which included a two week driving tour of the Republic of Ireland and one week in the Czech capitol Prague.

Bobby and I aren't exactly mushy romantics. We enjoy going out to dinner for our anniversary, but we have never exchanged gifts. This year, however, Bobby broke with tradition and got me a present: a bag of dirt! I am very excited about my first anniversary present. Our little window-sill garden needs dirt.

We also decided to stay in for our anniversary dinner this year (if only our anniversary fell after payday...). After coming home from volunteering at the library, Bobby surprised me with Thai Basil Chicken! He did the grocery shopping, cooking, and even picked the Thai basil from our plant. Followed with the customary arugula/beet/walnut salad, we capped off a great meal with a nectarine and a mango. Yummy!

Happy anniversary Bobby!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Fête de la musique

One weekend each year, Paris throws a party for music of all kinds called La fête de la musique. In many squares of the city you can find any kind of music you want, from reggae, to pop, to classical. On Friday, the lab in which I work hosted its own music party, with people of the lab playing their own music. There was a Russian balailaika group, some acappella, some "jazz," and even Carla played some duets with another flutist.

On Sunday we spent the entire day walking around Paris, from our flat in the Batignolles to l'Opera, to Les Halles, Centre Pompidou, and finally to the Louvre. Along the way we found many interesting things. We stepped into the cathedral St. Trinite, when one of my favorite composers of all time --- Olivier Messiaen --- was the organiste titulaire from 1931 to 1992 (except for the time when he was a prisioner of war captured by the Germans in World War 2). There was no music there, but we did find this handsome commemorative plaque.

Then we walked to the Centre Pompidou, where there is a large public place and sure to be music of all kinds. And there we were greeted by nearly 100 police in riot gear, and a police helicopter hovering above. We were very confused, until we saw that earlier in the day there was indeed a riot which started when an Anarchist demonstration got out of hand. A local business was showing video footage taken during the melee, and we could clearly see kids wearing masks taking the chairs from cafe patios and throwing them at the police, who were responding with tear gas and the like.

So we moved on to the Louvre, where we had a picnic with some friends while waiting for the free orchestra concert --- which took place directly underneath the large pyramid. You can see us near the beginning of the line, sitting down on a nice blanket with beer and cheese and salad and dried fruits. Most everyone else was standing and jealous that we had such foresight. It was a three hour wait, but once the concert started it was well worth it.

Here is a short video of Pierre Boulez, one of the most influential figures in 20th century music, conducting some Igor Stravinskeefing. Because we were some of the first people in line, we had an excellent position to watch the master. Boulez is still conducting and extraordinarily active even at 84 years of age! We think it is the cheese and bread and wine.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Run Club = Fun Club!

Bobby and I are very lucky to have two very good friends living in Paris: Kate and Olivier. Kate is the younger sister of Bobby's old Junior High School school friend Phil. Growing up together in Colorado, Bobby tormented the then 10-year-old Katie by "Bowling for Barbies." Now Bobby no longer bowls for Barbies, and Kate no longer plays with Barbies, so a proper friendship can blossom. Olivier is Kate's French husband. He grew up in northern France before moving to Chicago for his studies and work, where he met Kate. Luckily for us, Kate and Olivier moved to the Paris area around the same time we did. Since March, the four of us have hung out several times. In May, when the weather almost turned nice, we initiated Run Club! As we mentioned in a previous post, we sometimes run in the nearby wooded forest/park Bois de Boulogne. Here is how our Run Club nights usually proceed:

7:45-8:00: Bobby and Carla arrive at Kate and Olivier's apartment in Puteaux, around which time Kate arrives home from work
8:00-8:20: Bobby, Carla, and Olivier all complain about how much they don't want to run, while Kate encourages everyone to be excited about running
8:20-9:00 (or later): Run Club commences, with a very long and fast run (by Bobby and Carla's standards, or short and slow by Kate and Olivier's standards)
9:00-9:20: Kate and Carla stretch and do ab-work while Olivier and Bobby buy dinner, chicken shwarma and French fries
9:20-10:00: Run Club becomes Eat and Drink Club

A few things were different about last Thursday's Run Club, though. Olivier twisted his foot and tore some ligaments while walking in Paris, so he hasn't been able to run with us for a few weeks (oddly enough, he doesn't seem to be too sad about missing out on running). Instead of running through the Bois de Boulogne, we all went to the park on the Île de Puteaux (a little island in the Seine between Puteaux and Neuilly), where there are free exercise machines and other work-out enhancements like monkey bars and pull-up bars, so Olivier could do some foot-free activities. After our work-out, we all went back to Kate and Olivier's apartment where we had Taco Club instead of Eating Club! We had all the fixings for a great meal: corn tortillas (I found these in the 'ethnic' section of a grocery store. They are quite expensive), home-made salsa, home-made beans, home-made guacamole, ground beef, taco seasoning Bobby and I brought from the States, shredded Mimolette cheese (as close as it gets to Cheddar in France), crème fraîche (even better than sour creme!), iceberg lettuce, and chips! Bobby and I haven't had tacos since we've moved to Paris, so it was a nice treat.

In other news, I have a part-time job lined up, thanks to Kate! Kate works at a pharmaceutical advertising agency, and her boss had mentioned that she wanted an English-speaking nanny for her children. Kate said, "I know an American woman looking for work!" I met with the woman and we discussed hours and activities and her expectations. The first two weeks of July, I will be with the children from 9am-8pm Monday-Friday. The children are 5 and 7 years old. The 7 year old has had one year of English lessons at school, while the 5 year old speaks not a work of English! However, I am to only speak English with them in order for them to learn the language. I am pretty sure that I will end up learning a lot of French from them as well. After those two weeks, the children will be on vacation outside of Paris. Starting in September, I will nanny them from 9am-8pm every Wednesday (their mother wanted to hire me full-time, Mon-Tues, Thurs-Fri 5-9, all day on Wednesday, but I want to keep my schedule open for more flute teaching and playing). The coolest part about the job (beside the fact it pays in cash) is that on these Wednesdays (in France, there is no school on Wednesdays. Instead, children attend school Mon-Tues, Thurs-Fri from 8 or 9 until 5pm) she wants me to take the children to different museums and exhibitions, so I'll be paid to go to museums!

In other slightly less exciting news, Bobby and I have started our 'garden.' We have a window box where we are growing (or at least trying to keep alive) 3 herbs: chives, tarragon, and Thai basil. The chives are delicious on scrambled eggs, pasta, and boiled potatoes. The tarragon is great for making vegetable dip and goes in many traditional French sauces. Bobby is also a big fan of my French recipe for Tarragon Chicken. The Thai basil gets added to stir-fry, boiled potatoes, and Thai curries. We really enjoy having the fresh herbs and look forward to adding to our little garden!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Sunburns and Stock

The past few weeks in Paris have been mostly cold, windy, and rainy. On Wednesday night it poured so hard we could have sworn we were in the middle of a rain forest! Since Thursday, however, the days have been getting sunnier and warmer. To celebrate this beautiful Saturday, we join our friends Kate and Olivier at the out-door public pool in Puteaux, a lovey town just to the west of Paris. The pool opened at 1 and was packed by 1:15. We were lucky to get 4 recliners together (thanks to Kate for staking them out). For the next 3 hours we sunned, played around in the pool, and ate frites (fries) and glace (ice cream). Bobby and I made sure to put on our sunscreen, but we still managed to get sunburned. Oh well, a sunburn means there was sun!

You may notice in the photos that both Olivier and Bobby are wearing pretty short swimsuits. While it's true that such male swimsuits are more fashionable in Europe than in the States (it always seems to be the creepy old men with huge pot-bellies who wear little Speedos in the States), it is actually required by French public pools to wear such suits! No board-shorts allowed. Such a rule is enforced for health reasons. It is thought that because board-shorts can be worn as regular shorts people will attract dirt and germs into the pools since the shorts were on metro seats and other such filthy places. The sad part is that Bobby is now sporting a lovely sunburn on his upper legs, since that area hasn't seen the light of day since the early 1980s, when short shorts were the rage for little boys.

After our day in the sun, we came back home and went to the local fruit/vegetable vendors to buy food for the next three days' meals. The local vendors (fruit/vegetable, meat, fish, and cheese) close on Sundays and Mondays, so Saturday is always a busy shopping day unless we want to eat out until Tuesday. We also bought a rotisserie chicken for our dinner, which will turn into chicken noodle soup for tomorrow and Monday. These already-cooked whole chickens are a great deal at 5 euros, plus perfect for those without an oven like us. Accompanying our chicken this evening were mashed potatoes and peppercorn gravy. It sucked mashing the potatoes with just a little fork, but it got the job done, plus built up my arm muscle. Sticking with the traditional French course order, we prepared and ate our salad after the main entrée. The French do this because they say the salad is nice and light after the heavy entrée. Our salad was the same salad we've eaten almost every night since moving to Paris: roquette (arugula) with betterave (beet). I add goat cheese and balsamic vinegar to mine, but Bobby eats his as is. It was a nice dinner made all the better by the Gerber Daisies you see on the table. Bobby bought them for me; he knows they are my favorite flower. You can also see the ghetto vase we had to make since we don't own a proper vase.

With the bird carcass I am making my first-ever batch of stock! I am very excited to see how it turns out. I added a carrot, celery, two small onions, a bay leave, and a few peppercorns along with the bird bones. Hopefully it'll turn out well enough to be the base for tomorrow's chicken noodle soup.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

We are legal!

Today Bobby and I completed the final step towards obtaining our long-stay French visas. At 8:30 am, we went to the Ministère de l'Immigration, de l'Intérgration, de l'Indentité Nationale et du Développement Solidaire office (a mouth-full, I know). After we checked in, we were directed to two different locations. Bobby had to take his medical exam, which involves an x-ray of the lungs to make sure he don't have tuberculosis, an analysis of the x-ray, questions on his medical history and current health, blood pressure test, plus an eye exam, height check, and weight check. After he finished all of this, he handed in his medical report, plus 300 euros (holy moley!), to the préfecture conveniently located in the same building, and picked up his visa. He was done by 9:45.

I, however, was in for a treat! After I checked in, I was instructed to sit in a room with 26 other people, where we watched a 30 minute film about life in France. The film was in French, so I had a little device that translated the talking into English. It looked like one of those audio guides you get at a museum. Oddly enough, most of the film was dedicated to describing the rights women have in France. "A woman does not need the permission of her father, brother, uncle, or other male figure to get a job in France." "Women can vote and are treated as equals under the law." "Women and men have equal rights in all areas of French life." The reason so much focus was put on this issue is because many immigrants in France come from predominantly Muslim countries in the Middle East and Northern Africa. After the video ended, I met with a worker who went over the Ministère Contrat d'accueil et d'intégration, an 'integration and welcome contact' you are obliged to sign stating that you understand France in a democratic, secular nation. I was also given a diploma stating I had attended the film.

Next I went for the language assessment test. Oddly enough, I was pretty excited about this because I was told that if my French was bad, i would be given free (free!) language lessons, provided by the state. I went into the office of the assessor and he asked me some basic questions (all in French, or course):

Language Man (LM): Vous-êtes travaillez? (Do you work?)
Me: Non, je ne travaille pas. Mais, mon marié, il travaille at Paris 6. (No, I don't work, but my husband works at Paris 6).
LM: Qui fait-il? (What does he do?)
Me: Umm... il... il est rechercher pour la... la... ah, la ordinateur! (Umm... he... he is a researher for... umm... ah, for computers!)

After this exchange, which lasted longer and included questions about when/where/for how long had I studied French, did I attend university, what did I study, what kind of music do I play, he had me say my phone number in French, read a little passage in French and answer questions about it, and write out some information to see if I could write French. After all of this, the guy switched to English and said, "Ok, your French is very good, you have passed, congratulations, you don't need classes." I looked at him for a moment then said, "Are you sure?" "Yep," he responded. Darn. I was really looking forward to those classes.

After getting my language proficiency diploma, I took my medical exam, which was a repeat of the process Bobby went though. I, however, discovered I've lost over 10 pounds since moving to Paris! Yipee!

The best was yet to come, though (better than knowing you've lost 10 pounds even though you've been eating a ton of bread, desserts, butter, and salt? Yep, even better than that): after I paid 300 euros (holy moley!), I picked up my titre de sejour (long-stay visa) and noticed it said 'Autorise son titulaire a travailler' (authorizes the holder to work). I realized I have been granted a working visa! I can legally work in all of France. I am not sure why I have been given such a visa, but I'm not going to complain about it. McDonald's, here I come!

In other news, Bobby now has a 'license to eat watermelon.' His words, not mine.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Paris, day 98

Today marks our 98th day in Paris. To celebrate, we made some saucisson (salami) sandwiches, with a fresh baguette, and some cornichons (pickles). Yum!

The night before we made chili on the kitchen floor! (Our cuisine really is tiny.)

Today is the first Sunday of the month, which means that most museums in Paris are free! So with Picasso still fresh in our minds from Barcelona, we decided to go visit the Picasso museé in Le Marais --- a very hip artsy district that once was a swamp until the Knights Templar drained it in the 12th century.

Pictures are not allowed, but I managed to snap this one of Picasso's "l'Acrobat." I call it "Booger 69." It is one thing to take a photograph of a painting in a museum; but it is entirely another thing to take a photograph of a painting in a museum. Rather than faithfully capturing a work unobstructed, I desire more to capture people experiencing the work, which gives the work a context and depth missing otherwise.

Here is my favorite picture like this, taken July 5, 2007, at the Louvre. We see Carla taking in Whistler's Mother, while a bespectacled man walks through the frame. Not only do we instantly recognize an American masterwork, but we see the concentration of a beautiful woman surrounded by the bustling museum.

After going through the Picasso museum, we found the National Archives. We quickly toured an exhibit of some of their more interesting holdings, as well as the beautiful building. The archives even contain documents from Charlemagne in 797! (Charlemagne's father was King Pepin the Short.)

At the end of our visit to the Archives, we still had time and so we came across another free museum: Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature, which is the Museum of Hunting. We wouldn't have gone if we knew that was what it was about, but we are glad we went.

This exceptionally odd and charming museum has room after room full of different stuffed animals. On the ceiling of one room were the heads of five owls, with their feathers covering every part.

In another room there was an funerary ibis sculpture from 400 B.C. Egypt, just sitting on a table.

I kindly greeted a 3.5 meter polar bear.

And Carla was wooed by a stuffed gorilla.

Once we had visited all three floors, we rushed home to have some leftover chili, and our standard roquette avec betteraves salad. Yum!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Barcelona, Day 3 and 4

On Thursday I (Bobby) had the opportunity to deliver a talk to the Music Technology Group at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra --- which was the impetus for our trip. This is a world-renown first-rate research lab in music technology, founded in 1994 by a fellow graduate of Stanford, which has consistently produced excellent work in my field.

Before my talk I met up with my friend Hendrik from Berlin, whom I hadn't seen since 2000. Hendrik works there now, and was excited to show me his work since our research interests overlap. I met with one of his students too, who had several excellent questions. After this, I went to lunch with Hendrik and the director of the lab, and learned much more about life in academia in Barcelona.

Then I was rushed to the classroom, plugged my computer into the overhead, and was told, "Valencia is on-line. You are a go!" The audience numbered about 25, and were exceptionally warm and interested. The talk was very well-received, and I had numerous questions. Afterward I had the chance to meet with several students to discuss their work, and to answer additional questions. One said, "I have downloaded your dissertation, and have a lot of studying to do!"

To celebrate my presentation, Hendrik took us to a very good fresh seafood restaurant. You line up in front of live, or just recently deceased, seafood, point out the things you want, and they fry it up for you. We got mussles, shrimp, a tuna steak, calamari, and little octopi, seen below.

After dinner we joined Hendrik's student and went to a bar to finish with some beers. Below is my friend Hendrik --- whose g/f lives in Paris. So we will be seeing more of him very soon.

Our last day, Carla and I were going to sun at the beach, but the skies were gray and it was a bit cold, so we devoted the entire day to exploring museums in the gothic quarter of the city. During our walk we saw a very obedient and responsible dog.

We first visited the Picasso museum, which is housed in a number of beautiful 14th century houses on Carrer de Montcada --- a street providing the best examples of gothic architecture in Barcelona. The majority of works in the museum was donated by Picasso himself, and those close to him, and its strength is that it contains many of Picasso's early works, and school assignments.

No picture-taking is allowed in the museum, but once outside we were able to take pictures of the courtyards of the houses.

The stonework was very impressive; and the longer we stayed, the more the details became apparent.

Then we visited the museum of Barcelona's history, which took us from prehistoric times tens of thousands of years ago, to the late Dark ages. They did not allow any photos in this museum, so we cannot show you the wonderful tile mosaics unearthed on-site, or the necropolis. You can see some of the museum at the link above.

We also came across this beautiful arch over the Carrer of the Bisbe.

Finally our time in Barcelona was finished, so we packed up our belongings and trudged off the airport to come back home to Paris.

Barcelona, Day 2

A trip to Barcelona without taking in the fresh seafood is a mistake. So we had an excellent seafood dinner our first night at a beach-side restaurant filled with hustle and bustle and not all tourists. We were amused when a waiter brought a live lobster to the table of a couple who were indecisive about whether to order the lobster. They retreated to the menus and ordered salads instead.
For our meal, we wanted paella -- but not just the standard rice and fish sauce. We saw on the menu something called Arroz negre, or black rice. We of course love Korean black rice, so can Catalan black rice be much different? We ordered it, we ate it, and we loved it! But the rice itself was not black, it was white and covered with a purple-black sauce. Back at the hotel we Googled what we ate and learned that the black sauce is made from squid ink! Had we known that, we might have paused before ordering -- but just a bit.

The next day, on our way back to visit the main cathedral wearing modest but not unstylish clothing, we came across the Archives established in the 14th century. Today it is housed in one of the many palaces in Gothic Barcelona, many of which have wonderful courtyards inside. From this website it says a bit about the history of the archive:

[The archive] was created by a royal decision of Jaime II of Aragon in 1318. For centuries, it was considered a Royal Archive, the exclusive property of the monarch, and was housed in the Royal Palace in Barcelona until 1770. Along with the deeds regarding the Royal Heritage, government and legal documents were kept there, among them the series of records of the Chancellory. ...

The number of cabinets used to hold the deeds that were considered useful grew to 32, and four rooms were made available as a document deposit. The proto-notary saw to it that records, Parliamentary processes etc., were periodically deposited in the Archive, as stipulated. In addition, the collections of some houses of the Order of the knights Templar, which had been suppressed, archives confiscated from rebel nobles, and archives from estates acquired by the Crown, were also deposited, also by royal decree. ...

The archives are open to the public, and have on display many texts that are over 800 years old. Much of it is legalese, which is as exciting as reading contemporary legalese. The scribes of yore were careful what they put on parchment, unlike today's youth, most of whom don't even know how to use parchment unless a mouse is attached.

We made it inside the main cathedral --- the Cathedral of Santa Eulalia --- this time obeying the univeral sign of "worthyness;" though again we saw several people inside dressed in unworthy clothing.

And here is one of them. There is a lovely cloister next to the church that is home to a gaggle or two of geese. They appear to love the water and attention they receive from visitors, or perhaps they are just more ecclesiastical than the others.

The cathedral was built mostly in the 14th century, building upon roman ruins as well as an old Episcopalian church, the house of a bishop, and a necropolis. Underneath the cathdral is the tomb of Saint Eulalia, who was the inspiration. To be an inspiration for a cathedral means, of course, that you must have suffered the most extraordinary tortures imaginable, and the fate of Eulalia did indeed meet that criteria. Her "thirteen tortures" by the pagan Romans included being rolled around in a barrel pierced with knives, cutting her skin with hooks and thistles, ...

... having her breasts cut off, being hoisted on a X-shaped cross ...

... burning alive, and finally decapitatation. And when it was all over, a white dove flew from her neck, and snow fell on her dead body to cover her nakedness. I am glad I chose the path of engineering research.

We continued our torturous day of sight-seeing by visiting La Sagrada Familia, a church started in 1866, and continuing to be built today. Much of the inside is under construction, but the outside fascades, and the crypt are finished.

Aside from being an exemplary masterpiece of Antoni Gaudi, one of the more interesting parts of this church are its cracks. Here you see a piece of plaster attached over a crack on January 19, 2007, which itself has cracked and separated about a millimeter. I wonder whether this necessitates an unplanned flying buttress or two.

On our way back to the hotel we stopped at the fruit market we found the day before. We got a kilogram of strawberries, a 1/2 kilo of cherries, a mango, and a big slice of watermelon all for about 4 euros! We had to lug it back about two miles to our hotel, which was torture. But when we arrived it was pure bliss.