Monday, September 28, 2009

Dad et Gloria sont arrivés!

The month of September has been a very busy month for La Maison du Sturm. A few days after my (Carla's) Mother and brother Jordan left after a fun week in Paris, Stacy arrived. Because it was her first visit to Paris, Stacy came out a few days before my Father and her mother, Gloria, so that she could tour the city. As described in an previous post, Bobby and I acted as tour guides for Stacy. Continuing from where that post left off...

On a Sunday, Bobby, Stacy, and I headed off to Versailles for a picnic, bike ride, and tour of the château. We met up with my friend from the American Library, Megan, and had a fantastic day! After the short train ride from Paris, we arrived at the château only to find a line several hundred people deep waiting to purchase tickets to tour the palace. Instead of waiting in the huge line, we purchased tickets to enter the 'gardens', which is really a huge tract of land filled with large ponds, water fountains, and beautiful grounds. Unbeknown to us, the day we went was during the Grandes Eaux Musicales when the water fountains are turned out. Incredibly, the fountains use the original pipe works from the 1680s! We had our lovely picnic next to such a fountain.

After eating, we all rented bicycles and biked around a fraction of the 875 hectares (over 2,160 acres). After two hours, we returned the bikes and returned to the gardens where we saw many of the fountains in all their watery goodness. About 2 hours before the palace was set to close, we checked on the line for tickets. Luckily for us we timed everything perfectly and there was no line at all for the tickets. Megan and I both got in free (she has EU citizenship and I have an EU visa, so being under 26, we get free admission to most museums in Paris), so only Bobby and Stacy had to purchase tickets. I have inside the Versailles palace a number of times, but it was the first time for everyone else. The rooms inside the palace never cease to amaze me with their size and decor. The molding and floors are beautiful, while the furniture is decadent and lavish. We even saw a statue of my great-great-great-etc-grandfather, Charlemagne. Can you see the resemblance?

Dad and Gloria arrived on a Wednesday morning. The original plan was for them to stay in a hotel that is directly across the street from our apartment. However, when Bobby and I walked into the hotel to make their reservation, we were told they were booked for the first two nights of Dad and Gloria's stay. Oh no! Luckily for us, our dear friends Kate and Olivier were out of town on their own vacation. They were kind enough to let Dad and Gloria stay in their great apartment in Puteaux. What life-savers! So on the day they arrived from Los Angeles, Stacy and I met them at the Chatelet train station and accompanied them to the Puteaux apartment.

In order to get on the France time zone and avoid jet-lag for their short trip, they wanted to stay awake all day and tour our neighborhood. After cleaning up and fortifying themselves with some French pastries, we all headed out for a visit to the Montmartre area. After touring most of the day, we met with Bobby back at our apartment. He played some accordion music for them on his button accordion, which was a new instrument for Dad and Gloria (they have heard him play back in the States on a piano accordion). After a long day of touring and being up for the better part of 36 hours, Dad and Gloria were having some trouble staying awake. Dad even nodded off while Bobby was talking directly to him! So that they could head back to Puteaux to get some rest, we all had an early dinner at a crêperie near our apartment. The food was delicious and it was a new eating experience for our guests. It is always fun introducing people to tradition French food that isn't escargot or coq au vin.

The next day Dad, Gloria, Stacy and I did some more touring in Paris. We went to the Musée L'Orangerie (where Monet's Water Lilies are housed) and the St. Denis Basilica so that Dad could see our great-great-great-etc-grandfather Pepin the Short. We had a nice picnic in the gardens next to St. Denis, where Dad and Gloria posed for the requisite baguette photo. After dinner in a traditional bistro near our apartment, we all went to burlesque show at the Casino de Paris. The show was a traditional French burlesque show from the 1920s, starring the famous Dita von Teese. While Dad and Gloria might have been a bit uncomfortable with the spectacle, Bobby, Stacy, and I really enjoyed the show!

The next day we all headed out for out three-day weekend trip to the North of France. Bobby and I rented a mini-van and drove through Paris for our first (and hopefully last) time. You'd think being from a place like car-centered Los Angeles would prepare you for driving in Pairs, but you'd be wrong. I think the only way to be prepared for driving in Paris is to spend a year as a wild monkey herder. It is a crazy, terrifying, nerve-wracking experience. Luckily, we only had to drive in the city a little bit before we were on the highway outside of the city. After a few direction mishaps, we found ourselves in the lovely town of Lille, birthplace of Charles de Gaulle and our friend Olivier. We spent most of Friday afternoon wandering around the pedestrian streets of downtown Lille. We saw the three main squares, window shopped, and took a lot of photos of the beautiful Flemish-style buildings. Dad was kind enough to buy me some boots that will keep me warm and dry during the cold French winter. Thanks, Dad! That night we ate in a very popular Flemish restaurant near the hotel. The next morning we visited the Palais des Beaux Arts, which houses a large collection of French and Flemish works of art. Bobby snapped this odd photo of an odd painting with an odd man. We also happened upon this champion show dog. The owner and groomer/trainer of the dog told us in secretive whispers that the dog is an American poodle, not the French poodle. "We don't tell anyone that it is an American poodle, though," they whispered to us, "because French people only like French things. We would never win if they knew it is an American poodle." Who knew of the dirty politics involved with show dogs?!

After our visit to the Palais des Beaux Arts, we drove from Lille to Arras, another beautiful town. Smaller than Lille, Arras is also known for its Flemish architecture. The center of town hosts a beautiful square surrounded by Flemish-style buildings and a lovely town hall with a tall belfry (which is a UNESCO world heritage site). What really defines Arras, though, is the Medieval-era tunnels that run under the center of the city. Originally mined for limestone until the 12th century, the tunnels were used by the British army in World War 1. During the 5 week Battle of Arras, when British troops stormed out of the tunnels to a surprised German front line, 120,000 British soldiers died, while 100,000 German soldiers died. The Battle was considered a victory for the British because they managed to move the German front line back by 11 kilometers. It was a very small reward for such a staggering death toll. The guided tours we took we pretty sobering.

After spending the night in Arras, we headed to Amiens on our last day. Amiens in the home to the Cathédrale Notre-Dame d'Amiens, the largest Gothic cathedral in France, and another UNESCO world heritage site. Begun in 1220, the cathedral dwarfs Notre-Dame de Paris! Aside from holding the title of largest gothic cathedral in France, is also houses what is claimed to be the head of St. John the Baptist. The skull fragment is decked out in some serious bling and is kept behind metal bars. A large number of people stood in front of the relic, praying and kissing the glass. I hope no one had swine flu.

After our visit to the lovely North of France, we drove back to Paris. We ended the trip with a great meal at a hip but decently priced Italian restaurant in the 17th arrondisement. Early the next morning, Dad, Gloria, and Stacy headed off to the airport (only one mishap: the hotel room we were finally able to get for Dad and Gloria didn't call them to wake up, so when the taxi arrived for them, I went to their room to find them just out of bed quickly throwing on some clothes). Bobby and I enjoyed two days to ourselves, then Bobby headed off to Madrid to the not-a-hotel La Casa do Brasil, and I prepared the apartment for our next set of visitors. More on that in our next posting!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

La Casa do Brasil no tiene jabon.

I (Bobby) arrived into Madrid late last night to the student dorm La Casa do Brasil at the Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia. My room was nice, there were two towels folded on my made bed, but I noticed my bathroom had neither toilet paper nor soap. So I went searching around the dorm. I found toilet paper in the hallway, but no soap. I went down to entrance to say to the man who let me in, "No tengo jambon" (I have no ham). His expression was curious until I simulated washing myself with a bar of soap. "Ah! Jabon! No, nosotros no tenemos señor." Then he said something about asking the chica at 8 AM for some soap.

In the morning I stumbled out of bed to find the chica with the soap, but the woman I found said she has no soap, and several words I did not understand, and something to the effect that "This is not a hotel señor." So I looked desperate, smelling my armpits, and she then motioned to follow her. After walking to a dark stairwell where she yelled for another chica, who showed up and looked confused at my request. Many things were said, including the "This is not a hotel" bit. I must have looked no comprende because she then took me to the manager, asked him to speak English to me, and repeated my request. He approached from the desk and said in English, "Yes sir, what is it you wish to speak? English? La Casa do Brasil is not a hotel. We provide you with bedding and towels yes, but not soap."

"So where can I get some soap?"

"You should go into town" and then pointing right he said, "Out the doors and go left. No more than 2 minutes."

So I start off on a 30 minute walk through the 8 AM streets of Madrid in which nothing opens until 10 AM --- the time the conference registration ends. After a nice tour I finally found an open food store on the corner and decided to try it. "Bonjour Señor. Vosotros tienais jambon?" "Si!" and he pointed to his refrigerated case of hams and sausage.

"No, no. Savon. Jamone, Jabon!" again charading the shower I so desperately wanted.

"Ah! Si si si." He then took a very long stick with pinchers on the end and reached up to the top shelf 10 feet above to bring down a 5 year old gallon of liquid soap. "Plus petite? Pequeño s'il vous favor?" Rummaging blindly through the rest of the shelf he pinched on a single black bar so old its cellophane packaging became a mist in the pincher's grasp.

"Dos euros."

I was willing to pay five euros for such a sweet luxury! And indeed, I will be bringing the rest of this soap home since I worked so hard for it.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Gums et Gommes

Carla and I are happy to report that our gums are in better shape now that we have found these his and hers gum stimulators with rubber tips. The odd thing is that we could not find these anywhere in Paris, and when we got two during our recent trip to Colorado, the packaging was in French. C'est les gommes.

We have lots of pictures to post of our most recent batch of visitors, but that will have to wait since I (Bobby) am heading to Madrid tonight (sans Carla) to give a speech tomorrow. Some bad pieces of recent news: I was not selected for the lectureship post at Queen Mary, University of London; and my application to a position at Trinity College Dublin was summarily rejected. Some good pieces of recent news: Carla was interviewed for a full-time position at the library, I have a new accordéon diatonique (many videos coming soon), and our French classes have commenced.

On my first day of class I arrived to find many of my classmates speaking French to each other. The professor started class, all in French, and after he was done presenting the syllabus he pointed at me and said, in French, "Introduce yourself. Say your name, you likes and dislikes, etc." So everyone looked at me, and I began. Once I had told everyone I am from California, that I am old, but I like surfing and mac and cheese, the professor asked people to pose questions. Where do I live, why did I choose to come to UPMC, etc. When my turn in the hot seat was over we circled around the room. Some people sounded like the have been speaking French for a very long time, but I understood much of it. When we got to one Portugeuse girl she said in English with a red face, "I don't know how to speak French." There was another man who had the same misfortune. Wrong level I guess. The two-hour class went quickly, and once it was finished I was not completely sure if we had homework.

Among everyone I met, I am the only one from the US. Others are from China, Malaysia, Vietnam, Honduras, Uruguay, Germany, Switzerland, Ireland, Poland, and Finland. So in order to speak with most of them I have to speak French. I told my first French joke too: When someone asked the proper pronunciation of "Au revoir" I said, "Les chiens français disent 'Arf Warf.'" (The French dogs say "Arf warf.") Only one person laughed while the others asked, "Chiens?" "Oui, vous savez, 'woof woof?'" (Yes, you know, "woof woof"?)

After class I walked back to the metro with the woman from Uruguay and spoke French the entire way. I told her about finding a place to live, and what my husband does, etc. It was exhausting, but fun. Now I am opening up to my colleagues at lunchtime, making a complete fool of myself in the process, but nonetheless it goes hand in hand with the process.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

So many visitors!

September has brought us many friendly visitors, some of whom we have not seen in a long time. From UCSB at Santa Barbara, Tilly and her daughter took a trip to Paris and stopped by our place for a nice apertif. Tilly has known Carla nearly as long as I have --- they worked together in the Media Arts and Technology Program.
And then next we had a visit from Stacy, who is posing for the obligatory fresh baguette picture.
She visited the school cafeteria at which I eat, which has lovely views of the Tour Eiffel.

As we walked to the Louvre on Saturday, we came across a neighborhood book sale. All the books are in French of course, so nothing was very enticing. But that will change because Carla and I begin our French courses this month.

The Louvre has many famous works of art, including the Winged Victory (seen here with the wingless Stacy and Carla), the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, and the Code of Hammurabi (seen here hiding in front of Carla). The Code of Hammurabi is one of the most historically significant pieces in the Louvre (what is it smiling at?). Created sometime around 1790 BCE in ancient Babylon, it is the oldest known written code of law.
Tomorrow morning, our swarm of visitors increases with the arrival of Carla's father Dale and Gloria. After their 5 days in Paris, we will bid them aurevoir, do a quick cleaning of the apartment, then welcome our English friends Nick and Clare for a fun long weekend together.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Monet's gardens

On Saturday, we (Bobby, Jordan, and Sharon --- Carla was in a mandatory civics course for her visa requirements) took a trip outside of Paris to Giverny, where impressionist painter of fame Claude Monet lived and constructed his gardens. I am not as big a fan of Monet as I am of Manet, but stepping into these gardens was especially delightful because it felt as if I was in a painting.

Bees were a part of this painting too, very busy with their instinctual responsibilities by doing nature's dirty work.

I literally stepped into the painting myself by adopting a foliage collar to blend in with the rest.

Monet was a big fan of Japanese art. A tour of his home at the gardens shows walls adorned with many Japanese woodcut prints, most of which are over a century old. A famous part of his gardens are the ponds and Japanese style bridges.

After a nice day spent in the gardens, Carla greeted us at home with her famous Tarragon Chicken! Spiced with tarragon from our very own garden --- which is not much of a painting, but a brochure maybe.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Dear Governor Schwarzenegger

Due to the budget crisis in California, and the subsequent sad state-of-affairs of the "solution" made by the California government, we have written and sent the following letter to Governor Schwarzenegger and eleven senators and assemblymen.

Dear Governor Schwarzenegger,

As recent alumni from the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB), we are especially distressed by the recently enacted 2009-10 California budget. First, University of California (UC) now has 20 percent less state support than it had at the beginning of last year. Second, the "solution" of the budget crisis by additionally cutting social programs helping the those in need, amid celebration that no taxes have been raised, is abhorrent. We are pleased that oil drilling off Santa Barbara's beautiful coasts will not yet resume; but that result provides no consolation for California's short-sighted treatment of higher education, and its egregious abuse of its most precious natural resource, its people.

After completing my degree (PhD Electrical and Computer Engineering 2009) at UCSB, where I worked and studied from Fall 2002 to Winter 2009, and my wife (BM Music 2006) from Fall 2002 to Spring 2006, we left the United States of America for my post-doctoral position at the Université Pierre et Marie Curie, Paris 6, France, where we are currently supported by a fellowship from the French government. During this time abroad I have been able to present my research at many academic and commercial research institutions throughout Europe. Everywhere I go I have asked, "How has the economic crisis affected you and this institution?" Many look at me with confusion and respond, "What economic crisis?" This is quite a contrast when compared with the messages we receive from our UCSB professors and friends about unprecedented measures being taken by the university (e.g., furloughs, staff salary cuts, hiring freezes, student fee increases, program cuts, etc.).

Is this the naiveté of European academics insulated from the world exterior to their interests? Not one bit. It is because the social and political systems in Europe believe in and support the fundamental right of education. It is because these systems are aware of the valuable impacts, both economic and social, of funding research at the cutting edge. It is because these systems have a sage perspective from centuries of war and violence, darkness and sickness, that the pursuit of knowledge — no matter its immediate application or patentability — is honorable and nobel because it alleviates suffering, it makes life longer and more enjoyable, and it empowers people and thereby empowers nations. To be sure there are also problems in France and the rest of Europe, and its educational systems are not perfect; but at least in my field, Europe is home to and fervently supports all the institutions that lead in my field of research. Perhaps the cuts made to the UC, as well as the State Budget are temporary; but the message you have sent is clear: "We care not for People — their education or their well-being." California believes it is virtuous to disinvest from its people.

This appalls us as Californians, it appalls us as Americans, and it appalls us as human beings. My wife and I refuse to be part of a system that believes it is virtuous to not pay more taxes, and for a government to not raise taxes, in a budget crisis such as this. From what my wife and I have experienced during our tenure in Europe, and our new perspectives on the true values of the government of California, we are interviewing for permanent academic positions in Europe. We are thus two examples of what UC President Mark Yudof has called a “brain drain” — the detrimental loss of talent from the extremely important and once impressive research infrastructure of UC to pastures tended to with more respect and higher dignity.


Bob and Carla Sturm

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Ils sont arrivés

After many flight delays and much standby tribulation, our mom and brother have arrived to Paris for a nice visit! And any guest of ours is obliged to take a photo with a nice Parisian baguette. Here is mom:

And here is brother:

Nothing beats jet lag like walking. So on our first day we walked and walked and walked, from our home to Sacré Coeur to visit the nice yet once drenched in the blood of many martyrs Montmartre district.

On the itinerary this week: visiting the school cafeteria at Bobby's work; Musée du Quai Branly; a visit to Giverny; perhaps a visit to Basilique de Saint Denis; Musée de l'Orangerie; a visit to Bonthé --- our favorite little tea shop --- eating lots of good food; and more walking.