30 May 2008

Il Pleut!

WHEN YOU ARE not satisfied with a purchase, or feel you have been misled about a product, it is often possible to return it for a refund. Usually, all you need is the receipt.

Well, I'm now looking for my "the weather is great in the South of France" receipt -- because I want my money back.

It's raining today, just like it rained yesterday. And the day before. And the day before that.

And the day before that!

[Note: we actually don't mind the rain all that much, mainly because the region desperately needs it. But the past two weeks have been incredibly wet -- making it hard to do all the outdoor activities that abound in this area. The kids area eager to ride bikes and go to the beach. The parents are eager to get the kids out of the house].

Computer Problems...But a Good Start

KERRI'S LAPTOP IS dead! We don't really know what happened, but the new HP dv2000 laptop we bought just before moving here is now dead. Or perhaps I should say, like Billy Crystal's character in the Princess Bride, it's 'mostly dead.' The lights still come on and the cd drive seems to work, but there's nothing coming up on the screen.

But there may be hope -- thanks to the fact that is't stil under warranty. After a long conversation (and some routine tests) with the HP customer service lines in the US, they gave me the HP-France phone number and I placed a call. They told me to call back to set up a time to have the computer picked-up for service. So Kerri called on Tuesday...and the courirer arrived the very next day and took the computer for service, with a promise to have it back in about 7 days.

If this works, I'll be pretty impressed. Of course, there's also a good chance we'll never see the laptop again

26 May 2008

Weekend Car Rally

GEARHEADS WE'RE NOT! In fact, I know so little about cars that sometimes I'm a little self conscious about it. But that doesn't mean our family doesn't like to visit the occasional car show -- especially when it's in the main place of our village. Last weekend our little village held a historic car rally, complete with everything from old rally cars to new Ferrari's. But what made this all the more fun for the kids is that the car owners were offering rides: 5 Euros (which went to an Alzheimer's organization) bought you a 10 minute ride -- super loud engine and all. Patrick and Julia got to ride in a early 1970s Renault Alpine and Henry got to ride in...well, you'll have to see the video. It doesn't capture the sounds very well, but you can see the sites of our little car rally.


25 May 2008

Cannes Update: Last One

AWARDS WERE JUST announced in Cannes and the winning film -- 'Entre les Murs' (The Class)-- is a docu-drama about life in a Paris junior highschool -- using real teachers and real students. As someone who is now a teacher in France, I'm very interested to see it.

Only Matters to Me

RODE MY FIRST real col in France today. Nothing to brag about, but painful on the legs nevertheless. Details: 13.7k, 710 meters high, don't know the average grade -- but quite a bit steeper at the front end of the ride (with a big kick up at the very end).

This won't mean much to most of you. Just ignore me for right now.

24 May 2008

It Took 9 Months...

IT ONLY TOOK us 9 months to realize that Picard (a French grocery chain that sells only frozen foods) sells frozen bagels. Tonight's dinner menu: bagels with cream cheese. Lots and lots of bagels with cream cheese. And, of course, a nice cup of coffee.

23 May 2008

Gas Prices

I KNOW IT'S not fair to do straight comparisons between the US and Europe with relation to gas prices since there are driving forces that make the prices very different. However, I'd just like to say that there is no color on this map that illustrates how much I paid to fill up our car this afternoon. In case you can't read the key very well, the prices go on a scale from green (cheapest) to red. The darkest red areas are where prices are above $4.00 per gallon. France would need some sort of dark, blood burgandy color.


22 May 2008

Cannes Update: My Red Carpet Moment

FIRST OF ALL let me say there wasn’t actually a red carpet, but I did attend my first Cannes ‘premier' last night and it was about what I expected: glitz, glamour, stars, a level of superficiality I’ve never experienced before --it had it all. I’ll give all the annoying details of the evening (including lots of name-dropping) in a later post. Right now I’ll just focus on what I went to see and how I got an invitation. It turned out to be quite a little saga.

It started last Monday evening when a colleague asked if I would like to attend an event two day later at the Festival -- a premier of a documentary film directed by Jermy Gilley called The Day After Peace, which chronicles his attempt to get the United Nations to establish an official Day of Peace. I’m not going to try to explain it any further, but instead direct you to this website where you can view a trailer. I urge you to take a look. The film centers around Gilley, but also prominently features Jude Law (yes, he was there; yes, he’s hot; yes, he’s way shorter than me). Here's a story about Gilley, Law, and the film from a British newspaper.

But the night before the event I received an email saying that due to the huge demand to see the film, I was being uninvited. I wasn't going to be able to attend because the people at the door and were going to have lists and I wasn’t going to be in the list! My colleague tried to talk to the organizers by no amount persuasion was going to work -- we were no longer invited, leading me to this sobering reality: high school history teachers don’t have much pull at the Cannes Film Festival.

Well, I decided I was going to go anyway. So Wednesday morning I did some research and found the phone number of the hotel that was hosting the party, a swanky little joint just off the Coissette called Hotel 3.14. I gave them a call and explained to the woman on the other line that I was calling to make sure my name was on the list for the film screening that evening. She looked over the list and didn’t see my name. I told her there must be a mistake and could she please add my name. And you know what? She did!

But I wasn’t out of the woods yet. I had no idea if the woman on the phone was actually putting my name on the list or just saying she was putting my name on the list, so even as I arrived at the venue I didn’t know if I was actually going to get past the door. Making matters worse was the fact that when I arrived the line of people waiting to get in extended 200 feet down the street. As I went to take my place at the end of the line, I scanned the crowd for anyone I might recognize and two things came to mind: 1) how is it possible for all these people to be so great looking, and 2) the last time I saw this much plastic was when I accidently opened my sister's Barbie-drawer in 1984. [Note: And it wasn't just the women! I saw one guy who appeared to have cheek implants. It looked like he had boiled an egg, cut it in half, applied one half to each side of his face, and covered them both with brownish-orangish face make-up. And one of the women I saw had so mch collagen in her lips they looked like the jet safety barriers you see on aircraft carriers.]

But I digress. My attempt to get in took a sudden turn for the better when I saw one of the parents of a student of mine – a parent who just happens to work for an organization that was helping to coordinate the event and just so happened to be in charge of…letting people in! Can you believe the luck. When she saw me she told me to wait right at the front of the line. Ten minutes later I was walking into the huge tent set up on the beach – right behind Dennis Hopper (yes, he looks great; yes, he’s way shorter than me -- I’m guessing 5’6, tops).

The rest of the story later.

(Excerpt from tomorrow’s post: After seeing Selma Hayek in person I realize she doesn’t come across very well on camera.)

20 May 2008

What Did You Just Say?

PATRICK AND JULIA were doing homework over the weekend and they happened to be studying homophones. Now, we have these in English (red v. read; straight v. strait, hoe v. ho!), but the French language takes homophones to the next level -- they are everywhere! Take this for example: in French the following words are all pronounced vair [like the English ‘fair’, but with a nice throaty ‘r’]

  • vert (green)
  • vers (towards)
  • une verre (glass)
  • une ver (worm)
  • une vers (verse)

That’s FIVE words that are pronounced exactly the same. But there are plenty of other examples. How about these words, all pronounced core [but, again, with the fancy ‘r’ sound]

  • la cour (courtyard)
  • le court (court, like tennis)
  • court (short)
  • le cours (course/class or grand courtyard)
  • courre (a conjugation of 'to run')

Or these -- again, pronounced the same:

  • vingt (twenty); le vin (wine); vain (vain); vint (a conjugation of 'to come')
  • c'est (it is, or it's); s'est (a reflexive version of it is); sais (1st/2nd person singular of 'to know'); sait (3rd person singular of 'to know'); ses (a possesive pronoun); ces (these/those), and, of course, the letter 'c'.
Kerri and I have both been having a hard time understanding the French language recently (think of it this way: we can ask someone a question, we just can’t understand them when they answer). It’s bad enough when you don’t know the idoms and figures of speech (a big part of any language), but it makes it harder when so many words sound the same.

Here's a fun link to even more French homophones (hope you caught the sarcasm there, cause I'm laying it on pretty thick).

[obscure reference guide: layng it on pretty thick]

18 May 2008

Cannes Update 2: Mike Tyson

PARTLY BECAUSE MIKE Tyson lived in the Washington, DC area during much of his professional career, partly because I'm fascinated with his life story, and partly because he once hit someone I know in an act of road-rage (I'll have to tell you about that some other time), I've been very interested to see the reaction to the new Tyson documentary that debuted this weekend in Cannes. The reviews are in it seems to have been well received.
Photo: Mike Tyson and his family on the red carpet this weekend.

17 May 2008

Ile Saint Honorat

LAST WEEKEND THE family split up a bit as Patrick went with a friend to the Historic Grand Prix in Monaco (lucky bastard) while the rest of us visited one of the two islands off Cannes called Ile Saint Honorat. The island, known to the Romans as Lerina, was uninhabited until Saint Honoratus founded a monastery on it at some time around the year 410. Today it is a tourist destination because of it's beauty and location only a mile of the Cannes harbor -- but the monastery is still there and is still running. Part of the beauty of the island is that you easily walk around it in under and hour and there are many places to stop for a quick picnic and a swim (assuming it's not as windy as the day we went).


Obama and Kramer

BARACK OBAMA HAS endured a lot of criticism lately because he doesn't wear a US flag pin on the lapel of his suit (yes, that's the state of US politics in 2008). Kramer faced a similar problem as this clip shows. See, Seinfeld has covered every possible life senario. [note: if you're really a Seinfeld fanatic, try to guess the clip before you watch it and leave a comment if you got it right].


15 May 2008

The Boogiemen Swing

MANY CITIES AROUND the world have street performers who entertain tourists and locals with everything from juggling acts to comedy routines to musical interludes. The city of Nice is no different. When I came to interview for my current job about a year ago, I remember seeing a New Orleans-style jazz group playing on the Cours Saleya. They stuck out in my mind because I have always loved old-style Dixieland jazz (and they were singing the standards in English). Anyway, I've seen them around Nice quite often since then and have always enjoyed their music. I've also learned that the name of their group is The Boogiemen Swing.

But here's where it gets fun.

The CIV has an impressive music program and one of my students is apparently a good jazz guitar player and is thriving in the program. I got to talking with him one day after class about jazz music in general and he mentioned that his father is in a jazz band in Nice and wondered if I had ever seen them. Of course, I didn't know who he was talking about, but I soon learned that his father is part of ... The Boogiemen Swing. They play lots of gigs in jazz clubs around the Cote d'Azur and he's invited Kerri and I to come out one weekend to see them in Nice. This summer they will also be featured in the very popular Nice Jazz Festival. (Our friend over at Poppy in Provence will probably enjoy this post because she's in jazz band as well...I think I have that right.)

Hear some of the music they have posted on their myspace page. If you live in the area it's very possible you've seen them. He're a short video of them performing.

Exactly Like You - Boogiemen

[Late Update: it appears the video isn't working properly, but you can at least see a photo of the group. Go to the myspace page linked above to hear some of the music.]

14 May 2008

It's Here

DEPENDING ON YOUR perspective, May 14-25 is either the 'Most Glamorous 12 Days of the Year' (unofficial slogan of the city of Cannes) or the 'Most Annoying 12 Days of the Year' (unofficial slogan of the residents of Cannes).

In any case, the whole region is geared up for an onslaught of actors, directors, writers, tourists, paparatzzi, wanna-be's, and celebrity stalkers,

Cannes Film Festival Official Site

13 May 2008

Bac Blanc Orals Start Tomorrow

TODAY DURING A break I went to the Place Bermond in Sophia to have a bit of lunch and play a game I made up called "Who doesn't smoke over here?" Anyway, I needed some time to prepare for my first baccalauréat oral exam as an examiner. This, of course, is a foreign concept to a kid like me from the States. In the French system, students complete what is called a baccalauréat -- a series of 2-4 hour exams and 15-20 minute oral exams (in each class!) at the end of their Terminal year. These exams are crucial for them as they attempt to get into the universities they want. The students at the CIV have a remarkably good record on these exams, with many scoring in the top 5 percent nationally. The oral exam that I am giving over the next three weeks is 'bac blanc' or 'practice' test. Basically, it will work like this:

Students have signed up for 20 minute slots on Wednesday afternoons. When they arrive they will pick a question from a list of 40 that have been prepared by the OIB program coordinators in Paris. They will then have 20 mintes to prepare -- in a separate room with no notes -- a 5 minute oral presentation on that topic. After the 5 minute presentation I will ask them other questions about the program for 15 minutes. During this oral exam, another student from their class will be observing (just the three of us in a big room).

From my point of view it's really just a 20 minute conversation with my students about everything we have covered this year -- basically US and European foreign and domestic policy since 1945. Somehow I don't think the students view that way. Although this is just the bac blanc, it is counted as a large part of their grade for the trimester.

And for me, this is also a 'practice' test of sorts because in June I will travel to Paris with some colleagues from the CIV to administer the real oral exam to students from one of our schools in Paris. I've got to be ready too.

09 May 2008

I Love It When the French Struggle with English

I’VE HAD MY share of ‘learning French’ embarrassing moments so it was nice to see one of my students have an embarrassing moment of his own today (I’m all for laughing at the expense of others). Just before a test I asked the students if there were any questions. A boy in the back of the class raised his hand. He wanted to know if he needed to use his own paper or if I was going to provide it. He phrased his questions this way (and in a thick French accent, remember):

Do I need to take a sheet?

The only response I could think of was, ‘I don’t know. Do you?’

Why Are All the Fans Jumping Up and Down?

IF YOU’VE READ much of this blog you’ll know that we (OK, mostly I) have been to quite a few sporting events in and around Nice. You can read about some of them here, here, here, or here.

At soccer and hockey games in Nice there is a lot of singing and chanting – very typical in Europe. Once such chant involves the entire stadium jumping up and down while performing the ‘song’. Patrick and I both tried in vain to figure out 1) what everyone is saying, and 2) why was everyone jumping up and down? After listen to the chant dozens of times, all we managed to ascertain is that the chant had nine syllables and the final word was niçois, as in, ‘from Nice.’ So when the fans began this ritualistic chant I would jump up and down with the crowd and yell, ‘blah blah blah blah blah blah blah Niçois!’ Patrick was incredibly embarrassed. To make him fell better I promised to go to the internet to find out what the fans were really saying. A few clicks around Google and I found what I was looking for. Here is the chant in French followed by a translation:

Qui ne sauté pas n’est pas Niçois.
Translation: whoever is not jumping is not from Nice.

Ah, that explains a lot. Check out this link to see the chant at a real match. The clip is from Lyon, not Nice. But that's probably OK because many in France think Lyon was the first club to use it.

07 May 2008

Here Goes Nothing

WELL, THIS SHOULD be interesting. Here's is a quick summary of our trip last weekend...in French. Don't get too excited; Barbara -- our wonderful French teacher -- helped quite a bit. Some new parts have been added without her edits, so its probably got some errors. Here we go:

Le weekend dernier on est allés à ouest de la Provence. Mon père et sa femme étaient avec nous. Samedi matin, on a visité le théâtre antique à Orange (1ere siècles). Il a fait beau toute la journée. Samedi âpres midi, on est allés au Chambon, un petit village dans le Massif Central. On a marche dans le village et on a vu l’église du prêtre protestant André Trocmé et sa maison. Il était résistant pendant la deuxième guerre mondiale.

André Trocmé était jeune pendant le guerre. Il avait environ trente ou trente cinq ans. Il a convaincu les villageois de cacher des juifs parce que c’était la bonne chose à faire. Tour les habitants l’ont aidé et ils on caché plus de cinq mille juifs.

Après on visité l’église et sa maison, nous sommes allés boire un verre. J’était un café (Kerri aussi) et mes enfants on pris des jus de fruits (pommes pour Julia, ananas pour Patrick, raisins pour Henry).

Le weekend était très bonne. Merci pour ma père et sa femme.
CJS and KRS (and Barbara)

Le Chambon

WE SPENT LAST weekend in the western part of Provence (again) and the Massif Central mountain range, partly because my dad and his wife were visiting and my dad really wanted to visit the small village of Le Chambon. My dad’s interest in the village goes back to events that took place there during World War II. (You can read about those events here and I'd recommend a quick read because it's an amazing story). We also spent time in Orange and Avignon. Orange is quite stunning because of the 1st century amphitheatre that dominates the town. It’s a must see if you are ever in the region.

[Ed. note: If you read the previous post you’ll see a summary of the trip in French. Don’t get to impressed though. This was an exercise for our wonderful French teacher Barbara, and my original version looked nothing like the corrected version you see above. I’m also a bit embarrassed that it reads like a textbook geared for 8 yr olds.]

Bye Bye to French Culture?

THE FRENCH ARE constantly worrying that their culture is being compromised by outside influences (fast food chains, shopping malls, people from England in general). This week I learned about a new restaurant open in Valbonne that may give credence to these concerns -- the place is called Jimmy's Killer Prawns. I think the chain is actually South African, but the name screams 'Jersey Shore', not Cote d'Azur.