31 August 2008

We'd be Talking About This at the Diner


My 'Diner Buddies' and I have been emailing back and forth about the latest political developments in the US. But it was more fun when we talked about these things on Friday mornings.

There were three of us who used to meet every Friday at the Tastee Diner (see photo) in Silver Spring, MD at 6:30am. We usually talked about sports and politics (is there anything else?) while chowing down on oatmeal, juice, and coffee. [Note: OK, I admit oatmeal is kind of a pansy thing for three strapping men in their 30s to eat at a greasy diner. But it's not as bad as you think: we ordered it with raisins and brown suger!] It was also understood that, if at all possible, none of us was to schedule any work appointments until at least 10:00 on Fridays. Priorities!

I miss the Diner (not the restaurant, the Friday mornings) -- especially during high campaign season. With one of us now living in Virginia, one in California, and one in France, we're going to have to make a specially effort to reclaim our Friday mornings! But it will happen.

Back to Work

TEACHING DOES HAVE some advantages -- ones that I had kind of forgotten about in my 4 1/2 away from the classroom. The free summer is quite nice. But it's back to work and tomorrow (Monday) I will find out my schedule for the year. I'm a bit concerned because I am slatted to teach one particular class that, last year, met on Friday afternoons from 3 -5 pm.


With any luck they've changed the schedule completely.

27 August 2008

Part Time Neighbors

WE COULDN'T LEAVE Puivert without saying a big 'thanks' to our summer neighbors. Vic and Gay live in a beautiful house next to the one we rented and they have been incredibly nice and helpful this whole summer. Whenever we had a question about the area (where is there a market today? which are the best Chateaus to visit? how far a ride is it to Mirepoix? what is the Cathare region, anyway?) they had the answer. And Gay often brought us beautiful products from her garden: beans, tomatoes, zucchini, plumbs (Kerri made plumb crumble. Yum!). And quite often we received a wonderful platter of freshly baked muffins -- which were too good to describe in only one blog post. Patrick, Julia, and Henry were always eager to say 'hello' to them each morning -- which was usually pretty easy because Vic and Gay spend a lot of time outdoors on their patio.

Last night we joined them for dinner at a nice little Afghan restaurant here in Puivert (yes, there is an Afghan restaurant in this tiny french village!). We had a great time talking about their travels, US politics (Vic loves US politics!), and their life in France.

While on the subject, I encourage you to visit Vic's blog because it summarizes and incredible feat that he will undertake next year. Vic will be 70 next summer and he is planning to walk from Puivert to his childhood home...in Northern England!! Both Vic and Gay are avid walkers and cyclists so I have no doubt that he will be able to do this. His goal is to make the walk in 70 days, arriving at the home where he was born on his 70th birthday! How great is that. You can see all the details at vicsbigwalk.blogspot.com.


Au Revoir Puivert

THURSDAY MORNING WE will leave Puivert and return to our home near Antibes. It has been an incredible summer in so many ways. Some of you know that the house that we rent in Le Rouret is one that we have to vacate during the months on July and August. It many ways, that is a bit of a drag (moving around, packing things up, etc.), but we now realize that it's also kind of a cool thing because it means we can spend two months of the year in another part of France at no 'extra cost'. In other words, we don't have to pay extra for our 'vacation' because during the months we are away we're not paying any rent on another home.

July and August have been wonderful, especially for the kids. Not only did they get to spend several weeks with Kerri's parents (thanks PP and GG), but they also got to be a little more independent during these months. Because Puivert is a small little village, Kerri and I let them do quite a bit more things on their own -- things like riding their bikes around the village, exploring the small country roads, walking to the bakery, running into the village to get ice cream, or running to the store for some milk. Little things, to be sure, but quite a bit more than they have been able to do 'on their own' before.
Since today was our last day, we decided to spend a couple of hours at the local lake. A lot of the crowd has left already, but there were still quite a few people around -- we arrived early enough to stake out a plot of sand to build sand castles. At first our goal was to try to replicate the Chateau Puivert you can see in the background of this photo -- but we didn't have the right shaped tools so Patrick came up with his own design.
Oh, and the photo at the top was taken at a small water park/picine in Axat. Don't let this photo of Julia fool you, she didn't spend much time relaxing -- she went down the water slide about 100 times in one hour!

24 August 2008

iPod Playlist (No French Songs)

iPOD'S HAVE BEEN around for a long time, but we have only had one for about 4 months. For Mother's Day I bought Kerri an video iPod [Note: if subjected to Dick Cheney-style interrogation methods I might have to amend the previous sentence to read: 'for Mother's day I bought myself a video iPod...which Kerri occasionally gets to use']. Anyway, since we now have this device we log on to iTunes from time to time to see what music we might like to download. We've downloaded a wide variety of things -- from classical, to jazz, to rock, to High School Musical (both albums!), to French lessons. But it wasn't until about 2 weeks ago that I figured out how to create a playlist -- a self-created 'album' of sorts. Since I've started listening to the iPod during bike rides (listening in only one ear means I'm being safe, right?) I was now able to create a playlist to listen to while riding around. Here's the list in the order it plays:

  • Eminem: 'Lose Yourself'' (a little motivation to start)
  • The Killers: 'Somebody Told Me"
  • Jimmy Eat World: 'The Middle' (I'm a sucker for cheap guitar pop)
  • Linkin Park: 'One Step Closer'
  • Linkin Park: 'Crawling' (Two Linkin Park songs a bit much? Probably.)
  • Dream Theater: 'Constant Motion' (4 words from the song: 'wheels in constant motion')
  • Dream Theater: 'Forsaken' (Two Dream Theater songs a bit much. No Chance!)
  • Clay Aiken: 'Solitaire' (just kidding!)
  • Foo Fighters: 'Everlong'
  • The Killers: 'Mr. Brightside'
  • Disturbed: 'Facade'
  • Blur: 'Song 2' (Caps beat the Sens in '98) *
  • Europe: 'Final Countdown' (don't judge me)
  • Coldplay: 'Vida la Vida' (Hey, there is such thing as a cool down!)

That's it. That's the list. Of course, I can only pick from songs that are actually on the iPod and since I don't really too many songs I'm a bit limited (I think we've used about 1/3 of the total capacity so far). What am I missing?

We're letting Patrick and Julia put together playlists next. Maybe we'll post those as well.

*[Obscure reference: 'Caps beat the Sens' -- a reference to the fact that in 1998 the Ottawa Senators of the NHL began playing 'Song 2' by Blur during their playoff games (and introduced the Woo Hoo towels). The Caps met the Sens in the playoffs that year and beat them 4 games to 1. I've liked the song ever since.]


23 August 2008

Winning Ticket?


Worth Mentioning...1 Year!

IT'S WORTH MENTIONING that we have now been living in France for a full year. To be honest, the day came and went without us noticing (it was the 21st of August). Obviously, the year has been a wonderful experience for all of us; something we could have never imagined a few years ago. While we miss our family and friends dearly (not so much Jim, though), we have been lucky to have a lot of them visit during the past 12 months -- and we're still waiting for a few.


22 August 2008


WE'RE GOING TO visit Bordeaux for a couple of days. We've wanted to go for a while, but's a good 8 hours from our house. 3 1/2 sounds a bit better.

21 August 2008

A Simple Bonjour

THERE IS SOMETHING delightfully simple about 'bonjour'. Not that it has taken me a year to realize this, but I just got thinking about it again today. I was walking down the street and I saw a guy about my age walking toward me. It was just him, me, and the 50 feet that separated us. Similar situations in the States often caused a mild amount of stress to creep into my body. What should I say? Should I go with 'how's it going'? What about 'hi there'? But wait, he's about my age so maybe a 'what's up' is the right call. Of course, there's always 'hey' with an accompanying head nod. Ah screw it, I'll just pretend that I'm getting a call on my cell phone and avoid the situation entirely.

No so in France. At the appropriate time, a simple 'bonjour' is just right.

18 August 2008

New Favorite Olympic Sport?

SPORTS HAVE ALWAYS been something that I have enjoyed, whether participating or watching. I've often said that I'll watch any sport if they put it on TV (a claim I no longer make after having watched 20 minutes of Pétanque on Eurosport last Fall). But I still enjoy watching just about anything -- which is why the Summer Olympics are so fun. Once every four years I enjoy watching a bit of Dressage, Archery, Kayaking, Rowing, and Fencing. Of course, my favorite Summer sports to watch are the biggies like swimming, gymnastics, and track & field (or athlétisme like the French like to say). During the past week-and-a-half I have been asking Patrick and Julia which Olympic sports they like the best. Patrick's list includes soccer, track & field (especially the field events), swimming, and cycling. Julia likes swimming, gymnastics, and diving. But today they agreed that they might have a new favorite Olympic sport, and after whatching the video below, it's tough to argue with them:

That was a clip from the Athens Games, but it's similar to what we watched from Beijing today. The kids think it's awesome -- especially compared to what their dad can do on the trampoline at a local park we go to from time to time. I can barely stick my landing on a single forward flip. Boring!

15 August 2008

The Critérium Cycliste International de Quillan? Who Knew?

YES, MORE CYCLING. A few weeks ago Kerri and I noticed a banner hanging betwen two trees advertising a criterium bike race to be held in the neighboring village of Quillan on Friday, August 15 (that's today). We weren't exactly sure what kind of event it was, but our guess was that it was a small community race that might feature some of the area's best amateur riders.

We were wrong.

The race was actually the Critérium Cycliste International de Quillan, the oldest criterium bike race in France (it was first held in 1938). And it's not a bunch of amateurs; it's actually a well-repsected race that draws some great riders -- past winners include Jacques Anquetil, Laurent Fignon, Pedro Delgado, Richard Virenque, George Hincapie, and Sandy Casar. And while today's race did include some area amateurs, it also featured Tour de France riders Sylvain Chavanel (Cofidis), Stéphane Goubert (AG2R), Nicholas Portal (Caisse d'Espargne) and...Tour winner and CSC rider Carlos Sastre (that's him with P & J in the above photo). A total of 50 riders made 75 loops around a 1.12 km curcuit through tiny village streets and Sastre ended up winning the race after a final lap sprint against Chavanel and Goubert. [Note: I must admit that I was convinced Sastre wasn't going to try to win. I told my wife and mother-in-law that he would just show up, collect his appearance fee, finish in the middle of the pack, and return home to Spain. Boy was I wrong. He led out on a lot of the laps and sprinted to a relatively easy finish. Geez, now I like him even more than I already did.]

A fun event to be sure. We were happy that PP and GG could see it since they missed the TDF by a couple of days. Some photos:

Henry has a prime spot to see Stéphane Goubert.

The narrow streets of Quillan, France.

The bridge leading into Quillan.

P & J with Sylvain Chavanel


14 August 2008

Picasso, Braque, and Rasberry Muffins

A FEW MONTHS ago Patrick and Julia had a school project where they had to research the life and works of a famous artist from the Mediterranean region. Julia was given Pablo Picasso and Patrick was given Georges Braque. It was Picasso and Braque that developed the art movement known as cubism, and that movement has it origins in the small French village of Céret. Picasso and Braque spent a lot of time there in the mid 1950s.

We visited Céret today and spent some time in the Musée d'Art Moderne Céret where we were able to see some original Picasso works (no Braque -- too bad). The kids actually enjoyed the museum, partly because we made an effort to work our way through it pretty quickly, and partly because their school project was still fresh in the minds.

After the trip to Ceret we made a quick stop along the coast for some ice cream and coffee, then returned home where we had a nice treat from our neighbors (see here for more): fresh rasberry muffins. Now, I'm not one to throw hyperbole around lightly, but I could have eaten about 1000 of them -- they were that good. A big 'thanks' from all of us.

And this quick photo with PP and GG at the coast in St. Cyprien.


13 August 2008

7th Olympics Games (Almost 8th)

THIS IS THE face of Jeannie Longo, a female French cyclist who has been French and/or world champion a stunning 55 times. She first competed in the Olympics at the 1984 games in Los Angeles (it would have been the 1980 games if not for the French boycott of the Moscow games). Sunday in Beijing she finished 24th in the road cycling competition -- 33 seconds behind the winner, 25-year old Nathalie Cook. Longo, by the way, will turn 50 in October. She has publicly stated that the Beijing Games will probably be her last.

11 August 2008

GW Bush in Beijing...and Watching the Olympics in France

GEORGE BUSH BECAME the first US President to attend an Olympic Games Opening Ceremony on foreign soil when he attended the opening of the Beijing Games on Friday. By Saturday he was on to other things:

This photo is so in need of a good caption. Got one? Let us know.

While on the topic of the Olympics, I must admit that it's a little disappointing not watching the games on NBC, and not just because I have a bit of a man-cruch on Matt Lauer. There is something very patriotic about watching the Games on a network that focuses on your own country. This is the second Olympics in which I have been out of the country, but the first in which the USA was involved (yes, bright readers, the other Games were 1980 -- when the US boycotted the Moscow Games). But I must admit that the coverage on BBC and France 2 and France 3 has been pretty comprehensive so far, with a fair amount of coverage of all sports and all countries. There is intense coverage of the swimming events, with Michael Phelps the huge story (by the way, was that about as good a 4x100 relay as you will ever see?) and I have seen live coverage of both the US men's and women's basketball teams. Gymnastics will be covered in depth beginning Tuesday and that's always fun once every four years. Of course, I've also seen a lot of live fencing and more rowing that I need, but that's OK.

One key difference I've noticed between US coverage and the coverage I'm getting here is that neither the BBC or French TV package the Games into a tight prime-time program like NBC does in the States. We aren't able to find much Olympic coverage after about 5:00pm local time (11:00pm in China) because the general feeling seems to be that if you don't see the events live then you're stuck with getting the results from short highlights on the news programs. BBC has a nice highlights package that is available 24/7, but no prime-time programming. A subtle difference to be sure; but something that takes some getting used to.

Late Update: our friend Monique (see her here) has the answer as to what GWB is doing in the above photo. And she should know -- she used to work with the girls in the photo. Read the comments! Thanks Monique!


10 August 2008

Happy Anniversary!

KERRI'S PARENTS ARE visiting from Maryland and Sunday they celebrated their anniversary so the day couldn't go by without a photo and a greeting. One of the funny things about their anniversary is that they almost never get to celebrate it by themselves. Because of the date (August) they are almost always with their children and grandchildren on vacation, and that means very little peace. (But I suspect that like good parents and grandparents, they kind of like it that way!)

Happy Anniversary!


Barca! Barca! (2)

THE BARCELONA POSTS will come in small bits, partly because I'm spending a lot of time watching the Olympics (more on that later -- I've got to deal with French and British TV coverage which means lots of Judo, Rowing, and Equestrian). But our friend
From Norway With Love (that's Roland, for those of you who know) recently asked if we saw any Antonio Goudi buildings. Well, yes, we saw lots -- that was one of the main things I was looking forward to in Barcelona. Here are just a couple:


08 August 2008

Barca! Barca!

WE'VE JUST RETURNED from our first visit to Barcelona. There are many reasons why it is one of Europe's great cities. Here's one of them:

We had a great time. More to come.


06 August 2008

Gone for a Few Days...

...OFF TO BARCELONA until Friday (that should make my sister and mother happy -- they love Barcelona).

05 August 2008

Carcassonne: Some Thoughts

THERE'S NOT MUCH one can say about the French city of Carcassonne that a photo can't say better . The fortress of Carcassonne (pictured) is visually spectacular and incredible to see in person. Our visit last Sunday was lots of fun for everyone, but I think Patrick, Julia, and Henry enjoyed it the most -- mainly because they each came away with some state-of-the-art, top quality plastic medieval toys: a princess crown for Julia, a huge battle axe for Patrick, and a sword and helmet for Henry (photos and end of this post).

I'm not tempted to give all the historical details about Carcassonne (OK, yes I am) because it would take too long to include everything. Instead I'll just comment on a few points and let you read about the amazing history on your own. (oh come on, click and read up on a bit of history!). Here are a few thoughts from our day trip:

  • Is Carcassonne incredibly touristy? Yes. Does it matter? No.
  • We went to a medieval knight-fighting demonstration (you know, jousting, horses, sword fights, princes, princesses). It was actually not much different from the kind of show you can see in places like Medieval Times in the U.S. -- the only real difference is that in Carcassonne you watch the show inside the walls of a 12th century fortress and in the States you watch it in a non-descript building in a strip mall.
  • I've got to admit that the Knights in these kinds of shows are often pretty good looking.
  • We attended a organ concert in the Basilique Saint-Nazaire (10th c.) which was amazing. The huge pipe organ dates back to the 1522 and is one of the oldest in the world.
  • If the tourist shops make even 1 Euro profit for every plastic sword, shield, axe, or helmet that they sell, that's a business opportunity I want to get involved in. Every damn kid who left the castle had one.
  • People who have seen the fireworks show here on 14 July say it's breath-taking. I'll bet it is.
  • A couple photos to illustrate some of my points (more to come in the photo section at the top of the page)


04 August 2008

Mouches...I Hate Them

BEING IN A charming village in the South of France, amidst sprawling farmland and the majestic Pyrenees, doesn't change my attitude about flies (mouches). I hate them.

Il y a des mouches partout!

Don't know if I said that right, but what I am trying to say is that there seem to be a lot of flies in this part of the country. It probably has something to do with number of cows, goats, sheep, and horses in the area (or, more specifically, the amount of -- shall we say -- 'bi-product' produced by the cows, goats, sheep, and horses). Whatever the reason, the flies are beginning to interfere with my summer. At this moment I am trying to type while simultaneously flailing my arms in all sorts of directions trying to kill one that is buzzing around my head.

I will kill that fly, I promise you that.

Late Update: Done.

01 August 2008

Biking Around

I ALMOST KILLED my father-in-law today. We've been going for bike rides each morning and today I took Les on a new route -- one that introduced two new elements to our ride: 1) a beautiful 5.5km descent into a town called Quillan, and 2) a not so beautiful 8 km ascent back up the mountain. We're not talking Cat 1 or anything, but the route has a 1500 ft change in elevation -- enough to get 'Pop Pop's' heart beating at a comfortable 350 beats per minute. But the climb proved no match for Les's will-power and stamina. And as the photo on the left shows, there was even time for a smile at one of the switchbacks along the route. We were definately ready to get home for a nice cup of coffee (or 3) and some breakfast.

Thanks to Google Earth, you can see the route we took -- and you can click to enlarge.