31 January 2009

Haven't Done This in a While

THIS IS WHAT happens when you combine a lazy Saturday evening with new video-editing software.

Now we just need a better quality camera. You can see the real The Office opening here (in case you're not familiar with American television.

30 January 2009

Spring is Coming

IT WASN'T THE temps in the mid 60s that make me think Spring is close. It was the official unveiling of the Paris-Nice route. It was announced yesterday. They don't call it the 'race to the sun' for nothing.

It's still January and we're happy to have the snow nearby -- but I'm always ready for the Paris-Nice!


Snow Photos

FAMILY MEMBERS LIKE to see photos.

29 January 2009

Are We Going to Have to Start Calling it 'Freedom Cheese'?

IF YOU THINK the French didn't approve of the war in Iraq, you should see how they feel about the War on Roquefort.

It was quite a parting shot from the Bush Administration. One that they are talking about a lot in the small village of Roquefort-Sur-Soulzon in Southern France. On Jan 13th the Bush Administration -- as it was heading out the door -- revealed that it was slapping a 300% tax on authentic Roquefort cheese – the delightfully fragrant (it smells like wet sheep), creamy, tangy cheese that has made the Société des Caves de Roquefort famous. In effect, this tariff makes it virtually impossible for Americans to get authentic Roquefort cheese.

The United States' decision to tax Roquefort comes as a reaction to a European Union ban on US beef containing hormones. (What, you didn't think countries could be petty?) Now the French are all upset and vowing to increase their own consumption of Roquefort in order to make up for what they will lose in American consumption. (I can just imagine plats de jour all over France in the comming weeks: Roquefort salad, Pasta with Roquefort, Roquefort mousse for dessert, and after dinner coffee with a slab or Roquefort -- 35 Euros).

To be fair, the US government didn't only target Roquefort cheese, they also placed heavy tariffs on French truffles, Irish oatmeal, and Italian sparkling water, to name a few.

But it's the 600 residents of the village of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon that are most concerned. Most of them come from families that have made cheese for literally centuries -- it's a way of life. Luckily, only a relatively small percentage of their cheese goes to the US (Spain is, by far, the biggest importer). And, of course, Americans will still be able to buy Roquefort cheese in the supermarkets -- although it will be a domestically produced imitation and it may be sold under the label 'Freedom Cheese.'

26 January 2009

This is Just Cool

SOMETIMES I FEEL like writing about things that have happened during our stay here in France, and sometimes I just feel like putting up links to cool stuff. Today's a cool stuff day. Take a lot at the photo that can be found at this link. It's not so much the photo that's incredible, but what you can do with the photo -- you can zoom in to any part of it and get close enough to see amazing detail. The navigation is sort of like what you find on Google Earth.

The photo is of President Obama (first time I've written that) giving his speech. See who got the good seats and who didn't. (Hint for family and friends: Van Hollen got a good seat). You also get a bonus if you can tell me what Justice Clarence Thomas is doing.

I've now rated this photo the coolest I've ever seen on the internet. Navigate away!

25 January 2009

The Tempest

IF YOU LIVE outside France or Spain you may not be aware of the massive wind storms that have hit the western part of these countries this weekend. To get an idea of how strong the winds were, take a look at this video. It's only 20 seconds:

Yikes. So far 15 deaths have been blamed on the storms. By the way, I'll just assume that the radio we here in the background in this video is battery operated -- can't imagine winds that take down massive trees but do nothing to electrical wires.

Watch Your Wallets

A NEW PUBLIC tram has been up and running in Nice for about 14 months or so (photo of the new trains at left). And that's about how long it took local authorities to announce warnings on the trains about pickpockets. With 80,000 people using the train every day, it's not really surprising that criminals have begun to target the locals using public transportation.

But for police the issue is becoming more and more serious. Last week the electric boards which annnounce the train's next stop began communicating messages to passengers regarding pick-pockets. The measure was copied almost verbatum from the Paris metro.

There's something about public transportation and petty crime that just sort of goes hand-in-had. I assume this is also a problem in other French and European cities. There's probably some statistic out there ranking Europe's most unsafe metros.

We Should Be In Good Shape

A NEW STUDY by Swedish and Danish researchers caught my eye the other day in the IHT. The study shows that coffee may be linked to lower dimentia risk. These are the kinds of news stories I like to read -- especially while enjoying a nice cup of coffee. Kerri and I should be vibrant and alert well into our 90s.

24 January 2009

4 Years Old Today

TODAY IS OUR little Henry's birthday (that's on-ree, in French). Today will be his third birtday celebration for his 4th birthday because he's already had two back in the States. Oh well, spoil them while they're young. Happy Birthday Henner.

Birthday party photos to come.


23 January 2009

A Little Basketball

I HAVEN'T PLAYED organized basketball in a long, long time. But last night I ventured up to the brand new collège gymnasium in our town where they have started playing basketball on Thursday nights. I played for about 2 hours with with some local French guys -- which means, of course, that they contributed about 14 meaningless minutes, scored 2 points and had 4 rebounds. (Editor's Note: that was a cheap shot joke that references French players in the NBA. I apologize. And, yes, I know that only two or three of you even get it).

It was a lot of fun, despite the aches and pains I am experiencing today. Since there was only six of us we played half-court and had some fun games, mainly because there was a nice mix of players and ability levels. The one frustrating aspect of the evening was that I'm not up to speed on my French basketball lingo -- I didn't even know how to properly say 'I fouled you.' I'm going to continue going each week, but before the next session I'm going to figure out how to say (in French) some of the phrases you need in basketball --- like 'it's off me', 'nice pass', and 'in your face, b**ch.'


21 January 2009

20 January 2009

Washington, DC

KERRI AND I are watching the parade and thinking how much we love Washington, DC.


Mr. President


Our 44th President

AT NOON TODAY, Eastern Standard Time, in Washington DC, Barack Obama will become the 44th president of the United States and there is no denying that the moment will be one of the most significant in America’s history.

But the moment will be historic for reasons other than the ones I am constantly hearing about – especially here in France. Make no mistake, Obama is an important part of what makes today a special day and on some levels today is about him. But I caution anyone who makes today only about Barack Obama to look at the bigger picture – the picture that puts today’s events into larger focus. Too many reports I read and people I hear are turning today into a celebration of an individual. Today is about much more than one man. Remember, what America is doing today we have done 43 times before.

Today is partly about Barack Obama, but it is about so much more…

  • Today is about a nation rejecting the politics of fear and divisiveness.
  • Today is about a nation recognizing its place is in the world, not above it.
  • Today is about a nation turning a page in its long, often ugly racial story. Not reaching the end of the book, mind you, but definitely turning a page.
  • Today is about a nation celebrating a Constitution that is still unmatched in the world.
    Today is about one man placing his hand on a Bible and making a formal commitment to lead his country while we, the citizens, echo that commitment from our living rooms and dining tables.
  • Today is about a nation giving a new President a chance to succeed.
  • Today is about democracy.
  • Today is about all that is right about a nation.
  • Today is about Change (just like, I might add, the other 43 were in many ways about change – this isn’t the first time America has voted for ‘change’!)
  • Today is about Hope.
  • And today, perhaps more than anything else, is about feeling better about tomorrow.

Barack Obama is an important reason why today is a great day in America. But it would have been a great day even if another man was taking the Oath of Office.

Really, I swear.

19 January 2009

Deep Sarcasm

HEY, ANYONE KNOW where I can find some coverage of the Obama inauguration. I can't seem to get any 411!

How Much Do I Love the Internet?

RIGHT NOW, A LOT. I'm doing some work and listening to the live feed of the Washington Capitals game through nhl.com. It a national holiday in the US today (Martin Luther King Jr's birthday) so it's an afternoon game on the East Coast.

(This is also going to come in handy in a couple months when baseball seasons starts).
Late Update: Ovenchkin just scored (10:31 here in France) in overtime to win it. 2-1 Caps! I'm going to bed.

Macbeth Review

SO I WENT to see Macabeth on Sunday at the Théâtre National de Nice -- a beautiful complex near the old part of town. I won't go into too much detail but there are a few things worth noting:
  1. the answer is 'Mac-bess' -- that's how the actors dealt with the 'th' issue. Macbeth becomes Macbess.
  2. a very small, intimate theater with only about 250 seats. We were in row three so we were very close to the action at times.
  3. a fair amount of nudity -- something I was warned about.
  4. a very interesting experience visually (no, I'm not talking about the nudity, Jim). At several points in the play one of the actors had a portable video camera and was filming the action -- which was then being showed in black and white on a large screen behind the action. Quite intriguing.
  5. only 7 actors in the entire play, meaning that characters played several roles. Not only that, but the role of Lady Macbeth was played by two different women (perhaps symbolizing her character evolution?)
  6. Macduff's son is played as mentally retarded. Very tough scene to watch -- mainly because the actors were so convincing. (Thoughts on this interpretation?)
  7. Completely in French, of course. Though I know the work quite well there were still parts that were very difficult for me because -- as typical in Shakespear productions -- the company took some liberties. I had a hard time at those points.
  8. Brilliant, dynamic, passionate acting from everyone. Macbeth was terrific.
  9. Perhaps a bit long and drawn out. As a colleague of mine siad, he couldn't wait for Macbeth to die.

I asked a French students if she had read the play in French and she said yes. She also told me she thought it was quite a bit easier to read in French because there is little attempt to 'copy' Shakespeare. No iambic pentameter. No attempt at rhyme. Only an attempt to recreate the archaic language.

I'll see my students in class tomorrow so I can ask them what they thought of it.


17 January 2009

Sunday Outings

DOING A COUPLE of interesting things tomorrow (Sunday). First, we're all meeting a high school friend for breakfast in Cannes. Mike E. is in town on business and we haven't seen him in about 10 years so that should be fun -- it's always fun to visit with old friends in new places.

The second thing that I am doing (sans famille) is going to see Macbeth in Nice -- performed in French. We'll see how that goes. I know the play quite well so I should be able to follow the general plot -- but beyond that could be iffy. I'm mainly interested to see how the French actors deal with the 'th' in the title character's name. The French don't always have a lot of luck when they attempt the 'th' sound. (zees is zee way it sometimes comes out).

It's probably a good thing I'm not seeing Othello.


15 January 2009

Even Boulevard Saint Germain Feels the Downturn

AN INTERESTING LOOK at how the French luxury industry is dealing with the recession in today's IHB. The article (read it here) takes a pretty honest look at the industry and at French culture in general. Money quote:

France's national identity may seem wrapped up tight in the aura of luxury — elegant dress, sophisticated perfume, good food and wine, and no shortage of Champagne for the flimsiest of celebrations. But even though the French more than most Europeans appreciate the finest quality they can afford, they pride themselves on balance. France remains a deeply conservative country, one in which it traditionally has been unacceptable to show off material possessions. Most French use debit cards, not credit cards, which means they tend not to spend more than they have in their bank accounts. Getting a mortgage is a torturous process.
An good read.

14 Years? You Gotta be Kidding

I JUST SPOKE with Kerri who is at Reagan National Airport in DC waiting to board a flight to JFK at which time she'll board a flight for Nice. She and the kids stayed in the States an extra 10 or 11 days and have had a wonderful time relaxing and seeing friends. But I'm really happy that they're coming back.

It's funny, I was mentioning to some friends today that I'm not used to being in my own home by myself. I've done lots of travelling (especially in my previous job) so I've been away from my family for long (ish) periods before, but it was always me who was away. For the past 10 days I've been by myself in my own house -- and I've got to admit it's been a little weird. Kind of nice on some levels (quiet, relaxing, TV to myself), but mainly a little weird.

So I can't wait to pick up Kerri and the kids tomorrow. I'll have to give Kerri an anniversary kiss when I see her -- but one day late since our anniversary is actually today.

14 January 2009

How Do I Apply

Australia's Queensland Tourist Board is using the strained world economy as part of a new campaign giving job-seekers the opportunity to live six months rent-free on Hamilton Island in the Great Barrier Reef and make $150,000! In addition to basking in the sun all day, the job requires that the "island caretaker" keep a blog of their stay.
I wonder if the Cannes Mairie would be up for something like this?

The Runny Nose Factor

WITH ALL THE chatter created by my post about French food (not just the comments, but emails!) it's worth mentioning that last night I found a fantastic Indian restaurant just 10 minutes or so from our house. This is noteworthy because I was under the impression that we had to go to Cannes or Antibes to get Indian food. No longer!

Since I'm still on my own until Kerri and the kids arrive later this week I decided to head to Grasse for dinner last night. Now I'll be the first to admit that Grasse is not my favorite village in the area, but it's close to our house and it does have a nice vieux village so I decided to head that direction. I walked around for a few mintues until I saw a tiny little stree with three or four restaurants -- one of them Vietnameese (can't wait to try that one) and one of them Indian -- Le New Punjab. My wife swears she knew the restaurant was there, but I sure didn't.

The food was terrific and I judge Indian food partly on a 'runny nose' factor. If my sinuses begin to loosen up because of the heat, I know I'm eating pretty good Indian food. Some others at the restaurnt didn't seem to share my enthusiasm for heat. At a table right next to me -- a table with two English couples and two French couples -- I heard the English couples ask for their food to be spicey. When the waiter asked the French couples how hot they wanted their food, they responded pas piquante. No runny nose for them.

('e' or no 'e' at the end of piquant?)

By the way, my opinion of Grasse has just go up by a factor of at least 3. If I find a good Thai restaurant there it may become my favorite village on the Cote d'Azur.

13 January 2009

30 Years Old

LAST WEEKEND MARKED the 30th anniversary of the Centre International de Valbonne (CIV) -- the school where I now work. There was a huge fête on Saturday night with speeches, food, wine, and live music (our very own CIV Jazz Band). The administration also created a small brochure that highlights some of the basic facts about the school. Some of them I did not know. The CIV at a glance:

  • 800 collège students (grades 7-9)
  • 800 lycée students (grades 10-12)
  • offers the Baccalauréat Option International in English, Spanish, Italian, German, and Russian
  • offers options in S (sciences) ES (economics & sciences) and L (literature)
  • has 103 students also cross-enrolled in L'Ecole Supérieure de Danse de Cannes.
  • 300 prépa students
  • 193 teachers
  • 832 beds for boarding students
  • 1 cinema with 250 seats
  • 2 restaurants that can seat 520 people in total (open 7 days/week)
  • 22 hotel rooms (in case you want to visit your kids)

There are other things in the brochure that look like their interesting, but I can't read it because it's in French.

12 January 2009

It Was the Dukes. It Was the Dukes. It Was the Dukes

IF YOU'RE REALLY on your game you'll recognize that line from Trading Places, one of my all time favorite films. I like it so much I'm watching the entire movie right now in French, and it's still good. It's on TVBreizh!

Trading Places used to come on TV in the States all the time and it became sort of a joke between Kerri and I that I would try to see how many time I could get her to come into the room during the 'It was the Dukes. It was the Dukes. It was the Dukes' scene. You know, I'd say something like, 'Kerri, could you come in here and look at something,' and the scene would be on the television. Or if she was watching something I'd run into the room and say, 'check out channel 30,' and it would be the scene. I've probably done this 10-15 times throughout the years (it never gets old...for me!)

Well, I tried to get her again about 15 minutes ago -- this time by Skyping her just before it was time for the scene. Unfortunately, she was out getting lunch, but her Dad and Patrick answered and I left a message. It would have been so great if she was there!

Next time.


10 January 2009

Haute Cuisine

THE BIG DEBATE yesterday among some of my French (and non-French) colleagues was this: is French food the best in the world? The discussion was cordial and civil until I suggested that French food might be a bit over-rated. That unleashed the fury.

I didn't push the point, but I did my best to explain that what you don't often find in French cuisine is spices. You find lots and herbs, with wonderful aromatic flavors, but you don't get much spice -- something I crave in foods. I know French cuisine went through a transformation during the Revolution -- a noticable move toward a more liberal use of herbs and less reliance on spices -- and it is this tradition that remains today. And, ultimately, French food is delicious and special and remains true to the ideas of it's modern 'founder' François Pierre de la Varenne.

But the point I did try to push is that by largely ignoring strong spices French food can, to a foreigner like me, come across as...dare I say it...boring! Ouch. I know that's probably too strong a term and believe me I didn't use that term in my discussion yesterday (partly because I have no idea how to say boring in French). And I know that these kinds of discussions ultimately come down to little more than personal preference. I love spicy foods. The French, in general, don't. Fair enough.

08 January 2009

If You Haven't Already...

...TAKE YOUR CHRISTMAS tree down. Now!

Hat Tip: Sullivan

Don't Go To This Website

UNLESS YOU HAVE loads of free time, do not go to this website. It's way to much fun and way to addicting -- perfect for those cold rainy evenings in the South of France when your family isn't home yet.

My brother-in-law introduced me to sporcle.com and it proved to be loads of fun during the holidays as family members gathered around the computer and tried to nail the lists. But don't go unless you plan to stay...and return. And don't get to confident -- you're not as good as you think.

Note: if you do go, send me your favorite list in the comments section.

07 January 2009

St. Obama

IF YOU THINK Barack Obama is facing high expectations in the States, you should hear what people are saying over here. In the past couple of days I have spoken with three or four people who honestly seem to believe that the world will be noticable different on January 20. Middle East Crisis? No worry, Obama will make it all better. Financial Crisis? Relax, Obama will whip that into shape. Aids? Hunger? The Baltimore Orioles? No problem, Obama will fix everything.

OK, so I'm exaggerating a bit. But just a bit.

Take my premier history class today, for example. We happen to be talking about the Great Depression and FDR's New Deal (pretty good timing, no?) and we naturally began to discuss some of the similarities between the economic situations in the 1920s and 30s and those of today. It's fun for me because I get to spend a bit of time introducing and talking about some introductory principles of economics. Anyway, in the course of our discussion I asked my students to think about what role the government should play in times of economic crisis. We talked about the wide range of options that governments have -- from do-nothing (you might call this extreme capitalism) to do-everything (do Stalin's Five-Year Plans ring a bell?) and everything in between.

But after class I ran into a student as I was walking to my car and he/she* said (seriously, I'm pretty sure): 'I'm so glad Obama was elected because now we won't have another Great Depression.' I asked what he/she meant and the response was simple: 'Because he's Obama. He'll fix it.'

I see it may be time for a quick lesson on the principle of diminishing expectations. Look, I voted for him and I think he is going to do very well -- but he's not a Saint.


* students may read this -- so I'm not giving anything away for free.

Christmas Gift for a Newsie

THE FIRST NEWSPAPER I kept (and still have) was the Washington Post from the day after the Redskins won the Super Bowl in 1988. Since then I started keeping newspapers from what I consider 'historic' days -- big sports moments for teams I like, Presidential elections, major world events like 9/11, and the list goes on.

Knowing this, Kerri's parents went out on Nov. 5th of last year and picked up a few papers for me.


We're Back

OR, TO BE more accurate, I'm back. Kerri and the kids are staying for an extra week or so. No need to go on and on about our first visit to the States since our move -- just sufice it to say that it was a great couple of weeks. But after 2 weeks in the DC area with cold temperatures and high winds it is nice to be back to the always beautiful Cote d'Azur.

False! The part about 'beautiful,' anyway.

Since I've arrived back in France it has alternated between snow and cold rain every day and I have yet to see the sun. To make matters worse I don't know how to turn the heat up in the house.