29 April 2009

Washington Beats New York

AND THAT'S ALWAYS a good thing as far as we are concerned -- especially when it's the Capitals beating the Rangers (that's NHL hockey, by the way). Patrick slept with his Alexander Ovechkin jersey drapped over his covers last night. Well done, Patrick. It worked.

It was only the first round of the playoffs. Dreaded Pittsburgh is next.


The Minute-by-Minute Details

LET'S MAKE THIS short and sweet. I think bullet-points are best way to go in order to avoid unnecessary details. Here's what you need to understand this timeline: we were driving a 2002 Renault Scenic with 90,000km on the clock. Not exactly an ancient vehicle.

  • Thursday, April 23, 2009, 11:07am - we role out of our driveway and begin our trip to Annecy and Geneva.
  • 3:50 - while overtaking a truck, our Renault loses all power and we pull to the side of the road.
  • 3:52 - it becomes clear we have a pretty big problem.
  • 3:53 - we also realize we have no idea where we are (we took the 'scenic' route along the Route de Napoleon.
  • 5:00 - finally contact a garage and they come tow us to La Croix Haute, France (we'd never heard of it either).
  • 5:30 - we're told the car will have to stay at least 3-4 four days.
  • 5:31 - what the hell are we supposed to do now?
  • 5:32 - oh, there's a train station across the street? Sweet. We'll take the train to Annecy and rent a car when we get there.
  • 5:45 - I begin to think that this may cost us about 1000 Euros!
  • 6:00 - train is supposed to arrive.
  • 6:25 - train arrives.
  • 10:08 - we arrive in Annecy (layover, including dinner at Quick, in Grenoble)
  • Friday - Sunday go smoothly and we have a wonderful time.
  • Monday, April, 27, 2009 - 10:15am - Renault Garage in Veynes, France tells me over the phone that the car is très malade (it has a broken distributor) and can I call back later that afternoon.
  • 2:00 - with the help of our friend Candide, I talk to our local Renault garage to see if they might know how much it would cost to fix a broken distributor.
  • 2:01 - my stomach begins to hurt when they say 2000-3000 Euros.
  • 2:04 - the pain in my stomach worsens as the numbers 2000 and 3000 begin to sink in.
  • 2:05 - our local garage promises to call the garage in Veynes and talk with them.
  • 5:30 - the local garage calls to let us know that the Veynes garage thinks it will cost 5000 Euros to fix the car.
  • 5:31 - more pain in other various parts of my body.
  • 6:05 - we call the garage in Veynes (thanks again, Candide) and they now say it will cost 7200 Euros to fix the car and it would probably be better to just junk it.
  • 6:06 - 6:23 - I have no recollection of this period of time.
  • Tuesday, April 28, 2009, 9:20am - I visit a local english-speaking garage for their opinion on what to do. They say they can't imagine that a broken distributor caused that much damange. They also suggest I have to car towed back to our part of France because they have a feeling they can fix the problem for significantly less money -- and there is certainly no need to junk the car.
  • 9:30 - the english-speaking garage says they can tow it for 400 Euros. Great news!
  • 2:20 - the english-speaking garage calls to say there was a misunderstanding with the towing company and it actually going to cost about 800-1000 Euros. Not so great news!
  • 3:30 - Kerri and I begin hitting the internet looking for cars we can buy; not exactly a fun process in France!
  • 4:20 - I realize that our Renault Scenic -- the one I like to make fun of -- is actually a perfect car for us.
  • 6:30 - we head to some friends house for a wonderful dinner! It keeps our mind off the damn car.
  • Wednesday, April 29, 1:34pm - some good news. After spending the morning trying to figure out how to get our car (with all our things still in it, mind you) back to our house we find a place that rents tow-trucks by the day! Estimate to have it towed professionally were all in the 800-1000 Euros range.
  • 2:30 - using just my regular driving license, I reserve a flat-bed tow truck for one day 180 Euros plus gas.
  • 2:31 - I privately gloat that the towing companies will not be getting my business, or my 800 Euros.
  • 2:34 - I wonder if other countries let people rent flat-bed tow trucks with nothing but a standing driving license, knowing that they are going to drive 400km through very mountainous terrain.

That's the skeleton version of where we are right now.


Takoma Academy: 1989

YES. THAT'S THE year I graduated from high school in Takoma Park, MD -- just outside Washington, DC. Last weekend was my 20th renunion, which I missed because I live about 5000 miles away. It would have been fun to be there. This photo was taken at the reunion and from what I can tell it represents a bit less than 1/2 of the class. Some of my best friends from TA are in the photo and some of my best friends didn't seem to make it to the reunion either.

Everyone looks old great!

(We all look old compared to 20 years ago! I have seen lots of photo that have been sent to me and people really do look the same in a lot of ways. Funny how that happens. Lots of fun to see everyone again.)

27 April 2009

Weekend Trip

I'LL BEGIN BY focusing on what was great about this past weekend (the not-so-great parts will be forthcoming!). We had a wonderful time visiting Annecy and Geneva. The weather could not have been better and the scenery was spectacular. I'm not going to waste time with the play-by-play of the trip. We're going to upload an album that can be accessed at the top of this page, but here a just a few photos from the trip. (Note: thanks Soupe du Jour, but we got your offer for a quick coffee too late. That would have been fun).

A quick gelato along Rue Perrière, Annecy

Lake Annecy with the beautiful (still) snow-capped Alps in the background.

Collonges-sous-Saleve, France -- the college where Kerri spent 4 weeks when she was 16.

Main building of The Geneva School of Dipomacy and Internatioanl Relations -- one of the main reasons for our visit to Geneva.

Flowers in bloom at the Jardin botanique de Genève

You have to take this photo, don't you?


The Geneva 'sprayey-thing' (Henry's term)

It was a long drive home...

...but it wouldn't have been as long if we were driving this car!

We loved the cities and the gorgeous countryside. Stunning!
(Teaser #2: I mentioned in an earlier post that our car was somewhere along the Route de Napoleon. Well, not only is it still there, it ain't coming back! More to come.)

25 April 2009

Hanging Out at Mac-Doe

DO YOU KNOW what's great about McDonald's in France (besides 4 Euro Happy Meals, the coffee you can take with you, the new spring salads, and their hours)? Free Wireless Internet. For an unlimited amount of time.

That's in stark contrast to the hotel just outside Geneva where we are staying that charges 22 Euros for 24 hours of internet service.

That's why I'm sitting at the McDonald's just down the road from the hotel at 9:34 in the evening. In addition to my normal internet addictions (see the 'Reading List - US' tab on the right), I had a couple of urgent emails to attend to concerning our visit to Geneva. So...I jumped in the car after dinner and drove 800m to McD's, ordered a large coffee, and sat to to take care of a few things.

More on the trip when we return. (Teaser: our primary vehicle is currently sitting in a garage somewhere along the Route de Napoleon. Fun Times!)

Late Update: I'm looking at two workers at the cash register of McDonald's right now. One of them has hair like Slash and it's hanging losely by his shoulders. The other is virtually bald and he's wearing a hairnet. Just an interesting observation from Ferney-Voltaire, France.

22 April 2009

It's Not Just About the Directions

THERE ARE A lot of good 'map directions' website out there -- Map Quest, Mappy, Google Maps, just to name a few -- but I've got to admit that my favorite right now is Via Michelin, the popular site run by the French tire company. It's not that it's better at giving directions -- many sites do that just fine. What I love are the added little features: cost of tolls, estimated fuel costs, historical sites along the route, cafes on the motoroute, etc. But my favorite feature by far is this little symbol... ...which shows the locations of all the speed radars along your route.

I'm just mapping out our trip to Geneva and I'm making note of the speed traps. We'll leave on Thursday and spend a night in Annecy and two in Geneva. Like I mentioned a few posts ago, we're especially excited to visit Collonges-sous-Salève since Kerri went to school there for 6 weeks one summer back in the 1980s.

20 April 2009

Same Day, I Swear

HERE ARE A few photos that were taken at our house on the same day. We're having a kind of up-and-down spring in terms of the weather. Some days are warm, sunny and beautiful; others are, well, not. But last Thursday we had a bit of everything on the same day.

It was nice in the morning.
In the late afternoon this happened. That's hail.

More current-sized hail.

It's a bit fuzzy, but I'm trying to capture how the sun was shinning brightly way out at sea. I haven't figured out how to work all the gagets on our camera so this is the best I could do. But you can see the lack of cloud cover a few miles out.

Just before sundown. Sunny again.
Today was sort of like this again. I had to be in Monaco this morning and it was raining steadily. By the time I got home it was clear and beautiful. Is this normal? The kids loved today because it cleared up in time for them to go to a new park that has just opened nearby.
What will tomorrow bring?

Easter Gift

THIS WILL BE filed under 'good gift'. A big Thank You to Kerri's parents.
If there had been two pounds of coffee I would have filed it under 'great gift'!

19 April 2009

Bread, But No Photos

KERRI HAD A successful day in the kitchen yesterday.

She is beginning to bake more and more and just for fun she thought she'd try again to make some french-style breads (a first-attempt a couple years ago produced what can only be described as a whole wheat baseball bat). So she decided on a couple of recipes and made two different batches of bread. Since I have no photos to show you (we forgot) you'll have to take my word that both were a huge success! She made a couple of baguette-style breads that were crispy on the outside and dense and moist on the inside; then managed some honey-wheat rolls that were absolutely delicious. We took the bread to the beach in the afternoon where we met some French friends who issued an informal stamp of approval.

I'm consuming some of the baguette right now with a bit of butter -- OK, tons of butter --and some homemade apricot jam from a neighbor. If I had a cup of fresh coffee, preferably not from France, my evening would be perfect.

It was our friend Sandrine (who is French, but now lives in Denmark) who initially tried to help Kerri with bread-making. Well, two years later and we have good, homemade French bread in the house. We thought about Sandrine as we ate tonight.

17 April 2009

Friday Funny Clip

IF LAUGHING AT this clip makes me insensitive, than put a huge sign over my head that reads: 'insensitive'. Watch it all the way through.

[A personal note. This clip is from a newscast on NBC4 out of Washington, DC. The two men on the set are Jim Vance and George Michael (and don't let me forget Susan Kidd, who is also in the clip. She was an alternate anchor). I didn't seek this particular clip, it's just the one that comes up because of Vance and Michael's reaction. But it was fun to see because I grew up watching these guys every night at 11:00pm (just before bed). Vance and Michael have given me more news than just about anyone throughout my life.]

But didn't you like the clip?

Ah, Spring Break -- French Education Style

I COULD NIT-PICK about some of the challenges I face working within the French educational system, but why would I do that when they incorporate 8 full weeks of vacation into the academic year!

Spring Break begins today and that means a two week holiday that is a bit later than usual due to the late Easter weekend. We've been pretty ambitious during other breaks, but this time we're mainly going to stay here and enjoy the (please be good) weather. We have reason to be in Geneva next weekend so we'll take a few days and wander through Annecy, Geneva, and perhaps revisit Chamonix. Kerri spent part of a summer just outside Geneva (at Collonges) when she was 16 and she hasn't been back since -- so that could be fun. And she's always told me how much she loves Annecy and the kids and I have never been.

Meanwhile, we'll relax around the house, visit with some friends, hit the beach, ride bikes, and I'll grade loads of papers (after I catch up on US politics and sports).

14 April 2009

Happy Tax Day

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 15 is the day Americans must file their tax returns. As Expats living overseas we have an automatic extension until June 15. I'm about 99% sure about that.

If anyone happens to know if I'm wrong, could you email me.

Right away!

It's 10:45 on Tuesday night and if I'm wrong, I've got a long night ahead of me.

Oh, and yes -- we qualify for IRS Form 2555.


Do Americans Like France?

IT LOOKS LIKE the answer is that most of us do.

It's not exactly a secret that some Americans love to hate France (surely you remember Freedom Fries). The reasons for this attitude are usually absurd and driven by political hacks looking to self-inflate their 'pro-American' credentials. I mean, let's be fair, there are plenty of reasons to dislike France without getting political, am I right? I'll start with no coffee-to-go as Exhibit A.

But a recent study shows that American attitudes toward France are -- wait for it -- largely based on politics. Shocker! Take a look at these numbers from a recent surbey conduected by an American media firm. The results show that American dislike for France can be summarized in two words: Southern States.

Question: Do you generally have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of the country of France?

Demographic (percentage who answered favorable)
All - 61%
Men - 55%
Women - 67%
Democrat - 66%
Republican - 55%
Northeast - 71%
Midwest - 67%
South - 43%
West - 69%

In case you're wondering, people in Southern states also had the lowest favorable ratings of San Franciso, New York, and Europe in general. On the plus side, they rated Cracker Barrel very high.


12 April 2009

Too Much Web?

THIS PARTLY EXPLAINS why I am resisting Facebook (somewhat successfully) and rejecting Twitter (successfully).
Why has the number of MySpace visitors remained essentially flat in the past year? Why do social networks fail? Maybe it’s claustrophobic to know this much about other people. Maybe we like the way we’ve been able to live over the past 50 years, the freedom to move where we want, date who we like, and insert ourselves into any number of social cliques, before we cast aside those who bore us and never look back. Independence is a gift, even if it’s lonely sometimes, and solving childhood mysteries may make people happier, but it doesn’t necessarily turn them into the people they dream of being. So we keep perpetuating the cycle of birthing and abandoning new online communities, drawing close and then pulling away, on a perpetual search for the perfect balance of unity and autonomy on the web.

You can click here to read the full article, titled: Do You Own Facebook or Does Facebook Own You? It's not directly related to blogging but it's very interesting and some of the same principles apply.

11 April 2009

Bordeaux Not Immune From Recession

THE 2008 barrel tastings took place a couple weeks ago in Bordeaux but reports say there was one major problem this year: no one was talking about the potential of the 2008 vintage (early reports are that it could be quite good -- not 2005 quality, but better than '06 and '07). Instead, everyone was talking about the global recession and what impact that would have on Bordeaux's most prestigious châteaus.

The Bordeaux Barrel Tasting is suposed to be one of the big events of the year on the Bordeaux wine calendar as importers get a chance to taste the wine before the futures go on sale. Local media reports suggest that the event was a busy as ever (an estimated 13,000 importers, writers, and pretentious pricks* descended on the Left and Right bank for the event), but rather than talking about the quality of the wine it seems producers and importers were wondering if the futures campaign would be dead before it even got started.

Apparently, the recession is clearly being felt among French wine makers already:

Joseph Henriot, owner of Bouchard Père & Fils, reports that sales have suffered noticeably in the past three months. "Shipments have declined mainly due to the fact that the importers, distributors, restaurants and retailers are selling their stocks to get cash before reordering," he said. Louis Latour told Wine Spectator that it is reducing wholesale prices 15 percent to 35 percent for the 2006 vintage.

I'm always interested in the impact economics has on 'local' enterprises. I'll probably do a quick Google search to see how the French cheese-makers are doing.


* Oh, lighten up. It's a joke.

Three Days

I'VE SAID IT here before, but I'm always a bit surprised that France -- an undeniably secular country -- takes religious holidays very seriously. This weekend we have Monday off (yes, the Monday after not the Friday before) because of Easter. In a few weeks we'll have a Thursday off to celebrate Accension. The French also take a day off (or two weeks for school children) to celebrate All Saints Day in late October. All this while church attendance figures continue to plummet in the country. Go figure.

But any three-day weekend is nice. We're sticking around the house this time but will have a lot going on. This afternoon we had a nice picnic lunch with a church group up in Gourdon where we ate 'potluck' style and played games with the kids -- including an easter egg hunt with 358 plastic eggs. This evening we had a very nice dinner with some good friends from our village who had family members visiting from Burgundy and the Var.

Monday should be fun because I'm going to play some music with a small group I've gotten acquainted with thanks to a colleague of mine. We're going to play some tradition French music at La Fête de l’Oranger -- a large festival in Le Bar-sur-Loup -- a village about 5 minutes up the road from us. I've never seen (or heard) a lot of the music before, but it should be a fun afternoon anyway. We'll begin the afternoon with a quick lunch at a friend's house, then hit the place for some performing!

And Easter Sunday? Just a quiet day at home and a nice bike ride in the afternoon!

But whatever you end up doing, any three-day weekend has to go in the 'love it' column.

An Annoying Message

THIS IS THE most annoying message that pops up on my computer screen:
The video you have requested is not available in your region

10 April 2009

Friday Funny Clip

GEORGE BUSH MAY be retired in Crawford, TX, but we can still enjoy a bit of him with comedian Frank Caliendo. Bush impression comes about 30 seconds in.

I don't want to push Frank Caliendo too much because I never found his TV show much good. But his impressions are bettern than anyones. Period. Just search for him on YouTube if you want to see more.

OK, one more. It's very 'American' in that a lot of the impressions won't make sense outside the US.


08 April 2009

How Should I Read This?

ON THE WAY home this evening, Kerri and the kids stopped by a boulangerie to get a baguette. But when Kerri realized she didn't have any money with her, the kids had to help find loose change from various places: pockets, change holders, car seats, floormats, etc. They eventually rustled-up 80 cents and Julia went in to the shop hoping to get a baguette (which normally costs 80 cents at this particular place). But they were completely sold out of the regular variety and all that was left was a slightly more expensive kind costing €1.50. Julia sheepishly showed her 80 cents to the lady behind the counter. The lady smiled, took the money and gave her...1/2 of a baguette!!

Now that was either really nice or really...not nice. I can't decide. I mean, is she really going to sell the other half?

Late Update: According to the comments, I should put this in the 'nice' column. Good!

06 April 2009

Sarkozy and Obama

Opening Day

IT DOESN'T MATTER where I live, Opening Day is special. The baseball season starts today. I'm a (sad) all-out fan of the Baltimore Orioles.

[Note: Sometime I'll tell you about the newspaper clipping I've had in my wallet since December 1, 2000.]


05 April 2009

I Want to Ride My Bicycle, I Want to Ride My Bike

WE SPENT MOST of the day...doing this: (and no, the song attached to this video clip is not the Queen song referenced above).

Actually, it's not that he was 'trying' for months, he just like to ride around pushing the bike with his feet. It was only this weekend that he just started putting the feet on the pedals and going. Our twins didn't learn to ride their bike until they were nearly 9, so Henry feels pretty good about himself right now. And P &J are doing their part to make him feel good, too.

04 April 2009


A FEW PHOTOS from the Hamlet production at the CIV (my school) last week. It was, in a word, incredible. I found myself asking this question: do I know many high schools in the United States that could put on a full-scale Shakespeare play? I mean, these are 16-18 year olds learning hundreds (thousands?) of old-english lines. Patrick and Julia came with me and they loved it -- Julia particularly liked the dresses and Patrick liked the sword fights.


Claudius and Laertes plotting
The Kind and Queen: Claudius and Gertrude

Poor Ophelia...she's losing it

Laertes grieves for his sister, Ophelia

Hamlet (right) and Laertes fight

Fortinbras of Norway comes in to claim the crown
I've got to get a photo up of Polonius when I get one. His was my favorite costume.

02 April 2009

I'm a Sucker for Yannick Noah (the singer)

WHEN I WAS 12 years old Yannick Noah won the French Open and I remember it. I'm not exactly sure why I remember it, but I do --- maybe the big mop of hair. 25 years later and now I'm a fan of his music. (Well, at least one of his songs).

Toward the end of last school year Patrick and Julia kept singing this song involving a chorus where they sort of chant 'aux arbres citoyens', a clever play on the 'aux arms citoyens' from the French national anthem. They learned the song in school and recently begged me to download it to our iPod. I'd heard the song several times and kind of liked it so I said yes and asked if they knew who the artist was. 'Yannick Noah,' they said.

What?! The tennis player?! Patrick was first with the response. "No, Joakim Noah's dad." (Hello, generation gap!)

Anyway, I knew Yannick Noah was a musician but I had no idea he was the guy who sang this song that I really kind of like. 'Aux Arbres Citoyen' is kind of an environmental song talking about how we need to save the trees, the world, etc., etc. But knowing it's by Yannick Noah only makes me like it more. If you don't know the song I'm including two versions from Youtube: a live version from France2 and the official video. Take a look and try to deny that's it's kind of a catchy tune (while keeping in mind that it is a French song so keep your expectations at a realistic level). The video doesn't have great sound quality, but you can hear it fine. If you want to sing along with the chorus (oh, and you will) here are the words. Just chant the words in bold at the appropriate time:
Puisqu'il faut changer les choses
Aux arbres citoyens !
Il est grand temps qu'on propose
Un monde pour demain !

Now Patrick and Julia sing the whole song all the time. And from time to time Kerri and I join in the chorus. (It would be more accurate to say that Kerri joins from time to time and I join all the time. Really loud. The kids hate it).