31 May 2009

4 Long Weekends

THIS IS MAY in France. Of the 5 weekends in May, four of them have included a holiday on Friday or Monday (OK, one was Thursday -- but most people just took off the Friday as wel.) It's hard to complain about life in France in May (unless, of course, you're the Economy Minister and you're wondering why France's productivity levels are falling -- but I'm not the Economy Minister am I?)

In case you're wondering: 1 May = May Day; 8 May = Victory Europe Day (WWII); 21 May = Ascension; 1 June = Pentacost.

28 May 2009

A New Washington Capitals Fan

A VERY COOL thing happened at school today.

Thursdays are they day I have to get to teach 5eme and 6eme students (not exactly my strong suit). Over the past couple of months I have been giving weekly updates on my beloved Washington Capitals (an NHL hockey team) as they finished the regular season and made a run through the playoffs. I've even gone so far as to show them a 3-minute clip of Washington's best player, a Russian named Alexandre Ovechkin, during one of our breaks. When the Capitals lost in the 2nd round of the playoffs earlier this month, we had a moment of silence in class.

This morning when I went out to the courtyard to pick up the 5eme students at 8:00 a flash of red caught my attention. As I looked up I noticed a student wearing a bright red Washington Capitals t-shirt with a big number 8 on the back, just below the name OVECHKIN (see right).

I was stunned for a second. This is France. Nobody knows anything about hockey in France. So I just pointed at the shirt and said, 'That's a Capitals shirt. And it has Ovechkin's number on the back.'

He just looked at me with a big smile and said, 'Yes'. I needed more information. 'Where did you get it?'

In a French accent he said, 'I told my my dad I wanted an Ovechkin shirt for my birthday and he found it on the internet. I just got it last week.'

How great is that? Not only am I a great father, it turns out I'm a great teacher too.

[Note: making this story even better is that my brother brought be the exact same shirt when he visited a couple weeks ago. I'm wearing it now.]


THERE'S AN OLD commercial that used to show in the States where people were asked how they spell 'relief'. Their answer: R-O-L-A-I-D-S (a popular antacid). Well, today I spell relief: R-E-N-A-U-L-T!

That's right, we got our car back today (need a refresher on what happend?). Getting it back is nice, if only because I no longer have to wonder how much it's going to cost us: now I know. I won't print the grand total, just suffice it to say all 5 of us could have visited DC for less -- and had some spending money to spare.

But let's not think about now. Instead let's think about how long we get to drive our French-made car until something else blows up. (That wasn't exactly fair, I know. But I feel better after writing it).

27 May 2009

Final in Rome

I'M HAPPY ABOUT this result tonight: Barcelona 2 - Manchester United 0.

Traffic, but Worse

THIS MORNING I drove to Monaco for the first time on a weekday. Monaco is stunningly beautiful on a clear spring monring (see photo) but I hope I never have to do that again.

I had an appointment to meet someone at 9:00 so I left the house just after 7:30 thinking that 90 minutes would be more than enough time for the trip that normally takes no more than forty-five. Well, let's just say that 90 minutes wasn't nearly enough time. Almost immediately after I left the house I had a bad feeling because the traffic reports on the radio said that the Monaco Tunnel exit was closed due to 'high traffic volume.' (I don't even know why they broadcast that on the radio because it closes because of high traffic every damn day).

So I was forced to take the next exit which goes through the narrow streets of La Turbie, a small French village high on a hill and only about 3 km from Monaco. Those three kilometers took nearly one hour. But that's not the whole story. No, to make matters worse I was inching along the road to Monaco behind a black Lamborghini and in front of a white Bentley!! I promise, I'm not making this up. Do you have any idea how annoying it is to be in a traffic jam behind a €200,000 car and in front of a €300,000 car. For nearly an hour all I wanted to do was a) rear-end the guy in front of me, or b) reverse into the guy behind me.

The only saving grace for the morning was that I got a new Hi-Def HDMI Sony DVD player for €20 (got to love it when people who live in Monaco want to get rid of 'old' stuff); and I had downloaded quite a few episodes of PTI on my iPod.

If I didn't have to rush to class later in the morning, I would have taken the train.

25 May 2009

Worth a Thousand Words (and probably more)

THERE IS A terrific web site that documents some of the photos that have changed the world. Most of the photos are instantly recognizable and it's fun to take a look and see how many you remember. Some are quite 'American', but many are famous around the world. I wanted to put all of them below but that would take up way to much room so I've included only the photos that I have used this year in powerpoints for class (I love using photos in the classroom). How many do you know?

How many could you identify?

22 May 2009

Proud Moment

MY 10 YEAR old daughter came to me today and said, 'Daddy, can we put White Lion on the iPod?'

Kinda makes you tear-up a bit doesn't it? Who knew I would be such a great father.

Obscure Reference Guide: White Lion is a big-haired American/Danish glam metal band from the 80s. Their hits included 'Wait', 'When the Children Cry', and 'Lady of the Valley.' (OK, maybe not so much 'Lady of the Valley', but it was on the b-side of 'When the Children Cry' it was one of my favorite White Lion songs).

Death of Newspapers? Not in Europe.

A LOT HAS been made in recent months about the dying American newspaper industry. Big city papers in Denver and Seattle (to name two) have closed their doors and stopped publishing altogether. Others have eliminated print editions and are now only available online. And the two most prestigious papers -- the NY Times and the Washington Post -- are losing money at alarming rates.

So is this the end of traditional journalism as we know it? Not if you ask publishers in Europe.

As the death toll in the American newspaper industry climbs, the German publisher Axel Springer, which owns Bild, the biggest newspaper in Europe, reported the highest profit in its 62-year history. Papers in France, Spain, and even Britain are reporting similar numbers.

At Springer’s headquarters in Berlin, there has been no desperate talk of how to survive the recession and the digital revolution. Instead, Mathias Döpfner, Springer’s chief executive, said he was looking for opportunities to expand, scouting around for acquisitions in Germany, Eastern Europe and maybe — in what would be a first for the company — the United States.

So what gives? I was talking about this very issue with my dad and brother last week and I offered the following hypothesis: American newspapers will begin to reverse their fortunes when they...stop home delivery of papers!

This is very difficult for me to say because there are few things about America I like better than the fact that I can open my door every morning and find (in my case) a Washington Post sitting on my lawn. I can then spend a good 30 minutes reading through the various sections while enjoying my morning coffee. But the simple fact is that it is just as easy (easier?) to open my laptop and read the news online.

I'm afraid we have reached a point where the average American no longer wants to read a print paper at home because there is a free and easy alternative: the internet. But, according to my admittedly-not-very-well-thought-out-theory, they will read a paper when they are away from home (think bus, metro, cafe, waiting room). This is where Europeans have a clear advantage over Americans: they use public transportation much more frequently; when they stop for coffee they drink it on the premises, not on the go; and they generally create 'me time' during the day that lends to activities such as reading newspapers.

Of course I could be totally wrong, but the following news clip caught my eye and spurred this little blog entry.

DETROIT — Executives with Detroit's daily newspapers say they have kept more readers and subscribers than they expected, more than a month after reducing home delivery and increasing electronic offerings.

Officials with The Detroit News, Detroit Free Press and the partnership that handles their business operations didn't offer specifics on overall readership and subscriptions.

But they say Web traffic and single-copy sales have increased since March 30 _ the day they launched the plan to deal with declining circulation and changing readership tastes. Home delivery now is limited to Thursday, Friday and Sunday.

I'm not happy about this trend, believe me. But I am enough of a newspaper nerd that I am in favor of whatever will help the papers survive.


18 May 2009

A (poor quality) Digital Short

THIS IS WHAT happens if you leave me unattended with the kids. (Be sure to hit the high quality button - HQ - before watching. It's on the lower right. You have to hit it right after you hit the play button).

There's a simple lesson here: hire a babysitter -- for all of us.

Best Sports Story of the Week

THIS FROM THE Associated Press today:

"The Belgian bodybuilding championship has been canceled after doping officials showed up and all the competitors fled. A doping official says bodybuilders just grabbed their gear and ran off when he came into the room."

Read more.

It's not even that bad when the officials show up at the Tour de France.

16 May 2009

We Brought the Scooters for the Kids

...BUT DON'T TELL that to my dad. We couldn't get him off the thing all day. You can see Henry in the background trying to keep up.

Big-ish Boats

OYE, SO MUCH going on, who has time for blogs? My dad and brother have been here since last weekend and that has taken up a lot of our time -- mostly just chatting, sitting outside, playing with the kids, walking around, and eating loads of good food (mostly prepared by Kerri!). But besides that there has been a lot going on a school (big exams coming up) and the boys and I have been sick.
But we've had a whole lot of fun this past week and it got started last Sunday when we took a ferry to a small island off Cannes called Saint Honorat. But it wasn't the island that perked our interest so much as the massive yachts we passed on the way there. They were so big my brother Jeremy decided to remember their names so we could try to dig up some information about them on google. That was so much fun we sort of spent the week 'yacht hunting' -- looking for the biggest ones we could find in the various ports around here and looking up their information. We found some doozies (including the ever-popular former yacht of Sadam Hussein) -- here are pictures of some of the ones we saw [note: we didn't always have our camera so some of these are photos from google searches]. Which one is your favorite?

Italian designer Roberto Cavalli's yacht. I saw a feature about this yacht in a magazine and always wanted to see it. It was docked in Cannes and we saw it last Wednesday when Jeremy, my dad and I went to the opening night of the Cannes Film Festival. This yacht is renowned for it's paint job. Rumor has it the paint used on the exterior cost $500 per quart. So if you own a Roberto Cavalli suit you helped him pay for about 2.5 quarts of paint for his yacht. [file photo]

The yacht that first peaked our interest during the trip to Saint Honorat. This is 'Octopus' a 400+ foot yacht owned by Paul Allen, the co-founder of Microsoft. It's the 3rd largest privately owned yacht in the world (excluding heads of state). Perhaps it was off the coast of Cannes because it's being used by some Hollywood A-list types during the Festival.

This is 'Dilbar', currently harbored in Antibes and owned by Russian steel billionaire Alisher Usmanov. It's the 18th largest yacht in the world.
Also anchored in Antibes is this little boat called 'Ice', the 28th largest yeacht in the world, owned by another Russia billionaire named Suleiman Kerimov. I think the fall of communism was good for some Russians. [file photo]

Perhaps our favorite was this massive yacht behind Jeremy and my dad. We were in San Remo, Italy when we saw 'Mirabella V', the world's biggest single-mast yacht. The mast alone is 292 ft. It's a charter yacht that you can get for $400,000 per week. (Hey, if a few of us all chip in...). You can see more about this yacht here.

I'll have more updates later for family and friends, including some details of the high-stakes ping-pong games (matches?) that have taken place in the back yard. But for now, we'll leave it at that.


Always Fun

100th Giro started this week. Always a good start to the Grand Tour season.

07 May 2009

Low on Priority List

UPDATING FRENCH FOR a While has been low on our priority list for the past few days, mainly due to: sick children, our more and more frustrating car situation, bundles of work at school (end of the year tests coming up), and my decision to wake up at 01:00 every-other morning to watch my beloved Washington Capitals in the NHL playoffs.

Jeez, that last one is wiping me out. But I'm loving it.

Oh, and I can't find my keys. Merde!

04 May 2009

They've Gone and Done It

I MENTIONED THE controvery in a post back in March, and now the E.U. has made its decision -- and many French vintners are pretty upset, especially some of the ones here in the South. An excerpt from a newspaper report:
TARADEAU, France -- To the buttoned-down European Union bureaucrats in Brussels, the idea was simple: squeeze costs, conquer new markets, maximize profits. But to the vintners of Taradeau, a sun-splashed Provencal village 800 miles to the south -- and a world away, mentally -- it was an attack on their Mediterranean heritage, a crack in French civilization, a fraud against wine lovers everywhere

02 May 2009

Good Coffee, Anyone?

CAN ANYONE TELL us where to get descent coffee in France? I don't mean at a café (that's another blog post), I mean at the supermarket. What commercial brands result in a good cup of home-made coffee? Because we are American we drink quite a bit of coffee at home and we use the good-'ol coffee maker to make coffee every morning (and most evenings). Our problems is that we can't seem to find good ground coffee in the stores, and it seems like we've tried them all. It's to the point where Folger's is sounding pretty good.

This morning I opened a new package of coffee (Brazilian) and took a sniff -- it was aweful. Even before I put the grounds into the coffee-maker I knew the results were going to be disappointing. It was terrible.
We would go back to Gevalia Kaffe -- but I don't think they deliver to France. Maybe some of you living in France can help.
CJS (and KRS)

01 May 2009

Friday Funny Clip

THIS IS ONE of the first clips I ever watched on YouTube. It's from the American show 'Family Guy' and I remember seeing this bit from the show with my friend Kevin while sitting in our basement flipping channels during some sporting event. It's funny, but it's also genius on many levels (Osama Bin Laden out-takes?) I think it's from an episode from way back in 2003 or 2004.

You can see previous Friday Funny Clips (picked by various members of the family) here.