29 June 2009


PAID A SURPRISE visit to Cécile as she was working this evening at an ice cream shop in the 12th . I realize this post means little unless you know our family's history with Cecile, but that's OK. She was very surprised and it was so nice to chat over a little ice cream.

(Huge thanks to Emmanuelle for the 'where she works' tip! Thanks.)

28 June 2009

Apologies to Nat King Cole

MY FAVORITE VERSION of 'I Love Paris in the Springtime' is by Nat King Cole. But for the past couple of days I've been changing the words a bit, singing instead: I Love Paris on Per Diem.

I mean really, is there anything better than eating well on someone else's dime? Since I'm working this week I have a food allowance that gives me generous, if not extravagant, food options. And what better place for good food options than Paris?

Last evening a colleague and I ate at a nice bistro in the 1ere arronsissement near our hotel. I had the €29 menu: Salade 'Caesar' avec poulet, carpacio de saumon, bœuf grillé aux herbs, mousse au chocolate, et café. It was good enough that we'll probably go back tomorrow evening with some other colleagues.

Tonight I've just returned from a great Indian restaurant in the St. Germain. I told the waiter I wasn't French so make it spicey. It was spicey. Parts of my insides are still smoldering; you know, in the good way that means you're going to feel it later -- if you know what I mean.


Strasbourg for the Summer

I'VE JUST RETURNED from a quick overnight trip to Strasbourg (2 hours from Paris by train) where I met the family who own the house we will be staying in this summer. (This post from last year sort of explains why we go somewhere each summer). But in a nutshell: because of our current rental agreement we have to be out of our house each July and August so that the owners can use it. It's not a bad deal, really -- a bit hectic for sure, but not terrible. And since we are in France for a limited time we want to take full advantage of every moment -- so we go somewhere new each summer. And we can only do this because I'm in education (see, there are 1 or 2 advantages). This summer: Strasbourg!

Since we spent last summer in the Southwest part of France, we wanted to try something new this year so we choose Strasbourg -- or perhaps Strasbourg chose us since that's where we found a nice place to live. We were hoping for more of a city 'type' of atmosphere since we miss that in our current village. It doesn't hurt that Strasbourg is sort of the French gateway to Europe: on the German border, an hour from Switzerland, 2 hours from Luxumbourg, and only about 5 hours from Prague. We hope to do some exploring.

26 June 2009

Look For Me on TV

I'M IN PARIS for a few days and just saw on the news that there will be an hommage for Michael Jackson outside the Notre Dame at 7:00. It would take me 10 minutes to walk there from here and I have nothing to do from right now (6:25) until a dinner appointment at 8:00. So guess where I'm going to go in about 10 minutes?

Look for me.

Trocadero Metro Stop

MY MEETINGS ARE at the International School of Paris and Metro stop I use is Trocadero. When I emerged from underground this morning I took this photo.
My favorite view of the Eiffel Tower has always been from Trocadero.

Note: I know! This is one of those annoying 'look where I am and where you're not' posts that are all over the blogosphere. Sorry. It won't happen (too) often. I just can't explain how great it is to come out of the Metro and see this...

Goodbye to the King

WOKE UP TO the news that Michael Jackson has died. I loved his music, as did Kerri and the kids. Even by about age 5 or 6, A Michael Jackson's Greatest Hits album was one of the first that Patrick and Julia used to request when we got in the car. He was a musical genius, a cultural icon, and a sad, sad human being. He was robbed of his childhood and spent much of his adult life trying to get it back, sort of going off the tracks in the process. But if you were to make a short list of the music important musical figures of the last 100 years, Jackson's on it!

I'm watching the French news shows right and it's all Jackson all the time. I'm sure that is the case in virtually every country in the world this morning. I've also spent a few minutes this morning looking at clips like these.

Michael Jackson consistently made the best music video around and he almost single-handedly 'made' MTV. This was was always my favorite:


23 June 2009

F-You Very Much

AS I'VE MENTIONED here before, from time to time I go sit in McDonald's with a coffee because it's one of the few places in France with free wireless internet access. We also eat at McDonald's on occassion because it's easy, the kids like it, and they are always open. But I'm now confronted with the following reality about the Golden Arches here in France: they are not too worried about being kid friendly -- at least not for kids who speak English.

I'll explain. McDonalds has contracted with French radio station NRJ (pronounced like 'energy') to provide music in their restaurants. The music (often annoyingly loud) is a mix of current pop hits from the US and Europe and I generally put on some earphones and try to get a few things done on the computer without focusing on the music in the background. But lately there have been some songs that have caused me to, shall we say, pay attention a bit more than I normally would.

Consider the song by English pop star Lily Allen. Allen has a popular hit right now called 'F**k You'. Now, as you might imagine, when this song is played in the UK or in the States it is cencored with an appropriately placed bleep. However, when the song plays in France -- and at McDonalds -- no such censorship takes place, meaning that the following lyrics are played (annoyingly loud, remember) for all to hear: 'F**k you. F**k you very much.' How am I going to explain that one to the kids as they are running around the play area?

I suppose I could tell them to focus on the catchy tune (because it really does have a catchy tune).

21 June 2009

Fête de la Musique

ONE OF THE great traditions in France is the annual Fête de la Musique -- an all night music festival held every June 21 to coincide with the summer solstice -- the shortest night of the year. The 'World Music Day' only dates back to the mid 1970s and was originally the idea of an American musician employed by a French radio station. But the event quickly caught on and is now celebrated in virtually every village in the country. The idea is to get professional and amateur musicials to set up on street corners and make their music (the event is often promoted as faites de la musique -- make music -- a homophone of fête de la musique). What makes the event so popular is that you can experience every kind of music imaginable; if you're listening to provençal music you can usually walk about 100 meters and find something completly different. Last year I was in Paris on the 21st of June and the atmosphere was incerdible around my hotel near Les Halles and the Louvre. I spent most of the time listening to a big band group where none of the members looked to be under 70.

Last night the small village where we are living temporarily held their concerts one night early so I took a trip down to the main center at about 10:30 to watch a couple of the acts. Turns out it must have been Jr. High Band Night because all the groups that played were comprised of 15-17 year-olds singing bad 90s songs in incomprehesible English. I was going to call the evening a wash after the 4th Greenday song until one of the groups broke out with 'Jet City Woman' by Queensryche. It didn't take long before my arms were pulsing in the air with my index and pinky fingers extended upward. I looked around for others doing that same thing. But it was just me so I stopped toute de suite. Nobody else seemed to know the song.

Anyway, tonight's the big night and we haven't decided where to go. Nice will be great, but packed. The same goes for Cannes and Antibes. We my try a smaller village that's a bit easier to get to. We'll see.

19 June 2009

Revolutions Begin with Courage

I'M NOT GOING to turn this into an Iranian politics blog (really), but I'm couped-up in a tiny apartment with little else to do this evening but float through some of my standard political sites on the internet and this item caught my attention over at the Daily Dish.

Read this post from an Iranian blogger about tomorrow's (Saturday's) planned protest march. Keep in mind that the government has forbidden it and warned of consequences. Meanwhile, those seeking freedom and justice in Iran do not seem deterred:

“I will participate in the demonstrations tomorrow. Maybe they will turn violent. Maybe I will be one of the people who is going to get killed. I’m listening to all my favorite music. I even want to dance to a few songs. I always wanted to have very narrow eyebrows. Yes, maybe I will go to the salon before I go tomorrow! There are a few great movie scenes that I also have to see. I should drop by the library, too. It’s worth to read the poems of Forough and Shamloo again. All family pictures have to be reviewed, too. I have to call my friends as well to say goodbye. All I have are two bookshelves which I told my family who should receive them. I’m two units away from getting my bachelors degree but who cares about that. My mind is very chaotic. I wrote these random sentences for the next generation so they know we were not just emotional and under peer pressure. So they know that we did everything we could to create a better future for them. So they know that our ancestors surrendered to Arabs and Mongols but did not surrender to despotism. This note is dedicated to tomorrow’s children…”

This is what courage looks like and this, as history tells us, is what Revolutions look like.

18 June 2009

40 Degrees

THAT WAS THE temperature reading in my classroom this afternon. It's not surprising that I jumped right into the pool when I got home.

40 Square Meters of Fun; And Some Clafoutis

THAT'S THE SIZE of the apartment we are living in temporarily. Many of you know that part of our arrangement at our 'regular' house is that we have to be out during the summer months because the owner rents it to summer vacationers at a substantial rate. Let's just put it this way: the summer guests pay more per week than we pay per month during the off-season.
This creates both opportunity and minor inconvenience. Let's start with inconvenince: because the summer season starts before school finishes we have about a three week period where we have to be out of our house, but not out of the area. So for those three weeks we need to find something very temporary and, by necessity, something quite financially reasonable -- which explains our 40 sq. meter apartment (yes, we are still a family of five!).
But this little apartment is absolutely perfect for us. Sure, and additional 4o sq. meters or so would go a long way, but the apartment is in the lower level of a beautiful villa owned by a single 70+ year old French woman who is absolutely adorable. This evening she brought down a pot of delicious vegetable soup for us and last night she knocked on our door with a freshly baked clafoutis aux cerises -- a typical french dessert where you bake fresh fruit into a custard-like batter (this time it was cherries -- pits and all) We all enjoyed it greatly.

The apartment is great because, though small, it has a large garden and a wonerful swimming pool that gets used all the time (even by dad most evenings). Since the kitchen is so small we have just chosen to eat every meal outside on the terrace table. It could be worse.
So, a little inconvenient? Yes. Managable? Definately.

And the upside of our living arrangement? Well, last year it led to two months in the Pyrenees. This year it will lead to two months...well, that's for another post.


15 June 2009

Revolution in Iran?

THE FRENCH MEDIA is finally giving some meaningful attention to the events in Iran. I don't know if the news channels in the US are covering it, but I saw that the Jonas Brother's are schedule for Larry King tonight (or last night) so I'm not holding my breath. I'm looking at the BBC and Andrew Sullivan's blog for most of my information.

It's far to early to make any judgements about the events of the past 72 hours, but it has the potential to completely transform Middle-East politics. The level of resistance of those supporting Mousavi is, in a word, inspiring. Will we remember June 2009 as the beginning of the Green Revolution in Iran or as just another crushed democratic movement in a politically oppressed country? We'll see.


14 June 2009

All The World's a Stage...

IT'S BEEN VERY busy lately on lots of fronts. One of those fronts included a theatre production that Patrick and Julia performed in last weekend. Here's a quick video that four or five of you will watch (especially if your name is grandma or grandpa!).

The performance is all in French and it was often a bit too fast for us to understand. See if you can do better? The kids tell me their best laugh lines came when they swore in French. Gotta love French children's theatre, I guess. (Note: it may take a while to upload so check back).


Yes They Can?

I'M HOOKED ON the presidential elections in Iran. International news channels are a wonderful things (sometimes).

10 June 2009

Questions Revealed

OK, IT'S TIME for the big news that almost none of you are waiting for: the Option International Baccalauréat questions for History in 2009! The exam was this morning and I was as eager as the students to see what questions would be asked. So here we go, you have four hours to answer 2 of the following questions:

(Note: there are 2 essay questions and two document-based questions (DBQ) to choose from. The DBQ questions include 3-4 questions based on some attached documents and a 'mini' essay. Most students wrote 6-8 pages for each question).


1) Essay Question: Discuss America's involvement in Vietnam. How and why did the U.S. become involved, and what were the consequences?
2) DBQ Topic: The Weakening of Europe after the Second World War.
Part 1: a) According to document 1, what are the short and long-term demographic consequences of the Second World War?
b) According to document 1, in what way was the economic and commercial potential of Europe almost destroyed.
c) What is the illustrator of the satirical magazine "PUNCH" trying to show in document 3?
d) Immediately following the war, what happened ot the European continent, politically speaking? (document 4)
Part II: Using your responses to the questions, information contained in the documents and your own knowledge, write an organized response to this subject: The weakening of Europe after the Second World War


1) Essay Question: 'Dominating North' and 'Dominated South': are these concepts still valid today?
2) DBQ Topic: The USA as a superpower.
Part I:
a) Describe the structure of foreign investment in the United States. What are the factors that attract investment towards the United States?
b) Based on document 1 and document 4, to what extent can we say that the American regional integration process increases Foreigh Direct Investment in the United States?
c) What is the political basis of the recent antiamericanism mentioned in document 2? To what extent can we see this as a limit to U.S. power?
d) Why, according to document 5, is the American cultural model successful in China?
Part II: Drawing on the attached documents, your answers to the above questions and your own knowledge, write an organized synthesis to discuss the following assertion: The United States: a limited superpower.'

There you have it. Unlike last year, most of my students were very happy with this exam. Based on my conversations with them after the exam, many chose to answer the Vietnam essay and the U.S. Power DBQ question (the US Power questions were pretty intense!) I hope they nailed it.

This test, in a wierd sort of way, helps explain why I like teaching this program. This is fun stuff, no?

09 June 2009

Bac Starts Today

THE BAC EXAM begins today for my students with 8 total hours of written exams today and tomorrow. Today they have a 4 hour exam in Literature and tomorrow they sit for the 4 hour exam in History/Econ.

The real work begins next week when they sit for their exams in all their other classes. By the end they will have taken up to 30+ hours of written exams and up to 2+ hours of orals. All in a 10 day period.

What is your high school senior doing this week?

Of course, I'm as eager as my students to see what questions will be asked on the History exam. I'll find out tomorrow and will probably put them up on the blog.

08 June 2009

European and Middle-East Politics

I'M BEGINNING TO get excited about European politics. OK, not really 'excited', but I'm paying more attention as the election season hits.

In yesterday's European Parliament elections far-left parties took a beating -- particularly in France where President Sarkosy's UMP party trounced the Socialist Party candidates. A round-up can be found here. Don't miss the bit about how bad Gordon Brown's Labour Party fared.

There's also some potentially good news coming out of the national elections in Lebanon.

Really, I'm starting to like this.

07 June 2009

Our Great Mom

TODAY IS MOTHER'S day in France. While words will never appropriately express how much Kerri means to all of us, the kids decided they wanted to give it a shot. They're going to talk and I'll be doing dictation starting right now.

Mommy, Happy Mother's Day. Thanks for always helping me clean my room, doing my dishes, and making great lunches for me everyday. I love you very much and you are the best mom ever. --PATRICK

Happy Mother's Day mommy. Thank you for all you've done for us. Thank you for making lots of our food for us and helping us whenever we need it, even when I'm in a bad mood. But I'm not actually in a bad mood for very long, but still. I love you mamma. -- JULIA

Mama -- Thank you for Mother's Day. Thank you for nothing. I don't know what to say. Cleaning up. And playing with me. I don't want to do anymore. I love you. -- HENRY (age 4)

Those are direct quotes, as you might be able to tell.

2 Nights in Le Bar-sur-Loup

WE SPENT A nice (and long) evening in the old Chateau of Le Bar-sur-Loup last night because Patrick had his first violin recital here in France. Le Bar-sur-Loup is just over the mountain from our village, about 10 minutes away, and is a charming little Roman-era village known for perfumes and oranges. (photo)

The recital was organized by the music school in the village and featured all the students studying violin and guitar. I'm going to put up video shortly (mainly so the grandparents can watch) because the setting of this particular recital was incredible: the old dining hall of a 13th century chateau. The acoustics were magnificent and the arched ceiling was quite beautiful. When I was a kid I used to give recitals in a school gym! Patrick played two pieces, includng a beautiful duet with his teacher.

Tonight we are right back to Le Bar-sur-Loup because Patrick and Julia are in a play being put on by their theatre group. They have been rehearsing lines like crazy all week. (Yes, they've had months to learn them, but in good fashion they have waited until the pressure is on). We'll try to get video of tonight as well.

Late Update: Here's the video.

05 June 2009

An Interesting Film to Watch Online

JUNE 5 IS World Environment Day and to mark the occasion a documentary by Yann Arthus-Bertrand -- a renowned photographer and founding president of GoodPlanet.org -- made it's global premier today in theaters, on television, and on the internet. What's interesting about this film is that it is completely free (thanks to dozens of big name sponsors) and available on the internet right now.

This evening we decided to sit down with the computer )and a project capable of beaming an image onto a huge wall) and watch the film. The photography and cinematography is unreal, even surpasing Planet Earth at times. There are moments when the film is a bit preachy, but the general tenor is provacative and thought provoking -- and don't forget visually stunning. The film is called 'Home' and it takes a look at how humanity uses, reuses, misuses, and regenerates the various resources our planet offers. There are parts that are absolutely riveting.

We stopped after about 1 hour because it was getting late, but we'll finish it tomorrow. It was just a notch or two over the head of our kids -- but there's plenty of time in the film to explain things. We watched the film in HD via YouTube, but you can also watch it directly through the film's website..

To be honest, the first 5-10 minutes aren't all that great -- kind of a 'where did we come from' visual essay -- but after that it's incredible. We had a fun night watching and discussin/explaining it. Give it a watch when you have an hour-and-a-half to kill.

04 June 2009

From 55 Minutes Down to 4:43

I WATCHED MOST of Obama's speech when I got home this evening. If you want to see the the major points but don't have 55 minutes to spare, here's the 4:43 Cliff's Notes version from TPM.

I needed a political fix. It was either this or a breakdown of today's voting in the European Parliament elections. It was an easy choice.

Where To Run?

I HAVE A serious quesitons about running in France. On what side of the road are you supposed to run? In the US we are always taught to run against traffic -- meaning on the left side of the road, the idea being that it is better to see the traffic comming at you. To me this makes a lot of sense. But here in France I always see people running with traffic -- on the right side of the road, which strikes me as very dangerous because you always have your back toward the oncoming traffic. The danger seems even more pronounced when you consider how narrow roads can be around here.

Not that I'm taking up running, but if I did, what side of the road should I run on?

Why is MTV Scared of Me?

MAYBE GOING OVER the top just a bit with that title, but for some reason the 'MTV Cribs' spoof video we made about a year-and-a-half ago has now been taken off YouTube because of a 'copyright infraction.'

I did download the official opening and put it on our silly video, but is this for real?

02 June 2009

Sad News

THIS IS KATIE FLYNN. She is one of my students and she was killed this weekend in a car accident. Because of the Monday holiday and my French exam today, I haven't been to school since Friday so I just heard the news and I have very few details.

Katie is a 1ere student (think Junior) from Ireland and many of her extended family and friends have flown down to be with her family. There will be a Mass for her in Sophia Antipolis on Thursday.

Obviously, this is very, very sad news for all of us at the Centre International de Valbonne, particularly those of us who had the pleasure of teaching her. She was a bright, thoughtful, and utterly delightful girl.

An extra prayer will go up tonight for her family and her friends. 17 is just too young.

Late Update: There was a memorial service this afternoon at a Catholic church in Sophia. Many of the students wore green to school today and then walked in mass over to the church. A colleague and I participated by playing Raglin Road and Danny Boy (violin & flute). The service was upbeat and positive -- as they often are in these kinds of situations. A very nice afternoon, all things considered.


TOOK THE FRENCH test all day today. C'était trés facile. Whew.
I wish Kerri could have taken it because she would have done better than me.

Je parle, tu parles, il parle...

THANKS TO A new rule for non-European Union immigrants, I will be spending the entire day taking a series of French exams at a local government office building. I need to pass if I want to keep my current work/immigration status. The exam (DILF/DELF) covers reading, writing, listening and, of course, speaking. Because I am a relatively new ex-pat I only have to pass a beginning level so there's not too much to worry about (uh oh, overconfidence?). I've been enrolled in classes for most of this academic year and have also been trying to do some studying on my own -- including using this great site run by 'Jennie en France'

Plus, last night I watched 'Dirty Rotten Scoundrels' with some friends (Nathan and Crystal) who are staying with us and we had the French sub-titles on, so that's like two hours of studying right there.