30 July 2009

Outside the Classroom

ONE OF THE fun aspects of teaching is that you get to meet with students outside the classroom from time to time -- particularly after they have 'graduated.' I got that experience today in Strasbourg of all places. David and Eleonore were students of mine in premier and terminale. They just passed the Bac earlier this month and happen to be spending a week here visiting relatives and exploring the city. They were nice enough to give me a call and we got together this afternoon. Yes, and we even shot a little pool.

Thanks for calling guys. Great to catch up -- even if it's only been a couple weeks since the end of term. Hope to see you around back 'home.'

Reader Help Reqested

IF WE'RE POSTING to the World Wide Web, why not get a little feedback and advise. OK, here's the question:

We want to 'explore' a city or two for a weekend. Where should we go?
Here are some parameters:
  • We are now in Strasbourg, France.
  • Our limit is probably 6 hours by car (any more may result in physical harm to parents and/or kids).

So that puts the following cities into play: Amsterdam to the North; Prague to the East; most of Switzerland to the Southeast; Berlin to the Northeast (perhaps a stretch). And everything in between.

Suggestions please -- keeping in mind that if you give a recommendation and we end up not enjoying ourselves, you will be outed! And remember, literally dozens of people read this blog.


29 July 2009

Storks on the Wine Route

THE OTHER DAY it was monkeys, today it was storks. One of these days we'll take a trip along the Alsace Wine Route and actually look at some of the wines. But with three kids in tow, visiting storks seemed like the better play today. We were right.

The stork is the one of the main features and symbols of the Alsace region and nowwhere is that more on display that in the village of Hunawihr, where there is a 5.5 hectar habitat that is home to nearly 200 storks. Nestled among hectar after hectar of vinyards, the habitat allows the storks to fly freely and nest where they wish -- some choosing chimneys or church steeples in one of the many neighboring villages.

Among the storks

The fish will come up and suck your finger. Henry loved it.
Feeding Frenzy


A Surprise Visit and a Busy Couple of Weeks

ONE OF THE reasons we chose Strasbourg as our home for this summer is because it is so close to 'the rest' of Europe. And since Kerri's parents are here we are going to do a bit of traveling around -- perhaps to Belgium, Holland, and Paris. We also know that one of our stops will be Frankfurt because we have good friends (from DC) who now live there. We got to know them because they have a son who is the same age as Patrick and Julia and they were in school together at a French-immersion school in Silver Spring, MD. We'll talk more about them when we visit them in the next week or so.

But yesterday we got another surprise when another set of good friends (also from DC -- by way of France and Denmark) stopped by for a quick visit. Soren and Sandrine, along with their boys Marc and Thomas, live in Copenhagen and were travelling home from Sandrine's parent's house near Marseilles. Strasbourg turned out to be a good place to stop and, shall we say, catch their breath. This was a particularly exciting surprise for Patrick and Julia because, once again, Marc is a former classmate from the school in Silver Spring.

It is amazing, really, that three families who all had children in the same class, and who all moved from DC to Europe within 6 months of each other, still have a chance to see each other from time to time, but on another continent.

Soren and Sandrine

Does Henry have a new BFF?

Patrick and Marc look like two adults in deep conversation.

Great look! That's waht ice cream does to you I guess.

À bientôt.
So we'll be in and out for the next couple of weeks. Not for too long at a time, mind you, because 1)we have to take care of Couscous -- the precious little cat who lives in the house we are renting, and 2) there's still a lot to do right here around Strasbourg.

Three Trees

Baden Baden

WHAT A TERRIFIC place. Of course the kids (and their grandparents) may remember it for having -- and I'm quoting my father-in-law now -- the 'best ice cream I have ever had.'


27 July 2009

The French and the Tour de France

A COUPLE WEEKS ago I put up a post which looked at the current state of French cycling. Today the New York Times has a full-length piece that looks, more specifically, at why the French can't seem to win their own race. It's quite interesting and worth a read if you're at all interested in this sort of thing. Here's one of the money quotes from Bernard Hinault, the last Frenchman to win the Tour:
“You can see that the French riders are lazy because they make too much money,” said Hinault, whose nickname as a rider was the Badger. “It’s true that you would have to put a knife to their throat to get results. It’s embarrassing for our country.”

I've got my issues with Hinault, but still, Ouch!

26 July 2009

Monkeys on the Wine Route

SATURDAY WAS A beautiful day in this part of France and we spent a good part of it along the great Alsace Wine Route, but our objective not to find a great Reisling or Pinot Gris. No, our objective on this day was: monkeys.

Just above the village of Kintzheim you will find the Montagne des Singes, a natural habitat with hundreds of monkeys that roam free and eat popcorn out of your hand. The park was created to help preserve a particular species of monkeys that come from north Africa (Magot, I think?) It was truely an amazing site to see, particularly when you consider we were in the Vosges mountains, not some some north african forest.

The villages that are scattered along the Route de Vin are stunning and we will be sure to spent quite a bit more time there. Because of a book I am now reading called Wine & War: The French, The Nazis, and France's Greatest Treasure, I'm looking forward to more visits to some of these villages. (Click on the link to see the book at Amazon).

24 July 2009

Riding to Germany

IT'S A SILLY thing to get excited about, but it's the first time I've done it. This morning Les and I cycled to Germany. Really, it wasn't that big a deal -- only about 20km away from our house -- but there was something kind of fun about riding over the Rhine into a new country. We thought about making a big loop and riding home on the German side of the border, but there are so few bridges over the river that we would have had to cross back into France south of Strasbourg. Since we were quite a bit north of Strasbourg at the time, we just went home.

An American in Milan

OGUCHI ONYEWU PROBABLY isn't the most well-known soccer player from my homestate of Maryland (more people in the US probably know Freddy Adu), but he's certainly the best player to come of the state in recent years. He's just signed to play with AC Milan -- royalty in European soccer -- and some of the European press are really beginning to take notice of his abilities. I read a nice story about him just this morning.

21 July 2009

Son of a Roche

THIS IS NICHOLAS Roche, son of former Tour de France winner Stephen Roche and current rider for Team AG2R. Stephen married a French woman so Nicholas grew up and became a professional cyclist he had to choose whether to ride for Ireland or France. He chose Ireland, it appears, since he is wearing the jersey of the Irish champion. But I mention him because he grew up in Cannes and -- according to my colleages -- attended the C.I.V., the school where I now teach. I haven't confirmed this (nor do I intend to), but the story is just better it if was indeed Nicholas, so I'm sticking with that. (Thanks to Les for snapping the photo).

Ice Hockey in July

YOU BET. AND I'm now reading this new site. I'll explain why a little later.

20 July 2009

Reading a New Book

MY DAD HAS sent a copy of his new book to us via my in-laws. As you can see in this photo he also sent Les (my father-in-law) a copy -- a copy he has been reading quite a bit since he arrived a few days ago. Here he is reading the book on the couch.

Here is he about 10 minutes later. But don't worry dad, it was the jet-lag. Really. The book is great (I'm reading it too).

Patrick and Julia had slightly different reactions to the book. Patrick was so excited to see his grandpa's face on a book he began jumping up and down with excitement. Julia, not so much. She took one look at it and offered, 'it's going to be boring because it's adult stuff. Adult stuff is boring.'

18 July 2009

More TDF: Colmar

I THINK IT'S clear that France has it's share of beautiful towns and villages, but you'd be hard-pressed to find one more charming and beautiful than Colmar -- a town in the Alsace just in the shadows of the Vosges mountains. Colmar is about 60km south of Strasbourg and was an 'overnight' town in this year's Tour de France. We went to both arrivée (Friday) and the départ (today). For Kerri's parents it was the first time seeing the Tour in person -- so they were pretty excited. The weather Friday was dreadful -- cold and lots of rain. But it was quite a bit better today so we stayed in Colmar for a few hours to explore a bit and have a sandwich for lunch. Of course, we took some photos.

Standing in front of the (very popular) ASTANA team before the start.

Just kind of stuck my camera in the air and pushed the button. Anyone who thinks Tour fans don't like Lance doesn't know anything. Trust me, it's only the French press that are rooting against him.

Stopped at this cafe for a quick coffee. Beautiful part of the Colmar.


We Did It Again

WE'VE DEVELOPLED THIS little game where we don't tell our kids when family members or friends are coming to visit. They want it that way, honest. The way we play this little game is quite simple: the kids generally know someone is coming, we just don't tell them exactly when so that it's a big surprise.

But this time we added a little twist: we didn't even let them know that their grandparents were coming at all; not even a clue. So when Kerri's parents happened to stroll in front of our spot at the beach at a nearby lake last Thursday, there was a second or two of complete confusion on the faces of our eldest kids. The confusion quickly morphed into exhilaration when they realized PopPop and GiGi we coming for a visit.

It's a silly game that they will probably have to explain to their therapists in 20 years, but we have fun with it.

We Tried...

...OR, I SHOULD say Kerri tried...to save the hedgehog she found in the street a couple of days ago. We're not sure what happened (hit by a car? abandoned by mother?) but Kerri brought it home and did her best to nurse it back to health. But after much consultation with the internet it became pretty clear that it was too late -- flies had already laid eggs all over the skin of the hedgehog and they were within hours they would begin to hatch, and that's bad news for the little creatures. Kerri tried to remove the eggs, but it was too late. By the next morning, despite the valient effort, the hedgehog had died.

I was the one put in charge of disposing the body.


15 July 2009

Celebrating the 14th (and what's the deal with corn?)

HOW DID WE celebrate the oh-so-French Bastille Day? With lots of American food like potato salad, corn on the cob, and grilled chicken. Julia helped make just about everything. The only item not pictured is the big pan of Apple Crisp we had for dessert.

One question I have about corn on the cob is this: if there is so much being grown around here, why is it not less expensive in the stores. One theory we have is that much of the corn grown in this part of France is feed corn for livestock. We know the French don't eat corn on the cob like us Amrrrricans; in fact they don't much corn in general. So why do they grow so much -- we are completely surrounded by cornfields, much like we were last summer in the Southwest. Is the livestock theory correct? Perhaps it's an exported product? Ethonol?


14 July 2009

Is this Red Square?

I'M WATCHING THE start of the Bastille Day parade and right now it looks like little more than a French military review. Sarkozy is travelling down the Champs Elysees in an open jeep while waving at various branches of the military who are standing at attention. In a small box in the corner of the screen viewers can see military jets preparing for a grand fly-over.

It's spectacular, visually (hard to beat a sunny morning in Paris); it just seems a bit Cold War-esque.

Although the jets just flew over the city with red, white, and blue smoke behind them. That was impressive.

Bonne fête nationale du 14 juillet.

12 July 2009


...IT'S A NEW front page photo. Something different for a change.

What Are You Doing Next Summer?

YOU SHOULD CHECK out what our friend Vic Heaney is doing next summer. Not only is he planning to walk (yes, walk!) from the South of France to the North of England, he's planning to do it in 70 days -- in time to reach the house where he was born on his 70th birthday!

And now he's being sponsored by Columbia Sportswear and is raising money for charity at the same time.

Vic and his wife Gay were our neighbors last summer in Puivert, France.

Harry Potter Fever

PATRICK FOUND THE complete collection of Harry Potter books at the house we're renting for the summer and now he's addicted. Plowing through the first one right now.

10 July 2009

Where Have You Gone, Bernard Hinault?

AFTER THINKING ABOUT it for some time, I have to ask the question: what has happened to French cycling? After yesterday's win by Frenchman Brice Feillu and Thomas Voeckler's win a couple days ago, one may be tempted to think that French cycling is doing just fine. It's not.

The French have a great cycling tradition. It is no accident that the Tour de France is the most important bike race in the world and it isn't just a coincidence that there have been more French winners of the Tour (36) than any other country (Belgium is second with 18). But these numbers hide a reality that isn't talked about much in France: French cyclists don't win much anymore.

I began to look into the numbers and found they were more startling than I thought. Since great cyclists are usually measured by their performance in the so-called Grand Tours (France, Italy, and Spain -- Spain being a distant third in terms of prestige), I checked how long it has been since a Frenchman won one of these hallowed events. Here are the last indidividual French winners of the three Grand Tours:
  • Tour de France: Bernard Hinault (1985)
  • Giro d'Italia: Laurent Fignon (1989)
  • Vuelta a Espana: Laurent Jalabert (1995)

But that list only reflects individual winners. French teams haven't done much better. In the last 25 years French cycling teams have produced:

  • 1 Tour de France winner (Hinault in 1985 for La Vie Claire)
  • 3 Giro winners (Italian Gianni Bugno for Chateau d'Ax, Laurent Fignon for Super U-Raleigh-Fiat, and Hinault for La Vie Claire);
  • 0 Vuelta a Espana winners.

That's 4 winners in a combined 75 Grand Tours. Add Laurent Jalabert's win in Spain in 1995(riding for Spanish team ONCE) and the total number of wins by Frenchmen or French teams equals 5. By way of comparison, in the last 75 Grand Tours, Spanish riders have won 22 times, Italian riders 15 times, and American riders 11 times. [Note: the French team Cofidis did win the team classification in the Tour de France in 1998 -- let by American Bobby Julich in 3rd place overall].

While the Grand Tours are the biggies in cycling, there are many other important races throughout the year, the most well known being the Spring Classics and the one-week Tours that dot the calendar between March and June of each year. Have French cyclists fared any better in these races? Since there isn't time to examine every race, I'll pick a few of the biggest: Milan-Sanremo, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Paris-Roubaix, Paris-Nice, and the Dauphiné Libéré. Here are the number of French winners of these races since since 1985:

  • Milan-San Remo - 3 winners (none since 1995)
  • Liège-Bastogne-Liège - 0 winners
  • Paris-Roubaix - 4 winners (none since 1994)
  • Paris-Nice - 4 winners (all riding for Spanish teams)
  • Dauphiné Libéré - 5 winners

So you could say the results are better, but the point of this entire post is to examine how French cycling has fallen in the past couple of decades. I purposely chose 1985 as my point of reference because that seems to be the year when French cycling began to decline rapidly. To illustrate the point, consider the following statistic: in the 25 years before 1985, a French cyclist won the Tour de France 14 times. The numbers are similar for other major Classics and one-week Tours.

Can French cycling rebound and produce winners again on a consistant basis? I hope so, but I'm not putting any money on it yet. There has been a lot of hope pinned on the shoulders of the likes of Chrisophe Moreau, Sandy Casar, and Sylvain Chavenel in recent years but none of them appear to be real GC contenders in the big races.

A new French champion will come someday and I hope that day comes soon. When I'm not rooting for American riders I'm pulling for the French. Allez les Bleus!

Oh, and for at least today, a French cycling team will hold the yellow jersey (AG2R).


09 July 2009

Getting Used to German?

AFTER JUST THREE days in Strasbourg we have realized that we are going to love it here. A lot of that has to do with the fantasic house we're living in (big thank you to the homeowners) and a lot of it has to do with the beautiful area. We haven't even made it to the old section of town yet because we've been settling in, shopping across the border in Germany, riding our bikes around (especially little Henry), watching the Tour de France, and trying to get used to the area. One thing we are finding very difficult is the names of towns around here -- very German sounding, which is to be expected in the Alsace region of France I suppose. An example: the towns surrounding our little suburb have names like Bischheim, Shiltigheim, Oberhausebergen, Souffelweyersheim (seriously!), Niederhausbergan, Reichstett, and --saving the best for last -- Pfulgriesheim. We're not used to the names so we're getting very confused.

Oh yes, then there's the town I cycled through last evening, La Wantzenau, which appears to be a village that added the article 'La' just to make sure people know it's actually in France. We have less than two months to get used to this.

Happy Birthday

WITH OUR MOVE, the Tour, work, swimming with the kids, etc., I forgot to say Happy Birthday to...the United States. For my money, there is no better place to celebrate the 4th of July than in our hometown of Washington, DC. Mainly because of scenes like this:

We'll be spending 14 Juillet watching the fireworks in Strasbourg. I've heard it's a good show. We'll see.


08 July 2009

Before More Updates...

WE'RE IN STRASBOURG for the summer and there's lots of information forthcoming. But who can think about that when bac results were just published in the paper! In great French fashion, all students have their bac results published (with scores!!) in their local paper. Results were announced yesterday so results came out in print today! Results for our students can be found here. I realize the list won't mean anything to the casual observer, but just as a reference, the marks go something like this:
  • 10-11 = no mark next to name (but passing)
  • 12-13 = AB (assez bien)
  • 14-15 = B (bien)
  • 16+ = TB (tres bien)

All scores are, of course, out of a possible 20. I'm still checking on my students' marks...so far so good.

As another point of reference, imagine if US papers published all SAT results in the local paper. Can you say lawsuit?


Late Update: just received word from our section head that all students in the Section Americaine passed the bac this year. We had one close call, but he passed earlier today after something called a rattrapage (kind of a partial do-over).

04 July 2009

Stage 1: Lance, Levi, Christian, Alberto...

IN THE END we just played the odds and took the car to Monaco for the first stage of the Tour this afternoon. We were stopped about 2km from the route and we quickly found an illegal parking space and walked the rest of the way. No problems.
We grabbed a great spot to watch the stage -- just after the first hairpin turn on the climb out of Monaco, about 3k into the 15 km time trial. It was terrific spot because we could see the riders below us as they made the turn, then they passed right in front of on a climb up to one of the tunnels that are common in this part of the Alpes-Maritimes.

The kids just wanted to see Lance and we got the chance a couple of times -- once during the time trial, and another when he practiced taking the hairpin turn a couple of times during his warmups. Of course, all I wanted to see was the TT gear and bikes. The were incredible. The sound that those disk wheels makes is like nothing I've heard before. Here are some photos from today.
Julian Dean of Garmin Chipotle
There he is: Lance Armstrong looking strong.

No idea who this is, but how sweet is the gear and the bike?

Another strong Astana rider: Levi Leipheimer

At one point we walked up a little path to get this view.

Again, no idea, but we spent most of the time about 50 meters above this hairpin turn.

Not a bad way to spend the 4th of July!

Tomorrow's second stage will come through our village of Le Rouret. On the profile map below, Le Rouret is just after the category 4 climb (Cote de Roquefort-les-Pins) near the peak of the climb. I ride from Nice up to our house from time to time and you can't imagine how devestating it was to find out that the climb up to our house that nearly kills me every time I do it is only rated a category 4 -- the lowest climbing category in cycling. Ouch.


03 July 2009

A Rare Southern Start

IT'S BEEN QUITE a few years since the Tour de France has started in the South. Tomorrow it begins with a time trial in Monaco.

We'll be there. Not sure how we're going to get there yet, but we'll be there. (Suggestions? Train, I suppose).

Click on the Monaco route map for larger image.

Update: we've had a very nice offer from a friend to use one of their underground parking space at their apartment in Monaco, but I just don't see how driving will work. They are saying it could be worse than Grand Prix weekend. We're taking the train!