28 June 2011

I Wanna What?

IT'S END OF the year school program season and I missed Henry's because I was away for work. But Kerri videotaped the whole show so I got to see him dancing around in his Washington National's baseball uniform. I also got to see a couple of the other routines by other classes -- including one gem where 4th grade girls performed ballet dance moves to the song "Right Now" by R&B star Akon. As usual (and I have written posts on this before) the French don't always understand the lyrics of the songs they listen to in English. The recurring refrain in "Right Now" goes like this: "I wanna make love right now, now, now." The line is repeated at least 42,000 times in the (admittedly catchy) song -- check for yourself. [Note: You better click now because I promise this is the last time a link to an Akon video will be appear on this blog]:

If I get time to download the video of the show and Henry's school, I'll throw it up. There is something quite comical/creepy about seeing 4th graders ballet dancing to this tune.

Those of you with high cultural IQ's recognized the difference between "now, now, now" and "na, na, na", I'm sure.

27 June 2011


WE'VE BEEN TO a lot of cities in France and have explored quite a few regions, but after spending 4 days in Grenoble last week I'm putting it near the top of my list of favorite 'mid-sized' cities. There are several variables that could be influencing my decision -- including having a great host while I was there who organized meals for our group at several top-flight restaurants. But beyond that I was captivated by three things about Grenoble:

1) the vibrant and very compact old village, with numerous boutiques, shops, and outdoor cafes -- including one I went to that claims to be the 2nd oldest continuously running cafe in France, Cafe de la Table Ronde. According to the sign it's been running since the mid 1700s. The old village is sort of perfect for my taste because it is obviously bigger than a city center in a small mountain village, but clearly smaller than a big city like Paris or even Nice. I just loved it.

2) the modern, up-to-date business district. I'm have always like cities that effectively mix old and new. I love quaint villages that are 500 years old as much as the next guy, but I get bored enless there is evidence of today nearby. In Grenoble you can enjoy a coffee in the old town, walk 10 minutes along the river, cross under the train station and emerge in a 21st century business park that is --by modern business park standards -- quite attractive architecturally. In this area you find universities, business schools, high-tech industries, and the school where I was based for the oral exams.

3) mountains! The scenery around Grenoble is stunning. I took the cable car up to the old Bastille and just admired the view --- including one of Mont Blanc in the distance. From the top of the fort you really get a sense of the history of Grenoble because you can see its development by observing the rooftops: first the old village near the river, then the early 20th century expansion, then the evidence of the '68 Olympic Games, then the modern construction -- including a large IKEA near the outskirts of town. Beautiful.

I don't know where I will be placed next year, but I'd be perfectly happy to go back to Grenoble. It's not the most convenient town to get to from here (evidenced by my two trains and one bus trip home yesterday), but it was worth it this time around.

24 June 2011

Most British Headline Ever?

I'M HANGING OUT with a lot of my colleagues from the British Section of the OIB (remember, I teach in the American Section) while doing oral exams here in Grenoble, and perhaps that is why this caught my attention. Buzzfeed claims to have found the most British headline ever printed -- and it's tough to disagree. Judge for yourself:

22 June 2011

Standing With the Intellectual Class

AS MUCH AS I hate to admit it, I'm with the French intellectuals on this one.

[Note: isn't that phrase -- French intellectuals -- so pretentious that it's almost satire all by itself?]

[Note 2 -- you see what I'm talking about by clicking the link...on the words 'on this one' above].

21 June 2011

Dinner and Music and a Few Other Things

AFTER HAVING READ over 800 pages worth of bac papers in the last week and a half, I am glad to be finished with the marking of the written exams. The last three days have been full, full, full. But now that we are done I will spend a nice long evening enjoying a meal and the Fête de la Musique here in Paris. The 21st of June really is one of the greatest nights in France and in Paris -- as usual -- they crank it up a notch or two.

I did get a chance to have a really good meal last night as well. After a very enjoyable visit with Cécile and Emmanuelle (some of you know who they are -- I'm looking at you, Jeremy!) at a little café near Odeon, I joined the other examiners at a well-known restaurant called the Polidor. We went to the Polidor last year as well (see here), but this year it was noticeably more crowded and the line outside to get a table at about 9:00pm was approaching 25-30 people. Could that be, perhaps, because the Polidor is featured in a major scene in Woody Allen's new film "Midnight in Paris"? I'm guessing it played a role....

Off to Grenoble tomorrow for a few days of oral exams.

Meanwhile, Patrick and Julia officially finished school today and we are very proud of the work they did in what can only be called a demanding year. This French system really gets into gear when you hit middle school -- or as they call it: collége. Summer vacation has now arrived for them, and it coming for me in under two weeks. More on our plans for this summer later.

18 June 2011

Doing What Most Americans Can't

I'M TAKING A high speed train to Paris in the morning. Most Americans can't do that. Not go to Paris, but take a high speed train. I read an article about the lack of train usage in the US and found the following among the interesting parts:
Ohio and Florida—both of which unfortunately rejected rail funding—are about as dense as France, a world leader in high-speed rail. Illinois, Virginia, and North Carolina sit one density level down, but are on par with Spain and Austria, both of which host high-speed rail.
The chart I included is hard to read, but is basically represents this: the top two panels show population density where the darker the shade of blue the more people there are per square mile. The bottom two panels reflect areas where this is a network of high speed trains.

The US is far bigger and spread out than Europe, that is for sure. But it seems clear there are regions that mirror European geography and demographics where rail could be a real solution to the transportation problems that plague many parts of the country. Of course, much of it comes down to culture and we are not train travelers anymore. Much like we do not take buses unless we absolutely have to. What a shame.

I'll be in Paris and Grenoble for a week marking the written Bac and examining students in the oral phase of the exam. Always a very tiring, but fun time.

16 June 2011

Bac 2011

LE BAC...C'EST PARTI! Over 6,000 students in our part of France start the official bac today with the famous/dreaded Philosophy exam -- or as it called here, le bac philo. Almost 200 of those students are from the school where I teach. Bonne chance tout le monde!

Update: The newspaper websites are already printing the subjects from today's philosophy bac. Here they are (students choose one to write on for two hours)
  • L'art est-il moins nécessaire que la science ? (Is art less necessary than science?)
  • La liberté est-elle menacée par l'égalité ? (Is freedom threatened by equality?)
  • La culture dénature-t-elle l'homme ? (Not really sure how to translate this one correctly, but it's something like 'Does culture misrepresent man?')
  • Peut-on avoir raison contre les faits? (Can we be right about the facts?)
Students also get to comment on an extract from one philosopher they have studied (again, chose one and write for two hours). This year the extracts are from: Gay Science (Nietzsche), Thoughts (Pascal), and Benefits (Seneca).

Geez, my dad is going to love this!


THE U.S. OPEN Championship begins today and I'll be paying closer attention than usual because it is being held at Congressional Country Club -- just a few miles from the house we own in the DC area. I've watched professional tournaments in person at Congressional at least 5 or 6 times, including walking two rounds of the both the '95 US Senior Open (where I saw Jack Nicklaus hit a hole in one!!) and the '97 US Open. In fact, at the '97 Open my friend Kevin and I actually worked concessions on the Friday selling lemonade just off the 4th hole. If I remember correctly the largest crowds that day were for the threesome that included Tiger Woods and Nick Faldo. I took my brother to the final round on Sunday and we follwed Ernie Els for most of the back nine, but also got to see Colin Montgomery put his ball in the drink on 17. Needless to say, the crowd went wild when Monte's ball got wet.

In 2007 I took Patrick to Tiger's tournament and one of the best moments was when we paused for lunch -- a juicy burger while sitting on the 9th fairway). The 9th hold is a long par 5 where 70% of the tour players lay-up because of a huge gully just in front of the green (you can almost get the feel of it from the photo, which is taken from the 9th fairway). We sat with our lunches right at the spot where players usually put their second shot. When Adam Scott came through we turned our heads to the right to watch his approach. As soon as his club hit the ball it was clear, however, that he was not laying-up -- he was going for the green. That shot was one of the best shots I have ever seen in person. It started low, arched upward about two thirds of the way to the green, landed softly on the front fringe and rolled to about 8 feet. Scott missed the put, but what the hell, it was a great shot anyway.

Isn't this great, my thoughts on personal golf memories? The fact is, I miss golf. I havn't played since moving to France and don't watch much because of the time change. With some luck I'll watch a bit this year.

14 June 2011

Food-Beverage Pairing

TONIGHT I PAIRED my main course with...ice cold Dr. Pepper. No real reason to mention that except to say that I love Dr. Pepper and I'm happy I can get it from time to time at the local supermarket.

11 June 2011

Antiboises For A While

IT IS THAT time of year again -- the time when we must vacate our house and move into a small apartment for 3 weeks until the school year finishes. In the past we always chose a little place close to our house because the kids needed easy access to the local primary school. But now that the twins are with me at the CIV, we decided to branch out a bit and try something completely different. I'll explain by describing my immediate surroundings right now:

I am currently sitting on the patio of a second-floor (first floor if you're European) apartment in Antibes. The apartment sits above a bank and almost directly across the street from the Antibes Cycles bike shop. About 50 meters to my left is a small Casino (the store, not the gambling hall), a tabac, a boulangerie, and a pharmacy. To my right is a hair dresser and a couple of other small shops. Directly in front of me, just beyond a small block of houses and the train tracks that connect Nice and Cannes, is the Sea. Lots of traffic, lots of people walking around, lots of shops nearby.

Something completely different. The apartment is small, but very cute and charming and has two bedrooms -- an upgrade from previous years. The fact that I can walk to get a newspaper tomorrow morning in the less time than it takes for my coffee to brew is very exciting. It almost makes me want to go to bed right now so that morning will come quicker.

As usual, Kerri found the place, and we're quite happy to spend the next three weeks here in Antibes.

09 June 2011

A Very Sad Development

I PUT UP a post earlier this week about the incredible thunderstorms that passed through the area last Sunday morning. Well, yesterday we had a series of storms that made last Sunday look like golfing weather. For about 2 hours on Wednesday our village seemed to be the epicenter of what people around here are calling one of the fiercest storms they can remember. Unfortunately, the damage from the storm included the tragic death of an 11-year old boy from our village who was swept away in a torrent of water. His name was Roman and he was in Patrick and Julia's class last year at the local village school. Julia told me today that for most of last year he sat at the desk right in front of her. (The story can be read in the Nice Matin here.)

The community is obviously devastated. Roman lives about 600 meters from our house at the base of a large hill where there is a small stream that flows along the roadside. During the summer months the stream that flows along his property is barely 1 ft. deep and the average 11-year old could cross it in a single leap. But when the heavy rains come (as they have recently) the stream turns into a fast flowing river as it crests its banks and flows toward Roquefort-les-Pins, the town just down the road from ours. Roman was playing near the stream during the storms when he fell into the water. Early indications are that he hit his head on a tree which knocked him out. His body was found more than 1 km downstream by a local high school student. The link I posted above has a video clip where you can see the rushing water.

These are the kinds of stories you never want to hear, especially when they involve people you know. Kerri, the kids and I are feeling pretty sick about this one.

07 June 2011

Bac Subjects Revealed

I DO THIS every year, so why stop now. Here are the four questions from this year's History bac in the OIB (American section). The students just got them and are now sitting for the four hour exam. For this test they must choose two questions, one from the History category and one from the Geo category. Which ones would you choose?
  • HISTORY essay: 'Decolonization: compare examples of British and French decolonization.'
  • HISTORY document-based essay: 'To what extent did Détente play a role in the cold war from the 1970s to the fall of the Berlin Wall?'
  • GEO essay: 'Examine the role of Transnational Corporations (TNCs) in the global economy.'
  • GEO document-based essay: "To what extent is the United States an 'anxious superpower'"
All things considered, I'm quite happy with this exam.

05 June 2011

Now That is a Storm

TO BE HONEST, if its going to rain I want to pour. I don't mind rain in general, but the soft pitter- patter day-long rains sometimes drive be nuts. Today we got something different: one of the fiercest storms I have experienced in quite a while. And it was great!

We've had temperamental weather patterns for the past few days and large thunderstorms are not uncommon in the part of the world, but what we had today was massive by any definition: bright streaks of lightning, window-shaking thunder, multiple power outages, and rain so think we could barely see to the neighbor's house. The storms started at about 10:00 this morning and lasted until mid-afternoon. By 5:00pm (just about 30 minutes ago), the sky was clear, the sea was blue, the air was crisp, and there was, with the exception of the still-saturated grass, absolutely no trace of storm.

Now that is the kind of storm I like.The rain is coming down hard for several hours.

At one point Kerri was worried the water in the pool was going to overflow. It was close.

15 minute ago the view looked like this from our living room. The people on that cruise ship are getting into Nice at just the right time.

So we spent the day indoors. Homework. Cycling and the entire French Open final on TV. Steak fajitas for dinner.

Ça va!