30 March 2008

Opening Day: 3000 miles away

THOSE OF YOU who know me know that Monday will be bitter-sweet for me. Sweet because it's Opening Day. Bitter because I won't be able to experience it first hand. You can show me calendars that say otherwise, but for me spring officially begins when Major League Baseball officially opens its season. Opening Day is a symbol of how American (or is it Latin American) baseball is.

I'm not trying to go David Halberstam or Thomas Boswell on you, but I'll be thinking a lot about baseball on Monday. A lot of the time I'll be thinking about how long it's been since the Baltimore Orioles even resembled a competitive team, but thinking about the plight of 'my' Orioles is somehow better than not thinking about them at all. Their Opening Day roster is a bit unfamiliar to me (Luis Hernandaz? Adam Jones? Luke Scott? Randor Beird?) but it doesn't matter, I'll follow along from afar and root for the best.

Meanwhile, in Washington the hometown Nationals are opening their season tonight in a brand new stadium. It looks amazing on video, with sweeping views of the US Capital, the Washington Monument, and the Anacostia River. Can't wait to see it. If someone from home goes to a game -- please send photos!

I don't ever regret moving with my family to France, but there are times when I wish I could jet home real quick for a couple of days. Tomorrow will be one of those days.

Late Update: Ryan Zimmerman hit a home-run in the bottom of the 9th inning to win the Nat's opening game in their new stadium.

[obscure reference guide: David Halberstam, Thomas Boswell] (these won't be obscure to some of you: Kevin, Dan, Jeremy, Dad, any others?)

29 March 2008

Famous Visitors say Au Revoir!!


So, we just said goodbye to our friends from back home! The kids were soooo excited to have their school mates visit. It was lovely to see Muriel, David, Daniel, Kamran, Gina, Leila and Phillip. We hope you all had a wonderful time here in the South of France and made it home safe and sound!

We would like to say a HUGE thank you to Kamran, an architect by trade but an incredible artist by passion who ,within a 2-hour lunch break, sat with the girls on the back balcony and created the most amazing water-color painting of our backyard view!!! What a gift!

And to Muriel, a member of the Corcoron faculty in Washington, DC who left with us her sample portfolios of personal work which portrays a most intimate life story through her incredibly thoughtful and creative photographs and writings--you should check her out for yourself at http://www.murielhasbun.com/! And David, thank you for leaving with us the amazing photos from our visit together and for the much needed french lessons--we are practically fluent now!
A bien tot! (yeah, a french phrase!)

Oh yeah, make sure to click on "Our photos" on top of the blog so you can see more candids from your trip to le Rouret!!!

25 March 2008

Remind me to tell you about the time I....

I DON'T HAVE time right now (still have guests!), but I may have committed my biggest faux pas to date -- and that's saying something. Here it is in a nutshell: in the middle of a conseils de classe I got confused in my pronunciation of French words and accidentally said one word when I meant to say another. The word I said was the French equivalent of the F-word. Ouch.

And in front of the other teachers, parents, and administrators.

Details later.

Only Matters to Me

YOU KNOW, IF you have really good bread and really good cheese, those are the only two ingredients you need for a really good sandwich.

23 March 2008

Full Day in San Remo

SO I WAS able to convince my family (and some visiting freinds) to go to San Remo for the day -- partly to watch the finish of the Milan-San Remo bike race. After a nice picnic lunch on the beach, we let the kids play in the water for a few hours, then positioned ourselves about 250 meters from the finish line and watched as Fabian Cancellara won the big race.

Watching cycling is about 90 percent anticipation and 10 percent participation -- as this short video clip from our day yesterday will show:

Late Update: There is a good story about the race from the perspective of one of the riders if you click here.


21 March 2008

Not Very French, We Know

FOR SOME REASON, whenever we have visitors staying with us we often end up eating at Zens's Place in Antibes. But I always leave feeling a bit guilty -- because Zena's is a Fish n Chips place run by a local British woman, not a French Bistro run by a guy named Florian.

But Zena's is quick, easy, kid-friendly, and really, really good. Not very French, but really, really good. Especially the mushy peas.


OK, I REALLY don't mean for this to be all about bike races, it's just that we've had guests for the past week and there hasn't been much time to keep up. It also just so happens that we're going to go to another major race tomorrow -- partly because our friends want to shoot over to Italy, and party because I'd like to see the finish of the Milan-Sanremo race. (Actually, what I did was convince Kerri and our friends that Sanremo is a nice little Italian city and we should go visit. Then, when we get there I'll just pretend that it's an extra, previously unknown bonus that one of the biggest races of the year happens to be ending there the same day. Shhhhhhh!)

Milan-San Remo is the longest one day race of the years --298 km this year -- and is the first of 5 monster single-day races known as La Classicissima. We'll head out early, spend the afternoon in Sanremo (just over an hour from us) then watch the sprinters battle it out for the title.

Oh...and enjoy the town, food, markets, shopping, blah blah blah.

16 March 2008

Paris-Nice Final Stage

THE FINAL STAGE OF the Paris-Nice was today and I went down to Nice for the start of the stage. I've never been to the start of a bike race before and I was struck by how accessible the teams and riders are. Thousands of fans were just strolling along the Prommenade des Anglais talking to riders and taking photos and video of the teams. The riders were quite willing to talk and let you touch their equipment (I realize that last phrase could be interpreted in a completely different way -- I mean their bikes, Jim!) At one point I was in front of the team Lotto bus and Cadel Evans was showing a fan how light his bike was and I was able to give it a quick lift as well. Here are some photos and some explanations. By the way, the photo at the left is of Gerolsteiner's Davide Rebellin (the eventual winner) and Rinaldo Nocentini, who finished second overall. I took the photo just before the start of the final stage.

Slipstream-Chipotle rider Christian VandeVelde. You can almost smell the burritos!

Slipstream's color scheme as it apears on their bikes.

The Lampre Boys

Bobby Julich being interviewed by VS.

Next week I'm hoping to convice my family to go to the finish of Milan-San Remo! We'll see.


Paris-Nice Stage 6: Our Bobby Julich Moment

THE SIXTH STAGE of the Paris-Nice arrived in Cannes on Saturday afternoon. We decided to catch a glimps of the race and found a great spot about 12 km from the finish in the village of Pegomas, just at the bottom of the trecherous descent down the Col du Tanneron. On the way to Pegomas I was trying to explain to our kids that we were only going to see about 15 seconds of racing, but if were were lucky we'd be able to see some well known riders and the Slipstream-Chipotle team. (Note: we were all eager to see the Slipstream-Chiptole team because, as long as we are living in France, that's the closest we're going to get to one of those beautiful, delicious, guacamole-filled Chipotle burritos.)

Patrick and Julia were wanting to know which famous riders we were going to see. They don't know too many cyclists by name, but I mentioned that we might see Bobby Julich, making sure to add that it would probably be hard to pick him out in the mddle of the pack. I chose to mention Julich because I've really liked him ever since he finished 3rd in the 1998 Tour de France (pre-Lance, by the way). Because Julich was one of the few Americans to experience real success in the Tour in the years between Lemond and Armstrong, I think all American cycling fans really like him.

Anyway, when we arrived at our spot -- right in the center of the village at a sharp right-hand turn -- we got ready to watch the blur. But the last climb of the day, the Col du Tanneron, really broke up the field and the first rider to come into view was on his own, about 20 seconds ahead of another small group. As the lone rider got close I saw the distinctive 'CSC' on his shoulders. As he whizzed by (with the kids looking on in awe) I realized that it was...Bobby Julich! Couldn't have planned that any better. Julich eventually came in third in a sprint finish won by Sylvain Chavenel.

14 March 2008

Prince Albert's Favorite Songs

TODAY IS PRINCE Albert of Monaco’s 50th birthday. As part of a tribute to the head of the principality, a local Monaco radio station played some of Albert's favorite songs all morning. The selections were based on a list created by the Prince himself of his 50 favorite records. Now it just so happens that I listen to this particular radio station each day on my way to work so I was looking forward to hearing some of the choices.

When I got in the car "Walk the Line" by Johnny Cash was playing. That was followed by James Taylor, Neil Diamond, and Peter Paul and Mary. Just when I was about to think Prince Albert couldn’t be any less cool, they played back-to-back hits from Journey and Foreigner.

Your coolness is no longer in doubt your highness.

12 March 2008

Bac Blanc Question: Give it a Go!

I WON'T GO into the details right now, but each year the Terminale students (seniors!) at the Centre International du Valbonne (CIV) must take the Bacalaurate, a huge test with both written and oral components. In the O.I.B section (Option American), the Histoire/Geo section or the exam consists of a 2 hour written exam in history, a 2 hour written exam in geography, and a 30 minute oral exam that covers information from two academic years. The exam takes place each June and students must do it in English (quite amazing when you consider most of my students are French). The history courses are covered in english by the teachers in the Section Angalis (that would be me) and the geography courses are covered by teachers in the French system. (It's a bit more complicated than that - but I'm breezing over this). Each February the students take a practice written exam called the Bac Blanc. I just finished grading them and I wanted to share the question that our French colleagues proposed for geography. If you would like to attempt to answer the questions, please email me your response (or leave it in the comments section) in standard APA format. The question was this:
Discuss the organization of the world with reference to international communications.
You have two hours. Go.

10 March 2008

Devastating Political News

YOU THINK OBAMA-Hillary is big? You should have seen the race for Mayor in our village.

OK, I totally overplayed that, but now that I have your attention I would like to break some bad news: Patrick and Julia will not have close ties to the Mayor of Le Rouret. You see, their teacher's husband (M. Fecourt) was running for the post and he lost his bid in Sunday's municipal elections. In fact, he came in third place, gathering just 17% of the vote, while the current Mayor got 55% of the vote to win reelection. I couldn't tell you his name is my life depended on it.

Clearly, I should have been running Monsieur Fecourt's campaign.

08 March 2008

Second-Division French League Playoff Hockey: It's Fan-tastic!

ONLY A FEW of you will get the reference in the title of this post, but it came to mind because Patrick and I just returned from the second-leg of the quarter finals of the Ligue 2 French ice hockey playoffs. The game was right here in Nice (yes, there is a hockey team in Nice) and they won 7-1 to claim a 9-4 aggregate win which means they will play in the semi-finals beginning next week. Like many sports in Europe, playoffs are determined in a two-game aggregate score format where each team gets one game at home. Nice lost the away-leg 3-2 so had to win tonight-s game by at least 2 in order to advance. Midway through the 2nd period they were trailing 1-0 before score four straight goals in less than 5 minutes. As usual, Nice was led by their very talented Swedes (that's for you, mom). Nice signed 5 Swedes last year and they are really good. But I suppose I should mention that a French native (and the team capitain) scored 4 goals tonight!

I've been to 5 or 6 games this season and I'm still trying to decide how good this league is compared with talent in the US and Canada. I think I've decided that this league would be able to compete at the NCAA Division I level, but not with the big boys from New England, Michigan, and the Dakotas.

[Note: going to these games makes me really miss playing. My team -- I can't bring myself to say 'former team' yet -- from back in DC is doing quite well this season. Here are the latest standings for the Wheaton Caps.]

06 March 2008

I Played the 'Dumb American' Card...and it Worked.

I HAVE HAD a bit of trouble on the French roads since I've been here, as evidenced by the two speeding tickets I've received, the two parking tickets that have been issued to me, the two tires that have got flat while I've been driving, and the numerous times I've pulled into the wrong toll booth at the péage. But yesterday, while facing yet another traffic citation, I played the 'dumb American' card. And it worked.

First, let me say that my spotty traffic record should in no way be an indication that I am a poor driver. It should, on the contrary, indicate how stupid French traffic laws can be. For example, in my two speeding tickets (both handed out by traffic cameras) I have been going a combined 7 km an hour over the speed limit. Once I was doing 73 kmh in a 70 kmh zone; and once I was doing 74kmh in a 70kmh zone (note: full disclosure requires me to now point out that both tickets occured at the same spot, so I must bear some of the blame for not learning my lessons the first time -- and for those of you who know the area, it was at the traffic camera in Antibes just north of the Carrefour).

But yesterday was a bit different because for the first time I was pull-over by an actual policeman (police municipal, actually). I was heading home from Cannes with my family and my sister's family following behind in another car. Traffic was a bit heavy since it was nearly 5:00 in the afternoon. I noticed the right lane was moving pretty well so I changed lanes and proceed in the open, virtually car-free lane. As I drove along I noticed periodic large white signs painted on the road that read 'BUS', but I thought it was just a suggestion -- as in 'hey busses, we suggest that you use this lane'. Apparently it's a bit more than that.

After a few blocks a blue-uniformed police officer stepped in front of my path and ushered me to the side of the road. When I rolled down my window he informed me that the right lane was only for busses and wondered why I was driving there. That's when I pulled the dumb American card. Using my best French I said to him (and I'm paraphrasing here): 'What? Buses only? How could I have possibly known that since I am just a stupid American boy. I am so sorry. I trust that a noble person of your stature can find it in your heart to forgive this transgression.'

It worked. He let me go.

Who's dumb now?

Only Matters to Me

I'VE GOT A scratch on my Dream Theatre CD and I can't listen to track 7-9!

Nice-Matin in English

WHEN I WENT to pick up a paper this afternoon my local newspaper guy told me that the Nice Matin is no longer printing their weekly English edition. The Nice Matin is the largest daily paper in the southeast part of France and each Thursday they printed an edtion called 'Let's Go Riviera' that not only reported on the week's big stories, it also contained a 7-day guide to everything going on along the Riviera. We read 'Let's Go' religiously because we planned our weekends around the activities we read about.

Is it true that it is no more?

04 March 2008

Busy Fun Time

A LOT GOING on right now: sister and brother-in-law are visiting with their family; end of the trimester (conseils time again), about 50 bac blanc's to grade, bac blanc orals next coming up. But here are a few photos of the cousins for friends at home.

[If you know my sister and brother-in-law, be sure to ask them what happened to them about 3 hours after landing in Rome.]

What is the little guy doing?

Once again, what is the little guy doing?

5 cousins (where is Will/Willam/William/Liam?)