30 April 2008

We Will What?

KERRI HAS ALWAYS liked 'Queen', so it's no great surprise that our 3-yr. old runs around the house singing 'we will, we will rock you'. However, as you'll see in this clip, I'm not sure he has the words exactly right. Take a look below or at You Tube :


Tired of the Pandering

NOBODY IS REALLY going to be interested in this post but me, but I've got to say something about the poltiical scene in the US right now -- mainly because I read Tom Friedman's column in the NY Times today (by the way, when did the Times do away with their 'paysite' business model? I love that it's now free again). As usual, he was right on the money.

Super quick background: Hillary Clinton and John McCain have both suggested suspending the federal excise tax (about 18 cents) on gas for the summer travel season. What a stupid, short-sited, politically motivated idea. As if tackling our energy problems from the short term supply side is going to solve anything. Like Friedman says today, "This is not an energy policy. This is money laundering: we borrow money from China and ship it to Saudi Arabia and take a little cut for ourselves as it goes through our gas tanks."

How about this as a quick summary:
One way to judge a politician is to see how reluctant they are to use the baldest forms of pandering and bribery to win votes. Even when they know the policy in question is stupid and counter-productive, their short-term political interest always takes precedence over sound policy. This gas tax holiday crap is an almost pure example of this. And McCain and Clinton have both signed on to it. If you want to know about political character, this tells you a lot.

OK, sorry. No more politics (for now).

27 April 2008

Worth the Wait

MY VERY GOOD friend Kevin game me a box set of Seinfeld episodes nearly four years ago. He suggested that I not open it until I really needed to -- the idea being that you can still see repeats of Seinfeld just about every day in the States. After 7 months in France, I finally opened the box and began watching. It’s like I’ve had a huge shot of caffeine injected into my life. I’m going to start watching one episode every Thursday night at 9:00pm.

By the way, check out Kevin's official results from last week's Boston Marathon. Pretty good time if you ask me.

25 April 2008

That's a lot of Gas Money

ONE OF THE interesting things we’ve noticed about our lifestyle in France is that we do a lot more together as a family than we did in Washington. There are a number of reasons that might explain this: 1) since we are here for a finite period of time we are trying to do as much as possible while we can; 2) we live in a part of the world where there are an incredible amout of things to do; 3) we don’t have any friends. (I’m leaving out the obvious reason: we don’t have ESPN or C-SPAN).

I keep telling myself that is has to be number one or two, but just to be sure I’ve begun to compile a list of our travels, and I mean the longish trips we’ve taken – often involving an overnight or two. While compiling the list I decided to add up the total distance we have traveled on these trips. Then, just to make my stomach hurt, I divided that by my estimated fuel efficiency and muliplied that by the cost of gas. Ouch. I’ll show you those numbers at the end of this post.

But here are the major (about 100km one way or more) trips we have taken and the estimated length of those trips measured in kilometers and round trip:

  • San Remo, Italy (day trip twice @ 160 km = 320km)
  • St. Tropez (day trip = 190 km)
  • Giens/Toulon (day trip = 225)
  • Monaco: (6 trips @90 km = 540 ) Monaco doesn’t really count because it’s so close, but we’ve been so many times (mostly to show visitors) that I’m including it.
  • Modena, Bologna, Venice Italy (5 days = 1050 km)
  • Milan, Como & Switzerland (4 days = 1300 km)
  • Valberg/Entrevaux (day trip = 210 km)
  • Chamonix (5 days = 1000 km)
  • Lyon (3 days = 890 km)
  • Agivnon & Western Provence (4 days = 1150 km)

Rough Total = 7000 km

Now, with respect to fuel, let me first remind you that we are driving a ‘mini-van’ of sorts in a country where fuel prices -- adjusted to US dollars -- is in the range of $8 per gallon (I'm glad my paycheck is in Euros!) Taking into account only the trips above (and not, for example, our many trips to Nice to watch hockey, or to Cannes to go to the beach, or to the mountains to go exploring) our total fuel costs for these trips was about 850 Euros, or $1300. That figure, I might add, does not include the hefty tolls that French and Italian motorways often require.

Next year I’m considering changing the name of this blog from French for a While to Broke in a While.

Ah, but it's all worth it. The simple fact is that numbers 1 and 2 from the top of this post both explain why we have decided to travel around so much. We're not going to be here forever so we're just doing as much as we can while we can. Carpe Diem.

[Note: if you would like a copy of my spreadsheet for these calculations, email me.]

24 April 2008

Indiana Jones Coming to Cannes

SINCE WE LIVE in this part of the world, yesterday's announcement of what films have been selected for this year's Cannes Film Festival was big news. Some familiar names are atop the list: Clint Eastwood, Stephen Soderbergh, Woody Allen. But as a child of the 80s, I'm most excited about the world premier of the 4th installment of the Indiana Jones series (I think it's the catchy theme song that I like to much: buh buh-duh baaaah, buh buh-duuuuh -- come on...sing along!!)

Some of my colleagues go to the festival every year so they are arranging to get some tickets for us. Probably not for Indiana Jones, but some of the other lesser known films will be fun to see as well. Should be fun.

23 April 2008

Thanks for the visit!

Thank you Sara and Benjamin for coming to visit us, even though it happened to be the rainiest few days we have had in a while! Even though the rain and cold dominated our time together it didn't dampen our fun--even "yatzhee" is more fun in the pouring down rain in the South of France! Patrick had a wonderful time with Benjamin as did Henry and even Julia (although she will deny it if asked) and we had a fabulous time visiting with you and being introduced to your french amis.

Thanks for the gifts and thank you soooo much for coming to see us!!! Hope you're having a great time in Paris!


22 April 2008

Only Matters to Me

HOW CAN SUCH an 'environmentally friendly' country require so much bureaucratic paperwork?

Living in a Middle-East Paradise?

I HAVE A student who has lived in some of the most desirable cities in the world: Rome, London, Miami, Abu-Dhabi, and now Beirut (he lives in our dorms during the school year). I asked him the other day which city he liked the best. Without hesitating he said Beirut and listed several reasons why: beaches, mountains, food, the people, etc. It just got me thinking a bit because we are so conditioned to think that that part of the Middle East is nothing more than a war-torn valley of ashes. The photo at left is of downtown Beirut.

[obscure reference guide: valley of ashes]

19 April 2008

Cussed-Out in French

IT'S BEEN NEARLY 8 months, but I've finally be cursed at by a Frenchman.

On Saturday afternoon we went to Monaco with some friends from DC and some friends from here in France. At one point I was standing near the Grand Palais looking over the wall at one of the two main harbors. As I turned away from the wall, a little girl of 3 or 4 who was walking near me tripped over my foot and hit the ground pretty hard. Of course, I felt terrible and quickly said how sorry I was and helped her get up and find her parents. Her mother came over and I apologized to her as well and let her know it was an accident. Incident over? Not by a long shot.

About 1 minute later a man who looked to be in his 60s (the girl's grandfather, perhaps) walked over and started shouting at me (in French), telling me I was 'sick in the head' because I knocked over this girl 'on purpose.' I was a little suprised by this and I repeated by apology and tried to explain that it was an accident. But he would have none of it and he continued to tell me how 'sick' I was and started yelling that I should 'go back to my own country' and that he was 'so tired of foreigners.' Then he called me an 'a-hole' (connard?) about 4 or 5 gimes. I didn't really know what to do so I threw my hands in the air and turned away. That seemed to make him more upset and he continued his rant as he and his family began to walk away.

[Quick note: I only know about the 'go back to my country' and 'tired of foreigners' line because our French friend Jerome translated what he was saying after the incident was over. If I knew French better I would have taken the opportunity to whip out my Carte de Sejour after he made those comments, then I would have said something like: 'Hey buddy, read this. I live in France. Ahhhh Snap!']

Anyway, after the guy called me some more bad names, several of the other people in the area began to jump to my defense. One woman who sitting on a bench near us told the guy to 'stop shouting and go away.' Meanwhile, Kerri and the kids just looked on, hoping the ordeal was over, which it was.

But just for the record...if things had heated up some more, I think I could have taken the guy.

18 April 2008

Have You Ever Seen a Water Balloon Pop? Not Like This.

IT'S RAINING AND cold today so I've been catching up on all things Obama-Clinton (yikes, it's getting ugly). While reading a bit on Andrew Sullivan's site I ran across this video: a water balloon exploding, caught on a camera that films 2000 frames per second. Very cool.

The weather should be better tomorrow.

17 April 2008

A Nice Dinner Out

LAST WEEK DURING our trip to the western part of Provence, we rewarded the kids by stopping for dinner at...McDonalds. It's been a long time since I've eaten at McD's, but I was quickly reminded of two things: 1) if you haven't had one in a long time, a Big Mac is really, really good. 2) 30 minutes after you eat a Big Mac you feel really, really horrible.

16 April 2008

Blogosphere, Meet Reality

ONE OF THE fun things about staying connected via the blogosphere is that, in addition to keeping friends and family updated life, you also get to 'meet' people who have similar experiences as you -- in our case, Americans (or Brits, Australians, etc.) who have moved to France with their families. I put 'meet' in quotes because you usually get to know these families only through their blogs or the occasional email exchange; it is rare that you actually meet them in person. But yesterday that changed for us.

Yesterday afternoon we decided to take advantage of the beautiful day and go the beach in Cannes (don't forget we're on break, hence the free Tuesday afternoon). At one point Kerri, Julia, and Henry were playing with a soccer ball and Patrick and I were looking very American playing (American) football (we were playing that very fun game where one person throws to the other near the sidelines -- drawn in sand -- and he tries to make a spectacular catch while getting both feet in bounds. It's great fun in the sand because you can really dive for the ball and not get hurt). But I digress. Suddenly we looked up and saw a strange man approaching. He looked vaguely familiar, but I couldn't really pinpoint it. Then he walked right up to us and asked: "Are you French for A While?" That's when it hit me. Before I could even get the words "Yes!" out of my mouth I realized that this strange man wasn't so strange after all: he was the guy from La Vie Échangée, a blog that we read quite often. It's amazing how the mind works.

La Vie Échangée is a couple with 4 kids from Arizona. They are here for a year (but perhaps more?) on a house exchange program. They live in Mougins which is just about 15 minutes from us. We spent quite a while chatting on the beach with them and their (French-speaking only) friend. It was a lot of fun getting to know them a bit and talking about some of our similar experiences. Just before we left we took this photo (you might notice that two of their children aren't in the photo. We'll get them in the next one):

If you want to read about yesterday's 'chance meeting' from their perspective, check out their version of the story at La Vie Échangée.


15 April 2008

Long Weekend to the West

SINCE WE HAVE a two week break we decided to take a long weekend to the western part of Provence. So last Thursday we loaded up the car and headed west to begin our trip in the Avignon region. (A friend asked us why we were going to Avignon and I simply responded that our family is really, really into Pope Clement V.). Our goal for the weekend was quite simple:

  • visit the vinyards of Chateauneuf-du-Pape -- they are beautiful.
  • visit Avignon and teach the kids a bit of medieval/roman/papal history.
  • visit Arles -- the ancient Roman city that dates to the 1st century b.c. and has a spectacular coliseum that was started in A.D. 90 (actually, Patrick and Julia knew more about Arles than we did because they have been studying this period in their history class).
  • Visit some really cool castles and fortresses (we found a fantastic one in Les Baux)
  • Try not to spend too much money.

Let's see how we did: check, check, check, check, not-so-much-a-check.

We have video footage coming, which is a good thing because our digital camera battery ran out after day 1, but here are a few photos of our trip.

Some of the 'stone' vinyards in Chateauneuf-du-Pape; with a nice Maison in the background.

Looking out from Chateauneuf toward Avignon

Oh look, mommy and daddy think they're cute.

Daddy with the kids in a 12th century castle. Mommy with P & J at the same ruins.

Another fun thing you can do with Google Earth is track a trip you have taken. Here's our general route -- and the fun things is that this map should be interactive so you can zoom in or out.

View Larger Map


13 April 2008

This is a Commercial for What?

THIS IS AN interesting commercial. For some odd reason it seems to star our family. How did that happen? You can also see it in full screen right here.


It's Pathetic, but We're Loving it.

I HAVE THE CanalSat satellite system on my television. I don't have the premium package, however, so I don't get NASN (the North American Sports Network),...except on my little preview channel. Now, let me explain: the 'preview' channel shows 20 channels simultaneously, each on screens that are about 2 inches by 3 inches. But -- and this is key -- these tiny channels cary full audio. And on NASN the audio is, of course, in English.

NASN is showing most of the NHL playoffs and right at this very moment Patrick and I are watching our beloved Washington Capitals play the Philadelphia Flyers. We're sitting about 2 feet from the TV and squinting a lot.

Pathetic? Yes. And we'll be doing the same thing every time the Caps are on.

08 April 2008

Approaching 1000 Euros!

A FEW MONTHS ago in this space I speculated that our inability to speak French (very well) was going to cost our family in the range of 1000 Euros during the first year we are in France. Last week I added about 150 Euros to the tab.

I'm not sure what I hit, but while driving home from work one afternoon I ran over something in the road (or was I driving too close to the side of the road) that popped my front right tire. And I don't mean I got a flat -- I popped a frickin' hold in the wall of the tire! The next day I took the car into our local garage to inquire about what it was going to take to fix the damage. The very nice mechanic did some checking around the car, consulted a couple of catalogues, and informed me that the cost for two front tires that would fit my car was going to be 125 euros. Now, you should know that I know very little about cars, or tires, or labor costs in France, so I wanted to make sure I had it right. I asked if the 125 was for both tires. Or I should say I thought I asked if the 125 was for both tires. When he nodded and said, oui, I thought I had the answer I needed. Add a bit more for labor and little more for tax and I should be out of the garage for about 200 Euros.

Of course, you know where this story is going. The tires I 'chose' were 125 Euros apiece! And we haven't come close to factoring in labor or taxes yet (I underestimated on both). So now I have really expensive tires on my really cheap car and that makes me really feel like I'm in Langley Park (local DC joke there).

07 April 2008

Weekend in Lyon: Part 1

LET'S JUST START by saying that we loved Lyon. We had a great little hotel near the Rhone River and spent a lovely Saturday afternoon walking around the old part of town. We'll put up more about our visit later, but the reason we were in Lyon in the first place was to watch a hockey match between Nice and Lyon (embarrasing, I know). The match was the League Championship and was held at the Patinoire Charlesmagne, which is a great facility -- much bigger and nicer than the rink in Nice.

Lyon was a heavy favorite, having finished first in the league in dominating fashion. But that didn't matter as Nice rallied from a two goal deficit to win 5-4 (photo at right). It wasn't like watching the Capitals in DC, but it sure was a fun game and the whole family had a great time (although Julia claimes the most fun was picking up all the confetti that was being thrown around).

I had my video camera and took some shots during the post game celebration (really embarrasing, I know). You can see it on the official Nice Hockey website or over at You Tube. Or just right here:


French Bureaucracy Alive and Well in Nice

ABOUT TWO YEARS ago the city of Nice decided to embark on a wide-ranging overhaul of the largest open square in the center of town: the Place Massena. The project was part of a grand plan to introduce a new tramway and new traffic pattern in downtown Nice. For those two years much of Nice was a congestion-filled contruction zone, causing massive headaches for anyone trying to get around the area. But last November, with great fanfare, the tram and 'new' Place Massena were inaugurated, promising much needed relief for commuters and a pedestrian-friendly area for those interested in shopping or a quick trip to a cafe. President Sarkozy even made a visit to kick of the festivities.

But now, a short four months later, the Nice city government has announed that....they are going to tear up the Place Massena and start again!!

Why, you might ask? Because, according to a spokesperson, the newly created traffic patterns don't seem to be working. There is still too much congestion. So the city will soon begin work on a 12-month re-re-restoration project in the heart of Nice. Splendid!

04 April 2008

To Lyon

WE'RE HEADED TO Lyon for the weekend (leaving right after school is out for the kids on Friday). I'm a bit embarassed to say why we're going -- but this website will give you a clue. We'll take some time to look around the city, visit some sites, and -- of course -- try some of Lyon's legendary cuisine.

Full report when we return.

02 April 2008

An Old Joke Re-visited

REMEMBER COLD WAR Russian comedian Yakov Smirnoff? He used to tell a joke that went like this: Q: What's the difference between 1 dollar and 1 Ruble? A: 1 dollar.

Today some of my friends in Europe have a new twist to the joke -- it now goes like this: Q: What's the difference between 1 Euro and 1 dollar? A: About 1 Euro.

We're not quite there yet.

01 April 2008

British Airways Nightmare

IF YOU HAVEN'T seen this story yet it's worth looking at if only because it's, well, kind of funny.

British Airways just opened a state-of-the-art new terminal at Heathrow called T5. It has now been open for 5 days and the only word to describe how it is going so far is: debacle!

Terminal 5 was supposed to be the saving grace for BA and London Heathrow, one of the busiest and most congested airports in Europe. Instead, the swanky new terminal has run into problem after problem, resulting in huge delays and the cancellation of more than 250 flights already. Here's the official statement from British Airways on their website.
We are extremely sorry for the disruption our customers flying from Terminal 5 have experienced since the building opened on Thursday 27 March.

We accept the level of service we have provided has not been good enough. We are working hard to overcome the initial operational difficulties we have encountered.

Look, I love British Airways and have always enjoyed their service when I have flown with them, but this kind of massive screw-up (whatever the reason) is interesting to watch. The Financial Times is estimating that BA will lose more than 50 million dollars because the problems. And just to give you an idea how seriously people are taking the T5 disaster, shares of BA were down 2.5 percent yesterday. All because of some gliches with a new terminal.

Who could have predicted this when the Queen herself inaugurated the terminal a couple weeks ago.