28 June 2008

La Fête de la St-Jean

HERE'S SOMETHING WE probably wouldn't do in the US. Each June 24 all of France celebrates La Fête de la St-Jean. I was in Paris but Kerri took the kids to the place in our village where they celebrated by...jumping over a roaring bonfire. Yes, jumping over a roaring bonfire. It's supposed to bring good luck. If we had a festival like this in the States, the only people who would be lucky would be trial lawyers! France must not be a very litigious country.

We have video of Patrick and Julia making the jump; I'll get it up when I have a bit more time. They made the jump relatively un-scathed.

Return from Paris

AFTER ONE WEEK in Paris it's hard to summarize the trip in a one post (a post that wouldn't bore you to tears, anyway). But I should at least report on some of the high and low points:

  • As tuned in as I am to the internet on a daily basis, it's refreshing to be completely without it for a while. Kind of reminded me of the good ol' 1990s.
  • Grading 30 bac exams in two days (each being about 10-12 pages) is tough on the brain. If I have to read 300 pages of average writing I'd rather it be a David Baldacci novel. (To be fair, the exams were, on the whole, quite good).
  • It's tough to beat a cup of coffee at a cafe where all the chairs face toward the street.
  • While there I also spent three days administering oral exams for students at some of our schools in Paris. That part was tiring, but quite fun since I was at least interacted with students. Orals exams were 20 minutes each at I administered about 12-15 per day.
  • Ate great food! Having a daily food allowance helped; it's just easier to order the €35 'menu' when you know you'll get the money back.
  • Had dinner at Cecile's house where I finally got to meet her father and her brother. Emmanuelle was also there and they prepared a wonderful dinner. Merci Cecile!
  • Also got to have dinner with Bobak -- a former student of mine from DC. He was visiting Paris with his family.
  • Stayed in three hotels during the week (partly because three of the days required work in the suburbs): one was in the Les Halles area (metro: Chatelet); one was in the suburb of Saint-Germain-en-Laye (birthplace of Louis XIV); and one in St. Germain-Paris (metro: Odeon). Two of the three were nice. One, not so much.
  • Flew to Paris, but took the TGV on the return. The ride through Burgundy and Provence is incredibly beautiful.
  • Brought treats back for the kids -- clothing mostly. Note: if you live in France and you have sone named Henry like we do, getting a gift is really quite simple: a Thierry Henry jersey.
  • Next round of meetings in Paris is October.


18 June 2008

Business Travel: Paris

IN MY PREVIOUS job (previous life sounded too dramatic) I was required to travel quite a bit. Lot of travel in the US, a bit in Canada, and one or two trips a year to Asia. But now that I am teaching again after four years away from the classroom, those kinds of travel demands are no longer required. However, the next week is an exception. For the next 7 days I will be in Paris with colleagues from other international schools in France (Bordeaux, Lyon, Monaco, etc.) trying to accomplish three things: 1) make decision regarding plans for upcoming years (curriculum, grading, etc.) 2) marking the Histoire/Geo bac exams that students sat for last week, and 3) administering the oral part of the bac exam to students throughout France. My colleague from the CIV and I will be administering the orals to the students at the OIB school in St. Germain-en-Laye -- just outside Paris.

I'm not taking a computer -- no time for the internet when you are in Paris! I may hit the odd internet cafe or two for a quick update, but probably not. Just email checks.

One of the rules in our house when I am away on business is that Patrick and Julia get to sleep in our bed with Kerri. The flaw in this plan is that the kids look forward to days when I am away. Yesterday Julia came up to me with a big grin on her face and said, 'I can't remember if you are leaving on Thursday or Friday...but I hope it's Thursday.' But I felt better this evening because as I was tucking Patrick into bed he told me that he wishes I didn't have to go.

He won't mind so much tomorrow night when he gets to fall asleep in my spot on the bed!

16 June 2008

"I'm 37. I'm Not Old" -- Dennis

WE'VE BEEN WITHOUT internet for a few days (horror!). Anyway, one of us (OK, it was me) turned 37 over the weekend. But that's no worry because I have it on good authority that 37 is not old. Just check out this clip from Monty Python if you need proof. This is one of my favorites of all time (from 'The Quest for the Holy Grail'), not just because of the age reference, but because it's brilliant political satire.


What a Shame.

TIM RUSSERT: 1950-2008.

Hard to explain this if you haven't spent a lot of time in the US. Russert hosted the most popular political talk show on television. I watched it almost every week. Kerri knew to leave me alone between 10:30 and 11:30 on Sunday mornings. Russert died of a heart attack on Friday afternoon at his office in Washington. The photo at the right is of Tim's son, Luke, taking a moment at the chair where his father sat for nearly 20 years as host of Meet the Press. The photo was taken last Sunday -- Father's Day.

12 June 2008

Faux Pas

HAVEN'T WRITTEN ABOUT any faux pas lately.* Not for lack of examples, I assure you. But tonight's was a fun one.

It's conseils de classe time again (I've expalined these before) which means I have to enter student grades on a web-based program -- and include a brief end-of-the-year comment. The comments are usually short and to the point ('good progress this year', 'keep up the good work', 'good level', etc.). For about 7 of my students I chose to write the phrase 'good year' or 'bonne année'. The only problem is that I forgot that année is feminine and I wrote 'bon année'. The difference between the two is subtle on paper, but a little less subtle when put to use. The way I understand it, bon année is an informal (not technically correct, but often used) way of writing 'Happy New Year!' It was with great delight that my French colleagues pointed out these mistakes during the conseils de classe -- in a typically french (semi) good-natured way.

So tonight, as parents log-on to the internet to read their children's year-end results, they will notice that most teachers have included a brief word of encouragement in the comment box. And for 7 of them, one particular teacher has wished them a Happy New Year.

* what's the plural of 'faux pas'?

Hell Week...

...NOT FOR ME, for my students. Today was the first day of a series of bac tests for my Terminale students. If you have children who may take the French Bac (or a joint French-English bac) you might be interested in this. In just a second I'm going to share the essay questions from this year's Literature bac. The bac (baccalauréat) will consist of 6-7 four-hour exams: Thur - Literature; Friday - History/Geography; Monday - Biology and Physics; Tues - 2 more, etc. Then, since the students in my school are taking the O.I.B. option in English they will also have two sets of orals exams a week later -- one for literature and one for history.

But the best part of the bac is how the results will be revealed. All bac results will be available on Friday, July 4. That afternoon, our school will have a gathering in the afternoon where all bac results will be announced publically over a loud speaker! For some, this will be the 2008 version of the guillotine. The French love their public executions.

But back to today's exam. For the OIB Literature exam, students can be tested on 12 major works that they have studied over the course of two years (the usual: Shakespeare, Dickens, Austin). The essay questions, which are top secret until they are revealed at test time, for Literature this year were as follows (students must answer two):
  1. Irony -- whether verbal, situational, structural, or 'dramatic' -- is a frequently employed literary device. Discuss the use of irony in some of the works you have studied this year. How are the ironic effects created, and what purpose do they serve?
  2. 'The innocent always suffer in literature, but they also survive.' How far is this statement true for two of the works you have studied?
  3. Is it possible to transpose tragedy from the stage to the novel? What is gained and what is lost in the translations. Discuss this with relation to two works you have studied.
  4. Scottish writer J. M. Barrie said, 'Life is a long lesson in humility.' While some literary characters have benefited from humbligh experiences, others, arguable, have ben 'humbled' in a negative or tragic sense. Discuss the quote with relation to two works you have studied.

There you go. I should add that there was also a section where they had to comment on piece of literature -- this year it happened to be a W.H. Auden poem. Friday is the History/Geo test (which I teach) so I can't wait to find out what questions are asked. I hope they are on topics that we actually covered in class!


08 June 2008

More Cycling in the South of France

HERE'S A PHOTO we took of the Pont d'Avignon earlier this spring: Here's a photo by Graham Watson of today's Dauphiné Libéré opening prologue.

Looks like we were standing in about the same spot.


How Much Are You Paying for Gas?

COULD IT BE that prices like those on the left are actually a bargain? As I've said here before, it's unfair to make simple comparisons between fuel prices in the US and fuel prices in Europe. But just to give some perspective, I filled up the tank of my VW Golf today for €1.53 per liter. Some quick math reveals that this works out to...$10.00 per gallon. I repeat: $10.00 per gallon!

Prices in France are climbing as fast as anywhere. When we arrived in this country we could get a liter of 'regular' gasoline for about €1.07. Of course, the outrage here is minimal compared to the outrage earlier this year when the average price of a baguette rose from 0.75 to 0.80.

07 June 2008

A Nominee (finally)

IT WAS ANYTHING but a dull Democratic primary. Hillary conceded and endorsed Obama today. So, say goodbye to Hillary...

...and say hello to the Democratic nominee for President of the United States.
So now it's Obama v. McCain. I was hoping for this match-up, but I can't say I truely thought it would happen. 5 months 'till election day!

Now I can focus on French stuff again.

06 June 2008


MY BROTHER SENT these photos to us the other day (actually, he sent them to Kerri hoping she would send them to me so I'd put them up on the blog...at least that's my theory). The photos of him only made me miss playing hockey even more. This past spring our team (do I have to say my former team?) won our league championship for the first time. I'm sure there is no connection between the fact that the team won in the first year that I did not play.

We're also very happy that the dreaded Pittsburgh Penguins did not win the Stanley Cup. I'm no fan of the Detroit Red Wings, but they're better than Satan's favorite team -- the Penguins!

And, yes, there is summer hockey in DC -- these photos were taken only a few days ago.

05 June 2008

Finished with Terminale

TODAY WAS MY last day of teaching students in the Terminale year. They now have about a week to prepare for a series of major tests that will determine the score they receive on their baccalauréat. It will also basically determine their entire future so they are very thankful to the French education system for all the pressure (I'm exaggerating...but just a little bit). It will be a pretty stressful couple of weeks for them -- including four hour written (and sometimes oral) exams in History, English, Biology, Physics, Economics, Philosophy, and a few others I don't even know about.

This morning we finished the year with a little breakfast for the students. Now it's up to them!!

Adrian, Eve, Kathryn

Magali, Louise, Thalia, Francois

With Vianney and Anna

A quick photo op

With Eve and Kathryn


03 June 2008

What do the French Watch on T.V.?

I READILY ADMIT that I’m a media junkie.

I love ratings and rumors. I love knowing who’s in and who’s out on local radio. I love reading about newspaper circulation numbers, television show ad revenues, and network news wars. I love finding out NBC's prime time Fall schedule in the Spring -- the day it's released to the public. I guess you'd say I'm not so much interested in the Access Hollywood part of media as I am the Howard Kurtz and Tom Shales part of media.

Here in France there is an organization called Mediametrie that reports on all things related to French media (sort of like Nielsen ratings). I love this site! Just for fun, here are the top 10 most-watched shows in France for the week May 19-25. You might recognize some of them:

1. CIS: Miami (TF1)
2. Without a Trace (France 2)
3. House (TF1)
4. Soccer – Manchester vs. Chelsea (TF1)
5. Soccer – Lyon vs. Paris (France 2)
6. 7 ans de marriage (TF1)
7. Code de la route : Repassez-le-en-direct (TF1)
8. Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? (TF1)
9. Plus belle la vie (France 3)
10. Reportages (TF1)

Compare that to the most-watched shows in the United States during the same week.

1. American Idol – Wed (Fox)
2. American Idol – Tues. (Fox)
3. Dancing with the Stars – Results (ABC)
4. Dancing with the Stars (ABC)
5. Grey’s Anatomy (ABC)
6. CSI: Miami (CBS)
8. House (Fox)
9. Two and a Half Men (CBS)
10. Criminal Minds (CBS)

I don’t know which is worse, the fact that Who Wants To Be a Millionaire is a Top 10 show in France, or the fact that Two and a Half Men is a Top 10 show in the US. And where is NBC these days?

[obsucre reference guide: Howard Kurtz is the Media Critic for the Washington Post; Tom Shales is the chief television critic for the Washington Post]

02 June 2008

My Renewed Faith in HP

LAST WEEK I posted about Kerri's computer dying. This week I've been hearing from people who have had similar problems with their HP computers. My brother-in-law is having trouble with his, a former co-worker has had problems with hers, one of my students recently swore-off HPs, and the husband of La Vie Échangée even sent a comment to this blog saying he has had problems with HPs in his business.

But I'm here to tell you have found new faith in HP. I have seen the light and it is in the distinct shape of an H and a P. The next time I enter a church I will make an H and a P across my chest -- that's how much faith I have.

I sense some of you are not conviced. Oh ye of little faith! Let me share my experience (very briefly).

Kerri's computer just sort of died about 2 weeks ago. Not sure what to do, I phoned the customer service line in the US and they directed me to the HP offices here in France. After navigating through a maze of (French) operators, Kerri finally scheduled a pick-up for the computer. That pick-up occurred last Wednesday. Today -- a mere 4 working days later -- a van rolled into our driveway and delivered her computer. Completely fixed (new mother board) and with all her files intact.

Our HP laptop died. 4 days later it was resurrected. I have faith! At least until is crashes again.

01 June 2008

Le Ranch (Mexican Food)

OUR VERY GOOD friends from DC email this weekend to tell us they had been to Sierra's Grill -- our favorite Mexican restaurant back home. That wasn't very nice of them! You see, we don't get much Mexican food in the South of France (I think the French might be scared of the spices...shhh!!). So this afternoon we decided to try one of the few Mexican places we've seen in the area, a little place called Le Ranch in Cagnes-sur-Mer just off the beach.

Here's the quick summary: super good and super expensive.

Now the details.

We were quite surprised by how good the food was: lovely quesadillas, crisp tacos, cheesy (but not too cheesy) enchiladas, and above average guacamole. All in all, a very good meal when you consider that it wasn't exactly a typical plat du jour. Of course, it could be that our deprived taste buds were tricked into thinking it was good simply because they haven't experienced the joy of cumin, cilantro, and lime all in the same bite in quite some time.

There were no chips/salsa before dinner and I would have preferred a little more heat (hello habanero!), but everyone was quite content when the meal was over -- even after looking at l'addition (the bill). Patrick's enchilada platter was a cool €15, and my Mexican Deluxe platter was a tick higher at €17. But the quesadillas were reasonably priced at €7 and Kerri had a fantistic salad for only €5. Then, just for fun, we added a big Banana Split and two coffees.

It's not the comfort of Sierra's, but we might just find ourselves back at Le Ranch one of these days -- like when Pop Pop and Gi Gi come to pay...uh...I mean visit.

Final Cannes Update: My Red Carpet Moment Part II

SEVERAL PEOPLE HAVE emailed about the film premier I went to in Cannes during the festival. It seems no one cares about my experience -- they only want to know 'what celebrities were there?' Well, the truth is I saw a mix of well-known and lesser-known hollywood types. I had my camera a took a few pictures, but it soon became clear that I was the only one doing that so I stopped. Here's a very quick recap, just for fun.

Event: Premier of The Day After Peace (view the trailer) directed by Jeremy Gilley and featuring Jude Law, Angelina Joile, Annie Lennox, Kofi Annan
Location: Atlantic Beach -- just in front of the Karlton Hotel (although the event was sponsored by Hotel 3.14
People and Comments:
  • Jude Law (The bad news: he really is hot. The good news: he's quite short)
  • Dennis Hopper (even shorter, but looking great at 72!)
  • Selma Hayek (is it possible she looks bad on camera compared to in real life?)
  • Sharon Stone (just before here China 'karma' debacle)
  • Billy Zane (he's still and actor? I really liked him in 'Dead Calm')
  • Christian Slater (how'd he get in?)
  • Naomi Cambell (tallest 'celeb' there; did not throw cell phone at me)
  • quite a few people who I didn't know who were getting a lot of press attention -- mostly french actors/actresses and some Bollywood stars (don't ask me why there were there).
Line of people trying to get in. I'm in!
In case you need to sit down at the party. Give me a break!
Dennis Hopper. Didn't really get a good front shot of him did I?
Director Jeremy Gilley

The Hotel Martinez. Two-week home for the A-list crowd.


A Little Better

A BIT BETTER weather for the weekend -- good enough to take the kids out biking...all day!! See last post for reasons why the good weather is welcome news.