31 December 2010

An Admission

THERE ARE SEVERAL reasons why I enjoy visits from Kerri's parents. But if I'm being completely honest, this is one of the biggest: a little time with the Washington Post in my hand.

29 December 2010

Pilgrimage, Part III

THIS MORNING WE are headed east to spend a few days in Italy -- mostly in the Torino area. A major reason for our trip is to visit the small mountain village of Torre Pellice, a small village in the Piedmont that is famous for being the original home of the middle-age Christian group called the Waldensians, who were severely persecuted from the 12th century onward for their reform-minded theology. By the 16th century they were firmly following the Protestant Reformation and were considered leaders in the Reform movement. They still exist today.

So why are we going? Kerri's father visited the small village during a European Reformation Tour when he was in college some 40+ years ago and he's always wanted to go back. This is pilgrimage number 3. Our first was with my mother a couple years ago when we visited La Scala, the great opera house in Milan. Because my mother has spend so much of her life as a professor of music, the building was a must-see for her (again -- she'd been there once before). The second was during a 2008 trip to the village of Le Chambon in the massive central part of France. The events that happened in Le Chambon during World War II play a role in my dad's dissertation -- but he had never been there before so it was a great visit for him.

26 December 2010

Gotta Practice

KERRI JUST FINISHED mocking me for spending the past 10 minutes shooting hockey pucks against the wall in our garage (okay, it was a tennis ball if you want the whole truth). She and her parents had a good laugh about it. But I just responded by reminding them that if I want to make it to the NHL I have to practice.

Some people just don't get it.

25 December 2010

A Twist on a Old Story

DOES ANYONE JUST tell stories anymore? This clip is both incredibly creative and profoundly sad at the same time. Sad because it sort of illustrates how technology has come to dominate almost every aspect of our lives (is simple story-telling a thing of the past?). Creative because...well, just watch -- it's really great. Oh, and MERRY CHRISTMAS!!

24 December 2010

Did It Again

THIS TIME WE went all in and didn't even tell the kids anyone was coming.

When friends and family come to visit we have a little game we play with the kids: we don't tell them exactly when they are coming, only that they are coming at some point -- that way there is an element of surprise. But because Kerri's parents made reservations to come for Christmas so late we thought we'd skip the part where we tell the kids that anyone is coming. So when Les and Joni rang the doorbell this morning, hiding inside some big boxes I put out in front of the house, there was real surprise on some of the faces around here.

We're glad they made it at all considering the travel nightmare going on in Europe right now. They were supposed to arrive Tuesday morning but were canceled due to the snow in Paris. Despite Les's best efforts (if you know him, you know what I mean) they were not able to get a flight until Thursday night. And, in a stroke of good luck, the flight was direct to Nice from JFK -- meaning no transfers in Paris. Why good luck? 50% of flights in and out of Charles de Gualle have been canceled today.

23 December 2010

Picture from 1973

THIS PHOTO RAN in a magazine called Insight in 1973. My dad was either the editor or co-editor (can't recall) and a friend of his sent me the picture a couple weeks ago. I'm pretty sure it was taken in or near Georgetown in Washington, DC -- but I could be wrong. It's probably not hard to tell, but I'm the dude on the right...with the curls.

Whoa! Check out the Jean De La Bruyere quote at the bottom of the page. Foreshadowing my move to France?

But to fully appreciate the photo you need to see it in the original color version, for only in full color can you appreciate the fashion trends of the time -- trends my parents obviously embraced whole-heartedly. Take time to admire the plaid overall-shorts, skillfully paired with knee-high white socks and red and white wingtip shoes. You might also notice how effortlessly I pull-off the white mock-turtleneck, a staple in any hip, two-year-old's wardrobe. Ah yes, the 1970s -- when fashion had a little, shall we say, flavor.

A big thanks to Ron Graybill for sending the photo to me. And a little shout-out to Adrian and Torsten who are in this picture with me.

20 December 2010

Why I Love Italians

TO PUT IT simply: because they bring massive panettone to the staff room.

It is customary for each language section at our school to provide treats for the entire staff at least one time per year. The sections try to choose dates that relate to national holidays or significant events in their country's history. For example, we Americans provide food on Thanksgiving, the Spanish section bring treats for Fiesta Nacional in October, the Russians sometimes set up a spread on May Day, and the French bring wine and cheese to celebrate laïcité (seriously, the French teachers bring in red wine and cheese to celebrate the anniversary of the official separation of church and state Oh, but they still celebrate just about every religious holiday with a day off work!)

But the Italians? They bring in the treats on the last day before Christmas break and it's is always a giant panettone, some lemons and oranges from the Amalfi coast, and champagne. That's a great way to end the term.

The panettone, easily twice the height of a standard wine bottle, fed about 100 people,
Christine (white sweater) organized the event and cut the panettone.

I took home a couple lemons. Incredible.

16 December 2010

Typing in Two Languages

BY 'TWO LANGUAGES' I don't mean two literal languages, I mean typing on two different types of keyboards.

I love typing and I've been good at it ever since my parents put me into a typing class at the local college one summer when I was about 13 or 14 years old. I was even able to test out of typing class in high school my freshman year (Note: readers under the age of 30 will probably not understand that last sentence. Yes, we used to take a full year of typing classes -- on typewriters, no less). One of the early realizations I made when first traveling overseas is that, because many countries have unique alpha-numeric needs, they often have their own 'version' of the standard typing keypad. France is no different. Unlike the US and UK (to mention a couple), France does not follow the QWERTY format and that can make typing on a French keyboard quite an adventure. But since I often use both American and French computers I have had to work on my 'French' typing skills -- trying to remember that the 'a' is where the 'q' normally is, and the 'm' isn't on the bottom row where it should be, and you have to hit the damn Shift key if you want to type numbers. Oh, and where in the world is the '@' sign?!?

But I've gotten to the point where I am almost as fast on French computers as on my trusty QWERTY one. If you are unaware of the French keyboard, consider the following sentence -- which I will type on a French keyboard but using the American (QWERTY) keyboard set up:
Ze zish you q ?erry Christmqs, qnd q hqppy nez yeqr: Seqsons greetings to qll our friends qnd relqtives bqck in ?qrylqnd:
Quite a few differences...and I didn't even get to the numbers. If I typed the lyrics to a popular Jackson 5 song, it would look like this:
QBC, eqsy qs &é"
But I'm comfortable with both formats now so it's not much of a problem. The only real irritating thing is when I am on my US computer and I revert to the French keyboard. Oye!

(How many typos in this post...did anyone count?)

15 December 2010

Stripping for the Pope

MAYBE I'M BEING too sophomoric, but this does not seem like a good idea in light of the recent scandals withing the Catholic church. The look on Benedict's face doesn't help either:

I May Need to Add a Rating...

I WENT TO the CAF today (the agency that deals with the allocation of money that families are entitled to here in France) and I'm going to refrain from writing what I want to write. Let's just say we've been trying to get this straightened out SINCE THE BEGINNING OF 2008!!!

...and we're still getting the bureaucratic run-around.

If I wrote some of the things I was saying in the car on the way home from the CAF, I'd need to add a rating to this blog: not suitable children under 18. (OK, it wasn't that bad, I'll go with 'under 15')

12 December 2010

Me and McCain

I'VE SPENT A lot of time in the past couple weeks reading and researching my thesis and I think it's catching up to me. Last night I dreamed I was questioning U.S. Senator John McCain on his position against passage of the new START treaty.

I woke up in the middle of the dream because I had to go to the bathroom, but I'm pretty sure I was schooling him.

11 December 2010

Still Can't Get This One Right

THE FOLLOWING POST appeared on this blog in December of 2007. I'm re-posting it because I still can't remember this simple concept...

It's a simple concept, really. We just can't seem to master it.

Unlike grocery stores in the States, stores here in France charge you for the bags you use to carry your food home. There are varying qualities of bags at various prices -- from flimsy plastic bags to strong, sturdy canvass bags (the shopping carts even have nice little places to hold the bags while you shop). The French will use the same bags over and over for months, making sure to always take them with them during trips to the market. Our kitchen cabinet is full of dozens of these sorts of bags, ready for reuse the next time we make a trip to the local Intermarche, Champion, or Carrefour.

But it never seems to work out that way. Instead, we find ourselves in line to check out with no bags, requiring us to purchase a few more to add to our growing collection. Forgetting our bags isn't such a big deal during those spur-of-the-moment trips to the store for a quick baguette or some milk. But when we leave the house for only one reason -- to go shopping for food -- and we still forget to throw a few bags into the car it gets annoying...really annoying.

Perhaps there is a trick we haven't learned or a way to remind ourselves to bring bags with us when we shop. But until we master this BYOB concept, we're going to have a surplus of really nice grocery bags filling up our kitchen cabinet.

They Don't Even Get It

I DON'T SPEND a lot of time being serious on this blog -- I prefer to have a little fun. But I was reminded again today of why this French Adventure is such a great experience. Not for me or Kerri -- but for our kids. So I'll take a minute to be serious...

As most people are aware, I teach at a large lycée that enrolls students who are working toward an international option of the french baccalaureate -- the Bac! That means a lot of things and it can be a bit confusing so I won't try to explain it (again), but the key point is that the nature of the school means that the students -- all 1700 of them -- come from incredibly diverse, international backgrounds. In any class I teach it is common to have students who come from five, six, or seven countries. And while most of my students are French, there are a huge number who speak more than two languages: french, English, and their mother tongue. The result is an incredible mix of culture and experiences. I see that every day, but my kids, who just started at the CIV this year, are beginning to see it first hand -- even though they don't know it.

This evening I took Patrick to a friend's house to work on an oral presentation that they have to give in French class on Mozart. Patrick is working with his friends Paul-Luca and Théo, who are both (obviously) in is class. But here is what is so great: all three of them are in different international sections (which basically means that they have literature and history is their section's language, but all the other classes in French). Paul-Luca grew up in Madrid so he is in the Spanish section; Théo's parents are Italian so he is in the Italian section; Patrick, of course, is in the American section. Now, this may not seem like an earth-shattering observation, and it probably isn't, but it was just so great to see three boys who come from totally different backgrounds working together in their second languages on a project about a Austrian composer. Julia has her project next week and it is possible she will have the same experience with friends who come from Holland, or Russia, or England, or Norway.

On the ride home I asked Patrick if he thought it was cool to have friends from so many different countries and backgrounds. He just looked at me and said, "Huh?" It doesn't even register with him. Or Julia. They're just used to it.

And that's fine with me.

07 December 2010

Hitler or Sarkozy?

THERE'S NO REAL good set up for this, so enjoy:
Julia: Dad, was Hitler really short?
Me: Actually, I'm not sure. I don't think he was unusually short.
Julia: Oh wait, I'm thinking of Sarkozy.
To be fair, there was some context for this brief discussion that we had in the car this evening on the way home from a flute lesson. Julia was telling me that she thought today was an anniversary for something and I told her it was the day Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Japanese back in 1941. That got us into a brief discussion of how the attack led the US into World War II, which was fought against the Germans, who were led by one Adolf Hitler, yada yada yada.

So that explains the Hitler question -- but I'm still trying to see how she went from there to Sarko?

05 December 2010

Official Start of the Holidays

FOR EACH OF the past three years we have wanted to make the relatively short trip up to Lucéram -- a 15th century village in the mountains about 25 km north of Nice -- because the village holds one of the largest crèches displays in all of France. Each year the village transforms into a medieval maze of mangers, miniature houses, and Christmas decorations. We finally made it on Saturday afternoon and it was certainly worth it: a beautiful old village decked-out in all the holiday cheer you could imagine. That, a long with the snow in the mountains just behind the village, sort of made it feel like the 'official' start to our holiday season.

The first of more than 400 creches in the village

Some, like this one, were incredible small. This box is about 10 inches high.

You wouldn't know unless I told you, but this is a photo of a miniature boulangerie -- part of a miniature village set up in the village church. Those baguettes are each about 1 inch high. Incredible!
Kids just loved the snow in the background.

I only took this photo because it has Christmas lights, a palm tree, a medieval church, a castle, blue sky, and snow topped mountains all in the same picture.

The view toward Nice and the sea.

03 December 2010

Gangs of Marseille

MAYBE IT'S BECAUSE I'm working my way through the great show The Wire, but this story really struck me. You don't think of this in Europe the way you do the States. That's probably naive.
MARSEILLE, FRANCE - The hit squad drove up about 10 p.m. in a pair of sporty cars, one Italian the other German, and opened fire with AK-47 assault rifles smuggled in from Eastern Europe.

When the dry crack of gunfire went silent, a 16-year-old drug-runner lay mortally wounded and an 11-year-old boy who had gone out with his sister for pizza was bleeding profusely from rounds that slammed into his foot and, after piercing his arm, ripped a hole in his throat.
Whole story from the Washington Post is here.

02 December 2010

Commuting for a Year

ONE YEAR AGO today I took a flight to Switzerland begin graduate school classes in Geneva. I repeated that flight 27 times -- nearly every weekend -- until the middle of June. I kept all my flight stubs and took a picture of them a few weeks ago. See if you can guess what airline I used the most.

My weekly commute is now over and my trips to Geneva will be limited to one every 2-3 months to check-in with my thesis adviser. Downside: fewer kebabs at Cafe Istanbul on the Place Cornavin.