Monday, December 21, 2015

Windows to the mind...

[I rewrote sections of the following entry.  I felt my word choices and sentence structures failed to articulate what I wanted.  I must've been pretty angry when I wrote the first version]

Someone recently asked if we were going to go see the Christmas lights around the city.  Shortly after the question came up I was up at Paris' only True Opera House (le Garnier, merci, very very French) and couldn't help but be attracted by the bright twinkly lights seen just up the street.  Like many living things, I'm attracted by shiny objects.  Les Galeries Lafayette were well lit in commercial celebration of the season (in a glorious American-style consumer commercialism).

Our Season of Celebration is off to a good start.  Our Gouter and Singalong began the festivities.  We then went to lunch with our apartment owners (very French) in a fabulous art nouveau restaurant (oh so French that it nearly breaks one's heart at the beauty of it all).  Just last night we had our apartment neighbors (Irish) up for a small apero (leaning into the Parisian, we must say).

Later this week we'll be visiting our friends (very French) who's country home we visited earlier this year. This will be followed by spending New Years Eve reveling with yet more friends (three Germans, three French) by seeing a circus (German, apparently) that's situated just behind le parc George Brassens (Parisian).  Dinner and drinks are to be shared shortly thereafter (a very French thing to do on 31 Decembre).

We are only half way through our Fun and Festivities, and a pattern seems to be emerging.

Many of our conversations revolve around the present state of American politics.  More specifically, we are questioned as to our feelings about Americans actually and in the final end voting for The Donald.  We try to quickly turn the conversations around to ask them how they feel about the Republican Clowns Who Would Be King Of America.  To a person we've been told of (French) people's shock at America' anti-intellectualism.

And there it was.  The Correct Way of putting it.  It's true, isn't it?  It all seems to come down to America' anti-intellectualism.

A quick look reveals many areas that might illustrate the point.  Conservative christianity in America celebrates anti-intellectualism in many obvious ways.  Sports (football, basketball, NASCAR, etc) work to evoke emotional "feel good" responses at the cost of "over thinking it all".  Reality TV is anything but reality as many people would know it.  America's response to the crisis of man-made global climate change seems to be based on desire, not fact.  America's response to the gun violence crisis is anything but intellectual.  America's response to the refugee crisis is based, not on what is actually happening, but on what could happen if ____ [fill in the blank with unfounded fear].

All too often it seems to me that America is quick to give an emotional response which "feels right" and "expresses what we the people really feel" and are very slow to think things through based on fact and truth.

It's not surprising, to me, that American politics has become the politics of anti-intellectualism, too.  It's in this climate of emotional reactionism that someone like The Donald (and all the other howling Would-Be Kings of America) can thrive.  It "feels right" that America is under attack by poor Mexicans who cross the southern boarder to take jobs away from hard working legal citizens.  It "feels right" that Social Security will go bankrupt in just a few years if the politicians don't kill it.  It "feels right" that 1200 noble prize winning scientists are wrong about global climate change and that the two or three "scientists" who work for oil companies are correct.  It "feels right" that America is not to be granted health care because to do so would be just too damned socialist for us.  Etc.  Etc.  Etc.

Living overseas and talking with people who come from intellectual cultures (such as here in France, or in Germany, Italy, and parts of Spain) demands we have a well thought-out response to their questions.  They seem to know much more about the US than we know about Europe.  In short, they are well informed in ways Americans simply are not.  Someone recently suggested that's because America is the 900 pound gorilla stomping around on the world stage.

Honestly, this is what I've come to appreciate and love about Europe: We value intellectuals, intellectualism, intelligence, and rational frameworks of thought and philosophy.

I feel proud of our ability to get out while the getting out was good.  I feel a kinship with those who ask questions about how America can do what it's doing.  I feel as bewildered as our friends at how Americans behave.

From this perspective I feel Europeans can stand up to American Globalization.  They have a long history of making their voices heard, here. They have a long history of casting out the Would Be Conqueror.  I just hope they see America for what it is before it's too late.

Perhaps The Donald will play an important role in a much needed European awakening to what America really is.  Perhaps.

Christmas Windows ~ Paris 2015
The entire album of Paris Holiday Lights can be seen here

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Quel petit monde...

My beard enters it's 8th month of only slightly trimmed growth and I've taken to telling folks in our French/English conversation group that the bottom half of the beard is reminiscent of the SDF (Sans Domicile Fixe - or homeless people) and the mustache evokes the late dix-neuvieme siecle (late 19th century).  On days where I don't wish to stand out completely as someone who is SDF I wax the 'stache.  It's a little dandy-ish I suppose.  Still, it's an important distinction around these parts.  Or so it seems from the stares I sometimes get from passersby.

WICE Christmas singalong  - 2015

All this came up in conversation during our annual Winter Holidays Singalong et Gouter.  This is the time when we gather together in song and celebration of having spent pleasant times together.  This is the time when we bring in a few musician members of WICE who lead us in our merrymaking.  First it's a song in French.  Then it's a song in English.  Back and forth we go alternating languages.  All in a register none of us can really sing in and in such a high octave that more than a few of us complain rather loudly about not being able to sing.  I tend to croak like a grenouille.  Other people tend to just give up and hum along as best they can.

These things are wonderfully doused into submission after the Singalong by le Gouter.  People bring their favorite beverages and apero-like plates of yumminess.  All the croaking and humming is forgotten.  All the off-key and stratospheric octaves are forgiven.  Down goes the wine.  Munch go the many tasty goodies.  Jude's smoked canard dolloped with mascarpone on small bread rounds were a hit.  We were able to take home more nice memories and a completely empty gouter plate.

When the cupboards are bare we make our lists and plan our plans and head out to the markets.  Yesterday it was our turn to march through the vasty student strewn sidewalks with air heavily laden with cigarette smoke to make our way to Bio C'est Bon.  Yes, these young people are driving us nuts! with all their smoking.

WICE Christmas singalong  - 2015

Once safely inside the Smoke-Free Everything Bio market we set about doing our shopping.  It was nearly time for the dejeuner and many mothers were out picking up their children and stopping in at Bio C'est Bon Thank The Gods There's No Students Smoking Here! to pick up a few last minute items.

There was Good News, and not just with the lack of cigarette fumes.  One of the young ladies who works there was rather nicely dressed and Jude asked her why.  We learned she'd been promoted to store manager.  This after she'd been told in her recent review that she'd first have to work at several other stores before being considered for the position.  Well then, Minds Changed and a Minor Missed Opportunity was corrected.

As we set about our shopping a SDF brushed past on his way down a side aisle.  I grumbled about the shabbiness and wondered where his money came from.  The mothers who were there with their children looked a little askance, too.

WICE Christmas singalong  - 2015

A few minutes later out basket was filled to the brim and we were in line to talk with another employee while she scanned out items.  Jude and I speak in heavy accents and are constantly asked where we're from.  This time was no different and Jude shared the Important Details of our lives.  The checker seemed to know something about our Old Home Town, as did the SDF who happened to be next in line behind us.

Suddenly the SDF is talking with Jude and I can see his snaggle-toothed mouth form the worlds "Tektronix."  Er?  Wot's all this, then?  The next thing I know Jude is telling the man that I too used to work at Tektronix.

My mind was having difficulty keeping up with the context switch.  It really was.  I figured the SDF was just some shabby good for nothing drunkard in to do a Little Theft Exercise and to be on his way.  How utterly and completely wrong I was.  Words failed me.

Walking back up the street I told Jude about how judgemental I'd been and what a pleasant surprise it was to run into someone who'd worked at Tektronix in several capacities, in Beaverton, on the original campus, and just before the company transitioned from analog to digital.  I told my wife I really needed to reconsider how I view the world and how I "see" or not "see" people.

WICE Christmas singalong  - 2015

It's shocking, actually, to realize how deeply ingrained my American view of homeless and poor people is.  I've learned a little too well to view the poor as being in positions of their own creation and that people who put themselves into these positions are undeserving of anything. It's easy to point to the many conversations with Americans about how weird and strange people can look who shop at Walmart.  How we know when the state welfare check has arrived by the provisions piled high in a cart, filling it with junk foods.  Why can't they buy an apple instead of a frozen pizza?  Don't they know they're killing themselves by eating all that shit?  And, and, and, can't the poor see that all they need to do is just get off their lazy asses and go find a job!, forcryingoutloud.  Gawds! how we absolutely hate it when people are "taking advantage of the system" and the taxes we're paying that support their special/lazy/bankrupt "needs"!!  Yes, I'm embarrassed to admit that I still look at the poor and homeless with a judgemental uncaring America-bred-and-raised eye.

Up went went the fob.  Open went the door to our building.  In stepped Jude.  One last look down the street and... here he comes.  He's a small man.  Slightly hunched.  Very slender.  Ill-shaven.  Very much snaggle-toothed.  His clothes hang in the manner of someone you might not otherwise want to approach.  He was hauling two 4 litre bouteilles d'eau.

Monsieur.  Monsieur.  Regardez quelque chose d'interessant.  I pulled back the cuff of my jacket to show him the watch I wear.  It still has the two rubies on a small plaque on the side of the wrist band.  It was a 15 year anniversary gift.  In small silver bold lettering it says "Tektronix."

Having recovered my mind a little, we talked about some of the trigger mechanisms he'd worked on, all the tools he was familiar with, and the oscilloscope he'd brought back to France with him when he came home.  It was then that I remembered that here in France, in general, the poor and homeless are viewed not as being lazy and undeserving of state care and attention, but rather as the product of a system that has failed.  This is why we've seen the "deserving" (in American terms) having friendly conversations with the "undeserving" (again in American terms) who many times populate the benches and sidewalks in our quartier.

WICE Christmas singalong  - 2015

I had to admit that I really didn't know if this former Tektronix employee was poor or homeless and that my judgements of him were very likely false in every way imaginable.  I have no idea of the system failed him (from the French point of view) or if he is just an old retired guy who enjoys life as much as anyone else.

I told him in a sad tone of voice that une grande entreprise est venu vendre Tektronix.  C'est completement detruite maintenant.  C'est fini, en fait.  He understood that the formerly great  electronics test and measurement company had only recently (8 years ago) been destroyed and nearly disappeared by Corporate Takeover Greed that netted senior management hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars.   Thank you Danaher, or whatever you call yourselves now.  You can kindly go to hell for what you stole and the company you destroyed.

As we wagged our heads at the woe that has befallen Tektronix we bid eachother une tres bonne journee and went our separate ways.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Equal opportunities for all...

I recently wrote about our three day visit with les vignerons independent.  Wine is good.  Wine is great.  Wine keeps the ship upright and sailing smoothly in the right direction.  But there's more to life than just wine.

Beer!

What's not to love?  More complex carbohydrates than wine.  This gives beer a sense of volume and complex taste.  It's sometimes brewed by drunken monks.  You know the ones.  Those who were chased out of France by the Revolutionaries during the 1789 King Removal.  While their religion was revolting to the Revolutionaries, the beer... well... it's really hard to fault them on their beer making abilities, no matter what country the drunken monks land in.

It's rather like Christmas every time I head over into the 14eme.  The kind Beer Gods and Goddesses seem to have something interesting to sample each and every time I go in.  This time is no different.  Belgiums.  Belgiums.  Belgiums as far as the eye can see.  That's where all the French Beer Making Religious Types escaped to shortly after the Bastille was torn down to make way for a vast roundabout (c.1789) with a pole called the July Column stuck in the middle (c.1840).

In the interests of Equal Opportunities for All, this week's segment could have been more properly titled What's In Mr. Caddy?

Who's Mr. Caddy, you might ask.  Well, he's our trusted friend and confident.  He's been with us for nearly four years and is by our side through thick and thin.  He's what we haul our groceries and purchased items in.  He's what I use to carry the empties back to the beer shoppe for a recycle refund.  He's what I use to bring another Month Of Happiness back.  Very French, Mr Caddy is.  He's required, actually.  Where Americans have cars to haul things in, the French have these little caddys.

So... what's in Mr. Caddy this week?  Well, let's have a look, shall we?

This trip saw me choosing a few triple and quadruple fermented brews.  I also selected a few porters and stouts.  These are nothing like the American beers that go by similar names.  The Belgium porters and stouts are Real Beers.  Nothing less than 7percent ETOH, and many times several degrees more than that.  Real Rocket Fuel, this stuff.  And their taste is fantastic.  I also selected a couple bruns (brown) and several Winter Warmers (lightly spiced beers).

I've become something of a Beer Snob.  While likely to be a little different that a Wine Snob, it's still Snobbery.  So I have to admit to it.  There.  I've done my Confession.  OK?  What form does my Snobbery take?  None of this "Brewing Since 1983" for me.  No siree, Babo.  I want the Real Thing.  The oldest brewer I'd found imported to Paris from Belgium dated from 10-something-or-other.  I thought that was really neat and crowed to my American friends at having found something old and tasty.  Old is good in my Beer Snobbery Book.  The oldest is the best.

As is my habit I asked if there was something new (to the shoppe) and tasty I needed to try.  The Beer Folk guided me to something called l'Abbaye d'Alune.  There were three types of brew on offer and I picked up several of each for a thorough sampling and tasting.

A short history of l'Abbaye is that it started as a Benedictine monastery and converted to the Cistercian order 400 years later.  It's anyones guess as to whether it was a bloodless take-over or not.  I guess what happened after that was rather wild and wooly at times.  This included the destruction of the original monastery by French Revolutionary Guards in 1794 and the Last Monk dying in 1850-something (may he RIP).

Fast forward to the present time and what we have is a bunch of lay folk who took the original three or four recipes for monks beer and restarted the fermentation processes.  All I needed to do was crack open the first bottle to know this was truly something special.  The second type I tried was better than the first.  The third type I tried nearly rose me up into the heavens.  Monks beer can do that, right?

Any guesses as to when those Drunken Monks first started brewing?  Looking at the bottles when I got home caused my jaw to drop.  We have a new winner.  Anno 657 it said.   Old is good, right?  In this case it's brilliant!  Or so me-thinks.  Golly these are old recipes.  They're nearly 1400 years in the perfecting.


Beer!

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Season of Visitations - a report abridged

Fall 2015 was the season to be filled with visitations.  Here's a brief run-down on who came through town and what we did together.

Visitation One - The wonderful Miz Kitty alerted us that friends of her's were coming over for a visit.  We shared contact information and when Dina and Bill showed up we were ready share with them a little of Our World.  They were to start off our Season of Visitations.

We were happy that le Cafe du Commerce was serving decent food, and we ate and drank our way through lunch all the while making new friends.  After catching up on the latest news from the Old Country, they wanted to see the Eiffel Tower.  So we went for a nice walk up the street and around the corner to the Champs de Mars.  Bill could take photos (he's a camera nut, too).  By the end Dina promised to send Jude a few Rincola cough drops as a thank you for our hospitality.


Visitation Two - Daniel, Jude's son, and his partner were here for a 9 day visit.  It was a Whirl Wind visit to everything they could take in.  It was crazy nuts good.

We took the Cars Rouge (they're called something else now) to share an oversight of the city.  We visited the Musee Cluny, the Louvre, and went on a shopping trip through Little Sri Lanka while on our way to visit the Romanesque church that sits up on Montmartre.  We were in Chartres to see the labyrinth and the next day we were off to la porte de Vanves and the marche de puce before going to lunch in our favorite cafe up on rue du Commerce.

The trip was entirely too short.  It was good to see Dan and to get to know his partner better.  We'll be heading back to the States later next year.  Dan proposed marriage under the Eiffel Tower.  How romantic is that???


Visitation Three - Back in the Old Country I have a photographer friend who asked if I'd like to participate in a group of Fellow Nutters.  From there I met many wonderful artists, any of whom remain friends to this day.  Well, they were on their way back to France and were interested in getting together.

Patrick and MaryJo had been visiting places around France and were spending the last of their vacation here in Paris.  So it was easy, we'd meet over lunch and talk about how things are from their perspective back home.  Before lunch we shared with them the beautiful Square Saint-Lambert.

In all we covered a lot of ground in our conversations, shared another wonderful meal, and enjoyed being with people of like mind and similar spirit.



Visitation Four - In the Old Country I was hired several times by an engineering manager at various times in my career as a software engineer and program manager.  Creig Smith is a Prince of a Man and we share a surprisingly deep history of work and business travel together.  He took me to India, which led to my many year involvement with an engineering center in Bangalore.  He took me to Tokyo, which led to a several year involvement with an engineering center there, too.  He and I worked to develop, plan, and then execute several far-reaching software initiatives, one of which led to the direct contribution to the bottom line of $3billion over a 10 year period.

When Creig said he was coming to town for a business meeting, I knew I'd finally have a chance to thank him for all he did for me.

Back to the favored lunch spot we went.  All around town we visited.  Talk.  Talk.  Talk.  It was wonderful to catch up on old time and to remember we have more than a few deep relationships of meaning and value.



Visitation Five - My brother and father were in Spain and Jude and I made arrangements to see them in Madrid while they were on their homeward leg of their journey.  I'd not seen my family in over a year, so this was a good and important trip to make.

To take in a museum we hadn't seen the first time we were in Madrid Jude and I showed up a day early.  But with this came the incredible adventure (previously recounted here) and with this, start of our visit under less than the Best of Circumstances.

Still, we were able to visit the surprisingly good naval history museum (near the Prado museum) and to visit the incredible Palace.  Everyone seemed to enjoy everything we took in.  It was an incredibly short two days, and we knew we were headed back into a War Zone.



Mystery Solved - For several weeks we received telephone calls telling us we had a package to pick up, but I could never write the telephone number down fast enough.  I never knew when a call would come in, either.  We had enough solicitors calling to keep things really mixed up.  I could never anticipate the weird "you have a package" call.

Just this week we received a ring on our entry door buzzer and it was our facture/postman.  He had a package for us.  I went down to collect it and he was apologetic about the lateness of the delivery.  He said "we've been trying to call you."

Ah ha!  You're the ones who've been bugging me.  This is great!  Well, what's in the package?  It was Jude's Rincola cough drops and a nicely framed photograph of Jude and I.  Dina had been as good as her word.  What a wonderful surprise!

Monday, November 30, 2015

Floating away in barrels of wine...

Ever onward.  In the interest of giving fear and hate the middle finger held high Jude and I made our way down to la porte de Versailles for the Vigneron Independant wine fair.

Last year over 1,100 vintners installed themselves in Building 3 for 5 days to offer samples of their wares and to try and sell us a few bottles of wine.  This year they changed buildings to Building 7 which is a much smaller space.  Only 600 vintners could fit into the show space.

Previously I had trouble finding wine growers who did not add sulfites to their wines.  Yes, many/most folks say chemicals are required to stabilize the wine and to keep their harvesting yields up.  But by chance I stumbled upon Chateau l'Escart (Bordeaux).  They, in turn, pointed me to Binner (Colmar) and another vineyard from the Loire.

Jude absolutely loves the different wines offered by Chateau l'Escart.  Their wines are bio-dynamically grown and their fields are tilled with the aid of heavy horses.  No steek'n dinosaur-juice guzzling tractors for these folks!  Even better, no sulfites are added to anything they cultivate and ferment.

We also found a wonderful vineyard in Colmar that offers bio white wines.  They don't even add yeast to their mix.  Everything is as nature intended from vine to crush through fermentation and into the bottle.  Their Rieslings and Gewurztraminers are finished dry, light, and they are very lovely, indeed.  Though they're perhaps just a wee bit out of our price range.

So it came as a surprise to find this year that there were to be 20 bio-dynamic vintners in attendance.  I wrote them all down and Jude and I started our Wine Trek the day the fair opened.  I was hoping for a Near Religious Experience.



Vigneron Independant ~ Paris ~ 2015

Day One - None (the ninth hour)

First stop after gathering our free wine glasses at the entrance was, of course, Chateau l'Escart - yum!  It was great to see the man and woman again.  They remembered us from last year.  Such a lovely couple and they seemed to want to share a good conversation with us.  But damn! do they give Big Big Pours.  Our First Stop knocked us on our butts right quick.  It put to paid our "serious tasting" for the rest of the day.

We learned that the show the prior weekend in Lille was a bust.  Nobody from Brussels came to the event.  They were in lock-down over terrorist threats the entire weekend, so it didn't surprise us that not even free wine sampling could bust the Belgians loose from home and hearth.

The Day's Haul included enough cartons to make hauling home a chore without an aid of some kind.  Our Hunting and Gathering included some things Jude found from one of the bio-dynamic vintners on our list of Things To Try.  It was a Good Thing(tm) that we took le diable with us.  It made the Day's Haul easier to get safely home.


Vigneron Independant ~ Paris ~ 2015


Day Two - Terce (the third hour)

I met our good friend Jacki at the exit to the Metro station across the street from the expo center.  He arrived by bicycle in 0 degree centigrade weather.  He wore no hat.  He sported no gloves.  He said he as comfortably warm.  The guy's An Animal! I tell you.

Before stepping into the vast Wine Tasting Space we set plans for our pre-dejuner adventure: Vin de plaisir.  These, I learned, are wines poured during an apero or desert, or during a fete.  They are typically white, sweet, and/or champagne/cremant avec les bulles.

I suggested that Jacki lead the way since he seemed to know where he was going, so off we went, stalking les vins de plaisir.

At one of the counters we talked with two physicists who have a friend who works at Lawerence Livermore in CA.  What started the conversation was the that they'd overheard that I was from the US and had lived in California.  It was a fun conversation and they proudly showed off T-shirts with a photo of their French Friend who lives in California.  I didn't understand the humor, but the pictured man had a clump of yard in the shape of a bow on his bald forehead.

I really enjoy going to the fair with Jacki as I learn something new and unexpected each time we go.  This time I learned about wines from Jurancon, and Monbazillac.  The Monbazillac we tried was a fabulous semillon cepage.  The wines from Jurancon were equally interesting and had a bit more bite to them.  Still, very nice, those.

Next, we stopped at a counter of a man who's vineyard had not been represented at the fair before now.  His vineyard was from the property sitting right next door to Chateau Yequim.  It was glorious stuff, but it gave me a headache.  It contained too much sulfite.  Every bio or bio-dynamic vintner I talked with said the same thing; sulfites can give some people headaches.  So Jude's not the only one in our house who can't drink just any bottle of cheap swill.  I don't care what US-based wine marketing propaganda wants me to believe (which say all this is "bunk").  For me, too, wine must be sulfite-free (or as nearly as possible).

In our wanderings, Jacki and I stumbled upon one of the vintners I'd noted as bio-dynamic.  These folks were from a small town just oustide Colmar and aren't too far from the Binner vineyard we liked so much last year (when we were flush with money and flush with wine).  We started with Francois Baur's normal Gewurztraminer and moved on to their tardive Gewurztraminers.  Oh.  My.  Gawd! those wines were tasty.

I was able to trot out my Story of Shame about where I believed the Alsace region was.  When I was a Young Man I tried a number of wines with labels written in German.  They were from the Alsace.  So I naturally thought all Alsatian wines came from Germany.  I am happy to report that my System of Belief and Understanding has been properly updated.  Proper Alsatian wines come from France.  So there!

The Day's Haul included biodynamic Rieslings, Gewurztraminers (incredible late harvest/tardive), amazing bio Monbazillac (semillon), and cremants d'Alsace.  Le diable stayed home this day, but Jude had the good insight to suggest I take our much smaller than le diable M. Caddy (our normal every day French-style shopping cart).  M. Caddy was filled to be brim with bottles of wine as I bid Jacki a bonne journee.


Vigneron Independant ~ Paris ~ 2015


Day Three - Sext (the sixth hour)

Anyone remember those late night/early morning adverts on TV in California?  Sunday!  Sunday!  Sunday!  Yes that was us.  We had to return to the Vignerons Independent on SSSunday!!  Two more free wine glasses never hurt, right?

The cremant d'Alsace I'd brought home had been chilled, poured, enjoyed, and consumed.  It was deemed Champagne Diet Worthy as the taste and price were perfect.  Back to the Francois Baur bio-dynamic Colmar vintner's counter we went.  Trois cartons de cremant, s'il vous plait.

What's this?  Jude wants to taste some of their other wines, too?  Well, OK then.  Reds.  Whites.  Dry.  Sweet.  We tried them all.  She found she loves not only the wines I'd already purchased, but a few more these folks had on offer as well.  It gave me a chance to talk a little with the fine folks about this and that and nothing in general before loading up le diable.

Later, at one of the wine stands we tried they listed their Bordeaux as bio-dynamically grown.  But only the expensive bottles were labeled as such, so I asked about the two wines we were considering trying.  We were told non, those are regular wines, sulfites and all.  It seemed like they were being a bit misleading by proudly displaying their AB signs all over and not pointing out their non-organic products.  Fortunately they were the only people we found who did this.  Everyone else was quite clear about what was in or not in their products.

A little miffed from the mis-leading labeling experience we headed off back up the aisle to a bio-labeled Rhone valley offering I spied moments earlier.  Their cheap stuff (at 6.50Euro a bottle) turned out to be perfect as a table wine.  It's 100percent Syrah and it's eminently quaff-able.  OK.  How many do we want?

By this point le diable had become heavily laden.  Such are the spoils of Hunting and Gathering on a Sunday morning in Paris.  It took me a minute to sort out how to strap the teetering stack of cartons to Super Caddy.  Once secured we were on our way back to the apartment.


Conclusion - Vespers (le couche du soleil)

Next year I think we'll use the delivery service.  Yes, it'll likely cost us something, but it might save my back.  Cartons of wine can be rather heavy and I'm getting a little too old for this kind of heavy lifting.  Besides, we might be able to buy even more wine if someone else is going to do the hauling, right?

By Jude's calculations we now have around two hundred and ten days of Pure Drinking Enjoyment stored in our cave.  There are more varieties of wine than we ever hoped to find, all resting quietly while waiting for us to pull or pop their corks.

Yes.  The Near Religious Experience has been achieved.  Nirvana has been attained.  Life is good.  There's no need to hold the Middle Finger high.  We have better things to do.  The Middle Finger Of Fate is needed to help hold un verre de vin.

Vigneron Independant ~ Paris ~ 2015

Sunday, November 22, 2015

When would we know it's time to leave?

When would we know it's time to leave?

This was the question Jude posed to me when we were talking about moving to Paris.  It felt like consumption culture, politics, and the overall level of violence in America has gotten out of control.  The answer to her question was instrumental to our leaving to live One Last Great Dream overseas.

Having had a strange day trying to get to Madrid on 13 November, 2015 (not having our passports during our first trip to the airport and spending a lot of money to buy tickets for a later flight), and after coming back to our hotel room relaxed and ready for a nice sleep (after having enjoyed a full bottle of tempranillo) before visiting a museum the next day, it was quite shocking to see our paradise had for the second time in less than a year been shot and blown to pieces.  My first thought was to Jude's original question.

A week has passed and I feel the better question is what would it take to make us leave?  Yes, we love living here that much, but we don't want to be willfully ignorant about our decision to stay.  I feel it important to take a rational approach to evaluating our situation.  I don't want to respond in a purely emotional manner.  Fear is a very powerful feeling, after all.

To illustrate my thought processes I want to compare and contrast the American and European responses to similarly graphic violent tragedies.  By doing so we might be able to arrive at a well considered (and hopefully not temporary) decision.

Immediately after the Paris attacks France started a military campaign against ISIS in Syria.  It's not using (at this time) this as an excuse to attack a country nor organization that had nothing to do with the murders.

By contrast, after a short military intervention in Afghanistan where al qaeda and Osama bin Laden (the perpetrator of the events of 9/11) actually were, the then US President GWBush decided it was better to attack and occupy Iraq. This led directly to the creation of the group that carried out the attacks against France.

Even as the saftey of the people is being debated, France is continuing to open it's country to Syrian refugees.  America's response is a disappointing "no."  What is remarkable about this is that France recognizes that the Paris attackers were home-grown (they were Belgian in most cases) and were not Syrian refugees.  Why do many Americans (led by Republican politicians) not want to recognize this?  What are Americans really afraid of?

Heavy weapon were used in the Paris attacks.  Instead of ignoring the problem, the EU, with France leading the way, is working to enact stronger control of these kinds of weapons.  Small arms are already controlled.  While the real benefits of new controls may take some time to realize, this seems to me to be prudent concrete action.

By contrast, Americans are not afraid of mass shootings shootings, even as the number of dead is quite staggering.   It was recently reported that there were 994 mass shootings in 1004 days.  No serious effort is presently being made by US politicians to control the weapons used in these (ongoing) attacks.  It's unclear to me what, if anything, is being done about the on-going tragic violence in America.  So why would we want to go to a clearly unsafe place?

There are also large cultural differences between how the US and Europe responds to these kinds of tragedies.  For instance, after the horrible attacks of 9/11, then President GWBush told Americans to go out and shop.  He didn't want al qaeda to "win" by letting the economy collapse.

By contrast, the French media has brought on experts on trauma, psychology, and philosophy.  They talk with people about how to work with their emotions and fears.  They tell people where good resources can be found and where to get support.  They explore how best to help children feel safe.  The French are not going to let ISIS "win" by not enjoying life.

It's not over, yet.  No.  Not by a long shot.  The trauma in fact continues.  It's very disturbing to see Brussels locked down.  Emotionally we feel battered.  We sometimes feel like running away.

Rationally what would we rather have?  Isn't it better to have governments that tell the people the truth and actively work toward keeping citizens safe?  Or would it be better to live in America's dream world of continued violence and un-founded/mis-directed fears?  Asked this way an answer should be clear.  But there remains an very palpable underlying concern for our safety.

When my father got into the cab that took he and my brother to the Madrid airport the morning we said our goodbyes he said to me "come back."  I know he's very frightened for us, and it's hard not to feel the strong urge for something that might pass at this moment for a peaceful place.  This is an emotional response.   A rational response is one of caution, observation, listening, and action.  With perhaps a bit more cremant in our diet than is normally consumed (as coping medicine).

The answer the question of what would it take to drive us away seems at first to be larger than the present situation.  If nations were to throw themselves against each other (such as Russia invading Germany while on it's way to France) then we would be "out of here" right quick.  If the EU is unable to contain it's own (radicalized) citizens and if attacks continue, then we will need to re-evaluate where we live.

I just hope the month of March where we intend to spend our time in Lisbon isn't too far off.  I shudder to think we would have to reconsider our place in the world before then.  We're already overly tired and ready for a long stretch of life and living that might pass for "normal."

In the mean time, we will do as the Parisians are doing.  We'll try and go on with our lives as an act of political defiance against those who would do us harm.  I just hope we're not being brashly stupid.


Scenes of Mourning ~ Paris after the November 13, 2015 attacks

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

On being out of town...

Up early and out the door to catch a flight to Madrid we were like a  small storm cell on the move.  We were to meet my father and brother in Spain while on their homeward leg of a trip to Andalusia.

It took a while to sort out where the counter was to drop our bags off.  We'd printed our boarding passes the night before and thought we were in a good position to have lunch in Madrid and to visit a museum in the afternoon that we'd missed the last time we were there.

We hand over our paperwork to the man behind the counter and... um... wot's all this then?  We need our passports?  When did this start?  Ugh.  Our Carte de Sejour aren't sufficient?  Non! There's no time to rush back to the apartment and be back in time for our flight, right?  Geez!  OK.  OK.  What to do now?

Over at the ticket counter we sort out our Next Steps.  These include buying new tickets.  At near full price.  For a 17h00 flight later the same day.  That would give us just enough time to return home, have lunch, nap a few minutes, and head back out to the airport.

An easy start to our trip had been disrupted.  Oh well, such is life, right?

Our return to the airport went much easier the second time around.  Even though my arm was tired from pulling the suitcases back and forth, to and fro, it was good to climb into the aircraft and be ready to head to Madrid.  A little asperine would keep any dull arm pains at bay.

Once installed at the hotel we headed out to dinner.  We missed our reservation for a famous place down near the mercado, but found what looked to be a decent place just down the street.  Suckling pig and lamb shoulder were on the menu, so why not give it a try?

Well, here's why.  The lamb was overcooked by French standards and looked like something the Egyptians mummified.  We confirmed this was normal practice after seeing other mummified lamb remains being hauled out of the kitchen.  As for the suckling pig, all I can see is that it's an acquired taste.  Much like andouillette sausage is an acquired taste.  The flavor is, oh, how shall we say?  Different.

After such a long and arduous day I felt we could do with a nice bottle of wine.  Red.  Delicious.  Just what the Doctor Ordered.  It left us a little tipsy for the walk up the street to our hotel and very ill-prepared for what came next.

Flopped out on the bed I thought I should check my messages to see if there was anything from my brother.  They'd be coming up from Cordoba the next day and I wanted to see if there'd been any changes in their plans.  Nope.  Nothing from my brother.

Instead the tablet's HD screen was lit up with questions/chats/emails demanding to know if we were all right.  I didn't know what was going on but quickly told everyone I could that we were safe and sound.  Jude kept asking me to see what was going on, even as I was frantically trying to reply to everyone.  With the first round of responses out of the way, I checked the news.  Horror of Horrors, Paris had again been attacked.  This would be the second time in less than a year.

An odd and frustrating day had instantly turned into a nightmare.

All we could do was watch the nightmare unfold and to try and contact as many people we could to inquire as to their safety.

In the end, an MUA I know still hasn't heard from two friends of hers and a shopkeeper's husband has a cousin who was shot in the leg.  We've not caught up with everyone, but it's looking like most of the people we know are still thankfully with us.

We weren't sure what we were heading home to, but after a four day stay in Madrid we are happy to report that security is very tight here.  Finally, some would say.  The idea of an open and free Europe that stretches from Greece to Brittany served rather well some who would do us harm.  That's changed.

Jude said we shouldn't let the Bastards win by staying home.  So we went out for dinner to a place where the burgers aren't half bad and une coupe de champ is a prerequisite to any meal.  At first the place seemed a little empty.  Not bad, mind you, just not quite as bustling as it sometimes is.

I can't explain it, but it gives me comfort to recognize the faces of people we've seen as we walk the streets in our neighborhood.  I don't know their names.  All I know is that they live.  It's a joy to me to see them.

A nearby table was clearing out after three elders had finished their drinks (it was far too early for a proper French meal - those start after 20h00 normally and it was only 18h00 when we sat down).  The man stopped to comment approvingly about my increasingly bushy beard.  His wife did the same.  We wished them both a bonne soiree.

A few moments later the woman returned returned.

"Vous √™tes d'ou?"

"Nous venons des Etats-Unis", I replied

"Mais nous habitons ce quartier, en fait" said Jude

"Vive l’Amerique!" the older woman exclaimed.

"Vive la France!" I told her.

With a broad smile she leaned in a little closer and said in a rather quiet voice "Merci."


A pastry shop in Madrid decorated their window with
this symbol of solidarity.  It's amazing how quickly
a meme such as this can spread.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Fall...

I have to admit that Fall is my favorite time of the year.  It has been since I was in high school, lo those many years ago.

Textures ~ Passy

After a long summer with little access to a decent library (Dana Point was small then and some of the social infrastructure was weak) I looked forward to going back to school.  My academic and social life became rich, then.  The school library was a well stocked.  My friends and I could play chess for hours.  Music classes meant I needed to practice one thing or another.  September meant all these things could start anew.

The American tradition of Friday night high school football meant I'd be out with the band on a cool (by southern California standards) night.  The air seemed crisp and clean (even as it was humid and polluted).  The lights over the stadium had an interesting quality that made seeing the action on the field difficult.  Sometimes I could see my breath as I played an alto sax.  Fall was magic and I was happy.

As a young man I worked a contract out on Long Island in New York.  My first Fall spent there helped me realize that California really didn't have seasons as the rest of the country might know them.  Fall on Long Island meant the sugars in the leaves of the trees could turn into amazing brilliant yellows, oranges, and reds.

Textures ~ Passy

On a NY style crisp and cold autumn day a colleague and I stumbled upon Bridgehampton Raceway.  It was Ferrari Day and we found ourselves track-side watching the prancing horses run.  The sound of a V12 carries rather well on cold days.  We knew when a fast runner was on his way well before he actually came into view.  The magic of the experience was capped by the setting.  The fall colored trees at the raceway were nearly impossible to look at, so sharp and bright were their colors.

As a married man with children I always looked forward to our children heading out on All Hallows Eve.  Everyone was usually excited to be dressed up in their favorite costumes.  The Hunt for Candy would begin and some hours later the Spoils of the Hunt were richly displayed on the livingroom floor.  When we lived in Hillsboro this meant the livingroom was heated by a nice fire gently burning in the fireplace.

Now that we live in Paris, my wife and I experience autumn in rather different ways.  The traditions of Fall would clearly not be the same and we set out to experience it.

Textures ~ Passy

Yesterday we headed out to BHV.  Our expedition was to find and capture a much needed "Defense de Fumer" sign.  We require one for the entry to our buildings underground parking garage.  The children (children! I tell you) from the school just next door congregate in the space just in front of the garage door.  There they smoke like only the French (children!!!) can smoke.  The problem for us is that their smoke comes up into the building air system and collects just outside our apartment door.  So a "Defense de Fumer" is required.  After four years of living here, the time seemed right to do something about the problem.

Jude did a little shopping and scored a very nice coat.  We then descended into the basement/cave where I asked where the signs were.  Once directed we scored our "Defense de Fumer" and made our way to la caisse.

An elderly lady seemed a little confused as to where the end of the queue was.  She'd walked up the side the cordon that led to the cash registers and she needed to be on the other side of the ribbon where Jude and I stood.

Textures ~ Passy

The French must be competition people with a spirit of "You Snooze, You Loose."  The elderly lady was completely taken aback by our offer to let her in front of us (which is where she would've been had she not taken a confused detour).  She didn't expect kindness as simple as letting her have a place in front of someone who was already standing in a queue.

Let it Never Be Said that the French don't like to talk with strangers.  Foreign strangers at that.  This was by no means our first encounter with talkative French and this one only added to our growing list of delightful conversations.  Our Little Kindness launched the elderly lady into a long conversation about this and that.  She showed us her intended purchase and rambled on about what she was going to do with them (little tacks from the looks of things).

Seeing la caisse was a bit understaffed, Jude mentioned it must be lunchtime.  At this the elderly lady launched into une petite histoire of her eating habits.  To begin, she did not eat lunch.  She ate only breakfast.  Breakfast for her consisted of a baguette with honey poured on it.  Skipping lunch meant that she needed a 16h00 goute.  16h00 is indeed Standardized French Goute Hour.  We've seen school children work their way into pain au chocolate right on schedule at 16h00.  Goute was required to keep one's strength ahead of le diner, which begins at 20h00 in these parts.

Textures ~ Passy

I must have had a questioning look on my face because she started to explain that this way of eating was her habit.  That's just the way things are.  And, she added, it's worked out very well indeed.  She asked if we could deviner her age.  86! she told us.  "Just look at me" as she pulled back her overcoat to reveal a very svelte and shapely (fully clothed, I must add) 86 year old body.  She looked great!  In her younger years she must've been the Talk of the Town.  "See?  It's because of how I eat.  Isn't it great?"  Before a "vous etes vraiment joli, madame" could cross my lips the queue to la caisse moved and we found ourselves in front of yet another kind lady, this one who was ready to take our money in exchange for a new "Defense de Fumer".

Yes, it was time for lunch and we were hungry.  There was no way I was going to start down the path of the elderly lady and try and follow her life long diet.  So I suggested to Jude that pay Le Petit SP a wee visit for une ou deux coupes and steak frites.  One metro stop down from BHV we found ourselves trinquer deux coupes, and all remained right with our world.  The early afternoon light was golden and the sky was a deep, nearly Montana blue

It's not for this missive for me to explain my  transition from medium-well cooked steak to saignant (which means bloody - and I'm not using the English swear word here).  Suffice it to say, the steak frites were wonderful.  Jude had ordered one as well and loved it.  Accompanied with 25cl of St. Somethingorother from Bordeaux we soon found our plates empty and our tastes anticipating un peu de dessert.  We were part of what we call the Clean Plates Club.

Textures ~ Passy

This time it was Jude's turn to suggest something to do next.  Who could possibly say "no" to a gorgeous Fall day?  A beautiful passage, l'hotel de Sens, across les deux Ponts, a lovely stroll across l'isle Saint Louis, over another quai and through the Old City to la rue Saint Germain des Pres we went.  All taken at a slow strolling pace.

Half way across the second pont we paused a looked back toward Notre Dame de Paris.  There is something special about the light of Fall.  I think I like it here as much, if not more, than when we lived in the US.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Time for yet another rant...

Sorry to do this, but I feel I have to.

Someone just went nuts and killed students in a school located in our old home state.

Need I point out?  All it took was one failed shoe bomb attempt and all of us take our shoes off to go thru airport security checkpoints.

Yet just this year there have been 45 school shootings.  Since Sandy Hook there have been 142 shootings in schools.

Why do people in America feel that the problem of the shoe bomber can be "solved" and yet seem to do nothing when it comes to their own children being at risk while in school?

If arming teachers is somehow the answer, why is it that for every criminal killed in self defense, 34 innocent people die?

If taking guns away from anyone not part of a "well regulated militia" is somehow not part of a solution, then what is?

By comparison, when was the last time you heard about a school shooting in, well, just about anywhere else in the world?  Literally.

If a solution to the problem of killings in America is to be implemented, why not take an example of any of the over 180 democratic and free nations where children are not at risk for living beyond their young years?

... and some people still wonder why we left the US to live overseas.


Textures ~ Passy

Monday, September 14, 2015

Catching up...

Gods!  The last post was in June, fer cry'n out loud!!!  Where to begin?  Are we still in the midst of the On-Going Madness?  Or are we at An End yet?

Carved Stone ~ Chartres Cathedral

Winter 2015 saw both Jude and I sick with various virus for nearly three months. We followed this with a Five Day Stay in a hotel in Tours to stabilize Jude's blood pressure meds and a month or two to sort it all out back in Paris.  Disaster wouldn't leave well enough alone.  Jude then came down with shingles on her face.

So, as you can see, we've been rather busy.  "Laying low" as they say.

Jude wasn't the only one to come down with it in our quartier.  At the local pharmacy we were told that six other people had also developed zona, as shingles are called here, on their faces, too.  It's taken two and a half months of terrible blisters, deep/hard pain, and countless nights of near no sleep to begin to get out the other side.  Fortunately Jude is beginning to feeling well enough that she is down to taking ibuprofen only twice a day to control the lingering pain.

Carved Stone ~ Chartres Cathedral

During these illnesses I had more than enough time on my hands and couldn't help but note a few things as they unfolded around me.

I learned that deep histories of struggle, Catholics against Republicans and Anarchists, still have the power to divide families.  A vendeuse at Bio C'est Bon told us that she was getting married and that her future husband deliberately planned for the two families to meet in Beaune so everyone could get to know each other.  One side of the family are staunch Catholic and the other sound like they are strongly-idealist Republican or Anarchist (think descendants of the Communards - pretty serious stuff, that).  He hoped to lay to rest some of the divisions between families who have lived very different ideologies for what sounded like several centuries.

It was from the same vendeuse that we learned an interesting French expression.  It goes something like this - a happy woman creates a village.  Which is to mean that for some women there is joy in having children.  Enough, it seems, to populate a village.  It was wonderful the way she described this to us in French.  It seemed so civilized and natural.

While out on rare outtings we can't help but be horrified at how Americans behave when visiting.  A recent visit to Chartres only added to our horror.

Carved Stone ~ Chartres Cathedral

The labyrinth in the cathedral was closed due to renovations taking place overhead.  That didn't stop a group of Americans from occupying the center of the labyrinth.  They were bottling up the flow of visitors so they, the Americans, could have their "oh so special" spiritual/religious moment.  It was weird seeing something that the Europeans have had for 1,000+ years being discovered and laid claim to by Americans.  It was even weirder watching their guru hovering over them with a cell phone on a "selfie stick" while he shot video of his disciples (all women) in prayer.  He made no attempt to improve the flow of visitors by moving his disciples out of the way.

During lunch we couldn't help but notice the very same guru and his followers sitting near by.  The guru was loudly talking about his own path to enlightenment.  His path seemed to be strewn with one master after another.  Each had problems of various kinds that caused the guru to move on to the next sack of nuts with yet another sack of problems.  It was all nonsense to me, but his group of disciples hung on his every blessed word.

There was another group of Americans on the other corner from us.  At one point Jude got up to wash her hands and asked the woman, who was from NY, if she would please move her chair slightly so Jude could slip by.  The NY woman told her rather loudly and very bruskly "NO!"  So Jude asked her again as there really was no way to get to where she needed to go but through this narrow area.  The NY bitch, er, sorry, woman huffed and puffed as her friends suggested she move.  The NY Bitch inched her chair forward an inch.  It seemed as if the bitch was trying to lay claim to it's her own patch of France.

Carved Stone ~ Chartres Cathedral

A little later we were sitting around the back side of the cathedral when I heard a woman tell me "I'm not being presumptuous..." as she reached under my seat and between my legs for something rather important.  It was definitely sacred to her.  Apparently it had been delivered from the sky and this little rolly polly bat-faced girl was filled with all kinds of "wonderful spiritual energy."  She was part of the American "spiritualists" group and felt it her duty to let me know something sacred had just taken place.  She told me "it's your's" as she held up a downy pigeon feather.  It took me a moment to realize what was going on and replied "No.  Really. It's your's."  Her face lit up, her puffy hands carefully caressed the feather, and she moved away in an obvious (oblivious?) state of "grace."

Oh, these have indeed been trying times.  A long hard winter followed by a long hot summer has given me the impression that I've become rather cranky.

Fortunately France remains a very sweet, civilized place to live.  Even as they have their very own brand of Special Olympic qualifying events.

Take, for instance, that wedding cake of a church sitting on top of Montmartre.  I shared with an American couple that Sacre Coeur is an abomination against all that is good and decent in Paris.  You can imagine the puzzled looks on their faces as I said this.  The obvious question is "why?".

Carved Stone ~ Chartres Cathedral

Well, you see, a hundred years of history has done little to dampen the ardent hatred many Parisians have for that site.  Afterall, how can you blame them?  The royalist/monarchist Catholics built it in honor of their "victory" over the Communards who tried to rule Paris in a very true and interesting Anarchist way.  The event was a slaughter, actually.  French slaughtering their own.  All because someone needed to have things their way and only their way.

A Parisian I spoke with this week suggested the best view of Paris is indeed from Montmartre.  It's the only view of the city where you don't see that abomination of Sacre Coeur.

I must be becoming Parisian of some persuasion as I couldn't agree more with this.  To me it's incredibly moving to visit the place inside Pere Lachaise cemetery where the last of the Communards were stood against a wall and slaughtered by the Royalist/Monarchist army.

Often I see fresh flowers at the site.

Fontaine du Fellah ~ Antinous ~ Paris

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Getting away...

Sitting around the apartment stewing over things I can't change and fuming over people I can't influence yields nothing.

Donnemarie Dontilly ~ Cloitre XIII-XV

So it was a pleasure to get out and participate in the kind of life we moved here to enjoy in the first place.  Our friends Jacky and Mich√®le invited us to la maison dans la compagne.

For us it was up at the Crack of Dawn and hustle over to the Translien toward Provins out of la gare de l'Est.  We thought we were plenty early to grab a seat to enjoy a peaceful ride through the lush green isle de France countryside.  But as we walked toward our train we realized this was the weekend of the huge medieval festival.  Tout le monde was dressed in medieval attire.  Corsets, bustiers, cloaks, capes, leather boots and replicas of ancient weapons abounded.

Nangis ~ French countryside

Jude and I knew well our duty and we instantly laid siege to the train.  With shoulder and knee, with hand and foot, with sharp elbow and quick shove, and with strong, vigourous and, dare I say, courageuse action we stormed une grande porte de chateau, er, train, and won our vainglorious right to be braced, literally, cheek by jowl and, in my case, rump against very ample jiggly clearly overweight Americaine rump with the not yet drunken revelers bound for Provins.

Trying Times, these.  Once our Right of Place was gained we all too quickly realized we were required to wage on-going hand to hand, foot on foot, rump shoving ample rump close quarters combat.  There wasn't enough room in the train for the hordes.  It was nearly too much.  Not only this but the air conditioning was doing it's best to behave like old fashioned of the period medieval air conditioners would.  That is to say, AC was yet to be invented and we suffered the heat of a thousand humans in constant skirmish to win a few centimeters of space.

Nangis ~ French countryside

The spell was broken when Jude and I started a conversation with a woman who worked in Paris during the week but has her home in Provins.  She told us about how it is to live in a small, normally sleepy village and to have a vast feting horde lay siege to the upper part of town.  She tried not to grumble about it, but it was clear these were Trying Times for more than just Jude and I.

After a 45minute ride, er, running battle with the Time Travelers in the Way Back Machine (our Translien) Jude and I happily bounded out the door to breathe the wonderfully fresh air in Nangis.  The Future Drunken Revelers carried on to Provins, wine, fete, and combat against dragons of a by-gone era.  We bid them a fond(?) adieu.

What unfolded next was to prove our wisdom in having moved to France.

Nangis ~ French countryside

Our friends met us quai-side and drove us to their country home.  They showed us around their property and home.  They showed us their apple trees.  Those would be the ones that produce apples that, in turn, produce tasty cidre after the Fall harvest.  We shared an amazing wonderful delicious three hour lunch.  The table was set on the lawn under a cherry tree.  Under which we enjoyed the shade from a sun that shone brightly against the kind of azure blue that I thought only Montana could deliver.

Jacky insisted that I help him by drinking his allotment of wine.  He was our driver and he didn't want to be collared by The Authorities.  What?  No wine for le chauffeur?  Either this is not France or times have severely changed.

We went for a walk in a forest to visit an ancient, massive, though now dead, oak.  The forest smells are what Jude and I sometimes miss.  They can be delicious.  We visited a cloitre in a small village.  The grounds-keeper is a wonderful woman who showed us the medieval gardens, showed us around the church, and she opened the gates for us to enter the chapel.  It was through this chapel that passed the village's dead to (not) hear the mass said for them before they made their way to be buried.  We walked quietly to the gates of a medieval farm to look at the outline of a destroyed church.  We traded curious looks with race horses as they leaned out of their paddocks.

Nangis ~ French countryside

After so much fun we were running rather low on energy.  It'd been a full, long day.  After a quick drive back to the station we saw we had a 30 minute wait.  So we sat down and talked and traded more stories.  Our friends are very kind, cordial, and generous.  As we heard our Translien approach Jacky and Michele said goodbye.  We boarded our train for home.

It's hard to imagine a better tonique against stewing over unchanging things than a day out.  It's hard to imagine a better day than this.

Donnemarie Dontilly ~ Cloitre XIII-XV

Monday, June 15, 2015

Of light and floating things...

We awoke to the delightful sounds of baby birds being fed by their parents.

Mesange charbonniere

Raising the shutters revealed a pair of baby Mesange Charbonniere.  They seem to be closely related to what would call Chickadees in the US.  Their parents were busy finding tasty bugs to eat in the Dove Plum tree that's growing not three meters from out back window.

All day I pointed my camera lens toward the Dove Plum.  All day "click click click" went the shutter.  Hungry babies.  Parents hunting.  Babies fed.  Peaceable things, these.

Our courtyard is filled with birds this time of year.  We have at least one pair of nesting doves and one pair of Merle, or what one might call Blackbirds in the UK.  There are several pigeon families as well as these cute little Mesange Charbonniere.

Mesange charbonniere

Jude and I agreed that the day had been a wonderful one.

The next morning we awoke to the sounds of very agitated Mesange Charbonniere.  Raising the shutters we looked on a scene of death and destruction.  A Geai des Chenes was on the hunt.

It was terrible to watch the efficiency with which the bird hunted.  The Geai des Chenes is closely related to Jays in the US.  Unlike the Jays we used to see the French version is lethal.  Little bits of fluff and feather floated through the air.  Terrible strings of meat and gut were unstrung.  Tiny legs and claws soon hung limp in a laurel tree.

On a human level, the two days which started in beauty and grace but later ended in dismembered white and dripping red is the perfect metaphor for what's happening around me.

Geai des Chenes

It is all too easy for me to compare the cute little birds being cared for by their parents with the feelings words can bring when someone says you are regarded and things will be shared.  Someone else says to you is given this very important future task.  There is safety and comfort sometimes in words.  Particularly in important words.

Death came both figuratively and in reality.  The aftermath of floating downy feathers are beautiful words too soon pulled from the body of beautiful truth.  Lies and half lies, darker truths and controlling demands are the beak of destruction.  Words that do not lead to proper action is death of a terrible and disturbing kind.

Those supposedly close, those who uttered such fine words are instantly seen as false and shallow.  They are shown to be simple managers of their own self interests.  Greed and gain, responsibility and authority lay on different bed rock than their words described.  Like a Geai des Chenes on the hunt the effect is swift, brutal, and efficient.

Geai des Chenes

Those who can and could say, don't.  Those who know and have known for a long time remain silent.  Their claim that all one needed to do was to ask so as to know what was really meant, what was really the truth use tightfisted, thuggish ways of avoiding what they have done to their own family.  Their approach only works if you know the questions to be asked and it is very well understood that you cannot know nor could ever imagine the right questions to ask.  Thereby, those who have motive and opportunity gain.  Those who were said to be included, those who were to shoulder serious responsibilities won't.

It is in the deep and very nature of those involved that their lives unfold as they do, is it not?  There is no mystery how this happens.  The only mystery is why they are believed for as long as they are.  For that I must bear full responsibility.  For all the rest, the drama they created is their's to live and deal with.

The Geai des Chenes has so far destroyed two families of Mesange Charbonniere.  The first attack took place in full sun.  The second on a cold and rainy day.  The cute little birds keep trying to bring to adulthood a brood of chicks.  Their optimism is sometimes horrible to consider.  The attacks were 30 days apart.

Geai des Chenes

We see that a third family of Mesange Charbonniere are in the nest.  Will they survive?  By the looks of the middle of the courtyard where Pigeon feathers are spread all about after yesterday's attack by a crow or perhaps a cat we have our doubts.

It's been a brutal Spring.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

au Mans!

The day started poorly but it changed for the better the closer I got to le Mans to watch the MotoGP Grand Prix de France.

When I was young my uncle gave me a copy of Road &Track to read.  It fueled my young mind with visions of exotic racing machines, high speed, and good European living.  I've dreamed of visiting le Mans ever since.

Five decades later my dreams came true.

This is the story in pictures.

Waiting for the departure platform to be announced

I'll take the one on the left, thank you

This must be the place.  It even says so.

Tramway to Antares

Show your support by buying a name or number

Or show your support by hauling a flag with the number of some famous racer

No doubt the barbed wire keeps the racers from getting into the crowd

Demanding French Independence from Normandy?  Or???

I'm ready to make a few photos

Italians like #46

Pict advanced invasion forces scout enemy terrain

Wow!  What a beer!! er, I mean race!!!

Premature frites death

Hoping to get a few more photos before heading to dinner

Spotted in the parking lot (1)

Spotted in the parking lot (2)

Spotted at the gare (1)

Spotted at the gare (2)

Before steak-frites with red

Inspecting the Mens Room at the gare

Please don't let the train be late

This is it.  Home to Paris we go.

One last look at the Madness

I processed the images to resemble faded scenes from fuzzy Road & Track illustrations and my memories of them.