Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Talking with the French

I have occasionally (okay, frequently) mentioned that I like to talk to French people.  If I give the impression that this is always a pleasure - well, no.  I have had prospective French conversation partners who were too dogmatic for me, or found it too hard to talk with on a recurring basis (one woman had the ability to always ping me when I was in a conversation with someone else, and I'm not sure she believed me when I said um, next time?)

I just had the latest of those.  I have a connection on Facebook with a young woman who is a friend of the girl who stayed with us, several years ago.  That young woman was trying to figure out a way to get her mother to New York, and 'our' girl said Well, we were just in New York with some friends of our family.... So the young woman contacted me to see what was possible.  Once she realized that I don't live in New York -- and in fact live several hours away -- she stopped talking with me, but because we are still connected on Facebook, I see status notes that she posts.

Today she posted a picture of some people looking glumly at a car that seemed to be stuck in snow, with the caption "Derniere connerie de l'annee'.  Now, I don't really know what connerie means, but as it happens it's part of a French phrase that appears in a novel that I like (one of the Aubrey/Maturin series), where the British naval captain semi-quotes a French friend as saying Quelle connerie.  At the time, I thought what? , and looked it up; today, I vaguely remembered the word as meaning stupidity,  or bullshit, something like that.  Gee, I thought, I wonder where the snow was, that triggered this response.  So I asked -- Oú est la neige?  Where is the snow - ie, Paris, Bordeaux, where?

Her response?  Sur le sol. On the ground.

So talking to French people is not always an unmitigated joy....

Tuesday, December 30, 2014


This picture of a B-52 Stratofortress, which I found here, made me smile.

....even if the tune of When Johnny Comes Marching Home,  which was used in Doctor Strangelove: Or, How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb, does keep running through my brain.

The only other plane that triggers that reaction is this one.   Surely you recognize it.   Just looking at the photo brings the deep thrum thrum thrum of those powerful C130 Hercules engines, and the faintly musty aroma inside the cargo bay,  back to me in an instant. Loved that plane. Even when my memory is tinged with the feeling of those uncomfortable web seats, or the heat - stepping down from the plane after a flight, expecting to be at least a little cooler outside, was usually a losing proposition -  even with that, it's a delight. Glad that bird and its descendants is still flying....

Sunday, December 28, 2014


She's been to his house, stayed overnight.  She likes his family, likes his sister.  They appear to like her.

This week, she's visiting a friend, but on the way home she's stopping at his house to stay overnight.  And when she comes home, she's bringing him, to stay here for a couple of days.


Saturday, December 27, 2014


I read the other day (in Quora) that successful people view the world as malleable, something that they can change.  I think that's true, but simplistic.  I suspect they find pieces that they can change, and do. I'm rarely successful at that, which I think is turning me into a bit of a curmedgeon.

Tomorrow my daughter goes away for four days to visit friends.  Some day she will come here for visits, and spend most of her days living elsewhere.  This happens to everyone, which doesn't make it any easier for me to accept.  Let alone the worry about her driving to DC on a holiday weekend, or holiday weekday. Got to happen sometime, I know.

A French person said to me you say market, for store - do you mean an actual market, or a supermarket? When I replied The latter, he said Too bad.  Small town markets are fun. I told him that in my time in small French towns, I'd never seen a market, and was disappointed.  He was astounded.  They're everywhere! Um, no.  Another said to me that I had to learn to recognize good ingredients, and was amazed when I said that I had no idea how to do that.

My local supermarket has ten billion different items.  But somehow the only  things I notice are when they stop carrying the things that I like. I rarely notice the additions, because they promote all of it, not just the stuff that actually is good, like Talenti gelato.And even then, they try to substitute a brand where they personally earn more from each sale.

That Statue

I wonder.

If the terrorists had flown a plane into the Statue of Liberty, would people have tried to 'improve' it upon reconstruction?  You know -- well, that quote on the book is nice, of course, but we're thinking something more current, more relevant... and the original face is so bland, so blank, why don't we give it some life, add some wrinkles, hint at some curves under that gown.... and anyway, do we really WANT that gown any more? 

And shouldn't it be bigger, taller, and wider?  With space for advertising on the base, and a McDonalds at the top?

And of course there would be people who would want it surrounded by defensive artillery (proudly paid for by the NRA) or perhaps a massive Star Wars laser defense battery...or two. And maybe a literal dome. Yeah, its hard to see, in there, but it sure is secure -- and isn't security what we WANT?

Just wondering

Thursday, December 25, 2014


I've always liked big houses.  Even as we occasionally think about expanding this house (I'd like to add a room over the garage and install an elevator into what is currently our bedroom), and I realize that the house, as it exists, is really a little too big for us already -- we have two spare bedrooms, and they're normally both empty - when I see a bigger house, I think wow this is nice .

I can recall four times when this happened.

One, where we visited the parents of one of my daughter's college friends; the kitchen was huge, the 'TV room' was huge, the 'game room' was large; the dining room was huge plus, and the hallways could have been rooms by themselves.

One, where we visited a friend from work; the house itself wasn't amazingly big, but they'd integrated an in-law suite into the design; a lockable door on the second floor led to a private retreat for the parents, but the living room and kitchen were big enough to handle everyone. (I told my wife when we left home, I liked my house.  When I returned, I thought  Yeah, its okay, but its a little small.)

One, where I attended a party at the home of a guy who has two or three auto dealerships in the area; when the lights were not all on, it was difficult to see the far end of his living room. This was also the first house I'd seen with a projection television, as well as a Pac-Man arcade console.

And one where my wife's uncle lives; none of the rooms in the house are amazingly large, but the number of rooms is amazing, and they're on multiple floors.

And then there's the home of my sister in law, which we just visited; its got multiple rooms with twelve foot ceilings; nice architectural details throughout; carpet, tile, the whole bit.  The house sits at the top of a small mountain; when you step outside, you're almost literally playing King of the Mountain.  I've seen stand-alone houses that were smaller than their stand-alone three-car garage.

I wouldn't want to have to pay for one, but I do like large houses.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014


Actually, the title of this post was supposed to be Traveling.  I wrote Traving, then I corrected it, then I thought well, what the hell, why not? and changed it back.  I don't know, it feels right.

I'm here in the kitchen (I say here like you know what that means, when the truth is that as far as I know, no one who reads this blog has ever been to my home - at least, no one to whom I am not married), thinking, musing about Christmas.  I think its on my mind because I've been in touch with a friend who's more than a little concerned about her father.  I think, from her descriptions, that the father might be mentally ill, and whether he is or not, he's certainly depressed, because his wife left him, leaving for some other guy, and apparently he's disconsolate.  I don't know how long they were married, but given that the girl is about 22, I'm guessing for around that long.  She's really concerned that if she leaves him alone, he'll kill himself, so she and her brother trade off, trying to be sure that one of them is always in the house.

She told me today that she's really afraid for him.  There's always this low-level fear, of course, but at this time of year, she feels especially stressed, because its supposed to be this wonderful, magical time of the year, and in her case, its not even close.  And I know that this is not at all uncommon, especially for people who live alone, or who have drab survival-level lives. 

So I find myself wondering whats so great about Christmas?  And although I know the classic reason -- which, if you're anything but Christian, you might not share -- I wonder how people survive it who are not just not-Christian but not-happy, not-content.  How do they get through it?  How do they survive?


Guy from our bank stopped by to drop off a Christmas gift.  Last year, it was a selection of coffees which were pretty good, so I was looking forward to it again this year.  This year it was... a huge can of salted peanuts.  But, he said, since I know your sense of humor, you'll probably say say We give them all that money and all we get is  PEANUTS?so I stopped on the way here and picked up this. A bag of coffee.  Coincidentally, Dunkin' Donuts brand, which we'd just run out of.  We like flavored coffees, but we're surprised how much we like the double D....


I wonder - in how many other households would the phrase "Countdown to annihilation" be the punchline of a joke?

Friday, December 19, 2014

Thursday, December 18, 2014


Why, when I buy new books, and have several waiting to be read, do I keep going back to Tour of the Merrimac and to Terry Pratchett's Snuff?

Bogus, and yet...

I don't care that it's bogus.  I love it.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Thursday, December 11, 2014


I'm 65, and I think I'm an interesting guy.  Not the most interesting, by any means, but not bad.  The French people whom I talk with all seem to enjoy our conversations.

So why is it that when I am looking at potential conversation partners, or get requests from someone, I almost always ignore the ones from people over about 40?  Why do I immediately assume that, based on their age,  they're going to be dull people?

Monday, December 08, 2014


After listening multiple times to a short French-language recording, I now think that when the French speak, they lunge in at the start of a sentence, talking as fast as they can, blending all of the words into one long mellifluous mumble,  and only stop when they either run out of breath or hit a period. If the first, they swallow and dive in again; if the second, they race up and then slam on the brakes, coming to a abrupt gasping halt, apparently astonished that someone seems to have planted a linguistic STOP sign right in their path.

And yet it sounds lovely.

Not Funny, Just True

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Cat Trax

Cat saw me move a cat toy, came racing into the kitchen and bolted through the doorway....right into a box.  Bounced off with this what the hell was THAT look....

Tuesday, December 02, 2014


When I was in the military, I had a friend who liked to smoke as he approached a no-smoking area.  He would take one last puff, stub it out and toss it, then put an unlit cigarette in his mouth and walk past the guard, letting that last puff of smoke come out as he did.  When the guard would chastise him for smoking, he'd say What?  This thing isn't even lit!

I still think that's funny. 

Monday, December 01, 2014


This article, about the syntax and content of online reviews, fascinated me.  But I think I'm glad that my blog doesn't get reviews.  After all, it’s good but not fall on the floor dance a jig good.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014


It's good to know that despite our daughter being almost 21, we can still be callous parents who simply don't care about her -- in this case, refusing to let her borrow the car to drive to see a friend, just because it's been snowing all day, the temperature is dropping, and it's night.  Ice on the road? Won't happen to me!


The surgeon said you know how the initial report said you have a hernia in your diaphragm, but we couldn't see it, so we had you get another?  We nod. Well, the second CAT scan was much clearer.... and there's nothing there.  No hernia at all.


Tuesday, November 25, 2014


I've said that everything sounds better in French.  Even this, I think -- though the original is pretty good!

Bonjour, mon nom est Inigo Montoya.  

Vous avez tué mon père. Préparez-vous à mourir.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Waiting for....Daughter

Daughter has driven down to Maryland.  Her destination is about 90 minutes from here.  She told us that she would not be home for dinner.  I know that she's driven long distances - well, relatively long, a couple of hours - by herself.  I really don't expect her home much before 9PM.  Or even 10.

Still:  at what point do you stop worrying that a kid who is not here is in some kind of trouble?

Probably: never.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Interesting...would be one word for it

Daughter calls home, she's sick.  Goes to the emergency room, where she gets a CAT scan and Xray. They tell her that she needs surgery.  Bring her home a week early, wait two days to see the surgeon.  Who then says I can't read this CAT scan, she needs anotherBut I see on this report that she has a different problem that's going to need surgical intervention, too. They want to do the CAT next Monday, after the insurance people say OK.  The daughter says Its okay if insurance won't cover an immediate one, we'll pay for it. CAT gets scheduled for today.  But she still has to wait a week to see the surgeon again. He's booked in surgery Monday and Tuesday, he'll be coming in on Wednesday just to see you. Which helps her mood not at all. 

And now she's cranky, nervous,  and bored.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014


As a rule, pleasant days do not include conversations with surgeons.


Its about a quarter to eight.  In three hours, we leave for the surgeon's office to find out what's going to happen, and when. I know he's not going to say oh, that's nothing, leave it alone, it'll get better.  After all, she had pains strong enough to make her call home in a bit of a panic. When I stand, it hurts my chest. So yeah, he's going to say something about yeah, we need to fix that.  No free pass.

But I wish....

Tuesday, November 18, 2014


I have never been drunk in my life.  This is not a triumph of will over circumstance; it is simply that I am frightened by the thought of losing control of my actions.

And yet.

Yesterday, I drove from Virginia to Pennsylvania.  I hadn't eaten breakfast or lunch.  It was raining.  And at least four times, I woke up as I was driving.  I was not awake enough to realize that I should not be driving.  That I was too tired to make rational decisions.

This morning, remembering this, it scared the hell out of me. 

Sunday, November 16, 2014


The phrase is "Congenital diaphragmatic hernia". It translates to "Your daughter will need major surgery."

Friday, November 14, 2014


Sometimes I look at the elderly people in the supermarket and wonder what they looked like when they were kids.  Its a slightly unsettling thought, that this wan, weary woman was once a cute kid.  And then I think about how much I look like those people, and I'm unsettled all over again.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Wednesday, November 12, 2014


Argh.  Another book where the first few (four, in fact), were excellent, and the fifth feels like the author was doing something else while plotting this one.  Its not bad, but it's certainly not as good.  I wonder if books have to be written close together to have the same 'feel'?

Monday, November 10, 2014


The New York subway system is functional and mostly clean, which is really all that I can say about it. The Washington DC metro is elegantly designed, if showing its age, and mostly clean.  The Boston metro has always fascinated me because of a) the trolleys that are part of it, and b) the Park Street Green Line Station with its elegant lights (last time I saw it, which, granted, was about 20 years ago).

But the Stockholm metro.... I wouldn't go there just to see the metro, but if I was in the area....

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Getting Hot

Breville makes a really nice toaster oven.  But if the thermal fuse blows, you're in for a delightful time.  Either you send it to them to be repaired -- not an option if its out of warranty -- and then wait one to two months to get it back, or you take off the back, replace the thermal fuse with one from Radio Shack, and you're done.

Except that the back is secured with 22 screws, and once they're off you have to slide the back, and to get it to slide you have to loosen four mounting feet, then remove two more screws on the base. An hours work, easily.

Apparently, they never heard of a 'resetable' thermal fuse. For sure there won't be 22+ screws holding it together when we reassemble it!

Wednesday, November 05, 2014


Since there are people who are stupid enough to say Keep the Government's Hands Off My Medicare, I assume there are also people stupid enough to blame Obama if and when the Republicans cut health care spending, period.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014


How would you create a virtual screen for a laptop? ie, something that would shimmer into existence, show your images, keep light from bleeding through from the back, and disappear when you turn the laptop off? 

Monday, October 27, 2014


Listening to a Youtube video about a wine harvest festival.  Apparently, part of speaking French fluently is to swallow half of each word, and to run them together, too.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Mes Amis

It is due to people like these, and others, that I have a pretty good view of French people.

I was nervous meeting these folks -- except for the woman, I'd never talked to any of them.  They were warm and hospitable, though the youngest didn't seem to understand my French very well.

This is the friend who invited me to her wedding.  When I pointed out, at the time, that I couldn't make heads or tails of the French being spoken by one group at the reception, she laughed and said They're from Israel -- they're speaking Hebrew.

This friend, and her family, live in a quiet apartment that's only a block away from the bustling tourist area of Montmartre.  I told her that when she moves, I want that apartment.  I was not entirely joking.

Good things come in small packages.  Smart things, too.  This friend is a doctoral student at the Sorbonne.


Lille is another pretty city that gave me the feeling of quiet efficiency coupled with history.  It was pleasant to walk around the downtown area, just looking at people.  My friend asked if I wanted to go into a bookstore.  I said yes, heading towards one, and she shook her head. That's the expensive one, she said, and took me about a block away to a smaller but still well-stocked one.  Still a bit of a shock to see books in English labeled as Livres Étrangers. (Foreign books)

We went to a local restaurant called Les Trois Brasseurs (the three brewmeisters, I think).  It was kind of a burgers and beer place, and that's one of the vats that they make the beer in.
But not just burgers.

They insisted that I had to try Le Merveilleux, a hyperdense dessert.  As you can see, I didn't make much of a dent in it.

This, of course, is the entrance from the Lille metro to the Lille-Europe TGV station
Yes, really.

The Lille Europe Metro/TGV station (there are two -- the second,  Lille Flandres, is just across the street.). Nice, but if it's chilly out, wear a jacket -- the cold winds blow right through it.

Thursday, October 23, 2014


The nearest big city to Thourie (as far as I know!) is Rennes.  I liked it.  The place was clean, the populace was friendly (really -- as part of an exercise, I had to stop multiple people and ask directions to a well-known building or structure.  Every one of them was willing to do it.  Once, when I tried and failed to interest two people who were wearing headphones, a woman came up to me and said Sir, are you having some problems?)  and the whole place just felt approachable.  Now, maybe that's because it was the bustling downtown, and maybe the rest is awful -- but I'd go back.

Most of these are photos that we had to take to prove that we actually had found the places we were tasked to find. One of them, not so much.

Even the city logo has a clean look.

Yeah, that caught my eye.  My teacher was not amused.

Champs Libres appeared to be a kind of shopping mall, but very small.

This is the office of the mayor.  Rennes was having an exhibit of photographs taken in the area during World War Two, and unlike here, people seemed actively interested in looking at and discussing the images.

Another example of something that's actually fascinating -- they were excavating and restoring a structure that apparently was originally built in the middle ages.

It didn't even occur to me to take a photo until they were breaking it down, but this was a bike training rink where a bunch of young kids rolled under the guidance of local cops.  One person told me that on weekends, its a bustling open market.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Thourie Accomodations

This is the small gîte that I stayed in during my French immersion class, near the tiny village of Thourie (about 30 minutes south of Rennes).  The accommodations were comfortable but, as you can see, pretty basic.  I came to the conclusion that gîte'' is the French word for 'this place is pretty old, and none of the appliances were purchased after 1955.'  Still, the experience was novel.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014


Apparently Blogger thinks my few photos of France are boring -- it won't let me upload them!

Monday, October 20, 2014


When I was in line for Customs clearance at Dulles, I noticed a sign for Global Entry users.  I had bought that, thinking it would help when I was leaving, but it didn't -- I still had to take my shoes off.  I followed the sign and found myself at a bank of six kiosks, each of which had a reader to scan my passport, and a pad where I could press four fingers for a fingerprint comparison.  I looked into a scanner, which said that yes, I appeared to be the same person. It asked me the standard customs forms questions, and then  punched out a receipt - which let me bypass the hordes of people getting off the plane who were waiting to meet a customs agent.  Hordes? Fun fact:  an A380 can hold from 500 to 800 people. And once I got my bag, that same card let me have this discussion with an agent:

Agent: Receipt?
Me: I hand it over.
Agent: Where were you?
Me: Paris.
Agent: Okay, we're done.

So it was pretty good. Except for the getting the bags part.  500 to 800 people, all clustering around a carousel, looking desperately for their bags.  Lots of uniquely colored bags, uniquely shaped bags, sliding by -- I still remember the one with the bright pink plastic shell, or the one with the bright yellow tape wrapped around it that said THIS ISN'T YOUR BAG.  But for the hundreds of pretty-much-the-same bags?  Yeah, good luck.  After a while I started to convince myself that my bag wasn't the color I thought, at all.

Why aren't luggage tags available that will, say, respond to a pocket sized transponder when they're sliding into range, within about ten feet of you?  SURELY that's possible?


What a delightful place to be. 

Even when I wake up in the middle of the night and think this room looks like my bedroom, but it can't be, because I am in France.....besides, I don't know how to say in French the name of every single thing that I see. 

It's still nice. 

Even when, just now, I thought c'est encore merveilleux.

Friday, October 17, 2014


Being sick, lost, alone in a foreign city, and not fluent in the language is a scary combination.  Having a friend who will search for you, bring you to her home (several kilometers from where Google Maps assured me it was located), feed you, and put you a taxi for your hotel is inexpressibly comforting.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Shows of Force

Exactly what good does it do to have heavily-armed camo-wearing soldiers pacing through the airport?  Undercover, I can see, but otherwise, no.  They're not protection, they're targets.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Some thoughts

I am capable of not realizing things that are almost intuitively obvious to other people. For example, that not everyone who uses an iPad does it because they are Apple groupies. The stuff may be overpriced, but it works. I've seen adults and kids use them in the last week, and they just work, quickly and effectively. Similarly, the tiny Apple tablet with detachable keyboard isn't the toy it appears to be. It works.

Other points of obliviousness relate to France, this trip, and me. I'm in the second week, and now that I'm not in that class any more, I'm much happier. When they said that it would be pretty much French all the time, I didn't realize that they meant exactly what they said. My head didn't ache, but it got very old very quickly to have to hesitate before a third of my sentences. I'm glad that's over.  I'm also glad to be done with the 'authentic food of Bretagne'. The others in the class gobbled it up, but as for me, not only was it inedible, the one time I did try it, my stomach revolted for much of the next few days (very glad I brought Pepto Bismol - its illegal here without a French prescription).

Now I am in Lille, staying for two days with a conversation partner, her partner, and their terrific kids, Alixe and Camille, and in addition to their other qualities, they like pizza.

Would I go back to Bretagne again? Absolutely. I very much liked the accessibility of the city of Rennes, which is beautiful (HINT: if you go, use a way-small suitcase,  because the storage area on the TGV is way-tiny.  And if you rent a car, think Volkswagen bug size, or less.)

I  wasn't actually sure that visiting the people here in Lille was a good idea, but now that I am here, I'm very glad I came, because they're very nice. I am very glad to have met them.

In two days I get to hustle/squeeze with my (relatively) massive bag onto the TGV and 90 minutes later hustle/squeeze off in Paris, where I'll meet with between one and five friends. Looking forward to that - and my return to the land of decent burgers and cold water in restaurants.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014


I think that a well done burger can be a thing of beauty. Mussels, quiche with lardons, not so much.

And this whole wine is the elixir of the gods thing  makes no sense to me. Its just fermented grape juice!

I am apparently in the minority on this.

roughing it

Ive learned that hyper rural French gites can be nice unless you are totally dependant on someone else for transport, which means you can't get away!

Did practice navigation by asking various people in Rennes  for directions. Most of them were pretty nice, and the city is pretty. We are apparently going back there today. Unless the rain doesn't stop. It rains a lot in Bretagne.

But overall, I'm ready to get the hell out of here! (see transport, above). Four days and a wakeup....

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

la cuisine rurale de france

Food in france can be good, I hear. Captivating, in fact.

But not for me.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Picky Packing

If I wasn't bringing five books for various people, I would be able to get my socks into the suitcase.  (I have this enormous list of everything I need - documents, gifts, electronics, med stuff, clothing, toiletries -  just so when the question arose of DID I REMEMBER TO PACK...., I could look at it and say Yeah, its in the outer pouch of the bigger bag.  I was feeling quite smug until I noticed that the list didn't include socks.)

I could put two or three of the books into the carry on bag, but it's a funny thing; unlike socks and stuff, they don't bend.  Not a real problem for the airplane, but the TGV?  Yeah, could be. So suddenly I'm thinking you know, you COULD just mail some of them from the US.  .  You don't HAVE to physically hand them over. And in fact two of them, for the children of my friend in Greasque, HAVE to be mailed, because I'm not going anywhere south of Paris.  So other than the novel experience of going to a French post office -- je voudrais envoyer cette boite, s'il vous plait.  Oui, monsieur - and then he asks the French equivalent of what class, anything breakable, are you sending liquids.... and I do my Harpo Marx impression.  Yeah, maybe mailing from the US would be a good idea for those two books  And using the bigger suitcase -- its not massive, by any means -- maybe that would  be a good idea,too.  Makes the carry on more collapsible.  Gives me room for souvenirs.

Just that - I know this is silly -- I kind of wanted to do it with the smallest of the bags.  Just to prove to myself that I could.  I'm not 22, I'm not skinny, I have big feet, I can't wear the same clothes four days running -- but still.  Just to prove that I could.


Ever notice how those people who do the I packed for a two month trip using just this small suitcase videos are usually skinny?  And can wear the same clothes for three or four days without a problem? Socks, toiletries, shirts. I suppose I could save some space by getting thong underwear, but I don't think they've made it in my size since Ringling Brothers went out of business....


I was just thinking wow, four days till I leave, five till I have to start speaking French all the time. Man, that's soon.

And then I realized it's three days.  Three days till I arrive at the airport at 6AM after an 8 hour flight, hang around for five hours, get a train to a new city, get shuttled to a tiny town that none of my French friends has ever heard of, meet new people there (two from Australia, one of whom is fluent in French, and one from Germany), have to live with them in a small gite, have to buy things from French-speaking storekeepers, have to figure out how to cook in a strange kitchen. And then after the class is done, have to take the TGV to a city I've never been to, to meet people I've never met before, and live with them for two days.  Then return to the big city, trying to dodge the pickpockets (because there is no way they're going to see me as a poor native!) while trying not to get lost on the Metro.

Initiating panicky clenched-orifice lockdown....

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Arrr... I mean, Oui

"After a recent trip to New York one French journalist remarked that leafing through a copy of Forbes or Fortune is like reading the operating manual of a strangely sanctimonious pirate ship."

Adam Gopnik
Pais to the Moon

Monday, September 29, 2014


Why is it that if we want law enforcement assistance, we occasionally 'call the police department',but usually 'call the police', whereas if we want help to extinguish a fire, we always 'call the fire department', never 'call the fire'?

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Un, Deux

One week from right now, I'll be on a flight to Paris.  For the seven days after that, I'll be in a small French town enduring attending a French Language Immersion class.  All French, all the time. Then for the second week, for about two days, I'll be with some friends in Lille, in northern France, and after that in Paris, with at least three and possibly six other friends, including one very close friend -- the one who makes me say My wife really must trust me; she's letting me spend time in Paris with a charming single woman.

And then I come home.

Given that I'm not fond of elegant food -- or really, much that isn't pizza, burgers, or spaghetti -- I will probably come home a little lighter (which could certainly stand to occur) and with a bit of a headache (though my friends speak English, pretty much, I'm going to try to do the whole week in French).

Should be interesting.

Thursday, September 25, 2014


Tomorrow my friend (the one who didn't get the scholarship) takes an oral interview to determine whether she can even apply for the doctoral program.

I hope she gets in. I find that it's almost as important to me that she succeed as that my own daughter succeed.  I don't exactly know why, but it is. As for the money that I offered her to supplement any financing she finds -- she probably won't take it.  But if she wants it, it's hers.  Flat-out gift. We're not rich, but her success is surprisingly important to me.  I think its because I like her -- we both do -- and because it someone offends me that someone with that much ability is being held back because her parents are idiots.

Tomorrow, I'll know.

Turns out, she didn't.  Only one person in the group passed. 

Monday, September 22, 2014


I admit it.  I'm looking for a reason to stay longer in France than just the two weeks.  Say, if the Air France pilot's strike went on for another week, which would (could) mean that my arrival at the class would be threatened, so maybe I should go to the class late, like November.....which happens to be during the winter, when my friends said I could live at their house if I wanted.

I know that I am very lucky to be going at all (just the other day, I realized that I was thinking yeah, I'm just going to be in France for two weeks, thats all..., and then I realized TWO WEEKS?  ALMOST A FULL WEEK IN PARIS? THAT'S ALL??? So I do know that.  And I know that I get antsy if I haven't seen my wife lately, and I'm not that fond of French cooking, and staying would be expensive, even if I stayed with our friends. Its not going to happen. I know this.

But yeah, I'm thinking about it.  Sue me, I like France.

First World Problem

I am apparently incapable of telling the difference between the Panera Cinnamon Crunch and the Panera Asiago Cheese bagels.  After slicing two, and finding that both were cheese (one only after I'd started to toast it), New Rule:  The Asiagos get their own bag, clearly marked.

Sunday, September 21, 2014


No, I'm not fixating on the French immersion trip.  Doesn't everyone quickly look up the verb to melt while waiting at a traffic light?

(Faire fondre. You're welcome.)


Maybe just a little....

Friday, September 19, 2014


I'm not in love with France, but when I read things like this, I could be.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014


I'm sorry, were you saying something?  I was having an apodyopsic episode. 

Sunday, September 14, 2014

In The Library

Some people can really focus.

Saturday, September 13, 2014


I'm four years younger than my father was when he died.  I wonder how he felt when he was my age?  Did he feel middle-aged, like me?

Friday, September 12, 2014


My daughter tells me that she's enjoying a finance course, so we're going to do a little exercise. 

She's going to pick two or three stocks that she likes, write down why, note the value of each on a given day, then track them for a month or so.  At the end, if she's 'earned' money, I'll give it to her, and if she's 'lost' it, I'll take it from her bank account. 

This is my way of making it a little more real. She likes it.

Thursday, September 11, 2014


Why is it so awkward to lend a large amount of money to people who need it?  Okay, I guess I know the answer, but

Certainly, it's the kind of thing that people like us never do, usually can't do;  in fact its effectively a deux ex machina arriving to solve an intractable problem, and we know how often those occur.

The impulse is to make the offer once, and, if rejected, to drop it. Well, we tried. Because, if they take it, what then? What do you do?  Go on with life as if the offer was trivial? Ignoring it would feel as if the act is being taken for granted; talking about it would feel like you're required to be constantly thankful on the one side, or constantly wanting to be thanked, on the other.  It would be the elephant in the room -- can't joke about it, can't make passing reference to it.You might want to know if things are still okay between you - are we cool? - but you can't without alluding to the elephant. Better to not even offer.  After all, its not as if they expect it.

And yet - a good friend might have to change her life plans because of something that we can help to fix. Isn't it worth the awkwardness to try?


If you don't know what this is, it would be difficult for us to be friends.  Not impossible, just difficult.

Environmental Awareness

Being surrounded by hundreds, thousands of excited teen girls - sounds good, right?

Not necessarily.....

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Monday, September 08, 2014


Got up a little earlier than usual this morning so that I could go for a walk with my wife.  Made breakfast, settled down at the table with her.  Took one bite,  started coughing and sneezing.

Oh, come on - cold season is here already???

Saturday, September 06, 2014


Sometimes the engineer in me -- he's very small, and spends most of his time looking for a lost pocket protector -- thinks that I should chart out the times when I feel like French is a waste of time, just so I can see if it comes in cycles.  And then I think I could know that a the-hell-with-this is arriving on the 4:03 from Tulsa tomorrow, and I wouldn't be able to do a thing to change it.  I know that the optimists would say oh but then you could PREPARE yourself, surround yourself with GOOD things, build up an emotional barricade to sustain yourself until you start seeing some positive stuff again.

To which I say Get back in your rabbit hole and let me be. 

I know that the only way to improve is to try, continually.  I do know that. 


Couldn't sleep, so I got up to do some reading, and along the way decided to do a little DuoLingo.  I should have stayed in bed.

"They are able to/They can" is Ils peuvent" (or Elles peuvent).

Ils is They, masculine plural, Elles is They, feminine plural.

Ils is pronounced Eeel. Elles is pronounced Ell. 

Peuvent is 'are able to' or 'can' - 3rd person plural.

Peuvent is pronounced Puhv.

So Ils peuvent is pronounced Eeel puhv.  Elles peuvent is pronounced Ell puhv.

I have known for almost two years that you do not pronounce the 'ent' ending of a verb. I know this.

And yet I still want to pronounce those Eeel poovent and Ell poovent.

I need to start studying more.

French, jamaica me crazy.

Friday, September 05, 2014

Reading, More

Waiting at the library for my wife, I picked up a thick book titled Brave Genius - A Scientist, A Philosopher, and Their Daring Adventures from the French Resistance to the Nobel Prize.

How good is it?

I sat and read thirty pages.  And learned a little about history while I was at it, such as what actually happened in the Sudetenland negotiations, and why did the French think that the Maginot Line was such a great idea?  Interesting stuff.

On one hand, I think how relevant is this in an age of terrorism and infowar?  On the other, it's really well written.... and its got France as a backdrop.  And you know (probably) how I feel about France!


You know that you like a book when you start looking for fan fiction about it, even given how horrible (except to the authors) most fanfic is.

That's what Tour of the Merrimack is making me do.  I am eying the ever-decreasing pages to be read with dismay.

Thursday, September 04, 2014


Apparently, a good friend of mine is going to continue a relationship with a married guy, because he's very, very nice, very very smart, very very interesting, and because he makes her feel good about herself.   They're not taking it all the way, mostly because he's married, but they are not stopping, either.

I feel so badly.  I wish I could do more for her than just point out problems or suggest alternatives, knowing that in that situation, an alternative is weak beer, at best.  I mean, she loves this guy, and apparently, he loves her just as much.  He needs her, and she needs him.  Clearly. (She showed me notes from and to him, which is how I know.)

He's just, you know - married.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Pleasures of the Void

There is a certain pleasure in discovering that you actually have more money than you thought, because, as it turns out,  you'd recorded one transaction twice.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Photo, Finished

Preparing for my trip in October, I thought I need to buy a camera, the class said to bring one, I don't want to bring the 'real' one, and my phone has, at best, a suggestion of a camera which functions only slightly better than having a pen-and-ink drawing whipped up by the cabin boy.  (Its an old cell phone.  So old, it could have a crank and a mouthpiece.)  So I'm looking at cameras, and, what the heck, looking at new phones, because, hey, if I'm thinking of spending the money anyway, why not look at getting better overall functionality, right?

Then my wife said doesn't that phone that we use for overseas trips have a camera?  And it does.  Not as snappy as the new phones, but lightyears better than my regular cell phone.  So, good. I'm happy.

And then yesterday I was hunting in my daughter's room for something and saw a small camera on her bookshelf. Small enough to drop into a pocket, any pocket. Where'd this camera come from?  Oh, I found it while I was cleaning out under her bed. So I email the offspring.  Does this work? Can I have it? And she replies Yeah, it works, I forgot about it, sure, you can use it. 

So now I have two for the trip.  More than enough.  But it does make me wonder - what else do we have lying around that we've forgotten about? 

Saturday, August 30, 2014


I came across a fascinating article from the Financial Times.  I know: unless you're a quant, the FT is not known for gripping reading. My GOD Consley!  Did you see this piece in the FT on derivative pricing?  Oh, yass, Chartwell!  It was so exciting, I damned near wet myself in the limo!

But this article, on the subject of the correlation between the number of words/types of words used to decribe food, and the perceived value of the food, is actually pretty interesting.  Short form:  Big words, many syllables?  Is Good.  Short words, few syllable? Is Junk (which may actually be the eater's goal).

Friday, August 29, 2014


I've heard it said that no matter who you are, how tough, how powerful, if a little kid hands you a toy telephone, you will pretend to answer it.  Certainly, in my experience, that's been true -- but I have an additional one.

It doesn't matter how much you just want to get to sleep -- if a cat curls up in your lap and starts to purr as you stroke it -- you will be there longer than you expected.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Spare Time

For years, I would spend spare time writing in this blog.   Most of it was just stream of conciousness, or talking about something that I'd found interesting.  Lately - pretty much starting when I started to take studying French seriously - it seems like I don't write very often.  However, the expected outcry hasn't arrived, so I guess that's okay.

Two weeks ago, we had some French friends visit with us.  I had been very hyped up about their visit -- I was literally planning in January for their arrival in July.  Once they were here, it seemed as if they'd been here before, because they fitted right into our home.  Of course, I don't know how they actually felt about it, but they certainly seemed to be having a good time, and I know that we were.  I'm a little disappointed that I didn't get to cook as much for them as I had wanted -- between things taking them away, eating out, and travel, we only had about half the meals that I expected to make. (And yes, I had a list of what I wanted to cook, when.) But that was the worst of it. Overall, we're glad that they came.

They did offer to let me stay in their house (they live in a different location during the week).  I'm not seriously considering it, because it would be impractical -- but I have to admit that I'm charmed by the thought.  As it is, I'm going to France in October to attend a one week total-immersion course on the French language, and then staying for another to visit with some friends - so the thought has occurred to me that staying for another week, or two, would be easy to do.  Won't -- but I'll want to.

Daughter's back in school.  Always pleased when she is home, but, truthfully, also pleased when she's back in school. Life gets quieter -- even though we do get the occasional email about hey, they're going to have a study abroad in New Zealand, wouldn't that be cool? Yes, it would.  You paying?

Thursday, August 21, 2014


For the past ten days, more or less, we had a French family living with us. 

We tried our best to make their trip memorable, taking them to Baltimore (they loved the Aquarium, were disappointed by the major league baseball game being rained out), having group photos taken (just them, their daughter and us, and the whole group), going out to dinner at very nice restaurant, lending them our car so that they could visit friends of theirs, and, at the end, taking them to New York City, where I spent three days with them, going to the Statue of Liberty, the World Trade Center Memorial (a punch to the brain and the heart), the Empire State Building (very nice but very long lines), and other places.  I knew they liked to walk, but I had forgotten how much -- I bailed on one little jaunt where they walked around midtown Manhattan for about three hours.  When they got back to the hotel, they said that they were exhausted -- and would be ready to go out to dinner in fifteen minutes.  Which they were.

When their daughter was with us, four years ago, she was a cute adolescent.  Now she has blossomed (insert suggestive eye roll here).  I knew that girls/women's fashions included underwear that was meant to be seen, so when I could easily see the sparkles on her pink bra, I wasn't too surprised.  But when I realized that she intended to wear it so that about half of her breasts (no, not 'the right one or the left one') was visible, I was astonished.  She's a very attractive young woman, and she apparently believes 'if you've got it, flaunt it'.  She does, and she did.  I was made a little uneasy by the display.  Some of it was that I was worried what signal she was sending, in Manhattan.  Then I remembered that her mother would refer to the girl's brother as 'her bodyguard', and noticed that yes, most of the time he was walking very close to her.  He's about six two. 

We were all very glad that they had come..  The only downside is that I noticed a slight change in my speech patterns -- when I was with them and needed to say Yes, No, More, or something like that, to a store clerk -- I said it in French.  Our visitors were highly amused.

Saturday, August 16, 2014


I bought John Scalzi's Old Man's War not expecting much. The book turned out to be a one trick pony in terms of what made the title plausible, but the writing was good, and when I learned that there was a second book, I picked it up warily.  It was better than the original. Then I found that there was a third book,  and I picked it up too, a little more quickly.

Yesterday I saw the latest book in the series, The Human Division, had come out. I immediately picked it up. I didn't even look at it. I just picked it up. And now I am reading it.

I keep thinking get better please get better please get better.

Friday, August 15, 2014


Friends living in the center of France have offered to let me live with them during the winter and spring, if I want.  No charge.  They don't live at home during the week, so the house is empty, and since they know I'd like to live in France at least part of the year, they offered.  I could use the house as a base to go up to Paris, down to Aix-en-Provence, or just a place to hang out, see what it's actually like to live in rural France.  Be a quasi-native.

Almost certainly will not happen - little matter of the cost, not to mention that though I would like to be in France, I would not like being away from my wife for an extended period -- but man, that's tempting.

Thursday, August 14, 2014


Every time Bose sends a software update to the SoundTouch Wave -- which happens about once every four or five months -- the device stops working.  I run through the list of things that I did the last time, and sometimes it fixes the problem.  Sometimes. like this morning, I get to call them.

Initally, when the wireless service was new to Bose, I got what I think of as 'the A team' of responders -- fast, courteous, knowledgeable.  Now I get them sometimes, and sometimes the B team -- reasonably fast, reasonably courteous, reasonably knowledgeable.  They always get the device working, but not always quickly.

And, of course, afterward I wonder why should I have to call them at all?


Turned out that our friends were bringing their kids, and they were intending to stay with us.  Which of course delighted us -- we really like these people -- but also caused a couple of logistical problems.

There is a joke about a person whose home was in danger of being flooded during a storm. The police come and say that he should leave; he says no, I'm a religious person, and I know that god will save me.  The firemen come, the Coast Guard helicopter comes, the water gets higher and higher, his response is the same.  He drowns.  Facing god, he says I was a religious man, why didn't you save me?  And god replies I sent the police, the firemen, the helicopter.....why didn't you leave?

I am not a religious person.  But the ballgame in Baltimore would have caused us logistical problems -- seats in separate areas, not obvious how to connect up, and, of course, the thunderstorm predicted to arrive around the middle of the game.  Instead, a ferocious storm arrived hours before, and the game was rained out. Massive solution to a personal problem. Problem went away.


Sunday, August 10, 2014


Six months ago I picked a day to go to the ball game in Baltimore.

Today I find out that one day -- that day -- there will be a thunderstorm.  Nothing the day before, nothing the day after.  It is projected to start about two hours into the game.


Thursday, August 07, 2014


We learned a few days ago that our friends from France would like to go to visit other friends of theirs while they are here.  Well, okay, we can handle that.  If necessary, we'll rent a car.

We learned today that they're bringing their kids. Here?  To stay with their friends? 

No. Freaking. Idea.

I've been thinking about this visit for the last six months, so I am, to put it mildly, a little freaked out.

Friday, July 25, 2014


Why do we like apocalyptic movies?  Is it because of the same reason that we like roller-coasters?


Sometimes I worry about getting sick while travelling.  Call it Sudden Sickness Syndrome.

I don't mean something that needs a doctor's immediate attention, like appendicitis or malaria or getting hit by a bus.  I mean things like my blood sugar abruptly gets way low, and I don't have a source of glucose handy.  Or suddenly finding -- how to put this delicately -- that I need to know where a bathroom is, right the hell now. Or finding out that the result of that awareness is that toilet paper now feels like sandpaper. Or getting a sudden leg cramp while lying in bed, or a muscle spasm while slouched in a chair, or my back abruptly hurts, or I get an acidic stomach. Nothing lethal, but immediately urgent?  Oh, yeah.

These are all things that can freak me out just a bit when I'm at home, alone (in fact, one of them is how I ended up breaking part of my shoulder).  But the idea of them happening overseas, when I'm alone, not comfortably fluent in the language - like this upcoming trip in October -- that possibility actively scares me.  And I don't know what to do to address that fear. I have suggested hiring a cute Danish nurse to accompany me, but my wife seems to have a problem with that. 

Some solutions occur to me -- eat blandly, stay hydrated, carry drugs such as Pepto Bismol (unavailable in France!) and others that are common here. (I recall reading in Airborne, William F. Buckley's book about sailing across the Atlantic, that one of his older female relatives, on the trip, had a compact container of meds that the Red Cross would have envied.)  And even strange solutions - make sure you carry lots of tissues,  bring disposable underwear, always carry a high-sugar granola bar - occur to me. (So this is why American travelers wear those fanny packs!) But what else?  Without being a paranoid American traveler who should have stayed at home, what else?

We're in a position where we can travel -- we don't, a lot, but we can, and sometimes we do -- and when it's we, all is okay.  But when it's just me -- things like this scare me. I resent that fear.  It makes me feel old.

Thursday, July 24, 2014


Talked with an Iranian woman who's in her late 30s, living in Iran.  I mentioned 9/11, and she said "What's that?"

Where was this...

.....when I still used business cards?

Tuesday, July 22, 2014


I was looking at a few photos of Hearst Castle, at the paneling, the ornate ceilings, the massively tiled indoor swimming pool, all of that - thinking that it was obscene that one person had that amount of wealth. Thinking that no one should have that much more money than others, acquired in their lifetime or not.   (Why, yes, I do vote Democratic, usually.)

I had though the same about the Vanderbilt Mansion.

Then I thought about our bank account, versus the bank account of the vast majority of people in this country.  (I had looked at a Federal Reserve estimate of average household net worth, a few years ago, and was surprised.)

Then versus the bank accounts of people in most other countries.  Particularly the ones in Africa, most of the mid-east, that sort of place.

Oh. So this is what it's like to be rich, huh?

Friday, July 11, 2014


If you fly round trip from Dulles to Paris, it costs $2000 for Premium Economy, and $10,000 for First Class.  So what do you get for that extra eight thousand dollars?

You get a private entrance into the terminal.

You get a private lounge. And a "prestige car", whatever that is, to your gate.

You get a high staff to passenger ratio on the plane.

You get personally introduced to the crew. Though I guess that home phone numbers are not included.

You get a bigger seat with a bigger TV. The seat folds out to be a bed.

You get to get off the plane first.

You get personal escort to baggage claim.  Persumably, they'll get your bag for you.


You get a  nice little box of toiletries.


Not enough.  What would make it worthwhile?

Well, for starters -- a limo that comes to my house to get me.  Not a van, an actual limo.  With a good selection of music and munchies for the drive to the airport.    Driven by a liveried TSA person who will waft me through their stupid security checkpoints. They handle the bags. And... and.....

Nah, I got nothing.  Nothing that's worth $8000.  $1500, maybe. 

Sorry, Air France.

Monday, July 07, 2014

pointy things

 I saw an ad for what is essentially a flat Swiss Army knife. It had several of the useful tools, including a knife and scissors, but they slid into something that was about the depth of three credit cards. I thought it sounded good - and then I thought about losing it forever if I flew and forgot that it was in my pocket.

I know, in the scheme of things, that wouldn't be a big deal. But it would be to me. Why can't the TSA mail stuff back?