Saturday, November 30, 2013

To Bise or Not To Bise ...

More show than tell.

Lake Geneva (or Lac Leman) on a cold, windy day ... the cold winter wind know as the Bise - kicking up white caps, waves crashing on the rocks at Corsier Port.

The sun had gradually replaced the morning gray with pale blue skies. Love the way the sunlight reflects on the spray ...

Thursday, November 28, 2013

All-American Pre-Thanksgiving

It was the day before Thanksgiving in the US, and we're in Switzerland ... so naturally we went to the American Diner in downtown Geneva.

Donna-Lane describes it a bit in her blog: http://theexpatwriter.blogspot.ch/2013/11/time-and-place-warp.html.

I had wanted to go there just to see what they had on the shelves of the American Store upstairs (secretly hoping they had more Orville Redenbacher's cheddar popcorn ... but alas, not this time).

D-L had suggested we get there early because the diner is often packed - and it became so - fortunately we were the first ones, a little before Noon, so we got a corner booth from which we could watch the bustling wait staff and the French-speaking patrons feasting on traditional Yankee (and Yanqui tex-mex) fare.

Together, we ordered a cheeseburger, chili dog, coleslaw, cheese fries (which D-L had never had before), an A&W root beer, and a bottle of Boston's finest, Sam Adams.
Hunny Bunny and Herr Hare had snuck into my backpack. They wanted to get out of the house because Petite Cougar was still upset at their dereliction of Scooby-sitting duties (http://lovinglifeineurope.blogspot.fr/2013/11/caught-short-in-corsier.html).

They got all excited when they saw the old-fashioned jukebox and found one of their favorite songs: Bunny Hop. (Or, as they would say here, saut de lapin.)
  
Today, Thanksgiving, we're actually having a traditional turkey dinner - yes, in Switzerland: http://theexpatwriter.blogspot.ch/2013/11/homesick-only-on-one-day-year.html. Our feast will begin about 1230 US Central time, around the time our American friends will be digging into your drumsticks or watching the Patriots score again on the Texans (Go Pats!).

Happy Thanksgiving to friends and family. We know there have been sad times this year, as well as good times. Cherish the memories of them all for what they teach us and for the wonderful people they represent. Donna-Lane and I wish you the blessings of authentic friendships, shared experiences, and dreams realized in the year ahead.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Caught Short in Corsier

After much pleading and whimpering, we agreed to bring Petite Cougar, Hunny Bunny, Herr Hare, and Scooby Two with us on the train trip up to Geneva.

Petite Cougar said she was eager to see Lady Leopard again, and the others had never seen Switzerland ... or snow.

The trip wasn't bad, despite a delay on the 2nd train which caused us to catch a later connection from Lyon. And the four of them seemed to settle in nicely, enjoying exploring the big house in Corsier Port, snug in their fur coats (0-degree C outside). So we felt comfortable leaving them alone for the morning while D-L and J went downtown to book their trip to Malta (http://theexpatwriter.blogspot.ch/2013/11/were-going-to-malta.html) and I picked up some groceries in Vesenaz.

When we arrived home, Cougar and the bunnies were stacked, as you see above, and rather frantic ... and little Scooby Two was nowhere to be seen.

Until we heard a nervous little laugh and glanced up ...
Just like his adventuresome (and absent in America) dad, Scooby Doo, Two was literally up to no good. He decided he wanted to try to open the skylight window in the attic bedroom ("to let in some fresh air," he claimed) ... and got his shorts caught on the handle.

Good thing he's been gaining weight and the shorts were tight ... it would have been a long fall to a hard floor, and probably would have knocked the stuffing out of him.
Not sure how he got up there in the first place, though his nails are pretty sharp.

And weren't the bunnies supposed to be babysitting? Wonder what they were doing ...

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Surprise in the Snore Room

You might recall earlier this month on Donna-Lane's blog that Petite Cougar had quite a surprise for us when we returned to Argeles-sur-mer: Scooby Two (and the father having departed indefinitely for Boston without even knowing he had sired a 'soft'spring) -- http://theexpatwriter.blogspot.ch/2013/11/petite-cougar-had-major-surprise-for-us.html.

It was about the same time we discovered a couple of cuddly bunnies in our Warren: Herr Hare and Hunny Bunny (http://lovinglifeineurope.blogspot.ch/2013/11/inroducing-hunny-bunny-and-herr-hare.html), who just happen, like us, to be addicted to reading (http://lovinglifeineurope.blogspot.ch/2013/11/theyre-addicted.html).

What we hadn't thought about was the four of them meeting.

One day, not long ago, we heard a shrill "Eeeeeeeeeek" coming from the 'snore room.' (http://lovinglifeineurope.blogspot.ch/2013/11/the-older-better.html). Quickly followed by an eager, "Rowwwf, rowwwwf, rowwwf!" And a, "Scooby Two, get back, they might be dangerous!"

We found Cougar and Scooby Two high on a shelf, while Herr Hare and Hunny Bunny were cowering under the bed.

After calming them all down, we assured the surprised and shaking creatures that everyone in the room was harmless.

Scooby Two, of course, immediately wanted to play with the new friends, who were closer to his size, and Petite Cougar quickly realized the situation for what it could be: built-in babysitters!

Since they have the run of the Warren, we never know where we'll find them when we get home. They can cavort all they want -- just don't touch the computer, and no lighting the candles.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Transitions and overlaps


As we prepare to depart ASM for GVA, I'm struck by the ebb and flow of not only our life but those of many of our friends as well, and the ways in which we intersect.

Our intent is to spend a majority of our time in Argeles-sur-mer, though it has not quite worked out that way the past few months. There have been times we've preferred to be in Geneva for friend events, professional events, holiday celebrations. There's been some business and personal travel to other places - mine, hers, and ours - including Amsterdam, London, Milan, Dallas, Las Vegas, Washington DC, Montreal ...

But we're not the only ones. One friend couple is going up to central France to visit relatives, then off to Thailand for three weeks in the new year. Another couple, who once did a self-guided around-the-world tour, is headed for the South Seas. We haven't seen our friend Barbara since late August because we were in Geneva for September, the States in October, and Barbara's been visiting her children in Boston since early October, not returning until early December. A Danish friend who lives here just went to London for a few days, and is trying to decide when to go up to Copenhagen and Malmo, Sweden.

We have a number of friends from the UK who own second homes here, and tend to come down during the summer and occasional holiday periods.

A friend in Geneva goes to California for several weeks at a time, and is planning a trip to Germany.

We try, as best we can, to plan where we'll be based somewhat on where our friends will be at the time. It's not always easy, as everyone's schedules are often in great flux.

In the spring, we're planning our honeymoon to Andorra / Monaco / San Marino / Liechtenstein - after I/we get back from Panama ... and before we go to Saint Petersburg.

Some might call us nomads. We see it more as taking advantage of our relative freedom to explore, experience, learn, enjoy the many interesting places in Europe and wherever else we'd like to see.  

However, we are looking forward to a nice long, quiet stretch in the south of France ... right after we get back from a couple weeks in Geneva.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Petite village, global view


For a small village in the middle of nowhere (ie, not on the outskirts of some large metro area), Argeles-sur-mer offers a steady variety of interesting entertainment and intellectual stimulation.

Yesterday afternoon -- following a sumptuous breakfast (I cooked), leftovers lunch - because we're leaving Monday for Geneva (Donna-Lane cooked), some work time, picking up dry cleaning, ordering some custom picture frames at Annie's shop (D-L gets that blog - http://theexpatwriter.blogspot.fr), and assorted other fun -- we met up with some American friends, who are sadly returning to California, at the Cinema Jaures, a small, 100-seat theatre about 50 steps from our flat.

The Cinema is having a film festival, and Saturday's offering was “Debtocracy,” an independent film which seeks to explain the causes of the Greek debt crisis and proposes solutions which are different from the 'more debt' and 'austerity' extremes offered by the government and the dominant media. (http://www.debtocracy.gr/indexen.html) The Greek debt crisis, in essence, is a microcosm for the financial crises going on in other nations, including and especially the US. (Don't let the stock market rise lull you into thinking things are fine - there are many warnings of a crash coming.)

The film was mostly in Greek with French subtitles, but I'm picking up enough French words to sort-of follow along.

About halfway through, there was a problem with the DVD in the projection room, so we had an impromptu intermission.

The theatre owner used the gap to introduce a gentleman named Raoul Marc Jennar, a political activist who happens to live nearby in the Pyrenees Mountain village of Mosset, about an hour west of Argeles. After growing up on a farm in France, he came of age at university in Belgium in the late 60s and early 70s, the era of Vietnam War protests and labour strife -- much the same period as me, so it was interesting to compare my American experience with his Euro view.

As a young man, he got in the middle of Belgian politics, then later spent considerable time in Cambodia, ultimately assisting that country's entry into the World Trade Organisation (and is still an advisor to their government today). 

One of his books is Treason of the Elites  in which he claims the European Union - as it has evolved - is actually opposed to what it proclaims. Its institutions are not democratic and transparent, but technocratic and opaque (sounds a lot like what Washington has become, as well). Its policies do not serve the general interest, but financial circles and business lobbies.  http://www.amazon.fr/Europe-trahison-%C3%A9lites-Raoul-Jennar/dp/2213622779.

One topic he got into was the TPP, or Trans-Pacific Partnership an attempted secret deal by the US and other governments which will basically enable big corporations to run the world, cost jobs in the US, undermine food safety, curtail internet freedom, raise the cost of drugs, and allow Wall Street and banks to experiment with even riskier schemes like the ones that caused the Great Recession and current world economic crisis (from which they were protected by bailouts from your tax money). https://www.citizen.org/tpp.

The rest of the film was never shown - instead, there was a spirited Q&A between Monsieur Jennar and citizens in the audience. Again, I didn't understand most of the dialogue, but D-L periodically whispered summaries in my ear. 

If you read French,  Monsieur Jennar's web page, blog, etc. can be found at: http://www.jennar.fr/?page_id=9. (The NSA has probably flagged me just for mentioning his name here, so you know his views are worth checking out.)

After the film-cum-dialogue, most of the folks ambled downstairs for drinks, chips, and nuts. The salon also featured some wonderful original artwork (Argeles, as I may have mentioned, is quite an artists' colony, a legacy that goes back to Toulouse-Lautrec and others.)

Then we hopped in Terry and Gina's rental car, and completed our international evening at a Chinese buffet.

Friday, November 22, 2013

How do you tell if an avocado is ripe?

As Donna-Lane and I are learning to live together, day by day, she'll ask me to pick up certain fruits or vegetables or other ingredients for the day's salad or meal.

Because I've cooked very little to date ... and been (until her) a very fussy, limited eater ... I don't always know what certain things look like. Tomato or kaki fruit? Celery or scallions? Avocado or eggplant?

Add to that the dilemma that all the signs at the produce store are in French ...

And, once I have finally figured out that I have the right thing in hand, how do I know if it's ripe or not?

So when D-L asked me to pick up an avocado (avocat), she gave me a little demonstration of how firm they should be.

Guess I need another demo because, when I went to check out, Elisabeth, the produce lady, asked if I intended the avocados for the next day. Non, aujourd hui (today), I responded. So she led me across the store, selecting a pair that were more ripe than the ones I had chosen.

Now, that's small-village customer service! She could have simply allowed me to purchase something that would not meet my need - but instead she took the time and effort to make sure I walked out with the right thing.

I'm still not sure I know what a ripe avocado is supposed to feel like, but with enough practice I'm sure I'll get the hang of it. 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Une miche de pain... un téléphone ... et honnêteté

What's the connection between peanut butter, French bread, and a smartphone?

After a full day in the big city (Perpignan), working with our wonderful attorney, Andre, to formally establish the business ... including a leisurely lunch (with a melt-in-your-mouth chocolate-filled macaroon) at Cafe Vienne across the quai ... then a stop at the local GITEM franchise to inquire about food processors (to support my attempts to cook) ... we were discussing what to nibble on for dinner. We tend to eat larger lunches and lighter dinners.

Pizza was a quick and easy option. Then Donna-Lane expressed an interest in peanut butter ... with some "good" locally baked bread, not the processed and bagged loaves from the Carrefour grocery.

So I ambled down to the centre of centreville to see which of the boulangeries might still be open (close to 7 pm). There were a few boules left, so I ordered and asked the pleasant young lady to tranche (slice) it. When I tried to pay with a 10 Euro note, she asked if I had any coins, as the cost was only 1,35E. Just so happens I had enough change in my pocket.

Later that evening, I couldn't find my mobile phone. Tried all the usual hideouts, and finally assumed it'd fallen out of my pocket in the car. Would check in the morning when it was light (and warmer).

Then I had a hunch, and used the VoIP-Cheap on my computer to call my mobile phone's number. A woman answered. And between my petit peu francais and her little bit of anglais, I figured she was from the boulangerie and I had either dropped my phone there ... or, more likely, set it on the counter when I dug in my pocket for the coins.

Prior to heading to the boulangerie early the next morning, I Bing-translated several French phrases, such as: J'ai perdu mon téléphone mobile ici hier soir (I lost my mobile telephone here last night). Plus a few back-up phrases, such as identifying it as a Samsung model in black (noir).

At the boulangerie, I waited in line behind 3-4 other patrons, and used the time to practice, "J'ai perdu ..." When I got to the front and asked, the young lady recognized me as the idiot with the beard, and brought the phone to me forthwith.

I offered her a reward but she declined.

It's nice to know there are still honorable people around.

And the bread was very good.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Vieux Chien, Nouveaux Trucs

Perhaps my biggest challenge ... aside from moving across the ocean to a completely different culture, different world-view, new friends, new foods ... is getting used to and trying to learn a new language.

I took 3 years of French in high school, but that was nearly cinquante ans ago, and when you don't use a skill periodically it tends to disappear. Some things come back quickly - riding a bicycle, hitting a golf ball ... but not language.

After  muddling through for a few months with key phrases such as bonjour and eclair chocolat, and our time in Argeles-sur-mer interrupted by lots of travel, I am now getting serious about learning French. It's especially important during the non-summer months when the English-speaking vacationers are not in town and many of the locals in the small village speak very little Anglais.
My French teacher is Marina, a friend of D-L's, who runs the Schola Mediterranea, which is a short walk past the village's lone traffic light. In addition to French, she teaches English to French-speakers, Spanish, Catalan (the legacy mix of French and Spanish spoken by some families in southern France and northeast Spain, the area known as Catalonia) ...

Marina makes the learning process fun and practical. But it's tres difficile, nonetheless. Not only am I an old dog trying to learning new tricks (vieux chien, nouveaux trucs), French is very complicated with its different spellings of words and pronunciations based on gender, context, vowels/consonants, and formal or casual conversation.

My process at the moment is to 1) try to pick up as many of the French words as I can in a spoken sentence - for example, watching a French TV news program, 2) translate that in my head into English so I understand what was said, 3) compose in my head an English response, and 4) translate my English into French. And right now, this does not happen quickly. (There is hope - Donna-Lane says she now 'thinks in French' without having to do the French-English mental gymnastics.)

My weak hearing does not help, especially trying to pick up strung-together words rapidly spoken. (However, I also sometimes have difficulty comprehending words and phrases spoken rapid-fire by Scotsmen or Texans ... and that's supposed to be my native language!)

If I have learned one thing, it is to advise parents to have their children learn a second language while they are young ... and to use it regularly.

I can already sense progress after only a few lessons. I recognize more words, and I can figure out other words from the context. Part of the practicality Marina is teaching me is conversations that are likely to pop up when meeting someone new, say at a party: what is your name? where are you from? how old are you? (not a good one to ask a woman - that doesn't seem to change with the culture) what type of work do you do?

So ...

J m'appelle Rick
Je suis Americain
J'ai soixante-deux ans
Je suis journaliste-aviation

Thursday, November 14, 2013

They're Addicted

It was inevitable. With so much reading material in the Warren, Hunny Bunny (on the right with the hearts belt) and Herr Hare have caught the reading bug. They have a little trouble holding a book, even a paperback, so they improvised with a propped up tome that D-L left on the nightstand.

At least it keeps them out of trouble for awhile. (They like to hide - in plain sight - and we've found them in the mums, on the sculptures, on the drape rods, swinging from a sling, and of course under the covers. No little cottontails yet, thankfully.)

Their choice of reading material is whatever's lying around (or propped up), so at the moment I guess that's a book on conspiracy theories through history and Ludlum's massive Sigma novel. That should keep them out of the chandelier for a few days. (Oh wait, we don't have a chandelier.)

Monday, November 11, 2013

Today We Went to the Circus, the Race Track, and the Airshow

The modelers and miniaturists were staging their 5th annual Salon du Modelisme in Argeles on this long holiday weekend, and I was delighted that D-L finished proofing her Murder in Ely novel and opted to go with me. Didn't know what we'd find, but it's always more fun to do something together rather than solo.
In the first of three buildings we saw the circus -- a 10-foot-long table complete with miniature big top, train, parading animals on the boulevard, dancing horses, and a hundred other little animals and people, many of them in motion.
Around the corner we saw a flotilla of ships - from passenger cruise ships to aircraft carriers and frigates. In a large temporary pool, a group of "Argonauts" in red t-shirts were navigating their remote control bateaux, one of which was being chased by a tiny and therefore not-so-scary shark. 
In another building there were extensive model railroad set-ups with incredible levels of detail -- not just tunnels, bridges, and station buildings, but also dozens of sheep in a field, rows upon rows of grapevines up a hillside (in France, of course) ... but did not notice any golf courses (which is what I built a model car track around when I was a kid).
 
I'll let Donna-Lane describe her conversation with a woman whose husband built an incredibly detailed replica of La Maison de Champagne (http://theexpatwriter.blogspot.fr/).
 
In the 3rd building, adjacent to the futbol pitch, half of the floor was devoted to racing model cars (they were very good at 'drifting' in the turns) and half to flying lightweight aircraft models and drones. It was way too windy outside to attempt any aerial demonstrations.
The highlight for me, though, was finding a model kit for an SBD Dauntless, the aircraft my Dad flew in during WWII (see my blog: http://lovinglifeineurope.blogspot.fr/2013/11/flying-backwards.html). In a nanosecond, as she would say, D-L picked up the model and bought it for me.
 
I did not recall until we were almost home that today - how appropriate - is Veterans' Day in the States, Remembrance Day in Europe.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

The Older the Better

After our sunset-gazing gavort last evening, D-L and I were moseying back home to our two places when she stopped at the window of an immoblier (real estate agent). Typically they display in their sidewalk window dozens of properties for sale or rent in Argeles-sur-mer and nearby towns.

We have talked semi-seriously on occasion about buying a place together. This is the first time we've gone beyond window-shopping and sat down with an agent to investigate details of specific properties. (Probably the first time an agent has come out on the street to introduce himself - nice young man.)
 
The window signs do not provide an address, so you cannot go around and check out a place for sale without the agent - unless you happen to recognize the place from the photos and maybe know the present owner.

As the agent was scrolling us through the website, presenting details of various properties in the village (we would only consider being in/near centreville), I noticed the dates of when the houses were built ... or believed to be built. A couple of listings stated 1900. One said 1800.

Much too new, for my taste. Knowing that some of the current buildings in ASM date to the 15th century and before, the older the better. I want something built to last - not some 'new' construction that's only been standing a mere hundred years or so!

Bit of a turnaround from when I lived in Dallas and periodically built new houses from the floorplan up. On the rare times I considered a 'used' house, the criteria was nothing more than 5 years old (for resale value because in Dallas they are constantly putting up massive new developments, so buyers compare your house with what they can get brand-new).

Having lived in Europe for awhile now (not just visited and stayed in a hotel but actual day-to-day living where you get a good idea of what you like and don't), I prefer such things as stone walls, exposed wood ceiling beams, rooftop terraces with room to entertain and a view of the mountains (or at least a balcony), two separate working spaces for two busy writers, a double-wide shower (a rarity, to be sure), a guest bedroom (or 'snore room,' as we've tagged it when there are no guests), a well-equipped kitchen for all the cooking I plan to learn to do, ground floor access (as we get older and more feeble) ... all within walking distance to the twice-a-week marche and shops & restaurants in the village ... and maybe a 10-15 minute stroll to the beach.
We may never buy a property - the current upstairs/downstairs setup we have is pretty pleasant and functional. But it's fun to think about and explore the possibilities.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Clouds on a Whim

Donna-Lane and I saw the most amazing cloud formation this evening. The photo above has similarities, but does not come close to what we witnessed. (Did not have time to grab a camera, as the sun was setting fast.)

Have never seen anything else quite like it, nor ever expect to again, but it is etched in memory.

From the bridge over the dry river at the edge of Argeles-sur-mer centreville, we saw nearly symmetrical streaks of clouds which appeared to emanate from within the Pyrenees Mountains to the west; the streaks began, or so it seemed, from a central point and fanned out, stretching over our heads and beyond to the Mediterranean Sea to the east. It was as if 100 aircraft had each tracked to a different point on the compass, leaving contrails which expanded into illuminated cloud pathways.

What started as a whim - the azure sky, setting sun, and partial glimpses of unusual clouds seemed too good to pass up. I dashed up to D-L's Nest, where she was working on Novel No. 10, and urged her to come see the sky with me.

We hurried down rue Vermeille to the church plaza, where the view would be broadest, and it was magnificent, including the new angels on pedestals (which play a role in her Murder in Argeles - http://donnalanenelson.com/).

Then D-L said, 'Come on," and led me up rue de la Republique, through the side streets, down the steps to rue Nationale - where we could see the darkening sky framed against the mountains. Then up past la Poste to the bridge, where we reveled in one of those special moments which seem to occur frequently in this little slice of paradise.

Flying Backwards

A highlight of my recent pass-through Washington DC was a brief tour of the Air & Space Museum. And the exhibit where I lingered the longest was the air carrier room, which prominently featured a Douglas Dauntless dive bomber, one of the planes my Dad flew in during WWII as a rear gunner. The SBD is best remembered as delivering the fatal blows at the Battle of Midway.

Dad spent the war going backwards in those SBDs, and later in the Curtiss-Wright Helldivers which replaced them.

He once told us how, on aerial recon missions to scout island targets in the Pacific, they would give him a huge camera. He'd have to unhook his seat belt and hang over the side, taking photos as the aircraft dived from 10,000 feet. A couple of times, he said, he nearly fell out!

Charles Albert Adams was part of the 'Fabled Fifteen" carrier air group which was the US Navy's most productive in the Pacific theatre. They were in the middle of nearly every major campaign. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, Copper Star, Silver Star and Gold Star.
Dad and me when I was 16.
Dad joined IBM before the war as a timekeeper and resumed his career there in Endicott NY after, eventually becoming manager of the manufacturing research department for development of printed circuit boards.

Most people know little or nothing of his service in keeping us free. What they remember most about 'Charlie' were "his smiles, handshakes, hugs, joyfulness with every child and adult he met ... amusing stories, knowledge, skills, poems, compassion, prayers," - to borrow from my brother's words in Dad's obituary. (He passed away last December at nearly 90.)

My Dad was an unassuming hero, never bragging about his accomplishments. He was always too busy doing something for someone else.

I'm proud of his legacy but moreso his character. I'd like to be more like him.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Inroducing Hunny Bunny and Herr Hare



Donna-Lane and I were away from Argeles-sur-mer for about two months, and when we returned we kept hearing noises in the “warren” (the name we’ve given to the ground floor space I rent as an office – it steps down from foyer to kitchen and again from kitchen to den, so it seems a bit subterranean). 

At first we thought it might be mice or a stray kitty, but the noises were less a squeak and more a squeal, a bit like happy laughter or giggles. 

We finally discovered the source – a pair of white rabbits named Hunny Bunny and Herr Hare (they’re from the Swiss-German border region). 
L-R, Herr Hare, Hunny Bunny
They told us they had decided to venture south for the winter, and had heard about this quaint village with an expansive beach … and abundant locally grown carrots and other veggies. As they were hopping along rue Vermeille, bracing against the stiff Tramantane winds, they spotted our open door (Gerard was repairing the jamb) and scurried in to rest. They fell asleep on the couch pillows, and by the time they awoke Gerard was gone and the door locked tight. 

So they stayed, cowering somewhat in fear of the expected anger when the human apartment owners returned. (They had been swatted with a few brooms along their journey.) But no humans came … days turned into weeks, turned into months … so Hunny Bunny and Herr Hare settled in. Twice a week marche days provided all the food they needed. The TV didn’t work, but they found other ways to occupy their time. 

After calming their initial concerns, we assured them they were welcome to stay. There’s plenty of room in the warren for all of us. Just, we asked, keep the noise level down while we’re writing.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

5-Star Dining Just Around the Corner

Donna-Lane mentioned wanting to dine at La Bartavelle so frequently as she was preparing to train down from Geneva to Argeles-sur-mer that I almost thought a meal at the restaurant was more a priority than seeing me after being apart 3 1/2 weeks. (Of course, she hadn't been to La Bartavelle, nor ASM, for more than 2 months.)

La Bartavelle (http://www.restaurant-labartavelle.fr/) is the finest dining in ASM and the deep south region of France, by any guide's reviews, and is the equal of some of the premier boutique restaurants in Paris. Owners Thibaud and Stephanie have a passion for food and presentation that comes through with exquisite taste, style, and quality.

We are indeed fortunate that the restaurant is around the corner, no more than 100 metres from where we live. Tuesday was our first opportunity for lunch, and when D-L saw canard (duck) on the menu du jour chalkboard she did a 'Yes!' fist pump.

Good thing I had made a reservation when I bumped into Stephanie Sunday evening because the place was full - even though we are well beyond tourist season.

The amuse bouche (photo above) featured warm scrambled eggs with finely chopped mushrooms and a petite toast.
The soup: cauliflower avec jambon, a cream swirl and croutons.
Main course: Roast duck draped in a grape sauce and mashed potato flavoured with olive oil. (D-L advised me it's not polite to lick the plate in public.)
Dessert: white chocolate crumbs and raspberries in a whipped soya cream flavoured with vanilla. Mmmmmmm.

The wine was light and fruity, sort of a cross between a rose and a white zin. The espresso was a nice finishing touch, though we lingered well after, not really wanting to leave and get back to our respective work places.

D-L told Stephanie she liked Nespresso coffee machines but would prefer it much more if spokesactor George Clooney came in the box. Stephanie quickly quipped, "I already looked; he wasn't in there."

La Bartavelle is where we had our "Family and Family-by-Choice" pre-wedding dinner in August, and they closed the restaurant for us as a private party.

Wonder what we'll have at La Bartavelle next time?

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Who's Reading This Blog?

I recently passed 5,000 pageviews for this blog. Not an overwhelming number, considering I started it in May and have only 'marketed' it via the limited number of folks I've friended on Facebook. But a milestone nonetheless.

Readers have come from the US, Switzerland, France, and the UK, the countries where most of my friends are, but also Chile, Germany, the Netherlands, Russia, Serbia, Thailand, and Ukraine.

The most viewed post was about The End of American Ex-Pat Influence in the World because of the onerous FATCA legislation scheduled to take effect in 2014 (http://lovinglifeineurope.blogspot.fr/2013/09/the-end-of-american-ex-pat-influence-in.html). I'm guessing this one got passed around a bit. Close runners-up included announcement of me as the Editor of IFALPA's new InterPilot magazine, and the Ogre on the Mountain fairy tale based on a tree D-L and I stumbled across in the Swiss Alps.

Here are some meaningless statistics, should you wish to compare with your own blog experience:

Types of Readers
1. Family - 1,812 pageviews
2. Friends - 2,417 pageviews
3. Facebook Friends Whom I've Never Met - 612 pageviews
4. NSA Analysts - 238 pageviews (one for each post plus a backup stored in a highly secure, undisclosed location)
5. Stalkers - 397 pageviews (1X3 for each post, plus a few 'Can you believe he did/wrote this?' re-visits)
6. Me - 172 pageviews (1 for reviewing each post plus reviews of updates for typos I found on the first review)

I'm pleased to see 37% use the Firefox browser which I favor, followed by 22% on Google Chrome, 17% on IE.

Windows computers have a command: 68% to only 20% for Mac products (Macbook, iPhone, iPad), my old friend Linux - about whom I was the first one to write in the simulation sphere - 7%, and Android a paltry 1%.

I don't write the blog to convey some grand life message, at least not directly. If you find it instructive or inspiring, glad to be of service. I write it because I enjoy capturing some of the wonderful (and occasionally not wonderful) things in my life ... and you can use your imagination for those things I don't blog about!

Saturday, November 2, 2013

You Work That Out


Random thoughts on Washington DC: 

The day prior to an important first face-to-face meeting with the President (of a client, not Obama), I reconnoitered the building location and went in search of a parking garage nearby. I was on foot, having taken the Metro into the city, but would be driving a rental car to the meeting the next day. Didn’t want to try wandering the labyrinth of DC streets in morning rush traffic, trying to find a place to park, and risk being late for the meet-up.

A nice young man at the Marriott reception desk told me of a garage behind the hotel, so I went around the corner and found it. I asked the attendant what time the garage opened, and as important, did they tend to fill up early in the day? “We open at 7:00 am,” he said. “You work that out from there.”
*
After the F2F meeting, went in search of the Omni Shoreham where the President was speaking at an aviation safety conference. A very pleasant doorman allowed me to park in a valet spot near the door so I could make a quick getaway to the airport. He understood the urgency of catching my flight when I told him I had not seen my wife for three weeks.

BTW, Google Maps blew it again. Advised me to take the 4th exit at Dupont Circle onto Constitution Avenue, but it only goes south at that exit, not north toward the Omni, the Zoo, etc. Had to backtrack to get into the Constitution tunnel under Dupont.

Have the Canadians taken over the US Government?
The nation’s capital stimulates mixed feelings for me. It can be an inspiring place, especially the museums. On the other hand, it is exasperating to look at the Capitol Building and White House and realize how dysfunctional and totally inept our current government is. Shutdown. Obamacare website disaster. The K Street lobbyist crooks. Etc etc etc etc etc ...
I did manage to spend a few minutes at one of my favorite places in the world, the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum (more on that separately) and another few minutes, on DL’s recommendation, at the Newseum, which chronicles journalism through the centuries (interesting to see the repeated attempts at repression of the press – much like today in the UK, US, and elsewhere ... politicians and fat cats don't want the truth to be in the public view).
The Washington Metro always evokes thoughts of H.G. Wells’ Time Machine for me. As you descend into the bowels of the earth via long escalators, it reminds me of the underground world populated by the Morlocks.
 
In recent years, I’ve gotten a bit uneasy about taking photographs of government buildings and especially of transportation facilities. (That’s tourist, not terrorist, officer.) 

In earlier blogs I wrote about being told “no photos” in a train station in France (http://lovinglifeineurope.blogspot.fr/2013/09/can-you-bail-me-out-of-jail-part-deux.html) and "no photos" of a police station (http://lovinglifeineurope.blogspot.fr/2013/08/hi-honey-can-you-bail-me-out-of-jail.html). A couple years ago, I found a great location to video/photograph airplanes landing at DFW, then realized some authority might not approve. (Is this 'Honey, can you bail me out of jail, part IV?' Part III would be: http://lovinglifeineurope.blogspot.fr/2013/10/you-stole-what-from-where.html).

Nonetheless, I snapped some quick shots in the subterranean station, as you can see here and on my Facebook page. In return, the NSA was probably monitoring me from 18 different cameras. I could shave off my beard, maybe my hair as well, but I’m sure that won’t fool the facial recognition algorithms.
Love how the SEIU color-coordinated the flower beds with their logo
One of my favorite moments was heading back from the Newseum to catch the Metro back to my hotel. I had returned from a slightly different direction from whence I came, and was looking for a sidewalk straight through the little park where the Metro entrance was.

Government park designers had decided to put a semi-circular paved walkway that did NOT lead directly to the Metro. As you can see, the people decided to make their own path.
Sort of symbolic, don’t you think? The government does what it feels like, not necessarily what the people really want.