Friday, May 30, 2014

Mille Quatre Cent Soixante Onze Jours a FRANCE (1,471 Days in France)

The last post of this blog...

I am waiting on my flight and typing this from the business lounge of Air France.  My flight leaves in less than two hours, and with that departure, my French adventure ends, as does this blog.

To my French friends who will read this, I enjoyed your country, tried to sample its culture as much as a could, and I thank you for the kindness you have shown me.  France will be a country I will visit again, and in large part, thanks to you.

To my European friends who read this, I am glad we got to know each other, share in sometimes energetic discussions, and generally enjoy one another's company in diverse settings -- whether at a business meeting in France, your home country, or one not home to either of us.

I am going home now, and this next adventure I am as eager to begin as the one that put me in France four years ago.


A bientot, France!

Howdy, Texas!


(thanks, one last time, for coming along)

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Mille Quatre Cent Soixante Trois Jours a Sceaux (1,463 days in Sceaux)

This is my last post from Sceaux...

The movers will complete their work today, and all my goods will be loaded into a container and prepared for shipping to the USA.  Although I know my time here is already past, I am in the "bookmark" phase -- the time the reader pauses after closing one chapter before beginning to read the next.  In the bookmark phase I am experiencing now, there is no life in France and no life in the USA -- I am but a traveler between realms.

I have enjoyed Sceaux; it was a far better location for me than Paris.  Lots of open green space, quiet, picturesque.  I have enjoyed France, though there are many places I have not been.  France will always remain an easy place to visit for me.

There may be another post before I leave.

a bientot (and thanks for coming along),


Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Trois Cent Soixante Jours a Sceaux (old post in draft I thought I would go ahead and publish)

I ran this morning, to the south of the hotel. I ran 4.03 miles, 9:28 pace-my fastest since I began
running, and certainly my fastest 4 miles pace ever (in the mid-80's, Jimmy "If it can be fried, my mama can cook it" Addison (he is from Gulfport) and I did 7:30 for three miles). This was my first run of 4 miles or more when every mile was under 10 minutes: 9:59, 9:12, 9:16, 9:21 -- the first mile was slow in part to trying to figure out where the trail went...a good start for the day...

Because of the November visit with Pam, Collioure had a very familiar feel to it. It was prettier, as all the trees had leaved, and all businesses were open. Though it was obvious they were not at the peak of tourism on this Friday morning in May, it was clear everyone was readying themselves for a busy summer.The drive to Colborne was beautiful-as expected. I had to park by the train station; rather, on the street to the train station. Note to self: next time, park at the train station.

I found the pitchers for which I had been searching in Collioure. six generations of handmade creations, and I bought two for wine and one for water. One of the wine pitchers is brown -- the traditional pitcher, and the other is blue, a newer model -- near as in only 45 years old. The
artisan of these pitchers, now in his early 80s, apparently sculpted as well, and I am told that his work be seen along the Port d' Orlean metro stations.

The drive from Collioure to Terrats was picture-perfect. I drove, with the help of Tom-Tom, all two lane roads. I do not think there were many options anyway.

Finding Domain Ferrer Ribiere (DFR) was difficult, as these are really working enterprises, for people who know toil and soil. after walking around town for awhile, one can see nothing from a car and this is a small village, a lady asked if she could help. she explained where I could find DFR, ironically, I had turned the car around in their "driveway" on my initial pass through town.

The place is a concrete barn, and an old one. No signs to tell you this is DFR, no client reception area, either. I walked right through the steel double-doors, past the vats, came upon some barrels, and immediately happened upon a bearded man in a t-shirt having lunch at a workbench/table. We exchanged pleasantries, and I agreed to let him finish lunch and we would meet up later to discuss business.

I then found myself sitting in what seems to be the only restaurant in town. after lunch, I will make the 200 yard trip back to DFR and the vineyards rolling behind it.

Another note of interest: for every French flag I have seen, I have seen two dozen Catalan flags or sheilds.-the yellow with red stripes colors of Catalonia dominate the area. This area falls within the sovereignty of France, but it is not French --it is Catalan in culture and pride.

Had a very satisfying lunch of ham and pasta, baked with a layer of cheese upon it. The restaurant is a very "local" kind of place. It was interesting, listening to the chatter ("chatter" because I do not understand, not that their talk was frivolous) of everyday people, not tourists, everyone seemed to know everyone else, except for that guy by himself at the big table, the one in the black t-shirt and khaki pants, who speaks French with a bad accent, and who is writing in a black book with a large, odd-looking pen...

I returned to DFR, and found that Bruno Ribiere was ready and waiting. I found out he was an advertising executive at one time, but a desperate hospital event made him change his career to
agriculture. Like I said, these places, especially when they are called "Domain", are not fanciful or highbrow in anyway. If you are comfortable in a machine shop or an automobile garage, you would be right at home at DFR. Oh yeah, their products are among the best I have known in France.

Mille Quatre Cent Soixante Deux Jours a Sceaux (1,462 Days in Sceaux)

Moving begins

As the elevator doors opened, they were there.  They were always there when someone was moving.  The guardian of the complex hangs the dense, thin gray protective surfaces in the elevators when someone is moving.  I often wondered who among the dozen or so apartments was moving.  It always seemed to happen incognito.  They were up, they were down, without sense of any other activity.  Today, I did not have to wonder for whom the gray tapestries hung, they hung for me.

A crew of two hit the apartment at 13h00.  They left at 17h10.  In those four hours and change, they packed the living room and dining area, cleared both large closets, packed up the guest room, and started on the kitchen.  All the warmth and character this place had is gone, and will never be again.  But it is OK.  This chapter is closed.  All the experience of living here feels as though it is being compressed for storage, it is past and time to put it away.

A few steps remain...

I have some final packing of my own to do by tomorrow so I can be completely out of their way.  The cleaning crew comes tomorrow, working behind the movers to make sure everything is tip top for checkout at 17h30 tomorrow afternoon.  After that, I am spending the next two nights with the Du Toit family, a good friend I have from work.  Friday, I head to the airport and fly home for good.

a bientot, mes amis!


Monday, May 26, 2014

Mille Quatre Cent Soixante et Un Jours a Sceaux (1,461 days in Sceaux)

The last hours in Sceaux
As I write, I am less than 24 hours from mot having a bed in Sceaux, and that will be exactly four years to the date I moved in.  I have much to do, and this broken ankle does not help.  I broke it while in Romania doing some sightseeing in the Carpathians with friends -- I only wish I as doing something as strenuous as mountain climbing.  Still, sweet memories of cherished friends.

The Hermitage, also known as Chez Mark, is all but closed, and even now, rapidly becoming the past.  I was fortunate, by God's grace, to find this beautiful little apartment, with its lush balcony views, birds singing in morning and evening, and the grand tranquility of the Parc de Sceaux.  All are a part of my memories, not my present nor future.  The helter-skelter chaos of coordinating a move allows me to only see the tasks and nothing else.  It is OK, the weather is typically Parisian: gray and wet -- the very thing I liked least about my stay here.

I have been blessed to make some good friends here, and they have helped me not only in my time here, but especially now, as I have had to lean on them for help with the move.  I hope we shall see each other again.

It is good to finally be going home, and it is near, very near...

a bientot,


Events from April 2013 to May 2014

As I noted in my previous blog, my silence in 2013 did not mean nothing was happening.

May 2013
Roussillon and 100 years:  In early May, I was invited to celebrate 100 years of wine-making by Domaine Sol-Payre in Elne, France.  This family-owned winery is now in its fifth generation.  I also visited the legendary vineyard of La Petite Siberie, owned by Domaine Clos des Fees.  Here are pictures from the trip.

Spain and Morocco: Family friend Laura Austin, now a world-class Googler in Califorinia, is also a fun traveling companion, especially when Spanish is required.  She spent a year studying in Madrid, but took the time to learn the best places to see in other parts of Spain.  She wanted to go to Morocco (who doesn't; I'm in!), so we traded: she would be my guide and interpreter in Spain, and I would do the same for her in Morocco (they speak French there).  We traveled by plane, train, bus, and ferry (from Spain to Morocco).  Here are pictures of this adventure.

June 2013
My younger brother David and his family visited in June, as part of a greater European romp they were enjoying.  I served them the best Chez Mark had to offer: Beef Tenderloin Chez Mark, Paella, and the accompanying host of cheeses, salads, and wines.  We had a "lock-in" of sorts, but also went out to see Paris at night.

Josh and Kayleigh, my nephew (David's younger son) and his wife Kayleigh visited for an evening dinner at Chez Mark.  I cooked the beef tenderloin and red wine sauce, along with salad, cheeses, and dessert.  We enjoyed a wine called Selenae, 2001 vintage (middle row, far right).  This is the premium wine from Domaine Ferrer-Ribiere.  It was a fun time, and I am grateful they could fit me into their schedule.

August 2013
A long-time work colleague and friend came to Paris on a business trip.  She immediately wanted to go Giverny, the site of Monet's gardens.  She contacted me, and I set it up (she actually pointed me to the websites to make the reservations).  This is a trip I would not have made, simply because I was unaware Giverny could be reached so easily.  It is easy to see the inspiration for his paintings, even in these pictures.

November 2013
I mentioned the trip to Marrakesh in the blog, and will post the links for photos here again: Marrakesh, Atlas Mountains.

Texas schools are off for the week of Thanksgiving, and I asked Pam to come over so we could do some sightseeing together, knowing my days here were numbered.  One week was not going to be enough, so I persuaded her to stay for two weeks.  Her principal was kind enough to give her permission, and she only lost two days of pay.  Still, it made for a great time together, and worth every extra penny.

During the week of Thanksgiving, we traveled north and west of Paris to Mont Saint Michel and Normandy's D-Day beaches of Omaha (American) and Gold (British).

December 2013
Pam's visit continued into the first week of December, and the reason I wanted her to stay longer: December 1st signaled the opening of the Christmas market in Strasbourg, a city which has celebrated each Christmas full stop for 500 years.  Strasbourg is the self-proclaimed "Capital of Christmas", and no one argues.  We had a great time in the very German part of France.  We stayed at Hotel Rohan, just off the main square, a hotel with 30+ uniquely decorated rooms.  Everything was walking distance for us, and it was a great way to open the Christmas season.  We shared a very memorable time during Pam's extended stay.

February 2014
Jack Schaffner and I finally got to romp France together.  We first hit Normandy and the D-Day beaches.  We took our time to savor the places where men fell, and also the American cemetery.  Much to the surprise of many reading this, we did not see the museums.  After a night back in Paris, and dinner at an Alsatian restaurant called Chez Jenny (Jack's ancestors came from Alsace), we headed south, to Northern Catalonia, also known as Roussillon, in France.  In Roussillon, we enjoyed both wine tastings and hiking, and driving about the countryside at-large.

My sister-in-law and niece came for a stay after Jack's visit.  Brenda and Abby were here earlier (see June 2013 above), but both felt like they needed a trip to Paris and a stay at "Chez Mark" so, as my niece Abby put it, "we can see all the things the boys didn't let us see this summer".  They indeed did just that, with only two overlaps in 11 places visited.  We had many wonderful evenings together, including a visit to the Eiffel Tower at night.

Catalina and Claudiu Stanean came for a visit, two of the young people who translated for us during our many mission trips to Romania.  I have known both since their earliest teen years, and now they are married with two lovely children.  It was a sweet reunion, and I was so glad to share in their Paris adventure.

May 2014
I made three trips in May: UK, Sud de France, and Romania -- all to visit friends, and pick up a wine barrel.  I got to see the Codex Sinaiticus, the oldest complete version of the Bible in Greek at the British Library and try to read from its 4th century pages.  Sud de France gave me an opportunity to visit one of our favorite winemakers and bring back a barrel for use in the wine room of our new house.  The trip to Romania was a sweet time with friends with a twist and a break -- to my ankle.  I hobbled back to Paris to prep for my move home; very bad timing.  It took nothing away from the times shared with people I cherish there.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Mille Quatre Cent Vingt Neuf Jours a Sceaux (1,429 days in Sceaux)

Hmmm...yes...400 days since my last post...

It is cloudy here (normal), misting a bit of moisture, "Easter Monday" in France, and my birthday.  I also found out last week that my days in France are rapidly coming to an end.  I requested a move in December 2012, but finally got the type of job I wanted and the salary I wanted just last week.  It's all good, not to fret, as I knew it would take time.  I should be home in Texas by the end of May, 2014, pretty much exactly four years since I moved into what I call "the hermitage at Sceaux".  Of course, to my guests, few and precious they have been, it is "Chez Mark".

I only had the one post in 2013, yet, 2013 was full of events.  I guess the ease of automatically loading photos to Google+ and Google Events made me feel blogging was not as important.  Yet, I know there is more to communicating than posting pictures with a caption or two.  Before I recap the last year and change, permit me to share current random thoughts and reflections.

I am finally getting a handle on the language.  It has been tough, as my experience here has not been immersive.  I work at headquarters with 37 other people representing 20 nationalities.  We talk with our teams throughout the world.  Our language at work is English.  The French, and I say this respectfully knowing it is their culture, are socially closed.  They do not welcome strangers readily, and never totally embrace them.  Yet, they can be kind and helpful and appreciative of your presence, just never expect to build a social network from French people, unless they have traveled abroad themselves.  The point is, the language has been very difficult because I have no humans on which to practice, other than stores and shops.  In those places, the focus is on getting for what you came, paying for it, and letting them serve the next person in line.  Most of my French skills are limited to utilitarian exchanges, and very simple conversation, such as the one I had with a taxi driver in Pau recently.  It was then that I felt I was making some progress on the language, and now I am moving.

Some of you might think being here is charming, that every weekend is a tourist adventure -- and it could be.  I am here solo, and eventually, one gets very tired of doing everything by themselves.  I have a buddy from work with whom I sometimes hang, unless he is heading back to his home in Biarritz.  It is wearying to be here solo, and though I do force myself to do things, I have done much fewer such solo adventures in the last year or so.

At the same time, the emotional weariness has taken its toll on my running.  I know, running is cheaper than therapy, but sometimes one has a difficult time doing something positive and healthy.  I am getting back into it.  I want to keep running as one of my therapeutic elements, as it is a good one for me.

Shifting gears to more positive things, I continue to experiment in cooking, and you can follow my efforts on Pinterest.  I have found that preparing my own food, as opposed to eating packaged, prepared foods, is also a form of therapy.  It keeps me busy doing something positive, I am more food-aware in terms of what I am eating and what it does for my body, and it gives me an outlet for creativity and experimentation.  I enjoy it, and it is an interest Pam and I both share.

Guitar playing is another positive in my life here.  I spend a lot of time playing guitar.  To tell you the truth, it gives me a "real-world" point of contact as opposed to the "virtual-world" that is the Internet.  To be sure, the two have gone together, as I have bought and often downloaded many useful lessons, tips, and helps.  Practice means stepping away from the computer, putting the guitar in your lap, practicing, and playing.  I have learned a lot about music theory, guitar techniques, and ideas about playing.  This is a life-long pursuit, just like running and cooking.  I hope to use all I have learned to teach my grandchildren, if they desire to learn.

In the course of my stay here, I have become a bit of a wine expert, in as much as one can be without doing it professionally.  Nonetheless, I can hold my own in such circles, having judged in three of the large Paris shows.  The newbies transferring into the office are often pointed my way for help in understanding and selecting French wines, and I had the good fun of being the "wine guide" for three young couples at the most recent large show in March (over 500 producers were present).  The wine world has also been a good cultural point of contact, as I have had the good pleasure of getting to know many of the families who are both first- and multi-generational winemakers.  These are hardworking people, salt of the earth.  To know them is to also know their land, so they have become destinations for me as well.  Fortunately, the wines I like best are from the Mediterranean regions, so visiting there is always pleasant.

In addition to traveling to vineyards, I love traveling to Morocco.  I have been there on three trips, to Tangiers, Asilah, Kenitra, Mehdia Beach, Casablanca, and Marrakesh.  I did a day trek into the Atlas Mountains, also.  I would like to do a multi-day trek into the Atlas Mountains, and do a caravan from Fez to Marrakesh.  I love the Moroccan tagine, and one cooks now for my evening meal (slow cooked beef and lamb, with a Moroccan blend of 30 spices, onions, garlic, olives, potatoes, nuts and raisins).

I will continue this blog concerning my travels in 2013 on another page, just so you can take a break.  As I part from this page, and prepare to depart France, the answer is "Yes", I will miss a few things about being here.  I will miss walking to the market, the bakeries, the cheese shop, the butcher -- the small shops in general and the people who run them.  I will miss traveling at will to the Mediterranean or Morocco.  I will miss the handful of French I have gotten to know, and certainly, I will miss the very close camaraderie we share on our team at work (it is rare to find it as good as we have had it).  But there are things I will not miss, like the distal nature of the French toward people they do not know, the lack of human connection outside the office, the bureaucracies of any entity larger than shop, and the generally lower quality of goods and services.  Nonetheless, it has been a rich experience.

A bientot!