Saturday, November 27, 2010

Hundred, four twenties, and six days in Sceaux

The number formatting gets a little weird above sixty, and even more weird above eighty. The number cited in today's blog is the number we would call one hundred and eighty-six. To the French however, they count it as one hundred with four twenties and six (cent quatre vingt six). Above ninety, it really taxes me, with a number like ninety-two being said as four twenties and twelve (quatre vingt douze). I think this is one of the reasons I'm having difficulty understanding how much money the cashier wants at the store.

This past week was rather eventful, as Pamela paid me a visit, we traveled to Collioure, shared a Thanksgiving meal, watch Christmas movies (which she had brought with her: Scrooge, Elf, It's a Wonderful Life), got to see the first snowfall of the season in Sceaux, and went to dinner at Le Train Bleu.

The trip to Collioure involve a high speed train ride from Paris to Montpellier. The train hits speeds greater than 200 mph, and is very comfortable, complete with wireless Internet, food service, electrical outlets for computers and electronics, and ground-level views of France. The traverse from Paris to Montpellier took about four hours, and in Montpelier a we grabbed a rental car. When booking the train reservations, one has the ability to also book hotels and rental cars on the same site, which makes arranging such trips very easy. We drove from Montpellier through the countryside of southern France. It was sunny most of the trip, and it was easy to see why this area is called The Wine Lake of France. Vineyards were literally everywhere. The area we traversed produces the greatest volume of wine in the world. Until 15 or 20 years ago; however, the wine was not considered of good quality. This mostly had to do with the rather careless way in which the wine was prepared. However, as global competition for wine increased, the French government sought out winemakers from other parts of the world to come and re-craft the wines of southern France. And indeed, those who are already there, stepped up their game as well. The result has been a revival of winemaking in southern France, and a new and interesting offering for world markets. If one thinks of only Bordeaux and Burgundy when they consider French wines, they need to update their thinking.

It took us three hours to make the trip by car from Montpellier to Collioure, and as we arrived, we were surrounded by the Mediterranean to our left and the steep and terraced hills of Collioure to our right. It was a beautiful scene. The hotel was amazing, not for its comforts, but rather its million-dollar views. Collioure is a very small town, easy for pedestrians to enjoy, and is completely overrun with tourists in the summer. At this time of year, we literally had the town to ourselves. We were the only ones in the hotel. We ate at a very nice restaurant, and were its only customers. We could stop and shop, a visit with the shopkeeper for several minutes, even up to half an hour, because we were the only customers. And everywhere we looked, the scenery was breathtaking.

Upon our return to Paris, we took a taxi and asked him to drive us along the Champs Élysées, on which they had turned on the Christmas lights the previous Monday, and their traditional Christmas village was in full swing. The Champs Élysées traffic was painfully slow, but perfect for looking at Christmas lights and seeing the Christmas village.

We returned to Sceaux on Wednesday, and Thursday morning, Thanksgiving Day, I set out for the market to shop for Thanksgiving dinner. The big question on my mind was, "Will I be able to find any turkey?". I went to my favorite butcher shop and asked, "avez vous la dinde?" (Do you have turkey?). I was in luck, they had some turkey. Not a whole turkey, but basically the leg and thigh of a rather large turkey, which would be plenty for us. I could not find traditional dinner rolls at the bakery, so we had to settle for brioche. Pam prepared a wonderful meal, and the apartment smelled of turkey and dressing the rest of the day. It was a nice Thanksgiving day, even in France.

Friday evening I took Pam to Le Train Bleu, a historical restaurant at Gare de Lyon. The restaurant was created for a world exposition in 1900, and has 41 paintings on the ceilings and walls depicting life in France at that time. The service and the food were impeccable and perfect. We got our reservation at the traditional French dinnertime, which is 8 PM. We left the restaurant after too many courses to remember, sometime after 11 PM. By the time we waited for a taxi and got home it was 1230 in the morning, and five hours later Pam departed for the airport to make her way back to Houston.

In three weeks it will be my turn to travel, I get to go home for the holidays. I'm looking forward to that.

Thanks once again for joining me in this journey,


Saturday, November 20, 2010

The 179th day in Sceaux France

It was a busy week, and a week with some personal accomplishments and moments of cultural connection.

This week, for the first time since I have ever been running, I ran over 7 miles on two consecutive workouts. I actually totaled over 15 miles for the two workouts, which is the most running I have ever done over three day period. Like I've said before, I'm not a terribly fast runner, I concentrate on form and distance. From this point on, the mileage gets longer very quickly. I am running to the Metro stop at Chattillon Montrouge, logically, my next step should be the end of the Coulee Verte in Montparnasse. But that means another 4 km, or 2.5 miles, each way. That means my mileage jumps from over 7 miles to over 12 miles. Of course, if I do a one-way run from where I live to the center of Paris, that would only be a 9 mile run. I could then catch the train to come back home. Nonetheless, I will celebrate my mileage gains as they stand, and not fret over the next step.

I took off of work a little early on Friday. I wanted to go into the market in Sceaux, look around, and visit some of my favorite shops: the butcher shop, the bakery, and whoever else had anything of interest. As I walked into the market, I was greeted by the most wonderful smell in the cool late afternoon air. I recognize the smell, it smelled of malt. To the left I spied a woman making waffles outside of her bakery. I kept walking, after all, that wasn't one of my bakeries. I went onto my bakeries to get some bread, and walked the rest of the way down the market. The market is now lined with evergreen trees in pots, ready to be decorated for Christmas. The setting sun and the cold air was a good reminder of the season that is coming upon us. I finished my shopping, and made my way back up the market. The smell of crepes was in the air. I spotted a young lady making crepes in front of the bakery at which she worked. It was one of the two bakeries I frequent. Steam was coming off of her grill as she lifted and flipped the crepes. The smell was too good, and the opportunity too rich, I stepped up to her, "Je voudrais un crepe avec buerre et sucre, s'il vous plait" (I would like a crepe with butter and sugar, if you please). She poured the batter onto the round grill, and then used a bladed device to smear the batter very thinly around the grill, using a circular motion. In less than a minute, she was sliding a long wooden spatula beneath the crepe and turning it. The crepe continue to cook for another minute, and then she carefully spread butter on to the crepe using the same spatula she used to turn it. As the butter melted, she sprinkled some sugar on to the crepe. She collected the two euros and thirty centimes from me and then proceeded to fold the crepe. It was hot, and had the smell of the holidays. Its taste was perfect, also.

Today, we had some sunshine, and I did my customary grocery shopping trip, and took another walk through the market. No, there were no crepes, I think that only happens in the late afternoon, but it was an opportunity to pick up a baguette and enjoy some rare sunshine.

Thanks for coming along,


Saturday, November 13, 2010

Sceaux, the 100-seventy-second Day

I finally conceded. I tried. I cooked them on high heat; I cooked them on low heat; I cooked them on medium heat; I cooked them with butter; I cooked them with vegetable oil; and in all of these variations and combinations I failed. I failed to cook an egg that would not stick to my very modern stainless steel pan. I am certainly the egg preparer in my household. I can make them scrambled, I can make them over-easy, I can make them poached, I can make them sunny side up, I can make an omelette that will make you forget any restaurant omelette. My pan of choice over the years has been a trusty iron skillet, or a Teflon coated omelette pan. With the cookware that I brought from the United States, new and modern though it may be, the eggs stick, and they stick hard.

Off I went to the local grocery store, which also sells cookware and clothing and other things. I was hoping to find an iron skillet; I figured the French were such purists that it would be an obvious solution. I was wrong. The French, too, have gone the way of Teflon. This is not entirely bad, because a Teflon skillet is much easier for which to care than an iron skillet. This morning I felt like I had my egg cooking chops back. Eggs over easy (in the South, we just call them "fried"), served with a few thin slices of sausage on the side. I usually have a very healthy cereal, with multiple grains, some dried fruit, plenty of vitamins and other minerals, and of course milk. A guy my age has to eat like that, in order to keep everything working properly. But there is no crime, and there is no harm, and having a good old Southern fried breakfast every now and again. I think I will make an omelette tomorrow, using one of the French cheeses (why not two or three of them?) that I have in my refrigerator.

Today it's a blustery day, rain and high winds. It is a good day for reading, playing guitar, and blogging...

a bientot,


PS: A funny story I have to share...

I do my laundry and I have these two very nice Calvin Klein black t-shirts.  I thought I was buying two boxes of 3 for $36 each...but I was only buying 2 boxes of 1 t-shirt each (this is too-close-to-Paris-France).  OK, they are nice, but come on!  So I gather the laundry, and I notice only one went into the washing.  I say, "OK, must be folded or hanging somewhere."  I wash the clothes, they dry; I go to put things away, start looking for the second shirt...pull out EVERYTHING...walk around to all the other 2nd $36 CK black t-shirt.

Finally I give up...

it is not anywhere...

except on my body.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

One Hundred 70 days in Sceaux

Cold.  Rainy.  Windy.  Raw.  So is my 170th day in Sceaux.  The best part about today is that it is a national holiday, and businesses are closed.  Which holiday?  Armistice Day, the day the Treaty of Versailles was signed to end the "Great War", a.k.a., World War I.  Even a young Frenchman, in his early 30s, told me, "We must always remember, because Germany is still nearby".  There are no longer events held at Versailles, as all the WWI vets have passed away (I think one yet lives in the USA).  This, the 92nd anniversary of the end of the "War to end all Wars" (we wish it had only been true).

This past Tuesday, I attended a Bible Study at the French Baptist church I visited on Sunday.  It was a 45 minute walk, as the Parc de Sceaux closes at 18h00, so I had to walk around the park itself.  It was a little tricky, because I needed nor could see (due to the trees) any landmarks along the way while in the Parc de Sceaux, but walking along the outside, it is a different experience.  Judging distance was the hardest aspect, then I remembered, "DOH!, I have my T-Mobile myTouch 3G Slide in my pocket, and it has GPS!".  Well, problem solved, except for the part about navigating crossing a major street intersection with traffic from six different directions.  Obviously, I made it, or I would not be here now.

The Bible Study was a challenge, as it was all in French, but it was nice, as well.  We sang several songs, and I got to try and decipher what hymn numbers were given.  Unlike the Southern Baptists in America I know, who never sing the third verse of a four verse hymn ("OK everyone, first, second, and last verse of ..."), these French Baptists sing every verse (I know this makes my Presbyterian brothers happy).  Singing helps my vocabulary and enunciation, as it is slower than speaking and you can hear sounds better.  I was asked to introduce myself, and I did my best in French:

"Je m'appelle Marc; je travaille chez Schlumberger dans Clamart; je suis geophysiciste; et evangeliste et missionaire; j'ai evangelizer dans Romanie, Liberia, India, Nepal...nous enseignons l'eglise (au) evangelizer...maintinant, je suis en France"

Spoken, it was much more broken and uneasy, and I am not sure about all the syntax, but they were very accommodating and understanding.  They began to ask questions, and I asked if I could respond in English.  They all seemed to understand English, and the couple of people who did not, their friends translated for them.  The Bible Study was about the Wilderness Tabernacle, and it was eventually tied to the tearing of the veil that guarded the Holy of Holies upon Christ's death.  I used my trusty smartphone and an excellent Bible app called CadreBible to flip between English and French versions (it is easier to follow their reading in French, then I would flip to English; again vocabulary, vocabulary).  Hearing brothers and sisters pray in French, sing in French, and study the Word in French was very uplifting, for as it is anywhere with the Lord's flock, we are among family.

I have found that one needs multiple outer wear (coats and jackets) in these "four season" climates.  Sometimes you need a little warmth, sometimes a lot; sometimes water repellent is an important trait, other times it is not (now it seems it is ALWAYS important).  Some of you have heard me say, and I stole this from a Louisiana gentleman with whom I worked in Houston, "We have two seasons in Houston, summer and August".  I mean, a jacket gets you through the year easily enough, and all that late fall/winter gear I had from my days in places north of the Red River are long gone.  Here, I have a coat that feels great in the morning, but is too much in the afternoon (as I have to walk to bus stops and wait, I notice such subtleties more, otherwise I would go light and be done with it).  Eighteen years in a place that gives you 300 days of sunshine a year has its advantages, but a sudden shift to an antithetical place reveals the weaknesses in one's preparation.

Sunrise is moving ever so closely to 8AM (08h00 per the French), and I have a couple of pictures for your viewing pleasure below:

A little over an hour before sunrise, in the "alley" behind my apartment, where I exit to walk the 500 meters to the bus stop.

Sunrise this morning, and yes, take warning, after my run, which finished over an hour earlier, the rain and wind came.

Passez un bon week-end,


Sunday, November 7, 2010

Cent-Soixante-Six Jours dans Sceaux (166 Days in Sceaux)

Today, I worshiped in a French Baptist Church.  Everything was done in French, just as we would expect everything to be done in English back in the States, unless the church's name suggested otherwise.  It was a good service, and the preacher used PowerPoint to post the points of his sermons.  Good news: I could read and understand the PowerPoint slides.  Bad news: I could not understand what he was saying about them.  Oh well, "pas de problem" (not a problem).  Good news: the singing of songs is very, very nice in  French.  I could make out some of the words, the tunes were different, so my guess is these were hymns and praises that were culturally French.  After church, I was greeted by some of the members and I spoke a little of my broken French, explaining where I lived, worked, and that yes, I would be back next Sunday.  The pastor speaks a little English, so we should work out OK.  We will meet the week after next to talk about ministry opportunities.

I get to church by walking, and it is a 35-40 minute walk, mostly through Parc de Sceaux.  There were so many people jogging on this Sunday morning it was like a traffic jam!  I had not seen this many runners since Mick and I jogged the AHA event some years ago in downtown Houston.  The key to French thinness: small portions and cycling/running.  Actually works if you are not French, too.  Considering the population of this area is only about 50,000, it seems a rather large percentage are jogging, walking, or cycling -- you cannot do it alone unless you get up before the crack of dawn like I do.

Here are some pictures from this morning:

I hope yours is a great day!

a bientot,


Saturday, November 6, 2010

165th day from Sceaux

The autumn has two phases, the first phase is that of brilliance and the second phase is that of dullness. Brilliance, that time when the sun is still high in the sky and unhindered by clouds, and the forest displays a palette of warm colors contrasting the emerald green grasses below. Dullness, that time when the clouds obscure the sun and blue skies, all colors are absent from the forest, and a sense of dreariness overcomes the land. Right now, I stand between the two here in France; are is a link to my photos from today.

I know most of my readers experience four seasons throughout the year. This transition is common for them, they may not like it, but it is, nonetheless. Houston has 300 days of sunshine a year, and I grew accustomed to its warmth over the last 18 years. I know what is coming here, because I grew up in a state that experiences four seasons: Kentucky. Somehow, it is different for me now. I have to figure out how I'm going to beat the weather situation. I need to learn to run when weather, temperature, and moisture are working against me. It is yet another challenge.

The adventure yet continues, as I made my first business trip to the South of France. I was in the city of Montpellier, which boasts the oldest medical school in Europe, and is home to nearly 100,000 students. It is considered a university town, but there are plenty of sites to enjoy in its historic quarters (I walk past a church built in the 13th century on my way to dinner one night), and its close proximity to the Mediterranean adds enticement. Fortunately, I was not able to complete my business on this trip, and will have to return.

I took a long weekend to Romania last week, to renew old friendships and to minister among the believers in Campina. I actually had a day off on Saturday, my first in over 200 days spent in Romania. Bowling is a new sport in Romania, and I was taken to a new bowling alley, complete with bowling balls in a variety of colors, electronic scorekeepers, and black lights. There is a really good reason I have not bowled in 20 years, and that reason was reinforced on that Saturday afternoon. I must say, however, that it was the company and not the bowling that made the afternoon so enjoyable. I preached on Sunday morning to the church in Campina, and that evening I preached an evangelistic service at the cultural house. About six people raised their hands indicating they wish to pray to receive Christ, and the churches sponsoring the event will follow up.

The Baptist Church in Campina, and its pastor and his family, have blessed my life and so many ways, and I must say, the timing of this opportunity to visit was literally a God-send. Attending the English-speaking church in Versailles has been difficult, taking up to five hours to attend a one-hour service. This is exhausting, yet I know the need for every believer to have fellowship with the family of faith, and I am no different. This weekend I will visit a French-speaking Baptist Church near my apartment; near my apartment being 3 km away. I should be able to walk this distance in about 40 minutes, which is our preferred to the two hours it would take me to get to the church in Versailles. The believers in Versailles have been very welcoming to me, and I really appreciate their open arms. But with such transportation challenges, it is impossible for me to serve and to regularly participate in the events of the church. Nor do I believe that I am here in France strictly on Schlumberger's purpose. I know the Lord uses our vocations to place us where he wants us to serve, and I have been seeking a place of service, as well as a community of believers with whom I can fellowship. Tomorrow will reveal a lot to me in this respect.

The French people are already preparing for Christmas, with Charles de Gaulle airport already sporting Christmas decorations before the end of October. I am really looking forward to this season with them. I look forward to seeing the decorations, the life not only in Paris, but also in the suburbs, and also to see what recognition to Christ is given. This is a mission field, there is no doubt, and as the Lord wills, I shall harvest in it.

On a less serious side of things, I went to the grocery today and actually bought some cheese. I kept it simple, and stuck with my favorites, not seeking adventure at this point. They have a section in the grocery store dedicated to Old El Paso products. Today was the first time I saw the hot salsa available, so I bought two jars. I never thought I would be so happy to embrace the Old El Paso products, as I usually ignore them completely in Texas. It was good to sample some spice from Southwest again, and it made home feel not so far away.

I had my first long run in almost 2 weeks, resting from a cold, and allowing a toe injury to heal. I ran well today, with good speed and consistent pace throughout. I'm not a fast runner, nor do I consider myself a good runner, but I do enjoy it now, and it has become like a companion to me. It is my least stressful time in France, and I can experience France and its beauty, and not worry about making myself understood. One of the things I hate about the rain is that it keeps me from running, and I feel more alone when that happens. I'm still working toward my running goals, though they seem ambitious with the coming change of weather. I will continue on, and push myself to greater distance when it makes sense.

One thing I'm hoping my experience at the French Baptist Church will bring is a casual and friendly immersion into the language. Trying to make yourself understood when you are purchasing items is not a good time for a French lesson. People are not interested in you practicing with them, as there are other customers in line, and their stress level is high because you do not understand them. I do not fault them, or blame them. But I hope to encounter some English-speaking French people at the church, and in the course of our fellowship, my own language skills will improve. This will certainly make life here much less stressful. I do enjoy being here among these people, certainly the people in the suburbs exhibit a healthy and slower paced way of life than one sees in Paris.

Thank you for coming along, I do appreciate you sharing this adventure with me.

Until next time,


Sunday, October 24, 2010

Sceaux 152 ( that a YGM reference?)

OK, today is the day you get the cheese appraisal.  I warned you it was coming.  Keep in mind that there are 240+ kinds of cheeses in France, and I have tackled less than 5% of them.  I do not intend to go much further on my own.  I will likely not even reach 10% of the cheeses.  I am cheesed out, for now.  In the listing which follows, rather than rank the cheeses numerically, which would be impossible to do accurately beyond the first three, I have created three groups: Group I, cheeses I would buy for my own consumption; Group II, cheeses I would eat in a social setting (in addition to Group I), i.e., someone else served them; Group III, cheeses to avoid no matter who serves them or what is on the line.

Group 0 
(I did not count this group above, as these are the children cheeses, though adults also buy them for their "inner child")
Babybel (encased in red wax)
Vache qui Rit (smiling cow, cream of gruyere)
Kiri (soft white cheese)

Group I
Chevre frais

Group II
Emmental (French version of Swiss cheese)

Group III
Chevre affines (ripened goat cheese)
St. Agur (blue cheese)

The cheeses of Group III either stink, or are strong, or both.  The ripened goat cheese (chevre affines) will knock you to your knees with its smell.  Honestly, I am so cheesed out I cannot even buy the Group I cheeses at the moment.  There is nothing wrong with the Group II cheeses, they just don't do much for me.  I am not an expert, I am only declaring what I like, which, when in a store or at a dinner, is the only thing that matters.

Enough on cheeses, and lets move on.  Autumn is here in its cold, wet, rainy manifestation.  I do not like it.  Ile-de-France, I am surprised, does not have brilliant foliage in autumn.  Leaves on the trees turn yellow and brown, and fall off.  Spring is spectacular, so at least there is something to which one can look forward.  Walking almost half a mile (0.8 km) to a bus stop exposes me more than I am used to back in Houston, so a coat from REI Outlet, Thinsulate gloves from Monoprix keep me warm during my treks.

I found out something great this week, on my way to get my "titre de sejour", which is a card that says I can legally live here.  France now reciprocates with Texas on the driver's license.  France makes a deal with each state, on what criteria I do not know, but until recently, there was no reciprocation agreement with Texas.  This would mean a relatively long and painful process to get a driver's license to drive anything.

But now, it is like a swap; really, I do not know the full details yet, and I can drive.  Moreover, with the same license, I can ride up to a 125cc motorbike/scooter without  additional licensing.  I know 125cc is not much, but for darting around here, it could be WAY convenient.  Now, I am thinking...

a bientot, mes amis,


Saturday, October 16, 2010

Twelve Dozen Days in Sceaux

As I write to you, the warmer days of autumn are fading. Even in the forecast for next week, we are inching closer to the freezing. I have not lived in this type of climate for many years, and I've grown accustomed to sunshine and warmth throughout the year. The French people at the office tell me to enjoy what little sunshine I see now, because when November comes, I will not see the sun until April. I spoke with some other French people outside of my office about this, and I told them that my colleagues must be exaggerating. The French to whom I was speaking looked away, then down, then back up and said, "I'm afraid they are speaking the truth". I must admit, my heart sank a little bit. But then I remembered something, Paris knows how to do Christmas lights, and they do it big, and early.

I was able to take a business trip to Milan, Italy. As I was visiting a client, the travel was approved. I thought to myself, I'll take a little extra time and spend the night (traveling to Milan can be a one-day trip very easily from Paris). After all, if I'm going to Milan I just as well see something. But as it is true so often, business trips and tourism do not mix. Businesses have moved away from the old and interesting centers of these European cities, and placed themselves in modern office buildings closer to the edges of town where their people live. While I did see some very attractive modern architecture, and dinner that night was in an old area of town, I did not get to see the center of town with its cathedral and plaza.

I have a business trip scheduled for the first week of November, this time to the south of France. They tell me the sun will still be shining there, though I am already looking forward to visiting Montpellier. We have a technology center there that produces software for analyzing the data we acquire, and I'm going there to learn the software, and to discuss expanding the portfolio into my domain of interest and expertise. It is purely investigative at this point, as no one person really makes the decision anymore. We can study, evaluate, discuss, and make recommendations, but then someone higher and somewhere else actually pulls the trigger and makes something happen. That something may be very similar to your recommendations, may be a partial set of your recommendations, it may not look like your recommendations at all. One must accept the outcomes, and do their best to support them. There are many more factors and priorities that affect such decisions, and my input is but one part.

I will be home here in Sceaux for the rest of the month, and I'm looking forward to getting back into routine. I need to get back to my running, regular guitar practice, reading, and communicating with family and friends. All of these things are more difficult to do when traveling, so I confess, the travel restrictions under which we have been laboring have not been all that terrible.

The blog is a little short for this week, but I thank you for coming along.

Until next time,


Saturday, October 9, 2010

DayOneHundredThirtySeven from Sceaux

Well, it has been 20 days since I have blogged. I am surprised. I have been busy, there have been lots of long hours at work. I finally got to travel again, going to the Hague in the Netherlands, and to London on business. Life in Sceaux continues at its beautiful and easy pace. I look forward to coming back to my apartment each evening, because I know that it will be quiet, peaceful, beautiful, and restful.

Since I last wrote, I have been nursing a running injury. Apparently the muscles in the upper thigh, above the quadriceps, are strenuously engaged when running hills. Had I known this, I would have not charged up the hills as if I was Teddy Roosevelt and the Roughriders. To further complicate things, I did a little sightseeing in Paris, and a pair of shoes I thought would be good for walking. But they seemed to force my feet to pronate, especially my left foot. This puts a great deal of strain on the interior tendon of the left knee. Thanks to the Internet of course, I could give you the scientific names of all these muscles and tendons that have been affected the last two weeks, but I will spare you. I finally got to run again today. Not quite 100%, in neither stamina nor strain, but it was a good run nonetheless.

I have two long-term goals for my running: to run from my apartment along the Coulee Verte, to the beginning of the Coulee Verte in Montparnasse; the second goal is to run from my apartment to the Hotel de Ville of Paris, which is considered the heart of Paris and is just beyond Notre Dame from me. I hope that by the time I leave for Christmas vacation I will have achieved one of those goals. Such a distance run would not be a routine workout, but it would be a Saturday run, where I have the time to make the run, return to the apartment, recuperate, and cleanup for the day.

I have used many means to travel throughout the world: automobile, horseback, ships, small boats of all sizes, even a rickshaw van. But it was not until I got to Europe that I traveled by train. I have now made three trips by train, and had the good fortune of traveling first class on all of them. I found traveling by train to be very comfortable, not that much cheaper than flying, and certainly takes longer and is less predictable than flying. If you plan your travels to accommodate the differences, I find traveling by train to be a very comfortable experience. On two of my trips, I got to experience high speed trains. They move at over 200 mph, run on new rails, and is generally quite smooth. It seems; however, that when the engineer decides to kick up to speed a little bit, you do feel more motion than you would feel on a plane. As Schlumberger has many offices, and centers in Europe, and her clients likewise have offices and centers in Europe, traveling by train to these locations is not only common, but often preferred by our management. One of the nice advantages of traveling by train is that you remain connected for the duration of your trip. Most trains have wireless freely available to the passengers, that even in the case when it is not available, you have your smartphone, which remains connected via its network throughout the traverse of your journey. The amazing thing today, is that I can be traveling at over 200 mph in a train, and orchestrate a conference call between myself, Paris, Houston, and Tokyo. Of course, we take such ideas and notions for granted anymore, but it is amazing nonetheless. I once conducted a conference call to the same locations while walking to the office. Of course, the disadvantages of traveling by train are the same as the advantages of traveling by train.

The Great Cheese Experiment continues. I sampled some new cheeses since I last wrote, but honestly, I am growing weary of cheeses. I think at the next writing in this blog I will give you my report. I am all cheesed out. :-)

Something interesting happened while I was touring Montmartre. I went into the area where the artists are displaying their works, and I found the artist who painted the pictures hanging above me now. The picture above me now is a watercolor of Sacré Coeur from the Montmartre Village perspective. It is a subtle watercolor, with pale greens, oranges, gray, and a hint of purple. Her colors are bolder now, and she now incorporates pen and ink, a combination I enjoy very much. I bought the picture above me in 1990, and she says she has been painting there since 1980. I think I'll make a trip back, and take a photograph from my cell phone with me, of the picture hanging above me, and perhaps buy two more of her works to add a splash of color to the living room walls. I will put that on my action list.

I will sign off for now, thank you for joining me on this journey. I hope you are enjoying the trip and my perspectives. Do not be afraid to leave me a note, I find them encouraging.

Au revoir,


Sunday, September 19, 2010

The 117th day in Sceaux...

...was beautiful, and still is, even at 4pm.  The photo below was taken this morning:

Taken from my balcony on Sunday, September 19, 2010 at 11:15AM

The hill running has caught up to me a bit, all in the name of progress.  I am building good stamina in my running, so I decided to burn a little more by running uphill a little faster, and of course, I added the BIG hill (80 feet climb in 800 feet laterally), and this is what strains any one of the groin muscles (lateral movements do, also, but hill running is a known culprit).  I had to sit out of my Saturday run, hoping for a Sunday run.  I did the "readiness test" described on the web, and I failed.  So I rest another day (today).  Because of the long walks I do going to and coming from church (just to bus stops and church itself), I decided to not to go.  But I joined in for worship at the time the family of faith was gathered from my apartment -- not via the Internet, but the old fashioned way: in the Spirit.  I was surprised to find I had not packed my old Baptist Hymnal, or maybe it is misplaced, but I found my old Romanian songbook, and a few of the songs I had come to know well.  I spent some time singing in Romanian, worshiping, and then I work on my Bible study blog, where I am working through Ephesians.

The Great Cheese Experiment continues, and this week, after one of my "better eat these steaks as the expiration date is already a little past due" dinners, I had a cheese plate (the French do a cheese plate immediately after dinner, which is then followed by dessert) consisting of five different cheeses (and only a small portion of each): Camembert, Gruyere, Compte, Chevre Frais, and Saint Agur.  I left Reblochon, Babybel, and La Vache Qui Rit in the refrigerator.  Dried fruit is a nice complement to cheeses, or so I was told by my admin, Christine, who set me out on this mission (Clarissa knows squat, Christine Knows It All).  I still have three more cheeses on her list, but by then, I will be cheesed out.  Most have been nice, some I will not revisit.  I will post my report of The Great Cheese Experiment another day.

Guitar practice, with focus, has begun.  I went back to the fundamentals with Matteo Carcassi, whose works are still regarded as standards almost 200 years after their composition.  I do love the sound of the classical guitar I commissioned Aquiles Torres of Katy, Texas to make.  That was just over three years ago...the tone of this guitar is motivational in that it projects so well and sounds brilliant (not as in my playing, but tonality).

I think I am ready to begin traveling within France on weekend (Saturday) trips.  My French is still poor, but well enough to go and tackle some of the countryside.  Oh, speaking of my French, the French tutor at work, who is working with three of us, has kindly agreed to a standing "Dejeuner a parler la langue francaise" ("lunch to speak the French language") on Fridays, in addition to our normal class time.  The four of us will  sit together for lunch, and only French will be spoken, however broken.  I pity the poor woman, listening to a Brit, a New Yawkah, and an adopted Texan pummel her native tongue for an hour over a meal.  She'll probably lose weight after what she hears makes her sick...I think I will suggest to other two we buy her lunch.

Well, that is all for now, a very busy week ahead of me, and a quiet weekend almost behind me.  Thanks for coming along.

Au revoir,


PS: Follow me on Twitter @lonewillheath (it is an anagram, not a new name), as I start exploring more I will be "posting" more from my phone

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Turning 110 in Sceaux

Not years, days!

September weather has been better than August, and at least so far, our cycle of nice weather has given us 2 of the three weekend days (Friday afternoon being the beginning of the weekend so I count it) being sunny.  The days are growing shorter: back in June, the sky would be lightening up around 5AM; now I can clearly see Orion at 6:15AM.  I have been warned: the days are coming soon when I will got to work in the dark and come home in the dark, even if I leave at 5PM.  Oh, my friends in the American South, relish your sunshine!  I do!

Life is getting more settled; I am picking up more of the language (FAR from fluent), but enough that I can get around in the shops, and the occasional restaurant (a rare occurrence, as I hate going to a restaurant by myself). I am pan-frying my steaks now, sorta like the French: they use a pan with nothing else on it and get it hot, throw the meat down for about 2 minutes a side, and voila!  It is ready!  My take, and I tried their method, is a bit of a hybrid: I add a little olive oil, heat the pan until a drop of water pops on the oil, throw the steak down for 2 1/2 minutes a side, and voila!  I like my steak a little more done than the French, who seem to think medium-rare is on the verge of over-cooking a steak.  I have not got the routine of side dishes into my cooking, part of the problem of being male and thinking meat alone is enough, which is ample justification, and it is a pain, almost a waste, to keep that stuff around for one person.  I make sure and eat my veggies at work, Ma.

I got my bike "street legal" yesterday.  City ordinance allows bikes on any one way or two street, the bike can go any direction, but requires the bike to have a signal and front and back lights.  The first back light I had fell apart somewhere, and I do not how, but I suspect it was me going over something and it getting walloped by too many g's.  So, I had to get a new one, and I previously had no "signal", a.k.a., a bell, to warn pedestrians or other bikers that I am about to overtake them (for me, it is mostly for pedestrians, so they can avoid being run over; haven't overtaken many other bikes), now I have one (it is not cute, it is black and ugly -- on purpose).  Today, I was planning to ride into Paris, but it is supposed to rain, and I wanted to linger and enjoy Paris, rather than make a quick round-trip.

I am experimenting with cheeses.  There are times in the course of this work that I think the reason there are over 200 varieties of cheese in this country is that no one seems able to get it right.  Just kidding, I think I do not have a good palate for cheese tasting.  Let me say a little bit of any cheese goes a long way with me, and that also guarantees much fewer calories in eating cheese.  My favorites so far: Compte (one local to the Sceaux area), Chevre Frais (fresh goat cheese, do not let it stand more than 5 or 6 days, because it becomes a stinky cheese in the worst way), Saint Agur (the only blue cheese I can eat, and again, it is nice in small quantities), Emmental, the French version of Swiss cheese, and La Vache qui Rit (The Cow which Laughs), a soft pasteurized cheese.  I have more on my list to try, but Roquefort, Camembert, and Chevre Ancien are not on the repeat list...

Thanks for dropping by, and Chez Mark welcomes visitors, should you be in the neighborhood (for Texans, that would be anywhere in Europe)...

A bientot, mes amis!


Saturday, September 4, 2010

Day One-Oh-2 in Sceaux

WOW!  A couple of days ago I passed the century mark in days living in France.  This was a good week, and I think, if my numbers are correct, the LAST KITCHEN CABINET arrived, completing the kitchen, on the 100th day of me moving into the apartment here in Sceaux.  I made videos of the kitchen and other rooms, and I think you can see them on my facebook page.

That was the big move-in event, and actually completes the move-in.

I attended a men's prayer breakfast today.  There were 18 of us, and while we did have breakfast, we also really prayed.  It was a good session.  I am attending a church in Versailles, Anglican by domination (thanks, Sharon) denomination, and evangelical.  Very "casual" atmosphere for worship -- not liturgical.  It is English-speaking, and it is a good place for me to go until my language skills, and more importantly, the Lord, leads me elsewhere.  I am not saying He will; I just want to be ready for anything He has for me here, wherever He wants me to serve.  I certainly enjoy the fellowship and worship -- quite needed.

Running continues to improve, and I am grateful to the Lord for such health.  I continue to study French, and practice guitar.  Developing better habits for both, and by 'better' I also mean I have a ways to go until those habits are solid and good.  Miss "all ya'll", comment or drop an e-mail to me.

au revoir,


Saturday, August 28, 2010

The 95th day of Life in Sceaux

This has been a relatively uneventful week: get up, run or goof off, clean up, go to work, come home, look for someone I know on Google Talk, AIM, Skype, or Facebook, fix dinner, clean-up, watch a little of a DVD, go to bed, reset.

But you are in Paris, France!  Yes, I am, or at least within 5 miles of it, which translate to roughly 45-minutes to an hour by public transportation.  Oh yes, you must know that the lines you take, especially the bus ones, do not stay open all night for you -- after 9:30 PM your transportation options become limited.  It is not practical to go into Paris often, and when one does via public transportation, one needs to plan both ends of the traverse in advance.  Oh?  Yes, this is a lesson learned via experience.

But today is a beautiful day in Sceaux, there are some clouds, but mostly sunny with a gentle breeze.  Fortunately, I will not have to fight the other shoppers at Monoprix or the market, as I seem to be well-stocked for the coming week (Pam thinks it is very American of me to limit my excursions for grocery shopping to once a week).  I might bike into Paris today, if it does not rain, and do what?  Hmmm, bicycle thieves are real pros here, lurking about in vans with an ample selection of cable cutters.  Wherever I go, the bike and I must stay close together...

I decided I need to be more disciplined on my weekends (hence, this time of productive activity), so I have done laundry and studied an hour of French.  I have a suite of guitar DVDs through which I want to work (I think I left off just as I was about to learn "La Grange", but it was too close to bedtime to do it justice), and that is productive time.  I just hope the neighbors do not complain, because I might not be able to explain the nature of that song...

That is all for now, I hope your weekend is a good one; love on your family, talk with a friend, play with the dog...

a bientot,


Saturday, August 21, 2010

Day 88 from Sceaux

Whew!  It has been an eventful week!

On Monday, as I noted on FB, I finally had enough "meubles de cuisine" (kitchen "furniture") to move everything out of boxes and hallways and into what would be considered a civilized storage space.  The last of the moving cartons went to trash.  This occurred 109 days after our furniture was packed and moved, and on the 82nd day of being in the apartment.  Of course, the move would have been completed weeks ago had it not been for the fact that all you get with a kitchen in France is the sink -- you must furnish everything else.

I have one more cabinet coming, just to add a little needed capacity and counter space, then I will post pictures.  None of the cabinets hang on the wall, as the walls are concrete and I would have had to hire someone, which would have no doubt delayed the completion until December.  But with the last cabinet in particular (it will allow me to move the microwave OFF the washer/dryer top), it will be enough for me.

I have hung all the pictures we brought, but there is room for a few more.  I think I will get with my admin at work and locate someone who can take some of my Hole in the Wall photos and mount them, especially the panorama shots I have put together.

The sun is shining today, the 2nd day in the last two weeks to be have sun.  It has been cool and rainy, and this is unusual for me in August (to quote Kenny Downer, "We have two seasons in Houston, Summer and August").  I am told that this part of Europe can go a whole summer without much sunshine (this probably explains the mad vacation rush to the south each August), but that September is perfect.  We'll see.

I did my first global webcast this week, and the technology actually worked.  Of course, I applied the KISS principle, which does not always guarantee success, but it does reduce the number of elements that could fail.  The bad thing about these things is it is impossible to get significant instant feedback (though there are controls for feedback, it is just, as a speaker, you cannot be watching the controls, reacting to them, and giving a coherent presentation at the same time), so it is hard to judge how it went.  The number of participants held throughout the presentation, but people could have had their phones on mute and playing video games for all I know.  Those that asked questions, asked very good questions, and their comments were quite good as well.

Today, I guess because of missing some sleep this week, I missed my running window.  I had thought about riding into Paris today (on my bike), but I don't know.  Need to make a trip into market today, then I think I'll...

Friday, August 13, 2010

Day 80 from Sceaux

OK, some days you will get a chronolog, like yesterday's, and other days you will get the reflective and pensive, which I think you are about to get now.

Life in Sceaux is way more laid back than Paris.  Or at least it seems this way.  Maybe it is because it is so green out here, maybe it is because it is so quiet.  It is probably both.  I leave the windows open, all four of them, most of the time when I am home.  All I hear, for the overwhelming majority of the time, are natural outdoor sounds.  There is no air-conditioning, and the flow of air keeps the apartment feeling fresh, as though I was already outdoors.  I like that.  It is relaxing.  Adding the balcony furniture gave me another 56 square feet of living area, which pushed the apartment area to slightly over 900 square feet.  The balcony just feels like another room, because the air feels and smells the same -- and it is nicely protected from the rain.  Despite the small size of the apartment, the windows and balcony give a much larger sense of space.  Those who know me well also know this is important for my psyche.

I got lamps this past weekend.  I did not realize how much more cheerful the place is with them.  I had to depend on natural light for the living spaces, and as an early riser, I did a lot of things in the dark -- not that, silly, it is only me!  Like eating breakfast (no room in the kitchen for table and chairs, though it has a light), and getting dressed.  It made the apartment feel very utilitarian when there was little or no sunlight.  Now, with the lamps, the place is downright enjoyable throughout the day, but much more so in the morning and evening.  I still use the natural light whenever I can, because it is cheaper than the alternative.

This next week, I should get two more kitchen counter/cabinets, and perhaps the etagere, which will complete the storage suite for the kitchen, and the last remnants of "I am not really moved in" will be a thing of the past. Speaking of which, have you any idea how many power strips and plug adapters and other such things you have collected over the years?  I have!  It seemed I was always running out to get such things, because with both different voltages and plug types here versus the USA, I had to start from scratch to get all the e-toys connected.  I was fortunate enough to find a step-down transformer to run my USA DVD player (their DVD players will not play USA DVDs).  So now the new 40" LCD TV can do more than play pictures from my trips; I can actually watch my favorite movies.

On Facebook, my friend Kim mentioned the challenge of language.  Every encounter, even the simplest one, is a challenge for me, even as I study the language.  My vocabulary cannot grow fast enough, and my ear can not tune quickly enough.  The French in Sceaux have been patient and helpful (after all, they are not Parisians, just ask them), and I read what I can to build vocabulary, but the ear training happens on the fly, and it is tough to decipher what they are saying.

I am excited about my job, though it is very challenging and I would be lying to say I had my hands around it. I love having the Coulee Verte adjacent to the apartment -- it makes for pleasant runs (which are improving) and adventurous, but safe, bicycling.  I have lost weight since I have been here; I needed to do so, and I intend to lose a lot more because of smarter eating and a lot more activity.  I miss my family and friends, and most of my human contact is with co-workers -- once I get back to Sceaux it is all quiet.  And green. And open.  I like that.

a bientot,


Thursday, August 12, 2010

Day 79 from Sceaux

Wow!  I have been bad!  Forty days without a blog here?!?!??!

Things have been busy in here in Sceaux, of the province of Ile-de-France, the regions of Hauts-de-Seine, outside of Paris, in France.  Last time I posted here was July 3rd.  We had some of our French neighbors over that night for a traditional "4th of July meal": BBQ pork sandwiches, potato salad, watermelon, and chocolate cake (Pam made all of the above, except the watermelon, but she did cut it).  I had a slideshow of our "Great Western Vacation", which Pam and I took in 2007, playing on the 32" TV.  It was good for conversation, and a good time had by all.  On July 4th, Pam and I saw the Statue of Liberty -- the one here in France on the Seine, and think by the 9th bridge (they are numbered).  This is the same one, you recall, which was referenced in "National Treasure 2".  I arranged a very nice dinner cruise on the Seine for us to enjoy the 4th and her being here for nearly a month at that time.  The 4th also represented the last full day of the rental furniture, for on Monday the 5th, they hauled it away leaving the apartment quite bare (our stuff was in-country going through customs).

With no furniture and therefore no place to sleep, we went into Paris to the Royale Phare Hotel, right across from the Metro stop Ecole Militaire, and the place we stayed when we celebrated our 20th anniversary in 1999.  It is a typical French, as opposed to international business, hotel.  Small rooms and no air-conditioning.  In 1999, we came in late March so the A/C was not an issue.  In July of 2010, we needed the windows open, and got to enjoy the sounds of the City of Lights -- all night long.  There was a lull at 3AM, but it started again at 5AM with garbage and delivery trucks making their appointed rounds.  Pam got to do a bit sight-seeing and lots of shopping, and I got to schlep over an hour to work on the fabled public transportation systems -- oh yeah, I was only going 7 miles.  Our three nights in Paris were enough, and we were anxious to return to Sceaux (where the only thing you hear in the morning other than my snoring is the singing of birds).

Our furniture arrived and we learned two things: one, the names of all the rooms in the apartment in French (the movers helped us learn so we could tell them where to put the boxes, and two, we had to assemble all the new stuff we purchased in the States for the apartment, because movers do not assemble new stuff.  The latter one was particularly painful for me, as I did not have access to the suite of tools normally at my disposal.  Nonetheless, the balcony furniture, dining room table, and bedroom furniture put together by day's end (although there was not enough room for both nightstands; one became the living room TV stand).

What was missing after the move-in?  TV, DVD player, a kitchen (you only get a kitchen sink, the rest you have to supply yourself).  I went to Darty for the TV, and they were very helpful, even calling a taxi for me (I went there by bus).  The kitchen stuff we ordered from Auchan, and after many shenanigans, the appliances were delivered the day before we returned to Houston -- sans counter-cabinets.  I was in Houston a little over two weeks, all business, but grateful for the family time we did enjoy together, including my grandsons's birthday party -- he's two now.

I returned to France on August 3rd, only to find that my business travel for August had fallen victim to a rather austere cost-cutting edict.  The sun is setting sooner now, so I noticed also that I need lamps -- only the kitchen, bathroom, and hallway have lights.  Surprisingly, considering all the trouble we have had getting stuff ordered and delivered, my 5 new lamps (four of them standing lamps, or "lampadaires") arrived within a week, delivered to the door of my apartment.  Contrast this to the delivery of ONE cabinet by Auchan (two others are STILL waiting to be delivered, as well as a kitchen etagere).  The one cabinet weighs 65 pounds, and  the guy did not even want to bring it from the street (over 50 meters from my apartment); I mean, c'mon, don't you ALWAYS have a hand truck on a delivery vehicle?  I picked it up and pressed it overhead and walked back to the apartment.  I am sure it was a good resistance exercise, but it was clumsy to boot -- and unassembled.  The assembly actually went better than expected, and I was able to get somethings off the floor and into proper storage.  The two coming cabinets and the etagere should empty the last box (mostly dishes), and get the canned goods out of the hallway, completing the move-in -- approximately 7 months from date of official transfer.

I have continued my running regime along the Coulee Verte (it can be found on Wikipedia), and I even bicycled into the Montparnasse area of Paris (beginning of the Coulee Verte) last Saturday.  I did this right after lunch, and had run that morning.  I had to climb over 100 feet elevation at one point before heading downhill into Paris.  Needless to say, coming home was uphill all the way.  I got nothing else done the rest of the day.

Pam has decided not to make the move; there are a lot of complicated factors in that decision which I do not question.  As an American, she come here for 90 days at a time whenever she wants, so she can take care of Hickory Mill Court, the dogs, help Michelle as her #2 is on the way, and keep her job and continue to build toward her retirement (and with the job situations these days...).  We talk almost daily by video, and she doesn't have to put up with my guitar music, snoring, or general loudness I bring along wherever I go.

I will keep you posted as I share this adventure with you, thanks for dropping by, and the "chambre-amis" (guest room) is ready and available...

A bientot,


Saturday, July 3, 2010

Day 39 from Sceaux

I am back, it has taken a lot of personal energy to get to the point where I can write again. Getting "life" set up in France is a challenge, near the top, according to my more experienced ex-pat colleagues.

The Internet alone took a full month to get installed, with service quality that could only make the Keystone Kops look like they were organized and knew what they were doing. The coup-de-grace was the final setup of the TV service (Internet/TV combined like in the States). The help desk is telling me that my TV service will not be available for 4 more days, and I am trying to tell them the login screen is up. He gave me a new password (they had deleted my original one), and was insisting that what I saw was irrelevant because my service would not be available for 4 more days. I entered the password while we were talking, muted the TV, and was browsing the channels while I verified with the help(less) desk that my TV would not work for another four days. I never told them any different.

I have only done a little travel thus far, to Southampton, Barcelona, and the southwest of France, Pau, near the Pyrenees Mountains. A local of Pau told me April was the worst month of the year for people living in Pau, as they spend most of the month mentally and emotionally conflicted: do they drive an hour to the Pyrenees for the last bit of snow-skiing, or do they drive an hour south to the beaches of the Mediterranean for the first rays of summer sun. Yeah, tough month, that April.

I did finally manage to get all my services arranged (my company hires a locator agent service to help ex-pats find a place to live and setup utilities), I have my mobile phone service now on SFR through the company, and was able to unlock my trusty G1 Android and use the SIM card from SFR. When I go to the States, I can just pop in my T-Mobile SIM and be good to go. I have a routine of shopping places (for food, as hunter-gatherer, and have only done electronic shopping beyond that).

The team with whom I work is great, and I am fortunate to be here as part of the team that will define a 10 year plan for our segment. We are a good mix of older lions like myself who have seen and done a lot, and a bunch of younger lions eager take the segment into a new future. Work is stimulating again.

Pam arrived on June 6, a.k.a. D-Day, but no, I have not been to Normandy -- yet. She approved the apartment in Sceaux, deciding I had made a good choice. She really likes it here, as Sceaux, though known locally for an air of sophistication, is much like a small French village, and has an old traditional market street which they converted to a pedestrian-only area. It is by far our favorite place to go. We actually ate lunch at one of the cafes, outdoors of course, and understand why the cafes are so small: at 33 euros (nearly $40 USD) for two lunches, few can afford to go out to eat and therefore the number of customers they see is relatively small. The food was outstanding, but honestly, not 40 bucks outstanding. Nonetheless, browsing the market with its many shops and enticing smells is a good past-time when in Sceaux.

We got invited to the home of a young couple to watch France's opening match in the World Cup, our first social event sense being here. There was one other couple present, nearer to our age, and we are having both couples over today for an early 4th of July dinner. We're basically feeding them sloppy joes, 'tater salad, and watermelon -- good ol' American summertime food.

A bientot!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Update on Day Zero...

It is 1730, and I am squared away in my apartment. The first load of laundry is done, the few dishes I do have are washed and drying, and I have my BOSE "take anywhere" speaker connected to my last iPod .

I got my "Carte Navigo", that automatically reloads or something and I never have to worry about those flippy white tickets again. When I showed up, in poor French, I expressed my desire to buy one. When they figured out what I wanted, I was told, "Tourists cannot have Navigo; buy Paris Visite" (which I had been doing). Undaunted, I told them, "Je ne suis pas touriste, je suis resident" (I am not a tourist, I am a resident). They looked at me with a litle surprise, and I produced my passport and long stay visa, a confirmation of residence, and my banking information. Fifteen minutes later, I was scanning that Navigo card as I boarded the bus to meet the movers back at the apartment.

The movers were careful and efficient. I was the lone bi-lingual in the crowd, but we managed anyway. I choose the furniture from a spreadsheet checklist, no pictures, but what I got matches well enough, and some of it looks new. The desk is way too big, but it won't be here long, as is the dining room table. Had a little trouble getting the refridgerator where I wanted, because the combo washer/dryer (one basket, a two-in-one-deal) stuck out too far. Better double check that IKEA design, and/or make sure I find a smaller clothes washer...

I made two shopping trips, both to grocery stores. The European Internet map services do not seem to be as accurate as their American counterparts (I know, there are errors there, too, but I am seeing more freq errors here). The big grocery chain Carrefour was supposed to have store nearby. I walked right to the map location, and it was not there. The street wasn't even there. Fortunately, the villages and sections of town are good about putting up their own maps. I found the street, and, well, let's say estimating scale is difficult at times. Long walk. Two bags of groceries. And I realized that neither of the buses running that street went by my stop. And I was WAY downhill from home. Of course I got to the hill, and hike almost halfway before I came to a bus stop that could take me near home. Yeah, my Internet is not in yet, or I could have figured that out in advance; about the buses, I mean, or not.

The second trip was about an hour and a half after the first one, but I went to the "Alimintare Generale" (General Store, I guess), and got paper plates, plastic forks, laundry detergent, garbage bags, and some ham and butter. MUCH, TRES MUCH shorter walk, and one regular bag. And no, I have not addressed those @#$% fixtures, yet!

Tonight is the end of Day ZERO, tomorrow begins Day One...a demain!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Day Zero and Sceaux be it

The days of life in Le Plessis-Robinson's Grand Hotel are over. I have lived here in a beautiful setting with very friendly people for much of the last two months. This morning, I check out for the last time...

This will be a busy day, much to do before the furniture people arrive. I need to transfer my remaining gear to the apartment, then see about getting the Carte Navigo. which is the "EZ-Tag" (Houstonians will know that one) of mass transit in the Greater Paris area. Get all that done, and be back in Sceaux, waiting dutifully at the apartment before 1100.

I saw a lot of people on the greenbelt (coulee verte) during my various trips to the apartment; I find myself not liking to run when other people are around. I am not anti-social, perhaps self-conscious, but certainly enjoy a time when all the space around me is mine for the taking, no matter the scene-scape.

This is a short one, and I do not know when I will have Internet service, though the request was made on Day Minus Four, and it has been a holiday weekend. Thanks for coming along. A bientot.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Day minus 1 of Sceaux, pronounced "So"

Today is a bank holiday, the day of Pentecost. I hope IKEA is open, as I have a change in kitchen strategy...

I talked before about how odd it seemed that the French were surprised I would walk 2 miles to work. Haven't we heard how much more Europeans walk than we Americans? Well 1) the largest city in France barely has a radius of 5 miles (you have to go further than that to get out my neighborhood in Texas), and 2) they do a lot of walking between bus/metro stops and their destination, which is at most a 1/4 mile, except on weekends when some such services are limited and you have to walk 1/2 mile. In my case here, I will walk about 3/8 mile to the bus stop (on days I take the bus to work, for example), wait several minutes, get on bus, ride it a little over a mile, switch buses, arrive near work a mile down the road, walk maybe 1/8 mile to work (220 yards/200 meters). Do this twice, coming to and leaving from work, and I have walked a mile per day while commuting by bus. What Europeans do not seem to do is forsake the bus or mass transit and just walk the 2 miles...

Yes, they are as car crazy as we are, and their traffic is much worse; not because they drive in crazy manner, but there are so many cars on the road gridlock is the norm. The big difference here is the taxes on fuel, which makes their gas prices 4X our gas (the Al Gore option for curtailing fuel usage), and they do not get in their cars, they put them on, or at least that is how it appears (the cars here are so small a Mini-Cooper looks big, as one actually pulled beside me at a cross walk and I noted how big it looked compared to the cars near it).

Now today is the last day/night in the Grand Hotel LePlessis, my home for at least 4 weeks over the last couple of months. I will migrate a guitar and suitcase to the apartment, inventory the light fixture needs, go to IKEA regarding kitchen issues, stop by Bricorama (the Home Depot of France) and get a couple of fixtures, install the fixtures, and call it a day. Using buses for transportation should make for a full day of adventure.

A demain!

OK, it WAS going to be an ambitious day. I did go by the apartment with guitar and suitcase as planned. I put everything from the suitcase into its proper closet space. Left, got on a bus, voila!, I am back at the hotel. I took a very light lunch before heading out to IKEA, and the dreaded kitchen. When you go there, there is an hour wait for any kind of personal assistance, but they do have a few computers on which you can work your design while you wait. The folks are really helpful when they are available for things, like reminding you that you must select handles and or knobs for your cabinets. I work the design for that hour, trying some free-standing stuff, but the free standing elements were all on the large size, like someone in France is trying to emulate an American kitchen. The design series with which I had started was still the best option, so I shuffled that design a little bit with the IKEA dude, and after about 2 hours in the store, I think I am comfortable with the kitchen design.

I wandered around IKEA as I was exiting and realized I had no glasses of any kind, so I could not even draw myself a drink in my new apartment! OK, had to shop for that. From there (there is a little mis-adventure I am too embarrassed to tell in detail, but needless say, another hour lost), I got on the bus and took it straight to Sceaux, another 12 minute walk to the apartment to deliver the goods, back on the bus and then the hotel.

For my 5 hours being out, I have a revised kitchen plan, a half-dozen glasses, no light fixtures, and a cold, half-liter, three euros bottle of Evian in my hand...must be 'cause its cold.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Day minus Two of the French Connection

Today is a Sunday, almost everything is closed (Blue Laws in France, whodathunkit?). I need a day of rest (Jesus said, "Man was not made for the Sabbath, but the Sabbath for man"), and indeed, He is our Rest. Stress, high physical activity, lack of regular sleep, etc. have made me especially grateful for this day of rest.

I will use the bus to move a couple of light packages to the apartment, maybe. I used a taxi to move a large suitcase and guitar yesterday -- 22 euros for a 5 minute drive and less than 2 miles! The bus is only 1.70 euros, but it does not drop you off at your apartment -- schlepping required (for a 1/4 mile or 400 meters).

I find it hard to stay hydrated here. In the restaurants, you buy bottled water; there is no one running around with a pitcher refilling your 20 ounce glass constantly. Shucks, in one American lunch I can drink enough water for a day's requirement. Here, at the end of the day, feeling achy and tired, I realize my liquid intact is only a third of what it should be. In a restaurant, be sure you order water as well...

I posted my first blog on the study in Ephesians:

See you tomorrow.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

along the day...

Many things happened today that are cameos, I suppose, of life on Planet France.

This morning I moved some things into the apartment: some clothes, some "stuff". Afterwards, I decided, that rather than walk the parc again, I should walk the town of Sceaux. It is bigger than I remembered (just as the apartment seems to get smaller each visit). It is very much a mix of old and new France (yeah, I need pictures): across from a very traditional cafe is Pizza Hut to Go!

During the day, I noticed:
1) Men in shopping malls are pretty much the same everywhere, shuffling around with a dazed and lost look on their faces, as though they were unexpectedly dropped into an alien world (but I repeat myself).
2) Even France celebrates Pentecost, or at least it is an official "bank holiday". But, there is some substance: a crowd of young people, lead by a priest, marched through town to commemorate Pentecost, carrying signs and crosses. There were probably a 100 or so youth, all ranging from 16 to 20 years, near as I could tell.
3) With my multiple encounters of French people in "one off" encounters, I would dispel the myth that the French are rude. They would ask that you not confuse them with Parisians, because they don't like Parisians, either (the people in what we call the suburbs are people of villages that have hundreds of years of their own heritage and identity, so although they are less than a dozen miles from the center of Paris, they do not consider themselves Parisians).
4a) My waiter and I had some interesting discussions, with him leading: how ridiculous it is that a person cannot defend themselves against criminals. Your actions against the criminal can be considered the greater crime in France. He thought our way was much more consistent for human rights, as everyone should be able to use whatever force they deem necessary to protect themselves, their family, and their property. He would fit well in Texas.
4b) My waiter also wanted to talk about how impressive American wines are today. He also noted that the biggest difference in the two countries' winemaking was this: France has about 600 different types of grapes from which they make wine (which is helpful when the weather is not as friendly as California, and you can use multiple varietals to get a good tasting wine), and Americans probably only have a few dozen varietals.
5) The chocolate ice cream in France is as dark as a Hershey bar, very rich, too rich for me; I am going back to vanilla...
6) Jokes and stories about family relationships are good sources of humor in almost any culture, I guess because we are not all that different.
7) It is after 11pm, and I hope I sleep...

Day minus 3 of the French Adventure

This day started as any other, the sun coming up, birds beginning to sing....WAIT! STOP! That is what I WANTED it to be! Instead, despite many miles of walking yesterday, the jet-lag stole my night. I awoke at 0100, 1:00 AM and could not go back to sleep. I got online about 0230 and chatted with my honey and some friends, then at 0430, I launched out for my run...

I am running again, and because I let myself gain some weight, I was concerned about possible injuries. I was pointed in the direction of what is essentially "barefoot" running, as a way of low impact running, and studies have shown it substantially reduces injury occurrence. The technique of running barefoot is different, with a mid-foot strike instead of a heel strike, and the strike point occurring below your hips instead of in front of them. It works. I use shoes made for this community of runners (, and despite their looks, they feel and work great.

Enough on that! TODAY IS A BIG DAY! I move some of my stuff to my apartment! Though the apartment is void of furniture at this point, and has no Internet, I am going there to put away some extra things I brought on this trip to make living without all my stuff/junk a little more normal. My mind is still not around this move, even as I filled out the moving insurance forms in the wee hours of this morning. It will not take long for me to take what amounts to half the stuff I have in my hotel room to the apartment, and after that, I can hit Starbucks and IKEA for a few essentials. Then I think I will take some time to stroll in my new "parc"...

Friday, May 21, 2010

Day minus 4 and the move to Paris

I have the keys to the apartment now. Somehow, there has been no renter's remorse, though I have an uphill battle putting in that stupid kitchen. I took a walk along the greenbelt before we had our "inventory" (we would call this a "walk-through") at the apartment. The greenbelt is truly a great asset to this apartment's location. I look forward to many runs and walks in that "parc".

Electrical utilities have been ordered (it is all-electric). Internet/TV connection has been ordered. Rental furniture is on its way (gonna wait and see what that kitchen stuff looks like before I final with IKEA).

Language studies are coming along; that is to say, I am progressing through the Rosetta Stone lessons. Getting the ear trained to hear actually words instead of a undifferentiated stream of verbosity; this is not easy. Perhaps this weekend (they actually say "Bon weekend" because "bonne fin de semaine" is considered too long), I will make a trip to IKEA for two important things: 1) a set of cheap overhead light fixtures, 2) manual coffee grinder, coffee press, coffee cups, and coffee beans -- and the fixings. First things first, after all.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Day minus 5 in France

I am counting down to the day I move into my apartment, "mon maison en France".

I admit this seems a little strange, becoming a resident of a country other than the one in which I was born. Though little is surprising here, none of it is familiar, and everything is a bit of a struggle as I grasp at understanding the language.

New chapter, new development, new adventure; all to be taken in stride

Friday, April 16, 2010

A Pain in the Ash...

Volcano erupts in Iceland, first time in 1000 years, and now it shuts down a ton of European airports, even the on I need! Yes, it is all about me (just kidding, Becky!).

When I am done with a trip, I just wanna get home, in Star Trek transporter time. I am glad my flight is only delayed; not postponed or canceled, merely delayed. I love the sense of accomplishment after such a trip, but loathe every minute of getting home, since they never seem to pass quickly enough!

Headin' home; always a good song to sing...

Sunday, April 11, 2010

surrealism in real time

I stroll the streets here, knowing they are not, in any way, "mine". I have no connection to them whatsoever, other than the sole of my shoes. I listen to "my music" via headphones, as dozens of them are doing the same, but I know they do not listen to "my music", as I have heard nothing resembling that for the days I have been here. When my phone went off in the Metro confluence of the 8th and 10th lines, it was probably the first time Stevie Ray Vaughan had echoed these halls (they did boo him at Montreaux), at least the first time in 25 or more years...

I am an alien in so many ways, a Cylon even, to the inhabitants here. My music is but one part, my faith, my thoughts on government, my nationalism: all so foreign. Yet, at the same time, these are people not unlike me. People who love where they live, who love their families, who do not mind helping an alien. They enjoy quiet, they enjoy the "bois" (forest), they enjoy the company of friends.

How will I fit into this culture? It will not change me, nor should it expect to do so; I will honor it by recognizing its own history and that I am not here to change them, either. Good, credible human interaction? Yes, I expect it and welcome it, as I hope, no, know they do as well. While the manifestations might be a little different, the Americans and French share a common love for "liberté"...

Friday, April 9, 2010

sitting in a suburb of Paris...

...listening to Emmylou Harris' "Wrecking Ball" album. I am in a hotel in Clamart, France, a "village" that can be described as a suburb of Paris, but also represents a technology center for France. I will be working out of Clamart soon, a very radical change from the 18 years I have spent and largely enjoyed on America's Third Coast: Pam and I have raised our girls there; we've raised our children as other close friends have raised theirs; most of Pam's family has moved there; both our girls and our son-in-law are Aggies (whoop!); we have lots of "old friends" and always seem to be making new ones at the same time (what richness!); we've seen good times and tough times there...

Now, merely an eight hour+ flight east, followed by two of the longest hours I'll ever spend in a taxi, I sit in Clamart, France. In the Grand Hotel du Plessis (48°46'45.99"N 2°15'38.89"E for Google Earth fans), overlooking the intersection of Aristide Briand and Rue de Charles de Gaulle. In two weeks I will repreat this trip, only this time I will be focused on where I will call home (more appropriately, perhaps, "my abode") for the next 2 to 3 years. Will it be in Paris proper, or out here in the Paris 'burbs?

My waiter tonight loves Clamart. He says, "not so many cars, people, or smoke; more quiet here, more green spaces, not so intense -- it is France to me". Quite an endorsement. OTOH, there is no Metro here, you walk or you drive every where for everything (driving here is not high on my priorities), and not a lot of history engulfing you. Still, the thought of walking to work every day has its appeal...

Ah, but Paris, the City of Lights, of which it was said concerning our returning doughboys in 1918-19: "How will we keep them on the farm once they have seen the lights of gay Paris?". I have visited this great and beautiful city eight or nine times, and have often said (though I never thought it would be an option), "Paris is the only city in the world in which I would want to live in the city." Mind you, I am way more comfortable sleeping under the stars where Butch Cassidy and his band once slept, and which is still just as remote today as it was then, but Paris is special. Paris has its wonderful Metro, placing you anywhere in the city in a few minutes; it is rich in history -- one is engulfed by it at every turn; it is lively (with a love for Starbucks, as unholy as that might seem to some French); it represents a 30 to 45 minute commute every day I am in Paris and going to Clamart.

Took an hour-long walking tour of Clamart today, unguided, and required me to ask directions, for which I received immediate help, concluded with a smile (rude Frenchmen??). Clamart has its charms, as my waiter tonight pointed out; I am glad to have this week and the one coming up to make a decision; it is not as easy as I first imagined...

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Sitting in GulfAir's BAH lounge...

...waiting for my flight to leave -- in about 6 hours. What?!??! You thought I was leaving yesterday? Well, a-hem, uh, hrmph, did I. Things get confusing very quickly at airports when you show up on the wrong day. Fortunately for me, it was a day early and not a day late!

OK, so what, right? Well, I had checked out of my hotel. A day early (It thought I made a mistake about its booking). The F1 Grand Prix is in town this weekend. I was panicked! I quickly called the hotel to see if my room was available (after all, I had only checked out 20 minutes earlier). It was not. They did find a room at a slightly higher price so I took it.

I got to the hotel, and fortunately a manager was at the desk. He suggested, "Just re-instate him". With that, and the release of my room by housekeeping, I was able to get my room back at the original rates! Whew! Dodged a bullet on that one!

Well, now I had a full 24 hours of nothing to do. Check e-mails. Done. Watch "Outlaw Josie Wales" (I brought it with me). Not Done. Too tired to finish. Actually got seven hours of sleep. Great. When for a morning interval run of 3 miles. Done. Great. Got in 14 miles of roadwork this week (roadwork is defined by me as being the sum total of running and walking for exercise). It may be an old fatboy definition, but I'll take it.

Meanwhile, I show up at the airport today. GulfAir has a beautiful check-in place for 1st class/ business travelers. You walk in and sit at a desk with the GulfAir person. Relax. One bag? Yes, all the way to IAH. "Yes sir". "Here is your pass to our lounge. Have a pleasant flight." Which brings us up to now...

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Leaving on a Jet Plane...

...and I am going home. I am glad.

It was a good stay and experience here on the island of Bahrain. People were friendly, the place was clean except for the dust caused by the sands surrounding everything. But it has a been a long time since home, and time to get back. I will be home for a couple of weeks, before hitting the road again. I am looking forward to those 2 weeks.

Now to finish packing, cab, airport, board -- the journey.


Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Persian Gulf

I woke to my first morning on the Persian Gulf. I am in Bahrain, a small island kingdom in the Persian Gulf connected to the mainland by a bridge to Saudi Arabia. It is my understanding that Bahrain is the Las Vegas of the Middle East -- alcohol is sold openly here, unlike most of the Arab world. Hence, this is where the Arabs go to party.

I am here for a geoscience conference concerning all aspects of energy development in the Middle East. In my new role, I need to expand my horizons of understanding so that I might be better informed of both challenges and opportunities for my domain.

Getting here, whew! Twenty-five hours elapsed from the time I left my house until I got into my hotel room. Fortunately, I did sleep on the plane; maybe "passed out" is a better way to describe it. I am trying to avoid taking all the "tricks" of travel: Tylenol PM, Benadryl, Dramamine, Melatonin, etc. I have used them all at one point or another with limited success. They all have their side effects, short term though they may be, so I will try to train my body to react to sunshine, basically.

Some people react to my travel with "Wow, you get to got to all these places". I am not a tourist. Most of my time is spent in a conference room or a meeting hall. I do not linger extra days on the company's dime to go sightseeing. My experiences are not shared (as in their physical presence) with the people I love, especially my wife. I also fight jet lag. My sleep was just recovering from my trip to Japan when I had to leave for this trip. In short, there is less romance and adventure in business travel than meets the eye.

Still, the brief brushes with culture and seeing other skylines has its moments, even in solitude.

Friday, February 26, 2010

On the way home...

Heading back home from Japan today; my bus leaves in an an hour and a half. I did some roadwork today, a 7km interval run along the river between Machida and Fuchinobe. Fuchinobe is to where I take the train to our center each day. After I finished my river run, I walked into town and caught the commuter train back to Machida (my running work colleagues: this river trail is paved, and a good reason to stay in Machida when visiting the engineering center).

A successful week for fitness as I was able to get in about 3 hours of roadwork. Now I need to carry that success forward next week at home, then the following week in the Middle East. Fortunately, I only have to win one day at a time...8 hours and counting until my plane takes off for home and all the people who make it so.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Solitude in a Throng...

My hotel is in Machida, a suburb of Tokyo. Machida has a population density of almost 16,000 per square mile (almost 5800 per square kilometer). Those of you who know me best already know what everyone else will now know: I do not like crowds and I do not like closed in spaces.

Escaping the crowds to the confines of my 220 square feet (~21 square meters) hotel room is not a good choice for me, though it is fine for sleeping. Nor am I able to find regions like Johnson County, Wyoming where the population density is less than 1 person per square mile. Where does one get out and find solitude and space? Be up before everyone else. I handle cityscapes best between 4:00 AM and 5:30 AM. Today, during my roadwork (intervals), I saw maybe 10 people out this morning, and most of them were storekeepers getting ready to open for the day. And, there is something revealing of a city in its morning nakedness -- of times that once were and the hope the sunrise might bring.

I still have an hour and half before breakfast, so it is a good time for some Living Water...

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Facing facts

The first thing I have to personally note about this new assignment and its travels is the following: it will let me kill myself. The constant change of time zones and the constant eating out, along with the constant air travel and what that does to the body are all factors against my health. I peaked health-wise at 50: I was doing 8 mile runs in less than the time required of young Marines to graduate boot camp, and I was doing upper body training that would make a SEAL proud. BUT, I got into a lot of business travel and general health carelessness, and now I am starting over, and about 20% heavier.

As this will be my life for the next two to three years, I have to hang up the excuses and start doing a better job regardless of jet-lag. I have stay motivated to exercise, even though what my body can give today is a far cry from what it was almost 3 years ago.

Today, in Machida, Japan, I got up and did an interval run. Intervals are great for starting out, and with the hills around here, plenty of a workout, even for the 30 minutes I did the road work. This is the beginning, not the end. I have to keep applying myself to fitness like my life depends on it, because it does...

What does it mean?

What does "Protopolemstis" mean? It is a transliteration of the Greek "First Warrior". Many of you know my love for the Greek language, primarily the Greek of the New Testament. This compound word is used because of its multiple meanings to me. Now, I am not the very first warrior, nor even the primary one. But I am a road warrior, traveling on business more than 50% of the time (not that the 50% is defining qualification to call oneself a 'road warrior', either), and I am what my company calls a "domain champion". A domain champion is one who is chief or primary overseer for a discipline or 'domain', providing guidance to the those in the field and advising the management concerning the domain's direction and needs. Hence, I combined the two ideas into "Protopolemistis" (in the actual Greek: prwtopolemisthV). In addition, I have been asked to move from Houston, Texas to Paris, France, and what better excuse to start a new blog?