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,