Tuesday, December 6, 2011
The bus stopped at the place it always stops for me on my way home from work. I stepped out of the bus, and turned to my right, after all, that is the way home. I noticed the Christmas lights hanging across the street and realized I had not been in the marche de Sceaux since the Christmas lights were up. I turned around, and headed eastward toward the market. The Christmas light displays here in Sceaux are not spectacular, but they nevertheless signal that the festive season has arrived. As I entered the market, I came upon one of my bakeries. They were making crêpes outside, and I could not resist. A piping hot French crêpe to enjoy as I stroll through the open market lit up by Christmas lights, nice.
This past weekend, I actually entertained guests. They were not French, but American expatriates like myself. I provided five different cheeses, and serve spaghetti with marinara. The pressure was on, as they were of Italian descent. I had seen the Godfather many times, I know how to make a good marinara. Good time was had by all, and the fact that they were using the French bread to soak up the marinara, I took that as a good sign.
The weather is not nearly as dreary as it was a year ago. There has been more sunshine, and everyone is grateful. We are, however, coming up on the one-year anniversary of the "big snow" in Paris. They say that 30 cm fell in one day, and for those of you not familiar with the metric system, that is about 4 1/2 feet (not really, I'm just joking, it is really about 12 inches). So far, there is no indication that the weather is coming get that cold or that we have that much moisture moving in. All that really means for me, is that my flight to Houston on Sunday is likely to get out on time.
And now for the running update: my running us back to where it was before my massive head cold and and injury. It took about six weeks to get up to speed for being off about six weeks. I'm running with the metronome regularly now, leaving it on the entire trip. Running and proper cadence is important, it helps me to focus on proper form. My form is improving, but I'm not even sure I can say I maintain good form for half of the run at this stage. There are periods during the run when I feel my form is nearly perfect, and I do feel like I could go on indefinitely. This great sensation will go on for a quarter to half a mile before my concentration breaks down and I have to refocus. The whole purpose and perfect in the form is to be able to run without any prospect of injury, regardless of the distance or the terrain. I am progressing, and small increments of progression do add up.
I wish I could say my mastery of the French language is progressing as well as my running, but I cannot. I do not get enough immersion in the language to train my ear. I can quite often articulate what I want to say, but once they begin responding, I am lost. I will keep trying, because I feel it is an excellent learning opportunity, and one should be a student all of his life.
I'm looking forward to going back to Houston for Christmas. My side of the family is gathering at a beach house on the Gulf of Mexico during Christmas. The beach house sleeps 26 people, but there were only the 16 or 17 of us, so we will have plenty of room to enjoy one another. If I did not get to post again before the holidays, I want to wish you and your loved ones a very Joyeux Noel et Bonne Annee (Merry Christmas and Happy New Year).
Sunday, November 13, 2011
I will say that the expatriates at headquarters do miss one another when we are traveling. We are often traveling alone, and the one thing we share is that we are all a long way from home, and do not mesh 100% with the culture in which we find ourselves. I notice this especially when I return from Houston after my last trip. This is my first expatriates assignment, but for the two or three others in our little group, this is one of many such assignments. Yet, when we all find ourselves in the office together at the same time, there is a bit of celebration. We almost immediately began to plan our offsite lunch. The offsite lunch is something we noticed our French comrades and other European comrades do not embrace. We enjoy getting off the site to fresh in our minds, get a little bit of perspective, enjoy the culture, and let loose a little bit. The esprit de corps is refreshing.
I hit the big FIVE-OH last week. No, not in years, that happened some time ago (but I feel less than half of that, believe me). I sampled my 50th cheese since being in France. As I mentioned earlier, I was not into cheeses at all when I lived in United States, and only began my pursuit here as a hobby, something to do to avoid going completely stir crazy.
Les Fromages de France
Vache qui Rit
Chausee aux Moines
Crottin de Chevre
Crottin de Chavignol
Fromage pur chevre
Bleu de brebis (blue sheep cheese)
Le Montagnard des Vosges
Chevre de Palet
Fromage de Brebis Corsica
Le Vieux Pane
Tomme de Savoie 20111105
Sunday, October 9, 2011
The vacation in August was a great time to reunite the family and friends. I enjoyed the times hanging out around Houston, and then I took my biannual trip to the Hole in the Wall area of Wyoming. This was the third trip I've made with Jack Schaffner and my faithful border collie, Mick. We went up and over the fabled Hole in the Wall Pass again, and also explored Buffalo Creek Canyon. Each afternoon, we would sit in the shade of the Jeep (outside of the Jeep in very comfortable folding camping chairs), much like the two brothers in the movie "Secondhand Lions" and watch a literal kaleidoscope of color interplay between the setting sun and the scenery all around us. It was one of the most fascinating interplays of light and nature I have ever seen. You can view pictures and video; I shot a lot of video this time since we have so many pictures from the previous two trips, at this link.
Up until the time I left for vacation in August, the weather in France have been very cloudy, even during the summer months. I love sunshine. Winter and early spring are tolerable when I know that sunshine is coming in the late spring and the summer months, but when the sunshine does not return, it is difficult. By the time I took vacation in August, Texas was experiencing drought conditions and temperatures over 100°F. I was probably the only guy in Texas happy to see both of these things; not the drought necessarily, but the sunshine and the heat. I drove across Texas in my open-air Jeep on my way to Denver and the Hole in the Wall. When Mick and I arrived outside of Amarillo at 11 o'clock at night, we found our campsite, threw a sleeping bag down beside the Jeep, and Mick and I slept under the stars. Too hot and tired to pitch a tent, and the big star filled Texas sky told me there was no reason to worry about rain that night. We packed up early the next morning and finished our journey to Denver.
I was told when I got here that even if June, July, and August are cloudy, which they often can be, September is always perfect. I guess "always" finished in 2011. It was cloudy when I returned, and I found myself quickly missing the sun and heat of Texas and the Rocky Mountains. I knew, however, that I could find sunshine in France. I made a little weekend trip back to the South of France, staying on the Mediterranean Sea just east of the city of Perpignan. The sun was indeed shining, and the Mediterranean its beautiful deep blue. I visited Collioure again, a small, storybook town famous for its small fishing boats and their sails. I also traveled to Figueras, Spain, home of the artist Salvador Dali. I could have traveled onward to Barcelona, it was only 45 min. further, but one can only do so much in a weekend. I also visited the town of Cucugnan, a small village in a rather steep valley. If you look it up on Google Earth, it will note some of the key attractions of the area. It is a place to which I expect I will return.
Here is the latest update on the cheese journey (41 to date):
Vache qui Rit
Chausee aux Moines
Crottin de Chevre
Crottin de Chavignol
Fromage pur chevre
Bleu de brebis (blue sheep cheese)
Le Montagnard des Voges
Chevre de Palet
Fromage de Brebis Corsica
That is all for now, thanks for coming along.
Sunday, July 31, 2011
I traveled the last two weeks, first to KL on business, and then on to Perth. I spent the weekend in Perth, and it was good to be among English-speaking people again. No slight to the French, but my comprehension of the language is so poor I cannot even make casual conversation (I am only here half the time anyway). In Australia, such things were much easier. I must say, in addition, the service I received in Australia at the hotel and in restaurants was second only to the USA, based on my traveling experience, and a close second, at that.
I knew I had to stay awake all day yesterday (KL and Perth are 6 hours ahead of Paris), so it was a good day for cleaning: vacuuming the carpet (more dirt than I can see or even recall bringing in), mopped the kitchen floor (why is the water so black, it didn't look THAT dirty...maybe it should be done more often than once every six months...), dusted (no one had been around, where did all THAT come from...maybe I'd better check that six months thing again...), did laundry, went to Monoprix (grocery store) and Marche de Sceaux, and put away all the stuff I had taken on the trip. Still, I went to bed at 8:30 PM, and slept pretty well until 4:30 AM.
I ran this morning, and it felt good. The stuff I learned in the clinic is helping, though I have not been able to keep it up 100% of the time, my lapses are the exception now, rather than the rule. I ran some 20+ miles while in Perth, as they have a beautiful running trail along the Swan River. A full loop is ten kilometers (6.25 miles), but from my hotel it was just over 7 miles. The metronome thing (see the last blog entry) is working well.
I also took a run in KL, a beautiful city in the heart of Malaysia. Go. The places (KL and Malaysia) are 'must see'. The run in KL was my first since my clinic in London, and everything worked too well: I burned myself out with an 8:32 mile run right out of the chute, and spent the remaining two miles trying to recover.
Between my Sony Reader, my Acer Iconia, and countless hours in airports and airplanes, I have done more reading than I have done in years. Here is my list of read books (not a lot for some people, but a lot for me):
- Lyrical Ballads and other Poems (original 1798 version, scanned by Google)
- The Johnson County War
- Area 51: The uncensored history
- Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy (I read this series went was first published, but that was 30+ years ago)
- The Restaurant at the End of the Universe
- Life, the Universe, and Everything (to which the answer is 42, but the question and answer cannot co-exist in the same temporal frame)
- Barefoot Running Step by Step
Yes, I study as much as I read for pleasure...
Books still being read:
- The Journey
- The Fountainhead
- Atlas Shrugged
- My French Lesson (a WikiBook, so I can study French while traveling)
I also carry with me (on my Reader and Acer) a host of Greek reference books, music books, sheet music, technical papers, etc.
I go back home to Texas for 3 weeks of vacation in five days, I am looking forward to it and all it contains!
Sunday, July 17, 2011
In addition to running, the other activity that keeps me busy (outside of work) is guitar. If you were to examine my music collection which includes well over 20,000 tracks, you would find that the one thing they shared in common is the guitar. And I'm speaking of the guitar as an instrument used across many genres: classical, Latin, flamenco, electric blues, country blues, rock, country rock, "psychedelic", and so on. I wish I could learn to play them all, not for fame and fortune, but just for the enjoyment of it all. As it is, I study classical, Latin, flamenco, electric and country blues. Oddly enough, until today, I never incorporated a metronome into my practice. When practicing scales, I would simply count to myself (out loud to keep myself honest) and think that that was sufficient. In my running class yesterday, we used a metronome to establish the tempo for running, which magically forced me to shorten my stride (over striding was one of my running flaws). Last week, I read an article about Ana Vidovic, a young guitarist who has been amazing the classical guitar world since she was 16 years of age. Now, at the ripe age of 31 years old, she is renowned for her flawless technical skills, and highly developed expressiveness with the classical guitar. In the article she stated that she still practices scales using a metronome every day. A long time ago, in dog years, I read that Andre Segovia suggested that practicing two hours of scales everyday was essential for the guitarist at any level. I am not a great mathematician, but I could see some things beginning to add up. The great flamenco guitarists even say there are only three important aspects of playing great flamenco: tempo, tempo, tempo. They further note that one should spent 20 years learning tempo before they begin playing flamenco as a solo guitarist. Yesterday I found that at the crossroads of running and playing guitar there lies a metronome. Who could have imagined?
Breakfast today was simple and French: half of a baguette with a little bit of butter a lot of raspberry jam, and of course, 2 cups of coffee (not the little bitty French cups of coffee, but my Texas sized cups from Starbucks). It rained last night, the air is cool, and there is much to do before I travel tomorrow, both around the apartment and work. I will try to make an update or two while I'm on the road, and again, I thank you for coming along…
Saturday, July 16, 2011
A colleague from work joined me for the eve of the fourteenth of July, which is often celebrated in the smaller villages around Paris, since Paris plays host to the Big Event. Cheese, bread, saucisson sec (dried sausage, a delicacy in these parts), and samplings of the fruits of the South made for a pleasant, though late, evening.
On Friday, the fifteenth of July, I left work early to catch the Eurostar to London. I've mentioned previously problems that have developed in my running. I made all the adjustments I could make, but I recognized I needed expert help. Fortunately, there is a certified ChiRunning instructor in London (unfortunately, there is not one in the whole of France). I contacted the instructor, and she was available for private coaching today. We met at Regents Park in London, not far from the Eurostar station, and we had typical English weather: it rained on us the entire time. Nonetheless, we went through all the elements of ChiRunning, she videotaped while I ran, we analyzed the tape, and we identified a couple of flaws in my technique. Now of course, it is up to me to put what I've learned to practice, and hopefully I will be back to pain-free running in no time.
I leave for Malaysia and Australia on Monday, my first trip to that part of the world. While I know I will enjoy the non-business parts of the journey, I also know that the close of this trip brings me closer to Houston.
Tuesday, July 12, 2011
This week was little more than long hours of work, followed by short hours at home. Mind you, I know that is the way most of us live most of the time. It is no different here. My biggest issue this week was that I could not run. I have developed a callous under the fifth metatarsal of my right foot, which is causing some pain. As a result, I had to minimize my excursions out of the apartment, which means I listened to a lot of music, which is seldom bad, and watch a lot of movies, which is not as entertaining to me as you might think. But they do help me deal with the austere boredom I would have otherwise. This weekend I watched the following movies: "Gladiator", "Dirty Harry", "Joe Kidd", and "Cat Ballou". An eclectic mix, for sure, but that kept things from getting too boring.
I was also able to do some "serious" guitar practice. By "serious", I mean I pulled out the instructional DVDs for my blues guitar playing, and pulled out the Carcassi studies for my classical guitar playing. I must say, both were enjoyable sessions, not something I always have the time to do (believe it or not). I even studied a little French this weekend, a skill at which I am improving little by little. My French teacher at work and I spend at least 90% of the hour now speaking in French. The other 10% of the time I have a really stupid look on my face and cannot understand anything.
Everything got washed this weekend, even the sheets of the bed. I also finally got the toilet cleaned, having lived with it stains of previous renters for a year, I finally pulled out the tried-and-true cleaner of all things: bleach. I poured a half a gallon of bleach into the toilet before I left for work, and when I came back 12 hours later, it was clean. I was completely victorious. Bleach, when it has to be positively and absolutely cleaned right now.
The running is good for my mental health, something perhaps I had underestimated until this weekend. I am being wise about my "injury", and resting until the pain goes away, but it is not easy. I wanted to make the Eiffel Tower run this weekend, but I will not be able to do so. The Eiffel Tower run involves making my traditional Pont Neuf run, taking a right, and following the left bank of the Seine River down to the Eiffel Tower. It is almost half a marathon. I will wait until I'm healed.
I'm sorry this was less than exciting, but it was a rather ordinary week, and we do have those in France. Thank you for coming along, and joining in my journey.
Saturday, July 2, 2011
Tuesday, May 31, 2011
Sunday, May 29, 2011
Wednesday, May 25, 2011
Friday, May 20, 2011
Thursday, May 19, 2011
Finally on my way, heading to the southern coast of France, near Perpignan, at over 200 mph (TGV: Train Grande Vitesse -- High Speed Train). The shoreline is running almost North-South along this part of France's Mediterranean coast, as I will be quite a ways west of Nice and the Riviera (Cote d'Azur).
I am not taking two vacation days, but rather, two “RTT” days. I have 11 of them to take this year, which I get on top of my five weeks of vacation, and oh yeah, my seniority, according to French law, grants me five additional days off. I needed the break, both for all the activity year-to-date (I have been on the road 50% of 2011), and what is coming (eight countries in the next 10 weeks). My hotel is nothing special, but it is on the beach, good for running. Perpignan is the in the old Catalan region of France and Spain, and many people still speak Catalan. Perpignan is also in the heart of the great wine region of Languedoc-Roussillon, and a perfect “base” for exploring the myriad of vineyards in this ancient (since at least the 9th century) wine-producing region. Explore, rest, return – that is the plan.
I just remembered, today marks my 31st year with Schlumberger, and it was one year ago today that I flew from Houston to Paris, beginning my life as a resident of France.
Enjoyed a fine paella for dinner tonight, a delicacy of Catalan...http://twitpic.com/4zqxzf
Sunday, May 15, 2011
Tuesday, April 5, 2011
As you know, I am without a car here in France. Texas finally reciprocates with France on the driver's license, so being able to drive legally is no hassle. Nonetheless, I have elected to do without a car, as I can get along without one with respect to commuting, and a rental is available at the end of any "voyage par TGV". I take the bus to work, the 395, from the Mairie de Sceaux (city hall) to Bois Brule in Clamart. From the Bois Brule stop, I walk 5-7 minutes to the office. On Monday, I encountered snow between the Bois Brule stop and the office. Yes, white stuff on the sidewalk, white stuff in the air. Fortunately, it was not also cold and wet. One of the trees in bloom begins its spring completely covered in tiny white petals, no bigger than your fingernail. There was a gentle breeze and the fallen petals covered the sidewalk -- it did look like snow -- and as I walked under the tree, the breeze kicked up just enough to create a shower of white petals -- falling snow. It was the only snow I really enjoyed this year, I can assure you of that.
Our office here has a cantine (cantina, cafeteria), as our building is also part of the engineering and manufacturing facilities here. Rather than send a few hundred people out in their cars to the always busy roads and streets of greater Paris, we have a cantine. It is very efficient, as we can be in and out in 30-40 minutes total, but it does not always seem like a break -- lunch, yes, the food is quite good, but a break? Not always. I have a couple of American coleagues here, and we leave campus once a week to get a real lunch-break. There is a place only a 10 minute walk from here which is a pizzaria and creperie. Pizza and crepes. Not a combo I would imagine, but hey, ca marche (French expression for "it works", literal meaning "it walks")! Oddly, both the pizzas and the crepes are quite good here, though I only partake of the crepes maybe once a month (I do not want them to "hang around" while I run). We have gotten to know the waitress (there is only she and the cook for about 20 tables), and she knows our order for pizza and drinks without asking, though every now and then I change things up just to keep the experience fresh for all parties...cheap entertainment, I know. It makes for a pleasant break and head-clearing exercise, which is its primary purpose.
Speaking of the office, here are the countries represented on the HQ's floor:
You can visit around the world in one stroll down from my office...
I went to Moscow this week, my second trip to Russia, but first to Moscow. I was attending a workshop being conducted by our Russia area management. It dealt with geophysics, and it was interesting to talk to them about their business, and listen to them present and describe their ongoing activities. The workshop was done in Russian, but they had arranged an interpreter for me, who translated each presentation in real-time. Fortunately, the slides themselves were in English, with the more complex slides being done mostly in Greek (and other symbols of higher math). It was a good opportunity to get to know the team there, but while it was sunny in Ile-de-France, Moscow was overcast with piles of snow still on the ground, and not one tree had yet budded. I was very happy to get back to Paris and sunshine. I landed at about 6PM (18h00), and traffic was so bad that it took me almost as long to get from the airport to Sceaux as it did to fly from Moscow to Paris! The driver and I chatted a lot, and I had to do it all in French as he spoke very little English -- I even showed him a shortcut back to my apartment, giving him directions as we went along.
Just a side story of my flight to Moscow, if you will...the flight from Paris was packed, mostly with Russians returning from holidays, including a family of five who were seated in my area. The teenage girl and her pre-teen brother drew the short straw and sat next to me. The nationality of these kids could not be picked out of a line-up of American kids. It was kinda cute considering most of our impressions of Russia and its people, coupled with its 20th century political history. Anyway, some of the guys at the office want to form a band just for messing around, and asked me to be a part -- we are just going to do 12-bar blues kinda stuff, with a few extras thrown in for good measures. One of the extras was "Like a Rolling Stone", Bob Dylan's classic, and the song Rolling Stone Magazine calls "the greatest song in the history of rock and roll". The leader of the group was lamenting the words "too many and too complicated to get right", and I said, "no problem, know them all for all verses" (he is not off my generation, about 15 years behind). I was chartered to put the song together. I have a video of Jimi Hendrix playing "Stone" at Monterey in 1968, and decided I would study it for ideas on how to lead out on guitar, and ascertain the structure of his chords, etc. I was watching the video over and over again on my Android smartphone, and the whenever I sat it down on my tray table, the Russian teenager (from Smolensk, I later discovered) would watch it, too. I noticed her interest, and offered to let her listen. Being polite, she refused, but I smiled and insisted, and she broke into a big smile and set the Boze headphones on her head. She was smiling and bobbing to the music in zero-flat. She had seen a picture of Jimi before, but not heard his music until now. She asked if I played guitar, and I said yes, and she asked if I was on television, I laughed and said, no, I just play for fun. She asked what I played, so rather than explain in a language with which we both were struggling (English), I let her listen and watch Stevie Ray Vaughan and Albert King perform "The Sky is Crying". She liked it all. It was a nice break from the monotony that is flying, and a fun exchange, both generationally and culturally.
I fly back to the USA this week for business, and will get to meet my grand-daughter for the first time. I am looking forward to that.
Until next time,
Sunday, April 3, 2011
Sunday, March 27, 2011
- Babybel (encased in red wax)
- Vache qui Rit (smiling cow, cream of gruyere)
- Kiri (soft white cheese)
- St. Agur (blue cheese, but soft and mild)
- Emmental (French version of Swiss cheese)
- Chevre frais
- Chevre vieille: too strong and smelly
- Merzer: too strong and smelly
- Chausee aux Moines: boring
- Cousteron: boring
- Bougon: boring
- Crottin de Chevre
- Crottin de Chavignol: though this is the original Crottin, other versions taste the same
- Saint Nectaire
- Fromage pur chevre: boring
Sunday, March 20, 2011
Deux cent quatre vingt dix neuf jours dans Sceaux (299 days in Sceaux, and I think I might post tomorrow just to have an easy title)
Great visit, fun to be a part of such things, and on my page you will note the "American Cemetery runs". These are runs from my hotel to the cemetery for the Americans who flew from England in WWII. It is in a beautiful and tranquil area, at the "spur" of my running loop. You should be able to click on the image, zoom it up, and see the cemetery (N 52.2162 E 0.0541). I also visited the Eagle Pub, where in the back room, American WWII fliers burned their names into the ceiling with cigarette lighters. The ceiling has been preserved by varnish, rather than paint, ever since.
The trip to England and on to Cambridge was totally by train: I took the RER B line from Robinson (I walk to that station) to Gare du Nord (30 minutes); took the Eurostar from Gare du Nord to Saint Pancras in London (2.5 hours); crossed the street to Kings Cross station in London and caught the regional to Cambridge (1 hour).
I need to catch up on the cheese report, by making notes the next time I go to market. I have tried some new ones, with varying success, but I cannot remember their names. This will be a good project going forward into the next blog
I explored the twice-weekly open market in Sceaux on Saturday (yesterday). The market is available Wednesdays and Saturdays, but I have never really explored it. There are many items, mostly foods -- vegetables, cheeses, and meats -- and dry goods as well, such as shoes, clothing, kitchenware, and other odds and ends -- even blankets made the old way (could be a good souvenir, which is the French word for "remember" or "memory"). It was nice, and perhaps another aspect of life in Sceaux for me to explore.
It is almost time to break out the bicycle again, adding another dimension to my workouts, and perhaps as a commuting vehicle. The challenge I face is the 300 feet (100 meters) climb between my apartment and my office. I will have to build up to that one. Everyone who cycles to my workplace faces such an uphill challenge, and they say it just takes time...
The NCAA tournament is on, and even though CBS has the contract, ESPN America is carrying the games via CBS. I got to watch Kentucky defeat WVU live; it was all good...
I am signing off for now, thanks for coming along,