Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Trois Cent Vingt Jours Dans Sceaux (320 Days in Sceaux)

Sitting out on my balcony as I write today's blog; enjoying a perfectly beautiful day, clear skies, green leaves have almost fully returned to the trees in waiting, and the aroma of wisteria faintly saunters on the currents of a gentle breeze.

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:
French Morocco
United Kingdom

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

Trois Cent Treize Jours Dans Sceaux (313 days in Sceaux)

Another beautiful week, though today, Sunday, is rainy.

Well, this past week and this one coming up I am dealing with taxes -- for two countries. the USA is the only country that taxes its people no matter where they earn their income. As a result of being on French payroll, no withholding for USA income has been taken out, so now I will be writing a huge check to Uncle Sam very soon. A smaller check will go to the French government. UGH!

My French lessons continue, and my teacher swears she will have me fluent in another six months. I confess that she is more optimistic than I, but I am willing to give it the effort required! My interactions with the owners of the stores in the marche' de Sceaux is getting better, as I understand a little more of what they are saying, and can answer some of their questions. I am beginning to hear the price numbers better, too. Anytime I am in a shop with a line, I discretely listen to the conversations around me to try even get the gist of what they are saying, or at least pick out a few words. I also am using French subtitles on my TV, both for French and English programming. I look up new words all the time (as I come across them) using Star Translate on my Android phone, and it also does phrases, and translates in either direction. There are now sticky notes all over the apartment as I try to constantly expose myself to the language.

I made my LSD yesterday, covering the 10 mile (16 km) distance in 96 minutes, a 9:52 pace. The 8th mile (13 km) clocked in the fastest at 9:10. A guy on the sidewalk say me running his direction, and began to mock my running (in good fun) by bobbing and weaving toward me (this was about 6:30 in the morning, and in that 8th mile), and I guess he expected me to adjust my path for his bobbing about. I did not, and you should have seen his face when he realized I was undeterred by his presence! I brushed him aside without changing my path, and he said something, the tone of which was "I was only kidding!" I raised both arms in acknowledgement as I continued, and he laughed, know I was not angry, either.

I felt strong as I finished the run, and I originally intended to have a celebration breakfast (I had not done this run in 2 months) at Le Gare de Saint Michel, a brasserie near the St. Michel RER and Metro stations, just downstream on the left bank from Pont Neuf, my turnaround point. This is also the area for the University of Paris, and the brasserie was packed with what looked like the all-night college crowd. I was pretty sweaty, and the spacing was tight, so I spared everyone and headed back to Sceaux. I usually do an interval run through Sceaux, from the Robinson RER on the rue Houdan into the Marche' de Sceaux, looping back only Rue d'Ecoles to the Coulee Verte, normally a 1.6 mile run (2.6 km). At about the 1.2 mile (2 km) point, I was mentally tired of running. The body felt fine, I was not winded, my legs did not feel fatigued, but mentally I had enough. Weird the way our bodies and minds work with and sometimes against each other...

As you may have seen on my Facebook, I attended a classical guitar recital/competition in Antony, the "ville" immediately south of Sceaux. You can read about it here. We were invited to vote for our favorite performer of the night; of course there were more astute judges for the actual grading of the performances. I walked back from Antony, about 3 miles (5 km), getting home at 11:30 PM (23h30), just in time to catch the pre-game ESPN show for the NCAA national semi-finals. Kentucky received the kiss of death when Digger Phelps picked us to win. He has never like our program. Since Kentucky was the second game, I turned the TV on and napped through the first game. I watched all the Kentucky game against UCONN, but the boys when down 56-55. That was about 5AM (05h00) this morning.

Thanks for coming along!