Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Trois Cent Soixante Onze Jours a Sceaux (371 Days in Sceaux)

Memorial Day weekend passed here without the fanfare of the USA, EXCEPT: they played "Band of Brothers" on their HBO equivalent. It was all in French, which was interesting, and I had just finished watching the series the week before (I have the DVD set, very nice, get it!). Folks here do remember the wars, and our part in them. It was very satisfying to see this series on TV during OUR Memorial Day weekend. Merci beaucoup, mes amis!

I am getting geared up for a busy travel season in June and July, when I will hit six countries on three continents. By the end of July, I will have been away from Sceaux almost 2/3 of 2011. Then, after all that, I will fly back to Houston, Texas to enjoy three and a half weeks of vacation. Whew! All the travel is not helping my mastery of the French language, but this job involves a lot of travel anyway. It will all slow down in Q4, as it always does -- I think.

Hopefully, by October and November there will be no further incidents in Morocco, and I can head down there for some sun and exploration as the clouds roll over Ile-de-France. Not much else to report from here, but I thought I would post an update before I return to the USA for business tomorrow.

a bientot!


Sunday, May 29, 2011

Trois Cent Soixante Neuf Jours a Sceaux (369 Days in Sceaux)

Today, I thought I would share the remainder of my weekend sojourn to the Perpignan area, excerpted from my journal. I travel now about 60% of the time, and it is hard to keep up with the blog, but I will continue to do so.

From my journal...


On the RER to go to Vienna, my first trip to this famous city. I wanted to "finish" my weekend trip into the vineyards of the Pyrenees Orientale:

After e-mailing and texting the vignerons (winemakers), I finally received replies. It would be necessary to visit Domaine de L' Arc before noon, and Domaine de Clos des Fees would be at 17h00.

The trip to Domine de L'Arc, was only 15 minutes, and I canght them shortly after 11h00. I tasted their wares. while doing so, the owner's son came in. The boy was five or six years old, and although I could not understand him, it was clear he was anxious for his dad to take him to play football (soccer)..

The thing that is impressed upon me is how small and family-driven these operations are. The ''domaines" do not always have their own vineyards; perhaps they rent, have agreements with those who have vineyards, or they might buy their grapes on the market. Whatever the case, they then select the grapes that are used in their wines, and skillfully craft the wine itself. some of these rather small operations produce 10,000 or more bottles of wine a year. As I said earlier, somewhere, these people know soil and toil.

I had an afternoon appointment with Clos des Fees, a domaine located in Vingrau, France. Vingrau is a small village NW of Perpignan, and is absolutely picturesque. The mesas -- yes, there are mesas there -- reminds one of the American West. Not quite as dry, as vineyards dominate the fore slopes and valley below, and a little greener on top. This is the part of the French countryside seldom imagined by Americans like myself, whose chief ideas of France are Paris, Normandy beaches, and the Riviera. The green mesas that towered above me, the vineyards all around me -- the gnarly, free-standing Carignan vines complemented by the more delicate and trellised Grenache vines -- spoke to me saying,''Welcome to the heart of Rousillon-Villages" (or more correctly, "Bienvenue au coeur du Rousillon-Villages"). Like the other domaines I visited, Clos des Fees had no sense of pretense or pomp.

I knocked on the door, and Claudia, Herve the winemaker's wife, called down from a window above and asked me to wait. Moments later, Herve opened the door and invited me in. I passed by the stacks of shipping boxes, and came to the opening that led to the vats and barrels room. The vats were in the shorter part of the room to my left, while the barrels extended to my right. In between the two was the "tasting room" -- you guessed it: a barrel with a flat piece of wood on it. Herve grabbed a wine glass and walked over to the furthest vat, stuck the glass under a spicket, and drew a glass of white wine. I thought to myself, "There is not a white wine anywhere on the planet I can say I like, maybe only tolerate one or two, and we are starting here, ugh", all the while, of course, I was trying to make sure my facial expression did not betray my thoughts. I graciously took the glass, made a few motions that communicated I was going to enjoy this, and took a guarded sip. Crisp, clean, light on the tongue, pleasant to taste -- the first white I can say I like. It was 100% Grenache Blanc, and did not carry the acidic, citrus taste of chardonnay or chablis, nor the syrupy sweetness of the Alsacian whites. This was simple, good, refreshing. He then told me he had no other whites to sell, and this particular white would not be in the bottle until later the following week. Wouldn't you know it.

We proceeded to taste his reds, which were all fantastic, and with a few leading questions by me, Herve spoke of his winemaking history and experiences. I made my order, and Herve called to Claudia to come and take care of the transaction. He also mentioned other things, but as my hearing and understanding of French is yet poor, I missed most of it. As Herve was packing my order, and Claudia registered the sale, Herve pulled out two bottles I had not seen before. One was a bottle of the white, the last of his own stash, and the other carried the label "Walden" -- a new red he is creating/developing, named in honor of Henry David Thoreau, the author and inspiration for Herve leaving the safer urban and corporate worlds for life as a rural wine-maker in the south of France. He presented them to me as gifts.

With the Renault Laguna now carrying my cache from the four domains, I made my way back to Canet-en-Rousillon. Herve recommended a more rural return, which took me from Vingrau to Opoul to Fitou -- the rural element of the return -- before catching up to the bigger roads that would lead me back to Canet-Plage. The road from Opoul to Fitou got down to a single lane among the vineyards at one point, after taking me past a ruin which could have been anywhere out in the American West. Driving through the many small villages and towns, I felt like a time traveler, as these communities were pleasantly encased in a simpler era, and my Laguna, interstellar-looking by comparison to the environs, shuttled me in and out of the locales' respective periods.

I have come to appreciate what the French have been telling me: "Paris is Paris, but this, this is France..."

a bientot,


Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Trois Cent Soixante Cinq Jours a Sceaux (365 Days in Sceaux)

Today marks one year since I moved into my apartment in Sceaux, France. Let's recap a bit on expectations:

French language: I like languages, and I have learned a lot of French, but not enough to converse. Well, probably enough to converse from my side, but I am surprised at how difficult it has been to pick up the language by ear (understanding what people are saying), as it is not phonetic (like English). I am below my expectations here.

French people: Guarded at first, for the most part, but very friendly when you are welcomed into their circle, which can occur just by being a regular customer at a shop. They are very pro-American, as noticed in various tributes and monuments, but they are not afraid to disagree with their friends. The French people are also physically very active, as parks and greenbelts are in constant use by walkers, runners, bikers, etc. Expectations exceeded.

French transportation: We have had a couple of strikes, but they are always announced and there are simple workarounds. Buses, the Metro, trains do run on time, and any taxi I have used relies on GPS for navigation. The TGV (Train Grande Vitesse: High Speed Train) system is great for getting out into the countryside, and the French make good use of the Internet for making reservations, booking rental cars and hotels at your destination; also flags which trains are available for bringing your bike. Expectations exceeded.

French market in Sceaux: classic!

French food: I do not eat out except at company-sponsored events, and the occasional lunch away from the office. I will not score the French based on my cooking. :-)

French cheese: Cheese is the "strongest" part of French culture, and I have come to appreciate the classic cheese plate (at least 3 different types and textures of cheese). There are, apparently, at least a different type of cheese for each day of the year -- minimum of 365 cheeses in this country! Most French people, however, have sampled less than 20 types (my count stands at 30).

France's regions: I like the south, especially the department (state) Pyrenees Orientale (East of the Pyrenees Mountains); which is also the Catalan region of France. I enjoy the culture altogether there.

I appreciate you coming along on this journey, which will likely continue another year (though such things are never certain), and hope you enjoy my snapshots of life in France.

a bientot,


Friday, May 20, 2011

Trois Cent Soixante Jours a Sceaux

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks traveling along,


Thursday, May 19, 2011

Trois Cent Cinquant Neuf a Sceaux

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

Trois Cent Cinquant Cinq Jours Dans Sceaux (355 Days in Sceaux)

Well, it has been over one month since I last posted. I have been very busy, as my traveling has increased in 2011. Since I last posted, I made a trip back to the United States on business, and I also flew to Qatar and Abu Dhabi. It was my first time to visit these two locations.

Everything is green and lush here right now. They still do not have the hanging baskets of flowers in the market yet, and I suppose they must be waiting for summer. We have alternating days of brilliant sunshine and mild temperatures, offset by cloudy and cool days. The one thing we have not had is much rain. I am grateful for that, because the rain at this time of year, and even late May, is cold.

I have pretty much cleared out all the cheeses from my refrigerator. I think my total number of sampled cheeses rests at 30 types. I finally found a bleu cheese that I like, it is made from sheep's milk. It is called "bleu de brebis".

I have included some pictures from my travels, and as a picture is worth 1000 words, I will let them do the rest of the talking.

La Coulee Verte (The Green Flow) after one of my runs. My
apartment complex is near the center of the photo, cradled in trees...

Small restaurant near the market in Sceaux, eager for spring and summer to arrive...

This flowers are among the earliest to arrive in spring, here in Sceaux...

The roundabouts are always decked out in floral regale...

The wisteria (at my apartment complex, next to the Coulee Verte) declares the arrival of spring on this cloudless day....

Famous Red Square, the prettiest part of Moscow...

Doha, Qatar, in the morning about 06h30, very humid. All my running gear was soaked, and I started my run shortly after 05h00. Lots of people were out at that time, because by the time this picture was taken, it was already too hot to exert oneself by running...

Doha in the afternoon, after the wind kicks up in the desert...

Chateau Thoiry, site of a good sized zoo, both modern and drive through. I went with my neighbors Oliver and Laurie, and their twins Allison and Jasmine. Good time had by all...

In the lions' park, you pass through via a glass tunnel. it gives you a grounds' eye view of life among the lions. The lions, however, find the tunnel very comfortable for sleeping. This one is literally within arm's reach of me -- and above me -- snoozing away the afternoon.

Thanks for coming along,