Sunday, July 31, 2011

Quatre Cent Trente Deux Jours a Sceaux (432 Days in Sceaux)

Yesterday was a busy day, especially since it came on the heels of the day before, which was a 24 hour sojourn from Perth, Australia.  Flying from Perth to Kuala Lumpur took five hours -- five hours to basically fly from Perth to the equator!  In KL, I caught the twelve and a half hour flight to Paris, landing Saturday morning at about 06h30.  I had the whole weekend in front of me!

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
  • Anthem
  • Area 51: The uncensored history
  • ChiRunning
  • 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
  • Tarantula
  • 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!

A bientot!


Sunday, July 17, 2011

Quarte Cent Dix Huit Jours a Sceaux (418 Days in Sceaux)

It is early in the day here in France, but it has begun nonetheless and I thought I would share a little bit before I begin a busy, although quiet, day.

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…

A bientot,


Saturday, July 16, 2011

Quatre Cent Dix Sept Jours a Sceaux (417 Days in Sceaux)

This was a busy week, but a short week as well. During this past week, the French celebrated their National Celebration, or, as they more commonly referred to as "Quartoze Juillet" (14th of July), just as we more commonly referred to Independence Day as "Fourth of July". We got the day off at the office, and 80% of the office took the next day off as well. There were only a few of us on the fifteenth of July, and most of us made plans to get out early.

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.

A bientot,


Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Quatre Cent Treize Jours a Sceaux (413 days in Sceaux)

Sometimes being here in France is mundane.

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.

A bientot,


Saturday, July 2, 2011

Quatre Cent Trois Jours a Sceaux (403 Days in Sceaux)

It has been over a month since I last reported to you, I have been very busy with travel and with work, leaving little energy for recreational activities. My guitars have gotten dusty as well. With the cancellation of my trips to Brazil and to Houston for the end of June and early July, I have gained a few days of normalcy here in France. And thusly, I begin today's blog.

I did something today that I have not done since I've been here. My bakery of choice underwent renovation late last fall. It was completely remodeled, new owners, and the outcome was a more modern facility. It was more of an integrated facility, not just having pastries and breads, but also having a small coffee shop, and tables in the front whereby patrons might take a cup of coffee or even eat a sandwich purchased from within. I had bought sandwiches there before, making a lunch out of it in the park. Today, I stepped out of character a bit and actually sat down and had a cup of coffee. And, as it was close to lunch, I also selected a sandwich and brought it to my table as well. It was the first time I sat down in a public meeting place and had a meal by myself. I did a little people watching, though people watching in Sceaux is not as interesting or fascinating as people watching on the Champs Elysées, it was nonetheless a welcome pause. Oh yes, the coffee and sandwich were good.

In early June I took a business trip to Houston. It was great to be home again and visit with family. My dog and I ran every day, and I let my sister-in-law to run her first 4 mile run. I also got to enjoy my daughter's new swimming pool, and of course the beautiful grandchildren she has provided. Work was intense, very long days, that was good to see so many familiar faces again. Even though I was officially in Houston for 13 days, it seemed to go by very quickly, and soon I was back on the airplane heading to France.

Three short days after my arrival in France, I flew to Saudi Arabia. This is my first trip to Saudi, and I must say I was treated well at every point of service. Make no mistake, this is a kingdom ruled by Islamic decree, which means that even an international hotels one will not find a drop of alcohol. The thing that surprised me the most was not the heat, I expected the heat. We are actually considered in early summer in the month of June, the sweltering heat does not come until August and September. I ran while I was there, as is my custom, but the wind and the sand in the air limited my mileage considerably. The wind easily lifts the calcareous sand and creates a haze that lasts throughout the day. That same gritty haze gets into one's lungs as one is running, though not noticeable except for the rawness one begins to feel in the throat. The sandy haze, when coupled with the heat, limited my run to 3 miles (5 km).

After a series of client meetings over three very busy days, I flew into Kuwait. I had flown through Kuwait before, but have never stopped and stayed overnight until this trip. Again, I was greeted with pleasant and cordial hospitality everywhere I went. I was excited to get up and run the next morning, because it was clear (no sand in the air) and I could run right along the coast of the Persian Gulf. I know that one has to get up early to run, as this was my lesson back in April when I was in Qatar. I went out at six o'clock in the morning to running Kuwait, and it was already 95°F (that is 34°C). Again, my run was limited to 3 miles before I begin to feel the effects of dehydration. Nothing serious, mind you, but when you feel it coming, it is best to play it safe. Later that day, the temperature hit 117°F (47°C), and the sand darkened the afternoon sky. My meetings went well in Kuwait, and as a result I will be returning there in mid to late October to conduct a workshop.

I took a flight at one o'clock in the morning to return to Paris, knowing that I would have to land and get to the office as soon as possible. I needed to get to the office to deliver my passport so that we could secure the visa for Brazil, a trip I would be taking four days hence. Unfortunately, I was not able to get the necessary visa and my trip to Brazil, which would've been my first, was canceled, as was the subsequent trip to Houston. All is not lost, there is much work to be done here in France, an opportunity to get my running program normal again, in time to stay in one time zone until I leave for Malaysia and Australia on July 17.

I was able to reach a milestone here the second quarter of 2011 with respect to my running. Certainly the pleasant weather in France makes it easier to get up and run in the morning, but I also put in some miles in the Middle East as well as Houston. All of them together combined for 150 miles (240 km) for the months of April, May, and June. This brings my total mileage for 2011 up to 250 miles (400 km). I have never run such distances in all my life. Some might think I am obsessive about my running, but the running provides the motivation for me to get out of a very quiet apartment (or hotel room) and never requires the mental stress of trying to communicate in French. And please do not think that the French are really difficult about my lack of language skills, though they are improving, on the contrary, they have been very helpful and understanding. But it is a stressful encounter nonetheless, just wrestling with my own mental gymnastics in trying to articulate what I need to say and to process what they are saying. Running gets me out into the culture without the strain of engagement. Besides, it's healthy for me.

After my trips to Malaysia and Australia, I get to take some vacation. I'm going back to Houston August for three weeks of vacation. I just want to hang out, as traveling is pretty much what I do for a living right now. There's some yard work that needs to be done in Houston, there is little boy who likes to play guitar with his pappaw, there is a dog who loves to run, and there is a family to enjoy.

I will update you from the road, but when I go on vacation, like I told my boss, I'm on vacation.

Thanks for coming along, thank you for your encouraging words, a bientot.