Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Six Cent Dix Sept Jours a Sceaux (617 Days in Sceaux)

It has been a long time since I've updated. Christmas vacation family back in Texas with my family, we rented a beach house and had a family reunion with my side of the family. It was a wonderful time, a great time to reconnect. We had not done such a thing in almost 10 years. We all decided that we will not wait that long before we do it again.

I flew back to France, departing from Houston on January 1, 2012, and I arrived on January 2, 2012. The flight was uneventful, as all truly wonderful flights are, and yet I had mixed feelings as I landed. I know how dreary it can be here, during the months of January and February, and how cold it can get. I was not looking forward to long, dark weekends alone. I would be able to stay that sentence a little longer, as I was expecting guests within the week. One of Pam's friends had a daughter and her friend who were traveling through Europe, and wanted to pass through Paris and use Chez Mark as a staging point for further adventures. 

Immediately upon their arrival, or at least the next morning, I had the three of us on a high-speed train to Geneva, Switzerland. The French Alps are all my list of things to see, and they were interested in adding the French Alps to the list of things that they had seen. It was only a three-hour trip, conducted at over 200 miles an hour, and was very comfortable and very pleasant way to see the countryside. We found our hotel, which was right across the street from the train station, and did a quick walking tour of Geneva, which always leads you to the lake. Our target the next day was the town of Les Gets, a quintessential French Alpine ski village. Thanks to GPS and a rented car, we made the trip in about an hour and a half. The village was bustling with activity of skiers; they had just had a fresh 60 cm of snow. Laura and Shelby had never been on skis before in their lives. My plan was to learn to cross country ski, no instructor was available that day. We were not going to leave without skiing. We signed up for early afternoon lessons, and after an hour lessons we were off to the bunny slopes. The French love to ski, and are very accommodating in their ski schools, and train small children by the dozens. That was probably one of the most fun things to watch while we were there: lots of small children under 3 feet tall in full ski gear navigating the slopes. Yes, we were envious of their ease on skis. 

Our target for the second day was Mont Blanc, which required us to drive about an hour to the town of Chamonix. A big cloud was sitting on top of Mont Blanc, so the tram that would've taken us to the top was closed. The town of Chamonix had a very traditional Alpine center of town, including the bakery that served hot sandwiches and quiche. We did a lot of window shopping and dropped in on a few traditional shops to capture the ambiance.  Before we returned to Geneva, we stopped at the bakery again to get three piping hot baguettes to enjoy on the drive back. 

Despite the fact that I did not get to cross country ski, despite the fact we could not get the top of Mont Blanc, we did ski the French Alps, we had lunch in a café run by an Australian, and we thoroughly enjoyed a classic French bakery. That is not a bad weekend. Laura and Shelby were perfect guests, and it was nice to have somebody around as I transitioned into life in Sceaux again.

A couple of weeks after my guests departed, I was off to Scotland, Aberdeen specifically, for business. I had a rare experience: I flew to Aberdeen in the wintertime on a cloudless day. It was the first time I've been there when the sky was not overcast. The view of Aberdeen and the bay was beautiful. The daytime temperature was just above freezing at the nighttime low was just below freezing -- the humidity was 98%. I ran 3 miles to the office from the hotel and back, for a total of just over 6 miles, the next morning. It was a labored run, as my body never felt like it warmed up well, and the hills were not steep, but long. Nonetheless, it goes down as a good run. My meetings there were quite successful, and productive. Those of you who have ever conducted meetings know what a rare and satisfying feeling that is. It was nice to be in a country where communication was easy, and the accents and idioms were thoroughly enjoyed.

Sometime between Les Gets and Aberdeen, I discovered that Monoprix, my supermarket of choice, carried "paella in a bag". I had been buying little individual dinners of paella, and though they were completely edible, they were not quite as rich and tasty as a real paella. I decided to take a chance on "paella in a bag (a frozen bag, that is)" and bought some. Being a man, I did not read the instructions first, before I bought the bag. When I got home, I read the instructions which clearly stated that I could cook this in the microwave. I soon discovered I did not have a large enough bowl, nor any bowl that could endure the microwave for 6 minutes and not be too hot to handle when done. Not a problem, I thought, I will cook it in one of my Cuisinart stainless pans, or maybe a pot by the same maker. The instructions clearly said to use a nonstick pot, but I figured that was just a sneaky advertisement for Teflon. I successfully cooked the paella in my Cuisinart stainless pot. I spent the rest of the day scraping the bottom of the pot and wondered how soon I could get my hands on a new Teflon pot. Just to have options, I now not only have a Teflon pot big enough to handle a kilogram of paella, but I also have a couple of bowls that can be used in the microwave safely. Live, learn, engineer (the "paella in a bag" was excellent, BTW)

I am now preparing for a business trip to India and the Far East. I decided to make one trip to visit India, China, Indonesia, and Japan. I figure in this way, I only need to get over the jet lag once.

Thanks for coming along…

A bientot,