Sunday, September 30, 2012

Huit Cent Soixante Jours a Sceaux (860 days in Sceaux)

OK, when I said I was going to do better, I did not mean almost a month between posts!  I meant "better" better!  Oh well, as Walt Disney said, "Keep moving forward".  We will do a little reverse order on this one, just for the sake of mental gymnastics.

This weekend has beautiful weather, but it remains boring and depressing.  Why?  I cannot go out into the sun for a nice long walk.  I have an injury to rest, and I have just reached the age that I accept the reality that my injury will heal faster if I let it rest.  Seriously though, matters could have been worse.  Details follow, in edited excerpts to family.

I suffered a little pain in my right shin muscle while running in Avignon (around the wall of the old city).  There was a spot of very uneven ground, and though I did not twist an ankle, I felt a pull on the shin.  It got tighter as the day went on, including yesterday.  I massaged it a bit, noticed a little edema, reminded myself to hydrate better...

I ran just over 8 miles this past Tuesday, with mild discomfort from the same area -- to be expected from a strained muscle, but did not hurt enough to force me to alter my gait.  It was a good run.  When I showered, I noticed the area was red.  This was not a strained muscle or tendon.  I did some quick checking on the Internet, and determined it was either thrombosis or a bacterial infection under the skin.  Both recommended immediate visit to the doctor.

I do have a doctor here, who signed for my medical approval to run the half-marathon in March.  I had to wait four hours to get in, and the doctor determined it was mostly likely the bacterial infection.  I am on an antibiotics regime for 14 days (currently on day 5), and getting 7 days of injections to thin the blood to prevent thrombosis from the clearing of the infection.  Yes, the doctor thoroughly inspected the area for "access", inspecting my feet (I have not run fully barefoot in a few weeks), and she could find no source point -- my hygiene is good.

After only 3 days of antibiotics, the redness has reduced.  The regime will continue, however.

We did an ultrasound on the affected area, and found no sign of abscess, but evidence of edema -- caused by the trauma of that one bad step I described at the beginning of the original e-mail.

The tendon itself is in tension, with the swelling around it forcing that state.  You can actually feel the tendon vibrate a bit when extend my toes or pull them back.  Running is out for awhile.  It was not running too much, or the wrong way, but one bad step...

I had to, at doctor's orders ("I am your captain", she said.  I then reminded her there is a song of similar name by Grand Funk Railroad), get blood tests done yesterday.  The clinic for drawing the blood opens at 0800 on Saturdays, and it opened exactly on time.  I was the first of about 20 to go in.  They verified my information, and in two minutes I was in having blood drawn.  Less than 10 minutes later, I was out the door.  Did I mention my doctor is the only one of these people who speaks English?  I had to do the ultrasound and blood test trips in French, and my French is not good.  I simply ask, "Parlez-vous anglais?"  (Do you speak English), and when they indicate they do not, I reply, "Je ne parle pas francais tres bien, patientez, s'il vous plait" (I do not speak French very well, be patient, please).  We managed to get everything done.

The leg continues to improve with the rest, and it is very good news that it is not a bacterial issue, which would have been far more serious.  I appreciate my doctor here, and the interest and concern and genuine care she has provided, including working me into her busy schedule, yet never making me feel she was hurried.

As I mentioned earlier, I went to Avignon last weekend.  Avignon is a beautiful city, and the old part the city is surrounded by its medieval wall. Avignon is known as the city of the Popes. It is an old, beautiful, vibrant city.  The old wall is still intact around the old part of the city, which made for a nice 5km run.  I stayed in a hotel in the heart of the city, which had been renovated to modern rooms by replacing the wall which faced an old alley and blending the new section as part of a new garden area for relaxing and dining.  You can see pictures of Avignon and the some of the hotel here.

I visited the surrounding areas (all part of the Rhone river valley -- the Rhone passes the old city of Avignon), including Chateauneuf-de-Pape (the world renowned wine region) and "Les Gorges de l'Ardeche" -- The Gorges of the Ardeche river.  The vineyards were full and ready for harvest, backdropped by the Alps, and the gorges were rugged and beautiful, with the still, deep Ardeche adding a welcoming calm at each bend.

Two weekends before last, I traveled to Perpignan to witness the vendange -- the harvesting of the grapes.  The regions around Perpignan, really, from the Spanish border to almost Nice, is simply full of vineyards.  It reminds one of the vast agricultural region of the San Joaquin Valley in California.  Much of it is harvested by hand, predominately local French of all ages, but mostly young, who avail themselves to a local labor cooperative, which in turn works out the scheduling of harvesting teams with the owners of the vineyards.  The vendage is about a two month effort.  Some vineyards have terrain which can accommodate machine harvesting, but the bulk of it is still done the old way.  I was able to lend a hand in harvesting a 100 meters row of 65 year old Carignan vines.  It is hard work, and everyone associated with the winery is involved in this "sweat equity" portion of the business.  For my hard work (really, my contribution was nothing), I drove on down to Banyuls-sur-Mer for a lunch overlooking the Mediterranean.  I really enjoy southern France, all of it, from Spain to the Rhone valley.  It is the place of the sun for France, and the people are friendly, speak more slowly (which really helps me), and have a more easy-going view of life, not unlike the American South.

So this catches me up, and on Wednesday I fly to Texas for business, but of course I get to stay with the family at Chateau Puckett a rue Moulin de Hickory...

a bientot!


Sunday, September 2, 2012

Huit cent trente deux jours a Sceaux (832 days in Sceaux)

I know, it is been a long time since I have blogged. Since the end of February, if you are counting. It is not as though nothing has happened between now and then, but I confess my motivation has been lacking. And I think this has much to do with the loading at work and the stress of living in a foreign country – even one as nice as France.

All of that aside, however, as I feel the juices flowing again, and I will continue to blog and chronicle my life here in France. Rather than take you through week by week since my last blog, I thought I would do it in two sections: Spring and Summer. I will give you month by month highlights of each. And as September signals the beginning of autumn in France, I promise to do a better job of keeping up-to-date.



One key milestone for me during my stay in Paris was running in the half marathon of Paris. Two other colleagues and I signed up for this event, which occurred in early March. The day was completely overcast, and temperatures were in the mid-40s, which is perfect for running long distances. The winter had been hard, as noted in previous blogs, and training opportunities were scarce. I thought I would be traveling on business during the time of the half marathon, and had not put a lot of additional effort into preparation. My business travel was subsequently canceled, I decided to keep my commitment to run in the half marathon event with my colleagues. I knew I wasn't completely ready for this event, but on the other hand, how bad could it be? A half marathon is 13.1 miles, and I had run 10 miles on several occasions. Race day came.

I must say, there's more to running in such an event than meets the eye. Over 30,000 people signed up to run in this event. They broke us into stages, based on our own estimated times of completion. This meant that I was running with only 8000 of my closest friends. It was a very well conducted event, and I have no complaints about any aspect of the event. We jogged about a quarter of a mile to the starting line, with our electronically activated numbers signaling our time as we cross the start line. It was all too easy to get caught up in what everybody else was doing. I feel like I'm a generally relaxed runner, which is important for long-distance running. Any extra tension you carry, you carry a long way, and it eventually consumes you. I still have some work to do to be a fully relaxed runner, and I'm making progress. This day, however, my weaknesses were exposed. I ran tense. By the time I got halfway through the race, my legs felt completely beaten up. I never had that feeling, at least not in the previous 12 months. I did not run my race, I did not run the way I normally run, I lost focus. There's a lot to be learned in this experience. It was a good experience, though my performance was very disappointing to me. So often, in life, we learn most from our failures.

March was not a complete bust. For the end of March, the daughter of my best friend Jack came for a visit, along with her boyfriend. Rachel and Daniel were excellent guests. I enjoyed spending time with them. I was reminded of this scene from the movie "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" when Sean Connery's character told Harrison Ford's character, his son, "you left, just when you are getting interesting". We all struggle raising teenagers, and about the time we can breathe again and began to enjoy them, they move on with their lives, and we do not see them nearly enough. Jack and I talked about raising children almost daily for as long as I can remember. He knows the struggles I had with my girls, and I know the struggles that he had with his three girls and one boy. But spending a few days with Rachel and Daniel, made me realize the struggles are always worth it, that our labors were not in vain, and they do turn into wonderful people. Rachel and Daniel stayed a few days as a part of their European tour. While they visited all the key tourist attractions of Paris, they said they enjoyed their time in Sceaux a great deal, because it was far more relaxed, it gave them a much different flavor for France. I cannot agree more. After Sceaux, they went on down to the region of France known as Northern Catalonia, near Spain, for a couple days before heading off to Switzerland and Germany.


April began with the exit of Rachel and Daniel, and it was largely an uneventful month for me, except for the fact that I turned 55. It is not as though I did not expect this day to come eventually, but I find it hard to imagine that I'm really that old. I certainly do not feel it. I'm a stronger today than when I was 18 or 20, I can run further than I've ever run in my life, I still get excited about learning new things, and I still refuse to quit trying to make things better, even when they appear hopelessly broken.

Just prior to my birthday, I was at a geophysics workshops for Schlumberger in Cambridge, England. Before returning to Paris, I invited a colleague and his daughter to come to Paris with me. They had planned to stay in London for a few extra days, but when I offered Paris as an alternative, his daughter won. She got to see Paris, and I had someone with whom to enjoy my birthday dinner. We went to a little restaurant in Sceaux, one that had just opened the previous year. The food was exquisite, and the service was excellent. They don't see many Americans out here, and were anxious to practice their own English, just as I was anxious to continue in my struggles with French. Everything worked out.


May was a quiet month, it is also a bit of a laughable month for expatriates in France. There are something on the order of five national holidays in May, making it nearly impossible to have any continuity of work. On these national holidays, our offices are basically on lockdown. One cannot go and work in his office even if he was the president of the company. Our administrative assistants have to constantly remind us of these office closures. I did take advantage of one such closure, and visited the castle at Chenonceau. This was my first official trip into the Loire Valley, which is a valley filled with castles along the Loire and the Cher rivers. France has a beautiful countryside, and it should not be missed.



June was a fun month, because the family came to visit. Pam, Michelle, Megan, Brady, and Anna Belle all came to stay with me in France. We had a great time, beginning with a trip to Euro Disney and having dinner with all the characters at Mickey's Café. I held a reception for them at the apartment, inviting a handful of French friends when we had met during our initial move into the apartment. Everyone had a great time. We then got on the high-speed train and went to the south of France, to my favorite region of Northern Catalonia. I was able to get hotel rooms right on the beach, and we enjoyed the advantage of early summer. Europeans usually vacation in July and August, so June is a "get ready" month in the vacation spots. There were not many tourists, so no long lines, and no long waits. And of course, the proprietors were excited to have customers, especially a big group of American customers. We spent several days in the South of France before boarding the train to return to Paris. Megan and I did a walking tour of Paris, where she got the sample her first escargot. After the kids and the girls returned to the USA, Pam and I took a little excursion to Switzerland. We spent our time in the Interlaken region. We got to explore some small villages, enjoy the comfort of a secluded cabin at the hotel where we stayed, and traveled to the top of the Schlithorn for breakfast. The restaurant on top of the Schlithorn was featured in the movie "Her Majesty's Secret Service", a James Bond movie. I did not realize that movie was from the very late 60s, it does not seem that long ago. One of the things we enjoyed was sitting in a restaurant in Interlaken and watching the paragliders land. This is apparently a very active sport around the Alps, and we sat on the terrace of the restaurant with front row seats to the action.

After the family returned to the USA, there was one more event in June: the farewell dinner to our VP of personnel. He was moving to take any position in Rio de Janeiro. He is a very outgoing individual, and the standard operating procedure would be to take him and his wife to a fancy restaurant with the staff. He is not, however, very standard, and I mean that in a very good way. He decided to host his own farewell dinner with a cookout at his house. Moreover, our interoffice band was invited to play. Our band has three guitar players and one bass player. We're still looking for drummer. The name of our band is Group 7, which is a failure code in our operations manual. It means "equipment not at fault". I'll let you think about that one…


It seems that Europe has been under cloud cover since before Christmas, and that includes the so-called spring and summer months. I was glad to be going to Texas in early July to complete some testing on a new piece of equipment. I thought to myself, "sunshine, sunshine, sunshine, and some heat… I will finally taste some summer". I was wrong. I was in Texas for two weeks, and experienced 11 days of rain and three days of cloudy weather. I was beginning to wonder if I would ever see the sun again. Although it was a busy time for work, it was still nice to be home and be with family in our familiar settings. The time there did not last long enough, and I had to return to France for work. I did manage to squeeze in healthy portions of Tex-Mex, and Mick and I did 26 miles of road work during my stay, most of the barefoot (for both of us).

I continued my running once I returned to France. I did almost no running in June with the family here. Beginning with the running in July in Texas, I have been doing low heart rate running. Which means I keep my heart rate totally in the aerobic zone throughout the run. This is supposed to build what they call an "aerobic base" for distance running. Initially, the running pace is very slow, but it is supposed to gradually increase over several months. I will be following this regime through the rest of the year. I set a goal of running 80 miles in July, but only made 71 miles. I am seeing some improvement in my aerobic fitness and pace improvement.


August is an interesting time to be near Paris, as it seems the entire region evacuates. In the town of Sceaux, a blind man could cross the street at any time of day without any fear of being hit by car or bus. I waited at the bus stop one morning, sometime between seven o'clock and seven thirty, and for one or two minutes there was not a single car, truck, or vehicle of any fashion on the main street. People tell me that August is the only time it is easy to find parking in Paris. But keep in mind, at least half of the restaurants and shops are closed. People will close up their businesses for the entire month.

One Sunday morning I ran from where I live all the way into Paris to the statue of Thomas Jefferson. This is a run of 10 miles. It was a beautiful, cloudless day (a rare event), and I began walking back toward the train stop that would take me back to Sceaux. I saw a café opening up, and decided, "I never pause and enjoy Paris when I do these runs, and it is a supremely quiet and beautiful morning, why am I in such a hurry?". I stopped at the café and enjoyed two cups of coffee and an omelette. It was an enjoyable experience, but one not to be repeated very often: breakfast was $25. Everything is expensive in Paris, but it was still the right thing to do.

I intensified my running in August, recording a personal best of 102 miles for the month. I set a goal to run at least 84 miles a month for the next 12 months. This will give me 1000 miles in a year. It will be an interesting journey.

Pam and I also celebrated 33 years of marriage in August. It seems like a long time when you say it, but it has been so full that it is hard to imagine so much time has passed. Having an ocean between us is not without its challenges, and we both look forward to this season being over, and beginning a new one together.

I'll do a better job of staying in touch, thanks for coming along.

a bientot,