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Random Thoughts

October 2, 2010
by

I have often thought that I should just start posting random thoughts and observations to the blog. But that would be boring, wouldn’t it?

Confessions of an Apple Fanboi

June 17, 2010
by

The Holy Grail!

Dear Orange,

Why do you tease me? The pre-order date for the Apple iPhone 4 has come and gone and you just sit there pretending that it doesn’t exist! I could have pre-ordered from SFR and had the shiny new gadget delivered to my door on June 24th, but I waited for you! I waited in the cold and the rain sobbing uncontrollably! Where are you?!

Now SFR says that the iPhone 4 is “indisponible”! I have missed my chance!

I could have ordered an unlocked iPhone from the Apple store online! Again, I shunned the guarantee of Thursday bliss and waited for you like a loyal dog that kept thinking his master would come for him! Why do you taunt me so?

Now the Apple store says no delivery until the second of July. What mortal can endure such hardship as a one week delay! Again, I missed my chance.

So I still wait for you Orange. I wait for your email telling me that I can pre-order one of you precious iPhone 4s. I won’t sleep until I get it!

Update: I had to go back to the US the week of the 24th for a family emergency, so I missed the opening day in France. Orange finally opened up for internet orders a couple days before the 24th and I quickly and easily ordered my new toy. I managed to get to the relais and pick it up after I got back and before I passed out from the flight.

Une Visite Chez Dentiste

March 23, 2010
by

So, I have this tooth. Well, more than one of course, but I have this particular tooth that has been giving me problems. Incredible pain (wake you up at night pain) and sensitivity to cold. The pain lasted about a week the first time (a couple months ago) and then subsided and went away. So, I of course forgot all about it, even though I had a recommendation for a dentist in Paris about a five minute walk from the apartment.

Pain is one hell of a motivator. When it’s gone, it motivates me to never go to the dentist. When it’s there, I’ll bear any dentist-induced pain to make the tooth pain stop! It was the latter this time. I called and made an appointment (Totalement en français! Très bien!) at the peak of my pain, so I was committed now.

The morning of my appointment arrives and I walk to the dentist’s office. It’s a sunny, not too cold spring morning, and when I’m almost there I suddenly realize that this is Paris and that the office is probably in a residential building and I may need door codes to get in. So, I’m walking there thinking how I pose this in French if I need to call and thinking, “Crap, numbers!” Very hard to understand depending on the number and how they say them (Some other time for my rant on why the French don’t have any numbers beyond 69). But my fears are for naught, as the door opens with a simple push of the button and no code is needed.

I find the office and get put in the salle d’attente, where I sit for a while until someone comes in and asks me if this is my first visit (oui!) and if I could fill out an info form (some things are the same everywhere). So I fill it out, but the one thing that is never asked for is any kind of insurance info. Imagine!

After a short wait, the actual dentist comes in to get me and show me to the exam room. He asks me something in French and I have to break down and give the old, “Desolé, je ne parle pas bien français.” I mean, I could struggle by, but this is too detailed and I really need to understand and be understood without taking six hours. Of course, I already know that he speaks English very well and he is German, so he isn’t going to give me a hard time about it.

So we make some small talk and then we discuss general dental stuff, like how long has it been since I last saw a dentist, my last cleaning, do I floss regularly (uhhhh) etc. He recommends that I continue to get twice-yearly cleanings like I did in the US, and that there are two dentists in his office that do cleanings. He told me an interesting thing; only dentists can touch patients in France. There is no such position as a dental hygienist as we know it in the US. But they have a staff dentist who does cleanings. I’ve had the dentist clean my teeth in the US, but that was a rarity. You usually get your cleaning from the hygienist, and then the dentist sees you for maybe 10 minutes (unless you are actually getting work done).

But no cleaning today, it is all business! He asks what the problem is and I tell him about the tooth. He takes x-rays, and I immediately notice something is missing. There is no heavy weight on my chest. No trouble breathing. OMG! NO LEAD APRON! I’M GONNA DIE! No, I didn’t panic. I mean, what good does that lead apron do anyway when they’re aiming the zoomies DIRECTLY AT YOUR BRAIN? Or at least near your brain. “Hey doc, can you shoot one at my nuts? I don’t want to get a vasectomy!”

With the x-rays developed, it’s bidness time. He says that he doesn’t see any problems with the tooth in the xray, but there could be a new cavity under the filling since the filling is old (10, 15 years?). But he wants to be sure it’s the tooth I think it is (Top left molar, second from the back).

“I’m sorry, but I will need to test it using something cold.”

Oh, god. This will suck.

He sprays a steel dental instrument with something that makes it really goddam cold. Then he places it on my t-

FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Yep. That’s the bad one, alright.

I hope he can get those fingernail holes in the armrest fixed.

With that established, he informs me that he had a cancellation that morning and has plenty of time to inflict more pain on me. Part of me says, “Yeah. Let’s get it taken care of now!” and another part says, “Let’s make an appointment for later and never come back!”

But the still-lingering pain from the frigid tool of death is telling me to fix it. NOW! So I tell him to go ahead and start. Here comes the needle! Didn’t feel anything though. Then the wait.

The thing I hate about dental work on my upper teeth is that my mouth doesn’t get that totally numb feeling like it does when they do the bottom. This always makes me nervous. I’m just waiting for that flash of sudden, extreme pain! SO much fun, but it didn’t come. I did get a “booster” when I flinched at one point. Then he was using a laser to do something and I said I felt a little pain on the gums, and before I could say that it wasn’t that bad, he stuck another one in the roof of my mouth. That made me flinch, thinking back to my wisdom teeth extraction, which was the only other time I had a shot on the inside of the teeth. But it didn’t hurt, and the rest of the procedure continued painlessly.

Now I have a temporary and another appointment to put in the inlay. He doesn’t do amalgam fillings, which is just as well. This is the second time for replacing this filling and a more permanent solution is desirable.

At one point he asked me how long ago the filling had been replaced and, while I was thinking about it, I must have made strange face because he asked, “Are you OK?” I guess he has had people pass out on him before.

Well, enough reminiscing about the joys of the dentist’s office! Off to buy more floss!

Update: Well, this story did NOT have a happy ending! I got the inlay laid in, but the tooth remained sensitive to hot & cold. He said it could take up to six months for the nerve get back to normal since the cavity was so deep. It never did. It finally went down in a ball of flame after keeping me up all night in pain. Yep, my first root canal! Yay!

Chamonix-Mont-Blanc

January 27, 2010
by

The Blair family just returned from a fabulous vacation in the French alps! We rented a car and drove to the Haute Savoie area of France, or more specifically, Chamonix-Mont-Blanc. Chamonix is a commune in the shadow of the tallest mountain in Europe-Mont Blanc. It was also the site of the first winter Olympics. Pretty impressive credentials.

The vacation started off in typical fashion; I went to Hertz at 10 AM to get the car and they told me that they only hold a reservation for two hours (mine was for 7 AM). Ooops! So I had to pay a little more and get a Chevy Captiva (is it supposed to be captivating or make you feel captive?) instead of the Passat-type car I had reserved. No fahrvergnügen for you! Well a larger car is always welcome for my bring-everything-cuz-it’s-better-to-have-it-and-not-need-it-than-need-it-and-not-have-it packing style. I think we have now rented more American cars in France than European brands (Peugeot, BMW, Ford, Ford, Chevy).

We got in the car and headed for…Ikea? Yep, I got the car a day early just so we could go shopping! We bought a bunch of stuff that is still sitting where we left it last week. I might be more motivated to put the shelves together for Sarah’s room if I hadn’t had to clean out the fridge! Anyway, I do not recommend going to Ikea on a Saturday during soldes. We had a fun evening at Ana & Carlos’ Saturday and then got up (kinda) early to head to Chamonix. Okay, so we didn’t hit the road til noon. It was our loss since we arrived in Chamonix after dark and missed the great views as we approached the Alps. We did, however, see a beautiful double rainbow on the way:

[click on images for larger versions]

Double rainbow en route to Chamonix

Sarah was very excited and only lost interest when we started explaining light refraction and it’s significance to Pink Floyd fans world-wide.

So, we arrived at the chalet after dark and opened the door. I immediately saw the alarm panel and said to Danielle, “Did we get an alarm code with the lease & keys by any chance?” I couldn’t hear the reply since the alarm was sounding (loudly) by then. So we called the local contact and got the code.

The next morning I woke up and verified that there were mountains:

View from the chalet

The next step was to get Sarah into ski school. Danielle & I never learned to ski as kids and we were going to make sure Sarah got the opportunity to learn. Especially at one of the most world-famous ski resorts! We got her set up and rented her equipment. She was so happy!

Sarah poses with her skis

She absolutely loved ski school and took to skiing right away. Here are some pictures from her first day on skis. She went to the ski school at ESF le Savoy. It was a pretty neat area. There was a small area for the kids who had never been on skis. They had carpets for the kids to walk up and then they skied down a gentle slope. Later in the week they went to a slope that was a bit longer but still pretty gentle. There was a ski escalator (tapis) to get to the top of the hill:

The Ski-scalator

When school was not in session, this area was free for whoever wanted to use it. Overall a pretty low-stress way to start skiing. Maybe if I had started here and not at some ice-covered rock in Pennsylvania, I wouldn’t have hurt my knee! I even considered giving it another shot on the baby-bunny hill, but my knee started to let me know that this was a bad idea. Danielle did get skis and joined Sarah on the baby-bunny hill on our last day.

Sarah & Mommy on the slopes

Lots of great mountain views from the valley, but we wanted to go up the mountains in a cable car. Ascending the sheer face of the Aiguille du Midi suspended from a steel cable was a blast! The climb occurs in two stages and covers a little over 1800 meters.

The Téléphérique to the top of Aiguille du Midi

The ride up was fairly smooth and uneventful. The car starting rocking a couple times after passing over the supports. Here is the view up to the top from the midway point. At the end of this trip, you are almost climbing vertically.

View to the top from the midpoint station

Once at the top, the views are breathtaking.

View from Aiguille du Midi to the north-west(ish)

Great for panoramas, too!

I think Geneva is out there somewhere!

This one from the valley

Some other pictures from the climb:

Looking up at the Aiguille du Midi from the car - Climb is approaching near vertical

Passing the downward car on the way up!

Ski tracks starting from nowhere

Once at the top station, you take an elevator to the peak. This is looking down at the top station from the peak. You can barely see the mid-point station to the right

So, if you’re ever in Chamonix, I highly recommend a trip to the Aiguille du Midi!

We also took the train around to the far side of the mountain. This train takes you to another, less dramatic cable car that takes you (close) the the Mer de Glace glacier, which is formed by the confluence of three other glaciers. Here is a view of the glacier looking up the valley:

Even after you take the cable car to the bottom, there are quite a few stairs to climb down, as the glacier has receded quite a bit.

Stairs down to glacier

Sarah & me at the glacier

Inside the ice caves carved in the glacier

Ice sculptures in the cave

Chamonix is a cool town. It’s like one big ski lodge! It’s kinda dark, though. The sun doesn’t come over the mountains in winter until about noon. And it doesn’t take long to get behind the mountains again. Time is running out, so I guess I don’t need to mention that I backed the rental car into a cement wall. One last picture, “sunrise” as the sun comes around the Aiguille di Midi (hmm… maybe that’s why it got that name….). Bis zum nächsten mal!

Sunrise around the Aiguille du Midi

Edit: Sheesh! All that rambling and I didn’t even include a pic of Mt. Blanc! Here it is, directly above Sarah’s head!

Le Mont Blanc

Edit 2: So, I was proofreading the post before the grammar-Nazis could attack and realized that I made the comment about cleaning out the fridge but forgot to explain it. As most of our regulars know, the power in our apartment likes to go off on occasion for no special reason. That occasion is usually when we leave town (natch). I figure it went off shortly after we left. The fridge & freezer were at room temp when we got home. So we threw away everything perishable or semi-perishable and cleaned both sides. On the plus side, shopping is really easy when you’re starting from scratch; need it, need it, need it….

What’s Cookin’?

January 10, 2010
by

I have always loved cooking. Baking, too. So why have I lived in Paris for TWO YEARS without taking advantage of some of the finest culinary institutes in the world?

My new years resolution is to take cooking classes. I have done some Googleing and it seems that cooking classes in English are readily available. Of course, this is all just an excuse to buy expensive cookware!

Another Parisian experience I have denied myself is a pilgrimage to the Paris cookware district centered around rue Montmartre. There are several stores within five minutes of each other selling just about anything you would want/need to cook. So I bookmarked several stores on my iPhone and set out.

The first stop, of course, was the new APPLE STORE PARIS! Sorry for the non-sequitur, but it had been open for over a week and I had yet to experience it. It is in the Carrousel du Louvre by the inverted pyramid. Indeed, a place of honor for the first & only Apple store in Paris (about bloody time! There are already about 15 in Manhattan!). It was packed with shoppers & tourists admiring the latest Apple wares.

The store is two stories with a spiral glass staircase in the middle.

Oh, well. I didn’t buy anything, though I was tempted. Now back to our scheduled blog entry…

Walking north up rue du Louvre from the Louvre/Rivoli Métro stop, you will eventually hit rue Coquillière and to your right, you will see the most famous shop for cookware among professional & amateur cooks and a tourist attraction in itself for foodies; the 190 year-old E. Dehillerin.

If you love shopping at stores with beautiful displays of immaculate copper & stainless steel pots & pans, like Williams Sonoma or Sur la Table, then you will hate E. Dehillerin! Well, maybe not, but this store is crowded, dirty, noisy and there is stuff everywhere. On shelves, in the basement, bolted to the walls, hanging from the ceilings… There are no prices, just numbers that you must cross reference from a book in the store.

Stuff Everywhere!

Down in the basement

Big stockpots in case you need to make several gallons of chili or maybe even brew some beer.

And if you need to stir it…

…they have paddles, which also can be used on your boat.

The Dehillerin stamp on a piece of Mauviel copper.

I went back there this Saturday to exchange a Christmas gift and while I was at the counter, I snapped this image with one of their famous “things”:

What is it? The beautiful Laguiole steak knives? The sign about taxes that looks 50 years old (with “new” blacked out)? The price index? The copper pots? The rooster? Nope, it’s the black & white photo just to the right of the rooster. I showed it to Danielle and she said, “The old lady makin’ the pie?” Yep, the old lady makin’ the pie! The “old lady” is one of Dehillerin’s most famous customers, Julia Child (click for a zoom that does not reveal much detail!).

After I explored Dehillerin’s, I headed up rue Jean-Jaques Rousseau to rue Montmartre. At the intersection stands La Bovida.

Another store full of Mauviel cookware and spices and enameled cast-iron cocottes. They also had a set of Peugeot salt & pepper mills with a finish of braided stainless steel. They would make a great gift (hint hint)!

Just down rue Montmartre is Mora, with still more Mauviel cookware (can you ever have enough?). They also have a baking section with everything you would need to make a wedding cake if the mood should strike you.

This is where I found a few cookie cutters for Sarah & me to make our Christmas cookies this year.

Cookie cutters were not easy to find. I really wanted and Eiffel Tower form, and Mora had a couple, but the smallest was about a meter long, so that was out. I got a rabbit & a pig. They are very sturdy and will be with us a long time! I also got a Christmas tree, which was the only “Christmas-y” one I found and a set of heart-shapes that Sarah really liked. Sarah refused to have anything to do with the pig, however.

There are more (or at least one) stores on rue Montmartre (Simon comes to mind), but I didn’t hit them all. Just off Montmartre is another store that supplies professional bakers on rue Tiquetonne – G. Detout. If you speak French, you may notice that the name sounds like “J’ai de tout” which means “I have everything.” And they just about do. I got some vanilla extract and cream of tartar for the sugar cookies along with some candies violet petals, because, well, I COULD!

I used to think I was cool because I bought vanilla extract by the pint. Ha! They carry it in liters! I got a small bottle because it was slightly different. A little syrupy and the woman at the store reminded me to shake it before using. But it is indeed the vanilla extract that I have seen nowhere else in Paris. They also had baking soda, which is hard to find.

For Christmas I got two things from Dehillerin’s; a copper Mauviel pot and a 31 cm Staub cocotte:

Pretty aren’t they? I almost hate to dirty them up with food! I exchanged the 31 cm for a 33 so I can make a boat-load of chili. It will nicely complement my Le Creuset.

Well, my other resolution was to update this blog more often. I wanted it as a record of our adventures in France more than anything else. So we’ll see if I can keep it up!

Bonne Année, tout le monde!

I will have the penne a la arabiata

September 3, 2009
by

I can’t help but think of this Eddie Izzard bit when I see this McDo ad. The couple snogging in the background is a nice touch.

Do you know who I am?

Do you know who I am?

“I will have the penne a la arabiata.”

“You’ll need a tray.”

“Do you know who I am?”

“Do you know who I am?”

“This is not a game of who the fuck are you. For I am Vader. Darth Vader. Lord Vader. I can kill you with a single thought!”

“Well you’ll still need a tray.”

“No I will not need a tray. I do not need a tray to kill you. I can kill you without a tray, with the power of the Force – which is strong within me – even though I could kill you with a tray if I so wished. For I would hack at your neck with the thin bit until the blood flowed across the canteen floor…”

No, the food is hot. You’ll need a tray to put the food on.”

“Oh I see, the food is hot. I’m sorry I, I did not realise. Hah hah! I thought you were challenging me to a fight to the death.”

“Fight to the death? This is canteen, I work here.”

“Yes, but I am Vader, I am Lord Vader. Everyone challenges me to a fight to the death. Lord Vader. Darth Vader, I am Darth Vader, Lord Vader. Sir Lord Vader, Sir Lord Darth Vader. Lord Darth Sir Lord Vader of Cheam. Sir Lord Baron von Vaderham. The Deathstar. I run the Deathstar.”

“What’s the Deathstar?”

“This is the Deathstar. You’re in the Deathstar. I run this star.”

“This is a star?”

“This is a fucking star – I run it. I’m your boss.”

“You’re Mr Stephens?”

“No, I’m… who is Mr Stephens?”

“He’s head of catering.”

“I’m not head of catering! I am Vader. I can kill catering with a thought.”

“I can kill you all. I can kill me with a thought. Just… I’ll get a tray, fuck it!

“This one’s wet, and this one’s wet, and this one’s wet. This one is wet, this one is wet, this one is wet, this one is wet, this one is wet, this one is wet, this one is wet, this one is wet. Did you dry these in a rain forest? Why, with the power of the Deathstar, do we not have a tray that is fucking dry? I do not…(someone has pushed in) No, no, no. I was here first.”

“You have to form a queue if you want food. Can I have, oh, penne a la arabiata, that looks nice.”

“No, no, no. D’you know who I am?”

“That’s Jeff Vader, that is.”

“I am not Jeff Vader, I am Darth Vader.”

“What, Jeff Vader runs the Deathstar?”

“No, Jeff… No, I run the Deathstar.”

“You Jeff Vader?”

“No, I’m Darth Vader!”

“Are you his brother? Can you get his autograph?”

“I can’t get it… No, I’m… All right, I’m Jeff Vader! I’m Jeff Vader!”

“Can I have your autograph?”

“No, fuck off, or I’ll kill you with a tray! Give me penne a la arabiata or you shall die. And you, and everyone in this canteen! Death by tray it shall be!”

“Do you want peas with that?”

“Peas? You don’t have peas! You can’t put red with…It doesn’t work with penne, you don’t put, unless you push them up the penne tubes, and then they’d be weird! Just…(gives up) oh, all right, put some peas on.”

Another interesting take on the bit:

We Have No Class

March 26, 2009
by

Danielle & I went down to the prefecture of police yesterday to fill out renewals for our residence permits (only a month after the last ones expired). We left the office with our récépissés for our cartes de sejour, which will hopefully delay our imminent deportation for the crime of not being French. Apparently this is a serious matter and applies to foreigners in many countries.

But anyway, the other thing that we had a year to do and are doing 14 months later is getting our French driver’s licenses. You are allowed to drive with your US license for a year, but after that you have to either give up driving or get a French license. Fortunately, Virginia is one of the states that has a reciprocal agreement with France and all you have to do is swap your VA license for a French one. No drivers test required.

Ha! “All you have to do” my ass! Of course you need a billion documents, including a certified, translated affidavit that you have never buggered a dead alligator on the Moscow subway. Just in case they ask. The first problem is that we don’t have our actual cartes de sejour, only the récépissés with the expired cards stapled to them. This will not do! But we can at least apply for the licenses. The second problem is that our certified, translated copies of our Virginia driving records for the last 11 years do not indicate the date that we obtained our very FIRST US driver’s licenses, which occurred shortly after the last T-Rex drew it’s final breath. We were informed that this is a very important date in France. Well, it’s very important in the US, too. But only to the recipient of the license and the importance declines rapidly to zero, kinda like our chances of getting any actual permits or licenses that day.

Once we pass the initial gauntlet (after we are told that the French consulate would have to contact the US consulate to get this date) and wait to see the French DMV grunt that will tell us everything else we have done wrong. Surprise, these guys couldn’t care less about the date we got our first permit to crash a car without another licensed car-crasher aboard. HOWEVER, they were quite baffled that our VA license translations listed AUCUNE as the class. This means none. We have no class. Now, I have wondered about this myself before. My PA license listed a class to ensure I didn’t try driving 18-wheelers to school instead of mom’s groovy, baby-blue 77 Mustang II. But I never worried about it and it never mattered, until now. But in the end they decided it didn’t really matter. We didn’t get our licenses (because we didn’t have our residence permits), but we got a nice piece of paper that says we can drive until we get the actual license.

UPDATE:

After three months, nothing!

UPDATE II:

Ten months later and we have received letters from the prefecture to come and get our licenses! Of course, they STILL want the date that we got our first licenses! Hopefully, we won’t get pulled over on the way to Chamonix next week!