Archive for the 'Journal' Category

La ballade des gens qui sont nés quelque part

Posted in Journal at 22:58

In a twist that would likely inspire him to write another song were he still alive, Georges Brassens is considered one of the icons of modern French culture for his poetry and music. One of his pieces in particular applies quite well to the current climate. Any English translation is difficult as the plays on words are numerous; bear with me in my attempt.

The Ballad of People Who Were Born Somewhere

C’est vrai qu’ils sont plaisants, tous ces petits villages
Tous ces bourgs, ces hameaux, ces lieux-dits, ces cités
Avec leurs châteaux-forts, leurs églises, leurs plages
Ils n’ont qu’un seul point faible et c’est d’être habités

    How pleasant they all are, these little villages
    All these towns, hamlets, boroughs and estates
    With their castles, churches, and beaches
    They only have one weakness: people live in them

Et c’est d’être habités par des gens qui regardent
Le reste avec mépris du haut de leurs remparts

    People who look down from atop their walls
    With contempt for others

La race des chauvins, des porteurs de cocardes
Les imbéciles heureux qui sont nés quelque part
Les imbéciles heureux qui sont nés quelque part

    A race of partisans and flag-wearers
    These happy cretins who were born somewhere
    These happy cretins who were born somewhere

Maudits soient ces enfants de leur mère patrie
Empalés une fois pour toutes sur leur clocher
Qui vous montrent leurs tours, leurs musées, leur mairie
Vous font voir du pays natal jusqu’à loucher

    Shame on these children of their homeland
    Finally impaled on their bell tower
    Who show you their skyscrapers, museums, town halls
    Who have you look at their birthplace until you’re cross-eyed

Qu’ils sortent de Paris ou de Rome ou de Sète
Ou du diable Vauvert ou bien de Zanzibar

    Whether they come from Paris or Rome or Sète [NdT: Brassens’ birthplace]
    Or from the middle of nowhere or from Zanzibar

Ou même de Montcuq il s’en flattent mazette
Les imbéciles heureux qui sont nés quelque part
Les imbéciles heureux qui sont nés quelque part

    Or even out of Montcuq they don’t give a damn [NdT: Montcuq sounds like “mon cul” which means “my ass”]
    These happy cretins who were born somewhere
    These happy cretins who were born somewhere

Le sable dans lequel douillettes leurs autruches
Enfouissent la tête on trouve pas plus fin
Quant à l’air qu’ils emploient pour gonfler leurs baudruches
Leurs bulles de savon c’est du souffle divin

    The enveloping sand in which their ostriches
    Put their heads could not be finer
    As for the air they use to fill their windbags
    The bubbles they blow are of divine breath

Et petit à petit les voilà qui se montent
Le cou jusqu’à penser que le crottin fait par

    And bit by bit their noses rise higher
    Until they believe that even the dung

Leurs chevaux même en bois rend jaloux tout le monde
Les imbéciles heureux qui sont nés quelque part
Les imbéciles heureux qui sont nés quelque part

    Of their horses, even wooden, is a thing to be envied
    These happy cretins who were born somewhere
    These happy cretins who were born somewhere

C’est pas un lieu commun celui de leur naissance
Ils plaignent de tout coeur les petits malchanceux
Les petits maladroits qui n’eurent pas la présence
La présence d’esprit de voir le jour chez eux

    Where they were born is no ordinary place
    They feel so badly for the unlucky
    Those incompetent folk who didn’t have the presence
    The presence of mind to see the light at their home

Quand sonne le tocsin sur leur bonheur précaire
Contre les étrangers tous plus ou moins barbares

    When the bell tolls for their precarious happiness
    Against foreigners all more or less uncivilized

Ils sortent de leur trou pour mourir à la guerre
Les imbéciles heureux qui sont nés quelque part
Les imbéciles heureux qui sont nés quelque part

    They come out of their hole to die in wars
    These happy cretins who were born somewhere
    These happy cretins who were born somewhere

Mon Dieu qu’il ferait bon sur la terre des hommes
Si on n’y rencontrait cette race incongrue
Cette race importune et qui partout foisonne
La race des gens du terroir des gens du cru

    My God it would be a fine earth for humankind
    If this odd race were never encountered
    This wearisome race that proliferates everywhere
    The race of local folk, of true patriots

Que la vie serait belle en toutes circonstances
Si vous n’aviez tiré du néant tous ces jobards

    How wonderful life would be all around
    If You had not created these fools from the nothingness

Preuve peut-être bien de votre inexistence
Les imbéciles heureux qui sont nés quelque part
Les imbéciles heureux qui sont nés quelque part

    Perhaps it’s proof of Your inexistence
    These happy cretins who were born somewhere
    These happy cretins who were born somewhere

Pear-akeets

Posted in Journal, Photography at 20:42

Parakeet friend

The neighboring flock of parakeets do love a good pear tree. I went to visit them with a proper camera, my Nikon D40, which I’ve had for ten years. I used my Imado f2.8 135mm telephoto lens, which is 30+ years old, thus originally made for film cameras. With the D40 it’s fully manual, which is a bit tricky when photographing birds at twilight, but the reward is gorgeous color. There’s an album for my pics of the colorful birds now.

This character was delighted to have her picture taken.

"Heehee, you're taking my picture!"

Of parakeets

Posted in Journal, La France, Nice at 21:31

Many apologies for the silence. As a few readers know, I keep meaning to update, and then life happens. The most recent was of course 14 July in Nice. It was heartbreaking; affected me very deeply. I’m only just now starting to feel normal. I’d had TGV tickets to take care of my apartment there that same weekend, for which I was grateful. Being able to walk the Promenade and talk with other people in the city was a balm.

After returning to my Paris suburb, I started taking more evening walks. During one of them, a parakeet greeted me. My first reaction, due to the parakeet being so friendly, and it being the holidays, was that the poor thing must have been abandoned. A few friends mentioned, however, that parakeets in cities are somewhat common. So I decided to look more carefully on my next walk. It turned out I didn’t need to look very far, because Madam Parakeet found me on her own and introduced me to her partner.

Earlier this week their flock fweeped (parakeet for “chirped”) up a storm in a tree, and one did a lovely swoop over my head. This evening they were a bit more secretive, but I did get a beautiful shot of one flying from her perch.

Parakeet in flight

Settling in

Posted in Journal, Paris at 17:12

Mystery bulbs have flowered!

My broken wrist is finally nearing normal these six months later, and the cats are very happily installed in our new home and garden. Work has been very busy, but this week I realized how much I miss writing. I don’t do much of it any more, apart from necessarily-short email missives, which are honestly a bit painful when you love the written word. Their brevity is important, fewer words mean fewer opportunities for misunderstandings, but that too calls up an absence.

Misunderstandings are part of what make us human. To misunderstand, or one could say, to understand differently, to interpret, is human. Of course it’s important to have shared understanding, yet it is also in the empty spaces of differing comprehensions that we learn about ourselves; learn about each other. To span these spaces we build conversational bridges, or urge ourselves to look up a definition, a reference. Or the opportunity goes by unnoticed, in the cases of incomprehensions so profound that one is convinced of one’s correctness.

My garden is growing happily in the dappled Parisian sun and regular spring rains. Shown above are surprise bulbs – as I moved in at mid-autumn, I had little idea what was hidden beneath the dirt. These bulbs started sprouting in January, so I originally thought they might be daffodils or hyacinths. Instead they look to be bluebells. I have also planted some English lavender and seeded quite a bit of annual and perennial flowers. All of them are sprouting, we’ll see how it looks in another month or two.

All is well

Posted in Journal, La France, Paris at 20:21

Flags at half mast, La Defense

Life has been very brisk these past few months. Work, then a broken wrist, a change of home, and of course, the tragic attacks in Paris just over a week ago.

I’m finally firmly at home in my new city. A bigger apartment with a garden, in a quiet area – it’s immensely refreshing. The cats are noticeably happier than in the studio, and love looking out our French doors into the garden. While moving with a broken wrist wasn’t easy, I have been grateful for the medical leave it entailed, since it’s also allowed me to take the time to find my bearings more thoroughly.

Physical therapy for the wrist started a couple of weeks ago; I’m finally able to start lifting small things and type for more than ten minutes without exhausting pain. It happened while roller skating, as part of tryouts for a roller derby team here. After two hours of exercises and skating, my thighs started telling me, “welp, it’s Friday evening and I’m tired!” I tried one last jump, but as I turned to make it, sure enough, my pivot leg’s thigh gave out. I fell, and did what you’re not supposed to do – put out my right hand. I felt my wrist break beneath my wrist guard. Both forearm bones were broken crosswise and had fractures along their length as well, but thankfully none of the smaller wrist bones were injured. The surgeon put in three temporary pins, and six weeks later they were pulled out and reeducation could begin.

Paris has been very quiet since Friday the 13th. We are still living, and hoping that tolerance and joie de vivre will prove stronger than fear. I’ve most enjoyed seeing how very many people are truly applying it to their lives, too. It’s an amazing experience; one that I hope continues in peace.

Un jardin parisien

Posted in Journal, La France at 23:28

New shovel

“Why is there a shovel on her tile balcony?” you may well be asking. Indeed, a shovel is one of the last things I thought I would be buying in Paris. More precisely, I did not even think about buying a shovel until today, when I went to my favorite furniture store for a fan. They had no fans, but they were having a blowout sale to empty the store for upcoming renovations. Among sale items were some fine heavy-duty steel rakes, hoes, and a single, lonely shovel.

I picked up said fine shovel, which shall no longer be lonely, because in just over a month, I’ll be moving into a new home in the Parisian suburbs! A 55sq.m (nearly 600sq.ft) one-bedroom apartment with a 25sq.m (270sq.ft) garden. Not a terrace nor a patio, though a small part of it is covered and could be considered one, but a genuine garden made of earth. It’s a long-term rental I found through what used to be called 1% logement, but is now ordained Participation des employeurs à l’effort de construction (PEEC). This is a tax paid by employers that funds rent-controlled housing as well as zero-interest loans for purchasing homes/apartments. It takes a bit of time to find a good rental, especially in Paris where housing is in high demand, and you have to go through a government-overseen commission for your application to be finalized.

I first applied in May, rejected three other apartments due to size and location considerations, then this one was offered at the end of June. I jumped at it before even knowing it had a garden. When I visited, it was something of a dream come true. Just one next-door neighbor, a retired woman who also has cats. The garden has a high fence and bushes that climb above it, and gives onto a low-traffic, dead-end street that only serves two apartment buildings. I plan to make sure the cats can’t get so adventurous they go into the street, but it’s reassuring to know that if ever they do, it’s not very dangerous.

The apartment is laid out like a rectangle, if you’ll allow for an old-school ASCII floor plan. Slashes are regular doors and brackets with tildes designate sliding French doors. There are three that give onto the garden, one from every main room:

 ---------------------------------------
|            garden                     |
|                                       |
|[ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ]-[ ~ ~ ]-[ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ]|
|                 |       |             |
|   living        |kitchen|   bedroom   |
|    room         |       |             |
|                 |       |             |
|                 |       |  / ---------|
|          |         /____   / _________|
|          | entry  |  WC |    bathroom |
 ------------  /  ----------------------

The commission that approved my application was held this Monday, so the news is recent! I feel a mix of emotions: relief at being able to live in a larger space, happiness at having a garden I’ll be able to work in (the owner lets renters take care of it), and excitement that the cats and I will be in a quiet, clean space near the Seine.

Because yes, on top of having a nice layout in a quiet area, I’m a hop, skip and a jump from the riverbank. I can hardly believe my luck. The only downsides – because every place has a downside, you just need to know what you’re willing to compromise on – are that the building isn’t terribly attractive, being a 2000s example of “concrete squares painted various shades of white” architecture and it’s a ten-minute walk to the nearest train station. But with the Seine so close by, I’ll also be able to ride my bike.

As for my Nice apartment, it still hasn’t sold. French people aren’t big fans of renovated spaces from more than about a decade ago, and my place isn’t in an area where non-French buyers look. It’s turned out to be a blessing in disguise, however. I’ve always been good at handling my budget, so have managed to keep my head above the water all this time (though occasionally just barely). I’m putting it up for a student rental now, and will fix it up as finances allow. Next summer it will likely be ready for holiday rentals, and I’ll probably put it up for another student rental afterwards. It’s perfect for a young couple, and near university facultés as well as the express bus to Sophia Antipolis for its technical colleges.

I was in Nice this last weekend to clean out more of it. Friends (who are also long-time readers! *waves*) kindly accompanied me to the beach so I could get in a bit of swimming. I hadn’t been in the Mediterranean for a year, so that was lovely.

Nice sunset panorama

Sunny summer day

Posted in Journal, La France, Paris, Photography at 17:32

Palais de Tokyo panorama

Last week I learned about Vincennes en Anciennes and their Traversée de Paris estivale, where vintage cars drive through the city, stopping at a few landmarks. Unfortunately they don’t have a set schedule, other than leaving from Vincennes at a certain time in the morning. I arrived too late at Charles de Gaulle – Étoile, which I found out by checking their Facebook page.

It was a beautiful day here, though, so I made the most of it. The walk from Étoile to Eiffel is short and pleasant, filled with architectural beauties and always a surprise or two.

Arc de Triomphe, top

The Arc de Triomphe was cleaned starting last year; you can see a lot more of the detail on it now.

Boat on the Seine

Houseboats from around Europe dock in Paris. This one was from Antwerp, Belgium.

Eiffel from Passerelle Debilly

Bonne fête nationale !

Posted in Journal, La France, Paris at 21:15

A short stint here

C’est le 14 juillet et il fait beau ! The photo above was actually taken a couple of weeks ago, when I had the opportunity to work in that very same EDF skyscraper.

As summer holidays approach, I’ll have more time to share my discoveries of Paris. A few days ago I saw the Jean Paul Gaultier exhibit currently at the Grand Palais. I made a day out of it, walking to Concorde and the east edge of the Tuileries, then back up the Champs Elysées for window shopping and ice cream. At the Arc de Triomphe, tourists asked to take their photo with me, assuming I was a Frenchwoman. Which, technically, is correct, but nonetheless brings a smile to my originally-Oregonian face.

Now when I look at the Arc, a new memory is recalled. A colleague kindly drove me (and another colleague) around it. I do believe I’ve come full circle from driving McKenzie Pass to now having experienced the largest cobblestone roundabout in Europe. It was pretty wild… we’ll see if I ever achieve actually driving it myself someday.

Your twice-yearly update

Posted in Cats, Journal, Meta at 19:01

Kanoko and Susu together

Teasing with the title there. The pause hasn’t been intentional; more a collection of “later… later…” on my part. For nearly three months…!

The cats are doing great (the photo above was taken today), and I’ve been doing pretty well too. Paris holds more opportunities across the board, whether they be personal, interpersonal, career-related, cat-related. I’ve been making the most of it, so my blog has gone to the backburner in the meanwhile.

The biggest plus has definitely been for my career. I’ve finally been given long-requested promotions, ones for which work just wasn’t there in the southeast. The flip side is that, as a consultant with immediately-recognizable client companies, I’m not at liberty to talk about it in more than the most general terms. So, in the time I haven’t been writing here, I have been thinking about which direction to take my blog. I have some ideas, but they’re still fuzzy; my day job has been taking up most of my creative brainpower. Which is a wonderful thing! It’s great to have a job that asks creativity of me. I’ve always been an organic sort, so I know that when I say “we’ll see” for this blog, we actually will.

Vélocipède motivée

Posted in Cycling, Journal at 14:35

 
My GT at the office

Photo soon to be updated with a road sister

Following up on my Vélo Bleu and mountain bike commutes to the office, I prioritized getting a solid road bike for regular commuting and escapades into our beautiful back country. I say “prioritized” because, as you may recall, I’m also dealing with plumbing issues in my kitchen. However, the problems it has caused aren’t urgent, don’t affect anyone else, and since my insurance has already been notified, I’m fine to wait until my finances are where I can afford the repairs. I do still need to call my trusted plumber to confirm what needs to be done, but that quote won’t cost anything. Meanwhile, riding on the Promenade to work, re-experiencing my old love of road cycling, a long-dormant dream was reawakened: to have my own road bike. It’s the perfect time in road cycling at large, too, because established manufacturers are making entry-level and intermediate frames out of aluminum, using components that are worthy sisters to their pro-grade siblings, at prices you could hardly imagine ten years ago. It used to be you had to shell out about two grand for a quality setup that would last for years; nowadays solid, speed-capable aluminum road bikes worth their salt start at around 800, with 1000-1200 being a sweet spot in terms of value. It’s not a small amount of money, but nor is it all that much when you consider use and maintenance.

Cheaper bikes of any type tend to sacrifice on frame and component quality. I’ve seen this with mountain bikes: I’ve had my GT since 2006, and have yet to even replace the disc brake pads on it (I do go lightly on them). The chain, shifters, derailleurs, shocks, crankset and cassette, even the cables, are still all original and working beautifully. This with an investment of about 30-40 euros per year in bike shop maintenance. Meanwhile, some other mountain bikers (only some, most are enthusiastic and friendly), who bought much less expensive bikes and scoffed at me for spending 1800 on my GT, ended up singing a different tune after failures. The worst type is a frame failure, which I’ve seen twice now in French off-brand bikes less than four years old (those sold by big-name sports stores with the store brand). When a frame breaks, it can kill you, as it nearly did one guy who barely avoided a broken seat tube through his abdomen. The good news is that mountain bikes get more frame stress than other types of bike, so it’s more rare to see frame failure on non-MTBs. As for components, the cheapest entry-level components don’t often last more than a few years of regular use. In terms of overall cost, paying more for better quality is worth it: I paid 1800 for my GT seven years ago. I’ve only put 240 euros of maintenance into it (40 x 6 years to be generous, some years were only 30 euros), and about 400 euros’ worth of tires and inner tubes. That works out to just over 2400 euros total, over 7 years, which is 340 euros per year, or less than 30 euros per month. And it’s still going strong. In terms of utility, that’s less expensive than most gym subscriptions. In terms of enjoyment, it’s priceless… I love cycling and the outdoors, can hardly imagine a better way to spend time.

After a couple weeks getting up to speed on modern road bikes, I dropped by my trusted bike shop, Vélo Concept on Boulevard Raimbaldi in Nice. (Their website has been down, so I don’t link to it here. It’s best to go in person anyway, they’re great.) Sure enough, within five minutes I was shown a bike that seemed it would be perfect, and true to this bike shop, they encouraged me to look at it online at home and think about it. I did that, and was seriously impressed. It’s a BH Sphene 105, the top model in the entry-level Sphene line, which is still “only” 1100 euros. It’s more expensive than the others because it has components that are related to professional-grade ones, in this particular case, Shimano 105 with an FSA Omega compact double crankset. If you’re going “what”, no worries, a couple weeks ago I was too. I rode a 1970s Japanese steel road bike as a kid. That was the last road bike I used regularly. My vocabulary had basically been “front gears”, “back gears”, and “shifters”. The translation is easy: a crankset, les plateaux in French, are the front gears and crank arms, to which pedals are attached. Back gears are the cassette, also cassette or pignons in French. Component lines change regularly, so it’s natural to have to look into them in order to find your bearings. Shimano’s 105 groupset/gruppo, as a set of shifters, derailleurs (the mechanical bits that actually perform the shifting), brakes, crankset, cassette, and chain are called, is Shimano’s everyman offering that’s known for being smooth and solid, and thus a bit heavier than other, pricier gruppos, but performance is so good that the guy at the bike shop said he races in 105. Now. You may have noticed that a groupset includes a crankset, when the crankset on my bike is an FSA compact double… not a Shimano 105. FSA makes nice cranksets, and a compact double is a relatively new invention that is gradually making triple cranksets (three front gears) obsolete, because with 10-speed cassettes (most had been 9-speed in the past), there’s not much of a gearing difference between a compact double paired with a 10-speed cassette, and a triple paired with a 9-speed cassette. (It does also depend on the cassette, but going into that would complicate things for this blog post.) Additionally, having only two gears in front makes a difference in size and mechanical capabilities. Chain lines, meaning the angles a chain can take depending on gears used, are more acute on a triple crankset than on a double. Also, having a third gear up front makes the pedals spaced slightly wider, and shifting a bit clunkier. Small differences, but they do add up when you ride regularly.

As for bike size, this is the most important reason I went to my bike shop, second only to the fact that they’re awesome and I’m happy to give them business. While you can order a bike online, in general you’ll be better off ordering from a bike shop, for fit and price. Why price? Well, when you get a bike from a shop, usually a free fitting is part of the price, whereas if you order online, a fitting will be extra. A fitting takes 45 minutes to an hour. Why get a bike professionally fit? If you’ve ever ridden a city share bike, or borrowed a friend’s bike, and ridden it more than half an hour, you’ve probably gotten sore. You’ve probably also blamed that soreness on being out of shape. In reality, if you had sore tendons (knees especially), joints (wrists and shoulders), or a sore back, it was not because you’re out of shape, it was because the bike didn’t fit you. This is hard-earned experience talking: when you ride a bike that fits you, with proper posture: arch your back (don’t ride with a straight back) and flex your elbows, and you’re out of shape, your muscles are sore. Never joints. I want to repeat that, because it’s important: I have never had sore tendons or joints from mountain biking. On the other hand, the Vélo Bleu I rode for an hour and a half did a real number on my knees and wrists. If you want to ride regularly, and more than a half-hour at a time, a bike fitting is worth every penny for the physical benefits alone. It also helps you go faster, but that’s mainly important if you’re the type who likes to ride fast (I am).

Doing it yourself has pitfalls: looking at the BH Sphene online, their site said someone my height, 180cm would take an L, which starts at people who are 175cm. The usual caveat for women’s morphology doesn’t apply to me – I have a long torso for a woman, shorter legs, and so am rather close to a man’s body type. However. When I went back to the bike shop yesterday to order my Sphene, he took some preliminary measurements, and put me on the display model M just in case. It turns out that my short arms make up for my long torso… and I need an M to ensure that I can flex my elbows properly. And that’s just the preliminary fitting. I never would have guessed; my mountain bike is the equivalent of a men’s large and fits great, but road geometry vs. MTB geometry (frame shapes, essentially) makes a big difference.

So! If some of what I said was as new for you as it was for me a couple weeks ago, now you too have what it takes to go out and look at bikes with new eyes. One last tip: there’s a warning I’ve always heeded and feel I have to pass on out of courtesy. If you are the sort who enjoys bikes, never try a bike you can’t afford. Because if you like it, and chances are you would… you WILL find a way to pay for it. As soon as I got on the shop’s display model, I knew it was a good thing I hadn’t tried any others, and hadn’t looked into road bikes any earlier, because even stationary, it felt like one sweet ride. Look what happened: I’m postponing plumbing repairs for two rubber wheels on an aluminum frame. And I’m excited about it!