Archive for the 'Journal' Category

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.

And now for 2015

Posted in Biographical, Journal at 14:02

 
Tuareg woman's veil key

“Try not to resist the changes that come your way. Instead let life live through you. And do not worry that your life is turning upside down. How do you know that the side you are used to is better than the one to come?”quote by Rumi

At the end of 2013, I knew that 2014 would necessarily be a year in which my life would turn upside down; however, I could never guess the extent to which that would be true. What may seem like an organic process seen from the outside, was in reality a series of sequential surprises that, with hindsight, each seem to have prepared the way for the next, so that I gladly accepted them. Had you told me in January of this year that I would sell my Nice apartment and take the cats to live and work in Paris, I would have laughed and said “no way,” for several reasons. Gradually, each of those reasons showed to be lesser than the fulfillment that progressively grew as I settled here. “Upside down” has indeed shown itself to be “right-side up.”

Now for this year’s installment of the meme I’ve done for five years: at the end of 2009, the end of 2010, the end of 2011, the very start of 2013 for 2012, and the end of 2013.

1. What did you do in 2014 that you’d never done before?
Whew! Where to start? Lived in Paris, took the cats on the TGV, put my apartment on the market, ate work lunches in restaurants, dismantled my bike to haul it from Nice to Paris, negotiated a job transfer, walked to work, visited the Louvre more than once in the same year…

2. Did you keep your New Year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
In 2013 my resolution was to “act from a place of inner peace,” which I decided to continue for 2014, as well as riding my bike. I did my level best to find that inner peace through all the changes in 2014, which is how it all managed to work out in the end. On the other hand, I didn’t ride my bike as much as I wanted, but that’s mainly because I was instead walking around Paris.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
Not in 2014.

4. Did anyone close to you die?
Several people I didn’t know as well passed away.
Edited to add, once I remembered: actually, my “French grandfather,” who I’d known since 1997, passed away in November. It was of natural causes and quite peaceful. He was a wonderful man: clarinetist in the Lyon national orchestra, owner of a printing house, well-read, profoundly humanist, and member of the French Resistance in Lyon during WWII. We often talked about literature, jazz, and classical music.

5. What countries did you visit?
France? :)

6. What would you like to have in 2015 that you lacked in 2014?
The only thing missing from 2014 was stability, but what I was able to do this year laid the foundations for it. I’m sure 2015 will bear the fruits of 2014, and am very happy to be able to say that.

7. What dates from 2014 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
Goodness, the entire year. It was a turning point on every level.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Last year I said “progress on the job, which, reaching ten years in 2014, I could probably start calling ‘career’.” This year I can confirm that: it is indeed a career, and one that’s become genuinely fulfilling. With it, I’ve been able to widen my horizons, and am deeply grateful for the opportunities.

9. What was your biggest failure?
Allowing myself to get too stressed out at times.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
None in 2014, apart from a couple weeks of voicelessness during the March peak in pollution.

11. What was the best thing you bought?
Shared experiences :)

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?
Friends’; the kind people I’ve worked with.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
Repeating from last year: xenophobia and racism. It was even worse this year. Last year I wrote “there’s always some here and there, but for whatever reason, [2013] seemed quite pronounced.” Well, 2014 unfortunately added to that. Thankfully, though, I was with people who could talk and laugh about it.

14. Where did most of your money go?
OMG. Everywhere except my bank account. Mortgage and rent (two apartments!), travel, clothes (it’s colder in Paris than Nice), shoes, food.

15. What did you get really, really excited about?
Life!

16. What song will always remind you of 2014?
A colleague-friend introduced me to Jacques Dutronc, who I’d known-without-knowing. This classic of his sums up my year well:

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
a) happier or sadder? Very much happier.
b) thinner or thicker? Thinner, from all the walking.
c) richer or poorer? Richer, for which I’m grateful in the still-sputtering economy.

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?
Cycling, hiking, sewing.

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?
Stress.

20. How did you spend Christmas?
Walking around Paris.

21. Did you fall in love in 2014?
No comment.

22. What was your favorite TV program?
I don’t have a TV, but usually I watch series – this year I didn’t have the time.

23. What was the best book you read?
“Kafka on the Shore” by Haruki Murakami.

24. What was your greatest musical discovery?
As mentioned earlier, Jacques Dutronc.

25. What did you want and get?
A promising future.

26. What did you want and not get?
My stinking bathroom renovation in Nice.

27. What was your favorite film of this year?
Qu’Allah bénisse la France“, a luminous, humanist film that reminds you cinema is an art form.

28. What did you do on your birthday?
Relaxed.

29. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
2014 could hardly have been more satisfying.

30. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2014?
Sleek and colorful.

31. What kept you sane?
As last year, friends and creativity, Kanoko and Susu (my cats).

32. What political issue stirred you the most?
Equality and tolerance.

33. Who did you miss?
Faraway friends

34. Who was the best new person you met?
Still no comment.

35. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2014:
As long as cats have a perch, their toys, and love, they’ll be fine with a move.

36. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year:

Nouvel élan 2014

Posted in Biographical, Journal at 17:48

Moose calf

In French the New Year is called Le Nouvel an. Un élan is both a moose (also called elk in Europe, although they’re quite different in Pacific Northwest language) and used as a word in English that means enthusiasm. It’s often used in French to denote a “zest” for something, for instance “donner un nouvel élan à la vie” means “to give a new zest for life”. There’s also a joke often used at meals when one asks for the salt: “avec ou sans élan ?” The best response is to laugh, because if you say “avec” you’ll get the salt thrown at you – avec élan means “with vigor”. If you say “sans” you may never get the salt. Long story short, here’s to hoping that 2014 will be a nouvel an avec élan.

Without further ado, or moose, here is this year’s installment of the meme I’ve now done for four years: at the end of 2009, the end of 2010, the end of 2011, and the very start of 2013 for 2012.

1. What did you do in 2013 that you’d never done before?
– Founded my little publishing house and published a book, which has since done well
– Bought my first road bike and cycled Riviera city roads for the first time (had kept to cycling lanes when using the Vélo Bleu rentals)

2. Did you keep your New Year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
Normally I don’t make resolutions, but last year I did decide to: “Act from a place of inner peace.” Happy to say it worked out very well. For 2014, continue doing that… and riding my bike!

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
Loads of babies and pregnancies in 2013!

4. Did anyone close to you die?
A very sweet tuba and bass trombone player I knew from our high school jazz band. He was only 40, and left behind his wife and five children. He died of leukemia just a few days before Christmas. We hadn’t been in close touch, but I’ve always remembered him as the archetypal big and kind-hearted tuba guy, and he’ll remain that.

5. What countries did you visit?
My trip to Australia with a stopover in Qatar was just before 2013… this year I actually didn’t visit any other countries!

6. What would you like to have in 2014 that you lacked in 2013?
I do wish I could have a pay raise so that I can finally afford to get my bathroom plumbing fixed and, ideally, travel outside of Europe.

7. What dates from 2013 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
– Autumn and winter on my bike through the Riviera! Beautiful.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Progress on the job, which, reaching ten years in 2014, I could probably start calling “career”.

9. What was your biggest failure?
Again!! I didn’t manage to get my bathroom water damage repaired. I got the quote done, and a month later my kitchen flooded. All of my funds went to repairing that. Sigh. Someday I’ll have a real shower.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
Last year I said “I hope 2013 will be healthier!” and it was indeed.

11. What was the best thing you bought?
You’ve probably guessed, right. Yes, my road bike.

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?
Friends, as well as the kind people I’ve worked with.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
Xenophobia and racism. It was pretty bad this year. There’s always some here and there, but for whatever reason, this year seemed quite pronounced.

14. Where did most of your money go?
Mortgage, plumbing, bike, food.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
Every single time I prepare for a bike ride, heh.

16. What song will always remind you of 2013?
This is kind of an in-joke, but “The Witch” by The Primitives.

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
a) happier or sadder? About the same.
b) thinner or thicker? Same.
c) richer or poorer? Richer, again, and though that’s not saying much in terms of numbers, it is something for which I’m thankful as the economy continues to cough and sputter.

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?
Sewing. I put it off for several months while working on other projects, but wish I hadn’t.

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?
I’m thinking about this and can’t come up with anything, just as last year.

20. How did you spend Christmas?
Eating delicious food and enjoying board games with friends! “The Witch” may or may not have to do with my implausible winning streak in one.

21. Did you fall in love in 2013?
Stopped looking for it last year, and continued enjoying the friendships and love already surrounding me.

22. What was your favorite TV program?
“Xena: Warrior Princess” which I finally finished watching. I had seen two seasons in the States before leaving fifteen years ago. Seeing all of them was great.

23. What was the best book you read?
“Witchcrafting” no wait, that’s a mistake!! ;-)

24. What was your greatest musical discovery?
My collection as listened to through my new stereo receiver. It has been lovely to rediscover rich sound.

25. What did you want and get?
That new stereo receiver, my bike (of course), happy cats continued being happy and healthy, and my “new” vintage sewing machine, which sews beautifully.

26. What did you want and not get?
My stinking bathroom renovation.

27. What was your favorite film of this year?
“Pacific Rim”, though I also discovered one from 2010 that I can’t get enough of: “Trolljegeren“.

28. What did you do on your birthday?
Relaxed.

29. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
2013 was wonderfully satisfying as it was.

30. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2013?
Libre

31. What kept you sane?
As last year, friends and creativity, Kanoko and Susu (my cats).

32. What political issue stirred you the most?
Marriage equality! So happy to see it reaching more and more places, as well as France this year, of course.

33. Who did you miss?
Faraway friends

34. Who was the best new person you met?
Several, at the client in Cagnes. I’m going to miss them.

35. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2013:
Sometimes the best response is none at all.

36. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year:
“She beckoned to me but I was scared to go; and all around was a weird and wonderful glow…”

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!

Voyageons, voyageons

Posted in Biographical, Journal, La France, Travel at 21:10

In France, companies with 50 employees or more are required to have a comité d’entreprise, CE, works council, which not only serves as an apolitical employee union (in addition to external, non-company-limited unions), but also organizes activities, outings, tours, voyages and such, all at discounted prices since they can negotiate group reductions. My company’s CE organizes national and international trips, most of them to large cities I’ve already visited, but this year they offered a 3-day trip to the Camargue region. I’ve been to the area in the past, but it was 15 years ago, and have often wanted to return. It was all finalized recently, and having bought my TGV tickets, it’s been bringing back a wave of travel memories in France!

Very, very long-time readers (I know of at least one *waves to Chris*) may recall that back in 1995, I started writing web pages about France, the French language, and cross-cultural issues. The web has changed so much since then, veering from backlash against personal pages (I fondly recall receiving emails in the 90s treating me as a madwoman for thinking I had any business writing about France as an individual and mere student of French, the horrors!), to an influx of “blogs” viewed with a mix of incomprehension and mild derision, to what’s now seen as so normal that the phrase “get your own blog” has entered our vocabulary and people enjoy random photos and videos of cats.

La roue tourne ! So it is that as I rememorated my travels in France, my 1995 writings also came to mind, and I realized that in all that turning of the wheel of Internet fortunes, a record of my past travels had fallen into the ether. I would like to do a series of posts while approaching the trip to Camargue, beginning with a look back at my travels in France that have preceded it.

1995
In the fall of 1994, I started my university studies as a double Russian (yes!) and music performance major. I finished a semester of Russian language and literature courses, then decided to focus on music performance. At the same time, I continued to be intrigued by the Internet: I had first gotten online several years earlier, as a mere pre-teen, via Prodigy and a local Freenet dialup that offered UNIX accounts. Those where the days of wheezing, beeping modems, BBS, and gopher. I had a thing for gopher, because you could connect to library collections across the world, in foreign languages – utterly fascinating for an up-and-coming language and literature nerd. In my forays into foreign libraries, I met people I got along with well enough to get into IRC.

Thus my first trip to France was born. I met students at a top telecoms engineering school (university level) in Brittany, got the wild teenage idea that I could up and go with cashiering money I’d earned, and so I did, in the summer of 1995. To make a very long story short, I landed in Paris, never really saw the inside of the city, and boarded a train for Lannion. Later I took trains to the opposite side of the country, Mulhouse, through Paris again, but only seeing its métro while moving from one train station to the next. The métro blew my countryside Oregonian mind. I had never even taken a public bus before! Later my hosts in Mulhouse showed me most of Alsace, as far north as Strasbourg, with hikes in the Vosges.

That fateful trip led directly to changing my major to French. I had studied it since the age of 10, stopping only for that first year of university, then fallen definitively in love with the country during my short visit. I changed my music major to a minor, threw myself into French studies, and loved every minute of it. My web presence reflected both: with Chris, the friend I waved at earlier, we ran our university’s web presence for the School of Music and especially our marching band. I also wrote pages on France, curated a list of links (back then this was something many people did), and also wrote personal entries from time to time, before “blogs” were a thing. Thoroughly enjoying my studies helped keep me at the top of my class, and so it was that I earned a scholarship and a spot as a direct exchange student for the final year of my BA.

1997-1998
Once again, I arrived in Paris but saw only the inside of a hotel in the middle of the night, waking up before dawn to catch a TGV to Lyon. I had met a French student there, whose family lived in the Ain, and with whom I got along very well. We all loved the outdoors, hiking, travelling, literature and language – it was a wonderful time. They drove me to Chamonix, Annecy, Bourg-en-Bresse, Gex, Ambérieu, Chambéry, Grenoble, Valence, and innumerable other villages, most of them in the Rhône valley. We went on hikes in the foothills of the Alps, and the mountains themselves. I’ll always remember taking the cable car up to the Aiguille du Midi, near Mont Blanc, and seeing the glacier. We would return some years in the future, and the glacier’s rapid disappearance was easily visible. My mother-not-quite-in-law also invited me on a week-long hike through all the peaks of the Swiss and French Jura mountains, where I took some of my favorite photos… with my old Nikon 35mm!

Our university also organized outings, my favorite being to the châteaux de la Loire. Not long afterwards, my adoptive host family drove me to southern France, passing through Marseille and Arles, and on to Nîmes. It was sensory overload – I had never seen so many incredible Roman ruins and stone castles in my life, and the countryside was simply stunning. To top it all off, my father-not-quite-in-law and I both enjoyed the same types of wines: strong reds and hefty whites, so he took us to dozens upon dozens of vineyards and filled the trunk of the family Volvo with 5-liter casks.

I saw Paris for the first time in the summer of 1998! Where Lyon was a lovely concentrate of fabric arts, cinema, and literature, Paris was everything.

In the fall of 1998, I joined my French partner, who had found a job earlier in the year in Helsinki, Finland. I did love Finland, but am focusing on France in this entry, so we’ll skip two years ahead!

April 2000
I had a job interview as a web designer for a startup in Sophia Antipolis. I flew from Helsinki to Nice, and still recall my first sensation on exiting the plane: “Wow, it smells wonderful here…!” I took the bus to Sophia, the very same bus I still commute in to this day. The interview went fine, but the position wasn’t very well-defined and all the interviewers were young and terrifically ambitious, so I politely declined. Like so many web startups of the early oughts, it skyrocketed for a year or two, then floundered into nothingness.

June 2000
I returned to Nice, working as a freelance translator and interpreter. I’ve visited innumerable villages in this southeastern corner of France, as well as in Provence. My favorites are the fortified hill cities so typical of this part of the world, and our sparse yet fragrant forests. When the spring and summer sun comes out after rainfall, you can smell what I now know is a lovely mixture of pine needles, wild lavender, thyme, and rosemary.

September 2002
Corsica requires a mention of its own! Like the Rhône region, the island reminded me of my home state as soon as I set foot in Ile-Rousse. Wild, rocky, mountainous and wooded, with wild boar and goats roaming the countryside, it felt like seeing what the French Riviera must have looked like before its wild coastline was tamed into an immense, unbroken city. (Travelling from Nice to Cannes, there is not much separation between towns.) It was also the site of a rocambolesque horseback ride in which I started out on a horse who had wanted to go to stable for the evening. He made his displeasure at the change in schedule known by flipping his ears back at the prospect of carrying me. After much nipping of other horses’ rear ends, going straight down steep hillsides rather than using switchbacks, and stopping to nibble Corsican greenery, his final mischief was to piss off a couple of red long-haired cows. The irritated bovines took their own revenge-nips at my horse’s behind, he reared, I grabbed on for dear life, his neck couldn’t hold me, and so he managed to set me down gently, feet in the air and helmeted head on the ground, my back against an ancient stone shepherd’s lean-to while the other riders gasped and laughed.

The digital age
I forget exactly when I got my first digital camera, but starting around 2004, most of my other travels have been photographed and put online, with a few older film photos scanned as well.

Growing up, it seemed wild just to imagine visiting European capitals, much less the joyful peregrinations I’ve had the good fortune to experience in reality. I’m very much looking forward to the upcoming Camargue trip since it has been so long since I’ve been elsewhere in France, other than this southeast corner and Paris. The southwest is one part of l’Hexagone that I still haven’t seen much of.

Now in book form

Posted in Journal, La France at 19:35

Regular visitors have likely noticed that I haven’t been posting as often as usual – there was good reason for it, as I had another project in the making! I’m very happy to announce that I founded my own micro-publishing house, named Editions Amnis, and one of our projects can now be found in print, whether on paper or for your favorite ebook reader!

Behind the Facades While the book has an “official” summary, here on my blog I can say a bit more. Written as a novella (short novel), its main theme is relationships, and how different people – and furry beings – approach them. Some see them as definable; controllable. Others view them organically, giving them room to breathe and grow. Still others have no human concept of it, while still clearly having relationships, in this case involving furry tails, pointed ears, and purring. The book’s protagonist, Karin, navigates a flash point in her life that brings together past and present, throwing her childhood and young adult life into clearer perspective, although not one she would have sought out had she known the unvarnished truth ahead of time.

Naturally, the book is set on the French Riviera, although as readers here probably understand implicitly, “the Riviera” and “France” as definable entities (one stereotypical view of relationship to place) are not the focus.

Other books are in the works, though being a “micro” house, they’ll naturally come out on a relaxed schedule. There are Facebook and Google+ pages to follow if you’d like, updated about once or twice a month: Editions Amnis’ Facebook page, and on Google+.

As for the book, it’s available:
– as a trade paperback,
– in ePub format for your iBook device (iPad, iPhone, etc.), as well as for Kobo, Nook, and Aldiko e-readers,
– in Kindle format. For availability in Amazon stores in countries other than the US, search for ASIN B00B274FTC by copy-pasting that code (there are zeroes in it)
– and in other ebook formats: Palm Doc (PDB), PDF, RTF, HTML, LRF, and even plain text.

There’s also a free sample available: Behind the Facades – sample (PDF). Hope that readers enjoy!

Kings Park

Posted in Journal, Travel at 17:15

Baobab - boab tree

The belated continuation of my December trip to Western Australia! Perth is home to the largest inner-city park in the world, Kings Park. I took two guided tours through it, both were wonderful: the first was the Indigenous Heritage Tour, with a Nyoongar guide, and the second was one of the free guided walks, with a volunteer (and non-aboriginal) guide. They both gave complementary information about the park’s and, by extension, Australia’s flora, although I was glad to have taken the indigenous tour first since it was more in-depth about things that the free walk only looked at momentarily.

The photo at top is of a boab tree, which is also known as the baobab. They mainly grow in northern Australia; this one and another were actually transplanted in the park. They don’t grow as well in the southern part of the country, we were told, because the wet and dry seasons aren’t clear-cut enough.

We were told that the most emblematic plant is the kangaroo paw:

Red kangaroo paw

…but the ones I most noticed were banksia, with their saw-tooth leaves, and zamia, a plant that dates back to prehistoric times:

Banksia buds

Zamia

My favorite part was when our Nyoongar guide, Greg Nannup, sat us down to tell a short version of the Dreamtime, when the land was created – in our case, Southwest Australia.

Kangaroo pelt cape

I wrote down what I remembered of the story afterwards. I’ve only studied Haudenosaunee, Northwest Native American, Scandinavian, and Greek creation myths (including for my Masters thesis, so not casually!), and have only occasionally read Australian Aboriginal, so this was the first time I had heard a Dreamtime story in real life. My recounting probably misses some things, in addition to how much shorter it was than a true telling of it would be. Much like Native American creation myths, our guide told us that Aboriginal creation myths are meant to be told over a period of several days, ceremonially. It’s also important to keep in mind that as oral traditions, they’re truly meant to be performed. Reading myths on paper/written down “takes them out of their context”, so to speak, something I can relate to personally having grown up with stories of my Oregon surroundings. As fascinating as our Internet age is, it’s good to keep in mind that there is also a grounded reality to which our own spoken stories, whether everyday or more, are fundamentally related. In the West we tend to see the written word as the final word, which is not the case in other cultures – the spoken word is an embodiment of spirit (which is still hinted at in our languages, as it is from the Latin spiritus, breath, and speaking is in fact using your body and breath to create).

Dreamtime – Creation: There was a time when all was not a dream, but it was not reality as we know it either. The Earth existed, but the sky lay heavily upon it, and so nothing could come into a reality existence.

But the time was coming when the sky would be lifted, and there would be a reality.

In the spirit world — for that was what it was — there were many types of spirits. Tree spirits, animal spirits, fish spirits, flower spirits… and also human spirits. A gathering was held — several, in fact [this is one area in which the story has been shortened] — in which it was debated and discussed and eventually decided who would watch over beings in reality; who would be the caretakers.

Tree spoke first: “We trees stay in one place. We cannot wander the land as a caretaker would need to do.” And the other spirits also spoke. It was decided that humans would be the caretakers, for they had abilities the others did not.

Tree spoke again: “You may use us as you wish, but never destroy us all.” In turn, animals and plants alike offered to protect and nourish their human caretakers in exchange for balance. All agreed: “never destroy us all.”

One day, the giant keeping down the sky became angry with his burden and lifted it. Reality now appeared beneath the sky.

The first two spirits to see it were First Woman and First Man, but they were not yet real. First Woman tentatively set her foot down: it became real, and her footprints are today the deeps in the Swan River, Derbarl Yerrigan. A long strand of her white hair also fell, and became the white sand beaches along the south of the river. First Woman understood she could not go completely into reality, for her true purpose was as a spirit.

Meanwhile, in this part-real, part-spirit world, First Man roamed the land. The last First Woman saw of him, he had been picking up small round things and eating them.

First Woman also roamed, creating hills and plains. In her travels she came across small white spirits: helpless children. She felt she needed to save them, so she picked them up and put them in her hair as she walked the land. Then she realized: the children’s true purpose was to be born as real humans. By picking them up, she was not allowing them to become real.

Then a terrible thought struck her: there was nothing she had crossed on the Earth to eat. There had only been these spirit children; millions and billions of them. First Man had been eating them…!

Now First Woman was really in a panic. The time of reality was also nearing. First Woman replaced as many spirit children as she could. But when reality became permanent, she had to leave, with some of the spirit children still in her white hair.

She flew to the skies with them, having no other choice. Now we see her hair as the Milky Way, and its stars are the spirit children who remained spirits.

Milky Way near the Southern Cross
   (The Milky Way near the Southern Cross, photo by Yuri Beletsky)

Marsupial island

Posted in Journal, Travel at 19:31

Rottnest Island

On the 14th of December, I boarded a flight that went from Nice to Milan and on to Doha, where I changed planes and flew to Perth, Western Australia. I arrived a day and a half after I left, in the evening. The gracious friend who hosted me fed me a lovely dinner of spicy vegetarian stew, and the next morning, we took a ferry from Perth to Rottnest Island, so named by a Dutch captain who mistook the local marsupial population of quokka for rats. The Aboriginal, Noongar name for the island is Wadjemup, meaning “place across the water”.

Quokkas

Villas on Rottnest

There were indeed quite a few of the hoppity, tea-nibbling pouch-holders on the island! We humans stayed in “villas” (cabins). The island is managed by the Australian government. Villas are given on a lottery basis, to ensure as much equality as possible in the distribution. Indeed, one of the nicest things about being on Rottnest is that in spite of its undeniably gorgeous setting, the people who visit it are down-to-earth. Cars are forbidden except for those used by island management, so everyone gets around by foot or bicycle.

Rental bike, Rottnest

Making the most of my jet lag, I borrowed a friend’s bike on my second morning, at around 5am, and rode around a good two-thirds of Rottnest. I didn’t make it to the farthest end, instead cutting across at the narrow western part, since the hills and jet lag had started to fatigue me on the 7-speed rental bike.

Fairbridge Bluff, Rottnest

Peacock

Later that day, my friend and I returned to Little Salmon Bay, where I had the treat of my life, snorkeling amongst tropical fish. I had my waterproof camera with me, so not only was I able to take photographs, I was also able to shoot video! I’ll leave you with a couple of my favorite photos, and a video I took with several different types of fish. The crackling you hear in it is from the seabed; I heard it as well.

Synchronized swimming
These large, silver fish were everywhere, and swam in schools of a dozen to several dozens.

Seaweed
There were also seaweed and corals, stunning surroundings. Enjoy the fish as I saw them while swimming!

Belated New Year 2013

Posted in Biographical, Journal at 20:19

Seaweed

Belated due to traveling by air, land, and water (see above)! Here’s this year’s installment of the now-traditional meme I’ve done for three years: at the end of 2009, the end of 2010, and the end of 2011.

1. What did you do in 2012 that you’d never done before?
– Visited countries in the Middle East and in the southern hemisphere, neither of which I’d set foot in before. (More to come on those visits soon :) )
– Wore a significant amount of clothes that I’d sewn myself – before it had been one or two items, but in 2012, probably 20% of what I wore was handmade.
– Wrote a book – more to come on this soon as well!
– Voted in two presidential elections (dual citizenship): France and the US

2. Did you keep your New Year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
Normally I don’t make resolutions, so there weren’t any to keep from last year. However, this year I do have a resolution:
– Act from a place of inner peace.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
Not of a child, no.

4. Did anyone close to you die?
My UO School of Music Dean (from when I attended, 1994-1997), in horrific circumstances: Anne Dhu McLucas. No one who knew her would ever have imagined such an ending for her vibrant, warm personality.

5. What countries did you visit?
Australia and Qatar, with an absolutely wonderful time with a friend and other friends made once in Australia.

6. What would you like to have in 2013 that you lacked in 2012?
Last year I answered “I’m at a place where I genuinely don’t feel I’m lacking anything important.” At this beginning of 2013, that sentiment has actually increased, for which I’m immensely grateful. I would hope that 2013 continues to build on friendships and peace.

7. What dates from 2012 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
– My Christmas-New Year holidays in Australia, without a doubt.
– Visiting Villa Kerylos and Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Personal growth

9. What was your biggest failure?
Again… I didn’t manage to get my bathroom water damage repaired. This is a priority for 2013, really honestly seriously, heh.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
2012 was not so great in the illness department. Lots of flus and colds, as well as a couple of nasty infections. No injuries, however. I hope 2013 will be healthier!

11. What was the best thing you bought?
My media cabinet! It has been so nice to have a put-together living room, finally.

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?
In the two previous years, I answered that of my friends. This year, one friend in particular stood out: Sue in Perth, who so generously housed and fed me as well as showing me her part of the world. Thanks to her, I have warm and enjoyable memories for a lifetime.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
This goes together with the answer to 8, personal growth: this year I learned how (and most importantly, why) not to let others’ bad behavior get to me so much. So, no one in particular very much stands out in the negative, since I was able to move on from the consequences in good time.

14. Where did most of your money go?
Mortgage, travel, food, sewing patterns and fabric.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
Visiting Australia, naturally!

16. What song will always remind you of 2012?
Chemical Brothers music and the theme to Downton Abbey.

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
a) happier or sadder? Happier, which I honestly didn’t believe possible.
b) thinner or thicker? Same.
c) richer or poorer? Richer, again, though that’s still not saying much :)

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?
Playing my digital piano. I’ve been out of habit for so long that I still neglect it too much.

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?
I’m thinking about this and can’t come up with anything, just as last year.

20. How did you spend Christmas?
Hot. Very hot. 43°C/110°F hot. Meeting neat people and drinking stubbies (beer) in Toodyay, Western Australia. We had a great time!

21. Did you fall in love in 2012?
Stopped looking for it and enjoyed the friendships and love already surrounding me.

22. What was your favorite TV program?
“Downton Abbey” in spite of all its rose-colored upper-class faults.

23. What was the best book you read?
Do sewing patterns count? :) If so, definitely Vogue 8808 (this links to the dress I sewed from it).

24. What was your greatest musical discovery?
Nothing really stood out as memorable, although I did discover some new stuff, of course.

25. What did you want and get?
Meeting new friends and reconnecting with old.

26. What did you want and not get?
My stinking bathroom renovation ;)

27. What was your favorite film of this year?
The new Bond, “Skyfall”.

28. What did you do on your birthday?
Relaxed.

29. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
Wow, 2012 was wonderfully satisfying as it was.

30. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2012?
Independent and soul-searching; self-made

31. What kept you sane?
As last year, friends and creativity, Kanoko and Susu (my cats).

32. What political issue stirred you the most?
Voting in not one, but two presidential elections: France’s and the USA’s

33. Who did you miss?
Faraway friends

34. Who was the best new person you met?
Last year I answered “Sue! We need to meet IRL too :)” and this year we actually did meet!

35. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2012:
Taking the time to act with integrity towards my values and emotions is absolutely worth it.

36. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year:
This year is instrumental, no lyrics. Acid Brass: What Time Is Love?