Archive for the 'Journal' Category

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.

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.

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


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”.


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


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.

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

Le Baou de Saint Jeannet

Posted in Journal, La France at 20:44

Le Var devant le Baou de Saint Jeannet

Every weekday morning I’m reminded how lucky I am to live in such a beautiful part of the world. My daily commute takes me across a tall bridge from which we see peaks in the Alps go by, and then we descend the hills of Western Nice to the Var valley. We cross the Var river, and in the light of the rising sun, we see the rock formations behind Carros and Saint Jeannet. The large rock face is called the Baou de Saint Jeannet, and is one of the most recognizable landmarks of Nice Ouest – Carros. There are trails in the area that are quite popular with runners and cyclists.

I took these photos with my little handheld panoramic camera from the bus, a Mercedes that has enormous windows. Although many of us sleep through the early morning ride, a lot of people stay awake for this stretch, just to watch the natural spectacle of the sunrise over our beautiful mountains, our heads all turned the same direction.

Baou de Saint Jeannet

From kitten to cat

Posted in Cats, Journal at 14:20

Today is Miss Susuwatari’s – soot sprite’s – first birthday! She’s gone from being a bright-eyed kitten to an equally bright-eyed young cat. Following is a retrospective over the past nine months that she has been with Kanoko and I.

Susu - first day    Susu’s first day with us, two months old (I had been told she was older; usually it’s best to wait until a kitten is three months old before separating it from its mother) – 29 October 2011

Miss Susu Long-Legs    Two months later – 1 January 2012

Susu    Eight months old – 29 April 2012

Susu one year old    One year old today!

And now for those adorable eyes.

Susu's eyes of mischief    Two and a half months old – 5 November 2011

Susu's eyes    One year old today

Just over four years ago, Mister Puff-Ball, Kanoko, had been found by a neighbor, abandoned in an apartment building entry. No one ever claimed him. Here’s how much he’s grown and changed in that time – his fur really was dull at the start; he probably hadn’t been fed very well.

Kanoko    26 July 2008

Irresistible Kanoko    Today, 25 August 2012. Amazing how he’s blossomed, isn’t it?

They’re both utterly adorable lovebugs, such wonderful companions.

Math is your friend

Posted in Crafts, Journal at 22:02

You may have heard of the intersection between theoretical mathematics, knitting and crocheting, but as any seamstress or tailor could tell you, there’s also quite a bit of math in clothesmaking. Not just measurements, but pattern layout. This is a simple example, but it’s a good illustration of how a little familiarity with math can make creation easier.

A few weeks ago, I fell in love with this fabric, and hoped to make a border print dress with it – a flower border on top (the bodice) and another on the bottom hem.

When I received the fabric, I noticed that the center “stripe” of darker flowers was twice as wide as the selvedge stripes, with white space between the selvedge stripes and the center one. It wouldn’t work for a dress that had a natural waist seam, but just might for a dress with a higher waist. I looked to math to help out.

The fabric was, essentially, divided into sixths: 1/6 selvedge pattern, 1/6 white area, 2/6 (1/3) center pattern, 1/6 white area, and the opposite 1/6 selvedge pattern. Its full width was 110cm. I had a dress pattern I thought might work: Butterick B5369. It met the following requirements, based on the fabric: it had a gored skirt (in sections), meaning that no one skirt piece had a particularly large curve to it. With too pronounced a curve, the skirt would have delved into white space and turned out with an unbalanced appearance. The pattern also had an empire (high) waist, and measured 90cm from bodice top to bottom hem, meaning, on a practical level, that the dress was essentially… divided into fifths related to my fabric! One-sixth of 110cm is 18.33cm, and 110 – 18 = 92cm. As for the dress’ proportions, it would mean 1/5 bodice, 1/5 top waist, 1/5 lower waist, and 2/5 bottom skirt. I could do 1/5 + 1/5 dark stripe for the bodice and top waist, to balance the proportions with the 2/5 stripe on the bottom.

In this case, in sewing, all you have to do is “subtract”, i.e. not use, one of the sixths, which has the bonus of making that extra sixth available for use elsewhere. You do have to be careful to cut everything properly, not accidentally cutting a 1/5 part in a 2/5 section, for instance. That all probably sounds confusing to non-sewists, so I used my stellar Gimp skills to create this über-high-tech illustration of pattern layout. In reality, I cut the skirt pieces much closer together, so as not to waste fabric.:

The long pieces are the waist + skirt gores, while the small bits are bodice pieces (not all of them). You can see a straight line on each bodice piece: they’re meant to be cut on a fold, as was the front center skirt gore, while all other pieces are cut in pairs. (There are exceptions depending on patterns, but this dress happened to have a 7-gore skirt and a 4-piece bodice, though I made the back bodice as a single piece, taking it down to a 3-piece bodice, because I wanted to put a zipper in the side rather than in the center back. Everyone still following? Heh. The bodice changes are tangential to the math bits.)

You may have noticed another interesting side of math’s friendliness: the skirt gore pieces line up very nicely on the selvedge! Indeed, it was a piece of cake to match the stripes, because all I had to do was place the skirt pattern piece’s top (bodice seam line) edges along the selvedge, and make sure they were straight with the cross-grain (skirt length). It also helped that the fabric is not an exact “stripe”, so that the piecing ended up being a nice echo to the motif’s scattered blossoms. The finished proportions ended up like so – I put in a darker line where the bodice seam attaches a sixth to another sixth:

And, naturally, the finished dress! Five cheers for math!

Flower dress - B5639

Living room metamorphoses

Posted in Home improvement, Journal at 11:33

Four years ago, the living room in my newly-purchased apartment was empty and floored with cheap tile.
Living room looking south (before)

I set up what little furniture I had.
Living room, couch nook, after organizing

In December, I was delighted to discover traditional terracotta tomettes beneath the tiles, and started the long floor restoration project.
Uncovering the living room

Once finished with the living room the following June, I had a little more furniture.
Living room looking towards sofa nook

Early 2010, I created a reading nook, repainting the recessed area.
Reading nook, mostly finished

Near the end of 2010 I had finished repainting the main wall, and had the lovely Art Deco couch and chairs set.
Living room from kitchen (1)

I never photographed the PC area, planning for it to be temporary. I wanted to find a nice, good-quality, yet affordable multimedia center that could bring disparate elements together. I browsed every store I could think of, but nothing worked. So it was that I ended up living with a multimedia area looking like this for almost three years.

Then, this April, one of my favorite stores, Habitat, had a big sale on furniture. As always, I checked it out… and this time, found two pieces I liked. The first was a long black multimedia center with three drawers. I put it in the shopping cart, went to check out, and was told it was out of stock. So I went for my second choice, a similarly wide, but taller and, I thought, somewhat clunkier, solid oak piece with straight, squared lines, two doors, and an open shelf. It was half off, making it less expensive than similarly-sized Ikea pieces. Once I had finished putting it together and settled on the best reorganization of elements (I had wanted to put my PC on the shelf, but it was just too large, so I stood it to the side), I could hardly believe how well its color and simple styling went with the rest of the living room. It looks like it was meant to be there.
Living room, May 2012

No more need to hide this side of the living room! You may have noticed that these two recent photos have different coloring than all the previous pictures – before, I used a flash with the kit lens on my Nikon D40 camera. Recently I started using my 30-year-old prime lenses, without flash. Thus the colors are warmer, since there’s no blue flash to override the yellower ambient light.
Living room with new cabinet

When words collide

Posted in Journal, La France, Nice at 13:37

Italian cheese

A few weeks ago, an Italian officemate corrected someone talking about carbonara sauce with cream, saying that true carbonara sauce was from the Rome region, and she was pretty sure it used pecorino cheese – in any case, certainly not cream. In France, carbonara sauce is generally considered to be diced-up bacon (cooked), and a fresh egg mixed with cream. The hot bacon and pasta, when stirred with the sauce, cook the egg and cream just enough to thicken.

On a certain social site (which has been great for getting back in touch with friends around the world!), an Italian friend confirmed that the sauce used pecorino, and one of her friends mentioned that a dash of ground black pepper should be added too – that was where the “carbon” came from in the name. It all sounded delicious, so I was very much looking forward to finding some pecorino here in Nice. “Shouldn’t be too difficult, we’re near the border, I bet there will be some at the Libé market,” I thought.

I went there today, and sure enough, there was an Italian shop selling Italian hams and cheeses! With not one, but two types of pecorino: romano and tendre sardegna, which you can see in this blurry photo (taken with my cameraphone). The pecorino tendre sardegna is the cheese with black rind, two of them are stacked on the right. The pecorino romano is in the middle, marked 17.90€/kg. It also has a black crust, which isn’t visible here.

I asked for une tranche de pecorino romano (“a slice of pecorino romano”) in my own Niçois-ish accent, meaning what I said sounded more like “una transha de pecorino romano”. (French people who don’t know me first assume I’m from the area due to my accent… it’s a bit odd, knowing I picked up the accent because it’s actually easier for me to pronounce, being more rhythmic.) Also, having studied Italian at university, I used Italian “r” sounds, in the front of the mouth, not the French “r” rolled in the back of the mouth. “Romano??” the shopkeeper asked, seeming surprised. “Romano!” I nodded, smiling. “È italiano!” he smiled. I nodded, smiling again, happy to have found Italian cheeses.

Immediately after I’d nodded, I realized I’d misheard him: he had said “è italiana“, meaning he’d assumed I was Italian (“a” makes it feminine, me being a woman, whereas pecorino is masculine), and I had just said “yes” with my nod. English, French and Italian jumbled in my mind, I couldn’t say a word to correct the misunderstanding. “Italiani hanno molto buon gusto,” the man said cheerily. Again I understood right away (“Italians have very good taste”), so I chuckled and nodded, then mentally kicked myself for getting into a conversation in which I couldn’t participate. My hesitation made me too late to say anything in any language again: “Dopo?” the man asked. “Next?” literally – in French, market sellers often say “Autre chose?”, equivalent to our “anything else?” I motioned “no” and said “okay” for just the pecorino romano. (“OK” seems to work in 99% of Indo-European languages.) He rang me up, looking disappointed, and I left, feeling much the same way, wishing I’d been able to express myself.

Then again, it’s not exactly easy to explain: as simple a statement as “I’m American” may seem, those of us who live here know that it doesn’t conjure images of multilingualism or “good taste.” I am also “French”, though not born here, and being French does equate to ideas of “good taste” for some, but there’s friendly rivalry between Spain, France, and Italy as to whose taste is “better”, and depending on the person, you never quite know what stereotypes you’ll be running into. In any case, one thing is certain: I speak just enough Italian to embarrass myself. I still remember that stage of speaking French, too!