Thursday, November 28, 2013

Testing the System...

I am instantly awake to the words "Chris, I think something is wrong."

It's 6am and it's cold and dark out.  Jude is not feeling well.

She'd been fighting a virus, but this is different.  So, I try to clear my mind as I reach for our invaluable copy of "Bloom Where You're Planted - How to Live in France" to find the emergency numbers.

OK.  Here's a number for the cardiac hotline.  Hmmm... time to see if my early morning French is any better than my after beer French.  The kind doctor tells me to dial 15 to reach the SAMU.

A somewhat long conversation ensues where I refresh my earlier education about how to relate what hurts and where.  I speak to two people and they determine it's time to dispatch the Sapeurs Pompiers.

I get dressed, brush my teeth (to kill the Dragon Breath) and head downstairs just in time to meet three large Paramedic/Firefighter type men.

They work on Jude and after awhile say we're headed to the Pompidou hospital.  It's a public hospital. 

Jude had spoken to hear doctor just a couple days before about what to do in the event of an emergency.  She learned that her doctor preferred the semi-private Saint Joseph hospital over in the 14eme.  So she tells the man on the phone where she'd like to be taken.

We wrap up Jude as warmly as we can and head downstairs to the waiting paramedic unit.  As I climb in I see by the lights of an on-coming car that it's lightly snowing.

I sit in a seat behind Jude who's laying on a stretcher.  The unit drives pulls away from the curb and a backboard slams into me.  It's not locked down.  I grab the back of Jude's stretcher and put my foot on the backboard to keep it in place.  The siren wails as we wend our way through narrow Paris streets.  It's dark and cold outside.  We pass a long line of police vans, all with their blue oscillating lights turned on bright. This was quickly becoming Mr Toads Wild Ride!

A short time later we pull into St Joe's and they whisk Jude off to be triaged by a nurse.  Some time later, she moves into an ER room where a doctor will take a closer look at things.

Three and a half hours, two EKGs, and one rather large blood work-up later we learn what we need to learn.  In short, Jude's heart is in great condition.  She needs to see her regular doctor to review her meds and to visit a cardiologist. 

The doctor rather apologetically hands us a piece of paper that lists the services rendered.  It was as if anything having to do with money is difficult for the French.  We are free to head toward the checkout counter.

I draw a deep breath.

In the US, any time we've visited the ER, after our insurance paid whatever they'd negotiated, we were left with out of pocket expenses between 900 and 3500USD.  We experienced two non-ER visits to a hospital for one hour tests (one for Jude and one for me) with shared costs (insurance and out of pocket) exceeded 10,000USD.  The costs were consistently scary high, and we had medical coverage through my employer.

We moved to France to benefit from the number one rated medical system in the world, while, at the same time, avoiding the kinds of costs we experienced while living in the US.

I can't imagine what it would've been like had we not had insurance while living in the US.  The number one reason for people declaring bankruptcy in America is due to unpaid medical bills

As Jude says, they'll take your house and put you on the streets if you can't pay for your medical care.  It's not that way in other first world nations, but this ER experience was putting to test our ideas of how affordable proper medical care is outside the US.

I have butterflies in my stomach as we reach the check-out desk.

After several seemingly eternally long minutes, the man behind the desk hands me the RF-enabled credit card reader where I can see what the total cost of the visit is as I enter the PIN.  I can feel my own blood pressure drop through the floor as I completely relax. 

We're out less than 200Euro _before_ insurance picks up their share.

Promise me something, will you?  Promise me that we never have to return to the US.  It's cheaper to live here.  Literally.  OK?  Got it? 

Gods help us! this is exactly why we moved to France.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

The Kindness of Creative People...

For those who may follow my PhotoSketchPad blog, you'll know that I'm a nut for photography.

It should come as no surprise that when the Salon de la Photo trade show hit town that I'd be near the front of the crowd clamoring to get in.  I met Daniel Smith, photographer and Director of the Visual Arts program at WICE and Al Alistair, photographer and manager of the film courses that WICE offers.  We promised that if our credit cards were at risk for buying some new tasty piece of equipment that we'd be there to support each other.

We checked out Fuji's camera offerings, and wandered by to see the new Nikon.  We then each our own way, promising to catch up later, if possible.  I wandered over the Canon counter to take a look at the small SL1/100D and to try a 70-200mm f2.8 L on a full frame camera.  As a comparison, I visited the Sigma counter to take a close look at their 70-200 f2.8 EX OS HSM.

There were plenty of fun things to look at and fondle.  Yet, I found that I was wandering around in a distracted daze.  Something wasn't quite right and I wasn't terribly excited by the wonderful gear on offer.  Perhaps it had a lot to do with the fact that traditional artists don't talk so much about their brushes or tools of their trade as much as they do about what they create and why.  Photography, on the other hand, seemed to be about what you could afford and how much of it you could acquire.  It doesn't seem there is as much attention paid to the final image as to the camera and lenses a photographer carries.

Realizing this, I walked off in search of photographs on display.

While there were some potentially interesting images, I was left cold by the photo-reportage that seemed to be in abundance.  I was left unimpressed by the landscapes and scenery.  There wasn't anything that I fell in love with and would want to hang on our apartment wall.

There was one last aisle to walk.  So, walk it I did...

... and found Daniel talking with a student from a class I taught just the day before.  Dr. Elizabeth Rand had volunteered to help the de Groot Foundation.  I knew nothing of the foundation and so ensued a conversation about who they were, what they did and, gee, take a look at this photograph by a wonderful young artist from Peru...

A quick look around confirmed that these were indeed serious photography folks.  I learned there were six jurors, three in France and three in the USA, who reviewed over 5,000 entries.  Selected images across six categories were awarded a prize by the foundation.  The top winners in each category were flown to Paris to participate in the Salon de la Photo showing of their work.

We, Daniel and I, were introduced to Clydette de Groot.  She was working the display area and shared some of our seemingly boundless enthusiasm for the photographic arts.  It was then that I realized how much my previously dour mood had lifted.  Here was infectious joy expressed around the art of image creation.  Each photograph  was a very worthy winner, from what I could see.  Fabulous work was on display.

Clydette (if I may be so bold as to use just her first name here) said that I must be introduced to a young lady who's work had won one of the prizes.  But before she introduced us, she wanted to explain a little about Mafe Gracia's background.  Her's was the image I was first impressed by when I first wandered by.  In brief, all of the men in five generations of women in her family were dead.  Instantly I better understood what I was looking at and my appreciation for her work deepened dramatically.

I met Mafe and we had a long conversation on photography, life in Lima, Peru, what it was like for her to travel to Paris to participate in the Salon, and what her future plans might be.  I am enthusiastic about her work and shared this with her.  She beamed.  I know, as artists, how we like to be recognized and encouraged.

I found Daniel talking with Dr Elizabeth and tore him away to talk about other fine images in the collection.  There was an amazing image of a dead bird.  Clydette explained that a young lady made this, too, and that she was here in Paris with her mother for the celebrations.  If this kind of image-making was any indication, the future of photography is in good hands.

We moved over to take a look at a very nice portrait.  I explained to Daniel how a Petzval lens was likely used in the making of the photograph.  As I was wrapping up my thoughts on the topic, Mafe returned with something in her hand.

She said "Here.  I want you to have this."  It was a copy of her beautiful work "Lazos de Familia."

I was nearly speechless.  All I could say was "You know how to make an old man cry."

As we walked away, Daniel and I looked at each other and asked "what just happened?"  It had been an emotional, touching, beautiful moment shared.

This is what I came to experience in living here.  Sharing, talking, and some times gifting between humans.  All on a personal level.  Regardless of where we come from.  With a deeper, richer understanding of each other and sharing our life experiences.  The community of artists in my small sphere of personal acquaintances and friends is growing.  I could see that Daniel might have felt similar things.

Such a great day, this.

Walking into the cool, damp early afternoon, Daniel and I said our goodbyes to each other and I headed up to my favorite rugby bar, le comptoir, for a Karmeliet Triple and lunch.

Friday, November 1, 2013

The Sharp End of French Diplomacy...


Passage Jouffroy

Where?  At le bouillion Chartier over in the 9th arrondissement just off les Grands Boulevards.

Why?  To celebrate a friend's birthday. He and his wife are Canadians.  They're visiting as part of his wife's World Tour in celebration of being able to retire.  It was our time to say goodbye to two nice people and to wish them well on their journeys.

Le bouillion Chartier is a grand place to eat.  The food is decent and the prices are light on the wallet.  If I were to dream of a timeless Parisian place to eat, with all the visual queues, proper food smells and filled with interesting people, this would be it.

Passage Jouffroy

Je prends le steak frites, s'il vous plait.  Et de la bière aussi.  Vous avez de la Kronenbourg?  Je n'aime pas la bière d'Allemagne.  Qu'est-ce qu'il faut faire?  Ah bon. La Kronenbourg, s'il vous plait.  Only to learn that Kronenbourg is actually brewed in Alsatian France.  It was tasty, too.

It was early enough in the afternoon that the Fall Sun had not yet set.  So the four of us decided to take a walk through the passage ways that riddle this part of town.  Starting with Passage Jouffroy we headed from the street back toward Hotel Chopin and... er... what's this then?  I'm instantly side-tracked.

Skulls.  Antlers. Des cannes de marche.  Oh, we have to go in, don't we?

Passage Jouffroy

The four of us stuff ourselves into a small shop.  A small well dressed man wearing glasses appeared from behind a tall counter at the back of the shop.  I couldn't help but notice his cataract-ed right eye.  Votre magasin est ouvert maintenent?  Oui, bien sur, he replied.  Alors...

We were surrounded by baskets and pull out drawers filled with walking canes.  The styles on offer were wide ranging and looked, in some cases, to be quite old.  A short conversation confirmed that, indeed, some were three or four hundred years of age.

Reaching into one of the display baskets, I asked if I could inspect a very interesting item.  It looked to be made of animal vertebrae stacked to form the cane and was topped by a beautiful skull.  The vertebrae were from sharks and the skull was vraiment carved ivory.  The price was in line with what I might be expected to pay for a 1939 Traction Avant in driving condition.

Passage Jouffroy

The shopkeeper reached into one of the drawers and pulled out a gorgeous cane and... YIKES!  Faster than a blink of an eye, I found myself on the business end of a period epee.

Even as certain disembowelment and inevitable death hovered lightly at one of my lower shirt buttons, I couldn't help but notice the artful etching down the slender steel blade.  Hope rouse in my heart that the shopkeeper's Good Eye could gauge depth and distance.  I was looking Death straight... well... down the blade.

I figured that if I was going to die, it was a Good Day in any event.  Lunch had been fine.  Besides, not everyone could say they Passed to the Great Beyond at the blade of a 1700's epee that had been hand crafted for the art of dueling.

Death passed me by and the epee was returned to it's canne de marche.

A few more passes by Death were made as we were shown other blades, long and short, that hid well within other fine examples of cannes de marche.  Each time, lethal blades were thrust my direction.  Each time, I hoped his Good Eye remained keen and clear.

So this is how French diplomacy was conducted back in the day, eh?   No wonder it was so effective.

Passage Jouffroy

At the time I failed to wonder why it was I and only I that the shopkeeper directed his demonstrations.  There were, after all, three other people in the room with me.  Such thoughts only came later as Death Passed and moved Along His Way.

I learned that dueling was a common practice in Paris through the time of Napoleon III.  I wondered if we were about to re-engage the art of dueling right here in M.G.W. Segas and soon decided that must not be the case.  Yet, when it was time to leave, I was happy to walk through the front door alive and in one happy and relieved piece.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

... it's a long way from being over...

The Guardian has been slowly releasing information provided by Edward Snowden on the illegal  NSA warrant-less wiretapping and spying.

The New Yorker magazine recently published an interesting article about the Guardian.  I learned that the Guardian was advised to publish information at a much slower pace than the Wikileaks information dump that was made several years ago.  With the Wikileaks dump, there was too much information in the the State Department memos to be properly understood and digested all at once.  The reason for the slower release of the NSA spying information is, in part, to allow time for the press to absorb, discuss, and for people to understand what is being presented. 

However one looks at it, this puts to rest any claim by defenders of the US and it's three letter agency activities that "we've seen this all before", or that "this has been going on for hundreds of years."  As "pitchpipe" over on Slashdot said recently in the comments section of an article about the wiretapping -

 "First, you say that warrantless wiretaps have been going on for a very long time. Maybe they have, but they were certainly never standard operating procedure. Good hell they're warrantlessly wiretapping EVERYBODY these days. And back then they never came out and said,"Hey, we're doing warrantless wiretaps, and if you don't like it you can fuck right off" like they do now.

Second, saying it's been going on like this for hundreds of years makes it sound like it'll always be this way, so you might as well do nothing. It also lends it an air false legitimacy: "If the founding fathers were doing it it must be okay.""

With this as background, and with the Guardian's promise of further revelations (metered at a dose level we can absorb and understand), I believe the best is yet to come.

Remember Angelica Merkel's outrage just two days ago over the NSA having her phone number in their "Rolodex?"  Remember how she personally called Mr. Obama in a livid outrage?  Well, it just got better.

The Guardian reports today that the American three letter agencies have been spying on her for over ten years.

Spin and defend this new information however you like, the situation between "friends" in Europe and North America just got worse.

Jude asked many times if we knew when it was time to "get out."

When did the Romans know, in their heart of hearts, that their Empire was well and truly lost?  Was it when the Goths crossed the Danube river?

When did the East Germans throw up their hands and accept that everyone was spying on everyone else, that the STASI ran the place, and that every aspect of their lives were under constant surveillance, if not outright threat?

When would a frog know the water was about to boil in a pot of slowly heating water?  Some frogs are known to have had the good sense to jump out of the pot before they were boiled.
Monitoring the US media for any sign of understanding of the gravity of the situation, I feel the need to return to a prior observation.  Americans remain completely and utterly distracted by sports, celebrity sex-lives, "reality" TV, fundamentalist religious beliefs, and seem to revel in "not having to know everything" about the world around them.

From the looks of things, we got out of the US just in time.

Friday, October 25, 2013

It is hard to believe the level of arrogance...

While Fox New watching Tea Party lovers in America enjoy bashing President Obama over the governments new medical insurance website, rather more serious things are afoot on the broader World Stage.

While the US government will eventually build the healthcare insurance website and have it running properly, relations between America and other first world nations is being rather seriously strained.  The relation strain has me concerned.

At first, the Germans seemed happy with the latest trade deal that was being negotiated between the EU and the Americans.  The trade deal was more important at the time than the eavesdropping revelations.  It was the French who said the EU should reconsider the trade talks after the Edward Snowden leaks.  What started with a little hand waving by the Germans over the NSA scandal has turned into open concern for their relationship with the US. 

As of today, except for England, the EU is firmly standing against the US-based eavesdropping activities.  As for the trade talks, it seems to me that the Germans are ready to join the French in tabling discussions.  The EU's attention now seem firmly set on US spying activities, not it's trade relations.

The Guardian reports that "The French and German governments have demanded talks with the US by the end of the year as the row over the spying activities of the US National Security Agency intensifies."
I understand the French anger at American spying.  After all, it was just a 30 day period where "the NSA collected over 70 million French communications, which were then categorized either as “Drtbox” or “Whitebox.”"  To me, that seems like an enormously excessive amount of spying over such a short period of time.  A vast net was cast, but for what?

In response to the US spying on France news, as well as information that Angelica Merkel's phone conversations were recorded and analyzed, European leaders are clearly stating their positions.

Angelica Merkel said "It's become clear that for the future, something must change - and significantly. We will put all efforts into forging a joint understanding by the end of the year for the co-operation of the [intelligence] agencies between Germany and the US and France and the US, to create a framework for the co-operation … It's not just about me but about every German citizen. We need to have trust in our allies and partners, and this trust must now be established once again. I repeat that spying among friends is not at all acceptable against anyone, and that goes for every citizen in Germany."

Mark Rutte, the Dutch prime minister said today that "I will support [Angelica Merkel] completely in her complaint and say that this is not acceptable."
The Italian prime minister, Enrico Letta,said "We want the truth. It is not in the least bit conceivable that activity of this type could be acceptable."

Since my wife and I have chosen to life in France, Francois Hollande's comments really grabbed my attention.  He said "What is at stake is preserving our relations with the United States. They should not be changed because of what has happened. But trust has to be restored and reinforced."

To me, it's one thing to clearly and arrogantly break the US Constitution's 4th Amendment by spying on all American communications (email, telephone, etc), and it's quite another to jeopardize a countries relationship with other First World nations.  Allies historically create a strong block of influence.  There is weakness in standing alone in the world, no matter how big your economy nor how large your trans-national businesses. Yet, it seems that with the NSA's Total Information Awareness program this is exactly what the US is gambling.  Allied shared influence versus going it alone.

I have heard far too many people in America say "What can we do?  This kind of thing has been going on forever." I have read too many comments that "there is nothing new here, why the outrage?" Are Americans this recklessly naive?  Can they really believe the entire world is ready to do the US' bidding?  I shake my head and wonder what is wrong with some Americans.

Jude pointed out something obvious.  There have been burgleries, robbery, rape, and corruption "that has being going on forever".  Yet societies take steps to limit such things.  They take steps to right clear wrongs.  Forcing American spy agencies to follow US law must be no different.

If the spying problem "goes sideways" and if the US and Europe escalate the into a wide ranging political confrontation, my concern is for what France might do to US citizens living here in retaliation for US Government actions.  While the concern is certainly not shared by anyone living in the US, I can see immediate consequences for American arrogance and the $10BILLION eavesdropping programs for those of us who have chosen to live abroad.

We are a very long ways from this, but I hope it never comes to having to ask for political asylum.  We couldn't stand the thought of returning to a nation that is day by day further out of control than we ever thought possible.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Just the highlights...

Having spent three weeks with my brother and Our Father (see prior post), we were bound to have a few interesting experiences.  Particularly since this was Our Father's very first trip abroad. 

Here are a few of the things that stuck in my own aging brain.

I was reminded that my Great Grandfather, Juan Ramos, went to Hawaii with his daughters.  He was 90 years old when he made that trip.

We took Our Father to noon mass at Notre Dame de Paris.  Shortly afterward, he lit a candle near the altar and left a photo of my mother behind it.  It was an emotional few hours.

After having had a "so so" steak frites at an otherwise good cafe in Versailles, we were hoping Our Father could have the kind of steak we know France can provide.  The opportunity came when we visited le cafe du Commerce following a strenuous morning of shopping a the porte de Vanves marche aux puche.  Our Father's steak frites was so good, he's still talking about the experience.

Wandering the jardins des plantes, my brother spied a statue of a naked lady.   He said "Hey! Chris!!  Get a photo of this, OK?"  Who am I not to comply?  My father quickly followed suit.  We all laughed.

One fine, warm evening, the four of us (my brother, Our Father, Jude, and I) took the bus to see la tour Eiffel.  We timed it so that we arrived just before the hour.  La tour "twizzled" for 5 minutes as everyone "oohed" and "aahed."  A slow leisurely stroll led us under the beautifully lit tower and out the other side.  As we visited the Trocadero, the Tango group filled the plaza with great music and dance.  The entire evening roundly rocked Our Father's world.

In Barcelona, we were out for a walk I heard a large bore four cylinder motorcycle running through heavy traffic at nearly full chat.  The Man Was Moving!  I used to ride and the sensation of speed in close quarters can be exhilarating.  It was amazing to what degree the Spanish live life to it's fullest.

On the AVE between Barcelona and Madrid, my brother and Our Father sacked out in their seats.  We couldn't believe it.  They were both so mellow and the ride so smooth that they slept like babies.  It was then that we noticed that one of my brother's shirt buttons was undone.  Both Jude and I had to take a few photos.

In Madrid, my brother had an incredible Ox tail dish for dinner one night.  I couldn't help but tease him by making my hand "swish" like the food he was eating used to do.

Our Father builds classic guitars as his Keep Me Off The Streets Late At Night hobby.  They are beautiful instruments.  We knew that some of the finest Flamenco guitar makers worked in Madrid.  So, my brother and I took Our Father up around the corner from our hotel to visit Jose Romero.  With my brother translating, there was a pleasant conversation and Our Father learned a few things about how Jose builds his instruments, what the Romero legacy is (it stretches back 5 generations), and was impressed to see that Paco de Lucia himself sometimes uses a Romero.  It was another in a long line of emotional experiences for Our Father.

Satan in a Tiny Glass was served several times during the trip.  It seems to be some kind of Spanish tradition where a short glass of something yummy is served to guests at the end of a meal.  While it's likely to be used to help ease the pain of paying the bill (not really, just kidding), it can be ridiculously tasty stuff.  We looked forward to sampling whatever the waiters would bring us as the bill arrived.

My brother figured out that one place served us an afterdinner snort of Karlova Vodka Carmelo.  Somehow we ended up with two shots of the incredible liqueur.  Truly Satin in a Tiny Glass.  It was about that time that we started laughing at the prospect of having to decide between Karlova and Betty Ford.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

... and another five weeks...

Family came to visit.

Shapes and Light

It started in early September when Jude's son came for two weeks.  We showed him around town as a "warm up" for spending three weeks with one of my brothers and my father.

My wife and I figured the best way to see Paris was... slowly...  Here is what we tried out on Daniel.
  • Day One - Ride the Red Bus.  Arriving guests would be jet-lagged the first several days and have their minds missing on the first.  So sitting down and doing nothing but enjoying le soleil and seeing a few sights seemd the best way to start.
  • Day Two - Notre Dame.  If you need spiritual aid, this is the place to come have the gods hear your prayers.  Besides, I have a great little speech that describes the Alchemist's Way as depicted in stone on the Portal of Judgement.
  • Day Three - Louvre.  If it's hard getting tired enough to sleep  behind the jet-lag, a long day in the most massive museum on Planet Earth should just about finish a person off.
  • Day Four - Coqulet Sunday!  Tiny little pre-roasted birds of paradise for lunch, followed by a nice walk about our favorite park and an afternoon nap in the shade.
  • Day Five - ...

Sagrada Familia ~ Gaudi

... and so it went.  Versailles, l'Orangerie, another Louvre visit, wandering around, eating and many many other things filled Daniel's visit.  We hoped he'd head home happy and tired from the long list of fun things we did together.

Part Deux started just a few days later with the arrival of my father and brother.  Who scheduled this, anyway?  Well, all we could do is run our pre-defined script and hope for the best.

My father is in his late seventies.  My mother died a few years ago and my father has worked to put his life together.  It's a very good thing that my Number Three Brother of mine lives twenty minutes away from Our Father.  He needed a lot of support and help from his sons.

Our Father has never flown, never been off the North American continent, and lives in a quiet little town along the coast.  Visiting Europe with it's vast monuments, big crowds, and noisy cities might hit him from just too many directions.  Which is why we organized Our Father's trip to include flying my Number Two Brother along.

Light in Barcelona

My brother worked as a fire fighter for many years, is recently retired, and was the perfect person to have travel with Our Father.  My brother's para-medic skills in working through complex situations might come in handy.

In the end, the Paris side of the trip went very well.  Everyone had arrived in good shape.  The weather had improved over Jude's son's trip (where it was cold and wet here).  It was so beautiful, in fact, that we were able to sit at outdoor cafe tables all across l'isle de France to take our afternoon repasts.  The birds sang in the surrounding trees and the food was delicious.  We saw a great many things and shared many fabulous experiences.  It was fun to get caught up again and to reconnect with an important part of our family.

After eleven days here, we TGV'd to Spain for another ten days of Fun in the Sun.  Starting with Barcelona for five days, with a quick AVE to Madrid where we capped off our time together.

Light in Barcelona

For me, comparing Spain to France proved to be rather interesting.  Here is what I found.

Bad -
  • Spain is a LOT louder than Paris.  The traffic is loud.  The people speak loudly.  The restaurant kitchens are loud.  The street sweepers are loud.  Paris is MUCH quieter than Barcelona or Madrid.
  • At breakfast one morning in our Barcelona hotel,I asked for an expresso in English and French.  I got what I wanted, but while I waited, the woman behind the counter told another employee in Spanish that she "speaks Spanish, and that she does not speak chinchas."  She had no idea that I could understand her perfectly clearly.  So... I was speaking "insect" to her...  I've never been insulted like this in France.  Not once.  Even though I probably deserved such a response on numerous occasions.
  • In Madrid, our first taxi driver was very upset.  Not at us, but at something else.  It made for a very unpleasant trip from the train station to our hotel.  My Brother could not get him to change his attitude, even with conversing in Spanish.
  • Also in Madrid, our "special" rate at the Westin could not be honored.  A family member had tried to arrange something that could not work the way they thought.  We were left hunting for a cheaper hotel, which cost us a day of sightseeing.  I really hate trying to fix things at the last minute.  Particularly after all the most favorable rates and best hotels are taken and booked.
  • Lastly in Madrid, the city is old, falling down, and filled with vast crowds of tourists in certain areas.  I now understand why Rick Steves said (diplomatically) that Madrid is trying to make itself into a people friendly city.  Rick Steves also said that Madrid's food was better than Barcelona's.  It isn't.  It has a LONG way to go in terms of livability and a few more improvements in their food, in my not so humble opinion.
Light in Barcelona
Good -
  • First, I must say that it was a Great Boon to have had my brother along.  He speaks beautiful Spanish.  I am convinced it was his language skills that "greased the skids" of our experience.  He worked his magic and we had wonderful experiences nearly everywhere we went.
  • Barcelona a fabulous city for incredible food.  We LOVED eating there.  Everywhere we went, the food was fresh, well prepared, and not too expensive.  The wines were consistently outstanding.  I feel only Florence surpasses Barcelona in flavorful foods and wonderful dining in small, out of the way places.
  • Barcelona is the "must see" city for architecture.  The Modernista building are incredible and well worth the price of admission to tour.
  • Barcelona's citizens are warm, open hearted, and wonderful to talk to.  They joke around and laugh a lot.  This city reminded me of the Italians we spoke with in Florence (which remains my High Water mark for warmth and open hearted-ness).
  • Madrid has the finest museum of European painters I have ever visited.  Simply incredible.  The Prado and Reina Sophia are "must see."  I particularly liked the Prado's vast collections of the very best works by the very best artists.  The Louvre comes a distant second, in this regard.
Light in Barcelona

What summed Spain up for me is this: We were out for a walk around Barcelona one evening when I heard a four cylinder motorcycle running through heavy traffic at nearly full chat.  The Man Was Moving!  While I've watched as someone pulled a wheelie down one of the quai's here in Paris along the right bank, I've never seen someone this determined running this hard through a big city like this.  No.  Not ever.  Not even I, when living in Los Angeles, ever rode my bike this hard.  If only that motorcycle flying through Barcelona had been a large displacement Ducati running with open pipes, it would have made for a Perfect Heaven.  I could have pass away right there a Perfectly Happy Man.

The experience helped me feel that Spaniards laugh loudly, live hard, and participate in life with strong determinations.

The first thing Jude and I noticed upon landing back on French soil was just how quiet and disciplined everyone is here.  The traffic is quieter than in Spain.  The people talk much more softly.  The pace of life is, well, to our way of thinking, better suited to us.

While we were very happy to have visited with family for as long as we did, we were equally happy to be home again.  I can't believe we have already set down such deep roots.

Light in Barcelona

Friday, September 6, 2013

Cats on the Prowl...

Jude and I are reading Julia Child's autobiography.  It's a great book and we're enjoying reading it out loud to each-other before bed.

Julia notes that Paris was a City of Cats.

Jaguar XK140 ~ Traversee de Paris Estivale ~ 2013

Well, after having lived here for a year and a half, I'm more inclined to say it's a City of Dogs.  Evidence of a Dogs Passing is everywhere.  One needs to watch their step.  Seriously.  Yes, we've seen two kitties running around our courtyard, including one we call Tree Climber Kitty.  That's it.  No more than that.  No live cats here.  So sir-ee.

However, perhaps it's only a matter of perspective.

la traversee de Paris estivale ~ 2013
Taking a step back, Paris is filled with statues of kitties.  Big Giant Kitties at that.  They guard the gates and portals of many important buildings and sites around the city.

They also seem to wander the streets and avenues.  One just has to pay attention and, well, as I said, it's a matter of perspective.

Jaguar XK120OTS ~ la traversee de Paris estivale ~ 2013

Paris streets are sometimes filled with Big Cats on the Prowl.
I shared a few images from the event held in winter a few months ago.  However, I hadn't fully appreciated the influence of kitties and cat ownership at the time.  Therefore, I am sharing here, as further evidence of the existence of Big Cats, images from the summer event.

Twice a year, the Association Vincennes Anciennes holds la traversee de Paris.  It is then that the Big Cats come out to play.  Jaguars are, after all, Big Cats, right?

From the time I was very young, I've been in love with Jaguars.  My father gave me a plastic model kit to build.  It was of a Jaguar E-Type.  I don't remember if it was an Open Two-Seater or the Fixed-Head Coupe.  What I do remember is that fabulous hood that hinged open in the most exotic of ways and the twin overhead cam covers that looked like they'd just arrived off a WWII fighter plane.

Jaguar XK120DHC ~ la traversee de Paris estivale ~ 2013

Later, when I entered the Age of the Young and Stupid, I tried to own a 1964 Jaguar E-type FHC.  I made a mess of owning it and needed to sell it after some time.  I should have worked more rather than chase crumpet (thank you M. Henry Manney).  Care and feeding of any Big Cat requires resources, not emotions.

As I entered Late Stage Stupidity and just before entering the Age of Enlightenment, I had to own a 1963 Jaguar E-type OTS.  Not Fully Awake, I bought a car that had minor front-end damage, though I didn't realize this until I had the car home and could inspect it in the full light of day.  Gods! this is what happens when Emotions Rule the Day.  No matter what I did, the monocoque was pranged, even if it was only ever so slight.

Looking back, I wish I'd taken an auctioneer up on his offer to sell me an outstanding driver condition FHC for thousands less than I paid for that '63 OTS.  I might still be the owner of that cat had I not been, well, So Stupid.

la traversee de Paris estivale ~ 2013

From the Age of Stupidity, through the Age of Enlightenment (which involved several wonderful early Ducati twins, including two bevel-drive beasts) and into the Age of Appreciation I have seemingly come.

It is with these eyes that I can now look at Jaguars and enjoy the sight and sound of them.

This year's summer traversee included a very nice C-type replica.  I don't know if it had the triple 40 or 45 DCOE side-draft Webers or not, and I don't know if it ran an early 3.4 liter motor, or a 3.8 "rev'r", or the late 4.2 liter botch-job, but what I do know is that it sounded wonderful.  It's driver assured me that it "goes like greased lightening!!!" (or whatever the equivalent words in French are for going very very fast).

C-type Jaguar (replica) ~ la traversee de Paris estivale ~ 2013

There were many XK120, XK140, and XK150 Jags there too.  Some OTS, some FHC, and some Drop Top Coupe (DHC), and some in better condition than others.  All being driven by Happy French Speaking Peoples.  One was even driven by Happy English Speaking Peoples who had popped over from the UK just for the event.

It's taken me awhile, but I see that Julia Child is right.  Paris is a City of Cats afterall.  Some are Nice Big Kitties that purr down the streets of the City of Light.

Gods! I still love Jaguars.

la traversee de Paris estivale ~ 2013

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

... it's only a matter of perspective...

We recently heard a wonderful story over dinner with ex-pat friends.

la porte des portes ~ rue Rapp

After landing in France, our friend accidentally let his drivers license lapse.  Not that he needed one.  Being car-free in Paris is actually very easy and highly recommended.  For ourselves, jetison-ing a car before quitting America and using only our feet, the Metro, the RER, and TGV has tightened muscles and caused pants to sag.  I'm down two belt notches in less than a year and a half and am on my way to my old late-30's sized clothes.

The French drivers license system is like any other around the world.  They want to make sure you know how to drive and, we found this hilarious, the French want you to prove a history of driving.  So in the case of our friend, the officials looked at his US drivers license and noted it was issued just a few years previously and wanted prior licenses.

With wrinkled brow, our friend explained that prior licenses were confiscated.  What? la fonctionnaire asked.  C'est impossible!  No.  That's just how things are done in America.  Well, don't you realize your insurance rates will be high since you can't prove you've ever driven?  I'll take that chance, said our friend.

As a last step in the long process of joining the ranks of Cut Throat Full Red Blooded Latin Drivers, our friend needed to take all his paperwork to the office and... wait...

la traversee de Paris estivale ~ 2013

He took a number and quickly calculated that the currently served ticket was, well, several hours ahead of his.  Ugh, he thought.  This is a nightmare.

Watching the process, he noted that first you went to this station, returned to sit down, and then waited a second time to approach a second station.  It was this station that people seemed to leave with smiles on their faces and French licenses in hand.

There was one exception.  One gentleman approached the second station and did what everyone else did, but...  the man came back and sat down.

Our friend was confused.  Why would anyone come back to sit down a third time?

The answer was quick in coming.

The man pulled out his new French drivers license.  He looked long and hard at it.  He brought it to his lips.  He kissed it.

la traversee de Paris estivale ~ 2013

Our dinner guest told us that seeing the man kiss his new license and then slowly rise to walk out of the office completely changed our guest's view of the entire process.  He knew he could sit there as long as it took to work through the process.  It was just.  It was complete.  It provided opportunities to people who could only dream of such things before.

A week later, my wife and I walked the final steps in our own carte de sejour visitors visa process.  We remembered our friend's story.  It helped us be patient and remain calm, if not a little excited.

After a short wait, we were ushered to the desk.  Papers shuffled.  Clips were clipped.  Photos were verified.  Passports reviewed.  Brand new carte de sejour, complete with our digitized mugs and all the official trimmings, were issued.

We walked out of la prefecture de police feeling happy and grateful.

We are now card carrying American ex-pats who are free to roam wherever we please, and to come and go as we want.  Scary, isn't it?  [smiles]

Dog Days ~ la traversee de Paris estivale ~ 2013

Friday, July 26, 2013

... oh, what a July!

A friend mentioned nothing had been posted here for a while (a month, actually).  He thought perhaps things had settled down here for us.

No.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Here's the July we've had -

4-6 July - Close frriends are visiting from the States.  He and I have known each other for going on 26 years.  He was, in fact, the Protestant Church Stunt Model for Jesus.  You know the kind.  Strong.  Tall.  Red of long hair.  Celtic of strong featured look.  So when they arrive, I'm slightly shocked to see he's since stepped aside as the Jesus stand-in.  It had been a year and a half since we'd seen each-other.  Gods! we missed them.

7 July - I visit the Japan Expo 2013 to make some photographs of models, expo attendees, and a real honest to the gods fashion runway show/defile.  It was a LONG, HOT day, but I came away with hundreds of photos and the chance to fulfill a life-long dream of playing photographer to a clothing designer's defile.  It felt like I made new friends in the equipe Grafik et Grafok.  Many many thanks! to Celine for making all this possible.

8 July - We meet more new friends over drinks to talk about a photoshoot with France's best Steampunk band, Victor Sierra.  Funny thing, we moved here to "get away" and they have the idea of moving to NY to "get away."  Quel petit monde!

10 July - We have the photoshoot.  It lasts from mid-morning and runs into the early afternoon.  We head home dog tired (see 7 July, for example), but very happy with the results.  Indeed, we have met and forged a friendship with three wonderfully talented people.

12 July - We meet the Director of the Visual Arts program from a local Anglophone organization.  More drinks.  Long conversation.  Good times.

13-16 July - Our State-side friends are back in town from their week-long stay in the south of France.  Tanned, healthy, and ready to see a few more things in Paris, we head out each day to take in what _has_ to be taken in.  Our former Protestant Church Jesus Stunt Model and their daughter tell stories of swimming in the warm waters of the Mediterranean until 10pm at night.  We spend the All Too Fast Days together and part in tears as they headed back to the States.  Friendships of duration.  Gods! we miss them already.

17 July - Thus begins Europe's 2013 OMG! IT'S HOT OUT weather conditions.  Hottest summer in 7 years.

18 July - Picture Hanging Day, as our aquarelle is ready from the conservator's.  They did a WONDERFUL job and it gets hung on our wall next to an old oil painting.  Jude says it finally feels like we're "home."  Indeed, we are.

19 July - I head over to la Bastille area to visit two Steampunk friends.  Beer.  Beer.  Yet more beer!  A fun afternoon sitting in a sidewalk cafe talking politics, philosophy, and steam.  Plans are tentatively made for a photoshoot.  It's HOT!!!, but the beer is chilled.

21 July - Out of Paris by non-airconditioned RER "A" line to attend a BBQ with our new-found Steampunk band friends.  It's KILLER HOT!!! out, but the company is wonderfully cooling.  These are fun people to be with.

23 July - Awoken at 4:30am in the morning to the delightfully Nordic Sounds of Thor's Own Thunder!  Jude and I find ourselves startled awake and nearly 3 feet in the air over the bed.  That Thunder Clap is LOUD!!  I think the Northmen want to remind the Gauls who's gods rule the weather system.  It remains HOT!!!

24 July - Aperos with our proprietress and her recently surgery'd husband.  He's laid up for at least three weeks and requires medical attention.  It's the kind of medical attention that only crisps, cookies, chocolate, beer, and two cigars can provide.  We need to take him some American music.  He's terminally bored.  And it's still MEGA-KILLER HOT!!! out.

25 July - I head over to the local rugby bar where the English sport is celebrated by staffing the place with French-only speaking waiters.  More beer with the Director of the Visual Arts program, and still another friend who is turning out to be a right nice Brit-type.  Cricket! he says!!  Ooph.  The heat, say's I.

28 July - la traversee de Paris (Summer Edition) runs, again, through place Vendome.  It's there I need to be to capture photos of seriously old, fast, fun voiture.  We shall see if the 2013 European Heat Wave ends that day.

Someone once told me that we'd be busier in retirement than any time when we were Working Stiffs.  I didn't believe them.  Until now, that is.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Festival of Saint John


It has finally arrived.  The gods have seen to it that the recent massive thunderstorms are held at bay.  We've nearly reached 20 degrees Celsius.  A veritable wave of warmth.

The French celebrate the summer solstice by staying awake from solstice dusk to dawn the next day and listening to music.  Concerts are held throughout cities and villages.  All of which are free.

The day is also known as the fete de la saint-jean - the feast of Saint John.  Fires were traditionally lit in celebration of the harvest and the summer solstice.  In Paris, Louis XIV last lit the fire of Saint John in 1648.  Recently (1984) the night was given over to music.  Personally, I'd like to see what the French would do with a bit of fire.  Alas, one can't have everything, even when living in paradise.

Here in Paris, 5 pages of l'officiel des spectactles are devoted to la fete de la musique.  You can choose a music style and find where that kind of music is being performed.  Or you can simply wander an arrondissement and listen to whomever shows up.  We took both approaches.

I saw that Ensemble Alta would be performing at the musee cluny.  I grew up listening to medieval music.  For some reason I was attracted to the tones and tempo of the sounds of that time period.  It helped, too, that there seemed to be a renewed interest in old music from Western Europe on the part of recording artists and a few record labels.

We plotted and planned to made our way to the concert.  What a treat.  The event was held in the courtyard and the acoustics were perfect.  It was easy to imagine what it was like to have been in this very same courtyard in 1334 listening to music back when the structure was a townhouse for the abbots who lived there.

This is someone else's video from another performance.
Can you imagine Pierre Hamon playing this same
tune on these pipes out in the courtyard of the
musee cluny?  Magick.  That's what it is.  Pure magick.

Lunch was just up the street at the Balzar.  It's been nearly a decade since we've dined there and it seemed conveniently located to the concert.  The bistro had changed hands just before our last visit and the meals were excellent.  This time, the food was decent enough, though not up to the quality of a decade ago.  Further, to my way of thinking, it was rather over priced.  I can't imagine paying 23Euro for a 50cl bottle of admittedly good rose when something similar at other places would set us back only 9Euro.

WH Smith was our next destination.  Not for music, but for books.  Or is that music for the eyes and brain?  Anyway, we found a couple potentially interesting things to read and headed back to the apartment.

After an early dinner, we explored a different arrondisement.  We listened to a choral concert that was being held in a church. As we were thinking they'd be there later, we quickly continued on our way.

Up the street there was '50's style rock and blues being played at the marie (city hall).  The announcement suggested there might be New Orleans style jazz, too.  After finding seats, we noticed we were the only listeners moving to the music.  Maybe it was the lack of the promised jazz that held everyone in check, other than the crowd of children bop'n and dance'n in front of the stage.  It was cute watching them play unselfconsciously.  We watched a little Line Dancing, a little Macarena (true!), and some of the moves looked a lot like a well choreographed Bollywood dance scene.

After the set ended, we started toward choral event.  But we didn't get too far before coming across a small group of Breton who performed in traditional garb and played a little bal musette.  They had bagpipes unlike anything I'd ever seen before.  The tonal range was very different than Scots Pipes.  The Bretonne folk style was the fourth kind of music we'd listened to over the span of 10 hours

This is someone else's video, but it illustrates the kind of
music the group we saw performed.  What's lacking
here are the incredible, beautiful costumes the group wore. 

We missed the choral concert.  It seems to have ended, though it didn't matter to us.  We'd had a good time.  We're old folk and don't need to stay out all night.  Home and hearth were calling.

The evening had been warm and beautiful.  Excellent for profiter la vie.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Facing l'etat de France...

The Kitchen Plumbing Smell has not gone away.  Even with repeated applications of our Upstairs Neighbor's Enzyme Gunk, things remain smelly "down there".

There was no time to Trouble Shoot any further as we are off to la prefecture de police for an appointment and, oh, what's this?, the skies have opened up with lightening and thunder. It's raining so hard that we have soil from one of our window boxes splashed on our glass doors four feet away.  It's so impressive that I make an audio recording of the proceedings.  I sincerely hope these are not Further Omens of Things to Come.

Leaving the apartment early so as to not be late, the rain has let up and our umbrella isn't needed.  A quick metro ride takes us to la prefecture de police.  Just as we make our way from the security entrance into the main building where our Date With Destiny was about to be held, the skies open up again.  Complete with more flashing lightening and huge thunder.

It's almost 11h00 and Jude goes upstairs to see if that's where we need to be while I wait in a line in one of the Niveau 0 rooms.  Jude returns and says it does not look like we are to be upstairs.  Just about then I am motioned to the counter and find that our Date With Destiny is in the room across the hall.

For twenty minutes we stand in line.  There is a Stern Conversation taking place.  A Group of Three in front of us have none, absolutely none, of the things la republique de france requires.  One pushy person in the group is clearly trying to Game the System.  The Welcome Desk Lady is not happy, not happy at all, and we are next in line for a potential Tongue Lashing.  In Finest Rapid Fire Parisianne French, of course.

Shaking as I hand over our documents destined for our new dossiers, Jude explains that we are nervous.  The Welcome Desk Lady gives us a Petite Smile.

We find out there are two documents they are concerned about.  1) Lack of "official" letter from our French bank (even though I included the account information).  2) Lack of "details" page from our health insurance that talks about coverage for prescriptions and hospitals and things like that.  I say our agreement with the insurance company was more like a book than a single sheet of paper.  She say it is needed to be translated into French.  All of it.  Ugh.

After having our documents sorted into two dossiers, we are asked to have a seat and our number would be called.  Jude passes the time talking with a writer who is here for their visa renewal as well.  Politics.  French.  America.  NSA.  Freedom.  Topics of the day.

We learn that it could be a very long wait and the folks behind the desk can be rather nasty.  Well duh!  We'd just witnessed what the System Gamers went through and now we are facing our own Firing Squad of Doubt and Uncertainty.

We wait.  3.5 hours.  Seriously.  Everyone who works there has gone to a Proper French Lunch.  For two Proper French Lunch Hours.  Except for one person, who repeatedly tells the waiting folk to just stay there and have a seat.  The Parisian Gods and Goddesses are sorely testing us.

Or are they really?  The Welcome Desk Lady had photocopied an entire stack of papers saying that we have two dossiers and therefore needed copies for both.  I had only made one copy of the originals based on our experience at the San Fransisco Consulate.  The Welcome Desk Lady could just as easily have pointed us to the copiers sitting outside the entry to the room we were stuffed into.  Small Acts of Kindness go a long ways.  But it is difficult to notice since our documents seemed to not be in Complete French Order.  This, even though there was absolutely no guidance in the documentation we'd been sent as part of our Convocation.  Something about Bureaucratic Arbitrariness comes to mind.

We are finally called to a little cube just after 14h45 when everyone seems to have returned from le dejuner.  We wonder what the hell is about to happen.  After our Document Questioning at the Welcome Desk, we are about to face the Further Horrors of French Bureaucracy and things were not looking "up".

Handing over the documents asked for, passports first when the questioning begins.  Do we have the detail page from our health insurance?  No.  It's a big book.  Do you want it all?  Seeing our future in French fading over the horizon.  Yes, she says.  Our Funcitionnaire continues to organize our documents.  Soon, she gets up and leaves.  Oh.  Now what?

Upon her return, she says "Just be sure to bring the insurance detail page with you next year when you come back."

OMG!  Really?  The Winds of Fortune might have changed.  To be sure, I ask "l'an prochain?"  "Oui", she says.  Now 'er cook'n with gaz!

A conversation about why we are here and what we are enjoying about living in France and Paris ensues.  Jude swears Our Functionnaire has just complemented us on our French speaking abilities, though I'm not so sure.  Our Functionaire mentions how people can be kind and but also are many times exasperating.  Smiles all around and more conversation about what it's like to live here and wonderment that we would leave the States and "come to this".

Surprisingly, our French bank account pages are pulled out and handed back to us.  She says they were not needed.  Huh.  Well.  Would you get a look at that, will ya?  It's one of the only things our Convocation documents seems to be clear on.

The printer is printing and our formal documents are being prepared for review, careful inspection, and signature.

In the blink of an eye, we're in!  Living Large in France!  Like a Cheap Suit!  Damn!! 

Our plasticized cartes de sejour will be ready in mid-August.  We even have a convocation that gives us the date, office hours, and location of where we will retrieve our Increased Level of Official-ness to Live Here.  Until then, we have new documents we hold in our hot little hands allow us to leave and return to France from outside the Schengen Zone without harm nor delay, and possibly even with a hearty "Bienvenu a France!"

Maybe the Parisian Gods and Goddesses were just testing Our Resolve?  Or perhaps they are really there to protect us from The System?

Monday, June 17, 2013

Just one more thing in a Paris Day...

Retirement is reportedly a Blessed Event.  Things can Take Their Time and nothing is rushed, right?  As the proprietor of my favorite Belgium beers says, le patron is sitting peacefully dans le jardin avec de la biere.

Saturday brightened into a clear, glorious morning and the Big Event was to say goodbye to a Canadian friend over a bottle or two of wine.

At breakfast Jude asked where That Smell was that was coming from.  I said we'd have to look into it.  And look into it we did.  It was our kitchen sink.  Maybe.  Jude moved the cleaning supplies out from under it and I found a nice old clean rag to rest my knees on.

Under the stainless steel I dove to try and sort out how to clean the pipes.  We were convinced there was something rotten in Paris.  Rotten right here in our drain pipes.

I found a way to disassemble the tubing by hand, but it was an Octopus of flexible pipes coming from the dishwasher, washing machine, small sink, and large sink.  The pipes slipped and weaved their way from one appliance to another.  It was difficult to get at the pipes I thought might hold the nastiest stuff.

After a few tries, we had, hopefully, the offending pipes in hand and were cleaning out the junk and gunge.

Sore and tired, I creaked into a Full Upright Position and grabbed some papers and headed to la poste.  If these weren't photocopied before Monday, l'etat de France might not keep us legal on our visas.  So this as a must-do activity to be accomplished before we met Our Canadian.

Upon my return to the apartment, I hadn't sat down for three minutes and the mobile vibrated to life.  I had the sound turned too low and I just missed an in-coming call.  The vibration was marching the mobile to the edge of the shelf it was now bouncing on.  OK.  Quick.  Grab the phone. Redial.

It's our Upstairs Neighbor .  Her husband is still at work and she's selling an oven/stove.  She would like me to act as garde du corps (bodyguard) as she's home alone with her children.  D'accord.  J'ascende.

Visiting with her, she gave Jude and I a very beautiful potted sunflower for having attended her son's concert last week.  It was Very Sweet of her.  We had a great laugh when I told her I didn't make a very good garde du corps.  I'm not very tall, not very sturdily built, and not young and strong.  I explained our smelly plumbing problem and she instantly hands me an enzymatic gunk to pour down the drain.

After the stove/oven is marched out the door and downstairs into the Buyer's Car, I'm free to return to our apartment and finish wolfing (and I do mean wolfing) down a ham sandwich.  A swift phone call to leave a message with Our Canadian that we might be a few minutes late and we're out the door and dashing to the metro.  We have a date with a bottle of wine that shall not be missed!

We're only seven minutes late.  Wow.

Tired, yet happy to see Our Canadian, we found seats in a cafe in the 14th and ordered up a bio-wine from Bordeaux.  It was "OK", but not great.  The conversation was better than "OK" and was wonderful.  We had a hard time facing feelings of having to "go back".  I sure hope we never have to deal with that kind of move.  I don't think we could handle it.  And our appointment with the Powers of the French Etat was Monday.  Eek!  They will determine our future here.

The three of us wandered down the street to Jude's favorite all natural wine shop for a short case of tasty reds.  Into Le Caddy went a nice box of wine.  Then it was off to my favorite beer shop (the Bootlegger), where we learned that the old man has handed over his business to the Very Nice Young Lady who I've seen there for several months.  Three more beers in Le Caddy to keep the wine company and a heart felt farewell to Our Friend ended the day.  Or so we thought.

Into the metro and back to the apartment to home and hearth.  Whew!  We were bushed.

Opening and through the front door, we realized instantly that the mornings plumbing cleaning effort had not paid off.  Ugh.  The place still stank of whatever was rotting Down There.

As we were working out what to do next (call our landlord to see which plumber they might recommend came to mind), the doorbell rang.

Thinking it was our Upstairs Neighbor, or perhaps her husband coming to think me for my small bodied but big hearted efforts at playing garde du corps, I opened the door... to find our Across the Hall Neighbor smiling grandly and extending an invitation to drinks.  En dix (10) minutes!

Before we could answer, Jude collared him into showing him our plumbing problem.  He suggested that the odor might be a result of the Pipe Cleaning that was performed in the building recently.  Oh, and he'll call the building owners on Monday for us.  Well.  Now we're getting somewhere.  And... Jude had him listen to  Alarm Sounds that waft up through the central open shaft.  Our Downstairs Neighbor pops open an alarmed window and doesn't seem to mind the sound.  ANd... our Across the Hall Neighbor is the president of the apartment owner's group that interfaces to the building corporation.  Now we're really getting somewhere.  AND...  he'll take care of letting the downstairs neighbors know just how annoying their alarm is.


With that, how could we turn down an invitation to drinks? Which meant, unfortunately, that we needed to wolf down our second meal of the day so we could walk two meters across the hall to pay he and his lovely wife and children a wee-visit.

It was a great visit.  We hope to have forged a new friendship.  Our day had well and truly ended.  In bed.  Fast asleep. By 20h30.