Monday, August 25, 2014

Around Town ~ Real Indian Food!

A former colleague once told me that the closer you are to India (geographically) the better the Indian food gets.

We seriously challenged that idea with Chandrika's incredible South India cuisine where we used to live in the States.  That woman could cook.  I had a hard time telling whether I was in India or not, it was that good.

One time my wife and I picked up a couple India engineers that we had over to do some work for my team.  I asked if they'd eaten yet and they both nodded "yes."  They were full.

Well, Jude and I were hungry so we asked if they minded if we headed over to Chandrika's place for a bite to eat before heading out to see the city.  I'll never forget watching as these two Indian software engineers ate what must've been a half dozen different dishes.  Jude and I were full after one or two dishes apiece.  Those guys?  They packed it in and went back the next day for more.

Moving to Paris was to be a test of my former colleague's idea of "closer is better."

After settling into our current arrondisement we found a couple "Indian" places and tried them.  It was not good.  They didn't even taste like Northern Indian cuisine though some of the owners said they were from Dehli or Bombay.  The food was more "gloppy" than it should have been and we were told the French do not like spices, so these restos wouldn't add any to their cooking.  It was so bad that I once found a sliver of metal shavings from the can they just opened.

Thanks, but no thanks.  Either we found the "real" thing or we'd go without.  If we weren't trying to be too dramatic, maybe we'd find a compromise.

What recently fueled our interest in India cuisine was a series we YouTubed.  It was a great way to spend a pleasant evening reclined in bed and drooling at the thought of something incredibly tasty.  Jude got into the mood by preparing a few of her own very tasty Indian dishes.  It looked like we'd have to rely on Jude's efforts to keep us in Fine Fettle while no doubt offending the sensitive French nose with cooking smells making their merry way out of our apartement.

One day a new member of our French/English conversation group showed up.  She looked Indian, so I took the highly "un-PC" move of approaching her and asked if there was anywhere in town that served real Indian food.  I told her we wanted something where the spices were truly Indian-hot and that we wanted Dosa, by gawds!  Give us Dosa or give us death!!

Without hesitation she said that "yes", we could find what we were looking for.  I replied "no way!"  It couldn't be possible as the only area we hadn't tried was up around the Gare du Nord.  She laughed and said "just go", where the words were delivered with a little South Indian head nod.  Of course that would be the one area where a large Pondicherry, Sri Lankan community is found.

Paris has become a Multi-Layered Paradise.  Anywhere we look there is something to be discovered and reveled in.  It was with this in mind that we boarded the metro bound for la Gare du Nord.

Up out of the metro we popped and down the street we went... to see a place that came highly recommended... but served no ETOH... and past several promising restos... the scents and smells of the South Indian continent wafting everywhere... bringing tears to my eyes at the memory of time spent in the Indian state of Karnataka... and of colleagues who've since become friends... and... to the street where our destination would be... um... er... ah!... there it is!  It's right on the corner.

Dosa!  Kingfisher!!  Vindahlo!!!  Nirvana.

The prices are "right."  That is to say, a LOT less for wonderful "home style" food than you typically spend at a "low-end" bistro where they microwave your this-morning-Rungis-prepared repas to luke-warm temperatures.  More importantly, the food is fantastic.  It has all the right flavors, all the right scents, all the right qualities that make Indian food the amazing cuisine that it is.

Yes.  We've found it.  Real Indian food.  Right here in the City of Lights. 

It's good to find the Indian gods and goddesses smile kindly on this peaceful land of France.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Les Crottes de Chien ~ Summer Awards

Voici my first (and possibly last) blog entry wherein I give awards for various items of special mention and excellence in their fields of, well, whatever.

To start things off, let's have a look at Mother Nature.

Why pick on Her?  The answer is very quick and easy.  It's because the weather in July and August here in the City of Lights has, frankly, sucked.  It's been cold and wet for going on two straight months.  But, you say, at least June was nice.  Right?  Um, sorry.  Everyone was still working Like a Dog two months ago.

Things are so bad that tourism is down.  Way down.  In some places we're welcoming 50+ percent fewer guests.  In the most popular places there are at least 15 percent fewer people than last year.  Rappelez-vous that last year tourism was down in France due to a bunch of people running around and chucking things throw the air in London.  Even the Rom thieves left Paris for London to see the Olympics and to pick up a few quid along the way.

It's serious.  The weather is depressing.  Just look outside and you'll see what I mean.

In spite of the tourist-dousing weather, Jude and I have worked on our tans.  It's good enough to fool most people into believing we've spent a good month or two away on les vacances.

Having said that, Harry the Diplomat tells us that come Septembre the French will return home from les conges annuels in a very grumpy mood.  Afterall, what mood could one possibly be in after spending a Glorious Month away from the city... um... under a gray and many times spitting sky?  No tan.  No beach.  No sun.  Ugh.

Mother Nature, this one's for you.

The second Crotte de Chien award goes to an American company for taking a business that used to be ranked #1 in the industry (Test and Measurement equipment) to #3 in a field of three in five short years.

How'd they do it?  They mistook a high tech company for something it most definitely wasn't and stripped assets ("free cash flow!") beyond any ability to recover.  The acquiring group paid $3BILLION for the business and wanted to get their money back as soon as possible.

What better way to set the tone an impose the new corporate culture than to piss off the employees?  Jim Lico laughed in the face of an employee who innocently asked (in front of a rather large crowd, mind you) if he was moving manufacturing to China.  Within six months her's and thousands of other jobs were given to the People's Republic of China.  Is it any wonder that American companies that rely on virus/malware-free software stopped buying from them?  This was, of course, only after Jim had threatened the Governor of the State of Oregon with moving jobs overseas if he wasn't granted a huge tax break.

One of the next faux-pas they made was to bring in the Loose Canon. This man fears that CEO (Larry Culp) will find out he doesn't know what he's doing.  So his bravado is even greater than many "senior executives".  While twisting the company this way and that, wringing out as much money as he could, Amir Aghdaei foolishly laid off the group of engineers who knew how to make the widest, fastest, deepest analog to digital converters in the world. 

Amir thought he could buy the parts the business requires by going to an outside company that had never made these kinds of parts.  His claim was that instead of waiting five years for world beating performance parts (the old group told Amir it would take that long to move to a newer technology), he told everyone we'd have great parts in a year.  That was five years ago and still there are no new parts.

Well, Larry seems to have wised up, realized that it takes knowing something about technology to successfully run a technology business and has moved Amir out of the company he single-handedly mis-managed into near oblivion (going from $1Billion/year down to struggling to make $400Million/year on the original core business). 

In a rather telling comment the CEO told the media that "...our task and challenge is to innovate as best we can."  But, you might ask, the New Guy doesn't know anything either, right?  Interesting times, these.

Try acquiring something that doesn't exist (the take-over group is very "acquisitive", as they say on Wall Street).  Try rebuilding a team of skilled engineers half a decade after you've gotten angry at their proposed schedule and arrogantly sent them into the un-employment line.  Try "innovating" your way cheaply into success by relying on Chinese engineering when engineers in that country don't believe in the laws of physics (ask them if grounding of electronic equipment is required and prepare to pick your jaw up off the floor at their reply).

In the meantime, Tektronix has become only one in a rather long line of "rollup company" controlled zombies.  No real way of generating "organic" growth (one of Larry's favorite phrases) after you've Kaizen'd out the door everything that's not nailed to the flow, including probably the single most important innovating engine the company ever had.

So, to Danaher Corp goes our second Crottes de Chien award.  Great job, guys!  Pray Wall Street doesn't find out how "well" you really understand your markets, customers, and how you really run your businesses.

Lastly, we would like to address a few things about how "stuff" gets done around these parts.

Take, for instance driving une kilometer par heure over the speed limit.  It's a ticket-able offense here.  If one of the 1,000 police cameras record you, you receive a Nasty Gram in the mail demanding 137Euro.

Here's another example of what I'm getting at.  The month of August typically allows free on-street parking every weekend.  Let's say you pull up to the curb, park, and walk up the street to enjoy a relaxing three hour lunch on a beautiful Saturday afternoon.  Let's then say you spy a little green piece of paper on your car's window after downing the last glass of chardonnay wine.

What is it? you might ask.  Well, it's a little note from the police saying there has been an infraction.  It gives absolutely no indication what that infraction was.  Further, there is no indication of the time, date, nor the number nor name of the officer who gave you this late-afternoon gift.

You're left to wonder what happened.  All you can do is stand there flat-footed with a growing sour-churn in the stomach.  Soon a letter arrives that explains everything.  It indicates you parked without paying the meter and putting a sticker in the window.

What changed?  The law.  That's what changed. How does one know the law has changed and that parking is no longer free on weekends during the month of August in Paris, France?  Search me.  I have no idea.  The French themselves don't seem to know.

To make matters worse, unlike in the US where you can go before a judge and cry your Crocodile Tears, in France there is no case.  There is not one single person you can see who will listen to you and, perhaps, take pity on you.  You simply have to pay.  Or else.  Period.  End of sentence.

How can the French stand it?  I smell a revolution.  That's what I smell.

The bright side of this little tale is that Jude and I do not own une voiture.  We moved here to explicitly enjoy the libertie, egality, fraternity associated with not owning a car.

Still, this is nasty business and I can see why the French tend to be grumpy.

This final award, therefore, goes to Those Who Shall Not Be Named, but who sneak things in on you when you're not looking.

[A short note regarding les crottes de chien.  Jude and I spied these today when we were out for a walk.  We just had to scurry back home to pick up our cameras.  The French have such a wicked sense of humor.  Sometimes.  When they're not working on being grumpy, that is.]

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Around Town ~ ... somewhere outside Paris deep in the countryside...

[This entry is re-editted  from my Photographic Sketchpad blog]

Working with creative people here in France has opened up into being an incredible experience.

Sometime I would like to write about how and why creative expression is so different in France from what it is in the US.  I couldn't imagine the impact of the Catholic Church and the Ancien Regime on modern culture and creative expression, but I've learned a few things from talking with people that illuminate the topic well.  For this post suffice it to say that once I gained access to the artistic community, finding subjects eager to work with me has become a lot easier.

I am forever grateful to Arthur Morgan for personally introducing me an amazing group of people.  After our work was published in Fiction #19 (France) my association with M. Morgan gave me an all important Stamp of Credibility.  There's a French word for this.  I need to ask a friend to remind me what it is.

Recently, a friend of a costume artist I'd work with contacted me with the suggestion that we shoot in an old abandoned chateau.  How quick to you think I was to reply "hell yes!!!"?  Indeed.  I was very excited to be involved in the project.

We plotted and planned.  The project coordinator wrote in excellent English.  The model had a few interesting costuming ideas.  The makeup artist turned out to be someone we'd worked with.  Her boyfriend was interested in lending a hand on the project too.  Jude, my wife, was thrilled to come along after looking at a few images of the location.

On the day of the shoot we had several inauspicious events.  Jude bumped her head against a cabinet door that I'd left open.  The weather was to turn sour during our prime shoot time.  The chateau turned out to be at least an hour out of Paris by donkey cart or TGV.  I was unhappy to leave Jude behind but she needed to rest after her accident.

I kissed Jude goodbye and met Niko (aka: Project Coordinator and Abandoned Building Safety Officer) at his waiting donkey that was standing in front of our apartment building.  Into the saddlebags/boot/trunk (depending on which side of the Pond you live) went all the camera gear required to make serious photo-shoot many miles from home.

Just outside of town we could see a huge black cloud that stretched from horizon to horizon.  From time to time the sky lit bright with streaks of lightning.  The god Poseidon had risen from the depths of the Atlantic Ocean.  Things did not look good.

Passing through the first wall of water was unlike anything I'd ever experienced.  We couldn't see the road.  We couldn't see any of the cars around us.  We swore we could see salmon trying to swim up-stream.  We didn't like the fact that it was August and these kinds of things Just Don't Happen pendant les conges annuels.  The drenching went on for far too long.

Eventually the Big Black Cloud finished having it's way with us and decided to move on to Paris to give everyone behind us an Equal Opportunity Drenching.  The Big Black Cloud would trap the model, the MUA (make-up artist), and her boyfriend just as they were leaving Paris.  It produced a enormous embouchon (traffic jam).

To me it was instantly obvious what needed to be done while awaiting the arrival of the rest of the team.  Exploring the site we learned from a man who used to live on the property (20 years ago) that the chateau had been sold and would be torn down in the next couple weeks.  Knowing this gave me a strong reason to get as much of it "on film" as I could.  It would be the first and last time I ever visited this most amazing place.

After working a couple hours with the model and team we packed up and headed back into town.  Greeting us over the Normandy horizon was the last of this year's Supermoons.  La lune hung in the evening sky guiding us back into Paris.

Abandoned Places ~ Fenetre Ouverte