Monday, December 21, 2015

Windows to the mind...

[I rewrote sections of the following entry.  I felt my word choices and sentence structures failed to articulate what I wanted.  I must've been pretty angry when I wrote the first version]

Someone recently asked if we were going to go see the Christmas lights around the city.  Shortly after the question came up I was up at Paris' only True Opera House (le Garnier, merci, very very French) and couldn't help but be attracted by the bright twinkly lights seen just up the street.  Like many living things, I'm attracted by shiny objects.  Les Galeries Lafayette were well lit in commercial celebration of the season (in a glorious American-style consumer commercialism).

Our Season of Celebration is off to a good start.  Our Gouter and Singalong began the festivities.  We then went to lunch with our apartment owners (very French) in a fabulous art nouveau restaurant (oh so French that it nearly breaks one's heart at the beauty of it all).  Just last night we had our apartment neighbors (Irish) up for a small apero (leaning into the Parisian, we must say).

Later this week we'll be visiting our friends (very French) who's country home we visited earlier this year. This will be followed by spending New Years Eve reveling with yet more friends (three Germans, three French) by seeing a circus (German, apparently) that's situated just behind le parc George Brassens (Parisian).  Dinner and drinks are to be shared shortly thereafter (a very French thing to do on 31 Decembre).

We are only half way through our Fun and Festivities, and a pattern seems to be emerging.

Many of our conversations revolve around the present state of American politics.  More specifically, we are questioned as to our feelings about Americans actually and in the final end voting for The Donald.  We try to quickly turn the conversations around to ask them how they feel about the Republican Clowns Who Would Be King Of America.  To a person we've been told of (French) people's shock at America' anti-intellectualism.

And there it was.  The Correct Way of putting it.  It's true, isn't it?  It all seems to come down to America' anti-intellectualism.

A quick look reveals many areas that might illustrate the point.  Conservative christianity in America celebrates anti-intellectualism in many obvious ways.  Sports (football, basketball, NASCAR, etc) work to evoke emotional "feel good" responses at the cost of "over thinking it all".  Reality TV is anything but reality as many people would know it.  America's response to the crisis of man-made global climate change seems to be based on desire, not fact.  America's response to the gun violence crisis is anything but intellectual.  America's response to the refugee crisis is based, not on what is actually happening, but on what could happen if ____ [fill in the blank with unfounded fear].

All too often it seems to me that America is quick to give an emotional response which "feels right" and "expresses what we the people really feel" and are very slow to think things through based on fact and truth.

It's not surprising, to me, that American politics has become the politics of anti-intellectualism, too.  It's in this climate of emotional reactionism that someone like The Donald (and all the other howling Would-Be Kings of America) can thrive.  It "feels right" that America is under attack by poor Mexicans who cross the southern boarder to take jobs away from hard working legal citizens.  It "feels right" that Social Security will go bankrupt in just a few years if the politicians don't kill it.  It "feels right" that 1200 noble prize winning scientists are wrong about global climate change and that the two or three "scientists" who work for oil companies are correct.  It "feels right" that America is not to be granted health care because to do so would be just too damned socialist for us.  Etc.  Etc.  Etc.

Living overseas and talking with people who come from intellectual cultures (such as here in France, or in Germany, Italy, and parts of Spain) demands we have a well thought-out response to their questions.  They seem to know much more about the US than we know about Europe.  In short, they are well informed in ways Americans simply are not.  Someone recently suggested that's because America is the 900 pound gorilla stomping around on the world stage.

Honestly, this is what I've come to appreciate and love about Europe: We value intellectuals, intellectualism, intelligence, and rational frameworks of thought and philosophy.

I feel proud of our ability to get out while the getting out was good.  I feel a kinship with those who ask questions about how America can do what it's doing.  I feel as bewildered as our friends at how Americans behave.

From this perspective I feel Europeans can stand up to American Globalization.  They have a long history of making their voices heard, here. They have a long history of casting out the Would Be Conqueror.  I just hope they see America for what it is before it's too late.

Perhaps The Donald will play an important role in a much needed European awakening to what America really is.  Perhaps.

Christmas Windows ~ Paris 2015
The entire album of Paris Holiday Lights can be seen here

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Quel petit monde...

My beard enters it's 8th month of only slightly trimmed growth and I've taken to telling folks in our French/English conversation group that the bottom half of the beard is reminiscent of the SDF (Sans Domicile Fixe - or homeless people) and the mustache evokes the late dix-neuvieme siecle (late 19th century).  On days where I don't wish to stand out completely as someone who is SDF I wax the 'stache.  It's a little dandy-ish I suppose.  Still, it's an important distinction around these parts.  Or so it seems from the stares I sometimes get from passersby.

WICE Christmas singalong  - 2015

All this came up in conversation during our annual Winter Holidays Singalong et Gouter.  This is the time when we gather together in song and celebration of having spent pleasant times together.  This is the time when we bring in a few musician members of WICE who lead us in our merrymaking.  First it's a song in French.  Then it's a song in English.  Back and forth we go alternating languages.  All in a register none of us can really sing in and in such a high octave that more than a few of us complain rather loudly about not being able to sing.  I tend to croak like a grenouille.  Other people tend to just give up and hum along as best they can.

These things are wonderfully doused into submission after the Singalong by le Gouter.  People bring their favorite beverages and apero-like plates of yumminess.  All the croaking and humming is forgotten.  All the off-key and stratospheric octaves are forgiven.  Down goes the wine.  Munch go the many tasty goodies.  Jude's smoked canard dolloped with mascarpone on small bread rounds were a hit.  We were able to take home more nice memories and a completely empty gouter plate.

When the cupboards are bare we make our lists and plan our plans and head out to the markets.  Yesterday it was our turn to march through the vasty student strewn sidewalks with air heavily laden with cigarette smoke to make our way to Bio C'est Bon.  Yes, these young people are driving us nuts! with all their smoking.

WICE Christmas singalong  - 2015

Once safely inside the Smoke-Free Everything Bio market we set about doing our shopping.  It was nearly time for the dejeuner and many mothers were out picking up their children and stopping in at Bio C'est Bon Thank The Gods There's No Students Smoking Here! to pick up a few last minute items.

There was Good News, and not just with the lack of cigarette fumes.  One of the young ladies who works there was rather nicely dressed and Jude asked her why.  We learned she'd been promoted to store manager.  This after she'd been told in her recent review that she'd first have to work at several other stores before being considered for the position.  Well then, Minds Changed and a Minor Missed Opportunity was corrected.

As we set about our shopping a SDF brushed past on his way down a side aisle.  I grumbled about the shabbiness and wondered where his money came from.  The mothers who were there with their children looked a little askance, too.

WICE Christmas singalong  - 2015

A few minutes later out basket was filled to the brim and we were in line to talk with another employee while she scanned out items.  Jude and I speak in heavy accents and are constantly asked where we're from.  This time was no different and Jude shared the Important Details of our lives.  The checker seemed to know something about our Old Home Town, as did the SDF who happened to be next in line behind us.

Suddenly the SDF is talking with Jude and I can see his snaggle-toothed mouth form the worlds "Tektronix."  Er?  Wot's all this, then?  The next thing I know Jude is telling the man that I too used to work at Tektronix.

My mind was having difficulty keeping up with the context switch.  It really was.  I figured the SDF was just some shabby good for nothing drunkard in to do a Little Theft Exercise and to be on his way.  How utterly and completely wrong I was.  Words failed me.

Walking back up the street I told Jude about how judgemental I'd been and what a pleasant surprise it was to run into someone who'd worked at Tektronix in several capacities, in Beaverton, on the original campus, and just before the company transitioned from analog to digital.  I told my wife I really needed to reconsider how I view the world and how I "see" or not "see" people.

WICE Christmas singalong  - 2015

It's shocking, actually, to realize how deeply ingrained my American view of homeless and poor people is.  I've learned a little too well to view the poor as being in positions of their own creation and that people who put themselves into these positions are undeserving of anything. It's easy to point to the many conversations with Americans about how weird and strange people can look who shop at Walmart.  How we know when the state welfare check has arrived by the provisions piled high in a cart, filling it with junk foods.  Why can't they buy an apple instead of a frozen pizza?  Don't they know they're killing themselves by eating all that shit?  And, and, and, can't the poor see that all they need to do is just get off their lazy asses and go find a job!, forcryingoutloud.  Gawds! how we absolutely hate it when people are "taking advantage of the system" and the taxes we're paying that support their special/lazy/bankrupt "needs"!!  Yes, I'm embarrassed to admit that I still look at the poor and homeless with a judgemental uncaring America-bred-and-raised eye.

Up went went the fob.  Open went the door to our building.  In stepped Jude.  One last look down the street and... here he comes.  He's a small man.  Slightly hunched.  Very slender.  Ill-shaven.  Very much snaggle-toothed.  His clothes hang in the manner of someone you might not otherwise want to approach.  He was hauling two 4 litre bouteilles d'eau.

Monsieur.  Monsieur.  Regardez quelque chose d'interessant.  I pulled back the cuff of my jacket to show him the watch I wear.  It still has the two rubies on a small plaque on the side of the wrist band.  It was a 15 year anniversary gift.  In small silver bold lettering it says "Tektronix."

Having recovered my mind a little, we talked about some of the trigger mechanisms he'd worked on, all the tools he was familiar with, and the oscilloscope he'd brought back to France with him when he came home.  It was then that I remembered that here in France, in general, the poor and homeless are viewed not as being lazy and undeserving of state care and attention, but rather as the product of a system that has failed.  This is why we've seen the "deserving" (in American terms) having friendly conversations with the "undeserving" (again in American terms) who many times populate the benches and sidewalks in our quartier.

WICE Christmas singalong  - 2015

I had to admit that I really didn't know if this former Tektronix employee was poor or homeless and that my judgements of him were very likely false in every way imaginable.  I have no idea of the system failed him (from the French point of view) or if he is just an old retired guy who enjoys life as much as anyone else.

I told him in a sad tone of voice that une grande entreprise est venu vendre Tektronix.  C'est completement detruite maintenant.  C'est fini, en fait.  He understood that the formerly great  electronics test and measurement company had only recently (8 years ago) been destroyed and nearly disappeared by Corporate Takeover Greed that netted senior management hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars.   Thank you Danaher, or whatever you call yourselves now.  You can kindly go to hell for what you stole and the company you destroyed.

As we wagged our heads at the woe that has befallen Tektronix we bid eachother une tres bonne journee and went our separate ways.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Equal opportunities for all...

I recently wrote about our three day visit with les vignerons independent.  Wine is good.  Wine is great.  Wine keeps the ship upright and sailing smoothly in the right direction.  But there's more to life than just wine.


What's not to love?  More complex carbohydrates than wine.  This gives beer a sense of volume and complex taste.  It's sometimes brewed by drunken monks.  You know the ones.  Those who were chased out of France by the Revolutionaries during the 1789 King Removal.  While their religion was revolting to the Revolutionaries, the beer... well... it's really hard to fault them on their beer making abilities, no matter what country the drunken monks land in.

It's rather like Christmas every time I head over into the 14eme.  The kind Beer Gods and Goddesses seem to have something interesting to sample each and every time I go in.  This time is no different.  Belgiums.  Belgiums.  Belgiums as far as the eye can see.  That's where all the French Beer Making Religious Types escaped to shortly after the Bastille was torn down to make way for a vast roundabout (c.1789) with a pole called the July Column stuck in the middle (c.1840).

In the interests of Equal Opportunities for All, this week's segment could have been more properly titled What's In Mr. Caddy?

Who's Mr. Caddy, you might ask.  Well, he's our trusted friend and confident.  He's been with us for nearly four years and is by our side through thick and thin.  He's what we haul our groceries and purchased items in.  He's what I use to carry the empties back to the beer shoppe for a recycle refund.  He's what I use to bring another Month Of Happiness back.  Very French, Mr Caddy is.  He's required, actually.  Where Americans have cars to haul things in, the French have these little caddys.

So... what's in Mr. Caddy this week?  Well, let's have a look, shall we?

This trip saw me choosing a few triple and quadruple fermented brews.  I also selected a few porters and stouts.  These are nothing like the American beers that go by similar names.  The Belgium porters and stouts are Real Beers.  Nothing less than 7percent ETOH, and many times several degrees more than that.  Real Rocket Fuel, this stuff.  And their taste is fantastic.  I also selected a couple bruns (brown) and several Winter Warmers (lightly spiced beers).

I've become something of a Beer Snob.  While likely to be a little different that a Wine Snob, it's still Snobbery.  So I have to admit to it.  There.  I've done my Confession.  OK?  What form does my Snobbery take?  None of this "Brewing Since 1983" for me.  No siree, Babo.  I want the Real Thing.  The oldest brewer I'd found imported to Paris from Belgium dated from 10-something-or-other.  I thought that was really neat and crowed to my American friends at having found something old and tasty.  Old is good in my Beer Snobbery Book.  The oldest is the best.

As is my habit I asked if there was something new (to the shoppe) and tasty I needed to try.  The Beer Folk guided me to something called l'Abbaye d'Alune.  There were three types of brew on offer and I picked up several of each for a thorough sampling and tasting.

A short history of l'Abbaye is that it started as a Benedictine monastery and converted to the Cistercian order 400 years later.  It's anyones guess as to whether it was a bloodless take-over or not.  I guess what happened after that was rather wild and wooly at times.  This included the destruction of the original monastery by French Revolutionary Guards in 1794 and the Last Monk dying in 1850-something (may he RIP).

Fast forward to the present time and what we have is a bunch of lay folk who took the original three or four recipes for monks beer and restarted the fermentation processes.  All I needed to do was crack open the first bottle to know this was truly something special.  The second type I tried was better than the first.  The third type I tried nearly rose me up into the heavens.  Monks beer can do that, right?

Any guesses as to when those Drunken Monks first started brewing?  Looking at the bottles when I got home caused my jaw to drop.  We have a new winner.  Anno 657 it said.   Old is good, right?  In this case it's brilliant!  Or so me-thinks.  Golly these are old recipes.  They're nearly 1400 years in the perfecting.


Saturday, December 5, 2015

Season of Visitations - a report abridged

Fall 2015 was the season to be filled with visitations.  Here's a brief run-down on who came through town and what we did together.

Visitation One - The wonderful Miz Kitty alerted us that friends of her's were coming over for a visit.  We shared contact information and when Dina and Bill showed up we were ready share with them a little of Our World.  They were to start off our Season of Visitations.

We were happy that le Cafe du Commerce was serving decent food, and we ate and drank our way through lunch all the while making new friends.  After catching up on the latest news from the Old Country, they wanted to see the Eiffel Tower.  So we went for a nice walk up the street and around the corner to the Champs de Mars.  Bill could take photos (he's a camera nut, too).  By the end Dina promised to send Jude a few Rincola cough drops as a thank you for our hospitality.

Visitation Two - Daniel, Jude's son, and his partner were here for a 9 day visit.  It was a Whirl Wind visit to everything they could take in.  It was crazy nuts good.

We took the Cars Rouge (they're called something else now) to share an oversight of the city.  We visited the Musee Cluny, the Louvre, and went on a shopping trip through Little Sri Lanka while on our way to visit the Romanesque church that sits up on Montmartre.  We were in Chartres to see the labyrinth and the next day we were off to la porte de Vanves and the marche de puce before going to lunch in our favorite cafe up on rue du Commerce.

The trip was entirely too short.  It was good to see Dan and to get to know his partner better.  We'll be heading back to the States later next year.  Dan proposed marriage under the Eiffel Tower.  How romantic is that???

Visitation Three - Back in the Old Country I have a photographer friend who asked if I'd like to participate in a group of Fellow Nutters.  From there I met many wonderful artists, any of whom remain friends to this day.  Well, they were on their way back to France and were interested in getting together.

Patrick and MaryJo had been visiting places around France and were spending the last of their vacation here in Paris.  So it was easy, we'd meet over lunch and talk about how things are from their perspective back home.  Before lunch we shared with them the beautiful Square Saint-Lambert.

In all we covered a lot of ground in our conversations, shared another wonderful meal, and enjoyed being with people of like mind and similar spirit.

Visitation Four - In the Old Country I was hired several times by an engineering manager at various times in my career as a software engineer and program manager.  Creig Smith is a Prince of a Man and we share a surprisingly deep history of work and business travel together.  He took me to India, which led to my many year involvement with an engineering center in Bangalore.  He took me to Tokyo, which led to a several year involvement with an engineering center there, too.  He and I worked to develop, plan, and then execute several far-reaching software initiatives, one of which led to the direct contribution to the bottom line of $3billion over a 10 year period.

When Creig said he was coming to town for a business meeting, I knew I'd finally have a chance to thank him for all he did for me.

Back to the favored lunch spot we went.  All around town we visited.  Talk.  Talk.  Talk.  It was wonderful to catch up on old time and to remember we have more than a few deep relationships of meaning and value.

Visitation Five - My brother and father were in Spain and Jude and I made arrangements to see them in Madrid while they were on their homeward leg of their journey.  I'd not seen my family in over a year, so this was a good and important trip to make.

To take in a museum we hadn't seen the first time we were in Madrid Jude and I showed up a day early.  But with this came the incredible adventure (previously recounted here) and with this, start of our visit under less than the Best of Circumstances.

Still, we were able to visit the surprisingly good naval history museum (near the Prado museum) and to visit the incredible Palace.  Everyone seemed to enjoy everything we took in.  It was an incredibly short two days, and we knew we were headed back into a War Zone.

Mystery Solved - For several weeks we received telephone calls telling us we had a package to pick up, but I could never write the telephone number down fast enough.  I never knew when a call would come in, either.  We had enough solicitors calling to keep things really mixed up.  I could never anticipate the weird "you have a package" call.

Just this week we received a ring on our entry door buzzer and it was our facture/postman.  He had a package for us.  I went down to collect it and he was apologetic about the lateness of the delivery.  He said "we've been trying to call you."

Ah ha!  You're the ones who've been bugging me.  This is great!  Well, what's in the package?  It was Jude's Rincola cough drops and a nicely framed photograph of Jude and I.  Dina had been as good as her word.  What a wonderful surprise!