Saturday, December 24, 2016

Profound? Clever? Not so much...

I wanted to end the year with a series of profound and clever utterances, but I can't.  Others have already said what I wanted to say.  Others have already noted the many obvious things that have happened in 2016.

A rather large number of good musicians died.  Good actors and actresses died.  In fact, a whole lot of notable folks have passed to the other side.

In our little corner of the world it seems like things have been anything but fine and good.

English friends who live in south-western France experienced something traumatic when L's (I'll use letters in place of names) hip failed.  We hear they're OK, but life was in a moment changed.

In our French/English conversation group we've made quite a few friends.  An American couple whose families are involved in US politics and international diplomacy are facing challenges around R's cancer.  We hear it may be a treatable form and can only hope for the best.  They're not coming back to Paris until this is resolved.

A couple we spent Sainte-Sylvestre with realized the seriousness of their challenges when C was diagnosed with metastasized cancer.  We're not sure how much life is left in this wonderful human being and it makes us feel sad just thinking about it.

In our apartment building, a couple with whom we've shared a few aperos haven't had all that great a time, either.  T's mother very recently passed away and things have been rather quiet chez eux.

A couple who we are close with have had a terrible year.  First J's brother was diagnosed with cancer and died.  Then J's sister came down with something terminal.  These were followed all too quickly by M's (J's spouse) stroke and subsequent need of a pacemaker.

It feels like we're all falling apart.

No, not everything this past year has been horrible.  Still, it's the negative things in life that seem play so strongly on our thoughts, feelings, and memory.

Paris ~ Endroit au Coin de la Rue

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Lovers of Wine ~ la deuxieme part

Our favorite super-bio Bordeaux vintner wasn't at the salon, but they sent an email saying they would, however, be at an all-bio salon the following weekend.  I noted the dates, printed the invitation, and when the open day arrived, Jude and I headed off to le carreau du temple.  Only to find that they were still setting up.  My mistake was to assume (yes, I'm an ass, and you can fill in the rest of that statement) that Friday was when it started.  No.  It was Saturday through Monday.  We got busy over the weekend and I came down with a cold, so we didn't return to le carreau.  Oh well.

Paris ~ Endroit au Coin de la Rue

When we lived in the States Jude found a vintner who picked and crushed his biodynamically grown grapes and let nature take it's course.  That is, the vintner added nothing, no yeast and no sulfites to his wines.  Jude and I purchased cases of the stinkin plonk over the years.  It always tasted as if it had an aliveness that other wines simply didn't.  When we moved here one of the first things we tried to do was to replicate that experience.  We tried to find a place that sold organic wines with no sulfites added.

We thought we found a place here in the city that's located over in the 14eme.  Yet when we visited them they had one, maybe two wines indicated "no sulfites added".  Further, none of the wines on offer were labeled "bio".  Jude tried a few things and bought a few bottles and gave up on them when she found bio sans sulfites ajoutés over at our local Monoprix.

In the past three years of visiting the huge salon des vignerons independent with our Teacher of All Things Wine I've developed an understanding of how the French talk about their regions, their cepages (grape varieties), their soils, their production methods, and modes and methods of distribution.  I'm beginning to hear all the words in a conversation, know what they mean, and am starting to ask semi-intelligent pre-cro magnon man level questions.  This is how Jude and I were able to be more successful in selecting wines at this years salon.  A grunt here.  A scratch there.  Et voila!

Paris ~ Search for Wine

A couple of days after behaving like the Old Man that I am by confusing dates for the All Dancing All Bio salon we read something interesting over on the Local.  It turns out the article might just have given us the last and most valuable piece of the Understanding Wines in France puzzle.

Apparently winegrowers in this part of the world can be just as crazy, or as the article calls it - extreme - as their American Klickitat Canyon counterparts.  Here is an immigrant, here is a man from Japan no less (they love beer in Japan), here is a steep steep hillside that's been cleared and planted, here are the bare feet that crush the grapes, here is the airborne yeast that starts the fermentation, here is the lanyard that holds the Japanese man upright should he pass out from too much CO2 off-gassing from the crush, and here is the finished product.

I have to say, most syrah cepages we've drunk have been rather odd.  They can be cloyingly cough-syrup-py.  They can be slightly sweet.  They have often been rather unbalanced.  They can have what I'll call a strange nose.  Most are best suited for wine-ing rats into oblivion.

Independent of what we've felt about syrah, these rats (my wife and I) were piqued by the article.  We had to try some Domaine des Grandes Collines.  But where to procure something as obscure as le canon rouge?  *tippity-tap-tap-tap* went the clavier and... hmmm... in the city of Paris... yes... I see... yes... there is one and only one store that could, that might, that remotely possibly cross your fingers and hope to die offer le canon.  You guessed it.  Might they have a bottle or two at la cave des Papilles?

Well.  Alrighty, then.  Off I go...

... and home I returned.  With a bottle.  They had one in stock for the attractive price of only 11Euro.

Paris ~ Endroit au Coin de la Rue

*pop* and out came the cork on le canon.  Into a glass with just a little bit... and... well... the color is beautiful, actually... plenty of leg... *sniff*  Oh my... are we sure this is a syrah?...  ummm... this is beautiful, too...  *sip* ... oh... *sip*  ... my... *sip*  ... gawd!...  *sublime*  This can't be, can it?

Et voila! we've discovered the very thing we started looking for over four and a half years ago when we first moved here: An all natural no yeast no sulfite-added made by a madman wine worth drinking nearly every night of the year.

Two trips later we have purchased what's likely 50% of la cave's allotment (caution: I exaggerate, it's true).

For those of you who know French wines like nobodies business, please correct me where I'm wrong.  But if it's too painful to read (I drink beer, remember?), feel free to cover your eyes, block your ears, and scream into a pillow while I'm not looking.  For the rest of you, here's what I've learned about finding a great organic wine just about anywhere in France.

1) What you're after is something with less than 20 parts per million of sulfur dioxide (SO2, aka - sulfites).  The UC Davis chemically engineered approach to winemaking typically uses far more SO2 than 30ppm.

2) Bio is "organic" in France.  But that's not enough and they use the words slightly differently than you do in the States.  If you attend un salon des vignerons just look for an indication that a vintner's wine is "bio" or "biodynamic."  These words have caught on here in France and are more than just a marketing exercise.  The much dreaded by the English EU bureaucrats in Brussels and Strasbourg carefully legislate anything that might cross country borders.

Paris ~ Search for Wine

3) Mais, et il y a toujours un mais, you may be overlooking or as in my case simply didn't know about a huge lake of fabulous wines that haven't been put through the EU's bio food certification process, and yet are more "extreme" in the care and attention given to the EU bio labeled plonk.

Here is all you need to ask for - vin nature.  These are fermented with airborne naturally occurring yeasts only.

If you're neurotic or want to make the guy or gal behind the counter smile and giggle feel free to ask which pesticides were sprayed on the grapes.  I've yet to find one that has had anything more than an SO2 bomb lit off in the fields on cold cold nights (to keep the molds from spreading too quickly).

If you're sensitive to SO2 like Jude (headaches, flushing red in the face, etc.) simply ask about what the vintner measured.  I've yet to find a vin nature with more than 20ppm SO2.  Many, or dare I say most, that we've tasted have less than 15ppm SO2.  In either event, such dosages are well under anything Jude reacts to.


Paris ~ Search for Wine

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Lovers of wine... la premiere part

A couple years ago I wrote about how it felt to be a Beer Drinker in the land of Perpetually Flowing Wine.  Things have not changed for me and are very unlikely to, but...

The Wine Season started with a pleasant bang.  Remember the nouveau Beaujolais I posted an image of recently?  Well, it turns out the nouveau B's of my youth were indeed sh*t.  The stuff on offer here is, quite frankly, FABULOUS!  No need to age wines.  Nope.  None at all.  My internal compass for what's good and what's not, vise a vis my expectations, has been appropriately re-calibrated.

Salon des Vigneron Independent ~ 2016
To le salon with friends - Night One

The Wine Season quickly reached Full Bellow just the past weekend.  This year le salon des vignerons independent held their vast Wine Selling Spree in Salle Trois à la porte de Versailles.  More than nine hundred vinters showed up to hawk their wares.  Imaginez vous, nine flipp'n hundred stands offering free tastes of wines and liquors.  I said free and I meant what I just said.  It's a very dangerous place to visit and they won't make things more difficult for you, either.  They hand you a cute little tasting glass, at no cost, free, nothing, pas de sou, when you enter Salle Trois.  Gods!  Be still my quivering liver.  It took three visits to properly cover the event.

Day One was actually Night One in that we visited the salon after sundown.  In the process of walking around the show we purchased cartons of our favorite cremant d'Alsace.  We uncovered a second crement, it's something fun (Pinot Noir and a couple other cépages) from le Bourgogne.  All we needed to do was to collect them the next day when le diable was at hand.

We went with friends.  We laughed and had a good time.  On the more serious side, they taught me about les pineau de Charentes.  I'd been looking for something tasty to supplement our rapidly and seriously dwindling Coelho Porto supplies that were provisioned from the Porto Institute in Lisboa last March.  Deborah may have just introduced to us a good French supplement.

Salon des Vigneron Independent ~ 2016
With our teacher of wine - Day Two

Day Two quickly arrived with a call from Jacky.  Whenever I visit le salon with him I learn so many things that I can't keep it all straight.  This year was no different.  We worked our taste buds down le Bourgogne and concentrated our attention on the whites.  The Big Names like Gevry, Chassagne-Montrachet, et Meursault all called to us and were duly sampled.

Sorting through the various vineyards was a very enlightening exercise.  I knew these were cent pourcent Chardonnay.  Yes, there were small differences between each of the vineyards.  Yes, the better plonk came from the tops of the hills.  Yes, the clay or limestone soils influenced the taste.  But...  and yet... I wasn't Blown Away by any of it.  Sure, some of it was pretty good.  Particularly the 30Euro bilge-plonk.  But...

We Ping-Ponged our way down the aisles.  After tasting a particularly good Meursault, Jacky spied something across the way. Over we went and he proceeded to explain to me where this vineyard was from.  It's just north of Beaune in an area with what they call a mountain (though it's more likely a nice big hill of some kind or other).  Around this "mountain" are several vineyards.  This particular vinter owned three plots.  So we tried a little white from each of these three.

Salon des Vigneron Independent ~ 2016
Explaining how a "mountain" is surrounded with different 
vineyards and plots - Day Two

Into our glasses went the first taste.  To the lips came our portions.  *swirl* *swish* *inhale*  Jacky had a radiant look on his face when I asked him que penses tu?  He raised my eyes to the heavens and said one single word.  "Sublime"  C'est tout qu'il peut dire.  Finally we found something of note.  From my side all I could think was how interesting it was to have passed through some of the very best vineyards in the world to stumble upon something truly spectacular from a vintner who may not be known outside France.  Je prends trois bouteilles, s'il vous plaît.  Et le même pour mon ami.

Loading up le diable with quatre cartons de crement plus the three Ladroix we were off and headed for home.  That's then disaster struck.  Le diable shed a roulant and I was nearly dead in the water.  There I stood with nearly ninety pounds of wine.  Ugh.  What to do?  As we were only half a block from the apartment I lifted/drug the poor dying diable home.  No crement was spilled.  Nous avons eu de la chance.  Except for the sore back.  The things we suffer for, right?

Salon des Vigneron Independent ~ 2016
How le salon is laid out.  
There were 9 aisles like this.  
Each aisle holds more than 100 vintners hawking their wares.
It's true.
This was photographed half way down one of them.
The other half is behind me.
Vasty tracts of vin, me-thinks.

In preparation to Day Three at le salon I was up and out early the next morning to acquire a new diable.  Suitably diable equipped Jude and I returned to le salon to find her a few vins rouge.  But this was no easy task.  It turns out the reds of le Bourgogne are terribly expensive and, well, they don't taste all that great.  I know.  *shock* *horror* *gnashing of teeth*  Same with les vins de Bordeaux.  Ugh.  What to do?  The two "greatest" red wine regions in the world (according to well paid marketers) and nothing appealed to us.

I remembered something our wine teacher said two days prior.  When I told him what Judith liked he suggested the cabernet franc of Chinon from the Loire.  So off we went and, guess what?  Jacky is right.  Several vintners were approached.  Two good vindages were located (for an amazingly low price).  A couple cartons were purchased and we finished off our visit by adding to the haul a carton of Rhone and one of the Languedoc-Roussillon.  Le nouveau diable est charge and to home and hearth we went.

I moved les crements into le cave and rearranged our upstairs cave (aka closet) to take les vins rouge.  We're nearly fully stocked for the year.  Life is good.

Little did we know la vie des vins was about to get even better.

[To be Continued...]

Salon des Vigneron Independent ~ 2016
Le Diable un peu charge.
Just prior his leaving us.
The wheel looks intact, but it's not.
And I didn't realize it until it was too late.
He's soon to be mort dans le champs de bataille.

Saturday, November 26, 2016


Gird your loins for herein lay a sad tale of mold, mildew, and discarded clothing.

Sometimes living here in Paris has felt like we live in a third world country.  The plumbing can be dodgy.  Plaster falls apart.  Paint peels.  Crotte de chien (dog poop) rests peacefully on the sidewalk and remains untended for days at a time.  People stand in the middle of the sidewalk (adjacent to the crotte) quietly smoking their lungs out and sharing clouds of nicotine when anyone who is brave enough to walk by.  Clothes seem to rot without any encouragement.  Mildew abounds and fungus spreads unchecked.  We've often wondered why we moved here.

During our trip to visit family back in the States we rediscovered the joys and happiness of clear and clean plumbing.  Walls are straight, true, and remain upright.  Paint faithfully does what paint should do.  Dogs are more normally picked up after.  People on the sidewalks don't hinder progress.  Lungs are less often subjected to the hazards of smoking.  Clothes are usually clean and dry.  By these measures America has a lot going for it.

When we were in Lisbon Jude asked if I'd please throw away some knit shirts that had mildewed.  Our clothes drying arrangement is the typical European hang-dry on racks bodge-up.  We have two of them (racks that is, we already have plenty of bodge-ups).  Using this approach we can do two or three loads of laundry in the early morning and have some of the things dry by bedtime.  But this happens only if we turn up the heat in the apartment and put the racks near the heat sources.  By accident clothes sometimes get put away not fully dry.  Hence the mildew problem.  I can't tell you how many articles of otherwise good clothing we've tossed out.

Heaven must have clothes dryers.  Surely.

On a fait un peu de recherche.  C'est a dire, we used Google to see if there might be a suitable alternative to drying clothes en plein aire.

*tappity*tippity*tap*tap*tap* went the keyboard, and... what's this?  Huh.  We can live in Crotte Paradise and Clean Clothing Heaven at the same time?  How is this possible?  No.  Say it isn't so.  We've lived for over four years without one of these and now we learn we needn't have suffered?

Salvation comes in many forms.  In our case it is a condenser dryer.  We don't need to run a big tube through an ancient crumbling plaster wall to have dry clothes.  I know.  It's shocking.  But we're here to tell you that it's true.  It turns out that self-contained dryer units are much more common than I ever thought.  We went down to Darty to confirm what Google suggested.

Et voila!  C'est vrai.  Voici notre nouveau meilleur ami.

All it took was a valid credit card and a day or two wait for the kind garcons (qui était vraiment costaud) to make the delivery and we are now the proud owners of a condenser clothing dryer.  We simply plugged it into a wall outlet and away we went.

No longer are our days spent managing laundry.  We can now get up in the morning and have our laundry duties done by noon.    We can process as many loads of laundry as we need in a day.  Into the wash machine go the clothes.  Over to the dryer when the spin is finished.  Ding goes the dryer when the clothes are ready to fold and put away.  Repeat until done.  Completely done.

Bonus:  Our afternoons are now free to explore the city in scent-free never again to be donated to the homeless garments.

We feel as if we've just left one of the lower level's of Dante's Hell and have passed through St. Pierre's Pearly Gates to enter Heaven.

It's strange how suddenly little things like smokers and crotte and plumbing feel rather less important.  Afterall, isn't there room for these people and these things in heaven, too?

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Old Fashioned Fun

When I was younger I really enjoyed all things motorized.  I've owned two Jaguar 3.8 litre Moss crunch-box E-types, a Fiat 124 Sport Coupe (the pretty one, not the post 1970 style), four Ducati's (one rubber band drive and three bevel-drive), several Moto Guzzi, Moto Morini, three Yamaha RD 400's and a pretty Yamaha 650 Seca (not the ugly turbo-Seca).  It seems there's been more than my fair share of fun sitting the garage.

Moving to Europe included our conscious effort to lead a car-free life.  Spell check wants to correct that to carefree life, but I put it correctly in the first place.  Hopefully we're not naive enough to believe we could have no cares simply by changing location.  No cars?  Yes.  No cares?  No.  We intentionally lead a car-free existence here.  There's enough CO2 in the atmosphere without our contributing to it, too.  Or something like that.  Have I mentioned how crazy the traffic is here?

Returning to the US to help my father clear out a few things and to attend a wedding put us squarely at odds with our car-free ideals.  In America if you don't have an automobile it can be really difficult to get around.  And where we were headed it might even be impossible to get there without one.  Once there, an automobile was essential.

It didn't take me long to remember where my youthful passion for cars and bikes came from.  My father has his own small collection of toys that he roundly loves.  This includes my Great Uncle's 1931 Ford Model A Deluxe Roadster, a 1965 Chevy Corvair 140 Monza (with four carbs), and a newer BMW Z4 decapote.  He wanted me to drive all of them as a way of sharing the fun.  So drive we did.  Oh gods! what fun we had.

The Ford Model A required double clutching when changing gears.  The brakes are weak, but the top speed is most comfortable at 45mph or less.  The steering is a little vague and the seats are rather close to the dashboard.  Those Large of Girth need not apply.  They can't fit.

The Chevrolet Corvair 140 Monza has a nice flat 6 cylinder air cooled engine.  This car has a rather lumpy (semi-race) cam, too.  It sounds great and goes well enough until you want to stop.  At which point you really (and I do mean really) need to stand on the brakes.  It felt like my foot was trying to move a brick.  The speed was difficult to scrub.

The BMW Z4 is a thoroughly modern vehicle.  It brakes well.  It steers perfectly.  It goes like stink.  I learned this one evening on our way to dinner.  Dad told me to drive as he played navigator.  My brother and Jude followed in Conrad's car.  Dad said "punch it."  My brother and wife quickly disappeared from the rearview mirror and we gobbled up the road at a very great rate of knots (thank you Henry Manney III).

OK.  So automobiling can be fun.  It can be a whole lot of fun, in fact.  Sharing the experience with my father was one of the highlights of my trip.  The smile on my face told Jude that after returning home a cute little Citroen 2CV might be somewhere in our future.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Out in the workshop...

To keep a promise I'd made to my father when we last saw him in Madrid,Jude and I visited the US starting in late summer.  We were there for six weeks.  Four of those weeks were spent with my father fulfilling my promise to help him clean out some of my mother's many things.

When we were thinking through all the details of what we wanted to accomplish easily distracted us from looking forward to enjoying our time there.  After all, the task appeared daunting.  We had one room in the house, a medium sized workshop area in the garage, and an entire wall and floor area also in the garage to go through and clear out.

My mother passed some years back and my father hasn't had the energy nor desire to go through her things and to find new homes for all of it.  After we arrived I could see why.  Whether anyone wanted to admit it or not, my mother was something of a hoarder.  The room in the house was filled with dolls, teddy bears, and doll furniture.  Her shop area was filled with doll body part molds, kilns for firing ceramics, and supplies that could've stocked a hobbyist's store.  The garage was literally stacked to the rafters with plastic tubs filled with things that'd followed my parents north when my father retired.  This was a much bigger task than I feared.

One of my father's goals was to be able spend time out in his own shop making musical instruments.  My mother's things weighed on his mind.  It was such a big thing to take care of that I'm sure my father felt like the whole thing was simply too much.  He'd already identified the things he wanted to remember his wife by and had already set those things into a display area in a way that pleased him.  Even now, he is devoted to the memory of my mother in a way that shows he still feels a deep bond with her.

Fortunately, my brother Conrad came up from Napa to lend a hand.  He stayed with us for 10 days.  At times I wasn't sure there was enough time in the schedule to get everything done.  But with my brother there we were able to muscle everything that needed to be muscled and a large part of the task was completed.  Before he left, we stuffed a 15foot UHaul box van to the roof with my mother's things and took them to a local hospice thrift store as a donation.

After Conrad headed south to home and hearth Jude and I were able to continue on.  I was able to sell a few things of value and we were able to have the hospice thrift store van back up to the door and haul the remainder of the to be donated items.

My daily routine included going over to my father's place and knocking on the door, poking my head in, and saying "Hey Pops, are you there?"  If he was, I was greeted by his two schnauzers.  They'd come over and say "hi" and I go to try and find their keeper.  If the dog greeters weren't there I knew my father was in his shop working on guitars or ukuleles.  Very often he was doing the very thing he said he wanted to do.  My mother's things were no longer weighing on him they way they used to.

Over the course of the month Jude and I watched has he built a tenor ukulele.  It's for my wife and when my father has finished it he'll send it to her.  It was quite the experience to see a brand new instrument take shape.  It was amazing to see how my father makes all the not-so-small decisions that go into the making of something so beautiful.

Watching my father build a ukulele was, of course, only one of the highlights of visiting him.  There were other enjoyable things, too.  Before we knew it, it was time for Jude and I to make our way north to Portland for our son's wedding.

I expected that saying "goodbye" to my father would be difficult.  The parting was made easier when he said "I'll see you next spring in Europe!"

Monday, October 3, 2016

On French Soil...

I stumbled upon something potentially interesting to folks familiar with the history of expansion of nation states.  While being in the US for six weeks helping my father and then attending our son's wedding I may have inadvertently added to French overseas holdings.

Wayside ~ Bandon, Oregon

When visiting my father I took to occasionally Watering the Gophers.  You see, his yard was filled with evidence of their underground excavations.  Years ago I read where buying panther urine from a local zoo and twinkling a little around one's property can help keep the predators at bay.  Since the gophers were predating on my father's grubs and insects I thought I'd run an experiment.  If panther urine worked, why not human wee?  Hence the Watering of the Gophers.

I love success stories and this is one of my favorite.  When Nature Called, I'd head outside, locate a mound of fresh soil and urinate on it.  The mound would decrease in size and the gophers seemed to find another area to excavate.  So if my theory was correct, I was helping keep the Gophers at Bay.  Success!  Though I'm not sure just how grateful my father is for proving the point.

One day while driving home, Conrad, my brother, took us on a tour of the Bandon Dunes Golf Course.  We were on a nice and windy road when Nature Called.  She struck like a Bolt of Thunder!  [ed: No.  Not like the 1975 Ducati 750GT/Sport, though from the sounds of things there might not have been much difference.]  "Oh driver!" I demanded.  "Pullest Thou Over, s'il vous plait."  Out I jumped and, well, the surrounding shrubbery will be a brighter green come next spring.

Readers of this blog may note a prior entry wherein I recorded the Insanity of Car Rentals.  What I haven't previously described is what happened when we parked the BMW Z4 on the grass by a large blackberry bush next to Mr UHaul's Garage in Port Orford.  Without going into the gory details, suffice it to say, come next spring the blackberries could grow darker and juicier than in prior drought years.

Portland ~ with friends

It was then that I realized the Error of My Ways.  Or, rather, the Unintended Consequences of Taking an al Fresco Leak wherever my bladder demanded.  My father had been waiting the Right Moment to inform me of a few of the nuances of Nation Building and European Expansionism.

Frenchmen, well known for watering the scenery in wide open nature have used the principal of Peeing in Public in place of planting their country's flag in the soil and declaring that ground for France.  This, according to my well informed father.  Bon.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I proudly introduce to you the newly discovered and now declared France in the New World.  Of course each place will need to be renamed in place of the former English appellations.  Bandon by the Sea will become Bandon sur mer.  The Bandon Dunes Golf Course will be opened to gophers as a safe haven against Men Who Pee.  It's new name is la merde de golf.  Sand traps will be replaced by little mounds of soil.  Lastly, Port Orford will now be referred to as la Sainte Porte Orphord du garage de UHaul and the blackberry bush will be the site of a new shrine.  No suitable name for the shrine has yet been identified and numbers for the new departements shall be coming forthwith.

Residents of these areas will forthwith be notified.  Passports may need to be reissued.

It should be noted that la ville des Hipsters in the northern part of the region called Portland will not be joining France as a newly annexed area.  We're not quite sure how to proceed as our editor was seen being hauled away by the local constabulary after attempting to take a leak in public.

Laurelhurst Cinema ~ Portland, Oregon

Monday, September 26, 2016

Car rentals in the US...

As part of this summers activities I'd signed my wife and I up for a trip back to the US to help my father clear out a few things that he was having trouble getting rid of.  The trouble wasn't in terms of attachment.  It was in terms of sheer volume.  There was a tremendous mountain of things to find new homes for.

Our ride north in... what???

My father lives in what we like to call Sherwood Forest.  To get there requires a two legged flight from Europe and a five hour drive to the remote south Oregon coast.  This trip we did it in two steps.  The first day we flew from Paris to Oregon.  The second day we drove from Portland to Bandon.

Since we don't own a car, we needed to rent something in Portland and drive it one way to our destination.  Our son Daniel very kindly helped procure a Hertz rental and the next morning we were on the road and on our way.  We arrived in style as the only car we could reserve on the 'net from Europe was full size.  It was not cheap.  The cost of the rental was a bit shocking and came within spitting distance of matching the cost to fly from Portland into North Bend, which is the closest airport.

Plenty of room back here!!!

After nearly a month working on moving my father's Mountain of Things we were ready to return to Portland to attend Daniel's wedding.

When we were in Coos Bay we stopped by the Enterprise car rental agency and enquired about scheduling a car for our drive up the valley.  What we learned nearly bowled us over.  As this would be a one way trip (and not in/around town) there was a $125 "drop fee."  There was also a three day minimum.  Add taxes and other fiddly bits and our all up costs were well over $450.

It was suggested we check with Hertz to see if we could get a cheaper ride.  Well, no.  In fact it was slightly more expensive than Enterprise for the same class of automobile.  Yikes! This was quickly reaching the outer limits of insanity.

Driving north
Pee-stop in beautiful downtown Drain
(yes, there's a joke somewhere in here
but it's true as written)

It was also suggested that we check down the street at UHaul to see if we could get a really cheap one-way vehicle.  So this we did.  We were hoping for a pickup truck or a van.  All they offered was a 10foot box truck.  Such silliness as all this needed to be clearly documented as we doubted anything would ever believe us.

Our drive north from Coos County to Multnomah County was going to be yet another adventure.  Instead of arriving in Stately Elegance via some classy or not so classy automobile, we would be driving a truck suitable for moving furnishings, household items, and personal effects equivalent to all the things needed to kit a one room apartment.  All this for five large suitcases and a of couple laptop computers.  It seemed the only way to save over $250 on this segment of our trip.

Driving north
The hand position on the wheel would never
pass for "correct" in France, where they're 
supposed to strictly remain placed at 
10o'clock and 2o'clock.  But this is America.
So there.

We felt we had little choice and decided to save $250.  The UHaul 10foot box van was rented.  Our suitcases and laptop computers were loaded.  We borrowed some rope from my father that helped keep things from shifting around that vast cargo space.  Bidding Bandon and our Cleaning Project farewell, we pointed the nose of the UHaul van north and drove out of town.

Vastly open spaces...

No Stately Elegance, this.  We didn't need to arrive in style, but it seemed rather funny that it'd all come to this.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

La traversee de Paris estivale 2016...

The Association Vincennes en Ancienne was able to run it's traversee de Paris estivale before the authorities could get the word out that big crowd filled events should be cancelled if there was insufficient security.  Such has been the general state of concern over continued terrorist attacks.

la traversee de Paris estivale 2016

For those who don't already know, la traversee is run twice a year, once in January and once on the weekend start of les vacances.  The event involves the running of 700+ old vehicles on the streets of Paris.  Normally one of the major gathering points is la place de la Concorde.  It's there that I've headed the past two years to see fun and wonderful things.

It seems as if Asian tourists can't help themselves.  All too many times I've watched as someone climbs into a car to have their picture taken.  This year was no different.  So when someone got into an old old voiture to have his picture taken, I snapped.  I knew the owner wasn't asked permission and couldn't stand the idea that someone's pride and joy was under siege.  In anger I told him to get out.  He smiled broadly and noded "yes", but he kept his face toward the camera.  So I forcefully reiterated that it was time for him to get out!  He must've heard the edge in my voice.  He jumped out and walked away.

A Frenchmen (not the sullied car's owner) watching the commotion I created struck up a conversation.  I told him that foreigners are crazy and said I should know as I'm American.  We laughed and I felt my anger instantly drain away.

la traversee de Paris estivale 2016

The conversation led the man to telling me about the old cars he owns.  Here they are known as les voitures de collection.  As the man listed all the fun old things in his garage I stopped him to ask about his 1931 Ford Model A Deluxe.  I'm told it's deep blue with yellow rims.  It's a roadster convertible that was originally sold by a dealership in Bordeaux.  The man is the second owner and it rather proud of this car.  I told him about my father's automobile.  The same exact car (year and everything) but in robin's egg blue.

Later as I walked down the line of parked voitures I felt someone jostling me.  It was the Ford Model A owner.  He said "here, look at this" and showed me a photo on his cell phone.  I swear on a stack of well worn Avons that it was a near perfect match for my father's own car.

If I get the chance the next time they run la traversee I'll try to show him the video my father made recently of my great uncle's car that's still in the family.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

A few words...

I feel I should say a few things about the violence that's shaken France and Europe the past two years.

On 7 January, 2015 came news and shock of the Charlie Hebdo murders.  The violence shook Jude and I to the core.  Eleven people were murdered and eleven injured.

Nine months later we were in Madrid seeing my father and brother.  On November 13, 2016, the day we landed in Spain, 130 people were murdered and 368 injured back in Paris.  The borders to France were closed and we didn't know if we would able to get home.

On March 22, 2016 Jude and I were in Lisbon when Brussels was attacked.  32 people were murdered and 300 injured.  Again we struggled to reconcile our shattered dreams with the emerging reality.

More recently on Bastille Day (July 14, 2016) Nice was attacked.  85 people were killed and 307 injured.  Our dreams of peace and calm and civility have well and truly been laid to rest alongside those who were needlessly murdered.

Each time there's been an attack, Jude and I wonder if we did the right thing by moving here.  Our first two years living in Paris were blissful.  There was pride in feeling we'd made the right decision to leave the US if for no other reason than for health and safety.

All this comes at a time of a growing sense of community and sharing. We have our neighbors above, below, and across the way from us. We have our apartment owners who are wonderfully sensitive to all that is French.  We have our French/English conversation group, too.  We have a surprisingly large group of French friends.  All of this is set on a firm foundation of supportive friends back in the States.

When I was here in Paris in the winter of 1986 several bombs exploded in the area around Opera.  These were related to France's involvement in Algeria.  In the mid-1990's, al qaeda sympathizers set off bombs on the RER B.  In many ways it should not be surprising that Syrian trained European citizens would lash out at fellow countrymen over the US involvement in Iraq and the torture of captured al qaeda leaders.  These were, each in their own way, politically and ideologically motivated events, though this may be coming to an end.

There is more that could be considered about the recent violence, particularly about what's come after the Brussels event.  Increasingly, attackers are reportedly not so much motivated by political nor religious ideologies as they are for the desire to create chaos and to wreak havoc.  Certainly attackers pledge allegiance to ISIS, but as seen in the most recent attacks, they're not trained militarily nor politically nor religiously by that group.  What these attackers are doing is indicating agreement with ISIS.  That's all.  Yes, it's enough, but I can't confuse allegiance with direct links back into an organization.  In short, I feel the attackers are thugs, not militants.

I'm not sure which is worse.  Are ideologically driven militants any safer or more justified than thugs?  The end effect is the same, even as what drives these people can be subtly different.  Does it matter for how we make our decisions to remain or leave?  There's the center of the argument, right there.  As the situation evolves, so do our thoughts, feelings, and views of what we are doing.

How, why, and when do we choose to do something differently, if doing something differently would bring us the sense of peace and civility we desire?

I see there really are no conclusions to be drawn nor acted on.  That is, whatever is unfolding is not finished and never will be.  Violence is part of all culture in all places.  Europe is not Disneyland, nor is it the "Happiest Place on Earth."  It was never really meant to be these things, even though we had two years of blissful peace when we first moved here.

Musee de Montmartre ~ Paris, France

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Of food, restaurants, monitors, inspectors, and a driving exam...

After successfully passing l'examen du code de la route I needed to get two hours practice behind the wheel and to schedule the driving exam.  The kind lady at the auto ecole scheduled the exam for two weeks from the moment I'd passed the written test.

This meant I had 2 weeks to get my 2 hours to I could brush up on my driving skills.  My only concern was that it'd been 2 years since I'd really driven anything motorized.  Sure, I'd driven myself crazy with le code de la route, but that was a different kind of driving, right?

The day of my driving practice found me face to face with The Full French Experience.  First I got to see how these Dual Control auto ecole cars are laid out.  The monitor sits in the passenger's seat and has a set of buttons and pedals on that side of the vehicle.  He (or she) can take over control of the car at any time.

Then there was the monitor himself.  He was a very nervous little fellow and quite the chatterbox.  He wanted to know all about America and the people and places there.  He wanted to tell me about the two Alfa Romeos he'd owned back when he was a salesman of some kind or other who criss-crossed the whole of Europe by auto.  He wanted to tell me about the high costs of retirement in France.  And he wanted to know what the costs of retirement were like in America.  So it went from the moment I sat down in the driver's seat.

We're heading up the road and he's telling me about what to watch for and where to pay attention and *wham!* he suddenly stops the car.  What? The?  Hell? Was? That? For?  I'm stunned.  You must not, never ever continue through an intersection when the light changes to yellow, monsieur.  The timing set for Green-Yellow-Red is very very short in France.  Mais, in the US when you're 2 meters away from a changing light you continue, otherwise you risk having someone up your tailpipe tout de suite.  Main non!  Nous sommes en France!!  Evidemment, I replied.

I settled down a bit and we continued up the road.  Keeping in mind that when the light changed I needed to stop immediately, we quickly encountered a second changing light, so I stopped at the crosswalk.  That's when all frigg'n hell broke loose.  The nervous little monitor man was yelling at me.  He's gesticulating wildly.  He's mad as h*ll. He immediately took control of the car and we were suddenly moving backward at a high rate of speed.  He continued to yell at me that he will NOT lose 4 points off his license because of me!

OK.  My heart is beating very fast and I'm really quite confused.  It turns out that the crosswalk is not where one must stop.  One must place the front bumper at the solid line on the pavement.  Only in this case there was no solid line.  None.  Zip.  Zero.  So where to stop?  One must stop, in situations where the pavement markings have not been repainted since the time of Napoleon and are completely missing, level with the stoplight.  Huh.  Not one bit of this was ever covered in le code de la route.  Oh alrighty then.

After having taken control of the car twice inside 30 seconds I was a very nervous wreck.  I had lost all confidence in my ability to read the situation and apply the correct actions.  My driving was now tentative and more than a little stilted.  He noted this and told me I had to improve my skills.  Thanks, Good Nervous Little French Buddy.  I've been driving for over 40 years and, besides, which country saved your ass?  Twice.

Things were most definitely not unfolding according to plan.

Not long later we came upon un rond-point (a traffic circle).  If you recall the prior two postings, you'll no doubt remember how la priorite a droite works and why it's important to pay attention to the subtlest of details so you don't get run over by traffic hurdling at you from the right.  Such was this situation.  I entered le rond-point and came to a stop to ceder le passage.  I knew I must do this because there were no markings of any kind anywhere that defined who had which priority.

As I stopped I looked carefully to the right.  The monitor asks me what I was doing.  I told him we needed to wait.  He says no we don't.  Continue, s'il vous plait.  I simply shake my head as three cars moving at a high rate of speed came blasting past a meter or so off my front bumpter.  The rond-point was situated at the end of an autoroute off ramp and traffic wasn't slowing down.   I turned to him and lifted an eyebrow.  That's when the apologies started arriving as fast and as furiously as the cars with la priorite a droite.

All I could think was we're even now, OK?  I've just saved your French *ss for the third time in a century.  D'accord?  Bon.  Blissfully the Little Nervous French Monitor said very little after that.  We returned to the auto ecole in relative peace.

I was really thrashed by the experience.  My confidence wasn't where I felt it needed to be, so I paid for two more hours behind the wheel.  My go at the Fabulous French Road System was scheduled for the day before la tache finale with the Highly Vaunted Much Feared French State Examiner.

Driving with the founder of the auto ecole during my second practice turned out to be a very pleasant experience.  He didn't talk much, was quite calm in fact, and the first hour passed quickly and easily.  I thanked him several times for his poise and considered approach to helping me understand the various details of driving in this Foreign Land.

At the beginning of the second hour the monitor said we were at the point where he was going to give me a practice exam.  He would act like the Highly Vaunted Much Feared French State Examiner and rate my skills.  OK.  Let's go.  I'm ready as my confidence has returned and I feel like I'm understanding how to move through the system fluidly and easily.

I came up to a stop sign.  The wheels stop.  I see no one is coming and we go.  That's when he tells me I just failed.  WHAT?  We're not even on the road yet and I've failed??  GawdsAlmight!  What is it with France?  Geez!

The monitor calmly explained what I should have done.  I should have come to the stop sign.  Stopped.  Counted to three (un, deux, trois).  Then proceed.  A full three seconds is required.  Well alrighty then.  There goes my confidence and I'm right back at Square One.  This, even as he rates me on the other parts of the test as if I'd not blown it on the very first opportunity, and I find out I would've passed with 25 out of 30 (or 31) points.

It's the night before the driving exam and I'm a mess.  *No sleep*Totally thrashed*Feeling pretty awful*Death warmed over*Reviewing, in detail, each and every step of the driving experience*

I worried that I'd make a mistake and be tossed out of the exam.  I was very worried that the window was closing on my ability to receive the French license before returning to the US.  I was very very worried about what I would then have to do once we reached State-Side to get us from one place to another.  You see, Jude lost her own license the last time we were there and the DMV requires you to show up in person with certain documents that prove you still live there before you can get your license back.

I was up and out to meet at the auto ecole at 06h45 (yes, you read that correctly - could they make this any more difficult?).  We then proceeded to take a 1 hour drive out of town - with one of the students practicing his technique behind the wheel before his exam.  There are four students in all, plus a monitor from the auto ecole sitting at the passenger side dual control mechanism. We arrived at the testing center which was little more than a vast empty parking lot with a cinder-block building on one end.

The auto ecole monitor explains a few things to "watch out for."  I ask for clarifications on a couple points.  In particular, I was trying to understand what the problem was with the rond-point that's just outside the test center entrance.  Bievre is this way and Centre Commerciale is that way, she explained.  There's a solid white line between Centre Commerciale and Autoroute86 which I MUST NOT cross if I get the directions wrong - otherwise the test is finished, failed, and I would have to redo the examen.  Anxiety mounts.  My hands shake a little.

I'm burnt.  I'm toast.  I'm feeling horrible.  I've not slept a wink.  I learn I'll follow the three youngsters - which means I get to cool my heels for another 1.5hours!  I'm utterly shattered.

Feeling like I was on a death march I finally head to the car to take my test.  The inspector seems nice enough.  The auto ecole monitor is sitting in the back seat and the two of them start talking amiably about one of my favorite topics, food.  Well alrighty then.

The instructor turns to me, asks a few questions, and off we go.  Only to learn later that her turning to me would cost me one point.  She was not properly installed.  You see, she should've been sitting facing forward and I failed to ask her to please turn around.  Ugh.  It's a minor point, right?  What else could go wrong?

I'm directed to the rond-point and am asked to take the first right, Monsieur.  I asked her do you mean toward Bievre? Tout a fait.  OK.  I relax a little and am very happy I'd asked for clarifications on how to treat that particular rond-point.

*Breathe*Drive*  Control les retroviseurs.  Accelerate swiftly.  Select correct vitesse from the boite aux vitesses.  Follow directions.  Listen carefully.  Ask questions if confused.  Feeling at the end of my rope.  Dangling, in fact.  But happy to be out doing something.  Anything.

Since the two ladies were on the topic, I suggested that Cahors goes rather well with sanglier.  Oui.  C'est vrai.  En fait... as Mme Inspector then explains her prefered Cahors to go with the perfect sanglier.  I wish I could remember which it was.  It sounded delicious.  Not only that, but her brother just happens to make a decent sanglier at his restaurant which is situated somewhere up in the 20eme.

*Continue*Following directions*Asking: Fait comme ca - you mean tout doit?  Oui.  Tout a fait.

Bicyclists on the road.  Merde.  OK.  *Breathe*Control les retroviseurs*Met les clignotants*Follow the car in front of me where I pass completely into the oncoming lane so as to give the required 1,5 meters safety zone around the cyclist.  *Pass nicely*Bon*

The two ladies talk lapin and ile flottante.  Listening to them I realize I'm getting hungry for lunch.  But I can't fully engage my hunger as I'm in the midst of a Rather Important Driving Test.  Yet I can't help but feel like I'm driving the three of us on a casual adventure.

*Control les retroviseurs*Accelere*Freigne*Doucement*Mais avec authority et...

A second bicyclist.  Merde! Pas encore!!  *Control les retroviseurs*  Verifier il n'y a personne qui vient, et, bon.  Without slowing, mit les clignotants, take the entire on-coming lane a second time, clignotants in the other direction and I slide back into my proper lane.

The chatter continues and I hear Mme Inspector say "Would you look at that.  He's an old guy on that bike."  What's an utterly shattered sleep deprived "student" driver currently taking his examen to do?  Why, wave your hand in the inspector's general direction and say "Hey!  Watch it. I'm old, too!!"  Which is true.  I've very recently crossed over 60 years of living on Planet Earth.

Laughs all around and we enter a restricted speed zone.  There were two zones, in fact.  The first is marked 30 km/hr.  The second is an indicated 50 km/hr.  In both zones we are passed by very fast movers (at at least 70 km/hr).  I remark on the speed difference and ask *sotto voce* if there are no laws in this beautiful country.

Without warning I'm directed to turn left and we're back into the parking lot of the Test Center.  My first thought was - I blew it.  I did something wrong.  We hadn't gone through a heavily populated city center (with all it's complex signage and crazy situations).  We hadn't gone down a 130 km/hr autoroute.  We hadn't encountered any situation where I need to carefully sort out la priorite a droite thing.  Ack!  I exit la voiture and return to the cinderblock building to wait.  Anxiety returns.

Not long after the other students and I are motioned back to the car.  Standing behind the car I encounter my monitor from the auto ecole.  She tells me quietly that I've passed.

On our way back into town the auto ecole monitor described, for everyone's benefit, the details of how well I'd driven.  Controler correctement.  Accelere correctement.  Depasser correctement.  Tout est parfait.  Impeccable.

The Myth Making seems to continue to grow.  It's hard to impress the French.  I'm the foreigner.  I'm the Old Man.  I'm so far outside their Complex Heavily Administrated Very Legally Scrutinized System that the French appear to have a hard time believing I could figure out how to succeed where others are still waiting even after two years to get their chance at a driver's licenses.

Some of the auto ecole's monitors stopped me the other day and asked what my score was on the driving test.  I told them. "Wow!  That's really good!!"  They are impressed.  Very impressed.  Damn!

It was Ralph, one of my best friends, who sent me a video of Icelandic Vikings celebrating this success.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Analyzing the situation - possible answers

In the last post I proposed a driving situation that generated a number of questions that I would like now to attempt to answer.

Photo 1.

Regarding Photo 1...

Is the street one way or two way?  How do we know, with certainty?  - From the angle of the photo and from the way cars block our view, there is no way of knowing. Certainly there are cars parked in the on-coming direction, but as we've learned from living here, people park in all sorts of directions, regardless of the sense of direction of the roads in question.

If we could see signs on the opposite side of the street, they could give us a hint.  That is, if signs on the opposite side of the street faced us, then we could safely assume (and assume is indeed the operative word here) that we are on a road direction sens unique.  If we see the backs of signs, then it's likely a two direction road.  Since I know this road, I can say that's what it is, two directions.

When do we know the 30km/hour speed limit has ended and we can return to blasting up the road? - Unless otherwise noted, the speed restriction ends at the next intersection.  Now this is tricky.  I learned the "next intersection" to mean at a four way intersection.  But there may be other nuanced definitions of "intersection" which apply.

It can be noted that the 30km/hr restriction is ended by a sign placed ahead of the next intersection that shows the 30km/hr speed limit in black and white (most of the time) where an angled bar crosses the number.

At what speed do we get to blast up the road at after the speed restriction ends?  How do we know this? - The French system of understanding speed restrictions is very different than in the US where speed limits are clearly posted.  In France speed restrictions must be memorized.  There are minimally three levels of speed depending on if you are a driver in or outside a probationary period (new drivers typically, but not always, are classified in this way for three years), the type of road you are on, and the condition of the weather.

So here you go [and memorise]. Unless otherwise posted -

Urban areas - normal drivers, probatoire drivers, even in rain: 50km/hr - this is allowed on the narrowest and most heavily congested streets.

Undivided roads outside urban areas - normal drivers: 90km/hr, probatoire drivers: 80km/hr, rain: 80km/hr

Divided roads (roads with center medians or barriers) outside urban areas (many times, but not always, classified as routes) - normal drivers: 110km/hr, probatoire drivers: 100km/hr, rain: 100km/hr

Autoroute outside urban areas - normal drivers: 130km/hr, probatoire drivers: 110km/hr, rain: 110km/hr

Autoroute through urban areas - normal drivers: 110km/hr, probatoire drivers: 100km/hr, rain: 100km/hr

Exceptions to this (this being France, there are often exceptions) - le peripherique around Paris - normal drivers: 90km/hr, probatoire drivers: 80km/hr, rain: 80km/hr - though this changes.  I've seen le peripherique speeds limited to 70km/hr.  There are two other areas in France where Autoroute in urban areas are less than "normal" and you need to know where they are before driving in those areas.

Things get tricky in foggy conditions.  The rule is this - For as many metres as you can see, that translated into km/hr is your speed.  For instance, if you can see 50 metres, then your speed would be 50km/hr.  This applies on routes and autoroutes.

How do we know if a sign is permanent or temporary? - Temporary signs are identical to all other signs in shape and content, with the exception that temporary signs have yellow backgrounds.

With the construction zone signs in this situation, are they permanent or temporary? - In Photo 1 above we can see the construction zone signs have yellow backgrounds, therefore they are temporary.  
However, the speed restriction of 30km/hr has a normal background.  So, is it temporary or permanent?  Here's how you go about trying to sort it all out.  Since the speed restriction is on the same pole as the temporary sign and placed above the speed limit you can assume (perhaps wrongly, but we'll have to wait to see) that it too is temporary.  If the speed restriction was posted on a separate pole or above the construction sign, then the speed limit could indeed be permanent.

As a driver of a automobile, can you normally drive in the right hand lane in Photo 1?  If so, why? - This is rather tricky.  In Photo 1 above we see an arrow directing traffic around the barrier.  The dashed line that delineates a lane looks "normal", but it's not.  It's hard to see but... the width of dashed line is thicker than "normal".  This indicates une voie reservee - a lane reserved, in this case, for buses and bicycles (though it's not obvious since the lane interior is well worn and markings are largely missing).  To answer the question - non, "normal" automobiles cannot drive in this lane.  Neither can any motorized form of two wheeled transportation.  Though everyone does emprunter (borrow - or in this case to drive in) the reserved lane, technically it's not allowed and you can receive une amende.

Photo 2.
Regarding Photo 2...

Regardless of how the cars are parked alongside the narrow side-street, how do we know this really is direction sens-unique? - As noted in the discussion of Photo 1 above, the way the signs are facing is the clue as to whether you're on a one way street or not.  In this case, signs on the left side of the street are facing your direction.  Therefore this is a one way/sens unique road.

What is the speed limit?  How do we know this? - As previously outlined for memorization (you did memorize this, right?), since we are in an urban area and unless otherwise posted this would be a 50km/hr street.  Narrow?  Yes.  Lots of pedestrian traffic?  Potentially.  Children kicking a soccer ball?  You betcha.  50km/hr it is.

Unless... and this is also a little tricky... a few streets earlier you came across a square sign with a smaller/small-ish red circle with 30 or 20 displayed on the inside of the circle.  This would mean you are entering a "zone" of 30km/hr or 20km/hr.  Which is to say, all streets you drive on until you come to a sign that explicitly cancels the speed restriction shall be under-taken at the limit indicated on the square sign.  This is not to be confused with the circular speed limit sign we saw in Photo 1 where the restriction pertains to just the road the sign is found on.

Regarding the two streets (photos 1 and 2) considered together...

If you are traveling on the major crosstown street in Photo 1, when you encounter an intersection, who has priority?  From which direction is priority given?  How do we know this? - I'm quite sure this situation is exactly the kind that get so many French into trouble.  So here it goes ->

If a street is entering from the right and there are no other indications of any kind, the driver entering from the right has priority.  This is the dreaded priorite a droite.  That is to say, if you happen to be on a three lane wide major cross town road and a small one-way street happens to T-bone into your major cross-town road, you, who may be trying to make time to get across the aforementioned town, have to yield to any and all vehicles coming out from the right.  This applies whether you can see them clearly or not (see Photo 1).

If a street is entering from the right and you see a triangular sign with an "X" in the middle, it's a warning that at the next intersection you must yield to the right.  In principle this is a Good Thing(tm) as it takes away any doubt as to who should do what and when.  In practice things can, how shall we say, become "interesting" should someone be sitting on your tailpipe trying to get across town on the aforementioned etc etc etc.

Drivers coming from the right may or may not encounter any signage (see Photo 2) that alerts them to a droite (legal right) about to be gifted them.  Normally there is no indication of your State Granted droite.  So you can imagine the glee with which some motorists dash pall mall into the midst of cross-town traffic moving at 30km/hr or 50km/hr.  On a blind intersection.  With a construction zone to further hide your presence.  Whereby a barrier hides all but your roofline.  But with the added "benefit" of a silver painted fence perched on top of the aforementioned barrier which acts as yet more camouflage, thereby protecting you from, well, speeding on-comers view.  This tends to set a trap for the unpracticed and unwary driver.

Do you keep your present speed?  If not, what do you do? - If you are the driver with la droite a priorite a droite you can plunge hood-long into the fray protected with the knowledge that anyone who might touch you will be held as the responsible party.  It's like a huge Get Out of Jail Free card somewhat randomly granted, and visited upon the French citizenry.

If you are the driver whose view may be blocked to the street situated on the right and who may not be warned of a trap, er, opportunity to practice Serious Accident Avoidance Technique, you learn to, and this is very very important, 1) check your rearview mirrors to check the make and model of la voiture sitting on your tail-pipe (so you can fill out the accident report accurately), 2) retrograde slightly, 3) cover your brakes as you pass into the aforementioned (ah, I do repeat myself, don't I?) intersection, which means that 4) any advantage of using a major crosstown street to reach your destination in a Timely Manner will be dashed at Each and Every intersection you stumble upon.

*breathe*deep breaths*

Thus ends this segment of what I learned about driving in France.  There are many many more pages of reading to do before a novice driver can cover perhaps 70 percent of the topic of driving in France.  The other 30 percent of what I needed to know and understand was presented only when I sat down to take the Bloody Gawed Foresaken code de la route Test.

And now a musical interlude before we pass on, ahem, to talking about the driving portion of the test.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Analyzing the situation...

Before describing l'examen de conduite I thought I'd take a moment and see how much of the previous information has sunk in.  This is a test.  It's a Real World situation.  This represents a simple single situation from two perspectives.

Prior to answering the question(s), here is what is immediately apparent.  Photo 1 shows a major cross-town thoroughfare.  There are at least three lanes, perhaps four.  We see there is a construction zone along the right side of the road.  We also note that the speed is reduced to 30km/hour.  It looks like there might be a side street coming in from the right.

Photo 2 shows a minor street.  From the way the cars are parked we might surmise this may be a road of sens unique (one way).

Questions -

Regarding Photo 1...

Is the street one way or two way?  How do we know, with certainty?

When do we know the 30km/hour speed limit has ended and we can return to blasting up the road?

At what speed do we get to blast up the road at after the speed restriction ends?  How do we know this?

How do we know if a sign is permanent or temporary?  With the construction zone signs, which is it in this situation - permanent or temporary?

As a driver of a normal automobile, can you normally drive in the right hand lane?  If so, why?

Regarding Photo 2...

Regardless of how the cars are parked alongside the narrow side-street, how do we know this really is direction sens-unique?

What is the speed limit?  How do we know this?

Regarding the two streets (photos 1 and 2) considered together...

If you are traveling on the major crosstown street, when you encounter an intersection, who has priority?  How do we know this?

Do you keep your present speed?  If not, what do you do?

Photo 1.

Photo 2.

Now try assessing this at speed.

Thank you.  We hope you've enjoyed this little tutorial/test as much as we have.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

An encounter with le code de la route...

I hoped going to an Auto Ecole would be a simple, easy thing to do and that I'd have my French driver's license tout de suite.

During January and February I was taking things easy, thinking I could "nail this thing", no sweat.  In fact, I felt it'd be a Tip Toe Through the Tulips (see a prior post for the Tiny Tim ditty).  I lightly read the guide and passed the on-line exams that the school provided.  This was going to be Easy Peezy as one of Jude's friends likes to say.  Straight-forward and, well, I've been driving for nearly 45 years.  So just how hard could this be?

Each Wednesday and Saturday the Ecole would host a practice exam and one of the school's owners would review the correct answers and respond to any questions we might have.  Once I started this process I realized I was really struggling to pass these exams.  I could miss no more than 5 questions to pass and too many times I would miss between 8 and 11 questions out 40.

Discouraged by my lack of progress, March arrived just in time to provide a welcome distraction and a much needed vacation. You might ask "... you live where?? and still feel you need a vacation?..."  Well, yes, actually.  With the stress of two major attacks on Paris (the Charlie Hebdo murders and the attacks of November 13) we were taking a break, getting out of dodge.  We needed to clear our minds, relax, enjoy the sun, and have a good time.  The Auto Ecole would have to wait.

While in Lisbon I resolved to read le code carefully, thoroughly, and with an eye to seemingly small details, facts, and figures.  Returning to a yet again depressed Paris (the attacks on Brussels occurred while we were away) I knew that the Real Thrash was about to begin.  I needed to "get serious."  Here is a little of what I discovered.

Les panneaux (signs) come in all manner of size, shape, and color.  Each of these elements (size, color, shape) are critical to understanding what information is being conveyed.  Taken individually signs seem easy to understand.  But, what about when two or more signs occupy the same post?  Which takes priority?  Which indicate a restriction of one class of vehicle and not others?  What do the measurements for height or length restrictions mean if you are exactly the length indicated?  All of these details are important and the combinations and the effects of their combining, their exact placement along the road and the distances they are legible must be understood.  Completely.

Like many western nations, alcohol and stupefiant (drug) laws are rigorously enforced here.  I understand the importance of watching what you do to yourself before you drive, but do I really need to know the biology of how much alcohol passes into the bloodstream?  How long it takes to be absorbed - on an empty stomach or with food on board?  Under which circumstances can the police immobilize your car?  Where can you store the required alcohol test?  Under which certification system are alcohol tests issued?  When and where can drug or alcohol test be given?  By whom?  To pass an examen de code de la route I need to know the answers to all of these, and much more.  Oh, and don't forget to learn exactly how many points you lose, for how long you lose them, and under what conditions you can add lost points back (periode probatoire ou apres - the processes are rather different).

Understanding la priorite a droite drove me (ahem) nearly insane.  This little "benefit" of driving in France has to be experienced to be believed. Simply put, under many circumstances drivers entering an intersection on the right can do just about anything they like.  Including cutting you off.  Driving across major cross-town four lanes of traffic.  From blind corners.  From out from behind well-meaning vehicle hiding hedges and vegetation.  You have this right from the right and it is granted with or without markings on the street and with or without any panneaux (signs).  Depending.  On what?  Well, that's what understanding le code is all about.  Got it?  Good.  Now try being the driver on the left and sort this all out while you're in motion.

Intersection three light systems are like in the US, er, but not really. Yellow flashing lights can be found in the middle or bottom positions and can indicate a broken green/yellow/red light (wierd, I know) or it can indicate (more normally) priority for two wheeled users or pedestrians if the panneaux stacking is in their favor.  Clear as mud.  Oh, and add to a three color intersection light standards little panneaux that indicate you have priority over cross traffic and, well, I was quickly confused as to what any of that might help "clarify."  If I sorted it all out correctly, it had something to do with the Dreaded Priorite a Droite.

More details.  Important details.  Things that, no doubt, will save one's precious life. These abound.  Including having to know how many people die a year on les routes and where (en ville ou hors agglomeration) and under what circumstances.  What time of the week are we asking the question of traffic accidents about?  How many drivers drink what and when?  How old are you?  What percentage of accidents involve 2 wheelers?  4 wheelers?  Les poids lourds?  Details one can no doubt recite to presiding officers at the scene of an accident.  Impressive stuff, this.

The structure of the examen de la code de la route was presaged earlier in this missive.  More completely and to aid those who have fallen asleep by now, there a total of 40 questions devoted to the various areas of le code.  A question can be multiple response.  Some questions have two possible responses, some three, and still others can show four possible responses.  All correct responses must be selected to count as a correctly answered question.  If all 40 questions came with 4 possible correct responses (which the don't) there would be up to 120 responses to correctly select.  You must correctly answer at least 35 questions to pass.

After acquiring a complete understanding of the entire driving environment, the signage, and the laws and rights granted to the various interested and uninterested parties to be found, literally everywhere around France, it was time to take the examen.  Or not.

Enter the implementation of the Macron Law.

The instructor suggested I should try and pass the examen before everything changed.  She said the old system would be much easier.  Except for the fact I did not feel I was _that_ ready and I wanted another week of practice test taking before I dove into the Next Phase of the effort.  In retrospect I should have simply tried to pass the test when I was urged to do so.  There are things we know.  There are things we don't know.  And then there are things we don't know that we don't know.  Thank 'ew Donald Rumsfeld.  This, it turned out, was one of those DRumsfeld Times.

My first test was scheduled for the first part of May.  This coincided with the first steps at implementation of the Macron law.  There were 1,000 new questions and special emphasis was placed on on accident scenes and giving first aid, alcohol consumption, and new regulations.

I was one of the 593 out of 600 test takers around the isle de France to fail the new test sequence.  What would you expect?  I'm a foreigner and am learning a whole new language, right?  Well, the French weren't any better off.  The failures were so vast and unexpected that the situation made the evening news.  Not that this little piece of information helped me feel any better.

A failure was a failure, and I knew the correct answers to the two questions that would've put me over the top.  Air conditioning can auto-regulate the temperature of the cabin, and les feux de la route show much farther than les feux de croisement.  I _knew_ the correct answers and stupidly selected the wrong responses.  Ack!  I could have been one of the Magic Few who passed the Impossible Test.

It was a little surprising how quickly we were able to reschedule the second attempt.  Normally the average wait time was up to three months between tests.  Um, yes, it could take that long and I didn't have that kind of time, so I was happy for the quickly scheduled re-try.

Regrettably, I failed the second examen, too!  To be fair, the Prefecture de Police had removed 600 of the most difficult questions and reduced the opportunities for failure to a pool of just 400 questions.  Still, it bothered me that I failed this second time as well.  I missed passing the examen by one lousy question and I knew which one I missed!  Again!!

I was beginning to feel stupid and depressed.  I would need to wait a much longer time before trying a third time to pass this silly/exacting/detailed/extensive examen.  I would miss my Window of Opportunity to acquire the driver's license prior to leaving for the US and might need to turn to Plan B, which included finding a way to renew my State-side permit shortly after we arrived.  I didn't like what we were facing.

Except that...

The second part of the implementation of the Macron Law included privatizing the test taking system.  La Poste, SGS, and Dakra had contracted with the French State to provide le code de la route test taking services.  The Prefecture de Police was thereby freed up to put more driving inspectors into the field.  It was a way of speeding the entire driver's license process (some driving students were two years into the process and they still did not have their license).  While this can be considered a Good Thing(tm) for those wishing to get through the system more quickly, I found myself smack in the middle of massive system changes.

How to proceed was not entirely clear.  The Auto Ecoles were sent into a tailspin.  The system was changing rapidly and no one from the government had explained to les ecoles how they were integrated into the new processes.  Confusion reigned and, it turns out, I was the first person at my school to attempt to pass through the new processes.

The day the new test taking system was to start there was a thrash with the websites, start dates of the program, and scheduling.  SGS' test scheduling system had obvious database integration problems.  Dakra's scheduling system was non-existent.  And in the morning of the first day I could schedule a test la Poste's web-based system was yet to "go live."

What to do?  Looking up SGS' address I jumped the metro and paid a visit to the location where the tests were to be given.  I asked the people at the front desk if I could talk with SGS to let them know their website wasn't working correctly and to see if I could schedule a test in person.  After a few minutes and several telephone calls I was told "non", there was no one there who could help me.  So I returned home and looked to see if anything had changed with la Poste.  Glorious Days! their system was "live" and in 30 seconds I had a test scheduled at a post office in our very own arrondissement.  No need to get up excruciatingly early to fight with commuter traffic on the metro just to arrive at a distant location to wait 2 hours to take a test.

Within two weeks of my Second Failed Attempt at passing l'examen du code de la route found me at the scheduled time and place at la Poste.  I had selected that I would take the test individually.  This was different than my prior experiences at la Prefecture de Police where there were perhaps 30 or 40 people in the same room at the same time taking the same test.

There I was all alone, face to face with a Samsung 10inch tablet.  The kind postman examiner explained the rules and expectations.  We fiddled with the sound a bit.  A prior test-taker had complained the audio wasn't as loud as it could be, but we found a setting where the volume was acceptable.  He turned off the overhead lights so I could see the screen without glare and left.  The test started and, er, wot's all this then?  There's no sound.  None.  I can't hear the questions nor the possible responses.  There was no resetting the system as it would screw everything up.  It was proceed or die.  I'm left to read each question and possible response, to make my selection, all within very limited span of time (after the last response is read, you have 10 seconds before the next question is presented), and hope for the best.

The day of my la Poste test, the daughter of the school owner called me on the telephone and asked me many detailed questions.  I walked her through the entire process from test site selection through the website layout to possible selections in the scheduling system.  I'm the foreigner, right?  I can't speak their language very well.  And yet I'm explaining to them how the French driver's license system was changing and what they could expect.  Using this knowledge representatives from the ecole spent hours explaining changes to the test taking system to their other students that they themselves did not yet fully understand the implications of.

All that night I worried that I'd failed the test.  I wasn't sure my French language skills were up to the task.  The tests felt to me as a non-native speaker to be filled with language traps from which I had no way out.  The entire experience had been increasingly harrowing.  There were always new things to learn, new regulations to understand, new processes to try, new language situations to interpret, and new challenges encountered.

When the Prefecture de Police gave the tests, they issued the results by mail to the Auto Ecole 48 hours later.  I wasn't sure how the new Macron Law process worked, so I went online the next morning to la Poste to see if there were instructions on "next steps."  Et voila, voila!  Inside 12 hours the test results had been posted.  I was extremely nervous when I saw the posting.   I opened the pdf and it said "Acceptable."  I'd passed.  Finally.  And I passed the examen by reading every single question and every possible response.  In French.  Damn!!  I was like a little puppy as I ran to Jude to share the good news.

Et voila! voila! (yes, I repeat myself) the beginning of a New Myth.  News quickly spread throughout the Auto Ecole that the first person from the school to run through the new privatized test taking system, an American in fact, and an American who had to read every single question and every single response, in their non-native tongue, he had passed.  Even now, weeks later when I see someone from the Auto Ecole they stop and ask, is it true there was no sound when you took the test?  The owners and monitors at the auto-school are thoroughly impressed.