jeudi 29 novembre 2007

Lyon activities

Lyon is gearing up for the Fête des Lumières, which is next weekend. Already the city is trying to get everyone psyched by putting pink lighting in the metro. I'm sorry to say that it makes me feel like a cut of beef at the Piggly Wiggly.

Here is the official photo; in real life it is slightly brighter and pinker.

vendredi 23 novembre 2007

Pas de dinde Thanksgiving

Several weeks ago, I fully embraced the fact that I would not be eating "dinde" (turkey), cranberry sauce, stuffing, et al. It would have been nice to have the whole shebang, but Thanksgiving is a regular workday in France, so who can stay home and cook a turkey? Not to mention the fact that my kitchen is, frankly, rather inadequate to the task of hosting a dinner. In general it would be something of a stretch to describe my apartment as designed for entertaining, since I don't actually have a living room. My place is basically 2 bedrooms off of a kitchen. It is a fairly strange little apartment, as a matter of fact. I don't even like to host poker night since everyone ends up crammed around my little table.

But, I had to do something to mark the holiday. I conferred with the other American in my department, Eric, and we ended up inviting a big group of Americans, Canadians and Brazilians to go out for dinner. Of course, there are no American restaurants in Lyon, so the turkey paradigm just wasn't gonna happen. Instead, we went out for Thai food to this place. Strangely enough there was something vaguely Thanksgiving-y about it, since we all ordered together and shared multiple dishes. Plus, Thanksgiving is about seeing family, and people I work with are my family here. There are also frequently people one doesn't know well at the Thanksgiving table, stragglers who could not make it all the way home for the weekend that someone invites to share the meal. Since we all are a long way from our respective homes, it felt right to share the meal together. And it was delicious.

And the news on everyone's lips was:

They are opening a STARBUCKS. In LYON.

Unbelieveable! Lyon, the center of French cuisine. That pinnacle of gastronomy. Mind you, Lyon loves Lyonnais cuisine the best, hardly even messes with dishes from other regions of France. Why bother? Here in Lyon we have the richest, most delicious sauces, the freshest legumes, the most supple viandes. The thought that an American restaurant, an American chain restaurant, no less, can make a foothold here is shocking (McDo notwithstanding). On the other hand, they should have better pastries than American Starbucks do.

So, maybe when I get homesick I'll wander over and get me a grande latte. It will be along Rue de la République, near the Opéra. Not so far from my casa.

mercredi 21 novembre 2007

Two images of Paris

It seems I forgot my camera when I went to Paris the other weekend. But I just discovered that I took two pictures on my phone.

This is a picture of a park that I hadn't been to before, the jardin du forum des Halles. This pic is across the garden to the St Eustache church.

And here is a picture I took on the metro.

lundi 19 novembre 2007

A few thoughts about dubbing

This weekend I went to see the new Woody Allen movie, Le rêve de Cassandra.

Dubbing is so strange. Julien was telling me that French voice actors make an entire career dubbing the same person, so that audiences don't get confused by hearing a new voice on the same actor in every new movie. Therefore, the careers of the voice actors are totally dependent on the success of their English speaking counterparts. Wouldn't it be a shame if you were the voice of say, Tori Spelling? You'd be in real trouble if your English-speaking counterpart decided to re-embrace doing Broadway shows, or OD'd or something!

Here in France, dubbing is slightly less laughable to watch as those old Japanese dubbed movies that we have in the US. Those in charge of dubbing movies have attempted to make the process appear more natural by modifying dialogue to make it look like the sounds might actually be coming out of the actor's mouths. Nonetheless I find it very difficult to watch dubbed films, probably in part because the dialogue has been so strenuously tweaked, but also because I do apparently read lips slightly when listening to French speakers, so it completely throws me off and I find it very difficult to understand.

It is just as well Lyon has a decent selection of VO, including le rêve de Cassandra. Woody Allen's movies are too talky for me to yet comprehend in French.

Speaking of that, two different French people complemented me on my French accent this week, which was nice to hear. But I can still notice that my French skills have plateaued. I'm going to go back to take more classes in December.

dimanche 18 novembre 2007

French words used in English

French words that have been adopted into the English language seem to fall into three areas: food, danger, and sex.

For food, the list in endless: saute, à la carte, apéritif, chef, hors d'oeuvre, cuisine, vinaigrette, demitasse, crème brûlée, maître d', café, crepe, crudité...

Danger or intrigue:
bête noire, femme fatale, coup d'etat, enfant terrible, nom de guerre, exposé..

Words that mean something innocuous in French but mean something naughty in English:
au naturel

jeudi 15 novembre 2007



I just got a tax bill, covering two types of taxes, neither of which exist in the US. First is the yearly Taxe d'habitation, a tax on renters-- that's a regressive tax program if I have ever heard of one. Mine is 352 euros. Attached to it is the yearly tax on TV ownership, the Redevance audiovisuelle, which was 116 euros-- quite possibly more than the value of my television. For a totale of 468 euros, or 684 dollars at today's exchange rate.

These expenses might seem a little less shocking if I had at least known to expect them!

mercredi 14 novembre 2007

Il fait froid

A cold spell is coming in. Right now it is 3° celsius (~37° F). The temperature will be dropping in the next few days, and it may snow and get down to -3° celsius on Friday night. Brrrrr! It is so much colder than it was last year!

jeudi 8 novembre 2007

More Berlin sights

We also saw the Reichstag, which has an elegant 1800's neoclassical facade and a glass and chrome center, because the center had been blown out in the bombing. Here is the freaky mirror thing in the center of it.
Mark on the walkway around the mirror thingy.
Here is the kitschy TV tower in Alexanderplatz.

A day of WWII

On Saturday Mark and I immersed ourselves in WWII sightseeing. We went to the Olympic Stadium in order to take in the Fascist architecture, which indeed seemed a little stark and aggressive, even though they had attempted to make up for it by naming the street outside for Jesse Owens. Meanwhile, all the other tourists there had come to indulge their World Cup nostalgia.
Fascist statuary.

Afterwards we went to the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, which sustained heavy allied bombing in WWII and has been left as-is, which was interesting to see.

Then we went on a walk of the Wall. There isn't much Wall left, but we did track some down, and saw some of the memorials to people who had been shot trying to escape.
OK, the sun was setting so I don't really have good pictures of the wall. Here is one wall shot though.

The Germans have made strenuous efforts to re-integrate the city, and there has been substantial building along the former non-man's land where the wall was, as well as considerable gentification of former eastern areas, so when I walked around it really was not obvious to me which areas were formerly eastern and which western. There has also been a thorough remapping of the public transportation connecting the 2 sides-- I was always zipping across and changing trains at Alexanderplatz to go back to the (former) west. These days the former no man's land is quickly being filled with condos (Mauer lofts!) although there remain tracts of the city that have yet to be developed. It is almost like the city was never divided. It was strange to imagine what it must have been like. I can see why Berliners felt so strongly about it.

Saturday night we ate dinner at Viva Mexico, in the north side of the Mitte neighborhood. I think it should be named "The Only Good Mexican Restaurant in Europe". We walked in and there were Americans at every table, which I took to be a good sign. I strongly recommend it to desperate expats!

Some German slang: vokuhila = a mullet. it is short for "vor kurz hinter lang".

mardi 6 novembre 2007


My trip to Berlin was marred by a stomach bug that I think I must have caught from Owen. So I didn't do much other than lie around the plush digs at the Academy for two days, which honestly wasn't such a bad way to spend a vacation. I was staying in Anne Carson's apartment-- she is a professor of classics-- and she did have a quite good selection of books.

Here is the Academy in all its kick-back-and-relax glory:
Here is the view from the windows of the apartment where I stayed, of the Wannsee.
I perked up by Friday night and went to dinner with Mark and his two buddies from the Academy, Gary Shteyngart and Liz Goodstein, a writer and philosophy professor, respectively. We went out for Greek food in the Prenzlauer Berg neighborhood, a former east german area which has flown through gentrification at the speed of light and is now thoroughly yuppie-fied. The resto was delicious. Then we went to the club Tresor for dancing. Tresor is an club that opened in Potsdamer Platz right after the wall fell, and it was famous for being a great dance club as well as one of the first things there-- Potsdamer Platz was along the wall so it had been basically a wasteland beforehand. These days Potsdamer Platz has the brand new Sony Center as well as various other temples to commerce, so the club was forced to move elsewhere. According to Mark the club is probably coasting on its old reputation a little but it was fun anyway.

A strange mural at Tresor.
Gary, acting disaffected. Note the cool font on the wall.

dimanche 4 novembre 2007

Denmark pictures

Elsinore castle.
And up close.
The cannons are pointing, naturally, at Sweden, which is visible in the distance across the water.
Inside a chapel.
Denmark is just so damn cute. I made a point of eating some danishes when I was there, which they inexplicably call "wienerbrød." I also ate some smorrebrød, which are open-faced sandwiches that can have shrimp, fish, or beef.
Nyhavn street in Copenhagen. I also walked around the hippie enclave of Christiania, which was kind of like being in Tompkins Square Park, if it was 10 times larger and had shacks built in it covered in murals. There was an overlay of hippie commerce, with scratchy-looking wool sweaters for sale and people busking for change. Seen one hippie enclave, seen 'em all.
It was a pretty time to be walking around as the leaves are changing all over Europe this week.

M and O

Michelle and Owen at the Please Touch museum in Philly.