dimanche 31 août 2008

Alaska! who knew?

John McCain is 23 years older than the state of Alaska.

Not again

I felt sad to read this morning about New Orleans' mandatory evacuation. The levees aren't ready yet! I'm hoping the storm will weaken and keeping my fingers crossed that people are getting out of harm's way.

jeudi 28 août 2008


The last few days have been a bit stressful. The formal end of my work contract is around Sept 18th or so. My boss had put in a request for a 3-month extension for both me and another postdoc in my department, and sent all the necessary paperwork to the powers that be, assuming it would not be a problem. But the director of my agency was not to be satisfied, and he demanded more justification for it. So my boss dutifully filled out more information, but this being August in France, everyone promptly left for vacation, including the director. So now I have been waiting for almost a month to find out if I will be in France past mid-September.

There is back story on this, because the director of the agency recently did not have his own contract renewed, which people say he is angry about; people tell me that he just wants to f* up the agency as much as possible before he leaves the job. He doesn't know either me or the other postdoc at all; I have never had a conversation with him, ever.

This is so annoying... hello, people, if I am leaving I would need to be packing up my apartment right now!!! Plus, I have been dodging my landlord for the past 2 weeks who wants me to sign the renewal of my lease. The secretary at work called my landlord yesterday and told her that I was sick, so we could put her off another few days.

So I continue to wait.

samedi 23 août 2008

Chamonix weekend continued

Here is B in downtown Chamonix.
And in front of Brasserie L'M, where we had dinner.
On our last day we decided to head up a téléphérique to see the view. We walked out to La Flégère, which heads up the north side of the valley.
From the top of La Flégère, you can then catch a ski lift to the top, which is called L'Index. Here is a view of the hills up there, from the ski lift.
We made it to Index. 2385 meters! The air was cool and clean, although it smelled like some mountain goats had recently passed by. Stinky!
This is what Index looked like.
Here was the view of the valley. Chamonix town can be seen far below.
Some people were taking off from there to do some paragliding.
It would have been a great hike to walk down to Chamonix from there, as many other people were doing. but we were pressed for time and had a train to catch, so we took the téléphérique back down and zipped over to the train station and took off.

vendredi 22 août 2008

Back to Chamonix, again

To escape the heat we went up to the mountains the weekend before last, to Chamonix, which, it is fairly safe to say, is my favorite place in France. B hadn't been there before. It is just so gorgeous I think it surprises everyone when they first arrive. The town stands at 3400 feet, so it was cooler and less humid during the day than Lyon, and got nice and chilly in the evenings. We stayed at the Hotel Alpina, where our room was OK, if a bit small. You might generously call it cozy.

We arrived Friday afternoon too early to check into the hotel, so we went to the Scandanavian bar Chambre neuf to watch the Olympic opening ceremonies. We missed most of the spectacle and arrived in time to see the countries parading in. While at the time the countries appeared to me to be occasionally in alphabetical order, but more often not so, someone at work explained to me that apart from the first and the last, the countries came out in order according to the Chinese alphabet "stroke order," I believe she called it. The Chinese order words according to their complexity of strokes. Who knew? Not me.

On Saturday we went for a hike. Someone at a hiking shop where we stopped to buy a map had advised us that a good hike is taking one of the many téléphériques up the mountain and hiking across to another, or down, or further up from there, depending on your energy level. He pointed us in the direction of the Brévent téléphérique and off we went. Oops. It turned out to be under construction and the entire area under it was closed. Instead, we headed along the path called Petit Balcon Sud, which heads east along the valley towards the Swiss border.

Later we came out of the woods a couple of towns over, in the town of Les Tines, where we stopped for a coffee. Below, crossing the Arve river. The Arve starts there in the Chamonix valley, with runoff from the Mer de Glace glacier. The water is a cloudy bluish-green and looks quite unlike any other river I have ever seen.
We walked a different path back along the valley floor, which wound through woods and along the river, and we passed various small guesthouses. Below is the yard of a cafe where we stopped for ice cream.
Above us were Les Aiguilles.
And Mont Blanc in the distance.

mercredi 20 août 2008


I went to see a couple of shows this summer at the Nuits des Fourvieres, Lyon's series of summer concerts in the old Roman amphitheater. First I saw Leonard Cohen, who was looking extremely elderly but could really rock out. I hadn't realized he ever toured at all-- I thought he lived on some ashram with his Yogi? Maybe he needed a new temple built so decided another tour was in order. At any rate, he did put on a great show.

They ban cameras in there so here were some cell phone shots--
LC is in this pic somewhere, not particularly visible.

Then the last show that I saw was a bunch of Brazilian artists. The first performer, Maya Andrade, was a very good jazz chanteuse. But it was the second act, Barbatuques, was the most interesting of all. They make music not with traditional instruments, but by clapping their hands, slapping their bodies, and stomping their feet. they also sing, but the songs were not always speech; sometimes they would just make rhythmic sounds. They also got lots of audience participation, with different sections clapping at different times to make the music as well. It was fun and a really unique show. Below is an example of their oeuvre from youtube.

mardi 19 août 2008

Out Frenching the French

Lately I have been noticing that when B and I go out to eat, we have starting lingering as long or longer than the people at nearby tables. Ordering wine, then coffee, sitting there until 2 hours have passed. And not just because it takes forever for the check to arrive. When did this happen?

mercredi 13 août 2008


This Friday is a holiday in France, for assumption day. Most people I know are going out of town, so I decided to follow suit. We are heading up to Normandy tomorrow for the long weekend and coming back Monday afternoon. Bon weekend!

l'ascenseur terrible

A few days ago I went to the supermarket, Carrefour, which is in the Part-Dieu mall and it has the unfortunate layout where the checkout is on the top floor, so when you are done you have to take the elevator down to exit. So I checked out, and I was leaving, and I ended up getting trapped on the elavator on my way out! I was there with about 10 French people, including, unfortunately, an infant and 3 other young children, and we ended up being trapped there about 20 minutes, as the elevator proceeded to get hotter and more and more uncomfortable. There was an emergency buzzer and a phone to call for help, and the person standing next to it kept calling the number and saying, "Hello, there is an infant here, it is very important that you come right away," or "Hello, there is someone here not feeling well, and its getting very hot in here, its important that you let us out immediately." I'm not sure that made any difference, but shortly thereafter they did wrench the doors open-- we were stuck between the 3rd and 4th floors-- and they helped us down to get out.

I thought there might be a concerned Carrefour manager waiting outside, ready to soothe us with some 20 euro gift certificate to ensure our loyalty, but I was mistaken about that. Why am I not surprised? At any rate, now I remember why I hate malls, and I hate supermarkets. That will be my last visit to Carrefour. Grrr!

Today I was thinking how the stuck elevator has been a conceit in so many TV shows and movies. When it happens the characters inevitably sit down and end up pouring out their souls to each other, and have some moment of awakening and truth. Such as the elevator scene in a L Word that I watched recently. Or, the one in that Meg Ryan-Tom Hanks movie where the elevator attendant says to Tom Hanks, in a surprised yet self-assured tone, "When I get out of here.... I'm going to marry Jean. I don't know why I haven't. I love her." For the record, no such soul-baring enlightenment occurred at Carrefour. People said things like, "Does anyone have any water?" and we offered each other food and drinks and kleenex from our grocery bags.
Fortunately, all of the children and adults remained calm. I just wish a few more of them had bought some deodorant.

mardi 12 août 2008

Day trip to Annecy

I think I'm having un peu de jealousy of all of my French coworkers who are en vacances right now. I feel like I should be getting out of town every weekend and heading down to the coast. So last weekend B suggested a day trip to Annecy, a town in the mountains, and I totally jumped for the chance. I went there before in winter, when it was bone-chilling cold and fairly deserted. This time of year, it was full of people out walking by the lake, playing putt-putt or resting in the shade. I was interested in some putt-putt action but we decided against standing in the hot sun for 90 minutes, so we ended up just wandering around and eating some ice cream.

You have to go through a mountain pass or two to get to Annecy.
B read my New Yorker en route.
There were lots of boat rental options.
The water was very clear.
Here was a view from the cafe where we stopped for a drink. There was lots o' good people watching.
We had to take this picture because the awning says, 'the epi of gold.' huh??? Epi actually means part of a piece of wheat, where it bursts out. It also means the same thing as cowlick.

lundi 11 août 2008

Mixed feelings

Coach K is Team USA's coach?!!!???

vendredi 8 août 2008

Adieu Scotland

The rest of the trip was considerably less eventful. We drove south that night, heading towards Glasgow, and we stayed overnight in a place in the town of Tarbet, along Loch Lomond. We didn't spend much time there because we had to get up and return the rental car the next morning in Glasgow, but we did walk over to the Loch to have a look, and we had a drink in a hotel pub.

Here are the bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond.

We didn't have all that much time in Glasgow, but it seemed like a very cool city, with a happening downtown with lots of cool restos and pubs and a good music scene. We stayed at this hotel which was very nice and central.

We did take a walking tour of merchant city and check out the cathedral.
B's flight was out early the next day, but I had a little more time, so I went to look for Macintosh architecture. Here is the Glasgow School of Art, which Macintosh designed.
Here was another Macintosh building. All in all, I think that I could totally live in Glasgow. It was a groovy city.

jeudi 7 août 2008

Near death experience on Ben Nevis

Although the weather was iffy, we decided to hike up Ben Nevis, which is the tallest mountain in Scotland, at a not particularly high 4400 feet. I have definitely been higher than that on mountains out west. But although we were going, we hadn't exactly decided how far up we would go. Along the path there were lots of people, and the further up we went, the more it seemed to make sense to get all the way to the top. So we kept chugging along.This was the view before we began to ascend into a cloud.
Conditions were not ideal, as it drizzled on and off.
When we were up around 4000 feet, my hiking boot started falling apart. The sole was coming loose from the rest. At the time, it was freezing outside, the wind was blowing, a light rain was falling, and we were in a cloud. Not a good situation.

This was just the beginning. Soon after the whole sole was flapping in the breeze.
I sat down on a rock and we began to talk with a passing older British couple about what to do. Then B pulled a MacGyver, taking a string off of his rain slicker and wrapping it around my shoe. Much to our surprise, it worked nearly the entire way down. I was almost at the bottom when the entire sole came off completely; by that time I was able to walk on what was left, which was pretty much equivalent to a moccasin.
Now I know the exact lifespan of Asolo boots: circa 15 years. They certainly chose an inopportune time to fall apart.

You know, it would never cross my mind to carry extra boots while hiking. I don't even own another pair of hiking boots! As of this writing, I have nothing, zip, nada. This all just makes me realize that I tend to go out hiking grossly underprepared. Not enough food and water, and I don't even own a waterproof slicker anymore, since I wore it to Yankee stadium and it got stolen. Well, I think I may have learned a lesson. B, for one, has become a believer in extra shoelaces. He insisted on taking these ones off my boots before I threw them into the trash once we reached the bottom of the mountain.

This was as far up as we got before we turned back.
Damn you, Ben Nevis!!!! You may have won this round, but I'll be back!!!!

mercredi 6 août 2008

en route to Fort William

Skye is just so beautiful that I had to post my last few pictures of it.There is no shortage of peat.
Bye Skye!
En route to Fort William we passed by several lochs. This was Loch Loyne.
The name of this loch, I kid you not, is Loch Lochy. That is one lochy loch!
From our hotel room in Fort William we had a view of Loch Linnhe.

mardi 5 août 2008

Skye day two

The next day was rather rainy. Ah, Scotland. We went for a drive along the west coast of the island; the route there featured miles of one-lane roads with little 'passing places' for you to get around the other cars. This was not B's favorite driving experience.Plus, the roads are full of sheep. Baaa!We stopped to look at an ancient broch, Dun Beag.
Here is what Dun Beag looks like now.
And since there was no other rainy day thing to do there, we toured another distillery, Talisker. The second time around I think I actually began to grasp the distilling process. Talisker whisky was pretty good, too.

lundi 4 août 2008


In Skye we stayed in the town of Portree, at the Ben Tianavaig B and B, a place we stumbled into which turned out to be some Lonely Planet recommendation. Even when I try to get away from that book, it comes back and haunts me. This was the view from our room.All the signs in Skye are in Gaelic and English.
Here is Portree town, which was the largest town on Skye, but still not very large. It did have a good pub, the Isles Inn, which we went to one night to hear some live Celtic music, which was great. The pub also had a fireplace, a roaring fire being appropriate for Scotland even in July.
We went for a hike up to the 'Old Man of Storr,' which is the pointy rock formation in the middle of this photo, that looks kind of like a tree.
Here was the view along the path.
It was a bit muddy.Watch out! Sheep in the road!
There were acres upon acres of peat, which people were harvesting.