dimanche 25 avril 2010
Went out to a movie last night with some of the other students (The "Arnacoeur" with Vanessa Paradis- okay, but I didn't agree with her choice in the end) then had Italian food for dinner. Got 'home' a little after 10 pm, was in bed by 11, but didn't fall asleep until 1, waking up at about 6, as usual.

Went for a walk a little before 9. It was nice, calm, cool, quiet. Took some pictures of La Petite France, then headed over to the Cathedral. I had some tickets left over from our Strasbourg Tourist Passes that we bought in December (museums, boatride, etc). As we had no desire to climb up 300+ steps in -10°C weather, I saved the tickets to go to the top of the Cathedral for warmer days.

The platform opened at 9 am, and I climbed up to the top. By my count, there were 95 steps to the first part, then another 229 steps up to the viewing deck. Just when I arrived, the bells started ringing and rang for a full 15 minutes. I was alone up there (except for the guy paid to watch over the place, who mostly just sits in the office and plays with his Iphone I'm guessing).

Attempted to film a bit of the view with my Ipod.

There are moments in your life that are magical and that help you to remember that the world won't fall apart if you fail an exam, or don't get accepted into a certain school, or get fired from your job, or anything.

Then it is back down to regular life, with all of its petty concerns and jealousies and disputes.

After heading back down, I went in the Cathedral and sat through the mass, then headed back to my studio, stopping to grab a croissant (so-so) and a pretzel (burnt and hard) on the way. Sigh. I prefer Alain's and my Sunday routine of cappucino and croissants. Took a nap for several hours, then got to work.

One more month to the Technical Exam!

mercredi 21 avril 2010
(the original in French)
Dans un train, un Anglais, un Français et une très jolie Suédoise. Le train entre soudain dans un long tunnel, laissant les voyageurs dans une obscurité totale pour plusieurs secondes. Dans le noir complet, on entendit alors dans le compartiment le son d'un gros bisou suivi du bruit d'une claque violente. Lorsque le train sortit finalement du tunnel, le Français et la jeune Suédoise étaient assis comme si rien ne s'était passé.

En revanche, l'Anglais plaintif se tenait la joue. Apparemment, c'était lui qui avait pris la grande claque dans la figure.
La jeune Suédoise songea à ce qui avait pu se passer: "L'Anglais a du essayer de m'embrasser dans l'obscurité mais il s'est trompé et a embrassé le Français qui lui a retourné une grande claque..."
L'Anglais pensait aussi: "Le Français a du essayer d'embrasser la fille et en voulant lui donner une claque, elle l'a raté et m'a malheureusement frappé."
De son cote, le Français se disait: "Quel rigolade... Au prochain tunnel, je refais le bruit du baiser et je donne une autre baffe à cet abruti d'Anglais ! "

(and my translation)
A Frenchman, an Englishman, and a very pretty young Swedish woman are traveling in a train compartment together. Suddently, the train enters a long tunnel, leaving the travelers in complete darkness for several seconds. While in the dark, a big kiss followed by a smack is heard. When the train comes out of the tunnel, the Frenchman and the Swedish woman are sitting as if nothing has happened.

However, the Englishman is rubbing his cheek. Apparently, it is he who was smacked in the face. The young Swedish woman thinks about what must have happened: 'The Englishman tried to kiss me in the darkness but missed and kissed the Frenchman who smacked him."
The Englishman thinks to himself: "The Frenchman must have tried to kiss the woman and when she tried to hit him, she hit me instead."
On his side, the Frenchman thinks: "This is so much fun. At the next tunnel, I will make the sound of a kiss again, and I will give the Englishman another smack!"
lundi 19 avril 2010

Subtle French humor
Marketing Team's Ignorance of English Culture?

You decide!

dimanche 18 avril 2010
A month ago, when I was planning my April trip up to Strasbourg, I consulted the SNCF reservation site to find...
No trains scheduled. Why? Strike of course!

I reserved direct flights from Marseille to Strasbourg, to and back, for about 230€.
Not bad right? Only a bit more than the train tickets would have cost, plus much shorter travel time (though do have to go through security, and the train stations are easier to get to, both from our apartment in Marseille and my studio here in Strasbourg, than the airports).

But what the heck? Instead of waking up at 5 am on a Sunday to go to the train station, I could sleep in, eat a croissant, drink a capuccino, calmly pack, go to lunch with his family, then Alain could drop me off at the airport early afternoon, 1:15 min flight instead of 7 hours by train, arrive in Strasbourg around 6 pm, take the shuttle to centre ville, and voila!

Of course, the only thing I didn't count on was a dang volcanic ERUPTION.
Good grief.
I didn't think much of it (travel wise or anything wise, I've been rather cutoff from regular life lately) until I was browsing MSN.fr Saturday afternoon and came across:

Panic! Thousands of travelers stranded across Europe! Airports closed in North of France! Travelers try to get spots on trains but few trains running due to month long SNCF Strike!
Rush to rent cars but holiday travel makes things even worse!!

Oh drat, I can see where this is going....

Quick check Air France website, not much in the way of actual information. Try calling the hotline several times, but never manage to get through. Check my flight status and it says that the flight is still scheduled. Check the Marseille and Strasbourg airport websites. The Marseille website doesn't have much to say, but the Strasbourg website says Flights interrupted until Monday morning 8 am.

Have a class Monday morning (could skip), another class Monday afternoon (would rather be there but not essential), and a test Tuesday morning (absolutely must be there or else I fail my year.)
There was a flight scheduled for Monday morning, Marseille -> Strasbourg, but there is no telling whether the airport shutdown will be lifted, and how many passengers will be trying to cram on one flight.

Alain came home after my panicked call to his parent's house (where he was working on his motorcycle) and said "Well, we'll just have to drive. All night if we have to. Then I'll drive back. I'm not going to let you drive all the way up there by yourself."
We started to quickly prepare, I had only barely begun packing, and I checked the SNCF website, just in case.

Still no trains from Marseille. Alain's father suggested that we check the trains from Lyon, and by golly! There was my regular Lyon-Strasbourg train. I quick made a reservation, not knowing how many other people would be thinking the same thing.

Only thing left was to get to Lyon.
We woke up at 4, finished getting ready, and left a little before 5. Before we left, I checked again whether there was any news. My flight status was still on schedule and the Strasbourg airport said "Interrupted" until Monday morning. Well, take our chances.

Alain drove for an hour, then I drove for awhile while he slept. We arrived at Lyon Part Dieu around 8:30 (only got lost once in Lyon). If the train was canceled, due to the strike, we would have to hop back in the car and drive all the way up to Strasbourg, which is at least 7 hours of pure driving, not counting rest stops and holiday traffic.

My train arrived, I got on, kissed my wonderful husband goodbye, and took a nap while he drove back to Marseille (that is, if he managed to find his way out of Lyon).

All the while still not knowing whether all of this was in vain. Approaching Strasbourg, sky a little hazy but not rain of ashes/blood/frogs end-of-the-world stuff.

Arrived in my studio, logged on, checked my email and found an email sent at 6:30 am saying that my flight was canceled.

So glad we decided to go ahead with the car/train solution! Otherwise we would have woken up Sunday morning, checked email, realized that there were no planes, then would have had to hightail it up to Lyon, at which point there would be not too many seats nor trains left, and maybe even drive all the way to Strasbourg. (airport now closed until 3 pm Monday).

Wonder how many of my classmates are going to be stuck.
I am planning on taking the plane back in a little over a week. Will have to monitor airport status between now and then.

Traveling in France:
Always Have A Backup Plan
mercredi 14 avril 2010
Busy with the final steps of getting my file together for my French nationality request (and what a long road it has been too!).

Another month and we will hit the 4-year mark, which is, unless Sarkozy changes the legislation again between now and then, the time that I can officially hand in my papers. I think I'll need a wheelbarrow.

One of the questions on the form is:
"Souhaitez-vous une francification de vos noms et prénoms?" Oui ou non?

Do you wish to have your first and last names Frenchified?

Hmm. Well, I guess I'm set with my last name, but the first name could go from
Megan -> Mégane.

Not sure how binding it would be, whether I would then have to get all my paperwork changed, including US stuff, or whether it is just sorta an "honorary" thing. Besides, let's face it, I will never be more than an "honorary French" in their eyes.

Kinda strange that such an option is still even offered. Like when people stepped off the boat in Ellis Island and all magically became Mr. Smith.

Don't think I will do it. Only advantage would be so that French wouldn't wonder whether "Megan" is a man's name. Many French names have a feminine version of a man's name, with an e or an a tacked on the end, so Megan should be a masculine name, and Mégane the feminine version.
But "Megan" is considered as a man's or woman's name, with a tendance towards woman's, but not exclusively.

Maximum of 11 boys named Megan 1993, vs 238 girls named Megan in 1995.


But apparently, even "Mégane" isn't exclusively feminine, 10 boys in 1994 vs. 2601 girls in 1995.

Geez people, make up your minds. It's like the boy named Sue.

Guess there was a peak in the 1990's like in the US.

Everyone here pronounces it as Mégane anyway. I have been addressed (by mail thankfully, not face to face) as Mr. Megan.

When I am introducing myself to someone in French, I will pronounce my name Mégane (meh-ghanne), but in English I always pronounce it as I always did (May-gin, gin like bin, not like the drink).

Not sure how my middle name, Kathleen, would be Frenchified.

So readers, would you Frenchify your name, and if so, what would it be?
lundi 12 avril 2010
After the exciting near-miss of a parking spot to buy a few weeks ago, last week 'we' (I actually, as I am the only one bothered by the parking dilema Mr. parking his beloved moto wherever he darn well pleases) found another posting for a garage for sale 21,000€. I called and asked where it was, closer than the previous but still several blocks away and for that amount of money, well I want it to be in spitting/IKEA box-hauling distance. As we can usually find (mostly not too illegal) parking closer than that, with the occasional 35€ fine, we decided to pass.

This Sunday, after I went for my 'run' (slow limp around the track a few times) I noticed that the new parking garage seemed to be open. I blame the shoes. No really, I just bought them and need to break them in. Mr. is convinced that they are not actually running shoes. Hmm. Anyway, back to my story.

I limped over (a post-run mess but the attendant didn't seem to mind) and inquired about options. This parking garage took about a year to build and is where a basketball court used to be. (Yay for taking away alternative recreational opportunities from inner city kids for the purposes of money!)

He said that monthly subscriptions were available, 85€ a month for cars, 45€ for motorcycles. This price is not too bad, considering how a year ago we had the opportunity for a spot for 100€ a month about the same distance. There are also long-term rents, 9,300€ for 11 years, which works out to about 75€ a month. There is also an "amodiation" which is 21,000€ for 75 years, plus annual fees of 250€, which works out to about 44€ IF the annual fees don't increase.

At these prices, we might as well buy the garage which would be 'ours' forever (or the next five years until we get the heck out of Dodge, whichever comes first).

If the parking garage offered night parking for a euro, it would be worth it- wouldn't have to turn and turn for a parking spot, plus a bit more guarantee that the car wouldn't get hit in the night. Oh, and my parking skills wouldn't be quite so sorely tested. Our poor newish car (180,000 km) already has Marseille dings, mostly my fault.

Bleh. Anyway, still keeping my fingers crossed.

"Somethings comin' don't know when, but it's soon..." (sing it with me now...)
lundi 5 avril 2010
A few months ago, while browsing aimlessly at local bookstore, I found a recipe book entitled "Bagels, Comme à New York" and bought it. Here is the explanation on the back as to what exactly, to the unenlightened Frenchperson, of what a bagel is:

"Petits pains ronds troués, pochés dans l'eau bouillante et cuits au four, à garnir de multiples façons pour faire comme à New York. En version salé : poissons fumés, fromages frais aromatisés maison, oignons rouges, pickles, pousses de toutes sortes, houmous etc. En version sucrée : beurre de cachuète, apple butter, fromages faris aux fruits rouges, etc."

You will notice some odd things about the above paragraph:
1) pickels. (not translated)
2) peanut butter used as a promotional item for French
3) Apple butter (not translated)

The book also has a section on donuts: "Beignets ronds troués et recourverts d'un glaçage fondant, glacagé traditionnel au sucre, ou bien au chocolat, à la cannelle, à la vanille."

Missing the bagels from Bodo's from my time in Virginia, and not being able to find decent bagels in France (besides the ones from the Bagel Story) I decided to try to make my own.

It took me awhile to gather necessary ingredients (still have no idea where to find Cassonade or Gluten de Blé in the nearby Casino grocery store, but hey, when cooking, "When in doubt, go without" right? No?)

Decided I would start with the most basic (n°1 - le classique) and leave the mixing up to my new best friend, my bread machine, and after adding the flour, molasses, salt, water, yeast, and olive oil. Left out: gluten de blé and farine de mais, but as the gluten was marked 'facultatif' (optional) and the farine de mais was only a pincée, I figured I could do without (we shall see).

(If anybody knows where I can find these items, or what they look like, it would be a big help. The workers at the store just look at me like I am an alien when I ask them "Gluten de Blé"?)

Twenty minutes later, after the mixing stage of the bread machine's program 1, I pulled out what could well pass for a rubber soccer ball and started forming the bagels (divide into ten equal balls, roll out and shape into bagels, place on baking sheet). Let them rise for about two hours (didn't rise a whole lot), then filled my largest pot with boiling water, to which I added molasses, salt, and fécule de pomme de terre (just looked it up- potato starch).

Stuck three bagels at a time in the boiling water, and let them boil on each side for about a minute before fishing them out.

With ten bagels my baking sheet was quite full- next time I make bagels I might well cut the recipe in half, also, I don't know how quickly I can eat ten. Quickly, but not that quickly.

Baked them for about 30 minutes and let them cool.

Now I just need to figure out how to make all the toppings- the book has recipes for Apple Butter, Houmous, etc. Other suggestions given by the book: Nutella, almond butter, lemond curd, honey, and marmelade.

I love this explanation for peanut butter and jelly:

Beurre de cachuètes : Les petits Américains en raffolent, surtout avec de la gelée
(little americans are crazy about it, especially with jelly)
Gelée de rainsins : Le partenaire du beurre de cachuètes dans le fameux "PB&J" (Peanut Butter and Jelly)
(peanut butter's partner in the famous PB&J)

That's for sure.

Verdict: Not bad for my first attempt.
Alain's comment: Where are the holes?
My response: Oh hush!
samedi 3 avril 2010
I have started taking French lessons again.

When I first arrived in France, I couldn't say much more than "bonjour" and "No, I don't want to give you private English lessons in some smoky bar. Find someone else to hit on." in French.

We weren't married, and so I couldn't really work, so I signed up for 20 hours a week at a private school in Marseille (that has since gone out of business- I heard that an employee ran off with all the money, but I don't know if that is true.)

Anyway, I had since forgotten some of the basics and my written French was never terrific to begin with, so I looked around Aix for lessons. I was hoping for a few hours a week, either during lunch or after work, small groups.

Of the several places I contact, only one bothered to respond to my emails. It seems that most French classes were aimed at "one week intensive French in Beautiful South of France!" for tourists, which was not what I need.

I started my French classes in November, one hour a week, one on one.

I have a fairly good level, at least as far as understanding is concerned, but I often get mixed up whether it is "le" or "la".

These past months have been spent reviewing the different tenses, when do you have to put an extra 'e' on the end of a conjugated verb, conditionnal, subjunctive, and all the rest.

There are two French teachers, and they mainly do small groups or private lessons. They also organize one or two outings per month, a chance for everyone to get together. I haven't been able to go to any, as they were either while I was away in Strasbourg, or at night. (after a long day of work, I don't want to hang around any longer).

However, last month it was during the day and not far from my office, so I was able to go. It was at the restaurant "Alsace en Provence", near the Cathedral with a few tables. Very typical Alsatian decoration.

There were about ten students and the two teachers there when I arrived, a wide mix of Australians, Irish, Dutch, and German. I think I was the only American, but didn't get to speak to the people on the other end of the table. The French levels varied widely, as well as the reasons for being in France- French spouses, work.

The menu was very much Strasbourgoise, and I ordered the plat du jour- sauerkraut, which is not something I am usually fond of, but why not? It was pretty good, as well as the soft pretzels with mustard and white wine. Left at 2 to head back to work.

Definitely a different atmosphere than my French classes in Marseille- spent almost 10 months with the same students, many of whom were close to my age (filles au pair), and we went on a lot of different organized outings- to museums, to visit parts of Marseille such as L'Estaque, different group meals depending on the time of year (crepes, 13 deserts, etc.)

I don't really miss those days though. Time moves on I guess.
jeudi 1 avril 2010
New measures to stimulate innovation

Exerpt from the speech delivered last month proactive by Mr Van der Vis, head of the European Commission's Science Innovation Fund:

Innovation is the driving force of the European economy. As such, public policies should help to stimulate innovation through incentives applicable across Europe. The individual contribution of each inventor needs to be recognized at the highest level.

With the help of the European Patent Office (EPO), each inventor will be awarded after the issuance of his or her patent.

According to well informed sources, it is planned to include in the Regulations under the new Rule 21a EPC which reads as follows:
In a non-extendable period of 24 weeks after the publication of the mention of the issue to the European Patent Bulletin, the inventor may be legally appointed to Platzl 9, Munich to receive a mug of beer.

The mug will be given on written request accompanied by a copy of the patent specification. The application must state the name and address of the applicant, the European patent number and title of the invention.

It is not deemed filed until the payment of an administrative fee. The President of the European Patent Office shall determine the capacity of the mug.


Oh those funny patent attorneys. Now go get out of the office, enjoy the extra hour of sunlight, and try not to think about the hours and hours of tests coming up in April/May/June.
(The nightmares have started)

Happy April Fool's!

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