28 June 2006

France 3, Spain 1, Amy -1

Last night turned out to be a lot more eventful than I ever expected it to be! If you are following the World Cup, you know that France beat Spain last night. Rachel and I watched the end on TV, mainly because the city started to go nuts after the goal that put France up 2-1. So, we saw the third goal and all of the celebrations at the end of the game on TV. Of course, this was nothing compared to what was to follow...

Within minutes of the end of the game, the streets were absolutely flooded with drunken revelry. Car horns were honking non-stop; people draped in the French flag were running out into the middle of the streets; neighbors across the street from us were hanging off their balconies in celebration. I got my camera out and started videoing the TV and the scenes out our window, which only got more frenzied as the minutes ticked by. Finally, we decided that we needed to see things close up, so we headed downstairs to join in the festivities.

Rachel and I ended up down at Porte d'Orleans with a horde of fans who had complete disregard for their own safety (much to our amusement). Traffic moved at a crawl, mostly because masses of happy soccer fans would leap in front of cars and scream at the top of their lungs while waving the French flag or some other form of soccer-related paraphernalia. The best part is that they were also leaping in front of my camera and going nuts, so the videos were absolutely hilarious. Of course, the people in cars were just as crazy -- we saw a guy set off a road flare from his window while driving down Général Leclerc!

Unfortunately, the inevitable happened. While I was holding my camera up to capture the action, someone took the opportunity to rip it out of my hand and take off. Yup, my camera got stolen! AGAIN!

[This comment requires a side story for those of you who don't know the saga of our digital camera. We bought it two years ago because it was on sale for a really reasonable price. We took it to France with us, where it was pickpocketed from us on a tram in Montpellier. Fortunately, our homeowner's insurance covered all but the $100 deductable, and I found the same camera on eBay for $100 less than we originally paid. So, no harm, no foul. Then, I took the camera with us to Reno when we visited our friends Ryan and Lisa. On this trip, I managed to break the view screen on the back, which cost us a little bit more than $200 to repair. Still, we decided it was worth it because it was still cheaper than buying a new camera with comparable features. And now, the camera is gone for good once again! Given the history of this stupid camera, I think it was just meant to be. There's no way it could have just broken on us - something dramatic HAD to happen so that the story was complete.]

The only real bummer for me is that I lost the great videos I shot last night. Sure, I hate to lose my camera and the memory card inside it, but that can always be replaced. We tried desperately to get our web cam to shoot video from my apartment window, but there was some kind of glitch in the software and we couldn't get it to work. (Thanks to MoMom for trying to help!) So, I have no videos or pictures to share with you, sadly.

But, I will always have the memory of witnessing all of the following things from outside my window:
  • Two men (on separate occasions) wandering through the middle of Avenue du Général Leclerc with their pants around their ankles. One had on boxers ... the other gave us a bright and shiny view of his arse.
  • One man so drunk that he jumped out of the car he was riding in and started beating on its roof so hard that he was putting dents into it. This was followed shortly by a pedestrian who walked up to him and apparently explained that what he was doing wasn't such a good idea.
  • Four men dancing on the roof of an RV as it slowly drove down Général Leclerc. (Yes, I'm quite sure that it was as bad of an idea as it sounds.)
  • Several near accidents between cars and crazed fans that just ran out into the middle of the intersection with Boulevard Brune/Boulevard Jourdan and Général Leclerc.

I'm sure I'm forgetting things (Rachel made a list, which I unfortunately can't find right now). We finally gave up and went to bed after two solid hours of celebrations outside my window. I'm not sure how much longer the festivities went on, but there were definitely still car horns honking as I drifted off to sleep after 1 am.

Allez Bleu!

27 June 2006

This "sucks donkey balls"

I had a chance to chat briefly with a friend back in the US, who provided the quote for today's posting's title. Like me, she is job hunting (which is what "sucks donkey balls"). Mainly, I just hate writing cover letters. I either don't have enough room to say what I want to say (because who wants to read a multi-page cover letter?) or I have absolutely nothing to say and end up filling the space with meaningless phrases. Resumés aren't too bad, since you can pretty much use the same one with slight modifications. But, every job requires a different cover letter. Such a pain!! Despite that, I managed to apply for two more jobs today: one at U of M and one at Eastern Michigan (EMU). I doubt I'll even get an interview for the EMU job, since it looks like a fairly high-up supervisory job. But it seemed interesting, and we'll be living right across the street from the campus.

Things that also suck donkey balls: Colin is in Normandy right now (good for him and his parents, a bit lonely for me). Normally, I don't mind having a few days to myself, but he took the toothpaste and floss! ARGH! I just noticed this fact about two minutes ago, far too late to go to the store and buy replacements. Fortunately, I have mouthwash, so I could scrub my mouth out fairly well with that. I just know I'm going to have that nasty fuzzy feeling tomorrow morning...

Of course, I can't stay "mad" at him for this because our song just popped up on iTunes. It's kind of hard to clench your (gritty) teeth while your heart is melting at the thought of your first dance as husband and wife.

PS -- I'm uploading new videos to my Youtube site tonight.

24 June 2006

Reverse Culture Shock

I had my first case of what I'm dubbing "reverse" culture shock while in Switzerland this week. I say reverse because I was startled by something from my own culture, rather than another one for a change! Anyway, on to the story. While we were walking through the town of Gimmelwald on Wednesday, we crossed paths with an American tourist walking in the opposite direction as us. As we passed her, she made eye contact and said, "Hello!" in this super-friendly way.

In that moment, I completely understood why the French think it's weird that we smile at strangers, much less greet them. My instant reaction (other than to laugh) was one of surprise and confusion: why did that woman feel the need to greet us? We didn't know her; she didn't know us. I found myself having the "French" reaction of thinking that she was either A) an idiot, or B) up to something suspicious.

To say the least, this is a reaction that I never expected to have. When I lived in the US, I generally *at least* smiled at people when I cross paths with them. Here, I avert my eyes and keep to myself. It seems polite and normal now! Funny, especially when compared to the #1 thing I missed about the US back in November. Some time this week, I'll have to make a new top 10 list of things I miss. I think it will be a bit different from the first one.

Before I sign off for the evening, I'd like to take a moment to continue with my obsession for odd signs in Europe. Both of these came from Switzerland.

I can't help it -- I swear that this sign is telling me to stop and smell my finger. (This was all over the place at the Chateau de Chillon in Montreaux. I'm assuming that it is actually asking people to be quiet, but I can't really figure out why they would be so worried about silence when it's not a particularly reverent place.)

This was a sign in the restroom on the train from France to Switzerland. I have two interpretations: 1) Do not chill your wine in this toilet, or 2) Do not drink any wine that has been chilled in this toilet. Again, I know that the real point of the sign is that you shouldn't use the toilet as a trash can, but using a giant wine bottle that is the same size as the entire bowl in the graphic seems a bit excessive. Why not just have some balled up paper?

If you have better captions, send them on. I have one more postcard here that I could mail out if the mood strikes me right!

Return from Swiss Bliss

This picture is from last week, when we were listening to a band concert in Luxembourg Gardens. Aren't Colin's parents cute? :)

It's a relatively quiet morning here in Paris. I say relatively because, in comparison to last night, you could hear a pin drop! France did exactly what it needed to do in its World Cup game last night, so the whole town was abuzz with celebrations at the end of the game. Even at our "far" end of town, car horns honked and inebriated fans filled the streets with French huzzahs late into the night. I may not be a soccer fan, but I love being around explosions of joy and celebration. It's amazing to see and hear people unite en mass like that!

Anyway, as you can guess by the arrival of this posting, we are back from Switzerland. It was a super-quick trip, but we had a great time. (Colin is glad that I am no longer inspired to burst into song ... but hey, the hills were alive with the sound of music! Ha.) We spent one night in Montreux and one night in Interlaken. The picture to the right is from Lake Brienz, on a boat trip from Interlaken to Brienz. Even though it was rather cloudy, the views were fantastic. I would love to have a little Swiss chalet near here for summer retreats! (OK, who wouldn't?) This trip was a wonderful respite from the recent heat in Paris. Anyway, I'll have more pictures to share in the weeks to come. (I know, I still haven't shared many from Prague or Normandy!)

We returned home to a couple of surprises. The first was the arrival of our new couch yesterday morning. It's gorgeous -- red suede! Of course, we admired it for about an hour, then covered it with sheets and towels to protect it from doggy hair and drool. So far, Didge seems to prefer my side of the bed to the new couch, which is probably for the best.

The other surprise was that Rachel is going home sooner than we expected! She was originally leaving Paris on July 20, but has changed her plans to leave on July 6 instead. So, we basically have one week to say goodbye to her because she's off to Rome a week from today. This revelation triggered some strong feelings in me, as I suddenly realized that our time here in Paris is truly coming to an end. I've been going through the motions of planning our return, but losing a key member of our friend circle truly drives the point home! I'm starting to recognize that another chapter in our lives is coming to an end, and we're looking toward the next stage in our lives. My retirement is nearly over, and employment is on the horizon. Colin heads into the home stretch to becoming a doctor. Then it's on to destinations unknown to meet new friends, find new careers, and forge new adventures. It's exciting, but at the same time, I am sad to see this part come to an end. I never, ever thought I would live overseas, much less in a non-English-speaking country! Sometimes, I think that if I can do this, I can do just about anything.

So, forgive me if I start to wax nostalgic in the weeks to come. It's going to be an exciting, hectic, and emotional time for us! I'm glad that I have this online outlet so that I can express how I feel, and I'm grateful to those of you who keep coming back to watch the story unfold. Stay tuned! There is more to come...

18 June 2006

The 'Rentals are Here, Part II

As the French would say, my "beau-parents" are in town, a.k.a. my in-laws. Interesting, I think, that the add-on is not legalese, but a word that literally translates to mean "beautiful" or "handsome." I'm not sure if this is a cultural commentary or not ... do the French adore their spouse's parents, whereas the Americans feel legally bound to theirs? Or are the French actually just more sarcastic (i.e. "Oh great, my beautiful parents are here...") than the Americans, who choose to call it as they see it?

Fortunately for me, I have good beau-parents. I know many people who are not nearly as lucky! The only downside to their visit is that it signifies the last visitors that we will have before we return to the US. As of Tuesday, we have one month left. Simply mind-boggling!

The good news (other than the arrival of family) is that we have an apartment waiting for us in Ann Arbor! OK, technically, we're going to be in the neighboring city of Ypsilanti, but we try not to think about that. (Our friend Andy calls that city Ypsi-tucky, if that gives you any indication of how it compares to Ann Arbor.) The apartment is a two-bed, two-bath that sits just south of WCC and just west of EMU. Oh, for those of you who are wondering what happened to the house we were going to rent, we decided not to take it when we saw the crime statistics for the last six months. Call me picky, but I prefer to have my car stereo in my car. :)

We're off to Switzerland on Tuesday morning for a few days, so blog postings will be a bit scarce again this week. Don't worry - when I get back, there will be some gorgeous pictures of the Swiss Alps to enjoy!

13 June 2006

Dakota dear, be glad you're not here!

Here she is, my doggie-niece, Dakota. Colin just sarcastically told me, "Well, that's a nice shot of her ass!" Personally, I just think it's a cute picture. Given that fur coat, I think Dakota is pretty happy to be hanging out with my brother right now.

Dear sweet Lord, is it HOT! 90 degrees to be exact (just over 32 celsius for you European folks). Colin and I don't want to do anything but just lay around in front of the fan. You know, if it got cold and stayed cold for the rest of our time here, that fan STILL would have been worth every penny I paid.

On the bright side, there is a 90 percent chance of rain tomorrow. That should give us a bit of a reprieve. We might even be able to open our window shutters during the day! (OK, so the windows would have to stay shut if it rained hard.) We sit around in the dark these days, allowing our light-colored shutters to reflect away the heat of the glaring sun.

What is most amazing to me -- "culturally" speaking -- is how few places have air conditioning. Further, of those places with a/c, only the Champion grocery store cranks it up. (You wouldn't want all of that butter, cream, and cheese to go bad!) Even my gym, which *seems* to have air conditioning, barely turns theirs on at all. Granted, I wouldn't want to work out in a freezing-cold gym, but I could take a little bit more relief from this nonsense. After all, it can't be good for my waistline if I'm lingering extra long around the dairy case in an attempt to cool off completely.

By the way, for those of you who might not regularly check out "Kat's Korner" (my college roommate's blog), you HAVE to check out this post:


The audio clip is awesome!

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go take a cold shower for reasons other than the one that "cold shower" generally conjurs up in the young adult mind.

12 June 2006

Hot Dog

Apparently, I'm not the only one in this apartment that misses air conditioning. After yet another night of mediocre sleep, I broke down and went to Darty to buy a fan. Colin and I both hated to spend the money when we're only a month or so from moving home, but ... well, I'm a pansy, OK? I hate trying to sleep when I'm hot.

Once Didge was introduced to the fan, however, it became quickly apparent that we had a third entity to share it with. I put it on the floor for Didge this afternoon because he just looked so hot and miserable. Of course, he's such a smart dog that you could almost see the understanding welling up in his eyes. "Ah ha!" he thought. "So that's how they stay cool!" He looked so relieved that we left it oscillating on him until we were ready to eat dinner.

Then, we ran into a small problem. Didge has a command -- mealtime -- that means he is supposed to jump up on the couch and stay there until released. We made up this "trick" while living here because his begging for food was becoming overwhelming. (It's hard to enjoy your food when you have a lap full of giant dog head.) Normally, he's pretty quick to respond to the command. This evening, when Colin gave the command, he looked at both of us as if to say, "You've got to be kidding," and then looked longingly into the fan. Only when he realized that we had adjusted it so that he would still receive a good breeze did he finally follow his command. As Charlie Brown would say, "Why can't I have a normal dog like everyone else?" :)

In other news, I just finished going through my mom's vacation pictures. She got a new digital camera before she came over, and tons of her pictures are just stunning. Here are a couple that I had to share on the blog. Good job, MoMom!

A woman stops to collect another seashell on Omaha Beach in Normandy.

Part of a limestone bluff at Pointe du Hoc, also in Normandy. The water is so gorgeous, it looks like we were in the Caribbean!

11 June 2006

Random thoughts on a hot evening

The lovely picture at left is one of an obscene amount of photos that I shot of sunset while at Mt. St. Michel. This is low tide, of course -- when the moon is just right, high tide rushes into this area at about 2 feet per second. Pretty amazing stuff!

Anyway, I don't have a big theme for this entry, so I thought I'd just take a moment and rattle off a few things on my mind.

First ... apparently, Paris is operated on a series of switches. There's the tourist switch: flip it, and suddenly, there are tourists everywhere. There's the spring switch: flip it, and the weather suddenly becomes nice, albeit a bit rainy. Then, there is the June 1st switch, otherwise known as the summer switch: flip it, and the sun never goes away. (Photographic evidence aside, of course...) Don't get me wrong -- I am thrilled to see the sun instead of rain and cold. But, with sun comes heat, humidity, and allergies. So, I've spent the last several days in a slightly stuffy apartment, seriously considering having my face removed so that I don't have to itch so much anymore!

This brings me to random thought number two: have you ever noticed that, when you are getting ready to leave a place permanently, you suddenly start to see all of these flaws that were never there before? Well, I always tend to do this, despite my generally optimistic outlook on life. And, since our time here is quickly drawing to a close (we fly home July 20), I'm starting to think about all of the things I will enjoy back in the US. Item 1: Central air conditioning. Item 2: my HEPA filter. No sweat, no itchies. Ah ... it sounds too good to be true!

Speaking of moving home, I've actually started to make reservations for things back in the US. Totally weird. Everyone who has lived abroad keeps telling me that I'm going to have a rough adjustment period, or at least a bit of culture shock, but I find it hard to believe. How different can it be? After all, I'm moving back to the same town I lived in for four years prior to this move! I guess only time will tell. Maybe I've got a few funny stories left for this blog yet...

Random thought number three: I thought, for some insane reason that I was going to come to Paris and get in great shape. In fact, this could not be further from the truth. Sure, my legs are in good shape from all of the walking and stair climbing. The rest of me, however ... well, let's just say that I saw a number on the scale today that I didn't expect to see until I became pregnant. Ugh. I guess that means no more mousse au chocolat for me!!

OK, that's all I've got for now. In the meantime, if you've got any spare money lying around, consider donating it to lung cancer research:


I'm providing this link in support of someone close to me, who I just learned is facing a battle with the disease.

To that person, my message is simply this: if anyone can beat lung cancer into remission, I KNOW you can. Think positive -- we will be doing the same on this side of the pond.

10 June 2006

La Coupe du Monde. Sigh.

Post Number 200! Woo hoo!

As a few Americans are dimly aware of right now, the World Cup officially started this week. For those of you who don't know (or, like me, don't care), this is a monster world-wide soccer tournament. This year, it's taking place in Germany, but it may as well be right outside my window for all of the noise it is generating here. You see, Europeans LOVE soccer ... I mean, football. Trust me, this is one generalization that flies. Every time there is a soccer game on TV, I don't actually have to watch it because the bar down the street explodes when the favored team gets a goal ... I mean, a gooooooooooooooooooooooooal!!!! It doesn't matter if the game is Trinidad and Tobago versus East Timor. People around here are just nutty about watching and playing the game.

Unfortunately for me, Colin is "one of them." Since he grew up playing soccer, he is now reveling in the sport, which comes on at least twice a day now. Not only do I get regular updates on the action from him (which I don't understand), but I have to put up with a constant roaring sound from the TV set because the fans in the stadium are singing some goofy song, beating drums, or otherwise just being crazy.

Probably the oddest thing I've witnessed yet happened just a little bit ago on TV. After 90 minutes (that's an hour and a half for you non-math-majors), the game ended and NO ONE WON. Seriously, they ran like crazy on the biggest field ever conceived by man or beast, sustained many painful injuries ... and in the end, were in the exact same place that they started! Better yet, one team was totally thrilled, i.e. "Yea! We didn't lose!" and the other team was dejected. I even saw a male fan of the latter team weeping like a little girl in the stands. Seriously, if that isn't bizarre, I don't know what is.

I teased Colin that I was going to buy a t-shirt that I saw down the street from us that says, "Je detese le foot" (I hate soccer). His response was the most heartbroken, crushed facial expression I have ever seen.

Don't call me the soccer mom ... call me the soccer widow.

And now, since I KNOW he's going to rebut....


I don't know about Amy or our faithful readers but, on July 9th, I will be joining a billion other people on this planet to watch the culmination of the biggest sporting event in the world. Yes, I said a billion, and no, that's definitely not hyperbole. That's how many watched the 2002 World Cup final.

If you're not in on the madness yet, there are three things you can do to figure it out:

1) Start watching some of the games. Pick your home country, just so you have a little investment in the outcome.
2) If that fails to inspire you, read this article from Time Magazine about how soccer is being used to make the world a better place. If nothing else, it'll make you feel better about being part of a really big thing that's changing the world.
3) If you still don't understand why people love the game, read the chapter about soccer in Adam Gopnik's Paris to the Moon. It's a very well told and pretty funny story of an American living in Paris during the 1998 World Cup (which was not only hosted by France, but won by them). He gives a really insightful description of what to watch for and why it gets so addictive.

Here are a few of my favorite things about the beautiful game (cue the music...and):

  • It's so simple. There are only 17 laws to the game, of which you only need to read 10 to understand how to play (the others have to do with official field size, official ball size, and stuff like that). The laws are the same everywhere around the world, so everyone's talking the same language.
  • It's a game for anybody that you can play anywhere. The leagues I've played in have been for boys/girls/men/women/co-ed. Leagues are usually split into an age category, ranging from little kids to the "over 45" leagues. In Paris, for example, you'll see pick-up games on the streets and in pretty much every park that has a small stretch of grass.
  • The fans are awesome and incredibly knowledgable (not hard, since it's such a simple game). Half the fun of watching a game—outside the US at least—is the crowd (especially if you're in the middle of it).
I could tell you lots of funny and inspirational stories about my personal history with soccer, but I won't (unless people start asking). Instead, I'll just say this: if you're already a fan of the beautiful game, enjoy the World Cup action. If you're not a fan yet, get together with a group of friends and have a World Cup party, watch a couple games (especially toward the end of the first round and in the elimination round), then start playing yourself!

Someday, I'll convince Amy. The only trouble is that, on principle, she refuses to like anything that's popular. Yet, every once in awhile, I see her break down and enjoy some of the spectacle that is the World Cup. So, the question now is, how can I convince her to let herself enjoy the most popular sport in the world?

At the very least, at least she has finally agreed to let our kids play soccer (once we have kids).

09 June 2006

Berlin Photo Journal Completed

I've finished uploading and journaling all of my pictures from the Berlin portion of my trip. Here is the link to my Photosite. Since I can only have 100 photos available at a time, I'll leave this album up for a week before switching to the Prague and Normandy albums.

For those of you who expressed specific interest, Chapter Three of the Berlin journal is the one with pictures from the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp. Heartbreaking stuff.

If you take a look at the photo album, I'd appreciate it if you signed the guestbook! Don't worry if you don't have anything clever to say when you comment - I'd just like to know who is visiting. :)

08 June 2006

New Photo Journal for a Lazy Thursday

I posted a new photo journal, covering our second day in Berlin. Here's the link.

Obviously, it's going to take a few days (weeks? months?) to get all of my pictures labeled and uploaded, so I'll post announcements as I get things done.

Colin and I are enjoying our first truly lazy day in a few weeks. Unfortunately, he's sick, so it's not as lovely for him as it is for me.

And then, there's Didge.

If one is to judge solely on the moans and groans coming from him, Didge is at death's door. Fortunately, we know our puppy well: he's just tired. Reeeeeeeeally tired.

While Colin, my parents and I were in Normandy, we "boarded" Didge with a very nice man named Cédric. Unlike a normal kennel, Didge got to stay in this man's home with about five other dogs. During the days, he got three hour walks in one of the forests near Paris. This, of course, is more excitement and exercise than Didge has had in months. Since his return home on Monday, his agenda has consisted of the following:

1. Hop on couch and pass out.
2. Wake up, shift around and stretch while belly aching.
3. Go back to sleep.
4. Get up, drink some water, maybe whine for a little bit of food. (Maybe not.)
5. Find a comfy spot on the floor and pass out again.
6. Repeat.

Today is Thursday, day four of the Didge recovery period. I've never seen him so pathetic. It's lovely!

When Cédric dropped Didge off, I was a little bit worried that he would tell me that he couldn't take Didge again because he was too much work. So, when we met up, I nervously asked, "So, how was he?" Cédric got a huge grin on his face and said, "He was great! You have a very good dog. A very funny dog. When he doesn't want to do something, he just sits and [picture a stubborn look]. When he wants something, he barks." Yep, that's my boy!

The only drawback to Didge's stay in the country is that his allergies seemed to wind up a bit. I think that this is contributing to his sleepiness, since I know firsthand how exhausting an allergy attack can be. He's a lot less itchy now, so I guess I can look forward to a crazy mutt again in the next few days.

(Just don't tell Didge that Cédric is coming back for him in about a week and a half...)

06 June 2006

Just a quick hello

Hi everyone!

We just got back from Normandy yesterday afternoon, so there is much to blog about when I get my act together. In the meantime, just a quick "news item" about my job prospects. Unfortunately, the community college I applied to is not going to fill the geography position this year, so I didn't get the job by default. I'm a little disappointed, but am working on applying to jobs at U of M. As long as I'm employed, that's the most important thing!

I was going to post a picture, but alas, the photo function is not working (as usual). Photos will come later!

My apologies, by the way, to everyone who is waiting for me to respond to e-mails. I'm way behind, but I will write you back!