Monday, August 25, 2008

French 101

Even though there are reportedly only about one-fifth as many French words as English words ... it turns out to be a lot of work to learn French. Or maybe it's just a lot of work if you start in your 40's with no previous training. But we are making progress (despite what Lolly says on Facebook). I can often get through a restaurant experience with full sentences now - as opposed to blurting out single word grunts while jabbing my index finger at a picture on the menu like BoBo the talking Gorilla.

I guess it helps that I find the whole language thing interesting. Here's a little factoid I picked up this morning while reading "Sixty Million Frenchmen Can't Be Wrong." Back in the 50's, IBM invented a word that has now become an official French word. That's a big deal because this sort of thing (official Frenchness) has been tightly managed by the Académie Française since the 1600's. It's the French word for computer: ordinateur. Evidently, there was some necessity to invent such a word because the first two syllables of the English one bear very unfortunate similarities to "con" and "pute." In French, these are deeply offensive words used in reference to women. So there you go ... IBM: defender of Les Femmes and La République!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Another Day in the City

Lolly blew up her American sewing machine. She replaced it this week with a French sewing machine and so that kicked off The Search for Fabric. We begin in Les Halles where, I'm told, the fabric selection was uninspiring.

But St Eustache was cool looking ...

The Search continued to Montmartre where, upon surfacing from the Metro, we ran smack into an undocumented workers' strike by Les Travailleurs Sans Papiers (Workers Without Papers).

And then found the fabric district - the holy grail ...

And a shot of Sacre Coeur through an alley to boot. (Note the hundreds of tourists sitting up there on the steps. It's always like that).

Took the Metro to our favorite veggie, wok sort of place in St Michel and walked home through Luxembourg Garden (after stopping at Starbucks near the Sorbonne, of course) ...

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Nationalism? Racism? Beats me Wally

Here's a quote from Michael Palin's book "New Europe" where he interviews a Czech film maker in Prague:
"The French have always wanted to be French because they believe they're the best. The Germans are only now emerging from that guilt feeling of what happened prior to and in the Second World War. The Italians are confused in everything they do, and I think Czechs are secure in being Czechs with Czech traditions and a Czech way of life."
It's just one example but I hear this kind of thing pretty frequently around Europe ... even in professional settings. That is, it's common for people to make sweeping statements about other people groups - usually labeled by nationality. And while I can say with confidence that I have adapted pretty well to the various cultures I work in over here, this is one thing I have not gotten used to. As an American, I've become very uncomfortable with any statement that is structured:
[people group A] are [any descriptive phrase].
There's an easy way to test yourself on this if you live in the U.S. -- is there any good way to finish this sentence: Mexicans are [fill in the blank]. I would say: no there is no acceptable form of that sentence in terms of respect or accuracy or kindness.

Honestly, I don't really know how to respond when it comes up in conversation. On one side of my brain, my American alarm system is going all 5 alarm and telling me to step away from the conversation. On the other side of my brain I'm thinking that European countries may have simply chosen to be more nationalistic. Maybe this type of generalization is just the flip side of nationalism.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Another Visit!

We're having a great visit with our friend Davin. He's camped in Geneva for several weeks on a work assignment and bopped over to Paris on the TGV. So here are today's photos from around Paris:

All three of us snapped simultaneous self portraits:

Notre Dame is still compelling after all these visits:

The Arch and a little Champs Elysee shopping. Davin scored some French rap at FNAC.

Sacre Couer

And a photo with a moral ... never ride the Paris Metro on Saturday afternoon

Thursday, August 14, 2008


Michael Palin has made many valuable contributions to the global cultural market place. My personal favorite is the Fish Slapping Dance:

But I also admire how he has reinvented himself in the post-Python era. He's become a travel and culture writer. I just finished and can recommend his latest book "New Europe."

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Tour Montparnasse

As the story goes ... back in the late 60's / early 70's this skyscraper was plunked down in the middle of Montparnasse. This is a district with a storied artistic and literary history and also happens to be where we live.

Anywho ... it doesn't exactly harmonize with your typical Haussmannian, Parisian architecture.

So the inevitable outcry led to an inevitable ban on skyscrapers within Paris city limits. This, inevitably, led to the clustering of skyscrapers just outside the city limits. And most prominently, it led to La Défense which is where my office is. It's not a very Parisian looking place. It's as if someone said: you know this would be a great place for a bunch of skyscrapers! So they laid down a huge pedestrian courtyard and BOOM - Instant Financial District ...

Sunday, August 10, 2008

A Walking City

They say Paris is a walking city. I think that's a fair assessment. The heat broke this weekend and that coincided with a visit from Doug, Shelley, and Michon Pagitt. So we carbed up in the morning and then headed out. Here's the resulting photo safari ...

The Pagitts at St Sulpice. I can't think too much about the philosophy and economics behind these old, over-the-top cathedrals. It just frustrates me. But if I just focus on the art then all is well in the world.

Place St Michel

A Hitchcockian moment outside Notre Dame:

Inside Notre Dame:

The Louvre. This dude tried to grab my camera but, being made of stone, I was much quicker than him ... even one day shy of my 46th birthday.


Fun with a macro!


Oh so spiritual.

The crowd around Mona Lisa. Yes, that postage stamp-sized thing in the center is her.

Sculptures and perspective.

I thought of various captions for this one but in the end I abandoned them all ...

More macro-mania

Thomas Jefferson near the Seine in the 7th:

Commemorating France's turn in the EU Presidency ...

And after all the walking, a Metro ride home.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

He's Dead Jim

Well, I thought about renewing the Out of Fellowship domain. Rev Dan says I'll regret not renewing and he might be right. But in the end expiration seemed best. After all that, -- ahem -- preaching I did about the evils of institutional permanence it seemed best to let OOF dissolve into the ether. And I seem to have leveled out at a healthy ambivalence about the OC (Organized Church) so I really don't have much to say about the topic anymore. Let's talk about Paris instead.


Friday, August 8, 2008


France isn't known for its coffee. This explains the relative success of Starbucks here in Paris (that plus all the American tourists). But actually, the coffee you get out of the vending machines isn' t too bad because it's based on an espresso roast. Unfortunately, it comes in these cheesy little plastic cups ... and this one is a "long coffee." So if you're walking around with a Starbucks grande or vente (which I often do), it looks like one of those 7-11 Big Gulps to the locals. But I soldier on and increasingly embrace my Americanism. Now if we could just get Peet's Coffee to open up over here.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

4 choices

That's what you get from Orange for your €39,90 ... 4 English language TV Channels (oh and about 100 other channels of various languages plus VOIP and Internet). I guess that's a pretty good price for the package.

And these are the 4 choices:


Sky News

BBC World News:

And .......

.... wait for it .....
CNBC Europe

.... who will evidently take anybody's advertising Euro.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Urban Life

I took these photos today from the rooftop cafe at Les Printemps in the Opera district. It's visual representation of one dimension of change that I didn't anticipate: the transition to urban living. Those several years of living in the quiet Oakland hills with two cars was very different from living in the heart of a large, dense European capital and depending on public transportation. You can get a sense of the density in a few of these photos.

Yesterday we bought a kitchen table (for delivery) so today we went in search of stools to complete the ensemble. This means walking and subway riding. And if you buy something along the way, then you're carrying it for the next several hours. That's why European men are more into the whole man-purse thing than American men. Carrying small purchases in a shoulder bag is much preferable to shopping bags. Although that didn't help me much with the rolled up mattress we bought yesterday or the ceiling light we bought today. And here's another little tip: the metro is more crowded on Saturday than during rush hour during the week. One word: tourists.

Friday, August 1, 2008

A Special Opportunity for CBIP Readers

But before that, here are a few shots from Paris-Plage (Paris Beach). Every Summer, they turn a section of the Seine near Pont Neuf into a kind of beach experience. Umbrellas, beach chairs, palm trees, etc. And people just lounge around in the sun. It's kind a cool.

And now about that opportunity. First, allow me to present my credentials. I am a died-in-the wool adherent to the Efficient Market Theory - so I believe that the markets do a pretty good job of setting prices on assets. Better than say, a government or a private individual asset holder. In fact, I once spent 4 years working for a company founded by Bill Sharpe - maybe not the spiritual father of EMT, but certainly a beloved uncle.

But even EMT disciples recognize that once in a while a little inefficiency pops up and presents a skinny little window of opportunity before the arbitrageurs find it and exploit the bejesus out if it for fun and profit.

Well, I present you now with an opportunity to play arbitrageur! There is a HUGE Chihuahua bubble in the French market. Take a look at these asset prices:

Yorkies - 2800 Euros
Jack Russell Terriers - 880 Euros
Chihuahuas - 8690 Euros!!!!!

... that's over $13,500 at today's exchange rate.

Having been up close and personal with one of these little SOBs (factually accurate) for several years, I can tell you that there's no rational explanation for this pricing phenomenon. There's no way it can last so call your broker, call Jim Kramer, call Elle Woods and get yourself of gaggle of 'em for bulk shipment to Paris pronto. I might even be willing to sell Junior for a "friendly" price.