Sunday, September 26, 2004

Master Composter

They walked us around their yard -- front and back. Showing us the trees and shrubs and flowering plants and grasses that they were raising with tender loving care. We walked along a limestone path between the oaks and yaupons. She gathered milkweed seeds for us to take home with us. He explained how the redbud tree he had once staked up was now holding its own well enough to warrant untying it. And they offered us one of the purple salvia potted along the sidewalk leading to their front door.

At one point in the evening, the conversation turned to compost. (How can you avoid talking the subject among friends such as these?) Hot compost. Cold compost. Compost with no nitrogen. Compost with too much nitrogen. So of course, the conversation eventually came to worms.

Do you get earthworms in your pile? I asked, hoping to share the thrill of harvesting them from a cold pile and strategically placing them around the yard.

But they are evidently well beyond that. Their yard and even their pots for their potted plants are alive with worms.

So as the evening wore on, we talked about these sorts of things. And at one point, as he and she were discussing the upsides and downs of having a worm-based composter in your house, she started talking about earthworm eggs.

Eggs!? I exclaimed, with a doubting look on my face.

Yes, eggs, she said, quite sure of what she was saying.

Trudy looked over at me and seemed to take my side. He stayed neutral, playing perhaps the gracious host.

I am a master composter, she gently reminded me and proceeded to describe the rubbing-next-to-each-other act that the worms do as they fertilize the eggs.

And then the conversation moved on to other things.

But this morning, I get an email from him providing the supporting evidence. He provides a link that she found in which we learn, among other things, that compost worms (Eisenia fetida) reproduce sexually and produce upwards of 900 eggs per year.

I guess I didn't learn my high school biology well enough. And she is indeed the Master Composter.

9:32:36 PM   permalink: []   feedback: Click here to send an email to the editor of this weblog.   comments: []  

Sainte Chapelle

Although the gray skies turned blue while we were eating lunch with Laure and the street was bright with sunlight as we looked thru the windows from our table in the back, when we left the sky clouded up again, and it got cold.

This is cold weather, Laure said. This is cold weather even for Paris.

To three Texans with one raincoat and one umbrella between us, is was cold indeed. I kept our digital camera stashed in a dry place and (sadly) took few pictures.

As we left the restaurant, we walked back down the narrow streets we had climbed. (I seem to remember we has walked uphill and now we were walking down.) We headed toward the river and crossed it and got in line at the cathedral of Sainte Chapelle.

Sainte Chapelle is small, but it is a wonder of Gothic architecture. It is barely more than a vaulted ceiling held up by stone buttresses with sheets of centuries-old stained glass filling up the spaces in between. On a sunny day, it must be a wonder to see. But the sun had gone and masses of tourists were taking refuge from the rain in the cathedral. We didn't stay long.

So we didn't get to see Sainte Chapelle on a sunny day, which had been our hope. Still, Laure was with us, and she was going to show us around Le Marais. So rain or no rain, clouds or no clouds, cold winds or not, we went back outside and continued our walking tour.

Trip to France - Day 15

8:58:56 PM   permalink: []   feedback: Click here to send an email to the editor of this weblog.   comments: []  

 Saturday, September 25, 2004

Naomi Klein writes about year zero in Baghdad in the current issue of Harper's.

  • A Plan. The administration did have a plan for postwar Iraq.
  • Greed is Good. The postwar plan was to rebuild the country by privatizing Iraqi assets.
  • Shock Therapy. On the need for an economic shock to distract the people while privatization takes place.
  • Initial Success. Soon after the end of conflict, the shock-therapy technique seemed to be working.
  • Year Zero. On Pragmatists and Year Zeroists and how the Year Zeroists came to dominate postwar Iraq, paving the way for privatization.
  • The Iraqi Governing Council. How international law led Paul Bremer to install an interim Iraqi government under which privatization could continue.
  • Opposite Effects. How Bremer's shock-therapy evidently did not distract people from the privatization effort but rather led them to join the resistance.
  • Imports. Importing foreign capital and labor, even when domestic sources existed led to widespread resentment.
  • Over their dead bodies. Workers perceived privatization as a death sentence, making the shock-therapy approach to pulling it off untenable.
  • Beginning of the End. Iraqi discontent played into the hands of Muqtada al-Sadr. Violence escalated. Foreign corporations left. The conservative dream of creating a new Iraq began to crumble.
  • The Dream is Dead. The dream of building a new Iraq based on pure principles of conservative economics had died.

Choice closing paragraphs:

The great historical irony of the catastrophe unfolding in Iraq is that the shock-therapy reforms that were supposed to create an economic boom ... have instead fueled a resistance that ultimately made reconstruction impossible ... These forces have transformed Year Zero in Iraq into the mirror opposite of what the neocons envisioned ... For the neocons, this must be a shocking development: their ideological belief in greed turns out to be stronger than greed itself.

Iraq was to the neocons what Afghanistan was to the Taliban: the one place on Earth where they could force everyone to live by the most literal, unyielding interpretation of their sacred texts. One would think that the bloody results of this experiment would inspire a crisis of faith ... yet the Green Zone neocons and their masters in Washington are no more likely to reexamine their core beliefs than the Taliban mullahs ... When facts threaten true believers, they simply close their eyes and pray harder.
Read the whole feature.

3:14:33 PM   permalink: []   feedback: Click here to send an email to the editor of this weblog.   comments: []  

Bill Moyers on the state of journalism today

This speech by Bill Moyers at a Society of Professional Journalists conference is remarkable. In it, he recounts

  • his experience in reporting stories in the face of government and corporate opposition,
  • his notions of what journalism is and why it is getting more difficult,
  • the challenges of a world dominated by ideologies of violence
  • the emergence of The Rapture Index and the grip it holds on our leaders
  • the challenges to journalism in an era of growing secrecy and government/corporate alignment, and
  • examples of why journalism matters

Common Dreams has a brief summary of what Moyers said, but the full speech transcript is worth the time.

1:54:34 PM   permalink: []   feedback: Click here to send an email to the editor of this weblog.   comments: []  

David Weinberger dines with media moguls

David Weinberger (of Cluetrain and Small Pieces Loosely Joined fame) attended a gathering of the Entertainment and Media section of the World Economic Forum recently and wrote about it. He says he came away with four impressions:

First, these people are thrashing. They're floundering. They're desperate to find a way in which their organizations still add value. ...

Second, they don't understand what the hell we're talking about. ... To them, the Internet is a transport for distributing bits they own. ...

Third, they believe they're responding to the market. They do not recognize that their market has abandoned them. ... I think they actually believe that the legislation they're back[ing] is something the market wants. ...

Fourth, they're going to win. They own Congress and neither Congress nor the entertainment cartel sees any reason to compromise. ...

And he comes to a bleak conclusion

... Sure, there will be sophisticated hacks and analog holes and guys in back alleys with soldering irons who'll remove the hardware restrictions so your kid can include a snippet of a movie in her social studies paper. But that's exactly what losing looks like.

Depressed? You betcha. ...

We are doomed.

(Hat tip: Dan Gilmore.)

1:00:09 PM   permalink: []   feedback: Click here to send an email to the editor of this weblog.   comments: []  

 Thursday, September 23, 2004

Lunch with Laure

Before we left on this trip, I mentioned to Sudha in Colorado that we were going to Paris and that we were going to see Laure. Sudha said that she had done that once, and she said what a great host Laure is.

We had arranged to spend some time with Laure on our last full day in Paris. It was Saturday, so she didn't have to work. She had graciously set aside the whole day to show us around her city.

She called our room in the morning. We were still pretty much comatose from all the walking the day before, and we were still in bed, but her call was a welcome start to the day.

We arranged to meet her downstairs at noon. She said she'd find some good place to eat. By this time in our trip, we were thrilled to have someone else do the heavy lifting of selecting a restaurant.

I confess I don't remember the name of the restaurant -- shame on me. It certainly wouldn't have been a place we would have selected. First, we never would have discovered the place, hidden as it was from any path we might have followed. And second, it was over our fancy-threshold. Besides our basic frugality, the sad truth is that we were usually desperate by lunch time, and deciding to eat at this place would have taken too much deliberation outside studying the menu.

The restaurant was at a corner of two narrow streets. Laure led us up the two steps through the doorway. A waiter walked up, smiling. She told him we wanted a table for four. He asked if we had a reservation. She said we did not and seemed worried. But it was still early, and he found us a table in the back.

We sat down and began to study the menu. Laure translated all the words we did not know, and she ordered the wine. Laure keeps a collection of 400 or so bottles in a cellar at her parents' house in Caen, so we trusted her choice.

Upon hearing of Laure's proficiency with wine, I shared with her the story of how I (not knowing anything about wine) had ordered a demi-sec red wine the night before and how the waiter gently let me know that there is no such thing. She got a good laugh out of that. You know you're lucky when you're dining in Paris and your host gets a good laugh out of your mistake in ordering a demi-sec red.

We took our time. The place began to hum with activity as the lunch crowd arrived. The conversation was warm and relaxed. The meal was wonderful, and it included dessert. By the time we left, the waiters and waitresses were working furiously, and there wasn't an empty seat left in the place.

And this was only the beginning of our day with Laure.

Trip to France - Day 15

11:37:47 PM   permalink: []   feedback: Click here to send an email to the editor of this weblog.   comments: []  

 Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Crashing and Smashing

In Paris near the Seine river in the Latin Quarter, there is a neighborhood that comes alive at night. Restaurants and bars line the narrow streets, and after the sun goes down the smells of many kinds of foods fill the air. (Don't go there for breakfast, though. In the mornings the place is empty, waiting for the night.)

So we were there one night, not wanting to miss the spectacle that was only blocks from our hotel. We walked up one street and down another, weaving in and out between the other tourists and kids and the crowd, poking our heads into a shop now and then to look at the over-priced trinkets.

As we walked down the hill back towards Boulevard St. Michel, we heard a large, loud, sharp crash like a display case in a china shop succumbing to the fury of a stampeding bull. We turned to look.

There, on the doorstep of his Greek restaurant, a well-dressed man was throwing white plates down onto the ground, breaking them into pieces one after another, leaving the pieces in a pile at his feet by the curb next to the cobblestones. He was doing this on purpose as was another man two doors down. They seemed to be competing.

The crashing and smashing noise was tremendous. Their technique worked: they made us look.

Trip to France - Day 14

8:00:14 PM   permalink: []   feedback: Click here to send an email to the editor of this weblog.   comments: []  

Remember This

What were we doing? I don't remember now. We were walking.

Yes. We were walking along the sidewalks of Paris. Trudy was on my left. Ben was on my right. It had been a long day, and we were heading home -- heading back to our hotel and the five flights of narrow, winding stairs.

I don't remember now whether is was light or dark. It must have been light, for it didn't really get dark in Paris at that time of year until well after 10pm.

Let's just say that dark was on its way, that the rows of buildings on the other side of the Seine made a shadowy backdrop for our walk.

With this setting around us, the streets of Paris and the river and the patterns of the buildings all around us, we came to a spot where the silhouette of the spire of the cathedral of St. Chapelle rose up against the rest of the cityscape.

I turned my head to the right to look at it, and as I turned, I saw Ben walking along (at the end of a long, hard day) with his face down and his eyes fixed on his feet. He didn't see the river. He didn't see the backdrop of the buildings on the other side. And he didn't see St. Chapelle.

Ben! I gasped. Look up! This is Paris! Look at this. Remember this!

Trip to France - Day 14

6:35:33 PM   permalink: []   feedback: Click here to send an email to the editor of this weblog.   comments: []  

 Thursday, September 16, 2004


We were on foot all day. It wasn't exactly trudging, but it came as close as it could without actually being trudging.

Ok. It was trudging. We trudged around the streets of Paris all day, going in and out of museums as the dark skies and rain came and went.

And at some point, I reached rock bottom. The details of it are hazy to me now -- my mind is quite proficient at blotting out these rock-bottom episodes. I was tired to the bone, incapable even of finding a place to rest. So we stopped at the next café. (The amazing thing about Paris cafés is that they are everywhere. And you can sit as long as you like even if you only order a drink.)

So with me at rock-bottom and my two companions in no better shape, we plopped ourselves down in the first three chairs we found, three chairs on a corner under an awning with a waiter to bring us something to drink.

Trudy had coffee. Ben had coffee -- because he had discovered on this trip that coffee could make the exhaustion go away. And I had a Coke.

A Coke. I had a Coke! I never have Cokes, but I had one there. And let me tell you, that one Coke (meager-sized though it was) was perhaps the best drink I have ever had.

So Ben and Trudy drank their coffees, and I drank that wonderful Coke, and we rested in those chairs under the awning while the dark skies and rain continued to come and go. And we regained our strength and our determination.

And before long, we continued our trudging.

Trip to France - Day 14

10:05:57 PM   permalink: []   feedback: Click here to send an email to the editor of this weblog.   comments: []  

 Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Museum Passes

We told ourselves that we didn't need museum passes.

In a way it was a promise we made to ourselves: no hard-core touristing, trudging from museum to museum. Rather we promised to do significant things that would mean more and linger longer than standing and staring at a framed masterpiece on the wall surrounded by hoards of others staring at the masterpieces on the walls.

We told ourselves that we wouldn't spend our time that way.

But when the two weeks of our trip were winding to a close and we found ourselves in Paris again, the blue skies clouded up, and the rain began to fall. Climbing the towers of Notre Dame or walking the streets of Montmartre in such weather had little appeal.

So on a cool, rainy day in Paris in July, we walked up Boulevard St. Germaine and bought museum passes after all. Because it was seriously raining. Because museums were what the rest of the day would hold.

Now, I don't say this in a complaining way. We enjoyed them all -- the Musee de Cluny, the Musee d'Orsay, the Rodin museum. At the Cluny we saw the heads of the Kings of Judah of Notre Dame that angry mobs had decapitated during the Revolution. The Orsay had enough art inside to quench any thirst. And as we gazed on Rodin's Thinker in the gardens outside his house (from the dry comfort of inside), he looked more pensive than normal as he sat motionless in the pouring rain.

But let's just say that as Trudy walked thru the halls of the Cluny, stopping to look at each tapestry and every piece of Middle Aged antiquity, Ben and I had a feeling this was going to be a long day. And by the time we lay ourselves down at the end of the day, we collapsed into deep sleep, because on that rainy July day in Paris with our museum passes in hand we had looked ourselves to the bone.

Trip to France - Day 14

10:19:38 PM   permalink: []   feedback: Click here to send an email to the editor of this weblog.   comments: []  

 Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Trying to Catch Up in Paris

It was late. I was trying to catch up in my journal. I was the only one awake in the hotel room at the top of five flights of stairs (Have I emphasized those stairs enough, yet?) in the Quartier Latin...

July 11, Paris.

Ok, so there's something that probably should be said about the fact that I have not found the time to write coherently about this trip since we returned to Paris. What is it? Life in the big city? No quiet time? Always on the move? Or is it just that we have so many tourist-y things to do?

It certainly hasn't been for a lack of trying. For the last several days I've sat down, only to get a line or two written before I collapse of fatigue.

I have tried. I really have. If nothing else, my entries of the past few days are evidence of my frequent attempts to write, abortive though they were.

Forced to fall back to bulletized lists of the days major events (and incomplete lists at that), I am certain that I will dread looking back at them in years to come.

No matter ... onward.

And with that I continued with the previously abandoned summary of a day three days before. And I only got three more bullets in the list before I dropped off.

Trip to France - Day 13

10:08:26 PM   permalink: []   feedback: Click here to send an email to the editor of this weblog.   comments: []  

 Monday, September 13, 2004

We Saw The Tour de France

1. Going to Chartres

We rose early that day and met Gregg and Kelley at their hotel a few blocks away from ours. We took the Metro to Gare Montparnasse and caught a train for Chartres. There were many stops. There were not many people.

We were on our way to Chartres, that day, to see the cathedral (of course) and also to see the Tour de France ride through. And because of the arrival of a stage of the Tour that day, we were concerned (when we were making our travel plans from the other side of the Atlantic) that the trains might be crowded.

The trains were not crowded. There were plenty of seats. We realized that Parisians don't need to travel to Chartres to see the Tour. It finishes on the Champs Elysees! Because of that, there were plenty of seats, and we were pleased that we had not paid the extra money (from the other side of the Atlantic) to get seat reservations.

2. Finding the Race Route

It was a cloudy day. The blue sky and sun of our earlier days in the northwest were gone. Now it was overcast, and at some point it started to rain. But we were (mostly) prepared. Gregg and Kelley had umbrellas (of course!). Ben and Trudy has raincoats. I had an umbrella to keep the camera dry.

We took the Malcomb Miller tour of the cathedral at noon. And we ate lunch at a nearby restaurant afterwards. The owner of the place came by the table with maps of the city to make sure that we knew where to see the riders. We thanked him, and showed him ours. He nodded and smiled.

Trudy was our guide to the bicycle route. We walked downhill, finding a hidden walkway behind the cathedral that took us down to the river. Trudy studies the map closely while we walked on ahead of her -- much to her consternation. Frankly, all we had to do was follow our ears. There was enough noise along the route (the crowds were already beginning to gather) that we eventually arrived even though none of us really knew where we were going.

3. The Weather That Day

When we found the route, the weather began to turn. The wind blew thru the trees. Gray clouds raced across the sky. Black ones loomed on the horizon, sometimes coming from behind the cathedral on the hill, sometimes coming from someplace else.

We split up from Gregg and Kelley. They went down the street and around a corner to get a better view. We decided to stay where we were, curbside.

Then the weather got nasty. The air got cold. The skies opened up, pelting us with rain that seemed to be falling horizontally. I stood against a truck, sheltering the precious digital camera with a card-full of all our trip photos. As the keeper of the camera, I got the umbrella, too. So I stayed mostly dry. Meanwhile, Trudy in her capri pants and sandals was shivering. And Ben's raincoat was in fact just a wind breaker, so he was soaked to the bone, too.

The skies got black. And then it cleared up. And then they got black again and dumped more rain. And then it cleared up again. And then the wind came up. And then it went away. In this way, we waited for two and a half hours or so for the riders to ride by.

4. When the Riders Rode By

They came by late. After the parades of commercial vehicles tossing swag to the crowd had come and gone several times, leaving the job of picking up the swag that fell short of the barricades to the many policemen lining the route. After the trucks selling Tour de France souvenirs (including yellow Tour umbrellas) had made the rounds three times. After we had waited hours until the appointed time and another 40 minutes on top. Then the riders came by.

Five riders had broken away. Two police motorcycles sped around the corner towards us, announcing their approach. But there were only three, riding one-two-three in a line. Soon after, two more motorcycles came around the corner, followed by two more riders riding one-two in a line.

Then there was a lull. The black sky threatened ominously. The sky looked as if a tornado would drop on us at any moment. The wind blew in great gusts. And then the peloton arrived behind an escort of more police motorcycles. It was a mass of bicycles two dozen or more wide. And they flowed around the corner in a stream, there were so many of them. The crowd cheered. We cheered.

And then we saw the yellow jersey.

Lance had won the stage the day before. So that day he wore the yellow jersey. And when we saw the yellow, we knew we were seeing Lance. The riders sped by in a flash. But in that instant, Trudy saw his face: head low near the handlebars, face aimed forward, jaws tightly clenched, clad in yellow and surrounded by teammates in blue.

In that instant we saw him. And then they were speeding around the next curve and up the next hill and out of sight.

Trip to France - Day 13

10:58:53 PM   permalink: []   feedback: Click here to send an email to the editor of this weblog.   comments: []  

 Sunday, September 12, 2004

Nighttime in Paris

They have gone to bed, my companions have. Yet I sit here by the light with a pencil in my hand.

Perhaps it was the strong coffee I had earlier as we sat along Boulevard St. Germaine. Or perhaps it is the evening air now filling the room since I opened the windows after they fell asleep. Or perhaps it is the fact that the two of them took the brunt of the storm today while I huddled in a slightly sheltered spot, out of the wind and out of the rain protecting our digital camera.

So they have now gone to bed, and now fallen asleep, and now the light of day is fully gone. Outside the window, there is only one other light to see, lit perhaps for some other highly caffeinated traveller scribbling down his or her fleeting thoughts.

Are these fleeting thoughts?

I think they are, for now, although the cool night air is a welcome relief and the sound of periodic raindrops outside no longer holds the terror that they did while we waited for the Tour to come thru Chartres today, although I am full of many little thoughts that come and suggest themselves, I cannot for the life of me remember what it was that I intended to say when I started out only a few paragraphs back.

A sign, perhaps that it is time to join my companions.

Trip to France - Day 13

11:02:37 PM   permalink: []   feedback: Click here to send an email to the editor of this weblog.   comments: []  

The Midway

After we ate our soufflés (so many that we thought we would pop), we decided to walk back to the hotel. It was getting dark, and the air was chilly, but we had jackets.

Two weeks ago, carrying jackets with us in the middle of the summer would have seemed silly. Such is the experience of living in Texas. But we were coming to the end of two weeks of travelling thru northern Europe, so the Texan in us was lying dormant. We had jackets with us and were undaunted by the chilly Paris nighttime. So jackets in hand (or on shoulders), we decided to forego the Metro and walk back.

It wasn't far -- just across the Tuilleries, across the Seine, and back to the Latin Quarter. Trudy and Ben and I had walked this part of town at the beginning of our trip. But it was daylight then, with the bright sun reflecting off the white gravel walkways making us squint. Now it was night, and the place seemed quite different.

Quite different? There was a carnival in full swing smack-dab in the Tuilleries.

The Ferris wheel was turning, its white lights shining brightly against the night sky with the edifice of the Louvre looming in the background. We decided to investigate.

Across the street, and thru a wide gate in a chain-link fence, and we were in another land. In spite of the dark sky overhead, the midway was ablaze. Orange lights. Red lights. Long tubes of neon blue.

Behind Ben, a King Kong sized gorilla head sat mouth-agape on top of a trailer. Behind Trudy, the neon lights and arrows flashed and blinked. Behind Gregg and Kelley and Trudy and me, a carousel turned. And we stopped there to pose for a picture by Ben.

Whereas I might have been tempted by the carousel, the Ferris wheel that we had seen from across the street tempted me not a bit. We all stood at the base for a moment wondering if we should ride it, wondering what the view might be like from the top. But it tempted me not a bit. In the end, we all turned our backs on it and walked up the midway.

There were not very many people there. Perhaps they had just opened that night. Perhaps the night was yet young. Whatever the reason, there wasn't much of a crowd as we walked past the rides and the photo booths and the stands where you could prove your skill and win a stuffed animal. We kept walking all the way to the end and then turned around and walked all the way back, because our stroll had taken us in the opposite direction from where we intended to go.

The night wore on. We left the midway behind as we worked our way thru the Tuilleries in the direction of Boulevard St. Michel. We sat for a moment and waited for the on-the-hour strobe lights on the Eiffel Tower do their thing for ten minutes.

By the time we said goodbye to Gregg and Kelley and found our hotel again (after some wandering that we did not altogether intend), it was dark. I mean, day was completely done. It was one of only a few days on this trip when we went to bed fully after dark. And when we got back to our room at the top of the five flights of winding stairs with uneven steps and carpets designed to catch tired toes, we collapsed.

I briefly tried to write some things onto paper, but in the end the effort was futile, and I followed Trudy and Ben into tomorrow.

Trip to France - Day 12

10:35:36 PM   permalink: []   feedback: Click here to send an email to the editor of this weblog.   comments: []  

 Saturday, September 11, 2004

Remembering 9/11

It was morning. I was on the road to Houston. The radio was on. Where was I? Ellinger? That sounds right. NPR was still on the radio -- Morning Edition.

They broke in. They reported the story as best they could. I broke down behind the wheel and pulled off the road to find a pay-phone. Should I still come? I asked. I did, but nothing was accomplished. We were all too numb to work.

Perhaps they did it for the shock value -- as a PR stunt. If so, they accomplished their objective. Perhaps they did it to knock this economy out. If so, I suspect they were disappointed. Perhaps they did it to rally their brothers to their sides. If so, they seem (from my uninformed eye) to have accomplished their objective. Perhaps they did it to signal the beginning of a new era. It was.

So what will this new era be? As I remember, as I look about me, I cannot say I am optimistic.

11:37:15 PM   permalink: []   feedback: Click here to send an email to the editor of this weblog.   comments: []  

Remembering Things

Isn't it funny how we remember things? I walked out of Le Soufflé unimpressed, and my memory of the place was correspondingly bleak. But I took a look again at a photo we took that night, and in that picture there is none of the bleakness that my memory paints.

There was artwork on the walls: schematics of the Louvre, impressionist lookalikes, a large piece extending to the ceiling which depicted a gate opening into a garden with walkways and flowers and grass. The tables that evening were covered in white linen (ok, maybe not linen). There were flowers on the table and flowers in the corner (ok, maybe not real -- but work with me, here). And there were dessert soufflés in front of each of us.

There were smiles on our faces. There were carafes of water and a bottle of wine. The furniture was elegant looking. There were drapes tied gracefully back at the end of the room against a mirrored wall that gave the place a larger feel than the non-smoking room it was. And, unlike the room at the front of the restaurant (the room I would later remember as the one with character), there was no smoke.

We were with friends whom we had met for that one evening in the middle of the three vacations that we had each independently planned. And although the purpose of vacations is to get away (not necessarily to meet up with colleagues from work), we were all happy to intersect that night. You can see it in our faces.

Funny how we remember things.

Trip to France - Day 12

11:26:21 PM   permalink: []   feedback: Click here to send an email to the editor of this weblog.   comments: []  

 Thursday, September 9, 2004

Le Soufflé

During the day we wandered down along the Seine. And we walked thru Notre Dame, although we didn't climb the towers, because it was overcast and threatening rain. We left Sainte Chapelle for tomorrow, hoping that the sun would come out then and light up the stained glass windows.

The day passed quickly, as they do, and we eventually returned to the hotel and changed into nice clothes for the one fancy meal we allotted ourselves on this trip. We took the Metro from our hotel in the Latin Quarter to a stop near the Louvre and set out in search of Le Soufflé.

The restaurant wasn't difficult to find, although we were early -- something that is not typical for us (or me, at any rate). Yet even though we were early, in only a few moments we saw Gregg and Kelly coming down the sidewalk from the other direction. The two of them are paradigms of punctuality, and it was with some pride that (for the moment) I could count myself in their league.

The five of us went in, hoping to be able to sit down even though Larry and Amy and their boys had not arrived yet. We all arranged this dinner on this night when we realized that it was the only intersection of the vacations of our three families, and we had called ahead to make sure a table was waiting for us. When we told them we had reservations for nine, they smiled and nodded and took us to a room in the back.

This was the no-smoking section, just as we had requested: a room far in the back, past the toilets, down a narrow hallway, with very little character to recommend it. Still, we had come for the soufflés and not necessarily for interior decorating, so we didn't flinch.

Larry and Amy and the boys arrived a few minutes later. They were barely seated when the waiter started pushing us to order, making us all feel awkward and rushed. We scrambled with the menus, and asked a few questions (our restaurant vocabulary not being quite up to the task). In the end, most of us ordered ... soufflés.

I supposed the food was good enough. Certainly the chocolate dessert soufflés drew groans of ecstasy from those who ordered them. And my rhubarb dessert soufflé was remarkable. But like the room about us, the other soufflés were missing something. Upon reflection, maybe it was just soufflé overload. I did, after all, order the three-soufflé dinner.

Still, this was our expensive dinner night, and we found ourselves relegated to a room devoid of character just down the hall from the toilettes. And the waiters, unlike every other place we had been, were evidently displeased with us, rushing us at almost every step of the way.

Eventually we got up to leave after we had negotiated the bill, figuring out who would owe how much to whom when we got home. On the way out, the character of the place showed itself. Once we had left our no-smoking room and passed the toilets and were back into the main dining area, we saw artwork on the walls and heard the murmuring of many small groups, groups of 2-4 huddled closely at small tables that filled the room, having animated conversations amidst the smoke that filled the place.

Next time we'll do something different. Maybe we won't order three soufflés. Maybe we won't ask for a no-smoking table. Or maybe, just maybe we'll go to a different place.

But then, who knows when that next time will be.

Trip to France - Day 12

10:20:07 PM   permalink: []   feedback: Click here to send an email to the editor of this weblog.   comments: []  

 Tuesday, September 7, 2004

Room 21

It was raining when we arrived back in Paris. We took the Metro from the Gare d'Austerlitz to the Latin Quarter and found our hotel. The Hotel du Lys was just off Boulevard St. Michel. Actually it was off one street and down another, so it wasn't just off, but it was a very short walk.

The woman at the desk pulled our key off a board on the wall behind her. It was made of wood and was stained dark brown, and it had small gold colored hooks to hold the keys to each room. There were 22 rooms, and ours was number 21. She gave us our key and pointed to the stairs at the end of the narrow hallway. She said it was five flights up, quickly pointing out that the light was better up there.

The light was indeed better in room 21 than all the rooms below, because it looked out on a light canyon from the stop story of the building. The grey light of day barely reached to the lower windows, but we could see the sky.

Of course, that is about all we could see: a tiny patch of sky above us and a featureless light canyon below. Perhaps the climb with our bags up those five flights of spiral-turning stairs was worth that view in the opinion of the woman at the desk, but I confess I was disappointed when I pushed the window open, thinking that she was telling us we would find something special.

Oh well -- no view out the windows of room 21. But that was ok, since the sky was overcast anyway, and we had plenty of things to do. We pulled the windows shut (so that it wouldn't rain in), and we set back out to explore some more of Paris.

Trip to France - Day 12

10:27:41 PM   permalink: []   feedback: Click here to send an email to the editor of this weblog.   comments: []  

Uncle Bill

Uncle Bill's voice always embodied jazz for me. Don't ask me why. I don't know anything about jazz, and I only heard him play his saxophone once or twice. But his voice had music in it -- a tenor that just sounded cool. I suppose it also helped that he was the only person I ever met who used the word cats in that jazzy, beat-generation way.

One time when we were on the road from someplace to someplace else, I remember saying something to him about the high-tension power lines along the side of the road. I was flexing my environmental awareness, and I said (in a sneering tone), Well it sure is nice to see that they're not using trees to make those towers. Uncle Bill looked at me and pointed out, But trees will grow back. And with that one comment, he taught me the pitfalls of black-and-white ways of seeing things.

You should show this to your Uncle Bill, my mother once told me when I finished a paper for high school sociology. I don't remember if I ever did, but her suggestion said something to me about him that I never forgot.

Then there were long years of silence. I heard of him thru my cousins from time to time, and I suspect he might have heard of me. And then he got very sick a few years ago, so sick that I didn't recognize him when I saw him on the other side of the funeral parlor when my grandfather died.

And that was the last time I saw him. Uncle Bill died last week of a heart attack.

I didn't know him particularly well. Although we exchanged email a few times recently. He read these fish regularly and said something once about my writing style that made me very, very proud. I was never able to tell him just how much his comments meant. Because he died last week of a heart attack.

Uncle Bill died last week, and tonite I took his name off the list of email recipients that get these jumpingfish. I didn't know what to do, what to think, what to feel, what to say.

So I shall just say this, Thank you, Uncle Bill. Thank you and goodbye.

9:29:43 PM   permalink: []   feedback: Click here to send an email to the editor of this weblog.   comments: []  

Rainy Morning Catch A Train

On our last morning in Amboise, we woke early-ish and had breakfast at the hotel. The room was a bit dark, although there were windows that looked out on the side street. And it had something of a feel of a dining hall from a long time ago, although the coffee was hot, and the yogurt and jelly came in screw-top bottles. I ate the rolls with real butter spread on them like frosting.

After eating, we walked to the train station -- down to the river from our hotel, across the first bridge to the island in the Loire where we had walked a few days ago and where we had given Ben freedom to be by himself two evenings in a row, and finally across the second bridge to the narrow street that led to the station.

The walk seemed to go quicker this time, as trips back always do. Plus, we were walking downhill and trying to get to the station before the rain.

The weather held out until we were two blocks away, when it started raining and we started walking quite fast. We made it without getting too wet, and we waited with a handful of other travellers on the other side of the tracks. We all huddled under the shelters to stay out of the rain.

So far on this trip, our luck had been remarkable. Except for a morning of drizzle when we left Dinan and being chased by black clouds as we returned from our bike ride to Chenonceau, we had seen nothing but blue sky and sun. There were many places where the rain could have ruined our trip -- at Monet's garden, or walking the streets of Rouen, or at the Normandy beaches, or in the alleys of Mont St. Michel. But we had seen nothing but sun.

So as we stood under the shelters waiting for an east-bound train to Paris watching the rain fall on the tracks, we considered ourselves lucky. By 11:20, we were on a train heading back to Paris, and we were dry even though the rain was coming down hard outside.

Trip to France - Day 12

8:01:42 PM   permalink: []   feedback: Click here to send an email to the editor of this weblog.   comments: []  

 Thursday, September 2, 2004


Dinner was at a Moroccan restaurant that night. We were standing by the doorway looking at the posted menu thinking that it might be a good place. When it started raining, we walked right in.

Just moments before, they had not been open (not yet 7pm, you know). But now they were, and now it was raining quite hard outside, and now we weren't in any mood to wander the streets in search of something else.

The food was good, and the helpings were extremely generous. In the end, Trudy and Ben took their desert crepes with us after we were done...

But that's not the story I wanted to tell. I wanted to talk about a conversation I had with the waitress.

After we were finished eating, I asked her where she was from. I wouldn't normally do that, but I overheard her saying something to a couple on the other side of the room that made me think that she was not from France. I wondered if it was Morocco.

Vous venez d'ou? I asked.

Maroc, she answered immediately. The tone of her voice echoed with pride. (Either that or she was shocked that I would ask such a question of a brown-skinned waitress in a Moroccan restaurant.) Then she asked the same question of me.

Des Etats Unis, I said, and I elaborated on my heritage.

I explained how my father is from India and my mother from the United States. She nodded. And when I pointed to my arm and began to talk about my color..., her face assumed a sort of more-power-to-you expression before I finished.

My color makes me ... how do you say in French ... ambiguous?

She had a puzzled look on her face. Evidently ambiguous has no cognate in French. She didn't understand what I was trying to say. So I looked for a different way to make my point.

On ne sait pas d'ou je viens [*], I said.

She smiled and shook her head in disagreement. She had guessed India she said, from the very beginning. It was actually very easy to tell where I am from.

So much for ambiguity.

[*] People can't tell where I'm from.   [back]

Trip to France - Day 11

11:02:29 PM   permalink: []   feedback: Click here to send an email to the editor of this weblog.   comments: []