Sunday, August 19, 2018

Give Me a Choice

"Pepsi Max?" "No, merci."

The American corporate monopoly disease has penetrated even small restaurants in Europe. It's outrageous.

We were in a small, Moroccan-themed restaurant in Perpignan, and I ordered a Coke Zero. The waitress suggested Pepsi Max. They carried only Pepsi products.

To me, Pepsi Max tastes like brown sugar water. There's no zing to it.

What's more irritating is the lack of consumer choice. The restaurant has opted to make a deal with Pepsi to carry their products exclusively, and in return they get a discount, ie extra profit.

I get water.

I first encountered this approach in Dallas, where Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones made a deal to carry only Pepsi products in his football stadium. That's his choice. It's my choice not to attend any games and give any money to JJ - especially the exorbitant ticket prices, which he needs to pay the numerous felons he recruited for the team. (JJ also made a deal with Papa John's pizza, whose owner recently made racist remarks and severely undercut his business.)

I am offended, too, that Terminal D, the international terminal for Dallas-Fort Worth Airport, only carries Pepsi products. Dammit, I want to take a Coke Zero on a long flight across the ocean, not be stuck with watered-down fizz.

If you have a business that serves the public, then give the public a choice. Don't just serve your own greed.

Sometimes I Shop Like a Woman

This is a dueling blog with D-L:

Well, not like some women. Not helter-skelter, checking out everything in the mall in search of another so-called sale.

But compared do Donna-Lane, we definitely reverse roles when it comes to shopping. She tends to get in, get what she wants, and get out, and hopefully no one gets in her way to the checkout.

I do that sometimes when I know just what I want and where to get it - printer ink, for example.

But when it comes to clothes, sports equipment, furniture, books, I love to browse, check out all the possibilities before making a decision. Or no decision.

Recently, we decided to buy a new car. Or rather a new used car. Something with air conditioning and four doors. We thought about looking in Switzerland, but ran out of time before heading down to Argeles sur Mer. D-L had contacted the dealer in France who sold us our current car, a 1999 Peugot 206 which has held up surprisingly well which now has 255,000 km on it. But no aircon, requiring that in the summer heat we make the drive between Geneva and ASM in the middle of the night so as not to overheat Sherlock (and us).

The dealer had something he thought we might like, so we went out to his place to check it out. Aircon, yes. Four doors, yes. But a boring gray, not a colour as we preferred. And above the price ceiling we had set. We drove it on the highway for a few minutes. "Let's take it," D-L said, surprising me.

My style of car shopping is to check out several cars, test drive them, research their reliability on the internet, haggle on price. Might take a few days, maybe a month before I decide to buy. Especially since I am unfamiliar with the European car models.

We pick up the gray Renault Modus next week. And then look for someone to paint a design on it so we can find it in a crowded parking lot.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Into Thin Air

In the past two weeks, I have played golf in the hottest temperature I have ever played in (110F in Texas) and at the highest altitude I have ever played at (2,500 metres, or more than 8,000 feet -- 1 1/2 miles up).

If I was ever going to have a heart attack, one of those would most likely have been the day (other than shoveling snow last winter in Geneva). 


I don't know what possessed someone to route a golf course at the top of a mountain in the French Alps … and down the sides. (Golf de Flaine - https://www.flaine.com/fr/ete/activites/golf-en-montagne/golf-en-montagne.htm

This is part of the road to Flaine
The 360-degree scenery was absolutely spectacular -- it's the first time I have ever used snow on distant mountains as an aiming point for a shot. But walking 18 holes, even relatively short holes, was an exercise in endurance. On some holes, I found myself stopping part way up the steep slope to hydrate and catch my breath. And it seemed as if every hole was uphill -- even the par 3s where the tee and green were about the same level required a hike down a hill then back up to the elevated green. My clubs often came in handy as walking sticks.

These were the "steps" up to the 7th tee box
The bottom of the course, the spectacular 187-metre 16th, is 1000 metres / 3000 feet below the summit.
My kilted partner nails a 6-iron on the green at the precipitous 16th.

The occasion was the annual playing of the Scottish Golf Cup, sponsored by InterNations, a group in Geneva which encourages people from different nationalities to get together for various social events. There were plenty of kilts and plaids.
$

As it happens, our group won the low gross. I think we were 2 or 3 under par. Earned each of us a can of haggis and assorted other goodies.

The highlight of the day was a bagpiper suddenly appearing at the top of the mountain, playing tunes to which some of the golfers sang the lyrics.

Memorable day.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

The "United" States Isn't Anymore

United, that is.

The people in the country have become so polarized it is no longer possible to have a civil conversation with someone who disagrees with you on any given issue. Rather than an honest give-and-take discussion, people are labeled - even on the basis of a single issue or single comment - as either Conservative or Liberal. If you are in one camp, there is a genuine hatred for anyone in the other camp. Flag-wavers vs flag-burners. Patriots vs Traitors. Hannity vs Maddow.

Each side spends most of their time in their own echo-chamber and rarely hear the views from the other side, other than the spin put on opposing views by the talking heads on the favorite TV channel within the comfort-zone bubble. Or they might invite a guest from "the other side," then constantly talk over them when they try to say anything.

What's especially appalling is that people of one persuasion have become genuinely afraid to let their views be known, at least by someone they don't know all that well. There could be repercussions in the workplace or in school. I heard of one student who had gotten along well with a professor for most of the semester, until the liberal professor learned the student held conservative views and the prof's attitude immediately soured toward the kid. I heard of a young girl who started choking another girl who had expressed admiration for Trump. We are seeing more examples of in-your-face behavior in restaurants and other public places, as well as personal violence for wearing a hat or t-shirt or a comment that triggers instant rage.

The level of vulgarity also continues to descend into the sewer. How can otherwise-intelligent people think that cursing someone out is going to persuade them to listen to your views?

And given the proliferation of guns in America and open-carry states, how long before that behavior turns into shootings - simply for exercising your 1st Amendment right?

The Americans are united in one area: widespread ignorance of what things are like in the rest of the world, based on misinformation promoted by the US media, left and right. For example, the impression Homelanders are given is that terrorists have overrun Europe - since 2012, one shooting attack, two bombings, four trucks driven into crowds in Western Europe. In that same timeframe in the US, two truck attacks, 4 bombings, 15 mass shootings (not counting the daily activity in Chicago and Baltimore), a bioterror attack, and a couple of machete lunatics.

There are dark forces at work. The uber-wealthy on both sides of the fence (the Koch brothers, Adelson, Soros …) own the politicians and own the media, and they are manipulating the messages that dominate the airwaves and social media to deliberately divide the American people. The bogeyman changes with the news cycle - one day Putin, another day immigrants, another day terrorists - but there's always a constant stoking of the Us vs Them flames. Most Americans are so busy just trying to cover their mortgage, car loan, credit card debt and other bills that there's little time to even consider, to any depth, the major issues and forces at work in the country and the world. So they accept the headlines and spin from a single "trusted" source and ignore or reject all other voices.

I left the US five years ago, and have only started to discover the rest of the fascinating world beyond Etats-Unis. But since I've been gone, the America I know has all but disappeared. It's not only sad, it's become truly frightening. With no real leadership in sight anywhere, it will only get worse.

Monday, July 9, 2018

We've been De-Matriculated and Kbis-ed into Oblivion

Trying to get a replacement for our stolen automobile registration in France has to be about the 3rd most frustrating experience of the past several years.

The new online "carte gris" system is totally bolloxed. (I'm trying to be polite here in mixed company. What I really want to do is scream obscenities en français at the top of my lungs.)

It's been since December … now into early July … that we have been without an official registration since ours was stolen when the driver's window was smashed by some a** or a**es who did likewise to more than a dozen cars in the village.

It so happens that was the week the French government decided to take a very functional process -- go to the local mairie, make your request, give them your tampon (company stamp), and off you happily go. They launched the online system with virtually no warning and no training, turned it over to 3rd-party vendors, and immediately there was a 100,000 backlog. Car dealers trying to sell new and used cars were especially livid. I can imagine their blood pressure now that the backlog is about 300,000.

The vendor we are dealing with allegedly lost our paperwork after the initial wait of 3-4 months. So we had to repeat the process.

They called yesterday, and said they need a different piece of documentation for the business, what's know as a Kbis. So we copied the Kbis from when the business was initiated in 2013, and drove in the 90-degree F heat (no AC in the car) to the vendor. Oh, no, they said, the document has to be current within the last two years.

Back home, ordering the updated Kbis via the web took only three tries. Seriously, the bank needs to provide an authorization code for a €4.62 transaction?

In other downbeat motoring news, on 1 July the French reduced the speed limit on secondary roads (without centre barriers) from 90 kph - about 55 mph - to 80 kph, or about 50 … and drivers are irate. Appears to be mostly an extra revenue grab, as France has installed thousands of highway speed cameras and even provides private contractors with speed guns to shoot their fellow motorists.

Maybe we'll take the train more … wait, are they on strike today?

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Who Rides a Bicycle Into a Lake?

Were they drunk? Was it a prank gone bad? (Sorry, dude, I didn't realize it was so deep.)(Or ... Désolé, mec, je ne me suis pas rendu compte que c'était si profond.)

The bicycle was perhaps the most interesting discovery from the bottom of Lac Leman, as 1,200 volunteers (including me) did a "Grand Nettoyage" cleanup effort. It takes place every two years at locations all around the huge lake.

As I was walking along the shoreline, which is  reinforced with huge stones, picking up the detritus of piggish,  inconsiderate people, I wondered - are the bad people of the world balanced out by the good people? Probably not. Tomorrow, cigarette butts, plastic bottles, and sandwich wrappers will likely be back.

There were 40 of us at the Colony Tour-Carrée spot, which is opposite what D-L and I have taken to calling the "ghost barge."
The early morning looked ominous. A thunder and lightning storm over the Jura appeared headed right for us. And a large body of water is not the best place to be when lightning bolts are crackling. But the storm shifted to the west, and we ended up with only a few sprinkles here and there.
The stars of the effort were the plongeurs, the scuba divers, who scoured the bottom of the lake, bringing up the bike, a pile of glass bottles and plastic, and assorted other metals. I was surprised how many of the divers were young women.
We were all given bright yellow-green safety vests so cars and cyclists wouldn't run us over, or perhaps so they'd see us better if we fell off the rocks into the water. And, if we wanted, a "grabber" tool - which went a long way to saving my back from constantly bending over.

I chose to work in Group 4 along the Quai de Cologny, from the rather unpretentious Yacht Club de Genève to Genève-Plage. I opted to search for poubelle on the lake-side of the retaining wall, where the rocks were slippery at times, but it was the best way to reach anything that had been tossed over the wall.
This is a photo of my bucket filled the first time. After they emptied the contents into a wheelbarrow, I nearly filled it a second time as well.

I picked up:
* Beer bottles and cans, as well as bottle tops
* A corkscrew / bottle opener
* Energy drink can
* Pieces of glass
* A rod which might anchor a boat to the rocks
* Food wrappers, yoghurt cups, plastic bottles
* Pieces of a balloon
* Ribbons
* A toilet-paper holder type wire
* The emblem from a Fiat 500 series hubcap
* A small pile of coins - a 2-euro, 1-euro, two 10-centime euros, a 10-centime Swiss franc, and a 5-centime franc (perhaps a frontalier with a hole in their pocket?)
* A chicken bone
* Cigarette cartons
* And perhaps 200-300 cigarette butts
I am amazed at the inability of people to toss something in a garbage can which is no more than two feet from a bench. The majority of butts I picked up - with the grabber - were lying around the permanent wastebaskets along the quai.

Once in awhile, I paused to enjoy the views: the cruise ships that carry tourists up and down the lake, skiers, paddlesurfers, cyclists, joggers, airplanes landing across the way, the Jet d'Eau ...
Communication was in Franglais. Did what I could in French, but often when folks hear my accent they switch to English.

By the way, there was less trash in and alongside the lake than I would have expected. And, as we have repeatedly observed, Lac Leman (aka Lake Geneva) is one of the cleanest lakes I have ever seen.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Hog Heaven

Fat and Happy
This is a dueling blog - see Donna-Lane's view at http://theexpatwriter.blogspot.fr/2018/05/pigs.html.

There were piggy banks. Thousands of them. Stuffed toy pigs (a pyramid of). Pig figurines. Pig art. Pig advertising. Pig porn (makin' bacon). Flying pigs. In all, about 48,000 piggy thingys.

We had our choice of museums in Stuttgart: natural history, modern art, Porsche or Mercedes-Benz, a Zeiss planetarium (where we stopped for directions). We choose the uber-kitschy Schweinemuseum (https://www.stuttgart-tourist.de/en/a-pig-museum).


You might call it the third in our offbeat museum slumming, after the sex museum in Prague and the prostitution museum in Amsterdam.

Cuddle piggies
The concept of all things pig was conceived 30 years ago by passionate collector Erika Wilhelmer, whose orange hair we spotted in an anteroom when we paid our 5,90 Euros entrance fee. As the collection grew, it found a home in - irony - an old slaughterhouse, and is now the world's largest pig museum (there are others in Linn, Missouri, population 1459 - but they do have a golf course nearby; another near Seoul, Korea, complete with live, hurdle-jumping oinksters, costs extra to see sausage-making; and a Bay of Pigs museum in Miami, but I don't think that's quite the same topic).

Yes, there's a restaurant at the museum, and yes, they serve all manner of pork. We had desserts.

World's Largest Piggy Bank?
Getting there was half the adventure. Googlemaps recommended we take the U-Bahn train from the Staatsgalerie station near our hotel to the Schlachthof station, then a short walk to the museum. The Staatsgalerie was supposed to be near the planetarium; however, they've ripped the former park area apart for a construction project. So we turned around at the planetarium, tried to detour around it, and were advised to just go back to the Hauptbahnhof main station.
Once-beautiful park is gone
Having established a pattern, we are now searching for more oddball museums to visit (preferably in Europe). Suggestions?
In the restaurant, be sure to look up