Sunday, June 30, 2013

Serenity Sunday

Sunday mornings in the Village are so very peaceful. Most of the shops are closed, with the exception of the green grocers like Babette and Elisabeth, and the boulangeries. Almost no one on the streets.

This morning was bright and crisp, perfect for walking around a bit, just enjoying the solitude and a pace of life that takes a pause now and then.

Of course, reflection also requires something to eat - to help one contemplate the microcosm of life that is Argeles in the context of the mysteries of the universe. So my feet involuntarily led me to my favorite bakery, Boulangerie du Centre. Oui, I had already inspected their chocolate eclairs earlier in the week, but another audit can always serve to confirm the delicious results.

 

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Beaches

Did we take a wrong turn? Thought Waikiki Beach was in Hawaii!
I like to wander. Just walk around or drive around and explore someplace I've never been before. Doesn't have to be someplace exotic, just someplace new to me.

Love the song, "I was born under a wandering star," from the Lee Marvin movie, Paint Your Wagon. "When I get to heaven, better tie me to a tree ... cuz I'll just start a-wanderin, and you know right where I'll be ..."

D-L must've been born under that same star because she's a curious explorer too.

(By the way, this is a 'dueling blog.' D-L and I are blogging about the same experience without reading each other's first. You can read her version of events at: http://theexpatwriter.blogspot.fr/2013/06/getting-into-rhythm.html.)

This evening we hopped in Barbara's car, and ostensibly headed for the beach. But before we could even turn toward Argeles Plage, we decided to meander north. I'd heard about a 'certain' secluded beach that I'd tried to find before on my own, unsuccessfully. D-L had once been there. But that was more than two decades ago, so no she didn't know the way either.

We continued north, trying just about every turn that seemed like it might lead to the sea. No beach. Or at least not the one I was searching for.

Before long we had left Argeles-sur-mer altogether, and one road we turned down looped back under the so-called highway (two-way traffic). As we awaited a long line of cars, led by a tractor trailer, the truck almost plowed into us as he tried to turn into the little side road we were on. A kind car driver allowed us to cross the traffic and continue north again.

Soon we were running a gauntlet of hundreds of parked cars on either side of the road, people of all ages streaming to a wooded area with multiple tents. We later learned from a poster that it was a music fest. One lazy guy stuck his thumb out, hoping for a ride to the entrance.

Not finding the Plage Nord, we continued up to Saint Cyprien, and I showed Donna-Lane the golf course where I plan to practice and play ... when I get a chance ... and perhaps she'll join me from time to time. She had played golf growing up in Reading, Massachusetts, and again with colleagues when she worked at Digital Credit Union.

Finally, I wanted to show her some thatched huts I had noticed on a previous solo wandering. Fishing huts, she readily noted. She suggested we pull in for a closer look, and we ended up strolling down a gravel path, stones crunch-crunching together as we stepped. The path was bordered by a site naturel protégés and featured little signs describing the various plants in the marsh. At the end of the path was a large inland lake, edged by a warm sand beach and wind-blown scrub pines.

So I guess we found a beach after all, and it was to the north. It wasn't the beach we had set out to find in our mini-quest. But it's not really about the beach, is it? Life isn't about the view itself - it's about sharing the view.

The Nest

D-L refers to her studio in Argeles as 'The Nest.' It's on the top floor of a four-story condo-style house, accessible via a series of semi-winding staircases. Or a block-and-tackle hoist from the street through the front windows if you're a large piece of furniture.

It's small. Really small. 18 square metres. For my American golf friends, about a 15-foot putt in either direction.

Yet it has everything that a single person needs. Place to sleep (a 'click-clack' pull-out couch), place to eat (frigo, stovetop, small oven, dining table), place to work (computer desk, chair, internet connection, phone), built-in storage for clothing and books, bathroom (water heater in the little attic above with sufficient hot water for 1 and 1/2 persons), a wash machine and a clothes dryer (a rack hanging over the stairs), TV (yes, cable) ... even a fireplace and a skylight.

The Nest features a natural stone wall on the stairs side and an eclectic assortment of artwork which Donna-Lane has collected over the years, each with personal stories that carry great meaning and memories for her.

We're about to introduce a 2nd person into this one-person haven ... me.

The place I am renting for my office, a couple doors down the street, was pre-rented to summer vacationers for July and August, so I must vacate temporarily, moving back in September for good. Until then, my books, papers, golf clubs, etc. will get hoisted up to The Nest.

And we'll do our best to give each other our necessary space during the time we are both trying to navigate 18m2. 

We already know from previous experience that it's impossible for both of us to be on the phone at the same time. A few months ago, I was talking with my (former) boss on my mobile phone and D-L got a skype call for an interview for her financial newsletter. So I moved my call into the bathroom - the only place where I could close the door. (Did I tell you the bathroom was tiny too?) The boss complained about the poor reception on the call - he didn't know I was in France and not the States - so I told him it was because I was in a 'remote area.' Hey, he said I could work from home ... so I hopped on a plane and flew to my new home in Argeles. But I digress.

Fortunately, it's summer, and when we're in Argeles (which is only some of the time), we'll likely spend a good bit of time outdoors ... early morning walks to the beach, the marche on Wednesdays and Saturdays, social engagements and entertainment some evenings, exploration adventures to historic sites in the region. 

If necessary for work, I can go to La Noisette around the corner and hook into their WiFi.

There are some tremendous advantages to living simply. For one, you tend not not buy unnecessary things ... there's no place to put them. (For example, D-L owns exactly three paperclips - all decorative.) It's easy to clean. And it has a cozy feel without really seeming cramped.

The Nest has been Donna-Lane's some-time home and refuge for 25 years. Gonna do my best to modify my pack rat ways and not clutter it up too much. Stay tuned.


Friday, June 28, 2013

Bliss is a Book

D-L loves to read. Books, magazines, newspapers, anything with words. When she'd go to La Bartavelle or some other restaurant by herself, the hostess would ask, "A table for you and your book?" Oftentimes she'll have two books with her, just in case she finishes one and cannot bear the thought of not having another to start on. At the English library in Geneva, she'll take out the maximum six books at a time, and finish them within a few days at most.

We've been talking about posting the novels she's written on Kindle to expand her market - she's a terrific writer and deserves a larger audience. (You can check out her current novels at www.donnalanenelson.com; her eighth, Murder in Paris comes out July 10th.)

D-L also expressed an interest in using a Kindle to read on the train, on the plane ... and I just happened to have one. So we downloaded "The Empty Room" by Lauren B. Davies, who was part of the early Geneva Writers Group which D-L helped start 20 years ago. We set the type font to a comfortable reading size, figured out how to navigate the pages (you're never quite sure these days whether it's a mouse click, a button, a touch or a swipe ... and is the swipe side-to-side or top-to-bottom?). And she was off to her reading.

Every so often, she'd read me a sentence or a paragraph and comment what a good writer Ms. Davies is. When I grabbed my camera for a photo, D-L didn't stick out her tongue.

I brought her chocolate. I brought her tea. I brought her toast. I brought her a banana. She was clearly absorbed in the e-book. Savored the chocolate, which is typical. Barely touched the tea and toast. Ate half the banana.

No, she didn't finish the e-book in one session. Close, though. She announced she'd read 67% of it, and was just as pleased that she knew how much she'd read without having to count total chapters and do the math for the number of chapters yet to go.

When she went off to her Nest to work on the draft of her 10th novel, Murder in Ely, and her financial newsletter, I plugged in the Kindle to make sure it has full power when she returns. She's going to want to finish the book.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The United Nations of Vermeille

On our little street - Rue Vermeille - which is perhaps 100 metres long with about 40 houses (all stuck together, of course), there are at least 10 different nationalities represented:
* French
* British
* Danish
* Swiss
* Dutch
* Slovakian
* Catalan
* Spanish
* Portugese
* American

There's also a very good chance there's an Irish or two, Italian, German, and any of dozens of others - especially during the summer tourist season.

Of the permanent and semi-permanent residents (D-L and I are both), there are four journalists, along with multiple painters, musicians, and other creative types.

Has a bit of a feel of F Scott Fitzgerald, Zelda, Hemingway, and others of the 'Lost Generation' in Paris in the 1920s - except the people here are very down to earth, not full of themselves, and the conversations are not self-centered. (We do, however, solve the world's problems over an apéritif.)

It's almost impossible to walk the streets of the village, even a brief saunter, without bumping into at least one person we know and very often several. People look out for each other, do things for one another out of friendship and not grudging obligation, and support in times both good and challenging.

It has a very 'belonging' feeling.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Happiness is ...

... a warm towel when you step out of the shower.

Many bathrooms in Europe include towel-warming racks. I don't recall ever seeing one in the States.

Wonderful devices. You turn them on shortly before stepping into the shower, and when you emerge your towel and robe are just-right toasty.

The electric warmer has been especially nice these past few days when the allegedly summer weather in the south of France has been unseasonably cool.

PhonePhobia

Donna-Lane is not a fan of telephones. Any phone. Smart phone, dumb phone, landline, probably even public pay phones (yes, they still have them in Europe). Phones are mostly a source of frustration, representing calls out of the blue that interrupt her focus when working to meet a deadline, businesses requesting information that could have as easily been obtained with an email, and - the worst - telemarketers (she is polite, appreciating that they're just trying to earn a living in a crap job, but she does dispatch them quickly).

She is more than glad to talk or chat. Skype. Facebook. Email. Pretty much anything via the computer. And in person, she's a fantastic conversationalist.

But a telephone is a different inanimal object. I've even noticed that her voice changes in pitch when she answers a phone versus regular conversation. Much more reserved, more professional, more guarded. It's not that she doesn't like the caller - some of them are good friends - it's just that she doesn't care to use a handset of any kind.

It also has to do with not wanting to be connected every waking second of every day. She likes her solitude. Reading books. Taking walks. Cooking and enjoying a nice meal together at the table instead of the 'rude' meal in front of a TV. (And don't even think about answering a cell phone at the dinner table, the ultimate in rude.)

I've been seeing several articles this week about people wanting to get disconnected from the ubiquitous electronics that seem to dominate our lives. Suggestions on how to 'unplug' for an hour or two. One about a 'boot camp' with no phones or computers for a week. (I wonder if there's a 'Mobiholics Anonymous' group for people addicted to their online worlds?)

Not D-L. When she's connected, she's a dynamo. Writing and formatting newsletters. Building and maintaining databases. Firing off subscriber invoices. Crafting her next novel. Multiple blogs. FB and Twitter posts and comments. Hundreds of emails daily. But when it's time to power off, everything's off.

She expressed her phone-phobia in a blog this week. http://theexpatwriter.blogspot.fr/2013/06/i-have-new-smart-phone.html.

You'll note that we bought her a smart phone, a 4G model in fact. It's not yet activated. When we went to the bank, through which we purchased our phones, we were missing a document. So the customer service rep handed D-L her phone to retrieve the email containing the document. She didn't get past trying her password 2 or 3 times. Lack of familiarity with the touch screen, I figured. Or maybe, secretly, she didn't want to have the phone activated at all. (Just one more way for the NSA to track us, eh?)

I managed to activate my smart phone, but I'm still learning my way around it, and there's some frustration with that process. Network connections have seemed spotty, but that could be my 'operator error.' I hesitate to voice the problems I'm having, which may only serve to reinforce her phobia. But we have a transparency rule, nothing hidden from each other, nothing unexpressed. So at the risk of turning her off the smart phone completely, I mention my frustrations too.

I don't expect D-L to become a cell phone junkie. Ever. She'll probably keep it off most of the time, except when we're apart AND there's a reason one or the other might need to call (such as last week when my train from Paris was going to be late ... which, of course, gave her more time at the station to read - she almost always has a book with her.) When she covers the World Credit Union Conference next month, she may use the new phone to tweet during the day, keeping her newsletter readers up to date on the events and the issues. And she may use the new phone's great camera feature, which saves carrying a separate camera.

But don't expect her to use any apps. And don't expect her to answer if you try to call (the phone will probably be off.) And don't expect her to get your voice mail - because that requires using the phone both to retrieve and erase the VM.

About the only way Donna-Lane might use a smart phone regularly is if she could read a book on it. (I bet there's an app for that.) But with the phone part turned off.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Off-Off-Off Broadway, But Just As Entertaining

'Barbie,' Queen of the Gypsies
We went to back-to-back musical events this evening, both featuring local talent having a great deal of fun for our enjoyment.

The first was the "Tronches de Vies," an original revue-style production directed by Alain Martin (who has a tremendous voice) and his music students, mostly adults. The performance was actually part of their course and final exam, so to speak, and they all did a marvelous job.

"Little People" ... Les Miserables
The songs were mostly in French, so I didn't necessarily understand the words, though a couple of them were in English - such as our friend Barbara's "Memories" solo in which she transforms from a grocery cart-pushing vagrant into the Queen of the Gypsies, resplendent in a bright red dress, fishnet stockings, and a garter belt with a large heart.

I certainly also recognized "If I were a rich man ..." from Fiddler on the Roof, "I want to be in America ..." from West Side Story, and the "Little People" tune from Les Miserables, well familiar from watching my grandson play Gavroche last year in Texas.

Directeur Alain Martin, wooing one of the women
There were more than 20 musical numbers, some solos, a few duets with Alain as the suitor of a series of women, several choral numbers and choreographed dancing.

Among the more memorable - aside from Barbara throwing off her hooded shawl to reveal her dance hall saloon attire - were the robot girl from the confectionery shop, who had to be re-wound a couple of times before she could complete all her stanzas, and the "black widow" who sang a lament to all four of the husbands she had buried and then laid a bouquet of flowers on each of their gravestones.

Geant Jean
Later, after a leftovers soup-and-sandwich dinner, we wandered down to the Fête de la saint-Jean, which was originally a celebration of the summer solstice but for Catholics the past few hundred years honoring John the Baptist.

There were choirs with children dressed in the Catalan colors or red and yellow, adults in traditional native dress, and a couple of geant statues of Jean with robes and a crown.

We didn't stay for the bonfire. It was getting too cold. Hard to believe on the 2nd day of summer we were wearing jackets and sweaters.

A couple nights ago we went to another village to listen to a very good band from the region (there's a video on D-L's blog: http://theexpatwriter.blogspot.fr/2013/06/busy-busy-busy.html) and last night an Indian dinner and an English-language movie with a couple of American friends.

Such as life in Argeles-sur-mer in the summer: plenty to choose, eclectic variety, colorful and enthusiastic.

We're about socialized out for a few days, though. Time to get some work done this week before we get ready to head to Geneva in early July ... for the Montreaux Jazz Festival.

Back on the Grid

Hard to believe, and my uber-connected friends will probably be horrified to even consider the thought, but I have been without a working smart phone for the past 8 weeks. I'm a guy who has lived on a Blackberry almost since they were introduced and later an iPhone. But the temporary phone I bought in Dallas to use there for my last few weeks in Texas and, I thought, in Europe (as the BB / T-M sales guy had advised me) ... did not work over here. Since D-L and I were traveling around - France, Switzerland, Italy, Switzerland, The Netherlands, France - and she had a functional dumbphone, that was adequate to keep in touch with family/friends in an emergency. Business calls could be handled temporarily through her landline, Skype, and VOIPcheap online.

Part of me really liked the idea of being off the grid, being able to wander the streets at leisure to explore my new world without beeps, buzzes, chimes and chirps going off in my pocket periodically, being forced to read or write as the only options on a 10-hour train ride rather than checking and sending emails, Facebook posts and tweets. I appreciate more why my good friend Dave, a counselor who listens to people's problems all day long, was adamant about not wanting a cell phone - so he could disappear for a few minutes and have a cup of coffee without having his solitude interrupted.

This week, though, our new smartphones arrived, and D-L and I picked them up at the tobacco/souvenir shop (it's a small village - shipping options are limited). Overpackaged of course, in XL pizza-size cardboard boxes for a 3 by 6 inch wafer-thin phone, a power cord, USB adapter and earbuds.

We needed to get them activated at the bank, through which we made the purchase, so had an appointment with Chloe, a very efficient customer service rep who has shown great patience with my lack of French while Donna-Lane translates and explains to me. Pull out the papers we received in the pizza boxes. Where's the contract? Oh, it was an attachment in one of the several welcome emails we had received from Orange, the French telecom provider (which was one of our customers when I worked at the late, lamented Nortel). We hadn't realized we needed to print and bring the contract, but the resourceful Chloe pulled out her own smartphone, had us dial in our personal email accounts, locate the email with the contract attachment, then emailed a copy to her office computer so she could print it out. She activated my phone and the international dialing add-on since most of my work calls will be UK, US, Canada, and other non-France. Then she cross-sold me on a gold debit card which solved an issue I'd encountered in Paris plus has multiple insurance benefits such as rental car coverage (since I don't have a car here ... you don't have a car!!! I can hear my Dallas friends exclaiming).

But I have a smartphone again. Back on the grid. Untethered to a computer and finding a free WiFi connection. Have started loading up the apps - email, FB, Twitter, weather.com. Tried the camera - on my favorite subject, of course, D-L, who stuck her tongue out at me (no, you won't get to see that one; I erased it).

Got a Samsung phone - they pay taxes, which Apple dodges, so no iPhone or iPad for me. Also have a Samsung tablet, which is fantastic.

In a future blog, I'll describe D-L's attitude toward mobile phones. She really prefers being off, off, off the grid!

I have a feeling, now that I'm re-connected, I too am going to want to turn the power off from time to time. 

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Living in an Art Gallery

Courtesy of the property owner, we have the daily enjoyment of a place filled with wonderful oil paintings, watercolors, sketches, wood, stone and marble sculptures, decorative vases, and even a stone carved into the form of a fish and embedded into one of multiple natural rock and brick walls.

The gallery largely represents the work of local artists, either year-round residents, including the owner herself (who is Danish), or frequent holiday visitors from various parts of Europe. Some of it is traditional, some of it abstract, all of it interesting and thought-provoking.

She said we could change anything we wanted, but why would we want to? It's all beautiful.

We might put up a couple of personal-type pieces, but it would be difficult to decide which of the current displays to replace. Perhaps we'll come up with some sort of rotation system so we make sure we use all of them throughout the year, mixed with a couple of new favorites. In fact, we may pick up some pieces from other local artists over time - there are so many talented people around here. After all, this is where Picasso, Matisse and other legendary painters worked a century ago because of the bright light and natural colors along the sea.


My words are not necessary to further describe the pleasant atmosphere these pieces create. I'm simply going to post more images and let you enjoy them yourself.

Additional images are posted on my Facebook page: rick.adams.39589.




This furniture piece and sculpture are in the shared entrance foyer.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Metro, Metro, bus, bus, Metro, walk, train ... whew


Okay, so I figured out the Metro and bus system, and of course then it was time to leave Paris and go home.

Let me rephrase that.

I figured out the Metro and bus system going to and from Le Bourget for the airshow, and maybe for a couple other places such as the Champs Elysee because I had two events near there.

What I apparently had not figured out was how to get to the train station that would start me on the overnight journey to Argeles-sur-mer.

Had plenty of time, or so I thought. From the airshow I went back to M’s to finish packing. Even skyped with D-L, took a shower, had a piece of leftover cold pepperoni pizza.

I had come to Paris with two bags – a duffel and a backpack. I was going home with four, and I’m not sure how that happened. The only thing I bought was a “been there, done that, got the t-shirt” at the airshow. 50th Paris Airshow, by the way … I love milestone events. I had diligently tried to avoid keeping the huge show-daily magazines, tearing out selected pages I wanted to read later (including a couple articles I wrote). Yet I now had a tote bag from the EASA-FAA safety conference, which serves as my over-the-shoulder “man bag” for my two computers (my first mistake right there, but I needed the high-end computer for video editing projects at night and the tablet for connecting to the web during the day), and I was using the P&W-sponsored airshow cloth bag for my dirty laundry. Guess I’ll find out when I unpack what extra stuff I accumulated.

Part of the extra weight has to be moisture. The past two days have been a monsoon followed by a sauna, exacerbated by armpit-to-armpit rush hour public transportation. The shower had only a short-term effect. By the time I walked to the bus station with my four pieces of baggage, I was soaked in sweat again. The temp was about 30C.

The plan was to leave M’s house plenty early, arrive with at least 90 minutes to spare for my 21h57 train. But somehow I was 30 minutes later than intended getting out of the apartment, and when I got to the 144 bus stop around the corner I had missed the 19h50 bus, and the next one wasn’t scheduled for at least 25-30 minutes. Didn’t have that much time to spare, so I hoofed it to the next possible bus stop in the centre of Puteaux. At that point I was starting to realize how heavy the duffel was, how the long strap wouldn’t stay shortened up as I preferred, and how tired I already was from six days of mostly walking. Looked around for a taxi but there were only a couple and they were occupied. Did not want to have to walk up the steep hill to La Defence, where I would catch the Metro.

Thank you, thank you. The 141 bus came through centre-ville a couple minutes after I walked up to the bus shelter. Got to ride up the hill.

I was headed for Gare Austerlitz but the only ways to get there by Metro seemed rather convoluted. I noticed Gare Lyon was right across the river, so how long a walk could it be across the bridge?

Had a little trouble getting all those bags through the turnstile barrier but managed with brute force. (The next time through the turnstile, I set the duffel on the floor in front of me and pushed it through with my foot. Worked better than carrying everything.)

Took the express Red A train to Gare Lyon, came up to street level, and walked toward Pont Charles de Gaulle. The bags were getting really heavy – two-strap backpack over both shoulders, “man bag” with computers over my neck, duffel strapped over one shoulder or the other, and laundry bag carried by hand on the opposite side. Thought about hailing a taxi, but figured they’d be annoyed at such a low fare to simply cross the bridge. Even if it was a long bridge.

Found the bridge, but the place I crossed the street was a bit of a no-man’s land. I could see a pathway on the other side of the road, but no crosswalk, and I would have to dart across three lanes of traffic. Okay, wait for a break in the traffic. Except there was no break. They just kept coming. Doubled-back, crossed the street, and worked my way up the other side to a crosswalk maybe 100 yards to the east. Up the slope to the bridge. Bags getting heavier. I stopped to rest from time to time, hoping I wouldn’t have a heart attack and fall into the river. (“Américaine en Seine,” would be the droll French newspaper headline.)

By the way, every once in awhile, it seemed like my pants were falling down. I’ve lost a lot of weight, the new belt I bought needs at least one more notch, the pants were getting heavier from humidity, and I was wearing silk boxers. Tried tucking my shirt in, and it helped a little. (In fact, I lost 4 kilos for the week, about 9 pounds, and have now lost 37 pounds since last summer.)

Most of the way across the bridge, a sharp piece of the duffel buckle gouged into the inside base of my thumb. Deep cut. This would be a bleeder, and I’d used my only bandage a couple days ago to preclude getting a blister on my big toe. I’d just have to lick or wipe the blood off from time to time.

Of course, Gare Austerlitz is still under construction. So I couldn’t walk directly into the station. At least it was downhill around the fence, then back up the other side of the fence to the entrance.

I was parched. I had been at least since no-man’s land. So bought a bottle of Evian and a bottle of Zero for the 9 and ½-hour train ride, then found a seat near the train platforms where I could see the signboard on which the track number would be posted for 3171 Limoges-Perpignan-Port Bou.

About 45 minutes before departure, they posted Track 20, which fortunately was not far away. Showed my ticket, which I had already validated at the composteur (yellow time-stamp machine), and looked for my car – 28. Yes, it was right at the end … the far end. This was to be a double train – one set of cars splitting off partway, at Limoges, I think, and the other set continuing down to Port Bou near th Spanish border after stopping briefly for me in Argeles.

Hadn’t decided if I would try to sleep on the journey, read, use both computers til the battery died on each. My only concern was being asleep when we stopped at Argeles, and I’d end up in Port Bou. It’s not that far, and there’s probably a bus back to Argeles. But I really, really didn’t want to drag that luggage around anymore than necessary.

Next time, rolling suitcase or briefcase. Anything with wheels. Even my big orange rolling duffel into which everything would fit and then some. The handle on my small rolling carry-on broke a month ago, and I was going to wait until routing through Dallas to pick up my spare.

The best thing was I didn’t have to change trains, not even once.

My thumb stopped bleeding, pretty much, and that cold Coke Zero had a refreshing kick.

Let me rephrase a previous sentence. The best thing about this trip was that Donna-Lane was waiting for me at the end of it!  

Tous à bord

Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Puteaux Airshow

Walking down the stairs from M's apartment yesterday, I glanced out the stairwell window into the inner courtyard. The ground was littered with paper ... but this was not trash. There were several paper airplanes, apparently sailed from a balcony on an upper floor of the 5-story building.

Seems the Paris Airshow spirit is captivating a lot of people this week. Even young people, who may become the next generation of pilots.

This morning I noticed the planes that had safely made it to the ground were all gone. But there were still some on upper balconies that never quite made it to the designated landing area.

I spent this evening with about 100 aviation journalists and corporate comms folks for the Aerospace Media Awards dinner. I especially loved the awards for the best young journalist and lifetime achievement - two people on the opposite ends of their careers, but sharing a passion for telling the fascinating story of flight and the people that make it possible. My friend Thierry Dubois, who lives in Lyon and writes for AIN, won in the category of safety and training. Kudos.

The evening was capped by a stirring speech by Richard de Crespigny, the Qantas captain who led the safe landing of flight QF32 after catastrophic failures to their A380's engines and wiring systems.  You can order his book through the website: http://qf32.aero/. I was fortunate to receive an autographed copy.

 

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Coincidentally

What are the odds? Two days ago, I randomly sat down next to a guy at lunch at the aviation safety conference - in the southeast sector of Paris. Never saw him before in my life, never expected to see him again. Had a pleasant conversation with him and his colleagues.

Paris is about 500,000 square kilometres in size, and there are about 12 million people in the metropolitan area. Not counting the business visitors and tourists.

Today, I was in the Marriott on the Champs Elysee, which is more in the centre west part of Paris, a good 15-20 km from where we were Thursday. I was seated in the lobby, skyping with Donna-Lane for a few minutes and getting ready to write a magazine article.

"Hi. Aren't you the guy who lives in the south of France?"

It was random table-mate from Thursday. As I had semi-randomly ended up in the Marriott to use the free WiFi, he had semi-randomly wandered in to check their room rates.

After he'd left and after I'd written and sent the article off to the editor, along with a video interview I'd produced earlier, I packed up and drifted over to the concierge. (Before random guy had shown up, I had been curious about the hotel's rates.)

"How much is your rack rate for a single?"

"Right now, it's 999 Euros, sir."

Oh, good. I was afraid it might be expensive, like 1000 Euros a night or something.

After the media dinner - and several very pleasant conversations - I wandered the streets with a distinguished journalist I'd met for the first time Thursday (a few minutes before meeting random guy), then caught the Yellow M-1 Metro train at the Franklin D. Roosevelt station. And this time, I found the 144 bus stop at La Defence, which got me most of the way home.

It was nearly midnight when I punched in the code to open the outside door to the apartment building. Then, as I was fishing in my backpack for the apartment key and the electronic fob to open the inner door - not easy in the mostly darkness - in walks M. She was just getting home also. No need for the fob now.

Coincidence? Convergence? Should I buy a lottery ticket? (Actually, life is pretty good. Don't really need all that money ... nor all the new 'friends' and long-lost relatives who would come out of the woodwork. Probably just give most of it to charity.)

Friday, June 14, 2013

Stopped in Stalingrad today

No ordinary dummy
But only long enough to change trains. Also went through Rome. Yesterday I passed Luxembourg. All stops on the Paris Metro.

No issues today. Six trains, on and off and through the stations without a hitch. Well, if you don't count standing in line because I forgot to bring the map I had marked up, so needed another.

Also took the 144 bus to La Defence this morning, thanks to D-L's directions, but it was too nice when I got back so walked the 2-3 miles. By Wednesday morning, my legs are either going to be in great shape or they're going to fall off.

(And, yes, I did finally get the chocolate eclair I wanted yesterday.)

Spent the afternoon at the European medical simulation conference. Some very smart and enthusiastic people applying simulation technology to improve patient safety and reduce costs. Halldale Media publishes MedSim magazine, for which I will do some writing.

Back in the 90s, I was involved in one of the pioneering healthcare simulation projects, working with Dr. David Gaba at Stanford University, as well as folks at Harvard Medical, Free University of Brussels, etc. in one of the 1st mannikin-based operating room simulators. (You can read the case study of SAM here: http://rickadamscommunications.com/rick-adams-communications-case-study-SAM-the-dummy.html.)

Healthcare faces many of the same issues as aviation. Experienced pilots and surgeons retiring in the coming years. Demand for more people to handle more complex aircraft and operations. Cost pressures. Where are we going to get all the new doctors, nurses, etc.? One of the best training answers is simulation-based training, which enables highly realistic practice on artificial 'patients.'

It's gratifying to write about people who make a difference in enhancing safety, saving lives, improving the quality of life. I may not be doing those wonderful things, but I like helping to spread the word.
 

Riding the Metropolitan

Photos of the day on my Facebook: rick.adams.39589
Taxis are expensive in Paris, and street traffic is a huge hassle, so while I'm here this week I'll go underground ... on the Metropolitan.

I am staying on the west side of the city in Puteaux with Donna-Lane's friend M, who is a psychologist. Basically crashing on the couch since I will be leaving early mornings and back late at night each day.

My first event, the EASA-FAA aviation safety conference, was in the southeast part of the city, and it would be a bit of a walk to the nearest Metro station at La Defence. I left plenty early, figuring I'd find the Marriott Rive Gauche where the conference was being held, then have maybe an hour for a leisurely breakfast at some little cafe nearby.

The trip I expect to take 45 minutes took an hour and 45.

No problem finding the La Defence station. Had been there before when D-L and I were here in February. Purchased a 5-day all-zones pass. Got a map of the Metro; I have a good basic sense of direction, and I'm generally especially okay if I have a map available. First leg - the Yellow M-1 line. The Metro lines are sometimes lettered, sometimes numbered, sometimes both, and sometimes colored. The map looks like multi-colored spaghetti. Looked around the station for the signs.

Okay, found the sign for the Yellow M-1. Then found another sign - pointing in the opposite direction. (Did not realize the La Defence Metro station straddles two stops.) Okay, executive decision, pick one. Found my train. No problem.

Needed to change at Chatelet to the Brown 11 line (no letter). Or thought so. When I got off the Yellow M-1, I thought I saw a sign for the 11 and headed for the sortie (exit). No, don't want to go out to the street. Backtrack through pretty much the entire station - and since Chatelet is a convergence for several Metro lines, it wasn't always easy to navigate. Down stairs. Up stairs. Flat moving sidewalks. Inclined moving sidewalks, including one that wasn't working, which was rather awkward to walk on. Escalators. Through a turnstile that required my pass. After several minutes, found the Brown 11 line - except that the line's terminus was not a stop I recognized. (The lines are marked by the last stop, so it's not enough to know just your interim destination.) Get out the map, look more closely, use the old man reading glasses this time. Try not to look like a tourist. Aha! I didn't want the Brown 11; I wanted the Blue B, which ran parallel (at least on the map) to the Brown. Now, find the Blue M signs, which took me back through much of the station. So I wasted at least 15-20 minutes there simply by not having examined the map well enough. Will try not to make that mistake again, but no promises.

Got off at Denfert-Rochereau, from where I originally planned to switch to the Green 6 for the final leg. But it looked like I was already reasonably close to the Marriott, and this was an above-ground station so I could see the weather was decent. Chose to walk the rest of the way. Still had a good 20 minutes or so to spare, maybe time to grab a chocolate eclair and eat it before I arrived at registration.

Couldn't locate Rue Jean Jacques, the street for the Marriott. Crossed the street from the station exit and walked a block. Not there. Went down the stairs, through one of the tunnels which are the pedestrian "crosswalks" for many of the busier streets in Paris, and up the other side. Now I was at Avenue General LeClerc (wonder if my Montreal friend Robert LeClerc is related to him?) There was a poster with a street map of the immediate area, so checked that out. I had gone in the wrong direction when I exited the station, opposite from what I needed. So back across the street, back to the station. Turned down the side street. Noticed a sign - Rene Coty - wrong side street. Finally went to the other side of the station, found Jean Jacques, and walked (briskly now) down through a lovely tree-lined canopy to the Marriott.

Arrived at the registration desk just as the morning sessions were about to start. I am, if nothing else, a just-in-time guy. Never late, rarely early (except when going to the airport with D-L.)

Looked around to see if there were any pastries for the conference delegates. Yes, there were tables with set ups ... but no food, not even coffee or hot water for tea. They were just starting to arrange the mid-morning break to follow.

Conference was very interesting. Some good contacts made. Worth the trip.

Getting back to M's would be easy now, right? I was a Metro veteran.

It was nearly 7pm before I left the Marriott (talking, then catching up emails via the free WiFi in the lobby until the battery on my tablet died).

Got on the Blue B toward Chatelet, but noticed the stop before was Notre Dame-Saint Michel. I remembered that D-L had shown me the area she used as the plot setting for her novel, Murder in Paris, which comes out July 10th. I thought I could find the area - once I've been somewhere, I can usually navigate pretty well. I came out of the station, walked toward Notre Dame, took a few photos, then crossed the street past a cafe I thought I recognized. But when I turned the corner, I knew it wasn't the place. So back to Notre Dame, past the front of the building, a few more photos, past the souvenir shops and little restaurants (even had the willpower to pass the Haagen-Das ice cream vendor). Came to a parallel river. Definitely not in the right place. Worked my way back to Notre Dame and the Metro exit where I had surfaced to the street. Checked a posted map, looking for a Hugo reference, because I thought D-L had mentioned a Hugo street when we were there. Nada.

So I drifted up along the Seine, glancing in more souvenir shops to see if there was an English street map of Paris I could purchase. Came to the Pont Saint-Michel, and voila, I recognized the V-shaped intersection, the cathedral, the sidewalk cafes, then the cobblestone lanes filled with shops and eateries. Now I had my bearings.

I walked the few blocks to where Donna-Lane had showed me the little park which was the setting for the three murders in the book, one in the 1300s and two more recently. I circled the park taking photos of everything from every angle. It's one thing to be in a special city such as Paris; it's another level to be in a place that reminds you of a special person. If she couldn't be here with me this week, this was the next best thing.

Decided to eat at the restaurant right at the corner by the bridge, which was next to one of the Metro entrances, so plenty of opportunity to people-watch as I enjoyed my spaghetti bolognaise and Zero.

My belly full, I hopped back on the Blue M, changed at Chatelet to the Yellow M-1, and back to La Defence.

It was finally getting dark, around 10, and I had exited at the first La Defence stop (Esplanade), so a pleasant stroll toward the Grande Arche (photo below). It was still a hike to M's, and I could have taken the 144 bus (if I knew where to get the 144 bus), but I figured I knew the walking directions ... through the shopping mall, then down the hill. 

While I was at the conference during the day, they apparently rearranged the buildings around the plaza of the Grande Arche de la Defence. I circumnavigated the Arche, and now nothing looked like what I had seen in February ... nor that morning.

(I can now stop chortling about D-L, L and B getting lost for hours in Barcelona earlier this week - http://theexpatwriter.blogspot.fr/2013/06/barcelona-never-again.html).

I postponed the panic with a McDonald's McFlurry, then entered the mall, thinking I would recognize the route D-L and I had taken a couple of times. I walked the entire length. Except when I got to the door where we had previously exited the mall, it was closed by a solid metal barrier. Perhaps construction on the other side (maybe they were moving more buildings around to confuse me the next day). Back through the entire mall, ask a security guard for directions to Puteaux, then down the length of the outside of the mall. Oh, now I see the odd sculpture that I noticed this morning.

I found my way, I thought, through the office buildings, looking for the elevator down to the street level. Noticed some Puteaux signs - this is good. Construction area. Didn't recognize. Not good. Group of teens in a dark area. Detour around them just in case. Another "Puteaux - centre" sign. Good. Down several flights of stairs. Not familiar. Almost to ground level. Oh, there's the pedestrian bridge crossing the road by the elevator I had used in the morning. Home free. Only a mile or so down more stairs, down Republique, past the triangular park and the pizza delivery store, then a couple blocks to the final turn. Only about 1130 pm when I squeezed myself and my backpack into the one-person elevator in M's building. Just in time to collapse on the couch.

Today, a different conference in a different part of the city. Two or three different Metro lines. You might want to start a "pool" on what time you think I'll get there ... and back.


La Grande Arche de la Defence

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Meandered Down to the Med

For awhile this morning, I had my own private expanse of Mediterranean beach.

Not another soul within at least 500 metres. Just me, the ankle-deep sand sloping down to the sea, gentle waves cresting no more than a foot high, their crescendo rapidly rising like the audience appreciation at the conclusion of a symphony, then the peak and the applause-like sound quickly breaking into a burble of white foam lapping at the temporary footprints I'd embedded in the thin wet strip left by high tide.

Peaceful. So peaceful.

Reminded me of the time I was on the USS Ranger aircraft carrier in the middle of the Pacific. The night before, the ship had been a chaotic choreography of planes, signal officers, refuelers and myriad other Navy personnel, all focused on qualifying newbie pilots to land and catapult off the floating airstrip. We even had a "fire on the deck ... man overboard" scare that turned out to be a false alarm (but which required rousting all 5,500 personnel out of bed to literally count noses). In the breaking dawn, I had wandered out to the 1000-foot deck and, as this morning on the Med, there wasn't another human within sight nor earshot. As the carrier bobbed and the ocean melded into the horizon in every direction, I felt an incredible calm. It was the most peaceful I think I'd ever been - until today.

I had not planned to go down to the beach. It started as a walk to take some of D-L's no longer wanted clothes to the local Goodwill-type depository. She, Lydia and Barbara had driven off to Barcelona to renew Barbara's passport and have a little picnic in the park. The air was dry, for a change, and it was mostly blue over the Pyrenees, suggesting at least an hour or two of pleasant skies, and I realised that I'd been in Argeles-sur-mer for perhaps 20 days since arriving in Europe and not yet made it to the "mer" part. So off to the plage I went.

ASM has, I'm told, the largest family-friendly beach on the French Med. The tan sand is fairly fine, not rocky like what they try to pass off as a beach in Britain and other places. Yes, there are a few stones, most not much larger than a grain of rice or a pea. And there's surprisingly little liter and debris. As I walked around, I noticed only a bow broken off someone's bright orange sunglasses, a child's plastic toy motorcycle, an occasional cigarette butt, and a condom wrapper. (Remember the beach love scene of Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr in "From Here to Eternity"? Burt later complained about getting sand in places he'd rather not have sand.) Way up to the north, I noticed a tractor pushing the dunes around, which explained the broad smooth strips and tire tracks I'd crossed on my way down to the water. There were also some three-toed gull tracks; must have been too tired to fly.

For the past four years, and perhaps before, the ASM beach has been rated bonne qualitie blue, meaning it is one of the best water quality beaches in Europe.

At the beginning of the lone non-sand walkway down to the water, there's a sign pictorially showing how long it takes for certain man-made objects to decompose. For a magazine, 6 semaines (weeks). A soda can, 200 ans (years). Plastique, 400-450 ans. A nylon fish net, 6 centuries!

Other signs declare no dogs, no fires, no kite flying, no wind surfing, and no frisbees. In other words, you can relax, soak up some rays, build a sand castle or sculpture, and not worry about getting run over by rambunctious teenagers nor step in a warm turd overlooked by an inconsiderate chien owner. For those inclined to be athletic, there is a beach volleyball net. And there's always biking, jogging, or power-walking along the brick-paver promenade and a broad park of palms, grass and other greenery that separates the beach from the restaurants and merchants.

On the side of the lifeguard building, there's a legend explaining the various signal flags that might be raised. Red = bathing forbidden. Yellow = swimming allowed, but dangerous and not supervised. Green = the universal good to go. They also hand-write the weather; yesterday the water temperature was 17C and the air temp 21C. At the bottom, a lifeguard had drawn a smiling sun wearing squarish glasses.  

Yes, the water is salty, but only slightly.

I had started the day wearing a jacket, but halfway to the plage I no longer needed it. It came in handy as an impromptu beach blanket. To my left, nord, there was beach as far as I could see. To my right, sud, more beach, then in the distance Argeles Port with its protected rock-wall harbor, small yachts and the masts of large sailboats. Beyond that the more touristy town of Collioure, the mountains with their slopes covered in vineyards and olive orchards, and Fort Saint Elme guarding the peninsula. At sea, four ships, barely perceptible shapes on the horizon, three fishing trawlers and one that appeared to be a tanker, inexorably plowing its way southwest toward Spain.

The sun was fighting with and winning against the clouds, and its reflection on the water looked like hundreds of sparkling diamonds, shaped in a V with the point in front of me just off shore and the width disappearing into infinity. The clouds were several shades of grey and white, but were drifting off toward Corsica or Sardinia.

Well to my south, three figures appeared at the shore, a man monitoring two kids frolicking in the water. But they were at least three football fields away. I still had my privacy. But then an elderly couple showed up around 09h15; he plunked himself down perhaps 25 metres from me, and she had the audacity to interrupt my reverie by strolling up and down the edge of the water right in the middle of my view. Before long, a group of English-speaking teens chattered their way down the path by the guard station. My solitude ended, it was time for me to depart.

A helicopter whup-whupped parallel with the shoreline, about 100 metres overhead, which reminded me I have an article to write for a rotary magazine.

I thought I'd catch the "trainbus" back to the village, but it departs the beach stop on the hour and it was about halfway between the previous one and the next, so I set off on foot again.

The main road to the plage is dotted with restaurants (Italian, Thai, Vietnamese, a British pub advertising Sky Sports television), campgrounds, boutique hotels, souvenir shops, a foliage-encased mini-golf, velo (bicycle) rental, apartments, homes, recycle containers overflowing with weekend wine bottles, gardens, sidewalk grocers setting out the day's fresh legumes, one stand dedicated to cherries, a petrol station, and Fabien Tattoo - which advertises with about a hundred photos of satisfied customer's bodies depicting hearts or flowers, horses, scorpions, a cartoon cat, or a lover's name.

I passed a poster promoting a concert by legendary French singer Johnny Hallyday - with only one large word ... JOHNNY ... and everyone around here will instantly recognize him. Another poster of dolphins and whales highlights a photography exhibit. On the walk back, I passed a woman pulling a wire grocery cart; she looks a lot like Judi Dench, the British actress who played M in some of the Bond films. (Yesterday, I met Tony, husband of Carol, friends of Donna-Lane's from the UK; he looks like a short-white-hair version of Richard Branson.) A group of cyclists raced by, dressed like riders in the Tour de France, but they were older like me, and looked more like the Tour de Paunch ... at least they were out exercising and clearly enjoyed the camaraderie. There were several times on the walk down and back that I was thinking of getting a bicycle ... soon.

Before I could start writing my helo article, though, I was scheduled to do an inspection - in my unofficial, self-declared role as the village's chocolate eclair reviewer. Alas, the new boulangerie which I wanted to patronise was not open today. I'd have to make do with a different baker and a religieuse chocolat ... kind of a small cream puff mounted on a larger chocolate-filled cream puff.

Guess I'll have to reschedule my eclair inspection a demain.

 To the French, presentation of food seems almost
as important as the food itself. Pastries like the 
religieuse chocolate are carefully wrapped
in their own box to convey them home.