Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Return to Abnormal

Summer is officially over for us. Today we said A la Prochain to a couple of dear friends who were heading home to the States, and tomorrow we'll express A Bientot to another couple who are departing their second home in Argèles sur Mer. They are among about 120 unique individuals from 20 nationalities whom we have had the pleasure of their company over the past few months.

We'll stay on in ASM for a couple more weeks, then hop a high-speed train for a conference in Madrid, before heading home to Geneva for the better part of the winter.

For us, settling into what might be a "normal" routine is decidedly abnormal. It's rare that we've spent an entire month in one place.

There are too many interesting people to visit and places to see. Add in writing-related research, and we're frequently on the move.

Our travel has slowed down some the past year since Sherlock joined our household. For both D-L and I to go somewhere, we need to recruit Sherlock sitters to keep him out of serious trouble for the duration. Taking him with us is not an ideal option - the poor pup gets carsick almost every time.

Staying home more will not be less interesting. We bought an annual MuseePass and plan to visit many of the Swiss museums in the coming year. I will be taking some intensive French courses in order to reach the mandatory levels for applying for Swiss citizenship. And there are always new golf courses to discover.

We'll keep in touch with friends via Facebook and email, of course, and when we next see them in Switzerland, France, or elsewhere, we'll pick up right where we left off. For us, that's what's normal.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

A Thousand Years of History in One Morning

One of the Argèles angels in front of the church tower,
which has been used for storing tax money, holding prisoners,
as a bell tower and watchtower.
Some of our group climbed to the top.

This is a dueling blog: Donna-Lane's version can be found at
Angels, witches, pirates, kings, soldiers, merchants, refugees, the poor and the wealthy … Argèles sur Mer has had it all across the millenium the village has existed.

Today we took Jean-Marc's historical tour of ASM with several English-speaking friends from Denmark, Sweden, the UK, and US. Normally, J-M conducts the tour in French, and he expressed lack of confidence in his English, but he did a superb job.
It was two hours-plus of non-stop fascination with the place we call our second home, so some of the highlights:

> The founder of the Kingdom of Majorca (parts of what is now the south of France and the Balearic Islands), Jacques the Conqueror, split the land between two of his sons, Peter and James, who proceeded to fight each other for the next 72 years.
> A special design on top of some cheminees was designed to ward off witches. This is the only one left in Argèles. (If Catalan beliefs about witches interest you, here's a link -  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catalan_mythology_about_witches)

Jean-Marc in front of the oldest marked house in the village - completed in 1400.
It's just a few doors down the street from us (rue de la Liberte).
> In early ASM, the 13th century, they fortified the village with high stone walls, watchtowers, and  three gates. At one point they were attacked with catapults, so they built their own on top of the west-facing wall. In it's first attempt, the rock went straight up, then straight down, destroying the weapon, part of the wall, and several soldiers. (Sounds like they used the lowest bidder.)
Both our "Warrenpeace"flat and D-L's "Nest" are inside the old walled city.
> After fortifying the village, and thanks to a low-tax policy, Argèles sur Mer quintupled in size from about 300 inhabitants to 1500.

> Revenue derived from three primary sources: 1) a special iron from nearby Canigou mountain, 2) luxury textiles, and 3) wine. Today, there are still vineyards aplenty, but the most money comes from tourism - which did not begin until the end of the 19th century when some wealthy folks established our beautiful sand beach.

> The village church, Eglise Notre-Dame del Prat, a blend of Roman and Gothic styles, is filled with statues and paintings, many of them with their own curious histories, famous individuals, and restorations. The large flat stone inside the entrance door is a pre-restoration altar, placed over the grave, probably of a former priest.
> We learned about building techniques from the Middle Ages through the 19th century; how the original village was probably situated on a nearby mountain, both because the now-beach area was a swamp and to better defend marauding pirates; the monk who showed the French a relatively unknown path through the Pyrenees (enabling them to overpower the Aragon soldiers, who were focused on drinking and dice games); and the original name of the Massane Watchtower, which even most native Catalans no longer remember.

The tour just scratched the surface of this fascinating place, and re-kindled a sense of wonder in this village we love. More research is definitely called for.


Midway through the tour, Matthieu, co-proprietor of L'Hostalet, the best little hotel in this part of France (http://hostalet.fr/?lang=en), invited the group to their breakfast room at the conclusion of the history lesson. We were surprised to be joined by some other friends, who brought delicious pastries of figs, nuts, cheese and honey to go with our coffee.

What a perfect way to end the social season.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Using Social Security to Pay Off Student Loans

By early next year, if the creek don't rise and the US Congress does not mess with Social Security, I expect to have paid off loans for my daughter's university education. She started classes in 1994, so only about 25 years to retire the debt.

I am not the only one. Last year the Consumer Financial Protection Board reported that "people age 60 and older had amassed nearly $67 billion in student loan debt, with the average amount owed being $23,500 — nearly double the average a decade earlier. The bulk of the loans were used to pay for children’s or grandchildren’s education …"

I am, literally, using my monthly social security check to pay off the student loan. (Fortunately, I have other income to live on.)

I don't regret taking the loan. She received an excellent education which has been beneficial to her career.

What irritates me is the games the politicians play with student loans. For example, my interest rate, set by the federal government, according to my loan servicer Navient, is 6.625% -- at a time when the best bank savings rates don't even pay 2%. There have been proposals in Congress to halve the student loan rate, but they go nowhere.

And student loans are about the only debt that cannot be discharged in a bankruptcy. (Congress changed that in 1978.) Not that I would go that route. But there are plenty of people who could use such relief so they don't lose their homes.

I find it curious that in the online information about my loan, Navient never shows what I have paid to date nor the interest paid. They probably know how mad it would make borrowers. I had to ask for the information -- fortunately by email, not some phone call with an interminable hold. Turns out that on an original loan amount of $28,000, I've already paid $48,000 -- and I still have $9,000 to go. So when it's all done, I will have paid more in interest than the original loan.

In one respect, I was lucky. At the point in 1994 when my daughter received her acceptance letter from the university, I had just lost my job (company taken over by a corporate raider and broken into pieces). Because student aid was based in large part on "need," she was awarded multiple scholarships and grants the first year, reducing the amount I paid. Shortly after submitting the aid request, I got a new job (in fact, near where she was going to school).

I appreciate also that she took some summer classes, accelerate her schedule, and graduated a half-year early, saving me about $10,000. She also had her own loans.

In many countries in Europe, university education is free or very low cost. The quality is very high. There is a recognition that an educated, informed populace is good for the economy and especially when choosing leaders and strategic direction. In the US, university education has become a money machine for the schools and the lenders. It's time for a re-think.

https://www.mastersportal.com/articles/405/tuition-fees-at-universities-in-europe-in-2018-overview-and-comparison.html

https://www.mastersportal.com/articles/1042/tuition-free-universities-in-finland-norway-and-germany-in-2018.html

Thursday, September 13, 2018

End of the Summer Social Season (a Dueling Blog)

Read Donna-Lane Nelson's dueling blog at:
The beginning of September marks the end of the tourist season in Argèles sur Mer. In July and August, the beaches and streets are packed with, literally, a hundred thousand visitors.

Despite the teeming humanity and the heat, we like the crowds, in part because they spend money that enables the local merchants to remain in business year-round.

And moreso because a small part of those crowds includes friends we only get to see once or twice a year. Friends with vacation homes. Or who rent apartments for a week or a month. Or those passing through who stop to share a cold beverage.

We decided to list and count all the friends with whom we have socialized in recent months, and we're up to 102. Aperos, barbeques, breakfasts, lunches, dinners, coffee/tea with people-watching on the marché, dances, festivals,  a wedding, parades, fireworks, museums … there's been something interesting going on nearly every day, and wonderful people to share it with. The best, though, by far, is simply hanging out together under the mulberry tree at the café behind L'Hostalet, synching arrival and departure schedules, learning what adventures each other have been enjoying, and solving the world's problems over a pression or sangria.

Among those 100-odd people (and some of them are, but in an eclectic way), there are 20 different nationalities - alphabetically, American, Australian, British, Canadian, Catalan, Danish, Egyptian, French, German, Greek, Iraqi, Irish, Lebanese, New Zealander (Zealandian?), Norwegian, Romanian, Scottish, Swedish, Swiss, Syrian.

Their political and social views range from well left to rightish (and we still have quite civil conversations). Among our "philosophers" are PhDs, software engineers, artists, writers.  We have no idea, for the most part, whether they are wealthy or barely getting by. We do know, and empathize, as we are almost all in similar aging trajectory, of the various aches and pains and remedies.

What they all share is an authenticity. A genuineness of spirit. None of them is pretentious. Not one is out to impress the rest of the group-du-jour with the brand names on their clothes or what car (or motorcycle) they drive.

They come to ASM because they enjoy life, and they especially enjoy life in the village. And they enjoy what each of the others adds to their lives.

A la prochain.


As of 15 Sept, now 107 people

Monday, September 10, 2018

Who Wrote It? Another Mysterious "Op-Ed"

While Americans play Agatha Christie, attempting to ascertain which "senior White House official" authored the infamous Op-Ed in the New York Times, we have our own anonymous note mystery to sleuth.

A day after we had decorated our new bland-gray Renault with an array of blue butterfly stickers, we received a scrunched-up slip of paper in the driver's door. The note, reproduced above, is written in English - unusual in itself for a small Catalan French village - and read something like: "Now, that's a true frey(?) Danish Beaver(?) with blue buttaflies(?)"

As you can see, some of the words/letters are a bit difficult to discern. The a's, e's and r's seem to have two different styles. Not sure what a "Danish Beaver" would be, unless they are referring to the shape of the car, and the last word may be "sommerfugl," Danish for butterflies, or literally "summer birds."

Very few of our friends in the village even know about the butterfly stickers yet, and the most obvious couple quickly issued a public statement that, no, they did not write the anonymous note. 

Of course, we cannot assume the anonymous writer is a friend, or even an acquaintance, as they did not specifically address it to us by name.

It could have been someone who disliked the "political statement" expressed by our butterflies. Or an artist offended by the design we chose (the butterflies "flow" from the front of the car to the side, then up across the roof, and down the back on the other side - as if we were passing through a kaleidoscope of butterflies … as their groups are referred to, I discovered). 
We are turning the note over to a graphoanalysist, both to determine the accurate wording and to provide clues to the writer's character and likely heritage. We are also consulting an expert in pen manufacture and ink chromatography to narrow the list of suspected writing instruments. The paper is a cross-hatch notebook, the kind I even use myself, common in France, but we will be checking recent purchases. (The writer is obviously cheap, as they tore off only enough for the two-line message - we will be looking to match the tear-pattern as well.) No forensic stone will be left unturned.

The "Danish Beaver" could indicate a Scandinavian, as could "sommerfugl." 

Then again, it might be someone who is a butterfly aficionado, a person for example who has been to the papillon garden in nearby Elne - http://www.tropique-du-papillon.com/ (notice the subtle way I worked in that advertisement for a local attraction?).

The odd spelling of "buttaflies" might indicate someone from Boston - it's spelled the way they pronounce butter. Perhaps our Massachusetts friends who left town in a hurry this morning?

Unfortunately, the village has not yet installed the promised surveillance cameras, so there's no video of the culprit sticking the note on the car.

We have ruled out Mike Pence, who has an alibi for this past weekend, and Betsy Devos, as she does not spend money on school supplies.

So the search continues … both for the New York Times traitor and the coward who did not even have the courage to identify themselves on the Argèles sur Mer butterfly missive.

We demand that anyone who was in Argèles the past weekend issue a notarized, embossed statement if they did not write the note on the car. Those who do not issue such a statement will be subjected to a lie detector test at the next Saturday marché - in public at La Noisette (https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g196598-d5804339-Reviews-La_Noisette-Argeles_sur_Mer_Pyrenees_Orientales_Occitanie.html) so everyone can see when we unmask the culprit.

What kind of society do we live in when people are free to voice their opinion to others through any "publishing medium" they choose?



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

Friday, April 27, 2018

Not Every Day in Paradise is Perfect

Today was most frustrating throughout. Though we did accomplish a couple of things despite.

First, after a couple years of being on a waiting list for an apartment in a new complex in Switzerland, we received a notice of the unit sizes and prices. There are three that are quite small, though larger than D-L's Nest in Argéles sur Mer, and priced under 1,000 CHF, including parking. Donna-Lane emailed for an appointment on one of the two days they are interviewing, though it will require us to alter our travel plans. They asked her to call, and when she indicated we were two adults and a dog they said no, the units we desired are too small for the three of us. Alas, all the larger units are more than 2,000 CHF, much more than we care to pay.

Next, I was trying to research mobile phone providers. Our bank has a quirky system such that they send an SMS code when I try to make an online purchase. Except the code never gets to me because I have a Swiss phone and their system only takes +33 French country code phones. Therefore, I need a French phone.

Websites kept dropping out on me, or wouldn't come up, because our WiFi has been running incredibly slow since it was restored (after more than a week out of service). Couldn't find an email address or phone number to call for help online - only endless FAQs. Finally, I tweeted and facebooked to SFR Assistance, and amazingly got a response. Even more amazing, the tech tweaked our system twice, and the second time the speeds more than doubled to the approx 12 Mbps we're supposed to be getting. Alas, that's the limit, as there is no fiber optic service in the village yet.

As I was checking the options for SFR mobile phones, the international dialing page suddenly switched from one showing 30 Euros a month to one showing 45 Euros a month. Did they switch prices in the middle of my search? That's something the airlines tend to do.

So we decided to go to the SFR store in Perpignan and deal in person. Long story short, we got two new mobile phones, paid much more for the phones than what I'd expected, but at least we have French phones and will be able to connect with each other if the WiFi is down.

We also managed to get the type of flea/tick/mosquito collar recommended by our vet ... in the next town, as none of the local pharmacies seem to carry that brand. Sherlock is not thrilled. But at least he's safe, especially when he bounces through the long grass along the river.

Monday, April 16, 2018

#FlightFromHell, Part 1

Yes, I do my own stunts
I am not sure what possessed me to throw my suitcase over the rail, then jump after it - from a moving escalator. Maybe I've been reading too many spy and mystery thriller novels. (The phrase, "It seemed like a good idea at the time" comes to mind.)

I was desperately trying to catch a connecting flight at Orly Airport -  Paris' "other" airport - a place I've never been before (and never will again ... they no doubt have me on at least three different videocams). After exiting my arriving flight from Toulouse - which was more than an hour late - I had come to a stairs/escalator choice - going up. Too many people on the escalator, so I hoofed it up the stairs, huffing and puffing from carrying my bag, which was mostly electronics and papers, When I got into Hall 1, another stairs/escalator combination, this time going down. At this point I was not seeing any more "Flight Connections" signs, but I spotted one that read "Transfers." The escalator was relatively empty, so I figured I could both ride and walk down, getting there faster.

To my horror, the escalator was going down 2 levels! I only wanted to go down 1 level to the main concourse area. Realizing the escalator was the wrong choice and would take way too much time to go all the way down then find a way back up, I looked for escape. I had ridden down too far to try to walk back up - against the flow of people coming down the escalator.

That's when I noticed I was nearing the bottom of the adjacent stairs, the concourse level I wanted. Hasty decision time. Hoisted the suitcase over the rail, and it clattered to the floor, startling several people nearby. Then over the rail I followed - in rather ungainly fashion (hey, I'll be 67 this week - not exactly James Bond, or even Jackie Chan). I landed, got up, grabbed the suitcase, and searched for someone who could direct me to Gate 31E.

Getting directions, I raced down the shopping corridor, OJ style, only to be delayed slightly at customs and a security scan checkpoint. Had a heck of a time trying to get my boots back on - they're new and not broken in yet.

I had been led to believe that Air France would "hold" the JFK flight for me (and perhaps others on the flight from Toulouse). I was misled. When I arrived at 31E, out of breath and parched, the gate attendant matter of factly told me the boarding was closed. Couldn't get on. Her sympathy was underwhelming. When I told her they indicated, on my incoming flight, that they would hold the JFK connection, she acted like I must be nuts to even think such a thing.

Resisting the urge to swear at the top of my lungs and throw a tantrum that would get me arrested, I went in search of someone who could get me re-booked quickly on another flight to the States.

Long story short, Air France has only one flight a day to JFK (or anywhere in the States, for that matter) and flights from the alternative, Charles de Gaulle, were all overbooked, in part because of the rolling strikes this spring by disgruntled AF employees. My only option was to stay overnight in Paris and take the next flight from Orly to JFK - the same one I missed, only a day later.

Oh, they lost my bag too.