he BC Blog - Paris



We send out lots of email while we travel. In fact, of course, we send email much more often than we update the web. We can never quite remember who we told what to, so this page is meant as a sort of bulletin board for our most recent whereabouts, impressions, and comments while we work more slowly and deliberately on the permanent web pages.

Thursday, June 9, 2005 — Moscow Dreams

We've just had some excitement. For about four or five hours we thought we'd be going to Moscow for July and August. A few days ago we saw an ad posted on a wall at Sciences Po (a prestigeous university in St Germain des Prés; we'd gone there for a lecture) offering a sublet and we responded that night. This morning we were surprised to get a phone call from Moscow offering us the apartment and we made a deal. Its pretty nice according to the description, about 70 sqm (800 sq ft), new, close to the Kremlin.

In the afternoon we set off to learn about visas and our fears were confirmed: you need an "invitation" to get a visa to Russia; travel agencies easily get them for 1-2 week trips but the 2-4 months we want is pretty difficult to impossible to get. We knew that was the case in 2002, when we last thought of visiting Russia, but hoped things had changed. We might have known this if we had been studying "Lonely Planet Russia" but we'd gotten "Lonely Planet South Africa" from the library. So our hopes are pretty much dashed about a long stay.

Or they were. Early today we got an email from Frédéric in Moscow saying he was going to try to get the French Embassy to write us a letter of invitation. If that comes, then we'll be happy. Our guess is that we are Frédéric's best and only hope at renting the apartment.

July 6, 2005

Wednesday, June 1, 2005 — Two Chance Encounters

Recently we had a double set of co-incidences when we visited the Marie Curie museum. In our 1999 stay in Paris we tried to visit it but failed because we left it to the end and the day we went the museum was closed. About three weeks ago (maybe May 15) we were in the neighborhood and walked over to just check out the hours, having no intention of going in at that moment. Outside we met somebody who recognized us and eventually we sort of recognized him. Exchanging a few words we found that we'd met him maybe 10-15 days earlier at a public meeting supporting a "Yes" vote on the EU constitution. At that meeting we'd found out he was a supporter of — hold your hat — Lyndon Larouche! He's French but this time was with two Americans who were really into the Larouche thing! Apparently not only do Mormons and Al Qaida send recruiters around the world but so does Larouche! We spent about 20 minutes discussing economics etc. with the America guy, who happened to be Black. When he saw that he was losing the argument he walked away.

Last week we went back to visit the place, which we found open, and had a nice visit. It turns out to be pretty small museum that is/isn't Marie Curie's lab and office. The building is about 30 foot on each side. There is a lab of about 10 x 15 feet and an office of the same size, all furnished exactly as they were when she worked there. (This is not her first lab, where she discovered radium.) Because of the radioactivity of the place it was completely stripped and rebuilt with similiar, non radioactive materials, so it is and isn't the original.

The second coincidence referred to also took place there. When we went in there was another small group of 4-5 people already touring. Gerry started talking to the guy, about his age, who was obviously American and obviously had the rest of his group in tow. He turned out to be David Campbell, now Dean of Engineering at Brown University but before that (for about eight years) department head of Physics at the University of Illinois, where Gerry got his Ph.D. He knows Gerry's thesis advisor, Ned Goldwasser, quite well. Ned, who, inspite of being partially deaf and 85 apparently drives 150 miles a time to go to the opera in Chicago.

Campbell's main reason for being there was to attend a day of seminars on condensed matter physics held in honor of the 60th birthday of an Italian physicist and going on in the next building. Naturally Gerry sat in on two of the lectures and naturally Jan waited outside, reading her book.

June 9, 2005

Thursday, May 25, 2005 — Computer Toys and Rolland Garros

Life in Paris is not all about seeing museums and sitting in cafes arguing politics. Our last week has been made busy by some new computer-related toys. On the software side we bought the Petit Robert French dictionary, the Larousse Encyclopeia, and a guide to the Louvre. Jan likes the Petit Robert and thinks the Larousse Encyclopedia is a dog. We haven't yet installed the Louvre guide, but it says it has "700 oeuvres analysees et commentees." It should be of value in preparing for the next visit to the Louvre.

On the hardware side we bought two new external disks, one of 40 GB (Keyplug) and one of 250 GB (Freecom). The Keyplug is neat because it is as small as an iPod and runs on power entirely supplied by a USB connection. We intend to keep our sensitive data on it and not on our laptops. When we stay in hotels we will carry it with us so that if our laptops are again stolen at least we won't worry about identity theft. The Freecom is amazing because it holds so much: about 1000 bytes for every resident of the USA! Imagine what AT&T (where Gerry worked on such issues in 1979-80) could have done with this as regards customer records. Gerry has spent two days putting on it his digital photos from 1999 through 2001. They amounted to about 17,000 distinct pictures occupying 20 GB. Next up to is to start using it for video editing; a one-hour DV tape needs 13.5 GB.

We've also just spent two days at Rolland Garros, the French Open Tennis tournament. We've been in Paris plenty of times but never in May, when it is held. We went last Monday and stood in line for three hours to get tickets, but we did get them. We only spent enough to get tickets for the minor courts and so didn't get to see the really top stars. But we did see some of the near-top as they eliminated their un-famous opponents. We generally watched just the first set of a match and then went on to another court so we could see lots of different players. Lots of other people were doing the same so there was a lot of crowd movement. We had a great time.

June 1, 2005

Sunday, May 22, 2005 — More No-No To The EU Constitution

On Saturday (May 21) we went to another meeting of the "No-ists" (those against adopting the European Constitution) held in the Palais des Sports, a hall that was packed to its 5000-person capacity. There were 5-6 warm-up speakers, about half from outside of France (including a Brit, a Dutch, and a Czech) and then the main speaker, Phillipe de Villiers. He is unambiguously a no-ist: he is a French supremacist (souverainiste) who doesn't want to give up any sovereignty to Europe and wants very much to limit immigration. The person most famous for these views, Jean-Marie Le Pen and his National Front party, is treated by almost every other party as an untouchable. Yet de Villiers is considered respectable!

The warm-up speakers were all of course no-ists, but they gave many reasons in contradiction of de Villiers. The most glaring contradiction is that some of these wanted to reject the constitution because it is not — repeat, not — strong enough. They want to constrain everybody to have the same social policies, e.g. no social dumping! These contradictions didn't stop the audience from cheering all the speakers.

One of the loudest cheers came when a speaker said he objected to the constitution not mentioning Christianity. The biggest surprise to both of us came when a speaker complained about the USA and instead of cheering there was silence.

The funniest moment came when a short video was shown. It showed a much younger Jacques Chirac, from maybe 10-20 years ago, saying how much he opposed European integration and loss of French sovereignty and how he would never stand for it. Interspersed with every 30-seconds of such talk was a 5-second clip from a recent news conference (which we happened to see) of Chirac saying "I've always been for integration and a strong Europe". As this clip came around about 5-6 times his ridiculousness grew more and more apparent; you felt as if you could see his nose growing.

After we left the hall we had a few questions about France that we wanted answered. We stopped a man by himself and he was glad to answer them. From that we went on to have an interesting discussion. We learned that he is a doctor near retirement and that he came to Paris for the day from Poitiers (site of a great Christian-Muslim battle in 732; it bottled up the Muslims in Spain for the next 600 years). He was able to make the day-trip because of the TGV (fast train) and the fact that it was paid for by the sponsor of the rally. No wonder they were filled to capacity. He was really a nice guy — not knowing us at all he invited us to come stay with him. Too bad we didn't feel we could even if we had had the time available.

May 25, 2005

Thursday, May 19, 2005 — ATTAC Social Dumping!

We keep going to meetings about the French vote on the European constitution. Tuesday (May 17) in going out we saw a sign for such a meeting to be held that night. Since it was a few minutes walk from us we decided to go. It was held in a restaurant in which we have never eaten; the place is long and narrow with a row of tables on each side of the room; the attendees sat at the tables with the two speakers at the far end of the room.

The most notable thing about the place was how smoke filed it was. We usually leave any place smoky but our interest kept us there. The French are just beginning to become aware of the problems of second-hand smoke. We reckon they are where the U.S. was back in 1980 when both Gerry and Jan worked on expanding no-smoking rules at the office.

After the talk we spoke with Jerome, one of the organizers and found out he was a student, about 25, at the ENS (Ecole Normale Supérieure), a rather prestigious French school, where he is studying biology. His co-organizer, Louise, was a woman of about the same age, but we didn't learn anything about her. They are members of ATTAC and organized it under ATTAC's name. ATTAC was set up by a coalition of leftish parties, including the biggest, the Socialists, to advocate leftist ideas they didn't want to be publicly tied to. Some of the letters mean "Association .. To Tax Accumulated Capital". They have become pretty far-left.

ATTAC is often mentioned in the newspapers as very much for a "No" vote (annoying the Socialist Party which is officially pro "yes") and that was certainly the line the two organizer-speakers took. Most of the audience, maybe 40-60 people, seemed to listen to them with sympathy but not complete agreement. Once in a while somebody would interrupt them asking a question whose formation seemed to suggest disagreement with the speakers.

The speakers again and again spoke against "ultra-liberalism", "neo-liberalism", and "social dumping". For us these terms are not precise: what exactly is it that they are against? After the talk Gerry spoke with the attendee who sat to his left. Both this neighbor and Gerry, contrary to what Jerome said in his presentation, were all for not only the free circulation of people within the EU-25 but with the right to have a job and start a business wherever you like. Our discusion continued with two other people. Those three, unlike we two, thought that while it is ok for individuals to have this freedom/right of circulation they didn't like multi-nationals doing "social dumping" by which they meant transfering jobs from high paying countries to low paying ones. They gave the example of Austrian companies creating businesses in Hungary; they thought that since Hungarians were so poorly paid this is unfair. We thought — think — that since Hungarians are the poorest paid they should have priority for jobs.

Gerry left the other four to go talk to Jerome. He back-tracked a bit over what he had said in the meeting and agreed that he didn't oppose (he wouldn't use the word "supports") individuals going where they liked. But he too was against "social dumping." Gerry couldn't get him to give a concise and coherent definition of the word. With irritation he replied "that's my position" and that he don't need to say any more.

May 22, 2005

Wednesday, April 20, 2005 — Waiting for N9UF

Welcome Pope Benoit 16. We saw the news about 10-20 minutes after it was announced. We were out walking and saw him on TV through the glass front of a store and knew immediately what was happening. We have rather enjoyed following all the events related to first the funeral and then the selection of the Pope. We usually watch French TV FR2 and they have devoted 2/3 of their 45 minute news programs these last few days to the new pope.

Still no broadband. Or more exactly, no mail from our chosen supplier, N9UF, that they have opened our account. When we get such a letter we will get a number to call for unlimited free dial-up internet. Then we have to wait for France Telecom / N9UF to install the ADSL equipment.

Gerry got a library card here, sort of on the spur of the moment. He'd been thinking of going over to the library north of our place but hadn't. Then on a walk we discovered there is one a bit closer — and how wonderful — and bigger south of our place. Having learned they have recorded books on CD he went back in the afternoon and came home with two sets of CDs. He's been (whisper this) ripping them into WMA files (Microsoft's proprietary version of MP3) for carrying with us on our notebooks. We first got this idea in Germany where we bought two very cheap sets of CD's containing translations of English-language 'blockbuster' novels. One was by Ken Follett about medieval England and the building of its gothic churches, the other was a murder-mystery about the death of a Pope and illegal assassins for the Catholic Church during the 2nd World War. Once having ripped them, Jan puts them on her Creative Zen and listens to them while doing mindless stuff like ironing.

May 19, 2005

Monday, April 18, 2005 — A Cold Spring in Paris

We are suffering from the cold in Paris. It has dropped in the apartment from 20C to 18C or below in the time we are here. We should just leave the heat on all the time but we don't want to incur additional expense for Veronica, our landlady, who is charging us a rock-bottom rent. After nearly two months of cold in Berlin, with snow almost every afternoon, we are much more pleased with the weather in Paris. But at least in Berlin our flat had heating — good heating — so our finger tips and ears were never cold.

Saturday we went out to the Parc Floral in the Bois de Vincennes to see the tulips. There was a pretty good display even though it was cold — so cold that we cut our visit short well before nightfall. At the far end of the Parc Floral is a children's playground. Lots of interesting "toys", including a model of the Eiffel Tower made of ropes like a spider web that you can climb on. And an 1890s car that travels on rail tracks. There were lots of parents out with their little ones making a very peaceful scene.

On the way back into town we passed a Parisian apartment building drapped with a sign saying "Non à la vente a la découpe" which means they are against the conversion of their apartment building to a condominium. French law apparently gives renters lots of protection — the conversion can't go ahead unless 2/3 buy; those who are over 60 and don't buy can remain as renters in the building with a rent that never increases.

Life as always rushes by. We are to be here in Paris until June 30 and we wonder if we will even manage to get our broad-band internet installed much before then.

Yesterday we had a reunion with a friend from Nancy, France whom we had not seen since 1980. Jan first met her in 1971, the year before Jan met me. We lost touch and through an internet search Jan tracked her down. Early next week we'll have a visit from a German friend and at the end of the week Jan's sister will arrive for a 2.5 day stay. (Some low cost airlines make a round trip of under $100 possible.)

The quiet life we had in Central and South America is now a thing of the past!

April 20, 2005

Monday, April 11, 2005 — Home Alone

As of this afternoon, Monday, we sort of have our lives to ourselves again. We've just said goodbye to Paloma, our long time friend who came from London for five days. It was fun having her here. Like Gerry, but even more, she is a great walker. We saw half of Paris from the outside, never (was there an exception?) going inside for anything but restaurants and loos.

With her we took a night trip on one of the Bateaux Mouches boats on the Seine. After nearly two weeks of very pleasant weather in Paris it had turned cold and we had to get out our long-johns and gloves again. They were very useful on the boat, our first time seeing Paris at night from the Seine. It was a very nice complement to our previous daytime boat trips on the river.

The week before Paloma came we had a visit from friends from the US and we had them to dinner. We met Juniata in 1995 when we were at Bell Labs/Lucent. We get to see her every few years because she travels a lot and often ends up where we are. Besides being with her husband she had a 16-year old niece in tow. As you can guess, not a lot of interest in Paris was written on her face. But we later heard that said niece warmed rather a lot to the place.

Because of our guests our time for TV, books, and newspapers and reading email and answering email was severely curtailed. Last week we did manage to watch the funeral mass of Jean Paul II. While we were very interested there were others in France who thought the coverage went too far. The Canard Enchaine got so tired of the continuous coverage that it called for the separation of church and news media.

April 18, 2005

Thursday, March 24, 2005 — Bonjour Paris

We made it to Paris. In Berlin we walked to the U-bahn, took two trains (with an easy transfer; we'd searched for the best station) and walked the last 500m to the bus station. We got there 1.5 hours before departure but managed to be nearly last to stow our luggage because we were inside, enjoying the warmth of the waiting room, when the bus arrived, rather than guarding a place in line. After all we had tickets didn't we? So Gerry waited and waited last in the crowd for his turn, fearing there would not be enough space for the luggage, but it all got on. Jan had saved good seats for us. The trip went very smoothly, partly because we carried with us the pillows that we'd bought in Berlin. They made the overnight travel very comfortable. The first sign that we had left Germany was the sudden lack of toilet attendants requiring 20 or 30 eurocents, or even sometimes 50! In Holland they are free. Good guys. Yay!

Here in Paris we were warmly welcomed Wednesday morning by Veronica O'Connor and we had a long chat with her, getting to know her much better. Today, Thursday morning, she set off for London where she will start her 2000 km pilgrimage to Spain. So now we have the place to ourselves. After much museum visiting and having many visitors in Berlin we are happy to stay in and read and watch TV. It's only the first day, but we'll undoubtedly not be very active tourists for another day. Then on Saturday friends from the states are coming, though they will stay in a hotel, so we'll only see them a bit.

April 11, 2005
BC Blog | Moscow | Paris | Berlin

July 20, 2005