Monday, March 28, 2005

Joyeux Pâques, Happy Easter.

A quick note, because life's been hectic. Yesterday we invited four or five people over for an Easter meal in the middle of the day, which featured traditional Provençal preparations of lamb, potatoes, salad, and more potatoes. And some chocolate-and-pear cake. And lots of wine, and then some champagne. We're running a four-star restaurant at 4 rue Barthélemy. Actually, that's a joke we can't seem to stop making, and it's getting old. Not that it was very funny to start with -- I'm pretty sure it's just amusing because of our limited French skills.

After the huge meal, Stéphane disappeared into his room and passed out until 8PM, thereby missing his chance to go in to work. Score one for food coma. Incidentally, food coma in Italian is "abbiocco." I'm trying to learn a little Italian, since there are so many willing instructors around my apartment all the time. So far I've got the subjects and present-tense conjugation mostly down, along with some random filler words. Learning a language is a lot more fun this way, even though I'm sure it's less effective than taking a class. I get to learn more curse words, though.

To shake off the abbiocco, we decided to go for a walk to the beach, about forty-five minutes to an hour away. Well, everyone else did, Victor and I drove. We passed the afternoon, until sunset, at a little port named Vallon des Auffes that was tucked away on Marseille's coast. I uploaded a few pictures of it, so you can see for yourself. It's really magical, as it's about thirty or forty feet below the rest of Marseille at that point, you can't hear any of the noise of the big city, and it's filled with the kind of colorful little boats you imagine in a small fishing town. A great place to watch the sunset, too.

Today we're hoping to rent a car and go to Avignon or Montpelier, since the weather is beautiful and the Monday of Easter is a jourférié, or day off, in France. We'll see how that goes, however, because we've gotten a late start.

Check out the pics on flickr. There are also some random pics that I haven't put in photosets of our trip to the Calanques, which I should write about, and some random around-the-house pics.

Signing off, til next time I get a chance to sit still for half an hour.

P.S. I realize I should probably clarify something. The name of the city I'm living in is spelled "Marseille" in French, and "Marseilles" in English. So while I keep writing Marseille, which is kind of technically misspelling it in English, I suppose, I'm not just entirely an idiot who doesn't know how to spell the name of this city.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Oh, Right. Paris. Part One of Umpteen.

I realized why I've had a little trouble finding my muse when I sit down to write about Paris. SPOILER ALERT!!!!!: It's because I write principally about things that go wrong, stupid things I do, and occasions when I comically fail to understand French people. I just complain a lot. It's pretty much the formula for this blog, and I'm sorry if I'm ruining the aura of mystery for you. I've tried to write about my trip to Paris a couple of times, but the problem is that I keep trying to write about all the beautiful things we saw, the pleasant cafés, the museums. Unfortunately, I'm completely unable to write about happy, beautiful, and interesting things.

Notre Dame de Paris

Instead, I thought back on the crappy things, and the times when the whole trip almost went disastrously awry. I made a list (imagine me stretching my fingers and cracking my knuckles in a dramatic fashion). Now we're ready to rock.

So first, we were almost late for the train. Barely made it to the train station before the scheduled departure time. I blame it on the fact that Sarah had a huge effing bag, or maybe on the fact that I decided to start packing about twenty minutes before we had to leave. Anyways, I climbed the stairs into the train station at a lumbering sprint, trying to avoid tipping over, as the giant bag slung over my shoulder made me more than a little top-heavy. I skidded to a stop in the huge, expansive train station, and started looking for our train on the departure board.

French train stations are huge. Well, I've only seen like three, but they're all immense and open-air and awesome. It's like a big roof with probably two and a half walls. The beginning of the train platforms, as well as the waiting areas, are completely covered, but the trains stick out beyond the station for most of their length. And then the train station in Avignon was built almost entirely of steel and glass. You can tell where all the ridiculous taxes go.

So we looked around this huge place for a second, and saw the information for the TGV to Paris. It was forty-five minutes late. We decided to eat sandwiches.

Most sort-of-fast-food joints in France have really good sandwiches. I mean, baguettes with all sorts of fresh stuff on them and the like. What they don't have, however, is reasonably-priced beverages. Two euros, minimum, for a little can of soda. The Orangina I bought was three. Four euros, at least, for a 50cL bottle. That's like the kind that you get for $1.25 at Chicago Pizza. And even in restraunts, they're rarely cold. Cool, maybe. I don't know who's running the drink racket in France, but there's really room for some competition to knock the legs out of the market, assuming it's not being run by some French mafia. And even if it is, [surrender joke].

Anyways, our train eventually showed up, I managed to decipher the instructions being spoken over the PA system, and we made it to the correct seats. We spent the five extra euros necessary to grab first-class seats on the TGV (there was some kind of promotion), figuring that we might as well ride in style. It was about as totally sweet as expected, with large comfy seats, but there was a disturbing lack of free alcohol. Evidently that part of "first class" is only known to bankrupt American airlines. Sarah slept through the whole trip, while I went to the "idSomething" car in the middle of the train that was supposedly serving refreshments. In hindsight, one should never say, "Gee, that item looks good on the menu, but no one's ordering it. I should go ahead and try it!" Evidently in the refreshments car on the TGV, the baguette sandwiches suck. I think I chipped a tooth. And they gave me an expensive bottled water when I asked for the cheap one, but I was too bewildered to complain. I then proceeded to sleep through the final two hours of the trip as well.

We pulled into the Paris train station groggy and dazed. As we meandered down the platform towards the main part of the station, I started thinking about what to do next. Grab the Metro, I thought to myself, and head towards our hotel. Which is over in... Montparnasse, right? Let me get its name and address out of my bag.

The name and address I never printed out, that was most decidedly only stored in my Gmail account, online. On the Internet. I, however, was not on the Internet. I was in a train station in Paris. Sarah, having just woken from a three-hour nap, and severely confused by the time difference, was too out-of-it to be frustrated with my incompetence. Unlike me, however, she at least was fairly sure of the name of our hotel: the "Royal Bretagne." I sheepishly approached someone at the information booth:

Me: "‹So, ah, I know this is a little weird, but I left the address and, ah, name of my hotel at home. I kind of know it's in Montparnasse. I think. And it might be named the Royal Bretagne.›"
Her: Amused gaze.
Me: "‹Yeah, I figured you guys can't look hotels up or anything.›"
Her: Nods.
Me: "‹So, err, do you have any good suggestions of where I could get that information? Or some Internet access?›"
Her: "‹You should probably try going to Montparnasse, and asking around there.›"
Me (mumbled): It's 11:30 and I'm not sure it's in Montparnasse and I swear I'll burn the place down.

We rolled the dice and found a train to Montparnasse. There was a big map in front of the huge Montparnasse train station. It was a map of the entire neighborhood, complete with all of the hotels! We were in luck!

Our hotel wasn't on it. We were standing around in front of an empty train station near midnight in Paris, and had no idea where our hotel was except that it sure as hell wasn't anywhere close. If I were Sarah, I would have killed me. I, of course, had my laptop. Our next course of action was to scrounge for some kind of Internet access or helpful information desk, starting with the train station in front of us.

The information desk was closed, but we did manage to find an Internet kiosk -- one of the standalone devices with a huge touch-screen keyboard and other obnoxious inconveniences. But it was a portal to the Internet, and we were in desperate need of said Internet. Except, of course, the fucking thing was broken.

Then, while lying on the ground in the fetal position and sobbing into my backpack, I noticed a sign on the wall that, among other words, said the one I had been looking for: "Wi-fi." I pulled out my computer, which had about 7% of its battery life left, for some reason (see, in movies, you're always thinking, God, that's so artificial. Real people would have charged their batteries, brought more bullets, etc. No. These things happen not only to make stories better, but also to make me cry). Evidently in these French train-station networks, they let you sign on through five or six different providers, if you already have an Internet account with them. If you don't, you have to pick one of them and navigate their website in order to create an account. Some of them refuse to take certain kinds of credit cards that I carry, while others seem to refuse to offer accounts, and, instead, offer dead ends. Those are the ones I tried first.

With about two percent of my battery remaining, I told Sarah that she needed to find a power outlet, stat. The resourceful girl simply unplugged the Internet kiosk -- after all, it wasn't working. So I found myself, around 12:30AM, leaning against a broken Internet kiosk in an empty Paris train station. Not only did I find myself, but I finally found a wireless network that would graciously allow me to overpay for some Internet access. And then my god-damn why-aren't-you-accessible-offline Gmail told me that our hotel was, actually, about three hundred feet from the big map we'd been looking at. Since it was technically about a stone's throw outside the official neighborhood of Montparnasse, it wasn't on the map.

Too exhausted to be righteously indignant, and happy about finally being able to go to sleep, we walked out of the train station, across the street, around the corner, and into our hotel. I've never been more happy to see a hotel that so woefully misrepresented itself in pictures on the Internet as I was that night. But at least there weren't holes in the walls.

COMING IN PART TWO: La Rue de Chinese Restaurants, subtitled "Sarah is to Chinese food as Kotredes is to pizza;" Free Admission Day at the Musée d'Orsay, aka "Everyone, Their Mother And Their Poodle Lined Up Outside The Musée d'Orsay Day;" Paris on Sunday, aka "Paris On Look Through The Windows Of Everything Closed Day."

BREAKING NEWS: A bloody war in Jeffypoo's own camp late Monday, when 20 year-old Kevin Reed, an associate of Goatboy, was shot three times - once in the upper leg and grazed in the leg and shoulder - all apparently after Goatboy and his crew made an attempt to confront his elder clone about the lack of blog updates. El Jefe was in the radio station at the time of the shooting and was not involved, police said.

Police are also looking into shots fired, two hours after the Hot 97 incident, at Yellow Fever Management, which represents El Jefe (as well as Busta Rhymes, Missy Elliot and other top hip-hop talent). This incident shattered glass on the front door and left six holes in the lobby's IKEA furnishings.

Meet Dragon-Face.

Meet Dragon-Face
Originally uploaded by ispivey.

I uploaded some pictures from the Carnivale parade and celebration in Marseille. It was colorful, loud, and sunny. The women wore more clothes than I hear they do in Rio. All the kids were being given free Silly String, armed with which they were serious holy terrors. There were also about a billion more Asian people than there were at the Chinese New Year parade -- riddle me that. Alessandro liked all the people doing Capoeira so much that he's trying to convince me to start going to lessons once a week with him. I told him I'd rather play the sweet drums. I'm still writing about Paris, but I've been hella busy. It's coming, I promise.

That's it for this edition of blogLite. Check the Carnivale pics.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

I Sense A Disturbing Pattern.

The pattern is where I wake up, do something stupid, write about it, go to bed, and repeat the next day. Except then I'd have written more, so maybe I'm a little bit off. The spirit is there, though. The spirit of my idiocy, more precisely, was sitting in the car with me on Wednesday evening at about a quarter past midnight.

Although I suppose I should back up for a minute. Wednesday at work, Laurent invited me to go play billiards with him and his friend Olivier again. Since I had so much fun last time, I readily agreed to go. Laurent, seemingly ignorant of the realities of my commute, left work telling me he'd be meeting me in forty-five minutes, and that I should grab some dinner. My commute takes approximately forty minutes to get me home, much less to billiards or, heaven forbid, dinner. I thought about this after he dashed out the door, and couldn't really come up with a good solution. I elected to, instead, stay at the office and surf the web until an acceptable solution presented itself.

Half an hour later, a solution did just that. Laurent called the office, for some reason thinking I might still be there. Possibly, he knows me. Anyways, they had been running late but could come by the office to pick me up. Procrastination rewarded, yet again.

When we showed up at the billiards club, the place was significantly more crowded than the Tuesday night we were there last. There was a small pool tournament going on, and some people playing French billiards as well. A quick side note: pool, or "American billiards," is played here with balls that are approximately two-thirds the size of our pool balls, and on tables approximately two-thirds the size of our pool tables. I don't have the heart to tell them that their name for it is stupid, because no one plays "American billiards" like that in "America." But I digress. The point is, the place was kind of crowded.

At the center table was a pair playing French billiards. They weren't scoring all that many points, however, which was kind of silly considering they were wearing special pool gloves and had their own cues. I noticed, however, that all of their shots were unnecessarily complicated -- they would hit one ball, and then have their cue ball bounce all around the table before hitting the third ball (or more often than not, missing it by an inch or two). It wasn't until later that the bartender told us they were playing with "trois bandes." That means that after hitting the first ball, the cue ball has to hit three rails before coming back to hit the third ball. And they were only missing by inches. After sixty-some rounds, they each had more than twenty points apiece. It was kind of crazy.

I don't think I've ever gotten more friendly service in any kind of establishment, as a general rule, than since I've been in France. It's rather surprising. At the billiards club, I asked the bartender if he knew anywhere nearby to grab a quick bite to eat. He seemingly didn't understand, so I repeated my question. It was pretty simple, and I was rather sure I hadn't mucked the French up.

Him: "‹Somewhere to eat? I can just make you a sandwich.›"
Me: "‹Is that very far?›"
Him: "‹Is pâté alright?›"
Me: "‹Yes, but where is it?›"

Several minutes later, having given up on eating anytime soon, I was presented with a delicious pâté sandwich. On the house. And three of our eight beers were free, too. I don't know, it was cool. I'm pretty sure he wasn't hitting on me.

I guess I should mention that I played some French billiards, and did so badly. And that's the last I'm going to say of it, because the actual playing was fairly boring if you weren't there. Even if you had been there, my game was pretty uneventful. Short story shorter, I suck at French billiards.

Cooler, however, was the Great Dane that showed up about halfway into the evening. Talk about a sweet dog. He was at least as tall as my waist, and his sad-looking face was also astonishingly goofy. He looked even goofier when some random (extremely short) French guy started dancing with him. Random French Guy (RFG) started by waving his hands around in front of the pooch's (TP) face as if he were raving, occasionally stopping to stretch TP's floppy jowls about in a hilarious manner. TP looked like a poor little clay figure with his face mushed in strange directions, and would then proceed to bat at RFG's faggy twirling hands with his big paws. RFG then started dancing around, grooving his laughably small self around to a nonexistent beat. TP responded by barking and dancing around himself, hopping up on his hind legs and waving his paws. RFG would occasionally grab TP's paws and dance around with him like some kind of disturbing high school hip-hop dance routine. I couldn't stop laughing.

But I guess I should get to the stupid. We left the billiards club around midnight, and this time were not nearly the last ones there. We crammed ourselves into Olivier's car, which was rather full of three guys and two childrens' car seats. In about five minutes, we made it to my door, I hopped out, said goodnight, and headed up to my apartment. As soon as I opened the door, I realized that something was wrong. I wanted to go to my room and turn on instant messenger. My computer was still in my bag in the back seat of Olivier's car.

I ran down the three flights of stairs again, and leapt through the front door. Of course, Laurent and Olivier were nowhere in sight. I ran back up the stairs, out of breath by this point. I'm kind of out of shape. I proceeded to look for Stéphane's cell phone, but he's currently in the island paradise of Mauritius. I woke up Alessandro, only to find that his cell phone is out of minutes. I stole his computer and used Skype to call Laurent. No answer. Olivier works on the complete other side of Marseille, twenty minutes away. I was never going to get my computer back.

Well, I eventually did, but it was a painful couple of days. At work, I actually had to do work. At home, I had to do things like "talk to people" and "sleep." It's amazing how much my life changes when I don't have constant Internet access. And that kind of scares me. But I did get my computer back, so hopefully it'll be another year or two before I'm hopelessly adrift like that. Getting my computer back, of course, entailed taking the subway from the southern end of one Metro line to the northern end of the other one -- just about the most inconvenient commute possible. I suppose it's what I get for being an idiot.

And before I forget, I was standing outside work waiting for the bus Friday afternoon to go pick up my computer when an attractive, snappily-dressed woman wearing a colorful shirt and stylish sunglasses and driving a brand new minivan pulled up to the curb. There was a "TAXI" sign on top of the van. Some dude got in and they drove off. Taxis are so much sweeter here than in Boston.

I'm so behind with this thing. I'm theoretically going to some kind of Brazilian Carnivale celebration today, and picknicking in the Calanques outside Marseille on Sunday. And did you know I went to Paris? I think I forgot to write about it.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Have You Heard of French Billiards? No?

I’ve been absolutely itching to write about this, because it’s just too cool. Last week I went out to a pool hall with my boss and a friend of his (aside: the rigamarole my boss went through to be allowed to go out by his girlfriend struck fear in my heart). Laurent had really been talking this expedition up, though, from the seedy authenticity of the bar to the challenge of “French billiards.” If you had asked me a week ago if there was such a thing as French billiards, I would have called you a liar, and I would have been wrong. It’s probable that it was not only invented by the French but that it is completely unknown outside France. The gist of the game is this: you hit ball one into ball two, and then ball one has to continue on to hit ball three. If you do it, you get a point. If you don’t, it’s the next person’s turn, and he has to start by hitting whatever ball he’s been assigned. That’s it. No pockets, only three balls.

Any ways, if you think about it, you realize it’s kind of fundamentally different from how we play pool. Those of us who aren’t great at pool don’t worry too hard about exactly where the cue ball is going to go after it hits the first ball -- and even when you try and put the cue ball in a good position for a second shot, it’s still not nearly as difficult as actually hitting another ball with it. Or maybe I’m a huge baby.

So I’m standing around sucking at this game and grumbling into my beer, when the two guys who were working behind the bar come over and set up shop at the table next to us. And proceed to do pool tricks like you see on ESPN2. Like, the really good ones, too. For their first shot, they set up three balls in the corner all touching each other, hit the first ball into one of the other two, then had the first ball continue all the way down to the far end of the table, where the backspin stopped it and pulled it all the way back into the original corner, tapping the side bumper exactly three times before gently tapping the third ball. I wish I’d had a video camera.

Evidently the better of the two guys is currently ranked number two in France in this crazy artistic billiards, is the five-time French champion, and was the European champion in 1996. If you’re interested in the guy playing pool next to me, I found more information about him on the web.

Even cooler, however, was when he came over to our table and started giving us advice. He’d stare at one of us as we scratched our heads and lined up hopeless shots, then ask to know what exactly we’re trying to do. The way he could tell from all the way across the room exactly what part of the ball we were aiming at and if we were lined up too far to one side or another was just eerie. With a big grin, he’d walk on over and show me how, no, you have to hit the ball on the left side, no spin, because if you hit it on the middle it’ll take off into the bumper. And keep the cue almost completely flat relative to the table, to make it easier to hit the ball straight. And now try putting a whole lot of spin on it. He’d demonstrate, explain what he’d done, and hand the cue back.

A former world champion of a game I'd never heard of a week ago, but impressive all the same. Needless to say, I’m planning on going back again as soon as I can.

Unrelated News: Through the magic of flickr, I found an amazing shelter animals photoset. That’s the kind of stuff that motivates me to learn more about photography. Also, Iron and Wine’s album “Woman King” is top-notch.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Greener Pastures.

Following Big Poo's lead, I'm skipping town and settling down in new photo-sharing digs on Along with the new wallpaper comes a resolve to be more picky about the photos I'm uploading (i.e. no more Jonking), while also uploading higher-resolution pictures. If any of you care. Also, if you've been around our house for a few years, you can't afford not to check out El Jefe's Tnight Greatest Hits album. That's some good memories. Damn I was shaggy on that road trip.

Touristing stories will start going up this evening.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Will Smith Speaks French?

Today's blog entry has been excavated from the "I wrote this two weeks ago and forgot to publish it" archives for your reading pleasure. Don't touch the glass, you little snots.

I swear to God, I just watched Will Smith walk out on stage at the Césars in Paris (it's like the Oscars except in Paris and no one watches it) and introduce himself and thank "the Academy" in French. Kind of surreal. And he had a really good accent. Everyone applauded. And then Sofia Coppola came out and tried to speak French, and it sounded like Doug drunk in the dining room speaking French. Actually, I kid, I'd hate to insult Doug like that. It was bad.

Maybe a week ago I watched "I, Robot" dubbed in French. I've never seen the movie in the first place, but I'd seen the trailers and read the book, so I had a decent idea of what to expect. My unrelated observations are here presented in list form:
  • I understood more of that movie by reading Will Smith's lips and watching his exaggerated gestures than by actually comprehending any of the words that were spoken.
  • The dude who did the French dub for Will Smith had a notably higher-pitched voice than the man himself, which made for pretty entertaining listening.
  • Even funnier was when I could see the Fresh Prince himself snap his head around like he does, hold a long "Daaaay-umn," and hear the uninspired French voice actor say "merde."
  • Please tell me the robot's name wasn't "Sunny" in the original as well. It's hard enough to take the little iFruit seriously in the first place.
  • "Detective Spooner" sounds pretty of funny in English. "Détecteeeve Spew-nair" is just crack-up hilarious.
  • I am never going to watch an American movie dubbed in French in a theater, because I would probably have more fun burning my money.
[Ed. note - That concludes our blast from the past. Back to today's news!]

Also, Lance Armstrong is a sellout. He was quoted in a bunch of French dailies today endorsing Paris for the Olympics in 2012, not only saying that it would be a better place for it than New York but adding that the Olympics are only in Beijing in 2008 because of "political reasons." What a douche. I'm still going to watch him kick ass and chew bubblegum in the Tour this summer, though.

Finally, while in Paris this weekend, I was roundly impressed by the wholesale violation of Parisian monuments that has occurred for the sake of promoting Paris' bid for the 2012 Olympics. Both the Eiffel Tower and the Champs Elysées are covered in garish "Paris 2012" paraphenalia. Oh, and an immense building along the Champs Elysées is covered in an Atlas-sized Louis Vuitton bag. You need to see it to believe it. I'll post a link to the picture when it's up. Everyone's giving in to the man today.

I've got a bajillion things to write about, and no time to do it, so posts will be coming at a steady trickle. [Ed. - bad joke deleted]