Out of touch with reality

On Sunday night Dave explained to the kids that he was going to leave the next morning for New York. He told the kids he would be gone for a couple of weeks because he was going to do some work and they needed to help Mommy because he wouldn't be there to help.

Sophie started to cry and said, "Why did you get a job???!!"

French Brad Pitt

Undoubtedly, Brad Pitt is the most beautiful man on earth. Because we don't have E! Television or Entertainment Tonight on our TV, I don't see a lot of Brad Pitt unless he shows up on People.com.

But they do show a lot of music videos on our basic TV in France (and at the gym, but Dave will tell you that I don't go to the gym enough for me to count that).

So when Christophe Mae shows up, I always think he is a French Brad Pitt. Not twins by any means, but a similar facial structure, hairstyle, and sense of confidence. Mae sings with kind of a scratchy voice that also reminds me of Brad Pitt.

We Have Water!

Some guys showed up on Tuesday morning and replaced the balloon in the pump! I have had uninterrupted showers three days in a row AND I can do laundry without having to worry that the washing machine has stopped itself because it didn't have any water.

Somewhere out there is someone who is upset that they don't have a new car or a Prada cell phone. They should try living with inconsistent access to water and see if that changes their perspective at all.

Pics from beach


Mountains, Sea & Castle

This weekend it was really sunny and beautiful, so we drove down to Mandelieu, near Cannes, to go to the beach.

The children thought we were going to swim at the beach and started gathering their swimsuits and asking for towels. They don't seem to understand that in January it is winter, even at the beach! (Unless you're in Australia!)

The view was spectacular, with a castle, the sea and the snow-capped mountains in the distance.


I think I did pretty well not getting homesick until more than six months out of the country. It just hit me the other day, probably because Dave is going back and will get to see our house and our families and Wendy's, if he wants, where he can order an enormous Root Beer with tons of ice.

The homesickness has waned a little today, but these are some of the things I have thought about the last few days.

-Valentine's clothes at stores like Old Navy and Gymboree. Sophie is a Valentine's baby, so I love to buy that stuff for her.

-Going to TJ Maxx or Marshall's and buying stuff that looks like it came from Pottery Barn Kids. Or cute Roxy tops for the girls.

-Sub sandwiches. Like the #1 from Port of Subs with a Root Beer or an Italian BMT (toasted!) from Subway.

-Starbucks vanilla frappuccino with caramel in the cup. I just gained 2 kilos thinking about it.

-Target. They have EVERYTHING at Target. I love Target.

-My Honda Odyssey. I admit, the Odyssey is no chic ride, and mine is going on 6 years, so she's starting to show a little in the age department, but she is so practical with little kids! And she has her own DVD. I miss her so much.

Maybe tomorrow I will list all the things that I love about France to remind myself what a great adventure I am having!

Mother of the Year Nomination

My friend Robin sent me these pictures of the birthday cakes she made for her kids this year. Her kids have December and January birthdays, so she is really busy around the holidays!

These cakes top last years Sponge Bob and Minnie Mouse because of their 3-D quality, which is quite impressive!

Let's not forget that Carter's cake this year was just our pumpkin pie from Thanksgiving with two candles stuck in it. hee hee.


Yum Yum

When we lived in England, I became quite familiar with Walker's "crisps". Mostly just the regular flavored ones in the red bag, but here in France I have discovered their Sensations line of chips. Particularly the Caramelised Onion & Sweet Balsamic Vinegar. That is just good stuff!

I have only found them in the British food section of Champion (the grocery store), which is also where I buy my Bisquick and Heinz Cream of Chicken Soup (but not very often, because it is €2.22 a can!).

So the next time you are perusing your local Kroger, Safeway, Fry's, Piggly Wiggly, Wal-Mart, Target or other exciting American store where you can buy Peanut Butter and Mrs. Butterworth's, take a look in the chips aisle and treat your tastebuds to some fine cuisine.

And hey, if they don't have them, Buck Up! You can buy Ben and Jerry's "Chubby Hubby" Ice Cream and I can't.


Must be time for some updates, because I can't think of anything "exciting" to write about.

1. After more than four months of "on and off" water, a diagnosis has been made on the pump for the well. This comes after countless shouts of "DAVE! The water is off AGAIN!" mid-shower. Apparently there is a hole/leak in the balloon inside the pump. Whatever. Just fix it so I take a shower when I feel like it!

2. Also after more than four months, the girls have each started an extra-curricular activity. Abby is doing swimming lessons once a week at the indoor pool, and Sophie is doing a dance class. Sophie is particularly excited because there is a "spectacle" on February 1st. And this coincides with nouvelle #3.

3. Dave got a job. So it's not exactly working in a bread shop so he can learn French (remember that funny joke?). In fact, it has absolutely zero to do with French. He will be consulting for a company where an ex-manager of his works. His first assignment is to go back to the US for 12 days. He leaves January 27th.

4. Sophie broke the thermometer. Normally this would not be news, but the aftermath has been so annoying that it made the charts today. First off, it was a glass thermometer, like your Mom had when you were little. I bought it when we arrived thinking I needed a thermometer in the house, and didn't want to spend a bunch of money.

So I bought the cheapest one I could find. When it broke, all the silvery Mercury spilled out. Sam thought this was pretty cool and proceeded to drip it all down the hallway to watch the silver form cool shapes. But when he got a piece of the glass lodged in his heel, he didn't think that was very cool. And Dave wasn't very happy when Carter was crying all afternoon and his eyes started leaking a little and his face was all red. He didn't like the noise, but he also didn't like the fact that he couldn't take Carter's temperature! Turns out he has an ear infection, and the pharmacy was all out of thermometers.

All that being said, the weather was gorgeous today and yesterday. I even laid in the hammock today (fully dressed in boots and a sweater) so I could enjoy the sun on my face. That helped a little with the fierce case of homesickness I have had for the past few days. But that's another story.


It's January

In my world, January always brings one thing for sure: SICK. Apparently living in another country does not ward off the inevitable.

None of my friends can forget January of '06, when Dave and I were so busy throwing up that we couldn't care for our own children. Luckily they came and took the kids away so we could concentrate on the porcelain throne.

Here is the aftermath of my "gastro".
I beg you, please do not click on this picture to enlarge it. Just be grateful I'm not dead.


Sad, Sad Day

After a week in the shop, the BMW is finally fixed. She is beautiful! Better than before, actually, except that you still can't open the front passenger door from the inside. And if you want to roll up the window, you have to press on the down arrow, and if you want to roll it down, you have to press on the up arrow.

So maybe not better on the inside, but definitely shiny and smooth on the outside. So it was really sad to have her back 1) because it cost us 1500€ and 2) We had to say goodbye to the Renault Scenic.

While the Renault may not be the highest quality brand around, they sure put a lot of thought into the functionality of the 7 passenger Grand Scenic. The seats sit up higher than a regular car, so it is much more like a minivan than a BMW (duh, BMW, Honda Odyssey, what's the diff?)

Also, she has all these nifty cupholders, hidden drawers and hideaway seats. Let's not forget the fact that she has an automatic emergency brake and sideview mirrors that fold automatically when you stop the car. And the cherry on top is of course the "key."

We may have mentioned the Renault key when we talked about the Espace we drove in Nantes. About the size of a thick credit card, you merely have to have the key on your person or in the car for the car to start. Very handy when dragging four kids around!

But this afternoon she went back to Pascaline, cleaned, vacuumed and polished. And with a flat tire. Bad luck or bad roads? Probably both!


Just 6 Months Ago

It is hard for me to imagine that just six months ago Carter was drinking from a bottle and only said two or three words. Every parent goes through this when they look back at old pictures or videos and realize their baby is growing up really fast.

It is interesting to have my fourth child begin communicating in two languages. When we arrived in France he could say "ball" and a couple of other words in English.

Yesterday we were playing a fun game with Carter where we asked him the same question in English, and then in French. It went like this:

"Carter, are you thirsty?'

"Carter, est-ce que tu as soif?"

Goodbye Pan Pan Lily

It's a big mystery around school who killed Pan Pan Lily. Someone was lucky enough to take Pan Pan home for the entire Christmas break. The only problem is that whoever that was killed the school bunny!

Madame Brigitte won't spill the beans (with good reason), but we're so curious!


A New Me, (sort of)

I hate fish. I hate the way they look, I hate the way they feel, and I hate the way they taste. But the other day I went to the Poisonnerie with my friend, and I decided to buy some fish for Dave and Abby for dinner.

These two fish were ten euros. My friend bought some crab legs that were 60 euros a kilo! When I told the fishmonger that I didn't want any, he threw one in for free. Dave loved it!

So while I bought the fish, I told Dave that he was responsible for taking them out of the bag, putting them in the oven, and eating them. When I saw the skeletons on the plate after dinner, I figured he was content.

Our Little Kings

Sam won his crown at Cantine one day doing the Galette des Rois, and Carter made his at the garderie. While I am terribly sad that my children have very large, pokey ears, ;)I am glad that they are so sweet (most of the time!) and that they are learning French!


Galettes des Rois


January 6, The Feast of Epiphany or Little Christmas, is a holy festival honoring the wise men coming to the infant Jesus.

This is one of the most popular eating traditions in France that takes place in January every year. A "fève" - a small porcelein figurine - is hidden in the galette before baking.

The youngest child present sits under the table, and as the galette is sliced and served, the child chooses to whom the slice will go.

The lucky guest who gets the fève is crowned king/queen and chooses a queen/king among the other guests. This takes place all over France in every family, between friends and work colleagues.

Recipe: Galette des Rois

(Serves 8)

1 1/4 lb frozen puff pastry
2 eggs
7 oz almond paste

Leave the puff pastry at room temperature for about 2 hours until defrosted but still cold.

Preheat the oven to 400F.

Line a baking sheet or pizza pan with baking parchment or grease the pan and lightly sift flour on it. Shake off any excess flour. Roll each sheet of pastry into a circle about 12 inches across.

Place one circle on the prepared pan.

Mix the egg with the almond paste until smooth and spread the mixture evenly on the prepared circle of pastry, leaving a border 1 1/2 inches wide all around. If you have a small figurine, insert it into the almond mixture.

Place the second circle of pastry on top and press it down tightly around the rim.

Beat lightly the remaining egg and brush it on the top of the cake. With a long-bladed knife, press lightly but firmly through the egg glaze marking a crisscross pattern.

Bake for 20–25 minutes until golden and puffed. Do not check for doneness for at least 15 minutes, as the pastry may collapse. Serve slightly warm or cold.

Traditionally the galette is topped with a cardboard crown, which is given to the person who gets the fève.

Daily numbers

Number of times Dave asked Abby to do her "Poèsie": 10

Number of times I said "Ca Va?": 22

Number of times I had to go outside and flip the switch on the well pump to turn the water back on: 6

I Win

Dave and I are both pretty competitive. Usually the scales are somehow tipped in Dave's favor, and he manages to "win" the competition, whether it be an actual game or just some sort of challenge he has invented. He has some sort of magical power where he just says out loud: "I WILL win." And then he does.

Except for the summer we lived in Hong Kong. While Dave was at work and I kept busy practicing making words in the game "Super Boggle." I was so good at the game that after a couple of weeks, Dave refused to play with me anymore.

So this summer when we embarked on our journey here in France, Dave remarked one day on my lack of effort to learn French words and practice speaking. "You better watch out because I'm going to pass you and you won't be able to keep up." I may have been paraphrasing a bit there, but you get the drift.

So you can imagine my delight when Dave admitted (as he struggled to follow a conversation) that I was way ahead of him with my French. I think when I picked up the word "dissuade" in a conversation about the death penalty that he knew he was beat. ;)


Pictures in Monaco

A Test

This is a really bad picture because of the reflection, but can you guess what this is?

HINT: Look closely at the sign above (the one with the words in a heart). The picture will not help, but if you know some French, you might have a shot.

My immediate family may have a better shot than anyone else if they think hard.

Cart Wheels (Not the fun kind)

When people ask me about the differences between France and U.S., one of the obvious differences is the grocery shopping situation. I've already discussed bringing your own plastic bags and bagging your own groceries.

But before you can get that far into your shopping, you must first have a Euro. If you don't have a Euro, you can't get a cart. You must insert the euro into the little box in order to unlock your cart that is currently locked to all the other carts.

I fully support this idea. There are no random carts floating around the parking lot, threatening your vehicle.

The real problems start once you've detached your cart and pull it out of the cart stall. Yes, the problems begin when you actually try to PUSH your cart. That's because all four wheels turn all the way around. Unlike carts in the US (or baby strollers, for instance) which have two fixed wheels and two wheels that can turn 360 degrees.

This may sound really neat because it enables you to push your cart left and right at will as well as forward and backward just like KIT, David Hasselhoff's car in Knight Rider. But the truth is, it stinks. Especially if you have anything more than a loaf of bread in your cart. Illustration below:

So I've decided to make the kids push the cart so that I can be free to roam around Auchan at my leisure and not have to strain myself. ;)
Here is Carter earning his keep in France.


Les Soldes!

My New Bag & Sweatshirt

Today marked the beginning of the month long sales in France. The "soldes" offer discounts anywhere from 20 to 70 percent off regular merchandise.

So at 10 this morning Sabrina and I went to CAP3000 ( a shopping center) to find some bargains. The only problem was, we couldn't find a parking place! Seriously, the cars not only filled the lot, but every available surface surrounding the entire area.

Eventually we intercepted a couple leaving and we found a decent spot that was close to the exit. We went directly to H&M to load up on loot. I meant to look only for me, but I was nevertheless lured into the children's section where I found some cute clothes for Sophie's birthday.

After that, we hit Zara, where I found a cute top, but sadly the gorgeous leather jacket I saw there before Christmas was not on sale.

Our last stop was Galeries Lafayette, where I snagged my very first Longchamp pliage bag. Sabrina steered me toward this cute one with numbers rather than a boring navy blue one. She said Navy blue was for grandmas.

We are going out again on Friday to see what awaits us at all the other shops!


Feeling Better

My canker sore is gone!

This is either due to 1) Pascaline (the doctor) made me drink this totally disgusting vitamin powder mixed with water, which was supposed to flush toxins out of my liver. I had to plug my nose to drink it and gagged when I was almost finished, so both Pascaline and Nicolas told me I should stop. I think they didn't want vomit on their leather couch.

or 2) It had been nearly two weeks since I got the canker sore, so it was about time for it to go away.

In any case, I'm feeling much better, (coupled with the fact that my Mom finds Dave's posts incredibly boring and useless ;) and will be happily reporting our latest escapades in the South of France. See you tomorrow!

p.s. I was going to post a picture of a canker sore, but when I went to google images and started looking at the pictures, I was totally grossed out. I didn't want you to be grossed out, either.

Monkeys on Ethan

Stasha's brother and his family spent the holidays in Morocco, away from their home in Boston. That's a pretty cool thing to do, since Boston must be a nightmare in the winter. Morocco used to be a French colony so they speak French there. I've never visited. Apparently while there they paid money to have monkeys on the head of their nine year-old son Ethan. Since one of the monkeys (in the background) was wearing a diaper, that suggests they cannot rate high on the trust factor. And with that I shall start another rant.

I've always been a big fan of monkeys. It was one of the first Cantonese words I learned when I was a Mormon missionary in Hong Kong in the early 90's and I used to feed them whenever we'd visit monkey mountain in Hong Kong. Monkey Mountain was quite a place. I bet there were a thousand monkeys living there, swinging from the trees. There are few place names more interesting and fun to say than "Monkey Mountain". But - as Stasha will tell you, since we lived there together for a short time in the late 90's - those monkeys were filthy, greedy and incredibly mean. You existed to serve them and if you failed to live up to expectations, look out.

The residents of Monkey Mountain looked a lot like the monkeys climbing on my nephew in this photo. They can't be trusted. They look innocent and harmless in the photo above but I can assure you that's a canard.

Right there while they were touching his head I guarantee they were hatching a plan to cause mayhem at some future moment, probably not too far distant. They're conniving and evil and all they want are peanuts and bananas and they'll do anything to get them. "By any means necessary."

I prefer the gentle residents of the mangroves of Borneo, otherwise known as Proboscis Monkeys. I have got to post separately about Proboscis Monkeys. And chimps. Chimps do funny things like wear suits and act in Fall Out Boy videos and pick fleas out of each others' skin. And Spider Monkeys, because the name "Spider Monkey" is almost as cool as "Monkey Mountain". I don't care so much for gorillas. They're very menacing and they do all that chest-beating. I'm not into that stuff. And I don't like baboons at all. Even baby baboons are evil-looking, they fight over carrion with vultures and jackals and they have those weird butts that are all different colors. It creeps me out. So in a relative sense I would say the monkeys in the photo above, while evil and greedy, are probably about average as monkeys go, in terms of likeability.

At least monkeys have hands. I've always thought it would be frustrating to be an animal and you don't really have any hands. You can't pick up money if you find it on the street, you can't hug your kids, and you're pretty much only good for running. Except sloths, but I guess technically they have hands. I've never seen a pig throw a ball. They probably exist just for meat anyway. Bacon is delicious even though it's incredibly fattening.

My brother-in-law said they paid 10 dhirams for the monkey photos. I guess that's the currency of Morocco. Whatever 10 dhirams is worth in dollars, it used to be worth half that because the dollar is so weak now. I'm disappointed that Bush doesn't do more to shore up our currency. I'm looking forward to getting a new president. It's not that Bush is a bad person or anything, but the last four years have just kind of been one mess after another. A lot of that is media-generated but sometimes the guy really could have been a bit smarter and more diplomatic about the way he went about things, don't you think?

The only problem is who to replace him with. Mitt Romney is the most qualified person from a business perspective but he's pandering so much to the religious right I can hardly stand it. And it's not going to work: those Southern Baptists are so bigoted it's incredible. Barack Obama would be a great choice to bring everybody together but his fiscal policies are no good. The dollar would probably drop to like fifty per pound if he took office. I still might root for him though. Giuliani is from New York and has been married like 68 times so he's out. McCain is a hundred years old and is just kind of ornery, though I can't blame him given where he lived for five years in the early 70's. He's probably the best choice given his frank honesty on almost everything. I really respect that. But a lot of people don't like him and at this point we need a president that most of us can really get behind together. On the other end of the spectrum we have Jonathon Edwards the Scheister. The dude would say he's against mothers if he thought it would get him elected.

Huckabee and all those other dudes with pocked faces (Richardson, that actor dude, etc) are just flashes in the pan. They'll be yesterday's news in a couple of weeks. Huckabee just has no chance, even if every born-again Christian in Iowa votes for him. What a joke. For one thing, his name isn't going to work. If you want to be President you have to have a name like George Washington or Abraham Lincoln or Monkey Mountain. Huckabee or Huckster or Scheister just aren't going to work.

And then there's Hillary. I don't like her at all. She's smart enough for the job and it would be great to have a woman president, but can't we find one with more of a personality than a cigar store Indian? Or a wet cat. A dead wet cat. And I'm so tired of seeing her brightly-colored pantsuits. I don't have a problem with women wearing pants, I mean my own wife wears them every day and I'm happy for her. But sometimes you have to do away with the pantsuits. I guarantee you in the 70's she had like a hundred polyester leisure suits in twenty different pastel shades. "Strong but with a feminine touch." Stuff like that doesn't play in 2008 baby. This whole election isn't for 10 months and I'm already exhausted by it.

Reagan was a good choice for everybody. Not that smart but a good delegator and always ready with a joke to poke fun at the Russians. We should bring him back. Or Jimmy Carter. He made everybody unhappy but at least he was honest. Has anyone noticed that Dick Cheney isn't running? I'm trying to think if Cheney's place in history will be more ignominious than Dan Quayle's. It's really a toss-up.

We don't manufacture anything in the US anymore anyway, so who is Bush kidding about us benefiting from a weak dollar because our goods are more affordable to foreign buyers? I'm not saying he's saying that, but why else would he take such a laissez-faire attitude toward our currency? Maybe he's too busy at his ranch in Crawford. I've never really cared that much for Texas. The whole "Don't Mess With Texas" thing is really overdone. I mean can we all just move on and agree that no one in the other 49 states cares about Texas and no one thinks Texas is tough and no one thinks anything is bigger in Texas, except maybe women's hair and people's waistlines? I can't stand that slogan. Maybe Texas should just be its own country. Bush can be president of that. The Texas White House can be in Crawford. Patty Sheehan can be secretary of state. All she does is follow him around anyway. And Ann Richards and her hair can be VP. She'd be better than Dan Quayle. Although I think she might be dead. No matter, so is Reagan and I'd still bring him back.

It's not like our steel needs to be cheaper so we can export it. And our cars are so ugly no one wants to drive them. Or they get like 2 miles to the gallon. If I ever saw a Buick in Europe I would eat my shirt. I'm so glad Oldsmobile went out of business. The only thing we manufacture anymore is intellectual property for information technology and pharmaceuticals, and that's basically immune to exchange rates.

So let's shore up the dollar and make it easier for Americans to buy summer houses in places like Morocco. Then we can hang out with monkeys all the time and it will be cheaper to just take your picture with them for 10d and have it cost like five cents, instead of having to feed them a bunch of peanuts and then when you run out of food they get mad and jump on your back and scare the living daylights out of you. Though it's not like that ever happened to me at monkey mountain or anything. I'm voting for Monkey Mountain for President. MM In 08. Hey I'm just trying to add content here.

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Miss South Carolina or the guy from Dordogne?

Dumb people are everywhere. Like Miss South Carolina 2007, America's fourth finest teen-age girl based on her finish in the 2007 pageant. I suspect many of you have seen this clip since it's been viewed 21 million times, but I'm sure you'll enjoy watching it again.

There's nothing better than the country of "Such as". It's not as good as America but the people are so cute with their poverty. We should give them maps, for our children's sake.

Then there is this contestant on the French version of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire".

So when people say that Americans are dumb and Europeans are smart it's best to believe only half the statement.

And in the French guy's defense, at least he had the sense to marry a decent-looking wife who is smarter than he is. And he at least knows where the sun IS. I bet Miss South Carolina couldn't find it in the sky. And if you think she was just put in a bad situation, watch this video. Then promise me you'll never watch the Today show again. Matt Lauer and that Asian lady make like $20m a year and Miss South Carolina is the 4th best teen girl in the United States. We're in good shape.

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Sarko the American

The President of France, elected in April 2007, is Nicolas Sarkozy. For the moment at least he's wildly popular and is doing his best to reduce taxes, incredibly over-generous retirement benefits for public employees, and to divorce a hideous wife who had already left him for another man. You would think you'd need to be pretty hot to cheat on the President of France. Think again. And now he's dating an Italian model. And that's just in his first eight months in office. All good things, given that he's about the size of Napoleon with the ears of an elephant and the nose of a proboscis monkey. He's not much of a looker but he sure can make some good choices.

Sarkozy is well-known for his love of the United States and its culture, and the media here have taken to calling him "Sarko l'Americain." About two months ago, on an official visit to the US, he gave a speech to Congress. I'm not a huge fan of political speeches generally, but this one was simply spectacular. Really, you must watch it. If it doesn't grab you in the first five minutes then go ahead and shut it off, but then don't say you know what the French can be like when you don't. Listening to him talk about his generation's gratitude to the American military choked me up several times. I wish American politicians could be like this. Or at least more than none.

The speech is very well-translated into English. If you ever thought the French were snobs, at the very least their President is not. And everyone in Mougins voted for him. What does that say? Have a listen.

Sarkozy's new girlfriend, Carla Bruni. Can France's first lady be an Italian?

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When I was in college I usually watched between 10 and 15 hours of football every weekend. My buddies and I always said, "There's no such thing as too much football."

As I've become older (and more concerned about my wife killing me than I am about watching football), I've toned it down a lot. It's (sadly) basically gotten to the point where I can't even watch a whole game anymore. The 2nd half is enough for me, unless the game is really meaningful.

Like the playoffs, which started yesterday. As I type this, the Giants have just beaten the Buccaneers, and in about 20 minutes the Chargers play the Titans in the last wild card game. Although Norv Turner might be the worst head coach in NFL history, right now I would give my right arm to just eat some pretzels and watch his team run around in those beautiful new uniforms, just hitting everything they see. Instead I get some B movie on France 1. Better to follow the game on the Internet, or just check the score in the morning. Does anyone know if I got Slingbox for my tv in the US, would it work on my laptop here in France? Please comment if you have any insights. There are still three weeks of playoffs left and I'm dying over here.

Enjoy the game. I'm off to bed. What choice do I have?

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Hey You! Yes You, The Australian People

We have this tracker on the blog that shows the general location of everyone that visits, and how often they stop by. The bigger the dot, the more the visits. For example, more people have visited from Phoenix than from anywhere else. Makes sense since we're from there. The next most common place is Nice, probably because I (Dave) visit this blog like 50 times a day because I never do anything.

There have been some visits from very interesting places the last few months, like the dude who visited from Dubai. Or the guy from Algeria. Or the lady from Iceland. I hope it was Bjork. Bjork's music is terrible but that video of her beating up that Japanese reporter a few years ago was incredible. I mean, out of nowhere she just went crazy.

But to me, the most interesting visitor of all is the dude - smack dab in the middle of Australia - who has visited this blog like a hundred times in the last few months. I mean, have any of you ever been to the middle of Australia? Yeah neither have I. The thing that fascinates me is that there's nothing around it for like a thousand miles. Other than New Guinea it might be the most isolated place on earth. But they have Internet there. And the dude that checks out this blog. Other than that it's pretty much just lizards, didgeridoos, and one huge red rock that's taller than the Tower of Babel and wider than Manhattan. Or something like that. Did the Tower of Babel ever really exist?

I know I'm crazy but I think about this visitor a lot. What's he doing (she?)? Why is he/she there? Does she get her food from the sand? How does the big rock look at sundown? And do you really think didgeridoos make good music? I mean, they look cool and all but they make sounds that are more irritating than the worst song by Bjork. And I've never seen a didgeridoo beat up a Japanese reporter, so there you go.

And while I'm at it, props go out to the dude just south of Perth, the dude in Brisbane, and the several people that have visted from Melbourne. As they say here in France, chapeau or 'hats off' to you. You visit more than people from Sydney, so thanks. People from Melbourne are better than people from Sydney anyway. Posers.

Anyway, thanks to all you Aussies for visiting. You comprise .42% of the world's population but you're on mind a lot more than that. If you wouldn't mind, post a comment or two so I can get answers to my questions and satisfy my curiosity about what's going on over there. And have a great day, ta.

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99 Red Balloons

Today must have been 80's day at the gym because this video came on right after Relax, and right before We Are The World. What a triumvirate. Little known fact: Bob Dylan sings in We Are The World. It looks like he was coked up during the shoot, but he managed to mumble his way through it, like always. Anyway, he wrote one of the 100 greatest songs of all time, so I guess he's earned the right to do as much coke as he wants.

Anyway, this classic German dance hit was released in the US when I was 13 or 14 years old. All the kids at Desert Shadows Middle School enjoyed its fantastic beat and excellent lyrics, such as "Worry worry super skurry, call the troops out in a hurry." And it helped get us into the Scorpions, another German band who sang in English and had album covers showing dudes with forks their eyes. And why not Nena and the Scorpions? Those Germans are all the same, right? Seriously, how did we get through the 80's? I mean you've got to be kidding me.

If you prefer the German version, which probably has the same lyrics but uses 18 times more letters to say it, you can see it HERE.

By the way, we're going out tonight with our friends Pascaline and Nicholas to watch some movie about Bob Dylan. It's in English with French subtitles, but I hope I can understand it. All that guy does is mumble. He's like Stasha, mumbling all the time. Whenever she talks from across the room I'm like "WHAT? WHAT DID YOU SAY?" I need one of those long horns to stick in my ear. Maybe I'm going deaf. I am getting pretty old. I think I need to go lie down.

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The 411

So, here's the deal. I'm "de mauvaise poele". In spoken French that means I'm in a bad mood. In written French it probably means I'm a bad chicken, because I'm too lazy to look up how to spell poele.

The problem boils down to this: I have an ENORMOUS canker sore on the end of my tongue. It's more like a crater, really. They should categorize canker sores so that anything bigger than 3 centimeters is called a crater sore. In French they call it an Apht, which I think is the scientific diminutive of aphtous ulcer. Again, too lazy too confirm.

I've tried it all, except Merthiolate, which I don't think you can get in the U.S., but I'm fairly certain I saw some at ED about two weeks ago. Why didn't I buy any? I could export that stuff to people like my Dad who swear by it's healing powers.

So anyway, back to my debilitating malady. It just REALLY, REALLY hurts. Like, it makes my crowns ache. And that's a big deal, because I have four on my bottom set of teeth alone. We can blame that on well water, I guess, but that's another story.

It's hard to be awake because my tongue hurts so much, but it is almost impossible to sleep because the pain wakes me up. Eating is a nightmare, and when I'm hungry, Watch Out!

I think the only benefit of this crater is that it may be improving my French. Because when you have a giant sore on the tip of your tongue, you tend to leave your tongue hanging in the middle of your mouth keeping it from touching your lips or anything else that might make it hurt. The result? Lots of air flowing over and around the tongue. Et voila! Better French.

Let me say, it is NOT worth it.


Me, the Freedom Fighter

Me (not pictured), with my colleagues. On the right, a moron.
Dave again. Perhaps I'm taking over this blog. Stasha needs to get busy posting.

Airport security procedures in the United States are a joke - as are many such procedures at airports worldwide. Most of the shenanigans forced on fliers achieve little more than long delays. We basically only have these procedures because of the existence of radical Muslim nutjobs that have tried - mostly unsuccessfully - to do crazy things on airplanes. When I was living in Phoenix and working in California back in 05 and 06, I flew every week and the indignity of doing the little song and dance every time through the line eventually became more than I could bear.

The whole taking off your shoes thing was so pointless that after 25 straight weeks of following this ridiculous charade I decided to boycott it. One Monday morning I arrived at the metal detector and was told to take off my shoes. I refused. You'll get hand-wanded, he told me. I don't care, I said. I wasn't bending over again.

I got a hand-wanding and a talking-to by the supervisor but neither of those things was any bother. After that - knowing that the punishment was painless - I got bolder.

From then on, for awhile at least, I became part of the resistance. I was like a superhero, a member of the Justice League of America. I would go through the line and they would say "Take off your shoes, sir."

"No," I would retort in a level voice, my cape flying in the wind. "You have a job to do and I respect that. But the procedures you're asking me to follow are a pointless charade. I am not Richard Reid and neither is anyone else in this line. I'm not removing my shoes. Do what you have to do." The agent would shrug, I would walk through the metal detector, it wouldn't go off, they would quarantine me and do their hand-wand job (sadly, not overly pleasant), and I would go catch my flight where I'd be told that listening to an iPod during take-off endangers the lives of all my fellow passengers, a concept as ludicrous as toothpaste tubes and water bottles blowing up airplanes.

And finally someone has started to complain in a reasonable forum. The following, called "The Airport Security Follies" appeared Sunday morning in the world's greatest newspaper. It's written by a commercial airline pilot who - hopefully like the rest of us - has had more than enough. It starts out like this and gets better from there:

Six years after the terrorist attacks of 2001, airport security remains a theater of the absurd. The changes put in place following the September 11th catastrophe have been drastic and largely of two kinds: those practical and effective, and those irrational, wasteful and pointless.

You can read the rest HERE. It's really good.

As far as I can tell, few post-9/11 airport security procedures have accomplished anything positive. But the rules keep getting more ridiculous. And for the moment, since we seem unable to make the rules better, perhaps the best we can do is hope to feel better about not giving in to them.

So the next time the rent-a-cop, who you know does not increase security as much as he/she increases costs, tells you to take off your shoes, or dump out your toothpaste, or take out your laptop, consider whether or not you might want to do something about it. In the short run you'll accomplish nothing except delaying getting to your gate, all the while making yourself feel a bit better. But in the long run who knows? You just might make a difference.

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The Smoke Begins to Clear

Tomorrow, on January 2nd, a law takes affect banning smoking in bars and restaurants throughout France. We've been here less than six months and I can already say it's been a long time in coming. The below, written by a French journalist, was published on Sunday in the New York Times.

Paris Isn’t Burning
Published: December 30, 2007


“GOD smokes Cuban cigars,” Catherine Deneuve sang more than 25 years ago in a song that’s still famous here.

The cigarette is part of our international image, alongside the baguette and the slenderness of French women. The reality is different, though. True, the French smoke a bit more than Americans, but we smoke somewhat less than some of our European neighbors, like the Austrians, the Greeks and the Dutch.

What is more notable is that the French have lagged in the West’s antismoking fight. America is at war against cigarettes. Ireland and Norway banished them in public spaces in 2004. They were soon followed by Italy, Spain, Sweden and Britain.

But things are changing here. Last year, the government decided to act. Prohibiting smoking in public places shows resolve to the voters, after all, a majority of whom favor banning cigarettes altogether.

Banishing tobacco is easier than solving the problems of the slums or reducing unemployment among young people. In October 2006, six months before this year’s presidential elections, Prime Minister Dominque de Villepin issued a decree that barred smoking in public places (government offices, schools, hospitals and the like), starting in February 2007. Cafes, restaurants and nightclubs received a reprieve until Jan. 2, 2008. So, beginning on Wednesday, smoking will now be allowed only in sealed rooms that meet strict standards.

Sixteen years ago, France was the pioneer of the West’s antitobacco fight with its Evin law, which required no-smoking areas in restaurants and cafes. But this law has been routinely ignored, in the way the French usually do with laws that displease them. Thus, France is, for a few more days, one of the last countries in Europe where you can smoke in public while you eat and drink.

Will the new prohibition be respected? Is this the end of the traditional morning cigarette savored with coffee at the bistro? “We’ll see,” some say, ready to bet this ban will have no more effect than the first.
The state, after all, profits from a laissez-faire attitude toward smoking. France has imposed high taxes on tobacco: 80 percent of the sale price of a cigarette pack (the average is five euros, or about $7.35) goes into the state treasury.

These taxes bring in more than 10 billion euros a year. Isn’t it shocking to earn money by taxing what is properly called a drug? The government responds by saying that the money subsidizes the social cost of tobacco, a plague that causes about 65,000 deaths a year in France. Lobbying by the multinational companies that dominate the French market (the biggest is Altadis, a French-Spanish company, followed by Philip Morris and British American Tobacco) also has something to do with the French tolerance of tobacco.

But others fear that smoking in public will become increasingly difficult. Although a prohibition on smoking in bars and restaurants will be harder to enforce, the ban in hospitals, schools and other places that began in February has been widely obeyed. Our Italian neighbors are also very punctilious about respecting their antismoking legislation, which went into effect in January 2005.

When he goes to Italy, the French writer Michel Houellebecq, an inveterate smoker, is obliged to meet with journalists in his hotel room. Cigarette in hand, he is now persona non grata in the lobby, at the bar, in the restaurant.

For simple economic reasons, the French smoker could rapidly become an endangered species. French cigarettes are among the most expensive in Europe, their price rising ceaselessly since 1991.
But some will always resist the antismoking campaign and manage to buy cheaper cigarettes. The black market is flourishing, and cartons of cigarettes bought on the cheap across the border circulate widely. On my trips to other countries, I have begun the custom of bringing back a carton for one or another of my smoking friends.

“Another blow to the enemy!” is the ritual phrase that greets this gift. In France, smokers tend to consider themselves as members of the resistance.

Resisting the dictatorship of health and the dictates of hygienic standards: vive la liberté of smoking! And everyone knows that in France, nobody has made jokes about liberty since the Revolution. Shall we start depicting Marianne, the emblem of the Republic, with a cigarette in her mouth?

Corinne Maier is the author of “Bonjour Laziness: Why Hard Work Doesn’t Pay.” This article was translated by The Times from the French.

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