On the road again

I’m writing this while on the Eurostar to London for a few days of meetings. The train is flying past small towns in France on its way to Calais and a big hole we know as the Chunnel. It’s a nice journey, I think this is the fourth time I’ve made this trip.

The Paris Strike

Well, the strike is still going on. The first day wasn’t too bad. I walked and walked and rode my little scooter. I survived the day surprisingly well. It turns out that the metros and buses are still running, just not at full strength. This brings a different dimension to the strike.

At first, I thought it was just a matter of building up endurance for the journey. As the strike continues, I’m building up my patience. You see it’s not about physical exertion, rather mental exhaustion.
Is it a bird? Is it a plane?
There are two main metro lines that run fairly steadily. One is all automatic and doesn’t require a driver. It goes at full schedule. The other is the main metro. It cuts across Paris and carries the majority of the traffic. It runs at 50%. The other metro lines and buses run at different levels of service from 20% to not at all.

I can easily take my first metro, the automatic one. But it only takes me 60% of the journey. Normally I’d take the #3 metro and it’s a simple journey. However, the #3 is only running at 10%. That means I could wait in the metro stop for an hour. When that train finally arrives people will be stuffed like sardines in it. So, that’s not really an option.

There’s a bus that goes from the stop to my work. But it is at quasi-null status. That leaves me with grabbing a bike to ride uphill, taking another metro to another station and walking, taking a taxi, or just walking. Usually, I just walk the distance, about 3 miles. Today, I took a cab because I didn’t know when I was leaving for London and didn’t want to arrive to the office too late. The line for the cab was 1 hour. If the strike continues next week, I think I’ll walk up to the beginning of the #1 line and take it across the city. It’s about 2 miles walk to the station and then 1 mile from the final stop to my work. I could always grab a bike at either station.

Paris has 20,000 community bikes in the city. That’s why I keep saying that I can grab a bike. Every metro stop and most major intersections have a computerized bike station where you can rent a bike. It’s free for the first 30 minutes and 1 euro for each 30 minutes afterwards.

Tonight, I gave myself about 1 1/2 hours to get from work to the train station. It took almost 2 hours and I missed my train. We were stuck on one street for about 30 minutes. I thought I was in Los Angeles for a while. It would have been about a 20 minute journey on the metro if there wasn’t a strike.

In general, I’d say the strike hasn’t been that difficult. The weather has been cold, but the availability of minimal service has kept us from freezing. I’m just glad I wasn’t here a decade ago when the strike went for three weeks in December with snow.

Patience.

That’s a virtue you learn quickly in France. In fact, it couldn’t come fast enough.
the transit strike pose
I have been waiting for bank stuff, a phone, internet, stuff to arrive, the traffic to move, the waiter to bring a check, the metro to arrive, the bus to arrive, the weather to warm up… Just as I get frustrated I remember that I’m not in California and some things simply move at a slower pace.

Jean-Pierre was telling me that in France you take time to relax, to take a deep breath, to spend time with family, the arts, yourself. I was complaining about stores closed on Sunday. He was telling me that they should be closed, the people that work there need the time for their life as well. It’s about not burning yourself out as fast as possible and enjoying your life.

Health check and immigration interview

All immigrants to France have to take a health exam before getting their residency. France provides health care for everyone. Yeah, can you imagine that? Health care for everyone. It’s still unimaginable. So they want to find problems before they develop. They give you an eye exam, chest xray, blood sugar, blood pressure, etc. I came out well. I was expecting some high blood pressure after my stressful week, but I was right on target. My blood sugar was low as I didn’t have time to eat before the appointment. (I celebrated with a slice of coconut flan!)

They also interviewed me to see if I needed any assistance or education. I got a certificate saying that I passed the basic level of French comprehension. They offer 300 hours of free classes to learn the language. I need to take a test to evaluate my experience and then arrange to attend classes. I need to learn past and present tense and to improve my writing ability. Otherwise, I need to watch more television and talk in French whenever possible.

French TV

Victoria Silvstedt French TV has taken some of the worst elements of American TV and amplified them. My favorite is Wheel of Fortune. The Vanna White is a blonde with enormous boobs, low cut dress, and a jack russel terrier. Whenever the game gets boring, they cut the cameras to her bending over to pet the dog. I’m not kidding! Vanna White is flashing the audience!

They also have the requisite talent shows and other silly games. The channel I watch mostly is Arte. It is filled with art, travel, cinema, and science. It’s like the A&E/Bravo/Sundance channels. Pretty soon, my internet/tv/phone package will begin working and I’ll have 300 bad television channels to select from. I can’t wait to watch semi trucks slalom race in Sweden.

Food

For the most part, my eating in France has been uneventful. As you know, I’m cheap. Really cheap. It’s even worse when my French debit card wasn’t working and I had to use my American account. Ted + US Dollar + Europe = Very Cheap.
So, I’ve eaten a bunch of cheese sandwhiches, fruit, bread, fruit, cereal, and a bit more fruit and cheese sandwiches. I have gone out with co-workers and friends. Just not that often.

If a company in Paris doesn’t have a cafeteria, they have to provide meal allowances for their employees. At the beginning of the month, we get a book of 8 euro coupons that can be spent on a warm meal at a local restaurant. It’s a great deal, however I didn’t get a book in November :(. That means Ted has to spend money on lunch and he is too cheap for that. Don’t get me wrong, I have money in the bank to pay for it. I’m just too damn cheap to spend it.

Needless to say, I can’t wait to receive my December allowances. I’ll be downright giddy.

Markets

As you’ve read, I’ve been to the flea market. There’s also a farmers market outside my apartment twice a week, on the way to the metro once a week, and next to Jean-Pierre’s house twice a week. Parisians don’t go to Price Club and stock up. They buy what’s needed for a few days and eat fresh food all of the time.
Organic food at the market
Saturday, Jean-Pierre and I went to his market. I bought some adorable potatoes. They look like russets, but are about the size of two grapes. I’ll roast them with some olive oil, onions, mustard, and chevre one night. I also bought a bunch of apples to snack on. I’ve got about a pound left, so I may make some apple sauce when I return from London.

Yesterday there was a market in front of my house for food and goods made outside of Paris. It was a really nifty market. I bought a pair of brightly colored striped mohair socks and a dark blue pair as well. I also bought some booze for a christmas gift, a beeswax candle, some bran muffin-like cakes filled with jam (for the London trip), and Aligot.
More Aligot
I’ve been dying to try aligot since I first heard of this incredibly stringy cheese dish. It’s very difficult to make, as you mix this special cheese with boiled potatoes and stir until both arms fall off. I was a bit disappointed that it wasn’t as stringy as pizza. However, it was a great meal on the cold day. It tasted like a very rich mashed potato dish.

Back to the chunnel

I’m under the English channel right now. There’s not much to see. Just darkness and the occasional light on the side. They used to announce it. I must have missed it. I’m listening to my iPod and the Ethel Mermans disco record was blaring. No, really, I love my Ethel Merman disco record. Or is it Durward’s?

Keep an eye on these web sites for more adventures

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Now playing: Elvis Presley – I’m A Roustabout
via FoxyTunes

Leaving Toronto

All good things must come to end, or so they say. I’m in the airport now and waiting for the big birdie to arrive and take me to San Francisco. I walked around the city today remembering some of the more choice experiences in Toronto.

a vision in pinkMore Drag Queen Lovin’

There’s a gay bar in the village, I think it is called Bubble’s Show or something equally glamorous. This is the hub of drag queens in the city. They hover around this place like moths on a stop light. I never went inside the bar as it was much more enjoyable from a distance.

The bar has a small stage visible from the street and random “shows” by the ladies for the clientèle. I swear I saw Celine Dion doing a pole dance while I was eating some spicy Indian food across the street.

Later, I sat next door in a coffee shop drinking some mint tea to cool down my tastebuds from the aforementioned Indian food. Abba’s “Dancing Queen” began pulsating from the bar and I could only imagine a drag queen in white taffeta spinning around like a whirling dirvish. My vision was shattered as two bitchy queens and a fag hag walked by, one of them joked “Dancing Queen?!?!? More like Semi-Vegetative Queen.”The village at night

Veggie hot dogs and hockey pucks

I walked down to the big CN Tower, the tallest man made structure for the rest of the month. I’m just too cheap to spend 30 bucks on an elevator trip, so I passed up the opportunity to see the sights from the current tallest tower.

mmmm... veggie hot dogI did take a detour and walked through an enormous Blue Jays crowd. It’s always a bit more fun to walk against the flow than with it. I hadn’t had anything to eat and gasp, no coffee either. It seemed like everyone I walked past was eating a freshly grilled hot dog smothered with goodies or just finished one. The corners of their mouths were either full, yellow, or had green relish specks.

Hot dogs were the only thing I missed about eating meat. So, imagine my surprise when I found out these roadside hotdog joints sold veggie dogs! MMMMM….. Veggie dog with mustard, ketchup, relish, sourkraut, and more for breakfast. Move over wheaties, I’ve found a new champion.

I then visited the Hockey Hall of Fame. Yes, that was me with the clueless look in the shrine of Gretzky. I ended up watching the people more than the exhibits as their eyes lit up when they came across someones old jockstrap covering a hockey puck in a glass case.

watch for that flying puckThey had this great game where you walk into a small arena and act like a goalie. There’s a huge screen in front with hockey players coming at you. Eventually someone on the screen smacks the puck and one of the little round fuckers comes flying out of the wall and hits you in the chest! That was worth the price of admission!

A missed bargain

weeeeWhile walking around town, I stopped into a delightful little clothes shop. Now, I’m cheap. I mean really cheap. It’s my Mom’s fault. She always taught us that the best clothes were the ones in the back of the store under the clearance rack.

Well, I found a treasure trove in the back of one store; a wonderful pair of leopard-print satin underwear for only $9.97. What a bargain … and oh so sexy in a Jackie Stallone kind of way. For even less, I could have gotten a pair of pink satin skivvies that consisted of a pouch hanging from an elastic band. Oh so practical!

Luckily, my mom also told us to avoid leopard prints and satin pouch panties.

Oh, I also played the Canuck Lotto and won 10 bucks (approx. $9.67 US) I am rich beyond belief.

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Now playing: Nomeansno – The Hawk Killed the Punk
via FoxyTunes

Memoirs of a visitor to India, part 2

Yahoo! Bangalore

lightning talks at the bangalore front end engineering conference
I was in Bangalore for business. I gave two lectures at the Bangalore Front End Engineering Summit and met with various properties about Yahoo! platforms and coding. The lectures were at the new office, situated in a cluster of high tech companies.

The Bangalore Yahoo’s are a fun group. We all seem to know each other already from the many email threads and conferences. There’s a fraternity-like connection between the veteran Yahoos and a similar freshman mentality of the new hires. Ted Drake speaking at conferenceIt reminded me of college in many ways.

Food in Bangalore

I’ve traveled to many countries and there are meals that I will always remember. I have vivid memories of cherry tomatoes at my friend Jacque’s restaurant in Paris, Gnocchi in Barcelona, more tomatoes stuffed with feta in Vancouver, Chai tea in Seattle, Belgian waffles in Brussels, Ice cream sundae in Vienna, pizza in Florence….

Overall, I would have to say Bangalore had the best food overall (it was also very cheap!). There were so many dishes that surprised me with explosive, unique flavors. The service was great and the company warm. View from Dining TableI especially enjoyed dining on the 13th floor balcony of the EclipseEbony restaurant.

The Yahoo! cafeteria has a small hole in the wall, about 2 feet by 2 feet. It’s a mysterious chasm that swallows dirty dishes and takes requests for coffee and chai. It reminds me of the lady that makes tortillas inside the San Diego Museum of Man, she sits in a broom closet surrounded by mummies, skulls, and a large Aztec god.

Your request is fulfilled a few minutes later as a tray appears with a small cup of hot divinity. This chai is nothing like the stuff we get in the states. It’s thick, spicy, and has a hint of roasted flavor. lunch at Yahoo! BangaloreI could have subsisted on chai alone.

Aside from the chai, here are some other foods I will remember:

  • Warm carrot pudding with vanilla ice-cream
  • Fluffy rice thingys in a sweet lemon liquid
  • Spicy shish-ka-bob mushrooms
  • Pizza with a thin crust that reminded me of Mama’s Bakery and Lebanese Deli in San Diego
  • Did I mention the chai?
  • Egg curry at the Yahoo! office
  • The spicy, but not hot, mint chutney…

continued