Monday morning.

We discovered a new cocktail in France: the negroni sbagliato. A negroni, as fans of Stanley Tucci know, is very easy to make — equal parts gin, sweet vermouth and Campari, shaken with ice, garnished with an orange slice. Very refreshing. In a negroni sbagliato, you substitute sparkling wine for the gin, which lessens the alcohol content and makes it super-refreshing. (“Sbagliato” means “mistake” in Italian, and the legend goes it was invented when a busy bartender reached for the wrong bottle, but you know about legends.)

Alan bought a bottle of prosecco the other day, but it hasn’t exactly been refreshing-cocktail weather lately. Dreary rain and chill. (Also, you don’t want to open a bottle of sparkling wine if you’re not going to finish it, and so it’s best for when you have friends over.) I made the first soup of the season last night, if you don’t count last week’s chili. Cream of broccoli, because Vegetables. Probably should have served a hot toddy in the cold rain, but we just drank the remainder of the white wine after I added a cup or so to the soup.

And now I think I’m going to take the week off drinking. Got a little too accustomed to the 50cl bottle at lunch, and more at dinner, etc. Of course, in a country where McDonald’s and Haagen-Dazs both have alcoholic choices on the menu, you’re just going with the flow. Back home, you should stop drinking so much, you ol’ sot.

I’ve been reading a fair amount about Facebook lately. I said on my own page that I was ready to pull the plug on that hellsite, that once I stopped working for good and didn’t have to post stories for work, I’d be happy to step back and never post again. Maybe keep the account active for the Marketplace and because some people simply refuse to communicate any way other than via Messenger, but otherwise? Pfft. And I must say, the site is making this easy. My news feed is now disproportionately what’s known as “like farming,” i.e. stupid posts that encourage engagement. “Who remembers when the national anthem was played at the end of the broadcast day,” maybe, or “Come on – who here hasn’t gotten a DUI?” The idea is to get people agitated enough to interact with it, which boosts its position, which boosts the poster’s other material, etc. If this is Facebook, fuck ’em. If I want content like this, I can wander down to a local oil-change place and look at the 25th-generation Xeroxes on the break-room bulletin board.

But I realize I’m in the minority, that the site still has way more active users than detractors, and that it’s continuing on its path to destabilize western democracy, just the same. Social media in general doesn’t appear to be good for anyone, but as a Twitter addict I will say I enjoy the kitty videos, and Cats With Jobs (@CatWorkers) always pleases me. Anyway, back to FB, here’s the NYT today:

Apart from the Like button, Facebook has scrutinized its share button, which lets users instantly spread content posted by other people; its groups feature, which is used to form digital communities; and other tools that define how more than 3.5 billion people behave and interact online. The research, laid out in thousands of pages of internal documents, underlines how the company has repeatedly grappled with what it has created.

What researchers found was often far from positive. Time and again, they determined that people misused key features or that those features amplified toxic content, among other effects. In an August 2019 internal memo, several researchers said it was Facebook’s “core product mechanics” — meaning the basics of how the product functioned — that had let misinformation and hate speech flourish on the site.

“The mechanics of our platform are not neutral,” they concluded.

You don’t say. Elsewhere in the same edition, Ben Smith has a column on Frances Haugen, the Facebook whistleblower. It mentions the platform’s role in fomenting sectarian violence overseas. Getta loada this shit:

Dozens of religious extremists burst into a Pentecostal church outside New Delhi in June, claiming it was built atop a Hindu temple. The group installed a Hindu idol in protest, and a pastor says he was punched in the head by attackers.

Members of a Hindu nationalist organization known as Bajrang Dal claimed responsibility in a video describing the incursion that has been viewed almost 250,000 times on Facebook. The social-media company’s safety team earlier this year concluded that Bajrang Dal supported violence against minorities across India and likely qualified as a “dangerous organization” that should be banned from the platform, according to people familiar with the matter.

Facebook Inc. balked at removing the group following warnings in a report from its security team that cracking down on Bajrang Dal might endanger both the company’s business prospects and its staff in India, the people said. Besides risking infuriating India’s ruling Hindu nationalist politicians, banning Bajrang Dal might precipitate physical attacks against Facebook personnel or facilities, the report warned.

Look on your works, Mark Zuckerberg, and despair. Have I mentioned how very very tired I am of “move fast and break things.” It’s given us piles of shit-tastic technology, and an overwhelming culture of shrugging and back-to-the-ol’-drawing-board and hey-don’t-blame-us-we’re-just-a-platform. It’s maddening.

Anyway. That’s Monday morning. How’s yours?

Finally, I think I’m going to drop some random France pictures in here until I – or you guys – get tired of it. Less-traveled Metro station, here. Love that tile:

Posted at 9:53 am in Media, Same ol' same ol' | 45 Comments

Back in the saddle.

My, I’ve been neglecting you folks since my return, no? I plead…jet lag. I always thought it was easier to travel west than east, but my experience is the opposite. I’ve been flattened with fatigue by 8 p.m., wide awake at 3 a.m., and these are not conditions ripe for productivity. My brain was so confused that for the first couple days, I’d doze off, then wake up and think, for a few seconds, “Man, this room in Paris looks a lot like my own back home.” That’s how tired I was.

Add to that the other chores that go with returning from a month away — sorting a pile of mail, paying bills, restocking the fridge, telling 1,000 people “yeah, we had a great time, it was just great, really great,” etc. and you can maybe see why I’m a little discombobulated at the moment.

Oh, and going back to work, and having to hit the ground running because I deprived my colleagues of 20 percent of the workforce for a month.

But I seem to have handled most of that stuff now, so. Back to the grind here.

Confession: I’ve been doomscrolling again. Talk me down.

It starts with this message from you-know-who. It’s really astonishing, in that it is almost entirely untrue. I mean, all the words, except for “rally in Michigan yesterday.” It wasn’t even that big of a rally. And then he says:

Detroit, considered for many years to be one of the most corrupt places in the United States for elections (and many other things!), had large-scale irregularities so much so that two officials, at great risk to themselves and their families, refused to certify the results, and were sadly threatened.

Nope. There were no large-scale irregularities. Much hot air was puffed over “unbalanced precincts,” but in truth, all were out of balance by fewer than five votes, which totaled fewer than 500 out of more than 200K cast in the November election. (We’ve been over it and over it here, so I won’t belabor the point.) But what kills me is the fixation on Detroit, which isn’t even where Trump lost Michigan. He actually outperformed his 2016 totals in the city, by a narrow margin. But he was slaughtered in the suburbs, in Metro Detroit but also in Grand Rapids. White people, especially white women, stampeded out of the GOP in 2020, at least at the top of the ticket. You don’t hear him talking about Oakland County, because he can beat the BLACK Detroit BLACK corruption BLACK bass drum and the message comes through loud and clear.

Again, though, we know all this. And yet, to this day, I see emails and comments on stories and elsewhere, echoing this bullshit:

Wasn’t it a fact that aside from other things, there were far more votes than voters? Even the RINOs on the Senate Committee found 289,866 absentee ballots that were sent to people who never requested them, “something that would be illegal.”

Nope, it’s not a fact. None of it. But as our own Jeff Gill mentioned when I tweeted about this last week, this is how the Trumpian rhetoric is going — simply unhitched from reality.

All of which would be easier to ignore if it weren’t driving policy. In Michigan, the GOP is replacing troublesome canvassers on the county boards, with “troublesome” indicating “able to read numbers and interpret their meaning.” The canvasser in Wayne County who first refused to certify was bounced just last week for one who flatly said he wouldn’t have certified the 2020 vote count. Because, that’s why.

I wish I could find a quote from Hillary Clinton, something she said after the August 2020 primary here, when there was, again, a hoo-hah raised over unbalanced precincts. It’s true that too many were unbalanced, but again, most were by very small numbers, attributable to human error, and didn’t affect any races. Having worked the polls now for three elections, I can tell you the procedures are filled with fiddly bits and little details and detours and side roads to cover every conceivable voting situation, and when the people working the precinct are doing it once, maybe twice a year, it’s a miracle that any of them come out balanced. In August, I caught two or three errors in my own precinct that were caused by nothing more than confusion or assumptions made in error. We easily corrected them, but still. It happens.

And Hillary said something to the effect of, “You watch, this unbalanced-precincts thing was a test run. They’re going to try it again.” And what do you know, they did. I have Googled and Googled, and can’t find the source, but I clearly remember her talking about it.

So bottom line: I’m waiting on 2022 with some trepidation. The talking-down I’m giving myself is that this is a very loud minority who will not succeed. I hope. Fingers crossed. Check me after next year. I may be selling my worldly goods and investigating expat life in a pleasant climate.

But for now: Back to work! Glad to give you all a new thread.

Posted at 5:15 pm in Current events, Same ol' same ol' | 61 Comments

A final note.

I was on the most frivolous of errands on one of our last days in France (trying to find drugstore beauty products that were worth bringing home) when I came across this marker.

My rudimentary understanding of Latinate word roots gave me to believe this commemorates the death of Seraphin Torrin, a member of the French resistance during WWII. A little googling confirmed that was, indeed, the case. You may have to auto-translate a few web pages, but the gist is this: Seraphin Torrin and a confederate, Angelo Grassi, were executed by the Nazis – hung, specifically – and their bodies left swinging from the light posts on a wide public plaza for several hours, as a lesson to others. This was in July 1944. If the two had survived another month, they might have hooked up with this fella:

The fella being Roger Derringer, my husband’s father, who rolled through this area on a mission of liberation in August of that same year. Note the camera around his neck; it was taken from a German officer, a POW, and Roger, Bud to his family and friends, used it to take some photos. (Then he was wounded, and woke up in a military hospital without it; he always assumed some doctor who outranked him appropriated it.)

I’ve written a little about him here in the past. He was an infantry paratrooper during the war, a position roughly the same as special forces today. They jumped in ahead of the forward forces and did what they could. Most of his battalion, the 509th, didn’t make it home, but he did. The few photos that survived are kinda amazing, although the scrawled pencil notes on the back are incomplete, alas.

This castle – those are German helmets on the ground – is now an art center outside Nice, which I regret to say closed for the season a month ago. It’s privately owned, by Americans, which seems fitting. But this may be my favorite picture of all:

The note on the back only reads “German emplacement.” Check out the swastika; Jerry was planning to stay a while, it seems. He put up a sign.

I’m sorry we didn’t get up to the art center/castle. It was a ways out of town and it might have been fun to find that vantage point for another photo. What is the purpose of war, after all? To win back the peace, and make the world safe for art centers again. More pictures were of victory parades in Nice, Cannes and elsewhere around here:

That toddler on her mother’s hip would be very old today, if she still lives:

And it all happened here. We’re at a strange time in history, in the history of all the world. It’s good, sometimes, to look back at these sepia memories and remember that in some sense, it was ever thus.

Back to America very soon.

Posted at 1:51 pm in Same ol' same ol' | 53 Comments

Nearly time for au revoir.

Well, I’m ready to come home. I think. Not really, but for some things. I miss my washing machine, as the ones here are jokes. I miss my hot-water heater. And I miss my friends, dog and daughter. Otherwise, I could easily stay here indefinitely.

Last night we met an American couple who’s been here for three years. Older than us, but not by much. They’d gone from retirement in Florida to France, and seem set on staying. They explained how they sold everything they owned, transported the bare minimum to Paris, where they rented a storage unit and have apartment-hopped in several-month stints since. Trying to find just the right neighborhood, they said. They’re both on the French health system. “And if you’re over 65, they don’t even require you to speak French,” the man said. They’re going for permanent residency, and likely will get it.

This was one of several conversations with English-speaking people we have had in the past month. A British father/son pair in Segueret (the place we found the wine) explained the idiocy of Brexit, and I told them that if we switched just a few names around, they could be explaining Trumpism. One of the other people on the Paris bike tour was a feisty lady from South Dakota, who referred to Kristy Noem as “Governor Barbie.” She said she didn’t worry about offending anyone who might overhear, because no one who’d be offended would be in Europe in the first place.

So hey, the resistance lives.

But sooner or later, we have to leave the land of two-button toilet flushes behind, and for us, it’s this weekend. It’s been a great trip. We got our exit Covid tests today (both negative), so that was a relief. We’ve stood on packed subway/tram cars, walked through densely populated outdoor spaces, masked indoors, unmasked (mostly) outdoors, and have been fine. Vaccination rate here now tops 85 percent, yet mask compliance is pretty thorough. If you like, there’s a New York Times op-ed about the European mask situation that I more or less agree with.

What else do you want to know? How about the topless-beach thing, maybe? It’s been warm enough that on sunny days, there are a fair number of sunbathers on the beach, even in October. But topless women? Only a very few. When I was here as a young person, it was reversed. (Or so I was told, by my resident friend.) What changed? I blame camera phones. It’s one thing to sun your boobs if you are among friends, but if you know some creep can put you in a “Best Titties on the Riviera” loop on Pornhub without you even knowing, that’s a deal-breaker. I did notice that women will change out of their wet bathing suits into street clothes without excess modesty, and no one seems to look.

In our final days, Alan has turned into Jimmy Stewart in “Rear Window,” sitting on the terrace watching the square five walk-up floors below. There’s a strange woman who seems to be juggling, but doesn’t — she throws a ball from hand to hand and another up in the air. Two guys messed around with a drone this morning. There are domino games on the tables. And we watched an influencer with a full video crew walk and pose by the fountain through several takes. If there’s a murder down there before we leave, he’ll be a star witness.

Tomorrow, we take the train first to Marseille, then the TGV to Paris again. Maybe a final update from there.

Posted at 10:46 am in Same ol' same ol' | 17 Comments

Odds and ends.

It’s probably time for a generic photo dump. I mean, in the olden days, there was a standard sitcom joke about people inviting you over and then making you sit through a slideshow of their vacation snapshots. Now we use Instagram for that. And places like this.

You are free to click away. This is the B-team of my pix, anyway.

Our Airbnb here in Nice is next door to the cathedral. Excuse me: Cathédrale et Sainte-Réparate de Nice. Sunday was the feast of the patron saint, who has quite the life story, if you’d like to click through. Now, my Catholic upbringing was American and suburban, and didn’t include elaborate celebrations of patron saints; everything I know about them I got from watching “The Godfather, Part 2.” And I still don’t know much about them, honestly. Are they Italian? Not sure. We are very close to Italy here, and there are many Italian names on the tablet listing the WWI dead on the facade of the cathedral, so maybe this tradition is entirely national, who knows.

Anyway, yesterday it was obvious something big was up, all of which we watched from our fifth-floor terrace. A near-truckload of flowers was delivered the previous day (all squished into a small Renault two-door, and what Americans could learn from Europeans about packing a cargo space could fill a book). Musicians rolled in large instruments. Early arrivals for the 11 a.m. Mass were wanded by security. The elderly Monsignor was delivered to the door. And so on.

Then, at eight minutes before 11, we could hear the horns and drums, and from the other side of the square, costumed dancers led a full-on parade to the front door. Following them were robed and caped individuals who I’m sure represented various religious orders, and then, yay! A statue of Saint Reparate standing on a litter in a rolling boat filled with flowers, pushed by a number of priests, who stopped at the cathedral door and transferred her litter to their shoulders, to go the rest of the way into the church.

I shot a short movie, and I hope it renders; if not, maybe J.C. can tinker.

A movie, by Nancy.

(I wonder if the dancers were paid professionals; afterward, many didn’t go into the church for Mass, but stood around on the square checking their phones.)

Anyway, it was stirring.

Miscellaneous photos:

We liked the Chagall museum, although the garden restaurant outside was awful.

Window-shopping, which is the only way I can appreciate Chanel:

I haven’t seen a Benetton store in the U.S. in decades, but it still exists here, and remains the McDonald’s of sweaters:

Yesterday we took the train to Monaco, just to say we did. It was pretty bleh, and had that look that tax havens all over the world get, full of bored-looking rich people seeking to stimulate their jaded souls with ever-greater thrills, which is to say the yachts in the basin were huge and there were cops everywhere, all in a country the size of a golf course. One pulled his motorcycle to the curb as we emerged from the train station, to inform us that in the principality, masks are required to be worn inside and out. OK, dude.

More to my liking was Villefranche sur mer, a village just outside of town, where we stopped on our way back for a couple of Campari spritzes. Hard-core Rolling Stones fans may recall it as the site of Nellcote, a villa Keith Richards rented for a time and generally acknowledged as the birthplace of “Exile on Main Street.” We didn’t see it. It’s owned by a rich Russian now, and the gates are kept closed all the time. The TripAdvisor reviews say stuff like “if you’re brave enough to swim out, you can see it from the water,” but I’m not that dedicated. Anyway, their yacht basin was full of pretty middle-class sailboats, and we approved:

And that brings us up to date and the Derringers off to another flea market.

Posted at 5:10 am in Same ol' same ol' | 20 Comments


Our first full day in the penultimate spot on our trip (if you count the last, woeful night, planned for a Paris airport hotel), and what do we stumble upon on the partly cloudy banks of the Mediterranean? A car show.

Just a small one, something about zero-emission transportation. So there were a few bikes, but mostly EVs, i.e. electric cars. There was nothing there to really surprise the recently retired autos editor of a Detroit daily newspaper, but it did seem to focus something I’ve noticed since we’ve been in Europe, i.e. how much better they’re dealing with the constellation of issues we call “mobility.”

Never mind mass transit, which was outstanding in Paris and fine in Arles and Nice, with the famed Metro, plus buses and trams. Never mind the emphasis on getting people more or less safely (see entry of a few days back, ha ha) on bikes and other non—polluting vehicles. But pay close attention to the EV and hybrid situation, which is miles ahead of what I’ve seen so far in the States.

A friend of mine stumbled across a Facebook post on the new Ford Lighting, their all-electric F-150. The comments were furious and incendiary, from people incensed that Ford would even consider such a vehicle. They seem personally offended by the thought that one day they won’t be able to “roll coal” at some cyclist, because Joe Biden blah blah blah. Here’s a typical non-insane Michigan comment about EVs: “Huh. If I can’t get Up North on one charge, what’s the point?” (Up North being the vaguely defined region of rural Michigan where much of the populace vacations.) These people have no imagination, no faith in a buildable infrastructure of charging stations, of improved batteries, of…pretty much anything other than what they’ve always known.

And yet, here? The revolution is in progress. All the taxis in Paris are now hybrids. The buses, ditto. The mayor has made it a goal to get motor vehicles out of the central areas of the city a.s.a.p. In Nice, we’re staying in a car-free part of the city center, and I don’t notice any shortage of people able to enjoy it. Bikes whiz through here, along with Segways, scooters and other non-polluting vehicles. I have the feeling that travel always gives me — that the world has figured out a way to get along without my opinions, and is doing just fine.

(After-publication edit to add this, one of the more startling commuting-related sights we saw in Paris. It’s the closest thing to the Detroit Red Wings winged wheel I’ve ever seen, kind of a hoverboard but without the board, just two pedals straddling a single wheel. And it flies as fast as a bike — please don’t ask me how it’s braked — and carries a retractable handle to take it into your office. I was amazed.)

Meanwhile, here’s the best pic I took today, heading for the morning market to find breakfast fixings. OK, best two pics.

We’re thinking a day trip to Monaco is not out of the question. Gotta give myself a chance to catch a glimpse of my favorite princess, good ol’ Charlene. Later!

Posted at 11:45 am in Same ol' same ol' | 40 Comments

Worth it.

Today was ruinously expensive. We rented a car, drove up to wine country a few dozen kilometers north of here, dropped in on one vineyard, bought a case of wine (which will be shipped), stopped for a priciest-so-far lunch, and for the coup de grace parked in the Arles municipal parking garage at NYC prices. I don’t want to think about what this is totaling, but then, this was the little village where we ate…

And this was the view from the table…

And this was dessert…

And so I’m thinking: Eh, worth it. We haven’t ripped the knob off on our spending this month, but shit’s expensive and sometimes lunch costs what it costs, and dessert looks like that, so.

The countryside was worth the cost of the car rental. Vineyards, needless to say, but also olive groves, medieval churches, twisted cedars and poplars (hey, Mr. Van Gogh!), farm fields that grow something other than corn / beans / wheat. The lady at the vineyard spoke British English and inquired about Michigan wines. When we left, she rinsed out the basin where we’d been pouring our tasting samples for the next customer, who looked at it quizzically. “That’s the spit bucket,” I explained, and she said that was a more descriptive term than something-something-in-French, which sounded very classy but was essentially the same thing. I have always believed you can tell everything about the French relationship with food by noting that potatoes are pommes de terre, i.e. apples of the earth.

The vineyard was way up in the hills, a real goat-path kind of road. The poor soil is good for the wine, she explained, because the vines put all their energy into the fruit, perhaps sensing they’re not long for this world. She used a lot of terminology I didn’t really understand – Alan has a better palate – but I’m not intimidated by any of that shit anymore. Does it taste good? Did you like it? Then drink.

Tomorrow we head for the Camargue. It’s supposed to be sunny. I’m hoping for some wild horses, flamingoes and cattle. I’ll settle for two out of three, and not too-too many mosquitoes.

BTW, pictures are going on posts now because we have much better internet here. Let’s hope it lasts.

Posted at 1:03 pm in Same ol' same ol' | 55 Comments

Cycle anarchy.

I forgot to mention this, and seeing as how there’s a NYT story about it today, I guess I should.

My old editor Carolyn chimed in a few posts back and recommended a particular bike tour, and the next-to-last night we were in Paris, we decided to give it a try, signing up for the night ride. Nights are arriving earlier, and it sounded cool, seeing the city of lights when they were turned on. We’d start at the company’s offices near the Eiffel Tower, cruise here and there, get ice cream on the Ile St. Louis, pull off for a one-hour boat tour and then ride back to the offices by 10:15 p.m. or so. A three (and a half) hour tour, a three-hour toooour.

And it was fine, although man — it was a hair-raiser for part of it.

As we were assembling for the heading-out briefing, the guide asked if anyone had experience with group rides. I raised my hand, expecting to be one of eight or so. But I was the only hand raised. So all of a sudden, I was made the sweep, i.e., the person who rides at the back of the pack and makes sure no one gets left behind. OK, no biggie, I can handle that. However, I quickly realized, our party included a couple of older women, who’d been talked into this by the daughter of one, who was middle-aged herself. The least-experienced of the two admitted she hadn’t been on a bike in years. She didn’t understand gears. She didn’t understand hand brakes. “How do I stop this thing,” she trilled as we headed to our first turn. Hoo-boy this will be fun, I thought.

But they don’t say “it’s like riding a bike” for nothing, and Gail was a gamer. She did fine, once she figured out the brakes. I advised her to stick closer to the curb side of the bike lane (she wobbled left) and to keep her foot on the raised pedal at stops, the better to push off easily. We were following hand signals from the guide, indicating single-file, double-file or “domination,” i.e. a tight pack to assert our right to be wherever we were. (Inexperienced cyclists sometimes don’t understand that you’re safer when you claim the lane, so to speak. That’s what domination is all about.)

Anyhoo, we hadn’t gone far when we joined a bike lane along the Seine, well past what I’d consider rush hour, absolutely packed but still moving. And because of the different aims of all the two-wheelers there, it was like driving in, oh, Miami, maybe, where Dave Barry once observed the great South Florida melting pot of drivers each follows the laws of the country they immigrated from. There were cycling commuters. There were cycling tourists. There were Uber Eats riders hellbent for the next fare, and all the similar services. There was a messenger on a Euro-style cargo bike, so tatted and muscled he looked like a member of another species. There were pedicabs. And there were those fucking electric scooters, just to put the turd olive on the shit sandwich. It was utter madness, with buses and cars gridlocked on the quai road and the bike lane moving like anarchy. I saw the fall before it happened, as Gail put her leg out to push away from a bollard and went down in slow motion.

But she was fine! She scrambled up, at least as quickly as a Minnesota senior lady who hasn’t ridden in years can, and remounted. Our peloton of 15 or so stopped far ahead for us to catch up. By this point all I could think was lord give me strength, but She did, and we finally made it to the Ile for our ice cream. The guide confessed he had excised the Louvre courtyard stop, due to the bike-lane insanity. Apparently the 2015 terror trial is going on now, and the commute is even more fraught than usual. But inexperienced riders in the mix was like putting a 15-year-old with a learner’s permit on the Dan Ryan Expressway not precisely at rush hour, but close enough to it that traffic gets the way it gets – bumper-to-bumper at 70 miles per hour and you just best keep your shit together.

The NYT story is about how (allegedly) the French spirit of liberté precludes Parisian riders from following rules:

Probably the biggest challenge, though, is that Paris doesn’t yet have an ingrained cycling culture.

In Paris, parts of the 1,000-kilometer citywide cycling network (about 620 miles) can steer bikers into hazardous interactions with cars, pedestrians and other cyclists. At the Bastille, a once-enormous traffic circle that was partly appropriated from cars, a tangle of bike lanes weave through traffic. Cyclists who respect signals can take up to four minutes to cross.

“Paris has the right ideas and they’re absolutely the main city to watch on the planet, because no one is near them for their general urban transformation visions,” said Mikael Colville-Andersen, a Copenhagen-based urban designer who advises cities on integrating cycling into urban transport.

Hmm, I dunno. Funny how drivers aren’t really mentioned in this piece. And I don’t speak French, so I’m wary of making too many assumptions, but while we were riding I heard a single cyclist shouting in what sounded like very angry French at a pedicab conveying a tourist couple in the bike lane. The pedicab was electric-assisted, and nearly as wide as a Smart car, which made its presence on a stretch of pavement reserved for cyclists problematic.

It all turned out well in the end. We got our ice cream, we had our boat ride, we opened a few bottles along the way, the guide told us about Academie Francaise, where scholars gather to decide all matters pertaining to the language. Make a note of it: “Covid” is a masculine noun. And our boat passed one of those river cruise vessels, and we caught a glimpse of one man sitting up in bed, in his PJs.

Our final stop was the Eiffel Tower, lit up and glorious. “Just a three-minute ride to the end,” the guide called as we pushed off from there. At the final turn, Gail’s friend, as old as she was, wobbled and tipped over, too. But like Gail, she popped up and said it was all her fault.

For my service as sweeper, I was awarded a T-shirt. I think I earned it. And I hope your Thursday was as much fun.

My view, heading out:

Was it worth it? Oh yeah:

Posted at 12:21 pm in Same ol' same ol' | 26 Comments

Gliding on rails.

France’s bullet train is the TGV. That stands for train a grand vitesse, i.e. very fast train. J.C. Burns, speaker of OK French, taught me that a hundred years ago; he thought it was amusing. This was around the time of my own first and until now only trip here, after which my host, a friend from middle school, sent me a local weekly newspaper’s page of listings for porn theaters, helpfully translated. At the time, American porn titles were all wisecrack-y plays on mainstream American movies: “Pumping Irene,” “Indiana Joan and the Black Hole of Mamou,” stuff like that. (I wonder if anyone ever did “Forrest Pump,” one I just made up.)

Anyway, the titles were similar to “very fast train.” “Two Horny Professors and a Willing Schoolgirl,” etc. My favorite employed a French verb which means “to break into something with force,” and translated to “I’m Breaking Into You and Without Vaseline.” Sans Vaseline!

Anyway, these are the things you think about on the TGV. We boarded yesterday around 7:30 a.m., pulled out at 7:43 on the nose and were in the sunny southern city of Arles at 12:16. And that included several stops on the TGV line, a 45 minute layover in Avignon, and a far slower train between there and Arles. I remind you, this is a country the size of Texas. The distance between the two cities is 462 miles. It would take you twice that long to drive it, at least, and you couldn’t read a book, take two pee breaks without stopping, eat a slice of pizza in Avignon or contemplate the lovely scenery out the window.

I mean, that sucker flies. Of course the U.S. refused to build even one.

And now we’re in Arles. The weather isn’t good, but the place is rather amazing-looking, at least where we are, in the heart of the old city. The view out the front door is of the Roman coliseum, where today they hold no-kill bullfights, which I am sorry to learn will not be held while we’re here. They’re no-kill because the goal is to hook a ribbon tied between the animal’s horns, sometimes a bouquet of flowers. These French, they are amusing. I was hopeful there might be something going on yesterday, because we could hear occasional animal bellowing out the window. It turned out to be a sound installation by some artist whose name and goals I can’t translate. We bought a ticket and sat in the stands to listen for a while. I texted a photo to a friend back home, a fellow “Gladiator” fan, and we traded lines from the movie. Simple amusements.

The plan for our stay here is more rambling, and I expect we’ll rent a car and check out the Camargue, the brackish Rhône river delta nearby. It’s supposed to rain today, so today will probably be a rambling day, with stops for the usual midday wine.

Enjoy your Sunday, whenever it dawns for you. I’ve already eaten a chocolate croissant — aux aumandes —- and feel ready to start mine.

Posted at 4:10 am in Same ol' same ol' | 8 Comments

The scarves.

As part of my preparation for this trip, I did a little research on clothing. Of course I wanted to be comfortable, but also? I didn’t want to look too much like an American.

Now I realize a few things right away: Any French person would peg me as a Yank at 20 paces, the same way I learned to spot French people when they all swarmed Detroit in the last decade, click-click-clicking their cameras at the ruin porn. But I thought that maybe, if I didn’t cross certain lines, I could at least not stick out like some dipshit. No baseball caps, no fanny packs, you know the drill. So I hit the web, googling “how do French people dress” and packed accordingly.

I had sneakers, not big chunky gym sneakers, but cute, close-cut Italian sneakers, much more fashionable than something you’d wear to work out in. I brought only one set of leggings, which I wear exclusively indoors. Because everything I read indicated that French women would never wear Nikes, and leggings on the street? Non!

I don’t need to tell you how much of this advice was utter bullshit, do I? Everybody — and I mean all ages, both genders, tiny tots to grandparents, are wearing American-style athletic shoes on the street. My Italian sneaks not only aren’t working, but with so much walking, my feet swell as the day progresses, and they’re virtually crippling. I haven’t worn them since day three, when I limped into a Nike store and paid too much for a pair of running shoes, which I wore out of the store. My feet had expanded a half size in mid-afternoon, so there’s the literal rub. The waitress at the restaurant we lunched at today was wearing a leather miniskirt, white cotton sweater, patterned tights and black Adidas.

And leggings are everywhere. Hey, these girls have cute little fannies, and why not wear something that shows them off?

Not that they don’t have that je ne sais quoi. There’s something about the way they can throw together a pair of jeans and a plain white T-shirt and just look fabulous, in a way that no non-fashion model American can pull off. (The men look great, too. I see way more suits here than in Detroit, although hardly any neckties.) It has to do with the accessories, but also the scarves.

Man, the scarves. It’s funny, because the scarves are how I learned to spot the French in Detroit. It could be 80-plus degrees, killer humidity, but you’d see these folks hanging around town taking pictures, in Euro-style eyeglass frames and always, always a scarf. Maybe draped a little loosely, but still — on the neck when someone with my body composition and internal thermostat would have instantly drenched it with sweat. How. Do they DO IT.

The weather has been fine so far, 70s dipping into the 50s at night, but the first day the high was just below 70, people were out in lightweight puffer jackets and scarves. The humidity is pretty high, and when I walk, even casually stroll, in weather like that, I need a jacket and scarf like I need a pair of stilettos. I don’t even wear my good scarves until it gets pretty chilly, because the last thing you want to do with silk is sweat all over it. But here there seems to be no such rule. Today was fine and sunny, in the mid-60s, and we were strolling on the Viaduc du Something-or-Other, i.e. the Paris Highline, I in a very light sweater I didn’t really need, and Alan in long sleeves. A teenage boy quickstepped past us, dressed how I would expect — jeans, a T-shirt with some band name on it, and a red knit scarf wrapped tightly around his neck.

It must be a national garment or something, like the way Eastern European grandmas swaddle babies in enough wool to cook them like pigs in a blanket, and in July no less.

I packed four scarves, tried wearing one on a couple of days, but always took it off after an hour outdoors. I wore one the night we went to the string quartet, and had to keep pulling it away from my neck for fear of ruining it. I think my bloodline is way too German for this place.

Next, I think I’d like to write a little about the pass sanitaire. Which we should have in the U.S., but don’t, because freedom. Au revoir!

Posted at 1:04 pm in Same ol' same ol' | 61 Comments