Friday, August 28, 2009

Pt.7 We Almost Meet the Man Who Controls Paris

this series begins (link) HERE

It was warm and humid, and appeared as though it could rain any minute. We headed down the Rue Linois to the district with the same name as the Metro, Charles Michel. The district is a busy community. On the way, we stopped at a pharmacy for a roll of Rolaids. The clerk didn’t understand what we meant at first, until we mentioned Rolaids. Then, instead of Rolaids, she offered us a box of Pepcid AC, available in the U.S., but packaged here in a plain white box with purple writing on it. Most of the labeling for familiar over-the-counter pharmaceutical items was understated, and not the familiar gaudy labels. I don’t know why.

Many pharmacies had a square green neon cross in front — we never figured out if it was a chain of pharmacies that used the green cross as a logo, or whether the green cross was some sort of a European symbol for pharmacy. The green crosses displayed different patterns. Some pulsated, some appeared to shift around, some were just fully lit, some blinked on and off. We continued to see these throughout the week -- they are all over France.

The metro station was across from an Italian sidewalk cafe, and kitty-corner from McDonald’s, both of which we would visit later in the week. We headed down a flight of stairs, and were promptly stopped by a shaggy-looking older man, who was talking to an equally seedy-looking black man in the square. In broken English, he explained that this was a private stairway, the metro was over there — he pointed — This stairway was the entrance to his personal friend’s office. He controlled the entire city from this office, but, for now he was asleep, and could not be disturbed. Well, we didn’t go down to see for ourselves. Instead we went down the Metro stairs to catch a train.

We got on the Yellow #10, and as the first station turned out to be Javel, and not Cambronne, we found that we had boarded the train in the wrong direction. We got out, went up, over the tracks, and got back on the Yellow #10 going the other way. There ought to be a way to tell before you get on, if you’re going in the right direction. We proceeded through the stops, Cambronne, Segur, Duroc, Sevre Babylone, smoothly all the way to Odeon. At different stops, we again heard the blasts of what sounded like accordion music. Finally, we saw one — there are accordionists who ride on the trains, playing for coins. We never had the good fortune, unfortunately, of riding with one. All the street musicians we saw, with few exceptions, were quite talented, with a lot of showmanship.

Odeon, we boarded the train on the purple line, through Saint Michel, under the river, Chatelet, Les Halles, — get ready — our stop is next — Ettienne Marcel. The station was under construction — the porcelain wall bricks had been removed for some sort of remodelling. The train stopped. The doors didn’t open. Looking back, I don’t know if we could have opened the doors using the handles — we didn’t try them, but maybe they wouldn’t have opened anyway, because of the construction, but, right on schedule, in fifteen seconds, the horn blew, and the train took off, not leaving us at our destination. We got off at the next station, hoping to backtrack. At Reumer Sebastopol, we got off the train.

We emerged in a district with many clothing stores — very expensive, and, according to Joyce, (who has been in the fashion industry all her life) nothing spectacular to offer. I tried to get our bearings on a map, but just about when I found out where we were, Joyce would lose patience and start walking ahead. She thought it should be this way, she said, pointing. I thought, well, let her go where she wants, she’ll get tired. It was all new, and even going nowhere in particular in a new place can be interesting. If we didn’t get to the Rue Coquilerre, we would get to some other Rue, equally as interesting.

This was the day we figured out that the street names were on the buildings, and not on separate sign poles. The same color as the Metro station signs, blue with white lettering, these signs were located on each side of corner buildings, showing the street names. Still, having the street names, one still had to find where one was, in order to find out how to get where one wanted to go. Joyce decided that we were really lost, now. I, content just to explore at random, knowing that we could always eventually get back via the metro, just by going into the nearest one. “Ou e La Metro?” shall save us. Joyce, however, wanted more than ever to go to somewhere, any one of her list of destinations — mostly stores — would do. And, she had to go to the bathroom. This was getting more and more urgent.

At one intersection, in the rain, a very agitated young man was screaming something in French to a young lady, who was answering back, but finally, she turned away, crying, and he was still yelling something angrily at her. Guess we'll have to wait until the movie comes out.

Joyce had to get to a rest room. Even the pay toilet compartments we had seen the day before — and laughed at — eluded us. There didn’t appear to be any restrooms in the parks, no public buildings that we could discern. Shopkeepers didn’t want people using their restrooms. Joyce stopped in at a hotel — they told her they didn’t have a toilet. It began to rain. We went to McDonald’s. Apparently, there are no laws requiring restroom facilities in public restaurants — a 3-floor McDonalds, and no toilets — it was hot in there, and smelled like a toilet — just like McDonald’s in the US. Finally, I ventured that, there might be one in the Metro — I had seen some in stations the day before. Not feeling the same urgency, I held her things while she went into the Metro restroom. It was clean, undifferentiated by sex, and Joyce passed a wooden booth on the way in. The lady in the cashier booth wanted two francs and 70 cents — Joyce, for once in too much of a hurry to solicit other quotes, paid, and rushed in to a stall. After Joyce finished, I contracted the use of a urinal for only 2 francs - 70 cents cheaper! - such a bargain I will not let Joyce forget.

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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Pt.6 A Morning in Paris

Pt.6 A Morning in Paris
Day 3 — Friday, August 21
Recap: The French adventure begins here. The Americans go to Paris
When we last left our travelers, they had just settled into their hotel with a loaf of bread and a whole bottle of cheap French wine from the grocery store.

I woke up with the bells of Paris clanging in my head. A little too much cheap wine, Monseur? Things subsided a bit, but I think my system was still trying to get used to the Parisian water. It was a subdued morning.

Soon, there would be a demand for Hot Water, and Gary had not gotten a Power adaptor, so there would be no home-cooked hot water. I went down and talked to the desk, about borrowing a power adaptor, they sent me to the little priss-head concierge. Nose upturned, he informed me that for reasons of safety, the power adapteurs were not available. I went back to the room, and read through the hotel literature to find out how much they would bugger us for hot water. I came across a passage in the hotel promotional brochure that said that "for the convenience of our guests, we provide power adaptors". I called room service “I would like a power adaptor” “We don’t have any” Now, where had I heard that voice before? That’s right — the little concierge again!

I waited a decent interval, just in case they connected me to him again, and ordered hot water from the restaurant. They said that there was no need to pick it up; they would bring it to the room. . . . Oh, no! Timidly: “Combien? How much?” “There is no charge.” I couldn’t believe it. Water was delivered promptly. Don’t tell Joyce, but I gave him a tip — 5 francs. We breakfasted on fruit, leftover bread, which was still delightfully fresh, and tea.

A paper was delivered to our room, slid under the door. It is an international version of the New York Times, in English. The hotel targets its guests by their nationality. The news from home — Clinton had bombed two international targets, allegedly terrorist bases of operations. “Wag the Dog” is more like it — starting an international incident to distract the country from the presidential pecker scandal. I was rather hoping that we wouldn’t become hostages of some international terrorist group. Getting tied up and thrown into a cell like that could spoil your whole week. Also in the news, Northwest pilots were about to go on strike by the end of the month. A perfect ending for a vacation ordeal.

While Joyce was getting ready, I explored the free TV channels. The first thing on was Bonanza, dubbed into French. It still looked like Bonanza. I suppose they show it yet in the US, too. In the late ‘60s Miss Weyeneth my German teacher said that the number one show in Germany was Bonanza, dubbed into German. Maybe that’s what they see when they see Americans, as much as we see Hogan’s Heroes when we look at Germans. Pathetic that weakly-endowed people allow television to shape their thinking.

After that was a cooking show, they were merrily shredding and sizzling, just like Martha Stewart. Once we had decided where to go that day -- a number of cooking utensil stores in the neighborhood of Montmartre St., Joyce’s choice, I planned a course through the subways, starting at the Charles Michel metro station on Yellow 10, transferring at Odeon to the purple #4, then getting off at Ettienne Marcel, which would be right where we wanted to be.

On the way out, we found out at the desk, that the Nikko would cash traveler’s checks free of charge, and with the cool reception our traveler’s checks had so far received, we cashed some there.

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Monday, August 24, 2009

08 24 09

This journey began in Lexington, KY

A day of appreciation for those who have helped us go the distance. I'm sure we can all name someone who is a mentor, someone who is a creative inspiration, someone who keeps you from taking yourself too seriously, someone who introduces you to new friends, someone who goes out of their way to extend kindness to exotic animals that others would consider food. But you are the luckiest of all when all of the above refer to the same person.

So, flap your wings and join us in the dance of celebration!

and next the party continues on the Lisa Page Page

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009


Note: Updated Thurs Aug 20

Blockbuster had a great mail service for DVD rentals - as good as Netflix, possibly better, competitively priced, adequate customer service, fast enough delivery. That is, until a few weeks ago. Someone exploded a corporate-wide Stupid Bomb over Blockbuster. The entire concept of the Queue (the heart of the delivery system) was dumbed down.

Instead of shipping the first available title on the queue, the order-picker now checks the first three titles of the queue. If none of the first three queue titles are available, Blockbuster will ship NOTHING. I thought this was stupid, since there are 75 other available choices for them to send me, but two e-mail "service incidents" and an 800 telephone "incident" i am convinced that this is an accurate portrayal of their new service policy.

I'm cancelling my Blockbuster service, as soon as I transfer my list over to Netflix. I wrote a letter to Blockbuster Corporate Headquarters, just in case they are interested in serving customers (stranger things have happened!). And I promised to share the letter, and any response I received, with you, my faithful readers. So, here it is

Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53207
19 August, 2009

Blockbuster Inc.
1201 Elm Street
Dallas, Texas 75270

Attn: Customer Service


Good Morning:

Thanks for all the enjoyment you've bought to our home over the years. I appreciate everything about BLOCKBUSTER by Mail. The mailing service was prompt and versatile. The tracking of the shipments was superb. On two occasions where discs were almost lost in the mail, Blockbuster fixed the problem seamlessly.

However, I am now forced to cancel my service, because Blockbuster has decided to stop sending me movies. Please check my records, for collaboration. Online Account No.:*********

Today is August 20th, and I haven't received any titles since July. There is one disc presently outstanding, which I have yeat to receive. I am on the 3-disc home-only plan, and my “At Home” total has not been over “1” in weeks. Of the 88 items in the queue, over 75 are available.

I called the help line and I've sent e-mails to investigate what the holdup was. Email incident numbers are

Incident - no movies (090814-000863) <<#8-861532#>> on 8/14/9
Incident - no movies (090814-000863) <<#8-861532#>> on 8/16/9

In addition I have talked to the people at the 800 number. They all told me the same incredible thing, which I'm sure you will also find incredible:

What Blockbuster Told Me:

Since the first three selections of my queue have a “wait” status, Blockbuster will not ship any of the other 75 “available” titles from my queue to me. Consequently, nothing will be shipped.

The suggested “help desk” remedy for my problem was to re-order the queue, putting only “available” items on top, which worked for one movie, but not for the next two titles that I moved. This reordering is a totally idiotic suggestion, since the prioritizing of the queue does not need to be micro-managed. If #1-#2-#3 are not available, we ship #4. If #4 is not available, we ship #5. That's how the queue works. Or how it worked until three weeks ago. Something in the service changed, and Blockbuster simply stopped shipping movies to me.

If the titles are constantly micro-managed, as the help desk suggested, constantly moving only “available” titles on the top, the “waiting list” titles will **never** be shipped, since an “available” title will always (artificially) be at a higher priority than the “waiting” title.

Since it would be foolish to be paying Blockbuster $15.99 per month for not shipping me any movies, I have separately canceled my membership, and enrolled for comparable service with one of your competitors.

As a warning to my friends, I am posting this correspondence on my web site, and will, in fairness to you. post any response or note any lack of response on the web site as well.

I write you this in hopes that your service can be restored to the exemplary customer service we once knew.


Gary A. Guetzlaff


UPDATE (added 8/20/9 9:55 pm):
Last night, after publishing this letter, I transferred my queue to Netflix and cancelled my Blockbuster subscription - they sent me an official cancellation order. THIS MORNING, I RECEIVED SHIPPING NOTIFICATIONS FOR TWO MORE TITLES. Truly, the distribution center runs all on its own. - g

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Monday, August 17, 2009

The Parking Lot Pirates - ARRRRR!

This item is more of local interest, so our nation-wide and world-wide readers will have to bear with us. Still i'm sure you've all got municipal "servants" who love to impose things on other people and then make exceptions for themselves. Bureaucrats and elected officials make rules for "you people" that they themselves don't feel compelled to follow. I'm sure Milwaukee is not the only place where this happens, is it?

Just so happens that in this case, our Mayor was assaulted on the way to his car. He had been attending the Wisconsin State Fair, and his car was parked on a STREET in a RESIDENTIAL neighborhood. and NOT in an expensive government parking lot. So, he's been officially BUSTED for HYPOCRISY. Shame on you, Mr. Barrett! (and a speedy recovery, we don't really hate you ;>

since Journal Sentinel doesn't print most of the letters they receive, I share here:
cc: my letter to
Editor, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Summerfest: $15 parking fee
Ethnic Fest: $10 parking fee
State Fair: $10 parking fee
Zoo: $10 parking fee
Art Museum: $10 parking fee

It costs the citizens plenty to park at the various government-subsidized venues for the Recreation of the Common People. Consider this: In addition to the parking fees, there are also hefty gate admission charges to these facilities and events. Aren't these extraordinary parking fees a bit prohibitive? Ask Mayor Barrett - Rather than pay these outrageous fees, he parks on Orchard Street to go to the State Fair!

gary a guetzlaff, private citizen
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Pt.5 First Date in Paris - the Grocery Store

Story begins here: Part One. This account was written in 1998 on our return from a 2-week vacation in France.

You know it's going to be a short day when you don't get out of bed until after 5 pm.
The Nikko Hotel Accommodations
Day 2 of the vacation, Thursday afternoon /evening had officially begun. Joyce woke up, and took a shower — they had shower caps, and a little washline that hung over the bathtub. The hotel room, now that there was a chance to look at it without falling over, was very comfortable. One wall was covered with plush maroon velvet. The crown molding around the ceiling, and wood moldings around the doors and windows gave the feeling of an old-time luxury hotel. The picture windows looked out on an endless vista of Paris — we could see no end to it. There were two or three other hotels visible from the windows — 27th floor to 27th floor. Another building, labeled “CLF” was an all-glass structure. On one side, a three-block-long plaza was divided into tennis courts, a running track, and a walkway alternating brick and stone diamond patterns, that looked like it was built to enhance the aerial view. Through the other window, we could see a shopping complex, labelled “Beau de Grenelle”. Everything was named after “Grenelle”, and like typical ugly Americans, we never asked “Who was Grenelle, and why are they naming all this stuff after him?” Somewhere under all these stone plazas, ran Rue Linois.

I explored the room while I was waiting. Windows could be blocked by a scrim curtain, or heavy blackout drapes. There was an indirect lamp, with variable dimmer. A round coffee table made of chrome and 1/2" thick glass stood between the two low-back lounge chairs. A radio mounted into the end table offered five different channels of music, all in French. There was jazz, a pop channel, alternating with French “Chansons”, classical, and a rock channel, circa 1980s. Television channels appeared to be “pay only”, so we left that alone for the time being. I was thirsty — the lukewarm Paris water was just not “doing it”.

Paradise - for a Brief Moment
A large writing desk, stationery in the drawer, and a cupboard door. I opened it — there was a refrigerator in there, stocked with beverages! There was Diet Pepsi! Iced Tea, Bottled water, Beer, mineral water, Coca Cola, Tonic Water. And BOOZE! There was Beefeater Gin for Joyce, Johnny Walker Scotch for Gary (Black Label, of course) also, wine, cognac, and rum. Unable to believe our eyes — we were about to party down, when I found a blue writing pad on the top shelf. — explaining how much it would cost us to re-stock the fridge — Johnny Walker 63f ($12.00 for one stinking OUNCE) — Coca Cola — 33f ($6.00 for one magical can). Well, after that brief elation, we were back on the ground again, kicking each other in the ass. Did we really think that something kind would happen to us in France? I told Joyce, wait — there are low prices and kind faces over at the Monoprix. Let’s go.

Monoprix - At Last We Feel Welcome
We walked back to the Monoprix, it was now the last hour of daylight. Joyce was delighted with the Monoprix — we decided to get some fruits for breakfast, and the more she looked, we decided to get something for supper and eat in the room — as long as we had such a convenient refrigerator. Surely Mr. Nikko wouldn’t mind if we moved over his expensive beverages to store our food in the refrigerator. We got some cheese, packaged swiss, but it was French-made — the stuff in the bulk counter just seemed a little too — cheesy — for the way we felt. We got a little tub of butter, some nectarines, some chocolate with noirsettes, some apricot cookies, and some bottled water — it seems after sweating for twelve hours that our bodies craved some moisture. Joyce was sorry that we had no way to try some of the fabulous seafood.

We figured that the sumptuous French cooking on the upcoming cruise would make us long for the simplicity of these bread, butter and cheese meals. And, we got a 9-franc bottle of French table wine. ($1.80) We checked out the groceries, and went to the bakery counter. They were about to close, so the selection was limited. We saw somebody ordering a hunk of bread, so we pointed to that, and motioned how much we wanted. It was originally a bread about the size of a manhole cover, about 4 inches thick. The clerk hacked off a hunk of it, about a pound, and put it through the slicer.

We went upstairs to the department store. We looked for a power adapter for Joyce’s coffeepot, so she could make her own tea, and not have to pay who-knows what plus tips to hotel room service. The tips would hurt the most. We didn’t find the power adaptor — there were many different fittings and extension cords, but none for converting the 220v power to 110v — because I forgot to buy one in the United States. Joyce looked briefly at clothing, and miscellaneous cosmetics, etc., and then we headed back to the hotel. We stopped at the Shell station on the way home, because we forgot to get the plastic knives, and didn’t want to hassle with that simpy little concierge for a lousy butter knife.

Dinner at the Nikko Hotel
It was good. We opened the cheap French wine - it was real good. We remembered the corkscrew — came in handy to open up the $1.80 bottle of French table wine. That wine was as good as a $10 bottle stateside. Had another. It was just bread, butter and cheese. It was the best bread ever — crispy crust on top, and that real, chewy crust, from prying it off the of the bottom of the oven. The inside was really wholesome, chewy whole-wheat, perfect texture. Butter - Real Butter. And the Swiss cheese — great flavor, like Wisconsin cheese. It was good, hardly room for dessert - cookies and chocolate. Listening to the French music over the radio, and looking out over the lights of the City of Lights — It just doesn’t get any better than this. We had another glass of wine. We got sleepy — it had been a short six-hour mini-day. That’s enough. Joyce was getting ready for bed in her favorite bathroom, and, seeing no further use for the wine on future days — we didn’t want to carry that around with us — I swigged down the rest. We slept REAL GOOD.


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Pt.4 We Awoke in Paris

We hit the hotel at 1 pm after being up almost 24 hours (Part 3) hit the bed about 1:01 pm.
(the continuing story began here)

Part Four - Day 2 - Thursday, August 20, 1998

I woke at 4:30 p.m in Paris
. Time still felt suspended in eternal daylight. Joyce was still sleeping. I took a shower, never have I needed one more than that day. Every muscle in my body had stiffened from the past 24-hour ordeal. I drank another half-gallon of water. In spite of the central air conditioning, my suitcoat was still damp with sweat. In “freshening up” I discovered that I had neglected to pack a disposable razor. It’s almost a day and a half, now, and, yes, I really need a shave. I put on something casual, grabbed my key, and my new French money, and prepared to get buggered by the hotel gift shop.

The hotel gift shop was very small, in a small 8x8 room, with a few expensive looking things around the room on shelves, and an Oriental girl at the desk. She communicated in some minimal English. It’s strange to hear an Oriental who has learned English with a British accent. She didn’t have shavers. I communicated by indicating my shadowed face, and making shaving motions. She brought out a map, a hotel publication of the immediate 6-block neighborhood, and circled a location about two blocks away. She wrote the name on the map — “Monoprix”. They would have it.

Ou e La Grocery Store?
So, back out in the heat, but alone this time, and unencumbered by baggage, it actually seemed pleasant out. The first street I nearly missed — contrary to the majority of streets in Paris, this one had a street sign — Rue Linois. It looked like the entrance to a parking structure, but shafts of light coming down from holes in the roof of the structure showed this to be an underground street, or at least a street over which there was other non-street activity. I was never curious as to what was above the underground street, but here, in the shadowy concrete tunnels that never saw the full light of day, streets without a “sunny side” there were other businesses — a print shop, a Shell gas station (“Alimentation” means “gasoline”), numerous offices, and a Bowling alley, called “Bowling”. After going two blocks under cover, I emerged into daylight, and was already at my destination — Monoprix!

Monoprix is a chain — I saw two other outlets in France later in the week, but only this one was open when I went by. Monoprix is a thriving supermarket. One’s first impression is an overwhelming distinctive smell that just about knocks you over. Once you realize that nothing’s putrefying here, the smell is not so bad. 80% of the smell was from the huge live seafood counter — American counterparts, even in the super-mega-mart versions of supermarkets, do not compare. There are fresh fish of all types, set in baskets set in ice. There are all types of shellfish, crab legs, huge slabs of all sorts of fish, huge shrimp and many varieties of smaller fish.

I walked straight in. Checkout registers were on my left, and a long fresh bakery counter was on my right — have to check that out later. For now, I had to get to the shavers. A black security guard stopped me, and pointed me to the entry gate, next to an escalator that led up to some sort of clothing store. Now, I was in the Monoprix proper. The seafood counter on the left, and to the right a huge fresh produce counter. You select your produce in plastic bags, and give your bag to the scale attendant, who weighs it and puts a price sticker on each bag. The produce looked much as it does here, there were a few strange-looking plums, but primarily there were nectarines, peaches, apples, plums, vegetables, lettuce, potatoes, etc. There was a very long freezer of frozen fish. Many varieties are filleted, pressed flat, and frozen. An aisle devoted entirely to wine, with table wine selling typically for 20-50 francs, four to ten dollars a bottle. All of the wine is French — when you’re in France, you don’t have to look for Boone Farm or Carlo Rossi or Mogen David. Some wine is selling for as little as 9 francs a bottle, that’s less than two bucks!

The American Goes Grocery Shopping in Paris
There was a huge open self-service deli with different pasta and shredded vegetable salads. It all sells for the same price, per kilo — just load up what you want and have it weighed. There was a very long deli counter having different cold meats all coming under the classification of “sausage” — some looked interesting, and if we’d have had a place to cook, we might have tried some, especially some gnarled-looking things with bright white casings.

Then there was the frommage counter — French people are big on cheese. More bulk cheese than I’ve seen even in Wisconsin, and not just brick or Swiss — this is the heavy-duty stinky stuff, including bleu cheese, and those little 7 inch wheels of mooshy stuff with the mold all over — there would be more frommagerie later in the week. The dairy case had a number of packaged cheeses, and many different kinds of butter — it was all in French. The rest of the store was devoted to food items. Many brands are licensed by American companies’ international divisions. There was the usual Proctor and Gamble-type selection, but the familiar packages had strange names. Also, many locally produced (Paris and Lyon have large manufacturing centers) products.

An entire section is devoted to chocolate — mostly French “fabrique”, and a lot by Nestle — didn’t see any Hershey there. In French candy, hazelnuts, or “noirsettes” (Little black things) are more common than peanuts. Price is relatively low for candy. I bought about a 1-pound package of chocolate bars, bulk pack, for about $1.50. There were lots of crackers and cookies by “LU” a company common in US import sections. Must be the Nabisco of Europe. An entire section devoted to bottled water and soda. Coca Cola is more common than Pepsi, 10 to 1. Diet soda is almost unheard of. And I didn’t see any 2-liter bottles. Bottled water is quite common — “Imported” bottled water, Evian, from the US — is more expensive.

Missing from the entire store is the “Health and Beauty Aids” section. There was no aspirin, no cotton balls, no band-aids, toothpaste — or shavers. What’s going on, here? I went up and down every aisle again, just to be sure. Well — what’s to lose?

Maybe, just maybe, it’s on the second floor. I went out of the grocery section and went up the escalator. There were clothes all right, but the store was also a full department store, with hardware, housewares, and — Health & Beauty. I selected a package of Gillette disposable razors — they didn’t have Bics. The Gillettes were also on sale. I approached the counter, a lady was running the cash register — there was no line, so I didn’t have any examples to follow. I placed it on the counter, only returned “Bon Jour”, and she rang it up — thirty four francs. I hesitated as I was bringing out my franc notes — gave myself away.

Now, I was a tourist, and she was pretending that I was not, but I looked too long at my change — I had given her a 100 note, and didn’t seem to have gotten back enough. It was going to take some getting used to the “tenner” as I called them, a 10-franc coin about the size of a nickel, that was worth 10 francs. It’s about the same size as a 20-cent piece, which is worth about 3 cents. The 10-franc coins are silver, with a 1/4" gold ring around them, actually quite a handsome coin. Whenever they can, they count out your change in these things, rather than messing around with 20-franc notes. So, I pretended to count my change, jammed it in my pocket, and headed back to the hotel. Joyce had to see this place!

So, one of the first things I did in Paris was to take my wife on a journey to the Monoprix Supermarket. I'm so romantic.

to be continued.

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Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Birth of the Bacon

Welcome to the First Annual Bacon Blog Hop Bacony goodness

I wonder how many of us, as we cool down with our Sunday Morning Orange Sherbet with Bacon Sundae, really know the history and origin of the tasty Bacon we take for granted.

Our story begins in Medieval Wisconsin, back around the time beer was invented. Along the shores of Lake Michigan, outside of the Milwaukee villages, endless was the bounty of nature, and the cheese grew wild in the fields. But, as many a villager learned the hard way, the countryside outside of the safety of the village was no place for a careless frolic through the fields of ripening cheddar. For the land outside of the medieval Milwaukee village was ruled by hordes of ruthless Vegetarians. They would stop at nothing to capture and indoctrinate the hapless villager who would venture out into the countryside alone, and never again would he know the taste of meat. The vegetarians would gather nightly in the sacred apple groves to intone their pagan paeans to broccoli and sauerkraut, force-feeding the captives into green submission.

The vegetarians' apple-grove revels were usually short-lived. For the stench of the rotting cruciferous vegetables would attract herds of feral hogs, which would over-run the groves, scattering the vegetarians back into the woods. The hogs would root through the sauerkraut, scratch their backs against the sacred trees of the apple grove, and then go their way until the next time.

This went on for hundreds of years until one day, a brave soul, Patrick Cudahy went out into the cheddar fields for some cheesy activity with his lady fair. The vegetarians, true to their unsociable behavior, came yipping and squealing through the field, and Patrick lost his concentration. So angered was Patrick by the vegetarians' interruption of his frolic in the field that he set fire to one of their sacred apple trees. The vegetarians had never seen fire before, and they all scattered at the seeming divine intervention. It was a dry season, and many more of the sacred apple trees went down in a smoky haze. Confused, one of the feral hogs charged into the apple-wood conflagration. The next morning, Patrick Cudahy and his lady fair were poking through the ashes of the burnt apple grove. They came upon the charred remains of the feral hog. In that great moment, not only was Patrick Cudahy Sweet Applewood bacon discovered, but thus also began the tradition of the Sunday morning all-you-can-eat brunch.

And what more fitting addition to your Sunday brunch than two pieces of crispy brown toast, smothered with peanut butter while still hot, so the peanut butter melts, and topped with strips of crispy bacon. Simple, yet extravagent. Yum!

And now, for more Bacon-y goodness, follow this link to the Lisa Page Page. Usually full of art and craft ideas, today's edition involves BACON.

Lisa Page

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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Pt.3 Death March to the Hotel, Let the Hospitality Begin!

  • To follow this account from the beginning, take this link to Part One
  • In Part Two, our directions and maps told us that we were very close to our hotel. But we weren't there, yet.
In this section, Paris opens its arms and bats us aside the head.

Part Three - Thursday, August 20, 1998

Learning from Le Metro - the Hard Way
Ok, we’re out of the airport — now what? Our directions at this point are sketchy. We get out, but the next train is going the same direction — we had to transfer to the yellow line, but where is it? Then we saw the yellow “C” That was it — we followed the sign — up an endless escalator that must have gone up at least three stories, then a long hallway, and follow the yellow C — More escalators — how deep were we, anyway? An escalator with a very powerful air draft — felt like they were using this station as a giant air duct. Perhaps the tunnels have their own weather patterns — depending on the prevailing winds. Suddenly, there it was! Another train. We got on, and almost as soon as we were settled on, we were at the next stop — I couldn’t read the entire sign, but I frantically looked at the map above the door, Joyce helped me read the signs, but at this point, she didn’t quite know how the maps worked either, and I had no time to explain what I had so far learned. I told her, if the next station is Maubert Mutuelle, we could be in some sort of directional trouble. Next stop — Maubert Mutuelle! Quick! Get off — we’ve gone the wrong way. How do we get over to the other side? We ran out the end of the hallway, up some more stairs, sometimes having to bump our suitcases up the stairs one at a time, if there were no escalators. Found another Yellow C, this time it was the right one. Down the stairs — down the escalators . We came down onto the other side of the tracks, and Joyce tried to ask a Frenchman if this was the right train. He wasn’t understanding what we wanted. I said “Tour Eiffel” — that he recognized. He pointed to the track we were about to board — we were on the right track. The stop we had to get out at was “Champs De Mars” pronounced “ShawmpDeMar” Then, we had to get out of the train. We never found out, but we had to get off the train, because they wanted it empty. Perhaps a shift change, taking out extra cars after rush hour — who knows? One thing certain, though, Les Invalides is not our stop. We asked directions, and although the conductor said a lot that we didn’t understand, we knew that in order to get to Champs de Mars, we had to go up some stairs, and find a train labelled ALMA — apparently even if it was a yellow C going in the right direction, unless it was named ALMA, it wouldn’t get us there.

We went up the stairs, this station even had video terminals telling us which train was coming next, and, sure enough, one of them was named ALMA. Les Invalides station was, after all, a beautiful place to wait for the next train — the train to Champs de Mars. The station was half-in and half-out of the ground level. There was a row of columns spaced about a foot apart, a concrete picket fence through which we could see the sun shining on a green courtyard, with many pigeons flying around in it. The fresh air felt good, it was still cool, and in the absence of trains, the stop seemed very quiet. We realized now that the underground tunnels are actually very hot places.

Sortie and Correspondence
There were two words that would have made our day a lot easier had we learned them earlier — Correspondence and Sortie. “Correspondence” means “Transfer” in the sense of changing trains. Each subway tunnel had illuminated signs at each end, listing he “Correspondence” and “Sortie” options of using that end of the tunnel. “Correspondence” listed all the trains you could transfer to. Our yellow “C” was listed, and that’s how we figured that one out. “Sortie”, means exit, and the word following “Sortie” was where you would be exiting - usually a street name, or a district name, if it was well-known. Once you Sortie, that’s it — if you want to get back in, your ticket may not work, and you’ll have to buy a new one. The standard marking for an exit, corresponding to the American red “EXIT” is a green illuminated sign with white letters indicating “Sortie”.

Ou e La Hotel?
The ALMA train took us what seemed a very short distance to Champ de Mars — our first ride on La Metro had come to an end. Now, what? Champ de Mars is similar to Les Invalides station, in that it is only partially buried. Across the track, daylight came down from a roadway about 15 feet above us. A few more hallways, and a turnstyle, and with one last climb up the stairs with our 200 pounds of suitcases, we were on the street, supposedly close to our hotel.

However, there were no street signs. We looked at our map, we looked at many intersections, but nothing was there to indicate the name of the street in front of us. Our hotel was on Quai du Grenelle. “Quai” means “Big Road”, like a main thoroughfare, as opposed to a “Rue”, which would be a smaller street. We started asking for directions. Nobody knew English, and all of our French could not convey the question, “What street are we on?” “Where the fuck are we?” I got into a glass-enclosed very modern telephone booth, got out my coins, but, there were no coin slots in the telephone. It would be a long time before I would learn to operate one of those. There was a credit card slot, but it didn’t accept my Visa or Master Card. We were walking against some sort of traffic, it was still early morning, about nine-thirty or so, local time. We were next to a four-lane road, which was fenced from pedestrian traffic. There was a sidewalk, next to a three-foot high wall of a park, an asphalt path, with some sort of white symbol on it, probably some sort of handicap designation, and a sandy area in between these two paths, planted with trees.

Death March
An artist was displaying pictures he had done, mostly scenes involving the Eiffel tower, selling for fifteen francs on up, all of them less than ten dollars. It was getting hot, and the handle on my suitcase was not staying in place, and occasionally collapsed, upsetting the other suitcase on top of it, sometimes toppling both suitcases. The adrenaline from the half-assed suitcase collapsing all the time kept me going. Joyce’s load was more stable, but still, she was having trouble catching in the sidewalk cracks. We were both very weary; for us it was half past midnight, and we were just the two tiredest people on earth, who didn’t know even which street they were on. The artist knew some english, we asked him where the Nikko hotel was. He wasn’t sure, but he thought it might be to the west. We showed him the address. He motioned us to skyscrapers about a block away. We rolled our suitcases on the asphalt paths — this was much easier. Then bicyclists kept passing us by, almost running into us, some of them shouting something angry at us. We were on a bike path. The “handicap” symbol we had seen painted on the path, was actually some sort of picture representation of a bicycle. At the next intersection, we decided to get back on the sidewalk.

We made a left at the skyscrapers, and were about to walk down the sidewalk, when we were accosted by a group of artists who wanted to use us for a portrait — “just three minutes”, they said. We said no, they kept pestering, until we finally just ignored them walked our suitcases down to the skyscrapers. One of them was “Hilton”, and we decided, that, although we weren’t quite sure where we were, we knew that this was not the right street, because on the map, the Quai du Grenelle is a very wide street. This was barely two cars wide. A taxi driver told us that we had just been on Grenelle.

We went back the way we had come, and continued down Grenelle, but then, getting past the skyscrapers and not finding ours, we turned back to the place where we had tried the pay phone, back past the pestering artists, and the artist with the Eiffel pictures. The one who had given us directions was still there, and this time, he repeated the directions rather irately — we told him we had already been down there, it wasn’t right. He told us “Well, if you don’t want to go there, don’t follow my directions.” At the time it felt like all of France had told us to go back home. It was getting very hot, by now, the sidewalks all smelled like piss, and, did I mention, I was wearing a suit?

You Always Remember the First Time you See Tour Eiffel
The suitcases kept falling off the top, my suitcase kept collapsing its handle and falling over, tripping at the slightest variation in the pavement. Once again past the Eiffel paintings, and just about to head through the gauntlet of pestering portrait painters shaking our heads once again. As Joyce was re-adjusting her load, she turned around to face me, and then, pointed past me. We were a mere three blocks or so from the Eiffel Tower. “There’s the Tower we came over here to see”, she said. I wasn’t in the mood. I was surprised to see that it was brown. I said “Look at that damn rusty thing!”, and turned back around and started pushing the suitcase.

We were both dazed by the heat of the sun, and we headed out again, marching down Grenelle until we drop. I noticed some addresses on the buildings. The numbers were going up as we walked west — very very slowly — the buildings are very large, and the numbering system is very wide. We chased down our number, going through a courtyard where my wheel caught in the iron grate under a tree. I fell on top of my suitcases, and nearly didn’t want to get up again, but I did anyway. The sweat was soaking through my suit coat, and my tongue was so swelled from thirst that I could barely talk. We finally came to the Hotel Nikko, arriving around 12:00 noon. For some strange reason, the reception desk is on the third floor of the building. We entered, dragging our suitcases.

All They Want is Tips
The Nikko is a red-brick 30-story skyscraper, atop the first three floors, which are a tan-colored marble. Joyce told me to ignore anybody standing around wanting to carry our suitcases, because all they wanted were tips. Well, we got this far, we deserved to carry our suitcasees over the finish line. The inside of the ground-floor lobby has walls and floor all made of mirror-finish tan marble. All trim work was either mirrors or polished brass. Gray-carpeted waiting areas were filled with ultra-modern furniture. There was no distinctive smell which would forever remind me of the Nikko. Upon arrival on the third-floor, via the escalators (we had had enough experience with getting suitcases up to different levels) we were in the reception areas. The concierge approached to grab our bags. We curled our lips at him, and, as we growled slightly, he backed off. “Beat the concierge” was to become one of our favorite pastimes. He was a wimpy little tyrant in a bell-boy uniform, with a a stiff red collar. He spoke english with a british accent. The security guard pointed to a place we could leave our suitcases while we checked in. Check-in was uneventful, they took a print of my credit card, we signed in, the clerk knew enough english to get us checked in smoothly. Our keys were the plastic swiss-cheese cards for electronic locks. We were allowed to check into our rooms. An elevator took us to the 27th floor.

Our hotel room was in the northwest corner of the building. It had windows on two sides, and a small hallway with a desk in it. Bathrooms were the mirror-finish marble substance we had seen in the lobby. Joyce was in love with the amenities, especially the bathroom fixtures and supplies. We had soap, large hexagonal bars, not little slivers. We had body shampoo, hair shampoo, wash cloths, hot and warm water. I drank about a half gallon of the so-called cold water, and laid down on the bed, and disappeared, at 2:00 a.m. US time, about 1:00 p.m. Paris time.

Next: Waking up in a foreign country.

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Monday, August 10, 2009

Pt.2 Ou e La Metro? We Don't Need No Steenking English!

In Part One, we left everything familiar to us, and got on a plane which took us to Paris. At this point of the narrative wandering around with our suitcases in Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris.

In the Airport - Still!
Now what? We were on our own, and suddenly things started looking very French. Nothing was in English anymore, and though it seemed like we came over with at least a partial planeload of fellow Americans, but everyone we saw was suddenly a foreigner, or actually it was we who were the foreigners. Let’s go to the hotel and sort things out. How do you get to the other end of Paris?

We attempted to ask about a bus, about cashing traveler’s checks, but nobody understood, or wanted to understand English. It was 6:30 a.m. in an airport we had to get out of. A crabby Englishman had a tourist bus which would go past our hotel, for which we had to wait two hours, and which cost $40 each. We looked for a place to cash traveler’s checks. The only place which would take them, because the bus would not take them, was the equivalent of a “check cashing” place, and they charged a commission of 40 francs, about six dollars to cash them. Seemed a bit steep, but after going around the hallway one more time (a round building is a great place to go around in circles.), we decided to do it. The airport was suddenly a very cold and uninviting place. It was actually hot. We would notice that the French do not use very much air conditioning. We were dragging 200 lbs of luggage in four suitcases, and our first hour in Paris was turning into a real nightmare. We cashed 1000f (about $200).

Next stop, a taxi. AHA! Taxis are waiting right outside the taxi door, but — combien? — they wanted 500f to get out of there (that’s $100.00). Joyce said that the taxis could keep waiting. We took another turn around the airport, even the unfamiliar faces were beginning to look familiar. We asked at a car rental place — they didn’t talk English, they didn’t take traveler’s checks. We began to notice another thing about Paris: everything smelled like piss. For about half-way around the hallway, one could smell the reek of the public restrooms.

Finally, Joyce said “Let’s ask the sweeper” indicating one of the janitorial personnel. It was a cinch that he didn’t take $100 taxis to and from work. He understood little English, but we asked him “Ou e La Metro?” and he told us that there was a shuttle bus that ran to the subway terminal, because you couldn’t catch La Metro directly at this airport.

After a few false starts, asking every bus that stopped, we asked “Is this the bus that goes to the train station?” They didn’t understand English, or they didn’t want us to go to the train station, so they pretended not to understand. Finally, the driver assured us that his was the bus that went to the train station. It was a spacious bus, with plenty of room for bags (we found out later in the ride that our “luggage bay” was actually meant for a wheelchair) but since we were the lamest thing on board at the moment, they let us stay in the wheelchair slots, standing while the bus careened around road ramps, onto highways, through blood-curdling lane changes (especially standing up with rolling luggage).

We came to stop at a huge concrete and chrome building, with hundreds of people waiting in front of the door. Never found out what all the people were waiting for. We went inside the building. It was a train terminal. The clerk found out where we wanted to go, issued us tickets for 40 francs each (about $8), and motioned us to a row of turnstyles, with instructions to “don’t forget to get your ticket back”.

Our first Metro ride was about to begin. We had a map, and instructions to change at “St. Michel” They said “San Michelle” and we said “Saint Michael”.

I ran a ticket into the slot of the turnstyle. It was promptly sucked in, and came out the other end. The turnstyle was enabled for me, but not for my suitcase. Someone helped us understand that you could put the ticket through the turnstyle as many times as you wanted, provided you had our kind of “all-day” ticket. We remembered to take our tickets. Once on the other side of the turnstyles, there was lots of space, but the entire area was enclosed by fences. The only outlet was an escalator and stairway that went down. The entire area below and above was brightly lit by skylights. At the bottom of the escalator, a train was leaving. Judging by our luck, that was our train. Turns out, all the trains were our train. Once you’re waiting by the right track, all the trains follow the same route. We didn’t know that. Two ladies came down the escalator after us. We asked them if they knew any English. They didn’t, but they tried to communicate with us. We determined that we were waiting for the right train, because we were going to St.Michel.

The next train arrived. The trains are electric. There is hardly any motor noise, only a very distinctive rolling, whirring sound, a comforting sound that I would grow to love. The train stops, the doors open, people get off, people get on, a horn blows, all doors close, and the train leaves. This entire sequence takes place in about fifteen seconds — you have to know what you’re doing. No hesitating in the doorway, and don’t let go of your suitcase. In trying to make these, we occasionally received help lifting and dropping the suitcases from complete strangers, who made no big deal about it.

Inside the car — remembering that it was only six in the morning for everybody but us — everyone is usually silent. Above each door is a schematic map of the train you’re on. The map is a color-coded bar about five feet long, with circles representing each stop in order. If you’re on the right train, the order of the stops will match the order of the stops on your map. The designers of the maps never “simplify” the routes, they mention all the stops all the time. Within seconds of the door’s closing we were accelerated to top speed — it feels like from fifty to 70 miles per hour. The ride is very smooth. Very, very close, there is another set of tracks, for trains in the opposite direction. From time to time, our train passes other trains. With a combined speed estimated at 180 miles per hour, the two trains do not spend much time passing each other. And it is so quiet. You hear a sudden sucking sound, as the two trains get into each others airstreams, then during the quiet coupling, you can see a blur through the windows — you can’t look directly at it and tell that it’s another train out there. Then another sucking sound, as the airstreams disengage, and the train is gone. This whole process takes on the average of two seconds. They seem so close together, they are actually more than a foot apart. Don’t put your hands out the windows. I don’t even think the windows open in these trains.

Our first ride took us into a tunnel, lit at intervals by fluorescent lights, but very, very dark in contrast to the brightly lit interiors of the cars. The cars have seats, some facing each other, some facing sideways, and in the doorway there are fold-down seats, as well as areas where you can stand and hold onto poles if the car is full. Some cars are double-deckered, and you must step either up or down to get to a seat, or remain in the doorway. When fully loaded, we usually opted for the doorway, trying to keep our bags out of the way of boarding passengers. Passengers did not find our luggage unusual, this must happen quite often. At some transfer points, some passengers even helped us on and off with our suitcases within the 15 seconds allowed.

We emerged from the tunnel seconds later, and stayed above ground at ground level for most of the way, occasionally going up to elevated tracks to work into traffic patterns. The scenery at first glance looked like 1940s or 1950s Chicago, primarily two and three story buildings, with very abundant graffiti. The graffiti all looks very fresh, it must be an endless battle. After looking at the buildings a bit more closely, however, it could be seen that the buildings were much, much older. There were many round-arched windows, and the roof facades and roofs of the buildings looked distinctly like nothing you’d see very often in the United States. Instead of shades and screens, most windows had wooden shutters, which they usually close — it must be very dark inside these buildings.

The train came to a stop — PANIC — is this it? Quick — where is this stop on the map? The stops are all labelled by blue signs with large white lettering, which is easily visible from inside all of the cars, as the train stops. Strasbourg — St. Denis — Now, we could see our stop coming up on the map — Reaumor Sebastopol — Les Halles — hey, this is fun — Louvre — St. Michel — Let’s get out! Time to transfer!

Where we got out was a more typical station than the one we started at. It is a completely artificially-lit tunnel, a semi-circular tube of shiny white porcelain-surfaced bricks. Some parts of the tunnels smell strongly of urine, but there is evidence of almost daily cleaning. There is no litter scattered about, and only occasional is graffiti or evidence of vandalism seen in the tunnel stations. There is usually some sort of seating bench, either a plastic bench, or a row of individual plastic seats, usually yellow. Along the walls, and extending up into the vaulting curve of the walls, are posters advertising upcoming events. Movies and theatrical events were the main poster subjects. Most movies are American movies which would be just off of first-run in the United States, presumably dubbed or subtitled into French, probably dubbed, judging from what we saw on the television channels. People on and off the Metro are usually silent, and staring straight ahead, as on an elevator, but no numbers to stare at. Occasionally, we heard small blasts of what sounded like accordion notes.

Next: Will they EVER arrive at the hotel?

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Saturday, August 8, 2009

Pt 1. Leaving America for the French Adventure

A Trip to France, 1998 - part one

I wrote this series upon returning from two weeks in France in 1998, the first time I had ever left the United States. Various people who have read it have commented that it captures accurately the feeling of being an American abroad. I had fun writing it. I took some daily notes, my wife Joyce dictated her notes into a cassette at the end of each day, and I used the itineraries, tickets, etc. to square up the time line of the narrative.

The following narrative is not a finished manuscript. The intention was to capture the moment, to remember the things which would otherwise have been forgotten. Much was forgotten anyway — I deeply regret not having noted more of our dinner conversations on the boat, but, thanks to the notes written down immediately upon my return, and from cassette notes dictated by Joyce during the actual trip, this document tends to refresh the memory as I read it. It is intended thus — a memory aid for other writing, and not a writing in itself. I hope that it is not a complete waste of time for anyone else to read it — that it conveys some of what we experienced.

Day 1 — Wednesday, Aug 19/Thursday, August 20, 1998
I awoke at 6:30, and for two hours, I puzzled at a map of Paris, to find out where in the city we would land, where we would be staying, and where we would be leaving. After much puzzling, I found that the three points formed an equilateral triangle that spanned the entire city of Paris. Charles de Gaulle airport is in the northeast corner of Paris, our hotel was in the southwest corner, and our departure point for the train was in the southeastern corner of Paris. I wondered what the huge gray areas on the map, labeled “Gare” represented. There was “Gare du Nord” close to our airport, there was Gare de Austerlitz, near the train station. The education begins. It is fundamental to my scheme of directions that I have to know where i’m going before knowing how to get there. “How to Get There” can always be re-done, if you know where you’re going.

If all else failed, I now knew that I could ask for directions to the Eiffel Tower “Ou e la Tour Eiffel?” (remember to accent the last syllable), and get us to within a few blocks of the hotel we had the reservations, Nikko. Joyce woke up, she believed, about an hour and a half late, at 9:30 a.m.. Joyce’s brother Bob took us to the airport. We gave him a key, and he witnessed and took along a copy of my Will (nothing like waiting until the last minute) which hadn’t been revised in over ten years. We arrived in Milwaukee airport, checked in, and with over a half-hour to spare, sat down and had a small pizza at a Pizza Hut outlet at the airport. Already it felt like vacation.

The plane departed on time, and arrived in Detroit within 40 minutes of takeoff. We deserved that. Detroit airport is not as bad as the jaded jet-setters and experienced air travellers had said. Maybe it had improved, maybe we weren’t as choosy, maybe it was because we were on vacation. We found our departure, had about an hour to spare, and we checked our carry-ons into a locker for a dollar. The machine wouldn’t accept my dollar. I desperately tried to get just one of my dollars to work, but Joyce, who had already taken things into her own hands, had returned with four quarters, and we safely seated the luggage in the locker. We needed to show a boarding pass for a foreign destination in order to enter a “duty free” shop. It featured things which people wanted to take back home from the United States, including much perfume, chocolate, liquor, and, very popular among the Orientals, huge boxes of Beef Jerky. Apparently the little yellow guys can’t get enough of this tasty treat. In the liquor section, we found prices were about 30% - 80% higher than domestic prices at the corner liquor store. There was a product I had never seen before -Johnny Walker BLUE Label. I know Black is expensive, but Blue was $100 for a fifth. Still aged 25 years, I don’t see what differentiates it from Black. Must be good. When I get my first million, I’ll send one of the servants out for a bottle. Also at the perfume counter, in men’s fragrances, I noticed something I wouldn’t mind smelling like, called Armani, pronounced “harmony”, but Joyce said that it would probably be cheaper in Paris. I agreed. We moved on to a general “souvenir shop” and found a Weasel Ball, something my sister Carol has for her cat. An eccentric motor in a plastic ball causes the ball to careen around randomly. Attached to the ball is a seven-inch strip of artificial fur which looks like a weasel chasing the ball around, hence the name. Our adventure at the Detroit airport was ended when we heard our flight number over the PA system, so we retrieved the baggage, and found some seats to await boarding. Many of our fellow passengers spoke French. End of the trail for them, I guess. We boarded for Paris.

The plane -- the largest I had ever been on, was completely full. Two aisles ran down the peasant class section, separating two window-side seats on each side, with five seats in the middle. Our seats were on the window side of the aisle. In addition to the headphones, each seat was furnished with a small blanket, and a tiny pillow. I took the window side, and Joyce set to reading the merchandise catalogs supplied in the seats. All flight and takeoff instructions were given in French and English. After about an hour, they began to serve drinks. Joyce said that she would treat us to drinks. She had allowed $3.00 each, and had the cash ready. She wanted a martini and I wanted some type of whisky. The stewardess told us that there was no charge for drinks. Then we found out that these free drinks consisted of Beefeater Gin for her, and Johnny Walker Black Label for me. It was like a side-trip to heaven, I had forgotten how good the Black Label stuff was, not having had any since the 1970s. From the window, we could see the sun, and a blue haze beneath, we were unable at that height and visibility to determine if we were over land or water. On the classical channel, the headphones played a soaring choral piece by a more modern composer, possibly Stravinsky. Then began the sunset.

The sun seemed to set below the horizon, the illusion because of the overcast haze and perhaps the earth curvature made the 360o horizon smaller. It was beautiful, and fast, because of our eastward speed. We were to gain seven hours in the course of our trip. Dinner was served. First a small bottle of French wine, we could choose white or red. Then a surprisingly good beef brisket dinner. We settled in for the evening entertainment. Television programs, then a movie, about a performing parrot, with one channel of sound in French, the other in English. Still thinking there was hope for my French, I listened to the French version. Then an episode of the Simpsons, followed by something else, I went to sleep for awhile. Throughout, the attendants were bringing us water, asking if we needed anything. Woke up, the shows were still running, and the attendants brought out hot lemon-scented towels to freshen up with. Nice touch.

Sunrise on the airplane came at midnight Milwaukee time. The midnight sunrise is like a speeded-up film of a sunrise. Because of the upper atmosphere turbulence and the air speed, bands of gold, purple and red would grow and shrink in less than a minute. The sun rose below the anticipated horizon, and gave the feeling of actually being above the sunrise. Breakfast was served, yogurt and blueberry muffins, juice. Then an endless anticipation of landing, we flew over England, they said. We cruised over distant countryside, finally landing in Charles deGaulle airport.. Customs, we followed the crowd, past a glass partition, and passed our passports and an application form we were given on the plane. The passports were stamped, and then on through to the baggage claim. The next moments were confusing, we followed the crowd, we travelled through escalator tubes to the baggage claim, and waited endlessly for the bags to arrive. Bags in hand, we each now had a suitcase with wheels and a handle, each with a carry-on balanced atop the suitcase.

Next: Part Two: A Daring Escape from Charles de Gaulle Airport.

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Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Innocent Bystander

Instinctively, we're heroes.

Story: Seattle Bank Teller Loses Job After Thwarting Heist

Last Tuesday, Jim Nicholson, a 30-year-old bank teller was working at his job as a bank teller in a Key Bank branch at Seattle, Washington. A man in dark clothing and sunglasses came into the bank, and demanded money. Instead of handing over money, as the bank's company policy dictated, Jim followed his instincts and sense of basic justice. Jim hopped the counter, and confronted the would-be robber. The robber fled, with Jim in pursuit. Within 2 blocks, Jim tackled the man in dark clothing and sunglasses. 29-year-old Aaron J. Sloan was brought down to the sidewalk, with the help of a passerby. Jim took him down, and held him until the police arrived.

Two days later, Jim was fired from his job. Although Jim had been trained in the company policies of the bank, Jim admitted "They tell us that we're just supposed to comply, but my instincts kicked in and I did what's best to stop the guy".

Seattle Police Sgt. Sean Whitcomb believes that "...Generally speaking, it's best to be a good witness". Well, don't we get a good sloppy lick on the hand from McGruff the Crime Dog for being such a good witness!!! Let's all just stand by and watch while the guys with the sunglasses and dark clothing steal from us. Just be able to describe the exact shade of black he was wearing, and perhaps give some identification of what brand of sunglasses the assailant is wearing! That's a good citizen!

Then comes the most outrageous statement of all, from the bank president. "Money, which is insured, can be replaced. Lives cannot." Money is insured. The money which people work so hard to save and accumulate, and then trust the bank to manage for them. This money is insured. By whom? BY THE GOVERNMENT. And where, praytell does the government get this money? From the very people who work so hard for each dollar, even those dollars which are confiscated by the government. Money is unimportant, because if someone takes it, the government will give you more. And isn't that the very attitude that got our country into the horrible state that robbed most of us of half of our pensions?

So, aren't the so-called "innocent bystanders" the ones partially to blame? They are the ones who stand by so innocently (some would say STUPIDLY) because that's what they're trained to do? What makes such a life so valuable? A passive life in which nothing is precious enough to fight for -- nothing worth taking a risk for -- what makes such a life so precious? Whatever....that's what they say, isn't it .... What Ever!

Jim's instincts kicked in, and so did the instincts of the unidentified passer-by who helped take down the man with the shades. The man with the shades was the primary villain of the day, but those who stand by day after day, in a state of indifference to the injustices around them -- they are guilty, too.

It's time to listen to your instincts, before your last shred of will and determination is sapped from you by the greed of those who systematically take from you.

Thanks for listening and contributing. For up-to-the-minute thoughts, come on over to I'm @dimbulb52

Saturday, August 1, 2009

The Ravines of Cudahy

A day with nothing on it. So rare. Nothing - no work, no shows, no classes, all on the same day. A cause for celebration. So, we decided, Joyce and I, to purposely take the whole day off from ceaseless toil, and do whatever we wanted, the whole day. I even got the grocery shopping out of the way by doing it Friday evening. So, the next morning, 6 am came around, then 7, 8 -- hell, we slept until 9:30 a.m.!

We debated going to the zoo, but with the parking and the hefty admission charges, we decided that we'd rather spend that $35.00 at the Indian casino some other day. And, instead, we decided to go for a walk in the ravines at Grant Park.
Grant Park is a superbly maintained county park located on the border between Cudahy and South Milwaukee. It's the place where Joyce remembers her childhood taking place. The fresh summer air reminded me of my own vacant lots on the edge of Watertown, where I grew up. A creek runs through a deep (20 ft or so) ravine, finding its way to Lake Michigan. As creeks usually do, it surrounded itself with unspeakable beauty on its way downward.
We didn't run around climbing up and down the banks of the ravine, as the little kids inside of us were begging us to do, but instead stayed pretty carefully on the path, watching out for the tree roots underfoot, so we didn't slip. Adults are so practical, nowadays.

And I was going to carve our initials in one of the many trees that seemed to be there just for that purpose, but, wouldn't you know it, I left my pocket knife somewhere, somewhere far in the past!
But the air was fresh and green, a day of verdant rejuvination in August. "And I think to myself, 'What a Wonderful World'"
Thanks for listening and contributing. For up-to-the-minute thoughts, come on over to I'm @dimbulb52
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