Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Hallowe’en post!

I will refrain from (self-congratulatory) France-posting for a the time being for a “ripped-from-the-archives” bit of House of Horrors: Canadian Wilderness Edition. This is a true story!

In 1829, the sailors of the Victory , a fishing schooner from the Magdalene Islands put in at Anticosti Island in the Gulf of St Lawrence. On reaching the shore near where the government supply house was supposed to be, they spotted a rowboat pulled up on the shore, but no sign of a larger vessel from where it might have come. They suspected it might have been from a shipwrecked vessel, common enough on the fog enshrouded, storm-wracked island that already was known as The Graveyard of the Gulf.

A party from the Victory landed ashore to investigate. Pushing inland, they called out for survivors, growing increasingly nervous as their shouts were abosrbed by the gloom that covered Anticosti like a shroud.

Finally, they came to the government shelter. Opening the door, they saw a single man, lying dead on a hammock, although he appeared to have been in good health and showed no sign of injury. As their eyes adjusted to the gloom they saw strips of meat hanging from the ceiling rafters, and more stacked near the wall. Scattered over the floor were scraps of clothing and bones.

The fisherman, on finding a ship's log, realized that the rowboat was from the Granicus, which had left Quebec City in October of the previous year with a crew and passengers totaling 28 people, heading for Ireland. It had wrecked on Anticosti and, like the Victory, came to the government shelter looking for food. They discovered that for some reason known only to 19th century colonial bureaucrats, the stores had been removed.

The fisherman realized that the meat was not that from the government stores – the dead man on the hammock had been the last survivor of a horrifying ordeal of starvation and cannibalism. The remains of his fellow crewmen were lying behind the shelter, flesh stripped from their bones.

And in the fireplace, the sailors found a giant stewpot, in which the arms of the unfortunate passengers of the Granicus bristled, in one man’s recollection, “palms upward as if beseeching the Heavens for mercy.”

Monday, October 30, 2006

Thanks everone for your congratulations and praise. Amynah and I are now looking for a new, larger apartment that can accomodate my increasingly big head.

The piece is not online yet, but should be soon. They did a hell of a job with it - it's front of the section, and my photo dominates the front page. Very cool, especially as I'm generally surprised when my photos manage "reasonable looking."

On the note of photos - does anyone ever click the links when I do this? I know I am often leery of clicking through links, but if people would rather I put my photos directly on this site (which I can do at some cost of size and resolution) I can. That shot, by the way, is me experimenting with my new tripod and long exposure. It's also the view out my apartment window, for those to whom I have not bragged about that already.

So now that's I've brought my reading public so much joy, I need to ask a favour: I need music. Before I left my previous employment at McGill I asked many of my colleagues, as a going away gift, to give me ten songs. My orginal plan was purely selfish - I don't listen to the radio, and knew I'd be spending a lot of time listening to my iPod. On the other hand, I've been introduced to a lot of great music and am generally rent by nostalgia ten times a day as various songs come on (who knew that William Shatner's dulcet tones could be so moving?)

So, from you, my loyal reading public, I am asking only for song names. What are you listening to right now? What's a song that makes you happy? What did you hear recently that made you bop your head, sing along, remember your first kiss, want to get in a fight, dance, be 17 again... anything. All I need are names (titles/artists) - I have the means to acquire them in a way that completely violates my views on copyright infringement. Give me one! Give me 20!

Email them or post them here and let others see them!

Friday, October 27, 2006

I've already sent out a fairly comprehensive email about this, but in case I missed anyone, there will be an article in tomorrow's Globe and Mail on Alsace, in which you can find out why I was tromping around a graveyard at sunset two nights ago taking pictures of this and an explanation of what the heck is going on here.

However, it won't explain how the Devil managed to turn Martin Luther's head into a bagpipe, as depicted here.

Nonetheless, it will be the travel section and probably accessible online.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Every once in a rare while, a movie is released in Europe before North America. In this case, I have been afforded a rare opportunity to save friends and family from gouging out their eyeballs should they make the mistake of seeing "Perfume: A history of a murderer."

It's by the same guy who did "Run Lola Run" so I had high hopes.

Well, I see that the film is scheduled for a December 27 release in North America, which would seem to indicate that they are planning on duping people into believing it's a "prestige" picture. I've also read snotty commentaries that seem to hint that the "climactic" (pun-intended) final scene (which features levels of nudity that, as that guy in "Spinal Tap" might have said, have been turned up to eleven) scared off prudish American distributors.

Don't believe it. "Perfume" stinks. It was based on a book that I understand was supposed to be quite good but the movie is unforgivably dull. It tells, for no reason that I can discern, the story of Jean Baptiste Grenouille (get it? Grenouille! He's French you know) who was born in 18th century Paris with a remarkable sense of smell and very poor social skills. He becomes a perfumer, in order to learn how to capture scent. He also becomes a serial killer of beautiful women for related reasons that I won't bother going into.

Highlights include Dustin Hoffman as Grenouille's mentor. I'm sure that, as I write this, Dustin is looking into faking his own death and assuming a new identity before his excrebable Italian accent makes him an object of scorn Stateside (why, by the way, is it ok for everyone else to have or fake a British accent in order to convey their Frenchness, but Hoffman had to fake Italian?) Also, Rachel Hurd-Wood, as the object of Grenouille's obsession, set new standards in the realm of facial control: Poor Alan Rickman, playing her Dad, tells her that the mysterious killer is after her: no reaction. Dad tells her he's effetively sold her into marriage to a near-stranger: no reaction. Our boy Grenouille kills her in the end, but damned if I can figure out how anyone could tell. Apparently no one told her that acting requires, in addition to dressing up in pretty costumes and learning your lines, some semblance of, you know, acting.

Anyway, I started checking my watch roughly ten minutes into this turkey, and continued to do so at intervals of five minutes. How the director managed to make a movie about a serial killer sprinkled with magic realism and lots of nudity so excruciatingly dull is beyond me: It's a testament to some kind of otherworldly badness that only happens when the stars are aligned just so. And when Dustin Hoffman is pretending to be Italian.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

There's a crowd of angry Frenchmen on the sidewalk below my window, angrily gesticulating in the general direction of my apartment. They are standing around the remains of a tile that just fell from the roof of my building and shattered on the concrete fifty feet below. When I poked my head out, the gathering mob seemed to think it was my fault.

I feel rather like Marie Antoinette.

Monday, October 23, 2006

I'm not keen on putting overly personal information on the Internet, but yesterday was, as many of you remembered, the first anniversary of the day that Amynah, taking advantage of my semi-concussed state, won both the "jumping on the pottery to determine who is charge of the house" competition and the "finding coin in rice to determine who controls the household finances" competition.

I, meanwhile, won the "marrying the most wonderful person I know" competition. Ha!

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Six word story winners!

Here it is, the long awaited results to the first annual Six Word Story Challenge. It wasn't an easy one to judge, what with the twentieths of hundreds of entries we received, but I stuck with it.

So, without further ado, the winners:

In the category of best non-fiction six word story: Jaideep Oberoi, for "Hooked by blog: wasted more time."

In the category of most drama conveyed in six words: Tasha Ogryzlo for "MADMAN LOOSE. Hello? Anyone there? AAAAAHHHH!"

In the category of "Oooh, been there" Alan Suen for: Boy? Girl? "Not pregnant" Awkward silence.

In the category of best absurdist six word story: Travis Webber, "Iron plate in head. Magnetic bullets" (part three of a five volume series).

And finally, best haiku submitted in a contest for a six word story, Craig Martin, for "And Supergoat died too./The wolf was inedibly lean./Goat, on the other hand...

All our winners will receive a real French postcard with real French stamps, on which I will write a note with a realistic signature. Winners will also receive an invisible gift bag filled with hypothetical items from our non-existant sponsors, with an estimated value of zero Euros ( 0.6 zero CDN).

Congratulations everybody!

PS - I need your addresses.

Friday, October 20, 2006

My vain attempts to excite interest through "teasers" bearing no fruit (not a single person asked me what a trumpet of death was. Not one!) I'll just give in a do a post and pretend like someone requested it. Also: last day for six word stories! I take email submissions as well.

Sunday Amynah and I visited our first castle, built in the 13 century or so and now a ruin, though they're working on it.

The Andlau family still owns it, though they had to repurchase it from Napoleon III after it had been claimed in the name of France by Revolutionaries. It's blocked off now, in order to prevent the structural integrity of visitor's heads being irrevocably violated by falling bricks. That didn't stop me and our friend Sebastien from sneaking into the courtyard for a better look.

It's pretty small, by castle standards (I will confess that my castle standards are easily influenced by whatever guidebook I'm using) but is notable for its sandstone window frames.

So, what of the Trumpet of Death? You may well ask. Well, on the way back, our friend Julie - an avid mushroom picker in a nation of amateur mycologists - suddenly stopped.

"I smell mushrooms" she said.

“Really? Where?” I asked.

Rather than answer, Julie cocked her head, listening. She tensed.

“Shhh! Here come people! Don’t let them know - act like we’re just hanging out,” said Julie. In the middle of the woods? I put on the best “Fungi hunter? Who, me?” expression I could muster under the circumstances.

After they passed, we hopped off the trail and Julie introduced us to our prey - La Trompet de la Mort. These are, despite the name and the fact they still carry radiation blown in from Chernobyl, a local delicacy.

Julie, by the way, is not paranoid. People will hire armed guards to protect a good mushroom patch, the secret locations of which are passed down through the generations. Julie and Sebastien seemed quite pitying when we told them that Canadians pretty much only eat those mushrooms that grow in plastic wrapped blue boxes in grocery stores.

The mushrooms, by the way, were delicious.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Allrighty, I now have several entries from Travis, a couple from Tasha (whose are fine on their own and not front-runners just by virtue of not having bashed mine) one from Jaideep (which will be revealed later as more entries come in, and also kind of bashed me) and a haiku. I don't even know what to say about that.
So - time is ticking down. I know you're out there reading, and I know many of you are current and former wordsmiths. Dazzle me! Dazzle each other!

The rest of this post is semi-political, semi-anecdotal.

France is seen by many to be a smoker's paradise. In many ways, this is true: there's a large tobacco factory a ten minute walk from where I live, and "non-smoking" sections in restaurants tend to consist of whatever table Amynah and I are sitting at. This, however, is changing - a new law will ban smoking in many public places at the start of next year. To my bewilderment, this includes schools, where evidently it was ok to light up before.

In any case, this measure is not nearly as draconian as those in Quebec, where they have their own puff police. That law took effect on the last day of work in Montreal, forcing me to smoke my last-day-of-work cigar the mandatory 30 feet from the entrance to my building during a thunderstorm.

However, a ban is not something that a little French elan can't solve. One of Amynah's first interactions with one of the senior researchers in her institute occurred when Amynah was fixing some substances for her experiments under a fume hood, which vents gases outside the building. The professor - a formidable woman - approached her and asked what she was doing. Amynah explained, at which point one of Amynah's colleagues realized that it was 3 pm - time for the professor's mid-afternoon cigarette, which she would enjoy under the fume hood. Amynah expressed some surprise that she would smoke in a laboratory, to which the professor, in classic French style, replied "It is my priviledge."

Monday, October 16, 2006

Ok, so far the frontrunners to my six word story challenge are all from the same household in BC. Does no one want to compete with them? I can't send a postcard to a guy who called my example "bullshit!"

So, on that basis alone, Tasha's in the lead. Other competitors are welcome. You have until Friday midnight, Left Coast time (North America's Left Coast, not Europe's, Africa's or Asia's respective Left Coasts).

By way of encouragement, a little bit of Alsatian folklore (which I'm gathering at a prodigious rate, considering how little of it I understand). This also an opportunity to experiment with putting my photos online. I'd post my 1600 word account of yesterdays quest for the Trumpet of Death but I don't feel like any of you deserve it yet.

Last weekend, Amynah and I took a bike ride to Le
Chapel de Loup
– the wolf’s chapel. According to my guide book, the chapel (which is literally in the middle of a corn field) got its name in the 1700s, when a goat wandered a little to far afield in search of green-tasties. Suddenly, a wolf appeared, menacingly, as is their wont. The goat ran away, hiding in the chapel. Yet, when the wolf gave chase, the goat somehow slipped out, kicked the door shut, and trapped the wolf inside.
The goat (which, at this point in the story is starting to remind me of Lassie or The Littlest Hobo) ran to the nearest town (Innensheim) and, through some means of goat/human communication that has been lost to history (mime? charades?) summoned whatever the eighteenth century equivalent of the police was, who came back to the chapel and presumably made short work of the wolf.

Why, after all of that, the chapel became known as Wolf’s Chapel and not Church of the Super Goat is beyond me.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Oh, and in an effort to encourage participation on this thing, I'm going to steal an idea I've seen on other blogs (I have a wee-bit too much free time here) and post a challenge for the literarily inclined. It's called the "Six word story." The original was (unsurprisingly) Hemingway: "For sale: Baby shoes. Never used."

My effort is semi-biographical: Saw doctor, bought sling. Sold bike.

I know many of you are frightenly talented, if not notably terse. Give it a shot! I will judge all entries and dispense a prize of a real postcard, to be mailed using real French stamps!

For my former colleagues, if any are reading this, bonus points if you can work the word "excellence" in there somehow!
OK, my first political post!

It's a bit of a tempest in a teapot, since there's a good chance it will never be confirmed by Senate, but much has been made of the French legislature's motion to make it a crime to deny that the WWI-era Armenian massacre was a genocide.

I'm no fan of these laws - I find all they do is make it harder to identify the idiots. Turkey has rightly pointed out that the law seems to be aimed at throwing up further roadblocks to their EU membership.

"Turkish-French relations, which have been meticulously developed over the centuries, took a severe blow today through the irresponsible initiatives of some short-sighted French politicians, based on unfounded allegations," the Turkish foreign ministry said.

Irresponsible? Short-sighted? Good thing France doesn't have a law that makes it a crime to "insult Frenchness."

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Using techniques relayed by Julie in Japan, I'm attempting fancy hyperlinking.

I would also recommend clicking the link for an amusing story about Bean Jum Man: "Do you know me? If you don't know me, please search by the Internet."

Soon, I will start competing with her odd-life in foreign land stories. I have a great one of rules governing who may and may not eat road kill here.

The answers will surprise you.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Just got back from the orthopedic surgeon, who confirmed that my arm is no longer broken, but it's still weak. The break was small, but it was on the radial bone, near the elbow, making it both fairly debilitating and difficult to heal. I have to see him again, and get a new (third!) X-ray in three weeks. Technically I'm also supposed to keep wearing my sling, but since I can niether write, eat, brush my teeth or dress myself with it on, I tend to only put it on when going out, rather than spend my days naked, smelly and bored. In that way the sling is as useful as a big medical-surplus-warehouse necktie - I put it on, but it doesn't serve any discernible purpose other than make me uncomfortable. I sort of chalked it up to being the same sort of venal sin as saying "Yes Mr Dentist, of course I floss after every meal!"*
Of course, I didn't tell him that I've not really been wearing it as directed. Nor did I tell him that I went for a 40 km bike ride on Saturday which (temporarily) aggravated it.** I've already been called a stubborn ass by my Mom and my Mother-in-law, I don't need it from my doctor.
By the way, thanks to Shannon and Adam for the chestnut explanation (comments, last post). Coming from them, I'm not sure if it is inspired conjecture on their part or known fact. I'll go for known fact: as an engineer, Shannon knows all about trains (whaddya mean you're not that kind of engineer?)

* As I'm posting this on the great big Internet, I will rush to confirm that yes, I do floss after every meal, snack, meaty conversation and issue of Reader's Digest. In fact, dental floss is a bigger portion of my domestic budget than electricty and phone - I use roughly half my body weight of the stuff a month. You know it's true, because it's on the web!
** More on that to come.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

A minor cultural observation: In Canada, there are annual complaints that the stores start selling Christmas merchandise even before the trick-or-treaters have egged the last car of Hallowe'en. Well, in Germany Christmas displays start going up in September. Here in France, on the very first day of October the morning light revealed that all of the streetside ice cream vendors had been magically transformed into roast chestnut sellers, all in booths shaped like minature steam locomotives (I'd appreciate it if someone could explain the chestnut/locomotive link, by the way - the one on Phillips Square in Montreal had a similar set-up).
I have to head out to French class now, where my classmates and teacher all believe I'm some kind of paranormal expert, which better reflects my supernatural ability to mangle the French language than my actual interests.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Update: per Travis's (remarkably fast) observation, comments should now be open to anyone, meaning you needn't sign up for one of these things to comment on mine. That Travis did speaks to just what sort person he is. I love you man!
If it doesn't work, let me know and I will attempt to fix it again.
Hey all,
I'm not certain how often I will be using this site - the whole blog thing seems to be a pretty good way to divert myself from doing more productive writing. On the other hand, it's not exactly like I'm doing a huge amount of more productive writing, ergo, here I am.
Not, however, with anything to say. I guess the first thing to do would be introduce myself, if by chance anyone should cruise by this thing accidentally. In order to increase the chances of that happening, here's one for the Google search bots: Tom Cruise Naked! Angelina Jolie Naked! Naked Nudie Nudes!
All right, on to me. First off, I'm niether naked, nude, nor some freaky naked nude Angelina/Tom hybrid. I'm a Canadian writer of some (i.e. vanishingly little) repute. I live in Strasbourg now, thanks to the brilliance of my wife, now a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute of Genetics and Molecular and Cellular Biology.
So what will this blog (Ye Gods! I shudder to write the word!) be about? Well, I don't know yet. Accounts of being an ex-pat in France, in part. Possibly comments on current news and events, though lord knows that's a market that must be near saturation by now.
I suspect that I will also be using it as a way to share my cleverer emails with a wider audience. I suspect that I'll end up reposting material I've already tried out on smaller audiences, rather than my current practice of tailoring the same message for a dozen different people like some kind of Interet-based telemarketer.
Anyway, here's my first such one of these: it was based on a email I sent to my friend Julie, who is currently doing the whole teaching English in Japan thing and adjusting to the whole ex-pat thing herself. Her take on it, being original, is worth reading much more so than my "me-too" response. Hers is here: http://pixxiefish.blogspot.com (ya gotta scroll down to Thursday Oct 5 and the section entitled "Country" - Julie is at least as verbose as I. Although, after to scroll down scroll back up to read about her karaoke adventures).

My dittohead response, edited:
Moving to a foreign place is interesting - after the initial thrill wears off, it becomes "home" very quickly. I didn't bother seeing a bunch of things I should have in Montreal when I lived there - Musée de Art Contemporain, several history museums, a dozen churches I always wanted to see and never did, various parks in the West Island, 90 percent of the east island, La Ronde, all of the various little Ste-Whoever-de-les-Laurentides. It was just home - I'd have plenty of chances to see things.

And when I came here, everything was new (or rather, really freakin' old) and fascinating. The buildings are beautiful, the history oozing up from the streets and dripping from the walls requires a full time city cleaning crew to keep it in check. In many ways, it continues to surprise - I recently learned the hospital has its own wine cellar, dating from the Middle Ages when people would pay for their leechings with in-kind goods. They have a reisling from 1472, and an on-staff sommelier. Vive la France!

Yet, at the same time, no matter how different Strasbourg is from Canada, now it's just home. I no longer get (too) lost in the tangle of streets, the various gargoyles and goblins carved into the architecture no longer entrance, I don't feel compelled to take pictures of every slate-roofed-half-timbered-flowerbox-bedecked building I pass. And though in many ways, it's like home, it's worse, because I have no friends of my own with whom I can go for a last-minute beer (though there are people from Amynah's lab that have adopted us, sadly my French is not yet up to par, or anywhere close to it. Plus, they don't drink beer).

On the other hand, the banks of the Ill are not crowded with beret-wearing painters capturing the setting sun, and the cafés are pretty much empty of poets. France, while indisputably French, is not a 24-hour postcard. So what do I have? Novelty - occasionally. Homesickness - pretty much daily. An experience I'll never forget - yeah, of course. But these ain't days of wine and roses - often they're days of Internet and groceries, same as they would be in Montreal, only without the nearby friends and family.

On the other hand (to repeat a segue), this weekend I biked through farmers' fields to visit an 800 year old tower reputed to be used by devils and sorcerers, and hiked in the Vosges, stopping in at a chapel dedicated to St Leon that sits on top of a giant rock atop a mountain overlooking the valley below. I can, and have, walked to Germany and can probably bike to Switzerland in half a day. When we are invited out for dinner (which we are frequently) the food is confite de canard, the inevitable four different wines (one for the appetizer, one for the main course, one for the cheese plate and one for dessert, plus a digestif, often schnapps) uniformly excellent, the cheeses decadent and plentiful, the company delightful.

So, it's good, and it's bad. Sometimes I'm miserable and bitter and alone (freelancing is not a very social activity) and other times I'm content and completely at home.

As a first post, that's a bit of a downer and I didn't mean it to be. I actually am, for the most part, enjoying myself. I'm also really looking forward to company (which will soon be supplied in the person of my friend Jon, for whom I am planning a full-on ex-Stras-aganza (ha!) so he will tell people and encourage them to visit as well.