Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Happy birthday to you! Boom! Boom! Chee! Chee!

Happy birthday to you! Boom! Boom! Chee! Chee!

Happy Birthday dear Amynah!
Happy birthday to you!

Boom! Boom!

Chee! Chee!

Long may you ride!

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Publication news!

Headway, McGill's research magazine is online now. Yours truly edited the last issue, and so I was eager to see what the next one would look like.

I knew that it had been left in the more than capable hands of scriptwriter, author, and all around swell guy James Martin. However, it was my baby for six whole months and I can't help but care.

With that in mind you can take it with a grain of salt when I say that while the obvious high point of the issue is a fascinating article about the intersection of nanotechnology and neuroscience, overall, it might be a little bit better than the last issue. But only a little.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Hi all.
Just got my first porn-bot posting in my comments, and thus have enabled "word" verification that forces you to prove that you're a sentient being before posting here. THe posting (which I haven't found yet) was reduntantly advertising "Lolita and teen Lolita models." Assuming that the models aren't actually named Lolita, isn't it kind of assumed that they're teens?

Not much else to write sadly - so I'll just post a link to yet another pretty picture. That one is a bit of public art in Ste Marie aux Mines where Jon and I visited a five hundred year old silver mine. I like how this shot came out - it looks almost photoshopped, everything is so crisp (it isn't, trust me).

Thursday, November 23, 2006

First of all - Belated congratulations to Todd and Jane for the new addition to their new home. Look forward to meeting Maarten when we arrive next month (can I call him a Kramlet?)

Second of all - I'm still looking for music suggestions. The near total lack of them from you, the indifferent silence into which my words are sent on electric currents to cascade into nothingness, is making me suspect that either A) people are hoping that I go mad re-listening to the 80's era Aerosmith that makes up the bulk of my CD collection or B) have better things to do with their time.

As the universe revolves around me and my needs, I highly doubt the latter, and so can only sadly conclude the former must be true.

Also - I'm serious about sending postcards to people who answer my various challenges here. I sent out a bunch a while ago for the six word story thing, they should have arrived by now, so those of you who doubt me need only ask around. I am a man of my (unread) word.

I will eventually get around to writing up a bit more about Jon's travels here, but I actually have some paid writing to get out of the way first. More on that later.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

A quick write up about Basel.

This was about a week ago now, but I wasn’t able to get around to posting anything until now, for various reasons.

Basel, (or Bâle in French) is only a couple of hours away by train, and is in fact the terminus of the Alsace commuter train network.

Sadly, my ambition to get another stamp on my passport was not met – there was a customs point, but there was no stamp. In fact, the guard didn’t even look to see what nationality our passport was from. Presumably they operate on the principal that complete neutrality makes all foreigners equal in their mind. Also, that no foreign government could possibly care if you went to Switzerland.

In high spirits, we made our way down to the centre ville. Jon and Amynah had great fun with my assertion that I knew exactly how to get to the downtown, despite never having been in the city before. I, in turn, had great fun when I was right.

However, amidst all our joking and laughing, we began to feel uneasy. There was something strange about Basel… something… quiet. Despite the fact that the streets were fairly busy, silence reigned. In fact, most people were giving us scowling looks as we passed by. We had entered The City of Librarians, and stood the risk of being violently shushed at any moment.

Which is not to say the place lacked colour. Oh, the sites we saw! The Rathaus, (city hall) is, as you can see, a bright red. You’d think this would be a sign of some sort of barely-suppressed Swiss funkiness – “Like heck we’ll live up to our stereotypes – look at our city hall?” Then we went inside the courtyard. Within were a number of bikes, presumably belonging to the employees. Each one was lined up as neatly as cutlery in a Martha Stewart Living spread. NOT ONE HAD A LOCK (cue Twilight Zone music here).

So, moving on, we went to the waterfront. The Rhine bisects Basel into the main city and Klein Basel (little Basel) on the German side. Typically, the Rhine here is apparently clean enough to swim in during the summer. We caught a cable ferry which took us across the river. Unable to decipher the fare, we simply held out handfuls of Swiss Francs to the ferryman could take what he wanted. Needless to say, he gave us exact change.

Mid-river we caught our first glimpse of Abominable Eye of Swiss Neutrality. It reminded me of the Martian machines from War of the Worlds, only colourful, Swiss, and presumably harmless. For fun, I’m not going to explain what it actually was – but I’ll send a postcard to whoever sends me the a) closest guess and b) most amusing theory. Jon is excluded from this, but he apparently only reads this thing when he’s about to visit, so no worries there.

We checked out the cathedral, in which we saw the final resting place of both Erasmus (the guy who invented the typo) and Bernouli (the guy who invented flight. Or currents. You people all have access to Wikipedia – look it up yourselves!) In the crypt area, in addition to all the memorials to all the dead people, we also found a memorial to the Great Vegetables of Basel. I’m not supplying an explanation for this one simply because, well, I cannot for the life of me determine why anyone would make a giant cast-iron vegetable buffet in a church crypt. It’s beyond parody, really.

Not put off by the blindingly high prices (I saw a watch on sale for the equivalent of $20,000 Canadian in one of the shop windows) Amynah went shopping, finishing the day with approximately 20 lbs of fine Swiss chocolate. Jon and I, discovering that the main local museum was closed, wandered around randomly.

At one point, in search of the Pharmacology Museum, we found the old city gate.The doors don’t work anymore, making it a big hit with fans of British comedy. Why?

Because it’s Basel’s Faulty Tower of course.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Jon's last full day in town, and we're heading out to Baden-Baden before having dinner with our friends Julie and Sebastien.

Rented a car the other day, so as to see the surrounding region. Somehow, Jon and I, in search of a castle we saw near Ribeauvillé, managed to climb the completely wrong mountain while trying to reach it. Very clever defences those French had - poor trail marking was probably the cause of far more military defeats than conventional history would suggest.

Also went to a town called St Marie aux Mines, because in the midst of all the castles, Medieval villages, mountains and other things that normal tourists want to see, Jon was struck by an overwhelming desire to visit a 500 year old hole in the ground.

We had lunch in town before seeing the local museum (rocks, textiles and mining). The waitress, honouring our request to speak to us like we were retarded toddlers, explained the special of the day, which included something called "Bich." We asked what that was "C'est comme La Bambi," was the reply.

This led me to two conclusions: Globalization ain't all bad, if it can make communication so easy. Also, only in France would one evoke Bambi while encouraging someone to eat deer. It was delicious, by the way, though I was disapointed that they didn't offer an appetizer of Thumper.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Basel today. Is it geeky of me to be kind of excited about the idea of going to Switzerland simply for the pleasure of a new passport stamp?

I should be excited. Basel is notable because they have "less fog" than the rest of Switzerland, and "most" of their dungheaps have been turned into flower gardens.

Also, they use Olympic curler and bronze medallist Marcus Eggler as a celebrity endorsement. Who could fail to be charmed?

Friday, November 10, 2006

Remembrance Day, lighter posting to come

I will likely be falling behind in my postings here over the next week, as my good friend, former room-mate and erstwhile groomsman, the Fantabulous Jonny V will be descending upon us. Typically, his arrival will force me to get up at six to meet him at the airport, which will be a nice reminder of what living with him was like.

Incredibly, after four months with no visitors, our erstwhile nearly neighbour, husband-of-former-boss, gourmand and boulevadier Bio-Dave is also arriving in town, a slight diversion from a meeting in Germany where he is plotting with his colleagues to save the Blue Whale and it’s fellow threatened critters (the Blue Whale, is after all, the tastiest of the great whales).

Also tonight, I’m going to my first “live” French soccer… ahem, Football… match – RC Strasbourg vs some team from where our Bourdelais friend Sebastien is from. I plan to pretend I don’t know him if he starts cheering for the other guys.

So, probably no post tomorrow, which of course is Remembrance Day in Canada. Here it is Armistice Day, focusing strictly on WWI.

Both the wars are a particularly touchy subject in Alsace. The region was, after all, part of the German Empire at the outset of the Great War, and had been for 44 years. The Alsatian language remains very similar to German and the half-timbered houses that are typical of the area are seen as very Teutonic – so much so that France, upon re-occupying the area, plastered over many of them. At the end of the war, the French refused to allow Alsace to hold a referendum to determine which country would hold their loyalty, as they were fairly certain they would not like the results.

Hitler repeated the Kaiser’s tack of absorbing Alsace directly into the Reich, going so far as to rename Place Kleber – the main city square – after an Alsatian “separatist” that the French had executed for treason the year before the invasion.

Incorporating Alsace into the Fatherland meant, in both cases, that residents were subject to the draft. In World War II most went to the Eastern Front, spending years in Soviet prison camps after the Russian triumph there. Others ended up in the SS, and participated in a mass slaughter in a small village in Limousin, burning women and children alive in the parish church while punishing the townsfolk for the actions of the Resistance.

Needless to say, there were hard feelings after the war. The trial for the former SS members gave the Alsatians ridiculously light sentences, to the rage of the rest of France. They claimed that they were forced into their actions by the German officers. Theiy became known as the “Malagré Nous” – “despite ourselves” – and their name and opprobrium they earned was attached to all Alsatians that had served in German forces.

None of the Malagré Nous – including those that served, and suffered greatly in legitimate military units in the Eastern Front – ever received military pensions from either the French or German governments.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

This past weekend we had a family of one of Amynah’s co-workers over for dinner. They have two children, who were so ridiculously blond and charming I half expected the Archangel Gabriel to descend from the Heavens saying “There you two are. Get back upstairs immediately, you little monkeys.”

Anyway, the girl, who is about 6, is learning English in school. This evidently consists of the first line of “Do Re Mi” which she will sing, then “Hay, a drop of mumble mumble” and then let the adults finish the rest of the song by prompting us with the first word of each line: Me! Far! So! La! Ti!… before starting us all over again with “Do, a deer, a female deer, Hay…”

She also knows a kick-ass version of Happy Birthday, much better than the one we Anglos are familiar with. It starts the same as the classic version, but adds Euro-flair that I thinks really freshens the whole song: Happy Birthday to you – Boom! Boom! Chee! Chee! (the new bits come with hand motions roughly approximating “reach for the sky” disco moves).

At one point she was singing it while walking behind Amynah into our living room. She greatly added to my amusement factor by slapping Amynah’s butt to the rhythm of the “Chee! Chee!” part.

Speaking of music, I'm still looking for music input. Tara? You out there? Jocelyn? Anyone?

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

A couple of days ago we received a letter in the mail from la Republique informing that we owed them several hundred Euros for a licence for a television we don't own, and residence tax. The latter is applied to anyone who was living at their current address as of January 1.

We were surprised by this, to say the least. French bureacracrats are the Spidermen of civil servants, able to produce streams of red tape at will, but they rarely make mistakes. So, we went down to the local tax office with the usual ream of documents - our lease, passports, copies of our lease and passports, cartes de sejour, banking information and a note from my Mom. The bureaucrat, upon seeing our lease was shocked that we had been sent this letter in the first place, and assured us that although she would need to generate the normal 5-to-10 kilos of etape rouge she was confident we wouldn't need to hand over our pound of flesh (0.45 kg of flesh chez nous) in light of the evidence.

Further inquiries among Amynah's co-workers clarified the mystery - apparently, if the apartment was empty of changed hands after January 1, the landlord is stuck with the bill. And it was the landlord that fills out the relevant forms that led to us being sent the tax notification. The theory - and even I'm not naive enough to believe that somehow a mistake could have occurred in triplicate - is that the owner of our building was hoping that he could stick the ignorant foreigners with his bill. I'm hoping that he'll get fined for fraud, but I'm afraid that all that will really happen is he'll be pissed off, and we can therefore kiss our substantial damage deposit goodbye (not that we had much hope of getting it back anyway).

Friday, November 03, 2006

Globe update: They haven’t changed their page – they did briefly update with some travel articles that were published after mine, but took those down after a couple of hours. I suspect it's never going up, not surpriseing as I never signed anything with them. So, for those who really want to read my deathless prose, lemme know and I’ll send the text and associated images via email. Until then, you’ll just have to reply on my assurances that it was awesome like an embarrassed Zebra – black and white and read all over.

Moving on, more life in France stories for you. Except this one is in Germany…

November 1 is a holiday here – Toussaint or All Saint’s Day. So, on Hallowe’en we went out to the spas of Baden-Baden with a few of Amynah’s co-workers and their families.

Baden-Baden (the name means “Bath Bath” in German, the redundancy necessary to distinguish it from all the other spa towns in the region) is only about 60 km from Strasbourg. Historically it was where all the European aristocracy would go to take the waters to cure themselves of their gout, ennui and other illnesses that afflict the wealthy and idle.

It’s still a haven for their 21st century equivalents, though they’re more likely to be Middle Eastern oil-Princes or celebrities. The English Football squad was based here during the World Cup. Apparently, Victoria “Posh” Beckham spent something like 45,000 Euros on a single shopping trip.

There are two main “Bads” in Baden-Baden – Friedrichsbad and Caracalla. We went to the more modern one, the Caracalla Baths. (you can click on the arrow under the photo and you can see photos of both).

We walked in to be greeted by a sign that informed us that Caracalla is an officially-recognized “Wellness Spa” a designation authorized by the German government. I was familiar with this, having done some previous research on it – it’s the spa equivalent of Michelin Stars, and has the slogan “Where it says Wellness, there is Wellness!” Personally, I love saying that with my best “Wehrmacht-prison guard screaming at Steve MacQueen in The Great Escape” accent.

So, to the spas. First of all, my commodious Bermuda-short-like bathing suit caused a bit of consternation with the French folk we were with. Apparently, in many European public swimming/bathing facilities, males are “required” to wear Speedos. So, that explains that stereotype. They claim it’s for hygiene reasons, though no one really explained how that works.

Carcalla has 18 different pools in the non-nudie portion, both inside and out. They’re all heated to different temperatures. Most have bubble-jets or waterfalls by which means poolgoers massage themselves. I also discovered the utility of a Speedo at this point – bubble jets had an unfortunate tendency to fill my shorts with air which had a number of effects – it created buoyancy in my mid-section that made it difficult to remain seated on the in-pool benches, it made it look like I was passing wind underwater when I tried to release the air, and it made me look like I was enjoying the proximity of the various bikini clad Teuton-ettes much more than I actually was, if you know what I mean.

The pools all had different features – though with 18 I think they started to run out of ideas to put in each. One that I found bewildering was a giant outdoor pool with no discernible attraction, other than being cooler than the others. At regular intervals, the jets would start up, creating a fairly strong current that circled the pool. I believe in German it’s called the koldkurrentzpool. Yay!

There was a hot-tub contained within, but it was being monopolized by the Speedo-clad Sasquatches so I went back inside. Here I spent some time in the sauna, baking, until Amynah’s impatience with just sitting around being hot forced us to move along. We then when to the freizyernutzov pool (say it out loud) and then into the genuine hot tub. The temperature difference between the two is supposed to be about 20 degrees, and I must say, it was a lot of fun going to the first, reducing my core body temperature until even…my… thoughts… were… congealing… and then jumping into the hot tub, which stung at first, but then warmed you to your very soul.

We finished our trips by collectively taking over on of the smaller, warmer baths. Using one arm to hold onto the side-railing, I let the currents take me, swaying underwater like seaweed. I looked over at Amynah, eyes half closed, as I slowly turned into a human hammock: “I could get used to this,” I said.

“Good – because I want to come back and go to Friedrichsbad” she said.

Ahhh. Friedrichsbad is the older and more traditional spa in Baden-Baden. Not for it the modern “relax, take your time, enjoy yourself” indulgence of modern spa philosophy. Rather, it is a regimented series of 16 baths, taken in sequence for specific times, and completed with a vigorous massage that I am told is administered by misanthropic stone-masons. Oh, and did I mention that all of this is in the nude? (the customers, not the stone-masons. I think).

I clutched my Bermudas. Suddenly, I’m not so relaxed.