Monday, April 28, 2008

Doc Reynolds' patent remedy

The Kinzig, which flows to the Rhine from somewhere in the Black Forest, handily connecting Kehl across the river to Offenburg

We had a busy weekend. We woke at 7:30 on Saturday, and commenced preparing for our guests that evening: Amynah’s intimidating boss, Brigitte, and her husband Alain. The politics of Amynah’s lab made this dinner highly unusual – no one else, bar one of the more senior staff, ever invite the big boss over. That we did was the result of my off hand thanks, upon bumping into Brigitte after my French class in Amynah’s institute, for her previous dinner invite, with the traditionally insincere “We should have you over sometime.”

Well, suffice to say, she took it seriously, and lo and behold, one week later she was gazing upon our delightful view and listening, uncomfortably, to our mice hunting tales (“You haven’t had any in the kitchen?” she asked, putting down her fork, “No! Oh course not,” says Amynah, without batting an eye).

Anyway, as a result of the fascinating conversation (it was, really) we got to bed quite late, and slept in quite late. As I am a delicate flower, and subject to developing thermonuclear headaches at the slightest provocation, this disruption of my routine threatened to turn into a monster migraine.

Now, I’ve developed a number of completely ineffective strategies to stymie an impending headache. Eating vast quantities of food, drinking lots of water, medicinal coffee, tactical napping, and exercise.

It being 23 degrees and sunny, we opted for the latter course, and hopped on our bikes and headed into Germany: destination, Offenburg.

I am sad to say that our increasing competence means I have no bike related drama to impart about this trip. The city (about a quarter the size of Strasbourg) is only 27 kilomters away, and the bike trails are clearly marked along the whole route.

However, my headache was getting worse, despite all the fresh air. On arrival in Offenburg, I sought out an open kebab place, and ordered what I’m sure is the largest “doner” I’ve ever rammed down my gullet. No dice. The following espresso didn’t help, nor the ice cream after that.

Dispirited, we made our way back home (pausing outside Kork, where an impromptu remote-control aeronautics show was in full swing, with biplanes, gliders, helicopters – even a parachutist!). Sunburned and worn out, we had a brief nap, which also did nothing for my head.

Finally, I popped into the bathroom to wash up for dinner, and my eye fell on a plastic bottle filled with small white, chalky tablets, marked "Tylenol." “Hmmm,” I thought to myself, “Perhaps I’ll try one of these.”

Fifteen minutes later my headache was gone. Perhaps next time I’ll try that approach, before the 55 km bike ride cure.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Mouse III: Like mouse II, but mousier

For those of you still interested in the ongoing saga of Mark vs The Mice, Or how I learned to stop worrying and love the infestation, there have been developments.

Having caught one last week, and my hand-made Skippy-baited humane trap having fooled no one, Amynah and I elected to block off the holes in our bedroom and kitchen with steel wool. We could still hear the little guy rooting about in the walls, but were able to sleep soundly, knowing that it could not escape. We heard nothing further from the kitchen.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I examined the pantry and discovered fresh droppings on the shelf where Amynah had formerly stored her chocolate. The only means of ingress was already blocked – where was it coming from?

Now concerned, I re-checked the trap and poison in the bathroom, where there is a whole too large to block. The trap there had been sprung, but caught nothing. The poison, however, was considerably diminished.

I went to sleep last night, listening once more to my rodent friend’s intra-mural activities. I was confident that given how much of the “cereal” it had ingested, it was not long for this world.

My sense of triumph was shattered (and my face very nearly dramatically altered) as I shaved this morning by the sound of Amynah’s shriek. We had caught another mouse, quite unexpectedly, in the “insurance trap” we’d set in the pantry.

This is particularly disturbing because it was caught on the top shelf of the pantry, where there is no longer any way for it to get in or out. Also, we had not heard any rodent activity outside of the bedroom wall since we caught the last one. This means we are apparently dealing with some new breed of flying stealth mice.

I am not confident.

PS – thanks to everyone for your mouse-control suggestions. I am now sleeping on a clove-stuffed mattress under dryer sheets, lulling myself to sleep by chanting the Lord’s Prayer backwards. I don’t think it’s had any effect on the mice, but Amynah’s taken to sleeping in the living room.

Sunday, April 20, 2008


French rockabilly group, providing the twangy background for our dinner. The little kid in the blue stripes faite le boogie-woogie.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Musique plus

Apparently, a French parliamentarian is "outraged" that the country's entry into the storied Eurovision cheese-fest song contest has English lyrics. That this merits attention by the national government is amusing - that he was only upset about the language is hilarious.

Thursday, April 17, 2008


I posted a video by Camille before, but she has a new album out, with some English songs. They make me smile (not least, one that is entirely about hitting a ridiculously high note, which includes the lyric "I just want to beat Mariah.")

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Cherry blossoms

Taking a break from matters mouse-related, a slew of photos from Sunday's hike in the cherry orchards of the Black Forest can be found here. There's plenty of flowers, for those that like that sort of thing, and a puppy, for those that like that sort of thing.

The trip was organised by my French teacher, and included a bunch of her other pupils from Amynah's institute, making it a very international expedition indeed, which made the picnic a particularly interesting experience (though not as varied as you'd think: my teacher made rice balls, as did all three of the Japanese on the hike).

Monday, April 14, 2008

The mouse is dead. Long live the mouse.

These are no ordinary varmints

Yesterday, we enjoyed a nice long hike amongst the blooming cherry orchards of the Black Forest. I took many, many, beautiful photos, and the exercise was much-needed after the filling Bretagne-style crêpes still filling our stomachs from Saturday’s dinner. We then had a lovely four-way conversation over Skype with friends from Vancouver, Halifax and London.

In short, it was lovely weekend, and should have been made all the more when I discovered that one of our traps (the conventional kind, located in our pantry) had lured one of our miniature houseguests to its death.* While sad that it had not survived to fall prey to my jury-rigged mouse-o-matic (pictured below) I was glad that our long nightmare was over, and that we could stop living like refugees in our own home.

Fast-forward several hours… to four o’clock in the morning. Amynah shakes me awake:
“Fu..wah?” I articulated.
“Mark… I think I hear the mouse.”
“Buh…” I replied, and then lay quiet, as the scrabbling behind the wall signaled to me, in rodent-Morse, that this was not over, buddy.

Maybe it’s a ghost?

Anyway, Mark's mouse-o-matic (patent pending) is once again up and running, in the hopes that the peanut butter fumes wafting into the walls will somehow cause my nemesis to become much stupider than the evidence to date suggests it is.

* We interred the deceased immediately, as demanded for by rodent funereal custom, so I am afraid I cannot satisfy certain people’s macabre desire for trophy photos.

Friday, April 11, 2008

I think I might stop cutting my fingernails too

It has now been a full week, and we have done nothing to slow the advance of the mouse army. We have discovered signs of the invaders in every room except the living room, where we now spend our nights, door barricaded shut, lying amid piles of clothes and food grabbed haphazardly in our retreat.

We are not sleeping – Amynah is prone to waking suddenly, shrieking, convinced that the mice are stealing her chocolate, or planning to leap onto her slumbering face. I spent the whole of last night, staring at the ceiling, listening to the scurrying… my God, the terrible scurrying…. behind our walls. This would stop only for a few minutes at a time, changing occasionally to the demonic scraping of tiny claws trying to force their way through our plasterwork.

At around four AM, the sleepnessness and terror* combined to form inspiration. A vision, straight from the heavens. And lo, this morning, I did make my vision a reality, using, as all great inventors do, a condiments jar, orange juice bottle, granola box retrieved from the recycling bag, scotch tape and tin foil.

This hole in the wall (normally behind the radiator) is where, we believe, the main point of ingress for our rodent tormentors. This apparatus is designed to attract our intramural guests to their doom** with the scent of North American peanut butter. I feel a sense of triumph not unlike what I imagine Howard Hughes experienced when he designed the Spruce Goose.

* I have good reason to fear the rodents here. I still blame those water rats for my broken arm in 2006.

** Actually, I'm planning to release it near the river if this works.

Monday, April 07, 2008


Amynah and I have a houseguest. This, in itself, is not unusual, as we’ve had houseguests every two months on average, since our arrival. On the other hand, most of our houseguests have been invited. And bipedal.

Our current guest is smaller, by a considerable margin, than any of our previous guests. We are assuming it is a mouse, though as we’ve yet to lay eyes on the critter we can’t say for certain. Given that we live on the fifth floor, it may be some native-to-France mouse-monkey hybrid that scaled the outside wall of our building and burrowed through the walls in order to raid my only-from-Canada stores of peanut butter.

The mouse has been making its presence felt for a while now, but, as with all unpleasant household chores , we ignored it for as long as possible, electing to pretend that the scrabbling we heard behind our bedroom wall was merely the sounds of the rodent on his way to visiting other apartments, not attempting to gain entry to ours.

Our delusion was spoiled, this weekend, when we returned from a movie to discover that the mouse had gained entry to our sanctuary, and shat on our bed. It was hard not to feel that there was some malice behind this.

In any case, despite being known in rodent circles as The White-Coated She Goddess of Destruction, Amynah was remarkably shaken by our fecal friend’s visit and so, the next day, we ventured forth to arm ourselves against his trespasses.

Sadly, while I’d have been happy to buy some variety of humane trap, our local hyper-marché only sold poison.* Desperate, we bought it, and now our apartment is replete with a proliferation of paper plates bearing pink poison.

It’s now been two days, none of the “rat cereal” (as our store receipt called it) has been touched, and it still sounds like there’s a pint-sized turnpike behind our walls. The Goddess of Destruction is sleeping in the living room, and I find myself sitting on my bed in the dark, clutching a frying pan, staring at the baseboards.

There's been no sign of him near our food, with is a relief, though disquieting. What is it living on? Is it some kind of zombie mouse, gnawing through insulation and plaster in order to unleash its wrath on his human overlords?

* The attendant refused to tell us where in France we might purchase a regular trap, or any other kind, on the grounds that he’d be giving business to the competition. If you aren’t selling the product, how are they competition?

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Everybody loves a parade!

This was the international students' group. That they had the most colourful costumes is pretty evident from the photo. That they had extremely well coordinated dance moves is not something I was able to capture, unfortunately.

For reasons unknown to me, Strasbourg has its Carnaval after Easter. Last year it was cancelled because of high winds, presumably the organizers were worried about blinding blizzards of confetti. This year, it happened on schedule, and thus Amynah and I were treated to a bird's eye view of the festivities.

When this guy, and his lady friend showed up, all I could think of was the Borat movie. Not, I think, what they were trying to convey, but who knows.

"He who respects the law and enjoys sausage should not watch either being made. Yes, those are giant paper maché sneakers jutting out of the faux meat grinder. They don't treat their retired athletes well here in France.

Sarkozy and his new wife. This shot didn't capture this, but someone had lovingly sculpted Bruni's butt cleavage on the other side. Classy.