Saturday, October 31, 2015

A ticket to cry


A vision of what America's high speed rail system could look like.  But who is John Gault?

Wallaby

And in the middle of Tours, I found a pack of wallabies.

And 5 francs.

I want a wallaby or a kangaroo to keep my baby elephant company.  And a pig too.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Coucher du Soleil

While I thought I was late on the sunset, I figured it was never a bad thing to head down to the river to see the day's fading light burn a hole in the sky.

I was right.  

I descended to the river as flocks of birds flew just parallel to the dark glassy lake before pulling up.

The sun had set, but the scene was still stunning:

The scene was framed in by the dark glass river and the grey clouded sky.

Between these dark frames, the sun's fading light burnt golden across the horizon until they reached the dark black night forest.  Night lights began dotting the darkness, and their reflections like stars in a black river.

Bats fluttered with indifference.  

Behind me, the lights on the Pont Wilson came on on the stone arches.  The three stone arches lit like the three magi.  

The scene ended with a finger of golden light stretching across the horizon as the grey clouds sheltered it out.

I framed my fingers like a painting's frames, trying to hold onto the memory and picture as tightly as I could.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Lips too chilled

Some beautiful 17th century haikus from Japanese poet Matsuo Bashō:


                                          Boozy on blossoms -
                                          dark rice,
                                          white sake.



           Come, let's go
           snow-viewing
           till we're buried.



                                      Chrysanthemum
                                      silence – monk
                                      sips his morning tea.


Lips too chilled
for prattle –
autumn wind.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Addendum

I have talked my way into free drinks; I have connived my way into free drinks; I have flirted my way into free drinks; but I have never studied my way into a free drink.

The addendum to my story came at the bar Le Temps du Rois, a lovely old medieval bar in the middle of the town square.  I was studying over a drink to catch up with the advanced class I would be joining tomorrow.

I needed another drink, so I ordered a Grimbergen Ambree and asked the bartender and a woman at the bar a word from my lesson that I didn't recognize: "Soulignez--Qu'est-ce que c'est?

Soulignez apparently means: to cross out.  The question and the answer got me a free beer.

Soulignez l'addition.

People appreciate effort, the French even more so.

Merci, et Vive La France!

PS: apparently, soulignez is underline not cross out.  Oh well, maybe I should stay in the basic class 

Billy Madison Redux

It was the Grateful Dead who sang:

"Well, the first days are the hardest days,
don't you worry any more."

Eh bien, les premiers jours sont jours les plus durs,
ne vous inquiétez pas plus.

It sounds so poetic in French.

Perhaps my Billy Madison entry the day prior was indeed apt.

My day was a bout of confusion lost in a French Twilight Zone episode.  Où est Monseigneur Rod Serling?

I know enough French to ask that much.

I woke up early enough.  Merci to the daylight savings change that happens a week earlier in France than the U.S. so I woke up to light rather than darkness at 7:30am.

I had some pain, beurre et confiture de cerise for breakfast and made my way over to school.

I was a bit lost trying to figure out where to go but eventually I found my way into the office to get my schedule.  I didn't understand enough French to realize that there was an orientation at 9am prior to my exam.

Granted, the program was printed in only French.  I was sitting outside the exam room, when I finally realized there was another entrance, and the orientation was inside.  Apparently,  I didn't miss much because it was just a rehash of the orientation booklet.  I circled things in my Orientation book I wanted to do, like a wine and cheese tasting and French Cinema night.

I waited to take my exam, staring out the window at the weathered Tower of Charlemagne and beautiful marble, domed Saint Martin Basilica.  The leaves below in the courtyard were a burnt yellow.  The cloudy mist in the sky was burning away into blue haze.

I took my French test, and thought I spoke pretty well.  As well as I can in French.  But I definitely chatted a bit.

After the exam, all the students wandered out to the tour area for the Tours tour.  With no one out, the students congregated and chatted.  I met a German girl named Judith, two Omani doctors named Ahmed and Walid and a Taiwanese girl named Tang.  I alternated from Arabic to Mandarin for a tad for fun.

Our tour guide was not be found, but another nice teacher gave us a tour around the city.  I chatted with the various students from various places.  A few Libyans, a couple Saudis, an English lass and a few Italianas.  The city was beautiful in Autumn splendor.  We crossed through old medieval squares, amid houses made of weathered wood and limestone.  We crossed trams and tracks, and the tree-lined boulevard.

After lunch, I returned to start class.  I was put in the beginner class.  That was fine, I had mentioned I wanted to get a solid basis for my French skills.

Alas, that wasn't quite what fit.

The rest of the class was very basic.  Very basic.  As in, the rest of the group was coming from the Middle East, and the teacher was teaching the very start of French.  As in "Je m'appelle Paul."

At first, I laughed.  And made it through the first break, scratching my head.  While I wanted a basic start, this was perhaps not it.

As in the alphabet.  And how to write the alphabet.

And how to pick out different letters, and write them in cursive.

As in I really was in a French Billy Madison.

I began to get a little despondent.  I may not be Honoré de Balzac, but I am not a French kindergartner.  And I had not just spent a lot of centimes to learn the French alphabet.

The teacher saw my pain.  We chatted about how much French I spoke.  I checked the book, and felt pretty comfortable with most of the material in the first few chapters.  Not perfect but I would rather a challenge than this.

We took a break, as the class copied down A through Zed and I stood outside on the window sill, staring at the changing yellow leaves, wondering if the French phrase was le suicide.  And I chatted with Khaled, a doctor from Saudi Arabia.

The teacher returned, and sent me downstairs to chat with his boss to get me into a different class.  I descended down the stairs, and battled further confusion.  An exasperated French bureaucrat didn't quite understand what I wanted.

-If you are in that class, go back to that class

  -I was told to switch classes, I am not going back to that class.

A woman even looked at my schedule, and took me to an empty lab as I tried to explain that I was trying to switch classes.

They tried to send me back to the original class, and I tried to explain that I had no business in that class--I don't need to learn the French alphabet.

Finally, I spoke to the boss, and she told me to come back in the morning for a new schedule.  I asked in French what time I should arrive.

I left and went for a run.

Down to the Loire River, amid the white bark trees with yellow-green leaves.  I did three Sinnermans, my usual runner's companion.

Tomorrow is a new day, but today really was day one of jardin d'enfants.  I will work it out, or my name is not Jean-Paul Rocheheurre.   I didn't cough up a slew of francs to get an immersion class that does not reach my lil piggy toe.

Retourner à l'école

Retourner à l'école. Retour à l'école, pour prouver à papa que je ne suis pas un imbécile. Je suis mon déjeuner emballé, mes bottes liées serré, je l'espère, je ne suis pas dans un combat. Ohhhh, retourner à l'école. Retourner à l'école. Retourner à l'école. Eh bien, ici, va rien. 
-Monsieur Billy Madison

Tours

I should back this up to how I got here.

Back down the wooded path, down the banks of the river.

Back along the quay littered with autumn trees, their bark stripped white with grey-brown splotches.

And back to the center of the charming French town.  Medieval cobblestones and wooden houses from a former century.

Tours is lovely.

I arrived along the tree-lined boulevard amid an antique market in a canopy of falling autumn leaves.

I had arrived from the Gare d'Austerlitz this morning.

The trip out of Paris was beautiful, as we sped across rustic French countryside.

Fields of white, three-armed giants let me know my direction was correct.

I arrived to Tours, with my only challenge being to figure out how to enter the Hameau St. Michel--my current residence.

I found my way through town and found the large wooden gates.  I rang the bell a few times but got no answer.  I saw a sign that mentioned another entrance on Impasse Rabelais, so I walked around the block and found another entrance.  I rang the bell but still no one came.  Well, I guess I would be camping outside....

In a few minutes, a student walked up and swiped a card to get in.  I followed her in to an empty lobby.  Progress.

But progress was short-lived, as there was no one inside the building and no one coming or going.  Nor could I access the internet.  Well, I guess I could be camping inside....

But in a few minutes, a fellow named Francesco arrived, who worked at the Hameau.  Apparently, the buzzer connects to his phone but it was not working.  He helped get me into my room and settled in.  The rest of the afternoon, I already detailed.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Life is for the living

Staring from the banks of a glassy, slow-moving Loire River to the splendid sunset across the horizon.

It is so spectacularly beautiful, all I can do is sigh and breathe.

Breathe.

And try to draw it in ink on lined, white paper canvas.

An eight-columned arch bridge divides the scene, separating right bank from left.

Dividing the two halves of the bridge is a small island with fall foliage amidst its autumn change. October orange, green and a hint of yellow.

On the left bank, the sun sets golden across the grey-pink clouded sky.  Golden rays streak through grey like lines of streaking light.  

Below the arches it has gone all golden unto the dark forest horizon.

Reflected gold light shimmers with the stone columns in the cold glass waters.

Cars streak across the long bridge.

The right bank below the weathered stone arches is dark with forest.

Above the fold, autumn colors reign supreme,
while white birds dot the water and sand and river glass.

Overhead in a sea of grey-pink, formations of birds pass in v lines.

I take a deep breath.

Perhaps Whitman could have given it more form.

Or Thoreau, more color and depth.

Monet would have abstracted the scene in a light watercolor tint.

Van Gogh would have taken fat yellow paint to the resplendent sky-set.

Perhaps it is scene more fit for a Romantic painter-- left to the brush of Bierstadt or Turner or Cole.

Perhaps best left described by an impressionist.

As the bells punctuate the quiet night across the city of Tours, the Muse closes her handiwork--and she ends my memory with a punctuation of finality, I leave the memory I have: all I can give is what I have given.

Paris Adventures

 I have been in Paris for the last week, which is always lovely. Just when I think perhaps I could settle in America, and be happy in Denver, I visit Paris and that throws such settled plans into a fit.

My mom made the greater journey with me. I get my Francophile nature from her, and when she found out I would be studying French she made designs on joining me in Paris for some days prior.

So what do two Francophiles do in the their Parisian capital? Take it slowly, actually. Since we had both spent a bit of time in Paris, we took things pretty calmly.

We had a beautiful apartment that we found on AirBNB which was literally in the heart of Paris. I don't think we could have found a better location. The place was right of the Tour Saint-Jacque, between Chatelet and Hotel DeVille. It was a block off the Seine and right in the middle of the city near Les Halles and Les Marais. The apartment itself was beautiful and spacious, with lovely decorative molding on the ceilings.

On the day we arrived, we settled in and wandered around Boulevard Saint-Michele and through the Jardin des Plantes and around my Mom's old place of residence when she was a student. We foraged for dinner in Les Halles—finding a nice bistro for some rich French Onion soup and a pizza to share.

Our first proper day in Paris, after some pan aux raisins and coffee, we headed in the Marais for the Picasso Museum. The Picasso Museum had been under renovation when I was last in Paris, so we were excited to see what had been done. Alas, we arrived to find a long line snaking out the front door. We decided that we would be better served getting tickets online for the next day.

Instead, we headed up to the 16th to visit the Musee Marmatton Monet and see my old stomping grounds. I took mother around my old neighborhood in the chic 16th, and we took in the vibrant autumn leaves set against the grey skies. My mom, who is a docent at the National Portrait Gallery in DC, was able to get reciprocity on her entry into the museum. The museum was great, but different than I had previously seen. It had an exquisite collection of Monet's works. I was a bit jetlagged, so was a hurting puppy. I finished in the museum and went outside to powernap on a park bench while she finished.

That evening, we had diner with my mother's old friend Annie, whom she met when she was studying abroad in 1971. The meal was true-to-form rich in French fashion.

The next day, we visited the Picasso Museum. Much better with the tickets purchased ahead. Alas, the museum was a bit of a disappointment. It was more a museum on Picasso rather than of Picasso. It chronicled his life and different styles but was a tad lacking in displaying his major works.

In the afternoon, I took my mom to Boulevard Hausman to Printemps to see my favorite view of Paris from the top of the famous department store. The view across Paris did not disappoint.

That evening, we had a delicious meal in the Quartier Latin over some Moroccan fare. My mom had rich, fluffy couscous with stewed vegetables while I had a delicious tagine of poulet, olives et citron. After dinner, we made our way back to the apartment, with a final saidera at a cafe below the apartment. The place, Cafe Livres was a fun cafe filled with shelves lined with books. I sipped armagnac (apple brandy) while my mom had a pot of excellent jasmine tea—so good, we tracked down the company Comptoir Richard that made such good jasmine offerings.

We were joined by Annie again the next day to visit the Centre Pompidou. The last time I visited the Centre Pompidou, I was 21 years old and had little appreciation for modern art—so was pretty negative to the place (although I loved the building). Nearly 15 years later, my tastes have evolved enough to appreciate the museum further. I didn't love it all, but I enjoyed it far more. Meanwhile, the view from the museum across Paris was excellent.

In the afternoon, we wandered through the Marais to find the store for Comptoir Richard so my mom could get her jasmine tea, and we saw a part of the Marais I had not previously found.

Dinner was a return to Les Halles for some more bistro fair of French onion soup and some roasted chicken. Of course, we had to have at least one crepe—butter, sugar and lemon juice.

My mom departed the next morning back to the U.S., and I left the apartment and headed to Les Gobelins to stay in a cheap hotel I found online. The trek south to Les Gobelins was not too far, and the neighborhood was probably more my speed.

I checked in, and headed over to meet a friend Keri near the Musee d'Orsay for a conference she was attending. I caught the tail-end of the lecture on art in public spaces, then joined the group for lunch at a creperie. We had a lovely lunch discussing art and the world.
After lunch I headed back towards the Musee d'Orsay to meet my friend David for coffee. I had met David in Jamaica. We caught up over coffee and discussed the search for meaning in work and life.

We walked back across the Louvre to the metro and I headed back to my hotel. After I re-settled in, I headed back out to meet a friend Isaac, whom I had met in Addis Ababa. Originally from New York, Isaac had spent decades traveling around. He was living in Addis with his girlfriend, and had met a mutual friend Philippe—a German who had been on the road for the last two year whom I met in Bahir Dar and in Gonder. Isaac and his girlfriend were now living in Paris for the last two months. We caught up for drinks, and chatted about the world we knew.

Saturday was my Trojan day. I first met my friend Leslie, who is president of the USC Alumni club in Paris. We had coffee (and foie gras) in the saturday afternoon sun. I left her and crossed Montmartre to meet my friend Tu-Oanh, a Tahitian and fellow Trojan alum who works at the World Bank in Paris. We had coffee at Cafe Lomi—a Brooklynesque spot on the other side of Montmarte.

That evening, I decided to treat myself to a nice meal to end my Paris period. I went to a nearby restaurant that specialized in Steak Tartare. I sipped a green Ricard as I read Hemingway, waiting for the raw meat to arrive. Arrive it did, with a raw egg yolk on top. It was delicious. When you are eating raw meat, it needs to be very fresh—this was, and was perfect in texture and flavor. I dreamed of French gastrodiplomacy to Ethiopia over kitfo-tartare exchanges and also convincing sushi-loving Japan on the joys of tartare as I sipped a nice cabernet.


I already wrote of my hip hop tout le monde experience to end the evening. This morning I woke up early and grabbed a delicious flaky butter croissant at the local boulangerie and some coffee before I checked out of the hotel and headed to Gare d'Austerlitz to catch my train to Tours for my French immersion. Along the route to Tours, giant three-armed white windmills dotted the route, which I can only take as a sign that this chevalier is heading in the right direction. Time to learn French!

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Hip Hop tout le monde

I had just finished dinner, and I stopped in the cafe on the corner for a saidera (last drink).  I walked in to the place, and heard the tail-end of an MC Lyte song.  I curiously sat down, and  I ordered a glass of wine.

As my glass of vin rouge came, Leaders of the New School's Syntax Era started playing through the joint.

We are L--what
We are the O--what
We are the N--what
We are the S--what...

Now I was really starting to wonder.

As I sipped my glass of Ventoux, Busta made his outro and Pete Rock & CL Smooth made their famous intro as the horn blew.

I reminisce, 
I reminisce...

The place was closing up so I beckoned the waitress over since I was so curious over the musical question.

In broken French I asked:

Whose music is this?

It's mine!

Really? You had some classics! Lyte, L.O.N.S., Pete Rock & CL Smooth!

She smiled and gave me a pound.

"Hip Hop, j'adore," she said.

In my broken French, I tried to explain my work on Next Level and how we use hip hop to connect the world.

She gave me one more pound as she shut the place down.

Hip Hop, tout le monde, she said as I walked out in the Parisian autumn night.


Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Paris Selfie

Paris Selfie avec ma mère. A fellow Francophile, she came to Paris to drop me off at French school.


Saturday, October 17, 2015

Comfort Zone

I travel to a lot of unsavory places around the globe, and none of them leave me nearly as uneasy as visiting shopping malls in America.

Rocky Mountain Thoughts

I find myself heading back East in a very different state than when I departed some two weeks ago. Over the last two weeks, I spent my days in Boulder and Denver. And I loved it.

I'm just coming back from volunteering for 3 days on Pachamama Farm. Pachamama Farm is an organic farm, owned by some children of family friends—Allie Dodge and her husband Oliver. They happened to be on vacation in Italy, but were kind enough to let me stay in their beautiful home. Allie's parents were there as well, as they were moving into their own new house nearby.

I worked alongside a nice fellow named Alex, who showed me the ropes of the farm. We had a great rapport, and got on well. From morning to afternoon, I worked in the fields. I harvested carrot seeds; I picked melons (and tossed eaten or rotten melons); I moved a fence; I picked red and yellow onions and placed them to dry in a shed; I fixed a water pump; I fed two lovely piggies named Thelma and Louise.

I really loved being connected to the land; to focusing on endless tasks that would not be finished in a single stretch; to the zen of focusing on the present found in the task.

I am not a great farmer by any stretch, but I was at-least a good body who could assist, and make the process move faster through my dedication to the task.

And doing this amid the pastoral splendor was profound. Staring up from the fields at the Grand Tetons, or at fields swaying in the midday winds. Or watching elks graze across the verdant fields at the golden dawn.

While being far from simple, it was a simpler life that I enjoyed. I liked feeling my hands-- usually tapping away at the keyboard, begin to get calloused. I felt proud at the end of the day of the work I had accomplished.

Now back to Colorado. I thoroughly enjoyed Boulder and Denver, and I am considering settling down there for a stretch.

As someone who has been everywhere and nowhere, it might be nice to be somewhere.

For starters, apparently Colorado gets over 300 days of sun. I can handle cold if it is sunny, but I can't handle grey in any temperature.

Moreover, I liked the feel of it being neither East Coast (of which I move slower) or West Coast (of which I move faster), but a nice middle ground. It reminded me a bit of Texas in such regards.

Furthermore, there are endless opportunities to explore a region I don't especially know. I would love to explore more of Colorado, as well as Montano, Idaho, Wyoming and the Dakotas. As one who has been to more countries than states, these are the states would most like to fill in.

Boulder may lack a bit of the diversity I require, but Denver has that more so. I probably need a bigger city that Denver offers, and need a bit of the grit and grime it holds compared to Boulder.

After a decade on the move, it might be nice to plant some roots for a spell. I imagine there is a lot I could do in Colorado, ranging from work at a university to something in State government (Colorado para-diplomacy?) to something I haven't even considered yet.

And I already have a bit of a network there, from friends from many different points in my life.

I would be lying if Colorado's tolerant position towards certain things I enjoy didn't factor into this equation; I wouldn't be writing this at present if it weren't the present case of Colorado. But it isn't the only factor by any means, and wouldn't be the driving factor if other things didn't loom large. I have never seriously considered moving to Amsterdam, despite its similar tolerance.

Something I remarked on the first day when I arrived to Boulder: I have never felt so free in my life in America. That counts for something. It is nice to be on the right side of the law. There are very few things I do that can get me in trouble, so to have something I enjoy be declared kosher is a very nice, refreshing and liberating change. So much of the time, I find myself trying to minimize the risks in the situation I find myself; taking one significant risk out of the equation is in itself significant.



Friday, October 16, 2015

On Farming

My dainty, grant-writing hands have never been so calloused or so dirty; I'm enjoying it.

I do enjoy aspects of manual labor, such as the calm of the steady repetitious pick--of red and yellow onions and leeks.

Hunting for the best melons or pumpkins to pick.

I like working outside,

in the mud; in the soil.

I like getting my hands dirty.

I like the fact that the job is close to endless, so I can do it in infinite fashion--focused on the present.

I enjoy feeling useful.  I am never going to be a farmer, but I can be a good body to pick and pluck and carry.

 The high point of my day is feeding melons to the piggies.  Their greedy joy at the sweet melons and succulent watermelons.

And my day ends watching grazing elks eat dinner in the field next to me, as the sun sets golden across the Grand Tetons.


Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Animal Farm

Eating fiery purple jewel peppers.
And into Fuller's Geodesic Dome Greenhouse
filled with fig trees.

Moving melons to be made into fruit leather.

Magnifying glass to light glass.
Moving electric fences to create more space.
Feeding watermelons to fat, snorting piggies.

Monday, October 12, 2015

The farm

Elks prancing in the fields at dawn.
Carrot seed harvesting.
Playing with piggies (Thelma and Louise).
Henhouse Prowler.
Melon hunting and games of Olympic melon toss.

I love farm living.

Probably not the best vocation for someone who is colorblind, but I can make do.



Thursday, October 08, 2015

Ready Player One

I just found forgotten treasure: $1.50 in quarters left behind on Mortal Kombat 4 at PressPlay in Boulder.  And there was no one around.  It was all mine.

It bought me 2 extra games of pinball and a game of BuckHunt.  The only hunting I care to do is the virtual kind.

I just finished one of the best books I have read in a while, "Ready Player One" by Ernest Cline.  Total 80's Geek/Nerd Lit meets Distopian sci-fi future meets adventure saga.  Stellar.

Worth saving your quarters, and picking up a copy.

Mixed

"My other vehicle is a metaphor"
-Found in Boulder

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Child of the Muse

I am warm wool socks.
I am soft, faded cotton sweatpants.
I am a kneaded old t-shirt. 
I am soft black fleece.
I am a black tangle of beard.
I am a matte of curls.

I am a glass of cold sparkling water with lime.
I am a large mug of peppermint tea.
I am a glass of full-bodied red wine.
I am a good book curled up on a dark autumn day.

I am as real as my adventure.
As real as the shadow cast of the hooks on the ceiling.
I am as real as my imagination allows me to be.

I am Picasso's shaded muse.
I am Dali's waxed mustache.
I am Van Gough's broad brush strokes.
I am Hemingway's last cigar.

I am a knight-errant of a rare quality and variety,
but I am not alone.  Never alone.
I am a child of the Muse; I am the muse.
Cervantes & Quixote 
Alpha and Omega.

Monday, October 05, 2015

They remain slaves because they can’t see what is beautiful in this world.
-The White Tiger

I found myself muttering such statements as I passed a field of cows grazing.

And staring at the glass lake reflecting the autumn leaves.

Birds fly in formation south across the clear sky.

And here i am in the present.

Saturday, October 03, 2015

Mala aria

With no threat of malaria in Boulder, I took my last Mefloquine (Larium) of the year.

Mala aria—"bad air"; the disease also known as ague or marsh fever because of its association with swamps and marshland.

I have been on malaria meds since the year began--some 10 months ago. I am pleased to be done and still free of Roman Fever.

Friday, October 02, 2015

5 words; 2nd Amendment

"[Chief Justice Warren] Burger himself remarked that the Second Amendment “has been the subject of one of the greatest pieces of fraud, I repeat the word ‘fraud,’ on the American public by special interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime.”'

Justice John Paul Stevens' extra words to add: "when serving in the Militia ” 

I may not be a Supreme Court Justice, and I am definitely not a lawyer, but that sounds very good to me.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

The plains of Montiel

Don Pablo Quixote may have found his La Mancha.  I love Colorado.  Boulder is lovely, and I could live a slower life perhaps in Denver or here.  There are many Dulcineas about, my Lord.  The lasses of Colorado are exquisite.  And some Sanchos are to be found, out of the woodwork.  

Caps

Capricorn (22 DEC-19 JAN) 
People may wish to view your life so far as an endless litany of blinkered misanthropy, mistrust and relentless cynicism, but one thing they can't accuse you of is being wrong.