Thursday, November 17, 2011

Back in San Francisco

After a very long, but blessedly uneventful, trip I got home around eleven and was in bed by midnight. The kitties were glad to see me:

And this morning I got to take in the view of the city from my bedroom window:

Natasha is actually smaller than Boris. I don't know why she looks so big-boned in that picture.

It's good to be home. Now that the bills are taken care of, I can turn my attention to all those back issues of Entertainment Weekly and The New Yorker. Time to read all about that vampire baby that William and Kate (oops! I mean Bella and Edward) have been cooking up. It could be next in line for the throne some day!

Oh, all right. Maybe some opera as well. I missed "Lucrezia Borgia" and "Don Giovanni". But with the right credit card, maybe I can score some tickets for "Turandot" and "Carmen" before the season ends!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Adieu, Paris.

Tonight is my last evening in Paris; as I am flying all the way through to San Francisco tomorrow, it promises to be a very long day, literally and figuratively. Let's hope that my shiny new green card means that I can avoid the not-so-delightful "secondary screening" process when going through immigration. It's happened to me twice at Washington Dulles already, and I'd just as soon avoid the hat trick.

This visit has been amazing. I haven't blogged as much as on previous trips, but that largely reflects the huge number of private lessons I had scheduled during half the time I was here. These were expensive and draining, but extremely rewarding. I feel the same way about this whole autumn adventure -- the side trips to Ireland and Scotland took a certain amount of energy to set up and carry through, but were unforgettable in all the right ways.

Etc etc. Add superlatives and stir -- you get the picture. It's been a terrific two and a half months, and I feel blessed to have been able to do it. And, I know that I go on about this, but it bears repeating, I feel totally blessed to have rediscovered this crazy language thing in my fifties, that ignites my passion and acts as a doorway to a completely different kind of life than I might have imagined.

As I don't generally post from San Francisco, the blog will go on hiatus until the French adventure starts up again in the spring. The target date for my return to France is March 1st. In previous years I've always used getting my taxes filed as a reason to procrastinate, and then ended up requesting an extension to file and doing them in July or August anyway, so I'm hoping to avoid that particular little trap next year.

I leave you with the very first photo I took on this trip, taken on Labor Day, just before we took our class trip on the bateau mouche.

Hope you will tune in to the sequel in 2012. Thanks for reading!


Monday, November 14, 2011

Last weekend in Paris (for a while!)

It's hard to believe this particular Paris adventure is winding down, and that I have to leave on Wednesday. Did I get to the Louvre or the Musee d'Orsay? No. But I had a blast, nonetheless. And I learned a bucketload of French.

On Saturday evening I had dinner with my friend France, who is professor of biostatistics at one of the local universities. At the end of the evening she invited me to give a lecture series at her university in the spring. In French! I was delighted to accept -- this will certainly give me something to work on over the winter. Time to dust off those Berkeley lecture notes and translate them into the language of Voltaire. Yippee!

Last night I joined my cousin Anne and her friend Maura (both from Cork) for a farewell dinner at this restaurant, near their hotel:

Le madeleine C.

It was extravagant, but truly excellent!

On the way home from the restaurant, I visited the Christmas display windows at the Printemps department store. They were done by Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel, and were quite impressive:

The window displays at Galeries Lafayette were quite tacky, in comparison:

More photos of the Christmas window displays can be seen at this link:

Printemps window displays

Passed by the Grevin (the Paris version of Madame Tussaud's) on the walk home:

It's almost a full moon here again in Paris (and presumably everywhere else?)

Tonight I am scheduled to have dinner with Nancy and Gabriella. Ellen and Leslie left this morning for California.

Have I mentioned how much of a blast I am having? And how I am already plotting my return in the spring?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Hommage à Space Invader

Regular readers to this blog will recall a previous post about the street artist known as Space Invader:

1000 Space Invaders dans la Rue

In June, a milestone of sorts was reached, when the 1000th space invader was posted in the streets of Paris. It's hard to overstate the pleasure that finding a new, unexpected, space invader brings - it's like finding a little unexpected Easter egg that brightens your existence and leaves you with a spring in your step for the rest of the day.

A friend of mine, who wishes to be identifed only as Milky, la vache qui courtepoint, was moved to compose a hommage to Space Invader, the street artist who brings us all so much pleasure anonymously. Here are two pictures of the result, which I'm sure you will agree is rather fine indeed:

I myself have neither the talent nor the dedication to compose such a tribute, but I would like to take this opportunity to add my thanks to Space Invader for his terrific ongoing efforts to brighten our daily lives here in Paris.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

My religieuse experience

On Thursday, to celebrate my last day of classes. I decided it was time to do a first-hand investigation of the "religieuse", a kind of nun-shaped eclair:

She tasted - pardon the pun - divine!

Later that night, as I tossed and turned in bed, in my dreams, my San Francisco trainer, Maggie, appeared in a costume that seemed like a cross between a nun's habit and a dominatrix costume, and berated me soundly for my poor food choices, as she forced me through an entire obstacle course, worthy of bootcamp. I felt like Brian in the relevant episode of "Family Guy".

But, of course, on the internet, nobody knows you're a dog.

Uses for Gooses

From the incomparable QI:

uses for gooses

The Rabelais quote is so delightful that I have included it here for your reading pleasure:

Afterwards I wiped my tail with a hen, with a cock, with a pullet, with a calf's skin, with a hare, with a pigeon, with a cormorant, with an attorney's bag, with a montero, with a coif, with a falconer's lure. But, to conclude, I say and maintain, that of all torcheculs, arsewisps, bumfodders, tail-napkins, bunghole cleansers, and wipe-breeches, there is none in the world comparable to the neck of a goose, that is well downed, if you hold her head betwixt your legs. And believe me therein upon mine honour, for you will thereby feel in your nockhole a most wonderful pleasure, both in regard of the softness of the said down and of the temporate heat of the goose, which is easily communicated to the bum-gut and the rest of the inwards, in so far as to come even to the regions of the heart and brains. And think not that the felicity of the heroes and demigods in the Elysian fields consisteth either in their asphodel, ambrosia, or nectar, as our old women here used to say; but in this, according to my judgment, that they wipe their tails with the neck of a goose, holding her head betwixt their legs, and such is the opinion of Master John of Scotland, alias Scotus.

A delightful visual:

Here at Whipping Cats, we troll the internet so that you don't have to. It's all part of the service.

Orange you glad you asked?

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Flûtes de Bâle

As a reward for having finished my book report on "La sagesse de la foule" (The Wisdom of Crowds), and for completing my reformulation and precis of an excruciatingly boring text on the employment of "quinquas" (workers over 50) in French companies, I am relaxing with a refreshing limoncello and some delicious "flûtes de Bâle". These are not actually some kind of demonic musical instrument (as the French pronunciation of their name seems to suggest), but a local confectioner's delicacy from Basel:

They come with three different fillings: caramel, cappuccino, and gianduja. All three are delicious.

The Basel flutes in the picture were kindly provided to me by the Ostland family. Thanks, guys! I had initially thought I might bring them to class tomorrow to share. But that's clearly not going to happen.

As they say in these here parts, miam, miam !

On this date in 2009

I just stumbled across the following in my little Acer documents folder:

San Francisco, 6 de noviembre de 2009

David Giltinan,
3865 19th Street,
San Francisco,
CA 94114

Lonely Planet Guides,
DK Publishing Inc.,
4 Rockefeller Plaza,
Nueva York, NY 10020

Asunto: Errores en la nueva edición de la guía "Lonely Planet San Francisco"

Estimados señores:

Me llamo David Giltinan y soy residente en San Francisco desde hace muchos años. Me pongo en contacto con ustedes para avisarles sobre algunos errores en la última edición de su guía túristica de San Francisco, que salió hace unos meses. Aunque parezcan detalles, me imagino que ustedes quieran corregirlos en la próxima versión del libro.

He descubierto siguientes errores en la nueva edición:

  • El fundador de la Misión Dolores no era Fr. Junipero Serra, como está escrito en la página 42 de la guía, sino Fr. Antonio Calderón. Aunque los restos del Fraile Serra están encerrados en la iglesia de la Misión, él no era el fundador.
  • La guía afirma (página 82) que todos los edifícios del centro fueron destruidos por el gran terremoto de 1906. Esto no es completamente correcto - la gran mayoría de los edifícios fue(ron?) destruida por los incéndios ocasionados por el terremoto. Tampóco es correcto clasificar el daño como una destrucción total - algunos edificíos significativos, como el Cabildo y la Casa de la Moneda, sobrevivieron la catástrofe de 1906 intactos.
  • No hay ninguna evidencia concreta que diera apoya a la afirmación (página 125) que tres presos escaparon vivos de la cárcel de Alcatraz en el año 1949. Esta creéncia es pura ficción, difundida por la película de Clint Eastwood, "Fuga de Alcatraz". No tiene ninguna base en la realidad.

Me doy cuenta de que la versión electrónica de la guía tiene su propia página de red. Debería ser fácil incorporar una lista de correcciones en este sitio y en la próxima impresión del libro también.

Les agradezco la atención prestada.


David Giltinan

Good times indeed! We can only await the day when I am able to toss off this kind of missive in French. Sadly, that day is not yet here.

So, clearly, it will be necessary to continue the process of improving my French, hopefully* as early as next spring. More of this anon.

*: If you are the kind of person who is irritated or distracted by this use of "hopefully", please just go away.

Une sortie alsacienne

I realise that posts to this blog have tapered off alarmingly in the last couple of weeks. This is largely due to the huge number of private classes I have scheduled recently -- these days I often don't get home from class until 20:30. It's exhausting, but lots of fun, and I delude myself that I am actually making progress, particularly with my written French, which has always been my Achilles heel.

This week was a good one, though there were a couple of "Imodium days" in the middle ('nuff said!). Fortunately, I had recovered enough to make a little one-day excursion to Strasbourg yesterday, where I met up with Michael Ostland and his family. Michael is a former colleague from Genentech, who is halfway through a 4-year posting to the Roche mothership in Basel.

Here we are in front of the cathedral:

And here are the incredibly photogenic Ostlands:

(Jill, Sofia, Michael, and Matteo)

It was a terrific day - we had a very nice lunch, did some toy-shopping, some window-shopping, wandered around the city center, and ended up the afternoon at a cafe where we sampled the local baked goods. They are clearly enjoying the hell out of their Swiss adventure, and it was great to see them again and catch up.

But now I have to go prepare my homework for Matthias tomorrow. M is an excellent teacher, but as I get ready for my phonetics exercise, which involves reciting the tongue-twister

"Ces six saucissons-ci sont si secs qu'on ne sait si c'en sont"
(These six sausages are so dry that one hardly knows if they are actually sausages)

with a wine-bottle cork clenched between my teeth, the thought crosses my mind that perhaps he has a slight sadistic streak.

Not that one can't imagine a situation where this particular phrase might come in handy.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

I get no respect !!!

The following appeared on my Facebook wall:

Vengeance will be mine!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Rive Gauche

Spent a great day today wandering around the 5th and 6th arrondissements with Nick, an English classmate. He lived in Paris for a year back in 2000, so was a terrific and knowledgeable guide. We started out by the Louvre,

crossed the river across the Pont des Arts,

visited one of the Meilleur Ouvrier de France patisseries/chocolateries in the 6th:

window-shopped in the 5th and 6th:

walked through the Jardin des Plantes:

along by the Pantheon, down by the market on Rue Mouffetard:

had a bite to eat near the Sorbonne, and finished up in the Jardin de Luxembourg:

It was a terrific afternoon.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the dismal hour and a half we spent later in the evening at the one-woman show, "Une Histoire d'Ame" (A Story of the Soul), starring Sophie Marceau at the Theatre Rond Pont. Perhaps the information that it was based on hitherto unproduced writings by that laffmaster Ingmar Bergman should have been a tipoff. The phrase "wrist-slittingly depressing" comes to mind.

Nonetheless, a great day. AND we get to sleep an extra hour tonight. Yea!

More photos can be seen here:

Oct 29th photos

Friday, October 28, 2011

Poisson d'Avril dans le metro (Operation Baked Goods Update)

Today in class I gave a little presentation called "Une Promenade dans le Jardin Zoolinguistique", about animal expressions in French. It was a lot of fun. When I got to the expression "poisson d'avril !" (April Fool!), Bruno entertained us with a (true) story about the time that the RATP, the organization that runs the Paris metro, decided to enter into the spirit of things on April 1st.

Here is a description I found on the web:

Le 1er avril, la RATP a rebaptisé trois stations de métro, à Paris. La station Parmentier est devenue «Pomme-de-Terre», la station Madeleine a pris le nom de «Marcel-Proust» et la station Reuilly-Diderot celui de «Religieuse». Lors de l'inauguration, les employés de la RATP ont distribué aux voyageurs des chips, des madeleines, des religieuses et des tickets de métro poinçonnés en forme de poissons d'avril!

On April 1st, the RATP renamed three Paris metro stations. "Parmentier" became "pomme de terre", "Madeleine" became "Marcel Proust", and "Reuilly-Diderot" was renamed "Les Religieuses" (presumably after the book by Diderot of that name). At the relevant stations, RATP employees distributed potato chips, madeleines and religieuses (a type of eclair), respectively.

Tickets at those stations were punched using machines that left holes punched in the form of a fish, to signify the poisson d'avril.

As the picture above shows, the traditional schoolkid prank on April Fool's is to stick a paper fish on someone's back while they aren't paying attention, then giggle like a ... schoolgirl.

Sadly, the RATP prank didn't quite go off as planned. Pandemonium ensued, passengers panicked, and the joke was never repeated. A shame, really. But a fun story (merci, Bruno!).

As far as I have been able to ascertain, this all went down in 1994.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The week in review

This is a catchall post, covering everything from Friday October 14th on, before it all leaks out of my head, pushed out by ever more abstruse French vocabulary words. There will need to be a special bumper "Geek's Corner" post as well, devoted to all the exciting new French I've learned this past week.

Mid-morning on Friday the 14th, we left Edinburgh and drove south across the border to Alnwick Castle in Northumberland. Expectations were high on this trip, because Alnwick Castle was used as the location for Hogwarts during the filming of the first two Harry Potter films. It turned out to be an absolutely fantastic outing, though not, as it turned out, because of that old Hogwarts magic. Though some parts of the castle and grounds were vaguely familiar,

the site bore little resemblance to the Hogwarts of the later Harry Potter movies. There is good reason for this. It appears that the first two films were shot on a relatively meagre budget, as the producers were still unsure how successful the film adaptations might be (the first two movies were filmed back to back, but released a year apart). When they turned out to be vastly successful, the budget for subsequent films in the franchise increased anormously, allowing the producers to make far more use of (the relatively expensive) CGI technology, so that from the third film onwards Hogwarts was largely a CGI creation, and Alnwick Castle was not used in the later movies.

Despite the slight disappointment of the non-Hogwartian appearance of the castle and grounds, they were nonetheless completely awesome. The castle itself is phenomenal -- absolutely huge, and terrifically well-preserved. Furthermore, it is home to an art collection that was stupefying, in the best sense of the word. Three Titians, half a dozen Canalettos, portraits by Vermeer, a handful of Turners, and a pair of extraordinary Cucci cabinets:

Yvonne and I were both completely gobsmacked. The best part was, it was so completely unexpected.

Then, waiting outside was the Alnwick Garden, for which I have no adequate words, except to say that it was on a par with Versailles, despite being considerably more recent. As a general rule, gardens leave me relatively unmoved, but this place was a magnificent exception. If you ever find yourself within half a day's drive of Alnwick Castle and Garden, make the trip. It is one of the most memorable places I have visited within the past 10 years. And, hidden amongst all the Harry Potter paraphernalia in the gift shop is some fine sheepy swag (see previous post).

The air of serendipity continued throughout the weekend when, on Saturday, we lucked into going to see the live Metropolitan Opera broadcast of Donizetti's Anna Bolena, with the magnificent Anna Netrebko in the title role. Again, it left us both completely gobsmacked.

I can't really do justice to the time I spent in Edinburgh. Let's just say I came away with memories that I will carry with me for years. I'm so behind in blogging at this stage that I will have to leave it at that for this evening.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Sheep Swag

My Scottish quest for ovine bric-a-brac was not in vain:

This good-looking guy is Lord Oliver Wise. I found him at the Hogwarts Castle gift shop. He is described as a "loyal and faithful doorstop". But he will never be a doorstop in my home -- he is far too aristocratic and handsome for that. The Japanese tourists behind me in line at the gift shop were very jealous. But then they got distracted by a discussion about whether to buy a facsimile of Hermione's wand or Harry's.

Weekend in Edinburgh

Ever since my first visit to see Yvonne, in December 1976, I've always loved Edinburgh. This recent visit did nothing to change that - it was terrific from start to finish. The city itself remains ravishing. But this was a visit of unexpected pleasures -- we actually spent very little time in the usual tourist haunts. Not to underestimate the charm of these -- we spent a glorious afternoon on Sunday pottering along the Royal Mile and along Princes Street.

We ended up drinking some fine Malbec in a very snazzy hidden-away rooftop bar with a wraparound terrace that afforded a gorgeous view of the skyline by night:


Maybe "Downton Abbey" was on, for whatever reason, we had the place to ourselves. The Malbec was excellent, as was the charcuterie platter with dirty bread, and Yvonne and her friend Karla were in great form. It was a wonderful conclusion to my visit.

Exhaustion has set in here, so the trip to Hogwarts and the sublime performance of Anna Bolena will have to wait until another post.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Back from Hogwarts

Back in Paris, trying to decompress from a wonderful weekend in Edinburgh, surely one of the most ravishing cities on the planet. For now, I will just include a few photos -- full details in due course.

Yvonne in the gardens at Alnwick Castle.

DG in Alnwick Gardens.

Rocking my stylish new eargear!

Obligatory abstract "arty" photo.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

On the road again

I will be leaving Paris again tomorrow morning, to visit my friend Yvonne, who is a choir director in Edinburgh. As I'll only be gone for a few days, I won't be taking my little Acer with me, so the next update to this blog is not likely to happen until after I get back on Monday evening.

There is, of course, another reason for traveling to Edinburgh besides seeing Yvonne. It is a veritable mecca for those, like me, in search of sheep-themed gift items. I have high hopes for the weekend ahead, and am taking a spare credit card or two, just in case. Based on past experience, while Ireland is good for sheep-themed trinkets, in Scotland the sheep has been elevated to an art form. So it could be expensive. But, oh the joy that a fine sheep gift can bring to the right recipient!

Be afraid. Be very afraid. You know who you are!


(picture courtesy of Andre Segarra, my first French professor at ACCORD)

The Owls of Saint Germain des Pres

After today's visit to the new Cezanne exhibition at the Musee du Luxembourg with Ellen and Leslie, I got slightly lost in the 6th on the way back to the metro. There were lots of owls, despite it being mid-afternoon. One was quite pugnacious:

That last one seems like some kind of owl ouija board.

There was lots of other fun stuff in Saint Germain des Pres, a very tony neighborhood indeed. More photos can be seen at this link, over on Facebook:

dans le 6eme

The Cezanne exhibit was pretty cool - a nice manageable size. My only concern was that Mrs C. looked pretty glum in all the portraits of her. Perhaps she was upset at being compared to an apple by the curator of the exhibit! With some justification, IMO, because there was no perceptible difference between the portraits and still lifes, in terms of style or vivacity. But who am I to criticize? The man, we are told, was a genius.


On Monday I went to lunch with Vincent, the other Irish guy in my class. We went to a very nice traditional Italian restaurant just around the corner from school. It was a very pleasant meal, introduced by a selection of delicious antipasti. As my next linguistic destination after I have mastered French is likely to be Italy (while I was in Ireland, the Dublin cousins lobbied enthusiastically on behalf of Bologna, on the grounds that Russia was still overrun by gangsters, and that other Italian cities would be overrun by tourists), I have since given some thought to the quality of Italian cuisine. During my desultory internet research, I came across the following article, about the Italian futurist, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, possibly best-remembered as "the man who tried to ban pasta".


I strongly suggest you read the article, which is short, and hilarious throughout, for yourself. Here is one of my favorite parts, a description of some of the menu items in the "Tavern of the Holy Palate", the restaurant that Marinetti founded and ran in Turin, with some of his other futurist buddies:

Eating was made a sensual experience. The food was sculptured in shape and colourful, and perfumes enriched its taste and smell. The diner was stimulated by eating a startling combination of sweet and savoury flavours while stroking a piece of velvet, silk or sandpaper during his meal. However, as speed was of the essence, a serving might be merely one mouthful or less. Knives and forks were abolished and traditional kitchen equipment was replaced by scientific implements like ozonizers to make food smell like ozone or ultraviolet ray lamps to activate vitamins.

Marinetti's main objective was, however, to abolish pasta. He believed pasta ‘mentally paralysed' the Italians and made them lethargic, pessimistic and sentimental. He thought that those who defended pasta were ‘shackled by its ball and chain like convicted lifers, or carry its ruins in their stomachs like archaeologists.' For him, being anti-pasta was part of being anti-past.

Marinetti's no-pasta menus included dishes like Taste Buds Take Off, a soup of stock, champagne, and grappa decorated with rose petals; the Excited Pig, a whole salami cooked in strong espresso coffee, flavored with eau-de-cologne; Chicken Fiat, a chicken roasted with ball bearings inside and garnished with whipped cream; and Italian Breasts in the Sun, two half-spheres of almond paste each with a fresh strawberry in the centre, sprinkled with black pepper.

There is a hilarious discussion of the futurist menu in this extract from the incomparable QI:

QI Season I Episode 2

The food discussion begins at around the 11:45 mark, but I highly recommend watching the whole segment, and any other episodes of QI you can find. It has to be among my all-time favorite TV programs. Unavailable in the U.S., most past episodes are available on YouTube.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The good life

It's make-your-own-kir night here at the Chateau Giltinan.

And if that gets boring, we have our secret weapon in reserve:

If the crumbles don't get me, the booze will. I just hope Maggie isn't reading this.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Frankie goes to the Élysée Palace?

The results of yesterday's Socialist Party primary elections are in, and this man is happy:

With 39% of the vote, versus the 31% obtained by his nearest rival, Martine Aubry, chances are good that Francois Hollande will carry the runoff election next Sunday, and go on to face the widely despised incumbent, Nicolas Sarkozy, in next year's presidential elections. It is widely believed that Sarkozy is so disliked that Hollande would have little difficulty in ousting him.

Of course, the gap between Hollande and Aubry is not so large that his victory next Sunday is assured. This has provoked the usual attack of logorrhea among the talking heads on TV, though their remarks are notable only for the unique combination of pomposity and vacuity in which French pundits truly excel. It hurts my brain just to listen, though I leave the TV on in the background, in the faint hope that it will act as a subliminal aid to my French.

The political discourse has now been replaced by yet another program about books, but the level of clarity has not improved in any noticeable manner. The one bright spot on the horizon was a little 15-minute filler program called "Poubelle Quizz" (Garbage Quiz), in which mayors and city councillors from local jurisdictions were quizzed on their knowledge of environmental policy and issues. The three contestants acquitted themselves quite well, and the program was both fun to watch and informative.

Another man who is happy today is this guy:

He is Marc Lievremont, trainer of the French rugby squad, who advanced this weekend to the semi-finals of the Rugby World Cup. They will face Wales, who dashed the Irish hopes very early on Saturday morning, while I was on a flight back to Paris.

In other news, as far as I have been able to determine from her Wikipedia page (which is more interesting than that of most first ladies), the spouse of Monsieur Sarkozy, Carla Bruni, has not yet given birth, though the happy event must surely be imminent.

I didn't actually get to any museums today, but I have high hopes for the Musee d'Orsay tomorrow morning, before Gabriella joins me to help me pick out new glasses. Something I don't trust myself to do on my own. Assuming the optometric excursion goes well, there may even be photographic evidence to follow.

Watch this space.