Saturday, April 2, 2011


During the week here in Paris, I get up every day at 6:45 am. (Waits for assorted Genentech readers to compose themselves). Thus, it was a luxury today to sleep until noon. When I finally got up to face the day, I had two objectives - end the day with clean clothes, and restored access to my old e-mail account.

I was 50% successful. Found a laundromat nearby, managed to assemble the appropriate detergent balls and drier sheets, to fend off the homeless woman who kept lurking by the drier (maybe she had a thing for black Levi's?), so that my wardrobe for the next week is fragrant and spotless.

The less said about the second objective, the better. One has to think of one's blood pressure. Let's just say that things started to go downhill when the AT&T "help" drone in Bangalore told me that he wouldn't be able to help me, as I wasn't calling from the home phone number to which my AT&T e-mail account is linked. I confess to having been considerably less civil than in my previous interaction with the AUDRA-person. I also think that my indignation was entirely justified.

At any rate, I am still unable to access my old e-mail account. The longer I am locked out, the less I am beginning to care. I have set up a new e-mail account on Gmail. The address has the following form:

If I remind you that my middle name is Michael, presumably you can figure it out from there, once I tell you that everything before the @-sign is a single "word", no spaces, no dashes or dots. If you can't figure it out, maybe it's for the best; one likes one's e-mail correspondents to be of a certain minimum intelligence.

Sorry if this sounds snarky - attribute it to too much time spent dealing with the vile minions of AT&*&^%$#@!**T over the past days.

In other news, it was another glorious day here in Paris. I am enjoying the remainder of last night's bottle of Sancerre, and watching NCIS reruns in French. Life is good, and je m'en fiche de AT&*^%$#@!T.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Sancerre & Simpsons

It's been an eventful week, but a good one. The e-mail fiasco is not yet fully resolved. I haven't yet been successful in re-establishing access to my AT&T/Yahoo account, but I have decided to take the evening off from worrying about it. I have also set up a Gmail account, and will be contacting my friends individually to let them know the new e-mail address; I plan on moving to Gmail permanently as soon as practically possible.

Highlights of the week included Monday evening's exciting semi-final episode of "Top Chef, France", which lasted for 3 full hours, and was riveting from start to finish. I can hardly wait for the final episode next week. Every other Tuesday we have a break from our regularly scheduled morning class, with a so-called "theater" session, which involves lots of improvisation, much of it hilarious. Then there was the Tuesday afternoon grammar workshop, which is my favorite session every week, because - as regular readers will know - I have this bizarre, grammar-loving gene which causes me to enjoy the intricacies of French grammar just as much as the subtleties of the subjunctive in Thpanish. Some people might find this freakish - I'm happy to take life's pleasures wherever I find them. It helps that Liliane, our grammar teacher, is a truly inspired instructor. But the same can be said for all of the teachers at ACCORD - I consider myself really lucky to have stumbled across this particular school.

On Wednesday afternoon, we had another improvisation session, this time with a smaller group, and a different teacher. It's hard to explain how much fun it was to be in a skit, pretending to be a diving instructor, having to explain the dangers of decompression sickness (le malaise des caissons), aka Caisson disease, or 'the bends', to the class. You start out one place, next thing you're explaining how final construction of the Brooklyn bridge had to be supervised by the wife of the principal engineer Roebling, because he had developed such a severe case of the bends that he was too ill to be able to do it in person. Using French words you didn't even know you knew.

Yesterday afternoon we went to the Place des Vosges and the Musee Carnavalet, guided by Anne, who takes over as our morning teacher for the month of April. Andre will be a hard act to follow, but I've been really impressed with how Anne conducts the Thursday afternoon tours, so I'm optimistic.

This evening, I'm holed up in the apartment, happily installed with a bottle of excellent Sancerre, watching "Les Simpsons". Later in the weekend, there will be museums to see, movies to go to, an "Asterix & Obelix" video to watch. But for now, I'm happy to be able to put my feet up and have Homer teach me French.

Did I mention how much I love Paris?

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Why I drink

SystemWelcome Mr. David Giltinan.
SystemConnecting to server. Please wait...
SystemConnection with server established.
SystemTechnical Support Topic: PROACTIVE: DSL Change Password
SystemAUDRA has joined this session!
SystemConnected with AUDRA
You Hello
AUDRA Thank you for contacting AT&T Internet Support. My name is Audra (rk374h). I see that I am chatting with Mr. David Giltinan . Am I correct?
You Yes.
AUDRA Hello Mr. Giltinan . How are you doing today?
You I'm having a slight problem. I changed my password because my e-mail account was infected with a spam virus, and now i can't access my account with the new password
AUDRA Please do not worry, I will guide you in the right direction.
AUDRA I see that you provided 415XXXXXXX as the number associated with your DSL/Dial account. Am I correct?
You Thanks. That's correct, but I am currently not at home. I am in Paris, France
AUDRA Okay. Good to hear that!
AUDRA Mr. Giltinan, are you in holiday trip?
You I am here studying for 3 months (until June)
AUDRA That's Good!
AUDRA May I know the complete address with the zip code?
You the AT&T system gave me the message that my password was changed, but Yahoo e-mail doesn't accept the new password.
You My address at home is 3XXX 19th St, #1 San Francisco CA 94114
AUDRA May I know the primary email address on that account?
AUDRA May I know the email address that you created while installing the AT&T Internet services?
You Ah, I think it was probably
AUDRA May I know the Billing telephone number with the customer code?
You415-XXX-XXXX. I don't know what "customer code" means
AUDRA The customer code is the 11th, 12th, 13th digit of the account number.
You I don't know what that means
AUDRA You will find the details on your bill.
You That might be possible. but I don't have my phone bill with me here in Paris.
AUDRA It is one of the important which I need to fetch and reset the password for your email address. AUDRA*Information
You Now we have a problem. My bill gets sent to me electronically by e-mail. I can't access my e-mail. That's why we are having this conversation.
AUDRA I understand your concern, but I will not be able to fetch the information without the customer code.
You So what do you suggest?
AUDRA I am sorry for the inconvenience, being a secure information, I will not be able to fetch the information.
AUDRA Hope you understand that the privacy and protection of personal information is for your safety and is of the utmost importance to us. Our Members have come to expect this security and we are sure you would demand the same protection as an account holder.
AUDRAI have a alternate option for you.
You So what do you suggest? I AM an account holder, and what I expect is for you to offer me some real help. Please go ahead
AUDRA In this case, you need to contact our AT&T Voice support, they have a different way of verification.
AUDRA I am sure, you will be able to get the password from there.
AUDRA Please call us at 1-877-722-3755 .It is a toll free number and is available 24*7.
You what system of verification do they use? and is this number toll-free from Paris? AUDRA Yes, you are correct, it will not be a toll free number from France.
You Please let me know exactly what information I will need to provide them, as i will have to make the phone call from a public phone on the street. It's not a big deal that it's not toll free from here - I can use a prepaid card.
AUDRA Mr. Giltinan, AT&T Voice support is different department, I will not be able to provide you the information about there way of verification.
You but in order not to have to make several calls, which would be very awkward, it would be very useful to know in advance what information they will require so that i can have it available. If they need information that's only available on my billing statement, then I'm stuck.
You So in other words, you can't actually help me at all. This has been a waste of 20 minutes. AUDRA I will give you an idea.
You thanks
AUDRA If you call and find a customer code from the any of your family member there in San Francisco CA in that address.
You OK. I will have to try that. I appreciate your trying to help me, even if it wasn't completely successful.
You Thanks again. I am going to sign off now, OK?
AUDRA I understand but hope you understand my limitations.
AUDRA It was pleasure chatting with you. Hope I was able to provide you with the information and also guide you in the right direction. Is there anything else that I may assist you today? You No thanks, and I do understand your limitations. Take care. Bye.
AUDRA Have a great week ahead!
AUDRA Thank you for using AT&T Yahoo! Chat Support.
You will now be disconnected from this session. The chat window will remain open until you close it. For quick answers, make the new AT&T Yahoo! Help site your first stop. Visit where you'll find pages of product information to assist you. Again, thank you for choosing AT&T Yahoo! Chat Support.
AUDRA We value your business.

E-mail problems

I'm currently experiencing major difficulties with my e-mail account. For the second time in a week it's been infected with a spam-sending virus, even though I changed the account password after the first episode over the weekend. I just now changed the password again - now it refuses me access with either password, so I can neither access my e-mail, nor figure out how to fix the spamming problem.

I'm hoping it's just a lag in updating the password that is keeping me from accessing the account right now. I've been around the Yahoo-AT&T "help" loop twice already this evening, so I think I'm just going to do a Scarlett O' Hara and call it a night.

Maybe it's time to switch to Gmail anyway.

(screams silently at computer screen)

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Home Improvement : Part 2 (upstairs)

Thor may be standing guard downstairs, but upstairs Boris reigns supreme! Natasha is, of course, hiding under the bed, as usual.

When Brad sent me these pictures last night, I was verklemmt. I still am. There are no words adequate to express my thanks for all the work that he and Jay have done in the three weeks since I left. While I was swanning around, sipping coffee in various sidewalk cafes and tormenting the locals with my fractured French, they were moving furniture, supervising painters and carpeters, boxing and unboxing over 3,000 books, making sure the cats weren't too traumatized. They are true friends indeed, and I can't thank them enough.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Monday, March 28, 2011

Let's talk about art

Before coming to France, there were exactly two pre-Impressionist French paintings that I could reliably identify by name. Both are shown above, and I am happy to report that we have now discussed both in class with Andre, our terrific instructor. The first is Gericault's The Raft of the Medusa, which I knew through Julian Barnes's excellent discussion in his book A History of the World in 10½ Chapters.

The second, by Delacroix, is titled Liberty Leading the People. I will now bore you with some facts about this painting, so listen up! It is a common misconception that the painting refers to events during the French Revolution of 1789; in fact, it represents a lesser-known revolt, one that lasted only 3 days, in 1830. The figure of Lady Liberty depicted in the painting is also known as Marianne, and has become synonymous with the French republic ("La Republique"). You can see a different representation of her in the picture of the statue ("La Republique") over in the right hand column. She is traditionally shown semi-naked, presumably to make it easier for the French to drink the milk of human liberty from her voluptuous breasts. Her headgear is known as a Phrygian cap, which is neither a poisonous mushroom nor a contraceptive device (these would have been my first guesses).

Also on the topic of headgear, another part of today's lesson was devoted to the character of Gavroche from Les Miserables. Because I am too lazy to look it up before dinner, the interested reader is invited to find an image of Gavroche's characteristic cap on Google. I can't do all the work here, you know.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Random Observations

Paris is not without its surprises. One expects the locals to be chic and fashion forward, but I really hadn't expected to see so much ... leopardskin. It must be in fashion this spring, because the amount of ambient leopardskin on the streets borders on the alarming.

Life here is not cheap. I am lucky, in that my rent and school fees are all paid up through the end of my stay, so no major expenses are looming. But there are sneaky little items that crop up as part of day-to-day life that have a way of surprising one, not always pleasantly. The price of one's beverage at lunch, for example. This afternoon I had lunch at a very nice little cafe near the Pompidou Center. My tuna sandwich, which was in every way delicious, was a mere 4.25 Euro, or a little under 6 dollars. But the cafe au lait that I enjoyed with it cost a whopping 3.85 Euro - just over 5 bucks! Even the regular coffee, the thimble-sized espresso one sees the locals nursing at every sidewalk cafe, generally costs in the range of 2.50 to 2.80 Euro. Four bucks seems a little steep, to say the least. Other options can prove just as expensive - on Thursday, I paid 4.50 Euro for my mineral water, while that pint of beer I had on Friday at Houlihan's Irish pub (or maybe it was Corcoran's) was a whopping 7 Euro! At dinner, what would have cost 15 to 20 Euro in Spain has a way of costing 25 to 30 Euro here. Not that I can whine too much - I'm certainly good for the amounts in question - but cumulatively it has a way of messing up one's projected budget.

My plan for earlier today, to see "The Social Network" at a nearby arthouse cinema, was thwarted by my failure to remember that the changeover to Daylight Savings Time took place last night. So by the time I arrived at the cinema the film had already been playing for 45 minutes. This wouldn't be the first time I've been caught out by DST, and I'm sure it won't be the last.

So I had to console myself by wandering around the Beauborg neighborhood - I've added some of the pictures to this post. Weather today is overcast, but I'm told that there has been snow in Alexandria, Virginia, so I'm not complaining.

Many things appear more profound in French. I can now say from personal experience that the TV program "Scooby Doo" is not one of them.

Boule de Suif

Boule De Suif: Et Autres Nouvelles (Petits Classiques Larousse Texte Integral)Boule De Suif: Et Autres Nouvelles by Guy de Maupassant

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

De Maupassant is one of the few French authors I feel competent to read in the original French. It helps that his chosen form is the short story - it makes him much less forbidding than someone like Balzac or Hugo. Although I've been in Paris for just a little over two weeks, I'm already doing pretty well with these stories. He is particularly good at exposing the hypocrisies of small-town 19th century French life, the title story of this collection being an excellent example. But his character sketches are done with affection - though he liked his solitude, one senses a genuine affection for other people and their foibles.

Wikipedia provides two biographical facts worth passing on. As a youth, he saved the English poet Swinburne from drowning. Also, he shared the common French antipathy toward the Eiffel tower when it was first constructed. So much so that he commonly ate at the restaurant at the tower's base, as this was the only place in Paris one could avoid seeing the tower's inescapable profile.

Besides this collection, I also recommend his "Comtes de la Becasse" (Tales of the Hunt).

On this rainy Sunday in Paris, I've been getting reacquainted with de Maupassant and it's a great pleasure to do so.

View all my reviews