Sunday, December 31, 2006

Station Break

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Happy New Year!!!!

Friday, December 29, 2006

Part two: CDG Paris and beyond

After six agonizing hours in the air- a fortuitous jet stream cutting nearly two hours from the flight time- we landed at Charles De Gaulle Airport, Paris. If you’ve never been there, it’s hard to describe- CDG is an airport in the same huge, arrogant way that Texas is a state. It’s almost more accurate to describe Paris as the residential subdivision of CDG than the other way around. When your plane lands, you’ll taxi for 20-30 minutes, over highway overpasses and through traffic-controlled intersections before you’ll get to your gate. In our case, there was an additional 30 minute wait when we got there, as we had arrived ahead of schedule and the gate was not ready for us- which will give you an insight into a certain kind of bureaucratic mentality.

You see, no matter how big CDG is, it’s not big enough; as the world’s busiest airport, the demands on it’s facilities are huge- and so our “gate” was not a gate at all but merely a box painted on the tarmac, with an “x” for each piece of equipment... and not every piece of equipment had arrived yet. The schlepper with the stairs was there, and the bus for the 30 minute ride to the terminal was there- wasn’t that good enough? Mais non, it’s not a legal gate until everything is there; the plane may not pull into it. Well, we have customs to get through and a connecting flight- couldn’t you roll the stairs over to where we are then? Quelle idea! Passengers cannot wander willy-nilly over the tarmac! You must deplane at a proper gate! But your “gate” IS just a piece of tarmac with an outline painted on it! *Sigh* Never mind, I understand; it’s the Les Nessman of WKRP in Cincinnati school of management.

I must say, however, that once inside CDG, it’s fairly impressive and fairly well run. If you have questions, answers are available in French or English. I witnessed this myself; no matter in what language the questions were asked- Russian, Spanish, Greek- the answers were in French or English. Our connecting flight was located with only the minimal amount of nonsense that is required by customs and security.

I was horrified to learn that the last leg of the trip was another Airbus, but we got a break: our seats were in the emergency exit aisle. As there are international regulations demanding that a human body can actually fit through the exit for safety reasons, this section is twice as roomy as normal. An hour later we were in Nice. Deciding to splurge on a long taxi ride, 20 minutes later we were in Villefranche Sur Mer! We had left Indianapolis at 6:00 p.m. Friday, and it was now 3:00 p.m. Saturday- but we had arrived!

Next: Food, wonderful food!

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Our Vacation in Villefranche Sur Mer

I discovered several important things during our vacation in France- it turns out that when they say “travel is broadening”, they don’t just mean the high-calorie French cooking! But the only way to tell what I learned is in context, which means describing the whole experience... so those with a low tolerance for boredom may want to bail.

Part One: getting there is half the fun

We’ll pretend that the day started with a Northwest Airlines flight to Detroit. It actually began by getting up at 4:00 a.m. for a last minute housecleaning to impress the catsitter, doing the laundry I was going to be wearing that day, etc., but those things belong to another story- something like “No time left for me; the life of a obsessive”, and I should be telling a therapist, not you.

But it’s easy to pretend that the day started with a Northwest Airlines flight to Detroit, because all NWA flights involve changing planes in Detroit. If you fly from the International Space Station to Mars on NWA, you’ll do it via Detroit. Once in Detroit, however, there was minimal fuss in loading for the second leg of the trip, Detroit to Charles De Gaulle, Paris. This was on an Airbus 330, but the exact model number is unimportant, as there are only two basic Airbus product lines: copies of Boeing products, and copies of McDonnell Douglas products. This one was a copy of an McD wide-body jet... but it wasn’t wide everywhere.

Airbus had managed to improve profitability by running extra seats further into the tail cone than any other airliner manufacturer. Do you remember in art class how the illusion of great distance is created by having lines that should be parallel converge upon a “vanishing point”, with objects getting smaller and smaller as they approach that point? That effect is realized in real life by the aisles and seats as they are squeezed into the tail cone of the Airbus. Oddly enough, all of the overly tall or overly wide passengers (I fit both categories) were seated in this section. I’d like to think this was random chance, but then I notice this plane was manufactured in a country where they think that Jerry Lewis is funny. Seriously, how tight was it? A jagged hole was torn in my pants as I forced myself into the 17” seat- and bruising of my hips and thighs actually interfered with the rest of the vacation. I repeat: those seats are 17” wide... by comparison, the hip room a two door Volkswagen Rabbit allows- more than 52” for two people- Airbus could fit three-abreast seating into with room to spare. Not since the liberation of France in 1945 has anyone ever been more glad to see Charles De Gaulle!

Next: The Innocents (well, not guilty anyway) Abroad!

Monday, December 25, 2006

A note to a friend on Christmas day

When my beloved and I finally got home, circa 12:30 A.M. Christmas Eve after more than 24 hours in transit from France (a long story I will write about in the near future), we found a huge pile of correspondence that we were unable to get all the way through until today. In that pile, I found a Christmas card from a special category of sender- Dear Friend Whom I Have Never Met. It was like having another present to unwrap. This post is addressed to the sender of that card.

The card’s message was about the deficiencies of a man who eats fruitcake, and for most of my life I would have agreed with it- still do, in fact, for the man who eats normal fruitcake. But just about twenty years ago I found... the fruitcake. It was an experience even more profound than Sherlock Holmes’ finding the woman. Baked by Trappist monks in New York, the fruit and nuts are of the highest quality... the cake of a recipe Lucifer was thrown from Heaven for stealing... aged... soaked in fine brandy, then glazed to hold the brandy in while it ages... this is a fruitcake that is only available mail-order, and one must exercise extreme restraint in making out the order to only get what you have rationed yourself, for once it has arrived no further restraint is possible; no matter how much you have ordered, it will be only one serving. Try it if you dare, here

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Greetings to all

The reason I've been unable to post or comment the last week is that I was in the south of France- I'll be writing about it in the near future, as well as catching up with the work of my fellow bloggers. until then...

Merry Christmas to All, and to all a good night!

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Glad for a name change

Years ago when Indianapolis formally changed the name of our World‘s largest Christmas tree to “The Circle of Lights”, ( another view ), many were upset. But after seeing what SeaTac airport has just gone through, I’m glad we acted early to “secularize” the event... could you imagine trying to put up a 284 foot tall, 4,784 light Menorah along side the “Circle of Lights”? Of course, as a Pagan, I’m perfectly happy with a tree...

P.S. the pressures of family events may prevent me from posting again until after Christmas- but this is a good thing. Merry Christmas!

P.P.S. As “Christmas” is a Federal holiday, that was a secular salutation. :)

Friday, December 08, 2006

Thoughts on food

A private response to my post on Swedish Christmas customs inspired some thoughts on food. I was told that another Yule time legacy from Sweden’s Viking past is a test of courage and stamina called “eating lutefisk”. I looked it up- this involves soaking herring in toxic, caustic lye before cooking it. But that’s not the weird part- the weird part is that we do something similar right here in America! It seems that someone- probably from Minnesota- decided that corn, too, should be soaked in caustic lye before eating; thus was born hominy. This got me to thinking- how on Earth did we think of some of the things we do to food?

Some recipes, even fairly complex ones, aren’t hard to guess how they came about. Cake, for example- I’m picturing a hung over bachelor stumbling into the pantry one morning, and finding what is in every bachelor’s pantry: two cups of dry cereal, an egg, and a half cup of milk left over from making cappuccino the night before. He shrugs, mixes it all together, throws it into the oven and goes to the bathroom for Visine and a long shower. When he returns to the kitchen he finds that he has invented cake.

Other foods are much harder to figure out. Coffee, for example- who invented that? “Hey, Bill, I got this great idea! You know those hard, red berries on the coffee bush?” “Yeah, once I made my little brother eat a handful- he barfed, then started twitching. It was hilarious!” “OK, we take some of those, roast them ‘til they’re brown and sticky, then throw them in boiling water to leach out all the poisons...” “And...?” “Then we drink it!” “Righhhhhht....”

Or take sausage. Pan sausage is easy enough to figure out; once the principle of grinding meat was established, spicing it was obvious. But link sausage? Do you KNOW what sausage skins are? How on Earth did it ever occur to someone to stuff their spiced hamburger into THOSE?

Or yogurt- who had the guts to be the first to try that? Again, I’m thinking bachelors. “Hey, guess what I found in the back of the fridge? It’s that bottle of milk we bought last year! Wanna try it?” “Dude, it’s quivering!” “C’mon, I dare ya!”

At least with the evolution of life forms we can see the intermediate steps, see the progression from one form to another; but with food, it’s often a mystery. How did we go from cucumber sandwiches to pickles? Was there ever a dish of fresh cucumbers, vinegar, and garlic that was just allowed to sit too long? The same question goes for sauerkraut. Or haggis- was it a common thing to serve your oatmeal in a sheep’s stomach before it occurred to someone to add lungs and other organ meats to it?

What foods can you not figure out?

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Well, I never!

John Derbyshire of “National Review”, (am I safe in assuming that I am in the minority as a UU blogger who reads National Review?), reports on a game they’re playing at the London Daily Telegraph in which you confess to things you have never done. Quoting John, “The trick is that the things you confess to never having done are things that — and this is of course highly life-context-dependent — you ought to have done, or feel you ought to have; or things of which the omission is surprising in some other way — e.g. lived your whole life in London but never seen the Thames. Things that hardly anyone does (“never been on safari”) don’t count.”

Ok... I have never:

Made it through an entire episode of Seinfeld.

Been to Disneyland. Or Florida, for that matter.

Attended a professional Baseball game.

Gone to a bar, unless invited to meet someone there.

Done “Trick or Treat for UNICEF”

Successfully pulled a tune out of a musical instrument.

Successfully negotiated a dance without incident.

Attempted to ski (snow or water) or surf. Or managed to swim without looking like a paddlewheel boat.

Gone two weeks without chocolate.

Gotten all Christmas or birthday cards out on time in any year.

Voted Democrat for President.

Sent a text message, or used any cell phone feature other than making a telephone call.

Had a haircut without thinking of David Crosby’s song “Almost Cut My Hair”.

Worn a pair of tennis shoes that cost more than $25.

Saved anything, music or data, onto a CD.

What have you never?

Monday, December 04, 2006

The “Christmas Wars” heat up

Much has been made here in America the last couple years of “the war against Christmas”, as some people call every instance of someone saying “Happy Holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas”, or “Holiday Tree” rather than “Christmas Tree”. Of course, there are those who love to point out that there’s nothing Christian about the “Christmas Tree”- it’s really a pagan tradition. But for a real mix of Christian and Pagan, with resulting fireworks, (literally!) look to Sweden!

You see, in Sweden, Christmas gifts for the boys and girls are brought by the dwarf Jultomten, in a sleigh drawn by the Christmas Goat, Julbok. What, you’ve never heard of the Julbok? It evolved from medieval Sweden, when Thor, the Norse god of thunder, rode in a wagon pulled by goats to deliver Christmas presents, and is a favorite Christmas ornament The city of Gavle celebrates this tradition every year by building an enormous Julbok downtown. Unfortunately, vandals burn it down every year.

But not this year! After last year’s vandalism- conducted by Santa Claus and the Gingerbread Man- Gavle turned to the aviation industry for fireproofing expertise, and swear that not even napalm could take down this year’s Julbok! Hail Thor, Happy Yule!

Nostalgia lost

It’s pledge time for the local Public Television, and of course that means we’ve been seeing special dinosaur-rock reunion concerts. Generally I watch only to see if the coots can still hit the notes- and it’s amazing how often they can after all those years. But another thought struck me while watching the Doo-wop special.

Doo-wop is before my time; this special was octogenarians on stage singing to septuagenarians in the audience. But it was kind of sweet, actually, with silver-hairs holding hands and singing along, sometimes with tears in their eyes, remembering their salad days. By the end, there was dancing in the aisles. Suddenly it occurred to me that this was another thing denied to the Hip-hop generation. That they’ve been denied a positive, uplifting cultural experience in the present is pretty clear- but they’ve also been denied in the future the kind of societal-binding nostalgia their parents have, the camaraderie of shared cultural experience the oldies induce.

Perhaps I’m wrong. Perhaps fifty years from now a silver-haired Marshall Mathers will be up on the PBS stage, making eyes glisten with an obscenely delivered fantasy of raping and killing his mother; perhaps those future septuagenarians will be lost in memory of their salad days as Public Enemy barks out a classic about killing cops, or maybe Ludicris’ rant about ho’s will move them to one last dance, with grandmama bending over and sticking her booty out so grandpaw can grind his pelvis against it. Perhaps those rappers who have not killed each other at award shows by then will be able to generate the same emotions in their fans that those Doo-woppers did. It could happen, I guess.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Cars and blogs

Over the Thanksgiving weekend we rented the animated film “Cars”, which, like all Pixar productions, was excellent. Something about the emotional feel of the movie, however, has had me pondering about many a political and/or blog discussion.

Central to the plot of “Cars” is the story of the small towns on Route 66 that became ghost towns overnight when the Interstates opened. As one character says, “Bypassed to save ten minutes.” The movie, and even more the director’s commentary, spoke of an entire lifestyle lost.
The interviews of the people who lived along Rte. 66 were poignant- but it struck me that they were oblivious to the fact that Rte. 66 and her sisters had themselves been the death knell of another way of life, the passenger railroad.
“Good morning America, how are you?
Don’t you know me- I’m you’re native son.
I am the train they call the City of New Orleans;
I’ll be gone 500 miles when the day is done.”

A further bit of irony is that Arlo Guthrie and all the others (like my wife) who lamented the passing of the railroads were just as oblivious to the fact that they, too, had destroyed a way of life- the Stagecoach lines. The first generation of ghost towns in America were created by the railroads who didn’t need to stop for food and water as often as the stagecoach; wide-spot-in-the-road towns were “Bypassed to save ten minutes.”

It struck me that this was a basic principle to many an argument. Don’t like WalMart because it drives under the local supermarket and department store? Well, that same supermarket had shed no tears for the single purpose green grocer, butcher and baker it had driven out; the department store had no pity for the single purpose haberdasher, tailor, toy store and appliance dealer it replaced. Worried about losing the manufacturing base? Those factories didn’t worry about the smithies and cottage industries they ruined. Shedding a tear for that historic downtown theater, restaurant or bar that’s closing? I’ll bet you don’t know or care what had been bulldozed before to build it. Worried about the “browning” of America, because our immigrants no longer come from Northern Europe? You’re probably not as worried as the Native Americans had been about the “Whitening” of America.

We cannot allow public policy to be driven by this generation’s nostalgia; change has occurred in the past and will happen again. It’s only natural to fear the future- as both Shakespeare and Captain Kirk have said, it is “The Undiscovered Country.” Ways of life will in fact be lost; we must face that- as our forefather had to. If we allow ourselves to be guided by any principle other than the greater good, we betray mankind for nothing more than a very temporary extension of our current comfort zone.

P.S. If anyone is keeping track, this is my 100th blog entry!