cats, cats

Tel Aviv, where we're staying for, um, an unspecified length of time, has lots of street cats. They may be considered a nuisance, a hygiene problem, or an animal rights violation, but they are often quite striking. The photos are never as beautiful as the cats, but here are some attempts.


Stop, thief!

As our time in Fontainebleau draws to a close, Gahl decided to take the (French) law into his own hands. It happened at the train station parking garage, where we often leave our car if we go to Paris for a day or two. One day recently, the barrier was missing at the entrance, so we drove through without taking a ticket. "Never mind," I said, "We'll just get a ticket when we leave." (I had just discovered the technique of taking a new ticket before leaving, and so paying only the minimum fee of 1.50 euros.) However, we arrived back in Fontainebleau after the ticket station had closed, and our attempts to get a new ticket at the entrance failed. (Maybe the new-ticket-before-leaving technique only worked the one time.) The emergency number for the main parking office just rang and rang. We were stuck. "I'm going to break the barrier," Gahl said. Face set in determination, he got out of the car, walked over to the barrier, examined it, then yanked it off and laid it by the side of the road. He came back to the car. "It's only held on with plastic bolts. It looks like they expect people to break it a lot." And we drove away.

When I think of the money we could have saved if we'd just broken the barrier every time, I grind my teeth.


Music for all

Footage from the national Fete de la musique (Music Festival): a high school band (apparently) as seen from our apartment window in Fontainebleau.


If she's English, it's not our problem

Today I went to Monoprix, one of the local supermarkets, mostly to buy envelopes and laundry softener, but I noticed some rather odd-shaped kiwis and couldn't resist buying a few to sample (Gahl will eat them with the skins, of course). I saw a sign that said something about five kiwis (I was in a bit of a hurry), so I grabbed five and went to the checkout counter. When the cashier was ringing up my things, she asked someone in the store to run and get an extra kiwi - apparently the deal was buy five, get one free. I thought this was quite nice of her. Then the man behind me in line said to the cashier, "If she's English, it's not our problem." I was too surprised to say anything (and my French isn't really at the level where I should get into a verbal battle at the supermarket check-out) but Gahl and I have been laughing about it ever since. I guess the statement pretty much seems to sum up the locals' attitude toward us.


Summer Ball

Insead (Gahl's school) hosted a summer ball in the Fontainebleau castle. The setting makes you think of all the extravagent parties that have been held there over the centuries...


Palace hounds 2

Needless to say, the peeing dogs are a favorite with visitors.

Things that go bump in the night

Recently Fontainebleau has been infested by a type of large, flying insect with a very sturdy exoskeleton. They buzz around streetlights, fall suddenly from the sky, and lie dead on carpeted floors and sidewalks. We don't know the insect's Latin name, but we do know the shock when one suddenly drops next to you while you're relaxing at a streetside cafe, or the quite painful sensation when you collide with one while biking. In a word, yuck.


Back to the future in Russia

My mom and I just came back from a trip to Moscow and to Vitebsk (a city in Belarus) as part of her PhD dissertation. If you miss the 80s, you'll find relief in Moscow, surrounded by mullet hairstyles and bouncy 80s pop. I'm not sure if knee-high boots were de rigeur in the 80s, but they are now. You'll also find cigars on restaurant menus, and superfast escalators in the subway - which frightened my mom more than the news that our hosts' apartment used to belong to the "treasurer" of a criminal circle, and the front door was designed to unlock only from the outside.

Vitebsk is smaller and poorer, the knee-high boots are even more elaborate, and the 80s celebration is set against a backdrop of Soviet-era high rises and brightly painted village-style wood houses. I made lots of dumb jokes about St. Cyril thinking that nobody would guess he plagiarized the alphabet for cyrilic if he just turned some of the letters backwards.


More surprises from Vinci Parking

This ad might seem too hallucinogenic to be real, but it is in our parking garage, and one night we simply felt compelled to photograph and honor it on our blog.



Across the street from the castle is a carousel that operates year-round, presumably a nod to the idea that Fontainebleau is a tourist town. Fontainebleau isn't THAT bustling, though, so whenever one or two kids wants to ride the carousel, the operator starts it up. Otherwise, it's just a local landmark - "Let's meet at the carousel at four."


more parking adventures

As well as the bizarre sounds emanating from the Vinci parking garage, it has other eccentricities. The ticket machines at the entrance and exit are constantly breaking down, and we often have to call the management office to raise the gate and let us into or out of the garage. One night recently, the machine swallowed our ticket on the way into the garage. We called the management office and they lifted the barrier. The next morning I went to the office to get a replacement, since it was a one-month ticket. After I recounted my story, the woman at the desk held out a mangled piece of paper. "This must be your ticket," she said. "Did you break the gate?" Apparently somebody who entered the garage after us decided to just drive straight through. I can't say I blame them, but I assured the woman it wasn't me. Now we have a subscription, so we've got a plastic card instead of a paper ticket. I thought this would solve our problems with the ticket machine, but the malfunctions and late-night calls continue.

Given all the technical problems, and the complacency with which the management faces them, I was quite shocked on a recent visit to the palace of Versailles to discover that Vinci is remodelling the Hall of Mirrors (one of the most celebrated features of Versailles). I hope that the historical-restoration division of Vinci is more painstaking than the parking division. Otherwise, I wouldn't be surprised if the entire palace falls down one of these days, and the Vinci people just shrug and go home for coffee and croissants.


Smoke-free WHAT?

The French smoke like chimneys, from pre-adolescents in cafes to decrepit nursing home residents (I can attest to both). A smoking ban for public places, including workplaces and schools, just went into effect in February. On that fateful day, I had an appointment at a publishing company in Paris. I took a minute to understand why I was given a bookmark in the lobby with a list of support resources for quitting smoking. The irate editor-in-chief told me that the smoking ban was the most despicable of hypocrisies. After our meeting, she stalked out with me to join the horde of employees smoking just outside the entrance. I imagine office productivity has plummeted.

An acquaintance told me a story about a French friend visiting Canada about ten years ago and remarking on all the prostitutes standing and smoking outside office buildings. The same misinterpretation wouldn't happen now, but I guess the crowds won't really hit the streets until the ban in restaurants and bars begins in 2008.


Palace hounds

This fountain is one of the highlights in the garden of the Fontainebleau castle, which is down the street from our apartment. The castle was built in the 16th century; Louis XIV came here to hunt and Napoleon abdicated on the famous horseshoe-shaped front steps - nowadays, it's just for tourists. Apparently the artist who created this fountain had never seen a dog pee before.


The classical music that was regularly played in our parking lot added a lot of tranquility to our lives. If you listen to soft Mozart violins in the echo of a concrete container for motor vehicles you develop a whole different outlook on the meaning of the extremely large variety of Peugeot 206 models. We almost lost faith in reality when we dicovered that this fountain of tranquility was abruptly replaced by some ambient sound CD. If it was a normal ambient CD then we might be fine, but the combination of rushing waves, screaming children, tropical peacocks, goats, hens and other farm aninmals is a little too much. Now we have something to blame our anxiety for, too bad the weather is getting better and we are having so much fun it takes an extraordinary event like that to induce us to properly complain.

Have the full experience at http://www.metacafe.com/watch/471701/wierd_parking_music/

Cover your eyes!

There's no doubt that posters and magazines (and certainly TV too, except we never watch it) show a lot more nudity here than in the U.S. It's not uncommon to be walking innocently through a train station in Paris, only to find oneself face to face with a blown-up, airbrushed bottom on a lingerie ad poster (there was a series of these last fall). Recently, we were a bit nonplussed to observe this magazine cover on news-stands. It's a self-described general-interest philosophy magazine.


His skinny pants

My favorite French fashion trend is the tight stretch jeans that teenage boys wear. They're worn low (sometimes showing off underwear) and are tapered to the ankles. Amusing, but not advised for a quick get-away.


Closed for lunch

In Fontainebleau, almost every store closes for lunch (as well as on Sundays and Mondays). I've learned not to try to run any errands between 12pm and 3pm (we're not talking quick one-hour lunches here). Even our favorite local pizza restaurant has been known to close for lunch. The exception, of course, is in August, when the stores just close for the whole month.