Things I learned this weekend

In no particular order. Or, rather, in the order that they occur to me as I type frantically.

  • Everyone needs a cello lesson from Ruth. 1
  • Julian Merrow-Smith cooks as well as he paints.2
  • Provence is still beautiful.
  • Ants in Provence live underground which they access through little holes surrounded by perfect circles of sand.3
  • Some cats are friendly but don’t like to be picked up so much.
  • A GPS navigation thing totally gets you where you’re going, but YOU NEVER KNOW WHERE YOU ARE.4
  • Eating dinner with Dean Allen and Gail Armstrong gives you a lobotomy.5
  • One can sleep okay on a train in a sleeper car, but don’t do it alone.6
  • Americans always photograph their food and overtip.
  • Germans will not hesitate to drive a BMW right up your ass on the Autobahn.
  • On the other hand: no speed limit – whee.7
  • My wife is exceptional.8
  • There’s no place like home.


1. Really. I drove to France to have one and it was worth it. Meeting Ruth changed my life. Her understanding of how the instrument is played and what people go through learning and playing it, and what they need to unlearn, her rapport and knowledge and sympathy will change the way you approach the instrument.

2. And he’s a seriously good painter.  This weekend I got the feeling that I had been going about this eating thing all wrong all my life, until now.

3. Also, sometimes Buddhists accidentally step on them and then feel awful, sort of, although, on the other hand, hey, that’s life.

4. When I called to say I would be late due to road construction, near the end of my journey, and Ruth asked me where I was, it dawned on me that I had no idea where I was. All I knew was, I had just crossed a rindabite, second exit, and would soon take another right turn in 400 meters. A journey of 1400 kilometers is reduced to a series of left and right turns. On the other hand, it totally gets you there and I love it. Mine only tried to send me through a pedestrian zone once (and that was a temporary thing set up for a market, not a permanent one) and I only made a single wrong turn (after which the machine talked to me as if I were thick, speaking slowly and clearly and instructing me what to do). Another thing I learned in this connection was to turn the thing off if you put it in your pocket when you go into the service station for a pee, because otherwise you will be standing there going and a mechanical voice in your pocket will suddenly say, “in 50 meters, turn right” and a guy in one of the stalls will snicker. I got out of there before it could say, “If you shake it more than three times it’s a sin” or remind me to wash my hands.

5. At least it did me. They’re friends of my hosts and came to dinner and I sat there like the kid who plays the banjo in Deliverance, grinning and squinting all night and always a little late and a dollar short with the banter, which fuck they’re funny. The first place I heard about blogging was a newspaper article about the two of them, a long time ago.

6. Because if you don’t have a friend or partner or etc with you, the Fat German Guy who smells like six weeks of ass and talks too loud and tries to strike up a conversation while you’re reading and sticks his fat ass in your face while he makes his bunk and his ass smells like, oh now I understand why he smells like six weeks of ass, and he snores will share your compartment with you.

7. Lower-case whee, sans exclamation point, if you drive a compact (Mazda 2) as I do.

8. Saturday was the 30th anniversary of our first kiss, but she let me go to France alone anyway. And when I got back, she gave me a scrapbook of our first 30 years she had been working on over recent months. I haven’t read it yet, but she said she only put in the good parts. Thirty years, man. We were so young once.


i would tell you all abite this awesome trip i`m having, but this french keyboard is messing with my brqin, esp; in co,binqtion with the irish lqdy on ,my tomtom, more on mondqy perhqps:


I defied my GPS navigation thing yesterday, and it recalculated the route, and then I decided to follow the recalculated route for the fun of it (I was driving home from the office) and it took me way the hell into the sticks, over a mountain, down winding little roads I hadn’t driven on since they put in the freeway. It was pretty neat. And just as fast as the freeway.

Today, though, the suction cup that holds it to the windshield came loose and when I caught it I apparently reprogrammed it to voice-activated British female robot voice. Took me a while to fix it when I got home.

Tomorrow I’m testing it by driving to France for a cello lesson. Alpha told me to bring her something nice. When I asked her to be more specific, she said, “something *really* nice.”

Paris, France

My apologies in advance for the ugly way the text wraps in this post, and doesn’t align with the pictures the way I want it too, but I can’t figure out how to stop it from doing that. Thanks to Bran for fixing my CSS.


I woke up this morning at four. I was too sad to sleep so I got up. I don’t know why I was sad, everything has been fine lately.

I didn’t get up immediately. I prayed to a benevolent deity in my non-theistic universe for everyone to be okay. I kept thinking of more people I wanted to be okay. Then I got up, before my vibes could wake my wife.

This first picture I took by accident when Alpha and I went to Paris a couple weeks ago. It is one of my favorite pictures from the trip. All of my favorite pictures are the ones I took by accident. Not only from that trip. You would think that I didn’t try to take composed pictures anymore, but I still do.


We saw this hotel on our first night wandering around Paris, I guess. We didn’t look inside. It didn’t even occur to us to look inside. We stayed in another hotel with a balcony and a ceiling fan on the Left Bank in the Latin Quarter.

“Just walk around” is the best advice re: what to do in Paris. Thanks, Ian. Although, you’ll sometimes want to take the subway, since Paris is really big. The subways are okay. They ran often, we never had to wait long when we took one.


Here is our balcony. Good call on the hotel, that was more good advice. Latin Quarter = good neighborhood to stay. Some nice sidewalk cafes, restaurants etc. but not too many tourists in general.

We had a couple guide books, but we used them sparingly. We bought chocolates at a place my book recommended, once, and went to a department store that was a must, apparently, and so on. But more enjoyable was just going into restaurants that looked good and eating, and that sort of thing.

One advantage of doing that is you avoid masses of tourists and can convince yourself you’re having a more authentic experience. Not speaking French was no real problem. Everyone we encountered was helpful and friendly.

One disadvantage of choosing restaurants that way – just walking in – is that you don’t always end up eating in a good restaurant. Turns out the Phuc Yieu Vietnamese restaurant (name changed) where I had the Bouef avec ecoli was not only empty of tourists, it was pretty empty of non-tourists as well, and for a reason. The Moroccan place we ate at was so-so.


Here is Notre Dame. It was, more or less, across the Seine from our hotel, so we walked past it a lot. We also went inside once and looked around. There was no line when we went, but there was every other time we went past.

It is covered with gargoyles and saints. It looks too delicate to stand, but it stands.


Here is the Seine. I was standing on a bridge when I took the picture. It was evening. What were we doing? I don’t remember. Walking around being romantic, perhaps. On our way back from the Moulin Rouge, maybe, although I think it was darker when that was over.

The Moulin Rouge convinced me of several things. First, that I need an appointment for new glasses. We had dinner there, during which instead of women dancing around on stage there is a lounge act, a man and a woman singing, and a trio (drums, bass, keyboards, sax, guitar, quintette I guess) playing.

And it’s very well-done lounge music, but lounge music, right? The male singer had something on his head. What the hell does he have on his head, I asked Alpha.

His hair, she replied. Apparently he had a little Afro.

The Moulin Rouge was very good, I highly recommend it, it does a great job of being what it is. The waiters are extremely efficient and professional, the food is okay, but the audience was the usual mix of okay and rubes. Also too many brought their small children (WTF?).


Here we are under a bridge. On our last day in Paris we had lunch on a bench near this bridge and observed a middle-aged couple kissing. They leaned up against the wall and kissed passionately. I figured they weren’t married to each other. My wife figured the woman was the man’s wife’s best friend.


I like it when you can see the moon during the day.


The front of Notre Dame.


The Eiffel Tower is awesome. But the lines are really long, so we didn’t go inside.


The Louvre is also awesome. Long lines, too. By the time we got there (it was a hot day and we were tired from walking, or at least I was) I wasn’t up to dealing with lines so we just looked at it from outside and underneath. Underneath, above where Mary is interred in the DaVinci Code, is a Starbucks.


See? There is also a McDonalds.


One of the best things we did while we were in Paris, besides walk around, was have dinner on a boat going around on the Seine one evening. It was romantic. We had a good table. The food was good. It was expensive, but so what. Not that expensive.


The Eiffel Tower is awesome.


Here are some gargoyles on the Notre Dame.


Shakespeare and Company was smaller than I had expected, although I had expected it to be small. Still, it was nice to see it. Across the street is the Seine. There are lots of stands along the wall by the Seine, green stands selling postcards and souvenirs and books and so on. I got Gamma a snowglobe with an Eiffel Tower in it, and some postcards.


There is a church next to the Ministry of Justice. To get there you have to pass through a metal detector and let your bag be x-rayed. Inside the church are many stained glass windows. Please note that there is an upstairs and most of the coolest windows are up there. We didn’t realize that and nearly left. This window here is something-something Apocalypse, so I took a picture of it.


I took this picture by accident too, because I liked the light so much.