Friday, February 27, 2009

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Pictures from the Patinoire

Saturday evening we went to see William at skating practice at the little rink at Super-Besse. He's quite good at spinning!
I work long days myself, but it's hard to imagine having the energy for an hour's workout on the ice after a long, long day running the tubing run on the slopes.

I hope this means that the fad for stuffing the local wildlife and putting it on display is finally on its way out. This badger, in spite of being the mascot of the local hockey team, is tucked away on top of the showcase, way down the hall, facing the corner. Dusty and sad, nobody thinks much of it. And perhaps they will not ever think to replace it with a new unfortunate soul.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Marrakech 09 preview

I just love bureaucracy. I love it.
I'm going to Marrakech on business next month. From Clermont there are no regular direct flights, but there are charters, and it's about a 2-hour flight.
Instead, it will take me 10. Because we have to start out by going exactly the wrong direction, to Paris. Wait around there. Then to Casablanca to wait again, and finally to Marrakech. And this is the good itinerary - the first one had us changing airports in Paris, at rush hour.
The wait in Paris is just the usual boring irritation, but the wait in Casablanca is really mean. At about 3 hours each way, it's long enough to be noticably long, but not long enough to take a day trip into a fascinating city I've never been to. Arrrr!
And I'm sure I'll have happy company, too. My boss is bringing his wife along, only, her tickets had to be arranged separately (the government agency sending us is buying our tickets for us - no choice there): she couldn't get our flight, we couldn't change to hers. No way am I trading tickets and crossing Paris on a bus at rush hour (not that you can do that these secure-flying days)! So my boss will have me for company and not her.
I just hope this whole thing comes off smoothly.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Winter Tree Portraits

I want to quit my job and become a tree portraitist.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Dissertation Angst, last phase

This is it.
The day.
There will be no more changing the slides, only worries about the projector working. M-L went over to the Dissertation Room in the main building, and is not satisfied with the image quality from the provided machine, and so is both A) bringing her dad's, and B) asking me to bring one from the lab. Whatever happens, there will be a projector.
Then you can always worry about the jury getting here. We're required to have 'reporting' members of the jury, that do not belong to our university. Since there's only one U in town, that means the reporters have to travel from Lyon and Paris or wherever we find reporters willing to do this. (And their shoes have to be the right size, but we discussed that elsewhere.) There is no train strike today. Good. But some idiot could shoot at the train. That happened just two weeks ago: some fool took their hunting rifle and shot the Paris-Clermont train. No injuries, thank goodness, but it took out the whole front window so they had to change engines.
But these are minor concerns.
What if the jury hates your dissertation?
What if they think you're lame and stupid and unworthy?
What if all this time you were just dreaming you were getting a PhD, and were mistaken about the whole thing?
What if they say No?
It could happen. They're allowed to. Ain't over till it's over.
No, no, no. It's okay. If the jury had any serious concerns they would have contacted me or my boss to talk it over. They would have raised such concerns in their comments on the text, which we received and dealt with weeks ago. There was nothing worrisome in there. Really: No grad student is allowed to stand up and give their talk without everybody being fully content that this is a last formality.
Once you're on the far side of your degree, you see this is true. In these last hours, it's a rare student who can be convinced.

only..... only now I'm getting nervous too. I remember M-L told me she had all the necessary paperwork, but what if there's something missing? What if there's a paper she didn't know you had to have? The office where you get such forms is closed for lunch. What if the person normally in that office is on vacation today? And who puts out the cups and bottles of water for the jury in the Dissertation Room? Is that up to me? errrr....

And now that it's over, everybody smiles!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Snicker snack

For more than a week now I've been noticing the disappearing rose bushes. All over my neighborhood, roses have been cut down to sad stumps, a clear indication that it must be Rose Trimming Time.
So this is what they mean by "very early spring". A note has been made to recalibrate my calender.
This is part of the front yard at 2:30 Sunday afternoon. Sorry; there are no pretty shots of my front yard in the winter. And the neighbor is parked where he always does instead of in his monstrous driveway.
This is kind of fun. Those blades just go snick snick right through an inch of wood.
One nice Fiskars, one pile of debris later, here's the new yard. Now my neighbor will be able to park with even greater ease in front of my house, without huge rose branches reaching out into the road to scratch his pretty. Come the real spring, my refreshed roses will leap up and give lots of pink, red, yellow and red-orange blossoms. I might even get so inspired by all the beauty that I get off my duff and paint the stairs.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Ireland crushes Italy at rugby

After Italy leading 6-0 and then 9-7, the final score was 9-38 for the men in green. But let us not think there was only one winner and one loser. Let's give out some other awards.
Worst facial hair: Paul Griffen (Italy). Those chops would do better in the 18th century.
Least hair: Peter Stringer (Ireland)
Best Caveman look: Martin Castrogiovannini (Italy). This guy gives France's Sebastian Chabal a run for Best Caveman in the whole league.
Scariest face at the end of the match: Gonzalo Canale (Italy) and one of the Wallaces (Ireland) tie for this honor. For the scariest face at the beginning of the game, the Irish team takes an ensemble win - just look at all those off-kilter noses, rearranged brows, and interesting ears.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Hérisson, bis

I was mentally all set to spend the weekend at a friends' place in the snow-covered countryside, hiking and photographing and making fun of Maurice, when yesterday Jérôme stopped by to say, well, they've moved his neice's birthday party and we'll have to reschedule.


But whatever shall I do with my weekend?

Was it not just a few days ago that I declared the village of Hérisson a must-go destination? Golden idea!

Hérisson is north of here; north of Vichy and not far from Montluçon, not so far north as Nevers on the Loire river.
Hérisson is north of here; north of Vichy and not far from Montluçon, not so far north as Nevers on the Loire river.
The national train company, the SNCF, has never heard of Hérisson. Not surprising. It's too small and inconvenient a place to have a railway station. Unfortunately, long-range bus services have no general database of destinations. You have to guess a good town to start from, find their bus station's website (if it has one), and try rather randomly to find a bus that goes where you want (not a problem if the bus ends in the village of interest, but if it's a stop along a route, you may have to look through all the routes and even then it might not be obvious). So this getting to Hérisson is not so easy.

After a good hour of messing around on the internet, I utterly fail to identify any public transportation at all serving my spiky village of interest and its ruined castle.
Ah, but it does appear to be just 10km from Cosne. The train to Paris whizzes through the Cosne station; you can read the sign if you swing your head just so at just the right time. There must be a local train that stops there. Back to the SNCF. They’ve got one Cosne: Cosne-sur-Loire. Ah, the one I need is Cosne-d’Allier.

Looking at websites for Hérisson itself rather than transportation that might go there, I might find a tourism site that has a ‘How to get there’ section. Yes, yes, here’s one now. You get there by car.
I get so tired of this car-centric world.

But wait, there’s a rail line not far away, passing through Nassigny, a hikable distance. A rail, but no stop. I could jump.

Arrr. Foiled at every turn.
Looks like I’ll have to join the car people. With spur-of-the-moment rentals at 100+ euros, Hérisson will wait for some other weekend.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

One year later

Hard to believe it's been a full year since I started this blog. The exact anniversary passed without note - I was nodding off to sleep last night and it just occurred to me, hey, it's been a year and a few days now since things happened.

A year ago, my boyfriend of three-plus years mistook me for somebody I am most definitely not. I think if I were ever to post a near-naked picture of myself on the internet, I would own up to it and not crop the photo at the neck. But the associated personal ad was way out. That would be counting to five with holy hand grenades.

This incident and its aftermath resulted in the cutting-off of my daily communication fix. Suddenly I was adrift with no soulmate to talk to every day. Thus the blog. I can talk talk talk talk talk, and not expect the person I'm talking to to talk back right away. In the past year I've discovered the whole world of blogging. It's not just an online diary, though there are many blogs treated that way. There are serious things and funny things and gorgeous photography and strange things and I could spend the day hopping from site to site like visiting friends. And some of you have become my friends, and I'm very happy about that.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Speaking Differently

It's interesting how people's voices change when speaking a foreign language. You'd think my voice was my voice. But no; I have one voice in english and another in french. I can't hear the difference myself, but I'm sure you could.
I first noticed this phenomenon in my friend Iris. She lives in Paris, and between the two of us it's quite natural to speak english. Then she would speak french to another person, and it was like she had taken on a role. Her voice was definitely different, higher pitched. Not just the effect of making different sounds, or of paying more attention to the act of talking, or the simple fact of having an accent, but clearly a new voice. I'm not sure I'd have recognised her on the phone had she greeted me in french.
At first, I thought it was an affectation. This is me 'speaking french'. But no matter how fluent Iris is, and after 12 years of speaking french every day she's perfectly fluent, no matter how perfectly at ease she is in her second language, her voice changes to speak it.
And just now I heard the same thing with my french colleague speaking english, and it's true of almost all the bilingual people I know. It's not just an accent; it's a different tone and pitch and cadence. Interesting.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009


I have just learned from one of my favorite travel blogs that there is a town not far from here called "Hérisson". A town named Hedgehog! Gotta go!

Dissertation angst, part 3

It’s the little things that loom large as the days count down.
From here I can lean back and say, oh, don’t worry about that. Never mind. Nobody’s going to make a federal case of whatever.
From the other side, it looks like the smallest error can sink you, like a hole below the waterline, no matter how small. Didn’t change that comma on page 107? Rejected!
When I finished my own dissertation, I really went down to the wire with the written item. I already had a job lined up on the other side of the country. I had found The Day that my whole committee was available to hear my talk. I had given notice to leave my apartment. The movers were coming. So I had to finish.
There was no more delaying to clear up all the typos and train wreck phrasing, so the manuscript I handed around three days late to my committee was a little rough. Alright, on second glance a lot rougher that I’d hoped. Leafing through it a few days before my presentation, I went around apologizing profusely to all the poor souls who had to suffer through it, promising that the ‘real’ dissertation, the one handed in to the Graduate Office in duplicate on acid-free paper with all the margins just so, would be perfect. Every last letter fixed.
And Oliver told me: don’t bother. The only people who will ever read your dissertation are your committee members, and we already have. Nobody else cares.
And it’s true. So don’t sweat it.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Number Two: Brand X

Littermate of Mitten, Brand X stands out in catdom for his name. See, I had named the black dog Blackie (hey, I was seven; I hadn’t reached my creative peak yet), and Darrell had named the mittened cat Mitten, so Roger was obliged to do what he could to fight against the appalling tendency to Pedestrian Pet Names that was threatening to become permanently installed.

With cats since, I’ve always been conscientious about imagining the best cat name possible. Sometimes I’ve considered for weeks. Once I had to do research. And sometimes I’ve had to change when the cat acquired just didn’t fit. Usually the cat came pre-named and I let it be.

Brand X was an excellent cat, though image possibly had something to do with it. Cool vs ordinary; we’re so easily influenced. Like Mitten, he disappeared one day some months after his arrival.

Adieu, Brand X.