Sunday, November 27, 2005

Sign of the Day

Those Brits, always known for a keen sense of discretion

Nov 27 - In Minnesota...

Here I am again, after a lonnng dry stretch of no journal entries. Yesterday while having lunch with Lauren I joked that the big gap was for dramatic pause, like the cliffhanger at the end of a Batman episode. But in reality I've just had so much on my mind that I couldn't even narrow down what I wanted to write about ..... Leaving France, returning to the US, figuring out how to keep my favorite habits alive here (like buying meat fresh from a butcher, not out of a plastic-wrapped tray) and trying to find again what I love about home (like long rambling conversations) has occupied most of my time.

I guess I'll be doing that for awhile. How long does it take to leave a country once you've lived in it and let it seep into your blood? Maybe a long time.

Keep tuned kids . . . . .

Well all that is rather weighty. So I keep myself in good spirits by purchasing tools. Nothing pleases the senses and soothes the soul like the weight of a good solid hammer in the palm of your hand. The tools are for my glass-working studio, which is coming into form bit by bit (or literally tool by tool). I've also bought several types of pliers for glass, and I'm waiting on the key item: my new glass cutter. It's coming in the mail. Once it's here I can get started.

Other than that I'm staying at home and spending a lot of time with Mom and John. Then I spent Thanksgiving with all of my aunts, uncles and cousins. It was so cool. I love coming back for that. My cousin Barb cooked a turkey for the first time AND managed to find the time to show me her own mosaic studio in the basement. Then we ate a grand feast and topped off the evening with horrible Happy Birthday songs that were as off-tune as piano strings being trampled by a buffalo, just like every year! ..... a ritual only the Bensons could love (or endure). We also had Dad over. I baked a lemon pie for him and we watched a documentary on TV about my own home town - Stillwater. Good solid family bonding.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Nov 14 - Last Day in Paris

Well, I'm pretty well packed up and ready to go. I'm a little spooked. Suddenly this seems like a big move. Yet most of our apartment remains the same, since Marco is staying here a couple more months, making it seem like we're not moving at all. Despite this, I'll probably never come back to this apartment again.

I've said goodbyes to our friends. The stained glass students a while back. Sebastian friday night, Marco's brother and wife and kids saturday night. Marco's school friends last night. So tonight Marco are going to eat dinner together tonight at our favorite tiny Brazilian restaurant just around the corner, where people are always smiling and singing in a little oasis in the middle of Paris. A happy place. A good place for a last night.

So to Paris, goodbye.

And to Minnesota, California, Hawaii and the US.....I'll see you tomorrow.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Sign of the Day


Nov 13 - One Day Left

Yeah, one day left. I leave early Tuesday morning, so that really only leaves tomorrow here in Paris. Sometimes I've been impatient to leave Paris, but now it seems strange. I've been saying my goodbyes and packing.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Sign of the Day


Smork outside...

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Nov 10 - The Legendary Semen Truck

Heh heh heh, well I'm taking a quick detour into girly immaturity. This is all DIRECTLY the fault of yesterday's Sign of the Day.

In my response to the comments at the bottom of yesterday's Sign of the Day entry, I mentioned the most eye-popping of unusual signs -- the illustrious Semen Truck of Indonesia.

This thing is like the yeti or the Lochness Monster. Why? Even in Indonesia I knew this would be a memorable sight to capture on film and bring back as an exotic sight from a far land for everyone to chuckle at with the guilty pleasure of hidden immaturity. But every time we passed one of these trucks on the road I NEVER had my camera. NEVER!!

So in frustration I came home empty handed. Not one picture.

Forward five years later. Except for brief moments of chuckling to myself from sudden recollection, I'd largely forgetten about the Semen Truck. Until Shelley's comment yesterday made me think of it again. SO, I set out to finally find a picture of this dang truck on the internet. Everything's on Google right?

Well, no. NOBODY seems to have captured this on film. ...... Well almost.

All I got was this one, blurry, tiny black-&-white photo. This is the tanker truck fleet of the one-and-only Semen Gresik, Indonesia's leading producer of semen (or as we call it in English....cement.)

Even funnier, while searching for this I came across loads of American and European business articles discussing the financial goings-on of Indonesia's "Semen Industry". An excerpt from Yahoo news reports:

Indonesia's Semen Gresik To Build New Cement Factory

JAKARTA, Nov 1 Asia Pulse - State-owned cement maker PT Semen Gresik (JSX:SMGR) in East Java will soon build a new cement factory with an annual capacity of 2.5 million tons.

Sugiharto said in principle the government has encouraged PT Semen Gresik to carry out its plan.

PT Semen Gresik with three factories in operation in Tuban has an annual production capacity of 6.9 million tons, including its subsidiaries PT Semen Padang with an annual capacity of 5.57 million tons in West Sumatra and PT Semen Tonasa in South Sulawesi with an annual capacity 3.48 million tons. The Gresik Group is the largest cement producer in the country.

Sign of the Day (aka They Named it What?)

The rise of dawn....
(this store is in... where else?.... Japan. But, no joke, I think I ACTUALLY saw a branch in Singapore)

Nov 9 - French and Muslims

I talked to Marco on the phone yesterday. He's in Colorado. He said that a lot of people are talking about the Paris riots, and a common view in the US (and probably elsewhere) is that this is an opening for Al-Qaida and other Muslim extremist groups to gain support.

Well, maybe that's true. But part of that assumption leaves me a little cold. Why? For this reason: I lived in Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim country for half a year with a Muslim host family and nothing but Muslims all around me. And I've traveled in several Muslim countries (Malaysia, Tunisia, Lebanon) and I've even interacted with Muslims here in France. And what do I find? That most are warm, considerate people who practice Islam in a way that is very peaceful and constructive.

So, I ask this....why does a greater role for Muslim organizations automatically mean extremism? Perhaps these organizations can bring calm and hope to people in need. I saw many organizations in Indonesia that were as beneficial for the people they served as Habitat for Humanity or Red Cross (albeit smaller and less well-funded).

A second thing I thought since yesterday was that by emphasizing the rather abominable actions of the French government, we (myself included) may inadvertently paint yet another picture of the "Nasty Frenchman". Again, like above, people come in all sorts and there are loads of decent, dedicated and warm French people. I've seen them. I know many.

What I'm getting to here that I want to show everyone this excerpt from an NPR piece on today's All Things Considered. Just take a minute to read it. It's short but it shows the human side of both young Muslim men and average French folks. It's a story that deserves to get heard, because in a small way it defies the stereotypes I've mentioned above. It's more effective to listen, so if you can, click here Officials, Citizens Seek to Control Unrest in France. If not read the text. I transcribed it myself so hopefully not too many errors.

NPR's Michele Norris is interviewing Peter Ford, the British Chief European Correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor. Mr. Ford was just stating the French government has made no effort at street-level diplomacy, and that unfortunately the local police response has been rather heavy handed. And he continues from there:

Peter Ford: The sort of diplomacy that happens is happening on the streets is between community associations, between local municipal authorities, between mosques, for example, and the young people involved in this.

Michele Norris: I gather you saw an example of this in Grigny, a suburb outside of Paris where you spent some time.

Peter Ford: That’s very interesting. Grigny is very typical of the sort of place where violence has hit: heavy immigration, heavy unemployment, bad policy, substandard housing….a lot of arson and a lot of violence. The municipal authorities, the mosques and the communitiy organizations got themselves together and organized networks of ordinary citizens and municipal employees to basically reclaim the street. Some people were sent to each school, each municipal building like a swimming pool…and they slept there to dissuade arsonists from trying to break in and burn the places down

Young Muslim men from the mosques spent the nights wandering the streets and if they came across people who looked like they were going to be causing trouble, they tried to talk them out of it. Nuredeen, a young man I met, was an absolute epitomy of a young French Muslim: sandles, jilaba (spelling?), jersey on top of that, woolen hat, checkered kefir (spelling?) on his head. He bumped into a guy in a hooded sweatshirt carrying a can of gasoline, and he talked him out of it. He said “you know, what is the point of burning the schools that our little brothers and sisters learn to read and write in? What is the point in burning your neighbor’s car, or the busses that we all need to go to work in?” And it worked.

And I find it frankly quite inspiring to find municipal employees guarding their schools. One of them said to me “we’re here as public servants…that’s our job to defend schools.” But to see a municipal gardener….or the dinner lady who serves lunch at the cantine in that school, sitting in this big gym of the primary school with all the lights blazing in the middle of the night defying the vandals to come and burn them down. It was really quite impressive.

Michele Norris: Peter Ford, thanks so much for talking to us.

Peter Ford: You’re welcome.

From Officials, Citizens Seek to Control Unrest in France, All Things Considered, November 8, 2005 (Click to hear the full article for yourself - it's about 4 minutes long)

Sign of the Day


Someone fell asleep on the keyboard ....

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Nov 8 - Paris Riots

Britt sent me an email today and asked about the Paris riots. So to let everyone know, I'm safe and I haven't actually seen any of this in my neighborhood. It's the same as ever here.

She asked about the underlying socio-economic dimensions of these riots, so for anyone who's curious about that I'll put a copy of my reponse to her here:

The train to the international airport goes through the rioting neighborhoods, so I've seen them from a distance, and there's no denial they are gut-wrenchingly depressing. I've often marveled at how hard it must be to live there. Imagine vast areas of concrete high-rises with no greenery, no color, trash, grafitti. Something seems so deeply grey and faded about these areas.

I think, therefore, that a certain aspect of urban planning is to blame. Concrete, crowding and isolation from the rest of French society that they are expected to "integrate" themselves into breeds despair, separation and animosity I believe. Well, it's basically a ghetto situation. The odd thing is that the government built these kinds of low-income housing projects all over the country, even in some fairly small towns. So you'll be out in the countryside and there's a charming little medieval town .... and it's got concrete highrises at the edge, near the big warehouse stores and car dealerships. Odd and incongruous to our American eyes. That's why the rioting has spread all over. It's a fairly uniform phenomenon accross the country, unlike in the US where violent low-income neighborhoods tend to be concentrated in big cities.

Also, though the government actually provides immigrants with a fairly decent services upon arrival (more than the US) they don't do very well in creating sustained opportunity and self-reliance for immigrants or low-income people in the long-term. In some ways you can blame the old-school socialist (or even feudal) way of seeing things here of government as a fatherly patron which doles out money but emphasizes self-reliance and independence less. After living here two years I've come to appreciate that side of the American government a little more. A lot of people here, especially immigrant young men, stay jobless and dependent, hence socially impotent and frusterated.

And finally, to add to that mix, I must admit that some French people can be horribly dirisive and critical towards outsiders. This opens a very complex realm of discussion and I don't want to blame all French people or leave their motives unacknowledged, that would take a LONG discussion. Suffice to say that when confronted with difference, OR with a stressful confrontation, a common French reaction is sharp criticism. We saw this from Interior Minister Sarkozy who on the first night of rioting called the angry youth "scum". Maybe softness and understanding will follow, but only later. Furthermore, c
ultural attitudes that we find in the US towards cultural and ethnic differences are not as common here, and even someone who is not "racist" persay may feel comfortable telling an Arab joke in a mixed group of people that includes Arabs. And some people repeat stereotypes fairly openly. At best there is a sort of cultural romanticism, hence the popularity of the image of the smiling black Caribbean plantation worker, or the old shopkeeper in a Moroccan medina, despite real-world racial tensions. Though romanticism is a notch up from criticism, it's not yet an aknowledgement of two cultures on equal ground.

I think for the immigrant (or son of immigrant, or even 3rd-generation French descendent of an immigrant) all this creates a perpetual paranoia that people around you are always assuming negative or stereotypical things about you. You feel put in a box. It's this paranoia that's the most tiring and agitating probably - always wondering if a store clerk was so sarcastic because you're North African for example. It's already tiring enough as an American sometimes, I have often shuddered at the thought of how it must be for many poor black and/or Muslim immigrants, who sad to say have even a more difficult image than Americans here.

It's really hard to delve into all this in 2-3 paragraphs. France is a nice place to live sometimes, and not great other times. But it's been interesting, and I've had no regrets.

Please everyone just remember -- just as the tragedy in New Orleans following Katrina does not mean all Americans are racist and ignorant of poverty, this tragedy does not mean all French are racist and ignorant of poverty either.

Sign of the Day


For those modern truckers who have made the convenient time-saving conversion to a combined stomach - gas tank unit

Monday, November 07, 2005

Nov 7 - Sign of the Day

A couple weeks back I posted a few funny signs that had been sent to me in a mass email.

Then the other day I squandered a few good hours looking up more funny signs. There seems to be a bottomless well of funny signs in the world.

Anyway, now I figure I should do something now with all the signs I've corralled onto my hard drive, so here goes, the first installation of Sign of the Day:

Excuse me, I'm looking for house number elevendy-seven...

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Nov 5 - Can't Wait to Get My Hands Busy!

Marco's been in Dallas and I finished my glassworking studies a few weeks back, so that means this week I've had a LOT of empty time on my hands the past few days.

I'm happy (and a bit surprised) to report that I've actually been a very productive girl. I've worked a lot on the set-up of my glassworking studio that I plan to start once I get to the US. In particular I used a program called Access to create a database of suppliers and products that I will need to buy. This allows me to easily compare prices and get the best deals. I've found lots of info on the internet. Know where to get the cheapest tube of Liquid Nails Clear Adhesive # LN 975? No? Well I do. I've got the info all right here....

The downside is I've been staring at a computer screen for hours on end, which I really dislike. Good thing the results look like they will be pretty useful.

I've found some interesting products I had never before heard of. There's the above-mentioned range of Liquid Nails adhesives, which bind all sorts of unlikely metals and woods and glasses together (good for mosaics?). There's ther Rolling Ruler which is a protractor, compass and ruler-on-wheels all-in-one. And the Badger Professional Airbrush, which paints on glass with all types of glass paints (sadly, however, replacing the time-worn yet beloved badger-hair brush, in use since about 1200 AD). I always got giddy in hardware stores since I was a kid, looking at all the stuff to work with. I can't believe it took me so long to realize how much I might like craftsman-type career. All the signs were there. I can't wait to get my studio up and running.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Nov 4 - So where HAVE I been?

A big move across continents and borders and cultures and climate zones and time zones and monetary zones is always a moment of reflection. As the move looms nearer on the horizon you think of where you've been, and where you hope to go.

I was walking in Luxembourg Gardens today (postponed to afternoon due to rain), and thinking about my rapidly approaching move back to the US. I thought about everywhere I've ever been, and I realized I had never actually written it down before.

So here it goes, a list of every country I've lived in and visited, plus major moves within the US. I left out vacations in the US or we'd be here all day..........

Age 0-18 - Minnesota, USA - born and raised
Age 14 - Mexico - 1 week - spring break with Mom
Age 16 - Australia - 1 month - school trip
Age 17 - the Cayman Islands (with Britt!) - 1 week - spring break
Age 18-19 - Australia - 10 months - lived the dream of an adolescent Australophile (again with Britt, on the banks of our lovely lagoon)
Age 18 - New Zealand - 2 weeks - trying to get Aussi student visa
Age 18 - New Zealand - 3 days - actually got Aussi student visa
Age 19 - New Zealand - 2 weeks - visited home of (then) Kiwi boyfriend
Age 20-22 - Madison, Wisconsin - 3 years - went to school
Age 21 - France - 3 weeks - 1st trip home with Marco
Age 22-23 - Java, Indonesia - 6 months - study abroad
Age 23 - Dallas, Texas - 6 months - kept Marco company when he began work at TI
Age 23-25 - San Diego, California - 2 years - lived a good life
Age 24 - Mexico - a couple times - short trips across border from San Diego, cuz' it's there
Age 25 - France - 3 weeks - 2nd trip home with Marco
Age 25 - France - 1 week - stopped by en route to Tunisia
Age 25 - Tunisia - 2 weeks - wedding and sightseeing
Age 25-26 - Singapore - 7 months - lived, did photography while Marco studied here
Age 25 - Malaysia - 5 days - sightseeing
Age 25 - Borneo (other part of Malaysia) - 1 week - climbed Mount Kinabalu!
Age 25 - Malaysia - 4 days - snorkling on Dayang Island in the South China Sea
Age 26 - Cambodia - 1 week - visited Angkor (cheap and uncrowded during SARS!)
Age 26 - Indonesia - 1 weekend - sunbathed on Bintan Island which barely counts as Indonesia, but was also nicely cheap and uncrowded thanks to SARS
Age 26 - Beirut, Lebanon - 10 days - wedding & sightseeing
Age 26-28 - France - 2 1/2 years - lived here with Marco, studied
Age 26 - Lisbon, Portugal - 5 days - visted home of Portuguese friend
Age 27 - London - 4 days - visited friends
Age 27 - Spain - 12 days - crossed Pyrenees mountains on foot, arrived in Spain
Age 27 - Minnesota, USA - three weeks - visited home
Age 27 - London- 1 weekend - visited friends
Age 27 - London - 1 weekend - got stamp in passport
Age 27 - Minnesota, USA - three weeks - visited home
Age 28 - Italy - 10 days - sightseeing
Age 28 - Minnesota, USA - 1 month - visited home
Age 28 - Italy - 4 days - wedding
Age 28 - London - 4 days - visited friends

And here we are to the present -- I'm typing in my apartment in the Latin Quarter of Paris on an autumn afternoon.

In 11 days I move again. I don't actually know where I'm going next. Part of me is ready to go home. Part of me never wants to leave the vast and wondrous world outside.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Nov 2 - Last France Road Trip

Well I've done it.....I bought my plane ticket back to the US. I arrive Nov 15th.

Marco and I did our last road trip to the south of France (for awhile at least). We went to the Southwest on the Atlantic coast and to a region called the Gers. The Gers is kinda like Minnesota - a far flung farm country that most people don't really know about. What I can tell you is that it's pretty. It's sunny. It has rolling hills with vinyards that produce a spirit called armagnac that is like cognac. It's full of old stone farms, pleasantly free of modern junk like cellphone antennas and factories like you find in Provence (a region I find WAY overhyped - heed my words American tourists!).

In France there are many extraordinary b&b's, but they are very cheap, even cheaper than a broken-down highway motel in the US. You find some memorable people and places if you stay in these places.

Sunday night we stayed in a 400-hundred-year-old house run by a guy who is a straggling remnant of a former aristocratic family. They once owned 10 homes but now they're down to one, which they almost sold. This guy is the last family member committed to keeping the ancestral home and he needs guests for the money. He cooked dinner himself for us and the four other guests, a good dinner, and we all ate it together at a looooooong carved oak dinner table, like in the movies. He served us wine and told family stories and showed us a hidden chapel built in the bookshelf (yes, in the bookshelf!) where his great-great-great-great grandfather secretly held mass during the French Revolution. The guy was a big hefty guy and was jolly and an excellent storyteller, not at all what you'd expect of a hoity-toity aristocrat. He looked more like a lumberjack. He was doing everything he could not to lose the family home. In a way he seemed sad and desperate not to lose his history.

The next day we went to the west coast of France, on the Atlantic. There the beaches are more or less wild, and have massive sand dunes that extend all along the coast. There had been a storm the night before and when we made it up and over the massive dune (taller than a 3-story building at least) we had a vast panorama of huge waves as far as the eye could see. They were far bigger than the waves we ever saw in California, and choppy and wild. Oh they roared! They crashed and exploded on the shore. We ran by the water and ran from the waves. The sun came out and for a day in October it was very warm. We only saw two other people on the beach. Then we walked along the crest of the sand dune, which is so high it gave us a long view over a curiously exotic-looking valley of a stream behind the dune (called L'Huchet).

But now we're back in Paris. Marco left to Dallas this morning for work, and from there he's going to Colorado to check out Boulder to see if we'd like it. He'll be gone a week. I think I'll be kinda lonely. By coincidence several of our other friends are gone during this week as well (two of them on a trip to New Zealand, lucky guys. Hearing their travel plans brought back memories. It's now almost been 10 years since I was there! Can't believe it!!) Anyway I hope I don't get too lonely. I can't stand Paris these days and it's easier to take when other people are around to keep me distracted. I'm thinking up activities to keep me occupied in the evenings. I think I'll knit a scarf.