A fast Friday flip

Unsurprisingly, I’ve been busy since getting home — either busy or tired — so I haven’t had much to say here nor time to say it.

Tomorrow, Diane reads Torah during minyan services and I am giving a drash; she’s been preparing for weeks, and I’ve just barely started. Luckily, I get to do my part in English, but I’d better get to work!

Shabbat Shalom.

Powerful Facts

Susan points out that the LA Times has an
online calculator to help figure out what effect the rate increase approved by the California PUC will have. I just tried it on our most recent bill, and discovered that our bill would have been $2.68 higher, which doesn’t strike me as a strong encouragement to conserve. Our July bill would have gone up almost $4, which probably wouldn’t cause us to make big changes, either.

But our bill did come with a new motivation to conserve — we’re no longer exempt from rotating outages. Instead, we’re now proud members of Outage Block 7, so I guess we’ll get to do our part as the weather warms up.


I am at Charles de Gaulle Airport, waiting for them to call my flight for boarding. The Air France lounge offers free Internet access so I am updqting my page as best as I can zith this very unfamiliar keyboard arrangement. I walked around again this morning and took yet more pictures, but I will not be able to edit or upload them until I get home, which, if all goes well, will be in about 14 hours.

More then, perhaps…au revoir for now!

Last Tango…err, Walk…in Paris

This morning, I didn’t have to get up in time to make an 8am meeting; instead, I only had to get to the airport in time for a 1:30pm flight. So I slept a little later than I’d been able to, and still had time to have breakfast away from the hotel (and save some money — breakfast at my hotel cost over $20…no wonder they had smoked salmon freely available!).

I wandered around for a few minutes, then randomly chose a bistro and had a croissant, coffee, and juice. The only glass I had was the juice glass, which was only half-full, but they also brought me a big pitcher of water. I thought, perhaps, that they’d put concentrate in the glass and were expecting me to mix it, but when I tasted the juice, it didn’t seem particularly strong. I guess that’s just going to be a mystery of French culture I won’t solve on this trip.

I didn’t have anything to read, and I was on a side street without much pedestrian traffic, so there wasn’t much to look at out the window, so I didn’t linger; I continued to wander around. And a few blocks later, I finally found some real Paris — a neighborhood with bakeries, greengrocers, and the like.

real Paris:

Up till this time, all I’d seen around my hotel was “tourist” Paris — the big department stores, some stores (like one called Paris Look) which explicitly catered to bus groups, and plenty of restaurants and entertainments. On my previous trips, my hotels had been in more residential areas, and so I’d been immersed in the real Paris; this time, I felt isolated.

I celebrated by buying an orange from the closest greengrocer and eating it while I continued walking, then had some pain au chocolat from the next baker I saw. Both were excellent. I even visited another bistro and had another expresso — while it was good, I have to admit that I would have liked to have found an American-style coffee shops and had a big cup of coffee.

And then I kept walking, and found myself at the edge of Montmartre, not far from the tour I’d taken on Sunday morning. The economy must be very good in Paris, because the restaurants all had signs like this:


and some of the prices seemed a bit high:

le joy:

10 euros for a Coke…that’s over $9. One might almost think they didn’t expect to sell much food and drink — but all of the restaurants on that street had similar signs, so I guess they must make ends meet somehow. The street was the Rue Pigalle, for what that’s worth.

Since I didn’t want anything that was on offer on Rue Pigalle, I walked back to the hotel, packed, and wheeled my luggage back to Rue Scribe to get the bus to the airport. But as I left the hotel, the tread on one of the wheels partially fell off; I was able to fix it,though, so I didn’t have to drag my suitcase half a kilometer — and it didn’t even start raining until I was at the bus shelter.

Then onto the bus to the airport and duty-free shop, then the Air France lounge for my first experience with an AZERTY keyboard, and onto the plane, where I’m typing these words. Soon, I get to experience the new SFO International terminal’s arrivals hall, see what precautions US Customs is taking about the foot and mouth epidemic (France seemed to go in for signs, but nothing else — there was a sign at the terminal advising people to walk on the specially-treated carpet, but as far as I could tell, there was no specially-treated carpet anywhere), and be driven home, where I’ll upload this entry.

Then all I’ll have to do is keep my eyes propped open until bedtime tonight. And worse yet, open them and go to work tomorrow, where I already have a few conference calls scheduled.

I’m ready for vacation…hmmm, Paris might be nice….

And now I’m home!

Boy, it’s nice to be back in familiar territory. Nobody else is here yet, but it won’t be long. I can’t wait!

Cafeteria food — oh, well….

Lunch was an interesting experience today; I had a hard time finding something I wanted to eat (not unusual when I’m eating at an IBM cafeteria, even at home!), but I thought I’d succeeded…until I cut into the meat and discovered that it was nearly raw on the inside. The only reason I’d gone to the cafeteria in the first place was to spend time with some of my colleagues, so I didn’t want to waste the little time we had by going back and trying to negotiate having the food cooked right.

But I may bail out at a break and visit a real restaurant. There isn’t really a shortage of them in Paris — or even at La Defense (which is a huge office supercomplex, much like Crystal City outside Washington, DC). I am looking forward to dinner — and even more to going home tomorrow.

I stuck with the meeting to the bitter end, then paid for it by being in the thick of rush hour on the RER — one of my co-workers couldn’t get to the door across the car in time to get off at his stop, which, to me, is a sign of a frighteningly overcrowded system, but it appears to be business as usual here.

Then I walked down to the Louvre, wandered over to the Seine, and walked along it till I approached the Marais, then back to L’As Du Falaffel for dinner (yummy, especially after lunch!). By that time, it was raining, so I took the Metro back to the hotel, and now it’s time to pack. And then to home. It’s time.

The life of an industrial spy

For the next couple of days, I’ll be spending my time at the IBM location in La Defense, two RER stops from my hotel but definitely not in tourist Paris. I’m at an IBM internal meeting; everyone here works for the CIO’s office or is an official representative from a business unit. Well, everyone but me; I introduced myself as a spy, since my group is not at the right level in the organization to be officially represented.

The good news is that I have connectivity here without having to watch the phone bill; the bad news is that I’m inside a windowless auditorium instead of outside enjoying Paris!

About 30 of us converged for dinner at
Sam Pepper, which claims to be a “New York Bistro”, and which has an interesting assortment of cuisines, including things like Pastrami Quesadillas. None of the beers on offer were French — or even European; they had three Mexican beers and Budweiser, so I had Bordeaux instead. And I ordered one of the set menus, which was all French and very tasty, especially the dessert: Fondant au Chocolate Amer. The neighborhood was very familiar — in fact, Sam Pepper is across the street from the laundromat which we used on our vacation in 1998, though we never considered eating there on that trip.

Two great things to do in Paris

Of course I mean eating and walking. If I weren’t here by myself, there would be at least one other thing to add to the list, but I am, more’s the pity — c’est la vie.

Last night, after buttoning up the computer, I realized I was slightly hungry, so I left my hotel, turned left down the Boulevard Haussmann and continued on as it turned into Boulevard Montmartre, eventually deciding to turn around just before reaching Place de la République. I spotted a creperie and got a crepe with marmalade to go, then took the Metro back to the hotel. One of the things I really enjoy about Paris is being able to take a nice walk and have a nice snack at 11pm — or even later, if I only had the energy.

This morning dawned early, and only slightly wet. The Louvre and Musee de Orsay had been closed yesterday due to a strike, and no one knew if they’d be open today (the hotel called and got no answer, but they weren’t sure if it was because of the strike, the time change, or both). I didn’t want to waste my only full free day hoping to find an open museum, so I decided to see if I could make the Paris Walks tour of Montmartre that the Mercury News had so kindly written about last Sunday. The article had omitted small details, like the time of the tour, but they gave the phone number (+33 1 48 09 21 40). The person who answered the phone didn’t bother saying “bonjour” — their clientele speaks English, and so do they. As it happened, I had about a half-hour before the tour, so I dashed to the Metro and made it to the Abbesses stop with ten minutes to spare.

Our guide, Iris, came from the Bronx and had been in Paris for about three years, with no plans to leave. She took us on a two-hour walk through Montmartre, mostly up! Unfortunately, it was cold and raining the entire time (and I’d forgotten to bring my sweater), so I wasn’t able to take as many pictures as I’d’ve liked to (those of you reading this page on a dial-up connection may be grateful).

We started by talking about the history of the district (even though there are churches in the area dating to the 12th Century, Montmartre wasn’t annexed to Paris until about 1860), then walked along Rue des Abbesses, where we stopped near the house where Van Gogh lived with his brother. I couldn’t get a picture of that house, but one of his neighbors was Toulouse Lautrec, who worked in a house about two blocks away (Lautrec’s house is the one behind the traffic light, with the “D”-shaped top window and the very large window beneath that):

lautrec house:  The house where Toulouse Lautrec worked is the one with the big picture window one floor down and the 'D' on the top floor.

We continued on our way towards Sacre-Coeur, with many stops along the way; at one, Iris told us the story behind this picture:

through walls:

The statue, at Place Marcel Aymé, is based on a story by Marcel Aymé about a mild-mannered man who discovers that he can walk through walls. Eventually, he builds a life of crime on this talent, uses it to escape from prison, finds a lover whose husband locks her in a room with no windows every night (no problem for this guy!), but then loses his power while leaving her one night.


Our tour ended at Sacre-Coeur; most of the way, we’d been by ourselves, but here we returned to Tourist Paris, loaded with postcard vendors and overpriced restaurants. The view was good, but I bet it’s spectacular on a clear day.

paris from sacre-coeur:

The Mercury News article recommended spending the rest of the day wandering around Montmartre on your own, and even suggested a few cafés to try, but I was cold and wanted to go back to the hotel.

Once there, I grabbed my sweater and set out again; after a quick lunch (how un-Parisian of me!), I joined my second Paris Walks tour of the day, this one through the Marais.

The Marais is one of the oldest sections of Paris; the name means “swamp”, but it’s been drained for centuries. And it’s the heart of Paris’s Jewish community.

synagogue de Rue Pavee:

This is the Synagogue de Rue Pavee (this was the first paved street in the Marais, hence the name). It was built in 1913 to handle the influx of Polish Jews fleeing the pogroms; after World War II, the congregation was replentished with Sephardic Jews from the former French colonies in North Africa.

by Guimard:

Hector Guimard was the architect; he is probably more famous for having been the man who designed many of the original Metro stations.

parce que nes Juifs:

During World War II, the Nazis attempted to exterminate the Jews in the territory they controlled, and the Vichy government, which controlled Paris, cooperated in that attempt. This plaque is on the wall of the Ecole des Travail, in memory of the director, staff, and students of the school, all of whom were sent to Auschwitz where they were killed.


But, though the Nazis killed six million Jews, they failed to exterminate us, and there is now a large, vibrant Jewish community in Paris. Falafel and shwarma probably weren’t common before the war, but they are now, and seeing this shop gave me a pretty good idea of what I was going to have for dinner (though I wound up eating across the street at L’As du Fallafel).


There are Kosher (err…Cacher) restaurants representing many cuisines in the area; I saw sushi, pizza, and steak, to name but three. And, of course, there’s New York style deli; this restaurant, Jo Goldenberg’s, isn’t actually Kosher, but it’s noteworthy because it was the site of a bombing in the 1980s. You can see a memorial to the victims, including newspaper articles about the bombing, on the rightmost portion of the left-hand wall, just to the left of the center of the picture.

hotel des sorbes:

There’s more to the Marais than the Jewish community, and we continued onward to look at some of the old mansions which have survived (many have had their courtyards filled in and been converted to apartments, stores, and the like). The Hotel des Sorbes (I may have misspelled that) is now part of the National Archives; it was owned by one of Louis XIV’s official mistresses.

louis xiv:

Only one statue of Louis XIV survived the French Revolution; it’s now in the Museum of the City of Paris.

Our tour ended at the Place de Vosges, a huge square dating back to Henri II (or before). I took pictures, but they don’t do it justice.

If you’re going to be in Paris, I highly recommend Paris Walks; they offer many more tours than the two I took, and I wish I could take some more on this trip.

After the tour, I visited some of the Judaica shops (I saw more Judaica in the Marais than I did on my trip to Israel last week; of course, I also spent more time touring this afternoon than I did during my entire trip to Israel) and picked up a Matzah platter (inscribed in Hebrew, of course) and had dinner. I tried to visit the Jewish Museum, but there were only 15 minutes before closing and they wouldn’t let me in, so I went back to my hotel.

Daylight Savings Time started here this morning, and it felt too early to give up and do e-mail, so I decided to do one traditional tourist thing and visit the Eiffel Tower.

The last time I was here, the front of the tower was adorned with a giant countdown to the year 2000; fortunately, that particular problem is behind us, and I was curious to see what the tower looked like without the timer, so I took the Metro to the Trocadero to take advantage of the view of the tower from across the Seine:

eiffel tower:

But some unsung genius, probably in the city government, decided that the Eiffel Tower wasn’t beautiful enough as it was. So they affixed a bunch of strobe lights which started flashing on and off in random patterns shortly before 8pm, like this:

eiffel tower with sparkles:

No one asked me, but I don’t think the tower needed improving — and they didn’t succeed, either.

I didn’t come to Paris to play tourist; I’m here for two days of internal IBM meetings out at La Defense. I’d like to blow them off and tour some more, but I’d probably be found out (hi, boss!), but I hope to do a little sightseeing in the evenings after the meetings end. If I can stay awake, that is — we’re starting awfully early, and I have a feeling the room is going to be hot, stuffy, and full. At least it’ll be a non-smoking hot, stuffy, and full room.

Though I have to admit, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how well Parisians honor no-smoking signs. Why, I haven’t seen anyone smoking within nearly a foot of any of the signs I’ve seen!

And on that note, it’s time for bed…or maybe to go out for a snack. It’s only 11pm, so the evening’s still young!