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October 31, 2006

Short stories

Wired had an article about very very short stories. Apparently Hemingway felt his best work ever was;

'For sale: baby shoes, never worn.'

Wired asked a bunch of modern writers (including William Shatner?) to have a go, and to write something with six or less words. There were some pretty good ones, and some not so good ones, although Mr Hemingway's was still head & shoulders above them all (ok, as a fan I'm a bit biased). Hmm, on writing that I'd just like to curse a certain shampoo brand...

Anyway, while waiting for my laundry to finish (took quite a while as the machine kept breaking down), I had a go myself. The Wired article was mainly for sci fi, but I thought I'd broaden my topics a little;

Romance:
'Hate you! Ah, no, love you.'

Sci Fi:
'Time travel, carreful what du chângchinese.gif'

Historical:
'Damn you Admiral! Hard to starboard...'

Crime thriller:
'A clue? Dashing detective, that's you!'

Hollywood file
'Captured! Run around, big explosion, free!'

Misc:
'Look out Scooby doo! Meddling kids!'

Seems I'm a bit partial to exclamation marks, and I wonder if using apostrophes is cheating?
Still no Hemingway beaters, although I'll save the last for one from Wired's article, which was Joss Whedon's (Buffy creator);

'Gown removed carelessly. Head, less so.'



October 30, 2006

How to be unpopular and influence your country

The Economist had an interesting cover this month (at least, the European issue did) - I'd better slip in a disclaimer here, it's not something I read, it just caught my eye amongst the naked breasts shown in the newspapers street vendors.

maggie.gif

The discussion of money, taxes and France often comes up, mainly because everyone is taxed up to the eyeballs here. The big topic is not why is everyone paying all these taxes, but about the doom and gloom that's forecast to happen in the near future if things don't change. The great socialist principles of France such as the pensions and amazing healthcare are all at risk because quite simply soon there will not be enough tax payers (we'll all be pensioners etc) to pay for all the services. It would take a brave government to create proper reform in France when the slightest move results in strikes throughout the country. A leader will have to be popular enough to be elected, and yet make these unpopular decisions. I've no idea how Thatcher managed it, since I was too young to really know what was going on. Somehow though it's hard to see France taking the same route as Britain...




October 25, 2006

Learning to speak french

It dawned on me the other day that my french has now reached another landmark stage. I've now lost my self consciousness in speaking horrendous french to anyone, which was probably the biggest barrier to actually getting on and learning french. Actually I think it happened quite a while ago, but I hadn't noticed that I was no longer struggling. Doing the courses and bookwork is all ok, but really the only way to learn is to be in the situation where you just *have* to speak french, and there's no english safety net underneath. Everyone I know who's french speaks very good english, and while they're all very happy to let me flounder around in french, it usually breaks down to the point where we're speaking english again.

That also included most of my office bound life here - for the first couple of years here I was in the employ of someone else, rather than being my own boss (thank goodness those days are over!), and the company, while being french, was very very anglophone. In general everyone spoke english, although that didn't please everyone - there was one engineer in particular who hammer his fists on the desk shouting 'Français! Français!' when the meeting was moving a bit fast for him. Maybe not the most subtle method of showing your disproval, but I did feel for him slightly. I couldn't imagine being in a company back in the UK where we'd have to speak french or japanese or something in meetings. So, for those first two years, I spoke hardly any french.

Working for myself now means I have to speak a lot more french. Also generally there seems to be something or other to sort out over the phone (electricity being cut off, water leaks, etc!), and it's all going very smoothly.

Mind you, all that is mostly formal conversations with business partners, utility companies etc, and the next step is to get to grips with proper conversational french. Fast slang-filled conversations with half dozen people in a noisy bar type conversations. It's close, but not that close. I can now think on my feet quickly and come up with alternative phrasing when I don't know a certain word, but there's still a lot of words I don't know. The other day there was three of us playing tennis, and I wanted to say 'winner stays on'. The literal translation didn't seem to be understood, and I couldn't think quickly of an alternative, so I gawped blankly for a bit instead.

I think I'm in a bit of a no-mans land with the learning process though - I need more learning, but the local classes only concentrate on verb conjugation and tenses etc. I'm past that but still below any vague pretension to fluency. The only way forward now is just learning as you go...

October 17, 2006

Currency

More big gaps between blog entries. No excuse - I'm just lazy...


I was with an english friend in the pub the other day, and we were talking about the euro currency, and how the British people have stubbornly refused it. The conversation had arisen drunkenly about the merits of democracy and whether referendums embodied democracy or not. An example was that the British had decided that they didn't want the euro currency because it would be a loss of identity rather than any great economic decision.

This lead on to pointing out how GB was actually smack in the middle of the coin, and if that wasn't a sign of being the centre of europe, then what was?

eurocoin.jpg

However, since we were drunk, the conversation also covered the fact that because Norway was not in the EU, and missing from the coin, it made Sweden and Finland look like meat and two veg (actually in looking for a pic of a coin, I found someone who'd handily produced the pic above!).

Clearly a referendum didn't help here. You can imagine the voting cards - 'Citizens of Finland, No to European Currency or Yes to being the balls of Europe'...

October 9, 2006

No Smoke zone

So it's finally coming - France is to ban smoking from public areas;

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/6032125.stm

It wasn't unexpected with the other big european countries already banning smoking or well on their way to it, but most people I've talked to never expected the day to come.

France is probably going to struggle though, even though that news item above says that 70% of french are in favour of the ban. Smoking here, especially amongst the young, seems to be a national requirement rather than a choice. I'm not anti smoking and have no problems with people smoking around me, but sometimes in bars here it can get so intense here that it becomes unbearable.

It'll be interesting if we see any demonstrations. Actually it'll be more interesting if we *don't* see any - if motorcyclists can demonstrate against police charging them for riding on pavements, then anything goes really...

October 2, 2006

pick n mix

Just a bits & pieces post today. I thought I'd clear out the photos from my phone and stick some of the more pointless ones here.

Now that I'm living nice and centrally, even during a quick pop to the shops you end up seeing what's going on in the town center. Several times I've found the streets all blocked off by police and a general anticipation of something coming down the road. I figured that it'll probably be a big demonstration or parade for some good cause. However, so far they don't seem to be either.

bikes.jpg

This one is just lots of motorbikes. That's it, just loads of motorbikes. Even the police motorbikes were joining in, with lots of revving and blowing whistles (why whistles? No idea, maybe it's a Hells Angels thing). Some of the others I've seen have been just big rave parades. Not a good cause in sight - just lots of people making lots of noise (*sigh* how old do I sound!).

This next pic is a fountain at the pyramid in the Louvre. I'd not noticed it before, so I think it's new. It might not be new of course, and I've been walking round with my eyes shut. The old fountains didn't have all that misty stuff around it...

fountain.jpg

Then this one is of a cake. I once ordered it at a restaurant thinking it sounded really exotic - it's pain d'epice, or 'spicy cake'. I love cinnamonny things, so was in hope that it would be utterly overladen with the stuff, but when it came it looked like this;

paindepice.jpg

Back home in Sheffield we call it 'parkin'. Basically, cheap as dirt, gooey treacle cake. About as exotic as egg'n'chips. To make things even worse they even served it with 'créme anglais', which is the french idea of what custard should be like. They make it as a thin runny vanilla sauce, whch is about as far from custard as you can get. Real custard should be nice and thick with a heavy skin on top. Just like they did at school.

Finally, here's a pic of the roller blade tour. Every friday and sunday they block of loads of streets and thousands of people charge along on roller blades. This is obviously the sunday one, since it's in the daylight (the Friday one goes from 10pm to about 2am), and is mainly for the not so good roller donors;

rollerblade.jpg

Definitely worth seeing if you just happen to be on the route (which seems to change each week). Especially the Friday night one, since it's amazing to see such a huge crowd pour past at great speed...