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November 30, 2006

With the IT crowd

Looks like my blog has sunk to weekly entries. I've had nothing major to write about in the last week, but all the little tidbits seems to congeal together to be enough for a passable post, so here goes.

Firstly, hello Fiona! - When you find out friends from back in the UK are reading your banal blitherings, suddenly there's all this pressure to write something good! Oh well, perhaps just a hello will do instead :-)

Big event of this week was meeting the British ambassador John Holmes at the embassy. A friend (in the IT dept allegedly, despite training in picking locks and fast-track French lessons) has come to the end of his tour of duty there, and is heading back to the UK. The ambassador has a little drinks do to say goodbye, and my mate was able to invite a few of his non-embassy mates.

We were in the building next door to the main embassy, which is partly the residences there although I'm not quite sure what else as the only times before has been the footmen's party, which tends to be a drink to oblivion type party. So no coherent memories in other words. So, the other day we were all dressed smartly, and the surroundings were fabulous, and the ambassadors two labradors seemed very at home with amuse gueules...

So we all had a little chat, and it was all very nice indeed (no tea though).


Otherwise, it's been a quiet week. From today it should pick up a bit - tonight is clearing out the above mentioned friend's fridge of booze and a general lads night out on the town. Tomorrow is a blogger's party, which is the first I've been to (must find my cardigan with elbow patches and pipe), then a friend's housewarming party on Saturday, and finally the usual tennis on Sunday.



November 23, 2006

Düsseldorf

I've just got back from Düsseldorf, where I've been doing various businesslike things. This is about the fifth time I've been there, and it seems to be the only area of Germany that I ever end up in - not by choice particularly, but the work seems to have always lead me there. I really want to go to Berlin since *everyone* is saying how fantastic it is, but that's not happened yet.

One of the big reasons I love going to Düsseldorf is the nightlife and beer. Parisiens seem to want to drag out a glass of wine for the entire night, while Düsseldorfians have perfected the conveyor belt method of keeping a full glass of beer in front of all night! A waiter or waitress constantly patrols the bar with a tray full of 20cl glasses of beer. As soon as you've finished one, they swoop down and quickly replace it with a full one. No wasting time with receipts and additions, as they just make a mark on your beer mat, and at the end of the night count the number of notches to make the bill.

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There were a few times when we felt a bit ashamed of the fact that our beer mats were becoming more notches than mat, but it seemed we were in plenty of good company. There were even a few people who were onto the second or third beer mat.

Food is good too, although kinda heavy and meaty though. There is meat *everywhere*, even to the point of the vegetarian dishes still having meat in them;

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The picture is a bit blurry, but in the small print under Vegetable soup are the words 'with beef'. Of course, what kind of vegetable soup could respect itself in Germany without beef in it! So, for the entire time there we were fairly stuffed, but no complaints.

Finally, just to be infantile, here's a bar we found called the 'Bastard', which amused me greatly, although as you can see my brother didn't appreciate being photo'd in front of it...

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November 12, 2006

Dans le Noir

I was out with a friend last night, and we were exploring some of the local bars that I'd not been able to persuade anyone else to come and visit (getting someone to leave their quartier is like pulling teeth, honestly!). We headed up rue Quincampoix, which is just behind my road, and she pointed out a restaurant called 'Dans Le Noir'.

It didn't look too friendly, with all the windows completely blacked out, but apparently that's the whole point. The restaurant is literally in the dark, with everyone sitting in pitch blackness, unable to see even their plate in front of them.

She said when they went there, their group had consisted of friends of friends who they had not met, and they had arrived late. During the whole meal they hadn't a clue what the other people at the table looked like, and it wasn't until they emerged that they could finally see if the person had lived up to the imagined likeness.

It sounds bizarre, but probably worth a try. My first thought was that plenty of naughtiness must go on, and so it would probably be wise to sit boy girl boy girl. I then wondered if they banned smoking, since all those cigarettes would probably ruin the effect. Also it's probably not a good idea to order the spaghetti...

Update: I talked to another friend, and he said they had had a great experience there too. He had gone thinking it all sounded lame, which perhaps helped that he had expected the worst and then been surprised. They do ban smoking, and anything else that gives out light like cell phones etc, and he did say wear old clothes - apparently the hardest thing to do is pour the wine (and know when to stop, although to be honest I find that a problem even in the daylight, not that he probably meant the same thing). After the meal, as they emerged into the light, he wondered if everything would have a new vibrancy, but he found the opposite - everything seemed a bit duller somehow after the heightened experience in the darkness.

November 11, 2006

Bonfire of the brits

Last night was the annual bonfire night at the British embassy, which is a nice bit of home nostalgia - I suppose it's like how all the american expats feel obliged to inflict thanksgiving turkey on everyone here in celebration of something or other that happened in their country, so we try to introduce people to our celebration of torturing and executing a religous-political terrorist from way back when. It's a great night, and for the kids really. Lots of fireworks, burgers (sadly no baked potatoes though), and most importantly a big bonfire with an effigy of ol' Guy Fawkes burning away on top.

Ok, I'm making light of the gruesome roots of this little tradition, but it is a really great night (I'm not kidding about the effigy burning though). Even though it's obviously not as big an event as christmas, it's far more powerful at invoking those childhood memories - the smell of woodsmoke and fireworks, freezing cold nights but being warm by the bonfire, and learning the hard way that you don't pick up a dead sparkler by the wrong end...

So last night was the embassy's fireworks. A bit late, being on the 10th instead of the fifth of November, but considering the hangover I've got this morning it's probably a good thing that today's not a work day (still had to check some people into an apartment near rue Mouffetard though, and that was a struggle! I hope they didn't notice my bloodshot eyes). I'm going to blame the mulled wine for that, although it's probably the countless pints of beer that followed it really. I remember the girl who was serving the mulled wine grinning broadly and saying that there was a whole bottle of brandy in the big pan of simmering wine in front of her. Is that a usual ingredient? I'm not sure, but there weren't any complaints...

November 3, 2006

Paris Masters at Bercy

The other day was All Saints day, a nice day off for everyone here in France. In what's become a yearly tradition, we were at Bercy to watch the Paris masters tennis tournament. Cheaper and more accessible than the Open at Roland Garros, we first started going just to see the final, but then realised that if we went during the week, not only were the tickets cheaper, but we'd get to see a lot more players and matches.

Wednesday became over 12 hours of watching tennis, which was pretty gruelling! Especially since the Bercy Omnisports serves only coca-cola and M&Ms, which means you have to maintain a steady sugar high to last the distance.

This year was different to previous years though. The first big change was that there's now video judges - each player had 2 'challenges' per set, and could call on the video umpire if they didn't like a line call. We'd then see a computer graphic of the ball bouncing leaving a spot where it bounced (why am I explaining this, I'm sure everyone's seen it) - sometimes they had to zoom right in to see the smallest fraction of an overlap to call the ball in. It made a big difference - on the first match a player challenged a call on a match point, and it went his way - he then went on to win the set, probably changing the outcome of the match entirely.

Anyway, it went on and on, and every game seemed to go to the final set. It became clear that the final game with UK's big hope Andy Murray wasn't going to be played in time. We figured that it would have to be moved to one of the little courts, but no-one could tell us anything. In a typically french fashion, nobody knew what was going on and there was no organisation at all. We eventually found that he was warming up on one of the little courts, and would be playing there at 10pm.

We waited outside with everyone else who had found out where he was playing, including Jeremy Bates! The officials didn't have a clue who he was, and so he wasn't allowed in either.

We had never watched a game on Court 1 before, and had only sat amongst the thousands of people on Center court. The difference was a complete shock - it was nothing more than a little hall - tipped off by an english couple we had met, we raced to the end of the court and sat right at the front, staring down the center line. We were also next to Brad Gilbert, Murray's coach, and were effectively the players family (except we weren't of course).

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We then realised that there was no net, and just a wooden barrier between us and the 200kph serves that hurtled towards us.

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Somehow the ball still managed to slam into the barrier rather than us, and it was an amazing experience. For the first time we could see what it was really like from the players perspective, as well as hear their muttering as they lost or won shots.

Finally it was all over near midnight - exhausting but well worth it. We're back on Saturday...