December 4, 2012

Butter & Bacon 

I thought I was a size 34 for years and years, and then I found size 33, and this is after years and years of walking into Sears with my mother and asking “where is the HUSKY department?”.  Point is we should all figure out what suits us early as not to waste time.

I was raised in a household that, when we weren’t shopping at Sears, did taste tests. It always seemed like fun and was an alternative to bowling, which we did as well, candlepins.  What I never realized was that my parents were seeking a culinary Nirvana.  In my life there are good croissants and there are sublime croissants, and if you didn’t do a side by side tasting from time to time, you might end up eating a few less than excellent croissants!   OK, no tears shed, but it gets important when your talking about Baguettes or flavors of vanilla ice cream, or butter... OK its not important, is it?

My point is that I’ve been wasting a lot of calories eating store bought butter when the good stuff is only about 10% more expensive, at least here in France, and the difference is between great (because all real butter is in fact great) and sublime!  Last month we did a butter tasting, 3 fresh butters and one commercial, they were all good, but now we have a favorite.  Le Beurre de Motte du Capucins! Something to cross off my Bucket List.

Then there is the Bacon phenomenon.  When we came to France, Bacon was an ephemeral substance we could acquire in only one store, 30 minutes away and only some of the time. But we are Americans and bacon is, for better or worse, in our blood, so we continued on whatever store bought bacon we could find.  Now I must be true, the french butchers do something that looks like bacon, but it has bones in it, or cartilage at least, they call it “ventreche” and once you have chewed on that you are ready to stay away forever.  They tend to serve it like most of their meats, undercooked and chewy. But 9 years in, we got daring and tried again, this time the “poitrine fume” and, well, how stupid we have been to stay away.  Fresh sliced Bacon is a whole nother ball game!  So I should have been taste testing everything, no water added like it’s American cousin,  lightly fried with a dash of maple syrup....mmmm!  Taste testing food is more fun even than rearranging furniture

We did that too, it was another sort of taste test I suppose.  How could you know that the furniture was in the right place, unless you tried it in another?  I’m sure this had something to do with my becoming an architect, or at least with my ability to visualize a better furniture arrangement, or a better croissant.  When I first worked for my Friend ED, his job was the coffee and mine was to find the best croissants in the city of San Francisco.  It would be more of an undertaking now as cafe’s have proliferated and with them the supply of excellent viennoiseries, but at the time the first half of the pleasure was in the quest.

Today I see that Quest Fire in much of what I do,  trying another country for one. But even in our life here I have little interest in returning to a vacation spot we’ve been to, which I feel like I “know”.  The french expression Je connais means I know, and if you have been to a place, the correct response is that you know it. So why go again?  At least while there are other places to see?  Paris? done it!  London? done it!  why not start hitting the secondary markets?  Abu Dhabi, Norwegian Fjords, Tenerife????

For better or worse I have grown into a creature always looking for “better” or “best”.  Always wondering if I am doing it optimally.  If I drank soda I’d be forever taking the “Pepsi Challenge”.  This is OK, but needs to be kept in check. I have built in wood, concrete, plaster board, plaster blocks, plaster, bricks, cedar shingles, asphalt, copper, zinc, stone, clay, glass, earth, metal.... more sometimes for the opportunity than of any conviction.  

It would be a different issue if I stopped “tasting” once I found something good. If I turned that into an excuse to say, OK, Paris is the greatest city in the world, and I only want to vacation there.  But I don’t, I connais that city and want to try the rest. Never happy or always an adventure?

My life may be a series of taste tests.....conclusions pending...other than the Bacon and the Butter!

October 13, 2012

Getting tomorrow right

Returning home, bittersweet.
It was a grand summer, lots of time with family and friends, many connected, a few        missed, but knots retied and memories jogged. We are at a point where its a little bit difficult to be away from France for weeks, but still so easy to be back “in the states”. As we move through others lives it is a challenge to get engaged. We are used to, and comfortable in, our own daily patterns. But for these past weeks we are living strangely, rotating though time zones and cities and schedules of others, and loving lives!  

I need a better book, but when I have tried several "good ones" perhaps its more than a book that I need...a’m afraid of a future without direction.  These dog days of idleness (vacation) are easy insofar as they are a respite from an otherwise busy life. Recently from one challenge and soon to another, but what will happen when Im too old or too stupid to find another goal?  I hope I can find the good books!  I’m finding it hard to read Ayn Rand these days and easier to read Ken Follett, its a matter of easier reading, less subtext.

For now I’m finishing up the apartment and waiting tentatively for the next thing to do. 

I’m growing older, and I can feel it in more than my bones, I can feel it in my head and my heart too.  Dividing by decimels?  Conjugating verbs? Remembering my cell number, or how many r's are in tomorrow.  Too many things that should be easy aren't! And I’m "still young". So I’m anxious, I need to reset. Act my age.

Somehow, I started listening to classical music, driving slower, eating prunes.  My doctors are younger than me and I need my glasses to do anything within arms reach.... Im not ready for this. My 14 y.o. is showing signs of adulthood, more than glimpses, I can feel the pedestal shaking....

I want to be graceful in this evolution, my parents certainly are, and they have a few years on me. 50 could be hard.

I bought new shoes,  $21 and they make me feel 10 years younger!!!!  Somehow the feeling of walking in these new KEDS (for the lack of a descriptive title) makes me feel like a hipster!  Just seeing the tips of my shoes in the low end of my peripheral vision makes me feel like idling away the afternoon in a coffee shop, or like moving in with my parents!  There is no self important click of the heel, its like a soft-shoe to Fred Astaire’s taps, it puts a spring in my step that is missing from my worn in (out) Merrill loafers.  It’s a strange thing, I may need to loosen my belt and try walking around halfway holding my pants up next!  It adds an element to choosing an outfit in the morning...feeling young?, professional?, workerdude?  it can be a tough choice at 7 am!

Oscar is back getting into the rhythm of his first year of high school, he is a sophomore by American standards, but it’s the first of three years at the Lycee level.  He has added Chinese to his Spanish and French, he seems to be enjoying having a secret language to lord over us again and new friends with a new year.  The High school dormitory staff went on strike yesterday, and of the half dozen kids in Oscar’s class that live far enough away from Bordeaux that they only go home on weekends, we had three sleep over due to the strike.  Nice bunch of kids, they all happened to be British, and just the accent makes them seem smart, but when the dinner conversation moved to the role of “sarcasm in Voltaire’s Candide”, I realized we weren’t in Kansas anymore. He is growing up and I am striving to keep up.

Patricia’s is steadily growing, she is getting very confident in her local history and starting to put together a Cheese, Pastry and Wine tour for me to get involved in.  Visit her site, friend her on Facebook, and if she has ever given you a tour, log onto and rate her tour guide abilities, it helps alot.

Oscar and I entered the Bordeaux Photo Marathon for the second year.
Bordeaux Passion

Two days,  300 teams, 5 themes and 4 neighborhoods. Oscar was the photographer and I was his caddy and occasional muse.  

Following are the ten phots he planned out and took, the assigned themes are captioned below the photos.

We found the themes assigned to be too broad, but then we had fun with some of the responses. The combined efforts of a 14 and a 49 year old mind.

Bordeaux Passion
This is a Cannele, a local delicacy, floating above a local church.

Next year we will be prepared with more technical skills, and perhaps have read the owners manual on the camera! 

Start Rolling Kids

 It was exhausting, riding bikes all over the city and looking over our shoulders for art-opportunities. Did I mention the prizes?!  We will keep you posted.

Start Rolling Kids

Bordeaux Ecological
Notice the drop of water
Local Life
Bordeaux Ecological

Neighboors (male and female)

Neighboors (male and female)

June 22, 2012

We have moved boxes again, and this one is little.
Certainly there are worlds of people that live in less, or nothing at all, and with less and with nothing at all, tickytacky. Our stone box is one we are grateful for, so I’ll continue....
Piece a Vivre
Double click on any of the photos to see a full resolution version

There is nothing as despiriting as taking a pristine empty apartment and filling it with the detritus of life, our books, our art, our clothes, our pieces of wood, and all the “eye-candy” from 9 years of life in France. This smallish apartment with “too much storage” is all of a sudden full!  Too many shoes, too many cake pans, bread pans, charlotte pans, fruit cake molds, and enough ramequins to let them eat cake!  We are collectors extrordinaire!  We need help!

Kitchen at rest
Kitchen in action

The view from the windows,  Basilic St. Michel 

So after moving a fair amount of stuff from Martel to a 3rd floor apartment, and then again down and back up to this 4th floor apartment, we find ourself carrying it down again and off to the Emmaus (Goodwill) or worse, the bin on the corner.  It's a battle against clutter and it’s as if I’d grown up in the previous great depression, I'm hoarding. I have moved more pieces of wood from project to project, waiting for that perfect chance to use it.... just because its a 200 year old piece of Walnut. Well turns out few people want that stuff and it actually burns pretty well.
garbage and recycle
I was moving a highly lacquered piece of wood, actually a door from an Armoire, and as I paused in front of the apartment, an elderly man approached me and asked what I was going to do with it and would I like several others that he was hoarding too?  Seems I’m not the only person who gets attached to lumber.  I hated to explain that I didn’t even have any idea what I was going to do with the one in my possession!?  He wanted to give me his phone number in case I changed my mind and discovered a re-use.  I am sometimes just one step away from the person who actually opens the trash cans to see if there is anything of value inside....but I have my limits!
These doors were a reuse from a "recupeteur" now they await new  glass and two coats of paint, new hardware, and then they will be all that separates us from Oscar's room

This window was here, but got resized and raised up about 6"  The implied privacy of the bamboo forest makes brushing your teeth feel like a camping trip!
So we are in the apartment, sleeping well, losing our way in the middle of the night, searching for bowls and lids and spices that, unlike us, have not yet found a home. The cabinets still sport the protective film over the lacquered grey finish.  There are still shelves being built, or not, and occasionally as I search for, lets say the paprika, I come across a drawer that has nothing in it... what’s with that? We are reducing our wardrobes and getting used to shorter travel times from any place to any other, both inside the home and outside.   It turns out we are even more “hyper-central” than we were before, everything one could want, and a few others, are close at hand. It’s like living in a “piece a vivre” (a room for life), its the kitchen, dining, living room, all rolled into one, plus the office and the entry, with window seats, closets, a tiny desk, and a very expansive and efficient kitchen.
Books = Art
Raison d'etre
The Fete de la musique was last night and speaking of living “hyper centre”:  three stories down and acoustically IN our home there were two stages, with bands ranging from bad to better, but never quite approaching good. So I left and found some friends and some great music. Every town in France, and I suppose Europe celebrates the official start of summer by hitting the sidewalks and plying their musical talent, or lack thereof.  Martel did this with varying success over the years, from 5 stages to none, but what we have here in Bordeaux is beyond that beyond... I hear dumpsters being overturned as I type and its only 1:30 in the morning.  Fortunately the two stages below have disappeared in my absence and the rule is that it must all end at 2 am.  Its a great excuse for a party. I took a tour of the city on my way home and I was shocked, amazed and frightened at a few points.  The teens and 20-somethings are out in force, lots of alcohol, lots of music. There were the occasional homebrewed stages, clutches of kids sitting around strumming to a small starry eyed audience, even more dj’s spinning their imaginations to varying results, I saw a singer who reminded me of Blondie, another was channeling Bob Dylan, young and old alike and forthemostpart expressing a great appreciation of the music.  The most popular areas were the ones to avoid, the more off the beaten track, the more rewarding.  The idea of celebrating music is laudable, the excuse to drink copiously unfortunate.  In Martel I opened the window and practiced my accordion.  That was the closest Ill ever come to the spirit of this event, but it was great fun being a spectator last night, from the talent to the maddening crowds. Life is indeed a circus.
Oscar is extremely happy to have a real room
Today was the last day of school till the Brevet, their “exit exam”.  The last few days of school were filled with watching videos, class parties and gifts for the favorite professors, Oscar’s class gave their homeroom teacher a bottle of South African wine?  I’m not in Kansas anymore!  Oscar will study for a couple of days, and next week take this big test.  Its of mixed importance, he has already been accepted into the OIB for the international Baccalaureate program, so this test will simply be a note in his “permanent record”.  So the summer has arrived in this house.
This months endorsement is a French State Radio station which has web streaming available.  Its entirely music, with no Ad’s, and to call it ‘eclectic’ is a gross understatement.
You will find an opera piece sandwiched between a RAP tune and French ballad, then a piece of electronica and a Bach fugue.  The rhyme or reason is still lost on me, and occasionally it slips into esoterica, but I love a mixed tape and here mixed is king!
FIP Radio

Our landline has been disconnected, you can reach us on the same cell phones as before, and the address has changed to #1 Rue des Boucheries.  Our Skype moniker is PatOscarDaniel and our guest room will be finished in time for Christmas!

April 22, 2012

(reading between the smiles)

We are swiftly approaching the end of the first phase of renovations at the next home, our 4th in France, and perhaps our last (still unsure what I will do for the next 3 years). We will start to move in next month and finish some time before the 1st of July. We have already started taking small loads of dust proof stuff over, trying to ease the pain of moving 
Kitchen Couch
(a dim shadow over our excitement).  We anticipate really liking this new home, with it’s family room layout and efficient use of space. A restart with “everything new” other than the 18th century walls and the 15th century caves and its volumes and views.  Once we do move in the follow-up phases will include the guest room/office, the zinc countertops, refurbishing old windows and whatever doesn’t work on the move-in date.  Oscar is very excited about all the space he will have in his suite (room + mezzanine), Patricia is excited about all of the closets and I am excited about the high-function cuisine.  We are all ready for the move and anticipating, nay salivating, over the new crop of restaurants in that quartier.
View from the mezzanine
My hand is doing well.  My doctor is quite proud of his work, I am already lying to my kine (physical therapist) about my homework, but I am still making progress.  I had heard that all the movement I will ever regain will be regained in the first 6 months, and I feel like I’m behind schedule at the halfway mark.  The fingers feel very tight, but when worked for a few minutes I can get them to about 75% of where they used to be, and thats not terrible for the left hand of a right handed handyman!  The thumb still has phantom pains when I hit it with a hammer (OK not really so phantomesque but pain out of proportion)  and the ring finger still lacks it’s rings (to no great effect) and has a forever broken bone on the terminal section (I think they call it P3).  

They may reconnect the two parts someday, but for now we will float along loosey goosey.  I will continue to visit the kine clinic once a week till summer arrives and then we shall see.  The take away is a fortunate life, at the clinic I see far worse, one “comrade” lost three of four fingers and is left with an opposable thumb and a permanent middle fingering the watching world!  And many others seem to have wrist wounds on otherwise sound bodies, making me wonder what stories are all around me there. Me, I look normal from the palm sides and a bit Frankenstein-ish on the back side, but this should fade in the same way that the nerves should reconnect, and the scar tissue should approach the softness I’ve come to appreciate.
Everything is appreciated more by its absence, I certainly take advantage of what comes easy, forgetting about how well my body works until it doesn’t. A stiff back, clicking thumbs and aching knees, hurting teeth, and a malfunctioning kitchen, too much spam email, rainy sundays, grizzly steak, and winter tomatoes....all trees lost in the incredible forest.  I have always strived to focus on the stuff that works, but I seem instead to dwell on the 10% that may not from time to time.... Everything, no but most things, are really very good. My health is really pretty good, dental care is cheap, and we do know where to go for a great piece of meat, and of course its spring and the farmers market is finally selling more than roots!
Oscar is tentatively accepted into the High School that drew us to Bordeaux, Patricia’s is shedding its moss, and we continue to make friends and influence people.  Oscar now wants to be a commercial pilot w.h.g.u. And he just announced (via an sms to his parents and a facebook post) thats he is “in a relationship”. He met a 14 year old french girl during a two day “molecular cooking” class that he took last week during the school break. Her name is Emma, and Oscar has declared her his “first girlfriend” which as I recall might be breaking the hearts of a few also rans from the last few years, I suppose ones that didn’t qualify for the title.  It’s been about 3 days so far and all I seem to see is a drastic uptick in his text messaging and his overall demeanor!    It’s sweet and fun to watch, and full of emoticons. It’s been expected and feared, and so far it is only a great thing.  It sends my mind spiraling through the cobwebs, trying to recall the names, faces and mental positionings of my youth...grainy images...incomplete stories....random and wonderful.
Patricia and I celebrated 16 years of being “in a relationship”, while the world around us was busy paying their taxes we were counting our love coins and reviewing our books, as we do every year, more an accounting of the future, and looking to fulfill next years loop holes, or potholes, charting a course on the back of a napkin....this one had Japanese writing on the other side!  (It’s all good).

March 4, 2012

Back in the saddle

The biggest progress is the healing hand which has me back at work.  I limped along during the 6 weeks of rehab, doing some painting and minor tasks, but now I am back at it full time! 
View from the future kitchen looking West

View of the future kitchen looking East

I have had a chance to fire up the saw that so insulted me, scarry, but a horse I needed to ride again, slower, more deliberately and to fine effect.  We hired some local plasterers to tape the ceilings and next weekend they will paint them. Patricia and Oscar joined the crew and over the past two weeks of school vacation, we made some long strides.  Our move in date has slid from March (it's march) to the end of June!!

Oscar's room looking up into his mezzanine
Oscar got a new camera for his birthday and so we finally have some decent images to share!
looking into Oscar's room
the new toilet room

The winter was a hard one for us, the landscape and handscape were frozen, but it's all thawing and the pending spring is bright!

February 7, 2012

Nick in Time

It all happened so fast, one moment I knew what the plan was and the next it was all entirely different.  I was feeling healthy, ready to finish this project and move in and start that chapter, but paff! In the blink of an eye I'd chewed up my hand.

Now a month has passed, and I'm nervous about the eventual utility of one of my most for-granted tools, in time I imagine I will forget the incident, save for a new level of safety deep set into my bones, but I fear a long road between that day and this one, and I will forever have several nasty reminders of that January day in Bordeaux France.

I have three fingers free and two bandaged, one with a brosse, a temporary pin, sticking out of the end of my naked ring finger, and it's wanting wear.  My middle finger to its right has a healing ligament not quite ready for prime time. The pain is now a dull one which I can easily forget about. As the surviving nerves seek new connections there are occasional sparks of pain which depart as quickly as they arrive, but they do announce themselves upon arrival!

It's the nick in time that weighs on me now, impossibly, a month has passed, I feel like I have made only one meal in those days, painted one door (with one hand) and washed my hair only once!  None of that is true, but it feels like that.  I have been reading too much, and thinking too much, taking too much time....  I am ready for action and waiting for my left hand to catch up!  There has been an odd nick in time, where has it gone? Four fucking weeks!?    

I was so angry then, the first minutes passed where all I could do was curse my fate, mad at my measure of stupidity. I must have been doing something wrong, but what? it scarily confounds me to this day. I have worked on that type of machine for 30 years!  I was mad as hell, I thought I had just destroyed several fingers, luck is a lady and its not as bad as I feared then, what I remember is a lot of swearing, no pain somehow, the body is amazing, then fear!  I thought I was alone, I thought I might bleed out, the phone in my pocket needed two hands to operate, with no Siri to call, I did not know what to do. Then I remembered my guardian neighbors, and then the paramedics were there.  With my hand in theirs, I could call my unflapable wife and release all my earthly responsibilities onto her.  After a 20 minute tour over all the bumps Bordeaux has to offer, and 20 minutes waiting for the emergency room to accept me (it was probably only 5), I started to get shaky and cold and medicated, in that order. I was in a hospital which miraculously specialized exclusively in traumatic hand injuries!

I don't recall the moment of the accident, nor a few of the drug obscurred moments that followed, but some of the other bookmarks are there and seem impossibly long ago!  Is this the mental dopamine affect ? Is there some time-warppind anti-boredom enzyme that compresses the time following a trauma?  If you told me I was going to sit on this couch for 28 days, read 5 books, watch 4 movies, and take naps half the days, I'd say no, in fact I did say no, I said I'd give it two weeks and be back at it.  So is convalescence becoming laziness?, or was this injury so serious?? I think the truth is I was overly optimistic.... becoming realistic.... next stop pessimistic.  I must be careful here, avoid the pink elephants, get well soon and put this behind me.

I have spent a few hours over the last week in my chantier, our next home, and between the tools left where they fell, the splatters on the new sheetrock behind the saw, and the shear volume of the remaining work, it was a physically chilling tableau.  I need to get lost in my work again, too much reflection is bad for anything other than a mirror.  I have a week of one handed work, so time to move onto it, the left hand might just get bored and regenerate faster!

What have i learned? Work slower, wear protection, watch more movies!?

Link to knight with circular saw, 
Visit my NEXT saw here: Saw Stop

What else have I learned:
Its hard to type with 1 hand and a pinkie
Tremadol is a nice drug
I need to get help more often
I need to slow down and enjoy my days (not these days, but normal days)
Physical therapy isn't for pussies
Opposable thumbs are wonderful inventions, I'm so glad I have two!

Thumbs up

January 13, 2012

4 reasons not to do what I do...

I worked hard...I achieved...I pursued a professional life as an architect.
Then I discovered the joy of making things
and then of making the things I was making
and then I “progressed” to digging the ditch 
so that I could make the things I was making
from the ground up....
Perhaps its a journey to the center and now,
as I type with my remaining 6 fingers
I am wondering if it will be a round trip?
The other 4 fingers will return to something 
close enough to normal. I have time.
I find great satisfaction in my independence,
my ability to do it all
but in the same way 
that I might criticize an otherwise great restaurant
which has decided to “make their own bread”
Why do I sacrifice my fingers 
on the self-created altar of self-sufficiency?
Or my back?
Or my health?
Perhaps with this latest insult I may evolve yet!?