Sunday, December 30, 2007

Dogs + Armor = Fun

I didn't think I liked dogs, but then I realized I just had never seen one dressed up in armor. Pitbull Armory makes armor for humans and animals.

Fortunately I don't know many pit bulls, but one lives in our building. His name is pronounced "Cane". I don't know how his teenage owner spells it, but I know how his owner came up with the name.

One day Kelley was riding the elevator up with the dog and his owner. The following conversation actually took place (including Kelley's awesome late-80s rap reference):

Kelley: What's your pit bull's name.
Owner (with obvious pride): Cane!
Kelley: Cane? Like "candy cane" or "Big Daddy Kane"?
Owner: No! Like cocaine!
Kelley (with rolling eyes): Come on...

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Shredding in Times Square?

December 28 is Good Riddance Day in Times Square. From the website:

We’re inviting New Yorkers and visitors from around the world to join us in mashing a year’s worth of bad hairstyles, loathed music, fashion disasters and ill-fated romances into an unrecognizable pulp of bad karma and negative vibes – which will then be carted off, never to be seen again.
While they are not specifically mentioned, I think it is reasonable to expect shredders might be available!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Back in New York (but nobody cares)

What are you looking at?

My return to New York from Calgary was an all-day affair. I was glad to be home, but Taffeta didn't seem to care in the least.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Shredder a Go-Go

I must reconsider my decision to not be a trucker.

This morning (in Calgary) I noticed this mobile shredding station. When my career in technology ends I think I want to be a shredding-truck driver.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Calgary, what have you done to my shirt??!!

After a ridiculous 14 hour trip to Calgary, I am here for a couple of days. I understand that winter brings travel delays, but I really need to remember to try my best to avoid Chicago airports.

This... on fire?

I am staying at the Hyatt Regency, which is in the shadow of the Calgary Tower. According to the Tower's website:
Throughout the 1988 Winter Olympic Games, a flame burned at the top of the Tower, making the Calgary Tower the World's Largest Olympic Torch.
I imagine the Calgary Tower set ablaze was a horrifying sight.

It is cold here (-9 C/15 F), but according to the Calgarians I've met the city is experiencing a heat wave. The last couple of weeks have been -20 C/-5 F. In any case, it is cold enough that the roads are icy and slippery. As I was returning to my hotel after work a saw a man fall down in a puddle of dirty, slushy water. His entire leg was drenched. At least it was the end of the day.

I took his misfortune as a reminder that I need to slow down. It was very slippery, and my shoes do not have good traction as it is. While I feel sorry for the man, perhaps he can take comfort in knowing that his fall might have prevented my own.

I walked to dinner very deliberately and managed not to fall. I even resisted the temptation to jaywalk despite an utter absence of cars at a couple of intersections. But as I waited for the walk sign, a lonesome car came driving by me. The next thing I know I feel two small chunks of snow land in my neck.

The streets of Calgary spit on me.

While I am annoyed that one of my favorite shirts might be ruined (I tried to wash my shirt in the sink in my hotel room, but I couldn't get the dirt out.) I have to admire the precision with which the snow hit me. It landed in a tiny crack of flesh exposed between the button of my jacket - I mean coat. It was the winter version of a hole-in-one. The man walking next to me was probably thinking, "At least it's the end of the day."

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Leaving Mexico City

Looking out the windows in the elevator lobby.

I got up very early to pack, check-out of my room and get a cab. As I went to the lobby to check-out I took a picture of the sunrise. You can barely see the two mountains in the distance.

Traffic was light, both on the roads getting to the airport and the lines inside the airport. I had plenty of time before my flight left to get some breakfast.

Huevos a la diabla

I found a sit-down restaurant and ordered huevos a la diabla (a tortilla topped with scrambled eggs topped with a slightly spicy brown sauce).

Two fat, pink-colored men were seated next to me at the restaurant. They both speak with the same southern American accent. One is wearing a NYPD t shirt. He asks the waitress using the kind of loud voice normally reserved for the deaf and retarded, "Do you have a menu in American?"

I can't judge too harshly because at one point during the week I did ask someone about speaking "Mexican". I quickly corrected myself, but that's what happens when I make too many jokes about something. "Agreeance" entered my vocabulary the same way, and that word sneaks out sometimes too.

The airport is full of duty-free stores, so many that it is hard to understand the point. Ignoring the quantity of these stores, the prices don't seem very good. $20 for a bottle of tequila? In Mexico? I don't like it, but I remember buying some in Tijuana for $5 per bottle.

And in case you couldn't find what you were looking for in the airport, the flight attendants come though the plane trying to sell duty free goods. Nobody is interested and the flight attendant looks slightly humiliated by having to hawk goods on the plane.

Or is it more humiliating to the passengers? Do they subject the first class passengers to this? I didn't have a chance to find out because I did not get an upgrade on my return flight. That was fine. I got the upgrade when I really needed it.

I was really looking forward to having 2 consecutive nights of sleep in my own bed. I was very happy to get back to New York. I appreciate the travel opportunities my job has presented me with, but the travel is also incredibly exhausting.

Senorita Taffeta

When I got back to the apartment I gave Kelley her chocolate, which she liked a lot. I also gave Taffeta a little sombrero. I was amazed that she humored us by wearing the hat long enough to get some pictures.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

My evening in downtown Mexico City

Mexico City is an assault on the ears. My hotel room wasn't even facing the street and I could hear traffic down below. On Saturday evening I ventured downtown. Constant horns, police blowing whistles, shops blasting music, and the worst street musicians ever filled the air. At first it was cute. When the novelty wore off it seemed ridiculous.

Metropolitan Cathedral in the Zocalo.

I started my visit at La Plaza de la Constitucion, also known as the Zocalo. It is a huge public square surrounded by the Metropolitan Cathedral, ruins of the Templo Mayor, the National Palace and other historic buildings.

Statue of Pope John Paul II.

The statue is made of small keys.

As I walked around the cathedral I noticed a statue that looked like it has been carved from a boulder. It looked like a man who was walking out of the stone. As I got closer, however, I realized that what looked like unsculpted rock was actually thousands of small keys.

Mexicans are not easily amused.

Near the statue I noticed a large group of people gathered, laughing. It was some sort of street comedy show involving taping an audience member up and coming after her with machetes.

The ruins of Templo Mayor are now a museum.

I continued walking around the Zocalo until I came to the ruins of the Templo Mayor, or Great Pyramid. When the Spanish conquistadors arrived in Mexico City in the 1500's the area had been the Aztec capital city for 200 years.

A street concert at the Zocalo.

The Zocalo was a great place to walk around and people watch. There were various entertainers performing (intentionally and not).

Indigenous dress and dance.

There were several groups of indigenous people dancing and playing music. They had displays of fruits and vegetables out, and often has children bopping around with them.

Not-so-indigenous dress.

Mexico City is a huge city, but it does not seem to have the diversity of large US cities, but there were still all sorts of interesting people to watch. And what city is complete without Goths?

I ate dinner outdoors at La Casa de las Sirenas, which was recommended to me by Francisco, one of the people in my class. He said they have very traditional, high quality food at a good price.

Chicken with mole, rice and a tamale.

I ordered The mole had a definite spicy-chocolate flavor. Not being a big chocolate aficionado, this isn't my favorite flavor. The more of the meal I ate the more I liked it. It is not something I would want to eat every day, but it was a meal.

The streets of historic district at dusk.

After dinner I started walking to the Palacio de Bellas Artes, the Palace of Fine Arts. It was about 5 blocks through small streets crowded with people walking and talking. Bakeries, shops and restaurants lined the streets.

Palacio de Bellas Artes

The Palacio de Bellas Artes is a magnificent stone building. It is not a huge building, but it is beautiful.

Inside the Palacio de Bellas Artes.

On the outside, anyway. The inside reminded me of something from the mind of Donald Trump. I am not a fan of the red marble.

When I left the Palace of Fine Arts it was dark outside. Across the street there is a park, which looked a bit like a typical New York City park (walking paths that wind through trees and grass, but the trees and grass are fenced off. In front of the park a street market had set up. I could see its lights so I decided to investigate.

People were selling cotton candy and various other snacks, clothes, wallets, etc. A couple of booths were selling grilled corn, which looked very good. As I walked around I considered whether or not I would try some of the food.

The street food that lined Boulevard Adolfo Ruiz Cortines, the street on which my hotel was located, remained a temptation the whole time I was in Mexico City. Everyone I talked to back in the US told me I should go ahead and try it. When I asked the people in my class they didn't hesitate for a moment to advise me against eating it. By midweek I had decided that I wouldn't eat the street food being sold outside my hotel.

I noticed a woman grilling corn. She had a large bowl filled with corn she had cut off the cob. The corn was mixed with pieces of red chili peppers. I was able to convince myself that I would be safe eating corn with peppers, because the peppers would kill anything that might make me sick. Obviously no scientist, I.


I put my cowardice aside and used my best sign language to indicate I wanted to try what she was making. I was able to ask her how much it cost and I was able to understand her answer ($13). Then she asked me if I wanted to add lime and a couple of other things. I didn't understand her, but I told her to add the ingredients.

This turned out to be esquites, and it was topped with cheese and mayonnaise. It was very good, but I could only eat a few bites of it. I had already eaten dinner and the food was so rich, being covered in mayonnaise.

It was getting late and I wanted to get back to the hotel. Kelley asked me to find her some Mexican chocolate since this is the part of the world where chocolate first came from. I got the names of a couple of stores in the mall across the street from my hotel where I might be able to find some.

Figuring I could find a cab at one of the tourist hotels, I started to walk back to the Zocalo. Almost immediately I noticed some sort of street market (I think it was on the street Eje Central Lazaro Cardenas). I decided to take a quick look.

What a find! I've heard of street markets like this but I had never seen one. Baby dolls were for sale directly next to DVDs of Man Juice 2, Back for Seconds and Hot Beaver. There were clothes, shoes, electronics, every kind of DVD and music you could think of...

It was like what I think people expect New York's Chinatown to be. Chinatown is full of stores packed with junk. This market had its share of junk, but there was a lot of stuff there that was interesting.

Alas, I didn't buy much more than a pair of sunglasses for $10 (approximately $1 in US dollars). My shopping instincts are not well refined. I immediately called Kelley to report the find. She suggested I buy more than 1 pair. Great idea! Too bad I couldn't find that booth again.

I was talking to Kelley when I noticed a CD carrying case that was shaped like a hamburger. It was like a combination stuffed toy and CD case. I thought it was really cute. I asked the man how much it was: $40.

As I reached into my wallet Kelley suggested I barter. All I had in my wallet were $20 bills, so I took one out and said that was all I had. The man took the burger back. I walked away, hoping I would find someone else selling the hamburger so I could buy it. I never did.

This market went on and on and on. I walked for at least 12 blocks and there was no end in sight. Eventually I left because I really wanted to try to find chocolate for Kelley.

Finding a taxi back to the hotel was not a very easy thing. The first cab I hailed on the street told me no, traffic was too bad going in that direction. I decided to find the Holiday Inn, figuring there would be taxis lined up in front.

Locating the Holiday Inn wasn't so easy. I must have walked by it 5 or 6 times that day so far, but it was on a side street that I didn't even notice. I walked in circles for 45 minutes trying to find the hotel.

Eventually I found the hotel. Unfortunately there were no cabs lined up. The hotel was not the sort of hotel where cabs can even line up if they wanted to. I stood around for 10 minutes until finally a cab came by.

He turned out to be a very nice guy. He really wanted to talk to me, but he spoke only slightly more English than I speak Spanish. The 45 minute ride back to the hotel was like trying to have a conversation with a dentist as he works on your teeth.

Eventually I made it back to the hotel at 8:30 pm. Since the mall closed at 9:00 pm, I ran there and found store where I could buy some chocolate.

The chocolate I bought for Kelley.

Again, the language barrier prevented me from getting what I wanted. Since I do not like chocolate that much, I wanted to get a variety for Kelley to make sure she got to try some different things and to be sure I got her at least some things she liked. Instead I had to settle for 6 pieces of one type.

Thursday, November 15, 2007


Some of the students in my class took me with them to La Pozoleria get pozole, a traditional Mexican soup. It was good, but honestly, it tasted like any other soup. The restaurant's hole-in-the-wall atmosphere was fun though.

The taxi ride to and from the restaurant was also fun. I had been too busy with work to get out and explore much of the area, so this was a chance to go a little beyond the area of my hotel and work location. The restaurant was located up a hill, not in a bad or scary neighborhood, but one that looked dirty and ugly (a mess of buildings packed in wherever they could fit).

After lunch we tried to hail a taxi. There were 5 of us, so we had to let several cabs pass us before one stopped that was large enough to fit all of us. As we waited there was a car creeping up the hill in front of the restaurant. The car was either breaking down or else didn't have enough horsepower to get up the hill at a speed of more than a couple of miles or hour. In either case it had its hazard lights blinking. There was obviously some problem.

As the rest of the traffic simply went around this car (it was a 4 lane road, 2 lanes in each direction and this car was driving in the "slow" lane), one shiny, new SUV stayed in the lane behind the car. The driver kept her hand on the horn as she followed the slow moving car. This went on for a solid minute.

There was no traffic whatsoever in the passing lane. The SUV could very easily have changed lanes and passed the slow moving car. Instead the driver sat in her car with a blank expression with her hand on the horn. My friends and I looked at each other and started laughing. One of the said to me, "Welcome to Mexico City!"

The taxi that picked us up was driven by a fat man. I sat in the front while my friends piled into the back. On the dash board in front of me sat a roll of toilet paper.

On the drive back to the office we drove through a flea market. I should call it a junk market because it was all junk: dirty clothes, broken toys and electronics missing buttons. There were all sorts of wild dogs roaming the street. At one point the taxi came closer to running over a dog than I've ever seen in my life. The dog ran up to the car and was an inch from getting hit.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

What is it like to be on a business trip in Mexico City

The people I saw in the office are very touchy-feely. Mexicans do the whole European "air kiss" greeting thing. As I walk through the aisles of cubicals I saw people giving each other messages, hugging and touching each other in friendly ways that would be unusual in the US.

One reason for my confusion may have been that I was carry 3 types of currency in my wallet.

It's been hard for me to adjust to the idea that $10 Mexican equals approximately $1 USD. When I see an advertisement on a bus touting a Whopper Jr from Burger King for the bargain price of $15 I continue to do a double-take. It's also strange to be carrying around $500 bills.

There is security everywhere, and not the rent-a-cops you see in the US. These are police officers with large guns. Homes and offices are surrounded by fences, almost always protected by armed guards. When you walk by a home you walk by a fence. You cannot see the house at all.

By far the most valuable Spanish phrase I could have learned was "I already signed in this morning". Security at the location where I was working was so tight. When I would arrive in the morning I would have to provide my ID to a guard behind a heavy door. Then I would go to one building to sign in and register my laptop. Then I would walk to another building and get my laptop scanned.

The process was much more complicated than I care to explain here, but the same thing happened at the end of every day: I would return to the first building where I signed it and try to explain to the guard that I had signed in already.

The security is the main reason I didn't take many pictures on this trip. Cameras were positively not allowed in the office I was working in. I normally carry my camera in my bag, but I mostly left it in the hotel for the week.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Dilemmas involving my mouth

This was my second consecutive week of teaching non-native English speakers. The students in my class in Strasbourg spoke English very well. This was not the case in Mexico City. Only a couple of people spoke much English, and several spoke virtually none.

So all of the communication between students was done in Spanish. They are a nice and friendly group, and they laugh a lot. I will explain something, the students will talk about it and then start laughing. I couldn't help but feel that they are laughing at me. It was a very uncomfortable feeling.

An entrance to Plaza Cuicuilco.

After work on Monday I went for a walk to Plaza Cuicuilco, which was formerly the site of a printing press and is now a shopping center. Cuicuilco was a 10 minute walk from the hotel. I had a hard time pronouncing the name. I don't know what my problem was, but it is pronounced "koo-kweel-ko".

A sculpture from the 1968 Olympics that looks like its first paint job was its last.

The walk to Plaza Cuicuilo was an interesting walk, but not an entirely pleasant one. Tlalpan is one of the nicer parts of Mexico City, but everything looks dirty and needs to be painted.

The sidewalk ends at certain places along Insurgentes Sur.

Lots of people walk, but it's not very easy to walk around because sidewalks end abruptly or don't exist at all. You end up walking in the streets at time. When you consider the amount of traffic on the streets of Mexico City this is not something I would prefer to do. There is so much traffic.

Street vendors were packed along the boulevard.

But the walk wasn't entirely unpleasant either. The Radisson is located on Boulevard Adolfo Ruiz Cortines. This street seems to be a sort of transfer point for people who take these very crowded, dilapidated green buses. The street is lined with food vendors. The food smelled so good, I mean mouth-wateringly good.

After considering the reputation Mexico has for getting tourists sick, I decided to do some asking around before I would eat street food in Mexico City. I have a feeling that the rate of tourists getting sick from eating and drinking in Mexico is vastly inflated, but I wasn't ready to risk my health on it yet. It was only Monday, after all.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Going to Mexico City

My cab was arriving at 7:30 Sunday morning to take me back to JFK for a 9:30 flight to Mexico City. Before I left the apartment I checked my seat assignment online in desperate hope that my last minute booking didn't result in a middle seat.

On my way to the gate I passed a moving sidewalk that was under repair.

While I was not looking forward to getting on another plane, I was very pleasantly surprised to see I had a seat in business class. I wasn't sure how that happened. I figured it was a mistake that would be corrected by the time I got to the airport. But the possibility that I would be flying in business class reduced my feeling of dreading to strong aversion.

My own person first class monitor.

My business class seat was not a mistake. I attained some kind of elite status with Delta, which entitles me to upgrades if there are seats available. Being in business class entitled me to a meal. Unlike Air France, whose food was pretty decent, the food on my flight to Mexico City was awful. Fortunately I had eaten something small at the airport before leaving.

Mexico City from the air.

When I arrived in Mexico City I went to get my bags. When I checked my bag in New York a "priority" tag was placed on it. I assumed this meant my bags would be first off the plane. That didn't happen. In fact, I (and about 1/2 the other passengers on the flight) had to wait more than 45 minutes for our bags to arrive.

After I collected my bags and went through customs (again, hardly a question was asked) I went to find a cab to take me to my hotel. This is when I first regretted not getting a Spanish phrase book. I literally had no time to get one. My trip was planned while I was in France. During the 14 hours or so that I was in New York but not at JFK I was unable to stop by a book store.

The cab driver started asking me questions, about what I have no idea. I took 8 weeks of Spanish in 8th grade. I remember basic greetings and numbers, that is all. This grasp of Spanish failed me at its first opportunity. In these situations I resort to sign language, and I am able to get to where I need to go.

Sun setting behind Six Flags.

Driving through Mexico City gave me my first view of Mexico. In 1992 I went to Tijuana for a 2 hour shopping trip, but I never considered that "going to Mexico". The area was beautiful. The land is very rugged. There are mountains all around, and the mountains are covered with trees. Mexico City is just as beautiful as southern California, only without the ocean.

Anything man-made is not so beautiful. It all looked dirty and in need of a good cleaning, paint job, or both. As we drove from the airport to Tlalpan we passed a great variety of neighborhoods. Some looked like crowded jumble of strip malls, chain stores and fast food that you see throughout the US. Other looked like shantytowns you see in movies, the neighborhoods foreigners get into trouble in when they wander too far off the beaten path.

The cab ride from the airport took about 45 minutes. After last week in Strasbourg at a hotel I didn't like I tried to find a hotel that would be decent. The office I am working at is far from the tourist areas, so I didn't have many options. There was only one American-brand hotel, Radisson. The online pictures looked ok (but don't they always?), so I went with that.

View from my room.

The hotel turned out to be a good pick. I was hoping to use "3 consecutive weeks of travel" as an excuse to get a really nice hotel. The Radisson wasn't fancy, but it was a perfectly good hotel. My room was clean and had a nice very out of the mountains. The staff was (for the most part) very friendly and helpful.

One minor annoyance was the clock/radio in room. It was attached to the nightstand and I really wanted to move it. Oh well.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Back in New York

The flight was about 30 minutes late arriving in New York. I was in a cab by around 4:30 pm. I had to go directly to the office to pick up some paperwork for my trip to Mexico the following day. I got home around 6:30 pm.

Pajamaed Kelley eating her pastry.

Kelley loves pain au chocolat, so I picked one up for her from a bakery before leaving Strasbourg. Not wanting it to get crushed en route, I lovingly courried the pastry the entire way back to New York.

Do we amuse you?

By around 8:30 pm I was ready to go to sleep. Taffeta and I were in bed waiting for Kelley to finish brushing her teeth. In a little more than 12 hours I was going to be back on an airplane.


On my flight from Strasbourg I sat next to a French woman who was traveling to Baltimore. She told me that Sunday was a holiday. I realized it was November 10, but I corrected her. The holiday was on Monday.

(When I got back to New York Kelley corrected me. The holiday is observed on Monday, but the holiday itself is November 11. I know the significance of November 11, but I also know the tendency for US holidays commemorating historical events to occur on historically insignificant days.)

I arrived at my gate in Paris just in time to get on the plane. My seat was on the aisle. The woman sitting by the window was very tall and had long (bleached) blond hair. She claimed to be sick, or claustrophobic and asked a flight attendant to find her a seat in first class. To her credit she did look uncomfortable and very tired.

That is, as long as the flight attendant was in the vicinity. She was making phone calls, laughing, joking and appearing to be perfectly fine. When the flight attendant would reappear this woman suddenly became afflicted. There were no seats available in first class, but nice try!

Flying Air France was a pleasure. A salmon and pasta meal was served, and it was quite good. Each seat had its own video monitor. One of the channels showed the view from a camera that was mounted somewhere on the plane's underbelly. The view as we approached New York was pretty cool.

The Transformers movie was playing so I decided to watch it. I loved the Transformers when I was a kid... the toys, the cartoons and even the comic books. I was looking forward to seeing the movie, despite the trailer where one of the Transformers emerges from a swimming pool to be greeted by a fearless little girl clutching a stuffed animal.

I would have been better entertained had I left the monitor on the camera channel, even though much of the flight was flying over the Atlantic Ocean. The movie was just as awful as that trailer made me fear. Here's why:

  1. Every human character (except the girl who co-stared) was annoying to the extreme. Shia Labeouf playing the unjustifiably cocky dork, John Turturro playing an over-the-top secret agent, Shia Labeouf's parents... ugh.
  2. Every robotic character was annoying to the extreme. Bumblebee couldn't talk, so he would communicate by playing parts of songs through his stereo. This was even dumber in the movie than it sounds. During the scene where the Autobots introduce themselves and perform various dance and karate moves I started to tune the movie out.
  3. The Transformers were so ornamented and similar in appearance that it was impossible to tell one from another. The action scenes were so fast paced that it was hard to see what was going on.
  4. The storyline involving Ebay was preposterous. I would have preferred that the Transformers located their "All Spark" by kidnapping the Tooth Ferry and getting Santa Claus to pay the ransom by revealing its location.

Wine and whine

My flight from Strasbourg to Paris departed around 11 am, so I wasn't in a big hurry in the morning. I wanted to get Kelley a souvenir. The woman at the front desk of the hotel recommended I go to Auchan, a huge local grocery store.

This store was really big, the size of a Walmart. They had such an enticing selection of salamis and other dried meats. If I return to Haguenau I am going to find out if it is legal to bring those back to the US, because they looked good.

Two bottles of wine from Alsace.

The store had the largest wine selection I think I have ever seen. Two long grocery aisles were packed with wine. Since I don't drink wine I picked a couple of bottles from Alsace that looked good (meaning they had nice labels).

On my way out of the store I bought a soft pretzel from a bakery at Auchan. At the same time I was starting to get really sick of hearing the song 1973 by nasally, whiny James Blunt. The song was playing on the radio at the store. I hadn't heard the song before this trip, but it seemed like it was on the radio once an hour. When I got to my car it was playing, and when I got inside the airport it was playing again!

Friday, November 9, 2007

My last night in France

Class ended on Friday. After work Loic met me at the hotel bar to hang out for a little while. Afterwards I ate dinner in the hotel restaurant. I ate a tarte flambee and a tart for dessert. I spent the night answering email and packing for my departure.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Dinner on Thursday

steak tartare

On Thursday night Dirk, Monica and I went to a French and Italian restaurant named Cafe du Soleil. I order steak tartare. It was good, but the portion was too large. I could only eat half of it. Dirk ordered grilled calamari. Monica ordered a gigantic steak. They both looked very good.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Tarte flambee

tarte flambee

Wednesday night I was invited to dinner with the people in class and several of their coworkers. A few orders of tarte flambee (also known as flammekueche in Alsatian and flammkuchen in German) were ordered as a starter. Tarte flambe is a sort of pizza on very thin flatbread. It is covered with cheese, onions and pieces of pork. I don't especially like pork, but this was delicious.


For an entree I ordered liver. Bull testicles (or possibly penis, Loic's translation was sufficiently vague) were also on the menu.

inside the restaurant

inside the restaurant

A giant meringue, naturally.

For dessert I decided on meringue again. This dessert was huge. The meringue melted in my mouth. It was covered with whipped cream covered with dark chocolate powder. Under the meringue were several small scoops of ice cream. This was definitely the best dessert I had during the week.

Wednesday's olfactory surprise

Wednesday morning brought more olfactory surprises. On Wednesday and Thursday we had to conduct training in the conference room of a local hotel. The room was spacious and comfortable, much more so than the cramped meeting room we were in on Monday and Tuesday.

Their smiles belie their suffering.

Everything was going great until around 10 am, when 3 or 4 men started walking around outside the conference room. They were holding a large hose connected to a truck. Within a few minutes the class was moaning. The men were emptying the septic system at the hotel. It was a horrible, horrible smell. Dirk exclaimed, "Oh, it's making my eyes water!"

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Dinner (and observations about the French)

Daniel was returning to Poland early Wednesday morning, so Dirk and I went for dinner by ourselves on Tuesday night. On recommendation from Loic we went to the restaurant at the Hotel du Pins in Haguenau. I ordered duck with potatoes, vegetables and cabbage (choucroute). It was delicious.

For dessert I ordered meringue, which was also very good, though a couple of bites threatened to break my teeth.

After dinner I needed to get online to check email. My room was supposed to have Internet access, but the wifi signal was not strong enough to reach my room. In order to get online I had to go to either the hotel restaurant or to the hotel lounge.

While in a lounge I encountered two things that proved to be regular occurrences during my time in the bar, one charming the other one not so much. Charming were the enthusiastic soccer fans. I'm going to use my week in France to make the following generalization: French people love the English word "shit". There were numerous times when I heard a French person complaining or yelling in French, and that word in English was never missing.

Not so charming are the smoking habits of the French. They smoke everywhere, all the time. The hallways of the hotel reeked of smoke. The restaurant had a smoking section, like I remember restaurants used to have when I was a boy. The kind where there was nothing dividing it from the non-smoking section. In the bar almost everyone was smoking but me.

Cheese induced insomnia

I didn't end up going to bed until after 1 am. The sleep I got was not very restful. First of all I dreamt about cheese. It was the first dream I've ever had that included aromas. I dreamt of the Munster, and I smelled it in my dream. That was not a very pleasant experience.

I knew I wasn't going to get a lot of sleep, but I expected to get more than I did. My hotel room did not have an alarm clock in it. In fact it had no clock at all. So I used my phone.

Since I needed to be at work around 9 am I set the alarm for 8 am. I woke up before the alarm went off. My phone reported it was almost 8 am. I got out of bed and got ready for work. At 9 am I left my room.

As I walked through the halls of the hotel I looked at my wristwatch. It reported the time as 7:30. My watch is notorious for stopping when it is not on my wrist (it is a Kinetic watch). I was surprised it would loose time considering how late I was up the night before, but I kept walking.

As I walked through the hotel lobby I noticed the restaurant was empty. This surprised me a little because the previous morning the restaurant was full of people when I left.

I got into my car and started the engine. The morning was a little chilly, so I turned my attention to the temperature controls. That is when I caught a glimpse of the clock on the car. It was only 7:30 in the morning. Somehow my phone decided to change its time by 90 minutes.

I decided to call Kelley since she was just getting off of work back in New York. She convinced me to try to fall sleep in the car. After we hung up I tried to sleep in the car, but I couldn't. I returned to the hotel and planted myself in the restaurant to try to get some work done.

Monday, November 5, 2007

La Petite France

After dinner we went for a walk through La Petite France. As soon as I asked Bianca how old the buildings are we spotted this sign, which dates this restaurant to 1572.

Tanner's House, Home of Sauerkraut

La Petite France is a very charming area full of half-timbered houses. The area is part of Grande Ile, which is a UNESCO Heritage site.

Streets of La Petite France

La Cloche a Fromage

When we entered La Cloche a Fromage the smell of cheese was so strong. In the entrance was this huge cheese bell (la cloche a fromage). It is the largest in the world, according to Guinness (they even had a certificate to prove it).

The cheese bell

I ordered a 3 course meal. The starting plate I selected was a Munster. I was expecting the mild cheese called Munster in the US. This cheese was very stinky, not in a way that I like. I forced myself it eat it. It was soft and slightly sweet. The taste was nothing like the smell, but the smell was so strong it was hard to ignore. And it was covered in caraway seeds, adding to my displeasure.

My second plate

The second plate I selected was a selection of 11 varieties of cheese from 7 families. At least that is what the menu claimed. I liked half of them (the mild, tangy cheeses and the hard, salty ones), and disliked the rest (the stinky, soft, sweet ones).

The terrific rolls

They were about 12 varieties of freshly baked bread in baskets. A diner could help himself to whichever he wanted. They were all delicious, but I think the red wine bread was my favorite. It had some sort of tangy pieces of fruit (or something) in it. It is the the bread in the upper lefthand corner of this picture. The others are onion, beer and sesame. Delicious all!

Here I am with the cheese bell.

The dessert I chose was a delicious apple tart. Dining is a leisurely activity in Europe, so it was not unusual that we did not leave the restaurant until 11:00 pm. On our way out I asked one of my friends to take a picture of me with the cheese bell. Since the restaurant was preparing to close for the night, the cheese inside was covered with cloth.