Tuesday, September 23, 2008


I had one mission to accomplish today -- get a copy made of our apartment key, so that we would have two keys that actually worked to open our front door. A cursory visit to wordreference.com reminded me that the establishment I would be looking for ought to be called a "serrurerie" -- a name so unpronounceable by native English speakers that I vowed only to ask "vous faites les copies des clés?" as opposed to the more direct "Etes-vous serrure?" when inquiring of a store-owner.

The normal internet mapping solution suggested that these fellows ought to be fairly common, and -- like seemingly all other businesses in Paris -- situated at regular intervals throughout the area. I glanced at a few that seemed nearby, but made only a cursory attempt at memorizing their addresses, and then set off into the great unknown. I was forced to do without my wife as she was already off on her own adventures in Fulbright-recipient-welcome-seminars -- I would be forced to deal directly with the populace, without recourse to an interpreter gifted with a more thorough knowledge of grammar and vocabulary.

Half a dozen blocks from our apartment I came across the first of several "serrurerie" I had made note of, but a quick glance at the metal shutters closing up their windows led me to believe they were closed for the day. I was walking away when I glanced back at two men opening the door and raising the shutters. Ahh, of course, it was 14 00h, they were just back from lunch which they had been eating since midi. I caught one fellow while he was still on the sidewalk and asked him whether he could make a copy of this key (while holding out the original) and how much would it cost [Note: All conversations from this point on with anyone not explicitly identified as speaking English, in this or any subsequent post, should be assumed to have taken place in French... or French plus whatever language tenuously related to French I happened to be speaking that day. -- Ed.]

This joker said he could do it in a couple minutes for 5 euro, but he was quickly interrupted by his compatriot inside... turns out he didn't even work there, or at least, knew nothing of the key making business (Evidently serrureries in France often double as plumbers, door-hangers, window-installers and home security experts). After ushering me into his shop, he spent some time finding my key's exemplar on a chart before declaring it would cost 35 euro, oh, and by the way, you need to bring it in Tuesday morning and you can pick it up Tuesday evening. Oh yeah, and if you've got an original instead of that already copied key you're holding bring that, cause there won't be a risk of damaging anything -- kinda hazy on the last part of that translation, but the take-home message was that I'd have to wait a least a week for this fellow to get my key copied. Unacceptable.

Somewhat dejectedly I said my "bonjournee" to the gentlemen, and left. I decided to walk towards "Père Lachaise" (a huge cemetery containing such notable corpses as Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrisson), and perhaps give it the once over prior to some future planned visit with Michelle. I was surprised when I got their to discover it is located on top of a towering hill... but then, considering how many have been buried there, I shouldn't have been. I saw just a small portion of the cemetery, and no graves of anyone of any infamy, but what I saw was fascinating. There were hundred-year old stone sarcophagi covered in green moss next to recently erected monuments in fresh colored marble, Catholic prayer booths with stained glass and altars next to Oriental incense holders, French noble houses next to Vietnamese imports. A pervasive throughout were the horse chestnuts. Many of the shrines seemed to have broken glass, and while vandalism is not out of the question, I wouldn't be surprised if most of the damage was caused by falling nuts.

Leaving the cemetery, I happened upon another shop with a neon key logo above its door, and the monsieur inside curtly informed me a copy of my key would cost 30 euro and take 10 minutes -- and that without even consulting a chart. This fellow had a entire shop-wall covered in blank keys -- for all I know he was the fellow the first shop sent out for when they needed copies. Evidently key-making's an expensive endeavor in this city. Anyhow, I sat and waited, and despite a two employee consult that lasted most of the ten minutes hunched over a key-grinder with only sporadic mechanical noises to indicate progress made, and soon had my new key copy in hand.

And when I got home, it worked even easier in the lock than the original!

Monday, September 22, 2008

22sep02, originally uploaded by punknbeans.


We're in France.

Isn't that enough for you jackals?! We're dealing with jet-lag here!

So, the flight was much as one would imagine. Our American 767 was totally lacking in modern electronics for the entertainment of passengers, and reminded me more of a tour bus than a trans-Atlantic jet-liner. We managed to survive "chicken in sauce" and *shudder*-"lasagna", and the sheer boredom of a 9 hour race to beat the sun back to the prime meridian.

Once on the ground, the familiar sights and experiences of France surrounded us once again... like we had never left (or perhaps never come) back in 2007 -- trudge across the tarmac to a crowded bus, soldiers with unslung FN-FALs wandering the terminal, the near wave-through at customs, and all around the constant press of francophone humanity. At one point as we were trying to navigate to an ATM, we came across a line of soldiers that were actually blocking off passage through the terminal, all with rifles at the ready. Our best guess was the passage of a government official through the area, but it could have been some other sort of spectacle.

Our taxi-ride into town was both shorter and cheaper than we expected (even with the chauffeur adding his own tip to the price-tag) and we were mercifully delivered to our apartment without any difficulties. The elevator turned out to be smaller than a small phone booth (but slightly larger than a bread box) and so we took our luggage up to the 6em etage in shifts.

The apartment is much smaller than was our place in Madison, but due to some clever layout, it retains a feeling of space that belies its square-footage (-meterage). The owners however seem to have some sort of ouiseaux-fetish, as two and three dimensional bird-"art"-work is in abundance throughout. Oh well, at least we're not burdened with a pigeon infestation or something equally unsanitary.

Our views are nothing spectacular, but do seem typical for the city. We've taken several walks through the neighborhood today, and it seems on the whole a decent one -- children are in evidence without their parents (alone or in small groups, not roaming in packs), elderly women seem comfortable going about their business and no one ethnicity seems to hold a majority in the region. We managed not to land in the ghetto!

I'd love to write more, but my body has developed that peculiar feeling of vibrating at high frequency that seems to accompany sleeplessness, so I shall sign off for the night. So far though, I'd call D-Day a Gold Beach.

Monday, September 15, 2008

D - 7:

It's windy on the plains -- and cold.

We've begun our academic-year-long adventure to France with a road trip across the central portion of the USA. Today we managed the Madison to Souix Falls leg of the trip. Our passage through Wisconsin and Minnesota was accompanied by variable rain of the sort that required constant adjustment of the windshield wipers. South Dakota greeted us with wind. We'd hoped to camp in the Bad Lands for our overnight, but on arrival the winds were so strong we determined we'd be unable to drive the first tent spike without the whole mess blowing off to the east.

Sioux Falls itself must function as some sort of prairie oasis, as its motels seemed unusually packed. The notion of spending $120 for a single room in the first Best Western we stopped at was more than our drive weary minds could handle, and so we made stops at the lobbies of a succession of motels -- strangely the prices kept going down, but the number of available rooms also seemed to decrease. We finally settled on a Microtel which turned out to be wonderful -- no bathtub, but a shower was sufficient in light of the other amenities (wireless internet for one).

We grabbed a late dinner of pizza at the interstate exit's Boston's and were content.

Tomorrow, Bozeman!