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January 15, 2008

Filed under: culture»europe»germany

My Dog Has No Nose

From UK Resistance (of all the unlikely places), this Guardian article on the German sense of humor is fascinating, tying it to the language's highly-exacting structure. Kind of a comedic Sapir-Whorf, if you will.

March 22, 2007

Filed under: culture»europe»belgium

Sweet Vindication

And the results of the Great Nutella Blind Taste Test are:

Only three people out of six guessed correctly when asked to identify American and Belgian Nutella by their country of origin. Thus proving that, in this limited sample at least, people who claim that they prefer the European version either actually prefer the American or just can't tell the difference.

Extra points go to snobs who insist that the Romanian product is way better than the Belgian, especially after failing the test.

March 17, 2007

Filed under: culture»europe»belgium

Waffle City

So: about Belgium.

The conference was a success. We got a quarter of a million hits on the site in five days, maxed out the streaming server, and had visits from the President of Liberia and the King of Belgium. Since the video stream could only handle 300 users at once, we ended up turning to audio downloads of the speeches, meaning that my writing and recordings became the main feature of the site. I hope that'll look good as I keep prospecting for jobs.

Brussels itself reminds me of the older parts of Paris, although I'm sure that's partly because they're both French-speaking (the Dutch contingent is a distinct minority). The city's style itself also reminds me of France, particularly older cities like Avignon, although a few team members who had lived there assured me that most of Brussels has been destroyed and rebuilt at least once over the years. Regardless, it's a very walkable city, with lots of cobblestone streets. I didn't get to stroll around very much of it, being busy with the conference, but I did get to see some.

This church outside of the hotel was being remodeled. I like that the scaffolding has a finished image of the church on it, almost as if someone thought they could fool passers-by.

La Grand Place at night. This is one of the big landmarks of Brussels. It's one of those city squares that's surrounded on all sides by these incredibly beautiful buildings, covered in intricate carvings.

Here's the other side of the square.

And of course, a picture of me looking jetlagged in front of the other side.

Walk past La Grand Place a little ways, as I did with a few team members, and you come to this old shopping district. Slightly farther is a famous bar that was once a landmark for the local bohemians, which shares its name with its house brew: "Sudden Death." Very encouraging.

Many of the buildings in Brussels have a very art deco feel to them, like this museum building. It used to be an insurance agency, according to a sign outside the entrance.

When we first got there, the staff were actually still putting the building together. They have a lot to do even now. Once you stepped outside of this conference room, there were missing carpets, too many doors, confusing exit signs--all the best parts of great planning.

But with that said, the conference room looked really good with 400 people inside. This picture is taken from when the heads of the development agencies first walked in, hence the photographers in the middle. The moderator, Nik Gowling, stood in the middle--a decision meant to encourage participants to talk to each other, and let him react dynamically to the proceedings.

But with all the technology there, the one thing that nobody had was a microphone stand, and I didn't pack one--I had enough trouble with security already. I had to improvise. Classy.

November 6, 2005

Filed under: culture»europe»france

Best of Belle's France Photos

Belle uploads her pictures right away. Why yes, that is a general aura of procrastination surrounding me! Thank you for noticing!

Of course, those are just the shots that won't duplicate what I'm going to post, so there's plenty of other good stuff over at her full photoset. The pictures of me looking stupid are faked, I swear it.

November 4, 2005

Filed under: culture»europe»france

French Photo Follies

These aren't all of my pictures from the trip--just the ones that tickled me for one reason or another.

Let's get the usual suspects out of the way first. The trip started and ended in Paris, so of course we saw the Arc de Triomphe. When we saw it in the daylight, we actually took the tunnel underneath it and looked out from underneath. It's much bigger that way. Someone is scared of heights, so we didn't actually see the view from the top.

The Eiffel Tower is huge. In movies, it's probably always painted in, and it doesn't look very impressive. The movies lie, I tell you now. Just the concrete supports on which it rests are enormous. For my fellow DC residents, it's at least as tall as the Washington Monument, and as wide at the base as the Mall.

Although this image is washed out (I take all my pictures on manual mode. It's a learning experience.) I really like the way that it accentuates Notre Dame's architecture. This is another shockingly huge building. Inside, the high-vaulted worship area is ringed by two sets of open hallways, and then alcoves containing alters, displays, or paintings. Outside, statues flank the main doors. I like the second picture because the spikes seem oddly appropriate as a visual motif.

After Paris, we headed to Avignon, but stopped here in Montpellier first. The park was outside the railway terminal, on the way to the public square in the second picture. It's a very pretty town. Montpellier is, according to the guidebook, the gay capital of the country, whatever that means.

Avignon was the temporary site of the anti-pope. Those of you who remember your European history classes from high school know that this is a term dating from the Great Schism of the church. It does not refer to a pope which, brought into contact with the regular pope, self-annhilates. I think they should add that to the audioguides. The castle shown at night was the Palace of the Pope's. Avignon is a very medieval place, and includes a gorgeous set of parks where you can look down on the town walls.

Built, if I remember correctly, during the latter days of the Roman empire, the Pont du Neuf was featured in a French folk song that I've never heard. A wandering saint showed up in town one day and mentioned to the townspeople that God wanted a bridge. The townspeople, rightfully skeptical, replied that if the saint could hurl an enormous rock into the river to start the work, they'd help him finish. Legend says he promptly heaved the boulder into the water. They had to explain sarcasm to him, but the town helped build the bridge anyway. The incident also led to France's disastrous Saint-Deployed Artillery system, precursor to the modern missile defense system.


We took a couple of day trips, apart from our regularly scheduled cities. This fountain in Aix En Provence was just gorgeous.

Likewise, a visit to the seaside town of Ville France-sur-mar provides pictures of beautiful women and some of the most brightly colored buildings I have ever seen.

You might say that we were in the classier parts of Nice. You'd be lying, but I appreciate the effort. Anyone want to guess what Sexy Love, right down the street from our hotel, is selling to its customers? On the other hand, the halal markets and butchers were very friendly and sold delicious rolled pastries. The pigs hanging in a delivery truck struck me as very quintessentially France. Americans don't like to think about where their food comes from--and the pig's not thrilled about the idea either.

Lyon lights up in the evening, but there's a lot of history just across the river. The streets surrounding that church are suppoed to be riddled with hidden passages dating back to the Renaissance. They are very well hidden, to the point that we only found a couple. Also, people still live in them, so a lot of times you can't get in to see them without a paid tour. I've noticed that about other countries--here, we have enough room (and little enough history) that we can often set aside our landmarks and sights from our everyday routine. In places like France, or when I was in China, they live in their history, and it surrounds them all the time. Does that mean anything? I don't know.

CAPTION CONTEST! My entry: "Sir, your hippo is parked in a handicapped spot. I'm going to have to ask you to move."

Surrounded by an ancient Roman construction dating back centuries, Belle puts the hurt on Superstar Saga.

October 30, 2005

Filed under: culture»europe»france

Un amour de fromage

West-to-east jetlag is one of my favorite travel bonuses, because I am not a morning person. Now after traveling from, say, France back to Virginia, all of a sudden I'm waking up at five a.m. and feeling great. Everyone comments on how refreshed I am! How productive! Of course, since I don't sleep much, this takes only about a day to wear off. But that one day is a glorious, golden moment for all mankind, particularly those portions at -5GMT.

It's surprising that I still managed to be so cheerful, since my flight was delayed and luggage didn't arrive until 1:30 in the morning. The luggage was shipped to my apartment, which was convenient (although disorienting), but I still spent more time than usual hanging around JFK airport. I occupied myself trying to figure out the reasoning behind the generous pornography section of the magazine racks. In Paris I could attribute the high proportion of skin mags at the airport to the general sexual atmosphere of France, but in the more prim and prudish USA it took me by surprise. It seems like a fundamentally stupid place to buy porn (as if there's an intelligent, insightful place), much less have a whole section devoted to it. Do people actually buy explicit material just before climbing onto a cramped plane where they'll be in close company with all ages, genders, and creeds?

Well, maybe they do. Like the redneck standing in the Men's Health section of the newstand, surreptitiously grabbing Barely Legal when he thinks no-one's looking and folding it inside a copy of Outside Magazine. I'm willing to give him the benefit of a doubt, but I can't imagine he's reading that for the articles.

Enough about domestic disparities, man! what about France itself? Well, it's a very nice country--beautiful and varied and not too big--but probably not my kind of place. The food is unbelievable, and the desserts are mind-boggling. I had an ice cream cone in Paris that I may never forget, and a pseudo-Mexican caramel dessert in Lyon that should be illegal. The traditional French food was excellent, as were some of its dodgier outliers--like steak frites. Those are long hamburger sandwiches available from street vendors with french fries and ketchup on top. It's like a whole combo meal in an easily portable package.

France is also a country on a schedule that's alien to Americans. Shops close early, or late, seemingly at random, and Mondays are for some reason oddly quiet. There is probably an excellent cultural reason for this, but I'll admit my ignorance right up front. It gave me trouble.

There is probably also an excellent cultural reason for the massive proliferation of real estate and analysis laboratories, and I'd love for someone to explain it to me, especially the latter. Every few blocks in the larger cities, there's an office marked "Medical Analysis Laboratory," which lends the country a clinical flavor not unlike an episode of CSI. One is forced to wonder if the French are, in fact, a nation of criminal pathologists, solving crimes left and right when they're not playing the real estate market for massive profit. Sorry: when you don't really know anything about a country, you tend to make up these little stories to keep yourself amused. I'm not really so much of a gringo.

Anyway, the major spoils of the trip are: a number of photographs, the highlights of which may be posted; some sketches, which may also be displayed if I can find a handy scanner; and a pair of the Big Ben DS headsets, already under dissection for use with Electroplankton. A good time was had by all, and it's great to be back. Thanks, France!

Future - Present - Past