samedi, octobre 07, 2006

Richie Hawtin, Nuit Blanche, and Space Invaders

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First, the Space Invaders. I found another one of his mosaics, this time a "serialist" one, on a small street in the Marais, south of the Marché des Enfants Rouges. This market is one of the oldest in Paris, having been founded in the late 17th century and named after the garments worn by the children in the orphanage nearby. The market fell into disuse by the early 20th century, but was revived in the later part of that same century. Now, it's a bustling market with a full array of vendors, including a special emphasis on organic produce. There's two green grocers (maybe more, I didn't look carefully), a couple of butchers, an Italian deli, a Spanish and Portugese specialty shop, a fromagerie, a couple of "oriental" (i.e. Middle Eastern/N. African) pastry shops, and several hot food vendors (Moroccan and Asian especially). Oh, and also a couple of florists.

Anyway, I met a friend there for lunch and we wandered the market a bit before buying lunch at a Moroccan place. As we waited in line, this British guy with a group of 8 people got on the wrong side of our food vendor. You see, aside from a few restaurants set up in adjacent buildings, most food vendors only have a booth, so they also keep a handful of tables in the alleys that run alongside the market. This vendor had only a few tables, and they were nearly all filled with customers. This guy comes along with his huge group and orders 4 dishes for his group of 9 (including him). As you might imagine, the vendor was displeased. He scolded him, but didn't do much else, possibly because they had also bought a bottle of wine. However, by the time we got to the front of the line, the guy came back and asked to order another bottle of wine. In other words, he was going to continue taking 9 spots in this vendor's very crowded real estate to drink another bottle of wine (keep in mind that a cheap bottle of wine would cost half of what he was charging for one plate of tagine or couscous) without ordering any more food. The vendor flatly refused and the Brit threw a hissy fit (in French, to his linguistic credit) and stormed off. This counted as my lunch-time entertainment.

After a quiet lunch, I did a bit of produce shopping (grape season!) and then we wandered off past the Space Invader mosaic, by my friend's place, and off in our respective directions. On the way, we stopped at this boulangerie on rue Vieille du Temple between rue Roi de Sicile and rue Ste.-Croix de la Bretonnerie. I think it was called Boulangerie Matineau. Either way, I got a religieuse (trans. "nun"; a pastry that is sort of like two frosted cream-filled doughnuts, but with choux pastry and really, really good cream) and a couple of beignets de pomme, which pretty much apple slices wrapped in doughnut batter and deep fried. Mmmmm.

I also found a Québécois restaurant which was, in true Québécois style, showing only the provincial/national flag of Québec. I'm sort of intrigued by the restaurant, since anglophone Canada tends to associate "Québécois cuisine" with poutine and tourtière. Oh, and beaver tail soup, of course.

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Nuit Blanche, from the
Hotel de Ville, looking to Notre Dame

The event for the evening was the M_nus party at Nouveau Casino, but this was also the night of Nuit Blanche in Paris, so I had to make an effort to see some of the sights before the party. Nuit Blanche is a yearly event that has been going on for 5 years, where the certain neighborhoods in the city stay open all night (till 7am) and exhibitions of contemporary art are mounted everywhere. (Click here for a review of the event from AP.)

At around 10pm, I headed downtown to the Marais district--which was one of the areas featured for Nuit Blanche this year. Greg, the same friend that had met me at the marché for lunch, had thought ahead to buy us presale tickets for the M_nus party, but the tickets were "only valid until 3am," which meant that I needed to wrap up my Nuit Blanche tour and make it to Nouveau Casino in about 4 hours; I was aiming to be there before 2am, because I suspected that the line would be really long and I didn't know if they would allow ticket holders to jump the line.

As I started from Hotel de Ville and made my way around, I noticed that most of the art installations were inside buildings and required waiting in a long line to get in. The advertisements had placed an emphasis on the use of public space for contemporary art, so I had been all excited to see artistic "happenings" all over the streets. Instead, certain public enclosures were turned into exhibitions, but the lineups and security guards made for a different kind of publicness. Also, considering that most of the exhibitions in the Marais district were in municipal or state buildings, you could argue that this was more about state space than public space (presuming we're following Habermas in locating the public as a space between private and state). Nuit Blanche was still arguably public (and certainly free of charge) but the spatialization and choreography of "public" wasn't quite what I had expected. On the other hand, it seems as if some of the other neighborhoods involved in the festival had a few more outdoor installations, so this impression might be skewed by the area I chose to visit.

With a fixed deadline and a 30-45 minute walk to Nouveau Casino ahead of me, I had to choose between waiting in line for one or two exhibitions, or wandering around the entire neighborhood, but viewing everything from the exterior. In the end, I took the latter option, which resulted in a short series of photographs of the few outdoor installations I saw, as well as some shots of building interiors when I could get a good angle. In retrospect, I should've taken pictures of all the lineups outside every building. That would've been an amusing narrative of Nuit Blanche.

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A peek inside Hotel de Ville. The lineup was apparently 3 hours long.
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Heinrich Lüber standing ontop of himself, while rotating (seriously).
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A closer shot of Lüber.
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This wasn't an official installation but I loved the idea. Hair salon turned into nightclub with the stylists as go-go dancers.
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Closer shot of disco-salon
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A trans-rights poster I saw while wandering around the Marais that night.
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0h00 - 2h30 : Troy Pierce

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At around 0h30 I started my trek towards Nouveau Casino, arriving there around 1h00 and getting in around 1h30. As I approahced rue Oberkampf, I felt a bit peckish and thought about getting a bite to eat in one of the sandwich/crêpe stands before getting in line. When I saw how long the line was, I decided to just get in line. After a few minutes of waiting in line, somebody came down the line, asking for presale ticket holders. I jumped out of line along with the other presale holders and we were taken up to the front. On the upside, I got to skip the line and get inside in pretty short time. On the other hand, I had to push through the bodies and glares of those who had to wait while we passed them.

The club inside was packed. 1h30 is still relatively early in the French/European club night, so it was pretty significant that it was this busy already. I imagined all the people still waiting outside and cringed at the prospect of an entire night squashed between tall sweaty people. I went to the bar and got a beer. Obviously, they were charging "special" prices that night, because a cup of beer (not a pint; about half of one) cost me 10€. That's about $12.50USD / $15.00CDN! That was the first and last drink I had that night. Before things got too crowded, I stopped to take a picture of the stage from the back of the room. As you can see from pretty much all of the DJ portraits I took, the mixture of lighting, cigarette smoke, fog machines and humidity made photography nearly impossible.

I pushed my way to my usual spot at the front of the room; if you're right at the front, it's often a few degrees cooler, you have a bit more space to move around, you get a good look at the action on stage, and if you're short like me, you don't have to deal with anybody elbowing you in the face. Unfortunately, it was just as packed at the front, and real estate against the stage was in high demand, so I had to settle for putting my bag on the stage and then dancing a few rows back. As people in front of me moved away to get a drink or go to the bathroom, I would push forward. This has always served me well as a strategy for scoring front-row spots, but the last person ahead of me, the one holding the coveted stage spot, was recalcitrant. He looked pretty high and didn't seem to feel the need to get a drink or go to the washroom. Also, he had eye-watering B.O., which I suspect he used as his "secret weapon" in an attempt to deter me. Occasionally, he would lean over against the stage and stick his ass out, bumping into my crotch. I don't know if he thought that was going to discourage me by invading my intimate space, but that was one tactic I could handle. In the meanwhile, a girl leaning against the stage a few spots over suddenly hunched over, vomited, wiped her mouth, and kept on dancing. Some of it got on the stage. One of her friends hurried over to check on her and, himself high as a kite, subsequently sat on the stage, right on top of the spattering of vomit.

What about Troy Pierce's set? It was good, although not thrilling. He mostly stuck to a minimal techno set, with occasional tracks that ventured into the microhouse end of the spectrum. The mixing technique was spot-on and all the tracks selected were great, but the level of intensity was a bit low. Since he was the opening DJ, I suspect he sort of had his hands tied. It's pretty poor form to upstage the headliner (i.e., Richie Hawtin); if you spin a hard, thrashing set, the crowd will be exhausted afterwards and the headliner will have a much harder time setting the "vibe" in the room (or so the theory goes). Either way, it was what it was: an opening set—and I certainly didn't refrain from dancing.

2h30-3h30 : Gaiser

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Gaiser's set was a bit more intense, and a bit more on the microhouse end of the spectrum (although the entire night was very techno-centric, so it's still miles away from Chicago House). Sometime during the set, Greg caught up with me. Apparently, he was able to jump the line as well with his presale ticket. At that point, I was still fighting for a space at the front of the room, so he joined me in the struggle and otherwise got down to Gaiser. By this time, the population density in the building was incredible, and it seemed like they were ALL chain-smoking. I've been in smoky clubs before, but this was eye-watering.

3h30 : 6h30 : Richie Hawtin

As Gaiser began to wrap up his set, Richie walked on stage to check his setup; his mere presence elicited a round of cheers/screams from the audience. I'll admit, I cheered too. I've been seeing Richie at parties since 1996 (his birthday party in Toronto was one of my first raves). Although he has sometimes disappointed me with a set, he much more usually delights and occasionally astounds, so I'm always excited to see him spin. As the set started, I was worried that he was going to spin one of his lower-intensity, "ambient techno" sets which he occasionally does. Those sets can be quite complex and beautiful, but entirely inappropriate to the feel of this particular evening. However, after a somewhat abstract opening track, he dropped a thick, bassy track into the mix and the intensity was set to "high."

It occurred to me that Richie has a particular way of organizing his set that allows him to be both a high-intensity "party" DJ and an intellectual, abstract, "conceptual" DJ at the same time. He starts with a track that is abstract or atmospheric, or minimal but low-intensity and very sparse. Then, he highlights one or two aspects of that track, tweaks them to create exciting or interesting sounds (e.g., running it through an effects box such as echo or delay, messing with the EQs), uses this to create a rise in tension and expectation, and then drops a thick, bassy, pounding, "big room techno" track. Rinse and repeat. It's not that I'm accusing him of being formulaic (and I'm not necessarily against formulae either) but rather I'm interested in how he incorporates low-key, abstract tracks that lean towards IDM, into a high-intensity, dance-oriented party setting. In many ways, this sort of reminds me of episodic form in music—except the main musical theme is not the same material, but different tracks with similar textures/intensities. Much like Bach fugues, there's a feeling of departure and return; much like the episodes in a Bach fugue, there's a heightened tolerance for unusual or experimental sounds tied to an ever-increasing anticipation of the main theme's (or, in this case, the main texture's) return. Whether or not it is or should be assimilable to other musical forms at other times, there is a certain elasticity in Richie Hawtin's sets that definitely works with his crowds.

Of course, now would be a good time to reference Mark J. Butler's writing on the topic of form in DJ sets, but I don't have his book, Unlocking the Groove, in front of me right now (it's at work), so I'll post an addendum sometime soon.

6h30-8h30 : Heartthrob

At some point near 5h30 or so, Greg threw in the towel and headed home. I stayed around to hear Heartthrob, who was great at the M_nus party at the Detroit Electronic Music Festival last May. This time, his set was fantastic. He did a live set from his laptop and it reminded me a lot of Mikael Weill's laptop set from the Katapult afterparty two weeks ago. Unlike Richie's set, this was solid, punchy techno and tech-house. Unfortunately, I also threw in the towel around 7h00. I was beat and dehydrated and I had done a lot of walking during Nuit Blanche, so my feet were really sore. I wanted to stick around and see Matthew Dear, but he was scheduled to come on around 8h30 and I knew I wouldn't make it till then. Also, I've seen Dear a bunch of times over in Chicago.

After a long night of dancing, I stumbled out of the bar. On my way out, I was told to exit through the café. It was then that I realized that the adjoining café, Charbon had been turned into a "chillout room" for the event. Ah, this explained a lot. With this rather large café added to the total space of the event, the club could get away with packing far more people into the main room and still remain within fire code. Thus the near impossible density of people in Nouveau Casino.

On the way home, I picked up a baguette and a bottle of orangina at my boulangerie, and then closed my blinds and fell into bed.

vendredi, octobre 06, 2006

"Disreputable Cantonese"

So, I get a spam email, and that is the subject header. What the !@#$?? It was one of those "buy this stock!" spam messages that use randomly-generated subject headers and body text to throw off spam filters. I just love the stuff those things produce at random, and today's was a real treat. What I like about it is that I now have to imagine what "disreputable cantonese" might be.

Friday started out with an attempt to get a third ADSL modem + WiFi router installed at the residences. The line was in a U of C student's room, and we had already put in the request for the dégroupage a couple of weeks ago. Dégroupage is what ISP companies to when they want to provide ADSL over a phone line. Although France Telecom (the erstwhile national monopoly for telecommunications) has ownership of all physical phone lines, other companies have the right to "degroup" specific phone at the request of a customer lines and splice in their own interface to allow for dual use of a phone line. In this case, France Telecom remains the phone provider, but the ADSL frequencies are maintained by another company (

So, we went to do the setup and the thing didn't work. At first we thought it was the ADSL connection. Then we had a bit of a scare when we wondered whether we had set up the wrong phone number for ADSL. Eventually, we realized that the phone line, although it had a dialtone, didn't connect to anything. Instead, it kept on giving a "line not active" error message when you tried to dial. After a long 3-way conversation with France Telecom, we eventually got them to send someone out to fix the line. They should be coming by Saturday at 1:30 (how's that for turnaround?).

After having lost most of my morning to that and getting little results from it, I decided that I deserved a break. It was my day off, after all. I did a bit of research on gear shopping (I want to upgrade the RAM on my laptop, get a USB audio interface, and buy a little mic for my iPod+iTalk), and then took a nap. I realize just how rare a gift it is that I can spend 10 months with frequent opportunities to take naps, so I intend to make up for an entire adolescence of poor sleep habits.

I was going over to a colleague's place for diner that night, so I offered to bring wine. I sent her an email asking her if she had a preference for wines (red or white), but I got impatient waiting for an answer, so I headed out wine-shopping on my own. I got a very nice Alsatian Riesling (Grand Cru, which is one of the better vintages) and an Alsatian Pinot Noir. Red wines are sort of rare from the Alsace region, and their red is very very light and soft. It's almost a natural rosé. When I got home, I found an email from my colleague, telling me that I should get a strong red wine, because she was making something "typically French." Well, my Alsatian red was in no way robust, so I headed out again to the nearest grocery store and managed (with a lot of searching) to find a Chateauneuf-du-Pape.

Dinner itself was delicious. We had a petit salé, which is essentially a two-in-one soup/stew of salted pork, vegetables, and sometimes lentils. The pork has usually been preserved in salt, so you soak it and change the water several times. Then you cook the whole thing on low in a large vat of water with some herbs and the veggies / lentils. At the end, you serve the boiling liquid as a boullion for the opening course, then you serve the meat and vegetables, drained, as a main course. Then we had a fantastic cheese course (a 3-year-old Franche Comté, a Saint-Nectaire, some goat cheese, and a Beaufort) and Tiramisu for dessert. I could barely walk home, I was so full!

Over dinner I was pleasantly reminded of the French ability to acknowledge differences of opinion without offense. While they were asking me about my doctoral work, the question finally came up:

"So, are you also a fan of techno?"

"Of course."

"Oh, I'm not very fond of it myself. It's very repetitive."

"In some ways, that's the idea."

"True, there's been a real rise in repetition as an aesthetic during the 20th, century, no?"

And thus we spent nearly 30 minutes discussing the various historical lines that made repetition an intensified practice in the 20th century. Rather than an uncomfortable change of subject or a "oh, that's special," there was a moment of recognition and a sincere effort to discuss the subject through and around these differences. If only I could transfer that sort of mentality to the classroom or journal or academic conference...

This Just Says It All

This echoes the statement reported on Mark's blog, that your dissertation doesn't call you in the morning to ask you to write it.

jeudi, octobre 05, 2006

Oops! I did it again...

...I played with your heart.." I forget the rest of it. Anyway, I forgot to blog about Thursday! It's just as well. It was pretty unexciting. I went to to work. It was very eventful but outside the realm of this blog (most of the time). Afterwards, I went home, did a bit of shopping at the local dollar store (I have a hand blender now!), played with Traktor DJ Studio (3.0), did some shopping on Beatport, and spent way too much time on MetaFilter. Eventually, there will me more blogging on Traktor.

Music for one apartment and six drummers

OK, this doesn't count as my Thursday post, but I just had to blog about this. Check out this video of 6 drummers taking over a room for a series of short pieces. Also, here's the link to the MetaFilter post where I found it (I suppose I should reveal my source).

mercredi, octobre 04, 2006

Forgive me father,

...for I have sinned! Dinner tonight was delicious, but sinful in its overwhelming fattiness. Remember those rillettes that I was so fond of? Well, I had bought another batch last weekend and they were of the "old fashioned" sort that come with a layer of lard on top to seal in the flavor. Well, normally one would toss out the lard, but I thought, "What would my mother think if I threw away something edible?" So, I decided to use it as a base for another risotto. I also used a couple of Diots de Savoie which are very delicious smoked pork sausages from the Savoy region (there's even a recipe on Wikipedia). I cut up the diots and put them in a pan with a finely diced onion and the layer of lard from the rillettes. I let them sizzle for a while, until the onions were beginning to brown, and then I added the rice and coated the rice with the fat. Then I did the usual risotto thing with beef broth. Also, I added two tablespoons of Peruvian aji rocoto to make it spicy. The result was not surprising: it was !@#$ing delicious, and I could feel my arteries clogging as I ate it. I'm going to have to eat nothing but salads for a week just to make it up to my body.

Work was busy but less busy than the previous two days, so I took that as a good sign. After work I had to buy a few cheapie phones for the students who still needed them for their rooms, so my plan was to go to Darty. I went to the location at Nation, since it was sort of on my way home. I had never been to Nation (it's one of the large circles/places from the Hausmannian era) and I was actually quite impressed. The east side of Paris is relatively less chic than the west side, and far less touristy, which meant that there were plenty of cafés and restaurants with huge terrasses looking onto the park in the middle. There was plenty of tables free and the prices looked decent. There was a huge multi-lane boulevard called rue du Throne, which ran from Nation to Porte de Vincennes. On both sides, there were rows and rows of decently priced shops, so I think I've found one of the more reasonable shopping destinations in Paris. The street was full of shoppers.

It was on that street that I found Darty, but they didn't have the model I needed. I was about to just head home, but the woman at the phone counter offered to call around to other stores. She pulled up an inventory screen and saw that there were some at the Belleville store; she called them and they only had 2. "Oh, it says 6 on my screen, here. Oh, OK." Then she called the Porte de la Villette store; they had nothing. "Oh, it says you have 11. Oh, OK." Then she called the République store, and they hung up on her. I would make a comment here about French efficiency, but I've tried the same thing in American department stores with similar effects. The truth is, it's hard to maintain an accurate inventory, and large store chains have just too much crap to keep track of.

Anyway, I eventually tried the République store, since it was near a stop on my métro line, and finally took care of it. By the time I got back on the métro, however, it was HIGH rush hour. Holy crap. I've been on packed subway cars before, but this was nuts. It was too packed for me to reach for a bar, but that was OK, since we were actually too densely packed to fall over. Every time the train lurched, you would just slam into the person next to you, who slammed into the next person, and so on until somebody hits a wall. Add to this the fact that the #11 métro line is always really hot, plus accumulated body heat of a complete carload, plus the one or two people who chose to buck the system by forgoing deodorant, and you can imagine the fun I had getting home.

The rest of the night was mercifully quiet. I distributed the phones and made my "risotto of doom." I took care of a few administrative emails, took care of some blogging, and hit the sack. Oh, did I mention I ate a whole baguette with my meal?

mardi, octobre 03, 2006

Clear Channel ate my Balls

Remember when " ate my balls" was this weird internet meme that was everywhere?

Anyway, all of that came to mind this morning when I was walking across the construction site that is the place in front of my building, and I spotted this:

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Oh, what's so wrong with this picture? I don't see—hey, wait a minute...

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WTF?! What are they doing here? For those of you who aren't familiar with their work, Clear Channel is a company that owns most of the radio stations in North America, a sizeable chunk of public-space advertising, and apparently the rest of the freaking world. I was aware of their stranglehold on radio broadcasting, but I didn't realize they had their fingers in France. So I go to their website and find this bit of info:

Clear Channel handles exclusive advertising rights to poster advertising throughout the SNCF network. This includes 20,000 sites located in 800 stations and 24,000 sites inside trains.

OK, SNCF is the national train company, which includes all train lines and stations in France AND the RER commuter train system in Paris. They have exclusive rights? I thought the only monopoly in France was a state-run monopoly. Ah, France, you were leftist once.

So my day was actually pretty unexciting. Or, rather, there was plenty of excitement at work, but I'm not blogging work directly for a while. The highlight of the day was when I went grocery shopping. I successfully made it past the chocolate aisle without buying anything (a significant achievement, for those who know me well) and I picked up some lovely Lavallée grapes (dark violet). When I got to the cash, the chicken that I was trying to buy (I'm buying a whole chicken to make ají de gallina) wouldn't scan into the register, and the cashier refused to give up trying. As the line got longer and more pissed off, I kept insisting that it was all right if I couldn't buy it today, and she kept trying to scan it anyway. After a while, she decided that I should try buying it at the customer service desk, so I acquiesced and finished paying for the rest of my stuff...if only my credit card worked! My credit card has worked in several places here—notably the same grocery store just the other day—so I'm not entirely sure what the problem was. Nonetheless, the cashier kept on swiping; she didn't have the slightest idea what to do with my card, since it has a magnetic strip rather than the "smart" chips that all French cards have. I didn't quite know how to explain "punch it in manually" to her, and I wasn't about to try at that point. Thankfully, I had enough cash on me, so I just dug it out and gave it to her. Then, when I tried to pay for my chicken at the customer service desk, there was no-one there and 2 other pissed off people waiting as well. At that point, I left the chicken there and went on my way. My ají de gallina can wait.

I noticed today that most Parisians run to catch the subway. Even during rush hours, when a train arrives literally every 40-60 seconds, I see people running down escalators and flinging themselves between closing doors. Why risk falling down stairs or getting trapped in automatic doors when there's another train coming in less than a minute? I don't get it. I even found myself doing it. I saw everybody scurrying as they saw the train pull up to the quay in the distance, and I ran as well. A few minutes later, I would ask myself why I had broken a sweat over it. Now that I've become more aware of it, I've decided to never run for the train, unless it's the last one of the night. The folks at work don't mind if I wander in a bit late, and I'm never in a hurry to get home.

On a related topic, I realize that I'm doing the "live here, not a tourist" thing with Paris. When I lived in Toronto, I did less sightseeing during my 5 years there than I had in all my previous and subsequent visits. Same with Chicago; as soon as I arrived, my tourist impulse dissipated. Part of it is that, when you're living somewhere, you don't have the same "holycrapIonlyhave7dayshere!" pressure that forces you to schedule your days around tourism. Also, I do have a job here, which means that prime sightseeing hours are taken up by work. And after work, I usually want to go home and take care of my OTHER work (i.e. doctoral stuff). And somehow, my weekends seem to fill themselves....

This saturday? Richie Hawtin, Matthew Dear and Heartstrob at Nouveau Casino!

lundi, octobre 02, 2006

Like Herding Cats

Okay, today endeth my blogging about work (at least for the time being). Rather than give details about today—which also consisted of almost 100% work—I have a few general comments, sort of directed at the parents of these students:

  1. If he or she is still your "baby," why are sending him/her to a big, complex city on the other side of the globe for 3 months?
  2. 3 months in this program is a VERY expensive substitute for therapy. If your child is fragile, shy, or ill-tempered at home, he/she will be here,too.
  3. France is France is France. Everything is more expensive, amenities are more difficult to provide, and blanket-cover WiFi is not an inalienable right.

Sorry, I'm sort of channeling my parents right now. And, if any of the students ever find this page and read this: don't worry, it's not specifically about you. Everybody did something stupid or embarassing or bratty since they've gotten here, so nobody has distinguished him/herself in that respect (yet). In fact, that sort of describes my day in an indirect way. Everybody was doing their best to keep it together after intercontinental travel and a full day of school the following morning, but all the little mistakes and misfires of the entire group sort of clustered together. Admittedly, my perspective was skewed. I was dealing with nothing but problems, so I missed the moments when things were going well. I have to remind myself that for each moment that one student is in trouble, the other 20 are not.

Anyway, the day was long and full and I have little hope of getting any of my own doctoral work done this week. Hmmm, about that paper I'm supposed to write by Nov 19th...

P.S. French young radishes and butter. Why is it so damn tasty?

dimanche, octobre 01, 2006

Like Chicks to the Nest

Like jet-lagged, confused, needy chicks.

Now, I'm making an exception by blogging about work since it was pretty much my entire day on Sunday, but I'm going to have to be rather circumspect about precise details and particular events. Unfortunately, this will make for a rather short post (I know, I never write short posts), but you can fill the rest in with your imagination.

Unlike saturday morning's eventless let-down, Sunday morning started off almost immediately with student arrivals. I was woken up by my cell phone ringing: there were two arrivals downstairs. I went downstairs, helped the recently-arrived students fill out their paperwork, and then gave them some more paperwork from the Centre and showed reminded them of the meeting/tour at 4pm. There were almost 20 coming in today, and all of them would follow a similar routine. However, their arrivals were perfectly spaced so that my day was a continuous flow of arrivals, paperwork, and explanations.

This was also the first of October, which marks la rentrée proper for university students in Paris. One week from today, they will be taking classes. Thus, in addition to the 20 kids arriving from Chicago, the residence staff were dealing with another 60 or so students arriving from pretty much everywhere in the world. It was a madhouse. The staff endured the barrage with admirable skill and good nature, but the day took its toll on everyone.

Add to this the fact that we had a meeting/tour at 4pm. We were going to tour the building, tour the neighborhood, and then hit one of the subway stations to buy cartes oranges (monthly metropasses) with all of the new students. Normally, this sort of thing would happen the day after all the students arrived, but the first of the month fell on a Sunday and classes start on Monday, so there wasn't much we could do but lug their jet-lagged asses everywhere. Unfortunately, having the tour on the same day as the arrivals meant that people on late or delayed flights missed out on the tour. In the end, I think there were about 5 or so who missed the tour entirely (this came back to bite me Monday morning).

The tour itself was mostly fine. I gave them a thorough tour of the building, introduced them to the building staff, walked them around the neighborhood, and then headed for the métro station. Rather than go to the nearest station, we had walked one station further so that we could use the photo booths for the pictures they needed on their cartes oranges. The photo-taking went fine, and the purchases of cartes oranges went fine as well...

...but the station was out of identity cards. The carte orange pass is actually a combination of a laminated ID card that you always keep, and a little "coupon" that looks just like a ticket. The coupon you buy afresh every month or week (depending on what you buy), and the important part is that you always have to write the ID number from your ID card on the coupon, so that it's non-transferrable; if you fuck this up or fail to do it and you're caught in one of their random contrôles, you're up for a very, very, very steep fine. So the lack of ID cards at the station was a problem. I didn't want to risk letting 20 students ride the métro the next morning without matching ID cards. Imagine the mess if they all get caught. Instead, we walked back to the closer subway station, where I got in line to ask for carte orange IDs. The line-up was eternal and I couldn't see from where I was standing whether the ticketperson had run out of ID cards as well. Also, since it was the first of the month, everybody in the neighborhood was also buying their cartes oranges; tempers flared and lines sprawled, but eventually I got to the front of the line and got all the ID cards I needed. Next quarter, I think I'll stockpile them.

As we approached home, most of the students began to realize that almost everything does close on Sunday here. Most of them had nothing in their fridge, no hangers in their closet, and no towels (although some thought of packing that). The only way they were going to get food was to hit a restaurant or possibly McDonald's. Some of them shrugged it off, steeled themselves for a night of "roughing it" and began to make dinner plans. A few were dismayed, and would do that passive-agressive thing that drives me nuts, where you complain about a particular circumstance in the presence of someone (but not directly to them) and then wait expectantly: "It sucks that I don't have hangers." Pause. Significant stare. To be fair, though, while some seemed to expect me to pull a fully-stocked fridge out of my ass, it's also possible that they were just hoping that I would suddenly remember the location of a 24-hour store if they just asked the right question.

In the end, it wasn't a catastrophically bad day. It wasn't even frustrating. It was just long and tiring and occasionally annoying. Despite the complications, most of the students were very friendly, very grateful, and well-behaved.