Sunday, 28 December 2014

Watch it before it's gone (or What exactly is a Cyr wheel?)

Vancouver Cabaret FINALLY put a video on YouTube of a Cyr wheel performance that I was VERY FORTUNATE to see on December 31, 2013 as part of their New Year's Eve Variety Show.  

Happy New Year !

p.p.s.: This is a Cyr Wheel

Saturday, 27 December 2014

Glowing (or How to get OLDER without getting OLD)

If you're looking for instructions on the subject topic, you're in the wrong place. I'm sure there are thousands of self-help books on that subject.  I'm not sure; I've never looked for one.  

No, this post is about the difference between ageing well and ageing not well. And I'm not talking about wrinkles, hair-loss, or all that stuff that seems to matter so much these days. Since I don't know exactly WHAT I'm talking about, let's just circumscribe it with the words wisdom and preservation of innocence. 

I wasn't actually present at the event that this post is based upon.  It was Denise's birthday and even though I really had looked forward to being there, I ended up attending my Spare Mom's funeral on that day. But Eike took some pictures at the party and I received a few of those in an e-mail.

I took the liberty (after asking permission) to photoshop one of the pictures (just a tiny bit of lightening and a crop to get that smile in the frame)

Anyone who inquires about Denise's age after looking at the picture below is missing the whole point of this post
Could the secret remedy be White Wine?
Photograph by Eike Marquardt 

Friday, 26 December 2014

Cover your mouth, PLEASE

It must be cold or flu season or both, because I remember a lot of bronchial hacking going on in the plane to Montreal and the next plane to Vancouver.  Even in the train from Saint Malo to Paris I had a cougher sit right behind me.  

Usually I survive these encounters unscathed, but yesterday afternoon I found myself trying to hack stuff out of my lungs while my whole body was aching and my mind was refusing to complete even the most simple of tasks.

And then I remembered her.  The woman in the seat right next to me on the flight from Montreal to Vancouver (Not the pizza eater; he was on my other side).  During most of the flight she was at least only coughing at the LCD screen in front of her (Do they even disinfect these?).  But when we arrived in Vancouver, she got up to get her handbag out of the overhead compartments and while she had both hands up to grab her bag, she coughed right at me.  THANKS A LOT, LADY !

While it seems too much to expect North Americans to show the common courtesy exhibited by many Asians of wearing a face mask when they are sick to prevent the spread of their malaise, could you at least refrain from coughing in people's faces?  Or is even that too much to ask?

PISSED OFF, but refraining from coughing at other people.

Thursday, 25 December 2014

Happy holidays

It's that holiday again:  
The holiday of music and free love. 

Oops. Nope. That was Woodstock. 

No, this is Christmas: 
The holiday of nubile bodies glistening in sun-tan lotion. 

OOOps. No. No. That was Cuba.

No, this is Christmas. Christmas !!!
The holiday of unbridled merciless consumerism and consumption with utter disregard to wars, hunger, or anyone who has less than us.

Yeah!  I got it right this time!  Christmas!

When I googled Christmas, I got a news article with the above image in SECOND SPOT !  Wonder how much they had to PAY for that? 

The German on-line News magazine Der Spiegel has an article with tips on how to STUFF YOURSELF at Christmas dinner without experiencing that unpleasant stuffed feeling.  
Decadence a la Decline of Rome is in fashion again. What should that tell us?

Feeling unpleasantly full as a result of eating too much is one problem these people do NOT have to deal with.
These are Palestinian refugees in the Yarmouk refugee camp inside Syria.  Judging by their clothing, they are not only HUNGRY but also COLD.

What I want for Christmas?

Peace on Earth and maybe just a tiny bit of compassion from those who have sooooo much!

HOW LONG is that flight? (or The true meaning of freedom)

13.5 hours in plane, then an 8 hour lay-over and then another 8 hours flight.  Where does that get you?  No, not the Sea of Tranquility on the lunar surface (that actually takes even longer).  That gets you to the other side of the earth.  Consider that in 3D for a moment !  In particular, if one departs here in Vancouver, one would be delivered by those flights to Perth Australia.

Why the hell would I want to go to Perth?  Easy: On Friday the 14th, Neil Young is appearing in a bar together with an unknown band (apologies to the band: unknown to me ;-). The tickets were selling for 15 Australian dollars and were still available when I discovered this.
Injidup beach 200 kms from Perth

So, given my nature sufficiently bared in this blog, why am I not in Australia right now?

I have the money.
I don't have a full-time job or translating projects that would hold me back.
I don't have a spouse (how I would love to have that one back ;-( or kids that would keep me here.
I'm not wheelchair-bound nor do I have a condition that would prevent me from going.
I'm not afraid of Ebola-contaminated planes or terrorist attacks on or mechanical failure of the planes that would take me there.
I am not afraid of the 29 degree Celsius weather down there.
I am not afraid of crossing the Equator (au contraire, it's something I haven't done yet! ;-)

In 25 years I am likely to be dead.   WHY am I right now not suffering from a most horrible jet lag caused by the 16 hour time difference?  WHY did I not go and see Neil Young in a BAR (!!!) and at the same time visit Australia?

After this long introduction, you're probably expecting an answer.  But I can't give you one, because I'm not really sure myself.  I'm not entirely sure why I did not take the opportunity to see something that I should have been dying to see.  Sure, I keep coming up with extenuating circumstances to defend myself, but in the end I always come back to the same spot:  Yes, all my excuses are valid, but I still should have gone to Perth.

Freedom lives in one's head.

Monday, 22 December 2014

Coming home for Christmas on Day XIV (CDG - YUL - YVR)

While today actually is the day that "I'm leaving on a jet-plane", Roissy does not exert such a pull as to warrant playing the John Denver song again. 

But I couldn't help inserting a picture of Seagull again ;-).

Charles de Gaulle Airport is HUGE.  
Just walking walking through Parts A through F of Terminal 2 that are located in a ring around these roads would about 1 hour.

And this is a good fact to know.  When I'm trying to get from 2E to 2A, I find that armed military has blocked passage through terminal 2C.  Seems like some idiot traveller or terrorist left a suitcase standing around the terminal and now it has to be disposed of.

Of course, no one of the airport personnel present can advise anyone on how to get through or around this blockage. They don't even know how long it will take to dispose of the suitcase.

No walking outside the terminal either!
Here is the trick:  Walk back to 2E where the terminal building bifurcates.  Stay on the OTHER side and then walk through a tunnel to get to 2A.  When I get to the Air Canada check-in counter it is empty; apparently not many other people have figured out the way around.
Gotta love Air Canada:  Before they even let you approach the check-in counter, they want to see your passport.  Then they ask "Where did you just come from?". I say "Excuse me?"  She repeats the question.  I say "From a hotel in Paris".  "Where is your luggage?"  I point to my backpack.  On this trip I actually found that I was carrying TOO MUCH luggage. With bi-daily sink laundry 3 of the 6 undies and 2 of the 4 pairs of socks would have been amply sufficient!  I refrain from trying to explain that to the Air Canada luggage-searching lady though ;-)

When going through security, the guy at the metal-detector gate asks me to take my shoes off.  They get X-rayed.  

My shoes on the proper feet again !

When I look for my shoes on the other side, I can't find them.  Then I see that someone else is putting them on.  He already had laced them up again !!!! ( I don't lace them through the uppermost holes, but he had started threading the laces through these holes). Am I the only one who would recognize his shoes and never in a lifetime by accident put on someone else's shoes?

The 7 to 8 hour flight is bearable. Air Canada actually feeds its passengers on this flight.  I manage to sleep  In retrospect I have to give the woman at Immigration & passport control a lot of credit.  While she was asking me the usual required questions about this and that and Ebola, I was fidgeting and finally interrupted her to ask her "Where is the nearest smoking lounge or do I have to go outside the airport".  Somehow in my mind her questioning was over ;-)  But she took in in good spirit and with a great smile and said with a French accent "Yes, you WILL SMOKE!" and told me where to light up.   Bon Fete et tremendous Karma a vous!

  Yes, that is SNOW.  I keep my cigarette breaks short.
While Vancouver airport has a few selected SMOKING outside the terminal building, the zones that are small in number in Montreal are the NON-SMOKING zones.  I see this roughly 70 year old gentleman (very nice old-school coat, hat, and he's smoking his cigarette with a holder) smoking RIGHT BELOW the non-smoking area sign.  But when I gesture to him whether it's OK to take his picture smoking under the sign, he decides to behave more orderly and smokes his cigarette elsewhere.  I decide that it is a bad sign if even the old bow to the countless rules of law and order.

Then it's time to go through security again for the next flight to Vancouver.
Welcome to Canada, where we don't have that many people but we treat them like cattle anyway !

... because cattle can be MILKED !  (BTW: What exactly are they selling here?)
But there are other aspects of Montreal airport that are still refreshingly European.  The Sushi restaurant offers beer but no wine. But the restaurant right next to it has wine. Pas de probleme !  The customer is indeed king ;-)

HUNGRY Airlines

What I can not comprehend:  On the 5 hour flight from Montreal to Vancouver, Air Canada does not provide ANY free food.  Sure, they're willing to give some ugly sandwich or pizza on cardboard to any hungry sucker with a credit card, but if you want to EAT, you gotta PAY!  Murphy's law strikes again as my seat neighbour orders himself a pepperoni pizza (maximum TANTALUS TORTURE for me).  But after having been pleasantly surprised after being served a free lunch with a smile on the dumping-price 1-hour flight with Germanwings from Cologne to Salzburg, I refuse to give a single penny more to Air Canada even if that means I have to go hungry.  

In Vancouver, I stare unbelievingly at the still not operational Compass transit ticket vending machines.   If Paris was acting on pressing matters as quickly as Vancouver, the Parisians would still have raw sewage running through their streets.  Ah well, I shouldn't complain, at least Vancouver has 3 SkyTrain lines now. And they even work sometimes.   

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Day XIII, Part II: Abandoning my Seagull (Saint Malo to Paris to CDG)

Play THIS SONG when you read this post and look at the pictures. That should explain the mood I'm in.   It is the day on which I have to leave this place. Again.
The evolution of man?

10:30 am. Because of the vicinity of Christmas, the supermarket is (as an exception) open today, Sunday.  I make use of that to buy a demi-bouteille de Rose (OK, 2 demi-bouteilles, but one is for the train ride ;-)

My train will leave at 12:15; My seagull sits on the railing again, looking at me with that look.

Even after I have fed it the last of myleft-over food, it doesn't leave.

I take two last pictures of the beach, and even refuse to go down there again (What's the point?; I'd just want to stay).

I take one last sad look back at Seagull, assuring it that I will be back when it has grown up a bit.

I will miss this bird !

I go down to reception, check out (my credit card miraculously works; oh right; they gave me a leniency period until Tuesday), and walk the 14 minute walk to the train station.  A note to wine drinkers:  Avoid sipping just before departure and then walking in cold weather.  I make it to les toilettes at the train station just in time!

Having my mind no longer occupied by my bladder, I finally notice what’s in my pant’s pocket.  I have taken my room key with me and no-one has noticed.  Not enough time to go back to the hotel.  Now the fact that my French cell phone from June 2013 still works pays off big time ! (Thank you Orange Mobile ;-). The hotel’s phone number is on the key and with my usual French/English Pidgin lingo, I tell them that I am chambre deux cent quinze and that I still have le cle de la chambre in my pocket.  They are quite non-aggravated by this and agree to my plan of mailing the key to them from Paris tomorrow.  

As soon as I’m in my train seat, I fall asleep again and don’t wake until Rennes, where the train stops for a few minutes. 
Every minute takes me further away from Saint Malo and I’m already thinking how I could find my way back there again.  Where’s a will, there’s a way, they say.  Yesterday I already thought about the most prudent ways to improve my almost non-existing French.  There must be some French classes available in Vancouver.  Maybe if I spoke French I would uncover the unpleasant sides of Saint Malo and I would not like it anymore?  Let’s not kid ourselves, it is much more likely that I would just REFUSE to EVER LEAVE AGAIN if I spoke the language !

 My train ends at Gare Montparnasse and I take the Metro to Gare de Chatelet - Les Halles. 

Believe it or not, this is the LARGEST Underground station in the world. 750,000 people pass through here every workday (!!) and there are some shady characters visible on the security monitors.  
For example, WHAT is this guy DOING?

I'm fortunate to get there 3 minutes before an express train (Look for RER B) leaves for Charles de Gaulle Airport. 
Note: I had read somewhere that one needs a 6 zone metro ticket for this trip.  By accident, I bought six 1-zone tickets.  I warily swipe one ticket to get to the trains, hope for the best during the journey, and experience a moment of panic at CDG airport, because here one actually has to swipe one's ticket to get OUT of the system (everywhere else one only has to swipe to get INTO the system).   For a moment I imagine that the gates won't let me out unless I swipe a 6-zone ticket, but when I insert one 1-zone ticket (it might have been the same one that I swiped to get in), the gates open and release me from the system.  So take it from the cheap horse's mouth:  1 or 2 SINGLE Metro tickets got me from central Paris to CDG!
Hotel Ghetto in Roissy
I go for dinner at Campanile Restaurant, a place in the HOTEL GHETTO of Roissy close to CDG.  I ward off the person seating me with the usual "Je ne parles pas de Francais", and he just smiles at me a gorgeous smile and asks "Mais pourquoi Non?". 

Not the first time I hear that reply.  The funny thing is: I'm starting to agree with them;  BUT WHY NOT ?  

Their sometimes odd English would only be part for learning the language ;-) 

I order a burger.  Live and Learn ;-)  I had ordered my burger with Basmati rice.  The Basmati tastes divine.  So does the Burger; maybe because it's cooked medium rare (yes, you read that correctly, but rest assured, the French are very particular about their beef. In the supermarket a sign will tell you where exactly the cow lived that you're going to eat). The patty does not rest upon even a single minuscule piece of pickle, tomato, lettuce,  relish, mayonnaise, or ANYTHING that you'd expect under or over a burger patty, but IT DOES have a piece of STINKY CHEESE on top.  And the whole combo goes down rather well, but that probably is also due to the demi-litre of Rose that accompanies it ;-)  Then I discover it has another piece of STINKY CHEESE below it.  

No humans were harmed in the cutting of this cheese (not my pic)
It's a CHEESEBURGER, but unlike any cheeseburger I've ever seen or eaten !  
But it's GOOOOOD!  
Unfortunately I can smell the cheese when I break wind the next morning ;-(

The demi-litre is having its effect and I stumble back to my hotel to find my room and my bed. 

 Bon nuit, tout le monde !

Day XIII, Part I: Against a dark background

That is the title of one of my favourite books written by Iain. M. Banks.  If you've read it and if you've visited Mont Saint Michel, which is actually only about 50 kms from where I am right now, you may agree that Banks must have visited that mountain and drawn some inspiration from it for the story.

Just looking at the 'monastery' on the book cover should give it away ;-)

But it's also still dark when I head down to the beach after breakfast at about 7:45 am.  It is pitch dark but the lanterns on the sea-wall cast some light onto beach and surf.

It looks like I'm descending the lunar lander of Apollo 11 !  A small step for Chris ....

The German has landed ....

Then it seems to turn into Stanislaw Lem's Solaris:  
Are there 2 of me taking pictures of each other or are these just 2 shadows from 2 different light sources?

All of a sudden I hear a sound like the one emitted by hundreds of little duck or chicken babies.  Where is it coming from?  Then I see them. They are much much smaller than seagulls.  They are hugging the surf.  The flock moves like a liquid whenever they are too close or to far from the surf line or when I approach to close.  I have no idea what they are and they won't be here once it is light enough to see them clearly.   
 Something to investigate next time I'm here ;-)
liquid bird flock

But enough of this darkness stuff.  

Today is the date of the Winter Solstice.  

For all you without Astronomy knowledge: Just know this: 
Days on the northern hemisphere are getting longer again !!!

When my pet seagull shows up a bit later on my railing, I realize it has decided to trust me a bit more.  Instead of jumping off the railing and gliding in the wind while waiting for me to throw food into the air that it can then gracefully catch in flight, it stays seated on the railing and allows me to throw the food right into its beak.  Cute !

  After I have fed the last of yesterday's baguette to it, it keeps staring at me with that look.  I rummage around the room and find some dry bread crusts.  Seagull catches the first crust and drops it instantly.  The second bread crust suffers the same fate. Seagull takes off.  Of course: I have to end up with a connoisseur pet seagull!