Friday, September 24, 2010

Provence Scenery

On our drive back from St. Tropez to Cannes along the coast, we stopped briefly at Cap l'Esterel, where the Esterel Massif range meets the coast. The reddish color in the rocks comes from porphyry. It reminded me a bit of the scenery near Sedona, AZ. The reds were a bit more subdued, but in exchange we had the brilliant blue ocean on our right. The Esterel Massif also contains a large nature reserve.  The landscape is visible from the A8 highway, too. There are several noteworthy hikes that I have place on my to do list.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

There Goes My Early Childhood

On my morning surf today I stumbled across the depressing news that the final episode of the US soap opera As The World Turns aired yesterday.  ATWT was the most-watched daytime drama from 1958 to 1978.  It was set in the Midwest, in the fictional town of Oakdale, IL.  My mother watched ATWT religiously when I was a small child.  I can remember watching it with her before I was old enough to go to school and on the rare weekdays when I was home sick.  I never could relate to the drama or intrigues portrayed in the show and never understood how such staid and respectable families could find themselves involved with criminals or involved with the criminal justice system as a result of their own behavior.  So innocent was my life!  I related best to the actors who portrayed grandparents and older adults who radiated the same kind of inner quiet that I was used to in my own life.

CBS report on last show

Check out the gas prices at the beginning of the Comet ad!

I Particularly liked the holiday shows when harmony prevailed.

The term "soap opera" relates to the fact that the companies that produced the dramas advertized their products on the show and that those products, particularly soaps and detergents, were aimed at the housewife, the "target audience", now a disappearing breed.  Procter and Gamble was the producer of ATWT.  My mother had worked for the company before I was born, so her loyalty to the show carried over to her loyalty to P&G products.  Yes, we were a P&G family.  I have not watched an episode of ATWT in over 30 years, about the time that it lost its top rating spot to more modern shows in the late Seventies and early Eighties, and certainly was not a regular viewer after starting school, but I can still recreate the mood of those early shows and the comfort and quiet of time spent watching TV in a clean house in the suburbs.

One of Many Famous P&G Products

Friday, September 10, 2010

Noise Pollution

Philladelphia Bell to be Silenced by Noise Law?

I see that Germany is not the only country that has noise laws that may prevent the ringing of church reports:

For 104 years, the bell at St. John the Baptist Roman Catholic Church in hilly, blue-collar Manayunk has joyfully summoned the faithful to prayer, celebrated marriages, and marked the ends of wars.  Now, in a city whose many sacred symbols include a cracked bell, someone has filed a complaint to silence St. John's 5,000-pound bronze casting.  Not completely. Just in the morning. At 7. That's when it rings 18 times for the Angelus.  The official reason: It's too loud.

The Rev. James A. Lyons, pastor of St. John's, received a warning letter last week from the city Health Department.  The missive threatened the 179-year-old church with fines of up to $700 per day if the pealing bell is found to violate the city's 2006 noise law.

The bell has always sounded the Catholic call to prayer known as the Angelus. Traditionally, the Angelus bells sound 18 times at 6 a.m., noon, and 6 p.m.  Several years ago, Lyons delayed the first Angelus to 7. "We wanted to do the neighborly thing," he said, "and give everybody a rest."

So much for being neighborly.  As I said, I don't think the local churches here sound the morning Angelus.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Do You Know the Way To Saint Tropez?

View of St. Tropez from Citadelle

St. Trop Harbor

A Tricky Park Job at the Yacht (Staff Waiting to Greet Owner)
[Notice the soap box and deck shoes!]

Harbor Detail

BB:  The Patron Saint of St. Trop

St. Trop Old City

St. Trop View of Water from Citadelle

We took a couple of day trips to St. Tropez during our summer vacation in Cannes to drop off and pick up Fräulein Bloggerboy, who had an invitation to spend a couple of nights with a school friend whose family had a house outside town on a hillside overlooking the Bay of Pampelonne and its famous beaches. As the crow flies, St. Trop, as the locals call it (a play on the French word for "too much": trop), is not far from Cannes, but much of the route is along two-lane roads, and the traffic in season is hellacious. I had initially planned just over an hour for the 85 kilometer trip to Trop (snort), but it took two hours, the last hour of which was spent crawling in bumper to bumper traffic along the coast. We dropped Bloggerboy Junior off in town so that he could meet up with one of his school friends who also was vacationing there, and then we headed out into the hills above the city to look for Fräulein Bloggerboy's friend. Driving past countless gated communities tucked away in the Mediterranean maritime forest outside of town, I was reminded a bit of Pebble Beach and similar communities on the West Coast. We got a bit lost, but finally found our destination after a quick cell phone call for orientation. We enjoyed a quick drink of water, and the spectacular view from the pool area, before saying goodbye to Fräulein Bloggerboy, who was already in the pool and content beyond words to finally be living in the style to which she hopes to become accustomed.

Back in town, we wandered around a bit until I was thoroughly bored with window shopping. There were a lot of day tourists along the shopping streets, but many of the side streets were empty. We weren't really in the mood for a warm meal at late midday, and many of the restaurants were shutting down. I felt a pastis coming on and left Frau Bloggerboy to her further explorations. For me, there is great vacation value just sitting in a cafe near a sandy, public square, watching people play boules. And that's just what I did.

Contrary to popular belief, boules is an exciting game AND a great spectator sport.  Those guys sitting on the benches were really getting into the game.  Gathering around the balls after a round to discuss the finer points of who won can take plenty of time as well.

No matter how fancy a place St. Tropez claims to be, it is built up around a simple fishing village.  It caters to rich and famous people who prefer to keep a low profile and retreat to their gated villas, but there are lots of normal folks and locals as well.  The yacht harbor in Monaco or Cannes offers more big yachts per square meter than the one in St. Trop.  The Croisette in Cannes or the Boulevard des Anglais in Nice offers more bling bling per kilometer with their fancy hotels and restaurants.  I prefer Cannes, not because of the bling bling, but because it offers more city life, more dining choices at reasonable prices --  and great film memories!  I'm afraid that I am a minority of one in the Bloggerboy family.  The beaches at Pampelonne are top notch, and that seems to be the main criterion for the rest of my family.  Sitting in my cafe at the sandy village square of St. Tropez in the afternoon heat, sipping on my pastis, I quickly forgot about the yachts, the Ferraris, and the tourists and drifted into the realm of that eternal France that lives in my head.  I was deeply content. 

The three of us later headed back to Cannes.  Later that evening, we took revenge on Fräulein Bloggerboy by having a superb meal in a nice reataurant near the harbor.  I had a large raw platter with oysters, clams, shrimp, crab and sea snails, all washed down with a crisp Côtes-de Provence Rosé.  I felt better after that and ordered three scoops of sorbet to get me ready for our walk home and bed.  Two days later we drove back to pick up Fräulein Bloggerboy. I dropped the wife and son off at one of the Pampelonne beaches for a couple of hours of sunbathing and rushed into town to take the pictures that I was too lazy to take on our first day trip.  Later, I picked up the daughter, and then the wife and son, and we drove along the coast to Cannes, the children moaning about the slow going the whole way back.  More later.

Tahiti Beach, one of the Pampelonne Beaches

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Taxi Service Mama -- Going out of Business Notice

We live about two kilometers from the school that Bloggerboy Junior and Fräulein Bloggerboy attend. For years, Frau Bloggerboy (aka "Mama") has gotten up early, fixed breakfast for the kiddies, and driven them to school. "Poor teenagers with their quirky metabolisms need as much sleep as possible", or so goes the rationalization for the added service of not having to walk to school to be there by eight. Public transportation is not cheap, either. A subway ticket to school for both kiddies would cost over 3 Euros one way, so, ignoring wear and tear on the car, it probably still made economic sense to drive rather than buy tickets. Of course, we have one annual ticket that can be used by any one family member during the day (and by all four of us in the evening and on weekends), so my math is a bit twisted.

The past couple of years, though, the frequency of having to buy additional subway tickets for the second child pushed us to the point where it started to make sense to look at an extra monthly ticket for Fräulein Bloggerboy. There is a discounted ticket for kids in school, but, at just under EUR 60 a month, the ticket is not cheap. Yesterday, I finally broke down and bought a monthly ticket for Fräulein Bloggerboy for September. I waited eagerly for her to come home so that I could break the news to her that she was free to jump on the subway any time now without having to worry about having money in her pocket. I think she sensed that there was a catch to this new development.  Indeed, we tried to break the news gently to her that Taxi Service Mama is going out of business.  At 14, it is time for our Fräulein to start spreading her wings.

To make a long story short, this morning, confronted with the prospect of having to leave the house twenty to thirty minutes earlier to get to school on time, Fräulein Bloggerboy pleaded with her mother to drive her to school "one last time". We teased her a bit but decided to indulge her "one last time". This is a big event in the Bloggerboy family -- one more step towards an empty nest. I think that Mama is torn by this transition. I'm not. Our children demand their independence every day and remind us constantly of what all the other children are entitled to do. Well, here is a taste of independence that is bittersweet. We'll still remind you to get up, and breakfast will be on the table for the foreseeable future, but, dear daughter, you are now responsible for getting yourself to school on time with no further recriminations that your brother or mother is making you late.  Cruel world!

"Taxi Mama": Jedes fünfte Kind wird mit dem Auto zur Schule gebracht

Hamburg, 11. August 2010. Morgens gemütlich an der Straßenecke mit den Nachbarskindern treffen und dann gemeinsam zur Schule gehen - bei Wind und Wetter. Das war einmal. Die Realität heute: Am Lenkrad des Familien-Vans gehetzte Mütter, die ihre Sprösslinge pünktlich um acht Uhr bei der Schule abliefern müssen. Dauerstau vor Grundschultoren, gestresste Kinder, die mit Ranzen und Turnbeutel bepackt aus den Autos klettern. Diesen Trend zum "Taxi Mama" bestätigt auch eine Elternumfrage des Forsa-Instituts im Auftrag der Techniker Krankenkasse (TK). Demnach wird jedes fünfte Grundschulkind mit dem Auto in die Schule kutschiert.