Archive for January, 2010

Whole lotta Burns


Despite being a sassenach I joined the English Speaking Community in Alsace last night for my third Burns Night and had a great time eating, drinking and dancing Scottish.

I have written elsewhere about the layers of belonging which build up on central facts about the place where we exist to make it home.  Another happened last night.  I have been to this event twice before with friends and had a good time with them but hardly knew anyone else there.  This time, as well as the friends we had gone with, there were lots of other people present it was good to catch up with and discover how they were doing.  Another layer grown on the onion.

The evening followed a pretty normal course for a Burns evening with demonstrations of dancing, the Selkirk Grace before we ate a broth and then the haggis was piped into the room and paraded around it before being killed.  Whilst the toast to Burns and the Address to the Lassies and to the Laddies were being given we had our dessert before the rest of the evening was spent dancing with a break at midnight to sing Auld Lang Syne.

The English Speaking Community is not an enclave of Brits leavened with a touch of antipodean or American but open to people who speak or have an interest in speaking English.  It is less exclusive than, for example Americans in Alsace for whom you have to be American to be a member.  We were joined by two French, one Portuguese and a Russian friend last night.  The pictures show the piping in of the Haggis and the dancing.

Last chance to fill up before….


I moved to France just over two years ago.  Travelling between home and the UK regularly to see friends and family means I look at France with fresh eyes and I am able to see areas where things are similar to the UK and where they’re are different.  Despite this I never expected to be taking pictures of petrol stations.

In the UK, in the period before I departed from its shores, there was a move for supermarket operators like Tesco, Sainsbury and others to open local, almost corner shops.  Some of these were done as shops on garage forecourts.  As well as being handy for the people who live nearby (When in Hull last Summer our local shop was at the local garage, as well as being the local off-licence) they also mean that it pays for the owners of the garage to have staff on the site most, if not all, of the time.  In Hull the garage, petrol or filling station was open 24 hours.

Here in France things seem to have been going the other way.  Garages, petrol or filling stations, I think I’ll stick with the latter, have been going staff free and relying upon the customer having a card to pay for their fuel.  I think I remember reading a statistic that something like a third of French filling stations now are staff free and require payment by card.  The first picture above shows the forecourt of a filling station near somewhere I work with people filling up.  The second shows someone doing just that and the third shows the pump.  It is interesting that, while the UK is moving to more of a watched society with technology doing most of the watching it has found a way to maintain a human being on the forecourt of filling stations and also turned them into a resource for the community,  I recognise they have not done this for altruistic reasons but think they can make a profit doing it.  France, a country which has not deployed observation technology has moved towards having technology replace people on the forecourt of the filling stations and not developed them as mini-supermarkets for the local community.  The filling station pictured above is opposite a large housing area and backs onto a large industrial estate so would have the residents nearby to support a shop but it is also opposite a local shop which I guess is glad that a branch of the co-op Leclerc, Carrefour  or other national chain has not opened a supermarket on the site.

It pays to advertise


The local and regional council here, like all the councils in places I have lived, send regular publications detailing the sterling work they are doing delivering newer and better services at such value for money.  They are usually perused and then tossed into the recycling.

On my way to somewhere I work most often I pass the offices of the regional council, Region Alsace.  They often have a banner outside detailing an exhibition taking place there, I think it would be good to see that but then do nothing further.

In their publication at the end of 2009 the regional council had a colour picture of some women by a canalised river talking whilst doing their washing.  They are next to a house which has a woman standing in the door, there are other houses in the background and on the right of the picture you can just see the rail of a bridge over the river.  I don’t know why but the picture just intrigued me and I had to see more.  I cut it out and stuck it into my notebook with details of where it could be seen, Maison de la Region, and when, 21st December – 30th January.

On Friday I finished my work at 9:30, people are slow coming back to work after Christmas and the New Year – it will almost be time for the February skiing holidays, and as I was close to the Maison de la Region I went to the exhibition l’Alsace d’Albert Kahn. He was a child of Alsace whose family lived outside the region after it became part of Germany in 1871.  He went to work in a bank in Paris and ended up very rich with his own bank.  He lost all his money in the ‘crisis’ of 1929 and died in 1940.  In 1908 he decided to create ‘The Archives of the Planet’ which included more than 72,000 colour photographs, taken using the method “autochrome Lumiere,” and around 100 hours of film showing the World as it was at the start of the 20th Century.  The exhibition contained pictures of Alsace from the collection and included pictures of:

  • the First World War,
  • celebrations at the end of the First World War,
  • villages, houses, landscapes and transport of the time, and
  • portraits of people in costume.

The pictures of flags , French and American, in the deserted Rue des Juifs  after the liberation of Strasbourg is striking and the pictures of people in their costumes are an education, for example the two included here are wearing traditional costume and the red skirt shows the wearer is Catholic whilst the green skirt is worn by a Protestant.

Albert Kahn also planted a garden in the Hauts-de-Seine departement which is run by the Conseil general for the departement where there is also a museum.  At the end of the display there was a book, also called ‘L’Asace d’Albert Kahn‘ (following which link will also take you to the two pictures mentioned above but not shown here.) and I had been so enchanted by the exhibition that I went out and bought a copy on my way home.  Go see the exhibition and buy the book.

Ooooh baby, baby it’s a white World


Not just snow in Alsace today but fog as well as can be seen in these before and after pictures.

The first is of the Canal de la Marne au Rhin alongside the European Parliament.  The first picture, on the left showing a boat, probably soon to be a new houseboat (the moorings for houseboats is not much further along the canal) being towed along the canal on the balmy sunlit day of 17th December.  The next picture shows the same scene today.  It is not the glare from the sun that is restricting visibility any further than the Parliament building.  This part of northern Strasbourg, Robertsau (blog) has quite a lot of water and a lot of houses or maisonettes with gardens which means it tends to be colder than central Strasbourg where there is a higher density of buildings – so there was less fog this morning.  Both pictures above were taken on the way to my French lesson on Thursday mornings four weeks apart.

The second set of pictures were taken from the same spot, also on a Thursday morning, but these were six weeks apart.  This time it is on the way to work in Duppigheim looking towards the Vosges, which are just visible in the picture, also looking towards the village, Duttlenheim, which as the place where one of the most famous Alsatians grew up was the subject of a previous post.  The second picture was taken this morning and the village is not visible, let alone the Vosges.

The title for the post comes from a song by Cat Stevens song, Wild World and here he is with it:

Here’s to you Mrs Robinson


Argent, sexe et politique (Money, sex and politics) as the story about the wife of the First Minister of Northern Ireland is headlined by a newspaper in France.  The headline whilst very easy and, I’m sure not very original, given the similarity with the events and the Dustin Hoffman and the wonderful Anne Bancroft film, The Graduate featuring music by Simon and Garfunkel.

It is interesting that in the film Anne Bancroft, who for people who haven’t seen the film plays the older woman who has a sexual relationship with a recent graduate played by Dustin Hoffman, was 39 at the time the film was made whilst Dustin Hoffman was 30.  A bit different from the current Mrs Robinson’s 59 at the time of their relationship and the young man’s 19.  I’m not going to pontificate about the right and wrongs of what happened I just hope that someone who has previously said:

she told a BBC radio show in 2008 that homosexuality was an “abomination” which made her feel “nauseous”. She was reacting to the news of a homophobic attack on a gay man in Northern Ireland, when she suddenly spilled her private feelings. Despite instant condemnation, she continued to defend her views, adding: “Just as a murderer can be redeemed by the blood of Christ, so can a homosexual…. If anyone takes issue, they’re taking issue with the word of God.”

has learnt to be able to condemn a little less.  The title for this post comes from another song in the film:

Simon & Garfunkel – Mrs Robinson
envoyé par Salut-les-copains. – Clip, interview et concert.

A tale of three photos


Yesterday I uploaded photos of my family Christmas and my New Year from my camera to Facebook via my netbook for the first time.  Today  I am uploading pictures from my phone here for the first time.  The picture on the left was taken at Reading Station on Monday 21st December.  It was the day the town allegedly ground to a halt stories of people taking hours to get anywhere, cars being abandoned etc. but all I can say is fortunately I got away to Bristol, despite my train being cancelled.  Bristol was the first stop in a tour of the South West of England which ended up with Christmas being spent in Cornwall.  After Christmas  and a night in a Hotel in Gatwick I left for Cyprus.  I saw the New Year in with  JTO in Paphos where the weather was sunny and  warm, the picture is of JTO in the hotel pool.  New Years Day was spent on the bus to Larnaka where we are now and which has a bit more of a breeze coming in from the sea and the hotel has no pool.  Today we hired a car and went to the occupied zone on the North of the island and ate at a great Turkish restaurant and visited a site of amazing ancient ruins. The last photo was taken at the border between the two halves of the island.

Whilst a lot of attention gets paid to other conflicts around the World very little is paid to that affecting an island in Europe.  I am pleased there will be talks between the leaders of the governments of the two parts of the island.

This tour is courtesy of JTO’s employers.  She works for a European institution in Strasbourg editing documents into correct English. It is therefore important her English is good and current and this trip is to help her charge up her English.  Getting some sun in the middle of Winter,visiting ancient ruins, spending Christmas with family and friends, finding out about one of the older conflicts troubling Europe and getting a nice rest are just a big added bonus.  I will be home in Strasbourg in a week and normal service about life there will resume then.

Happy New Year


I’d like to wish  everyone reading this blog all the best for 2010, a very happy New Year to you.

Looking back I realised that it was a month since I last posted.  Working to get a much done as possible before the Christmas holidays and then spending it in a converted barn in Cornwall where you had to go up the road to get a phone signal, let alone anything so hi-tech as wi-fi are the reasons for the silence. I have spent the time resting,relaxing and thinking about things.  One thing I thought about is this blog and there will be changes here in the coming month so watch out.

I was in Romeo’s Restaurant in downtown Paphos to see the New Year in.  Waking up to the sun and cloudless skies and then spending the morning by the pool mean this is a bit different from last year when the New Year was spent in Vienna dancing in our coats in temperatures well below zero.  We’ve now moved to Larnaka and I’m looking forward to exploring some more of Cyprus.

The album I’ve loved the most this last year I actually got towards the end of 2008 but I haven’t stopped playing it all year.  It’s Ida Maria ‘Fortress round my heart’ and here’s the video for ‘Oh my God’.  As the Disk Jockey chaps say, enjoy;

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