Archive for February, 2010

Going for gold


After the tragic opening to the Vancouver Olympics there was some better news for the French team this morning.  On Sunday they won their first medal in the Biathlon Sprint and yesterday they won their first gold in the 10km Biathlon quickly followed by another in the Nordic Combined which leaves them, as of now, top of the medal table.  Today also saw Canada win their first gold medal on home soil.  I’m afraid team GB has yet to win a medal although there is still housework on ice to come so we’re in with a chance of winning something.  Whilst on my way home on Saturday I noticed that Vancouver was on the signpost in Strasbourg, I didn’t remember it being there before, but it handily points out for any Strasbourgeoise wishing to compete or watch they have to go 11,000 km to get there.

Twelth Night


I don’t think I’m breaking any sort of news if I say that Twelfth Night was more then a month ago.  I’m not talking about the play of the same name by William Shakespeare but  the time when Christmas decorations should be taken down.  The Wikipedia article above says the view that evergreen Christmas decorations should be removed by Twelfth Night is a modern one and that previously it was Candlemas which falls forty days after the birth of Jesus, or 2nd February.  It was the day when evergreen Christmas decorations were supposed to be taken down “for traces of berries, holly and so forth will bring death among the congregation before another year is out.”  In our household we generally hold to the modern superstition and take all decorations down by the end of 5th January.  So when I was walking towards the Scluthfeld tram stop, after spending half an hour in Strasbourg Police Station after one of the more productive parts of a long-running  saga that should be another post all in itself, and I saw the house decorated as above I was surprised at the longevity of their decorations.  The municipal decorations were not removed by Twelfth Night but were down in time for Cadlemas.  Having seen one example I then saw the next opposite my home where, not only were the evergreen decorations still in place but the flashing lights are also still going strong.  Then yesterday on the way home after work I walked through Place de la Cathedrale and saw the  decorations on the building opposite the Cathedrale (wiki) and then later on the above shop on Grand Rue which not only do the decorations remain but also the boards to allow you to take a picture of yourself or others as a king or a queen left from the Christmas Market which finished at Christmas.  For me the winner though is the Italian taylor at Faubourg National pictured left.

On the day celebrating another Christian Saint, JTO and I have exchanged gifts and I leave with this picture of our bikes and if you do not know why this is so much what today is about, then you do not understand what today is about:



It just goes to show how fast things change.  The day before yesterday I thought of writing something about PIGS, the reason will appear later, and I thought, as an introduction, I could link it to the advert which had been all around Strasbourg for the Australian Pink Floyd who are playing here.  When I went outside the adverts had been replaced and I hadn’t noticed.  This morning I noticed the adverts which replaced the ones for the Australian Pink Floyd, had been replaced.

The reason for starting any post about pigs with a reference to Pink Floyd is because of the image on the front of their eighth studio album, Animals, with a great big inflatable pig between the chimneys of Battersea Power Station. (There were also three tracks called Pigs on the LP, as we used to call them at the time.)

I also posted recently, to be self-referential again, about the wonderful pork products in Alsace, some of which are a speciality.

When I was planning to write this piece there were reports of concern about the stability of the Euro and threats to it from the state of the economies of four countries, Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain – PIGS.  But then reports in the same place one day later say that Germany has stepped in, the fact the media is reported this is reported here also.  That piece also reports the strikes in Greece reported here.  Living in the Euro zone I hope it is not too trite to say that the resolution of this is of massive importance to us.  But from what I see reported of it here, it seems hardly to have been noticed here.  It is a shame most of the people I work with in a major bank here are on holiday skiing otherwise I would have asked them their views about it.  Did anyone notice what I did there – write a piece about banks and pigs without mentioning the Global economic crisis.

The Rotters Club


Yesterday I went to the second floor room of the bookshop Librairie Kleber looking out over the square,  Place Kleber, named after the same Strasbourg born commander of Revolutionary French forces under Napoleon, Jean Baptiste Kleber.  The reason was to hear one of my favourite modern writers, Jonathan Coe, talk to promote his biography of B S Johnson, Like a Fiery Elephant, which has just been translated into French.  The window promoting the talk can be seen on the left.  The book won the Samuel Johnson award and Jonathan Coe writes about his reason for writing a book about B S Johnson here.

We started a bit late and I was pleased to see the room was practically full.  Joining Jonathan at the top table were the publisher’s editor who asked some questions and translated sometimes, but even with my intermediate French I could understand he translated too little and gave too much of his own opinion, someone in the picture next to Jonathan who started off translating and an expert on B S Johnson who also helped out with the translation and asked some questions, she is on the right of the picture.  There was a discussion about the work on the biography, which has taken some time and Jonathan was able to make full use of B S Johnson’s papers and almost lived at his house for periods.  He also talked about finding B S Johnson via a TV programme ‘Fat Man on a Beach’ (see it here)  when he was 13 and then again when buying one of Johnson’s book when Jonathan was a 23 year old student.  I found it interesting to learn more about B S Johnson and will be reading the biography, to learn more about this period in English literature and also about Jonathan’s writing process.  The need for translation meant things took almost twice as long so there was little time for questions.  JTO asked the first question, why, when the earlier novels were full of gaiety, like pantomime, were the last couple full of darkness?  This revealed that he had been working on the biography whilst writing the last two novels and it might be that some of the melancholy of B S Johnson had affected the two books.  Also, there is a new book due out which we were promised is a return to more of the gaiety.  I didn’t ask a question but followed JTO, who got one of the darker books ‘The Rain Before it Falls‘, in getting a book signed.  I got ‘The Rotters Club‘ signed, a book about someone growing up and at school in the seventies.  We talked about how it was one of the few books about growing up in the seventies and I like it because, to me, it was like back being there, I could smell it, taste it and see the colours whilst reading the book, and that’s not because I want to particularly remember the seventies or growing up and did not do so in Birmingham, where it was set.  Jonathan revealed he did not have good memories of Reading as a girlfriend had come from the town and it had not ended happily for him.  He recommended another book to me, Black Swan Dream, and I will get it and read it.  Though whatever I think of it I will not button-hole Jonathan next time I see him and tell him as he told us someone else had dome at a previous signing.  A very good evening shared with a writer I liked whose company I enjoyed leaving me thirsting for more both about B S Johnson, books by Jonathan and to read the book by David Mitchell recommended to me.

…lovin’ it


Talk of France and it doesn’t take long before the subject comes round to food, and quite rightly as the food here is great.  Strasbourg does have its own specialities which, bearing in mind where it is, are not surprising that they are more Germanic, flamme kueche, sauerkraut, baeckeoffe, kougelhopf, choucroute and munster cheese to name a few.  There is also a guilty secret in that fast food does very well here.  MacDonald’s, known here as MacDo, pronounced like the Scottish version of what you might make bread from, is the company’s second most profitable market outside the US and provided the European part of the business with its first non-American head.  The first of their restaurants in France opened in the then new Place Des Halles Shopping Centre around 30 years ago, although not in the location it is today, above.  I had eaten Thai based fast food, basically noodles with a sauce on top before in Reading, although the place which sold it in the then Merchant’s Place now no longer exists, and it too is available quite freely here.  Something I hadn’t seen before but is also reputed to have started here is the idea of pasta with a sauce on top all in a plastic coated card square box.  Its filling and good as a fast food and certainly, from the number of the outlets here, seems popular.  I think people in the UK might just be about to learn something about food again from the French, this time about fast food.



I am writing this whilst watching the draw for the Euro 2012 qualifying groups – who says boys can’t multi-task?  The quality of customer service in France has been something I have discussed with a number of people since being here.  A friend from my cricket team ran a restaurant in Strasbourg and was very unhappy with the attitude of the people who worked in the restaurant – is it unusual for a restaurant owner to have a poor view of the people working there?  Well it fits in with my some of my experience and that of others I have talked to.  It has always been something of a relief to say, well at least its not as bad as that in Paris, as the attitude there to people not from Paris is so snooty.  (For those interested England’s group for the Euro 2012 qualifiers is Switzerland, Bulgaria, Wales and Montenegro.)  In further parenthesis it was interesting to read a piece about service in France but I was disappointed that the sub-editors who had headlined the piece had put that it was about service in France whilst, as is normal, it was about Paris.  I was surprised that the piece put the attitude of people down to the revolution and a keen sense that everyone is equal to you and no-one superior, I’m not convinced, particularly as it is not so strongly the case outside Paris as in Paris.

Today I will be watching for the result of the presidential election in Ukraine where little seems to have changed since I was there for the election in 2004 and I will be surprised if the result is anything other than close with the two halves of the country split.  Also starting today, as far as people here are concerned, is the Six Nations.  With England defeating Wales and Ireland beating Italy yesterday.  Alsace is supposed to be a football area, it doesn’t have any top-flight rugby teams and, even with the problems of the football le Racing they are still several divisions above the rugby team of the same name – who are though unbeaten in their last 10 games.  But people I’ve worked with this week have talked about looking forward to the start of the 6 Nations, so much so that it has surprised me.  My memories of the 5 Nations from my youth include the match at Twickenham between England and France when someone would always release a cock onto the pitch.  I always wondered about the wisdom of having it as a symbol even before I was old enough to understand other meanings for the word.  Yesterday, on my way to see a disappointing exhibition of drawings by an architect whilst he travelled on the trams of Strasbourg, I came across this building:

the home of DNA,  the media group which produce the main local paper.  A close-up of the clock shows:

Anyone who had a heart…


… could not help but be charmed by this video of Marta Kubišová (wiki & myspace) singing a Czech version of the Burt Bacharach song that gave the title to this piece.  I particularly like the part played by ‘The People’s Ballet Group No 3’ in the film shot in the Moravian No 12 Fashion Factory:

She has a new CD available which I think Mr Amazon might have to bring round:

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