Sunday, December 6, 2009

Slowly making its way here

Taco Bell has recently opened a store in a shopping mall in Madrid! It is currently the only Taco Bell in Europe (outside of US military based), but I have heard they plan to open a few more in Spain and then open a couple in England.

I doubt they will ever make it to France. Other than McDonald's and Subway, American fast food has really struggled in France. We got a couple KFCs (one near Lyon), and a handful of Pizza Hut's and Domino's Pizzas, but that's about it. Burger King made a valiant effort to survive in France, but it didn't make it, and Coke has nearly kicked Pepsi out of the country :-(

I've never been much of a fast food fan, and in fact before moving to France I couldn't tell you the last time I ate McDonald's, but I do love Taco Bell (it's cheap, it's vegetarian friendly, they serve Mountain Dew, and it's surprisingly healthy compared to most other fast food), so I would love to see a Taco Bell open up in Lyon.

One can always dream...


Venice is the Las Vegas of Italy. Not in the number of casinos or strip clubs, but in that it only exists to attract tourists. While Vegas was created pretty much just for this purpose, Venice has slowly devolved into it. The one time capitol of the Latin Empire (after sacking Constantinople), it is now the capitol of over-priced food and souvenir shops. Don't get me wrong, Venice is cool, it just feels a little like Disneyland.

Venice is a collection of a couple hundred islands in the marshes off the north-eastern Italian coast, connected by bridges over the 100s of canals the city is famous for. There are no motor vehicles on the islands, so all transportation is by boat, gondola, or a new pair of Nikes. The architecture in some parts of the city dates back to the 12th century, and everything is quite well preserved. It is certainly a very picturesque city.

Venice is also dripping in history. Like all European cities, it has an old church or two, but it also has amazingly preserved palaces, ancient hospitals, tons of shops selling masks and clothing from the height of Venetian power, and a remarkable number of concerts and plays for such a small place. George and I caught a really cool show of people in period dress performing music pieces from various Italian operas.

As you have probably also heard, Venice is sinking. Not metaphorically like the USA or Dubai currently are, but actually, literally sinking. Everyday a little bit more water flows into the city during high tide, and they city is always trying to figure out how to prop the city up a bit longer. The main tourist area of Piazza San Marco is actually criss-crossed with elevated walk-ways to keep the footsies dry, and on our trip to check the area out early one morning (right around high-tide), we made use of them ourselves. Even the Saint Mark's Basilica itself was under assault by the rising tides.

Global Warming

The inside of the church is pretty cool too, but for some reason they don't let you take pictures inside of Saint Mark's Basilica, and the couple I sneaked when security wasn't looking didn't turn out so great, so here is a picture of the nearly as cool church next door.

Everyone should definitely visit Venice at least once in their life, probably best before it is underwater. To see more pics of Venezia, click here.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Lily Allen has a potty mouth

One of the things I like about French TV, other than the nearly complete lack of commercials, is that it is totally uncensored. Movies are shown in their original format, with their original dialog (except when only the French-dubbed version is available), and with their original content and length. In the US, only the expensive pay cable channels like HBO or Showtime show unedited movies, and all the other channels (even the cable channels) edit the movies for language, nudity, sometimes violence, and even to shorten the movie to fit in the designated time slot!

Like French TV, French radio is also not censored, and this song is quite popular. Personally, I am not offended by "bad" words. I do not use them often, but their use doesn't bother me and in fact seem natural in certain situations. But, like most Americans I think, I have been brought up to recognize the taboo of them. A group of construction workers standing around a job site my cuss like sailors, but if an old women or child walks up, they immediately switch to more accepted language. I think I am the same way. Cussing in certain situations just seem weird to me.

Lily Allen is an English pop/alternative singer whose latest single, F*ck You (excuse my French), is quite popular in France (and most of Europe). For the most part the lyrics are very tame, but the oft-repeated chorus contains many uses of the F word. Or more accurately, like most choruses, just repetitions of the same single use of the word (which you can probably guess from the title of the song).

Perhaps the most Surreal example of this for me, was when George and I were in Rome, Italy. It was our last day in Italy and we decided to go to the grocery store to buy some pastas and sauces to take back to France with us. It was a pretty normal grocery store--a few kids, a couple old ladies, and a few other random people picking up the necessities. As we were deciding how much we could stuff in our luggage, Lily Allen's new hit came on the radio, and the middle-aged Italian guy working behind the deli counter was apparently quite the fan. He was humming and dancing and chopping his meat and when the chorus came around, he burst into song--F*ck You. F*ck you very, very muuuuch. The old lady buying meat from him didn't seem to mind.

You can hear the song here--uncensored of course. Or a censored version here.

I should clarify that all French TV shows are rated (like in the US) and shows rated not suitable for children can only be shown after a certain hour, and all TVs/cable boxes have the ability to block certain channels and/or programs. I guess the difference is that the decisions are left to individuals, not enforced by some government agency.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

November 14th was Thanksgiving Day in France. Not having any family here in France, George and I decided to celebrate Turkey Day with 100 of our closest friends. Not having 100 friends, we settled for about 15 friends and 85 strangers.

Thanksgiving is not, of course, a French holiday, but it is not, as some people think, a purely American festival either. Thanksgiving is a relatively big holiday in Canada too, complete with a Canadian Football League doubleheader just like the NFL doubleheader we get every Turkey Day in the US. While American Thanksgiving is always on the last Thursday in November, Canadian Thanksgiving is celebrated on the second Monday of October. French Thanksgiving, being celebrated mostly by American and Canadian expats, is therefore celebrated on November 14th (or any available weekend in between the two holidays from the homeland).

Of the 100 people at the dinner, I would say 35-40 where American, 5 or 6 Canadians, 1 Australian, 1 Venezuelan, a couple Chinese people, and the rest French. The food was mostly traditional American food, with a couple french appetizers mixed in for variety, and of course a huge amount of wine (although we did have wine in a box, which always seemed particularly American to me). The food was really good, particularly the sweet potatoes and pumpkin pie, both of which are hard to find in France.

George and I made deviled eggs, which I had always assumed was a very American food. Turns out deviled eggs are actually from Italy, and are not uncommon in France, so to make mine more American, I added some Heinz Sweet Relish that I bought while I was in Hong Kong a few months ago, since relish does not exist in France.

The conversation was good too. We met a few more couples around our age, a few more Americans, and got to discuss the difficulties of watching American sports live in France with all the technical and time-zone related problems that entails.

All in all a good night. After getting lost trying to walk home, George and I ran into one of the couples from the dinner and ending up going out for more drinks and discussions of Michael Jackson lyrics, finding vegetarian food in Lyon, and other important topics.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

How American is American?

Is this guy American?

The headlines all read "The first American to win the New York Marathon in 27 years" as Californian Meb Keflezighi crossed the finish line 41 seconds before Robert Cheruiyot of Kenya. Americans applauded, newspapers lauded, and sports pundits and internet bloggers assaulted. Mebrahtom Keflezighi?!?! That doesn't sound American. He's just another African import wearing an American jersey--not a real American.

Meb Keflezighi was not born in the US, but he moved to this country 22 years ago when he was 12. He trained at US high schools and ran track at UCLA and has competed for the US in numerous international events. He has never competed for another country, and has lived the majority of his life in the US.

How American does one have to be to be American? The last American to win the New York marathon was actually born in Cuba and moved to the US when he was 2. He was never accused of not being American enough, but that was before we had the internet and the ego-inspiring, argument-inducing power of anonymity.

Our last republican candidate for president, John McCain, wasn't even born in the US, although both of his parents were. And, of course, we all know Barack Obama was born in Kenya.

Our 7th president, Andrew Jackson, was born in the US, but only 2 years after his parents immigrated to America from Ireland. Neither of his siblings were born in the US either.

My wife was born in Hong Kong, but spent less than half of her life there. She is an American citizen, and if anyone asks where she is from, or what her nationality is, she replies American. She never thought much about it until we were recently invited to a Thanksgiving dinner celebration here in Lyon, and the French organizers asked her to cook some traditional American Thanksgiving food. She replied in shock "I'm not really American" and promptly asked me to cook something American for her.

How American are you?

Sunday, November 1, 2009


The Milan metro area is home to over 7 million people, making it the largest metro area in Italy, and one of the largest in all of Europe. Over 6 times the size of my current home of Lyon it certainly feels like a much bigger city, and as the Italian center of finance, business, and fashion it offers many options for entertainment, museums, and most importantly, food!

I didn't know much about Milan before going there other than Leonardo da Vinci spent a lot of time there, and it is home to one of the largest cathedrals in the world--the Duomo di Milano.

George at the Duomo

I like French food, but I love Italian food. Growing up my mom used to cook me lasagna for every birthday, and Italian approximates of spaghetti-ohs and fast food pizza are a staple of every American diet. So as mentioned above, one of the things I was most looking forward to in traveling to Italy was Italian food. We ate nothing but Italian food while in Italy (although we were tempted by a Mexican place) and it was, with only one exception, amazing. One of the best things about Italian food is, unlike French food, the Italians do not think you have to put meat in every meal to make it good. Only one of the meals I ate in Italy had meat in it and you have plenty of vegetarian options at every restaurant.

One area of the culinary arts where the French definitely rule though is desserts. Desserts in Italy are kinda blah, and desserts in France are like heaven (or maybe hell, since they are so yummy and so not healthy :-)

Good advice

Although not super important as a tourist only in town for a few days, another cool thing about Milan is that it is super bike friendly. Bike lanes where everywhere, usually well separated from the main road to protect you from the insane, Evil Knievel-inspired scooter drivers, and like Lyon Milan has a city-wide bike rental system. Since we were only in town for 2 and a half days though, we skipped the bike and just hopped on the slightly confusing, but rather cheap and efficient metro system.

The man that made Dan Brown a millionaire

Leonardo di Vinci was born further south in Florence, but he spent much of his younger years in Milan almost inventing lots of things that almost worked and painting one of his most famous works, the Last Supper. We visited the science museum which housed many of his scientific works, but unfortunately there is a 2 month waiting list to see the Last Supper, so we settled for a post card of it from the pretty cool church next door.

The Last Supper is in the little yellow building next to this church

After getting my da Vinci fix, we headed over to the second coolest thing in Milan, the Duomo di Milano. By far the most impressive church I have ever been to, the building is absolutely amazing and contains an equally amazing art collection. Access to the roof gets you a close up view of the intricate details of the arches and spires, and one of the best views of the city of Milan.

The Catholics sure make some impressive churches

Milan was also a very green city (vegetation wise) with plenty of parks, and trees, bushes, and grass everywhere. One of my biggest complaints about Lyon is the lack of green, and in Milan it seems to be a very important aspect of city planning and judging by the age and height of many of the trees it has been for quite a while.


There are still many new places I want to visit in Europe, but I have to add Milan to my list of places definitely worth another visit. For all the pics we took in Milan, clicca qui

Sunday, October 11, 2009


Goosebumps are a physiological response to an uncomfortable situation. Tiny muscles at the base of hair follicles tighten, forcing the hairs to stand upright, and the follicle to bulge slightly producing the bumpy look. This reflex doesn't provide any noticeable benefits to modern humans, but perhaps at sometime in our past we had more hair and tensing our hair muscles made us look bigger or provided better insulation against injury or cold. All animals with hair can get goosebumps, but it is perhaps more noticeable in animals with feathers, like geese (hence the name goosebumps).

Goosebumps are perhaps most well known as a responsive to fear, and as such have lent their name to an extremely successful series of children's books by author R.L. Stine.

I'm pretty sure I never read any of these books growing up, but I have seen a few of the TV adaptions. I normally don't make a habit of reading children's books, but I have found them to be an useful tool when learning foreign languages. When trying to improve my Spanish, I read Isabel Allende's Las memorias del Águila y el Jaguar series, as well Harry Potter y la piedra filosofal, and now in attempting to improve my French, I have turned to Monsieur Stine's Chair de Poule series.

Goosebumps are also called goose flesh in English, and in French they are called chicken flesh, or more accurately hen flesh, chair de poule. Having never read the English versions, I cannot make any comparisons, but the few that I have read in French are quite entertaining. And more importantly they are short (120 page small paperbacks on average), and do not use overcomplicated language or slang.

I've tried to read more "mature" books in French, but that usually ends up being more frustrating than entertaining or educational, especially given my recent preference for authors like William Gibson, Khaled Hosseini, Dan Brown, and Cormack McCarthy. It's very frustrating to read, extremely slowly, through many chapters of a book and then realize you must have horribly misunderstood something earlier because nothing is making much sense anymore, so I've resigned myself to children's books for the time being, and the Goosebumps series was the first I came across in the Library.

Public book readings are still common here, authors are treated with much respect, there are more bookstores per capita than most cities I have been too, and the libraries are always packed. They even have a TV show here that is just a host (usually a beautiful woman) reading for hours, so the French probably rank quite high in any "literary" rankings.

I do a lot of reading at the park, on the subway, or in other public areas, so a grown man reading Goosebumps books solicits quite a few strange looks here. I think maybe I should make excuses like "I am just reading them so I can discuss them with my kids" or lying that I am an aspiring children's book author myself, but in the end I just kinda smile meekly and bury my head in my book. Maybe after a few more Goosebumps books I will speak French well enough to pull of the aspiring author lie.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Busy, busy, busy

September turned out to me an extremely busy month for me. Work, health, family, obligations, blah--sometimes these things get all clogged up and you just have to slog thru the cleanup (and my propensity for procrastination certainly doesn't help).

As mentioned earlier, the video game industry is very milestone driven, so once per month you up the effort a bit to polish off a demo for the suits to guarantee the next paycheck. As you progress further in development the expectations and requirements for these demos become higher, and depending on how good you are at scheduling, your work efforts might also increase.

We've done a pretty good job of scheduling our project, with the minor oversight of the ridiculous amount of vacation you get in France (and by ridiculous, I mean awesome). By French law everyone is guaranteed 5 weeks of vacation per year, which accrues at a rate of just over 2 days per month. This works pretty much like the vacation you get in the US, you can save up a certain amount, and you use it whenever you want.

At Arkane we also have extra vacation (called RTT--Réduction du temps de travail) which is essentially compensation vacation since we work 39 hour work weeks instead of the standard 35 hours. This means every employee also banks an additional 4 hours per week of time off, or 22 days per year. These days are granted in November, and must be used by the end of the next November or they expire and you do not get paid for them. That expiration date is just under 2 months away, and nearly every member of the team still has 10+ days to take, and some have more then 15! Work has agreed to buy some of them back to prevent the entire team taking the next month off, but still we had to account for this time off in the planning.

Btw, I accounted for my time off by planning a trip to Italy next week :-)

So work got a little hectic for a bit, but in the end everything got worked out, and we didn't kill ourselves too much. Just as the work situation resolved itself, however, I received a friendly mail from the French government reminding me that I live in France, and when you live in France you are supposed to pay taxes in France.

I only lived in France for 7 weeks last year, and I did actually pay taxes on my income, but I paid it to the US government (boo). The US government requires its citizens to pay taxes on their world-wide income, regardless of where they happen to live or earn it, so even in France I have to report and pay taxes in the US. There are tax treaties between the US and France to prevent double taxation, so mostly what this means is that I just have to fill out a bunch of extra paper work clarifying who I pay what, and my US taxes this year were a whopping 42 pages of forms and addenda that I almost certainly didn't fill out correctly, so I was pretty scared about going thru the same nightmare in France (and more to the point, in French).

Turns out the French tax forms are much simpler than the US. 4 pages, most of which I got to leave blank, and just one addendum where I apologize for being a stupid foreigner who didn't know any better, and I eagerly await their response on whether or not I owe any penalties or if they will kick me out of the country.

September was also the time for catching up on my health issues. After squinting at my monitor at work for the past 3 months, I finally got around to getting an eye exam and ordering new glasses. The doc told me my eyes looked fine, and just that my prescription had worsened a bit and sent me off to the eye glasses shop to pick up some new spectacles.

I visited a bunch of eye glass shops looking for the best deal, but eventually settled for a shop near my house with a mediocre deal because the salesman was extremely helpful, explained everything thoroughly (in English even), and provided probably the best service I have had in France. I found the frames I liked (Armani frames to go with all my Armani suits), paid my 50 bucks (after insurance) and came back in a week to pick them up. Everything was going great until I put them on and felt like I was going to pass out.

I tried them for a few days hoping I just needed to get used to them, but after a bit it was clear that something was wrong. I returned to the shop to get them fixed, and the salesman broke out his own machine for testing your vision and found the prescription provided by my ophthalmologist to be way off, so some new lenses were ordered and I am still squinting as I type this sentence, but I will hopefully be able to see clearly by mid next week.

If you are in Lyon and need new glasses, go to Lynx and ask for Mr. Helfre.

To reward me for my busy week though, Lyon provided the best weekend weather we have had in a while. It was absolutely gorgeous yesterday so George and I went for a walk around the Croix-Rousse area of Lyon and found a really cool old Church we had never been too with this kinda creepy statue of the pope kneeling over a human skull.

Sunday, September 6, 2009


Pérouges is an ancient walled city about 20 miles outside of Lyon. Originally founded by Italians about 900 years ago, it became part of France in the 1600's and hasn't changed much since. The walls are still mostly intact, and the buildings and streets are all stone and tile.

George and I had been here before. A few months ago we were invited here by some friends to attend a Tibetan music concert, but the concert was late and we didn't have much time to look around. What little we did see though was cool, so we knew we would have to come back--but certainly not for the next Tibetan music concert. We essentially just paid 20 euros to listen to 4 white guys hum for an hour, and then a Tibetan guy yelled at us and occasionally played a drum for the remaining hour. The 4 hummers had me struggling to stay awake though, so the drum banging, yelling guy was a welcome change.

The rooftops of Pérouges

Pérouges isn't a very big place--6 or 7 restaurants, 2 hotels, a handful of souvenir shops, and a couple hundred residential buildings. Only about 1,000 people live there, although I think the number of people in the village trebles each day (especially on weekends) with tourists. There is one slightly interesting museum and a couple awesome restaurants, but other than that you just walk around and marvel at the outstanding picturesque buildings and roadways. We got there super early to take lots of pictures before the tourist buses started dropping people off, and then hit the museum and George's favorite restaurant (favorite, because we have been there twice now!).

George waiting for her favorite restaurant to open

After lunch we enjoyed a couple pieces of Pérouges' famous Galette de Pérouges, a sweet, slightly pizza-ish dish which mostly tastes like sugar with a splash of lemon. I like it, especially when it is served hot, but to be honest I think there are a lot better pastries to be had in France.

For more pictures of Pérouges, click here. I'll leave you with this typical shot of small town France.

Saturday, August 29, 2009


In our never-ending quest to not spend a weekend at home, George and I took a day trip to Geneva, Switzerland this last Saturday. By train Geneva is only about 2 hours and 30 euros from Lyon, and hotels in the city are quite expensive, so we just decided on an early train in and a late train out. Geneva is not a very big city, but like London, all of its museums are free, so depending on what you want to do in the city, 1 day may not be enough. I would have liked to have more time to see more of the museums myself.

One of the many cool museums of Geneva

Geneva doesn't look all that different from most french cities. It has a small, ancient cobble-stoned picturesque city center surrounded by a slightly newer business and residential areas, all perched on the banks of Lake Geneva. Despite being one of the cities on the forefront of the protestant christian movements of the 1500s, it even still has the obligatory French catholic cathedral on a hill looking over the city.

Even though Geneva is a very French city in terms of architecture, language, and cuisine, it is also an extremely international city. Over half of the 500,000 residents hold foreign passports, and due to the presence of so many international organizations, there are even more temporary foreign residents to add to the international mix. I think Spanish was the language we heard the most on the streets, and English, Chinese, German and Italian were all common as well. And most importantly, the had reasonably priced Dr. Pepper and Pop-Tarts, and totally unreasonably priced, but very good Chinese food.

Geneva is a very expensive city. Some things, like soda, ice cream and most groceries were a bit cheaper than Lyon, but pretty much every thing else was quite a bit more. Restaurants are extremely expensive, and public transportation is expensive by French standards. Thumbing thru the real estate mags at the bus stop, I found real estate to be a bit high too. The Swiss pay less taxes than the French do though, so maybe it all evens out.

Geneva is also home to the European headquarters of the United Nations, and has been since its founding in 1945, which is quite strange considering that Switzerland didn't even join the UN until 2002. I suppose the UN guys just didn't want to waste all those empty League of Nations buildings, and the views of Lake Geneva probably contributed to the decision as well.

Entrance to the UN building

It's kind of hard to see in the picture above, but one of the chair legs has been broken off rather violently. This isn't just some expression of angst in modern art, but a symbol of the devastation that landmines are causing around the world--violently destroying a limb (or limbs) of about 50 people per day. Landmines are one of the most horrible devices man has ever created. They cost less than $10 to make, but absolutely destroy the lives of way too many people around the world, and countless livestock, pets, and wild animals. Landmines aren't actually designed to kill, but to maim. Killing the enemy is too easy, the enemy just buries their dead and moves on, but severely wounding the enemy affects the entire group--demoralizing the survivors, and slowing them down as they now need to care for a severely injured comrade. Despite this, about 50% of the people wounded by landmines die of their wounds, because landmines mostly plague the poorest countries which are the least equipped to deal with them.

There is simply no excuse for the continued use of landmines. All countries should sign the ban put forth by the international community in Ottawa. Over 150 nations have signed this treaty, but unfortunately the largest manufacturers and users of landmines refuse to sign. If you live in the USA, China, Russia, or India, please petition your government to sign this treaty and stop using these nightmarish devices.

For more pictures of Geneva (and less preaching), click here.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Bicycle Love

Velov is a portmanteau of the french word velo (bicycle) and the english word love (love), and is the name of a joint venture of the city of Lyon and a french advertising company to provide low cost bicycle rental service throughout the city and many of its suburbs. The city provides free space to park the bikes and some free advertising space as well, and the advertising company provides the bikes and maintenance and rental services for just enough cost to cover their expenses. I think it works quite well, and it is very popular in Lyon.

To use the bikes you have to purchase a membership card, and then you can rent a bike anytime you want just by swiping your card in front of a card reader at all of the bike rental spots. The membership costs 1 euro for a day, or 15 euros for an entire year, and there are weekly or monthly options as well. Once you have a membership, you can borrow a bike for up to 30 minutes for free, and then pay a fee of about 75 cents per half hour after that. I can bike from my house to work in 12 minutes, and in fact I can bike all the way across town in just about 30, so for most people the bike rentals are free once you have the membership.

This weekend I was able to convince George to take a bike out with me, and we rode out to the Lyon suburb of Villeurbanne, to check out some more of the interesting architecture of Tony Garnier (who I wrote a brief bit about earlier in this post).

When these buildings where built in the 1930s, they were the tallest buildings in Villeurbanne, and the neighborhood is still known as Gratte-Ciel (skyscraper) because of this. Real skyscrapers are actually extremely rare in France--the city of Seattle, Washington has more of them than the entire country of France--so I guess the name hasn't lost much of its significance since then.

The area is very well planned. Large streets, with wide sidewalks lined with many trees for shade, and plenty of cafés and restaurants with outdoor seating for enjoying the nice summer weather. This street is also home to one of only two Starbucks in the Lyon area, and one of only a handful of Subway restaurants (although new Subways seem to be popping up all over the city now). The presence of these two restaurants is a big plus too, not because I am a huge fan of either (I don't even drink coffee), but because this was a sunday in August which means that nearly all of the french restaurants were closed, and the nice summer weather I mentioned above was a lie because it was about 94 degrees and humid, and American franchises all have great air conditioning systems

The neighborhood is also extremely white. All of the buildings are plane white with no color other than whatever flowers decorate the many balconies. It is also extremely clean, which is pretty rare for 80 year old white buildings. My friend Jouan at work calls it the communist quarter of Lyon, not because they have universal healthcare and good public transportation, but because everything is so orderly, utilitarian, plain, and white.

I liked the area, although I think it is a bit too far out from the things I want to be close to (work, mexican food, the store that sells dr. pepper, etc.), but like I said earlier, Lyon is not that big of a place, and this is only 3 more subway stops past my house, or an additional 15 minutes on the rental bikes.

Monday, August 10, 2009

I'm ready for some (American) football

It's that time of year again. Teams have been in the camps for a few weeks, and the preseason games are starting. (American) Football is not that popular in France, so of the 8 sports channels I already have, none show any football (other than the superbowl), so when football season starts up, I call my cable company and add the "Full Sports" package, which includes ESPN America, to get my football fix.

My cable company is one of the most expensive cable companies in France, but it is also the only company that carries ESPN America, so they got my business. My cable bill will go up by 6 Euros per month (about 8 bucks), but I get another soccer channel, another soccer channel, a soccer channel devoted to the local Lyon team, another one for the local Marseille team, an extreme sports channel, and ESPN America.

ESPN America is not quite the same as the ESPN channel that you get in America. In fact the name ESPN America is quite nonsensical to me, shouldn't it be ESPN France?

The bad things about ESPN America are:

1.) No version in HD. Sports, and football in particular, were the whole reason I bought an HDTV in the US, and paid extra for the HD channels. ESPN America is only available in low-def.
2.) No NBA games. The NBA rights are owned by French channel Canal+, which costs about 30 bucks per month, and only shows a couple games per week, usually after midnight (live).
3.) No Sportscenter! Sportscenter is what made ESPN ESPN. Probably due to the lack of NBA rights mentioned above, but not having sportscenter is a big let down :-(

The good things are:

1.) No soccer. Probably because the 14 sports channels I now have that show soccer, and of course the big games come on one of the main public channels too, ESPN here doesn't bother to show any soccer. or tennis. I like soccer, and tennis, but I want my ESPN to focus on the sports the french channels do not cover.
2.) Lots of NHL. ESPN in the US doesn't cover NHL anymore, you have to get the Outdoor Life Channel (now Versus). OLC/Versus is not a bad channel, but it was not available on all cable companies in the US. ESPN here shows a lot of NHL broadcasts, including Hockey Night in Canada.
3.) More sports. We don't have Sportscenter, but we do have Mike & Mike and Pardon the Interruption in the morning, and in the evening we have NFL Live and Baseball tonight and shows like that. Outside of those shows in the morning and evening, all of the other programming is sports!
4.) Very few commercials! Like all channels in France, commercials are rare. If you are staying up late to catch games live (6 hour time difference with the East Coast) then you get the same broadcast as the US, with all the lovely commercials, but if you are watching the taped rebroadcast, all the commercials are stripped. You get to cram more sports into the same amount of time.

I just got thru watching the rebroadcast of the Hall of Fame game (the first game of the preseason), and I watched it in a little less than 2 hours (compared to 3 live), and in case you missed it, here is the best play of that game.

Monday, August 3, 2009

France is on vacation

Listening to the news this morning, the anchor said that 15 million frenchmen/women took to the roads and rails this weekend to start their summer vacations. They were joining 5-10 million of their fellow countrymen already on vacation, and will be joined by another 5 to 10 million next weekend. All togehter I would say that about half of the population in France will be on vacation this month.

We get alot of vacation in France. The government mandated minimum is 5 weeks, and most people probably get more than that. I get 6 weeks of vacation that I can take whenever I want, plus another 4 weeks of holidays and compensation for working more than 35 hours per week, and this amount of time off is not uncommon in France.

Apparently the French hate August--at least those who do not live in the mountains or on the coast. Everyone is gone. And not just 1-week of vacation gone, gone for the entire month. My inbox at work is full of "I'll be back on August 27th" emails from all the people leaving on vacation this week, and everyone has been asking me when I plan to take my summer vacation. Half of the restaurants near my work are closed (for the month), and even the library and post office is taking time off. I am in desperate need of some new eye glasses, but couldn't get an appointment until mid september (which I made in mid July) because all of the opthomologists are working on their tans.

Except for having to deal with all the closed shops and restos, I think this is a good time to be in Lyon. The sidewalks are less crowded, I'm almost guaranteed a seat on the metro, and if I had a car I am sure I would be happily chatting about the lack of traffic this morning. George and I saw Up in 3D on opening night, in the only theatre in Lyon showing the movie in English, and the theatre, which is normally packed, was 3/4ths empty. Restaurants, the ones that remain open, are less likely to require reservations now. And I was able to sit in the park by my house and read this weekend without getting hit by a rogue soccer ball.

I think I will continue to not take vacation in August.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Late night dinners

The video games industry is plagued by periods of crunch time--necessary overtime to make sure what needs to get done gets done. Games-in-development live a very precarious life and constantly need to prove their worth to their increasingly fickle frugal publishers, so from time to time we put in the long hours to make sure we have something impressive for the guys that pay the bills. And, of course, at some time you need to finish this game so the publishers can make all that money they gave you back.

I've worked for some companies that seemed to never stop crunching and others that seemed to manage these milestones better and work more reasonable hours. So far my stay in the land of the 35 hour work week has been relatively crunch free, but we recently had a few technical difficulties that led to late nights last week to (mostly) get things done.

Companies can ask (or force) you to work late, but they certainly cannot ask you to skip dinner, so when the late nights come a calling, the calls go out for Late night dinners.

Late night dinners in France are surprisingly similar to those in the states. First night we had burgers and friend chicken, or at least the menu had burgers and friend chicken, what we got was pretty much inedible. The burgers looked like they were made of plastic, and apparently had the consistency of play-doh. The fries looked like fries, but were cold and pretty much swished to a pulpy potato mess when you squeeze them too hard (like trying to pick them up), and the fried chicken still had feathers.

That's supposed to be bacon

Every piece had these weird thick hair/feather things sticking off it

The rest of the week's dinners were better. Tuesday night was Chinese food from a local place called Mendo's that has pretty good main dishes, but generally over-priced, over-salted, and under-tasty appetizers. Wednesday was pizza, and well, pizza is pizza (although the french are fond of putting raw eggs on top of their pizzas which might be a little weird for some Americans. Hi Dad!). Thursday was Indian, and I loves me some Indian food, and Friday I didn't work too late, so I just had a PB&J sandwich when I got home.

Click the crappy cell-phone pictures for bigger versions.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

A jolly good time in London

George Washington, this guy is pretty popular in England

This last weekend, George and I took a quick trip to London and Cambridge to eat Dim Sum, Malaysian food, good Chinese noodles, (actually decent) Mexican food, BBQ and corn bread, vegetarian food, pop-tarts, starburst candies and drink Mountain Dew and Dr. Pepper. Oh, and we saw some cool sights too.

London is probably the most international city in Europe (if not the world). Only about half the population are people of British decent, another 10% or so are other Western Europeans, and the remaining 40% are mostly of Asian decent--Indian and Pakistanis being the largest groups, followed by Chinese, Malaysian, other south east Asians, and apparently at least a couple of Americans and Mexicans.

Lyon is about 90% French, 7% Middle Eastern or North African, and about 3% other.

The huge diversity of the population of London leads to a huge diversity in the food choices (amongst other things, but I was just interested in food). Most of the things I mentioned above simply cannot be found in Lyon, and the few that can are pretty expensive, so our trip to London was heavily focused on food. We ate 4 meals a day, snacked non-stop, and even brought some stuff back with us. I'm sure I gained 10 lbs.

We also did a little shopping while we were up there. London is an extremely expensive place, but the exchange rate lately has been very favorable for the Euro so things didn't seem too expensive, and London had pretty much everything on sale. We bought 15 books for about 20 pounds ($30), bought a little clothing, and tried to buy shoes, but my size 10.5 feet are incredibly common, and everything I liked was not available in my size :-(

Oh, and shops stay open past 8 in London!!! Grocery store stay open until 11 or even midnight!!! And they are even open on Sunday!!!!!!!

We did go sight-seeing too. London is probably not as architecturally stimulating as Lyon, but it still has some really cool buildings.

Westminster Abbey and some cool building next to it.

We visited Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, the Parliament building, the London Eye, The Tower of London, the Tower Bridge, and most everything in between. When we were not eating (and sometimes even when we were eating), we were walking around checking out all the sights, or sitting in the incredibly hot, incredibly expensive subway system waiting to get to the next cool stop.

Short diatribe about the London Tube. The Tube is the subway system of London and it does a pretty good job of getting you around town, and even goes out to Heathrow airport to make it easy to get into the city. It's relatively fast, and there are lots of lines. It is also extremely crowded and not air-conditioned. With London's climate you would think the lack of AC wouldn't be much of a problem, but it never got above 75 when we were there, and it was still miserable in the subway system. Packed shoulder to shoulder in 90 degree heat is not a fun ride.

But it gets you were you need to be. And is only about 3 times as expensive as the Lyon metro system.

To make up for the extremely uncomfortable and expensive Subway system, London has made all of their museums free. And their museums are AMAZING! We only had time to visit an art museum (there are lots) and the Charles Darwin Museum of Natural History and they were both very cool. Being the nerd that I am, I liked the Natural History Museum more, but the art museum was cool too.

George is Art

You can spend a whole day in each of these museums, but you are not allowed to eat in there, so we could only spend a half a day at most. And before leaving the art museum we did walk past a piece of art that made us both very sad.

I miss my dog

After eating some Indian food, we decided to head over to the coolest bridge in the world. The Golden Gate Bridge or Brooklyn Bridge might be bigger, and some of the Roman Bridges of antiquity are more technically impressive (given the date of their construction), but the Tower Bridge in London is just cool. Viewing it from the side of the river it looks really cool. Walking across it is really cool, paying 14 pounds (21 bucks, for 2 people) to walk up 800 stairs to the top and watch a really short video about how it was created is not so cool. If you are reading my blog Tower Bridge people, your bridge is worth 8 pounds tops!

We spent 4 days hanging out in London and took one day to take the train up to Cambridge. Cambridge is a much smaller city than London, about 60 miles up the road famous for its universities (collectively named Cambridge University). The had very interesting architecture, lots of churches, and of course all the colleges of Cambridge.

King's College

I highly recommend a trip to London. It's a really cool city. For more pics, check out this.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Happy 4th of July

It was pretty hot in Lyon today, so to celebrate the birth of our homeland, George and I watched Transformers 2, shopped for flip flops, and ate fried ice cream with a sparkler on top--all indoor, air-conditioned activities.

Happy 4th everyone!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

This week in entertainment

Friday night after work I was craving some Mexican food so George and I headed over to El Sombrero for some fajitas and burritos. El Sombrero is not as good as Mexico Lindo (which I blogged about earlier), but it was still pretty good and had a larger selection of food.

While waiting at the counter to pay, I noticed a flyer for Les Invites de Villeurbanne, a music/theater/general entertainment festival in the Lyon suburb of Villeurbanne. Flipping thru the flyer, two things caught my eye. First, Fishbone was playing tomorrow, and second it was free! I love Fishbone, and I love free too so I knew what I would be doing Saturday night.

George and I had already had plans to see Coraline Saturday and we had other errands to run, so we got up early for the matinée showing. Coraline is Henry Selick's (the guy that did the nightmare before christmas) adaption of the Neil Gaiman novel, and as you might expect (if you are a nerd that likes graphic novels and stop motion animation) Henry Selick + Neil Gaiman = awesome. I really liked the movie and it was a great start our busy Saturday.

After the movie we had planned to get a little lunch, return some books to the library, buy some groceries, and go home a get cleaned up before meeting a friend for dinner and the Fishbone concert. Upon leaving the cinéma, however, we were greeted by thousands of provocatively dressed men and women marching thru soap bubbles to the beat of slightly too loud techno music. The Gay & Lesbian community of Lyon was parading their pride, and extremely tan buttocks, thru the neighborhood.

Nothing says Gay Pride like speedos and soap bubbles

After losing an hour enjoying the parade, we ran most of our errands and got cleaned up to meet my friend Michel for dinner at an awesome French restaurant near our house called Olivier's. I highly recommend Olivier's to anyone wanting great, and reasonably priced, french food in Lyon.

After dinner we wandered towards the Square de la Doua in Villeurbanne to catch the music. According to google maps it is only about a mile from my house, and after a couple wrong turns and two miles of wandering around, we heard the music and finally ended up there. The place was pretty packed and The Sweet Vandals from Madrid, Spain were just starting their gig. If you like Fishbone, you would probably dig The Sweet Vandals too.

All the walking around trying to find this place made me thristy, so I headed over to the beer tent to grab a beverage. In effort to reduce the massive amounts of trash, mostly empty plastic cups, generated at concerts, the organizers of this event decided not use disposable cups at all. To get a beer, you rented a hard plastic cup for 1 Euro and could refill it as much as you wanted for 2 euros per fill-up. At the end of the evening you returned the cup for your 1 euro, and the amount of trash generated was surely reduced. Bravo Villeurbanne.

Fishbone with Annette Funicello in the movie Back to the Beach

Fishbone was one of my favorite bands growing up. The band was formed in 1979 (I was 3 years old), and although only two of the original members remain those two are the lead singer (and lead saxophonist) and lead guitarist, so the music still sounds the same and still rocks. Like in the video above, the lead singer still jumps around on stage and acts a fool the entire show, despite being close to 50 by now. If you have never listened to Fishbone, you should.

The concert ended pretty late, so Sunday was a lazy day for George and I. We just laid around the park across the street from our house (Parc de la Tête d'Or) and read books and people watched.

Tuesday I had a date with some friends to see another concert in Lyon, a Japanese Drum show up in the old Roman Amphitheater on the hill overlooking the city. Unlike the Fishbone show, this one was far from free (33 Euros!) but it sounded interesting and I have wanted to see a concert in the old Roman Amphitheater since we visited Lyon 2 years ago.

George is not much of a fan of eclectic world music, and after paying 20 euros to watch a bunch of guys hum for an hour at a supposedly "Tibetan" music concert a couple weeks earlier, she decided to sit this one out.

This is where the concert was held. Look comfy?

The concert was very good. It mostly consisted of about 10 guys playing japanese drums of various sizes, but it also included dancing, a little singing, and more humor that I had expected. It was better than I thought it would be, and attending a concert in a 2000 year old ruin is pretty cool too. The ambiance was great, the acoustics were surprising good, and it is just cool to know that 2 millennia ago some Roman citizens sat here and watched gladiators fight lions or something. Sitting for 2 hours on 2000 year old stone seats, however, is pretty much exactly as you expect it to be. It was cramped, uncomfortable, and there was hardly any room to walk between the rows of seated people. The vendors did sell only Pepsi at this show though, and there is exactly one restaurant in Lyon (in a suburb of Lyon actually) that offers Pepsi, KFC, so the choice of beverage was a nice departure from the Coke dictatorship of Lyon.

Wednesday I had a date with the boss. The guy that runs the company I work for has been working in the Austin office for a couple years now, but he comes to the French office every now and then. Dinner tonight was Tunisian food. I had never had Tunisian food, but it was surprisingly non-exotic--a plate of couscous (rice) a plate of grilled meat (I had chicken) and a shared pot of vegetable stew to pour on the rice and meat. It was very good.

After dinner we went down to les berges for a drink. The river front of Lyon used to be covered with parking lots, but about 4 years ago they started removing the parking spaces and adding bike trails, benches, and open spaces and there are a lot of barge style boats tied up to the sides of the river that now serve as bars and restaurants. It is a very popular spot in Lyon, and when I left at midnight there were still many people there.

Thursday and Friday were pretty normal working days, and Saturday is going to be our normal errand running and movie watching day. We are going to meet a couple friends to watch the new Russell Crowe movie State of Play.

Tomorrow we are heading back to Île Barbe for a Salsa Festival. Ima teach George to shake it!

Next week will likely not be as eventful as this one. In our effort to experience and learn more about France, we are having dinner with a stranger Tuesday. We signed up for something called Lyon International which pairs newly arrived foreigners with Lyonnaise locals for dinner and/or other activities.

We've been keeping very busy here. Weekend trips to medieval cities, weeknight dinners with strange french people, joining local groups for welcoming foreigners, concerts, theater, etc. With the exception of the movie tickets, the concert in the Roman ruins, and the travel expenses, all of this has been free! Some people might think it wasteful or at least weird to have their tax dollars go to things such as this, but I think cultural enrichment and entertainment is a fine use of tax dollars.

Friday, June 19, 2009


Cité de Carcassonne

Carcassonne is located about 450 kilometers south-west of Lyon, equidistant from the Mediterranean Sea and the Spanish border. The city was founded about 100 years before the birth of Christ, but the castle wasn't build until about 500 years after that. Over the years, more structures were built and existing structures rebuilt, but much of the original 1600 year old stonework remains (The Romans built stuff to last).

In the early 1800s Napolean declared that the fortifications of Carcassonne were no longer necessary for French national defense, and the walls which were already in a state of disrepair started to crumble and collapse. Towards the end of the 1800s though, city officials (and famous architects) convinced the government that the city was worth preserving, and they are still preserving it today.

It's not easy keeping thousand year old walls standing

The city is mostly a tourist attraction today, but it's not simply a large museum or park. People still live inside the city, shops still sell goods inside the city, and restaurants aplenty still rip off tourists with overpriced mediocre food.

shops in the city

Carcassonne is named after the Lady Carcass who saved the city from the armies of Charlemagne by throwing a fat pig over the wall at him. I've been to Caen up in Normandy as well and visited Charlemagne's old castle and it doesn't hold a candle to Lady's Carcass' pad, so I can understand why he wanted it.

Charlemagne's lame castle in Caen, Normandy

I don't really understand why throwing a fat pig at him scared him off, but it must have worked, because Carcassonne has a statue to commemorate Madame Carcass' sacrifice for their city, and there are numerous paintings and carvings of a woman throwing a pig throughout the city.

Lady Carcass

Like most medieval cities, Carcassonne was big on burning witches, guillotining people, and other forms of extreme punishment and torture. They even have a museum devoted to instruments of torture with some humorous items like the iron mask thingy designed for women who talk to much, or the modified handcuffs designed to punish poor musicians. However, most of the items are right out of horrible nightmares or Eli Roth movies and it is really hard to believe that people really used these items on other people--especially people who considered themselves Christians.

The ironically named Pope Innocent IV signed the order giving the church permission to use torture during the inquisition in order to get confessions of evil-doing out of suspected witches or warlocks. This wasn't Dick Cheney level waterboarding torture either, this was the real deal with hot sharp metal things and ropes and stretching and poking and burning. The pope had also decided that if a suspect could withstand the torture without confessing then he must be pronounced innocent, so the church was crafty enough to ensure that withstanding the torture resulted in the inability to flaunt your innocence (death) and question the infallibility of the church. Oddly enough most of the torture procedures required the suspect to be naked. Also quite odd was that most of the suspects were women. I just happened to have a women with me, and an available torture device, so I decided to give it a go (sans nudity).

The Pope told me I could

George, of course, questioned my desire to torture her further saying, and I quote, "Living with you is torture enough." We'll be married 13 years this July and she still loves me.

These days there is an even larger city of Carcassonne outside the walls of the old city of Carcassonne, but unfortunately I didn't have time to go down there and check it out. Something for next time I guess.

More picture of Carcassonne here

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Pirate Party

In the United States we pretty much have 2.5 political parties--the Republicans, their nearly identical twins the Democrats, and the non-Democrats or Republicans who usually can't manage to get more than 2 or 3% of the vote despite being the only people who are really trying to change the status quo.

In Europe they have lots of political parties, and even though many countries are also dominated by a few big ones and "coalition" governments of like minded parties, they have much more variety in the political options than Americans. Sweden, for example, has 7 parties represented in their parliament, and 4 more large parties represented in other ares of government (11 political parties!).

According to recent polls the Pirate Party is now the third largest party in Sweden, and they even won 2 seats (out of 736) in the recent European Parliament elections. The US probably has a Pirate Party too, and they have other humorously named political parties like the Marijuana Party or the Blue Enigma Party (humorously named in that a party with such a name could never get mainstream support in the US), but the Pirate Party is a for real party in Sweden, and gaining popularity in other parts of Europe as well.

Disclaimer: I know next to nothing about European politics, and the above (probably incorrect) summary was just an introduction into the rant below.

The Pirate Party is all about copyright and intellectual property law reform, and they used to run a website to help people "share" movies and music on the internet. I have never thought much about piracy, except when trying to finish the PC versions of our games at work and the publisher makes us include some horrible copyright protection software. I get my books and movies from the library and buy my CDs and games. I'm pretty thrifty in general, so I don't buy enough to be put off by the prices, and besides I generally think the entertainment these products provide are worth the cost.

And then I moved to France.

Games, movies and CDs in France are nearly twice as much as they are in the US. They also usually come out--games and movies at least--much later in France than they do in the US, if they come out here at all. And when they do come out here, they come out with this horrible little piece of technology called a Region Lock!

Games and movies sold in Europe only work on game consoles and movie players sold in Europe! I moved to France with my US bought computer and my US version Xbox 360. Both of these pieces of hardware work perfectly fine in France as long as you play US bought movies and games on them. If you want to play a french movie or game you must buy the appropriate french hardware.

I paid over $300 for my Xbox! Why should moving to France effectively disable it? I would really like to buy some new games, which by the way cost near twice as much here as they do in the US, but I cannot!

Movies are no different. Luckily my laptop does enable me to change the Region so that it can play french movies, but it cannot play US movies at the same time, and the computer software will only let you change the region 5 times, after which it locks! My xbox, which is already connected to my tv, is a very good DVD player, but it simply outputs a blue screen with an error message if I try to play a french movie.

Even internet websites are "region locked" these days. In the US you can go to comedy central's website anytime you want and watch the last couple weeks of the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Or go to and watch that version of Lost that you missed. In France you may go to these websites too and watch a "Sorry this content is not available in your region" error message. Sure you can watch Lost on French TV too, and it might even have an English language option if you are lucky (CSI and Heroes do, Desperate Housewives and House do not), but you'll have to wait until 2010 for this year's season.

I'm not pirating my movies and games yet, but I do totally understand the Pirate Party's growth. The world is getting smaller and smaller everyday, and artificial barriers setup to "break" products used outside their place of purchase is just ridiculous! And of course the internet provides ways to get around these artificial barriers, and if companies keep making it harder to get the products that people want, people will just get them for free off the internet.

Okay, rant over. Maybe I'll go read a book or something. Companies haven't figured out how to region lock those yet.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Annecy, France

Annecy is one of the coolest cities in France. It is right at the foothills of the Alps about 25 miles south of Geneva, Switzerland, and about 30 miles south of where scientists will destroy the world soon.

Annecy is pretty much a tourist town. There is some industry there, even a small game company (or a really small office of a gigantic game company, Ubisoft), but most of the town survives off tourism. Lot of restaurants, gift shops, boat rentals and lake cruises, etc. and a beautiful lake surrounded by the alps on 3 sides.

The lake spills into the city via numerous canals and rivers that eventually connect up with the Rhône river that cuts my town of Lyon in half. These canals are absolutely gorgeous (see the picture above), but look even better with these two handsome guys standing in front of them.

Anyway, for more pictures of Annecy, click here.