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.