Wednesday, December 17, 2008

What I did this summer - part 2

Here are a few more random notes and observations after a second week in Marseille (May 2008)

The leisurely lunch:
I really do have to admire the people here: nothing gets in the way of having a decent leisurely lunch. Last Friday we had a deliverable due, yet we still went out for a nice lunch at an outdoor cafĂ© that was 2 subway stops away. A couple of the folks had a meeting nearby, that was why we went to that area. By 1:40 we still hadn’t been served our lunch. I said to the other IT people, “Isn’t your meeting at 2:00?”

A Blackberry was consulted, and yes indeed the meeting was at 2. They shrugged their shoulders in that expressive Gallic way, as if to say, “Well, what can you do, they’ll just have to wait.”
I love that !

The document was supposed to go to the US subsidiary, so when I informed them that Monday was a holiday, and they probably wouldn’t look at anything we sent on Friday until Tuesday anyway, they agreed we could send a rough draft on Friday and refine it on Monday.

Interesting expressions:
Where we say, “You can’t compare – it’s like apples and oranges”, they say “It’s like cabbages and carrots.” “C’est comme des choux et des carrottes.”

Going to the movies:
On Sunday it was a really rainy day, so instead of trying to sight-see, I impulsively decided to go to the movies. Indiana Jones was playing nearby, and I thought, with an action movie, even if I miss some of the dialogue I’ll still be able to follow the plot. This was the first time I saw a French movie without subtitles (in France they dub English-language movies – they don’t do subtitles), and I guess I did OK. I’m sure I missed some stuff though. Cate Blanchett speaking French with a Russian accent was a hoot. Two interesting things I noticed: snacks are sold out of vending machines, no candy counter with $5 popcorn and quart size Cokes. And they have booster seats for little kids so they can see the screen.

Lay’s potato chips come in great flavors here: Bolognaise, roast chicken and thyme, cheese, mustard pickles, ham & cheese, rosemary.
Don’t you want to try them all?

My Hotel:
So, I moved to the Holiday Inn on Sunday. It takes a good 3 hours - what with the packing, checking out, getting a taxi to the new place, and unpacking everything again. The apartment-hotel I had before wasn’t available this week. However the new place is so much nicer - it's at least a 3 1/2 star, if not a 4 star. It has a bar, a restaurant, and room service. The room is large, has a minibar, safe, electric kettle, and a nice big bathroom. And the air conditioning works! It is located in a quiet area though and I couldn't find an open restaurant in the neighborhood Sunday night. Had a VERY quiet meal in the hotel restaurant with only one other couple in attendance. Thanks to the mini-fridge I was able to buy some orange juice, cheese, crackers, cookies, etc to keep in the room and have a light breakfast in the mornings. It seems there are always trade-offs between location, amenities, and of course price. This week I’m back to eating dinner in restaurants and getting back to the room late, around 10 pm or so.

Lunch Conversation:
One of the customer people at lunch asked me about the US elections, the fact that we have a black and a woman candidate for the first time, etc. He asked me, what’s the deal with the primaries, how do they work. Man I don’t think I could have done it in English, much less in French. I told him I needed a PowerPoint presentation at least. But I gave a very simplified, and probably mangled, explanation, and I think it was OK. People seem really interested in the election. I talked about the concept of red states and blue states, that we have so many regional differences. And they were surprised to learn how old McCain is.

For the last 2 days it has been very windy. People inform me that this is not the Mistral, which is a cold wind, but a wind from North Africa, that brings sand along with it. Sure enough, you can feel the grit in the air, and the cars all look very dusty. It reminded me of one of my favorite songs from Joni Mitchell.

Carey by Joni Mitchell.
The wind is in from Africa
Last night I couldn't sleep
Oh, you know it sure is hard to leave here Carey
But it's really not my home ...

I wonder if she was here when she wrote that ? Wouldn’t that be cool, if it were true?

(Actually I found out she was in Greece at the time. Oh well. Romantic illusion dashed)

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