Still looking for that obnoxious Frenchman

Maybe it’s because I live in Boston where we set pretty good standard for obnoxious but after my third trip to France I have yet to encounter this mythical creature. Lest you think this is because I can pass for a native the entirety of my French consists of, “Pardonez moi, je ne parlez pas Francais.”

I love France and the French. Yeah they’ve got an attitude problem – but I don’t think Americans get to cast that particular stone. Because of the current political debate I was keenly aware that pretty much every non-tourist I saw had full health coverage. No one worrying about what happens if you lose your job or have a “pre-existing condition.”

I’m waiting for some company to rule that being born is a pre-existing condition. I really have never understood this insurance exception as anything other than a way for the companies to make even more money. I have flat feet and so am not covered for a podiatrist (well, in the past anyway). But the insurance still has to cover it when my knees get messed up because of my feet. Feh.

Mrs. CollateralDamage assures me there are obnoxious French people. She says they were all at Paris Disney, either employed as staff or paying to go there as guests. My anti-Disney parks stand pays off yet again!

Went to Chartres. Sat in the cathedral for like three hours. It isn’t for God, it is God. My  mother tells me I followed in family footsteps by doing this. Her father, architect Barry Byrne, went to Europe once to meet with Gropius and the Bauhaus gang. He stopped at Chartes and spent two weeks there.

Paris 09 273

No picture does it justice. Just go.


Reuters open “news bureau” in Second Life game

OK, so I like most journalists have always dreamed about being Paris bureau chief for some publication — even if you are not only the chief, but also everyone else in the tribe. (It’s always been a curiosity to me that in US journalism DC is a better posting — from a career standpoint — than Paris. Having spent large chunks of time in DC I can honestly say that if you want to live there you probably have a mental illness.) Well even better than Paris, where you would be in danger of having to actually do some reporting, is being chief of a virtual bureau where I guess you only have to report Virtual News. And all of you who say Fox News has been doing this for a while should really come up with more original jokes.

Starting on Wednesday, Reuters plans to begin publishing text, photo and video news from the outside world for Second Life members and news of Second Life for real world readers who visit a Reuters news site. Adam Pasick, a Reuters’ media correspondent based in London, will serve as the news organization’s first virtual bureau chief, using a personal avatar, or animated character, called “Adam Reuters,” in keeping with the game’s naming system. “As strange as it might seem, it’s not that different from being a reporter in the real world,” Pasick said. “Once you get used to it — it becomes very much like the job I have been doing for years.”

And in keeping with another tradition of journalism, next month he will be replaced by a younger, perkier avatar with more cleavage.

If I can just get off of this LA freeway…

… Without getting killed or caught/I’d be down that road in a cloud of smoke/For some land that I ain’t bought

— Guy Clark, LA Freeway

Oceanside, California is an interesting little town. It’s next to Camp Pendleton, the huge Marine Corps base, and because of this it has a long and glorious history as a military R&R town with bars, tatoo parlors and motels that would rent rooms by the hour. Apparently the town fathers (and/or mothers) didn’t really think that this was a sustainable economic model and have been scrubbing at Oceanside in an effort to make it less interesting and therefore more tourist friendly. Fortunately they have only slightly succeeded.

A honky tonk feel still lingers around the downtown. It has a number of bars I wouldn’t enter in the evening unless I had a very short haircut and the ability to really mean it when I shouted SEMPER FI! Likewise all the shops that sell military surplus goods. In addition, the town is also a big draw among surfers and is home to a surfing museum that is only slightly larger than the postcards it sells. Because of this residue of seediness, the town remains wonderfully free of the chain stores and mallification that has engulfed the rest of the state.

Searching for breakfast one morning, I and the rest of the Collateral Damage clan headed south on 101 in Oceanside and came across Bessie’s diner, my one encounter with the sublime during nine days in the Golden State.

Bessie’s hasn’t been redecorated since it opened in what I guess would be the mid-’50s. Since then the decor has changed more by accretion than design and consists mostly of a number of trophies for playing pool, a poster of John Wayne and a large black-and-white picture of Rigo, who is either owner or co-owner. In the picture he is dashing in the 1940s movie star way with a pencil thin mustache and a dashing look. Today he still speaks with a hispanic accent and his looks have made the transition from the star to the character actor. The pencil mustache remains, augmented by the creases of age, some gray mixed in his hair and a slight paunch.

He had such an air about him that I asked if he was ever in the movies to which he said no and laughed, then went in back to tell his wife who may or may not have been the original Bessie but who found the comment as funny as he did. In addition to a magnificent plate of huevos rancheros and superb coffee, Bessie’s also featured a wonderful selection of locals wandering in and out: Surfers — both caucasian with long-hair and African-American with dreadlocks, Hispanic workers only speaking in Spanish, and what looked to be a retired Marine or two. Everyone spoke to each other with the familiarity of regulars if not outright friends. It feels like the only place I was in during the entire vacation that didn’t sell t-shirts and coffee mugs emblazoned with its logo. It felt authentic and not calculated. A blessed relief from the pre-packaged feeling endemic to the region. That morning will now stay in my head as the cherished moment of the vacation, a memory I can pull out that relaxes me and makes me happy. Which means Bessie’s now has a slot in my mind next to the rear-courtyard of the Louvre at dusk, staring straight up the center of the Eiffel Tower, a long wonderful walk through the pottery district of Kyoto and looking down from the hills into the center of Duluth.

A few other notes from Southern California:

  • Had the ultimate Cali experience … waiting in the drive through line at Starbucks in a big SUV. Wee hah.
  • I was only at Disneyland for one day (unlike Mrs. CD and CD jr.) which was more than enough for me. Loved seeing three teen boys in black t-shirts for Nirvana and AC-DC and trying to look cool. It is impossible to both be cool and at Disney. Give it up kids.
  • By contrast I was also in the Disney neighborhood for the Goth Day @ Disney weekend and the Goths were overwhelmingly friendly and not overly concerned about being cool. Maybe it’s easier to not worry about being hip when you look like a cadaver. (Image courtesy of the most righteous Skellramics.)
  • If you ever get a chance visit the Old Town Rootbeer Company in Temecula (they have stores elsewhere but this is the one to go to) where they stock every kind of root beer known to humanity and take friendliness to a whole new level, giving away LOTS of free samples and showering a certain younger member of the CD family with free candy and t-shirts. And they make a killer brew themselves.
  • I will never ever complain about traffic in Boston again.

Just a song before I go…

On vacation next week so few posts. But here’s something to tide you over:

Waylon Smithers must need cash: Why else would he be selling his collection of 4,000 Barbies … I mean Malibu Stacies?

The Return Of The Single Greatest Headline Writing Opportunity of the 21st Century:

All of the following are still available

  • Black Jack gambles it can ban Loving
  • Black Jack not a Loving town
  • Loving goes bust on Black Jack ban
  • Loving pair can’t make full house in Black Jack
  • Black Jack house rules: pair must split

Mr. Loving and his paramour have decided to sue the town of Black Jack, Missouri, claiming rules prohibiting the unmarried couple and their children from living together are unconstitutional.

Don’t Forget To Admit When You’re Wrong: Consumerist sets the story straight about the masked men and the 25K sauce packets. The upshot: No masks. Teens not grownups. Eleven 40-gallon trashbags, not six. Packets not taken on purpose. “One individual simply ate ‘A LOT’ of Taco Bell and stockpiled the extra packets from his meals in the back of his car for three years.” Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

And it’s not like I never post from the road. I remain proud of my coverage of Hurricane Katrina. Never let it be said that merely being on another continent is an impediment…

(from the original Collateral Damage @ CMO.)

Sep 01, 2005
Notes From The Road

Here I sit on the Blvd. St. Germain, in the shadow of some minor church that looks to have been already old when St. Joan was a schoolgirl. From a radio somewhere Curtis Mayfield is singing “Superfly” – bless the French, they may like J. Lewis, but they like the good stuff as well. I have just finished a fine omelette with tomatoes, onions and gruyere at a brassiere that is wonderfully indistinguishable from a dozen others. In front of me a grand parade of great Gallic noses ranging from large to magnificent pass by. The cliche is that the eye is the window to the soul but it is the nose that tells you if the soul is interesting enough to bother peeping into. If the French are looking down their noses at the rest of us, who can blame them? They are just enjoying the view.

I have no idea where the French got the reputation as being rude to travellers. I find them wonderful. And that is not just because I am from Boston, a city that really can not cast the first stone when it comes to being rude to others. The only trouble I have ever had was on my last trip here when I ran into a very rude person at the Tourism office. That was more than made up for this time by the man at the tourist office who helped us find a toy store that sold tanks and made Collateral Damage Jr. very happy. <BTW, French keyboards are laid out differently and don’t have apostrophes, so I am not totally to blame for my poor spelling this time.>

Looting in New Orleans? Isn’t that redundant?  Given the corruption of that city’s government in general and the police department in particular I cant help but think the citizens view this as though they are finally getting their cut.

What is truly appalling in the wake of Katrina is how badly the relief and rescue efforts have been bungled. It’s not like they didn’t know this was coming. Officials have been expecting and planning for this disaster practically since the French <AH HA!> settled the damn city. Even so all the government agencies appear too have been caught flat footed: This should deservedly cost a lot of politicians and bureaucrats their jobs

Sept. 02, 2005
More notes from the road

I am writing this from an internet cafe across from the Lycee Charlemagne – given the age of the students I would say roughly high school. It is oddly relieving to note that French teenagers look every bit as stupid with a cigarette as American teens do. I have just stumbled across a wonderful English bookstore on rue Saint Paul called The Red Wheelbarrow (after the poem by William Carlos Williams). I had a fine converstation with the owner, whose name I didn’t get (bad jounalist bad! No croissant for you!). She, who has my dream job, is from New York and went to school in Boston. I am (now) from Boston and went to school in New York. Those fine coincidences make the day.

We talked about how difficult it is to be in the midst of current events – both the aftermath of Katrina in the States and the two horrible fires that have killed so many families here in Paris – and at the same time remembering to cherish our blessings and good fortune.

It is a strange thing being so far away from the states when a disaster hits. It’s not as though being in Boston would put me closer in any real sense to Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana, but still I have the feeling I should be home – plugged into my communication network and therefore being responsible, not frittering my time away on something as frivolous as vacation. Call it vacationer’s guilt.

In watching the president on CNN and the BBC, I am struck by how much this disaster needs and doesn’t have a Giuliani. If not a hero, then at least grown up who is willing to say honestly how bad things are and what they do or don’t know. That gave Rudy a credibility so we trusted him when he said things will get better. Never mind getting the Ex-Presidents involved in this, maybe the current president should see what Mr. G is up to.

Watching the coverage of all this on those two TV networks, their reports are so at odds with what the people at FEMA and elsewhere in the government are saying that I am forced to conclude that either the press has grossly overplayed how bad things are or that the government is more concerned with spin than facts – sadly, either is a real possibility.

What is certain, and what we are just beginning to hear about, is that the defense of “no one could have predicted this” is absurd. The threats to New Orleans have been documented thoroughly. If you doubt this go back and look at coverage at the start of every hurricane season. The “what will happen if New Orleans gets it” story is written and re-written every year.

There is a huge difference between how the Beeb and CNN are covering Katrina. Both because the Brits seem to feel that there is still other news going on in the world as well – the deaths by stampede in Iraq, the anniversary of the massacre at the school in Beslan in Russia, typhoons hitting both Taiwan and mainland China – and because the BBC people are much more comfortable asking people, officials and people on the street, difficult questions. At CNN, they appear much more concerned with being liked, with letting the viewers know that CNN feels the same things the viewers do. It is the difference between an having an avocation and building a brand. CNN has put a heavy emphasis on heartwarming and funny stories of survival. Last night’s interview with the two ex-prez was one soft ball question after another. The only thing more appaling was what I saw of Diane Sawyer’s interview with the current president. I assume the president is upset by the devestation, so stop asking him about that. Facts, please.

Two predictions:

1. If, in fact, the word refugees is accurate and sticks around, there will be hell to pay from the American public. Refugees happen in other countries, not the US.
2. Louisiana, being Louisiana, there is a story of corruption and malfesance at the heart of this disaster that will boggle the mind.