Rush Limbaugh has his . . . well, here is mine. This is my record of news stories and issues that interest me. You can also find more headlines at the site where I serve as editor: The Common Voice.

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Paper and stone

We're nearing the end of our trip. So far our good fortune with the weather is holding. We're enjoying ourselves, but I find myself looking forward to getting home to America.

As I type this the movers are here to pack up the belongings of my sister and her family. They will be leaving to go to Paris with us tomorrow. We'll fly out from there to America. They will be heading to Germany for a week. Then they will return to Cournon for a short time before they too will finally head home for America for good. I can only imagine how excited they are!

Tuesday we visited the Moulin Richard De Bas. A Moulin is a mill. In this case it was a paper mill. It didn't smell at all like the paper mills I grew up around back in North Carolina. It was very interesting and I bought some of the paper for my use once I get home. The paper is made by hand and we got to see the process.

They take old strips of linen and soad them in a mixture of water and alcohol. They they place them in vats with huge hammers driven by a water wheel pounding the mixture for over 36 hours. By the time the pounding is done, the cloth has been turned into something like pulp. They then take it from there to a larger vat filled with water. The paper makers then take screens with frames the size of sheets of paper and sift the pulp evenly onto the screen.

Once the screen is drained a bit, the paper maker places the two forms onto a sheet of felt. The process then follows again. Once they have about 100 of these they place it in a press. Pressure is placed on the pulp until what was once nearly a quarter of an inch thick compresses to the size of a 20 pound sheet of paper. These thinner sheets are hung up to dry and voila, you have paper.

Another interesting thing they do is make flower paper. The paper makers go out into the woods and fields around the mill and find flowers (it must be very early in the morning). They take these flowers and place them in the large water vat. So, when they sift the pulp into the frames, the flowers get sifted into the pulp as well. Once the "sheets" are pressed the flowers get pressed right along with the pulp. Best I can tell, the flowers end up dying the pulp. The color stays right there without change. It is pretty cool.

However, what I enjoy most is that we are going to places most American tourists do not go. We have taken some long drives in the countryside to get to these places. Often we have had to make detours due to road work (or getting lost). Again and again I am amazed at the narrowness of the streets and roads here. I can't help but think of the small stone bridge down a Cleveland Park in Greenville. I have always thought they should have made it wider. However, that is pretty standard here in France once you get off the autoroute. No wonder they have such small cars here!

Yesterday we went to Le Puy-en-velay. This is a unique city because it sits in an empty lake bed that was once a volcano. How long ago this was the case is not known. One thing that comes from this unique history is that there are several very large lava forms that jut up in the midst of the city. On the tops of these, several statutes and a chapel have been built.

We climbed the 268 steps to the top of one of these to visit the chapel there. While visiting the chapel I was listening to The Lord of the Rings on my iPod. It certainly added to the experience! It was so old. The building was renovated in the 11th and 12th centuries - I believe it was built in the 900s. I just love those kinds of places because you can't help but feel a connection back to those people who were there so long ago. Oh, and man, were those people short.

Upon returning to street level, we headed toward the center of town so my wife could do some lace shopping. Wouldn't you know it, when we got in the van it started to rain. As soon as we found a parking place, it stopped.

Then came my least favorite time of the visit. Shopping. I really don't care to shop. All you see are things that you could buy much cheaper in America. I found myself turning to the standby of people watching. As Horton said in Suesses "Horton Hears a Who," "People are people no matter how small." Meaning, that people in France are really no different than people in America. If you took away the scenery and sounds, you would think you were on any city street in the states. People don't really dress much differently and styles are pretty similar. You see groups of teens hanging out together just like you do at the mall and men sitting on benches passing the time while their wifes shop.

Back in the van we headed home. Something of interest here. As you drive along the roads you will see groups of silhouettes. They are black cut-outs of people with large red hearts on their midsections. There are roads running through the hearts much like an arrow from Cupid. On the hearts are written the following: "J'avais 29 ans" - "I was 29 years old." Anytime someone dies on a road, a silhouette is placed on the side with their age. At one point we saw seven of these in one spot. I also saw ages ranging from 2 up to 80. It certainly made you think.

Today, we are going chateau hunting - once the movers leave. There is one around Cournon that my sister has never visited. We're not even sure where it is exactly. I think this will be fun. We haven't been in a chateau yet. I'll tell the story of the chateaus in a later blog.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

The Ignorant American

It is 11:00 AM on Tuesday, June 28. I've only been up for a little while. There were some partiers who kept me up past midnight and then my little girl had dreams that Darth Vader was in her closet and wanted to come out and get her. That wouldn't have been a problem really except that my sweet little daughter snores incredibly!

Yesterday was a regrouping day after our kilometer-a-second sweep of Switzerland. It was also a very hot day. The temperatures reached into the 90s. However, it is a different kind of heat from Greenville. In Greenville, 90 degrees feels like 106 here in France. It all has to do with the humidity. It isn't very humid here in Cournon.

We did some things around the house and then I went on a bike ride around the town in the afternoon. There is a completely different approach to bicycles here. In most places there are designated areas on the streets for bicycle riders and where there are none, the drivers do not think it strange to share the narrow streets with riders for recreation or transportation. I understand the American mind set, but I would have to admit that I like the way the two forms of transportation get along here.

I also wanted to related one other thing from our Switzerland trip.

We were just coming out of the church known as the location where John Calvin preached and I wanted to take a picture of the tower we had just climbed from the outside of the church. I walked around trying to find a good view. As I did, I walked past a couple sitting talking in heavily accented English. "They are so ignorant," they were saying, "They don't know anything of geography - they don't even know there own country..." By this time, I moved out of hearing. However, I knew exactly who they were talking about. I felt my heart start beating a little faster.

After taking my picture, I started back and had to pass the couple again. "Why did they re-elect him? No one likes him. I can't understand why they would do it." I kept walking. My heart was beating even faster. I then did something that I normally would have never done and thinking back about it, I can't believe I did it. I turned around and went back to the couple. "Have you ever been to America?" I asked. "Yes," said the girl, "I lived there for 15 years." "Well, you should know that the majority of American expressed the liked Bush by electing him." "Not the Americans I know," said the girl. "Where did you live in America?" I asked. "New York" came the reply. I responded, "Well, New York is not America. America is a pretty big place and there are may areas where Bush is appreciated." "Like where," said the girl. "Such as Texas, South Carolina..." I started the list of red states, but she interrupted, "Oh, I don't mean the South." I chuckled, "Yes, but those are part of America as well. You can't judge everything in America by one city."

The young man piped in at this point. "I know four marines who think the war in Iraq is stupid." I responded, "That is a great thing about America, there are a lot of different opinions, but you can't take just one opinion and say that one is shared by all." "Sure," he said, "you can't generalize." "Exactly, that is just my point." The conversation ended abruptly at that point, but I couldn't help turning back just as I walked away. "Oh, and by the way, I do know my geography."

It may be true that Americans are kind of isolated. But it is also true that many Europeans are isolated in their view of America. There is ignorance on both sides. The different seems to be that Americans really don't care that they are ignorant. It is a bigger deal to the Europeans. They think they know all about America. So which ignorance is worse? I'll let you form your own opinion.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Our trip to Switzerland...

On Friday, June 24, we loaded up the Peugot and headed toward
Switzerland. By 5:00 in the afternoon we had picked up Jim at
Michelin and headed out on the road. The weather was threatening
rain and the forecast called for rain during the whole trip. Of
course, we the heat we had faced the last couple of days, rain would
actually be welcome.

Sure enough, we pulled over into an aire - a rest area - for a quick
picnic dinner and the rain sent us scurrying beneath the open door of
the van to finish our baggettes and yogurt. Then we were back on the
road in a pretty driving rain.

The rain followed us to our first stop in Annecy. However, when we
arrived, the rain lifted. It did not return until we prepared to
leave. That set the stage for most of the rest of our weekend. Not
once did we have a delay or get wet because of the rain. By Sunday,
the rain was completely lifted and we enjoyed the last day of our
trip under blue skies.

Annecy was beautiful at night. We walked the streets in the cool
evening. It is amazing to me how narrow the streets are in all of
these cities. And flowers, though hardly any dirt could be seen -
the cobble stone streets connect directly to narrow sidewalks or to
the walls of the shops and restaurants - flowers were everywhere in
window boxes and planters.

We then headed to the lake - Le Lac de Annecy - though it was not
very impressive due to the fact that the sun was beginning to set and
the clouds were moving back in. Just as I was filming my family
walking along the shore, the rain returned. We headed for the
parking garage and began our search for the hotel.

The exchange rate hurt us on this trip. Not to mention that
everything is expensive over here anyway. To stay in a hotel
comparable to a Holiday Inn or even a Hampton Inn would set you back
quite a bit. So, we had gotten reservations at an Etap. I don’t
even know what hotel to compare it with - it doesn’t even have as
much to offer as a Motel 6. However, the price was nearly three
times that of the place the leaves the light on for you.

We didn’t know where the hotel was so we just started heading in the
direction we thought it might be. Finally, we pulled into a gas
station and asked a man putting fuel into his BMW if he knew where
the hotel might be. “Sure,” he said in French, “I am heading that
way. Just follow me.” Sure enough, he lead us right to the front door.

Inside we discovered a very small room with a bed that two people
could not go around. Above the bed was a loft. My wife and I slept
in the bed and our little seven year-old slept in the loft above us.
There was no air conditioning and we slept with the window open.

The next day we loaded up and headed to Switzerland.

I really enjoyed the drive almost more than anything else. Through
valleys and tunnels and over long stretches of road that ran along
the mountain side, you could look out and see small villages
clustered along the rail lines and narrow country roads. It struck
me that a way that Europe is different from America is that
EVERYTHING has been touched by humans. In America you can drive
through sections of country where it is completely wild. Here, you
can look up at the top of a mountain where you are certain no one
would be and see a cultivated terrace.

Our first stop in Switzerland was Interlaken. My wife says it was
her favorite city in Switzerland. It really reminded me of some of
the places back home such as the Highlands in North Carolina.
Though, don’t get me wrong - any place in America is simply a copy of
what you will find here. Even our oldest buildings in the states
seem like cheap imitations of what you will find here.

Interlaken gets its name because the city is a connector between two
lakes. There is the east and west lakes. There is a waterway
connecting between the lakes and Interlaken is built along that
waterway and around the edges of the two lakes. The water of the
upper lake and the waterway was an odd color - or I should say that
the water was clear as could be, but whatever was on the bottom
caused the water to appear a powdery green. It was very odd.

We saw lots of other cool things there including a couple of stunt
flyers in jets. I had always heard that flying was a big deal in
Switzerland and you could tell these were not military jets. We
watched them fly into our area and then complete a loop right above
one of the lakes. We also made sure we bought some chocolate. From
Interlaken, we headed off to Lucerne. This was another neat drive as
it took us off of the autoroute and into the back roads of the
country. Boy, it would have been cool to have had my BMW on those

Lucerne was somewhat of a disappointment because we arrived during a
big festival that ended clogging the entire downtown area. As we
jostled our way through the streets every alley seemed to have a band
playing. We finally headed away from what was a very grand city
toward the lake. There the noise of the concerts faded into the
background and we enjoyed the beauty of the lake with the high snow
capped mountains in the distance.

Oh, one cool thing about Lurcerne was an old bridge that crossed the
river feeding the lake. I really think it would have been a neat
city to visit had it not been so crowded. I couldn’t help but think
I was at an amusement park. All I needed was some cotton candy.

Then it was off to Bern - the capitol of Switzerland. We were not
there very long. Basically we arrived in time to get checked into
our Etap (a rather nice one this time - the rooms were the same size,
but it was newer and, more importantly, cooler). The next morning
(Sunday) we drove around the city for a bit. Where Lucerne was
crowded, Sunday morning in Bern was almost like a ghost town.
However, I loved the architecture and orderliness of the city. I
think I would have liked to have stayed awhile longer, but we needed
to get to Geneve.

It was there we spent the rest of our day. Again, the city is built
around a lake - and what a lake! It is huge. Also, there is a
geyser in one spot that sends water up hundreds of feet in the air.
I am certain that the pressure coming out of there would tear your
hand off if you tried to stick it in there.

Of course, for me, one of the neat things was seeing all the cars.
Ferrari, Mazarati, Lotus, Astin Martin, Roles Royce - yes, I also saw
a Viper GTS - were all there. Geneve is quite the money place. The
hotels were grand and you could tell the wealthy liked to come to the
strip along the lake. However, walking just three blocks away from
the shore would bring you back to reality. That is where the “real
people” lived.

We left the lake to walk to the church where John Calvin and John
Knox preached. Again, it was so old. How neat to think that right
there those men had spoken... We then climbed the stairs to the bell
tower. We had opportunity then to look out over the city from the
spire. Wow, what a perspective. Pictures really couldn’t capture
the view - I know my words couldn’t.

Leaving the church we went to see a monument to the reformation and
also stopped to play chess and checkers on some oversized playing
boards. You could walk around and move the pieces they were so
large. This is the kind of thing I think would be really cool to add
to Greenville’s downtown. There was a great sense of community as
groups of people gathered a tables and benches to play the games

Finally, we headed back to France. It was a long drive and we
arrived back in Cournon about 10:45 PM. Oddly, it was still dusk.
You could see that the sun had just slipped beneath the horizon.
Every day so far when we were sure it was about 6 in the evening, it
has actually been 9 in the evening. Of course, jet lag helps with
the impression.

All in all it was a very enjoyable weekend. We are now regrouping
here at my sister’s house. This week we plan to spend more time
going to the less tourist traveled places. That is what I have
wanted to see. How does the average Frenchman live? I’m looking
forward to the days ahead.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Bonjour! Ou' est le lit?

Here I am drinking a cup of joe at a cafe in Montpeyroux. It was quite an ordeal getting to this point in the trip.

We left for Raleigh-Durham at 10:00 AM and arrived in plenty of time to get checked in and to the gate. We waited and waited and finally were told to move to a new gate. We boarded a new plane and took off an hour late. Unfortunately, we only had an hour layover planed in Boston - so we should arrive at Logan Int'l right as our international flight was taking off.

After landing in Logan, we jumped on a shuttle to make our way to the British Airways terminal. Just as we neared security we heard the final call for us to board. Of course, there was no way we were going to make it. We got through and to our gate just in time to see the plane pull away.

I told my wife and daughter to sit there while I went back to see if we could make a later flight that would leave from that same gate. Once I made it to the BA ticket counter, I was approached by a Brit who informed me that the plane was overbooked and we would not be able to get out on that flight. He suggested I go to American and see what they would do since they were the originators of our tickets.

This meant I would have to go to a different terminal. I didn't want to leave my family sitting there so I headed back through security to reach them. This time it took even longer. Once I finally reached the xray equipment, took my shoes, placed everything in the bins, I was pretty ticked. I had just finished doing this 45 minutes earlier. Only this time the security guard looked at me and told me to take my belt off. I told him, "I didn't have to take it off last time." He replied, "These machines are all different." I then informed him that it was this very machine I had entered earlier with my belt on. He just shrugged and made me take my belt off.

I got my family and we headed to the American terminal. They were very helpful and in a matter of moments we had a non-stop flight to Paris. They then sent me over to American Eagle to get a hotel voucher. Then came the quest of finding the baggage.

Between three different airlines, no one seemed to know who was responsible for where the baggage currently was located. After going back and forth for about 3 hours, I found the man who knew where it was. He was in a small closet back behind the baggage claim area. He had my bags to me within five minutes. If only I could have found him earlier.

The next day, I got up around 8:00 AM and took my daughter swimming in the hotel pool and watched Shrek II on the TV. Around 1:00 PM we headed to the airport and had lunch. I signed up for a wireless Internet account in the airport and was able to do some email communication from my iPaq. I also started reading a book I picked up "Truman" by David McCullough (one of my favorite authors).

At 6:00 PM we had boarded the plane and headed across the Atlantic. The flight was uneventful. I was glad that our seats were the first ones behind the first class section on the 767. It gave me plenty of leg room. The neatest thing about the flight was being able to look out the window on one side to see the moon setting and looking out the other side to see the sun rising.

We landed in Paris at around 7:00 AM Paris time. We had arranged to have a chauffeur pick us up to take us to the Gare de Lyon. It was very interesting riding in a stretch Mercedes limo through the streets of Paris. It was amazing where the driver could place that thing. It was also interesting to watch the people look at our tinted windows and start talking amongst themselves. I guess they thought we were someone important.

The chauffeur was very helpful and delivered us directly to our voie in the gare. However, we had another wait since we arrived about four hours before our train was scheduled to leave. I took the time to do some exploring and eat some baguette. We were all very tired and looked forward to sitting on the train.

Unfortunately, we had lost our reservations for the train due to the delay. We had to get on the train and find empty seats not taken by the reserved passengers. This placed us in 2nd class smoking. The 2nd class wasn't so bad. The smoking was horrible. It was about 85 degrees outside and there was not air conditioning in the coach. I think I could have handled the smoke had it not been so hot. Sitting there in the heat with cigerette smoking wafting around my head made me nausous. For four hours, we crossed the countryside and endured.

How happy we were to see Clermont-Ferrand appear on the station signage. We were more happy to see my sister and her kids there to meet us. I handed the baggage to the strapping young male members of the family and we all piled into a seven passenger Peugot 807. Off we went pick up my brother-in-law at the Michelin international headquarters. Once he got in, we now had 10 people in the vehicle. It was fun driving through the narrow streets and onto the autoroute to Cournon.

That night we went for a walk through the pretty town. We then sat up until around 10:30 PM talking. I finally went to bed around 11:00 PM. I had been up for more than 32 hours without sleep.

Friday, June 17, 2005

I've moved my stack has moved to new servers. I hope to have a little more control now of how things operate. The move has happened just in time for me to head off to France. I'll post some pictures here as I am able. I promise, I will maintain the boycott on French wine. The good news is that I'll get a chance to see the Batman Returns 400 before boarding the plane to F1 territory - how "unFrenchlike" of me :-)