Tuesday, 30 March 2004

Daylight savings seems to have started some time between Friday and this morning, which caused a bit of chaos for this morning's teleconference. Unfortunately, this didn't stimulate any more organisation amongs the participants, which was as usual almost totally absent. I managed to fix up my rent payments for next month and thereafter, but will have to do this month by cheque, since the French banking system seems to need two days delay for a simple transfer. I've now sorted out rent and water, but still have to organise gas and electricity, and have an afternoon at the prefecture to look forward to at some point, too.

I found out last Friday that Roy Hargrove is playing Rennes this Wednesday, and will have to try to find myself a ticket.
I started watching Hitchcock films a few years ago, and have since watched, and loved: Rear Window, North By Northwest, Strangers On A Train, Rope, The Birds, and The Man Who Knew Too Much, roughly in that order of preference. (The first two would probably rate amongst my favourite films of all time, should I be foolish enough to make such a list). As such, I jumped at the chance to get along to see Le Faux Coupable at TNB as soon as I saw that it was a Hitchcock film in version originale.

As it happened, I was a little underwhelmed. Hitchcock has a perhaps unmatched talent for the creation of suspense, but I felt that here the story really let him down. The basic plot follows a musician who is falsely accused of a crime, and his troubles in dealing with the resultant stresses, in particular on his wife, who basically goes completely nuts. Perhaps I've become blasé from watching too many crime and detective films over the years, but I just didn't think the basic story and dilemma was compelling, and couldn't understand the almost polar change in his wife over the course of the film.

Notwithstanding that, the performances by Henry Fonda and Vera Miles are pretty good, although Fonda is a little too everyman for his character, and Miles' character feels like she has had bits of character development left on the cutting-room floor. Hitch is in fine form in manipulating the audience into suspense, but without a real story basis for it, it feels a little hollow and almost contrived.

I've since read that this was something of a political film for Hitch, but it wasn't dramatic enough to hit home the point for me, and I'd strongly recommend people check out some of his other efforts.
A fortnight ago I noticed that Kill Bill Volume 1 was coming back for a short season at the TNB, and in version originale to boot, so I immediately decided to go and check it out again. Its the third time I've seen at the cinema now, and it just still rocks. The story remains simple and utilitarian, the dialogue less than what it might be, but the imagery remains completely compelling, the music still rocks, and Sonny Chiba is still classic, and the action remains comic-book, both when it actually is, and when its live-action. In addition, every time I see the scene with O-Ren and the Bride in the snow at the end, with the water feature clicking, and the funky trumpet playing, I get chills and wonder if it might be one of the great scenes in cinema. Nothing is happening, nothing at all, but its just beautiful to watch, and time just freezes a little as Tarantino declares to the audience, "This is what I call cool", and we nod and say, "Yep, it sure is".
Many weeks ago now, I went with Luminiţa, Klara and Muslum to see a Romanian film at Arvor, the local art-house cinema. I was pretty daunted going in, because it was all in Romanian, with French subtitles, and I didn't have a lot of confidence in my ability to a) understand Romanian or b) read French rapidly enough to still be able to follow the action. Anyway, these fears were fairly well-founded, as it turned out. The reading thing didn't work at all, because it left me no time to regard the images, and understanding Romanian was limited to recognition of words that sounded similar to words I knew in Italian or, less often, French.

Still, I basically enjoyed the film. It was kind of a dark comedy commenting on the state of the country after the fall of the communist regime in the late 80s, and follows a woman who gets stuck in a small mining town, and one of the doctors there, and their consequent relationship and experiences of small-town Romania. I think it was pretty wacky in places, and had an ending that reminded me distinctly of a scene at the end of Tom Tykwer's Heaven (of course, any actual link would be the other way around, since this film came from 1992 and Heaven from 2002 or thereabouts).

Nonetheless, despite all this, I would generally recommend against seeing a film in one language and subtitled in another when you understand neither, although it is probably better than dubbing (which, incidentally, is rife in this country).
Oh looky, it seems I'm behind in movie reviews as well as in blog entries. I've seen 3 since the last review, I think: Le Chêne, Kill Bill Vol 1 and The Wrong Man. Reviews, almost certainly of varying length, follow.
After all the shopping, I pretty much staged a lock-in on Sunday, playing with some software on my laptop and reading some papers. I am discovering logic languages all over again, and in particular F-Logic, which is entirely cool. I read the manuals of both Florid and Flora-2, but couldn't get the latter to install because of some disagreements between my versions of XSB (a prolog-like language) and Flora-2. I also finished a copy of The Economist I bought a week earlier, and made some more progress on the Steinbeck novel I'm reading.
On the weekend I went with Franck and Damien to shop for furniture again. I'm not sure if I already blogged it or not, but it turned out a couple of weeks ago that it cost about a quarter as much or less to make a table from a surface and prefabbed legs than to buy a new one, so I did, with the help of Franck and his tools. Anyway, chairs proved a deal harder to make, so we found ourselves at the Route Des Meubles (Street of Furniture), a sort of satellite-suburb of Rennes dominated by furniture shops everywhere. I wound up buying a couple of chairs and a set of shelves for my kitchen, probably at an overinflated price, but it means that I can return Franck's chairs, and don't have to keep bending over in my kitchen to pick things up from their designated storage spot on the floor. I also managed to find a shower rail, which should greatly enhance the lifetime of my previously amphibious bathmat, and a few other odds and ends.
Last Tuesday I took leave of my French lessons and home-cooking for a couple of days, as our project headed off for a 3 day seminar at Piriac-Sur-Mer, a small town on the South coast of Brittany between Nantes and Vannes. On the Tuesday afternoon, Wednesday Morning and Thursday morning, we had technical sessions with talks, of which I presented one and co-presented another. They were good, but everyone except me spoke very rapid French, much of which I didn't catch. This was especially true for the subsequent discussions, which were predictably active, with speakers and contexts switching rapidly. It all made for a pretty tiring time, but still interesting.

On Wednesday afternoon we did some tourism, visiting the mediaeval town of Guérande, apparently famous for its salt production, going for a walk along the coast, and stopping for a beer at some town whose name I didn't catch. The evenings were filled with games of babyfoot/fußball/table-soccer (as dictated by your mother-tongue). Babyfoot is easier to understand than discussions of computer system modelling, so were good for relieving translation-fatigue.
It seems I am ridiculously behind schedule again, so here comes a quick potted summary of the past couple of weeks. Sandy hit town two weeks ago yesterday, for a 5-day sojourne in France. More precisely, she hit St Malo, where I met her on the Tuesday afternoon. We walked around for a while, then caught the train back to Rennes for a traditional Bretagne meal of gallettes, cidre and crepes, albeit prepared by an Australian distinctly lacking in the requisite culinary skills. Sandy wandered around Rennes for a couple of days on Wednesday and Thursday while I saw to some work stuff, and she also managed to peruse the St Therese markets, something I have yet to experience.

On Friday we headed to Paris around lunchtime and, after some troubles with the French rail system, walked around amongs the various monuments, palaces, and towers of Paris. It was fantastic, despite some less-than-perfect weather. On Friday, and again on Saturday morning, we managed to walk past, around or through a whole list of places: Jardin des Tuileries, L'Arc De Triomphe, Le Tour Eiffel, Notre Dame Cathedral and its nearby archaeological dig, Le Palais Du Louvre, the Opera, La Musée d'Armée, various other palaces, and also an obelisk that Napoleon stole from Egypt some time a couple of centuries ago.

After that, I saw Sandy to her train at Gare Du Nord and caught mine back to Rennes from Montparnasse.

Monday, 15 March 2004

My boss went to a little conference (incidentally, with my ex-boss from Australia) the week before last, and came back with some work for us to do, so the first few days of last week were spent preparing a document for a teleconference on Thursday. It went down pretty well, which was satisfying, and I think will get us some kudos, which is probably why we're in the game anyway. On Thursday and Friday, I worked with Franck on the paper we've been dancing around, and we filled a few whiteboards of thoughts on the topics.
Last Sunday, Jacques and Sophie invited me around to their place for lunch. They live in a little village a half hour out of town, in a little two bedroom house. We had some appéretifs before the meal, including a fortified wine that tasted a bit like port, and pastis, an anise-based spirit that I didn't really like much. We talked about rugby and other sports, in our usual arrangement of no-one speaking in their mother-tongue. After lunch, we drove to Vitré to look at a castle their. It was pretty impressive, dating from the 15th century or something, and rebuilt in the 19th, and housed a bit of a museum with some tapestries, stonework and such like. After that we went back to their place for coffee, and talked about movies.
It seems that the frequency of my posts is inversely proportional to the number of things I'm doing. I had a very busy week last week, but didn't post anything. Partly, this is because most of the things were work things, and not very interesting. I will try to catch up with some highlights.

Monday, 8 March 2004

I'm no photographer, but I know what I like, and I like these, from the World Press Photography Awards, via Tim Bray's blog and Antipixel.
At our French class on Thursday, Joanna passed around a flyer for a concert by a Romanian choir at the place where she works, of particular interest to Luminiţa (turns out its pretty difficult to get a 't' with a comma underneath it, even with the US international keyboard), who is Romanian. A whole bunch of ended up going along: Joanna, Luminiţa, Muslum, Klara and myself, and it was a good night. There was a local community choir up first, who were OK, and then the Romanians came on, all men, and all unison, singing traditional songs. It was pretty good, and Luminiţa was very excited through it all. Afterwards a bunch of us went into town for a drink, bouncing from one bar to the next as they closed at 1am and 2:30am, before wandering home around 3. I enjoyed the company of this crowd more than the Thursday night group.
On Wednesday Franck introduced me to kebabs, which in France seem to come with chips inside the kebab - a bit of a culture shock, but on the whole a pretty solid idea. I went back for more on Thursday and Friday nights.
Early last week Jacques and Sophie took me to look at furniture shops in Chantepie and Alma, since I'd told them how much stuff I didn't have. Afterwards we went for gallettes and crepes in town, and talked about various things. Its an interesting dynamic - I speak French, Jacques speaks English, and Sophie speaks a little of each. On Friday we went back to one of the stores and I bought a sofa-bed. We somehow managed to pack the huge box into their tiny little car, with a meter or so of it sticking out the back, and the three of us folded improbably into the remaining spaces.
It seems that my diligence in posting regularly has slipped a little. Last weekend I caught up with Clio and some of her friends, first at a Breton bar and then at a place on the Rue St Michel, a busy street full of bars and kebab shops. It was good, and they all spoke a bit of English, which was useful when my French ran out. On Sunday I just shuffled stuff back and forth from my room at the cité universitaire to the apartment.

I caught up with Clio and friends again on Thursday night, at their campus at Villejean. I had wavered on whether or not I would go, since I had to sign my lease at 9am the next morning and didn't really want to be hung over, but I wandered along, albeit a bit late. It was a lot like a bunker, everyone in costume, drunk, dancing, but in a small crowd of a hundred or so, mostly girls. Estelle was very emotional about my not having called her, and I was generally quite the novelty. Still, being the only sober guy at a party where you don't speak a lot of the lingo, and being (or at least feeling) 5 years older than anyone else there, didn't really grip me, so I walked back home after an hour or two.

Friday, 5 March 2004

People have been asking me to put up photos, but I still don't have a good solution for hosting them. This is a test for Yahoo! Photos, but it has a 30Mb cap, which isn't really very much space. This was a crappy shot I took when I realised just how stereotypically french my eating habits were becoming: Baguette, Brie, Jambon, Vin... Of course, afterwards they almost immediately became more Italian, with pasta every night.

Thursday, 4 March 2004

A friend in Australia sent me a report of his cricketing exploits on the weekend, for the club he revived. I so wish I could do something like that - not elite sport, just somewhere to just have a go and be a part of a team. I spent some time looking for french cricket and footy clubs near me, but couldn't find any.