Category Archives: Life

A big day

It finally happened.

Today, I was reunited with all the books and clothes that I shipped over in October of last year. The boxes in storage were delivered to my new apartment, the one with all the new Ikea bookcases just waiting to be filled.

Here’s what it looks like today:

Most of those boxes contain books. Some contain CDs and DVDs and Blu-rays. Three or four contain clothes. Part of the bigness of the day comes from locating and liberating my copious Hawaiian shirt collection, just in time for summer !

Who wants to come help me shelve the books ?

For the record

Just, really, for the record, as of today it’s seven months since I arrived in Montpellier.

  • I have the necessary stamps of approval for me to stay here, but need additional approval beyond the first year — hence another visit to the bureaucracy in a month or two.
  • I am days (or weeks ? who knows !) away from possessing my very own Carte Vitale, which grants access to the French healthcare system (I’m already in the system, the card makes it a little easier to access).
  • I’m about to be reunited with all those things I shipped to myself, currently in storage near Marseille, I think. Mostly books.
  • I have a bunch of new bookcases awaiting those books in a new (to me) apartment.
  • My comfort with French conversation is improved.

So far, so good.

La vie est belle

I spent the last two weeks in the hospital.

Two weeks ago today, comme d’habitude, I went to the Antigone marché paysan, the weekly farmers market that takes place on the street just opposite my place in Antigone. I picked up the usual — I am absolutely a creature of habit — including three chocolate muffins from the Reine des Muffins (my name, not hers), some veggie galettes, strawberries (in season, everyone has them, they pretty much take over every produce stand), and some slices of vegan/gluten-free  mango/chocolate carrot-cake. Then I went  walk home with my  acquisitions.

Only, I couldn’t. Walk, that is. Right foot wouldn’t obey orders to march home. So I leaned up against a conveniently-located building and waited.

After a minute or two, nothing having changed, I pulled out my phone, pulled up my list of shortcut numbers, and pressed the most likely-looking emergency number. The operator understood, I think, the situation, but I had a heck of a time getting my location across — Rue de Thèbes, which is probably pronounced as two syllables instead of the one Americans know — by which time I was able to move my feet and relocated to the little pizza restaurant outside my front door. The ambulance found me there a few minutes later.

The remaining details are probably just boring. Suffice to say I was delivered to a private hospital, the Clinique du Millénaire, with a neuro-vascular intensive care unit. A combination of MRI (IRM in French) and CAT-scan (just plain scan in French) showed a severely narrowed vertebral cerebro-vascular artery — one of the main supplies of blood to the brain.

I’d had a stroke.

The doctor said I was going to spend the next week flat on my back in bed while they tried to open up the artery with drugs. She said it was non-operable.

Fast-forward to two weeks later, I am home with some new prescriptions and a somewhat changed view of what’s most important for the next days, months, years. The proprietors of the pizza restaurant are happy to see me back, my landlady, who helped out by feeding Simon the cat is happy I’m back. Simon is so happy he’s already drawn blood in four places (biting is his way of displaying affection).

I’m happy to be back. The sky is clear, it’s a tad windy but also sunny, it’s a beautiful spring day in the south of France. And life is good.

La vie, as they say, est belle.

Medical Info

For several years now, I’ve had some medical info in the pocket notebook I usually carry around with me, a list of current medications and such. More recently, I installed a Medical ID app on my phone that puts an icon on the home/lock screen, allowing instant access to a short history of medical procedures (like a list of all 6 stents) and prescription medications. I even paid for the premium version; whatever it was, it’s cheap considering how useful it is to have vital information near at hand. Of course, it assumes a certain amount of consciousness on my part to at least point to the thing, but in this case, when the ambulance team asked about prescription meds, I handed them my phone. Same at the hospital : hand over the phone with the app already open, all your medical info is right there (you have to enter it all yourself, duh). I even discovered that the app makes the conversion from pounds to kilos and feet + inches to cm, because you will be asked !

The app I used is available here : . The developer is in Cagnes-sur-mer, also the location of the Renoir museum I visited two years ago, near Nice !

More relaxed ?

Diane at Oui In France has some interesting observations from time to time, and is more regular about posting to her blog than I am. Most recently, she wrote about some things that the French might seem to be “more relaxed” about than us Americans: 

Which got me thinking.

It’s quite normal here to have a nice conversation with the vendor at a weekly farmers market (marché paysan). In fact, it’s one of the things I look forward to. No one seems to be in a rush, except me. I have always been conscious of the people in line behind me, and try to be as efficient as possible, especially at the grocery store. Well, we’re not at the local Safeway here. I have to learn to take my time. People want to get to know me, I should take the time to let them.

For example: Twice now (that I know of !) I have made a mistake in my favor at a vendor’s stall. I walked away with more change than was correct in one case, and more product than I had payed for in another. Both times I went back and corrected the error — I couldn’t talk to them next week if I didn’t. Most recently, I tried to explain what had happened and fumbled badly with my still inadequate French, and the vendor told me to slow down, take a deep breath, and said “Ce n’est pas grave” — “It’s not important.” Imagine, someone telling me, Mr. Zen, to slow down !

In another case, my French tutor, Christelle, lets me wander off into wide-ranging detours, because it’s good practice at conversation, and besides, I’m paying for it. Monday she loaned me a book (Méditer, jour après jour) by French psychologist Christophe André, who’s written some books with Matthieu Ricard, a French Buddhist, about what we know as mindfulness. It took me awhile to translate “pleine conscience” in my head, but it’s quite literally “mindfulness.” It turns out Christelle, too, is trying to get me to slow down and be present.

So, one of the things I’m learning here (re-learning, really) is that most of the pressure I feel is pressure I put on myself.


Deux mois, plus ou moin

Yes, I’m delinquent, but not much has happened. Except . . .

Renoir, Père et Fils

I probably talked about this on Facebook, here’s the blog version.

One of the attractions of living here is that Paris is 3 hours and 20 minutes away by TGV. Gare St. Roch in Montpellier is the main downtown train station, and Grand Central for the Trams, so easy to get to and from. I took a morning train that left a bit after 9h00, arriving in Paris a bit before 13h00. Note to self: Some trains are made up of two, which means that you might be sent to wait on a part of the platform that’s not yet occupied by a train coach. Patience.

I checked into the hotel right at the Gare de Lyon, and grabbed a taxi to the Musée d’Orsay, aka my favorite museum in Paris. Which was putting on a special exhibition combining work by Auguste-Pierre Renoir, painter and sculptor, and his son Jean Renoir, ceramicist and filmmaker. They shared themes, and models, and artistic sensibilities. Jean’s mother was his father’s favorite model. Jean’s nurse/governess, Gabriel, appears in dozens of his paintings. Pierre’s final favorite model became Jean’s wife, and star actress, for awhile. The swing scene in Partie de campagne was prefigured by a similar scene by Jean’s father. And so on. Wonderful exhibition, covering seven galleries, including film clips, paintings, newspaper clippings, and commentary, plus more films displayed on a large screen at one end of the main hall of the Musée.

Yes, I picked up the exhibition catalog, a habit I intend to develop. And a few postcards and bookmarks. And the catalog for another exhibit, just finishing elsewhere in Paris, Comédies Musicales. Remind me to revisit what I found interesting about the juxtapositions in that book, in the context of Michel Legrand’s passing at the same time.

Thursday, the day I visited, is the late night at the d’Orsay, so I made my way back to the hotel after 20h, and woke early Friday for breakfast before grabbing the TGV back to Montpellier. Along with an enjoyable and educational visit, I demonstrated to myself the viability of taking the fast train for a day in Paris.

Adventures in bureaucracy

Navigating any bureaucracy is easier if you understand the paper trail that the bureaucrat requires. It’s the deviations from the expected path that make it difficult, the “but my case is special” approach. In the world of software development, historically there have been two approaches: There’s waterfall, which assumes that one can plan a project completely from the start, and it should follow a predictable path. What’s required in one stage is provided by a preceding stage. Then there’s agile, which is the path of exceptions. Agile acknowledges that things change over time: Technology changes, requirements change, lessons are learned, adaptations are made.

Bureaucracies are waterfalls. Deviations are not accommodated. Exceptions are not accepted.

So: One’s visa application should fit neatly into one of the predefined buckets. Learn how to conform to that bucket and one’s path is smooth. Expect an exception, expect delays. For one applying for a long-stay visa, one must obtain said visa before requesting a change of residence certificate. It’s easy if one takes it in the right order. On arrival in France, one sends the OFII form that was part of the visa process in to OFII with a photocopy of one’s passport, visa, and entry stamp. No entry stamp, and three months later one receives an acknowledgement from French bureaucracy that one’s application has been received, but is missing one thing: The visa with that entry stamp. Without which, one does not complete the process of entering the country with said long-stay visa. Without which — here comes the waterfall !!! — one’s application to join the French health system after three months residence is held up until one provides the copy of the passport, plus visa, plus entry stamp, plus OFII stamp. And a process that nominally takes three months instead runs five-plus months.

That’s where I am: Met with the nice folks at OFII a week ago today, got their lovely stamp in my passport, sent a copy of that along with copies of everything else I had already submitted to CPAM (the health system folks) last Friday.

. . . and now waiting patiently for the next waterfall.

As Van Morrison sang, “You don’t pull no punches, and you don’t push the river.”


After several unpleasant interactions with self-checkout machines in the U.S., I gave up on them. If it can be broken, I will break it, although I really blame bad interaction design — if it can be misread or misinterpreted, I will.

But. . . something about the checkout process at the Monoprix — standard mid-sized department store, with more food and less other departments — encouraged me to try out their new self-checkouts. Maybe it was the prospect of standing in line while people fumble with their fidelity cards and count out coins while I have only one item (lightbulb), and I was ready to try it. Turned out to be remarkably bulletproof: I tried my best to break it, and it didn’t. Even after the helpful fellow pointed at the button to change the language to English and I didn’t.

Also notable: The really new machines, which only take credit or debit cards, don’t  weigh your items as a checkpoint. Scan, pay, and go.


Or, Adventures in acquiring French literacy, part deux.

My French tutor says I’m making good progress, but I need to practice more with real interactions.

So today I went into Galeries Lafayette (think French Macy’s), marched up to the young lady in Customer Service (yes, the sign actually says that !), said, in French, “Sorry I don’t speak much French, but I’d like to ask for a store fidelity card, please.” She asked “You speak English ? I speak a little English.”

And we conducted the rest of the transaction in French.

P.S., when the French ask for your mail address, they mean email.

Marché aux livres, redux

Yesterday, Saturday, I was relieved to find the “marché aux livres,” temporarily displaced by the holiday markets, returned in force and enjoying good weather. With some very “bon plans” (good deals).

I’m particularly fond of the Editions Gallimard, which sport little more than the author and title on the cover and spine, red border on a beige background. They’ve looked the same for  I don’t know how long. They’re just so classy, IMHO. Well, I picked up one by Patrick Modiano, 2014 Nobel Prize winner; Celine’s Voyage to the End of the Night; and the recently published collection of letters between Albert Camus and Maria Casares; all brand new or in new condition, at bargain prices. We’re talking 10€ for a book with a 29€ list price, 5€ vs. 16,90€. Hard to beat.

Yes, I’m still buying books. That’s who I am.

Adventures in acquiring French literacy, part 1

I’m getting help learning conversational French from a wonderful local tutor, Christelle Sérou. During today’s session, which focused on hearing and understanding common phrases, my phone rang. Since that’s an unusual occurrence, I excused myself and got up to answer it. I couldn’t understand much of what the caller was saying, except for “à maison,” so “at home.” Didn’t make much sense, so I stammered for a few seconds, then the door buzzer rang, indicating someone at the main entrance to the building . . . perhaps the caller? I buzzed him in, and ran to the elevator, and yes, there was a courier delivering a package (“colis”) from Amazon.

“Amazon” vs. “à maison.” Yeh, I still have a way to go.

Control, or not

I am noting more often now that, despite my worries and speculations and contingency planning, things tend to work out.

Has it always been like that?

For example: Package delivery here is sometimes an adventure. I haven’t lived in an apartment building of more than four units for a long, long time, so can’t be sure how it works in the U.S. Here, there are any number of delivery services, from La Poste and its associated Chronopost to the random rickety mini-mini-van. (Not to mention the food delivery services, such as Deliveroo.)

So, your package from, depending on size and weight, may or may not make it  directly to your door. Or mailbox. (I had one box sent from the U.S. Priority Express International that was stuffed into my mailbox so vehemently that I had to cut it open and remove half the contents to get it out of the mailbox. But that worked out.) In more than one case early on I got a card in the mailbox, went online and provided delivery instructions, including my phone number, and met the delivery person at the front door. More recently, I discovered by checking my order history on that a package had been left with a neighbor, M. Chastin, and I had to search out which apartment he was in. In another case, the package was left with the restaurant next door; that was fine, I’m friends with the folks there, who said “pas de tout, c’est normal” when I thanked them for their courtesy.

Then, yesterday, I was walking back from a brief outing to find one of those tiny delivery vans parked at the door, with a young lady who very much hoped that I was M. Chastin, or that at least I lived in that building and might be willing to take delivery of the package. I agreed, since it seems to be how things are done; I gave her my name, apartment number, and my floor, signed my acceptance of the package, and accepted her profuse thanks. And then, it was my turn to wait for M. Chastin to check the delivery news from Amazon, and for me to be anxious about the responsibility I had accepted. That was yesterday.

Today, well, it was rather chilly out, so I was inclined to just stay put, but eventually decided to get out for a walk anyway, bundled up, and headed down the elevator. As the door opened to the lobby . . . there was M. Chastin, with baby in stroller.  I said “J’ai votre colis !,” backed into the elevator with them, went back upstairs, grabbed the package (“colis”), and we headed back down the elevator, to his profuse thanks.

So: I agonized over the right thing to do, worried how available I should be, decided I should just go out anyway. . . and things just worked out. No amount of planning or attempted control would have worked out better. Chance worked better.

Has it always been this way?