Category Archives: Life


The movers are here, packing up books, CDs, DVDs/Blu-rays, magazines, kitchen and clothes. No furniture, no lamps, no chairs. Packing today, loading the container tomorrow.

The sound of packing tape as it tears off a roll is intense enough that I put on headphones and am listening too Michael Gandolfi’s From The Institutes of Groove. I’ve seen and heard Gandolfi at Cabrillo Festival several times, and I’m growing to enjoy his work.

Yesterday I packed and repacked the suitcases and carry-on, weighing each to ensure they’ll be under 50 pounds, checking and rechecking that I have all the right documents in the right places, especially passport & visa with the tickets in the carry-on (LL Bean messenger bag).

P.S. — Six hours later, and the major part of my life is in a moving truck heading toward Fremont, where it will be unloaded into the container that will transport my life to France.  Mixed emotions.

Bon voyage !

Son Warren put on a nice bon-voyage dinner at Cilantro’s in Watsonville Saturday night. All my kids were there, plus daughter-in-law and her parents and petite-fille Simon. Also attending were my French language and cultural consultant Maryon and husband Antoine. Miranda captured us for posterity:

Lists, and lists of lists

Over the last 10 or so days, since my last cautiously optimistic post, here’s a taste of what I’ve been dealing with:

  • Prescription drugs. New insurance for Medicare Part D means that the nice mail-order auto-ship/auto-refill plan (CVS/Caremark) that took so long to get right is out the window, replaced by another mail-order auto-ship/auto-refill plan (ExpressScripts) that I won’t be here long enough to establish, much less fine-tune. So I go to the local CVS (a participating ExpressScripts pharmacy), and beg for 90-day refills on all the meds I currently take, to last until I can connect with a French doctor to prescribe the same or similar meds that I can get on the French insurance plan, and it’s taken more than two weeks now to get the doctors and the pharmacy to start syncing up . . .
  • Oh, yeh, because Medicare, and all its various Medigap Part B/Part D bits, only works in the U.S. Where I plan to be for another 12 or so days. So why did I sign up for those extra bits? Because if I don’t do it now, I can be denied coverage and pay punitive rates later on. So I take it, and pay for it, now in the off chance that I might be back some day, and don’t want to be hit with exorbitant premiums just when I need coverage. So there’s that.
  • Then there’s the matter of shipping my stuff to France. The shipping company needs an inventory. If I want all-risk insurance, the insurance application needs an inventory. And customs needs an inventory. Even though I have the papers that say I plan to live in France for a considerable time so I don’t have to pay duties on importing my stuff. So creating an inventory means going through the stuff, in most cases making estimates (there are about 40 books on a bookcase shelf, which about fill a small heavy-duty HomeDepot box), and there are this many bookcase shelves and boxes and equivalents and multiply and add it all up comes to about 3000 books. Sounds plausible. On to the CDs, and DVDs, same drill. Then on to the Hawaiian shirts. Start with 120, less the ones I haven’t worn for ages and won’t wear again and will therefore recycle. But some of the remainder are going in my checked bag, and some I’ll ship separately, so how many do I count for the shipping inventory? Yeh, that’s where it gets dicey, and that sort of thing I really agonize over, even though no one else, I expect, really cares.
  • Then there are the absolutely crucial documents that need to travel with me, and the less crucial but important documents that could lag a little, and the good-to-have-but-not-right-away documents; which bags do they go into? Same for the digital documents, and music, and videos. Copy the crucial docs to a portable hard drive and bring that with. And make sure the cloud backup service doesn’t interpret non-connected as deleted. . .
  • Is it any wonder my head is spinning at all hours of day and night? And I know it’s probably really all under control, and will all work out, and I shouldn’t stress, but this is how I work.
  • Oh, right, lists and lists of lists, mostly on Evernote, but some also on smallish paper pads that I scribble daily goals and phone numbers, and the day will come very very soon when it all either goes into my carry-on bag, or suitcase, or gets shipped, or gets shredded or recycled.
  • And then I’ll find myself in France, and the deed will be done.

Unexpected progress

As anxious as I’ve been about bringing Simon the cat with me to France, we had a pleasant surprise today.

I ordered a well-reviewed cat carrier from Amazon (Priority Pets TSA Airline Approved Travel Pet Carrier with Mesh Top, Soft Mat and Sides | Tote Bag for Dogs and Cats), which arrived today. I opened it up and left it on the floor, without even trying to introduce Simon to it.

Two hours later, he had moved in and settled down for a nap.

Simon meets his travel home.

Color me grateful for small victories.

Part trois

The other thing that needed to happen? Reconnaissance. I had never seen France outside of Paris. I needed to investigate the south of France, where the Mediterranean climate might match what I was used to in Santa Cruz.

An opportunity arose in 2016. The SIGCHI Executive Committee was planning a meeting mid-summer. In Europe. My airfare was covered.

The meeting took place in Edinburgh in late July, bleeding into August and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. I scheduled a tour of southern France for the week or so before. Fly into Bordeaux, drive to Toulouse (visit friends there), Beziers, Montpellier, Arles, Avignon, Nice. Then fly from Nice to Edinburgh. AirBnB would be my guide.

Adjustments were made; my friends in Toulouse, Philippe Palanque and Regina Bernhaupt, were committed to a PhD defense in Spain, so I skipped Montpellier for a detour back to Toulouse. An Air France strike (surprise surprise!) forced me to book Nice to Edinburgh on Easy Jet, but also allowed me to better connect with my hostess in NIce, Catherine Audirac. Staying on canal boats in Avignon and Arles were highlights.

I liked what I saw.

Next, friends who visit France regularly — Elizabeth and Leon Olsen, Marjorie Yasueda and Dale Knutsen — made suggestions. Leon suggested I give Montpellier a closer look; I had skipped it in 2016. So in 2017 I visited Montpellier for a week, again via AirBnB, in a nice little unit just outside Montpellier proper, Lattes. I checked out the town, the Comédie plaza, the Polygone mall, the antique fair on Friday and Saturday (had a nice chat with one of the book vendors), the Musée Fabre, the public transport Tram (the subway there is above ground). I cruised into the Camargue, and took in the Parc Ornithologique‘s flamingos and other wildlife.

Again, I liked what I saw.

I took the tram from one end of town to the other, and back again. I never saw anything that looked like a slum, or looked unsafe or rundown. I thought, “I could live here. I could totally do this.”


How I got here, part deux

So, two trips to Paris got me thinking about spending more time in France.

My experience in 2013 got me thinking. I was 5 years from being full-Social Security retirement age (as a baby boomer). Ariel and Miranda would turn 18 in 2018, and graduate from high school shortly after. Retirement that year was a possibility. But retirement income was not going to make living in Santa Cruz possible.

I did some research, looking into cheap places to live outside the U.S. I subscribed to International Living, and bought their report on living in France. I also read about the attractions of more popular destinations from Americans, mostly in Central or South America. Nice, but if I’m going to speak another language, I’d rather speak French.

By this time five years ago, I was thinking that moving to France was a real possibility for my retirement. And I was thinking retirement at 66, not 70. That would be August 2018.

What needed to happen in those 5 years?

First, I was not going to move several hundred pounds of LP records. So I started digitizing the collection. Same for the CDs. Some were keepers regardless, many were best saved to hard disk and sold off at Logos (RIP) or Streetlight Records, later Metavinyl. Then there was culling the other collections, compacting, reducing, recycling. Grey Bears is my go-to for responsibly reusing or recycling electronics: CRTs, computers, monitors, peripherals, cables and adapters and all that. How many printers do I really need?

Next came hard decisions, including acknowledging that I do not need to be the archivist for various magazine and other documents that are probably available readily online. Twenty year old issues of Wired and Fast Company? Nah.

And so it went.




Booking TGV

TGV = train à grand vitesse, the French high-speed train. 3-1/2 to 4 hours, Montpellier to Paris, or vice versa.

Why TGV when I’m booked on Air France all the way to Montpellier?

It’s mostly about the cat, Simon. Imported pets no longer are kept in quarantine, so long as they have a “pet passport,” which certifies that the pet is healthy, has recent rabies shots, and has the requisite 15-digit microchip. All of which is checked when I enter the country. Which means collecting luggage, going through inspection at customs, then going through security for the next leg. In my case, there’s a whopping one hour and fifteen minutes between scheduled arrival from SFO and scheduled departure to MPL. Despite what the nice lady at Air France (really Delta) said, that’s not enough time. Not going to happen. Certainly not when AF 083 (SFO > CDG) typically runs an hour late.

So, alternate plan: The next flight to Montpellier is much later in the day, and would put me into MPL near midnight. Therefore, I’ll skip the CDG > MPL leg on Air France — and by the way, buying a round trip ticket and using only one leg is still way cheaper than a one-way ticket, so I’m still ahead despite throwing away part of the ticket — and take the TGV from the airport (the station’s below Terminal 2) at roughly 14:00h and arrive in Montpellier about 18:00h. In comfort and style, with less stress on me and on Simon. That’s the theory anyway.

So, to buy a ticket on the TGV, I go to the SNCF website, English version at, where I already created an account. Search for the train I want (after already scoping it out several times), click the button to pay 102€ for first class (that comfort and convenience thing again), check the box that says “sure, give me a senior discount card while we’re at it,” and oh, yes, please let me select my seat!!, then proceed to the payment page — already set up my no-foreign-transaction-fees Bank of America Visa card — and click the button that says “make it so.” The site says “we’re gonna check with your bank, so stand by.” And nothing happens. I think it’s a done deal. But there’s no confirmation, and no indication that there’s a reservation in process for my account.

Try that three times and conclude something’s not right.

Oh, and meanwhile, checked the rules for bringing Simon on board the train, which say sure, pet over 6 kilos in a carrier and has to buy a ticket, too, but you can’t do that online, so call us. Yeh, 10 minutes on hold after following a long phone-tree all in rapid French with no “for English press 2” option, I give up. I’ll deal with it at the station.

Oh, and, the buying-a-ticket process says I have to show my senior discount card along with my ticket on the train, so enter your discount card number here, but I don’t have it yet, I thought I was making that happen in the booking process, so something else is not. . . quite. . . right.


If you followed that SNCF in English link above, you might note a tiny little EU flag in the upper right corner. Click the dropdown, it says “Europe (other countries)” with a list of other European countries and “Rest of the world.” Click “Rest of the world” and I wind up here Which is where the rest of us can buy TGV tickets.


So, create another account, locate that same TGV trip, see a fare in US dollars that’s pretty close to the converted-from-Euros price, select that, pay with the DiscoverCard (because I can, and it’s in dollars not euros). And that process seems to work. Confirmation via email, booking shows up in my account. Click “detailed itinerary” and see that RailEurope has assigned me a seat without taking any input from me; fortunately, it’s what I would have asked for, single seat, lower level. Again, nothing about how to pay the fare for Simon, but again, I’ll sort that out at the station.

But there’s more to that story.

Poking around on The Man in Seat 61, I learn that, if I could make the French SNCF site work for me from California, I would be able to pay the cat fare when buying my ticket. . . but only on the French version, not the English version of the very same site. See the fine print at

OK. I’ll pay for Simon at the station. I have my ticket, at least.


Moving challenges

The logistical challenges around moving from here to there include:

  • Anything that I ship in the container, I won’t see again until I have a more-long-term apartment. That could be six months or more.
  • To successfully negotiate the Aptos > SFO > Paris CDG > Montpellier voyage without having a heart attack, I need to:
    1. Pack one bag efficiently, with no more than 50 pounds of stuff, but with everything I will need immediately.
    2. Pack one carry-on bag (my trusty L.L. Bean messenger bag) with iPad, documents, chargers, and so on.
    3. Pack one cat.
  • Anything I will need between arrival in MPL and seeing my shipped stuff months later must be shipped, somehow, to my apartment.

Yeh, that last one is a challenge. I figure packing one additional suitcase with clothes and a carry-on size bag with books and miscellany (no more than 50 pounds each!) will keep me going. Oh, but my technological needs, there’s the rub!

I researched online, and found several companies who will ship your luggage to you, for about $250 for a standard 50# bag. Check the UPS site, I found suggestions that the same bag, stuffed in a box, could be delivered for about the same, $250. So I visited the local UPS Store to see if they could verify that information. . . um, no, not really. More like $900. Each 50# box. Ouch. The nice lady suggested I come back with more precise dimensions of my needs, and also to try the US Postal Service. Yes, really.

At the Aptos Post Office, I learned that one 50# bag, boxed or not, sent Priority Express International, would run about $179 and take a week. No kidding. That’ll work.

One more detail, though. . . technology. I don’t seriously believe I can make do with an iPad only for months. Not if I need access to past tax returns and other documents, email that’s not on Gmail, and so on. In light of the prospective cost to have UPS pack and ship my iMac and the attendant peripherals, including multiple external drives, I’m thinking shipping the storage units and not the actual iMac might make sense. This machine is 5+ years old. The cost to ship it could be ~half the cost to just buy a new one when I’m there. If I carry a portable 1TB drive with me, I can have most of what I need on a new machine, and then pick up the backups as needed.