Archive for December, 2010

Alsace blanc Crimbo

25/12/2010

Lots of snow overnight mean we have a veritable white Christmas and it’s still falling.  The picture shows our courtyard under centimetres of snow more than covering the wheel of my bike.  I love the way someone is OCD about the bins that they not only line up but also the handles all have to face the same way.  Evey week someone goes to the trouble to put them in a nice neat line facing the right way, someone with too much time on their hands.

The next picture shows the snow on our balcony.  Christmas was welcomed in with an appropriate drink at midnight watching the wonderful campness of the George Cukor directed Les Girls.  After listening to the best Christmas song ever (Which you’ll have to wait for) the soundtrack is being supplied by Pop Slags Spotify playlist of the best pop of 2010 they tweeted but you can find here.

We’ve already spoken to some family elsewhere in the World, we will talk to more later.  Shortly it will be time for smoked salmon on pieces of bread and presents under the tree will be opened.  Later there will, of course, be turkey with all the trimmings accompanied by a decent vintage.  There will not be a Christmas message from the Queen or anyone else.

The picture above shows the snow looking left from our balcony the last one shows the view to the right showing that even on Christmas Day the trams in Strasbourg are working.

I would like to wish everyone a merry Christmas and very Happy New Year.

Fairytale of New York

The Pogues and the wonderful Kirsty MacKoll.  The best Christmas song ever, enjoy:

 

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Vigilance orange

24/12/2010

Today has been for the snow and risk of ice(verglas) across all the Bas-Rhin but before the snow started falling the threat for the last few days had been from flooding.  The level of the river through the city and the many canals around it are, of course, used as part of managing the level of the Rhine.  It surprised me going past Bassin Dusuzeau earlier this week on the tram at how high it was.  The Bassin leads straight into the Rhine.  Then yesterday it was back down to its normal level whilst the river Ill was really high.  As the picture of the local paper, the DNA, headline outside my local shop illustrates.(The Ill rises, the number of Batorama falls)  Here’s the story from a screenshot of their website. (Nasty times for Batorama – which, because of the high water level,  has only been able to travel around Strasbourg for eight and a half hours since the beginning of December and it is probable  it will not do so again this year.)  Batorama provides a tour of Strasbourg on the rivers and canals.

This week has been a delivery success with three out of four items we were waiting upon being delivered in a timely fashion.  It started yesterday when the receipt for my Bageo arrived so I was able to take it with me to one of my workplaces so I can claim reimbursement for it.  This morning the December issue of The Word arrived so I will have to with me to read whilst travelling to Cyprus next week and then when I went out earlier to collect my new reading glasses they were available.  The only thing which were not delivered was a present from the nice Mr Metz (which will not be missed as we have supplies in and it will provide us with something to look forward to on our return from Cyprus) but La Post tried to deliver something yesterday and by the time we went round to our local Post Office this afternoon it had closed for Christmas, so it looks like we’ll have to wait until Monday to collect that package.

The pictures on this page come from when I went out earlier to collect my new reading glasses.  The first shows the weir by the Pont de l’Abattoir where there are usually one or two of the sluices open but today there were four.  Last night the water was also coming over the top of the lock gate, the last outlet on the extreme left before the path.  The path is usually all visible but the water is up so much that a large part of the path is submerged, right round the Grand île.  The second shows a novel and season space-saving device at DIY shop Mr Bricolage.  The third picture shows the view from on Pont Kuss looking up Rue du Maire Kuss towards the station.  The fourth picture shows the view standing on the Pont Kuss looking up the river towards Eglise Catholique St Jean and the Place Des Halles. The last picture is looking from the Faubourg National tram stop across the Pont National at the snow bedecked roof of the Eglise St. Pierre Le Vieux with the buildings in front of it that also front onto the river.  If you imagine the Christmas decorations in the street alongside the church are similar to the one just visible next to it, above the tram.  It shows they are of a slightly different quality to the ones on Faubourg National.  I took the picture standing on the tram rails and the driver of the tram coming towards me, on the left, lent on his bell to get me out-of-the-way.

Christmas (Baby Please come home)

The next to the last video in my musical attempt to get me feeling more Christmassy.  As you will see from the picture we now have our tree up with a “rather camp” decoration around it done, and described, by JTO.  In the top right hand corner of the picture is the star from Sweden given to us by my brother.  Buying a new bulb for this is what took me to Mr Bricolage earlier – not one of my usual hang-outs but a place I’ve met more people I know than almost anywhere else in Strasbourg!  It does feel a smidgen more Christmassy but not lots.  To try to help here is what I think is probably the second best Christmas record ever from the Worlds best Christmas album ever, ‘A Christmas Gift for You’, the Phil Spector Christmas Album.  It has been something of a tradition for Darlene Love to sing the song on the David Letterman show and here’s the version from this year.  What will be the Worlds best Christmas song ever?  Tune in tomorrow pop-pickers to find out.

 

Three cheers to the United States

22/12/2010

Oh well, I seem to end the year on a series of pontificating stories and here’s another one.

I believe myself to be on the left.  My views have changed from when I also believed myself to be on the left twenty or thirty years ago.  I hope so, otherwise what’s the point in living, having experiences and learning?  Previously I shared the knee-jerk anti-Americanism that is too prevalent on the left.  A readiness to quickly condemn America for failing to hold to the high standards it sets itself, often condemning America for things other nations didn’t even set out to do.  Coming to an understanding of the centrality of human rights, democracy and the Rule of Law for anyone calling themself a Democratic Socialist has helped me grow away from that knee-jerk anti-Americanism of my youth.  There are two things I want to celebrate and America has been central to the good news in both cases.

First, a little late I’ll grant you, I want to celebrate the vote in the Senate last week to end ‘don’t ask, don’t tell‘.(wiki)  The law will be signed by President Obama today and he’ll be joined at the signing by one of the nurses, Major Margaret Witt (pictured)  whose sacking under the earlier legislation played a part in the change in the law.  Of course there are now lots of questions about how this change in the law will be implemented, for example;

will gay troops have their own showers and accommodation? Will same-sex partners get military health benefits? What happens to a military chaplain who says he can’t minister to someone who is gay?

but there’s time to work through the issues.  We see another centre-left government introducing a significant step-forward for human rights, as a previous Labour administration was able to introduce civil partnership rights, change the age of consent and roll back homophobic legislation from the 1980’s.  The important thing is the changes in the UK and America only happened because the left was in government, you can’t change much from opposition.

The second three cheers for the US took place at the United Nations, where the US campaigned to reinstate sexual orientation as a category of vulnerable people for unjustified killing.  A number of Middle East, Asian  and African countries had succeeded in the UN HUman Rights Committee in removing from the resolution a reference to killings for reasons of sexual orientation, which was included along with killings for racial, national, ethnic, religious, or linguistic reasons, and killings of refugees, indigenous people, and other groups.  It is reported the US succeeded in persuading some countries including South Africa, Rwanda and Albania who hadn’t voted on the earlier motion to vote in support this time and with the new motion passing the UN General Assembly by 122 votes to 0 with 59 abstentions it was a good result.

The US Ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice (pictured above) said, “Laws that criminalize gay relationships don’t just violate human rights, they hinder social cohesion, economic development, and public health,” whilst a spokesperson for President Obama said, “Protecting gays and lesbians from state-sponsored discrimination is not a special right, it is a human right.”

General progress and improvement does not mean there are not worrying things happening at the same time.  For example the refusal of the defeated candidate in Côte d’Ivoire(wiki) to accept their defeat and have himself sworn in as President, risking restarting the civil war which the elections were meant to see an end to.  The UN has demanded an end to provocations and human rights violations.  Whilst not in the same league I was also going to point to the high cost of onions in India but the government has done something about it.

White Christmas

I don’t know why a White Christmas should be so good.  The snow we’ve had so far this month hasn’t been a bringer of much joy, or engenderer of much Christmas feeling here.  The forecasts predict a 60% chance of precipitation with temperatures between -2 and -9 so it’s no surprise they are forecasting snow for the morning on 25th December.  Anyway as the next part of the campaign to try to engender the Christmas spirit in me here’s Bing with a medley of videos and films for possibly his most famous song:

Vince’s nucelar option

21/12/2010

I see UK Business Secretary, Vince Cable, has been caught out saying one thing to a couple of journalists who visited his surgery posing as Lib Dem activists that is different to what he says in public about the coalition.  Two -faced Libdemologists saying different things to different people according to what the audience want to hear, what is the World coming to?  Like most of the Wikileaks revelations the answer is so what.  Vince has been incredibly stupid.  People in the public eye should know that anything you say or write can be made public so either say what you think and believe all the time or don’t write down or say to others what you might find embarrassing if told to media or other people.  It’s that simple.  Former MP, Jim Knight, took to twitter to say that it risked undermining confidentiality between an MP and constituent.  Rubbish, its something that has two parties to it, the MP and the constituent and the constituent can always go public on what happened.  Anyway, here’s film of Vince getting his nuclear option working and riding it off into the future….

Feliz Navidad

The Christmas feeling has not moved inside me.  The series of videos I’ve published here has not succeeded in trying to help me get into the mood.  Bah humbug.  Anyway here is todays video, German popsters Boney M and Feliz Navidad:

Something rotten in the state…..

20/12/2010

….of Belarus.  Earlier this year I completed my ambition to visit every European capital city.  Well every European capital city bar one because Belarus was never on the list of places to visit.  As long as the country stayed, as Condoleezza Rice (wiki) described it, as Europe’s last dictatorship (President Lukashenko, pictured) then I would not be visiting Minsk.  I had thought I might need to get my travelling shoes on again to complete the last trip.  This weekend there was a presidential election in Belarus.  The country had ben close to Russia but they had increasingly been falling out with problems over gas pipelines through the country to elsewhere in Europe and Belarus refusal to condemn Georgia for something Russia wanted them to condemn it for.  The EU, spotting this had offered Belarus a loan if it had free and fair elections and there had been campaigning by other politicians than Mr Lukashenko, opposition politicians had been allowed an hour each to promote themselves on TV and there had been a debate involving all the candidates, apart from Mr Lukashenko of course.

Well it looks like the country will not be getting its loan as the OSCE observers at the elections said the country has considerable way to go to meet its commitments.  Then today we saw reports (CoE) demonstrations resulted in hundreds being arrested including seven of the candidates.

Being aware of your friends and the consequences of counting them your friend is something I’ve thought important.  It is interesting to see that the Wikileaks Russian representative has met senior officials on the Belorussian government and has been accredited as a foreign observer of the elections.  The reason I would have thought the government of Belarus would have avoided being friends with I Shamir, the Wikileaks Russian representative, when it is reported here he is an anti-Semitic, holocaust denying, far-right Russian nationalist.

UPDATE: Further from Harry’s Place about Mr Shamir.  He downplays the demonstration and arrests and it appears the Belarus government is going to publish information showing links between the West and the opposition.  Do the meetings between Government oficials and Mr Shamir play any part in this government information?  Has wikileaks Belarus provided information to one of the most represeive regimes in the World?

Unfortunately I wasn’t an observer for the Belarussian elections.  I was for the ones in Ukraine in 2004 and thought at the time it was not quite the Orange followers good others bad way it was painted.  People at a polling station refered to the Orange gangsters.  It is interesting to read that Yulia Tymoshenko has ben charged with misusing state funds whilst Ukraine Prime Minister.  I don’t know if the prosecution is politically motivated but it has already led to a punch-up in the Ukrainian parliament.  I was very suspicious of her from the first time I saw the platted hair.

Send the Cavalry

A friend wrote to me saying they think this is the best Christmas record ever, certainly the talk about the snow makes it topical, so here it is:

Strasbourg Capitale de Noël

18/12/2010

On my way back from a job out in the wilds at the north of Strasbourg on Wednesday I had my camera with me and took the following pictures of Strasbourg at Christmas.  The first picture is of the Christkindelsmärik in place Broglie where there has ben a Christmas Market since 1570:Walking towards the main square you come to these trees all lit up in place des Etudiants:

At the end of it you can just see this pâtisserie in the photo above, here it is:


Next to the pâtisserie is the Rue de l’Outre which looks like this:

Another way of approaching the Christkindelsmärik is along Rue de la Messange where the buildings above the shops are all lit up as well:

And looking from the same street into the place Kleber you can see the Grand Sapin de Noël alsacienne through the decorations.  There was controversy last year that the Socialist Mayor of Strasbourg had ordered some red decorations to be put up as well as the blue and green!

Here is the tree with its Angels and little village at its foot:

And across the square is Galeries Lafayette with its decorations and you can just see the Art Noveau cinema Vox to the left of the shop:

The other major department store in central Strasbourg is Printemps and their Christmas decoration is a little diferent.  This is the last time you will see the store looking like this as it is getting major reconstruction work next year:

Merry Christmas Everybody

The week before Christmas and still no joy in the Christmassy stakes so time to try another track.  When I started this it was only going to be for one week and it would be the seven best Christmas records ever as far as I’m concerned.  So I’ll go back to that and here is one no-one can argue with, whisper it Noddy:

Aux Armes

17/12/2010

One of the things I started this blog for was to talk about progress as I took up fencing, hence the name.  The two main arms used are the fleuret where only part of the body is a target for scoring points and the épée where the whole body is the target.  The first picture shows two fleuretists in action whilst the second has two épéeists.  I am an épéeist and have been training with Strasbourg Escrime since September.  Compared with the little training I did with Brixton Fencing Club there has been more emphasis on getting the positioning and balance right than in training particular named movements.  There has still been plenty of combat and it has been enjoyable.

Last night Strasbourg Escrime had a contest and I went along.  It was partner fencing, kind of like tag team fencing.  Each team was made up of one fleuretist and one épéeist.  After warming up, it is important the body is warm as we make sudden movements which could damage muscles if done cold, we fought a round robbin as a team against another three teams.  This gave a figure for the number of points scored by a team and number of points scored against them from which the organisers calculated who would play against whom in what part of the tournament.  The third picture shows this calculation hapenning.

Normal training is done with other beginners which means the combat is essentially with people at the same level as me.  The tournament included a lot of people from the club including very experienced fencers who had represented the region or country.  Fencing is something in which the mind is very important.  I started off poorly as just as I was about to start combat against one of the more experienced fencers I found my sword did not work and I had to rush to change it.  This put me in a poor frame of mind for the contest and I started badly, not wnning any of the points in my first two matches.  Then by the third I’d had some time to compose myself and started winning points if not matches.  This meant we did not start fighting the best other teams, which was good, and we progressed through three rounds before losing to one of the semi-finalists.  One of the teams who I hadn’t scored against at the beginning were the winners which made me feel better.  It was good experience fighting against better fencers and I think I learnt more about combat in these matches than I have in the ones at the end of normal training.  Fencing is on hold now until next year.

Mash for Christmas

There are a lot of interactive advent calendars this year.  Manchester City have a great one which has a different goal behind each window every day, like this one today, with the Goat scoring against United.  The Word, which I posted about the day before yesterday also have one with a different video behind the door every day.  One or two have made it to the videos I have posted here.

I haven’t really followed much of the ‘mash up’ stuff that has been going on but here’s one featuring Blondie, Paul McCartney and Jennifer Lopez.  I particularly like the use of ‘the Tide is High’ by Blondie and the water with all the pretty fishes at the beginning.

 

Dylan, Cohen & Waits to release Christmas album

16/12/2010

Internet site CAP News leads with the startling revelation that after the success of Bob Dylan’s Christmas album last year he is to repeat the trick again this year but this time as part of a trio with Leonard Cohem and Tom Waits.  Refering to the three artists as the “original men in hats” it goes on to sensationally reveal:

“Dylan approached Cohen and Waits about the follow-up album, and the pair was apparently more than happy to oblige.

“One thing I learned during the years I spent living among Buddhist monks is that enlightenment comes in all forms, and speaks in many voices,” said Cohen, sitting with Dylan and Waits outside Coogie’s Beach Cafe in Malibu. “And one thing I learned when my manager stole my retirement fund was that you don’t turn down an offer to make an album with Bob Dylan.”

“This album will be colder than a ticket taker’s smile at the Ivar Theater on a Saturday night,” added Waits in a guttural mumble, prompting both Dylan and Cohen to stare at him blankly for several seconds before changing the subject.

Hallelujah! Christmas In The Heart Of A Hooker In Minneapolis offers an eclectic mix from the trio; for instance, Cohen contributes a version of “Ding Dong Merrily On High” which he says is actually a reference to a sexual liaison he had with Janis Joplin in the late 1960s. “She was, alas, often merrily on high,” said Cohen, wistfully with a touch of literary mischievousness.

As for Waits, he contributes an original song entitled, “If It’s Christmas, Those Must Be Whores And Bourbon.” He admitted it’s not typical holiday fare, but explained that while writing it, “I got caught in the middle of a pimp war between two kids in chinchilla coats, they couldn’t have been more than 13 years old – they’re throwing knives and forks and spoons out into the street.”

“Riiight …” responded Cohen, and Dylan just rolled his eyes.

Waits’ only other holiday song, 1978’s “Christmas Card From A Hooker In Minneapolis” – a re-recorded version of which is on the new record.”

The song “Christmas Card From A hooker in Minneapolis” was on the playlist from Ida Maria featured in yesterdays post and here it is:

Still not working – bah humbug, F**K Christmas

Well,  the Christmas songs, more snow, looking around the Christmas market yesterday and even the prospect of a Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen and Tom Waits Christmas album hasn’t helped inject any Christmas feeling into me.  So here’s a view from Eric Idle:

In the beginning was

15/12/2010

The Word.  A magazine I had bought occasionally when I lived in the UK because I liked its writing about music but also about books, films, TV and other matters that interest me.  I particularly enjoyed its free CD of music from which I discovered many new artists I would otherwise not have heard and whom I grew to love.  When I emigrated JTO bought me a years subscription to the magazine and as the advert says I loved it so much I bought the magazine.  Well, not quite.  I bought a two-year subscription to it myself and now I follow the podcast, contribute to the website etc.

Perhaps the musician the magazine introduced me to, whose music I came to love the most is Ida Maria.(wiki & Facebook)  I have not stopped playing the album ‘Fortress around my heart‘(wiki) since I got it at the end of 2008 in fact I was in the first flush of infatuation when some relatives visited in early 2009 and they were able to listen to it as I drove them around Alsace and up into the Vosges for their visit!  Here is the video for the song that was Number one in the top ten songs of 2009 in Norway, ‘Oh my God!’:

Christmas in Hollis

As well as promoting something I like very much, the above was a lead into todays Christmas song.  Ida Maria posted on Facebook a Spotify playlist of Christmas songs.  There were a number on it I had not heard before and here is one of them:

You can sometimes get what you want

14/12/2010

Teh majik of teh internetz woirkz wondrz.  Further to my complaints about bookshops refusing to sell me eBooks whilst selling me a physical bookThe Book Depository, (here and follow the link for posts passim on this matter) yesterday I had a comment from Kieron from bookdepository.co.uk on a previous post:

Hi, read about some of your issues with UK booksellers with interest and wondered if you’d tried bookdepository.co.uk? We’re the largest dedicated online bookseller in the UK and ship free to over 100 countries around the world (France included of course), we do sell ebooks too, which are limited by IP rights, so for France most should be okay. We haven’t signed any agency agreements however so some (Hachette etc) titles are currently unavailable. All the best Kieron

I hadn’t been aware of the website before but I am now.  As well as having eBooks for sale they also have a lot of eBooks you can try for free and then buy them if you like them.  An interesting idea with eBooks and an approach which matches mine in that if I like an eBook and expect to want to read it again I buy a copy of it, usually in hardback if possible.

I am having a few days in the sun for the New Year and will require reading material for the trip so the Book Depository you’ll have yourself a customer.

Santa Claus is coming to town

My last post was of the Bruce Springsteen version of this song.  Subsequently I’ve re-established contact with an old friend from school who has suggested this to me:


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