Blog 

Normandy days 1-4

Thu 7/31 – St. Martin-de-Landelles (cont’d)

After blogging, identified the regular beeping noise that sounded like a dying smoke alarm as a tiny toad in a crack in the wall outside, and watched the Scary Ham video. To bed about midnight-ish.

Fri 8/1 – St. Martin-de-Landelles

Step count: 4,882

Awake 9-ish. Breakfast of yogurt, muesli, and half a pain au chocolat, then a run to St. Hilaire for groceries. A detour due to construction led us to a little farm market where we got vegetables, chickens, and a rabbit (with eyes, ew). Then we walked through centre ville, stopping at the boulangerie (bread and pastries), epicerie (vegetables), papeterie (3×5 cards, colored pencils, postcards, map), and bank (cash). On the way back to the car, I swerved back to the farm market for a couple of sausage baguettes hot off the grill for our lunch. Then to Carrefour (big commercial supermarket) for everything else on the list. Greeted upon our return as conquering heroes. Ellen: “best lunch ever”. Bear: “oh hello, bunny innards”.

After lunch, sat around and read for a while. Was going to take a nap when Kate popped up: let’s take Juan to town for some cider and wine, and see some menhirs on the way. So we did that. Even a tiny mini-mart in Goron has excellent produce and a good selection of wines and local ciders. We were afraid of being late for dinner, but when we arrived we found the chickens were being very uncooperative and dinner was going to be late. Took a nap. After that, still awaiting the chickens, we had a first course of bread and cheese on the terrace and talked about superheroes, including a discussion of the relative patheticness of Aquaman and J’onn J’onzz. Elise’s chair self-destructed, apparently the third to do so, so we moved the table to a flatter spot to try to prevent further such disasters (don’t ask me how this is supposed to work). We also tried to figure out what that amazing cheese from last Wednesday’s market day was (the person who bought it didn’t get the name and it wasn’t anything obvious), but not even posting a photo and query to Twitter was able to resolve the question. What this world needs is a “what’s that cheese” app (“Cheezam”?). Back inside for more reading, then a second course of artichokes. At last the chickens appeared — they were delicious — along with some amazing roast potatoes. After dinner, we played Anagrams with the Bananagrams tiles, and Anomia with Kate’s hand-drawn deck: a silly success. More writerly chat; to bed about 1am.

Sat 8/2 – St. Martin-de-Landelles

Step count: 2,442

Awake 7:45, then back to bed until 9:30. Breakfast of corn flakes and coffee. Quiet morning of practicalities: caught up on email, checked phone messages back home, paid credit cards, etc. Drove out under lowering skies in the vague direction of St. Jacques for lunch, but wound up in Ducey, lured by sight of street fair and smell of grilling. Wandered flea market for a bit, settled on very Breton creperie Ty Breizh.

To explain this next bit I need to haul out an anecdote from a previous trip. On our first trip to France we had some andouille sausages which were incredibly delicious. A few days later we saw “andouillette” on the menu and ordered it, despite the waitress’s dubious expression — we assured her that we had eaten and enjoyed it before. Well, this turned out to be a mistake, and it took quite a while with phrasebooks to figure out how to say “you were right, we shouldn’t have ordered this, please take it away and bring us something edible.” We came away from that incident remembering that, of andouille and andouillette, one was delicious and the other… wasn’t… but we could never remember which was which. Both are made from parts of the pig not usually served in the States.

So, anyway, we saw andouille crepes on the menu at Ty Breizh and I decided to order them. We did try asking the waitress (who was definitely Breton, not Normand) and she assured us that andouille and andouillette (shiver and headshake) were very different things. Well, when my andouille crepe came… it was a bit more like pig innards than I’d hoped. So I guess our one delicious andouille was a fluke. I wouldn’t order that again, but unlike the andouillette I did finish it.

As we finished our lunch the deluge began, a real duck-drowner. It had slackened somewhat by the time we were ready to leave the restaurant, but was still coming down pretty hard. Fortunately we had brought coats and rain hats. “Bon courage” said one woman to me as we headed out into the downpour. We made it to the car only half-soaked-through and headed back to La Cahudiere. On the way home we passed through a town with a wedding in progress, many horns honking, and one car decorated with hot pink plastic penises. Back home, where it had no more than drizzled, I hung up my pants to dry and talked with Ellen about WWII and whether the USA would really have tried to invade Japan if not for the A-bomb (Ellen says the war was, in effect, already over by then and that the main audience for the bomb was the Russians). We also put up a load of laundry, knowing it might take days to dry.

Lazy afternoon. Elise bought a whole box of medals at some thrift shop and was quietly slipping them to people to present to Ellen on any excuse. Pretty soon everyone was giving medals to anyone for anything. Dinner, prepared by Bear (who received a medal for it): rabbit stroganoff, noodles, green beans, with macarons and other assorted sweets for dessert. Le yum. Much industry gossip over dinner, as all of the non-SF people have departed. A brief skinny dip, in which I did not participate because brrr, and then Elise brought out her ukulele. To bed ~1am to the sound of people drunkenly singing “Alleluia” (the only song Ellen can play on the ukulele, though she owns 5 of them) over and over.

Sun 8/3 – St. Martin-de-Landelles

Step count: 5,901

Awake 9:00. Breakfast of coffee, pain au chocolat, yogurt, then off to Utah Beach. Stopped for lunch at pizzeria Le Union in Villedieu-les-Poeles, where Kate had moules frites and I had a Moroccan pizza (merguez sausage, gyro meat, chickpeas, etc.). Not the best crust ever, but tasty. Also picked up some pastries at the boulangerie in town. Utah Beach had a fine museum of the Normandy invasion, including a B-26 bomber and an excellent introductory film. On the way back we stopped in Coutances to see the cathedral, and also spotted an open Carrefour grocery, where we picked up some cheese as requested and also a few other things. Had enormous difficulty getting out of Coutances, but eventually instinct led me to a place where we could see the sign for “toutes directions” and we escaped. Discovered when we arrived home that Mike & Rachel had failed to find a grocery open on Sunday, so our cheese was very welcome. Dinner was a soup made from leftover chicken and rabbit by Mike and was delicious. Pat Murphy, Madeleine Robins, and Greer Gilman joined us. Light conversation after dinner, while Kate & I cleaned up. To bed around 10:00.

And now, the photos

IMG 0979
Dolmen de la Contrie, a Neolithic corridor tomb

IMG 3812
Kate snapped me taking the above picture, while Juan looks on

IMG 0981
A bowl of cider, the traditional Normand tipple

IMG 0982
La deluge

IMG 4083
Bunny skull! With bonus dead dragonfly

IMG 4089
Rachel, Ellen, and Juan at breakfast

IMG 4091
Ellen plays “Allelulia” on Elise’s Fluke uke

IMG 0984
These hay-bale guys are everywhere: “31 August, Festival of the Land and Rurality.” I am guessing that “JA 50” means Jeunesse Agricole — young farmers, aka 4-H — of department 50

IMG 0990
Town square of Villedieu-les-Poeles, where we had lunch

IMG 0995
Utah Beach museum. Utah Beach was originally code-named Oregon, but was renamed for unknown reasons

IMG 0997
Before the invasion, carrier pigeons were parachuted behind the lines, together with a bag of feed and instructions: 1. Feed pigeon. 2. Fill out questionnaire about what the Germans are doing in your area. Print neatly. 3. Roll questionnaire tightly and insert in cylinder. 4. Attach cylinder to pigeon’s leg as shown. 5. Release pigeon. TELL NO ONE.

IMG 1016
Kilometer zero on the Way of Liberty, commemorating the march of the Americans from the Normandy beaches in 1944

IMG 1017
Plaque on Utah Beach memorializing Dwight Eisenhower

IMG 1026
One of the marvelous stained-glass windows at the cathedral in Coutances

Paris day 7, Normandy day 1, and photos

Wed 7/30 – Paris–St. Martin-de-Landelles

Step count: 8,379

Awake 6:30. Sync’d photos, blogged (but didn’t post any photos, ran out of time), finished packing, cleared out the fridge, did the dishes, took out the trash. Cleaning lady (speaking French with what sounded to me like a Spanish accent) arrived before Miss Keys, who was somewhat delayed. Did manage to get all checked out and get our security deposit back before the cab arrived at 10:05 as requested. Cabbie didn’t know where Europcar was, per se, but when we arrived at the Air France “aerogare” at Les Invalides (which was all the address we had for the rental agency) he spotted the Europcar desk through the door. No issues at all getting the car, but we did have to lug our bags three blocks from the rental counter to a nearby parking lot and down the elevator to level -5.

Our car is a lovely black Audi A1 with four doors and a trunk just barely big enough for our two suitcases. A nice car, comfortable, quite a bit of hop, handles well, and has an interesting habit of stopping the engine completely when not actually moving. Hit the road around 11am. Thanks to Kate spending an hour or more last night researching the route out of Paris in detail via Google Maps satellite view, the process of getting out of town, in traffic, was straightforward instead of the panicked thrash it could easily have been.

Pleasant drive across country, through little towns, past fields of corn and many cows. Stopped at an aire (rest area) around noon to eat the sandwiches Kate obtained this AM. Flagging and headachey in the late afternoon, stopped in Domfront for coffee and found it to be a delightful medieval town. Got a nice cup of coffee, many photos, also shampoo and Q-tips at the local pharmacy.

Found the house, La Cahudiere near Saint-Martin-de-Landelles, with only one minor backtrack. Welcomed by our host Ellen Klages, Ellen’s sister Mary, Elizabeth Bear and Scott Lynch, and several others not as well known to me. Dragged our stuff up to our room, visited the chickens and pig, then fell over for a nap. Didn’t actually sleep much because of hilarity from the pool but it was a reasonable rest. There was only one outlet in our bedroom, and the lamp was plugged into it, but I managed to combine a French/UK plug adapter, a UK extension cord, and some UK/US plug adapters to allow charging devices and having a lamp at the same time. Win!

Dinner, prepared by Bear and served on the terrace, was salad and a delicious ham-and-bean soup served over croutons made from Bread of Other Days. Sat around talking after dinner. Much hilarity; no wine actually came out of Ellen’s nose but it wasn’t for lack of trying. Went for a walk down to the bridge and back as the sun set, with a beautiful sliver of moon. More conversation in the living room after that, largely about SF awards. Finally went to bed nearly 1am.

Thu 7/31. St. Martin-de-Landelles

Step count: 2,835

Awake about 7am. Easy morning of email, sorting through photos, light conversation, and noshing. Invited along to Mont St. Michel but decided to spend the day at home decompressing instead. Scrounged lunch of bread, cheese, salami. Talk on the pool deck, largely about brassieres, segued into sitting companionably and reading, then moved indoors for Russian Bank (a card game known only to Ellen and Mary) and more reading. Various parties went various places for dinner; Kate and I headed for L’Auberge du Lac, recommended by Ellen. Got rather lost on the way there. Many protest signs on the road leading up to the lake (lac) in question, protesting the apparently planned removal of the dam that created it. Restaurant turned out to be run by Brits, and all of the other customers we saw were also Brits, and much of the menu was British — Kate had a beefburger, I had steak pie and mushy peas. Best mushy peas I’ve ever had, but still… musy peas. Back home at 9:30, we had the whole place to ourselves for an hour. Then everyone came back from their various dinners, including freshly-arrived Elise and Juan!

And now… pictures from the last six days!

IMG 0295
The gnomon of the church of St. Sulpice

IMG 0315
Bat-winged lion-snake-thingy at St. Michael’s fountain on Boulevard St. Michel (“Boul Mich”)

IMG 0323
Mouthwatering display of French cookies in Montmartre

IMG 0338
Sacre Cour, home of continuous prayer, a jazz band, and a little tourist train

IMG 0397
I just loved this little old (abandoned?) boulangerie

IMG 0410
Napoleon’s Tomb, a humble little stone hut

IMG 0421
The actual sarcophagus of the actual Napoleon

IMG 0500
Just one room of the medieval arms and armor museum, which is only part of the Museum of the Army

IMG 0573
This delightful little automaton dulcimer player stands about two feet tall

IMG 3786
We’re at the Louvre!

IMG 0639
Three of these people are posing for the de-rigeur “holding the top of the Louvre pyramid” shot. The other two are taking a selfie with a camera on an extension stick

IMG 0666
Typical Louvre crowds

IMG 0668
The footings of the medieval Louvre castle, which can be visited beneath the current museum

IMG 0704
Shot of the Tuilleries gardens and Eiffel tower, taken from the giant Ferris wheel

IMG 0709
Another shot from the Ferris wheel, this one with miniature effect

IMG 0721
Gotta have a shot of the Eiffel tower or it’s not really a trip to Paris

IMG 0820
Space Mountain Mission 2 (riders are shot from the cannon up to the top of the mountain) and the Nautilus at Disneyland Paris

IMG 0839
Malificent stained glass window inside Sleeping Beauty’s castle

IMG 0842
Shot from the castle balcony with miniature effect

IMG 4081
Hey mom, I’m at Disneyland Paris!

IMG 0911
Beautiful flowers in the medieval town of Domfront

IMG 0923
Another view of beautiful Domfront

IMG 0929
L to R: pig, Ellen, Bear

IMG 0937
This place has plenty of butterflies of various types

IMG 0947
View of the living/dining room

IMG 0951
Black rabbit, white cow

Paris days 4-6

Sat 7/26 – Paris

Step count: 19,791

Awake about 6:00. Breakfast in the apartment of yogurt and muesli. Plan for the day: Marche des Enfants Rouges in the AM and lunch, then a nap, then Sacre Cour and Montmartre in the afternoon and dinner. Headed out for the market bright and early with a stop for delicious cappuccino at cafe Le Sancerre. These establishments (coffee in the morning, cafe in the day, bar by night) just don’t exist in the States — probably because of our ridiculous liquor laws. Eventually found the market, which was kind of hidden in mid-block (though the entrances were plain once we realized what we were looking for), but though it was 9:30 and the market nominally opened at 9:00 it was almost completely dead. Looks like a great place for lunch though.

Plan for the AM squashed, we decided to hit the book shops in the Latin Quarter. On the way from the bus to the first bookshop, passed St. Sulpice and decided to stop in. Lovely church, notable for its wood-paneled vestry (with hidden ladder), marble pulpit suspended in mid-air by its stairs alone, magnificent organ, gnomon for telling exact solar noon and the solstices and equinoxes (used to set the date of Easter), and priest-in-a-box (it’s the lamp that really makes the picture).

Spent an enjoyable several hours browsing several book shops, finding some guide books and maps. Lunch of delicious falafel at Maoz (it’s a chain, with branches in Amsterdam, Barcelona, and NYC among others — recommended) with a nutella crepe for dessert. Took some photos at St. Michael’s fountain, browsed a few more bookstores, then dragged back to the room for a nap.

Awoke around 4:00 and realized it was too late to hit any museums before they closed. A certain amount of “whaddaya wanna do, Marty?” wound up circling around back to plan A: Sacre Cour and Montmartre. The existence of a funicular was the clincher — whenever possible, always take the funicular. While finding the way to the funicular, CityMapper app (great app!) told me that several metro stations were closed due to “manifestations” (demonstrations about the situation in Gaza) but as we were only passing through them on the train we had no problems.

Substantial crowds at Montmartre station got even denser as we made our way up a street jammed with souvenir shops to the funicular. Funicular itself was not crowded at all and included in our transit passes; we were glad not to be climbing all those stairs, and besides funiculars are cool. Mobs of tourists at the top, expansive view of Paris, little train. Sacre Cour itself featured big banners talking about how this place was the site of continuous prayer, also many people selling cheap Eiffel Tower souvenirs and a jazz band playing “Sweet Georgia Brown”. Can’t make this shit up. Inside, it was one of the more impressive churches I’ve ever visited. The church had staff enforcing modest dress, silence, and no-cameras policies (good for them! much better than St. Mark’s in Venice, which had nominally the same policies but, lacking enforcement, was a zoo) so no photos.

Wandered through town of Montmartre, jammed with tourists, with an interesting mix of fine establishments (pastries, art, clothing) and tacky tourist tat. Artists sketching tourists everywhere; it’s a thing here. The area was clearly too touristy for a good meal, so we took the funicular back down, then the metro to a restaurant Kate had bookmarked in the 11th arrondissement. Alas, it was closed for vacation (a common sight in Paris in August). Even with Yelp’s help we had to look into 5-6 local restaurants before finding one we liked — most of them were basically just bars — before finding Chez Mamy. I don’t think that means “Mom’s Place”. Crowded little bistro, very friendly staff, amazing appetizer of burrata cheese and lightly-grilled cherry tomatoes, on the vine, with a balsamic-basil sauce. Main dish, roasted lamb with mashed sweet potatoes and mixed veggies, took a long time to arrive and was delicious, but not so wow as the appetizer. Finally done with dinner at 10:30, got home at 11:15, to bed about midnight. Although almost all of our plans wound up getting thwarted it was still a good day.

Sun 7/27 – Paris

Step count: 14,865

Slept in until 10. Breakfast in the apartment of yogurt and muesli. Kate went off on her own; I took the metro to the Army Museum at Les Invalides. On the way I had a nice musical treat from some buskers in the subway car. Got off one station too early, then after getting to the right station walked a half-mile in the wrong direction, but did eventually get there.

The first thing you see at Les Invalides is Napoleon’s Tomb, a modest little marble hut (*cough*) — but you can’t blame Napoleon himself for that, as it was put up 40 years after his death. It’s also the general tomb for many other French military heroes. The Army Museum itself was simply amazing, and gave me a great overview of the entirety of French military history (and, thus, French history in general). Excellent text, lots of uniforms and weapons, some animations of major battles. I focused on Napoleon, especially his last years, as I’m writing an alternate history set in that period. The Army Museum is actually a complex of museums, rather like the Smithsonian but all in one building, which also included a large display of battle site reliefs (dating to the 1700s), an entire museum of medieval arms and armor which I skimmed, and a museum of WWI-WWII which I skipped entirely. Also Les Invalides is still a working military hospital, and possibly also a military administrative center.

Very nice, very late lunch of “quiche moussaka” (I got the last one) at friendly coffee shop Kozy Salon Urbain. After considering several museums, decided to head for Arts & Metiers. Museum was interesting but not fabulous. Did take tons of photos of interesting-looking scientific equipment from centuries past, and automatons (including “a smoking monkey dressed as an Incredible” — no, not the Disney/Pixar movie — must look into that). Got kicked out at 6, went back to apartment, met Kate there. Dinner at restaurant Page 35: beef bourguignon with frites (yes, French fries, it is a vegetable here and they do a fabulous job with it), and for dessert “Coupe creole:” vanilla and cinnamon ice cream, rum-soaked raisins, and a huge mount of whipped cream. Delicous. Back to apartment, backed up photos, finished up and submitted a story due by the end of the month. To bed 10:30.

Mon 7/28 – Paris

Step count: 15,983

Awake 8:00, Kate a bit earlier. Yogurt and muesli in the apartment, then back to Le Sancerre for coffee and those delicious-looking croissants. They were as good as they looked, though Jeune overdid it with the chocolate sprinkled on my cappuccino and it looked rather like mud (delicious, though). Bus to the Louvre, expressly to see the pyramid. Admired the building, both old and new bits, and goggled at the tourists. Hour and a half line to get in, but our museum passes skipped that. Visited a Vermeer, Durer was inaccessible, saw the medieval Louvre’s foundations, otherwise we just admired whatever we happened to pass, which was plenty amazing. Lunch at the museum cafe — tarte aux legumes, not bad — then walked to the Tuilleries. Didn’t get very far, as Kate was all walked out and had to lie down in the shade.

While she was resting, I spotted a big Ferris wheel nearby (Roue de Paris) and realized that would be something fun to do, with great views and no walking. So we did that. Tried out the “miniature” filter on my camera and got some interesting shots. Then we went to the Sewers of Paris museum/tour. They’ve been offering tours of the sewers for over 100 years, though back then it was only once a month and you went by boat. Today it’s a walk-through of several blocks of sewers with some explanatory and historic signage. The smell wasn’t too bad and was, in fact, very familiar to me from the “gray water” in the green hab on “Mars.” Okay, it was kind of a weird thing to do but how could we not?

By that point we really needed a cafe break. There wasn’t much in the vicinity and what there was, was expensive, but we did have a nice sit-down, some lemonade, and a nice bit of cheese at Cafe de l’Alma. (We did wash our hands first.) Then we went back to the apartment, intending to nap, but wound up backing up my camera and doing some research for tomorrow’s trip to Disneyland. Dinner at Le Petit Italien: appetizer of melon and prosciutto (shared), for main courses we ordered gnocchi alla sorrentina and veal scaloppini with marsala and truffles and traded them halfway through, and tiramisu al limone (again shared) for dessert (“of course there are lady fingers. If there weren’t any lady fingers it would just be a glass of lemon-flavored cheese”). Very good food, friendly service, lovely weather for dining outdoors. Then back to the room to prepare for tomorrow’s assault on The Mouse! (Or perhaps The Rat, as we’re hoping the new Ratatouille ride will be running…) To bed about 11:30.

Tue 7/29 – Paris Disneyland

Step count: 19,197

Awake 6:30. Breakfast of yogurt and muesli in room, comme d’habitude. Got out of there at 7:30, intending to pick up a sandwich on the way to the train station, but the sandwich place Kate was looking for wasn’t where she thought it was, or maybe not open yet. Plowed ahead to train station, bought tickets, caught correct train (thanks to a website which explained how you need to look at the display for a yellow light by the station you’re heading to). Arrived Disney over an hour before 10:00 park opening, with printed-at-home tickets in hand — probably earlier than necessary.

In any case, we were among the first into the Disney Studios park when the turnstiles opened at 9:30, and proceeded straight to new Ratatouille ride… where we waited behind a rope until about 10:15. The ride opening was apparently delayed due to mechanical issues. When it finally did open we sprinted through a long long queue (“they’re helping us imagine we’re rats!”) and then right onto the ride. A delightful combination of 3-D video, trackless “rat” vehicles, smells, heat, mechanical effects, water. Not quite as mindblowing as Universal’s Spider-Man ride but definitely fun and charming. By the time we got out there was an 85-minute wait and they were handing out FastPasses for 4pm.

Went from there to Tower of Terror… 30-minute wait, we waited, it was worth it. We have now ridden the Tower of Terror in California, Florida, Tokyo, and Paris; it’s one of my favorite rides anywhere. The only other thing we were interested in at the Disney Studios park was “Stitch Live!” and only if the timing worked. When we found that the next English show was in 19 minutes, we decided to do that. It was fun and silly, a live interactive show similar to Turtle Talk with Crush — basically puppetry with a realtime computer-generated video character instead of a puppet. I would love to know what the operator’s control interface is like. Had a sandwich at half-empty cafeteria. It was okay (and jammed restaurants at Disneyland park later showed that we made the right call to eat in the Studios).

After lunch, headed over to Disneyland park. The park was beautiful from the entrance and everywhere inside, much nicer than the Studios, really much better theming than just about anywhere else I’ve been other than Animal Kingdom or DisneySea. First stop was Buzz Lightyear for FastPasses, a frustrating experience: inexperienced guests, machines with poor signage that failed to read guests’ tickets, no help from cast members. Somehow did get my passes but I’m not sure how. Then walked through the Nautilus display, quite cool but over too quickly. There was only a 5-minute wait on Space Mountain then, so I did that while Kate chilled on a bench. I would have enjoyed it more if I’d remembered my Croakies, also it gave me a headache, but fun. Walked through Sleeping Beauty display. Looked for a place to sit and have a drink, but Gepetto restaurant was mobbed and most food stands were shut (one disadvantage of the relatively non-crowded park on a rainy Tuesday in July) so we just had some water. Then we did Buzz Lightyear, which was just the same as in the other parks — still fun. Then Pirates of the Caribbean: the best version of the ride I’ve seen, but the worst-behaved and most poorly managed crowd. Finally the Phantom Manor — not the same as the other Haunted Manors, with no punches pulled! You descend into the grave and everything.

Kate was really flagging by now, so I left her in the Gibson Girl cafe while I looked at the animatronic dragon that lives under Sleeping Beauty’s castle. Then, after sharing coffee and a muffin, I went back to Space Mountain for one last ride. This time I did remember my Croakies, and had a great time… even though it have me a headache again. Loop-the-loop, two corkscrews, great visual effects, all in the dark, very rattly. We bought some pins (I am not a “collector,” I just bought some pins I liked) and headed home about 5:30. Dinner at Creperie Suzette, the same place we’d dined on arrival. Packed, called our cab, to bed 10:45. Tomorrow we rent a car and head to Normandy!

No photos today — out of time. Will post some ASAP.

Paris day 3

Fri 7/25 – Paris

Step count: 8,022

Awake 8:00, found that Kate had already gone out for pastries. Croissant, pain au chocolat, half a kouign amann, and yogurt for breakfast… delicious, but half my calorie budget for the day and I didn’t even touch the “incredible thing with the figs.” We will walk off some of those calories but we aren’t walking THAT much.

Walked to Notre Dame with a stop for cappuccino. Took a while to buy our museum passes at the nearby kiosk because of incredibly chatty Spanish tourists ahead of us, oblivious to the growing line behind them. Our first museum, “Crypt Archaeologique du Parvis du Notre Dame,” was built around the Roman (etc.) ruins under the plaza in front of the church, and gave us a lot of info about the history of Paris including several interactive 3-D computer graphics. Fun & informative. Went to nearby Le Navigator for lunch at Janna’s recommendation (after a stop for orangina at a nearby cafe to kill 10 minutes until it opened for lunch). My grilled duck breast came with fabulous morels (morilles) rather than the noodles (nouilles) I’d expected. This was the fault of the menu, written in cursive on the chalkboard, in a handwriting in which M and N were absolutely identical. Dessert menu included “abnicors au naison” (abricots au maison). My €29 menu also included kir royal, an appetizer of ham & melon, half a jug of wine (I got water) and a simple dessert of raspberries with whipped cream, yum.

After lunch, headed toward the Maritime Museum but got distracted on the way by a BD (comic books etc.) shop called Album, where we spent a happy half-hour before continuing to the bus stop. The Maritime Museum was right by the Eiffel Tower, so we spent some time admiring the landmark and the crowds of happy tourists. Museum itself very impressive. Tons of sailing ship models (some of them huge, like five meters long huge, with completely functional sheets and sails). Many paintings of ships, battles, and suchlike. Fine collection of figureheads (some of them amazingly huge!) and stern pieces. All these ships are run by string, there’s string everywhere, the trick is knowing which string to pull to make the ship go the way you want it to. There was also a considerable section of 20th century ships, including submarines, and a little bit of marine aviation, plus some early ironclads.

Back to the apartment by Metro, with a surprise stop at the steampunk Arts & Metiers station. Brief trip to Franprix for yogurt, milk, and a few other necessities plus a bag of frozen peas for Kate’s knee. Sadly the freezer in our little fridge is too small for the bag of peas, but I happened to see a tip online about freezing a saturated sponge in a plastic bag as an ice bag so we’ll give that a try. Sat around the apartment until after 8. Not very hungry, and according to my calorie-tracking app I’m already way over for the day even with the walking we’ve done, so might just skip dinner (sacrilege, I know).

IMG 4058
A stretch of street in our neighborhood has tall skinny sculptures, such as this cat, instead of the usual please-don’t-park-on-the-sidewalk bollards

IMG 0082
Au Seine

IMG 0084
Not sure whether this was left over from the Occupation, the Revolution, or some other conflict. Lots of history here

IMG 0121
Easy to get around with the simple, well-thought-out public transit system

IMG 4068
Gotta have a selfie with the Eiffel Tower

IMG 4071
They thought so too

IMG 0143
Just one of the many fabulous ship models on display at the Maritime Museum. I took TONS of research photos

IMG 0175
Model showing how the obelisk of Luxor was put on the ship for transport to Paris in 1831

IMG 0237
This isn’t from a video game, this is an actual prototype diving suit (though probably never used) from 1882!

IMG 3777
At the steampunk Arts & Metiers metro station

IMG 0263
Another view

Paris days 1-2

We are in Paris! We’ll be in Europe for a month all told, a week each in Paris, Normandy, Belgium, and London, returning home after the Worldcon.

Tue-Wed 7/22-23. PDX-SEA-FRA-CDG-Paris

Step count: 12,002

Our trip began with a cab to the airport, rather than the train as planned, because raining. Despite some question as to whether Kate’s rollie bag would qualify under United’s new rules, it fit in the sizer so we carried it aboard — mine too — though we had to a-la-carte them on the puddle-jumper to SEA. Both of us got TSA Pre-Check; it was like going back in time 20 years to the days when all you had to do was run your baggage through the X-ray and yourself through the metal detector. At SEA we spent our brief wait in the International Lounge, shared between Lufthansa, ANA, and a few other airlines’ business classes. (We flew business class, using United miles saved over years of domestic travel, because it’s ever so much nicer on a long trip like this.)

Our Lufthansa jumbo jet had surprisingly little room for carryon bags, even in business class. We had to put our rollie bags into the overhead bins sideways for them to fit, and the foot space for the seat had to be completely empty for it to fully extend, meaning I had to give my backpack to Kate in order to lie down. Even with that the seat didn’t lie completely flat; the seat and its remote control were kind of strange. Still much better than economy class, of course — I’m not complaining. The food was the real highlight; I had a beef and quinoa salad appetizer and Wagyu beef brisket main course that would not have been disappointing in a fine restaurant. Also the flight attendants kept the fizzy water, hot bread, and other amenities coming. Breakfast omelet was not quite so good but still more than acceptable. Got about 2 hours of sleep, spent most of the rest of the time revising a short story that’s due at the end of this month. Did most of the major and minor edits but didn’t get to the emotional stuff and I’m not 100% certain the ending works. Also read Mark Helprin’s Winter’s Tale on my iPad. I was kind of put off by the florid Literary language at first but pretty soon I started getting into it. It is remarkably funny. Might not finish it before it has to go back to the library though. Also noted: the United in-flight magazine had “3 days in Portland,” International Wall Street Journal had a long article on the Portland Zoobombers, and L’Express had one on George R.R. Martin.

Arrived Frankfurt and found almost no signage, no maps, no people to help. Walked for miles in vain search of “terminal 1, gate A” for our Paris flight. There were at least two things labeled “A” on the signs and I’m not really sure what either of them was. Fortunately we had 3 hours to find our plane. How can such a popular connecting terminal have such miserable signage? After passing through passport control twice (almost three times) and security once we finally were directed to the Lufthansa business class lounge, where I had a second breakfast of yogurt, banana, and cappuccino from the machine and dealt with email before our short flight to Paris. Even on a 45-minute flight, Lufthansa gave us a very nice warm meal: cajun poulard (chicken breast, I think) with citrus fruit and a mango pico de gallo.

At CDG we traveled through the cover of the Alan Parsons Project’s album I, Robot before managing to locate a bathroom and the train to Paris. No passport control here, just a large green gateway saying “nothing to declare” (no staff visible). At the airport, got a text from “Miss Keys,” the freelance concierge employed by our VRBO apartment to deal with their guests, saying there was a “Big Problem” with the apartment we’d booked and that they were giving us another. Well all right then.

Arrived at Chatelet des Halles and, after wending our way to the surface (the train arrives on level -4 of this enormous underground shopping mall) walked to the new apartment, supposedly 12 minutes walk vs. 5 for the original one. The long slog over cobbles with rolling luggage nearly did us in, but we made it about 20 minutes before our scheduled rendezvous. Miss Keys let us in, showed us around, explained about the cute little mini-washer/dryer, combination dishwasher/oven/gas-electric stovetop, wifi, etc. This was tout en francais, avec pas de problemes; the 20 days of study I did with the Duolingo app on my phone before he trip were a HUGE help in spinning back up on French. The Big Problem with the other apartment was a sudden infestation of “insects” (bedbugs, I think) brought by the previous guest, only discovered this morning and requiring 3 weeks to fumigate. The apartment we got instead is adequate, pretty small and a 3rd floor walk-up, but character-filled and still in a great neighborhood. After a brief nap, walked around the neighborhood and beyond. Bakery, Pompidou Centre, the Seine, Notre Dame, etc. — we’re here!!!

Right around Notre Dame I realized I was all out of cope. Still perfectly happy, but I recognized that I was no longer competent. We decided crepes were just about our speed and headed for what sounded like a good one between there and our apartment. On the way we passed a hopping corner cafe called Les Philosophes. “Are we being stupid to not just go in there and eat?” (long pause) “I don’t think so. But that could be Dunning-Kruger Effect talking.” After passing a place whose crepes were highly recommended but lacked seating, we wound up at Creperie Suzette, with delicious crepes; a huge, simple and very fresh salad; and a bottle of delicious apple cider. Went home, unpacked, did wash, wrote up these notes. To bed 9:30 local time.

Thu 7/24 – Paris

Step count: 8,951

Awake 5:30. Bleared around the apartment until 8; much frustration trying to create an account on thefork.com, French equivalent of OpenTable, which refused to accept a US postal code. Couldn’t get shower door to close all the way and soaked the bath mat. Hung it out to dry on the clothesline outside the window, using a binder clip (glad I brought some) as a clothespin. Ate a spiral chocolate thing we’d bought yesterday, then walked out to nearby mini-grocery Franprix for the makings of breakfast — but found it closed until 9. Adequate coffee and croissant at Le Pick-Clops, got transit pass from machine at Hotel de Ville station, then back to Franprix for yogurt etc. Surprising lack of Greek yogurt. Dropped off groceries at home then went to Carnavalet Museum.

The Carnavelet is the museum of the city of Paris, and not quite what we expected. There was one hall of signs from businesses over the centuries, and quite a few artifacts, but most of the collection was paintings of historical Paris, painted at the time they depicted and arranged chronologically. Many really fine paintings, and an interesting way of viewing the history of the city as the people of each time understood it. Lots of weird history here, the Directorate and the Commune and the Restoration and all the Napoleons. Huge painting of a balloon launch during the Siege of Paris, 1870, and a smaller painting of a room of secretaries examining a projection of a microfilm sent by carrier pigeon during the same conflict. Also on display was a feather from one of those pigeons. Another notable display was several cabinets of delightful caricature sculptures of famous Parisians of the 1830s by Jean-Pierre Dantan.

Had a delightful lunch of steack frites at restaurant Camille, which turned out to be right next door to Creperie Suzette from yesterday’s dinner, then back to the museum for the special exhibition of photos from the 1944 Occupation. It turned out to be the 70th anniversary of not just the Liberation but of the exhibit of photos of the Liberation which was displayed in this very museum before the war was even over. The new exhibit talked a lot about the differences between how history was perceived then, right after it happened, and now — e.g. erasure of women Resistance fighters and black American GIs from the coverage. By 3:00 we were just about ready to fall over and went back to the room for a nap.

Slept until 4:30 or so, too late to hit the Marie Curie museum as we’d planned. Tried to set the PIN on my Barclay credit card so as to use it in machines, which took wads of time trying to authenticate to the Barclay website and finally wound up at the apparent conclusion that I should expect to be asked for a signature in any circumstance where it is possible, using a PIN only on an unattended machine (which I had been avoiding). Will try that next time and see if it works. Then out into the neighborhood for bread, cheese, dessert, and, as it turned out, sandwiches, which we dragged back to the apartment and ate for dinner, still being full from lunch and lacking in energy to seek out anything more ambitious. After dinner, we had intended vaguely to visit the Eiffel Tower by night but found ourselves both too tired to do any such thing. Stayed home and read instead. Tomorrow is another day.

IMG 4035
Greetings from the cover of The Alan Parsons Project’s I Robot (Charles DeGaulle Airport)

IMG 4050
Living room ceiling of our apartment, which dates from the 1800s

IMG 4046
Notre Dame! We are here!!

IMG 0054
This tasteful little cradle was a birthday gift to the newborn son of one of the Napoleons

IMG 0059
Plume du pigeon voyageur

IMG 0062
Now that’s what I call a minister with portfolio

IMG 0072
One of dozens of delightful little caricature sculptures

Quantum questions

This article provides an explanation I haven’t seen before for the difficult-to-wrap-one’s-head-around concept that in quantum mechanics it’s “observation” that causes the quantum wave form to collapse.

“…if you take a picture of an electron, its probability cloud evaporates and leaves it at one exact place. The light that bounced off the electron to hit your camera forced the electron to appear! The resolution to this troubling idea is that if you leave the light off, no photons hit the electron. The watching camera sees nothing, the electron remains ethereal. The electron will still be forced to resolve in a lit place while watched by a camera with its lens cap on.” (emphasis added)

Or, to put it another way, it’s not “observation” but “interaction” that collapses the wave form. If a particle isn’t interacting with any other particle, it might be anywhere. Only when two particles bounce off each other (or otherwise interact) do their positions and states become clear.

I find this explanation compelling. It makes the whole concept much more comprehensible to me. But it also implies that the whole concept of quantum uncertainty is an entirely theoretical mathematical abstraction, because in reality every particle is interacting with other particles nearly constantly. Even a single hydrogen atom floating in the near-vacuum of interplanetary space is struck by photons from the sun and interacts gravitationally with the planets.

If my understanding is correct, quantum uncertainty never really happens in real life — all particles are in a constant state of waveform collapse. This makes quantum uncertainty as relevant to the real world as those massless, frictionless ropes we use in physics problems. (By which I mean that it is a useful theory with great predictive power, but doesn’t actually describe anything that exists in the real world.)

If you are familiar with quantum theory, does this explanation and its implications match your understanding? If not, can you help me to understand where it differs?

Also, if you are familiar with the history of quantum theory, do you know why the term “observation” was used rather than “interaction”? Because if my understanding of this explanation is correct, the term “interaction” would be a much clearer way of explaining what’s happening (and would have avoided a lot of the meaningless woo-woo that’s attached itself to the term “quantum physics”).

I’m the Westercon Fan Guest of Honor in 2016!

IMG 3972I’m very pleased to announce that I will be the Fan Guest of Honor at Westercon 69, to be held in Portland, Oregon on the Fourth of July weekend in 2016. The other GoHs are John Scalzi and Charlie Stross. (The committee assures me that there will be at least one additional GoH who is not a balding white male.)

I’m totally thrilled about this. I’ve never been a GoH before!

In other news, I recently received my 20-year medallion for attending 20 annual gay square dance conventions. (See photo.)

Also, as long as I’m blogging, I urge you to check out the Cosmic Sci-Fi Bundle over at storybundle.com. Pay what you will for a big bundle of science fiction ebooks, and benefit the Clayton Memorial Medical Fund, Jay Lake’s chosen charity. But hurry! This offer ends at midnight EST tonight!

Announcing the release of “Insights from David D. Levine” at lynda.com

When I visited video training company lynda.com in April to record AWK Essential Training, I finished up my work early. As it happens, Lynda has a series of brief “Insights” courses in which professionals in various fields talk about their careers and offer, well, insights, and they asked me to record one of those in the remaining time. That course just launched today, and is now available to all lynda.com members: Insights from David D. Levine, Writer, Designer, and Engineer. If you aren’t a member, you can watch three of the videos in the course for free at http://www.lynda.com/Developer-Documentaries-tutorials/Insights-from-David-D-Levine-Writer-Designer-Engineer/169618-2.html.

InsightsHere’s Lynda’s description of the course: “David D. Levine has worn many hats in his long career: technical writer, interaction designer, software engineer, and award-winning science fiction author. His career path, with its ups, downs, and redirections, mirrors the one many job seekers find themselves on today. Find out how he turned a BA in architecture into a technical writing career, and, a decade later, transformed himself into an interaction designer and, finally, a software engineer. And see how, even after his retirement, he found ways to use his technical background to write science fiction stories. This course breaks down the different stages in David’s career into sections where he answers questions and offers hard-won advice to job hunters. Dive in and get insights from an expert—in more than one industry!”

Topics covered in the course include:

  • How do you think science fiction relates to today’s technology?
  • Has writing science fiction shaped your technical career?
  • Has your technical career shaped your science fiction?
  • What advice can you offer aspiring writers?
  • What are the three top rules for successful user interaction design?
  • If someone wanted to be an interaction designer, what should they do to prepare?
  • What was the upside of being a user interaction designer?
  • What advice can you offer an aspiring interaction designer?
  • What lessons did you learn from being a user interaction designer?
  • Do you have any insights on disruptive technology?
  • Working on supercomputers at Intel, did you give any thought to Moore’s law?
  • What skills or experience were most helpful to you when you started at Intel?
  • What lessons did you learn from being a software engineer?
  • How is technical writing different than writing science fiction?
  • What skills are most valuable to being a technical writer?
  • What lessons did you learn from being a technical writer?

This course is different from the AWK course, which is my voice over a movie of my computer screen; this one is just me, talking to the camera. So if you want to find out what I look and sound like, as well as some of the things I’ve learned in my patchwork career, this is your chance.

News update

Wow, so much good news to share!

  • After many months of searching, I have an agent! I am now represented by Paul Lucas of Janklow & Nesbit Associates.
  • Anthology HELP FUND MY ROBOT ARMY!!! and Other Improbable Crowdfunding Projects, including a story by me, is now on sale! Kindle only for now, but will be available from other ebook stores in October. See editor John Joseph Adams’s blog post for more info on the anthology, including some free samples!
  • Anthology Old Mars, including my story “The Wreck of the Mars Adventure,” has won the Locus Award for Best Anthology! “The Wreck of the Mars Adventure” itself came in 17th for Best Novelette, which isn’t too bad.
  • My story “Tk’Tk’Tk” was included in the curriculum of a class at European University Viadrina in Frankfurt (Oder), Germany that used SF podcasts to teach Business and Economics, along with stories by Michael Swanwick, Nancy Kress, and Cory Doctorow.
  • I just read the book S. by J. J. Abrams and Doug Dorst — or perhaps Ship of Theseus by V.M. Straka — and have been burbling at everyone about it. It’s more than a book — it’s an immersive, multimedia meta-book that, to me, combines the best bits of The Crying of Lot 49 and National Lampoon’s 1964 High School Yearbook Parody in a glorious celebration of everything that’s cool about books and literature. You can read a delicious review at tor.com, but I recommend you avoid spoilers and just dive in.

More news to come later this week! But for now, I’m off to the annual gay square dance convention in Salt Lake City. Whee!