Monday, July 31, 2006

Triviale Poursuite

First Monday to work after a pretty relaxing weekend. Highlights included two separate picnics featuring the not-very-French-but-certainly-very-tasty food item of BBQ'ed ribs. The first was at our friends Nicolas and Sandrine's apartment in Sceaux (a suburb of Paris which is fortunately a short 15 minute RER ride--the RER is a similar version of the Paris metro which uses many of the same stations in the city but also serves the outlying suburbs). The second was at Claire's sister Laure's apartment in Noisy-le-Grand which unfortunately hindered by the rain. However, despite the rain we still managed to gobble down some ribs and also as a result I was introduced to the French version of Trivial Pursuit.

For those of you who know me, I am a long-time fan of the show "Jeopardy", I was a "Quizzo" regular in Philadelphia, and my high school team from Duluth earned 2nd place honors in the 1992 Minnesota State Knowledge Bowl competetion. All of this counted for nothing, however, during this past weekend's debacle that was my introduction to Triviale Poursuite. My team lost big time--we only got 1 pie wedge ("camembert" in French) against our rivals. It really puts into perspective how much of my knowledge is America-specific--especially stuff like pop culture, as well as politics. Sports, which is traditionally one of my stronger areas in the 'States since I like baseball, basketball, football, and even hockey pretty well, was an obvious weakness--I just can't tell you that much about soccer, rugby, or Grand Prix racing (there was a question on Grand Prix which everybody else knew but I didn't, and I was the only male in the game...) Guess I better start reading "Le Monde" instead of the NY Times...

French phrase of the day (courtesy of Flora, who works in the lab with me): "Quand le chat n'est pas la, les sourris dansent", which translates to: "When the cat isn't there, the mice will dance", and is obviously very familiar to our own "When the cat's away, the mice will play." Case in point: Corinne Antignac (the big boss) is on vacation for 2 weeks and people in the lab are taking this opportunity to turn the music up in the lab. Apparently it is normally forbidden in the lab so this is a special treat!

Saturday, July 29, 2006

le Weekend

I tried to use the word "fin de semaine" (which means weekend) in the lab yesterday and was told that I should just use the word "le week-end" since that's what every Parisian uses in every-day conversation. Perhaps I should stop complaining that French is such a hard language to learn...

After work yesterday Claire & I met some friends from work at the Champ de Mars, the parc surrounding the Eiffel Tower, for a picnic dinner. Despite the early appearance of menacing storm clouds, it turned into a beautiful evening and, for once, even a little chilly at night. It felt wonderfully refreshing!

Did you know that the French language has two different words for "kidney"? They are not entirely the same, however. "Le rein" is the medical term for the kidney. However the word "les rognons" refers to the edible dish derived from the kidneys that is considered a tasty delicacy in French cuisine. Hmmmm...eating the organ responsible for making urine? Not sure that's something I will be trying anytime soon. I have, however, tried thymus once. When people ask me what it tastes like, I usually reply, "Not bad. It tastes just like T-cells."

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Say It Ain't So, Floyd

I just don't get it. Why do these guys take the juice if they know they are going to get tested? I guess we don't know for sure yet if Floyd Landis is justly accused of doping during the Tour de France, but it's certainly disappointing for cycling if he did.

Not much to write home about today. Our landlords & next-door neighbors for the past 10 days are moving back to America tomorrow, and I'm very excited that they have offered to loan us their bicycles for the year. Thanks! Should be fun to explore on velo.

French words of the day: an idiosyncrasy of the French language which many find endearing (and which I find to be a royal pain in the ass) is the assignment of either a male or female gender to every object. "La" for female; "Le" for male. Many of them are obvious, like "la femme" (the woman) or "le garcon" (the boy). But some of the assignments just don't make a hell of a lot of sense. For example, the word for beard is "la barbe". Apart from circus freaks, there just aren't a lot of female beards walking around to my knowledge.

Why can't we all just learn Esperanto?

Wednesday, July 26, 2006


Felicitacions! Claire & I are now proud owners of a brand-new teletexte-capable television! Allow me to explain. I love our apartment, which as I've mentioned before is fully-furnished. The only problem is that the television is an older one which does not have the teletexte technology needed in order to view "les sous-titres" (subtitles) on certain television shows. Obviously, the subtitles are in French, but it's better than nothing in terms of helping me understand and perhaps even aids in my never-ending quest to improve my feeble French language skills. SO: to that end, Claire and I purchased a teletexte-containing television set today from "Darty" (the French version of "Best Buy", I suppose) tonight. It actually helps quite a bit, and now I can actually use the excuse "but it's educational!" when I want to watch the boob tube.

French phrase of the day: "Il pleut comme une vache qui pisse", which literally means "It's raining like a cow that's pissing". I guess it's roughly the same as the American "It's raining cats and dogs", but I can honestly say that I prefer the French version better due to its graphic nature.

Au revoir for now,

Monsieur Nate

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

An American in Paris

First real day in the lab today. Spent some quality time in the piece de culture (tissue culture room) and also gave my talk today, which fortunately (I think) elicited a lot of questions. Fortunately I was allowed to give the talk in English.

Other interesting aspects of catching a film in Paris. For all les Americains out there--when you come see a movie in Paris, you have two options: the "V.F." (le version francaise) or the "V.O." (le version originale). I'm still definitely at the "V.O." stage--the movie is completely in English, but there are French subtitles which can be somewhat educational for learning French if you concentrate on reading more than checking out the scenery. Of course, if the movie is in Portuguese, you're pretty much screwed (unless, well, you speak Portuguese). The V.F. is the movie which has been dubbed over in French. Interestingly, my wife tells me that they try and retain the same French actor's voice for specific celebrities. Furthermore, they try and match up the French actor's voice so that it's reasonably similar to the American actor's voice. For example, the French voice of Woody Allen is nervous and whiny, the French voice of "Joey" from Friends is stupid, etc etc.

Today's French vocabulary: how to find your way around the lab en Francais!
For example:
pipet tips = les cones de pipet
liquid nitrogen = azote liquide
graduated cylinder = l'eprouvette
slides (for a microscope) = les lammes
beaker = le becher
cells = les cellules
medium (for cells) = le milieu
to mix = melanger
to freeze = glacer
to thaw = deglacer

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Front Seat at the Tour de France

Yesterday was the final day of the Tour de France, where the cyclists barrel down the homestretch at speeds up to 60 km/hr along the Champs Elysees. There were throngs of people there, so naturally we decided to turn out. I had originally planned on draping myself in an American flag and cheering American Floyd Landis on to victory, but my wife has instituted a no American flag policy in our household and I was flagless. Nonetheless, watching the riders was a great experiences! They go by fast, but fortunately they take 9 laps around the Champs Elysees so you get to see them several times and there's plenty of chances for picture-taking and cheering. We were standing along the Tuileries Gardens and got some interesting shots--with varying degrees of bluriness. Congrats to American (and Pennsylvanian) Floyd Landis, who can be seen with his head down in the maillot jeune (yellow jersey) at the end of this pack of Phonak riders.

C'est le bordel

Some funny French expressions I thought I'd share:

"C'est le bordel" is slang for "it's a mess." For example, "C'est le bordel a la station Metro Gare de L'est", where there happens to be a bunch of construction going on. Literally, however, "C'est le bordel" means "it's a brothel."

Also: the word for "Bachelor Party" is "enterrement de vie de garcon"--literally, funeral for the life of a boy". Not sure how much the typical French bachelor party resembles the typical U.S. version...

Finally, I was amused to learn that the French word for "paperclip" is "trombone." The French word for "trombone" is also "trombone". I thought this was fairly odd until Claire pointed out to me that of course these two objects have roughly the same shape...

Yesterday afternoon was spent hanging out at Parc Montsouris with our friends Sandrine, Nicolas, and their very cute daughter Anais (and if you squint very hard, you can perhaps make out the young, topless woman lying on the lawn sunning herself...a relatively common sight here). Then in the evening we caught a beautiful outdoor viewing of the film "The Life Aquatic" (or "La Vie Aquatique") at the Museum of Science and Industry with Laure & Benedicte.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Paris Plage

Had my first day of work yesterday! I'm working in the lab of Corinne Antignac at the Hopital Necker-Enfants Malades (the latter of which means "sick children"--not only is it a place for research lab, it is also a children's hospital), which is about a 25 minute walk door-to-door from our apartment.

And today I had my first real glimpse into French bureaucracy, when I was told that "hopefully" my Carte de Sejour (kind of like a "working permit" that you need to be legally employed within the country) would be ready by the time Thanksgiving vacation rolls around. I would really like to see my family then, and while there are no restrictions in terms of leaving the country, I may not be able to re-enter France if my Carte de Sejour is not ready...

After our rendezvous for the Carte de Sejour, Claire & I headed up to the Seine to witness "Paris Plage"--a summer tradition during which the city carts in tons of sand and dumps it on the banks of the river to create a kind of "faux-beach". They even have a swimming pool this year. Very cool. A big bonus to today's excursion was my identification of a bona fide comic shop in the Quartier Latine on Rue Saint-Germaine called "Album"--they have a good selection of recent comics from both US & France.

French Words of the Day:
comic book = bande dessinnee
Spider-Man = l'Homme Araignee
the Green Goblin = le Bouffon Vert
the Hulk = le Hulk :)

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

La Canicule

Today's French word of the Day: la canicule, which means "heat wave."

Which unfortunately we've been experiencing over the past few days in full effect. Today's temperatures in Paris were over 100 degrees, and it was the kind of day where you choose your activity based on the presence of air conditioning at your destination. Today, Claire & I choose to combine la climatization avec l'amusement when we caught the flick "Lucky Number 7" at a movie theater not too far away at Montparnasse. It's a slick film noir-ish film with an all-star cast that includes Bruce Willis, Josh Hartnett, Lucy Liu, Morgan Freeman, and Sir Ben Kingsley. I'd recommend it, particularly if the theater that you're planning on watching it has air conditioning during la canicule.

A demain!

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

It's Getting Hot In Here...

It's getting pretty friggin' hot over here in Paris. I'm told that there is a similar heat wave throughout the United States, so perhaps my fate would have been the same, but right now it's pretty oppressive. Also, the French don't really believe in air conditioning, at least not for our petite apartment.

Spent most of the day adjusting to jet lag (re: sleeping in), shuffling paperwork in an attempt to ensure myself of a French work visa, and just returned from an awesome dinner from our landlords (who live next door). Good wine, good cheese, good company...the whole French deal.

Here's a picture of my nephew Henry playing with Zeus (King of the Dogs) from our visit home in Indianapolis...

Au revoir for now!

Monday, July 17, 2006

Now Broadcasting Live from Paris!

Bonjour, mes amis!!

Claire and I have successfully made it to Paris. We're very pleased with our apartment, which at a mere 800 euros a month I think will turn out to be a real bargain. We're renting it out from a couple of American academics who have owned it for awhile, and therefore it comes pre-furnished. This includes not just the big items (e.g. bed, sofa, microwave, TV, etc) but also the little things (e.g. hammer & tool set, toaster, extra umbrellas, flour & salt already in the pantry, etc) that would just be a pain in the ass to get on your own.

The apartment is very compact. Like most things in Paris, space is at a premium, and as a result everything comes in "mini" sizes and is made in as efficient a format as possible. Perhaps nothing captures this spirit quite so well as our fold-out bed. In the daytime, it can be used as a dining room (we have a table which can also fold-out to fit up to six guests), but at night....voila! An instant bed!

Finally, here is picture of Claire posing by the bedroom window. Not surprisingly, she is VERY happy to be back in France...

My first impressions of living in Paris? It's all exciting to be here and all, but honestly my overwhelming thought is this: Damn, it's going to be hard to learn French! I have a lot of work to do...

Friday, July 14, 2006

Duluth Landmarks

Today is my last full day in America for a long while. My flight leaves for Paris tomorrow!! Before I leave, allow me to share photos of some random Duluth landmarks with you...

We begin with this shot of the Duluth fireworks over the Depot, Duluth's old train terminal which has been converted into a museum.

Next we have the (relatively) new neon sign indicating the Voyageur Inn, where we stayed for the first 2 days of our Duluth vacation.

Here we have the tourist spactacle that is the Duluth Aerial Lift Bridge, opening up ever so slightly so that the Vista King can enter the harbor.

A landmark of clear historic significance: the 1993 State AA Champion plaque displayed in the trophy case at Duluth East High School. My sister Cathy with her awesome early 90s hairdo is 2nd right on the back row, next to Coach McCall.

...and last but not least, some authentic wild blueberries from "Blueberry Hill", the small woods close to our old house where we spent our summers playing (and picking wild blueberries).

Thursday, July 13, 2006

More BWCA Camping Photos

More Camping Trip photos! Yay!

Here we are going for a swim at the portage site near Winchell Lake. The water was beautiful & quite refreshing!

Nir & Nate engaged in epic thumb-war competition.

You can't call it a camping trip until you've made s'mores.

Sister Susie & her boyfriend Andy resting on lovely Caribou Lake campsite.

Money shot.

How To Portage A Canoe

Camping in the Boundary Waters Canoe area is unique in that it's not just canoeing and it's not just's a combination of the two. Small lakes are connected by portages which vary anywhere between a few meters and a few miles. In order to get the canoe from one place to the next, it's necessary to portage them. It's possible for one person to pick up the canoe and carry it on his/her back--as demonstrated in this photo series from my parents' backyard. The canoe is an Old Towne fiberglass canoe which probably weighs about 65 lbs or so. I like to stand on the right side of the canoe with the canoe facing forward. You then grab the bar that the shoulder pads are situated, rock the canoe onto your knees while in a squatting position, and hoist the canoe over your head. Voila! The canoe is not really all that's more just a question of balancing things correctly.

In other Zidane-related news, if you haven't already been forwarded this most excellent head butt-related video game a World Cup fan concocted, you should probably do so.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

World's Best Donuts? You be the judge...

A Hellman camping trip in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area is not truly complete until the post-trip visit to Grand Marais. Grand Marais (literally in French: "big swamp") is a small town along the North Shore of Lake Superior which serves as the beginning to the Gunflint Trail, a road along which there is access to many of the Boundary Waters lakes.

Although this trip did NOT involve all the usual Hellman-frequented Grand Marais businesses (e.g. the Blue Water Cafe, the Trading Post), we did however manage to frequent the aptly-named WORLD'S GREATEST DONUTS shop. Not too many would expect to find this mortal coil's most perfect donuts in a backwoods shop in northern Minnesota, but in my opinion it is true. Check it out yourself someday.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

A Sapling Grows

We also checked out the old Hellman homestead on 1414 Vermilion Road. Of note, the pine tree I planted as a wee sapling when I was about 9 years old has survived several harsh Minnesota winters and is now a strapping young tree! I was excited to see all the trees in our front yard (since I planted most of them), but the pine tree in particular.

Sailing the Ocean Blue

Well, Lake, actually.

Another one of the highlights of our Duluth vacation was having the opportunity to sail on Lake Superior. Our family friend & gracious host Terry Clark took us sailing out of Bayfield, Wisconsin and into the Apostle Islands. Admittedly, the picture is posed, as Claire is pulling on one line but nobody is pulling on the line behind her, which would be necessary in order to sail properly...

Monday, July 10, 2006

Moose Watch

Another highlight of the Duluth trip was Claire's first moose-sighting. It occurred while paddling across Allen Lake in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, when we stumbled upon a female moose. It let us get reasonably close and allowed us to take some good pictures (including an outstanding movie from my sister's fancy digital camera which I unfortunately can't figure out how to dowload onto which are shown here. Hopefully you can tell this is indeed a moose, and not bogus Loch Ness monster sighting photos.

Alas, the French team came up a bit short yesterday. In my opinion, they played a better game than the Italians (particularly in the 2nd half), but just couldn't put the ball in the net. Also, Zinedane Zidane's shameful head-butting incident cost him a red card and potentially even a victory, who knows. Oh well...there's always 4 YEARS FROM NOW to try again...

For the next several months, I will actually be doing a fair amount of studying. I have 3 main projects to work on:

#1: Learn French. I am doing this with the aid of my "Rosetta Stone" language program and am about 1/4 done with the entire thing. I think I'm improving some, but still am a far cry from where I need to be.

#2: Study for the Internal Medicine Boards. I take my board exams at the end of August...all I have to do for that is review the entire body of medical knowledge that I have supposedly accumulated over the past 3 years. In my opinion, it's not really the kind of exam that you should need to "cram" for--for the most part, I should have picked up the right answers along the way. I'd like to think this is basically true, but I nonetheless have invested in the MKSAP 13 series, a set of books & practice questions covering all the major topic areas that are tested on the boards.

#3: Familiarize myself with the scientific literature regarding my lab. My job in the French lab starts in a little over a week from now, and I will need to brush up on my kidneys, nephrons, cysts, and tubules. Currently, goal #3 is taking a back seat to the first two, though hopefully not for long.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

To Duluth And Back

Well, the trip to Duluth was spectacular. We had outstanding weather for our 3-day trip to the Boundary Waters, saw a nice variety of northwoods wildlife, visited with a bunch of great friends, and most importantly, the trip went well enough that my wife Claire has stated that she would look forward to future adventures in the mosquito-infested wilderness that is northern Minnesota. A success all around!!

This photo was taken as we were paddling across Horseshoe Lake, just as it was starting to get dark. Just beautiful.
We're currently at my parents' in Indianapolis, where we'll stay for about a week as I relax, put the finishing touches on our packing job, frantically teach myself French, and cheer the French National soccer team to victory during their upcoming World Cup Match against the Eye-Talians this afternoon. ALLEZ LES BLEUES!!! VIVE LA FRANCE!!!