Thursday, August 31, 2006

Gay Paris

Did you know that the mayor of Paris is gay? It's true. His name is Bertrand Delanoe, he's been in office since 2002, and overall it seems that he's quite popular. It's the largest city in the world with an openly gay mayor, which is fairly appropriate perhaps given the nickname of "Gay Paris". He was actually the victim of an assassination attempt by an insane political right-winger and homophobe shortly after being elected, but fortunately made it through the stabbing incident without major medical problems.

French Words of the Day: two French words with interesting origins. The first of these words is "poubelle" which is the French word for "garbage can". Interestingly, it is named after a person, Eugene Poubelle, a Parisian public official in 1884 who decreed that all garbage must be kept in a storage container with distinct specifications. I guess it's somewhat analogous to the British Thomas Crapper, inventor of the toilet. There are worse things to be known for, but it's hard to think of what they might be.

The second interesting word is "klaxon", the French word for horn. The word started out as a brand-name but is now used to refer to any horn on an automobile. Perhaps similar to our own words "Kleenex" and the way the word "Coke" is used in the Southern United States, often used to refer to any type of carbonated beverage.

A demain!

Monday, August 28, 2006

Now I Can Start Studying French

Holy crap! I'm glad that's over. I finished my 8-hour test (in 4 separate 2-hour installments) today and I'm just happy that it's done. Now I can start studying French.... (which in many ways is actually harder than studying medicine, although at least with studying French I can read French comic books and pretend that it's "educational."

The answers to yesterday's quiz, BTW:
1. C
2. D
3. F
4. A
5. B
6. E

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Pop Quiz, Hotshot

Phew, almost finished with studying...the test is tomorrow morning and I should get to bed before I lose any more precious neurons.

Now it's time for a quiz for you, the reader. It only seems fair, after all. Try and match the celebrity from the list on the TOP with the disease from the list on the BOTTOM. Answers to be provided tomorrow, or whenever the hell I feel like it.

1. Alonzo Mourning
2. Walter Payton
3. Michael J. Fox
4. Woodie Guthrie
5. Mickey Mantle
6. Barbara Bush

A. Huntington's disease
B. cirrhotic liver disease
C. focal segmental glomerulosclerosis
D. primary sclerosing cholangitis
E. Graves' disease
F. Parkinson's Disease

Saturday, August 26, 2006

News from the Heartland

Well, I'm back in Indianapolis trying to cram a few last medical factoids into this brain of mine. The test is on Monday.

Great to see Ma and Pa Hellman while I'm here. The big news in the Hellman household of the past week was the discovery of this croissant shaped like an embryo. Don't tell George Bush, it may be in violation of his butt-headed embryonic stem cell policy. The embryo-croissant was purchased at nearby Renee's French bakery in Broad Ripple. Unfortunately, instead of attempting to sell their discovery on E-Bay for $28,000 like the Grilled Cheese Virgin Mary, my parents instead decided to eat it. Way to go, guys.

I've taken two great bicycle rides with Dad since I've been here--we went 20 miles today along Sugar Creek and Dad is definitely in the process of an amazing recovery!

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Brush with Fame?

My first Famous Person sighting in Paris!

Okay, admittedly, this is not all that impressive. It is a far cry from the time that my buddy Dave Portnoy and I saw a smokin' hot Cameron Diaz walking through Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia, and perhaps is even trumped by my sighting of 7-foot Minnesotan basketball star Randy Bruer when I was eight years old. But imagine my surprise when Joel Forrester showed up on my doorstep two days ago.

Who's Joel Forrester, you may ask? Well, he's only the guy who composed the theme song to the National Public Radio show "Fresh Air" as hosted by Terry Gross, that's who!?! Seriously, he is a piano player, composer, and part of a jazz quartet based in New York City who is currently playing some gigs in gay Paris. And apparently he had borrowed the electrical keyboard from our landlords awhile back and called a few days ago so he could drop them off at the apartment. Hence, my brush with fame.

Monday, August 21, 2006


In light of my upcoming trip back home to the 'States to study & take the Internal Medicine Boards, Claire asked me yesterday what things I missed the most already from the United States. It's still rather early to embark upon a final analysis of United States versus France living (an issue I do intend to tackle on this blog, but after I've lived here for at least six months I think), but these were some of the glaring obvious things: American sports (I'm totally out of the loop concerning the pennant races in baseball as well as the pre-season hype for football), a wider selection of breakfast cereals, peanut butter, and a language which doesn't have 32,423 forms of verb conjugation in it.

The reverse question, what things do you think are superior in France compared to the United States, is also interesting. For the most part, my answer is for the current time being very food-centric. Most things do taste better here, even stuff you wouldn't necessarily think twice about like lunch meat. But perhaps the best French tradition that I've adopted so far is THE BREAD.

You know the stereotype of the Frenchman wandering down the street with baguette tucked underneath his arm? Well, it's completely true. There are boulangeries (bakeries) galore in Paris--we have the choice of about 7 during our 25-minute walk from our apartment to Hopital Necker where we work. And the bread is so wonderfully cheap(typically 80 euros for a full baguette) that it is very common to stop by the boulangerie every day to replenish the supply of fresh bread. True, it does involve an extra daily "errand" each day--but it's so easy (and yummy) that I'm totally sold on it already.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Bon Anniversaire, Claire

Happy Birthday to Claire today!

And now, a few comments on my observations of French radio (I've been listening a lot to "Oui FM" while hanging around the apartment): first, the Red Hot Chili Peppers are very popular here. I say this in a non-judgemental fashion. Old stuff and new stuff. Second, even when I specifically look for stations that play mostly French music, I'd say that most of the stations here play 50% French music at best, with the rest being British or American. Interestingly, there is a law stating that all French radio stations must play a minimum of 40% songs in French.

French expression for the day: when you buy something very expensive, instead of saying that it cost you "an arm and a leg" like in the 'States, you say it cost "le peau des fesses"--which means "the skin from my butt-cheeks". Once again, the French have outdone the Americans with their wacky and grotesque expressions for everyday life.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Science des Reves

Do you like watching movies that are long, protracted dream sequences during which you have a hard time discerning fantasy from reality? If so, the movie "Science des Reves" (Science of Sleep in the 'States) is for you.

Despite this admittedly negative opening sentence, I actually kind of liked it, though it was a little frustrating. We saw the movie in the "V.O." (version originale) meaning that it was in the original language (mostly English) with French subtitles. However, the movie is really bi-lingual. It takes place in Paris and probably about a third to a quarter of it is in French, making it even more difficult for me to determine which scenes were taking place in real life and which scenes were taking place within the mind of Stephane, the film's creative but reality-challenged main character.

The film's lead actress is Charlotte Gainsbourg, the daughter of Serge Gainsbourg, who is probably France's most famous singer/songwriter of the 60s-70s. Somebody described him to me once as "The French Bob Dylan", but he's definitely less folksy and more controversial. For instance, he once burned a 500 French franc bill on live television protesting a tax hike, and when he was older he told a young Whitney Houston that he wanted to fuck her, also on live television. Anyways, I've seen Charlotte Gainsbourg in a few movies now, and although she's not classically pretty, there's something about her...

French expressions for the day:
"sourd comme un pot" is literally "deaf as a pot", which mirrors our own "deaf as a post". It's interesting that both cultures have decided to use inanimate objects to serve as the reference point for deafness.

"aveugle comme une taupe" (blind as a mole)
"bavard comme un pie"(talkative as a magpie)
"ruse comme un renard" (cunning as a fox)

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Did You Know?

Did you know....

...that cotton candy is France is called "Barbe a papa" (lit: Dad's beard)?

...that the 3 Little Pigs have names in France? (they are named Nif Nif, Naf Naf, and Neuf far as I know they don't have proper English names)

...that those tape adaptor thingees you use in your car (the ones with an empty tape on one end and a cord on the other which allows you to hook up an iPOD or other similar music device while driving) are illegal in France?

...that "walkie-talkies" are called "talkie-walkies" in French?

I'd tell you more super-duper top secret French information, but I am afraid that it's so shocking that it would cause your minds to explode. More later, mes amis.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Back in Paris (For Now)

Vacation over. Just got back into Paris and it's back to work in the morning. The caveat is that a week from today I will already make my first return to the United States. Not all that exciting: I'll be staying with the parental units for a spell while I get ready to take an 8-hour medical exam (The American Board of Internal Medicine Examination, required for licensing) on August 28th.

Anyways, our trip to LaBaule was really great; very relaxing and fun to visit with Claire's family. Some photo highlights included here were watching Maeva's (my niece) first sailing lesson, catching the traditional August 15th fireworks ("feu d'artifice") from the shore, and just visiting with the in-laws (incidentally: "mother-in-law" in French is "bonne-mere", literally "good mother"--a decidedly more positive outlook on the position than the traditional American stereotype.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Checking In

Checking in from LaBaule, France: home to Europe's largest contiguous sand beach (9km), Jean and Christine Pecqueur aka Claire's parents, and the next destination in our seemingly never-ending summer vacation. It's a tough life, I know.

Today we went sailing on catamarans in the nearby town of Batz-sur-Mer. I had been sailing before on Lake Superior, but always on a big boat. Today, Olivier (Claire's brother) arranged for the rental of a pair of two-person catamarans for myself, Claire, Laure, and Olivier. It was exhilarating! The wind was pretty strong and therefore it was pretty fast. In fact at one point Claire and Laure tipped the boat over--but fortunately got right back up with no major problems.

The big news from the Hellman family is the return of Rick Hellman to the racing circuit. That's right, several months after his accident, he has recovered enough to get back on the bike yet again. Here's a picture of Dad with his new fancy bike. Who knows, now that Phonak has a space to fill with the exit of Floyd Landis, perhaps he'll have a second job...

French lesson of the day: did you know that instead of the Tooth Fairy which delivers money or prizes in the middle of the night to children in exchange for their lost molars, it's a petite sourri (little mouse?) My niece Maeva explained this to me today; she is still a true believer at the age of seven, although she did note specifically to me today that the handwriting left in a note by the petite sourri looked remarkably like that of her mother's...


Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Gone Fishing

I'm leaving this morning for a week's vacation in LaBaule. My blogging ways will therefore be put on hold for a bit... Au revoir, mes amis!

Monday, August 07, 2006

Random Thoughts

Random Thoughts for the day:

...what a great week for the New England Journal of Medicine! Not only is the "Clinical Problem Solving" case of the week a case in which the diagnosis turns out to be a swallowed toothpick which perforated through the intestine, but some dudes dug up the corpse of Emperor Charles V in order to conclusively prove that he suffered big-time from the gout.

...there is a basketball court near my apartment, but every time I walk by there are kids practicing soccer there. case I've never mentioned it before, the Greatest Dunk of All Time was performed by Vince Carter, over lanky 7'2" Frenchman Frederic Weis, during the 2000 Olympics.

...the Number 1 song in France currently is "Coup de Boule", a song devoted to Zinedine Zidane's infamous head-butting incident. You can watch the video at You Tube if you'd care to, plus here's a link to a translation of the lyrics. A brief glimpse at the chorus:

"Le rital, il a eu mal
Zidane il a frappé
l'Italien ne va pas bien
Zidane il a tapé
L'arbitre l'a vu à la télé
Zidane il a frappé
Mais la coupe on l'a ratée
On a quand même bien rigolé."

which translates roughly as:

"The Italian was hurt,
Zidane, he hit him.
The Italien isn't doing well.
Zidane, he hit him.
The ref saw it on the television.
Although we lost the Cup,
We had a good laugh just the same."

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Musee d'Orsay

Musee d'Orsay, along with many other museums in Paris, is open free to the public the first Sunday of each month. We braved the crowds and went for a visit. Although I had been to d'Orsay once in the past (it's one of my favorite art museums, and so far my favorite in Paris), my French wife had never been. It was converted from a train station into an art museum relatively recently: it opened in 1986. It houses an impressive number of important Impressionist works and also features a wonderful terrace overlooking the Seine. Here are some photos from our outing today:

Seven-Minute Abs

HITCHHIKER from "There's Something About Mary": Think about it. You walk into a video store and you see Eight-Minute Abs and right next to it you see Seven-Minute Abs--which one you gonna spring for?
TED: I'd go with the seven.
HITCHHIKER: Bingo. Especially since we guarantee you'll get every bit as good a work-out
TED: How do you guarantee that?
HITCHHIKER: Well it's the company motto: 'If you ain't happy we'll send you the extra minute.'
TED: Huh. That sounds great. Unless someone else comes out with Six-Minute Abs.

In the U.S., we have the "six-pack" of well-toned abs. In France, they have a different expression: "la plaquette de chocolat", which I suppose is a pretty good description of buff abs.

The opposite, of course, is the "beer belly". The French have an expression for this as well (although in general, I have noticed that the beer belly is more of an American phenomenon than a Parisian one): the "Abdo Kro." "Kro" is short for Kronenbourg, which as best as I can tell is the French version of "Budweiser". Fortunately, it tastes better (in my opinion). I have also recently learned that you can furthermore refer to your paunch as "la brioche"--a tasty type of bread with a sweet taste that is often eaten for breakfast. It tastes a little bit like challah, the traditional Jewish bread.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Adventures in Bureaucracy

Today we began the saga of obtaining a green card for my wife Claire.

I am often giving Claire a hard time about how ridiculous the French bureaucratic system is. This was illustrated to us quite nicely during our early attempts to obtain my Carte de Sejour (working permit) , during which we were told that perhaps my carte will be ready by the time Thanksgiving rolls around.

Well, after our day at the American Embassy, I'm afraid to say that the American Way is just as ridiculous, if not moreso. Friday is apparently "Green Card" Day at the American Embassy (the others are reserved for people seeking simple visas). The door opens at noon, but apparently to secure yourself a spot you have to line up several hours earlier. For instance, we arrived at about 10:30 am and although we weren't in serious danger of being sent home, the majority of people had arrived earlier than we had, and I'm pretty sure that not everybody waiting got in. Anyways, at noon we fortunately made the cut. We then proceeded to wait for another several hours until finally we met with somebody and handed over our paperwork while they reviewed everything. After that there was a little more waiting (I think it was while the employees were all eating their lunch), followed by a brief interview of about 5 minutes duration during which they asked us questions to make certain that we are indeed married and that Claire plans to work in the United States. All in all, the entire process involved about five hours of waiting for about 10 minutes total of contact time, and this was just the first step.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Lab Jargon

Just came back from a run along my "regular" jogging route: I run from our apartment (the star) to Parc Montsouris and then run around the park as many times as I see fit. A little rainy.

I'm learning a new technique in the lab: the use of small interfering RNA's, or siRNA. It's funny: I did my PhD in molecular and cell biology from 1998-2002, and have been mostly out of the lab since then, with the exception of a few brief but productive trips back to the research game. Anyways, this siRNA was just in its infancy when I was in graduate school, and not a well-utilized technique by any stretch of the imagination. Now it's considered fairly routine, and it's about time that I learned how to do it. The concept is not difficult: DNA, as you may remember from Biology 101, makes messenger RNA, which makes proteins--which help the cell to run smoothly. A lab studying plants a few years ago made the discovery that very short strands of RNA with sequences that are complementary to messenger RNA can target specific messages for degradation. In essence, it's another way of regulating genes: the cell can turn off a gene by making an siRNA against it. In the lab, you can take advantage of this cellular machinery by designing and synthesizing your own siRNAs to "knock-out" the expression of a particular gene. Pretty slick.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

What's Up

I unfortunately haven't been able to blog as regularly as I would like. Ever since the Swedish academic who moved in next door moved in, our Internet connectivity has been spotty. I have no idea whether or not the Swedes are to blame.

Not much new here. The Canicule is over (for now) and the weather is delightfully cool in the evening. I went for a run through Parc Montsouris which was nice. Believe it or not, I actually get to take a vacation soon: next week we are going to Claire's parents' house in LaBaule. Before coming here, I was told that French people have no problem with taking the entire month of August off. And now I realize that it's basically true. The lab crowd is a pretty thin one right now.

French Phrase of the Day: "la bete noire". Literally this means "black beast" but it translates into "pet peeve" or perhaps "nemesis." Par example, "les Mathematiques sont ma bete noire". I guess this word is also officially in the English language as well, though I don't think I've ever used it (perhaps as an SAT word).