Thursday, November 30, 2006

De La Fievre

Je suis epuise (I'm exhausted). It results from a particularly annoying combination of "decallage horaire" (jet lag) and also something of a viral illness I seem to have picked up.

French Grammar Lesson of the Day: When I came into the lab today and tried to explain that I was sick today to my labmates, I said, "Je me sens un peu malade; hier soir j'ai eu un fievre", which means, "I feel a little sick; yesterday night I had a fever." I learned however that one must always add the preposition & definite article "de la" before fever: "Je me sens un peu malade; j'ai eu de la fievre".

Since I am too exhausted to entertain you any further, I will instead give you some interesting Halloween photos my sister Susie sent me. The pictures depict her Halloween costume (a pineapple) as well as that of her boyfriend Andy (an evil clown). An interesting combination. Apparently the evil clown was responsible for making several women cry in fear during the evening.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Jet Lag Sucks

This is perhaps the worst I've ever had jet lag in my entire life...I just hope my internal clock is reset soon, because I feel like I've been walking around like a zombie for the past three days.

But before I retire for the evening, the French Phrase of the Day:

"passer de la pommade a quelqu'un", which means literally to smear cream over somebody's else body. It's analogous to the English, "to butter somebody up," and once you think about, rubbing butter versus rubbing pommade on somebody is fairly similar (though in neither case could you realistically expect to gain somebody's favor by actually doing this; I know I would be pretty pissed off if somebody assaulted me with a stick of butter).

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

James Bond and....Borat?

Just got back from seeing the movie "Casino Royale" (the new Bond flick) with my friend Andrew, another American who is teaching English in the banlieue also as part of the Fulbright program. My impressions: I liked the new Bond and I appreciated the change of pace from the past few Bond films. It's more intense and less goofy. However, there were several parts that were just plain when James Bond is getting tortured by having a heavy rope bash against his nuts repeatedly. WTF?!? Also, there was another scene with a cardiac defibrillator which makes absolutely no friggin' medical sense (I wrote about the same thing pissing me off in the recent Mission Impossible III film awhile back). Can't they hire some medical professional to give them advice about what is plausible and what is not? Like me?

I also have to laugh when I see the posters advertising the "Borat" movie here. As you know, Borat speaks in terrible, broken English--like an obvious foreigner. Well, it turns out he speaks in terrible, broken French as well. One poster has a quote by Borat which reads, "Tu venez voir ma film", which is supposed to mean "Come see my film." Fortunately, my French is at least good enough now to recognize that Borat has committed several grammatical errors: first, when using the imperative form, you are supposed to drop the subject (e.g. he should just say "Venez voir...") and anyways the "tu" form doesn't even match up with the "vous" form. Furthermore, the word "film" is masculine (le film, NOT la film) so the correct translation would be: "Venez voir mon film."

Take that, Borat! I know more French than you!

Monday, November 27, 2006

More Cute Henry Photos

The star of the show over Thanksgiving vacation was definitely my 1-year-old nephew Henry. Here's some nice photos of the big boy at his birthday partay. Incidentally, our French word of the day is "decalage horaire", which means jet lag...which I'm feeling very much of right now!

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Thanksgiving Highlights

Hope everybody out there had a very happy Thanksgiving!! I consider Thanksgiving to be our greatest American holiday and was very thankful I was able to get to my parents' for the week.

I was absent from the blogosphere because there was so much to do. Some of the highlights:

#1: I got a haircut! My general rule is to get two haircuts a year--typically one around Thanksgiving, and the other around June-ish--and I have followed this philosophy for about 5 years now. Here's a pic of me with my new 'do next to my banjo-pickin' father.

#2: Thanksgiving Dinner. Mmmmmm. I would show you pictures of the food, but I'd just want to eat even more myself. The Hellman Thanksgiving dinner, by the way, came complete with four different pies: chocolate mousse, apple, pumpkin, and my favorite, grasshopper pie.

#3: Annual Pacers game. Every year the Indiana Pacers play a game the day after Thanksgiving, and we try and go as a family. This year's contest was against the Cleveland Cavaliers, a hot ticket due to the brilliant play of LeBron James. The game was a decent one--LeBron got his (30 points) but scrappy play by the Pacers (I was impressed with Lithuanian sharpshooter Sarunas Jasikevicius, veteran PG Darrell Armstrong, and of course the team's best player Jermaine O'Neal, who scored 29) allowed Indiana to pull off a comeback victory. As an added bonus, the Cavs wore their old orange sherbert-colored jerseys from the 80s. Furthermore, this marked the first-ever Pacers game for Henry, my one-year-old nephew. Here he is celebrating the Pacers' victory with the rest of the gang:

#4: Henry's 1st Birthday Party. You gotta love the 1st Birthday Party, where the object of celebration is generally unaware of the importance of the day. I got him a bunch of Spider-Man nerf balls. But the hit of the day was definitely the tigger doll which bounces up and down on its tail when you squeeze its hand. Pictures to follow in a subsequent post because they're just too cute to be confined to a single blog post (and also I can't get to post any more photos right now...)

Now it's back to work tomorrow...both in terms of getting back to my lab work, as well as spending more time improving my French! Au revoir (for now)...

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Home for the Holidays

As reluctant as I am to call Indianapolis "home", this is where I generally come for family-type holidays such as Thanksgiving, and if home is where your family & loved ones gather, than this is definitely home.

The ASN (American Society of Nephrology) meeting in San Diego was extremely interesting and all in all was much better than a meeting which my budding nephrologist friend Jon said was not worth more than a "hill of beans" (a little nephrologic humor there....up, why is nobody laughing?)

Now I am in Indy with Claire, my parents, my sisters Susie and Cathy, my brother-in-law Tim, their son Henry, my uncle Joe & Grandma....I can't wait for Thanksgiving in order to gain back some of the weight that I lost during my stay in Paris!

Also on the agenda during this little vacation is the construction of my Christmas card! I've spent a decent amount of time on it already, but am happy to report that it will soon be finished. Here's a sneak-peek picture of me eating a croissant aux aumonds at Jim Morrison's grave at the Cimitiere Pere Lachaise. It was actually the least tasty of all the desserts I ate that fateful day, and I briefly considered leaving the remains of the dessert on Jim's grave as a present. However, there were several other visitors and I felt it might not exactly be appropriate.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Kidneys, Kidneys, Kidneys

Greetings from sunny San Diego! I'm knee-deep in a sea of kidneys here at the ASN. Got back to my hotel a little while ago after a grueling day of kidney-related lectures and posters (including our poster, which got some decent publicity so I'm happy) and I'm beat. We're going to eat someplace in La Jolla a little later.

My impression of San Diego: Absurdly beautiful weather. Ridiculously gorgeous scenery. And a nagging suspicion that there's something vaguely artificial about the picture-perfect surroundings.

See you cats later.

Monday, November 13, 2006

A Shout Out to Saint Christopher

I'd better start praying to Saint Christopher (patron saint of traveling) right now...

To explain: a few days ago, a nice little opportunity fell into my lap. One of my research mentors from Philly invited me to attend the American Society of Nephrology in San Diego, courtesy of some extra grant money he has lying around. The meeting begins, in fact, Wednesday, so I had to really race to find a halfway-decently-priced airplane ticket that would also jive with my already-purchased ticket to Indianapolis (to visit the Hellman family for Thanksgiving).

To make a long story short: I managed to get myself to San Diego by the time the meeting starts. However, I'm going to be taking the Paris-to-Philadelphia-to-Indianapolis-to-spend-a-night-at-Mom-and-Dad's-to-Denver-to-San Diego route. In other words, not exactly the express route, and it will be a minor miracle if every single one of these connections goes down without a hitch. Yo, Chris--you got my back for the next few weeks?

This year's slogan for the ASN meeting: "Kidney Mania: Catch the Fever!"

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Faux Amis

False friends. There' s a lot of them out there. Do you know what I'm talking about? I'm talking about French words that sound like they are very similar to an English word, but in fact mean something else entirely. I'll give you a quick example: the word "le magasin" in French might make you think that it means "magazine", since it looks and sounds so similar. In fact, however, "le magasin" means a "a shop."

Another one that gave me a lot of trouble when I first arrived is the French word "le tampon." For obvious reasons, I thought it meant the object which pertains to feminine hygiene. Well, it turns out that in scientific labs it means "buffer" (we have to use solutions of acid-base buffers all the time in molecular biology), and boy, was I confused when one of the female graduate students in our lab told me, "Tu peux utilisez mon tampon si tu veux" (You can use my buffer if you'd like).

Obviously, it works in the opposite direction. I remember that once, my mom was giving some of Claire's French friends directions for how to drive from St. Louis to Indianapolis. Part of the directions included the phrase, "Eventually, you will take a right turn onto Kessler Boulevard." Unfortunately, the word "eventually" is a false friend. In French, it means "possibly" or "in the possibility that..." So Claire's friends understood, "and maybe you should take a right turn on Kessler Boulevard", not exactly the kind of confidence you want to hear when getting directions to an unfamiliar place.

Fortunately, there's a lot of "vrais amis" (true friends) out there as well--for example, "la television", "la table", "la photo"...I could go on and on. Just yesterday, for instance, I was delighted to hear from my wife that the French word for chewing gum is "le chewing gum."

Oh, and just to clear things up: I never actually liked the TV show, "Friends" but I couldn't find any other graphic for "False Friends" that would be appropriate. So there you go.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

As Easy As One, Two, Three

Did you know that the French count on their fingers differently from us? If you are American, and somebody asks you to count to three using your fingers, the index finger is #1 (hence, the "We're #1!" gesture common in American sports as well as providing an explanation for those goofy foam fingers you also find at American sporting events), the middle finger is #2, and the the ring finger is #3. Right?

Well in France, they count the thumb as #1 (see handy illustration I pilfered from this helpful website I use often to improve my French), the index finger as #2, and the middle finger as #3. Suffice it to say, I have already had numerous arguments with my wife regarding which of these systems of counting by hand is the superior one.

In unrelated news, you can add another song to the list of obscure 80s songs which are still popular in France: My Name is Luka, by Suzanne Vega. I've heard it three times in the past week!! And actually, I think for the first time ever, paid attention to the lyrics. Perhaps I was took young or didn't care at the time, but I don't think I ever realized that it's about child abuse. I guess I always thought it was about some chick named Luka who happened to live on the second floor. Check out the lyrics if you don't believe me.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

You All Everybody

U.S.-converted French TV update:

As I've mentioned before, I can now watch as much TV as I want, as I have deemed TV-watching to be an "educational experience" now that I have to watch it in this crazy language known as French. Well, they just finished showing the first season of "Prison Break" on Chaine M6. They made it out! Don't tell me what happens during Season 2. If you're into French rap (which I'm sure you are) check out the fly French theme song to "Prison Break", "Je N'ai Pas Le Temps" (I Don't Have The Time) by Faf la Rage on YouTube.

In addition, we also recently completed Season 1 of "Lost", which I had never actually seen until I came to France. Great show. It reminds me a little of "Twin Peaks" in that every time a lingering question gets answered, it brings up three even more baffling issues to deal with. You also get the sense that the writers are kind of making things up as they go along, but somehow, it works. Anyways, on one of the "bonus features" at the end of the Season 1 disc they discuss the amusing origins of the song "You All Everybody." "You All Everybody" is the lone popular song from the one-hit wonder rock band "Driveshaft" of which the character Charlie is a member prior to the plane's crash landing on the island. Evidently, the name derives from a quote from an audience member on the Phil Donahue Show a long time ago and became somewhat of a private joke amongst the writers of the show. Anyways, the song is featured quite prominently in the show, and the French translation is completely different: "Allez, Les Gars!" (which means, "Let's go, boys!") and for some reason this difference in translation never fails to crack me up.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Carte de Sejour

After nearly 4 months in France, I finally received my Carte de Sejour today. Hah! Take that, French Bureaucracy. You can make me wait, but in the end I am victorious.

Not much else going on today. Lab: Same old. Maybe some good results this week if my experiments behave themselves. Family: Looking very much forward to seeing the fam for Thanksgiving in the next few weeks. Politics: Go Dems! I'll log on first thing in the morning to see the results. Tour du Croissant: I seem to have recovered my taste for French pastries just fine, as I was able to enjoy a tasty pain chocolat that somebody had brought into lab this morning.

Since it's a slow news day Nate-wise, a few French translations of some Disney movies:
Blanche Neige et les Sept Nains = Snow White & the Seven Dwarves*
Cendrillon = Cinderella
La Belle au Bois Dormant = Sleeping Beauty (literally: The Beautiful Woman of the Forest Who Sleeps)
La Belle et le Clochard = Lady and the Tramp (a clochard is like a bum)
Qui veut la peau de Roger Rabbit ? = Who Framed Roger Rabbit (literally: Who wants the skin of Roger Rabbit?)

Sunday, November 05, 2006

What's for Dessert?

That's right, my self-created French pastry-eating challenge, the Tour du Croissant, took place today. I've just recently walked through the door of my apartment and I am exhausted. It may sound like a piece of cake (pun intended), but eating that much sugar in a single day's span is actually a big challenge. Despite the massive amount of pastry-associated calories I took in today, I probably also burned a lot as well--we were walking/Metro-ing all around Paris from about 10 in the morning until 8 in the evening, and quite frankly, my legs are just as tired as they were after our recent Irish hike through the mountains!

I will keep you in suspense until my annual Christmas Card is finished to reveal the full details of my quest...but suffice it to say that our journey led us to use 9 of the 14 available Parisian Metro lines and I have successfully proved that it is possible to live on nothing but French pastry and water for a 24-hour period. Perhaps in the future my pioneering ways will be recognized and I will be able to rightfully take my place next to the giants of exploration such as Lewis & Clark, Charles Lindburgh, and Jacques Costeau.

By the way, one of the reasons I keep this blog is for myself: I've always been a fan of keeping a rough written log of what I do--part of the fun is being able to look back in time as to what I was doing. For instance, I know that exactly one year ago I flushed my glasses down the toilet.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Would Somebody Tell the French that "Tears for Fears" Is No Longer Popular?

Because we are allowed to listen to the radio (but only in the tissue culture room) in our lab, I spend a decent amount of time listening to French radio stations. As I have mentioned before, French radio stations are required by law to play at least 40% of songs in French. However, this still leaves plenty of room for foreign songs, most of which are from the U.S. or England. Of these, the majority of what you'd expect: Top 40 stuff, Justin Timberlake, Nelly Furtado, etc. But there are several TOTALLY RANDOM 80s bands which are still heavily featured, and every time one of these songs comes on I chuckle inwardly. For instance, I've probably heard the song "Sowing the Seeds of Love" by Tears for Fears more times in the past week than I have over the past 10 years in the U.S. Why the hell is this song still played on the radio now? My guess it has something to do with the fact that the French don't realize that the lyrics of "Sowing the Seeds of Love" are incredibly cheesy.

Also, I have definitely heard Ray Parker Jr's "Ghostbusters" theme song more than two times on the radio so far, and "Supertramp" still enjoys a faithful following. Finally, Red Hot Chili Peppers seems to be more popular & more mainstream here in France than I ever witnessed in America. Strange.

I'm still in the process of planning out this weekend's Tour-du-Croissant (if I can't think of a better name for it) so please continue to leave some comments as to possible Parisian destinations for me to visit!!

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

It's Never Too Early... start thinking about this year's Christmas Card!!!

Allow me to unveil my master plan for this year's card. It took me awhile to come up with the concept, but now that I've settled on one I'm quite excited to begin work. I knew that I wanted a French theme, for obvious reasons. At first, I had considered making a card featuring as many offensive French stereotypes as possible. However, as it is somewhat difficult to depict "rudeness" in a single photo (and also because quite honestly I have quite honestly found that stereotype of the French to be inaccurate during my stay thus far), I nixed this idea. Instead, I will be combining a French theme with that most American of all traditions: the eating contest!!

My plan is the following: this Saturday, November 4th (or maybe Sunday--I haven't decided which), from the hours of 10am until 6pm, I shall attempt to visit as many Parisian monuments as possible...and at each monument I shall eat a different form of French pastry. I shall take a photo at each location to commemorate the occasion, and together these photos will form the basis for this year's Christmas card. For example: I might eat a croissant at the Louvre, for instance, or perhaps an apple tarte at the base of the Eiffel Tower, or maybe even a pain chocolate at Jim Morrison's grave in the Pere Lachaise Cemetery. I still haven't decided what to call it...maybe the Tour du Croissant? I'm still not sure yet, nor am I certain how many pastries I will be able to gobble down during the course of the day: 15? 20? 50? Who the hell knows. One thing is for sure, however: I certainly won't run out of a variety of different pastry types or monuments to choose from, though, so I will be limited by one thing and one thing only: my voracious appetite for sugar & bread!

To this end, I seek YOUR help: please post comments (for once) on this blog with your suggestions as to famous monuments in Paris that you would like to see Nate eating a pastry. I will certainly try and accomodate any and all suggestions.