Le cul entre les deux chaises

An American Spaniard in France or: How I Learned to Make an Ass of Myself in Three Cultures


Versailles like you’ve never seen it

Up until recently, I’d been to Versailles at least three times and maybe as many as five. The chateau is impressive in its extravagance but the manicured garden was always my favorite part. Here’s a shot I took in October 2006.

View with back to the chateau

View with back to the chateau.

Marring the pristine beauty of the space is all the other people and the earth-movers used to swap out the plants.

Now here’s a little triptych I took just the other day.

Versailles Canal 2 Versailles Canal 3 Versailles Canal 1

I’d never seen this side of the property, the so-called English gardens, because they’re quite a ways away from the main chateau and aren’t an easy walking distance… but if you ride your bike, you can enjoy Versailles away from the crowds and pretend that you’re a European princess and that all that you see before you is yours.

Or, you know, you can just eat a really good sandwich that you picked up at Boulangerie Julien, located at 60 rue de la Paroisse in Versailles (the town) just off the market square and enjoy the unimpeded view.

Go somewhere

The visitor’s site for Versailles has an interactive map (I’m a sucker for these things) that’s pretty good.

If you have a bike, it’s an easy ride to Versailles from Paris. You can also take a bike on the RER (lock it to the center pole at the end of the car) during off-peak hours and on weekends. There are also bike tour companies that’ll lead you around the area.


Bachelor Food: grilled cheese and tomato soup

This is a combination that I distinctly remember “inventing” when I was a kid and I was disappointed to learn years later that many, many people had grown up having grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup served to them by their mothers. I do think that it’s a Midwesternism though, so I’m going to expand the definition of my invention to include that it’s part of the hive mind and leave it at that.

Let's never speak about how ugly this bowl is.

Let’s never speak about how ugly this bowl is.

I was inspired to reprise this classic childhood treat after finding single-serving containers of tomato soup sold by some German company in the “weird food” section of one of my local stores and by the pilot episode of FX’s new series, FARGO, where two adult characters have this combo for lunch.

Disregard that Canadian network logo. They aren't in MN or ND.

Disregard that Canadian network logo.

This is where I tell you that despite most of the action in the story, both the show’s and the 1996 film’s upon which it’s loosely spun off, taking place in Minnesota, Fargo is actually a town in North Dakota. Being an ex-Midwesterner, this kind of flagrant disregard for our state boundaries and identities pisses me off. Now everyone who watches the show is going to have an even worse idea of where things are located in that vast area that’s alternately tundra and arable land and where people do talk with weird accents, albeit not all the same one.

It’s on the eastern border with Minnesota.

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The world’s population on the move

Maps + immigrants. One thing I love and one thing I am. It’s a winning combo!

Expat Since Birth – A Life spent "abroad"

In a recent article, Nick Stockton comments on a study published in Science where “a team of geographers (from the Wittgenstein Centre for Demography and Global Human Capital in Vienna) used data snapshots to create a broad analysis of global migrations over 20 years”.

This kind of study is quite hard “because each country has its own methodology for collecting census data”.

We often see demographic mesurements shown in static graphics and tables that hardly give us a clear picture of how people are moving over a certain period of time. These circular migration plots (cfr. Circos, a software frequently used in genetics) allow to observe the flow of migration over a given time.

Where everyone in the world is migratingWhere everyone in the world is migrating

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Spanish commonality

I love when someone else breaks down data into ways I can understand it. If you give me a spreadsheet with a bunch of numbers, I will have no idea how to interpret it, but put that same stuff on a map and suddenly, it comes alive.

Here’s a map of “the most common surnames in Europe” as collected by some person on Reddit.

most-popular-surnames-by-country-europe_0I can’t vouch for the accuracy of the information presented, but it’s kind of fun to think about. I should note that everyone in Spain has two last names, one from each parent, so I’m not sure which one was taken into account here.

As an aside, when people in Barcelona heard where I was from, they invariably remarked that my last name wasn’t characteristic of the area. When I mentioned another family last name, they would respond along the lines of, “THAT’s more like it!” People move away from their home town / region so seldom in Spain that their last name alone often indicates where they come from. As an American, this freaks me the hell out.

Since I’m all about equal-opportunity-insulting and don’t think by any means that only Americans are idiots (I think most people are idiots), here’s a list of the most common spelling mistakes Spaniards make in English according to the people over at Cambridge English. (They run the English certification exams in most of Europe and have collected an impressive amount of data on ESL.)

Wich instead of “which”
Confortable instead of “comfortable”
Becouse instead of “because”
Accomodation instead of “accommodation”
Posible instead of “possible”
Belive instead of “believe”
Diferent instead of “different”
Bycicle instead of “bicycle”
Enviroment instead of “environment”
Beatiful instead of “beautiful”
Recomend instead of “recommend”
Begining instead of “beginning”
Responsability instead of “responsibility”
Demostration instead of “demonstration”
Recived instead of “received”
Oportunity instead of “opportunity”
Advertisment instead of “advertisement”
Until spelled correctly but regularly misused
Ruber instead of “rubber” (US: eraser)
Bussiness instead of “business”

As you’ll notice, a lot of the mistakes are from double-lettering, something that isn’t common in Spanish. In fact, I’m pretty sure the only correct doublings are “ll” and “rr.” (This excludes loan-words.) Other things  which trip them up are French-based words (always tricky) and words with difficult-for-them letter combinations like the “nm” in “environment.” This last thing is something that always confounded me since Spaniards are used to pronouncing every letter in a word and yet, in English, they often omit whole syllables or add letters where they don’t exist.

The article from which this info came notes that Spaniards have come up with 237 different ways to spell “because.” This is genuinely shocking to me. I don’t think that even if I tried for a week I’d come up with 100 different ways, but the Spanish are a special lot of individuals. (Especial is the colloquial way Spaniards express that someone is “difficult,” “touched in the head” or “generally impossible.”)


I like New York in the fall

Midwestern high school football weather is my favorite time of the year. It’s when the days are sunny and warm enough for jeans and a t-shirt, but the evenings require a jacket (and if you’re me, a hat and scarf and gloves). You can still feel the sun heat your skin but at night, you might see your breath.

I haven’t actually been in the Midwest since 2001, so I had to make do with New York in November this year. It was a touch too cold (and windy, which the Midwest usually isn’t — flat land and land-locked means nowhere for the wind to come from), but the colors were pretty and almost New England-y (which does leaves better than anyplace else).

Learn something before the weekend

New England is made up of, from north to south with a westerly heading: Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut. In many respects, sports fandom in particular, they function as one state of mind, so it’s not that surprising that Ben Franklin made them the (collective) head of his famous woodcut “Join, or Die.”