Category Archives: France

And I talk politics with my French pen pal

Even as I tear my hair out with my ex brother in law I’ve got other political discussions started in one case with a new pen pal of sorts in France. S is attempting to improve her English while I work on my French. She’s quite competent with English but I wonder if, like me, she sees what she has just written and it looks funny to her as my French looks to me. I know I’m getting the correct words out but what I see is not a language that jumps into my eyes and brain fully formed. I have to think it out like a small child with his first book. And speaking French…. Don’t get me started! I heard a more knowledgeable person explain that learning French is like learning two languages the written and the spoken. I agree.

At any rate, S who thinks her fellow French citizens are soft and demanding compared to the Germans who just do what has to be done, was explaining how her President Macron has created a new political party. After reading my piece in the Reader she suggested that America needs a third party.

Here’s what I wrote back to her in French (which was greatly aided with the use of a google translator)

Aux États-Unis, des tiers se matérialisent tous les dix ou deux ans. J’ai voté pour le membre du Congrès John Anderson en 1980 au lieu de Jimmy Carter ou Ronald Reagan, mais il est difficile pour eux de gagner.

And what does it mean? Using the translator to turn it back into English this is what I wrote to S.:

In the United States, third parties materialize every ten or two years. I voted for Congressman John Anderson in 1980 instead of Jimmy Carter or Ronald Reagan, but it is difficult for them to win. (That awkward “every ten or two years,” is the work of a translator dealing with my faulty French.

Then I added in English to challenge her English reading skills:

“Maybe my preference was only possible in the Cold War. Back then there were only 2 parties with soft support. Half of America was in the Middle and could swing either way. That meant that both parties pitched their appeals to the center not to their extremes. Now there is almost no middle ground and both parties have to keep their extremists happy.”

Duolingo and learning lingo at an advanced age

I just spent some time reading a discussion site on my Duolingo ap. One person about my age had expressed frustration with how slow going it was to learn French at 67. She asked if there were other older learners who could give her tips. I just had to add my two cents. For anyone contemplating such an activity this is what I told Dranke (probably not her real name)

Good luck Dranke,

We are the same age and I started from scratch learning French on Duolingo 16 months ago just before my 67th birthday. I’ve had two streaks – 194 days when I quit because I had just begun a month long tour of France. 30 days later I started a 208 and continuing streak. I’ll have more to say after I share this link from yesterday’s New York Times about the limits of online language learning from someone who just passed a 500 day streak:

I don’t know if that will be an active link when I push post but if not just copy it and paste it into your browser.

The story is spot on but more dismissive of learning Duolingo than I am. I am not someone who simply redoes easy lessons to add points or win lingots or worry about owls. Everyday I try to cram new information in my head. I have put close to 2 hours a day memorizing… the article says….the vocabulary and the grammar. Nine months didn’t come close to preparing me for speaking in France. Neither has the subsequent seven months. But I am improving. I have started listening to cartoons in French, Peppa the Pig and Zazou the Zebra. Movies are too hard to follow so far.

I’ve considered similar immersion programs in Quebec. I’ve also considered spending a month in a rural part of France where there will be fewer English speaking residents to hamper my practice. Continue reading

Notre Dame Cathedral fire

a friend just texted me telling me that she hoped I visited Notre Dame Cathedral when I visited france because it was on fire. My reply is unprintable. What a tragedy!

I have fond memories of my September in France and I took a lot of pictures of and in Notre Dame. Here’s what I posted to my Flickr Page:

I am still working on learning French. I’d already spent two hours on the language today before hearning about the damage to this national treasure.

I will add that one of the marvelous cathedrals we visited was in Ruoen. This is what it looked like after the Normandy Invasion:

Going to bed with Peppa

Last night for the second time I risked my cell phone’s melatonin messing blue light to watch little snatches of the cartoon Peppa the Pig in French. Between the cartoon’s pictures, its elementary vocabulary and my fifteen months of study it almost seems like I could understand the language if I could only squint my brain enough.

A year ago I wrote a column about my intent to learn a second language in the Reader in a column titled “Pardon Mon French.” That was after three months of studying. Now I’ve got a year and three months under my belt…..except for the month of September last year. That’s when I was actually traveling through France and didn’t have time to keep practicing if I wanted to see the countryside. I had nine months of French practice under my belt and I was hopeless.

To my surprise I resumed my study within days of returning and have added another six months of study. I don’t have any expectation of spending a lot of time with French speaking people but that could change if I actually begin to find myself understanding and speaking it. The US State Department lists French as one of the three easiest languages to learn. The State Department says it takes about 480 hours to become conversant.I presume their preferred teaching methods are a lot more intensive than my home study without other speakers to guide me personally. I am probably beyond that level of time spent but comprehension still eludes me. I take heart in the experience of a polyglot who gave a TED talk type presentation before other polyglots. Polyglot = multi-lingual.

This young lady spoke about six languages. Her presentation followed a year of visiting other polyglots and asking them about their method of learning. She found, as I would have expected, that no two multi-lingual speakers study in exactly the same way. I found their stories very hopeful. All were in their twenties when they began throwing themselves into languages. The speaker had a very useful motivational quote. “The best time to learn a language” she explained “is when you are young.” She added, “The second best time is now.”

This speaker claimed to have spent roughly an hour a day learning new languages. She explained that polyglots generally had a little corner with all their teaching/learning tools, books dictionaries, etc that they cuddled up with. Here’s mine: Continue reading

The Holidays with Eugène Delacroix

My eight loyal readers know that in the Holiday season of the late fall I put jigsaw puzzles together. When I go on trips I look for interesting puzzles to bring back to remember our travels. In the case of China last year I never found one in China so I ordered one through Amazon instead.

The first puzzle I started this year was purchased in the Louvre Museum in Paris. Because I’ve started getting puzzles from family for Christmas I’ll probably get three or four done by New Years. I prefer them to new neck ties.

Delacroix was a historical painter and a major obsession of his was to glorify the Republic of France. Here’s a picture I took of this famous painting while I was at the Louvre:

And here’s another of the entire setting for the painting. The Louvre is palatial because it was the residence, castle, for the King of France before an even grander palace was constructed at Versailles.

There was a long passage in the The Greater Journey about Samuel FB Morse who along with other great American painters traveled to France in the early decades of the 1800’s to learn how to paint from the French masters. We in America know him better for developing an idea he picked up in France – his invention of a working telegraph. That made him a millionaire or its 18th century equivalent but his original desire was to become a great “history” painter.

Before photography such painters were the great teachers of history to the common folk.

An uncomman man has just aquired such a painting for the White House. It is even more preposterous than the idea of a lady liberty urging the revolutionaries on and a little more mundane… those paintings of dogs playing poker. What do you think of it?

You could buy a print for $75.00. As for me I prefer the one the artist painted with Barack Obama.

The long game of Harry Welty – Watch out Federalist Society

I know such a peculiar picture may seem an odd way of following such a heady blog headline but sometimes life is absurd.

The Congress of the United States just bent over backwards NOT to find out if an attempted rapist was about to be placed on the near sacrosanct United States Supreme Court. My owl and Nappy don’t even begin to compare.

The – at this moment – imminent bare minimum vote of approval for the aggressive dick is about to take place. So let me tell you about what I brought back from France.

To grace my office I bought a couple small items of memorabilia. First, an eyeglass holder from Dijon France whose symbol is a lucky little owl that is half worn away from centuries of people rubbing it for good luck. Second, a shot glass with the iconic image of Napoleon on it which I will use to hold toothpicks. I acquired this at his shrine and burial site at Paris’s Museum of the Armee. My wife and I are not big shoppers but we bought some fun items a few of which we share with our family (meaning mostly our two grandsons)

My acquisitions are book heavy with at least four for me. One is a deliciously smart and brief life of Napoleon. Its the third book I recall reading about the little dictator. Another is about the archaeology of digging up World War 1 battlefield sites. Two more are in French to help me with my french language studies should I decide to persevere. One of these is french translations of Calvin and Hobbes cartoons and the other is one of my grandson’s favorite Wimpy Kid books translated into French.

By the way, my attempts to use French were few and semi-futile. My greatest achievement came in the last few minutes of France when our taxi drive asked us which gate in the terminal two we would be flying out of. We had told him AY (2-A) which is how the French pronounce the letter E. I quickly corrected this to a as in at so we didn’t get taken to the wrong gate. I need another year of study to overcome the many English speaking service workers who found it much easier to use their Anglais than deciphering my mangled French. If I do continue studying I’ll probably replace the two hour daily sessions for 45 minutes a day. I have other priorities which the continuing discord in America has intensified but which my year’s study of France has helped given nuance.

I need to be more patient like the Republican Party, the Koch Brothers and the Federalist Society all of which have just gotten gotten their way. (Remember the old maxim “When the gods wish to punish us they grant us our prayers.” Undoing this by revolution will only do more damage in my estimation. That’s the moderate in me…..the moderate ridiculed and purged by the amoral ne’re-do-wells who have taken over the GOP.

I hope that my contribution to the battle will be some longer form writing than my short pithy blog posts. It remains to be seen if anything I write will be worthy of note or noticed. Wish me well but don’t turn your back on my blog just yet. It may have a few more surprises left in it. I fudged for the past month by reposting my Facebook entries but I hope these did not too badly disappoint my “eight loyal readers.” My heart is still in a good place……..And by the way. The Good Place is a superlative hoot. Watch it……from the beginning on Netflix. Its about one of my favorite ideas – redemption.

Trente – Day thirty

I write this from Charlotte, North Carolina. The reservoir and river below us looked swollen with the non existant consequences of Global warming’s over heated atmosphere. (I can go back to political sniping now that my writing will be gravitating back to the blog.) When I was going through the TSA to be checked out before entering the airport for our 7 hour wait to catch a flight to Minneapolis I got another reminder of home. Billy Grahm’s six foot tall visage clutching his dog-eared Bible advertised his library as the city’s number one tourist attraction. My first thought was his Trump loving son Franklin. Sweet Jesus!

We took a cab to Charles DeGaulle Airport early this morning. The Eiffel Tower had gone dark. My plan was to begin reading the compact bio of Napoleon by Paul Johnson on the plane. I bought at his tomb in the French Armee Museum. Its excellent.

I will no longer have France to distract me from America’s politics. Thank you France for the brief reprieve.

I have five hours to upload the pics for the 28th and 29th days of our travels before heading to Minnesota. Am I glad to be back? You betcha.

Vingt-neuf, Day twenty-nine

From Facebook:

Today was our last day and night in Paris and in France. We are packed with a cab ordered to pick us up tomorrow at 7am.

Today we downed coffee in our hotel’s grotto. Walked to the metro. Took a subway to The train station at Montparnase. Hopped a train to Chartres. Had a fine lunch. Explored yet another of Europe’s great cathedrals. Took the train back to Paris. I have, of course, included the pictures.

When we walked back to our hotel we debated walking ten more minutes to see the Eiffel Tower’s light show or having one last meal at a sidewalk cafe. The tower made the decision for us. The light show sparkled as we left the metro. Then it stopped. That allowed us our first evening sidewalk meal. And the day’s chill gave way to a very nice evening. Our meal was great.

Au revoir Paree. We are going back to the farm.

Pics to come:

Vingt-huit, Day 28

From Facebook:

We are just about sight-seed-out. After getting in line for a trip to the Eiffel Tower’s 2’nd etage we learned that the sky was the limit. On a cool, blustery day we went to the top enduring lines that make Disneyland seem like…well…Disneyland. I hugged Claudia close pretending to keep her warm. I was soooo cold.

Four hours later we were back on the ground out of the worst of the wind. We A had time for the Rodin Museum that was closed yesterday. Maybe a few of you got my preview of Rodin’s interactive exhibits.

And some picks….. Continue reading

Vingt-sept, Day twenty-seven

The pity of American politics has dogged us through the cathedrals, walled cities, vineyards and battlegrounds of France. A good look at France has helped me put our two nations in perspective and given me much to think about.

I look forward to our return home where my family and civic responsibilities remain. Absence does make the heart grow fonder. My grandfather was gone for better than a year and almost didn’t make it back. Talk about a contrast. You can see it from my my month’s worth of pictures. I didn’t have a lot to say about them in Facebook today.

From Facebook:

More eye candy. A book signing across from our hotel by the former French President, subway selfie, acceptance of a marriage proposal, Moulin Rouge and a dozen pics from an afternoon riding a sight seeing bus. Continue reading

Vingt-six, Day twenty-six

From Facebook:

Today started with a centennial. My grandfather’s triple wounding. He fought on so tomorrow will be the anniversary of his being sent back to get patched up. When the rumor of his death got back to his unit no one was surprised. I am in Paris today living proof of the rumor’s inaccuracy. The day has ended with eye candy.

After packing up I snapped a pic of the most humble window view of our trip. Even so, it’s very fetching. I also took a pic for our insurer of the wound someone inflicted on our Citroen two weeks ago in a St. Malo parking lot.Today would be a reckoning as we were dropping it off at Charles De Gaulle airport.

I wasn’t planning to take a lot of pictures today as we were in Paris for a second go around….but Paris has so much eye candy starting with the bistros outside our hotel. I snapped this while devouring a boeuf salad.

Then on our walk to the Seine, starting with the rabbits trimming the grass at the Army Museum, I couldn’t put my camera down. I shot grand statues including one of Lafayette paid for by American school children. But the best eye candy came on the gilded bridge crossing the Seine. We passed a dozen brides and grooms-to-be having professionals take their photos. The last couple I passed paused to pose for me with gracious good humor.

Claudia and I confessed to each other a few days back that a full month was proving to be a little long. Fortunately, France has enough charms to salve our tired feet. We will miss out on one of those sights. We failed to pre-order tickets to visit the top of the Eiffel Tower. I told Claudia that this obligates us to come back. She didn’t disagree. But until then we have other sights to see over the next four days.

A few of the pics: Continue reading


From Facebook:

Near the end of a full day driving the Meuse Argonne battlefield I walked among some of the 14,000 graves in the largest American cemetary in France. I had been calling out the names of the dead and the dates of death on the headstones when I stopped one last time and asked Claudia to take my picture. After she honored my request she said, “that date is exactly 100 years ago today.”

That headstone is the first image in today’s photo collection. The second is the poppy she pointed out to me as we entered Fort Douaumont. Until our visit I didn’t fully understand the importance of Verdun. For the past five days we have been traveling through Germany (enemy territory) circa 1914. Despite mentioning Alsace’s changing hands so often I didn’t think of it being foreign until today. The French built a massive multi-fort complex right on their German border for protection. The Germans owned both banks of the Rhine and had no need to ford a wide river to invade France. Douaumont was a massive and heavily armed menace. When it fell to the Germans the French did what the Germans hoped they would do. They bled themselves white in an attempt to recover the fort. Retaking it cost France 400,000 soldiers. It took millions of tons of ordnance to win it back and left it with a new German nickname, “Sarge deckle” or “The coffin lid.”

All across the trenches the land still looks like ski hill moguls where it was made lumpy from heavy shells. Time has only softened them while water flowing in Duouamont’s ruins had for the last 103 years had left stalagtite straws hanging from the ceiling. As you can see, its not only humans who enter its chambers.

At the massive ossuary next door hundreds of thousand of German and French bones are commingled together. You can see them through small windows in the back. No cameras were allowed in the memorial hall above. We quietly walked its length and Claudia lit candles and placed them with others in memory of the fallen. Cameras were allowed in the tower where I took a picture of the place where the fort had once towered over the landscape.

We had time for one last objective, traveling the width of America’s sector in the Meuse Argonne, that cost 26,000 American lives, and paying our respects at the American cemetary at Romagne. 14,000 men and women are buried there including black American soldiers who in death were finally accorded equality.

On the way there we stopped at Montfaucon where Congress paid for a fitting memorial honoring our role in the war. There are others but this one towers over the heights where Germans rained death on the doughboys. A ruined church lies at its feet and the climb to the top takes some work. From the bottom the memorial’s staircase is hypnotic.

I was heartened at our last stop to see that African American soldiers were given their due in the visitor’s center. It was formerly built to accomodate the mothers and families of American soldiers who crossed the ocean at government expense to visit their son’s graves. A picture of Henry Johnson was prominent. He was a black soldier from my grandfather’s regiment. And a video history made it plain that black Americans were forced to find American soldiers remains long after the battles so that they coud be collected together in proper cemeteries. It was gruesome work.

To return to our hotel we traveled through the fabled Argonne Forest where more Americans lost their lives. I snapped a picture there too.

some of the pics: Continue reading

Vingt-trois – Day 23

From Facebook:

The 26 pics I’ve included may bore the pants off of my readers. They show the quiet countryside of a sleepy part of France. Sechault, my destination, is nothing to write home about. But these farms would have looked very familiar to my grandfather raised on a Kansas farm who got a college education in Parkville, Missouri, where the student did hard labor on area farms for their education. Only at the front was it hell paved over with corpses and blood.

I took pics of the signs to match against better maps later. Much of the landscape is just yards off the path the 369th infantry took north beginning September 26 until they were relieved in early October with about half their men dead or wounded.

In Sechault George Robb lasted a day and a half with three wounds before he was ordered to the rear on Sept 30th. He had spent the days before fending off machine gun emplacements at the north of town which shot anyone moving in the streets. When forced to retreat the Germans set up shop in forested hillsides north of the village to wreak more havoc on the allies trying to take the forests.

We discovered a German military cemetary a short walk outside of Sechault. It had nearly 7000 graves. Of the 4000 known casualties about 30 were Jewish. When the nazis took France they left these graves alone. There are hundreds more German cemeteries like this as well as for others nationalities along the hundreds of miles of trenches. Its fitting that in the poisoned landscape the French have set aside military reserves. Military vehicles drove by constantly and helicopters shadowed us everywhere.

Claudia spotted a fox hunting mice in a field next to the cemetary and we stopped to take a group pic of some bovine neighbors as we left . Roosters and cows serenaded us all the time we were in Sechault.

We ate lunch in Vouziers in former German occupied France then spent an hour searching for a gas station that would accept our credit cards. We found a tasty way to settle down after we got back to our hotel.

A few (not all 26 pics) pics: Continue reading

Vingt-deux, Day Twenty-two

From Facebook:

We drove for 3 hours to Verdun, the epicenter of death for French soldiers in 1915. The city was rebuilt following the war having literally been bombed to smithereens. The Meuse River courses north to meet the Rhine and we watched as some able and not so able rowers propelled sculls below us on a bridge spanning it. While picking up some maps at the TI (tourisme information) I saw the French language version of a recent graphic novel treatment of my grandfather’s 369th Infantry.

Hearing that there were underground tours of the massive bunker built under the city I insisted that we give it a look. We tagged along with a gaggle of unserious and boisterous sixteen-year-old school kids. The tour by electric shuttle was all in French and chilly ad you would expect of things subterranean.

At its modest museum I took some pictures of posters used to stir French patriotism early in the war and after its devastation. I loved the coq glaring at a shrinking German soldier. I found the ethereal post war treatment of Verdun’s war memorial interesting to compare with what we climbed today. Also compare the standard sculptural treatment of Napoleon’s General Rapp with post impressionism’s metaphoric treatment of the horrors of war. I took a pic of the former at Colmar before we left yesterday.

Also note the French lebel rifle like the one issued to my grandfather. He never forgave the French for taking away his American issued Enfield.

Finally at the monument’s summit I took a picture of the countryside over the town’s rooftops. Its beautiful today but below ground it contains arsenic and heavy metals from years of shelling with poison gas and other ordnance. That’s what the land looked like before war. I was mesmerized by the terrain as we drove towards the front yesterday.

A few of the pics: Continue reading

Vingt-un – Day twenty-one

From Facebook:

Yesterday I would have made my father proud. I drove a few miles away to cross the Rhine to be in another country – Germany. Other than the language little more than east and west distinguishes the opposite banks. Both are well farmed, manicured and tidy.

My chief objective was in France however. I wanted to find Kutzenhausen where the Seanors emigrated from. Charlotte Seanor was my mother’s beloved grandmother. Seanors were German although I have no idea which nation ruled over them when they immigrated to America. I wonder if my Grandfather gave that much thought when he sat in the trenches a hundred miles further west.

We stopped in Haguenau first before all French restaurants took their traditional 2 to 4 PM siesta. I had Claudia snap a pic of me to text to our grandsons to make them jealous.

Although we did not find a traffic sign I did find evidence on a municipal van of the village’s existence. By chance I had caught the village in a picture over the backs of two black horses when I stopped to record the countryside. Once in town I was greeted by a reception committee of one small cat.

Having accomplished these missions we turned back to Colmar driving past Alsace’s wine roads. Heading into town we passed the tribute to local-boy-made-good, Frederick Bartholdi, in a reproduction you might recognize. Duluth has a smaller version too; a gift from an heir to the great man. I had Claudia pose for a pic too in the spiral staircase of our vintage hotel. Vintage 1361. We have climbed a lot of them over the past 3 weeks.

Pics: Continue reading

The America that Bret Kavanaugh helped make..

…elected Donald Trump.

At the moment it is 4:30 am in France. I am only miles away from where another man – who was helping to make the America that really is great – fought and was awarded the nation’s highest military honor. My eight loyal readers know him as my grandfather – George Robb.

Whether I fall asleep again or not tomorrow – today- I will walk over some of the ground he trod as his friends and fellow soldiers were being blown to dust and blood all around him. And I can’t sleep because I woke up thinking about that smarmy little skunk Bret (pay no attention to that frat rat rapist in the closet) Kavanaugh is invading my pilgrimage to remind me what’s at stake back in the land my Grandfather helped make!

Well, I have a lot to say on that account but having mostly bit my tongue about Trump World to write about my pilgrimage I had to go find a quiet place in my latest hotel room to get that off my chest. I am going to try to get a little more shut eye before walking the path of heroes who’s blood once soaked into this land.

Vingt – Day Twenty

From Facebook:

We drove into Alsace today home to sauerkraut, reisling wine, some of my German fighting Grandfarher’s ancestors. It was a centuries long prize coveted by two nations on either side of the Rhine. The French thought the river made a good border. The Germans thought the Vosages mountains twenty miles into today’s France was better. We passed between both heading into Colmar. It was once the home of wealthy traders garbed like the gentleman I snapped a picture of in a cafe spangled with dangling Pinochio marionettes. I ordered a meat pie. Today the timber beamed homes are the best evidence of the days when Colmar was granted protection by the Holy Roman Emperor.

Later, when Catholics and protestants were busy killing one another, religious art was hidden from destruction. Now much of this art rests in a world class museum we visited. Some of the art was as horrific as the time it was painted. The museum also displays modern art even more horrible. My shoes squeaked terribly as I walked through a quiet gallery with giant dreary artwork hung on its walls. I rather enjoyed that.

Tanners once prudently built a canal through town to flush out the chemicals they tanned hides with. Glad I didn’t live downstream. They are long gone and the canal is now called “Little Venice.”

Pics: Continue reading

Dix-Neuf -Nineteen

From Facebook:

Guided tours of the vineyards begin in Darcy Park near our Dijon hotel. For some reason ye olde English telephone booth is the point of departure. Today we got a royal tour to match the monarch’s crown on the red box.

We were eight. Canadians, Ausies, English, Irish and Americans. Claudia sensibly insisted on a tour if I intended to sample so, free of a steering wheel, I took lots of pics along the way of the countryside. We tippled before Beaune and after. Six wines at each vineyard. No purchases for us. Too pricey but some sips were of grand crus. The wine growers have long been a feisty lot and looked out for their self interests. They have enforced lots of rules that make explaining their manufacture and labeling head turning. I was content to sample.

Beaune (pronounced bone) is a walled city with a historic hospital at its center. We took a tour. A rich merchant built it to atone for his sins and for five hundred years the sick and dying were given tender care inside its walls. I took pictures but was particularly taken with a scene of sinners on its walls (perhaps not unlike the hospital’s founder) tumbling into hell. The hospital may have been his ticket to salvation.
By the way, the hectare and a half of grapevines behind Claudia and me produces the most expensive wine in the world at about $6,000 per bottle. CORRECTION, CLAUDIA SAYS IT WAS $12,OOO TO $21,000 PER BOTTLE. We were not permitted in among the vines and I don’t blame the owners – not at $10.00 [ make that a $25 dollar grape ] per grape. Vive la France! Oh, and the rooster is the symbol for France. The plumed fellow that completes this post is on the Post Office building opposite our hotel.ics

Pics: Continue reading