Sunday, October 30, 2005


With a friend, on our way out from the restaurant, around midnight, we are walking behind two women, one of them clearly drunk. She is walking barefoot, her shoes in her hand. The other is not completely sober but at least she walks with her shoes on. They are soon met by friends, or at least a couple with whom they are friendly. Just before entering a party at Child Harrold in Dupont Circle, I see the woman stop to put on her shoes. She will not enter the party barefoot. She is probably not as drunk as it seems.

We soon get to my friend's car and she is insisting to driving me back home. We drive for less than half a mile when we come across a procession of costumed men. Some more happy than others. They waive and one of them comes up to the car. I can't find the switch to roll down the window. I hear him yelling "Are you afraid? Open the window!" I smile and when finally the window does get rolled now, I force my French accent as if this will explain everything (maybe it does). "Sorrrrry! I didn't know how to open ze window!" He blows a kiss to both of us and leaves happy. We roll the windows back up and take another road home.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Street artist

I' ve seen her many times. She stands at the corner of the street, asking people for money. This time I am in my car as I see her standing at the entrance of the liquor store. The young guy who comes out with the beer for the party he is heading to, does not have a chance. I can't hear what she says but he stops and hands her some cash immediately. She pretends to walk away, he goes. She is back to the corner in no time. She has her technics down to an art form.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Wrong way

The curve is what got him (somehow, I can't picture a woman doing this). The driver of the grey car who probably decided that he didn't want to enter the parkway after all and instead of entering the parkway and get off at the first opportunity, made a U-turn here and there to drive against traffic toward the road whence it came. I didn't see all this, all I see is a car, stuck at a weird angle on an access road to the parkway. The road is curving in, the car is trying to drive out, getting it all wrong. No car is coming his way, so he may have the time to drive back all the way to the road without provoking an accident.
I'm certainly glad he is not entering the parkway. This man is a danger to everybody on the road.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Old man on 16th Street

I saw him and knew something wasn't right. What could be more normal? This was an old man pushing a baby carrier.
All I know is that I kept looking as I was driving toward him, slowing down to check them both out, the old man and the baby, for a longer time.
When I passed them, I found out, looking in my rear view mirror what was not right.
The baby carrier was filled with a large blanket that seemed wet by the rain. There was no baby and the old man looked tired and sick. Not the happy grandfather pushing his grandson or granddaughter that he could have been. I watched as he stopped to sneeze in a large piece of dirty fabric that he just pulled out.
It was cold outside and he looked so lost.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Line up

On my way driving back from work, probably around 8 PM. It is already dark and I am driving on Columbia Road. There are three police cars with their flashing lights on at the intersection with Georgia Ave. I'm stopped at the red light. I looked casually at the scene and see what I think is a man holding his hands up high in front of one of the police car. It seems that they have lined up a whole bunch of people for what seems a nasty round up. Then I realize my mistake: I'm looking at a painted fence, decorated with a lot of portraits including one that seems to be of a man at his graduation day, throwing his hands in the air. He has a kid nearby. I can't see all the others. In the darkness of the evening and surrounded by the police cars, I mistook the drawings for real people. The left side of the fence is an unfinished sentence on unfinished education...

Saturday, October 15, 2005


A friend is visiting and has asked me to go shopping. He has presents to bring back for his wife and children. I oblige and we're soon find ourselves in shoe stores looking for Nike Impax.
In the first store, the salesperson tells us that these shoes do not exist. My friend checks again in
a short conversation with his son (thanks God for cell phones!) and we are soon on our way to store number two. Same question. The saleswoman turns to a gentleman, about 50, tastefully dressed in suit standing next to the cash register and repeat the question to him. He is obviously the expert. He nods at the question and looks at us. He answers as he walks toward us: "We have just one size left but these are not very good shoes. Nike made them to have some shoes like the "shock" at a lower price." His voice is very calm, soothing almost and he has an accent that I cannot place.
And he launches in the complete marketing strategy and all the different types of shoes made by Nike. I learn about full shocks ("Not good for a kid -- he probably does not need full support") to the high shocks, the low one. He is beaming as he tells us "the Nike shocks are very good quality shoes". He points to us the difference between the shock and the Impax. My friend is undecided. Understandably, he wants to bring back the exact model that his son asked him. The man smiles "Your son is a very nice kid. He is trying to save you money." We all laugh. My friend is not buying the shoes but a basketball jersey , also part of the list of wishes from one other son. He is almost done with the visa transaction when the man comes back to us with a shoe in his hand. It's a new Nike Air. He is explaining to us that Nike put them back on the market to please the part of the population that had grown up with them. I am fascinated by this guy who obviously knows and loves shoes in general and Nike in particular. Here is someone who goes at great length to inform and be informed on Nike. As we were just talking about the difference between France and the US, the temptation is too strong. I turn to my friend to point out that one would not find this kind of professionalism in a shoe vendor in France. They would be making you feel bad while resenting the fact that they are supposed to be at your service and that you're buying shoes that they can't afford.
The mark of serious trouble ahead for France? "The country where shoesalemen resent work". We leave the store. I can't resist asking the gentleman about his accent. He is from Iran. I bow to his professionalism.

Friday, October 14, 2005

The perfect crime

If they were stealing this bike, they were the best thieves I've met. A bunch of guys, in Adams Morgan, trying the get a bike up to the pole to which it had been locked. The bike is nice and its owner has tied it up to a large parking pole. A thin metal pole with some signs at the top. The guys are pushing the bike up trying to get it pass the top of the pole. They've put a guy in equilibrium on a nearby garbage can and he is pulling the bike up while his friends are pushing it up from below.
This is not a fast operation and soon a crowd has gathered around them, taking pictures and watching. If these are thieves, they're the best as nobody will ever suspect them. Brilliant.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Two new cars. One scared driver

An hilarious scene today on my way to work. I'm stopped at a red light at the bottom of the hill on Franklin Street, near Trinity College when I hear screeching breaks of a coming car. I turn around to see a battered white old car coming toward the car stopped on my right. The driver of that car must have heard and seen the same thing as the car move quickly a bit pass the red light to make sure it is not hit by the upcoming car. It's a brand new car with temporary licence plates. Dark red and still shiny. The white car is slowing down and comes to an halt. The driver is a teenage girl. There are 4 other girls in the car and they are all laughing and giggling. The car in front moves just a tiny bit to make sure that there is still a respectable distance between it and the white car. The girls move too. The two cars kept moving but small increment. The driver in the new car in front is clearly scared to death from the car behind. They move together bit by bit until the light turns green and the new car takes off as fast as possible. I see that the white car also have temporary tags. This car is "new" for the teenage driver behing the wheel...

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

One more image from Spain (Spain VII)

When talking to a friend today, I realized that there was one image from Spain that I had forgotten to mention: the workers' uniform.
It had been a very long time since I had seen groups of men going in the streets wearing the famous "bleu de travail". I used to see a lot of them in France but these days my stays in France are too short and restricted to Paris so I usually don't see much. I don't recall having seen people wearing them in the US. Maybe that's also because here I am mostly in a big town or maybe they are not in fashion here: Nothing like a used, torn "bleu de travail" to evoke workers, strikes, socialism and the glory days of labor movements in the 30s.
Maybe it is not surprising that it is not hugely popular here. That uniform marks you as a worker, surely something to be avoided in the country of triumphant capitalism.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

European Union umbrella

The farmer's market that comes here every Saturday. The bread truck is late and we are all waiting for them to show up. A group of about 10 people clutching umbrellas without any convictions as we all are getting wet in the strong rain that is coming down on DC.
I notice that one of the guy waiting has an umbrella with the European Union logo from the time when they were only 15, not 25 or whatever number they are now.
The blue background with the yellow stars dancing (not to say going) in circle.

The bread truck finally arrives and they set up. The guy is now standing under their canopy, his umbrella on his shoulder, pointing at a small angle. He does not notice that water is coming down directly from the roof into the inverted umbrella and directly on his lower back. I can't get my eyes off the water dripping down but for some reason I don't say anything. When he notices what is happening, he is completely drenched. He looks at me as if it were my fault and I can't help feel guilty. Was it the logo on the umbrella that kept me silent?

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Internet connection (Paris II)

After few days of a fruitless search for a free Wi-fi spot in Paris, a friend suggested an hotel so here I am in "Le Meridien" a chic hotel located Porte Maillot, in front of the "Palais des Congres", looking for a place to sit and start working. I go downstairs to the Business Center which turns out to be a small room with two sleek computers screens, a printer and a fax machine. I sit down and realize quickly that I can't connect to their Wi-fi net without a card that needs to be purchased at the hotel desk. The two computer screens show a nice website asking for 8 euros for a 15 minutes connection. A bit steep. I unplug the ethernet cable from one of the machines and plug it in my own laptop. I immediately get connected to a site asking for 9 euros for a two hours connection, the price that the hotel pays before asking almost 10 times that...
I pay with my credit card and start working. Two minutes later, a woman comes in and tells me that this is not allowed. I figure that if I start speaking in French she'll kick me out. My instinct is to play the American tourist that needs an urgent connection home. So I look at her and tell her, in English, that I just paid and all is fine. I'm a bit worried that she'll recognize my French accent but she only seems happy to understand what I say and leaves. I keep working for more than 2 hours, paying another connection when another guy comes in. He looks angry and it looks for a minute than he is going to unplug my computer without saying a word but I react quickly and ask him, still in English, what the hell is he doing. His English is quite bad but he manages to say that my plugging my laptop directly is forbidden. I realize that he thinks that I am not paying anything so this is the first thing I tell him "I just paid with my credit card so I am keeping my connection". I don't tell him that I paid the price that the hotel is paying and not the price that it is charging to the unsuspecting tourists. He seems unconvinced, and keeps telling me that "It is impossible" so I show him the receipt from the transaction I save as a pdf file hoping he won't notice the amount. After some more convincing that the work I needed to do could only be done on my laptop, he seems unhappy but not angry anymore and leaves.
Who would have thought that to be treated well in France, I'd have to speak English?

Monday, October 03, 2005

Eclipse (Paris I)

Stopping over in Paris for a couple of days on my way back to the US. Always good to be back home. In the tram coming back from the dentist, I realize that the partial solar eclipse is going on and that I forgot the special glasses home. I can't resist the temptation to look up. The light goes through some leaves and the small space between them each acts as a pinhole camera, giving an image of the crescent Sun. A magnificent spectacle that I am eager to share with my fellow travelers. No one cares enough to raise their eyes to the light. I can't keep mine off the spectacle. When I arrive at my destination and get off the train, everything is spotty and my eyes hurt. I should know better.