Christmas lights in France

I was in France this past Christmas, and I didn’t get enough pictures. This one is from the Galeries Lafayette in Paris. Their theme was “Noel Monstre” and I think you can see monster eyes all over the tree.

Here’s a video of the tree lighting:

Outside the Grand Epicerie of Paris were my favorite lights. (As if the bleu d’auvergne they have inside weren’t enough to make me a lifelong fan).

My church (La Madeleine) was dressed up with neon lights. It looked like a nightclub with all the strobe lights.

Not only colorful lights, but color-changing colorful lights.

The view from the entrance of La Madeleine is not bad either.

Here’s an obligatory picture of the tree in front of Notre Dame.

There was a strange bubble under the Eiffel tower, which housed a few trees.

It seemed most town centers had their unique set of lighted Christmas decorations. They weren’t all the generic strands of white lights looped around trees and lampposts. These were in Dijon’s town center:

There were German style Christmas markets but with an unusual twist. In France, there are rides. Sometimes just kiddie rides like merry-go-rounds, but in Dijon, there was a Ferris wheel.

There was a light show on the face of city hall. This part turned it into a gingerbread house.

And, as a bonus, here’s the little tree I got to help decorate at my boyfriend’s father’s house. Isn’t it sweet?

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Notes from a writing workshop

February 4, 2015

Not so much a writing workshop so far, but rather, a listening to other people talk about other people’s work… shop. Horrifying. Maybe I should try an online writing group… thing. I just don’t care about anyone’s opinions though. Maybe it’s time to go home, bury myself in Tumblr and blankets and write Holmescest.

There’s a man with a nasal-ey voice who has taken half the speaking time. Another man who shuffles his papers. A woman obsessed with getting published, insistent on reading one of her original poems to us. A black woman named “Edisa” who hasn’t learned about her indoor voice yet. And who is a little too fond of bright pink (she’s wearing 3 slightly different shades of it in her outfit). She commanded me to shut the door, but ignored me when I asked why.

The second man, loud shuffler. He’s chewing gum in an almost obscene way. He doesn’t seem to have top teeth so his jaw goes further into his head than it should. Up up up, whoa. His jaw crushed halfway into his face.

The obsessed-with-getting-published lady has left. Because she isn’t going to get to read her poetry out loud. She gathered her handful of short library pencils, her two grocery bags full of other bags and her grimy Timbuk2 messenger bag and left. She had fuzzy pilling on the back of her camel colored probably Old Navy peacoat. It made me determined to keep my coats well-shaven.

Black lady talking again. Sharing about herself: “I love to laugh, but it has to be funny.” I know more about her than I care to. She doesn’t know what “mod” means. She thinks “Pavlov” is a reference to uncontrollable desire, she doesn’t see how a narrator could possibly refer to characters as “the lady” or “the gentleman” unless the setting is Victorian England.

The nasal man writes like a poet but hates poetry.

Highlight of the evening: an Asian man told us that the last time he left the class, a shady stranger told him Market street was blocked because “there’s a suitcase full of body parts.” His was the only story I wanted to hear, and the only one we spent too little time on.

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Elephant Sushi Golden Gate

(Photo taken elsewhere… in the Mission)

Recommended: yes

A place that’s only open from 10am-2pm W-F has to be special. Elephant Sushi is tiny and easy to pass on the street. Though it’s in the iffy part between the Tenderloin and Civic Center, it feels far from that inside. Almost across the Pacific far. Inside, it’s calm and the staff is friendly — cheerfully answering questions about what to order. For me, the choice was obvious. The spicy trio:

I had been eating de-frosted cod for the week prior to this experience, so the buttery texture of the spicy scallop was heaven — melt-in-your-mouth goodness. Everything in the trio (salmon, scallop, and tuna) was very fresh. Hiding under the fish is just enough rice to be filling, but not enough to bring on food coma.

My boyfriend chose Bowl #2 with salmon, snow crab, walu butter fish, and avocado. Yes, it’s real crab.

Compared with my bowl, I found his a bit dull. The butter fish doesn’t have much flavor, nor does the snow crab. Perhaps I should’ve added soy sauce and/or wasabi. They also make their own pickled ginger in-house: it tasted closer to ginger and was thicker than the rose pink ribbons of it that are standard elsewhere.

The bowls are $12 each, and miso is an extra $3. Not bad for sashimi!

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Cigarette Cards: Flags

I’ve recently acquired a lot of cigarette cards, many from the early 20th century. I don’t know much about them, just that they’re great marketing. This would be my biggest incentive for taking up a habit like smoking, anyway. I’ll try to post once a week to share the collection. Today, the flags:

The really neat thing is that the backs have explanations. In particular, check out the description of France. It’s a synopsis of the relationship between France and Great Britain. As for the “close friendship” between the two nations, I know at least one Frenchman who might disagree.

Both of these first two sets from a series of 50. I sort of want to collect them all. I could almost justify it because they’re educational. Who knew Argentina’s coat of arms featured a red hat on a stick?

This last singleton is from a different tobacco company: Flags of the Empire. I think my entire collection was made for a British audience. This is another surprising thing I never knew. The Nigerian flag once had a Star of David? Was there ever a large Jewish presence there?

 

Until next time!

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Kingsman: The Secret Service

A few disclaimers. I don’t like action movies: usually they bore me because I already know the outcome and I can’t tell what’s going on in the endless fight scenes anyway. I don’t like comic book movies. I can’t stand gratuitous violence in movies (e.g. anything directed by Quentin Tarantino). That being said, this is one of my top 5 movies of all time. Now that I’ve thoroughly contradicted myself, I’ll try to explain.

Let’s start with the flawless trailer:

For most movies, the trailer contains everything that’s worth watching. Not the case here. I wasn’t bored for a single second of the 129 minute run time. The movie didn’t try to cram a badly scripted romance in. It didn’t take itself too seriously: there were little inside jokes about spy and action hero movies. Mostly, it was a thrill. Watching Colin Firth kick ass. The spectacular fireworks scene. The police chase where Eggsy drives backwards. Like a Bond movie, but hilarious and better. They even one-upped Google Glass with unassuming horn-rimmed old man spectacles. (Which, incidentally, are much more attractive).

My one issue with the movie: I don’t think the last in the entrance exam for Kingsman was right. I agree with Eggsy’s choice — it should’ve been the right answer. Sometimes you have to defy a direct order from a superior because you know what they’re asking you to do is wrong. I would think Kingsman would value having that internal compass more than blind obedience to a (corruptible) superior.

All in all, it was good enough to watch again. In theaters.

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Christmas feasts in France

Like Americans, the French have a tradition of enjoying an elaborate family meal for Christmas. Unlike Americans, they have a similar tradition for New Years Eve, but with friends. (We skip straight to the drinky drinky).

I’ll take you through one meal that lasted about 5 hours on Christmas eve. I didn’t get a picture of the appetizers — different toppings like tzatziki, pate, chorizo and smoked salmon on tiny toast. The first course was foie gras with homemade onion preserves:

Then came the savory Christmas log, with smoked salmon and spinach, garnished with beets:

I’m not a fan, myself, but oysters are popular for holiday meals:

Instead of that, I got this cheesy seafood gratin, which was so much better, despite looking like a mystery pot:

A specialty of Burgundy is snails. It’s so popular that they sell them even at places like Casino (which I’m told is about the same as Walmart here). That was our next course.

Did I miss anything? We had something from a frozen food wonderland for dessert. Before Christmas, Picard sends everyone magazines full of food porn. At least 10 different kinds of logs to drool over.

We even had a backup dessert we didn’t get around to eating until the next day.

Alice, the ideal cat, demonstrates exactly how I felt after all this food. Oh, but it was far from over.

Because the next day, we started again, with lunch! Again, I forgot to take pictures of the appetizer. Foie gras on tiny toast. This time our snails were nestled in warm pastry puffs.

Followed by a potato leek soup

With a chilean sea bass and fingerling potatoes as the main course

And, of course, this gorgeous homemade raspberry white chocolate Christmas log for dessert

Topped with English cream and lingonberries!

There were other meals and parties, but my camera must’ve been playing passed out in a food coma. I will leave you with a couple of enviable shots of a cheese box though. For those of you that aren’t familiar — many French people have a “cheese or yogurt” course during both lunch and dinner, so they always have about 4 different kinds of cheese in a box (or on a plate, or in a basket) and a few flavors of yogurt cups.

Lets get a closeup of the extra drooly one that I’m told was “déclassé” due to its runaway mold problem.

All right! Now doesn’t everyone want to visit France for the holidays?

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Velib in Paris

Velib (a bike rental service) is my favorite way of getting around Paris. You see so much more than by metro, and as a bonus there’s much less contact with the bodily fluids of others. It’s faster than walking, but I guess entering and re-entering a code and pin can get pretty annoying. Here’s how to get around that.

1. Show up at any city hall in Paris and ask for a “Velib Express” card. They’re free.

2. You can sit in the lobby of city hall and use their free wifi to access the Velib website (instructions on the back of the card) to subscribe to the service. Here are the prices:

  • 1.70 € for 1 day
  • 8 € for 7 days
  • 29 € for 1 year*

3. Visit any Velib bike station. There’s an app that shows you where they are, but usually you’ll find them near any metro station. Enter your information into the screen just the first time (to activate your card) and then you’re good to go! In the future you can just use your card to check out bikes by placing your card against the locking mechanism pictured here:

Now, time for a funny story. You are perhaps concerned that you’re not the best biker, and Paris is too busy and scary of a city. Believe me, you couldn’t be a worse biker than me. I never took the training wheels off my first pink bike with streamers at the handles. I didn’t see the need. The first time I tried biking in Paris, we had to stop at a red light and as I was wobbling to a halt, I crashed into a police riot van. With actual police officers in it. I took off again a moment later and saw the police officers staring out to window trying to see who was attacking. I gave them by best sheepish-sorry look and said sorry (yes, in English). The officers looked 2/3′s confused and 1/3 amused. Luckily, it was France. If it were America, I would probably have been shot for ramming a police vehicle.

* Important note: when I was sitting at city hall trying this, the 1 year option was only available on the French version of the website. If you choose English, it disappears. So pretend to be French, I guess!

 

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When to let go

I think a common problem of a beginner investor is that they hold on to a stock or fund when the value drops and keep holding on, thinking “well, the value will never get down to $0, so if I just wait I could at least make back my initial investment.”

I’m still trying to figure out a reasonable amount of time to wait before dumping a stock. I can only offer help in convincing yourself to let go. Instead of thinking that you’ll make the money back someday, maybe, think of the opportunity cost. Maybe you can make the money back, but you’ll just have to trade for something that will move (in the right direction). Your investment in that one fund that’s been languishing at around -10% for two years? Well, if you had moved that money last year to another more promising one that shot up 21% during that time, you’d've even made a profit!

So, beginner tip #1: don’t be wedded to the idea of getting your initial investment back out of each purchase.

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In defense of harsher sentencing for crack

(versus powder cocaine)

It isn’t the least bit about race. Crack cocaine dealers have the same access to information about mandatory minimum sentences as anyone else, and if they choose to pursue a life of drug dealing, they can just as well switch to dealing powder cocaine. If a disproportionate number of blacks happen to continue choosing to deal one over the other, we’ll have to conclude either ignorance or stupidity.

Here’s why longer sentences for crack dealers is good: they deal in public. On street corners. Probably on the corner of a street where I used to live. One day I actually exited my building to see a body — someone who had been shot in the head on the (suspected) drug corner. That could’ve been anyone. In fact, it’s much more likely to be someone completely uninvolved because it’s in public.

I don’t really care if a drug dealer is going to someone’s upper east side apartment to deliver powder cocaine. Or their high rise office building. That’s a private transaction that has no bearing on me, and even if that drug user loses his job, his children probably won’t be the state’s problem. He’s probably not going to rob anyone. All that will happen is that he’ll get to go to an expensive rehab a few times. Not the same as when a highly addictive drug is popular among the poor: that increases everyone’s problems — the taxpayer (in the form of welfare, emergency room fees for the uninsured, food stamps, extra policing), the neighbor (armed robbery, burglaries), and even the random person walking in the street (muggings, gun violence/turf wars).

Mostly, I’m just tired of hearing this differential in sentencing trotted out as an example of racism in the legal system. Even if we ignore every point I just made, it still remains true that there was significant support from black leadership to enact these stricter sentencing laws.

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Ferguson: more irresponsible reporting

I just read the NYT editorial on the Ferguson riots. Without doing their own fact checking, they quoted a “grim report by ProPublica“ which claims that young black men are 21 times more likely to be killed by police than young white men.

That report is grim mostly for its failure to link original sources and its tenuous grasp on basic statistics. Let me attempt to improve on it. Their statement that young black males were 21 times more likely to be killed by police than young white men relies on numbers which they do not cite a specific source for. “Federally collected date on fatal police shootings” is as close as we get. In my own research, I have used the CDC Fatal Injury Reports. From the ProPublica report:

The 1,217 deadly police shootings from 2010 to 2012 captured in the federal data show that blacks, age 15 to 19, were killed at a rate of 31.17 per million, while just 1.47 per million white males in that age range died at the hands of police.

I’ve found a few issues with this statement.

1. According to the CDC data, there have been 1,454 deaths caused by police between 2010 and 2012, not 1,217 (excluding females, the number is 1,402). Additionally, that is the number for all ages, so it seems irrelevant if we’re discussing deaths of those aged 15-19: that number is 81 (79 if we restrict to males).

Screen Shot 2014-11-26 at 12.42.22 AM2. It is unclear from the above statement whether they are comparing all blacks age 15 to 19 to white males of the same age range, or if they’re comparing only males to males. I assume the latter because it makes more sense. In that case, the CDC website shows that blacks were killed at a rate of 6.6 per million, and whites at 1.5 per million.

3. That would make the relative risk 4.4 times as high, not 21.

I’m not sure how they reached the 21x figure, but I attempted to re-create this figure by selecting “homicide and legal intervention” for males age 15-19, but that gave a relative rate of 8.4. Then I tried that again, with males of all ages, and that gave a relative rate of 7. I welcome the authors of the ProPublica report to point me to the original sources from which they derived their relative rate of 21.

Conclusions drawn from this report seem to be unvaryingly of one flavor: we suffer from a problem of racist policing. However, here’s another interesting chart from the CDC data

Screen Shot 2014-11-26 at 12.47.52 AM

It’s the same data, but including males of all ages. Here, the black males seem to face twice the risk of white males of death by cop. But if we glance down a bit further, white males are at about twice the risk of Asian males. If we are to conclude, like the NYT article did, that

“These statistics reflect the fact that many police officers see black men as expendable figures on the urban landscape, not quite human beings”

Then I suppose we’ll have to conclude that police officers also see white men as expendable compared to Asian men. Or that the justice system was set up to benefit Asian men. Asian privilege? But if not, if these conclusions sound absurd, then might there also be room at the other end of the spectrum for more reasonable and less racially divisive conclusions? Any speculation you can give about why Asian men are at lower risk than white men should sound also reasonable when you apply it to whites versus blacks. Try that before saying what’s expected of you.

You could also read the grand jury testimony to get the full picture. Or, if you still believe this is an issue of racial privilege, I dare any white male to punch a police officer, attempt to take his gun, then charge him. I want proof that white privilege would have kept Michael Brown alive or seen to the prosecution of his killer. Show me.

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