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You Know It Is Vacation When… August 7, 2008

Posted by gordonwatts in life, Marseille.

This is August (I still claim June never happened). In most of Europe, and definitely in France, this is vacation time. Literally – things shut down for a whole month. Restaurants are closed. Even the beaches we hang out at are more empty. The tourist beaches are more full, of course. The halls of the lab here in Marseille are just long stretches of closed doorways.

But you know how I really know it is vacation time? They have stopped filling up the soda machine here. Can you imagine in the USA a Coke or Pepsi machine being allowed to stand empty for 2 or 3 weeks? I think not. But even more telling here in France… the coffee vending machine was broken for four days straight!

Any what am I doing going to the office every day!?


Less Than Two Weeks!?!? August 1, 2008

Posted by gordonwatts in Marseille.

IMG_2438Holy cow. We realized that we will be sleeping in our Marseille bed for less than 14 days! Then we are off to Paris for the last few days and finally back to North America. What happened to the month of June!? Did anyone out there actually experience the month of June!? Yeah — I didn’t think so. Someone pulled a fast one on us. How did this year go so fast!? I’m going to miss this place! I can’t believe I’ve lived over here for a whole year already!

300,000 Euro Firework July 24, 2008

Posted by gordonwatts in Marseille.
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I wrote that while my experience at the Marseille fireworks weren’t all that great – the fireworks themselves were. One of the most stunning was when they made the fort at the end of the Vieux Port drip fire. I was only able to get one good picture of it, and that was at the very end. But it was perhaps my all time favorite firework.

Today I read how much it cost. 300,000 euros — 471,000 dollars! Holy cow!!


Bastille Day: Marseille could do a lot better July 18, 2008

Posted by gordonwatts in Marseille.

IMG_3977France, of course, doesn’t have July 4th. But they have something very similar — Bastille day. The is the anniversary of the storming of the Bastille prison – which is seen as the start of modern France. So, a lot like July 4th for us back in the USA. Celebration is similar: by afternoon all the stores are closed, BBQ, and lots of fireworks.

Marseille, being the second largest city in France, is no exception. The close off the Old Port to cars and it just gets mobbed with people. Families, kids, you name it – they are there. It is a big party. Except, this time it wasn’t so family friendly. Actually, it wasn’t friendly at all!

First, technical difficulties prevented the 10pm start of the fireworks. They finally went off at midnight, after a good fraction of people had given up. Fortunately, by that time, Paula and our kid had gone home to bed. They managed to catch the fireworks over the tops of buildings.

Second, groups of kids set off fireworks. These aren’t small fireworks. Big ones. Ones that will do damage to your feet if they are near. This effectively cleared out certain sections of the street down on the Old Port. This was ok – you could spot these sections and avoid them if you wanted to. What was not ok was every now and then they would lob one of these large fireworks into the crowd that was patiently waiting for the real fireworks to start!

Third, when the fireworks finally started, everyone turned to concentrate on them rather than the explosions from the kids behind us. The kids then banded together — about 50 of them — in a scrum, and charged the crowd. Their aim was to push us into the water: we were standing on the edge of the dock. The dock is only about 8 inches above the water, so this is no big deal as long as you can swim. But the kids (some small)? And people were sitting down enjoying themselves when this scrum comes trampling in? And they were harsh. The second time they charged the crowd people got fed up and fought back. It wasn’t pretty, but they left us alone after that. Where the #*#^^@^^#@ were the police? There wasn’t one to be seen anywhere at that point. It was crowd justice, pure and simple. This is not the way a real city behaves – certainly not the second largest one in all of France.

I feel bad writing that. This town’s reputation is worse than the reality. Heck, I love this town. We will most likely return next year if we can swing the money situation too. So I feel a little like I’m betraying the town. But still, I was pretty mad.

The fireworks, on the other hand, were amazing. They had a row of barges up and down the middle of the water in the port, and they shot fireworks off them, racing up and down the line. Very cool. And the old fort dripping with fire was incredible – one of the most fantastic displays I’ve ever seen. I had only a hand-held camera, but I did what I could.

Goes Bang! in the Night July 18, 2008

Posted by gordonwatts in Marseille.

Loudest Shutters this side of the Mistral...See those shutters that are half open in the picture I took from our bedroom window here in Marseille? Those things are loud! Here in Marseille, when the Mistral blows, only things that are bolted down stay in one place. This includes things like shutters. And when the wind grabs a hold of them they make a horrible racket. Here in downtown Marseille you can hear the noise from them hitting the walls all night long – crack! bang! Makes it hard to sleep!

Depressing June 23, 2008

Posted by gordonwatts in Marseille, travel.
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IMG_2594Just booked my first flight after I arrive back in North America on August 31st. I’m going to miss Marseille.

Bad Day in Marseille June 5, 2008

Posted by gordonwatts in Marseille.
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CIMG2745I guess I’m working from home today. Taxi’s are on strike today, protesting the expensive gas prices – they want bailout from the government. It makes me wonder if this attitude is indicative of them thinking this change in gas prices is temporary – and they want the gov’t to help them through this bump? Or that some regulatory body is unwilling to raise taxi fares (which would be very unfair). They plan to block train stations and the entrances to autoroutes (interstate roads). And yesterday a bus driver was stabbed, so none of the buses are running either. And the trams are on strike in sympathy with the buses.

The comments on the article are interesting — it takes only three comments before global warming is mentioned.

Oil Strike May 29, 2008

Posted by gordonwatts in Marseille, politics.

There were long lines at the gas stations the other day. Turns out the local french fishermen are blocking the oil tankers from entering the harbor and unloading the oil – so people started to get afraid there wouldn’t be enough gas.

The strike is over the price of fuel for the fisher boats.

When I first heard this I thought it was a bit odd. In general, Europe hasn’t noticed the run-up in the cost of gas the way the USA has. Two reasons — first, the euro is not weak so the purchasing power of the dollar hasn’t changed much. Second is that gas over here is very heavily taxed – much more so than the USA – which means a doubling in the cost of oil (or whatever) translates into a smaller add on to the cost of the gas.

it turns out, however, that fishermen get a tax break. Basically, I’m told, no taxes at all. So when the raw cost of diesel fuel doubles, which apparently it has, people like the fishermen feel it directly. In France, the answer is a strike. They are demanding the government pay the different.

Wow! I said. No way, right!? Way, my friends assured me. In fact, the government had already agreed, but apparently wanted to pay more than the EU would allow them and so some high level negotiations were on going. And the fishermen were trying to keep the pressure up.

This would never happen in America, right? I mean, look at the farm industry, they… oh, wait. Never mind.

N.B.: Gas is currently 1.5 euros here in France. That makes it 6 euros per gallon, and at the current exchange rate of about $1.5/euro, about 9 dollars per gallon. It is no wonder the place is filled with people driving around on scooters!!

Lighting no match for computers? May 17, 2008

Posted by gordonwatts in Marseille.
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It is 1am here, and there is a thunder storm raging outside. My first clue was all the lights flickered off and back on again. And yet no computers in the house crashed. Didn’t even loose my network connection! After this happened I took my earphones out and realized there was cheering on the street. The flicker had occurred up and down the street! I’ve never seen something like that and not lost all the computers!

Of course, by writing this I’ll be so screwed it will be weeks before I have enough working computers to post again!

All Stand Still May 10, 2008

Posted by gordonwatts in life, Marseille.
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We were out having a pre dinner drink near the Vieux Port this afternoon when the square suddenly filled with people. Then someone blew a whistle. We were sort-of aware there were lots of people, but then after the whistle we looked around and noticed someone pointing a banana, frozen in time. What?? A weird sort of flash mob, perhaps? Plenty of weird stuff going on this afternoon in Marseille. We are going to miss Marseille when we have to return to Seattle. 😦