26 July 2008

Obama à l'Elysée

Friday marked the closest I would get to The Man Himself during the course of the campaign as he made an abbreviated visit to the Elysée Palace to have a short meeting with President Sarkozy followed by a press conference.

Given his popularity here, from all levels of the French population up to Sarkozy himself who, in the days leading up to his visit, remarked, "Obama? He's my buddy!" There was no public interaction scheduled but I felt that it would be worthwhile to go to the presidential residence just to see what could be seen. Clearly I wasn't the only one to be motivated as such:

I would estimate the crowd at several hundred, though separated at different street corners.

It was an incredible mix of people, perhaps 30% American and 70% French all from a variety of origins. I talked to a guy from Gabon for a while. His take was that Obama represented the rêve américain which remains an extremely powerful concept here, especially among immigrants and minorities.

There was a general mood of uncertainty and anticipation. No one, not even the journalists working the crowd, knew much about the itinerary or whether Obama would interact with the public at all. About ten minutes after I arrived, three large buses glided into place and dropped off journalists and campaign staff. I'm pretty sure that I saw Reggie Love, Obama's "body man" and, perhaps, the guy with the coolest name in the history of political aides. A few minutes later, what looked to be a diplomatic procession arrived and a black Cadillac with deep tinted windows slid into the gates of the palace.

I decided to wait until the end, just to see if there would be anything else. During that time more and more people arrived and the scene became more and more animated. The guy from Gabon harassed the police officers block the street a bit and an AFP photographer took in the scene.

At one point, about an hour and a half after the Cadillac entered the palace people started chanting "Obama! Yes we can!" Remembering that I live in the twenty-first century, I took a video with my camera phone. Watch out, it's a bit loud:

Two hours after the anti-climactic entrance, there was an efficient and anonymous exit. The police started their motorcycles, the Crown Victoria with GPS receivers got in position. The crowd got excited and the security personnel got anxious.

The gates to the palace opened, the dark Cadillac rolled out, turned towards the east and, like a hive mind creature, all of the vehicles accelerated away in one large pack; French motorcycle police, French security, black Crown Victoria, black Cadillac, Explorer with Secret Service hanging out, French security, and a few more motorcycles. Here's the best view I got, Obama was on the other side:

I was on my feet in the sun for the better part of three hours, crammed in with a bunch of other spectators trying to steal a sighting of one politician. It seems like it shouldn't be worth it but, in the end, I'm happy to have gone if only for the community aspect of it. Once again, paraphrasing the Gabonese man next to me, a lot of Obama's strength comes not from shockingly new positions, but from his style and his symbolism. It's a style and symbolism that has the power to bring people out of their houses, into the streets and to believe in a better future. As far as a national leader goes, that is an extremely powerful ability. To criticize Obama because he speaks well and draws huge crowds is missing the opportunity that such a capacity presents. In short, these three hours were my "Yes we can" moment and it felt damn good to be there.

Full Photo Album:

Obama at Elyesee

24 July 2008

Track and Field

Esther convinced me that it would be a good idea to a major track meet at the Stade de France last week and she was certainly right in doing so. Here's some of the photographic results, more detail and story can be found in the captions of the full album. (That's my way of communicating that I'm too lazy to write the story in coherent, complete sentences. I hope you all don't mind too much.)

Pure effort

A moment of grace

...followed by disappointment.


Fear of heights

The first hurdle

The Steeplechase: Not just for horses anymore.

Family Fun in Paris

Ravenchase Paris did something particularly fun this past Saturday; we created a game for the next generation of treasure hunter and their parents! It was great to see how deeply the kids got into the game. The difference in the level of excitement between a six year old and a thirty-six year old finding a treasure chest is a matter of orders of magnitude. Here's the moment of discovery:

The only hitch was that these little geniuses (and their parents) solved the clues much quicker than expected. Next time I'll give them something deeper to chew on. Here's more pictures from the afternoon:

A Family Affair

What shall we call it, RavenKids perhaps?

22 July 2008

Alternative Alternative Energy

Interesting designs for wind turbines, from Pop Tech via Kottke:

4. Floating Turbine

Developed by Magenn Power of Canada, this turbine is named MARS, and unlike its wind turbine counterparts, it floats: up to 1,000 feet in the sky, where there is high velocity wind. So unlike other stationary turbine designs, MARS can actually be used almost anywhere, ergo its motto “Wind Power Anywhere.” And even when we don’t feel any wind on the ground, this thing is getting it from the jet stream!

Very intriguing ideas that show how we're only scratching the surface of what we now call 'alternative' energy.

20 July 2008

Travels in the South of France

Esther and I had the good fortune to be invited to a wedding in the Mediterranean port city of Toulon two weeks ago. Since her uncle lives about a hundred miles north near Montélimar and I had not yet seen this part of the country, we decided to make a short vacation out of it. For me, the region has since taken a commanding lead in the race to the top of my mental list of "Ideal Retirement Location." Here's why:

  1. Climate It's really, really pleasant. The air is cool and dry but the sun is intensely hot. That makes for delightful days on the beach followed by cool evenings sitting outside.

  2. Landscape It's dry but fertile land, covered in patchwork fields, conifer stands, lavender fields and miles upon miles of vineyards. It's beautiful to look at whether you're strolling by on foot or tearing past in a car.

  3. Cuisine The French have a phrase, légumes du soleil, which translates to "sun vegetables" and it pretty much sums up the local fare. Tomatoes, zucchini, peppers, and eggplant show up in various combinations with fish, rice, olives, and great desserts. It's pretty much what we eat at home, but prepared better.

  4. Culture The area has been settled for a long, long time. The result is the overlap of various cultures with clear influences going back to the Romans.

In short, it's a really great place to be and we had a great time down there. Esther's aunt and uncle were incredibly welcoming and we made an effort to see as much as we could in the surrounding areas.

Avignon is a medieval city that was the seat of the papacy for several decades in the fourteenth century. They lived here, in the Palace of the Popes:

It also has a bridge, le pont d'Avignon, which is very famous in France if only because, as far as I can tell, it's the subject of a popular children's song. I was impressed by many aspects of the city (history, annual theater festival, etc...) but seriously disappointed by this bridge. Qua bridge, it's useless, as it doesn't completely cross the river. Now it's just some sort of promenade into the water that is a site of pilgrimage for French of all callings. Have a look for yourselves:

See what I mean? Totally useless.

Orange is another interesting city. In addition to being named after my favorite color as a child (actually, it's Wikipedia article specifies that that is not the case), it is home to an incredibly well preserved Roman theater. It still has the backing wall of the stage intact, making it the only roman theater in Europe and one of only three in the world to be so well preserved.

The wall was used as a common backdrop for all of the productions, as well as an opportunity to remind the populace of the omnipresence of the emperor, given his niche at the top. Totalitarianism = scary.

Finally, we went to Montélimar, a great little city known for its nougat. It's not the "nougat" that you find at the bottom of your Milky Way, but a white confection that varies in consistency from gooey to marshmallow-like to crunchy depending on your preference. Full of pistachios and with a flavor of honey, it's made in factories that are straight out of Willy Wonka.

The south has worked its charm on me, for better or worse. It was a fantastic trip that I hope we can recreate soon.

Travels - Southern France