Wednesday, October 31, 2018

"Ant-Man and the Wasp": one-paragraph review

2018's "Ant-Man and the Wasp" (AMW) is directed by Peyton Reed (the guy who made the cheerfully nutty "Bring It On") and stars Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lily, Michael Douglas, Michelle Pfeiffer, Laurence Fishburne, and Hannah John-Kamen. The movie's main plot involves the discovery that Janet van Dyne (Pfeiffer), wife of Hank Pym (Douglas) and mother of Hope van Dyne (Lily), is still alive and trapped inside the "quantum realm," i.e., the level of reality at which quarks are found. Two subplots involve a woman named Ava who acquires the nickname "Ghost" (John-Kamen) and a shady tech dealer named Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins) who is after Hank Pym's quantum technology because Burch sees this tech as the wave of the future. I'll let you guess whether Hope, Hank, and Scott Lang (Rudd) find Janet van Dyne. I'll also let you guess whether they defeat Ghost and Burch. What you won't guess is that the movie's most important moment comes after the end credits start rolling: there's a mid-credits scene in which something horrible happens that also sets the stage for the upcoming sequel to "Avengers: Infinity War." AMW goes down easy; it's been described by critics as a lighthearted "palate-cleanser" between the two Infinity War movies, a spot of cheer after all the gloom brought on by Thanos the Mad Titan. I didn't find AMW all that memorable, and as with the first "Ant-Man," I had to check my brain at the door when puzzling over the movie's bullshit notions about quantum physics. (We're repeatedly told, for example, that time doesn't work the same way at the quantum level as it does at the anthropic level, yet Hank Pym uses a countdown clock while he's down there searching for his wife.) Weird story logic and goofy physics aside, the movie was a pleasant watch, even though some of the jokes were predictable. Douglas and Pfeiffer don't share much screen time, but when they do, they've got great chemistry, and I find myself curious to follow more of their adventures. AMW is cinematic Doritos: crunchy, punchy, and not particularly substantive. But it's not a bad way to spend two hours.



that sound: my earworm

If there's one sound I've taken away from my experience in France, it's the goddamn SNCF announcement sound that plays any time there are train-schedule changes, warnings about not abandoning one's baggage, closures, or other train-related matters. This sound is played in all SNCF train stations throughout France; it's inescapable, and I can hear it in my dreams.





shit-stirrer

It's hard to know (or care about) what rapper Kanye West might be thinking, but this new turn of events doesn't strike me as surprising at all:

Kanye West, an ardent supporter of President Donald Trump, announced he is quitting politics after being 'used to spread messages I don't believe in' and denounced the president over his immigration policy.

The singer made the surprising declaration on Twitter on Tuesday.

'My eyes are now wide open and now realize I've been used to spread messages I don't believe in. I am distancing myself from politics and completely focusing on being creative !!!,' he wrote.

In an extended Twitter rant, he criticized Trump's immigration policy, denounced the 'blexit' movement, and thanked his family.

There's more if you read the article. But are we really surprised? As I've said in the past, Kanye is a shit-stirrer; he's more of a troll than someone seriously dedicated to any cause other than himself and, possibly, his wife and progeny.

Here's what I wrote back in April of this year:

I also think it's premature for a rightie like [Paul Joseph] Watson to lavish praise on someone as volatile and erratic as Kanye West. West's "George Bush doesn't care about black people" moment wasn't really that long ago (at least in my memory), and given that West deleted his positive tweets about his meeting with Donald Trump, there's a good chance he might not be entirely on board with the rightie agenda. I wouldn't be surprised if there were a honeymoon period between him and Candace Owens, followed soon after by a sudden rift once they realize they're really not on the same page. But who knows? I've been wrong before, and these days, I'm getting used to being wrong pretty much all the time.

Sure enough, Kanye is now denouncing, or at least distancing himself from, Candace Owens.

NB: my Kanye-related posts are here.

ADDENDUM: a liberal coworker (they're all lefties in my office) just told me that he'd read a theory that Kanye's pro-Trump behavior came about when he went off his anti-bipolar meds. Now that he's back on those meds, he's rediscovered his "sanity," so to speak, which is what has prompted the latest nonsense. One way or another, Kanye is not right in the head. Righties: you'd do well not to go to bat for this guy. You can't trust him. You're better off trusting someone rational and consistent, like Candace Owens.



Tuesday, October 30, 2018

that's a no-go for Bundang

I got word today that we three remaining R&D staffers will not be moving to the spanking-new Bundang office. Why? Student-enrollment numbers at the Bundang branch are apparently so high that the room allocated to us will need to be used as a classroom for the kids. At a guess, our new boss will still be commuting to and working at the Bundang office. This suits me fine: I don't have to pack all my shit up, and God knows I have a lot of shit at this point, most of it kitchen-related. I'm disappointed that I won't be able to explore the Bundang neighborhood, which one of my coworkers tells me is actually a foodie destination, with plenty of very good foreign restaurants. I also won't be able to test my mettle by walking back to my apartment from Bundang—a 17-kilometer hike that would be slightly shorter in length than my first walk from Le Vanneau-Irleau to Niort two weeks ago. But not having to move is a huge plus; thank Cthulhu for small favors.



scones done correctly

If your idea of a scone is the bland, shitty wedge they serve at Starbucks, you need to get yourself a proper scone. Watch Carla of the Bon Appétit Test Kitchen work with Food Network's Ina Garten on making a delicious and proper-looking batch of scones. Correctly done, scones look craggy and ugly, an aesthetic cousin of American drop biscuits. They're not meant to be decorative props to plop on a Starbucks tray; they are, quite simply, comfort food.

Behold:






seeing racism where there is none

This shameful example comes from a rightie rag, Twitchy, which is normally pretty good about poking leftie hypocrisy in the eye. This time, though, it seems obvious to me that Twitchy is either accidentally or deliberately misreading a supposed gaffe by Hillary Clinton. During some recent session before an audience, the session's moderator confused Eric Holder and Cory Booker—who look nothing alike, but who are both black—by uttering the wrong name. Clinton apparently corrected the moderator, snidely adding the now-controversial comment, "I know they all look alike."

As you'll see if you click on the link above, righties on Twitter are having a collective "gotcha" moment, accusing Hillary Clinton of saying something overtly racist about all black people. Based on the context, though, I think she was more likely mocking the attitude of people who really believe all black people look alike, possibly even insinuating that the moderator was saddled with such a racist cognitive filter because of her inability to get two black men's names straight. Clinton's delivery was all wrong, which is why we're talking about this at all, but it seems plain to me that Hillary (who has gotten in trouble for obliquely referring to certain African-Americans as "the help" or, in another context, "superpredators" who must be "brought to heel") wasn't being racist. She's stupid on many fronts, 'tis true, but she's not likely to shoot herself in the foot quite that easily.





mon nouveau grimoire

While shopping at a Super U store in Niort, I saw the following cookbook in the books section and, suddenly filled with lust, I decided on the spot that I had to have it:


This book, with its gimmicky title (The Easiest French Cuisine in the World), was part of a series of similarly sized and formatted books published by Hachette, a publishing house known for cranking out popular/populist material. Quite frankly, I'd have liked to buy the whole series, which seems to have been designed for children or retarded people. It's filled with huge fonts and giant pictures so that there's absolutely no confusion about what dish it is that one is making. I've taken some pics (click to enlarge, click to enrage) so you can see the simple format. The idea seems to be that most French food is easily accessible to the hoi polloi and can be made with few ingredients and very little instruction. Right up my alley.

Classic tartiflette:


Ham in Madeira sauce:


Toulouse-style chicken (featuring Toulouse sausage):


Classic "knife"-style steak tartare:


My fave, the old choucroute alsacienne, here going by its other name, the choucroute garnie (literally, "garnished sauerkraut"):


I think I've actually grown beyond the need for a recipe for the choucroute, but it's nice to be reminded of one way that the French approach it.

Below, one version of duck confit (watch bland Byron Talbott make his version here; it doesn't look bad at all, and it's very smartly put together, but the portion size is so damn stingy):



The classic coq au vin, which sounds like "cocoa van" without the final "n":


I knew something was missing from Véronique's boeuf bourguignon: mushrooms.


I've got a pork filet in my freezer. Pork tenderloins are both cheap and common in Korea, so I'm always on the lookout for new and interesting ways to cook them. This way uses prunes:


Just to fuck with your head: prune is the French word for a plum, but a pruneau is a prune. A raisin is a grape, while a raisin sec (literally, "dry grape") is a raisin, and a grappe de raisins is a bunch of grapes. A poireau is a leek, but a poire is a pear. A poivron is a (green) bell pepper, and a piment is a chili pepper. In Korea, the word piment, now pronounced pi-mang, has been misappropriated to mean "green bell pepper." Just to fuck with your head.



Monday, October 29, 2018

Thanos = God?

I had a thought while sitting in the shitter an hour ago. Josh Brolin's computer-altered voice, when he played Thanos, sounded an awful lot like the voice of God from Cecil B. DeMille's "The Ten Commandments." Listen for yourself:

Thanos, discoursing.

The theophany scene in "The Ten Commandments." (What's a theophany?)

Take Brolin's voice, slow it down* and add some reverb to it, and it's basically God talking to Charlton Heston. Someone should inappropriately overdub Thanos onto those Heston scenes. "If life is left unchecked, life will cease to exist." Take that, Moses.

Convinced? Doubtful? What do you think?



*You can go to "Settings" on any given YouTube video and alter the playback speed. Reduce the Thanos scenes to 0.5 speed, then imagine the reverb. Sure, the voice might need to be a bit deeper, but Thanos and God overlap by a lot in my head.



the dubious gift of Gab

I went to Gab.ai (also Gab.com), where I've been ensconced since leaving Twitter just before—or just after—the 2016 election, and I saw this message:

Gab.com is under attack. We have been systematically no-platformed by App Stores, multiple hosting providers, and several payment processors. We have been smeared by the mainstream media for defending free expression and individual liberty for all people and for working with law enforcement to ensure that justice is served for the horrible atrocity committed in Pittsburgh. Gab will continue to fight for the fundamental human right to speak freely.

As we transition to a new hosting provider Gab will be inaccessible for a period of time. We are working around the clock to get Gab.com back online. Thank you and remember to speak freely.

It's indeed true that people have been trying hard to de-platform Gab, which is seen by those on the left as nothing more than a rightie hate site. I've already made known my opinion about much of the venomous, bigoted garbage that appears regularly and prominently on Gab: vitriol that's shamelessly out there under cover of "free speech." I've found Gab to be, as a result, a largely soul-polluting and disappointing experience in terms of ambiance. Pretty much every liberal's worst nightmares and worst caricatures of the right are confirmed daily on Gab, which I find unfortunate for those calmer, more rational righties who actually take the time to make reasoned, civil arguments instead of engaging in lies, religious zealotry, and stupid conspiracy theories. (For another example of the right at its worst, see this video on the embarrassingly awful Conservapedia.)

At the same time, one of the reasons why I strongly advocate free speech is precisely to out the wild-eyed loonies and expose them to the light of day. There's nothing stopping a leftie, for example, from joining Gab and challenging some of these fruit-loops to debates. I respect Gab's founders for wanting to provide a free-speech zone that stands in contrast to the repressive nature of Twitter and Facebook, where even moderate conservatives are regularly de-platformed while loony leftie voices, including many that advocate racism and terror (like Louis Farrakhan), continue to spew their own hatred with impunity.

So although I can't really say I enjoy using Gab, I'll stick with it until I decide the miasma of bigotry and nonsense has made the air unbreathable. If Gab ends up getting destroyed by the repressive, ignorant forces arrayed against it, that'll be too bad, but I can't honestly say I'll lose any sleep over the matter. It's hard to develop a sentimental attachment to a playground that so many people insist on shitting in.



France: final thoughts

I'm back in Seoul—back home, basically—and it's time to put France behind me. I had a great two weeks there; technically, the whole trip took place over 18 calendar days, from October 11 to October 28, but in my defense, I did work an entire weekend to make up for the two extra weekdays that I "stole" from the company.

The trip back started on Saturday morning; I was up a bit after 6 a.m. and out the door by 7:05 after policing my giant bedroom and packing my backpack—which had grown as heavy as it had been on the way to France. I tried to rinse out the shower so there'd be no stray pubes for Dom and family to pick up. I piled all the towels I had used into one place; I remade the two beds I had used: one giant bed with a too-soft mattress, and one much smaller bed with a firmer, more comfortable mattress. I hope I left everything in a fairly decent state. I also left behind the bottle of shampoo/body wash that had been my companion for two weeks, plus the bottle of "bio" detergent that I had used for my nightly loads of hand-washed laundry. I failed to refill the metal tin that had housed some cute little chocolates; those got slaughtered within the first week of my time in that bedroom.

It was about a 17- or 18-minute drive to Niort from Dom's house, and as I thought might happen, little Tim was awake and insistent upon accompanying us to the train station. Héloïse also popped out of the house to wave a final goodbye to me; I wished her a good rest-of-vacation (the students' vacation during la Toussaint lasts until November 5), and she wished me a good trip home. Along the way to the station, I asked Dom about stamping my train ticket (Tim professed not to know the verb composter, i.e., to time-stamp a train ticket), and I asked about traveling second-class because, on my ticket, there was no seat number given for second-class travel. My route took me from Niort to Poitiers, then from Poitiers to Paris; the Niort-Poitiers route was in second-class seating on a non-TGV train, and the Poitier-Paris route was first-class assigned seating on the TGV (humorously called "LE TGV INOUI," where inouï literally means "unheard-of," i.e., fantastic, unprecedented, incredible). When the train arrived, I saw that the train's number wasn't exactly the same number as was marked on my ticket (off by one digit), but I shrugged, got on the train anyway, and waved a sad goodbye to Dom and Tim as we slid away along the tracks. And just like that, I was out of sight. My time with the Ducoulombiers ended as it had started: with me, Dom, and Tim at the station—first saying hello, then saying goodbye.

I found a second-class seat on the train out of Niort, then after about thirty minutes, I took out my phone and began tracking our movement on the GPS. Something seemed amiss: my GPS was saying we were approaching La Rochelle, which was entirely the wrong direction. I began to wonder whether I was on the wrong train: had another train pulled into Niort a minute later? Was that the train I should have been on? Crap. Pressure began to build in my head as I pondered the possibility that I was miles and miles from where I needed to be: Poitiers was registering at over 70 km away on my GPS, and that was at 8:05 a.m. According to my ticket, I needed to arrive at Poitiers by 8:18 to be able to make the 8:28 TGV to Paris. Feeling desperate, but having come up with a contingency plan, I texted my situation to Dominique, then took one last look at my GPS before realizing the truth: the GPS had been stuck on La Rochelle since the previous day, when we'd actually been to La Rochelle. I texted Dom again to say "No worries," and sure enough, our train pulled into Poitiers only a few minutes late. I had about five minutes to get off, walk across the station to the TGV section, find the part of the platform from which to board Car #13... and then I waited.

The TGV pulled up right on schedule; I breathed a sigh of relief. I was now clear to roll to la Gare de Montparnasse in Paris—the selfsame station I had been to two weeks earlier. From there, I would take the Metro Line 4 to a transfer station for the RER B train to Charles de Gaulle. Nothing went wrong with the TGV ride, but we did pull in slightly late. More bothersome was that I had trouble using an automated ticketing machine to get a Metro/RER ticket to go to the airport. I fought the machine for a while, using both French and English, before I was finally able to find a "type in your destination" screen that allowed me to name and purchase the ticket I wanted. With that ticket in hand, I marched over to the Metro Line 4 platform... and promptly took the train in the wrong direction. It didn't matter too much: there was an RER B transfer station no matter which way I went, so I got off at the transfer point and successfully boarded the RER B. After that, it was a matter of counting down the minutes before my arrival at Charles de Gaulle Airport.

I reached the airport around 11:25 a.m. The RER dropped us at Terminal 2, departures, which was right where I needed to be for an Air France flight. I found an automated check-in machine and made the mistake of clicking "yes" to the question, "Does your passport have a visa for Korea in it?" Technically, my F-4 visa is a card that looks a bit like an American driver's license—photo, personal info, etc. Inside my passport, on the pages that say "Visas," I have a set of Korean stamps, which is why I clicked "yes" without thinking more deeply about the situation. The check-in machine then took me to a visa-information page. It first asked me to present my visa for scanning. When I placed my F-4 card on the scanner plate, the machine registered an error. So the machine flipped me to another page on which I had to type in my visa information. I typed in the data on my F-4 card... and miraculously, the machine didn't question me further: it simply took me through the rest of the process for obtaining my boarding pass. At one point, the machine asked me whether I'd like to change my assigned seating. After I clicked "no," the machine belatedly informed me that there were no free seats on the plane to allow for a change, anyway. After that, the thing spat out my boarding pass, I asked a uniformed gentleman where I needed to go for passport control and security ("Follow the signs"), and away I went. I still had over an hour to pass through both layers of security. The passport-control line was slow but steady, and I got through with plenty of time before my flight was to board.

Security, however, proved to be another problem: my backpack got snagged and rerouted because I was carrying several verrines of pâté—a food product apparently not allowed on board passenger planes. A middle-aged Frenchwoman with a bad cough removed my bottles and told me what would happen: she was going to box my bottles up as if for mailing, then place them en consigne. Onto the parcel, she would place a coded label, part of which she would peel off and give me to as a reference. My job, then, was to go back to Korea, access a special produits en consigne website, type in my parcel's information, then pay the 30-euro fee to have my stuff shipped overseas to my home address in Seoul. (I placed my delivery order within an hour of getting back to my apartment.) I sadly said goodbye to my pâté, a jar of Nutella-like chocolate, and some terrine or other.

But even with that delay, which took several minutes and a long, sad chorus of coughing to get through, I still made it through security and to my gate with twenty minutes to spare before boarding. I typed out a final thank-you to Dom and family via Kakao, my Korean texting/chat service (it had taken a while to convince Dom to download the app), then I used some remaining euro coins to buy myself one final Orangina, which I drank triumphantly before strutting off to the men's room for one last pre-flight shit. There wasn't much that needed to come out, luckily; I had nearly emptied myself earlier that morning.

After that—boom. On the plane.

The flight was even shorter than I'd thought it was going to be. Coming to France had taken over twelve hours; going back to Korea, with the jet stream, took only about ten. The problem was my seatmate, a large, young Korean guy who kept straying over the imaginary boundary between our chairs to touch me lightly here and here—his knee on mine, his arm against my arm, etc. I was in an aisle seat, and I kept leaning left, into the aisle, to try to avoid this guy's touch, but he was utterly unaware of what he was doing. I'm not the type of person to say shit like, "Stay in your own fucking zone," so I took the discomfort stoically, curling myself as much as my large body could, and minimizing my manspreading. Somehow, I managed to survive the flight with my sanity intact.

Oh, a word about the way the flight attendants handled me: they were mostly French, and it was a pleasure that they immediately spoke to me in French instead of automatically guessing I was an American who needed to hear English. But I must also have looked Korean enough, to their eyes, for them to hand me a Korean-language ROK Customs declaration form instead of an English one. I had to smile at that. Let me also note that the Korean flight attendants on board spoke French at an impressive level; I'm used to encountering Koreans whose French is poor at best, with exceedingly few exceptions. These flight attendants spoke both rapidly and clearly; they were obviously comfortable in the language. Hats off to them.

We touched down in Incheon at about 6:40 a.m. on Sunday morning. We rolled to a stop by about 6:50 a.m., and I was in the passport-control line by 7:05. My turn at an officer's station didn't come until 7:36 a.m. (I played a mental game in which I tried to predict exactly when I'd be called forward, and I got it right when I guessed 7:36.) Korea requires that you present your declaration form (no arrival card needed if you're an "F"-visa holder), your passport, and your two index fingers, which you must place on the world's cutest scanning plates to verify you are not an incoming sexual predator intent on raping middle-school girls.

Once through passport control, my first order of business was to find a fucking restroom: I had boarded the plane with an empty stomach (except for one bottle of Orangina), but by the time I deplaned, I had eaten two full meals (although "full" may be too generous of a description for such skimpy fare), had a snack, and drunk several cups of Coke and/or orange juice. I did my business, went to the money-exchange window and changed my euros to won, then went downstairs to look for a bus to my part of Seoul.

Along the way, I espied a Shake Shack, which I blogged about previously. I have now satisfied my curiosity on that score, so there's no longer a need to dwell on the Shakes and the Shacks.

Luckily, despite my having arrived in Terminal 2 of Incheon Airport, I didn't need to take a shuttle to Terminal 1 to catch a limousine bus bound for Seoul's downtown. I got a bus ticket at Terminal 2's ticket window; the lady handed me my ticket and said, "You'll need to go right now" because I had only about three minutes to reach the bus platform. I reached platform 15 for Bus 6009 to Gaepo-dong, and I got there before the bus did.

The ride back was woozily pleasant. Despite the wonderful two weeks I had just spent in France, I knew, on some level, that two weeks would be enough, and that it was time to retourner au travail. So, yeah: I'm glad to be back. There were certain aspects of being in France that made me miss being in Korea. Subway trains and subway stations that don't smell like piss—there's one thing. Toilet handles on the side of the toilet tank—where they're easier to reach while still sitting on the toilet—as opposed to French flush buttons sitting at the top center of the toilet tank, where they're nearly impossible to reach unless you choose to stand and turn around (or, like me, you contrive a way to twist painfully around while seated). Food that's more than faintly spicy. Shops that don't seem to be perpetually closed, no matter the time of day or day of the week. Bathrooms with clean, functioning toilets (can't believe I'm saying that about Korea, but it's true: much has changed for the better since the 90s). Convenience stores no more than a short walk away. I could go on, but you get the idea: Korea has lots of little, civilized comforts that become easy to miss once you're no longer there.

After I got off the limousine bus at Daechi Station, I went into a convenience store... and bought an Orangina. (Orangina has been at the forefront of a marketing blitz, here, for the past couple of months, and I'm ecstatic: it's one of my favorite carbonated drinks.) I had originally wanted to take a taxi back to my place, but I decided instead to save some money and take the subway; it was only two stops to my place, anyway.

Got back to my apartment, which hadn't changed since I'd left it sixteen days before, and weighed myself out of curiosity: nearly six kilos lost. All of that was thanks to eating less, eating better (nice, balanced, homemade family meals), continuing to exercise, and nearly totally cutting out sodas. True, I did experience a bit of depression from sugar withdrawal, but as long as I had other things to occupy me, like long walks to Niort, there was little problem.

After some introspection, I've come to realize a few things.

1. My French needs work. While I'd still barely consider myself fluent, I really have let myself go in this area of my existence. I used to be at a near-native level of fluency, but the machine has rusted deeply since then. If I seriously want to improve my French, I need to find ways to improve not only my listening comprehension but also my speaking ability—expand my vocabulary, stutter/stammer less, and yes: work on my grammar.

2. I don't have any desire to live in France. As beautiful as France is, and as much as I like French people in general, I feel pretty darn good about my living situation right now. With the increase in my salary and the imminent end of my major debts, I'm soon going to be on a steeply rising curve of money-saving that will see me able to move back to the States where I can buy a legitimate, free-standing house and property somewhere, if that's what I choose to do. And I can do all that before I'm 60.

3. I do love homemade French cooking. If I may be brutally frank: in a gun-to-the-head contest between Dominique/Véronique and Dom's mother, Dom's mother would win hands down. Dom and Véro are both talented cooks, but Dom's mother definitively proves that love and experience, like time, are actual ingredients in cooking. Maman's cooking was never flavorless or overly water-logged; everything was carefully balanced and put together with great care and confidence. I contrast Maman's style with that of my Swiss mother's; the latter was a very good cook, but she approached cooking as a purely technical, almost scientific endeavor, not as an organic activity done with joy and élan.

4. I'll be back in France soon, I hope. With Maman and Papa not getting any younger, and with the possibility that I might become a bit more involved in the lives of Dominique's kids, I think there are plenty of reasons to try to stay more current regarding both French culture and, more specifically, the goings-on of my beloved Ducoulombiers.

Anyway, I'm back in Korea. Work starts up again on Monday (today, technically). I need to do some laundry and get to bed. Thanks for following along on this journey to l'Hexagone.*



*France's shape hints at a hexagon, so "l'Hexagone" is one of France's cherished nicknames. This leads to a jokey expression: les quatre coins de l'Hexagone, i.e., "the four corners of the Hexagon." The notion of "four corners" comes from the the expression "the four corners of the earth," which originates from the idea of the earth being rectangle-shaped, like a map of the planet's surface. Of course, even with "the four corners of the earth," if the earth is a sphere, then there aren't any corners at all, so the expression is very much tongue-in-cheek. This is even truer for les quatre coins de l'Hexagone because a hexagon obviously has six corners, not four, so it's as if someone were being deliberately obtuse. Layers upon layers of humor and history. The archaeology of teh funneh.



Sunday, October 28, 2018

gifticles

The bowl that my family bought for me:


And, a couple days before my departure, this cute, car-shaped tin of individually wrapped cookies (just like the way they do it in East Asia!), which can also become a piggy bank:






first meal on Korean soil

I guess that, if you're flying with Air France, you have to use Incheon Airport's Terminal 2 for your departures and arrivals. Just as when I departed two weeks ago, I arrived at ICN's Terminal 2 this morning at about 6:40 a.m.; by the time I got off the plane and through passport control (it was a long damn line), it was 7:37 a.m., and I was both tired and hungry. As I worked my way downstairs to the exit, something caught my eye: a reflection of a restaurant sign I hadn't expected to see: Shake Shack! While I'd had fun eating homemade French food for two weeks, my body was telling me it was time to stuff my gullet with some nasty, rib-sticking Amurrican fast food, and since I had never done Shake Shack before, I thought this would be the moment to pop that particular cherry.

So I went down to the restaurant, which was, incredibly, open for business and actually serving burgers before 8 a.m. Unfortunately, the chain didn't have the "smokehouse" burger I wanted, so I ordered the standard double burger, plus a side of fries (I didn't see any "set" menus on offer; everything had to be ordered à la carte) and a large Coke (thus beginning the reintroduction of my kidneys to my old, sugary diet. I'm sure my kidneys love me for this).

I forgot to order a side of Shack Sauce, but I think I know what that tastes like because, as you'll recall, I've actually made Shack Sauce before.

Here's what I got when they buzzed me to tell me my order was ready:


That's a pretty small burger for ten dollars—and by "ten dollars," I mean just the burger, not the fries and not the drink. So how was it? Well, it might have been better with some Shack Sauce, but I can say the burger went down easy: it was plenty juicy, and it was a legit smash burger (i.e., the patty was smashed by a spatula—or something spatula-like—and very quickly seared on a super-hot griddle). Aside from that, though, the burger was nothing spectacular, and I doubt I'd ever go back to Shake Shack again. The branch located in Gangnam apparently continues to enjoy long lines, but this experience has taught me that Shake Shack isn't worth esteeming as a pilgrimage site. Oh, and the crinkle-cut fries took me back to my childhood, but not in a good way: they felt somehow infantilizing.



one last shot of Maman and Papa

Maman and Papa took good care of me during my two weeks in France: Maman picked me up in Niort after my long walks; she also dropped me off at the store when I needed to go shopping. On top of that, she cooked a series of amazing lunches that I'm going to miss (which reminds me: I need to get her recipe for confit de canard). Papa, meanwhile, was the font of historical knowledge that he has always been. I doubt I've retained even a tenth of the things he talked about, but he's always fun to listen to, whether it's a discourse on church architecture or a meditation on old conflicts that took place in the region.


Papa's macular degeneration means he can't see well enough to drive anymore. He says there's a large, dark, fuzzy spot right in the middle of his field of view; he can see more or less fine around its edges, but staring directly at something offers him almost no visual information at all. He's been undergoing therapy (going by the sinister-sounding term séances de rééducation, or rehab sessions), and according to his therapist, his vision has been improving. He used to be completely unable to read starting about a year ago; since then, he can now struggle through progressively smaller fonts even with his one not-so-good eye (the other eye is apparently useless because of a car accident a couple years back). One interesting therapeutic exercise had him reading a string of text that curlicued all over the page like a roller coaster; this tested not only his ability to focus on small letters, but also his ability to keep his eye tracking something no matter where it led.

Papa keeps busy at home, doing his bricolage (handyman stuff) and his gardening. There are always things needing to be done, especially with that large of a house and property, and he keeps a positive attitude despite the ravages of age and use. As long as I've known him, he's been as healthy as a horse; back in 2007, when we were desperately trying to get me a ticket so I could catch a train to Lausanne, Papa—at 70—sprinted faster than I ever could despite also holding some of my heavy baggage, just so I wouldn't miss the train to Switzerland. (It almost seemed as if my bags would get to the Alps before I did.)

The point is that Papa, for all his optimism, is frustrated by the growing signs of his mortality. Much of the lunch-table talk at his house was about his eye problems and the infirmity that comes with being in one's early-to-mid eighties. But the Ducoulombiers have always been blessed with genetic robustness on both sides of the family; Dominique's maternal grandmother Olympe lived to be 101, and his uncle Charles, although retired, is doing his own repair work and bricolage up in Normandy—quite alive, and still kicking. I think Papa and Maman will be around for quite some time yet—time enough to see at least some of Dom's kids get married and perhaps have kids of their own.

I had a lump in my throat on Friday evening when I said goodbye to my French parents. There were no American-style hugs, nor even any French-style kisses on both cheeks (which are given in salutation, not always in valediction). Our goodbye was warm but somewhat formal—sort of like the above pic (I had hoped Papa might lean in and kiss Maman, but that might have been asking for too much). I hope I can come back to France before too much more time passes, but much depends on the demands of my job. Koreans take a dim view of people who seem to be on vacation all the time.



La Rochelle: getting lost and getting back

as we wandered in our lostness, the nature of our tour became much more, shall we say, impressionistic. If something caught my eye, I photographed it, so that's what follows: a series of impressions. we begin with a blue door whose blueness reminded me of all those blue shutters out in the nearby French towns:


Even Dominique stopped to take a closer look at this image:


Another set of blue doors:


A loooooong shot down a typical side street in La Rochelle:


I deliberately framed this shot so you couldn't see the street just off to the left. By doing so, I create the impression of a cloistered walk, I think:


I saw the following written on a wooden door and thought I'd have to have a heart of stone not to be moved by something so romantic. Je t'aime plus que tout au monde means, "I love you more than everything in the world":


Another cloistered-but-not-really-cloistered shot, which reminded me a bit of being in Berne, Switzerland, where many such covered sidewalks exist along the Swiss capital's main drag:


No idea what this is, but it looked historical, so I took a pic:


We ended up wandering into a flock of flamingo-like umbrellas:


The street opened up into a square, typical of many squares in European cities. This square had a farmer's market in it, buzzing with activity (and protected by hovering 'brella-angels):


Oysters! Note how some are sold by the dozen while others are sold by the kilo:


Way up ahead was a house done in colombage style; Dominique noticed it first and pointed it out to me because it vaguely reminded him of the architecture one would find in his former region of Alsace, next door to Germany and Switzerland, where such architecture is common (imagine pretty much any ski chalet, and you're probably thinking of colombage-style architecture). Two major differences, though, were that (1) this colombage was off-white whereas the classic colombage is bright white, and (2) this colombage used a different style of wooden post for the framing.


Final shot for La Rochelle before we got un-lost. I took this pic because Dominique pointed upward and said, "Look at that façade!" Otherwise, I would've shrugged and moved on.


Having now un-lost ourselves, we were on our way back to the water. the next picture is, in my opinion, a bit ugly. I almost didn't include it here; the electric wiring seems tacky, out of place, and not very inspiring. I imagine it's much more meaningful at night, with the lights on:


This funky bit of architecture was reminiscent of the above-mentioned colombage style, but note that the black, crisscrossing elements aren't pieces of timber:


...and that's all from La Rochelle. The day was cloudy, cool, and a bit gloomy, but my tour of the city was nevertheless illuminating. There was way too much information to take in; I could spend weeks trying to sort through it all, but I've never been much of a history buff, so I'll leave that task to better minds than mine.



La Rochelle: before we got lost

In our Friday tour of La Rochelle, we reached a point where Véro said we needed to head into the town itself. we passed under a large gateway, as you'll see, and things went fine for the next few minutes. Below, you'll see a musician strumming away and singing. He sang in English ("I seen fire and I seen rain"—James Taylor?), and Héloïse asked me what I thought of his accent. I told her he was, frankly, perfect. If the dude was French, he really had an ear for how to sing like an American. But part of me suspected he was American.

Some Napoleon-wannabe dude named Duperre:


Explanatory plaque (click to magnify):


The rather distinctive entrance into the fortified part of town:


...with tacky icicle lights hanging from the opening:


A statue of Eugène Fromentin:


And his explanatory plaque:


Our singer, who actually looks Irish:


And my buddy Charles's mecca, l'Académie de la Bière:


I find it funny that a "beer academy," a likely zone of licentiousness, is located at "Temple Court." A true coincidentia oppositorum. Or are beer and temples really that opposed? Better ask those beer-making monks.

Not long after the singer, we realized we had no idea where we were going, and we circled back around to the statue of Eugène Fromentin two or three times. As I said before, I like getting lost in new places, but I normally prefer doing it alone, without the pressure of a potentially antsy travel partner. It's rare to find someone with the same tolerance for stress* as you, which is why I often prefer the spiritual breathing room that comes with solitary activities. Other people just fuck your day up unless they're absolutely chill. Luckily, no one in the family was stressed about being lost, and we even traded jokes about going in circles. So that was good.



*Maybe "tolerance for stress" isn't quite the concept I'm going for, here. When I get lost while exploring, I don't feel stressed at all. I suppose it's more a tolerance for randomness, chaos, and flexible itineraries that I'm talking about. Sometimes, planning is a good thing; I had to plan out my cross-country walk last year, because if I hadn't, I might've ended up lost or worse. But I normally trust that most developed, civilized cities won't eat me alive when I visit them, so there's far less need to worry about planning anything in detail. Geneva is a great example of a city that's fun to get lost in... although with a giant lake right next to it, it's a difficult city in which to truly get lost! Maybe I need a better example.



La Rochelle: the tour begins in earnest

As our walk along the waterside continued, we passed by some interesting graffiti, which Dom began to suspect had been placed there quite on purpose, and not just as an expression of the voices of the oppressed:


Above, "Les salauds dorment en paix" literally means, "The bastards sleep peacefully." To my mind, that is a cry against oppression, an overtly political statement, and in a country as left-leaning as France, not a surprising sentiment at all.

Below: some striking pictures of faces. But of whose faces?


What is probably un donjon in the distance:


Graffiti, as we move around the building's corner:


I do kind of like this artwork. It beats the milquetoast, unimaginative, Sailor Moon-ish crap graffiti you often see here in Seoul:


Le donjon, closer (and le bald spot, closer):


A lighthouse that strikes me as being too far inland and too short to do its job properly:


A view across the water:


About to go up the stairs:


The girls sit on a ledge while we old farts take their pics:


Mari et femme:


Véro warned us that we needed to tell her if she was to pause so we could take pics of any given site. "Sinon, je trace, hein?" she said: "Otherwise, I'm bookin'." As you see below, she tended to walk way ahead. The verb tracer, in this case, refers to the sport of parkour; parkourists are called traceurs in French. It was a very cool, windy day, and I don't think poor Véro wanted to be exposed to the elements any longer than she had to be, especially as she was still recovering from a 70-kilometer bike ride done only two days earlier.


I wouldn't have taken the next photo had Dom not pointed out the somewhat Dutch-ish-looking nature of these buildings in terms of design and color scheme:


Surely, this is a metaphor for something:


That square tower in the distance is the bell tower of a local church:


These structures, which guard the inlet to the marina, were referred to as "the two towers" by Dom's dad, who asked later on whether we'd had a chance to look seaward and see them:


It was at about this point that we began to move away from the water and into the city, which is when we got lost. Good times. Good times.