Wednesday, March 30, 2011


On December 24, 1994, Flight 8969 from Algiers to Paris was boarded and readying for takeoff when some Algerian Presidential Guards boarded the plane and began checking passports. Minutes later it was revealed that the men were not guards at all, but hijackers taking the Air France flight hostage. 220 passengers, crew, and a rather large plane became their property for the next two and a half days. Algerian negotiators begged the hijackers to release hostages (even to the point of bringing in the mother of the head-hijacker) while French leaders demanded entry into the situation. Both failed. When hostages began losing their lives, the Algerians agreed to let the plane take off on a flight plan to Marseille, France, where refueling would be necessary before continuation to Paris. During that flight, two significant things happened in France: (1) A GIGN assault team was readied for a possible raid on the plane, and (2) French intelligence learned that the hijackers' plan was to detonate the plane as a fireball just above the Eiffel Tower and thousands of tourists/citizens. The decision was made that the plane would not under any circumstances leave Marseille. What ensued was a wild shoot out inside the grounded aircraft, watched by a nation. In the end, it was considered one of the more successful raids in mass hostage situation history. We now know this day to have been a sort of predecessor to 9/11.

I know this because I went and saw a movie that depicts the story. It's a French movie. In French. So it was sort of a milestone for me. A year ago when I was barely into baby speak in my French learning, I set a goal to be able to watch and comprehend a French movie. My attempt at realizing this goal began in the Marseille metro when I saw a movie poster. The poster had the viewer staring down the barrel of an assault rifle into the goggles of a black-clad SWAT looking fellow, and the movie title "L'Assaut" (wait for it... "The Assault") written in bold letters. Since many American movies are shown in France, I thought, "Ooh, that's a fun-looking new movie, I'll have to check it out."
Then I read the subtitle: 24 Decembre, 1994. Marignane.
"Who sets a fictional action movie in the past?" I thought, "That doesn't make sense. Waaaait a second, Marignane is the Marseille airport, no way!"
Then I read the list of actors: "Vincent, Jean-_____, Jacques _____, I don't know any of these guys... oh, it's a French movie! Huh. Wait, I wonder if it's not fictional, but something real that happened. At our airport? That's creepy."

So a bit of toying around on the internet and asking some French friends taught me that the story was indeed true, and a movie had just been made to bring life again to a monumental day in the recent history of this country. After reading the news about it, I was hooked and wanted to go see it (plus, having a true story which I read up on would give me a significant advantage in understanding the movie!). I talked a couple of French friends into going along, and we checked it out. I was quite impressed, as were they. They couldn't believe that a French movie had done action that well. I had read that the GIGN (kind of like SWAT in the US I guess) had worked with the movie directors to reenact and properly portray the events. The movie directors did a good job of giving the movie a captivating storyline without diverting from the real story, and the manner in which they intertwined the actual news footage from 1994 was pretty cool.

If you speak/understand some French or like foreign films, I recommend this one. If you're really into that sort of history and hijackings and the like, I recommend it too, or read the wikipedia story about the events and how they unfolded on Christmas 1994. it's a pretty fascinating story, and one I'm glad I saw in my new language on the big screen!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Lil' Handyman

Kids like to imitate. Like yesterday, when riding in the car with a bunch of other guys, Sawyer conversed by repetition. His conversations went something like this:
"Hey Sawyer, how's it going?"
That's great pal. I see you have a stuffed animal, what animal is that?"
"I know it's an animal, is it a dog?"
"Hmm, cool, does the dog have a name?"
And thus it continued.

While irritating, the repetition is also really fun and produces great moments like this one:
Can you tell we've been doing a lot of handy work around our apartment to make it a home? Yep.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

America vs Europe

Around a table over coffee I was having a discussion with some French folks. As an American living in France, I was asked to describe the biggest differences between life in the USA and in France/Europe. Here’s the list I came up with:

1. New vs. Old
Everything in America is new. This is something I’d never noticed nor thought about until I came to Europe. The USA is only 235 years old. That’s miniscule in the scope of our world. Travel around Europe and you see chateaus, castles, walled cities, and palaces nearly as old as the written word. In America, the oldest thing I can ever remember seeing was a log cabin in my home town that dated a mere 100+ years. What age does exist in America is natural and God-created, not man-made (i.e. Grand Canyon, Redwood Forest).

2. Big vs. Small
This one is a derivation of the first. Where America’s known for its vast plains, ranches, highways, backyards, and Super Wal-Marts, Europe’s characterized by tight streets and passageways, closet-sized apartments (our place - large by Marseille standards - can be vacuumed completely without ever unplugging the vacuum), mopeds, fruit stands, and elevators that would terrify even a mild claustrophobic. Because of the age of things, they are smaller in Europe. City streets weren’t built when cars were on the scene. The doorways that I have to duck to walk through were constructed at a different time, when 6’+ was a height not thought of. Most cities have been around for centuries, so we can’t go back and plan them to be built around modern inventions like cars and elevators.

3. Airplanes/Automobiles vs Trains/Walking
Also a derivation of the first. In America, you can’t really live without a car. Imagine going to work, doing all of your shopping, and going to visit family without a car. Stateside, nearly impossible. In Europe, if you don’t have a car that makes you normal. Here, we walk to get groceries, we hop the metro to go out to eat, and if we want to visit friends in another city, we take a train. In the States, for vacation or business, there’s cars and planes. Flights around the country are pretty common. We live in the second largest city in France, and our airport compares to that of a domestic airport of a minor city in an average state. Why? Because few people fly here, they take trains instead (easier, cheaper, more comfortable, and when you factor in check-in and waiting for bags... faster, plus no ear-popping).

4. Theism vs Apathy
If you ask a random person on the street in the States what it takes to get to heaven, you may get a trip through the Romans road, an admonishment to follow the 10 commandments, a “live a good life” answer, or even an honest “I don’t know.” Ask the same question in Europe and you’re likely to get ignored, or simply told that the question is dumb/irrelevant, as heaven doesn’t exist.

We also talked about smaller differences, like the number of cheeses in France vs the number of cereals in the States, but these were the big ones that stood out to me. So what did I leave out?

Ever travelled? Read a book? Seen a movie? Have a European/American friend? What do you see as the big differences between two western worlds?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Mr Clean the Banker

I actually enjoy going to our little bank down the road in Marseille.

In Paris, our nearest bank branch was pretty big and professional. I often would dress up in one of my old work suits and fancy myself an international businessman when I had to go set up or change accounts. I like to think it helped. Mostly it just gave me an excuse to still own a couple of suits.

But here in Marseille, I take the opposite approach. It’s laid-back, and our local bank branch fits the bill. I could have gone a few blocks away to a bigger one where they speak English, but I chose this one for its charm. As I walk in, dodging doors and the one chair that sits inside, I am always greeted by one of my favorite people. I call him (in my mind) Monsieur Clean. I swear he could be Mr. Clean’s French cousin. No earring, but he does have stylish glasses that compliment his shining bald head, is always standing, about 50 years old, could probably bench press a smartcar, and he wears the same thing everyday: gray dress pants and a tight black t-shirt. But my favorite part is that I’m not convinced he actually does anything. He stands behind the desk as if he is a teller there to help, but each time I’ve tried to ask a question of him, he tells me to sit and wait until someone else can come. The someone elses are the two other people that work there. A woman I’ve yet to meet, and a younger guy who likes the phone (very un-french) and loves New York. He always seems happy to see me, helpful, and fairly efficient. He doesn’t understand how I could prefer American food to French, but always raves about his visits to New York, from the taxi rides to the hotels to the people he meets.

The entire bank branch could fit in our old American living room (or our African living room for that matter), and I feel like I’m stepping into a janitor’s closet when I walk around the half-glass wall to my friend’s ‘office’. I’m pretty sure this branch has no pull whatsoever on the actual bank’s inner-workings. I don’t really know that anything ever gets done when I go. But I do enjoy my visits there. I always leave with a smile, and that’s not easy to do from anyplace here that doesn’t give you fresh bread.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Linda's Photo Journal

Here's a few shots from around our new home, courtesy of our friend Linda (who was a wonderful house-guest for a week, taking GREAT care of us while here).

Believe it or not, this is our street in southern France, not an urban passage in a war-torn north African country. We find it charming. One of the hazards of living on a new construction block.

Our sweet view from our window. Used to be something. No immediate future plans. Currently it's where the neighborhood dogs go to poop.

Welcome to the Vieux-Port fish market. You can buy anything you want here, as long as someone caught it that morning.

A typical French eatery.
And a couple of bird's eye views of the city:

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Hooray (our) Stuff!

This post may appear anti-me. I'm normally against most all stuff. Can't stand stuff. My friend Kevin once eloquently pointed out the problem with typical American Dream finances. We save up enough money to buy a nice house in which to put all our stuff. Then we keep saving to get a bigger house. More space means we can get more stuff. But soon we have to get a bigger place for all our new stuff. Then comes the need for more stuff to really fill out our house. And thus the spiral continues. Not a good one if you ask me.

But, this stuff is that which will make our lives easier, a bit better - we hope. There's probably more than we need, and we already have a few boxes ready to cart off, but what remains is special to us, at least for now. We've had this box of stuff that's ours but out of reach. Like money in a CD or savings bond that you simply can't get to, our things have sat in a wooden box in Houston for over a year. Then two months at sea. Then delivered to our door. After 16 months, a couple of fellas with crow bars cracked that baby open.
And voilĂ ! It's our stuff!

Most important to us (and my wife who's been on bedrest for a month in an old futon, no end in sight), our bed! It's our bed! And it barely fits in our room. A California King you ask? Nope, just a Full. Welcome to urban Europe.

A kitchen with our cookware! How exciting. Our 2 plastic light my fire sporks served us well for a long time, but it's awfully nice to have real utensils again. And we learned a bunch of things that we could cook on our European Green Pan, but pots and lids and pans and knives sure do open up a world of possibilities!

Gold Star Chili Bengals glasses, now we're ready for football season! If we have a quarterback that is. And receivers. And a coach. And an NFL. Also pictured are a brand new set of knives, purchased thanks to a Day-after-Thanksgiving sale in 2009.

Ah, our living room. The place where we will live (inside). Pictured is some new furniture. The first new furniture we'd ever bought. Brand-new yet unopened for a year and a half. Let me just tell you, after a couple months of sitting on a plastic trunk, it's super-comfy!.

Thanks to our friend Linda, who's here now unpacking and organizing with - for - us. This could not have possibly come together so quickly without her! (And our other friends in-country who were here on unpacking day 1 to help, thanks guys!)