31 December 2012

Stuff I've Learned in France, Part 1

For those of us whose New Year begins on January 1st, the end of December is a natural time to reflect on all those things we'd like to accomplish, or change, in the coming year.

Instead of looking forward, I've been thinking about what's happened in my life since landing in France on a cold and blustery December afternoon 13 years ago. I never expected to stay this long, but I'm happy I have.

Which is why, on the cusp of a new year, and with the promise of change in the air, it feels appropriate to kick off a new Got-France-in-My-Pants series: Stuff I've Learned in France. Here it is then, an example of the kinds of stuff you might see more of in 2013.

Counting the Months
In the past, if I needed to know how many days were in a certain month, and I didn't have a calendar nearby, I'd mentally rifle through this well-known rhyme

Thirty days hath September,
April, June, and November.
All the rest have thirty-one,
Except(ing) February alone,
With twenty-eight days clear,
And twenty-nine in each leap year.

until I got to the month in question; a bit of a laborious operation if I had been aiming for one of the unnamed months with 31 days. 

But no more, because I recently learned a simple, some might even say "childish" technique that will give me the right answer in seconds and takes less mental effort than memorizing the number of days per month, even though that might be ultimately easier. And all you need is the back of your hand.

To begin, make a fist with your left or right hand (it doesn't matter which), making sure the back of your hand (with the knuckles) is facing you. Next, starting with the knuckle of your index finger, say the months in order (January, February, March, etc.), touching each knuckle and then each dip in between knuckles, one for each month.

So the index knuckle is January, the dip in between the index and middle-finger knuckle is February, the middle-finger knuckle is March. When you get to the knuckle of your pinkie finger (July), return to the index-finger knuckle (August) and finish the year at the ring-finger knuckle (December).

The only other thing to know is that "knuckle" months have 31 days (January, March, May, July, August, October, December), while the months represented by the dips in between knuckles, with the exception of February, each have 30 days (April, June, September, November). Or put another way, knuckle months are taller, and so have more days than "dip" months. 

And that's it. This isn't mind blowing stuff for sure, but it is practical. My wife was astonished I didn't know this little trick before. Maybe you've know it for a long time. If not, try it out; you might find it useful. And to think I didn't learn this stuff until I got to France.

Thanks for reading, and see you in the New Year!

ONLYLYON Video Contest Results

The results are in!

On the 17th of this month the ONLYLYON video contest ended, and two of the three winners have already been identified:

Antoine Moyroud, whose video had been watched nearly 12,000 times on YouTube. If you haven't seen it yet, you can watch Antoine's video here. This video was one of my personal favorite's from the beginning. Congratulations Antoine!

The second prize has been awarded to Elliot Chabanis and Owen Barrow, two high school students, for their video "Lyon Internationally", which received the most number of votes on Facebook. You can see Elliot and Owen's video here.

The winner of the Jury's award - the third and final prize - will be announced in mid-January 2013. If my video wins, I'll post it here.

Thank you to everyone who voted on Facebook and watched my video on YouTube!

04 December 2012

Père Lachaise Cemetary in Paris

First-timer visitors to Paris often have a checklist of the notable sites they absolutely must visit. It often goes something like this: the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, the Louvre, the Champs-Elysées, Versailles, Notre Dame de Paris, Montmartre and its

Basilica of the Sacré Coeur.

An equally worthwhile site, one that might not seem obvious at first but which draws more than two million visitors per year, is the Père-Lachaise Cemetery located in Paris' 20th district.

Opened in 1804, this 108-acre plot of land is the final resting place for one million people, including many famous artists, musicians, statesmen and other figures of historical significance.

Visiting Père-Lachaise is like strolling through a hilled city with little streets meandering this way and that. The architecture of the cemetery's 70,000 tombs varies greatly from simple stone slabs laid flat to towering and ornate monuments in the Baroque, Gothic and Neo-Byzantine styles.

One could easily spend hours walking the tree-line lanes and exploring the grave sites. If you're on a tight schedule, you can decide "who" you want to see ahead of time. This site gives you a virtual tour of the cemetery, and even has an alphabetical grave index to help you prepare your visit in advance. Otherwise you can obtain a free map of the cemetery from the Conservation office just inside the main entrance on Boulevard de Ménilmontant.

During a recent visit to Père-Lachaise I couldn't resist the temptation to repeat the joke: "People are just dying to get in here". Only later did I find out that there actually is a waiting list as very few plots are available nowadays. It's also expensive - buying a plot in perpetuity will

cost you more than 5,000€ per square meter. And not everyone can "get in"; you must either have died or lived in the French capitol to be buried here.


From 6 November to 15 March, Père-Lachaise is open from 8:00 am to 5:30 pm Monday - Friday, and from 9:00 am to 5:30 pm on Sundays and bank holidays.


The rest of the year the cemetery is open from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm Monday - Friday, and from 8:30 to 6:00 pm Sundays and bank holidays.


A few of the notable tombstones you can see in Père-Lachaise:

  • Honoré de BALZAC
  • Frédéric CHOPIN
  • Jean de LA FONTAINE
  • Amadeo MODIGLIANI
  • Jean-Baptiste MOLIERE
  • Jim MORRISON
  • Edith PIAF
  • Gertrude STEIN
  • Oscar WILDE
  • Richard WRIGHT


The tombstone of Jim Morrison