21 November 2010

RB (Retirement Blues)

Earlier this month the French government signed into law the controversial reform that raised the retirement age from 60 to 62. A few days after a letter came in the mail outlining my pension status based on the number of years I've contributed to Social Security (not many).

And what I saw frightened me.

It wasn't the fact that I'd have to work nearly a quarter of a century more in this system before I can stop, but that it will probably take me that long to wade through and understand that murky world of the RSO (retirement system organizations) and their equivalent acronyms.

Here's just a sampling from the letter I received.

AGIRC             ARRCO          CARCDSF           CARMF
    CARPIMKO           CARPV               CAVAMAC
CAVEC          CAVIMAC        CAVOM           CAVP
      CIPAV          CNAV      CNAVPL       CNBF
CNIEG        CNRACL              CPRN              CRN
          CRPCEN           CRPCF              ENIM
FSPOEIE        IRCANTEC         IRCED        MSA
                 RAFP                  RSI
Say that 10 times as fast as you can.

The French certainly have a knack for reducing government organizations to a few letters. What's even more frightening is that I too have been infected. After 10 years the acronym virus has taken root.

It's quite common now, even in casual conversation, for me to comfortably use abbreviations like HT and TTC (when talking about the price of good and services), RTT (for days off), TVA (for value added tax), VO (generally used for movies in their 'original version'), VF (movies in French), PDG (the president of a company), OVNI (French for UFO), EDF (the French electric company), CNED (for distance learning) and DIF (employee's right to training).

In some cases it's definitely more practical to say CNRACL rather than the Caisse Nationale De Retraites Des Agents Des Collectivités Locales.

The downside of course can be a loss of energy and power when we replace a real word with an acronym. The 'President' certainly carries more oomph than PDG. The mere mention of 'mountain bike' has me humming over rock and tracking through thick mud at 30mph with the scent of pine-filled air swirling about me, while the French abbreviation, VTT (vélo tout terrain), well, doesn't really take me anywhere.

SDF (sans domicile fixe) is a sterile, politically correct euphemism that just doesn't conjure up the same image as 'bum' or 'homeless' or even 'street urchin'.

While I agree that they can sometimes be useful, the overuse of acronyms can run disturbingly close to double speak. So when I receive a letter with an entire page of insanely long abbreviations, the temptation is too strong to hold my tongue.

I open my mouth and out flies, 'WTF!'

14 November 2010

An Autumn Day in La Dombes

My family and I just returned from a long weekend in La Dombes, an agricultural region north of Lyon.

It's definitely worth taking the time to explore the area's traditional farmers' markets, historical sites, bird park and nature walks.

But my favorite thing to do here, especially in this season, is wander the fields by myself. I love to watch how the light filters through the clouds and falls on the oak woods and rows of drying corn stalks. Sometimes I just find a quiet spot near a tree and look up at the sky. It's a great place to watch and listen.

And breathe.

The seven photos below span the length of one day in La Dombes, from sunrise to after sunset. Hopefully they convey some of the magic I feel when I spend time here.

Sunrise. Mt. Blanc, the highest mountain peak on continental Europe
can bee seen here as a small bump where the two tree lines meet near the 
bottom left. Click on the photo to see a larger image.

Late morning in the garden.


Trees at sunset.

These last three are all time exposures I took well after the sun went down.

The moon about to fall into a fiery horizon.

 The strong night wind eventually pushed the clouds away long 
enough to see stars in the western sky. Here they can be seen shining 
above a farmhouse that dates back to before the French Revolution.

08 November 2010

Did You Know...? Part 3

According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the human with the most bizarre diet was the Frenchman Michel Lotito (1950 - 2007) from the city of Grenoble.

Mr. Lotito's Wikipedia page says that he began eating glass, metal and rubber from about the age of nine. When he was 16 he began performing publicly, entertaining crowds with his eating antics.

Throughout his career he ate 18 bicycles, 15 shopping carts, 7 televisions, 6 chandeliers, 2 beds, a pair of skis, a Cesna 150 airplane and a computer.

He is also the only known human to have swallowed an entire coffin, including the handles.  Though the Guinness book doesn't elaborate on this point, one can only assume the casket was empty at the time of consumption.

It's generally understood that Mr. Lotito was able to ingest metals and other objects normally considered poisonous thanks to a doubly thick stomach and intestinal lining.

Ironically, soft foods like bananas were difficult for him to eat.

You can follow this link here to watch a 5-minute YouTube video of 'Mr. Eat Everything' in action.

And as you watch, keep in mind that oft-quoted cliché - don't try this at home.

Kids At Christmas

Kids in France love this time of year.

Not because of the legal - and free - glucose-induced high they could get from trick-or-treating (Halloween isn't really celebrated here). And not because of the school vacation that extends into early November.

No, what really gets the adrenaline pumping, and sets off weeks of feverish list making, letter writing...and some not-so-subtle hinting...is the day the Christmas toy catalogues arrive in the mail.

They come for adults, too - high-fashion glossy mags selling the 'sexy' holiday essentials, from designer handbags and evening gowns to stiletto heels and lingerie. Everything to put the nutmeg in your Noël.

In our family, kids are told that when they reach 10, the gift-giving burden shifts from St. Nick to the parents. We find it a gentle way for them to ease into the "truths" about Christmas.

Last year, when our oldest was nine years old, and, theoretically, still under the auspices of Santa, a gigantic - and ridiculously expensive - box of Leggos caught his attention as he was flipping through his catalogue.

His younger brother noticed he was hesitating to put it on his list. So he took him aside and with the candor of an inside trader who knows how to work the system, whispered:

"You should go for it now. Mom and dad will never get if for you next year. It's too expensive. And besides, Santa's loaded."

02 November 2010

All Saints

With all the strange and sometimes chaotic events manifesting in the world recently (and I'm not referring to Halloween) - riots in Lyon, flooding, letter bombs, mid-term elections in the U.S. - one could easily get caught up in an endless sea of fear and feelings of being a victim.

But no one says we have to.

Last month a friend sent me a quote from Marianne Williamson's 1992 book A Return to Love (page 191). Each time I read it, I remember that I have a choice, lofty - and impossible - as it may seem, to feel differently.

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn't serve the world. There's nothing enlightening about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We are born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us, it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."

If you gave yourself the choice today, right now, to shine, what would happen?

And finally...what are you waiting for?