On August 8, 2016, I blogged about arriving in Montpellier with my family and
the start of our 12 month séjour. Today we're
a little more than halfway through.
Thursday I picked up my Titre de Séjour from the Prefecture. The Titre de
Séjour (formerly Carte de Séjour, or just CD) is a residence permit required by
French law for non-European Union citizens staying in France for a longer than
three months. I can now travel around the EU like any other French citizen
until August 1, 2017. This is good since I'm planning to visit a few places
outside France this spring like Bologna and Berlin.
Our previous séjour in 2009 opened my eyes to what less-privileged,
poorly-connected people are going through when they try to establish residence
in France. We stood in the same lines and waited in the same waiting rooms as
African families. In 2016, immigration is much more segregated. Visiting
scientists and their families get to deposit their dossiers at a much more
welcoming Office Français Immigration Intégration (OFFI) annex at the
university. We're presumed healthy and there are no medical exams or scans. My
only time spent with other immigrants was waiting to pick up my card at the
Prefecture. Immigration to France (short term, at least) is easier today for
well-connected white folks. I suspect it's more difficult for others.
And now our return to the US in August is beginning to rear its head. We're
signing our oldest up for her new school. Discussions with our tax preparer are
starting. We have a family reunion in California to arrange. Orthodontia
appointments to schedule. House repairs.
12 months is too short for a trip like this; just when we're finally settled in
it's time to start planning to leave.
The work of defining a JSON-LD context and RDF vocabulary for GeoJSON is done.
Documentation on version 1.0 of the context and context, including links to the
JSON-LD and RDF docs, is published at http://geojson.org/geojson-ld/.
This work has no impact on most GeoJSON applications. For JSON-LD applications
it provides a default context, allowing ordinary GeoJSON to be parsed (for the
most part; see the outstanding issues noted at the end of the documentation) as
though it were JSON-LD in a standard way, and helps make GeoJSON elements
useful in other JSON-LD contexts.
Thanks to everyone who participated in the discussions on GitHub: Chaz6,
ManoMarks, Roselin, adoyle, ajturner, akuckartz, azaroth42, calvinmetcalf,
cappelaere, danbri, dinizime, dlongley, dr-shorthair, dret, ekansa, elf-pavlik,
emeeks, erictheise, fils, gkellogg, hobu, jasnell, jyutzler, kgeographer,
kgjenkins, ktk, lanthaler, letmaik, mitar, mpdaly, msporny, p3dr0, peterisb,
pietercolpaert, retog, rtroncy, rybesh, sdrees, sfsheath, sgillies,
thijsbrentjens, tschaub, and tstone. Because I drastically reduced the scope of
the work toward the end, some of these contributions aren't reflected in the
A vocabulary for describing the temporal extent of event-like features is one
of the things that I cut from GeoJSON-LD. It lives on as a proposed extension
for RFC 7946 GeoJSON, with no JSON-LD requirements, at
Sète is southwest of Montpellier,
at the foot of Mont St Clair, between the Étang de Thau (our largest coastal
lagoon) and the Mediterranean Sea. It has an active fishing, recreation, and
container port, France's second largest (after Marseille) on the Mediterranean.
Montpellerians are very fond of Sète and laud its authentic character. It's
a tourist destination that doesn't feel overrun by tourists. Certainly not on
the day after Christmas, when we stopped in.
Construction of the Port of Sète began in 1666 with funding and an edict from
Louis XIV. The port was to be the southern terminus of the Canal du Midi, which gave France river and
canal transport route between the Atlantic and Mediterranean, an interior
route that didn't have to pass Spain. In a way it was a massive pipeline
project, but for wheat, not oil. I hope that the Canal du Midi will be one of
our future day trips. One can bike it using tow paths converted to paved or
upaved cycling and hiking trails or go by commercial or personal boat. We
passed it on the outskirts of Béziers on our train trip to Barcelona and,
I read, it crosses the Orb river on a viaduct. Seeing a boat cross a river via
bridge will be worth the trip. Maybe we'll be in the boat.
Boat tours of the Port de Sète depart from the original central quai shown in
the map from 1777 above, just to the lower left of the bridge. These run
regularly in warmer weather and the crew and boat come out of hibernation for
a few runs during the Christmas break. Ruth called and found out that whether
the tours are on or off depends on weather and the number of passengers. As it
turned out, the weather was fine, the boat sold out, and the tour was on. We
scored good seats on the top deck of the Aquarius, a bright red and yellow
catamaran with underwater windows in each of its hulls.
The 17th century civil engineers who built the port did not make allowances for
automobile parking garages, but one has been installed under the canal north of
the quai. It boggled my land-lubber brain a bit to be parking under the water,
but of course the canal itself is a rather shallow channel dug in the solid
ground between the sea and the lagoon to the north. The parking is operated
by Indigo, of course,
an enterprise intent on monopolizing parking stations in France and running
them fairly well with decent lighting and fresh paint and seasonal music.
The Aquarius slipped past the fishing fleet on the quai and then down the coast
to the southwest, past the maritime cemetary, the amphitheatre, and to
a rocky bank in shallow water where we were all invited to go below deck to
peer out the underwater ports. We saw fish, though Dorade (Sea Bream) is the
only species I remember. When the water is warmer, tourists sometimes see
octopus on these tours.
On the way back from the rocks, the crew gave all the kids on board a tour of
the wheelhouse. Bea blew the ship's horn and Arabelle got to handle the wheel.
Meanwhile, the first mate entertained the adults with a variety of off-color
The cruise finished with a very detailed tour of the most empty (Boxing Day,
remember) port. There was one livestock freighter recently arrived from North
Africa, and a wine tanker from Tangiers. We saw where the tugs and pilot boats
were parked and then headed back to the quai with some jaunty song about
cigales (cicadas) on the loudspeakers. We went to the nearest place, Les
2 Ramiers, for cafés and crêpes so loaded with Nutella that even Bea and
Arabelle cried for mercy.
Too full to get in the car, we wandered a couple blocks to Place Léon Blum to
see the famous octopus fountain. It's big and sprawling and I failed to capture
it well with my phone's camera.
I'm looking forward to visiting Séte again before we leave France. Meanwhile,
I've given myself a little homework: 1) figure out why Georges Brassens is such a big deal around
here, and 2) watch Pépé le Moko, a prototypical film
noir set in Sète.
There will be no 2016 retrospective from me. Instead here are a few photos of
shoppers at Montpellier's Arceaux Market managing to match the products or
stalls they are standing at, their enthusiasm for the sea, fresh pasta, and
penicillium literally worn on their sleeves, in perfect harmony with the
objects of their gustatory desires.
One of my resolutions for 2017 is to bring my better camera to the market and
get over my inhibitions about taking photographs of people. Asking permission
and making apologies will be good French practice.
Bon courage and good luck in the new year, everyone!
We had enough fun in Nîmes that we've dedicated ourselves to trying some kind
of weekend day trip every two weeks or so. On December 10, we piled back into
our trusty little wagon for Part III of our World Heritage Tour and headed to
Avignon, in Provence, and its famous Palais des Papes.
Why not every weekend? It's not that anyone in my family is averse to
sightseeing, it's that being étrangers (foreigners), even well-connected and
privileged étrangers, in France is exhausting, especially for our kids, and
some regularly scheduled downtime or unscheduled time turns out to be critical.
The deal, more or less, is this: our kids get one weekend of laying around in
their pyjamas reading books and playing Minecraft and Sims or local activities
and, most of all, not sitting in a car, and the other weekend we drive to some
World Heritage Site (for real!) while listening to a Hunger Games audiobook (in
French) with a guarantee of a gôuter.
Avignon's Palais des Papes did not disappoint!
You can read all about the Palace elsewhere. Suffice it to say that 6 Roman
Catholic popes held office here in the 14th century and poured a ton of gold
into making it the largest Gothic palace of Europe. It's pretty awesome if
you're into castles and fortresses. Extensive rennovation has made it easy to
see much of the interior and there are quality exhibits throughout. You can
even visit the room in which the popes hoarded their treasure, a windowless
room with floorboards (stones, in fact) that were pulled up to add or remove
sacks of gold and silver extracted from the faithful.
The rooftop café was closed, but that wasn't a big deal because there were
several in the square below and we got our gôuter: crêpes nutella, citron,
and caramel made fresh in front of our eyes just as they should be.
The Pont Saint-Bénézet, the "pont" in
the song, "Sur le pont d'Avignon," was close and we walked there next. It's not
a huge bridge and doesn't even completely span this branch of the Rhône, but
it has character and affords nice views of the river and palace.
Avignon had a nice feel about it. There's a sizeable pedestrian center that was
packed with Christmas shoppers. We did some shopping ourselves and I saw some
attractive restaurants. We'll be returning to next summer to check out
Avignon's renowned performing arts festival.
The Saturday day before my 20 km race, the four of us (I, Ruth, our two
daughters) drove north and east "up" the A9 to Nîmes to do a bit of
sight-seeing. Nîmes is less than an hour from Montpellier and has several
well-preserved monuments from its Gallo-Roman past. I visited in 2012 and have
been pitching the idea of another visit to my family for months. Part of my
pitch was this episode of "C'est pas sorcier": Pont du Gard et Arènes de Nîmes
: L'architecture gallo-romaine. I wish we'd known about
"C'est pas sorcier"
before we arrived. France 3 has uploaded all of its 550+ episodes to Youtube
and they'll be a great resource for us when we get back to Colorado. English
Wikipedia translates the title as "It's not rocket science," but "It's not
magic" is better in the context of the show, which features technical models
and scientific explanations.
There are 42 kilometers on the A9 autoroute between Montpellier Est and
Nîmes Ouest. It's 3 lanes in either direction with one toll plaza on the A9
east of Montpellier and one at the Nîmes exit. We picked up a ticket leaving
Montpellier and paid €7 (if I recall) when entering Nîmes. Freeway driving in
the South of France is pretty much like driving in the US. The maximum posted
speed limit is a bit higher than in Colorado, but we don't see many drivers
exceeding it like they do on the Front Range. I've read that photo radar and
steep fines have been implemented to curtail speeding on the autoroute. French
drivers are less erratic than Colorado drivers and I feel like we're somewhat
safer on the A9 than we are on I-25.
On this trip, as on the others during our séjour, we're driving a 2005 Opel
It's turning out to be an adequate car. It seats 5, handles fairly well, and
gets great mileage. When it was new, its engine generated 85 hp, about a third
of our Honda Odyssey's output. We're one of the slower cars on the autoroute,
holding down the right lane with the Citroën C3s and the Renault Clios.
Nimes is the capital of the Gard (number 30, alphabetically, of France's 96
départements) department, as Montpellier is for the Hérault (34). The Nîmes
metro is 250,000 people, about the size of Fort Collins, Loveland, and
satellite towns. Nîmes is further from the shore, more in the hills, than
Montpellier. Outside the historic center of Nîmes are orchards, suburban
sprawl, and struggling zones à urbaniser en priorité (ZUP). On Avenue Kennedy
we passed between Valdegour and Pissevin, largely immigrant neighborhoods where
unemployment approaches 45% and services and shops have withdrawn.
It's a bad situation poised to become worse; a rightward-moving France doesn't
seem likely to undo the racial and ethnic segregation in smaller cities like
Nîmes and Montpellier.
We parked our car in a large pay lot (seasonal music included) near the Jardins
de la Fontaine and walked to the center from there. Our first stop was for fast
food, pasta in cartons for the kids, on one of the pedestrian shopping streets,
fully decorated for Christmas, and then we went directly to the Arènes de
Nîmes, the Roman
amphitheatre. At lunchtime on the last Saturday in November there is no
waiting in line to get in like there is in summer.
On my one previous visit to Nimes, I lost my wallet in Montpellier's train
station (whether by pickpocket or absent mindedness, I'll never know) and had
only my return ticket and the change in my pocket, nowhere near the price of
admission to the amphitheatre. This then was my first time inside and I was
very impressed. Constructed around AD 70, it seats almost 17,000 and is still
used today for corrida (bullfighting) and music festivals.
The sandy piste of the arena, was as they say in France, exceptionally open
on the day of our visit.
The Maison Carrée was
once a temple on the forum of Gallo-Roman Nemausus (as Nîmes was called). It
still stands 2014 years later and has been recently restored. There's a small
movie theater inside that shows a short historical drama set in the century
before the completion of the amphitheatre. It was a little hokey, but our kids
enjoyed it and got a sense of what joining the Roman Empire meant
for the tribe of Gauls settled around Nemausus: security, international trade,
and measurable prosperity.
Our final, and favorite, stop was at the Jardins de la Fontaine, a spacious park
established at a spring and Roman nymphaeum. Almost 4.5 kilometers of passages
and galleries have been found
in the karstic network upstream of the spring by spéléologues (spelunkers)
since the 1950s.
From the terraces and fountains, footpaths and stairs zig and zag up the hill
to the Tour Magne on top. It was too late to get into the tour, but we had a
great view of the sunset from its base.
We all agreed that the park alone was worth the drive. There's a lot to see and
do there, including terrains de pétanque (boules), a manège (carrousel), and
At the end of October my family, plus Ruth's Mom and sister, spent a long
weekend in Barcelona. We went by train. The French and Spanish national
railways, SNCF and Renfe, jointly run a line between Paris and Barcelona. 4 to
7 (in summer) round trips are made between these major cities every day. Over
2 million passengers made the journey in 2015.
Montpellier is midway between Paris and Barcelona and there is a long stretch
of old track before and beyond Montpellier. 155 kilometers of new faster track
between Montpellier and Perpignan following the route of the A9 motorway has
been proposed to be built
before 2025. The existing route is much closer to the Mediterranean, and
traverses the many coastal lagoons. It's every bit as scenic and wonderful as
it is slow: chugging along narrow causeways between blue water and sky,
surrounded by oyster beds and flamingos and windsurfers.
I'm not the only one who finds this region so picturesque: there's a train
photography site with many shots taken around Port-la-Nouvelle.
Between Perpignan and Barcelona is new, high speed track and the 8 kilometer
Perthus tunnel through the Pyrenées. At 280 kph it's only
15 mins to Figueres, another 15 to Girona, then 30 to Barcelona. The train
ducks into a tunnel in the suburbs and parks underground at the Barcelona
station. There are no tracks above ground at the station and you can walk
away from it in any direction. After checking out the huge metal dragon and
slide at the Parc de l'Espanya Industrial, we walked toward Avinguda del
Barcelona is a big city. My kids were taken aback at first. They'd been to
Los Angeles in the spring, which is bigger, but not so urbanized. The solid
blocks of 7-8 floor buildings took a little getting used to.
I was immediately impressed by Barcelona's generous sidewalks and crosswalks.
It felt safe to walk in central Barcelona. More than safe, even, it felt
right to walk. Walking is a first-class activity. I can't think of another
city where I've had quite the same feeling.
After unpacking we wandered past all the pintxos bars on Calle Blai to Bar
Seco, on a more peaceful corner at the foot of Montjuïc. Ruth's sister has been
working and traveling in Latin America all her adult life and speaks Spanish
very well, so we had no obstacles to getting properly fed in Barcelona. My kids
are deeply skeptical about European food at the moment and ate almost nothing
on this trip other than papas bravas and green salads. Happily, Bar Seco did
both of these very well. It also had a good selection of local craft beers,
including a hoppy one, La Pirata Viakrucis.
The following day was a busy one. We walked from our apartment up to Avinguada
Miramar and rode the telefèric to Castell de Montjuïc, the infamous citadel on
the hill overlooking the port and city. Many communists and Catalan activists
suffered and died within its walls. On October 15, 1940, the President of
Catalunya, Lluís Companys, was shot dead by the Franco regime in the moat of
the castle. From Wikipedia: "Companys is the only incumbent democratically
elected president in European history to have been executed." It was sobering
to consider the Spanish Civil War and the Franco's dictatorship at the end of
October and even more so today.
Afterwards, we rode the funicular and metro to the Sagrada Família, Antoni Gaudí's
extraordinary basilica. My brief experience with the Barcelona metro was
a positive one. It's clean and runs properly and is easy to navigate. There's
a stop right at the church.
The Sagrada Família has an enormous amount of stained glass and the light
inside is over the top. The colors of the rainbow are everywhere.
We went up the towers and got some great views from above. I've read that
the 45 degree building cuts at block corners, which turn intersections into
large diamond shaped plazas, are required urban design elements in Barcelona.
That evening, we ate at Taps Bar, a cozy place decorated with mid-century
antiques. I had sardines, which I ordered at every opportunity, and snails
(caragol in Catalan) for the first time, in a delicious sauce of ham,
chorizo, tomato, garlic, paprika, thyme, and black pepper. People eat a few
different species of snails here in southwest Europe, the shells of the ones
I ate suggest that they were Cornu aspersum.
Saturday morning we took a bus to Barcelona's Gothic Quarter and the Picasso
Museum. The Barri Gotic has a medieval character not unlike Montpellier's
centre ville, its tiny cobbled squares connected by narrow alleys.
Afterwards we wandered around the Parc de la Ciutadella for a while and
rented a little barque to paddle around a pond. Multiple late nights caught up
with us a bit at this point. While, Ruth and her Mom took the kids back to the
apartment for naps, Ruth's sister and I did a quick tour of other sites
like the Catedral de la Santa Creu i Santa Eulàlia, la Rambla, and the Casa
We all met up for dinner in the Eixample district at a restaurant named
Vinitus. My favorite tapa dish here was baked salt cod with a sauce of tomatoes
and honey. By the time we left, people were lining up halfway down the block to
get in. Fortunately, they were getting cocktail service in line.
The almost uniform excellence of food and service in Barcelona is uncanny. It's
also uncanny how a restaurant like Vinitus can be simultaneously chic,
affordable, and family friendly. In France or the United States, you generally
have to pick two of these three qualities. A bonus: wines in a Catalan
restaurant, especially local wines, cost not much more than the price of
a dish. I'm still not over this!
Sunday I went on a long training run along the boardwalk next to the
Mediterranean, through the renovated port (which reminded me very much of San
Francisco's Embarcadero), and back up and over Montjuïc. If I'd done more
homework before the trip, I would have known that there was a huge 10k race in
El Raval that morning. I saw runners gathering near the port as I passed.
At noon we walked uphill to the Fundació Joan Miró and toured the museum. I found myself thinking
a lot about how Miró remained motivated and able to do creative work through
such troubled times in Spain and Catalunya. Recommendations, if you have any,
for biographies of mid-20th century Catalan artists, writers, and designers are
very welcome. As impressive as the museum, in my opinion, are the botanical
gardens around around them.
For our last night out in Barcelona, we went back to Calle Blai for pintxos and
drinks before La Fíbula, an Arabic restaurant, opened. Pintxo is Basque for
"thorn" and refers to the pointy wooden stick used to pin some savory
ingredient – sausage, fish, roasted vegetables, etc. – to a slice of baguette.
My kids picked out pintxos of chips and guacamole (no, really!). If I recall,
the reason why I don't have a picture is that my phone was dying. Sadly for
them, it turned out to be the infamous green pea guacamole. I was too hungry to
be picky, and gobbled them along with a pair of spicy sausage pintxos and
a large Estrella Damm. La Fíbula was good, of course, my only regret being that
I ate way too many honey and rose water-drenched deserts.
Ruth's Mom and sister headed back to Seattle on Monday and the rest of us went
back to Montpellier on a train full of French families.
Before this trip, my experience in Spain was one afternoon at the Dalí
Theatre-Museum in Figueres and another at State of the Map in Girona. I'm so
glad we made the time to visit Barcelona. Clearly, there's so much more to this
city than we could see in 4 days. I'd love to go back.
Apologies if I've mixed up Spanish and Catalan street and place names here. I'm
new to these languages and am not always sure which is which.
Yesterday I ran in the 33rd 20 km de Montpellier, the race I've been training
for the past 12 weeks. Once again I had the bad luck of having a cold and mild
sinus infection on race day and fell short of my goal. I was aiming for under
an hour and 40 minutes, which would have been in the top third, but finished in
1:45:19, the 660th of 1320 finishers. The race départ was at the bottom of the
Rue de la Loge in Montpellier's center and we ran from there out to my
neighborhood in Aiguelonge, to the northwest suburbs, and then back to the
arrivé on the Place de la Comédie. It was a hilly course and we hit all the
passes in the north and northwest districts of the city: Pioch de Boutonnet,
Montmaur, Plan des 4 Seigneurs, Hauts de Massane, and Malbosc. I'm exaggerating
a bit when I call these passes, they're all small climbs of less than 70
meters. Except for a small rise near the finish up to the Arc de Triomphe, the
last 4 kilometers were downhill and I was pleased to have enough energy to run
the final two in 9 minutes. I moved up about 50 places in the last 4 km.
This time of year the weather can be cold and wet, but it was perfectly sunny
and mild for this edition of the race. One thing that seems to bedevil the
race, from reports on the web in previous years, is traffic control. By the
time I was running through the Alco and Cévennes districts on the way to the
finish, impatient drivers were forcing their way past the course marshals and
one had to be heads up at intersections. Police came to intervene at Avenue de
la Gaillarde and Rue de las Sorbes where the situation was particularly bad,
but could have been used elsewhere.
After the race, I spent the rest of the afternoon and evening in the kitchen
making and eating our delayed Thanksgiving dinner. I'm super thankful for my
family's support this fall, I couldn't have put in all the training time
without their backing. Thank you, Ruth, Arabelle, and Beatrice!
It's 16 weeks now to the Montpellier Marathon and I'm trying to figure out
either a training plan that will give me a little downtime or a different race
for the spring.
Welp. The 2016 presidential election was an utter disaster. In large enough
numbers in key states, Americans threw a tantrum and voted for machismo,
racism, and kleptocracy. I think the situation now looks worse than it did two
weeks ago. We've got an abusive president-elect with a history of self-dealing
and other cons who indicates that the sleaze will continue unabated and he's
advised by a pack of wingnuts, climate deniers, internet trolls, and neo-nazis.
Surrogates of our president-elect are on news programs floating insane ideas
like a national registry of Muslims and internment camps. I'm very concerned
for the safety of my Black, Latino, LGBT, immigrant, female, Muslim, and Jewish
friends and family in such an abnormal political climate. Don't tell me that
this is normal, that nothing has really changed, or no one is more at risk
today unless you're ready for an earful. If you're a Trump voter who insists
that you're not a racist or bigot, I insist that you prove it by speaking out
and standing up against atrocities when the time comes.
I hope you've had the chance to vote early by mail, like I have, like we all
should be able to do. But if not, please do take the time to vote on Tuesday
and bring a friend or two. I'm sure almost all of us know people who feel
frustrated about the system or less than passionate about the candidates or
complacent about a Clinton victory (which I'm counting on!) and who might stay
home on election day. Put some pressure on them, remind younger friends how
much they'll regret letting bitter old white men further dictate their future,
drive or carry them to the polls if need be. I think John Scalzi really nails
Basically lots of people would love it if you didn’t vote. Disappoint them.
Disappoint the misogynists. Disappoint the bigots. Disappoint the literal
racists and fascists backing Trump in this election. Vote!