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An old rigid civilization is reluctantly dying. Something new, open, free and exciting is waking up.

Tuesday, September 23, 2003day link 

 France Telecom phone home
picture My telephone has been out for a week. Well, it is a long story, related to my struggle to get DSL from France Telecom.

I had actually gotten them finally persuaded to turn it on, despite various messages to the contrary. They said it should be working the next day.

Instead the phone line went dead. At first that just made me think they were working on it, switching my line over to a central that would support DSL, so I didn't worry at first.

But that was a week ago, and various phone calls, and a visit from a technician happened in that week. He thought the problem was up in one of the poles, so they had to come back. And then, this afternoon, they showed up with two trucks full of France Telecom people. They blocked off the whole street, and their crane truck put a guy in a basket up in several of the telephone poles. Still no luck.

Then, inside my house, after a call to my landlord that helped them finally locate where the line came into my house, they found the problem. As a matter of fact, the guy was shaking his head, insisting that we couldn't possibly ever had telephone service with that kind of wiring, as it wasn't really connected properly. "Tres bizarre!" Of course all the wires were in the closet in our bathroom, which tends to have a water problem when somebody takes a shower on the second floor. This is a nice-looking new house, but the wiring and plumbing is a little hokey.

Anyway, so the phone is on, and the green light is now on on my DSL modem. But they somehow had cancelled my actual account and forgotten to reinstate it, so I still can't get it to log in. But we're a good deal closer.

On the picture you see the phone guy in the pole, incidentally while one of the strange A300 'Beluga' transport planes was coming in for landing in Blagnac with airplane parts for Airbus.
[ | 2003-09-23 17:12 | 16 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Monday, September 15, 2003day link 

 Hash House Harriers
picture Sunday we were on our second outing with Toulouse Hash House Harriers. And what is that, you say?
"The Hash House Harriers is a running/drinking/social club which was started by bored expatriates in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in 1938. ("Hash House" is the nickname of the restaurant/bar to which they retired for food and beer after a run). Hashing is based on the English schoolboy game of "Hare and Hounds"; a Hash is a non-competitive cross-country run set by one or more runners called hares. The hares run out in advance of the other runners (the pack of hounds), and set a course marked by white flour, and/or chalk marks."
Apparently this exists all over the world, which you can see at the Global Hash House Harriers Home Page.

And, well, it is quite a hoot. Here in Toulouse there's an event (a hash) twice per month, each time in a different place in the surrounding countryside or in the city itself. Which provides a fine way for seeing places you haven't seen before, and meet interesting people who speak English. As the site says it is "a drinking club with a running problems", but the run is actually the major part of the event, timewise. There is usually a path laid out for runners and another for walkers, each one intended to take 1-1.5 hours to get through. And, yes, you're following a path marked with occasional splatches of flour or chalk marks, and part of the enjoyment is to try not to get lost, or to get lost and to find your way again, or not. Being first is not in any way a virtue, so being there is the main thing. There's an assortment of rules about what you say to let others know we're on track ("on-on"), and when you're not, and how to interpret various signs.

The more silly and fun ritual takes place after the run, where various points of order need to be taken care of. One of them is to assign punishments to various participants for no terribly good reasons. There's almost always something to punish the hares for, and whoever tended towards being first deserves another one, and of course any new people. The punishment is generally a "down-down", which is a drink of choice (beer, or water if you prefer) which you have to gobble down in one go while everybody else sings the accompanying down-down song. That's the drinking part, obviously. And also, anybody who's been there a while will be assigned some silly and preferably somewhat offensive and suggestive name that they'll be known by for the foreseeable future, and there's a ritual to administer that. All of it is crazy good fun, and it is a good place to meet other foreigners. This is obviously a British idea, but there are also Americans, Dutch, French and anybody else who somehow gets inspired to come.

This time we were accompanied by our new friends, fellow Dane Thomas and Karine, who's from Toulouse. Delightful people that it is a pleasure to know. And well, they were Hash Virgins, as was Zachery, so here on the picture you can see them get ready for their down-down initiation.
[ | 2003-09-15 18:40 | 29 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

 C'est normal!
picture This evening we were coming back from dinner at our new friends Lionel and Silvie. And somehow I had thought that the metro went till half past midnight. But it doesn't on weeknights and the Capitole station was all closed up. So we were looking for buses, but there were none going to our part of town. One last bus showed up and my wife went to ask the driver where he was going. I instead were looking at the chart of bus plans and had already decided that it was hopeless. That bus was going to Empalot, which is in a totally different part of town, in a different direction. But a helpful employee of the bus company magically showed up, and after some discussion with the bus driver they decided that we'd just go with his bus, and when he was done with his route, he would drive us to where we needed to go. And, wonder of wonders, that's what happened. Instead of finishing his work day at 1AM, he drove us almost all the way home in his bus, and he was all smiling and friendly about it. The typical answer you get in this kind of situation here, when people go out of their way to help you is "c'est normal". "It's normal". Meaning: Of course we'll help you, it's the right and proper thing to do, no need to mention it.

But there's a way of getting there, and a way not to. Notice that my wife was over there, involving the bus driver and the bus company employee in our problem of how we get home when the trains and busses don't run any longer, and we're tired and have a little kid, and there's a long way home. That's when it becomes quite possible and likely that they'll decide to help us solve it. Whereas I was just grumbling about having misunderstood the metro schedule, looking at the bus plan and deciding that there was no way, unless we walked or took a taxi. I obviously have a few things to learn about how to work things here.
[ | 2003-09-15 16:52 | 9 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Thursday, September 11, 2003day link 

 A day in the life
picture Oops, I forgot to blog for a whole week. No particular reason, other than that I've gotten into a daily routine, and there were plenty of other things going on each day, which took more of my attention.

And I still don't have DSL, so I'm still not as plugged into the rest of the blog world as I used to be. My phone line somehow registers as being not suitable for DSL, even though those of my neighbors are perfectly suitable. So, the person who signed me up had some technicians look at it, and decided that of course it should work for me too. But when other people in the same company then look at it, they've forgotten that, and the line just comes up as being unavailable. So I have to work through that maze. Oh, it isn't particularly harder than in the U.S. I had similar problems when I first got DSL in Van Nuys, and it also took more than a month. The language just makes it slightly harder to negotiate myself through things.

Part of the trick here, to pretty much anything, is that you know somebody. There is such a drastic contrast between the cold bureaucracy you often meet first, and the personal service of somebody who knows you. They don't have to be your pals from highschool or anything; I'm just talking about that they've met you a couple of times and recognize you. Like, at the France Telecom office, I asked for the same lady I had talked with a couple of weeks before. And she recognized me right away and came over and shook my hand and apologized that she had to finish up with some other people first, and she brought me a glass of water. And then, when she heard that I had taken the bus to their office, which is a little outside of town, and I had to walk a bit to get there, she said that, oh, I shouldn't have to walk back in that heat. So she got one of the other employees to drive me to town in his car. I would like to point out that nobody at the phone company in L.A. has ever driven me home, let alone recognized me and come out to greet me.

My older kids, Marie and Zachery, go to French classes at Alliance Francaise every day. Which has already made a huge difference, and they come home chatting away in French. Already after 3 days, Marie, who a week before insisted that French was just impossible to learn, was suddenly answering phone calls in French, and having a great time with it. The class is 3 1/2 hours every day, and lots of extra activities too, and chances to hang out with other people who've come here from all over the world.

Not much change in my work or money situation, so our life is still very modest. I.e. we can pay the rent and eat cheaply and ride the metro, and that is about it. Not that that is horrible in any way. I just prefer a little more abundance and freedom of movement. I got a couple of small new contracts, but I'm still looking for more significant business opportunties.

I'm still looking for some opening into getting a French social security card, while I'm waiting for paperwork I need for my Carte de Sejour (residence permit) card. Like, I need (I believe) fresh copies of birth certificates, with nice looking stamps on them, and in the proper language. I've gotten somewhat conflicting information about that, but I'll try to be as prepared as possible. The local Danish consul (who didn't speak any Danish, and not much English), and the Danish embassy in Paris, were very friendly and helpful in providing information, and in translating birth certificates to French. The local U.S. consulate, and the U.S. embassy in Paris, however, seem rather rude and uncooperative by comparison. Whereas the Danish Consul was somebody I just come by and visit, who spent quite some time with me, trying to help me as best he could, the U.S. consulate can only be contacted through an answering machine, asking for an appointment, which will only be available on Wednesdays. It took them about a week to call back. And then they insisted on sending me some papers I'd need to ask for birth certificates (which I probably already have), after which I have to call again to get an appointment to see the Consul. And I haven't received anything from them after about a week. And really, all I needed was a notary public to notarize a signature on a form that I could fax to the U.S. and I'd have the birth certificates I needed in a week or so.

My wife Birgit finally found a library that she could borrow books at. That took about four tries. The local library we first found was closed for the summer at first. And the English library that seems to exist at the university is not going to be open before the end of the month.

And little Nadia has found kids to play with at the playground. So life is pretty good for all of us.

Oh, we'd really kind of like to receive our stuff from the U.S. soon. We still have just the clothes we carried in our suitcases. Somehow the shipping thing turned out to be a bigger hassle than expected. First of all it was shipped a couple of weeks late, because they couldn't get a ship for it for some reason. And for some strange reason, they shipped it to England instead of to Marseille. And apparently it takes a while to clear customs and everything, and then they need to look for a truck that drives this way. Hopefully within a week. Not that we've been missing terribly much, but there's a few items that could come in handy.
[ | 2003-09-11 07:22 | 17 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Monday, September 1, 2003day link 

 Things become easier
I'm trying to find my way through the maze of paperwork needed to stay in France. And I have help, so maybe I need to change my mind about how difficult it is supposed to be. My new friend Leyla is dragging me around to government offices and doing most of the talking for me. She thinks it is easy, and that civil servants are there to help you. She is a lawyer, at least almost, and she just became a French citizen herself. Right now we're working on how we can have health coverage, without actually paying for it, which we need to get the residence permit (Carte de Sejour). There are various hurdles to go through, but people are friendly, and indeed it seems like things aren't all that much of a problem. And some new rules in various areas seem to have made things easier. That would be a nice change. Imagine that, government employees who actually are there to help you, and who care about finding the best solution for you. I somehow didn't expect that.

And today a company called me from Costa Rica out of the blue, wanting to hire me. They sort of randomly found my resume on the net in a search engine. And, despite that that resume is sort of arrogant, and kind of hinting that if they want to offer me a regular job, they can go jump in a lake - they wanted me to move to Costa Rica to work for them. That's a beautiful place, I'm sure, and I'd love to visit, but I'd really like to get this France thing worked out at this point. So hopefully I can work out something else with them. If not, it is at least a good sign.
[ | 2003-09-01 17:03 | 12 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Sunday, August 24, 2003day link 

 Books about Moving to France
picture Below is a list of books that I found useful in preparing to move to France, and figuring out what to do. Just to put it in one place for others to find who might be in the same situation.

There's a lot one can learn in advance by studying. But, well, not everything. Reading books can provide a good foundation, but there will always be things one won't know before one arrives at one's new destination.

And books don't necessarily tell the right story either. We were maybe over-prepared in terms of having studied how French people think differently, and how they have different norms for behavior, different patterns of doing things, and different motivations. Well, they do, if we stereotype it. But the books had prepared us for a bunch of difficulties which we didn't particularly find to exist when we got here. It wasn't nearly as bad as it was laid out to be. It wasn't such a great problem to just be yourself and do what seemed natural.

The stereotype is that French people are very private, and suspicious of strangers. Well, yes, they have a different rhythm in how they get to know people, but it isn't a big problem, and many people are very open to others right away.

Some pieces of information were mainly met with laughter when we asked people if it were true. Like, when you're invited to somebody's home, even for a five hour dinner party, don't ever expect to be able to use the bathroom, as your hosts would be shocked, and they probably hadn't even cleaned it. So you'd better go to the bathroom just before you arrive, and you better find some bushes right after you leave. We didn't find anybody who had even heard of such customs. I dont' know, maybe that's how it used to be in Paris 30 years ago. But it doesn't seem to apply to us.

France is a big country and many things are probably different amongst the different regions. We're in Toulouse in the Haute-Garonne department in the Midi-Pyrenees region, South-Western France, just above Spain. This is a relaxed and friendly place, accepting of foreigners, and not appearing to have any terribly strict norms for behavior that we're likely to violate all the time. You say "bonjour" to people when you meet them, and "au revoir" when you leave. If you can manage that, you're already doing fine.

People here tend towards a negative opinion of Parisians, as being more snobbish, rude and cold. I don't know if that fits, as I haven't met anything but nice Parisians either. But maybe all those rules and warnings might be more appropriate to know in Paris, and not here. ...
[ | 2003-08-24 15:42 | 16 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Saturday, August 23, 2003day link 

Finally we're getting a bit of a social life here in Toulouse. By now we actually have a few local friends. We have had a couple of events to go to. And we've actually said hello to one of two of the neighbors.

I was a little worried about how difficult it was going to be, since at first we didn't really know anybody, and nobody spoke English, and it was a while before we met anybody at all. And the stereotype of how French people work is that after maybe a couple of years your neigbors might answer your "bonjour" and after five years they might invite you in for coffee. Or, like, the first 5 times you meet somebody at a party, they'll ignore you, and the 6th time they'll be your best friends. Luckily it isn't that bad at all.

French people aren't very superficial, so smiles and kindness and friendship isn't automatic, and not to be taken for granted. But it isn't far away, and it is sincere when offered. It is quite visible when people make a conscious decision to be your friend. Not a casual choice.

Aside from that it is enjoyable to know some good and interesting people, it is also a selfish matter of survival. There is a lot we need to know about how things work, which we can't all learn from books and websites. And it is extremely valuable if a French person can lead us through dealing with the authorities on various things, or even speak for us.

It is also very helpful at this stage to know some English speaking folks who've already gone through some of the things we're trying to figure out. And there are several places to do that. Americans in Toulouse has several hundred members, a very useful handbook online, and many events where one can meet others. Yesterday we went on a trip to the local aquarium with them. And this evening we went for a long run/walk with Toulouse Hash House Harriers, which is a crazy English drinking club "with a running problem". Which was good fun.
[ | 2003-08-23 18:16 | 12 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Friday, August 15, 2003day link 

picture So, now that I'm looking for new business opportunities, I'm naturally finding myself networking more. Despite often calling myself a networker, I don't really network very much. I know a lot of people, but I don't particularly deliberately work my personal network, or try to expand it. Which is probably stupid. A network is most valuable when it is already there when you need it. And you need to cultivate it. Check in with people, find out where they're at. Be Interested. Look for opportunities to link things up, supply something somebody else needs, keep them informed about what you need, be a valuable ally to them.

See The Networking Game for some simple rules of networking.

Oh, I do seem to have friends, and I'm quite available and helpful. But the thing I don't do so much is to work my relations deliberately and strategically. Which I maybe should change.

I have been more focused on how I might help others network that I've often overlooked helping myself. I'm quite dedicated to providing facilities and opportunities for other people to find each other, connect, work together, etc. But I've often been so busy with that that I haven't done much of it myself. So I sometimes don't really know who I know, and I sometimes don't keep connections alive.

I ironically feel a little silly about calling people up on the phone just to hear how they're doing. Some people are very good at that. But me, despite being considered a skilled communicator in other areas, I either just don't do it, or I don't know how. When I try, very rarely, the person at the other end will very quickly get around to saying "What do you want? What are you calling for?" and I don't have a good answer. Maybe it is because I usually don't call without a specific reason, so people assume that I must always have one.

Online it is considerably easier. The threshold is much lower, and in many cases you don't need much of a reason to communicate with somebody. You can leave comments in their blog, sign their guestbook, add them to your contact list. And none of that requires much of an official reason, other than that you might share some interest or the other.

One of the online networks other than my own that I've recently explored is Ryze. It has a considerable momentum and lots of people I know are already in it. Its features are relatively simple, but well thought out, and it does what it does well. I found a couple of new contacts in Toulouse, and so far those have been fruitful connections. My page is here.

Another one is LinkedIn. A little harder to figure out, but has a high caliber of people that it might otherwise be difficult to get access to. More directly oriented towards serious business connections.

Those are business network. I'm also on networks like Friendster, although I don't know what to do with it. Maybe I'm too old to understand what one does there other than to look for dates or promote one's garage band or something.

And then there's Friendly Favors, which I just notice has changed its umbrella name to Living Directory Network. Lots of people I know in there, and it is large, but I haven't quite figured out how to make it useful for networking with people I don't already know.

Let me know if you need an invitation from me for any of these.

One thing I learned today from my new friend Lionel who is a management consultant is that in a place like Toulouse a lot of business is done based on people already being part of the same network. I.e. you're a freemason or in a Rotary club or in the same rugby club or something, and you do business with the people you meet there. You don't just easily do business with strangers. I did have some idea of that, and it is part of the high-context mediterranean culture.

Networking seems to be unavoidable at this point.
[ | 2003-08-15 18:04 | 29 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Tuesday, August 12, 2003day link 

picture A few more tidbits from our life in Toulouse. We've lived here in the house for just 12 days, but it feels like home now. And, since we don't really have any money right now, we have to focus on the simpler things and actually be a bit more in touch with the local surroundings. I.e. we walk around or take the metro. I haven't not had a car for more than 20 years, so that in itself is sort of new. More work, but kind of refreshing. We get a lot of sun and exercise.

The Metro is about 10 minutes of walking away. It is called Arenes and is by some quirky architect designed to look like an arena. There's essentially only one Metro line in Toulouse at this point, and they're working on one more. We can take it towards the center of town, stopping at various squares, or the other direction, towards the Mirail university and a shopping area called Basso Campo. The most likely reason for us to go there is that there's a big hypermarché there. That's a supermarket on steroids and the French have many of those on the outskirts of cities. Several times bigger than the biggest markets I've seen in the States, and selling a mixture of just about anything. Nothing fabulous about it other than the size, but it is a practical thing. Somewhat less practical without a car, though. Yesterday we dragged a folded up table home in the metro.

We live in an area called La Cépière. I'm not sure what that means, but it seems to be the name of the horse race track which is very close to our house.

Today I walked to the center of town to see how far it was. Not too bad. About 45 minutes or so. All of it is pretty pleasant, but the more interesting parts are crossing the Garonne river over Pont Neuf and the walking streets and areas around the Capitole Square. Today I walked into the Capitole (Town Hall) and looked at La Salle des Illustres. It is a gallery with richly decorated ceilings and huge paintings, mostly illustrating various historical aspects of Toulouse.

We haven't particularly figured out how to blend in yet. I'm sure we look to the locals as obvious Americans. I'm sure that wearing white socks, a baseball cap, and carrying a water bottle in my hands and a map in my back pocket gives me away right away, before I even open my mouth to mangle the French language. But when anybody asks, I say we're Danish.

And as to the house. Everybody else in the neighborhood seem to be hiding behind closed shutters with the lights out, being very quiet. Where our natural tendency is to open all windows and curtains and have lots of lights on. Even in L.A. our house looked like the christmas tree or fishbowl of the neighborhood. Here I'm not at all sure what they'll think about us. And we aren't exactly quiet people either. But so far the villagers haven't shown up at night with torches or anything.

We don't have a TV yet, but maybe it would be useful after all to help with the language learning. Otherwise I have in mind that Marie-Therese and Zachery will attend an intensive French school from September 1st. Alliance Francaise probably. And Nadia will probably be in a local kindergarten when we find one. The language is really a big thing, and I'm looking forward to not being the only one who can answer the phone when it is in French.

Getting to know some people here is a bit slower than I would like. Of course the language is an issue there too, and it will help when we can go out and sign up for various activities where you're likely to get to know people. French classes or fencing or whatever. One isn't very likely to make friends in the Metro here.
[ | 2003-08-12 17:24 | 10 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Monday, August 11, 2003day link 

picture So, what else might I do? I do feel a little overdue for a career change of some kind.

Already about 12 years ago I felt I was done being a programmer. Like, I was getting too old to sit and think intensively all day, working many hours without stop in front of a glowing screen.

At that particular time I became a spiritual counselor. Or a therapist, if you will. Opened up a storefront office with a reception and a lot of certificates on the wall, advertised in metaphysical L.A. magazines, and did counseling sessions with people most of the day. Plus I travelled a bit. Florida, Germany. Trained some people in my techniques, wrote a couple of books about it. That all went well, and was a period of exciting growth for me.

But eventually I sort of reluctantly went back to programming for paying the bills. Well, I got a low level programming job, with very little to do, and no room for advancement, and I actually spent most of the time meditating or writing or conversing with people on the net. That was kind of like a vacation for five years, and I got a lot of my own things done in that time.

Eventually I couldn't stand having a job that wasn't going anywhere, so I quit, without having made any plans for what else to do. What followed was a couple of years of poverty, combined with having a very adventurous time, working on great plans, hanging out with great people, changing the world. Poverty is maybe a bit exaggerated. There was no money left over, it wasn't clear where money for food would come from, and it was very stressful for my family, and I was almost never home. But somehow everything that was needed still ended up being there, in the last moment. Sort of skating on thin ice, and somehow the ice never quite breaks.

Again, I eventually went back to programming. Got some contracts that grew to be very lucrative. Money was abundant again, but I worked 16 hour days just about every day. Somehow always being a bit behind, having too much to do, even though I did great things that some people were very happy with.

So, now we're here. I've lost most of the previously lucrative programming contracts. Nobody's going to miss me terribly if I don't spend all day programming. Well, one client is, but they have great problems paying me as well, so it might not last either.

This would, of course, be a good point to change course a bit. Do something different and unexpected. Become a traveling shaman, a tour guide, a forest ranger or a sword swallower.

The last several years, although I've been working on my own, in my own house, have been a little too much like being employed. Doing other people's stuff, on their schedules. Where really my most creative work has always been in my own timing. The stuff I would do when I had some time left over, or when I was really supposed to be doing something else. Or the stuff I would do when people had no particular expectation on what I would do.

I've always been attracted to being a consultant or facilitator of some kind. Well, I was quite successful with that on a person-to-person basis, as a therapist. And I can certainly do that again, of course. But I also somehow feel I have a role in facilitating things for groups, organizations and companies. I just haven't quite figured out how to find an inroad into that.

I could very well just take my counseling materials bigger. Travel around, do seminars, train people, speak. It would need to be worked up a bit, but some groundwork is already laid, in that many people in many areas have downloaded, studied and used my books. Eastern Europe would be quite likely, as lots of my books have been sold in Russian.

A difficulty in anything I do is that I do the best stuff if people come to me, rather than the other way around. Meaning, I'm not good at selling myself. It either works for me that somebody else will represent me, or that I've already done something great in the past, which makes people seek me out. It is not just that I'm vain or lazy or something, but there's something that works for me about being an oracle that people will go and seek out.

Or, another way around it, it works for me to look at a situation and then go off and come up with solutions or alternatives to it. Like, that's how I program best. If I can just sort of study how things work in some area, and then I go off and hide away in my tower and cook up the best way of dealing with it, and I come back when I'm done. You know, as compared to some manager who comes by every day and changes my priorities.

The whole capitalistic working-for-money system on this planet pisses me off. I've never really liked it. Which is why I haven't done all the normal things one should do to have a safe a secure middle-class life, like putting money away for retirement, and paying your taxes on time. And I haven't either done the normal things one would do to have a secure upper-class life, like buying low and selling high; getting lots of people to do work for you that is worth more than what you're paying them; getting people to buy things from you that cost you less to make; hiding your money well.

So, of course, rather than just going for making money, I'd like to do things I care about and that make a difference. And I'd like to be paid well, as sort of a secondary effect. But I've kind of been idling for a number of years. Despite working hard and accomplishing many things in several different fields, I somehow haven't yet really gotten around to the stuff I'm here on this planet to do.

If there's a chance that I'm about to, I don't know. I'm trying to be open to it.

But right this moment I'd probably be happy with some well-paid programming projects in the fields I'm most into (social software, knowledge management), using the tools I know best (PHP/MySQL/Linux).
[ | 2003-08-11 13:02 | 14 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Thursday, August 7, 2003day link 

picture Finally some break in the heat wave here. Clouds started forming, suddenly there was a weird dust storm, and then thunder and lightning and it started raining. I hope it continues.

And then I had a hit of lightning myself today. A rather unwanted economic one. The company that has been my most reliable and stable source of income for the past several years has decided to cut down my contract. They haven't been doing as well as they used to, have been losing money actually, and I haven't been doing much of importance for them recently. So there goes $4000 per month. Not exactly a good time for us. What is left is barely enough to survive on, and not really enough for much new furniture or a car or that kind of details.

But maybe it is a great thing. Or maybe it will seem like it when looking back in a few months. The slates are being wiped clear, and I'll have to find new things to do, make new contacts, reinvent myself. Sometimes that doesn't happen without being forced into it. Most of us change rather reluctantly.

It is sort of weird how our current situation has a number of parallels to how we moved to the U.S. 18 years ago. I would really have preferred that I had it all together, and everything just was perfectly comfortable and smooth and carefully planned, but I guess that isn't to be. Most adventures aren't smooth and predictable, or they wouldn't be adventures.

In 1985 I moved from Copenhagen to Los Angeles with my wife and 1.5 year old daughter. I did a quick recogniscance trip first, to learn how things worked and to get a job, but then we just shipped the most essential things and sold or gave away the rest, bought a ticket and left. The exchange rates between Kroner and Dollars were terrible. The money we brought went as far as buying a used car and moving into a little furnished apartment, and surviving for a month. The job I had arranged was as a sales person in a computer store. But after the first month they had to let me go, because they didn't know how to pay me. I was an illegal alien, and hadn't learned yet that that was no problem at all at the time in L.A. One could just go and sign up for a social security number and bank account and driver's license, and then one would look like an American. But I found out too late, and we basically were there, in a foreign country, not really knowing anybody, having run out of money, and no job, and it started looking a bit desperate.

What happened at that time was that I gave up, realized that my planning wasn't enough, and gave myself over to fate. What I actually did was that I walked around and applied for a lot of jobs that I wouldn't otherwise have considered. I was willing to take anything. After a lot of walking around in the hot sun, going for a lot of interviews, I finally got an offer. It was a $6/hr data entry clerk job. I was going to type in names from a phone book. Which I did for a few days, my eyes turning all square.

But it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. It turned out that I worked for the managing partner of the largest medical group in Southern California, and we actually hit it off really well, and he quickly realized that I wasn't really supposed to do data entry. Rather quickly I was doing financial modeling and developing their information system, designing the whole computer system for a sister company, and before long I was making $100K/year and managing big long-term projects with a bunch of people working with and for me. And I had wonderful and inspiring experiences with some great people.

The point is, it went through a certain cycle of making careful plans, having them all fall apart unexpectedly, starting over and following some kind of desperate intuition, and things ending up succeeding way beyond my expectations, in ways I couldn't have imagined. The problem is, I would never quite volunteer for such a thing, or advice anybody to aim for doing it that way. Even though I know well that it sometimes is necessary for life to treat you that way.

And now, we're in a foreign country where everything is new and different and difficult. We sold and gave away all of our stuff, and shipped some essentials. The exchange rate (this time between dollars and euros) is really bad, so we don't get much for our money. All of it gets used up really quickly for renting house, cars, etc. And then I lose the job I was counting on for security. And then what?

There are other odd little parallels. On the first recognisance trip to the U.S. I smashed up the rental car, and had stupidly declined the insurance and ended up owing the rental company a lot of money. This time the rental car broke down, and despite that I opted for all the insurance, the company somehow has decided that it is all my fault and I ought to pay for the repairs, and for the trouble they have of having two cars 1500km from where they belong. I don't agree with them at all this time, but it is a bit of a deja vu.

Anyway, more later on my search for what needs to happen next. Don't worry. Things generally work out.
[ | 2003-08-07 17:04 | 18 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Tuesday, August 5, 2003day link 

 Le Danois
Thomas Nicholls is a fellow Dane who also has moved to Toulouse recently with his French girlfriend, a couple of months before us. Reading his blog, Le Danois, and exchanging a few messages with him, asking a few questions, has been very helpful for me. He goes through some of the same things, a little ahead of us. Checking out the area, getting your papers in order, etc. Now that the dust is settling a little for us, I hope we can actually meet soon.
[ | 2003-08-05 05:56 | 7 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

 Figuring out France
So, I got a phone line at least, and hopefully DSL within the next couple of days.

Lots of little problems with many things. Nothing that doesn't make it worthwhile, as far as I'm concerned. I sort of enjoy figuring out new systems. And, well, in France many things are done a little different.

I can't complain too much. This is a modern, civilized, well-organized country, and we live in the middle of a major city. Everything is close by. It is not like we moved to Ethiopia and they just didn't have any phone lines, or it took a month to get one. Here it is more of an issue of doing things in the proper order, going to the right place, knowing what to say, having the right paperwork handy. Certain things depend on other things, and it is important to call things by their proper name.

The landlord took care of the account with the electricity company (EDF) it seems, so that was no problem.

Opening a phone line with France Telecom went smoothly too. I went to one of their offices and they just needed to see ID (my Danish passport) and some proof of that I lived where I say I do. The rental agreement for the house served that purpose. Otherwise, electricity bills is what one would drag around for that purpose, but I didn't get any yet. The phone line was opened the same day, but there was a small problem which had to wait for Monday to get fixed. A nice touch is that, for any phone line, connected or not, one can pick it up and press * to speak with the phone company. So I could call them even though the phone line wasn't connected right.

To get a DSL account, I needed a bank account I found, so that became the next step. I picked a bank, fairly randomly, at Place Esquirol, as we seemed to come by there often. Credit Mutuel. Went in Friday and asked at the counter if I could open a new account. She gave me an appointment to come back Monday, and a list of what I supposedly needed to show. ID, proof of residence, proof of income such as an employment contract. Which I don't exactly have. Anyway, I showed up Monday and it was a very nice gentleman who handled it, and it really was no problem. He didn't need any proof of income, but believed me when I said I did work in the states and would transfer money into the account every month. So, getting a checking account and a bank card seemed to be no problem, although it will take a couple of weeks for those to arrive.

Then I tried for the DSL account at France Telecom again. After a long conversation it turned out that the options I wanted (router, fixed IP, faster upload) were categorized as being for professionals, not regular people, so he had to send me to another branch, dealing with business. I wouldn't be too surprised if I will have to prove there that I really have a business, but hopefully not.

Otherwise, well, it is still super hot here. Like Palm Springs without air conditioning. The recommended approach to keeping the house relatively cool is to keep the shutters down all day, so the cool night air is kept inside. All French houses have shutters in one form or another, and they're very often closed. Either because it is hot, or because one wants privacy, or because one is afraid of burglars while one is out.
[ | 2003-08-05 05:34 | 19 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Sunday, August 3, 2003day link 

Lots to report on, but right now I'm having a really hard time connecting to the net. We've moved into our new house, and I did reserve a phone line, which should have worked from yesterday, but I suppose they must have connected it to the wrong wire or something, as none of the plugs are working. Anyway, after that works I can at least dial up again. And, after I succeed in getting a bank account, I should then be able to order DSL, which should take less than a week to get going.

Right now I got so desparate for an Internet connection that I drove around on the streets of Toulouse with the MacStumbler Wi-Fi scanner turned on on my laptop, until I found an open connection. I'm parked on the street in front of College Lamartine right now as I'm typing this and picking up my e-mail. I suppose it is a school of some sort.

One gets so easily used to an always-on broadband connection that one forgets to prepare well for times when one doesn't have it. My work is pretty much based on being connected all the time, and it becomes really painful when suddenly I can't. Although I theoretically could do all sorts of work while off-line, I'll usually quickly run into things I don't have handy locally, because it is normally so easy to access things anywhere.
[ | 2003-08-03 12:10 | 22 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Sunday, July 27, 2003day link 

picture So, we drove to Denmark for a few days. Mostly a good idea. Except for that it is 2000km. Made it on two tanks of diesel, so that wasn't the worst part. But that is a whole lot of driving. Through France and Belgium we could do an average of 150km/hour, and the French speaking people are very good at making that possible, letting one by, and getting into the slower lanes when one isn't going fast. The Germans and Danes seem less cooperative, so that took a good deal longer. And it took 1.5 hours just to get past Paris. Traffic there was like L.A. in rush hour.

The French auto routes are wide open and with few people on them. But they're mostly pay roads, so going through France cost as much in toll as it does in gas.

But now, the less fun problems started when the car broke down in Hamburg, Germany at 3AM in the night. The clutch on the rented Ford Mondeo decided to function less and less and eventually the car just wouldn't move. And we were in some dead neighborhood next to the harbor. Our first thought was then to find a hotel and spend the night and deal with it in the morning. But a taxi driver, after checking with his office, informed us that there were no available hotel rooms to find. Then we realized that there was an emergency number for Budget in France, to call if one has trouble with the car. I called it, and they informed me they'd send a mechanic from Ford within an hour, to fix the car. Which sounded great, and I started fantasizing about a helicopter landing with a new clutch. But, not exactly. 1.5 hours later a tow truck showed up, with a driver who only spoke German, and who's instructions were to take the car away. Which would sort of leave us with a lot of luggage, a sleeping kid, and two cats, in the rain on a sidewalk in Hamburg in the middle of the night. Further calls to Budget, and promises to find a solution for us, weren't very productive. I had to stand and discuss things with the tow truck driver while waiting for them to call back. My German surprisingly seemed to be sufficient to get by. Eventually we decided on letting the guy take the car away, taking a cab to the airport, and waiting for the Budget office there to open in the morning. Which we did. So, after a few hours of drinking coffee in the airport, still another string of obstacles as the German and French Budget guys couldn't quite agree on what to do. Ultimately we got the German guy persuaded to just give us another car, big enough for our stuff, and forget about what the French guys wanted to do, which would have taken longer. And off we went again. Ended up taking about 30 hours to get here.

So, after a long sleep, a shower, breakfast at my moms, and being plugged into her DSL connection, things are cool. Of course we need to go back in a couple of days, but we'll probably be better prepared.

There's something nice about tracking the road over land from our new home in Toulouse back to our roots and our home till 20 years ago in Copenhagen. It gives a more tangible sense of where things actually are, compared with jumping around in planes.
[ | 2003-07-27 03:34 | 21 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Wednesday, July 23, 2003day link 

picture Well, looks like we'll have a house to live in. I'll know for sure tomorrow.

It is not an old 17-room chateau on a mountain in a forest, but it is a fine place to start. A compromise, really, but I think one that my family and I can agree on. It is in the middle of Toulouse, pretty much, close to a Metro station and to other facilities that'll help at least some of us to not feel homesick. But still in a calm and open area. It is an almost new house, equipped with a bunch of things one normally has to acquire oneself in most French houses. Like, a kitchen doesn't automatically have a stove or cupboards here, let alone dishwasher and fridge, etc. Only when it is 'équipé'. Anyway, this house is a good deal larger than what we lived in in L.A. and a good deal cheaper. Not much of a garden, but there are private areas, at least.

So, we're moving in the 1st of August, if the landlord approves my paperwork. That in itself was a bit of a trial. Oh, it went remarkably smoothly, and the real estate agent and the landlord and everybody's extremely nice, but it is a bit nerve-wracking for me still to make negotiations using only French, some of them over the phone, trying to understand all of it, and to try to fit with the requirements. The French love paper. In this case they needed a bit of paperwork to show that I actually was making money. Hopefully I gave them something that is satisfactory, even though I didn't have the french forms they were looking for.

This was the very first house I made a call on and that we made an appointment to see with the owner. And there was a bit of synchronicity involved. I had decided that we'd see several houses that day, so I found another ad with a house that sounded like a possibility, out in the suburbs here. That was listed by an agency. When I went to their office, instead of just sending me to what I semi-randomly picked, the lady interviewed me about what we'd like, and looked up on the computer and made some phone calls, and then she wrote down what she thought would be the best choice for us, and gave us an appointment for 7:30. And, now, the weird thing was that the appointment we first had made was for 7:00, and I realized it was the same address. Out of hundreds of listings, she had picked the very same one I had already called. So it was a bit inescapable.

Aside from that, we're having a fine time, but things are sort of up and down. The money is moving a little too quickly (away from me) for my liking. Not that it is all that expensive here, but there are many things to take care of. And then one of our cats disappeared for a day, and had apparently balanced on a narrow ledge, five stories up, and made it around to a room on the other side of the building. Today I set fire to our printer, which we had dragged with us in a suitcase. I thought I had put the power through the right kind of transformer, but the smoke said otherwise.

If I hear yes on the house tomorrow, we'll drive to Denmark and hang out with family for a few days until we can move in on the first. Might as well.
[ | 2003-07-23 14:06 | 26 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Sunday, July 20, 2003day link 

 Another hot day
picture So, we're beginning to sleep and wake up at normal times. Haven't started seriously looking for places to live yet, but will in a couple of days. I don't know if the first step will end up being in one of the more idyllic areas I'd prefer to live in, or it will just be in a suburb of Toulouse, but we'll see. My older daughter, for one, is a bit horrified about the thought of getting to live in a town that might not have a sufficient number of night clubs. And, well, Toulouse has a very lively night life, being populated to a large extent by students.

Toulouse isn't all that practical to get around in by car. Several times we've spent an hour inching around in circles on narrow one-way streets, looking for a parking spot, only to finally find it and realizing it actually was within walking distance of our hotel. No wonder people are riding scooters and walking here.

There is a heat wave here. Hot and humid. Mid thirties, centigrade. Oh, it is survivable, and it seems to be somewhat unusual, even for the summer here. But air condition isn't something that is ubiquitous.

My online activities are seriously hindered by only having a dial-up connection to a local number for Earthlink, which costs me around $10 per hour. We didn't succeed in finding an open cybercafe yet. So normal blogging is just about out of the question for a while.

I think I fried my airport base station by plugging in the adaptor without checking that it worked on 220 volts, and I think I broke my digital camera by dropping it on cement. But somehow I don't care.

Yesterday we drove down to the Mediterranean and went swimming by the beach at Narbonne. And on the way back we hung out a bit in the Cite of Carcassonne, which is what is on the picture. It is the most complete remaining fully fortified town from the middle ages. Although I believe its restoration in the 1850's is somewhat controversial.
[ | 2003-07-20 14:22 | 17 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Thursday, July 17, 2003day link 

 Cahors and Rocamadour
picture Today we drove to Cahors and Rocamadour and played tourists. In part to start giving the kids an idea of the land, so they don't just think this place is all only a big busy city with crazy drivers (Toulouse). 120 km north is Rocamadour, which is on the picture. An amazing medieval town built into the side of a very steep cliff side. We took the stairs all the way to the top, because I thought at first that that was where they kept the black madonna, that people still make pilgrimmages there for.

And Cahors is a beautiful city on the river Lot. A big power center in the middle ages, amongst other things the banker for much of Europe. And today a charming and lively, yet relaxed town, with much to look at. We went for a boat trip on the river, starting at the Valentre fortress bridge from the 13 hundreds. And there are forests here. I like forests.

Cahors incidentally is also one of the Danish Queen Margrethe's homes. She and her husband, who was a French Count, own the wine chateau Caix there and stay there every summer.

We were planning to see some underground grottos and rivers as well at Gouffre de Padirac, but we were running out of steam after all that stair climbing in Rocamadour.

Cahors is a town I'd love to live in. It is unfortunately much easier to find rental houses in Toulouse suburbs, so we'll have to see what pops up. From what I hear it is also easier to buy than I might have imagined, so maybe we'll be able to do that sooner than I expected.

I don't know when we'll be so settled that I again can philosphize more about life and start putting more attention on the rest of Europe. First things first.

Things are different here of course. I don't know what it all means yet. Thousands of years of history are everywhere present. Things happen in different ways, in a different rhytm.

I've so far managed the French pretty well. And I very quickly got to drive like everybody else. The rest of my family swore that it would be a while before they'd be ready for that. Really, what at first looks like chaos is just a set of different agreements on what one can do and what one can't. It doesn't bother anybody much if someone goes the wrong way in a one way street, or if you race through a narrow street with hairpin turns and only inches free on each side.
[ | 2003-07-17 15:33 | 7 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Wednesday, July 16, 2003day link 

 Day 2 in Toulouse
So, now we're in France. Just being jetlagged and taking it easy for a couple of days. Leaving was rather hectic. And tomorrow we'll start playing tourists a bit and get around to meeting some people. We're staying in little apartment in a hotel for a couple of weeks, and renting a car for the same time, and within that time it hopefully becomes clear where we'd actually want to live, exactly. But so far so good. Our luggage and our cats survived the journey. I only have a dial-up connection here, but that's better than nothing.
[ | 2003-07-16 15:57 | 11 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Sunday, July 13, 2003day link 

 The wind blows on
So, we're packing the last stuff. Looks like everything fell into place. My car sold in the last moment. We're gotten rid of loads of stuff. The house is empty. We're leaving in the morning, ending up in Toulouse a day later. Next posting will be from there, most likely.

Some of our neighbors had made a great party for us last night, and many good friends came by.

Thanks for the many good wishes, all of you. Nice words from Max.

And yes, it isn't such a big deal any longer to say goodbye to go to another continent. This is a small planet. We're more and more connected. And I'll be by L.A. once in a while.
[ | 2003-07-13 21:38 | 24 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

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