Saturday, June 27, 2009


I twittered a bit about working at Vinexpo last week. It occurs to me, however, that many of you probably have very little idea of what Vinexpo is all about.

What can I say? Vinexpo is the world's biggest wine fair. It's a professionals-only affair but I get to go along with an army of other interpreters to translate the conferences and the tastings for wine experts from every corner of the wine-loving globe.

This massive circus of all things wine takes place every two years in the Parc des Expositions at Bordeaux Lac. A floating walkway — orange this year — takes you across the lake to the main building which is over two kilometres long. This year's attendance was down 7% with only 47000 visitors due to the slump, but there was certainly no evidence of slumpiness in the ethanol-laden air. Inside the main building you could walk for hours and hours along alleys lined with stands from all over the world vying for attention. Bespoke besuited buyers and sellers gargled and spat.

There's a lot of money in wine and I'm quite sure that the cumulative value of just the shiny shoes on the attendees feet would match the GDP of a medium-sized country.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Laid-back and outgoing

I'm currently reading The Year of No Money in Tokyo by Wayne Lionel Aponte (a book that would have made a perfectly good blog, now there's faint praise). I was intrigued by a passage that I can't find anymore (that wouldn't happen with a blog). It went something like this:

"The conversation started out along the usual lines, "What's your blood group? Where do you live? Are you single".

And that's it. There is no explanation of why "What's your blood group?" would be an acceptable, never mind a common, conversation starter in Japan.

I've been wondering about this for the past few days and finally got round to googling it tonight. Fortunately, this old Indepedent article explains all. It turns out that the Japanese believe that each blood group has a corresponding personality type. I'm O which means that in Japan I would be expected to be outgoing and laid-back. I could live with that.

The article doesn't say whether or not rhesus factor is important in Japan. For the record I'm O- so I am a universal donor. This is quite academic however since the Agence Française du Sang politely declines my blood. It believes that I have a high risk of developing Creutzfeld-Jakob disease having lived in Britian in the early eighties.

The downsides of being O- are
a) that I had to have injections throughout my pregnancies because P. is O+ (really a very minor inconvenience when one thinks of the problems that those tiny jabs might be solving).
b) that I can only receive blood from another O- donor, and there aren't that many of us (only 6% of the French population is O- ). So if you're one of us, what are you waiting for? Get down to your local blood transfusion place and fill up my stocks.

Update: Wayne kindly e-mailed me with the passage in his book that I had mangled beyond all recognition. It reads:
"Students spend most of the time asking me the kind of questions one might expect in Japan on the first meeting: What’s your blood type? Do you like sushi? Do you like natto? Are you married? How old are you? Can you speak Japanese? Where are you from? Does everyone have gun in America? (They tend to drop indefinite articles.)"

Sunday, June 07, 2009


Port Mosaic
We had a walk round Bordeaux's port de plaisance this afternoon. I love old rusty, dilapidated boats and cars and there are certainly plenty of those in the port. There are none of the sleek yachts of Cannes here, just a motley mixture of sorry-looking barges and various other unseaworthy vessels.

In other news, I voted in the European elections this afternoon. I met our next-door neighbour on the way there. He's about eighty, I think. He started off by telling me not to vote for Danny le Rouge because he "put France in the shit" in 1968. The conversation then moved on to the sudden dip in the temperature and he told me about how May used to be the best month for weather in Bordeaux. It's the Virgin Mary's month and people would go out until late in the evening to, well I'm not quite sure what they were doing but something to do with Mary. "There are no more seasons", he concluded. And guess what - this is all due to motorways. Yes, apparently motorways aspirate all the warm air and create cold fronts. Who would have thought?

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Some uncommonly common solecisms

I've been perusing the Economist's list of common solecisms and although it greatly pains me to admit this, because I think I'm actually quite good atta de Inglish, I have in fact learned quite a lot. Please don't mock if you picked these things up in kindergarden or if you have ever noticed me using any of them .... repeatedly.

For example, I had no idea that there was a difference between compared to and compared with. Did you?
Compare: A is compared with B when you draw attention to the difference. A is compared to B only when you want to stress their similarity. ( “Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?”)
It had never occured to me either that there was anything wrong with the expression softly spoken, or the term homosexuals and lesbians. Nor was I aware of the difference between to forgo and to forego (I think I may have been guilty of that crime against the English language here).

Others are more widely known eg. the distinction between less and fewer. Although native English speakers so frequently use less instead of fewer that I no longer correct students for if they get it wrong. There are more important things in life; there are more important things to be taught in an English course.

Certain of these unsayables seem to have been included just to refute American usage. It's true that the American "to protest the plans" has always sounded a little strange to me:
Protest. By all means protest your innocence, or your intention to write good English, if you are making a declaration. But if you are making a complaint or objection, you must protest at or against it.
Others can only have been included to be deliberately provocative :
Scotch: to scotch means to disable, not to destroy. (“We have scotched the snake, not killed it.”) The people may also be Scotch, Scots or Scottish; choose as you like. Scot-free means free from payment of a fine (or punishment), not free from Scotsmen.
I mean, come on: the people may bloody not be called Scotch. Indeed, we ra people refuse to be called Scotch.

I suspect that if any of the sticklers at the Economist who compiled this list were to take a quiz on Facebook they would have an apopletic fit.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Proust Questions

I did this way back in 2005 and used it with my students at that time. I used it again today with a group of teachers and revisited my own answers:

What is your most marked characteristic?
I'm almost always willing to give the benfit of the doubt
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Two beautiful children
When and where were you happiest?
I remember a fleeting moment of complete happiness on a beach in Portugal when I was 21
What is your greatest regret?
I don't think I believe in regrets.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
A life with no deadlines
What is your most treasured possession?
My iPhone
Where would you like to live?
Santa Fe
What is your greatest fear?
Death of a child
What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
Lack of patience
What is the trait you most deplore in others?
What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
Self denial
What is your greatest extravagance?
My computer
What is your favorite journey?
A hike in the Himalayas
What is it that you most dislike?
What is the quality you most like in a man?
What is the quality you most like in a woman?
What do you most value in your friends?
a well-developed sense of humour
If you were to come back as a person or thing, what do you think it would be?
a sparrow
If you could choose what to come back as, what would it be?
a human being
How would you like to die?
Well prepared, in my sleep, age 110.

Monday, June 01, 2009

In the Pink

In the Pink, originally uploaded by Lezzles.

Anne at Papilles et Pupilles asked for a pink May mosaic. I took these pictures on 1st June - I hope they still qualify.

(The indiviual photos are in my Flickr photostream. If you want to do something similarly trippy, try Picnik's hypnotic tool in the sandbox)


Being confined indoors most of the day, just the four of us, is reminding me of the days when my children were wee and most of our weekends ...