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October 14

Dear All:

We’ve had another very nice week as long as we don’t listen to the news from the states. It does not sound good. We had a long talk with the boys the other night at dinner about what was going on. We will certainly have different memories than most Americans. Even though I have the news on often when the boys are home, their French still isn’t good enough to understand what is happening, so they have come home a couple of times to confirm what they heard on other students talking about at school. I guess it is pretty good they don’t have to hear it all. We also can’t really imagine the great displays of patriotism. I still get some junk e-mail from different organizations in the states and last week got one from the college board directed at AP teachers. They announced that at the upcoming conference in a few weeks they are adding lots of sections on how to make students feel safe. The fact that the AP conference is doing this makes me realize how much it is affecting everyone and even though we hear reports that things are getting back to normal, its clear that it is far from normal. AP conferences, unlike most of the other educational conferences, usually spend no time on anything but the content for each subject. They don’t really discuss pedagogy, social issues, English as a second language, etc., nothing but the content.

That’s not to say that we are at all isolated from what is going on. The French papers still spend more that half the time on the subject. The first week it seemed to be just the attacks. The second week it was on Ben Laden and other terrorist groups, the week after that was a crash course in Islam. Now, we are having a course on Anthrax. Also, last week right after the bombings started, I was walking around many stores looking for shoes to buy. On the pop stations in the stores they were introducing songs like "Born in the USA" by saying they were playing the songs in support of the US strikes. There was also some other "pop" type song that was played that had the words "twin towers" in it. Even though it was clearly in English, I think I’m just too old to decipher popular music anymore. (I did find some shoes that look like those worn by the other mothers when they pick up their kids at the school, but Peter thinks they’re ugly. I just know that Peter has no taste in continental fashion.) [ I resemble that remark! ]

Just so everyone doesn’t think that it only rains here, we had a beautiful sunny week. We wake up to fog that lifts by 9 or 10. However, just like last month, when all the mothers at the front gate of the school assured me that the rain in September was rare, they have assured me that the sun in October is rare. C’est la vie. The boys and I had the most enjoyable walk downtown on Wednesday afternoon just looking in store windows and eating pretzels.

Most of the short conversations I have in front of the gate are similar to the ones I would expect to have in the states; weather, homework (too much too little), trying to get the kids to the park, etc. However, last Friday, while the conversation started on weather it soon turned to the grape harvest and the fact that the morning fog and the bright afternoon sun is the best for picking grapes. There was some debate about how much of the grapes for crémant were already picked, but it was decided that not so much was already picked. In any case, the grapes for the wine had not been. So, just remember, you heard it hear first, Alsatian wine dated 2001 will be fantastic. This will be one of the few times I will be able to remember which year, which wine was good.

A new family member

Some of the women also wanted to make sure we had a good outing planed for the weekend. I had picked the Castle of Haut-Koenigsbourg and a stop at Monkey Mountain the the Bird Castle. This idea met with great approval, (in fact we saw one of the families we know from school at the bird castle, although I don’t think she was in on the conversation). I learned from one of the mothers that the Castle may be on strike. It is one of the few castles that usually has people dressed up in costume with "real" knights and ladies. We decided to go anyway and had a great day. The castle was closed so we opted for a two hour hike in the surrounding forest. The leaves are still mostly green, and it was the first hike this fall where we were all hot in short sleeve shirts. We then went to "Monkey Mountain". It is a reserve for about 280 monkeys from northern Africa. They give you a handful of popcorn as you enter. There are no cages; the monkeys can just come up and eat out of your hand. You’re not allowed to touch them, but they run across the paths in front of you. Its hard to believe. We then went to Bird Castle, where there are falcons, eagles and vultures. They do a show in the open air, again without cages. The birds come flying over the spectators heads, sometimes touching them. It was very interesting.

In honor of our own singes we also went to Montagne de Singes. The monkeys have free reign in a preserve that you can walk through. They ate right out of our hands.

Oh, I almost forgot. I have found a volunteer position for 3 hours a week. I am working as a “jurist” for an organization that does consumer rights law. It seems they take lots of people training to be lawyers and I seem to fit into that category. They sound a little like a Ralph Nadar organization. They publish a magazine which I’ve seen the cover on the outside door, but have yet to read. They seem to warn people of unfair business practices by certain groups. On my first day they had me read some files so I could get used to how things are done. Everything sounds pretty familiar. There was a case of some poor construction and letters back and forth to the contractor to get an agreement on how much the bill could be diminished by to make up for the damage of a leaky pipe and a few other things. (Sandy should like that). There was a dispute with a used car dealership, which I have to say to my surprise right now, the dealership may be correct. (I even figured out how to use the index in the back of the Civil Code to read the law for myself.) I will have to ask how “discovery” is done. Right now it seems to be done with letters back and forth. It seems to me that there are missing facts on both sides right now. I will “work” Friday mornings.

Our little monkey also learned to eat right out of Peter\'s hand. Monkey see, monkey do.

Peter had another one of those "Small world" experiences also this week. Here’s the story as Peter tells it:

I have been at work for a bit over a month now, and things are going pretty well. We had a bit of a scare with the laser, but fortunately things seem to be going smoothly now and we are getting very close to looking for feeble signals from metal nanoparticles. I have written some software that is very nearly ready for use in this regard, and have helped out on a project here or there while I wait for some of the puzzle pieces to show up.

Early last week I was working on the data analysis program in my office when a fairly recent arrival on the campus came looking for Luca Guidoni, my officemate. Luca has a reputation for computer savvy, and I suspected that this person, who was clearly of African descent, was after a bit of computer advice. I thought he was from Cameroon and didn’t realize how recently he had come to Strasbourg. I asked if I could help him. Well, he wanted to ask Luca about LabVIEW. Perhaps I could help, I suggested, as I have quite a bit of experience programming in LabVIEW. He was just getting started and was having a hard time with the documentation (quel surprise!). Having been there, I offered to spend a few minutes getting him oriented.

We went to his office and I gave him a brief introduction to LabVIEW programming, just for 20 or 30 minutes. I told him to work with the program and to come back when he developed more questions. Later that day he came back with a few more questions, for which I could give quick answers, and he went back to work. Near day’s end, he came back one last time, he promised, and I went back with him to his office for another round. After we had gone over his progress and answered nagging questions, I noticed a map of Africa on his office whiteboard.

« Qu’est-ce que c’est que ça ? » [What’s that?]

« C’est mon pays. » [It’s my country.]

« Vraiment? Et c’est quel pays ça ? » [Really? And what country is that?]


Really? I’m Togolese, too! I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Togo a long time ago.

I knew a few Peace Corps volunteers. They were good guys.

Where in Togo are you from?

The capital, Lomé.

I was in Aklakou. In fact, I was the entire physics department at Lycée d’Aklakou.

You know, the guy who taught me how to program was a Peace Corps volunteer. His name was Peter. I forget his last name.

Really? When was this?

Oh, a long time ago. A really long time. I don’t remember.

Where was it?

Well, it was at Collège Protestant.

Gee, that’s where we did our summer training of volunteers. We would start in Atakpamé at Notre Dame d’Atakpamé, and then half way through the summer we would come down to Lomé for more French and to begin our practice teaching. They would get some Lomé lycée students to come and listen to the atrocious presentations, poor souls. You must have been one of those.

Yeah, this guy told me to meet him in a restaurant and we discussed programming. He had some kind of programmable calculator. We discussed programming for a long time. I can’t remember his last name.

Saeta. It was me! It must have been me; there wasn’t anyone else doing that in Togo at the time.

You know, he looked a lot like you, now that you mention it.

You do, too, now that I think about it!

So, after 18 years we are now colleagues working together at the Institute for the Physics and Chemistry of Materials in Strasbourg, and once again, I am teaching him a thing or two about programming. Le monde, il n’est pas tellement grand !

After getting over the shock, I couldn’t help asking about African restaurants here in Strasbourg. He laughed, claiming that he had only just arrived here. He had been in the United States for the past three years, in Atlanta. I told him if we found one, we’d let him know and he promised to do the same. Later in the week he told me that he knew of another Togolese family in town and that there should be a monthly get-together to eat Togolese food. We have our fingers crossed!

Well, time to go to bed and send this off.

Love Linda, Peter, Brennan, Ethan and Ryan

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This page was last modified on Sun, Nov 25, 2001.