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☕️ ☕️☕️☕️ The Decline of Coffee and Other Observations in the Time of the Great Recession (Part 4 – USA)

A round-about return to (The Great France Art Tour of 2017)

Times were hard. We were about a year into settling back at the office in New Jersey, 2008 – 2009, just in time to see the world economies stumble, waver, and in parts, collapse into the Great Recession.

It started of course, in the USA, where the greed-crazed finance sector was addicted to mortgage-backed-securities. The “sucker was going down” to paraphrase our now-much-more-appreciated President Bush.

Keep in mind, “boom and bust” cycles were all too familiar in the ever-changing-if-not-improving IT world. One year the whole sales force has to have Blackberries. Train. Staff up. A few years later the Executives want everyone to switch to iPhones. Then there’s a merger. Layoffs. Every few years we had to shrink, eliminate waste, clean house, prove our value to the rest of the company. One President wants to make his mark by putting the whole business on SAP, sells the company, and the next CEO pushes to change the entire mail system. Next merger, or spin-off, the cycle would repeat, and before everyone is laid off again and the dust has settled, we have to migrate to the new parent company’s different Quality system, or mail system, or operating platform. It didn’t matter how many millions of dollars were spent so long as the current Man in Charge could lay claim to a big change before moving on to his next takeover.

But the Great Recession was worse than the typical boom and bust. Without dwelling on it too much, there were many layoffs. At the amazing, incredible shrinking New Jersey office we even lost a few people from our relatively small and mostly essential basement IT team.

These losses were called “synergies”—insensitive, euphemistic business jargon used to create a positive spin on FIRED—where people are told they no longer have a job because the company has to cut costs somewhere and YOU are one of the places we are cutting.

“At least you still have a job!” Was a common refrain. If you did. And in the hallways and lunchroom and restrooms, people speculated when is the “next wave” of layoffs? And who would still be there in a month or two?

Those who remained were expected to be grateful, and not complain if they were supposed to now work harder, take on more responsibility, perform “lower level” tasks, and so on. Which in some bizarro fashion, was really no different than what was expected of the worker bee class (in IT, at least) during “normal” times! If you already worked late, if you already worked on weekends, if you already took late night support calls to assist some executive who forgot his password, or dropped his laptop in a Palm Springs swimming pool, what more could you do? Well, as we shall see, for starters, you could be grateful that you were still able to do all that fun stuff, and maybe? Take out your own trash and use less toilet paper?

Still, after our successful installation journeys to Japan and Taiwan, word got out about those lucky colleagues in the Pacific Rim with their magnificent coffee machines, and for those managers who remained in New Jersey, and as a distraction from the growing crisis, a certain amount of nationalist rivalry ensued. Which brings us finally to what might be re-named, the Decline of Coffee and Toilets in the USA in the Time of the Great Recession.

Not to be outdone by international rivals, our New Jersey Manager of Office Operations, “Nick”, looked for a solution to provide an equivalent coffee service, a way to let the surviving employees know they were appreciated, and that if they needed access to stimulants to stay motivated and carry on with their additional responsibilities, then the COMPANY was behind them.

Before this time, in the U.S. office anyway, there had been no coffee. Strange as that seems. Many years before, we had an old-fashioned “Mister Coffee” in our roomy cafeteria, which was okay, but that had been gone for years. It disappeared about the same time that the large cafeteria was converted into office cubes, and the small locker room was converted into a smaller cafeteria. (Nick was the mastermind of that conversion.)

Some managers discouraged people from leaving the bland, monotonous, grey walled, industrial building with its chemical smells and noise during work hours, but they also considered it “excessive” to provide coffee just to entice employees to stick around. As a result, whole teams, small groups, and individuals frequently escaped on breaks and lunch to get both fresh air and coffee at the local Dunkin’ Donuts or Starbucks.

Nick was respected by upper management for his cost-cutting. Shortly after the first painful reduction (this is another euphemism, it means job elimination, lay off, mass firing) of one third of the workforce at our location, Nick famously introduced a number of innovations.

• First he canceled the subscription to a bottled spring water service, replacing the bottle-topped coolers with headless “water stations” that filtered the chlorine, and killed the bacteria with UV light. If the employees wanted Spring water, they could find their own spring, but at the office there was tap water that was free of bacteria! No big bottles, no expensive deliveries, no monthly fees for the corporation!

• Nick cut the custodial staff in half, which meant there were two custodians left, who, due to that reduction, discontinued vacuuming floors—except for the offices in the “Executive Suite”—four of which were now conveniently unoccupied from the layoffs. Nick’s improvement also eliminated the daily emptying of trash and recycling receptacles in offices, (except for the Executive Suite). The Director of Operations posted happy little signs around the building reminding the demoralized employees, “It’s your trash, you take it out! 😃” Executives approved.

• Next Nick went after the paper towels in the restrooms, replacing them with a much lighter, thinner, flimsier, and cheaper paper towel. Unfortunately, since the new towels tended to disintegrate on contact with water, two or three times as many towels were required to dry hands, and shredded towel remnants littered the floor. But no worries, the “custodial staff” – she could clean those up.

“Cheaper towels” was praised by Country President, Jureet Wariri, at an all-staff meeting which could now take place (with room to spare) in the small cafeteria, as a brilliant, “outside the box” solution! Wariri challenged the surviving employees to come up with their own ideas and submit them to Nick.

One employee dropped into Nick’s office and suggested that a modified toilet with bidet attachment, or a “Bidet toilet” was not only technically innovative (setting a good example for a high tech company), but also required fewer flushes, much less toilet paper and could save money. The conversation included explanations of the public toilets at the Tokyo office, and the Superlet and similar toilets at the hotels in Taiwan. This unsung employee even pointed out that although the bidet was invented by the French, in fact the “bidet toilet” was invented by an Americanand Americans being a fussy, uptight Protestant bunch—it never sold in America, so it had been licensed to a Japanese company! Wouldn’t it be great to bring this American invention back to America?

“Toilet paper? Toilet paper?” Nick thought.

Pointing out why this “bidet thing” would not work—too much investment, too much work, too much change to be asked of any American—Nick dismissed the employee but lingered on one small scrap of the idea. “Toilet paper??” Nick zeroed in on the toilet paper. Riffing off his other paper-themed successes, he hit on the least popular cost-saving effort yet with the workers, and another “ball out of the park” with management: the switch to a low grade toilet paper. A toilet paper that was coarse, rough, abrasive to the touch, so stiff that it resisted crumpling. It was so cheap and so uncomfortable that spoiled employees would rather wait than use it!!

Once again, this “improvement” was implemented everywhere (but not in the Executive washrooms). The executives continued to use softer toilet paper until their private supply was exhausted, coincidentally, just about the time the financial crisis eased. Among the remaining employees, there was much grumbling about the change, but the abrasive policy persisted. Employees found their own workarounds. Years later it was not uncommon to discover a smuggled roll of soft and durable high quality toilet paper in the back of a filing cabinet or stashed in a bottom desk drawer.

The international challenge was declined in the restroom, but in the lunchroom? Into this newly lean, newly empty lunchroom, Nick introduced not a Keurig, not a Nespresso, and definitely not a “Mr. Coffee”, but in fact a mechanical coffeemaker, similar to the French hotel version, that looked and operated much like the jukebox you might find in the Greek Diner up the road on Route 22. For the first month, employees were offered this stale, bland, watery coffee for FREE. After the trial period, the employee was required to insert coins and pay $.85 to $1.15 (depending on choices made and buttons pushed) for the brown dishwater-like concoction.

On the first potentially fee-producing day, Nick proudly walked into the cafeteria at lunch time for a promotional chat with the staff. Before anyone mentioned the coffee machine, Nick (not a coffee drinker by the way) enthusiastically asked, “Have you tried it? Cappuccino for $1.15! It’s great for our employees! Go ahead, try it!! There is NO REASON to go to Starbucks!!”

Nobody said anything. They wouldn’t want to be ungrateful. People stared at the ground, nodding insincerely. Nick returned to his office to sit in his big chair and look at his bulletin board. He had printed and posted the latest “Email of Praise” from President Wariri, proclaiming Nick a “Thought Leader and True Champion of Company Cost-Cutting, determined to save the company and lead it successfully into the next decade.” This was Nick’s legacy, and he was proud.

Once Nick had left the cafeteria, the employees shuffled out the back door as they always had, piled into their SUVs and drove to the local Starbucks, about two blocks away, to speak freely and have a decent cup of coffee. Neither the Starbucks nor the Dunkin’ Donuts seemed to suffer in the least from the Corporate Coffee Jukebox. If anything, the stores gained some new and regular customers.

And you know the rest. Business gradually returned to the normal boom-and-bust-and-takeover-and-migrate cycle. Some new people were hired, some old employees returned, others were retired. It was pretty much the same. Until Covid. But we’re not going there.

We’ll get back to the Great France Art Tour of 2017 , maybe next time! 🙏🏻

Until then, enjoy your coffee!

—Christo

☕️ ☕️☕️ The Decline of Coffee and Other Observations in the Time of the Great Recession (Part 3 – France)

A round-about return to (The Great France Art Tour of 2017)

On that first Japan visit, I stayed at the Tokyo Hilton in Shinjuku district. The commute to the office was by shared cab. After a quick breakfast at the hotel, the four of us, shepherded by our new manager from Singapore, piled into a cab procured by the hotel’s taxi valet, a tall, eager young woman in a long grey coat and cap, and zoomed off to the office. Where cartridge coffee was available.

Four in a cab, with little time for the privacy this introvert craves to stay sane. And coffee that was just not so good. Early the next morning, I managed to evade my workmates and happily discovered the reliability and solitude of a Starbucks within walking distance of the hotel. What a relief!

Yes, there are Starbucks in France. Although, not many. I looked for one so I could buy a souvenir mug. Seriously. I’m not big on souvenirs, but having a Starbucks mug from Tokyo, or Paris, or Taipei, I confess, it’s a thing. Anyway, I did get a Paris mug, not far from Notre-Dame, but I never drank Starbucks coffee in France. Still, I don’t have a problem with coffee at Starbucks.

Say what you like, many scorn Starbucks as an American plague like McDonald’s. Whatever. I never drink a “Grandé One Pump Half-caf Soy Pumpkin Latte”. (Though even in the USA I sometimes have to accept a substituted “Café Americano” to get decaf.) I can say that at most Starbucks around the world I order my favorite “Half-caf Iced Coffee” confident that this will be a drink of the same quality and flavor regardless of location, whether the barista is Japanese, Korean, German, or French.

That’s the coffee. Be careful, or you may painfully discover, as I have at least once, the milk, cream, or whatever else you might put in your coffee, is a completely different matter, with special risks.

As I said, I never tasted Starbuck’s coffee in France. Because when I visited Rennes in 2011 and Paris in 2012 a request for a café crème at just about any brasserie or café resulted in a rich, flavorful cup of coffee served with steamed milk or cream, sometimes brewed in an espresso machine, but sometimes in some other mysterious fashion. But always good. I thought. Did I believe this just because I was in France? I’m not sure.

Flash forward to The Great France Art Tour of 2017—one of the Rick Steve’s podcasts about France included an interview with writer and Paris resident David Sedaris, who remarked in a masterful sardonic aside,

“Well, you know… coffee in Paris is really not very good.”

Really?! I thought, how can you say that? Okay, maybe not the coffee served in a paper cup at the De Gaulle airport, but otherwise I’ve always been pleased with my café creams!

Alas, the decline of coffee and the rise of the machines in France is evident and largely attributable to the ubiquitous prevalence of Keurig-like coffee machines in restaurants and hotels. Especially in hotels.

If they don’t use Keurig-type cartridges in their breakfast buffets, they establish these horrible self-serve, push-button grinding machines. The machines contain a plastic bin of probably stale, low-grade beans, ground on demand, dumped onto a rolling paper filter (reminiscent of the cloth roller towels once prevalent in public restrooms). Tap water pours over the grounds and depending on the buttons pushed, various powdered or liquid additives are mechanically injected into the waiting brew to convert it into a mockery of espresso, cappuccino, or làtte. This unfortunate situation was true of our 2017 stay at hotels in Paris, in Arles, Avignon, and Nice.

We are not fooled.

Though I normally prefer a simple brewed cup, it seemed the only way to get “real coffee” was to explicitly order espresso or cappuccino.

You would think, one might saunter into a café and feel some relief to see a “classic” espresso machine behind the bar. A beautiful work of craftmanship in brass and copper, a small golden eagle perched on top, its wings outstretched. Maybe you’re looking at a Vesubio, a Gaggia, or a La Pavoni.  Surely the sight would give you the confidence to order that cappuccino? Beware. Proceed with your order, ONLY if you may observe its actual production. Because to my horror, in a little ocean front café in Nice, in exactly that situation, I did that, ordered, and watched the waiter walk into the kitchen, punch a few buttons, and produce a so-called “cappuccino” from one of those infernal cartridge-loaded, machines while the Gaggia sat idle, cold, unused.

Keeping that in mind, we might even have created a small redemption for buying your coffee at Starbucks, in France. Because at least, it will be real, not cartridge, coffee, and if it’s expresso, you can watch them make it. That’s just about it for coffee in France.

All that’s left now is the question, “Quel genre de toilettes ont-ils en France?” a topic that seems to have attached itself to this long essay like a remora on a Blue Shark. I’ve previously mentioned the ancient urinals that have vanished from the Champs-Élysées. I won’t comment on the weird, uritrottoirs street side, red urinals placed around Paris in 2018 (as far is this memoir is concerned, that’s in the unknown future). Oh sure, in your desperation, you might happen upon a café toilette just off the Rue Mouffetard on your way to the Jardin Des Plantes with nothing but a hole in the floor in a tiny tiled closet, I did, but that’s uncommon. France gave the world the bidet, the precursor to the Superlet and other Asian innovations, and most hotels and many apartments and residences sport bidets, really as something to be taken for granted, not remarked upon.

That wraps it. Except for the Decline of Coffee in the USA during the time of the Great Recession. Which is coming right up, next time! 🙏🏻

—Christo

☕️ ☕️ The Decline of Coffee and Other Observations in the Time of the Great Recession (Part 2 – Taiwan)

A round-about return to (The Great France Art Tour of 2017)

Busy Street in Taipei

We flew to Taipei in the morning, and took a cab direct from the airport to the office. Taipei was hotter, more humid, busier, more crowded on the streets and sidewalks, older, less westernized, and appropriately somehow more relaxed than Tokyo. It’s hard to see a country when you spend most of your visit in a corporate office, but those were my first impressions anyway.

My Taiwanese IT counterpart, “Roger”, closer to my age than Tashiki, in glasses, and dressed comfortably for the steamy Taiwan summer weather in an open-collared, short-sleeved yellow plaid shirt and jeans, walked us from the small elevator to the office lobby, where we paused at an empty reception desk. On the wall behind the desk a giant red plexiglass logo reassured us of our unity as citizens of the one same corporation. Roger officially greeted everyone and introduced those who had not yet met. Then looking serious,  told us the first important thing.

Explaining as best he could in English, and with the unending patience of someone who has repeated it for the millionth time, that it may seem strange to us and how we do things in America, but if we insist on using toilet paper, it is essential to place the soiled paper in the little trash can, next to the toilet, and not flush it down the toilet. This practice is important because Taipei is a large island city with an old sewage system never designed to handle toilet paper, which should be disposed of in the same manner as regular office paper waste.

Staring at our feet in the lobby, holding suitcases and clunky Dell laptops, and feeling a bit displaced, our team made note of this explanation with a few smirks, and for my part, naïve disbelief. After all, Roger and I had shared several international calls and previous team meetings in New Jersey, and I knew he had a dry sense of humor. I hadn’t traveled much, hadn’t yet taken my first surfing trip to Costa Rica—with its similar infrastructure—and had never traveled anywhere where this requirement was verbalized so clearly. Was he kidding us? I just didn’t know.

Having quickly covered this necessity, Roger was joined by our second local IT host, Mary, with shoulder length dark hair, trim in a blue button down shirt and cotton vest, sleeves folded back, jeans, and deck shoes, she seemed genuinely pleased to see us. After more greetings and introductions (absent the greeting card ritual), she ushered us past the logo and into the main office, a smaller and more informal operation than the one in Tokyo, with a conspicuous number of empty desks—then she respectfully presented the second important announcement.

Clearly, tea preparation was a simple matter, she explained, mastered over several thousand years by this mature culture, but coffee? This was a mystery that required a modern solution. For their staff, and honored coffee-consuming-Western guests, the office had acquired a Chinese—not Japanese—solution to that daunting problem faced by so many non-Americans, that is, how to make a decent cup of coffee. Offering this introduction as she led us to the little kitchen lounge, Mary proudly unveiled a stainless steel mechanical coffee maker next to a steel rack of little gold and red cartridges, which we could access any time that we required or desired our chosen American beverage. Mary demonstrated how the machine worked, telling us with a smile, “Whenever you need coffee, it’s here! You just come and make it!”

Without discussion, our team agreed that this was a clever invention. We pretended to have never seen such an innovation, and expressed our astonishment at the freshly produced cup!

While Mary prepared a second cup, my thoughts drifted. As the IT expert required to manage and edit our email “directory”, I was familiar with every name of every one of the one thousand or so employees globally. Americans, Brits, French, Japanese, Korean, Chinese and Taiwanese. I could usually identify the user’s nationality by their name, but with the Chinese and Taiwanese colleagues it was different.

In Japan, I didn’t think too much about Tashiki’s name. At least, I was pretty confident that was his name. An American in Asia should know that the Japanese introduce themselves, in proper Japanese, first stating their “Family Name” (what Americans call “Last Name”). Except sometimes, in polite deference to English speakers, the Japanese might reverse the normal Japanese order, and present themselves first by “Given” (what Americans call “First Name”) and then “Family” name. In that case—an American, believing he understands the proper and polite Japanese ordering of names, might then refer to his colleague in the opposite fashion, by “Family” name, when trying to refer to him by his “Given” name.

Without making this more confusing than it already is, let me just say that for a year or more I referred to Tashiki as Wakamatsu, until with his usual kindness, he explained that I should probably call him “Tashiki”.

Our Taiwanese colleagues also have formal names, which sometimes appear on their business cards but which were rarely used with English speakers. As a student of T’ai Chi Chuan, I had some understanding that their presentations of names was similar to the Japanese, that is, “Family” name first. Thus T’ai Chi Chuan Master “Jou, Tsung Hua” is respectfully referred to as “Master Jou”. Which may sound like the informal western “Joe”, but is not the same. So, how, I wondered, do our Taiwanese (and Chinese colleagues) acquire first names like “Mary” or “Roger”? Are these their real names?

That evening, our hosts took us to a local seafood restaurant. Seated almost comfortably on a porch, an ocean breeze fanning the palm fronds; my mind stuck in a distant time zone, lulled by twinkling lights and cold beer, I chatted with the colleagues. Placed in front of each guest, a pot of black volcanic rock roiled with boiling water. The wait staff delivered trays layered with a colorful array of fresh, cleaned and prepared—but uncooked—local sea life, vegetables, and herbs. Using metal tongs we selected and dropped the shrimp, fish, octopus, or some other ocean denizen into the pot.

The slow cooking process encouraged conversation and served as a friendly icebreaker after our first day in the office. When cooked to satisfaction, we removed the food, placed it on the plate, added condiments or sauce, and ate—myself creating a minor stir with my unexpected dexterity with chopsticks. (I’m just full of surprises.)

After some back and forth, I decided to query Mary politely, “If it is not rude for me to ask, was “Mary” her “given” name?” (She smiled at this.) “Or, how did she come by it?”

She explained, these names are an accommodation because most Westerners have difficulty (by which she meant, make such a mess of) trying to speak Chinese. At some point late in their professional education or early in their international careers (if they are to work with English-speaking-Westerners) she and her colleagues acquire what they call their “American names”. They are usually ‘christened’ with their “American” name by a “coach” or employment counselor who is engaged in recruiting countrymen for work with foreign companies.

Most of my American colleagues accepted those “American” names without much thought or sensitivity, but to me it always seemed a bit weird, or awkward, like a “stage name”. As if you worked with and were maybe even friends with Reg Dwight, but only ever called him “Elton”. Or when, did you call him “Reg?”

Dinner concluded, our American and British team traversed humid downtown Taipei, now dark, the streets still rushing with the noise of car and scooter traffic. Checking at last into our nearby hotel, exhausted, I noted that although the office loo had what might be called a “plain vanilla” toilet, nevertheless my hotel bathroom sported a very sophisticated model (was it the Superlet?) with at least as many integrated functions as the “add-on” ones in the Tokyo offices.

There was also, of course, a small, classy brass-lidded container for soiled toilet paper, a reminder of the information provided, but as yet unused, much, much earlier in that very long day.

Although to this point I had only a bit of a “sensitive stomach”, I discovered the next morning after arriving at the office, that clearly, I was unaccustomed to something—seafood, radishes, or some unknown spice. Possibly even the cream I used to temper the Iced Coffee from a Starbucks we had discovered nearby.

With two days’ work left in the office, my digestive system initiated a full revolt.

 Excusing myself abruptly from numerous meetings, I spent an embarrassingly long amount of time contemplating that first important announcement, “the use and disposal of toilet paper”. From my long, seated meditations, I was grateful for the breeze that continuously blew fresh air into the open window of my seventh floor private office. Now and again a colleague might make his way to the men’s room to ask a technical question about migration of a mail file, or query me on the wording of a memo. Several times I tried to rejoin my colleagues only to excuse myself again and again for another visit to the lavatory. Eventually, I just remained in the stall.

After a long interval, someone brought me an Immodium, which I took, re-appearing briefly to obtain a cup of water, and then trying not to run, I returned to my Fortress of Solitude awaiting relief.

In my stall, things were not so busy. It was peaceful. I became overly familiar with the chiming tower clock at the church behind the office, the cooing of pigeons that landed in the shade of the window ledge, and the playful laughter of the students at recess in the yard of the Catholic school next door, which as far as I could discern from my porcelain throne, could have been the laughter of children anywhere in the world.

Relief came eventually, and I was able to move about, slowly. The next day, I didn’t drink the coffee, tried to stay out of the toilet, and yes, finished installing the new email system.

This time with me working “remotely”, or at least intermittently, we completed our IT Magic. Our migration team returned to the USA, where the economy was teetering, and the local New Jersey Executives grew disturbed with tales of great advances in the creation of coffee in Asia – something that was sorely lacking in our office in New Jersey.

But before we go there, let’s first take a look at Coffee in France...

—Christo

☕️ The Decline of Coffee and Other Observations in the Time of the Great Recession (Part 1 – Japan)

A round-about return to (The Great France Art Tour of 2017)

Tashiki, with the onion-framed wire rims, Beatle mop-top, sincere smile and winning sense of humor, gave the impression he had somehow slipped away from working as John Lennon’s stunt double in the “Magical Mystery Tourmovie and stepped into a magical real world that was always of great interest to him.

After spending some time in his youth as a Japanese ex-patriot attending school in Southern California, Tashiki managed to escape the interest of the Big Dumb Corporations of the USA and returned to find a job in Japan. Years later we’d both ended up working for the same multi-national corporation. I’d met him when he visited our site in New Jersey. Now in Tokyo, it was a relief to see a friendly, familiar face. And I might add, a colleague who I knew could communicate with me much better in English, than I was capable of speaking (with my two or three phrases) in Japanese.

This was my first trip to Asia, 2006, not long before the world economies took a nose dive, and our Japanese colleagues on the 23rd floor, in the large open office of low-walled cubicles in the old Kakegawa section of Tokyo, welcomed us with the traditional cross-cultural bowing, exchange of business cards, and handshaking that celebrated our trans-oceanic office arrival. We appraised and complimented each other on our cards, especially the double-sided cards with name and titles in Japanese on one side and English on the other! The ritual complete, the colleagues informed us of “two important things”: the location of the rest rooms (outside and just off the central elevator), and a surprise for us, coffee!

Jet-lagged from the eighteen hour journey, and not yet accustomed to requisite long days of an important Western IT specialist—bringing a new email system to be followed by a hardware “refresh” of new laptops—I was relieved with the unexpected promise of coffee.

We strolled to a little corner of the office which served as a kitchen and lounge. Our colleagues had recently installed a small appliance somewhat larger than a toaster oven. Nearby, between a small frig and a microwave, a shiny, silver table-top carousel held twenty or thirty red and gold, thimble-shaped aluminum containers, but larger—if thimbles, then, those used by a very large seamstress.

An eager and worthy host, Tashiki demonstrated how to pop the coffee “thimble” into the toaster-like coffee maker. He pressed a button or two, and after some grumbling and hissing from the machine, a brown liquid appeared and half-filled a paper cup we had placed beneath it.

The colleagues were excited to share details of this new innovation, and I agreed, making coffee with such convenience was an impressive feat! And, since my stomach doesn’t tolerate black coffee, and already a bit queasy from travel, I politely asked if there were milk or cream so that I might sample the brew in my accustomed manner? We located the cream, or “creamer”, which came in single serve, single use, four-inch-long, drinking straw-width paper or plastic tubes, accompanied by sugar, packaged in a similar fashion, both of which I applied to the brew.

While we took our turns at the coffee machine, Tashiki carefully and passionately explained the adjacent color-coded recycling bins—of which there were at least three. Which bin to use for which items, plastic, paper, other waste. Emphasizing that, as you know, Japanese are a very organized, tidy, and especially clean culture, and as they have an ancient and intimate relationship with the ocean, recycling was “very important to Japanese People”. I could relate to this passion for sustainability, and was a bit disappointed, (but not surprised) by the patronizing amusement expressed in winks and smiles by several of my American colleagues.

It had been a very long flight. Over the arctic ice cap, frozen Russia, and raging seas. My first ever of what would become a number of flights of that distance and duration. I was tired, my eyes scratchy from being open for too long. I located a small, empty conference room, and slumped into a chair under the glaring white fluorescents to drink the coffee. The first wave of jet lag nausea clobbered me unexpectedly, as I sipped. Maybe something was wrong with the paper cup or the creamer. It was that first taste, and politeness aside, the coffee was not so good. It had the stale, manufactured flavor of “instant” coffee, this time worsened by anticipation, by the expectation that there was something special about its production and brewing.

These days, now, many years later, people are familiar with these coffee cartridges, whether known by the name “Keurig” or “Nespresso” or some other marketing moniker. Are they better now? I don’t recall the name of the Japanese innovation at the time, but it was some very similar predecessor to today’s version that, like so many things in the twenty-first century, prioritized convenience over quality.

Not long after that first sample, I made my way to the Men’s Room, pretty typical of any corporate high rise restroom, anywhere—until I opened a stall door. I took a quick look, and figuring that I had stumbled into a “special needs” stall, opened an adjacent unlocked door…same thing: The toilet was clearly retrofitted with additional plumbing and equipment tucked beneath the tank and bowl. Next to the seat, a little “control panel” was attached with buttons marked with icons of lower body parts and water spraying, air blowing, and heat…emanating.

This was one of those novel advanced Japanese toilet seats, nearly unheard of in the USA, except maybe in a James Fallows NPR commentary. But I’d never seen, much less experienced one. So, of course, when the need arose, I sampled the luxury features, though in a public rest room this is a bit, embarrassing, due to the noise of electric pumps and splashing water. One button initiates the bidet (water rinsing) feature, and another an air dryer with several heat settings, and the seat itself was internally heated. This toilet technology was at least as impressive as the coffee maker, and in my opinion executed with a more satisfactory result. Though I was to later find that enhanced toilets were all the rage in Asia, I didn’t see them, not in my room at the Hilton, and not anywhere else in Japan—not that I was looking for them. In other visits to the office Men’s Room, I observed the frequent and long-lasting full occupancy of the stalls, which our matter-of-fact colleagues accepted as a scatological workplace “perk.”

I drank the coffee, I used the toilet, and I installed the new email system.

We completed our mission a few days later, having performed our impressive Corporate IT Magic in Japan, and flew to Taiwan for the next performance—a similar upgrade and installation in Taipei for the slightly less impressionable Taiwanese colleagues. And, welcomed upon arriving at their office, we, as newcomers, were presented with two important bits of information. Which I will review in the next installment…

…to be continued!!

—Christo

COVID-19 Info and Resources (USA)

keep-calm-wash-your-hands_8.5x11Info and Links for Friends and Loved Ones

It’s been almost a year since I’ve posted anything. I noticed I keep emailing this info to people and update it every couple of days when someone sends me something of value. Silly me! It’s easier to put it on the blob. So here it is…

March 22, 2020, A doctor in New York recommended this video by another doctor. A bit long, PLEASE watch the whole thing, important and hopeful information throughout. “Dr. David Price of Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York City shares information in a Mar. 22 Zoom call with family and friends on empowering and protecting families during the COVID-19 pandemic.
March 17, 2020 Web Blog entry, by Dr. Hyman. Mark Hyman, MD is the Founder and Director of The UltraWellness Center, the Head of Strategy and Innovation of Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Functional Medicine, and a 13-time New York Times Bestselling author.
March 24, 2020, The Guardian, web page article.
March 26, 2020 New York Times Web Page, broken into 4 sections:
  1. Prevent Infection
  2. Prepare
  3. Stay Home
  4. Recover from Illness

April 19, 2020, Web Page is dynamic, I can’t find the “permalink” so you might have to follow it from this page. If you don’t want all the latest news, scroll down, to the bottom of the page to “Answers to Your Frequently Asked Questions”, and click “Read More” and pick a topic.

April 1, 2020 Dr. Jeffrey VanWingen

April 18, 2020 Supermarkets, grocery stores are shifting hours, adding hours for seniors and have purchase limits. What you need to know. – nj.com
— Read on www.nj.com/business/2020/04/supermarkets-grocery-stores-are-shifting-hours-adding-hours-for-seniors-and-have-purchase-limits-what-you-need-to-know-april-18-2020.html


No-Sew Face Mask with Handkerchief and Hair Tie-2
April 1, 2020 Article, No sewing required!!

How to keep your glasses or sunglasses from fogging up while wearing a face mask – nj.com
— Read on www.nj.com/coronavirus/2020/04/how-to-keep-your-glasses-or-sunglasses-from-fogging-up-while-wearing-a-face-mask.html


April 1, 2020 A computer model. Only look at this if you can handle the news. Big numbers. Fascinating and depressing information.

After that serious model, everyone should watch this!!


BTW: No. COVID-19 is not caused by 5G. Seriously? C’mon people, now, smile on your brother, everybody get together (with social distancing), right now.

 

Keep Calm and Wash Your Hands, and Wear a Mask! — Christo

 

Lambertville Tree Clearing Update—Coryell to Bridge, and South

March 26, 2019

In previous correspondence,  NJWSA stated they would,

“Thin-out the underbrush and small trees on the western bank and in and on the stone wall between Coryell Street and Bridge Street.”
In fact nearly every tree between Coryell and Bridge has been eliminated, and if not for citizen and mayoral intervention, the large tree near the Bridge Street bridge would have been removed. (Photos forthcoming, details below).
From: Judy Detrano
Date: March 23, 2019 at 9:53:57 PM EDT
To: Christopher Plummer, Julia Fahl
Subject: Re: Trees along the canal (info now on my blog)

Hi Chris,

I have but a bit more information which I will email you tomorrow.  I was with them as they cut away and with the help of Mayor Julia and Cindy Ege we saved the tree by the canal at the bridge alongside the Princeton Bank.   Michael A. Sellar was the Facility Manager , Delaware & Raritan Canal Office, that I spoke with on site.  <snip> The destruction of our trees in and around Lambertville has become an issue to be addressed and we need the support of a number of departments, including NJ DEP.

 

March 25, 2019

Hello again Chris,

FYI…
Upon speaking with Michael Sellar of the NJWSA on-site the day they cut down the trees from Coryell to Bridge Street in Lambertville the following answers to my questions were as follows:
1.  The cutting of the trees was to prevent them from falling into the canal which would undermine the drinking quality of the water
2.  They believe the trees and shrubs are destroying the structure of the stone wall along the canal, river side of the canal
3.  They are not fixing, replacing or relining the stone canal wall (even though the stones are there in the canal) because the budget allotment  does not cover the expense to do so.  It is faster, easier & cheaper to cut down the trees.
4.  He has no explanation for why a tree here and there was left uncut but they would be happy to come back and cut them down.  (3 trees remain by the River Horse Brewery building)
5.  He is not aware of any advance notice required to the city of Lambertville as that side of the canal falls under their maintenance obligations.
6.  The towpath side of the canal will not be sheared by them as that side of the canal is under the authority of NJ State Parks Commission.
7.  They admit that their maintenance of the canal has been neglected for close to 25 years due to budget constrictions
8.  They can be stymied by the Shade Tree Commission from cutting down a tree that falls under the Shade Tree protection.
+The NJWSA supposedly has a Capital Fund Component for Capital Improvement..where is that money and why not fix the stone wall
+They are indeed required to notify the public if more than 1/2 acre is to be ‘deforested’ with 60 days to hold a public hearing
+ I have not ascertained their responsibility to notify the City of Lambertville
+ They might have had to submit a tree cutting plan to the Division of Parks & Forestry as the property is also NJState Park property. (or should have)
+ It may be possible to demand some sort of replanting to refurbish the embankment via the Delaware & Raritan Canal Commission
+ There were no Project Updates or notices on the NJWSA website referring to Lambertville that I uncovered
+ There appears to be no coordination/integration/communication between the various commissions to control either of  committees/authority/commssions to review, supervise or hold to any aesthetics of proposed work, nor review of the destruction of wildlife habitats, particularly to bird species and bats.
+ If the DRCC has jurisdiction over the entire state-owned D & R Canal, should they have not been notified and required to offer approvals of the NJWSA ?
+ Also, where would a public notice appear that would reach the residents of Lambertville without their needing to search for such a notice.
+ And, I have heard, with no further information, explanations or confirmations, that the railroad had leased the property to which the rails are on, but that their lease had/has expired and there is no current enforceable lease at this time.  Does that not restrict them from doing anything along the tracks through Lambertville until that is made more clear and current in their authority to do so.  AND that the railroad does impact our wildlife habitats, noise and air pollution…..and what input do the residents of Lambertville have, if any, to curtail their work in our city.
Regards,
Judy Detrano

 

Concerned citizens are encouraged to contact their representatives:


The City of Lambertville
Mayor Julia Fahl
City Hall
18 York Street
Lambertville, NJ  08530
Telephone:  609.397.0110
 “Ask the Mayor”


John Hutchison
Executive Director
Delaware & Raritan Canal Commission
609-397-2000

John.hutchison@dep.nj.gov


Clinton Administration Building
1851 State Route 31
P.O. Box 5196
Clinton, NJ 08809
P: (908) 638-6121
F: (908) 638-5241

info@njwsa.org


Patricia Kallesser
Park Superintendent
145 Mapleton Road
Princeton, NJ 08540
Phone: 609.924.5705

Peace Out
— Christo

Wake up and smell the 5G — Not for me!

 

back1

Wednesday May 8, 2019— Some new links…

1) The EHT “Fact Sheet” —Better than the printed version because all the links in the PDF are live.
2) The “Sample Code” for small city ordinances (the PDF is helpful for copy/paste if actually crafting an ordinance)
3) “Generation Zapped”— the movie I would like to get the Lambertville ACME to show.
4) “The Terrifying Potential of the 5G Network”, by Sue Halpern, in The New Yorker, April 26, 2019, recent article recommended by a #StopPennEast associate—

April 2, 2019 —Update: Verizon wants Lambertville to be a “Smart City”. Want to be smart? Learn about 5G! Lots of great information from the Environmental Health Trust.  Keep it simple, and start here:


Saturday, April 20, 2019Update: Thank you to Nancy Kay Anderson for sending me an informative fact-based link from Physicians for Safe Technology, about Wireless Technology and Public Health“.

— Christo


March 12, 2019 — My first pass at summarizing 5G…do we really want this hazardous electronic junk cluttering the streets of our quaint, historic city???

Verizon, Verizon, put away your new 5G.
No more cell towers, just leave me the birds and bees, please!

At the March 5 working session in Lambertville, I asked Mayor Julia Fahl if she had any information about the possible health threats of the 5G technology promoted by Verizon. Verizon claims “Right of Way” to add Cell Tower electronics to an unknown number of existing telephone poles in Lambertville. I gathered the information on this page for the Mayor. To avoid the conspiracy theories and extreme ideas that plague the internet, I sought information that is:

  • About 5G (as opposed to just cellular or cell phone)
  • Current
  • Fact-based (with sources),
  • Covers the efforts by industry (telecom companies) to aggressively “roll it out”.

If you only look at one thing, please watch the first 10 minutes of the video below!

Washington DC Council 5G Small Cell Roundtable
https://youtu.be/ljLynbr5iPc <—Watch the first 10 minutes. (After other speakers, Mr. Motus speaks a bit more at the end.)

Physicians for safe technology – A good written summary which contains many additional sources. There are several studies about adverse health effects of MMW (millimeter wave-length) as well as cellular (microwave) radiation established as carcinogenic.
https://mdsafetech.org/5g-telecommunications-science/

Environmental Damage— Insects, birds, other wildlife at risk? Don’t miss (or be put off by the title of) the “Insect Armageddon” 7 minute video, referred to, and with sources in the link above.
https://youtu.be/zwo2E9b9CiU

The Industry hard push for legislation to ensure adoption—“Verizon, AT&T and other wireless providers have pushed such legislation here (in California) and elsewhere to ease deployment of so-called small-cell equipment that boosts coverage provided by larger cell towers, particularly in urban areas and in anticipation of fifth-generation (5G) network technology. The bill would have granted the companies rights similar to those of utilities, leaving local governments with limited power to set fees or restrict placement on streetlights and traffic signal poles.”
http://www.sfchronicle.com/opinion/editorials/article/Editorial-Gov-Brown-right-to-block-industry-12282623.php

According to Mr. Mottus (from the video, above) the National League of Cities and League of Mayors are opposed to “small cell rollout” which is promoted nationally in U.S. S3157 . <—Click here to check status and read the bill.

At time of writing, S3157 is “in committee” with U.S. Senate “Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee”.  In one committee hearing, Senator Blumenthal asks industry representatives about Health Risks:
https://youtu.be/ekNC0J3xx1w

The push by industry is happening globally. Similar discussions are occurring in Canada…
Canadian Senate Bill 637—Senator Patrick Colbeck Testifies Against 5G: Hearing 2018
https://youtu.be/j-UEuOYOED4

Despite the 5G hype, there is no clear need for it:
“What can 5G do that other systems can’t? This is where there is no clear answer,” said Hemant Minocha, EVP for device and IoT at TEOCO. There is no 5G requirement for IoT [Internet of Things], he points out, and the business case hasn’t yet been proven out for ultra-low latency (not to  mention that LTE is capable of lower latency than it has achieved to this point in networks).”
https://www.saferemr.com/2017/11/5g-wireless-technology-cutting-through.html

How many towers are we talking about?
“While early work estimated that as many as 40 to 50 homes could be covered by a single fixed wireless site, according to Rouault of EXFO, that number has turned out to be around five in testing because of the complexity of beamforming necessary to support multiple homes.”
https://www.saferemr.com/2017/11/5g-wireless-technology-cutting-through.html

What do the towers look like?
“Mystreetmychoice” is a web site in opposition to the 5G roll out in California, see the photos on their home page.
http://mystreetmychoice.com/index.html

Rarely mentioned, Data Security risk— “5G has 200 times more access points for hackers than existing networks, experts warn”, Financial Post
https://business.financialpost.com/telecom/attack-surface-has-multiplied-5g-networks-more-vulnerable-to-hackers-conference-told

Some additional links:

Scientists and Doctors Demand Moratorium on 5G

5G Wireless Technology: Is 5G Harmful to Our Health?

5G Wireless Technology: Millimeter Wave Health Effects

5G Wireless Technology: Newspaper editorials oppose “small cell” antenna bills

Cell Tower Health Effects

International EMF Scientist Appeal

An Exposé of the FCC: An Agency Captured by the Industries it Regulates

FCC: Why We Need Stronger Cell Phone Radiation Regulations–Key Testimony

Cell Tower Radiation Affects Wildlife: Dept. of Interior Attacks FCC

 

PEACE OUT,

—Christo

Authorities say Canal-side Brush and Tree Clearing in Lambertville is NOT for the Railroad, but…

Tree Stumps and Survivor Guilt on the Canal Path-011🚂 Looks Like, But is Not the Railroad—In a short section of the Delaware and Raritan Canal in Lambertville, between Coryell Street and the empty River Horse Brewery, sixty to one hundred trees, some apparently close to fifty years old, were converted to wood chips and sawdust in a matter of days. Was this part of the initiative to preemptively strike at the Emerald Ash Borer beetle? Nope, most of those trees were felled already, their trunks can be seen lining the canal path between Lambertville and FrenchTown.

And it wasn’t just the trees—shrubs, vines, weeds, saplings, and pretty much any other living thing was scraped clean from the railroad tracks to the canal bank (See photos.) So what was this all about?

Ask just about anyone in Lambertville familiar with the situation and they’ll tell you, “It’s the railroad!” To many surprised residents the recent tree and brush clearing appeared to be an effort to clear the overgrown and unused railroad tracks for the “Tourist Train” proposed by Black River and Western Railroad. BRWR hopes to run on weekends behind Clinton Street, over the “Nifti” Bridge behind Rojo’s Roastery and the Roxy Ballet Studio, passing over Alexauken Creek and proceeding to Ringoes and Flemington and back.

Despite appearances, according to several authorities, officially, the clearing work is unrelated to the railroad.

Why so much confusion? No signs, no notices—Work began abruptly in December of 2018 with no apparent advance notice provided to residents or local businesses, nor to the officials of the City of Lambertville. No signs were posted on the canal path. Similar work had been performed some years ago closer to Bridge Street, but the recent work was more “thorough”— or drastic, depending on your perspective—this time only a few trees were allowed to remain.

Concerned citizens contacted Lambertville City authorities, discovered that they had no information about the project, and were referred to the Delaware & Raritan Canal Commission.

Delaware & Raritan Canal Commission Executive Director, John Hutchison, explained “the project is being undertaken by the NJ Water Supply Authority pursuant to the 1986 lease agreement with the State” for the purpose of clearing the canal and maintaining the water flow. He explained, “Jurisdiction over the D&R Canal is somewhat complex…”

“I hope this information is useful.  If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.  Also, the Commission meets monthly to review project applications and our meetings always include a public comment portion.  The Commission meets the third Wednesday of the month at 10:00 a.m. in the Prallsville Mill Complex in Stockton.” — John Hutchison, Executive Director D&R Canal Commission


D&R Canal State Park Superintendent Patricia Kallesser met one Lambertville resident and explained that this ongoing work of the NJWSA had to do with maintaining the water flow in the canal and upkeep of the historical (stone wall) structures. When asked about the lack of communication, she explained that the NJWSA web site maintained a FAQ about it on their web site.


The New Jersey Water Supply Authority at this writing does not list the Lambertville work on its “Public Notices”, but it is explained on their “Maintenance Along the D&R Canal FAQ”.

I emailed the NJWSA (to the “Info” mailbox, as no name was available on the site):

From: Christopher Plummer
Sent: Tuesday, January 1, 2019 10:54 AM
To: info
Subject: Please consider local interests w/Canal Brush and Tree Clearing in and around Lambertville

Dear NJ Water Services Authority,

I, and other residents, merchants, and “canal walkers” were very surprised by the recent clearing of over 100 trees, some large, 20-30 years old, and the “buzz cutting” of brush and shrubs from the railroad tracks to the edge of the canal starting near Finkel’s Hardware on Coryell Street and moving North on the West side of the canal. This work adversely impacted:

  • Bird and animal life and habitat prized by many residents, businesses, and tourists.
  • Local Visual aesthetics, exposing parking lots and warehouses that were screened by foliage, leaving a trail of tree stumps and giving that section of the canal an industrial appearance that had previously been “natural”.
  • Noise – the elimination of trees and shrubs that provided an acoustic buffer to the noise from the river recreation, roads, and New Hope.

<snip>

May I suggest in the future:

  1. Inform the public with accurate information about the purpose, scope, schedule, and likely impact of the work by posting signs on the canal path and in local papers, and phone calls to local officials.
  2. Provide time and a means for those concerned to give feedback before the work is started.
  3. Please give some weight and consideration to those concerns and find a balance between the preservation of historical structures and the preservation of current flora and wildlife habitat.

Thank you for your consideration, and best wishes for the New Year.

Sincerely,

Christopher Plummer

The NJWSA provided a response (below) to my query:
From: info <info@njwsa.org>
Subject: RE: Please consider local interests w/Canal Brush and Tree Clearing in and around Lambertville
Date: January 18, 2019 at 11:24:00 AM EST
To: ‘Christopher Plummer’
Dear Mr. Plummer,

Thank you for your concerned email and our apologies for the delay in response.  And thank you for your suggestions on future public notification, which we will certainly take under advisement.

As you know, the Authority’s mission is to maintain a flow of water through the Canal to provide raw water supply for our customers.  Our Canal maintenance crews and engineers need to “see” the embankment.  Seeing the embankment often helps us to prevent damage to the embankment that may develop from tree roots or animal burrows which can lead to seepage paths or from damage when the trees fall and their root balls remove sections of the embankment.  The Authority’s needs to see the embankment are constantly balanced with the wants and needs of Canal park walkers, joggers, bikers, nature enthusiasts, fishermen, historians, neighbors, and others [My emphasis—Christo] , all of whom may have a different idea of what maintenance should look like on the 60 plus mile Canal.   We tried to provide an understanding of our work in the FAQ’s that were recently posted on the website.

 

For the upcoming winter work on the Canal in Lambertville, crews may begin again as early as the week of January 21, 2019.  The exact schedule for the winter maintenance is weather dependent, and subject to equipment and personnel availability, and will include the following (in no particular order):
  1. Thin-out the underbrush and small trees on the western bank and in and on the stone wall between Coryell Street and Bridge Street.
  2. Clearing the vegetation from the Lambertville lock walls.
  3. Felling three Ash trees from the east side of the Canal, upstream of the Lambertville Lock.
  4. Removing the trees growing from the stone wall, on the river side of the embankment, from the wing dam (in the River) and downstream.
Items #1 thru #3 should only take several days each and should be completed this winter.
Item #4 will take quite a bit of time and will most likely occur over several years depending on other emergent items that need to be addressed and may stop and restart within the same year.
Feel free to share this information with other concerned residents.
(No sender name identified)

I Guess that was the Public Notice. I forwarded a copy to the City of Lambertville. I haven’t seen any new notices or additional information about the canal work. Have you? The NJWSA is apparently continuing their work up the south end of town as described in the email.

Local railroad supporters on Facebook are urging residents not to “listen to rumors” and espousing the wonders of bringing the iron horse, full of tourists, to Lambertville to reinvigorate our little town.

🚂 Meanwhile if it quacks like a duck…  At the North end of town small crews and individuals with mowers and chainsaws are clearing the railroad tracks. They make no pretense about working for the Water Authority.

Feb. 26, 2019 Tuesday – Today NJWRA trucks and teams are clearing the rails and canal, between Coryell and Bridge, chipping as they go.

Eagles check nesting options
—By the way, the empty nest this late in the season suggests that Bald Eagles will not be nesting on the power tower over Alexauken Creek this year. In 2017 they raised three fledglings at the site, not far from the “Nifti” Railroad Bridge and abandoned rail car at the north end of the trail in Lambertville.


Residents who wish to communicate their concerns about the destruction of wildlife habitat, the need for trees and brush as a visual screen and natural noise buffer, and other concerns are urged to contact any or all of the individuals and organizations below:

 

The City of Lambertville
Mayor Julia Fahl
City Hall
18 York Street
Lambertville, NJ  08530
Telephone:  609.397.0110
 “Ask the Mayor”


John Hutchison
Executive Director
Delaware & Raritan Canal Commission
609-397-2000

John.hutchison@dep.nj.gov


Clinton Administration Building
1851 State Route 31
P.O. Box 5196
Clinton, NJ 08809
P: (908) 638-6121
F: (908) 638-5241

info@njwsa.org


Patricia Kallesser 
Park Superintendent 
145 Mapleton Road
Princeton, NJ 08540
Phone: 609.924.5705

Peace Out
— Christo

Three Days in Paris (Partie Un)

🇫🇷 The Great France Art Tour of 2017

Notre_DameTuesday

The coach lurched along from airport Charles de Gaulle past many Paris streets and squares that I thought looked familiar but probably were not. We caught a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower briefly, before the tall buildings and streets of Paris swallowed the open sky. That sounds nice. Actually, we arrived quickly at the east end of the Seine River, several long blocks below Notre Dame, near Bercy. Considering every moment in Paris precious, and anxious that we not waste any, I checked our halted progress via GPS on the “Ulmon City Maps To Go” app on my iPhone.

I could see that our relatively direct trip had stalled completely in the insane morning traffic as our off-ramp merged with one or two others, plus four lanes from various feeder streets. Every bus, auto, cab, and motor scooter, wherever it was coming from, seemed intent on getting to the other side of the stream of cars in front of it, where we were ALL headed. Caught up in the excitement of the streets of Paris, our travel cohorts were oblivious to the delay, except Donald. He was obsessed with the rising temperature inside the almost-stationary, sunbaked coach.

“Air Conditioning!!” He shouted repeatedly to the bus driver, “Air Conditioning!!”

Need I say he included no, “S‘il vous plaît.

“Air Conditioning!! Turn on the air conditioning!!”

The AC came on. I heard no one, except myself, say, “Merci!

Stopping and starting we made a few feet of progress at a time, taking about an hour to transit the single block to our hotel.

The Hotel Bercy is a “modern” glass and steel “business hotel” with several fountains and a 15-foot-tall, bright red, muscular, caped, male superhero statue in front. I could speculate, but I have no explanation for this statue. It was just there.

The female receptionist at the hotel was young (in her twenties?) and attractive with long straight brown hair, a smart suit, and dark, spiked heels—stylish enough to appear on the cover of Vogue or the New York Times Women’s Fashion magazine, although maybe not quite starved enough. This was true of all the women coming and going in the lobby. Not just the heels that is, but the stylish and attractive part too. Yes, we are in Paris.

The men? Oh, they are all thin, though not underfed, well groomed. Fortunately, very few sport the time-consuming, face-covering, trendy, hipster beards seen in parts of the USA. If these men have beards at all, they are close-cropped stubble that gives depth to their chiseled chins. The male hotel staff wear suits. Male businessmen wear typical European business attire: jeans or slightly more formal trousers, lined or solid (sometimes button-down) dress shirts, and dark leather loafers often without socks. Most wear sport coats, which in France are narrow sleeved, snug fitting jackets, the lapels held together with one button.

Nobody but the tourists, wear sneakers or running shoes. (Donald, blinding, in his bright white sneakers and bleached white socks halfway up his calves, steps off the coach trailing a wave of cool air.)

No sneakers, and thank goodness, no ties. Maybe the maître d’ hotel and the bartender wear ties. But otherwise, no ties. I don’t like ties.

Unfortunately, there is plenty of time to observe the lobby, because our rooms are not ready.

I consider the possibility that we do not actually have rooms, but we are assured the rooms are there, the Hotel Bercy is just behind schedule with cleaning. Way behind.

Several times the Front Desk receptionist walks over to our group, sprawled awkwardly on the artsy, cube-shaped chairs and couches. We rise. She hands Steve a too thin stack of envelopes with keys and room numbers. Steve reads the names and hands white envelopes to the lucky winners, who quickly leave to get settled in their digs and enjoy what was left of our “free” day. The lobby emptied a few people at a time, in this manner, the process repeated over and over.

We waited for hours. And we were, yes, the last, the very last to receive our room keys.

Before the eventual delivery of our envelope, Christine walked those of us remaining over to the charming, tree-lined Bercy Mall for a quick tour. Bercy had once been an industrial bakery, and has the red brick charm of very old buildings, but all the swag and glamour of a trendy destination for young business people and tourists. We noted the location of a small local grocer, the local ATM, the soon to be recognized as ubiquitous “artisanal ice cream” shop, and strolled along the partly shaded pedestrian promenade lined with tables and umbrellas that front the many bars and restaurants. We saw designer shops, stores with special French candy packaged in French art tins, a Surf store with surfer shirts, skateboards, and yes surfboards for sale and on display in the windows. Is Bercy near the beach? Does Bercy have quick access to mysterious Mediterranean swells? Is there an Internet “Surf Report” available for Bercy? “No,” would be the answer to these questions. (Nevertheless, I was drawn to the Surf shop, more than once, to peruse the shirts and board shorts.)

Christine escorted us down the escalator to the Metro. She provided quick tutelage in the basics of ticket purchase, the various lines, maps, and other arcane knowledge required in the underground. Important but not important, the “Purple Line” as we might call it in Boston, is not the “Purple Line” in Paris. It is the “M 14” between St. Lazare and Olympiades. But on all the maps and signs it is purple, so I called it the “Purple Line”, which was usually fine as long as we remembered we wanted to go to “Olympiades” to get back to Bercy. The ticket machines may challenge, especially if you use a credit card, but otherwise (from previous Franco-adventures), I considered myself fairly adept at Metro use. (A notion disproved dramatically a day or two later).

We popped back into the daylight upstairs, abandoned Christine and tour group to fend for ourselves in Bercy, searching for a place to lunch, and eventually settled at a little outdoor cafe. We sat next to tour manager Steve, and his wife Karen. After ordering salad for Deb, croque-monsieur for me, and two glasses of rosé of course, we got to know our tour hosts a bit.

A university academic, Steve, though well-versed in Literature (and an exemplary English Major), holds a PhD in History, the subject he teaches. Karen has a consulting business where she is engaged in multi-year research and writing projects. Their professions and interests allow for much international travel, which they have done with Arawho for years.

We enjoyed the relaxed meal and conversation, and I tried to remember what I had learned from the Rick Steve’s podcast about French restaurant protocols:

  • The wait staff generally leave you alone, for hours.
  • When you want the bill, DO NOT shout, “Garçon!”
  • To get attention, make eye contact.
  • They will come over.
  • Generally, do not tip, but ask if the check includes a service charge.

(This part is a little complicated at first. I’m sure we tipped when we should not have and vice-versa. By the end of the trip I was pretty clear about how it all works, but writing now I can’t recall well enough to explain it. Sorry. Listen to Rick Steve.)

The clouds and rain moved in, and I gradually became bothered by the drifting cigarette smoke from the tables of other diners. This was odd, I thought, the smoke, because although I had expected the worst on my last trip to Paris, in fact I had experienced very little exposure to second hand smoke.

You may know that the French were reputed to be smoking fiends until the last ten years or so. Just watch a French movie. They ALL smoke! Historically they had their “national brands”, the blonde Disque Bleu and Gauloises cigarettes, strongly aromatic and somewhat similar to the much milder American plain end “Camels”. I had smoked Gauloises when I first visited Paris. They seemed cool then. But I was fifteen.

Then there were the “Gitanes”, of many types, in my experience, made with black Belgian tobacco wrapped in slightly sweet tasting, yellow corn papers. I had tried a Gitanes just once after college at Leavitt and Peirce Tobacconists. Those fat Gitanes monsters were a little squishy between the fingers,  smelled like a bad cigar, and were known for driving away mosquitoes and other pests.

At least the smoke wafting over from the nearby tables was not like that!

Screen Shot 2017-10-13 at 9.15.36 PM

To be continued…
— Christo

What’s it going to be #Lambertville? 🐥Ducks in the streams? Or PIPELINE? #StopPennEast NOW!

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