Friday, January 23, 2009

France Telecom & Orange: Seeing Red

You have reached the service desk of Orange/France Telecom. If you are calling about a domestic phone, press “1.” If you are calling about a business line, press “2.” If you would like to speak to an agent who speaks English, press “JAMAIS” (Never.) You will not be charged for this call as long as you are calling from a phone for which you have a contract. All agents are busy right now. You may want to try to resolve your problem by using our “on-line assistance” service. Your call will be answered as soon as an agent becomes free. Please know that this call may be recorded for quality assurance purposes.

“Can you help me, please? We get a bill for telephone from France Telecom and another bill for internet from Orange but I thought that the two companies were together – that we would get one bill for telephone and internet.”

“If you want the two bills together, you need to tell us. Are you requesting that we combine the services?”


“Fine. From now on, you will see that you will have one bill that will include both phone charges and internet charges.”

Three weeks later…

You have reached the service desk of Orange/France Telecom. If you are calling about a domestic phone, press “1.” If you are calling about a business line, press “2.” If you would like to speak to an agent who speaks English, press “526247 for JAMAIS” (Never.) You will not be charged for this call as long as you are calling from a phone for which you have a contract and we find your call interesting. All agents are busy right now. Your call will be answered as soon as an agent becomes free but, of course, all agents are at lunch and will not return until 14:00 hours. You can wait if you want but we suggest that you call back when we are busy. You may want to try to resolve your problem by using our “on-line assistance” service which is available 27/4 (27 minutes per day, four days per week – though we will never tell you which days). Please know that this call may be recorded for quality assurance purposes.

“Thank you for your assistance during my last call. I still have a question. You combined the billing format online—though you are still billing me separately for each service, of course--but the phone charges remain the same. I thought that the phone bill would be lower.”

“The only way to reduce the phone bill is to use the telephone-over-the-internet service. That way, you will be able to maintain your unlimited long distance calling but the cost will be part of your internet bill and you will be able to reduce your land line phone charges. Would you like me to change that on your service plan?”


“Please use the instructions that came with your internet connection to add the phone to your internet service and thank you for using Orange/France Telecom.”


Three weeks later…

You have reached the service desk of Orange/France Telecom. You will not be charged for this call as long as you are calling from a phone for which you have a contract and we find your call interesting or not as stupid as your last call. If you are calling about a domestic phone, press “1.” If you are calling about a business line, press “2.” If you would like to speak to an agent who speaks English, press “526247 for JAMAIS” (Never.) All agents are busy right now. Your call will be answered as soon as an agent becomes free but, of course, all agents are at lunch and will not return until 14:00 hours. What did you think would happen when you called at 11:00 AM? It is, after all, lunch hour in Cairo. You can wait if you want but we suggest that you go online and use our online services. Our agents prefer online assistance especially when your computer problems relate to “failure to connect to the internet.” That usually delays your phone call by 30 to 45 minutes. Please know that this call may be recorded for our amusement .

“I need your help again. Friends have told us that they have called our phone but we have not answered (because we never heard the phone ring). I have followed all of the instructions on how to repair the service but end up not understanding the answers.”

“You are calling us from 04 90 ……. which is your land line. You should be using the phone number for the internet line.”

“I thought that by combining contracts, we would also combine phone numbers so that we could use either the internet line or the land line with the same phone connections. But your diagnostic shows that I use either a land line connection or an internet connection. Every time I use the internet connection, it interrupts internet service and it is at those times that friends report that they cannot call us.”

“Well, your friends can’t call you when you have your phone set up for internet calling and they are calling your land line phone number. You will have to ask your [so-called] friends to call on the new internet-based phone number. And furthermore, our records show that you don’t have any friends. Please know that when you use your land line for international calling you will have to pay for it at our usual long-distance rates.”

“We understand paying for long distance at the usual rates, we have seen our bill on-line uncombined so we also know that “usual” means “high” rates. What is the solution?”

“Buy another phone. Then you can have one phone that answers internet-based calls and the other that answers land line calls. Thank you for letting us at Orange/France Telecom serve you.”

“What number do I press to begin swearing in English? “

Inauguration 2009: Give Hope a Chance

« Les Américains ne s'y sont pas trompés. Ils ont vécu mardi 20 janvier un moment d'histoire. Un de ces moments qui transforme la vie d'un pays, n'efface pas le passé, mais porte l'espoir d'un autre avenir. » Le Monde, 20 janvier 2009

"America got it right this time. Americans have lived a historical moment on January 20th, one of those moments which transforms the life of a country, does not erase the past but nourishes hope of a better future."

« Laissons sa chance à l’espoir. Depuis l’élection de Barack Obama, l’avenir a changé de camp. Il a retrouvé un visage humain. » Libération, 20 janvier 2009.

"Let's give hope a chance. Since the election of Barack Obama, the future has taken a different course. It has regained a humane face."
Thanks to Marie for editing and improving my translations.

Over the weekend, I had suggested to Ellen that we find a café in town that had a television so we could watch the inauguration from a comfortable seat in a bar. Ellen pointed out that what they run on French television would probably be in French and she didn’t want to miss a word of the address in English. We did some internet searching and found that CNN was running live streaming for the whole inauguration. We tuned in at 3:00 PM (9:00 AM DC time) to be sure that all of the internet connections were in place, and then we watched until we went to bed.

It was a truly wonderful adventure and event. We saw all that was broadcast on TV, along with the comments of Facebook participants who were watching from a variety of places around the globe. C’était merveilleux! It is a new regime in Washington and a new sense of hope around the world. There I go with that hyperbole thing again. – But in reality, we have heard so many people expressing their new optimism and hope, not unlike the news articles.

Tonight, we had wine with some British ex-pats who now live here. They, too, see the optimism of what the future in the US portends for the states as well as the world. We all have lived through a world-transforming event. As one of my oldest friends (from the first grade!) wrote on Tuesday afternoon: “Yes, we can! Yes, we did! And yes, he is... President Barack Obama!” (Thanks, Lynne). The only negative is that we are six time zones away. It would have been so exhilarating to have been there to share the experience with friends close by.

We will be ready to roll up our sleeves and to join all of you in helping make this new dream become a reality – in a few more than 60 days… ;~ ( & :-)

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Sunday Walks in the Park

Ellen and I went out this Sunday afternoon for a walk. The sky was deep blue and the thermometer on our balcony read 19 degrees (70 F). We had no specific destination in mind, so I suggested that we walk past the tennis courts to see if there was anyone there (two good matches going on). We walked from the tennis courts past the Cultural center and into the “quartier” (neighborhoods) north of town.

Everywhere we walked, we encountered couples walking: Old couples (older than we), young couples with kids, all of them out in the afternoon sun of Vaison. Many of the couples were well-dressed – as if dressed in their “Sunday-go-to-meeting” attire. Two young Muslim women were sitting on the wall in the sun by the side of the road with a baby in a baby carriage.

I am sure that visitors to Vaison in the summer might miss this – a tradition of spending Sunday afternoon with loved ones (a loved one/partner) by having a good luncheon meal and then going for a walk in the quiet surroundings. In the empty parking lots of Vaison winter months, the locals rule the streets. In the summer, the population doubles and the traditions/habits of the locals get lost in the shuffle;

If Ellen and I weren’t so close to the median age of the promenadeurs, I would suggest that it was cute and a real sign of love as the couples and families walked arm-in-arm. Alas, we ARE members of the median/mean age group and proud (?) of it. At least, I like the image of being associated with such a loving tradition.

Sunday in Vaison (and proud of it!)

Apologies to Georges Seurat for using his painting with my trivial posting

Snow in Provence, Mme Paris, Nile Perch and Gigondas

Tish was at the apartment packing her suitcases (trying to see how many “baginbox” wine cartons she could fit into her suitcase) because she had to leave in little more than 12 hours. . When Ellen and I returned to the apartment, we told Tish about what we had heard about the snow – not the dusting that we had in Vaison but the 30 cm that fell in Marseille. The authorities had closed the Autoroute between Marseille and Bollene (north of here) and they had closed the airport. A quick look at the airport website confirmed that flights had stopped sometime close to noon.

Tish and I had gone out to the hardware store – the bricomarché had a sale on radiators and I needed to replace one in our apartment. When we left the store, it was snowing but at a rate that our experiences would have discounted as a “dusting.”

But in Vaison la Romaine, a dusting is serious. People had seen the weather news and, just as in Lansing when there is a prediction of a heavy snow, the stores’ supplies of bread and milk were depleted. Our neighbor had told us of the weather predictions two days earlier so that we could beat the other residents of the town to the few supplies to stock… After what no one who lives north of the 40th degree latitude would rate as “real” snow, the village was quick to act. I watched small dump trucks (small so that they can fit on the narrow streets of Vaison) with two men standing in the back shoveling a mixture of sand and salt onto the streets as the truck moved slowly down the street. We were spared the brunt of the storm. Marseille, 100 km south of us and on the Mediterranean Sea got 25 – 30 cm. of snow (10 – 12 inches). According to those who keep records, this is the most snow that Marseille has had since 1987. Worse yet, the snow and the winds of the Mistral had dumped a bunch of snow on the autoroute and the authorities decided it was best to close it. (One traveler said that it took three hours to go from Avignon to Cavaillon – 18 miles.) By the way, today on Saturday, it was 10 degrees centigrade (51 F).

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Tish had decided that it would be smarter and safer to postpone her departure. She spent about an hour ON HOLD until she got an Air France agent who worked with her start to finish. (What is more frustrating than waiting on hold for 25 minutes only to have a connection “coupée” in the middle of a conversation? – except rhetorical questions?)

Tish left this AM with clear skies and dry roads and wrote recently that she was safely back in Cairo. Having spent time driving here, I think that the French road system is excellent – for one-way traffic – but if they continue to permit big trucks to travel in the opposite direction, they need to widen the roads! (There is one road between here and Avignon that actually NARROWS in direct correlation to the depth of the ditch on both sides of the road!)

French with Mme. Paris

In addition to all that Tish did to help create our blog, she also helped me get us enrolled in French classes. We had gone to the Tourist Information Center (again) and, while there, Tish suggested that we get information on French classes. We did. We enrolled and spent last – and future – Thursday and Friday mornings in French class. Thursday is for advanced French, Friday for beginners – both of which are instructional because the instructor – Mme. Paris – has such a good style of teaching. And, for those who want more English language time, the classmates usually go to the café after class… I don’t think that Ellen and I should be in the same class because in the last class, the instructor gave Ellen two “très bien” and I got only one…

Nile Perch

Since Tish does not eat meat, I tried to put together menus that were meatless. One item that I discovered in our markets is “Nile Perch” – the same fish that we used to eat when I was in the Peace Corps in Tchad (Chad) which was called “Capitaine” there. (The first time I heard “Capitaine” referred to as Nile Perch was at my sister Ann’s house at a meal with some of Ann’s & Alice’s friends.) I tried to replicate some of the Senegalese recipes that I loved – with minimal success. Bottom line: Nile Perch is an excellent fish for cooking and using Nile Perch and a recipe from Patricia Wells, I cooked the fish in a spicy tomato sauce and we had a wonderful meal – (the KEY is the orange zest!) We also made spanikopita – and learned how hard it is to find “feta” cheese here (probably because there is a French equivalent for which we don’t know the name…) When I made the spinach pie (spanikopita), we saved enough to share with our downstairs neighbor and with our friend the chef who had never tasted spinach pie. I told him to use the French grading system (20 points) and, if my spinach pie rated more than 11, he should tell me. If fewer points than 11, change the subject…


I know that I tend to go on about Gigondas, but it is such a wonderful wine! When we first purchased the apartment, French friends would ask why we bought an apartment here. I would reply “Gigondas!” to which the French would purse their lips and reply “but of course.” When I heard the same question from Americans and provided the same response, most Americans would look at me and try to understand… (not being familiar with Gigondas)

Tish quickly saw (tasted) the difference and took as much as she could fit in her suitcase back to Cairo. There is something VERY special about the “terroir” that makes Gigondas unique. It is a smooth wine on the palate but has a peppery finish which is what I love. I know that this is parochial/chauvinistic, but I love the flavors in Gigondas more than ALL of the right-bank Bordeaux and many of the left-bank Bordeaux – and at one third or one fourth the price… As the Emergency Room Physician had suggested when I saw him in October, I should spend my time collecting good Gigondas to resell in the states (to pay for my time here.)

Even though “baginbox” is the best way to package wine, few vintners here – or in the US – use the process for their good wines. There ARE a few wineries in this area that put the same wine in boxes as they put in bottles, but most have decided that people expect that wine in bottles is better… Too bad.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Les Dentelles de Montmirail

Les Dentelles de Montmirail

I have discovered one thing that I don’t like about France: walking along a mountain path with nothing but scrub bushes and an occasional rock protecting me from imminent death. That I survived to write about our adventures through the Dentelles means that I may have used hyperbole in describing the dangers of our trek, but I have concluded that I don’t like heights. On the other hand, the vistas were better than any photos that we have seen.

Tish had stopped at the Tourist Information Center in Vaison la Romaine and picked up another guide for hiking. As a result of Tish’s research, we have discovered that there are walking paths all around the area. Unlike the guidebook that I had found earlier which rated hikes in terms of expertise and ease, the new guide showed distance, the height of the climb, etc. but no ratings. If the new guidebook had showed a rating, I am sure it would have rated the paths that we took for experienced climbers – though we were passed by a man carrying a baby in his arms, two guys who were running the trail and a couple with whom we walked for a part of the trail.

It was a gorgeous, sunny Sunday and Tish wanted to go for a hike. We looked in the new guide book for a short-distance hike and found a four km./two-hour hike with a climb of 200 meters. I am sure that the book is wrong. We climbed up for at least one km before we started to walk along the cliff (more hyperbole). I must admit that the views were spectacular. The Dentelles are mountains that you can see from the autoroute – about 30 km to the west – and we were walking along the mountain ridge just below the peaks. The vistas were breathtaking – looking north at Sablet and beyond, looking east towards Mt. Ventoux, looking down (oh no, don’t look down!) on vineyards. It was awesome. Being up so high, we were above the air pollution that seemed to range out there below us. I can only imagine how the views would have been if the pollution index had been low.

I always thought that the “Dentelles” referred to teeth – because when you look at the limestone cliffs, they look like bad teeth. In fact, the name refers to “lace” – though I don’t see the connection. The Dentelles are part of a mountain chain called Montmirail. While I thought we were high enough to break through the atmosphere, the highest point is only 734 meters.

The Dentelles are extremely popular as a hiking location. We parked in the designated parking area with about 25 other cars. From that point, one can go in a variety of directions to paths of differing difficulty and distance. That is probably why we saw so few people on the trail that we chose. I laughed when Tish found our well-marked trail head for “Les Dentelles sarrasines” and pointed up. I shouldn’t have laughed. What I should have done was be a little more attentive. When the Guidebook says that the hiker will “grimpe, marche, chemine” (climb – I would have translated it as crawl, – walk and hike), I should have looked more closely at the topographical map… We got so close to the top of the Dentelles that we were actually walking (for a short distance) in the afternoon sun. (The majority of the walk was on the shady side of the mountains.) There we were: Mark scared out of his wits and the Newmyer girls – Tish and Ellen – walking along and talking about all sorts of topics except the fact that we were walking right along the edge of life…

To get to the ridge, we first climbed through pine and scrub-oak forests, then to mostly shrubs and then to heaven. All of the way up – mostly straight up – we kept hearing what sounded like a bell that one would put around an animal’s neck. Tish said that the little bells were popular among hikers as they thought that the bells would frighten off predatory animals. I thought the bell might be on a sheep – though there were no pastures in sight in any vicinity to our location. It turned out that bikers had put a bell on one of the dirt bikes and it was that bell that we heard for so long.


The hike across the front of the Dentelles was not our only excursion. On New Year’s Day, we drove up to a hiking trail on Mt. Ventoux but walked only two kms. as the snow-covered trail had become icy. We decided to go to Bedoin and take the walk around that village. While driving to the path, we passed a sheep herder and his flock of sheep. The sheep were protected by big dogs and the herder was being followed by a half dozen sheep-dogs.


After our hike through the Dentelles, we stopped at the Cave du Gigondas and tasted and bought some wonderful wines from my favorite wine region. The whole area at the base of the Dentelles is filled with vineyards. While the vineyards seem remote – almost unreachable – they produce the grapes grown in the limestone of the mountains that create such marvelous flavors in the Côtes du Rhone wines of which my favorite is Gigondas. I can’t get Gigondas at the local Cave Cooperative though they do sell very good wines there. I regularly go to the Cave to get our five-litre jug refilled…

The pictures attached to this post are from Tish and even though they are great photos, they can’t capture the beauty of the route we took.