Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Flat Stanley, part 2

So here we are in downtown Clermont-Ferrand. One thing typical of European towns is a big empty space smack in the center. Often this used to be the original market place, with people coming with carts or tents of things to sell rather than fixed stores. Today in Clermont-Ferrand this square is used for political and social demonstrations, seasonal events, gatherings, and when our team is in a big game, like the ASM winning the national rugby championship, or when the French team won the World Cup, they put up a gigantic TV and everybody gathers to watch right here, together.

This is the statue honoring one of the local heros, Vercingetorix. 2000-odd years ago this local chief managed to get enough warriors together (and more importantly, got them organized and disciplined!), and threw Ceasar out of the region. Victory didn't last, though, and the Romans were back not long after.

Most days he wields just a sword, but this year it's the flag of the ASM.

Being a volcanic area, monuments and statues in the Auvergne region are often made of this wonderful black lava. The grain of the stone is very fine, and it's exceptionally hard and resistant to weathering. This particular monument to Pope Urban the 2nd is quite new, but the details on the 15th-16th century cathedral are almost as sharp.

There's Urban, preaching the First Crusade. He was based in Clermont (just "Clermont". At the time, Clermont was a town centered on religion and government, while Montferrand, on the next hill over, was a town based on commerce. The two towns merged later.), which for a while was the seat of the papacy. The different popes moved all over the place during the midieval period, and sometimes there was more than one at a time.

While church attendance is dwindling continuously and many fabulous old cathedrals and churches are now historical monuments supported by the state, a different weekly gathering of the masses is growing. No game today, though.
Whew, all that walking around town made me hungry for another French thing: pastry!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Flat Stanley, part 1

What's this, Britta?

Hmmm, "Flat Stanley". A stagiaire of some sort, Maurice.

Okay; let's show him around.

Look, Astrid: it's Flat Stanley!

Quiet chap, isn't he?

And why's he all plain? A nudist?

Maybe it's a superhero!

Yeah - the Flat Ghost.

If it's a superhero, let's give it the Super Strength Test. erfff! It's making noise!
But it's not moving the brick. What kind of superhero can't get out from under a brick?

There are many sorts of super powers. Not all of them involve moving bricks. I, for example, can fly.
>snerk< yes, Maurice, we've seen you "fly"...
But look, he's completely unscathed. Not a dent.
Ahaaaa.... Total brick resistance! Held down, but not harmed in any way.
Let's give him the setting on fire test!
Yeah!!! No, come on guys, it's just a regular Flat Stanley. With a rugby uniform on, that's a lot better.
Yellow and Blue for the ASM!

Rugby is a team sport appreciated all over Western Europe and in the Commonwealth. It's the precursor of American football, and is classically played 15 players on each side, for two halves of 40 minutes each.

Play is pretty much continuous, stopping only for serious injuries, penalties, and after a score. Touching the ball down across the goal line is called a "try" and is worth 5 points. The team scoring a try gets to kick the ball between the uprights for an additional 2 points. At any time during play, a player can attempt a kick through the uprights: this is called a "drop" and is worth 3 points. Penalty kicks are also worth 3 points.
Rugby is a very fast-moving and physical game. Only the player with the ball may be tackled, and thus when he's about to be tackled, he often makes a lateral pass to a teammate. This passing prowess led our local rugby team, the ASM, to the national championship last year.
There are several international tournaments. Every year the 6-Nations tournament is held between France, England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, and Italy. England, Scotland and Wales are all now part of the same country, the United Kingdom, but in rugby they have their own national teams and play their own national anthems and fly their own flags. Ireland is now divided into two countries, the Republic of Ireland, and six counties in Northern Ireland belonging to the United Kingdom. The Ireland team, however, is composed of Irish citizens from all parts of Ireland. This year's tournament was won by England.
Every four years there is a World Cup Rugby tournament. This is a tournament year, and it is being hosted by one of the greatest rugby nations: New Zealand. Alrighthen, let's play a little rugby: you rats Laars, Ingmar, Bjorn and Britta; against me, Stan, Astrid, and the chicken. Scrum!!!
Ingmar is breaking away with the ball!

Get him, Stan!
And Stan scores!
Hooray for Flat Stanley!


Friday, April 15, 2011

Rabbit in Deauville

It sure feels nice to get out of the house after a long winter and go for a hike in the countryside.
Hmmm! A secret stairway.

Check it out! There's a whole concrete room here. Not very big, just about the size of the bathroom. There's a terrific view of the English Channel from the window. I wonder why it's so scrunched. My ears don't fit.

Ah, the beach! I love the beach in the off-season. It's so calm. So serene.
Yep. very calm, very serene.


There's England on the other side.

Where? I don't see it.

It's too far to see from here. But it's over there.

What good is England?

Ummm.... well... they serve french fries with vinegar, though I'm not sure that's a good thing. And they have this dessert called 'trifle' that's quite fun. And bookstores! The books are usually in English! Always a plus. What else... It must be admitted their rugby team is pretty good. That's all I can think of.

That's kind of thin. Oh, and they have Doctor Who!

Now you're talking.

Doctor Who keeps happening in Cardiff, though. In that case he might be Welsh. But that's ok. Wales is over there too. And they also have a pretty good rugby team. And if you go farther north, there's Scotland.

But the rugby there is not quite so good. Better than Belgium, but not so good as Wales. And they eat haggis. I would think twice about going too far north.

Just as well it's so far away, then.