mercredi, janvier 25, 2006

06.01.25: Ukrainian Roulette

The Russians are coming, the Russians are coming.Well, actually, the Ukrainians are here. Really.

So, here we have it. Six Ukrainians here for six working days, and they work for six hours a day (I am a little anxious about this six repetition, especially since I just took the DaVinci Code walking tour last weekend).
At any rate, if two languages being spoken in the same room (français et anglais) can cause confusion, three languages (en plus, russian) is approaching a level of entropy that may require a corollary to an existing law of thermodynamics. The official language for this week's activities is english. I am the only person in the room who speaks english (er, well, at least american) as a natural language. Most of the french have a pretty good command of english, and two of the six Ukrainians speak english (not bad, actually) and they have to translate everything into Russian. Everything. And the chief Ukrainian does not speak english or french. Needless to say, progress is slow. Having said that, we are making progress.

[As a side note: If I understand it correctly, Ukrainian is actually the official language of the Ukraine, but since the Russian language was required for the past few generations, there is a general re-learning of the native language taking place currently. In the meantime, for basic communication, the folks with us this week are speaking Russian (not that I can tell).]

Lunchtime, we get to have a little lighter conversation. At least, I try.

On Monday, I asked the frenchies if they had read the recently released report from the University of California-Davis that states that it is not a good idea to have wine and cheese together. At first, they asked if this was referring to Kraft American Pasteurized Process Cheese Food. In which case, they agreed. Anything not fit for human consumption is not improved with any type of wine. I explained that this was a rigorous study, conducted to the highest oenological and fromogological standards that demonstrated that elements in the cheese inhibit the ability to taste some characteristics of the wine. Their question: "But does that mean the experience is not enjoyable, or just different than expected?" Maybe it helps to start with the right question. At the time, we were having a very nice Bordeaux with some Bleu d'Auvergne and Brillat Savarin. I didn't mind it a bit.

Today at lunch I explained the story of the current film, 'Goodnight and Good Luck', to the group of french and ukrainians. Gouvernement intrusion into private lives, un-American activities, banishment from the film industry, champion of civil liberties from the media, relationship between two current Georges (Clooney and fourth-last-letter-of-the-alphabet), and parallels with current events in the US. Wow, this guy had to translate the whole thing for his Ukrainian buddies (and still eat lunch.)

At the end, the chief Ukrainian said something to his translator in a relatively serious tone of voice, which then got translated to us as follows:
"Da, we know of such practices from our experience with Soviet Union. Maybe just a little more severe for us. You should take care with current situation."

Everybody laughed. Me, a little nervously.
It's not everyday I get advice about protecting civil liberties from someone from the former Soviet Union.
Maybe he's got a point.

vendredi, janvier 06, 2006

06.01.06: Arrosage, Nues, Gratuit

If I were the type to keep score, here is how the week is shaping up: 1 glass of champagne, 4 breasts, one glass each vin rouge and rosé, and 1 shot of Chinese saki, all gratuit.

Went to the local market on Sunday morning. Our market, sort of like Findlay Market, but all grown up and very comfortable and relaxed in its role. About twice the size of Findlay, open on Thursday and Sunday. Excellent selection of fresh fruits, vegetables, meat and fish, and around the periphery, street sales of clothes, and shoes, and also gloves and scarves on colder winter days. Oh yeah, and within waking distance of our house. Bought a nice pork roast and some chops for the grill from the regular boucherie. Since it was the first Sunday of the year, the boucher gave each of us a little pocket calendar. A mundane fleur-de-lis design on the cover for Jen, a naked woman for the design on mine. Not sure when was the last time Si Leis allowed the vendors at Findlay to hand out pin-up girl calendars, probably not even a Ben-gal on playoff Sunday.

Monday, at work, just before lunch. Assemble in the Comité for an arrosage. Good to learn some colloquial language every day. Arrosage: a watering. In practice: celebration initiated by one of my colleagues that he has been in his new position for 3 months; celebration enacted by champagne all around at 11:30 AM on a Monday. Sharing champagne has a bit more cachet when it is the family business, and you can pull out bottles that all have the family name on the label. One glass of champagne, gratuit encore.

Tuesday, at work, at lunch. Michel's birthday was Sunday. He decided to share a little of the celebration with us. One bottle of vin rouge, purchased at the company luncheon canteen. Shared around. One glass vin rouge, gratuit encore encore.

Wednesday, at work, at lunch. Céline signed off on and moved into a new apartment this past weekend. She decided to share a little of the celebration with us. One bottle of vin rosé, purchased at the company luncheon canteen. Shared around. One glass vin rosé, gratuit encore encore encore.

Thursday, evening. Walked down to the local Vietnamese/Thailandaise resto for dinner. Nice little dinner of bœuf au sauce piquante. When a guy with a french-asian accent tells you your french is improving, is this a positive? Am I now sounding slightly asian with my french pronunciation? At any rate, after dessert (apple beignet, nicely dusted with a little sugar) M. Serveur offers me a shot of Chinese saki as a digestif. Proudly he pours me a shot in a special shot glass that has an image of a naked woman in the bottom, but only as long as there is alcohol in the glass. As you drink the digestif, the woman mysteriously evaporates, diaphonous and tawdry ..... Now this is truly a conundrum. If you chooose to drink the alcohol, the naked woman will disappear. I think I have had this experience before. Not sure I have always made the best choice in this situaton. I choose the saki. Saki and two more elusive breasts, gratuit, encore x 4.

As the nudity dissolves into a blurred image and the saki dissolves into my bloodstream, I realize the distinctions between the familiar and the unfamiliar are starting to dissolve also, bit by bit, étape par étape.