This is the life of illusion. Wrapped up in trouble, laced with confusion. What are we doing here? Having emigrated to France with only a rudimentary level of French, a six month old baby and no particular career to speak of - many people described our decision to set up life in Strasbourg, fourteen years ago, as somewhere between 'very ambitious' and 'flipping bonkers.' That said, the very same people have recently described our move as 'very lucky' or 'incredibly wise' following the Brexit shitschturm unleashed on our former home nation by the Conservative party. Nonetheless, it is comforting to know that, now and again, Strasbourg has welcomed other couples with an equal sense of adventure. We sat down for a coffee at Café Brant some years ago with one such couple. They were from the United States and were hoping to use Strasbourg as a base for a new chapter in their respective careers. Careers as - opera singers. Being at the very centre of western Europe - equidistant between Milan and London, Paris and Vienna, it seemed [...]
A mild shockwave of hysteria hit France soon after the Fukushima disaster. If locating a nuclear power station right on top of a fault line was now deemed a bad idea - then wasn't a disaster of the same magnitude also possible right here in Alsace? After all, the Fessenheim Nuclear power station, and France's oldest, was sitting on top of its very own tectonic plate boundary. At the time, I, like many others, thought that any comparison to Fukushima was nothing short of hysterical scaremongering. Shut up already, damn - we thought. When was the last time Alsace had an earthquake? When was the last time Alsace had an earthquake strong enough to crack open a nuclear reactor? This Tuesday however, I had to change my - admittedly hastily formed - opinion. When the first thud rumbled through the apartment block I was convinced that my upstairs neighbour was clumsily moving heavy furniture. The wooden floors had flexed slightly - as if a large 3-seater couch had been dropped onto its side by a couple of less than [...]
I write this with a heavy heart. Strasbourg, my home town, was torn apart this Tuesday night when a gun-wielding cretin took to the streets. Having randomly picked out innocents to execute he fled into hiding. Three days later, with his killing spree brought to an end by the forces of order, the city and its people are still coming to terms with what happened. I spent much of the evening watching the #Strasbourg twitter feeds to keep track of developments, the first time I have done so, and for news of the victims; for, I have made so many good friends in this fair city, I knew the chances of knowing one or more of them was a distinct possibility. I shall not bother with Twitter again. News of real events was muddied by egotistical cretins simply trying to ensure they got more likes or follows than anyone else, cretinous politicians who wanted to make capital out of the deaths of innocents, cretinous extremist sympathisers, cretins in general (gilets jaunes), racists, conspiracy theorists, adolescents sharing memes and idiots [...]
RCS (not to be confused with RCS) If there's one thing the French love it's a good acronym. Acronyms are basically sequences of capital letters that serve as a shorthand way of referring to something that would take far longer to say or write, or indeed to avoid rewriting or repeating the same words over and over. For example, it's a lot simpler to write UNESCO than it is to write the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, especially if you plan on referring to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization more than once in a sentence (see what I mean?). However, as there are no strict rules about how and when acronyms should be used or invented, the French like to create them ad-nausea with the deluded assumption they will make your life easier. So, if you're new to Strasbourg, here's a handy list of local acronyms to get you through the day. AFGES: University service which runs the two large campus restaurants. Beware the bums at the door asking you to put [...]
It seems life in Strasbourg maybe about to get complicated for us expats, again. Having waited years for a direct UK flight to come to the city - Easyjet and Ryanair both opened routes the within the same twelve months to London. Up until 2014 we'd either had to endure the minibus service to Baden Airpark for Ryanair's wonderless service to Karlsruhe, a lengthy train ride to Basel for the Euroairport or a day-long journey by train via Paris - in order to get to London. Yesterday however I noticed that both low-cost carriers appear to have withdrawn their services. Ryanair appear to have suspended flying to Strasbourg at least until late August while Easyjet appear to be closing their route completely on the 21st March - as neither route is now bookable online. If both carriers withdraw from Strasbourg, for whatever reason (and I suspect French protectionism might be in play), then it will be a big step backwards for Europe's capital city.
A few weeks ago I vowed to find us an escape from Strasbourg on the night of total madness - known to many as Saint Sylvester or New Year's Eve. Unfortunately it seems every hotel, hostel, campsite, chalet and guesthouse within a two hour radius of the city has been booked solid - with the last few remaining rooms demanding prices akin to Davos during billionaire season. Despite the lack of snow, any hideaway in the Black Forest, Vosges or Jura mountains remains elusive and thus it looks as though we will have to endure the worst night of the year in Strasbourg once again. Clearly we are not the only ones with a fear of New Year. Happy New Year! Why such dread? Well last year, to celebrate the passing of another calendar, the citizens of Alsace: set fire to 117 motor cars (61 in Strasbourg itself) held onto exploding fireworks (resulting in 17 people having their hands mutilated; 2 youths from Mulhouse lost their thumbs) smuggled over 2 tonnes of contraband fireworks into the region [...]
There is a small red Smart car that has been parked down at the end of our road for the past two weeks. Emblazoned across it's side is the old English word for 'moreover' : Yea! (pronounced yay). Normally anyone who forgets to move their car from this particular spot, in less then three hours, would find themselves with a parking ticket; but this one seems to be immune...
A bloke in a chasuble Frank was in town yesterday to nag the bureaucrats about their lack of enthusiasm for encouraging peace and cooperation between the peoples of Europe. He came, he spoke, he left. The only difference between him and the elected officials in the audience, as far as I can tell, is that he wasn't required to sign-in to claim his parliamentary attendance allowance. They came, they signed in, they sat, they politely applauded. It is unlikely however that a single MEP actually thought anything Frank said was going to make an iota of difference. Still, it was nice seeing his chasuble pass through town. His what? His chasuble - you know the thing football players wear on the training pitch? Now I'm confused - the Pope plays footie? Er, I doubt it. No - the word chasuble (which exists in French and English and means exactly the same thing: the outermost liturgical vestment) is used in sport to refer to the bib players wear when training. Why the French use the same word as [...]
The staggering level of hypocrisy and anti-EU venom gushing forth from the political mouthpieces of the United Kingdom at the moment is really starting to get my chèvre. What makes matters particularly nauseating, for those of us who are little more seriously invested in the European project, is that the rhetoric is not confined to right-wing Europhobes. Shame on you Ed, Nick et al...
A few weeks ago I noticed that the wheel rims on my town bike were looking rather mucky, and although I didn't resolve to clean them at the time, today they are sparkling like new. However, this is not because my Virgo natured self could not live with such uncleanliness but because, in the space of two weeks, I was forced to replace both wheels following two separate collisions with motor vehicles. These two incidents bring my total tally of cycling accidents since moving to Strasbourg to 5. Now, to put this in perspective - I don't own a car so go just about everywhere on my bike and I've lived in the city since 2005. That's less than one accident a year and, I reckon, about one every 1000 kilometres cycled. Three accidents have involved cars, one - a fellow cyclist and one - a pedestrian (neither of whom seemed to have read the highway code). Each time, bar one, I have been forcibly dismounted; three of the incidents resulted in my head making contact with the tarmac/car [...]