Back when I was in grad school at the Monterey Institute learning to be a translator (95-97), I had a classmate who was one of the feistiest, funnest (I know, not a word, don’t bug me) young women I’ve ever known. She had enough energy and enthusiasm for ten people.

And she spent most of it on others.

A force of nature, so generous. Unforgettable. And she hasn’t changed.

We’ve exchanged e-mails a few times since we left MIIS, but though she’s been living in Europe for years, we’ve never managed to get together. I hadn’t seen her in 15 years. Until yesterday! It was like no time had passed at all except for the adorable nine-year-old daughter she had with her! But the visit — breakfast in a nearby café — was much too short. She was here on a mother/daughter trip to Paris for the big semi-annual sales, and she’d come with two American friends and their daughters. All of them live in Brussels. Two of the three, including my friend, are the wives of military officers.

It was simultaneously bizarre and perfectly natural to be in the company of officers’ wives. My mother was one! I was a Navy brat. Grew up watching my mom do Officers’ Wives Club luncheons (remember luncheons?) at our house (had my first sip of lime daiquiri on one of those occasions, yummy, thanks Mom!). My parents hosted Hail and Farewell parties. Mom was a killer hostess and I learned to love entertaining, thanks to all this.

I had to get all dressed up to go to Change of Command ceremonies on giant gray boats (I know, ships, not boats). I had to get dressed up to see my dad’s ship off early in the morning every time he went to sea for six months at a time. Mom was so sad. Dad was so handsome in his dress whites. He even had a sword. They went to Navy Balls, and I remember my mom making a pink chiffon ball gown when I was six. Those ships had a smell that only they had. I knew what half mast meant. There was protocol. My brother and I were well behaved.

Dad knew how to navigate using only a sextant. He showed me all the constellations one starry night on Guam. It was Viet Nam for a while and they made my mom take the Flower Power daisy stickers off our white VW bug because it “wasn’t appropriate for an officer” (might imply support for the peace-loving hippies). One night Dad had duty and we went to dinner (in the Officers’ Wardroom, where a steward in white gloves and a white jacket served us) and a movie (The Poseidon Adventure!) on his ship.

He always brought the coolest stuff back from his cruises. My favorites were the black lacquered jewelry box with a twirling ballerina from Japan, and the muu muu from Hawaii.

He was my hero. We were the good guys. I never questioned. I was a kid.

It’s its own little world, the military, with its own reality…

Which brings me to the commissary, and back to my friend from grad school.

So my friend, having read my last post, showed up with a bag (Trader Joe’s no less!) bursting with some atrocious (as a joke) and some fabulous (GIRL SCOUT COOKIES, WOOHOO!!!) American food that she and her friend had picked up for me at the commissary. (For you civilians, the commissary is the (usually enormous) grocery store on a military base that lets you pretend you never left Kansas, Dorothy. Your tax dollars are paying to ship Oreo pie crusts all over the world. It’s a morale thing, I guess.)

She’d lugged this giant bag all the way from Brussels on the train, with a kid in tow, and their own luggage. What a doll. It was just like her to do something like this. Such a lovely treat. I hope I get to see her again before another 15 years go by.

Vincent immortalized the treasures on Instagram. This isn’t even close to all of it. But you get the idea. Strangely satisfies and intensifies my nostalgia at the same time.

Thanks honey.

So I was on the rue Saint Paul in the Marais yesterday, a trip to Thanksgiving to get French’s mustard and PopTarts (les PopTarts de Proust, OK??). Also came home with Vlasic Kosher Dills (cornichons don’t cut it; no dill) and a can of vegetarian refried beans…

Dragged Claire along with me, and she was urging me to get something “truly atrocious.” There’s atrocious aplenty at the American grocery stores here; that semi-liquid marshmallow stuff in a jar, for example, and StoveTop stuffing (which I’ve bought twice in 5+ years, that’s right, deal with it). I assured her PopTarts were quite atrocious enough and sent her home with two of them. I await her assessment.

(Aside: They have Celestial Seasonings tea there, including Red Zinger in boxes of 10 teabags for 3.75€. You can get the same thing online for 1.99€/box direct from, run by Harold, who is a great guy. Please support him so I can keep getting mass quantities of Red Zinger, without which I cannot survive winter in Paris.)

So we leave Thanksgiving in search of a café with a heated terrace, but just a couple doors down we stop short, drawn like magpies to a shop window bursting with bright cheery girliness in the form of funky, colorful leather clogs, bags and other goodies. I’m so starved for color in Paris, displays like this one make my dopamine or endorphins or serotonin or all of the above spike big time.

So of course we go in. Parisians tend to turn up their noses at clogs, BTW. Their loss. But Claire is not one of those Parisians. I’ve never stopped wearing clogs since the 70s, and Claire and I are from the same generation, so we enjoyed sharing the blast-from-the-past moment. She likes dainty florals à la Liberty of London, while I like loud 70s kitsch and the retro-collagey thing, all of which, as you see, they do:

The objects themselves were delightful, but the story gets even better. You see, they’re handmade by real, live French craftsmen! The shop, which only opened in Paris three months ago, is run by the soft-spoken young Benjamin Renoux (picture below), who is learning the leather/cobbler trade from his father. They have two other shops, in Honfleur and Saint-Malo (both big tourist destinations). Lucky for you, Cuir du Voyageur also sells its delicious products through its website.

True artisans are getting harder and harder to find in France because, of course, they have a tough time competing with the cheap, mass-produced crap imported from other countries (no need to name names).

So this shop is a true gem. Support them if you can!

I’m going to get some clogs (only 79€ for handmade leather shoes, folks, I mean come on…). Probably the ones at the top of the page. Or maybe a pair with the pattern on the bag (red, white, black, pinup, etc.). Or maybe I’ll just get the bag… Or the darker floral clogs in the bottom right corner of the picture just above. Or the red, red rose clogs I saw in the window… (You can see why I did not leave the shop with an actual pair of clogs.) And I’m also going to offer to translate their site into English pro bono.

By all means stop by and see all the other things they have, like the barrettes (you know, the kind with the stick through two holes, straight outta the 70s,) and the irresistible little leather pouches…

Cuir du Voyageur
32, rue Saint Paul
75004 Paris

Cuir du Voyageur Facebook page

Last year I published a Christmas post featuring a favorite family pic from my childhood and talked about how Christmas is pointless without kids. This year, like every year, I’m really missing mine! He’s 26 now and on the other side of the world, having one of what I hope will be many adventures… (Preferably without any more skydiving. And get one of those shocky things for sharks before you go dive the Barrier Reef next summer. Just in case. Sorry David. At least I didn’t say spear gun.)

I called him today, around 7 pm his time. He’d worked till 4:30, then packed up a cooler of beer, a beach chair, and the copy of Notes from Underground I had Amazon send him for Christmas, and headed for the beach to watch the sun set in paradise.

Here he is at three, not so sure about the big red dude…

And at 26, about to jump out of an airplane over an island in the South Pacific. One day they are men and they are magnificent, these men we made.

Out of the goodness of his heart, a French tech blogger named Cédric Serret (author of Autour du Web) decided to launch a fundraising campaign last year to encourage bloggers to contribute to the iconic French charity Les Restaurants du Coeur founded by comedian/activist Coluche in 1985. Cédric is running his Les Enfoirés de Blogueurs campaign again this year.

(Les Enfoirés refers to artists and musicians who give benefit concerts for Les Restos du Coeur. Read all about them in English.)

Les Restos du Coeur feeds those who have trouble feeding themselves. The organization has no religious or other agenda. There are more and more people needing this kind of help (+25% in the last three years), and they’re getting younger and younger…

I’ve translated Cédric’s blog post describing his campaign below. The rest is up to you!

The first Enfoirés de Blogueurs campaign took place in 2010. The goal? To support Les Restos du Coeur, a charitable organization that has been helping the less fortunate since 1985.
 Would you like to become an Enfoiré de Blogueur? Read on to find out how…

In 2010, we had 55 donors who raised 1,555€ — enough to pay for 55 daily meals for a month.

We’d like to do even better this year!

Whether you donate 10, 20 or 100€, the important thing is to make a donation.

How to become an Enfoiré de Blogueur

I haven’t changed the rules since last year:

  1. Make a donation through the Restos du Cœoeur site.
  2. When you get your confirmation e-mail, forward it to me at or

Why send me the e-mail? So I can add your donation to the counter and offer you two links.

Two free links

Since the only way I can thank you for your donation is through my blog, you’ll get two links:

Bloggers who participated last year will get another two links this year.

Spread the word

Encourage your readers to participate too. Write a post on your blog, share on Twitter, Facebook, Google+. Display one of the banners in our banner pack. Be creative and spread the word among your network.

And don’t forget that without Coluche, none of this would exist… And only our help can keep it going!

P.S.: I am getting no personal gain from this. I’m just trying to make things happen the only way a blogger can! Your donations are made exclusively through the Restos du Coeœur site and I get NOTHING AT ALL!

Thank you for participating.

It’s hard to believe this is my sixth November in Paris. It may be my last! We’ll almost surely be leaving Paris and heading to the countryside before this time next year…

I was afraid I wouldn’t get a November picture at all this year. I don’t get out and about as much as I did before, what with The Illness and all. Don’t even walk the dog as often now that he lives half the time with a friend of ours in Normandy! But I managed to snap this with my iPhone while walking him in the late afternoon a few days ago. It’s right behind Notre Dame. I made it under the wire. Not much November left!

Click the picture for a large version to get the full effect of the luscious, mellow tones of the buildings in the setting sun.

You’ll find a list of previous years’ November pictures below. Want more? Here’s a site with nothing but photos I’ve taken all year.

2010 | 20092008 | 2007 | 2006

Some might think my work is boring. Today I was editing a video voiceover script written in English by a non-native English speaker (which can be a real pain). I stumbled on a tech term I didn’t know: “heavy VB client.”

I googled it and it only appeared once, which suggested to me that it’s not something English speakers say a lot. So I’m digging around online to find out how we do talk about VB clients, whatever the hell those are, and I came across this magnificent poem. It was masquerading as tech support. But I saw it for what it really was.

Everything is art.

Why does my VB client keep crashing
when compiled
and not in the IDE
when I use an ActiveX Control
with a worker thread?

You probably fire events
from the worker thread
in your control.

Since all ActiveX Controls
live in single-threaded apartments,
the event sink
your VB client supplies
lives in that STA too.

VB operates in apartment model only,
hence the pointer for the event sink
is in fact
a direct pointer
to the object in VB.

Hence you are able to call
through this pointer.

Unfortunately, by doing so
you violate
the COM threading rules –
every interface pointer
is valid 
within the apartment
it is obtained in.

Since VB is not thread-safe –
you experience
the crash.


There are three possible solutions
(described in ATL terms,
but they are appropriate
for straight C++ COM coding too):

1. The easiest solution is to create
a hidden window
upon the object’s construction
in FinalConstruct
(it is not a good idea
to put such code
in the constructor).

Then whenever you need to raise an event,
you post a message
to that window

The message handler then
fires the event.
The drawback is
that you have to package
any arguments
and unpackage them
in the message handler.

An additional benefit is
that unlike the other approaches,
this way the worker thread
is immediately
ready to continue
with the next task –
asynchronous notifications.

This approach is made possible
by the rule
that all STA threads
must have
a message loop
(in this case
implemented by VB).

2. Rewrite the implementation of
and Unadvise
and forward the call
to the worker thread

The implementation uses
and the worker thread uses
to marshal the interface pointer
to the worker thread.

Then the marshaled pointer
is stored in the map
instead of the direct pointer
from the client.

The worker thread
must enter an apartment
(MTA or create new STA).
The advantage of this approach is that
the code generated
by the ATL connection points wizard
doesn’t change.

The drawback is that
the events must be fired
from the worker thread’s apartment
(so if you have multiple worker threads
you better enter the MTA
in all of them).

The worker thread
is suspended
for the duration
of the call.

3. This one is a generalized version
of the second.
Instead of explicitly
the interface pointer
for a specific apartment
up front,
the code in the Advise method
is modified
to use the Global Interface Table
to store the interface
and a cookie
is stored
in the map instead.

Whenever any thread
wants to fire
an event,
the cookie is used
to temporarily obtain
an interface pointer
for the current apartment.

Then the event is fired
and the interface pointer
is released.

The drawback
(with ATL in mind)
is that in addition to
the IConnectionPointImpl code,
you have to modify
the code
for the proxy
generated by the ATL wizard.

The advantage is that
events can be fired
from any apartment.
All threads which fire events
must enter an apartment.

The thread firing the event
is blocked
for the duration
of the call.

Oh yes indeedy.

Air warm and thick with the smell of fresh corn tortillas. Valentina (and other familiar faces) on the table (as opposed to some little-known Louisiana hot sauce that has no business being there: Mexi & Co.). Tasty refried black beans (as opposed to hard, cold and flavorless kidney beans: La Perla). Fresh shredded chicken (as opposed to deep fried and greasy: O’Mexico). Thick, crispy, homemade tortilla chips (as opposed to thin, stale and industrial: Indiana Café).

Till now, with one exception, the Mexican food I’ve had in Paris has made me sad. The exception is Anahuacali, where I’ve eaten twice. It’s authentic but way overrated. The food is only fair (bland), portions are small, and everything’s overpriced. 50€ for a skinny-ass pitcher of margaritas. Hell with that.

But now there is Candelaria, the latest Mexican restaurant to arrive in Paris, where I had dinner with friends on Friday night. It’s more taco stand than restaurant, actually, with one table and a counter providing seating for a total of 15 or so. Best to order takeout if you eat later than 7 pm, which is about when it turns into a zoo.

But it’s worth it. If this place were in my neighborhood (it’s in the Marais) I’d be eating there once a week at least.

The young, pretty, hipster owners are onto something. The stodgy sit down and eat heavy expensive shit for three hours with a stiff waiter dressed in black thing is not what younger Parisians want. And there were more young French couples and families there than there were expats.

The food is quite authentic. The tacos aren’t like the jumbo overstuffed things you get in SoCal restaurants. They’re closer to what you’ll find in taco stands in Mexico. Or, as my friend said repeatedly, bouncing up and down, “taco truck!” “taco truck!” (She was as excited as I was and for a while couldn’t say anything else.) But I think I saw feta on the menu. I’m sure it would be good, though maybe a little odd. (I understand, though. I’ve used Cantal as a substitute for Monterey Jack for 5 years.)

I had two tacos pollo pibil and two tostadas nopal queso (I do love my prickly pear!). I didn’t have the carnitas but my friends said they were good. I had a Dos Equis. My taco truck friend had a Negra Modelo. (That calmed her down.)


Tacos and tostadas are 3.50€ each. A little high considering their size, but not at all too expensive compared to other fast and fresh dining options in Paris (of which there aren’t many). And you have to remember that you can’t get prickly pears or Mexican chorizo in France…

The bad news

A nondescript, narrow white door at the end of the counter leads to a cavey bar that has a completely different feel and clientele than the restaurant. (In fact the tiny, unmarked door looks so much like it leads to the bathroom that you get the feeling they don’t want their taco eaters to suspect there’s a bar back there…) The bar was full of the usual Paris vampire crowd: 20/30-something hipsters, scrawny girls with long, straight hair dressed in black… I wonder if the vampires even knew that there were tacos on the other side of that door.

We went to the bar for margaritas after dinner (because I had to do the complete taste test). It was good, but seriously, 12€ (about $17) for a margarita? Once is enough for me. Those prices plus the vampire crowd: not my thang.

I just found this list of Mexican restaurants in Paris by David Lebovitz, which he clearly worked very hard on… At least it’s pretty current.

I guess I’ll have to try them all just to be sure I have actually found the best. If I can ever again force myself to eat Mexican anywhere besides Candelaria, that is.