My trip to France – objectives

Objectives of my trip to France – 19 September to 4 October 2017

My first objective was to evaluate my progress in French.
There has been no time (at least a time I can remember) that I have not been interested in foreign languages. I have a certain facility in a few languages, but for some reason have always shied away from French.
About 2 ½ years ago, Lisa gave me a book entitled “Fluent Forever” by Gabriel Wyner. In this book, Wyner outlines a method for language learning. I decided to try his method on French. So I fastened my seat belt and launched into the study of this fascinating, if difficult, language.
So the first objective of a trip to France was to see if I had learned anything in 2 ½ years.
In addition, I wanted to document what I didn’t know.

I found that Reading French was not much of a problem. Oh, my vocabulary isn’t where I want it to be but I seemed to get along with signs in airports and train terminals, reading menus, street signs, brochures and the like. I give myself a B+

Speaking – Not as good as Reading but OK. One of the problems for anyone trying to speak a native language in Europe is that there are a lot of people who can speak English with varying levels of proficiency. Especially hotel clerks. So, one phrase that is quickly engrained is “Je préférerais parler français.” Fortunately, with only a couple of exceptions, a person would speak French to me and I was happy. I have a ways to go but would allow a grade of C+

Listening – A real problem here. I knew that I had problems but it is always disappointing to have suspicions confirmed. But I quickly discovered a remedy. Yes – good old TV. I would watch TV for an hour or so every day. Not just droning away in the background as I got ready for the day, but complete focus on news programs and the like. I could feel improvement almost immediately.
Of course, I still have a long way to go but I see a method for improvement. Grade – C-

My second objective was to spend time in Eastern Paris.
I am fortunate and have been to Paris many times, both on business and family trips. I think Paris is the most beautiful city in the world. But, all the business travel and all the family vacations had taken place in western Paris. I had seen the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, the Louvre, the Orsay, La Defense, even going as far east as Notre Dame.
But I yearned to see places like Place de Bastille, Place de Republique, Buttes aux Chaumont, Butte aux Cailles, Gare de Lyon, Bercy, Canal Saint-Martin and especially Gare d’Austerlitz. Why Gare d’Austerlitz? Who knows, just did. Notice the past tense?
So I got an Airbnb in the 12th , a 5 minute walk from Gare de Lyon. It was right between the 19th, the 11th and the 13th. It was perfect.
And so was Eastern Paris. Formerly the industrial part of the city, it has been undergoing an intense period of gentrification. But the old factories have been preserved and transformed into apartments. Industrial canals, complete with bridges and locks, provide liquid pathways through the buildings. A center for young people, there are lots of restaurants, shops and nightclubs. The famous Bataclan, the scene of such horror is there.
Loved every moment there.

The third objective were Day Trips and a trip to Brittany.
During the first part of the trip, I day-tripped to Rouen and to Lyon.

Rouen was of interest because I was reading Michel Bussi’s book “Mourir sur Seine.” A “roman policier” (detective novel), the author details travels through the old town area of Rouen. One can even follow the characters moving through the city using a map.
The second day-trip was to Lyon. Lyon is rapidly becoming the second city of France. It is modern, busy and very active. Loved every minute of it and I had the best lunch of the trip at a small café. More about that later.

Brittany The last half of the trip was to Brittany. Why Brittany? That is a legitimate question. I had written a short screen play several years ago that was centered on the small village of Carnac. I will ask mercy and confess that I had never been to Brittany, much less Carnac. So I decided to do away with that deficiency and go. Look for additional posts soon, when I discuss the trip to Carnac, continuing on to other cities in Brittany – Vannes, Quimper and Brest.

Suffice it to say I was charmed with Brittany.

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Questions on a September morn. . .


  • Why are Harleys so loud?
  • Why do characters in space thrillers like Star Trek have strange, misshapen heads? Heads in odd colors, strange fins, odd ears, you name it. Yet they all have normal human bodies?
  • Why do TV commercials for drugs (with unpronounceable names) for apparently devastating diseases and conditions all feature laughing, dancing people, barbecuing, laughing, walking in the park, laughing, bouncing grandchildren on their knees, did I say laughing?
  • Why do people buy huge diesel pickups? Most of them belch clouds of black smoke amidst a clattering roar from an engine that seems like it will fall apart at any moment.
  • Why do pro baseball players eat continuously, both off and on the field? I won’t ask about the non-stop spitting.
  • Why do magazines like National Geographic use light colored type faces on light colored backgrounds?

All a mystery to me. . .

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It is always easier to see the current situation as “the worst ever.”
Memories of Nixon; Vietnam, young men slogging through rice paddies and the relentless protests; the Cold War; laundromats with “Whites Only” signs; the Bush-Cheney Iraq War;  the horror of the Balkans; all these fade with time. For us old fogies, near-memories of WWII, the Korean War and endless wars since have been paved over by the endless stream of horror.
But the current world situation: North Korea, Russia (again), China’s agenda, trade, the demise of the middle class, the exporting of both high and low tech jobs and capital, all rubbed to blood by the antics of the current administration have pushed us to a new low.

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Let’s skate!

I know this will be warmly received by many of you.
I have decided to change my name, eliminating the decidedly lackluster “John”. As in William “John” Wirth.
Indulging my love of French and skating, I will henceforth be known as William “Patinons” Wirth – as in William “Let’s Skate” Wirth.
I know each of you will be impressed by the daring, the audacity, of this move, coming so late in my life!

Just so you know, I labored long on this idea and considered several options:
A close runner up was Spanish as in – William “¡Patine!” Wirth.
A bit ostentatious was the German – William “Lassen Sie uns skaten! ” Wirth
And out of the question was the Japanese William “スケートしよう!” Wirth

*Thanking you for your concern, indeed the quote marks would be eliminated in all cases!

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Busy day. . .

Travel has been a major part of my life. Business travel in particular. Of course, business travel has its downside, one has to work. But “expenses paid” salves some aspects, so all was even.
There are many trips I remember but one popped into my head as I was walking this morning. It happened like this. . .
One Sunday afternoon, I and another guy (who? who knows? my memory isn’t that good) left Denver and flew to Washington Dulles airport. We spent the night there and early Monday morning, we flew to Allentown PA and met with a customer.
That meeting ended successfully, propelling us back to the airport and on to Pittsburgh.
In Pittsburgh (nice city) we met for a couple of hours with a prospective customer.
Then off to the airport and back to Denver.
So we had been on four aircraft, been to three cities, saw two customers and it was only Monday.

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German class

As some know, I am a student of languages. Why I came to be so is the subject of another post.
But, I occasionally take classes. Many years ago, I was involved in a class in intermediate German, taught by a sprightly blond woman.
We were focused on a difficult section, something like “Irregular verbs in the Dative Case.” We struggled, stammered, the teacher reaching for ways to explain the subject.
Then a fellow student’s hand shot up, his voice near a wail, “Why do the Germans say it that way?” A tremor of agreeing heads underscored his plight.
“Because they do,” smiled the teacher’s voice, calming the crowd, and we moved on.

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The long path

The snow crunched as I walked through the park this morning. It was snowing, blowing but not unpleasant. I was on one of my usual paths, paths long since defined for ease of walking and for mileage. There are 5 or 6 of them, varying  from 2 miles to 4 miles. I even have one that goes by the grocery store so I can get something for lunch.

But mostly they offer freedom from decision. I can walk them all blindfolded. Usually, when walking, I study something: listen to a language course, review a favorite trip to some exotic land or perhaps review key points of something I have heard. There was a time when I would go over plans for a project at work, but those days have passed.

But this morning I crunched along, mind blank. I was the first on the path this morning, it is a holiday. No other footprints, no dog tracks, not even squirrel tracks. I turned and could see my tracks following me.

I reached the end of the path, this walk is exactly a mile from the house, turned and followed my own tracks back. My mind went blank again – sometimes it is nice to be able to – go blank. Still in the park, I was nearing the end of the walk when I noticed the smooth surface of the snow, tracks that I made on the outward trek had disappeared. The snow and the wind had filled them in.

What an interesting metaphor for life! At the beginning, one is excited, energetic, full of ambition, plans – the future beckons. One makes tracks on the outbound journey: school, marriage, children, work, travel, you name it – it all leaves tracks in the snow. But, sooner or later, the time comes when the tracks fill in and one ceases to exist.

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Dog job

The best job for a dog is that of a sled dog. A sled dog runs, pulls and barks all day long and still gets paid.

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J’aime l’hiver!

J’aime l’hiver!

Ich liebe Winter

Me encanta el invierno


Anyway I say it – it comes out the same – I love winter.

Now I have been around long enough to know, that outside of snowmobilers, ice fishermen, snowboarders and other curious forms of overachievers, loving winter is distinctly unpopular. Yet I confess – I can’t help myself.

Let me begin by saying – I like change. Change in this context can be stated simply: “I get tired of winter, but I get tired of summer also.” Living in Colorado narrows the options since we only have two seasons: a long, dry, hot summer and a shorter but enthusiastic winter.

I follow by stating Colorado economics. It never rains here. So our summer water for yards, trees, crops, drinking, comes from deep snow drifts in the high mountains. And of course, Colorado is well known for its superior skiing industry – headlined by posh resorts like Aspen and Vail and backed up by a hundred slopes more. Lots of economic benefit flows from these snowy, white paradises and, while I don’t partake, a lot of fun for a lot of people.

“But, this is all interesting but what about your love of winter?” you ask (assuming you’re still awake).

Readily identifiable is my coming to fruition in Montana. Montana is a huge, largely empty land of mountains, lakes, rivers and hardy people. It gets pretty cold there in the winter. I personally have seen it a minus 50°. The coldest temperature ever recorded in the continental US (the lower 48 if you live in Alaska) is minus 69.7° This temperature was recorded about 50 miles from where I grew up and as my father would have said “That’s mighty fresh!”

But does merely living somewhere engender a love of winter? I thought you’d never ask. No – it doesn’t. I have a strong genetic component. My mother’s father, John Carson (né Carlson) was born in Sweden and moved with his family to Minnesota when he was two. My great-grandfather Wirth came from Germany.

But combine need for changing seasons, need for water, profitable business, fun and grandfathers from Sweden and Germany, the picture becomes clear – I was made for winter.

Next – indulging my love for winter.

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A 1000 miles

“New Year’s Resolutions” have never held much interest for me. No, I need problems resolved as much as anyone. It’s just that life has always presented opportunity for improvement without the drama of specific resolve.

That’s why I find myself in a curious position, very late in life, of making a resolution.

Actually it is less resolution and more goal: I am going to walk a 1000 miles this year. Yes, there are three zeroes in the preceding number.

“How are you going to do this Bill?” you ask. Well, at a modest pace, befitting my advanced age, a 1000 miles at 3.5 miles per day.  That means I will walk 3.5 miles/day for 285 days. That means that 78% of the year will see me trudging down the road.

78%? Well that sounds doable, you say. Well, feel free to join me – I would like the company.

Late Breaking:
January 2017 – 122.1 miles

On June 23, 2017, I crossed the 1000 mile goal.

On November 20, 2017 my progress is 1660.6 miles. I hope to break 1800 by the end of 2017.

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