San Sebastian, Spain

Recently, in a futile effort to escape from what was an extended rainy spell in Toulouse, we headed to San Sebastian, a foody city on the Atlantic coast of Spain.

I say ‘futile’ because the closer we got to the city, the harder it rained. Still, it was nice to get away and have some, indeed, wonderful food. And with Bilbao only an hour away, we went to visit the Guggenheim Museum.


Like I said, a futile attempt to escape the rain. At least on the first day.


A pretty clock complete with barometer, which was, of course, reading low pressure.


Putting a bright smile on a dreary day.


Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. Probably looking for drier climes too.


Town hall…at night (for you Sponge Bob fans).


Be it ever so humble, this is what we called home for the weekend: the Hotel Londres, grand dame of the beach.


A pretty nightscape featuring a park, town hall and Jesus on a hill.


Low tide at night.


Low tide during the morning.


The camera has a great zoom.


Based on our start, who’d a-thunk I’d need shades?

Note: We learned from a restaurateur that San Sebastian has 200 days with rain per year. I really need to do better research.

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My Favoritest Aircraft: The BelugaXL

One of the things I like most about my job is that I get to see some really cool things that the general public doesn’t have the chance to do. On July 19, I was lucky enough to have one of those experiences: I was present for the first flight of the BelugaXL, Airbus’ newest super-transporter.

Airbus currently has five first-generation super-transporters: the Beluga ST. It’s always been a favorite of mine to spot one in the skies over the west side of Toulouse. The new BelugaXL is larger than the ST, which will help Airbus meet some production ramp ups.

And so on a beautiful, albeit very warm, Thursday morning, the newest Beluga began its flight test campaign with a four-hour flight. Thousands of employees – including many who worked on the aircraft – lined the runway at Toulouse-Blagnac Airport to witness take-off, which happened shortly after an ST also took off.

Early afternoon, the XL returned and the flight crew and executives gave some brief remarks followed by a party.

Here are some of my favorite photos:


The older model: the first Beluga ST.


The new model: the smiley-face livery on the first BelugaXL. The lines are strips of flight test equipment.


The new kid flying over its older brother.


Doing a fly-by prior to landing. It’s a mite bigger than the tracker plane.


Smiling and ready for its close-up.


Jonah (times 5) and the whale.


The orange-clad flight crew and Airbus execs.


New and old as seen from the party hangar.


XL and ST taking a break after an eventful day.

Final note: Since then, I’ve seen the XL smile just a couple of times. It’s my new favoritest (real word) aircraft.

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One of the traditions I had forgotten about after we left was Carnaval. This is not to be confused Carnival, the party hearty festival in Brazil or the masked ball time of year in Venice.

Think of Carnaval as a cross between Halloween without candy and Guy Fawkes Day without the fireworks. I remember that our prior hometown of Leguevin had a Carnaval each spring and was pleasantly surprised to see that our newly adopted hometown of Pibrac scheduled one as well.

The idea of Carnaval is that come springtime, the town makes an effigy – ‘Monsieur Carnaval’ – and put’s him ‘on trial’ for all of the wrongs that he committed last year. Then they torch him (like on Guy Fawkes Day), thus ‘guaranteeing’ good weather, abundant crops and – who knows? – fertility in general.

Alas, the first six months of this year being ‘crappy’ (an official meteorological term) – i.e., rainy and cold and what-the-heck-is a ‘sun’? – when the Carnaval was first scheduled back in March, il pleut des cordes – it’s raining ropes, which is better than raining cats and dogs, but still. Anyway, they cancelled the event.

So a few weeks ago, they tried again. The reason you need decent weather is that there’s a parade with the kids all dressed up in costumes (a la Halloween). At Lego Land, they just made a big loop through town. Here, they started at a middle school and ended up down at the big park near us. People from the mairie as well as the town police blocked off the roads.


The head of the parade

When the kiddies and parents arrived, they were accompanied by a clown band.


I’m hoping that French kids don’t mind clowns as much as American kids now do.

Pirates and princesses, cowboys and ballerinas, police officers and super heroes:


Hail! Hail! The gang’s all here.

When the gang had assembled, municipal workers brought in Mr. Carnaval, who turned out not to be anywhere near to a person-like effigy. Instead, it was a four-sided box painted with a circus theme.


The calm before the firestorm.

And there was no trial. The workers just doused Monsieur Box with lighter fluid and – voila! – touched a torch to ‘him’ and up in flames he went.


Where there’s smoke…


There’s fire.

Note: The skies were cloudy but the rain held off…until Monsieur Carnaval was reduced to just a frame. It started sprinkling and just as we made it home – about a 10-minute walk – the skies opened up. More raining of ropes. Guess M. Carnaval wasn’t happy about not receiving a trial.

PS: It rained pretty much most of the following week. Sigh.

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Payback’s a…What’s the Word I’m Looking For?

Recently, I went to the pharmacy to get a prescription refill. When I entered, there were two people ahead of me: a lady and a man. As I stood there, I could see that the young lady waiting on the gentleman had…the LOOK. The deer in headlights expression that I sometimes see when I try to explain or ask for something in my getting-better-but-still-needs-work French. She had no idea what the guy was saying to her. I heard him use some French and some English and at one point he starts tapping his forearm with his fingers and saying ‘the blood, the pressure, it’s high.’ Something clicked and the girl went back to the stockroom. I smile and say to the guy, “Brit or American?” “Brit,” he replies. The girl comes and gives him his meds. As he passes me, I tell him, “Next time, tell them you have ‘hypertension‘. That’s the French word for high blood pressure.” He thanks me and leaves.

It’s my turn and I get the meds without any issue.

Then…I go next door to Carrefour Express, a smaller version of a regular Carrefour grocery store. Our ice maker had stopped working so I wanted to see if they had an ice cube tray. Unfortunately, I had forgotten the word for ‘ice cubes’ (it’s glacons). So I stutter a bit and say “J’ai besoin de quelque chose pour faire de la glace” – “I need something to make ice.” The French language being what it is, glace can mean ice, ice cream, mirror or window. Now it’s my turn to get the LOOK. The cashier calls to one of her colleagues. He comes up and try a variation: “J’ai besoin d’un plateau pour faire de la glace” – “I need a tray to make ice.”

Something clicks and he takes me back to the freezer section, where he opens a door and grabs a bag of ice. Close but no cigar. Trying again to say that I want to make ice for myself, he now understands: “Désolé. Nous n’en avons pas” – “Sorry. We don’t have those.”

I thank him and return home. I go to Google Translate and discover what I should have said is: “J’ai besoin d’un bac à glaçons.

Serves me right for laughing at the poor guy with high blood pressure.

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Lil’ Ville of Pibrac

Way back in ought-eleven (a real number), I wrote a blog entry entitled Lil’ Ville of Leguevin, where I had some details and photos of our then-hometown. Now that we’ve returned to France and are living in a different town, it seems only fair to describe the new hometown – Pibrac – as well.

Apparently, Pibrac is a booming town. Why in just 240 years, it’s grown from 650 residents to more than 8,000. As Igor said in Young Frankenstein: “Of course, the rates have gone up.”

When we came over for our look-and-see visit in November, what we liked about the town was its location (location, location). In the three years that we were gone, the population of the greater Toulouse area really grew (gruesome?). This makes traffic miserable (drivers here are ‘Les Miserables‘). Back in Lego Land, you pretty much have one way – two tops – of getting into work. But here in Pibrac (for which I’ve yet to come up with a decent nickname), there are at least four different ways. And our house is within walking distance of the center of town (I know because I walk there nearly every day).

So without further ado, here are some of the sites of our little corner of France:


The view from close to Chez Newman – a learning garden and playground in the foreground and (l to r) the church, water tower (newly cleaned) and basilica.

A main claim to fame for the town is that it was the birthplace of Ste. Germaine.


This shrine and fountain are dedicated to her.


The basilica named after her. Begun in 1901, it was dedicated in her name in 1967.


Over the main entrance.



A plaque in five languages explaining who she was.

For daily church services, there’s the Eglise Sainte-Marie-Madeleine.


Like most churches in the Toulouse region, the bell tower is a sort of false front.

The other big monument in town is the chateau.


The courtyard. Work on the chateau began in 1540. It is now privately owned.


Rear and right side.

Town hall: le mairie:


Commercial sites exist as well.


The entry in to town from the north: a pizza joint, bar, small hotel, driving school, chocolate shop and more.


The train station. Busy except on strike days, which are now two days out of five through at least June.


Commercial center: butcher, pharmacy, dry cleaning, bistrot, press shop, bakery, florist, mini market, banks and more.

And there are some recreation facilities as well.


The Theatre Musical de Pibrac: where the magic of Panto happens.


Banked rollerblading track with soccer fields in the background. There are several other soccer and rugby fields in town.


Hiking and biking trails along with woods and fields.


Le Courbet aka The Big Muddy. I’ve seen a couple of people fishing here.

That’s all for now. Back again soon.

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What it Something I Said?

Part 1.

One morning, a couple of Saturdays ago, the missus and I were lounging around reading the news when the doorbell rang. (Note: our ‘chime’ is the opening notes to Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.) I go downstairs, open the door, and a young lady with a dog says, “Je suis désolé de vous déranger” – “I’m sorry to bother you.”

I reply: “De rien” – “It’s nothing”

To which she replies, “Oh, I’m so sorry to bother you.” In English. I had said two words. Three syllables: de ree-en.

So I continue speaking to her in English. She came to the door because a she saw a cat that had been hurt and was lying on the side of the road. She had already been to a neighbor of ours who told her that one of our cats looked like the one she described. Both of our cats were inside, but I got dressed and went to join her down on the road. Turns out she’s German and was there with her husband and their little girl. I brought one of our cat carriers, she put the cat in and then left to go to a vet. She brought the carrier back but didn’t ring the bell so I don’t know the cat’s prognosis.

Part 2.

Springtime arrived. Finally. To celebrate, I took a drive to the duty-free shopping mall/country of Andorra.

The Pyrenees still had snow on them at the upper elevations – anything above 2000m/6560ft. I was looking for some regional edition/limited edition cigars and Andorra has multiple cigar shops. At about the fourth shop that I went into – one I’d been to before and had good luck with – the lady behind the counter is with another customer. Being a good French resident I say “Bonjour” when I enter.

I go inside the walk-in humidor and look around. A few moments later, the lady comes in and says, “Good afternoon. How are you? Anything I can help you with?”

All in English

Now, I know that I’m not the best French-as-a-second-language speaker in the world, but c’mon! Two syllables! Bo-zhur.

It’s not like I said ‘Bahn-jewer’ or ‘Bo-joor.’

Regardless, I kept speaking in French and she kept speaking in English. If she didn’t have two cigars that I really wanted and at a good price, I would’ve left.

Adios y’all.

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Fifty Shades of Grey

Or…why the Leguevin baseball team is called the Duckies.


A story in a local free paper about the mighty Duckies.

Before we first moved to France, way back in ought-six, M’s British colleagues told how much we were going to enjoy the weather of Toulouse. “It’s so sunny,” they would enthuse. At the time, we didn’t realize that, for Brits, two days of sun per week is almost more than they can stand.

So, our first fall/winter here we were bummed out. “Where’d the sun go?” we wondered. For the next eight years, it was like the instructions on a shampoo bottle: lather, rinse, repeat. From November to April, it was the same thing.

Well, almost the same thing. You know how they say that Eskimos have more than a dozen words for snow, depending on the type of snow that’s falling? After waking up to yet another grey day, I went to meeting with my comms colleagues and I asked them, “Do Toulousains have multiple words for grey? You look up in the sky and it’s grey. Day after day. So are there different words for light-grey, dark-grey, grey with a hint of white, with a hint of black, with a patch of blue somehow visible, snow grey, rain grey, dark-turning-to-light grey?”

You can see that I’ve given this some thought. My colleagues assured me that Toulousains don’t have different words for all these variations. “It’s just a little cloudy,” they assured me. I also think they thought I was (am?) a bit nuts.

Anyway, this brings me back to the Leguevin Duckies baseball team. The team founder was an American expat who settled in the area and he must’ve thought the same as me about the weather. He told me that the first season the team played that it always seemed to rain. And who likes rain more than anyone? Ducks?

Editor’s Note: Today’s sky features a lovely light grey with bold streaks of white and patches of blue. Any suggestions on a name for it?

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