Joel Durand, Chocolatier (St. Remy, France)

The chocolate artisan of St. Remy, Provence, France


Best known for his Chocolate Alphabet series; he creates delicate, subtle and delicious confectionaries. His alphabet chocolates are small, square chocolates stamped with letters in gold-leaf. Each letter is a different flavor. My favorites are the ones that showcase the provencal flavors: lavender, violet, thyme. We bought a box from his shop and he was there and very friendly. Since we got back, I’ve been metering mine out to preserve them as long as possible, although now that I see he sells them on-line, I might just have to become a regular customer.

Eating in France

1) In Nice, if looking for quality food, avoid the places near the Promenade De Anglais, unless you have a specific recommendation from someone you trust
2) In Paris, avoid any place offering a 10 Euro menu. It is a tourist joint that doesn’t think you know better
3) Don’t eat dinner in the old town of Eze. You have three very expensive choices, none of which are worth it.
4) Don’t start doing the conversions between Euros and Dollars for the food you are eating because you will give yourself a coronary.
5) If you are eating in a decent restaurant, a carafe of their house wine is going to be much higher quality than you would guess and it will be substantially cheaper than a demi-bouteille or a demi-litre of a wine off of their wine list. In a similar vein, learn how to order a carafe of water unless you enjoy paying for bottles of expensive mineral water everywhere
6) If you are going for Soca in the Cours Selaya in Nice, do it early. It is closed when the rest of the flower market is packing up, not when lunchtime is over.
7) If you are having a hard time finding a good place to eat, hit up a boulangerie, a charcruterie and a légumerie instead; you’ll be happier.
8) Order in French even if you aren’t very good at it. Outside of Paris, they will appreciate it and will help with your pronunciation and grammar. In Paris, they will just switch to English, but I think that they still appreciate the effort
9) French people eat late. This can work to your advantage, especially in Paris where the good restaurants fill up and long waits are common. We usually ate around 7:30 when most of the restaurants were just opening. After dinner we would walk around and if we noticed a place that was packed with locals (you can tell by the (lack of) overall volume and (large) amount of smoking) we’d head there the next night.
10) If you know where you want to eat, make reservations. It will guarantee your spot and will get you better service
11) In Paris, they now have no smoking sections, but they are filled with Americans and are not in any way separated from the smoking sections. Actually, in most of the restaurants we ate in, they would create a non-smoking section the first time it was requested. It would be in the worst spot in the restaurant and would still have clouds of cigarette smoke billowing over it. Better just to not stress over it: look for a table with its neighbor tables having no or very few butts in the ashtrays and sit there.

PalmTX as laptop replacement (review pt. 2)

I bought the TX for e-mail and web access during my Europe trip, here’s my thoughts.

A major reason for my purchase of the TX was that I wanted an easy way to check e-mail and surf the web without having to lug a heavy (and hard to replace) laptop around on my Europe trip.

How did the TX perform? Pretty well. Almost as well as I had hoped it would.

The benefits:
1) I had no problem finding and connecting to 802.11b networks and was surprised to find them everywhere we stayed, including St. Remy in Provence (thanks Biscuit, Biscuit for the free wi-fi!)
2) It was no problem carrying it around, the protective case that I got with it was much heavier than it was and even with that case, it fit into an inside pocket in my coat
3) The battery lasted long enough to take care of stuff in the cases where I had to leave my hotel room to get wi-fi.
4) The web program and e-mail program worked o.k. and a lot of stuff was reasonable even on the small screen
5) Nice to have some games to pass the time.

The problems:
1) A bug in the blazer web browser made it impossible to load some php pages which made it impossible to sign up for our hotel’s wi-fi in Nice
2) The 802.11b connector would disconnect from the network to save power if you hadn’t used it for a minute or so. This was a super pain in the ass because we had a card with a super long code we had to type in every time we connected to the wi-fi in our hotel in Paris.
3) The mail program got confused on which mail it had downloaded and which mail it hadn’t, leading to multiple downloads of the same mail.
4) Not enough memory to make the video player or audio player features worth-while
5) too hard to compose long messages with Graffiti
6) Bug in the mail program where you can’t easily delay message sending until you are connected.

I’ve had many PIMs over the years, but I’ve never really stuck with any. I don’t really need constant access to my information or whatever, so now that the trip is over, I’m not sure what I’ll use the Palm for. I can let you know that the “Speaking Language Translator” isn’t really worth your money. Not that it doesn’t work, but mostly, you aren’t going to whip it out in the middle of a conversation with a shop keeper, so it isn’t really that useful.

The one thing which I did absolutely miss from my laptop was the ability to play movies. The TX doesn’t have enough memory (and big MMC cards are prohibitively expensive). It would have been cool to be able to watch some pre-recorded TV shows or movies from home sometimes.

Most of the biggest pains we had with the TX where in its software. I couldn’t find a way to configure the network to stay connected until I disconnect it manually which is really painful if you have a code you have to enter in each time you connect to a network. The php bug in the web browser made it impossible to load some pages. The bug in the mail program made it annoying to compose mail while not connected to a network. We had to save our messages to the draft folders and then when we connected to a network, edit each “draft” message so that we could send it. It would be a lot easier if stuff got saved in your outbox when you were connected until you did get connected.

Would I recommend this as a laptop replacement for other travelers trying to keep the crap to a minimum? Absolutely. If you were planning on keeping your pals at home updated on your travels with extended e-mails though, I would absolutely recommend one of the portable keyboards. That would have saved us a lot of headache.

King Bush

George Bush doesn’t believe America’s laws apply to him, he has declared himself above the law.

If you didn’t already know this by his illegal spying on American citizens, the Boston Globe has an article on another 749 laws that he doesn’t believe apply to him…

Interesting quote from Chris DeWolfe in the NYT

There was an article on April 23rd in the NYT about MySpace in which Chris DeWolfe made a classic mistake…

Mr. DeWolfe argues that MySpace won’t suffer that fate because, in just two years, it has already become so entrenched in so many lives. “People are truly invested in the site,” he said. “All their friends are on it. They spent months building their profiles. And so the cost of switching is too high. If we keep building the features they want, they will stay on the site.”

I’m pretty sure that Orkut and Friendster said the same thing, buddy.

I’m baaacckk…

I was on vacation… (did you think I was just a bad blogger?)

I have just returned from my month-long inspection of the continent (as they used to say) and will soon regale you with hard-won knowledge and sparking witticisms about my trip to France and Britain. (And yes, I know the continent refers to the mainland of Europe and not the UK, but we were in France for over 3/4 of the time, so I stick to my statement).

A couple things first:
While British Air may be superior to US airlines, it can still make you want to kill yourself by changing gates randomly at the last minute and then making you line up multiple times for the same flight (if you have to fly out of Gate 1b, Terminal 4 Heathrow, just give up and emigrate to the UK instead, you’ll be happier).

(the subject of photography in museums is something you can expect a long diatribe about in the near future as it was a continued annoyance and hindered our enjoyment of several famous galleries).

Ben Franklin kicking it on the current spying debate tip

“Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”

I was reading Christopher Hitchens’ excellent essay in the April 2006 Vanity Fair in which he referenced this quote from BF and it made me wonder if this is engraved into any marble in DC anywhere. I’d love to see it engraved on the edifice of whatever building the NSA is in.

PalmTX mini-review

I’ve had a PalmTX now for a few weeks, here are some thoughts

I bought the TX so that we could access e-mail and the web on our trip without having to lug around a laptop. I also figured that it might be a nice way to organize some of our info for the trip and keep track of things.

So far it seems ok, I haven’t had too many problems. I can’t say I’m overjoyed though either. Considering that Palm is the main PDA solution for Mac users, you might think that they would provide better software for us. It seems to work ok, but it doesn’t sink with Entourage automatically, the included PDF software doesn’t work at all on the mac side, the cable doesn’t attach securely to the device, so it is constantly disconnecting with the slightest touch. This isn’t my first Palm, I had a Visor before, but I sync’d that to a PC and I can say that it was a bit better of an experience. Even with the included Palm Apps and the freeware Palm Apps I’ve found, I’m finding myself having to buy quite a bit of non-cheap software to make this device useable for my needs. The software that Palm does include mostly seems ok, the web browser is functional and displays most pages well enough (although the Unit Circle Rekkids page doesn’t display at all), but it won’t display a text file off a web server for some reason. The mail app seems pretty reasonable.

On the plus side, it is fairly tiny. I could easily see myself whipping this out on the street to check an address or a map, but I couldn’t imagine doing that with an OQO or even an Origami. I think I was hoping to use this as my single information device whereas Palm was thinking that this would be the device I would use in transit or in a single meeting.

It will be an interesting test to see if we have to resort to an internet cafe during our trip, it will be an even more interesting test to see if I use it at all after we get back from our trip. I can’t sync it to my corporate e-mail outside of work thanks to our VPN, I can’t connect to my corporate wireless ethernet thanks to our authentication mechanism, so it isn’t that useful for me as a business tool. I don’t spend that much time on public transit since I live close to work. I have a PSP to keep me entertained on flights and in airports. The note-taking, list keeping and basic calendar and contacts stuff is already supported by my cell phone… Maybe PDAs really are dead…