Sunday, July 30, 2006

Just as we're heading into the homestretch, here at Dotde, new neighbors arrive next door! And boy are they friendly--they come by on a regular basis, have no compunctions at interrupting us at anytime, they chatter non-stop, and they rudely try all of our food and drinks. I tell you, between living next to a beehive and suffering through the heat wave, I'm beginning to think that winter is the best season here in Deutschland.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

After the whirlwind visits from M and P, then K and D, and then the Klamkas, J! and I decided to take things easy for a bit, and stroll over to France to see what was going on there. M and the Colonel were doing some "work" in Paris at various prison-related archives, so they invited us to crash at their lovely 5th floor apartment for the weekend, which we happily did. J! had never been to Paris, I'd never been there during a season while the fountains were running, and M and the Colonel desperately needed a break from the dust and cramped handwriting of trial transcripts, so it worked out well for all of us. We spent most of Friday cruising around the major stops (the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Notre Dame, St. Sulpice) , and then hung out on Saturday at the catacombs (twice), the Parisean sewers and the cemetary. Sunday was, of course, devoted entirely to Le Tour and the Champs Elysees.

J! may disagree with me on this one, but I'd have to go with the sewers and the cemetary as the highlights. First, they were easily the coolest places in Paris, apart from the freezer section of the local 2Go grocery store. The sewers, I admit, had a bit of a "musty" smell, but not nearly as bad as one might expect, given that there is an actual sewer (big surprise for me, at least) that runs through the "museum." Said sewer also comes with a few warning signs not to eat anything during the guided tour and to wash your hands upon exiting. Sage advice.

The Paris sewer system, as it turns out, is enormous. There are 1,312 miles of sewer pipes below Paris, an old pneumatic tube system (for carrying top secret messages), telecommunications pipes, and about 4 million rats. I was a little disappointed not to see a rat, actually. According to our tour guide, rats are very communal creatures and each pack of rats has a leader. If "water" starts seeping into a rat pack's group, the oldest rat in the group will drink as much of the water as possible, swelling up like a tiny rat balloon, thus allowing the younger rats to all escape. Personally, I have a hard time imagining this, but that may be in part because my own childhood pet rat (RIP) only swelled up once in her lifetime, and that had more to do with babies than flooding.

The history of the sewers, including how they cleaned them (think knee high boots), was all really interesting but I have to admit that the best part of the tour was the video reenactments at the end, in the gift shop. The Paris sewer system has a 24 hour crew that drives around and rescues objects from the primary and secondary sewers. So, if you drop your car keys down the street gratings (or, in the case of one sad woman, a pack of cigarettes with a "really important phone number written on it"), you need only to call the sewer hotline number and there's a 90% chance you'll get your belongings back. Of course, only Parisians know about this, so all those poor tourists whose passports and credit cards have found their way down the drain, are just out of luck.

The cemetary, while not quite as cool as the sewers, smelled considerably better and furnished no end of comments from the various members of our group (mostly consisting of "ohhhh, he's buried here?"). We visited Balzac, Delacroix, some poor guy we thought was Charlie Chaplin, Gertrude Stein, Imre Nagy, and several important French people whom I don't remember. My personal favorites were Oscar Wilde, Guillaume Apollinaire, and Heloise and Abelard. Just before closing, we were making a run for Baron Haussmann (after a detour to visit Jim, of course) when we got caught by the security guards and were forced to leave.

On Sunday, we avoided the touristy spots and headed straight for the Champs Elysees, to set up camp for the afternoon next to the barricades. We were later joined by S&S, with delightful J and A in tow and made a day of it trading places at the barricade so that we could all watch Le Tour cruise by. The race was great and even better was the victory lap, although I was disappointed not to see ALG not pop a wheelie. Landis looked happy as he rode by, but that was before his drug test results were revealed. Despite the sour beginning and ending to this year's Le Tour, I still had loads of fun watching it. I can only hope they clean up the sport for next year's race.

M and I at the Louvre. Awwww!

J!--blind hunchback from Notre Dame or little known dance member of Dieter's Sprockets?

Lunch with the Eiffel Tower.

As though we could possibly avoid using the bathrooms while in the Paris sewers. My final opinion--great water pressure, could use some cleaning.

The Colonel gets a drink from one of the free, clean water fountains in Paris.

The "Rose Line" in St. Sulpice. The church had notices posted explaining that despite the assertions of a "recent bestselling novel," this particular meridian line has nothing whatsoever to do with pagan cults, goddess worship, or the Priory of Sion.

A bulletin board in St. Sulpice, refuting claims made in The DaVinci Code.

Some prime real estate next to Georges Perec, in the Crematorium.

Oscar Wilde's grave--although clearly beloved (hence the lipstick kisses all over the stonework), the grave also has a small sign asking visitors not to desecrate the monument. Sadly, some guests obviously cannot read. Legend has it that the angel's tender bits have been knocked off several times by angry mourners, and that the cemetary curator uses them as paperweights.

J! and cycling legend Richard Virenque (the dark-haired man in the white shirt, seen in profile).

The Champs Elysees, just before the race.

The maillot jaune!

Lap 1 (I think).

Saturday, July 15, 2006

And back to our between Beziers Mediterranee and Montelimar. Admittedly, this is our first post about an exciting and scandalous Tour de France. However, we are still here, and we were also there with K & D when the riders departed from and returned to Strasbourg during Stage 1 of the Tour. You'll see, on the left, some actual photo-journalism on Dotde, as we gave full camera capabilities to our editorial assistant Uwe, willing to risk arrest for the most exciting shots of this year's Tour.

So. Let's do make some live-updates while the peleton's letting the break-away break 20 minutes away from the pack.

Discovery's eldest Ekimov just stopped on an overpass and relieved himself on the traffic passing beneath, another notch on the surly scale that I first noticed after he snot-rocketed upon Simeoni after Armstrong's infamous chasedown in the 2004 ride. And while Lance's absence was quite predictable, Ullrich and Basso's missing goes to show that there are those still around of the character that our Patron now laughably spoke of as he said, "To all the cynics, I'm sorry for you. I'm sorry you can't believe in miracles. This is a great sporting event and hard work wins it." Vive le Tour forever." Whether those cynics are the hungry riders themselves will be ruled by committees and courts in the next few months. Our general editorial opinion states there are too many official doping and cycling bodies to rule in a justifiable, agreeable, and resolvable manner. And that it's also pretty beat that Vino can't ride.

Either way, we're being provided with one of the most exciting and unpredictable Tours in the past six years. Phonak's Floyd is hip atop our GC, and you should absolutely listen to Dave Z.'s take on Stage 9. Disco's almost out of contention, and CSC can't quite keep up the blood-oxygen levels they were able to manage in the Giro. Telekom's exceeding expectations without Captain Jan, and with 4 riders high in the GC they might have the best opportunity to confuse those defending yellow with a team attack. Tuesday brings L'Alpe D'Huez, and Wednesday may be the most difficult day in the saddle with two HC climbs. So keep your eye on yellow, and keep on clapping until you see red spots:

Here's to you, Laurent Jalabert

D, Uwe, and myself will be in Paris to celebrate yellow, and hopefully Stu O'Grady can drop back a bit more as this sprinter's, as of now, only 29 minutes in front of La Lantern Rouge.

As for today, Oscar Pereiro, Sylvain Chavanel, Andriy Grivko, Jens Voigt, and Manuel Quinziato are 25 minutes in front, and Phonak's just about to quicken the pace. So enough of this stuff for now, and we'll be sure to sign on in the Alps. Otherwise, we're divided here at HQ on whether or not the break will be swallowed. We're approaching two category 4 climbs. D takes Voigt or Quinziato. I think we'll get a challenge to Phonak, thus sparking the pack.

A lazy day in Mombach, between Beziers Mediterranee and Montelimar, gives us time to address recent and ongoing events in Germany and abroad. First and namely, the Klamkas made quite an entry into D-land and were forced to evacuate sooner than planned, nonetheless providing a great experience for D and I, and hopefully themselves. Highlights include the Rheinfels Castle in St. Goar (which tops Heidelberg on any given day, potential tourists). Allowed to wander in and out of rooms with no supervision whatsoever, there's an air of adventure about the place. A hat trick of M entering and emerging from various passageways gives you a whiff of what may be in store, if you choose to visit:

And part of the castle, itself:

Group Picture, after a team-time trial climb against the train schedule (note A sitting out this year's Tour de France after a crash with a bus in the Rund den Mombacher Steig):
Navigational dials for the next family trip may be pointed towards Alaska, though the state may lack the scaffolding to maintain the interest of these keen tourists. The general lack, however, of American public transporation may provide for a safer journey.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Ahhh, the World Cup. If you are checking dotde for the final results of that wee tournament, we feel obliged to inform you that your ignorance forces us to ask the following question: Where on earth do you live?? In recognition that the answer is fairly obvious (let's face it--the U. S. of A.), the following is for those viewers who were originally excited about the WM but lost interest after the US managed to score only a single goal in three games (not counting the one that Italy defender Cristian Zaccardo knocked into his own goal on our behalf).

Reasons Why I Loved the Weltmeisterschaft This Year, And Germany's Team In Particular:

6. Beer Gardens and Enormous TVs. Germany was more than prepared for the entire world to descend for three weeks and, even better, the country knew that about half of the world would consist of college students on tight budgets (recent delightful visitors to dotde Keith and Derek--we're looking at you). Hence, the enormous tv screens erected all over every town in Germany where anyone could watch the game for free. And you could bring your own beer. What could be better, you ask? Putting one of those screens in the Main river, of course. Too bad for fans that some river cruise captain got a little rudder happy and clipped the giant screen just days before the final match. It isn't for nothing, however, that Germans are the best engineers in the world--the screen was repaired and working again by the time Brazil lost to Portugal.

5. Jens Lehmann vs. Oliver Kahn. Oliver Kahn is no saint--he scandalized Germany when he left his wife Simone during her eighth month of pregnancy with their second son. But, the man is classy enough on the pitch. Despite being replaced in April by an introverted Jens Lehmann, Kahn spent the WM on the bench, congratulating just about everyone (including Lehmann, after the shoot-out against Argentina) and grinning for the fans. For his final game, Kahn took over as keeper for the match against Portugal and as captain he steered the team to a 3-1 victory.

4. Philipp Lahm. Really, who couldn't say lovely things about Philipp Lahm? Lahm initially stood out, for me at least, because even in the baking hot sun, the man still played for 90 minutes in long sleeved shirts. I couldn't figure it out--superstitious? Modesty? Fear of skin cancer? It all became clear during the quarter finals, though--the defender played the entire WM with a injured elbow and had to tape his arm for most of the games. Lahm was easily one of the most fun players to watch on any of the teams; he has a special knack for running up the field, crossing into the middle and scoring--a bit uncommon for defenders.

3. Patriotism. Germany has an odd relationship with patriotism. Up until a month ago, visible patriotism was linked to the far right--it was avoided, shunned and looked down on. National flags were scarce and demonstrations of love for one's country were even more rare. You would've been hard pressed to know it, though, during WM. Flags adorned just about everything--not such an oddity for most Americans, and yet absolutely startling for the average German.

2. Juergen Klinsmann. The German blondie caught criticism early on after he took over as coach for the German National Team. After all, the man left his homeland to live in Southern California! He had an 11 hour commute to work!! To add insult to injury, he insisted on putting a whole group of young cubs on the roster and then, throwing salt in the wound, he famously declared that legendary Oliver Kahn--Germany's beloved keeper--would be replaced by testy Jens Lehmann. Despite all of this, however, Klinsmann was far and away my favorite coach. The man has a way of making you forget that he was leading the charge for Germany's economic recovery and rehabilitation within the international community. How did he manage this feat? Primarily by being happy. After every goal scored by his boys, the man didn't simply clap or smile for the cameras. Instead, he would hold is own personal, utterly unconstrained celebration and then grab the person nearest to him and give the guy a bear hug. Poor assistant coach Joachim Loew probably ended the WM with about three cracked ribs.

1. The Fans. Perhaps my favorite moment of the Weltmeisterschaft 2006 came during the last game. At center-field, somewhere up in the stands, a group of fans had brought with them an enormous sign that was repeatedly visible in the video feed. It read:
"Thank you for being our guests."