What is it like to live in Russia?

Lately, compliments of our commander-in-chief, Russia has been mentioned almost daily in the evening news. So what is it really like to live in Moscow or St Petersburg?
To get a better idea, I have turned to YouTube and I have screened a large quantity of Russian series and movies. I realize that they are only movies, but they often closely mirror reality.

Russian matryoshki

Russian productions can basically be divided in 2 distinct categories: films made during the communist era and those produced in the post-communist period. During the Communist era, the country produced an abundance of war movies featuring the undeniable prowess of the Red Army during the Great Patriotic War.
When the country transitioned from socialism to capitalism, the emphasis shifted from patriotism to the pursuit of happiness wealth. Love took second place.

The first time you watch a modern Russian movie, if you didn’t hear the soundtrack, you could easily believe that the protagonists live in an affluent European or even American environment. Everybody (especially the women) is well dressed, live in nice quarters and drive fancy cars. All the women are unabashedly flirty and looking for a “good man” (unmarried and wealthy… married will also do). Look is not too important. A man driving a fancy foreign car looks good in any environment.

Status and wealth are extremely important and one needs to be “well connected” to be respected. Elbowing with oligarchs is a must.
What is also very apparent in Russian movies is the almost daily practice of vzyatka (bribe, payola). If you want anything done, you need to grease somebody’s palm. It can be anything, money, vodka, but something has got to switch hands for things to happen.

In Russian movies men also seem to consume a considerable amount of vodka and they usually drink it in one gulp, or as the French would say “cul-sec » (bottoms up). They also all seem to have maids, “chauffeurs” and bodyguards. Ironically, 100 years after the Bolshevik Revolution, due to the income gap, modern Russia bears many similarities with tsarist Russia.

It seems that life can be very good in the Russian Federation. All it takes is a few lousy billions. But for the millions of “budgetniki” does not look so hot.


For interesting insights about Russia, follow Alexey Mikheev at


Literate in computer language ?

In the Middle Ages very few individuals were literate.  Reading or writing was the uncontested prerogative of the nobility and the Church, and their common bond was Latin.

The masses of yesteryear saw very little usefulness in written materials and were purposely kept in the dark by the ruling classes.
Nothing much has changed since that period. Today, a few men and women are computer language literate while most are not. And as in the old days the uneducated are easy preys for swindlers.

Xerox 820 My first personal computer. 64K RAM, external floppy drive, CP/M 2.2

Computer driven devices are now ruling the world. With proficiency in programing a hacker in Uzbekistan can penetrate any network in the world and wreck havoc with its infrastructure. He also can ransom individuals and businesses and do all of this while sipping a cup of tea in his yurt.

As yesterday the world belongs to a new priesthood, the computer literate minority that speaks the coded language of secret societies. Today it is not good enough to be able to read and write. You must also speak a foreign language and be able to understand computer syntax. When seeking gainful employment you will most likely be asked, “Do you speak Sequel (SQL) or JAVA?” And your answer better be yes.

A few decades ago people were politely asked to sign a document; today they are directed to click on a link, but few people understand the hidden dangers that lurk under that innocent looking line.
Even if you have bucolic aspirations, beware of phishing and pharming. Contrarily to what you might think, these two innocent sounding activities will harm you. Think twice before you commit. The key to safety is to pay close attention to the URL you are about to click on for it could be booby-trapped.
If in doubt, abstain… or ask your junior high school children to check it.

Coding is the new Latin of the elites and it would not hurt you to become familiar with the rituals of their mass.


July 9th select mixed triples

I happened to socialize in the East Bay last Saturday where the temperature soared well above 100 degrees. Anticipating similar weather next day in San Rafael, I dreaded the idea of playing pétanque mixed triples in such conditions. But lo and behold, the climate turned out to be almost perfect although a little chilly in the morning. Later on a slight breeze kept things cool and it was a pleasure to meet and play with friends from all over the Bay Area.

The contestants for the July 9th mixed triples meet were as follows:

  1. Mark Shirkey/ Sandra Shirkey/Evan Falcone
  2. Henry Wessel/Calvert Barron/Marc Di Maio
  3. François Moser/Alain Efron/Claudie Chourré
  4. Liza Moran/Jacques Rattaire/Bernard Rattaire
  5. Marc Davantes/Lori Davantes/Mike?
  6. Charlie Davantes/Brigitte Davantes/Noel Marcovecchio
  7. David Lindsay/Doug Coleville/Julie?
  8. J-C Bunand/J-M Poulnot/Mireille Di Maio
  9. Teri Sirico/David Katz/Jim Donahue
  10. Peter Mathis/Holly Sammons/Hans Kurz

Holly Sammons, Hans Kurz, Peter Mathis

Early that day, coffee and various pastries were offered to the participants.

As usual, 3 timed games were played in the morning to determine who would compete in the Concours and who would play in the Consolante. My partners (François Moser & Claudie Chourré) and I were very unlucky (or more likely played poorly) and were swiftly expedited to the Consolante division. Ultimately six teams qualified for the Concours and four teams for the Consolante.

In the afternoon elimination games took place and a trend developed. The Sonoma team (Peter Mathis/Holly Sammons/Hans Kurz) and one the San Rafael team (Henry Wessel/Calvert Barron/Marc Di Maio) clawed their way to the top and appeared ready to face each other in the finals.

One of the cardinal rules of pétanque by the way, is to never upset or argue with your teammates during a game. If one player fails to deliver, it is better to keep quiet and not further perturb that person. Failing to do so can lead to violent outbursts and that’s what unfortunately happened Sunday during a game.
Understandably, everybody wants to win, but invariably it always the coolest team that will prevail. It would be wise to always remember that “a closed mouth gathers no foot.

My mixed triples team and I had the pleasure to play against the Rattaire brothers (true gentlemen who don’t quibble about a point) and utterly charming Liza Moran and even though they beat us, I would never hesitate to play with these delightful people again.

In the Concours finals, Peter Mathis/Holly Sammons/Hans Kurz predictably faced Henry Wessel/Calvert Barron/Marc Di Maio. It was an uneven game mostly because the LPM team failed to emerge from a deep slump. Their pointing was erratic and the shooting uneven.

As usual, Holly Sammons’ steady pointing was a big factor in the Sonoma’s team victory. Peter did not fail to amaze us with one of his stunning signature shot, and ably assisted by Hans Kurz, they dominated the game. They won the match by a final score of 13/5.

Former club president Louis Toulon offered the club a bottle of Pastis that was shared by everybody at the end of the tournament. Un grand merci Louis. Thank you as usual to Liv Kraft and Christine Cragg who organized the tournament and kept scores.

1st place: Peter Mathis/Holly Sammons/Hans Kurz
2nd place: Henry Wessel/Calvert Barron/Marc Di Maio
3rd place: David Lindsay/Doug Coleville/Julie?

1st place: David Lindsay/Doug Coleville/Julie?
2nd place: Francois Moser/Alain Efron/Claudie Chourré

And that’s the way I saw it.


To look at photos of this event, click on the “My Photos” link located on the right side of this page. For best viewing, go Full Screen.

Don’t take me to a parade

Yesterday was the Fourth of July and there were parades all over my neighborhood. As a matter of fact, one of these celebrations prevented me from lunching at one of my preferred watering holes.

Boobs on bikes parade, Christchurch, New Zealand. Photo by Gabriel Pollard

On my way to the restaurant I came across two consecutive police blockades and had to cancel my midday gastronomical project; one more reason to add to my long list of grievances against parades.

The above does not sound patriotic but I always thought that patriotic was a loaded word. “My country right or wrong” is not my cup of tea. I prefer by far “if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.” Carl Schurz.

I never understood in the first place why anybody would want to be part of a parade. Isn’t it anything but a pathetic attention-seeking plea? Look at me, look at me dammit… Nobody pays attention to me… I am starved for compliments…

One of the few parades that I at least understand is a smart military parade. It could have two purposes; the first one would be to honor and thank the soldiers who fought in forgotten wars. The second would be a big display of military hardware to deter aggression.

My aversion to parades might have its roots in ochlophobia (from the Greek “fear of crowds”).
I relish my independence too much to be sucked in any large group. Crowds are notoriously dimwitted and too easily led. A single speaker can inflame a crowd at will and order it to destruct or kill and without thinking the empty-headed herd would most probably roar its approval; an individual would not be as easily swayed.

Group conformity scares the pants off me because it’s so often a prelude to cruelty towards anyone who doesn’t want to – or can’t – join the Big Parade. Bette Midler

As far as parades are concerned, I could watch Boobs on Bike, or The Black Watch parade. It is at least exotic and entertaining.

Going to a local parade? Don’t count me in. J’ai d’autres chats à fouetter! (I have other cats to whip).


The Holy Grail of Perfection

Let me start by saying that perfection does not exist in any form or shape. It is a myth and it is absurd to look for it. Period.

By Vang of the Fresno Petanque Club – Photo by Alain Efron

“Near perfection” can be found, but it has a short lifespan. Unbeknownst to you it has an expiration date stamped under its hood.
What was perfect yesterday will be laughable 2 years later. Perfection, like knowledge has no boundaries.

For almost 75 years, the English longbow reigned supreme. It was the perfect killing machine equally feared by everybody. And then appeared the musket, then the canon…
For another long period, the horse was the perfect mode of transportation.Then the bicycle and this silly contraption called automobile materialized…

Nothing is ever final. Even death, the ultimate frontier, is now questioned. Some people have put their trust in Cryonics, the practice of deep-freezing the bodies of people who just died, in order to revive them in the future.
Impossible? I would not bet the house on it.

Is a man or woman ever perfect? Hardly.
Perfection you must know is not impervious to time. Your perfect fiancée might well become a defective wife. And your near-perfect man is susceptible to rust. After a few years he will need a new paint job and be retrofitted with new hardware and software.

A perfectionist (i.e. Steve Jobs) is hard to live with. He might produce some innovations but who wants to live in permanence in a pressure cooker?

Actually, I can’t imagine anything more tedious than a perfect person, especially if it was someone who also demanded perfection from me. Hugh Mackay

To live happily, shy away from Goddess Perfection. She is too demanding and will turn you in a very short time into a pitiful version of your old happy go lucky self.

Settle for “damn good” and you will live happily ever after.


Strive for continuous improvement, instead of perfection. Kim Collins

The White House petulant brat

The world used to be in awe of the White House. Not anymore.

Photographer: David Everett Strickler

Due to the childish outbursts of the current occupant, the White House appears to be greatly in need of a regent (a person appointed to administer a country because the monarch is a minor or incapacitated) or a Mentor.

When attaining the highest office in the land, a man ought to cast his personal demons aside and try his best to represent his country with gravitas. He should look and sound dignified, and be worthy of the nation’s confidence.
Such is not presently the case.

« Chassez le naturel, il revient au galop. » You cannot stop your true colors from shining through.

The present tenant of the White House is flighty, thin-skinned and vain, eerily taking after the crowned heads of yesteryear. The monarchs of the past were egomaniacs, surrounded by submissive minions eager to preserve their exalted positions. In today’s White House (like in the Kremlin) old servile practices have been restored.
Praise, but not a dissonant peep can be heard from the Casa Blanca.

A responsible president traditionally communicates with the country through regular press conferences. The press should never be considered an enemy, but a dependable channel to keep the nation informed. Bypassing the “fake news” press with impulsive digital tweets is childish and irresponsible.
It is absolutely impossible to articulate any presidential position through 140 characters or less. More importantly, it is beneath a president’s position to personally attack or ridicule people who disagree with him.

The president as a national standard bearer ought to inspire respect and not lend himself to ridicule in the (home and foreign) press and late night shows.

The commander-in-chief has frequently mentioned an 8-year reign.
He will be extremely lucky to crash-land without serious injuries at the end of a single term.


The latent perversity of torn jeans


It is not uncommon today to see affluent young women strutting in torn jeans.
Some young men are emulating that trend (or is it vice-versa?) but one knows anyway that young males are inherent slobs.

Personally, I find this practice difficult to understand. It seems rather odd, even masochistic to derive pleasure from looking like in need of public assistance.

While millions of people are struggling to make ends meet and dress in a civil manner, a few fortunate individuals seem to take a perverse pleasure in aping destitute folks.
Why in hell would well-to-do people dress in rags? What is the subliminal message? Is it a misguided way to seek attention? Is it a cry for help? I wonder.

This odd behavior reminds me of an old episode of the Three Stooges.
Curly bangs his head against the wall and screams in pain.
Moe asks him why he is doing that.
Curly says: Because it feels so good when I stop.

So it looks like that these people do this as some kind of therapy to feel better after leaving their rags in the closet and putting on the Ritz… Peculiar therapy…

It seems to me that that a lot of these young ladies women would greatly benefit from a few shrink sessions instead of misspending money on purposefully mangled items.

A pair of “designer” ripped jeans can cost up to $1,000.

I don’t want to sound to sanctimonious, but I could treat myself to at least half a dozen sessions of mud baths for that price and feel much cleaner after that than parading for an hour in hand me down tattered clothes.

The torn jeans fad, like the Lava Lamps, will soon fade away and years from now your children will burst out laughing when you show them pictures of your “hot” torn jeans.

A girl should be two things: classy and fabulous Coco Chanel

I am with you Coco!


Sonoma’s Awesome Threesome


On June 25th, the Sonoma’s Valley of the Moon Pétanque Club  hosted the FPUSA inter-regional Men’s & Women’s Triples.

I missed the morning games but showed up in time to witness and memorialize the finals.

The weather, which had been unbearably hot the previous week, cooled down significantly and while it became somewhat hot in the afternoon, it remained comfortable.

Surprisingly the attendance was rather moderate, (10 teams on the men’s side and 3 teams on the women’s side) maybe due to the Sears Point race, but the field was nevertheless packed with very good players.

Outstanding among them, the Awesome Threesome, the formidable troika of Peter Mathis, Wolfie Kurz and Mickey Coughlin, all certified shooters and pointers.

Mickey, Wolfie, Peter

To win a game, you need at least a good pointer, a good shooter and a good “middle”. This “dream team” had it all and ultimately proved that versatility is key to victory.

Also outstanding, the Fresno formations whose names unfortunately escape me.

The men’s finals opposing Peter Mathis, Wolfie Kurz and Mickey Coughlin against Christophe Sarafian, Bee Moua and Silent Mike ended up by a 13/5 victory for the Awesome Threesome.

Surprisingly, Peter Mathis played as pointer and did an outstanding job doing so. He steadily put all his shots within a foot of the cochonnet and contributed immensely to the team’s victory.

Wolfie Kurz was the main shooter and also did an excellent job. I estimate his batting average to be between 85% and 90%.

On the opposite team, Christophe, Bee and Silent Mike also played extremely well but were eventually defeated I believe, by Peter Mathis consistent impressive pointing.

The Men’s finals took place on probably the most difficult spot of the field. Every pointing shot was demanding due to the pebbly nature of the terrain.
I believe that the Awesome Threesome benefitted from the familiarity of the terrain, but would have won anyway on any other venue.

Final results:


1st place: Peter Mathis, Wolfie Kurz and Mickey Coughlin   $60.00 each
2nd place: Christophe Sarafian, Bee Moua and Silent Mike           $45.00 each


 1st place: Patrick Vaslet, Jacques Mathieu, Cody      $30.00 each
2nd place: David Katz, Adair Hastings, Cliff Knuckles?         $20.00 each


To look at pictures of this event, click on the “My Photos” link located on the right side of this page. For best viewing, go Full Screen.

The proven benefits of fermentation


A man by tumbling his thoughts, and forming them into expressions, gives them a new fermentation, which works them into a finer body. Jeremy Collier


Drinking beer in Barcelona

I am not much of a beer “connaisseur” but I know that any brew needs fermentation to be palatable.
The same goes for ideas. They need to ferment and percolate for some time to mature.

An idea is like a rough diamond. It has to be cleaned, cut and polished to become appealing. The same goes for writing. The text needs to be thoroughly scrutinized before being released for consumption.

The brain is an exquisite piece of machinery that runs silently 24 hours a day. Even while asleep your brain processes and reprocesses many of the thoughts that you had the previous day. Because of this non-stop activity you often wake up in the middle of the night with answers to your concerns.

When it comes to writing, nobody is harder on himself than a blogger. He/she tries his best but the results vary. An essay is like a cake; sometimes it turns out beautifully and sometimes it is a disappointment… mainly because it was not kneaded enough or fermented long enough.

When writing, being bilingual or trilingual is a big advantage. When you cannot find the right word in English, you search for it in your mother tongue or if you are fortunate enough in a third dialect and you are very likely to find the correct word.

But you also have to be attentive because similar spelling or sounding words can have a different meaning in a different language.

When I first came to the US, my eyes caught a newspaper headline: “Cons escape!”
I found this a little puzzling. In French, a con is a stupid person, a jerk.
So jerks escaped? Big deal! Cons are all around us.

Few writers can produce a whole document in a single draft. Presidential speeches for instance need to ferment and are constantly massaged to sound right.
Speaking from the cuff or impulsive digital graffiti is a bad idea! In cyberspace whatever you say can be retrieved and used against you.

It is much better to sleep on a first draft and let it froth for a while. You can tackle it again the next day and see your flubs more clearly… then you hopefully can correct them.

Fermentation is akin to preparation and,

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” Benjamin Franklin


A day without laughter is a day wasted

A day without laughter is a day wasted
. Charlie Chaplin


Laughter is an instant vacationIn our troubled times, we need to decompress regularly. So here are three (old) short stories kept cool for you in my joke freezer to make you laugh:

A man comes home and tells his wife that he will take a shower and leave immediately for a last minute business dinner. His wife is a little skeptical and decides to go through his pockets while he is under the shower. She discovers a little note saying:
My love, I am awaiting your arrival. I will cook you a duck in sauce, the dish that you are so crazy about.
The spouse does not lose heart and decides to up her game: she puts on a sexy negligee, enticing makeup and spellbinding perfume. The husband astounded, throws himself immediately on his wife and makes love to her with a long forgotten passion, and renews his feat twice.

But he suddenly remembers his lie and feels that he has to go to his so-called business meeting in order to avoid arousing his spouse’s suspicions. He arrives at his mistress and tells her right away that he is exhausted from working all day and that he is just going to eat and leave early.
After dinner, he falls asleep and the offended young woman goes through his pockets. She discovers her own note on which the spouse had added: I send you the duck, but I am afraid that there is no sauce left….


Attorney: Doctor, before you performed the autopsy, did you check for a
Witness: No.
Attorney: Did you check for blood pressure?
Witness: No.
Attorney: Did you check for breathing?
Witness: No.
Attorney: So, then it is possible that the patient was alive when you began
the autopsy?
Witness: No.
Attorney: How can you be so sure, Doctor?
Witness: Because his brain was sitting on my desk in a jar.
Attorney: I see, but could the patient have still been alive, nevertheless?
Witness: Yes, it is possible that he could have been alive and practicing


A guy is reading his paper when his wife walks up behind him and smacks him on the back of the head with a frying pan.
He asks, “What was that for?”
She says, “I found a piece of paper in your pocket with ‘Betty Sue’ written on it.”
He says, “Jeez, honey, remember last week when I went to the track?’ Betty Sue was the name of the horse I went there to bet on.” She shrugs and walks away. Three days later he’s reading his paper when she walks up behind him and smacks him on the back of the head again with the frying pan.
He asks, “What was that for?”
She answers, “Your horse called.”

Feel free to thank me: your day has not been wasted.