French X-Plane Conference (June 2009)
OK so a bunch of guys in France decided to have an X-Plane conference in a remote area outside of Paris. Maybe 10 hours after arriving at Columbia Metro airport in South Carolina, I stepped off the plane into Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris. The plan was for me to get a taxi to the hotel to get caught up on sleep a bit before beginning the adventure… that did not work out so well, though! As I stepped off the airport->downtown train, it was maybe 7 am or so. Now here is something you should know about Paris: At 7 am, EVERYONE is sleeping! The city is filled with cozy late-sleepers, gently melting away their hangover from all the red wine the previous night! So, here I am stepping out of the train station onto a street in downtown Paris with a suitcase in each hand… and NOT A SINGLE PERSON OR CAR IN SIGHT! I am used to train stations in Europe being bustling bee-hives of activity: A crowded, steady stream of tourists, buses, taxis, mopeders (oh, the hordes of mopeders!!!) and bicyclists milling all around the train-station like bees, so I EXPECTED to see such a sight when stepping out of the train station… but I was greeted only by the silence of a city-full of people asleep in bed, recovering from the festivities of the night before. Almost like a zombie-movie where a virus has infected the population and left the city deserted, the wonderful late-night dinners with copious wine and cheese until the wee hours of the morning leave Paris a deserted city at 7 in the morning!
Oh well… I pulled out my trusty iPhone and dialed the hotel into the GPS… about 10 blocks from my current location! A good solid walk with a heavy suitcase and a laptop, but nothing impossible. With nothing but the silence of the sleeping city, the hung-over denizens all tucked into bed, and myself with a good solid 6-hour jetlag and almost no sleep myself from the trip, I started on my way down the really amazingly beautiful streets of Paris. The streets are maybe 100 years old? 200? 300? The buildings a few hundred years old? The beautiful old trees and vines and flowers growing everywhere, shading the old coblestone streets and sidewalks that have moved so many thousands or millions of people over so many hundreds of years. Wonderful cafes dotted the streets and I finally decided to drop into the one single one that was open (a 24-7 cafe… the ONLY way to be open in Paris at 7 am is to be a 24-7 cafe). They really did not serve BREAKFAST, but I had some sort of chocolate-croisant-type-thingy with milk. There was only one other person in the restaurant: A pale white ‘artiste’ dressed all in black and smoking a cigarette. He had a dog named Ziggy. When I tried out my french by ordering from the lone waiter a bit too loudly, he annoyingly said “SH-SH-SH-SH!!!” to me.. Doubtless his hangover did not go well with the loud American butchering the French language at 7 am!!!
After an adequate approximation of breakfast, it was back to hoofing it to the hotel and starting to meet up with the various members of the X-Team. In this case, Robin Peel (airport database-management) and Ben Supnik (scenery design and coding). A few cool iced teas and croissants later, and moving to 10 am, we, and the city, were beginning to feel a bit more normal. We took this chance to wander around the wonderful Champs Elysses area. The people were beginning to come out to enjoy the wonderful day, and a few folks were getting ready to take off in their little mini-cars on a driving tour of Paris. I love so much of France, but I cannot say that the CARS are quite my cup of tea. Looking at French food vs. American food, and French cars vs. American cars, says quite a bit about differing cultural priorities.
After a nice walking-tour of the area, it was time to load ’em up and head out to the French countryside in a rented BMW for the conference. We wound up in a tiny little village of maybe a few dozen buildings surrounded by farming fields! They had maybe 2 tiny little hotels in the village, and maybe 50 to 75 people at the conference, so even for our little band of people, we had to spread out into at least 2 neighboring villages, loading the tiny little old hotels in each of them! The hotels were magnificently French, of course: Authentic, old, and loaded with character, and wonderful breakfast (at maybe 9? 😉 ) lovingly prepared by the staff each day, who could not speak English! (Who cares? Taking French in high-school was about the best thing I was ever forced to do!) The rooms were sort of small, very simple and natural, and the towels in the bathroom tiny and rough and ragged, as they ALWAYS are in France, for some reason. I think that perhaps the French believe the small, damp, scratchy towels are good for the skin, giving some nice exfoliation in the morning, or something. Have I mentioned how much I HATE the CRAP American Holiday Inns, with the huge, ugly, tacky, cheap plastic rooms that stink to high heaven because they won’t even let you open the freaking WINDOW because THEY ARE AFRAID YOU WILL JUMP OUT? Anyway, if I have not said it lately, I will say it now: I HATE the CRAP American Holiday Inns, with the huge, ugly, tacky, cheap plastic rooms that stink to high heaven because they won’t even let you open the freaking WINDOW because THEY ARE AFRAID YOU WILL JUMP OUT. They close their tacky ugly bars with obnoxious loud music blaring over the nasty sticky bar-counters and ugly plastic tables at like 11 pm or something crazy-stupid like that since the OLD people have tottered off to bed, and their Continental breakfast the next day is pure trash… those cheap ugly little plastic containers of half a micro-gram of fake processed excuse-for-jelly and a wet, cold, limp excuse for an English muffin.. what a bunch of CRAP! In FRANCE, we have some wonderful, old historic and character-filled restaurant or nook or cranny in the hotel with red wine and cheese served until 1 am? 2 am? How late can you stay up, drinking and talking, in some place that has hosted exactly the same thing for 100… or 200 years? 100 years ago, people were sitting in that very room, drinking red wine until the early hours of the morning, discussing …. what? When you could drag yourself out of bed the next morning, the breakfast was lovingly prepared by the family running the hotel (which had been running the hotel for their whole life?) with amazing local foods and preparation that get you off to the most charming and fulfilling start to see the coming day.
After a great, slow, quiet breakfast it was off the Conference… Me and Ben and Robin loaded into the BMW for the 10-minute drive to the little community center where the conference-goers had assembled to do all things X-Plane! Computers lined the walls, music abounded, and X-Plane was everywhere. We had catered lunches that, quite simply, were better than anything we see in the good old USA. It was really hard to limit myself to only as much food as I needed! Various folks gave talks on the add-ons and stuff they were making for X-Plane, and I gave a few little talks on things I have planned for X-Plane 10. (mostly in English, aussi avec un peux en Francais). People would come to me though the afternoon showing me odd little bugs in X-Plane here and there, and I would fix them on-the-spot. (I had my Mac Powerbook with me, with X-Plane source code). Eventually time for dinner, and the red wine flowed freely well into the night, with great dinner and great conversation. Really very, very nice.
And here is the group! (I am aft-right)