Spaf's Journal: Mosquitoes in France

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My Journal, June 14-26, 1997
-or -
(For Monty Python Fans) My Expedition Among the Giant Pygmies of Beckles

Prologue

I have known my friend Gary for several years. At the time this all happened, he was working in information security at Los Alamos labs. He was the person who oversaw the design and implementation of their multilevel secure network. He's done a number of other interesting things, including work with Linus Pauling, and serve as a university professor. He also has a good sense of humor.

Back in mid-1996, Gary contacted me with an offer. How would I like to put a 2-week security course together with him, to be offered in France in June 1997? The class would be taught at a converted chateau in the Loire region outside of Paris. I would be the chief instructor and Gary would be the secondary instructor. We would only need to teach a few hours a day. They would pay us for it, plus pay for air travel, and provide lodging for us and our families. Sounded great!

However, as time went on, many things didn't quite work out. I found that one of my IDA DSSG sessions (described later herein) would overlap the trip. Because of this and some other things, Kathy & Elizabeth couldn't go with me. Other annoyances large and small seemed to appear.

Finally, the fateful day occurred. I was keeping an electronic journal of my trip (as I usually do on long trips) and began mailing parts of it back to family & coworkers as the experiences became more surreal. What follows is a merged and edited version of those daily mailings.

Day 1: Saturday the 14th.

The trip began uneventfully, and I flew from Indy to Chicago without incident. However, in Chicago we sat in the plane at the gate for 2 hours past the scheduled takeoff. Eventual reason: several people had not boarded the plane, but had checked luggage. Those items had to be found and removed.

I was working on some of my slides for the class here (in France). Dinner on the flight came, so I closed the Mac and stuffed it into the seat pocket. 90 minutes later, dinner was cleared and I opened the Mac. Because of some software error, it had not automatically "slept" when I closed it. The result: the battery was so low that I had only 30 seconds before it powered off. Result: 2 hours of work stored on the RAM disk gone. I decided to watch the movie: My Fellow Americans -- it was very funny. Then I tried to nap, but a 7-year old in the row behind me was doing leg exercises with the back of my seat approximately every 5 minutes...for the next 3 hours. His parent not only did not speak English, but appeared to be in a coma for the last 5 hours. Exhausted from dealing with a hyperactive child, no doubt.

The rest of the flight to London was okay, but we arrived late, with only 35 minutes to transfer terminals and board my connecting flight. I made it with 2 minutes to spare. This flight was also then delayed on the ground.

I arrived in Paris 1 hour late. My luggage did not arrive at all. Neither did luggage for over 30 other people. We all spent another 45 minutes in line for the one person at the baggage claim window.

Bad sign: "Is this the address where you will be in France? How long will you be there?"

"12 days"

"And then where?"

"Surely you will find my bag before then!"

"Sometimes we do, and sometimes it takes longer....."

Also, because of all the delays, my allergy medicine had worn off, and all extras were in my luggage -- wherever it was. So, during the landing at Orly Sud, both ears filled up and would not clear. I arrived largely deaf, as well as tired and mildly grumpy.

Left customs only to find that Gary (my co-instructor and arranged ride from the airport) was not there. I discovered later that because of the delay, he had to leave to move the car as he had parked in a 2-hour limit area. Naturally, it had taken me 1 hour and 55 minutes from his arrival to leave the customs area. When he eventually returned, he and I spent an hour looking for each other in the airport without finding each other. Sigh. How is it I am always bumping into people I don't want to see at remote locations, but can't find someone looking for me in a medium-size airport? Must have something to do with Murphy (in France, Murphé).

Travel to the chateau was uneventful. The housekeeper let us in. We were the first of the group to arrive. The housekeeper, Madam Dumas, spoke no English. Our French is barely functional. Nonetheless, we speak loudly and slowly for no good reason, and pantomime necessary facts. We thus get our keys for our rooms, where we retire temporarily: Gary to unpack, and me to collapse and daydream about clean clothes. Then we went out to explore some of the grounds and the chateau. It is a very nice place. Huge.

We returned to our rooms and we tried to call the baggage service at the airport. We could only get an answering machine for 4 hours. Encouraging.

At this point, I am 30 hours without sleep.

The workshop organizer, Claude, arrives. He is an old friend of Gary's and speaks very good English. He tasks the housekeeper with calling the airport every 20 minutes to try to find out about my bags. He also contacts a local pharmacy where they offer to provide me several days of replacement of my medicine, so if my bag remains in limbo.....

We depart for a nearby town, Dourdon, (this chateau is in the middle of nowhere) for an 8pm dinner reservation, and to visit the pharmacy. We promptly got lost. We eventually found the pharmacy...at 9pm. I got my medicine, and we decided to head for dinner. We asked for directions to the restaurant, as Claude lives in Paris and does not know the area. We promptly got lost again. We arrived at the restaurant at 9:45. They still seated us (thankfully).

Dinner was magnificent. If only I could have heard the conversation and not sneezed all the way through it.... Sigh. Dinner was pigeon roasted with apricots and wild asparagus. Dessert was an apricot tart. We finished at 11pm local time. I had now been up 36 straight hours.

We returned to the chateau. No bag. I borrowed a clean shirt from Claude so when I started class in the morning, I could at least look partially presentable.

I slept well except for the French mosquitoes -- they kept buzzing with an accent. (Chateaus weren't built with window screens!) This caused me to awaken every hour or so.

Day 2, Monday.

The day started off mixed -- it was clear I had another one of my ear infections caused by the backup in my ears from the landing; I still couldn't hear out of one ear. Luckily, I brought "just in case" antibiotics in my bag...which was delivered during breakfast! Yea! I quickly changed clothes, popped lots of pills, and went to class.

The class went well, except by the end of lecture hour 4, I had lost my voice. I had been speaking a bit more slowly to give the students time to adjust to my "accent" -- most of them do not practice their English extensively, so this was listening to a lecture in a foreign language.

I checked my mail via the local Ethernet connection. It worked fine to my Mac...except there were 280 messages waiting from only 3 days away. It took 30 minutes to download (over a slow 28Kb link). 234 of the messages were from my workstation security software complaining about connections to the tftp port. A certain grad student was attempting to install a new machine in the lab that was repeatedly broadcasting boot requests, and dorsai (my workstation) responded to each and every one as a break-in attempt, logging as it went.

Day 3 in France.

I stayed up late the night before putting together the slides for today's lectures. I awoke at 6:30. This was exactly like being at home: I was at a keyboard until after midnight, and suffered sleep deprivation! I slept through the night, however -- I had gotten used to the mosquitoes' accent.

Breakfast was buffet style again. The French seem to eat cheese at every meal. The thought of Brie with corn flakes did not fill me with awe, although I do wonder at the digestion of the French people. Assuming that cheese affects them like many other people, the need for wine at every meal may be to dull the effects of chronic constipation. Still, the group there was a cheery lot. They were laughing and telling stories at breakfast. I understood about every 8th word, as it was all in French. Unfortunately, those were not the funny words, so I had to improvise the plot. I assumed they were laughing at me for not having cheese with my OJ and coffee.

The class was mostly uneventful. I spoke for 4 hours, 2 in the morning and 2 in the afternoon. Luckily, I had a break in between where I had lunch and then took a short nap. It was perhaps the effect of the wine at lunch, but I had strange dreams. In one, I was being asked some question by a beautiful French woman, but I could not understand what she wanted. I awoke with a start to realize I had overslept and not set an alarm, and someone was knocking at my door, asking something in French. I opened it, still somewhat groggy, to find (what I assume was) the cleaning woman standing there with rubber gloves that went past her elbows, a mask, and a bucket full of brushes. I do not know exactly what she asked -- I made out "do you want me to..." (in French) and several words I did not recognize, followed by "salle de bain" (bathroom). I think she was asking if I wanted the room cleaned, but I could not be sure. I said "Non, merci" and shut the door. Had I said "oui", it might have turned out that she was really there to initiate me into some odd French club I would rather not think about -- those gloves were scary. I resisted asking anyone else if they saw her, for fear that everyone would deny it. And then laugh about it over breakfast the next morning.

I dashed down to the classroom, arriving 5 minutes late for my second set of lectures. It had started raining, so I also got wet on the way to the classroom. The afternoon lectures went well, despite the fact that while trying to illustrate a point about simple cryptography, I failed three times in a row to write the alphabet on the board. I missed a letter each time. Claude, the person running the class, left the room at this point and returned with a glass full of coffee. Everyone thought this was funny. I did too. It helped. I got the alphabet on the 4th try.

My lecture ended almost exactly when my voice gave out (my ear was returning to normal, but I still had a sore throat). Gary did his lecture, and we went to dinner. More wine. More cheese. And chocolate....which I spilled on my white pants. When I return home, I think I will replace my wardrobe with vinyl and then Scotchguard it. Some people collect postcards or pictures as souvenirs of places visited; I collect food stains.

I went into the bathroom to try to wipe some of the chocolate off before it set. I miscalculated the amount of water in the towel. The result? A large wet spot on the front of my pants that showed up all too prominently. I debated whether it would be more embarrassing to loiter in the men's room, trying to look nonchalant, or to try to pass through the dining area and head up the stairs to my room, acting as if nothing had happened. While trying to decide, the majority of people finished dinner and decided to go outside for a walk, or to the classroom to see a video demonstration. I took the opportunity to quickly head to my room, raising only a few sets of eyebrows on the way. Tomorrow at breakfast I will ask what the French words are for "prostate problems."

It was now 11pm. My pants were dry, and I had finished reading all my e-mail. I now needed to prepare my slides for tomorrow's lecture. Sigh. I was the only person in the terminal room. I was not alone, however. There were mosquitoes to keep me company, and a very confused honeybee. Why this bee was awake this late at night, I do not know. Perhaps she had too much French coffee (which is much, much stronger than US coffee). I know I had.

Well, here I am in the terminal room, typing this as an excuse to avoid preparing my slides for tomorrow's lecture. Only one other person is here in the room this late (11:55pm), but he seems to live here. (Note to self: ask tomorrow for the French word for "geek".)

Day 4

Today was a lovely day. I only lectured for 2.5 hours, and had some of the afternoon free. At lunch, I had several people telling me the French names of the various foods we had been having. The people I was sitting with did not know much English, and I know little French, so we exchanged vocabulary words. I then asked if anyone knew what kind of grain was growing in the nearby fields we had passed on the way in from the airport. I knew it was not wheat. Much debate ensued, including the fetching of an encyclopedia, two dictionaries, the kitchen staff, and people from other tables. The conclusion was that it was l'orge. This didn't help a great deal until more debate and research revealed l'orge to be barley. So, I naturally asked if beer was brewed locally. More debate ensued, with several people acting confused -- why would I want beer with all the wine? Eventually, I dropped the topic.

After lunch, I got talked into taking a bicycle ride into the countryside. They set me up with a bike and we adjusted the seat and handlebars as much as possible. The frame was a bit too high for me, so I tried to explain to my companions not to go anywhere that might result in a quick stop with me coming off the seat -- if I landed with both feet even, they would not quite touch the ground. This, of course, would mean that I would be riding the frame (momentarily) and delivering all subsequent class lectures (if I regained consciousness) in a high soprano. Although I did not use those words, they all smiled and nodded and said it would be okay. I now suspect that they thought I was asking if it was a mountain bike and okay to take it over bumps.

So, we set out. There was a nice breeze, and the sun was out, We took the main road through town, and a side road off through the fields, then a turn, then some other turns, then suddenly we were a long way from town and the road became a dirt road. Then it became a dirt path. Then it became a muddy ditch through the field. I was fearfully trying to keep the bike moving so I would not fall in the mud, whilst also trying to avoid potholes that would lead to a sudden stop, both of the bicycle and subsequently of my interest in one-third of wine, women, and song.

We came to a dry spot in the middle of the "road," when the leader stopped, jumped off his bicycle, and ran into the field. I thought either he had lost his mind, or else had too much to drink at lunch. Instead, he grabbed a handful of plants, came rushing up to me shouting "L'orge!" The bicycle route was to give me an up-close and personal look at the barley. I tried to look thrilled -- they did mean well. I think.

So, we got back on the bikes and continued on our way back to the chateau. About this time I noticed that the front tire on my bike was partially flat. It evidently had a slow leak. Ever try peddling through a field with a flat? I definitely got some exercise. By now, the day seemed quite a bit warmer, and the chateau seemed a long way off. But, with some persistence, we finally found a good paved road through the fields on the way back.

Everything seemed fine until the fields changed on either side to some other crop --- one that evidently was spawning ground to trillions of little green mayfly-like insects that were swarming the air above the field. This was first noticed when zooming along, I took a breath with my mouth open and thought the air tasted a bit funny. I also wondered why my glasses were suddenly getting dirty. Luckily we cleared the area in about 30 seconds. Unluckily, hours later I still hadn't cleared my beard, shirt, or hair of the little devils.

I spent the remainder of the afternoon cooling off, reading, removing insect parts and even took a little nap. I felt much better when I went to dinner. Then I was again faced with a marvel of French digestion -- everyone got a huge helping of lentils with a pork chop for dinner (plus more cheese). I became quite apprehensive about entering a closed room the next day with 45 people who had eaten about 50 kilos of lentils. However, trying to look on the bright side, the experience might give me an opportunity to learn some new French words not found in the usual dictionaries for travelers.

After dinner, I did a tour of the chateau again, and this time walked through the (dry) moat. The chateau has some interesting features, not least of which are several (now closed) formerly secret tunnels that led under the wall from the chateau into town. These were used by the former resident to visit mistresses in town discretely. Darned clever, these French. I could be inspired to dig tunnels from my basement, except town is 3 miles away from my house. Curses, foiled again!

I also took the opportunity to catch up on my e-mail. That gave the mosquitoes an opportunity to visit with me further. Based on my experience with them and scratching myself, I wondered if the chateau's former resident was using the tunnels to hide from the mosquitoes, or seek out someone in town with more effective fingernails (now I understand Casey's manicure -- she lived in France for a while! [Casey is one of the students at Purdue with extraordinary fingernails.]).

With that, I went back to my room to comb more mayflies from my beard.

Day 5

I received the following email this morning, and my reply is enclosed:

At 7:30 PM -0700 6/18/97, Andra Short-Nelson wrote in "Re: Day 4 comes to a close":
> Don't fraternize with the mosquitoes

Unfortunately, the French national motto is (something like) "Libertie, Egalitie, Fraternatie". For those of you who don't speak French, this translates as "[Mosquitoes] the size of eagles are at liberty to fraternize with you." However, I have discovered that a poultice of Brie and Perrier helps stop the itch, although this provoked yet more discussion at the breakfast table. Thus, I learned some more words in French corresponding to "eccentric" and "loony."

Cheers,
--spaf

I had trouble sleeping last night, possibly the result of my force-feeding of mayflies. Anyone know if they have a high caffeine content? I kept having strange dreams. Once I thought I awoke to find the bedclothes hovering above my bed. I went back to sleep deciding either I was dreaming, the chateau is haunted, or those certainly were strong lentils for dinner. In the morning, things seemed normal again.

I awoke somewhat sleepy. It was gray and rainy outside. This matched my initial mood. Claude, the director, said he had spoken with the housekeeper. If Gary and I would put our dirty clothes on the beds before the rooms were made up, then the staff would wash them for us. This would be a big help, because otherwise we would be wandering the countryside over the weekend with bags of fetid laundry, accosting passers-by with "Pardon, ou sont les Maytags?" Although this could be very amusing, I spent enough time doing that as a grad student (but in English) that I could avoid it here. Unfortunately, as I write this journal entry, it is now midnight and the laundry has not been returned. I hope this was not some practical joke on us.

The morning lectures went well, and I almost finished on time for a change. I read some, then took a short nap. After lunch, I lectured some more, returned to my reading in my room, and fell asleep in the chair. I awoke in time to call home, spend 2 hours preparing my handouts for the next day, and I read some e-mail. The first message waiting for me was the "quote of the day":

> "That proves you are unusual," returned the Scarecrow; "and I am
> convinced the only people worthy of consideration in this world
> are the unusual ones. For the common folks are like the leaves
> of a tree, and live and die unnoticed."
>
> - L. Frank Baum, The Land of Oz

I am unsure if this is comforting or not.

Dinner was some form of ham-filled ravioli. I managed to not spill any on my new shirt, but I did tip over the bowl on the tablecloth. The reaction of the people at my table was to pour me more wine. C'est bon! I resolved not to have anything off the cheese plate at the end of the meal. So of course, dessert was cheesecake.

After dinner, several people invited Gary and me to accompany them to Chartres, which is nearby. They were going to hike around the cathedral there. They were sure the cathedral would be closed at night, but nonetheless I thought it would be nice to go see -- I love visiting old churches and castles when I am in Europe.

The trip was uneventful, although the hike up the hill to the cathedral reminded me that I am neither so young as I once was nor am I in quite the best of physical condition. Let's face it, I am becoming an old fart far more quickly than I would like.

The cathedral In Chartres is on the top of a high, steep hill in the middle of town. It is a thing of great beauty. Parts of it are over 800 years old and built in the Romanesque style, and other parts are in Gothic. It has dozens of stained-glass windows, and lots of ornate carvings inside and out.

As we walked around the church, we heard music. We found an open door. We went in. There was a free concert being given! The French Air Force Symphony Orchestra was in the nave, playing pieces from Russian composers (some of my favorites): Tchaikovsky, Borodin, Mussorgsky, Shostakovich. We entered to the beginning strains of "Pictures on Exhibition." Magnifique! We wandered about, sightseeing in the cathedral and listening to the music. Then we simply stood and listened until the accumulating effects of all the wine at dinner forced us to leave and find a building with plumbing. It was wonderful (the music, not the plumbing -- that was merely a relief). Nicole (the driver) then bought us a round of drinks in a nearby pub. I had a Belgian cherry beer, mostly for the heck of it. It was quite amusing and rather enjoyable. The whole evening almost made up for all the mosquitoes. Almost.

We got back to the chateau at midnight, only to find that I had not plugged the charger all the way in to the PowerBook, the battery had run down, and the machine had powered off. As had the RAM disk. Containing my slides for the next day. Sigh. Another late night awaited. Something had to happen to make up for the magic of the concert.

Tomorrow, everyone will leave for the weekend, including the housekeeping staff. Gary and I will have the place all to ourselves (except for various insects and birds). Tomorrow afternoon, we will embarrass ourselves by going into town and trying to buy some groceries for the weekend. I sure hope my laundry gets returned unharmed and without a ransom. So far this trip, it has done far more traveling than I have.

Day 6

I awoke Friday morning feeling pretty good. I had a good night's sleep, and was facing a free weekend. The night before, I had discovered how to foil the mosquitoes -- pull the sheet up over my head to go to sleep. Provided they feed us no more lentils, this approach may work. The mosquitoes here aren't like backwoods US mosquitoes that can bite through sheet aluminum as an appetizer. However, these French mosquitoes must be the patient kind -- they waited until some time during the night when I put my hand out. I now have a half-dozen spots on my left wrist and hand where the little devils found me.

Other than that, Friday went well. A short lecture on integrity methods, and then a morning free. My package from home arrived. I had forgotten a few items at home, including an instructional videotape and some T-shirts to wear. So, I had sent e-mail to ask Kathy to express the videotape for class, wrapped in a T-shirt. So, I was eagerly awaiting the package so that I could maybe go out to bicycle some more without fear of ruining a good shirt with more bug collisions. I also needed the shirt in the event my laundry was not returned.

Now, to appreciate the irony of the following, you need to understand the class. The group of 40 students here are mostly security administrators and managers for the French national power company and of the nuclear research agency. This is the group that not only generates the electricity, but also does research and management of France's nuclear materials -- including weapons. They have an important job, and they take it seriously. They are also a bit paranoid by profession. So, you can imagine why I won't be out bicycling with the T-shirt that Kathy had randomly selected for me -- one I had obtained as a souvenir of sorts, with the CIA seal large and in multicolor on the front. Sigh. I hope it was a random selection and not an indication that Kathy has ulterior motives that center around me not returning from France for about 20 years.

The group largely left for the weekend. Gary & I were left on our own until everyone returned Sunday night. The staff left, too. They left us keys, some kitchen items, and other things. However, we had to get our own meals out in the countryside. Luckily, before everyone left, our laundry was returned. I felt guilty about making the jokes -- they had even ironed my pajamas. Now if only they hadn't starched the underwear....

We decided to do some work, and went into the computer room. The network was supposed to be up for the weekend. We worked until 7pm, at which point the network connection to the Internet went down and would not come back up The telephone number that was left for us as the network operations center didn't work, either. Sigh. We resigned to head off to dinner.

We got in the car and drove off to Ramboullet (a town the size of West Lafayette) that was about 10 miles away. There, we chanced upon a bakery. We entered, spotted some plump, helpless croissants for Saturday's brunch, and captured them without incident. I conducted the entire transaction with the clerk in my somewhat questionable French. Surprise! We were not served inner tubes with sauce, but actually got what we wanted and left. I felt pretty good about it.

Next, we drove through the town center until we found a small bistro with a Western (US) motif on the sign, but distinctly French food. Other good signs -- they were still open, they took American Express, a reasonably well-dressed couple were emerging with smiles, and there was parking nearby. As Gary and I were both in need of plumbing facilities by this time (a recurrent theme in our trips offsite, it seems), we resolved to accept fate (and the departing couple's parking spot).

The menu was prix fixe. The 146 franc meal was our choice, with some variation within. I selected the salmon salad and the roasted lamb. Gary ordered the toasted goat cheese salad, and veal with paprika. I was pleased that our French had gotten us this far without obvious difficulty, when the lady taking the order asked me (in English) "So, do you want the lamb medium or well-done?" I guess her ears had been tortured enough by that point... We finished the meal with a raspberry souffle. It was all excellent.

We returned to the chateau at 11pm. The network was still down. I managed to get a quick connection via the phone to download a few important messages, and went to bed.

Day 7

I awoke to overcast and chilly weather...around noon. Wow! I guess I was behind on sleep! Gary was feeling a little under the weather, which was not good considering the low-lying clouds there. We were going to head into Paris for the last weekend of the famous air show at Le Bourget, but decided the weather and Gary's condition weren't up to it. Instead, we had a little late brunch. It appeared someone else was staying at the chateau for the weekend and ate one of the croissants. Either that, or the mosquitoes also like chocolate croissants.

Luckily, the network was back up, so we spent the next few hours online. Around 3, the weather cleared for a few moments, so we decided to get some provisions and lunch. We got in the car and drove about 3 miles to the tiny hamlet of Ablis. They had a small supermarket. We stocked up on some salad fixings, bread, Kleenex, and wine. We even got some cheese ("Here, try some -- it's not a pod.")

It was a great language lesson walking the aisles, looking at the pictures on the cans and boxes and reading what they were. It was also tempting to buy various people souvenir cans of rabbit liver pate and pickled goat offal, but Gary restrained me. Gary tried to pay with a 200 Franc note, but the clerk wouldn't take it because it was a an old-style note and quite worn. So Gary gave her his Visa card. Unfortunately, it is a US Visa card without an embedded smart chip, so the standard card reader wouldn't take it. The clerk apparently had never seen one of these before and was convinced by this point that we were some kind of criminals trying to commit fraud. She really appeared ready to panic. Luckily, the other clerk came over and showed her how to ring up the "old style" cards. Our clerk didn't even bother to have Gary sign the slip -- she just threw the slips in the bags and turned her back on us to wait on the next person in line. We walked out under the watchful gaze of the manager and another clerk. Probably suspicious we didn't buy far more cheese....

After we returned, it started raining again. We had a lunch and Gary took a nap. I caught up on some reading. During a break in the weather, I took some pictures of the chateau and grounds, including the moat (I had the digital camera with me). About 10 minutes after I snapped the pictures, a thunderstorm moved in. Gary was taking a nap.

I was unsure what the rest of the weekend would bring. I soon found out -- rain. Gary awoke from his nap with a slight fever, and feeling worse, so we decided to stay in for the evening. That meant more salad, more bread, and (shudder) cheese. I spent the evening going through papers.

Day 8

Sunday morning brought more chilly weather and rain. Gary was still not feeling too well, but he seemed to be improving somewhat. Around 2pm, we went out for a walk all the way around the chateau grounds. Originally, this occupied several hundreds of acres of woods and farmland (or more) enclosed in a stone fence. When the estate was purchased by the electric utility and INRIA (roughly the French NSF), they didn't buy the majority of the property. Only the house, the chapel, the dove cote, the tennis courts, the swimming pool, the two gardens, the billiards house, much of the woods, the strawberry field, the gymnasium, and about 30 acres of forest. You get the idea. We spent nearly two hours exploring, with plenty of stops at the berry bushes and to socialize with a small burro kept on the farm portion of the estate. We also somehow encountered a lot of mud. It now appears that I will need to surrender some of my clothes, and my white pants in particular, to the laundry yet again.

Poor Gary was done in by our trek. So, he went to take another nap. I, on the other hand, changed into my nifty CIA T-shirt, and went down to the gym to injure myself. No, actually, I didn't. I spent 45 minutes getting warmed up and stretched out. 30 minutes on the exercise bike was enough for one day, although I didn't feel any thinner. The only way I will get skinnier on this trip is if the mosquitoes bring large friends. (Several jokes, some in dubious taste, elided at this point.) I returned to the house to shower, call home, and awaken Gary for a trip back to Rambouillet for more adventure.

After being stuck in traffic for about 30 minutes along the way, we drove about and ended up at a restaurant connected to a hotel. After looking at the prix fixe menu, I decided to order ala carte. I got an avocado and salmon salad, and beef stroganoff. It was quite good. Meanwhile, Gary decided (under the influence of cold medicine) to try ordering the items whose names we did not recognize and could not find in the dictionary. He ended up with grilled chicken esophagus on lettuce (really) and country hog blood sausage. He set about eating it, and his cold may have helped, but he remarked that he now knew some things he would not order again. So much for experiments! I really, really tried not to gloat about my food. Luckily, Gary's ears were stopped up so my lip smacking and "ummmm" noises didn't distract him. However, the people at the table across from us looked at me as if they thought I was having a seizure. So they would not get the wrong impression about Americans, I told them "This is so much better than back home in Canada, eh?" (I know my assistant Marlene appreciates that almost as much as they did [she's from Canada].)

The meal marked a milestone of sorts. I ordered everything in French, and got exactly what I ordered without odd looks (well, no odder than the looks I get everywhere I go). I didn't have to point at the menu and make whimpering noises. (Well, I didn't have to, but I wanted to -- the people at the next table would enjoy it so.) I also managed to understand all of the questions and comments by our waitress, asked about using a credit card, and then asked directions to the rest rooms -- all in French. I understood the answers, and all went well (I think -- some French plumbing is still sometimes mystifying and I do hope that really was the rest room). With some time and practice, I might be able to pass as a French-speaking idiot instead of a moron. This realization, inexplicably, cheered me up.

We returned to the chateau, where Gary went to bed after taking more OJ and vitamin C. I stayed up for a while and got my presentation ready for the next day before midnight Odd, for me. Then, of course, I couldn't get to sleep. Despite a sleeping pill, some melatonin, and insect-induced anemia, I couldn't drop off until after 4am. So, I was really fried when the alarm went off at 7am.

Day 9

Monday morning it was...cold, rainy, and thunderstorms were in the area. Fun. However, the day went reasonably well. Gary was feeling better. I lectured, took a nap, had lunch, and did my slides for Tuesday. Then I took a walk (between the rain showers). Then I tried to read my mail. All went fine for about 20 minutes. Then, uh-oh. The network kept going down. Then the storms took out the power for a few minutes. When it came back, I discovered that the crash had happened at a particularly indelicate time for my e-mail -- it had trashed my mail file back at Purdue, left a spurious lock file, and otherwise caused a mess. I couldn't stay logged in for more than 30 seconds because of the network problems, so I finally called Adam (a member of our facilities staff) to fix it for me.

I ended up dialing in to fix it myself as Adam apparently got sidetracked with something else. Not enough disk in the mail spool complicated the problem -- despite my assiduous reading (and deletion) of my email, the mailbox continued to fill with items I needed to save until my return to Purdue. So, I spent a while reconfiguring my mail spool.

Tonight, I was told that they are having a big party for everyone in the class. There will be a big barbecue, music, and guests from Paris coming in. They are even stocking extra cheese. It should be great fun. Except....the party is Thursday night, and will take place while I am somewhere over the Atlantic on my way to Washington for my next week of follies. Somehow, it figures. I hope they are all savaged by the hordes of mosquitoes that have been raised from my premium AB-. It would be poetic justice.

Day 10

Tuesday was rainy. Again. Uneventful, too. Gary was feeling better. I, on the other hand, had a terrible headache. Cheese withdrawal? After I taught at 9am, I took a nap. I felt better after I woke up. I tried the network again, but it failed to work. So, after lunch, I tried dialing in. I got a fairly good connection, and downloaded a lot of mail. Included was news of action in the US Senate on a surprise bill putting onerous regulations on cryptography. The USACM was going to respond to this, and I was asked to help write the letter. I did so, and that took up most of the afternoon to edit.

The network was still down, so I dialed in. While the mail was transferring, I set the call to auto-disconnect when done, and stepped out of my room to get a cup of coffee. I was accosted by one the students, we got to talking, and I returned to the room an hour later after having forgotten about the connection. It was still going! Several people had sent me very large files, and I had forgotten about the spooled message with the on-line pictures from yesterday. Merde! That should be an interesting phone bill....

The meals were unremarkable today. I simply drank lots of wine, and threw caution to the wind and had two pieces of cheese. Then dessert arrived. Another marvel of French cuisine. Cheesecake with a thick layer of prunes across the top. I was glad this was being served days before I get on the plane!

The evening was taken up with preparing final slides, doing some more reading, and visiting with several of the people here. Boring (not the conversation -- the preparation), but I didn't have much choice in the matter.

Day 11

Wednesday, it rained. Again. After class, I worked on email and slides. The network was still unusable, so I used the dial-up, again. Gary came by to tell me that his wife and daughter had arrived, so he was going to pick them up at Orly airport. He would miss lunch. I was jealous. (No, not that he missed lunch -- that he will get to see wife and daughter now, and I have over a week before I get home again.)

Lunch was stuffed halibut fillets and fermented cider along with the wine. Very interesting. I spent the afternoon talking with some of the students, and sorting through more e-mail. We tried to run some tests on the network but got no clue about the problems.

Chris (Gary's wife) brought a bag of chips and some hot salsa with her from New Mexico. We set those out on the table in the lobby before dinner and watched people's reactions as they tried it. Some are unfazed, and a few liked it. Others hurried into the dining room for a drink of wine. In conversation with several people they tell me that they have not been bothered by the mosquitoes. Apparently those have all been directed to my room instead.

Dinner started with whole, steamed artichokes of incredible size. This was followed by pork cutlets and various other items. Gary's daughter was sound asleep, recovering from jetlag, but his wife Chris joined us. She informed us that it was Gary's birthday! He never let on, the sneak. We let him have the first choice of cheese as a gift.

After dinner, a line of students formed with copies of my books. They each wanted an inscription and an autograph. It was amusing, and they were somewhat embarrassed. However, I was happy to comply -- they have all been quite friendly and helpful during my stay.

Afterwards, a group of them dragged me off in the car to the nearby town of Dourdon, where there are the remains of an old castle built starting in 900. It looks much more like a castle than this chateau does. I managed to read the entire historical plaque except for 3 unfamiliar words. Two of them we needed to look up in the dictionary because no one in the group knew the English words for them (and I cannot remember them now, either).

11pm. We returned to the chateau in a pouring rain. Someone downstairs said that Jacques Cousteau died today. Probably from all the rain, but I don't volunteer this little bon mot. I passed around my picture of daughter Elizabeth. Several people agree she appears "coquin." My dictionary translates this as "mischievous." I guess the picture really captures the real "her." I will check the network one more time and then partially pack my bag before going to bed.

Tomorrow, Claude will drive me to Orly immediately after my lecture ends. I then fly to London, and thence to Washington. I get in at Dulles at 7:10pm and probably into the hotel around 8:30. At 7:15 the next morning, I have to board the bus with the IDA DSSG group, destined for Aberdeen Proving Grounds. Some fun. As I have only 1 hour transit time in London, I am taking a change of clothes, medicine, and toiletries in a carryon. That should guarantee that they DON'T lose my luggage this time!

Next week is all meetings in and around Washington, and largely (but not totally) boring stuff. Unfortunately, I will miss Elizabeth's birthday Sunday while I am in DC. I told her we would have fireworks the day after I get back home. Luckily, I am returning on July 3rd.

Day 12

I could not sleep last night, so at 2am I got up and packed my bag. Then I was able to get to sleep. When the alarm went off, I almost shut it off and went back to sleep. Instead, I rolled out of bed, opened the shutters, and saw another rainy day. Wondrous.

Class consisted of me lecturing for two hours on the future of information security. Unfortunately, I see some real problems ahead, so this was maybe not the cheeriest thing to lecture about. However, it was a logical last lecture. Then, I said farewell to several of the students and got my bags out to Claude's car.

I was happy to be headed closer to home, but a little sad, too. It is "folk wisdom" from people in the U.S. that the people in France are a little rude or cold. My experience has always been different, and this trip was no exception. The French are a little more reserved with strangers, perhaps, but everyone I met was friendly, courteous, and exceedingly helpful. Every single person I met in the class or elsewhere was polite (except the one store clerk), and often quite friendly. Despite all my complaints, I enjoyed myself.

However, it was important that I leave so that the rain could stop and the sun come out for the party that evening. So, Claude drove me to the airport. I checked my luggage, boarded the plane, and it then sat. On the runway. For an hour. I was getting more than a little worried because I was only supposed to have an hour to connect to my flight in London.

The flight attendant checked and told me there would be no problem -- the flight would be leaving from the same terminal we would arrive at, and there would be 1/2 hour: "lots of time."

When the plane landed and we were all standing in the aisle, I noticed a young, attractive blonde standing in front of me checking her ticket. (Actually, I had noticed her much earlier. I have a particular interest in attractive blondes. And brunettes. And redheads. And I thought Cindy Lauper was cute when she dyed her hair green. And Persis Kambatta was quite attractive as a bald alien in the first Star Trek movie. But I digress.) I also practiced my "shoulder surfing" and noticed that her name was Paula. She had a ticket for the same flight. I commented to her that if we missed it, maybe British Airways would put us on the Concorde (yeah, right).

When we got off the plane, she grabbed a luggage cart and asked if I wanted to share it. Considering I was lugging my heavy Mac and a bag of emergency clothes, I accepted. We proceeded to race through the airport. Along the way, I confirmed that her name was Paula, this was her first trip to Europe, and that British Airways had also lost her bag coming into Paris.

We needed the full half hour. I checked the map of the terminal -- there were no two gates farther apart than the one we came in on and the one we left from. There was about 1.5 miles (12 furlongs) of corridor and shopping center between them. When we were still about 500 yards from the gate, we heard a "last call -- we're closing the gate" announcement. Paula ran on ahead, with the cart, to let them know we were almost there. I was moving as fast as I could, but these days I am built more for comfort than speed. As she raced off with the cart, I had a momentary vision of her taking her bags, boarding the plane, and leaving my bags on the cart....which would promptly be confiscated by airport security and exploded on the tarmac while I limped to the gate.

Luckily, she was much nicer than that. She was waiting at the gate with the cart. We obtained our bags and boarded the plane, with seats 20 rows apart.

Later in the flight, I went back to her seat to thank her again for her help. I am certain I would have missed the flight had I not encountered her. We got to talking, and I found she was married to someone who fits right into the Washington scene: her husband is an international arms broker. He sells naval weapons systems around the world. She had traveled to Paris to sight-see, and to meet him at the Paris air show. Just my luck - strike up conversation with someone whose husband has access to Phalanx and Harpoon weapons systems. I'm sure glad I didn't have any ulterior motives (that's my story, and I'm sticking to it!). Actually, I'm sure she told her husband an amusing story about how she helped an old geezer catch his flight.....

Other than that small interlude, the flight was uneventful. I was seated amidst a group of about 15 eastern Europeans traveling together. I had no idea where they came from. However, they only had one person with an English phrase book, so every time there was an announcement, they all started clamoring of this person to get an interpretation. It was almost comical if it wasn't so noisy. One acted like she had never seen an electric light before. She must have spent a half-hour turning on her reading lamp, turning if off, and turning it on again, and pointing at it. I really was wondering if they were carrying cages of live chickens with them. It was silly.

Landed at Dulles 5 minutes late. No problem. Got through passport control. No problems. Standing waiting for baggage. A page: "Would Mr. Spafford please report to the counter?" Hmm, could it be that someone from IDA is here to pick me up? Nope, it's a case of British Air being two for two. My luggage was inadvertently put on a plane back to Paris instead of on the plane to London. They were very apologetic, and had no idea how it happened, but my luggage is supposed to be here tomorrow. Probably. And Gary was poking fun at me for packing a carryon with some clothes. Hah!




Postscript

Well, after several days to recover on sleep and adjust to the local timezone, I can look back on this journal and add a little postscript to the experience.

Friday I rolled out of bed early and went over to IDA where I was to join my summer session, already in progress.

We boarded the bus and left at 8 am for Aberdeen Proving Grounds, to tour the Army's test labs. We got there at 10am, and had several interesting tours, demos, briefings, and hands-on experiences. The two most interesting hands-on experiences involved lunch, and after lunch.

For lunch, we got to sit down with a platoon of soldiers and we all shared MRE (meals ready-to-eat). I got chicken with noodle stew. Actually, the whole packaged meal was reasonably palatable. We were pleasantly surprised. However, I did notice that something in the lunch gave me the burps all afternoon long. I thus got to reexperience the subtle flavor of Tang orange drink, chicken stew, and apple jelly in various combinations all afternoon long. This was some transition from the French food at Le Breau! I was later informed that the potential cause of this had been mixing my entire packet of "Tang" into my water -- the packet was supposed to make a gallon. I thought it was a bit strong...

After lunch was the really fun part. We got a briefing on how the Army tests vehicles, and the rationale behind the tests. We were also given a short lecture on some of the human factors behind the controls on Army vehicles. Then, they gave us some short briefings on controls, and they let us loose to drive some of the vehicles. Over the next 2 hours, I drove a Bradley armored vehicle (treads, 25,000 lbs, turbine engine) and an armored Hummer (modern "jeep") around the test track. That was fun. But the most fun was at the end. I got to sit in the driver's seat and take an M1A2 Abrahms battle tank out for a little "spin" around the track. Never again will I look for a parking spot without thinking about driving the tank!

The Abrahms I drove for about 15 minutes was 70 tons of metal powered by twin gas turbines. It has a top speed of in excess of 40 mph (I got it opened up on the back stretch of the track -- it takes a while to accelerate, but wheee!). It stops amazingly quickly (power brakes). And, for a vehicle with treads, it turns and handles pretty well. However, it does drive like a tank.

That evening, after further briefings and return to IDA, I went out to dinner with some of the other group members. No wine, but I did have a chicken breast stuffed with cheese (I needed to wean myself from France). It was at a microbrewery and I made the mistake of getting the beer sampler. By the time I returned to my room at 8pm and called home, I crashed and burned big time--jet lag, too much excitement, and good beer. I crawled into bed and went to sleep.

At 11pm the phone rang. I knocked the phone and alarm clock off the table trying to find the cause of the ring. After much cursing and foggy searching for the light, I answer the phone. It was the front desk. My errant suitcase had been delivered minutes before. Could they bring it up? Mais oui, I replied.

By 11:40 I was plenty peeved. No bag. I called the front desk. It appeared that the bellman had mysteriously disappeared shortly after the original call. I explained that I wanted the bag right away so I could go to sleep. The guy from the front desk brought it up. I didn't even look at it, as I tried to get back to sleep.

At 2:30pm, still awake, I got up and took an antihistamine to help get back to sleep -- the call and time awake had ruined any chance for me to sleep. Sigh.

When I got up Saturday, I discovered that the bag had been ripped, my umbrella had fallen out and disappeared, and the lock was missing. Luckily, none of the contents were too badly damaged or missing. My baggage appeared to have visited some of the harsher parts of la belle France.

In the days after that, I visited various Federal agencies and attended meetings to work on my study paper. I visited the CIA, FBI, NSA, DARPA, the Pentagon, and (of course) IDA. In between, I have tried to read some e-mail and catch up on some papers. And the last night, a group of us went to see the movie "Men In Black." It seemed oddly appropriate with all my visits that week.

Tomorrow (July 3), I pack up my tattered suitcases (and my tattered body) and head homeward. I will pick up my father at my sister's house after dinner and we will fly to Indianapolis, where much of this adventure started. I hope my luggage also makes it. Once I get home, I intend to spend a few days doing nothing, followed by a few days of frantic catch-up. In between I will spend time with family, and my father in particular. Then, on the 12th, I head to Europe again (Belgium) for more adventure.

Sometimes I wish I was boring, anonymous, and never went anywhere.


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