Sunday, March 31, 2013

He is Risen

It is that time of year again; the time when we all take a moment to look back and reflect upon the life of a man who died and yet rose again to bring joy and meaning to all our lives.

I’m speaking of course of Tarman.


Amidst all the complexities of the modern world, it’s nice to encounter a straightforward character like Tarman with his simple desire for “brains”, “live brains”, and let’s not forget, “more brains!”

Here’s to you Tarman, on … a day more or less just like any other.

Happy Easter!

Urbex: La Petite Ceinture

Hobo with a Shotgun

We only explored a small section of the track, but it was a lot of fun. Very exciting to be dipping my toes into this sort of thing again, not having done so seriously since the Z.O.M.B.I.E. days. And I’m in the perfect place to be doing it. Anyway, another item ticked off the list. On to the next one.


Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Fruity Pebbles

So long my dear Pebbles. You were a good bird, even though you were always yelling and trying to bite my hands; a true member of the family.  I wish you much happiness and plenty of birdie num num in a cage-free afterlife.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Royale with Cheese

Sometimes a guy just has to have a big, greasy burger. Here are my recommendations for burger joints in Paris; I won’t say they have the best burgers in town, but these are my favourites, in descending order, thus far.

1) Big Fernand

My awesome supervisor Jérôme turned me onto this place - it’s got a lively, cozy student atmosphere, the people behind the counter are real characters, and the food is delicious - maybe some of the best burgers I’ve ever had outside of the USA. Good quality meat and cheese, and it’s all a bit fun. This is “fast food” done right. Check it out.

Jérôme also raved about Little Fernand, but I’ve yet to try it out.

2) Le Camion Qui Fume

Noticed this little food truck setting up shop outside MK2 Bibliothèque one night. There was a huge queue half an hour before they even opened up - a very good sign.  Finally got my chance to check it out a few weeks later during a movie meet-up, and it didn’t disappoint. Definitely worth it if you happen to be in the right place at the right time.

3) BioBurger

On my way to the art & craft shop Lavrut, I noticed droves of hipster cuties heading over to this place; so I popped in to see what all the fuss was about. Feel-good burgers from quality ingredients - and again, hipster cuties everywhere - make this another great destination to deal with the munchies. They’ve also got organic, fair trade colas, if you’re into that sort of thing, which I guess I sometimes am.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Canadian Bacon

The Canadian Revenue Agency sent me a letter notifying me of an issue that provoked dreaming up all sorts of nightmarish scenarios. I called the toll-free number and I guess I must have sounded really nervous as the nice lady on the other end, Barb, helped me to calm down and told me assuredly not to worry ‘cause we’d get through this together. She sorted out my issue and answered all my related questions in about five minutes. Then we just chatted. She asked me about my day, what I did for a living (she thought it was really cool), and if I had anyone to help me out; we commiserated about the difficulties and joys of traveling abroad, and she spoke fondly of her husband. Lastly, she apologized for the government’s use of antiquated technology, and wished me good luck and a good day.

From "Hark! A Vagrant" by Kate Beaton

I can’t believe I’m actually saying this, but I miss Canadian bureaucracy.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

I Miss You

For most people, today is St. Patrick’s Day -  a day to dust off the terrible Irish accents, hit the pubs with one’s friends to get drunk on green beer, and chase leprechauns for their pots o’ gold; but for me it’s my Nana’s birthday.

In retrospect, my Nana was the first person I ever met who in many - not all - but many ways, was like me. Losing her was hard. She was at once serious and intellectual, and … kooky. Her given name was Laura. Her friends called her Pixie. She liked to drink and gamble, and have fun. She told the worst jokes and puns, and had once been known for her singing voice. She had travelled the world. My grandfather, Francis, adored her. She was ten years his junior, his secretary, when they met; he fell madly in love, pursued her, and when he returned from WWII, they married.

I met my Nana when I was 10. In our first real interaction, I told her to shut up and mind her own business. She cried. This warranted punishment - but she didn’t rat me out. This was a pivotal moment for me. A first in someone choosing to be nice to me for no real reason, and when I didn’t deserve it. We became fast friends.

We shared a room. I took top bunk, she took the bottom. We’d stay up late to watch Bizarre with John Byner and Super Dave Osborne; and when my mum would yell out for her to turn off the TV and let me sleep on a school night, Nana would wait a few minutes before sneakily turning down the volume and putting it back on so we could keep on watching. She got me into Shatner and the original Star Trek; I’d been a Next Generation fan only up to that point. Nana taught me a gazillion card games, and we’d play for hours. She made me scones and pancakes, and banana fritters, and fried battered onion bits, and most especially tea just the way I like it. She accidentally dyed her hair bright orange. Years later I accidentally dyed my hair bright magenta. She hugged me all the time, and told me she loved me and was proud of me. But what really bonded my Nana and me was that we liked to prank each other hard.

My favourite memory is the time her plan to scare me backfired. I’d liked hiding behind doors or in closets, in the kitchen cabinets, etc., and then jumping out to scare her. Naturally, she wanted revenge. One day as I was entering my room, I noticed that she lay crouched on the floor in the dark, this very elderly woman, waiting to spring up to scare me. She hadn’t managed to notice me opening the door. I pulled it back quickly and silently. I found my mother - already in a bad mood - and told her that I thought the door was making a funny noise; could she please come check it out? The door opened, the light turned on, and up jumped my Nana screaming, “BOOOOOO-----ACKKK!!!” Joy turned to shock and horror at the sight of my clearly not amused mum, victory to defeat. As mum yelled at Nana, I stood behind in the doorway, silently laughing to my heart’s content.

The same terrible hairstyle across three generations.

My Nana was a fierce Scrabble competitor, and we battled often. When we knew we’d have our last moment together, we had it over a game of Scrabble. I beat her with two seven-letter words. Some might, and did, call me cruel. But as always, I did my best, just as she taught me. I gave her a real challenge, and a good game. And I knew she loved me for it.

So here’s to you Nana, on your birthday.

For everyone else, have a safe and Happy St. Paddy’s Day!
And stay the hell away from me gold.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

License to Drive

How to exchange an Australian NSW Driver’s Licence for a French Licence.

This information is valid for applicants residing in Paris in 2013 to obtain a licence that must be exchanged in 2014 for a new EU plastic licence, which is no longer “for life”. Application must be initiated within the first year of French residency.

0) Make sure you have a valid carte de séjour (titre de séjour) or visa. If your residency application is still being processed, obtain a récépissé de demande de titre de séjour from the appropriate Préfecture de Police. Your original NSW driver’s licence must be valid as of the date of application AND for the next few months just to be safe (you’ll be shit out of luck if anything expires while your application is being processed, and they won’t bother to tell you not to bother). Your NSW licence will NOT be returned to you.

1) Request a certified driving record from the NSW Roads and Maritime Services. You need to do this because the current NSW licence does not list the first date of issuance. Send an email to along with:

  • a request letter indicating your information and Paris mailing address
  • a scan of the front and back of your NSW licence
  • a scan of the identity page of your current Aussie passport
  • a scan of a filled-out credit card authority form found on their website. This scan should be an image file, e.g. a JPEG, as PDFs are analyzed for credit card information and your email will be automatically rejected. Your credit card will be charged the processing fee of $28 AUD, which includes postage to Paris.

2) Have your NSW licence (front and back) and your Australian-certified driving record translated into French by a Paris-certified translator. I used the services of Anne-Cécile Bourget and Davron Translations.

3) Make 2 colour copies each of the front and back of your original NSW driver’s licence, the front and back of your carte de séjour (and récépissé if need be) or visa, the identity page of the passport you used to enter France, and the identity pages for your Australian passport.

Make 2 copies each of your driver’s licence record (originals AND French translations), and a utility bill showing your Parisian address (I used my internet bill).

4) Obtain at least 4 French passport-sized photos at a Photomaton photobooth (I suggest the more modern ones, like the one at Châtelet - Les Halles, which allows you to preview your picture and if I recall correctly, pay by bank card).

Village of the Damned (1960)

5) Obtain random Australian documentation to satisfy whichever administrator happens to be in that day. Translate a few of them.

I submitted my first Australian postdoc agreement from 2007 and my last Australian paycheque from 2012, along with official translations and 2 copies of each. I also brought along my Australian citizenship certificate, my certificate of completion for a beginner’s Spanish class I took at UNSW in Sydney, and … well, actually I brought every official document I had with me. They ended up taking them all to a supervisor before final approval was given. I still am not sure what they were after. I think they gave it to me because I looked like I was about to cry. I was about to cry.

A word of advice: don’t submit everything at once. No matter what you show them, they will ask for something more. So let them ask for something before you present it.

6) Bring all original documents and copies to the Préfecture de Police located at 92, boulevard Ney 75018 Paris. It’s easily reachable by métro line 4, last stop at Porte de Clignancourt, assuming the line 4 metro is running that day and for the entire duration of your trip - which happened only once the many times I made the journey. I advise you to verify online that the office is actually open that day, and that it’s best day to arrive early Tuesday morning, around 8 am. Line up outside at the sign that says “étudiants étrangers” and NOT at the sign that says “échange d’un permis de conduire” because, you know, that would make too much sense. Seriously - do not wait at the wrong sign. It’s an entrance for employees only. The student line is the only line that goes in, and there is a security check that everyone has to go through before you can enter the rest of the building.

After this, head to the 4th floor, take a number, sit and wait. Present your complete dossier, and if everything is approved, you will be given an official paper to come pick up your licence at a later date. My pick-up date was one month from the date of approval. My carte de séjour expired within that month. Oh joy.

7) You may pick up your licence at any point after your assigned pick-up date. Again, I suggest going early on a Tuesday morning. You must bring your official pick-up paper, your valid carte de séjour or previous carte de séjour with a valid récépissé, your Australian passport, and your NSW licence. They will keep your NSW licence. To be safe, however, I suggest bringing all your official documents with you. Enter the building as before, but this time go to the 2nd floor. There will be a queue at the entrance of the room - get into it and if the official behind the counter verifies you have everything you need, you will be given a number. You will wait anywhere between 5 minutes (my first attempt) and 6.5 hours (my second attempt - I nearly passed out. No kidding. BRING FOOD AND DRINK. Make sure to eat a good hearty breakfast that day. And pray. Even if you are an atheist, find someone or something to whom you can pray).

8) If everything is good, they will call your number, take your carte de séjour, and make you wait again. About waiting: sometimes your number will appear on the ticket machine - but there is no discernible order, e.g. “C61, C62, A95, B12, C61, C56, …”, and of course your number will appear twice, for the first waiting period and then after for the second waiting period. No, wait, I’m lying. Sometimes your number will not appear, but you will hear someone calling it out, softly, in some corner of the office somewhere. Other times, they will drop your number altogether and simply call your name, e.g. “monsieur fhanzzzzzz?” which roughly translates to “foolish Mr. Ferns”. Go check it out. If you miss your turn for whatever reason, you will randomly be thrown back into the queue.

Finally, they will make your licence on the spot, sticking your photo onto a piece of pink cardboard. And voilà - you have a French driving licence.

The numbers:
Duration of process from first request to obtaining licence: just over 3 months
Cost: about 350€
Trips to the police station: 4
Number of officials who flat-out lied: 1


How to exchange a Quebec Driver’s Licence for an Australian NSW Driver’s Licence.

This information was valid in 2008 for applicants residing in Sydney, New South Wales.

0) Make sure you have a valid Australian permanent residency visa, current valid Canadian passport, a utility bill showing your full name and current New South Wales address (I used a Telstra bill), your current valid Quebec driver’s licence, and your previous Quebec driver’s licence. I recommend bringing both your current and previous licence, as NSW will only issue a probationary licence (P1 or P2) if your current licence has been valid for less than three years. My Quebec licence at the time had been valid since 2006 (only 2 years). My previous licence established that I had a driving history with a full licence for more than three years. I had ordered a certified Quebec driving record to establish the date my full licence was first granted. Unfortunately, the official Quebec driving record at the time only listed the total amount of days one had a full licence on the date the record was requested, e.g. “Emeric Belasco has had a full Quebec driver’s licence for passenger vehicles for 365 days as of 13/03/2013” instead of “Emeric Belasco’s Quebec driver’s licence was first issued on 13/03/2012”; and the NSW Roads and Maritime Services (at the time known as the RTA) would only accept an official letter that listed the date of issuance. I was oh so happy to learn this as I went along. Oh so happy. Anyway, trust me, if you want to drive on an unrestricted NSW licence, bring both licences. You will be able to retain both.

1) Obtain an official English translation of both driver’s licences from the NSW Community Relations Commission For a Multi-Cultural NSW. I paid $96 each for the two licences to be processed within 7 working days. VERIFY THE TRANSLATIONS. The official French translator changed my driving class (stating that I could drive big trucks), listed glasses as a required condition of driving, and put down the wrong driver’s licence number; in reality, I could only drive passenger vehicles and had “none” listed under conditions on my licence. When I notified the official about the errors, he had me write down the correct translation myself, had someone type it up in front of me, and that was it. So I essentially paid $200 for the honour of translating my own documents. Go me.

2) Go to an RTA outlet (there are many) along with original ID documents, original licences, and translations. Take a ticket from the ticket machine, wait approximately 5-20 minutes for your number to appear on the L.E.D. display, go up to the counter, and present your documents; if the person behind the counter is in a bad mood, smile politely, thank them for their time, and go home. If not, you’re in luck. Pass the quick eye test, and then have your digital photo taken by the official. Pay the licence fee; you have a choice of paying for 1 year, 3 years, or 5 years. I paid $142 at the time for a 5-year licence. The licence will be issued on the spot, and then you can shoot hookers and steal cars and drive yourself home.

The numbers:
Duration of process from first request to obtaining licence: just over 2 months
Cost: about $340 AUD
Trips to the RTA: 5
Number of officials who yelled at me: 1
Number of officials who flat-out lied: 1


More efficient, modern system: Australia
Nicer officials overall: France
Better experience: France (by a hair)

The funny thing is I don’t even like driving (except for road trips). 
Walking is where it’s at.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Not Quite Human

I wake up and immediately know I do not want to be awake. I do not belong here. It just doesn’t feel right. But where do I belong?

I force myself up, shower, eat, leave. It is bright, sunny, warm - like summer. I do not like it. Today, I crave the dark. I walk amongst the people, the humans. Strange, I know that, even in this frame of mind; that I refer to the others as “humans”, as if I am not one of them. But I am not. Not exactly. They walk into me, bump into me, as if I am invisible, as if I do not exist. And I begin to wonder if I do exist; but then I force myself to stop that line of thinking - I’m already too caught up in my own head. It’s getting increasingly dangerous. I nearly got hit by a truck again the other day, my body wandering in the middle of the road, my mind contemplating nonnegative eigenvectors. I’m not afraid to die. But I don’t want to die like that; so pathetically mundane. And I still have a few things left to do.

I push my way through the crowds, reach my destination, make the exchange, and calculate the most efficient route of return. I am already exhausted - by the humans, the noise, the light, the blinding bright light. And my knees are screaming. Most days I can ignore them, but not today. Trudge forward. I am home. And that would be it. I would be content to sit here all the rest of the day, episodes of Community playing in the background while I LaTeX my results. And then the day would be over. And at some point I would pass out. Not sleep - I don’t sleep anymore. And then maybe tomorrow would be a “normal” day. But I can’t. I made a promise to a friend. And when you make a promise to a friend on her birthday, you keep it. No matter what. So I put on my human face as best I can, knowing it doesn’t fit well today. And I force myself to get onto the tram stuffed with humans. It’s unbearable. Do other aspies feel this way? How do they endure? How will I?

I am there. My friend is happy. People are talking. En français. En anglais. In Italian. It’s all I can do to stay in the moment. It’s too hot. There is too much light. And music. And noise. I need quiet. My mind is refusing to behave. On the way over I passed a door to a site that probably shouldn’t have been open, but was. And I peeked inside. It looked … intriguing. I want to go back to explore. I need to get back into the moment. People are speaking to me. I hear the words but they do not register. I keep thinking of the door. Stop. Relax. Concentrate. Can we think of an interesting, nontrivial example where R^\bullet(\mu)=\lambda \cdot \mu? No, no, no, stop thinking of that. Focus on the personality you should be wearing. Smile. Make eye contact. Listen. Respond. Not like a robot. Less like a robot. Switch to English. C’est trop difficile à parler en français ce soir. Difficult enough in English. Two hours have passed. I think that is enough. I will leave now. I am a terrible friend. But at least I tried. I hope it is enough. I’m sorry. I wish I could be better than I am, but I don’t know how to.

I make my exit. No time for the door. Need to get home NOW. It’s taking so long. Suddenly a choice: continue on overcrowded tram or aggravate knee pain? I choose the knee pain. It is not that bad. And it is a relief to be away from all those people. And the walk is a nice one. Finally I am home, and I collapse in the dark on the floor. Silence at last.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

You’re My Boy Blue!

Binu “Blue” Chacko
Fare thee well on your journey.
“Winter is Coming.”

Papa Smurf and Brainy
My boy Blue is one of those fellows who, once you’ve met him, you feel like you’ve known him forever. He’s a genuine good bloke, which is not so easy to find these days. And a damn fine cook. Damn fine. In fact, to update what I said in an earlier post, the best Indian food and drink you are likely to find in Paris is in Blue’s kitchen. Blue introduced me to Saravanaa Bhavan, an international vegetarian restaurant chain specializing in South Indian cuisine and which just so happens to have a location in Paris. It’s now my favourite place for a bit of grease-soaked comfort food; that, coupled with low prices, justifies the terrible, terrible service. But the most important thing Blue has been able to bring to my life is a bit of much-needed joy. Every time I recall the look on Blue’s face when he realized what he’d be paying for the single chicken he'd ordered - at my suggestion - I can’t help but crack up. And that’s what good friends are for.

Good-bye Blue! We'll all miss you!

Cool Hand Luke and Dragline in the abandoned church.

P.S. Remember: it’s not good chicken if it’s not 50€ chicken.