Luxembourg Journal

Email to friends. 04/05/2007

Hello, everyone.
For those of you whom I haven't been in touch with during the past 2 1/2 months and were not aware of the latest events in my world lately, it probably came as a surprise if you tried to contact me in Los Angeles: land line and cell phone disconnected, no one answering at my address in Toluca Lake, no sign of life on planet Christophe, except the car left behind.
Where in the world has Frenchie gone?
Well, it actually happened pretty quickly, and I had little time to make a decision, even less to pack up and leave.
So, here are the facts:

At the time I was barely finishing Art Directing the animated segment of "Enchanted" for Disney and James Baxter Animation, I was offered a position as an Art Director for the next 3D animated feature film produced by Tim Burton and directed by Shane Acker in Luxembourg: it's called "9" (I can't show you anything at the moment, but if you go to Shane's website you can see the trailer of the short he had made 2 years ago, on which the feature movie is based. The short is also called "9" and has been nominated for the Academy Awards last year).
The only thing that kept me hesitating was that the feature would be made in Luxembourg by a French studio, supervised by an American team -of which I would be part. I wasn't crazy about the thought of going to Luxembourg, but the project was really cool and edgey, and working on a movie associated with Tim Burton was definitely something I couldn't let go.
So, here I am, moving to Luxembourg for about a year. When I landed there, coming from sunny London (yes, believe it or not, London gets sunny once every 1000 years), the rain, fog and freezing cold reminded me I had also signed up for that. I wanted weather, well, Luxembourg was making it a point to give me some.
This strange tiny country (in twenty minutes, you're either in France, Germany or Belgium) is supposed to be the administrative center of the European Union, half medieval city, half business hub. My experience since I came here 2 months ago has been a real challenge psychologically, emotionally and physically (I've been sick like a dog twice since I arrived -which never happened to me within the same winter). At work, I had a couple of bad surprises to start with: the project is terrific, the director too, and I love being part of this, but the movie is very badly mismanaged. The ressources and time needed to make a movie of this quality have been completely underestimated. Which means we are already doing major overtime, and the production phase is barely starting. So, stress has been added to psychological and emotional readjustment. Overworking your body and mind this hard only leads to one thing: your immune system goes down, and it's open season for viruses and all
sorts of nasty flus.

In terms of work visa, my new dual citizenship status was supposed to make things real easy both on the European and American sides. In reality, it made things more complicated, and we are still dealing with this issue.
There are definitely pros and cons for being here, and I'm not sure the first balances the latter, but the bottomline is: that's part of any adventure, and I'll have to make the best of it. 
Let's review the cons first:
-Life here is ridiculously expensive. More than in Paris, most of the time, and certainly more than in LA. 
-Everyone smokes. If you want to go out for drinks at night, be prepared for coming back home stinking like roasted hog. Things are changing very slowly, due to the new laws, and the fact that they might start being enforced, but I'd still give it another 5 years at least before you can see a radical change.
-The parking situation is horendous. It is hard enough to find parking during daytime; it's down right impossible to find any at night or on the weekend.
-Their administrative system is still almost as retarded as it was when I left Europe 11 years ago. I guess I needed to come back to remember. It is hard to believe this city is actually the administrative center of Europe, when you see how behind and isolated it is from other countries.
-TV here is mostly a re-run of American or French shows dating 20 years ago. Lame. Fortunately, I found a group of channels that are similar to Discovery or TLC.
Dvd rentals are outrageous (5 to 10 euros -which is $8 to $14). Without mentioning the late fee charges. But I found something almost equivalent to netflix.
-"Customer service" is a term that they probably don't have in the business dictionary here. After you've been treated a couple of times like if you should have to beg for the stores to accept your money, you're caught wondering: "Do they really want to do business, here?" Ah, yes, service is actually one of the good things in North America.
-No grocery store is open later than 8pm and everything is closed on Sunday (including pharmacies!). Again, I have to say: the US 24 hour convenience is definitely something to be appreciated.
-Winter here really has the worst it can offer: non-stop rain, snow, wind, hail, freezing cold, more rain,... you name it. We got heavy snow again a few days ago.

Now, on the bright side:
-I love our movie "9". Everyone here does too, and is working extremely hard to give it life. These small Gothic ragdolls evolving in a strange dramatic environment, searching for who they are (isn't this some kind of metaphore for the human condition?Mmh...) have something both charming and fascinating at the same time. It was a perfect fit for the type of work I do.
The amount of work that has been accomplished on the movie (and that is still coming) and the quality produced by everyone are absolutely phenomenal.
You can already start reading about the voice cast in the press, here:
-The director is a great guy, and even though it can be a little clostrauphobic to live for long hours everyday with the same crew, most people here are very nice and easy to get along with.
-I find Luxembourgese people in general very courteous and polite.
-The food here is also obviously one of the major pluses. And the selection of wine is gigantic.
-The Historical and Architectural background of the city is very rich and charming. It will definitely come to life fully when the nice season is back.
-Spring is coming very soon, and it promises to be amazing: the first flowers are already battling the cold and the last snows of winter. The cherry blossoms are especially beautiful. I realize birds here have a very specific sound when Spring comes, very different from the ones in California. There are so many trees and forests here that we'll be in the first row when Nature awakes. I can't wait to visit the castles and monuments everywhere. I also want to travel through Northern and eastern Europe (maybe Pragues, Bruges The Venice of the North in Belgium, Netherlands, the Fjords of Norway, etc...I am  planning to go to a Summer art group show in Danemark, to meet my artist friend Daniel Merriam and his wife from San Francisco). 

On another note, my foot surgery and dislocated collar bone kept me from doing any kind of sport for a while. Since they finally settled, I've been able to get back in business and of course started to explore the martial arts community here, which is pretty small. I eventually found a place where I can practice something I always wanted to try: Jeet Kune Do, and Filippino Kali. What is interesting is that the main teacher shares his time between here and LA at the Dan Inosanto Academy of Marina Del Rey (I was never able to attend classes there because it was just too far away from Burbank). So, people here were very surprised to see a guy coming from LA starting to learn this in Luxembourg. The gym also has Thai boxing (which allows me to keep doing what I was doing in LA. No Hapkido, though).
The same place offers Salsa classes, which I will keep doing too.
I was incredibly lucky to find this place.

Mick, sorry, I'm affraid I can't confirm your comment that "Luxembourg people are the uggliest people on the planet". There are some very good looking ones, as some of the pictures testify. On the other hand, the one thing that will probably keep me from dating for sure, here, is SMOKING. All women smoke, litterally (guys too). Major turn off for me.
Peg, I'm sorry I couldn't come to your B-Day right before I left. It was crazy, and I was still packing up until the very last minute.
I definitely think the hardest part of being here is not being able to see your friends. Thank you to all of you who sent news and emails. Email and yahoo IM are priceless. I miss all of you very much.
I miss the weekend brunches, outdoor BBQs and the Picinic-concert evenings at the Hollywood bowl. I have to say nothing replaces a nice California winter.
But guess what will be the first thing I do when I'm back? PARTEY!!!
There's nothing like missing something to start appreciating it again.
Anyway, since Spring is going to make this place really nice very soon, you guys should come and visit!
I have a place for you to stay, now.
Please, keep in touch, send me party pictures, and here is the link to the pictures from here (there will be more later):
I'll keep you updated and will put up more pictures as seasons go by.


Email to friends. 06/20/2007

Dear friends,
As many of you asked, here is the second part of the
Luxembourgese/European adventure I have embarked on last January.
The past couple of months have been rich in activities and events, but
I will try not to bore you with a whole novel -like in the last email-
before you get to the pictures.
My first weekend trip outside Luxembourg was to visit my family in
France at the beginning of April. A 7 hour drive, leaving right after
work on a friday night, going through major cities like Lyon...big
mistake. Not much fun. Oh well, the beauty of the countryside in full
bloom made up for it.
Spring in a four season area is truly a magical experience, and so
relaxing. Temperatures are perfect, everything is so very green and
lush, and there is always a soft breeze that brings you the most
wonderful tree and flower smells. The light is constantly changing, and
colors are so vivid. Life seems to be pouring out of earth, litterally.
It makes your day as soon as you step out.

The next trip I made was to meet a few American friends from LA in
Paris. I hadn't visited the French capital for quite a while and it was
refreshing. We went to visit the beautiful Museum d'Orsay -my favorite
in Paris- and the Gustave Rodin museum, with its wonderful garden. Ah,
nothing beats an ice-cream in the park, watching the birds pooping on
the statues.

At the beginning of May, when Spring had really settled, it was time
for serious Luxembourg countryside exploration. We decided to check out
the very interesting medieval background of the area.  From Luxembourg
city to the massive fortress of Vianden, we visited a valley that
stretched north-east of the city, offering a series of castles, ranging
from ruins to very well restaured buildings. It was called: "The valley
of the seven castles". Very cool.

Then, my friend Reuben contacted me to let me know he was going to the
world Premiere of the movie he had produced -"Entry Level", presented
in a Monaco Film Festival. One of the actresses featured in the film is
Missi Pyle, the spacey alien girl in "Galaxy Quest". They had also use
one of my paintings in a scene. I couldn't miss the event. In no time,
I was on a plane to the south of France, for a memorable fun time.

Back to Luxembourg, we had the chance to discover the first Firefest
the city was organizing, in a night celebration of Spring. All the
medieval monuments of the city were bearing fire, and it had a very
gothic and fascinating aspect to it. Like being in another age for a
few hours.

Finally, we wanted to see what Belgium had to offer, besides its
chocolate and Tintin.
We took a weekend trip that lead us from Bruxelles and its gorgeous
city center, to Brugge
-also called "The Venice of the North" due to its beautiful network of
canals. In Brugge, we had the fortuitous opportunity to briefly meet
our famous US nose breaker: Chuck Norris (see the pictures)...
We even had a little time to make it all the way to the Northern sea.

At the studio, our movie "9" has its ups and down. Things are going
well, but we are under a series of big changes that will only be
totally revealed in a couple of weeks. So, I will tell you more about
it later.
Between two studio approval sessions, I still had time to go with our
director Shane see Marilyn Manson in concert, in Luxembourg. Yes, you
heard it right: Marilyn Manson was giving a concert in Luxembourg.
OOZZUM! No pictures, this time, though.
Now, tell me something: why did it take for me to come to Luxembourg
city to see Marilyn Manson in Concert? Mmh...I guess it was written
that way...

So, that's pretty much it. You can check out the pictures, and by the
way, the most recent ones are the ones that show first. The further the
pages, the further in time.
Here is the link:

In two days, I'm off to Norway and the great Fjords.
So, more pictures to come, guys.
Meanwhile, enjoy the first day of Summer.
Talk to you soon!