Saturday, July 6

I take a very long walk up to Père Lachaise cemetery.

In my main morning class we have to buy another textbook, on grammar, next week. So that class is not going to be just close reading of passages from literature. There will be grammar too. I like grammar. It's fun.

It's 6:30 am. A street cleaning machine from the "Mairie de Paris" just went past my window washing down my street, with a guy on foot with a hose attached to the machine getting into all the corners and nooks and crannies. Nice.

I've noticed something strange in class. I think I speak better than most of the other students, less haltingly, with better pronunciation and grammar. But they understand the teachers much better than I do. Much of the time I have no idea what the teacher is saying, but they seem to have no problem. Is it because my hearing is bad, even with my hearing aids? It is because I'm so much older? Is it because my brain is wired poorly for oral comprehension? I don't know.

I've posted 209 photos here over the last two weeks. Talk about boring the guests with your vacation slides! I don't care. I'm not forcing anyone to look at them.

The speaking is getting so much better. The comprehension not so much. Yesterday a woman asked me for directions to Place Monge. I pointed down the rue and said "tout doit, descendre une colline à rue Monge, et puis tourner à doit pour deux ou trois rues." Didn't even have to think about it. Just said it. I remember a few months ago doing such an exercise in class and having great difficulty with it. But in Jardin du Luxembourg a security guy told me that the chair I had dragged up to the pool had to be returned over by the edge of the grass where I had found it. I had no idea what he was saying. He had to repeat it in English.

You can't walk 100 meters here without getting stopped and asked for directions.

I'm getting much better with the funny money. Bought a jambon au fromage at a boulangerie for lunch yesterday. Handed over exact change and said "pile-poil", which means "exact change" and is said super-fast. That got a definite smile from the woman in the store, both for the exact change and for the fluent French phrase from an obvious American. I learned the phrase from Baptiste, my landlord's assistant. He said it when I gave him my 1.303€ for the balance due on my security deposit and first month's rent.

The jambon au fromage yesterday was not so great. Good bread, but not great, and sliced rather tasteless cheese. You have to find the right places to get the really good ones.

Went browsing in a bookshop in the 6th on my stroll last night. Paged through a nice very large book that was an illustrated history/atlas of the streets of Paris. Very interesting. Looked kind of old. Thought "this might be nice." Then I looked on the flyleaf and discovered the price, 250€. Not today, thanks anyway! The bookseller noticed my interest and aggressively tried to sell it to me, but I resisted.

The bookstores here are numerous, especially around the Sorbonne, on nearly every street and corner. They are amazing. I stopped in one of my favorites last night, Librairie Philosophique J. VRIN in Place de la Sorbonne. It has perhaps nearly as many books for sale as one of our Barnes and Nobles. But they're all philosophy books. Unbelievable. Incroyable.

I have a theory about the comprehension problem. Many of my fellow students have taken their earlier beginner courses at the Sorbonne. They have much more experience than I do listening to teachers talk in French at normal or near-normal speed. Just a theory. I desperately want to believe that with more practice I can get better.

Just got back from my petit déjeuner at La Contrescarpe. No croissants today, but an extra half a little baguette to compensate. That's OK. Sunny and just a touch of coolness in the air this morning. Nice. I've noticed that a large proportion of the young women I see are pregnant, and of the rest many are pushing baby carriages. Men too (pushing carriages, that is, not pregnant). The neighborhood crazy lady came by as usual, yelling loudly at everyone, and had to be herded away from the customers by the waiter. Two lady tourists were looking around in awe and taking pictures. I thought how cute that was - I did the same thing the first time I was here two weeks ago.

So I guess I'd say not a bad morning so far.

This is part of a page of my notes from phonetics class yesterday. We're studying "enchaînement", where two separate words are pronounced as one, and "liaison", where otherwise silent letters at the ends of words are pronounced. We are lectured on this for half an hour, then for half an hour we have to practice what we learned in a lab with headphones etc. Interesting and difficult.

Enchaînement is one of the reasons spoken French is so hard to understand for non-native speakers, much more so than in other languages. You can't hear the boundaries between the individual words because much of the time there literally aren't any.

And liaison can be tricky. For example, in "neuf heures" (9 o'clock), the "f" is pronounced as a "v". In "grand appartement" (big apartment), the "d" is pronounced at a "t". And in both of these examples enchaînement is in play also - both of these examples are pronounced as a single "word", with no audible space between them.

French is a very musical language, a kind of ballet of words.

Well, none of you care, of course. But I thought I'd give you an idea of what I'm up against here.

Shopping done for the day. Today's wine is once again from the Loire, but this time a white - a Domaine Sautereau Sancerre 2012. Still doing the laundry for the day. The washer is very slow.

Told the wine shop owner "Il faut que je vous dise que votre magasin est mon préféré à Paris" (I must tell you that your store is my favorite in Paris.) Can anyone guess what's spectacular about this innocent utterance in terms of the French language? The subjunctive!

One generally uses the infinitive after "il faut", in general statements that apply to everyone, as in "il faut dire bonjour à tout le monde". But in this case I was talking about something I in particular had to do, "il faut que je ...", so the subjunctive is required. In general, when the "que" is present in "il faut que", you need the subjunctive. Language lesson done for the day. I think I got that right, anyway.

The guy who works in the wine store and always helps me is super nice. I told him I liked the Loire wines quite a bit. Couldn't find the right French adjectives, so in English I told him "smooth", "mellow". He said yes, "facile". That's exactly right - "facile à boire", "easy to drink". He sympathized with me when I said comprehension was still hard, and said that yes, the Parians do talk very fast. He's always super helpful in picking out the right wine. I went in today wanting a Sancerre, so this time it wasn't hard. Really a very pleasant shop, especially for someone like me who is not a wine expert but is interested in trying and learning a little bit. A very welcoming place for someone like me. In comparison, for example, while Ô Chateau is very nice indeed, it's more for the wine snob who already knows what (s)he's doing.

Nice day, so decided it was time for another forced march. Headed northeast over Pont Sully, up Boul Henry IV, checked out Place de la Bastille, then continued on up to Père Lachaise cemetery way up in the 20th. Came home on the métro (2 transfers - a first!)

The Institut du Monde Arabe. Interesting architecture.

View of the Seine from Pont Sully, looking downstream (west) towards Notre Dame. That's Île St Louis on the right.

An interesting piece of modern art on the eastern tip of Île St Louis. You can't read it, but at the base of the statue it says "À Rimbaud, 1854-1891".

The Garde Républicaine on Boul Henri IV.

One of many very handsome pictures adorning the side of the Garde Républicaine building.

The July Column in Place de la Bastille, commemorating the events of the July Revolution in 1830.

A flower bed in Square de La Roquette, a little park just a few streets away from the entrance to the cemetery. I stopped here to rest a bit before exploring the big cemetery.

A sign at the entrance announces that on this site resisters were imprisoned from 1940 up until the liberation of Paris on August 25, 1944.

Dans ce lieux 4000 resistants ont été emprisonnees pour avoir lutte 
contre l'occupant. Elles ont contribue à la libération de la France.

The French don't forget the war, the dead, or those who helped them. There's a whole avenue of very moving monuments in the cemetery honoring the dead soldiers from other countries who helped liberate France. That was good for quite a few "mouchoirs".

Enjoyed a sinfully delicious macaroon in the park. 16€ for 7 macaroons. I saved the other six to have with my new wine, which is chilling in my fridge as we speak. You should have seen the incredibly fancy Lenôtre pâtisserie where I got them. The tarts looked so good.

The entrance to Le Cimetière du Père-Lachaise.

Le Cimetière du Père-Lachaise.

Haunting statuary on a crypt in Cimetière du Père-Lachaise. The engraving on the crypt said simply "Adieu Mère", "farewell mother". "Adieu" is like "au revoir", except it means forever.

Jim Morrison's grave. Le Cimetière du Père-Lachaise. The music of my youth. Dead for over 40 years now, but people still visit.

  1. People are strange when you're a stranger. True.
  2. Faces look ugly when you're alone. False.
  3. Women seem wicked when you're unwanted. False.
  4. Streets are uneven when you're down. True. Except the streets are uneven all the time. Doesn't matter whether you're down or not.

Quod erat demonstratum, as crazy old Euclid used to say.

I didn't visit any of the other graves of celebrities (Oscar Wilde, Edith Piaf, etc.). There was a sign with a huge list of notables buried there and the locations of their graves/tombs/crypts/whatever. I recognized dozens of them. But I didn't make a point of visiting them except for Morrison, who has a special place in my heart.

There wasn't any partying going on at Morrison's grave. Rather somber. I stood next to an older woman, probably about my age, of unknown nationality. She was very quiet, motionless, head bowed, definite tears in her eyes, probably remembering the music and what it meant to her, like me. And I was remembering my wife Robin, and how much she loved that music too, and how many many times over the years we listened to it together. Sigh.

Came out of the gates and landed right in the middle of a Latin America festival. It was a big parade with music and dancing with groups representing South America, Central America, and the Caribbean. That was fun. People were lining the streets watching and doing a little dancing and smiling and taking lots of pictures.

At La Contrescarpe again, for dinner. They're very busy. Using pad and their wifi. Same password as two weeks ago, LOL (chocolat). Ordered smoked salmon for an appetizer and chicken breast "à la Contrescarpe" for the main course. Place de la Contrescarpe is getting crowed. Sunny and mild. Sitting at one of those little tables outside. Lucky to get one.

The salmon was delicious. Came with some salad, some toast triangles, some lemon, and a glass of rosé. Dessert will be macaroons and wine back in the apt. The musicians have started playing now. Smoked salmon (Salmon fumé) is very popular here. On every menu.

Jam packed shoulder to shoulder here. But not unpleasant, everyone minds their own business.

The musician finished playing and came over to collect tips. He actually played nice French songs. All the other live music I've heard here has been old American and British stuff. I introduced myself and got his card. "Chanteur Joe", complete with FaceBook page and musical agent.

While I was drinking my coffee a couple of Americans sat down next to me from Oregon, a grandmother and her granddaughter. The young woman just graduated from college (U of Oregon) and this is her trip abroad. With her grandmother. I think maybe she's not too thrilled about that. Anyway, we sat together and talked for half an hour or so and told each other our stories, and that was nice.

Dinner was good, not great. Perfectly adequate and tasty.

See the plate? See the table? About the same size. Tables lined up in rows touching. But like I said, it's actually quite nice. Nobody bothers anyone else. Parisian politeness, born of necessity due to the very high population density and crowded conditions.

I really have to get one of these one night. Massages for tips on Place de la Contrescarpe. They're here every evening and always have lots of customers. Looks very nice.

I like the guy way on the right in the "Veni Vidi Vici" T-shirt. Good T-Shirts here. Saw one on an older guy with a big picture of the old French Franc, with the date they switched to the Euro, obviously a protest statement. And notice the three little kids in the upper left with the dude that looks like a biker. Is that the Dad? Could be!