Thursday, July 11

I get back one test with a good grade and take another which I'm afraid is a disaster.

While walking from class to lab this morning, at the intersection of Bouls St-Germain and St-Michel, I saw a young girl (not a woman) sitting on the sidewalk with a cat and a tiny kitten in a cardboard box. I don't know for sure, but I think she was trying to give the kitten away. I was SO tempted!

At the start of class the Prof told us about "Le Bal des Pompiers" this weekend, from 9 pm to 4 am both Saturday and Sunday night, over on the right bank at the Musée des Arts et Métiers de Paris. Thats "The Fireman's Ball". It's a big party outdoors that the Paris fireman throw every year. Sounds like fun. She let us know in no uncertain terms that she thinks the Paris fireman are very handsome indeed (and they are - I've seen them - gorgeous hunks of manliness). It was hilarious.

And of course on Sunday there's the huge parade on Champs Élysées and a big fireworks show at the Eiffel Tower. I'll be there for those!

Met a young woman from Moscow, Russia, not in my class, but also taking classes at the school. She's an artist studying at École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts, a very prestigious school indeed here in Paris. That was interesting. A bunch of us were standing in a hallway waiting to get into a classroom. A young fellow male student from Columbia was hitting on her, which was amusing. These kinds of mini-encounters happen every day, with the kinds of people you just don't often get to meet back home, and I think they're lots of fun. We're all in the same boat - strangers in a strange place in one way or another, so it's a bond, if only typically for a moment or two.

2 out of 3 isn't bad.

1. Finally scored the grammar textbook at Gilbert & Joseph, the big bookstore on Boul St-Michel. They were out of stock all week until today when two copies appeared on the shelf.

2. Did well on the first dictée. 8 wrong with a "Bien!" and two stamped green frogs (!?) on my second pass at writing down the dictated passage. Could have and should have done better. Most of the mistakes were stupid. However, anything less than 20 was passing. A large number of students had more than 30 mistakes. Over 20 and you have to do it again. So I'm pleased, just a little bit angry at myself. We have another one next week.

3. The phonetics test was horrible. We had to say 10 sentences, 6 spoken to us by the prof before the test which we could then copy down and practice, and 4 written by the prof before the test which we could copy down and practice. Then, after practice, we had to speak them into our microphones. On the 4 written I think I did OK, just one little error which I corrected immediately. But the 6 spoken were terrible because as usual I couldn't understand what she was saying, so I just had to mumble the noises back. Not good. There's no way I passed that one.

Je suis l'étudiant le plus âgé, mais pas la lanterne rouge. I'm the oldest student, but not the worse one. "la lanterne rouge" is a phrase we learned today that means "the red lantern", "in last place", "bringing up the rear of the train". It's used a lot in soccer newspaper coverage.

Back from 2 lectures, one on language and culture given by a linguist, one on images of Paris. The first I partially understood and enjoyed and was very humorous and the second I mostly didn't understand. It seems to depend a lot on the speaker. Not just the speed. I go to these and listen to them even though I don't usually understand very much in the hope that just hearing the spoken language will make me get a little better understanding it. I think I've made some progress, but it's hard to tell. Can't hurt!

At the language and culture lecture the lecturer spoke at length about the French tradition of education and language learning through the study of literary texts. The kind of thing we've been doing in class (part of the time). The painfully detailed analysis of nearly every word and turn of phrase, and the dictées. He said that the tradition is slowly changing to include more of popular culture and every-day language. But it's definitely still a tradition. I used to work with Martin Mueller, a wonderful professor of classics and English at Northwestern. Part of what we were doing was facilitating what he called the "close reading" of literary texts through the use of computers. I believe this is the same concept. Very interesting.

There are definite intellectual links between my old job and what I'm doing now, and that's very interesting to me. I wish Martin was here so I could discuss it with him. He'd have about a million insightful remarks, I'm certain. Most of them accompanied by totally appropriate quotes from Shakespeare.

Yesterday we listened to Yves Montand sing "Sous le ciel de Paris" and discussed the lyrics in class. It's a beautiful song about Paris. Certainly overly sentimental ("à l'eau de rose" would be the French expression), but I like it anyway. Here's a translation I found on the net while studying the vocabulary this morning. "Paname" is the surname of Paris.

Under the Parisian Sky

Beneath the Parisian sky
A song flutters away,
It was born today
In a young man's heart
Beneath the Parisian sky
Lovers walk about,
Their happiness built
Upon a tune made just for them

Beneath the Pont de Bercy
There's a seated philosopher
Two musicians and a few onlookers
And then people in the thousands
Beneath the Parisian sky
Will sing into the evening
The hymn of the people in love
With their old city

Near Notre Dame
Perhaps trouble's brewing
But in "Paname" everything gets worked out
A few rays
From the summer sky
The accordion
Of a sailor
Hope is blossoming
In the Parisian sky

Beneath the Parisian sky
A joyous river flows
That lulls the tramps
And beggars to sleep
Beneath the Parisian sky
God's birds
Come from around the world
To chat among themselves

The Parisian sky
Has its own secret
For twenty centuries it has been in love
With our Île Saint-Louis
When she smiles at him
He puts on his blue suit
When it rains over Paris
It's because he's sad
When he is jealous
Of her millions of lovers
He unleashes upon us
His roaring thunder
But the Parisian sky
Is not cruel for long
So that he may be forgiven
He offers a rainbow

After class we all line up to use the bathroom in the old church where our classroom is located. This is an emergency exit where we all from our queue, some very old stairs that don't look like they've been fixed or changed for hundreds of years. Spooky.

A Bien! and two frogs (!?) on my first dictée.

The little pencil line just to the right of the bottom frog means "1 wrong on this line". I had "d'un ami" where I should have had "d'ami". Should have got that one right, but it's understandable. Not my worst mistake.

I have no idea what the frogs are all about. They don't tell us much here. When they do, it's in French, so I don't understand it.

So I got a "Bien" on my dictée and two "frogs". What does that mean? Is it possible to get a "Très bien" and three frogs? Would three frogs be better than two in some significant way, or are those just whimsy? What are the other grades? "Mauvais" and "très mauvais"? Is there a curve? Are we going to have any kinds of tests or other formal evaluations other than the dictées? Is there no syllabus? Unlike in American schools, where all of this information is considered to be so critically important, absolutely none of this has been explained to us. We just show up each day not really knowing what to expect. Isn't that strange? I'm not really complaining, because I'm getting more out of this class than just about any I've taken in the States, but I'm curious. I can't believe that it's sloppiness or laziness on the part of the school, because in every other respect it's very well run, like a machine. Is it a cultural difference? I don't know.

Today's jambon au fromage with "Emmental" cheese, a medium-hard Swiss. You see Emmental on nearly all the menus here. I don't recall seeing it that much back home. Was I just not looking?

Tastes like Swiss cheese. Nothing special.

Today's wine is a Pinot Noir from Burgundy. Domaine Labry Auxey-Duresses 2008.

That Burgundy Pinot Noir is very good. I read that wine snobs like to debate which is the best red wine in the world - Bordeaux or Burgundy. Don't ask me. They both taste just fine to me. The Pinot Noir grape is reportedly very difficult to grow, and Burgundy is one of the few places in the world where it can really thrive. That's interesting. When I go shopping for a new bottle I like to read a bit and make a decision about what I'm going to buy with just a tiny bit of understanding behind it. I'm trying to make a tour of all the wine growing regions in France and their major varieties. But I'm not buying super expensive high end vintages. This bottle was I think the most expensive, and it was only about 17 euros.

Jeremy sent me pictures today to cheer me up. The first one above is Ziggy, the second one below is Aladdin. They're sisters. See why I miss them? We're trying to set up a time for a Facebook chat. I wonder if it will mean anything at all to them?


Turns out there are multiple "Bals du Pompier" this weekend. One of them is on Saturday night right down the street in Arènes de Lutèce. I'm definitely going. For the viewing pleasure of all my female friends, see the picture above of one of Paris' handsome firemen.

Comme toujours, arrivez tôt – les casernes sont petites, et il y a toujours foule…

As usual, get there early - the venues are small, and always crowded.

Both the policemen and the firemen here have just the best most handsome uniforms ever.

The bal in Arènes de Lutèce tomorrow evening is "Le seul bal des pompiers organisé en dehors d’une caserne", the only bal held outside a fire station.

Those super-buff fireman hang out in groups of three or four on the sidewalks in their tight uniforms getting adoring looks from all the young women.