Friday, July 12

I discover that I did better on the phonetics test than expected, and I make plans for the big weekend ahead.

I can't hide the fact that I'm American. I don't look at all French. Maybe I could be mistaken for a Scandinavian or perhaps an Englishman, but never a Frenchman. We hadn't spoken a word, but when I quickly handed a pile of correct change to a store clerk a few minutes ago without fumbling, she gave me a surprised look as if to say "I wasn't expecting that."

I will never sound like a French person, even if I keep studying forever and some day by some miracle became completely literate and fluent. I remember talking to a linguistics grad student at a lunch at the Sorbonne during my trip to Paris in 2006. I had just visited Arc du Carrousel and he had no idea what I was saying when I told him where I'd been. He tried to teach me how to say it throughout lunch, but no matter how hard I tried I couldn't say it right. Still can't. Likely never will.

I would prefer it if French women found my accent "charming". My old teacher Sara (a Parisienne) told me that my accent would always be bad, but the French would enjoy it anyway, and would think of me as "that charming American with his funny accent". If I could achieve that, I'd be quite content. I'm still working on both the accent and the "charm".

The Brazilian classmate I'm friendly with asked the teacher what the best French cheeses are, because he wants to try them and learn about them. She hemmed and hawed and basically refused to answer. So I gave my classmate the name and location of La Frommere and the list of the 3 cheeses I got there: brie meaux, comté aged 24 months, and roquefort. I hope he checks it out! It's one of the best fromageries in Paris.

No lectures this afternoon, so LE WEEK-END EST ARRIVÉ! Unfortunately, I have tons of homework, including an essay to write.

I had a minor triumph early this morning. I ran out of cigarettes at about 4 am. By the time I went to class at 8 am I was desperate. When I got off the train by the church, I stopped in a fancy hotel and asked the clerk at the desk in very fluent and correct and pretty speedy French if he knew where I could find a "tabac" that was open at that hour. He stumbled a bit when he answered, as if he knew he needed to talk English to an obvious "étranger" like me, but he went ahead and gave me directions in normal speed French. I understood him, said "merci", followed his directions, and scored my cigarettes. It's really fun to be able to, on rare occasions like this one, completely disturb the Frenchman's normal view of how his world works.

Starving. At La Contrescarpe. Ordered foie gras appetizer, beef steak "au poivre", and a nice dessert and coffee too. Lunch was quite good. Now I'm really sleepy. Time for a nap!

With my goofy sleeping schedule, I eat my big meal of the day at 1 or 2 pm like today. Dinner will probably be just a couple of crackers and some salami and cheese, with glass of wine. And there's no time for any kind of breakfast. I have been losing weight, mostly because of the large amount of walking.

When I get back home in the fall I'll probably take more classes at my French school in Wilmette, maybe both a higher level language class and a literature class. But it won't be at all the same thing. Not even close.

The gruyère I always get in Chicago is very strong. I've had some here that's much milder, and I like it better.

Plans and schedule made for La Fête Nationale:

Sat 4 pm: FaceTime chat with Jeremy and the kittens.

Sat 6 or 7 pm - Sun 2 am: Bal des Pompièrs, Arènes de Lutèce, a few hundred meters down the street and across rue Monge from my apartment in the 5th. Fireman's ball. Will walk over there at 5 or so to hopefully get a seat on one of those two thousand year-old benches. If I get drunk enough I might even dance.

Sun 9 am - Noon: Défilé militaire sur l'Avenue des Champs-Élysées. Military parade. Will try to get a viewing spot at Rond Point, Champs-Élysées. (Franklin Roosevelt métro station). May need to buy cardboard periscope from street vendor to see anything. Always a huge mob of people for the parade.

Sun 11 pm - 11:30 pm. Feu d'artifice (fireworks) at le Trocadéro. Will probably try to view them from the middle of Pont Neuf so I can walk home and avoid the horrible métro crush. One of the best viewing spots is the top of Montmartre but again, want to avoid the métro.

In between: Homework. Lots of it.

Sleep schedule: To be implemented. Going to be tough to fit this in. But don't feel sorry for me.

I got 15/20 on the phonetics test, not good, but much better than I had anticipated, especially since on 16/20 of the questions I was just mumbling back noises that I didn't understand.

My comprehension is definitely getting better in real-life situations where there is conversation or a lecture with context to supply clues. But when I'm given a random sentence devoid of any context, even a simple one, like on that phonetics test, I most often have no clue at all what is begin said. I'm going to ask my phonetics prof, an extremely nice and kind woman, if there's anything I can do to work on this problem.

Not much else to report from classes this morning. More grammar and more phonetics, nothing too special. Maybe just one example from grammar that I got wrong on my homework:

There's a rule that says that the indefinite article "des" is replaced by "de" when it follows the verb in a negative sentence. There are several exceptions, but none apply in this example.

Consider the following correct negative sentence:

Il n'a pas peur des araignées.
He is not afraid of spiders.

So why isn't the "des" replaced by "de" in this sentence like the rule says it should be?

Answer: The word "des" in this sentence is not the indefinite article "des". It's a combination of the preposition "de" and the definite article "les": "de" + "les" = "des". So can I be excused for missing that one on the homework?

From a story on the net about a former Bal des Pompiers. The picture is for all the women.



There is no question that « Le Bal des Pompiers » held on July 13 
and 14 is one the most popular parties in Paris. Every July, fire 
stations across Paris turn up the heat and become the hottest 
dance parties around. The Paris firemen are handsome, smiling, 
open-minded and welcoming. The fact that they also save lives 
contributes as much to their popularity with Parisians and 
tourists as does their friendly attitude.

Joining the Paris Fire Brigade is not a simple job. You have 
to be in top physical condition and practice no less than four 
hours of sports each day. It is no wonder that the fire fighters 
are in top physical shape. The officers must also achieve very 
high grades in top-level schools such as Saint Cyr, a kind of 
« Military Harvard ».

In both courtyards, live DJs were playing hits from the 90’s as 
well as classic disco. The crowd was a fabulous mix of military, 
firemen, local residents, tourists, couples, and young people all 
together in a fun ambiance that you cannot find anywhere but in Paris.

Sounds like a good time, doesn't it?

I didn't think it was possible (not being a girl, you know), but these guys look even better out of uniform.

After doing this research, I see why our prof was so excited when she talked about this big party with the firemen.

After my nap I went on a long ramble around the 5th, visiting streets I haven't been on before. Left the phone and map at home on purpose because I wanted to get lost. I did. Finally came upon the fountain at the southern end of the mouf and knew where I was. Picked up a little treat for dinner at a pâtisserie - une tarte aux noix de pécans, a pecan tarte. Looks good!