Monday, July 15

I start to learn the names of my classmates, get a coveted "très bien" from the prof, and go to a terrific lecture on the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower.

I really need to stop drinking so much coffee right before two hours in class without a bathroom break. Waiting in the long line back in the church dungeon for the bathroom is unbearable. TMI?

"Diet coke" is called "Coca-Cola light" here (sans calorie), with the word "light" in English, not French. It took me 3.5 weeks to figure this out. I'm smarter than I look, which is a good thing, but I'm not all THAT smart. Anyway it tastes really good after going 3.5 weeks without any. I'm having some with lunch right now. Salami and butter on "pain aux noix" (nut bread).

Quite warm today. Walked into a Franprix that was air-conditioned. Felt very good.

That $800 iPad mini I bought for my Paris trip? Its sole function is as a clock and alarm that I keep next to my bed up in the loft. Funny. I take my phone when I leave the apt for taking pics, and for the map and métro apps. Don't really need the pad for going to class. For class I need my two textbooks and my paper and notebooks but that's all. Although the mini would be nice right now at the Arènes reading blogs and slumming on FB. Much nicer than tiny phone.

Got a spreadsheet with the names and email addresses of everyone in my class in my email. Here's the first names. Rather international isn't it?

Irina, Hiroshi, Begüm, Joel, Huijiao, Chaipanha, Ekaterina, Selin, Ezgi, Nazmiye Selin, Juan Camilo, Meltem, Wee Ling, Ayla, Charlene, Raquel, Deo, John, Hsiao Yen, Hristiha, Maho, Dali

Irina is our prof. Deo from Brazil has become a friend. He sits behind me and we're always together in the group activities, along with Hiroshi, an older Japanese gentleman. Deo taught me how to pronounce his name yesterday. An extremely nice young man. He's a bit older than the others, a bit over 30. His wife Raquel is also in our class.

I learned from Hiroshi that in Japan they never cross the street on a red light, even if there's no traffic. It just isn't done there. It must be hard for him to get used to Paris.

Met a nice couple from New Zealand waiting for the lecture to start. Older people like me. Asked if their accent was similar to an Australian accent. They took a bit of friendly offense at that and I had to apologize. They're taking one of the beginning level classes. We spoke in English, which felt strange.

While waiting for lab to start I was playing the cute old Dad role to the max. I had all the kids in my class laughing really hard. The class clown. The teacher walked in and asked if "Jean" was telling a joke. I said "Oui, au sujet du français et les vieux américains." They're very cute kids. I want to adopt them now and bring them home with me as pets.

All my classmates are very interested in what life is like in the States. We're still kind of a "special" country in the eyes of the rest of the world, I think.

Got a coveted "très bien" in class. Prof asked why the answer to an exercise problem was "de". I said that I wan't sure, but I thought is was the preposition "de" plus the partitive article "de la", which always contracts to "de". (Saying "de de la" would be just too awkward.) She said "très bien, Jean!". Je suis si fier. (I'm so proud.) (And please stop correcting my spelling, stupid MacBook. I typed "fier". That's what I wanted, not "fire".) I think that all the time I spent hanging out with linguists in my old job is paying off a bit. Who knew?

We also learned today that it's illegal to throw a cigarette butt (un mégot de cigarette) on the sidewalk or in the street. But there are no public ashtrays. What are supposed to do, swallow them? The fine is 38 euros maximum. Good thing they don't enforce it, or my retirement portfolio would be all used up by now. It's also illegal to drive on a pedestrian-only passage, cut flowers in public gardens and parks, and ride your bike on the sidewalk (unless you're under 6 years old). For the last offense you can get your driver's license suspended for up to 3 years. Harsh.

The prof brought in little cubes of comté for "une dégustation" at the end of class. Nice. But no Bordeaux to pair with it. C'est dommage.

I'm learning in phonetics lab that the French only pronounce about a third of the syllables and letters in their sentences, except in Paris, where they only pronounce one tenth of them. No wonder they're so damn hard to understand.

On walk from class to lab I was preoccupied thinking about something from class and I turned down the wrong street by mistake. Muttered to myself "Merde, je suis encore perdue" - "Shit, I'm lost again". My street French is improving.

The lecture on the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower was awesome, the best one so far. I expected dry historical information. Instead he wove together themes of contrast around the two monuments: right bank vs. left, autocratic vs. democratic, conservative vs. progressive, stone vs. iron, classical vs. modern, linear vs. hyperbolic, war vs. science, chance vs. necessity. It was fascinating. In most lectures towards the end I start wondering when it will be over so I can leave. Not this one. I could have listened to this guy for hours. Plus he was very funny and made a few cracks about tourists and stereotypes, American in particular, that were hilarious.

He drew a picture half with his words and half with his hands of a Frenchman in a beret smoking a cigarette with a baguette under his arm. He said that all Americans want to do is ride the bateaux mouches up and down the river between Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower, and how a Parisian would never go on a dinner cruise on the Seine. "Why should I pay that much for a crappy dinner when I can have 3 good ones for the same price?" And more of the same. Cracked up the audience. And how the tower was built with iron from Alsace-Lorraine, at the time of a German occupation, and it was a way for France to thumb their noses at the Germans: "And what have the Germans built with all that iron? Rien!"

Left bank: artists and intellectuals. Right bank: business people and bobos. All you need to know about a Parisian is his address, everything else about him can be deduced from that single piece of information. The two cultures do not like each other much or interact much. West Paris: rich, East Paris: poor. Four quarters NW, NE, SE, and SW with distinct populations and attitudes. The main dividing line is the straight line that starts at Notre Dame, goes through the Louvre, up the Tuileries to Place do la Concorde, down the length of the Champs Élysées to the Arc de Triomphe. and continues on to La Defense. On the left bank the west/east dividing line is approximately Boul St-Michel, but at an angle that includes some of the 6th. All very fascinating. How does this relate to the two monuments? He made it all clear somehow.

Two Parisians talking about a third: He lives in the 20th? What's that? Does that even exist?

Talking about a less preferred area of Paris (in the opinions of the speakers): "Il n'y a rien à faire!" (There's nothing to do there!)

Sacre Coeur is not a well-liked monument. It was built in the late 19th century after a revolutionary uprising and is considered an insult. "Personne n'y va" (Nobody goes there). Where "nobody" means no Parisian. "Agréable" (Notre Dame) and "désagréable" (Sacre Coeur) was another theme of contrast.

Before the tower nobody had ever even consider building a monument out of anything other than stone. Personne. Jamais. But the tower is about 300 meters tall, and you can't build a monument out of stone that's higher than about 100 meters. The wind would just knock it over. But the tower can withstand the wind and everything else.

The tower does not honor any particular person or group of people. It does not commemorate any particular event. It has no politics or religion. It is in this sense "democratic".

French intellectuals are good at what they do. This guy made me understand things that I maybe already knew or felt subconsciously but had never conceptualized or organized or put into good words before. Plus all sorts of new stuff I wasn't at all aware of. All woven together into a coherent story involving ideas from nearly every discipline in a very clever and stimulating way. Bravo.

Reminds me a bit of listening to Larry Lessig speak, except Larry is just plain crazier. Not as coherent.

He even drew a graph with x and y axes and talked about hyperbolas.

When done poorly, this sort of thing turns into a parody of itself. I've listened to a few of those, especially French academics talking about literature and the weird kind of analysis they do. But this guy was good.

Another left/right difference I've noticed: Right bank: streets named after generals, men and women better looking and better dressed. Left bank: streets named after artists, writers, philosophers, mathematicians, and scientists. Men and women still look good and "chic", but not like on the right bank.

I know exactly who that lecturer reminded me of. Not Larry Lessig. It just came to me. Jean-Louis Gassée, the Apple executive back in the old days who founded Be, Inc. Wonderful speaker. Incredibly funny and stimulating at the same time. But Jean-Louis had a much dirtier mouth. Maybe the lecturer yesterday does too, but was restraining himself.

My classroom is in a very good neighborhood. This picture is of the well-known Hôtel Montalembert next door to the church. 5 stars is good as it gets. The inside looks like a palace.

Wow, another part of Arènes de Lutèce that I hadn't discovered before. Very pleasant here sitting in the shade on a bench. With free wifi, naturellement. Little group of chattering kids just went past, but otherwise I'm all alone. Peaceful.

Back from the Arènes. When I left I had two options - a really long circuitous route up and down some ancient stairs, or climb over an iron railing onto a ledge and drop down about 8 feet to the sandy ground. I chose the latter. Some kids were leaping across a big gap from one ledge to another. Very acrobatic. One of them landed on the ledge right next to me. I told him "tres bien fait" (very well done). He asked if I wanted to try. I told him "Non, non, non, merci. Je pars." (No, no, no, thanks - I'm leaving). It was very nice of him to think that I could even come close to doing that. When I was his age, sure, but now? In any case, it was too cute for words, hanging out on that ledge with the other kids.

Dinner tonight is Asian again, travers de porc au caramel (spare ribs in a caramel sauce). I passed on the rice because I've been eating so much bread. As always with the food here, it's delicious. The international cuisine is particularly good.