I attend two interesting lectures on Île de France and Normandy.
Things I've figured out about French and me:
There's another fellow from Columbia in my class who is the opposite. He has no trouble at all understanding spoken French and he speaks very rapidly and fluently. But he says his grammar and writing are very bad, even when he has time to think and do research. This is just incomprehensible to me but I've been told by several teachers that this is common. Different people have completely different ways of dealing with languages. Very interesting and strange.
The young man from Columbia is very outgoing. For example, in phonetics yesterday we were switching places with the other set of students between the classroom and the lab with the headsets and microphones. As the other students filed past in the hallway he greeted each one with a "salut!" very enthusiastically. We were all laughing.
Two more good lectures today, on Île de France, the region that includes Paris and it's suburbs (and Brie!), and the other one on Normandy. I don't try to take notes or anything, I just listen and enjoy. The lecturers in the late afternoon are specially trained in speaking to people like me who aren't fluent. They're very good at it and I'm enjoying the lectures a great deal and learning lots of new stuff about France and Paris.
The lecturer talked about lots of châteaux in both regions. She said Versailles is too over-the-top and she likes many of the other ones better. Wish I had time to visit all of them. Le Nôtre did the gardens in most of them. As for Versailles, she recommended skipping both the château and the main gardens (that I visited) and instead head for the gardens of Marie Antoinette, which she loves. Interesting. I didn't visit that section of Versailles. It's huge. It would take multiple visits to really see everything.
She also talked about cathedrals in the regions. She said Notre Dame de Paris is the most well-known but far from the most beautiful. Again, I wish I had time to see them all. She mentioned Reims, and also Chartres.
She also said that the peace museum in Caen (Mémorial de Caen) is incredibly moving and sad and depressing and a must-see. Caen is not far from Bayeux, which I plan to visit in early September. I should have time to visit the museum.
People often confuse Île de France with the tiny islands in the Seine. The tiny islands are Île de la Cité and Île Saint-Louis. Île de France is one of the 27 administrative regions in France, which are further subdivided into departments, originally defined by Napoleon. Île de France includes Paris, it's suburbs, and a large surrounding rural area that is heavily agricultural with rich soil. It has almost 12 million inhabitants, about 20% of the population of France in less than 2% of the area. The residents are called "Franciliens".
Very approximately, a "region" in France corresponds to a "state" in the US.
Speaking of Normandy, the lecturer told us all about how to get a good camembert. First, skip the supermarket and go to a good fromagerie. You need to check the color, the consistency/texture, and the aroma. Best to let the fromager pick for you because he knows what he's doing. Yes, these people are quite serious about their food.
And whatever you do, don't visit Mont Saint Michel in the summer - way way too many tourists. Do it in the spring or fall. And watch out for the tide - it comes in faster than a horse can run.
France is a small country, only about 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) from top to bottom and from left to right. It's shaped like a hexagon and it's sometimes called "l'Hexagone".