Friday, August 2

I realize that this may be the hardest class I've ever taken. A group of us go out to a bar and have a good time.

2 am in Paris, and I'm awake and starting my homework.

Felt strange after class yesterday to not have to march down Boul St-Germain to go to phonetics class. Just took the métro back home, did my shopping, made and ate my huge croque madames, and took a 3 hour nap. Then got up and went to the lecture, came back home, and went right back to sleep!

It will be the weekend again shortly. Hurray! The two-day horrible heat wave is supposed to break, with very comfortable temperatures forecast for the weekend and all next week. Double hurray! I definitely plan to do that bike ride in the Bois de Boulogne. What else, I don't know yet. Well, another pile of homework is a given.

A bunch of us are going out to a bar later tonight, close to my apartment on rue Monge. We all agree that after this week we need some alcohol. Only problem is: wine or beer? Or both?

The heat is really bad. I'm glad it's going to cool off by about 20 degrees tomorrow.

Just had the most interesting long conversation with a man up on Boul St-Michel. He represents one of France's many small political parties. French politics is so complicated that I'm not even sure I understood whether his party was à droite (on the right) or à gauche (on the left). We talked about financial crises, too big to fail banks, Glass-Steigel, Elizabeth Warren, François Holland, the European monetary union, the US congress, Lyndon LaRouche (of all things), Paul Krugman, and tons of other really interesting economic and political topics. He made a couple of hilarious jokes but unfortunately I can't remember them. He was standing next to some placards. His purpose there was to talk politics to people and promote his party. He spoke perfect English. Said his wife is from Columbia. I remembered a joke: 5 huge banks dominate French banking. They're "too big to jail".

Had my first dealings with La Poste. Not bad. It's a bit complicated mailing things from here to the States, but a friendly clerk helped me with everything. I understand it can be a bit hit-or-miss at La Poste. It all depends on who helps you. Mailing packages to the States from France is very expensive.

Just had the thought that this is right up there among the hardest classes I've ever taken. It even rivals my math classes in grad school. I do more homework, that's for sure, except maybe in an impossible finite group theory class that I took.

Comparing this class to those grad school math classes, it also feels strange but also actually a bit pleasant to not be the best student in the class. Taking a rigorous academic class in a subject area that is one of your weaknesses rather than one of your strengths is an interesting experience.

Talked briefly to a woman named Ekaterina in my class who is learning French because her husband is working here in Paris. They live in the 10th. I see her and her husband at the lectures, but none of the other students in my class. She's having the same experience in the lectures that I am. Our oral comprehension is slowly getting better. She said that back home she doesn't have anyone around her who speaks French, and it's very useful to just listen to the spoken language on a regular basis here. My experience exactly. Joel goes to the more difficult earlier lectures because his comprehension is a bit better than ours. The lectures are optional but recommended and I've noticed that attendance is rather sparse. I think a lot of the other students don't bother going. That's too bad.

The male/female ratio in the lectures is about 1/10. Most of the females are very attractive very young women in tiny summer dresses. That can be distracting.

In a group activity yesterday we had to talk about leisure activities that we like and that we don't like, with three reasons for each. I said I don't like dancing because I don't know how to do it, I'm shy, and I'm too old. "Stupid, shy, and old". Raquel said that wasn't true at all. How nice! Made me feel good. Little things like that matter! The two other members of our group were a Japanese woman and Ezgi from Turkey. The other students are mostly all quite interesting. The prof makes us sit in different places every day so that we're not always in the same group.

I have a big problem in these group activities. Almost all of the women are very soft-spoken, and there's always lots of background noise, like in a restaurant, from all the other groups talking. This is the worst possible environment for me to hear with my bad ears, even with my hearing aids. They could all be talking English, and I still wouldn't understand them, because I wouldn't be able to hear them.

Fortunately, the prof has a very strong and loud voice. I have no problems at all hearing her. And by now I understand her quite well.

Ezgi and I had to do a two-person exercise where we were given little "story board" drawings for a movie. We had to write a description, first using the imparfait to describe the setting, and then the passé composé to describe the action. We took turns on the sentences. We had to hand it in to get graded/corrected by the prof. That was a fun exercise. For the passé composé, we tried to be careful to get the past participles to properly agree in number and gender with the subject (for verbs conjugated with être) and with the preceding direct object, if any (for verbs conjugated with avoir). That's always tricky.

Had another group exercise this morning where we had to talk about our favorite TV shows. My other group members were from Japan and some-random-country. I wanted to mention the Daley Show and Colbert Report, so I tried to describe what they were so my partners would understand. They laughed and said those were their favorite shows too. I asked if it was difficult to understand all the inside American politics jokes and puns. I should think it would be. CSI was their third favorite show. American TV is everywhere. The Japanese young lady said there are 5 people in her house and 5 TVs. A bit much? I told her we only have one, and I think she felt sorry for me. They were a bit surprised when I told them that lots of younger people in the States don't have TVs at all, they watch their shows on their computers, not always legally.

We also had to talk about our first romance. I told about my one and only awkward date with a friend in high school. Then I told them about how I met Robin, when she called on the phone and said our first words, "You don't know me, but you will." (Vous ne me connaissez pas, mais vous me connaîtrez.) They all that was incredibly sweet.

Two more of those little "exposé" presentations. One woman showed an amazing book of her very beautiful drawings. Afterwards the prof went on a mini-rant about how bad the presentations are. She said mine was the best. Pride began to swell in breast. Then she said they were all terrible and mine was the only acceptable one. Fainter praise? Pride-deflator? She said mine was the only one that had a beginning, a middle, and an end, with some structure, and the middle part was "unique" (?! - is that supposed to be good or bad?) Afterwards I explained outside the classroom to a bunch of classmates that's it's only because I've done this a thousand times before (in English), so I was only a little nervous (because of the French).

The prof did not have us recite our memorized poems. After class we were complaining that we had to memorize a whole poem "pour RIEN!" (for NOTHING!). I pronounced "RIEN" with a proper albeit exaggerated vibrating/rolling R sound at the beginning, kind of like Maurice Chavalier, and of that I was truly proud, because I've never been able to do it before. Got something out of that phonetics class, anyway.

We had two poems and could pick either one. The other one was better, but the one I picked was shorter. You never know, she may make us recite next week.

Had a good time at the bar tonight with some classmates. Very interesting conversation, and lots of beers.

The bar is Le Mirbel near the Censier-Daubenton métro station.

The photo is of me and my friends Deo and Raquel from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The waiter took the picture. Such nice people. Deo is very Latin, very expressive, never stops talking. And Raquel is very sweet. They're both also super intelligent.

Other people who were there include Joel from Sweden, Wee Ling from Shanghai and Hong Kong, Wee Ling's French husband Jordi, Laddaporn from Thailand, and Hiroshi from Japan.

Don't we look happy in this picture? It's because it's the weekend, after a long hard week in class. And the beers.

Deo and Raquel are having a party at their apartment in a few weeks. I think I'll bring something special from La Pâtisserie des Rêves.

Talking for two hours or so in French with these people was quite fun. It was bad French, to be sure, but it was French. The waiter thought we were cute, as did some French people at the next table. I'll take "cute". It helps to be with some "cute" young people from all over the world.

After a few beers I announced that in my opinion using "vous" with each other was just too silly and complicated, and we should be using "tu". From that point on, for the rest of the summer, we used "tu". But not with the prof, never with the prof, that would be a capital offense. This was a first for me. I've never had anyone to use "tu" with before. It's strange but pleasant to use a language that has a way to do this, talk one way informally with friends and family and talk another way formally with others who aren't as "close".

Wee Ling and Laddaporn have lived in Paris for some time. They both greeted everyone with a "faire la bise" air kiss Parisian-style. It was my first experience of this except for the bum in the Marais and Robin's relatives from Eastern Europe. It's quite sweet. Nice.

Jordi is a lawyer and had very interesting things to say about the French educational system and why our class is like it is. He talked about the importance of "la structure" in French education. Essays and presentations must have well-crafted beginnings, middles, and ends, "une structure". This is much more important than the actual content. This echoes exactly what our prof was saying in her mini-rant in class. He says the same principle applies to the kinds of legal briefs he writes. There are formulaic progressions of rules that dictate how the brief must unfold that must always be followed. Very interesting stuff, I think. He also talked about how strict and unforgiving French profs are, very demanding and critical, but always in a constructive way "for the student's own good, so they will learn." I'm definitely experiencing this kind of French education here in Paris this summer, and it's very interesting. Very different from American education. Deo and Raquel also find it to be quite foreign and stressful. Deo said that he wished it was a bit more relaxed and informal, more in tune with his Latin personality. I was sympathetic, but told him I rather enjoyed the challenge and the different style, more formal and difficult.

We complained about having to memorize a poem. Jordi said that we shouldn't complain, this exercise was good for developing the memory, which is exactly what the prof told us. The poems of Jacques Prévert are particularly popular in French schools. Many of them have been set to music and have been sung by artists like Joan Baez and Edith Piaf. But I don't think the one we read.

I talked about how informal my education was in grad school when I was studying mathematical logic, how we'd argue endlessly with the profs, throw erasers at each other in seminars, and then go out drinking with them. Jordi said that he wished there was more interaction in France like this between students and teachers, but there never is.

It was an extremely enjoyable evening, my first socializing since arriving in Paris. I don't know why we waited until the class was half over to do this. We were feeling each other out and getting to know each other, I suspect. It takes time.