Sunday, August 11

I do homework and waste time chatting on FaceBook.

After a long afternoon nap, I was feeling a bit down last night and took yet another long melancholy walk down in the 14th, in the southern part of Paris. There's not much special to see there or photograph, just a nice residential area. I think it wouldn't be a bad place to live. Pretty much a tourist-free zone. A melancholy walk in Paris is not at all a bad thing. Indeed, I consider it to be mandatory for any successful visit! If you don't have anything else to feel melancholy about, you can be sad that you don't live here permanently, which I think was pretty much my problem last night.

Such a huge amount of walking! I've definitely lost weight - had to tighten the belt another notch. Hope I can keep it off when I get back to normal life in Chicago. I really like feeling fit and strong in my legs and without a big male roll of fat around my belly.

We are getting a 4 day holiday next weekend. We can all definitely use a nice mini-vacation.

Today: No long walks! Just homework.

You'd think I would have figured this out by now. Went out to do a much-needed grocery shopping only to discover (again - happens every week) that the grocery stores close very early on Sundays. Only 1 pm, but the big Carrefour - closed. The medium-sized Franprix - closed. Had to get everything at the little two-aisle Sitis corner convenience mart where the selection is very limited. Oh well. Got everything I needed - milk, diet coke, ham, cheese, eggs, bread, frozen burgers and fries, and toothpaste. Big list! Can you imagine Jewel closing at 1 pm on Sunday? Only 7-11 open for groceries?

Lots and lots of stores here also close on Monday, including that boulangerie I like. And right now lots of stores are shut down for pretty much the whole month with signs announcing "congé annuel" (annual holiday), including my favorite store in Paris, my wine merchant, which sucks.

There's nothing very special about Carrefour and Franprix. Just regular grocery stores. Biggest difference from the same stores in the States is that they have big wine sections.

The restaurants all post their full menus and prices outside here. I think it's a law. It's nice. One of them on the mouf features "cuisse de grenouille". I wonder how many American tourists have ordered it by mistake. It's frog legs. I like snails and foie gras, but I draw the line at frogs. Everyone says it tastes like chicken.

Started doing some research for my trip to Normandy the first week in September after classes end. Tentative plan:

Monday: Take train to Caen. Visit the Peace Museum. Walk around the town. Get back on (same) train and take short trip to Bayeux. Check into hotel.

Tuesday: Take tour of WWII beaches from Bayeux. Spend another night in the hotel.

Wednesday: Check out of hotel. See the Bayeux tapestry and explore the town. Get back on (same) train and take short trip to Cherbourg. Check into hotel and spend the night.

Thursday: Check out of hotel. See the sights in Cherbourg. Take train back to Paris.

Friday: Meet kids at airport!

I decided that trying to fit in a visit to Mont Saint-Michel would be too much for this trip.

I will NOT be renting a car. I don't want to break my summer streak without any f**king cars.

My biggest "regret" this summer is not enjoying more restaurants. It's not really a problem eating alone in a restaurant here - the mechanics of ordering and communicating with the waiters is not the issue. They all speak English, and in fact prefer it with tourists like me over trying to fumble around endlessly in our bad French. It just feels "creepy" to me to be all alone at a table, even if I bring a book or the pad to hang out on the Internet. I don't really feel "lonely", just "creepy", and I can't seem to come up with a better word. Is this irrational? Probably, but I don't think I'm unusual for feeling this way. After trying to do this many times when I first got here, I've pretty much given up, and I just get good carryout or cook for myself in the apartment. And I feel exactly the same way about this at home in Chicago. It's not a Paris thing. I think it's just a personality thing. We're all irrational in various ways that differ from person to person. I don't find it to be a huge deal, just something I recognize in myself and deal with.

The bars are a bit better. Stopping in for a beer by myself isn't bad. I had a fantastic time watching the Wimbledon final at a really funky bar down the street. There were some girls from England going absolutely crazy watching Murray beat Djokovic in straight sets. That was fun! I was very much rooting for Murray too.

And stopping at a café for a tiny cup of espresso is no problem. Sitting at one of those little outside tables and people-watching is great fun. Being alone is no problem in that context. Strange, isn't it? I had a particularly good time with my little espresso at Café de Flore on fancy-pantsy Boul St-Germain, pretending I was Jean-Paul waiting for Simone to show up.

After whining about not liking to sit in restaurants all alone, just to make a fool out of myself (perhaps at best one of my more endearing traits?), I just had le petit déjeuner over in La Contrescarpe and read some Iain Banks on the pad (God, he wrote well) and watched the neighborhood wake up and come sleepily to life on a Sunday morning.

The guys who own the huge dog in the neighborhood sat down for breakfast, with the dog, as usual. Gave two cigarettes to the crazy lady. Understood the second waiter when he asked "avez-vous déjà commander?" (have you already ordered?). Very cool this morning, wore my jacket. Not so bad!

Only three hours later, but the hood has finally woken up and Place de la Contrescarpe is getting busy, with musicians playing for all the brunchers and tourists. The Mouf is crowded, as usual.

Being the only customer or near that helps a lot. This morning I was almost alone in the big empty La Contrescarpe, and it didn't feel so weird. But now when it's crowded I'd be spooked. The waiters there recognize me as a somewhat frequent customer who isn't just a one-off tourist, and that helps too.

Same goes for stores too. I frequent a boulangerie around the corner, and the cute girls who work behind the counter all know me by now and give me a little smile and a bit more than the usual perfunctory "bonjour" and "au revoir". Not all that much to brag about for sure, but it makes a difference. If I just want some good bread or a "sandwich jambon" that's where I'll usually go.

When I try to speak French to a waiter or clerk, they get aggravated and insist on English to save time. But as time has gone by here I get this less and less because I believe that my French has achieved the high status of "barely tolerable".

"Barely tolerable" is an admirable goal in life. Now, if only I smelled better... Which came to mind because of a funny incident in class. We had to describe a picture. One person in the picture was looking down at some dog droppings on the sidewalk and holding his nose (appropriate for Paris). A student said "il sent mauvais", intending to say "he smelled something bad". The prof laughed and informed us that this means "he smells bad", like he needs to take a shower. Very funny. Which just goes to demonstrate that it's always a bad idea to volunteer in class, because the probability of not making a mistake is vanishingly small, and the probability of making a fool of yourself is quite high, so if you have even a tiny shred of pride left after having it beaten to a pulp in the class already, it's best to keep quiet.

Have I mentioned that my class is hard? The test on Friday was typical. There were questions about what we had studied that week, as on a typical test in an American university class, but also questions going back all the way to the beginning of the class. For example, we had to give the names of 6 pictured objects: A rake, a ladder, a faucet, a power drill, a screwdriver, and a screw. In theory, we "studied" the names of these objects many weeks ago, but of course everyone has forgotten them. There have been many hundreds of new vocabulary words to learn since then. It's not fair! I only got rake and ladder right. Give me a break - I didn't remember the word for "power drill"! And you have to get the gender and accent marks right too, or it's points off.

We were assigned almost no homework this weekend. That's not a good sign. Does the prof have something particularly diabolical planned for class tomorrow? On verra!

From our human anatomy lesson last week:

une jambe = a leg
une fesse = a buttock
une hanche = a hip
un cuisse = a thigh (as in cuisse de grenouille)
un genou = a knee
un mollet = a calf
une cheville = an ankle
un pied = a foot
un orteil = a toe

a pain in the fesse = me

More vocabulary:

screw (as fastened by a screwdriver, noun) = une vis
screw (as fastened by a screwdriver, verb) = visser
screw (other meaning, noun) = un coup
screw (other meaning, verb) = baiser

The first two I learned in class. The last two I learned in a bar.

You know what would be cool? To know French well enough to go to the movies here. They have the most awesome charming tiny movie theaters here, and the posters for the movies look really interesting. And lots of them show old classics from the French cinema.

I've watched French movies at home. Without subtitles, it's hopeless. With English subtitles, I can certainly follow the dialog and plot, but I still don't understand the French. With French subtitles, I can understand the French. But French movies with French subtitles are nearly impossible to find back home, even in NU's extensive video library collection.

Watched a really good little movie last year titled L'Homme du Train" ("The Man on the Train") that I came across on cable by accident, with English subtitles. It's a 2002 crime drama directed by Patrice Leconte, starring Jean Rochefort and Johnny Hallyday. It had one of those famous French surreal and incomprehensible endings. Jean Rochefort is an excellent and famous actor. Johnny Halliday is an old pop star (the French Elvis) who was surprisingly good in the film.

Also rented "L'Heure d'été" ("Summer Hours") last year from the NU library, with subtitles in French. It's a 2008 drama directed by Olivier Assayas and stars Juliette Binoche. It's about a family of siblings who gather at the death of their mother. Very moving. Won lots of awards.

And I once watched and wrote a paper on Truffaut's 1959 film "Les Quatre cents coups" ("400 Blows"), a classic of the French "new wave" cinema. The last scene of that film is famous, a zoom in to a freeze frame, with the young boy staring straight into the camera caught on the beach between the land and the sea. Quite dramatic and touching. "400 Blows" is a literal translation of "Les Quatre cents coups", which is an idiomatic expression meaning "raising hell".

But I think that's about the extent of my contact with the French cinema.

Based on the number of posters plastered all over the city, one of the hot films of the summer must be something called Jeune & Jolie. It opens on Aug. 21. Might be worth seeing just for the, um, cinematography.

They close off lots of the streets every Sunday, and only permit cyclists and pedestrians.

Lots and lots of cyclists here. Not just on the vélibs, but on pretty nice touring and racing bikes too. Saw a flock of em the other day stop at a takeout joint on the mouf. One of them was riding a nice Trek. Told him I rode one of those about 30 years ago!

The noun "la voie" means lots of things: way, route, street, road, lane, rails (for a train), career path, way in life, means, approach, way forward. For example, in a train station, if your train is on track 13, that's "voie 13".

"une mairie" (feminine) is a city hall or city council (government). "un maire" (masculine, even for a women) is a mayor, the head of the city government (le premier magistrat de la commune). "Passer devant le maire" means "to get married", kind of like our expression "get hitched down at city hall".

"un piéton" is a pedestrian (noun, masculine). It can also be used as an adjective. For example, I live on "une rue piétonne" (feminine form of the adjective).

18H is 6 pm. Hard to get used to that. You can say "six heures du soir", but I never hear or see it. Everyone uses the 24-hour clock.

Anything else in the sign need explaining? "aux" is the mandatory (obligatoire) contraction for "à" + "les" = "to" + "the".

The second "e" at the end of "réservé" (reserved) is required because the noun "voie" is feminine. Miss that one on a test and for sure it's a point off. It's just the most impossible language.

This discussion counts as homework.

In addition to being a city, Paris is also a "department" within the "region" of Île de France. The mayor is also the head of the "department".

The current mayor of Paris is Bertrand Delanoë, pictured above, first elected in 2001 as the first socialist mayor of the city, reelected in 2008.

Before the revolution, there wasn't a "mayor". The city was ruled by the merchants. After the Bastille fell on July 14, 1789, the head of the merchants was killed in front of Hôtel de Ville. The next day the first mayor of Paris was elected, Jean Sylvain Bailly. The mayor still lives in the Hôtel de Ville.

These are all important things to know!

It's 10 am, but the restaurant is empty, as you can see. They wake up late here on Sundays. At the top of the picture you can see the waiter in the white shirt and tie talking to some guys. Typical breakfast here: Coffee, juice, a croissant, and a small baguette with jam. That's all. Nine euros at La Contrescarpe, which is too much, but you're paying for the ambience there, not the food. I mean, the food's not horrible or anything, just mostly average at best and a bit overpriced, even for Paris.

"Nine euros" in French is "neuf euros". "Nine hours" and "Nine years" in French are "neuf heures" and "neuf ans" respectively. With "neuf euros" the "f" is pronounced as an "f", as you'd expect. But with "neuf heures" and "neuf ans" it's pronounced as a "v", which is a weird exception. Those are the only two cases where a liaison is formed with the "f" in "neuf" where it changes to a "v" sound. "Why?" you might reasonably ask. Don't ask me. I'm now beyond asking "why?". I've learned that it's a waste of time. The answer is always "just because ... now let's move on."

Cheeseburger and fries for dinner. How American is that? Actually, the French like it too. No oven, so had to actually "fry" the frozen fries. Got a little burned, but still good. The cheese is comté - cheap stuff from the convenience mart, not the good stuff from the fromagerie.