Friday, August 23

I get a new name and go out for drinks and dinner with the gang.

Jean-Louis Gassée, one of my favorite Frenchmen.

Now I'm a Jean-Louis too!

Everyone in my class has a such a pretty name, except for me. I mentioned this on FaceBook and a friend suggested that since my middle initial is "L", perhaps I could use the middle name "Louis". Then I'd be "Jean-Louis", a perfectly acceptable common hyphenated double first name in France. Mentioned this to my friends in Paris. So now, all of a sudden, everyone is calling me "Jean-Louis". Love it!

I got lots of sleep last night and am very much a new man today, full of hope and optimism and good cheer. Amazing what good sleep will do for your disposition.

Deo and Raquel walked back to my apartment with me after class, saw my apartment, and took a photo of the menu from Ô Chateau because they're interested in wine and cheese pairings. They both think the restaurant idea next week is a good one. We're going to invite the whole class. Date and restaurant to be determined.

Big groups of laughing chattering kids going past the window today. Nice!

Very loud rock and roll coming from down the street. Must go check it out. Rock and roll emanating from inside courtyard of elementary school behind tall locked gates. Can't see anything. Mystery.

J'ai de la CHANCE. (I'm so LUCKY.) The oral comprehension test was NOT one of those impossible screechy CDs with Parisians talking full speed that's just noise to my ears. The prof read a passage of text twice and we had to answer multiple-choice, true/false, and short (one sentence response) questions. I certainly didn't ace the test, but I know I got at least SOME of the answers right, and I was not expecting that. Hurray!

Made 5 mistakes on the dictée. Not good enough but the substitute prof (very nice woman) said I did very well. No frogs. No idea whether this is just a thing my regular prof does or whether they all do it.

The rédaction was easy and I think I did well. A 150 word in class essay on sports in our lives. All the vocabulary memorization that I've been doing paid off, I think.

A much better day than I had expected and feared. Whew!

I had heard or read somewhere before that tennis shoes are not considered appropriate dress in public unless you're out jogging or playing a sport. Unless they're Converse tennis shoes. Thought that was strange.

In class yesterday the prof elaborated a bit. "Une boîte" is the word for "a box" in French, and also the popular word for "nightclub". She told us that if a group of people show up at a "boîte", they won't be permitted to come in if even just one person is wearing tennis shoes, even Converse shoes. Interesting.

On va aux boîtes ce soir? You guys want to hit the clubs tonight? Leave your tennis shoes at home!

As usual, we had a group activity in class yesterday. I found myself in a two-person group with Ekaterina, the woman who has moved to Paris and wants to find a job. We were given four topics for discussion, all of them about clothes and fashion, this week's theme. So I ended up giving Ekaterina advice on how she should dress for job interviews in Paris. Quite amusing and fun. Then we discussed appropriate attire for a wedding. After much discussion we finally agreed that it would be smart to bring two pairs of shoes, high heels for the ceremony and dinner, and flats for dancing. I'm becoming quite the expert on "la mode". Too incongruous for words.

And we agreed on the list of essentials for a pique-nique in the Lux: baguette, jambon, fromage, vin. That's really all you need. And friends, of course. (baguette, ham, cheese, wine).

High heels are "hauts talons". Sounds like the name of a weapon, doesn't it? Probably not an accident.

We were told in class today that's there's lots more different words in French for women's shoes than for men's shoes. Duh.

There's evidently a difference between "les tennis" and "les baskets", two different kinds of "tennis shoes". But I didn't really understand the distinction.

We talked a lot today about the "golden triangle" haute couture district formed by the Champs Élysées, Av. Montaigne, and Georges V. Didn't much care about that either. That's near where I took all those pictures of Dior, Cartier, etc. the day I went to the parade down the Champs Élysées.

But the grammar today was interesting. Consider the following sentence:

My mother gave me aspirin so that I wouldn't have a headache anymore.

Two ways to write this in French:

Ma mère m'a donné de l'aspirine de sorte que je n'ai plus mal à la tête.
Ma mère m'a donné de l'aspirine de sorte que je n'aie plus mal à la tête.

The first version uses the indicatif "j'ai" and carries the implication that it worked and my headache did indeed go away. (cause and consequence)

The second version uses the subjunctive "j'aie" and expresses a hope that it will work but carries no implication that it actually did. (un but, a goal)

In spoken French you can't hear the difference, but in written French you can see it.

Now THAT's much more interesting than fashion.

Don't give me ideas, FB ads. How's this for targeted advertising? FB must be reading my posts. Plus the NSA, of course. Hi, NSA dudes. Your job must be really boring. Hope you like the jokes.

So they have these plaques all over the place where famous people lived. Deo sighted this hilarious one and posted it on his timeline. Copied and pasted here for your enjoyment. For the illiterate: Here lived a woman who cooked 77,603 meals in her lifetime.

We don't have dictées (dictations) in our schools back home. At least I don't remember having any. I thought some of you might be interested in learning more about them. The picture shows the end result of a dance in four movements, each movement performed on a separate day.

First movement: The prof tells everyone to "rangez vos affaires". That means clean up and put away all your books and papers. You take out a blank sheet of paper - special French student graph paper (obligatoire). The prof reads a passage of text, and you have to write it down as she speaks, double spaced (obligatoire). She reads it very slowly and clearly, one phrase at a time. This is not an oral comprehension test, but a test of your knowledge of the written language. Then the prof reads the text a second time, a little bit faster, and you make corrections as best you can. You hand in your paper.

Second movement: The prof calls up students to the board one at a time and reads the text slowly again. The student must write the text on the board. Each student does a paragraph or so of the text, usually 3 or maybe 4 students to cover the whole text. The student sits down and the prof goes to the board and corrects all the mistakes and discusses in great detail all the grammar, spelling, and other aspects of the written text. All the students copy down the corrected version in their cahiers (notebooks). At this point everyone has the fully corrected version to study at home.

Third movement: Rangez vos affaires. The prof hands back your paper, unmodified and uncorrected. She reads the text one more time, a little bit faster but still fairly slowly and very clearly. You correct all of your own mistakes. You've seen and studied the corrected version, so in theory this should not be difficult, but in practice it's not easy. You hand back in your paper.

Fourth movement: The prof hands back your paper, with a count of the number of errors in your final version, with the errors marked. She may tell you to correct your own final errors at home, or she may discuss them with you personally. This is the end of the dictée.

So it's all very formal and stylized. I think the French do this because the written language is so complicated. When you hear a sentence spoken, it's not at all clear how exactly the sentence is written. So this process helps students learn and understand their written language.

As you can see in the picture, on this last dictée I made 5 mistakes in my final correction (the last one is on the other side of the paper). That's too many in my opinion, even though the prof said I did well.

It has been extremely interesting to me to experience this French educational tradition first hand, up close and personal.

The text is a passage from the novel "Villa Amalia" by the French author Pascal Quignard, published in 2006.

I hadn't even seen a dictée before in my French classes back home. I think it's an effective educational tool. I've certainly benefited and learned from it.

Here's a bad translation:

The movers finished their work. They swept the floor, cleaned up 
their things and some boxes. The young woman stood in front of the 
kitchen window. They put on their jackets and called out goodbye. 
She sat on the edge of the sink, drank a little bit of wine that was 
left in a bottle. Then she opened a box of cookies. Her eyes closed, 
she reflected on the last several days. She made a tour of the rooms, 
observing the black piano in the office. She reflected again. It was 
not only a man she had left, but also her passion. It was a way of 
living her passion that she had left behind.

The type of text used in these dictées varies. I went through my papers.

1. A selection from « Mondo », Mondo et autres histoires, J.-M. G Le Clézio, 1978. I made 8 mistakes and got 2 frogs and a "Bien!".

2. A letter from one friend to another about her new apartment. I made 9 mistakes and was upset with myself.

3. A narrative about a ski vacation. Only 1 mistake! 3 frogs!

4. The last one I showed here. 5 mistakes.

I would have loved to have made no mistakes on just one of these, but I didn't quite manage to do it.

Gotta love that word "rangeaient". So many vowels there at the end. eieio. That's the third person plural imparfait of the verb "ranger" (clean up). Normally the ending is just "aient" but after a "g" you have to throw in an extra "e" because of pronunciation issues. You don't want to know more.

And "le bord" is masculine, not feminine. I knew that. Why did I get it wrong here? No idea. These dictées are harder than you would think.

We're supposed to bring something to eat to class next Friday, the last day of class, for a little party. An opportunity to actually make something nice here in Paris! I really miss (serious) cooking this summer.

So I paged through my new cookbook by Paul Bocuse and found a possibility, Œefs mimosa. No oven is required. If I cut just a few corners, I wouldn't even need to buy any extra equipment, just the ingredients.

The ingredients are eggs, mayonnaise, tomatoes, some sprigs of chives, iceberg lettuce, black olives, a lemon, and optionally filets of tuna in oil. Should be easy to find in the markets.

Of course, one must make one's own mayonnaise, but that's easy. Egg yellows, Dijon mustard, fresh lemon juice, and olive oil.

The recipes are in French but I've already read them and they make sense and look pretty easy. Only had to look up a handful of words (brins de ciboulette = sprigs of chives, laitue pommée = iceberg lettuce, dénoyauter = to remove pits, etc.)

If I made 8 of these and cut them in half for serving I'd have enough for 16 people, more than enough for our class. This is doable!

I think I'll do a test run this weekend and see how it comes out. In fact, I think I'll go out now to do some shopping down on the mouf.

I said "egg yellows" instead of "egg yolks" above. It's the corrupting influence of the French language. Jaune d'oeuf = egg yellow. That's how they say "egg yolk" here. You expect me to write the good English after 9 weeks here?

un oeuf = an egg. "f" pronounced.
des oeufs = the eggs. "f" and "s" not pronounced.


Fruit and vegetable ingredients from the Mouffetard market.

All the other ingredients are from Carrefour or I already had them in the apartment. Now I have to let everything warm up to room temperature, then I can start cooking. Couldn't find fresh chives so made do with a small bottle of chopped ones from the spice section at Carrefour.

I have no whisk. Bocuse says you can use a wooden spoon, and I have one of those. I'm about to start the mayonnaise. We'll see!

There's plenty of ready-made mayo in the markets. It's better if you make your own. Definitely glammed-up deviled eggs.

My hard boiled eggs were undercooked and fell apart when I peeled them. Can't get used to this electric stove top. But got the lettuce washed and the tomatoes cut and arranged in the nest of lettuce and it looks as pretty as a/the picture. I don't know about the mayonnaise - it looks and tastes good but isn't as thick as the store kind. Used both the wooden spoon and a fork to try to whisk it up. Will get more eggs and continue experimenting tomorrow. And it's yellow, not white. But if it tastes good and has the right texture in the final dish I won't complain. We'll see! And it's all very much hit or miss because I have no measuring cups or spoons so I just toss stuff together and guess.

Very much a combination of adventure and misadventure. It's what makes cooking fun.

But now I have to get ready to go to a bar with the gang.

Went out to a bar for drinks and to a restaurant for dinner with the gang. Jordi, Wee Ling, Deo, Raquel, and me.

We started at The Great Canadian Pub, 25 quai des Grands Augustins, over in the 6th on the Seine. I drank several Guinness.

I swear that at this point talking in French is becoming second nature. It's true that the more drinks you have, the easier it gets.

Learned some new dirty words, but I've forgotten them already. I kind of remember that the word for the tip of man's ... is the same as the word for "a knot". That's useful information, in some alternate universe.

I was asked how to pronounce "Barack Obama" in American English. Couldn't do it. Kept coming out French.

Jordi liked my jeu de mots bilingue (bilingual pun), about being "un Jean" in France and "a pair of Jeans" back home. Or maybe he just pretended to like it because he's such a nice guy.

Jordi was talking about how it's best to read literature in the original, how so much gets lost in translation. I told my story about having dinner on a bateau mouche in 2006 with a Polish professor of English who had translated all of John Le Carrés spy novels into Polish, and how he'd used computational linguistics to analyze both the English original and his Polish translations and discovered many very interesting things. I pointed out the window at the Seine when I said "bateau mouche" to make it clear what I was talking about. Pretty cool. Now imagine having this conversation in French in a bar after a few beers with my crazy friends. Possible, but not exactly easy.

During our scatological conversation I mentioned the time that Johnny Carson told Bette Midler that he'd like to stroke her pussy, and what a controversy that was. Interesting that most of the people hadn't heard of Johnny Carson, but they all know who Bette Midler was.

We wanted to leave the bar but hadn't finished our beers. Pas de problème. They gave us plastic cups to take with us and we finished them on our walk to the restaurant. Deo and Raquel and I were charmed by this. Only in Paris. This isn't done in Rio or Chicago.

After getting pleasantly buzzed on the beers we proceeded down some rather narrow twisty beautiful streets to a well-known restaurant called Le Comptoir at 9 Carrefour de l'Odéon. Too crowded to get a table, so we ordered at the take-out window and ate on the sidewalk. Got a whole bunch of good food and wine and got thoroughly plastered (again). Quite the evening. Best of times.

Dinner on the sidewalk outside Le Comptoir.

Only in Paris. Raquel says this doesn't happen in Rio.

That's foie gras on the plate at the bottom. It's great on a piece of that bread with a little cornichon.

More cultural knowledge acquired - the three minute rule. Dropped a little cornichon (pickle) on the sidewalk. Picked it up and ate it. Wee Ling approved and said "le règle trois minutes!". Deo made a face and said they don't have that in Brazil and he was quite disgusted. Then a few minutes later he dropped a pickle and kicked it into the street with his shoe. Wee Ling and I were aghast - Non, non, non Deo - le règle trois minutes, Deo!

And I have no idea what those round black and white things are, but they were out of this world delicious.

Talked about wine with Jordi. He asked what kinds I liked this summer in my tasting experiments. I said the reds from the Loire and Bourgogne because they're facile à boire, less complex than the Bordeaux. So he bought that bottle you see in the picture, a very nice red facile à boire Beaujolais. We finished the bottle in short order and got a second. Did I mention that he's a nice guy?

There was a big line of people waiting for a table. Wee Ling told me that Jordi thought the couple in the front of the line must be Americans. I walked over and stood next to them for a few seconds. Didn't say anything and I didn't hear them speak. The man gave me a few uncomfortable looks. Walked back over and told them yes, definitely American, "il y a un odeur". Much laughing. Really is pretty easy to tell. After a while you can even separate out the Australians and the Brits. But Canadians are hard, those poor folks are almost always mistaken for Americans, unless they're French Canadians.

Survey: Which do you think would be more fun? To have a fancy dinner in Paris at a great restaurant with a bunch of stars, or have dinner on the sidewalk like we did? On second thought, forget the survey. It's an impossible choice. Both would be great. I've done one of them. Hope to do the other before the trip is over.

My friends, from left to right: Jordi, Deo, Wee Ling, and behind Wee Ling, Raquel. Wee Ling informed me that her mother and I are exactly the same age.

The glasses we're holding belong to the restaurant. They had no problem with this.

What a look on Wee Ling's face. I think she may be in the process of making the "I'm drunk" gesture.

What do you think of Deo's funky shorts/culottes?

Deo took this picture. That's his hand in the foreground holding the glass of wine. Raquel and Wee Ling are making the "I'm drunk" gesture.

We quit early because Deo and Raquel are off to Bruges in the morning on an early train.

Found out that Deo and Raquel are here for a whole year. Jaloux. Très très jaloux.

Raquel and Deo and I took the métro home together. They got off two stops before me, at Les Gobelins on ligne 7. Raquel was concerned that I might be too drunk to get home safely. As she and Deo got off the train she said "Deux arrêtes, Jean, deux arrêtes, Place Monge, Jean, oui? N'oublie pas!". (Two stops, John, two stops, Place Monge, John, yes? Don't forget!") I wanted to tell her to worry about herself and Deo. Another Mom in my life, and I'm old enough to be her father. Can I say it one more time? Only in Paris.