School Days, School Daze
Week two in Paris I started a new level of French class, and on the first day with this new group, I did not know the room assignment so I stopped at the office of Alliance Française with a simple question: classroom number, s’il vous plaît. They could not find my enrollment, due to some glitch in their computer system, which was resolved but I got to class a half-hour late. By then most of the students (there’s maybe 14), had introduced themselves so it’s taken me a bit to figure out who these folks are.
The students are from Brazil, Lebanon, Venezuela (she left several years ago), China, Russia, Mexico, Vietnam, two other native Spanish speakers (who don’t come to class every day) and whose countries of origin I haven’t yet discovered, and three of us from the United States. Mostly folks in their 30s-40s. Two are in Paris enrolled in MBA programs (conducted in English), and others live in Paris. A few people, just like me, here for a few weeks interested in learning French.
Class meets from 9 am -1 pm with a 15-minute poz. It took me a while to realize that Mathilde, our very fine teacher, was saying pause, as in break. The pace of this class is much faster and more demanding than the group I was with the first week. It is very humbling to sit in a classroom feeling completely lost (vexed by relative pronouns for the better part of two days). Over the weekend, after studying at least ten hours, and still overwhelmed I felt like quitting. There are moment when it is NO fun. I spend at least three hours a day on homework. So many new words coming at me like snow during a blizzard. They are hard to to say, and too many to remember.
And then there are those words that we use in English, but which mean something totally different in French. These hurt my brain. When I see the word canape, I’m holding a glass of chardonnay and looking at the fancy finger food at a party. In French a canape is a sofa and a canape-lit is a sofa bed. Reading a menu and seeing entrée, I wonder why these are so much cheaper than plats. Well because in France the entrée is what you eat before your main dish. It is exciting and frustrating to engage my mind in this way. I thought I would have plenty of time to play tourist, but my schedule leaves little time to do much beyond go to class, study, have a nice leisurely lunch with Mark, go to my exercise classes, and occasionally visit with friends who live here or are passing through. In spite of it being hard work it is nonetheless very rewarding and class can be a lot of fun as we seek to make ourselves understood. Today in a conversational exercise with the student sitting next to me (another American, from LA no less). I posed a question that called for a oui or non answer, and my classmate hesitated and then said, well "oui-ish" sort of yes but not totally. We both burst out laughing, Oui-ish was the perfect answer.
Beyond the Classroom
Fortunate to connect with several Bay Area friends who spend part of the year in Paris, and yesterday we had a delicious two plus hour lunch at their apartment. Started with appetizers of white asparagus and prosciutto-type ham, followed by one of the tastiest pork dishes I’ve ever had served with mashed sweet potatoes. After that a green salad and a cheese course followed by dessert and coffee. I failed to mention there were two different wines, of which I barely partook because I had homework to do that afternoon. The food is delicious, and Mark and I enjoy going out for a nice lunch after my class to have the main meal of the day and we eat something light in the evening, usually at home. So much good food, at markets and at restaurants at varying price levels.
Visit to The Louvre
My first week here, I met an American woman, who came to Paris at age 19 and never left. Deanna trained as an art historian and her coursework was both at the Sorbonne and the Louvre. She occasionally leads private tours at The Louvre and has special entry privileges that allow her to bring a guest on some particular days, so she invited me to join her last Friday evening and we toured the Museum from 5:30 pm to 9:30 pm. Although there were plenty of people, it was much less crowded than during the days. Towards the end of the evening (say after 8 pm, the crowds were much thinner). Just seeing the I. M. Pei pyramid and the grand historic building is spectacular. I had visited years back, but having a private guide was quite special. And the place is enormous., I don’t know how anyone would navigate on their own. Thrilled to see the beautiful statues, paintings, jewelry, furniture, and other art objects. It was quite spectacular that toward closing time, we had the place almost to ourselves. Here is a link to highlights of the Louvre by Rick Steves that shows many of the great pieces in the Louvre’s collections. Click here.
I don’t understand the desire of folks to take selfies with the Mona Lisa, and there was a lot of that going on. It really slows down the line of people waiting to see one of the world’s most famous painting. I never took an art history course, so this is an area where I have very limited knowledge. Thanks to Deanna, I learned that the Mona Lisa was stolen from the Louvre in 1911 and was lost for two years. This incident really boosted her popularity. If you are interested in learning more about this check out this link.
Random Observations of Paris Street Life
When I’m not studying or having long leisurely meals, I’m probably out walking, in part for exercise and also because I see so much that piques my interest. Am I imagining or does it seem that there is so much more smoking and vaping here than in the US? Well I looked it up and France has one of the highest smoking rates in Europe with 27% of adults smoking as compared with 7% of Swedes. By comparison, smoking rate in the United States is 14%. Efforts are being made by the French government to curb smoking rates, through public education, the health care system, and by huge increases in cigarette taxes.
I love reading the street signs and knowing who is being honored by having a street or boulevard, named after them. It is often writers, painters, inventors, public servants -- people who have done good deeds. I noticed in two instances one afternoon that a sign had been slapped on the original street name and substituted in its stead was the name of a woman. I asked about it and was told that it was part of a campaign started by a feminist organization, Osez le Féminisme, which loosely translates (I think) to Dare to be a Feminist. (Fluent French speakers correct me if I’m wrong.) It is interesting to learn about these women whose names I saw on the street signs. This movement to bring attention to the disparity in naming of streets extends beyond Paris to other European cities. You can read more about it here.
If you haven’t yet been, come see Paris, and if you have been and are wishing to get back, make a plan and voilà before you know you will be in The City of Lights.