Saturday, March 26, 2011

Dans le Marais

I went out earlier to get a recharger for my camera battery. Heureusement, my quest was successful, thanks to the very helpful gentleman at the BHV department store, directly across from the Hotel de Ville. A few photos from this little excursion are shown above - the weather was overcast when I set out -- by the time I got home it was raining pretty hard. But the battery, she is recharging in the other room, and I am happily installed in my cosy apartment, pondering assorted dinner options. It's amazing how comfortable I am feeling here in Paris, after only two weeks. Life is good.

Une bonne soiree

Last night I was invited to attend a surprise 25th birthday party for my friend Alex (seen above with his equally charming girlfriend, Sophie). As I mentioned in the previous post, I first met Alex at the don Quijote school in Madrid. It had been almost two years since we last saw one another, so it was really great to see him again. Coming from San Francisco, I definitely qualified as the guest who had travelled farthest to be at the party - Alex was definitely surprised to see me.

His friends, ranging from people he went to grade school with to friends he met during various stays abroad, were all totally charming. I was very proud of myself, as I managed to speak nothing but French for two and a half hours straight. Regrettably, at about eleven or so, despite the assistance of two and a half beers, I hit a wall, and my brain went into shutdown mode. Fortunately, the party was at a bar only 5 minutes from where I live, so I made it home fine. I slept straight through until almost noon this morning.

My thanks to Alex's friend Lionel, who organized the party, and who was thoughtful enough to seek me out on Facebook and send me an invitation to attend. I had a wonderful time.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Simple pleasures

Tonight I have been invited to a surprise 25th birthday party for my Parisian friend Alex, last seen over on MAINLY ON THE PLAIN:

drogging while blunk

I cannot exaggerate my delight at finding exactly the right gift earlier this afternoon, on the Rue Montorgueil:

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Scenes from the neighborhood

The top two photos are of my building and street (Rue Notre Dame de Nazareth), respectively.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

On the home front

I regret to report that, on Sunday night, Boris chose to assert himself by relieving himself all over Thor's bed, which Brad had inadvisedly left downstairs (on the brown leather armchair, so things could have been worse). As you can imagine, this has prompted a series of agitated transatlantic phone calls, with much discussion of feline psychology, and dark warnings about possibly dire consequences if Boris should decide to take aim at the new carpet.

So far there have been no further incidents, but a certain marmalade kitty is very much on notice. I have rarely heard the normally unflappable Brad so beside himself.

Though I miss the kitties dearly, sometimes it's a relief not to be directly on the scene.

Bistro Scene

Wannabe francophone visitor (ingratiatingly): "Est-ce-qu'on dit eau minerale con gas ou eau minerale con gaz?"

Waitress (with obvious amusement, but gently): "Monsieur, ici en France on ne dit pas con. On dit avec."

Wfv (crushed): "Oh yes, of course. Thank you."

Damn those Spaniards!

Monday, March 21, 2011


Just a few quick notes today:

Andre continues to shine as an instructor - today's class, about art (French and otherwise) was just terrific. I feel challenged in all the right ways.

My cold appears to be completely gone - I am feeling much better.

One thing I really like about my current class schedule is that I have Monday and Friday afternoons free, which gives me time to catch up on assorted errands, without feeling that I have to squeeze things in.

Facebook is overrated. I think I will try to concentrate the energy I have for keeping in touch on maintaining this blog on a regular basis. This may mean some posts will be largely given over to pictures, but it makes more sense to me to include a more careful selection of photos here than to post them indiscriminately on Facebook or Flickr.

Brad sent me a video of the final results of the home redecoration. It looks terrific. As I managed to throw out huge bunches of stuff before leaving, as well as donate several cartons of clothes to Goodwill, even my closets have now been tamed. It's sobering to have to acknowledge the reality that a waist size of 34 now belongs permanently to one's past, but one has to face facts at some point....

French television continues to surprise me pleasantly, though if I never saw that Marine LePen woman again, it would be too soon. Like father, like daughter - the apple doesn't fall very far from the tree.

I have changed the background image for the blog to something slightly less disturbing, which I hope better illustrates the origin of the blog name. The other "phantom" version of the blog, which may have confused anyone who came across it by accident, has been deleted*.

Finally, I have resolved to abstain from reading "Jane Eyre" at dinner, or after dark. Enjoyable enough as last night's dream experiences were, I would prefer a less interesting nocturnal life for the foreseeable future. So, although the Brontes and Edgar Allen Poe are well-represented on my Kindle, for the foreseeable future I will be confining my night-time reading to the dry, academic political battles of the inhabitants of the world of C.P. Snow. I am not yet at the stage that I can read French literature just for pleasure. We'll see how this goes.

*: a long story, and not a very interesting one.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Scrooge dans le Marais

Back in San Francisco, I almost never dream. Or maybe it's more accurate to say that I never remember my dreams. Other than the most banal kind, like being stifled by giant marshmallows, and waking up to find all four pillows on the floor, and the cats looking alarmed.

When I'm abroad, it's an entirely different matter. In Spain, and in Argentina, I'd go through these phases, usually about a week long, where I would have the most extraordinarily vivid dreams, interspersed by periods of difficulty sleeping. These generally coincided with stages of exceptional progress in my language ability, so I usually welcomed them, figuring it was just the brain's way of dealing with an unusual step up in the subconscious learning process.

Here in Paris, the dreams started right away on my 3rd night here. This doesn't necessarily contradict my previous theory, as I do feel that I've been on a very steep French learning curve almost right since I arrived - I'm frankly amazed at how much better I am doing already. The dreams are generally not unpleasant, though often quite confusing, tending to mix random minor worries (e.g. about the renovations at home, that none of the checks I wrote before coming away will bounce, that my friends and kitties will be OK while I'm gone) with odd, non-contemporaneous incidents from my past, with a dash of the highly surreal. For instance, there was the one last week where my sister, my parents and I were in the family car (the same Ford Anglia that was featured in the second Harry Potter book, but without the ability to fly**), headed for an exciting Murder Mystery Theater dinner. Which turned out to be hosted by my cousin Geraldine in Dublin! Somehow we had all managed to age 20 years in the journey to Geraldine's house. That sort of thing.

Things got really weird last night, though. Downright Dickensian, in fact. Maybe it was the goat-cheese that I had with dinner. You be the judge. All that was missing was the introductory vision of one of my former Genentech colleagues, clanking in chains by the chimney. After watching a documentary on the life of Coco Chanel, watching a video that Brad had sent of my completely renovated apartment back in SF (it's SPECTACULAR, but that's material for a different post), and reading a very sweet, encouraging e-mail from Paddy, I retired to bed.

Whereupon I proceeded to have a series of three remarkably vivid dreams. The first was immediately recognizable as a not particularly imaginative retread of one of the old Indiana Jones movies - "Indy and the Temple of Doom", IIRC. I had stumbled across this ancient cult, somewhere in francophone Africa, where children of the neighboring villages were disappearing etc etc. Anyway, to cut a long story short, after much uncharacteristic swashbuckling, and the appropriate deployment of French verbs I didn't even know I knew, I managed to save the day and woke up, very pleased with myself. All that was missing was Boris, as my trusty sidekick. Shades of Tintin, perhaps?

It was 2:45 a.m. I padded to the kitchen, poured myself a glass of mineral water, and went back to bed. Time for dream # 2. This one had a distinctly more James Bond feel to it. I was somewhere in the Caribbean, President Obama was scheduled to come for a state visit, and somehow I stumbled on the arch-villain's lair. They were plotting (in French, naturellement) to assassinate the President. More swashbuckling, much tortured French translation, but eventually I saved the day, and the President. "De rien, Monsieur Obama." Time to wake up again.

4:00 a.m. Back to sleep. Time for the most interesting dream of the three, whose origin is surely directly traceable to that sweet e-mail from Paddy. This time I am wandering through the Kafkaesque bowels of some enormous business, or possibly a government enterprise. Initially, the setting is 20th century - I appear to start out in the mail room, which morphs into some kind of paper recycling center. There are endless conveyor belts to be navigated, and big batches of paper continually threatening to knock me over. A constant drone of machinery, with the background hubbub of human voices, but not a soul in sight. Eventually the scene morphs into what I imagine the bowels of the state bureaucracy might have looked like in Moliere's time, and I become conscious that I have an appointment to keep "avec mon destin". I try to hurry, but realise that I am trapped in the kingdom of "fonctionnaires sans pouvoir" (powerless bureaucrats), whose help I will need to enlist to get to my rendezvous with destiny. It becomes clear (in that dreamlike way) that I will have to pass through three doors, and deal with three different bureaucrats. (What is it with "3" and the subconscious?)

The first bureaucrat is immediately recognizable as the personification of one of my own major weaknesses - it is "le flemmard*", or Laziness. Barely able to keep his eyes open, he forbids me passage. But I know that all I have to do is to stay alert, and outwait him. Eventually, sure enough, he dozes off, and I grab the key from his desk and pass through the first door.

The guardian of the second chamber is another old enemy - "lachete", or Cowardice. In quavering tones he bids me halt, and informs me that it is too dangerous to proceed. I disagree, we wrestle for the second key, and finally I prevail.

Emboldened, I continue on, only to fall victim to the third of my signature weaknesses - inflexibilite (stubbornness). Time after time I go down the wrong path, ignoring the voices of my friends who are offering me good advice. It's only when I finally quiet down and listen to what others are telling me that I have the good sense to choose the right path. I find the right door, where the bureaucrat welcomes me and gives me the key. I go to open the door.

And wake up, to find it's 5:45 am, time to write this blog entry while everything is still fresh in my mind.

Let me just say, that for sheer entertainment value, the subconscious beats out virtual reality any day of the week.

I am wide awake, blissfully free of cold symptoms, and raring to go. What a life!

Votre Scrooge du Marais.

*: I have absolutely no conscious knowledge of this word. But apparently it lives somewhere in my subconscious.
**: Maddeningly (to me), I kept saying "Put her in fly". My mother, long dead before HP was even a glint in J.K. Rowlings's eye, was not amused.

Excursion to Belleville

As usual, I have signed up for the 'full-immersion' language experience. Here in Paris, this corresponds to 29 full contact hours of instruction per week. The breakdown is straightforward, and quite doable, based on the first week's experience. Every morning from 9 until 1 there is class with my core group of classmates. Our teacher is Andre, who is an excellent instructor and an absolute sweetheart. The remaining 9 hours are filled out by picking 3 from a menu of available afternoon workshops ('ateliers'); one can vary one's choice from week to week, according to one's interests or perceived weak spots. This past week I chose grammar on Tuesday, conversation on Wednesday, and Parisian culture on Thursday.

Weather permitting, "Parisian culture" generally involves a trip to a gallery, museum, or maybe a neighborhood that's a little off the tourist track. On Thursday, we went to visit the outlying quarter of Belleville, which was completely delightful. The only snag was that both Marie (an Austrian classmate) and I caught narsty colds, which left me hors de combat for much of the weekend. Mais, c'est la vie.

When I got back home on Thursday evening, there was moderate panic, as they had changed the entry access codes to the building, and I didn't have the new codes. Fortunately, the nearby internet cafe was still open, so I was able to e-mail the owner. Even before I heard back from her though, a neighbor had come by and - after inspecting me for about 2 seconds to see I was respectable - had shared the new codes. Although I had a brief instant of panic, all in all what was reassuring about the experience was how genuinely helpful everybody was - the guys at the internet cafe were totally sympathetic, the neighbor was truly helpful, the landlady was abjectly apologetic. Nobody gave me the big city reaction of "that's your problem, not mine"; everyone gave the sense of being involved until a solution was found. And when you are 6000 miles away from home, little stuff like that makes an enormous difference. So far I have found Parisians to be gracious, friendly and charming in every way.

I've added some pictures from the afternoon in Belleville to this post. Since it's very hard to manipulate them after they have been added, the order might seem a little random - basically, they are self-explanatory - either street scenes or classmates, or both. The top photo shows Marie (on the right) and la prof, Anne; immediately below is "l'autre David", who is German, from somewhere near Cologne.

It was a really pleasant afternoon.