Friday, June 17, 2011

French skilz, we haz them !!!!

Please note that I did not just show up for my 406 hours of class. I participated assiduously. So that I can now speak French at level C1, according to the common European reference standard.

Yippee! Je suis content.

At the ATM

Just got back from a trip to the automatic teller machine. Normally a completely uneventful experience, but not this morning. After I had punched in my PIN, these two street thugs came up and started to try to distract me, waving papers under my nose, randomly pressing the buttons and so forth. Naturally, I kept my eye on my card the whole time, and started to yell. What happened next was sheer joy.

Three little old ladies and a very tall African lady, resplendent in headdress and full length dress, came to my rescue. They went after those thugs with relish, screaming at them, beating them with their handbags and umbrellas, calling for further help etc etc. The little bastards who were trying to derail me didn't stand a chance -- they headed for the hills, with the African lady in hot pursuit. The remaining three little old ladies stood around, forming a human barricade as I completed my transaction.

I love Parisians!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Mouse Mountain Park

This afternoon marked my final sortie pedagogique for this trip. We went, at my friend Ellen's suggestion, to the Parc Montsouris, in the 14th arrondissement, in the south of the city. Even though it didn't quite match the high level of fun set by last week's Space Invader excursion, it was still a lot of fun.

There are several interesting features in the park. One of these is a high concentration of Arago medallions, or médaillons Arago

François Jean Dominique Arago (1786 – 1853) was a French mathematician, physicist, astronomer and politician, famous for his work on the wave theory of light and his work at the Bureau des Longitudes. To commemorate Arago an 'invisible monument' was created by Dutch artist, Jan Dibbets, in 1994. It consists of 135 bronze medallions, each 12cm [4.7"] in diameter, inlaid into the ground along a 9.2km [5.7 mile] stretch of the Paris Meridian Line.

In addition to the dozen or so Arago medallions scattered throughout the park, there is another public art installation worthy of mention:

Un banc qui parle!

Ten of the benches in the park are equipped with hidden loudspeakers activated by motion detectors so that when one sits down the bench begins to speak. Unfortunately, this particular installation sounds better in concept than it did in practice, as the recorded messages are barely above the volume of a whisper and are very difficult to decipher. A further drawback is that each is in a foreign language -- the recordings are actually by students from the Cite Universaire across the street from the park. Each is allegedly a discourse on the topic of love, but you wouldn't know that from listening to them. Still, it was a lot of fun searching out the ten talking benches and trying to decipher their messages.

The park had its fair share of birds:

and statues:

And when I got home, there awaiting me was a delicious madeleine for dessert.

Another fine afternoon in Paris, courtesy of the ACCORD school (and Ellen!).

Wednesday, June 15, 2011


I have finalized plans for my return in the fall. Will be coming back to Paris on or around the 2nd of September to start classes again on Monday September 5th. This time around, I will be taking a mixture of group and private classes, something along the lines of

Morning classes + 2 afternoon workshops (26 hours) x 2 weeks
Morning classes + 1 afternoon workshop + 10 individual classes (33 hours) x 2 weeks

Two weeks off.

Then repeat the same schedule as above. This should take me up to around mid-November, with a projected return date to the U.S. on November 16th. I figure I will need that break in the middle, because 33 hours a week of class, with 10 of those hours being one-on-one is likely to be fairly gruelling. However, I think this is what I need to do to keep up momentum. I plan to leave my books here at a friend's during the summer, which will save a lot of lugging to and from San Francisco; it's not as if I don't have French books at home as well. Though it might be good just to clear my head for a couple of months. I've just about maxed out on my learning for the moment, I think - every night I'm pretty exhausted when I go to bed, though in a good way.

Having figured out a strategy for the fall, knowing I can come back to the same apartment, and not having to worry about schlepping books back and forth all go a long way toward making my departure easier. Because there's no way around it at this point - the final countdown has started. I've even started to write postcards, something I never manage to do before my final week, despite the best of intentions.

As far as this blog is concerned, I will probably take a hiatus of about a month from mid-July until mid-August, then start up again as preparations for the fall trip intensify.

One final operational comment. About a week ago I fiddled with the blog settings to allow anyone to comment, so even if you encountered difficulties in the past, you should now be able to comment. If all else fails, you can leave a comment anonymously - please feel free to do so.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Le Violon d'Ingres

Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres (1780 – 1867) is known primarily as a French Neoclassical painter, particularly famous for his skill as a portrait artist.

He also enjoys a certain linguistic distinction. According to Wikipedia:

Ingres's well-known passion for playing the violin gave to the French language a colloquialism, "violon d'Ingres", meaning a second skill beyond the one by which a person is mainly known. The American avant-garde artist Man Ray used this expression as the title of a famous photograph portraying Alice Prin (aka Kiki de Montparnasse) in the pose of the Valpinçon Bather.

Personally, I think "Kiki de Montparnasse" is a delightful sobriquet. But I digress.

Le Violon d'Ingres is also the name of a very nice restaurant in the 7th arrondissement, not far from the Eiffel Tower.

This past Sunday evening I joined my friends, Ellen and Leslie, there for dinner. We had a most enjoyable time. If you go, be sure to order the cassoulet. My fish (dos de Saint Pierre, literally "St Peter's back", i.e. John Dory) was cooked to perfection, but Ellen and Leslie both had the cassoulet, which I secretly coveted throughout the meal. I might as well come clean and confess that I also secretly coveted Ellen's souffle with caramel sauce as well, though my own strudel was perfectly fine, if a bit minimalist. But the restaurant is beautiful, the service was welcoming and attentive, without being obtrusive - it was a very pleasant evening. You might want to save your trip there for a special occasion, though; prices were in the moderately expensive range. Also, you will need to make your reservation about a week in advance.

Violon d'Ingres web page

It was a rainy Sunday evening, but when we left the restaurant, it was just around 11:00 pm, so the Eiffel tower hourly light show was in full swing. It was kitschy, but somehow magical as well.

Youtube video of the Eiffel Tower.
Ellen is my most reliable source for fun things to do in Paris. But now writing this post has reawakened my craving for cassoulet!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Culture Vulture

As my time here winds down, I've been trying to get out and about, to take advantage of the various cultural options Paris has to offer. One can't spend all one's spare time hunched over one's laptop, after all. This weekend the weather hasn't been great (overcast, relatively chilly, with occasional showers), so I picked some indoor activities.

Yesterday evening, for instance, I attended a piano recital in the church of Saint Ephrem, an old (18th century?) church just down the street from the Pantheon, in the 5th arrondissement. Naturally, I was hoping to bag a few photos of some new Space Invaders along the way, but had no luck at all in that department. Nary a one. Fortunately, the concert was pretty good - a young pianist, Arthur Ancelle, a graduate (Premier Prix) of the Paris Conservatory, who played a mixed program of works by Beethoven, Liszt, and Chopin. The Liszt was a bit too flashy for my taste, but the Beethoven sonata that he played ("The Tempest") is one of my favorites, and the Chopin was sublime, ideal for the small space.

Earlier this afternoon I attended a performance of Shakespeare fragments, sonnets, and songs, with music by Edward Dowland. It was called "Fous dans la Foret" (crazies in the forest) and played at the Maison de la Poesie, just a few blocks from here. I wish I could find something positive to say about the performance, let's see. Oh, right, it was mercifully short. We were in and out within an hour. The (mainly French) audience appeared to love it. I thought it was rubbish from start to finish, though there was a certain perverse pleasure, even a certain academic interest, to be derived from observing the different ways native French speakers butcher the English language. It's mainly a question of vowels. The "staging" was entirely bizarre - the most noteworthy aspect was the unrolling, halfway through the performance of an enormous canvas backdrop on which was painted what was evidently meant to be a stag, though it could have been any number of other animals, and was extremely cross-eyed. An entirely forgettable afternoon.

So, one hit and one miss. But this afternoon wasn't a total loss. Opposite the theater was one of the most bizarre shops I have ever come across.

What does the notice say? It's basically an exhortation to parents to come in and and have a lovely 3-dimensional souvenir made of their precious little brats. For instance, this:

Or this:

I don't know what you think of this, but I find it decidedly creepy.