Saturday, September 17, 2011

Come into the garden, Claude

Every weekend this spring I would think to myself "I really should go to Giverny this weekend", but somehow I never got around to it. Today I rectified that omission, and was there bright and early at the Gare St Lazare, ready to take the train to Vernon, and the bus on to Giverny. It was a nice little excursion, but I must confess to having been a little underwhelmed by the experience.

Monet's house was by far the best part -- I loved the kitchen and dining area, as well as his studio, and really liked all the Japanese prints, scattered unexpectedly throughout the house. (Unfortunately, taking photos inside the house was verboten). The gardens, on the other hand, were definitely not at their best, and had a decidedly ratty feel to them. It didn't help that the weather was overcast the entire time.

As a result, I was in and out of there in under three hours, including lunch, which would have been mediocre, had it not been for the sublime mango and blackcurrant sorbet. I wanted the profiteroles, naturally, but didn't feel that my saunter through the gardens had been sufficiently strenuous to justify them.

Nonetheless, it was a pleasant excursion, and I can now cross Giverny off my list. Maybe next weekend I can go to Fontainebleau and reimagine the first scene of "Don Carlos", where Carlos and Elisabeth meet in the forest outside Fontainebleau and fall in love at first sight, giving rise to some of the most glorious love music in the entire operatic repertoire. (Have I mentioned that "Don Carlos" is my favorite opera?)

I have posted photos from today's outing over on Facebook, though they are no great shakes:

Giverny photos

Friday, September 16, 2011

Another fine week

Looking back on the week, as I sit here in my little apartment, watching yet another French cooking show out of the corner of my eye (it's a mild addiction, I admit it), I'm hard put to pick out anything all that special to write about. But it seems important to point out that, on each of the three last mornings, as I made my way along the canal to school, the thought crossed my mind each time that I cannot remember a time when I've been as happy. Which bolsters my conviction that one doesn't need constant stimulation, or extraordinary levels of excitement, to be happy -- it's the little things in life that make the difference. And here in Paris, right now, I couldn't be happier.

It helps, of course, that I have been lucky enough to stumble across interesting, engaged classmates, and that Bruno, our new professor for this week, and the coming weeks, is altogether extraordinary. But it's also the fun of shopping at Monoprix, of stopping for a coffee at the cafe at the corner, where the waiters actually acknowledge my presence with a smile, of watching French TV, of reading Carson McCullers or Inspector Morse in French. Life is lived in the details.

The week's cultural highlight was definitely seeing the hilarious "Avengers" production of "Midsummer Night's Dream" in French. I also caught up with my friends Nancy and Gabriella for lunch in the Marais on Wednesday. As I had no afternoon classes, we had a leisurely meal and strolled around the Marais afterwards. Where Santa has made an early appearance:

And where one felt at times as if one was back in San Francisco:

Tonight I have nothing more ambitious planned than to heat up some delicious pasta in the microwave and watch the NCIS marathon on Channel 6. Certain habits die hard! Weather permitting, perhaps tomorrow will be the day I finally get to Giverny.

I leave you with a couple of photos taken earlier this afternoon in the courtyard at school:

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

European Pillow Syndrome

It kind of irritates me that I had to go to Monoprix and fork out 35E for two decent pillows and a set of fresh pillowcases to augment the doll's house rag-like things that were here in the apartment. I figure it's worth it to get a decent night's sleep. But so far I've had to shell out almost 100E to make this place habitable.

Actually, I suppose in the scheme of things, that's not so bad. Given that the rent is 200E less per month than the previous apartment. But still - who furnishes "pillows" that look like they have been run over with a freaking steamroller? Not to mention the pathetic "cushions" that languish droopily on the "couch" that looks like a woolly mammoth set up residence on it for much of the Jurassic Era from which it undoubtedly stems. I'm looking forward to my luxurious week in Jury's Inn when I go to Cork in October.

In other news, "A Midsummer Night's Dream" was terrific. The theatre, not so much -- apparently banking seats was an alien concept to the designer. And I'm sure it was just my perception that I was sitting behind the only hyperactive giantess in the house. With big hair. Still, both the play and the production were great. Oberon and Titania as John Steed and Emma Peel, and the whole thing done in a tongue-in-cheek "Avengers" style, with lots of 60s go-go-dancers prancing around in the forest. I know it sounds awful, but it actually worked very well. I can't say that Shakespeare sounds anywhere near as magical in French as in English, but that just may be a case of missing what one is familiar with.

But, God, what a terrific play! It's a delight from start to finish, and the plot isn't nearly as complicated as I had remembered.

That's it for tonight. Time to break in those new pillows, and let's hope last night's annoying mosquito doesn't make a return visit.

Culture Vulture

I know that some of my readers like to live vicariously through my assorted cultural sorties when I am away from home, so this post is to reassure you that I have not been neglecting the cultural side of things.

For instance, on Sunday I went to see the fine new Justin Timberlake movie "Friends with Benefits". It was just the ticket on an overcast Sunday in Paris, and helped avoid the frenzied media re-living of the events of September 11th. Although the movie is a rom-com that follows a well-known formula, it was surprisingly well done, with a light touch and an air of not taking itself too seriously. I saw it in English, with French subtitles, and kept wishing I had bought a pen to note down assorted very useful sexual slang terms. As this is a family blog, I'm sure my readers have no interest in knowing that the French for MILF is "mere baisable". Or that .... never mind...

Perhaps tonight's performance of "Le Songe d'une nuit d'été" will garner me more points on the culture scale. I just spent 10 minutes getting reacquainted with the plot on Wikipedia, before giving up with the realisation that most of the point of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" is that the plot is so fiendishly complicated that nobody can follow it.

On the literary front, I have been reading the short stories of Carson McCullers in French, which are surprisingly accessible, and just as delightful as I remembered. I bought a paperback edition of her collected works for a mere 25 Euro on Saturday, but am steering clear of the longer works ("Le Coeur est un Chasseur Solitaire", "La ballade du cafe triste"), as these have the kind of melancholy that is potentially wrist-slittingly depressing if you are living on your own in a Paris garret ...

Also, today, I took an important step in the serious phase of learning any language, and bought my first French-French dictionary - "le petit Robert".

In other news, I have finalized arrangements for a one-week trip to Ireland, from October 1st to October 8th. Happy to report that both the Aer Lingus fare, and the rate at Jury's hotel in Cork, were surprisingly reasonable. (Though I could stay with friends while in Cork, the Jury's splurge is my little present to myself, to make up for the slightly spartan conditions here in my little garret).

Anyway, that's the news here in Lake Woebegon, where the quality of profiteroles continues to be extraordinaire. The pigeons, on the other hand, are definitely up to something:

Monday, September 12, 2011

Geek's Corner 18 : Pet Peeve

Lord knows, I love the French language. I'm here, after all, struggling with its intricacies, when I could be back in San Francisco, spending even more time at the dentist. And though there are some aspects of French that are infinitely frustrating, like the inability to pronounce even the simplest of words without contorting one's face in a manner that would frighten most normal children, in general I am content to exert myself and make the necessary effort.

But there is one thing about French that frosts my eyeballs. Today in class, for example -- all I wanted to do was say "99% of Irish people" -- yet by the time I finally spit it out, it was as if I was experiencing a brain aneurysm. If I were in Belgium, or Switzerland, or Quebec, I could get away with a simple "nonante neuf pour cent", and that would be that. But no, here in Paris, where the locals still apparently count on their fingers AND their toes, I have to go : "four times twenty and ten and nine", that is, "quatre-vingts dix neuf". It's frankly ludicrous. Only shepherds count that way in this day and age. And I am not a shepherd.

So, Monsieur Sarkozy and members of the Academie, here is my modest proposal for simplifying your (admittedly beautiful) language. Let's do away, once and for all, with this idiotic, mincing, vestigial, vigesimal system of counting. No more of this 72 = 60 + 12, so that would be "soixante douze". Enough with the whole "quatre-vingts quinze" (= 4 x 20, carry the zero, add 15) bullshit. Let's all agree that, on this one point at any rate, the Belgians and the Quebecois have the right idea.

Septante. Huitante. Nonante. How hard is that?

Because sometimes we novices could use a break.

Thank you for your indulgence.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Dans mon quartier

I have been assembling a series of photos taken in my neighborhood over on Facebook. The following link is allegedly public, and should be accessible even if you don't have a Facebook account:

David's pictures from the 10th arrondissement

I won't reproduce it directly here, because I have no desire to upset the more thqueamish among my readers, but note that one of the pictures prominently features a heap of steaming doggie-doo (I can't believe I just typed those words), that greeted me upon leaving the apartment to go to brunch. The sad part is I think I know the pooch in question, and their vile white-trash owner, who lives in this very building.

Damned frogs!

Geek's Corner 17 : le Trou Normand

"Le Trou Normand" is the name of a promising-looking restaurant here in my neighborhood, pictured above.

But the term has another meaning. During a long, multi-course dinner, after several courses, the tradition in Normandy is to serve a palate-cleansing glass of calvados between courses. According to French wikipedia, the original tradition of serving alcohol to cleanse the palate is nowadays replaced by serving a sorbet, or an apple soaked in calvados, to minimize the risk of indigestion. The trou normand is most often served after a shellfish course.

Aren't you glad you asked?