Friday, September 30, 2011

Le cochon de Gaza

Just got in from seeing "le Cochon de Gaza" with Nancy and Gabriella. It's an extended shaggy-pig story of a movie in which a pig washes up in a Palestinian fisherman's nets and hilarity ensues. The film managed to be charming and moving, without erring on the side of cuteness, so the three of us really enjoyed it.

Dinner afterwards in Montorgueuil was excellent, though profiterole-free. My duck with mango sauce was delicious.

Last night I stayed up way too late, drinking Malbec and listening to Astor Piazzolla, until I had worked myself into a bout of severe nostalgia for Buenos Aires. So it's an early night tonight (relatively speaking -- it's already past 11pm here). Fortunately, my flight to Cork tomorrow doesn't leave until 4pm, so I can worry about packing in the morning.

I find it very hard to believe that I'm here four weeks already today. September seems to have passed in a (very pleasant) blur. But, as I said in my previous post, I think I have made some real progress with my French, particularly in the past couple of weeks.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Geek's Corner 20 : Signs of Progress

I still have a long way to go in this whole French adventure. But recently, there have been some faintly encouraging signs, that I might actually be making some decent progress. In no particular order:

* I can actually understand most of what is being said on the radio, for stretches of several (5 - 10) minutes at a time. As a yardstick, during the spring, I would regularly get hopelessly lost at around the 2-minute mark.

* These days, I actually notice where the accents go in words (and which type of accent). Shamefully, it was only at week 12 during the spring that I finally figured out that the letter 'a' only ever came with one kind of accent.

* Now, when I am trying to fall asleep, I am not prevented from doing so by different French words chasing one another around my brain. Instead, the obstacle is that different French *phrases* chase one another around my brain. Surely this must be considered progress of a sort.

* Finally, at least for the past three nights, everyone in my dreams (yes, this is one of those dream weeks again) has been speaking in French. Even people one might not expect to, like my Scottish friend Yvonne, and Maggie Smith (in her Minerva McGonagall incarnation - we were visiting Hogwarts Castle, it was a complicated dream).

* I can manage most written homework assignments reasonably well without a dictionary. (My epic "Tain" homework was an exception here, but that was a special case)

* I actually find that the actual idioms that people use all the time come to mind first, more and more often. For instance, "de nouveau", rather than "encore une fois", or "avoir du mal" rather than "avoir des difficultes". That kind of thing.

I still find "au sein de" and "avoir beau" completely impossible, however. And don't even get me started on the "ne expletif". The whole double/triple negation thing is something that French people pretend makes sense, but actually there is no logical basis whatsoever for the established usage in this particular area.

Monsieur Potatohead

Those of us lazy bastards who have occasional recourse to the frozen food section of the local supermarket (or the local Picard store) figure out pretty quickly that the word "Parmentier" is code for "has delicious mashed potato topping", just as "Florentine" is code for "Popeye would enjoy this dish". This time around, I live just a stone's throw from the Avenue Parmentier, and this evening, instead of getting off at my regular stop, I got off the metro at the stop called "Parmentier". Where I stumbled across this delightful statue:

Apparently, Monsieur Parmentier is best-known for having been the person to introduce the idea of the potato as delicious food item to the Parisians. The statue presumably catches him in the act of doing just that.

He is buried in Pere Lachaise cemetery, and many visitors to the cemetery leave offerings of potatoes on his grave, by way of tribute. Something I hope to do myself before this trip is over.

Aren't you glad you asked?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Art dans la Rue

One of the things I like about my current neighborhood is the vibrant graffiti scene. When I first arrived, the art on the school wall next to the apartment looked like this:

Nice and cheerful for the kiddies. But yesterday evening, there was a new face in town. A tiger had eaten ze octopus:

He is a very handsome tiger. Brought to you by these guys, who did not wish their names to be used:

I asked them what was their source of inspiration, but they got all coy and pretended not to understand the question. Dommage.

By the way, aux Etats-Unis I would never have the courage to ask a random street artist to pose for a photo. Here in Paris, there seemed to be no reason not to. And you could tell they were secretly hugely pleased to be asked, though they tried to act all cool about it.

Insert smile emoticon here.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Geek's Corner 19 : Budge your Bouche!

As I've mentioned, this past week, in addition to the 20 hours of morning classes, I had 10 hours of private afternoon classes. These were simultaneously productive, exhausting, and hugely enjoyable. We covered a lot of ground during the week, and by the time Friday afternoon rolled around, there was no further avoiding it - the time had come to do some work on every French student's bete noire - phonetics. My pronunciation is not as atrocious as that of some other students, but it definitely needs work. And the aspect that is most severely in need of corrective work are the dreaded "nasales". Just looking at the phrase, "Enfin, un enfant !" gives me the heebie-jeebies.

So we spent a delightful 45 minutes engaged in exercises that brought the following diagram to hilarious life:

At least it was hilarious for Edith, my (wonderful) teacher. My main concern was avoiding any kind of permanent damage to my speech organs. But, by the end of the session, some kind of progress had been made. And my conviction was borne out, that the only way to achieve any kind of decent mastery of French pronunciation is to throw caution to the winds and to pronounce each word with the kind of grimace that would scare small children. Of all the strategies I've tried, this is the one that works best!

Le blogueur paresseux

What does the lazy blogger do? He pads, shamelessly, by publishing posts consisting almost exclusively of photos. Like this post.

This little sculptor's studio a few doors down from my apartment is clear evidence that the neighborhood is in the process of gentrifying.

Finally, in honor of my friend Michael, who arrived safely back in San Jose yesterday evening, but who originally hails from the town of Alnwyck (pronounced "Annick") in Northumberlandshire, north of Hadrian's Wall, here is a little limerick:

There was a mechalnwyck of Alnwyck
Whose opinions were anti-Germalnwyck.
So once war had begun
He went off with a gun
The proportions of which were Titalnwyck.

I do know another limerick involving Alnwyck. It is not, however, suitable for inclusion on a family blog.