Saturday, October 29, 2011

Rive Gauche

Spent a great day today wandering around the 5th and 6th arrondissements with Nick, an English classmate. He lived in Paris for a year back in 2000, so was a terrific and knowledgeable guide. We started out by the Louvre,

crossed the river across the Pont des Arts,

visited one of the Meilleur Ouvrier de France patisseries/chocolateries in the 6th:

window-shopped in the 5th and 6th:

walked through the Jardin des Plantes:

along by the Pantheon, down by the market on Rue Mouffetard:

had a bite to eat near the Sorbonne, and finished up in the Jardin de Luxembourg:

It was a terrific afternoon.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the dismal hour and a half we spent later in the evening at the one-woman show, "Une Histoire d'Ame" (A Story of the Soul), starring Sophie Marceau at the Theatre Rond Pont. Perhaps the information that it was based on hitherto unproduced writings by that laffmaster Ingmar Bergman should have been a tipoff. The phrase "wrist-slittingly depressing" comes to mind.

Nonetheless, a great day. AND we get to sleep an extra hour tonight. Yea!

More photos can be seen here:

Oct 29th photos

Friday, October 28, 2011

Poisson d'Avril dans le metro (Operation Baked Goods Update)

Today in class I gave a little presentation called "Une Promenade dans le Jardin Zoolinguistique", about animal expressions in French. It was a lot of fun. When I got to the expression "poisson d'avril !" (April Fool!), Bruno entertained us with a (true) story about the time that the RATP, the organization that runs the Paris metro, decided to enter into the spirit of things on April 1st.

Here is a description I found on the web:

Le 1er avril, la RATP a rebaptisé trois stations de métro, à Paris. La station Parmentier est devenue «Pomme-de-Terre», la station Madeleine a pris le nom de «Marcel-Proust» et la station Reuilly-Diderot celui de «Religieuse». Lors de l'inauguration, les employés de la RATP ont distribué aux voyageurs des chips, des madeleines, des religieuses et des tickets de métro poinçonnés en forme de poissons d'avril!

On April 1st, the RATP renamed three Paris metro stations. "Parmentier" became "pomme de terre", "Madeleine" became "Marcel Proust", and "Reuilly-Diderot" was renamed "Les Religieuses" (presumably after the book by Diderot of that name). At the relevant stations, RATP employees distributed potato chips, madeleines and religieuses (a type of eclair), respectively.

Tickets at those stations were punched using machines that left holes punched in the form of a fish, to signify the poisson d'avril.

As the picture above shows, the traditional schoolkid prank on April Fool's is to stick a paper fish on someone's back while they aren't paying attention, then giggle like a ... schoolgirl.

Sadly, the RATP prank didn't quite go off as planned. Pandemonium ensued, passengers panicked, and the joke was never repeated. A shame, really. But a fun story (merci, Bruno!).

As far as I have been able to ascertain, this all went down in 1994.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The week in review

This is a catchall post, covering everything from Friday October 14th on, before it all leaks out of my head, pushed out by ever more abstruse French vocabulary words. There will need to be a special bumper "Geek's Corner" post as well, devoted to all the exciting new French I've learned this past week.

Mid-morning on Friday the 14th, we left Edinburgh and drove south across the border to Alnwick Castle in Northumberland. Expectations were high on this trip, because Alnwick Castle was used as the location for Hogwarts during the filming of the first two Harry Potter films. It turned out to be an absolutely fantastic outing, though not, as it turned out, because of that old Hogwarts magic. Though some parts of the castle and grounds were vaguely familiar,

the site bore little resemblance to the Hogwarts of the later Harry Potter movies. There is good reason for this. It appears that the first two films were shot on a relatively meagre budget, as the producers were still unsure how successful the film adaptations might be (the first two movies were filmed back to back, but released a year apart). When they turned out to be vastly successful, the budget for subsequent films in the franchise increased anormously, allowing the producers to make far more use of (the relatively expensive) CGI technology, so that from the third film onwards Hogwarts was largely a CGI creation, and Alnwick Castle was not used in the later movies.

Despite the slight disappointment of the non-Hogwartian appearance of the castle and grounds, they were nonetheless completely awesome. The castle itself is phenomenal -- absolutely huge, and terrifically well-preserved. Furthermore, it is home to an art collection that was stupefying, in the best sense of the word. Three Titians, half a dozen Canalettos, portraits by Vermeer, a handful of Turners, and a pair of extraordinary Cucci cabinets:

Yvonne and I were both completely gobsmacked. The best part was, it was so completely unexpected.

Then, waiting outside was the Alnwick Garden, for which I have no adequate words, except to say that it was on a par with Versailles, despite being considerably more recent. As a general rule, gardens leave me relatively unmoved, but this place was a magnificent exception. If you ever find yourself within half a day's drive of Alnwick Castle and Garden, make the trip. It is one of the most memorable places I have visited within the past 10 years. And, hidden amongst all the Harry Potter paraphernalia in the gift shop is some fine sheepy swag (see previous post).

The air of serendipity continued throughout the weekend when, on Saturday, we lucked into going to see the live Metropolitan Opera broadcast of Donizetti's Anna Bolena, with the magnificent Anna Netrebko in the title role. Again, it left us both completely gobsmacked.

I can't really do justice to the time I spent in Edinburgh. Let's just say I came away with memories that I will carry with me for years. I'm so behind in blogging at this stage that I will have to leave it at that for this evening.