Have a fun weekend.

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I have just over two weeks left in Paris. On New Year’s Eve, I’m heading back to New York, because apparently I like symbolic departure dates. (Nearly two years ago, I flew to Dakar on Valentine’s Day.)

I haven’t found a way to make living in France sustainable, and the past eight months have been some of the toughest of my life, for multiple reasons. I need a break, and while NYC is also a struggle for me, it’s my best option right now.

That’s why after months of getting to know Paris at my leisure, I’ve suddenly gone deep into tourist mode and am trying to cross off as many things as I can from my long list of places to see and things to do. Today was fairly epic. Continue reading

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looking on the bright side

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I complain a lot about how tough it is to learn French later in life, but there are also benefits. The biggest one is that I don’t fall victim to bad habits I have in English, most notably: cursing and using filler words.

I had a phase where I tried to learn all the French gros mots and integrate them into my speech so that I could sound like a real French speaker. But then I realized it only made me sound like a real asshole (case in point) so I stopped, for the most part. I do find myself using the word “foutu” (fucked) too much – and usually incorrectly, because it rolls off my tongue more easily than the ubiquitous putain (which literally means “prostitute” but is used more like “shit” or “damn it”).

Another French tendency that I am really glad I have avoided thus far is the urge to fill even the most minute pause between words and phrases with a sound of some kind, so that a few sentences becomes more like one record-length German word. I find the worst offender of the fillers to be “euh,” wherein the h is extended until the speaker gathers and pronounces their next thought – even if that next thought takes forever to reveal itself. But there are a bunch of other words – like “bah,” “ben,” and “du coup”- whose meaning is so minimal as to be inconsequential. They are essentially the “um,” “uh,” and “so” of the French language.

Then there are words that do add some emphasis but are still pretty much throwaways, like “quoi,” which gets tacked on to the end of sentences as a sort of grasping “ya know.” I find it such a grating addition to an elegant French sentence, and yet such an unconscious pattern of native speech, that the one time it slipped out of my mouth I simultaneously horrified and impressed myself. 

It’s true that I have taken to leaning upon another oft-used filler, “bref,” which means “anyways” or “long story short,” but which could usually be cut from a sentence without losing anything. I can’t help myself when it comes to this one – it’s the perfect word for someone as long-winded as I am. If I tire myself out in the middle of a meandering story, I’ll stop short, say “bref” rather dramatically, and skip straight to the one-sentence conclusion.

In English I take forever to get to the point, but in French my desire to use the least amount of words to convey the most amount of information overwhelms my compulsion to make myself 100% understood. That economy of language is, I suppose, another reason why I haven’t succumbed to euh, bah, or hein yet… They do count as words even if they don’t actually say anything.

P.S. Non-native French-speaking bloggers Damon and Jo made me giggle with their imitation of the French predilection for filler words in the video below. (Also, possibly my favorite advice ever: “If you want to sound French you just gotta add all these noises.”) 😂

cathedrals of Paris

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Such is the ubiquity of epic cathedrals, chapels, and churches in Paris and its environs that after eight months here, it has become hard for me to keep track of all the ones I’ve seen. They have started fading together into one massive mental image of stained glass, limestone, and flying buttresses. I am loathe to admit it, but I have started abstaining from stopping in if I happen upon one unawares and it is more than, say, 100 feet from me when I spot it.

It’s not that I take them for granted – quite the opposite, in fact. The more of them I see, the more I want each visit to be special and unique and not at all rushed or an afterthought. With that in mind, here are images of some of my favorites, including Sainte-Chapelle, the most overwhelmingly beautiful manmade space I have ever been lucky enough to set eyes upon. And guess what? Notre Dame and Sacre Coeur are both great, but they don’t even make it into my top ten…  Continue reading

Luxembourg for a day

IMG_4314Disclaimer: I’m very drugged up right now, for reasons I may or may not explain at a later date. Please excuse any weirdness…

Last month I took a high-speed train that got me from Paris to Luxembourg City in less than three hours. Then I had nine hours (as it turned out, the perfect amount of time) to explore the small, verdant city before catching another high-speed train back home. Pictures / drug-infused descriptions after the jump. Continue reading

books for travel and language lovers

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‘Tis the season…

I wouldn’t call a list of books a holiday gift guide per se, but all of these would make lovely presents for the voyager or language enthusiast in your life (or for you!)…

Continue reading

Have a carefree weekend

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About a year ago I saw a video from the 1979 World Disco Finals in my Facebook feed. During a period in which I was feeling increasingly disappointed in the human race, it cheered (and entertained) me immeasurably. So much so that I shared it on this blog

The 1980 follow up was just brought to my attention, and it has likewise instilled in me fresh hope in the midst of deep worry and despair. Watch it, forget your cares, and fall back in love with living, guaranteed:

They may not attain the same heights of grandeur as the World Disco Finals, but here are some nevertheless interesting links to go into your weekend with:

Here are some U.S. museums that offer magical-sounding sleepovers.

Cambridge Dictionary made its choice for 2017 word of the year, and it depresses me.

22 over-the-top dramatic dining experiences around the world.

Cheesemaking heroes.

The New York Times rounded up the best recently released travel books.

A map that shows how long it takes an English speaker to learn the most popular languages in Europe.

A compendium of cool travel tattoos.

The 10 best American national parks to visit this winter.

A cartoon that I can relate to, and a pick-me-up for language learners.

Scientists are developing technology for languages about which linguists know nothing.

Through crowdsourcing, this website maps every record shop in the world.

Can you guess the world’s most Instagrammed places?

This “apology generator” skewers the language of statements by celebrity sexual predators (the site calls them pervs; i call them criminals).

A linguistic mystery solved, i.e. why French and Americans count building levels differently.

Have a good one!

listening in

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One nice thing about learning a second language in adulthood is that you are never distracted by conversations happening around you. If you don’t really focus on comprehending the words being spoken, they remain easily ignored white noise. In both Senegal and France, I have discovered that I am able to zone out completely in public spaces, no matter how many people are speaking French around me.

It’s easy to tune out because it takes a conscious decision to tune in, whereas in English I process language subconsciously.

For example, on the metro in Paris, the buzz of speakers doesn’t annoy me the way it does on the subway in New York, because here it is just that – a buzz, without substance. It’s only when I pick up fragments of English that I’m snapped out of whatever reverie I’m in.

And yet. A few weeks ago I went to dinner and the table next to me started talking about cafards. Specifically, they started talking about the hugest cockroaches they had ever encountered and the gross ways in which they had encountered them. For the first time in my life, I could not help but understand everything they were saying, despite trying my hardest not to concentrate on them. It was like reverse psychology – the more I didn’t want to hear, the more I couldn’t help but eavesdrop.

The irony was, I know French well enough to have picked up all too much of this group’s conversation, but not well enough to have been able to lean over and confidently yet politely state: “While you may be done dining, I have only just begun, and you are telling cockroach horror stories within earshot. I would appreciate if you would change the subject.” I hadn’t learned how to use bien vouloir yet, after all.

So I gave them dirty looks instead. But much like I remain deaf to French conversations in the metro, they took no notice of my American glares.

[Photo: Paul Sullivan]

Drinking Sancerre in Sancerre

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It makes sense that the first (and let’s be honest, probably the last) poem I ever wrote in French was inspired by drinking Sancerre in Sancerre:

C’est clair, si je vais boire un verre,
Mon vin préféré, c’est sancerre
Maintenant je suis sûre,
Que la joie est plus pure
Quand on boit le sancerre sur sa terre.

(I’ll leave the translation to you.)

My first taste of Sancerre was during the spring semester of my senior year at college.

I went for drinks with other soon-to-be-graduating friends at a French-style bistro just off campus. We sat around a small outdoor table in the fresh April air of a faux Parisian terrace, eked out of a Manhattan sidewalk. I had only recently crossed over the divide into legal drinking, and the freedom of choice was thrilling. When a friend of a friend who seemed to come from a glitzy background suggested we order a bottle of Sancerre – her absolute favorite, she said – I was incredulous she could remember the name of a wine, annoyed that a 21 year-old claimed to have a specific wine preference, and even more annoyed that it just happened to be the most expensive one on the menu. We were college students, not college professors.

Still, when the bottle of almost-white rosé arrived and I took my first sip, I had to admit there was something special about this wine. It was crisp and refreshing, with a hint of sparkling grapefruit, and for the first time, I truly enjoyed drinking a glass of wine. I am not sure whether it actually tasted sophisticated or whether I simply read sophistication into the experience, but from that moment on I linked Sancerre with both exceptional taste and understated elegance. In the more than 15 years since that spring evening, it’s the only wine whose taste my ridiculously forgetful palate can identity, the only one I get excited to see on a wine list, and the only one I’ve ever splashed out for at a wine shop.

So, when I realized that the town of Sancerre was less than three hours from Paris, an idea inevitably took shape. How amazing would it be, I daydreamed, to drink a glass of Sancerre in Sancerre?IMG_3526
The answer is: incredibly amazing, especially if it’s a perfectly bright and crisp autumn day, your friend Simona is in town, and your only ambition is to wander around the countryside sipping wine and eating cheese.
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Some more pictures, after the jump… Continue reading

Thanksgiving in Paris

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Happy Thanksgiving, to those who celebrated last week! Thursday and Friday were work days here, so I hosted a belated potluck dinner on Saturday, after spending a small fortune at the Thanksgiving store (actual name), where they have a corner on the market for cranberries and pumpkin pie filling, and at my local rotisserie, where I ordered a 7kg bird that they cooked on a spit. Continue reading

It’s five years since I wrote a five-year plan

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Today I am feeling like this meme; just replace 2016 with 2012.

I have another blog, which I’ve kept up for ten years now. At this point it functions more as a private journal than a public site. The other day, I was searching for something there, and I got caught up reading old posts that I had long ago forgotten. I stopped short at one that I wrote just over five years ago. It was my five year plan.  Continue reading