please let it be the weekend already

 choucroute garnie

In addition to my French slump, I am finding it impossible to work at my actual place of work this week. The weekend cannot come soon enough.

In the meantime, I just read this mouth-watering article (yes, I am slacking off) and my stomach literally grumbled aloud. An extremely good reason to learn French: so I can take a food tour of France and gorge myself on galettes (gluten-free!!) and choucroute garnie, which sounds like just about the best thing on earth.

On that note, time to find some lunch!

Til Monday…

(Photo: Sungit Yabang)

in a slump

Scarlett O'Hara vows never to go hungry again

It’s been about three months since I committed to doing an hour of French and/or Spanish every day. I kept it up almost every one of those 90-something days – I guess that’s a good run. But now I’ve hit a period of sluggish, zero-motivation, would-rather-be-doing-anything-else apathy.

I know enough about myself to know that this happens whenever I take on challenging projects, and that most of the time I come out of my slump and get back on track, until the next dip, from which I eventually emerge, ad infinitum. There are highs and lows and I just need to take the lows with a grain of salt and the assumption that I will get back on the horse when the spirit moves me.

So for now I am giving myself a reprieve from my hour-a-day rule because I’ll only get mad at myself for inevitably breaking it. But this coming Monday I will force myself to attend a French Meetup and try to use that momentum to start up those Anki flashcard thingies soon thereafter.

Avec Dieu comme mon témoin, j’apprendrai le français! Because after all…

Tomorrow is another day quote from Gone with the Wind

I have like five readers but I would welcome your words of keep-on-keeping-on, even from strangers! Especially from strangers. That would be neat.

(get over the) hump-day inspiration: Ram Dass

Ram Dass quote

Something like 13 years ago, soon after I had moved to Los Angeles to start my career in documentary production, I attended a screening of “Ram Dass: Fierce Grace.” The man blew my mind. He seemed to embody peace and empathy and a calm mind. For 13+ years that sort of peace and empathy and calm mind eluded me (especially in Los Angeles!), but lately I’m realizing it takes much more of an effort than I have been giving it. The nice thing – as this quote rightly points out – is that you can start at any time.

So here’s to opportunities to awaken, ever-present, just waiting to be grasped.

done with duolingo

wooden human looking out window

Finally made it through Duolingo’s French exercises last week so now I have to figure out what’s next. I think I’m going to start doing vocabulary flashcards using Anki and/or sign up for an online language chat buddy. And keep forcing myself back to French Meetups.

Spanish has pretty much fallen by the wayside at this point, except for the occasional Destinos episode. I don’t want to lose the very little progress I made over the two months that I spent studying it but on the other hand this linguist told me that trying to learn two related languages at once is inefficient and will only result in confusion. So I’m taking his advice and focusing on French, which is the one of the two languages in which I am way further advanced.

I had been whiling away my time with Duolingo far longer than I probably should have. Now I turn to the great unknown, wistful already for the zany phrases I won’t be hearing again: ‘Pour qu’il vive je dois mourir.’ / ‘So that he may live I need to die.’ And: ‘Vous mangez des frites bien que vous soyez riches.’ / ‘Even though you’re rich you eat fries.’

Adieu, Duolingo! Parting is such sweet sorrow.

(Photo: Abdulrahman BinSlmah)

it’s le week-end!

jumping for joy on the beach

I’m so excited for three days off! I’ll be hiking in the Bronx, going to a Mets game in Queens, taking in rooftop films in Brooklyn, and brunching in Manhattan. The only borough left untouched this weekend will be Staten Island and no offense but I am not shedding any tears over that.

Here are some interesting things to read over the weekend – though not what I’d call beach reads…

How to overcome the fear of speaking a foreign language. (I need to take this advice.)

Who knew? This phrase is apparently more lowbrow than classy. 

9 habits of highly effective polyglots

See you on Tuesday!

(Photo: Jamie Henderson)

why learn Spanish

Spanish speaking corzuela pardas

There are a million reasons to learn Spanish. Here are some of mine:

Let’s start with the obvious. Because it is the second most spoken native language in the world, because it is the official language of 20 countries, because it is one of the UN’s six official languages, and because 20% of my hometown speaks it for god’s sake.

Then the practical. Because once you know English and French you’re only a hop, skip and a jump away from knowing Spanish, too. It would be quite a waste to have such a jump-start on a language and not bother to learn at least a little.

The aspirational:

Spanish Mediterranean coast

Because the Mediterranean is, when it comes down to it, the best place on earth. And quite a large chunk of the Mediterranean runs along the Spanish coast.

The personally appealing:

Because my favorite genre of literature, magical realism, has distinctly Latin American roots and I wish I could read it in its native language. Especially my beloved Gabriel García Márquez.

Because Spain seems to operate on my night owl clock.

interior of Gaudi house

Because then I could live in Barcelona and visit Gaudí houses every day. (I know they speak Catalan there. I know that is different from Spanish. I’d work it out.)

Argentina World Cup teamBecause Argentine men are beautiful. All of them. I know this from personal experience.

provoleta grilled cheese

Because provoleta – a grilled hunk of cheese with a crunchy outside and gooey inside, seasoned with oregano – is the best invention in the history of food.

And finally, because I started learning it and now I want to finish learning it. Simple as that.

(Photos from top to bottom: Me; Maria Rosa Ferre; Trey Ratcliff; R. Mazalan; Wally Gobetz)

untranslatable words from other languages


Anjana Iyer set out to illustrate 100 foreign words that have no one-word translation in English. She published one poster a day until day 42, and then she either ran out of steam or she’s still in the middle of the project, I can’t tell. Here are my favorites, probably because they all describe experiences I have had myself:



The Japanese seem to have a lot of words that we don’t to describe lovely interactions with nature. On a botanic gardens walking tour I learned the word shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing – otherwise known as a leisurely walk through the woods – which was suggested as a way to beat the winter blues. (It works! Unless winter lasts six unendurable months, in which case all bets are off.)

Anjana’s website is here.

(get over the) hump-day inspiration: Brené Brown

brene brown quote

Brené Brown is the only person whose self-help Kool-Aid I drink. She strikes me as vastly different from self-styled how-to-live-your-life-with-purpose gurus – more wise, more authentic, more inspiring and more useful. I love her so much that even when she joined the cult of Oprah, I chose to look the other way. As long as she keeps speaking the truth about vulnerability, shame, empathy, courage and what she calls ‘wholeheartedness,’ she can worship Oprah all she wants.

made it to Meetup!

entree a la clavier

So I finally got myself back to a French conversation Meetup for the first time in at least a year. After putting off thinking about it all day, then purposefully making myself late to leave work, feeling nothing but dread walking the six blocks over to the location, and using all my resolve to actually walk through the door, I prayed that the bar would be empty. But nope, a crowd of people were clustered together, chatting away.

Within a matters of seconds I broke into a conversation and everything was fine. The usual self-consciousness that paralyzes my French-speaking brain like a parasitic fungus calmed down after the first few words came out of my mouth, and I felt inexplicably at ease for the rest of the evening. I had thought I’d have to force myself to stay for a half hour, but by the time I left an hour and a half had breezed by without me realizing it.


First I spoke with Dalia, an Arabic teacher who is originally from Palestine but moved here 15 years ago and now lives in New Jersey. She was super impressive because she learned French when she was young, forgot it all, picked it back up and started teaching herself just one year ago – and she was speaking beautifully, like she was fluent. Two good online tools she told me about that I will definitely be checking out in the hopes they can do for me what they did for her: Shared Talk (a free service provided by Rosetta Stone for language chats) and Anki (flashcards for vocab building).


I also had a long conversation with Dykeman, a publisher of books about the South, from which he hails (Tennessee/North Carolina to be a little more exact). Normally I just shoot the shit in French and make banal small talk but we actually covered a lot of interesting ground that I would have been just as happy to chat about in English: he suggested I watch an Antonioni film set in Barcelona (the Passenger), we discussed our angst about contemporary media distribution models, and I was excited to meet someone who knew about the Lost State of Franklin.

All in all an excellent and encouraging evening. I think Duolingo is to thank for getting me out of my habit of translating and thinking through every word before I say it out loud. Sure, when I speak as quickly as I did tonight (which, sadly, is still quite sluggish), my sentences come out sloppy. But on the other hand when I can actually say something without turning bright red, halting and/or reversing course every five seconds, that’s got to be an improvement.

I’m looking forward to going back in a couple of weeks. Which makes it official: facing down fears is my new favorite thing. (Don’t tell that to any roaches.)

(Top photo: Frédéric Bisson. Middle and bottom photo: Me.)