le week-end is back

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And I’m moderately excited about it. But right now I’m pretty tired after an eventful week so I’m going to set down my links of interest and then get into bed:

Ta-Nehisi Coates brilliantly explains why white people shouldn’t use the n word. (Watch the video.)

Just this week I mentioned on this blog that I’d like to explore highlife music in greater depth, and today Teju Cole posted a Spotify playlist featuring just that (among other things). I’m listening right now and it’s great.

How filler words like um, uh, and huh serve a useful purpose. 

French teachers have taken a stand against patriarchal language, and I think it’s awesome.

A German class united in its hatred of their classmate Richard Spencer.

“Paris is a good place to remind yourself that everything ends.”

Meet the people who listen to podcasts at super-fast speeds. 

Gaudí’s first completed house in Barcelona is now open to the public. (Alina + Simona: Go!)

Have a good weekend!

[PS The photo above is from a film shoot at my corner cafe this week.]

 

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a food and sweets-filled stroll through Saint-Germaine and the Latin Quarter

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I had two places to be today, in very different parts of the city that are both far from my apartment. The latter appointment was anxiety-provoking, and I decided that instead of heading back to my house for a few hours of work in between meetings, I would take the day off and enjoy some exploration and indulgence.

My ultimate destination was the Pantheon, but I ended up adding so many interstitial stops to my route that by the time I got there, I didn’t have enough time to go inside. That’s okay, though – I’ll head back another time, and I did lots of fun stuff instead.  Continue reading

chivalry is dead (but not in French)

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One thing I notice again and again about French texts, emails, and signs is how overly polite and flowery the language is. When reading them, I sometimes imagine the writer doffing his hat and bowing ceremoniously like the two little guys on the right. (Meanwhile, my attempts to replicate French politesse come out more like the one on the left.)

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Here are some examples of what I’m talking about. I’ll follow each French phrase with the most literal English translation I can give while still making sense:

In a professional email:

Auriez-vous lamabilité de bien vouloir m’indiquer le nom de…

Would you have the kindness to really want to indicate to me the name of…

In a doctor’s office waiting room:

Je vous prie de bien vouloir éteindre votre téléphone cellulaire…

I ask you to really want to turn off your cell phone.

[It took me ages to figure out bien vouloir, because it’s such a roundabout and redundant way to say if you please. You can take it out of any sentence it’s in and that sentence will still make sense; it’ll just be far less fancy.]

An email I received from a customer service agent after I ordered an iPhone from her, which I then picked up at an Apple store: 

Je me permets de vous contacter pour m’assurer de la bonne réception de votre commande…

I permit myself to contact you to assure myself of the successful receipt of your order.

The response after I sent the customer service lady a one-line note to confirm that I had, in fact, received my order:

Je vous remercie infiniment pour votre mail…

I thank you infinitely for your email.

After most first dates I’ve been on, within 1-24 hours of saying goodbye I receive some variation of: 

Merci pour ce très bon moment passé en ta compagnie…

Thank you for the very nice time spent in your company.

And instead of simply saying “bonne nuit,” some men text:

Je te souhaite une bonne nuit…

I wish you a good night.

The gentility of it alternately charms and annoys me. I am reminded of the episode of “Sex in the City” in which Carrie is dating a Russian played by Mikhail Baryshnikov, and he keeps surprising her with overly romantic gestures. Finally, she fakes a faint and begs him, “It’s too much. I’m an American. You gotta take it down a notch.”

What’s surprising is that for all the poetic politeness of French people when speaking in their own language, they think nothing of using the most dirty English. Case in point, the barber shop pictured at the top of this post. I passed it on a beautiful street in Aix-en-Provence, a town at the height of French loveliness and respectability.

This was not a one-off. I see English curses used in French signage right and left in Paris. And last month, my mouth dropped open when I scrolled past an Instagram post by a very chic Parisian hotel called C.O.Q. Hotel, whose logo is a rooster, i.e. a coq. The post said, “Le Coq Hotel offre une bouteille de vin BIG COQ au 6000e follower Instagram.” “The Coq Hotel offers a bottle of BIG COQ wine to the 6,000th follower on Instagram.” I googled: the wine does exist, and it’s clearly tongue in cheek, but… It’s still too much.

I live in a glass house of French faux pas, so I will be the last to throw stones. But I would thank the French infinitely if they’d bien vouloir confirm that their English is appropriate / non-ridiculous before making it part of their public marketing. Until then all I can do is shake my head and laugh a little.

my Senegal playlist

Before I left Senegal I gathered all the West and Central African songs that I had either heard for the first time and loved, or learned to love better, while in Dakar and I put them onto an itunes playlist. I just transferred them into a Spotify playlist so that I can share them with you:

If you are eagle-eyed / eagle-eared you will notice that one of these things is not like the others… I heard “Prayer in C” for the first (and second, and third, and fourth) time during a twelve-hour stint in the Casablanca airport and it grew on me so much that I googled the lyrics to identify it. When I got back to Dakar I downloaded it on itunes and continued to play it repeatedly, so that it is now inextricably linked with my time in Senegal even though the song is French.

Following my foray into French new wave, my next digging project is to find the best of Nigerian and Ghanian highlife music. Any ideas about what’s good, let me know!

Madrid

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In mid-September I spent three days in Madrid, but I had work meetings in an office outside the city center for two of those days, so I didn’t get much of a chance to sightsee. Still, I packed a lot of wandering into my one day off, and I got a much better sense of the city than I did the first time I came here in 2000. That was also a short visit, of two days I think, but I may as well not have gone because I spent the whole trip ensconced in personal drama, walking around in a daze and absorbing nothing of Madrid’s essence. 17 years later, I got a second chance to see what I had missed the first time around… Continue reading

last-minute links

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I had a bunch of links I wanted to post here yesterday but I never got around to it because I went to a very fun fashion show (pictured above) instead. 🙂

I need to get into bed to wake up super early for my train to Luxembourg tomorrow, so without further ado here are the links:

A really cute / crazy international love story.

Butter shortages are hitting France, a country that eats three times as much as the United States (and where the butter is three times as delicious.)

Paris is installing free sparkling water fountains around the city. 

Learning French with flashy, sassy Christine. 

Can you guess which is the world’s most powerful passport?

12 English-language insults we should bring back. 

I can’t vouch for the etymological accuracy of this map, but it’s fascinating.

This “most frequently used words” visualization speaks volumes. 

Have a good weekend!

Avignon

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My love for Avignon was almost immediate and grew in leaps and bounds with every corner I turned. And unlike the other four towns and cities I visited in the South of France, my feelings went beyond mere admiration or appreciation. I felt a strong connection and chemistry with this place. I don’t really know why, but I think it has something to do with the way it embodied both my town and my countryside ideals: the perfect size (about 500,000 in the urban area), full of old beautiful buildings, full of history and culture, full of delicious things to eat, a mild and sunny climate that still has seasons, and a landscape of trees, hills and rivers.

I was being considered for a remote job at the time that I visited, and I strolled along the streets fantasizing about installing myself in Avignon and telecommuting from my corner bistro. It was an intoxicating idea, but alas, it wasn’t meant to be. I didn’t get the job, but at least my dream life wasn’t shattered until after I got back to Paris. And by then my weird change of heart had started to kick in and I didn’t mind sticking around up north after all.

Anyway, a few Avignon pix: Continue reading

some French new wave for your Wednesday

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A child of the 80s, I grew up with new wave music. I loved it then, and I love it even more now.

When I attended junior high in the early 90s, my first French teacher started every class by playing a few songs from one of her old records for us. Most of the stuff on heavy rotation was awful (I remember hearing this particularly terrible song about 8,000 times), except for Indochine. I loved them despite the fact that my hopelessly dorky teacher did, too.

A few years ago, I rediscovered Indochine on iTunes, and I found myself again adoring them.

Over the past year or so, a question repeatedly occurred to me: who are the other icons of French new wave? Surely Indochine must be just the tip of a vast and mighty iceberg. Yet the only other quasi-new wave French song I had heard apart from the Indochine catalogue is Ça Plane Pour Moi. I began a quest for the other gems that heretofore never made their way across the Atlantic to my American ears.

What I discovered is that, sadly, there are not many gems after all. Whereas the 80s were a time of utter magic for American and British music across several genres, the era did not seem to treat the French nearly as well, at least in terms of pop. I did copious digging to find French new wave and cold wave songs that stand the test of time and sound as great today as they did back then. Unfortunately, most of what I listened to was tepid at best; banal, outdated, and embarrassing at worst. (Though the videos – and dancing and fashion therein – were often pitch-perfect, highly enjoyable parodies of themselves. Case in point.)

But I did find five songs that I truly love, which I hereby present for your listening (and viewing) pleasure. Continue reading