Marseille

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When I arrived in Marseille I headed straight to the Old Port, where my friend Gilles met back up with me and offered to take me on a moto tour of the city. The mistral winds were blowing something fierce, and I had never been on a scooter before. This did not seem like a winning combination, but I said “pourquoi pas” anyway and off we went.  Continue reading

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Arles

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After a strong start in Montpellier, my whistle-stop tour of the South of France continued in Arles, a town that interested me because it was once home to Van Gogh, my favorite painter. I wanted to see the place that had inspired him to create some of his most beautiful work. Continue reading

felicitations à moi!

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Today I had my very first job interview in French. I stumbled in places, and trailed off in others, but it didn’t seem to matter. I think I did just fine overall.

Whether I get the job or not, making it through my first interview in a foreign language feels like an accomplishment in itself. When I talked to my dad a couple of years ago about his own experiences learning a second and third language, he revealed that he had gone on job interviews in English before he really knew how to speak it. I was in awe. At the time, I couldn’t imagine ever being capable of putting myself on the line like that.

And yet, I just did. And now I’m really proud of myself, and I’m eating a big pot de crème to celebrate.*

* Though let’s be honest, I would have eaten it anyway.

Montpellier

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My original France plan was to 1. arrive in Paris, 2. spend a month doing informational meetings with the heads of communications for agencies and organizations that could give me work making videos about the European refugee crisis and other humanitarian issues, and 3. then head to the South of France to wander town to town until I found a sustainable place to base myself.

For various reasons, that never happened, and for better or worse, Paris seems to be becoming my home in France. But I did finally take a whirlwind tour of the South to at least see what I was missing. I spent five nights visiting five cities in Provence and Languedoc that I suspected I would love. And love them I did, though want to live in them, I did not – until my last stop.

But to begin at the beginning: Montpellier. I had seen such beautiful images of this place, I was convinced it would be heaven on earth. Here are some pictures: Continue reading

on the sound of the French language

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I was hoping that the more time I spent in France, the more I’d love it. That hasn’t been the case, unfortunately. I’m still pretty meh (or, I should say, bof) about a lot of this country and especially Paris. But the one thing that has really grown on me is the French language. I have gone from feeling rather neutral about it, to fairly drowning in its beauty and sexiness. In fact, today I was sitting in the waiting room at the doctor’s office and a couple next to me was whispering together as they filled out their form. I knew that they had dropped their voices for the sake of privacy, but it still sounded like post-coital bedroom talk to me. That would never happen in English, obviously.

It reminded me of this video I recently watched of Marion Cotillard on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert:

The great personal irony is that no matter how proficient in French I become, I’ll never be able to reproduce its euphony. I will always sound terrible in a language that makes native speakers sound like angels. There is a consolation prize, however. The other day I mentioned the month of August (août), pronouncing it ah-oot. The guy I was talking to had no idea what I was saying, even in context. Eventually he realized I was talking about the month that is actually pronounced something like oot, and he blushed and giggled, “Oh, c’est trop mignon.” As in, “That’s so cute.” This has become something of a theme. The more I fail at French, the more I succeed with French men, so I suppose I shouldn’t be too unhappy about it.

P.S. I just got back from a half-work, half-pleasure trip to Spain, and a few weeks before that I finally checked out the south of France, which was just as beautiful as I anticipated it would be. I will get around to posting photos from those trips soon…

drizzle be damned

IMG_1976I gotback from the beautiful, sunny, warm South of France to wet, gray Paris a couple of days ago. Not surprising, but still deflating.

Yesterday, I was wandering around running errands in a dour mood, but I kept noticing charming things despite myself. So I started taking pictures and making a list of them. I posted it on Instagram and am now pasting it here because I realize I have not been writing as often as I’d like.

So… an inventory of delights encountered during a walk in Montmartre:

1. Joyfully screaming kids behind walls shielding a school playground. (At a certain hour of the afternoon you hear this on nearly every block.) The fact you can only imagine what they are getting up to makes it even cuter.

2. Pretty tilework taken to the level of art.

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3. A cat hanging out in an antique store.IMG_1967

4. Hazelnuts in their full natural packaging. First time I’ve seen this and it’s beautiful.

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5. As are french fruit displays.IMG_1968

6. As is vintage french lettering.

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7. As is my tied-for-favorite cheese shop…

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8. …from which i bought the most gorgeous and delicious goat cheese.

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The end. / Fin.

Have a good weekend!

assorted observations

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In no particular order…

In New York City, it always seems to take longer to get to my destination than Google Maps’ time estimate, but in Paris, I always seem to get places faster than what the map tells me. At first I thought maybe Google calculates walking time based on the average pedestrian speed in each city. New Yorkers practically run while Parisians saunter – and I walk at some pace between the two. Then I made another observation, which I now believe probably better accounts for the difference: Continue reading

5 things I admire about France

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    • Half of Macron’s cabinet are women.  I think that is awesome, even if other forms of diversity, along with much of his political agenda, are lacking.
    • France plans to ban the sale of petrol and diesel cars by 2040. Ambitious environmental leadership at the national level – unfortunately now a foreign concept to me.
    • Starting in 2018, vaccination of children will be mandatory in France. This while the anti-vax movement and anti-science sentiment in the United States appears to be growing stronger.
    • Right around the time it was looking like Obamacare would be going down the tubes, I went to the doctor in Paris. I paid for the visit out of pocket, without any insurance, and the cost was around $35. If I had had French social security (which includes health insurance and a bunch of other benefits), it would have been no more than $12 or so. On the other hand, if I had gone to the doctor in New York without insurance… well, I wouldn’t have, because it would have cost me like $300. I knew theoretically that the French health care system puts the American one to shame, but experiencing its straightforward humanity in real life, at the same time as I was following the events in DC with ever-growing disgust, made me highly emotional.
    • And finally, on a “one of these things is not like the other” note: I recently found out that France has almost 250 distinct varieties of cheese. If I were more gutsy about the stinky ones, I might make it my mission to try one of each.

Also, an honorable mention. I couldn’t include it in my list since it’s not actually true, but oh how I wish it were:

I was sad to learn that Paris Plages – wherein the city creates beaches along the Seine – would be sand-free this year, since it looks like it was amazing in years past. But, when I heard a rumor that the cancellation of sand was because the construction company that provided it had put its hat in the ring to build Trump’s wall, I couldn’t have been prouder of my temporary city. The truth is a little more complicated. Apparently the decision was more to do with environmental considerations and / or the company’s having indirectly funded terrorism. Both of which are highly admirable reasons… It’s just that I really loved the idea of Paris giving up its summer fun to take a stand against the Trump agenda.

hyper bien

Tonight I had drinks with a woman who told me I speak “hyper bien français.” When taken with a grain of salt – as all compliments about language skills should be – this means that I actually speak “bien français.” And that’s good enough for me.

Not three months ago, I wrote about how I would consistently peter out after two or three hours of French conversation, but these days I feel like I don’t really have a time limit. Comprehension is still not at 100%, but it’s getting continuously better. And I now have enough evidence of attaining new language heights to convince myself not to get too frustrated or feel too stuck at any one point. I am reminded of this Mari Andrew drawing I saw on Instagram recently. Like life in general, language learning requires resilience:

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And I have built up this resilience. I can swim across this ocean of a language gap. (Other oceans,  less clear.)

Flowers for Algernon / me

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It’s funny, I hadn’t thought about this book in years and if you had asked me to describe it for you just two weeks ago, I would have drawn a blank. But it all came rushing back to me in the days following my quick trip to England last week, when I realized I felt a bit like the main character in the book.

From what I can remember – and I’m sure I’m a little bit off – he is a young man with severe learning disabilities. Then he undergoes an experimental surgery that little by little increases his IQ to the point of brilliance. While he’s on his upward trajectory, a woman who is somehow involved in the study of his progress falls for him, and he falls for her. But then it becomes clear he’s hit his peak intelligence and started a descent right back to where he began. The tragedy is that he is painfully aware of what is happening and that he will soon lose his love once he can no longer hold up his end of the intellectual relationship.

I went to England on the 14th of June sure that I would come back on the 20th speaking much better French because of my week away. This would be in keeping with my marination theory of language, which posits that taking time off after an intense period of learning a foreign language helps it to sink in. But I think I have to amend my theory to include a minimum time away, maybe a month or so. And I also have to adjust for the possibility that perhaps if you spend too little time away, your abilities suffer instead of expand. I came back from England feeling as though my French had slid backwards to its pre-Paris level, which is to say, miles away from the high point it was at on June 13. And now, irrational as I know it is, I’m terrified that my peak French is no longer re-attainable (let alone surpassable).

And much like the guy in Flowers for Algernon, I fear that my descent will have a deleterious effect on all the relationships that I conduct solely in French.

The human mind is such a mystery, though. The fact that I hadn’t thought about Flowers for Algernon since I read it in eighth grade and then the plot magically materialized in my brain when sparked by a connection to the present, is proof of that. Who knows, maybe my French will likewise spontaneously return to me from wherever it is currently hiding in the recesses of my brain. Come out, come out, wherever you are…

[Photo: Kissing Toast]