il fait quand même beau

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I turn 38 in a little more than an hour, and I’m resenting France for getting me there six hours earlier than New York would have. Not looking forward to my new age, though 37 has not been a walk in the park either. The world went ass-backwards mere weeks after my birthday last year, and it has remained fairly challenging, let’s say, since then – both globally and personally.

But as I was sitting here staring sourly at my computer screen, wanting to write something nice about the weekend but not feeling a bit of real positivity, I decided to put Spotify on. I guess based on my prior activity, the app suggested I listen to a playlist called “New Music Friday France” and out of curiosity, I hit play. The first song was French rap, which 99% of the time I find super awkward. But then I listened to the words and, since I’m always looking for and finding meaning in the flimsiest of “signs,” I became convinced that this song – La Pluie by Orelsan – was sending a direct message to me:

Toujours autant de pluie chez moi
Mais il fait quand même beau, il fait beau.

(Translation: “Always so much rain where I’m from, but it’s nice out anyway, it’s nice out.”)

The thing is, the song really is speaking to me, in ways I don’t feel like going into here. Suffice it to say, there’s been a bunch of both literal and figurative rain in my life lately, but for the past month or two, it feels nice anyway.

The song continues (this is a word-for-word translation because I can’t be trusted to do a more interpretive one): 

“Where I’m from, there’s sun 40 days a year

You could spend most of the year waiting for it.

I used to look out the window, closed up in my room,

I used to pray for the end of the downpour and to go skate the ramp.

I knew the sound of the rain, the smell of wet concrete.

If I left, it was because I was afraid of rusting.

Soaked, I would have never thought,

That in the end I’d miss the bad weather.”

What started out as a slightly annoying song really grew on me, and now I think it’s incredible and I’ve listened to it like six times in a row. Here it is, if you’d like to give it a go yourself. 

And now I feel buoyed enough to face the cruel march of time. 

Have a good weekend! I hope that whether warm and sunny or rainy and cold chez vous, quand même il fait beau, so to speak. 

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have a good weekend!

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This Saturday in Paris is La Nuit Blanche, when art installations and performances pop up all over town and museums stay open until late into the night. I’m excited about it. I hope cafes stay open late as well because I’m going to need a recharge at some point if I’m going to wander around until the wee hours.

Meanwhile, this week I did more Internet-browsing than usual, and I have a bunch of interesting links to share.

Have a good weekend! I’ll try to put up my Arles pix next week…

***

Cartoonist Roz Chast draws a love letter to New York City – cockroaches and all.

Why am I am nomad?

The Smithsonian wrote about the “Lost State” of Franklin, an intriguing side note in American history that at one point I really wanted to make a documentary about. It’s a fascinating story, though the article barely touches the surface.

10 ways Prague keeps it weird…

While Japan’s bathroom ghosts keep it strange and terrifying.

Beautiful photos from Les Halles, Paris’s main market in the 1950s. Sadly, it no longer exists – replaced by a mall, of all things.

I’ll teach my dog 100 (Yiddish) words.

The 20 best road trips on earth, according to Fodor’s.

Duping the tourists who went “slumming” in New York City’s Chinatown.

And finally, I really hope that by the time I leave Paris I will have my own love story to tell about the city. In the meantime, here is a beautiful one written by an Irish actress.

have a good weekend

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It’s often hard to appreciate the progress I’ve made in French. Instead of contemplating in wonder how far I’ve come, I usually focus on how much further I have to go. Perhaps this is because once you understand something, it’s really hard to imagine yourself ever not having understood it – or maybe it’s just because I’m really bad at positive thinking. But today I was having an in-depth conversation with someone and, as I tend to do (albeit less and less these days), I stepped back for a moment so that my mind could boggle at the fact that I was understanding everything being said to me and that I was in turn speaking coherently, smoothly, at a normal speed, and without struggling to express myself. After the conversation was over, I made a conscious effort to reframe my disbelief as awe and to muster up the appropriate pride.

I’m proud that I stuck with the study and practice of something that is incredibly humbling, endlessly frustrating, and often not even that rewarding or useful.  I’m proud that as a result I can have deeper connections with French-speaking people and culture. And I’m proud to say that I finally legitimately speak two languages. My lifelong desire to be bilingual was quite possibly misguided by ego, but actually being bilingual is nevertheless useful and, I believe, beautiful.

That said, I may be heading to Madrid for a work meeting in a few weeks, and I’m already berating myself for having forgotten all the Spanish I learned two years ago. Ah well, “there I go being me again.” That’s what my former psychologist friend told me she says to herself whenever she realizes she’s repeated one of her unproductive patterns. It’s a handy phrase for someone like me…

I leave you with some interesting things I read over the past couple of weeks:

Spanish thrives in the U.S. despite an English-only drive.

Macron isn’t effortlessly handsome after all. He is the latest of many French presidents to spend a ton on hair and makeup.

Communicating in a foreign language takes emotion out of decision-making.

Exercise could help you learn a new language.

And this has nothing to do with the themes of my blog, but it is shiver-inducingly beautiful. “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” without the (non-vocal) instruments.

Enjoy your weekends!

Have a good weekend!

It’s my last weekend in Senegal! I am feeling sort of bereft. Last night we were searching out a place that Google Maps had pinpointed exactly but that neither GPS nor the actual layout of the streets would allow us to find in real life. Par for the course. My friends called out to me from down the sandy, silent road – they thought they had figured out the way, while I was busy scoping out another direction – and as I was running to catch up to them, something caught in my throat and my inner voice shouted out at me, “STAY! YOU ARE LEAVING TOO SOON!” But alas, it will always feel too soon, and I’ve got compelling reasons to go exactly when I’m going.

One of those reasons – a small but not insignificant one for someone in my line of work – is that I am in the midst of a full-blown movie drought. Considering that I am in the land of Ousmane Sembène, the most famous African filmmaker, it is really strange that there are no honest-to-goodness movie theaters in Dakar. Apparently the last one closed in the 90’s or early 2000’s. Instead, there are small screening rooms, like the one I went to at the French Institute (pictured above) to see a documentary about the way that rumba on either side of the Atlantic has cross-pollinated with the other side. (Perfect subject, mediocre film.) There is also a full-sized movie screen in a supposedly temporary inflatable structure near the shopping center on the waterfront.

I tried going to the movies there the few times they looked good enough to bother. The first couple of times were fails of my own doing. The third time, there were “technical difficulties” and they told me to come back the next week. The fourth time was the charm, and I saw “Fences” there the night before the Oscars. But it was hard to hear the dialogue because the structure kept making weird sucking noises and expanding and contracting like it was breathing. A pretty subpar theatre; I hadn’t been missing much by staying away.

Meanwhile, the films they play on TV are either terrible and/or overdubbed in French, which I find impossible to watch. (My theory is that since I rely a lot upon lip-reading to understand French, my brain gets hopelessly confused when watching people whose mouths don’t match the words coming out of them.) And I can’t stream movies on my laptop in my room because of my horrible Internet situation (which, by the way, I’ve realized is a product not only of the slow wi-fi in my neighborhood, but also of the very thick walls in my building. I may just have the worst Internet connection in town.) Thus I’ve seen a grand total of exactly four full movies in Senegal. By contrast, I probably saw 100 the previous year.

So, I am leaving Senegal too soon, but I also can’t get back to movies soon enough. I am so excited to catch up on all that I’ve missed and to watch some new releases in one of my favorite New York cinemas.

Now… switching abruptly to your weekend reads, and flailing for a transition. How about, you are excused from reading these if you go to the movies instead?

Enjoy your weekends!

There is an earphone coming out that will translate foreign language speech into your own language.

Apparently in France I may be heading towards exactly what I was running away from in New York: the creeping big-boxification of urban spaces.

“Everybody, let’s tighten the anus,” is apparently a Korean folksong, and you can watch a video of its performance, with delightful subtitles. (There is also a link to a research paper about its social and cultural meaning!)

Have you ever heard of Romansh, Switzerland’s fourth official language? (I had not.)

Too old to learn a language? Don’t believe it.

US citizens traveling to Europe may soon need a visa.

Beautiful photos of Portugese fishing in the 1950s.

Well, this is a relief for someone like me, who takes forever to spit out her thoughts: fast talkers and slow talkers end up conveying the same amount of information in the same amount of time.

What gets easier when you study more languages?

Have a good weekend!

Just got back from enjoying live Congolese music at a place in my neighborhood that has only just been introduced to me, two weeks before my departure. Ah well, such is life.

It’s now one in the morning. I should go to bed…. But I’ve been accumulating interesting links for a month or so, and if I don’t share them now they will become hopelessly stale. So here they are:

Non-English words for emotions the English language doesn’t have exact words for.

Sounds that babies hear in the womb affect their language learning.

In China, there was a 19th century script that only women could write.

In Liberia last year, I came to appreciate how much of my way of life is made possible by electricity, and what it’s like to go without. Here’s an interesting article on the country’s struggle to get back on the grid.

The Mystery and Occasional Poetry of, Uh, Filled Pauses.

Donald Trump’s is using the language of victimhood to position himself as America’s savior.

5 tips for conquering the “intermediate plateau” of language learning.

Calling Yourself ‘Humbled’ Doesn’t Sound as Humble as It Used To.

With thanks to Randy for passing along this animated interview with Chimamanda Adichie: What Americans get wrong about Africa.

The US is no longer a full democracy, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit.

Perhaps this has something to do with why.

¿What’s the story with ¿ and ¡ ?

This mosque looks crazy beautiful.

I Traveled to a Magical Island — Alone.

Have a good night and enjoy your weekends!

P.S. The photo above is from the Ile de Ngor this past summer. It’s fairly chilly, relatively speaking, in Dakar in February… and NYC might have actually been warmer today!

Have a rebellious weekend!

Hey! Guess what? This morning I rejoined the news team I worked with last week, to film the first interview that Adama Barrow has done since becoming Gambia’s new president yesterday. I got to shake his hand and offer him my congratulations. Thrilling, amazing, and a very small antidote to the horror of today. The interview was supposed to air in a 3pm broadcast, but it got pushed back indefinitely because the protests in D.C. stole the spotlight. And thank God for that. To everyone out in the streets of America today, I salute you and your civil disobedience. Keep it up!

That’s about all I can write about our national tragedy without getting nauseous and sobby, so I will change the subject…

The photo above is of all the wax fabric I’ve accumulated during my sojourn in West Africa. Ready-to-wear, non-secondhand clothing stores are really few and far between in this region, and what people do instead is buy fabric and take it to a tailor with a photo of the sort of thing they want made. The tailor creates the custom order for a fraction of what it would cost in the United States.

This concept is my dream come true, but I have been paralyzed by indecision over what to make with each piece of fabric, and during 11 months in Dakar I have yet to visit a tailor. I’m not sure I’m going to stay in Senegal much longer so I really need to get to one soon, but it’s become sort of emotionally painful to commit to cutting up such beautiful fabric in one way and not another. The Vlisco fabric that includes the film strip is especially difficult for me. I bought it not only because I love the colors and the pattern but primarily because it speaks to my life’s calling. If I use it for something small like a shirt or a throw pillow, the fabric’s content will become unintelligible and thus lose its meaning. But it’s not nice enough to frame, and I don’t want to make it into a dress, and pajamas seem a waste. Finally I decided I’ll bring it back to the States uncut and use it to reupholster the chair I inherited from my grandmother about 20 years ago and that has been sitting in my parents’ basement since. As for the rest, I spent a ridiculous amount of time matching clothing styles to fabrics, changing my mind, getting annoyed at myself, and finally forcing myself into decisions that I may or may not regret later. But at least this week reminds me that fashion is just another opiate of the masses and it does not matter one bit what I am wearing when there are totalitarian new world orders to resist.

On that note, here are some things to read while you’re on your way to a protest this weekend (and if you are, I hope you stay safe and warm, and have fun!):

“Avoidance speech” is both a fascinating and terrible concept.

50 wondrous places to visit in 2017.

The most beautiful public toilet in the world is all about the view.

Here’s a BBC story about Cafe Cor Coumba that apparently inspired the story I was in. It was filmed by a friend!

Three idioms across the world.

Male applicants, feminine language. This article suggests changing the language; I would suggest changing men.

A small-world story from my favorite museum’s blog.

One of the main reasons I don’t want to return to the US is 24/7 work culture. This article offers sad evidence of that. Americans don’t use all their earned vacation days. That is so screwed up.

Have a good weekend!

Here are some interesting reads from this week:

The French are fighting back against 24/7 on-call work culture.

Reducing your language learning baggage, or: “All you need is to keep going.”

An interesting article about the E.U.’s swelling language roster.

The most misused words in English (I am forever getting bemused and nonplussed wrong).

And finally, the New York Times has just released its annual “52 places to go” list, and it has me feeling slightly possessive and territorial because Botswana is on there. Stay away, please; it’s all mine in 2017!

Have a great weekend!

P.S. The photo is apropos of nothing, really. I saw the can in the supermarket and thought it looked like gorgeous art. Also, this week I did roast chestnuts for the first time ever. They were delightful even though half the joy of eating them is the wintry feeling and it is in no way, shape or form winter here. (Thank you, Mark Slomiany, for that one time you made them and I saw how easy it looked!)

happy new year!

I don’t know why I keep writing about the new year since I am possibly less enthused about it than anyone else on the planet. But, I did do two fun things to ring in 2017:

On New Year’s Eve a friend hosted dinner at his house and then we went up to the roof to count down to midnight. The annual official fireworks display was cancelled this year due to security concerns but the Dakarois took it upon themselves to pick up the slack. For at least a half hour, fireworks popped off every few seconds, every which way you turned. My photographic evidence, unfortunately, is not much proof at all… I managed to capture exactly one remotely-in-focus firework on my iphone.

I asked the people I was with to forgive my Eeyore-ness but to please help me come up with something, anything, to make me hopeful about 2017. Here’s the best we could do: a highly effective ebola vaccine has just been cleared for use in case of another outbreak, and the recent Chinese ivory ban means fewer elephants will die. (I would welcome your additions to this rather sad “list.”)

The next day, I went with Mamie, Tantie, their cousin, and a couple of friends to see Youssou N’Dour’s annual New Year’s concert. Mamie insisted that we get there before 10pm because she was sure the show would start early, it being a work night. I have been in Senegal less than a year, yet found myself setting straight someone who’s lived here her whole life. I told her, “If this show starts before 1am, 2017 really is bringing the end times with it.” And like clockwork, Youssou came onstage at 1:03 am. At 4:03 am, he was still running up and down the catwalks like a man half his age, and I had decided that third time’s the charm and I am done seeing him in Senegal. It’s a constant battle between enjoying the music and wanting desperately to be in bed, and with each show the old lady in me tugs a little harder towards the latter.

Speaking of being an old lady: at 12:30 after standing in the suffocating and pushy crowd near the stage for two hours, I had had enough and abandoned my group to go hang out at the periphery. There, I could breathe, but I also felt rather hopeless and adrift. This was a really bad omen for the year ahead. Then a man who had lugged over a plastic chair for himself offered it to me to stand on instead, so that I could see the stage. And then the woman on the chair next to mine put her arm around my shoulder, commanded sweetly, “Il faut dancer!” and led me in a distinctly Senegalese dance move with her arm around me the whole time. Normally I’m all about personal space but the woman’s generosity of spirit – bringing me into her joyful fold when she saw I was deflated and alone – changed my mind about 2017. I decided that the omen before had been a false one, and that this was in fact the real sign. We are never as isolated as we feel, and things are never as bad as they seem.

Here’s the concert, if you’d like to watch. It was so good, as always.

(I love the first song in the video above, and the one at 57:57 is my all-time favorite.)

(Another one of my favorites is at 26:27.)

catching up on 2016 before it’s over

Above, a belated shot of the Los’ Christmas spread this year. I got home from my three week-long shoot just in time to celebrate with them. Note the turkey! I have managed to make my mark in Senegal… The family loved our Thanksgiving turkey so much that they decided to make it again for Noël instead of their usual mutton. Unfortunately, I think there was a bit of beginner’s luck at play with the first one, because this second attempt didn’t turn out quite as delicious. I hope they nevertheless turn this into a new Christmas tradition, so that I can leave a legacy here!

Below, lots of links I wanted to share this month but didn’t have the time to until now:

Ten food names with unusual origins.

A world map of every country’s tourism slogan.

A visualization of what each country is best (or worst) at.

Italy’s last bastion of Catalan language struggles to keep it alive.

How i became I.

As double-dutch wanes in New York, competition comes from abroad.

On non-Swedes’ obsession with “hygge” (and the ironic conspicuous consumption that accompanies it).

32 movie accents analyzed by a dialogue coach.

FOLO = fear of living offline.

Atlas Obscura’s greatest finds of 2016.

Spin the globe to listen to radio stations around the world.

This makes me so sad, and it’s one of the reasons the call back to New York has grown fainter and fainter for me.

What each country is most worried about, and how satisfied they are with the direction of their country.

Comedians from repressive countries offer words of wisdom to Americans devastated by the election.

And on that inappropriate note, happy new year to all of you! Thank you for reading my blog this year, and for encouraging and commiserating with me as I grope my way towards French proficiency (while forgetting all the Spanish I’ve ever learned). It’s been way harder than I naively thought it would be when I arrived in Dakar. Writing about the ups and downs makes it so much more bearable, perhaps because I feel a confidence in English that I lack completely in French. Nice to remind myself that I can at least speak one language well…

Anyway, I wish I were more prepared to look back at 2016 and make some sort of meaningful statement about it the way everyone else seems to do when they have a blog.. but the only thing I’ve been capable of for the past few days is listening to George Michael and wallowing in angst about my lost youth and our doomed future.

I should have quit at “Happy new year”….

It’s going to be a long week. Hang in there!

I didn’t have the energy to do much posting last week, though I had some links I wanted to share. So I’ll kick off this week with them instead:
 
I adore The New York Times’ Modern Love column. Last week’s was language-related. (And this week’s was heart-breakingly beautiful.)
 
You know you’re living in a sad world when this is the word of the year.
 
The Cockroach Hall of Fame Museum in Plano, TX is notably absent from this otherwise super list of unique and wonderful museums
 
This explains why I have so much trouble with English language programs overdubbed into French, and why in-person conversations are always easier for me than telephone calls.
 
I found this article helpful: things to keep in mind when you’re frustrated with your language learning.
Have a good week!
[PS the photo is from near my house in Dakar. There is a toy vendor who sometimes hangs dolls and action figures from trees in rather macabre fashion. It always makes me think of that motivational poster of the cat in every elementary school classroom in the 80s. This is the more cynical version, updated for adulthood / the horrors of 2016.]