The Chichimeca goes to France

The continuing adventures of your favorite Chichimeca, a.k.a. the mysterious "Mademoiselle X", as she takes on the Fifth Republic with the aid of the intrepid Monsieur B!

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Catching up!

Hi! I am behind in my posting, but it's because I'm having a good time!

The French classes are now over after two weeks. That's really good. I wouldn't recommend the school. Each week the teacher changed so you never worked with anyone who really knew what you needed to work on personally. Also, each day's lesson was completely random and usually consisted of something completely impractical for most of the students (for example, how to inform your French husband that he is an ass and you plan to divorce him tout de suite!). We were asked what we preferred to learn, but our requests for grammar lessons were scoffed at by the teacher. It is apparently against the spirit of the school to make us do boring things like actually learn the language. The theater teacher gave us a great lesson though the sort of expressions you use to communicate emotions and also to respond to other people's outbursts. Also, she corrected all of our pronounciation of French vowels according to the most common problems for each of our respective nationalities, which helped everyone quite a bit. But the classes generally consisted of us reading the newspaper out loud in a stuffy classroom and paying a lot of money to do it. And I still don't speak very good French.

June 21 was the "Fête de la Musique". This is the first day of summer and for the last few years there is a nation wide festival of music. Apparently many other countries have joined a network with France and also participate by holding their own festivals on the same day (Ok, so I guess I did learn something from the language school because our lesson that day was all about the festival). Anyway, it's a nice concept. All through out Paris and the rest of France there are free concerts and dances starting during the late afternoon and lasting late into the night. It's all free and there is everything you can imagine. The city of Paris organizes some really big concerts in the Place de la Bastille and Place de la Republique and bars and nightclubs put on their own smaller shows. The streets are also full of impromptu performances by the neighborhood's budding songbirds (sometimes good, sometimes not so good, but it's all for fun). You'll even see wanna-be DJ's taking advantage of the chance to spin for the whole quartier from their apartment's balcony without the neighbors being able to call the cops. Unfortunately, it was really rainy and cold that night, but M. B and I still were able to meet up with some friends and enjoy everything from jazz, to African rythmns, to 14 year-olds in garage bands.

A couple of days later we went to dinner with some colleagues (I forget exactly where we were, I just remember that M. B told me it's the neigborhood with all of the really expensive stores). After dinner the whole dinner party rushed to the nearest bar to catch the end of a World Cup match between France and...uh, someone (yes, not really a good sports fan). France won so it was good. After we took a nighttime walk by the river to see the Eiffel Tower light show that happens every hour on the hour. I also got to see the outside of the new Quai Branly museum that everyone is talking about here. It houses most of the material from the Americas, Oceania, Africa, and parts of Asia. It's designed by Jean Nouvel (for non-architects, he's the guy who inspired the middle name of Brad Pitt's and Angelina Jolie's daughter). The building is interesting but hard to see at night. M. B was slightly offended that I said it reminded me of Disneyland, but it is very curvy and at night there is literally a forest of gigantic glow stick things as decoration. Pretty Disneyland in my opinion!

The next day was exciting because it was the annual Gay Pride March. The parade wound its way through the city and ended up at the Place de la Batille. So M. B and I headed directly to the Batille to catch the arrival of the floats. There were tons of people, lots of techno music, and costumes galore. In the parade itself there was every conceivable affiliation of gays, lesbians, and bisexuals. There were groups of gay Corsicans, Lebanese, bicyclists, students, Jews, etc. My favorites were the Ourses, the gay "Bears". Their motto was "Gros et Beau" (Big and Beautiful). There were also, of course, lots of drag queens and transgendered individuals in fab costumes. Later that day we went to a bar to watch another World Cup match. France vs....uh, someone? Oh! No, it was Mexico vs. Argentina. So I guess my memory is not that bad.

This was followed by another week of weird language classes. I was happy that I was allowed to stay in the same level because half of the class was demoted to a lower level. But all of at the school have uniformly agreed that there appears to be no relationship between which level we're in and what we learn. It was good that I had attended the gay pride march because that was the topic of our class the first day. Later we got a new teacher who was much more patient than the previous, didn't argue with us about whether she spoke too fast or not, and didn't expect us to already speak fluent French even though we were taking classes at the school. My lessons included expounding on the virtues of smoking and how to accuse my husband of committing adultery...

To celebrate the end of my pedagogic purgatory M. B and I headed out on the TGV (High Speed Rail) to visit his sister in Grenoble. It was a nice trip. She and her boyfriend have a two-year old son who is adorable. He also is learning how to talk and so it actually helped me to listen to his father correcting his sentences. The boy so far refuses to use pronouns, which irks his father infinitely. So there are confusing exchanges where the boy announces that he, using his name, wants ice cream. The father responds "No! I want ice cream. I!!!". To which the puzzled boy reiterates his first declaration, that he, not his father, wants ice cream. And so it goes...But it was nice with lots of time in the mountains, a bit of hiking, lots of time at the pool, and barbecuing. M. B and I ended up driving back as his mother kindly is lending us her car to road trip around northern France. Tomorrow we're setting out for Normandy, land of cider, fish, and crêpes.

And I was even able to squeeze in a 4th of July celebration. I invited a student from the language school because she seemed a little bummed to not be at home for the holiday. She brought a friend who is also at the school. They are 16 and 17, respectively, and hail from Ft. Wayne, Indiana. It's not their first time in France, but there is still a bit of culture shock to recover from. One is battling her French host family by refusing to speak to them or eat dinner with them. She seems surprised to discover they don't seem to be taking to her that well. But it was a nice evening. I made chipotle/shallot burgers (couldn't find red onions, brought the chipotles from the US), potato salad (no celery so I had to use fennel, no sweet pickles so I turned to French cornichons, and Dijon mustard), tomato mozzarella salad, and the kiddies brought a stawberry tart. So it was a nice mix of French and American. The Indianans thanked me and told me it was the best dinner they had had in France so far (yikes!!!). M. B thought the potatoes salad a bit odd, but edible, and he really like the hamburgers. I was surprised. In fact, he liked them so much he asked me to make them again tonight. So I guess American food isn't SO bad ;P.

So tomorrow we're taking off to Normandy. I'll be back to let you know how it all turned out soon!

Notice the dude in the g-string... Posted by Picasa

Papillon Posted by Picasa

La Place de la Bastille Posted by Picasa

Me! Posted by Picasa

Peacock!!! Posted by Picasa

Peacock (rear view) Posted by Picasa

Bootylicious??? Posted by Picasa

Bikers!!! Posted by Picasa

Hold the banner high!!! Posted by Picasa

Any questions?? Posted by Picasa

Yes!!! Posted by Picasa

Ah! L'amour! Posted by Picasa

A persistent tourist Posted by Picasa

In the Navy??? Posted by Picasa

Da (gay) Bears! Posted by Picasa

Relaxing after the parade... Posted by Picasa

A la Fete de la Musique... Posted by Picasa

Plus de la Fete! Posted by Picasa

Un reve du petit Paris Posted by Picasa

Cooking with hardware!!! Posted by Picasa

Monday, June 19, 2006

Settling In...

My first full week in Paris has been mostly about adjusting. Adjusting to really nice weather, great food, fun things to do. Yeah, culture shock is hard...

M. B and I headed to the Petit Palais to see an exhibit on the archaeology of Peru. M. B had a vigorous debate with the gentleman who sold us our tickets at the entrance. We were trying to get a discount under any of the following pretexts: I'm a student, he's a researcher, goverment employee, we're archaeologists, etc. The only one that seemed to stick with the ticket seller was being associated with history or archaeology. M. B didn't qualify in this individual's mind because he wasn't really a student and I didn't because all of my ID's (I tried both my US and Mexican credentials) said "Anthropology". "No! Not Anthropology! Archaeology!!!" the ticket seller insisted. "But Archaeology IS Anthropology!" retorted M. B. "No! It's only Archaeology!" declared the ticket seller smuggly, full of assurance and finality on the subject (Lewis Binford eat your heart out!). Imagine this to repeat itself for about 3 more rounds. But, in the end, this lively intellectual debate apparently sufficiently entertained the gentleman because we both ended up receiving the discount. As for the exhibit itself, it was nicely done and there was a good balance between education and just looking at cool artifacts.

There's plenty of opportunities to enjoy a drink on the terrace of a cafe with the great weather. We recently went to one just up the street from M. B's apartment. Everyone was in a very good mood chatting over beers, soft drinks, and glasses of wine. There are a lot of children in the neighborhood, and there were quite a few running around playing with water guns to stay cool in the afteroon. There are also more drunks wandering the streets here in the summer. One such individual made a scene slurring angrily to the father of a 4 year-old that he had sincerely feared for his life when the small child pointed a bright yellow plastic water pistol at him and that it's a shame that such violence is allowed among the young. Eventually he calmed down and wandered off (probably to refuel and spread joy in another quartier).

Saturday I went to the local public swimming pool. I suppose it may be similar in the US because I haven't been to that many there, but it seemed a bit more orderly than I expected. There is a vending machine immediately at the entrance that sells the swimming caps that are required for all users, male and female. Also, men are not permitted to wear loose swimming trunks. Instead, the skin tight "Speedo" style is required (maybe that explains in part the European men that appear in, shall we say...unflattering fashions on American beaches). After changing and then taking your mandatory shower you are allowed to enter the pool. It was a little crowded for my taste, but everyone else seemed happy to swim their laps.

Later in the afternoon M. B and I took a walk through Montmartre to visit the Pigalle neighborhood. On the way we stumbled onto a few places new to not only me but also M. B (something that doesn't happen too often). One of these was a semi-hidden pétanque club. That's the game of outdoor bowling, like bocci balls. We spent a few moments observing the players.

Finally we got to Pigalle. Once the home to various cabarets and artists, today it is best known for strip clubs and sex shops. But still, this is Paris, and so despite the mercantile emphasis, it's really quite pretty. And the sex shops are pretty hilarious. This is also where the famous Moulin Rouge is located.

And for those of you who are looking forward to Samuel L. Jacksons upcoming Oscar bid "Snakes on a Plane" you'll be excited to see it's making the rounds abroad as well.

Sunday, after a leisurely lunch, we headed to the Parc Floral to see one of the outdoor jazz concerts. Once there, the park/botanical garden was so pretty, the weather so nice, and the crowd around the ampitheater so dense, that we decided to just stroll and look at the plant exhibits and walk-in butterly exhibit. It's really a very nice place to spend the afteroon, especially for families. After, we passed through a neighborhood that I think was in the Marais that was originally a jewish neighborhood. Today it's pretty touristy, but the architecture is very interesting. There also lots of little bars and resaurants to sample. M. B was happy with a shawarma sandwich; I preferred an Italian gelato.

Finally, today I started my French classes in a school in downtown Paris. I'll have to update my progress. Today I just got placed into my level (B-1, not exactly sure what that means). The school's teaching methods are interesting. There are no textbooks, only "authentic documents" (ads, articles, songs, that are part of French life). There is also no formal lesson plan. The teacher brings things to read, listen to, and discuss each day and grammar and vocabulary will supposedly flow more naturally this way. We also have lessons with drama coaches who will teach us intonation, gestures, and other tricks to get through a conversation when "we have no idea what people are actually saying to us". Sounds like just what I need!

Le Petit Palais (aka, M. B's house) Posted by Picasa

My neigborhood Posted by Picasa

Petanque Posted by Picasa

Le Moulin Rouge Posted by Picasa

Snakes on a Plane!!! Posted by Picasa