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!


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