"The evolving Francophile..."

My husband Jack has always wanted to live in Paris and learn French. I thought it would be good for him to achieve his life time dream. Hence, we moved to Paris in 2008. My first year was difficult. I started "missives" to relieve some stress and chronicle my life so friends back in the US could read what I am experiencing. I currently write about my food and travel experiences, which is my passion.

It is definitely a challenge to live here, but each year it gets easier, and quite enjoyable, in large part because I value friendships over locale. I have a love/hate relationship with Paris as do most Parisians, mais La vie est belle (but life is good)!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

May 5-11 2008

Monday: How exciting, our first day of French school. Despite the long Sunday afternoon that continued through evening of picnicking and drinking, we actually got up early enough to get ready and be in school by 9:00 am. Amazing feat considering how much wine we’ve been consuming lately. We’ve decided we have to cut back on our drinking. Lesson learned, we cannot drink as much as the Parisians. How do they drink so much and stay up so late, and go to work the next day very early is beyond my comprehension?. Another French paradox. I still wish the first French paradox was working on me, eating and not putting on any weight.

Got to school, and we all convened in a very large room. We were like kids starting kindergarten for the very first time without our parents, but this time the crutch was English. Then the process of elimination took place. Beginners went to one room, intermediates another, etc., etc., One advantage of being a beginner is that we did not have to be tested, or as I would like to say publicly humiliated like an inquisition. Jack’s French has improved tremendously since we’ve been in France and he went to the intermediate class.

Got to the beginners class, and there were only 3-students. Class sizes are no more than 9, so we were very lucky. And, as luck would have it, talk about 6-degrees of separation, my classmate seated next to me was from San Francisco and lived only a few blocks from our SF house. He’s a writer, and his partner is in Paris for work for the next 6-months, so he decided to use this opportunity to learn French, smart man. Our instructor Monica came in and although can speak better English then I can, pulled a fast one and wouldn’t let any of us speak English, as she would say seulement Francais. Thank God I did a little Rosetta stone beginner’s tutorial or I would have been totally lost. We had to say our name, why were we in France, and the scariest part was our age. Excuse me, how do you say 39-years old in French? Of course, no one believed me, oh well. I could not imagine going to that beginning class and being totally “green.”

As luck would have it, about a half an hour later, a 4th person joined our group, apparently he did not pass the inquisition. He’s from Australia, and had taken beaucoup French classes before. His French was so bad, I got scared, and thought, oh my God, if he’s taken so many damn lessons and still can’t figure it out, how am I ever going to learn French? Then I realized, I’m a lot smarter than he is.

We had so much information overload, that by 1 pm or as the French would say 13h, I had such a headache. Went home and took a nap, then Jack woke me up at 5 pm and said, don’t forget we have a private art show that our friend invited us to in le Marais, which starts at 7 pm. The art show was, “Ont le plaisir de vous convier au vernissage de l’exposition de Christian massez Pèrlerinage Intérieur.” Fancy writing eh? Wish I knew what it said, but basically it was his work in modernistic art interpretation.

As we headed out to the exhibition we met a new friend, who was attending the exhibition as well. Her name is Marie. Was she ever a character, LOVE HER!!! Let me try and describe her. She’s Australian, but has lived in Paris for the past 30-years. She calls herself a “Stiletto Dyke”, an expression I have never heard before. She’s tiny, but statuesque. She had on tight, tight black stretch pants with ankle booths with 3-inch heels. Great figure! Our friends told us she never goes out without heels or make-up. OK, got it, hence, the term Stiletto Dyke. For her top she wore a biased leather jacket with half the collar button, and the other loose. Her hair was short with blond streaks, but long in front where her bangs covered half of her eyes. And, get this, she’s 65-years old. She was the most stylish 65 year old I have ever seen. She looked like a Berlin 1930’s decadent painting. I told her that, and she liked the description I gave her. I have to say, we’ve been meeting some very, very interesting Bohemian people, LOVE IT!

The show was filled with the very Parisian “artist” crowd. All dressed very chi-chi, milling around a painting, discussing it every which way for hours. The vibrant colors made me literally, excuse the expression, a dizzy queen. Not my thing nor Jack’s style of painting. None the less it was very interesting and got to meet interesting people..

At 9 pm we decided to all go out and eat, remember the next day was literally a school day for us. Had dinner and wine, and got home at midnight. I guess we broke our promise of trying to cut down on wine. Oh well, C’est la vie!

Tuesday: Amazed we got up early again, considering the night before. Got to get serious about my French studies. Got to school and went over the lessons we learned the day before. Unfortunately, I was a bad boy. I did not do my homework of conjugating verbs. Luckily, I wasn’t chastised or humiliated like I was in my Catholic school days. I promised myself tonight I would memorize the verb “avoir” to have and “être” to be.

About an hour into our class, another person appeared. Apparently, she did not do to well in the intermediate class, even though she’s a teacher and took beaucoup French. These new folks coming in are scaring me. Will I ever learn French?

Went through several exercises, by 1:00 pm got another big headache. This time we decided let’s do lunch. So two of our classmates, Sue and Jane joined us across the street to a restaurant that specializes in couscous. Wouldn’t you know it, today, they had no couscous. Like I said about our timing, it’s wonderful. With the exception of one person, we all ordered the grilled lamb. But later the Chef came out and said they ran out, would we like a different type of lamb, of course we said, yes not knowing what we would get Well it definitely wasn’t a spring lamb, it was pretty aged, like beyond the mutton stage, old and fatty. Oh my Gawd, our timing is just incredible. Needless to say, our meal was not that good.

Afterwards, we invited our classmates for drinks at our neighborhood café since it’s like 75 degrees and warm, let’s take advantage of it. Only our classmate Jane could join us. She’s from Australia, she’s got a great sense of humor. She had us in stitches most of the day. Got to the café, we’re all looking for a shaded area. Imagine this, in April we were dying for some sun we could sit under, in May we’re looking for shade, go figure? Jane doesn’t drink, and Jack kept to his promise and ordered a soda. I, of course, broke my rule got a glass of wine. I guess promises were meant to be broken. Decided we need to rest from all this frenetic activity, so afterwards came home, and we’re doing our homework like good little children, then light dinner and bed.

Wednesday: Feel refreshed. Did not go out the night before. Stayed home and did our homework. Studied conjugating avoir and être like you wouldn’t believe. Afterwards, since our TV is out of order I decided to listen to our neighbors down the block fight. The guy was English, and his girlfriend is French. It was like an amazing soap opera. I can hear all the neighbors around me whispering, crazy English, I never noticed that they never once said, crazy French girl, and she was the one that was hysterical. The poor girl was screaming at the top of her lungs, and one time I thought she killed a cat. Next I heard a siren, and then it got quiet. Too bad, I was enjoying trying to interpret their “Franglish.” It was better than TV.

Got to school and noticed the new woman from yesterday dropped out. I heard the drop out rate is high at this school. I guess too intimidating or something? At the prices we’re paying intimidation is not in my vocabulary, they better teach me damn good French. A new person took her place. Another 6-degrees of separation. He was a young man from San Francisco. An Interior Designer. He said he only took French in elementary and High School. Well he did pretty damn well. So, now he took the new role being the best in class. Our instructor pulled a fast one though. She wanted me to conjugate the word “faire” to-do, well I did NOT study that, why couldn’t she ask me about avoir or être? I knew it inside out. So, I screwed up pretty bad. Afterwards, I had to do a presentation in French about the phrase, “Interdit de passage ou public” which literally translates to “Passage prohibited by the public” or in English colloquialism, DO NOT ENTER, which I practiced the night before. I made a pack with my classmates beforehand, don’t ask me any questions, and I won’t ask you any questions when it’s your turn to present. Well they lied, they were asking me all sorts of questions, and of course I was struggling like hell to try and respond in French. Oh well.

Typically just before 1 pm when our class ends, I start getting a headache, so I’m looking at the clock waiting for it to be 1 pm so I can get out, just like when I was in high school. Finally, 1 pm comes. Jack and some other classmates decided to join the “drama club” and I just couldn’t deal with more headaches. So I said, let’s do lunch. A bunch of us went to the Armenian restaurant next door. It was pretty good. As they were heading back to their after school activities, I still had a headache. As they saying goes, “when the going gets tough, the tough go shopping.” After lunch I went window shopping for a little bit of relaxation. Half an hour later of window shopping, I got so depressed because everything is so damn expensive, so I decided to go home and wait for Jack to do our errands. Got home, our internet we’ve been pirating is down. Not my day. Took a nap to escape.

Jack came back about 5 pm, and we decided to do some errands like get groceries. It seems we have to go to the groceries a lot, and we do, because our cupboards and refrigerator are so small.

Came back and had dinner and did my homework again, like a good little boy. I can’t take any more studying, so I went to bed.

Thursday: Imagine, they closed the whole city of Paris in celebration of Jack’s birthday today. Who knew. Actually, it’s a national holiday, it’s to commemorate the end of WWII. Unbeknownst to us, the end of April and most of May there are a zillion holidays in France and in Europe. I need to move here just for the holidays, than I realized, wait a minute, I’m retired, every day is a holiday. Oh well.

We have school today, ‘cause the administrator thought it’d be nice to give us a 3-day week-end (tomorrow is a work day), whereas most of France is shut down today. I’m game just for the mere fact we can sleep in. So we got on the metro to go to school, I was amazed how eerily quiet it was. Very few people and no traffic at 8:30 in the morning. Imagine that.

Classes today was just difficult. I memorized the 4 major verbs, and I screwed up reciting them. I feel like a really dummy. It’s our 4th day of school and I expected I’d be speaking French fluently, how silly of me. Getting to know a lot of our different classmates. They’re so diverse, and the really advanced classes are so nice to us, as opposed to the upper class we experienced during our high school days.

After class, the school had a “Bienvenue” party with wine, of course, and hors- d’oeuvres or as we say in Hawaii pu-pus. It was fun getting to know more of the students, and they all sang Happy Birthday, in French to Jack, how sweet. Talk about 6-degrees of separation, the new guy and I have mutual friends, frightening. Afterwards, the women decided to do a women’s night out. They invited Jack and I to join them at a bar latter than evening, but I told them we had plans.

After getting a little tipsy, decided to get our a*ses home to get ready for dinner with our good friends Mehran and Christophe to celebrate Jack and Christophe’s belated birthday.

They came over for champagne first before dinner. They gave Jack a 5 pack CD of Charles Aznovour, a famous French singer. I didn’t have the heart to tell them I didn’t know who he was, but Jack did fortunately. I’m sure he’ll sound fabulous once we get a CD player to try him out. We made reservations at our new favorite restaurant in the hood, the Moroccan restaurant for 9 pm. It was a warm beautiful night, and only took us 10 minutes to walk down to the restaurant. The restaurant only had 1 other couple, whereas last time we were there it was quite crowded. Then I remembered that today was a holiday, as with most city folks on long week-ends they get away. So, we pretty much had the restaurant to ourselves. We thought we were going to close the place down at 10:30 pm, but a group of guys came in for dinner.

We decided to take a little walk around the “hood” since it was such a beautiful light. All the cafés were packed with people, especially the one’s lining the sidewalks. How Parisien. We were dead tired and tipsy, so we decided to go home and take advantage of an early night (midnight) and sleep in. It was warm in our apartment, so we decided to keep our bedroom windows open. I should’ve known, it’s a holiday and the one stairway leading up to Sacré Coeur was being repaired, so people are walking down our tiny streets singing and just plain drunk. Jack said I need to try and get use to the noise, so we can start sleeping with the windows open. The noise didn’t stop and then the next morning the garbage trucks came rolling down the street, twice in half an hour. So I made a promise tomorrow night, I’d shut the window and suffer in the night.

Friday: Beautiful day, albeit a little cooler. We’re suppose to meet our new best friend Jane for a picnic by the Conservatoire de Paris and have a small picnic before we go see the ballet, which is a dance competition (finals), for the senior class students. We walked to the canal, and sat and had a wonderful picnic.

Afterwards we headed back to the conservatory to meet up with friends from school, Francesca and her girlfriend Imelda, no NOT Marcos. Francesca is from SF living here in Paris with her girlfriend Imelda, who is a French film maker. We got to the ballet, and there were very specific instructions that we were not allowed to talk, clap after a performance etc., etc., I was afraid to breathe. Before the performance the judges came in very serious with all their notepads. It was like American Idol, but very quiet. Definitely an inquisition for the students.

I have to say that most of the dancing was incredible. Modern interpretation, a lot of good dancing as opposed to everyone running around they use to call “modern dance.” There was one piece, “La Viene Etriente” that brought me to tears. It was so incredible, I can’t even begin to describe it.

Afterwards, we wanted to just sit at a café and talk and contemplate about the performances, in other words be catty. Francesca and Imelda couldn’t go, they had to do some work, something about deadlines? Go figure. So, Jane, Jack and I decided to walk along the canal, found a café and sat the afternoon eating ice cream and just bullsh*ing”.

It was 6 pm and I was beat, so we all decided to head home and relax. A bunch of us are suppose to meet Sunday to have another picnic and bike around the Seine, so I need tonight and tomorrow to reserve my energy for Sunday biking.

We definitely live in an interesting neighborhood. Last night, the English lad with his French girlfriend decided to go on top of their roof and enjoy the beautiful evening drinking beer and wine. I was praying they didn’t get into a fight, imagine one of them pushing the other off the room, yikes.

On one side of our building I sometimes lean out the window or sit next to it, ‘cause one of our neighbors is a jazz trumpeter. He occasionally practices and I just love listening to him. On the other side of the building we have a man who does accompaniment using keyboards and he practices. They’re good so it’s nice and pleasant listening to them. Last night, I was hanging out of our window on the main street and a man in his 40’s dressed very bohemian with a wild hat and wild sports coat, I think it was faux snake, was going door to door reciting limericks. He saw me, and recited one to me special, unfortunately, I have no clue what he said, but it was beautiful and rhythmic. Interestingly, he was not asking for money?

Ah, vie cest bonne!

Saturday: Another beautiful day. Our corner boulangerie is closed for the next week, and the one down the street is not open on week-ends. By law stores have to close at minimum 1-day a week, but some close at times of the week that suits their whim, or just for the hell of it take off the whole week which I’m not understanding, how do they make enough money to go on vacation? And, Jack reminded me, like us, they just make enough to get by, and enjoy life to the fullest the rest of time. Who knew we were so Parisien and ahead of our time.

We decided to go have a picnic at the Jardin de Luxembourg (Luxembourg Garden) since it was one of the few parks we have not visited. Jack was extremely tired from the night before, so he lugged along a blanket so we could lie on the grass, have a picnic and then nap. Once we got to the Luxembourg, we noticed that there were a million chairs strewn all over the park. Apparently, unbeknownst to us, there are only 2 designated areas where you can lay on grass, which makes sense since you don’t want everybody trampling on beautiful green grass. Got to the designated area and it was pretty packed. I thought great, just a bunch of local Parisiens enjoying the lovely spring weather, at least we won’t have to deal with all those noisy tourists. As we sat down, we discovered there were groups of Americans on both sides of us. In front of us were Spaniards, and to the right of them were Germans. Well that shot my theory about locals going to the park. I’m guessing they were all expats. Had a lovely time anyway, very low key, and what was nice was we were right next to a public toilette, albeit it cost 40 centimes (60 US cents) to go.

We decided to leave about 4 pm and we accidentally ran into an opera in the park. How lovely. Apparently, you can go to most parks in the summer and there will be some type of music, performance etc., all free. How civilized. The Paris conservatoire of music was performing with part of the orchestra. Too bad I’m not into opera, oh well, at least it was free. As we walked outside the garden, we noticed that there was a photo exhibition around the periphery of the garden gates of the “past 20-years of photographic journalism” from le Figaro, a French magazine. Some of the works were incredible. We spent about an hour or 2 just basking in all the artistry that is pornography, oops I mean photography.

Headed home, took a nap and decided let’s just go out to eat. So, at 9 pm we left the house and walked around a bit in the “hood” and finally decided on a Thai restaurant we’ve been wanting to try. There were only 2 other couples there, keep in mind it was 9:30 pm by the time we got there. By 10:15 to 10:30 pm the place was getting very packed. I guess we were the gereatric group that likes to eat early at 9:30 pm. Oh well. Jack liked his fish curry, but mine was very watered down curry and not at all spicy, so I asked for some chilis and poured the whole thing into my little bowl of beef curry. Boy did I regret it the next day. Remember, what goes in must come out. Got home at 11 pm and crashed.

Sunday: We were to meet some of our classmates at the “Pont Neuf”, which is a major landmark across from the Notre Dame, and is also a bridge over the Seine. There were 6 of us. Except for one classmate in this group, most were very young (20’s). I felt like their father/mother and I was babysitting. I have underwear older then most of them. None of them were from the US, they were from New Zealand, Australia, England, and Sweden. How international. We decided to have a picnic on one of the isles then rent bikes “Velib”, which are the bikes that Parisiens use to get from point A to B. It’s a great system that encourages people to bike, rather than drive. First half hour is also free. So, technically, if you check the bikes in every half hour and get a new one, it’s always free. Who knew? It took us an hour to figure out how to use it, pissing off everyone in line, oh well, but after we figured it out it was easy as pie.

It was an absolutely beautiful day and we were giddy with happiness and with our wonderful lives, so as tour groups on “bateaus” (boats) came by, we enthusiastically waved and yelled, “Bonjour” how absolutely NOT Parisen, oh well, technically, we are not and will never be Parisien.

We biked up and down the Seine, quite lovely, since they closed parts of the street. Then we biked to the Bastille, had to get our strength up for the next journey, and so we stopped and got ice cream and coffee. Afterwards we decided to go to the “Tuileries” gardens to say hi to some of my friends. It was extremely windy, hence dusty. We chatted for awhile then decided we would all go out to dinner and do our homework at the restaurant. Yeah right. After debating where we wanted to eat, we all agreed on the Marais. Seems to be a popular place for everything. We found an Italian restaurant and had some salad and pasta, and some did their homework, whereas moi left his at home.

It was quite the experience navigating the streets of Paris on a bike. We got stopped by the police for going the wrong way, got lost several times. Made all sorts of illegal moves. I guess now you can say that I’m truly Parisien, I biked around Paris like a madman and didn’t kill anyone and I’m still alive to talk about it. I didn’t think it was dangerous at all. Then got home and read in the paper that a velib rider was killed by a bus. I guess my initial fear of biking in Paris came back. One thing that I found really interesting, the parking issues for the velibs. Once we finished and tried to return our “velibs,” docking stations were non-existent, you have to wait around til someone else pulls out a bike than you grab that parking space like a madman. Imagine that.

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