Jumping over the lazy dog

or, taking the bull by the horns.

Oh la, Loire!

France is not a very big place. It’s smaller than Texas by 8,000 square miles, but has a variety of terrain, food and accents to rival the entire United States. During my three trips to France, I got to nibble away at the expansive culture by seeing Paris (the Big City), Provence (the South), Bordeaux and Lyon (small cities), Carcassonne (almost Spain), and most recently, the Loire. Or should I say, there where many a French noble hath laid his head.

The Loire Valley is famous for two things: chateaus and wine. The Brit and I got our fill of both in the four windy days we spent there earlier this month. And we did it all without a car!

First stop, Blois.

We stayed in Blois for the first night, in a rather sketchy hotel, where the concierge insisted we were married, even if we hadn’t had a ceremony, because being in a committed relationship was the equivalent of being married…let’s not get me started on his logic (or lack thereof)…point is, Blois itself is a quaint town, with a charming castle and nice views. Not at the top of my list of places we visited, though the brick portions of the castle took me straight back to Place des Vosges in Paris, one of my favorite places in the world.

One thing Blois did well was a sound and light show that projected images directly onto the Chateau's walls. It was in French, though...so bring a translator.

On day two we left our bags in the hotel, while we hopped on a bus to see two chateaus, one more famous (and beautiful) than the other.

Ah, Chambord.

Chambord was everything I imagined it to be. Enormous. Incredibly beautiful. Drowning in history. Did you know it once housed the Mona Lisa during WWII, when the French (smartly) decided to move the Louvre’s contents to keep them away from a certain mustachioed Nazi?

Cheverny wasn’t as beautiful. Which is why I don’t have pictures. But, right outside Cheverny, the Brit and I did a quick wine tasting of the local offerings, two whites, a rosé and a red. Incidentally, before this last stay in France, I wasn’t a fan of whites or rosés…a couple of picnics in the springtime cured me of that nonsense. Rosés and whites are perfect spring picnic basket fillers.

We spent that night in Tours, in a very charming hotel, a polar opposite of the one we’d just left. Our concierge guided us to the only street open for food on a holiday, and we had one of the best meals I’ve had in France – all local food, all exquisitely prepared and presented, and accompanied with a local red. Mmm.

The next day, we wandered around Tours for a while, and the chill forced me to buy a coat. I had no choice. Eventually, we took the train out to Chenonceau, where I slightly overestimated the amount of time we’d need at the chateau. It’s quite small, but it certainly does deserve a photo. It reallywas a blustery day (I should’ve bought two coats), and I wish we could’ve stayed longer, but the chill sent us running to take the train back to Tours.

Chenonceau floats on water. Oh, and it's equally beautiful on the interior.

The next morning, the Brit and I made a fateful decision. We did not want to take the train, and we did not want to take a bus, but we did want to visit chateaus. So, we rented bikes.

I had not ridden a bike in over 11 years. My last bike was stolen when I was 10, and for every year I didn’t get a new one, my fear of falling off a bike grew exponentially, until I was convinced that the expression ‘like riding a bike’ would never apply to me. Turns out, the expression isn’t as easy as it sounds (who would’ve thunk), but after several start-stops and almost getting run over by traffic, I managed to stay (mostly) on the bike for the 50 miles (I kid you not) we rode that day.

On bike, we visited Villandry and Azay-le-Rideau. Villandry has beautifully sculpted French gardens that, in my opinion, rival those of Versailles. Azay-le-Rideau has a more quiet charm, set on water in the midst of English gardens that make you believe you’re in the middle of a fairytale, something along the lines of Beauty and the Beast, but after the Beast becomes a prince.

Sure, Villandry's chateau is nice. But the gardens are much nicer.

Okay, so in this picture, Azay-le-Rideau looks a bit more ominous than I might have described...

Did I mention we biked 50 miles to get to these two chateaus? Here’s proof.

The first part of the ride was beautiful - flat roads, green and yellow fields, blue skies dotted with white puffs of cloud...

And if you want actual proof of the distances, here’s Google to the rescue (keep in mind, these are the more direct routes…our path was a bit more meandering…). The second half of the ride was a bit more tenuous, as we were pedaling on a ridge with headwind that blew us to a stop several times…but we made it back to Tours, and after much deserved hot showers and carb-loaded dinners, we passed out in our charming cream sleigh bed.

That was the (exhausting) end of our Loire Valley trip. The next morning the Brit and I packed our bags and dashed off to Paris to grab the Eurostar to London, where I went to the beach. Sort of. But that’s a story for another post.

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Filed under: All things French, Around the world, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Music and Mayhem

As I’ve said before, I have four hours of sophomore-level courses every week.  But because of the way the timetables work in French high schools, I don’t see the same kids every week.  On Mondays and Tuesdays I have two groups that I see every other week (one half of the class on week A, the other half on week B), and on Tuesdays and Thursdays I have two groups that I see regularly (same kids, every week). So it gets a bit complicated in lesson planning, to remember which kids did which lesson. Luckily for me, they talk to each other about my class.  So when I did a rather successful session on American popular music for Week A, the students in Week B insisted we go over the same material. What did I do that was worth of extra-curricular discussion? Well, let me tell you. (If Malcolm Gladwell can use leading questions, so can I, n’est-ce pas?)

The French have this love of competition, specifically, intellectual competition.  They have several TV shows, some similar to Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, Jeopardy, and Wheel of Fortune, and some that go way beyond what we expect Americans to know, including games where you solve word and number puzzles in seconds to advance to the next round. So I thought I’d play a music game – no, not musical chairs.  This one’s called “Guess the Decade!” and the students have to do just what the title suggests.

I began the class with an overview – we listened to samples of music from the 50s to the 2000s and studied their lyrics.  Then, I divided the class into two teams, usually boys versus girls.  That gets the competitive spirit going. I played 30 second samples of random music, and they had 30 seconds to decide, as a team, what decade they thought the song belonged to, and write their answer on a piece of paper; the winning team (there could be two, of both guessed correctly) received 10 points.  For an extra 5 points-a-piece, they could guess the song’s title and artist.  I had a mix of songs and artists I thought they’d know (“Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” “Y.M.C.A”) and was sometimes pleasantly surprised when they recognized the artists I thought they’d struggle with (Frank Sinatra – only one kid knew who that was, but good for him!). Class got a bit rowdy, of course, and I even had a teacher come tell us to settle down – but, for once, they were rowdy in English!

For the last week of school, I stuck to the Christmas theme and did an exercise to get them working on multiple tenses. They had a few minutes to write before they presented their answers to these two questions: 1) What was the best present you’ve ever received? and 2) If you could get anything for Christmas, what would you like to get? For the first, some kids couldn’t remember any present they particularly liked (I had a hard time believing that, and heckled them with questions until they said something like “Money” or “My PSP”.)  For the second, I had a range of responses, but most kids seemed to want either a new computer or a phone.  Some kids wanted money to travel, one girl wanted a house in every country and another wanted to have some actor’s babies. Good luck with that one, Santa.

As usual, Chuck Norris won the (unstated) Make-Amrita-Laugh game. His ideal present? “I want Chuck Norris to be my bodyguard.” Then, when a student teased him, saying “You looooove Chuck Norris!”, he responded with “No. Chuck Norris loves me.”  We have a winner!

Filed under: All things French, , , , , , , , , ,

Bob the Sponge and his Square Pants!

The French take fancy to some artifacts of Anglophone culture, and this is where their discerning eye seems to fail them. They, for example, love Johnny Hallyday, who is essentially a faded echo of Elvis in his heyday. Or, take a recent exhibition on the phenomenon that is SpongeBob SquarePants, or Bob l’Eponge as the French fondly call him.  There was plenty of advertising – you couldn’t walk down the street without seeing at least one poster for this expo.  It took place, appropriately, at the Pavillion d’Eau, and was accompanied by an educational exhibit on how to conserve water and the value of tap water over bottled water.  All these little details might clue you into the fact that this exhibit was geared towards the little ones.  And it shouldn’t surprise you that The Accomplice and I found ourselves at the Pavillion’s watery door.

To be fair, the advertising I’d seen included images like these…

...and I'm a sucker for all things art and satire, so I had to check it out.

There isn’t much to say about the content of the exposition – I didn’t learn much about SpongeBob that I didn’t already know.  Though I did watch my first episode of Bob l’Eponge entirely in French, with no subtitles…in a room full of 3-8-year-olds. I felt a bit out of place, like I was back at that Fall Out Boy concert in Roanoke, where age 10 was the mode. And years of sustainability-training have taught me quite a bit about water conservation, so not much new knowledge on that front, either.  But it was a great excuse for me to take some fun pictures!

If they can spoof Magritte, so can I. The Accomplice did what accomplices do, she helped.

Had The Accomplice not been pointing and giggling, what would Bob l'Eponge have to be embarrassed about?

I really did enjoy the architecture of the Pavillon itself - these steps pass over a pool of water, and terminate in a glass floor that continues above the same pool. Pretty swish stuff.

One thing that SpongeBob does rather well is unite the youth and adults that watch the show - here, a wall of drawings by the audience. Artists represented almost every demographic.

Filed under: All things French, Close to home, , , , , ,

Green, like Kermit and grass.

I just returned from a screening of The Age of Stupid, part of the Festival International du Film d’environnement, a week-ish-long event in Paris (for you English-speakers, there’s a little British flag in the top right that translates the page to anglais).  I haven’t spent much time on this blog writing about “serious” topics, like the environment or sustainability.  That’s not necessarily because I don’t think about them, because I do, and certainly not because I know nothing about them, because 50% of my courses addressed sustainability at one point or another. But it just hasn’t come up recently.  That is, until now.

I saw an article in one of the Metro issues this week about the affair, and thought I’d give it a go.  I was particularly interested because I saw they were screening Food, Inc., a film I’ve been wanting to see for a while. More about that film in a minute, first I’d like to mention that they have screened (rather, will have screened) 100+ films during this event, documentaries and fiction, feature-length and shorts, all of which address our present and future as a species and a planet.  Basically, there’s something for everyone, even an animated film for the 4-8 year-old crowd.  Start ’em early.

I saw two of the films aired today, because they seemed the most interesting and happened to best fit my schedule (er, I wanted time to actually work on my grad school stuff today?).  The first was Food, Inc.

A smart farmer and giant corporations that mysteriously keep mum. What's not to like?

The title of the film is pretty accurate: it’s a documentary about how the source of our food has transitioned from small farms to big corporations, and the resulting mistreatment of the animals, workers and consumers.  But it’s not just another PETA film, though if you’re squeamish and like little chicks, you might want to cover your eyes for some bits. I was impressed with the film on a couple of points:

  • Story-telling: the documentary interviews characters that are memorable and presents their stories in a compelling way.  One of the individuals, a farmer who grows free-range everything, from chickens to cows to pigs, and has an impressive vocabulary, is interviewed as he slaughters chickens and packages them for sale.  It’s all done in an open tent, and the farmer notes the irony that conducting this work in fresh air is considered dangerous by the FDA as it can lead to contamination of meat (through air-borne particles).  The film then goes on to remind the viewer of the previous interviewees, a chicken farmer who wore a mask to wade through a throng of hobbling hens to gather the ones that had died during the night.
  • Art direction: the film is divided into chapters, of sorts, with catchy headings (that I can’t remember, but I remember they were catchy at the time) done in an artful way.  Oh, here’s an example: when talking about a veil concealing the source our food, the heading first reads “evil” then rearranges itself to “veil.” Subliminal? Not so much.  Point taken, though.
  • Art direction 2: there are bits of the film that are animated, that read almost like graphics from WIRED, reworked in 3D and talking about food consumption rather than the next big gadget. I thought they did a good job integrating these animated bits into the overall visual and narrative fabric of the film.

The other film I watched, The Age of Stupid, is along the lines of The 11th Hour, or Al Gore’s little number, An Inconvenient Truth. Except instead of a straight-up documentary, the team uses a fictional narrative arc to tie the stories together.  An old man, in 2055, looks over “archival” footage from 2005-2008, pondering the inability of the human race to save itself from global warming, thus “committing suicide” and resulting in global devastation.  I found it a bit contrived, but I liked the stories the arc allowed the director to tell: an African village abandoned by Shell and its government, the “not in my backyard” approach of individuals to wind as a power-source, an 80+ year-old guide who still takes tourists and his grand-children for treks in the Alps, even as the glaciers are melting away…

Here's the old man, and the images on the screen are the contrived plot. But the point of the film is a good one...

Perhaps more interesting than the film itself was the information I gleamed from the Q&A with the director and producer after the screening.  One of the question-askers noted the film was quite alarmist, at a time when the public is being bombarded with “be green or be dead” propaganda, and asked the director why she didn’t take a more gentle approach.  The director, Franny Armstrong, noted that they had considered two endings, a positive end, where humans fix the problem, and a negative end, where they don’t. They decided to keep the “nightmare” approach, as opposed to the “I have a dream” approach, because, in the director’s words, “We’re not at a crossroads, we’re at a point, on a path we’ve been on for over 100 years.  We’ve got to turn the whole ship around.”

I even got to ask a question. I was curious, since the film included documentary footage from around the world (Mumbai, New Orleans, the Alps, England, Africa) and spoke specifically about the large amount of emissions made by the airline industry, how the crew kept their carbon footprint low while filming.  The producer answered my question, saying they commuted using trains as much as possible (flying as little as possible), used eco-friendly supplies in the office, were all vegetarian, etc.  For the film’s premiere, they hosted a multi-national satellite event, based in London. Celebrities arrived on bike or in electric cars and walked down a “green carpet” to the screening area, where the projections were all powered by renewable resources. It was the largest film premiere in history, and it produced only 1% of the emissions you’d expect from a Hollywood-sized premiere.

Their approach to marketing and production is quite interesting, too.  Each crew member (104 total) took a pay-cut in order to invest themselves in the film, thus earning a profit as the film earns profit, and not limiting the film’s circulation through contractual means.  To further increase circulation opportunities, the film is available for private/public screenings: that is, whoever you are, you can have a screening whenever and where-ever you want, and keep your profits. Of course, you pay a base fee for the rights to screen the film…but it’s for a good cause?  If you’re interested, check it out: http://www.indiescreenings.net/.

Well, that’s my “important topic” for the month. Don’t expect the next blog entry to be so serious – I’ve got to tell you about my afternoon with Bob l’Eponge.

P.S. Did I mention this whole festival was free, one of many free film festivals in Paris over the course of the year, in fact? I love it when a government puts money towards cultural enrichment and public education. Of course, the people that need to be convinced about the importance of sustaining our environment probably didn’t come.

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Chuck Norris doesn’t fear Death. Death fears Chuck Norris.

Continuing in the tradition of class cancellations, six of my twelve hours of teaching this week never took place, either because teachers needed the students to take tests, or because the teachers were sick.  This means I spent a lot of time sitting at a computer typing away at my graduate application essays: 3 out of 5 essays are nearing completion, and my deadline is a month away! I’ve never been so far ahead of schedule.

None of my seconde classes were canceled, however.  That meant I could still go ahead with my carefully planned out class schedule.  This week we went over another idiomatic expression (“thick as thieves,” or “copains comme cochons“).  But the pièce de résistance was my social-networking experiment: the Facebook Classroom.

I had been getting several of those chain emails with attachments like “What if God had Twitter?” and “Isaac Newton’s Facebook Page,” which is where this all started. But we’d been told to stay away from religious themes in class, and I wasn’t sure how many of my kids were nerdy enough to be entertained by Newton’s hypothetical profile (unlike my friends, who I’m sure would be ROTFL.  Please note that the last word in that sentence was written with only sarcastic intentions). So I found something I was sure they’d all find funny:

Luke, Vader wants to add you as a son on "Family Connections." Accept? Ignore?

Some of the classes thought it was funny.  That’s better than nothing.  One class, when asked if they thought it was a funny joke, said, “No, because it’s childish.” I retorted, “Too bad! ‘Cuz we’re doing one just like it!” And in the end, it was the doing that brought them to the dark side…

So here’s what I asked them to do:

  • Pick a well-known Anglophone figure: celebrity / politician / actor / musician / fictional character / etc.
  • Pretend to be the character and fill out a Facebook profile.
  • Make friends: requests are made in person.  If you accept, leave your new friend a message on the wall. If you decline, let the asker know why.
  • Share your profile with the class.

The writing, they didn’t like so much. But making fun of the guy that didn’t understand the “pretending to be the character” bit of the instructions, and wound up playing Eva Longoria because “she’s so sexy” – with another dude playing Tony Parker? That, they liked.  I’m now going to share with you the fruits of this labor: excerpts from my students’ Facebook profiles that had me laughing out loud while riding home on the metro.  Also, note: all errors are my students’ doing…I actually do know how to speak English.

Numero uno: Chuck Norris. Sex? Male God. Relationship Status? He don’t need it. Hometown? The world is mine.

"Chuck Norris don't need music, he create the music. You can't hit Chuck Norris. He is the champion of Karaté. Chuck Norris is Walker Texas Ranger and he hit peoples with his feet. No one can write on the wall of Chuck Norris, or he will kill you. The friends of Chuck Norris are who he want. Chuck Norris decide your life."

This charming student, when asked to describe Chuck Norris and share his profile responded with: “If I said who Chuck Norris is, Chuck Norris will kill you.” If this had been a competition, this kid wins.

The rest:

"I am a Rich Man and a Popular Person, I have a wife but I forgot her name. I live in America, everywhere because I'm RICH."

David Beckham. Relationship Status? "Married with Victoria, it's complicated because David go playin Milan AC in Italian, in January."

"My name is Wentworth Miller and I have 34 years old. I'm just registered in Facebook and I want to be your friend :D. I'm the celebrate characters in the serie Prison Break: Michael Scofield. I hope to find love in Facebook or other because I'm alone :("

"Queen Elizabeth II. She likes Jazz and classical music. Movies / TV? Inspecteur Derrick and Barnaby. Activities: she sleeps."

As for Eva Longoria and Tony Parker? Well, Tony wrote on Eva’s wall. “I love you Babe. XD”

Filed under: All things French, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The sun will come out…

…tomorrow! And today happens to be tomorrow! At least when compared to this weekend. Ok, that might make little sense, but that’s probably the remnants of my fever talking.

Actually, today I feel fantastic.  And the weather concurs – it’s a beautiful day in Paris, with a smattering of white fluffy clouds, and a not-too-chilly 60 degrees in the sunshine.  So I took a small walk before meeting up with The Accomplice, The Tall One and the latter’s sister for lunch at a deliciously cute resto called Café du Marché on Rue Cler in the VIIe.  I had some more confit de canard (duck) and a gâteau au chocolat (chocolate cake) with some ice cream – I don’t think I’m going to need dinner.  The Accomplice and I followed that up with a shopping stint at a MUJI near my flat and wandered through the Luxembourg gardens to digest our yummy lunches.

For your viewing pleasure, here are some images du jour!

So far, I've been treated to accordian music on the metro twice. It makes me feel like I'm really in Paris. I even paid this guy, since he let me take a picture.

So far, I've been treated to accordian music on the metro twice. It makes me feel like I'm really in Paris. I even paid this guy, since he let me take a picture.

This is Rue Cler.  Rick Steves likes it (click the pic to find out why). It's quite nice, though not my favorite part of Paris.

This is Rue Cler. Rick Steves likes it (click the pic to find out why). It's quite nice, though not my favorite part of Paris.

It's not a myth: the French DO actually park this close to each other. In fact, they play bumper cars quite regularly when squeezing into a parking spot.

It's not a myth: the French DO actually park this close to each other. In fact, they play bumper cars quite regularly when squeezing into a parking spot.

A 'vitrine' on Rue Cler - the shop sells all kinds of interesting goodies, from chocolates to specialty soups...

A 'vitrine' on Rue Cler - the shop sells all kinds of interesting goodies, from chocolates to specialty soups...

Entrance to Luxembourg Gardens from Odeon.  They've got all these beautiful potted flowers in the park now, working quite harmoniously with the changing leaves...

Entrance to Luxembourg Gardens from Odeon. They've got all these beautiful potted flowers in the park now, working quite harmoniously with the changing leaves...

Potted plants, again. I should look up the name of this flower - it's like a big fluffy pillow I could just sink into...

Potted plants, again. I should look up the name of this flower - it's like a big fluffy pillow I could just sink into...

A small water fountain and canal.  There were ducks, and it made me a bit nostalgic for the Duck Pond in Blacksburg.

A small water fountain and canal. There were ducks, and it made me a bit nostalgic for the Duck Pond in Blacksburg.

I love how parks in Paris are inhabited by a range of age groups, it's refreshing to see toddlers and teenagers co-exist with the elderly, and it certainly makes for some interesting people-watching.

I love how parks in Paris are inhabited by a range of age groups, it's refreshing to see toddlers and teenagers co-exist with the elderly, and it certainly makes for some interesting people-watching.

Filed under: All things French, Around the world, , , , , , , , , ,

Courses, of course.

My second week of teaching has come to an end and I’ve finally met the majority of my students.  I have quite a mix, in terms of age, ethnic background and English speaking level, but for the most part they are all quite nice and not intentionally disruptive of class.

A quick breakdown of my schedule, as it now stands: I work Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays.  On Mondays and Tuesdays I’m at the school from 8h00 to 17h00, though I don’t have classes the whole time (today, for example, I have only 4 hours of actual teaching time…); on Thursdays, I have courses back-to-back from 10h00 – 14h00, which I prefer in some ways (less down-time, but it means I get home early).

I’m teaching a range of age groups: I have 3 groups of secondes (sophomores), 1 group of premières (juniors) and 6 groups of terminales (seniors).  There’s further distinction between the groups of premières et terminales, because from what I understand about the French secondary education system, students have to select a quasi-major during their Junior year.  These range from literature/arts to business to sciences, and there are even some students in BTS, a post-high school program similar to an associates degree, but the courses are taken at the high school.  Determining your program is supposedly the student’s choice, but in the vein of selecting AP or IB in the US, in that you pick based on your academic level, not necessarily on your desired profession…I have a group of ES students (business, econ, etc.) who are quite brilliant, and only surpassed by a group of Euro students (the IB-esque kids, who even take their history course in English).

Yet, even in my non-advanced level courses, there are chatty students that want desperately to exercise their English.  This afternoon, for example, one of my seconde groups was given the option to attend a review in their French course instead of my English section, but one girl opted to stay in the English section.  She and I had a wonderful time: we reviewed Halloween vocabulary, talked about Harry Potter books, watched a clip from The Nightmare Before Christmas (which she had already seen because of her Canadian cousins), played pictionary and talked about Shakespearean plays. Keep in mind, she’s a sophomore…and we only resorted to translating a word from French to English once (and even then we got there pretty much through circumlocution).

Then again, there are students in my groups that couldn’t care less about English, and continue to hold conversations with their peers in French, despite my requesting “In English, please!” every 5 minutes.  I even told the kids I don’t care if you talk to your classmates, just do it in English.  That didn’t really work.  Playing pictionary and bribing them with American candy, however, did work for a while.  But for the most part, students only resort to French to explain my comments/instructions to those that are completely clueless.

Interestingly, we were instructed in our training session not to let on that we spoke French (to prevent the complete degeneration of the English class into a discourse in French).  I’m having a hard time with that!  I know what they’re saying, and want to answer, but have to prompt them to re-ask their questions in English…I’ve told all my classes that I don’t speak French, and actually, one of the courses is thoroughly convinced I have no idea what they’re saying.  This is the same class that went to French instead of English today, but when the French teacher told them I was invited to sit in on their course (which I couldn’t, because the girl wanted to study English – yay and nay), they told her it would be useless, since I don’t know a lick of French. In any case, I’m learning to master the Gallic shrug and a puzzled expression when my students try to ask me for traductions.

As for my private students, I’ve got two lined up for sure, one hour a week a-piece.  I might have a third and possibly a fourth, but that will be determined in the next two weeks.  I’ve also applied to teach English to 5-8 year-olds on Saturday mornings, so things are looking up!

And for fun, here’s the video clip I’ve been showing to my students today…it’s almost Halloween!

Filed under: All things French, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Who chases after a convict?

Granted, The Tall One isn’t really a convict, and also, granted, the fellow couldn’t know that, but do you seriously think, as a drunk/high, short, black dude, that you’re going to get three American ladies to your “very big house” in Paris at 11PM on a Monday night?

Ok, rewind.

It was a calm and totally un-stormy night.  There are whispers – no, ardent shouts – of a grève tomorrow, and even though that means I have to be  up at 5:30AM tomorrow, I decided to join The Tall One and The Accomplice on a night on the town.  Well, when our attempts to go to a Scottish pub and watch a game over a pint were thwarted, we wandered down Rue St. Denis and ended up at a very nice café by the Pompidou Center (whose plaza, incidentally, is where I was almost peed-on by a drunkard two summers ago…).

This was a good decision, at first. The waiter was very nice, we shared a pot (not quite a bottle) of Brouilly, a nice, smooth red that is slightly swishy and has a bit of a tang (like my fancy wine vocab, there?), une carafe d’eau (order this at a French restaurant if you want free water, not the pricey Evian stuff) and some jaunty conversation.  An hour or so later, the waiter comes around asking us to pay the addition he had so kindly left at our table and not so subtly attempting to usher us out the door.  Well, The Accomplice still had half a glass to drink, and we weren’t done talking about song playing in the background, so we lingered.

Bad decision.

Cue: drunk dude who speaks “a small” English.  Who plops himself down in the empty chair beside me, and proceeds to tell us about his “big house” that he shares with his sister, and how we’re welcome to accompany him back to stay in his four bedrooms.  At first, we entertained ourselves by listening to The Tall One regale him with tales of her convict life in America, where she killed a man and now has no choice but to stay in Paris.  And then we decided to get lost.

But we couldn’t. Because this Don Juan was a persistent little bugger.

We exited the café and turned the corner, with our friend in pursuit.  For a drunk guy, he sure was quick. I thought, at first, he was several meters behind us, but before we knew it, he was grabbing The Accomplice’s bum and The Tall One was sprinting off ahead with my stumpy legs in pursuit. The whole time, this guy is blathering on in broken English.  By this point, we’re running (well, run-walking, that awkward skip-step you take, when you’re not sure if you want to be sprinting just yet) down a relatively-major street, I’m wondering how much Karate I remember from my 3rd-grade classes and why I don’t carry pepper spray, when The Accomplice yelps, “Get into a bar!”

We duck into the first one we find, and good thing – it turned out to house some really swell guys.  Slamming the door in our pursuer’s face (as well as a swinging glass door can be slammed), we huddled by the bar, our hearts thumping and our awkward entrance gathering curious looks from the locals we seem to have interrupted.  The drunk fellow leaned on the swinging door and promptly fell to the floor, face-down, on what was probably marble. It would have been funny if I wasn’t so scared.

One gentleman took a look out the door. “Is he with you?” he asked in French.  “Non.” We shook our heads vehemently. He stepped outside with his friend and I assume had a bit of a talking to with the dude, but I was a bit too terrified to notice what he was saying.  In any case, he bought us some time and we slipped out a side-door, shouting our “Merci beaucoup!” as we sprinted to the nearest Metro stop.

In the relative safety of the underground (relative because there are definitely some creeps wandering the Metro at night), we had a giggle about our near-something experience. I know city-living is something to get used to, and man was this something. Lest I have scared you potential Paris visitors, I’ll have you know that I still absolutely adore this city, and I suppose you must take these shenanigans in stride. At the very least, it makes for an entertaining blog entry.

Speaking of, I, for one, am curious to see how this eventful night appears on The Tall One’s blog. I also find it interesting that this occurs the week I choose to discuss Halloween with my kids at school.  Now I have a real-life creepy story to share…

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Tout Paris, dans un week-end

It’s amazing how much you can fit into a weekend. Granted, my weekends are longer than most, especially this one, since I didn’t have to work on Thursday or Friday…but all the same, I saw quite a bit in four-ish days!

Thursday morning I went to the Gare du Nord to pick up my birthday present, i.e. the Brit, to begin our whirlwind tour of Paris. After dropping his bags off in the apartment, and a quick trip to the grocery store, we headed to the Luxembourg gardens for a post-lunch walk in the park.  Our tour on Thursday included a lot of walking, we made it from the Luxembourg gardens up to Notre Dame, then down along the Seine to La Place des Vosges, then back across the Seine to Ile St. Louis (where we ate the most delicious ice cream in Paris, at the original Berthillon shop, all decked out in purples and gold), then waaaaaaaay down the Seine to the Musée d’Orsay (where we learned that I can use my teaching ID card and he can use his EU passport to get in for free – and where we spent half our time watching Asian men take pictures of their wives/girlfriends posing suggestively with sculptures).  We were really knackered by the time we left the museum, so we grabbed something to eat at a restaurant in the 5e, in a small maze of streets bordered by the Seine, Bld St-Michel and Rue St-Jaques (lots of cheapish places to eat there, in case  you’re planning a visit to the city and looking to eat well on a budget).

The Brit in the Luxembourg Gardens - that's the Luxembourg palace behind him, there.  Basically, the gardens were somebody's yard.  Awesome, eh?

The Brit in the Luxembourg Gardens - that's the Luxembourg palace behind him, there. Basically, the gardens were somebody's yard. Awesome, eh?

The best ice cream in Paris.  Worth the money, and the wait.

The best ice cream in Paris. Worth the money, and the wait.

The Gare is beautiful...the 1980s architectural invention looks like it should be either a fortress or a bank, but certainly not an art museum.

The Gare is beautiful...the 1980s architectural intervention looks like it should be either a fortress or a bank, but certainly not an art museum.

Staying up late on Thursday and the subsequent late start the next morning became somewhat thematic of the Brit’s visit across the Channel. That’s not such a bad thing in Paris, where nothing opens until 10am anyway.  On Friday, as I had another training session out in Créteil, the Brit wandered around town by himself, getting into all kinds of trouble.  When I finally got back, it was almost half past seven and so we scrapped our plans to see the Eiffel tower and went to the Louvre instead (getting caught in a rainstorm along the way, so that by the time we got to the pyramids we were thoroughly soaked and my moisture-wicking socks had nowhere to wick the moisture to).  The museum was all but deserted, which meant we actually got to see the Mona Lisa (or La Joconde as the French call her) instead of a throng of Asian tourists. I must say, though, getting caught in the rain before a night visit to the Louvre is not a bad way to spend your birthday, especially for an art fiend like me!  The Louvre was followed by another late night dining experience in the 5e, this time at a restaurant where I was spoken to in Spanish twice, because I’m brown, and where the kitschy Franco-Greek themed décor was only rivaled by the 70s pop music playing over the speakers.  The food itself was quite tasty, I had escargot, duck and chocolate mousse – all good things in my book.

The pyramids at the Louvre are impressive during the day, but exquisite at night.

The pyramids at the Louvre are impressive during the day, but exquisite at night.

Another late start Saturday had us going to the 1pm showing of Funny People at the Pathé in Montmartre.  After two hours of giggling, sniggering and snorting, we wandered past Moulin Rouge (no free show there, but wait till I tell you what we saw on Sunday) and through Montmartre towards Sacré Coeur.  Turns out there was a once-a-year festival at the top of the hill, Les vendange, a celebration of the local Parisian wine grown in that quartier.  If the stalls had been giving away tastings, rather than asking for our limbs in exchange for un goût, I might have something to report with regards to the quality of Parisian wine, though my coworkers tell me it’s nothing to write home about…but we got a good view of the city from the steps leading to Sacré Coeur, and sat for a while to listen to the Afro-French musicians singing American songs: at one point, they even had a guest singer from the audience, a girl from Spain, help them with “Bohemian Rhapsody”.  After that number, we went down to the Jardin des Plantes, got kicked out at closing time by a guard enthusiastically weilding his whistle, and strolled down to Chinatown to grab dinner with some assistants.

On Sunday we thought we’d be French and take our lunch to a park.  A brief detour to the Eiffel Tower, to learn that you cannot, in fact, purchase advance tickets, though you will be able to soon (when is soon in this country, I don’t know…), we walked (a very long walk) down to the Parc André Citroën.  Now, I visited this park when I studied at Fontainebleau in 2007, and it’s one of my favorite parks in Paris. It has beautiful proportions, the side gardens are leafy and inviting, with a balance of views to promenaders and privacy, the latter of which is what probably provoked an incident in French PDA to the extreme.  The Brit and I had slipped into one of the aforementioned small gardens to grab our lunch.  There we sat, having just consumed a sandwich jambon fromage, chatting quietly, when I looked up across the garden to see a curious sight.  It’ll suffice to say that necking in the park is one thing – in fact, an intense make-out session seems to be the default mode for couples in a Parisian park – but addressing romantic issues below the belt (literally speaking) should really be done in the privacy of  your own home.  Needless to say, after a few speechless moments, the Brit and I gathered our belongings and made our exit.  Like two teenagers, we slunk away, giggling, only to happen upon a group of boys leaning over a ledge to observe the sight we had just escaped.  Their surprised yells only made us laugh harder, and by the time we had walked across the park, we were breathless with glee.

One of my favorite mini-gardens at the park. A picture from a few years ago, because I decided it would be more fun to hang out with the Brit than take pictures all day.

One of my favorite mini-gardens at the park. A picture from a few years ago, because I decided it would be more fun to hang out with the Brit than take pictures all day.

As Sunday was our six-month anniversary (now a day to remember, for sure), we went out to Montparnasse, where we soaked in Breton culture and cider, along with some delicious crêpes, at the Crêperie Josselin.  The dessert crêpe was amazing, a combination of chocolate, bananas and coconut ice cream flambeed in rum: mmmmm.  Perfect for the not-so-hidden sweet-tooth in the both of us.

I did have to work on Monday, my first day with students of my own, which was interesting in its own right and will warrant its own post later this week. I managed to wriggle out of work earlier than planned and met up with the Brit to grab dinner and Skype my aunt and uncle in India.

Monday was our last night together in Paris, so we thought we’d splurge by having a glass of champagne while taking in Paris aglow. After only 30 minutes waiting in line to purchase our tickets, we packed ourselves onto the first elevator – I say packed because the close quarters on that journey up the Tower has made quite clear to me the meaning of the phrase “like sardines in a can.” It’s a (mostly) glass elevator, and I was pressed firmly against its clear doors – a great view, to be sure, but for someone with my slight acrophobia, a somewhat terrifying experience.  Nonetheless, we shuffled off the first elevator and onto the second; within minutes we were at the top of the tower with a dazzling view of the City of Lights.  While we were taking in the sights, it seems we were a sight ourselves – a group of children followed us around the second floor and during our descent, whispering amongst themselves and trying not to look as though they were watching us, looking away and giggling when we caught their wide-eyed stares.

Looking East from the Eiffel Tower.  My apartment is just beyond the brightly-lit dome, before the not-so-brightly lit dome (the latter being the Pantheon).

Looking East from the Eiffel Tower. My apartment is just beyond the brightly-lit dome, before the not-so-brightly lit dome (the latter being the Pantheon).

One of my professors has made it his mission to take "the right" picture of the Eiffel Tower.  This might not be it, but I think the composition is quite interesting...

One of my professors has made it his mission to take "the right" picture of the Eiffel Tower. This might not be it, but I think the composition is quite interesting...

This morning we woke at the crack of dawn to shuttle the Brit back to Gare du Nord, and poof! at 7:15am he was gone.  It’s a strange thing, a long-distance relationship, where the highs of meeting your loved one are so quickly tugged down by your longing upon their departure.  It won’t be too long until I see him again, though, we’ve already planned a trip to Loughborough and Edinburgh at the end of the month.  Traveling the world is certainly one of the advantages of living in two different cities.

All in all, a very romantic anniversary outing indeed – it’s going to be a hard one to top!

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Daddy, I want a pony.

References to Willy Wonka aside, I spent Sunday afternoon at the races.  Not betting, mind you, particularly because every horse I pegged a winner in my mind wound up in the bottom third in the actual race, and an assistante‘s salary is not one that would have survived that string of bad luck. It was a bit more fun, in a way, because I didn’t have anything riding on a race, and could root for the winner regardless of who it was – and feel equally sorry for all the losers.

Wait, what races? One of the most prestigious horse races in Europe: the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. One of the assistants got free tickets, and I tagged along.  It was quite the afternoon.  We packed our lunches and headed to the Bois de Boulogne, to the Longchamp racecourse. The actual races, there were 8+, I believe, lasted all afternoon and into early evening; the Arc is the best known, and was #6, so we stayed until then and called it quits.

The races work like this: you sit, sit, sit for about 30 minutes, then you stand, for the 2 minutes the horses dash across the track, then you sit some more until the next race is run. It’s quite like that scene from My Fair Lady…hats and dolled up ladies included. Some of the hats were quite ridiculous. We saw everything you can imagine, from a weird vertically triangular purple number to a collection of spindly feathered black wires seemingly stapled to another biddy’s head. Unfortunately, my camera is back on the fritz so I was unable to take any images. The assistant who invited me has posted some on Facebook and gave me permission to use those (thanks!) so here you go:

Three assistants, sans hats, at the races.

Three assistants, sans hats, at the races.

I thought we were in Paris...I guess I was wrong?

I thought we were in Paris...I guess I was wrong?

That feathery thing in the background is a hat, and it seems like theyre indoctrinating them at a young age these days (see foreground, left).

That feathery thing in the background is a hat, and it seems like they're indoctrinating them at a young age these days (see foreground, left).

I cant remember what race, or what (strange) name these guys have, but here are some horses.

I can't remember what race, or what (strange) name these guys have, but here are some horses.

In other news, I met my first private pupil Monday evening. He seems like a nice enough bloke, a twenty-something software engineer who speaks a little English and takes notes religiously. We grabbed a coffee at a cafe near le  Panthéon and he was gracious enough to pay for my drink as well as the lesson. I reckon the next coffee is on me. He wants two lessons a week so that should work out well enough. I have another rendez-vous with a potential student on the 18th, hopefully that pans out as well. That leaves 7ish more lessons to find, if I plan on paying for my traveling habit without making a major dent in my savings.

And if you thought that was all the news I could possible have, it wasn’t. I now have a tentative schedule: I should be working Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays (1/2 day, I think), which gives me a beautiful 3(and 1/2)-day weekend and the potential for babysitting jobs on Wednesdays…pas trop mal!

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