On my first visit to Paris in 2002 I went to a Chopin recital at the Eglise Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre, an old church just behind Shakespeare & Co books, and in sight of Notre Dame cathedral. Several pianists give regular recitals there, and having thoroughly enjoyed Herbert de Plessis' 2002 concert, I was keen to sample some more. It was a 20 minute brisk walk across the Seine and past Notre Dame to the church, and I was just going to wing getting a ticket at the door. It's a small venue, but I doubted there would be a huge turn-out.
I skipped getting a program as the ticket-seller didn't have change of 20€ and I decided I'd rather try to identify the pieces as they were played. Sadly, tonight's performer Jean-Christoph Millot proved somewhat of a disappointment with a too-quiet left-hand, rushed timings and general lack of projection. His hand-technique reminded me of that of my last teacher, Randall Jackson, but Millot seemed to completely lack Randy's sonority. After a first half of Op.64 waltzes, some impromptus (including the Fantasy-Impromptu) and the Andante Spianato, I decided that I didn't want to hear the second half's Ballades similarly treated, so left during the entr'acte.
Tant pis! Still these days it's rare to hear Chopin's smaller works presented in venues other than small churches and community halls, and any chance to hear them live is most welcome. There's so much core repertoire I only know through recordings or my own faltering attempts to interpret them.
Tuesday, February 28, 2006
Monday, February 27, 2006
It seems that when you're learning the imperative form of a language, an exercise filling in the verbs for a recipe is not far off. This morning we had to ensure that our recipe for Roti de veau aux carottes et aux champignons was directed by the correct set of laissez, ajoutez, mettrez, faites, cuisez and servez. My homework for tomorrow is to provide similar instructions for an Australian dish of choice. Will it be Barbecued Emu (maybe the "Serve to old men and dogs, then the women and kids" won't be appreciated), or perhaps Witchetty Grubs? Or perhaps play it safe with some nouveau Aussie fusion (Char Grilled Kangaroo Loin with Crispy Pancetta and Eggplant Relish) or popular comfort food (Sticky Date Pudding). If only Parisian cafes served the range and quality of food found in Australian cities! At school today I overheard several students decrying the quotidian offerings here.
When you're on the road in foreign lands, locating your comfort food becomes an epic, if not epicurean, quest. One of my simple refuges on a rainy afternoon is toast with vegemite and plum jam. Now, you understand the toaster purchase! I wasn't counting on finding any on the continent, except perhaps at some over-priced import store, so I collected some in the UK. Plum jam on the other hand is deceptively difficult outside of Australia. In the United States I usually had to opt for something expensive from an organic wholefoods store, since I quickly discovered that supermarket competition in the US means that you have 47 brands of strawberry jam and not much else to titillate your taste buds.
In France, it turns out that the most common variety of plum (Agen) is more suited for making prunes. The Latin word for plum is prunus ( immortalised by Julius Caesar, clutching his belly, and explaining "Et 2 prunus") and the French word for plum is prune, with pruneaux being dried plums or what are usually called prunes in English. Although the issue is not all pruned and dried, you must remember to avoid confit de pruneau and look for the rarer confit de prune if you want plum jam, and I do, thanks for asking.
The other fruity nomenclature that I have been pursuing is mandarin vs clementine vs satsuma. As far as I can tell, the easy-to-peel mandarins are clementines and satsumas are an increasingly-popular Japanese variety (although the Japanese call them mikan). Tinned mandarins are likely to be satsumas. In practise, grocers and supermarkets are likely to mix them all together anyway using whatever labels they have printed out already*, so you will have to learn your favourite peel + taste combination by trial and error.
*This reminds me of a summer job at the end of my first year of university, where I had to sell cheap costume jewellery in Grace Bros stores around the periphery of Sydney. The rule of pricing was to pair up your available signs with the stock you had to hand. Whatever price happened to be on the sign was what you charged for that item.
Sunday, February 26, 2006
Saturday, February 25, 2006
Today marks 9 months since we left Sydney & touched down in London. Not sure where it's all leading, but it's a bloody sight better than hanging around an office.
I should really have stayed in bed for the day, but I wanted to get Bondi out for a good walk. So after letting him play with other doggies outside of Saint Eustache for an hour, we took off for a 10km stroll via Le Marais, La Place de La Republique and Belleville. Looking at the map afterwards, it seems that I subconsciously followed the outline of Bart Simpsonstein as I chopped and changed from one interesting looking street to another.
|Leaving the arts & garments of the top end of the 4th arondissement, the 10th ,11th & 20th were dominated by mixes of Asian, North African and Arabic communities. Nothing really caught my eye, although the cabaret Le Zebre de Belleville might be worth an evening visit, if only for the interiors. Edith Piaf was supposedly born under a lamp-post on rue de Belleville some 90 years ago, and began her singing career on these streets. Perhaps that's the reason why those fabulous old ladies in The Triplets of Belleville haunted that area. |
I was rather relieved to be back at the studio after the walk, which had not been tiring, but my damned cough was returning. Read Charles Higson's Getting Rid of Mister Kitchen, cooked some salmon for dinner and went to bed early.
|This is how I found Bondi at lunchtime yesterday when I returned from class. He's usually on his blanket (spread over the bed) looking out the window, but that day he decided to wrap himself up in my pillow. Awwww. |
My regular teacher, Celine, was absent for a funeral today so a couple of the other teachers filled in for her. Our final hour was spent going over the lyrics of a song Mon Vieux, sung by Daniel Guichard, during which we picked up some new vocabulary, a bunch of idiomatic expressions, and paved the way for the introduction of the past imperfect when Celine returns. I should get out some of my favourite CDs by Francoise Hardy, Jacques Brel* et al to see if I can comprehend any more lyrics.
*Brel is actually Belgian, like Tintin.
Next week should be quite different as about half the class are coming to the end of their time in Paris or at least their lesson time. This being week 11 for me (cumulatively for language-schools over the last 5 months), I'm used to the near-weekly change-over of students of all ages as they "get on and off the class" as if it were a bus or Métro carriage.
France's motto is the expression "Libertie, Egalitie, Fraternitie". We learnt that the unofficial motto of Paris is "Métro, Boulot, Dodo" ( subway, work, sleep ).
Friday, February 24, 2006
|While Bondi can travel freely on London's tube and buses, dogs may not travel on the Paris Metro (unless it's a pocket-size ratdog owned by a tres vieille folle). They may travel on the RER (train) network if they are muzzled and you pay their fare. The first muzzles I saw here were priced at 50€, and then I found an XL-sized nylon model for 23€. Bondi has never been muzzled before - it scarcely being necessary - so I hope the investment is worth it. |
My observation is that the folks who are most afraid of Bondi are usually large males ( typically of the macho security guard variety ) who seem to project onto him what they would like to have in a large dog. I was once about to tell one such guard not to act like a little girl when he started carrying on, but little girls don't behave that way - they come over and play with his ears. Interestingly, police (men and women alike) have absolutely no problem with him. I guess the benefit is that he is a great filter for people you don't want around without actually bothering the nice folks.
He's also great at drawing out people's first language - from out of a Francophone conversation you'll suddenly hear a Babel of blasphemy: "Mein gott"," Jesus-freekin' Christ", ...
Thursday, February 23, 2006
|One relapse and visit to the doctor later, I'm actually starting to feel better. I'm probably still expelling a few million alveoli from my lungs every hour, but I'm sleeping better. It's still difficult to speak in French because I'm breathing through my mouth most of the time, and it just isn't possible to nasalise vowels properly. If I'm answering a question in class, I can rehearse it mentally then expel it in a well-prepared breath; but conversation is pretty impractical. I located an English-speaking doctor, but got an earful from his secretarial service for not using enough French - even though they didn't understand what I was twittering on about in my prefatorial French remarks. |
While many Parisians are more than eager to practise their English with you - in fact you often have to resist lapsing into English all the time, so you end up talking French to their English - the "dark side" are those who refuse to understand anything but perfect Parisian-accented French. This seems to be most common in railway offices where they will wilfully misunderstand perfectly serviceable French and then switch to (perfectly awful) English as a final smack-down.
Last night, I joined a half-dozen students and two teachers from the language school for pot au feu at nearby restaurant, La Tournelle. It was my last chance for du vin before starting my antibiotics and codeine-laced cough elixir. Consequently I had to miss out on the wine-sampling during today's special class on the 5 senses, illustrated by copious amounts of wine and cheese. We learnt how different wine-growing regions employ different bottle-shapes for their produce, so you can for instance identify a wine bottle from the Alsace because it est fine et regulierement elancee vers le col. The shapes of the different glasses - les verres - are also keyed to particular regional varieties.
Other class-room tidbits:
Today was especially cool - with the drizzle softly metamorphosing into snow-flakes early this morning and again late in the evening. Bondi was entranced both times, and sat outside a cafe with his ears pinned back, eager to please - and as ready to fly! - as Sally Field in Sister Bertrille's wimple.
Finished reading Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. Trawled through FNAC's huge music department yesterday and picked up Wax Tailor's Tales of the Forgotten Melodies, described by a French reviewer as a film for the ears - I caught a bit of trip-hoppy Doris Day in the mix somehere. Lauren Hoffman's Choreography calls up a folkier version of the solo album by Portishead's vocalist Beth Gibbons.
Sunday, February 19, 2006
|I'm enduring the general pain of an early release of Windows Vista*, to escape the general pain of a cold that is dragging into its second week, and the frustration of dealing with the third set of new shoes in 6 months that squeak. |
*so that you're all better protected from the nasty bugs associated with media libraries, and with not running everything as someone with pure English(US) settings
|While Chris has been a very welcome guest over this weekend, it can’t be easy dealing with me sounding like I was hacking up a lung every 5 minutes. Today I did feel much better and we took a long walk along the lower right bank of the Seine, up to the Arc de Triomphe, and back home along the Champs Elysees. The weather was several degrees warmer (9C) but it was still mist and drizzle. |
Place and weather remind me of the scene in the film Diva where the protagonist Jules escorts beautiful opera diva Cynthia Hawkins along a Seine walkway, accompanied by Vladimir Cosma's lovely Promenade Sentimental theme for piano. While the movie was ostensibly about Jules & Cynthia, it had a very interesting pair of "cool" characters: Gorodish, and his young protege Alba. I discovered later that Diva was a short novel in a series of 5 about this pair: I found several of them in the 1980s but they seem to have stayed out of print.
Friday, February 17, 2006
Monday, February 13, 2006
|This is some detail from street art on a shop roller-door, somewhere between my studio and the Pompidou. I like neighbourhoods that embrace some whimsy (see also the statue in yesterday's post: a feline little orphan Annie atop a pretentiously high plinth).|
Today brought a slight reshuffle in classmates - one leaves today and someone else has begun a two-week stay. With eight weeks of tuition ahead, I'll be the grand old man of the school soon.
I have a bit of a cold from my weekend walks - probably one layer of clothing too few on Saturday so I'll probably retreat to books and DVDs for a few days. I was planning to go to a Chopin recital at the Église Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre tonight but I think Chopin would appreciate my cough-less absence. I note that one of Chopin's residences in Paris (Square d'Orléans 9) is only about 5 minutes from my school so I should give it a walk-past. George Sand lived at #5, and I believe that Charles-Valentin Alkan also lived on the same square.
I've been a great fan of Alkan's piano music since hearing Marc-André Hamelin's recording of the Concerto for Solo Piano. I sometimes hear bits of Faure and Debussy in his works, but then you have to turn that around because Alkan preceded them by 30-50 years and had undoubtedly exercised great influence through his teachings at the Paris Conservatoire, and as an organist he also must have influenced the organ works of Franck and Saint-Saens.
The house where Chopin died, Place Vendôme 12, is not a great distance from my studio, and I would have walked very close to it when out looking at the English-language bookstores last week.
Enough for now: talking about the piano is depressing when I haven't had one to play for nearly 9 months, and I'm having a fit of coughs that seems to be worrying Bondi. God forbid I should expire before his dinner is served! Earlier this afternoon he was napping on his rug on the edge of my bed (he seems to head for there as soon as I go out the door) and then he rolled over and crashed straight to the floor, rattling the blinds but seeming not to faze him.
Sunday, February 12, 2006
|This grey Sunday morning I wanted to visit Rue Mouffetard a little south of the Latin Quarter. We passed the Pantheon again, heading over the hill past the Radium Institute and then to the narrow winding "La Mouffe" itself, a market street that was once a Roman Road. It's a little like being on a food-oriented Portobello Road, but a bit more touristy and definitely less busy. I had lunch on a pavement table, a delicious chicken tagine with potatoes drenched in lemon and swimming in dozens of olives. |
The omigosh-it's-a-beautiful-but-alien-city sheen is starting to wear off, and after a week I'm starting to feel like I'm walking around a city I know well. Certainly I have strong memories from my 2 week stay in December 2002, but the sense of familiarity seems a bit premature. It's partnered by recurring homesickness for Sydney, but I always answer that nagging with a "well what the hell would I do on return anyway?".
Finished reading David Langford's short-story collection Different Kinds of Darkness. Some very fine writing there.
Saturday, February 11, 2006
We set off eastwards around 11 and got to the Place de la Bastille fairly quickly, where I quickly scanned the street artist stalls lining the boulevards to the north. I went into the FNAC near the Opera Bastille, and browsed while Bondi curled up on the floor of the classical music department. I collected an interesting new ECM album: Stephen Stubbs - Teatro Lirico - sonatas & dances from 17th century Italy and Slovakia, with some improvisations on the Folia bass. I walked a little distance further east along Rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoine, but it quickly lost its appeal, turning into a dull suburban high street, so we turned back towards the Opera.
Then it was off along the canal to the Seine and we turned back westwards (photo above) to the Île Saint-Louis, and on to the left bank, where we circled the area of the Pantheon, lunched and circled the area a bit more while I tried to find a particular bookstore that I'd discovered a few years before. No luck there, and we'd been out walking for about 5 hours, so we headed towards Les Halles, with a little detour along the base of the Île de la Cité.
Earlier in the week I was accosted by an Australian woman who was asking about Bondi's breed, and obviously got a kick out of his name, but (as usual) didn't pick up on my being Australian. It was just outside the furiously hip store Colette - which I also remembered from my previous visit. Some of the staff went completely gaga over Bondi, and one guy was practically delirious. I have certainly noticed that French men are - in general - warmer towards dogs than in other countries. Usually it's just women and kids who approach Bondi or reach out a hand to stroke him as he passes, but guys do it here as well. I met a lovely older lady this morning (lovely even though she was wearing more fur than a grizzly), who said that she was glad she had seen Bondi that morning as it gave her more oomph for the rest of the day. I wished I had more French under my belt to talk to her more, as I sensed some deep sadness.
That's one of the things about walking the streets with Bondi - everyone assumes you're a local - and I guess the tourists that I meet or pass think we're part of the exotic scenery.
Friday, February 10, 2006
Classes are going well, with the exception of one classmate who doesn't like having Bondi around - even in the next room. I had to bring him in this morning due to a water-outage in my apartment that might have required entry from a plumber. I tied him up outside the classroom, but still got a lecture from her. During the break a few people came up to apologise and ask that Bondi keep returning.
For the afternoon I had a slightly belated birthday treat planned for myself - a 3hr spa package at Nickel, costing not much more than a 1 hour massage in the UK - except I also got a 1 hour facial, plus manicure and pedicure thrown in. It's the first time I've had my nails cut for me since I was a little kid, and you will all be relieved to know that my normally exemplary toenails are now gorgeous! Too bad it's not sandal weather.
A little further along is English chain bookstore/newsagent W.H.Smith which is much better stocked than any of its high-street brethren in the UK. A 2yr old boy was squalling loudly in the latter store until Bondi came along and he started gurgling happily while stroking Bondi and playing with his ears.
Wednesday, February 08, 2006
|Please note that Talking Squids in Outer Space should not be confused with the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Anyhoo, where were we? Or, où étions-nous ? (Thank you to the little fish in my ear for that one!) |
Today's class was fairly entertaining. We did some work on pronunciation, so that if you ever have to buy an egg at 9 o'clock in Nevers (ie in Nevers Nivere land): you can cope with J'acheté un oeuf a neuf heures a Nevers. But what is “Never never land” in French? “Le pays du jamais jamais”?
From our classroom reading exercise Moliere est mort en interpretant "Le Malade imaginaire" I could only deduce that Moliere was a VERY bad actor.
We also learnt to separate au milieu from le milieu: "Je suis au milieu de la foule" (I am in the middle of a crowd) vs "Je sors dans le milieu" (I go out in gay/lesbian bars). Your choice of au or le depends on whether you want a preposition or a proposition.
Seen and noted: Jack Benny's 74th 39th birthday is coming up (only 70 ahead of me!), and interested parties are invited to celebrate.
Tuesday, February 07, 2006
|I took Bondi into class today, where he was roundly welcomed by one and all. He was on absolute best behaviour, lying by my chair for the first 2 1/2 hours and barely moving - even with sundry school staff walking in to peer under the class table. Late arriving students were not aware he was there until the break. For the final hour or so of class, he returned to position and snored gently through illustrations of the recent past with the formation venir de + infinitive. |
Surveillance report (for those readers who are convinced yps a m'I):
- the clear plastic bags used in the extremely numerous street-waste bins are labelled with the words VIGILANCE and PROPETRE. (*Presumably numerous to deal with the quadruplicate forms you have to fill out to get things done here.)
- the toaster (grille-pain) I bought today has box in French, under-label in English, an instruction book with diagram in English (only) and instructions in French, German, and what looks to be Polish and Hungarian (but no English). Oh and it worked admirably on 4 tranches of my pain (10 more tranches to go, according to the bag). Any deviations in future test runs will be reported here faithfully.
- Edward Scissorhands is known here as Edward Silverhands (Edward aux mains d'argent).
Before arriving in Paris, I checked some of the local entertainment options on (the English-language pages of) http://www.paris-gay.com/. The English was very entertaining:
Listening to: Mozart's Requiem, with a newly discovered completion (a Libera Me) by Sigismund Neukomm, written in Rio de Janeiro in 1819 for the first New World performance.
Also some French pop: debut album of Joseph d'Anvers: les choses en face.
Monday, February 06, 2006
|I'm twice as old as I was at my 21st, celebrated in Shirley Thomas' backyard in Petersham, Sydney at the beginning of my honours year of my Bachelor degree. Fast forward, and I'm in a wee studio in Paris, and it's the end of my first day of my 9 week French course. |
I waved Chris off last night at the RER station so he could fly back to London. I later realised that he left after the hour of my birth, taking in the time difference with Sydney. It was nice having special ferny and furry companions then.
|So this morning, it was off to the 9th (arrondissement) for class. Without Bondi, it's only about a 10 minute walk - with (having checked out the location on Sunday morning) it's about 15-20 minutes of pole-sniffing. |
The new students gathered in the salon, talking mainly in English (3 Aussies*, a bunch of Americans, some Japanese and a sprinkling of Dutch and Spaniards) until the school director and some of the professors filed in to greet us, run us through the month's special activities and generally set us at ease. Our names were read out by respective professors, and we dutifully filed off to class. I joined a group of "faux debutants" in the kitchen - so called because that's where the cooking is done. Boom boom! ..... so called because we have enough French to know it isn't the opposite of "friendly debutants" but not enough to spell it consistently or get the genders right. My new classmates were mainly true beginners from a month before, and I was dropped into a lesson on conjugating various verbs in the past tense with auxiliaries etre or avoir. It was all very relaxed, and - in contrast to my Spanish lessons - you were allowed to ask a question in English to clarify a point immediately. Thankfully French seems to be more regular than Spanish as far as this part of the language goes.
*One of whom asked if I was over 30. Bless his little cotton y-fronts.
Class finished soon after one and I returned to the studio to pick up Bondi and thence to sort out my parking. When I arrived at the parking station, and re-explained my wish to get 2 months parking (which appeared to be a standard option as weekly through quarterly rates were posted). I was then given a form to complete, and this asked for my passport, insurance details etc etc etc. I offered the passport for copying then, but was asked to supply all documents in one go, which entailed me going back to the studio to get them. Why I was not given this on Saturday I don't understand. I returned shortly but was told that the manager had left for a while and I'd have to try later. So I came back (this is now my 5th visit to their office, just to pay for parking!) and then spent half an hour in the manager's office going through some incredible saga of paperwork and computer-form completion.
First there was an issue that they couldn't photocopy my passport because they only had a fax-machine-copier (this wasn't brought to my attention when I got out the passport two visits ago, so I had to promise to bring my own photocopy another day). Next the parking had to be broken down into several tranches. Although I was asking for parking to April 8 (2 months + 2 days), their system only worked off months beginning with Mondays (which was why I had to delay this procedure until today) - BUT for some reason or other it was going to be done as some weird combination of calendar months and possibly druidic calculations of tides in the Seine. Everything was transcribed onto a very slow and arcane looking computer application, and then forms were printed and signed in quadruplicate and I had to write a short note (in English hurrah) saying that I wanted my contract to end on April 8. It appeared I was getting a truncated annual contract. During all this, my VISA card was run through their reader in the next room (multiple visits, as I had to pay for each tranche separately and get quadruplicate receipts notarised) until all the paperwork they needed for my handsome new file folder was complete. I think I have bought and sold houses with less effort, ink and paperwork.
The day concluded with an evening spin with Bondi around the Pompidou Centre and then to rest these old bloggerbones. It has been suggested by Geatch minor, of the upper 5th, that I translate each day's blog using my state-of-the-tongue Français, but that would end up being along the lines of "Bon jour nuages, bon jour ciel" and I don't want to end up a bûcheur comme une fille trying to hurry it along.
PS: For the Year of the Dog, Transport for London is displaying pictures of people with their dogs across London Tube stations. It’s being run in conjunction with Platform for Art programme’s installation of work by Suki Dhanda from “observing dogs interacting with their owners at home and in public spaces.”