Sunday, June 29, 2008

COG arrives

The Cranky Old Geezer arrived yesterday and so did Rose's own geezer(ROG).  Despite the Geezers being jet lagged, we all went out for the evening.  We had a drink (pastis, for me, the COG and Rose. beer for ROG) in a sidewalk cafe on the Capitole, then we had an absolutely fabulous meal in a little restaurant called The Genty Magre, or something like that.

We all had the same thing, sort of.  For starters we had duck on a little mound of chickpeas and various vegetables made into a wonderful salad with a little crunch to it and seasoned with mint and cilantro.  For the main course I had slightly grilled tuna with a crust of cumin on a bed of something like baba ganoush. The others had lamb shanks that looked really good.  But I have to say mine was so wonderful that I didn't even ask for a taste.  For dessert we had different things: Rose and I had a chocolate ..... thing. It had a sabayon on top and a dense chocolate center sitting on a bed of crunchy chocolate cookie crumbs.   ROG had cherry clafouti and the COG had a waffly thing with ice cream and red fruit sauce on it.  We also ordered a special wine accompaniment so we had 3 different kinds of wine: a Gaillac red for the first course, another red for the second course, and a sweet white petillant wine for the dessert.  About 2.5 bottles of wine for the 4 of us, plus drinks before. 

It was a really wonderful meal.  Afterwards, the Geezer and I took a walk by the river. That's what the pictures show.  Then we retired to our lovely hotel room, where (unlike Rose and ROG) we slept like babies -  undisturbed by the noise of jubilant rugby fans celebrating Toulouse's win in a major game with shouting, singing, and bottle breaking.

Rose and I Reussi

Rose and I have passed our immersion course and can go on to level 6.  If we complete level six we officially become 'advanced' speakers.  That seems impossible at the moment, but it could happen. 

For most of the month we have felt as if our French was getting worse every day.  Suddenly, since Friday (the last day of the class) we've been able to say things in French to complete strangers.  Things are starting to consolidate in our brains, now that huge amounts of new information are not being flung at us each day.  

OK, we still aren't perfectly fluent, but we get by. 

I have a new goal, which I think is achievable.  I want to comprehend well enough that when strangers approach me-  on the street or sales associates in stores, for example - I don't freeze in a deer-in-the-headlights kind of way, with a look of horror on my face. A look that makes very kind French people say 'Oh, you speak English?'

By the way, Rose and I don't say 'deer-in-the-headlights' now. We say 'Biche-en-phare,' because we have passed niveau 5. 

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The French have a word for it

Can you see the sign above this shop? It says "La Mie Caline."  The 'mie' is the soft interior of the bread.  English has no word for this that I know of. "La Mie Caline" means the soft, sweet interior of the bread.  

And crumbs are called 'miettes'. Kind of cute, really.

Kate and I often buy sandwiches at this place. They have small baguettes, maybe 10 or 12 inches long, with ham, sausage, cheese, or crudites (tomato, lettuce, egg slices etc).  Then we take the sandwiches to the park across the street and eat them on a park bench and watch people.  Very pleasant.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Fête de Musique:3

Fête de Musique explained for Minnesotans. Imagine the State Fair.But with everything free. All about music and street food. Every kind of music imaginable. Families, old people, young people, dancing, clapping, enjoying themselves. And it takes place in the downtown area.

Fête de Musique explained for Bostonians. Imagine First Night. But with everything Free. All about music and street food. Every kind of music imaginable. Families, old people, young people, dancing, clapping, enjoying themselves. But in perfect summer weather.

Fête de Musique explained for Everyone Else. Imagine a huge crowd of people. But with everything Free. All about music and street food. Every kind of music imaginable. Families, old people, young people, dancing, clapping, enjoying themselves. In perfect summer weather.

Really good.

You can read more about the Fête de Musique at FrenchKate. She probably is putting up some pictures, too. She took more than I did.

Fete de Musique: 2 Before and After

One of the amazing things about the Fête de Musique was the clean-up. The first photo is a garbage bin (une poubelle) the night of the fête. The second is the next morning. Despite the fact that things went on until the small hours, the elves cleaned the whole city and everything was sparkling, all broken glass, paper, trash etc. gone.

Fête de Musique: 1

The Fête de Musique was Saturday night, June 21. it was wonderful. These pictures were taken early on - around 7 before it got too dark for my camera to take good pictures. These are random pictures The first picture is the street food we ate for dinner. We didn't share, this is just my meal. It was called un Americain, but it was merguez sausage, grilled outside with ketchup and mustard. Yummy. We kept reminding ourselves that Weight Watchers isn't a diet, it's a lifestyle. And clearly it's a lifestyle in which you can watch your weight go in any direction.
This is just a picture of people picnicking by the river. People here take their picnics seriously.
A group in the distance performing.
The Capitole before things got going.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Cultural Differences: Part 1

Sister Rose was telling me yesterday about one of her teachers at the Alliance Francaise who shook her head and complained - 'these Spanish girls, they just come here with their breasts hanging out.'  

Last night at the Fête de Musique (about which, more later) we walked behind three young women. They all had low cut, revealing dresses and particularly large round bums, which swayed in unison... to the left, then to the right, then to the left... as they walked in step down the street. 

Sister Rose and I looked at each other in a moment of perfect understanding and hurried to hear them speak. Indeed, they were speaking Spanish - 'The Espagnolettes,' as Rose calls them.  

I wish we could have made a short film, instead of this blurry picture. Heureusment pour vous, the poor quality of the picture spares you the certain knowledge (which Rose and I will take to our graves) of the color, shape and position of lace appliques on their thongs.  

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Inconveniences of Life in France

My large room has one outlet. I bought an extender so I could have the light on and charge my phone and computer at the same time, but the plugs are so bulky that it's still awkward.

Things I Love About France

These trees are everywhere.  The bark resembles a painting of the impressionist school.

They are tall and lovely and provide just the right amount of shade - as in this parking lot. 

I think they are called Plane Trees, and according to Wikipedia, they are called Sycamores in the US. 

Places not visited


Undoubtedly a lovely town. We didn't get there but we did snigger a little bit about it in a really juvenile way.

Apparently the city fathers, in a practical French fashion, gave up trying to explain that their town had nothing to do with .... (snigger snigger) Condoms... and built a Museum of Preservatifs some years ago. 

Friday, June 20, 2008

Some Thoughts about Learning French

Sister Rose and I are the oldest people in our class.  The only other adult is a 38 year old Portuguese man, Rui, who we hang out with sometimes. All the other students are college age. One, at least, is as young as 17.  The young understand clearly why they are there but they don't understand why we are there. 

Several have asked us why we are there learning French.  At first I just said 'why not?,' being flippant because I couldn't think of what to say.  Here are some of the reasons: 1) I simply like learning new things. I find a pure pleasure in the process of learning and, moreover,  opportunities to learn get fewer as one gets older.  2) I started to learn French, so I'd like to complete it, or at least, get as far as I can go. 3)It's too easy to live in America and to never think of the rest of the world. As I learn another language, I learn about another culture. Language acts like a key so I can learn even more about that culture.  4) It's easier to have a civilized lunch in a French cafe, if one speaks at least some French. 

I also remember the 'graduation ceremony' at the intensive course the Cranky Old Geezer and I  took at Dartmouth some years ago. There were hundreds of students there studying many different languages and we all walked in a line, led by the professors  attired in academic robes with colorful hats (viking helmuts, beanies with whirlagigs, court jesters hats etc.) and as we walked all over the town of Hanover we all chanted "Hey Hey, Ho Ho, Monolingualism's got to go. Hey Hey, Ho Ho Monolingualism's etc."
Not a complete answer, but part of one.  


Most days for lunch, Sister Rose and I have a sandwich while sitting on a park bench. Today was different.  We had just finished taking our final test - yes, we actually have tests in our French class and we've actually taken the final even though we have a week of class left.  Also, summer has suddenly come to Toulouse, so we decided it was necessary to have lunch in one of the many restaurants with outdoor terraces.  

Because the restaurant was very busy, we had a drink in the shade while we waited for a table. Then, the hostess showed us to a table under an umbrella and we ordered.  It was very leisurely and civilized.

Both of us had the special of the day - Paella - and a glass of wine.  Then, as it was a special and celebratory lunch, we had dessert.  I had Poire au Vin, Pear cooked in red wine, which was absolutely wonderful. Sister Rose had Isle Flottante, meringue covered in almond slices floating in a little lake of custard.  It must have been really good, too,  because when I suggested tentatively that we each eat half and then exchange, Sister Rose showed me her teeth and threatened to hit me with her spoon.  

The top picture shows the view I had as I ate and the bottom one is Sister Rose taking a picture of me taking a picture of her.  Silly, but it made us laugh. 

I'll post next week about our usual lunches.  They aren't as grand, but they have their own unique pleasures.

Doors of Cahors

These are a few of the very beautiful and very old (medieval to Rennaissance period) doors of Cahors.  At the bottom is a wonderful door knocker and the beautifully faded green door it was on.  I have no idea how old that door is. I imagine the knocker might have been 19th century, but the door?  Maybe 18th or 19th century.  

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Restaurant in Cahors

FrenchKate (known here as Sister Rose) has posted separately about a meal we had in Cahors.  A truly lovely meal.  

Here is a picture taken in the afternoon of the terrace we dined on, later in the evening.

It doesn't show the lovely grey and white cat who visited our table, despite being chased off several times by the staff.

The Capitole

It occurs to me that there are some people reading this who don't know about the Capitole, where the Foreign Legion was recruiting today.  

It's a wonderful feature of Toulouse - a big paved area with buildings on all four sides. On one side the Capitole.  This houses the opera, and some municipal offices. It might be the Town Hall, though I'm a bit fuzzy on that. The other three sides have a variety of commercial buildings - shops, restaurants and offices. The Alliance Francaise where we are taking classes is in one of these buildings, which puts us in the heart of the city.

There are frequent small, peaceful demonstrations there. Yesterday a group of people were protesting funding cuts to a television station.  There is a market some days.  And there are lots of exhibits and activities happening there.  It's a really wonderful place and you can see it in real time from the webcam above the Alliance Francaise.


The Cranky Old Geezer sent me this picture of Sheba, a.k.a. as Dog of COG.

I know that look on her face very well.  She has just had a good run and is feeling happy.

Our landlady here has a little Yorkie named Nickie. He's adorable, but I still miss The Sheebs.

New Career Options

The Foreign Legion was recruiting today in the Capitole - just outside the building our school is in. 

Sounds pretty good - we could practice our French and travel the world. 

Pictures Not Taken

This morning on the way to the metro station, a young woman on a bike, with a baby in a seat behind her came whipping around the corner.  I wished so much I had been able to take a picture. 

The bike was blue - the old-fashioned wide-wheeled kind. The woman had on a pumpkin yellow poplin skirt that was billowing in the breeze. She was wearing a rust colored crocheted sweater. She had brown curly shoulder length hair. The baby was laughing and she was smiling.

It could have been anytime in the last 50 years.  


Inconveniences of Life in France

OK, I know I'm not going to get any sympathy for this, but if you are imagining that life here in France is perfect in every way, let me just mention my shower.

First of all, notice the doors.  They aren't hinged, but just connected by a bit of plastic so they neither open nor close all the way.  
Second, everytime I slip through them into the shower, one of them falls off. It's only a piece of plastic in a plastic groove. In the picture, the left side door is propped against the shower wall. They go back in easily, but not permanently.
Third, the water comes out of a hand held 'pomme de douche' and not very fast and not very hot. Oh, and pointed at the wall not the person.  So the general strategy is to let the water flow while it warms up, then wet yourself all over. Then turn off the water and soap your self / shampoo. Then turn the water on so that a slim trickle eventually rinses off the soap/shampoo.  

This is why Sister Rose and I were so extremely delighted by the Jacuzzi in our hotel in Cahors.  We both felt that we were clean for the first time in 2 weeks. 

And when Sister Rose and I were looking for a hotel to stay in when the COG and Rose's husband arrive, we kept stopping at the pictures of plumbing in various hotels.  We spent time gazing longingly large, glass shower stalls.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Cahors:Secret Gardens

One of the great delights about Cahors is the Secret Gardens.  They have taken what was probably waste land in the medieval part of town and created small themed gardens all over. Some of them are in the open - the picture of the delightful fountain with dogs faces on it was one such.  Others are down twisty little medieval alley ways - the Italian Garden that you glimpse through the dark opening was one of those.  The grey cat was a perfect accessory in the Sorcerers garden that featured black leaved plants and things like mandragora, as well as a black and white symbol created in stone on the ground.   Against the old buildings, the gardens are completely wonderful.  There are 20 or 30 of them, more each year and there is a map they hand out that shows you where they are.  

This is such thoughtful tourism.  It creates a better environment for everyone who lives there and also delights travellers.  And it demonstrates beautifully what I loved about Cahors. It's a vital, thriving small city which incorporates its medieval parts very respectfully, without becoming a stuck-in-time museum of buildings.  

Cahors: View from the Hotel Window

Companion piece to picture on FrenchKate.

'Nuf said.  

Nature: Toulousan Style

Just because I'm in a city doesn't mean we have no wildlife.  It's just smaller.  We spotted this fellow in front of the house one rainy morning as we left for school.

More pictures of my room

Here are a couple more pictures. One shows the kind of funny, but kind of sweet vignettes the landlady has created in the unusable space where the eaves meet the floor.  The other shows my closet and in the foreground (which has now been rearranged to make it work better) the table that Sister Rose and I use for our homework.  Which we do faithfully every night, normally ending up laughing hilariously about something.

What do we laugh about?  Well, here is just a small example. In our test last week we had to write an essay describing a trip in our own country for French visitors who might want to come there.  To make a long story short, I wrote about the Peabody Essex Museum and my vocabulary was stretched.  I wrote about whaling, which I translated as chasse du balleine (literally hunt of whale).  And I described scrimshaw, saying that the whalers cut designs on the bones of whales and rubbed ink in them.  So far so good, mostly.  But whalers was the sticking point.  I decided to use the logical chasseurs du baleines - hunters of whales.   

However, that afternoon I had one of those waves of anxiety when I suddenly thought that instead of "chasseurs",  I might have written 'chaussures du baleines', which would translate as 'whale shoes'.   

For two days, until the test was returned, Rose and I laughed hilariously everytime we thought about whale shoes. As it turns out I had stumbled on the right terms and hadn't written whale shoes.  

I was glad, of course, that my nightmarish vision of my teacher laughing hysterically and showing my paper to all the other teachers, who also laughed uproariously etc.  wasn't true.

However, in the future, I may be forced to claim that I actually did make this mistake because it's so funny.

Ma Chambre a Toulouse

A couple of pictures of my room here in Toulouse.  The room is at the top of the house - it feels like my own little nest.  It was an attic until about 8 years ago.  The most eccentric thing about it ( apart from the shower, which is eccentric in a completely normal French way) is the access. I'm not sure I have captured the stair case. It is 4 feet wide at most - and that's the whole thing, so the treads are only about 2 feet wide.  It is a double spiral going downstairs, so the stairs are very steep.  I had to turn my suitcase sideways to get it upstairs. 

I'm sure it wouldn't have passed building codes in the US, because the only egress in case of fire is the skylight in the roof.  Particularly because the wooden staircase (which is installed in a former closet) would act like a chimney stack in case of fire.  But, strangely, that's also what makes it feel so safe. 

After Long Silence

I haven't made an entry here since early May, so I just want to bring everyone up-to-date inas easy a way as possible. So, here we go. Preparation for 7 weeks away from home. Preparation for wedding. Wedding ( brief interlude for abcessed tooth).  France. Jet-lag. French classes.  French language. Internet problems. Sore throat. Internet Problems Trip to Cahors. Internet problems. Walk in the country. Jacuzzi. Sore throat continues. Walk around town. Jacuzzi. Sore throat becomes horrible cold.  Horrible Cold continues.  Horrible cold begins to get better.

So now we are up to date.  I'll continue with pictures in another post.