Sunday, July 25, 2010

Reflections on Time Well Spent

Now that I'm back at Hopkins, I figure I should put everything I wrote in Paris into some sort of final perspective. Even though I liked the feel of my final post, and typically hate it when people add onto things that are theoretically finished, I've decided to break my own rule and continue this blog for one more post. Life isn't ever finished, and just because I'm no longer in Paris doesn't mean that all the French in my life has disappeared. You may have noticed that I changed the title of this blog to "Translating Paris" from "Natalie s'en va." It wasn't really a difficult change to make. "Natalie s'en va" was an inside joke that I'm sure no one understood. When I began the blog, I was reading the first novel of Colette, Claudine à l'école. In retrospect, it was an appropriate choice, considering it introduced me to the somewhat insane results of the French methodology. That novel is the first in a series of novels about this strong, semi-autobiographical character, of which the fourth is called "Claudine s'en va" or "Claudine goes away." That was how I stole the first title, but changing it was a good decision. The purpose of this blog was, in addition to letting people know I was alive and well in Paris and what I was up to, was to translate particularities of the French culture that I noticed to all who read the blog.

Since coming back to Hopkins, I've been trying to reformulate my entire plan of studies at Hopkins. I'm now adding a third major (French, of course) whereas before, I had only been toying with the idea of getting a minor in French literature. The reason behind this sudden change of action is that I want to study French literature at a higher level, and feel that a major in French is probably necessary to apply to such programs. The professor of the summer French literature course I'm currently taking told me to narrow down my field of interest (for the time being) from all of French literature to 19th century literary translation. To that end, I'm currently writing a paper that will probably be around twenty pages when finished on different translations of a Balzac short story, Le Colonel Chabert. This professor told me to email the head of the department (whose class I took the semester before leaving for Paris) and tell him about my plans to add French as a third major and apply to French grad schools. He emailed back and seems happy with the idea. I can't wait to talk to him - he is an expert on genetic criticism (basically, the study of how authors write books. He pores over drafts and letters that authors wrote and compares them to the final, published versions), one of the founders of the Flaubert Team at l'ENS, a friend of the professor I had for the Paris and Literature course at Paris 8, and also a friend of Jacques Roubaud! I'm sure he will be able to answer any question I have about this field. It's so great to be a student at a school like Hopkins!

As for the rest, the Hopkins campus has gotten more beautiful, at least, compared to Paris 8 and the Clignancourt site of La Sorbonne. It seems both bigger and smaller - it's a little city by itself, gigantic compared to the tiny square in the Latin Quarter that is l'ENS, but much more intimate and friendly when it comes to teachers and students interacting. The two courses I'm taking seem strange compared to what I did in Paris, yet I know they match my previous Hopkins courses exactly. We talk in class - students with the professor. We discuss and come to conclusions together. I have a new, somewhat ambivalent view about this. While, I didn't really like the courses at Paris 8, I did appreciate that the professors talked a lot more. They should talk more - they're the ones who have gone through intense concours to get to where they are. They're knowledgeable, and the students in the class are just that: students. When the professors in Paris tried to diverge from that methodology that Michel had told us would be rampant throughout our classes, the classes failed. M. Cornette, an intense, brilliant, famous French historian, found himself asking questions to a room full of students who didn't want to be there and cared nothing for the knowledge he could pass on through a solid lecture. The problem, as it always seemed to be at the Parisian universities, consisted of the quality of the students and their apparent lack of a work-ethic. In the philosophy class and the l'ENS class, where the students kept quiet, it was easy to be stunned by the breadth of knowledge these professors had. And then, when a student actually did ask a question, the question was well thought out, impeccably phrased, and thus merited a brilliant response.

Now return to Hopkins, where the students have much more incentive to care about the courses they're enrolled in - they are, after all, theoretically paying over $50,000 a year for the privilege of learning from these professors. The class discussions have their moments. When a professor directs them well, they can be incredibly beneficial, and when the student contributes in such a way that he furthers the discussion, he feels that he has learned more than by simply taking notes. However, the professors still have so much knowledge, and every moment they cede the floor to let a student direct the discussion is a moment that the educational experience isn't as strong as it could potentially be. I wish there were a happy medium, a strong marriage of the lecture and the discussion so that classes were as efficient as they could be. We're almost there in French class here, during which the professor will give an historical background about the author and the book we're going to discuss before the actual discussion. But even then, expecting that we have done research, asks us, the students, what he have found. This slows the class down, especially considering the length of time required for each student to answer in line - French is, after all, a foreign language here.

My French grades came in the mail and, even though they were translated into American grades, I think I've figured out almost exactly what they all were. That transcript, I suppose, marks the end of CUPA, and is supposed to be an accurate reflection on all I learned in Paris. But it isn't. No matter how elated I am by my good grades, I didn't learn half as much from the classes as I learned from the experience of being in a foreign country, of thinking in French every day, of constantly trying to look at everything from a different angle to combat the natural barriers of a new culture. I still believe that everyone should study abroad, but now, more than ever, I believe that if a student studies abroad, he should do it the right way. By this, I mean he should aim to be completely immersed in the foreign culture of his choosing, preferably one that speaks a language other than his own. This experience, an integral part of European education since the middle ages, should not be neglected merely because of its impracticalities. Due to the single language of the United States, this experience is even more necessary for an American student. The world is becoming smaller. More and more is possible every day. A knowledge of this world is necessary beyond the windows of our laptop screens.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Au revoir

Today was my last day in Paris. As my last few hours in Paris tick away, I would like to point out that this blog will soon end. I'll probably write one or two entries when I get home, but then I'll stop. Thank you to anyone who took the time to read it, double to those who actually enjoyed it!

I didn't do much today. This morning, I woke up, took a shower, mailed 10 pounds of books back to the US (the post office guy asked why I had so many, and I told him it was ENS's fault - he understood!), and then headed over to CUPA. We were going to meet and go to a restaurant to celebrate the end of the newspaper, but I never got the email saying which restaurant, so I just assumed we'd be meeting at CUPA. Before going there, though, I went to La Rue Plumet (where Jean Valjean lived in Les Mis!), took a few pictures, and listened to Eponine's song (in French, of course), "Mon histoire." Then, I got to CUPA and no one was there. I texted Chantal and she told me she was already at the restaurant, which was in the 13th arrondissement right behind the library! I was honestly ready to kill her - I live there! I had trekked all the way out there just so she could tell me to run home because they were all already there? Well, I came back, met them on a boat, and we had a fun lunch. I almost forgot how angry I was.

After lunch, Chantal and I headed back to CUPA to print out the newspaper so I could have a copy before I left. It looks nice! Then, I met Alix at La Fontaine Saint-Michel to get my last Berthillon. My favorite ice cream server was there and she was very sad to hear I was leaving. She told me that I have to come back. I wholeheartedly concurred, while I ate my triple scoop white chocolate, salted butter caramel, and raspberry rose.

My last meal with my host family was nice: salmon and rice. M. and Mme De La Taille loved the last newspaper. On the news, they had a special about Les Mis, but we didn't hear it because they couldn't figure out how to make the volume work on their new TV (they got a flat screen because their old TV died). Then, I headed over to Melissa's (fellow CUPA student - one who was here for the whole year) for a goodbye party. There, we all discussed how we were more French. I said I was more French because I was turning negative (but that's only because I don't want to leave, I'm sure - I've been very positive the whole time I've been here otherwise, I think!), and other comments that were thrown around were ones about cheese and not showering.

So, today I said goodbye to basically all the CUPA students, the CUPA staff, Alix, and tomorrow morning I will say goodbye to my host family. Leaving stinks. At least the French for "goodbye" is "au revoir" which literally means "until we see each other again." I'm definitely not saying "adieu."

Thursday, May 27, 2010

My last French class

I'm not sure if my philosophy TD today was actually my last French class, but I didn't bother to ask if we were having the CM tomorrow morning, and besides, it's optional. I'm tired and I want to sleep, so since the class is over and I will never take philosophy again, I think it's okay if I miss the last CM (not that I'm even sure there is a CM...). Anyway, in the TD, we talked more about Sartre, then about technique.

After that, I got some falafel in Le Marais, followed by some awesome chocolate, and then it started to pour! I came home and Mme De La Taille had gotten my suitcases from the basement so I can start packing. It was a harsh realization - I'm leaving Saturday morning...Anyway, I packed one suitcase and my big carry-on, then chilled waiting for the rain to stop. It did right before I went to teach Jerome English for the last time of the semester.

Then, I had twenty minutes to get home. Usually, that works. But, I had to wait 10 minutes for la ligne 10, it's about 10 minutes from Segur to Saint-Michel, and then I switch to the RER C. But, the RER C was going to take a good 25 minutes to get there, so I decided to take the bus. I left the metro, ran over to l'Institut du Monde Arabe to catch the bus, and found out that there are manifestations today for retired people. So, the buses weren't running, but I had already walked halfway to the next metro stop where the RER C would stop before getting to my stop. So, I kept walking, hoping I'd make the train I had decided not to wait for, but I didn't. The next one would be in another twenty minutes. So, I kept walking, and walked all the way to the Gare de Lyon (kind of out of the way) to take ligne 14 home, because it runs every 3 minutes like clockwork. It took me a whole hour to get back and I had walked so much that I was actually tired (and I'm a pro walker after all this time in Paris, so it must have been quite a walk...).

I got back, ate as quickly as humanly possible, then met Eileen and Sarah at Strasbourg-St. Denis for the moules frites and the Moose again. I love Thursday traditions! We're regulars at both bars and even though I really wasn't hungry for the moules frites after the dinner I had five minutes before I rushed off to get them, it was fun anyway. Then, we went to the Moose (Canadian bar) and I had a coke, because I'm really just kind of sick of alcohol and how expensive it is. And then I said goodbye, went home, and here we are. Now, I'm going to sleep.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Les Miz in Paris!

I spelled the title incorrectly because it was in English, even though everyone here speaks French. I guess whoever decided to bring the tour here forgot that in Paris, they actually speak French, regardless of the language in which the musical is the most popular. Every time I told someone here I was going to see Les Mis (and yes, I said Les Mis in French) in Paris, they'd get really confused and finally I'd say: "Les Misérables" and they'd get angry that I had called it that. Even when I clarified that I was talking about the musical, they said I shouldn't call it that. Oh well...that's what I call it.

Anyway, before talking about the musical, I should probably mention my day before 8:00 at night (or 20:00, as the French would say). Well, I woke up, didn't really do much, went and bought my last Lebanese sandwich maybe forever, got a free baklava with it because I'm the guy's best customer, bought some Berthillon ice cream (melon and coconut! It's better than Grom and the Bac one, no doubt - it's the texture), and headed over to Paris 8 (my last time!! That's the one place I'm actually excited never to see again) for my history test. It was just like the last one, but he didn't let us use our books this time. Overall, I suppose it doesn't matter - he's only counting the better of our two grades, and I got a 14 on the first! On the way in, though, it poured! Bye bye beautiful summer 80 degree weather.

Finally, Les Mis. It was fantastic. The production is to celebrate the 25th anniversary of it in London (which apparently makes it the longest running musical in the world according to them. They apparently forgot about The Fantasticks, but that's okay - the point is, both longest running musicals and The Phantom of the Opera, the longest running Broadway musical, are all based on French books!), and they've redesigned the whole thing. The set was incredible, the backgrounds (projected onto a screen on the back of the stage) are based on Victor Hugo's drawings, and the actors were phenomenal. I loved Javert specifically, who really captured his struggle perfectly, and Eponine who, even though she looked nothing like her "parents" in the musical (she was black; they were white), sang "On My Own" beautifully. The backgrounds were mostly fantastic, I should say. During "One Day More," they all marched in place and the background moved backward so it looked like they were moving forward - that was a little too much. They did a similar effect while Jean Valjean was carrying Marius through the sewer. It was bizarre. I didn't like Gavroche's death either. They eliminated the revolving stage aspect, which was mostly a relief, but then Gavroche died on the other side of the barricade and you didn't get to see anything. Plus, now that I know what the actual French Gavroche was supposed to sing as he died, it bugged me that this little British kid thought he could impersonate Victor Hugo's myth gamin. The strangest part of all were the subtitles - half the time, they were just the French lyrics, and the other half, they actually tried to translate the English lyrics (retranslate?? I'm not sure anymore...) and it ended up being wordy and unnecessary. Why wouldn't they just make all the subtitles the French lyrics?

Oh, and apparently the most phenomenal part of the whole musical was the orchestra. The two gay guys sitting next to me explained that, in Paris, there aren't usually live orchestras in productions like these. French people kept coming up to look at the orchestra like it was an endangered species. When they started the overture, the audience applauded. They were good, but I can't imagine being that excited to see a pit orchestra. Obviously, I'm spoiled in America. Either that or French people need to start seeing real musicals. It's probably the latter.

By the way, the theater is beautiful!! The two gay guys sitting next to me said that they should perform Phantom there, but I told them the Opéra Garnier would probably be a little more "authentique."

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Final Academic Checkout

That's what I did this morning at 10:00, so I didn't get to sleep in. The whole process took about five minutes. I had already filled out all the evaluations on the website, so all MaryAnn did was look at my sheet, see that I only had one more paper to turn in and one more in-class test, and said that I'm officially checked out. Lucky me...

Then, I got some Wokbar (right next to CUPA - fast food in Paris that I actually like) and went to the last literature and Paris class, which was a field trip around the Passages de Paris. It was so neat - the Passages are little streets of shops and restaurants in between buildings covered with skylights. They're really beautiful, old, and I'm angry that I had no idea they were there before. Needless to say, that is probably where I will be spending my Thursday afternoon - apparently, back in the day there used to be about two hundred of them!

Finally, the CUPA soirée. We all went to Pascale's (she's a girl, in case you're confused by the name) apartment (really, really nice!), had great food (not French food, though. And sorbet for dessert, but it wasn't Berthillon, so that part wasn't the best...), and I played my flute and Miranda sang. It was nice. Pascale agreed that impayable is a good word to describe me and that my definition of "extraordinary, something bizarre and pleasant" is dead on. Anyway, I am officially checked out - after tomorrow's history exam, I won't have anything left except packing my bags. This is so depressing...

Monday, May 24, 2010

I'm up at 2:25 in the morning finishing a paper...I really need to get back to Hopkins.

Even though I love Paris, I have to say I've been lazy with this paper. I've had seven pages for a while now, but since the professor wasn't really clear about what he wanted, I've been trying to add bibliographic references even though I'm not sure he's expecting them. He acted like he didn't want this paper to be academic. He said he wanted it like a journal with dates and times, only with complete sentences. Then, he wanted us to have a little reflection on memory at the end. Basically, this assignment makes no sense and I'm going to be glad to be rid of it. Hopefully he doesn't fail me because I can't figure out what he wants.

Anyway, this morning I was going to wake up at 10:00 because I was tired, finish my paper, and enjoy the rest of my day before my flute lesson. Well, when I woke up, I had two emails from Justine saying two things: first, I can't use the word "impayable" in the first person or negate it (drats...); second, that she was busy this week and the only free time she had was this afternoon for lunch. So, instead of doing my paper, I ran over to Porte des Lilas (so far away...) and had lunch with Justine. It consisted of some kind of foie gras type thing (much better than what they gave us at CUPA, I have to say), bread, cheese, and asparagus. She said it was a typical French summer lunch. Her apartment is really big - I think it's the same size as where I'm living, but the De La Taille's apartment is meant for five people. She only shares hers with two other students, one of whom plays the harmonica, which is kind of annoying; and the other one has a German girlfriend who doesn't speak French. And she has lots of books, but that's no surprise. She even had several Pléiade editions! I really want to buy one before I leave, but I hear they're kind of expensive.

Aside from all the work and the fact that you're technically working for the government, it must be nice to be an ENS student. I mean, they get paid so they can afford nice apartments, and they get to live in Paris! In exchange, they just need to give up ten years of their lives to be teachers. Considering I think it would be fun to be a teacher, that doesn't seem like it would be that bad. That is, unless they have to teach at Paris 8. The mindset is just so completely different. l'ENS seems comparable to Hopkins or other really great schools in the US, but at Hopkins, you need to pay $50,000 a year for the privilege of going there, it has nothing to do with the government, and you aren't guaranteed anything when you leave. Well, it's not exactly comparable to what I do at Hopkins since I'm undergrad. Grad schools in the US (at least, the programs I'm looking at) don't cost anything and you get paid a stipend because you teach. Then, I guess I'll have to compare American undergrad experiences to the classes préparatoires, but I have no idea what those are like here. Jerome told me that students work really hard in the classes préparatoires, then go to the grandes écoles and slack off (except at ENS because those students have to read a lot).

After saying goodbye to Justine, I headed back home, practiced my flute a little (I have to play at the party tomorrow night, so I decided to pull out some impressive-sounding pieces), then headed over to La Salle Pleyel, a big concert hall near La Place d'Etoile for my last flute lesson. It was so cool to play there. I wasn't on the stage or anything, but still - Chopin used to perform there! I got to see the back stage area where the orchestra members have their lockers, I got to see the hall while people were rehearsing, and I got to enter through the artists' entrance! On Wednesday, I'll be going back to hear my professor's rehearsal. He said he has an American friend from New York coming to the rehearsal too. It will be fun to do that before my second history partiel and Les Misérables.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Well, I didn't finish my paper, or get much else done today...but I took a taxi!

The title of this post basically sums up my day. I woke up early, wrote a few pages of my paper (just two left, and I'm going to finish it tomorrow morning no doubt, considering it's due on Tuesday...), then met Lu at Belleville where we walked around, got some crepes, then went to Buttes Chaumont and walked around. It's so cool having a friend who speaks Chinese and French, but no English (well, she speaks a little, but not enough to bother trying to speak English with her). She and I communicate with our second languages - it's neat.

After that, I came back, got my stuff, and left for our CUPA picnic with Marie at Versailles. It was really nice (but I definitely wasn't hungry after everything I ate with Lu) and we had conversations about just about everything. It was strange - Marie had no idea how much we paid to study in Paris with CUPA. She couldn't understand where all the money goes. Apparently, MaryAnn and Nathalie aren't paid super well, the computers in the basement certainly don't cost that much, and the universities are practically free. Some of the students were complaining about the constant "cautions" where we have to pay thirty euros to assure that we'll go to the spectacles. If it's our money that bought the tickets, why should we have to give them more? The cautions were stupid - luckily, I got all mine back.

Finally, we left Versailles and headed back to Paris, got some drinks, and were chatting at a bar too late so I missed the last metro (I didn't actually miss it, but I would have had to change, so I wouldn't have been able to get back home) and had to take a cab. It was really easy - the guy didn't notice I was American, wasn't rude, and didn't drive me around in circles. To me, the route he took seemed the most direct route I could think of. I don't know why CUPA tried to make me so nervous about the cabs here - I could have stayed out really late every night (it was also surprisingly cheap - 10 euros to get back to Bibliotheque from Saint-Michel - it would be more expensive in Baltimore).