Monday, February 1, 2010

La justesse des cours

This morning, I had a minor crisis. The ENS professor whose course I really wanted to take emailed me back and said that he would have been happy to let me take his course, but that he's sick this year and isn't teaching. So, I had to find another ENS course (which the professor said I could take), but this new one conflicts with the CUPA art history course. C'est dommage, but what can I do? At least all the museums here are free, so I can still go see all the paintings by myself, even if I can't really appreciate them like I should. The new ENS course actually seems more interesting anyway.

I went into my first French Starbucks today as well - I was on my way to my first flute lesson and I was really early and had to go to the bathroom. Marie had told us that, since Paris has gradually been getting rid of the public restrooms on the street (because they're not appropriate in such a historical city), we should go in a Starbucks. But, I felt bad about going in without buying something, so I bought a mocha. In two words: NEVER AGAIN. It's so much more expensive here than in the US (4.10, but Euros, not dollars - so more than $5) for a tall mocha. What a waste! On the bright side, I found the cheapest crepes in Paris - a crepe with nutella is only 2 euros, whereas most other places it's 2.50 or even 3 sometimes. A nice Greek guy down the street from CUPA makes them and it tasted the same. Anyway, at least the bathroom in the Starbucks was nice, but the energy conservation was annoying. The lights were motion activated, but they didn't stay on for very long. And, you need to push the button on the hand dryer the whole time you use it, which is dumb and makes the drying process take twice as long.

My flute lesson was great. Bastien Pelat is a really good teacher, and the French wasn't too much of a problem. By that, I mean that I don't have a musical vocabulary, so simple words such as tuning, chord, scale, trick fingering, air support, etc. were beyond my vocabulary. So, every time he said the French words, it took me an extra second or two to understand what he was saying. For example, I played a note a little flat, and he said "gardez la justesse." The French word for being in tune is apparently "justesse." At one point, he called some notes "les noirs" (the blacks) and others "les blancs" (the whites) because half notes are open circles and quarter notes are just black dots. It was an interesting lesson for that reason, but he also had really constructive things to say about my playing. And he said I spoke French really well!

Earlier today at CUPA, we had "galette des rois" which is a cake made to celebrate the epiphany (I'm not sure if it's called that in English, but it's some kind of Catholic holiday, I think). Each cake has a little clay toy inside, and whoever gets that piece after it's cut is crowned the king or queen. I suppose it's interesting that French people bake toys into their food - I thought it was just rings. If you don't understand this, it's a reference to a French fairy tale called Peau d'âne or Donkey Skin. In it, the beautiful princess' father falls in love with her after her mother dies and tells him he has to marry the most beautiful girl in the kingdom, who happens to be his daughter. So, after talking to her fairy godmother, the girl tells her father that she'll marry him if he makes her a dress that's the color of the sky, which he does, then the moon, and then the sun. Then, her fairy godmother realizes that that was a bad suggestion, and tells the girl to tell her father to kill and skin his donkey that poops gold - yeah, French stories can get kind of strange. Of course, he does that too, so the girl has to cover herself with the donkey skin and run away, where she works as a housekeeper, but everyone thinks she's really ugly because of the donkey skin. Then, she meets the prince and he sees her trying on her pretty dresses one day, but no one believes him that she's really beautiful, so she bakes him a cake and drops a ring into the batter so he knows it was her. Then, he demands that she make him another cake, and when she delivers it to him, she takes off the donkey skin and everyone lives happily ever after. And that, my friends, is a French fairy tale! Incest, gold pooping donkeys, insulting ugly people, lousy fairy godmothers, and baking rings into cakes.

What was I talking about? Oh, right. Galette des rois. I didn't get the toy, so I wasn't queen. It's okay, though - the toys were just clay farm animals. We also had "cidre" which is like apple juice wine. I didn't really appreciate that either. But, maybe after four months, I'll like it. The picture on this entry is of Catherine Deneuve, a famous French actress, portraying the princess in "Donkey Skin."

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