Tuesday, February 16, 2010

To be French...

Last year in French class when I gave my 10 minute expose on Notre-Dame de Paris (funny - last year, speaking for 10 minutes in French was an assignment and now I do it just to get by day by day), Justine wrote some stuff about Victor Hugo on the board, including when he was born, when he died, a few of his famous works, and a quote. And yes, she wrote all of that just off the top of her head. But, my point is, she pointed to Notre-Dame de Paris and Les misérables and said that, to be French, you need to know they exist, but you don't need to read them. I found the comment funny, because she's obviously read them both, probably multiple times. And she's a philosophy student! So, even though that's what she said, I assumed that all French students read Victor Hugo all the time, since he's obviously a huge figure in French literature. Today, I learned that I was wrong, and that, once again, if Justine said something, it's obviously true.

In the French literature class about Paris affecting literature at Paris 8 today, we spent a good chunk of time (after reflecting on how to kick more students out of the class, since there are still too many of us, but at least now we're down to around 30) discussing Notre-Dame de Paris since next week is our first on-site visit to see Notre-Dame and discuss all the literature it's inspired. The professor asked the class if anyone could summarize the story, to which no one responded, so I volunteered and explained the whole thing. I was very happy that I actually read Notre-Dame de Paris and memorized the musical, because then, I really already knew everything we were talking about as far as the story and Hugo's discourse on literature destroying architecture went. Then, the professor moved on to a brief description of how Les misérables basically is inspired by all of Paris, then said: "Has anyone read Les misérables? No one?" and I said: "I have!" I was so excited to say that - it was worth suffering through all the boring stuff in that gigantic book to tell a French professor that I had read it. The only thing that wasn't satisfying was: why on earth am I the only student in this class who seems to read these books? From what I can tell, we're not going to have to read any whole books for this class. Just excerpts. Then, our final assignment is going to be to write a short story (7 page minimum) that takes place in a historical place in Paris. To me, this assignment is ridiculously easy since I've already done this in English - first semester sophomore year I wrote a short story about an English teacher in Paris, which had scenes in tons of historical places (Lycée Louis-le-Grand, the Panthéon, Père-Lachaise cemetery, the catacombs, and I think that might be it) and it was about 15 pages long, I think. So, I could pull a Samuel Beckett and translate my English story into French (I've already done it once, only it was translating a French story I wrote into English), or I could just write a new one. The point is, to write a short story really doesn't seem that difficult. I should be doing it a fair bit in my writing workshop too, I hope.

I suppose that's it for today - nothing really exciting happened, but here's a cute anecdote. Tonight, I was waiting for the RER when two foreigners were asking a staff member if the train we were waiting for was the one they needed. They didn't speak French, though, so the guy asked them if they spoke English, and they said yes. So, he told them: "Yes, this is the train you want. This is the right train. Get on this one." He kept saying that until they were on the train. The whole time, I was watching and laughing, because I thought it was funny, so the guy looked at me after getting the two people on the train and said (in French): "You need to help the Americans!" I was so excited to be mistaken for French in this situation, that I ended up agreeing. It was very amusing!

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