Archive for October, 2010

Hello, all. I’d like to say I haven’t forgotten about you, but I had honestly completely forgotten about this blog in the last couple of weeks. I’ve been pretty busy with classes, and though I’ve kept Mom and Dad, as well as a couple friends, up to date, I forgot you all. So sorry about that, here’s what’s been going on.

Classes are still going well. My language professor is pretty great; because she also teaches culture and civ classes, she gets off topic and onto current events tangents pretty easily. Today, for example, we spent nearly an hour of the two-hour class talking about the strikes that have been going on (another big demonstration today – that’s at least 5 in 6 weeks). The trouble is, the retirement situation is a problem that needs to be resolved, and Sarkozy (whatever else can be said about him) has been the first president in a while who’s had the guts to try and deal with the issue, despite knowing that it will make him unpopular. In any case, the new law passed the National Assembly (the rough equivalent of our House of Representatives, except that here the Assembly has more power than the Senate) a few weeks ago, and is supposed to be voted upon by the Senate on Friday; apparently a little over 70% of the French people still support this strike, which is highly unusual for one that’s lasted more than a week. It is, however, causing some serious problems; the trash collectors are on strike, which is unfortunate for obvious reasons, as are refinery workers, so there’s little gas left. There have apparently been fights and serious accidents as people have tried to fill up before service stations run out entirely. Florence (my language professor) told us today that the Prefect of any department does, however, have the right to order workers in some sectors back to work if it becomes necessary; that is, he (or she) can order the refineries to open, at least long enough to supply fuel for the sectors that absolutely need it (buses, police and fire services, doctors). In fact, some sectors (while still having the right to strike, which is a fundamental right in the French Republic) are forced to work while on strike – the fire service, police, medical services all MUST work, even while being officially on strike.

In any case, for the language class, we’re currently reading a novel called Une Pièce Montée (the title of which refers to the traditional French wedding cake), which is the story of a wedding among a bourgeois family. Each chapter is told from the perspective of someone at the wedding; it’s a rather cynical look at the traditions of upper-class society that’s really very funny. If it’s printed in English, I recommend it. If not, sorry.

In literature, we’re reading Chateaubriand’s René, which, despite being only 30 pages long, is surprisingly difficult to get through. I’m not far enough in yet to really be sure what it’s about (other than a young Frenchman who moved to Louisiana territory while it was still a French colony). It’s written in the Romantic style, which is difficult enough to get through in English; it’s even harder in French. Basically, little actually happens, but each sentence expresses a lot, that it’s sometimes difficult to focus long enough to really get much out of it.

In my history class, we just finished up with the Roman and Germanic era France (the Gallo-Roman leadership and the Gothic and Frankish tribes that moved through) and moved on to the Merovingians, who were the first royal family of France. The principal figure of this family, for those who have studied any French history, was Clovis, who united all the different peoples of the region into one kingdom; it was Clovis who chose Paris as the capital (then, as a Roman city, called Lutetia). Also, for those who have read The Da Vinci Code, it’s the royal family that Jesus and Mary Magdalene’s descendants supposedly married into. In any case, we’ll be finishing them up in the next couple days and moving on to the Carolingians (named for the most famous member, Charles I, who we know mostly as Charlemagne). After that, for those who really want to know, were the Capetians, who were all descendants of Hugh Capet (the first king after the end of the Carolingian dynasty); the Valois (and their sub-groups) and the Bourbons were also descendants of Capet; unlike many other kingdoms the royal house of France, starting with Hugues Capet (in 980 something) until Louis Philippe in the mid 19-century were all members of the same family. I’ve been told that whenever one goes to Paris, one should make the short trip to the Basilica of Saint-Denis just outside the city, which is where all the French kings since Hugh Capet have been buried.

Music history amounts essentially to listening to music (which does not bother me). The course deals mostly with the Baroque period in music, though we have also discussed the Renaissance (of necessity) and will most likely discuss the Rococo too. We’ve mostly, at this point, been talking about/listening to various composers of the late Renaissance/early Baroque period, not all of whom have been French, as the Baroque style started in Rome as a way for the Catholic church to show its power and such to the growing number of Protestants. In any case, before too much longer, we’ll be discussing the major composers of the French Baroque (Lully, Rameau, Couperin) and such.

Translation is difficult, but not terribly so. M Melin, the man who directs the program and teaches translation, is a good teacher, and he speaks English very well, so he’s clearly qualified to teach the class and teach it well. We’ve been looking at different ways of expressing ideas in past tenses; not all the time do verb tenses translate directly. That is, what is written in simple past in English may be expressed in the present tense in French (unless it’s a negative statement, which is then in the composite past). It sounds complicated; it’s not so much once one gets used to the rules. We’ve also talked about sing words that express “yet” “for” “during” and other words that express time like that. It’s sometimes tedious, but very useful.

Every Tuesday, M Melin takes the four of us from ISU to lunch. He and our program director at home are good friends, so we have a bit of a leg up. In any case, he’s a fun person to sit with; he gossips and jokes with us the whole time. Furthermore, he speaks English very well, so he can translate things for us if we want to know how to express something specific. It’s a good deal. Other than that, I’ve still been eating most of my dinners with my host family, which is always an experience in and of itself – my host parents talk so much about current events and such that I usually leave the table feeling like I’ve learned enough to write an entire essay.

In any case, that’s mostly what’s been going on here; not much else exciting. I don’t have any definite travel plans before Mom and Dad come over in three weeks; over the next week or two, transportation could be a problem, with people going on and off strike, so I feel like it’s best not to make plans. I’m thinking the bulk of it should be over by the time they get here; furthermore, they come in on a Wednesday, and strikes rarely happen on Wednesdays, as schoolchildren are off on Wednesdays. Most strikes happen Tuesdays or Thursdays. Besides which, the next day is the 11th of November, which celebrates the end of WWI; still a pretty big deal in France, so a lot of people are on holiday, and there’s less of a chance of striking going on during a holiday.

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Well, I’m back from Spain. We saw quite a few things – needless to say, it was a long trip. The first day we were there, we didn’t see much; we were all too tired, and the strike made it difficult to get around. The second day we mostly stayed on Las Ramblas, where we did a fair bit of shopping, had an expensive lunch, and laughed about the naked man at the harbor (because apparently it’s legal there to be naked, as long as you have shoes on. Not that I’d want to walk around on those streets without shoes). The third day we spent at the Sagrada Família and Park Güell, and wandering around that part of Barcelona. Then the last day we were there, we went to the Picasso museum and then did a little more sightseeing in the Gothic Quarter before heading back to the airport. Overall, it wasn’t the best trip ever, but I’m glad I saw Barcelona.

In general, I think I like France better than Spain. Obviously, it’s stupid and unfair to judge a whole nation of people by a few, but it was my impression that the French I’ve met have been much more polite than the Spanish. It was a little bit ironic, actually, that, though Spain has more of a reputation for being so warm and friendly, I found the people (in general) to be rather rude and impatient; on the other hand, the French do NOT have a reputation for being friendly, but I’ve never had a problem with rudeness here. Perhaps that’s because Barcelona is a bigger city than Angers, perhaps it’s because I speak French and not Spanish (and CERTAINLY not Catalan), or perhaps it really is just a cultural thing. I don’t really know, but I was exceptionally pleased when we arrived at Orly and I saw French more than Spanish, much as I was pleased even to see the cool, wet weather here over the warm, sunny skies in Barcelona.

Now that the September term is over, I’ve started the actual semester. Classes started yesterday morning with another orientation/sit and be talked at for an hour thing. After that was finished, those students who had tested (either at the beginning of September, like me, or on Friday for those who were just arriving now) into a Superior level class had to take another, more rigorous, written placement test to find out the actual level of language class. There are now 22 separate language classes (as opposed to the 8 in September). I’m not sure how the lower-level classes were divided; they didn’t have another test. But with us, everyone in a superior level had a chance to be in any of the top five classes based on the test yesterday. I placed into Cours 351, which is the second-to-top (which is 411). This is a good thing, as they’re basically the same class, but 411 has to write a 25-30 page research paper over the course of the semester.

My language professor this semester is the same woman who taught the Civilisation course in September, which is good, because she was a great teacher, and she’s more easily approachable than some of the others. I’ll have 6 hours of language a week (as opposed to 15 or so in September) as well as 12 hours of other classes. I’m taking a translation class (between English and French, of course, taught by the director of the program) which is supposed to be challenging but well worth it, as well as a French history class, a music history class, and a 19th century French literature class. All of those except the music class will get me specific credit at ISU; the 6 language hours get me graduation credit but not specific class credit. Classes this week are all open; we basically have a week to audit classes and then we finalize our schedules Monday. However, I’m fairly certain I already know my schedule, as I’m mostly taking classes I still need.

Overall, I feel good about this semester – let’s just hope it stays good.

Here are some pictures from Barcelona:

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