Thursday, September 22, 2005

Just another commute

After 3 weeks of school for the whole family, we have settled into a routine.

We start with the usual morning exercises in cajoling, wheedling and force feeding our children what we believe are necessary nutrients against their equally firmly held beliefs that they should be allowed to eat normal breakfast food like pain au chocolat.

Next we all grab our respective backpacks and metro passes and hit the road. The streets are mobbed with harried but proud parents and adorable kids, many of them dressed in painter’s smocks like they are off to Picasso’s atelier for a quick painting before school.

We walk a block and pop down into the world’s greatest subway – trains come every two minutes on all the main lines (provided that the myriad minor deities in the French transportation unions are feeling appeased that day). Four stops later we pop up again at the Trocadero station and get a heart-stopping view of the Eiffel Tower across the river.

Something about the light makes the walk brilliant up the rue lubeck to the children’s school. Along the way we meet the united nations of parents attending eurocole, each with more or less enthusiastic children in tow.

We get to the school door and attempt to exchange urbane pleasantries with the staff, but I fear that our barbaric accents and very loose grasp of French grammar translates all of our remarks into something that sounds more like, “heap um good weather, huh dude?”

With a mixed feelings of humiliation and triumph (one of the advantages of being clueless together in French is that neither of us can tell how bad we sound) we set of for our school, the grandly named Institut de Langue Francaise. Our walk takes us up the Champs Elysee towards the Arc de Triumph.

So there we are, sauntering but trying hard not to gawk, cruising up a seriously nice street, turning off on rue Balzac, just to get our literary reference for the morning. A few blocks later and we are at the ILF, ready for another four hours of screaming neurons and fraying synapses as we try to force fit another word for “vacuum cleaner” into a slot that was only built to hold one entry.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Puppets in the park

As you can tell, this was a show for kids! The French parents there split their time between observing the show and observing the Americans to see if we were understanding anything (answer = not much) and/or enjoying ourselves (answer = quite a lot)

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Le club hot, hot, hot is alive and well in Paris

Our first day of school for our children, we went out for coffee with some other parents. One of them said, “I have a spare ticket to the Richard Thompson show tonight. Does anybody want to go with me?” Seeing as I was new to the school and all, I waited for a full half-second before blurting out, “me, me, pick me, I love Richard Thompson.” (note: if you have never heard of Richard Thompson, run, don’t walk, and purchase the CD, “Shoot Out The Lights”)

We met at the Belleville metro station, which is in the 20th arrondisement, across town and firmly on the other side of the tracks from our staid and self-satisfied 16th arr neighborhood. My immensely entertaining companion was an English actor who works in Paris (in French) under the moniker Mr Pomfrit.

Our destination after stopping at the lovely home of yet another English actor for a few margaritas to fortify us along the way – was a place called La Java. The directions to get to La Java are as follows – get out at the Belleville metro stop, where you are surrounded by swarms of young men selling corn on the cob that they roast over small charcoal stoves. Walk until you reach the Turkish hookah parlor, turn right and head down a dark tunnel under the collective stares and smoke of the hookah clientele. La Java is at the end of the tunnel down an unlit stairway – you can’t miss it.

The low-ceilinged room was packed with perhaps 200 people sweating in the late September heat and doing their best to heat the room even further by simultaneously smoking a similar number of foul filter-less cigarettes. And of course none of that mattered, because not 30 feet away across the fragrant crowd was Richard Thompson belting out an acoustic set with incandescent fingers.

Remember the Clint Eastwood film, “Round Midnight?” The audience was transported, as only music can, to some shared place in the human psyche which must be almost exactly as old as consciousness itself, perfectly tuned to the music of the moment.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

On beeps

One of the first things I have noticed about our new Paris apartment is the beeps. First, there is the sound of the beeps themselves, which, like the police sirens in every country, have their own distinctive dissonance for attracting attention. Every culture of course has its own ideas about the types of noises that are obnoxious enough to attract your attention but not so offensive as to cause the violent dismemberment and subsequent return of the offending appliance.

Next, there is the sheer number of things that are equipped to beep at you, and here are some real cross-cultural surprises. For example, I never knew that a stovetop had matters to convey of sufficient gravity that they be equipped with their own pesky noisemakers. In fact, it appears that almost every device that can get access to a steady stream of electrons in France has been given the capacity to divert some of those electrons to attract your immediate attention.

Finally, and now we are getting to the subject of monumental design hubris, there is the matter of how long each device feels compelled to make its pleas for immediate attention. For reasons which can only relate to the monumental egos of the machine’s designers (my device will be the most important device in its owner’s life!) almost every machine in our apartment demands that you perform some act of obeisance (push a button, open a door) before it will sink back into the mute silence which is the preferred state of any machine.

Were these machine designers neglected as children? Is there any other explanation for microwaves, stoves and washing machines that beep plaintively until their owner comes over and gives them the man-machine equivalent of a hug just for doing what they were supposed to do?