lundi 31 décembre 2007

The awful French language

This post is not exactly on how awful French is, but rather is paraphrasing the title of an essay by Mark Twain about German, which can be found in its entirety here. How so, so much did I relate to what he was saying!

In this part, he complains about (in my view) the utter ridiculousness of objects having three possible genders:

Every noun has a gender, and there is no sense or system in the distribution; so the gender of each must be learned separately and by heart. There is no other way. To do this one has to have a memory like a memorandum-book. In German, a young lady has no sex, while a turnip has. Think what overwrought reverence that shows for the turnip, and what callous disrespect for the girl. See how it looks in print -- I translate this from a conversation in one of the best of the German Sunday-school books:

Wilhelm, where is the turnip?
She has gone to the kitchen.
Where is the accomplished and beautiful English maiden?
It has gone to the opera."

Twain then goes on to say:

Well, after the student has learned the sex of a great number of nouns, he is still in a difficulty, because he finds it impossible to persuade his tongue to refer to things as "he" and "she," and "him" and "her," which it has been always accustomed to refer to it as "it." When he even frames a German sentence in his mind, with the hims and hers in the right places, and then works up his courage to the utterance-point, it is no use -- the moment he begins to speak his tongue flies the track and all those labored males and females come out as "its." And even when he is reading German to himself, he always calls those things "it," where as he ought to read in this way:


2. I capitalize the nouns, in the German (and ancient English) fashion.

It is a bleak Day. Hear the Rain, how he pours, and the Hail, how he rattles; and see the Snow, how he drifts along, and of the Mud, how deep he is! Ah the poor Fishwife, it is stuck fast in the Mire; it has dropped its Basket of Fishes; and its Hands have been cut by the Scales as it seized some of the falling Creatures; and one Scale has even got into its Eye, and it cannot get her out. It opens its Mouth to cry for Help; but if any Sound comes out of him, alas he is drowned by the raging of the Storm. And now a Tomcat has got one of the Fishes and she will surely escape with him. No, she bites off a Fin, she holds her in her Mouth -- will she swallow her? No, the Fishwife's brave Mother-dog deserts his Puppies and rescues the Fin -- which he eats, himself, as his Reward. O, horror, the Lightning has struck the Fish-basket; he sets him on Fire; see the Flame, how she licks the doomed Utensil with her red and angry Tongue; now she attacks the helpless Fishwife's Foot -- she burns him up, all but the big Toe, and even she is partly consumed; and still she spreads, still she waves her fiery Tongues; she attacks the Fishwife's Leg and destroys it; she attacks its Hand and destroys her also; she attacks the Fishwife's Leg and destroys her also; she attacks its Body and consumes him; she wreathes herself about its Heart and it is consumed; next about its Breast, and in a Moment she is a Cinder; now she reaches its Neck -- he goes; now its Chin -- it goes; now its Nose -- she goes. In another Moment, except Help come, the Fishwife will be no more. Time presses -- is there none to succor and save? Yes! Joy, joy, with flying Feet the she-Englishwoman comes! But alas, the generous she-Female is too late: where now is the fated Fishwife? It has ceased from its Sufferings, it has gone to a better Land; all that is left of it for its loved Ones to lament over, is this poor smoldering Ash-heap. Ah, woeful, woeful Ash-heap! Let us take him up tenderly, reverently, upon the lowly Shovel, and bear him to his long Rest, with the Prayer that when he rises again it will be a Realm where he will have one good square responsible Sex, and have it all to himself, instead of having a mangy lot of assorted Sexes scattered all over him in Spots.

Boy, do I feel his pain.

mercredi 26 décembre 2007


Sunday night we headed to Chamonix, which was très jolie in the wintertime.
There was no shortage of la neige in the town and the mountains.
We went snowshoeing.
Mark took this video while we went. The snowshoes were quite bouncy.

A picture from the train. Au revoir neige!


Mark arrived Friday and we headed up to the Alps for a brief mountain tour. We first went to Annecy, a pretty town on a lake, which is surrounded by mountains.We took a promenade along the lakefront. It was awfully chilly! Fortunately the Alps are a cheese-intensive region, so we warmed up with lots of hearty meals.
We shlepped up to the castle, which is now a museum, and took in the view. It had an extensive exhibition on the history of fishing in the region. Looking at exhibits of French bait was less than enthralling--it was a show that only a pêcheur could love. But at least we were inside and out of the cold. This building is a old prison. The downtown has lots of canals.

lundi 24 décembre 2007

jeudi 20 décembre 2007

Merry Christmas!

I'm looking forward to Mark's arrival tomorrow for Christmas. We're heading to Annecy and Chamonix for the weekend.

Here is a pic I took of Mark while we were skype-ing. As he said, how meta.

lundi 17 décembre 2007

My friend Sarko

OK, no more jokes about Sarko, for the next week at least. The government has instituted a new program offering free French classes for foreign nationals, to help us assimilate and get ahead. Sarko is my new best friend! I called and signed up. The classes will start at the end of January.

Tonight I went to see a movie in French, for the first time. OK, OK, it was a children's movie, "Le renard et l'enfant," and it involved a lot of shots of beautiful scenery, but still. I could follow almost all of it. A milestone.

vendredi 14 décembre 2007

Fête des Lumières

This weekend was the fête des lumières, Lyon's celebration for avoiding the plague in 1643. They were saved by their fervant prayers to Mary. Hence, voila la Fourviere cathedral-- you can vaguely see the "Merci Marie" sign on the right.Hotel de Ville.
Cathedral St Jean was more subdued this year.
Place Bellecour.
Place Jacobins.
In Place des Terreaux they had a big kaleidescope thing and the colors project onto the buildings on the square.Here it is in action--

Along Rue de la République they have these enormous spheres lighting up.

The Eglise Saint Nizier always puts on an elaborate show.

This might be the coolest thing of all. They took a phone booth and made it into an aquarium.

jeudi 13 décembre 2007


Because not one hotel had an available room the night we were in Strasbourg, we had to go to Germany to find an hotel. We decided to go to Freiburg, a university town which is also known as the warmest city in Germany, although you could have fooled us. We thought it was pretty chilly.

Freiburg, city of bikes.
Freiburg had its own little Christmas market.
It also has these little canals running along city streets, which used to be the system for distributing clean water. Nowadays they must be mostly used for cooling feet on hot summer days. The legend is that if you fall into one, you will marry a Freiburgian. They are kind of tiny so I think it would take effort to fall right in.
Street scene.
Here is one of the old city gates.
The Munster was pretty cute. It and Strasbourg's cathedral were both of a pink stone from a quarry nearby. Our guidebook said that in this particular quarry, apparently, Jews from the concentration camp in the area were forced to work there during WWII.
At the entrance to the Munster, there were carvings from the middle ages to instruct sellers on acceptable sizes for loaves of bread.
Freiburg puts little designs into the paving stones outside of stores to inform passerby of what is sold inside. Here was a locksmith shop.
And this was the one outside of a university building.

More Strasbourg

Due to technical difficulties, I didnt get to post all my photos last week! Here are some more shots of Strasbourg.

We climbed up to the top of the cathedral.
A view from the walk.
Inside the cathedral was a very fancy clock. It may be difficult to see in this photo, but this part of it pointed to the day of the year, which shows all the Saint's days.Strasbourg had some very funny street names. This is place of the market of milk pigs.
Later that night I had a very Alsace meal, Flammenkuchen-- a kind of flatbread with lardons and creme fraiche (very lo-cal, I am sure)-- with German beer and German bread.

vendredi 7 décembre 2007


I went to Strasbourg last weekend to see the Christmas market. Here are some scenes. I really liked it; such a pretty city, very picturesque.

We arrived late at night after a long train ride.
The next morning we headed out for the markets. Strasbourg has a lot of little markets. We climbed up the tower of the cathedral for a view of the city. The other tower was never built.

mardi 4 décembre 2007

Worlds colliding, part two

It turns out my friend from work and a fellow American, Eric, knows my friend Richard in Philadelphia. Eric used to date a good friend of Richard's, a few years back. Now, I have known Richard since college, because he used to date a friend of mine. Eric lived in Chapel Hill at some point after I left, and met Richard's friend there.

and then...

I found out this week that a coworker of mine at IARC is married to a woman that I knew in college, Vivian.

How is it that UNC grads end up so widely dispersed?

Les grèves sont finis

Much of France has been chaotic in the last few weeks because of the transit strikes, which are amusingly called "perturbations." It didn't particularly affect my life, because there was nothing in Lyon, but I did hear horror stories from friends who went to Paris. But it seems like Sarkozy and the strikers have finally worked something out.

For your amusement, here is Sarkozy losing his sang-froid after being called an enculé (asshole) by his friends, the pêcheurs (fishermen).

As an aside, I sure do find Sarkozy easy to understand when he talks. The man can enunciate.