Sunday, September 20, 2009

La Sorbonne- Part 2 "It Was Just Like Rocky Five!"

I cannot even begin to tell you how much of a buzz-kill it is to be completely unable to upload photos to my ancient travel laptop. I’m having a blast running around Paris like a chicken with it’s head cut off, but I’ve no way to share my photos with you. So until I’m home, you’ll have to settle for one little spicy anecdote.

So, at La Sorbonne, as part of our last 2 hours of the day, we have a literature/culture/history discussion. Last week we studied the history of immigrants in France. Then as a way for each of us to practice our speaking skills, the professor went around the room and asked each of us to talk a bit about immigration and culture in our home countries. Everything was going really well at first. The Brazilians talked about the large Japanese population in Brazil, and the Londoners talked about Indian and Pakistanis in England. All very enlightening stuff. Then we got to the Russian girl.

“The Russian”, as we’ve all come to call her, began a tirade about how the only immigrants that come to Russia are criminals that move to Russia to become part of the mafia. Oh, and especially the Jews because they are smart and good with money.

Mind you, as she is spewing all this, the rest of us are just looking around at eachother in absolute bewilderment, (is that a word?) half wondering if we were hallucinating or if maybe we’d simply misunderstood her. Even our preternaturally calm, cool, and collected French professor looked a bit stunned. But before the professor could shut her up cut her off , one of the Italian students jumped in, and well, jumped about as far down that poor girl's throat as is earthly possible-- in broken French. It was beautiful! Bee-oootiful I tell you! Two people arguing in broken French about whether or not Jews run the Russian mafia. Needless to say, the Italian got the last word and that was the end of that.

Now each day after class “The Russian” scurries out of class as soon the class has finished. She won’t even hold eye contact with any of us Jew-lovers.

Oh the joys of higher education!

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

La Sorbonne - Part 1

The good news is that I have a million things to chat about, the bad news is, my camera and my computer are in the middle of a messy divorce and refuse to speak to each other. This post will be illustrated entirely with photos I have stolen from the interwebz.

A perhaps crazy, yet nice lady walks past the class building every morning. Yesterday she stopped as she passed by to say: ---“Oh you’re so beautiful. I always did love Black people.” I will leave the interpretation of that comment up to you my wise readers.


I am learning French, but I am also learning that the best way to meet crazy people in Paris is to take the bus. Last week, on the way home from class, a slightly wild-eyed Japanese man got on the bus with about 15 bags of god knows what. A few stops into our journey, he gets out of his seat, waits for the back doors of the bus to open, and then leisurely tosses out a bucket of noodles---nearly missing the immaculately coiffed women who had just gotten off to do some shopping on Rue Raspail.


And last but certainly not least, let us speak of La Sorbonne.


The first day of class we met in the amphitheatre Richelieu at the Sorbonne main campus building thing. Which in spite of its age is still quite beautiful, but also kind of creepy in an intangible way.

We meet our professor who informs us that our class will be starting—NOW, and that the quickest way to get to the class building is to take a “short cut”.

death march 3

She then proceeds to take us on a break-neck speed death march across Le Jardin de Luxembourg at 8:45 in the morning. We actually lapped the military soldiers as they did their morning run.

Once we arrived at the class building we were relieved, but this relief soon faded into despair when we discovered that our classroom was on the 6th floor of a very old walk up building which of course had no elevator. The stairs are so steep that on each narrow landing there is a chair and a phone for the eventuality that you will need to sit down and call an ambulance to come retrieve your ass when you have your heart attack. On the way up I joked with the Japanese girl behind me that this was worse than hiking up Mount Fuji. She started to laugh, and then nearly passed out from lack of oxygen.

My bad.

I should have recognized the death-march and the hiking expedition as foreshadowing of things to come. The first day of class we covered 300 years of French history in 2 hours then were assigned a 500 word essay. Since then, things have not let up for one second. The verb exercises are abusively endless, and homework assignments take hours to complete. Folks, I am treading water in a sea of irregular verbs.


The professor is good. Damn good. She’s serious and she means business---and I’m not just using that as an expression. She supplements her meager teacher’s salary by making you pay her 1 Euro every time she catches you speaking any language other than French. It’s either that or you can choose to take 40 lashes in front of the class. Most people just pay the euro, hence her endless assortment of perfectly-tied silk neck scarves.


By the by, I’m having a blast.

Paris is great and my classmates are great. They are just as overwhelmed and confused as me, but seem not to care one bit. They go out to nightclubs every night and come into class late and unprepared and they just have a good time. Part of that might have something to do with the fact that they’re all young college-aged kids, Oh---did I mention that most of them are Brazilian?


Not only am I learning French, but I’m learning some Portuguese by osmosis.

So, that about brings you up to speed. Class at the Sorbonne part #1.

OK, I have to go now because I have to learn to use relative pronouns, and then quickly memorize how to conjugate every French verb in existence in the Present Indicative tense by tomorrow morning at 9AM.