Friday, February 3, 2012

Back to School!

I've set myself a goal during our time in Paris this year:  that I will work to improve my fractured French grammar. I speak and read the language quite well, can certainly get myself around the city, can navigate the intricacies and rituals of daily life here, and can even hold my own at French dinner parties - up until about 10:30 pm or so, that is, when I inevitably "hit the wall". But, oh, the grammar, the tenses, the prepositions, and - especially - the dreaded subjunctive! They seem to have all vanished from my brain since my high school days. Mother Anselm, the Spanish nun who taught me French, would turn in her grave if she could hear me.

Luckily, a little online research  produced Lutèce Langue at 23 rue Sébastopol in the 1st arrondissement. I took a deep breath and enrolled for two weeks, Monday to Friday, for an hour and half each day. After completing a test online in French (sans dictionnaire), and after being interviewed on the telephone to find my "level", and after giving them my Carte Bleue number for some Euros, I was accepted and asked to come Monday of this week at 10:45 am.

The offices are small and cramped, but staffed with cheerful, friendly people. I was quickly directed to a very small classroom #3, where Monsieur Denis welcomed me.

With M. Denis seated by the whiteboard, and three classmates from (from right to left) the United Kingdom, Manhattan and Vienna, we are quite international. A very pleasant group, and nice and small! No place to hide!

Homework assignments come almost every day from this imposing looking text book, to re-emphasize topics covered in class.  The program is conducted entirely in French, seems well structured, and so far -- five days in -- I do believe some of it is sinking in!

I quickly discovered that the easiest way to get to school is to walk, so every morning I head down rue Montorgeuil, where at this time of year the cafés all have their winter coats on -- thick plastic walls to shield customers from the currently icy, sub-freezing temperatures (19 degrees F. at 10 am today), with heaters that blast  hot air down onto your back.

And where the other day I passed this shocking sight of the sapeurs-pompiers mopping up one of our favorite bistros on the street, Le Petit Carreaux, after a kitchen fire. They will, alas, be closed for a while...

Naturally, there are several dress shops along the way, and I am beginning to notice a distinct trend toward RED as the upcoming seasonal color of choice -- perhaps in response to the growing possibility of François Hollande and his Socialist Party winning the national elections, which take place here beginning in April?

At the bottom of rue Montorgeuil, I cross over rue Turbigo, climb some steps and get onto rue Rambuteau, which forms one of the boundary streets of the dreaded Parisian eyesore, Forum des Halles. But there's good news! After 50+ years of living with this ugly monument to 60's architecture (built under the regime of President Pompidou), the City of Paris has decided to tear it down and "try again"!

Of course, nothing will recapture architect Victor Baltard's stunning 1863 steel pavilions, which covered the same area and kept alive the tradition of food markets in this central Paris neighborhood, going all the way back to the 12th century.

For over 100 years, these buildings were packed with butchers, fishmongers, fruit and vegetable stalls, cheese stalls, bakeries, etc. etc.

Starting in the dark, early hours of the morning, thousands of tons of meat, fish and produce arrived here, were put on display and sold to eager Parisians.

Eventually, the streets around the market became so congested, as the city population grew, that the decision was taken to tear down Les Halles and move the market out to Rungis, where it has now been since the late 1960s. I remember being in Paris with Matthew in 1972 and driving by the last remnants of Baltard's structures. Sadly, I never saw it in its heyday.

President Pompidou replaced it with a new structure that, he promised, would provide gardens and a carousel for children, and a multi-level subterranean mall that would be a shopping mecca for Parisians and visitors alike. Just like this photo purports to show. At the same time, the vast transit hub, Châtelet-Les Halles was built even further underground. Alas, today, there is no carousel, the gardens are unkempt and popular only with drug dealers, and the shopping mall is truly a vista from hell!

So, most people think it's a good thing the place is being torn down, and certainly it's fun to walk by there every morning and watch the progress!

I've been just amazed at the size of this crane that towers over the other, smaller ones...

...and also dwarfs the substantial stack of portable, temporary offices that have gone up to house all aspects of the construction.

Turning right onto rue Pierre Lescot, I love to peer through the grating at the growing piles of rubble.

Meanwhile, as if to keep our eyes looking forward, there are many billboards posted that show how the "new" Les Halles will transform this space with a swooping, open air roof, new gardens and playgrounds, new trees, etc.

There even seems to be some sort of plan to open up the underground mall so that daylight will bathe the lower depths! Now that would really be an improvement.

One thing's for sure: the venerable Église Ste.-Eustache that stands (both figuratively and in reality) above this site will always continue to hold the prize for steadfastness and dignity in the neighborhood!

Meanwhile, the grammar continues: With the words "après" and "avant", when to use the infintif passé and when to use the infinitif. I leave you with two options: Après avoir fini ce blog, j'ai continué mes devoirs. Or: Avant de continuer mes devoirs, j'ai fini ce blog.

À bientôt!


  1. How interesting you make even a walk to school sound! The les Halles description sounds rather like a new "waterfront" being planned for Perth, with skyscrapers right on the river and an "island" being erected in the water. Perhaps in 40 years' time it too will be pulled down. Totsiens tot wederom (I'm a linguist too). Mrs L xxx

  2. Oh you brave soul. I never even made it to O level French. A prayer and a smile are all I have.
    I do remember La Halle, Sitting on a bench with Walter - after going to 'a show' - until dawn, with love.

  3. I could never master French and I never had a walk like that to School!!! Was ok at Spanish but no longer x