Breaking Writer’s Block in Paris

Paris_D-S_Montmartre2What do an American physician, a German hausfrau, an Armenian priest, a Vietnamese nun, a Peruvian mother, a Philippine economist, and university students from Italy, Poland, Mexico and Ohio have in common? The answer is French lessons at the Alliance Française. What else do they have in common? An atrocious French accent.

We have been in Paris for just over two weeks. During that time we have tried to assimilate; we have taken French lessons; and, we have suffered from writer’s block.

The Alliance Française

Alliance_Francaise_Nov13The effort of relearning some of our French grammar and recapturing some of our previous triumphs in Gaul has been exhausting. That’s my excuse for why we have not applied fingers to keyboard.

I find Paris far too stimulating. Not only am I constantly trying to formulate and rehearse my next French phrase but I am trying to read and understand the billboards and signage whilst acting sufficiently cosmopolitan that I do not invite immediate dismissal.

Classes at the Alliance Française have been eye-opening, frustrating and well worth the effort and expense. Each class has some devoted Francophiles, some lazy students, some engaged students, and some focused immigrants hoping to advance their French enough to gain local employment. It is an inspirational mix of geniality, desperation and commitment. Only the accents leave much to be desired. A few minutes of fractured French with an Armenian, Philippine, Chinese or Brooklyn accent will leave your ears bleeding.

But it is fun to mix with all these groups, exchanging pleasantries and simple phrases, in a mutually safe and accepted environment.

Unfortunately for me, I wake up with nightmares of French verb conjugations running through my head. This has not led to a daytime conversational breakthrough. I can only hope for that day to come.

Sot-l’y-laisse

Sot-ly-laisseIn addition to repeating our usual sequence of restaurant and museum stops we have extended ourselves to shop for a replacement ironing board cover, a down pillow and the best baguette in Paris (Eric Kayser). I found an affordable two-star restaurant specializing in French poultry (Le Coq Rico in Montmartre) where I discovered – and enjoyed – a salad of “sot-l’y-laisse.”

“Sot-l’y-laisse” is the expression for the two tender morsels of chicken found on the back of the bird, below the scapula and above the pelvis. We call the them “oysters” for they have a texture and flavor that is neither dark nor white meat. The French phrase (spoken as a single word) translates as “only a fool leaves them.”

Thanksgiving in Paris

Paris_TxgivingToday we shared a Thanksgiving dinner in yet another lovely restaurant (Timbre) with our daughter and two of her American friends. Duck and rabbit loaded our plates. Snails, mushrooms, cheeses, chocolates and wines filled out the menu and our stomachs.

Of course, neither our chef nor our Greek/French waitress knew or cared about Thanksgiving. We would be fools to leave behind the treasures of their table.

10 Responses to Breaking Writer’s Block in Paris

  1. clelia December 1, 2013 at 9:03 am #

    Hi Sam! Some people call it “la souris” (the mouse!) also… Speaking of which, you are lucky not to have to navigate a ‘french keyboard’, which takes some getting used to (–or else great indulgence on the part of your correspondents while your typing looks like some kind of code!)

    I didn’t know you were here in France until Eiblis directed me to your blog. I’m in Lille for concerts just now, but if you are staying on in Paris and want to get together, please drop me a note, and I’ll send my phone. Meanwhile, bon séjour! Clelia ([email protected])

    • Sam December 2, 2013 at 8:49 am #

      Clelia, good to hear from you. Yes, I have tried the French keyboard and suffered for it. That is why we have brought our QWERTY keyboard laptops with us.
      My father likes to claim that the inventor of the QWERTY key board lived in Milwaukee. The motivation behind, and the success of, that keyboard was the goal/result of placing the keys and therefore the hammers in the position that resulted in the least number of jammings. What was the French keyboard like when hammers still existed?
      All best, Sam

  2. Andy Franklin December 5, 2013 at 6:01 pm #

    This is all lovely and while I appreciate hearing about the difficulties of re-learning French and other more mundane aspects of life in Paris, I really miss the healthcare rants. Perhaps, being in a country with socialized medicine has allowed you to forget the about the problems Americans still face in affording healthcare (or healthcare insurance) and American doctors face getting paid for services rendered. Or, perhaps you are gaining some added perspective from being in France. In any event, keep the rants coming – it must be cathartic to get that stuff off your chest.

    A belated Happy Thanksgiving!

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