Sunday, December 31, 2006

A French Guide to Eating Meat

Went to a very nice French brasserie (kind of like a cafe which doubles as a restaurant) yesterday and was rewarded with a nice peice of meat. Overall, I tend to prefer American meat to French meat--there are of course exceptions--but yesterday's steak was particularly tasty. As in the 'States, you must specify how you would like your meat cooked: here's a guide--

bleue = rare (makes sense, when you don't cook the meat it retains some of its blueish color).
saignant = medium rare
a point = medium
bien cuit = well-done

Don't ask me why the models in the photo are wearing meat; you can find anything on the Internet these days.

Enjoy your New Year's celebrations tonight!!

Thursday, December 28, 2006

2nd highest personal bowling score of all time

Also of note over the Christmas holiday was a friendly game of bowling with Claire's family. I hadn't played in awhile, and was surprised when I pulled a 161 out of my ass...I include a photo of the final score (as well as a shot of Claire, her sister, and mom) just to back up my claims. I was only 4 shy of setting my personal best, which remains a 164 I once achieved at the Incline Station in my hometown of Duluth, Minnesota.

French Word of the Day: "faux cul". It's an insult used to describe a phony or a hypocrite; literally, it means "fake ass."

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Que la Force soit avec toi.

Two landmarks in my French training recently: First, while in LaBaule I saw my very first "V.F." (version Francaise) film in the movie theater! Pretty much all the films here can be seen in either "V.O." (version originale--e.g. for an American movie the actors all speak in English but there are French subtitles below) or "V.F." (e.g. for an American movie, the actors are dubbed over in French and there's no subtitles, and in the case of a French movie, no additional modifications are needed). I have always gone to see the "V.O." versions but this past week I tried a "V.F." for the first time. It was Audrey Tautou's "Hors de Prix", a romantic comedy which "ne prends pas la tete" (literally, "doesn't take the head," figuratively means that it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out the plot), and while I certainly didn't understand every single phrase, I didn't have any trouble following the story and enjoyed watching.

The second landmark in my French education is my first book. Sure, I read newspaper articles and tons of French comic books already...but I think it's time to graduate to books. I know it's not the finest piece of literature or anything, but I'm about 2/3rds of my way through "Revanche de la Sith", the book adaptation of Star Wars Episode III. Interestingly, Darth Vader's name is France is Dark Vader, I'm not sure why. Today's French Vocab of the Day is courtesy of the Star Wars franchise:

"Que la Force soit avec toi!" = May the Force Be With You!

"le cote obscure" = The Dark Side.

And yes, Yoda talks in the same kind of "backwards" style in French as he does in English.

Half-Man, Half-Balloon

Got back from LaBaule late last night. Christmas at the Pecqueurs was lovely as usual, with no shortage of French culinary delights. It seems that every time I visit, we always get to eat "huitres" (oysters) for lunch at least once. As I've mentioned before, I was a very picky eater up until my early 20s, and it is still rather shocking to me and my family that I am willing to swallow whole creatures which live in the sea straight out of their shell and are not only raw, but also still living. Anyways, I learned a new rule this visit regarding the best time to eat oysters, which are seasonal: Oysters are traditionally best served in months which contain the letter "r" in them. Fortunately, the months in French are approximately similar in spelling to those in English, so the same rule applies: you should eat oysters in janvier, fevrier, mars, avril, septembre, octobre, novembre, or dicembre. If you want to eat your huitres during the months of may, juin, juillet, or aout, you will have fatty oysters which are apparently not as good.

Here are some pictures of me playing with Claire's nieces, Maeve and Auxanne. There were a lot of balloons around as Christmas decorations and of course no child can resist playing with balloons, myself included. We spent one morning seeing how many balloons we could cram into my shirt at the same time.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Joyeuses Fetes

Joyeuses Fetes, everybody. I'm heading to LaBaule for a few days to celebrate the Christmas holiday with Claire's family. As such, I'll be generally away from the blogosphere for a spell.

Ever-so-quick French vocab of the day: Santa Claus in France is "Pere Noel" (Father Christmas).

Have a very happy holidays everybody!!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Say Hello To My Little Friend

One bit of common French vocabulary which has always struck me as funny is the word for girlfriend or boyfriend. The translation is "petit ami" (for a boy) or "petite amie" (for a girl), which is literally translated as "little friend."

I also learned recently that the term "petit ami" is often being replaced by another word for friend: "copain" (probably related to the English word "companion", though its meaning depends on the context. For example, if you say, "J'ai un copain qui habite pres de l'hopital", it means "I have a friend who lives close to the hospital." However, if you change the sentence to "Mon copain habite pres de l'hopital", it means, "My boyfriend lives close to the hospital."

Tour du Croissant Pic of the Day: our evening visit to the Basilique du Sacre Coeur. This photo was especially challenging to obtain because the flash on our crappy camera had completely stopped working. Fortunately, Sacre Coeur is lit up brightly at night and my wife took several angles of me using lighting from a nearby cafe to illuminate my face and the dessert.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

On the Playground

For our French lessons for the Day, we go to the French playground ("le terrain de jeu"), as many of our common playground games have strange names in France.

A swingset is "un balancoir".

A slide is a"un toboggan".

A merry-go-round is "un tourniquet", which of course means something entirely different in English.

And my favorite is the see-saw, which is a "un tape-cul", the word "taper" meaning "to tap" and the word "cul" meaning "butt"--thus, a "tape-cul" is named as such because you tap your butt on the ground every time you go down.

Today's photo: a bonus pic which was not even on the Christmas card for space reasons! It shows me eating some chouquettes (a little bit like doughnut balls, except the insides are more light and fluffy) in front of the Lido on the Champs Elysees. There is, however, a picture of me eating chouquettes on the card, but instead in front of the Louis Vuitton storefront also on the Champs Elysees.

Monday, December 18, 2006

When Chickens Fly Out of My Butt

Pastry-related pics of the day: no tourist's visit to Paris is complete without a visit to Notre Dame! In keeping with the theme, I ate a pastry called "la religiuese." Apparently there is also a pastry out there name a "pet du nonne" (literally: "nun's fart") but I haven't been able to locate such a wonderfully named dessert yet. In addition, the sumptious Opera hall, eating (appropriately enough) a pastry called an "opera".

French Expression for the Day: "Quand les poules auront des dents", which is translated as, "when chickens have teeth", used to describe a situation which will never happen. English equivalents would include "when Hell freezes over" and, one of my favorites, "when monkeys fly out of my butt."

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Pensees de Nate

Other random news items:

-Overall, I've had mixed results with my latest Palm Pilot purchase, a Palm Life Drive I received for a birthday present from my parents last December. In general, it does what I need it to do (I use it predominantly for scheduling, looking up medications when I'm playing doctor, and recording French vocabulary words and other interesting tidbits I encounter during the day which I'm likely to forget otherwise) but was about 4 times more expensive than my last Palm Pilot and sometimes seems a little bit slower. Furthermore, it decided to just stop working about a month ago, and ever since I sent it in to get repaired (fortunately, it was still within the 1-year warranty period) I've been going through Palm Pilot withdrawal. In all fairness, however, I haven't yet taken advantage of all of its bells and whistles (e.g. I haven't used its WiFi capabilities yet), and it is pretty cool that it has 4GB of memory on it.

-since my Palm Pilot has been temporarily lost for the moment, I've adopted the "flash card" method of learning new French vocabulary words.
-yesterday was the first day of operation of the new Tramway line which is part of the already impressive Paris Metro system (which is, incidentally, one of my favorite things about living in Paris). The new line is within a 15 minute's walk from our apartment.

-here is one picutre of me eating a pastry along the banks of the River Seine and another which is a close-up of a grille paume that turned out particularly well.

-French Expression of the Day: instead of saying, "I know this city like the back of my hand, " in French one says, "Je connais cette ville comme ma poche," or , "I know this city like my pocket."

Friday, December 15, 2006

More French Pastries

Enjoying a fine croissants near the statue of the Denfert Lion...a few blocks away from our apartment! This was actually the first pastry of the day (and thus one of the most enjoyable...after awhile they all started tasting like sickeningly sweet super-dense bread dough). At the bottom, eating a palmier at the Pyramides of the Louvre.

French Expression of the Day: "Je te vois venir avec tes gros sabots", which means, "Finally, we're getting to the point," but literally is translated as "I see you coming with your big clogs."

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Eating A Beignet at the Moulin Rouge

I've received word that my Christmas card is just beginning to arrive at houses around the U.S. (those who live in France who may be reading this blog...I just sent out the French ones yesterday, so they should hopefully follow soon). Since there were so many pictures in the Tour du Croissant, many of them were shrunken down fairly small. Since I really liked the way some of them turned out, I'm going to post a few selections over the next week or so. To review: 19 different French pastries. 19 different timeless French landmarks. One glorious Sunday in November. Here' s a shot of me eating a beignet outside the Moulin Rouge.

French Expression of the Day: instead of playing "leap-frog", French children play "saute-mouton": the identical game, except you pretend that you are a sheep instead of a frog ("mouton" is sheep; "sauter" is the verb for 'to jump'.) It seems that the frog gets short-changed in French expressions (see also "a frog in the throat"), not to mention the indignity of having your legs eaten as a tasty delicacy.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Christmas City, Wonderful City

Yeah, you folks from Duluth know what I'm talkin' about...all dressed up in snow and mistletoe.

Our neighborhood is decorated up nice and colorful as well...I took this picture as I walked by on the way to going grocery shopping.

French lesson for the day:
"une mouche" = a fly

"prendre la mouche" means literally "to take the fly" and is used to describe somebody who gets unreasonably upset during an argument. Kind of like "to fly off the handle" or "to have a shit-fit", a phrase I just taught to my wife this evening.

On the other hand, the phrase "faire mouche" means to be on target, e.g. to have perfect aim during a game of darts ("flechettes") for instance.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Galeries Lafayette

Those of you who know me may know that I detest shopping. I specifically detest shopping at "the mall." Therefore it may surprise you to know that I actually had a fairly nice shopping experience last Saturday at Galeries Lafayette, one of the busiest and most famous shopping centers in Paris, on one of the busiest days of the year.
I arrived at around 3PM and was shocked to see the number of people waiting to get into the store: I had to wait for 10 minutes in line just to get in! Fortunately, however, it got more manageable once I made it inside, and I managed to find gifts for most of the French people on my list. A highlight of the shopping day was just after sunset when I walked out to the balcony to check out the lights display (left) draping the facade of the building, which is just next to the even-more-impressive Paris Opera house.

French expression of the Day: "avoir un poil dans la main", which literally means "to have a hair in one's hand", which means that somebody is lazy. (e.g., Mon ami a un poil dans la main = my friend is lazy.) Apparently, if somebody is REALLY lazy, you change the expression to "avoir un baobab dans la main" (to have a baobab tree in one's hand, which makes absolutely no friggin' sense to me whatsoever, but there you have it).

Sunday, December 10, 2006

L'Os a Moelle

Holy shit. You all will NOT believe what I ate last night. It just goes to prove my assertion that the French will eat any part of an animal's body. Including (drum roll, please..)

I shit you not. We went over to the apartment of Claire's uncle Thierry last night for dinner. Thierry works for La Chambre de Commerce de Paris at L'Ecole Ferandi, one of France's famous restaurant schools, and is a master of the French culinary arts. As such, whenever we go over to eat there we end up having an impressive variety of classic French dishes. As one of the side dishes, he had prepared "l'os a moelle" (bone marrow), in which each person is served a single, very recognizable, cow vertebrae. You eat it by scooping out the soft insides, which are applied to a peice of bread and sprinkled with a little salt. Unfortunately, I couldn't find a great picture of the dish (only histologic sections of actual bone marrow) other than what I'm showing here. But you can definitely tell what it is when you're eating it. Anyways, it's actually not so bad. It has a fatty taste to it which is not so bad. A wikipedia article on bone marrow suggests that eating it even lowers your LDL cholesterol (the bad kind).

I still can't friggin' believe that I ate bone marrow for dinner last night. Me, the guy who wouldn't even try pizza until college and whose idea of foreign food consisted of Mexican tortilla chips and the occasional fortune cookie up until the age of 21. Unbelievable.

Of note, the word "l'os a moelle" refers solely to the bone marrow as food. The scientific word for bone marrow is "moelle osseuse".

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Academie Francaise

One of the topics I've heard much about since my time in France has been "l'Academie Francaise", an official state-sponsored group of 40 important literary and political figures whose charge is to safeguard the French language. l'Academie has been in existence since 1635 (courtesy of Cardinal Richilieu), was briefly abolished during the French Revolution, and currently resides in a magnificent building on the Seine. They routinely discuss the state of the French language and make formal recommendations as to things such as the spelling of a given word, specific minutiae of grammar, whether or not to formally adopt English words into the language, etc. I guess I've always thought that this is a little funny because I don't think the U.S., or any other English-speaking nation, has a similar governing body to "protect the purity of the English language." However, it's also kind of cool to have a definitive reference as to what the specific rule is. Sure, in the U.S. we have things like "Webster's Dictionary" and "White's Elements of Style," but neither of these is associated with the official government nor is their word considered an official edict.
An example of one of the "success stories" of l'Academie Francaise, according to one of my neighbors who is a professor of French society at Wellesley, is the "Walkman", which as we all know is the line of products developed by Sony that became the standard for portable music. The Walkman line was so successful of course that we often refer to any portable cassette or radio as a "Walkman", even if it's not a Sony brand. Evidently, the same thing began to happen in France, but when l'Academie weighed in with its opinion, it felt the need to "frenchify" the word, which they recommended be "baladeur" ("balader" is the verb for "to walk" or "to take a stroll"). Several years later, "baladeur" is the preferred word in the French language.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

They Say It's Your Birthday

It's now officially Dec 8th (at least according to French time) 12:05am so I guess it's my birthday. 33 years old. That's old. When somebody asked me in the lab today how old I would be turning, I actually had to stop and count back from 1973. I've lost track, that's how old I am.

Interestingly, there are two other people in my lab--both of whom are named Marie--who share the same birthday with me. Tomorrow, a triple birthday party is planned.

Had a very successful dinner party tonight with the neighbors--all of whom happen to be American professors from the Boston area who are renting an apartment in Paris for the year--and it was really nice having intellectual conversations in my native language for a change!

French Vocab for the Day? We'll make it an easy one, and thematic as well: "Joyeuse Anniversaire" (the French way of saying "Happy Birthday").

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Metro Police

Another Parisian first for me: I was stopped by the Metro police today! They checked to make sure I had a valid ticket (which, fortunately, I did). Although you need a ticket to get through the turnstiles, it is a relatively common practice (I see this at least once or twice a week) for young 'uns to jump the barriers, sometimes in plain view of a Metro official working behind the ticket counter, to catch a free ride.

Tired after a long day in lab (had to wake up early in order to use the RT-PCR machine) followed by French class 'til 9pm. Sleep beckons.

But before then, our French word of the Day: "une cache sexe", which literally means "hiding genitalia", is the French word for G-string or loincloth.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Take Your Pick

Two rather, um, shall we say, distracting signs which are plastered all over the place around the city, featuring two absolutely gorgeous Frenchwomen. The first is a movie poster for Audrey Tatou (you may have seen her in "Amelie" and more recently "The DaVinci Code") in her latest film, looking as adorable as ever. The other is, I'm a little embarrassed to say, a loungerie ad, featuring Emmanuelle Beart. Can you believe that she is 43 years old?!? These ads are especially prevalent in the Metro, and one of these days I'm going to miss my stop while checking them out a little too closely... Anyways, take your pick between these two, you can't go wrong.

French expression of the day: un cerf-volant, which is the French word for kite. Literally, however, it is translated as a "flying deer" (cerf=deer; voler=to fly).

In other news, congrats to the Duluth Dominators, who this weekend captured the regular season title in my Fantasy Football League (I still play with a bunch of my buddies in Philadelphia...thank goodness for the Internet; I haven't watched a full game of American-style football all year long...) Playoffs are this weekend and hopefully I won't choke.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Kicking the Bucket in French

Know how in English we use the phrase "to kick the bucket" to refer in a fairly indecent manner to the fact that somebody died? We also have "he's six feet under" and "croaked" as other colorful phrases.

The French versions are, in my opinion, much better. First, we have "il mange des pissenlits par la racine," which literally means, "He's eating the dandelions from their roots", a particularly gruesome image which I really like. In addition, there's "il a passe l'arme a gauche", which means literally "he passed his weapon to the left". According to my wife, this expression dates back to the medieval custom of sleeping with your sword at your right hand, I guess so that if you were to wake up in the middle of a combat situation, at least you would have your weapon nearby. When you died, your sword was placed on your left side, to indicate your final peace.

In other news, I saw the movie, "Les Infiltres" (the French version of Martin Scorcese's "The Departed") yesterday. Great flick!

See you around campus...

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Lazy Sunday

It's a Lazy Sunday in Paris, and not sure exactly what's on the agenda for today. Yesterday (Saturday) Claire and I had a wonderful dinner at my friend Ernie's apartment. There were 5 of us: one American, one French, one Italian, one German, and one Philippino. Fortunately, English was the language of the evening.

French phrase for the day: "Je connais cette ville comme la fond da ma poche", which means, "I know this city like the bottom of my pocket." I tried adapting the English version ("I know this city like the back of my hand" to French ("Je connais cette ville comme le dos de ma main") yesterday while talking to Claire but received nothing but quizzical looks.

Sorry, I have no explanation as to why I posted a picture of "Space Food Sticks" on today's blog post.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Random YouTube Links

Bonjour mes amis,

Fortunately for me, I'm feeling less run-down and fever-y. Hopefully one of those 48 hour bugs. A slow news day today Nate-wise, so I thought I would direct you to check out some of my favorite YouTube posts:

Jimmy Fallon Star Wars parody: "Did you hear me say I like 'The Notebook'? Because I don't."

Chad Vader: Night Shift Manager: detailing the adventures of Darth Vader's younger and more inept brother Chad.

Another Star Wars parody: Sticking with the Star Wars theme. "Ow! This helmet is chafing my eyebrows!"

Coup de Boule: the #1 novelty song in France, an homage to Zidane's infamous head-butting incident (and a catchy tune to boot)

Story of Jim & Pam (The Office): cheesy music video detailing the relationship between Jim Halpert & Pam Beasley. I can't help it, I'm addicted.

Robot Dancing: only one way to describe this: w. t. f.

Dave Chappelle: What if the Internet were a real place?

Hebrew Crunk: Happy New Year, Jewish-style.

Jack Black Spider-Man parody: the scene where Jack is flipping his webs all over the place never ceases to crack me up.

Jack Black Lord of the Rings parody: "this little bad boy gets the ladies to where they're trying to go every time."

But before we leave: the French lesson of the day. It has to do with another "faux ami", the phrase "passer un examen". Today I announced to my coworkers that "J'ai passe mon examen"--I had wanted to say that I passed my exam (referring to my USMLE Internal Medicine Boards exam--I got the results when I was back for Thanksgiving--so I'm certified asn an Internal Medicine doc for the next eight years!)--but in fact what I was saying was, "I took my exam," since "passer un examen" simply means that you sat down and completed the exam. The correct phrase for passing an exam is to say, " J'ai reussi l'examen" (reussir being the verb for "to succeed).