Thursday, June 27, 2013

Tuscan Salad with Pecorino and Proscuitto

Note that what follows in is French, as homework for my French class.  Aleatha will post the english-language version at some point on her blog.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

From rue Lepic up to Sacré Coeur

A couple weeks into our stay here, we went on a walk from our apartment up to the top of the butte in Montmartre.  It was a rare sunny day, before the rains of spring had broken and given us summer.

This is the typical tourist route, and it was pretty busy with tourists while we were out.  A lot of these photos are framed slightly above street level to miss the large groups.  It's also worth comparing this photo with the one below to get an idea of just how much some sun transforms the way this city looks:

It's so much more cheery when the sun's out.

The Hausmann architecture of the city really comes into it's own when the sun's out.  The slate-colored roofs and wrought iron railings contrasting with the cream of the limestone façades and the blue of the sky.

At the corner of rue Lepic and rue Norvins, there's a small building that I've been unable to determine what it is (I remember figuring it out last time we were here, but I've forgotten).  But it had a bunch of pretty flowers growing around it.

We headed up rue Norvins, past Place du Tertre, where all the artists hang out selling portraits.  (photos from winter 2011):

And then around rue Azais towards Sacré Coeur, when we found this woman playing french classics on accordion.
I really liked the reflections and light on the accordion...

And then the Basilica du Sacré Ceour itself finally came into view.  It's such a lovely building.

It's appropriately awing when standing in front and looking up.

The view from in front of the basilica is very impressive.  Sacré Coeur is, while not technically the highest hill in the city (it's the second-highest) has an amazing view to the South.

Unfortunately, you can't quite see the Eiffel Tower from the front of Sacré Coeur.  The view is blocked by trees, buildings, and the funicular which climbs the massive hill (these next three photos are from our winter 2011 trip).

But if you squiggle around to rue Saint-Eleuthere, you can see the Eiffel Tower
 and this amusing bit of street art.

From up here on the hill, looking down on Paris, you can really see how consistent the heigh of the buildings in the city are.  In medieval Paris, the height limit for buildings was 17.5 meters.  In the mid 1800s, when Napoleon III was Emperor of France, he massively upgraded the medieval city by leveling city blocks to build Paris's famous, beautiful, wide boulevards.  This is called the Haussmann's renovation of Paris.  Part of that was to increase the height limit on buildings to 20m.  But that limit stood for decades, and as a result, almost all the buildings in Paris are the same height (or close to that height).

It has a very "rooftops of Mary Popins" feel to it.

Another requirement from Hausmann was that the roofs all have a pitch steeper than 1:1, within view of the street.  The barn-like roofs (called Mansard roofs) with their garret apartments allowed that attic space to taken advantage of to get another floor of units into the builds.

The wide boulevards, the mansard roofs, and the beautiful façades of locally quarried limestone, became the iconic view of "what Paris looks like."

While we were up on the top of the hill, the sunshine was welcome, and the little Schmoo found it quite nice while riding on her Mother's shoulders.

We wandered back down, taking a different route, trying to see more of the city.  As a tip, if rue Norvins is packed with tourists, and you want to bypass Place du Tertre, you can cut down rue Saint Rustique, which parallels Norvins, and it's empty.  Highly useful for when you're feeling done-in by the crowds.

We cut down the stairs at rue Tholozé, finding it to be a pleasant walk.  We also found a store where a couple weeks later I finally picked up a lightweight, short trenchcoat which has made being outdoors here in Paris far more comfortable.  There's a reason they're the ubiquitous jacket.

I love the views down the stairwells in Montmartre.

Here's a link into the full album of photos at Google+, where I've geo-tagged all the photos.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Surviving in Paris without speaking French

So you want to go to Paris, but you don't speak French?  One thing I've heard a lot from people who are considering visiting us here is that they're concerned about the fact that they don't speak french.  And while you can get by solely with english, there's a middle-ground that I've found works well to improve communication, and very importantly, to not make the locals angry.

Honestly, the best thing to do is learn, but that takes a great deal of time.  So in addition to what I outline below, I recommend a good phrase-book.  Dictionaries are great for vocabulary, but a phrasebook is more useful day-to-day.  I really like the one from Lonely Planet.  It's a little geared towards the younger crowd, but it has fantastic sections on getting around and restaurants.

Ok, so what's the secret to getting by without speaking french?  Learn and use the most important french words, be as polite as you can be, and politely fall back to english.

The most important words?

  1. bonjour (hello)
  2. au revoir (good-bye)
  3. s'il vous plaît  (please)
  4. merci (thank you)
  5. oui (yes)
  6. non (no)
  7. parlez-vous anglais?  (do you speak english?)
  8. je ne parle pas français? (I don't speak french)
Close to the magic words in english, but there's a reason I put bonjour first.  It's the first word you use, and you use it a lot.


In France, if you walk into a store, the very first thing you do is look at the proprietor, and say "Bonjour", they'll do the same back to you.  Don't worry about mangling it, just say it.  Doing anything else is rude.  If you come in, ignore the shopkeeper, and then ask (especially in english) about something, it's very, very rude.

A smile and a bonjour, and suddenly the Parisians go from cold and off-putting to very warm, and sometimes even friendly.  Oh, and an adorable blonde toddler that also says bonjour as you walk in together certain gets you a lot of bonus points with the staff.

Bonjour does a few things.  It recognizes them as another person.  Your mangled pronunciation tells them that you speak little to no french.    Which is good, because in Paris, if your shopkeeper has decent english, they'll switch to it and save you both a lot of greif.

If there's a line (like at the fromagerie (cheese shop) I went to this evening), then it seems customary to wait until someone frees up, and then you each say bonjour to each other.

A side note.  I've said shopkeeper/proprieter, and for good reason.  By and large, the small stores which are simply everywhere in Paris are worked by the owner, and/or their family.  They probably live behind/above the store.  Walking into a store is Paris is very much akin to walking into the front room at someone's house.  This is thought to be one reason why everyone in a supermarket is on edge, the normal etiquette doesn't work, and the result doesn't feel right to anyone.

Speaking English

In the areas that are well-traveled by tourists, english is omnipresent.  Everyone seems to speak it.  But assuming that is rude.  So you want to be as polite as you can be about switching to english.  I've found that a pained look, a deep sigh, and a hopeful "parlez-vous anglais?" will help me tremendously.


They probably have minimal english, and so speaking slowly and clearly is helpful (for them).  Rattling off a bunch of high-speed questions in english isn't much better than you getting a barrage of questions in french.

As I've learned more french, more of my interactions are purely in french.  But sometimes it's just out of my small realm of knowledge, and french numbers are extra fun for english speakers.  In those cases, a polite request if they speak english, and proceeding careful makes things go fairly smoothly.


Please, thank you, yes and no are all pretty obvious when to use.  But don't forget to say au-revoir when leaving.  For the same reason that you say bonjour, you say au revoir.  You're politely ending the exchange.

Also, in the evening, you'll hear bon soir (bo-swa).  This is good evening.  And you match it with bon soiré (bo-swa-ray) when you leave.

More reading

I must admit that I did not magically stumble upon or derive this knowledge.  I found it among an excellent set of books that we read (or re-read) before moving here.  They have been excellent windows into french culture.  I highly recommend them if you have the time, and are wanting more insight into the French and french culture.

Bringing up Bébé
French Women Don't get Fat