27 September 2007

What I wouldn’t give for a course catalog, thoughtless listening, and a grounds crew

On the one hand, these first few days of class have been endlessly and unbelievably frustrating. I showed up early Monday morning without any idea what language level I’d tested into, without any assurance that the schedule I’d sketched out from the confusing and ever-changing ‘guides pedagogiques’ would work at all. Mission 1: find out my language block at the foreigners’ institute. I’d tested into ‘diplome d’etudes francaises,’ the middle level. Okay. No class until Tuesday afternoon. Okay. Mission 2: double check times and locations of all classes I-might-remotely-possibly-consider-even-auditing at Marc Bloch, the real university. I found I had francophone literature that afternoon for two hours, and a fun ‘quirks of language’/linguistics course for two hours after that. Mission 3: find out which electives at the foreigners’ fit around these courses. Okay. French-English translation course directly following linguistics, then twentieth century literature directly following translation. Okay: Six hours straight of French classes, four hours of which are formatted for native speakers. Oi.

So I slipped in awkwardly, was undoubtedly called out for not being signed up for the course, had to explain that I was a foreign student, was either ignored or patronized by the prof. The francophone literature prof speaks with an accent, on top of speaking in French. I found out that the linguistics course is already full, so I can only audit it. And, after these two courses were over, I had more than realized that I had forgotten to eat lunch and now didn’t have time, so I was enormously hungry and had a headache from listening so hard and trying to blend in and deciding what to do and where to go and when and why and how. The whole experience was overwhelming. And that was just the first day! Fortunately, it ended with ‘Le Pont Mirabeau’ by Apollinaire and a brief study of twentieth century French poetry. And I like nothing so well as French poetry…nothing falls quite so sweetly on the ear. I’ve included it here for all who’d like to try pronouncing it for themselves (I recommend finding a Frenchman to read it instead!):

Le Pont Mirabeau

Sous le pont Mirabeau coule la Seine
Et nos amours
Faut-il qu'il m'en souvienne
La joie venait toujours après la peine

Vienne la nuit sonne l'heure
Les jours s'en vont je demeure

Les mains dans les mains restons face à face
Tandis que sous
Le pont de nos bras passe
Des éternels regards l'onde si lasse

Vienne la nuit sonne l'heure
Les jours s'en vont je demeure

L'amour s'en va comme cette eau courante
L'amour s'en va
Comme la vie est lente
Et comme l'Espérance est violente

Vienne la nuit sonne l'heure
Les jours s'en vont je demeure

Passent les jours et passent les semaines
Ni temps passé
Ni les amours reviennent
Sous le pont Mirabeau coule la Seine

Vienne la nuit sonne l'heure
Les jours s'en vont je demeure

Guillaume Apollinaire (1880 - 1918)

It wasn’t until Tuesday that I realized that everything I want to do happens at the same time, usually Monday and Tuesday afternoon. My schedule is a little more sorted out now, since my 14-hour-per-week grammar block effectively limits my options. It’s a college student’s dream schedule: no morning classes all week except Thursday, when the grammar block starts at 10:30. For me, this is a nightmare. The days feel so long when I run errands in the morning then try to collect my brain energy to concentrate in after-lunch classes that last until 6:30. I can’t imagine what it will be like as night falls earlier and earlier.

And on top of erratic course schedules and intense listening for comprehension, my campus in Strasbourg is full of modern buildings I refer to as concrete monstrosities. No value is placed on green space. A huge section of the middle of campus is bare and barricaded, though no one seems to know why. Construction is happening on the most conveniently-located university restaurant, but not on this space. I miss trees and green lawns and woods and friendly lawnmowers and crazy golf cart drivers. You know who you are.

I take consolation in my linguistics courses, friends who listen, and chocolate.


michmark said...

Hang in there Colleen, I know you'll adjust and everything will work out. I'll see if I can find a Frenchman in Onekama to read the poem. Ha ha.

Peeair said...

I hereby bestow upon you on 1 autumn foiage vista on shore of lake Michigan (just close your eyes)
1 large slice of pumpkin cheescake with hot chocolate
you know what a valiant french accent I have, I bellowed out the poem much to the disdain of all within earshot
Be well,avoir les nerfs à vif

sarahesperanza said...


I got your letter this weekend- yay for paper made out of elephant poop. It made me feel-well- a little squemish, but well-loved.

Do you think Joe Planer qualifies as a frenchman? He's the closest thing to french-native I can find out here....

Hope your schedule straightens itself out. My friend Shawn has a harry potter wand and is very good at casting long distance spells- I'll have him send you ones for peace of mind in the evenings in midst of after-class rush and one that bewitches your nostrils to smell the scent of fresh-clipped grass whenever you are in need of a retreat.

Shelby said...

....no....no trees?.....wha....huh...how do they breathe?!