Just Matt

By   March 17, 2009

My former French professor from the University of Michigan-Flint passed away yesterday. Matthew Hilton-Watson collapsed while he was teaching a class and died on his way to the hospital. He had been suffering from pneumonia. He was only 40 years old.

He was one of only two full-time French professors at the smaller Flint campus. He was the director of the International & Global Studies Program and recently created a new minor in French & Francophone Studies, with most classes being in English so that those with little knowledge of French could still learn about the French-speaking world. He was also involved in promoting awareness of the French-Canadian presence in Michigan and the preservation of endangered languages.

I met him in 2000 as a freshman, and took classes with him every single semester. I was lucky enough to have my best friend, Brad, in class with me, but having Matt as a professor was an added bonus. I looked forward to each class – even the literature classes that I thought I would hate. I lost my voice almost every week during phonetics class because I was trying so hard to imitate his near-native accent. His enthusiasm for teaching the language, and spreading knowledge and appreciation of all Francophone cultures, made me want to become a French professor too. I wanted to motivate others to learn French and discover how rewarding learning a second language really is. In short, I wanted to be just like Matt.

And to his students, he was simply Matt. Not doctor or professor, just Matt. He was our friend, our mentor. He was the reason why I majored in French. He was the reason why my pronunciation improved so much. He was the reason why I studied in Quebec and fell in love with Montreal. He was the reason why I moved to France.

I e-mailed him sporadically after I left Michigan to see if any of his students would be coming to France as assistants, or to get advice on what to do with my life here. Just two days ago I had asked for the reading list for his new spring course on Francophone Cultures of the World so I could pretend to be his student again and learn something new. And then I checked my e-mail this morning and learned that he was gone.

Sarah, Alexander and Catherine, my thoughts are with you.

Cette vie est un hôpital où chaque malade est possédé du désir de changer de lit. Celui-ci voudrait souffrir en face du poêle, et celui-là croit qu’il guérirait à côté de la fenêtre. Il me semble que je serais toujours bien là où je ne suis pas, et cette question de déménagement en est une que je discute sans cesse avec mon âme.

This life is a hospital in which each patient is possessed by the desire to change beds. One wants to suffer in front of the stove and another believes that he will get well near the window. It always seems to me that I will be better off there where I am not, and this question of moving about is one that I discuss endlessly with my soul.

Charles Baudelaire – Any Where Out of the World
(One of Matt’s favorite quotes)

Adjoint de Contrôle de la DGCCRF

By   March 14, 2009

David received his concours notes and proposition d’affectation today! And he got his first choice, so he’s going to be an adjoint de contrôle de la DGCCRF (La Direction générale de la Concurrence, de la Consommation et de la Répression des Fraudes).

He’s already sent back the form saying that he accepts the proposition d’affectation. And now we have to wait more to find out where and when his training is.  The main DGCCRF school is in Montpellier, so he may (hopefully!) end up there, but who knows.  The DGCCRF’s website only mentions the contrôleurs and inspecteurs because a concours for adjoints hasn’t been done in years, so it’s possible the adjoints go to Paris instead (boo!).

I’ve been searching all over the internet trying to find some answers, but nobody has a definitive answer. I should be used to this by now… but I’m so impatient to find out where he’s going!

Please be Montpellier, please be Montpellier, please be Montpellier…

The Joys of French Administration

By   March 13, 2009

I am in the process of gathering paperwork to renew my carte de séjour vie privée et familiale. I thought I had everything I needed, but no, of course not. David & I were running all over Annecy this morning so I could take my stupid ID photos and get a recent récépissé de PACS to prove that we are in fact still PACSed before handing in all the papers to the préfecture.

The préfecture told us to go to the Tribunal d’Instance in Annecy to get the récépissé de PACS. No problem, we did that last year and it worked out fine (after going to the wrong building first, then finding out it had moved to Rue Parmelan.) I had checked out their website beforehand to make sure it was still in the same place, and what do you know? It tells me that the Tribunal d’Instance has moved to the Palais de Justice on Rue Sommeiller.  Ok, we can go there instead, it’s not far away or anything.

“Oh no no, this is the Tribunal de Grande Instance. You only come here to get PACSed, not to get the récépissé de PACS. You need to go to the Tribunal d’Instance on Rue Parmelan for that.”

“Then why does the website say that the Guichet Unique de Greffe, which includes both the TGI and the TI, has moved to Rue Sommeiller?”

“The website doesn’t say that.”

“Oh really?” (Pretending to be surprised, but secretly wishing I had printed the website to shove in their faces and prove that I was right and their stupid website was wrong.)

So off to the TI, wait 30 minutes, and…

“Oh no, we don’t give récépissés de PACS. You have to get a new copy of your birth certificate if you are French because the PACS is mentioned on it, and you have to request the récépissé de PACS from the TGI in Paris if you are a foreigner, as of January 2008.”

“Then how were we able to get a récépissé de PACS here last year in March 2008 when I had to renew my carte de séjour? And why in the world did BOTH the préfecture and the TGI in Annecy tell us to come here???”

“The law has changed and they are not informed. You need to tell them that their information is not correct.”

(Laughing on the inside. Yes, the préfecture will certainly believe me when I tell them that they are wrong.)

Race to the mairie of Annecy to get David’s birth certificate. It took about 10 seconds and the ladies were so nice.  I want to go back just to talk to that adorable lady at the accueil again.

Then come home to figure out how to request my récépissé de PACS from the TGI in Paris and…


their website is DOWN!!!

But really, did I expect it to be that easy? Nothing ever is in France.

So, has anyone had the pleasure of requesting a récépissé de PACS from the TGI in Paris in order to renew a carte de séjour? How exactly do I go about it?

Mon Amour, le Fonctionnaire

By   March 10, 2009

David took a competitive exam (concours) to become a civil servant (fonctionnaire) in France. It began with a multiple choice exam in December, and since he passed that, he was able to go on to the interview in February. We found out on March 9 that he succeeded and that he will become a fonctionnaire!!!  Basically, this means that he will have a job for life as long as we stay in France.

He was #54 out of 291 admitted candidates, and in addition to the extra “points” he receives for being PACSed, this will determine which type of job he gets. The concours was to become an agent de catégorie C des ministères financiers. His choices for job were: agent de la répression des fraudes, agent administratif des impôts, and agent d’administration du Trésor Public.  So either fraud prevention, taxes or the treasury.

He will have to leave for a training period (stage) for a few months this summer, and then he will be assigned to a city somewhere in France (no idea where!) to start his job. This means we will most likely have to live apart during the next school year while I’m finishing my lectrice contract in Chambéry. But since I only work 24 weeks a year, I don’t think it will be too hard. However, this also means no vacation time this summer so he won’t be able to go to my sister’s wedding. (Sorry Jamie!)

We’re impatiently waiting for more information about the stage so we can start planning our move. I am eager to leave this apartment and Annecy so I can live closer to work, but just the thought of moving in a few months makes me tired. This is really good for David though, and I’m so proud of him. This does mean, of course, that he’s no longer attempting the CAFEP to become an English teacher, but I really think he will like this job more anyway. And it is nice to know that one of us will always have a job, especially since one of us (ahem, me) will probably have a hard time finding a new job when my current contract ends.

At least the thought of doing graduate work in France is something that I had thought about before. I am almost certain I will do at least a Master here so that I can be more “appealing” to French employers who look down on my American degrees.  I don’t really want to teach English forever anyway, so perhaps I will finally check out the travel/tourism industry. And even though we have to stay in France for David’s job, that includes the DOM-TOMs, so maybe one day we will be in La Réunion, Guadeloupe, Martinique, French Guiana or Mayotte (new département as of April 2009, supposedly). There’s little chance that will happen though.

Félicitations David !

Carnaval Vénitien d’Annecy 2009

By   March 7, 2009

Annecy is the Venice of France, so we have our own version of the Venetian Carnival.

The Carnaval Vénitien is currently taking place in Annecy. David & I went downtown to see the parade this afternoon, but then quickly remembered what “parade” means in Annecy. The Masques walk very, very slowly through the old town, stopping every 5 seconds so that people can take pictures.

Except the pedestrian roads in the old town are so narrow and crowded that unless you are one of the old, selfish people at the front of the line who’s knocked down little kids to get there (seriously, old people here are vicious), you see absolutely nothing. And there are no barriers or fences to keep people out of the parade, so random people like to walk in front of or behind the Masques to get better pictures, which of course ruins the pictures for everyone else.

The Carnaval is put on by the Association Rencontres Italie Annecy and you can check their site to see photo albums of previous years as well as buy post cards. (I only took a few crappy pictures before we got fed up and decided to go eat some crêpes in a restaurant far away from the parade.) The Masques will be back out strolling around the streets of the vieille ville tomorrow morning starting at 11am if anyone in Annecy really wants to see them in person.

The costumes are gorgeous (and many are made by the lycée pro students here in Annecy), but I have to admit, the masks still freak me out a bit.

Miss Harriet, Maupassant, and le break

By   March 7, 2009

“Nous étions sept dans le break, quatre femmes et trois hommes…”

The short story, Miss Harriet, was written in 1883 by Guy de Maupassant. In the very first sentence is the word le break – meaning horse-drawn carriage. Nowadays it means a station wagon and when I learned this, I just assumed it was an annoying recent borrowing from English that really made no sense. What does break have to do with a car?

But then I read Miss Harriet and discovered what the word break originally meant in French. The first meaning of un break was a small cart for training horses, and then later it meant a horse-drawn carriage, after the original break was modified to transport people and goods by extending the length and adding seats.

So what does break have to do with horses? In equestrian vocabulary, rompre or dresser are the verbs used for to train horses or to break in horses, and so the latter was borrowed from English. Then when carriages went out of use, the meaning was transferred to the station wagon, probably because of its length and large capacity for transporting people and goods.  And there you have it. Break = training horses, carriages and station wagons.

I’ve never learned so much from one sentence.

P.S. un break is called une familiale in Quebec. Much more self-explanatory, hein ?

Master’s in Teaching French at University of Arizona

By   March 4, 2009

Maybe it’s the never-ending cold inside and outside, but I keep looking for Master’s programs in French in warm climates… et voilà, I found the perfect program at the University of Arizona in Tucson. They offer a Master’s in Teaching French as a Foreign Language, which is exactly what I’m looking for before I decide if I want to do a PhD or not. They also offer classes in technology & the internet in language teaching which is obviously my specialty.

The application guidelines are pretty standard – letters of recommendation, transcripts, piece of writing in French, personal statement, GRE scores encouraged but not required (Yay!) – but they also require a recording of some passages in French and English. I haven’t seen many (ok, any) other universities that require this, but I think it’s a good idea since it is entirely possible to have perfect grammar and a good vocabulary, but a horrible accent.

“Il ne s’agit pas, dans mon esprit, d’une satire de la mentalité petite bourgeoise liée à telle ou telle société. Il s’agit, surtout, d’une sorte de petite bourgeoisie universelle, le petit bourgeois étant l’homme des idées reçues, des slogans, le conformisme de partout: ce conformisme, bien sûr, c’est son langage automatique qui le révèle. Le texte de La Cantatrice chauve ou du manuel pour apprendre l’anglais (ou le russe, ou le portugais), composé d’expressions toutes faites, des clichés les plus éculés, me révélait, par cela même, les automatismes du langage, du comportement des gens, le ‘parler pour ne rien dire’, le parler parce qu’il n’y a rien à dire de personnel, l’absence de vie intérieure, la mécanique du quotidien, l’homme baignant dans son milieu social, ne s’en distinguant plus. Les Smith, les Martin ne savent plus parler parce qu’ils ne savent plus penser, ils ne savent plus penser parce qu’ils ne savent plus s’émouvoir, n’ont plus de passions, ils ne savent plus être, ils peuvent ‘devenir’ n’importe qui, n’importe quoi, car, n’étant pas, ils ne sont que les autres, le monde de l’impersonnel, ils sont interchangeables: on peut mettre Martin à la place de Smith et vice versa, on ne s’en apercevra pas. Le personnage tragique ne change pas, il se brise; il est lui, il est réel. Les personnages comiques, ce sont les gens qui n’existent pas.”

(Eugène lonesco, Causerie, 1958)

And here’s the English:

“Come in,” she said. She pointed to a blue armchair with dark wooden feet carved like eagle claws. The room smelled like the white clay the people used for whitewash. It was cool. The curtain at the back of the room drifted in a cool steam of air from the window or behind it. The music came from behind the curtain too; the songs were soft and slow, without voices. Outside the thunder sounded like giant boulders cracking loose from high cliffs and crashing into narrow canyons. Sometimes the room shook, and the panes of glass in the window behind him rattled. He watched her read the note and wondered what she kept behind the curtains. He could feel something back there, something of her life which he could not explain.

(Leslie Marmon Silko, Ceremony)

Le Col de la Forclaz above Lake Annecy

By   February 28, 2009

David and I finally returned to the Col de la Forclaz to take photos of Lake Annecy from above. We last went up there in November 2006, shortly after we met. It’s where many hang-gliders begin their journey down the mountains, and there’s also a small ski station (mostly for children), some restaurants and souvenir shops.

Annecy is at the far end of the lake, on the right, a bit lost in the haze today.

The weather is rather mild this weekend (mid 50’s and sunny), but there’s still plenty of snow up there, of course.

Or about 3,796 feet for the Metric-impaired.

Un parapentiste.

Trois parapentistes.

We stopped at Châlet la Pricaz for a drink before heading home. They have a pretty good view of the lake from their terrasse, though our drinks certainly weren’t cheap (3,50 € for orange juice!) In 2007, the New York Times mentioned the Châlet in an article about finding the perfect tartiflette in France. I wasn’t hungry while we were up in the mountains, but now I’m really craving some tartiflette!

Price of Stamps Increases in France: March 2009

By   February 27, 2009

Starting March 2, 2009, the price to send a Prioritaire letter (up to 20 g) within France & the DOM-TOMs will be 56 centimes, a 1 centime increase from last year. The cheaper Ecopli price will be 51 centimes, also a 1 centime increase.

The price to send a letter within the European Union & Switzerland will be 70 centimes, a 5 centime increase from last year. [Apparently this also includes Liechtenstein, San Marino and the Vatican, which are not in the EU… But definitely not Norway, Iceland, or Andorra, which are also not in the EU.]

For the rest of the world, however, the price remains at 85 centimes.

La Poste’s website has pdf files you can download for all the new prices, for mail originating from France Métropolitaine and the DOM-TOMs.

International Mother Language Day – February 21, 2009

By   February 21, 2009

The International Mother Language Day has been observed yearly since February 2000 to promote linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism. Yesterday at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris, the 3rd edition of the Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger was presented in an online edition and is available free of charge worldwide. It contains information on 2,500 human languages throughout the world that are in danger of becoming extinct. The atlas aims to answer the questions: Why do languages disappear? Which parts of the world are most affected? What can be done to save them?

The film, The Linguists, was also shown yesterday. It’s about two linguists, K. David Harrison and Gregory Anderson, and their attempt to record and document dying languages before it’s too late. They are both directors of the Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages and Harrison also wrote a book called When Languages Die: The Extinction of the World’s Languages and the Erosion of Human Knowledge that I thought was really interesting. It made me feel incredibly sad for the last speakers of languages. Can you imagine how lonely it must feel to know that NO ONE else in the entire world of 6.2 billion people speaks your native language anymore??

And as the title implies, the book is much more than just which languages are dying. It’s about the human knowledge that we are losing with each extinct language. Cultures view the world differently and it’s expressed in their language, from classifying animals and creating calendars to drawing maps and simply counting. Not all human languages use a base 10 system. The French soixante-dix, quatre-vingts, and quatre-vingt-dix, although cumbersome, are much simpler than numbers expressed in languages that use base 6 or body-counting, for example. But if we had never known about these languages and their different ways of thinking, we would never know the limits and potential of human cognition.

Finally, UNESCO also offers a free map of the World’s Languages in Danger (PDF format – 20 MB). France alone includes about a dozen languages that are considered “definitely” and “severely” endangered, such as Breton, Norman, Picard, Lorrain, Burgundian, Auvergnat, Languedocian, Provençal, etc. However, the majority of endangered languages in the world (the “hotspots”) are concentrated in the Pacific Northwest, the American Southwest, central South America, eastern Siberia, and northern Australia.

“Language is the most massive and inclusive art we know, a mountainous and unconscious work of anonymous generations.” – Edward Sapir, Language (1921)