Thursday, September 17, 2009

Wide Awake

It's about one o'clock in the morning and as per usual I'm wide awake. The body is not getting the message that day is night and night is day. I am doing better, though. I didn't feel like passing out this afternoon.

I took my first French class today. It was, well, I don't know… I'm really in between the beginning class, which is pointed at people with no French and the intermediate class, which is sort of over my head. I'm not sure. A number of people have told me to go for the challenge, and I might. My biggest concern is that I won't be able to learn. They're calling this "survival" French. They're trying to give us the tools to communicate out there in the world, which is what I need. But, for reasons I don't completely understand, I would like to advance beyond survival. I understood about fifty percent of what was said today and was able to answer a number of questions correctly and outloud, you know, volunteer information to the class. I was impressed every time I understood anything and I left the class speaking French. Even after I got home, I found myself muttering to myself in French, practicing things out loud. I imagine that would happen in the other class too. I heard the teacher there spoke entirely in French as well.

My French has definitely improved since arriving. It's not really that I've learned anything new, it's more that I've started to be able to remember and use more of what I already know. I studied French in high school all those years ago, and then in January started studying it again, driving to Santa Rosa to take a class. That's how I ended up here with Santa Rosa Community College, from that one French class. I also studied all summer with a tutor, twice a week for much of the time, one-on-one over Skype.

It's all about "school" right now. Perpetual student that I am, I'm taking two art history courses, a French class, and a class in French Culture and History. The culture class is bringing in speakers and providing field trips. I have field trips coming out my ears, but they're all interesting. Next week, for example, I'll be in the Louvre three times to study Neoclassical and Romantic art for the art history classes. Actually one starts with the Renaissance, the other with Neoclassicism. In the French culture class, I'll hear a lecture on the history of Paris next week and take a walking tour of Revolutionary France. That's the way it's going to be this fall: kind of a crash course in all things French.

I'm also doing an independent study specifically focused on my book with my art history professor, who is a PhD candidate at CUNY and who graduated from UCB in Comparative Literature (French and English). I'm writing up a paper for her on the influence of Romanticism in early 19th century Paris and keeping a journal of all my physical research, reporting on all the sites I visit, etc.  Amy (my professor) has already provided an interesting tidbit of about Hugo. She gave me the name of a poem that every French school child memorizes. It's about death, about Hugo going to his father's funeral, and was probably already written when Hernani opened. Hernani opens my book. It's a piece of theater that has many parallels with Hair in the 60s (including all the young "radicals" turning out in wild clothes and hair.) She also gave me the name of the German Romantic painter, Caspar Friedrich. He painted this painting that I always thought was of Shelley.

I'm not sure where all this is going, but clearly, Hugo is having an impact, and Notre Dame is part of that. I mentioned my intention to listen to The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and maybe even try to follow it along in French? Well, I asked about the Notre Dame of the early 19th century when we were there the other day, about the fact that I'd read it was in ruin when Hugo wrote his novel. The guide said, yes, though not total ruin. Napoleon had himself crowned emperor in Notre Dame in 1806. Isn't it curious how people like Louis XIV and Napoleon have started nosing around? It's like pulling a loose thread and discovering it's connected to everything else.  This is my favorite painting of Napoleon, by David.

No doubt this layer of detail is interesting only to me. If so, sorry. I have a very narrow focus at the moment. It's all Paris all the time. Imagine that! I'm only now beginning to understand what I've put in place for myself—and I'm pleased.  I'm living a very different life at the moment. I've walked, for example, more in the last three days than I would have believed possible, up and down stairs as well, dragging a suitcase, carrying groceries. Very different, and that's just the surface stuff. The academic stuff is something I haven't indulged in for about five years. I always love being in school. I did the same thing when I was working on Requiem, spent a summer at Oxford in 2004 in a literature program for teachers. This is another version of that, not as glamorous, but it certainly seems like it will prove as worthwhile.

Anyway, it's almost 3am now, and I've really got to see if I can't get myself back to sleeping this time of the night, instead of writing. One last thing: I'm going to try to get my camera going, if not tomorrow, then over the weekend when I have no classes and no place to go except where I take myslef.  I'm planning to visit the Museum of Romanticism that's here in my neighborhood. It was the home of a painter who held many salons that Chopin and George Sand attended, a setting in the book for a performance by Tori.

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