I’m at this annoying learning juncture where beginner is too easy and supposed intermediate is too hard. When I read subtitles when I’m watching a film I can hear the words and recognise them, though take the subtitles away and I’m lost. Being able to comprehend at some elementary level doesn’t feel like it’s that far off, but in the meantime it’s frustrating. For instance, I could go and watch a French movie in London because it’s subtitled, but watching one in Paris would be a step too far as I’d struggle to keep up with what was going on (French films aren’t subtitled in English for some reason).
I’ve been trying to listen to some French podcasts specifically for English speaking students and they seem to go with the idea that speaking only in French is the way forward, but you surely need to be at a certain standard before you understand what’s going on. If you wanted to know what certain words were in Russian, you wouldn’t go to a Russian dictionary unless you knew Russian, right? So let’s say I’m picking out three words in ten; that’s okay for a sentence or two, but over 25 minutes I’m going to completely lose heart and drift off.
I’ve tried listening to hours of French radio and watched films and TV without subtitles, and while I made more progress when I started doing that, it just seemed time consuming and too unfocused a way of learning, and quite often I’d just end up fast asleep. And you probably know how frustrating it is to wake up in a pile of your own dribble at half past 9 in the evening. I guess the best way to be learning is to be out there and speaking it, though when do I actually do that? I’ve moved to Paris and I’m sat in every day typing in English. Let’s do the rest of this blog in French shall we?
Okay, let’s not. Watching French films is a good way to improve your French – or so I’m told – especially when those movies are as mesmerising as Jean-Luc Goddard’s ‘Breathless‘ (À bout de souffle in French). I’d seen a bit of this film when I lived with John and Maria, but then I had to go out for some reason. We actually have the poster hanging on our wall in Paris, vibrant with it’s yellows and reds and Jean Seberg alive and vivacious with that famous cropped haircut. It occurred to me that I should probably watch it if it’s hanging on the wall, and so I went on a little search and voila! The internet is fantastic isn’t it? Maybe I should just spend the rest of my time on earth sitting around smoking and watching nouvelle vague movies in a Breton top and beret. I gave up smoking but I could take it up again, especially if that’s all I’m going to do for the rest of my life.
The cheerful man at the BFI mentioned that Jean Seberg had killed herself. “Not at the end of the film”, he said, correcting himself cheerily. She was in Paint Your Wagon as well. “Lee Marvin?” I said, in an attempt to prove I know a thing or two about film. “Yes, and Clint Eastwood”, he smiled.
The manner of Seberg’s death was really quite disturbing in fact, and far too grim to relay on a beautiful day like today, but you can go and find out about it on the internet for yourself if you like. Let’s just say it involves the FBI, child death, the Black Panthers (indirectly) and even J Edgar Hoover and Richard Nixon. Poor Jean, who died in 1979, is buried in the Cimetière du Montparnasse which I have visited on occasion to lay a cabbage on Serge Gainsbourg’s tomb (I’ve never taken a cabbage really).
Another thing I found out yesterday which you may already know is that the Sacre Coeur was built to “atone for the sins” of the Communards. How sickening is that? I knew I never liked that church. There’s a Communards’ Wall in Père Lachaise – just around the corner from me in fact – dedicated to the 147 fédérés who were shot and thrown into a trench in the cemetery. Listen up kids, Parisienne graveyards, they’re not just about Jim Morrison you know.