Thursday, February 10, 2011

migratory times

Delicious graphemes has migrated to tumblr! This is mainly because more people I know use it than blogger. I personally find the comment structure slightly odd but let's try this for a while at least.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

hey check out my lungs

Well, after three months of waiting - the French government isn't particularly punctual or informative, preferring to wait a few months and mail me a letter than to respond to my emails - I am at last an official resident! And I didn't even have to buy an expensive envelope or drive for several hours on multiple days, which is more than can be said for the visa process. In fact, it was relatively easy and only took something like an hour and a half. Plus I was afraid of metro issues making me late, so I left early and ended up going in before my appointment was even scheduled. No one yelled at me or told me to leave because I was unprepared. That is not to say, of course, that it wasn't a weird experience on several levels, but I've gotten used to the fact that everything that is going to happen to me for the next several months is going to be slightly incomprehensible.

The thing about being an English speaker in France is that everyone knows a little bit of English, and when they recognize your accent they default to whatever English words they know, even if there are about five of them. This is particularly difficult when you have been speaking almost exclusively in French for a long time and suddenly a doctor is giving you a really intense look and saying, "Your teeth. Are they good?" and "Do you have pregnancy?" The woman who gave me my vision test used a mixture of comprehensible French and disjointed, single-word English, switching back and forth between them so that every thing she said caught me off guard and I'm pretty sure I looked like I didn't actually speak any language.


"Uh, what?"

"Pregnancy! Do you have pregnancy?"

"Do... I..."

"Are. You! Pregnant!"

"Oh! Oh, no. Definitely not."

I then stood half-naked in a room for a while, pushed against a big plastic box so they could x-ray my lungs. I'm not sure why they're particularly preoccupied with the lungs of their immigrants, but this part was actually kind of interesting. I've never been x-rayed anywhere but my mouth, and that's just kind of, you know, "Yeah, those teeth pretty much look the way they do when I look at them in my face." Lungs are much more interesting!

"Do you have asthma?"

"Yes, how did you know that?"

"Your ribs are shaped weirdly, see, how they're horizontal like that. That tends to happen to people with asthma."

I have never even heard of this. How does that work, the lungs and the skeleton are two completely different systems. But they do look funny! I have horizontal ribs! Is that not the coolest thing that you have ever heard?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

very professional correspondence

Mr. Jalabert,

I wanted to tell you it's possible that I can not come in tomorrow - like Simone, I gotta go get my residence card. I do not know how long it will take, but if it's very long I'm not going to come. Thank you for your understanding.

I also have questions about the writing assignment that you submitted for foreign students. I spoke to my manager and she said there is no need for me to do, but if I decide to do to have more opportunity to improve my score, do you explain some details of duty, as possible topics and how many pages you want to write?

Sometimes (often) when I write emails in French, I use Google Translate to make sure I'm actually saying what I intend to. While this generally reassures my confidence in my own language skills, it also frequently makes me question the skills of the people who are responsible for these translations.

Friday, December 10, 2010

useless questions for Philippe, translated

"Philippe, how do you say 'raccoon' in French?"


"They're animals. I don't know if they only exist in the US or what. They have... Wait, how do you say 'tail'?"


[vague pantomime]

"Oh! Queue!"

"Right. They're animals with a long tail, shaped sort of like this, with lines on it."

"Les ratons-laveurs? They smell bad, and they wash their food before they eat it?"

"Uh, maybe. They have hands, like people. And they look like they're wearing masks."

"Yes! Ratons-laveurs. You know, because they're like rats, but they wash their food. We have them in Europe, mostly in Germany I think. Only in places where there's a lot of water."

"Oh. You see them everywhere in the US. They get into people's trash cans and stuff... Actually, I forget why I asked this question in the first place."

There you have it, America. In France, raccoons are called "little washer-rats."

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

I saw Harry Potter

Here are some thoughts about it. (spoilers, probably, but just a little)

1. Best part = short animated story sequence. You probably knew I was going to say that, because of how I am such a nerd for clever animation. But seriously:

2. I don't know how they let that suspenseful waiting-for-a-snake-to-leap-at-you scene go on for SO LONG and still somehow managed to scare everybody when it happened. I actually started to get really frustrated, like, come on, guys, I know that snake is going to jump out, this is starting to get ridiculous, any more and it's going to ruin the suspAAAUGHHH! I think I looked like I was having some kind of a seizure when that happened.

3. Sometime since the last movie Dobby went right into the uncanny valley. And this is me saying this, me with my robot fascination and tendency to stare blankly into space. My uncanny valley is very small, but apparently there is room for Dobby. I think they must have subtly adjusted his proportions. Compare:

It's always the mouth that turns it unsettling for me. Like those robotic heads that move around, but as soon as they start talking they just look like they're gnawing on something. The person who finally figures out how to do a CGI character whose mouth seals properly when they close it will either be my hero or take things to a whole new level of subtle creepiness.

Monday, November 29, 2010

it's a cornucopia of love

Well I hope all of you had a good Thanksgiving/food day/rare opportunity to use the word "pilgrims." This was my first EVER Thanksgiving not spent somewhere within a mile of my parents' house, so that was kind of weird, but we made up for it with a Smith-sponsored foodstravaganza.

I was originally going to make "Grandaddy Rolls," aka my grandfather's recipe which has appeared at every family gathering at for at least as long as I have been alive, but in an odd turn of events I ended up with a host family who doesn't have an oven. While I personally would argue that this is impossible, I have seen the evidence, and I guess that's one of the differences between French and American cooking - it is apparently possible here to go your whole life without ever needing to bake or roast anything. Huh.

This posed a bit of a problem for me, as my main area of food expertise is bread products, and the rest of my diet could essentially be made over a campfire in the wilderness or picked directly off of plants. But you can't come to a dinner and be like, "I have PLUMS!" No, I needed civilized food. With a recipe.

So, as anyone would do in such a time of need, I turned to The Internest.

My starting point was this: peppers, onions, chick peas, various spices, and... an oven. So not exactly a possible choice. But I am all for adaptation, so I set out to turn this into something I could work with.

First, I left out the chick peas, because there was definitely going to be enough protein in everyone's lives at this point (side note: just before the dinner started, three people were required to carry the turkey across the Boulevard Montparnasse). I decided it would be possible to just do it in a large pan on the stove. And I wanted there to be carrots in it, because, I don't know, it's Thanksgiving, and you need carrots. At this point I ran into problems because I have no idea how to convert from standard to metric measurements, so when I asked Lorraine for advice and was told to buy a kilo of carrots, this wasn't exactly as informative as she intended.

"That sounds like a lot of carrots," I said.

"Well, the carrots are the most important part of the recipe, aren't they?"

"Not really. The carrots aren't actually in the recipe. I just added them."

I get the idea she is the kind of person who follows the recipe religiously. I am not. I proceeded to measure all the spices with my fingers.

In the end it turned out fine. I ate the rest of it for lunch yesterday.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

a confession

I have no idea what Benoit Mandelbrot looked like...

actually this looks a lot like a history teacher I had in high school.
...but even if I go look up a picture of him, which I will probably do after posting this, I will never be able to imagine him as anything other than a rotund bald man with stubby arms and a smaller version of himself sitting on his head.