By RJ Furth
With four days down and one to go, I can proudly report that I’m speaking French. Not fluently and not without errors, but I’m hearing people better and I’m able to speak on a broad range of subjects without embarrassing myself too often. Wednesday’s lesson was a bit rough as the cafe was busy and Madame Florence seemed to be talking more softly, possibly not to bother the people at the nearby tables. After many decades of listening and playing amplified music, my hearing is not great, which makes communicating difficult in any language. (I struggle with the many English dialects, as do many, so it’s not just a French problem.) Today, however, was a great success. Rather than a cafe, we met at the entrance to Pere Lachaise Cemetery. (The list of those buried there is awesome: the great artist Delacroix, Edith Piaf, Jim Morrison, Moliere, Oscar Wilde and many more.) For two hours we walked the 20th arrondissement, an area of Paris that I’ve never visited. During that time we discussed the wearing of headscarves by Muslim women in France, the deportation of the Jews from Paris during WWII, the legalization of pot in Colorado and the American gun culture, the problem of slum housing and crime, traveling in Thailand and Cambodia, favorite food and a myriad of other topics. All in French. I know that my skills are very limited still. Florence was patient, corrected me as necessary and talked slow enough for a five-year-old to understand. However, I’ve gotten over my nerves and am no longer intimidated by my limitations. Yesterday I finished my lunch and told the waitress (in French), “I am finished.” When she smiled I knew I had erred, so I asked her to explain the correct term. “I am finished” means I am dead. The correct phrase is, “I have finished.” In the past I would have been so flustered that I would have melted. This time we both laughed and I learned something.
Our final lesson is tomorrow morning and we will once again walk and talk for two hours. As today, Florence will introduce me to a part of Paris that I’ve never visited before. Besides the usual arrondissements that all tourists visit (1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th) I walked the 13th, 14th and 20th. Tomorrow we’ll explore the 12th. Having visited a few others over the years, I feel like I’m getting to know the city. By the way, regarding my last post and the problem of dog shit, Florence told me that the problem varies by quarter, and I found this to be true, though I have no idea why and neither does she. Some streets are spotless, others filthy. One issue does seem to plague all of the areas I’ve been to during this trip: Paris abounds with the homeless. On nearly every major street and intersection, down many metros, hundreds of people (male and female) beg and shiver from the cold. It’s a depressing sight and I wonder what is being done about it. Unlike in many cities, I have yet to see a single homeless shelter, although they may exist. I know the French words for unemployed and homeless and poor, but I don’t know how to solve any of those problems.

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The government of Paris is doing a great job of trying to alleviate traffic. In the above photos you see Velib, the free bike service, and Autolib, free electric cars that can be borrowed for a few hours at a time. Both reduce the need for Parisians to own cars.

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