Wednesday, August 12, 2009

French Interlude: Michael Jackson and Learning in English

I started typing out a blog for the Zurich part of our trip but decided to write some more on Paris and somethings I observed.

My professor once said that I am, like him, "an incorrigible bibliophile". Owing to my compressed schedule I could do no shopping in Paris nor could I really savor the city. I consoled myself with a visit to a "librairie" (you guessed it, its French for 'book store', isn't English a great language?) at Gare de Est while waiting for the train to Zurich.

I was really surprised to see Michael Jackson related books and CD's. My surprise was foremost about the fact that the supposedly artsy snotty French would partake in the commercial benefits of selling Michael Jackson memorabilia. Or maybe the French truly love the self-styled King of Pop. What we think of the French based on media filters maybe as much true as what they think of America thanks to "Le Monde". Also contrary to what I heard I was never snubbed for asking in English, probably my Indian skin does not elicit the same derision as a white American might elicit if he spoke in English.

The Blu-ray DVD section had almost exclusively Hollywood movies, in French though. Not sure of the quality of dubbing. Hollywood is pretty pervasive in Paris (I dare not say entire France, don't know about that). Seeing the cinema posters on walls I was reminded of Mount Road in Madras, never seen the likes of it in US.

By hindsight it is surprising there is no famous museum for the French Revolution. The Smithsonian museum of history in Washington DC does justice to the American revolution. South Carolina and Virginia have a smattering of museums dedicated to Civil War. Also given the failure of French revolution I do not understand why, in popular imagination, it is more revered than the American one. The latter yielded a true republic, flawed yes, but a republic nevertheless. Even the Bastille is not a popular stop on the hop-on hop-off tours. Coming to think of it the world knows about French revolution through Dickens, an English writer, than through Carlyle. Who can forget the beginning of 'A tale of 2 cities', "It was the best of times. It was the worst of times". I studied it in my 7th grade as non-detailed text.

I saw Robert Ludlum books, Malcolm Gladwell's latest bestseller etc in French. It would be pertinent to point out that French bestsellers translated in English sell at bookstores in US. Its this traffic of ideas that is important. This is what is absent for vernacular languages in India. For a Tamilian with no knowledge of English or any other languages is totally bereft of such reading and wallows in linguistic philistinism.

I was much more surprised by several ads by a company that wanted to teach English to the French in order to get "Wall street type jobs". Who would have thought that French would love to learn English? Well money talks.

The state of Paris underground trains, the pathetic state of an arterial terminus, the stark poverty in the outskirts, the palpable racial tension were all sad blemishes in a beautiful city. I never understood why train doors have to be manually opened at a station. Also I found most places to be unfriendly to seniors/disabled people. US is clearly a leader in friendliness to the physically challenged.

2 days of lightning tourism is no justification to form any considered opinion of a great city or a country's culture but we nevertheless form opinions and do comparisons.

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