JBAF: September 2007

September 1 & 2, 2007

Our first paid group field trip was today. Location: Marseille. I wasn’t listening on the bus ride there because the lady’s French accent was giving me a headache and I couldn’t take it. Basically, she told us Marseille is really old with a rich history and background. We took many a picture and the sights were absolutely beautiful. We drove all the way up to Notre Dame de la Garde to what I guess was a legendary church. It was beautiful and huge, all right; but as far as the inside went, you’ve seen one you’ve seen them all. I stuck to taking pictures of the city since we were so high up. That’s when my camera battery began dying and I had to preserve with care the rest of the pictures I wanted to take.

We drove around the city more and saw some other things, and then they dumped us off to roam free. It is a much bigger city than Aix; it reminded me a lot of downtown L.A. She told us there were one million people living there; crazy. One definitely couldn’t walk around the whole city in two hours, like Aix.  From there it was pretty uneventful. Me and Aaron walked around, went to the mall, looked at the weights in the sports store, and wasted time. I ended up buying a really neat tobacco pipe from a tobacco store that I believe is a great souvenir. We went to a bar and I had a Perrier and he had a Desperado.

Then we went back to the bus and came home. Voila. I bought some computer speakers and some groceries. Then I had a very interesting night.

After hanging out in our apartment till about eleven thirty or so, twelve of us or so decided to go to a pub/bar (O’Neals) to go dancing. Not my thing but whatever, we’re in Europe. I called Fodé (that’s how you spell his name I guess) and we met up with him first. I spoke more French than normal when I hang out with him, and he explained a few direct object questions I was having. He’s a funny guy and it’ll be interesting to see how good his English gets if he hangs out with us a lot this year.

We had a good time even though we didn’t meet any French people, but we knew all the 80s songs they were playing at least… From there we decided to –hit up- the other club across town, but only six of us decided to do that. They wouldn’t let us in because it was “too full.” They then proceeded to let in around 10 people on the other side of us, and for the life of us we couldn’t understand what he was saying to us in French when we inquired. It felt like Night at the Roxbury or something, it was pretty comical.

We walked around for a bit then returned to this second club, called Skat (it’s officially a jazz club, but everytime we are there, jazz is not being played), where the other guard pointed at me personally and told me to come in, but once I said I was with the four girls and other guy, they said no. Really confusing.

At that time, we saw our friend Simona and her boyfriend visiting here from his work in the Middle East.  She invited us over, so we followed and hung out there for a while. Approaching 4am, our host said she was going to bed but we were welcome to crash on her couch. I didn’t really want to, so me and her boyfriend went to the 24 hour bakery (pizza & cookies) and talked about his job and the people where he lives (I totally forget the name of the city or where it is). It sounds like he has a very interesting career going for him.

Coming up on 5am or so, I walked with him back to his place and we parted ways, and I headed to mine; when I realized that I still don’t have a key. I had realized this earlier but there were a few reasons I didn’t want to stay on Simona’s couch, so I figured I would work something out. I buzzed my room but no one responded, so I headed back to Skat. It was still jumping, but the guard still said it was too full even just for me. It must be No American night or something, I decided.

Normally at that point I would have been a little worried, but in all honesty the town would be getting up in about thirty minutes anyway, and there’s nothing wrong with a little alone time. I meandered through the town, perusing the little bunches of people still out and about. I found a bench on one of the main streets and just sat there, watching the garbage men empty the public trash cans and some types of government workers hosing down the sidewalks, joking around with some of the couples walking along by spraying them with water.

I sat there for a good half hour, forty-five minutes when my eyelids began to get heavy, so I got up and began walking, for fear of falling asleep on a park bench. I enjoy my sense of being essentially alone in another country, but the whole “sleep on a park bench” thing is still a little… foreign.

I meandered along Cours Mirabeau, the main street, and was going to head back to my apartment again when I noticed two of the employees that work here at ProGamers. “Oi! American man!” came his voice. I smiled and greeted them and they asked me what I was doing. I responded: I walk. Pourquoi? Because I don’t have a key to my apartment. One of the guys’ English was much better than my French, so it was somewhat interesting communication since he still wasn’t that good at it. He said he’s going to LA next year and wanted to know what he could do there.

They introduced me to some of their friends and then told me they’d walk with me to my place to see if I couldn’t get in. We had a good time, doing our best to make jokes in the others’ language, and they told me about Aix a little more. We finally arrived and my roommate Omar answered the door. It was around 7am. I slept till 9:30, then couldn’t sleep anymore and now it’s 6pm and still haven’t slept. I don’t know how I’m still going.

September 3, 2007

First day of the Preparatory Language Program today, finally. I have been very excited the last few weeks to finally get a routine going and start doing what I came here to do. It’s odd how you can see what our teachers back home taught us; we all tested in the same level grammatically (level 2/4), yet some kids in there speak like fluently. So it would seem I know as much as them, but they can speak it better. Anyway, class was amazing: my mind was ready to just crash out after four straight hours of focusing nonstop and conjugating and comprehending and speaking and understanding and questioning. I met some Japanese and Chinese folk and it’s cool because our only medium of communication is French (even though they speak a little English- they wanted to speak it with us). This will be a good thing.

After class and after grocery shopping and wasting time, I headed over to the dorms to turn in my keys (we stayed in the dorms the first two weeks, if you’ll recall) and I ran into Fodé. We ended up talking for over an hour; him in English, me in French. He was very impressed at my progress and him and his friend could understand me perfectly, despite my heavy accent they said I have (and I don’t doubt it).

Fodé’s definitely going to be a good friend of mine this year. It’s amazing how we both know so little of eachother’s language yet we can communicate and I am finally starting to see how smart and insightful he is. Another CSU girl, Jenae, today told me that Fodé had begun to creep her out because he called her 3x in two days; I understood how that could come off wrong and I’d be a little annoyed as well, but as he told me in his room today, two of the times he called to ask about my wherabouts since he had no other way of getting ahold of me, but before he could explain his intentions she said she was busy and said goodbye. She had explained to me how she did the same exact thing, just with a different attitude. Anyway, he told me today that he will not call anymore and he does not think that was very polite. Basically, summing it all up, he said some of us Americans are very cool and nice but some of us are not (like her, I guess he implied). We are very interesting.

He said he likes me though and knows I am good man (no typo there) because I smile a lot and try to speak French. He says me and German are the only ones that will be proficient at French by the end of our time here because we actually make an effort to speak French. The other Americans only hang out with Americans (as does German but he’s just really good at French) and don’t seem to be making an effort. It’s crazy how he took the words right out of where they would be in my mouth if I knew he was going to say something like that. The way he had to phrase it since he doesn’t know much English astounded me: something along the lines of “why would you come to France to learn French if you are just going to still be in America!” Again as I said, he has a great sense of humor.

Anyway, we made plans for later this week and when I went outside to turn in my keys, I saw the French professor from the Congo that I met in the kitchen last week. We talked (I’m 150% better at comprehending and even speaking since I met him last, he inferred the same thing) a little and he told me again how it is his dream to become good at English now. He is here in Aix getting his PhD in French grammar so he knows his stuff. I invited him to dinner tomorrow or Wednesday night with a few of us (the ones I can stand). I told him we would speak lots of English and he could communicate to us in English when he could, French the rest of the time. I told him I may invite Fodé as well because this is Fodé’s goal as well.

I have both their numbers now (but no phone!) and I am actually considering getting that prepaid phone but only giving the number to anyone NOT American; meaning my Asian friends in class, Fodé and Edduard (the teacher), and anyone else I meet; I guess maybe my two or three good American friends too. This way I don’t have to deal with hanging out with the people I don’t benefit from nor feel like I am enjoying my time with (often).

September 6, 2007

Class is very good. It’s four hours straight with two fifteen minute breaks. It’s nonstop French except for when us Americans slack off and ask eachother for help. We do a lot of writing, a lot of answering questions, and a lot of reading. Our teacher is helping us a lot with our pronunciation (deux, du, de… this language isn’t made up of words, it’s made up of grunts and groans) and grammar as we read and tell her about our days each morning.

The conversation class, which is two hours every Wednesday, is also very fun. Our professor made fun of French Canadians and even how us English speakers talk. It was nonstop listening to him talk and asking us on-the-spot questions. Some of us have been studying French much longer so their comphrension skills are quite above mine, but I seem to be on the level with composing thoughts and sentences and such. I can already see the improvement I’ve made in not even five classes yet; it’s wonderful to think of where I’ll be in just another week, and then a week after that, a week after that, and so forth.

Today I bought a cellphone. I gave in, yes. I decided to forget getting and paying for the internet/a fixed phone in the apartment because I like a lifestyle sans the Internet. It’s a lot different and to use the Internet you actually appreciate what you’re on to do and you don’t waste much time. There are hotspots all over town and all of the Californians will be getting Internet installed anyway, so why bother? Regarding the cellphone: I get free incoming calls from anywhere, so anyone is welcome to call me… Just realize I’m nine or ten hours ahead of the States. My number is (+33) 06.42.07.21.28. This will make things simpler to talk to everyone and I won’t have to worry about the phone I wouldn’t be getting for another few weeks anyhow. Just know that I probably won’t be calling you back if I miss your call (very expensive), so I won’t find it rude if you keep calling over and over when I don’t pick up. I’ll only be giving my number to a handful of Americans here and the rest to French speakers I meet that will help what I’m trying to accomplish here.

Had some problems with the bank account I got… A 74€charge for the insurance that was supposed to be 1€/year for students. I went in there, and between the babe who works there’s bad English, me and my friend Travis’s poor French, a lot of laughing, and a lot of people looking over at us, she finally got across to me that it’s a “we charge you then reimburse you the next day” type of required procedure. I told her, somehow, I didn’t have that much in my account so she put in 100€… I hope she keeps it in there.

Anyway, that’s all that’s really going on over here. Starting back on the diet and lifting routine come Monday… We bought two 10kg dumbbells, a pull-up bar that we can’t use, a sit-up bar that goes under the door, and I have a pretty sturdy coffee table that will require us to work out one side at a time should we choose to use it as a bench. Back to no carbs at all, which will be sad since bread is so cheap, but eggs and beef shouldn’t be too hard to handle. After a few weeks I might add in wine just because I’m in French. Red wine, of course. I plan on making a solitary trip either up North to somewhere around Normandy (I have a friend staying up there) or somewhere chosen completely randomly the day of at the train station. This will happen at the end of this month most like. Hopefully it will be cheap. Things are adding up; this is the first time I’ve had to budget my money all by myself. I’m tallying every euro I spend this week and next and based off of next week’s totals I’ll have a good idea of the money I’ll have for travel or entertainment purposes.

September 13, 2007

Another blog post! Sorry for the wait, but I wanted to wait until I had something useful to write about, and as soon as I did I had to catch up from a two hour night’s sleep.  I’m happy to say, however, that this blog will include my first once-in-a-lifetime experience that I… experienced. Not life changing, mind you, which I’ve probably had a lot of thus far.

School has been great, however, and my teacher tells me I’m doing exceedingly well. I’m beginning to think I’m a level behind where I should be, because I still haven’t truly learned anything new, just nailed in the old stuff- which is fine, but I’d like to be learning and moving on after almost two weeks of a four week class. I decided to take matters into my own hand and am teaching myself (with the help of the kids with more French experience than me) all the common grammar tenses that I’ve not only noticed I have needed in casual conversation, but also I’m sure will help me rank into a higher class for the actual school year. My teacher told me today I’d easily get into 3b, if not higher. Classes will go 1-5, a-h for each. For someone who has only studied French since February, I’m pretty proud of myself. It’s a fantastic feeling finding what you think you want to study, finally.

On to my progress with learning French… It’s been a very encouraging week. I had a few downer days over the weekend, but suddenly between Monday and Tuesday everything clicked. All of the sudden I understand everything my teachers say (the basic meaning, at least) and translation is not entirely needed for something to be learned by my brain. I need to think before I speak, still, which I think is pretty standard; but I feel as if I’ve made a big leap being able to understand, finally. Friday, Sunday and Monday night I went to the ProGamers Internet Café and hung out with the guys who worked there for at least 2 hours per night. They help me when I mess up and sit through the time it takes for me to spit out a simple sentence. One of the guys, Phillippe just said to let my mind talk and they will correct me, but I can’t do that often. It’s really cool being able to get to know these guys with little to no English needed. Two of them called me to hang out the other night, which is a great feeling saying I’ve succeeded in making French friends, but unfortunately I was out of town so I couldn’t get together… Which leads me to why I was out of town.

I’m not sure if I mentioned this a few weeks ago, but some guy from the American Institute here (not my school) asked us to volunteer for this gameshow called Intercities that a few European countries watch, but not the USA. We said sure, why not, and about twenty of us signed up. Tuesday came, and only three of us showed up. So it was left to the three guys out of twelve people (we were supposed to have twenty) to play the games where men were the only ones who could do it. Search for Intervilles or Intercities on YouTube and you’ll see kind of what this show is. Teams and contestants compete in wacky events, some being somewhat dangerous. The show was in Nice, which I hear is beautiful but we didn’t get a chance to check it out.

We get there, and there are three other teams: China, Russia, and none other than Kazhakstan! Yes, it really is a country, and each team really was from that country. I guess this is a big show elsewhere. There is one announcer/reporter for each language and a set of cameras for each language the show must be broadcasting for. They have four or five French BODYBUILDERS join our team and act as Americans since we don’t have enough people. Cool.

I tried starting conversations with them, and they got to practice their English. Our advisor/security guard also spoke some English but I got to speak French, so that was even better. We ate some sandwiches (I knew I’d need energy for the events ahead of us, that’s the ONLY reason I ate carbs, I didn’t even want them). Anyway, then they had us sign up for events with descriptions for each event.

The first event was something like “Roman Rowing.” One member of each team had a foam row behind a boat, and there job was to try to knock over the contestants (not their own, obviously) walking over a wet, soap soaked plank over a pool of water while trying not to let their two buckets of water spill- the more water they got into the tub on the other side, the more points their team got. Too bad only one contestant out of about 16 ever made it over. It got violent, and some people were hitting the plank face-first before tumbling into the pool of water. It was quite comical and I can see where this show is going- somewhat like that show called like “Extreme Sports Challenge” on SpikeTV where they take an old Japanese gameshow like this and dub over it in English.

I was signed up for the next event: Mice’s Banquet. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity, which is why I signed up for it. Me and a French guy were the two American contestants, and each team had two. Everyone was dressed like a mouse (yes, a mouse) and we all had knee, elbow, and back pads. The goal was to jump in the sandpit, run through a tunnel, which was like one of those big gray construction pipe things, go into a big piece of cheese in the center of the ring and while inside, grab a little piece of cheese, run out through the other tunnel in the ring, and exit the ring. We had I believe 5 minutes to get as much cheese for our team as possible. But here was the fun part: there was a “vachette” let loose in the ring while we had to get our cheese (my adrenaline is rushing just typing this). A vachette, for you non-French speakers, is a baby bull. Except this either wasn’t a baby or baby bulls are basically as big as real bulls. This thing was a very healthy sized bull. The only safe thing about being in a ring with it was the plastic caps they put over the horns. Right. So this things huge and bucking and pawing the sand and the first two run in- I was second because our Australian announcer had to borrow my mouse head. They are safe in this round- the only thing that happened was the bull didn’t know the big thing of cheese in the middle was a solid piece of wood, and while a Chinese dude was inside it he almost knocked it over. I run in, blood rushing, and get to the piece of cheese without the bull noticing. Then I run out and he sees me, and I run around the ring since he had the shortest possible distance to the exit of the ring. He knicks my leg but soon the other Chinese guy was seen and I got out safely. The next time wasn’t as great, however. He saw me running through the first tunnel and got my leg as I got into the cheese. I hid in the cheese for a while, and it could smell my fear. I see it run the other way after the Chinese guy so I make a break for it, but he must have been tricking me because he came out of nowhere and knocked me on my ass. It proceeds to trample me and carry me a few feet and try to headbutt me into the ground. What felt like 10 minutes was only about 5 seconds because that’s when the security guys, who had promised they would distract the bull should it get too close to us, decided to do their job and hit the bull so it would get distracted. Thanks, French guys. I run out, out of breath, and as it appears I didn’t go through the second tunnel! so it didn’t count. The Chinese camera crew films me and my broken mouse helmet/mask/whatever, and I notice blood on the mask. I check my mouth, my head, my hands, I don’t see anything, so I figure it must be the bulls. I sit there panting and I finally see the French guy come out, so I run back in. Hopefully this will be the last time, I think. It sees me right off, dammit. That’s when the mouse mask starts to bother me, since it’s broken, so I take it off as I run. The vachette (feminine, by the way- aren’t bulls male cows?) knicks my leg as I dive into the tunnel and it tries to get in but can’t. Someone distracted it and I made my way into the cheese. I grabbed a mini-cheese and as I begin to run out the bull sees me. Damn! I hide inside, gathering my wits, when I have a brilliant idea. I peer out and it’s pawing the sand, looking right in my direction. I see the Chinese dude run out behind me, so I realize it must have it out for me since I had it’s blood and my mouse mask. I throw my brilliant idea into action and with the mouse mask in one hand, I shake it out one of the exits of the cheese for a few seconds, then make a break for it the opposite door. My diversion clearly did not work, because the bull then runs at me in the other direction and knocks into my knees as I run, and I eventually fall. Luckily the distraction men did their jobs and I made it out safely before it could trample me into the ground. I jumped on the ramp out and got the hell out of dodge.

Whoo. Event over, the reporter and camera comes and talks to us, panting, and we explain how America always takes the lead, stands for freedom, and no one will take that from us, not even a bull (they didn’t know they’d also get a verbal show from me when they recruited me). The administrator lady asked me if I was okay, and I said I was fine… We deduced that it was bull blood, not man. I did notice, however, that my knee really hurt and it felt a LOT like after a football game! It was fantastic, really. We didn’t beat China, however we scored a good amount of points. That was quite an experience and I’m happy to say that I have gotten my ass kicked by a bull.

The next event was some rugby game, Rugby Elastique, that I ended up doing the second game (there were two games being filmed, episodes one and seven) where two guys launch a girl on bungee cords up into the air with a rugby, and she tosses the rugby to a guy dressed in a Tweedle Dee rugby costume with goofy shoes who is on a circular platform. The exterior half of the platform spun counter-clockwise, while the center of it spun clockwise, so momentum took it’s toll more often than not. From there, the rugby guy had to kick the rugby through some poles. Whatever.

The event after that was another vachette event, and let’s say I’m glad I didn’t do this one. This one included two members of every team playing at once- one in a trash can holding a hoop, and another who stood in front of the hoop. This player, whom I’ll call the bait, would try to bait the bull into charging him, and move out of the way just in time to get the bull to charge through the hoop. That would be one point. By the end of this event, the bull was taking the Chinese guy out of the trashcan with its horns and taking it all the way across the ring and slamming it into the ground. It was intense. The bull would also charge the trashcans and knock them over because he knew people were helpless inside. It was quite entertaining when it wasn’t me getting my ass kicked.

Next was the Ostrich Race. I competed in this in the first game but not the second. One dresses like an ostrich with a huge neck above your head, and has the pads on like usual. The guy says go, and we race on a bicycle to the sandpit, jump off, run to the circular spinning thing mentioned prior, and we have to grab a giant baby bottle (don’t ask me) hanging on a platform just out of reach above the spinning platform. Just typing this makes me realize how ridiculous this show is. A bunch of ostriches jumping, trying to grab a bottle, and once they land they get THROWN off the platform because it’s spinning twice as fast as earlier. I got the hang of it pretty fast and made it back with the bottle second out of fourth. Russia didn’t get it, and he was out. This game was process of elimination. China was out next, and it was just me and Kazakhstan. I knew the bike part wasn’t as important, so I left him make it on the platform first. As I ran to it, I put my plan into action. Right before he could jump, I jumped off the ramp onto the platform but I launched myself into him. He goes spinning and cannot gather myself as fast as me. I grab the bottle with the first jump and I sprint back and win it for America! I do some smack talking to the camera with the reporter and say some pretty cool stuff, getting our team pumped up as everyone chants America! America! and we see we are in second place before the final event.

The final event was insane. I did it the second game but I wished I hadn’t. Whoever wins this event wins the game. Kazakhstan won the first game, China the second. This is when we finally realize why there are bodybuilder gymnast type people in the back in all the tents. I will describe the event to the best I can. Basically, each player has a wooden pole. There is a wooden platform, at about a 45 degree incline, with little ruts every 4 or 5 inches on both sides of where the player will be, to place the pole. Basically, you have a 45 degree pull-up situation. But you don’t just do a pull-up, you pull-up and then jump (without your feet or you’re disqualified) with the pole to raise it to the next set of ruts. You have about 25 ruts to conquer. Our first contestant started at rut 16 as second place, and then the two contestants after that start from the bottom. When I went, I was second. Basically, let’s put it this way: I made it to the 24th rut, out of 25, and lost grip of the pole and fell down the slide. And this was after all three other teams had finished. I started off great, using my lats and back and legs and moving up at a great speed, even everyone commented on my starting speed after, but about 2/3 through I was dead. These other guys were gymnasts who were used to this stuff, and I was not. I hit my chin twice, cutting my lip in the very beginning, but didn’t even finish. The whole time I was telling myself to finish but my body physically could not. Sad, but whatever.

Anyway, that was the gameshow. The problem was that the guy from the American Institute said it would be over by midnight and home by 2, 230 at the latest. Well, as it turns out, the first show didn’t end until 11:30 and we still had another one to go, so we didn’t even leave until 2:30. They claimed it was because it was the first shooting and the crew getting used to eachother, so whatever, so be it. I may or may not be doing it again once this weekend and once next Tuesday for the finale. It was fun and I got to meet some more Americans (hurray) but at least they are much better company than most of the Americans I’m with.

Well, I’m having trouble thinking of anything else to write about for now, because that’s all that really happened the last week. I wish I had pictures of the event but no one was allowed out on the set during the events that weren’t theirs. I will get a copy of the DVD in a few weeks and I’ll be sure to put it on YouTube, however. That’s all for now!

September 28, 2007

I went to the movie theater yesterday. We decided it'd be more beneficial to see a French film rather than an American film with French subtitles because it'd force us to try to figure out what's going on more than pretending we're translating in our heads as we read the subtitles. After ten minutes my mind was completely blown from trying to understand their words and I zoned out for about twenty minutes.

At that point I tried just letting the conversations absorb into the sponge that is my mind and try to comprehend the meaning rather than the words, and it seemed to work. Instead of catching a word or phrase or two and having my mind translate it and missing the rest of the block of dialogue, my mind comprehended it to the best degree possible. My Uncle Nick gave me this bit of advice before I left, and I've always kept it in mind, but somehow I always have problems actually doing it. Whenever someone is talking to someone else in French, I seem to understand their conversation, or basics of it. But when that person talks to me, I choke up trying to focus on what they are saying and I catch a word and translate it and I miss everything. I feel as if I need to stand back and listen and wait a second to understand before trying to respond, rather than standing their and going "duhh...." It's somewhat like football and muscle memory was. Thinking about the tackle before going up and making it, thinking what if he jukes left, what if he spins, what if he does that or this... Just makes you not use what your instincts already know to do and you mess it up.

Speaking of football, it's going pretty well. I love having a bench and deadlift and squat rack and pull-up and dip bar! I pretty much exhaust myself before practice and then we run for twenty minutes and do some conditioning. That's my favorite; after that it's BS individual practice for an hour and it's really lame. But we get pads next Tuesday, so this should get exciting. The only worry I have is regarding the cold. It's not in the center of town with buildings to shield the serious wind, so it's windy, cold, and dark.

I had to figure out a way to get a physical for football and I did not want to spend 50euros, so here's what I did: I realized that it was just a simple "this guy can move his legs and his heart isn't on it's last beats and he doesn't have a broken bone" physical, so I went to the same doctor that gave me a "physical" for that ridiculous gameshow Intervilles. Him and his secretary remembered me and my lousy French, and I asked him if he'd just sign it for me since he knew I was good. He said sure and I walked out of their not a euro-centime poorer.

It's always a good feeling here knowing I accomplished something or solved a problem in French. When I think of going to a post office or phone place in the states and being able to speak English to the employee to explain something, I think of how cheap that is! Here, I have to learn a new set of vocabulary, conjugate some verbs in my head, and get in there and let it out and hope somehow either I or the person that may have came with me understand the employee's response. Last weekend my apartment building threw a huge party and the cops ended up coming, so our CSU director was upset and worried about us because the landlord thought it was my apartment that threw the big part of the party and made the cops come. I went into the agency and in complete French I apologized for everyone, told her there was a misunderstanding and someone actually left the building door open and strangers were coming in and starting fights (which was true) and blah blah it won't happen again. Everything was settled and I felt great after; especially because she annunciates and I understand her when she talks.

Anyway, that's what's been going on with me. Been struggling with my comprehension. Went and played poker with some French buddies the other night and I would have won if I hadn't lost my attention span, as usual. French kids my age speak at a very rapid, slangy pace and I understand very little (je ne sais pas becomes shaepa [this means I don't know, pronounce it phonetically]), but hopefully my mind gets something out of it. I got a easy version of "Le Compte de Monte-Cristo" with a cassette along with it and have been reading some of that as well.

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