Paris is not all avant-garde theater and haute couture, but it charms me nonetheless

Music, the junkie across the street, and the Cratylus.

“The truth about heroin.” Let me just point out (a) how cool it is that “heroïne” is spelt with a tréma (umlaut), and (b) that if you search Google Images for accro paris (junkie Paris), you would not believe how many pictures of Paris Hilton you find. Picture source:

It’s on evenings like this that I especially appreciate summertime in Paris.  The Euro 2016 is in full swing, and the streets of my neighborhood are full of little crowds of soccer fans wearing the jerseys of their team and chanting and singing in the language of whatever country they happen to be from.  Weaving in and out of them are women in cute dresses and impressive heels–not unusual here, but especially salient to me today due to their contrast with the junkie nodding off in a doorway across the street, who I would guess couldn’t tell you what she’s wearing or, indeed, what feet are for.

Fête de la musique. Photograph by Nicolas Vigier, en domaine public sur Flickr.

It’s also June 21st, the summer solstice and the day of the Fête de la musique, the annual festival that is marked by musical happenings large and small all over France.  Standing on my balcony (don’t get excited, it’s about the size of a phone booth and occasionally splattered with bird shit), I can hear a guy playing the guitar and singing in front of a set of speakers that are much, much bigger than his limited skills merit.  In other neighborhoods you might hear a local choir singing on a street corner, or a full brass section in a park, or whatever.  It’s totally cool.

Screenshot 2016-06-21 14.06.56
Russian soccer hooligan association president Alexander Shprygin gets thrown out of France, two days later tweets a picture of himself at a match in Toulouse, and lands in jail this time. Picture source: Twitter.

Of course, with crowds come assholes.  I took a break from memorizing vocabulary about semantics and knowledge representation to take a walk by the Eiffel Tower just now, and saw seven guys running the ball-and-cup scam (the norm would be zero to one), including one guy who was speaking Russian (there are tons of them in town–the president of the Russian soccer hooligan association was escorted onto a plane and out of the country by the French police a couple days ago; today he tweeted a picture of himself in a stadium in Toulouse, having taken advantage of the Schengen Agreement to get back into France, and is now sitting in a jail cell) and one guy who, by his accent, his enthusiasm, and his backwards ball cap, seemed pretty clearly to be an American.  It is, after all, entre chien et loup at the moment, I guess–dusk, when dogs go home and the wolves come out.  Back to my apartment to memorize vocabulary and feel grateful that if Europe has to end, I had the good fortune to see a bit of what the glory was like first.

  • le shit: hash, pot. Probably not what the junkie across the street has been doing today.
  • l’essentialisme: essentialism.  Easy enough to spell, but I have no clue how to pronounce it–seems like there oughta be some accents in there somewhere.  This is the idea that language is the way it is because it reflects something real about the world–Cratylus’s position in Plato’s Cratylean dialogues.
  • l’arbitraire (n.m.): arbitrariness.  This is the idea that language is the way it is purely as a matter of social convention and chance–Hermogenes’s position in the same.
  • le normativisme: the attitude that language is something to be regulated by fiat.


10 thoughts on “Paris is not all avant-garde theater and haute couture, but it charms me nonetheless”

  1. Even if this “freedom for sharks!” EU comes to an end, countries that make Europe won’t necessarily .

    A lateral offspring from essentialism : What about our worlds are the way they are because they were and are framed by our language ?
    ( And essentialism doesn’t need accents, only the initial “e” is said “é” as it is the norm before a double consonant) .

    Well done with your “chien et loup” ! Exactly that . But where does your “avantE-garde” come from ? “Avant” can be an adverb or a preposition and neither does ever agree, unlike adjectives . ( And it should be “haute-couture”, hyphened because it is something really specific and very different from sewing ) .

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Where your question regarding language shaping the world is concerned: this is a perennial argument, with four positions that I can think of off the top of my head:

      1) The world shapes language (essentialism)
      2) Language shapes the world (Sapir-Whorf hypothesis)
      3) Both are true
      4) Neither is true, or at least not in any interesting way


      1. Look at tribes who believe in spirits everywhere : in unclear circumstances they see things completely different from us Westerners of the XXIth century . Or take the Cherokee language : they have a tense for immediacy, either just before or just after now . It means their vision of future and past is widely different from ours . This tense is also used as the imperative giving commands as well to “You” and to “Us” . That means their vision of what is me and what is not me is also widely different .
        These are just examples but personally I’m convinced that when we are born, basely taking advantage of our helpless situation the society impose its visions and realities to us . A newly born only sees shapeless lights and the semi humans of this planet use the deadly weapon of language to make us set the consensual order into these lights .
        But of course, as long as our consciousness is not perfect nothing of what we see or think can be true ha ha . Sorry for writing, even when knowing that .

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I expect I could easily be convinced by either essentialism or abitrariness, even thought they contradict each other. I know for a fact that I can hold two opposing opinions at once when it comes to language..

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Don’t sweat it–I can usually argue both sides when it comes to language. 🙂 This turns out to be very French, as far as I can tell! Actually, it’s a real problem for testing purposes–if you’re listening to, say, a discussion on the radio for a test, and you’re asked to describe someone’s position on the topic, it’s pretty hard (at least for a hairy barbarian such as myself) to figure out what it is when the speaker is arguing both sides of the issue…

      Liked by 2 people

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