How can you govern a country with 200 cheeses?: Cheese 101

The forms of the quote vary, but de Gaulle, leader of the Free French Forces during the Second World War and occasional president of France, is alleged to have asked, “How can you govern a country with 200 cheeses?”  One of my goals for this stay in France is to become knowledgeable about cheese.  I definitely haven’t reached the point of being willing to eat cheese for dessert, but I’m motivated to become more familiar with the various cheeses, and to eat a lot of them.  To that end, I’ve been picking up a new cheese every couple of days, and I purchased a copy of Guide de l’amateur de fromage, or “Cheese-lover’s guide.”  (You would be amazed at how many books on cheese there are in a good French bookstore.  I went to Gibert Joseph.  I picked this one because it was ranked #2 among all cheese books on Amazon’s French web site.  Strangely, I was unable to figure out which one was rated #1.)

Like everything else about France and the French language (or any other language, for that matter), Zipf’s Law comes into play, and I am constantly picking up new words.  Some of these are very general, but even reading about a specific cheese, I’m constantly looking words up.  More on that in some other post.  Here are some general words for talking about cheese:

  •  déguster: to taste, to savor.
  • disque: disc.  The shape of many cheeses.
  • épais/épaisse: thick.  Some cheeses are épais, some aren’t.
  • diamètre: diameter, as you might have guessed.  But, if you don’t ask, you don’t know–sooooo many French words don’t mean what they look like in English (and vice versa).
  • épaisseur: thickness.
  • fruité: fruity.  I haven’t figured out what constitutes fruitiness in the context of cheese.
  • texture: texture, but also “weave,” and “structure.”
  • moelleux/moelleuse: soft, creamy, gooey.
  • forme: shape, form.
  • matière: matter, stuff, substance.  Also urine, feces.  Not in the context of cheese, I hope.  Shows up in the context of matières grasses, which I believe means “fat content.”

I’ve got pages more of cheese-related words in my notebook, but this will do for now–there’s only so many words that you can absorb at once!  There’s only so many words that I can absorb at once, at any rate.

 

In France, even dogs understand French better than I do

icanhazcheezburger
What I sound like when I speak French.
When you read my reports of conversations in this blog, you should be aware that other people’s sides are as I report them, but my side of the conversation sounds more like a French version of the “I Can Haz Cheezburger?” cat. Indeed, in this country, dogs do understand French better than I do. French children are famously well-behaved, and French dogs are similar. Although most dogs are leashed, it’s not unusual to see a dog off-leash, walking obediently behind his owner down the sidewalk, and even crossing busy streets in the crosswalk. Dogs are typically allowed in cafes, where they typically lie quietly under the table. I have no clue how French dog-owners manage this. It’s certainly not like all French dogs are well-mannered–I saw a little guy jumping up on people the other day as his owner stood talking with a group of friends in the middle of the sidewalk, oblivious. But, for the most part, it’s amazing how well-behaved these dogs are.

Some pet-related vocabulary items:

  • le toutou: Affectionate word for a dog.
  • le minet: Affectionate word for a cat.

Judo in France II: tai otoshi

So, last night’s work-out was all about tai otoshi.  It was as well-thought-out as any judo class I’ve ever attended, I think.

We started with working on tsugi ashi.  Initially, we did the forward and backward (en arrière) movements of nage no kata.  Then we worked on going in different directions–sidewards, diagonally, and even around in semi-circles, which mystified me somewhat.  Next we worked on doing a little circle with our foot while moving…sideways?  Forward?  Not sure how to describe it.  This mystified me even more.

From there, we moved on to tai otoshi.  We started with the typical things–weight on the foot that you want to throw the guy over, etc.  Then we moved on to timing–the senseis showed how it was much easier to throw your partner if he’s walking and you attack the rear foot, which I think is different from anything I’ve seen before.  They’re right–it works well.  Finally, we worked on what to do if the guy steps around it, and that’s where the mysterious semicircles came in–you use them to go with your partner’s sideways movement.

Finally, we moved on to countering tai otoshi.  Here’s where the mystifying circle with your foot comes in–you use it esquiver (that mysterious word again–in this sense, to evade, the central meaning of the word) the throw and step around in front of your partner.  Then we learned three counter-throws, depending on how well your partner is pushing with his lapel grip–slip in for o goshi if he doesn’t have a good push there, turn all the way in for seoi nage if he has a strong push (really nice–you totally use his push against him), and ko soto gake if you can’t get in at all.

As always, Zipf’s Law brought some new words my way last night:

  • chuter: To fall.
  • esquiver: To evade, avoid, dodge.  I talked about this one a couple of posts ago.  Last night, the sensei used it in the most basic sense (in a judo context)–evading an attack.
  • en dessous: Beneath.  When you do tai otoshi, you need to attack beneath your opponent’s knee.
  • pêcher: To fish.  The sensei used this as Hideki Sensei does the English word–to describe the motion of the tsurite.
  • un enchaînement: In the judo sense, we would call this a combination.  It’s a chain, series, succession, sequence, linkage.
  • en arrière: Backwards.

Oh–the beautiful woman in her 50s showed up again, this time in civvies.  Incredibly elegant–like a movie star.  The old-fashioned kind, not the new kind.  I’m smitten.

Zipf’s Law strikes again

French words from walking around my neighborhood, checking out the various businesses:

  • le traiteur: Caterer.  I think it also might refer to a place/person that makes food to go.
  • la gestion: Management, administration.
  • un achat: Purchase, buying.  As opposed to…
  • la vente: Sales, selling.
  • le comptoir: A counter (as in a bar), although I see it more often in the sense of a bar.

Words from doing the grocery shopping:

  • le seiche: Cuttlefish (quite tasty grilled)
  • le poulpe: Octopus.  Having it for dinner, in a salad.
  • la coquille: Shell.
  • filme fraîchure: Saran wrap.
  • écrémé: Fat-free.

 

Judo in France: Dojo Shiseikan

France is said to be the number 2 judo country in the world, after Japan.  In the United States, with over 300 million people, there are perhaps 20,000 judo students.  In contrast, in France, with 63 million people, there are 550,000 judo students.

Google Maps suggests that in my neighborhood alone, there are three judo clubs within walking distance.  I picked one based on the fact that their web site said that they had practice tonight, and after purchasing a box of aspirin, headed out the door.

After getting permission to join the class, I headed onto the mat, shaking my head–nothing but big, strong, young colored belts (beginners).  You really don’t want to practice with beginning judoka, especially young, strong ones–they know how to throw you, but they have zero control, and if you are going to get hurt doing judo, it’s with a beginner.  Imagine my surprise when a stunningly beautiful blonde woman in maybe her 50s walks in during warm-ups.  More on that later.

The work-out was interesting.  To begin with, we spent a bunch of time working on tai sabaki (methods of moving your body).  After working on this for awhile, the sensei and one of the black belts illustrated how to apply it–not with applications in randori (sparring), but with a set from kime-no-kata (an old judo kata that you usually wouldn’t learn until you’re a 4th or 5th degree black belt), showing defense against a knife.  We rarely do kata in the US (unless we’re lucky enough to go to Sensei Barry’s incredible kata class), and we do self defense even less often.  Only after that did they demonstrate applications in randori.

So, we finish warm-ups and start to pair off, and when no one else comes near me, the beautiful blonde woman in maybe her 50s walks over to me, and we work together for the rest of the evening until it’s time for randori.  During randori one of the senseis works with me first, as he should–you have to make sure that visitors won’t hurt your students.  I get my butt kicked, I go home happy, and of course dinner is a baguette, cheese, and a pinot noir.

Judo words of the day:

  • décoller: This verb has various meanings related to moving something up or off of something–an airplane taking off, removing wallpaper, lifting something off the ground, beheading (!).  We were doing crunches and I was apparently sitting up too much, because the sensei told me décollez les épaules–just lift your shoulders up.
  • esquiver: To evade, avoid, dodge.  Get out of the way, basically.  When you between yourself and your partner, that’s esquiver.
  • pousser: To push, shove.  We did a lot of exercises where one person would pousse the other, and the other would do ko uchi gari or ippon seoi nage.

Unresolved linguistic issue of the day: is it bon uke, or bonne uke?

Zipf’s Law strikes

The distribution of words in language is Zipfian, meaning that if you order words by frequency and then plot the frequency against the rank, you get a logarithmic curve.  What that means: any language is full of a small number of words that occur very frequently, and an enormous number of words that rarely occur.  However, they do occur.  What this means for the foreign language learner is that every stinking day, you will run across words that you haven’t seen before.  Here are a few random words from today–also see today’s post on the vocabulary of cell phone rental.

  • la teinturerie: Despite the fact that the verb teinter means to dye, this is a dry cleaner.
  • Tomme de Savoie: A mild cheese from Savoie.  If I understand the web page correctly, it’s the only controlled-origin cheese that’s available at different levels of fat.
  • la livraison: Delivery, e.g. of groceries–I came across this word at the grocery store.
  • effacer: To erase, wipe off.  With respect to computers: delete.  On my new cheap French cell phone, it’s basically the delete and/or back button.
  • insérer: To insert.  Haven’t quite figured out what it means on my cell phone.
  • le retour: Return.  Seems to mean back on my cell phone.
  • le compteur: Counter, meter.  There’s a compteur de messages on my cell phone.
  • supprimer: To remove, delete.  There’s a menu item to supprimer messages on my cell phone.
  • ainsi: In this way, e.g. Je vous explique que l’accident s’est passé ainsi ‘I’m telling you, the accident happened like that”; can introduce a conclusion, e.g. ainsi donc, tu partiras demain? “So, you’re leaving tomorrow?”; ainsi que: “as well as.”
  • le stage: Regarding work, an internship; in other senses, a training course.  The judo club that I’m going to visit this evening has various stages d’été–“summer courses.”