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Letter from Stuttgart

It’s early afternoon, Monday, October 4, and I’m starting this letter in the train station at Karlsruhe, Germany. I came here from Baden-Baden this morning, where I spent the weekend recovering from two weeks of getting up early for class, spending many afternoons at the beach, and staying up too late almost every night. In short, I had a great time in Montpellier.

Getting back into classes in French was a little tough. Although I’ve watched many movies and listened to the news on the internet, I haven’t spoken much French since I was last in Montpellier. Thierry admitted a few days later that, after I met him on Sunday evening, he was a little skeptical that I could keep up with the pace of the advanced class, but that by Wednesday he thought I had picked up right where I left off. So the class went very well, and at the end he gave me a very good evaluation. The advanced class assumes that most of the students have a good grasp of grammar and a decent vocabulary in “standard” French, what you would use if you were writing a term paper, for example; so it tries to work on the students’ knowledge of “familiar” French, what you hear in homes and in the streets. So we all leave the class having learned a lot of curse words, which may seem kind of odd, but imagine trying to watch an American movie without knowing any curses! It’s actually quite useful. One of the things that helped me out this time was that there weren’t very many English speakers in my class. Most of my classmates, with only a couple exceptions, were young German women, and although they often spoke German to each other, in larger groups they would speak French to accommodate me. One woman in particular who was a bit more eager than the others to practice her French frequently pulled me into a conversation whenever our classmates started speaking German! (This same woman asked if I would be offended if she pronounced my name like it’s pronounced in German, which was easier for her, but when you pronounce it that way, it sounds like the French word for “short”, and the feminine form of it at that! I’m used to having both my first and last names butchered any number of ways in France, and on the past few trips I have even intentionally mispronounced my last name with a soft “G” so that people will spell it correctly. Therefore, hearing “Coort” really didn’t bother me much.) So it was all great practice for me; outside of class, I think I spoke more French in two weeks that I did all year last year.

The weather in Montpellier was, for most of the two weeks, gorgeous. The worst weather came on the weekend in the middle of my stay, when the wind blew like crazy, the so-called Mistral, making the beach quite unpleasant. So I spent the weekend doing sightseeing trips to two nearby cities, Nîmes and Sète. In Nîmes, I saw the arena, the cathedral, and the Maison Carrée, a structure that dates back to Roman times. In Sète, I took a sightseeing cruise around the harbor and the oceanfront, and I had a nice meal of mussels, which is at least part of the reason for going there. It was also the first time I had gone to either of these places by train; on past trips, I had gone by car. When I was planning this trip, I went back and forth on whether I was going to rent a car, and I finally decided against it, because it was just too expensive for one person, but for some of these trips I really would have preferred to have a car at my disposal.

This is a relatively short letter this time, and as I am finishing it up, it’s Tuesday, October 5, around 4:30 p.m., and I am in Stuttgart. I bought a guide book of Germany while in France, and it said that Stuttgart is underrated because everyone thinks of Daimler-Chrysler and Porsche and all the factories and industries, but it actually has a city center worth checking out. I’m here for just two nights, last night and tonight. I took a guided walking tour of the city center this morning, seeing some of the parks, palaces, and marketplaces. The tour guide asked me if I was here to pick up my new Mercedes or Porsche, which I thought was pretty funny. She then explained to another English-speaker, “No, really, a lot of Americans come here to do that!” Speaking of which, earlier this afternoon, I visited the Mercedes-Benz museum, which is actually located on the site of one of the largest Daimler-Chrysler factories in Germany. Seeing the factory site was itself impressive without even having seen the museum. The museum was quite interesting, but I quickly got tired of the audio guide, and you had to bear in mind that this free museum was also an advertisement. (Most museums make you exit through a gift shop; this one made you walk through a showroom with all the current models, and a salesman stood by, just in case. I’ll admit I took a number of trips around one of the E-classes!) As for right now, I’m going to chill out for a little while in my hotel room, grab a snack, and then I’m going to see if there is anything to do in this city at night.