About Scott: France

An important, odd story

A couple standing in front of a large Gothic church, on a bridge over the Seine

Notre-Dame de Paris, October 2014

Reading time: 3 minutes

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It starts off fine

For the first few months of high school, I hated French.

It didn't make sense. I didn't like the way it sounded. I failed my first quiz.

Then something clicked. I stopped thinking in my English-speaking voice. Almost overnight, French became easy - as would Russian in college and German in graduate school.

I hated French. It didn't make sense. I didn't like the way it sounded. I failed my first quiz.

Very little comes to me naturally. I'm terrible at most things, and not good at just about everything else. Learning a foreign language, however, was something I could do with little effort.

Many would turn here

So I decided to be a French major.

The courtyard of an old building with an elaborately patterned roof

Les Hospices de Beaune. Nov 2018

People would ask - usually in a snide and condescending way, because an astonishing number of people are gaping assholes - What do you want to do with your degree? I would reply, Get it framed and hang it on the wall.

I knew what they meant, though. Many students go to college to get a job - and I applaud that - but I was in school to learn.

For my major, I studied history, literature, sociology, art history, and film - all centered on France and the francophone world. I was exposed to new ideas and taught how to think critically. As a bonus, I traveled around western Europe. That may not be your definition of an ideal education, but it was mine, and it kicked ass.

Streets, buildings, and roofs from high above

The Latin Quarter as seen from the top of Notre-Dame de Paris. Oct 2014

Even more specialized

I worked as a programmer for a year after college, then entered a PhD program in French literature at UC Davis.

The first two years in Davis were some of the happiest of my life. I took seminars and supported myself through teaching. I traveled around northern California. I dated a few women.

I was exposed to new ideas and I learned how to think.

After a few years, I settled on a dissertation topic: Le peuple in the historical novel of the French Restoration. I wrote my prospectus (a dissertation plan) and prepared for my qualifying exam - a three hour oral test where members of my committee could ask anything about my prospectus or the books on my reading list.

I read, almost exclusively, for eighteen months. My head felt like Violet Beauregarde after chewing the gum she stole from Willy Wonka, and the department library, where the exam took place, was the Juicing Room.

On exam day - it was the spring of 1995 - I started weakly, but I picked up steam bit by bit. The last half hour was actually fun. That night, I went to see the Gyuto Monks with a friend. It was quite a day.

Everything falls apart

Then I won a fellowship to study at the Ecole normale supérieure for the 1995-96 school year.

I read, almost exclusively, for eighteen months.

It was an incredible time. But things got ugly, too.

One problem: I was in an bad relationship when I left for Paris. We should not have been together. Another problem: I didn't do much work on my dissertation. I read a lot of Simenon, Balzac, and Flaubert - all unrelated. I traveled a lot. I made a few friends. I partied. But I was starting to realize that I didn't want to be in academia.

Stained glass rose window

Notre-Dame de Paris, my favorite place in the world.

Big stone church with two different spires

Notre-Dame de Chartres, my favorite place in the world... when I'm in Chartres.

In other words, I had to extricate myself from a path that had a lot of hooks in me. The process was painful, expensive, and sad.

Fin

Despite the turbulence in Davis - and the eventual hard landing - I look back fondly on graduate school and those days in California and France. They shaped me as a person, educated me, and informed my Piraget novels.

Archive

About

A smiling Francis and me, sitting outside in front of some shrubs

Some basics

A brief biographical sketch

Me on top of a sunny Mt Pilatus in Switzerland, with mountains in the background

Travel

Pardon the saccharine and the obvious, but travel is everything

A couple standing in front of a large Gothic church, on a bridge over the Seine

France

France deserves its own section

Francis, as a two year-old in a car seat, in sunglasses reading a French picture book

Reading

The bullshit of daily life? I'd rather read.

Stage with musicians going at it - they're Gogol Bordello, and they're crazy

Music

Let me take you back

Little boy sitting on a big white bed, looking at a tablet

Television

I watch a lot more television than movies

Live action from a soccer game at Crew Stadium - yellow versus blue

Soccer

The only sport that matters

Ugly photo of a pig knuckle after it's been eaten - really, it looks horrible

Food

As a travel writer, I have to talk about food

Me in an outdoor restaurant drinking from a green coconut with a long straw

Dumb stuff

You will not feel smarter after reading this

Dumpster full of garbage

Minimalism

Trying to live simply

Me getting out of a red Ferrari F430 with a guy clapping for me

Other Interests

I've only driven a Ferrari once

Dude wearing orange pants and orange and green shoes walking on wet grass

Get off my lawn

A few brief rants

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