Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Foucault's pendulum, loaded language & un cafe

In 1851 scientists knew that Earth rotated: in addition to the passage of the sun and stars overhead, scientific evidence included Earth's measured polar flattening and equatorial bulge. However, Foucault's pendulum (above) was the first simple proof of the rotation in an easy-to-see experiment, and it created a sensation in the academic world and society at large.
The plane of the pendulum's swing rotated clockwise 11° per hour, making a full circle in 32.7 hours.
But this year the cable suspending the bob in the Musée des Arts et Métiers in Paris snapped causing damage to that copy (there's one in the Pantheon too) of the pendulum and to the marble flooring of the Arts et Metiers museum. Umberto Eco wrote a book entitled Foucault's Pendulum (set at the Arts et Metiers) which I deliberately have not read. Not that I don't like his work but I'm focusing part of a story at that location. Partly in the museum, and nothing to do with Foucault's pendulum.

Here's what a Foucault pendulum would do at the north pole. The pendulum swings in the same plane as the Earth rotates beneath it.

At time of my story, the Arts et Metiers museum was closed for renovation (big plot point in the story) and Foucoult's pendulum wasn't there. Or at least was in storage until the Gothic church/museum was ready for the installation. I realized I hadn't mentioned the pendulum once in the draft I finished yesterday. What to do? If you go to the museum today you'll see it, yes, it's repaired after the mishap but it's important to consider. To think about. Like language it dates the characters, the point in time, the world they inhabit.

Isabelle and Andi, my neighbors up the street - she's a Parisienne he's an Austrian who grew up in Paris - are old friends and we drank espresso at our nearby cafe yesterday. Of course we got into a serious language discussion as only French people do because I had questions.
Mostly concerning the drink we were drinking. I get into trouble over the proper meaning and inference of this drink in my books. So it was ask the expert time.
It's so fun to see Parisians get started and this really wound them up.
How does one order a coffee properly in Paris at the cafe?
A coffee means espresso in France Andi said. Everyone knows that.
un cafe which gets you an expresso
une noisette an expresso with foam

une creme a double espresso with milk
une alongee similar to American coffee diluted with hot water
un cafe serree a double espresso with a short drip and less water like a depth charge.
That sort of solved the question but it generated more intense discussion.
We got into shoes
"Souliers," I said. No you will be dated. So dated no one uses that term anymore. But souliers is in the dictionaries and they said yes, but now you say chaussures or you will sound like our mothers.
Just like un pull a sweater but his mother calls it un chandail.
That's the older generation. Outdated, you don't want to sound like Jean Gabin.
So I guess it's sort of like if some one says 'cool your jets..." they haven't left the 70's and are in a hot tub. Me, I rather be accused of Jean Gabin.
I'm still confused about Foucault's pendulum.
Cara - Tuesday


  1. There is a Foucault's pendulum in the museum of science. It is on the first floor so it is the first major exhibit museum goers encounter. There is always a crowd gathered to watch. It is, for some reason, endlessly fascinating.

    I have not been to France but I know nothing can label someone an ignorant tourist faster in Italy than asking for a cappuccino unless it is morning. I was willing to be perceived as that ignorant tourist but my daughters wouldn't allow it. Espresso is designed to keep people awake for days. Cappuccino is perfect.


  2. Didn't know the term "une noisette" I assumed all expresso had foam.

  3. Beth, that Cuban coffee in the Miami airport keeps me awake for days!

    Sorry Nicola I meant to say the noisette is like the second photo an espresso with a big dollop of milk foam.