>I went to visit a friend of Brian's.
>Je suis alle rendre visite a un ami de Brian.
>Note that the French has a simple genitive. Why can't
>we just say I went to see a friend of Brian? In fact,
>that's what I usually write.
But you say that aloud. It sounds silly: I went to see a friend of Brian?
I agree with you that the romance languages handle this much more elegantly than we do. In fact, we have lots of ugly usage. One of my least favorites is one that some of my over-earnest copy editor colleagues insist on using: the possessive before a gerund. It's just unnecessary and obtrusive:
We talked about Jason's being a fool.
We talked about Jason being a fool.