It is one of my most vivid memories from school (apart from the 7:50AM starts): standing at the black board and reciting poetry by heart, in front of the whole class.
I have a theory about this: I think it cracks the teachers up to listen to a 6 year old’s rendition of French Romanticism. Or a 13 year old’s rendition of French classical theatre. Or a 15 year old’s rendition of a Renaissance sonnet (with some old French thrown in). Or a 17 year old’s rendition of Baudelaire describing his perving on the seamstress workshop next door. All of which, you guessed right, I had to render.
And doing quick maths albeit with a glass of wine on board, I can confirm it’s been decades since my Alfred de Musset performance – my first récitation ever. And I can still feel my little 6 year old body shaking as I was trying to remember one verse after another – all about the damn moon: ‘Ballade à la Lune‘.
I never got it at the time – for me the days when we would recite were like the worst type of lottery: the one you don’t want to win but that you’re entered into anyway. But I think I get it now. Because when I look at the moon, I start to recite Alfred de Musset in my head. And boy, is the ‘Ballade à la Lune‘ beautifully written and strikingly imaginative (the man isn’t my idol for nothing…) And my love for him started there, during récitation, and has only grown stronger.
This aside, I still maintain the exercise is intentionally designed to torture and mock little school children, and petrify them by demanding they speak publicly in old French…
(The image is my 1959 copy of Alfred de Musset’s ‘Premières Poésies‘, which belonged to my mother – and which she gave me when I moved to Melbourne. The pages have yellowed to perfection, and it smells respectable like an old book should.)
If you have had a conversation with me, you would have found me saying words directly translated from French (which I do often) – then realise what I said did not make sense, curse, and try to substitute the right word with the right meaning. Like, say: ‘Syrup. No, crap! Cordial! Cordial!’.
It’s a funny thing living in a country where I don’t speak my native language day in, day out. Most of the time, I feel that the way I speak is wrong, or off. That I’m a fake. That I wasn’t born to speak this language (and it’s true: my first language is French – stating the obvious here). I may know enough words to communicate on a decent level, but my sentences are built according to French grammar and expression: long, long, long. Convoluted. Long.
I always worry I will say the wrong thing, or use a word which has a meaning I am not aware of. And insult someone unwittingly or come across as a pompous tit. I still put my head in my hands when I think of the time I qualified the seasons as ‘backward’ in Australia, when I meant ‘reversed’. Dang.
But I do love it for a few reasons, despite feeling daily like an impostor. I get a unique perspective on both languages: a foray into the economical qualities of ‘anglais‘, and a comparison of how we articulate our thoughts with such flourish and use some damn funny expressions in French.
Like ‘You are pumping my air‘ when someone is annoying you. Or ‘It’s pee in a violin‘ to dismiss something that’s unimportant. I wouldn’t want to trade the chuckles I get when I translate some of these into English.
So I may feel like an impostor, I may have two souls according to Charlemagne (read this article, I don’t have delusions of grandeur), it may be tricky to navigate and reconcile French brain and English brain, but it’s also kind of cool. Which by the way, translates to ‘cool‘ in French. Now that was easy.
(Image from here)
Me: Tell me what this is.
Christian: Easy, that’s Hitler.
Me: No! It’s a French man with a béret!
Christian: No way, that’s Hitler. See the moustache and the hair?
Please weigh in on this: I much prefer my interpretation, which is supported by the page I originally found it on.
Last night I was lamenting the fact I have not drank any coffee for about 4 or 5 months. I love coffee – but it doesn’t love me back. Actually it pretty much hates me. Since this is clearly an abusive relationship it is logical for me to steer clear.
And as I was letting out a sad sigh imagining how much I would enjoy coffee at that very moment, the sigh became longer and more pronounced (probably audible in the Northern hemisphere by that point) when I thought of the delight that would also be making a duck in my coffee. I don’t know what the practice is called in other countries, but in France it is ‘Faire un canard‘ (don’t ask me: I just speak the language, I didn’t come up with it). And it’s as simple as taking a sugar cube, dipping it into coffee, and chomping on it.
The art of the perfect duck however not so simple: don’t dip in too long or the sugar cube will become saturated with coffee and begin to crumble – either in your cup, or even worse in your mouth when you are expecting a crisp chomp. Don’t dip in too little, or you won’t taste enough coffee and it will take a while to work your way through chewing a largish lump of dry sugar. This is speaking from years of practice: my parents let me make canards in their coffee as a child, long before I was allowed a cup all to myself.
Even though I swore off sugar more than a decade ago and I can’t handle coffee (you’re following right?), about now they both sound just like heaven. Especially if the sugar is shaped like a little ducky.
I found the little sugar ducky here. In case you want a box of 12, in which 11 are white sugar and 1 is raw.
As much as I love Louise Attaque’s first self-titled album, I think my favourite is their second. And as impossible as it is to pick a favourite from all the songs in ‘Comme on a dit’, if pressed I will say ‘La plume’.
Which features a little cork with eyes, arms and legs up to slightly confusing adventures which involve swimming around like a medusa and pushing a fellow cork on a swing. Let me know if you figure it out.
Their official site is here – and if you visit you will learn with dismay they are on hiatus again. Bum.
Christian calls it ‘your little trick’, and I always nod emphatically to that with a big smile. Before I showed him ‘my little trick’ he had never seen or heard of it – which makes me feel quite smug.
It’s something I was taught very long ago (I don’t even remember by who), it’s quick and it always works.
What is my little trick? Well, if you’ve ever tried to remember if a month has 30 or 31 days, instead of going to a calendar you can use your hands instead – and this is how.
Ready? Make a fist with one hand, and place your finger on your index knuckle. That’s January – it’s a bump, so 31 days. Now move your finger left, between your knuckles: that’s February – it’s a dip, so it’s a short month. Left again: March! Bump! 31 days! Keep going: April, dip, 30 days.
When you reach your little finger’s knuckle you should be at July (bump, 31 days).
Then return to the starting point – your index knuckle – that’s now August (bump, 31 days!). Go left again until you reach December, which will fall on your wedding finger’s knuckle. Et voilà – my little trick, as demonstrated by my pasty hands.
At least this is not contentious like finger counting at our house.
There are times when I say things Christian doesn’t understand. There are also times when I pronounce them ‘the normal way’ (as in, how they are pronounced in France) and it cracks him right up.
This, for example is a ‘shoope-ah-shoope’. That’s right: the ‘s’ is silent.
In my sugar eating days, my favourites were strawberry and cream, and caramel (because of the beautiful little flans on the wrapper).
Next time you go to France, remember: ‘shoope-ah-shoope’. Or you can point – that works too.
(Image is from here)
Aside from being a woman’s name in France, it is a game we played in my family. Whenever you eat a mandarin, if you find two slices that were joined you would rope in a willing family member and give him/her the twin slice to eat.
The next day, the first one to say ‘Philippine’ to the other wins. The loser must give you a small gift. An easy scam if you’ve got good memory.
I was really really good at Philippine. Much to the dislike of my hyper competitive brother (na na na na!!). So now that mandarins are in season, if you see me approach you with a slice of mandarin in my outstretched hand, save yourself some time and just get me a small gift.
(Image is from here).
Amongst other things (many, wonderful, and happy things) sharing my life with Christian has given me a new perspective on French (and him a new one on English). Simply because we ask each other questions that we’ve never contemplated about our native languages. Or we open our eyes wide when the other says something incomprehensible. Or we translate literally from one language to the other and giggle like mad at the results (especially me: I’m very excitable).
All this has led me to the conclusion we have hilarious ways of saying things in French. Originally descriptive but sometimes, a bit sick too.
Like this one: when you are really sure of something, you can say that you would ‘wager your head to be chopped off‘ (if that’s not confidence I don’t know what is).
Errr, this is not helping the fact that we already have a reputation for the practice. And that until the death penalty was abolished, it is still how prisoners were executed well into the 1970s (the indignity and grossness…).
By the way, it’s an expression I never use. I like my head just where it is.