Quelle Langue

Fifi and Léonard received certificates from the Institut de Français this afternoon. Students and teachers gathered in the chateau’s grand salon for champagne, the ritual sing-a-long to Edith Piaf’s “La Vie en Rose,” and then the presenting of the certificates. Darlene’s teacher from last month, Vicky, returned from her trip to Brazil in time to help Frederic do the honors. Afterward we all took photos of each other and scribbled e-mail addresses in notebooks.

Darlene and I stopped in Nice on the way to Cannes. I bought two more CDs at Virgin Records for my French collection (Raphael’s “Caravane” and Noir Desir’s “des Visages des Figures”). Darlene bought French books recommended by Vicky and the latest Grisham novel, in English.

With my official certificate, complete with official seal in thick red sealing wax, I felt as if the Wizard of Oz had granted me fluency in French. And in truth we have both made amazing progress. Darlene wisely skipped the test this morning, with the blessing of her teacher Patrize. And so while I was happily doing much better on the test than I did the previous two times I had taken it, she spent the morning in Villefranche. Without me around to jump in as translator, she did just fine talking with the server at a café and the proprietor at a patisserie. She returned happy to know she had accomplished her goal, which was to begin making her way on her own in French.

Tonight Françoise’s apartment in Cannes seems like our old home, after our five-week stay here last September. We just had a late snack of fresh bread, olives, and Perrier in the kitchen. Darlene is reading Grisham in the living room. I’m savoring photos of the day when we finished two months of study at the Institut de Français. As my professor Jean said at least three times each day, after savoring yet another nuance of French, “quelle langue!” Indeed. What a language! What a day. Posted by Hello

Friday, May 27, 2005

Fifi receives her certificate from Frederic in the grand salon. Posted by Hello

My Avance I class artfully arranged on the steps to the Laboratoire, where we practiced French in little cubicles wearing headphones.  Posted by Hello

Darlene's Debutate I class after receiving certificates. Her teacher, Patrize, is in back row, third from left. Posted by Hello

Jean, left, shares a laugh in class with Hanz, a Swiss banker, and Yumi, a Japanese woman living in Nice. Posted by Hello

Official Translator

I had a feeling that my young fellow classmate from Germany, Axel, knew his way around a camera, so I asked him to handle the ticklish job of photographing Jean and me for DIVIDE, the literary magazine at the University of Colorado-Boulder. We practiced with our Japanese classmate, Nami, sitting in for Jean. When all was ready, I knocked on the door of the faculty lounge, a room not much bigger than a closet, and reminded Jean of his photo session. He growled a wolfish growl and followed me out to the garden behind the Institute. I distracted him with real work, a final proofing of my printout of his translation of my poem. In a couple of minutes, Axel tore through 20 shots like a professional paparazzi. I e-mailed five of them to Ginger Knowlton, the DIVIDE editor, and she found one that she likes for the autumn issue. I am relieved to have this little project completed for now. I can’t wait to see the page proofs when they arrive sometime this summer.

Tonight after doing our homework we began packing for Cannes. We have too much stuff to haul in one trip in Françoise’s Honda, so our plan is to make the hour-long drive to Cannes tomorrow after school with a first installment of luggage. The rest will come with us after the graduation ceremony Friday afternoon. It feels disorienting to begin tossing our belongings into suitcases and plastic bags. All of a sudden our solid, homey apartment feels like a motel room just before checkout. I’m worried that I will drive some vital item to Cannes tomorrow and be bereft Thursday and Friday without it here in Villefranche.

This would be a plausible time to begin reviewing these past two months, but it’s not going to happen tonight. I’m too tired, too fried, too spent. My mind is a tangle of French verb tenses and pronoun placements. I have a sense that the sustained effort of living in a foreign language has taxed us in ways we can’t yet detect. Living together as two students is something we’ve never experienced in 21 years of marriage, and it hasn’t all been a walk on the Champs-Élysée. Moments of bliss have alternated with doubts as to whether this was worth the struggle, especially for Darlene. For now, I’m willing not to know. I have two full days of classes left, and I am of a mind to take in every last nuance of language that Jean can dance into my brain. He is a master teacher, a literate seer in wolf’s clothing, and as of today, my official French translator. Posted by Hello

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Les Internautes

I was looking at color patterns of the buildings facing the Villefranche harbor this morning when I took this photo. I didn’t even see the spectacular spokes of clouds until I checked the image on my camera afterward. What a show!

Today Darlene and I took the train to Cannes, then a bus to Mougins, where we picked up Françoise’s blue Honda and drove it back to Villefranche. Everything went fine, except we missed the first train to Cannes. I was short 50 centimes at the automatic ticket machine, so I ran through the tunnel under the tracks to the station, to get more change, but the machine on that side didn’t work, so I ended up standing in line at the window inside the station to buy a ticket the old-fashioned way. I ran all the way back through the tunnel and arrived just as the train was pulling away, with Darlene wisely still standing on the platform. This provided us with an hour and a half for breakfast in Villefranche and, of course, the photo.

Today’s Le Monde has a front-page article on blogs, which now number 2.7 million in France. The headline writer sneeringly titled the piece, “Les blogs, passion des adolescents,” but the article itself was very well done. It included a little sidebar stating that the national Commission responsible for such matters has published an advisory urging French speakers to quit calling them “blogs.” The now-official term in French is “bloc-notes” or “bloc” for short. But if the Le Monde writers’ example is any indication, the Commission’s directive will be widely ignored. Except for the sidebar, the reporters referred to “blog” and “blogs” throughout the lengthy article.

A word which fares better in French is “un internaute,” which seems to mean “one who uses the internet.” I like this French word, because it suggests an explorer, a new category of traveler, an “internaute.”

I was impressed to learn that 2 million of the French blogs are hosted by a single enterprise, Skyrock radio, a progressive company which has been a leader in the “free radio” movement, which apparently promotes free exchange of music. I am sure the national Commission cringes at the “Skyblogs” name given to those 2 million sites, but there you are.

And why do so many French young people blog? Pierre Bellanger, président of Skyrock, says they are the first “natifs du numérique,” or “digital natives.” He added, “Pour eux, le blog offre un moyen d’expression facile, gratuit, et qui les immerge immédiatement dans la communauté de leurs pairs.” Or: “For them, the blog offers a way of expression that is easy, free, and which immerses them immediately in the community of their peers.”

One Skyblogger quoted in the article put it this way: “Je blogue parce que je veux exister.” Or, as France’s own Réne Descartes would have translated it, “I blog, therefore I am.”

The Le Monde piece included a cartoon showing a mother looking over the shoulder of her child, asking, “Je peux savoir ce que tu racontes sur moi?” (“May I know what you are saying about me?”) The child answers, “ça ne regarde que les autres.” (“That concerns only the others.”)

The piece mentioned three prominent French bloggers, Chryde, Laurent Gloaguen, and Loïc Le Meur. Their sites tonight are rightly buzzing with excitement about having been mentioned by the grand gray citadel of French print, Le Monde. And bravo to Le Monde for fairly covering a phenomenon whose partisans believe will one day put the mainstream media out of business. Posted by Hello

Sunday, May 22, 2005

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