Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Suite francaise

I awake in the pre-dawn hours, befuddled and anxious.

Will our family have enough to eat? I wonder.

Will we reach Tours? Will it be safe when we get there?

Then, slowly I awake. I rub my eyes and realize it is 2011. I am safe in my comfortable American bed. Breakfast awaits.

As I gaze sleepily around the room, I remember that I am reading, and totally absorbed by, Suite française, by Irène Némirovsky.

Published in 2006, it's one of those books I'd been "meaning to read" and couldn't decide whether to read it in French or English. If it's one of those books that you have been "meaning to read," please do so. I'm reading the English edition, exquisitely translated by Sandra Smith.

Universal Studios apparently bought the movie rights in 2006. I don't usually clamor for a great novel's film version, but this is one that I can't wait to see.

It is also one of those books that I want to know the ending of but that I don't ever want to end.

Have you read it?

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Dictee de la Baie

Does anyone else besides me remember the names of every French teacher they ever had? I recall each one: Madame Rhodes, Mademoiselle de Mauduit, Madame Lambert -- too many to list -- all the way through college.

And believe me, their names and voices and red-pen marks came rushing back to memory today as I climbed into the seat to compete in this year's Dictée de la Baie, more or less the French/francophone version of a spelling bee. There were 150 contestants from the Bay Area, ranging in age from 6 to over 60.

In the category Adult Francophiles, there were about 20-25 of us gathered in the schoolroom, fidgeting, joking nervously, jovially eyeing the competition. Lining up our papers and pencils.

Muriel, the dictant, began:

"Les vieilles femmes qui avaient eu la lourde responsabilité d’habiller la jeune fille pour son repos éternel avaient scrupuleusement respecté les coutumes mortuaires. Une icône de la vierge était placé sur sa poitrine, bien calée entre ses bras en croix. Au-dessus de sa tête, un petit miroir devait chasser les démons tentés de s’approcher du cadavre..."

...and on to the the end of a long passage. Then, sentence by sentence, she repeated the passage*, and we scribbled ferociously. One more time all the way through. But I could hardly bear to look at what I'd written: I knew I'd start second-guessing myself and thus had to rely mostly on first impulse. A quick review for egregious errors and I flipped it over. Done. Palms a little sweaty and the pencil worn down.

Then we swapped our dictées with our neighbors, corrected the dictée per the passage projected on the large screen at the front of the class. I thought I had done pretty well, but couldn't remember if I'd flubbed a few accents. Muriel gathered the corrected the dictées and announced the results.

First place, with 1 mistake: Polly.

I was both thrilled and supremely embarrassed. Can't explain it: I didn't anticipate that reaction because I didn't anticipate winning.

At the awards ceremony, I got a book, a certificate, and congratulatory cheek bisous from Corinne Pereira, the French Deputy Consul General.

But the biggest prize was rising to a personal challenge.

So, mes amis, on days when I think my foggy boomer-brain has turned to mush, I can at least pat myself on the back reassuringly and say, "Ah, but Polly, you sure do great accents aigus."

* passage by Romanian author Liliana Lazar, I found out afterwards.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

It's Green in Paris

St. Patrick's Day, and even Paris is going green. Yes, the famed Moulin Rouge, for the next two days, will be the Moulin Vert.


But I like to reflect on some of the other greened spaces in Paris. The Jardin Atlantique is a favorite example: a space created above the steelyard of train tracks outside the Gare Montparnasse in 1994, which has been converted to a green-space for all to enjoy. Plants, trees, and outdoor spaces, all at the doorstep of a major train station.

Ah, a fine sampling of lush green grass to enjoy at le Jardin Atlantique while waiting for the TGV... er, when it is not the season of pelouses interdites.

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