When in French…

41Z3HwLG7BL._SX294_BO1,204,203,200_I was excited to dive into New Yorker staff writer Lauren Collins’s new memoir When in French: Love in a Second Languagebecause I love French and I love love. Though, as existing Amazon reviews have accurately assessed, the book isn’t so much about a neatly tied together love story in France than about a love for French and language learning, facilitated by and amid a serious, multi-cultural, and multi-lingual relationship.

With that expectation in mind, the book will be a fun read for French/second-language learners and language enthusiasts. What it lacks in continuous, focused, satisfying story, the 250-page book makes up for in language-learning #realtalk and wonky delights. Here’s a taste:

…I was intrigued by the blend of rudeness and refinement [in French], the tension between the everyday and the exalted, that characterized the little I knew of the language. “Having your cake and eating it too” was Vouloir le beurre, l’argent, et le cul de la crémière [“To want the butter, the money, and the ass of the dairywoman.”]

Simultaneous interpretation requires almost superhuman neurological coordination. The task is so demanding that, at the United Nations, an interpreter typically works a shift of no more than twenty minutes.

In English, I strained to avoid such [familiar] formulations. But in French, conformity was my goal…I was trying to join in, not to distinguish myself. It was such a happy thing to strive for cliché.

In Russian, you can’t call the sky ‘blue.’ The language obliges its speakers to make a distinction between siniy (dark blue) and goluboy (light blue), so that what is in English one color becomes in Russian two.

I had once interpreted Olivier’s reticence as pessimism, but I now saw the deep romanticism, the hopefulness, of not wanting to overstate or to overpromise. Vous and tu concentrated intimacy by dividing it into distinct shades—the emotional equivalent of two shades of blue. I understood, finally, why it made Olivier happy when I wore makeup; why he didn’t call me his best friend; why I had never hard him burp. Love was not fusion. Je t’aime was enough.

Bisous!

 

 

A couple of videos en français

I’m always looking for videos in French with English subtitles, and this week, I lucked out with two. About things I like! Enjoy 🙂

A Paris-based illustrator tells the story of how she got there: 

Inside the Marrakesh retreat of Yves Saint Laurent’s former botanist: 

French Videos I Don’t Understand

It all started with the show-stopping Balmain x H&M collab, which got me somewhat transfixed by the French fashion house’s bright, young, just dashing creative director, Olivier Rousteing (seriously, are those cheekbones even real?)…

Then comes the frantic googling for info/interviews/etc…Lucky for me, the guy speaks French! Here’s one (argh won’t let me embed!)

I didn’t understand too much…but am always happy to discover new places to listen to authentic French…actually, Canal+ (French cable company, Google tells me) has a trove of HQ videos, including this series of comedy shorts.

A trip to Albertine (finally!)

IMG_4745

Last weekend, I finally got around to visiting Albertine, the new-ish bookstore and reading room housed in Manhattan’s historic Payne Whitney mansion, which has served the cultural services of the French Embassy since the 1950s. Conceived as a project to bridge the French and American cultures through books/humanities/general intellectual deliciousness, Albertine carries 14,000 titles in French and English and hosts special events like discussions, book signings, and story hours. While I aspire to partake in those alluring offerings later on, my first visit consisted of a quick stroll through the place, which was intimate and well-heated, and well, getting really hypnotized by the gorgeous indigo-and-gold ceiling on the second floor (details on the design of that here).

Read More »

Idioms are hard.

The Atlantic recently published something that’s right up my alley: a foreign idiom quiz! Featuring examples from Chinese, Japanese, Italian, Russian, Arabic, and many more.

Before the quiz, there was this quote from Jay Bhalla, author of an idiom book called I’m Not Hanging Noodles on Your Ears, which I liked and was just like, you can say that again (idiom!? haha):

“It’s just fascinating that every culture has them,” Bhalla told me, notwithstanding the fact that idioms are “often the least logical way to communicate a thought.”

No Korean in the mix, but here are the Chinese and French questions:

idiom

↑ This took me a while to process, but then it came to me. Horse horse tiger tiger = 马马虎虎 (Mǎmǎhǔhǔ). This is one of those things that I know in speech and listening, but not in writing…definitely did not realize there was horse and tiger involved.

Read More »

“S’il vous plaît… dessine-moi un mouton!”

(Rough translation here)

Wow, this came out of nowhere. The video up there is the just released French trailer for the upcoming animated film The Little Prince, adapted from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s best-selling, much-adored book of the same title.

The Little Prince could be one of the most beautiful animated films of 2015,” proclaims this article in the Verge. And I don’t think it’s an exaggeration. Just from the 1:27 trailer (from which I understood approximately er, 55-60 percent?) it just feels…so magical. I didn’t even know there was a 1974 live-action version, but judging by its screen shots, I feel like at least visually, it doesn’t capture the unique sparkle and allure of the little prince…maybe I’ll give it a watch in the next few months.

Who knew animation would become so powerful? Thank you technology, and the passionate creative folk who are completely devoted to advancing this craft…

ANYWAY, sometime in the past year and a half, I finally finished reading the original story in French. I’d purchased the book and started reading for French class in high school…and alas, it’s taken over five years to finish. The margins are covered in translation notes, which just means plowing through it was quite taxing. So I should probably re-read that as well, before the new film comes out next October. I imagine it will only get more magical the second time around.