Category Archives: French

Mon Séjour à Sancerre, Learning French at Coeur de France

First, the little slide show of the town of Sancerre, cobbled together mostly from photos I took:

i just spent the month of October at the amazing French language school Coeur de France in Sancerre, learning or at least improving my French, which I started relearning — after only a high school’s acquaintance with the language — about a year ago at the age of 65. Despite what i felt was my own unfortunate lack of grammar basics, I placed into an advanced level class but the class was so tiny at four students that we made huge progress. Group classes with the delightful Valerie, for the first two weeks I was at Coeur de France, were followed by two weeks of individual instruction. Despite the pace and intensity of learning immersion French, I had a ball, for the most part.

This was literally my first trip anywhere of significance since childhood, and certainly my first all alone to a foreign country. I looked forward to it, and chose Coeur de France on the basis of its emphasis on encouraging students to speak French as much as possible and because of its 250+ positive reviews at Trip Advisor! But no less because of its comprehensive and reassuring website, which hid nothing from prospective students, and even gave detailed and accurate instructions on how Americans can best reach the school, which as its name suggests, is located smack dab in the center of France.  (Okay, maybe and perhaps unwittingly since clearly they are used to it, the website neglects to mention the steepness of the hill upon which the school sits, a hill I had to climb each and every morning, rain…rain… or rain!) Everything the website says about the school is true and I experienced it personally, from the lovely apartments rented to students to the amazing and skilled teachers and the low key but convivial atmosphere. And in fact though there was rain very frequently, the clouds often parted to give dazzling views and allow photo taking.

To give one small example of the welcome extended, a vase of a half dozen coral-colored roses awaited each new student in the kitchen of their new temporary home.

This I just had to paint, but except for pencil sketches I did not otherwise do a lot of art while at the école.

 

i also drew the school from the popular side view. And some students in Veronique’s cooking class. (The school drawing in pen and ink is not yet finished.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

i had a hard time with jet lag at first and it took me a good week to recover, not to mention to get used to the climb up that steep hill for ten minutes each morning. But by the third week it had become easy and I scarcely thought about the incline any longer. Thank heavens I had quit smoking a few months in advance, as it would  have been hell to both want to smoke and struggle to climb the hill each morning.

By the third week, too, I had come to terms with my not being able to participate in the school’s social life and activities. Largely because I was just too tired but also because such things are not enjoyable for me. I loved having one-to-one lessons the second half of my stay then going “home” to my apartment (Le Jardin) to be alone and “do my thing”. I felt that the location of my particular apartment kept me isolated from other students, too, at first, but I ceased caring once I acknowledged that I really was there to learn French and not to meet a lot of new friends…

More difficult by far was my needing to enter French stores and other enterprises. I have a hard enough time with this in the US so it was doubly hard in France. Luckily my wonderful and highly skilled one-to-one teacher, Sabrina, came to my rescue, and we went on various missions each day to get me more Familiar with the process. With Sabrina’s help I learned to enter the boulangerie and say, “Bonjour Madame!” almost fearlessly as time went on. I even went to the store that sold used books and asked the propriétaire if he could choose a couple for me “pas trop facile”. He thought at first I meant “not too difficult” but I had in fact intended to say, “not too easy” and when he understood this, he handed me a book. (The bizarre thing was that I was already reading that very same book! Given all the millions of books in print, what are the odds of that? ) I said so and he chose two others, then I bid him adieu and left, my heart lighter by factors of ten than it had been.

This trip was difficult in many ways. Many old fears reared their heads and did not let go till I departed, but I was also supremely happy almost every day I spent there. Coming home has brought paralysis and even a kind of despondency. But a French tutor i speak with (she is in Tunisia) sent me an article about “le déprime du retour” or the dépression in coming home, and knowing that this is a recognized phenomenon helps me feel better. It will pass, as everything does.

This was the trip of a lifetime and I might never have gone. It was only after Lynnie died that I understood how tenuous and iffy life is, and decided to actually go to France, try out my language skills, seeing as how French was the fifth miracle of my life. But will I go again next year? Truth is, I had refused even to consider travelling before Lynnie’s death, as I know that flying contributes a huge amount to global warming. Like that 16-year- old climate activist, Greta Thunberg, i too felt it incumbent upon me not to travel by air, amd to use my car as little as possible. I still feel that way…so while I understand that travel and tourism provide much needed jobs for people, we will all be seeking more than jobs if the temperature increases by the anticipated additional 2 degrees centigrade. What’s the point of the travel industry when half the world is drowning and the other half is on fire? I believe all will have to make drastic changes at some point…I choose to voluntarily make some changes in my lifestyle now rather than having them forced on me by global climate catastrophe. *

 

—————————————————-

*( If there’s one thing I know it’s that life is full of surprises, so if I started selling my art successfully I might speak and even feel differently)

Poème en Français (and translated)

I have not shared here how utterly in love with the French language I  have become. Last July, and I do not even remember exactly what happened but something did…last July I fell head over heels in love with French and all things Français. Like my other full blown long-term passions — field botany was the first, then poetry, then ——, then art, and now French — the transformation from someone who a few minutes before had no use for whatever it was — French in this case — into someone wildly passionate and devoted to the object of her desires happened in the space of moments. It was as usual truly like a religious “conversion experience”, no other expression adequately expresses this sort of Road to Damascus lightning strike experience. One minute I was just going along, doing art of course, and passionate about it, but having zilch interest in French…then with a nearly audible WHOMP! everything changes, as it changed last July and I literally transformed from someone who was at best lukewarm towards French, and France, to someone passionately in love!

 

i will write more about such experiences another time. (And never fear, my passion for art remains. ) but for now I wanted to share this poem, originally written in English for my book, LEARNING TO SEE IN THREE DIMENSIONS, but which last night I was moved to try to translate. If you perhaps are francophone and even a native speaker, I would LOVE any criticism or critique you might provide for how the French actually sounds to someone who knows it well.

 

Be that as it may, the translation in English, that is to say, the original version, is also below.

 

AU LECTEUR

qui pourrait être assis, comme moi,

dans un fauteuil vert, un thé à la main

regardant à travers de la porche

jusqu’au lampadaire  sans lumière au dehors du restaurant,

livre sur les genoux, le mien j’espérerais,

le seul livre que je dois évoquer

si j’évoque aucun livre dans un poème,

au lecteur, le méticuleux,

qui pourrait être se demandant pourquoi

sur la page 47 il y a deux « et »

l’un après l’autre, et à qui est la faute,

et au lecteur qui est peut-être fatigué

après un long trajet en bus chez lui

après un repas qui ne valait rien,

un lecteur qui ramasse mon livre, mais s’endort

avant de l’ouvrir, à tous je dis : Pardonnez-moi

je ne suis qu’une écrivaine, assise

dans un fauteuil vert, un thé à la main,

je ne peux pas expliquer ces deux « et »

ni le lampadaire mystérieux

ni réchauffer les pieds d’un lecteur fatigué

dans son lit. Je ne peux que mettre la musique

et raconter histoires

pour que des films tournent dans la tête,

pour le réveiller avec la compréhension soudaine

que c’est la poésie qui peut faire achever la vie,

eh bien, il peut faire achever ma vie au moins,

et peut être la sienne, et peut-être la vie

d’un méticuleux, et votre vie aussi,

tous ici assis, regardant à travers de la porche

jusqu’au lampadaire  sans lumière,

là où ce qui se passe si mystérieusement

est de la poésie –

et la nuit entière est enveloppée

dans les mots dits par deux étrangers

qui là se rencontrent,

ou peut-être les mots non-dits,

ce qui est de la poésie aussi,

et tous qui écoutent, nous attendons

la musique de ce qui se passera.

—————————-

 

TO THE reader

who may be sitting as I am

in a green recliner with a cup of tea

staring out through the porch

to a darkened streetlamp outside the diner,

with a book in her lap, mine, I hope

the only one I feel I should have to mention

if I mention a book in a poem I write;

to the reader, the nitpicker, the one

who may be wondering why

on p. 47 there are two ands, one

right after another, and whose fault that is;

and to the reader, who may be tired

after a long ride home on the bus

after dark and a meal not worth mentioning

who picks up my book but finds his eyes

closing before he has opened the cover,

I say: Forgive me

I am only a writer sitting in a green recliner

with a cup of tea, I can’t explain

those two ands or the mysterious

streetlamp or warm the feet of a tired

reader in his bed. I can only put music on

and tell him stories to make movies

turn in his head, to let him wake

with the sudden understanding that poetry

may be all it takes to make a life—

well, my life at any rate, and maybe his,

and maybe the nitpicker’s and yours, too,

staring through the porch to the streetlamp

where what happens so mysteriously ispoetry—

and the whole night is wrapped

in the words spoken by two strangers

meeting there, or not spoken, which is poetry too,

and all of us who listen are waiting

for the music of what is to happen.

M.