26 October 2012

french enough for me

A few weeks ago—no, over a month ago now—when I was in Quebec, I picked up a French book at the airport. This may have been a desperate attempt to keep my French self happy as I left a cobblestoned, francophone area, headed back to the suburbs and the dare-I-say-it harsh tone of our wide-mouthed American English.

{If you disagree with me on this harsh tone point, please just watch any period piece from England and tell me if you don't wish you had a mellifluous accent like that.*}

I found a book by Philippe Delerm and snatched it up immediately, as if there weren't 10 other copies. Philippe is one of the French writers I can understand without too much thinking. He is, I mean to say, a writer I can read as if he were writing in English, and when I read his books, I sometimes have to stop to think: OMG, I might be bilingual. {If I'm really immersed, that might even come out in French.}

But really, it's Philippe Delerm bilingual, but I'm okay with that. I live in the middle of America and go to French-speaking areas, on average, once every year. In other words, my French brain doesn't get much use, although I'm forever telling myself that I should watch more French movies or read more French books or join a French conversation group.

That doesn't happen, though, when I get caught up in my very English life here, and so I use Philippe Delerm to make my French self feel better: At least you can still read this, I tell myself.

The thing about Philippe Delerm {besides that he's from Normandy, where I used to live} is that he writes in French about stuff I like to write about in English: brief snatches of every day life. Little descriptions of how the sun played off the roof on a walk. What the first sip of a coffee is like.

We are surrounded by insignificant-seeming moments, but Philippe Delerm shows them to us and gives them a glow of great significance. That's what I try to do in {some of} my writing and maybe that's why I can understand him so easily: we speak the same language, of a sort.

My new book by him is Le trottoir au soleil: The Sidewalk in the Sun.

Just listen to this:
On arrive là en fin d’après-midi, on fait une grande balade autour des champs qui encerclent le hameau. Le soleil commence à fléchir quand on revient vers la voiture. Il y a une petite terrasse de café. On ne resiste pas au plaisir de s’y installer. […]

La lumière est en vous aussi. Chaque seconde qui passe vous rive advantage à ce miracle. Un soir d’été. Comment partir?

Beautiful, n'est-ce pas?

*My gosh, I am so classist, but I'm trying to hide it in a footnote. When I watch English shows—Pride and Prejudice or Sense and Sensibility or of course Downton Abbey—I wish for the mellifluous accent of the upper classes. I would also like someone to bring me tea in bed every morning, but I would be demanding/unusual and request coffee. I would also be unpredictable and sometimes want it from a French press and sometimes from an Italian press.

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