Reading & Writing

The Elegance and the Rhapsody of Muriel Barbery


I’ve been on a French kick lately–the language, the movies, the food, and the books. I’m not really familiar with a lot of French literature, but I am a fan of Muriel Barbery, whose The Elegance of the Hedgehog I devoured when it first came out in America, and whose Gourmet Rhapsody (actually her first book and something of a prequel to Hedgehog though it was the second to be released in the states) I enjoyed many years later. Over the last two weeks I’ve reread both of them and if possible, I’ve enjoyed them even more.

Gourmet Rhapsody is the story of a renowned food critic in his final days. The story swings back and forth between his perspective and those of the many people in his life, most of whom hate him, many of whom refuse to see him even in his dying moments. And for good reason: he admits that he has never loved his children and that the best moments of his life have all occurred away from his wife and family. He is not seeking companionship at the end, at least not in a traditional sense: he is seeking a flavor. A craving, some lingering idea of a food long forgotten, that he must have before he dies. His life unfolds for us in stories about eating. It’s touching, philosophical, and never devolves into food porn. Of course not–it’s French! And as every American knows, the French know best about food. Continue reading “The Elegance and the Rhapsody of Muriel Barbery”

Cooking & Eating, Reading & Writing

It’s Been Une Semaine Francaise.

img_0794I guess it started with Boeuf Bourguignon: I started thinking about Julia Child and The French Chef and how she always hated that title because she wasn’t French or a chef, and it got me thinking about her memoir, My Life in France, and how I’d like to have a life in France, even a brief one (which I guess you could say I have–I’ve spent a cumulative six or seven days in Paris, spread over several trips to Europe), and how if that’s ever going to happen I’ll have to improve my French, so I started going through my French texts and dictionaries, which made me remember this really great book I read a few years back, The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery, which I then began rereading, and in reading the first few chapters I was reminded of one of my all-time favorite films, Amélie, which of course I had to watch, and on top of that the boy has been requesting multiple readings of the Madeline books per day, as well as the bilingual picture books I bought for the girl (whose favorite game, by the way, is to build stacks of blocks and then topple them, saying “Crash!” with all the excitement she can muster–blocks that have French vocabulary on them, because Santa Claus really wanted her to learn a second language) and, well, it seems I’ve thought about the French language and culture every day this week.

C’est bon, hein?

Goals & Challenges

Ten Sentences in French

4-cafe-scene-1930sI took four years of French in high school and one semester in middle school. I was very good at it, if I may say so myself–and I’m not just taking the teachers’ words for it. Once, at the train station in Paris, I struck up a conversation with an old woman who was there with her dog (one can only make so many silly faces at a pup before one must converse with its owner). We chatted for maybe five minutes, about her dog and the train schedule and where we were each going. She then asked me if I was from the south of France. When I said I was American, she looked shocked. That was probably the best compliment I could have received.

Fast forward something like twelve years and my French is rusty. Like an old bike that’s been rotting under the trees kind of rusty. Every couple of years or so I try to polish it up and take it for a spin, but inevitably decide it’s too much work for too little benefit. But now, as my daughter proves to be quite a quick language learner and my son begins to catch up, I think it’s a good time to break out the old second language so that when the time comes, I can help them learn it, too. So here we go.

My first French teacher started class not with a grammar lesson, but with a set of sentences for us to memorize. I enter the classroom (J’entre dans la salle de classe). I look around me (Je regarde autour de moi). I find my desk (Je trouve mon pupitre). And so on. It worked very well, as every day we all did these things, and we could narrate them in our minds in real time. As I’m not the most grammatical of learners, I decided to start with this technique, and to start slow, only introducing a couple of unfamiliar words as I sort of dip my toes back into it. So here’s the set of sentences I’m going to try to learn this week (and maybe they’ll help reaffirm some other good habits, as well): Continue reading “Ten Sentences in French”