The limits of my language are the limits of my world:   À vaillant coeur rien d’impossible. -Jacques Cœur

On arriving in California last November, one of my first thoughts that entered my jet-lagged brain was to do something that would keep me from forgetting the French I have learned. Or, at least not forgetting it at a faster rate than I ever learned it. The first week I was in Oakland, I got an e-mail from Alliance Française Berkeley offering anyone who wanted to join a class a huge discount. So I went on-line and found a conversation class and another class discussing French cinema. I was too advanced for the conversation one and way out of my depth for the French Ciné course. But I love films and, since Jean-Paul Belmondo had died last September, the teacher had chosen eight of his films for the class to discuss. I decided to hang in there.

Breathless with Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg

I find it hard to believe but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a JPB film. Not even Breathless. He is a beloved icon and treasure here in France. I believe there was a national day of mourning in September. His photo was certainly everywhere and documentaries were playing all the time on TV. What a surprise it was for me to realize what a great actor he is/was. And especially a comedian. His mouth seems to always be just about to break into a laugh or mischievous smile. His face winks. Some of the films were better than others. I became a fan.

Look at that mischievous face!!!!

The problem was I couldn’t express why I liked a film or didn’t like it. I’d listen to the other class members, who all spoke better french than me, have lively discussions with the professor and each other. I looked forward to Sunday evenings when I would watch the film and dread Monday mornings at 11am PT when the class met on Zoom.

Agnès Varda, the first female on the New Wave movement in France

I signed up for a second two-month class. When I returned to Paris, the class would meet at 7pm CET. It wasn’t too late for me and I could say that I was keeping up French lessons. Only… I did the exact same thing: loved watching the wonderful films that our professor chose (The theme for those two months was French women directors) and dreaded Mondays.

I told myself I wasn’t going to sign up again. Why was I making myself so miserable. For some reason, I decided to discuss it with Barbara. I told her this whole language thing was really impacting how I viewed living in Paris, living in France. I wasn’t a tourist anymore. I’m a bonafide resident. I wanted to tuck my tail between my legs and run home to California. She told me that, after living here thirty-four years, she still prepares for difficult talks and discussions even though she speaks fluently. She uses the popular translation app DeepL as a helper tool and spends time in preparation. I can’t remember how the next thirty minutes of discussion went but I felt smacked upside the head–I hadn’t really taken the class seriously as a tool for learning French. I wasn’t going to improve just by showing up. Yes, I was watching the films–with English subtitles. But I needed to spend time preparing for the class — I could write out my feedback of each movie. I could practice saying it in French. It really didn’t matter what I did, as long as I did it. I have a good head on my shoulders. I have decent ideas about film but I wasn’t letting anyone in the class know me. About the best I offered was “I really liked the film but….” and I would shake my head, “I can’t really express why.” I would genuinely feel blank in both English and French.

This is where I have rested my brain for a very long time. I think it’s time to move on.

So I signed up for another course of two months. I have been preparing in the afternoon before the class begins. So far, the class members are fine with me reading my writing and ad libbing a bit. What a change for me. I’m part of the class. They seem to like my ideas. The two hours go quickly and I’m not dreading Mondays anymore.

And here is a novel idea. Would life in Paris be like my class? If I prepared more and let people know me, would I feel a part of? Yes, I’m in my 70s and it is quite courageous to live in a new culture at my age but, if I’m going to do it, it’s worth putting time into making everything about it enjoyable.

A bientôt,

Sara

Le French Book

Once I no longer HAD to read good literature, I joined a Book Club so that at least once a month I could say I had read Literature.  But for pure reading pleasure, I started my life-long love affair with Mysteries and Thrillers.  Some would say that there are plenty of mysteries that are also well written literature.  I’m not a judge.  I know that I love to while away the day lying on the couch reading Lee Childs, Alexander McCall Smith, John Sanford, PD James, etc.  All written in English by American or British authors.

I don’t know when I discovered that the French write mysteries!  At my Alliance Française, they are filed under Policiers.  Anne Trager, editor and translator, says the French call them Polar — pronounced “pole-ARE”.  Whatever they are called, I love them.  And thanks to Ms. Trager, I get to read them in English.  I’m not exactly proud that my french isn’t good enough to read these books but I’m making progress.  In the meantime, there’s

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Anne Trager founded Le French Book in 2011.  Her website says:   “The company’s founder—American translator and editor Anne Trager—loves France so much she has lived there for over a quarter of a century, and just can’t seem to leave. It’s not the baguettes that keep her there (she’s sans gluten), but a uniquely French mix of pleasure seeking and creativity. Well, that and the wine. After over a quarter of a century of experience in the translation business and nearly as much in publishing, she decided it was time for her to focus on the books she loves to read and bring them to a broader audience.”

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Anne Trager, Editor and Translator

You can go to the website: https://www.lefrenchbook.com and discover all the books that she and her team have translated.  I want to tell you about one series in particular The Winemaker Detective Series by Jean-Pierre Alaux and Noël Balen.  I must have written Anne to thank her because I am now able to read advance copies of this series.  They aren’t quite The Cozies that some people steer clear of.  There is always a mystery and some are darker than others.  There is also plenty of wine as our hero ‘detective’, Benjamin, happens to be a renowned Wine Expert.  He and his assistant, Virgil, make the rounds of the vineyards of France, eating delicious meals, drinking fabulous wines and solving mysteries.  And, as with many series these days, one gets to know Benjamin’s family, Virgil’s love affairs and the state of wine production year after year.  The books are not lengthy so each one is an easy couple of afternoons reading.  Plus if you live in France as I do, it is so much fun to say “I’ve been there!”

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I wrote Anne last Spring and asked her if a TV series had ever been made of the books. Yes, she said, Blood of the Vine.  I subscribe to MhZ International Mysteries and found the series there.  I think I watched all four seasons in two weeks!  The series is loosely based on the books–once I got passed the fact that the shows were different, I fell in love with them also.

While writing this blog, I went on LeFrenchBook website and discovered that you can get 3 of the books free.  You just need to tell the team where to send them. Unless you only like violence that comes at you on every page, you will not be disappointed.

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You can read an interview with the two authors from November 20, 2016:             https://www.lefrenchbook.com/le-french-book-blog/2016/11/20/revealed-the-winemaker-detective-and-winemaking

A bientôt,

Sara