Thursday, December 11, 2003

Reading in French

Finished reading my first French ‘Roman’ – Marcel Pagnol's La gloire de mon père. Though I bought the book in August, I could finish it only now. Took my time reading it. In the meantime, I read English books (sounds funny but the distinction is one of great import, here in France) from ALP and a few bengali ones (sent by ma and very kindly brought by mon cousin) – Desh and Anondo mela puja barshiki(yes…I still read it), Nabanita Devsen’s Onnodip. I average about 3 books per week.

In august last year, I had read an article about Le Château du Comte de Monte Cristo in Seine et Marne. Alexander Dumas (père) built it with the profits that his books brought him. Suddenly felt like re-reading the book. Got a copy from ALP and had to finish it one sitting. Couldn't stop even though I had to shut myself in the loo at night, to read it since the lights were attracting bugs from the open windows!

A friend was ‘maha’ impressed at my reading in French. Alas! No. I was reading it in English. It took me exactly a year to pick up my first French novel - Le Gloire de Mon Père from the second hand book stall at our mardi and samedi marché.

I had seen this stall almost as soon as I had arrived here. But all I could do then was to just browse through the two tubs of ‘les classiques’. There were many other tubs with racy romances with scantily clad buxoms ‘belles’, policiers, band dessinees and other stuff.

Early this year, I did a 10 week intensive French language course (my third such course…which has been in fits and spurts). This helped enormously and now I could pick up a french book and could comprehend! It however took me a few more months to screw up courage to buy one! My ‘comprehension’ was far better than my ‘écriture’ which was better than my ability to ‘parle’!

What if the book seller struck up a conversation with me and asked me questions to which I could only stutter in response and perhaps he’d smile sarcastically say ‘Marçel pagnol pora hocchey’( or the French equivalent of it)?! Snicker snicker!! I occasionally pick up a copy of a satirical hebdomadaire La Canard Enchaine’ and roll it up and secret it home incase some one strikes up a conversation with me (seeing the copy in my hands and thinking I speak fluently?).

As far as choices go, this autobiography (the first volume) by Pagnol was a good one to begin with. Simple language, funny story. At first, I had to stop frequently to consult my ‘dico’ as many as 10 or sometimes 15 times per page. I would look up the meanings, then reread the whole page. This made progress slow. Finished around 100 pages or so vowing to pick a new one up every Tuesday. But some how lost steam. The books from ALP were calling me, beckoning me.

Last week, I returned all my books to ALP but didn’t take out any, since A and I will be away for a month or so. I was having severe withdrawl symptoms when I spied ‘La gloire de mon père’ in one of the untidy piles dotting our tiny flat (oof how they pile up) and pounced on it. And hey presto…finished it in two sittings. I simply raced through it, stopping only to read out parts of it to poor A(as I have earlier to ma – her pitiful ‘aar parchi naa’ still ring in my ears). The exploits of the Pompous ‘Oncle’ Jules, cherubic brother Paul, the school teacher father who triumphs en fin, in the hunting trip with the hero (7 year old) Marcel Pagnol’s help! I had to look up a word once in a while. My French has improved vastly and seems to improve day by day. I am far from being fluent but I can see how far I have come since January, since June and even since last month!

Am on to my 2nd French book – one I had bought much earlier but begun only now. Claudine à Paris. One of the series of Claudine novels about the improper adventures of a teenage girl, by Sidonie Gabriele Colette , more popularly known as Colette. I have read the first and the third of this series in English.

‘Claudine in school’ is the first of this series and is very unlike any others school story that I have read. The wicked, intelligent, outspoken Claudine and the head mistress vie for the attention of the charming teacher Aimée!The chaste and goody goody Enid Blyton school stories or the chalet school series were our staple diet, growing up in India. At least they were when I did…don’t know what has taken its place now – sound terribly aged, don’t I? But the reality is that the songs of my teen years are now Classics!!

The second one is about her move from her rural Montigny to Paris and her friendship with the homosexual Marcel and his dashing father Renaud whom she marries in the 3rd novel.

The third one gets even more interesting. She gets married to the worldly 40 year old Renaud and gets caught up in the whirl of Parisian High Society and thereafter gets into a curious triangle with her husband and a fiery woman Rezie!

Despite the raunchy, sensational theme, it does not detract from the quality of her prose at all (sounds a tad patronising coming from me with only 2 weeks of blogging to show)…She was after all a member of Academie Goncourt and its first woman member incidentally with a writing career that spanned 50 years.

Interestingly, she was in the headlines again this year but for another reason - a sad one. The French actress Marie Trintignant was shooting a bio-pic of Colette in Lithuania when she went into a coma and then died in august this year, after sustaining fatal injuries following a fight with her companion Betrand Cantat of the hugely popular French band Desir Noir. She was hit on her face by Cantat during a spat in their hotel. Cantat who later tried to commit suicide, is, even as I write, still holed up in a prison in Lithuania. And the movie is probably shelved.

But I still have Claudine à Paris to curl up with on this cold, grey December day. And I will, once I have finished cooking and then eating our niramish lunch of – phulcopir dalna, rajma, moosoor dal with radhuni phoron and bhat.

Glossary French Words
Roman – Novel
La gloire de mon père – the Glory of my father
mon cousin – my cousin (male; female would be ma cousine)
Les Classiques – The Classics
Belles - beauties
Policiers – Mysteries, detective novels
Band dessinées – Comic strips
Ecriture – writing
Parler – to speak
Hebdomadaire – weekly
dico’ –slang for dictionary
Oncle – Uncle
En fin – at last, in the end
Desir Noir – Black Desire

Glossary Bengali Words
Desh – A literary bengali magazine
Anondo mela – popular childrens Bengali magazine
Puja Barshiki – Annual issue published during Durga Puja in September / October.
Nabanita Devsen – Poet, author, professor, need I say more?
Onnodip – Another Island (literal meaning).
‘maha’ – not strictly Bengali, Indian rather to mean highly or greatly
Marçel pagnol pora hocchey? – reading Marcel pagnol?
Aar parchi naa – Cant help it anymore literally, but really it means Help, stop, enough, when will it end etc.
niramish - vegetarian
phulcopir dalna – cauliflower curry
rajma – Red Kidney beans
Moosoor dal – Orange lentils
Radhuni phoron – a herb used to temper moosoor dal
Bhat - Rice

Read if you will

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