Good grief, blogosphere, I have been positively INUNDATED with French for the last few days.
On Thursday and Friday I had my operetta workshop, where I managed to crack a couple of jokes in French–not to mention UNDERSTAND other people’s jokes (sometimes when Christine, our director, says something funny and I laugh, she says, “Même Anne l’a compris!” Even Anne understood that!). Also, as it is in my nature to be a little teacher-y, I haven’t been hesitating to suggest things to my colleagues, especially with regard to the singing–and doing so, obviously, in French. The other day, I was tickled pink when I told my friend Clémentine about what Nova Thomas told me, how the breath before singing indicates the emotion or thought behind the phrase to come, and Christine said, “Très bien dit.” Very well said. And then an hour later, she referred back to what I had said with another student. Wheee!
And then today I went to Le Cordon Bleu and baked bread.
Lots and lots of bread.
Fougasse! (almost a pizza-like dough with olives, peppers, garlic and tomatoes–délicieux!)
Anyway. Because this was a short course–from 8:30 AM to 3 PM, we rolled and kneaded and pounded and folded, then went home with bags full of freshly-baked bread, which is now slightly soggy, alas–most of the participants were tourists and it was translated into English by a young French pastry chef, Manon (1. coolest name ever! 2. she works at Pierre Hermé!). But I realized as I was listening to the chef talk that I didn’t need the translation, not even a little bit, and I wasn’t translating it in my head, either. At some point in probably the last few weeks, I’ve become more or less fluent. And not fluent like, “say you’re fluent in your Fulbright proposal because it sounds better than ‘well, I speak decent French.'” Real fluent. I’ve pretty much stopped thinking in English when I have to speak in French; it just happens naturally.
I still sometimes get lost in grammar and vocabulary. This afternoon when I was handing out baguettes in my dorm (because they don’t last longer than a day and I had about six of them), I was trying to explain that when you make brioche, you have to make the dough (le pâte) the night before and bake it the next day, to give it time to ferment properly. But for the life of me, I couldn’t come with the word for “to bake” in French, and “cuire” just felt so wrong (probably because the word “cuir” means “leather”…). And sometimes I have to talk my way around a word that I just don’t have.
But more often I surprise myself with vocabulary that I’ve picked up from who knows where. I did an dramatic exercise in my operetta class yesterday while working on one of Aline’s arias from Honegger’s Les Aventures du Roi Pausole (I should just make a career out of characters called Aline!), where I had to push against another student’s hands while singing, and really let myself be aggressive. Anyway, afterwards, Christine asked me what I thought of what I had just done. I can’t remember word for word what I said (this is something else I’ve noticed–I totally understand what people are saying while they’re saying it, and I can respond, but I retain almost nothing), but I remember being conscious of using words that I didn’t remember learning. *cue Twilight Zone theme*
I think I’m also reveling a bit more in the sound and the feel of the language. It’s no wonder to me that the French are so much associated with food, because the more I speak French, the more I can taste it. I know that sounds insane, but it’s like the way food has “mouthfeel,” a texture that can add or detract from your enjoyment of a dish (it’s usually the latter when they play the “mouthfeel” card on Top Chef or Chopped). The sounds feel good in my mouth; I like the way I have to move my lips to make the correct vowel. Also, I’m really digging the uvular “R” right now. There’s a certain sound that French singers seem to make naturally, kind of a rolled AND uvular “R” at the same time. I had despaired of ever figuring out how to do that…and now I find I’m doing it without trying, without knowing how I’m doing it. I wonder if it just comes from listening to so much French spoken at a time, especially listening to French people singing in their native language and trying to imitate that sound (well, not the vocal sound–I don’t tend to be a fan of French singing–but the sound of the words, diction-wise).
When we stopped for lunch, around noon, the chef ushered us all out, and he said to me, “Tu as un sourire charmant. Bravo!” You have a charming smile. When he gave me my official little Cordon Bleu certificate, he kissed me on both cheeks and said, “Merci pour ton sourire! C’était un grand plaisir.” Thank you for your smile! It was a great pleasure. He was really delightful.
So now I can cross that experience off of my Sabrina fantasy list.
Craque! New egg!