E dans l’o

I never learned Latin. The dead languages were considered passé in the public education system when I was growing up in the 60s and 70s. Latin was relegated to religious study. I often regret this lack. It would have been helpful to understand the root meanings of many French words.

I’ve only just discovered that in French the combination of ‘o’ and ‘e’ as œ is called ‘e dans l’o’. The funny thing is that when spoken this way it sounds like ‘oeufs dans l’eau’ (eggs in water). It’s an easy mnemonic and a fun way of describing this feisty little coupling of vowels in French.

In these times of confinement, of being stuck together, I am oddly moved by the poetry of this union. ‘Cœur’ offers the perfect example; o is joined to e just as hearts are joined in love. Old friends and lovers, siblings and kindred spirits who know each other intimately even after years of absence. This is the beauty of e dans l’o.

And there are so many other words with œ that represent the coming together of efforts or things: œuvre, a work of art or body of work; chœur, a choir; vœu, a wish; nœud, a knot.

Photo by Will O on Unsplash

I saw an œuvre last week that stirred my cœur as such things rarely do. A beautiful, original, heart-stopping film that filled me with sorrow and joy, while reminding me that what we are going through right now is nothing. Nothing at all.

It was a real discovery, having never seen any of the director/writer/actor’s work. Now I look forward to watching more. Taika Waititi has a unique talent for blending the dramatic with the comic. Just exactly my cup of tea.

Perhaps isolation gives us a different point of view on things we take for granted. Little things. A beautiful day. A cup of tea. A call from a friend.

Πis a small thing. Yet even tiny things can achieve a great deal. Like a virus wreaking havoc on the world as we know it. This tiny combination of cells is behind the pandemic that is bringing our economy to a halt, ripping lives apart, making a mockery of politics.

But it works both ways. By joining together in our efforts, by caring for one another, perhaps we can each make a difference. However small.

Whatever you do today, do it with cœur.

Photo by Chang Duong on Unsplash

Has anything moved you lately?

Cocorico!

‘Cocorico’ is French for cock-a-doodle-doo and a symbol of national pride. I’ve posted before about the Coq Gaulois and why it’s our national mascot. Now, recent events have inspired me to provide an update on the Gallic rooster. Or at least one noisy bird called Maurice.

You may have heard of the feisty fellow. Maurice made headlines around the world this summer as he became the object of a dispute between neighbours on an island off the west coast of France, Île d’Oléron. Joined to the mainland by a bridge on the Atlantic, it’s an idyllic holiday spot.

The rooster “Maurice” stands at Saint-Pierre-d’Oleron in La Rochelle, western France, on June 5, 2019. / AFP / XAVIER LEOTY

Maurice was crowing too early in the day and with too much gusto as far as his city-slicker neighbours were concerned. Roosters can make a hell of a racket. And they don’t just crow when the sun comes up. They can be like watch dogs, setting off their vocal alarm at odd hours of the day or night. This upset the holiday people who had bought a second home in the country to enjoy some peace and quiet.

The problem is that the countryside is not by nature a quiet place. There are ducks and chickens and cows and church bells. The farmers are out from dawn to dusk and their machines also make noise. The court case between Maurice and the city people represented the great divide between urban and rural France. The city mice vs. the country mice.

Translation: ‘Up yours, assholes!’

When justice was decided and Maurice won the right to crow his little heart out, it was like a victory for all of the French cocks. And I’m not just talking about our feathered friends. ‘Cocorico’ is not only the onomatopeia for the rooster’s crow, it’s a word that describes the sound of French pride. One that finds its roots deep in the dusty soil of la campagne.

It sparked a whole series of memes like the one below, warning outsiders to beware of the country village with its noisy church bells and farm animals. Love it or leave it!

I had to look up the meanings of a couple of words from in a French online dictionary to fully appreciate the above meme, which led me to a list of slang words for the Savoie region. A ‘monchu’ is a city slicker or a novice to a sport like skiing. It derives from ‘Monsieur’ and is associated with that most detested of Frenchmen in provincial France, ie the Parisian. ‘Arvi’pa’ means: get out, go away, get lost, ciao!

Here is the story of Maurice from an American point of view:

I’m of two minds about this. Personally, I would not be able to live in harmony next to noisy church bells or an overly enthusiastic rooster. But I understand that they have been doing their thing for centuries, so it’s up to me to adapt.

What do you think about Maurice’s victory? Should tradition stand or French villages adapt to changing times?

Un défi

Challenge

They say a challenge is good for the soul. So I’ve decided to challenge myself here on the blog.

Je me lance un défi.

How? To step off the path. Go a little further. Up my game.

Regular readers of this blog will see daily posts for awhile. New readers may be inspired to come along for the ride.

I will be posting brief thoughts about words and expressions, Frenchisms, flavours, memories, favourite places. Along with my regular weekly rambles on a theme about French life.

Are you ready?

Je vous mets au défi!

 

Du pain sur la planche

Bread on my cutting board

Take a bite of my favourite loaf. It’s soft and dense, still warm from the oven, fragrant with rye and walnuts. Delicious, right? Then why is having ‘du pain sur la planche’ equated with having a lot of work?

Perhaps it is because the baker – le boulanger – has his work cut out for him. Kneading and rolling, at the ovens before dawn, the baker on every corner must have fresh baguettes and épis and pains de campagnes ready early each morning.

It seems the expression, ‘avoir du pain sur la planche’, has morphed over the years. At first, having bread on one’s board meant wealth. That was back in the day when the bread was made to last a long time. Then, sometime in the last century, the meaning changed. Perhaps because people began to buy their bread fresh each day. And the skinny, white baguette, delicious just out of the oven, is stale soon after.

I’ve had plenty of bread on my board so to speak for the past several months. As a freelancer that can be a double-edged sword. You are grateful for the work coming in but you never know where the next job will come from, so you really need to be thinking ahead, networking and taking care of finding new clients. That is the part of the freelance life I enjoy the least.

But I need to do it to keep the bread coming in.

Come to think of it, equating bread with work makes perfect sense. You can’t have one without the other. To have a lot on your plate, as we say in English, isn’t so different.

Sometimes lately it all feels so overwhelming. Here in France we are in a phase where there is so much to do, at every level of society. It seems that everything is such a mess. People are out protesting in the streets each week. Beyond our borders is no better. Even the weather has gone crazy.

Yet the birds are back singing and signs of spring are unmistakable. Each day the baker manages to turn out little marvels like this loaf.

For that, I am grateful.

Et toi?

 

Mon singe

I have a monkey on my back. Un singe. See him? No, of course you can’t. He’s a private little fellow.

I’m no addict – he’s not that kind of monkey. But carrying him around all the time can be exhausting. He never shuts up.

There he goes again: What on earth are you writing about? No one is going to have a clue what you mean. A monkey? How ridiculous!

Monkey has his good points. Sometimes he makes me smile.  Il fait le singe, makes like a monkey. And he can be a creative little guy. Bitingly funny. Who would even think of half the stuff he comes up with? Too inappropriate, mostly, to share with anyone else. But in some ways he is my muse.

Most of the time he is an angry little dude who makes me impatient and short-tempered. A kill joy. He can be terrifying, with his dire predictions and irrational fears.

He is my inner critic, my slave driver, cracking his whip. Not good enough, he whispers. Who do you think you are? Often I believe him. Monkey see, monkey do.

Too often he exhausts me to the point where I just give up. No, I will not be good enough. While I’m at it, I won’t be good at all. May as well fool around instead of working. Waste time, kick back, have another glass of wine. I will forget about exercising or writing or doing whatever else I’d planned.

Now it’s time for a change. This year, I’ve decided to make friends with my monkey.

I can’t get rid of him completely. But I am thinking that perhaps I need to work with him. He is part of me after all. And in order to enjoy the good I need to manage the bad.

So I’ll tell him it’s okay not to be perfect. Sometimes good enough is just fine. And failure is okay if it means you really tried. In fact, it can be positive.

He will surely scoff.

And I’ll simply say: Monkey, be quiet. (Not ‘shut up’. Even monkeys deserve respect.) I’ll invite him to take a deep breath, admire the view. I’ll even give him half of my banana.

The rest I’m keeping for myself.

Happy new you!

Have you made any resolutions for 2019?