Pluie, pluie s’en aller. Revenez une autre jour.
In other words (or rather in English):
Rain, rain go away. Come again some other day.
Like, when I don’t have French class smack in the middle of the afternoon as I did on Tuesday. I’m a freelancer now. I should be able to take full advantage of my freedom to just stare out the window on soggy days without having to, you know, go out and get all soggy.
As it happened, the song actually worked and the rain “went away” just in time for my walk up 8 blocks and over two avenues to Idlewild Bookshop where I’m currently enrolled in French for Advanced Beginners (for the second time). Problem was, I still didn’t want to go.
Essentially, I love all things Parisian, but hate learning—or shall I say, relearning—the city’s spoken language. Can’t I just—POOF!—magically be able to converse in this beautiful native tongue as opposed to tying up my own tongue in a twisted tangle of reflexive verbs and tenses?
I actually hated French class in High School, too. For starters, it was at the absolute worst time of day: first period. Who wants to conjugate nouns and decipher prepositions at 8a.m.? Secondly, my teacher, Ms. Barry, was flat-out mean. Totally upheld the whole ‘French people are rude’ stereotype. Though, I don’t even think she was French. But the piece de resistance? My “French name” was…wait for it…Solange. I know what you’re thinking: “Oh, that’s so cool. Like Beyonce’s hip, DJ-spinning sister.” But Solange and her tres cool ‘fro was not around then, getting in fights with the King and Queen of Pop Music in hotel elevators and making a (d’oh!) name for herself. No, the name “Solange,” to me, was most definitely not tres cool. Also, why is it any more French than Sara? Couldn’t I just be Sarrra, like David is just Daveeeed?
Unfortunately, I had no memory of all this language-learning disdain until about the third week of last summer’s attempt to relearn French after returning from London (with two stopovers in the City of Light).
Oh yeah, I thought, as I sat there staring at a dry-erase board covered in adjectives and nouns and adverbs and other grammar terms even I, a journalist, have a hard time remembering. I hated French class back in 8th, 9th, 10th and 11th grades. So much so that I opted not to continue taking it as soon as it wasn’t a requirement. Why did I sign up for this again?
And then I managed to forget how much I disliked even that when I signed up to take the same class for a second time this summer after declaring my intent to move to Paris back in July. (More on that later.)
Absence really does make the heart grow fonder, I guess.
Because the thing is, I really, really, really want to be able to speak French fluently. Back in High School, I did it because it was a requirement and I chose French over Spanish because my Mom chose it when she was a kid and also because, as she informed me, all of the creative arts—dance, theater, etc—are rooted in French. And I was interested in the creative arts. While I’ve certainly visited more Spanish-speaking countries over the years, rendering my very basic language skills useless, I do take pride in having chosen this beautiful language—whether it be when I’m at the ballet or outside this restaurant Le Baratin on my block where all the hot French men smoke their cigarettes. But now that I’m older, I’m doing it because as a traveler, I’ve learned to really appreciate the idea of a foreign language; how with just a mash up of some letters and added accents and the reordering of words, the alphabet forms a completely unique way of communicating that’s entirely native to a place and a culture. (Albeit a very beguiling one to those non-natives.) And, well, also because I looooooove Paris. Plus, it’s just romantic and sexy. N’est pas?
While I feel fairly confident with my pronunciation and accent, it’s all those “exceptions to rules” (and there are many) and articles and “de” and “de la” (which sometimes becomes “du”) that makes my head spin ’round ’round like a macaron, causing me to resound myself to a basic and boring, “Je parle Francais seulement un petit peu.” (I only speak French a little bit.) I can’t even remember how to say, “Can you speak slower?” without consulting good ‘ole Google Translate.
In the beginning of these more recent, self-imposed studies, I listened to podcasts like News in Slow French and downloaded apps like DuoLingo to practice. But as the weeks go by, despite my leaving the podcast open in a window on my desktop, it has remained un-clicked at Episode #183 from August 28. And while DuoLingo is a fun way to pass the time on the subway, with its game-like, flirty phrase testing (ie, “Vous venez ici souvent” aka “Do you come here often?”), I’ve been crap at completing one level a day—a pretty basic goal I set for myself. At this point, with two weeks left of classes, I’m lucky if I complete my homework with enough time to actually get myself there.
To be fair, though, once I actually step through those doors, which also, I might add, holds hundreds and hundreds of travel books (aka, my idea of heaven) I am, for the most part, “there.” Sure, I check the clock once or twice and have to practice deep ujjayi breathing to help me get through all the frustrating quips my teacher says with a chuckle, like, for example: “It takes time because in English it’s very different.”
(Ugh, ya think?)
But I am vigilant. I am devoted. I am interested. Most probably because, as a Virgo—and a New Yorker—I am challenged. So I will go to class, even in the rain, and do my damn homework. I will leave the News in Slow French podcast open on my desktop for that spare minute (or 10) I have to listen, and I will learn to speak French, dammit!
Because I’ve got another very big and exciting challenge coming up that sorta requires me to do so. That’s right, monsieurs and madames. I am, officially, relocating to Paris.
Notice I did not use the word move. That feels so permanent, which is scary since, again, I am a New Yorker. This is my home where my heart has a finite place. So in the spirit of today’s post on language, I choose “relocate.” Plus, I look at this as just another adventure; further practice in self-discovery while discovering the world—the tagline I’ve unofficially given this blog whenever I pimp it out to people.
The adventure begins on November 18, exactly two months from today, when I take off for the land of baguettes and croissants and way too many smokers.
I better start learning how to conjugate.