Friday, July 15, 2005

Ten Things I Like About France

Weekend Assignment #68: Take a moment to appreciate something French. Tell us about that French thing you most appreciate. It could be anything, from a particular French wine to your favorite French filmmaker to the fact they like Jerry Lewis more than we.

Extra Credit: Been to France? Some of your vacation pictures would be nice to see. - J.S.

Ten Things I Like About France:

France in my office at Worldwide Travel, 5/17/0510.  France was home (at least intermittently) to Voltaire (that reprobate!) and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Their ideas influenced my hero Thomas Jefferson.  (The junior high school / high school simplification of) Rousseau's ideas have been a big influence for me also.

9. The Marquis de Lafayette helped us out a lot during the American Revolution. He is commemorated in the names Fayetteville, NY (two miles from where I grew up), Fayetteville-Manlius Road (where I lived for 15 years), and Fayetteville-Manlius High School (from which I graduated in 1975).

8.  Sandy Potter decorated my office at Worldwide Travel with a couple of posters (one cloth, one paper) promoting France.  I was never especially fond of them, but I was fond of Sandy, a former French teacher. I also had a little metal figure of the Eiffel Tower, probably also from Sandy.  I like it a lot more than the posters, but that didn't prevent me from trying to use it as an antenna for my boombox.

7. My favorite author, Madeleine L'Engle, has some French ancestry.  Hence the name.  More on L'Engle below.

Un poeme de Jacque Prevert
6. Of my college courses in French literature,which nearly killed me because my vocabulary wasn't up to the task, the only assigned texts I actively liked were the poems Déjeuner du Matin and Le message by Jacques Prévert.  Déjeuner du Matin was about someone methodically eating breakfast "sans me parler."  Le message was a list of objects that added up to a death. 
Here's a translation of it.  My first 16 mm film, a one-minute black and white effort made for a filmmaking course, was based on this poem.  Like the poem, my little film showed objects rather than people in order to tell the story of someone who read a letter, knocked over a chair, jumped in a river and died.  My main departure from the poem was that my mostly-unseen protagonist jumped over Pratt's Falls. I still have the only copy of this, but it's probably melted by now, or at least seriously degraded.

5. Were it not for French class in sixth grade, I would never have met Mademoiselle Djykstra.

4.  I'm rather fond of René Descartes.  You may want to ask Paul Little why Descartes is important. Okay, in case Paul doesn't appreciate that nod, I'll tell you that Descartes was pretty much the father of the Age of Reason.  Before that, people mostly believe something based on feelings, or because somebody said so.

3. James Thurber used a French expression in a cartoon, in a way that has stuck with me for many years.  The original quotation is from Blaise Pascal (except the last word is usually quoted as "point," not "pas").  Antoine De St.-Exupéry wrote something similar (see below).  But the Thurber version is the one that tickles me: "Le coeur a ses raisons, Mrs. Bence, que la raison ne connaît pas." Translation: "The heart  has its reasons, which reason does not know."

Le Petit Prince.2. I'm very fond of The Little Prince by Antoine De St.-Exupéry. Here's an official website!

1. I had a good time in France in the summer of 1972.  That was when my mom took the family for a three week Caravan tour of Europe.  I was sick with the flu for the first week of the trip, and a little sick again at the end in France, but I had fun anyway.  Some highlights:

  • Several of us got to France a week early by crossing the Rhine from Germany one evening.  We walked over a bridge near an automobile factory (Mercedes, I think).  The German border guard checked our passports, but the French guy just waved us through.  I think I ran ahead to be a first of the little group (which included my brother Steve and a guy named, if memory serves, Mike Motel) to officially reach France.

  • The bus ride to Le Tour Eiffel was mostly memorable for another rider on the bus that day.  After he gave us directions in American English, my dad said something about how the guy probably had to learn his way around when he first arrived, too.  The man then astonished us by saying he was French, and had lived there all his life!  He had studied American English at the Sorbonne, and disliked British English.  He made us laugh by talking about "the Champs Ee-lie-zees" and other places, mangling the French words in a fake Brooklyn accent.

  • Steve and I had trouble finding a Catholic church in Paris that Sunday, despite the fact that the city must have dozens of them.  We were staying at the Hotel Gare Du Nord, near the train station, and didn't have much time for exploring.  Having messed up the hotel's directions, I approached a local guy on the street and asked, "Ou est l'église?"  The guy responded in French that there are "beaucoup des églises"  in Paris.  Which one did we want?  I had trouble coming up with the words to explain that we wanted the closest one!

  • My dad took Steve and me on a 20-minute tour of the Louvre.  My mom insisted that there was no time for such things before we had to leave for the airport, and angrily declined to come along.  But I'm glad we did it.  First of all, the Underground station was decorated with replica art, making it sort of a destination in itself.  I think it featured a Tut exhibit at the time.  Once we were in the museum, my dad had a plan.  He got a map of the Louvre, and worked out a route to see the three most important exhibits, according to him:  the Mona Lisa (of course), Venus de Milo, and Winged Victory.  I was surprised how small the Mona Lisa was, and that it was under heavy glass.  (Of course, Douglas Adams / Doctor Who fans know that the painting has "this is a fake" written on the canvas in felt tip pen!)

Unfortunately, I have no pictures from that 1972 trip, and I haven't been to France since then.  I know I took some pictures, but either Steve or my dad has them.  In some cases, the pictures I took with my dad's cheap hand-me-down camera were the only ones of a place, because a roll of his film got lost or was ruined or something.

    Oh, about L'Engle.  I've been meaning to mention that a magazine called Bookmarks has reprinted a little piece I did for The Tesseract, my Madeleine L'Engle online bibliography.  I got the contributor's copy in the mail this week.  Looking it over, I think I should have given them a quick rewrite.  Ah, well! 


    Back in print, with words about L'Engle.I should have done a quick rewrite! 


    plittle said...

    Did you mean me, or some other Paul Little?

    deabvt said...

    Beautiful! Thanks for all the work! It was worth it.

    paisleyskys said...

    Fabulous Enrty!

    ryanagi said...

    Hmm...I guess there are a few more things I can appreciate about France than first came to mind. Good entry. :-)

    sakishler said...

    Couldn't you have just headed over to Notre Dame?

    ondinemonet said...

    Karen :)

    I loved this entry. I am a huge fan of Thurber. What a wonderful time you must have had in Paris. I would love to see it someday, if could convince you to come along. :) It would be fun to have someone who knows their way around and with whom I seem to share so much with. :) Great entry.

    Always, Carly :)

    georgui7 said...

    Descartes. Yes he is a giant in his ways. Being educated in anglo-american, its very hard to appreciate Descartes' rationalism (and French are known for their rationalism.) We empirisicits always latch on to the subject/object thing. I don't think Descartes does. Because, he was not sympathetic to the outside experience. But where it because difficult to the analytic people with ratoinalism is the idea of "ouside" with Descartes. Even tho Descartes was into "I think therefore I am". His idea of "I" is very different from what the empiricists' stumped on our mind. Clear and distinct idea was Descartes' objects(I am not sure even if i can you this word "object" here.)

    If someone is interested we can talk about this more.