I’ve been helping Darlene with verbs this morning, so I am running out of time for posting something before we walk up the hill to the Institute. Thus, some English. It takes roughly five times as much time to write in French as it does in English, what with the extra keystrokes for accents and looking words up in my digital dictionary, which today is warning me of low battery level, so my lifeline is about to expire and I have no extra CR2032 batteries. To say I’m on edge would be to understate the situation. Twelve minutes to go…
Yesterday I gave my “Exposé” in class, a 20-minute talk in French, followed by an equal amount of time for questions from the other students and our phenomenal teacher, Cécile. I spoke about my life, focusing on how my interest in writing and French goes way back, to my first blue journal that I wrote in when I was seven years old, and to the magical performance of the musical “Carnival” that I attended with my parents and my sister a fews later in Boston. I spoke quite openly about personal matters and even attempted to sing, in French and English, a bar of “Love Makes the World Go Round,” one of the songs from “Carnival.” The musical was set in France and told the story of a little girl who joined the slightly seedy Cirque de Paris.
My exposé was a success, judging from everyone’s ability to follow what I was saying, and the number of lively questions. I actually enjoyed myself tremendously, proving that my desire for attention is alive and well in any language. I wrote the URL of Les Chroniques on the white marker board, so welcome to my classmates if you are visiting.
As we slog our way through endless drills and and exercises on the fine points of French, it is difficult to sense any forward progress. In fact, it often feels as if everything becomes a muddle, and by the end of the long day you wonder if you can speak French OR English with any confidence. But yesterday, back at the apartment, we received a telephone call from Françoise, our friend in Cannes who will be staying in our home in Denver next month, and I was able to continue speaking to her in French the entire phone call, instead of beating my usual hasty retreat to English. So this grinding, inspired process of the Institute is clearly working.
Darlene is making stunning progress, although she continues to feel frustrated because she has such high aspirations for where she wants to be. Her teacher, Vicki, last night at an Institute-organized dinner at a restaurant, where everyone could speak whatever language they liked, said the key thing is for Darlene to learn the seven most frequently used verbs. So we are using them all the time, in present and past tense. We are, we have, we go, we make, we must, we can, and we want everything. Vicki is the supervisor of the other teachers, and she personally wrote the teaching guide used at the Institute, so she is like the Rosetta Stone for all that has happened here in the past 10 years or so. Darlene took full advantage of the opportunity last night to pepper Vicki with questions in English, including trying out the idea of getting a tutor, so I would not have to spend so much time helping her at night. Not that I mind (except for occasional unsaintly lapses into irritation and overload), and it helps my learning of French to work with her on the basics. But Vicki laughed at the idea of a tutor and simply said, over and over, “learn the seven verbs!”
So that’s the latest from Villefranche-sur-Mer. Today being Thursday I will enjoy my weekly cigarette after school, probably down at Chez Betty’s, where smoking is as prevalent as it is at Paris on the Platte, one of the few places in Denver where you can smoke inside.