Sunday, March 21, 2010

France and Romance and Me

by Libby Malin
www.LibbysBooks.com


Many moons ago--well, really, about one--I wrote a post about Bal'mer (that's Baltimore, Maryland), my hometown, and how I often set stories there.

There's one other spot that ends up skittering through my tales from time to time -- France. The heroine in my very first humorous women's fiction, Loves Me, Loves Me Not, took off for France at the end of the book, fleeing some weighty problems. Once there, she had to decide on a dime whether or not to return early to take a chance on love.

In Fire Me, the protagonist doesn't go to France, but she does daydream about speaking in French. Whenever she's stressed, she hears herself prattling like a character in a French movie, her passionate problems rendered dispassionate at the flick of a "mais oui, Mademoiselle." One of the lines she thinks to herself in this episode is "Je vais cherchez du bon vin a la cave" (or something like it).

That's a line from my high school French class. Whooee-- we must have spent a month trying to get that line right. My school was using a sound-only approach to teaching beginning French, the underlying principle being that you should learn a foreign language the way you learn your native one -- by hearing it and repeating it first, writing it later. Our class followed the story of the Thibaux family, and one day Monsieur Thibaux decided to "go look for some good wine in the cellar."

(As an aside, that program had its assets and liabilities. I learned to speak French, but I had to unlearn all the weird spellings I came up with as I wrote things down using the one language I did know how to write - English.)

France plays a part in a novel I'm working on right now, too, with the main characters spending the bulk of the story there.

I'm not sure why France attracted me so much when I was younger. Maybe it's because my maternal grandfather's family were of French ancestry? I loved the language, and later, when I went to a music conservatory, I fell in love with French art songs.

So it's no surprise that I landed there one summer, attending Les Ecoles D'Art Americaines de Fontainebleau. The school itself was located in a magnificent palace, with studios overlooking gorgeous gardens. That was a magical summer, at a time when the school was still run by the great Nadia Boulanger, who had taught or coached well-known classical artists from around the world. With friends I made at the school, I traveled by train to Paris, attended a ballet performance at the Paris Opera, visited the Louvre (the Mona Lisa is small!), ate in cafes and practiced the language I'd learned from the happy Thibaux family.

I didn't do too poorly on the language front. Stopped by some tourists asking for directions in Fontainebleau one afternoon, I babbled valiantly, quickly able to understand what the tourists were saying in French . . . . until we discovered we all spoke English. They were tourists, all right, but from across the Channel.

My time in France was so wonderful that I dreamed of returning to study for a year. I saved my money and made plans with some fellow Fontainebleau alums to go back. Go back I did one fall -- but, like the heroine in my first women's fiction novel, something had happened between making the plans to travel and the actual travel. I'd fallen in love. Once in France, I had a new dream -- to be with the fellow I left behind. I cut short my visit and scampered home.

And yeah, I married the guy, never regretting for an instant that I replaced the dream of France with the dreamboat who is my husband.

10 comments:

  1. Great post. Any facility I ever had with French is lost in the mists of time, but I love to hear it spoken.

    I completely understand how a little French sentence would get stuck in someone's brain. I have occasionally dreamed in French. Unfortunately, even in my dreams, I don't speak it well. I didn't understand most of what was being said.

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  2. I can understand a lot of the written word, Mary Margret, but, alas, like you, I've lost the speaking facility because I just don't have occasion to use it.

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  3. Ah, Libby! Substitute Spain for France and this could be my story! LOL. I did a semester abroad in college, having fallen in love with the language in 7th grade (good, enthusiastic, supportive teachers are sooooooo important) and saved all my pennies to be able to make that trip.

    And wouldn't you know? The NIGHT before I was supposed to leave (actually it was 2 am that morning...) my boyfriend proposed! What was going to be a 7 month trip turned into 5 and while I don't regret it, I know he would have waited 2 more months for me to come home. But, alas, you can't tell a 21 year old anything...

    And, yes, we're still married, so all's well that end's well.

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  4. While my ancestry is German, I've always loved anything French. Great post, Libby.

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  5. Lois, I actually have German ancestry on my mother's mother's side of the family. And Polish on my father's. I'm a mixed-up bag!

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  6. Great post, Libby!

    I love France but can't speak a word of it. I get by (barely) in Spanish and can understand Italian some Italian. Reading and writing, oh no. Can't do that.

    I never had any trouble traveling though and can't wait to go back. Twinkle Toes is taking French next year, her dream is to dance in Paris, my dream is to watch her.

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  7. I can't speak a word of French, but I wouldn't turn down a trip to Paris for love nor money...well, maybe I would for love, but certainly not money! Great post!

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  8. Never been to France. Would love to go - although England would be my first foreign destination pick!

    The novel I am writing now is set in France. Of course it is post-Napoleonic Empire France, but still! I had to learn a great deal, quickly. I was bummer to learn that many of the main Paris tourist places, like the Eiffel Tower, did not exist yet and that the Louvre was a small museum. LOL! Thankfully I have a Dutch friend who speaks fluent French so she is helping me with the translations. It is a fun challenge, but far more difficult that setting a book in England. :)

    Great post, Libby.

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  9. I love your last line, Libby. Gives me goosebumps. Perhaps you and your dreamboat will go to France together, someday. :}

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