I recently discovered the bilingual magazine, France-Amérique. It’s perfect for someone like me who’s reading French at an intermediate level. The trendy magazine consists of articles about pop-culture and politics, each article or interview written en français on the left side of the page with an English translation on the right half of the page.
The March 2019 issue contains an interview with Pamela Druckerman, the expatriate who wrote the bestseller Bringing up Bébé. Druckerman recently released another light-hearted and fun book, There Are No Grownups. Within it she describes her life in Paris as she encounters mid-life and explores all that this social construct entails. It’s a great beach read and even better if you reading it while in the midst of les années quarantes like I am!
What is the DELF and what’s its significance?
DELF is shorthand for Diplôme d’Etude en Langue Française. The French Ministry of Education grants these diplomas to non-French speakers working toward proficiency in the language. The diplomas ultimately provide recognition of French language skills and can be listed on a resumé when applying for admittance to a French university or for French employment.
This week I took the A1 Exam at the l’Alliance Française in Midtown Atlanta. It was the first of six proficiency levels that I plan to achieve. Level A1 is called the “discovery” stage of language development. One needs to be able to demonstrate the ability to conduct simple conversation about himself and his environment in writing and speech. During the exam, the candidate first listens to a series of three recordings – phone messages or travel announcements and has to answer questions about them. Part two involves reading comprehension, filling in forms and writing letters or emails in order to convey plans or directions. Tomorrow I’ll return to the l’Alliance Française and take the conversation portion of the exam.
The A2 exam is still a basic application of the language, but B1 and B2 will require that I have the ability to express my opinion…à mon avis…
Bref, I’ll need to be able to make an argument for my viewpoint and defend my opinion. I can do that!
In July I toured an orchard near Rouen called Domaine Duclos Fougeray that produces cider, pommeau, and calvados. The calva, essentially apple brandy, was a little strong for my taste, but I loved the pommeau, a mistelle that’s a combination of apple juice and calvados. It’s served chilled as either an aperitif with a local cheese (camembert, livarot, Pont l’Evêque) or as a digestive.
The more familiar I become with the French language, the more I recognize certain similarities to English. However, there are certainly differences in sound and in syntax. One such example is pronoun placement. In French, the pronoun is placed before the verb that carries the meaning and in cases of past tense/perfect tense it goes before the auxiliary verb.
Je boit le pommeau becomes: Je le bois.
I drank the pommeau becomes: Je l’ai boit.
In French class this semester we’ve learned the phrase, “à quoi servir” and “à quoi ressemble”. In other words, “what purpose does it serve…” or “what resembles something or other…“. An example of this would be, ”à quoi ressemble ce nuage?“ (What does this cloud resemble?)
On my recent trip to Normandy, we spent a morning at Giverny, home to Claude Monet and his second wife Alice from the early 1890s until his death. I stood in his gardens behind the house and was amazed by how similar the pond and garden looked to his paintings that I’ve seen all my life. Here’s some photos from that morning.
Last week my friend Meredith and I attended the Atlanta Opera’s production of Carmen at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre. Georges Bizet composed this opéra comique and it premiered at the Paris Opera in 1875. It’s now one of the most performed operas in the repertory. Making her U.S. debut, Franco-Armenian mezzo-soprano Yarduhi Abrahamyan sang the title role. Both the singing and spoken dialogue were delivered in French. (My review will appear in Opera News Magazine this summer.) I visited Abrahamyan’s website and found this review of another performance:
Fabrizio liked her and thought that her interpretation was just as fine or better than the other singers on stage that night. Writing a music review is always a feat. As a writer you strive to describe the sound you heard, the timbre of a voice or instrument, and you can never truly pin it down. Here, the critic says that her voice was extensive/flowing/sweeping, but also “charnue”, meaning plump and fleshy. What a fabulous description!
Desservie par une mise en scène grotesque et une distribution approximative, la production de Calixto Bieito déçoit.
This week in French class we’re learning about the imperfect tense and it’s use in describing a situation or recounting a story. I decided to look for instances of the imperfect tense in a French publication called, Le Monde, and found a review of Bizet’s Carmen at the Palais Garnier.
French immersion is tricky when you live in a place where you must communicate en anglais. I began by listening to a free podcast called, “Coffee Break French” whenever I was alone in the car or taking a walk and moved through over sixty episodes, I think. Recently I began listening to some podcasts produced by Michel Thomas that I purchased on iTunes.
The goal is to incrementally increase the time that you hear spoken French. Use media to your advantage: TuneIn Radio is a great resource for French-language programming. Or try the French television series, “Call My Agent” on Netflix. It’s a fun show – now in it’s third season – about a top talent agency in Paris that works 24/7 for its celebrity clients.
Fauré set this Victor Hugo text around 1862 while he was still a student at l’Ecole Niedermeyer. “Mai” was new to me, and most likely not a song that I’ll revisit; the melody and voice leading are not as fetching as those in Fauré’s other songs. Pianist and author Graham Johnson (Gabriel Fauré: The Songs and their Poets) believes that the original key of A flat major is unflattering for most sopranos and I tend to agree. However, Dover has published “Mai” in the key of F for those who are seeking a more inviting tessitura.
“Mai” is rich in new vocabulary pertaining to nature: la campagne (country), la terre (earth/ground), les bois (the woods), le rayonnement (the radiance) and épanouir (to blossom).
Puis-que mai tout en fleurs dans les prés nous réclame,
Viens! ne te lasse pas de mêler a ton âme.
La campagne, les bois, les ombrages charmants,
Les larges clairs de lune au bord des flots dormants,
Le sentier qui finit où le chemin commence,
Et l’air et le printemps et l’horizon immense,
L’horizon que ce monde attache humble et joyeux
Comme un lèvre au bas de la robe des cieux!
Viens! et que le regard de pudiques étoiles
Qui tombe sur la terre à travers tant de voiles,
Que l’arbre pénétré de parfums et de chants,
Que le souffle embrasé de midi dans les champs,
Et l’ombre et le soleil et l’onde et la verdure,
Et le rayonnement de toute la nature
Fassent épanouir, comme une double fleur,
La beauté sur ton front et l’amour dans ton coeur!
Chanson d’amour Op. 27 No. 1
J’aime tes yeux, j’aime ton front,
ô ma rebelle, ma farouche,
J’aime tes yeux, j’aime ta bouche
Où mes baisers s’épuiseront.
J’aime ta voix, j’aime l’étrange
Grâce de tout ce que tu dis,
ô ma rebelle, ô mon cher ange,
Mon enfer et mon paradis!
J’aime tout ce qui te fait belle,
De tes pieds jusqu’à tes cheveux,
ô toi vers qui montent me voeux,
ô ma farouche, ô ma rebelle!
This is a poem by Armand Silvestre (1837-1901) that Fauré set in 1882. The grammar is very straightforward and mostly in present tense. One verb, “s’épuiseront” is the third person plural form of the verb s’épuiser, meaning “to exhaust or use up”. Here’s the complete conjugation of the the verb in the future tense:
nous nous épuiserons
vous vous épuiserez