Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Fairy Days


Actual direct study of the French language was never something I really wanted to do here in France - my plan was to use the magic of immersion to gradually and mostly unconsciously fill up my brain with vocabulary and phrases. Combined with the classes and study materials, I reasoned, I'd have more than enough opportunity to learn and use French every day, and I would finish out the year a fluent speaker. After all, that's how children learn, isn't it? Picking up the words and usage they hear every day?

This may or may not have been a good strategy. Sometimes I hear words that I think I know, and then they turn out to be "false friends" with definitions not at all what I'd expected. The verb passer, as in passer un examen means "to take (an exam)" and not to pass it, necessarily. When you pass someone on the highway, you double them, even though you might not be going twice their speed. Assister in a class or seminar means to attend that class or seminar; attend means "wait." Some of these I knew from my four years at PSU (and the forty years of off-and-on study before that), others have surprised and confused me since my arrival in Tours. But the more I speak and hear and read French, the more I know, and I'm fairly confident that while this method might be slower, the end result will be the same. Just look how far my language skills have come already, after all - I can say "total milkfat percentage" and "the cat peed on the sofa again" and "please help me with this paperwork" and "yeah, and the horse you rode in on" (loose translation of the last) with perfect ease and near-perfect pronunciation.

The jours fériés that appear on the French calendar are not "fairy days" though that's a fun way to think about them, unless you have essential errands to do, in which case you will not be filled with sparkly tinkerbelle happiness for those 24-hour periods. They're national holidays for various reasons, and most people have the day off, including the bus drivers and store owners. This week there are two in a row, one secular and one sacred: yesterday was the commemoration of 8 mai 1945, the date of the formal surrender of Germany at the end of World War II; today is the celebration of jeudi de l’Ascension, marking the ascent of Jesus into heaven 40 days after Easter Sunday. Depending on which study you look at, anywhere from 30 to 70 percent of the French population under the age of 50 self-identifies as "no religion," which includes people who say they're Catholic due to family tradition, but who either doubt or deny the existence of God. I've only met one person here who goes to church regularly, or at all. Or perhaps I've met more but they don't talk about it, which could be more likely. But whether church-going or not, everyone enjoys the paid free time.

Yesterday I made lentils with smoked duck wings, and took a nap, and puttered around vaguely for a while, then took another nap. Then I walked the dog and went to bed. Today I have laundry and packing to do, and need to put my room in order and make sure I have all of the reservation printouts and "ooh, this might be fun to do" notes for the weeks I'll be traveling with Mom and John. I'll be using up all of the food in the refrigerator for dinner tonight and tomorrow - I'm staying at a hotel near the airport that has a restaurant, but don't really feel like spending lots of money on what would probably be a fairly boring plate of salad or something. And then there's breakfast the next day and food for the road trip down to Rocamadour. I have pork rillettes and smoked duck breast, goat cheese and fruit, and I'm making some oven-dried cherry tomatoes right now, and a potato-herb salad later. Some of this will be my dinner tonight and tomorrow, but there will be leftovers for lunch on Saturday. We'll need all the sustenance we can get to brave the crazy drivers on the autoroute. And then it's three weeks of vacation! There will be pictures, and excursion suggestions are welcome (for the Avignon/Aix region, for along the canals between Épernay and Reims, for the area around Rouen).

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