Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Appee Fanksgiveen!

Celebrating Thanksgiving outside the US is a very different experience.

Pro: You have a great reason to invite friends and neighbors for an American meal.

Con: Can't find Libby's 100% pumpkin purée, so have to start from scratch with a pumpkin from the market.

Pro: You discover pumpkin pie with fresh pumpkin can be even better than with Libby's.

Con: Being away from family is hard.

Pro: Skype!

Con: Explaining Thanksgiving in another language can be a challenge. (Tip: before attempting to do so, look up the keywords such as Pilgrim, harvest and feast.)

Pro: Even though it's not a French holiday, people still wish you a 'Appee Fanksgiveen!'

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Secret language passions

"For years, I'd wished I could speak Italian - a language I find more beautiful than roses - but I could never make the practical justification for studying it. Why not just bone up on French or Russian I'd already studied years ago? Or learn to speak Spanish, the better to help me communicate with millions of my fellow Americans? What would I do with Italian? It's not like I was going to move there. It would be more practical to learn how to play the accordion...

And it wasn't that outrageous of a goal, anyway, to want to study a language. It's not like I was saying, at age thirty-two, "I want to become the principal ballerina for the New York City Ballet." Studying a language is something you can actually do."

-- page 23, Elizabeth Gilbert's bestseller, Eat, Pray, Love

I read these paragraphs sitting on the métro in Lyon, France, and found myself nodding my head in agreement. Right now it would make so much more sense, be so much more logical for me to work on my French or another practical language.

But what I want to do is study Italian.

Sure, I'd love to be fluent - but I'd be happy knowing just enough to have a simple conversation... in beautiful, melodious Italian.

What about you? Any secret language passions you want to pursue? How are you going to vivi con passione?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Language taking shape

This weekend I was browsing through posts by some of my favorite bloggers when I came across a linguistic work of art - literally.

19-year-old Sharanya, a student in Mumbai, turned a poem by Yves Bonnefoy into concrete poetry. Calligrammes such as this one are in the style of French poet Guillaume Apollinaire, born in Italy to a Polish mother. The words (or even letters) of the text are arranged to make up a shape - often a shape connected to the subject of the text or poem. In this example,

Sharanya chose Bonnefoy's poem La Lumière du Soir and illustrated it as a hand moving over a half-sun and a half-moon.
La Lumière du Soir, by Yves Bonnefoy
Le soir,
Ces oiseaux qui parlent, indéfinis,
Qui se mordent, lumière.
La main qui a bougé sur le flanc désert.
Nous sommes immobiles depuis longtemps.
Nous parlons bas.
Et le temps reste autour de nous comme des flaques de couleur.

And the English translation by Emily Grosholz:
The Light of the Evening
These birds who talk together, indefinite,
who peck and quarrel, light,
The hand that moves along the silent flank.
We have been motionless for a long time now.
We're whispering.
And time lies round about us like pools of colour.

Sharanya's representation of the poem made me think about using calligrammes as a language learning tool. What better way to disect a beautiful piece of poetry in another language, then put it back together in a way that is uniquely yours.

I'm thinking of tackling a poem by Léopold Sédar Senghor. What about you?

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

And the award goes to...

On November 2nd, France's highest literary honor was bestowed upon French-Senegalese author Marie NDiaye for her book Trois Femmes Puissantes (Three Powerful Women).


First, let's take a rabbit trail on the award - the famous Prix Goncourt.

The award recipient is selected annually by the 10 members of the Académie Goncourt for "the best and most imaginative prose work of the year". Keeping in mind the award is for 'imaginative', guess what the 10 members of this group are called? Les Dix, which means 'the ten'. Isn't that funny? Anyway... The members meet up on the second floor of the Restaurant Drouant in Paris on the first Tuesday of each month (not in summers - this is France, after all) to discuss amongst themselves that year's books. The award is announced in the fall and the recipient receives the prize money: 10 euros.

Surprising, isn't it? The highest literary honor in the country comes with a check worth $14.77 by today's exchange rate. However, the book is guaranteed to zoom to the top of the bestseller list, so that's not half bad. And you might be interested to know that last year's Prix Goncourt winner was Les Bienveillantes (The Kindly Ones) by Jonathan Littell, an American author who writes in French.

Interested in reading Marie NDiaye's Goncourt-winning book? Here's a description from the Guardian:

Trois femmes puissantes weaves together the stories of three women: Norah, who arrives at her father's home in Africa; Fanta, teaching French in Dakar, who is forced to follow her partner back to a miserable life in France, and Khady Demba, a young, penniless African widow who is trying to join her distant cousin Fanta in France.

Buy it here.