On one of our “incidental journeys,” we came across a book sale at a school in Meylan. The price was right, so Greg and I each looked for a book we’d enjoy reading in French. Nothing too difficult, but something we could try to sink our (baby) teeth into. We chose carefully and have learned unexpected things from the books we chose.
Greg’s choice: Blanche Neige et les Lance-Missiles: Quand les dieux buvaient – I by Catherine Dufour (a prize-winning French sci-fi novelist)
My choice: La Saison Des Bals a novel by Geneviève Bon (a romance novelist)
Here is the first page of Greg’s novel:
Les Uckler formaient un peuple industrieux, gai et généreux.
Ils se levaient tôt d’un air content, sifflaient en travaillant et avaient toujours un morceau de pain à donner à plus pauvre qu’eux—le quignon rassis de la veille bien sûr, car ‘généreux n’est pas neuneu’ disait souvent la grosse Couette.
Pourvu cependant que le plus pauvre qu’eux soit le beau-fils de la soeur de la nièce de l’oncle du cousin. Ou le beau-père du frère du neveu de la tante par alliance. Ou quelque chose d’approchant. Car les Uckler avaient un défaut: quand ils voyaient un étranger, un vrai, qui échappait à tout généalogie même de la main gauche, ils le tuaient d’abord, ensuite ils ne se posaient aucune question.
Ce qui ne contribuait pas peu à préserver cet équilibre psychologique qui leur faisait au matin l’oeil frais et l’air content.
Bref, c’était un sacré foutu ramassis de salauds.
Which, roughly translated, means:
“The Uckler formed an industrious people, gay and generous.
They got up early with a satisfied air, whistled while they worked and always had a piece of bread to give to those poorer than they—now it was the stale hunk of the day, of course, because 'is it not generous to be a nanny[?]' as was often said [under?] the fat duvet. [not sure on that meaning…um…anyone???]
Provided however, that the poorest of them is the stepson of the sister of the niece's uncle's cousin. Or step-father's brother's nephew's aunt by marriage. Or something like that. Because the Uckler had a flaw: when they saw a stranger, a true stranger, who escaped all this same genealogy with his left hand [?], they killed him first, then no questions would arise.
Which contributed not a little to preserving the psychological balance that made them fresh eyed in the morning and seemingly happy.
In short, they were quite a bunch of fucking bastards.”
Well, okay then. Not boring. Started out with promise, anyway…and now I look at the title of the chapter: Une Omelette de Cul d’Ange (an omlette from the ass of an angel) and think, maybe he should have expected as much?
And here is the first page of my novel, a little simpler with more everyday details:
Martin Grüne enleva ses gant de jardinier et monta l’escalier quatre à quatre. Devant la porte de la salle de bains, il s’arrêta malgré sa hâte, écoutant la voix pas très grave, mais joyeuse et alerte, qui chantait:
‘Celui à qui Dieu veut montrer une juste faveur,
Il l’envoie par le vaste monde…’
Martin Grüne frappa et entra.
Andreas Freiherr von Berg-Alsdorf se tenait nu devant le lavabo. En chantant à pleine voix, il s’efforçait de couper avec de longs ciseaux quelques mèches de ses cheveux blonds, dont les boucles désordonnées étaient un de ses constants soucis.
Which, roughly translated, means:
“Martin Grüne took off his gardening gloves and climbed the stairs four at a time. At the door to the bathroom, despite his haste, he stopped, listening to the voice, not very serious, but cheerful and alert, singing:
'He to whom God wants to show a just favor,
He sends out into the wide world ... '
Martin Grüne knocked and entered.
Andreas Freiherr von Berg-Alsdorf stood naked in front of the sink. Singing in full voice as he tried to cut with long scissors a few strands of his blond hair, whose curls were disorderly and a source of constant worry.”
A naked baron in front of the sink cutting off his blond curls. And let me just add, a few pages farther in, the stairs weren’t the only thing being mounted four by four.
So we did pretty well finding books that were interesting enough and at the right level though not what either of us expected. Greg learned interesting phrases like “the stale end of the day” which sticks with me as poetic and seems to say so much about the culture. But he said it was difficult because in science fiction super natural things can happen, so it’s hard to figure out the meaning from the context. But the potential is there. I mean imagine the garden you’d discover learning what “the sayings of the big duvet” and “escaping the left hand” really mean. There is much to be uncovered…
And I learned things like knocking and entering is fine and every verb must be carefully chosen to be as enticing as possible. My problem with the French, however, is that there are all these twisted reflexive sentences and I can’t tell who is doing what to whom. Also, not understanding tenses, it is hard for me to know if it is happening, has happened, or someone is wanting it to happen. I also can’t tell if the book is truly interesting or if it’s the puzzle of figuring it out that I find interesting as my imagination that fills in the blanks with what I think they are doing. (Kind of like you do with dreams.) But I am certain the books are very French.
And now that I am learning tenses and pronouns I am going to try again. I do like the descriptions of everyday scenes and the discussions of character. It is the kind of book where lots of time is spent introducing and describing a character and everything around them from their clothes to the decor contributes the same information in a new way. Like said baron above, with the curls, who is cheerful yet disorganized as things around him are always precariously balanced. And though his trousers might be old and threadbare, they hang ever just so and look very chic on his stylish frame, and though his furniture is a bit shabby it is large and expensive and well loved. That kind of repetition is very helpful to my (flawed) understanding.
Interesting too that both books feature German names. Will have to look into that.
16 November, 2010, update:
Just read a blog about repurposed books and it struck me that perhaps these books we got at the sale are all that much more interesting because we don't understand all the words. It is like an ornament made out of a vintage French paperback that only has a hint of the original. That is intriguing. Like a page with holes punched in it. Some of the mystery is preserved and the story is layered with both the words on the page and the holes that you fill in with your mind. Structure and suggestion with improvisation on top. That is a fun place to be.