Saturday, February 07, 2009

Leçon française

Learning French

The Spoken

She (the American Antiquariess), still hears
Michael’s words echoing in her mind.
He was her English speaking, French teaching,
British courier for three years in France.

“Stop translating French to English in your head,

you’ll loose the bloody moment, associations,
make associations, form a picture of the object
with the word!” he would say, banging his
pipe on the dashboard.

The only association in her mind was a

Louis Philippe commode playing musical

Photo European Antique Market
The top drawer opening for English, 2nd drawer
for French, 3rd drawer was for stashing all
the cultural tidbits, food and wines, and the
bottom drawer held names of people and
Her drawers were full, names hanging
half out, French words spilling into the

wrong drawer, places tumbling to the floor.
A mess!
Names were hopeless, so she applied the
association first to Brocanteurs, AKA,
NoPants, Caveman, Madame Canal,
Horsetooth, etc. They were located in

villages throughout the countryside
like Tripe Village, Duck Maison,
Eau de Vie Ville, and One Man Band.

She knew where and who she was going to see,
even if Michael didn’t. It was only fair that if
she had so much to learn, he should exercise
his white mass too. That is when he told her to
drop the last consonant. Not foolproof, but a start.

“Jesus Christ!” he screamed, as his pipe

tumbled to the floor board and his
tweed cap rearranged itself on his head.

“The car exiting the lane to the right
always has the right of way!” followed by an

incomprehensible flow of French.
Michael just had to understand that she
only had a four-drawers, there was no room
left for stashing road signs, besides there were
It was just one of those things the French

The French lessons usually took place in the van.
"Quit flowering up the language," he would tell

her, "the French don’t talk like that."
How was she to express her emotion without

an overload of adjectives? Although she
was glad, because she didn't know if they
were placed before or after the noun.
Even though he disliked her use of too
many adjectives, he did tell her about
B for beauty
A for age
G for gentile
S for size
Adjectives that are BAGS or describe those
traits, go before the noun.
All others after.
He reassured her she would start to understand

the French language if she stayed in the
moment, and not rummage around in her
drawers trying to find the English translation.

The Unspoken
L’heure pour l’aperitif

“SVP Madame, une bouteille de Perrier Jouet, brut,"
Michael orders.
As they wait for the champagne, Michael

starts to bang his pipe on the table and
fidget with the tobacco. He arranges the
pinches of tobacco just so in the bowl and
seems to enjoy chewing a bit, on the pipe stem.
She wonders why his hesitation in firing it up,
but lets it drop in fear of interrupting his flow

of thought, as he proceeds to tell her the story
of his Frenchification.

A welcome interruption, the server arrives
bottle in hand, perfectly chilled,
accompanied by two thin crystal, tulip shaped
coupes. She watches as the sommelier performs
his ritual.
Peeling the foil, he twists the metal ring to
loosen the muselet and covers the top of the
bottle with his white napkin. He holds the
bottle at an angle and slowly twists it with
his right hand. The deed was void of the big
POP and corks a flying, only a slight hissing
from the effervescence.
Everyone smiled.
The sommelier poured Michael's glass half full,
then resumed his military stance in silence.

Michael held the glass to the light and
studied the bubbles against the brilliant
color in his scholarly gentleman manner.
How many, their size, and at what speed
they traveled. He brought the glass closer,
slightly below his nose, but close enough to
allow the dancing bubbles to tickle and
the aroma to reach his olfactory region.
Michael wasn’t speaking, but it was
evident to her there was an inner conversation
Eagerly anticipating, she waits for the
glass to meet his lips and the champagne
to engage his palette. How many adjectives
will he use to describe this poetry, she thought.
After huffing and swirling he simply smiles
and nods at the sommelier.
Alas, her glass is filled. She decides to
fore go asking for OJ, which is about
the only way she drank Champagne before
France. She heeds the advice, when in France...
She mimics Michael’s routine even though
she has left her comfort zone.
Micheal doesn’t comment on her technique.
He proceeds to tell her stories about the
Champagne region of France. The three
major grapes grown on the chalky terre,
the wars and hardships the region has endured,
how the wine is fermented twice and aged a
minimum of 15 months. She learns about
riddling, recipes, and Madame Clicquot’s
contribution to the Champagne Houses.
He tells her the typical French person
knows this before the age of 12.

Still puzzled by his lack of any description,
she prods, looking for those words that he
would use to translate the tasting experience.
Silky, toast, hints of almond, white flowers??
While tapping his pipe, he tells her it is of no
importance how his palette would interpret
the champagne, for hers would likely differ.
"The point is," he tells her, "the ceremony,
that so eloquently engages the senses."
"Joie de Vivre," Michael told her, "are
those moments in life, when all your
senses are engaged."
"Stay in the moment," Michael told her.

Photos courtesy Comite Champagne & Perrier Jouet

Sante mes ami's


Heidi said...

Im in love. I just love your blog. Im speacless... Thank you for your special blog!


cityfarmer said...

I've been missing you ... so glad you're back on the radar.

I'll take a glass please.

KarenB said...

Since you mentioned that Michael WAS your French tutor for 3 years does that mean you've mastered the language and driving by now? I love your description of the chest of drawers with French words spilling out. I think my drawers would be full of marshmallows or something equally as mushy. It is a lovely word picture posting. Thanks

Country French Antiques said...

Merci Heidi
City..I played Little House on the Prairie for a elec, but the ice is starting to melt now :)

Mastered by no stretch of the imagination, but I can get around on my own now.
Michael and I still keep in touch though.

Lynne (lynnesgiftsfromtheheart) said...

Oh this was great..thanks for sharing.. Good to have you back..
hugs ~lynne~

Kathleen Ellis said...

Hi Shawn! glad you have gotten your power back...lovely reminiscence...reminded me of "My Fair Lady"...did you ever feel a bit like Audrey Hepburn?! ;-D
enjoyed the read!
Have a great weekend!

Love Your Homes said...

Chérie, these drawers are adorable, love the story.
So true about the joy of life.

Thanks for a another wonderful post.
Á bientôt,Ingela

Liz said...

What a lovely blog!!!

Tracey McBride said...

You are such a lovely and interesting writer. Your stories touch the senses and I can almost taste, smell, and see your experiences. Thank you so much for all the work you put into this charming and inspirational blog. It's always a pleasure to visit.

Chrissy said...

Glad to see another post, one or two days off is o.k. but you were pushing it!!! Great post!!

Miss Kris said...

Hi Shawn~

So glad that you are ok in Kentucky!!! Such a lovely post, after two years of high school french and one in college still terrible in French. Every trip to France I alway carry by little translator book and have a new phrase or two I always plan to use, almost always caught in the moment, glued to their beautiful accents, I freeze. Thank you Shawn, so much for the Louis Phillipe commode lesson. A lesson to live by...:o) Miss Kris

Anonymous said...

Yea! I LOVE it when you post! More...more...more...!!!!

Castles Crowns and Cottages said...

You have a wonderful blog! I have you on my "Favorite Worlds to Visit" list on my blogsite. I am a French teacher and love toutes les choses françaises! Thank you for the elegant pretties to look at! Ciao, Anita

Kenza said...

Merci Shawn pour cette très jolie leçon française!
Très amicalement, Kenza

Mélanie said...

I was waiting for your new post ,ma chère . I love the story about your drawers

Chrissy said...

Soooo glad you came a visit from the QUEEN!!!!

Chrissy said...

So glad you came by!!!!

Anne T. said...

I was chatting with a woman at the office - she's planning a trip to Napa, CA - and she said it's so hard to decide where to stay/eat/visit since all the web travel sites are "total fantasy-land." But I know they're not because I know you've actually lived the stories you tell on your web site. Almost had my co-worker convinced to visit France, instead! I'm sure she will at least visit your blog!
Thanks for the brief reverie in the middle of my busy day, Shawn!

Blue Muse said...

Shawn, this post is fabulous! You should really write a book :)

The top drawer opening for English, 2nd drawer
for French, 3rd drawer was for stashing all
the cultural tidbits, food and wines, and the
bottom drawer held names of people and
Her drawers were full, names hanging
half out, French words spilling into the
wrong drawer, places tumbling to the floor.

Here's to the moment! Cheers!
xo Isa

My Carolina Kitchen said...

J'adore your blog. Merci beaucoup for showing us all of these gorgeous French finds. A bientot.

Shelly Beson said...

I know I'm late in commenting on this post but I have to say that I love every word. I ONLY drink champagne when I drink not because I'm a snob I just love it so much. This happens to be one of my favorite champagne's. Just two more days to Valentine's day when I can crack open my favorite bottle that is in my fridge right this minute. The anticipation is killing me.

Di Overton said...

Oh don't even go there my French is limited to just a few words. I have Charlotte to speak for me and that is disgraceful but at least I get understood :)

Sarah Sofia Ganborg said...

Very interesting blog! I have been in france many times and we all love the country... nice inspirations from your shop! Grest blog!
greetings from Scandinavia, Sarah sofia

vosgesparis said...

I challenge you to dream in French!!!!

I discovered it is possible to dream in another language when I was in Italy for a few months once ;)

Velvet and Linen said...

It was such a treat to get lost in your story this afternoon. You are a wonderful story teller, Shawn.
I took French for 6 years in school and can barely remember any of it. Maybe a little trip to France is what I need as well as wonderful tutor like Michael.


Country Wishes said...

What a lovely blog, I have had a wonderful time here reading..


KarenB said...

Are you in France again?

Fredrik said...

Kul att läsa din blogg.

Magnolia Street Style said...

What a beautiful analogy, a chest of drawers for the different compartments of our mind and thoughts. I can so understand as I have been trying to learn Italian for the past few years. When I try too hard I just can't find the words, but when I just live in the moment, everything is so much clearer.