Monday, January 14, 2008

Could You Repeat That, Please?!

Living in another language has its humbling moments, leading to some unintended entertainment, or just plain confusion, for those on the receiving end. A few examples...

...I once asked a shopkeeper if it was okay to bring Bodhi in with me even though he was a little “salty”. One little extra syllable and it's not about being “dirty” anymore...

...I told a friend that I had an appointment to have my “horses cut”...which really would have been more of a veterinary procedure., I can still get them confused. It’s a subtle difference for a new learner...

...asking for my black sweater at the pressing (cleaners) caused all sorts of unexpected confusion and giggles. They had understood me to have asked for my
black chicken! Another subtle one, dear readers, but the “ou” sound as in "pool" and the “u” sound as in “eewww” made all the difference in deteremining what would go into the plastic bag that I would be taking home from there!

...I told someone I hardly knew that I loved him. We had been talking about a
film or something and I was trying to practice using a pronoun to say I liked it...a lot...not him...I had just slipped on my pronouns. ooops...

...during a routine check-up, I told a doctor that being "...a woman from the Middle Ages...blah, blah, blah...," personally appreciating my ability to make this reference about my new phase of life without choking. The Middle Ages are referred to often in these parts...but for their place in history...this is not how one would refer to the middle years of a life. He got a big laugh out of this...big. So big, that after he regained his composure, he assured me that it was something he would never forget. Neither will I... the early days, someone who did not laugh at me but probably thought he should have started up his vehicle to head straight for the nearest psychiatric hospital once I was onboard, was the bus driver who let me back on the bus to search for my lost “baguette”. I was looking under all the seats for the ring (bague) that had dropped off of my finger, but had added a little "-ette" to the end of the word in my request. A ring might be tough to find, worthy of a search under each seat. A baguette, on the other hand...not so much. He just watched silently, with a very puzzled look on his face, as I made my meticulous search...

...recently in a discussion about the current worldwide economic situation, (yes,
amazingly, I actually walk right into political and philosophical conversations without hesitation!) I made a comment about “‘Les Bourses’ have also taken a bit of a hit.” Well, let’s just say that the Paris stock market is never, never, referred to in the plural sense because the plural refers to an anatomical set of sacks that have nothing to do with the money bags for which La Bourse is named. Once again, after composure had been regained, I think we switched to talking about the weather.

I could go on...but...I won’t.

Romance language indeed! I haven't gotten to that part...yet. But I continue to stick with it and my confidence is improving daily. Well...most days.

As sometimes happens, those French-gears just weren't shifting for me one day last week. It was the first day of the semi-annual sales and the streets were teeming with lovely-looking people. I donned my black jeans to blend in a bit more but not compromise my décontractée style (relaxed, casual), wrapped a scarf around my neck, put on my older-than-I-can-remember cashmere jacket and headed out to run errands.

As I crossed the street, I passed two gentlemen conversing. Although I could not hear what was being exchanged, I had the sense that the younger was asking the older for directions. A few moments later I heard, “Excusez-moi, Madame!” and ignored it. (As I usually do if I hear a male voice trying to get my attention. I’ve been around the block!) But the phrase was repeated with a bit more insistence and I did turn around to see the younger of the two men a meter behind me. Given my earlier assumption, I imagined he did not get the directions he was looking for. It happens. So I stopped.

A very nicely dressed young man stood in front of me. Clean-shaven, wearing all black, topped by a very nice black overcoat, a pair of black contemporary glasses sitting on his refined nose, this business look was further enhanced by a brief case. I detected a lisp as he began with the standard politesse of “Excusez-moi de vous déranger, Madame, mais...” (Excuse me for bothering you, Madame, but..) followed by the very predictable question - if someone is about to ask for directions - “...are you ‘Aixoise’?”. Confirming my familiarity with this fine ville with a quick, “Oui,” I prepared myself for a question that would require me to keep my “go straight” from my “go right” (another subtle me on this).

What happened next was baffling. He had clearly gotten to the end of his question and I had clearly not gotten anything other than something about doing something (faire). I asked him, politely, to repeat himself. So he did. And again, I missed all but something about doing something.

I get a bit rattled when I miss the important stuff like this right off the bat. My brain goes into freeze-mode like an overworked computer and I have to scramble to free up some memory to be able to continue. I was in mid-scramble when this very polite young man turned the volume up a notch and continued very clearly and slowly, “Sex! Voulez-vous faire...” (and frankly I should have caught the “voulez-vous” part from my popular music repertoire of the 70’s!)...followed by...something I didn't get...and then another something about food or...who knows??! I was now in meltdown mode. I had put what I could of this message together, and it was clear that someone was wanting sex for food...or wanting food for sex...I never was quite sure who was intended to get what.

All I knew at this point was that “No!” is universally understood. I said it firmly as I turned on my black heel and headed away from this scene. Perhaps not sounding firm enough, as he called after me loudly, in now lisp-less French, “But I need to eat!”

I heard someone laugh.

I had taken off like I meant it, but I was heading in the opposite direction from my start and was now in front of a boulangerie. I stepped in with a calm “Bonjour,” not forgetting my own politesse as I entered the establishment to regroup, calm my accelerated breathing and move through this minor trauma. A few warm and fragrant moments later, honoring the code of politesse by offering a softly spoken, "Au revoir," I walked out the door.

A certain young man was now talking to another passerby so I quickly walked to the other side of the street. So quickly, in fact, that I got a bit tripped up by the large black bag that completed my stylish-but-casual ensemble for the day. (Note to self: if you’re going to carry such a large bag, you should have the comportment to manage it under any circumstance. It seems all kinds of uncool to trip over your own bag in front of some stranger who has just propositioned you.)

It was my lovely conversation partner who clued me in to the reality of what was probably a male prostitute...on my street, dear readers. My own little rue, so beautifully situated between the two outdoor markets in one direction and two lovely fountains in the other.

My. Little. Rue!

I’m telling you, I would expect something like this around that rough and tumble Rotonde where all the taxis and busses congregate. Or even somewhere around the peripherique - the "edgy" part of town – literally! But on my little rue?! Quel horreur!

And what’s more, all this happened just when I thought I was having what my sister calls a “cute day”! I was now tossed into uncertainty as to whether it was my “cuteness” that brought this event about or if I had been approached because I appeared in a Woman-From-the-Middle-Ages-Looking-For-Mister-Goodbar kind of desperate...or perhaps I appeared to be hungry?! (Depending on who was to be receiving that food he had mentioned.)

Under cloudy skies that threatened rain, with a cold wind blowing from the east again, I returned from my errands to comfort myself with apples à la Ruth apples.

Alrighty then.

I would comfort myself with soup. A warm, rich potato, leek and watercress soup, with just a drop of cream to round it all out.

It turned out to be lovely and thick. Just the remedy I needed to warm my belly, settle my soul and put me squarely back in touch with reality:
I was having a "cute day"!

Bon appétit,

A few other faces from Aix...having a different kind of "cute day"...

Leek, Potato and Watercress Soup

SERVES 6 – 8

Apparently, this is a favorite of legendary cookbook editor Judith Jones. Originally adapted from Julia Child's recipe in the classic Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol. I, it got another little tweak from me.

3 russet potatoes, peeled and sliced or diced
5 leeks, trimmed, cleaned, then thinly sliced, including
the tender green part
8 cups of chicken stock, preferably homemade
4–6 tbsp. whipping cream
1 – 1 1/2 cup of watercress leaves
sea salt and pepper to taste
a few sprigs of watercress for garnish

1. Put potatoes, leeks and 8 cups of chicken stock in a large saucepan over medium heat and simmer, partially covered, until vegetables are tender, 40–50 minutes. Add the watercress and allow to wilt and incorporate into the liquid a bit.

2. Transfer to a food processor to blend or use a hand-held blender. Salt and pepper to taste.

3. Off heat, just before serving, stir in the cream by spoonfuls. Pour soup into a tureen or soup bowls and decorate with the reserved sprigs of watercress. Add a little freshly ground white pepper, if you like.

1 comment:

la fourchette said...

Thanks to a little nudge from a reader, the photos are from a parade a couple of weeks ago...typical Provençal dress and a bit of clowning...always fun.

I make this note as this is not to be confused with the first day of the semi-annual sales! (Think: Nordstrom Half-Yearly...all over France!) That's a much different costume!

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