Learning in Québec

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I'm someone who began learning French when I was 53. I took a BA in French at 60 but wasn't happy with my level of comprehension (though I read very well). So, having really become comfortable with Spanish only by living on the Mexican border, I'm spending more time in Québec and near the border of Quebec, in Vermont, to see if I can do that here with French. I want to encourage others to do the same.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Comment ça va....

Bon jour,

It's sunny and cold. I don't really want to know how cold. I wear my vintage sheepskin coat with no regard for whether or not it's in style; I'm sure it's not. But it's the warmest in my closet.

Yesterday stayed in most of the day to be there for the stove repairman. Lévesque on his shirt, a nice man who fixed three burners to work on three settings and showed me the oven wasn`t broken at all if I turned it on right, and he showed me how to do that. When I told him I was in Quebec to improve my French but not doing so well, he said it was probably because the Quebecois have strong accents. "It's like if I went to Texas," he said. Then I told him I was from Texas.

Last evening, early still, I caught the eco-bus in front of the armory and went on it to Place D'Youville, where I'd not yet been, to see the ice skating. I saw a man climb a metal lights-support-thing just to make all the colored lights work for the skaters. He climbed about 20 feet above only hard ice on a stone base to do this, no ladder, no problem.

I saw a man dressed like, I thought, Père Nöel, but the little boy who went over to speak with him told me no, he was Père Bonhomme.

It seems like Christmas time still, because Christmas lights are still up. Trees where they live in the ground and trees brought in to be on rooftops and high porches, all with colored lights, make it seem like the holidays still. Maybe they stay up through carnival. Maybe I should buy a camera.

I took the eco-bus again to return, another free ride through Vieux Québec, Old Québec, inside the walls. The eco-bus has a top speed of 35 miles per hr., good enough indeed for the streets of Vieux Québec,very narrow. The electric eco-bus costs less than $4.00 to operate all day; thus it's free.

But this driver was a young man who -- for the first time ever in Québec -- refused to understand me -- and besides, was unkind -- because my vowel sound wasn't exactly like he wanted it. This happened in France, especially Paris, often, but it has never happened here. And in the end, I think I said Saint Amable exactly like he said Saint Amable. I'm glad that almost never happens in Quebec. Even if I never learn to understand their French any better than I do now, I don't want to be ridiculed for trying. But this was very unusual; in fact, it's never happened to me here before.

I guess it made me feel like I should stick to the books. Here's a translation I did today of a poem by a poet of Quebec:

Devant deux portraits de ma mère/
In front of two portraits of my mother

Émile Nelligan, 1879-1941

Ma mère, que je l’aime en ce portrait ancien,
Peint aux jours glorieux qu’elle était jeune fille,
Le front couleur de lys et le regard qui brille
Comme un éblouissant miroir Venitien!

My mother, whom I love in this ancient portrait
Painted in the glorious days of her girlhood,
Her brow the color of lilies, her look brilliant
As from some dazzling Venetian crystal mirror

Ma mère que voici n’est plus du tout la même;
Les rides ont creusé le beau marbre frontal;
Elle a perdu l’échat du temps sentimental
Où son hymen chanta comme un rose poème.

My mother, here, no longer, not at all, the same;
Wrinkles have crossed that beautiful marble-white brow.
She has lost her lovely glow from happier times
When her loving openness sang like a pink rose.

Aujourd’hui je compare, et j’en suis triste aussi,
Ce front nimbé de joie et ce front de souci,
Soleil d’or, brouillard dense au couchant des années.

Comparing the two today has made me grow sad.
Her forehead smooth with joy, then wrinkled by worry,
Her years of bright wakefulness turning to dense fog.

Mais, mystere de cour qui ne peut s’eclairer!
Comment puis-je sourire a ces levres fanees?
Au portrait qui sourit, comment puis-je pleurer?

But the heart has mysteries beyond expression.
How can I smile at the old woman’s faded lips?
And yet, to that smiling girl in the portrait, cry?

Translation by Sylvia Ann Manning, 5 February 2009, Quebec City

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