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.

Sunday, 19 April 2009

The water question -- Pour Sauver La Planète ....

I remember once, years ago, at the Picasso Museum, asking for water. The guard repeated loudly my simple sentence as though it were a language from another planet. I'd asked Où est d'eau? but he had to have Où est de l'eau and probably S'il vous plaît, où est de l'eau? before he would even begin to make any effort to understand me beyond a mocking repetition of what I'd said (or so it seemed to me and still does in recalling it). He refused to get past my imperfect French in spite of the fact that the museum must have many, many people going through who do not speak his language -- and he was African, so it's probably not his maternal language either; in spite of the fact that I needed water quickly because I was coughing, as he could observe; in spite of the fact that I'd only left out one consonant so was very close to a correctly phrased question. Finally he allowed himself to admit that he understood what I needed, had me say it correctly, and only then, at last, pointed the way to a water fountain.

Yesterday I heard Riccardo Petrella speak and bought his book at the Salon du Livre, the 2008 edition of The Water Manifesto ... (below see the complete title in French). He and many others have been working on this without many of us receiving any knowledge of their serious effort.

Did you know that Expo 2008, in Saragosa (Spain, right?) was all about water? Over 100 countries attended. The United States did not. The little book I bought yesterday is in a series entitled Les Grandes Conférences (The Great/Big Conferences)

I found the Salon du Livre Québecois at the Centre des Congrés de Québec, convention center on Boulevard René Lévesque. It's a giant book fair that I might have missed (having enough books now, thanks to Librarie Nelligan) but I thought the poet, Monique Laforce, might be there and I hoped to speak with her again.

Given the program, a round table for 1 pm caught my eye: POUR SAUVER LA PLANÈTE, FAUT-IL SORTIR DU CAPITALISME?, and so I found the place to which I'd been directed and took a seat. There were only a few others waiting and many empty chairs. I felt that embarrassment you have for the authors -- who weren't there yet, though it was time for it to start -- that there were so few of us.

But it wasn't the right place! Someone finally realized why we were just sitting there and sent us over to the actual event. There, hundreds were seated and dozens more were standing. All kinds of people. Young, old, bourgeoise, not-so-bourgeois (insomuch as one can tell by looking), ... not the crowd you would see in the U.S. for these three authors and their titles:

Hervé Kempf, Pour sauver la planète, sortez du capitalisme (Éditions du Seuil); To Save the Planet, Give up Capitalism

Alain Dubuc, Les démons du capitalisme (Voix parallèles); The Demons of Capitalism

Riccardo Petrella, Le manifeste de l'leau pour le XXIe siècle (Fides) The Water Manifesto for the 21st Century (2008 edition; there's an earlier to which I've provided a link at upper left of blog.)

I've admitted, haven't I, that I don't understand everything I hear? But when the subject is Capitalism, I understand more than you might think. Alain Dubuc was the most conciliatory, the apologist. Hervé Kempf and Riccardo Petrella did not equivocate. And when Riccardo Petrella said that it all came down to the fact that the basics for staying alive -- especially water -- should not be private property, he drew spontaneous applause. And when he said that what had to go was "the American way of life," in English, everyone understood. He almost got a standing ovation for that sentence alone.

I did not know there was such a thing as The Water Manifesto. I had never heard of Riccardo Petrella. I didn't know anything about Expo 2008. But I bought the book, and already I know more than I did. I haven't found mention of an English translation of this book I bought yesterday, but the first link at top left is to an actual text copy of some of The Water Manifesto, in English, in its 2001 edition.

On Friday night I went again to the Vegan Potluck. (I offerred chalupas again this time, and they went like hotcakes, none to take back.) There I picked up a fact sheet prepared by Anne-Marie Roy, a dietician at Université Laval. I don't have that with me but will tell you that it's like this: a cow needs about 5 gallons of water a day, just for drinking -- before the water usage in cleaning up in dairy and slaughtering. Consuming one pound of beef takes up as much water as 4 extra showers a week for a year.

I haven't read but the first chapter of Riccardo Petrella's book, but here's my rough translation of the first two points of 8 reasons to make water the world's social question:

1. Water is life. Access to potable water is denied 1.5 billion people. Access to water for hygiene is denied 2.6 billion people.

2. Poverty (2.8 billion people in 2007)is the principal factor in non-access to water.

I'll try to find a translation for this latest edition of The Water Manifesto, but I urge you to look at some of the earlier edition available in the second link, above and left.

And be assured, if I had the chance to go back to the Picasso Museum, I'd be rehearsed for how to ask for a drink of water.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent report on the conference and in relaying such an important subject matter. It gives all of us who are priviledged to live where access to water is readily avalable to begin reassessing our role in the global issue. I went through the drought of the 50s in Central Texas while living in a rural environment. Access to water at that time and that place was not so readily accessible. This gives me only a small glimmer of what it must be like to be denied or to not be priviledged enough to have access to water. In this global world, we should all be aware of the problem and begin to take action to remedy it.

    Thanks Sylvia for bringing this important issue to the forefront of our consciousness.


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