‘Send me a postcard, drop me a line
Stating point of view
Indicate precisely what you mean to say
Yours sincerely, wasting away
Give me your answer, fill in a form
Mine for evermore
Will you still need me, will you still feed me
When I’m sixty-four?’
I’m not 64, far from it actually, but my wonderful Mum achieved this milestone during the week. On her birthday she was treated to a cake from Dad with the words ‘when I’m 64’ piped onto the icing, leaving us all rest assured that he still needs her and is willing to feed her (even if it is birthday cake).
Apparently when he turned 64 he danced around the kitchen table singing the same Beatles track, and evidence suggests that the answer was and still is, ‘yes’ from Mum. He is one of the best kept and fed people I’ve ever met- Paul, Ringo et al would be proud.
A big part of my life in Paris is music. I download endless songs discovered in shops and cafés and from time to time when I watch films in both French and English, I also download the entire soundtrack, using it as inspiration to keep learning, writing and moving.
In moments of being entirely alone, music is a priceless companion for me. I shimmy around the apartment under the shadows of the moon to the sounds of everything from ‘my girls’ Adel, Edith Piaf and Françoise Hardy; to the headiness of Jean Sablon and Serj Gainsbourg as well as the wonderful sounds from other favourites like Eddie Vedder- with my current choice from Eddie being ‘the Long Road,’ which is the ultimate getaway tune in my imagined screenplay of life.
Each day from 10-12 there is homeroom, where we undergo two gruelling but enjoyable hours of grammar and conversation. Following this, we are sent into a reinforcement class for a further two hours focussed on conversation, usually followed by another two hours of lectures in French culture – where we learn about everything from the origins of French language (so much of it inspired by music), to the beheading of Marie Antoinette, all with the added bonus of absolutely every, single word, spoken in French.
Some days I shake with hunger (and complete brain freeze) as I step into the afternoon light at 4pm, but am quickly reassured that I’m not fading away when I catch a glimpse of myself in the reflection of the Pharmacy window, before crossing at the lights and making my way home.
At the beginning of each day our professor plays a song chosen by a student, which is accompanied by rolling lyrics on the electronic whiteboard. This is easily my favourite part of the morning lesson, bringing much needed respite after an early start, with phonétiques and headsets at 8.30am.
The purpose of the lyrical exercise is to grasp the way in which verbs are not only conjugated, but also utilised in every day situations.
It’s one thing to be a whizz at grammar, but another to understand how to use verbs, nouns, pronouns (and everything else that I didn’t learn at school) in an every day setting and, in a language with masculine and feminine tenses (which render me almost helpless, with this being the most dangerous part of speaking French- I still refuse to speak about cats in this language).
For the record, a cat must always be spoken about in masculine form – le chat.
On Tuesday, we listened to a song titled ‘Je Vole’ which I think (I spend a large part of each day hoping what I ‘think’ to be right being based on plain assumption), featured on the soundtrack of a recent French teen film.
Vole comes from the verb voler ‘fly’ therefore, Je vole literally means ‘I fly’. The lyrics are sung by the French ‘poptrice’ Louane and they are as sweet as they are poignant and also rather emotive.
Mes chers parents je pars
(My dear parents I go)
Je vous aime mais je pars
(I love you but I’m leaving)
Ce soir je ne m’enfuis pas je vole
(I’m not running but I will fly)
Sans fumée, sans alcool je vole, je vole
(Without cigarettes and alcohol, I fly, I fly).
Louane goes on to explain that she must cross the Atlantic and free herself from ‘the cage,’ warning that there is no point in standing in her way at ‘la gare’.
Tuesday’s song was chosen by a young Greek girl in our class who explained that she is a big fan of Louane and her music. We listened not once, but twice, and during the second round I smiled as the class began to sing along, reaching pitch and finding themselves lost in the moment as they utilised French verbs in varying froms, in a sweet pop song. I joined in, sitting at the back of the class in my usual seat, tapping my enormous foot and wearing my favourite dungarees as I imagined writing a song as sweet for my parents when I was younger. The lyrics would have been similar, but the promise of ‘sans fumée, sans alcool’ would most definitely have been broken.
It’s hard to explain how much I enjoy learning French and equally as difficult to describe the frustrations I experience when speaking it. Each day I imagine every conversation in my head and when I go to open my mouth, I often become frozen, ‘what if I get it wrong, what if the tense is embarrassing…what if, what if’.
‘English native’ Francophones ‘helpfully’ keep reminding me that when I dream in French I’ve ‘made it’ but, much to my disappointment, I have continued to dream in English and freeze over in French, which has only resulted in feeling incredibly disappointed in myself.
Until last week, where I started having dreams reflective in their nature of my days in Paris.
The conversations creeping into my daily slumber have been short lived and ended in cold sweats, but nonetheless they are starting to enter my (wishful thinking) eight hours. This is probably one of the most exciting things that has ever happened to me.
On Saturday morning I woke after a dream about a French class where we went from Je, Tu, Il, Nous, Vous to Ils, conjugating the verb ‘manger,’ the French word for ‘eat’ which left me feeling only the slightest bit disillusioned that my first ‘big’ dream was spent speaking about eating in a French class, having always imagined the moment where I ‘made it’ to be spent frolicking about on the Pont Neuf with a man named Mathieu discussing the finer things in life. But, my (literal) dreamed up feast of words signifies a start – another beginning in new beginnings.
There is no doubt that my daily ritual of listening to music in both French and English is paying off. Through music in English, I feel inspired to keep moving and thinking, and through listening to music in French, the language is subtly creeping into my subconscious – and in the words of Carl Jung “Deeply listening to music opens up new avenues of research I’d never even dreamed of. I feel from now on music should be an essential part of every analysis.”
As I type, it is Sunday morning in Paris and during a trip to the supermarket earlier today, I felt a tap on my shoulder, ‘parlez vous Anglais’ an American man asked. ‘Yes, yes I do, extremely well in fact’ I responded enthusiastically. ‘Oh good’ he said, explaining that his wife had sent him out to buy makeup remover to take the mascara off her eyes. ‘Oh you’ll need this’ I told him, pushing past with my basket ‘it’s for sensitive skin, is she sensitive?’
My new friend looked at me slightly perplexed, as if to question my ability to speak any language at all ‘well, yes, I suppose she is’ he smiled.
As I walked home my basket overflowed with a bottle of milk, a package of loo paper and a new water filter. A jazz trio played in the street alongside my favourite café, filling the air with the sweet sounds of 1940s classics. ‘Bonjour Madame’ my second favourite maître d’ shouted as I walked past looking up to the sky, wondering why French women never seem to have loo paper in their baskets.
‘Bonjour Monsieur’ I replied, smiling as I pushed on – no time for a croissant today, I had a new blog post to write and the theme would be music- it is after all, everywhere we look.
Pictured: a table of crooners who (literally) sing for their supper each Sunday.