French Friday: For Humankind

With the Republican running candidate blasting his opinions about women during his campaign and the #Metoo movement that followed, women have clearly taken the public debate stage.

Whether we appreciate the courage of the women who come forward or fear excesses in the process, it is impossible to ignore the momentum and to deny the need for real equality between genders.

Since it is a very heated debate it’s important, I think, to keep our sense of humor and critical sense as we plow our way along the arduous road.

Just this week, a few events show how the best intentions can fall flat and also how even women can see things very differently.

Pretty much everyone likes Justin Trudeau, the Prime Minister of Canada. And pretty much everyone noticed him when he corrected a woman who said “manhood” and offered “peoplekind” instead.

Humankind or even humanity would have worked just fine. Despite the fact that Trudeau interrupted a woman while she was speaking, his intentions were no doubt sincere. Inclusion is necessary, but sometimes the desire to achieve it can lead to faux-pas.

Canada is still making genuine efforts. Take this magazine that printed two versions of its latest issue. One is sold 26 cents more than the other to reflect the disparity of salaries between men and women.

In the U.S., Macy’s is soon to introduce a collection of modest clothing and hijabs to capture a slice of the Muslim women’s clothing market.

At the same time in Iran, women are taking their veils off, putting their lives in danger, to obtain the right to choose whatever clothes they wish to wear.

Who is right? Maybe there is no right and wrong when it comes to women’s freedom to be who they want to be.

In any case, women are playing centerstage in these early months of 2018.

Now that I chose to write a month of French expressions for the A to Z Challenge in April, I could only notice that some of the most common French idioms are in fact sexist.

I was tempted to list them but have decided otherwise. I didn’t want to put de l’huile sur le feu, as we say in French (oil on the flame), but instead focus on the delightful aspect of these small words and short expressions. Thanks to my early personal mistakes, I quickly learned that all tell a lot about a country and its culture. Many are not perfectly exchangeable from one language to another. Often, they still have an equivalent. Sometimes, nothing can exactly convey the idea.

To my own surprise, I quickly compiled a first draft of my 2018 list, only missing as always an expression for the letter X.

As I went through the list I noticed that several expressions had something to do with food.

Now, it was telling something about France that men and women alike would agree on.

 

And nothing and nobody can be better than animals to bring smiles to humankind.

 

 

These photos have been taken in my native Normandy, where a few inches of snow fell over the last few days, transforming the landscape in a scenery that I rarely got to enjoy when I lived there as a child.

 

 

 

 

 

 

French Friday: Reading to Understand Mental Illness

Although I skipped my yearly participation to the Multicultural Children’s Book Day I still support this national event, which will be celebrated on Saturday, January 27. Multicultural Children’s Book Day highlights the need for diverse books. More and more editors and publishers are aware that children become readers when they see themselves in the stories they read and develop more empathy when they discover how other children live.

Most often, books suggested and reviewed on Multicultural Children’s Book Day represent minorities’ cultures and faiths.

And those books are as important as ever.

But I decided to come up with my very short personal selection of books that also represent a form of difference. The idea grew from an exceptional novel that treats of mental illness. I read Turtless All the Way Down a few weeks ago but the story still sits on my mind.

The following books portray children and teenagers who deal with mental disorders, some less severe than others. These children or teenagers’ lives are ‘different,’ much more challenging than ‘normal’ lives but not less fulfilling. In fact, in all these books these kids and teens are very inspiring.

Compassion for them is one thing.

Understanding or trying to understand what they go through is another.

Reading about them is a crucial step.

 

For Teenagers:

I don’t need to introduce the author behind the debut novel Looking for Alaska and the sensational best seller The Fault in Our Stars.

John Green is not only an exceptional writer he has also been candid with the fact that he has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). In Turtles All the Way Down he depicts sixteen-year-old Aza’s own struggle with such accuracy and integrity it will break your heart and still make you smile and definitely root for her.

This is pure John Green, so expect amazingness. The dialogues are especially great, witty and right 0n. I love Aza’s best friend so much. And I could only relate to her mother’s genuine will to make her little girl feel better. The novel is vividly set in Indianapolis. Written for Joey 🙂

If you haven’t read this novel, grab one copy or/and recommend it to a teenager near you.

 

For Elementary Students:

Spaghetti Is Not a Fingerfood (and other life lessons) written by Jodi Carmichael and illustrated by Sara Ponce

This chapter book ( 7 to 10 years old) is told from the point of view of eight-year-old Connor who has Asperger Syndrome. It’s a sweet, funny, and tender book with also great illustrations. An easy read that treats of a complex topic. Perfect for children who live or go to school or play with boys or girls with Asperger Syndrome.

Joey Pigza Series by Jack Gantos (5 books)

Joey is taking ‘dub meds’, the nickname he gives to Ritalin. Joey is plenty aware of his wild mood swings, but he can’t help it if he moves, jumps, and sometimes gets in trouble. Hyperactivity and its related disorders are very common in children, and it’s such a gift for kids who are affected and their friends alike to get to meet irresistible Joey.

Adults disagree on the age range for the series, due to the seriousness of other issues presented in the books. I would say that some fourth graders are already able to handle them while some eight graders will still enjoy them.

 

For Middle Graders:

Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloane

A pure chef d’oeuvre, that you may already know since the novel has been extremely well received upon its publication. And for good reasons.

Willow is twelve and is reassured when she counts by 7s. She loves nature and her parents. When they die brutally her world changes overnight. It could be a heartbreaking story and it is very moving, but it is above everything a story of resilience and courage from a girl who had already a lot on her plate to start with.

 

Picture Books:

Wilma Jean the Worry Machine written by Julia Cook and illustrated by Anita Duffala

This sweet and funny story introduces anxiety disorders in children through adorable Wilma Jean. Frequently undiagnosed, anxiety disorders are, however, very common in children.

I was one of these super anxious kids, and I know how painful it is to worry alone. I’m lucky since I got much better when I started college. But the title of this PB echoes my childhood experience.

 

Antsy Ansel written by Cindy Jenson-Elliot and illustrated by Christy Hale

Who doesn’t know the great photographer behind the stunning photographies of Yosemite National Park? It is less known, though, that Ansel Adams could not stand still. He fidgeted and was constantly on the move. School was not his thing. But when his father introduced him to the natural beauty of the Sierra and particularly of Yosemite young Ansel found calmness and focus. The rest is history.

A great, great story to reassure the child who cannot be still. A successful, creative life is still possible.

 

And last but not least, two classics, absolute must-read novels that (in my opinion) opened the gates to the more recent wave of books that treat of mental disorders:

Rules by Cynthia Lord

Autism introduced through a twelve-year-old girl put in charge of her younger autistic brother. Poignant and authentic, the Newberry Honor novel was published in 2006.

Mockinbird by Kathryn Erskine

A young girl who has Asperger is dealing with the loss of her brother brutally killed during a school shooting. Sadly still timely and I’m afraid to say maybe timeless. Exceptionally well crafted, emotionally packed, and very hopeful too the National Book Award For Young People’s Literature novel was published in 2010.

 

On a totally different note, I want you to know that I just decided to embark the crazy A to Z Challenge train again this year. For anyone who doesn’t know what the challenge is about: One daily post for the entire month of April, except on Sundays, following the order of the alphabet.

Based on readers’ feedback, WordPress statistics, and my personal interest I will return to my beloved French idioms. My hope this year is to mix and match classics and most recent.

Until then, I leave you with two expressions. The first one was very familiar when I lived in France and is still current, while the second was born many years after I left France.

I hope you will find their meaning and leave a comment below!

 

 

SE DORER LA PILULE

C’EST UN TRUC DE OUF!

 

 

Enjoy your weekend.

See you here next Friday and on your blog in between!

 

 

 

 

 

 

French Friday: From the French Front

Taken from one of the Bâteaux Mouches on the River Seine

Two events and two women have marked my French week:

  • The public letter denouncing the #MeToo movement, published in the newspaper Le Monde on Tuesday. More than 100 French women in the entertainment, publishing and academic fields, the most famous among them being the actress Catherine Deneuve, have lent their signature to the controversial statement.
  • The death of the quiet yet significant French singer France Gall, on Sunday.

 

Invariably when I meet American people and we talk about French celebrities, they cite the actors Gérard Depardieu and Jean-Claude Van Damme, even if the later is Belgian and not French, the singer Edith Piaf, Amélie (that’s the American title for the French movie The Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain and not the name of the actress who is Audrey Tautou), and more recently Marion Cotillard, famous since her role in La Vie en Rose (La Môme in France), in which she brilliantly incarnates Edith Piaf.

On the other hand, I’ve never heard anyone mentioning 74-year-old actress Catherine Deneuve, a star in my native land. Deneuve admits being better known in the U.S. for being the face of Chanel in the 1970s and L’Oréal in more recent years than for her acting.

In France, Deneuve is also known for her “prises de position” or public statements.

In 1971, she was one of the 343 French women who signed a manifesto supporting abortion rights, when abortion was forbidden and punishable. These 343 women who called themselves salopes (sluts or bitches in American English) risked criminal prosecution when they signed the manifesto. Deneuve made public that she had once deliberately terminated an unwanted pregnancy. Two years later, another manifesto, this time signed by 331 French doctors declared their support for abortion rights. In 1975, the Veil law, named after Simone Veil, the Health Minister, repealed the penalty for voluntarily terminating a pregnancy during the first ten weeks (now twelve).

In the mid 1980s, due to her popularity and beauty, too, Deneuve’s image was used to represent Marianne, the national symbol of France

In 2007, Deneuve signed a petition protesting against the misogynistic treatment of the presidential candidate Ségolène Royal when she ran against Nicolas Sarkozy.

And now, in the early days of 2018, she is behind yet another letter, this time denouncing the #MeToo movement and its French counterpart #balancetonporc. The public letter has triggered immediate infuriated reactions from both sides of the Atlantic, including from Ségolène Royal.

There are several aspects in the letter that can suscitate legit concerns. Among the most cited:

* The authors defend the right of men to pester women as they please.

* They urge mothers to teach their daughters how to fight back when necessary.

* They express compassion for the men who were forced to resign “when all they did wrong was touch a knee” but no obvious compassion for the victims.

* They argue that this is a hate campaign against men.

Regardless of personal opinions about the #MeToo movement, whether it goes too far or not, whether it will really bring more equality between men and women, I will always be appalled when women go against other women, when they doubt and even dismiss their experiences.

As a French woman who has now spent more of her adult life in the U.S. than in France, I also find it ignorant when terms like “witch-hunt,” and “Puritanism” are used in 2017 and arrogant to distinguish “Anglo-Saxon feminism” from “French feminism.”

American people are maybe unashamed and excessive, bold and loud, but they are also the most generous and unafraid people I ever met. Americans are at the origins of so many movements that have changed their country and affected the rest of the world that it is impossible to ignore the current #MeToo movement, with its excesses and flaws. Any significant movement knows excessivity when it starts. No revolution is peaceful and unanimous.

Perhaps it should comfort me that Deneuve and most of the other 100 French women behind this letter are old and stuck in their old world. In fact, it makes me sad to witness the impact of decades of “culture.” Their way of thinking is so engrained that it is possibly impossible for them to see the need for change and accept the inexorable forward journey of life.

I would hope that these women use the privilege of their age and social status to help the younger women who fight for the world they want to build and want to leave to the children of tomorrow. Exactly like Catherine Deneuve and others did so generously and intelligently when they were young.

 

From Paris

Speaking of a woman who was not afraid of change and adversity.

Born in 1947, France Gall was only four years younger than Catherine Deneuve. She began her singing career at a young age and gained immediate recognition when the song Poupée de Cire, Poupée de Son, written for her by Serge Gainsbourg, earned Gall the prestigious Prix de l’Eurovision in 1965 at the age of eighteen.

Gainsbourg will write other songs for France Gall and she will quickly become one of the stars of the yéyé movement in France (for Yeah Yeah). But this is when she met the singer and songwriter Michel Berger that France Gall showed her ability for change when she started to sing more meaningfull lyrics. There was more than musical harmony between Gall and Berger since they married and had two children together.

Gall and Berger often sang the same songs that he wrote and composed. But Gall would always be more popular. No doubt due to her approachable sunny personality. I admit personal fondness for Michel Berger’s lyrics and music. He was a pretty good pianist too.

Berger died brutally of a heart attack at the age of 44. Only two years later 19-year-old daughter Pauline passed away from the consequences of cystic fibrosis. From that moment Gall pursued her humanitarian efforts in Africa more than her musical career, even though she still recorded and gave concerts.

When I lived in France France Gall didn’t really interest me. Her songs were very catchy, but I was more into British and American music. It was impossible, though, to grow up in France and not know France Gall’s most iconic songs by heart.

  • Sacré Charlemagne is one of them. Published in 1964 the song is about children dreaming of a week exclusively made of Thursdays and Sundays, at a time in France where only these days were no-school days. The simple lyrics blame Charlemagne for inventing schools. In France, Charlemagne (747-814) is falsely credited for creating the French school system. In reality, he only contributed to its early beginnings and only for boys. It is said that France Gall didn’t like this song, but I guarantee you that everyone knows it in France.
  • Poupée de Cire, Poupée de Son is of course one the songs that jumps to French people’s minds when evocating France Gall since it brought her to fame.
  • Résiste exemplifies the singer’s desire to follow her heart more than conventions to live a meaningful life.
  • Évidemment is homage to France Gall’s friend and beloved singer and activist Daniel Balavoine who died accidently in 1986 in Africa where he was leading a fund-raising effort aimed at building wells there.
  • Tout Pour la Musique, as it title implies, is simply a hymn to music and musicians.

Since France Gall’s voice was high-pitched, sounding almost like a little girl I assumed for the longest time that she was somewhat naïve, while she was in fact a strong woman who made deliberate choices to pursue both her long musical journey and humanitarian activism. She also went through the heartbreaking death of her longtime partner and daughter with grace while soon after dealing with breast cancer with the same discretion.

Since her death I’ve listened to her songs with a different ear. France Gall got a great sense of rhythm and absorbed the musical trends of her time. Behind apparent easy songs she and Berger had also an indeniable knowledge of music history. Like most musicians from her generation France Gall was fascinated by the United States and America certainly influenced Michel Berger as well, so I leave you with Ella, Elle l’A or Ella, She Has It, a song written in homage to American icon Ella Fitzgerald but also as an anthem against racism. Still timely.

 

With these two women I’m reminded of the self-contradictory nature of my native France. A country so creative in the world of the arts and yet so often reluctant to move forward.

P.S. Pour vous qui me lisez à partir de la France. Vos réactions vécues à plusieurs milliers de kilomètres m’intéressent. Elles me permettent aussi pour prendre le pouls d’un pays qui me devient de plus en plus étranger même si je reste pétrie par sa culture.

Comment avez-vous vécu ces deux événements?

Que pensez-vous de la démarche de Catherine Deneuve?

Quelle est votre chanson préférée de France Gall?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

French Friday: Bonne Année! Happy New Year!

J’avais prévu un billet différent, mais comme je ne fais plus de résolutions de début d’année depuis quelque temps, je me suis autorisée un changement de dernière minute.

Je dédie cette galerie de beauté naturelle à ceux et celles qui ont souffert et souffrent encore des conséquences des ouragans et incendies de 2017, principalement au Texas, en Floride, à Puerto Rico, et en Californie, à ceux et celles qui vivent un début d’hiver très difficile sur la côte est des États Unis, particulièrement en Nouvelle Angleterre, toujours proche de mon cœur.

Malgré les nombreux challenges qu’a présenté 2017, la beauté a gagné sur l’adversité.

Elle gagnera encore en 2018.

I had planned a different post, but since I stopped making New Year’s resolutions a while ago, I went with a last minute change.

I dedicate this series of natural beauty to anyone who has lived through the devastating hurricanes and fires of 2017, principally in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico, and California, to anyone currently affected by the harsh winter conditions along the East coast, particularly in New England, always tucked close to my heart.

 

Despite the numerous challenges during 2017, beauty won over adversity.

It will again in 2018.

 

 

Oranges, Perdrioles, and the Six Books of Christmas

When I was a child I always found an orange in my best pair of shoes on Christmas Day.

The tradition went back to my parents’ own childhood when oranges were a rarity and thus a treat. I imagine that in grey, damp Normandy the fruit also symbolized sun and warmth, lacking there in the winter season. The oranges of my childhood came from Africa or Spain, and we only ate them in the winter.

Oranges, of course, have been part of my children’s daily life in the U.S., so I’ve never tucked one in their Christmas shoes. Instead, I’ve always slipped a book.

Often bought at the last minute since I am a late holiday shopper. Yep, I know. It’s not always good. This is how it happens.

In the fall, I envision myself browsing leisurely on a crisp midweek early December morning, a large coffee mug in one hand and a thoughtful gift list in the other. In reality, I start to gather ideas way too late and end up changing them, as we get closer to Christmas.

Though I am a late shopper I enjoy holiday special events. Last weekend, for example, I attended a Holiday Pop concert which ended with The Twelve Days of Christmas.

As it has been for most American things, I discovered, years ago through my American-schooled children, that The Twelve Days of Christmas is an American holiday classic.

Embed from Getty Images

The Holiday Pop offered a particularly successful rendition of the song, thanks to the amazing singer and orchestra. This moment triggered a blog post idea. I will write a “Twelve Books for Christmas” post, I thought.

But I managed to also be late for this plan.

However, when I checked the origin of the legendary song I discovered two facts.

  • The gifts to the “true love” are not given twelve days before Christmas but from Christmas Day to January 5th.
  • The song is credited for having British but also French origins, although the gifts in the French version are offered over the course of twelve months and not twelve days.

Intrigued, I dug a little more and found out that the partridge, called perdrix in French, is also included in the list of gifts. The French title is Une Perdriole, which I assume is a small partridge.

Here is a link to a version that includes the lyrics. Even if you understand some French, it can be a challenge to follow the song without them. I was myself a little lost between the names of these strange gifts offered to the “true love” in  The Twelve Days of Christmas🙂

In the end, as you see, I was not late after all, but I still decided to downsize my“Twelve Books for Christmas.”

So here is my “Six Books for Christmas,” in case you are also late, six days before Christmas.

Or if like me you always slip a book inside a loved one’s pair of shoes or … stocking.

For Little Ones

Aliens Get the Sniffles Too Ahhh-Choo!

Written by Katy Duffield and illustrated by K.G. Campbell

Aww… Little Alien is sick. Even with his parents’ extra care and out of space medicine, little alien is not feeling 100% himself. Until a loving puppy finds out what can pull a smile on little alien’s face again. Text and illustrations are equally filled with humor and tenderness. A unique twist on a plain cold.

Here We Are: Notes for Living on Planet Earth

Written and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers

Such a gorgeous picture book! Both text and illustrations tap into the emotions that trigger a child’s birth. Love the author’s unique take on a baby’s place on earth. This picture book is so perfect that I offered it to a friend of mine who just gave birth to a baby. I could simply not find anything more appropriate to welcome a new human being on our planet.

For Middle Graders

Like her maman my #1 daughter loved fiction from day one, but # 2 wanted “true stories.” With her I discovered the world of nonfiction. There were less books in the 1990s for the lovers of true stories than currently. So for the child in your life who also favors nonfiction over fiction, stop by Jennifer Swanson’s website. I’m postitive that you will find more than one book to satisfy this kid. Since 2017 has been a remarkably important year for women, I especially like Cool Women Who Work With Animals.

Me and Marvin Gardens

Written by Amy Sarig King

I already reviewed this book, since I’ve read every new novel from the author. She’s brilliant and you can never go wrong if you select one of her numerous books crafted with talent and heart for any teen in your life. I love them all. This first-ever written middle grade novel is highly enjoyable and yet cleverly layered and very moving.

For Teens

The Librarian of Auschwitz

Written by Antonio Iturbe and translated by Lilit Thwaites

Based on the true life of a fourteen-year-old girl prisoner at Auschwitz who becomes a secret librarian there for the sake of books and humanity. I heard of the book from a blogger. As dark as the topic is, the story is filled with the best of human traits. A must-read for teens and adults alike.

For Grown-Ups

Gold Fame Citrus

Written by native California author Claire Vaye Watkins, it’s an exceptionally well written, bone chilling and amazingly timely dystopian novel about drought and the human thirst for more than water. It will particularly hit home for California residents. My French blogger friend told me that the novel is translated in French under the title Les Sables de L’Armagosa.

 

Now, even if your holiday shopping is finished, your gifts wrapped and hidden, remember that the Twelve Days of Christmas start on Christmas Day until January 5th 🙂

Which is when I will see you on your blog and mine, since I’m hitting the pause button until then.

 

I wish EACH AND EVERY ONE OF YOU a beautiful Holiday Season.

Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Los Posadas, or any other holiday dear to your heart, enjoy this special time of the year with the people you love. Even those well chosen gifts cannot match these shared moments.

I also wish you a healthy, happy New Year!

 

 

French Friday: From a France I’ve Known …

Two famous French men died, only hours away, in the first days of December.

One was nicknamed the Elvis Presley of the French.

The other was an awarded author and the Dean of the Académie française.

These two men had little or even nothing in common.

Chance is you’ve never heard of them, unless you’re French or francophone or a really big Francophile.

And yet they leave a mark on the French collective.

Including mine, even though they have also little or nothing in common with me.

 

Johnny Hallyday, born Jean-Philippe Smet in 1943 to a Belgian father and a French mother, was meant to spend most of his life on stage. His mother was a model fitting and his father an actor, singer and dancer. Since his father left when he was only a child and his mother worked fulltime, Jean-Philippe spent a great deal of time with a beloved aunt and his two cousins, moving at an early age to London where the girls pursued a dual dance career. One of them will marry Lee Halliday, an American dancer who will quickly call Jean-Philippe Johnny. Johnny adored this man and took his last name, which he will keep as his stage name. A printing mistake on a record will transform the letter I in Y.

Johnny Hallyday was born.

His musical career didn’t take off immediately. Like for so many other singers of that period of time,  Johnny’s success will materialize in the 1960s when he decides to become a rocker. Thanks to Lee Halliday who receives American records directly from the USA through his family, Johnny is exposed to American music, still unavailable to the French. He will in fact record a complete album in English, in Nashville in 1962, a never heard of for a French singer.

With a career spanning over half a century, Johnny Hallyday could only be at some point the backdrop of my French life.

Was I a fan? No. But his songs played on the radio when my mother sewed and he was one of the most coveted television’s guests too. With a voice, a face, a presence Johnny Hallyday was inevitable and a genuine component of the popular French culture.

Although I favored British and American rock, Johnny Hallyday, often only called Johnny, had many female fans. I remember of a few girls who bought each and every of his records and clipped his photo from the fan magazine Salut les Copains, which I didn’t buy either.

For valid reasons Johnny was often compared to Elvis Presley. His public demonstrated similar adoration and his female fans also shrieked and fainted whenever he appeared on stage. In return, Johnny was also very loyal to his fans and even threw free concerts, as he did on Bastille Day in 2000 and 2009.

I suppose that Johnny’s fans were hit as hard when he died than the people of Memphis and Elvis’s fans across America when The King died.

Unlike Elvis, though, Johnny is little known away from France. He’s in fact sometimes called the only rocker nobody heard about.

Although his casket was carried along the Champs Elysées as it is for a national French figure, Johnny won’t be buried in his hometown like Elvis but on the idyllic island of St. Bart, where he owned a stunning villa.

This last note leaves many of Johnny’s fans disappointed. Most will hardly afford to stay on the most exclusive French Antilles islands to pay their respect to the man who’s been called an Everyday Man.

I never owned a Johnny’s record or a CD, but look what I found at home!

Back from 1986, only a matter of time before the owner of this single – 45 tours in French – and me shared a common Parisian flat. I suppose that Johnny’s fan base is more eclectic than I thought 🙂

 

 

 

 

Jean d’Ormesson was born Count Jean Bruno Wladimir François-de-Paule le Fèvre d’Ormesson in 1925.  No wonder he was called Jean d’O.

I’ve never been a fan of aristocrats, no doubt due to my working class upbringing 🙂

That said, Jean d’Ormesson leaves behind him an extensive body of literature, recently gathered in the prestigious La Pléiade Collection.

He was also for a while the youngest member of the Académie française, the preeminent French council for matters relevant to the French language and died as the Dean. A while back, I wrote a post about the hot debate related to the evolution of the French spelling and grammar and included the public announcement from the Académie – unanimously opposed to the changes that attempt to bring more gender equality. Jean d’Ormesson was also against this evolution, although he admitted that the French language, once dominent, had lost its power as France and Europe had lost theirs. He didn’t weep on that loss, though, since he believed in the natural changes due to time.

As I wrote my post last month, I was reminded that the Académie française has currently only four women on board for forty seats. Jean d’Ormesson is the one who brought the first woman to the Académie in 1981. He did so against the Gallic dismissive comments of his male colleagues who mocked Marguerite Yourcenar’s real gender since she was gay. According to Jean d’Ormesson, he rejoiced to finally pronounce a word so incredible and prodigiously so singular: Madame.

So, even though, d’Ormesson also directed the newspaper Le Figaro for many years, with a readership leaning more toward the right than the left, I remember him for this decisive step.

He was also a very educated, witty man who spoke like no one else. Even his enunciation, so articulate, was unique. No doubt born in a world where so few French came from. His piercing blue eyes were filled with genuine joy and humor. A favorite on French television his presence elevated any conversation.

And he left us with so many admirable sentences! I only select one that I prefer in French for its beautiful rhythm and that I humbly translate below, totally aware that I will never equal the eloquence of Jean D’O.

“Tant qu’il y aura des livres, des gens pour en écrire et des gens pour en lire, tout ne sera pas perdu dans ce monde qu’en dépit de ses tristesses et de ses horreurs nous avons tant aimé ».

As long as there will be books, people to write them and people to read them, not everything will be lost in this world that we have loved so dearly, despite its sorrows and horrors.

Re-reading the sentence I would say the same about music.

And maybe this is also what Johnny’s fans felt when he sang.

 

 

A last humorous note about Jean d’O. He’s credited for saying once that dying on the day a star dies is terrible. No doubt, Jean d’Ormesson’s death has been somewhat eclipsed by Johnny Hallyday’s.

These two French men could not have been more different. Their public and readers had probably not much in common either. At his death one received popular homage, the other national homage.

In their own way they incarnated my native France.

With them gone, another page is turned.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

French Friday: We Are ALL From One Place

Of all people immigrants have an acute sense of what straddling worlds means. But the importance of the place that has seen us grow leaves permanent prints all over our heart and defines our beliefs and misbeliefs, regardless of being or not an immigrant. This place that shapes us – whether with good or bad events – matters to anyone of us.

Over the last ten days I read one memoir, a young adult novel and watched a movie, realizing only lately that despite the first impression all three treat of worlds that meet and collide, ultimately forcing the characters to face the importance of their first home.

In Hillbilly Elegy the author J.D. Vance writes about his childhood and youth spent between Middletown, Ohio where he was born and has lived most of the time, and Jackson, Kentucky where his family was from.

There are many reasons to love and to be wary of this book. The author has really lived among true hillbillies and has seen the worst and the best of the so-called Appalachian values. Substance abuse and violence counter balanced by unconditional loyalty and love of country make it for a confusing upbringing. But as a conservative, Vance shows little patience for the ones who have nothing, often making them responsible for their own misfortune. He claims his hillbilly-ness and seeks responses to the crisis that affect the American white working-class in this part of the country, but his ties to some of the bigggest Trump’s campaign donors can only trigger legit questions. The topic of his memoir is serious but the writing is approachable and I highly recommend the book so you make your own opinion. Here is a New York Times review of the book and here an opinion published in the Jackson Times-Voice. You can also hear the author’s Ted Talk.

The core of the memoir remains about the importance that geography plays in our lives, also the aspect that moved me most when I read it.

No one chooses her/his place of birth. Like one’s first name it is a pure accident and yet so powerful. So powerful that in fact most of us either spend our lives where we were born or close by or leave for an entirely different region, country, or even continent, sometimes to come back much later.

J. D. Vance for example couldn’t wait to leave the poverty of Middletown, a now-decaying Ohio steel town filled with Kentucky transplants. But he still spoke with obvious affection of his family living there and of the physical beauty of eastern Kentucky.  Lately, after living in San Francisco he has returned to Columbus, Ohio, where he studied at Ohio State before going to Yale Law School. Columbus is the city he calls home.

The author’s journey from poverty to professional and personal success is fascinating and very rare. He thanks his grandparents for being the reason behind. Despite their own excesses, they poured constant love inside little J.D. when his mother was abusing drugs and creating havoc around her with numerous temporary boyfriends. His grandmother was particularly loving and pulled him through. And four years in the Marines completed the transformation from a pure hillbilly to a guy who could venture in the world, says Vance.

He  drank, though, sparkling water for the first time at Yale, thinking it was Sprite lacking sugar. This is also at Yale that he learned how to dress for interviews, realizing that what looked extraordinary to him was banal for most of his classmates. Growing up in a hectic environment where conflicts were dealt with fists and not words, he also learned to express his feelings with honesty and not anger. Not an easy task!

Thanks to my parents, I have not lived an abusive childhood neither witnessed domestic violence or the consequences of substance abuse. But Vance’s discoveries of a sophisticated world echoed some of my own.

A whole pear served on my plate for breakfast as I stayed at a middle school friend for a sleepover puzzled me once. As I started to bite inside as I did with apples, I realized that everyone was using a fork and a knife to peel the fruit and then cut it in pieces small enough to be eaten without juice dribbling down the chin.

In my first year of middle school, located only a few miles away from my small village, I also pretended to be fluent in music notation when I understood that I was the only one who had not studied sight-reading. My one-room elementary school teachers had taught me how to read and gosh did I read! But musical education was not for working-class or rural kids.

Years later, a set of unknown cheese knives confused me, too, while they seemed so familiar to a college friend of mine.

In The Hate U Give, Angie Thomas writes about sixteen-year-old Starr Carter who lives in a poor black part of town by night and studies in a posh private high school by day. Her life is distinctly separated between these two worlds, creating from the very beginning issues in her neighborhood where she still has friends and at school where she has made new friends, primarily white boys and girls. Even her clothes and language are different whether she’s in one or the other place.

Starr is deeply aware of straddling two worlds and already struggles with the notion of allegiance. When one of her closest childhood friends, someone she sees less now that their worlds rarely meet, is shot by a policeman in her presence, these two worlds must meet.

The Hate U Give is first and foremost a novel based on the numerous police shootings of unarmed young African Americans, tragic events that triggered the movement Black Lives Matter.

The same question through the entire novel, however, is: Can you straddle two very different worlds and still remain the same person? Can you stay loyal to your kin while living away? Starr often finds herself in such different settings that she wonders who she is. In the white comfortable world of her school friends she is tempted to defend her neighborhood, her people, her tribe. At home, she also realizes how impossible it is for her people to understand that everything white is not always bad.

In the end, she has to find her voice and tells the truth about what happened the night her chidlhoood friend was shot. From a girl split between two worlds she becomes an activist or at least someone keenly aware of the deeply disparate lives people can live, only miles away from each other.

Lady Bird aka Christine McPherson is also a high school student in Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut movie Lady Bird. The story tells of the emotional rollercoaster of adolescence and of Lady Bird’s exceptionally strong but butt-headed relationship with her mother who we imagine being exactly like her daughter at the same age.

Since the story is set between 2002 and 2003, in Sacramento, California it is also a film about the power of a birthplace on human’s psyche. Anyone who has lived in post 9/11 California has also lived the rapidly changing American economic backdrop, largely due to the end of what was called then the dot.com boom.

Lady Bird’s family is directly impacted when her middle-aged father loses his job. They already live on the other side of tracks, as Lady Bird puts it. Her home is not set along one of those tree-lined Sacramento streets where the wealthiest residents live. Her mother can be a hardworking nurse, clothes are bought at thrift stores and money is tight, moreover since Lady Bird’s parents have sent her to a private catholic school – no doubt to get a better education. There, she meets economically and financially diverse kids.

Opinionated but big-hearted and impossibly likeable, Lady Bird has one dream: leaving Sacramento and California. She has harsh words against the city and the state. The delta has always been frowned upon as being agricultural. People there often argue that they are not part of Central California, a region even less desirable for many. Sacramento is still quite diverse and greatly benefits from the proximity of UC Davis, located about fifteen miles away. But as local kid, Lady Bird doesn’t want to attend UC Davis but study in “a place filled with culture.” A dream that I could easily understand as someone who has also lived in a French region considered rural and remote from cultural life.

Lady Bird sometimes lies about her address and even pretends living somewhere else. She goes great length to avoid being seen with her parents, mostly because they don’t drive a recent car. Again, these details rang so many familiar bells. I was so impressed by some of my middle and high school friends’ homes that I prayed they would never show up at my much smaller and less comfortable house.

I don’t want to brandish the Spoiler Alert flag, so I won’t go into more details, moreover since there are countless small details in this movie that tell so much and show the talent of the director.

As an example, just a brief conversation between Lady Bird and a boy she meets at a party, toward the end of the film when she has just started college.

“What’s your name?”

“Christine.”

“David. So where are you from?”

“Sacramento.”

“Where?”

“San Francisco.”

It is when she is in New York City that Lady Bird takes back her given name. This is also there that she understands the importance of place for oneself. And where she considers her mother’s feelings about Sacramento, a city that will forever tie them.

This short dialogue moved me since I also lied on occasions after realizing that the name of my hometown resonated with no one but me. Much later, of course, I understood that it shouldn’t have mattered.

We are ALL from one place. And even though we may leave it behind we are still from there. There is no particular pride or shame to draw from it, only perhaps respect and affection for a small corner of earth that shaped the person we became.

Besides the common theme of home that serves as a crucial backdrop, the role that one or more persons plays in a child’s life is very important in these books and movie. Whether it is J. D. Vance’s grandparents and particularly his grandmother or Starr’s mother and father but also uncle or still Lady Bird’s mother, each of the characters receive love, sometimes brutally bold, sometimes embarrassing, always unconditional.

Ultimately, as seedy or posh home is, love is still what defines it and what matters most.

From my home to yours

 

French Friday: Christmas in the French Quarters

At my local grocery store, there is a young friendly cashier. He often strikes a conversation about the weather, food, sometimes about France or still the American holidays.

Three days before Thanksgiving, he admitted loving that day and the fall season in general.

“I feel bad,” he started. “Now Christmas decorations show up in the stores the day after Halloween.” He lowered his voice as if other people could listen and disagree with him. “Even here,” he went on. “We start selling the Advent calendars with the pumpkins and cranberries.” He half-shrugged. “I guess that for business purposes.”

“I’m totally with you,” I said. “Way too soon. November is not Christmas. This weird trend started a few years ago.”

“First, it was just a few people  who put their Christmas decorations for Thanksgiving,” he agreed. “Now it’s like so many.”

Way too soon,” I insisted. “Well, Happy Thanksgiving to you! Enjoy the fall season, also my favorite!”

****

When our children were small there was a technical reason why my husband and I deliberately pushed the Christmas decorations closer to the big day.

“Is it Christmas today?” can be as frustrating for the kids and annoying for the parents as “Are we there yet?”

Also, we never understood how people could manage to cook an elaborate Thanksgiving dinner and put a Christmas tree up the following day.

Our upbringing of course helped. French people in their right mind would never have displayed a Christmas tree in their home in November. At least, when we lived there. I’ve noticed that fall tends to blend into winter, too, in France, moreover since Halloween is not celebrated everywhere and there is no Thanksgiving.

Even though my husband and I agreed that most Americans embraced the Christmas spirit much earlier than the French, we realized that we had not celebrated Christmas exactly in the same way when we were children either. So we mixed and matched our personal traditions, borrowing from each other, adding some distinct American flavor, to create our own family celebration.

* We were in total agreement about putting our shoes under the tree, a French tradition that we had both followed.

* I suggested including the stockings when I finally understood their role. The stockings, totally unknown to us when we arrived in the U.S., is now one of my family’s favorite Christmas traditions.

It’s definitely mine and I basically took over, overfilling my family’s stockings with small inexpensive gifts that vary from favorite candies to socks, from lip balm to funny or pretty Post-It notes…

* I accepted to open the stockings on Christmas Eve, since as a child my husband opened his gifts that night.

* He accepted to bring the other gifts under the tree only when our kids would be deep asleep. As they grew, it became a challenge 🙂

* We decided to build the suspense with phone calls from Santa, with bells that my husband rang from the backyard on Christmas Eve, evocating the sleigh, with carrots, cookies and a glass of milk that the children would display on a table before going to bed and would find half eaten and half full on Christmas Day.

* As much as most parents would love to keep their kids small and innocent just a little longer, we definitely agreed to tell them the truth when they would suspect that we could be Santa and Mrs. Claus.

* Naturally, our own Christmas could only be half French half American.

When we lived in Massachusetts, I fell for the New England candle-lit windows

* And we had a rule: Christmas would not enter our home before December 1st.

That day, the children could open the first window of their Advent calendars and eat their first chocolate piece.

Then, we would either go cut our own tree or buy one on a lot, usually not until the 10th or so.

Turning the house to Christmas mode took days, with holiday music playing in the background and countless cups of hot cocoa or tea to sustain us 🙂

Slower than Americans, the French-born were still ready by Christmas Eve.

****

But everyone knows that immigrants end up mimicking the natives. So, year after year, Christmas crept a little closer to Thanksgiving, even in the French quarters.

Until 2017, when it appeared for the fist time ever over Thanksgiving weekend!

 

 

P. S. I don’t think I’ll share the news with my young cashier, though.

Monthly Monday Miam-Miam: Food and Books to Be Thankful for

Only three days until Thanksgiving, and I’m in panic mode.

Last week, my menu was down and my grocery list made. So, late last night, I kicked my feet up and flipped through an old newspaper that was gathering dust on the coffee table. There, I read that you should NOT introduce the same ingredient twice in your Thanksgiving menu. For example, let’s say that you serve a pecan pie for dessert, then you should NOT offer glazed pecans as a snack.

I jumped up!

My menu included THREE dishes with the same ingredient. Not my fault if sweet potatoes are just so yummy. Besides, they are really healthy, as everyone knows.

So, I had planned to serve mashed sweet potatoes, a sweet potato casserole, and a sweet potato cheesecake. With brown sugar and vanilla the sweet potato casserole was acting as a side dish and dessert. Even better, had thought sweet tooth me.

Now, the newspaper article triggered second thoughts. At the same time, I also knew that there is no such thing as a Thanksgiving police. My years in the U.S. have shown me that if there is one day where excesses are allowed in the American kitchen it is on Thanksgiving Day.

Yet, as the newspaper was darkening my fingers, I realized that as much as I love sweet potatoes, as healthy as they can be, and even as crucially important as they are on Thanksgiving the journalist had probably a point. I also had to admit that I follow this one ingredient rule too, when composing menus.

But again a Thanksgiving menu is not any other menu. The cooking and baking possibilities are endless on that particular day, so unlike any other. Especially with sweet potatoes, the choices are just too mouth watering to settle on one meager dish.

With much internal debate, I decided, though, to cut. But how does someone choose mashed sweet potatoes over sweet potato casserole or still sweet potato and carrot purée (a classic in the family) over the sweet potato cheesecake recipe I had just found (I always introduce a new dessert at Thanksgiving)?

A dilemma, made even harder now that I had also bumped into a really cool recipe for sweet potato pie cupcakes that I was sure everyone would love. Okay, don’t get carried away, Mom, my son would say, there will be next year.

In the end, the sweet potato carrot purée won over the mashed and the casserole because it’s a classic. I also learned that traditions matter on Thanksgiving Day.

The good news was that I had to find replacements. So I went for mashed cauliflowers. Very hot this year the cauliflowers AND very healthy too, so all is good on the side dished front. I will have of course regular mashed potatoes because that’s a real classic, too, right? And green beans, of course, even though I still call them haricots verts.

Then, for dessert, I was hesitant between the Lavender Panna Cotta with Honey Poached Pears and the Maple Gingerbread Pots de Crème. I already had a pumpkin pie and since I had to cut my traditional pumpkin chai puddings because of the new rule of ONE similar ingredient I decided to do BOTH the panna cotta and the pots de crème.

We all know that the best of Thanksgiving are the leftovers.

 

Chrysanthemums, mums in the States, symbolize cemeteries in France, but to me they only mean fall

And because we also need food for the soul…

Among the readers of my blog there are many parents and grandparents, thankful to have children and teenagers in their lives, so here are four outstanding books, made just for them. I read them over the last two weeks while I was testing my Thanksgiving menu. They have nothing to do with Thanksgiving, but I find each of them a reason for being thankful to live in a world where there are so many creative, smart, funny, and goodhearted authors.

 

For Little Ones:

I Am Peace: A Book of Mindfulness by Susan Verde illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds

Even young children can feel overwhelmed. This picture book is perfect when calming a too busy mind is needed. The approachable and yet poetic text offers suggetsions to reconnect with the present when too many thoughts arise. The simple, gorgeous illustrations compliment the text to the perfection. Page after page, the child reconnects with the five senses, with nature, and the present moment. In the end, the young readers will also reach peace of mind, allowing them to offer peace to their surrounding world and ultimately to the rest of the world. The illustrator has illustrated Dot, one of my most favorite picture books, and the bestselling Judy Moody and Stink series.

We’re All Wonders written and illustrated by R.J. Palacio

The phenomenal middle grade novel Wonder triggered the movement Choose Kind. In Wonder, the main character Auggie was born with unusual physical characteristics and his loving mom calls him a wonder. With this picture book the author is reaching to younger readers. The sparse-sober and movingly powerful text shows young readers what it’s like to live in a world in which you feel like any other kid, but aren’t always seen that way. Beyond Auggie’s story, the novel and now the picture book tap into every child’s yearning to belong and to be seen as who they truly are.

 

For Middle Graders:

Yvain, The Knight of the Lion by M.T. Anderson and illustrated by Andrea Offermann

There are authors who never disappoint you because they write in a niche, so you expect their next book to please you as much as the precedent. And there are authors who surprise you each time they publish a book because you never know what it will be.

M.T. Anderson is of the latest category. He’s everything but predictable. He writes all over the spectrum and beyond. Though, each of his books being excellent, you are guaranteed to find a gem, whether for a child or a teen.

His latest caught my attention, not only because I am from France but also because I’ve really enjoyed learning about the Middle Ages when I was a kid.

This graphic novel is an adaptation of one of the first Arthurian epics, Yvain, le chevalier au lion written by Chrétien de Troyes, almost eight centuries ago. In fact, most of the tales we tell of King Arthur are derived from Chrétien de Troyes’ epic poems.

The text for this novel has been of course translated from Old French. And I must applaud the author for his impeccable research.

The illustrations are also absolutely terrific. The artist is from Germany and her work is stunning. Since I grew up in France and am accustomed to depictions of medieval scenes I was amazed by the accuracy of the costumes and décor at large. Impeccable research on the artist’s part too.

I recommended the book to my daughter, currently searching for material for seventh and eighth grade students studying medieval times across the world, because it is a highly accessible and thus enjoyable read, due to the striking artwork but also to the text filled with wit.

Doesn’t mean that it’s not deep. The middle ages were neither a peaceful period of time nor exactly feminist. However, it is interesting to note that it was not unusual for women to play crucial roles back then, as it is the case in this tale. In my French Friday post about the French écriture inclusive reform, I mention that women didn’t use to be as invisible as they became starting in the 17th century. In the medieval times, the feminization of professions such as poétesse for poète existed. We still have so much to learn from our ancestors 🙂

As a side note, I will add that I am familiar with the geographic area where the Knight of the Lion and the Arthurian tales take place in Brittany. I didn’t grow up very far from there, and my family vacationed several times near the forest of Brocéliande.

Reading this graphic novel was traveling along memory lane on several levels.

 

And last but not least, another gem for Middle Graders:

Me and Marvin Gardens by Amy Sarig King

The author, who writes young adult fiction under the name A.S. King, is my all time favorite for her work in teen literature. So I was curious to read her latest novel, since the protagonist is an eleven-year-old sixth grade boy.

Obe Devlin’s nose bleeds often and at the most awkward moments, which triggers real embarrassment. Obe and his family live in the smallest house that’s left from the much larger property that his maternal great grandfather owned one hundred years ago. But as his mom put it, “he drank 175 acres of the Devlin land.”

And now the much smaller patch of land where Obe, his parents, and high school sister live is surrounded by lots of similar looking houses, built on his former beloved cornfield. The creek, which Obe cleans diligently, still runs at the bottom of his family’s property, but the woods now belong to the kids living on the other side. This separation is the consequence of an orchestrated fight between Obe and his longtime best friend Tommy. What happens during this fight is crucial to the plot of the book and moreover to Obe’s development, so I hate to reveal it. Let’s say that it ends the longtime friendship. Obe has, however, a new friend and fifth-grader Annie is as loveable as him.

When Obe meets the most unusual animal that doesn’t look like any other, he instinctively protects this creature that only feeds on plastic, either found in the creek or left behind by the crew workers who continue to develop the area for still more house building. Obe’s world has changed so deeply since the bulldozing of his land started that the strange and quite unattractive, stinky animal he names Marvin Gardens, for the Monopoly game he plays with his father and sister, becomes his secret friend.

Skilled as she is, the author manages to squeeze one hundred years of American immigration, real estate, banking, and housing development history in barely more than 10 pages, all printed on gray paper and woven through the book which tells of Obe’s current story. These pages, short chapters all titled One Hundred Years Ago, illustrate the deep and frighteningly inevitable weight of wars, government’s decisions, and greed on people’s lives. A real tour de force since the novel remains seamless and highly readable despite these brief flashbacks in times.

It’s impossible to resist Obe. The eleven-year-old demonstrates loyalty, wisdom, and a sense of purpose that few adults believe young kids can possess. Of course, Obe is also caught between his desire to remain a child and the pressure of his ex best friend and the new kids to act as teenagers. In the end, Obe makes the hardest choice each of us has to make: being oneself.

The book pays also homage to good teachers, to strong moms, to cool loving big sisters, to girls with ambitious dreams, and boys with big hearts. I LOVED every word of the novel.

P.S. As a child, the author has also witnessed the bulldozing of a beloved cornfield in southeastern Pennsylvania where she grew up. If you’ve also seen a place that was home demolished for development intentions the novel and Obe’s emotions will deeply resonate, I guarantee you.

And even if you lucked out, you’ve still be eleven once, and you’ll find yourself tearing up, laughing, cringing, and everything in between as you’ll live with Obe for 240 pages.

As I read this book, I was back to the own fields of my Normandy childhood, thousands miles away from those of Pennsylvania, and yet knowing exactly how Obe felt facing daunting changes.

This novel alone deserves a whole blog post and I will introduce it again early December when I write about books as holiday gifts.

From my kitchen to yours, I wish you all a very happy, peaceful, and loving Thanksgiving Day and extended weekend.

Regardless of the state of our country and the world, it is okay to be merry on Thursday and absolutely mandatory to be thankful for the lives we have and the people in these lives. Life is not always easy and living feels sometimes daunting, so I am thankful for my family and my friends to pull me through, whenever it gets harder.

I’m certainly thankful for you who visit me in my small home that is my blog. Due to the holiday, I will skip my weekly French Friday post and see you the following week.

PERFECT Leftovers from my very recent birthday!

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

 

 

 

French Friday: L’Écriture Inclusive or a French Reform that Goes Beyond Grammatical Changes

This post is much longer than any of my typical French Friday post, since I wrote an English and a French version. So you can skip to your favorite one 🙂

As always, thank you for reading me.

The other day at yoga, I spoke with another member of the studio who told me that it was exciting and frightening at the same time to go through a real revolution for the first time of our lives. We are about the same age, too young to have experienced first hand the big changes of the late 1960s but old enough to be grateful to these changes that have made our lives as women more equal to men’s.

The viral #metoo campaign has shown that there is still a lot to do in order for girls and women to be as respected as men at work and in the street. This campaign has resonated beyond the U.S. France, among other European countries, has followed in the steps with the # balance ton porc.

As a side note, I will say that I am partial to the American #metoo which doesn’t have the denunciation inference of its French counterpart. The verb balancer means rat out.

What my partner and I realized at the yoga studio was that the late 2017 shift didn’t look like a fade. We had seen the power of women at work after the American presidential election and inauguration. Many felt that these marches were only the beginning of a larger movement, but who would have thought that the shift would be much wider and that women would speak up in such great numbers and that stories of sexual harrassement and violence against them would pile up, affecting every industry, every social class, and not only in the U.S.? I certainly didn’t envision such a movement.

I certainly didn’t envision either that a reform affecting the French spelling and grammar would eventually reflect these changes.

Anyone who has studied a little bit of French knows that French nouns come in two genders, either feminine or masculine. Any adjective describing this noun will then take either the feminine or masculine form. But when an adjective describes two nouns, one in each gender, then the masculine wins over the feminine. Always.

Example #1: Le garçon et la fille sont intelligents. The boy and the girl are smart.

The adjective Intelligent takes an E when it defines a feminine noun and an S for the plural. In the above sentence, it is clear that the adjective took a masculine plural form.

Example #2: Le garçon et les filles sont intelligents. The boy and the girls are smart.

In this case, we have one boy versus more than one girl, and yet, the same rule applies.

The masculine always wins over the feminine in French grammar.

I was in first grade when I read in my textbook that, regardless of quantity or the proximity with the noun, an adjective always took a masculine form since, “Le masculin l’emporte sur le féminin.” As a French native speaker I had already assimilated this rule, by habit. But seeing it in written took a whole different meaning. It felt unfair.

“Why does the masculine always win over the feminine?” asked one of my classmates, also a girl.

“C’est comme ça,” answered our teacher, a middle-aged woman.

“But why is it this way?” the girl insisted.

“I told you, c’est comme ça.”

“Because boys are stronger that girls, dummy,” shouted one boy.

Which triggered peels of victorious laughter from the other boys and outcries from the girls.

“Enough now!” said our teacher.

She was strict, so we all calmed down. But this is with words as simple as “This is the way it is” that the world is made different whether you are a boy or a girl.

My elementary school is on the left past the church (Photo Google)

How would have I known that decades later, thousands of miles away, in another continent I would use the exact same words to answer the exact same question?

I found myself unprepared to justify this particular French grammatical rule to my own children. Talk of the weight of education.

“Why is that?” they asked.

“C’est comme ça,” I replied.

“But Maman, it’s so-o unfair!”

This rule had not always ruled. Until the 17th century the rule of proximity applied. Meaning that the adjective took the gender of the closest noun.

Back then, the sentence above would have been: Le garçon et les filles sont intelligentes.

So what happened in the land of Liberté, égalité, fraternité?

“The masculine gender is more noble, alone a masculine noun is superior to one or more feminine nouns, so regardless of proximity an adjective will always take the masculine form.” Dupleix, Liberté de la langue française, 1651

“The masculine gender is indisputably more noble simply because of the superiority of the male over the female.” Beauzée, Grammaire générale, 1767

Yep. Here we are. This deliberate decision affected, of course, much more than grammatical choices.

I’ve never met any girl or woman acting as a victim. But I’ve met tons who knew at a very early age that there was a difference between being born female or male, including in France. My paternal grandfather, for example, uncorked a bottle of champagne when his first great grandson was born. He had six granddaughters and I still remember of my disappointment mixed with anger when he proudly cheered my cousin’s little boy. I’ve also met tons of adult women who admitted that they had wished to be a boy at some point, particularly when very young.

I’m one of them.

 

Maybe I also wanted to stop wearing stripes and plaid 🙂

 

Fast-forward several decades to jump to October 2017 in the U.S.

Over breakfast my husband annouced that he found a great topic for my French Friday post. I’ve made no secret on my blog that he and I have known each other for a very long time now. We’ve been through a lot together. We still do as any couple, as any parents of four kids. We stick to each other through sunny and rainy days, sometimes annoyed at each other, often unbelievably grateful that our paths met, always émerveillés that we’ve lasted so long – it’s amazed in English, but the translation doesn’t cut it 🙂

But when he mentioned l’écriture inclusive, we quickly realized that we didn’t see exactly eye to eye.

My husband doesn’t believe that this reform will bring more equality between men and women and ultimately serious issues such as harrassment on the work place or in the street – a real problem in France.

I believe that he cannot possibly understand why I care about l’écriture inclusive, simply because he was born male. No more his fault than mine to be born female. We cannot see the world exactly in the same way. How could we, even though we were once seven years old at about the same time? The rule “The masculine won over the femine” could not have the same resonance for him. Maybe he didn’t even notice the rule.

 

So what is l’écriture inclusive?

The reform holds three points:

  • The names of professions, which don’t come with a feminine version, should, in order to include women, now working in every industry. Most professions in French have indeed only one male version. For example: un docteur, un professeur, or still un auteur. A doctor, a professor or an author. So far, most people say, “Mon docteur,” regardless of the doctor’s gender. Years ago, many people started to add an E at the end of this type of words. Docteur/docteure. Professeur/professeure. Auteur/auteure. The reform would ascribe a feminine equivalent to each profession. Even for this decision French people are divided. And believe it or not, including some feminists who argue that feminizing professions mean that women cannot hold the same status as men. Some want to remain écrivains and not become écrivaines or writers, for example.
  • Le point milieu is probably the most controversial part of this reform and I’m not convinced it can work. I find it very distracting and have a hard time imagining reading a novel written this way. The idea is to add an E – the mark of the feminine in French – between two periods, so each word can be read in a masculine and a feminine version. When the noun is plural there is an additional S at the end. For example: les candidat.e.s for the candidates or les président.e.s or still les citoyen.ne.s for the citizens. I highly favor the use of the personal pronoun ils and elles for they.
  • No more Droits de l’Homme or Droits de la Femme but only Droits humains or Human Rights.

 

This reform wants to bring more equality between the two genders. It is a complex reform, not really with its technical aspects, but because it is signaling a shift in the way people think and see the world. And we all know that any shift triggers reactions, always related to the way we see the world. And we see the world through the person we are. Primarily defined by our gender.

For many women and also men, especially young, this reform is a step toward a more inclusive world, a world where everyone, regardless of gender, has a place and a valuable role to play.

The Académie Française, the pre-eminent French council for matters pertaining to the French language, is vehemently opposed to the reform. If you read French, here is the link to their statement, published on October 27, 2017.

As a personal note, I add that currently only five women among the forty members belong to the Académie Française. And only eight have been members since Richelieu founded it four centuries ago.

For the other opponents to the reform, they describe it as futile and even distracting. These opponents argue in defense of the French language. They insist that it will be impossible for teachers to apply these changes, particularly now that they teach a more diverse population of students.

Of course, things have changed a lot between my first grade and now. Has a language to change to reflect the progress made in terms of equality between men and women? Has a language to go through more reforms to trigger more necessary changes?

A French friend of mine told me about an Iranian journalist who commented that Farsi has no gender and yet the countries where it is spoken have still a lot to accomplish in terms of gender equality. English and American English don’t either and at least in the U.S. we also know that exact equality between men and women hasn’t yet been reached.

So will this French reform be helpful? Women know first hand that changes come with education. Many teachers support l’écriture inclusive since they see more than anyone how boys and girls react in a classroom. For them, this reform, which makes the feminine gender so visible, in your face we would say here, is a huge step toward equality. Only the future will tell.

If you read French I invite you to scroll down, below the French part of this post. I linked to several websites where you can read more about this controversial reform that creates heated debate across France.

What do you think? That the French are even more complicated than you thought? That a language being alive must reflect the changes that affect the countries where it is spoken? Tell me…

 

“Le masculin l’emporte sur le féminin.” Au nom de ce principe, on dit “les garçons et les filles sont intelligents.” Mais il n’en a pas toujours été ainsi. Ce n’est qu’au XVIIe siècle que le masculin est imposé. Avant cela, l’usage était à la “règle de proximité.” Elle consiste à accorder le genre de l’adjectif avec le plus proche des noms. Cela donne : “Les garçons et les filles sont… intelligentes.”

Le changement arrive avec des grammairiens aux idées très égalitaires comme vous pouvez en juger vous mêmes :

«Parce que le genre masculin est le plus noble, il prévaut seul contre deux ou plusieurs féminins, quoiqu’ils soient plus proches de leur adjectif.» (Dupleix, Liberté de la langue françoise, 1651)

«Le masculin est réputé plus noble que le féminin à cause de la supériorité du mâle sur la femelle» (Beauzée, Grammaire générale…1767).

Ben voyons. C’est donc bien un choix idéologique qui est fait quand la dominance du masculin sur le féminin est imposée. Les conséquences ne seront pas négligeables. Si vous êtes née fille en France vous en savez quelque chose.

Ma copine de classe qui a pris la parole en CE1 pour demander à la maitresse d’expliquer pourquoi le masculin l’emportait toujours sur le féminin se souvient sans aucun doute de ces mots qui en disent tant, « C’est comme ça. »

J’ai voulu être garçon pendant mes années d’école élémentaire. J’aimais la personne que j’étais, mais je n’aimais pas la définition d’être une fille, ni les limites, ni les moqueries que naitre fille imposait sur moi et mes copines. A la ville comme à l’école. Y compris dans nos livres de grammaire.

Mon école élémentaire est le bâtiment au fond à gauche (Photo l’Orne Combattante)

La réforme appelée l’écriture inclusive est donc un pas vers l’égalisation entre le masculin et le féminin.

Cette réforme n’est pas vraiment complexe, mais elle suscite des opinions très tranchées du fait qu’elle bouscule des siècles de « c’est comme ça. »

Voici la réforme si vous n’avez pas ouvert un journal or un website français ces derniers temps.

Ses premiers opposants sont les membres de l’Académie Française qui ont voté à l’unanimité une solide mise en garde contre la réforme. Composition de l’Académie: Cinq femmes et quarante hommes. Depuis sa création par Richelieu on ne compte que huit femmes parmi ses membres. No comment. Si ce n’est ce lien vers un article relatant l’arrivée de Marguerite Yourcenar dans ce club ouvert à tous et à toutes.

Voici la déclaration de l’Académie Française du jeudi 26 octobre 2017.

« Prenant acte de la diffusion d’une « écriture inclusive » qui prétend s’imposer comme norme, l’Académie française élève à l’unanimité une solennelle mise en garde. La démultiplication des marques orthographiques et syntaxiques qu’elle induit aboutit à une langue désunie, disparate dans son expression, créant une confusion qui confine à l’illisibilité. On voit mal quel est l’objectif poursuivi et comment il pourrait surmonter les obstacles pratiques d’écriture, de lecture – visuelle ou à voix haute – et de prononciation. Cela alourdirait la tâche des pédagogues. Cela compliquerait plus encore celle des lecteurs.

Plus que toute autre institution, l’Académie française est sensible aux évolutions et aux innovations de la langue, puisqu’elle a pour mission de les codifier. En cette occasion, c’est moins en gardienne de la norme qu’en garante de l’avenir qu’elle lance un cri d’alarme : devant cette aberration « inclusive », la langue française se trouve désormais en péril mortel, ce dont notre nation est dès aujourd’hui comptable devant les générations futures.

Il est déjà difficile d’acquérir une langue, qu’en sera-t-il si l’usage y ajoute des formes secondes et altérées? Comment les générations à venir pourront-elles grandir en intimité avec notre patrimoine écrit? Quant aux promesses de la francophonie, elles seront anéanties si la langue française s’empêche elle-même par ce redoublement de complexité, au bénéfice d’autres langues qui en tireront profit pour prévaloir sur la planète. »

Mon mari est le premier à m’avoir suggéré un billet sur le sujet. Ce qui a suscité quelques discussions animées au moment de l’apéro 🙂

Nous ne pouvons pas voir le monde exactement de la même façon puisque nous sommes nés fille et garçon. Il n’a sans doute pas entendu la phrase, “Le masculin l’emporte sur le féminin” exactement comme moi. Mais j’ai trouvé son idée de billet excellente.

Il me semblait cependant important de connaitre l’avis d’un français ou d’une française qui vit actuellement en France. Et qui d’autre mais mon amie Simone? Non seulement elle écrit merveilleusement bien à propos des livres qui la touchent et lui paraissent importants, mais elle s’intéresse à l’évolution de la langue vivante qu’est le français.

Je suis assez contente de constater que même si un continent nous sépare nous sommes sur la même longueur d’onde.

  • Comme moi, elle est en faveur de parler des droits humains plutôt que des droits de l’Homme et des droits de la Femme.
  • Comme moi encore, elle est favorable à la règle de proximité, qui n’est qu’un retour à une règle très simple en vigueur jusqu’au 17ème siècle.
  • Bien sûr, nous sommes aussi en faveur de la féminisation des fonctions, professions et grades hiérarchiques. Depuis longtemps, j’ai remarqué que Simone écrit “auteure” ou “écrivaine.” Elle pense que le travail de féminisation est déjà fait dans ce domaine parmi les français. Je l’ai aussi noté en regardant quelques séries télévisées françaises où l’on dit « la cheffe » ou « la juge », par exemple. Par contre dans la série Call my Agent! le mot Agent reste au masculin, même si l’agence comporte des agents de sexe féminin. Agente? Mouais. Est-ce l’habitude de certains mots? Est-ce la peur de trop de changements? Ou simplement une raison esthétique, comme mon amie qui me dit très nettement préférer le mot « poète » à « poétesse, » vraiment moins beau. Je reconnais que le mot « doctoresse » dont je me souviens enfant me semble péjoratif par rapport à « docteur. »
  • Quant au point milieu, mon amie et moi pensont que son usage rend la lecture difficile. Sans doute moins pour des documents administratifs mais lire un roman ou un poème coupé par des points qui ne sont pas des points marquant la fin d’une phrase nous parait franchement compliqué. Utiliser les pronoms ils et elles en se référant à un groupe est sans doute une meilleure façon d’inclure féminin et masculin.

En conclusion, comme me le faisait remarquer la même amie, le persan ou farsi en Iran et Afghanistan n’a pas de genre et pourtant il y a beaucoup de chemin à parcourir pour l’égalité hommes femmes dans les pays où cette langue est parlée.

Est-ce que les français auraient les soucis frivoles ce ceux qui ont trop de temps sur les mains ou sont-ils vraiment soucieux d’un équilibre plus juste entre les deux sexes?

Je n’ai pas voulu corriger cette phrase car elle prouve à quiconque en doute que le poids de l’éducation et d’une culture ne disparait pas en un clin d’œil.

Ce qui clôt ce billet, qui je l’espère ouvre les portes à vos commentaires sur le sujet de l’écriture inclusive.

P.S. La presse couvre ce sujet depuis la publication du manuel de CE2 paru chez Hatier. Le Monde a publié un certain nombre d’articles comme celui ci ou encore celui . Slate et France Culture également. Le Figaro a largement couvert le sujet aussi. Ici vous pouvez lire la pétition des 314 enseignants en faveur de la réforme et un autre article à ce propos. Et vous pouvez même télécharger ici le manuel de l’écriture inclusive.

 

Alors, maintenant à vous! Que pensez-vous de l’écriture inclusive? Étes-vous favorables ou opposés à cette réforme? Avez-vous des enfants et particulièrement des filles qui ont un avis sur le sujet?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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