Monday, August 1, 2016

Flirting with . . . Russian?

You betcha! And I don't mean Donald Trump.

Last year I was contacted by a student at Moscow State Linguistic University who was translating several chapters of Flirting with French into Russian as part of her studies. Ira Skvortsova plans to be a Russian-French translator, and my book, she wrote, "combines everything I could have needed: your word games (which are hilarious) and the touches of French in the text present a great interest for me as a reader and as a translator."

Well, flattery gets you everywhere with me, as does the prospect of seeing Flirting translated into the language of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky (!), thus began a year-long correspondence with Ira, during which I found myself faced with questions I'd never considered: What effect was I trying to achieve in peppering my book with French phrases? Why is saying "le conducteur" funnier in some contexts than "the conductor"? How does one get any of these ideas across in the Cyrillic alphabet? Not to mention my English (and French) puns! And how much has reading me warped the poor mind of a young Russian student?

I didn't have answers for any of these questions, but, fortunately, Ira did, so, below, for your reading pleasure, is an excerpt of Ira's Russian translation of Flirting with French.
 
Merci, Ira. It's been a wonderful experience working with you, and I wish you the best in your studies and career!
-------------------
    Мы с Кейти собираем чемоданы, и так сразу не скажешь, кто из нас
больше волнуется: отец или дочь.
– Через неделю я еду в Гану, не зная ни слова на твуи, – говорит она.
– Ага, а я через две недели еду во Францию, почти не говоря на французском.
– Пап, ну ладно тебе! Твой французский стал намного лучше, с тех пор, как я в
последний раз была дома. Тем более, ты едешь во Францию как раз учить язык.
Попробуй выучить твуи, если думаешь, что французский слишком сложный.
    Кейти едет в Гану по обмену на следующий семестр. А твуи это язык, на
котором разговаривает все местное население, хотя официальный язык –
английский. Она будет ходить в университет и жить в семье неподалеку от
Аккры. И она хочет проявить уважение к хозяевам (и не только), разговаривая
на привычном им языке.
– Это тоновый язык.
– Что такое тоновый язык? – переспросил я.
     И тут она, повышая и понижая голос, как при пении, показала, что такое
тоны голоса.
– Существуют высокий, низкий и средний тон, это часть произношения. Слово,
произнесенное с низким тоном, может иметь совершенно иное значение при
произнесении с высоким тоном.
     И она еще раз наглядно изобразила, как это работает. Твуи действительно
кажется сложнее французского.
– А как звучит твое имя на твуи? – спрашиваю я.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Flirting with French just $1.99 on Kindle! C'est fou!

Just in time for Bastille Day, the New York Times bestseller Flirting with French is only $1.99 (or about a hundred British pounds, the way things are going) on Kindle. Come on, you can't buy a decent croissant for a buck-ninety-nine! Order here before they run out.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

The Bonjour Effect

I just read a wonderful new book by the authors of 60 Million Frenchman Can't be Wrong, and The Story of French. Their new book is called The Bonjour Effect, and Francophiles will take to Julie Barlow and Jean-Benoit Nadeau's book like a Frenchman to foie gras.  

If you feel like you've insulted every French clerk, waiter, and shopkeeper you've ever met, a) you're not alone; and b) you probably have. But at least, after reading this codebook to French language and culture, you'll know why!

And make sure to say bonne journée on your way out!

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

#Je suis...circumflexe?



"I started the day with a bit of vomit in my mouth," tweeted one Frenchman. Oh no, not another terrorist attack?! Worse - the French Education Ministry is eliminating the circumflex - that little "hat" in words like tête, forêt, and sûr

"#Je suis Charlie" quickly became "#Je suis circumflexe" on Twitter. Really? Well, the French do take their language seriously. To me, the most interesting part of the story is, as I've written in Flirting with French, that the French government dictates such matters as word usage and spelling. In America (and, I imagine most of the world), language just kinds of evolves organically. Put another way, our dictionaries reflect language usage, rather than dictate it.

The circumflex has an interesting history, by the way. It was introduced by early printers as a way to indicate that a word once had an "s" that is no longer used.  Put the "s" back in, and many French words become easily recognizable as their English counterparts: forêt, hôpital, côte.

 The Education Ministry also changed the spelling of a number of words:
   Oignon becomes ognon 
   Week-end becomes weekend (perhaps acknowledging once and for all its English roots)

2400 spelling changes in all! And you thought our kids had it rough in school... 

If you like this kind of wonkish stuff, by the way, you'll love Flirting with French -- bien sûr!

Friday, January 1, 2016

Plus de films français pour l'hiver (More French films for winter)

Spring-in-December having ended here in the northeast, it's that time of year when I start hunkering down and watching movies. Last year I published a list of my favorite French films streaming on Netflix; this year I've had some help from Pankaj Solanki, who has posted a list on the website Cinematyrant.com.

I can personally endorse a couple of the entries on the list, The Taste of Others and 2 Days in Paris and would add to the list the erudite and fun Bicycling with Moliere  and the terrific French cop series, Spiral.

Bonne année, tout le monde! (Et merci, Pankaj!)
 

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Le cadeau parfait pour Noël


Le cadeau parfait pour Noël? Fliring with French, bien sûr! Or one of my other books. If you don't happen to live near Shakespeare & Co. (see previous post) you can order from your reseller of choice on my website

Merci, and joyeux fetes, tout le monde!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Hemingway must be rolling over in his grave

I just received the following note from a friend:


In September we spent a week in Paris with four friends. I was showing them the sights on the Left Bank, when we stopped in to Shakespeare & Company.  The first thing I saw upon entering, on a shelf to the right of the door was your book!!!
 I almost fell over!!! How very cool is that??!!- Shakespeare & Company....in Paris....itself!!!

 For those of you who don't know, Shakespeare & Co. is the famous bookstore in Paris, founded by Sylvia Beach, that was the epicenter of the ex-pat literary world of the Lost Generation: Hemingway, Joyce, Elliot, Pound, Gertrude Stein... not to mention, believe it or not, another former resident of my tiny town: Djuna Barnes. What are the odds....




Sunday, November 22, 2015

Thanksgiving baguettes

What could be more traditional for Thanksgiving than, um, baguettes? Nevertheless, that will be my contribution to the table this year. Here's an easy recipe kneaded in a food processor if you want to follow my lead. Best part: all of the work is done ahead of time



 Ingredients
460 g all-purpose flour
40 g corn flour*
345 g ice-cold water
1 teas. instant yeast
10 g salt

*Note: this is corn flour, not corn meal, and not masa harina. It's Easily obtainable from Bob’s Red Mill in a grocery store, and it adds a creaminess to the dough, but if you don’t have it on hand, increase flour to 500 g and decrease water to 340 g.
  1. The day before baking, thoroughly mix all dry ingredients in a large bowl. Add water and mix until uniform. Transfer to a food processor and allow to rest, covered (a process called "autolyse") for about 15 minutes.
  2. Process for 45 seconds or longer, until a ball forms and starting flying around the processor bowl. Return the dough to the bowl you started with and cover tightly with oil-misted plastic wrap. The dough will seem a little wet – this is normal, and is what gives you those nice air holes.
  3. Place in refrigerate and allow to ferment overnight.  -- OR -- ferment at room temperature for about 2 ½ hours.

    Baking Day:
  4. Remove dough from fridge and allow to warm in container for about 2 hours.
  5. After 1 hour, place baking stone on middle shelf in oven. Place an old sheet pan or frying pan on bottom shelf. Preheat oven to its highest setting, usually 500-550 degrees F.
  6. After 2 hours, divide dough into 4 equal pieces on lightly floured countertop.
  7. Form each into a 3x5 inch rectangle, then fold into thirds, as folding a letter to go into an envelope. Fold once more, in half, and tightly seal the seam
  8. Roll out to baguettes, to a length of about 12 inches. Remember, they have to fit on your stone. Take a piece of parchment paper or wax paper and place the bread between folds to hold the loaf shapes. Support at both ends. Cover with plastic and allow to rise about 30 minutes
  9. Score loaves down the middle with a single-edged razor held at a 30-degree angle. Transfer loaves to a peel, and then to stone. Pour 1 cup water into the pan in the oven, taking care to protect your hand. If queasy about that, toss in the same amount of ice cubes instead
  10. Reduce heat to 480 and bake until center registers 210 F, about 20-25 minutes. Cool on a rack.

Monday, November 16, 2015

How does this end?

"How does this end?" I asked a friend, an Egyptian immigrant, over the weekend.

"Its been going on for hundreds of years," was his less-than-encouraging reply, "And it will continue to go on."

While the terrorist attacks have been largely seen as retaliation for France's military action in Syria, perhaps the larger long-term problem is that France has long kept the lid on a simmering pot of jobless, frustrated, angry young men from the former French North African colonial possessions Morocco and Algeria, men who live largely on the outskirts of France's cities and on the outskirts of French society. They used to feel powerless to express their anger. But now there is an organization with the motivation and means to give them the power, in the form of bullets and explosives. So, I come back to my original question. "How does this end?" Let's hope it doesn't take hundreds of years.

However long it takes, the solution will have to come both from military might and social reform. The French do have their hands full.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Jeb apoligizes to French -- Mon Dieu!

Poor Jeb. He just can't get it right. First he gratuitously disses the French by making a crack in the last debate about Marco Rubio's Senate attendance: "I mean, literally, the Senate, what is it, like a French workweek? You get like three days where you have to show up?" Then when (quelle surprise!) the French, who actually have a longer work week than the Germans, take exception, he SEALS HIS FATE with the Republication Party by...apologizing!

Trust me, no candidate has ever gotten anywhere with the Republican electorate by apologizing to a foreign nation -- especially not the French, who for some reason remain the scorn of Republicans. So it's a three-man race now, and I'm putting my francs (ah, make that euros) on the young whippersnapper who never shows up for work.