Two weeks ago I started taking French classes, after a gruesome assessment that I almost missed. I did study French for more than 7 years, and quite intensively I might add. All the words are there. I can remember most of the correct tenses for most of the verbs. I can translate from French to English and to Romanian without a problem. I did translate 4 books written by Catherine Dolto, a couple of years ago. But not speaking French, not reading constantly in French has led me to a curious state of impairment I never would have guessed I might reach. So, when I was introducing my books to the French libraries at The Word on The Street in Toronto, and when I was faced with the possibility of presenting them at Le Salon du Livre, I have also discovered I am unable to speak French.
How can this be?
Well, it happens. Brushing off my French was on my to-do list since I landed in Canada, but only this spring I found that newcomers can attend French as a Second Language classes in my city, for a very small fee. I decided that this is my opportunity to untie my tongue and prepare myself to speak to my French audience, as all my books are both in English and French. So, two weeks ago, I went to St Kateri Tekakwitha to sign up for French and I found myself thrown straight into the course. I was barely able to mumble some decent three sentences about who I am and where I come from and why I am there. Now I have French classes twice a week, a ton of reading and homework (yes, yes, mommy has homework, shhhh). I am writing an autobiography in French and I have already started annoying my classmates.
My classmates come from all over the world. India, Pakistan, Korea, Lebanon, Irak, Egypt, Poland, Germany, you name it, someone in the program is from there. I kind of have access to the whole World just by coming to class.
Now, I wouldn’t have found out about these classes, hadn’t it been for my friend Andreea. She was there first. Therefore, I became Andreea 2. I am used to it by now, as Andreea and I are together in quite a lot of places. The IWA, the book fairs, the AGMs, and we actually volunteer in the same places.
Today I wouldn’t have signed autographs in my class hadn’t it been for the same Andreea who told the teacher that I write books. The teacher wanted to see my books. I had none, of course, cause even if we, writers, do carry some copies of our books in our trunks, I don’t have them in my school bag. Guess who had one of my books in her school bag? Yup. Andreea. So the teacher saw the book and she loved the illustrations, the fact that it was bilingual, and she said: next time bring your books to class, we’re going to show them off.
Not only she showed them off, but she also made the whole class listen to my story and invited me to stay for her next class to present the books.
Imagine a class full of adults, all in their 30s, 40s, 50s and even 60s, reading my picture book IN FRENCH. My, French is beautiful and the way the sounds roll out of your tongue is music to the ear! But reading it in French class, stopping to translate every word, write down the meaning and find the English equivalent, that’s hard work!
Some of the words were new for everybody: “gazouillis”, “hirondeaux”, “duveteux”, “muguets”… It was amazing to see them pouring over the book, looking at the pictures, trying to identify the Lilly-of-the-valley and the hyacinths from the story of Prince Tulip. Adults marveling at the sight of swallows in the unicorn book. When was the last time any of you have thought of a swallow or of a sky full of velvety, fluffy clouds?
We were in a classroom on a cold October day. We’re expecting snow this weekend, the first of the year. And yet, reading about crystal clear springs and scents dancing in the wind, in a land of eternal summer, transformed them. I could see their faces lighting up as the images formed in their brains. A grandma and a daddy in the class bought the books for their kids. And I was more than happy. Not for the 30 dollars I made today. But for the humbling experience of seeing such a diverse group of people reacting in the same way.
We read two paragraphs of the story with each class. Two pages. We’ll keep reading in the coming weeks. I hope they will get to enjoy the beauty of the stories and not think about it as homework.
Here comes the moral of the story for my fellow writers: is there a person in your entourage (ha! French word) that pushes you out of your comfort zone? One that says: “You should sign those books! Here’s a pink pen!” even when you feel like dying? (Why dying? ‘Cause you are kind of shy about all this autographs business, although you always joke about how you only sign autographs on Tuesdays? Yes, I know it’s Tuesday, but still…).That Friend who’s been there first and has no mercy in dragging you out into the spotlight even though she knows you are kicking and screaming inside? If you don’t have anybody like that among your friends, find one!
Thank you, Andreea! For the French class. For the pink pen. For carrying my books in your schoolbag.