October 1, 2014
I went to Boston last week for a particular reason: to take an exam. It was a French exam - the one for French citizenship. Xavier and I have been amused by the differences in the citizenship process between the two countries. He pointed out that the French are mostly interested in assessing a candidate’s ability to assimilate in French culture and language. Americans are principally interested in a candidate’s moral standing – some assurance that she will be a good upright citizen.
Xavier basically studied a civics text primer: the branches of government, how many seats in the Senate, his NY representatives' names, some founding fathers trivia and had an oral interview covering these topics. He swore that he was not a terrorist, a communist or a mean person.
My test was different. I went to Boston because the test is proctored in the US at specific locations, on specific dates. I missed the most recent test date for NYC and it would be another 4 months before the test was offered in the city again. So, I ventured to Boston. Back Bay, which, incidentally, is truly charming and so beautiful. The townhouse and garden situation was inspiring for someone who also lives in a townhouse, but hasn't quite gone to town on the gardening front. The French Cultural Center is located in a big, formal townhouse on Marlborough Street.
The test was like the house - it was stuffy and rigid. It was also difficult in a specifically French way. The first portion was listening comprehension to what were, essentially, radio programs followed by questions to gauge comprehension. One program was about an 18th c. painting discovered in an old man's house and the provenance of the painting and the Louvre's restoration of it. The questions gauged whether or not you understood small and specific details in the various stories, not the broad strokes. That lasted 40 minutes.
Then came the truly fun part. The performance part. I was led down a small hallway to what must have been, at some point in the life of the house, a closet. At this point it was an examination room. There, on the other side of a table were two people. I sat down in my chair facing them and listened. The gentleman, with his froggy French eyes, explained that he would give me an advertisement for something. I would need to study the ad and then spend 10 minutes selling the product to them. Seemed like a memory/business or marketing school exercise as much as a language one, but of course I went with it.
The product - fittingly for the French - was a basket of organic fruits and vegetables, grown locally, delivered directly to your door, recipes included. I didn't memorize quite as closely as I should have, so I was left to invent all sorts of extra details about the service, spending time pointing out the effects of a large carbon footprint (I claimed the service was delivered by bike and then came up with some waste statistics that simply aren't factual, but bore the right message). I also suggested a few cooking ideas, and so on. In another similar exercise involving a clothing store ad, I spiced things up by claiming I was actually obese and that my husband was a very short man and we needed special tailoring and this service was always perfect for people like us. The French language part posed no real problem. Presumably that is the part in which they were interested. Perhaps, however, a good memory for advertisements is pivotal for good civil society in France.
Let's see if the examiners in Paris like my extrapolation. You see, there on the table in front of me was a recording device. The record of my tales will be sent to the official arbiters of this exam (in the version in my head, they are sitting stern-faced at the Préfecture de Police on Île de la Cité). I won't receive the results for at least 4 weeks.
Totally cracks me up.
September 28, 2014
September 24, 2014
It might be the most comical age. She takes up so much space – in all the best ways. She is forcing smiles all over the place, even when she is nowhere to be seen…the capricious moments keep floating to the top of my mind long after they are gone. Some amusing Colette lines of late:
(While wearing the above, self-chosen gear – and no, biking was not on the agenda, nor was it raining): “Come here little fellas,” she beckoned with her hand to ask Xavier, Romy and me to follow her somewhere.
While trying on some new sneakers: “I’m bigger, just like a boy!” (proclaimed with total delight)
While reading a cowboy story: “The cows and the horses are galloping. I really like this book, mama.” (Studying it intently)
While sitting on the counter cooking with papa: Xavier instructs, “ne touche à rien” (don't touch anything)
Colette: “OK Papa, I am not touche-ing a rien”
Out of the blue, looks at me incredulously: “Are you kidding, mama?”
Romy’s new full name: Romy Danda Boonza
(Romy responds to Danda more than Romy at this point)
On the swing, flying high, booming, low-pitched voice: “Let it go! Let it go! I CANNOT hold it back anymore” (this girl doesn’t use contractions)
“Wait, wait mama – you bouge pas” (don't move)
Colette: “Where is my lady?” (repeatedly with increasing distress)
Me: “What lady, Colette?”
Colette: “That lady – my pink lady!”
(Turns out she was talking about a cheap Barbie doll figurine from McDonalds – high title for such a lass)
On a webcam with my brother Paul: “Colette, where does Bindia live”
Bindia is on her mind a lot (and ours too, now that we have sort of fallen in love with this imaginary friend. Bindia made it to France, thank goodness – Colette spotted her in the parking lot of Paris CDG airport):
“Bindia is up there bricolaging with her papa,” pointing up to some trees
“Bindia’s mama is green”
"Bindia's mama is 49"
We heard Colette singing Twinkle Twinkle in the monitor to herself in bed (or so we thought). She got to the end of the song and said, "Just 2 times, Bindia, OK?" and then recommenced.
I do have some fears for Colette. She has particularities that point to specific genes in my family. OCD:
- She can’t wear shoes with laces – the loop specifications and direction of the leftover laces are just too intense to handle
- Before she can swoosh down any slide – a very rhythmic three foot bangs must lead the way. Every time
- Blanket alignment can take up to 5 full minutes before bedtime
I won’t go on
September 19, 2014
There is Baugé and there is Vieil Baugé. The newer one has a château that dates to the 15th century, so I guess Vieil Baugé must be really old. My niece, Louise, and I went for a walk and found the old church with the twisted steeple and, for the first time, went inside. The walls were frosted with coats of time. The place felt heavy. It was really beautiful.
The walk there was also memorable. The sky was bursting while Louise and I walked along talking about her new adventure of lycée (high school), intense French exams and the problem of superficiality in high school kids. She is a French teenager, much wiser and more articulate than her age. We stopped to notice climbing vines and small châteaux and the sky.
September 15, 2014
Next was Château du Lude, just down the road a bit from Baugé. The thing I liked most about visiting this place was Colette's stance, above. It is one of my favorite things about her generally. Aplomb 100%. Little body taking up lots of space.
We also loved soaking in our French family - Jules, the calm, wise, attentive cousin Colette and Romy both adore.
This lady has some serious locks. She was perfect in this setting.
Château labyrinth...out of hedges
Sister walks in a great setting.
Piles. Colette is obsessed with creating piles. Spare dust anywhere is magically ordered into a Colette-hill.
The inside of the château was photo-forbidden, but I stole a couple of the best views. That staircase and entry were really something else.