I love a certain song in French: La Javanaise by Serge Gainsbourg. I love Serge Gainsbourg, even if part of me hates his patronizing/objectifying regard of women. That aside, his dexterity in wielding the French language in his music is both study and hobby for me as I listen. La Javanaise resonates on many levels: his word play (listen to it and look at the lyrics) - from the idea of 'la Javanaise,' which sounds like it must be a dance in the song, but is actually a kind of pig-latin in French [the idea is adding "av" after a consonant before the next vowel - one example: Paris = Pavaravis"]. The whole song goes round and round the letter V - weaving in and out, but never using 'javanaise' directly - only an inadvertent salvo. And then the cadence and poetry in just the sound and the stanzas - because it is poetry, this song.
Serge Gainsbourg sums up a lot about France. It sounds simplistic, but he was one of those rare people whose perception of his own culture was constantly spun brilliantly/resolutely into the web of all of his art. And he is universally admired in France - respected, paid homage to - as something of an everlasting diplomat of France. We listen to Serge at our house a lot (when I start singing along Colette directs, "stop chant-ing en Français mama - just papa" - she likes to keep people securely in their respective language boxes. The only ones she lets roam freely are Marguerite and Lola - Lola is Marguerite's doll) and I have been thinking about French culture on a larger scale as part of the next step in my French citizenship process.
If you read the op-ed piece by Pamela Druckerman in the New York Times this week: "How to Be French" She explores the question - what does Frenchness entail or even mean? I know it has a lot to do with language - as I shared in narrating my most recent step in the citizenship process. The next step in my quest for "Frenchness" is turning in my 3-inch thick 'dossier' of documents (all of which have to be dated and translated/notarized within the last 3-months and not a day before then - a difficult orchestration indeed) and sitting down for a meeting with a citizenship officer at the French Consulate in New York.
I spoke to this officer briefly on the phone - listened to his skepticism as I reassured him that I had compiled all the correct documents (his response was brusque - not to worry we will find something out of order) and then I was surprised to hear that our meeting was not about those documents actually, it was an interview. Don't bring your husband, he instructed, it will just be the two of us. He said he wanted me to sit in front of him and describe why I wanted to be French.
I came home that night with different ideas and talked to Xavier - my admiration of parts of the French education system, quality of life in France, the fact that I love my husband's family deeply, as a start. Xavier steered me clear of the first couple (me as a potential barnacle to French society isn't a good starting point). He said to avoid the last reason too - sentimentality just isn't culturally cherished in the same way in France.
So, we came up with a few - the space we afford and give to the French culture on a daily basis at our home and with our girls; the unity of everyone in our family having the same nationalities and the ability to share countries freely...some others are budding. Maybe the citizenship officer will like my goal of learning to speak "Javanaise". The interview is on December 3. I am going to walk in there with a big brace on my leg (ACL surgery is this week); I hope that doesn't put the officer off. The French get knocked off their bikes too (although no one would ever sue for it, that is strictly American - says the Frenchman).