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Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Effluent in French and German.

Where did I get my love of all things French from? Je ne sais pas mais je ne regrete rien.  I think that I’ve always had an innate love of language (English, French and German) and took French at school as a foreign language. Well, I say ‘took’. I had no real choice and, as much as Mrs Harrison the French language teacher tried to instill a 1970s passion for the French Language and Culture ,most of the council estate school kids in Chaddesden, Derby,  treated les  leçons as a grande blague extraordinaire. We had no real reason to learn another language as most of us argued that we would never ever need to go to France and anyway, they all speak English, don’t they? And don’t they all eat frogs legs and stink of garlic? Ah, such enlightened times, the 1970s.

How wrong we were. Around 1972 I went abroad for the first time to a Scout campsite near Brussels and suddenly I gained an acute interest in all things French or anything of a 'foreign' nature. I loved the different names in the language of the country, Belgian beers being one of the new attractions for my 18 year old self. Everything appealed that was culturally different and showed itself to be much more vivid and exciting than my familiar and frankly, very boring existence in Derby, England.

From this Belgian adventure I returned to Oostende (even the fact that the town had two letter Os in its name was thrilling) for regular holidays with some drinking buddies and  we discovered Belgian waffles, steak frites, oily Ambre Solaire suntan lotion, Geuze bier and the ultimate joys of some freedom from our parents. From here the world was my oyster and I spent practically all of my wages as a young butcher on trips to Romania, Yugoslavia, Germany, France and the Canary Islands whilst soaking up the exotic nature of all the places I temporarily visited en vacances. I was glued to the Sunday evening 'Holiday' programmes on the telly with Cliff Mitchelmore et al and saved like crazy for many a new trip abroad. At the same time Van de Valk was showing on the telly and was very exciting and exotic televisual fare being set in Holland and Amsterdam.

Whilst on a particular holiday in the rugged mountains of Romania I met a young German woman called Uta Best and suddenly, through a gross infatuation, I fell in lust with her and all things German. I took a Linguaphone course in German, got obsessed with the novels of the German poet and writer Herman Hesse and spent every possible moment I could in the vicinity of the small German village of Beuren in Baden Württemberg  engaging myself in a romantic idyll that could never be. I also travelled extensively on the very efficient German Railways system throughout Bavaria and Baden Württemberg courtesy of the DER holiday company. Whilst in Beuren I befriended another German family called the Hauptmann family and despite my German language being quite poor spent many a happy stünde (hour) in their company. Regardless that the elderly  and partially sighted Herr Hauptmann hardly spoke a word of English I got on with him very well and got to see another side of the German  people apart from the stereotypical image that prevailed after the Second World War. The ground-breaking TV programme Heimat also helped with that deeper understanding of a nation with which Britain was at war  thirty years previous. Influential films like Die Blechtrommel, Cabaret and a Deutsches Kultur course I attended at a local WEA college on Monday evenings in Derby helped in me gaining a deeper understanding of the German nation circa 1980.
Somewhere along the way I also met up with a great pen-friend called Birgitta Santos and still have her, as such, along with her husband Erik and their now, grown up kids. All along I have haphazardly communicated in German and English with them. During my friendship with the Santos family I have enjoyed many an experience living in the Wedding district of Berlin as their guest and always found them to be very generous with their limited resources as a growing family. I got to be in Berlin at a time when the wall was still in place and shortly afterwards too. The Santos family now live in Friedrichshafen by Lake Constance and I hope to see them again in the not too distant future.

More recently I have been friendly with even more Germans in the twin town of Karlsruhe through theatrical exchanges every two years with the Lace Market Theatre in Nottingham. These exciting exchanges have meant staying in the homes of the Karlsruhe folk and vice versa and enjoying some European camaraderie as well as chances to improve my language skills, make new European friends and such.


But back to the French mes amis. From my early twenties in Derby I visited the Métro Arts cinema on Green Lane and very regularly viewed  most things cinematic including endless French language films and enjoyed the albums of Edith Piaf after seeing Pam Gems’ drama ‘Piaf’ at Derby Playhouse many times over. For while I was obsessed with the musical play Irma La Douce and I grew to love anything with a hint of the Gallic. Even Gallic bread! The sound of the French language enthralled me and despite many years of relatively little comprehension of the words (ongoing) I still get a thrill from the romance of the French tongue.

I remember around 1974/6 going to see the original softly erotic films of Emmanuelle and Emmanuelle 2 and loved the soundtracks of floaty musical eroticism by Pierre Bachelet and Just Jaeckin. The actress Sylvia Kristel was quite an attraction too , I admit, and certainly the nearest I ever came to a sexual thrill back then. All my male friends at the time used to tease me because  I proclaimed that I went to see the films for the cinematography as well as the titillation. It was true! They were beautifully filmed. Honest!

All this time I collected the Emmanuelle soundtrack albums (alongside James Bond soundtracks and Kate Bush and Leo Sayer albums) and got into Charles Aznavour big time after seeing him live at the Derby Assembly Rooms. "She may be the face that I adore..."
When I went to University in the late 1980s as a Performance Arts student my Francophile passions encouraged me  to create two separate theatre pieces around the lives of the composer Claude Debussy and surrealist poet  Guillaume Apollinaire as well as being involved in a production at Nottingham Playhouse of Les Misèrables – the play, by Christina Reid. Of course I was also impassioned by the musical of the same name (still am) and my arts studies meant that I was exposed to plenty of new and old French film makers at the Broadway Cinema in Nottingham. I continue to enjoy these influences today with films shown at the cinema and my own growing DVD collection. Audrey Tautou is a particular favourite among the actors in my films as well as the fine actor, Daniel Auteuil.
Street life in Bordeaux
More recently I have collected various modern French music CDs from trips to Bordeaux, Nice and Paris and love playing my collection in the background as I cook and live. I practically live in the media store of FNAC when I enjoy my periodic French holidays. My language skills have broadened through listening to courses by Michel Thomas and the OU and an Accelerated Language system that I am currently reviewing to improve my skills.  My love of cooking and watching Rick Stein’s French Odyssey barge adventures in France have added to my Francophone passions. Although, saying this, I struggled majestically when I joined the Alliance Française a few years back and failed to comprendre  the  high level of French spoken  (way beyond my language skills). One day, I am sure, I will be effluent in French. I’m sure that’s the word.

11 comments:

Dom at Belleau Kitchen said...

ah monsieur this is your bottom I spy non?

Phil Lowe said...

Dom: Mais bien sur. Someone said it was like a scene from a French film. Who am I to argue. lol

Judith said...

Very eyecatching header photo! Like a scene from a French film, indeed. :)

Gailsman said...

My trip to Monaco was the first time that I have touched French soil. Well Frenchish. We both had an enjoyable time, even though eating out was quite expensive. My only other exposure to anything French, was that I used to drive a Renault Clio. Although now I have the Italian touch, as I own a Fiat 500.

Judith said...

PS: forgot to add that your play on words made me laugh - after studying French for three years at school (even less relevance in new Zealand!) I too think my French is pretty damn effluent!

Ken Devine said...

Enjoyable read.

Jean said...

Well, you're obviously a true francophile .... frankophil ?? !!

PS I looked up "nice bottom" on Google Translate and it came up with "fond de Nice"......

Cheryl said...

Hahaha! Love the new blog header!!

Any trips to France in the upcoming future?

Marian Barker said...

Ooooo-er...... I thought I'd come to the wrong place! *blushes*

Now I've completely forgotten what I was about to write!!!

The "Tour de France" or perhaps the "Tour de Force"?

Watch out for the biting insects in that long grass

Phil Lowe said...

Thanks everyone for your nice comments about the writing and er... the new header or is that bottomer? lol

Karen said...

How I wish I had an aptitude for a foreign language. I had to study French at school from when I was 7, & still managed to fail French 'O' level dismally. Steve always says that considering I'm always talking, perhaps the best way for me to learn French would be to be abandoned somewhere in France - then I'd have to learn some words.

And I do agree with you about Emmanuelle, I saw only the first film, & it was beautifully done. 9& I loved Sylvia Kristel's hair style & clothes).