Life in Poetry reading, writing, reflecting

Life in Poetry reading, writing, reflecting
April showers bring May flowers

Tuesday, 7 April 2020

⌗AtoZ Challenge, 7th April 2020, F is for French

Welcome to my blog Life in Poetry.
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Everyday a quote. 

This a series of notes taken by an imaginary Keats when recording his reading of the Obiter Dicta , a Bildungsroman by Pursewarden. (source bibliographical notes at the end of The Alexandra Quartet by Lawrence Durrell,  for the plot characters and style see here

" I know my prose is touched with plum pudding, but then all the prose belonging to the poetic continuum is; it is intended to give a stereoscopic effect to character. And events aren't in serial form but collect here and there like quants, like real life. "

Welcome to the 2020 APRIL A to Z Challenge. Extracts from my Novel in Progress, a two-fold Bildungsroman of sorts.

if you would like to know more about the A to Z Challenge, founded 11 years ago by Arlee Bird at Tossing Out,  read here

for my theme revealed , go here on Blogger
On Wordpress, read here 

Q will be a day to answer all your questions on my novel in progress, so feel free to write them down in your comment. On the 20th April, I will compile them and answer each one on my Q post.

This Sixth post on my novel in progress is a reflection post. How French comes into the writing.

Brief synopsis of plot and characters :

Mathilda, my first main character, is American and lives in New York City. She is a student at NYU where she is preparing a thesis on the origins and developments of African American Music. She is a first person narrator. Her timeframe is 2005.

Bartolomé, my second main character, is Cameroonian and lives in Yaoundé. He is a professor of Mathematics at the University there. I will be using a third-person omniscient narrator for this character but from his Point of View. His timeframe is the early '90's.

Aparté :

as I revealed yesterday, F will not be for Funeral and this is why :

Firstly because I have learnt through experience, having buried in the last 15 years my Father, my sister, my aunt, a close friend and two colleagues, that a funeral is lived in the moment in a bustle of activity and most often than not, under shock. The realisation and process of grief can take months even years, spanning the rest of your life in fact and impacting on your relationships with the still living. So my character Bartolomé is not consciously thinking yet of the loss of his grand-father as such, so the relating of the funeral doesn't seem paramount for the moment in developing the novel.

Secondly, I am not yet in a position to write about the funeral itself as I have not attended a Cameroonian/Muslim funeral in the North and do not have the research at hand. My friend Joseph from Yaoundé, whom we brought back from Equatorial Guinea, in our luggage so to speak, has not hooked me up with his Muslim friend from the North, Mohammed, who also now lives in Paris, in the last 15 years when I first spoke to Joseph of my novel and the plot, and he offered to help. 
We met Joseph in Malabo, where he had fled from Cameroon, following the imprisonment of his father for political reasons by Paul Biya, the then and current President. He wished to come to France to study and get a job, so I gave him my parent's address and he showed up on their doorstep when we were still touring East Africa in February 1989. I hadn't even had time to give my parents the heads up, but my well-travelled father welcomed him without raising an eyebrow. 
Followed 30 years of a long-lasting friendship, Joseph calls me his little sister and my husband his brother, although he has 5 siblings of his own scattered in Cameroon, Africa and even Germany. Joseph has never been back to Africa. His father died in Yaoundé, after his release from prison; his mother still lives there with one of his siblings, his eldest sister passed away a few years ago and another one is married to a German. 
Joseph, fortunately, managed to make a life for himself in Paris, avoiding the ' rafle des sans-papiers ' led by Nicolas Sarkozy, then Ministre de l'Intérieur in the '90s, thanks to the help of the Archevèque des Armées who took him in early on, giving him a roof and employing him in his household, and I like to think of ours too. My father used to give him odd jobs around the house, carpentry and painting, they became very close, and I wrote letters of references for the University and authorities, so he could study computer sciences in Paris. He eventually married a French girl, divorced since, and is now the computer-whizz, responsible for the payroll software at the Education Nationale. 
He came to our wedding in 1993; To parties in our house in the Dordogne in 1990, 2000 and 2005 and even visited us in Toulouse when he had a job-related meeting here. He spoke at both my father's funeral, 2005, in our village Catholic Church and my sister's, 2011,  at the Protestant one in a nearby town, ( Joseph is of Roman Catholic confession), but he hasn't visited my mother since 2012. We write and speak regularly on the phone and should be seeing him in the Dordogne in June if we can maintain our 2020 party there.

F is for French

The French language and the French culture play a part in both my characters' lives. So I thought that today I'd pause in the narrative to provide some insights into why this is so and how I use my knowledge of them in my writing.

Although my characters, Bartolomé (3rd person narrative, character's POV) and Mathilda (1st person narrative and POV) live on two different continents and grew up in two completely different cultures and communities, they do have two things in common: their roots, Africa, and their contact with French.

For Bartolomé, French is along with English the official languages of Cameroon. Although Bartolomé grew up in the French-speaking part of the country, his mother is originally from the Bamiléké region, to the West, which was colonised by the English. At the time of Independence in 1960, the three areas Central, Western and Northern (German colony in 1884 before WWI, Kamerun) came together as one country, though, ever since, the English speaking population (federated in 1961,  unified in '72 and 1984) has been fighting for separation. The resurgence of riots in 2019, severely repressed by Paul Biya , the president of nearly 40 years, (hundreds of dead, thousands imprisoned) prove it.
Bartolomé doesn't share the same culture as the French who live in France. His upbringing was far more diverse as it includes his African heritage: Bantu and Fulani on his father's side, Bantu and Bamiléké on his mother's. Plus all the influences from neighbouring areas and ethnicities in language, traditions, legends, art and music. (over 250 native languages)

For Mathilda, French comes into her culture obliquely. Firstly from her upbringing in New York, cosmopolitan city if ever there was one, with all the distinct European influences still strong; secondly, further down the genealogical tree, as some of her ancestors originated from Louisiana and New Orleans, a French Crown colony between 1718 to 1803 with a brief episode of Spanish control in the middle.
Furthermore her research into the influences on Jazz will take her back to her roots and Louisiana. There and then she will be in direct contact with a 'mutated' form of the French language and culture.

So I have an issue that I have to think through and experiment with. How much French should  I actually use in my novel. At the onset, I wished to write a completely bi-lingual novel, and I still might some day. However for the moment I will concentrate on peppering the dialogues with French and include French words in the narrative when necessary.
This brings me to another issue, that of voice. For the dialogues to be authentic, I need to speak with Bartolomé's and Mathilda's voices, their words, their vocabulary and their references. This is a very tricky part of writing: getting inside your characters' heads while leaving yours at the door ... and I have not set myself an easy task ... But that is what is interesting and motivating: do the research and get it right. 
So my faithful guinea-pigs, I am now counting on a little bit of help from my pen friends.

Here is a rant and rave poem by Leonard Cohen on the dichotomy English/French written in pre-independent Montreal and published in the French paper Le Monde, at the time.
It makes me holler with laughter, how about you ? 
For Leonard, it was his middle-class mind flirting with terrorism and at the time discredited him from any responsibilities of possible political leadership ... We artists are always misunderstood ...

not for sensitive souls, offensive language. (line breaks and no punctuation as written)

I think you are fools to speak French
It is a language which invites the mind
to rebel against itself causing inflamed ideas
grotesque postures and a theoretical approach
to common body functions. It ordains the soul                                               my example: déféquer
in a tacky priesthood devoted to the salvation
of a failed erection. It is the language
of cancer as it annexes the spirit and 
instals a tumour in every honeycomb
Between the rotten teeth of French are incubated
the pettiest notions of destiny and the shabbiest
versions of glory and the dreariest dogma of change
ever to pollute the simplicity of human action
french is a carnival mirror in which the
brachycephalic idiot is affirmed and encouraged
to compose a manifesto on the destruction of the

I think you are fools to speak English
I know what you are thinking when you speak
You are thinking piggy English thoughts
you sterilised swine of a language that has no
You are peepee and kaka and nothing else
and therefore lovers die in all your songs
You can'y fool me you cradle of urine
where Jesus Christ was finally put to sleep
and even the bowels of Satan cannot find
a decent place to stink in your flat rhythms
of ambition and disease
English, I know you, you are frightened by saliva
your adventure is the glass bricks of sociology
you are German with a licence to kill

I hate you but it is not in English
I love you but it is not in French
I speak to the devil but it is not about your
I speak to the table but it is not about your plan
I kneel between the legs f the moon
in a vehicle of perfect stuttering
and you dare to interview me on the matter
of your loathsome destinies
you poor boobies of the north
who have set out for a heaven with your mouths on fire
Surrender now surrender to each other
your loveliest useless aspects
and live with me in this and other voices
like the wind harps you were meant to be
come and sleep in mother tongue
and be awakened by a virgin
(o dead-hearted turds of particular speech)
be awakened by a virgin
into a sovereign state of common grace.

Having grown-up in a household with a constant atmosphere of Hundred Years War arguments and bantering and suffered discrimination after 18, when I left my International school in Paris, for being 'English' from colleagues in my studies, work,  and my in-laws; and for being 'French' in England, I fully relate to Cohen's poem. Constricted, nationalistic minds, please, leave us the hell alone.

Charlotte Gainsbourg, singer/songwriter/actress ( English mother, French father, married to a Frenchman, Yvan Attal, born same date and year as my husband )

Deadly Valentine, 2018, video with her two daughters, listen and watch here
Ring-a-Ring o'Roses, 2017, video with her son,  here
Kate, 2017, tribute to her eldest sister, here
The Songs that we Sing, 2011, here
5. 55 am, 2011, here
Everything I Cannot See, 2010, here
Couleur Café, her father, Serge Gainsbourg's song, here
Flight AF60715, 2010, here
la Chanson de Prévert, by Serge Gainsbourg, with her mother Jane Birkin, here
Lemon incest, 1984, video with Serge Gainsbourg, here
Lemon incest, bilingual lyrics,  here

Film, L'Éffrontée by Claude Miller with Bernadette Laffont, César du Meilleur Espoir Féminin for Charlotte, here
Charlotte Forever, 1986, here
My Femme est une Actrice, 2001, my wife is an actress, by and with Yvan Attal, film director and husband to Charlotte in life, Charlotte Gainsbourg, and Terrence Stamp, here

News from my garden this week.

wild Strawberries 

type of clover, the only plant that grows under the cherry tree.

Belle de Onze Heures, same family as garlic.

tulips still blooming strong

first Spring roses

7 a.m. this morning

with the South-Easterly breeze, new blossom fly away each day

On the 7th day of Easter, our two Turtle Doves

Cypresses and Pin Parasol in the neighbour's garden.

Thank you for reading. Please feel free to like, dislike or comment. I will be replying shortly.
Take care and stay safe.


  1. Lovely pictures as always! Fascinating!

    Stopping by from the A to Z Blog Challenge! J. R. Vincente's Erotic Fiction Blog

  2. Thank you Jayden, for taking the time to read this, I realise, very long post.
    Take care and Happy Easter.


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