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Two lovely books about France

May 12, 2024
Elisabeth Sherwin -- ensherwin@gmail dot com

I am not a very good linguist. Foreign languages do not come easily to me. However, I always wanted to be bilingual.

I spent my junior year of college living in Madrid, Spain. At the end of the year, I could speak and read Spanish pretty well but I still had problems understanding people speaking to me.

Near the end of my stay, I got on the bus I always took to school. Instead of collecting a fare, the driver waved his hands and said something to me I didn’t understand.

I was embarrassed to learn that he was telling me that the bus ride that day (for some reason I never understood) was free.

I don’t regret the time I spent in Spain. I loved exploring old neighborhoods on back streets, inhaling the odors of black tobacco, cheap red wine and olive oil. But sometimes I wonder if I should have gone to France. Then I realize what a ridiculous idea that is. French is harder than Spanish, and I am sure there is more public ridicule heaped on a speaker of bad French than on a speaker of bad Spanish.

Still, the idea of speaking flawless French with a native accent absolutely thrills me. And it will happen….in my next life.

In the meantime, in this life, I am studying French on Duolingo, the very kind on-line language instruction platform. I turn on my computer daily for at least one lesson. I am somewhere north of 450 days in a row learning French.

The animated cartoon characters applaud my every success and my every mistake. I still can’t speak French and my accent is incredibly terrible, but I am going to stick with it.

Mike and I have been to France and will probably go again. I know I won’t be able to speak to anyone or understand anyone, but by God I will be able to read a menu!

And I love reading books about France. Two of my favorites are “C’est La Vie” by Suzy Gershman and “My Life in France” by Julia Child.

Gershman, author of the “Born to Shop” travel guides, moved to Paris after the death of her husband. It must have taken a great deal of courage to make the move in 2000, her first year of widowhood.

Yes, she had friends in Paris and she had enough money to live on comfortably, but still. She must have been very lonely. In her memoir she writes about finding an apartment she can afford, buying furniture, and dealing with a spartan French kitchen. Her French wasn’t that great and she got into trouble with a local contractor hired to work on her apartment. But no serious damage was done.

Gershman wasn’t much of cook but thrilled her French friends by inviting them over for Mexican meals and brownies (out of a box).

After about a decade in France, Gershman decided to return to San Antonio, where she had grown up and graduated from high school. She died in 2012.

Julia Child’s memoir opens in 1948 when she first went to France with her husband, Paul. She couldn’t cook and she couldn’t speak French.

Mon dieu! What a difference a year makes.

“The longer I was in France, the stronger and more ecstatic my feelings for it became,” she wrote.

“I worked on my French diligently and was able to read better and say a little more every day,” she added.

“My tastes were growing bolder, too. I had never thought of eating a snail before but my tender escargots bobbing in garlicky butter were one of my happiest discoveries.”

She spent her days reading French cookbooks, trolling the markets for fresh produce, dairy and seafood, and made wonderful meals for her appreciative husband. But.

“I wanted to roll up my sleeves and dive into French cuisine. But how?”

The answer was the famous cooking school Le Cordon Bleu. At the school, she worked harder and longer than any other students to learn the secrets of French cooking. Much of her memoir is about the subsequent years of trial and error that went into her 1961 masterpiece: “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.”

After I finished reading her memoir, I looked on my shelves to see if I had a copy of her famous cookbook. I did!

I thought I’d make an easy meat casserole or cassoulet.

Turns out, I don’t cook French any better than I speak French. The first ingredient of the recipe was: “Five pounds of preserved goose, with cracklings.”

I put the book away. Tant pis.

-- Reach Elisabeth Sherwin at ensherwin@gmail.com

For More Information, Visit These Links:

  • 10 Days in Paris -- C'est Magnifique -- previous Suzy Gershman column by Elisabeth Sherwin

    Links to Ukrainian Sites:
  • www.meest.com -- Send food and packages to Ukraine
  • Saving The Animals of Ukraine A link to PBS Nature Documentary.
  • Now that winter has settled in, people in Ukraine need our help more than ever.
  • The story of Fuminori Tsuchiko and Fumi Caffe
  • Link to Fumi Caffe in Kharkiv, Ukraine provides hot food and bread, many for free.
  • DramatizeMe -- Ukrainian channel trying to reach 10 Million subscribers: Life lessons and stories trying to change society (English Language)
  • DramatizeMe Specials -- Ukrainian channel with Life lessons and stories inspired by true events trying to change society (English Language)
  • LoveBuster -- Ukrainian channel with Life lessons and stories inspired by Love trying to change society (English Language)
  • DramatizeMe Special -- Virtual Hug sent to G Richard Yamagata, webartist for SherwinOnTheWeb.com

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