With eyes that had only eight hours before seen the Eiffel Tower, I saw another familiar sight appear on the port side of the plane as it made its descent into Newark. The Empire State Building came into view, reminding me I’d be resuming metro-New York life after nine days of a life-changing sojourn in France. Although the actual landing was soft, it was hard coming down out of those tri-colored clouds in my head.
I had spent most of my time in France at École des Trois Ponts in Roanne. The school specializes in French immersion courses combined with cookery classes. I had enrolled in the pastry/baking group. The final two days in Paris allowed me to practice my language skills when ordering my religieuse at the local pâtisserie. In all seriousness, my ability to understand and speak French had dramatically improved in a very short time. Because my teacher was away on her vacation, the challenge would be not only how to retain my newfound facility, but also how to keep the whole French experience alive.
Summer in New York can be great for finding on-street parking, the Mostly Mozart Festival, and movies in Bryant Park. Finding informal opportunities to chat in French is not really part of the mix. Could they be found in a French restaurant? No such luck. Many of these places seem to employ out-of-work American actors who have convincing French accents, but who in fact don’t know the difference between an entrée and a plat du jour.
All other things being equal, I haven’t found a satisfactory solution to this particular problem. The French Institute Alliance Française has classes and conversation groups. But they begin during the morning rush hour. I know I’d be cursing in French at all the traffic… if I only knew the curse words.
I do read a couple of stories in “Le Monde” every day. I have my dictionary handy for the words I don’t know and as a result I’m learning new vocabulary. The challenge will be to remember the new vocabulary. No one ever said learning a foreign language as an adult would be easy, but sometimes I wish it would just sit a little better in the memory!
One of my cable channels occasionally plays French films. The dialog is almost always spoken at a rate comparable to my English tempo, which is to say too fast for my comprehension. Now, however, since returning from school I can pick up more than just a few words. I try not to look at the subtitles. Ok, I’ll admit I do cheat once in a while!
The school now has a Facebook page and I’ve become a fan. The director has been posting pictures of current school events, so anytime I want to “go back” all I have to do is check out the Facebook page. Of course most of the comments are in French so I get a little more reading practice.
Finally, I’m going to be doing some more baking. A group of our friends has decided to honor Julia Child by having a dinner using dishes from “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” I’ll be making her “Reine de Saba” cake. While I’m in the kitchen I’ll play recordings of the music of Debussy, Ravel and Satie to inspire and inform the process. Maybe I’ll throw in some Edith Piaf while I’m at it. Ah, French music and French pâtisserie. Perfect together.
While I await the resumption of my lessons, I’m doing everything I can to maintain all things French in my soul. Between “Le Monde,” movies, Facebook and a little chocolate cake, I don’t think I’ll have too much trouble!