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Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Merci Monsieur!

I found a French book in the bottom of a box of second-hand stuff that someone gave my mother. I taught myself how to say, "Bonjour," "Bonsoir," "Comment allez-vous?" and "Merci." I was in 2nd or 3rd grade and Sister Mary Whoever was not impressed. "You'll study Latin in high school," she told me. I studied French in high school--maybe just to spite her. But as a high-schooler, I staggered through my classes under the influence of after-shave and Beatles' songs and boys wearing letter-jackets.
College is when it got to me. It wasn't exactly like a ride on the TGV. Things started slowly. Freshman year I was in a class that was too difficult and had to have a tutor. He was very cute, but that actually hindered my efforts at verb conjugation.
Sophomore year my professor frequently used poetry in the classroom and I think I remember a line passionate enough to keep me awake at 8 a.m.--something like "C'est mon coeur qui bat pour toi.
Junior year I went to France with a small group of Americans from my Catholic women's college. We brought our own professor--Monsieur Villette--and that was my personal point of no return. Monsieur V. opened the door on a lot of things I had no idea about. Paris was the very first big city I had ever been to, and the first time I dipped my feet into the sea, it was le grand bleu. I drank my first glass of pastis with him, learned my way around the cheese course, and saw my first Picasso. I was pretty sure I wasn't going to amount to much at that point in my life, but my semester in France with Monsieur V. changed that. And I actually learned to speak French. Merci Monsieur Villette!

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