Friday, July 28, 2006

perdre la tête

Losing your Head

It was yesterday in 1793 that Maximilien de Robespierre, became the head of the Committee of Public Safety, which led to the Reign of Terror in France. Robespierre headed the committee that was to behead more than 2000 people by guillotine. One year later- he would lose his own head as well.

It was on this day, a month ago in Nice that I saw the exhibition Perdre la tête currently at the Théâtre de la Photograhie et de l'Image (til 27 août). Get to know the streets and people of Paris: large format black and white prints of lost heads (or rather obscured - much better than being guillotined) contrasted by a series of revealing portraits (many are headshots) from Parisian photographer François-Marie Banier.

As there is no more losing heads by guillotine today- it won't be rolling heads but craziness or absentmindedness to deal with when a Frenchman declares "je perds la tête". But if the Frenchman says "tu me fais perdre la tête" with a look of mischevious madness in his eyes... well maybe you'd better head for the hills unless of course you are also éperdument amoureuse!

perdre la tête lose your head, to be forgetful
je perds la tête literally "I am losing the head" - I am going crazy; forgetting things
tu me fais perdre la tête "you make me lose the head" - meaning he has a crush on you
éperdument amoureuse a girl head over heels in love
éperdument amoureux a boy head over heels in love

La photo - Catherine Deneuve à Cannes, en Juin 2006

Wednesday, July 19, 2006



If you can say that three times fast with your best Frech accent and you understand what you are saying then you may be ready for writer Raymond Queneau. Doukipudonktan is the first word of Queneau's 1959 book Zazie dans le métro.

Still struggling to pronounce D'où qu'ils puent donc tant? - then perhaps you'd rather hear it than attempt to read it aloud. A year after the book's publication Philippe Noiret, as tonton Gabriel, wonders "Why do they stink so much?" in Louis Malle's film adaptation.

Zazie is essentially about a little girl who simply wants to ride the métro. That's where the simplicity stops though. The bobbed-haired heroine with a toothy grin holds her own with the grown-ups at repartee and gets herself ingeniously in and out of trouble.

For those seeking a playful introduction to nouvelle vague or looking for an amusing jaunt through Paris– follow Malle into Zazie's absurd world. In his film version Zazie outruns the adults and shows off Paris: her grand boulevards, Saint-Vincent-de-Paul, Place de la Concord, la Tour Eiffel and much more. She dodges tonton Gabriel, villians, cars, plates of sauerkraut and even pulls cartoon-style slapstick gags with the finesse of Tom and Jerry. Does she get to ride in the métro?
Watch the movie and find out the meaning of grève.

As for me, reading and pronouncing Doukipudonktan is still much easier than D'où qu'ils puent donc tant. C'est la vie d'une débutante en français– moi!

Il parle, je parle - nous parlons:

D'où qu'ils puent donc tant? (trés familier! not polite)

Pourquoi est ce qu'ils sentent aussi mauvais ? (the polite, correct form )

both mean: Why do they stink so much?

tonton (familier), oncle uncle

tante aunt

nouvelle vague French new wave (cinema)

C'est la vie d'une débutante en français– moi!

That's life for a beginner of French– me!

La photo: Sniffing mule en Australie. Octobre 2004

Monday, July 10, 2006

I'm ok, you're ok, it's ok

In French, being ok is when "it goes": ça va.

Not only can you say ça va to indicate your well-being but you can also say the movie was ok, the food was ok, the plane trip was ok... basically everything has the potential to be ok, if not "interesting".

In the present you can answer ça va to both questions :

Comment allez vous?
How are you?

Comment est le livre?
How is the book?

In the past you you have to differentiate between yourself and a thing or situation:
j'étais ok
I was ok

c'étais ok it was ok

In the future, to assure people that you will be okay or maybe assure
them that their situation or experience of something like reading that book will be ok you can say ça ira.

It's easy to be or find something ok in the present and the future: everything,
including you "is or will be going". In the past, distinctions must be made between you and it and it is a matter of "being" rather than "going". But in the end, tout est ok or even better, tout va bien!

say it loud- say it proud:

ça ira I will / it will be ok (literally "I or it will be going")
tout est ok everything is ok

tout va bien everything is good (literally "everything goes good")

La photo: Street Art à Nice, en France. Juin 2006.