Wednesday, December 05, 2007


One of the English language's greatest bards, Shakespeare, once wrote (Act II, Scene II, Romeo and Juliet):

What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

And indeed, the poetry of the French language is not lost in the English translations. Oddly enough, the English translations not only attracted me to the culture, the cities and the French way of life but also to that certain indescribable "je ne sais quoi" that is at the heart of "Frenchiness".

And at the heart of that Frenchiness is almost some story of love. Even, or most poignantly, when it boils down to only one brief meeting after an exchange of letters for Mitsou and her "blue lieutenant".

I just finished reading the novel Mitsou by the famous French writer Colette. In German. German is not my native language. It's not a language that I've learned because I'm enamored of it (but I'm certainly enamored of a certain "normal German boy"). If someone's going to be taking poetic licenses I imagine them to be speaking in French, Spanish, Italian but not German.

So it was with a bit of surprise that I found that "je ne sais quoi" of Colette's writing very understandable and giving my heart a good shaking- even in German:

"Er streicht ganz zart eine Haarsträhne aus Mitsous Gesicht und versucht seinen Vorwurf in Worte zu fassen: 'Ihr großer Fehler besteht darin, daß sie einen zwingt, an sie zu denken, während man selbst versucht ist, ihr zu sagen: Du kleiner Kummer, du – du hast nicht das Zeug, zu einer großen Liebesqual zu werden!"

Now, I can't wait to someday be able to read the original and truly know the difference in meaning between Kummer (heartache) and Liebesqual (Qual is literally torture, agony; Liebe is love), let alone the proper French words for that!

je ne sais quoi a quality that cannot be described or named easily; literally "I do not know what"

Listen to and watch Bireli Lagrene & Gipsy Project perform un certain je ne sais quoi on youtube.

La photo: Petit Fou Fou undergoes an "ostrich neck massage" at the Cango Ostrich Farm, South Africa. Octobre 2007.