Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Marcel Proust's long sentences

Elle avait appris dans sa jeunesse à caresser les phrases au long col sinueux et démesuré, de Chopin, si libres, si flexibles, si tactiles, qui commencent par chercher et essayer leur place en dehors et bien loin de la direction de leur départ, bien loin du point où on avait pu espérer qu'atteindrait leur attouchement, et qui ne se jouent dans cet écart de fantaisie que pour revenir plus délibérément - d'un retour plus prémédité, avec plus de précision, comme sur un cristal qui résonnerait jusqu'à faire crier - vous frapper au coeur.

Un amour de Swann, Marcel Proust (1871 - 1922)

In her youth, she had learned to caress long sentences of Chopin, sinuous, excessive, so free, flexible and tactile, sentences which start by trying to find their place outside and far from the direction of departure, far from the spot where one hoped to feel their touch, and they played within this gap of fantasy only to come back more deliberately - a premeditated return, with more precision, like crystal that reverberates to the point of making you scream - to hit you in the heart.

I tried to translate this passage of Marcel Proust to convey his typical writing style, but it doesn't of course have the same flow as in French. At first, his long-winded sentences seem affected, incomprehensible and annoying, but when I read them again, and get used to his meditative tone, I find a lyrical quality to them, as if they're undulating, but with precise details and deeper meaning. I've always loved the flow of long sentences, but I never thought a writer could indulge in them to such extent that they work so well.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Perception of Pain by Anaïs Nin

"The primitive begins each day anew and does not relate today to yesterday, or envisage tomorrow. With lack of relatedness comes absence of pain. Pain comes from awareness ... It is our efforts to escape or protect ourselves from pain and shock which create a realm of anxiety unknown to the primitive. We live to defeat nature and they learn to live with it ... But the primitive had a natural paradise. We do not. We have to create an artificial one."

The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Volume Three 1939-1944
Anaïs Nin

I like the way Anaïs Nin analyzes emotions and tries to make sense of them. What she says is so true about pain. But I don't like the use of the word artificial here. I believe that the natural paradise she talks about is within us because we all have the primitive in us. It's a matter of letting the primitive come to the surface, feeling with all our senses, living in heightened moments of awareness. But it's also a matter of balance. If we live as primitives only, will we be able to feed ourselves? But then, when we're too busy defeating nature, and acquiring material goods, are we in touch with our higher needs? Finding a balance between the two is perhaps the key to happiness.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

A weekend in the country



It was magical, the snow, the way it had covered every single tree that lined the laneway towards my friend's country house. We were entering a fairy tale land with white soft contours just a few hours after leaving the angular shapes of busy bustling Toronto. As if we had arrived in Narnia through the car instead of the wardrobe. The next day we shovelled, took a walk with the dog, fed the birds, watched blue jays and chickadees peck with zest at the feeder. White flurries formed momentary curtains when the sun dislodged large patches of snow from tall trees. The lake gleamed, majestic, omnipresent. By evening most snow had melted. Sitting by the crackling warmth of the fireplace, we gazed at the leaping flames, looked outside at the continuous rippling of water, the changing tones of sunset, and talked late into the night. My friend's partner had passed away over a month ago. She needed to talk about him. His spirit was there. I could feel it. She is discovering the challenges of living alone in the country. But the rewards are abundant.




I enjoyed being there. That feeling of communion with nature, that peacefulness, that friendliness and solidarity it brings in people. Breathing in the smell of pine, of damp soil, of burning logs. The deep silence at night. A light breeze swishing through the trees. A lone bird calling. The silence again. One learns to listen to one's heart. It felt good to be replenished with a good dose of nature before going back to the city.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Twelve Women Breaking Bread

There were twelve of us at a potluck dinner to raise money for educational projects for women in Afghanistan where 90% of women are illiterate. It's part of an initiative by an organization called Breaking Bread for Women. It is run entirely by volunteers. I'm impressed that no one is being paid a huge salary to run this organization. I like the ongoing reports on their website about how donations are being spent, for example paying teachers' salaries, building new schools, etc.

It is stimulating and empowering to be in the company of women eager to help others. Our desire to initiate changes, knowing we can make a difference turned the evening into a cheerful, upbeat exchange of ideas and stories.

With globalization, faster communication and travels, the western world is more aware of the needs of developing countries. Dare we think there will be a new pattern to our self-centred consuming habits? That instead of indulging in another pair of shoes, another dress, another piece of jewellery we don't need, we will see what that money will buy: $750.00 is a year's salary for a teacher in Afghanistan, which means the chance for women to be educated, to get out of the cycle of poverty and eventually help bring peace to their country.

It seems like a naive and idealistic project, but I believe that massive changes often start with small steps in the right direction by people who listen and act with their heart.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Karate

Hurrah! I've done it! I've just got my black belt at a graduation ceremony this afternoon. Did a few kicks in the air, punched, flipped weapons around, chopped wood with my bare hand, threw attackers on the ground. It was so much fun.

A childhood dream has come true. Just to prove it's never too late to learn anything. When I was a kid, I wanted to chop, kick, and flip in the air like Emma Peel of The Avengers . Yeah, you can guess my age ... whether you remember Emma or never heard of her.

To refresh my memory, I saw an old episode of The Avengers. I was shocked to see the woman I considered most sophisticated and liberated - oh, that smirk, those body moulding outfits, and black leather boots - seem so amateurish now. But times have changed. I'm after a new role model: Lara Croft of Tomb Raider fame. Sorry Emma.

Karate has been an incredible journey towards understanding what my body can do. When I look back at the tentative beginnings about six years ago, I'm awed at the strength and skills I've acquired.

To give each movement its intense power, one learns to go inside one's mind and body, and leave out all outside influence. That power of concentration extends to other aspects of life, giving confidence and focus in whatever one undertakes.

It's been a rewarding experience. Sweating and releasing repressed energy. Learning to defend myself. Toned muscles. Discipline was the toughest during the first year. Not just getting to class, but having to bow and show respect to higher belts, even though I felt little respect for certain types. One of the incentives that spurred me to drag myself to the club week after week at the beginning was the chance to admire those muscular male bodies in action. And the thrill of training with all that masculine energy.

Of course over the years, the elation of keeping fit and the deep feeling of camaraderie with other members made karate become a necessity. We're a large family and I love hugging those great bodies.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Les Fleurs du Mal

Derrière les ennuis et les vastes chagrins
Qui chargent de leur poids l'existence brumeuse,
Heureux celui qui peut d'une aile vigoureuse
S'élancer vers les champs lumineux et sereins;


Spleen et Idéal, III. - Élévation, Les Fleurs du Mal,
Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867)

According to Baudelaire, one can overcome painful, debilitating heartbreaks by flapping one's wings towards brighter fields. I agree that the best way to forget is to have a change of scenery, travel, move to a different place, exercise, make new friends, touch others. To make it short, find any distraction that gets your heart pumping for a different cause. Eventually time heals, and one gains new perspective on the situation. Et voilà! Life is full of other pleasures worth living for.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Leaving this world

In recent weeks, I've been thinking of death. The beloved partner of a friend passed away after a motorcycle accident. He had just retired. She is floating, can't accept that he is suddenly not there to touch and feel when he is so present in spirit. I remember his warm, confident smile, as if he was embarking on some fun expedition.

Then, a few days ago, I heard about a friend who passed away in his sleep. He was only 51. I hadn't seen him since we were teenagers. I can clearly see him coming to my house to say goodbye before he left for his studies in Europe. He had large, kind, innocent eyes, and dark straight hair that he kept flipping from his eyes. I will always remember him that way.

Then, there is the nun from my high school who was so different from the rest, never lectured me about why I didn't go to church. Love seemed to radiate from her pores. I could feel her positive energy seeping through me with a mere eye contact or nod of her head. This charismatic person is still alive and well in spirit to all those she touched even though she passed away from cancer recently.

When people I know die, and I haven't seen them for a long time, I feel the pain of those who lived with them, how they will miss them, but I don't feel their physical absence myself. They're still alive to me, in my mind, in whichever way they've affected my life.

Then, there are all these people who died in the Tsunami, in New Orleans, in Pakistan, those who die from wars, hatred, revenge, violence. Even though I don't know them, I imagine the horror of such deaths, and cry for them.

And here we are, lucky to be alive. Why don't we celebrate it more? Every day? Every hour? Every minute?

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Wellington, my other brother

Just in case my other brother gets jealous, here's some info on him. He is a fabulous architect in Mauritius and has designed some great buildings on the island.

When I went to visit him and his family on the island, his house felt like a fresh slice of paradise. I could sit forever on the wicker chairs on the verandah facing the garden, taking in the warm humid smells, feasting on the hot pink bougainvilleas and lush green plants with giant leaves. The house was impressive with its high ceilings, clean lines, subtle decorative details reminiscent of colonial times. Designed to maximize airflow, the house was always comfortably cool inside, so refreshing when the tropical sun bears down on you.

As a young kid hanging out with these two adored brothers, I learned the art of talking back to compensate for my lack of testosterone power when I felt pushed around. I learned about the advantages of being a girl ( I felt very protected by big brother Well). I also learned about the disadvantages (not being allowed to go out late at night), and in my teens, gave my parents a hard time by endlessly advocating for women's rights. Those great parties that stretched late into the night on the beaches were certainly worth it.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Reading

Reading Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire at the request of my sons. Movie's coming soon. I'm kind of transfixed with mugles' fears, Death Eaters who Disapparate, the Dark Mark, but I have to admit I'm speed reading this fat book. Other books I'm reading: Last Chance Texaco, Christine Pountney (sad, vivid images are imprinted in my mind), The Big Why, Michael Winter (Rockwell Kent is just flirting so far), Les Fleurs du Mal, Charles Baudelaire (I thrive on French sentimentalism), Alligator, Lisa Moore (love her sensual brushstrokes).

Too many? It's crazy?

Just greedy. It's like being in a patisserie, salivating at the sight of those dainty desserts, buying five, savouring the intense pleasure of little bites from each.

Who cares what the side effects are?

Monday, October 03, 2005

My brother Sem

Did I ever tell you that I have a brother who is some kind of genius but of course this is all subjective, and he doesn't believe so himself. He's done some neat things in medical simulation. He is part of a team that invented a human simulator so medical personnel can practice treatments and procedures on this sort of manikin controlled by a computer which can simulate a wide variety of diseases and pathologies.

It's hard to believe that my little brother, the six-year-old kid I used to coax into playing theatre with me, the one who would comply with enthusiasm to my dressing him up, the one who would smile mischievously, shake his hips and throw his legs every which way to imitate the dance I choreographed on the spot for him, now lectures all over the world. Well, maybe I can claim I did give him his taste for public appearance when he performed with me in front of our large family!

I'd like to say that the scientific brain runs in the family, but I'm afraid my inclination has always been in the creative field. When he taught me how to play chess, I couldn't care less about protecting the king - handsome knights in armour were making moves to protect ladies imprisoned in towers. However, after the countless games he convinced me to play, all of which I lost, I have to admit that it spurred my competitive spirit, and I was eventually thrilled by the strategy involved in chess.

If you're interested in scientific stuff, check his Virtual Anesthesia Machine website

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Word, Creole & Paul

Last Sunday morning, I was at Word on the Street, Toronto's yearly book fair, for only an hour and a half, and I managed to be filmed in a documentary on language, buy at least 50 lbs of books , and lose the friends I went with.

Well, it is easy to lose friends in that crowd. It's also easy to keep buying books and finding yourself weighed down in no time. But a documentary? What's the chance? Okay, maybe all you'll see of me is a close up of my lips saying ten words in Creole for five seconds. But I find chance events like this fascinating. Alright, the film director happens to be a parent of my child's classmate, but what was the chance of her seeing me in that crowd and remembering that I speak Creole? But at the same time, it felt as if it was the most natural thing to happen to me, as if I was expecting it.

It's like, how come Teri felt she would win the draw for a subscription to Descant and tickets to their fundraising ball, and then ... surprise, she really won it! Is there some kind of cosmic intelligence that picks particular people by design? Or maybe we have some kind of magnetic power in our brain that wills things to happen. Mysteries to ponder upon ...

But speaking of Creole, I met an artist from Mauritius last Saturday, and we had a chance to speak in our native language. He was exhibiting his watercolours at the Francophone Centre. Paul Comarmond lives in Toronto but paints the islands of Mauritius, Seychelles, and Madagascar with crisp colours, deft strokes, and the sensitivity of one living there. It was a pleasure to absorb the exotic sceneries he depicts, thinking, Wow, I actually grew up there. I will have to hang one of his paintings on my wall even though I can only afford a reproduction. I learned many things from him, that Creole is now taught in some schools on the island, that it is being accepted as a written language based on its phonetics, and that there is an international Creole week. It felt good to be reconnected to the island where I grew up.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Chanson d'Automne

Les sanglots longs
Des violons
De l'automne
Blessent mon coeur
D'une langueur
Monotone.

Tout suffocant
Et blême, quand
Sonne l'heure,
Je me souviens
Des jours anciens
Et je pleure;

Et je m'en vais
Au vent mauvais
Qui m'emporte
Deça, delà,
Pareil à la
Feuille morte

Poèmes saturniens - Paul Verlaine


Verlaine writes about melancholy like no one else can. On this gloomy fall day, rain relentlessly pouring, a day after a heart-warming reunion with long-lost Ryerson Fashion classmates for our 25th graduation anniversary, Verlaine keeps creeping in my mind. It's hard to translate in English the feelings in his poem but here is my version:

In autumn
Plaintive strings
Of violins
Tear my heart
With their dull
Sad langour.

I'm choking
Skin paling;
When time tolls,
I recall
The old days
And I cry.

As I leave,
A mean wind
Tosses me
Here and there,
Desolate,
Like shed leaves.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Russell, oh dear Russell!

Russell Smith is trying to defend his nattiness. He says that we are wrong to see fashion as superficial. He claims in today's Globe's Style section that, "If you must feel altruistic about everything you do, think of your appearance as a gift to others. Physically attractive people are pleasant to be around, just as beautiful buildings are pleasant to live in."

Dear Russell, you're missing something important here. I do agree that physically attractive people can be pleasant to be around, and you mention rightly that by dressing up, "You are making the world a more beautiful place. This is what art is about, and it is a serious thing to do. It will be, like art, at once pleasurable and intellectual." I enjoy looking beautiful, and giving the pleasure to others, as much as I enjoy looking at men and women who take care of their appearances, but I would say your generalization lacks depth.

I've been in the fashion world long enough to have seen all kinds, and let me tell you, there are many attractive people out there I don't want to be around at all. Guess what, Russell? There's a difference between buildings and people. We have feelings. Remember there is a heart that beats inside your body? If you could include that key ingredient in, we may have more faith in you. Fashion will always be superficial but fashionable people don't have to be - if they have a heart.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

A bicyclette avec Harmonium

Il est entré
Sans rien me dire
L'encre s'est mise à couler
Dans ma tête et sur un vieux papier
Il m'a dit de vous dire
Qu'il n'y a plus rien à dire
Il m'a dit de vous dire
D'écouter.

D'écouter le silence
Qui voudrait bien reprendre
Sa place dans la balance

...

Harmonium - Paroles et musique: S. Fiori - M. Normandeau - 1974

He came in
Without saying a word
The ink started to flow
In my head, on an old paper
He told me to tell you
There is nothing more to say
He told me to tell you
To listen.

To listen to the silence
That wants its rightful place
For our balance

...


I've been listening to Harmonium since Saturday morning when Judy and I rode our bikes to our dance class. She was singing Pour un instant. There we were, cutting through the chilly fall air, the breeze brushing against our skin, muscles freshly charged, and this song. It went right to my soul. My dear friend Judy has the ability to release the bohemian in me. I suddenly forgot I had a family and mundane chores to attend to. I wanted to keep riding, riding and singing all the way to Montreal.

Pour un instant, j'ai oublié mon nom
Ça m'a permis enfin d'écrire cette chanson

Pour un instant, j'ai retourné mon miroir

Ça m'a permis enfin de mieux me voir

Sans m'arrêter, j'ai foncé dans le noir

Pris comme un loup qui n'a plus d'espoir

J'ai perdu mon temps à gagner du temps

J'ai besoin de me trouver une histoire à me conter.
...

Harmonium - Musique: S. Fiori & M. Normandeau - Paroles: M. Normandeau - 1974

For a moment I forgot my name
It allowed me to write this song

For a moment I turned my mirror
It allowed me to see myself better

Without stopping, I plunged in the dark
Lost like a wolf with no hope

I wasted my time looking for time
I need to find a story to tell myself.

...

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

The Last Cowboy

Finished reading The Last Cowboy by Lee Gowan.

He's currently the director of University of Toronto Continuing Education Creative Writing Department. He also teaches there. I took one of his courses and found him very thorough, knowledgeable, and to the point. He is also a very kind and supportive teacher who often goes beyond his duties in his effort to help students.

It's interesting reading the novel of someone you know. It sort of gives a new dimension to the book. I've read his previous novel, Make Believe Love and found it very engaging. But this one is a much stronger novel. It transports you immediately into the mind of Sam, a ranting old man but a colourful character. He reminds me a bit of King Lear in his tragic fate, especially when he gets lost in the snow and seems to lose his mind.

Lee interweaves a few stories which seem at first diconnected but eventually find their place in this tale set in the prairies. He covers the plight of farmers, the unfair treatment of natives, the dilemma of the modern prairie man with such powerfully descriptive flair that it's easy to imagine these people as very real. Saskatchewan is a picturesque background to this story and becomes a tangible place in our Canadian consciousness. It makes me want to go there.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Playwright Morwyn Brebner

Just read an interview with playwright Morwyn Brebner in Toronto Life's October issue. I now want to see her play The Optimists at the Tarragon theatre.

It's not the fact that she's a winner of seven Dora Awards that hooked me. It's her wit. The first play she wrote was a monologue. Quote: I played both Mae West and an earwig. They were talking to each other and I rolled onstage singing "like a virgin."

About whether she wants to be produced in the States, whether she's envious of the theatre scene in New York: "Not really. The work there is no better than the work here - it's just in New York. And there's more of it. But there's more of everything in America. The people are fatter and there's more theatre."

With this kind of attitude, we'd keep more of our talented people here in Canada, and Toronto's already growing art culture could become even more exciting and viable on a larger scale, what with Americans flocking to enjoy our non-agressive or rather passive-aggressive culture and mordant wit. Who'll need to go to New York anymore?

Honestly, sarcasm aside, I do love Toronto even though I realize it will take time before it has the ingredients to attract people to the extent New York does. I wish there were more artists like Morwyn Brebner, who are not lured by the glitz and the $$$ in U.S., and who believe they can make a difference in Canada.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Blogs

BLog's Age by Robert Fulford in this October's issue of Toronto Life, is a thorough article about the cultural phenomenon of blogs.

He starts with the weaknesses of blogs, having to sift "through virtual reams of moronic musings" to get to interesting blogs. He also writes at length about Andrew Coyne's decision to stop running postings from the public on his blog because they "were both embarrassing and bothersome ... disgusting letters ..."

He then discusses with great insight the impact of blogs: "A.J. Liebling, the great press critic, once said that freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one. Blogging has changed that. Freedom of the blogosphere is available to everyone who has something to say. If the knowledge society is indeed our future, blogging is surely a clear sign of it, a case of talent replacing capital as the crucial element in an information system."

He goes on about the speed of blogs, how they "collapse time. You can react in public to a big event within an hour or two, and you can put a thought in cyberspace as soon as you have one."

He reports that even professional writers like it because "you can say what you think without interference from editors." He quotes Teachout, a drama reviewer for The Wall Street Journal as saying blogs provide "immediacy, informality and independence that you can't find in the print media."

Very interesting article.

Monday, September 05, 2005

The Constant Gardener

I'm scrambling to finish reading The Constant Gardener by John Le Carré. R told me I absolutely had to read it before we see the movie.

It's a fascinating book about a pharmaceutical company and its abuse of power: using Africa as its dumping ground, corrupting everyone in site from doctors to politicians, and eliminating anyone who tries to challenge its ethics.

Read in the Globe, September 3rd, page R4 that the story was probably inspired by a Canadian professor of pediatrics and medicine, Dr. Nancy Olivieri whose research led her to believe a new drug treatment posed dangers to patients.

Le Carré has a clear message in this book: to expose how pharmaceutical companies are purely profit based, to show how their financial power controls our lives, and to awaken our social conscience about unethical practices. It'll be interesting to see whether the movie hits the public with enough impact to demand changes in the way that industry operates.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Dancing

Went to a wedding and danced the night away. Dancing is like giving your body a life of its own. You let the music seep through your veins, pulse in your heart. You loosen your feet, knees, hips, arms, hands, shoulders to the cadence of the beat. You forget everything as you let the energy of the rhythm take over.

The physical movements make you sweat, and the endorphin kicks in, relieves all pain, and puts you in a blissful state.

I can't get enough of it.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Photography

I want to thank my cousin and good friend Philip for sharing his passion for photography, and helping me with invaluable lessons on the art of taking photos.

Photography is a form of artistic expression that fascinates me. It appeals to my sense of efficiency. With one click, one can evoke an emotion, a mood, a new world in images.

But of course one needs a certain amount of artistic intuition and a lot of background work behind the click. To pursue this passion further, I'm following the advice of my dear friend and taking at least 50 photos a week. But I've also decided to read up on the subject to learn as much as I can.

I started with Freeman Patterson's book: Photography & the art of seeing.

I did the exercises he recommended. I locked myself in the bathroom for 45 minutes, and swung my camera around, and jumped up and down while clicking away. Tomorrow, before I get out of bed, I'll take five photos from the prone position and five more sitting on the edge of my bed, and ten more on my way to the bathroom while making sure I include part of my dishevelled self in the shots. I love this guy!!! While we go at it, I'm thinking of crawling under my bed, backing into a closet, digging into my garbage ...

Seriously, he is an amazing artist! It's an exercise to get out of the rut of using too much of the rational brain when taking photos.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Oublier: To Forget

"Faire rire, c'est faire oublier. Quel bienfaiteur sur la terre, qu'un distributeur d'oubli!" Victor Hugo, L'Homme qui rit.

To make people laugh is to make them forget. What an altruistic person, the one who scatters laughter!


"L'oubli est un puissant instrument d'adaptation à la réalité parce qu'il détruit peu à peu en nous le passé survivant qui est en constante contradiction avec elle." Marcel Proust, À la recherche du temps perdu.

To forget is a powerful way of adapting to reality; it slowly destroys a persisting past which is in constant contradiction with the present.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Globe article moving online

I just found two sites that have picked up the G & M article.

One is the Franco-American News blog. It's basically a newsletter that posts articles which cover events and issues on bilingualism in North America.

The other is a forum called Webzine, where someone, to get some reactions, posted the G & M article, and said he wanted to move to Ontario. Comments even though in French, are not inspiring as there are hardcore disgruntled people out there who happen to hate Trudeau, and have nothing good to say about Ontario.

I suppose it's flattering that one's writing is being passed around, that it gets people thinking, and provokes debates.

Fascinating how fast an article can be moved around and become public property. Anything can be copied by anyone. Welcome to the free world of information!

Even if there are copyrights on certain articles, photos, drawings, etc., it must be daunting for anyone to sue considering the costs (unless you're a huge corporation and someone has used your property for financial gains).

So, it helps to be aware that when you put anything online, you're literally giving it away for the whole world to enjoy, and to use as it pleases. What an amazing era of global communication we live in!

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Absence, Silence, Passion

"L'absence diminue les médiocres passions, et augmente les grandes, comme le vent éteint les bougies et allume le feu." La Rochefoucauld, Maximes.

According to La Rochefoucauld, absence extinguishes weak passions but ignites true great ones, just like the wind blows out a candle but spreads a fire.

To that I should add: Without words, passion cannot grow, no matter how strong it is.

With Rimbaud as my muse, this is my poetic version of Silence:

Des mots, j'en ai besoin pour vivre.
Ton silence a réduit en cendres
Ce feu doux qui brûlait en moi.

Words, words, words,
I need them
As I need
Air to breathe.
Your silence
Burns to ashes
The fire in me.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Ten Thousand Lovers

I read Edeet Ravel's Ten Thousand Lovers. It's the love story of a Canadian woman and an Israeli interrogator who has Arab friends, and is torn by the nature of his job.

It starts very slowly and one can get bored and distracted with overused words such as "beautiful" to describe a smile, a garden, or "my excellent friend" to describe a relationship, or "sweet, open and polite" to describe a young man. Maybe the editor wanted a plain journal type of writing. However this doesn't appeal to some: a friend discarded the book after reading the first few chapters.

However, I plodded through the beginning because I enjoyed the way the author interspersed the story with the etymology of words often common in both Hebrew and Arabic. I now know where the word "assassin" comes from:
The Arabic (and now international) word hashish also acquired new meaning at the time of the Crusades. A twelfth-century sect of hashish users who lived in the area of the Golan Heights and who were in the habit of toking up before they set off on secret misssions to assassinate their various enemies came to be known as hashshashin. Hence the word 'assassin'.

As the author gets deeper into the life of the interrogator, and the relationship between Jews and Arabs living in the same country, we get pulled by very humane feelings, a mixed tone, not the black and white usually portrayed in the media.

The story picks up in a surprising way, and culminates in a poignant ending. The author shows effectively the stream of consciousness of a person overwhelmed by despair, when she counts relentlessly (on two and a half pages), and recreates the situation and the pain caused by the number of people who have died uselessly.

It's worth reading.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Facts & Arguments article

I just found out that you can't link anymore to the Globe and Mail article I wrote for Facts & Arguments, Friday August 12, 2005, unless you subscribe to the Globe and Mail online news. Well, here it is, as published, for those who haven't read it yet.


English, French: Why not both?

By Peggy Lampotang


When I came to Canada at the age of twenty, I was very excited to be part of a bilingual country. I was born in Mauritius, a predominantly French-speaking island whose dialect is Creole and official language, English.

Creole is colourful but was considered a crude form of French and teachers forbade its use at school. French was the language of choice and I loved the way it flowed in my blood; I danced in it, flirted with it. When I spoke it, I felt alive.

I studied in a British system of education, and enjoyed writing in English, but speaking it was a different matter. The shock upon arriving in Toronto and discovering that French was limited to the Harbourfront Francophone Centre and the Alliance Française prompted me to take trips to Montreal.

I was fascinated by the lifestyle differences of the expressive Québécois and the reserved Torontonians. But I stayed in Toronto. I liked its industrious quality. I wanted to feel at home in English. My accent, source of much hilarity, and sometimes, romantic speculations, was frustrating but did open doors for me.

The first lesson I learned from a boyfriend was to curl my tongue, put its tip under the upper teeth, and blow gently the feathery sound “th” so that when I said three, people knew it was number three and not tree, the wonder of nature that sprouts from the soil and grows into trunk, branches and leaves.

Soon I learned to respect the nuances in each language, pronouncing words, delivering them in ways that sharpened my awareness of fundamental cultural differences between English and French.

Ever notice how French translations are much longer than English ones?

While reading a cereal box, I realized it wasn’t a problem with the translator. This concise and brief statement instils the down-to-earth, good sense of English: “It can be an important part of your family’s nutritious breakfast.” The French translation however, with its lengthy enticing words, gives a frisson about how pleasurable and extreme the cereal experience will be: “Ces céréales irrésistibles occuperont sûrement une place de choix à votre table lors du petit déjeuner familial.” (These irresistible cereals will surely occupy a place of choice on your table during the family breakfast).

During a French conversation, I can elaborate at leisure my descriptions; the more words, the better. However, in English, I use clear, exact words, with the least repetition possible.

An Anglophone finds it hard to say certain French words like “cracher” (to spit) because there’s a tendency to roll the “r” with the tongue and utter the word with a half-open mouth. As an Anglophone, if one is willing to open one’s mouth wide and throw the sound from the back of the throat, one will sense the openness of French. However, as a Francophone, the challenge of speaking English is to restrain the elasticity of one’s lips. One has to roll words out on one’s curled tongue while decreasing the opening of one’s mouth to feel the smooth fluidity of English. How else would one make Toronto sound as if it has only two syllables?

Anglophones struggle with the letter u as in “écureuil” (squirrel) because they can’t keep the tongue down and form the lips into a tiny oval shape to emit the sound as if it’s easing into a kiss. On the other hand, Francophones could alleviate their difficulty with silent h as in, “Ow is e?” if they are willing to make the h sound come out as a short breathy exhalation.

The economy of movement in delivering words in English, whether it’s from the mouth or the rest of the body, gives a feeling of preciseness but also of control. The French language however, with its constant shifting of the mouth opening, from the jaw breaking “Ah” to the pouting “Oh”, while the hands point, close, open, spread, or jiggle in all directions, expresses unbound passion. An Anglophone could see this openness as too dramatic, vulnerable and exposed, but a Francophone could interpret the lack of movements of the Anglophone as rigid and cold.

I have lived in Toronto for almost three decades. I even dream in English.

There were times when my craving for French made me feel that part of me was missing. When I enrolled my children in French Immersion, I discovered with pleasant surprise a new community of bilingual parents.

The opportunity to speak French regularly has brought a new balance in my life. I feel lucky to be among Canadians who can speak both languages.

My personality changes when I switch from one language to the other.

I feel in charge, efficient, and love the flow of English sounds rolling and swishing from my mouth.

When I speak French, I feel sensual, demonstrative, perhaps a bit excitable, but I relish its intensity.

Fluency in English and French brings familiarity to the quirkiness of their inherent differences and makes it easier for me to tolerate and accept both.

My experience with these two languages makes me see the depth of Pierre Trudeau’s vision for this country when he implemented official bilingualism.

Allez-y, Canada. Let’s get along. Why not both, hey?

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Comments on Globe article

Comments keep trickling in.

An Anglophone friend writes: Mais oui and certainement and tout that jazz., and signs with a de before his last name. Aren't Anglos wonderful when they overdo the French thing? He's a psychologist, so he wants to observe closely my personality changes when I switch from English to French.

A cousin from Montreal:Cet article pourrait réconcilier même les souverainistes Québécois les plus recalcitrants avec la langue de Shakespeare tandis que les Anglos les plus dûrs à cuire trouveront que tu as raison au sujet de la langue de Molière. Tu fais accepter la dualité de ces deux langues en montrant leurs caractéristiques intrinsèques et en promouvant leurs charmes!
Did I already say that French lends itself so charmingly to exaggeration?

A dear friend who likes to talk: My tongue has been introduced to some new linguistic tricks.

A Creative Writing teacher: I was inspired by the challenge to Canada to celebrate both languages by speaking them and enjoying the differences. You write with such freshness and charm that the whole essay is an enticement to take either French or English speaking lessons!

An architect whose motto is Less is More: It was a delight to read.

A friend whose sister is pondering seriously about her relationship: She will really appreciate the article, as she feels that her husband is a different man when he speaks French! She married the Englishman, but the Frenchman is who he really is!!!

It'll even be read in class: I will take the article to my daughter in Quebec to-morrow.. She teaches Intensive English to Quebec students. She will enjoy your observations about the differences so much.

At a family dinner, someone whispers in my ear: I hear you like to flirt in French. Actually, no, I like to flirt in all languages. A minor change by the editor has caused some confusion.

What I wrote about the French language: I loved the way it flowed in my blood, danced in it, flirted with it. I meant French flirted with my blood because I could feel it flowing playfully in every part of my body.

What G & M wrote: I loved the way it flowed in my blood; I danced in it, flirted with it.

But that's alright. No harm done.

Enough of this now. It's going to my head. But keep writing. It's so much fun.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Globe and Mail article I wrote

The response for the article I wrote for our Canadian National newspaper, The Globe and Mail, Facts & Arguments column, on Friday August 12th, has been overwhelming positive. Relatives, friends, and people I don't know have made comments. Check a certain Pyramus blog posting of August 13th.