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.