Belle Ile

I just got an email from a friend, with photos of herself and friends at a Paris museum gala. I had to laugh. They looked so nice, all dressed up, and here I am trying to keep the mud out of my car and the ticks off Jacques.

Why, you may ask, why would I subject myself to this? Well, remember when I was so pleased to have passed the intermediate-level French exam? I got over it. Not long ago I actually gave a paper in French, did I mention that? But a friend had to edit it for me, Google French being not quite the same thing as real French. It was necessary, but a bit embarrassing. I’m a big kid now. I want to do my own editing.

So here I am, in my one-room, one-student classroom.

So here Jacques and I are, for two weeks, staying in the little cabin to the right of the not-much-bigger house, in that top photo. I figured, rightly, I think, that it would take two weeks to bring my French to a dead halt — my faking-it French is not all that bad — and then let me spend some time beating my head against the wall of my own ignorance. I am at the head-beating stage now. My goal is to get past it, get past the baby talk that I get by with and add in, you know, adverbs in the right place in the sentence, that kind of thing. French has these things called pronominal verbs, I think they are verbs, which I avoid like the plague. I need to get over that. Verb tenses other than basic past, present future? French has a ton of those. I need to figure out what they are and what to do with them. It’s a tall order. I’ll get there, but right now I’m mostly glad I didn’t sign up for three weeks.

Belle-ile is pretty, though, no question. Right now the weather is okay. And the teacher is good. Michel Denance: I can highly recommend him. He balances friendliness and professionalism quite well and he has patience to burn. Plus, bless his heart, he makes lunch every day. Another French thing I haven’t worked out is how they cook actual meals in those awful kitchens. If it weren’t for Michel I’d be eating some ghastly packaged food.

This picture is of a neighbor’s garden, Le Jardin de la Boulaye. She has five hectares, which she has cleared and organized. It’s stunning and open to the public by reservation for paid visits. One day I may go back and walk her replica Chartres labyrinth. I don’t have a photo of Sarah Bernhardt’s house. It is perfectly sited, protected from the wind but still right at the ocean. But the state owns it now and it is all cleaned up and ready for hordes of summer visitors. It’s conceptually very cool, but this garden is prettier.

I think Jacques would be happy to stay here and no question, it’s a lovely place. But at the end of my two weeks, I think I’ll be ready to go home.

7 thoughts on “Belle Ile

  1. Belle Isle looks beautiful….thank goodness you have fine weather as otherwise Breton friends tell me it can be a pig.
    I laughed out loud at your wonder at how good meals could be produced from French kitchens…when first househunting we could not believe what passed for kitchens in rural France.
    I admire your determination to get French right….not an easy task, especially tackling it in French!
    I hated learning French at school, but a teacher – not, unluckily, the one we had – suggested that the way to be at ease with the language was to read it….that way the various tenses, etc would become absorbed and one would reproduce them without thinking. So, in later life, that was what I did. I could never pass an exam which required me to know the name of the tenses, but I know how to use them because they became part of the rythm of the language.
    Jacques looks fine….no work and all play make Jacques a happy boy

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  2. Well, I more or less have to get French right. I have had the great good fortune to be befriended by Jean-Yves’ brother, a professor of physics at the Sorbonne, and his wife, a doctor. Halfway measures won’t really do. You are right about reading being the key. Michel assigns several pages of reading each day, so I have gotten back into it. There are so many exceptions to the too-many rules that the only solution is, as you say, to read and absorb. Jacques would disagree. He thinks a life of chasing rabbits and barking at the sea is all anyone ever needs.


  3. Vas-y, ma belle ! You can do it. I remember visiting Belle-Ile-en.Mer about 30 years ago with a horde of tourists – very pretty in spite of that. This time of year is very special in Brittany, and Jacques seems to recognise it. You’ll suddenly find yourself falling into the language like into a swimmer falling into the sea.


    1. If so, it’s a bit like a freezing cold sea, with rocks where I’d like to find sand. But that is what I came here for, so no complaints. I have been upgraded from those awful, formulaic CLE books, to regular books and an intermediate level FLE book. It’s more interesting and there is less reliance on rules, more on intuition. We are lucky with the weather, for sure, and I think Jacques knows the area better than I do. He seems very sure of himself out there.


  4. I think it’s so much nicer dealing with mud and dogs! Sometimes I look at those gala pictures and how the idea of them was fun, but the reality was quite another. And let’s be honest, there’s mud to deal with at those too 😀
    I admire your determination with the French. I’m getting up the courage to face getting a French driver’s license because apparently driving with my expired American license isn’t a great idea.


  5. I agree. Even as I was admiring my friend’s clothes I was feeling a bit of relief that I no longer attend those events. So which is worse? Making nice with near strangers or removing that tick from my little Toutou? Hard to say. At least they are both behind me.

    Maybe worst of all is the driver’s license. I didn’t mention that, did I, so, excellent job of mind-reading. Michel had a fit, insofar as fits are possible for such an even-tempered guy. That’s how I found out about the huge fine and all. Yes, we have to get legal, that or drive one of those horrid micro-cars. The more I read about the process, not to mention the cost, of getting a license, the more I dread it. Next week Julien and I will check out the local schools. One of them looks a little better than the rest. I’m sure I’ll be ranting all about it, very soon.


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