I was reading through my 2003-2004 journal the other day, otherwise known as the “Israel journal”, where the first few months are written in English and the later months in French. I did this because my writing at the time was very intense and private, and I was always worried that someone on the very not private kibbutz would come across it and read it. While reading through the French entries I realized that not only was my French writing good; it had as much a voice as my English writing. That was 8 years ago, and since then all I seem to have really written in French is a few business emails (apart from the web page I recently wrote for a friend), and, even worse, I have completely neglected my French reading. It’s not like I am lacking in French books at home – I still have well over a hundred items of French literature lingering in my bookcases, well-read and beloved copies of works by my favourite authors, Rimbaud, Nerval, Baudelaire, Flaubert, Stendhal amongst many others. I even own the first 4 books from Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles in French because at the time in France it was quite difficult to acquire English books right when you needed them. (After that my mum started to go to the States a couple of times a year for work so I would give her a list of books to buy for me). I’m still completely bilingual, and I still speak French with a French accent, and English with an English accent (and not Australian as someone was trying to tell me the other day). So what happened to me? Why don’t I ever write in French anymore? It’s still, in my opinion, the most beautiful language in the world. While English contains a dozen different words to describe something in several ways (take the word “shine” for example – how many synonyms can you come up with in one minute?); French has the ability to make anything sound like a song. I think “lyrical” is the best way to describe it, something that most Latin languages seem to be.
I think I am more than likely just being lazy. English is my first language and it’s the one that comes easiest to me, even if I do find myself thinking in French now and again for no specific reason. I live in an English-speaking country where English is spoken first and then Spanish, and after that Mandarin and most probably Russian. I do however speak French at least once a day, but it’s not the same as living in a country where French is everywhere; on the radio, on TV, outside, inside and everywhere else. I don’t communicate extensively in French every day, and I definitely don’t write in French much anymore. I only watch the French movies I own (if they are Region 1, because most of them are Region 2 as they were purchased in France). I’ve watched most of the French movies available on Netflix and wish I could have more at my disposal. In any case, I am so behind on my movie watching that it would take me about 4 years to catch up on everything I want to see, if I maintain my current work schedule. I will always miss France and consider it home (although NYC is also my home now), and apart from my friends and old haunts, the main part I miss is being completely immersed in FRENCH.
You know what I also miss? Going into a French bookshop and browsing the French books. The funny thing is that when I lived in France I missed going into English bookshops and browsing the English books. That is until the Decitre opened in Grenoble along with their great collection of English books, at very decent prices. It’s difficult to buy French books here. Really difficult. Or again, I am too lazy to search too far for them, although I think I have done a pretty good job up until now. In any case, I follow the book reviews on a site called Boojum Mag, known to me because a good friend of mine in France writes for them, and I recently started making a list of all books I need to buy. I’m not going back to France anytime soon (but my mum is and oh my god a light bulb just went off in my head), so last week I bit the bullet and went on to Amazon.fr and looked through the books that I wanted to purchase. €57 later and two books are coming my way. According to the tracking system, they are now in Croydon and I can expect to receive them late next week, two weeks after I ordered them. Now this is not a cost effective solution to my problem, nor can I, Miss Impatience, wait two whole weeks to receive the books I want to read right now at this very minute, so there MUST be a better solution. If so, let me know. French book swap? French book lending library? What if I spend this amount of money and end up disliking the books? I know that’s always a risk one takes when buying books, but usually you don’t have to factor in the costly shipping charges too. And I shouldn’t really be spending money on books from overseas when I have a lot of debt to pay off, should I?
At a first glance the fact that I am going on about reading in French may not seem to have anything to do with my issue with not writing in French anymore. It does, however. Reading and writing are my two main passions in life and one cannot go without the other. I read because I love to fall into a world someone else has created and imagine myself there, and I read because it is also the best form of education for me. I write because I have so much to say, and I also write because I want to be read. Reading inspires me to write and writing inspires me to read, and if I read in French I feel like I write more in French too. One will never go without the other… I set myself weekly writing targets that I sometimes keep to, and often don’t, so I think I will just need to add a French writing target too, even if it’s just a journal entry or a random rambling of no real interest. In any case, I just wrote this whole post in English when I could just have easily have written it in French, couldn’t I? Although I know why… Most of the friends I grew up with in France are insanely good writers, and I would just worry about them critiquing anything I wrote in French. I got over that small stepping stone in English, so I may as well just get over it in France. OK… Over to my written journal for some French immersion then…