Fiona Alderman – From Salignac to Miami

first paraA Letter from France – Fifi’s Story

I would never have believed I would be sitting in a small rural French village , talking to a funeral office in Florida. Of all the things we do here, one of them is I do translations and English lessons. A French neighbour , one who is not always resident here as this is only their “résidence secondaire” living mostly in Lille or some such place , called me to ask for some help translating for her to Miami . Apparently her uncle had just died and left her as sole beneficiary . He had lived there for over 40 years and had no family . She needed someone to phone the funeral office to ask about release forms and other official documents that could be sent by e mail and dutifully signed.

She , I will call her “Agathe” is a big talker , a bit hyper and I am not that sure of her, and I struggled to get the gist of what she wanted me to do. The woman on the other end of the line certainly could not understand me. She kept asking me why I was phoning from France and who was I basically? Whilst trying to establish this , Agathe was busy writing things down for me to ask the funeral woman and I was trying to translate all this back . What also transpired was that the poor defunct person had been lying there for 10 days before anyone found him . This was a bit of a shock to Agathe and she started to talk even more in very fast French. We did eventually get it sorted out and she was grateful for my help but it was exhausting!

We were at a funeral ourselves a few weeks ago and had even been asked by the widow if we would come . We had known them both just chatting with them on the terrasse of the Café de la Place , our local bistro , and became very fond of them . It obviously was a sad occasion but a French Catholic service in the middle of nowhere had a slight touch of a Fellini film.  With the stage set with the coffin in the centre, the candles, flowers and incense pervading our nostrils, we all listened to the “curé” preach his last words. He had rather a nasty cough and it took him some time to finish. Singing the prayers in a highish tone was also a challenge! We watched as members of the deceased’s family went round the coffin to pay their respects. One elderly lady, bent almost double, hobbled with a cane, painfully and slowly around the cask but it took her a very long time.

chimneys 2Wood burning and chimmneys

This is the time when we think about lighting our woodburning stove. it is getting colder and we prepare to get our chimney swept for the winter . In this part of the world we are lucky it doesn’t get too cold but we do often have snow, even in February. A good stock of wood is needed in case! We get ours delivered by a colourful character called Monsieur Gonzales, a bit of a rogue we think but we have used him now for many years . He comes in an old battered green Renault 4 van to discuss our needs over a glass or two of red wine and then we wait ! There is no definite day or time it seems as to when he will deliver the wood , but it is now just understood , he will appear one day and that will be it . We usually ask for 2 “stères” which is 2 square metres and is of oak . The price always varies too, but everything has gone up and salaries don’t!

This is also the season for walnuts that are shaken off the trees by a gigantic machine and then gathered by hand in a funny looking shovel with flexible wire that when you roll it over the ground  the nuts  slip inside . Not so backbreaking as in years gone by when the farmers were on all fours! I love the smell of the fires being lit and seeing the wisps of smoke over the chimney tops. We are going to be cooking on our woodburning stove soon I expect, and I am just thinking that the stews and soups we make then have a different taste when done over this type of fire.

french tv 3rd paraWatching French TV

One way I have learnt the language has been to watch French TV. There is a variety to choose from , from good to absolutely terrible! I watched something last night for the first time ( and probably the last) called “Qui chante le plus juste” in other words who is singing the most tunefully!This seemed to have teams of men and women in pink or blue t shirts and all with badges. It had the appearance of a pub kareoke , and the studio set was brightly lit with flashing lights all over the place . The old fashioned microphones and sound levels were very remininscent  of a disco I once went to! The presenter was equally as mad looking with a blonde hairdo like a burst sofa . Needless to say I had a hard time of it and didn’t wait for the winner as it was too painful . There are great documentaries , travel programmes, cooking competitions that are really good for the language and a Parkinson type show for the celebrities . This is on Sundays and I settled down to watch “Vivement Dimanche” with Mr Michael Drucker, who had as one of his guests, the daughter of Alain Delon . Now , Monsieur Delon is still going strong and still considered as a bit of a heart throb , but it got me thinking about what kind of life do these sons and daughters have of very famous people? Monsieur Delon’s daughter , called Anoushka , is a lovely looking and seemingly a well balanced person. she has been an actress since her teens and is currently in a play with her dad . Asking how she coped with this , she calmly informed us that “ il n’est pas mon père” In other words she doesn’t see him as her father on stage just as another actor . Mostly the children of these famous actors and actresses go into the same profession and are noteworthy in their own right , but I think they have to prove themselves even more . People are always comparing them.

Jane Birkin,  a well loved person in France was once married to Serge Gainsbourg. They had a child called Charlotte who is both a very accomplished actress and also a singer.  Living with” Gainsbar”, as they call him, can’t have been easy for his family, as he was pretty notorious for his drunken outbursts. He later had a son by another woman and this son lived very much in his shadow , but now is almost a lookalike of his father without the excesses . Some children haven’t fared so well . One is Gérard Depardieu’s son , who lost a leg and suffered from drug addiction . He died a few years ago , a real tragedy .

I did laugh to hear that even being a big “star” doesn’t always have much clout, even when faced with strict school rules.Celine Dion has 3 sons now and all have been allowed to grow their hair to an extremely stupid length! The school informed her that they must abide by their rules and to get a haircut and sharpish !! It was done .

green fairyThe Green Fairy and other French quirks

The Green Fairy, otherwise known as absinthe, has had a bit of a revival in France. It was originally banned at the end of the 19th century as it had contributed to the demise of many a distinguished painter (Van Gogh) and writers of that time . France was then in the grip of a serious alcoholism problem . It was however noted for its hallucinatory psychoactive powers and producers playing off these ideas began to look for ways to get round the legalities .Even though the consumption was banned, it continued to be produced! With just a different labelling “ a spirit made from the extracts of the absinthe plant” and not just absinthe itself and productions were flowing. By 2011 you could buy a bottle in the supermarket , but the debate is whether it is the same one that managed to turn Van Gogh mad ? I haven’t tried it by the way!

When I was little, I seem to remember my granny coming out with some funny phrases and I heard them over the years without really knowing where they came from . I now know.  If someone was “ sann fairy ann” we understood that it was someone who was a bit lazy . In French “sans faire rien “ is to do nothing . On “the keevive” was if you were waiting for something to happen with a feeling of the unexpected, and in French “sur le quivivre” is exactly that, to be waiting but with a slight undercurrent of fear . There is this link between the old Scots language and the French one where there are a lot of similarities of sounds and spelling.

Just to finish with here is another beauty ; “C’est pas tes oignons” meaning it is none of your business! Why on earth onions?
I shall just go and lie down now after all this mental effort and shall catch you next month for another Fifi story .
Written by Fiona Alderman . A letter from France – Fifi’s story from the Dordogne
November 2013 .

A Christmas Letter from France by Fiona Alderman
Fiona Alderman with more news from the Dordogne

This section: Fiona Alderman blogging from The Salignac Foundation France

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Avatar of PatByrne Publisher of Pat's Guide to Glasgow West End; the community guide to the West End of Glasgow. Fiction and non-fiction writer.

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