‘Mon petite Américaine’

Fruits de mer: lunch with Verity

When Dani and I spent a long weekend with Verity a few months ago, I felt she’d introduced me to half of the village.

This time, over the few days between my arrival and her departure, she introduced me to the other half. She adopted me as ‘mon petite Américaine,’ a term of endearment, and we practised some French.

She helped sum up my journey – this is what I could say:

‘Je suis venue de Londres à Paris en Vespa. J’ai pris le ferry de Newhaven à Dieppe. Et ensuite, j’ai pris le TGV jusqu’à San Raphael, et la Vespa est venue en Train-Auto.’

It sounds so simple.

I love how the word ‘Vespa’ inspires people (almost always men in their 60s and 70s,) to reminisce. ‘One time I rode a Vespa from Nantes to Barcelona, 1,000 kilometres!’ (I’m an amateur!)

Verity’s friends decided it was ‘like Italian Holiday.’ We figured out that they meant ‘Roman Holiday,’ the film which served as Audrey Hepburn’s famous debut.

I went to church with Verity on Sunday. I’m planning to go regularly while I’m in Les Adrets. Though this is unusual for me, it is one of few opportunities to see people I’ve been introduced to, and I really like the music. I love listening to the words and working to understand them – though to be fair, at a Catholic Mass, it’s pretty easy to figure out what is being said.

The dove inside the roof of the ancient church.

A couple whom I met last Sunday, Gabrielle and Jean, have already adopted me. Gabrielle swept me to their house for tea yesterday (Wednesday,) and we spent two hours working hard at simple conversation. They were immensely patient, and we found common ground – one of their daughters lives on Reunion, and Dani & I honeymooned on Mauritius. Gabrielle served Vanilla tea from Mauritius, which is very familiar to me. Their English is definitely better than my French, but it’s something they have to work at too, which I am glad for. It takes equal patience and listening on both sides. After two hours, I was exhausted, but gratified.

Gabrielle also invited me to the pool – she drives to Frejus every Friday for a swim. It was the most gorgeous setting for a swimming pool I’ve ever enjoyed. The indoor pool has huge windows overlooking la mer – the sea. I was the youngest person there by, oh, about forty years, but no matter.

My next invitation is to join them for a walk/hike up the Esterel with G&J and another couple, Francoise and Jean. (I’m beginning to notice that if I forget a man’s name here, Jean is a good guess.) Apparently the second Jean likes to get pizza after his walks.

And I understood a joke! One of G&J’s friends who joined us at the pool (guess what? His name is also Jean,) said, in French, ‘He walks a kilometre and eats a kilo of pizza.’ And I laughed with everyone else, and he was pleased I understood. That’s immensely gratifying.

Tarte aux pommes, pas tarte tatin. (YUM.)

Of course, there have been some misunderstandings as well. For example, I said, ‘I bought a goat at the market.’ Fortunately they cottoned on that I meant ‘I bought goat’s cheese at the market,’ and corrected me.

At the boulangerie, I asked for a slice of tarte tatin and the baker said it was tarte aux pommes. I can forgive myself for mistaking one type of apple tart for another type of apple tart, but to a baker, the difference is night and day. (I’d say ‘the difference is apples and oranges,’ but it’s apples and apples, and that could get confusing.)

When we were discussing the pizza (le pizza,) and hike (marche,) Gabrille was trying to tell me that after the walk, they go back to the house and have ‘bee-yarr’. ‘Bee-yarr? Is the same en Anglaise?’ Some gestures.

Beer? I thought. She doesn’t strike me as the type to drink beer, but maybe the men do…Pizza and beer? Is that universal?

‘Bee-yarr’ more gestures. ‘In our ‘ouse.’ I thought back to the sitting room where we’d had tea. In which there was a covered-up pool table. Ah-ha!

Billiards!

‘Oui! Billiards!’ I said, and we all breathed a sigh of relief. (There was no way I was going to go into the fact that in American English, we say ‘pool,’ especially as we were returning from the swimming pool – la piscine – just then). ‘Je pense que tu bois…beer,’ I said. ‘I thought that you drink…beer.’ Jean cottoned on and explained in French, and we had a laugh.

It’s always said that immersion is the way to learn a language, and that is absolutely true for me. Goodness knows how I’ll be speaking when this winter is over.

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