Sunday, December 20, 2020

Vive le Français


[Eifel tower*]

A few weeks ago, I had the special and unexpected pleasure of listening to an online session of the SFT, the French association of translators. The content was rather prosaic, even staid, specifically the specifics of the conversations between the association and the French government regarding COVID-19 relief available to translators and interpreters. Yet, in my eyes, it was a great pleasure, the mahiya as my mother would say (in Yiddish), because of the language. All the French I hear is from the television, which is respectable in terms of grammar and pronunciation most of the time but clearly meant for mass consumption on a communicative level. By contrast, the hosts employed elegant phrasing, accurate connecting words and all the tenses in the book. To some it may have sounded bureaucratic. However, I saw precision, clarity and, most importantly, elegance. Despite my less than great interest in the content, I simply sat back and enjoyed the show, so to speak.

I have often mocked France as the country in which style has almost completed defeated content.  In my experience, most French really do not care what they eat, people say or they achieve in life as long as the actual output has style. Michelin star-decorated restaurants serve plates that would leave Mahatma Gandhi hungry but cause Claude Monet to ring praises of the colors and textures. In my eyes, women’s clothes style in France is not based on the garment but on the overlay of shades and forms, quite different from the mode of most of its neighbors, especially Germany. Watching the July 14th military parades in France, especially as compared to the Israel flag-exchange ceremony the eve of every Independence Day, is a marvel to the eyes but does pose questions regarding when these soldiers find time to learn how to fight. There is no doubt about it that the French style is aesthetic to the extreme.

Maybe due to age, I am learning to see the wisdom of the French approach. A neat, beautifully plated éclair looks much more appetizing than a messy one thrown  sloppily on a plate. Clothes do make the man (and woman) as so much of our first impression is based on a visual assessment, which often identifies important internal values. The manner of speaking and level of language use is quite often a reflection of the intelligence and intellectual approach of the speaker or writer. Even in my work, I have come to understand that many customers value neat formatting of text and tables as much as the skill of the translation.  It may be that style is really never completely divorced from reality.

To make it clear, my love of beautiful language is not limited to French. I appreciate the strange but charming logic of winding Russian sentences whose parts are connected by a coherent logic that only a Russian can create. I cannot help but smile when I hear Italian. The music of that language is simply entrancing in itself. As for English, a rough hybrid of a Gaelic, Germanic and Latin-based languages, when a diamond does appear, it is a result of extensive and artistic polishing. Thus, I appreciate the “effortlessness” of Rudyard Kipling and George Orwell, to name a few, knowing that the pearl was the fruit of great labor. So, elegance in any language is worthy of appreciation.

Still, maybe because I am half-French, when I hear or read beautiful French, it makes me happy, joyous even. Like listening to the last movement of Beethoven’s ninth symphony, it is an ode to joy. I will never be able to speak, not to mention write, that way but that does not stop me from appreciating the beauty of “une belle phrase”, a beautiful sentence, perfect in itself regardless the content or lack thereof, like Cinderella at the ball, a princess for that moment. So, vive le Français.

*Picture caption allow the blind to access the Internet.

Picture credit: Image by <a href=";utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=4416700">Phil Riley</a> from <a href=";utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=4416700">Pixabay</a>

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