You’ll soon read that Sarah, a Brit graduate of Columbia University, has a real feel for French language. But bear with me, first, for a (self-indulgent) diversion about my own folie.
An element of francofolie may indeed be an affinity for the language. Where did you learn French? I’m asked. Why do you speak well? When I speak well, which is far from always (a glass or so of wine really can boost my fluency), I explain it’s because I make an ongoing effort — je fais un effort. (But when I say, I learned on the pillow — sur l’oreiller — that gets a smile from Frenchies, too.)
As for the effort, when not in France, I go for one French course per semester at FIAF (French Institute Alliance Francaise), where teachers assign riveting French reading, and students discuss. Also vital — a heavy dose of French movies — one almost every Tuesday — included, gratis, in your FIAF membership!
And FIAF movies are just a start. At the Film Forum, in Greenwich Village, I can . . .you-can-she-can (etc.) see the best of new French films — and classics. In the tatter category, Film Forum is about the only commercial venue where you could catch a classic like Le Jour se leve (1939). “Another Sunrise” (my title translation effort) with famed actor Jean Gabin. Alors, getting back, finally, to Sarah:
I empathize with your feeling, she emailed, of missing French culture (or, to put it in the French grammar form which I find more poetic, to have Paris ‘missing from you’); even though I am not French in the slightest and only lived in Paris for two months in the summer, during that time I became a helpless francophile and now feel something lacking in my New York experience. I find myself thinking back almost daily to the independent bookstores. . . in the Latin Quarter, the relaxed café culture and the patisseries which I would make regular pilgrimages to during my short time there.
Clearly, Sarah is well on her way from francophile to francofolie. As for indie French bookstores, in New York, where for about 15 years there was a desert where French books should have been, a brilliant French Cultural Counselor genie arranged for an oasis: beautiful and well-stocked. Called Albertine, the shop is housed on two levels ofthe French embassy and thereby tax-free (and fairly priced in the bargain), About 14,000 French titles in the original and in English, and vice versa.
Not to mention that Albertine is a hub for French/American cultural events galore, in English, enough to tantalize Sarah’s and anyone’s francofolie. If you could manage get to all of those, you’d be right up there among the constellations gorgeously reproduced on the ceiling of this heavenly venue for the New York francofolle/fou as well for grateful French expats. I even met one of the latter on the Q train, who told me how much it means to him to be able to acquire French titles without recourse to a certain e-emporium that starts with “A.”
Merci, former cultural counselor, Antonin Baudry, for the Albertine inspiration.