Defining ‘francofolie’ – Sarah’s turn

Sarah, from francophile to francofolle

Sarah, from francophile to francofolle

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!

Jean Gabin in Le Jour se leve

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:


Merci, former French cultural counselor Antonin Baudry, for Albertine bookstore

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 of Continue reading

Allez ! Over the cultural fence . . .

Not too long after the publication of my second book about the N.Y.P.D., I felt the emotional pull of Paris catch up with me, strong as ever. Soon I was right back in the France habit. Gratefully, I retrieved treasured friendships in both Paris and Brussels, just as if I’d never made such a lengthy, unusual detour into New York cop city.

Queasy about the quality of my French, I resolved to brush up. The FIAF (French Institute-Alliance Française) catalog was there where I’d left it, online. I discovered the joys of the shorter, more lighthearted summer classes, and really did a double-take when I spotted a course in French detective literature, the “policier” (or “polar” for short) genre.

Izzo's Marseille trilogy hero is Fabio Montale.

Izzo’s Marseille trilogy hero is Fabio Montale.

My FIAF teacher at the time, Pierre Mesnard, was willing to respect the genre and chose superb examples of the polar for our class to study. I fell hardest for author Jean-Claude Izzo, and for the Marseille of Izzo’s classic trilogy whose hero, Fabio Montale, is an irresistibly disillusioned, retired detective.

Toward the end of our eight week venture, the prof’ assigned us to write a character sketch in French. I chose to translate from Cop Talk, my own Continue reading