Thursday, February 24, 2005

Politics, finally (part 2)

So not to freak anyone out or anything. I haven't become a full-fledgled separatist. Not yet at least. But I am beginning to understand and sympathise with the separatist viewpoint more and more.

This separatist viewpoint encompasses a spectrum of positions. Obviously, they are all united by the common desire to turn Québec into a sovereign nation. But surrounding that one goal, there are extremes of views and ranges of motivations, many of which I don't support. For instance, last week, wedged between the plexiglass cover and the subway ads, were these black and white photocopied flyers promoting a demonstration downtown in memory of the hanging of the Dozen Patriots in 1839. They had an image of Queen Victoria on them and quotes from various Québec writers and political figures. All of these quotes had the word hate in them. I wish I had been able to get a copy so that I could include the quotes, but one I can paraphrase said "The first step in the road to freedom is to hate the oppressor" and another said something like, "Québec will not learn to be independent until she learns to hate."

Or there is this website, promoting an independent Québec. Reading some of the passages of their history of modern Québec reveals their underlying resentment, like this one, on the result of the first referendum:

1980 : As promised, Lévesque holds his referendum on sovereignty. The sovereignists mostly use a calm and moderate approach (specifying that the vote is not for sovereignty itself, but for a mandate to negociate it), while Trudeau's federalists will pull no punches, multiplying menaces and threats (you won't be able to afford gas, you won't be able to afford food, you'll lose your pensions, etc...), creating fear in the population. Trudeau will finally promise a great reform of Canada. In the end, 60% of Québécois choose to vote NO.

They also refer to the night when Trudeau signed the new constitution as "The Knight of the Long Knives." I don't know if that is what it is generally called, but it's a shameful comparison, considering that the first usage of that term refers to the blackshirts murdering the brownshirt leaders and allowing the extremists to take control of the Nazi party and eventually all of Germany. People were actually stabbed to death with long knives in the german version.

Anyways, you can get a taste of the bitterness that exists in many of the separatists argument. I have no patience for that kind of short-term emotional thinking in politics.

However, there are a lot of separatists who are very positive, who feel quite respectful and even friendly towards the rest of Canada. It is their arguments that are hard to defeat.

Basically, and fundamentally, they don't feel like a part of Canada. They feel ignored culturally,, and I have to say, that having been here for almost a year now, I agree with them. Most of English Canada has no idea what French-Canadian life is like. The food, the discourse, the social behaviour, the style of dress, the movies and books. Yes, many of us learn to speak french. But that's like learning to type and then saying you understand the internet. It really is a whole other world here. And what is especially frustrating, is that it's a great world! French Canadians really enjoy their lives, I'd say more so than English Canadians. But we're not taking. We're just not interested. So why should they bother clinging to a federation that doesn't really want them. Especially when they are quite happy without us?

Economically speaking, Québec is much more self-dependant than I realized. I don't know the numbers on any of this, so I could be very wrong. But as far as the service economy goes, Québec has it's own built in audience. They print their own books, make their own TV shows and movies (far better than their rare english equivalents, guess what, Canada, they learned to make their movies entertaining! [I exclude FUBAR from this point, of course.]. They also have a thriving software industry and the talent and educational system to keep it growing. They produce a lot of their own food, having an extensive agriculture community (that still relies on a lot of family farms) and of course they lucked out on their production of hydro power, having bought the rights to Churchill Falls in Labrador (the the endless resentment of the Newfies) until 2041 for next to nothing. Finally, they are growing weed at the rate and quality of B.C. They have a strong economic base and the kind of cultural and economic unity to keep it together. They would have strong export markets in the states and in Canada. Sounds viable to me, but I'm open to arguments from people who actualy know what they are talking about.

Finally, provincially, at this point, anyways, I may very well vote for the Parti Québecois. Why? Because their social platform is the best out there. It's a pretty pathetic selection, mind you. The Liberals, under Jean Charest, seemed more moderate at first. Since I've been here, though, they are wavering between being revealing their hidden pro-business anti-poor agenda and just being completely incompetent. I'm sure once the PQ is back in power, it will take them a year or two to screw things up as well. For now, though, the Liberals have just been so pathetic that there is no way that I could vote for them. I would've voted Green (which I did in the federal election), but now I'm hearing that the Green party has been co-opted by the NIMBY far right. Other than that, there are the communists and they are kind of cool in a PG Wodehouse sort of way, but that's not enough to earn my vote. Negatives aside, the PQ have a very strong historical belief in social programs and an equal society (language issues excluded here). They pushed for immigration and assimilation of immigrants to Quebec, they consistently support education, child care and the environment and they'll do it at the sacrifice of big business, which the Liberals never will. Unfortunately, they also tag the separatism issue along with all that.

I'm still a Canadian, still believe in one ass-kicking, beer-drinking, apologizing nation. But I can see much more clearly now where the separatists are coming from.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Politics, finally (part 1)

I've been avoiding the topic of separatism for a while now, but my friend Heather, who is also embarking on the same journey (though she left at least a year ahead of me and has a french-canadian boyfriend), asked me why I hadn't written anything about politics yet. We had a brief discussion and came to an interesting conclusion about the evolution of our own politics. It inspired me to finally broach the subject here.

I've been avoiding it mainly because it's really complicated and I feel about as educated about the political situation here as I do on the plausibility of the existence of Fermat's last theorem (good friends will note that this has rarely stopped me in the past, however). Also, though, there is something very apolotical about the life here, as if I'm not the only one avoiding it. Language and culture come up all the time, but actual politics rarely. Part of this could be Montreal. Perhaps we are just to busy having a good time and living our lives to worry about what's going on in l'Assemblé nationale. Perhaps in Trois-Rivières or Chicoutimi they are still arguing about Canada's role in the confederation.

It also could be the result of good old-fashioned Canadian politeness. That is one cultural strain that seems to cross both solitudes. The french are just as thoughtful and pleasant as the english, I've noticed, avoiding topics that may cause discomfort. They are also just as duplicitous about it, often being indirect to avoid confrontation when it would cause less misunderstanding and resentment if they would just come out and say what they wanted.

Finally, our Canadian politicians are really pathetic. In America they are generally evil or just so polished that they are more like celebrities than politicians. Here, our leaders are no strangers to greed, avarice and corruption. It's all just at a smaller, less sophisticated scale. But boy are they bumbling idiots. Even within the lax strictures of their own strategic gamesmanship, they are error-prone and maladroit. It does make for newsworthy, if embarassing scandals. Guys jumping out of helicopters, Prime Ministers having customized golfballs made on the public coin, police forces arresting their own mayors, etc. And their language is worse. Paul Martin, the current PM, stammers worse than Richard Nixon and his predecessor, Jean Chrétien, was notorious for not being able to speak in either of the two official languages. I think most Canadians are just so bored and annoyed with the whole thing, that it's not worth wasting the time you could be swallowing beer or puffing on a joint to talk about it.

But I digress. My point is that politics do not come up that often, at least not yet and not in my social circles.

That being said, I will get to my second point, which is sort of an introduction to a longer political thread that will be running through the life of this blog: my own political position on separatism.

For those of you who are not familiar with Québec's history, here is a very, very brief overview. Founded by the french in the 17th century, named La Nouvelle France, who then lost it in a war to the english in the 18th (a lot of beavers are killed in between these two events). It morphed into Lower Canada when the nation was created in 1791 and then Québec again when Canada kind of gains its independence with the British North America Act of 1867. Up until 1960, Québec's economy is controlled by the english. Power, too, mostly lies in the hands of the english. The population is kept quiet by the power of the catholic church and the strength of their cultural traditions. This all changes with the death of iron-fisted premier Maurcie Duplessis, who ruled Québec like a dictator, suppressing cultural and political change. With his death, Jean Lesage, the next premier opens everything up. The culture, politics and economics of the province undergo tremendous change, which we know today as la Révolution Tranquille. Amongst the upheavals in the education system, the role of women (who didn't get the vote until 1940) and social services, the most significant change was language. French became the official language of Québec (Canada also became officialy bilingual). Since then (and boy am I skipping out a lot), the largest political question in Québec is whether or not it should become a truly independent nation. This is the issue that most of us have grown up with. There have been two referenda where the province voted on whether to stay in the confederaton or not. Both times, they voted against it, though the second result was really close.

I consider myself a Canadian patriot. Probably more patriotic than most (currently preparing to defend against the US Water Invasions of '16). Ironically, this fervour is most likely a result of my years in the states. I came to Québec being completely against separation. First, as Russia slowly disintegrates, we edge closer to becoming the largest country in the world. Second, I consider having a powerful, rich and distinct culture as an incredible gift that we should cherish and nurture. Third, Québec is a fundamental part of our history, as is every other region. We exist because of the sum of our parts.

Negatively, I considered fervent separatists to be driven by resentment and emotion. Also, their complaining, except for the language argument, sounds exactly like every other bitching province in this country. In B.C. they are always moaning (and always have) about the federal government imposing laws on them, taking their money, etc... I take the long, historical view in of social structures and I'm shooting for Star Trek world, so I think the provinces can suck it up for the sake of building a strong nation for the better of all.

Culturally, I think every anglo should have the opportunity to spend some time in Québec, just as every quebecer should spend some time in the west (not Ontario, that wouldn't help them much) so that both can benefit from what the other has to offer, which I know now, to be plenty. When we are presented to the world as Canadians, we look good by being already exposed to such a different (and often contrary) culture within our own borders.

Finally, I always held to the common argument that Québec would not be able to survive on its own economically.

As I say, those were the feelings that I had when I moved here. They have changed somewhat, in a way that is surprising to me. I will share those with you in tomorrow's posting...

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Ces enfants de ma vie

A couple of weeks ago, I was reading Ces enfants de ma vie by Gabrielle Roy. We were given an extract from the book in our french class, just the first couple pages where she describes all the different kids coming to their first day of school in rural manitoba during the depression. It grabbed me right away so I went out and bought the book at one of the many used bookstores on Mont-Royal (how awesome is it that I can now go to french used bookstores as well as english ones!).

I was reading it on the train on the way home from school when somebody tapped me on the shoulder. I turned around to face a young adolescent male with long unkempt hair and a ramones style jacket. "Ça c'est un excellent livre! Vraiment excellent!" he said. He was full of enthusiasm. I was sort of taken aback but managed to say "Je pense que oui, mais je viens de le commencer." (I think so, but I just started it). He said, "Excellent, excellent" and then went back to the other side of the train.

I rode the subways in New York for almost 10 years, almost always with a book and nobody ever said a word to me.

I rode the rest of the way filled with happiness. I have had so many interesting conversations about books here in Québec. There is a lot of DaVinci Code on the metro, but there is a lot of other books as well. I don't know if people are better educated or they read more because of their shared, protected culture, but they are a very book-friendly society. And people are comfortable to have intelligent, rich conversations about any genre, mysteries, science fiction, comics. It doesn't have to be an intellectual book for them to appreciate its value and feel that it is worthwhile to discuss.

It's the same with my colleagues in my kung fu class. They are mostly french-canadian and of course we spend a lot of time discussing martial arts movies. I was immediately impressed with their critical language. They weren't just "c'est débil! Ben hot!" (it was crazy, very cool) but also "mais la fin ne se tien pas" (the ending didn't hold together well). Their liking or disliking a film hinges more on its overall aesthetic success than on how much ass is kicked, though the ass-kicking is important to them as well.

I can't offer much explanation for this phenomenon, but I can say that it is better than the divided society of intellectual haves and have-nots (and morons on both sides) that flourishes in the states and the west. That's not to say that there aren't social and educational hierarchies here. I just find that the general level of discourse and appreciation of ideas runs deeper at every level. It's extremely refreshing and constantly reminds you that life can actually be quite rich and interesting when people around you are ready to talk about things other than work, sports or the weather.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005


I met one of my new neighbours yesterday, a guy called Jean, urban, a little older than me. We talked on the porch for a bit. We spoke french at first and then switched into english. He had just the very slightest accent in english, but it wasn't french-canadian. He told me that really he should be living a few blocks to the east on the other side of the Main because his father was Lithuanian and his mother was French-Canadian.

We talked about the neighbourhood and he told me how he liked all the layers of immigration that you could see around it. He referred to Beauty's, a local diner up the block with a famous Sunday brunch for which there is always a lineup. It's a Jewish run establishment and all the Jews who've made it out to the suburbs or Westmount come there on the weekend. He also pointed out J. Shreter, a clothing store around the block that's a classic old school garment district establishment. They sell men's clothes and they look like they still do decent business, though he said that he never could quite find what he wanted there. They have a guy who seems to be employed solely in keeping their parking lot and sidewalks clear of snow and ice. He does a good job.

Jean also told me that he was sort of sad because on his back door, there was a discoloration in the wood where a mezuzah used to be. [These are small containers with hebrew writing on the outside and a snippet of parchment expressing the Jewish declaration of faith on the inside. They are placed outside the doorway—thanks, Adam.] The landlord had had the doorway sanded and re-finished and he felt that a teeny bit of the remnants of that particular wave of immigration was gone.

He also said that if you scraped the paint down a few layers in most of the apartments in this neighbourhood, you'd find a blue-green colour. This is the contribution of the Greek wave, who painted their apartments to remind them of the sea they missed. I don't know if that's true, but I found that color under some peeling layers in our apartment. "Now it's all young musicians," he concluded jokingly.

Part of my own family came here in one of those waves. Daniel Belitzky left Slutz, Russia and arrived in Ellis Island in 1905. His wife-to-be Rachel Sorkin came from Gomel and arrived some time after, also in Ellis Island. As most know, single women were often not allowed out of Ellis Island for their own protection. The story goes that Daniel went there with a bottle of vodka and a loaf of rye bread and they got married on the spot. Somehow they ended up in Montreal, where Daniel, who was trained as a tailor, made samples for Gordon Manufacturing. They were socialists and atheists, though of jewish background and this may explain part of the reason they left. Both were involved in worker's organizations in Montreal and Rachel became president of the Ladies Auxiliary of the Workmen's Circle Branch 151B. They had five sons and a daughter.

The second eldest son Jack was the only one to graduate from high school. He was an entrepreneur and drove across Canada in a model T selling magazine subscriptions during the depression. He met Dorothy Platt in Vancouver and they got married. She was a German Catholic and had grown up in Vancouver. She rode all the rides on the PNE for free before it opened when she was a little girl. They eventually settled down in Vancouver where Jack became a successful agricultural producer, first growing and distributing peat moss, then blueberries and finally cranberries. In his prime, he was the largest producer of cranberries on the west coast. They had three children together.

The eldest daughter, Caroline, met a good Canadian fellow of british stock (though far from british culture), Roger, and the two of them moved to California to get their graduate degrees, hers in psychology, his in statistics. There they had two children: my sister and me!

I, in all my random and fortunate travels, have ended up in Montreal. And I now live exactly two blocks from the house where Jack was born. My great aunt Lily's (Jack's younger sister) husband Syd took me for a drive around the neighborhood pointing out how things had changed, showing me the balcony where he used to call to Lily in her bedroom (same balcony, but the railing which used to be wooden is now iron). Syd, by the way, who is well into his '80s looked like he could still wrestle you down to the ground.

The story of that side of my family is amazing and deserves a book of its own. Part of my romantic fascination with Montreal were the snatches of stories I used to hear from my mother about her childhood visits to Montreal or the stories she would hear from her uncles. But I really had no idea that I would end up living so close to where it all took place. This is one of many cool parts of town to live in, there are a lot of people our age from all over Canada living around us. In some ways, we are the part of some new complex wave of immigrants coming to Montreal. I can't imagine that I will ever leave a mark as indelible and important as those left by my great-grandfather and great-grandmother. But I'm honored and grateful to have had the opportunity to come back to where their story took place and be able to keep it alive for the next generation.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Faire faire

Finally, I've found a grammatical usage in french that is simpler and more versatile than its equivalent in english! You've seen this theme repeated here often, I know, concerning how french is more precise and complex than english. A great example is the word Get in english. You can get angry, get hungry, get a sandwich, get a job, get fired, get across the street, get a good grade, get even with somebody, etc. In french, there is a different verb for each of those examples and some where there is no real equivalent.

However, I did discover the use of faire that is much more versatile than I had originally thought. Faire means to make or to do and is quite commonly used. Tu fais un pizza ou tu fais un travail (you make a pizza or you do job). You can also pair it with another verb, which is also a structure you find in english. Je les ai fait sortir (I made them leave). Le professeur nous fait écrire un récit (the teacher made us write an essay). That's all pretty straightforward to the anglophone.

However, I'd seen it come up quite a lot more in my reading and I just skimmed it over as a stylistic idiom. Then, in class, the teacher said we were going to spend the morning on Faire Faire. Well, I thought, that seems to be a lot to spend two whole hours on. Maybe it's more complex for people who don't have the same construction in their own language. Ah, my naïveté. It turns out that you can make other people do things who aren't even there! Je fais faire un gateau. Translated literally, that means "I make to make a cake." What it means is "I'm having a cake made." What it means to a francophone's ears, culturally speaking, is that you are going to a cake shop and ordering a cake. This is the same for many services like that. So on peut faire nettoyer les chemises ("one can get their shirts washed" or "one can take their shirts to the cleaners where they will be washed"). And my personal favorite, je vais faire livrer un pizza ("I'm going to have a piza delivered).

Two things struck me about this. The first is that the teacher expressed how difficult it was for her and other francophones to construct these kinds of sentences in english. When I thought about it, I could see how awkward and subtly structured that kind of grammar. "I make a cake" versus "I'm going to have a cake made." To the non-native speaker, to have (when not being itself), is almost always used in english as an auxilary for the past tense (I have made a cake). That weird passive voice without a subject must seem very tricky. And using get, as in "I'm going to get a cake made" is even worse. So I rejoiced quietly that for once there was something easier to understand and construct in english.

My second thought—and now after having written the above, I'm not so confident in it's validity—is that the french construction seems to efface the subject more than the english. In both french and english, this usage tends to be concerned with services that others are doing for the speaker. And in both cases, the person who is performing the service is not actually present as the subject in the sentence. "I'm going to have my shirts cleaned" makes no mention of cleaner. However, at least you've slipped into the passive voice, which then suggests the absence of the subject. French uses the passive voice a lot. Yet in this construction, they don't. It looks as if the subject is performing all of the action. There is no past participle, as there is in english. So in english, "I'm having a cake made" is "I'm going to make make a cake" in french. Which suggests, to my mind, an even greater effacement of the subject, which then (and I'm stretching here) suggests a society that places service people further down on the social scale.

Furthermore, it seems to me, and this is very subjective, that in english, we don't use this construction as often. Few people say "I'm going to have a cake made." They tend to say, "I'm ordering a cake" or "I'm getting a cake from the bakery," phrases that implicitly suggest someone else is actually doing the work. When I first understood that Je vais faire livrer un pizza meant "I'm going to have a pizza delivered," it sounded to me like it was a magician speaking, as if he was going to wave a magic wand and a pizza woud suddenly be delivered, since he was "making to deliver a pizza." Today's french, unlike today's english, reflects its past strongly and I believe that this faire faire construction is an excellent example of that.

Unfortunately, my happiness at discovering this simple construction was short-lived, when I also learned that there are a lot of things that must be made to do something rather than simplying doing it. What am I talking about? Well, in french you don't send a letter and you don't cook a turkey. You make to send your letter and make your turkey cook. Je te fais parvenir une letter ("I'm sending you a letter"). Ma mère a fait cuire un dinde pour Noël ("My mother cooked a turkey for Christmas"). Almost every cooking verb takes faire before it. The reasoning behind this is that you are not actually sending this letter or cooking this turkey. The mail system is sending the letter and the stove is doing the cooking. Logically, it makes sense and is, again, more precise than english.

Which, following on my initial preposterous theory, suggests that the french have a greater appreciation of their machines and operations than we english speakers do. What that means, socially and culturally speaking, I'll leave you to ponder.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

The Main

Traditionally, Montréal was divided between the French and the English along an east-west border that is the street of St. Laurent. It still is a cultural center of town, with tons of bars, clubs, restaurants, etc. Back in the day, it used to be called the Main. West of the Main was english, east was french. This division was always oversimplified, as the main was (and is) an incredibly diverse mix of cultures. The divide between the French and the English was just the most apparent distinction. To actually break it down here would be confusing, but there are many, many exceptions to that division (such as Outremont, the upper-class french neighborhood, which lies west of St. Laurent). Furthermore, supposedly, that division has broken down significantly as the french have moved west, some hipster anglos are moving east and tons of immigrants are moving in everywhere since La Révolution Tranquile.

When I first came here, I lived about 20 minutes east, by foot, of St. Laurent, in the heart of the Plateau. This was once the working class french district made famous by the plays and books of Michel Tremblay (which I encourage you to read; they are wonderful and translated) who was the first to write in Québécois french. It has now become one of the hottest real estate markets and a trendy place to hang out. But it is still definitely very french. Beautiful little row houses, built around the turn of the century (mine had a stone foundation), divided into multiple dwellings, line the tree-studded streets. Everybody speaks french but more and more of the older generation are moving out, selling their houses to young professionals (yes, the yuppies who complained about our chimney). Still, everybody speaks french, many houses fly Québec flags and it's quite easy to have a conversation with someone on the street about the weather. Even more amazing, little french children play in the streets and back alleys, often unsupervised (I think this is considered child abuse in the rest of North America at this point). They tend to be open and polite, greeting strangers in their high-pitched voices and then getting back to their game.

I have now moved exactly one block west of St. Laurent. We were lucky to find a beautiful old apartment with an incredible rent (and I mean incredible). Even more incredible, when the previous tenants, who'd lived here for 8 years, told the landlord they were leaving and suggested that he could re-write the lease with the new tenants, he didn't want to bother. So now we are west of the Main. And the difference is immediately apparent. All of our neighbours, a mixed bunch, speak fluent english. Only two, so far, are actually french-canadian. The neighborhood is Portuguese. It's actually so portugues that I'm starting to feel like I wished I'd enrolled in Portuguese school as well! You can hear couples arguing in portuguese. We can get insanely good portugues grilled chicken at 3 spots, each within a block of our house. Both hardware stores are owned and run by portuguese.

The immigrants who came before the revolution, came to an english power structure and thus tended to learn english. Their children, who grew up after the revolution tend to be tri-lingual (at least in many cases), though still leaning towards english. When I was over in the french side of the Plateau, probably one in five people would switch to english when I spoke french with them, and they would usually switch back to french after hearing me struggle through. Here, it's very difficult to get them to speak french with me, even the francophones. Part of it is that things are faster and tougher here, more like the way New York used to be and they don't have time to fool around. But I think an even bigger part is that the geographical definitions still hold sway. The culture is deeply rooted in the streets and the Main and parts west are english, so that's what you speak. The people who grew up around here, french, english or portuguese I think see themselves as Montrealers. That's definitely how I see them, cultural mongrels (and I don't mean that perjoratively) who were designed to exist only in this crazy, complex little pocket of a city. It's amazing.

The Main is one of Leonard Cohen's stomping grounds and also contains the theatre where Houdini performed his last show before being punched in the stomach and dying.

Monday, February 07, 2005

La neige est fondue!

Could I have come to Montreal at the exact wrong time? Is it to be my curse to be followed by the media and capitalism fuelled trends that suck the life and culture from the little bits of realness left in the world? I refer, of course, to the article in Satan's favorite broadsheet that has identified Montreal as the next Seattle, Austin or [gak] Williamsburg. I'd rather the U.S. just start the Fresh Water Wars of '16 early instead of this propaganda attack. What's next, fey little boys going to their rehearsals on their banana seats? I should have known, what with the prevalance of trucker hats here already. The excessive metrosexuality of the french males in Montreal distracted me from the true danger, sneaking in from the West Island. I think the only way we're going to prevent the soiling and destruction of all that is good in this city is with a succesful "Oui" referendum!

But I digress from my stated mission. It has been too long since my last post (holidays and broken keyboard), but I am very happy to say that my french has improved significantly! I'm reading french novels fairly regularily now, around one french book for every two english ones. I probably read them in about one and a half to twice the time it takes me to read an equivalent english book. My writing has improved as well. My prose is still awkward and clearly the work of a non-native, but I'm starting to grasp the complex stylistic elements of french to the point where some of them even make sense in my mind. It was extremely gratifying to get back a page and a half that I'd written on Stephen Reid (famous Canadian bank robber of the Stopwatch Gang) and have around 15 errors. More significantly, my prof understood my prose and ideas. There were none of those moments where he's clearly trying to figure out what the hell I'm trying to say.

These improvements lead to a nascent appreciation of linguistics and from that a growing conviction that perhaps language is culture. That's a broad and uneducated statement, clearly, but whereas, in college, when I first heard it, I viewed that statement as a sweeping concept to be parsed and placed along many others (or a sign that I should strike the person who said it with the back of my hand), when you start to get into the deep end of a language, you begin to realize how fundamental it is to human response and behaviour. This understanding has helped me handle miscommunications here, which has in turn tightened up my french.

French is much more rigid than english. I'm told that the french of Molière is the same french taught today. English has been allowed to run free and in doing so has lost a significant amount of it's structure and vocabulary. A good example is the verb "to land." In french, it's "atterrir," literally to earth (the earth is la terre). When the first man walked on the moon, the french did not have a word to describe it! The generally used word is "Alunir" but if you look that up in the dictionary, it says "Terme condamné par l'Académie des sciences et par l'Académie française, qui recommandaient atterrir sur la lune."

And in french, you really can't shorten "atterrir sur la lune" to just "atterrir." They wouldn't get it. Even if you were to draw a picture of the lunar lander, they still wouldn't understand you for a bit, until finally they'd say, "aaahhh, tu veux dire atterrir sur la lune!" [oh, you mean land on the moon.] That's why they seem to be so annoying about their language sometimes. I think actually, they really can't understand what you are saying unless you use the precise word for that given situation. Every time I try to do a creative metaphor in french, which may be awkard or forced in english but at least would be understood, it is met with complete incomprehension.

And now getting way off into an area of theory where I have no business being, I'm starting to think that part of the reason english has ended up being the winner in the colonial race starting in Europe 400 years ago is because of it's incredible flexibility and dynamism. It changes with the money and the technology. I won't go any farther, but it's something to think about (and obviously has been) and it comes up more and more as I internalize this new language more.

So you can see why I consider an article from the New York Times on this magical place to be such a threat! On top of that, it's been above freezing for almost two weeks now. The snow is melting away ("fondre" is to melt, thus fondu). I went out with shorts on today. It's still early yet, but this winter has not lived up to my fears and expectations. Between Global Warming (La réchauffement de la terre) and American Cultural Imperialism (l'ostie de crosseur tabernaco Times de New York), I fear I may have arrived too late in Montréal.

[props to Lantzvillager for getting me the heinous article in question, in hardcopy no less. We're everywhere!]