Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Studying French with the Bear, Tapped by the Hoopoe


St Martin de Londres, Hérault. 
Notes from my travel journal in southern France.

Highway tarot
My friend was telling a wild and complex story very fast on the road from Montpellier to Nîmes. I asked her to slow down; anyone who talks faster than me is talking too fast. At that instant an illuminated highway sign appeared right in front of us:
ANIMAL ERRANT
RALENTISSEZ
meaning
STRAY ANIMAL
SLOW DOWN
I had to interrupt her verbal stream and insist that she looked at the sigin ahead before she could actually see it. She slowed down a bit, but pretty soon the velocity of her narration, and of the car, was back to hyperspeed.
    Maybe this is why, on the outskirts of Nîmes, we ran into a police roadblock that forced traffic to take a detour. Still aiming for the city center, we came to another roadblock and another detour. It took us an extra half hour, most of it spent stationary in a "stopper" (buchon, or traffic jam). Ignore the signs, and there can be consequences.

The Empire Never Ended


The Roman temple in Nîmes that they call the Maison Carrée, white and very clean under a gray sky, looks today like it was just transported from another dimension. I think of Philip K. Dick's private fantasy that "the empire never ended".    
    I stand under a statue of the goddess of Nîmes. She towers over a fountain under a sky of high scudding clouds. She is crowned with a miniature version of the Maison Carrée. I recall great Artemis of Ephesus, she of the many breasts (or figs or - most likely - bull's testicles) who wears a whole city on her head, and I am sobered by the memory of what can happen to a man when he offends a goddess. I am very careful around the pagan Lady of Nîmes.
    I circumambulate the Roman arena, where bull fights still take place, but I do not go in, even though they have an exhibition on Cleopatra. Last time I went into the arena, I was saddened and oppressed by deep empathy with the bulls who fought and died here, originally to enact a sacred cosmology, later as entertainment for sanguinary fans. My feelings do not prevent me from eating an excellent steak de taureau at a charming restaurant with yellow chairs on a little square near the arena

The George Yeats Plan for Learning French


My friend the dead Irish poet W.B.Yeats was not a great linguist, but his wife "George" most certainly was. She explained that her secret was that as a teen she immersed herself in French novels without looking at a dictionary, grasping unknown words through their context. I resolved to try this to improve my own faulty French but did not get round to that until a friend presented me with a copy of L'Ours est un Ecrivain comme les Autres. the French translation of William Kotzwinkle's "The Bear Went Over the Mountain".      The novel is about a bear who becomes a bestselling novelist by peddling a purloined manuscript. Dressed in stolen clothers, he is taken seriously by big-time NYC publishers and agents though his vocabulary is confined to words like "cake"(which they take to mean money) and "I smell you" (which they take to mean sex). The book is hilarious, and on the first day, with some free time, I couldn't put it down until I had read 80 pages in French, without a dictionary.      I noticed that after this literary immersion, I was far more confident in French conversation on the first day of my current workshop in southern France than is often the case. My grammar may still be awful, but my pleasure in making my mistakes is running high. Thank you, George, thank you, Mr Kotzwinkle, and especially, thank you, Bear.

Tapped by the Hoopoe
Half the members of my workshop at the Hameau de l'Etoile are men.This is extraordinary, and encouraging.
     Furthermore, we had a hoopoe bird tapping on the window five times this morning. In The Conference of the Birds, a great Persian tale of mystical ascent by the poet Farid ud-din Attar, it is the hoopoe that calls the birds together to embark on the quest for the King. In the quest, the birds who survive the journey fuse together as the Simorgh, the bird of heaven. I have the sense of walking on the mythic edge.
    My workshop is about becoming a kairomancer, a master of special moments, an everyday magician forever poised to recognize special moments of synchronicity and celebrate than and act on the opportunities they present. In such moments, we sometimes feel that powers from a deeper reality are tapping on the windows of our ordinary perception to encourage us to open to a larger life and the play of forces beyond our consensual hallucinations. I feel this as the hoopoe taps, and taps again and again, as I tell the group about its role in bringing the birds together to make the heaven bird.
    Chansons, I conclude. Let's sing.


1 comment:

Caro said...

Bouchon. Just for the pleasure to be in contact with you for one second.