Multilingual birthday!

Today is my birthday! I wish to share three funny birthday songs I am fond of, one in Italian, one in French and one in Berlinese. First, Elio’s “Al mercato di Bonn”, about the unlikely discovery of “Happy Birthday”‘s verses, written no less than by Beethoven:

The second is “l’Anniversaire”, from a group of musicians from Toulouse, the Fabulous Trobadors:

and last, “Jeburtstach”, in Berlin dialect, from Rotz’n’roll Radio:

Happy birthday to me! 😀

Ma fenĂȘtre sur la francophonie dans le monde – my window on French spoken around the world

[This is a double-language post, that starts with French.]

New-Map-Francophone World

J’ai rarement l’occasion de parler français Ă  Berlin, non par manque de compatriotes, ni d’Ă©vĂšnements en français, mais plutĂŽt par une sorte de timiditĂ©. Mon français Ă©crit se porte encore assez bien, mais je parle avec un accent belge/italien assez fort, et il m’arrive de chercher mes mots un peu trop souvent. J’ai pensĂ© de rafraĂźchir mon oreille en Ă©coutant de la radio par Internet, en forme de podcasts. La beautĂ© du français est sa grande diffusion dans le monde, ce qui m’expose Ă  diffĂ©rentes cultures et accents. Je partage ici ma petite liste de podcasts (que les Canadiens appellent joliment baladodiffusion):

J’aime Ă©couter les voix de Radio Canada, car elles me permettent d’imaginer mieux la vie de ce pays pour moi lointain, mais Ă©galement si proche grĂące Ă  la langue commune. Les problĂšmes sociaux et politiques ont des racines propres, complexes, que j’apprends Ă  voir en superposant les rĂ©cits des invitĂ©s comme les couches de peinture d’un immense tableau. Le mĂȘme m’arrive en Ă©coutant les histoires de PolynĂ©sie, terre de rĂȘve et de conquĂȘte pour qui vient de loin comme moi, mais terre des ancĂȘtres et de vie quotidienne pour ses habitants.

Écouter est mon Ă©cole de respect et d’attention. La radio est comme un livre vivant, oĂč les mots se suivent sans mon intervention. Ma tĂąche est de le suivre et de comprendre, sans pouvoir les arrĂȘter pour poser une question. La magie me prend quand je me sens comme un bout de bois dans le courant d’un fleuve, je vois ce que le fleuve voit, Ă  sa vitesse.


I have little chance to speak French in Berlin, not for lack of fellow speakers nor of events, but for some sort of shyness. My written French is still quite good, but when I speak I have this strong Belgian/Italian accent, and I have to stop a bit too often to search words. Therefore I decided to keep my ear trained by listening to French podcasts from around the world, in order to experience different cultures and accents. I share here my list of podcasts (that French Canadians nicely call baladodiffusion):

I like to listen to Radio Canada voices, because they allow me to better figure out how is life in that country, so remote for me, but also so near thanks to the common language. Social and political problems have their own complex roots, that I learn to see from the combination of the guests’ stories, that become combined like the pencil strokes of a massive painting. The same happens when I listen to stories from Polynesia, the land of dreams and conquest for someone who comes from far away like me, but the land of elders and of everyday life for its inhabitants.

Listening is my practice of respect and attention. The radio is like a live book, where words flow without my intervention. My task is to follow them and try to understand, without the chance to stop for a question. Magic grabs me when I feel like a log in a river’s current, I see what the river sees, at its same speed.

Music recommendation: “La Guerre” by Janequin

I would like to present you a chanson from ClĂ©ment Janequin, a famous French Renaissance composer. He was one of the first composers who added noises and effects to songs – bird chirps in Le chant des oiseaux; market sellers’ advertising their goods in Les cris de Paris; cannons, trumpets, horses and shouts in La Guerre:

On ChoralWiki you can find the French text and its English translation.

I listened to this piece many times, discovering its many layers: at first I was captivated and amused by the sounds that animate the battle, then amazed by the musical skills of these singers, then by their joy in singing this piece, and then  by the sound of Renaissance French and its nowadays odd pronunciation. It is nice to note that modern Canadian French contains visible traces of Old French – and that makes this song look so unbelievably Canadian to me, especially the last part where the singers shout: Victoire! that they pronounce: VictouĂ©re! – it makes me smile, but also think of the centuries that have slowly passed and shaped French language, as a river digs a canyon. I feel connected with the mind of Janequin through the centuries, thanks to the countless people who kept this piece of music alive. Enjoy!

Book recommendation – “Ni d’Ève ni d’Adam” by AmĂ©lie Nothomb

(I want to make an experiment and write this post in two versions, one in French and one in English.)

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Je viens de terminer la lecture de ce roman qui m’a doucement Ă©mue. Il m’est rarement arrivĂ© de me reconnaĂźtre autant dans les pensĂ©es de quelqu’un d’autre et d’avoir reçu l’inspiration et la calme pour avancer dans ma propre partie d’Ă©checs. Durant ces derniĂšres annĂ©es, j’ai cherchĂ© ce genre de modĂšle avec une frĂ©nesie croissante, n’en trouvant que de trĂšs partiels. Le rĂ©cit de ce dĂ©but de vie m’a si simplement fait comprendre que je peux renoncer aux dĂ©veloppements sociaux classiques (travail, mariage, maison, enfants, chien etc.) sans forcĂ©ment dĂ©truire mon futur ou me sentir coupable pour toujours. J’ai grand besoin d’histoires de survĂ©cus. J’ai besoin de savoir qui il y a d’autres histoires oĂč un non n’engendre pas de rage, de bile, de rĂ©sistance.

De plus, l’autrice est d’origine belge comme moi. Ceci pourrait n’ĂȘtre qu’un mot sur un document officiel, mais c’est ce qui m’a fait dire “Oh, moi aussi!” en lisant les quelques phrases du roman oĂč l’autrice parle des nuages gris de la Belgique avec une affection simple et profonde. Moi aussi, j’aime le temps couvert de la Belgique. Il a Ă©tĂ© la lumiĂšre estompĂ©e d’autant de bonnes mĂ©moires.

Je remercie AmĂ©lie Nothomb d’avoir rĂ©ussi un livre aussi sincĂšre et puissant.

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[English version]

I just finished the last pages of this novel and I feel so moved. It rarely happened to me to identify myself so easily with the thoughts of someone else, and to receive inspiration and serenity to keep playing my own chess game. I have been looking for such models with increasing frenzy, as I only found very partial ones. This story made me understand that I can give the usual social upgrades up (good job, marriage, house, children, dog, etc…) without automatically condemn my future or feel guilty forever. I need survivor stories so badly. I need to know that there are other stories where a “no” does not generate rage, acrimony, opposition.

Moreover, the autor is Belgian like me. This could be a dry word on an official document, but it is what made me say: “Me too!” when reading the few sentences in which the author writes with simple and deep affection about the dull grey clouds that are so typical of Belgium. I love the overcast skies of Belgium too. They have been the background and the diffuse light of so many good memories.

I would like to thank Amélie Nothomb for her sincere and powerful book.

From the kitchen: coconut sablĂ©s

For a friends’ party I challenged myself with a new biscuit recipe. It was risky for two reasons, first because it was a recipe untested by me, second because I am not so good at biscuit baking.

Nevertheless, full of optimism, I baked a batch of coconut biscuits following this recipe from La Tendresse en Cuisine [in French] and this is how they came out:

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They look nice and crumbly but they were way too dry. I believe that my difficulties come from my inability to understand if the intermediate steps are correctly done. Actually, the pùte sablée had a wonderfully crumbly texture. I wonder what I did wrong, or at least, not well enough.

Anyway, they are all gone! Let’s see how I do next 🙂

Book recommendation – Calligraphie arabe vivante

I have started to post more regularly about the various topics that interest me, and Friday  is book recommendation day!

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Today I wish to present Hassan Massoudy‘s “Calligraphie arabe vivante”, a book that I got to know from another book, “La goutte d’or” by Michel Tournier. In Tournier’s novel, the young protagonist Idriss meets a master calligrapher, who teaches him Arabic calligraphy and its abstract, powerful grace. In the post-scriptum, Tournier thanked Massoudy for introducing him to calligraphy, “a traditional art where beauty is weaved to truth and wisdom” (personal translation from French). The citation pointed to Calligraphie arabe vivante. Without hesitation, I bought the book and got fascinated by the plasticity of Arabic writing – sometimes elegantly round, sometimes hatched and mechanical, even expressionist. I am amazed at how much additional information and force can be integrated in the shapes that build up actual words – and how, by not understanding the words as such, I am exposed only to their art.

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You can see many more Massoudy’s creations on his personal website. If you want a high-quality photo book with a great selection of calligraphy works and detailed explanations of traditional techniques, I totally recommend this book!

(Picture credits: islamic-arts.org)

Book review: “Souvenirs entomologiques” by Jean-Henri Fabre

Around a year ago, I stumbled upon the 10 volumes of the Souvenirs entomologiques while browsing ebooksgratuits.com. I feel ashamed not to have known about him in a more direct way, both as a naturalist and as a francophone, because there is so much passion in his scientific work and so much taste in his sublime prose.

Jean-Henri Fabre (1823-1915) was a teacher in Southern France and an avid explorer of the nature around him. Along his books you discover his simple and fresh attitude to life, his admiration for insects, which he describes as complex and brave living beings, treating them with care and respect even when he interacts with them to test a scientific hypotesis.

I would recommend to read the original text, or hope that the translators created an equivalently rich and expressive prose. There is true poetry in the way he describes how the whole family, dog included, participate to his curious experiments that fill his room and the house’s garden with jars and cages for any kind of insect and spider; sometimes his children, who eagerly help him, are the ones who spot a crucial detail and are regarded by Fabre as true scientists too. He has a simple yet rich way of talking about his life, his ability to find positive aspects of a grim situation, his admiration for his human and animal teachers.

There has been some debate about his opposition to evolution theory, that is quite clear in this series of books, but this has not diminished the value of his work in my eyes: the theory was only being drafted at his times, therefore I am not surprised by Fabre’s point of view. He also sometimes associate moral virtues to insects and creation. I don’t agree with that, but it is a layer of his interpretation that I can easily peel off.

You can find all his texts in a neat classification on the website dedicated to his life and works [in Italian, French and English]. Happy reading!

Picture credits and sources: