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Podcasts for French language

The functionality of my ipod has changed the way I engage with the internet and my life. The mobility and easy accessability of software applications via wireless internet is revolutionary. No longer are we tied to our pc’s and laptops in order to learn and discover new things. And the perfect application for this is learning a language.

The Radio Lingua Network is a fantastic resource where many languages are available to learn in many different formats. I like to download the Coffee Break French to my ipod then listen to the lessons while driving my car to work.

I don’t mind that the people providing the lessons are Scottish and have Scottish accented French. It just adds to the charm I think. And probably better Scottish-accented French than Australian-accented French!

There are others though: Daily French Pod is one. And I’m sure there are others out there too.

No excuses now is there?

Add a comment October 2, 2011

Franglais

Driving in my car to work I listened to the audio book of Buying a piece of Paris by Ellie Nielsen. While my mind imagined Paris streets, buildings, traffic and people, my vision was filled with green pastures stretching to meet the blue sky at the horizon. As I dodged dead koalas and potholes from winter rain, my mind swam in French conversations.

The book tells the story of an Australian couple who decide to buy an apartment in Paris and the ensuing dramas that unfold. Ellie Nielsen is a little-known Australian actress and her description of this experience is filled with humour, as she tries to communicate in French. As her comprehension and courage with the French language builds so too do the paragraphs of conversation in the book. So whilst it is a delightful book about Paris it is also a lesson in Franglais.

Listening to the audio book is a far more enriching experience because the accents and pronunciation fill the gaps that my own level of understanding and competence could not.

Once finished I prolonged the “French feeling” by listening to the soundtrack from the movie Amelie. So I drove along unhindered by traffic or buildings smiling and humming along to the music.

1 comment November 5, 2010

Every day in Tuscany

I wish I wrote like Frances Mayes. More than that; I wish I lived like Frances Mayes – Every Day in Tuscany.

Her ability to observe and describe is unmatched amongst current authors, I think. The way she crafts her sentences, surprising us with the unpredictability of passage. She is a Wordsmith and obviously honours and delights in the images she conjures.

The art, the food, the lifestyle, the landscape, the produce, the community, the history, the language, the trendy Italian flavours of Italian life, are all stamped onto her pages like a three-dimensional collage. It is the now-popular craft-art of scrapbooking minus the glue and scissors.

Her quest for beauty I share. While she succeeds and excels, I fail. The richness of the Italian culture lies to extreme of the sparse Australian life that is mine. I search but cannot find any stone-built monasteries from the 15th Century. There is a notable lack of Renaissance art around me. Deciduous trees dripping harvests of nuts and fruit do not fare well in the Aussie bush. Aussie slang spoken between thin closed unmoving lips is spare with words and emotion, by comparison to the dramatic, curvaceous, embellished opera of the mere Italian “hello”.

Reading Frances Mayes books make me feel like a starving person reading a cook book. Yet to not seem ungrateful for my lot in life; I am far from starving and can read. I am keenly aware of my lucky rich Western educated life in a free land.

Two years ago I was in Italy and did not like what I saw. Fully expecting to love it, I did not. My stay was brief and fleeting. As a passing tourist I saw multitudes of art – some flaking some not. I was often dwarfed inside cathedrals, as I had hoped. I passed by the long queue of people waiting to go inside The Dome in Florence. I saw David – whose hands are too big Michelangelo! I walked around Rome. I know why people there drive mopeds – it is because there is no physical space left to park another car. My heart sank when seeing more and more graffiti, another grey rumpled form of a homeless person lying in the town park, the rubbish strewn everywhere. The Italians appeared to have stepped straight from a catwalk in Milan, into their shiny sports car, then out into a street full of cigarette butts. They live in an ashtray. It was Summer and each day was smog-filled; not one clear day despite the cloudless skies.

Sure I loved Venice. And Burano – is it even real or did I dream it? Who would not love the Isle of Capri? And Sorrento? Assisi? Florence – beautiful Firenze? I have not one bad photo from this trip. The camera lies obviously. Italy was overcrowded everywhere and lost to the hordes of passing onlookers. Queuing for bliss became the appropriate title for my unedited travel diary. Please note that my diary is a record only and not any attempt at creative writing.

Frances Mayes Italy and my Italy are at odds. We cannot compare the experience at all because hers is deep and all-encompassing, while mine was shallow and fleeting. She lives there, I visited. I envy her, that is certain.

She talks about falling in love with a place, or a thing, or a pursuit, such as Art. I understand this and share this idea completely. Art, music, and place have the power to speak to our soul and fill us with…..Love.

I fell in love in France; not Italy. It happened in St. Paul de Vence. This small medieval hill town near Nice is now a thriving artists community and a tourist magnet. We wandered in light rain along cobblestone walkways, too narrow to be streets, looking at art. Who wouldn’t fall for this place? By the time I sat in the town square in Beaune, between Lyon and Paris, I was cocooned and floating in a crystal bubble of LOVE. I floated and smiled like an idiot. I felt at home for the first time in my life. I had found my spiritual home. But not because of the food, language, culture, history or art. Nor because my heart had longed to go to France. Something deeper. Perhaps genetically transferred ancestral cell-memory? Life destiny calling me? Wish fulfilment? Perhaps just my vivid imagination.

Back home in Australia, Frances Mayes reminds me of my heart-ache; of my parallel-life in France. The view from my window across the roof tops towards the church spire in the town somehow reminds me of Nice. There really is no similarity.

Yet my sensible self reminds me of the crowds, the traffic, and the reality-check of what daily life in Europe in the 21st Century is in actuality. Frances, please cast your observant eye towards downtown Rome, or Naples. Can you edit out the grime?

Pursuing a life of “beauty” in the harsh Australian environment and lifestyle is a challenge. But I must try harder. This is my real home and I must face the fact that life in France, for me, is not for this lifetime. My task is to focus, and bring into my days, the art, language, music, literature, good food, and beauty that I crave and miss.

1 comment June 8, 2010

Always within never

Twelve year old Paloma Josse is planning suicide. She lives in an apartment building with her wealthy family in Paris. She is an intelligent girl who finds no sense in living. Her family bore her.

Madame Renee Michel is the reclusive concierge of the apartment building. She finds refuge in her role and her unattractive body; a disguise that hides her own intelligence and inner beauty.

“The elegance of the hedgehog” by Muriel Barbery challenges us to remember to always look beyond external facades. How can we possibly assume to know the real person that resides within each genetically inherited shell?

This book is about “lookism”. As a society we have risen above racism and sexism. But there is a current trend of “lookism”. It is so superficial and stupid. Why judge a person based on how they look? When, after all, none of us are responsible for our looks. Cosmetic surgery is a real blight on our society I think. Don’t women realize that when they “enhance” their lips with botulism injections they actually look like freaks? Naturally plump lips look great, as do naturally thin lips; it depends on the individual. And any cosmetic surgery does not change the soul inside.

This book is also about friendship and companionship, cats, family, life, death, philosophy and contemplation, moments, assumptions, society, and beauty.

Paloma is on a quest to find beauty. Not the superficial kind associated with exteriors and false ego, but the deep and meaningful moments of real beauty.

“There was a little sound, a soft sort of quivering in the air that went “shhhh” very very very quietly: a tiny rosebud on a little broken stem that dropped onto the counter. The moment it touched the surface it went “puff” of the ultrasonic variety, for the ears of mice alone, or for human ears when everything is very very very silent. I stopped there with my spoon in the air, totally transfixed. It was magnificent. But what was it that was so magnificent? It was just a little rosebud at the end of a broken stem, dropping onto the counter. And so?” 

The final scene envelopes me and I find myself standing outside the apartment building beside Paloma and Kakuro “listening to the music drifting down from above”. Someone is playing the music of Satie on the piano; and knowing this music I hear it too. Paloma realizes that real beauty has the quality of “always within never” and vows to go on searching for these elusive moments. As I do in this blog.

3 comments May 6, 2010

Who’ll come a-waltzing with me?

This Australia Day I found myself sitting by a billabong, opening my tucker bag, being nourished by the real Australian landscape. It was a warm sunny day in the country. The grassy hills have yellowed from the summer sun and the sky was an unblemished blue. The breeze stirred the eucalyptus scent from the ‘coolibah’ trees, where birds dozed in the quiet of midday. Now and then a Kookaburra would snicker or a Corella would squawk.

I was surprised no other people had decided to picnic here today.

This new life in the country is rejuvenating my soul. The wide open spaces, free of ugly man-made structures, refreshes my tired eyes. The wind on the breeze carries no sounds of traffic. Queues of impatient people waiting for service have vanished and there is time to chat and ponder.

There is space for animals: koalas, kangaroos, wallabies, rabbits, birds, birds, and more birds. Marine life too is visible and in the short time I have been here I’ve seen seals, dolphins, stingrays, fish – and these have all been sighted from the land. (Not here at the billabong but along the nearby coast).

I feel more Australian now than even before in my 50 years of life here. That is quite impressive and inexplicable to me. While my heart aches for some imagined bliss in the south of France, perhaps the serenity I seek can be found here in the south west corner of Victoria. If only more people spoke French.

Add a comment January 27, 2010

Belonging

Seduced by the title, with the keen hope that Isabel Huggan could shed some light on this psychological dilemma, I have almost finished reading this 2003 publication. It fails to be an analysis, discussion, or prescription on the notion of ‘belonging’. Instead it succeeds far beyond expectation with this collection of rambling, eloquent descriptions through memory and observation.

It is set in France where this Canadian lady now lives. She does not claim to be a Francophile, nor even wish to ‘belong’ there. Surprisingly she finds her “at home” epiphany in Hobart Tasmania Australia.

Her descriptions of France stir those feelings I had last year when I was finally in France after years of longing. I find her words moving my stomach, my heart, my soul, until I am reminded, with a real physical sensation, of the bliss I experienced while wandering around the streets of Beaune. I remember feeling as though my head was literally in a fluffy white cloud and I was truly and deepy ‘in LOVE’, and my whole body was cocooned in a bubble of bliss. Never before had I felt that way. And I had longed to go to France since I was a child for some unknown reason.

It is fashionable now to be a ‘francophile’ and it is a little of a relief to be able to name the condition and discover others who are similarly afflicted.

I am Caucasian Australian by birth, family, history, place, type, lifestyle, language, and appearance – whatever that means in today’s diverse multicultural world. My ancestry is rooted in Australia for many generations, but has genus in England, Scotland, and France. The link to France is through the name of Colet, who apparently fled France during the French Revolution and settled in England. This is a well known turn in history, but the family link is by shared verbal story and unsubstantiated in genealogical research. It is a myth. Yet one I choose to hang on to as some possible explanation for my yearning for France.

I knew that visiting France briefly last year would not cure me, or help me. I knew I would need time to assimilate and intellectualise the experience. My experienced bliss was too totally fulfilling. And my inevitable departure too quick and too heart wrenching. My daily existence is here in Australia; too far away; too remote in every way. My hidden sadness is a grief like the loss of a loved one (but not quite as painful). I needed time to get over my visit, my epiphany, before I could discuss it.

Now, 18 months after my trip to France, I can allow myself the luxury of remembering, and perhaps once again attempting to create a little of whatever it is about France, in my own life here in Australia.

It feels impossible. It is a different culture, landscape, history, language, lifestyle, architecture, philosophy, and environment. All attempts by many Francophiles to create this here in Australia are futile and failed.

Reading “Belonging” reminds me in a tangible way of how I felt in France. Isabel Huggan’s descriptions take me there. I feel transported to Saint Paul de Vence. The names of the towns ring harmoniously in my ear. I see the streets, hills and shops.

In reality I have relocated to a seaside location in Victoria Australia. I don’t belong here any more than I felt I belonged for the last 24 years living on the Mornington Peninsula. I have never felt like a typical “Aussie”. The “Aussie” culture surrounds me and it grates on my nerves like a metal spade on concrete. It is echoed in the screeches from the flocks of sulphur-crested cockatoos fighting in the pine trees outside my window every morning.

Despite reading Isabel Huggan’s beautiful book about belonging, I feel no nearer to understanding this dilemma, but encouraged to hear about the similar struggles of others.

Add a comment December 22, 2009

Inspired by mountains

This isn’t really French at all, but it could be!! I recently had the pleasure of being served an amazing dessert that could rival the desserts of the best chefs of the world. It was a sticky date pudding with butterscotch sauce; but it was more than that.

The Highland Restaurant is the main dining room of Cradle Mountain Lodge in the beautiful world heritage wilderness area of Tasmania Australia.

The dessert arrived and I paused to appreciate the beautiful artistic arrangement eventually realising that it was a representation of Cradle Mountain itself and the surrounding Dove Lake and Crater Lake. Three round dark brown date puddings represented the mountains. Each topped with some custard snow cover. A pastry swirl formed the clouds as they swept up and over the rocky mountain crags. Two lakes swirled perfectly in unison; a sweet toffee Dove Lake and a lighter tangy Crater Lake. A tangle of lemon zest represented the dark yellow alpine grasses. Each flavour of the dessert stood out separately and yet contrasted perfectly.

sticky_date_pudding

Earlier that day we had trudged through 30 centimetre snow around the walking track that loops around Dove Lake. We had seen the snow capped mountains through the parted veils of cloud as they swirled off the tops of the crags. We enjoyed the colours of this wild alpine scene. To see this landscape cleverly recreated in a dessert was an unexpected surprise.

cradle_mountain

1 comment September 26, 2009

Cheri

The movie Cheri starring Michelle Pfeiffer as Lea de Lonval and Kathy Bates as Madame Peloux was an awful failure in my opinion. Based on the book Cheri by Colette it focuses on a love affair between the fifty-something year old Lea and the young twentyish son of Madame Peloux, Cheri, played by Rupert Friend.

Set in the early twentieth century of Europe the location shots are sumptuous and beautiful. Michelle, Kathy and cast were lucky to have the privilege of living in such beauty, even if only for a little while. Aside from the unconvincing performances by both Kathy and Michelle, the actual story was superficial and trivial. I have not read the book Cheri by Colette and so can’t really compare the two in terms of depth of story and environment; however the era of the famous salons of France was exceptional in their pursuit of intellegence, ideas, enlightenment, and liberty. This attitude formed the backbone of the liberties with which these women lived their lives as courtesans. To gain popularity and stature in this community, women needed to have intelligence and the ability to hold ones end in a debate on sophisticated social issues. There was absolutely none of this in this movie. Such a missed opportunity.

I can only think that this movie would have been so much better in the French language, and indeed made by the French themselves. They must cringe at this English language portrayal.

Add a comment August 5, 2009

Frenchish

I had a “Frenchish” day recently in Melbourne. It began with a visit to the National Gallery of Victoria.

NGV_12Jul09_p1

National Gallery of Victoria

We joined the queue to see the Dali exhibition Liquid Desire. Once inside we followed the art trail, studying his works, and then shared our thoughts about our favourite pieces, discussing why we liked them. I love Galatea of the Spheres.

Galatea of the spheres by Salvador Dali

Galatea of the spheres by Salvador Dali

 It is difficult enough to paint a portrait, but to do this superimposed over an arrangement of painted spheres is astounding. At this time he was intrigued with atomic physics and this portrait illustrates his thinking.

 

We had lunch at the gallery bistro called Persimmon. We enjoyed an entrée of Baked scallops, fennel escabeche, mushroom cream, gruyere, and then for the main course we had Potato & herb gnocchi, brussel sprouts, cauliflower & pecorino crumble, all washed down with a lovely glass of Astrolabe Estate Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. The meal was beautiful and the service was impeccable.

scallop_entree_NGV_12Jul09

Scallop entree

 

It was a perfect way to spend a lazy winter’s Sunday in Melbourne, and we were not the only people thinking that as the gallery was extremely busy. It certainly goes against the common image that Australians lack culture. It seems we do enjoy other activities besides football and drinking beer – not that there’s anything wrong with that. So I suppose the “French” aspect of this day was visiting a gallery, looking at art, enjoying a lovely lunch, and generally feeling sophisticated. And Dali, although not a French artist, did fulfil the typical life of an artist and he created those weird, surreal creations that the French appreciate so well.

 

The next week I visited the Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery to see the Brett Whiteley exhibition 9 shades of Whiteley. Brett Whiteley’s art is my absolute favourite. I love his colour and shapes and compositions and the size of his work. There seems to be a reoccurring curved shape that often appears in his work. I thought I was familiar with all of his work, but to my delight I found a painting that was new to me.

 

Far North Queensland by Brett Whiteley

Far North Queensland by Brett Whiteley

Port Douglas Far North Queensland is one of his last works before his death in 1992. It is full of colour, vibrancy, and movement. From this painting you would think he was at a happy place in his life, and perhaps he was. It is different from his gorgeous “blue” works of Sydney Harbour like his 1976 Archibald Prize winning Self Portrait in the studio. I never pass up an opportunity to see his work “in the flesh”.

Add a comment July 22, 2009

La Grande Rue

High Street Armadale and Prahran in Melbourne have many stores claiming French qualities. la_grande_rue

 These shops sell food, home decor, antiques, clothing, art and more. It is a trendy area that aims for wealthy customers. The “French” stores are intermingled easily amongst Italian, Korean, modern, eclectic and others. If you have spare cash you can certainly find something unique here.euro_patisserie

I had a coffee and a shepherd’s pie at the Euro Patisserie and later a slice of lemon tart and a hot chocolate at a place simply called French Patisserie. None of the people serving in these cafes were French and I felt no “Frenchness” in the experience.

The stores I visited were Durance en Provence, Parterre, L’imperiale Fine French Antiques, and Gaudion Furniture. Durance en Provence offered clothing, soaps, perfume, shoes, and more from France. Parterre sells modern furniture and household items suitable for the modern minimalist style. L’imperiale Fine French Antiques is perfect if you would like to decorate your home in the style of the Versailles Palace and if you have the bank account of the famous Louis’s.

gaudionsOf all the places I visited the place that made me smile happily was Gaudion Furniture. Expensive and exclusive French style furniture was artfully arranged in the old building. I followed old wooden stairs down and back into the shop, then outside, across a small courtyard and up another staircase to a rear room. Back in the main building I went upstairs to other rooms. Lamps adorned with crystals sat on large wooden sideboards. Large framed mirrors reflected and multiplied the treasures. Wooden tables filled the space and fabric covered cushions offered comfort and warmth.

A sign on the door stated that photography was not welcome. It is a pity because it could be good advertising for them. They must be afraid someone will steal “their” ideas. Too late for that I think because French style is being spruiked everywhere.

tiger_cafe_prahranI finished my Saturday morning excursion at Greville Street Prahran. This street is known for its ultra trendy alternative style. It has been frequented over the decades by poor art students and it used to be the place to buy cheap second hand clothing, furniture and knick-knacks. Now it has been claimed by the people trying to cash in on the trendy culture. The op shops have gone and the cafes are stylish and were full of people looking for that little bit of something different away from the brightly-lit shopping centres and fast food outlets. We all crave that unique experience I guess.

Add a comment June 20, 2009

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