I started learning French about ten months ago. It was an idea that I toyed with for the ridiculously large span of one to thirteen years prior (when it was offered in middle school and my dearest mother thought Spanish would prove more useful in my future and made me study it instead – I will neither agree or disagree with that point all of these years later). Initially this venture, ten months ago, started out of spite – I was surrounded by French speakers and could never get a word in edgewise because I never knew what the hell they were talking about. I planned to learn it the best I could, without telling them of course, and then shock everyone when I was well-versed enough to call them out on their merde.
Needless to say that never happened as one cannot learn a language in ten months without actually eating, sleeping, and breathing it (I have a life, after all). I do listen harder and repeat phrases in my head. I bother French speakers with inane grammatical and pronunciation questions. Sometimes immature young men will teach me a phrase or two and send me off to repeat it to another immature guy and they’ll all have a giggle at my expense, leaving me supremely embarrassed, but equally proud of my ability to mimic.
For the longest time I never had a single nice thing to say about anything French – except maybe Amélie, but that doesn’t really count considering its international notoriety. I don’t care for frog’s legs, snail, or duck confit; I don’t really enjoy Impressionism, mostly because endlessly repeated titles make fact-checking a nightmare; call me Guy de Maupassant when it comes to the Eiffel Tower (fun fact: Maupassant ate at the Tower’s base daily because he hated it so and that was the only place in the city that he was unable to see it); do not get me started on roquefort, maroilles, or epoisses (ugh, ick, bleh).
Thankfully now, I could probably rustle up a few nice things to say – the politeness of gentlemen, Realist and Romantic paintings, the frankness of women, the invention of the guillotine, etc. I am most especially in awe of the vast collection of art housed in France and could probably spend one week in the Musée du Louvre and neither see enough or tire of it.
Since most of us don’t have the time, money, language skills, or (if you’re like me) patience to endure France, visit the National Gallery of Art, Washington to see Color, Line, Light: French Drawings, Watercolors, and Pastels from Delacroix to Signac from 27 January to 26 May. It promises a beautiful array of French art. Don’t want to travel too far from home? Check out French Painting by Victoria Charles for all of the artistic glamour without the offensive cheeses.
-Le Lorrain Andrews