Pulitzer Prize-winning author and pioneering cognitive scientist Douglas Hofstadter hints at what led him to pen a deep personal homage to the witty sixteenth-century French poet Clément Marot."Le ton beau de Marot" literally means "The sweet tone of Marot", but to a French ear it suggests "Le tombeau de Marot"-that is, "The tomb of Marot".
: to paddle
Example sentence and sound file by Jean-Marc:
Il faut pagayer pour faire avancer et diriger le canoé.
You must paddle in order to advance and steer the canoe.
There are landscapes in France: rugged, chalky and sharp-edged, yet with tender flowers pushing up through the cracked stone, that stir the soul, and there are words in the French language that make my heart go padam padam padam.* "Pagayer"* is one of them....
"Pagaye!" Jackie shouts, from the middle of our canoe, as we glide down a slippery limestone canyon via the river Ardèche. The canyon walls are dotted with bright yellow wildflowers and, like that, I have lost track of my row-boat duties while admiring Mother Nature.
"Paddle! Paddle! Paddle!" Jackie reminds me as we approach a frothing and gurgling giant disguised as a stretch of river rapids.
"No! DADDY is supposed to paddle!" I shout, remembering the two minute mini-course in river rafting that we took before snapping shut our safety vests. When crossing over the rapids, the instructor told us, we were to leave the paddling to the person at the BACK of the boat, so as to prevent the boat from flipping, something which could lead to noyade*....
"Pagaye! Pagaye! Pagaye!" As my daughter shouts commands, I notice the troubled water ahead of us and my eyes are now bigger than Terror on seeing the white-tipped rapids that threaten to do cartwheels with our pencil-thin boat. Suddenly, I think about all those caves we'd just cruised past and about how the word grotte* is (conveniently???) related to crypt. Panicked, I turn to our wine-fueled navigator, seated in the back of the canoe.
"STEER!" I shout.
"Oh-mon-dieu-oh-mon-dieu-oh-mon-dieu!" I babble. Who knew rivers had gurgling POT HOLES and aren't we about to end up in one?
In supplication, I look up to the sky, beyond the limestone canyon that engulfs us, and say my last mea culpas: I am sorry for feeding cat food to our dog (but we were out of canine kibbles). I am sorry for writing that story about Jean-Marc in which I called him "Miss France" (chalk it off to post-partum depression in which he always looked so pretty and I, plumpy). I am sorry for feeding my perfect half-sister heaping tablespoons full of calorie-rich peanut butter, while babysitting her, but I was so insecure and jealous about Dad's shiney new family. (Twenty-some years later and I'm over it. Little Sister is still beautiful and now I suspect the peanut butter was good for her complexion. She never did get fat). Finally, God, forgive me for not flossing... I hope my teeth don't fall out... but what good are teeth to us now?...
NOW that we are about to bite into river rock! Oh-mon-dieu-oh-mon-Dieu!
The sound of giggling brings me out of my repenting stupor. When I open my eyes, I notice that the boat-eating "pot holes," and all that gurgling water surrounding them, are now behind us. I reach up and feel a mouthful of teeth, every last quenotte* in place.
"Dieu," I say, "though I can't change the past... or the peanut butter... je promets de passer le fil dentaire ce soir.* Amen."
padam padam... = lyrics from a 1951 song by Edith Piaf; pagayer = to paddle; la noyade (f) = drowning; la grotte (f) = cave, grotto; une quenotte (f) = tooth (in child's language); je promets de passer le fil dentaire ce soir = I promise to floss tonight
Ardèche-related book: "A Place in France: an Indian Summer" Meet Nigel and Nippy, who attempt to open an Indian restaurant in France.
Painless French: grammar, pronunciation, idioms, idiocies (culture) and more!
Words in a French Life: Lessons in Love and Language from the South of France
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