CONTRETEMPS (con-truh-tahn) noun, masculine
: mishap, mischance
: hitch; delay, inconvenience
: syncopation (music)
arriver à contretemps = to arrive at the wrong moment
jouer à contretemps = to play out of time
Nos destinées et nos volontés jouent presque toujours à contretemps. - André Maurois
Our destinies and our wishes almost always play out of season (inconveniently, on the offbeat).
A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse
The French word "contretemps" means, among other things, "a note played against the beat". I wonder whether that is why art means more and more to us lately, enough to dare us to put meaningless obligations aside in order to pursue creative activity, and so make a swift turn, marching to another drum beat: our own.
Break apart the word "contretemps" and you get "against time" which explains why artists find it difficult to practice their art. Who's got "temps" to sit quietly, waiting for the muse? And so we must make it (time and art): we shove a few things aside, allow the dust to build up, let the cat eat dog food, don't care about our hair... wear holes in our socks and dive into design when and where we can. If the muse is present, great!, if not, then ainsi soit-il! Nothing's stopping us now.
Contretemps: Part Deux...
As commitments creep in, and you feel like your plate is too full, duty dripping over at the sides, you might be tempted to invent a contretemps in order to excuse yourself from the whirlwind. Who wants to be in a crowded, cacophonic room, when one's own soul-centering sofa beckons? A reading lamp with a warm golden hue dancing beneath the dusty lampshade, a pile of favorite books, a jam jar full of colorful felt markers and a sketchbook by one's side... music musing in the background. When's the last time you were there, in that cozy chair?
(We'll now take a break in the midst of this dilemma, its theme having to do, we think, with "art 'against time' or 'time against art'"--whether that be the art of writing, of painting, of singing... or simply the art of living...)
My Mom sent me an inspiring arty video the other day. "For Jackie and Max," her note said. I clicked open the link and found myself carried away by a quirky Canadian creator: a filmmaker, in all due respect. And I *do* respect the dues and bad days that an artist pays to get to such freedom. For isn't that the end result
of art: when the viewer (reader, or listener) is liberated, from time and space? Off we fly, if not contre le vent, then, somehow, "contre temps" and time's constraints.
Contretemps: to play out of time
This post was written in 2008. I'd like to add a section on art and conversation. This past summer I had the pleasure of spending a few creative hours with the writer Catherine Berry. During a stroll along the promenade here in La Ciotat, we talked about writing, sharing the ups, downs, misunderstandings, risks, fears, joys, freedoms and priviledge of expression.
Many thanks to Catherine for her story about her visit, and for the photo, below. Read the story at Catherine's blog, But You Are in France, Madame.
And please check out her wonderful and relateable memoir, available in paperback (click here) or ebook.
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