je suis back

In my last post, written shockingly long ago, I said Italy was a delightfully nearby country. Recently we put this to the test, as we drove to Italy for a holiday. First we went, via the Fréjus tunnel and the Turin-Milan motorway, to Lago di Como, which is as lovely as they say and as pictures illustrate, but even more so. (It did take five or six hours, longer than we expected, to get there...but still, only about as much time as driving to the Dordogne). After that, Aosta, in the mountains and very close to France. The people there speak both Italian and French--a special French all their own--and often German as well. It's a fascinating place with many historical features including the well-preserved Roman city gate and walls; and the whole Val d'Aosta is a feast of dramatic scenery, ancient villages, and chateaux. (Now I sound like a tourist brochure; you had to be there).

We came home via the Mont Blanc tunnel, on the French-Italian border; the wait was half an hour for us, but an hour and a half the other way, and we'd heard the previous Friday evening that there was a two-and-a-half hour queue from France into Italy; so Italy isn't always as near as all that.

In Italy, at first, I had great difficulty in retrieving my once-fluent Italian; everything came out in French.  A good sign, I suppose, though it felt strange. And both my husband and I found ourselves automatically saying Pardon all the time, which shows how often this word is deployed in France--by me (quintessentially English even now) apologetically, but by many French, forcefully, as a weapon for making one's way through a crowd.

Rather than "quintessentially English"--and I suppose I have to add no offence was intended to the Welsh, Scots, or Northern Irish--perhaps I should have said So British, a phrase frequent in French journalism.  Like many other English language expressions, it's often used with a blithe disregard for syntactical function and even meaning. There's a fashion right now, especially in advertisements, of using English words with an appended asterisk pointing to a French translation at the bottom of the page. So we see phrases like must have and mon look and prix light throughout the French text.

Those two last examples are from a flyer from the discount shop Tati; I have to hand, as it arrived in my mailbox yesterday. Prix fous! Prix light! it proclaims, and by the word "light" there's an asterisk. A tiny note explains it means légers.  Not that we would ever say "light prices" in English, of course, but that's the charm of the thing.