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The Theoretical Cook


Sunday, August 27, 2006

An Episode of Francophilia

I spent the weekend cooped up inside my room reading up on France. I didnt intend to waste my weekend this way: I intended to go to market and prepare a nice lunch for the housemates but the books got in the way. I read Adam Gopnik's Paris to the Moon (with an excellent section on 'The Crisis of French Cooking'; this guy claims friendship with Roland Barthes so you can imagine the writing style), parts of the biography of Celine by Frederick Vitoux, and Ruth Reichl's autobiographical "Comfort me with Apples." The last one isn't really about France, its mostly about Reichl's life before she became ed-in-chief of Gourmet, but there's a delicious, steamy section on "Paris". I was expecting to read stuff about food but Reichl discussed, in sordid detail, her 'adulterous' liaisons, including a Parisian affair with one of her food editors. It was pretty compulsive reading, and I found myself drinking green tea with milk at the Le Japon cafe, ALONE (naturally), reading the last few lines and recipes under the strong light. I couldn't put the book down. I was deluged with France this weekend, and I had a Baedeker France guide book with me to boot.
See, a month ago, I decided to learn another language seriously, and I decided that I was going to learn French. In college, I spent a few semesters learning German, earned a few units in Spanish and Latin. Nothing really stuck since I was more interested in other things, things that interest impressionable college freshmen in state universities: justice, good government, etc. Learning another language, at that time, reeked of bourgeois-ness. What's the use of learning a European language, don't we have enough dialects around? I avoided French,in particular, for various reasons.
Many years later, having shaken off the Socratic mask that didn't quite fit me (and made me feel phony);, all language units forgotten, I would spend a few months in cooking school, faced with a language problem. For the first time, I rued not having studied basic French. All the ingredients in our recipes were in French. It was ridiculous: this cooking school was a trade school masquerading as a serious culinary institution. In fact, the school policy was unabashedly OFW-oriented - how to support the official national manpower export policy. They did this by churning out cooking certificates. But what this school seriously lacked in vision (we had a f-ing institutional prayer before each session), it more than made up with its formidable faculty. One had a masters degree in gastronomy at the Cordon Bleu (who never made you forget it), another was executive chef of a popular Asian fusion resto, another one was faculty member of The Cooking School - and they all acted like this stint was their idea of 'serving the country'. They all insisted on one thing: that we study the recipes in French. So the first few sessions were devoted to French phrases that had found their way into mainstream culinary vocab. We also had copies of Escoffier's books on the walls to remind us of the origins of this entire cooking brouhaha. And so I learned, very reluctantly, some French words: mise-en-place, mirepoix, bouquet garni, pommes de terre, the bain de marie, and so on and so forth.
That was over a year ago. A month ago, I decided I wanted to study French. I thought, if I am going to choose the alternative path, I might as well learn that language seriously. Nevermind D Sedaris funny stories about (the impossibility of)learning French in Paris. I dug up an old French book by the Berlitz grandson, read articles online (the expert said it took her over 8 years to acquire fluency), unfazed. I downloaded all of Sebastian's podcasts (The French Podcast). Every morning on my way to work I listen to the podcasts and the cheesy French songs: Ne Me Quitte Pas, Capri, C'est Fini, Je Reviens, etc. I bought a visual French dictionary. After office hours,I loitered at Booksale looking for anything French. I also enrolled myself at the Alliance Francaise for their intensive classes, and I have not missed a single class. Given my attention span, I don't know how long this episode will last.
Ah, but there is comfort in learning new things. Other people learn from their life experiences, I merely take lessons. How long will this episode last? Long enough to overcome la vie quotidienne. The eternal student that I am,I don't mind the years it takes to acquire fluency. In fact, I don't think I even desire fluency. I just need this French episode to get by.


Blogger relly said...

hello, i am back from hard period of work...badly b congrats on learning french...
will be back as soon as i can be completely free from my work.

shop is closing at the end of september for 2006 SEASON but still some paper works to do.
see you later

3:18 AM  
Blogger Theoretical Cook said...

Hi Relly! Nice to hear from you:)
Thanks for dropping by. Francais est tres difficil! (Is that right?)

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