Fiction Daily.
A blog on writing, writers and why we read. Posted most mornings by Marion Blackburn.
French letters
At 14 and starting the ninth grade, I found myself in a most unexpected classroom with an extraordinary teacher.

It was French 1 and the teacher was Helen Nicholson. Surrounding us were not the ordinary concrete walls of the other classrooms, bleak and gray. Posted on them instead were posters of French cafes, reproductions of great French art, portraits of writers and watercolor scenes of life in Paris.

For this eastern North Carolina girl, it confirmed my suspicion that there was a world beyond the tobacco fields I grew up with, that there were places with things to do other than go to the mall on Friday nights, that there were elegant, artistic, informed people out there I could meet one day.

I selected French as my language of choice the year before. "What will you do with French," everyone said to me then and for years to come. "It's not very practical."

I didn't care. I loved it even before I knew what it was. I loved the culture without knowing why.

Throughout the four years of high school, I worked like a horse on my French. I conjugated verbs in each of 16 tenses and modes; I learned vocabulary, spellings, masculine and feminine.

As I wrote in a previous post, I eventually made it to Paris, where I lived and worked for a year, obtaining a master's degree from the Sorbonne in 19th- and 20th-century French literature and theater.

I have taught French, but when I moved to Prague, Czech Republic, my love of things French disappeared. It seemed so fusty and stilted, so utterly Western and old. I dropped everything French from my life, couldn't stand to hear it, look at it or think about it, much less speak it.

Then, last April, my husband left for a month to hike the Appalachian Trail. I put in the movie "Bleu," part of Krystoff Kieslowski's Colours trilogy, and played it, in French, without subtitles.

My love! It all came back. Since then, I have watched many more French movies, and have order several current French bestsellers. I listen to French audiobooks. Even my iPod is turned to use French menus.

And so I learned a great lesson. As the French, great romantics might say, true love never leaves us.

2008-01-22 13:00:53 GMT
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