By Chantal Roberts
I hope to improve my French in advance of KC MOlière: 400 in 2022’s festival. The Board wants to invite the French glitterati, and I’d like to be able to speak with them in their native language (if only to rub elbows with the Rich & Famous). However, I, like most people stuck in the middle, encounter several problems whether they are real or imagined when thinking of my abilities in a foreign language.
I dislike speaking French because I’m embarrassed by my accent, and I become frustrated when I don’t know a word. Let’s unpack the first part: when you speak with someone who is not a native English speaker, you do not mock her accent, do you? So, it stands to reason the person you are speaking with in French thinks your accent is as charming as you find hers. The second piece of advice was offered by Pierre, a French teacher. He suggests you speak aloud to yourself in the language you want to learn. This has two benefits: first, you overcome your embarrassment of speaking, and second, you realize what words you don’t know. You can then look them up, write them down, and practice them.
Another method to help you overcome your shyness for spoken word is to read aloud a French book. Pierre suggests a young adult novel since it would have easier words; however, if you like whodunits, read those!
Podcasts are excellent listening comprehension tools if you’re concerned you will be unable to understand French when it is spoken.
If you prefer to watch your French, Netflix has several current French TV shows, which are beneficial for learning new vocabulary and slang. I’m currently enjoying Call My Agent (Dix Percent) and C’est du Gâteau! (the French version of Nailed It!). If murder-mystery is more your style, you may like La Mante. Watch with French subtitles so you can learn pronunciation and vocabulary. Although I can figure out what is happening based on the action and the subtitles, I find it often beneficial to watch the series with English subtitles at a later date.
I devote an hour a day, four to five times a week, to studying French—which is sometimes a combination of a podcast and a TV show or sometimes a grammar lesson from one of my old university books. I’ve yet to get bored—even when reviewing grammar! Perhaps I’ll pluck up enough courage one day to go to The Kansas City French Connection[iii], a group who works solely on their spoken French.
By Catherine Rush Thompson
Bastille Day, the French national holiday celebrated annually on July 14th (le quatorze juillet), marks the birth of the French Republic. This holiday is named after the Bastille fortress, an important symbol for the French Republican movement. While the Bastille fortress, built in 1357, was originally designed to strategically keep invading armies from England out of Paris during the Hundred Years’ War, it evolved into an edifice for political prisoners in the 1700s. Under the reign of King Louis XVI the French people were suffering from high taxes to cover his debt, food shortages, and limited representation in government. After many years of misrule by the Monarchy, the French people united to free the political prisoners and to rise against their government. July 14, 1789, marks the date of the violent uprising that helped usher in the French Revolution.
Another symbol of the French Revolution is the tricolor flag, believed by some to represent the causes of the revolution: liberté (freedom/blue), égalité (equality/white), and fraternité (brotherhood/red).
Prior to the French Revolution the French flag honored the Monarchy and featured the early coat of arms of the French kings in the early 1200s (a blue crest decorated with gold fleurs-de-lis) and the standard of the Bourbon family (a white backdrop with gold fleurs-de-lis).
Bastille Day is celebrated all around the world. The National Geographic illustrates unique Bastille Day celebrations from St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands to Franschhoek, South Africa in its article, 9 Bastille Day bashes that celebrate French culture: Parades, fireworks, and food honor the historic holiday that shaped modern France - (https://www.nationalgeographic.com/travel/lists/seasonal/experience-french-culture-at-these-bastille-day-celebrations/).
Whether you have French heritage, are a Francophile, or seek a unique way to enjoy French culture, here are 10 fun ways to celebrate this year’s Bastille Day from the comfort of your own home:
Best Wishes for a Fun Bastille Day Celebration!
French Revolution: https://www.history.com/topics/france/french-revolution
The Fascinating History Behind the French Flag: https://theculturetrip.com/europe/france/articles/fascinating-history-behind-french-flag/
14 Revolutionary Facts About Bastille Day: https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/82401/14-revolutionary-facts-about-bastille-day
France's Striped Shirt and Beret: Origins of a Stereotype: https://www.thoughtco.com/french-striped-shirt-beret-origins-stereotype-1368581
Food Critics: The Best French Food In Kansas City: https://www.kcur.org/arts-life/2018-04-27/food-critics-the-best-french-food-in-kansas-city
By Chantal Roberts
As I write this, I am currently in quarantine longing for summer vacation. No one knows how long the requirement for physical distancing will last, or if it will be lifted and then reinstated, as some scientists propose. However, I suggest we use this time to inject more French in our daily lives.
Summer is a wonderful time in Paris. The tourists invade the capital city, while the natives rush to the countryside or beach. But for those who cannot leave the City of Lights, there are numerous opportunities to stop and enjoy what life has to offer. We can emulate that joie de vivre here in the Kansas City metro area.
Parisians love to picnic in the Jardin des Tuileries. Sun King Louis XIV’s gardener, André Le Nôtre, landscaped the gardens in 1664 into a French formal style. No doubt Molière, who would have been 42 at this time and in the midst of writing three plays (Le Mariage forcé, La Princesse d’Elide, Tartuffe, ou l’Imposteur), saw Le Nôtre’s work when he was in Paris.
Rather than packing their own picnic basket, Parisians can order from a restaurant in order to make life simpler, and you can, too. While some restaurants are using the down time to revamp their menu or kitchens in order to better serve you, Chez Elle and Café Provence are open and offering curbside pickup so you can emulate the French lifestyle.
You may prefer a light meal in the heat of the day, and Chez Elle Crêperie will hit the spot with their curbside service of three crêpes and two drinks. What better way to have lunch than with a French pancake? Perhaps you can have two savory crêpes and one sweet to take the place of dessert. Just the perfect size as to not be too heavy to cause the mid-afternoon sleepiness.
As the days are longer in June, the extended sunlight allows for more luxurious dinner in your favorite park. Chef Phillip of Café Provence can provide a three-course, prix fixe dinner encompassing wonderful appetizers such as a hearty salad or pasta dish, a main course of meat or fish, and a mouth-watering French dessert. All you have to do is find the perfect bottle of wine to accompany your meal and a shady spot to spread your blanket.
But if the park is not your style, and you prefer to have your toes in the sand, rest assured—Parisians do, too.
Every summer the mayor of Paris brings in sand, palm trees, umbrellas, and lounge seats along both banks of the Seine, and the Paris-Plages are born. You can take your picnic to Shawnee Mission Park which has a 120-acre lake and beach. Of course, you can’t be French if you don’t take your beloved Fido everywhere with you. Shawnee Mission Park also has a Doggy Beach, a small, sand beach in the park’s off-leash area. Fido and his amis won’t mind if you dip your toes in the water to cool off a bit!
By Rebecca Smith
Along with plays by Molière, the court of Louis XIV was partial to literary fairy tales, considered Art. It was the King’s desire to showcase French culture and tradition and promoting its folklore was a means of doing so. Perhaps the most recognized chronicler, Charles Perrault, enjoyed great favor with the King. Backed by his royal Patron, Perrault consistently collected the tales from country storytellers and then reworked them for the nobility, often rendering them more genteel, less rustic. Their settings were changed from the pastoral to court and sometimes a moral tone was added. In this way, the accounts were restyled into literary narratives, distinguishing them from those of other regions. Perrault’s were some of the first oral histories to be noted and recorded, even preceding the Brothers Grimm, and from them reportedly can be traced the legends of Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Puss in Boots, and The Twelve Dancing Princesses.
Perrault had been trained as a lawyer but, always drawn to poetry and prose, wrote stories for Louis XIV and in the late 1660s he brought forth Histoires ou contes du temps passe, avec des moralités: Les Contes de ma Mère l’Oye (Tales and Stories of the Past with Morals: Tales of Mother Goose). With this volume, the fairy tale was essentially established and French literary history was forever enhanced. Perrault was appointed to L’Académie Française in 1671.
The stories generally included fairies, enchantments and magic. Mysticism and transformation (from dead to alive, from human to animal and vice versa, spells, occult transportation) were common elements. Traveling was often involved and heroic rescues not infrequently supplied the denouements.
With such commanding features, the tales had long enjoyed a real popularity with women, especially of the aristocracy. The subject matter, including physical and sometimes sexual content, could preclude discussion between the sexes, so women-only salons were regularly scheduled affairs – perhaps among the earliest “book clubs”. The salons also offered the women momentary escape from the perils and stress of court life. Story lines and characters would be enthusiastically reviewed and some women would read their own creations. The Countess D’Aulnoy, was one of these writers and, indeed, her “Contes de Fèes” (“tales of fairies”), among which “Goldilocks” is said to be included, may be the origin of the genre moniker. Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve may be credited with penning “Beauty and the Beast”. Sophie Segur, although from a Russian background, was another French tale writer of note.
Many of these educated and intellectual Parisian hostess/writers were labeled “les précieuses” and their writing style “préciosité”, which emphasized refined feminine elegance and comportment to a pretentious, excessive level. Molière famously scorned these women for their demure sensibilities and in 1659 he satirized them in Les Précieuses Ridicules. Our own esteemed President and Molière scholar, Dr. Felicia Londré, elucidates.
“The précieuses were an obvious target for satirical exposé. They were like tyrants of ‘political correctness’ in their day. Their pretentiousness was most evident in their vocabulary. One could not say a vulgar word like ‘teeth.’ Any servant could name a body part. So the précieuses came up with ‘the furniture of the mouth.’ ‘Eyes’ were ‘the windows of the soul,’ etc. They passed around a map called La Carte du Tendre so they could point to regions of the heart on the map rather than trying to express emotions in common words.
Molière was not inventing those lines about calling a chair ‘an apparatus for conversation’ in his play. The women really did aim for super refinement, and it’s probably a good thing for Molière that the fad for salons had been going strong for a generation. In their zeal to rid the French public stage of vulgarity and violence (so that women could actually attend the theatre!), they had a theatre of broader appeal ready for Molière’s return to Paris.”
So both Molière and Perrault emerged as French literary stars from the royal court. Molière is, of course, considered the pre-eminent playwright of France. Perrault is the godfather of fairy tale history to whom all future creators (including the Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen and the Walt Disney Company) must bow. And both are read by Francophiles everywhere. Molière is read and studied and performed. Perrault is read and enjoyed and recited. Of course, one must be a strong French speaker to read a Molière play in the original, but a French language student of any level can tackle a Perrault fairy tale. FluentU highly recommends it.
Finally, at KCMOlière400in2022 we must cheer, for obvious reasons, one of Madame d’Aulnoy’s tales, “Felicia and the Pot of Pinks” (“Fortunée”, in French) in which a true princess’s status is restored. “Lovely Felicia, the day has come at last when I may have the happiness of telling you how even the flowers love you and rejoice in your beauty.”
Sources: fairytalez.com, Wikipedia.com, fluentu.com
By Catherine Rush Thompson
For those interested in exploring Molière and his work, the KC Molière 400 in 2022 site is the perfect introduction: https://www.kcmoliere400in2022.com/playlist.html. Here Dr. Felicia Londré outlines a complete list of Molière’s plays in chronological order, beginning with his first play, La Jalousie du Barbouillé (The Jealous Husband), and ending with his last play, Le Malade Imaginaire (The Hypochondriac). Dr. Londré also categorizes plays suitable for young audiences, comedies with music and dance, one-act farces, short comedies and full-length comedies, followed by plays about Molière or inspired by his work. This is a wonderful place to begin appreciating Moliere’s extensive work and comedic themes.
For as little as $0.99 you can order used books featuring Molière’s work at: https://www.alibris.com/. Better yet, local libraries offer free eBooks and access to other online resources to explore Molière from the comfort of your own home.
The Kansas City Public Library offers a range of resources featuring Molière and his work, listing twenty-nine books, three eBooks, a movie, and a downloadable audiobook, including:
The Johnson County Library similarly has a collection of Molière’s work comprised of six books, one eBook one movie, and one downloadable audiobook, including:
Mid-Continent Public Library’s Molière collection includes eleven books, three eBooks, one audiobook (CD), seventeen streaming videos, two streaming music CDs, and two DVDs. Listed below are videos available in English and French that can be streamed remotely using a library membership:
Enjoy exploring Molière!
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