Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Giving ourselves the crêpes


Montpellier, Tuesday morning. It's a perfect January day. Don't need a coat. I've got a couple of hours to kill before lunch, which I've booked at a little side-street crêperie called Le Kreisker. I stroll across the massive central square of Montpellier, the Place de la Comédie (see above), to buy a copy of The Times, printed in Marseilles, and settle in the sun on the terrace of a café called Le Yams. (Can't explain this: no idea what it means. 'Kreisker', incidentally, means 'city centre' in Breton. The 'ker' element, for the hordes of philologists who come here every day, is the same as the 'caer' or 'car' meaning 'town' that you get in sister-language Welsh, e.g. Caernarvon, Cardiff. Le Kreisker has a Breton theme to it, there are Breton bagpipes and round black beribboned Breton hats hanging on the wall, even though here in the Languedoc you couldn't get much further away from Brittany without getting very wet. Can I get on with my story now, please?)

On my right - at the far end of the photo - is the massive Opera, decorated like a wedding cake, all cornices and finials and crockets and swags and other architectural goodies. Two enormous panels announce the season's repertoire: The Barber of Seville, Samson and Delilah, La Traviata, Die Fledermaus and others and I find myself daydreaming . . . just suppose, in the legendary manner of somebody asking from the stage 'Is there a doctor in the house, please?' a tuxedo'ed figure, shaken by some desperate backstage emergency, appeared from the curtain saying 'Is there a conductor in the house, please?' I suppose I could volunteer and take them off the cuff through Die Fledermaus or La Traviata, The Barber at a push. I dream on until . . .

. . . the Yams waiter brings me my coffee, a café au lait. I take my time. I could stay here all day without anyone urging me to order anything else or vacate my table. There's an article in The Times by their columnist Ben Macintyre about the development of Indian English. He's describing the same sort of thing that happened to Latin: amoeba-like, it fractalised over time into Italian, Spanish, Romanian, French, Portuguese, Catalan and so on. English is doing the same, and always has done and always will, because language is a vital, living organism that feeds on change, and people who try to pin it down definitively, once-for-all, are no lovers of language in my book.

In an encouragingly non-patronising article, Ben Macintyre quotes from an apparently apocryphal 1909 letter written by a Bengali (Bangladeshi?) complaining about the lack of loos in trains of the period:

Just I doing the nuisance that guard making whistle blow for train to go off and I am running with lotah in one hand and dhoti in the next when I fall over and expose all my shocking to man and female women on platform...

Apocryphal or not, I wish I could write like that.

J. and I are booked for lunch at 1pm. About 20 minutes beforehand I pay my bill, fold The Times, put it in the bag in which there's a new cravat (sometimes called 'Ascot' here) I've treated myself to, saunter across the square and amble down the Esplanade, a tree-lined pedestrian avenue leading down to Montpellier's second opera house, a vast modern complex called Le Corum, where we've agreed to meet. Lunch at Le Kreisker is as usual excellent. The buckwheat crêpes are melt-in-the-mouth, light and lacy. I have egg, cheese, tomato and ham in mine, the more moderate J. has egg, spinach and sour cream. We share a green salad. As those Indians in all seriousness might say, 'super-duper.'

13 comments:

moreidlethoughts said...

Your writing is fine as it is. We wouldn't want you to risk exposing all your shocking.

Sarah said...

There is nothing more endearing than a strong accent getting our stiff upper lipped language, upside down and inside out.

Hmmm galletes, followed swiftly by a mountain of crepes with nothing more than lemon and sugar.Yummmeeee.
Why is it we wait until lent to eat pancakes?

Glad you are again enjoying sunshine, while we over here can't see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Christopher said...

MIT: Thank you. I take that as a great compliment from a female woman like you.

Sah: Heh heh. We get pancakes at chandeleur (Candlemas), Feb. 2nd. No mucking about waiting for Lent.

Rog said...

Those opera buffs must rush for the pancakes apres concert.

A real danger of the fans hitting the crepe.

(Sorry I can never walk past an open door without giving it a kick!)

Christopher said...

Quite right, Rog. Next season I believe they're putting on Butadoro's Il Punstero di Swaffhamo.

Z said...

I love Indian newspapers. They are better written than much of what is in ours, but with a splendid turn of phrase - like the " eve teasing' that was also referred to in that article - that makes one realise that one is reading a different English. Not that I'm advocating eve teasing, of course.

Christopher said...

I'm glad you read it too, Z. I can't say I've ever read an Indian English-language newspaper, but apart from the letter I quoted in my post I really enjoyed the freshness - despite being archaic in current UK English - of expressions like 'sleuths nab evildoers', 'miscreants abscond' and 'dastardly deeds' which presumably all relate to an outbreak of 'eve teasing'.

Hector said...

"'Is there a conductor in the house, please?'"

I'm still waiting for that moment when one of Ryanair's finest bursts from the cockpit with the immortal phrase - "Is there a pilot on board?" My hand will shoot up with the plaintive cry - "Yes - I can land this Boeing 737-800" - I've done it many a time sitting here at my computer!! But, that said, I have landed gliders 1,500 times - and only crashed once!! But I did walk away, shaken if not stirred.
As the saying goes - "There are bold pilots and there are old pilots, but there are no old bold pilots."

Christopher said...

Hector: I hope you would feel as comfortable playing in the Montpellier opera orchestra pit under my baton as I would flying Ryanair with you at the controls.

letouttoplay said...

A couple of years ago we went to India and before we went I was enchanted to learn from an Indian website that "The Mall Road [in Shimla] is also famous for its wooden furniture shops that sell exquisite wooden articles, which look like antiques" and that "at altitude, the autos are not quite helpful".
I think the language must be designed to be absolutely truthful without giving offence. Difficult to translate into English.

english inukshuk said...

yum!

english inukshuk said...

(I, too, am envious of your sunshine!!)

Christopher said...

Mig: Thanks. Don't you find there are many occasions when the autos are not quite helpful?

IE: Yum indeed. No sun today, though. Except in my disposition.