travel

Dictee de la Baie

welcome to French classDoes anyone else besides me remember the names of every French teacher they ever had? I recall each one: Madame Rhodes, Mademoiselle de Mauduit, Madame Lambert -- too many to list -- all the way through college.

And believe me, their names and voices and red-pen marks came rushing back to memory today as I climbed into the seat to compete in this year's Dictée de la Baie, more or less the French/francophone version of a spelling bee. There were 150 contestants from the Bay Area, ranging in age from 6 to over 60.

In the category Adult Francophiles, there were about 20-25 of us gathered in the schoolroom, fidgeting, joking nervously, jovially eyeing the competition. Lining up our papers and pencils.

Muriel, the dictant, began:

"Les vieilles femmes qui avaient eu la lourde responsabilité d’habiller la jeune fille pour son repos éternel avaient scrupuleusement respecté les coutumes mortuaires. Une icône de la vierge était placé sur sa poitrine, bien calée entre ses bras en croix. Au-dessus de sa tête, un petit miroir devait chasser les démons tentés de s’approcher du cadavre..."

...and on to the the end of a long passage. Then, sentence by sentence, she repeated the passage, and we scribbled ferociously. One more time all the way through. But I could hardly bear to look at what I'd written: I knew I'd start second-guessing myself and thus had to rely mostly on first impulse. A quick review for egregious errors and I flipped it over. Done. Palms a little sweaty andFrench lady wearing beret the pencil worn down.

Then we swapped our dictées with our neighbors, corrected the dictée per the passage projected on the large screen at the front of the class. I thought I had done pretty well, but couldn't remember if I'd flubbed a few accents. Muriel gathered the corrected the dictées and announced the results.

First place, with 1 mistake: Polly.

I was both thrilled and supremely embarrassed. Can't explain it: I didn't anticipate that reaction because I didn't anticipate winning.

At the awards ceremony, I got a book, a certificate, and congratulatory cheek bisous from Corinne Pereira, the French Deputy Consul General.

But the biggest prize was rising to a personal challenge.

So, mes amis, on days when I think my foggy boomer-brain has turned to mush, I can at least pat myself on the back reassuringly and say, "Ah, but Polly, you sure do great accents aigus."

Polly is a Boston born Baby Boomer who lived on the Left Bank in Paris and is still blogging about it at Polly-Vous Francais. © 2006-2011, Polly-Vous Francais, all rights reserved.

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