Today at French class, our wunderlehrer Dalia asked us to bring three interesting objects to class. So we each did, and piled them on the table at the hour of 6:30 p.m. amid dwindles of ardent sunbeam. (By providence’s great grace, these epochs of late afternoon sun never, ever fail to appear on the days that I trek up into Wallingford and the Alliance Francaise). After an hour of drilling grammar and wrapping each of our seven brains around the problems of savoir/connait and the futur proche in our particular ways, Dalia asked us to put our respective gear on the table.
God, I was so happy to be asked! Because it meant I could haul out and share one of the greatest discoveries I have made as a sentient adult, and certainly the most valuable book that was, before my hand latched onto it, in the unversity library. Not to be fetishized, it is simply a Franco-Chinese classical dictionary from the 1890s, reprinted in 1963 Taipei. What a true gem it is:
But putting its heft down on the table, the book momentarily lost its maroon bedazzlement for me. Instead my eyes were drawn instead to Joanna’s book: Swann’s Way, by Marcel Proust.
Joanna apologized to all of us, so needlessly and yet gentile, for its Anglophonic overture, its lack of sicophlexes and accent graves, but by God! it was a tome whose dusty hue and rounded edges bespoke months of patient intensity, of return, of, well, memory.
Joanna, to me, represents the purest rationale for Alliance Francaise, but also for living as a human; that is, to be immersed in literature and the conditions of its creation.
After seeing her book and being reminded of my own lost moments with a different as a late-teenager staying home from school, I have to wonder if is possible to have a “Proust crush”? After “Sartre crush,” “Kirkegaard crush” and “I think I am in love with John Dower’s writing from 1986,” why not? If only I could hex myself with a “Japanese war crimes” crush! Oh, then the summer would be a snap.
French has two ways of saying “to know”:
“connait,” which is to say “I am familiar with” and
“Savoir” which is to say “I am intimately familiar with/I can do it”
Strive to savoir, not just connait.