I Remember

Blog1-CobblestoneBy some accounts, I became a Francophile because of my husband. A fellow Anglophone who’d spent enough time in Quebec to join a curling team, the night he introduced me to la musique populaire de la belle province, I knew he was the man I’d marry. French is, after all, the language of love. And when Vance sang along with Mes Aïeux to La Grande Déclaration, Ici, maintenant, je n'ai que toi dans la tête, I fell most surely in love—with both the man and the music.

In fact, my courtship with French had begun over fifteen years earlier, on a school trip to Quebec City. A gawky preteen, all lanky limbs and stumbling along the flattest of sidewalks, I was, suddenly, a nimble gazelle on the cobblestone streets of la Basse-Ville. I wanted to skip past the tourist shops that my peers were crowding and get lost in the winding labyrinth of the old city, touch its ramparts, and learn by heart not only the names, but the lines and shadows of its architecture.

This place was magical. And not a single property in my small (and Anglophone) Ontario home-town had an edifice or name as enchanting as Le Chateau Frontenac, Notre Dame des Victoires, La Citadelle. Already a lover of English poetry, I began to relish the sound of les mots français, how they felt on the tongue, how the words matched the places so perfectly. Since grade three and up until now, I’d enjoyed our daily half-hour French classes the way one enjoys a speed-bump on a prairie road. But now I’d walked the fairy tale streets of Ville de Quebec. And now, I had tolearn the language of its characters.

One day, I decided, I would go back to the old city alone. I would spend the night and enjoy the view from the Frontenac. I would eat at the bistros. I would chit chat with shopkeepers. I would get to know the locals. I would find a way, this time, to politely refuse the tourtière.

And so it was that I took every opportunity to learn la langue française in an unequivocally Anglophone part of the world. I continued to take French until the end of high school, read French novels, and watched French films.

But I was not spurred only by the desire to return to that beautiful city. By other accounts, you could say that French is in my blood. For 300 years it was spoken by the Métis traders of my father’s roots, lost somewhere, somehow, along the shores of what Champlain called La Mer Douce, later to be known—perhaps less whimsically—as Georgian Bay. Once forgotten, the generations would discover it again, and I’d try to get to know it intimately—or just enough, at the very least, to speak it to my son.

Kirsten McPherson