Saturday, December 19, 2015

Parlez- vous français ?

Title:French Illusions : My Story as an American Au Pair in the Loire Valley
Author:  Linda Kovic-Skow    france booktours French-illusions
 “Je suis américaine . Je ne parle pas français”  Linda Kovic-Skow began her journey to France in the summer of 1979. Simply awesome. As Linda shares her enchanting  story as an au pair in a French household  and her wonderful adventure in Tours, I wish I could travel back in time as I have always harboured the dream of spending some months in France in order to be able to fully immerse myself  in the French language. While snapping a photo of a scene or a moment may be  an efficient way to help us recall the scene and remember the sequence of events, we still need to keep some kind of journal and jot down some notes about the experience including details of a particular place and a specific encounter. Ms Kovic-Skow definitely has kept the memory of her travelling experiences to France with such clarity and the places and sights in Tours as accurate as possible as she recounted the time she spent in France. Linda might have changed the names of everyone she met in France and  the name of the town she lived in as an au pair, nonetheless her dream like adventure has come across heart warming and truthful. It reminds me of the quote  by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry “Fais de ta vie un rêve, et d'un rêve, une réalité.” Make your life a dream and the dream a reality.

When Linda was twenty –one,  she worked  as a medical assistant for a busy family practice clinic in Seattle. When she grew increasingly disenchanted with her mundane work, she decided to pursue a career as a flight attendant. She imagined herself ‘ on sojourns in cities around the globe, meeting fascinating people and living life to its fullest’. There was one hitch  in her pursuit of her dream job. At the interview with World Airways, she was told that all flight attendants had to be bilingual. The interviewer suggested “Spanish, French , or German.”

French appealed to Linda  so  she decided that total immersion would be the best way to become fluent in the shortest amount of time. A coworker suggested that she could become an au pair for a family in France. She decided to take up the challenge as an au pair that usually entails childcare, twenty- five to thirty hours a week along with some light housework and cooking and in return she would have her own bedroom, a small allowance and one day off per week. Again there was another snag. The agencies required prospective au pairs to be conversant in French. Linda was determined so she filled out the applications as though she spoke basic French  when in reality, she did not.  She found a family in Songais within the Loire region of France. The family she was going to work for lived in Château  de  Montclair , a real – life castle  in Songais and the couple had two young children and the third one was on its way.   The Dubois family who engaged her was surprised to find that she spoke very little French. However they decided to let her stay as they were expecting their third child. She soon found that her inability to communicate in French did pose a barrier between her and the children who were under her charge.
 When Linda first met her employer, Madame Dubois , a tall, statuesque woman, she asked. “Parlez- vous anglais?”. That probably did not kick off on a good ground. When Madame Dubois knew that Linda could only manage a few French phrases, she was definitely not amused. Life as an au pair posed several challenges.  However during her stay in Tours,  she had made  new friends who were kind and helpful. When she was overwhelmed with frustrations, she had also experienced kindness, abundance of joy and happy encounters.

 Written in the first person voice, Ms Kovic- Skow’s memoir is a captivating read and I cannot wait to read her next book entitled “From Tours to Paris ( French Illusions Book 2)

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Time Out

It is a cliché that we all remember things differently. A week ago, I found myself being included in one of the group whats app created by classmates from my primary school.  I found it a little incredulous as I had recently quitted from whats app group consisting of my secondary school friend and now I have to decide if I should exit . While it is nice that friends from the past show up and play catch up, they can be a little overwhelming when the phone is swamped with a hundred over messages in one day.

I am amazed that some of these school friends could recall  things that happened in school as my own memory bank has since been reprogrammed  and many memories have been erased and replaced by more recent events. Perhaps I am not too nostalgic about childhood not that I had a  bad one. I just do not travel back in time with the same degree of sentimentality and enthusiasm that my school friends demonstrate. A school friend lamented about how one Bahasa cikgu used to hit every pupil on his or her hand for not performing well in ‘ejaan’ ( spelling test) and I was apparently spared the rod as I used  to ride the same taxi as the teacher for my trip to and from school.  I asked my sister if she remembered any of it. She told me I used to be picked up from school in my dad’s business van or truck and occasionally the ice cream truck belonging to our neighbour. I had trouble remembering any of this though I could remember  the super thin and tanned driver who used to smoke a lot and resembled what I thought a drug addict would look like. Our late dad was an entrepreneur and I remember he was never on time. He did make it a point to take us on a beach or movie outing on Sundays. I also had some fabulous time practising duets with him playing the violin and me the piano when we were young. So to me, he had pretty much redeemed himself.  Nobody is perfect and everybody is different. That is probably the best motto anyone should have in life. 

When I was studying in Sydney, I used to enjoy retreating into the world of old movies that played on television so much so that there was this one time I was late for a part-time waitressing job I took during my first summer holiday. I can still recall the yelling from the Greek cook but he was not intimidating at all. The café I was working at was located at Bondi Junction and the breakfast crowd arrived after 7 am and many of them had to start work at the departmental stores in the vicinity. It was the month of December so Christmas was approaching just like now.

Chick lit can be nauseating because it is often  pretty much a fairy tale. A night in with Audrey Hepburn is an entertaining read.  But Lucy Holliday  has made it really hilarious about how aspiring actress Libby Lomax has retreated into the world of classic movies as her dad had been instrumental in influencing her for her love for movies. Her dad has left the family to focus on writing a book about Hollywood screen icons like Audrey Hepburn. And at her new bachelor pad which has been reduced in its size by her  dishonest landlord, Libby meets her screen idol, Audrey Hepburn complete with little black dress, tortoise shell sun glasses and vintage cigarette holder sitting on the Chesterfield sofa that her childhood buddy has picked up from used furniture store at the movie studio. Just as she feels everything is going wrong and she has been unlucky then things start to look up when she starts whining to her sofa about her life.

The story is written in the voice of Libby.
'I mean , I may just have been chatting to my new sofa, but I ‘m not 100 per cent crackers, not yet. Obviously there’s no way this is the real, bona-fide, sadly long-dead Hollywood legend Audrey.

 She’s got the voice down absolutely pat, I have to say. The elongated vowels, the crisp, elocution- perfect consonants, all adding up to that mysterious not quite-English –not quite –European accent. Exactly the way Audrey Hepburn sounds when you hear her in the movies. ‘

 Libby has issues with her estranged dad and she needs to work them out of her system. Audrey encourages her to re-connect with her dad. So  Libby listens to her alter ego and responds to her dad’s tweet and agrees to meet up.

 Once again, I remind myself to give Audrey a piece of my mind when I get back to my flat tonight. Because this is going even worse than I thought. I’d forgotten, somehow, just how flat and unenthusiastic my dad can be. How it’s not just the way he smiles at me that makes me feel like that tiresome neighbour: it’s the way he talks to me as well. The way he’s always talked to me, in fact.’

When she is with her dad, she wonders if ‘Dad happens to recall – as I ‘m doing, right now – the occasion we watched Charade, together, when I was nine or ten. It was at a time , a rare and brief time, if only I’d realized it back then, when he was making sufficiently good progress with the book to mean that he wasn’t canceling our one weekend a month at the last minute , and that he was in a relaxed mood when I went to stay with him.’

We have to accept that nobody is perfect not even our parents. We should not forget  the good part and accept that not everyone thinks alike and we have to work out what works for us. 

A night in with Audrey Hepburn is definitely a girly escape as the protagonist has  a hot and popular actor  falling for her, a wonderful girl pal whose brother constantly looks out for her and he is sweet, caring and reliable. Life is definitely looking better for Libby whose story is  continued in Lucy Holliday's next novel A night in with Marilyn Monroe.