Une opération bilingue

King Charles VIII of France died in April 1498 at the lavish Château d’Amboise, after hitting his head on a low beam.  We learn this little bit of history on the day that Tim is to have his stitches removed, from the wound incurred from banging his head on a low beam in France.

Karine arrived at Bel-Air in the late morning, with a bag of supplies in hand. When we were at the hospital last week, Tim was told to make an appointment with a nurse (l’infirmier) to have the stitches removed. But we weren’t told how or where to make this appointment. Fortunately neighbor Suzanne’s daughter Karine is a nurse and she volunteered to come to the house to do the deed.

I make a pot of coffee, and we sit out on the patio, sheltering ourselves from the heat with a large blue umbrella. Karine speaks some English, and the visit is conducted in a mixture of languages. She is barely given a chance to sip her coffee because Bryan is very excited. Camera in hand he wants to record the “operation”, and has spent the previous night thinking through an appropriate script and commentary. Tim is positioned in the chair at the head of the table and we are ready to go.

Karine washes her hands and then lays her tools out on the table — 2 vials of antiseptic, 1 vial of antibiotic (just in case), plastic tweezers, scissors, scalpel, sterile gauze and wads of cotton — all carefully packaged in sterile plastic sleeves. She cleanses the wound (la blessure) and deftly slices through the blue thread de chaque point. Each one is quickly removed, held aloft and applauded. The operation is a success. Tim’s head is in tact.

“Karine, Je fait des “brownies” pour ta famille”. I send her home with a large plate, freshly made and still warm. We ask if we should be paying for the supplies, to which she replies, “Sarkozy va payer”. Thank you, again, French health care!

Working on my French is an uphill battle. There are a surprising number of words in my memory banks, but the verbs are a nightmare. Other than in high school, my French studies have been half-hearted attempts at self improvement: a series of classes with my dear neighbor Pauline, a dreadful evening college class, and forays into ancient French school text books. Suzanne has agreed to take me on for a few conversational classes, and I have met her down at her house several times. Elle est très gentille and accepts payment in Crémant (the local sparkling wine). After an hour I have managed to tell her I love her (instead of that I love my son). And I leave telling her that I am bad feet. It seems my default is always Je suis, which gives me a frustratingly arrogant air.

But Suzanne and her husband Christian are patient. I am given homework to gently steer me toward a past tense.  I pour through the back of the Robert Collins Super Senior français/anglais dictionnaire, scratching around the edges of comprehension.

Author: Amanda West Lewis

AMANDA WEST LEWIS has built a life filled with words on the page and on the stage, combining careers as a writer, theatre director and calligrapher. Her new book, The Pact, (Red Deer Press) was released in the fall of 2016. It has been listed on the 2017 USBBY OUTSTANDING INTERNATIONAL BOOKS LIST; selected for the 2017 ILA YOUNG ADULTS’ READERS CHOICES LIST; Nominated for 2017 SNOW WILLOW AWARD; and listed in the CANADIAN CHILDREN’S BOOK CENTRE BEST BOOKS FOR KIDS & TEENS, Spring 2017. SEPTEMBER 17: A NOVEL was nominated for the Silver Birch Award, the Red Cedar Award, and the Violet Downie IODE Award. Amanda has an MFA in Creative Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. In her theatre career, Amanda is the founder of The Ottawa Children’s Theatre, where she teaches and directs children. She has developed specialized drama and literacy programs for youth at risk, and for children with autism spectrum disorder. She has a Certificate in Theatre for Young Audiences with Complex Difficulties from Rose Bruford College, England. In 2015, Amanda co-produced the hit play “Up to Low” is based on the book by Brian Doyle. As a professional calligrapher and book artist, Amanda is passionate about the history of writing and has taught calligraphy courses to students of all ages. She studied with Hermann Zapf, Mark Van Stone and Nancy Culmone among many others. Amanda lives with her husband, writer Tim Wynne-Jones, in the woods in Eastern Ontario. They have three wonderful grown children. Find out more on her website at http://www.amandawestlewis.com/

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