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July 2013, vol 9, no 2

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Doris Lynch

Stranger to the Language of Love

Opening the New Orleans Free University catalog, I discover that the "The Language of Love" will be offered on Wednesday nights at the downtown library. I've always wanted to learn the language that couples speak in the city of light. At our first lesson, Monsieur Gravois surprises us by leaping onto the teacher's desk and crooning an account of his first trip to Paris. Don't fret, Mesdames, Mademoiselles, Messieurs, soon we'll tackle tenses and conjugations, but first I must describe to you how the mist pours off the Seine after a night at La Scala.

Soon Monsieur Gravois is slithering under our seats. A strong aroma of alcohol drifts up from the creaky floorboards. A proper-looking, uptown lady gasps as Monsieur demonstrates how to take a surreptitious whizz off a stone bridge. When he turns around, his hair mussed and streaked with confetti, he insists that an older woman dance with him. Excusez –moi. No, closer, closer.

By week three, I have not learned a single French phrase, yet we three remaining students sit transfixed as Monsieur Gravois demonstrates a line dance he joined one rainy night in the sixth arrondissement. Soon he has all snaking around the meeting room.

Week four, only Monsieur Gravois and I show up. In a tirade of French-English that I barely understand, he rails about the students who have given up, who have chosen to wallow in their pedantic, boring English. "Anglo Saxon, the language of serfs," he spits out.

Monsieur Gravois asks for a ride home. He leads me through his living room full of half-dead flowers, his kitchen, past a fat, striped tabby out to his garden where a neighbor joins us. They offer me a rum drink, so strong I can barely sip it. I slip the Conversational French text from my bag and try to discreetly leave it on the chair next to me. Even as drunk as Monsieur Gravois is, he notices.

"Ah, my best student," he nods to his gay friend, "she will give up French too, but in her dreams she will speak le français as fluently as you or I.

two friends
lean over candlelight
scent of sweet olive