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The most astonishing sites in Aude?

Cabrespine and Limousis

We are in Aude, France, where we have a house (cum office) in a tiny village, Saint-Louis et Parahou, nestled in the Pyrénées. The scenery is spectacular. The weather is enjoyable, even in the middle of an amber warning severe drought period (“vigilance canicule”). Whatever your favourite leisure activity, you should find something much to your liking here. There are long walks in woods and mountains, horse riding across the mountain, the sea, lakes, art, canoeing, history, dinosaurs, the local food (this area is the centre of organic agriculture -or “bio” as the locals call it), etc.. The further you move away from the coast, the more fascinating it becomes.

Natural and Historic Interest

This year, apart from long walks across magnificent and huge woods (you need a good map, if you intend to walk from one col to the next while avoiding roads) we decided to explore some of the many sites of natural and historical interest. Wild life is abundant: foxes, deer, wild boars. By the way, do you know that we have 3 words in French for wild boars (and they are not even similar!!!). We do our best to try to confuse people who are learning French. The male boar is “un sanglier”. The female boar is “une laie” and, wait for it, the cubs are called “marcassins”. To avoid getting shot by  hunters, wear something turquoise or purple)

Four type of Caves

This year, we  decided to visit some of the many caves in the area. You need a minimum of fitness, but it’s not particularly  strenuous. There is nothing better than leaving a car park, baking under a relentless sun, and walking inside a natural feature where the temperature is constant (14 to 18°C, depending on the location of the cave). There are basically 4 types of caves in the area: natural caves where the human species has been living for close to 15,000 years (such at Limousis), “Gouffre” – a form of hollow mountain (such as Cabrespine, which is defined as a GIANT gouffre), caves available to people who like to go pot-holing (such as Cabrespine, again, where you can go for an organised walk alongside the bank of a river crossing the mountain.  It is known that this river is some 17km long across this mountain, but only half of it has been discovered so far. Feel free, but be warned that the problem is caused by narrow underwater passages).  Fourthly, there are caves which are no longer visited because the locals cannot remember the exact location (there are 2 of them in our local woods, la Forêt des Fanges).

Stunning Visual Experience

In Limousis and Cabrespine, the guides were very good and informative, provided you know enough French. The guide in Limousis was not only excellent and informative, he was also really funny. For instance, he jumped up and down to prove the quality of the acoustics (you don’t want to miss that). He also played music by hitting a set of stalactites called “drapes” (very eerie and strangely melodious). Apart from this, both sets of caves are visually stunning. Cabrespine for its huge – cathedral like and stunning in its beauty; Limousis for the journey-under-the-earth experience through different chambers.

You can visit Limoussis and Cabrespine in one day, as they are quite close to each other. There is even a special price, if you do so. Both of them are close to Carcassonne. Kids are welcome and would be fascinated by both of them.

My career as an international musician

Never heard of me?

You are probably wondering: “If he is an international musician, how come I have never heard of him?” It could be that my international career as a musician was very short-lived… or I am known under a different name…or I am lying.

My career, as described above, was very short-lived and if not exactly lying, I am exaggerating.

A bit of guitar experience

First of all, I cannot competently play an instrument (about from spending a few years learning classical guitar), I can barely read music, I cannot really sing (or, at least, not professionally), I am no composer…but I toured 23 towns in the USA in the early 70s as a professional musician!

I toured 23 towns in the US

Some of them were small towns, such as Las Cruces in New Mexico (just above 50,000 people at the time); Dumas in Texas (probably less than 10,000 inhabitants). Some were much bigger, such as Amarillo, also in Texas (around 150,000 people, in the early 70s) and Philadelphia in Pennsylvania (1.5 million residents).

We played to full houses every day and every night (or rather to full stadiums). But we were not top of the bill, as several other bands were involved,  like the Mothers of Invention,  Creedence Clearwater Revival and so on).

Her gift was a mystery

How did I get involved? The mother of one of my friends, as a parting gift, gave me a pair of bongos. Very nice ones. I had no idea why she gave them to me. I knew she liked me but that does not mean you give bongos to people you like. This is still a mystery to me…

My talented Argentinian girlfriend

At the time, I had a girl-friend from Argentina. We went to the same Californian university. She was a very talented singer and guitar player. She sang in a very good South-American band consisting of musicians from various Latin American countries. The leader was from Paraguay. They were all excellent musicians (as far as my musically inept ears could tell).

I knew the words

They were invited to play in these 23 towns spread across the USA. For some reason, my girl-friend decided I should be on stage with them. I argued that I could not play an instrument, I was not a trained singer and I had no stage presence or experience. She insisted. She really wanted to be on stage with me. I did not know what to do really… She decided that I could somehow play the bongos and do a bit of backup singing as I knew the words, having gone to many rehearsals and concerts with her band before.

Over 50,000 people

And this is how I became an international musician playing in front of sell-out crowds, sometimes in front of well over 50,000 people (for instance, in Amarillo, on a 4th of July)!

You will have noticed that I have not given the name of the band or of my then girl-friend! This is to protect the privacy of my friends as their professional careers were not in the musical field and they joined the world of academia, where some of them are well known.

 

Can henhouses blow up? The conclusion

 

"Blimey...hope mine isn't going to blow up!"

 

A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog about exploding henhouses. It turns out I got some of the facts wrong.

My sister didn’t believe me

Last week, we went to visit my uncle Georges (88) and his wife, my aunt Marie (84) in Toulon (my hometown). Both are still mentally sharp. The day before, I had talked to my sister about the exploding henhouse incident. She did not know anything about it. She, in fact, expressed some doubt about the whole story!

Visit to Toulon

So, the next afternoon we went to the old family house where uncle Georges and auntie Marie live. After a while, I asked my auntie what she remembered of the crate of grenades exploding in her henhouse while she was feeding her hens.

She had no idea

“What are you talking about?” she asked? She did not know anything about the grenades. So, I explained to her the whole story: my mother asked my two uncles (one of them being uncle Georges) to get rid of a crate of grenades my late father used to keep under the matrimonial bed during the war,  years ago.

“Is this true?” she asked

After I finished relating this strange episode, my auntie turned to my uncle to ask if this was true. With a wry smile, he nodded. My auntie was absolutely flabbergasted. So was my sister, my wife, my cousin Andre (uncle Georges’ and auntie Marie’s son), and myself.

It seems that my uncle Georges never told the truth about the exploding henhouse to my auntie Marie. But even more surprising, for over 50 years, it seems that my auntie Marie thought that her exploding henhouse had been a natural phenomenon!

How weird is that? How could you live most of your life thinking that henhouses can spontaneously explode?

Just a thought -there’s still no news of the gun my uncle Georges also agreed to get rid of as a favour to my mother…

Can hen houses explode…?

Happy French hen

Can henhouses blow up?

Yes, they can and in fact they do (sometimes). Ask my aunt Marie. She can confirm it.

I can hear you thinking: “Who is this fool? Hen houses do not explode. It would make the news or something.”

I think I’d better explain my statement about exploding hen houses.

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The French started their election before the UK

Presidential Candidates 2017

 

French Presidential Candidates

I have just received a very thick envelope from the French Embassy. It contains a 4-page document for each of the 11 candidates for the French Presidential election. The first round is this Sunday (April 23rd, 2017). The top two candidates will go to a second round (May 7th, 2017) as it is very unlikely that a candidate will get 50% of the vote + 1 on the first round. None of the seven previous presidents of the 5th Republic (the current) were elected during the first round. The closest to do it were General Charles de Gaulle in 1958 (close to 45%) and François Mitterrand in 1974 (over 43%).

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It’s critical to give your translator clear instructions

Ensure you tell the linguist what you mean

It is important to give the translator specific and detailed instructions to avoid any mistakes – sometimes, embarrassing ones! For instance, in 1991, a competitive fighting game called Street Fighter II: The World warrior launched in Japan. It was a sequel to an arcade game released a few years before.

The translator didn’t know the context

When translation was done from Japanese into English, the translator only got the text. He had no idea of what was really going on on the screen. He (or she) had to translate the following sentence: “If you cannot overcome the Rising Dragon Punch, you cannot win!”. The Japanese characters for “Rising Dragon” were interpreted by the translator as “Sheng Long”. The translator thought a new character called Sheng Long was being introduced!

It drove gamers crazy!

Gamers went wild trying to find this non-existent character. The year after, a famous gaming magazine carried out an April Fool’s joke. They published a series of complex instructions to find Sheng Long. Obviously to no avail… a good laugh, though.

I wonder how many hours were thus wasted!

Are translators psychic?

It is amazing how some clients can assume the translator knows what is inside their head. We aren’t famous for being psychic – although I think you develop it a bit over the years…

How native French speakers remember gender

Language challenge

My wife is a native English speaker, which means we often have debates of the “is it le or la?” variety when in France, or when translating into French. Questions like “How can a table be female?” are often asked. For English speakers, where all inanimate objects are gender – neutral, it can be hard to remember which it is. (I do often remark: “Huh! What about German, where it could be feminine, masculine or neutral?!”).

How I learned “le” or “la”

It’s a challenge to answer. Like most people whose first language has genders for nouns, I don’t remember being rote-taught the rules. I never chanted at school: “La table, le jardin, la pomme, le stylo”. It feels like I just absorbed it through my skin…

Don’t split the words

We did spend some time discussing this issue as native speakers of French and English respectively. Finally, we concluded that when foreigners learn French, they kind of separate out the article from the noun, eg “table (f)” or “stylo (m)”. But I never learned my vocabulary this way as a child. I learned the words as if the article was part of the word: “lestylo”, “latable” etc. So, because the article and the noun were never separated, it was easy to remember which gender it was. It became instinctive and automatic – as language should be.

I have tested this language theory on speakers of Spanish and Italian and it seems to be similar for them.

English doesn’t have genders

English learners usually just memorise the noun, as the article is always the same : “the”. This is why learning different genders is more of a challenge when you aren’t used to it.

So there’s the answer if you are learning French. Embed the vocabulary in your brain with the article as if it is part of the same word. Hope it helps!

Finding customers after Brexit

Brexit – remember that?

Well, all the hoo-ha following the referendum has died down a bit. We are in the somewhat scary no-man’s-land between Vote Out and How to Deliver.  I’m really glad it’s not my job to sort that one out…

What’s the future for British businesses in this new scenario? One thing’s for sure – businesses like yours are ahead of the game. How do I know this? Because you’ve already had documents translated into French, haven’t you? You are aware that there customers who want to read about your products in a language other than English.

Where is French spoken?

French speakers aren’t just in Europe.  There are many other countries around the globe where French is a main language. Lots of them have fast-growing economies: Algeria, Canada, Rwanda, Morocco, Cameroon, Madagascar, Ivory Coast and Senegal to name a few. Around 388 million people speak French around the world. Businesses presenting their offer in French as well as English can reach a lot of extra customers.

Easy way to find new customers

If you are actively seeking to find new customers overseas, it is well worth your while signing up here:

https://www.exportingisgreat.gov.uk/opportunities/

This government site will automatically send you details of relevant business opportunities around the world. Sounds good, pointing out directly for you, potential customers, doesn’t it?

I hope it’s useful to you – have a good November!

The French are like the Italians!

Here are ten ways they are similar:
Words and language

They have lots of vocabulary in common – because the languages come from the Latin eg “sud” for”south”. Being French translators, we can often guess the meaning of signs in Italian.

Food

They both like very expensive pastry and croissant-like things which are outrageously pricy, and they eat these things for breakfast!
Both countries grow very delicious tomatoes, unlike the pallid, crunchy drink of water types we have in the UK.

On the road

There are some real nutcase drivers on French roads, and even more on Italian roads (mostly on motorbikes). Translators spend a lot of time helping foreign drivers who have accidents on French or Italian roads!

Religion

Both the French and the Italians are predominantly Roman Catholics and even small villages often have churches which resemble cathedrals!

Culture and attitude

The Italians and the French both have many heartfelt songs about love – and it’s the words and story that really matters – eg the opera.

The French and the Italians are equally proud of their food and their wine.

Identity and politics

Both the Italians and the French describe their flag as the 3-coloured flag – the tricolore, spelled the same (but pronounced differently).

Both France and Italy are relatively recent republics.

In both France and Italy, local government (commune – the same in both languages) power is often vested in the local mayor who can have significant decision-making power and responsibility even in small towns.

And here is a very important 11th – the French and the Italians enjoy much more sunshine than the Brits!

French dogs are more amenable than English dogs!

More differences between the French and the English

Something which always puzzles us when we are travelling around in France is the number of dogs you see hanging around without a lead, including in towns.

Several times we have seen really quite young puppies (no more than 3 months) obediently following their French owners while they trot along the street. Quite often you see a French dogs, NOT TIED UP, sitting quietly outside a shop. They are waiting patiently for their owner to make his/her purchases and come out.  I really don’t understand how they manage this. I know some dogs are amenable in this way in the UK but you don’t see so many owners confidently expecting them to abide by the rules of the road/pavement. We have had two labradors. The last one could be 100% trusted to walk alongside you and not run off, whatever the temptation. The current one, however, is given to taking unreasonable dislikes – extending to murderous intent! – to other dogs on a pretty random basis and has been known to shoot off ignoring frantic calls to come back when attracted by, say, a squirrel or any kind of food.

Dogs welcome in restaurants

The other thing which is quite different between French and English dog owners is that you quite often see French dogs sitting in restaurants and cafes, even sometimes at the table! Shops in the UK (food or otherwise) nearly all have signs forbidding entrance by dogs except guide dogs. Does this mean that French owners are more inclined to see their pets as equal family members, in the same way as they see them being entitled to wander around the street without being on a lead?

FrenchEnglish