Monday, June 24, 2024

"We Talk French Here." A John the Baptist Day Post.

Today is the real John the Baptist Day, a holiday in Canada celebrating francophone language and culture. (It's observed in other French countries as well.) I say it is the real John the Baptist Day, because our family, which has only been observing it for five or six years, did so on Saturday, not the real day, with a cookout. 

Mes pauvres galettes

Part of our celebration of French culture was the Galettes a la Melasse Moelleuses a L'Ancienne I made. From a French recipe. Which I did not translate, except for the occasional word. Like moelleuses, which means "soft." I threw away all but three of those cookies yesterday. I have no idea how they tasted, because I have a gluten free batch for me. Next year I want a bonfire. I've heard that's a very John the Baptist Day thing to do, and we could try making s'mores for dessert. That whole scenario might go over better. 

John the Baptist Day was quite an event in nineteenth century Montreal. Not so much the south of New England today or maybe anywhere else in the U.S. How little interest is there in this holiday? There's Not Going To Be A St. John The Baptist Day Parade This Year, Eli is among my very least read pieces on the Medium platform. People on bed rest won't read this thing.

Some John the B Day Reading

As part of my personal John the Baptist Day observance, I've been reading The Hockey Sweater and Other Stories by Roch Carrier, a French Canadian writer. Carrier is a prolific author, including work for children. I haven't finished this book yet, but these stories may be children's stories (a child narrator, certainly), similar to the Soup books by Robert Newton Peck. Both portray child life in the past, though my superficial reading about the authors suggests Carrier's writing may be more authentic. (Excusez-moi while I pause to say I've always had major issues with the claims that Peck's nonSoup book, A Day No Pigs Would Die, is autobiographical or even semi-autobiographical, because of the Shakers-in-Vermont element. In short, they weren't.)

An article says (and I've seen this elsewhere) that Carrier is best known for writing le conte, or very short stories, which is what the stories in the collection I'm reading are. When I first saw this, I thought, Quoi? Are we talking French Canadian flash fiction? The article says of his work, "In a few hundred words a grotesque situation is exploited, a miniature moral is drawn, and an ironic commentary on human foibles is neatly and forcefully made." I would add that there are also sometimes some minor fantasy elements. Flash fiction? Northern magical realism?

The miniature moral aspect of some of these stories is my least favorite part. However, I'm liking the way the stories are set in a French-speaking world in an unspecified past. I'm not interested in anything like nostalgia, but the issue of the parents' concerns over English being taught and what the Anglais who runs Eatons will think make these things pop for me. 

The story The Hockey Sweater is supposed to be a huge deal in both French- and English-speaking Canada. I may have to read it again. So far What Language Do Bears Speak?, which I quote in my post title, is my favorite. 

Since I'm focusing my own writing on short work now, reading these short stories and reading about le conte has been, and will continue to be, thought-provoking. I like to think it could have some impact on my work.

UPDATE: When I promoted this post on X, I saw how beloved the short story The Hockey Sweater (there is also a picture book version) is and how well-known Roch Carrier is in Canada. So I decided I should try to figure out how to pronounce his name. I stumbled upon the man himself speaking, explaining how it's said. 

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