Although I studied French at school, it was not enough to prepare me
for life here. I vaguely remember a project ‘Costumes Throughout the
Ages’ and sketching a robe that Madame de Pompadour might wear.
One year as an ‘intensive option’ that then went missing – not utilised,
lessons quickly faded. As an adult, I was more studious, and as my
passion for France grew, I enrolled in classes at the Alliance Française
(de Sydney), moving up through the levels and fêting all the important
occasions on the French calendar, along with being part of the Festival
du Film Français – as the photographer who captured the ambience of
the opening evening and immortalised stars for the Alliance magazine.
One thing led to another – working with the French-Australian Chamber
of Commerce, covering exhibitions, and being invited to exhibit in Paris,
to mark the opening of the Sydney Olympic Games. ‘Un Conte de Deux
Villes, Sydney, Paris’ was born, and my hand-printed black and white
photos given special permission to travel with me on the plane. It was
the first time I had to translate – working behind the scenes to create
the catalogue and quotations that would accompany the display – my
fingers not sure how to navigate their way around the strange keyboard.
The next challenge, a few years later, was more ‘immersion’ – as I
joined a yacht with a French skipper and guests as the cook and
housekeeper – an initiation in nautical terms, most of which have
stayed with me due to the intensity of the experience; there is no
room for any misunderstanding when a storm starts to rage.
I continued to attune my ears, mainly through the many films featured
on SBS in Australia and Le Journal – with the same presenters I now
see on TV here. I realise how far I have come, yet at times think
how much further I have to go to really comprehend and to be able to
express everything I wish to articulate – with all the nuances intact.
Each day, without doubt, I gain ‘new words’, integrating them into
my vocabulary. Often, if they are complicated, I have to ask again;
sounding them out or seeing them written, before they can be slotted
into a sentence. At first it was exhausting – like the continuous
effort to listen and then speak took too much concentration, and there
was ‘nothing left’ after such directed focus. Now it is more ‘a word
here and there’ vs. great chunks of knowledge to digest.
Practice makes perfect, and necessity drives this process, as to
function – to be here fully – communication is perhaps ‘of the highest
importance’. Yet all the while, in spite of being an adult with much
worldly experience, there is the child, ever present. For the journey
is one of regression; starting from scratch, eyes open with wonder
and questioning ‘why’, the workings of things, is what makes this
‘learning curve’ so interesting. Coming from a space of naivety,
and layer by layer, building understanding – as we in turn ‘become
heard’, breaking through the language barrier that divides the worlds.