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Hotel Cosmos

A fine layer of plaster dust coats Hotel Cosmos. The proprietors, a French-Algerian family, work during the day installing terra cotta faux blocks along the walls of the stairway, painting the handrails and wood trim of the halls salmon pink, installing drywall into stripped rooms. The remnants of their work cloud the air and settle on every surface, to be puffed up again by passing feet.

My room is small, but clean in spite of the dusty halls. Into the room’s scant twelve square meters the owners have squeezed a twin and a double bed, a water closet, a small desk. A TV hangs from the cieling, and the first night here I watched an old Clint Eastwood movie in the original, with French subtitles. Clint, it seems, was robbing a bank with a few other guys, one of whom turned sour and ran off with the loot before getting his throat torn out by a doberman. It is from this film that I learned the word fiston; later, after seeing it in print again during a trailer for the Brothers Grimm, I will say oui, fiston, je sais ce mot and be informed by a colleague that one really doesn’t say fiston much in current usage. But in that moment, sitting sprawled and aching across the bed, fresh scrubbed and half-revitalized, I could care less: I am enjoying my mother tongue.

It occurs to me now that it is quite difficult to become sensitive to the resonances of studied languages. In English, for instance, I can read several lines of poetry, say something like this out of Eliot,

Footfalls echo in the memory

Down the passage which we did not take

Towards the door we never opened

Into the rose-garden.

and get a sense the words. Each vibrates at its particular frequency, immediately comprehended and instantly trasmitted throughout my mental apparatus, stirring up a chorus of responses. French words, however, are different. Their music is strange, and I must work hard to understand it. All my energies are focused on deciphering their strange sound; none are left for skepticism. As I watch France’s sleazy politicians, I am gullible: hearing de Villepen give a speach and utter the words j’ai une seule et vrai passion… la France, I have no trenchant rejoinder. In English I smirk, in French I smilingly absorb.

All the same, I enjoyed this pointless action movie in English, repleat with stupid mockheroics and inane vulgar existentialist drivel, on the hotel room’s thirteen inch screen.

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2 Responses

  1. Hi

    enjoyed the blog.

    You may find my site and forum useful

    Have a good stay


  2. Thanks for the site, Peter. It’ll prove useful, I am sure.

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