just another American bumbling around Paris.

Category: writing

mais ça, il m’a évité…?

I was having a small crisis a few months ago and my wise friend Kelly, who always seems to know just what to say, saved herself a few words and sent me the link to this letter written by John Steinbeck to his son in 1958.  He talks to his son about being in love, and what it means, and what he can tell him about it.  The advice he can offer.

“The main thing is not to hurry. Nothing good gets away.”

I printed this letter off in February and have had it in my room ever since.  I’ve read it a good number of times, and I can never get around that last line.  Sometimes I find it really comforting; sometimes it reduces me to a little ball of a person curled up on top of my comforter, trying to understand why John Steinbeck would tell me that.  Of course good things get away!  They get away all the time, Mr. Steinbeck!!!  How many failed relationships have you witnessed?  I know essentially no successful marriages.  I hear about them sometimes.  I have friends who tell me their parents are still very much in love and very content with each other.  But I don’t know these couples well.  I’ve maybe seen them in passing, at the grocery store or wherever, but who knows what happens when they stride through the automatic doors and out to their cars.  Maybe they start fighting instantly about the temperature of the air conditioner and how close the gauge can get to E before it’s time to put more gas in.  Or maybe they aren’t fighting about it, they’re just bickering.  Or maybe they aren’t in love at all, or even in like.  But this isn’t even what I’m talking about.

I’m not talking about failed marriages; those people had their shot.  I’m talking about Steinbeck’s son, and how Steinbeck is telling him nothing good gets away.  Like you’ll have your chance with someone if you’re meant to.  Like no legitimate prospect will slip through your fingers.  Like if Steinbeck’s son is in love with a girl, she’ll automatically reciprocate to the extent that they can figure out of it’s worth pursuing or not.  Has Steinbeck never had his heart broken, or is he just so supremely wise that he can see beyond such failure with some grander philosophical perspective, and know that, because he’s John Steinbeck, he’ll find someone else and life will go on?  Maybe if something good gets away, something better will come along?  But what if something perfect gets away?  I don’t get it.

I don’t want to argue with someone of Steinbeck’s caliber, but I’m worried that good things, even the best things, do get away, and more often than we’d like to admit.  Am I missing some important part here?  I don’t think so.  I think the sentiment is really pretty simple.  I wish he were right.  I would like him to be right.

dans le Marais, 25 mars 2012

This seems fairly accurate.  Cupid shooting fools with a real gun.  Some of them end up love-struck, but maybe some of them die.  It is a gun, after all.



So for Valentine’s Day, my students and I read and discussed a love letter by Lewis Carroll (at least, I discussed it).  I then asked them to write some love letters of their own.

Here are the results from one group of terminale knuckleheads, or students in their final year of lycée, after about 20 minutes of ‘work.’  They don’t have a great level but understand a bit when they try and are able to communicate in English if they want to (though normally it is VERY DIFFICULT to get them to speak any English; they’re nice but very chatty and just want to throw paper and talk and shout at each other) (and yes, several of these were written to me.  Flattering, I know):


Dear Maïa,

I just want say that my life is your.  I just live for you.  You’re my darling that I never let you down.

I want live with you forever.  I ready at dead for you.  I reserv a week-end in Caraïbe island for our wedding.


Dear Maia,

My heart it’s ours, my love for me is very tall.

My baby, my darling, my love, I want married with you, your beauty is shine me.  My honey, for you, I can dead in the swimming pool with the alligator.  I love you, I love your scent, I love your accent.

I prefer you, of Miss [teacher]…

I want kiss you when I see you.

Big Kiss for you

I love you

Maia + Lucas

p.s. I want to married for you and have the kids, two boys and one girl.

[signed, with a heart drawn around it] Lucas


Dear Maya

When the first time I see your eyes like pearl, I fall in love, And __?__  sleep , but when I sleep you are in my dream, I’m like sick did I meet you.  I think you are the woman of my life and I want live with you forever and do a family.  I have allways buy the engagement ring, if you you want.

I love you, I need you, I feel you.  I will never forget your beauty.


Dear Penelope,

I write this some lines for you prooved (?) my love send you.

My love, my darling, my soul, my baby…I love you and I would love for ever.  I don’t live without you, you are as a dream

I love you [heart with arrow through it]

This was the hardest some of them had worked in weeks, so I was actually quite pleased with the results.  Their teacher has told me before that sometimes she just waits for class to end because she can’t get them to do anything, so I was happy to hold some written work from them in my hand.  And they asked lots of questions for a change (the world for “scent,” the word for “soul,” etc.).  They’re quite a funny class and even if they’re not the hardest workers, they’re nice kids, which makes me happy enough.

Here are a couple of letters from what is by far my most advanced class…  These kids speak very good English; they make complete sentences when they speak, they’ve got a big vocabulary, some of them have very light accents, and they’re really, really smart.  They’re interested in things and they’ve got opinions and they’re curious.  It’s my last class on Fridays, ending at 4 pm, and while it’s tempting to be in a rush to run off to Paris Friday afternoon to start the weekend early, I’m always so happy to wait for this class.  I was running 5 minutes late one day and when I showed up they all breathed a huge sigh of relief and said “We thought you were not coming!!”  As if the English assistant failing to show up one day would be such a tragedy.  I just love them.  I had all the students read their letters aloud at the end, and everyone was doubled over in laughter, unable to breathe, squinting through teary eyes.  I love French people having fun…


Dear Pauline,

first time I saw you, I thought it was a dream.  You know, when you’re young, you imagine the woman of your life and I didn’t think it could be true.

You’re the sunshine of my life, you light up my days and I want to be with you for the rest of my life.  The only thing I want to say is

I love you!

2… (this was written to a teacher at the lycée who apparently doesn’t like the student, and who is apparently overweight and, as the student put it, has spots on her face “that look like…not peempuhls…but…Maltesers!”  I don’t encourage this behavior, but seriously, how can you not laugh at that??)

Dear [teacher]


I don’t found the word to describe your…your…beauty.  Well there’s no one day that I think about French kissing, my dream is to spent the rest of my life with you, like Adam & Eve.  I will cook some cheesbarger like you love, with lots of bacon.  I hope that our [kids?] have your intelligence and your body.

3… (written to her friend in the class)

Dear Awad,

Your eyes, your face stink like shit.  You’re ass attracting me.  You’re beard make my hearts flowers.  You are the sunshine of my nights.  When I look at you, I see the most beautiful man ever…

Even if I don’t like your nose.  I like you.


I frickin love that class.

Blaise Pascal.

Thank you so much to the wordpress side bar for the following citation de Blaise Pascal, which so perfectly sums up the thought behind every message I ever write to anyone (translation by wordpress; could be changed, but I think it captures the sentiment):

Je n’ai fait cette lettre-ci plus longue que parce que je n’ai pas eu le loisir de la faire plus courte.

“I have made this letter longer, because I have not had the time to make it shorter.”