Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The All Pear

This isn't the beginning of another long story, but I thought at the end of the Tammy Chronicles, you all might be interested in what happened next. Luckily, not much, which is why this isn't one of those big long, heart wrenching tales. This is just a nice, little two parter.

After the whole Tammy disaster you can imagine that I'd be a little gun shy about another "nanny." I wasn't pleased with the idea of this "Au Pair" thing. I'd never heard of such a thing, first of all, and it sounded freakish and foreign like escargot which really meant snails. For some reason with the way my mother pronounced it, I could never figure out what the hell she was saying. It sounded like "All Pear" which brought to mind nothing but a can of pears. Until that point in life I didn't even know that pears were fruit that grew on trees. I had only seen them as small white cubes in heavy syrup, so that was what I pictured and it did not make a bit of sense to me.

Rivka was the "All Pear" who lived down the street. She was a tall, horsey Israeli girl who took care of twins and their older brother. None of the kids were my age, so I didn't know them, but my dad knew Rivka because of Israeli radar. No matter what Israelis will always find one another. I'd venture that they have some kind of elaborate secret network but that would sound like some of the craziness spouted off by white supremacists and I don't want to give them any more ammunition against Israelis. The point of this is that Israelis, like all other immigrants, somehow find their kind and my dad found Rivka the "All Pear" down the street. He told her that he and my mother were looking for a live-in to watch me because they often had meetings in the city and work that lasted into the late hours of the night. Rivka had the perfect solution.

"We found you the perfect All Pear," my mother announced one evening at dinner, "This is so exciting. She speaks french."

Now, in spite of myself and my misgivings, I perked up considerably. I had recently fallen madly, passionately in love with all things French. I was so in love with France the French language, of which I knew a total of about ten poorly pronounced words, that I started telling everyone that I had been French in a past life. I was a horrible student, but I was getting a B in French. That is how much I loved French-ness. I loved it enough to put in enough effort to get a B.

When I heard that the All Pear spoke French I pictured a willowy woman with a beret and a neck scarf. I thought she'd show up on our doorstep with a poodle and I wanted her to look exactly like Sophie the girl from my French textbook. I worshiped Sophie. She had a friend named Jean Marc and I had secret plans to grow up and marry him.

"Is she from Paris????" I wanted to know immediately.

"No," my mother said, "She's from Morocco."

"Marraca? Isn't that those things you shake?"

"It's a country too."

"It is not. Where is it?"

"Arabia."

"Like camels?"

"Yes and desert."

"For real?"

"Yes."

"And they speak French?"

"Yes," my mother said, "A lot of them speak French. I've known a bunch of Moroccans and they've all been really nice and they're great cooks. You'd love Moroccan food. "

This was actually true. Later in life I would come to enjoy Moroccan cuisine, but at this point I was confused because I thought they only spoke French in France.

"What's her name?" I asked.

"Nadia."

This confused me further because I associated the name Nadia with Romanian gymnastics, one of my previous obsessions which had been replaced with medieval times, horses, pioneers and now, finally, France. In that order.

Nadia arrived quickly. She was short and voluptuous with dark almond eyes, a curly black bob and... a head scarf? Nadia was a Muslim, but I didn't really know what that was back then. I thought she looked like a belly dancer from a story about Sultans and genies. For this, I instantly adored her. She was just so loud and grinning, so rosy cheeked and full of teeth. Oh, and her accent was perfect.

Once unpacked Nadia's headscarf came flying off. I'm still unsure as to why she even wore it in the first place, because all Nadia wanted was to be a free, single young girl in New York in the 80s. She was fascinated by American pop culture and style. She constantly listened to music and wanted to do nothing but dance. She couldn't cook and she didn't clean the house but I was crazy about her. She didn't shave her underarms and sometimes she kind of smelled like taco seasoning, but I didn't mind this on her because all exotic french women had hairy armpits and didn't wear deodorant, right?

When my parents left me with Nadia I didn't particularly care if they ever came back. Nadia was fun and pretty and she spoke French. She had a little beige car which she zipped and whipped around every corner in town. She took me wherever I wanted. We went to all the John Hughes movies together, to the mall and to get pizza. She spoke to me half in French and half in English and pretty soon I had scooted up towards an A minus in French class. To this day I credit Nadia with my halfway decent pronunciation of French words, though French people from France have all decided that I speak with a Swiss accent. I have no earthly clue what they're talking about there. I mean, it might make sense if they said I had a Moroccan accent. Maybe some of my French readers can explain this one to me.

Nadia's parents had recently moved to Quebec to open a ski resort. Living in the desert all their lives they had dreamed of snow capped mountains and finally managed to achieve this goal. Nadia wanted to take me to visit them and my parents had been doing pretty well, so we all decided to take a long weekend and drive to Canada. I had definitely died and gone to Heaven, I thought. I really had. Not even a year before I had been lonely, abused and miserable with my biological father and stepmother and now I was traveling to foreign countries where they spoke French with my French All Pear.

First we went to Montreal. I had never seen so much snow in my life (this was January). Montreal was like a beautiful city carved out of ice and I just could not get over this whole kilometre thing. I just remember driving around the city, listening to the French radio playing Aha's "The Sun Always Shines on TV" which was the most beautiful song I had ever heard in the same way that Montreal was the most beautiful city I'd ever seen. We had ice cream and I ordered a scoop of noisette because of how lovely and refined I felt saying the word. That night we ate dinner in a lodge and my parents ordered Chateaubriand.

The next day my parents dropped Nadia and I off at Nadia's parents' home and before we even made it ten kilometres of the way there Nadia was quickly wrapping and knotting her head scarf.

To be continued....

11 comments:

MtnMama said...

ah, the lure of the francais and the curse of the religious.

I took French in Jr High and was entralled with all things French. Since I didn't have my own pony...

since I am a few years older than you, mon amie, I laugh a little at the John Hughes films, but I probably would have been right there with you, given the opportunity.

*sigh* isn't it a little melancholy that we had so little control over our destinies?

Anonymous said...

Perhaps it was your American version of a Moroccan accent that sounded Swiss? Gotta remember you probably sound "accented" to everyone because of the unusual circumstances of how you learned it. But then again maybe someone who actually speaks French would have a better insight.

Manda said...

oh... that just sounds so interesting. I swear in one year of your childhood you had more experiences than in the whole 9 years of my life.

Dayna said...

I hate when you have to type
"to be continued".

kerry said...

OOoh, I like this part! I love it when things go well for you! I was fascinated by French when I was a kid, too. I still like it a lot and want to learn to actually speak it.

Annika said...

Ha ha, my husband is Israeli. The Israeli radar comment cracked me up. It's true! We meet other Israelis in the weirdest places and they really do all seem to know each other. You've heard of six degrees of separation? Among Israelis there are only three.

Anonymous said...

I just came from a first visit to Montreal and I LOVED IT. I already like this story!

Anonymous said...

I totally love the All Pear story
and waiting for what is to come.

I wish I found you earlier as I said, but from what I see now,
You are all Peaches :)

Captivating writing (does there have to be more to that sentence),
other than a big thank you for what you write and share with us.

Cathi
who definitely is Canadian and took
French all through school, but do
not parlez at all. Polish and Ukrainian Au Perogies anyone ?

Catherine said...

"French people from France have all decided that I speak with a Swiss accent. I have no earthly clue what they're talking about there. I mean, it might make sense if they said I had a Moroccan accent. Maybe some of my French readers can explain this one to me."
If your tutor learned French from a Swiss speaker, she may have passed on her pronunciation onto you. Different vowel sounds, V pronounced as a W- the way Swiss & Germans do in their native languages. Single sex education is popular with conservative families, maybe Nadia went to a Swiss boarding school?

whirling-woman said...

My family is French Canadian and I was told I have a Swiss accent as well. Which is odd because I've never spent a full day there.

What my French host family meant by the comment was that my voice went up and down a lot as I spoke which is typical of Swiss speakers. I think it was that I was so nervous and eager to convey my meanigns that I was adding a lot fo extra up and down inflections.

'LEEEs SwiSSS, ils PARlent comMMEE CAAAaaa....! Okay if you could hear me say it it would make sense...
I think.

Get Well Soon!

Wide Lawns said...

You know what, I think that's finally the answer I was looking for. My grandmother's family is french canadian too and I think when I speak I do the exact same thing. I kind of speak English that way too though. I'm a bit sing-songy.

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