Thursday, May 15, 2008

Marseilles 1


For the uninitiated, TW3 stands for That Was The Week That Was, a satirical UK TV programme from a long time ago.

OK, so it wasn't quite a week, but I've recently spent five days in the sunny, and I mean very sunny, south of France. In Marseilles in fact. What a city. What fun. What a (nearly) week!

The occasion was the Glasgow Chamber Choir trip, when we visited our twin choir, La Maîtrise Gabriel Fauré, who are from the city of Glasgow's twin city, Marseilles. Or one of Glasgow's twin cities anyway, the others being Turin (Italy), Nuremberg (Germany), Rostov-on-Don (Russia), Dalian (China), Havana (Cuba), Bethlehem (Jerusalem) and Lahore (Pakistan). Perhaps a few of them hark back to Glasgow's traditional left leaning political tendencies, but they're valid connections nonetheless. I have to confess that with the possible exception of Turin, which I've never visited, I can't imagine any of the other cities will be as beautiful or welcoming as Marseilles, the oldest city in France, and the second largest. But I'm prepared to give them a try if anyone wants to fund (and organise) future choir trips!

I started to create this posting on Wednesday 7th May 2008, knowing that it was going to take me a while to finish it because I've got a lot to say on this occasion. It's taken me so long to get round to typing what I've done so far, that I suspect that if I don't start publishing it in smaller chunks I'll never publish any of it! I have in fact two full pages in a notebook of bullet points relating to things I saw, experienced, felt, smelt, touched, heard, and thought on the trip, and quite how I'm going to take them from the notebook, pad them out, change their order, and turn them into something which might be of some interest to anyone except me (in an online diary sort of way) remains to be seen!

Last year, before I rejoined Glasgow Chamber Choir (to which I will refer as GCC from now on), the choir somehow managed to be twinned with La Maîtrise Gabriel Fauré, who are an all female choir based in Marseilles, and to which I will hereafter refer as MGF. I don't know for sure, but I think MGF were looking to exploit the twinning arrangement of their city with Glasgow and make a trip, which I believe they do regularly, so they contacted GCC and the rest is history.

Anyway, last year MGF visited Glasgow and by all accounts the visit was a great success and enjoyed by members of both choirs. Time this year then to return the compliment, and after enormous work by our choir administrator KK, who is stepping down from that position at the end of this season, the trip was arranged and almost 20 choir members committed themselves to going.

Several of us from the start had independently thought that if we were going to travel that far then it'd be a shame just to go for the two nights on which we had concerts planned so had planned on extending the trip a day or two either side. So the outcome was that me, RE, AD, FCC, JG, JB, PH and AD all piled onto a Ryanair flight which left Prestwick at the rather ungodly hour of 0830hrs last Thursday morning, and after a completely straightforward journey lasting less than two and a half hours which left and arrived on time with all baggage intact, we were in the south of France. The photo is from the aircraft (as if that wasn't obvious) on the approach to Marseilles.

PH and AD had booked their rooms earlier and therefore separately from the rest of us, so having arrived at the Gare de St Charles by coach from the airport, we split into two groups and went our respective ways to our respective hotels.

In the case of the 6 of us who had booked kind of at the same time, and who therefore stuck mostly together for the trip, we quickly became the usual suspects who at home tend to often be the ones, sometimes the only ones, socialising. Well, OK, drinking. So the gang of 6 headed to the local Ibis hotel, pretty well next door to the station, and checked into our rooms. Another pain free operation. This whole thing was going far too well!

We met downstairs in the foyer shortly after and set out into the big bad streets of Marseilles, and I had in the back of my mind the undeniable fact that it has been 30 years, yes, count them, 30, since I studied French at school, and it's not entirely inaccurate to say I've not really said a word of it since. In fact I studied O Grade (Ordinary Grade) French (the exam for which I scraped through) in about 1977, and then in 1978 I decided to go on to study it at Higher Grade.

Now I'm going to let you into a little secret here. The way the Scottish exams worked at that time, and it may be the same now but I don't know, is that if you sat a Higher Grade exam but didn't hit the mark then you could be awarded a "comp O" Grade, which although I don't remember exactly what this stood for (perhaps compensatory?) meant that they'd mark it as if it were an O Grade rather than the more difficult Higher Grade. I didn't get a mention when the results were published. In other words, my Higher Grade French wasn't even O Grade standard! Soon after leaving school I had occasion to attend at school show, and as I walked into the venue I saw my French teacher, so being a smartass I said to her "Bonjour Madame Hamilton", at which point she fixed me with a slightly withering look and replied "Bonsoir!". Merde!

Roll on 30 years and yours truly is for the first time in the country of France, walking into the streets of Marseilles, and wondering not whether I'd be embarrassed by my lack of linguistic skills, but just how deeply and how often I was about to be embarrassed! And embarrassed not only by my lack of French, but by the firm grasp of English I was sure would be held by the French themselves. Typical Brit, I am, just speak English slowly and loudly and you'll get by.

Or that's kind of what I was thinking as I walked into the midday sunshine with the rest of the gang of 6.

The reality is that despite the cruel passage of time I had remembered enough of the basics to get me by with an occasional and wholly unintentional mix of languages known colloquially as Franglais, as popularised by the late and lamented Miles Kington in Punch magazine. That said, I understood more than I could speak and the main difficulty was usually the construction of sentences. But I was very happy with the way it all went, linguistically speaking, and by the Monday at the official reception I even managed to tell Jeanine Imbert, Conseillère Municipale Déléguée au Conservatoire National De Région Ecole Supérieure des Beaux-Arts et Festival de Musique Sacrée, that her English was better than my French, by constructing the sentence in French as I went along (i.e. without planning in advance exactly what I was going to say) just like one does when one actually speaks the language. OK, I know it's not brilliant, but it made me happy!

To be continued .........

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