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Parisian French Accents In A Can
By Rhea Côté
is always a mystery to me what I will find to write about for this column.
I agonized what this article would be about. Particularly since a
group of us are going to France. And this issue is going along.
What profound thoughts could I carry with me back to the deep roots?
La grandmère. Editing, Le Forum since 1986, I usually
manage to find something to say. Often I am handed the subject through
the wear and tear of every day living. I find possibilities of subject
matter endless since a variety of circumstances continue to present themselves.
article's subject came to me from a typo in an article which appeared in
the university's campus newspaper. I took part in an interview with
a journalism student for a class assignment. He had to write an article
on culture. This student and I are from the same town. We have
a camaraderie. I trust this young man and I was very open with him.
Initially, the material in the interview was meant only to meet the assignment.
A few days later, he called me and asked if it could be published in the
campus newspaper. "Let me take a look at what you've got and then
I will decide," I told him. He faxed it over. I told him he
could print it.
spoken to the student, whom I trust, in an article dealing with "culture"
about my two bouts with breast cancer, mastectomy and the tattoo I recently
had put on the mastectomy scar. I showed the article to someone and
they remarked that it is very revealing. Someone else saw it and
said the same thing. They had a tension of fear at the depth of my
openness. The photographer came. The article was printed.
Someone had changed the "mastectomy" to "hysterectomy" in the article.
A curious typo.
caught up in the one, crucial-to-the-meaning-of-the-article, missing word
and it revealed to me fears, taboos, jinxes, the power of ridicule, and
more. Others believing themselves scarless. Accidental typo
or not, (there should be insurance you can purchase against such things
as "Typos"...), there is a big difference between mastectomy and hysterectomy.
the article, I speak about the power of breast cancer and its effects on
the woman's life who makes a bargain with it. Since the "cause" of
cancer is unknown, I cannot say I contradicted it.
like many things, is not something which I chose. I did choose the
mastectomy and, after my third anniversary date after surgery, February
14th, I chose to have a tattoo put on my mastectomy scar. By a woman
tattooist. I have had cancer twice, either time I did not choose
to have the cancer. Next year is my tenth anniversary since my first
cure. I heard about one woman who sent out announcement cards to
all of her friends on her fifth anniversary of cure. Another woman
celebrated her first anniversary by having dinner and a visit with her
daughter. Clever women.
a staunch believer in being public about such a private disease.
(Disease? Now there is a curious word. Dis-ease. Connoting
not at ease.) Compared to some, I often think how my physical challenges
are so hidden. I am told by a woman who has reason to know, without
giving away her professional prosthesis fitter's confidentiality at the
Hillary Clinton presentation on health care reform: "If we knew how
many women present in the audience (a full house in a 6,000+ seating arena)
were breast cancer patients, we'd be shocked."
believe in keeping silent on such issues. It's spelt M-A-S-T-E-C-T-O-M-Y,
not hysterectomy. And I've got a tattoo on my left side of my chest
wall instead of the breast that used to be there. Have I scared you
with my sense of freedom of speech, yet? I'll say it again.
I have had a mastectomy and on the scar is a tattoo. Both my choice.
"I'm celebrating "making it this far"--my way.
are self revealing. I have learned many things about myself since
I have lost my breast. I have pages and pages of revelations in my
journals. My life as a woman according to single-breastedness.
In relation to breast cancer, there is quite a bit of euphemism around
or many super-humans. And there are others who have had breast cancer,
who just take it all in stride. A seventy year old woman calls me
and asks for pointers. Which surgeon? How long is the recuperation?
Who should she see to be fitted for a prosthesis? After surgery,
in the church choir and the local grocery store, we smile and wave--cancer
displaces the generation gap and creates closeness. We have served
in the battle, we are scarred and none too worse for the wear. Three
or four women I know, one right after the other, go in for biopsies.
We are all looking for some calm in the storm. We talk. Often
in whispers. In one of my low moments, I fight back by designing
a pin to raise awareness. Pink ribbons speak for the pin in the future
addition of a tattoo to my mastectomy scar was done by a woman tattooist
from Seabrook, NH. Her mother had had a bi-lateral mastectomy.
She showed no emotion at the sight of my scar and proceeded to draw pressed
flowers--and old-fashioned rose, an anemone, violets, ivy and vines on
my scar tissue. Then she tattooed on my skin as if she drew on a
page, like this pen which I write with on this paper. I wondered
at the time if the surface of the paper feels its sacrifice to the pen's
tip as I felt the sacrifice of my paper thin skin to the point of the needle?
not afraid or as reticent of mirrors as I have been since the surgery.
My inspiration for getting a tattoo was the poster by Deena Metzger who
is outdoors, has her arms spread out wide, head bent back, chest bare,
single-breasted with her scar tattooed. Through the framed copy of
this poster, this woman's voice in stance, photograph, and poetry imprinted
on the poster, I make peace with myself everyday. I know two single-breasted,
painted ladies, as I am now called in the tattoo culture. I defy
anyone to misspell mastectomy again.
a member of the culture such as Franco-American, has several similarities
to being a single-breasted, tattooed woman. There are many hidden
challenges and taboos about belonging to this cultural group in the state
of Maine. Scars, too. Celebration. Public and secret.
The sacrifices on the surface-of-living a bilingual existence--a dual way
of being, in a culture place which does not welcome duality, is written
on the lives of the Franco-Americans. Etched on their skin.
Laced in their speech. Their gestures give them away.
in Maine, you hear said, "You must be French; you talk with your hands."
I ask: Would you say that to someone who is hearing impaired and
uses sign language to speak? Some prejudices are so subtle.
I was shocked to read in the book entitled, In This Sign, and to find out
that people were prejudiced (afraid of) people speaking in public with
their hands in sign. Yet, in relation to people's remarks about how
I, as a French woman, talk with my hands, made me self-conscious, and my
body language has all but disappeared. Along with my French accent,
which used to be evident in my English speech because French was my first
language. Because of people's (rude) comments about how I spoke when
I was a girl, I worked hard to change my speech patterns. Ethnic
people have several ways of expressing themselves--including the body language
not teach my children my French because I did not want to give them my
accent. I was told I spoke the "bad" French. (There isn't any
bad French. There are regional dialects.) I was told this about
my French by monolinguals and elitist teachers in grade school. I
chose to reject the teachers of French in my high school recognizing their
ignorance about my French at the age of fourteen. I would not take
their courses. Those who did and were Franco-American often left
class crying because of the things the teacher would say to them about
their French. But I still did not teach my children my French.
I believed the lies about my accent. Too late, I learned it was others'
fears of my freedom of expression in French which was being denounced.
As if each and every continent does not have regional dialects of ANY language.
As if a diversity of accents is any real threat to any other accent.
Unless, of course, it is a false, contorted, fantastically, mythical French
accent imported from Paris, France in a can. Some adhere to these
fallacies of pure accent still. If I hear "Parisian French" as if
it means something, one more time, I think I'll be sick. All over
the one who says it. Ça m'échoeur.
should be high time to cut out the cancer of the false supremacy based
on a premise like the ignorance paradigm as truth in the classrooms at
my high school making people feel low about their origins. Telling
such lies, and to continue the lying to this day, about language and its
accent is a disease. With a loud voice: C'EST MOÉ QUI
PARLE, C'EST PAS TOI. Instead of a typo, it's a misplaced identity.
is futile to say to a French speaking people, Franco-Americans-at-large,
you must be proud of your heritage (physical challenges every day) until
each one devises for him/herself a personal iconography on which to base
their being able to face their mirrors--wherever they encounter them without
flinching. For starters, they could send out cards to all their friends
acknowledging their Franco-American identity--their rebirth into the culture.
Or, they can hold a dinner party, carpet picnic, corn roast in recognition
of a deserved heritage/existence. Or, they can choose to get a brand
new, never thought of before tattoo to beautify being born into the Franco-American
heritage, which is all theirs to boot! The once depleted, or taken
away, can be replenished.