Friday, February 24, 2012

Steadfast friends: the tonneau killer and the pince-monseigneur

The Trappou is only one of many interesting characters in our new house.

To the right, for example,
is our pince-monseigneur.
He weighs about thirty-five pounds
and if you are feeling blue or are tired of sitting and typing words at a desk, you can just mosey on over and pick him up and snip yourself a piece of iron or so.

Pince-monseigneur means "pinch-my-master" and was originally used to designate a cat's claw of the type burglars used to force locks, but our pincher is very well-behaved and far too busy clipping metal for reinforced concrete structures and helping frazzled translators let off steam to engage in any kind of criminal activity.

To your left as you walk in our front door is a rough-and-tumble character known on the street as "Tonneau Killer."

Julien picked him up at the dump, and while at first glance he seems like a ferocious and desperate receptacle, he is actually a very humble, very generous, very self-deprecating rain barrel.

The Tonneau family has a long and storied past: there are the illustrious wine containers, the shelters for merchants and public writers, the horse-drawn conveyances, and some distant cousins in professional swimming (the little flip you do to change directions when you get to the end of a lap is a Tonneau) but they have fallen on hard times, so we try to be discreet with Tonneau Killer (TK or Tony for short) about his past.

In addition to acting as our doorman, TK keeps an eye on our rockpile, helps Julien wash his tools, and trades fashion advice with the Trappou. And if ever the pince-monseigneur gets any ideas, TK will be on hand to talk him out of it.

Friday, February 17, 2012

The suspense is over.

All this week, you've been thinking,

That is normal.
There is,
as far as I know,
only one Trappou in the world,

and it lives under our house.

Probably, you had decided that
a Trappou is a saddish kind of lizard,
one that belches fire
and then feels embarrassed about it,
and worries about its weight,
and hates to dance in public.

That is not the case.

Our Trappou's full name is "La Rue du Trappou."
People who know it just call it "Le Trappou."
But its origins are a mystery.

In 19th century Lyon, the word "trabouler" meant
"to perambulate, to walk through,"
and the little covered passageways
that connect Lyon's medieval streets to one another
are called "traboules."
We amble through the Trappou quite regularly,
as it connects (the only) two
streets in La Roche,
and is the fastest way to get to our favorite neighbors' house.
My husband, not ambling, has pushed all the building materials for our house
through the Trappou on a little wheeled platform.

So maybe our Trappou was attempting to give itself
city airs, but got tripped up by the spelling.

Then again, the French adjective "trappu"
means "short and stout" which is quite an apt
description of our Trappou, and of the size you have to be to fit in it comfortably.
Trappu, if you were wondering (I know you were)
comes from the old French "trappe,"
which means "short and crude,"
and before you get any ideas, I'll just point out that this is probably
a deformation of the old French "tarpe"
which means "big fat paw" or "big fat hand."
Anyway, don't tell that to our friend the lizard.
He's already worried about so many things.

Monday, February 13, 2012

All manner of wild beasts

The French language is fond of many things.

Among them:

technical-sounding terms

Run-of-the-mill illnesses are a good example of this.

In English, my silence last week was due to
a stomach bug and a bad cold.

In French, I was afflicted with a gastro-entérite and a rhinopharyngite;

or, for short, I went to bed with a gastro and a rhino.

Either way, I'm in fine fettle now and almost ready to tell you about an exciting creature called
The Trappou.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Tricks of the trade

My grandfather was a translator and interpreter, too.

He worked for the United Nations and the International War Crimes Tribunal (in this picture you can see him at the Nuremberg trials; he's the third interpreter from the left).

He used to be the most punctilious person I knew.

He penciled corrections into the margins of his books
and drove me crazy when he'd pause a conversation to go look something up in the dictionary.

Now, he suffers from senile dementia,
and the pauses in our conversations
are longer
than the conversations themselves.
He no longer looks things up,
and he can't remember how to hold a pencil.

A few months ago, my mother cleaned out his apartment and gave me some of those dictionaries he used to drive me crazy with,
including the Historical Dictionary of the French Language
in its bright red case.
(Now of course, in large part due to my grandfather, I have developed my own punctilious dictionary obsession.)
When I set it on my desk, beside my other reference books, I wondered why on earth my grandfather had put little plastic flaps at the bottom of each volume.

They looked ugly, and I planned to remove them.
Then I sat down to work and reached for the dictionary,
at which point I understood that the flaps made it easy to flip the volumes in and out of their case - something I do all the time when I'm working.

Every time I see those flaps, I am moved in a dozen different ways. My grandfather may seem lost to me when I sit with him in the nursing home, but even now, he's got a few tricks left up his sleeve. No matter how far gone the people you love may seem, there's usually something left to learn from them if you look.

(Nuremberg photo credit: The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum)