Thursday, July 12, 2012

French vocabulary no. 5: SUBLIME

The French language is fond of things sublime in a way that English never is. Maybe it is the influence of the Protestant ethic on our collective unconscious, but in English, we tend to keep a damper on our enthusiasm for things “of such excellence, grandeur, or beauty as to inspire great admiration or awe.” If the adjective is kept in the shadows, the verb is nearly nonexistent: these days, chemists are the only English-speakers who get to sublime things, and unless you’re in psychoanalysis you probably don’t have much opportunity to sublimate, either. Whereas the French are always looking for ways to sublimer – everything from their fingernails to their pool parties.

Perhaps the French are comfortable with the sublime because they know it lives just a step away from the ridiculous (indeed, it was Napoleon himself who discovered the pair’s official headquarters, in an undisclosed location on the outskirts of Moscow). Here in Alba, we devote an entire week each summer to mixing the two, as you can see from the photograph to your left, which was taken from our kitchen window. 


During the Alba circus festival, the streets are garlanded with red ribbons, and our hamlet is transformed, quite literally, into a theater. My husband has shut down the worksite in honor of the festivities; otherwise, it would be overrun with tourists, too. 

Just the other day, Julien surprised a Dutchman wandering around the lower floor of our house and snapping pictures. Luckily, the man knew just what to say when Julien asked what he was doing. 

“Excusez-moi!” the man exclaimed, 
“Mais c’est –” he waved his hand to take in Julien’s poured concrete staircase, the curve of the dining room wall, the soft gray of the hemp insulation on the walls, and the sunlight pouring into our future bay window – “c’est SU-BLIME.”

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