Carol Callicotte

Author

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes! October 4, 2011

I’m ripping up my YA novel and starting over. Well, not completely. The main characters and the main story line (a first love story) will remain intact. At least, that’s the plan for now. The setting, however, is getting a makeover, French Riviera style.

That’s right. France!

The original form of FIRST TIMES AND SECOND CHANCES spilled from my pen when I was thirteen. I spent a couple years working on the story, typing it up on my Grandmother’s word processor and printing it out on her dot matrix printer (yikes – that makes me feel old!). It took place at a summer camp, and I’ve never changed that setting.

Over the past couple years, I’ve reworked this story several times, keeping the bones (which were surprisingly good, I have to say) but updating and maturing the story, adding more plot, more tension, more character development. I kept the original setting because it seemed to work – I needed a place where a bunch of teens who didn’t know each other would be together all hours of the day and night for a stretch of time. Still, the summer camp setting never sat well with me. It targets a younger audience; 15 and 16 year olds just don’t tend to go to summer camp. As much as I love the story, I finally had to admit to myself: the setting is getting in the way of selling this book.

Then, it hit me. I love France. I’ve spent a ton of time there. I’ve enrolled in two language immersion programs. The one I did in Antibes had: (ta da!) a program for teens! Teens, spending the summer together with a bunch of strangers, living together in youth hostels, having activities organized for them, and taking French classes together! THIS IS IT! This works! I know this. I can write this. I can have a fantastic time with this.

So Jenni, grab your French/English dictionary, your bikini, and get a passport. You are going to Antibes, France, on the Cote d’Azur, and we’re going to have some fun!

 

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Work in Progress: Memoir February 24, 2009

Filed under: France,French Language,Projects,Travel,Writing — A French American Life @ 3:44 pm
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I, like so many before me, am joining the memoir club. I intended to start on my memoir four years ago, but kept getting sidetracked by other projects. But now I am finally working on it. I’ve struggled with how to write it: the crux of the story focuses on the time I spent living in Paris and attending a French language school, but also integral to the story are my adventures with several French friends while they were in San Diego in an English immersion program. I’m not quite sure how to frame the story – chronological seems boring, so I’ve settled, for now, on framing it in Paris, with flashbacks to the experiences in San Diego. At this point, I’m not going to worry about it. I’m just writing; I’ll piece the puzzle together when it’s on paper.

These memories, and how best to write them in a story, have been swirling around in my head ever since my time in Paris five (!) years ago. I’ve written clips of narratives over the years, but only now am I diving head-first into the pool of memories. Time, many more trips to France, and marriage to a Frenchman have affected the way I interpret my experience there and have tempered my approach to this memoir. Funny how that works. The memoirist writes as two authors: the person they were at the time, and the person they have evolved into. I think it’s good that I’ve waited to write this story, for I feel it will be a much better book now than it would have been had I written it right away. So far, my approach is to write what I remember, then to compare this to the extensive journals I kept. It’s a fun time to revisit. I only hope I can capture the passion I feel for Paris, for the French language, for the people of France, for traveling, and on a more personal level – turning 30 and learning how I wanted to define my life.

 

Censorship September 4, 2008

Filed under: Censorship,France,Sticky Topics — A French American Life @ 4:14 pm
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Censorship has been on my mind lately, especially with banned books week coming up at the end of this month. Not to mention our recent peek into China. I told myself I wouldn’t get political on my blog – but as this relates to writing, it seems an appropriate topic.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I spend a lot of time in France (I married a Frenchie). I’m a passionate supporter of first amendment rights, particularly freedom of speech, so I found the contrast between free speech laws in France vs. the U.S. fascinating when we were there this summer. Swear words on the radio or in television aren’t nearly as restricted in France as they are in the U.S. Here, there’s a constant flux between what is and isn’t permitted on TV or radio, and for the most part, certain words are never allowed. The “f” word, for example, garners a serious fine. “Penis” moves in and out (no pun intended, of course) of restricted use. I think freedom of speech should include all words of our colorful vocabulary, not just those considered appropriate by the FCC. There’s a diverse enough market that people will be able to find the channels that appeal to them, and radio and TV stations will adjust for their target audience.

In contrast, free speech in France is more restrictive than the U.S. when it comes to certain topics. Bridgitte Bardot, France’s iconic beauty of the fifties and sixties, has found herself in hot water several times over the last decade or so with the French government. Her crime? According to the government, “inciting racial hatred.” They’ve fined her five times as of this year. She’s made quite a few statements over the years, both verbal and in print, citing her hatred for Muslims and what she perceives they have done to her country.

I’ll pause right here to say that I have found her comments to be offensive and ignorant, and I’ve lost all respect for her. Yes, I think those that spout this sort of hateful nonsense show a very poor level of awareness and judgment. And I think that is my – and everyone else’s – personal judgment call to make. Not the government’s. Should being verbally offensive and ignorant be a crime? Or do we all have a right to say what’s on our mind – even if others don’t like it? Where do we draw the line? Who decides what is and is not offensive? Mind you, she didn’t start a violent riot, or harass any one particular person. She said and wrote some stupid, hateful things. Should free speech laws put restrictions on stupidity? This kind of censorship is a slippery slope to try to stand on. I mistrust any government going down this path.

Along the same lines, I look back to the McCarthy era – interesting in and of itself, and in the context of today’s world. I’m a huge fan of The Kingston Trio. Perhaps many of you don’t know this group. You should. They brought folk music to the mainstream in the late fifties. McCarthyism had blackballed many, notably The Weavers, Pete Seeger’s band, for daring to sing protest music. The Kingston Trio managed to avoid being blackballed by sticking to tamer topics – at first. But they gradually began to sneak political lyrics and dialogue into their concerts, and are credited with helping to pave the way for bands of the sixties who helped start the protest movement against the Vietnam War. Ever heard the song “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” written by Seeger and performed later by the Trio? Try googling “The Merry Minuet.” Written in 1958 by Sheldon Harnick and sung by The Kingston Trio at the Hungry i, this song remains timely, 50 years later.

Books are still being banned. Our First Amendment rights are continuously challenged. Often these things occur under the guise of the U.S. being a country at war, or a need to return to American/ family values.

I’ll close with one of my favorite quotes. Benjamin Franklin said, in 1784, “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

 

Speaking of Merde… August 7, 2008

Filed under: France,French Language — A French American Life @ 8:35 am
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Often, when people learn a new language, the first words they learn are the curse words.  This was true for me with Spanish – as a kid, when my dad worked on the family car, I learned all sorts of great Spanish words.  Perhaps he thought that if he swore in a different language, his impressionable little ones wouldn’t pick up on it.

Oh, but we did.

With French, it was different.  I began studying French when I was 28 with the sweetest, most patient French professor ever.  (Madame Loiseau – merci pour tout!)  I didn’t give much thought to enriching my vocabulary in that direction; I needed to say “hello” and “goodbye” and “sorry about that, I’m a huge klutz.”

A year later, while living in Paris and attending a French immersion program, I used to spend mornings before school watching Inside the Actors Studio, broadcast in English with French subtitles.  The host, James Lipton, always wrapped up the show by asking each actor he was interviewing the same five questions, one of which was, “What is your favorite curse word?”

Thus, I learned the good stuff.

The funny thing, though, is it all seems like nonsense to me.  A lot of these words have no direct translation, and since I don’t always know the connotation and I’m not used to hearing them used, I don’t have a good feel for how vulgar or tame they really are.  Merde, for example, is somewhere on the scale between “crap” and “shit.”  A kid will get in trouble for saying it, but an adult throwing it into normal conversation, even in a French class, will at most garner a few giggles.  The word putain is listed in my French/English dictionary as “whore” or “goddam,” or “bloody” if you’re British.  But, actually, it’s the French equivalent of the “f” word.

Enter my brother-in-law.  I adore my brother-in-law, Lionel; he’s a lot of fun and a great person.  But (sorry, Lionel) sometimes, when he speaks, I wonder if I really do speak French at all.  He uses so many colloquialisms and slang words that I can hardly follow what he’s saying sometimes.  And – he’s got a potty mouth.

I learned a new phrase this last trip to France.  Lionel came from Lyon to Antibes to visit us one weekend, and a woman walked off the train at an earlier stop with his suitcase.  Several hours later, she called him to let him know about the “mix-up.”  When he hung up his phone, he said, or rather yelled, “Grosse Conne!”  Literally, it translates to “huge idiot.”  Doesn’t sound so bad, right?

Back in Paris a few weeks later, we were joking with Lionel about the incident, and I mimicked the way he had screamed at his closed cell phone.  I didn’t quite yell it, but I said it loud enough that my mother-in-law came running into the room in a state of near panic and said, in French, “Was that Carol?  It couldn’t be!”  I suddenly felt like a misbehaving twelve-year-old.  So, I did what any twelve-year-old would do: I blamed it on someone else.  “Lionel taught it to me.”  Turns out it’s quite a bit more vulgar than “huge idiot.”  Which is impossible to know unless you spend time with native speakers and embarrass yourself several times.  I try to take the safe route – I want to know these words so I can tell if I’m being insulted, but I tend to not say them.

Except for merde.  I like that one.

 

My Most Recent Trip to France, AKA the Rose Colored Glass Wiped Clean July 25, 2008

Filed under: France,Travel — A French American Life @ 8:26 pm
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I’m back in San Diego after a five week stint in the south of France.  As some of you may know, I’ve spent a lot of time in France, and have devoted much time and effort to mastering the unmasterable french language.  This recent trip was a test for us.  Exam question:  Do we want to move to France?  Answer:  The jury is still out.


France, for me, particularly the south, has long been an idyllic escape, a locale I can long for when I’m away.  After all the time I’ve spent there, I still idealize the place, even if it means subconsciously denying its imperfections.


There is such joy in being in a foreign country – new sights, smells, sounds.  But part of that joy comes from not knowing what exists in its dirty underbelly.  In seeing only the glamorous parts meant for the tourist’s amazed eyes, and not having to deal with the day to day aspects of living there.  And part of that joy also comes from not knowing what is being said around you.


One afternoon, after hitting the beach, I was absolutely overheated.  On my walk home past the chic private beaches and touristy shops that spilled their postcards, film (people still buy film?), beach towels, and bikinis onto the sidewalk, I didn’t pass one of the many ice cream shops.  Instead, I stopped for some of that devine delicacy, a gob of gastronomic goodness, a jolt of gelato, yes – bliss on a baked waffle cone.  I got chocolate – chockfull of chocolaty cheer.  I’m a purist.  I’ll make no apologies.


As I walked away with my temporary treasure, it of course began to melt, so I stopped in front of a shop window to eat some of it and ensure that I didn’t arrive home covered in telling chocolate drips.  An older man, short and stocky with a genial smile, walked by and said something to me.  It took a minute to process what he had said, so enraptured was I in waffle cone wonderland. So, for a brief moment, I existed in that blissfully unaware state that always occurs when I’m traveling in a country where I don’t speak the language.  I saw a sweet little old local, probably flirting with me judging by the way he was smiling, or perhaps recommending a pair of shoes from the window I was absently eyeing.  He stopped to watch me, and then my brain finally processed what he’d said:


“You’ll get fat if you keep eating like that.”


Jackass.  I liked you better when I had no clue what you were saying.


Snappy comebacks aren’t my forté – they come to me later in numbers, hence the characters I write are witty geniuses, I’m sure.  When offended, I revert to a wordless, helpless little girl.


But perhaps my actions in that moment spoke louder than words.  I shrugged and took another big lick.  Did that translate, monsieur?