I Dreamed I Saw Paree Last Night…

The other night I had a long and tortuous Corona-inspired dream.

I had finally managed to get out of Illinois and the good old USA. I was in Paris at some kind of event or function I had helped organize, but it was in a strange part of Paris that looked more like Chicago or Minneapolis. It was one of those boring "procedural" dreams where you find yourself in the wrong room and cannot seem to locate the correct floor, and when you do, your number is nowhere to be found.

Miraculously, I got everything straightened out, and it was time to get out of town.  The hotel flunkey offered to put my bags in the car, but he then moved the car to some place where  I couldn't find it.  I set off through the streets of Paris, never taking the correct turn, and I ended up paddling a canoe in a canal that started off looking like one of those narrow bridge-crossed streams in Bruges but widened out into the bright sunlight of the Venetian Lagoon.  

I went up a ladder to a rickety landing area that collapsed under my feet into the water, drawing me down into the drink. A grinning idiot jumped into the water to rescue me, and no matter how many times I told him, "Je sais nager!" he still locked his arm around my neck and dragged me to land.  He then expected a reward and offered to help in negotiating with the owner of the property I had destroyed. "It's gonna cost a lot to rebuild that dock."

I told him repeatedly what he could do with his advice and explained that if were not in such a hurry, I'd be suing the dock-owner for damages.  Finally disengaging myself from the unwelcome rescuer, I  found myself back at my hotel, still looking for the car.  There were different employees at the desk and in the office, and no one remembered anything about me.  

I went out again to continue the fruitless search, when a young man and two girls came walking by. I decided to ask them directions, but they did not speak English, apparently, and my French disappeared. The girls mocked my American ignorance, but I was determined to be polite, and as I walked away, I said very carefully, "Au revoir." The girls laughed uproariously, and one of them shouted, "The way he says it, it sounds like a brand of rice," first in French and then in flawless English.

I am sure all this means something more than my fear that when I do get out of this prison, the world will have turned into Rockford.  Since there is nothing else to do, I am searching the local supermarkets for Au Revoir Rice.

Thomas Fleming

Thomas Fleming

Thomas Fleming is president of the Fleming Foundation. He is the author of six books, including The Morality of Everyday Life and The Politics of Human Nature, as well as many articles and columns for newspapers, magazines,and learned journals. He holds a Ph.D. in Classics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and a B.A. in Greek from the College of Charleston. He served as editor of Chronicles: a Magazine of American Culture from 1984 to 2015 and president of The Rockford Institute from 1997-2014. In a previous life he taught classics at several colleges and served as a school headmaster in South Carolina

4 Responses

  1. Avatar Dot says:

    Was everybody wearing masks in that dream? Masks. The latest security blanket. And yes, I keep one in my purse.

  2. Avatar Allen Wilson says:

    Better not let s9me Freudian analyst get a hold of that dream. They’ll haul you off to a gulag for sure. What sane person wouldn’t want the world to be swallowed up by progress, besides you, Clyde Wilson, some man from Mecosta, and twelve Southerners?

  3. Avatar Allen Wilson says:

    Dr Fleming, I believe the part of your dream concerning the way you spoke French may have some validity. A couple years ago, I sampled some of the Pimsleur English for German speakers course, and the English, though spoken by natives, was awful. It could be described as “TV commercial narrator English”. I suppose it was the type that people who go through media studies and communications courses might learn, perhaps a close kin to business English as taught in America. That makes sense since Pimsleur courses are geared toward traveling businessmen.

    “Well then”, I thought, “does the German I’ve been learning to speak via Pimsleur sound that odd to Germans?” I’m quite certain it does, because doubtlessly it is some kind of business German. So I began to watch anything and everything in German on You Tube, hoping that doing so will help keep me from sounding like a German TV commercial.

    Other language courses may not teach business this or that, but I wonder if they are any better for it? After all, they usually teach some standardized form of a language, even though most native speakers don’t actually speak a standardized form of their language, and the only alternative to teaching a standardized form would be teaching some amalgam of various dialects and accents, which is impractical, or teaching some dialect, which nobody wants to learn.

    As an after thought, perhaps all this points to something very fundamental about the modern world, and who rules it. When we learn a foreign language via some self-study course, very often we wind up learning business this or business that, instead of, say, upper class Viennese, upper class Parisian, or Received Standard, much less upper class Bostonian, New Yorker, or the speech of the old Southern aristocracy. This brings your dream full circle, as the world gets swallowed up by Rockford.

  4. Thomas Fleming Thomas Fleming says:

    An interesting observation. I did go through the four Pimsleur courses, plus Ultimate Advanced French, plus a course in everyday French whose slang, when I used it in conversation with Claude Polin in Paris, caused him to wrinkle his mouth as if he’d been sucking on a lemon. In graduate school, I took the required reading course to pass the required proficiency exam, but I started studying the language at the age of 16 and had enough hours in college for a major. On trips to France, Belgium, and Quebec, I have managed to function adequately if not well, though there was the time I got off the plane from Rome, after several weeks in Italy, and I found myself unable to say even “merci” and in Besancon order une bottgilia di vin. The waiter looked at me very strangely. I used to dream regularly in Italian and it was accurate down to people using a few words I did not get at first. I even for a brief time had a few dreams in Serbo-Croatian. The problem lies in being a philologist and so embarrassed at the possibility of making a mistake, I sometimes clam up in conversation. French is harder to understand than Italian or German, because of the habit of squinching words together into a single sentence that functions, phonetically, as a single word. My German is very limited, but with literate German, I could take dictation, writing down words correctly I don’t know. Also, French is the slangiest damn language I have ever studied. I still manage to read newspapers and several novels and histories per year. Books on Kindle are a breeze, because when you are stumped, you can press on a word and a dictionary definition comes up. I then “note” the word and periodically recheck to see if I remember them.