May 1, 2011

Cinquième leçon: Où est le cochon?

When I was a kid at school, for some unearthly reason, I signed up to study French for four years.

For Australian school boys with strong Ocker accents in the 70's, studying French was an 'interesting' experience - to say the least.

Without French movies available on television, and having no 'real' French people to emulate,  none of us had any idea what a French person was supposed to sound like - and so, instead of practicing rolling our 'r's we spent most of our French class time drawing surfboards - de planches de surf.

Consequently, at the end of four years study, we weren't exactly fluent. I guess the best way to sum up our 'intimidating' grasp of  French is to describe our French teacher's face as he listened to our final Oral exams.

Our French teacher's name was Mr Pierre d'Gorgonzola. He was a Francophile genetically and emotionally. He believed in whistling La Marseillaise while walking both up an down the school corriodors, while doing playground duties and, I have heard from a good source, while visting the rest room with a certain Miss Gerdenhymen.

Apart from his musical tastes and a box shaped head of  Asterxyian red hair, Mr d'Gorgonzola possessed a robust French nose.

And what a nose! Even to an Anglophile like myself, it was a magnificent nose (un nez magnifique!).  It was a nose that had all the jutting pride of the Eiffel Tower, the phallic elegance of the Concorde jet, and the curves of a Renoir nude - curved as it was in the exact contour of the interior of a glass of  Châteauneuf-du-Pape (Shat-toe-newf-de pahp -  go on, say it.)

Even with that Nez Magnifique decorating his la tête en forme de boîte, to recall his facial expressions as he listened to our final examinations, causes me shame even now.

The day of our oral French exams was a lovely spring day. They were held at exactly two in the afternoon; the wind was blowing westerly giving us a clear blue sky. The soft sunlight came through the big bank of windows on the Eastern wall of the classroom and lit up fairy rings of chalk dust that climbed the light shafts.

There were 36 boys in my class.

In alphabetical order, starting with Alan Appleby, (who had a small tic in his right eye when he was nervous) we each stood and read our chosen passage en français..

Even with his tic, Appelby wasn't too bad. But Appleby's accent wasn't quite right, and as he listened, d'Gorgonzola stuck his chin firmly against his bright pink Paisley tie - as if he were trying not to burst out laughing. When Appelby was finished d'Gorgonzola blew a raspberry of relief through his rubbery lips and said:

 'Pas mal. Qui est le prochain? Faites vite!"

The next boy was  Brian Atticuscolarus - a fat Greek kid with a lisp. We called Brian, 'Brain' - because he wasn't. 'Brain', as expected, waded through his French passage with all the grace of a deaf, one legged man with Parkinson's disease doing a three quarter waltz.

I think with 'Brain', Mr d'Gorgonzola, began to show the first signs of strain.

To give him credit, d'Gorgonzola twisted his chin toward his shoulder, and attempted to leave it there. But was ultimately unsuccesful, and a small giggle escaped his lips, and he had to cover his mouth with his hand.

With each boy, the readings grew worse, and d'Gorgonzola lost his giggle and started to gnaw on the end of his Bic biro (le Bic). With some readings a few students laughed aloud.

Thankfully d'Gorgonzola had his eyes squeezed shut when we got to the 'F's. So when it came to my turn I didn't get to see his look of disbelief.

Now let me say, as an aside, that most of the boys in my class were, err..... slightly 'abnormal'. Looking back on my school days I think I can sat that with all honesty.

Abnormal, that is, apart from myself  of course.

Yet it was still with some trepidation that I stood and grasped my foolscap sized morceau de papier. In fact I didn't do too badlly for the first few sentences - which were about the rabid mating habits of  the southern albino wombat (vombatus ursinis albinonus fornicatus).

But then I felt a slight weight on my right cheek and realised that my ocular prosthesis had started to droop a little. I began to worry it might fall on the desk and roll under Applethwait's chair - as it had the previous summer. It always happened when I held my head at an angle, and I should have known better. Of course I'd like to blame Oscar, my prosthetist, but he had warned me not to overdo it. 

Be that as it may, I  had to stop reading for a moment to poke the thing back into its socket. And as I did, d'Gorgonzola's own eyes sprang open. He took one look at what I was doing, his face paled so that he looked as though me might faire de grande vomit and he said:  Oh asseyez-vous Finnie!

And so I did, vowing to wear an eye patch with a picture of the Queen stuck on it if I ever managed to sit another French oral exam.

Things grew worse before they grew better. At boy number 19, Beaux Bingstorphett, whose entire front row of teeth had been knocked out in a fight the week before, d'Gorgonzola's nose begain to quiver, and his pained eyes dropped to the long list of students on the table before him.

But relief was a long way away, and as we approached the last ten students of the class - coincidently those with the most horrible French accents-  d'Gorgonzolas eyes grew wider and wider, till they were those of a man being forced to listen to a  a cat's entrails being turned into violin strings - while they were still attached to the original cat.

And, without one word of a lie, that face is the d'Gorgonzola face  that has stuck with me to this very day. 

Okay, okay, well that's my confession for the day. But to be utterly truthful, I must say that French, in some ways, has stood me in good stead over my adult life.

When, for example, I am visiting my beloved dentist, I often mentally block the view up his gros nez by reciteing simple French. It's a type of meditation without having to say 'ohhmmmm' - that being impossible with another mans fist and forearm shoved all the way down your throat.

My meditative recitals go something like this:

Où sont les livres de l'enfant?
Les livres de l'enfant sont sur ​​la table.

Where are the books of the boy?
The books of the boy are on the table.

Où est la fille de l'actrice?
Elle est derrière l'église avec les trois fils du boulanger.

Where is the daughter of the actrice?
She is behind the church with the three sons of the baker.

Les cinq vaches noires sont dans la chambre à coucher avec la femme du dentiste.
Mais où est M le dentiste?
Le dentiste est écrit au tableau au cours des près de la fenêtre près du livre de l'enfant sous la table.

The five black cows are in the bedroom with the wife of the dentist.
But where is the dentist?
The dentist is writing on the blackboard over the near the window near the book of the boy under the table.

Je voudrais une table pour deux s'il vous plaît. Avec une salle de bain privée.
Combien de présidents souhaitez-vous dans votre salle de bain privée?
Trois s'il vous plaît.

I would like a table for two please. With a private bathroom.
How many presidents do you want in your bathroom?
Three please.

Oh, about the images?

Ahh you see, once upon a time there were three adventurers - all childhood freinds. The names of the adventurers were Hansel and Gretel and Brian.

One day they came to a huge old gate, with fancy  gold lettering on the gate posts that said "Enter at Your Own Risk."

Brian, being brave, yet stupid, didn't take any notice of the signs. 

When Hansel and Gretel had caught up (they had had a restroom stop) it was too late. For poor Brian had opened the gate and been immediately turned into a pig.

He is a pig, even to this day. He is very popular for doing talking pig commercials on daytime television.

 I guess there is a lesson there.

Thank you for looking. The French is courtesy of google gahgah. So don't blame me if you go to France and ask for a bathroom with three Presidents in it and they give you a bathroom with only one.  :)



  1. Oh my God! I cannot believe I read everything! I even spoke the French lines with a Ces-French accent. I just cannot believe I read all of these!

    You see, I was trying to see the images and I did not want to be a hog and just scroll, so I actually read and as I enjoyed one image after another I just started getting into the story.

    The names alone! I appreciate the names. I used to invent names when I was a kid, in fact I have many names.

    You don't know me and I don't know you!

  2. Me too! I cannot believe I read all of these. I was captivated by the image of the pig making a dump. That sealed my interest.

  3. So, like, is this really a true story? I heart your illustrations. So out of this world!

  4. Andrew, you are a master story teller and artist! Me too! I read all of it, 4 times!

  5. Could I have doctors instead of presidents with my bathroom? They're usually more succulent and appetizing, not to mention good taste in socks. :)

  6. My French is pretty worrying, if I may say so. But as far as I'm concerned, so long as you can say trés bon and merci beaucoup, than you're good to go.

  7. Great illos, by the way. That Gretel is very pretty looking and you know me, the crows are always the winner. :)

    PS: I just got "blmbelhun" for the magic word. I think your character naming is infecting their system.

  8. Ok, I'm laughing out loud as I read this and my family is wondering why on earth I am laughing so. I took french for 5 years , don't speak it, but this did remind me of the silly phrases we had to learn and the look on my french teachers face when we tried to recite french with our Southern Twang. I truly love the description of his nose. Fabulous, oh and so is the art :)

  9. ...So wonderful colours and atmosfhere; I really love it, great!

  10. I took the German and Spanish route. I wish I would have taken British instead.

  11. Congratu, excell. wonderf!
    (you know what happens to me with the English language understanding, MMmjjjjhhh)
    I wish I had become a pig! yes sir!
    I have heard that some are very intelligent, plus I was always in love with Piggy, my beautiful pig Cesame Plaza.
    Beautiful Illustration! reminds me of a haunted house that was near the house of my parents when I was a child. The challenge was to go at night with a lighted candle. I always went to the house walking ... and I left it running

  12. Fantastic story,love it and make me laugh:)
    About the illustrations,they are amazing!

  13. Oh my! That's all I can say. What a delightful story, what delightful details! Do I dare ask how true they are all (no, I won't because SURELY that is a work on fine fiction based perhaps on a smidgeon of truth--and the names and details are what make it). I do indeed love the image--in the magic-lit world of crows and golden woods.

  14. I wonder what on earth was going through that french teacher's mind at that time!
    But anyway, the illustrations are magical here, you just can't help but wonder what lies beyond those gates, I think I would have to stay well on the safe side though!

  15. I actually took two years of sign language in high school and two in college. The classes were small and fun. The best part was no one laughed at my accent. I did stutter a bit, but since the other kids were blind, it wasn't that big of a problem.

    I love the image, by the way. Poor Brian. Was he the Greek fellow or is this another Brian?

  16. You have achieved in this image a very special climate, for if alone it is an extraordinary story. This is really meritorious and a speech of your artistic sensibility. I congratulate you

  17. C'est génial, Andrew :D
    I studied in a Catholic School with Sacré-Coeur congregation nuns so I understand this completely. I can sing La Marseillaise even now XD
    Too bad I've forgotten almost all my french due to lack of practice. I mean, I remember lots of words but have no idea how to put them in order to make a sentence that makes sense. Hope my english is better.
    Your illustrations are great, I'm never dissapointed when I visit here ♥
    ...and I like french noses à la Serge Gainsbourg.
    I had to mention that :)

  18. Mr.Finnie! I enjoyed reading your story of childhood. As many others around the world, I remember similar situation when I was young seedling of a perennial thistle . But of course only the language was different.
    But , tête-à-tête, I like your birds and the rats . It doesn't mean, however, that the pig is bad! Pig is good as well. But it doesn't mean either that Hansel and Gretel are not good at all. No, they are good. Well, I try to say we have sunshine. And it is too dry here. Enjoy the rain. Au revoir!

  19. Hi!!!
    I came by here yesterday and didn't get to finish reading all of this - I will be back!
    I am off to the dentist to meditate in French! LOL - Your artwork is amazing - xo

  20. Me. I came back. I always come back to places where there are good illustrations. is that once is not enough to see it.
    I love the opposite!
    Beautiful girl-crows
    Sun-Moon (day-night)
    You should still back!

  21. Really love the images and the story makes me laugh -- as always! It reminds me of waking up in a bed and breakfast in Maine and meeting a couple of fellow boarders. They spoke pleasantly with me in French, and I responded in French, but by the time I got to the bottom of the stairs I said "Hey, wait a minute! I don't speak French!" They looked at me very strangely. It happened once in Montreal too, but I was drunk then, so there's no accounting for events.

  22. I love your latest works, Andrew! Beautiful ambiance and crows always hold a particular mysterious :)

  23. You are a master story teller my friend! I devoured every word... maybe it was just because I hadn't had lunch yet... no... I think it was the story :o) I just realized that if we were in the same French class, I probably would have been right after you for the oral exam.However, the only French I ever took was a French Fry from my brother when he wqasn't looking. I tried my best at Spanish, but failed miserbly... so I didn't try anymore. Great images as well. I was so engrossed in the story, I had to rescroll to check out your artwork. It was well worth the rescrolling :o)

  24. Heheheh! The rodent wants to eat the handsome boy's leg. You are quite a fashion designer. really, you should set up a portfolio on Behance.

  25. Halloooooo! Hahahaha! Aaah, if we ever meet, may I poke you in your prosthesis, please? You know, I took four years of French in high school, but the only phrase I can say with pure confidence now is, "On va a la plage."

    What a FANTASTIC illustration, Mr. Finnie! Great texture on the stone wall and wonderful etching of words. The wavy-crooked wrought iron fence is superb! I love the way some of the scrolls look like screaming faces. And oooooh to the mixture of crows and gargoyles and butterflies!


  26. hallo Andrew, ich muß lächeln über die Zuneigung zum französischen Lebensstiel und Charakter und ein wenig Desinteresse am Schulfach.…
    schöne Arbeit, wie ist das Malen und Zeichnen bis in den kleinsten Punkt möglich?
    Ein schönes Ergebnis von Kunst, sich in diese Dinge hinein fühlen und so wiedergeben.
    viele Grüße von Jasmin

  27. I love these, beautiful and enchanting.

  28. Woweee!! As a person of few words, very few of them French, may I just say, "Spectacular!!"

  29. it's like entering spiritual pet cemetery.
    the cat did that to Brian.
    the cat was the real gatekeeper of the cemetery.

    hello andrew, yes im back.
    and it's good to be here, seeing wonderful illustration of yours.

  30. bytheway, when those three adventurers die, only Brian can be buried in the pet cemetery, unless the other two are cremated.

  31. wait a minute.
    that sounds sick.
    why on earth would Hansel and Gretel want to be buried in the pet cemetery anyway?


    ah yea, whatever.

  32. been meaning to ask you since 2006... what is this Big Brother's Toy????
    i dont like big toys...

  33. i think i know why you laughed.
    "i dont like big toys... "
    :D heheh... that is............bad.

    byebye, happy weekend, sorry i dont speak french!

  34. Hi Andrew, thanks for the message, hope you are well. I have been doing a home learning course, so unfortunately haven't got round to doing any drawing or looking at blogs for quite a while! I see your work is still as amazing as ever though! Looking forward to having a look at what I've missed.

  35. Dear Andrew, you are so eloquent, that I read your story all in a breath. You sound so convincing, that it was not hard at all to believe you. Still I find that you've bettered your knowledge of French throughout the years and if your old teacher could see you now, he would remain "très heureux"!
    Oh, and your illustration... It has nothing to do with the story and I suppose you know that!:) I had to see the different pictures separately in order to understand the story behind them... Poor Brian! I don't blame him! This gate can provoke either fear or curiosity! I just wonder what did he see behind in order to be punished so mercilessly?!
    I noticed a strange figure right on the wall. Have you noticed it, too? Please, be careful!:)
    There's so much unspoken in your work. For example - those golden lights that resemble the silhouettes of trees...
    I like the atmosphere, the colours, the composition.

    See you!

  36. Hi Andrew,
    this is an amazing work!
    You know how, and what elements cluster,
    to create a real climate action and mystery!
    and the pig? so beautiful! :)
    an attractive gate, added to the children
    is perfect!
    ps: I had four years of French in school ...
    and I can only say 'merci' ...

    a big hug!!

  37. Skull?
    Sorry, Andrew. for my skull is what is on the flag of the pirates!
    Too much wine!!!!!!!!!

  38. Bonsoir, Monsieur Finnie!!!

    Je suis francaise = I am French!! What can I say.... I loved this post!!! If you really want a French person to emulate I will send you my!! I don't have a French accent but hers is so over the top....LOL!! Yup.....we are in a society that now gives their children crazy names..... my mom had that market cornered 43 years ago when she gave me this impossible French name. Not easy to have in the USA!! : ))

    Anyway.... your work is amazing as always!!!


  39. hey andrew!!!. 16 days without seeing a new picture of yours!
    Is not it much time?
    You have a virus?
    Not you, your computer, I mean
    I once had a virus, not me
    On my computer I mean
    But was it so long that we finally became friends.
    now he serves me coffee with amarettis. Ah, I love amarettis!
    I heard that it's cold in Australia!
    I have a daughter in Melbourne! Can you believe?

  40. Oh dear. You mean my comments are finding their way into your inbox??? Gah! That happened to me once with someone else. I kept getting his comments. Terribly annoying. Sorry 'bout that. Gnahahahahahahaha. No, really. Sorry 'bout that. Hope unsubscribing fixed it.

  41. Andrew, you're famous!
    I want to know more "what if"!
    What if the witch is the children's mother in disguise?
    or father in disguise MMMnnnn...this not sound well...
    oh, I do not think about that!
    I always wanted to know if a witch oven roasted tasted good!
    (perhaps with some potatoes with olive oil, who knows ...)
    No problem with your blog, if you want, I can do a post on it so your friends do not miss you, ha ha!

  42. I promise you, things are alright. :)

  43. Hahahah! That's funny. I am about to post a real ice cream image on mine. Hahahahahah!

  44. Okay have fun and enjoy the French festival. :)

  45. maravilloso blog tienes una imaginacion increible, un abrazo

  46. Andrew. Just wanted to say hello and let you know that I am back on the planet and have just been immersed in your amazing book. I hope you are very proud. Like I said, your work is fantastically confident and strong and I am applauding you. : )

  47. Hey, Andrew I hate when people delete their comments on my blog!!
    Well those who repent will go to heaven!:)

  48. thanks for your comment on my drawing, andrew.

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