Knock, Knock

P1080866So retro, so unconnected. A piece of metal to spare one’s knuckles when summoning residents from within. They sometimes are as simple as a ring or bar of metal, but often, in usual French fashion, door knockers are elaborately decorated, sometimes as fantastical figures. They are made to last multiple generations. I love them.

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A simple ring that’s not so simple, with an elegant twist.
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And the simple bar version, but with a nicely scrolled attachment. Never miss an opportunity to add a little something!

Door knockers were the subject of conversation recently, and I decided it was time to post my collection, which is getting out of hand. The conversation was with a reader, who was visiting the region with her husband. These IRL (in real life) meetings are a surprising but gratifying aspect of writing this blog. The conversation turned on which model to choose, how to carry home something so heavy, and oohs and ahhs over various examples we spotted on doors as we wandered about Minerve.

bell ringer
Not a knocker but an old-fashioned doorbell. You pull the ring, attached to a (non-electrical) wire that yanks a bell inside. The kind of bell that clangs. Do you really want a doorbell connected to your phone instead of one of these?

Take the angel at the top. What work went into it! The chubby face, the interesting sleeves, the patterned torso.IMG_2644And how about this beauty? I think I stared at it for 20 minutes. There are three faces, not counting the creature itself. Is this from a story, a fairy tale? Who created it? Who lived there and decided “THIS is what I need on my door!” Was it a commissioned piece? Was it one of several choices presented to the homeowner? Where do I get one of these?IMG_0457Lions are a classic. None of the lions I’ve encountered (remember I lived in Africa!) would be inclined to hold a ring in its mouth. Did you know there were lions in Europe? As late as the 4th century AD, in part of Greece. I wonder how the makers of these knockers came to visualize lions.

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Closeup. He’s a bit distressed, no?
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The whole door is wonderful. That peephole! You’d have to bend over to see through.

Then we have a combination lion and ouroboros, the Egyptian symbol found on King Tut’s tomb and later associated with alchemists and gnostics, though other mythologies also included the self-eating serpent.

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Another distressed lion.
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Amid no lack of embellishment. More is more.

Fish are another theme for knockers. They look great. I’m not one to go knocking on strangers’ doors, so I am not sure how they feel in the hand. I’m a bit put off by those faces. Do you agree?IMG_1135fish knockerIMG_1134The swan is a bit more elegant, don’t you think?P1070408Or this gentleman, with his pageboy coiffure and Bolton-esque moustache, gazing to the heavens in…what? exasperation? Disgust that somebody did a bad patch on the door above his head? Or, worse, that somebody scratched the door?IMG_2034The one my friend desires is the classic woman’s hand holding a small ball. The hand is supposed to signify welcome, and the ring symbolizes the theory that a vein runs from that finger to the heart, signifying love. What I love is that the cuff is elaborately detailed and that the fingers are delicately perched on the ball. Note that the base also is decorated behind the hand. Never miss an opportunity to add a design.

After all, more is more!IMG_2328IMG_2676P1090129P1060485Tell me which is your favorite. For great detail about the history of knockers, or heurtoirs, check out this post (in French but you’ll still get a lot out of the photos) on Paris Myope.

French Doors

metal trivalleI realized I have three folders of door photos, and they are getting out of hand. Let’s meander through one folder, which ranges from Carcassonne to Montolieu to Caunes-Minervois to Cépie, which are all quaint little villages around Carcassonne.

The top photo is technically a gate. But so gorgeous! look at how the scrolls in the stone match the scrolls in the ironwork. And the bits of “lace” hanging from the gutter.green trivalleThis one might be a gate to an inner courtyard or just a garage door. Who knows! Good luck driving up over that curb.IMG_4732A hidden courtyard elsewhere in town that I spied before the huge doors closed automatically. I love how old French buildings keep so many secrets.P1080833Perfectly imperfect.la citeAnother gate. But the colors!red trivallecepie 1856P1070824 2Why do the women’s faces on doors and buildings usually look unhappy? The men usually look stern or fierce, but the women look like their patience is being tried.P1080849Note the fish knocker. And the date: 1746.gateP1080842P1080824I wonder whether the shutters and door started out the same shade and the shutters faded more because of more exposure to the sun, or whether the homeowners intentionally chose different shades.montolieu blueThe little pot! Notice how almost no threshhold is straight.P1080845montolieu grayP1070875P1080534P1080843This door doesn’t even come up to my shoulder, and I’m short. For a while, it led to an underground bar, called “Le Trou Dans le Mur”–the Hole in the Wall. It was gorgeous, with a high vaulted ceiling and stone walls and a deep well that they had artfully lit. It was no easy feat to crawl through the hole and then descend the steep stairs. Too bad it closed.P1080820Arches+ivy+old stones = French charm.

Which is your favorite?

Big Words in French

P1090157Before we get started with today’s post, an exciting announcement: Francophile podcaster Oliver Gee of the Earful Tower and his wife, the lovely Lina, are in Carcassonne. The newlyweds are making a heart-shaped tour of France for their honeymoon. Look forward to an episode from Cathar country. Oliver not only does podcasts but has a blog and does videos about life and cool things to do in France. Check them all out!

Back to today’s rambling. When the French say something is a gros mot, they don’t mean it’s a big word. They mean it’s a swear word or a vulgar term. This is something I was taught not by any French class or tutor but by my kid, who, in preschool, suddenly learned to be an arbiter of what was and wasn’t appropriate talk for polite society.

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Keeping with my penchant for absolutely random photos when I don’t have something relevant, today you get doors of Toulouse.

This post is to save you from innocently saying the wrong thing. Or maybe you don’t care, and this post will give you more ammunition for swearing in French.P1090138Speaking of not caring, when somebody asks you, “do you want an apple or an orange?” and you think either is equally good, you say, “I don’t care” or “It doesn’t matter.” If your inflection is polite, it sounds perfectly nice—as in, “I’ll take the one that’s most convenient for you to give me.” P1090198In French, there are different ways to say it: 

Ça m’est égal: it’s the same to me. Most polite.

N’importe: not important (doesn’t matter). Also polite.

Je m’en fiche: I don’t care. Less polite. It means really that you don’t care, and no matter how sweetly you say it, you are implying that the question is below you.

Je m’en fou: I don’t care but in an impolite way. A kid would be in trouble for saying it at school.P1090193In my early days in Brussels, having picked up some phrases from the general public without any context or nuances, I once brightly told a shopkeeper “je m’en fou,” intending to convey, “do whatever is easiest for you; I’m good either way.” I got a raised eyebrow (but nothing more), and the shopkeeper undoubtedly took it as proof Americans are rude, when it was proof I was ignorant. It wasn’t until much later that I learned my faux pas.P1090182I know some English speakers who say merde as a polite alternative to saying shit, since it just sounds better. Well, the choice of polite French speakers is mince, which means skinny. As in, “Oh, mince, I spilled my wine.” Another alternative is mercredi, or Wednesday, pronounced meeeeerrrrrrrr-credi!P1090186Knowing about mince and mercredi, I was quite charmed when I first heard the Carnivore, quite annoyed at something, mutter “singe!”  How adorable, I thought, he says “monkey” when he’s mad. Later I learned that it was saint-dieu, not singe. Very gros mot.P1090178A favorite gros mot in the south of France is putain, which means prostitute. But it isn’t restricted to swearing; instead folks say it where some English-speakers might use the F-word, which is to say, as a noun, verb, adjective, adverb or just exclamation point (challenge: use putain as a preposition! as an article!). Extreme anger might be expressed with putain de merde. Watch this subtitled standup act by Patrick Bosso, who explains how to speak like a Marseillais (somebody from Marseille). It’s absolutely truffled with gros mots.P1090176Polite alternatives include purée (same word in English) and punaise, which are either bedbugs or thumbtacks, depending on the context. However, they only work as exclamations. Other polite exclamations: zut! flûte! 

Ça me fait chier and ça m’emmerde mean to annoy intensely, although literally both translate to “that makes me defecate.” Polite alternative: ça m’enerve, or that annoys me. Also ça m’agace, ça me gonfle (that blows me up) and oh, so many others.P1090174Americans sometimes say “shut up!” to mean “I don’t doubt you’re telling the truth but what you’re saying is shocking.” The archaic term (from the last century…you know, the 20th century) is “No way!”  Example: someone observes, “Beyoncé’s ex-drummer claims she does witchcraft,” and draws the response: “Shut up!”P1090164The French don’t do that. Ferme ta guele (sometimes just ta guele), or shut your mouth, but only animals have une guele; humans have une bouche. Very rude.

Tais-toi, or shut up, is neutral, though rather than command an adult (how well do you take being told “be quiet”?), it’s better to say chut, pronounced like “shoot,” which means  shush.

Casse-toi, barre-toi and va t’en all are ways to tell someone to “get lost,” though there are far more colorful choices. A milder alternative is laissez-moi tranquil, or leave me be. P1090159This just scratches the surface; the vocabulary of French gros mots is vast and rich. In fact, there are entire dictionaries dedicated to the topic, including “Dictionnaire des Gros Mots” by Marc Lemonier and “Gros Mots” by Gilles Guilleron.

Did you ever innocently utter a gros mot out of ignorance? A rite of passage for all learners of a new language…