As per the usual tradition, ELC will be presenting its very annoying Quiz of the Year to all its lucky readers. How much do you remember of what happened during the pandemic? What were the main geopolitical hot spots of the year, what happened in the sports industry (not a lot, admittedly), and just what did Kim Kardashian get for her 40th birthday?! Suspense!! http://www.englishlanguageconsulting.com/big-fat-quiz-of-the-year-student-version/
Amy barks up the wrong tree
I have always loved plants.
When I was an infant child, my mother used to stimulate me by asking me to point to the different species growing around the house whilst I sat in my pushchair. “Where’s the begonia?” she would say, and I would smile sweetly, while thinking “Yes, but do you mean the “begonia semperflorens” or the “begonia coccinea”, mother?”
When I grew up and went to university, my mother bought a Baby Tears plant (or “Soleirolia soleirolii” for those plant lovers among you) and explained to me that she would always know whether I was happy or not at university if the Baby Tears was green and healthy or not. From then on, the Baby Tears became something of an obsession and when I came home during the holidays, one of the first things I would do was to check whether my plant avatar was indeed happy and healthy. If it wasn’t, I would take myself straight down to the local pharmacy for a dose of vitamins and then straight down the pub for some natural fertilizer.
When I met my partner in Marseille, I was living in a flat with morning glory (“Ipomoea nil”) creeping up the outside walls and threatening to come in through the front door, and ivy (“Hedera Helix”) growing up the inside walls and threatening to strangle me as I slept. In spite of my obvious first love for greenery, he still decided to stay.
And now, we are lucky to have our own plant babies. Lili and Lulu, (in human form), the most beautiful flowers of the valley, and, since September this year, 30 olive trees which we will love and care for while we comb their lovely branches for olives this month, for it is harvest month and we are about to make our very first olive oil.
Thoughts from an Italian Garden
In this strange, unsettling year of 2020 where even the most ordinary things have taken on extraordinary dimensions so that we no longer know if we’re living in March, June or November, the simple rules of social living have gone out of the window and we’re not quite sure if it will ever end, I’ve been lucky enough to enjoy the unchanging cycles of the seasons in my garden, here in the south of Italy.
The first lockdown coincided with the advent of spring which meant I had the time to plant and prune as the roses and hydrangeas began to bud. At the same time, the birds started mating and I had to do the hard work of cleaning up after the ravages of winter: of course, my machinery was all seized up after four months of disuse and it took weeks to get the wild grass eliminated and to scrub down the patio and pathways. But the cats followed me around and basked in the sun, a pair of peregrine falcons nested in the camphor tree and little by little, the garden became a mass of green and colour as the scent of wisteria filled the house.
As spring turned to summer and the heat stopped up all desire to work, I took to basking like the cats, or staying late into the night talking with friends, the background sounds of cicadas giving way to the crickets and the occasional night-owl. Colour was everywhere: the bright yellow lantana, the purple South African plant whose name I don’t know, the red, white and pink roses, the bottle brush trees and the clouds of daisies and gaura, with a hundred butterflies flitting through the haze. If it were not for the mosquitoes, it would have been paradise.
Now, as we prepare for another lockdown, it’s autumn, the nights are drawing in and the leaves are falling. The roses are flowering again and in these mild days of an ending October the coral tree dominates the garden with its tall spikes of red flowers. But the nights are growing cold and I need to chop wood and prepare for the winter days ahead.
Many things have changed this year, but as I prepare to cook the mushrooms we picked this afternoon in the forest, some things never change.
Green fingers by Katie
In Yorkshire, I grew up surrounded by green. My family lived next to a wood and our garden was small but abundant with wild flowers, thick grass, invasive ivy and three silver birch trees.
We even had an extra plot of land where my father would show me how to grow all sorts of vegetables like peas, tomatoes, potatoes, carrots and we’d often have competitions to grow the highest sunflower.
Moving to Marseille, I realised that I had taken all this greenery for granted and how much I owed to the English weather. I tried to fill my life with plants but little did they know that it was just the beginning of my reign of terror. I shamefully started accumulating pots of soil and dead twigs, unable to throw them out.
Then, when I moved into a new flat with my husband, my mother-in-law bought me a yucca as a house warming gift. She was well aware of my reputation as a notorious plant killer so she told me she had chosen something that needed the least attention possible.
“Maybe this is the one”, I thought to myself. The next day I chose a bright pink pot for “Yuccalanda”, repotted her and lovingly placed her in the corner of my balcony. There she stood for the next few years; through mistrals, rainstorms, scorching summers. Never complaining, just surviving.
I must admit, once she’d accumulated a few spiders, my visits became less and less frequent. (Also, I had a real baby and choices were made.) Until one day, I went out to my balcony to visit her and found that she had given up and wilted. Disappointed in myself, I gave her some water (for old times’ sake) and left her in her corner.
Happily, this wasn’t the end for my tenacious Yucca because the very next month, new leaves were already sprouting. Like a phoenix, but green!
Proof that even when times are tough and space is restricted, life still finds a way and we should never give up hope.
I certainly won’t give up until I’m once again surrounded by green and with Yuccalanda by my side, I can do anything!
Summer is a time I always put aside to catch up on the numerous books that I have wanted to read during the year. I put my subscriptions to newspapers on standby and instead turn to the joys of “real reading”.
On a trip to Book-In-Bar in Aix in July, I was drawn to the recently published “Too Much and Never Enough” by Mary Trump, niece to Donald, and, in spite of my misgivings, decided to buy it.
There is nothing in this book which will make you change your mind about Donald Trump. If you are an avid fan, you won’t read it, if you are not, then you will not suddenly find yourself suddenly sympathetic to the family and the man. There are no state secrets revealed, nor are there any surprises about his personality.
The book is more a chronological account of the Trump family, from Donald’s grandfather who fled Germany so as not to do his military service, to Donald’s father, who used state subsidies to become a highly wealthy (and rather unscrupulous) property-dealer, to the five children, including Mary’s father, Fred who died of a heart attack, aged 42 …
Now a clinical psychologist, Mary Trump describes the lack of empathy in the family which creates the sociopathic behaviour in later life: Fred Senior’s emotional absence creates either complete neurosis in some of his children or the hugely inflated ego that we recognise in Donald.
There is also insight about Trump’s ineptitudes as a businessman and the numerous bankruptcies which occur as a result of his out-of-control spending, his lack of business acumen, his ability to listen to anyone and his over-riding feeling that he is always the most intelligent man in the room.
As daughter of Donald’s “loser brother”, and someone who was written out of the biggest part of the Trump fortune, there is always a little feeling that “Too Much and Never Enough” is revenge for a life of family injustice, but the book is an interesting insight into the dysfunctional and twisted world of the Trumps and it is definitely worth reading.
The Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante
Over the summer I allowed myself the pleasure of rereading the four Neapolitan novels by Elena Ferrante back-to-back.
If you are unfamiliar with the books they trace the relationship between the narrator, Elena and her best friend Lila, from their childhood in the years just after the second world war to their late middle age. There are three main reasons why I find them compelling reading: the quality of the writing; the lucid and honest exposition of feeling that bleeds into thought and action; the evocation of Naples as an active participant in the lives of the characters.
Ferrante’s writing is direct, concrete and focused. Her detailing of childhood friendship with its passion, misunderstandings, jealousies and reconciliations is so accurate it makes you feel you are reliving your childhood in a new setting. The directness can be breathtaking, because rooted in physical reality: the concreteness makes you feel emotions physically, the focus allows you to share in the intensity. Greater even than this is her ability to show how deeply childhood is the foundation for future life, and how the insecurities of youth infect the certainties of adulthood. We understand deeply how the ‘brilliant friend’ of childhood becomes the empty parallel of unfulfilment in later life, a blank mirror for the unsuccessful relationships that lurk beneath outward success.
Accompanying this, or rather, omnipresent in this, is the fact of Naples itself, developing as the characters grow up. Like Marseilles, and very few other cities in my experience, Naples is a city that you are forced to relate to, it is never a passive background to people’s lives – it takes an active part in them. In the novels, Naples is at first the simple neighborhood where the girls grow up, with its unspoken rules, its clan-like mentality and grinding poverty; then the changing, broadening perspective as the city opens up with increasing prosperity and hot water; finally it is menacing, a mockery of ambition.
If you have not read the novels, I encourage you to do so.
Mo Willem’s Goldilocks and the three dinosaurs.
A small girl learns an important life lesson while trespassing in a suspiciously large house. If you like adventure and chocolate pudding, then this is the book for you. An emotional rollercoaster set in a time when dinosaurs and humans coexist. Packed with highs (Papa Dinosaur’s chair), lows (the brazen youth of today) and mystery (why is one of the dinosaurs Swedish?). All with a simple yet invaluable moral to conclude:Lock your doors!
Julia Donaldson’s A Squash and a Squeeze.
A perfect book to read during a lockdown. A thought-provoking story about an elderly lady living alone, who takes dubious advice from a “wise” old man. You can really sympathise with the old lady in her small house filled with bad mannered farm animals, but don’t worry, the story has a satisfying ending….and no animals were harmed in this book.
By Katie (and Maddie)
In 2016, ELC went through a transformation. Our website was overhauled, our corporate identity revisited with a chic black and gold colour scheme, our business cards were made smooth and tactile, we ventured onto the social networks for the first time ever ….
And all this was made possible under the caring and attentive eye of the team at Esperluette: Naïs, Julie and Magali, three dynamic, creative, pragmatic, customer-focused professionals with a sense of fun, a sense of solidarity and a sense of style.
Whether it is for consulting, events planning, community management, creation and branding, PR or content drafting, they are the Dream Team for you!
And on top of that, they speak English and are trained on a regular basis by Katie!
Happy summer to all!
Love, Esperluette & ELC
As those of you who read these newssheets avidly will remember, last month, the team at ELC got all creative and began a competition to recreate our favourite works of art.
This month, we will be relieving you from the agony of suspense by revealing the answers. And here they are below:
This is one of the Dutton family’s favourite artists: the inimitable Beryl Cook, a British artist best known for painting flamboyant characters enjoying themselves in pubs and out shopping.
This one was taken on the roof of Katie’s office opposite Onet!
This rather glum image is Manet’s Bar at the Folies Bergères. Interesting detail here: we drank all the bottles of wine in order to prepare this reconstitution.
This brilliant reconstitution is The Arnolfini Wedding Portrait by Jan Van Eyck. Notice Katie’s pet lamb, Sherbert!
This uncanny likeness is Arcimboldo’s “Summer”. No vegetables were harmed in the making of this painting!
No prizes for guessing Andy Warhol’s painting of Marilyn Monroe here. Interesting fact: Katie actually rouged up for this one and almost ended up looking like an Oompa Loompa for life. All for the love of art.
And finally, Yvette Guilbert as painted by Toulouse Lautrec, which I have loved since aged 15 when I saw it in his museum in Albi. Love that pout!
A strange thing happens to English trainers if you leave them in confinement for 2 months. First of all, they make themselves a lair, rather like a fugitive on the run or bear about to hibernate for the winter. They gather blankets, food and a good Wifi connection and settle in for the long haul. Once comfortable, they are able to live for a month without seeing the light of day. Just a flicker from a TV or computer screen is sufficient to keep their brain activity stable.
After a month however, the English trainer becomes dispirited and restless and will seek other occupations. Having watched all the re-runs of Frazier and reorganized their bookshelves by colour and sock drawer in alphabetical order, the English trainer will subsequently look for other, more artistic ventures in order to stimulate the brain.
And so is was that the team at ELC began a competition to reconstitute various Masterpieces and do them artistic justice.
Below you will find five works of art from your favourite team. Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to identify said works of art and send us their original titles. Some are relatively simple, some more obscure. A prize for the first person to identify all six and a prize for anyone who manages to reconstitute their own Masterpiece …
Good luck !
There is a date on everyone’s lips in France at the moment: 11th May. No-one knows what it will bring: like the rules of English grammar, the guidelines delivered by the government have revealed as many exceptions as there are rules and so we wait in anticipation to see if we are a red zone, a green zone, whether we can see family if they live 103 kms away and are elderly but not old … (nuance), whether we can see our gym coach outside but not inside the gym, whether we understand why one of our children can go back to school and one can stay at home….
But kudos to the government. In spite of numerous criticisms, none of us would have liked to make the decisions potentially governing the life and death of French citizens given the circumstances and the constantly changing data.
For now, the date remains shrouded in mystery and for some, trepidation. Personally, on the one hand, there are some things that I really look forward to … some more superficial than others. Of course, I can’t wait to re-establish face to face links with all the people I see on a weekly basis, whether they be my lovely students or groups of dear friends (very often they are both). I cannot wait for that nonchalance about time. I realise now that even if I am always running from place to place, I am always free to choose when, and I see that clearly as a luxury now. I look forward to the anticipation of planning a holiday with my family, be it near or far. Anticipation is such a precious thing. Uncertainty is so destabilizing….
And on a very very superficial note …. I really can’t wait to put my trainers at the back of a cupboard and put on some high heels. God, I’ve missed them!
But there are so many things that I have enjoyed during my cocooning period that I don’t want to lose them. I have never spent so much time with family, and it has been wonderful to spend so much time with my daughters of 18 and 17 who certainly will move on to higher education in a few short years. It has been a blessing to have this time together. The confinement was also the instigator of a WhatsApp group with my parents, brother and sister and it has been incredibly novel and touching to have that exchange so regularly. Thank you for that, confinement period!
It will have been a time of introspection and self-discovery no doubt and I hope that all of us will come out of this slowly, wisely, and having learnt a precious lesson about who we are what we need and don’t need in life. There is a chance that this is not the end of the confinement period, but instead of taking that negatively, I hope we it will help us remember to be aware of how we spend our precious time.
WHAT I’M LOOKING FORWARD TO AFTER THE LOCKDOWN
First and foremost, I can’t wait to get back together with my partner who has been stranded in Sardinia since before the lockdown began. I want the warmth of human interchange, and tactile comfort.
I’m looking forward to the very limited freedom we’ll have in Italy – to walk in the streets, to visit the extended family, and in a couple of weeks’ time, to go to the sea.
I’m worried about the economic chaos we’re likely to find once we peek out into the ‘real’ world, but at the same time I’m hopeful of seeing the same concentration of mind we’ve witnessed since the lockdown began: the creative appreciation of small things and the desire on the part of ordinary people to make this a turning point in how we live our lives. Fearful of shoddy solutions to systemic problems and the all-too-easy power-grab of the greedy at the expense of the honest and simple, I nevertheless look forward to our strong and determined refusal to accept the same old lies from those who govern.
But more than all that, I’m looking forward to rediscovering the sense of time: after eight weeks of isolation, I feel lost in a bubble, floating precariously in the air where minutes slip into hours and hours days until a month and then two have slipped past and nothing has changed. The days are long, but the weeks short. I crave a sense of urgency, the hard, rough edges of challenge, as if the threat of deadlines were the real source of freedom and the stressors of working life the key to action.
I look forward to waking up after a long sleep filled with bad dreams.
THE END OF CONFINEMENT
The deconfinement countdown has begun! Only a few more days to go now and I think most people are ready for it to be over. The clapping at 8 o’clock in my neighbourhood has become a little less enthusiastic, friends’ hair and beards have turned into long unmanageable dreadlocks and the blanket forts are just tripping hazards now.
However, I think the reality hasn’t hit me yet.
I’ve become accustomed to quarantine life. I sing along to the parodies on YouTube, I’ve made new friends with my daughter’s Playmobile characters, and I’ve enjoyed wearing pyjama bottoms for meetings (I still make an effort on my top half). Most importantly, I feel like I have reconnected with my daughter. Yes, she has made working from home difficult but watching her learn or when she mimicks my English expressions, my heart bursts and I feel so proud. A similar feeling to when I see my students succeed!
So, what am I looking forward to? I have been lucky that I haven’t had to struggle through this pandemic, as so many have, so I’m simply looking forward to meeting people again. I miss my family, friends and students. The computer screen is no comparison to seeing someone in person, talking face to face, no delay, no bad connection, no echo.
I also look forward to the day in the future when I can sit my grandchildren down and proudly tell them the story of how we lived through the Great Toilet Paper Shortage…I mean Covid-19 Pandemic of 2020.
As a little bit of an introvert, I’ve always asked myself if I had a limit to staying isolated from the world. Well, with Mother Nature finally having enough and sending us all to our rooms for being bad humans, I finally have my answer. Yes, I do have a limit.
Nine days into the confinement, I realised that I missed walking further than a kilometre from my house; the freedom of going shopping without a permission slip and sneezing in public without people running for their pitchforks!
Yet, it has given me the time to reflect. Thankfully, living in a world of Skype and Whatsapp, we’re not cut off entirely. Ironically, the quarantine has brought us closer together. I have managed to keep a lot of my lessons going which have kept me anchored to reality. I have also been speaking more frequently with friends and family and I have spent more quality moments with my husband and four year old daughter. Every night we stand on the balcony to applaud the hard working nurses, and doctors and are reminded that we’re not alone.
The next question I ask myself is this: When the quarantine is lifted and we step out into the blinding sunshine, breathing in the unpolluted air, will we all be a little more considerate towards each other? I hope so. One thing is for sure, I will never look at a packet of toilet roll the same way, ever again.
Skills gained: I can make a fort out of almost anything, I know all the lyrics to Frozen’s « into the unknown »!
As many of you know, I’m an early bird, so my day starts at 6 o’clock. I make coffee and look at my emails before ruthlessly scanning all the news-sites to find interesting texts for my students. The biggest change to my routine at this point is that every single article on every single website is about the coronavirus, and not one of them has a ‘fun’ angle. It seems that fun has disappeared.
I then go about sanitising my living environment, needlessly wiping down surfaces in the vain belief that I’m keeping infection away from a place that nobody has visited in more than three weeks. However, as I feed my six cats at the same time, any idea that I might have a clean home disappears.
After my morning ablutions, I begin my telephone lessons, and the interaction with sharp, intelligent people energises me: together we analyse problems, find solutions and believe that when the pandemic ends, we’ll build a better society.
And that is the real positive of this strange and disturbing time: we’re all beginning to think differently about what is important in our lives, because we have to concentrate on essentials. After the love and support for our families and friends, perhaps the most essential thing is the time we have been given to reflect on the kind of society we want.
I am lucky to live in the countryside, and I spend my free time caring for my garden and watching the cycles of nature: the sudden slowdown in our lives has seen a dramatic resurgence in natural energy; in my own garden, the birds, butterflies and lizards are multiplying; further afield, wild animals are venturing into our deserted cities, and the waters of Venice are running clear and full of fish. Over the locked-down areas of Europe, pollution has dropped by 40%. In just two weeks, nature has bloomed, as if the planet were saying a great ‘Thank you’ to the all-polluting human race for taking a time-out.
I’m spending my time now wondering how we can translate this forced change in our behaviour into lasting change. Do we, together, have the power to overcome the inevitable economic crisis that will follow the pandemic, and fight together for a new world, stripped of the excesses of consumption and greed?
I am afraid that I am indulging in magic thinking, and that once things get back to the old normal, we will quickly forget. But I would like to believe that, united, our energy, intelligence and desire for something better may lead to lasting change.
For many years ELC has been working with the legal profession: both with such prestigious law firms as Capstan, la SAJE, PINT, Lex Phocéa, Favarel & Associés and more …. , and at the Maison de l’Avocat where we train groups of lawyers, paralegals and expert witnesses to battle it out in court in English à la “Ally McBeal”.
Hence, we have always been intrigued by the law and have a deep sense of justice so when we heard that there had been a heinous murder no further than on our precious Vieux Port in Marseille, we were appalled!
No sooner had we heard than we donned our Sherlock Holmes hats and made our way to the centre of activity and logged onto the application CluedUpp where we discovered the details of the crime!
From there we were transported back in time to 1919 and the era of the “Sneaky Finders” and learnt that one of the gang leaders had been stabbed to death, possibly with witnesses. Our job was then to catch up with the dodgy characters around the Canebière and the Vieux Port (of which there seemed to be no shortage, funnily enough) and interrogate them to see what they knew about the day’s events. So exciting!
For the next three hours, your ELC sleuths could be seen skirting the bars and stalking the avenues of the town centre, smartphones in our hands, ready to track down witnesses, eliminate suspects and finally put the cuffs on the culprit and did we do it ….?
No! We were truly and completely useless, which just proves that we are better suited to a profession of teaching the complexities of the diphthong and the present perfect rather than hunting down killers on the place Charles de Gaulle. Although we did have a nice hot chocolate in the Samaritan when things got too tough.
But would we recommend the game? Yes, we absolutely would! The whole thing is a cross between Cluedo and Pokémon Go, there is lots of chasing virtual suspects down the street and the whole thing is in English!
So, if you are looking for a fun weekend event, check out whether there is another event near you! It’s dead good!
As you are no doubt aware, Saturday 25th January 2020 saw China celebrate the New Year of the Rat. If you were born in either 1972, 1984, 1996 or 2008, there is a very strong chance that you are a Rat and so congratulations … This is YOUR YEAR!
ELC is proud to acknowledge that we have our own little Rat as Katie was born in October (Libra)1984, so anyone learning with Katie this year is bound to benefit from her aura of luck and bountifulness!
As those who know Katie are sure to agree, rats are quick-witted, smart, versatile (watch out for the false friend) and good at saving money so there are bound to be projects galore and fortune on the horizon.
Now, we at ELC are unfortunately not fluent in Chinese, having dedicated our lives to the most beautiful of languages, French. However, we understand that if you are a rat, you will be experiencing your “Origin of Life” Year which will be filled with challenges and wonderful experiences.
In order to maximize your luck, it is essential to wear as much red as possible and if possible, dye your hair red, buy a red bicycle and arm yourself with fire-engine red lipstick.
Rats’ lucky numbers this year will be 2 and 3 … (2 sisters working in a company of 3 people …..! What are the odds?!) The lucky colours will be Red, Gold and Green (So Culture Club on repeat on Deezer obviously) and the best relationships will be with rabbits, oxen and dragons for the lucky students who were born under those signs.
For those who are not lucky enough to be taught by Katie this year, please don’t worry. Both Nick and myself are both PigFish, having both been born in March in two different Years of the Pig. FishPigs are also wonderful signs, blessed with an optimistic and compassionate nature, good at listening, always available for an aperitif and moderately useful in map-reading.
So may all your fortune cookies be full of exciting promise this year.
Our very warmest wishes, Two Pigfish and a Balanced Rat