The French connection: On constructing French idioms through illustrations

Anne-Claire Lévêque and Emilie Camatte are working towards bringing out a book of French idioms with contributions from French students at Alliance Française

Stooped over a sheaf of colourful papers — vigorously scrubbing, rewriting and cross-checking — is a motley group of French language enthusiasts. They are constructing French idioms through illustrations. Writer and freelance journalist, Anne-Claire Lévêque and illustrator and artist, Emilie Camatte, stand by, observing and occasionally throwing suggestions to the eager students. It’s a riot of paints, colour pencils, papers and references at the Alliance Française of Madras library on a Friday afternoon. This is a step towards bringing out a book of idioms, compiling all the contributions from the various centres at the end of their tour in India, in association with Alliance Française.

The French connection: On constructing French idioms through illustrations

“The idea is to integrate French expressions and their meanings, to learn about them,” says the duo, adding laughingly that they are running on four hours of sleep and might not be coherent enough. I ask about the full-day workshop: While Anne-Claire suggests creating conversations through the idioms, Emilie recreates the expressions through simple motifs. As they whip out pieces of paper, replete with illustrations that compliment the expressions, they tell me, that it is their first collaborative effort. Between broken English and generous droppings of unfamiliar French words, they begin to tell me their stories.

Emilie has been to India almost four times now. And so, it is only justified that her illustrations draw from Indian aesthetics — the culture, ‘crowd’ (as she puts it), colours and fabrics. Though none of her books are available in translation in India, her content oscillates widely between documentation and imagination. She says, “I am drawing parts from what I see in my mind. Most often these are stories within a story,” adding, “always inspired by reality”. Emilie currently has four works that are heavily inspired by India. “People here, keep their senses open. I had gone to Rajasthan and was overwhelmed by the colours and fabrics they use,” she says, recalling the time when trains fascinated her, with its crowded compartments and vendors shouting ‘chai, chai, chai’ — a collage of stories. She also collects the fabrics which later make appearances in the books.

The French connection: On constructing French idioms through illustrations

Anne-Claire, on the other hand, used to “breathe books” from childhood. But after an illustrious career as a freelance journalist, she decided to venture into writing children’s’ books. She prefers writing fiction over reportage, any day. “I still live in my childhood imagination. Kids have a big world of possibilities, when you are an adult this world shrinks,” she observes, adding that like children, she too tends to see situations from different perspectives. Her writing, does not take refuge in the magical and supernatural. Rather, she looks at everyday life situations and finds a narrative in it. Her first book which was published in 1998 Attention ala marchel (Watch Your Step!), was born out of her observation of people dancing at a party. Their body movements spurred her into a weaving a story. She adds, “For me, words matter the most. The sound of words and the way they look on paper inspire me.”

Before they take leave, Emilie quickly lets me run my eyes through her book, Niranjana veut aller à l'école (Niranjana wants to go to School). The patterns and colours are familiar. I spot turbans, curtains and clothes. The faces too, are familiar. As they leave for Puducherry for their next session, Anne-Claire says, “The responses were great from all around India. We will be back with the book soon.”

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Printable version | Feb 18, 2020 12:26:24 PM |

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