Posted by: Lisa Hill | February 9, 2014

La Première Gorgée de Biere [The Small Pleasures of Life] by Phillipe Delerm

LA Premiere Gorgee de Biere)La Première Gorgée de Biere, translated variously as The Small Pleasures of Life or We Could Almost Eat Outside, actually means ‘the first sip of beer’ and it was the choice of Emma from Book Around the Corner for my 2013 Humbook.  It consists of récits, brief meditations on the simple pleasures of life.  And although I could have bought it in English for my Kindle, I chose to buy the French edition so that I could resurrect my school French in preparation for my next trip, oh! hopefully in 2015. ( Fishpond didn’t have it in their catalogue, but thanks to excellent personalised service, now they do, and other books by Delerm besides.)

The récits are one-or-two-page stories so they are not too demanding to translate if you have some rudimentary French and a dictionary.  So far I’ve found that I can get the gist of Delerm’s thoughts on an initial reading, and then I need the dictionary.  I have more trouble with the verbs irregular and otherwise (tenses are always my weakness) and of course some idiom escapes me entirely.  For these I try Google Translate, but the results are usually hilarious.  (À l’encre violette on griffe le papier de pleins, de delis* délies=In purple ink on paper full claw of hairlines!)

*BTW Auto-correct nearly drove me crazy while typing all these French words.  I can’t guarantee that I’ve caught all its attempts to remove accents etc.)

I started with the fifth story, L’odeur de pommes which I translate as The Scent of Apples.  Here it is, with all my howlers: Emma, enlighten me, please!

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On entre dans la cave.  Tout de suite, c’est ça qui vous prend.  Les pommes sont là, disposées sur des claies – des cageots renversés. On n’y pensait pas. On n’avait aucune envie de se laisser submerger par un tel vague à l’âme.  Mais rien à faire.Les fruits ratatinés doivent être delicious, de cette fausse sécheresse où la saveur confite semble s’être insinuée dans chaque ride. Mais on n’a pas transformer en gout identifiable ce pouvoir flottant de l’odeur.  Dire que ça bon, que ça sent fort?  Mais non.  C’est au-delà… Une odeur intérieure, l’odeur d’un meilleur soi.  Il y a l’automne de l’école enferme là.  À l’encre violette on griffe le papier de pleins, de délies. La pluie bat les carreaux, la soirée sera longue…Mais le parfum des pommes est plus que du passé. On pense à autrefois à cause de l’ampleur et de ‘intensité, d’un souvenir de cave salpêtrée, de grenier sombre. Mais c’est à vivre là, à tenir là, debout. On a derrière soi les herbes hautes et la mouillure du verger.  Devant, c’est comme un souffle chaud qui se donne dans l’ombre. L’odeur a pris tous les bruns, tous les rouges, avec un peu d’acide vert. L’odeur a distillé la douceur de la peau, son infime rugosité. Les lèvres seches, on sait déjà que cette soif n’est pas à étancher. Rien ne se passerait à mordre un chair blanche.  Il faudrait devenir octobre, terre battue, voussure de la cave, pluie, attente.  L’odeur des pommes est douloureuse.  C’est celle d’une vie plus forte, d’une lenteur qu’on ne mérite plus. We enter the cellar.  Immediately, this is what you notice.  The apples are arranged on trays (?) racks(?) – upside-down crates. We don’t know what to think: we have no wish to let ourselves be overwhelmed by melancholy. But it can’t be helped.The shrivelled fruit has to be delicious, this artificial/man-made [method of] drying/preserving where the preserve has infused flavour into each wrinkle [fold of the fruit].  But the strength of this aroma doesn’t translate into a recognisable taste.  Do we say that’s good, that it feels ok?  No.  It is more than … the musty smell, it’s the hint of a better self. It’s the dying days of school closing in on us. Purple ink scrawled on plain paper.  Rain beating against the window, a long evening ahead.But the scent of the apples is more than the past.  We think of these other times because its power and intensity recalls a memory of cellars of preserves*, of a gloomy attic.  It’s like being there, still standing there. We have behind us the tall grass and the damp orchard. Ahead, a warm breath of air wafts over us in the shadow. The smell has absorbed all the browns and reds with a just a trace of green acid. It’s smoothed away the apples’ rough peel.  With dry lips, we already know that this thirst isn’t for quenching, nothing can ease the prickling of our skin [goosebumps]. It would soon have to be October, clay courts (??) curves/arches of the cellar(??), rain, in abeyance/ expectation. [Yes, indeed, I’ve lost the meaning here].  The smell of the apples is distressing.  It recalls a more robust life, with a languidness that we didn’t value.

* Saltpetre is potassium nitrate, used for preserving (and also for making gunpowder and fireworks).

I like this Madeleine Moment, I’m looking forward to reading more like this.

Update, later the same day

Here is Emma’s version, which makes more sense!

On entre dans la cave. Tout de suite, c’est ça qui vous prend. Les pommes sont là, disposées sur des claies – des cageots renversés. On n’y pensait pas. On n’avait aucune envie de se laisser submerger par un tel vague à l’âme. Mais rien à faire. Les fruits ratatinés doivent être délicieux, de cette fausse sécheresse où la saveur confite semble s’être insinuée dans chaque ride. Mais on n’a pas transformé en goût identifiable ce pouvoir flottant de l’odeur. Dire que ça sent bon, que ça sent fort?  Mais non. C’est au-delà… Une odeur intérieure, l’odeur d’un meilleur soi.  Il y a l’automne de l’école enferme là.  À l’encre violette on griffe le papier de pleins, de déliés. La pluie bat les carreaux, la soirée sera longue…Mais le parfum des pommes est plus que du passé. On pense à autrefois à cause de l’ampleur et de l’intensité, d’un souvenir de cave salpêtrée, de grenier sombre. Mais c’est à vivre là, à tenir là, debout. On a derrière soi les herbes hautes et la mouillure du verger.  Devant, c’est comme un souffle chaud qui se donne dans l’ombre. L’odeur a pris tous les bruns, tous les rouges, avec un peu d’acide vert. L’odeur a distillé la douceur de la peau, son infime rugosité. Les lèvres sèches, on sait déjà que cette soif n’est pas à étancher. Rien ne se passerait à mordre une chair blanche.  Il faudrait devenir octobre, terre battue, voussure de la cave, pluie, attente.  L’odeur des pommes est douloureuse.  C’est celle d’une vie plus forte, d’une lenteur qu’on ne mérite plus. We enter the cellar. Immediately, this is what you notice. The apples are arranged on racks made of upside-down crates. We didn’t expect this: we have no wish to let ourselves be overwhelmed by melancholy. But it can’t be helped. The shrivelled fruit has to be delicious, from this would-be method of drying which has infused flavour into each wrinkle. But the strength of this floating aroma doesn’t translate into a recognisable taste. Do we say that it smells good, that the smell is strong? No. It is beyond this … It’s an inner smell, the hint of a better self. There’s Fall and school bottled in there. With purple ink we scratch (1) the paper with downstrokes and upstrokes. Rain beating against the window, a long evening ahead. But the scent of the apples is more than the past. We remember of things past (2) because its power and intensity recalls a memory of cellars with mildew, of a dark attic. It’s like being there, still standing there. We have behind us the tall grass and the damp orchard. Ahead, a warm breath of air wafts over us in the shadow. The smell has absorbed all the browns and reds with a just a trace of green acid. It’s smoothed away the apples’ rough peel. With dry lips, we already know that this thirst isn’t for quenching. Nothing would happen if we crunched into the white pulp. We’d need to become October, a dirt track, arches of the cellar, rain, expectation. The smell of the apples is distressing. It recalls a more robust life, with a slowness that we don’t deserve anymore.

 1. I’m not sure about this one. He’s writing with a fountain pen / a metallic quill.

2. I couldn’t help with this one.

 Well, I think I get a C for my translation, my next attempt will be le paquet de gâteaux du dimanche matins, and I hope to do better.  LOL the ones about food are easier because I’m familiar with French cuisine!

Author: Philippe Delerm
Title: La Première Gorgée de Biere
Publisher: Editions Gallimard, 1997
ISBN: 9782070744831
Source: Personal Library, purchased from Fishpond.

Availability

Fishpond: La Premiere Gorges De Biere
I can’t find it in English except at that big American online bookshop that I prefer not to promote.


Responses

  1. I didn’t think it would be that difficult, sorry.

    A little trick for the bilingual quotes. I don’t know where you typed the table and the quotes. I use Word. Usually, after typing a sentence or two, the software recognises the language and switches to the right dictionary. Then you can even have help with the accents.
    After that, I copy/paste in the post.

    This passage is about the scent of apples and how it brings back the scent of autumn. When Delerm was little, school started on the 1st of October. He’s from Normandy, I think. They produce apples and cider. Apples are kept in cellars similar to wine cellars.
    The apples are gathered, they’re on shelves for preservation and school is about to start. It rains at that time of year.

    I’ve amended your translation but I can’t paste a table in the comments.
    I’m sending the file via email and you can add it.

  2. Ah, that’s interesting, I wondered how you did your classy tables. I looked up the Help files in WordPress and they said that importing them from Word caused problems, so I followed a link that they had, and just copied and pasted their table as it was. Which is why it has those decorative Xs. if I removed them the table squashed up the columns and it looked ridiculous. Your word file has just arrived, will get cracking. LOL I am about to find out about those clay courts!
    PS Don’t apologise, I loved doing this! I don’t care about getting it wrong.

  3. Oh you are so good to revive your French. I could read it moderately well at one time (college days), but like you I find that verb tenses have slipped away. I once saw a humorous piece on speaking French the easy way and it recommended using present tense only and not worrying about whether the noun was masculine or feminine. “They will understand you.”

    • *chuckle* You have described my oral French exactly! But I would like to be able to read some of the old classics in French, and that’s what I’m slowly working towards. One of the revision text books I’ve bought has a short story by Zola in it, and I’m working on that at the moment:)

  4. I am very impressed. Emma’s translation is not that much different from your own. And now I know how Emma gets those lovely columns in her blog. Alas I don’t use Word – I am an Open Office users – I wonder if that would work. I will try to find a reason to experiment.

    • It works with open office as well, I’ve tried. The automatic spelling and grammar corrector is better with Word. I need it, that’s why I’d rather use Word.

  5. Hi Lisa,
    I hadn’t seen you had added the other version of your translation. You were very close anyway.
    I’m looking forward to your entry about the paquet de gâteaux. (I realise I don’t know the English for that)
    You really make me want to reread the book.

    • Emma, you are very encouraging:)
      I think that le paquet de gâteaux du dimanche matins literally means the packet of cakes on Sunday mornings, but in context I think it translates as Packaged Cakes on Sunday Mornings because he’s talking about how different kinds of cakes are like a religion in cafes, like a sacred ritual?

  6. ‘gâteaux’ usually means what Australians know as ‘biscuits’ (at least, in my French family)

    • Hello Elaine, thanks for your comment, I’ve learned something new!
      Gâteaux meaning cake is a relic of my school days, and it’s used here in Australian-French cafés to mean a wide variety of patisseries. My French teacher from Bordeaux also uses it to mean cakes.
      So I looked it up in my dictionary, the Collins one which, judging from the cultural info they provide, is marketed for the US, Canada, UK, Australia and New Zealand. It translates gâteaux as cakes, but also has gateaux (à) apéritif meaning small savoury biscuits, and gateaux secs meaning biscuits – biscuits labelled as British to distinguish it from the American ‘cookies’, but which we in Australia also call biscuits, using cookies (if we use the term at all) only to mean those dry sweet single layer biscuits without fillings or toppings.
      So, I infer from all of that, that the word gateaux can mean more than cakes, and sometimes something quite different and therefore context is all!
      BTW despite my careful insertions of the circumflex, auto correct has sneakily removed it from some but not all of my uses of the word gateaux! It’s just done it again with the last word!!


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