Friday, April 2, 2010

School Matters

1042 / 3000 words. 35% done!

A good writing day, with lots of un-writing and rewriting, and a good session with my main textual source, as well as the first real writing about an image. I'm making much ado about the geo-politics of Islam (i.e. the Turkish invasions of the early-mid 16th century) entering the allegorical dreamscape of the Triumphe des Vertuz by Jean Thenaud. When you talk geo-politics of Islam, you also talk geo-politics of Christianity, or, more precisely in this age of exploration and early colonialisation, Christendom (isn't it interesting that Christianity has a term signifying the territoriality of the religion? there must be an equivalent for Islam), and so I've been on the look-out for that kind of "Mappamundi" (world map) language, the mappamundi being (among many other things) one of the earliest medieval images of Christendom, as a concept: an entire world available for Christianisation.

Well, lo and behold, there appears in the earliest chapters of the Triumphe a catalogue of the Monstrous Races - the reason to get excited about this is at least two-fold: 1) the monstrous races are a significant part of mappamundi (there are two kinds: those in the bottom right (or southwest) of the world, and those in the top left (or northeast) of the world - medieval mappamundi being oriented towards not the north, but the east) - to your left is an image of the southwest ones, these guys go way back to Herodotus and Pliny; and 2) in a debate beautifully fleshed by Augustine (354-430), the possibility of saving the monstrous races, or converting them to Christianity (their soteriological potential) is articulated (it gets marvelously complicated: are the monstrous races the cursed of the earth? the monsters who survived the Flood? No, says Augustin, every single thing in nature is a communication from God (the word "monster" itself comes from the Latin "monstrare" to show, to reveal) and we are thus to learn from them). Ok, wait, actually three reasons: 3) in the goodly amount of reading I've done on Things Medieval, I have yet to see the monstrous races appear in a dream allegory. Thenaud is using language usually reserved for travel accounts (Wonders of the East, Mandeville's Travels and the like) in a dream allegory - he is blending discourses here, imbuing his didactic treatise with the language of the mappamundi, and doing this on the issue of the territoriality of Christianity, on its monstrous inhabitants. Since the Turks are also described as monstrous (not racially, but religiously, ethically), this is all very important to the point about ambivalence and Orientalism that I want to make. With Thenaud we're in the presence of a culture struggling to make sense of a Middle Eastern other of the Islamic faith (but, hey, doesn't that sound familiar to the present day? well, I won't be talking about that in my talk, but it's there underneath it all).

Ok - sorry, didn't actually mean to do that - and I didn't even write about that today: I wrote about the presentation image and the weird mission that Louise sent Thenaud on in his voyage to the Holy Land (she wanted him to procure gold, frankincense, and myrrh and present these exotic gifts at the Holy Sepulcher in her name à la the three Magi). But enough! Let's talk about the kids a bit, for they too had days of studious advancement. :-)

After Iris and I do the Thinking Bench (today it was a pool, as, starting after Spring Vacation, her class will go to the pool every Thursdau afternoon!), I go to Eleanor's classroom and read a book with her and Mac before saying good-bye. I love walking in and seeing the two of them in front of The World Biggest Radiator. Eleanor is usually chattering away in her own Eleanor-ese French, but more and more there are entire phrases that make sense. She's learning French by phrases which, when you think about it, is both more useful and applicable than learning a language word by word. But only little kids can learn it that way. As Oliver's teacher explained to us, he already has too much language structure to pick it up that way - he needs to get to the point where he can hear the words in French and put them in a French structure (more on that in a second). The Africa unit continues with lots of talk of crocodiles and the like and Eleanor loves every minute of it (reinforces the Madagascar movies). Right before she shoos us out, we stop at this poster of the alphabet and, as she points, I say the picture for each letter. More and more I pretend to forget the word and she swoops right in with it.

So I can't sit here and tell you that my children learned French in three months flat and that it was effortless. I can tell you that there are moments in which French pour out of them, but these come and go with emotions. I can also tell you that all three kids' teachers report that the children understand really just about everything and that, especially the girls, they are speaking more and more. I see evidence of this with Iris as she is describing more and more games that she is playing with the other girls. They are still incredibly curious about Iris and America and ask her all sorts of questions - the difference, as she was telling us tonight right before bed, is that now she can answer their questions. I have to pinch myself and remember that we still have three glorious months here (the changing of the seasons is making me realize "tempus fugit" and all that). There are subtle but definite changes - when the kids watch TV now, they ask for French shows (the dreaded Garfield, or the much more welcomed Barbapapa DVDs); when they want something at home (milk, a hug, to watch said Barbapapa DVDs, they ask in French). So, no, we're not talking about deep feelings or philosophy in French, but I think that if I stepped back and compared us to three months ago, I'd be amazed. Oliver is the really tough one to figure out. As recently as yesterday morning he said "You can't force me to speak a language that is not my native language" on his way to school - and he was in a good mood! This was more an observation than a protest. Sigh, I think to myself, and then I see the kind of work that he is doing at school, which, his teacher tells me (because I asked) he is doing entirely by himself. So he's reading those sentences above about the boy and his red balloon and the girl and her dog and he's making pictures for them.

He's choosing the sentence from the choices above and matching it to the picture.

He's unscrambling word order and creating logical sentences.

And he's writing some of these sentences in cursive.

And did I mention that he loves school more than ever? That time to read, and the two hours of down time around lunch just make his day every day. He's into the Inkheart trilogy now, and just finished the second book. Like Iris needs to write every day, this boy needs to read. His impish side still comes out as you can see in his devilish polygon - ooo! and I just noticed that another polygon has been turned into one of those multi-colored popsicles. This kind of makes his teacher crazy ("Il faut quand même respecter le travail" - "He needs to respect the/his work" she told me), but she's very sweet about it. Maybe she finds them kind of funny, too - he has them all over his "travail." So why do you think he still resists speaking the language? Considering what he's doing on paper, and that he translated "sanglier" correctly as boar during tonight's reading of Asterix, it would just seem like an easy transition to me. Well, the truth is, as happy as he is, and as content as his teacher is, I can't really fret over it. As Eleanor said tonight, "Bravo! ça marche!" (Bravo, it works!).

Random, but deeply appreciated things:
  • Iris came home yesterday with a mussel shell from the paella they had at lunch (yep, paella) - no souvenirs from today's Chicken Cordon Bleu (although I swear I was salivating at the end of her thorough description).
  • We are fully engaged in our next epic saga for bedtime stories: the girls wanted to keep the group together (although we did ditch a few of the additional 21 characters we had picked up in our hunt for Krrrrichelieu), but this time they are after "the guy who made Krrrichelieu bad in the first place" (this was Iris's cool idea). His name (decided by committee is) Teetsy of Krakamora. !!! Now if that doesn't give them sweet dreams...
  • When Dominique came to the door to say hello (and to give us free movie passes - thank you, Dominique!), Iris walked right up to her and said "Bonsoir, Dominique"!
Ok, I am getting "are you ready to rumble" looks from Mac who wants to play the "Combat of the Thirty" board game - as do I! I'll flatten his fussy quires in no time (hope I get the "Aide de Dieu" (Help from God) card - those always come in handy!).


  1. The more-or-less analogous term for the Muslim world is the Ummah, meaning nation or community. Wikipedia has a decent article, and also an interesting one on different categories or divisions of the world relative to the status of Islam in a country:

  2. Thank you, dear friend - will pursue those articles/ideas. We'd briefly studied Muslims maps in "Monsters and Marvels" and I'm increasingly amazed at how much mapping plays a part of Thenaud's moral allegory. I'm going to go with "organizing principle" rather than "proto-colonisation" but that's just because I'm being cautious. I may yet get bold!