French lecture .. and the double ending
This evening was my "Conférence Marc Bloch" moment -- in the vast amphitheatre of the Sorbonne (in the picture): "Les Romains riaient ils?" I had it written, I had it brilliantly translated, I had practised in my best French.. and yet there was still a big risk.
The end of the lecture featured a Roman joke from the Philogelos (the ancient joke book), and the point was to get the audience to laugh at it, and then to think a bit harder WHY they had laughed.
It was rendered very nicely (thank you all who did this, principally Jean-Frédéric Schaub) into a joke in the style of Coluche. Like this:
"C’est l’histoire d’un mec qui rencontre un copain qu’y croyait mort.
Eh là, qu'y dit, j’croyais qu’t’étais mort…
Ben non, que dit l’copain, tu vois bien que chuis vivant.
Mouais, répond le mec, mais çui qui m’a dit qu’t’étais mort, j’le crois un peu plus que toi !"
The idea was to tell it to the audience and then get to think why they had laughed
Was it because it was still funny? Or because I (that is "we") had translated it to be funny? Or because a dear old middle aged English lady at the Sorbonne was pretending to be Coluche? Or because the whole idea of laughing at a Roman joke was itself funny?
The trouble was that the whole ending of the lecture depended on the audience having laughed at the joke -- and then thinking more about why they had.
But what if they hadnt laughed? Didn't that ruin the finale?'
This morning, when I had my final run through with my friend Evelyne (THANK YOU, E..!), I began to get cold feet, and we adjusted the final paragraphs to make sure that they would still make sense even if the audience hadn't actually laughed at the Roman/Coluche joke!
By this afternoon the feet were even colder. So I decided to write an entirely new ending -- to use if not even a muffled titter had been raised at my attempt at telling a Roman joke.. much more serious and formal etc. It felt a bit like a reprise of some novel (French Lieutenant's Woman, for example).. in which two possible versions of the conclusion were waved before the readers.
The good news was they did laugh.. and ending number one worked fine (but I sure felt better having the other version up my sleeve in case).
It has been fun here.. as well as scary. Thank you so much to all who organised at the EHESS, to all who helped, and to all who turned up -- to new friends (like François Weil), and older ones (like Jacques Revel -- a bit of an inspiration for me, though I have never quite dared say that to him face to face), and to those I was re-meeting in Paris after decades, incuding Marcel Bénabou.. the only paid up Classicist and Oulipien that I know!
I'm feeling quite good.