Sunday, May 22, 2011

Pop quiz: What is Toile de Jouy?

Aaaack! There are so many things that I don't know about in the world! Like Toile de Jouy. Do normal people know what this is? Do normal French-speaking people know? This is what it is:

Or this:
My god. Would you sleep in a room that looks like this? But anyways. Is it common knowledge, that this is Toile de Jouy? To me, what it looks like is Delft Blue patterns but in a fabric print version rather than on ceramics. In the novel, there is repeated mention of a Toile de Jouy sofa (by the way, who uses the word sofa? Doesn't everyone say couch?), and I want to be as accurate as I can to the text, but would talking about a Toile de Jouy sofa just make people scratch their heads? Does it matter? I could even go so far as to translate it as damask... would that be falsifying? They look basically the same (to my undiscerning eyes)!

Also. In reference to an octogenarian internet user, the novel talks about her typing on the keyboard "comme sur son engin de sténographie." What the heck? At first, I thought it was talking about a typewriter. But no... stenography, apparently a lost art. This is a whole world that I know nothing about. Are stenotype machines still used? I founds some photos of old ones:

OK. Pop quiz: who is the Count de Saint-Germain? If I was to tell you about an advertisement for Count Saint-Germain elixir, would you know that I'm talking about a potion that gives the drinker eternal life? Count Saint-Germain was a German guy who apparently discovered the secret to eternal life. Is this something that I should explain? Or let people figure out for themselves if they so desire?

The problem with leaving things up to chance like that is that I, personally, am not the kind of person who will go look up an obscure reference from a novel I'm reading. I will let it slide, and try to understand what's going on via context... and because I am this way, I feel like everyone else is as well. And although I understand that the narrator of this novel is trying to be obscure in order to prove how erudite she is, I also feel like it's necessary to make sure that the reader knows what she's talking about. Is this not true?

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Forgive me, Internet, for I have sinned;

It has been two weeks since my last post. I said I would never leave it that long...

Speaking of Catholicism: despite the Quiet Revolution and despite all the Quebeckers who fiercely reject the religion as an evil, repressive and authoritarian force that is best left in our shady past, it's still increadibly influential as a muse for Quebecois literature. It's only more recently, with the emerging generation of atheist or at least non-practicing writers, that religion has been tossed aside as a principal subject of the national literature. But even these young writers have grown up in the shadow of the hugely glorious and desolately empty churches on the corner of practically every street, now being zoned as residential and converted to condos. (How creepy is that? I'm not sure I would feel so comfortable living in a ex-church...)

This is the one down the street from my house: Notre-dame-de-sept-douleurs

Crimes is one of those not-really-about-religion-but-still-catholic-inflected novels, with the main character falling desperately in love with the loval vicar. There's an eager confessional scene, a stealing-from-the-offering-basket scene, a plot twist involving a Mary statue crying blood, the whole nine yards.

But anyways. The question of the day. In reference to a brothel that got raided by police. It is a brothel which is situated around the corner from the courthouse, primarily frequented by lawyers and judges. Here's the phrase:
À l'intèrieur, les policiers ont repandu de l'eau de Javel sur les vêtements d'apparat et les souliers à talons compensés brodés de dragons de Shanghai.

What I'm wondering about is "vêtements d'apparat". I think that it means something like "ceremonial garb" or "ceremonial clothing" but is it referring to the girl's little black dresses that they wore as the uniform of their trade (ceremonial garb?), or does it mean the clothing the  judges may have been left behind as they tried to escape the crackdown? I mean, I think that it means the girls clothing, but does that make sense in this context?