Friday, June 15, 2018

Want to read a good book? Mark Greenside obliges.

I'd reviewed some years ago my long-time friend Mark Greenside's first book - - I'LL NEVER BE FRENCH (No Matter What I Do): Living in a Small Village in Brittany.

It was a cool book about how a UW-Madison grad and man of modest means had stumbled - - or been dragged - - into first-time home ownership 6,000 miles away from his Oakland rental.

To a small village in Brittany, in rural, Northwest France, where he communicated with more gestures than actual, grammatically-correct francais.

With local residents who basically assigned him the purchase because he and they had hit if off so well during what was supposed to be for Mark just a one-time short visit.

So I'm happy to report that Mark has followed up that fun read with a smart sequel:

(Not Quite) Mastering the Art of French Living
In which we find him, mais ous, still wrestling with gender-based nouns absent from the English language.

Or highway signage which sends him and his rental car in the wrong direction. 

And at one point into another car in a roundabout. Damn signs! 

Which begins Mark's initiation into ambulance and hospital routines. To take care of the other driver, referred to officially as the victim.

He's also confronted by things and circumstances as truly foreign as his first-ever steaming plate of langoustine, baffling machinery which will not dispense to him a supermarket cart, or bank branches owned by the bank in which he has his funds, but which will not dispense him his money.

And even if you're not planning overseas home ownership or travels, there is much to appreciate in Mark's book beyond fine writing and story-telling.

Like what it means to be the outsider. 

And it what it takes to be part of a welcoming culture and community.

How patient or forgiving or demanding might we be if we often couldn't, despite our best efforts, follow instructions, obey the rules or make ourselves understood?

Especially in some pretty significant circumstances beyond, say, buying the chicken you thought you could get fresh with dinner guests arriving pretty soon.

Like having to find a doctor on a Sunday, or getting a relative to a hospital in an emergency, or dealing with the police at your accident scene - - let alone explaining things to the rental car company.

These can be pretty difficult matters in our hometowns under the best, most routine circumstances. 

Now imagine them for yourself, or tourists, or immigrants - - and as first-time events - - with language barriers thrown in.

Seems pretty relevant these days, given what's happening along the southern border, no?

And in communities across the country where people wearing foreign clothing or speaking different tongues can be disrespected, harassed and worse.

Let alone to fellow American citizens stopped while driving black.

Finally, let me say, that what I really liked about Mark's latest book is seeing a friend again taking that leap - -  and for a second time getting all the fine words and fearless self-disclosure into print - - when the chance presents itself:
"Flying blind, mapless, relying on instruments, occasionally breaking through the fog and the clouds into the clear blue sky and the light. If you're lucky, as I have been, you'll discover one or two glorious unforgettables that make and change your life for better, forever. Quel surprise!"
Begging the question - - would we have done it, too? 

1 comment:

Laurie Longtine said...