Tuesday, June 21, 2011


The graffiti says:

Le papy de Zazie et le zizi de papa

 Per Google Translate, it doesn't mean much, although at least it has the decency to be a trifle indecent.  I suppose if nothing else it is a riff on Zazie dans Le Metro, Raymond Queneau's 1959 novel (anti-novel?) about the not-very-decent 12-year-old at large in the great city.  I chose it for jetlag diversion because (a) the sentences seemed short; and (b) it's about the Metro, and what's not to like about the Metro?  But that's the point, of course, Zazie never finds the Metro although she certainly finds a lot else.   As to short sentences--well, yes, but Queneau wrote deliberately in a kind of street argot that doesn't appear in my pocket French dictionary nor, I suspect, anyone else's, except perhaps a Dictionnaire de Queneau.

No matter; it's a ripping yarn, as good-natured romp through the city and the language.  I take it Queneau created something of a stir in his time because of his deliberately, almost perversely, non-standard French--this in a country that makes a big deal out of linguistic regularity (or did; the French really seem far more easy-going about matters linguistic than they did in Zazie's day).  My copy does contain a few helpful footnotes, as to tell me, for example, that "fior renvoie au nom d'un  célébré parfumeur, Christian Dior, mais aussi evoques le fion, en argot le derrière ...."  and that "'allors gy' can be read as 'Allons-y! (interjection d'argot).'"

Curious footnote.  I gather Queneau was a fairly big deal in France in his day.   But knocking around Parisian bookstores I find little but scraps, leftovers--this from a man whose biblo apparently contains 40 or more major items  And the same seems to go for any number of others whom we thought of (in my youth) as monuments of French culture--not much Genet, for example, even less Sartre.  A bit of Céline.  Indeed if you are really looking for monuments of (what we remember as) modern French culture, you might be better off prowling the English-language stacks at Shakespeare and Co.   

1 comment:

New York Crank said...

"Le papy de Zazie et le zizi de papa.."

This would be more meaningful in both French and English if you took out the "et" ("and") and substituted "est" ("is").

Or clean up your act.

Yours crankily,
The New York Crank