Thursday, April 13, 2006

Lost In Translation

Even though I was living with someone else Jacques kept on writing his pages of French to me. He was still studying and traveling a lot as usual. In 1992 I planned a trip to Paris to visit an art exhibition with my sister. I sent a postcard to his home address and two days later his mother rang to inform me that Jacques was in Singapore on a student work placement. She said she was sorry we couldn’t meet and looked forward to meeting me soon. Was there more going on than I thought? What had he told his mother? Why did she make the effort to call me?

As fate had it I ended up in Asia too. After graduating from Nottingham I worked for a few years in the Hayward Art Gallery in London and did a couple of seasons as a Chalet Girl cooking in France and Austria in ski resorts over the winter. A friend of mine was applying for a TEFL course and said that teaching English was fun and let you travel the world while working. This sounded ideal for me, who liked talking to people from other countries and learning a new skill.

I trained as a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) teacher in 1993. The first job I applied for, and got at the first interview, was for NOVA, a huge English Teaching company in Japan. I secretly hoped Jacques was still in Singapore, thinking maybe we could meet in the middle, in say Hong Kong? But no, he was back in France and looking for a way to avoid doing his obligatory one year of French National Service in the army. He found out that with his studies he could offer to work for a year in a Developing Country, helping with financial administration in a French company. After applying for exciting posts in Saudi Arabia and Africa to his dismay he ended up being sent to England. Meanwhile I flew out to Osaka, to start my new life in the city of Wakayama.

Jacques worked for a French pharmaceutical company, and was based in Gerrards Cross in the western suburbs of London. He had an easy life and was enjoying the cultural mix of London with time and money to spare and wrote glowing reports of England to me. However I still really couldn’t translate his letters. I would sit in the staffroom between classes in the language school ‘reading’ them. One day my American colleague and friend, Ella, asked who it was from. ‘A French ex.’ I said ‘I met him when I was a student, and I can’t seem to stop him writing to me, even though we split up.’
‘Wow' Ella said 'what does he say then?'
‘Actually I can hardly understand his letters.’ I admitted for the first time 'But to be honest I really look forward to getting his letters…'
'Ah!' Ella said 'let me have a look, I studied French at University!'

Curiosity got the better of me and I let her read them through. 'Hey!' she said when she had finished, ‘He sure likes you a lot!’
‘No, but it’s all over!’ I replied, suddenly wondering if he had ever understand that it was over, and maybe I didn't make it very clear...
‘Not what he says here…’ and she translated a very moving part about him buying a house and thinking of me….us….together one day…

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