When I was 12, we went to the south of France for our summer holidays. It was an important holiday, or at the very least it was hugely memorable. It might have been the 25-hour journey caused by the French farmers’ blockades, which meant we had to travel through every country on the east of France just to get there. It might have been that this was the holiday that coincided with my learning to read voraciously. I read through every one of those countries and had to be forced to look out of the window at all the lovely countryside we were driving through. There was also the amazing library of books at the place we were staying in which kept me going all the way through the holiday. But there is a moment from that holiday that keeps coming back to me.
One day, Dad and I went to the market to get some food. There was a fish stall where Dad hoped to pick something nice for dinner. Now my father can speak English and Dutch and understand Russian, and he can “sort of” deal with French at a market. At the time, I was learning French at school and so when the fishmonger asked him a particularly difficult question, my father turned to me for help. Did I know the answer? And for that limited moment in time, I did know the answer to the question. The fishmonger was impressed. He asked which languages I was studying, only French? No I said, in French, I was also learning to speak Latin. “Speak Latin”, he was surprised at this, “I only heard of people reading and writing Latin. You must be very smart if you can speak it too.” I laughed and my father asked for a translation. The fishmonger, while I was explaining, got an extra bit of monkfish and wrapped it and gave it to me “to support this excellent brain”.
Unfortunately for me, my French has really suffered, I don’t know the French for Latin or brain anymore. Although when I try and use it I can just about get by. But now I have to pay for my own fish.