Having learned English from scratch from the age of 12, there are many happy little stories of mistakes made in grammar and vocabulary. Some words will always be associated with an anecdote and are the ones that stick more deeply in one’s brain.
The first time we drove down our tiny little village road here in France, newly collected keys to the house in hand, we passed a house front on which the words “Ma Lute” were scrawled. Our first encounter with provençal graffiti!
It took some time before I remembered to look up the word “lute” in a dictionary and it did not seem to exist.
As the French language penetrated into my brain, one day it struck me that this backwater Banksy had misspelt his own graffiti and what he had wanted to say was in fact: “Ma Lutte” – my struggle.
It took some more time before I worked out that this was a reference to a book written by that moustachioed, failed Austrian artist who went on to run Germany between 1933-1945.
Cultural lessons learned: a. there is a strong right wing mentality in the South of France and b. graffiti does not get removed quickly.
So it was with some interest that we all followed the emerging art of a person fond of a green spray can whose work suddenly appeared overnight in April of this year along the route departmentale between the coast and our mountain range.
His message was simple, strong and it rhymed: “Mélenchon Président” – Mélenchon for President!
In other words: the leader of the Left Party, Jean-Luc Mélenchon was running for president and someone really really wanted him to win.
The unknown artist’s work was seen on any conceivable rock mass, posters of the other candidates, walls and street corners. It was so prominent that I actually began to believe that M. Mélenchon might beat President Sarkozy, François Hollande and Marine Le Pen.
During the heady days of the presidential election with its passion, debates and backbiting, our village woke up one morning to find itself blessed with no fewer than 12 speed bumps.
Like anything that sees the light of day in the gleaming sun here, the speed bumps were of varying width and height.
In addition, some of the higher ones lacked the white markings on the road and there were no street signs to warn drivers of the impending obstacle.
The revolt and reaction of the village folk was immediate. By the evening the higher speed bumps were decorated by graffiti. As I drove along the road, bouncing as if on a roller coaster I very innocently read out loud what was written in the road. It appeared to be addressed to the original master of the speed bumps, the Mayor himself.
The children chided me loudly and violently: „That is a very bad swear word – you shouldn’t say that!!“
Even “Mélenchon Président” at the village entrance had acquired a new couplet which used the more swear words in connection with the Mayor.
I reflected on how we would be driving past these words in the years to come and how I would never forget the new swear word I had just been taught.
The next morning, the messages to the Mayor had all been painted over by the public services workers.
A week later some of the more offending speed bumps were reduced.
This month (month six after the event), a small speed bump sign has been erected.
The shout “Mélenchon Président” continues to welcome new visitors to the village.
I trust the Mayor is taking these decisions in order of urgency and importance.