Browsing at Shakespeare and Company, the iconic English bookstore on the left bank, I picked up a copy of The Discovery of France by English author, Graham Robb. It's a book that's hard to describe but basically it recounts how numerous mini-civilizations, all with their own cultures, came together as "France."
The book is packed with engaging bits of information. For instance, Robb describes how: "The shepherds of the Landes spent whole days on stilts, using a stick to form a tripod when they wanted to rest. Perched 10 feet in the air, they knitted woolen garments and scanned the horizon for stray sheep."
Among the many, many other facts that will have you nudging the person next to you and saying "did you know..." Robb explores how numerous dialects were eventually replaced by "official" French.
Unfortunately that meant the loss of some truly useful words:
Affender: "to share a meal with an unexpected visitor" (and haven't we all done that at one time or another).
Aranteler: "to sweep away spiders' webs"
Carquet: "a secret place between breast and corset".
I can't wait to say: "Je dois aranteler mon carquet."
I read it in one sitting. Five sittings, to be strictly honest:
1. On the TGV from Paris to Toulouse.
2. At Toulouse station while I waited for the train to Tarbes. Trains to Pamiers were cancelled because, I later found out, an electricity line had come down so, very much on the ball, SNCF rerouted us.
3. On the brief rail trip from Toulouse to Portet sur Garonne
4. On the bus that met us there and took a circuitous route to drop off passengers who normally disembarked at stations between Toulouse and Auterive.
5. On the train between Auterive and Pamiers.