Inside, outside

July 22, 2009


C’est l’hiver. Il fait froid. Un petit oiseau a faim et froid. Il frappe à une fenêtre. Une petite fille ouvre la fenêtre et l’oiseau entre. Elle lui donne à manger et le soigne tout l’hiver. Au printemps l’oiseau est triste. Il ne chante plus. L’enfant ouvre la cage et l’oiseau s’envole.

—from Short Stories for Oral French,
by Anna Woods Ballard, p. 1


With winter setting into the sparseness of its feathers, a hungry canary taps its beak on a window to be let inside a building. Behind the window, an old woman sketches restlessly in a notebook the contours of several windows. She is a lover of windows. What she draws now is a blending of two windows from her life—one the window in her present house, the other a bamboo-latticed window in a faraway house in which she used to live, until the age of three, with her mother and father. The latter window is a hazy yet heavy memory, and evidence of this former life lies clearly in a photograph stashed beneath her pillow. In the photograph, she stands between her parents outside the window, the only window in the building that remains intact while a pitted rubble, created by giant, new machines, has settled around them. A flood or a highway (the old woman can’t remember which) is about to go through their Mule City, and this sturdy window with their family’s surname burned into the topmost bamboo strip is the only thing allowed to hold on to life. The window in her present house, meanwhile, is plain, a single pane set in red brick, and she looks at it now to see which window, this or the one in the photograph, will gain the upper hand in her sketch—and finally she notices the bedraggled canary shivering on the sill. Stunned, she no longer sees the window, or any window at all. Instead, she sees the rest of her life play out within the canary’s black, black eyes: She will let the canary in, and it will land gratefully on her pillow where the photograph of the ruined house lies, flat, underneath. All winter she will feed the canary bits of her meals, and at night the canary will perch itself on her hard pillow. Then when spring comes—the old woman’s final spring—the canary will look out the plain window and remember, perhaps with confusion or perhaps with abrupt clarity, that the yellow sun had once been kin. It will stop its songs, for spring is its home, not the inside of a forgotten house. So the old woman will open the window for her little canary again, and flicking its tail feathers now dense with brightness belonging to the sun, the bird will fly off and away.


[study questions after the jump]

I. Répondez à ces questions:

  1. Quelle est la saison?
  2. Quel temps fait-il?
  3. Qui a faim?
  4. Qui a froid?
  5. Comment est l’oiseau?
  6. Que fait-il?
  7. Où frappe-t-il?
  8. Qui ouvre la fenêtre?
  9. Que fait-elle?
  10. Que fait l’oiseau?
  11. Qu’est-ce que la jeune fille lui donne?
  12. Que fait-elle tout l’hiver?
  13. Comment est l’oiseau au printemps?
  14. Quand l’oiseau est-il triste?
  15. Est-ce qu’il chante?
  16. Que fait la petite fille?
  17. Que fait l’oiseau?
  • Comment se trouve l’oiseau?
  • Pourquoi l’oiseau frappe-t-il à la fenêtre?
  • Où entre-t-il?
  • L’oiseau est triste: comment la petite fille le sait-elle?

II. Racontez l’histoire.

III. Vous êtes l’oiseau. Racontez l’histoire.

IV. Vous êtes la petite fille. Racontez l’histoire.

V. Dites tout ce que fait l’oiseau.

VI. Dites tout ce que fait l’enfant.


I. Answer these questions:

  1. What season is it?
  2. What’s the weather like?
  3. Who is hungry?
  4. Who is cold?
  5. Why doesn’t the canary speak?
  6. What is the old woman doing before she sees the canary?
  7. Where had she lived before this house?
  8. Why did she leave that first house?
  9. What is the memory she’s kept of that first house?
  10. How is she freed from this memory?
  11. Why doesn’t the canary sing anymore?
  12. What color is the sun?

II. Recite the story.

III. You are the canary. Tell its story.

IV. You are the old woman. Tell her story.

V. You are the window from the old house. Tell its story.

VI. You are the window from the present house. Tell its story.


2 Responses to “Inside, outside”

  1. lucas green Says:

    Miss Translation, this is getting intense.

    I acknowledges a truth: things would rather ramify, everything would rather elaborate itself.

    If the source text is the milk of human nature, then the target language is the cheese: more complex, stinkier, less reliable, Frencher.

    • wmc Says:

      Whether I like it or not, cheese is indeed my truth.

      And using the AutoSummary feature in MS Word, I find that the gist of my mistranslation boils down to this sentence: “Stunned, she no longer sees the window, or any window at all.”

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