Monday, November 21, 2011

La Mer Est Verte

For two of my years in high school I had a really good French teacher. The year before that, I had a not-very-good one. He was not so good for a number of reasons, but the example that sticks most in my mind has to do with a test he gave us on adjective use, making sure we understood the principles of getting the adjectives to agree with the gender and number of the nouns. I was good at French and did quite well on the test, except for one question. This one puzzled me so much that I went up to the teacher later to ask him about it.

“I got minus two for ‘The sea is green’,” I said, “but, look, in the blank after ‘La mer est’ I put ‘verte’—with an ‘e’ and everything so it agrees. So why is it marked wrong?”

“Because the sea is blue,” he told me.

Annie insists that the reason I continue to bring this up after what’s now been about 16 years is that I cherish holding grudges—and that’s generally true, but that’s not why this particular moment has bothered me so much for so long.

Is the sea blue? Yes. Is the sea green? Yes. Is the sea “wine-dark”? Sure. It’s all kinds of colors, and its protean nature is part of its draw for those who love it—its shifts, its changes, its glittering silver scales when light dances over sharp wavelets, its cream-pale foam, its azure shadows, its shallow pools of delicate grey-green.

Why limit our observation, and the realities of the natural world, on the basis of convention? Why limit what we recognize, appreciate, marvel at?

I didn’t need the two points on that test. But I could have used—and still could today—more people who were willing to acknowledge the diverse and prismatic character of the sea, and of people’s perceptions.

Maybe that does count as holding a grudge.

{A note: I do write all text and take all pictures. Please do not reproduce either without my permission.}


biobabbler said...

oh, MY. I would ALSO have been aghast! When in San Diego I had a job for 2 years (and a walking commute) wherein I saw the ocean about 4 hours every day. It is MANY, many different colors and, as you indicate, different every SINGLE day. Check out my masthead: is it blue? green? aqua? Is it still the sea? Why, yes, Virginia.


Interesting part of growing up is learning that many, many grownups are quite frequently wrong, despite the fact that they are paid to be experts.

So, on your behalf, I say:

ZUT, alors!

Anca said...

Ah, bioblabbler is so polite, whereas I say, quelle espece de con (sorry, no accents in this system). You left out turquoise, which the sea most definitely is at times when it's not all the others:).

NHF said...

God, your writing is always beautiful! I miss you.
Many hugs.

Kathleen Cunningham said...

What an excellent musing on the inflexibility of some minds & its opposite temperament that allows for the multitudinous colors of the sea. I bet your teacher was a Republican; they like things to be simple & fixed. A Library Science teacher once marked me down five points for spelling judgment in the British manner - judgement. Injustice tends to echo down the years.

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