Tales from New Canada: Mots/Words

For Isabelle

I knew that New Canada held a piece of my heart this entire time. I just did not know how important a piece.

The first thing that brings a wave of nostalgia crashing over me is the signage in French. New Canada is too tasteful a planet to have many holosigns floating about. There are even many analog signs, welded directly onto buildings. And some of it is bilingue. Français is not a language that is often used, not even here. But I am fluent.

My name, Isabelle, is French. A strange coincidence that while I was away, someone named Isabel (spelled without the -le) arrived and began to dominate local news.

As much as I missed home, being away was wonderful. I lived on a frontier planet, one where they had none of the conveniences, let alone the luxuries, that New Canada had offered me my entire life. There, I taught French.

I always ask each new student what their favourite words are, and then we learn them in French. I find it very telling, and I appreciate that my students and I share those words that are most important to them.

Interesting that French would be in such demand there. But that particular world had decided to try and establish a social system rather similar to what we have here on New Canada. Despite the need to focus on essentials, especially in the smaller cities and towns, they were building historical architecture, planning their cities artistically, and creating beauty even in the midst of the chaos that was a newly established colony. French was a way for some of them to display status. Others simply seemed curious – many living there were scientists and constantly wanted to improve themselves and their understanding of the world.

The city where I had lived could hardly bear that description: it was more of a small town, yet completely filled with people seeking opportunity. The streets were always teeming, and each time an exciting new import arrived, the cafe would be bursting with crowds of excited locals. These imports were always things like herbs and coffee – one time, speculaas cookies from Earth – all everyday items on New Canada, absolute luxuries on a frontier world. There was something exciting about life on that planet, though. The scientists were always ecstatic about their new discoveries, and the engineers were constantly finding creative solutions to logistical problems that did not exist on other worlds. And it was a tremendous opportunity for aspiring aristocrats to carve out vast corners for themselves in a new society.

The central building in the town was beautiful, with a magnificent round ceiling that was also a clock. My own student, Ariadne, was the one that had designed it.  Someone else was trying to take a good portion of the credit, but she was going to prevail.

She was not my only interesting student, but she was the most fascinating. Her attitude was unflaggingly hopeful, her demeanour calm. She had been named for the Goddess of Labyrinths. Her first words in French were déesse and amour. She would need all her mythical skills in this place, but she seemed to be very able, navigating the social and practical aspects of life here. She had even learned to fly an airship.

Ariadne’s friend Sal was focused on beautiful clothing: chapeaux, robes, chaussures et gants. She was clearly the one that dressed the less affluent Ariadne. Many well-off residents wore garments in a style that could compete with New Canadian finery, but this was not universal as on our world. Here many dressed in clothes that, though nicely cut, were uniformly mud-brown. Sal longed for bolts of fabrics from New Canada and Acadia and Sahar, so that she could produce all the dresses she had designed.

Other students followed. An airship pilot who was also a painter. He learned peinture and aérostat. They had told me nothing, but from the way he looked at her as she entered the room as he was finishing his own French lesson, I suspected he was the reason why Ariadne had the amour in her coeur.

Word got around about my lessons. Soon I was also teaching the spaceport manager, a team of botanists, and some local quasi-nobility whose occupations I could never quite figure out. This last group was obsessed with libraries, though they tended to use books more as decoration. Entering a salon felt like walking into a museum.

After pining after new Canada for a long while, I finally decided to return.

 

 

I started teaching French here again from my artistic little home in New Toronto. I give lessons on a balcony overlooking a beautiful view: mountains in the background, dainty buildings in the foreground. To the left, the library. To the right in the middle distance, the spaceport. On my own balcony, a miniature New Canada pine. A much more refined view than that on that distant frontier planet.

At least, so I thought when I first returned. But something is missing – an energy and drive. We are so very established here in New Toronto, so comfortable. One event managed to shake up that stability while I was gone. There was a Trial about a huge corporate scandal, and our gravity wing, a space station that helps control our climate, stopped working for a time, scaring the population rather effectively. I find myself grateful for this – certain established patterns that had bothered me all my life are beginning to change.

I’ve found one person here that radiates the very energy that I miss from my time away on the frontier planet – my newest student, Isabel. She is from Earth; the original Canada. She is also involved with New Canada’s most important spaceship industry scion. They were both on the stand at the Trial, but seem to have come out of it unscathed.

Isabel is an intriguing character. She has stood up to the most insidious social pressures that New Canada can throw at her. I feel like we share something. Perhaps I’m reading into things: we have nearly the same name, after all. But she arrived here as a stills photographer and is now an accomplished socialite and director of the New Toronto Art School. I would like to believe that my ambition mirrors hers. I, too, am an artist. Isabel herself gave up much to pursue art on New Canada. Could I not do the same?

I am a singer – a contralto. The rarest voice type for a woman, I’m told. One of Isabel’s words, alto, pulls at my heart. It means viola, but the viola and the contralto voice have ranges that mirror each other. I don’t know why this word is important to her, but it confirms what I feel about our duality. And every day that she strives to better herself and to learn French and to be a better director and artist, I practice singing. My repertoire is growing. Arias in Italian, English, German, French. Connais-tu le pays? asks Mignon, in the opera by Ambroise Thomas. She yearns for Italy, a home she will never see again. But I have gone away, and I have returned to my home, and can see it through a new lens.

Isabel learns quickly. She decides to pick new personal words at each lesson, so we begin a weekly tradition of drinking coffee together and coming up with meaningful vocabulary, just for her. Perhaps for me, too – I find myself talking to someone who understands all too well the concept of a second home, of going away, returning, of being torn between two planets. New Canada’s gravity always seems to win, but in both our cases, I believe it is for the best.

Today Isabel’s words are corbeau, fougère, and montagnes. I have no idea what they mean for her, but as we begin to build sentences around them, melodies flow through our language, like growing tendrils of ferns.

 

Story © Clio Em. Images © Hali Rey.

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