“We breathe in our first language, and swim in our second.” Adam Gopnik, Paris to the Moon

I have a confession to make: I’ve been cheating. This self-described Francophile has been taking Italian lessons! My interest in la lingua italiana was piqued several years ago while on a train from Livorno to Florence. A young girl entered my railcar sobbing and yelling loudly in Italian, gesturing wildly into her cell phone. Despite my concern for her obvious distress I couldn’t help but notice the musicality in her hysteria. Worried that perhaps she had been robbed or otherwise accosted, I glanced in the direction of the only other person in the railcar, an Italian businessman, and raised my arms in question. He walked over to me, shrugged, and smiling, said in broken English, “a fight with her boyfriend.” How could a fight sound so euphonious? This was a language that could make even a quarrel sound alluring. When a dear friend approached me several months ago with the idea of taking Italian lessons I leaped at the chance to learn how to argue seductively.

A curious side-note to my Italian language undertaking is that it appeared to be reactivating that part of my brain in which many of my French words and expressions had lain dormant through years of inactivity. Suddenly, the lessons of Mademoiselle Hodes from 8th grade French class started coming back to me. Unfortunately, they began coming back to me in the midst of my Italian lessons, much to the exasperation of my Italian teacher. The Italian language may be filled with color and texture, but the color of French language is so sophisticatedly neutral, so full of romance, and so silky smooth that it will always be my first love. Italian may be lyrical but French is soulful. Is dual loyalty a conflict? In my case, no – I am equally challenged in both languages.

I am also equally challenged in my split loyalty to Hubert and Léon Salles. Although they are one and the same person, I am having a bit of separation anxiety concerning Hubert. Now that Hubert has been identified as Léon Salles my efforts have been focused on obtaining information about Salles’ life and work. The works signed Salles are appreciably more complex than those etchings he signed as his alter-ego, “Hubert”, which generally depict well-known sites in France and Belgium and are often referred to as “souvenir etchings.” The two recent acquisitions pictured above illustrate the contrasting works. Despite the fact that Salles’ art is considered more serious, the sentimentality of Hubert’s art is touching yet in a different way. From the French word meaning “to remember”, souvenir etchings serve to preserve a memory by commemorating it on paper. Hubert’s affection for his country is evident and he communicates this through his art. Hubert’s etchings capture the essence and beauty of France as well as the vibrancy of its people. If the purpose of art is to make you feel something, then let it be said – Hubert’s art makes me feel happy! Perhaps because of this and because Hubert has been such a significant presence in my life for so many years, I am having difficulty letting go of him and accepting Léon. As with la langue française, Hubert will always remain my first love…


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