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Marita van der Vyver’s A Fountain in France Launches at the Alliance Francaise in Cape Town

Marita Van der Vyver

Local Francophiles and French expats joined much-loved South African author Marita van der Vyver at The Alliance Française in Cape Town to celebrate her latest offering, A Fountain in France. Elna van der Merwe kicked off her hilarious conversation with Van der Vyver with the question, “How do you ever get a handle on French grammar when male body parts take a feminine article?”

The author explained, to the audience’s great mirth, that the complexities of interaction with French society in a small rural town in Provence extended well beyond the subtleties of language. Take kissing, for example, which has rules just like grammar. “For every rule,” she said, “there is an exception. It just doesn’t make sense.” There are times when you kiss the postman or your child’s teacher, and times when you do not. “The mystery deepens for this boeremeisie when I consider the ‘French kissing’ of my teen years because the French never kiss each other on the lips. Sometimes I forget this and my French children are utterly horrified!”

Another oddity is the matter of going barefoot. “People do not understand it. They are completely bewildered by somebody who is unafraid of dirt and germs. They have to believe that you do not have money for shoes. When visiting South Africa, my husband soon discovered the pleasure of going kaalvoet. 20 years on, he is the one who has shed his sandals and socks and goes barefoot, and I am the one that now struggles to do this.”

Elna Van der Merwe and Marita Van der VyverA Fountain in France

A Fountain in France was written in Afrikaans and published as ‘n Fontein voor ons deur. Van der Vywer praised the gifted wordsmith Annalize Visser as “a very natural translator who enables me to hear my own voice in the English version of this narrative”. She highlighted the wordplay in Afrikaans that has no direct translation, which requires her to come up with imagined alternatives.

Van der Vyver spoke about the enormous challenge of finding a reliable, affordable handyman in the French countryside, and how this eventually inspired her book. The dearth of handymen prompted her to acquire skills that she never imagined she would find herself practising: tiling a bathroom and installing fittings and fixtures, for example. “If you have a plumbing disaster on a Sunday, it’s harder to find a plumber than it is to find God,” she exclaimed. The Afrikaans expression “nood leer bid” (need teaches prayer) sums up her strategy for acquiring the skills to adapt to her new life.

A Fountain in France is the story of the decision made by the author and her husband to install a fountain in their French home. They could not afford a swimming pool, and undertook this interesting challenge instead. Van der Merwe said this a lively tale of triumph over the intercultural challenges of marriage and motherhood. She says it will have readers laughing and weeping in sympathy, “… and in gratitude for the good life they enjoy in South Africa where labour is readily available, competent and affordable!”

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Liesl Jobson (@LieslJobson) tweeted live from the event using the hashtag #livebooks


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