Le Robert Micro
2. gris, grise adj. Ivre. À la fin du repas, il était un peu gris. Drunk. At the end of the meal he was a little drunk.
griser v. tr. 1. Rendre gris > enivrer. Vin qui grise. 2. Mettre dans un état d’excitation physique ou morale comparable aux premières impressions de l’ivresse. L’air vif des montagnes l’a grisé. > étourdir. Les succès l’ont grisé. To make drunk > intoxicate. Wine which inebriates. To put into a physical or moral state like that of the earliest stages of drunkenness. The sharp mountain air dizzied him. Success intoxicated them.
grisant, grisante adj. Qui grise en exaltant, en surexcitant. > enivrant, excitant. Un parfum grisant. Elle est grisante dans cette robe. Which intoxicates by stimulating, by overexciting. > stimulate, overexcite. An intoxicating perfume. She’s enchanting in this dress.
In French the same word for grey means tipsy, buzzed, a little bit drunk. The unlimited space between black and white is sometimes flushed, warm, dizzying, bright. The first glass of champagne (if you’re drinking more than that). The rush of a great height. An intoxicating kiss. Looking up at the undersides of leaves, at the bright spring sky.
Since I found out I am pregnant I have been a strict practitioner of sobriety. Seven months in and I'm no expert. But on New Year’s Eve... with a half of a little flute of very cold, very crisp champagne, I felt myself slowly relax, sink, and begin to admire everyone and everything around me. I haven’t forgotten the blush of the moment, or the flash of flush I felt. It may have lasted a long hour as I slowly sipped.
But of course we know it’s not just alcohol that can take you to a state of gris. Love or beauty or exhilaration can bring on the same light-hearted sweetness of an aperitif after a long day, or a lone glass of wine on a sunny afternoon.
Lately I’ve been finding some tender poems have to power to intoxicate me equally well. I stumbled across a strangely rare volume at my library on St. James Square, an anthology of French women poets simply called Elles, that features work by some familiar writers, and some, like Claude de Burine, who are entirely new to me.
Here's how Burine described her craft:
La poésie, c’est un état. Une sorte de vagabondage.
J’avais trois ans, quand un soir, je suis sortie seule. Pour essayer de ramener le clair de lune dans la seau à champagne de mes parents. La poésie c’est ça. Lorsque j’écris, c’est un peu comme une transfusion. Ça n’a rien d’intellectuel.
Mes mots sont des lanternes éteintes.
Poetry is a state of mind. A type of vagabondage.
I was three years old when I went out alone one night. To try to catch the moonlight in my parent’s champagne bucket. Poetry is just that. Writing for me is a bit like a transfusion. In it there’s nothing intellectual.
My words are extinguished lanterns.
…spent and beautiful. The breeze lifts
and the meadow is flying
My fledgling daughter is hanging around my knees,
her hair is the same white gold
as the white gold seeds.
I hate to believe it’s just my hormones that absent me of my anxieties, slow me down, beat my heart more quickly. Forcing a pause that dazzles me.
Or to put it another way...
Le Petit Larousse Illustré
4. FAM. À moitié ivre; éméché. Half drunk; tipsy.
1. Enivrer légèrement: Le champagne me grise. 2. Mettre dans un état d’excitation physique: L’altitude grise les randonneurs. 3. Transporter d’enthousiasme; enivrer… 1. To make slightly drunk. Champagne intoxicates me. 2. To put into a state of physical excitement: The altitude exhilarates the hikers. 3. To carry away with enthusiasm; make drunk…
Since that October morning I’ve been - you know - anxious. The first thing I wanted after taking that pregnancy test was a stiff drink. But over the past six months it’s not at all escapist drinking (the object of which would be really getting drunk) that I miss. Rather, it’s that preliminary intoxication that’s neither discreet nor sustainable that I think about every now and then. Is there any denying that the first stages of intoxication are the most divine?
I confess (though, keep it from my midwife?) that on New Year’s Eve I drank that champagne. It was a lovely night anyway, my whole family together around one dinner table, celebrating. But for a moment, as my cheeks warmed and my smile grew, I was a little calmer and more oblivious than usual. A little bit jollier. And then, totally inappropriately, I said “Now THIS is why people drink.”
Drinking a little is wondrous, not only because it feels better than drinking a lot ever does. Just a bit helps to put a pause on a moment, and invites both reflection and lightheartedness to cooperate. To admire something silly as my own hands, really nothing at all. A warmth, flush, twinkling, blush. Or as the French put it - somewhere between black and white - a grey feeling.
And as I’ve also found over the past months - contrary to any previous belief I held - the gris feeling doesn’t actually require alcohol. Worries about impending motherhood be damned, excluding trips to the grocery store and sleepless early mornings, I’ve never before felt real happiness so quickly. Maybe it’s a side effect of pregnancy - glow sounds appropriately magical - but the sight of my husband down the road, a run around a dumpy football pitch with my little dog, or a slobbery kiss from my baby nephew are all as wonderful as that champagne. And then there are poems.
Here is "Sous la lumière bleue" by Claude de Burine, followed by my amateurish translation:
Sous la lumière bleue de l’enfance,
Là où le parquet ciré
Sent le miel et le bleuet
Où l’oeillet blanc garde son goût
De vanille et de poivre,
Tu avais la voix
Qui lançait les trains, les navires,
Faisait glisser la barque,
Les péniches au ventre noir
Filer les canards gris
Quand les roseaux étaient des couteaux de nacre
Entre les mains du gel.
Quand venait la nuit
Ta voix allumait les feux des bateaux
Qui vont vers les îles
Et tu partais,
Me laissais les yeux vides de l’absence.
- Claude de Burine
In childhood’s blue light,
there where the waxed floor
smells of honey and cornflower
where the white mum holds its scent
of vanilla and pepper,
you had the voice
launched trains, ships,
set the boat on its course,
black-bellied as exile,
set gray ducks aflight
when the reeds were the pearly knives
in frost’s hands.
When night fell
your voice lit boats
on their way to the islands
And you left,
Leaving me wide-eyed at your absence.