16 JUNE 1990, Page 26

Reading Sagan by the Dordogne

To meet a phrase like 'pour tuer le temps' is to kill not just time but the film of usage that accretes on our words like the fur of algae mossing the stpnes of the Dordogne river a fat trout worries the weeds round a stone, I can't leave tausser les sourcils' alone, and a phrase in English I'd avoid like la peste, `embarrassment of riches', becomes suddenly juste when it swims into place in our conversation I'm asking le patron where to buy foie gras: `embarras de richesses' — his eyes light up at my one stab at decent idiomatic French: fishing for mots near the source of the human.

Peter Forbes