Category: France

Suis je Charlie?

First posted on The Lady Shed 9/1/15

As fate would have it, for my turn on the Lady Shed this week I wanted to talk about satire, comedians and politics but in the light of the events in Paris, Russell Brand is out. My friends will know that I have been going on about my visceral fears of France’s fate in the last year, my country. Sleep has been difficult since 7/1.

We must beware to point the finger at one religion as most commentators have done, it is far more complicated than that, this attack did not happen in a vacuum, it happened within world events, it affects us all. To continue to simply point the finger at Islam extremism will only lead to more extremists, more hatred, more divides and ultimately, as we all fear, more blood.

We do not have freedom of speech nor do we have press freedom. France’s laws prevent its citizens from writing anything racist, xenophobe and, unlike this country anti-Semite. This is as it should be. It must be noted however that in France anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism are seen as one, despite being two different things; they have become a single toxic subject that few will dare talk about for fear of misunderstanding, fear of offending and fear of reprisals. This is the most difficult post I have written, but France is my country, I cannot keep silent.

As the BBC has rules about not having any depiction of the Prophet for fear of offending, the French media does not discuss Anti-Zionism for fear of opening up old wounds that are deeply anchored in the French psyche; genocide a common guilt that Catholics have no idea how to deal with. We’re ill equipped for dealing with guilt when born in a Catholic society. Hell in the eternal life looms over our head to the point of silencing us in our short life on earth, as it has on many subjects over the centuries.

Zionism is not a religion, it is not a race, it is political. Sweeping difficult subjects under carpets does not mean they go away. Prohibition has consequences we have seen before. When France is not permitted to discuss Zionism yet discusses Islam extremism at length, this is not a balanced discussion of France’s other cultures within the republic. It is not about race or religion, it is about culture and the way we are brought up at home within a country where all are equal. We cannot have Fraternité nor Liberté without Egalité.

Anybody who is surprised about armed men taking the law into their own hands has not been following France’s events. French people are not surprised. Charlie Hebdo’s attack is in part due to the fact that very few newspapers and magazines will go where Charlie Hebdo went. I wanted to see newspapers around the world who said they were shocked about the events as it attacked freedom of press to publish some of the magazines’ cartoons on their front page. Not just the ones denouncing Islam extremists as many blogs have done adding fuel to the fire of misunderstanding what Charlie Hebdo stood for, but also the ones about Catholics, Jews, the Far Right, and the narrow minded white French man, Frenchie Joe Blogg. Oh and the English, my favourite subject, naturellement.

Who wants the English in Europe?

We need humour to survive. Humour is like anything else, what I like to eat is not what you like to eat. What I am allowed to eat is not the same as what other religions can eat. Sarcasm may be the lowest form of wit, I love it. No apology. Satire has long existed. Humour is part of our evolving civilisation. Court jesters were the only ones who could tell the all powerful King what the peasants thought and not be killed when he delivered the message; provided the King was fair and did not kill his subjects when he did not like what he heard, just because he could.

Satiric cartoons have long been able to depict in one single image an event, a mood, a wrong doing by the all powerful, kings, emperors, popes and again, even common people like me and you. We need this art more than ever. In our world where if this post goes over 800 words you won’t read it, we need images to wake us up to the realities that we keep shying away from. If art makes us smile or cringe but makes us think, it is needed. We want to get on with our lives, protect our children. We want to give our children a better world for tomorrow but are absolutely and totally hopeless at dealing with the bigger issues that are at the root of 7/1.

Since 9/11 the West has finally realised that a part of the world population hates us. Deep down we know why. We live in a world where a mainly Christian democracy thinks they have the right to tell the rest of the world what to do. Along with its allies, who are forever reminded that they were helped against the Nazis, and yes especially the cheese eating surrender monkey French, they (we) attack Muslim countries to prevent a war on terror and, because we are not infallible, we get it wrong. Are we helping? Are we attacking or are we defending? Are we defending ourselves against terrorists?

The largest democracy in the world uses drones against these countries whilst backing and funding a Jewish state that was given to Zionists by WWII winners. A war that started in Europe and took over the world once the Americans were attacked in Pearl Harbour gave its winners the right to draw a line in the sand in the Middle East, an appropriated land. Do we really wonder why the world is constantly at war? No we don’t. We know. But we are so deep in shit created by the past that we have no idea how to deal with the present to give our children a decent world in the future.

“Mummy, will we have a war” said my son when Ukraine kicked off.
Miss a heart beat.
We are already at war.
It is a world war.

Europeans and Americans helped start the Ukraine uprising, then pointed the finger at the Russians for their wrong doings because others’ wrong doings are always worse than ours. On 7/1 this international war came to the French capital with Russian AK47. Should we blame the Russians for selling arms?

It is all interlinked, we never really got out of the Cold War as the state of Europe today shows. When a French person says that a large majority of people in jail are Arabs, they’re called racist by news presenters who are petrified their show will turn into contentious subjects they’d rather not discuss at all. When we are labelled anti-Semite on one hand, racist on the other when we discuss the problems our country faces, with facts and figures, not emotion; when our police does not enter some parts of our cities where deprived disconnected French citizens feel they are not part of French society and rule a violent mini society within, where do we go next?

This is where we are. Are we Charlie? Charlie is the bloke in the pub that talks loudest, he is totally politically incorrect and many walk away from him. Charlie is not a fascist. He does not vote Le Pen or UKIP. He hates the Far Right and shouts it from the top of his voice to whoever will listen. And he doesn’t give a damn if you walk away offended. He speaks his mind. He takes the piss out of everybody, especially the Far Right voters who have forgotten than in the 1930’s, Germans never thought that Hitler would kill his own people if they were disabled, gay or stood up against his regime. Do we think we can’t go back to that? Did the Germans of 1930 think they would ever have to live what the ones who survived had to live?

In Dresden in 2015 some people think their problems are due to Islam, as more and more people do in many parts of Europe. Our problems are rooted in a history we cannot change and a diversity of population that keeps changing as it always has. The arms trade is doing fine. Yet for a minority of armed extremists there are billions of people who do not want war. Now more than ever we are able to stand together against more militarisation and against those newspapers and political parties that only bring more hate and division. We won’t solve the problems in one post, within one year or within one country. But together we can pressure our governments to lead us on the road of meaningful negotiations, and we can convince one person at a time that hate fuelling newspapers should not be shared so these media outlets who are dividing European citizens against each other within their own countries, let alone within Europe can lose readers, one by one. Non violent unarmed people are the majority.

If we lose hope and humour, we lose everything. Let’s have faith in human beings.

affiche-lepen

The cartoons on this post are by Charb one of twelve French citizens killed on 7 January 2015 by three French citizens armed with AK47.

Advertisements

Freak storm or freak planning?

I spoke to my father this morning who lives on the outskirts of Toulon in the Var to hear his take on the freak storms that happened a couple of days ago in the South of France. He was the last person to be able to use the D29 before they closed it. Twenty people have died and another dozen are still reported missing. The Nationale 7 is still closed. Trains are still unable to travel. There are still some 1,000 people in St Tropez with no electricity. I cannot believe I am talking about home.

My first thought when I read about this yesterday was how dreadful that this disaster happened not only in my country but so near to my home. I feel devastated for the people who have lost a member of their family. I know about these freak storms. Some twenty years ago, I was caught on the motorway in a similar one and just had to stop the car. I could not see any further than the middle of the bonnet of my car.

I asked my father if this one was worse than normal. It was a particularly vicious storm. Nevertheless, I have to wonder had this dreadful freak of nature happened only twenty five years ago, would the outcome been the same?

When I left the Var twenty years ago, there were still green spaces in between houses and buildings, we had supermarkets rather city like shopping affairs with warehouse type shops that sell everything and anything. Our flood plains have been filled by concrete and tarmac. Our towns have grown so much I cannot recognise them when I go back.

I am no scientist nor planner. Hindsight is a wonderful thing. Having said that, where is water going to go when the proportion between concrete, tarmac and tiled gardens has outweighed fields and gardens? It stands to reason that motorways will become torrents. If water cannot go down into the ground, it will follow whatever it falls on to the next available bit of earth. In some of our towns, it’s a long way away.

I do hope other countries learn from that and that my compatriots’ lives have not been lost in vain.

A pinch of art and a large dose of love

“Cuisine is a few grams of passion, a spoonful of technique, a pinch of art and a large dose of love”

When chef Eric Bendel wrote this, he clearly meant it. His restaurant is in the middle of nowhere, well actually right bang in the middle of France in Bruères-Allichamp. We were driving South and found that all the hotels in Bourges were full. A short drive on an empty route départementale and we were grateful to find a small hotel along the Cher river. Les Tilleuls isn’t the prettiest of hotels, rather a long 60’s wooden affair.

No credit card or passport were asked, what a delight and oh so rare these days. Our rooms were clean and comfortable although sound proofing is probably not high on the list. The big surprise came when we sat down for dinner. The menu is a short list of about nine items that change fortnightly and you choose how many you want. Children just get smaller portions, no fish and chips to be found anywhere.

When I read Eric’s poem I figured we should be in for a treat. When I read the menu, it was definitely an artist talking. Proof was definitely not just in the pudding. It started with not one ‘mise en bouche’ but two: three verrines each of cress, celery and cucumber gazpachos followed by crayfish with a courgette soup topped with herring caviar, all beautifully presented.

It’s one of those menus some people find pompous. Verrines are pretty little glasses filled with soups or layered puddings. Gaspacho is after all a cold soup. Yes it’s nouvelle cuisine if that means a pleasure for the eye and yes there were foamy additions to perfectly balanced plates. Last time I had a meal that made me feel like a child again was when I ate at Les Ambassadeurs, the Crillon’s restaurant in Paris. Proper posh with a stool for my handbag. Jean-François Piège was in the kitchen, I was scribbling notes for a magazine. This time, I was with my family, paying my way. Seeing my children get all excited by beautifully presented plates and happily discover new tastes was a joy.

Laure has done a great job decorating the restaurant, husband Eric clearly cares passionately about his work, attention to detail is faultless; although I must admit there were only two tables that night, being mid-week and off holiday. At around £60 per person for four properly crafted courses including nice wine, aperitifs and digestifs, we got an evening that we will remember for a long time. The joy of the unexpected, the subtlety of tastes, the fun of new discoveries; the love did show.

Some call it professionalism. That’s not enough. The passion has to be translated to provide a memorable experience.

I can still taste the mini pistachio rice pudding with strawberry cream and poppy mousse.

Thank you Bourges for being full that day.

Hotel restaurant Les Tilleuls

Parlez vous English?

OK, si vous venez en Angleterre, il y a des chances que vous parliez anglais. Mais de la à comprendre un mail d’une compagnie irlandaise qui vous a vendu un vol – en euro, en France- il y a une marge, non?

Pourtant, pas plus tard que le mois dernier, mon père venait me visiter et il reçoit ce mail de Ryanair:

“IF YOU MADE YOUR RESERVATION ON OR AFTER THE 21ST MAY 2009 YOU MUST CHECK-IN ONLINE AND PRINT YOUR BOARDING PASS FOR PRESENTATION AT BOTH AIRPORT SECURITY AND AT THE BOARDING GATE. PLEASE NOTE THAT AIRPORT CHECK-IN IS ONLY AVAILABLE TO PASSENGERS WHO BOOKED BEFORE THE 21ST MAY 2009 AND PAID FOR THIS SERVICE”

Je passe les details, truc habituel avec Ryanair, vous devez payer en plus pour vous enregistrer à l’aéroport si vous avez acheté votre billet avant le 21 Mai. Donc, ça fait quatre mois que Ryanair a l’argent de mon père mais si il veut voyager, il faut qu’il paye en plus; chose habituelle, il faut le savoir.

Donc sachez que sous des déguisements de vols à petits prix, on se retrouve vite à payer plus qu’au départ; si on la chance que le vol que nous avons reservé et payé existe toujours. Sinon, on se retrouve à chercher un autre vol à la dernière minute. Combien de temps cela va t-il nous prendre pour nous rendre compte que ces compagnies nous prennent pour des débiles? Et on tombe dedans parce que c’est “pas cher”. Oui d’accord, mais quand on se fait avoir, ça coute plus cher. L’argent est dur à gagner en ce moment, on va continuer combien de temps à se faire avoir avec de fausses économies?

Pay as you book, check-in and board: travel Ryanair

The best joke I’ve heard in ages is this bloke serves a beer to Ryanair’s boss “That’ll be £1″. Seems cheap hmm??” Well, if you want that in a glass it will be £2.00.

Now you can add a third caveat. “Si tu veux que je te la donne maintenant, ça va te couter une livre de plus”. Oh you don’t understand, well I am sorry, I thought everybody spoke French. Oh no, I forgot the world has changed and everybody speaks English now. Or so does Ryanair’s boss O’Leary thinks.

My Dad gets this email in English a few days before travelling between Toulon and Bristol:

“IF YOU MADE YOUR RESERVATION ON OR AFTER THE 21ST MAY 2009 YOU MUST CHECK-IN ONLINE AND PRINT YOUR BOARDING PASS FOR PRESENTATION AT BOTH AIRPORT SECURITY AND AT THE BOARDING GATE. PLEASE NOTE THAT AIRPORT CHECK-IN IS ONLY AVAILABLE TO PASSENGERS WHO BOOKED BEFORE THE 21ST MAY 2009 AND PAID FOR THIS SERVICE”

So, not only is this in English but it says that if you want to check in you need to pay extra. How are you going to travel if you don’t check in? Was this made clear to the client when he booked? I think not.

The old man paid, travelled with them as I was waiting at the other end but refuses to travel with them again. Can’t blame him.

How do they get away with it? I know that they’re cheap but they have a website that still does not give you a full price until you’re almost at the end of the booking process, they undoubtedly pay their staff a pitance -considering their sorry faces- and now they charge you extra when you turn up at the airport. How much longer do we keep giving our hard earned cash to companies like that?

British food

I thought I’d translate my previous post or at least give the British who don’t speak French (that will be most of you then?) a chance to read what I think about your food. Since I’m French you must be interested. We do food so much better than you… Or do we, still?

Bridport was voted the best town in Dorset for local food by ‘the Taste of Dorset’. This reminded me that when I went to France this year, I noticed that although the word ‘provenance’ comes from the french language we don’t seem to use it very much in restaurants and even shops. I have become far more aware of where my food comes from since living here in Dorset. We stopped at a run-of-the-mill steak and chips restaurant on our journey back from the South of France this Summer and the steak provenance was: France or Europe. Mmmm, that’s specific, no South American or Russian cow there then. Goodness knows where the spuds came from? I didn’t ask. Steak was nice though.

I remember interviewing Chef Jean-François Piège from the Ambassadeur restaurant in Paris (2 Michelin stars) three years ago. His main concern was getting the best rather than worry too much about where it came from. Now that figures when the smallest menu is at €70 and they do tell you where your meat comes from -or your caviar for that matter. In fairness if you check their menu, most of the produce is french anyway. But if you can’t get it in France, then Piège wants to know that he can get it onto your plate anyway. It’s a question of choice, n’est ce pas?

So, I’d say you can be proud of what you British have achieved in the world of food in the last twenty years. You are more aware, more discerning and Dorset is certainly a fantastic place to be when you are a gourmet. Just don’t settle for that MacDo (as French call it) or drink a Starbuck (they’re trying to invade the South of France now that Paris has taken the bait) and you’ll be more foodie than a lot of Frenchies.

Incroyable but true…

La Grande-Provence?

Imagine an area where there is sunshine, warm seas, hills covered with vineyards, olive trees, the third largest city in the country (or is it the second?), the tallest mountains on the continent, sandy beaches, the only under water National Park in the country, the birthplace of real rosé wine, Roman theatres, world famous festivals… Courchevel, St Tropez, Cannes, the promenade des Anglais, the Count of Monte Cristo, the Mont Blanc:

Yep you’ve got it, that’s the South of France. Thing is though, which South? You see the region has so much to offer that they are now struggling to find a name for themselves.

Provence Alpes Cote d’Azur makes ‘PACA’ in French. Whilst most French people will know what PACA means by now, nobody else does and if it’s no good in English then it’s no good in business. And business in the Sud Est is tourism. What a quandary.

Problem is, the South West has already taken the ‘Sud de France’ name. Beaten at the post by the newcomers. It makes no grammatical sense in French but sure works for the English speaking clientele surfing the net. To my mind “Le Sud” is the South East. Probably because I come from there so I’m definitely biased… Possibly because historically that south was the holiday south, until they took the tourists for granted and started getting competition. I hate to admit.

So now the Beautiful and Bountiful South is fighting back. Finally. Why not Le Sud? Tout simplement… The domain name has been snapped up.

Mmm, why change at all? So taxpayers money can be spent on marketing a new name that will inevitably make a third of the region angry at the choice: Provençaux, Alpins or Azuréens? I’m a Varoise, so none of the above, therefore I don’t care. I’d love to design the new logo though, should be good fun!

I read they’re thinking of Grande-Provence. I’d love it now I live in Grande-Bretagne!