Posts Tagged France

2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 12,000 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 20 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Jean Dujardin et moi

Do you ever get that odd sensation when you suddenly become aware that, for a while, you’ve been aware of something without really realising it?

Right, just me then.

Anyway, this happened to me most recently with The Artist and particularly its lead actor, Jean Dujardin. Over the last six months or so I’ve been (mostly subliminally) picking up bits and pieces about the film, and had this nagging feeling that I knew Dujardin (by name at least) from somewhere.

If you rewind about 13 years, you’ll find me in a small flat in a small town in France going through what, in hindsight, was somewhere between acute home-sickness and a mild borderline nervous breakdown, induced by a strange kind of loneliness, shyness, and inertia. I am of course making far more of this than I should, but I was very stranded in a very small town, and, with too much time on my hands, and most of that spent on my own, I turned a little eccentric. But not even in a particularly good way, I just did things like buying a house plant and naming it after France’s most recognised living cultural icon. Despite being a student at the time, there wasn’t even any smugly self-conscious ‘irony’ about this. It was genuine. Fucking hell, I’ve just remembered that before I left France I actually planted ‘Johnny’ somewhere where I thought he/it would get plenty of sunshine and rain (I don’t know whether the correct response to that sudden, unexpected memory is to blush, laugh, cry, or shudder. So I just did a bit of all four).

A couple of years later, my Mum breezily said “we did wonder if you were ok” which is my Mum’s way of saying “we thought you might have been going batshit mental”. Thing is, this was before the internet was anything like embedded in everyday life, so Christ knows what I would have been like with the facility to easily and, essentially, freely document my thoughts and ruminations at the time. Frankly, I’m quite relieved about that. Can you imagine?

So, yes, I spent a lot of time doing not very much, and a good portion of that was spent watching TV. Now, to be fair, I genuinely consider TV to be a cultural boon, and being isolated (etc etc yawn whinge whine) it was a brilliant way of exposing myself to something approaching the French way of life (much better than, say, going to a bar, buying a beer or two and saying a simple bonsoir to the locals).

In all the many, many hours of watching French TV, a favourite of mine was Un gars et une fille (A Guy and a Girl), a series of slices (dare I say vignettes? I do) of domestic life which I saw from its very first episode. Imagine a French version of Men Behaving Badly, with just one couple, without the god-awful laddish elements, and with a surprising amount of slightly-clichéd charm. Anyway, its two stars were future spouses (in hindsight, this seems inevitable) Alexandra Lamy and, yes, Jean Dujardin. And 13 years later, out of nowhere (from this uninformed idiot’s perspective, anyway), Dujardin has won an Oscar. Fair to say I didn’t see that one coming (Johnny the house plant may have done, but I could never tell what he was thinking. Inscrutable, you see).

I find it almost painful to watch these back; it reinforces my habit of allowing myself to act and think as if places and people don’t change when I leave them (for example, ex-colleagues’ children are, in my mind, the exact same age now as when we stopped working together five or more years ago). And so if I’m not careful France, to me, is still a place where they’re about to switch from one currency to another, where male politicians carry on like rutting chimps, and where the party of the extreme right is led by a bigoted fool by the name of Le Pen.

In effect, I’m instantly taken back to the time in question, and want to tell myself to get a grip, and get out of the flat.

And to stop watering that bloody plant.

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“Méga succès de 1971″

Yes, that is a direct quote, and it’s from Jackretro* who uploaded this video to YouTube so it’s solid gold reliable. This song always reminds me of the wonderful radio station that is Nostalgie. The video is equally wonderful, and leaves me pondering many imponderables: who is the mysterious blonde at the beginning? Why is Michel Delpech’s left hand so hypnotic? And why does he imitate Bez from the Happy Mondays at the very end?

*I can’t guarantee this is his real name. Or hers. What a minefield

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It’s not easy

I don’t get out much. Neither, of late, do I get here much, which is a constant cause of disappointment and regret, for me at least. I’m always eager to please the audience, so here is another clip of Johnny Hallyday (I might not necessarily be pleasing my audience).

I love this song. It’s a kind of male-oriented, rocky-poppy-disco-y I Will Survive in which Johnny affirms he’s not died from sadness yet, thanking his concrete morale – while conceding he doesn’t know how he’s managed it, and a rhyming confession that “J’ai de nouveaux amis, qui s’apellent le blues et l’ennui” (“I’ve made new friends, called blues and listlessness” – genuine, mouthful-of-tea-spurting, laugh-out-loud funny the first time I heard it).

This live, though mimed (oh, Johnny…), performance is from the very early 1980s I think – check out the hair, the abrupt ending, everything. I love it. And not in a ‘I love it because it’s so bad it’s good’ way, in a genuine way.

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As Shakin’ Stevens said of Alan Partridge’s “Bouncing Back”

Lovely stuff.

The “on s’promet une vie sans blues” line (roughly, “we promise ourselves a happy life”) gets me every time.

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A book at bedtime (7)

La Peste by Albert Camus (1947)

Set in the Algerian town of Oran in “194.”, Camus’ novel tells a story of a plague-infested town cut off from the outside world, and of individuals separated from loved ones. Aside from the specific circumstances of the individual characters (a doctor trying to treat, if not cure, the ill; a journalist separated from his wife in Paris; a ne’er-do-well profiting from circumstances by channelling in contraband), the story is simple and constrained: the plague arrives, thousands die, it ends; we never leave Oran, and never experience the feelings of those outside the town.

The story of the fight against the plague stands up in its own right, yet it serves easily, and skilfully, as a metaphor – for morality, for the human condition, and for occupied France in the Second World War.

 The war metaphor can be clearly seen: the sense of imprisonment, both physical and mental, hangs heavily over the book, with the gates of Oran firmly closed and an ever-present sense of isolation and exile. In this town ‘occupied’ by the plague, the main protagonists respond by forming small, organised medical teams to resist the plague’s spread by helping the sick and improving sanitary conditions elsewhere. As for morality, we’re told that Oran is an ugly town, full of money-focused and fundamentally dull people, built with its back to the sea, ignoring its open expanses – as if, through its rejection of life, it were somehow inviting the plague to attack. Furthermore, as the plague takes hold, attendance at mass soars; later it becomes more an act of superstition and fear than belief, if it is attended at all.

I prefer the reading of the novel as a consideration of the human condition – let’s not stray towards the term existentialism, not because I don’t really know what I’m talking about (though I don’t), but because Camus reportedly distanced himself from the movement: “No, I am not an existentialist” (though with ambiguous statements like that, who knows what he was really up to?).

In effect, the plague comes and goes for no apparent reason; the local administration is ineffective (their optimism and pessimism are equally inconsequential); neither individuals nor organisations have any meaningful sense of control over the plague’s spread, while the successful recovery or painful death of its sufferers are a product of chance alone. Despite the futility of inconclusive serums and the realisation that the plague takes its victims indiscriminately, a curious kind of emancipation arises, the sense of efforts to take action being worthy in their own right, regardless of their outcome. Deep, yet emotionally restrained, friendships are forged on the back of these efforts, and our protagonists set aside their personal suffering to work for the collective good – the doctor whose wife was sent away to the Swiss mountains to recover from illness just before the plague struck, the exiled Parisian journalist who renounces his intentions to have himself smuggled out of the town in order to stay and help, the frustrated writer who divides his many sleepless hours between torturing himself over the opening sentence of a never-to-be-finished novel and recording the statistics of the plague.

In a strange way, optimism abounds in this novel – optimism in the shape of man’s willingness to continue to fight, to resist in the face of attack from a faceless, inhuman enemy. In an apparently capricious world, exerting this will elevates the characters above their daily horrors, into some sort of meaning. Appropriately enough, there is no firm conclusion to the book after the plague disappears, no trite, easy end. Instead we are left with a rather chilling (not to say lengthy) warning:

“Car il savait ce que cette foule en joie ignorait, et qu’on peut lire dans les livres, que le bacille de la peste ne meurt ni ne disparaît jamais, qu’il peut rester pendant des dizaines d’années endormi dans le meubles et le linge, qu’il attend patiemment dans les chambres, les caves, les malles, les mouchoirs et les paperasses, et que, peut-être, le jour viendrait où, pour le malheur et l’enseignement des hommes, la peste réveillerait ses rats les enverrait mourir dans une cité heureuse”

“For he knew what this joyous crowd did not, and what can be read in books, that the germ of the plague never dies nor disappears, that it can remain asleep for tens of years in furniture and sheets, that it waits patiently in bedrooms, cellars, trunks, handkerchiefs and paperwork, and that, perhaps, the day would come when, for man’s misfortune and learning, the plague would wake its rats and send them to die in a happy neighbourhood”

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August à la française

In homage to perhaps my true calling in life, that of being a French civil servant (working for a majority French-state-owned company, as I do, doesn’t count. Not if you work for said majority French state-owned company in Nottinghamshire), I’m taking August off.

I need to recover from the Tour de France for a start: 1 hour highlights every night for three weeks, with only two rest days thrown in? Forget about it…

Who knows, I might return invigorated, upbeat, and a real go-getter. Chances are it’ll be more of the same old jaded, cynical tat, but for your sake I’m hoping not. See you on 1st September.

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