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Posts Tagged ‘France’

The Allure of the Roller Rink, and Other News

April 18, 2014 | by

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Photo: GuillaumeG, via Wikimedia Commons

  • Marianne Moore’s strange, sad childhood: “Mary [her mother] established a pattern whereby Marianne, in family conversations and correspondence, was invariably referred to as a boy and identified only with male pronouns. Furthermore, Mary encouraged the siblings to regard each other as ‘lovers,’ and to think of her as their ‘lover,’ too.”
  • In the Paris of the eighteenth century, elite prostitutes were monitored by the fuzz—but why? “A final and enduring theory is that the reports were meant as bedtime reading for King Louis XV and his mistress, the Marquise de Pompadour, who had been the protector of the police lieutenant general most responsible for establishing the unit in the first place. According to this theory, the reports were meant to enliven the reputedly jaded, enervated royal sex life.”
  • Japanese astronauts took some cherry pits into space. Now, one of them has grown into a mighty cherry tree, perhaps with superpowers.
  • Adventure Time is a smash hit cartoon aimed primarily at kids age six to eleven. It’s also a deeply serious work of moral philosophy, a rip-roaring comic masterpiece, and a meditation on gender politics and love in the modern world.”
  • “I can’t articulate exactly what it was that turned the roller rink into fantasy-on-wheels for me … the feelings I sought only came from visits to those dingy rinks—their smell of ashtrays, sweat, and desolation. In retrospect, part of what I craved was the roller rink’s ability to detach me from the everyday. Because I frequented roller rinks as they were on their way ‘out,’ they seemed to exist apart from the regular world.”

 

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Heroes of the Civil Service: An Interview with Antonin Baudry

April 2, 2014 | by

Antonin Baudry 2013 photo credit clarisse rebotier

Antonin Baudry, 2013. Photo: Clarisse Rebotier

In 2010, a graphic novel, Quai D’Orsay, was published in France under a pseudonym, causing a quiet sensation. Set in, of all places, the Foreign Ministry, Quai D’Orsay starred a young speechwriter frantically learning on the job—the novel featured recognizable public figures, including the foreign minister, Dominique de Villepin, who famously said non to the war in Iraq.

In France, graphic novels, or comic books (bandes dessinées), are a revered venue for pointed satire. The bestseller’s author, it turned out, was a wunderkind former staffer for Villepin named Antonin Baudry. A man of varied passions—board games, Metallica, Greek philosophy—Baudry is currently the French Cultural Counselor for the U.S. Last fall, he adapted the graphic novel for the big screen. The resulting film, The Minister, became an instant hit in France, earning the rookie screenwriter a nomination for a César, the French Oscar. The Minister is now showing (under the title The French Minister) at select theaters in the U.S., including the IFC Center, in New York; the graphic novel is available in English under the title Weapons of Mass Diplomacy.

Sitting in his cavernous office in the French embassy, overlooking Central Park, the informal diplomat says he would love to try another graphic novel “on globalism, set in the Middle Ages.”

Both in the graphic novel and the movie, you make it seem as if you hadn’t the slightest qualification to write speeches for the foreign minister. Is that true?

Yes. I didn’t have the background that all the people there had at all. I had never met a politician before. I had never met a diplomat. What happened was that Dominique de Villepin was looking for young people from different universes to write for him. He heard through a mutual friend that I had done master’s theses in math and literature, and he wanted to meet me. I totally panicked. I said to my friend, Why did you do this to me? I had to buy a suit. The minister received me at the Quai D’Orsay, and it was just like being hypnotized. He explained a lot of things to me and everything seemed clear, and then when I left, I couldn’t remember a thing. And there was this time pressure. He said I had to answer within twenty-four hours because we were possibly on the eve of a Third World War. I was twenty-six, and I thought, Why not? I’d done academic writing and I knew I wanted to write novels. I accepted the job because I think many writers have no experience of the world. I once worked for the sanitation department in Berlin, cleaning the streets at five in the morning. I loved it for the same reason—it gave me the chance to observe another universe instead of staying in my room, contemplating myself. Read More »

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The Habits of Highly Erotic People

February 6, 2014 | by

What can the French teach Americans about sex?

vintage french ad

From a 1923 French advertisement

Last month, as the New York Post went into paroxysms over the latest French presidential love triangle, we found a more academic comment on French habits of the heart, thanks to our attendance at a panel on “The Art of Sex and Seduction,” sponsored by the Alliance Française. On the first of its three nights, entitled “Did the French invent love?”, Catherine Cusset, a former professor of French literature at Yale, told a story:

A countess invites a young man to her house after running into him at the opera. After a stiff meal with her husband, who retires to his private apartments, the countess leads her guest down a secret passageway into a bedroom. The walls and ceiling are covered with gilded mirrors. Sexual frenzy ensues. At daybreak, the giddy, exhausted young man emerges from the den and runs into a marquis who has just arrived. The marquis thanks him profusely. The young man realizes that he has served merely as a decoy to distract the count from his wife’s true lover. The husband appears for breakfast and greets the marquis cordially. The last line of this story—Vivant Denon’s No Tomorrow, first published in 1777—reads, “I looked for some moral to this adventure and … I could find none.”

“There is no moral lesson,” Cusset said pointedly, and a communal gasp could be heard in Florence Gould Hall. Throughout the series, the audience was susceptible to gasps, audible stirring, and sudden eruptions of laughter. The French and American panelists, who included historians, scientists, sex therapists, and journalists, spoke about vaginas and orgasms in that purposefully blunt way one always expects and yet can seldom prepare for. Here’s what we learned about the difference between French and American sexual customs and attitudes, with a few startling facts about tout le monde. Read More »

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The Patron Saint of Writers and Journalists

January 24, 2014 | by

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Today is the feast day of Francis de Sales, the patron saint of writers and journalists. A bishop of Geneva, Francis died in 1622. He was fond of using flyers and books to convert Calvinists—hence his patronage, though one can imagine him just as easily settling into a post as patron saint of marketing, or patron saint of well-meaning finger-wagging.

Francis’s most enduring work is 1609’s Introduction to the Devout Life, which was written for laypeople—a novel idea at the time. CatholiCity, a repository of “the Finest Catholic CDs, Booklets, and Novels,” calls it “the most popular Catholic ‘self-help’ book of all time,” and when you peruse the table of contents, it’s not hard to see why. There’s plenty of practical wisdom on offer, e.g., “All Evil Inclinations Must Be Purged Away”; “One Word to Maidens”; “Dryness and Spiritual Barrenness”; “How to Exercise Real Poverty, Although Actually Rich”; and, conversely, “How to Possess a Rich Spirit Amid Real Poverty.” Then there’s the meditation on hell, which goes from yogic to despairing at the drop of a mitre:

Preparation
1. Place yourself in God’s Presence.
2. Humble yourself, and ask His Aid.
3. Picture to yourself a dark city, reeking with the flames of sulphur and brimstone, inhabited by citizens who cannot get forth.

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Ivor Gurney’s “To His Love”

November 11, 2013 | by

Ivor Gurney in 1920.

In honor of Veterans Day, we are re-running this favorite post.

In the last century, a few years of sodden slaughter in France and Flanders turned British poetry from Keatsian lyricism to raw, aghast reportage. Isaac Rosenberg’s poems, for instance, moved from prewar patriotic exultation—“Flash, mailed seraphim, / Your burning spears”—to, three years later, this numb, bone-dry mutter from the trenches: “Droll rat, they would shoot you if they knew / Your cosmopolitan sympathies.”

In Ivor Gurney’s “To His Love” you see the thing happening not in mid-career but in mid-poem—between lines, in a line break, specifically the last one. It’s the most astonishing line break I’ve ever encountered. It’s the sound of a culture’s poetic history cracking in half.

“To His Love” begins as an almost doggedly traditional elegy, with the Byronic echo of “We’ll walk no more on Cotswold.” It meanders through rivers, beasts, flowers, and the old tropes—nobility, “pride,” “memoried.” We are lulled into thinking that the urgency of “Cover him, cover him soon!” arises from intense soldierly love, rather than the desperate need to hide a shredded corpse, that “red, wet / Thing.” The euphemistic Latinate décor is stripped away; the haplessly tall T does it’s pitiful duty by the form, like a Tommy too shell-shocked to hide, a standing target.

The fragile Gurney was gassed and traumatized by the war, and he lived out his days in asylums. Read More »

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Required Reading for Bastille Day

July 15, 2013 | by

Claude Monet, Rue Montorgueil, Paris, Festival of 30 June 1878

Claude Monet, Rue Montorgueil, Paris, Festival of 30 June 1878.

So hangs it, dubious, fateful, in the sultry days of July. It is the passionate printed advice of M. Marat, to abstain, of all things, from violence. Nevertheless the hungry poor are already burning Town Barriers, where Tribute on eatables is levied; getting clamorous for food.
—Thomas Carlyle, History of the French Revolution

The old saw that “an army marches on its belly” was blunted on July 14, 1789, as a half-starved, bibulous mob overran the walls of the Bastille, the Bourbon kings’ infamous political prison-turned-armory. Leaders of the rabble were more excited about hoarding gunpowder and fusils than about liberating the prison’s seven remaining, apparently apolitical inmates. Over the next two centuries, La Fête Nationale (or simply “le quatorze Juillet”) has metastasized from a Gallic celebration of freedom to a worldwide excuse for holding a multiday anarchic party, ideally with decent wine and minimal casualties. Read More »

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