Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Internet 0-1 Library

I am undertaking more freelance writing now that French Magazine is a bi-monthly title (Issue 74 will now be on sale April 24th, dear readers, so many apologies to those of you awaiting your French fix) and the first commission I have received is to write a brief social/cultural history of coffee in France.

Naturally, my first port of call for research was t'interweb but I soon realised that certain dates didn't tally from one so-called "expert source" to the next. So, for the first time since I was a student, I went to the public library to do some work in situ, and to sniff out some facts from actual - don't tell anyone! - books.

And what a treat. As I plonked myself down amongst the undergraduates and pensioners, I felt completely at home and instantly more studious.

As for the research, the archives of Bath Library offered up a rare beauty – a photocopy of a pamphlet written in 1845 by a local coffee merchant, one Samuel Bennett. It detailed in fine olde Englishe the Coffea Arabica plant's origins and the relentless spread of its boiled, then roasted and percolated, seed throughout the world from Ethiopia to Arabia, Cairo, Damascus and Constantinople, and eventually to the coffee shops of Venice, Amsterdam, Paris and London.

The librarian, an upbeat and helpful chap, had to go into a back room to dig the prized document out for me, and insisted that under no circumstances did I take it anywhere. All very cloak and dagger and, more excitingly, a rare victory for the printed word over the internet's presumed omniscience.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

England thrash France

David Hepworth, with customary insight, has a great take on the unpredictability of sport following the England rugby team's shock trouncing of France at Twickenham on Sunday. I can't help thinking, though, that the OTT media assault on the English in the build-up to the game had more than a little to do with the outcome. Pride, attacking with pace and rubbish French defending - the perfect set-up for a drubbing.

In other news, the latest issue of The Traveller in France has just gone to print. It's a rather lovely read, and includes city guides to Dijon, Angers, Biarritz and Mulhouse, plus extensive features on green French holidays, learning and modern art breaks, plus the best places to head for a picnic. There is also a very amusing interview with comedian Marcus Brigstocke, himself something of a Francophile.

It will be bagged free with Issue 74 of French Magazine early April, and available as a download from soon after.

Monday, 9 March 2009

Modern life is not rubbish

Over the weekend I enjoyed preview discs of two cracking new French film releases.

Modern Life
(pictured) is a masterful study of the erosion of farming communities in the Auvergne. Director Raymond Depardon is from the area and his film oozes love and respect for his subjects. One thing I noticed was that the men interviewed were generally dejected and, well, knackered, while the women by their sides were smiling and upbeat in spite of the harshness of rural life. Not sure what to read into that. Anyway, it's on general release from April 3rd.

I found the 1970s-set thriller Rivals equally compelling. It's a moral fable, with impeccable period costumes and soundtrack, about two brothers on either side of the law and stars Guillaume Canet (director of Tell No One) and François Cluzet. It's out on DVD March 30th.

You can read the full reviews in the next issue of French Magazine, which goes on sale early April. You can subscribe here.

Friday, 6 March 2009

Vive la France film season

Fans of French film are in for a treat, as a new season of great movies kicks off this weekend on Sky Arts. It's curated by the man who, during the 80s and 90s was everyone's favorite comedy Frenchman – Antoine de Caunes. With his innovative music show on BBC2, Rapido, and then Channel Four's saucy smut-fest Eurotrash he was, for me as an adolescent, the very face of France itself.

Now an established director, de Caunes will discuss his own inspirations and influences as he presents classics such as Orphée by Jean Cocteau and modern works like Love Me If You Dare. For me, though, the undisputed highlight will be a quartet of Jacques Tati films – Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot, Mon Oncle, Playtime and Jour de Fête (pictured, top), which is in my top ten favourites of all time.

The season kicks off tomorrow night, Saturday 7th March with Orphée. I urge you to watch. Alas I won't be able to, as I don't have satellite telly!

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Sarkozy sued by MGMT

As far as I can tell from this story about boisterous beatnik popsters MGMT suing Sarkozy's party, everyone's a winner. The hip New York duo's studied cool rubs off on the politicians, while the free publicity for the band is priceless.

Kids is the song in question but Time to Pretend gets my vote. It's one of the great singles of recent years, though the sentiment probably wasn't quite what Sarko was looking for.

Monday, 2 March 2009

French rugby mystery

The decision to play the first ever Friday night Six Nations game was as baffling to the untrained eye as the brilliant underdog performance of the French rugby team against Wales.

I watched the game through the mist of a few glasses of Champers, as I helped a friend celebrate a new job, so I cannot comment on the ins and outs, but it's clear that writing the French off is perilous, especially when Sébastien Tellier, sorry Sébastian Chabal, has fire in his belly.