As I’m incommunicado in Glorious Devon, where it’s hard to get your mobile to work, let alone the Internet, (and where the rain has barely stopped since our arrival Friday evening – great blogging weather), I plan to continue the blog, but posting will recommence – appropriately – on April 1, at the rate of two posts a day until I catch up with myself.
This was on March 27:
President Chirac stormed out of a European Union meeting the other day. You are probably thinking that perhaps someone had served him Spanish wine, or had besmirched the blessed memory of Charles de Gaulle, his megalomaniac mentor. It was neither: what drove him fuming from the meeting was the fact that one of his own compatriots had the gall – or is that Gaul? – to address the meeting in (excellent) English.
As previously posted here, the President’s paranoia about the declining use of French is routinely demonstrated in his glad-handing of bemedalled ex-colonial leaders whose postage-stamp dictatorships may happen to speak French. But now he has managed to bring down on himself the scorn of the European community he once pledged to support – especially when he said that English was a ‘poor’ language for communication purposes. (Is there any other purpose for language?)
The next day, The Times leader was in French.
I’m sure M. le President knows that every time his presidential jet takes off, its route is controlled by an international system of air traffic control whose common language is English – using computers and communications networks designed by people using the same language, and through airports in which every take-off and landing is contolled in English.
How strange that he should trust such a ‘poor’ communications tool to get him safely to and from his taxpayer-funded vacations in Mauritius?
Tomorrow: Things I love about France.
15 things I love about France: gastronomy
Some years ago, François Mauriac, French novelist and later minister of culture, wrote a book called Les Anglais. It was in two parts, called, respectively, ‘Why I love the English’ and ‘Why I hate the English’. He loved them because they liked novels, which is not surprising, and might even have been a cunning marketing ploy. He hated them for their excessive confidence – I’m not sure what French word he used, but it seems a common complaint: Brits are smug. Not me of course: I’m perfect but modest.
Today’s title derives from the teaser headlines you see in the hot-selling magazines – it's usually an odd number, like ‘27 ways to improve your sex life’. Obviously I’m not going to do all 15 things at one go but only as I think of them, but it kind of stakes my claim to the title. Today’s post is not about your sex life. It’s about Food and the French.
I like the French fanatical food fetish. Where the average British and American family puts its domestic spend into status things like household, furnishings and cars, and spend barely enough for survival on food, the French family will spend just enough on warmth and shelter to support human life (DIY stores do not make money) and drive scooters or little white Peugeot 106s, but spend as much as they can scrape together on la nourriture, taking out a mortgage for this purpose if necessary. This is why in France you’re unlucky if you come across a bad restaurant, while in Britain and the US you’re lucky if you find a good one unless you spend a fortune – and even that is no guarantee. And if you do find one, you’ll be so stifled by glass-filling, ash-tray-changing, tip-seeking flunkeys that they will drive you mad.
The French also tend to know about wine. Where your average Brit (average American households, in which the choice is between Coke, Pepsi, and an oil industry derivative made by Ernest & Julio Gallo, may skip this part of the discussion) tends to buy according to grape variety, ie. merlot, chardonnay etc., the average Frenchman chooses by, first, region of origin – Bordeaux, Burgundy, etc. – then vigneron - Domaine, Château, etc – and not give a stuff about the grape variety. (It’ll usually be a mixture anyway.) I have this friend in Paris who keeps his wine in his garage – and pushes his car in and out by hand, lest the engine noise disturb, not the neighbours, but the wine.
The wines will have one infuriating thing in common: they will all be French – nationalism rules in food as it does with language. We presented our neighbours with some of our best English Cheddar cheese, brought over lovingly for their appreciation. ‘Du fromage anglais’, (Some English cheese) said my wife. Their startled reply is griven on my heart: ‘Il y en a?’ (‘Is there such a thing?’) We have never heard about the cheese since.
That’s where I admire Mauriac – he had the courage to say that France had never produced a novelist of the calibre of Dickens, Austen or the Brontes. Whether he was right or not I’m not sure – I like Victor Hugo myself. But Mauriac was fired anyway.