Throughout the month I come across a fair number of francophile-related articles, blogs, images, books, or videos that I’d like to share with readers. I’ve combined this potpourri of news items into a single post. Here are some of the gems from January as well as a brief book review and my take on a couple of films that may serve as a welcome distraction during these cold winter months of confinement. In many cases, I provide a link that you can follow to the original source for further details.
Champs Élysées Greenspace
In early January, the mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, announced an ambitious plan to give the Champs-Élyées a €250m makeover. The project involves turning the 1.2-mile route in the heart of Paris into “an extraordinary garden.” Local community leaders have been campaigning to make significant upgrades to the famous avenue since 2018.
Over the last 30 years, more and more tourists have flocked to Paris, adding a stroll along one of the world’s most iconic thoroughfares to their “must-do” vacationing checklist. International businesses have also vied to open storefronts on the celebrated street. But Parisians, apparently, feel the strip is “looking worn out” and “has lost its splendor”.
Before the Covid-19 crisis, architect Philippe Chiambaretta, whose firm PCA-Stream provided plans for the project, stated that of the estimated 100,000 pedestrians on the avenue every day, 72% were tourists and 22% work there. His goals include reducing traffic on the 8-lane avenue, lowering air pollution, and creating a space that is “ecological, desirable and inclusive”.
The transformation is currently scheduled to take place after Paris hosts the 2024 Summer Olympics. It aligns with other initiatives to turn Paris into an eco-friendly city, with more green, less vehicle exhaust, more bicycles, fewer traffic jams, more mass transit options, and less concrete.
Magritte Meme du Jour
The Bonfire of Destiny
I’m not sure how long this French television series has been on Netflix, but I discovered it in January and ended up watching the entire series over the course of a week or so. The first episode is based on a true event that took place in Paris in 1897, when a large convention hall caught fire. The people inside were mostly upper-class women who were holding a bazaar to raise money for charity. More than one hundred were killed and dozens were left scarred or disfigured.
Episode 1 briefly introduces the backstories of the main characters and then turns into a typical disaster film with drawn out scenes of people getting trapped inside the bazaar and either succumbing to the flames or making a narrow escape. I found myself fast-forwarding in search of a storyline. The series stars one of my favorite French comediennes, Audrey Fleurot, so I decided to stick with it. Happily, the plot quickly thickened and I soon found myself engrossed in the twists and turns of a romantic drama that resembled something Alexander Dumas might have written.
Below is the trailer dubbed in English but I encourage you to watch in the original French. You can turn on English subtitles if necessary or French closed caption.
Faux Fronts bring Smiles
Since the pandemic, people around the world have mourned not only the loss of their autonomy but the loss of businesses in their communities that have been forced to close. Photographer Bernard Russo embarked on an innovative project to revive some of the closed-up buildings in the town of Aurillac, France.
Russo has traveled the world, capturing life through his lens in faraway places that most westerners will never visit. He decided to photograph some of the beleaguered business facades in Aurillac and then superimpose colorful images from his travels. He then made large prints of the resulting combinations and displayed them on the boarded-up storefronts throughout Aurillac for all to enjoy. Below is one example. To see his full gallery, click here.
Des Devoirs, Homework
Question: Do you think the little rabbit wanted to befriend the wolf? Justify your answer.
Reply: No because he’s not a moron.
My French Film Festival
There are many excellent feature-length films and shorts available through February 15 at myfrenchfilmfestival.com. Last week I watched on a shared Zoom screen with one of my francophile friends. The movie we chose, titled Camille, is based on the true exploits of Camille LaPage, a female photojournalist who covered combat zones in the Central African Republic.
The movie is sprinkled with sequences of LaPage’s actual still shots. It’s a touching tribute to a young adventurer and talented visual storyteller who was tragically killed by rebel crossfire in 2014. Before viewing, we were a bit nervous that some scenes might become too violent but that was not the case. I highly recommend this superbly worthwhile docudrama.
I’ve heard many people talk about how much they enjoy the award-winning crime series by Louise Penny, featuring the French-Canadian Inspector Armand Gamache. Admittedly, I’m not a big fan of books in this genre. Nevertheless, I occasionally come upon mysteries that I appreciate and given the hype surrounding this series, I thought Still Life would deliver.
I would have been happy to read a different book in the series but a couple of friends, as well as reviews I’d read online, recommended that I start with the first. After reading it last month, I can’t imagine how this book has received as many good reviews as it has. The story is plodding and implausible, many of the characters are poorly developed, and the humor is juvenile. I found the climax to be ridiculously contrived and the writing rudimentary. If you love mysteries, you should know that my opinion is in the tiny minority of reviewers, but I just couldn’t find much to like.
While reading, I kept wanting to quit and cut my losses but felt I should give it every chance, so forged on to the end. I’m not sure I’m glad I did but I’m glad it’s over. Au revoir Inspector Gamache et bon débarras!
French Animation Festival
This next piece of news is actually for February. Between February 5 and 15, the Alliance Française will be holding an online animation film festival. For $20, fans of animation will have access to 9 feature films, 10 short programs, and 7 live talks. For details, click here.
“Let’s get married after COVID restrictions are lifted…”
“So… happy?” “Absolutely!”
I LOL’d at the Magritte image…
OMG, so many treasures and laughs: the Magritte, the homework (as a teacher, how could I not laugh!!), le déconfinement – tu connais la chanson de Pierre Perret sur ça? TB aussi
I’m curious to see how the Champs-Élysées remodeling will turn out.
I had not heard about this series on Le Bazar de la Charité, I sdon’t have Netflix, but will pass it along to my students. By the way, Visites Privées has a great youtube on this huge accident.
Oh please persevere with Louise Penny, I promise, each volume gets better and better, says me, a super picky reader
I’m so glad for your comment on Penny. I know my critique is at odds with the opinion of most readers. If I give her another try, I’d like it to be one of her best. So, if you have a recommendation, I’m all ears. I don’t have the patience or the reading skills to go through them in order.
I’ll check out the Visites Privées video. Thanks for stopping by.
well, the problem is, it’s a lot about how relationships between the characters evolve, so I still think the order is important. Though you could try her very last, set in Paris, as she often refers to previous books when needed. Hopefully you will then catch the bug and want to read them all, in order ;-). So that’s All the Devils Are Here
Thanks for your input.
Loved that photography project – but so sad that we have to resort to art to give our communities a feeling of life.
So sad to hear of your reaction to Louise Penny. The characterisation and setting is what hooked me into the series. I didn’t begin at the beginning though – it’s probably not one of the best. The books do get stronger however.
I love that part or Quebec so was happy that the story was unfolding there but I had many issues with it. I’m glad you’ve enjoyed her and happy to read your comment. I may have to give her another look at some point.
Good collection. The non-Magritte is funny.
Glad you enjoyed it.
Oh my… that little bunny exercise!!!! Priceless.
I love that one too, especially now during COVID when school is more of a grind than ever.
I liked the meme, and the little boy’s answer. Ben non, il est pas con…
Lots to pursue here. I’m most excited about the greening of the Champs Elysees. (Pardon my lack of accents.) Perhaps it will inspire other cities to become eco-friendlier.
The Magritte meme gives that evil man’s face the appearance of more craggy strength than he deserves. On the other hand, being on the underside of a joke IS something he deserves.
You’re right about the Magritte. I’ve had a similar reaction to many caricatures over the last four years. Pigs, for example, have certainly been portrayed unfairly.
If you’re interested, this post links to another one I wrote about plans to turn the Périphérique, a multi-lane super highway that circles Paris, into green belt with parkland, mass transit, and bike trails.
Oh my God!!! My friend Maureen raved about the Bonfire of Destiny series–like, a year ago!!! I never bothered, however, because we don’t always like the same books & movies. With you recommending it, too, I’ll check it out. You’ve also piqued my interest in Camille.
Hope you enjoy them.
Thank you Rajani.
I love your honest review of Still Life. Admittedly, I liked one novel by Penny – The Beautiful Mystery, but there the atmosphere was just too irresistible, a secluded monastery and natural beauty around. I won’t try this debut of hers now.
It is also interesting that the first episodes of The Bonfire of Destiny focused on a true tragic event that happened in Paris in 1897. This event reminded me slightly of one event that happened on the British soil – the Victoria Hall disaster of 1883. No fire was even needed there as the stampede of children resulted in 183 of them dying. Very narrow passages, sudden angles which meant that children did not have a good view of what’s ahead of them and the lack of exists contributes to the death toll being so high. As with the fire of 1897 in Paris, panic, clogging of exists, which were few, doors of those exists opening inward only and building conditions contributed to the tragedy.
Wow. The British disaster sounds terribly sad as well and does indeed have much in common with the Paris fire. Regulations are important (although you might have a hard time convincing many of my countrymen of that). Thanks for your comment Diana.