Below you’ll find a few cultural tidbits from France that I came across in February. I also review a bande dessinée, which I read last month, by one of my favorite political cartoonists, Patrick Chappatte. In many cases, I provide a link that you can follow to the original source for further details. The photo on the right is from the garden at Le Musée Rodin in the heart of Paris, which was closed to the public for a few days due to slippery sidewalks. Living in Michigan with ice covering most paths for much of winter, it’s hard to imagine imposing such a restriction. However, I’m not criticizing. Paris’ loss was the rest of the world’s gain. To compensate for the closure, the museum placed several such beautiful photos online.
Underground Urban Farming
You may have heard about the catacombs under Paris that house the bones of more than 6 million human skeletons. Or, the archeological crypte that lies beneath the plaza in front of the Notre Dame Cathedral. Now there’s a living marvel flourishing beneath the streets of Paris, an underground farm, called La Caverne.
In 2017, a startup called Cycloponics, established the farm in an abandoned parking garage beneath a public housing high rise. There they produce between 100 and 200 kilograms (220 to 440 pounds) of mushrooms per day. They also grow endive (the third most popular vegetable in France) and micro-greens.
The benefits go well beyond providing fresh local produce to city dwellers. The company employs residents of the working class neighborhood in which it is located. They also sell their produce at reduced rates to residents living in the 300 apartments above their farm. They offer free tours to schools and local organizations. Finally, they serve as an incubator for other small businesses that want to try their hand at urban farming.
French YouTuber Dissects 20th-Century Pop Culture
A friend recently posted a video of a French YouTuber, named Marjorie LeNoan, who focuses on 20th-century pop culture. Many of the subjects she takes on have their origins in the U.S. She’s a charming and entertaining host but she only speaks French and there are no subtitles. I find her much easier to understand, however, than some of the French YouTubers I’ve come across. So if you know French, you should give her a try. She’s both funny and informative. Here’s a dynamite clip analyzing the film Dirty Dancing.
Visit Les Grands Châteaux of France from your Couch
The Alliance Française has been hosting a series of online Zoom gatherings that take you on tours of various châteaux in France. The tours are given in English. I noticed these in early February but didn’t find time to attend. Luckily, there are still two left for the month of March. For further details, go here.
This Thursday, March 4th, they’ll be visiting the spectacular Château de Chantilly. You don’t have to be a member of the Alliance Française to register.
A Bit of Paris Touring North America
The awe-inspiring Atelier des Lumières, a spectacular art exhibition in Paris, is making the rounds to a handful of cities in North America. The exhibit space features 500,000 cubic feet of animated projections of Vincent Van Gogh’s work. It’s currently in Chicago and is already sold out for February, March, and April. Ticket sales, however, extend into the month of September when the Coronavirus pandemic will hopefully be under control. You can find further details at this site. Below is a preview.
Meanwhile in Paris, the celebrated Atelier has completely revamped for a new show featuring the work of Salvador Dali. You’ll find a stunning video along with still-shots of the multi-story, illuminated panels here.
Journalism through Cartooning
In February, I enjoyed reading a recent graphic novel by the political cartoonist, Patrick Chappatte. Chappatte, who is Swiss, used to be a regular contributor to the New York Times until they made the unpopular decision to eliminate all editorial cartoons. Anyway, Chappatte’s book, Au Cœur de la Vague, is an absorbing and informative timeline of the coronavirus pandemic, from January through August of 2020.
In journalistic fashion, Chappette follows major international events, the gradual rise of coronavirus cases, and the triumphs and failures of governments, scientists, and non-profits working to combat the spread of the disease. The book is filled with excellent reporting as Chappatte tracks the movements of about two dozen people, from a doctor working in the highest scientific rungs of epidemiological research to an orderly cleaning the floors in a Geneva hospital.
An overview of the pandemic, which we’re all sick of living through, might sound like a complete turn-off. However, the personal stories in the book are well-chosen and as usual, Chappatte’s humor turns even tragic and tense situations into something we can laugh about. The book is available for Kindle for less than $5.00. Mon avis: 5 sur 5 étoiles.