April Potpourri: Sisters, States, Swindles, Satire, and More

April in Paris 1999
April in Paris, CC

There are so many cool and interesting things happening in the world! Each month I look forward to sharing the most fun and informative news items that I’ve come across. Here are my picks for April 2021. In many cases, I provide a link that you can follow to the original source for further details.

The photo on the right was taken in April 1999 by F Delvental. You’ll find more of his pictures of Paris here on Flickr.

An Icon of French Cartooning Retires

Plantu self portrait
Plantu self portrait

April marked the beginning of a new era of political cartoons to grace the pages of France’s leading newspaper Le Monde. For nearly 50 years, the editorial cartoonist Plantu has delivered thousands of sketches, lampooning not only events taking place in France but all around the world. March 31, 2021, was his last day.

His shoes are certainly difficult to fill. So difficult, in fact, that a cartooning collective, called Cartooning for Peace, is assuming the role. You can rest assured that this collective is qualified to take on the responsibility. It was formed in 2006 by Plantu and former Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan. Plantu remains one of its more than 200 international members.

Below are just a few of the gems that Plantu penned during his laudable career which yielded more than 60 books of editorial cartoons. Click on a drawing for a larger view.

European Reading Challenges

European Reading Challenge 2021

Since I started blogging, I’ve been spending more time surfing the blogosphere. It’s made me aware of dozens of different reading challenges that I had no idea existed a year ago. I can’t keep up with any of them but I still like to look. They often give me ideas about what I should read next and I simply like to see what other people are reading.

One such challenge is sponsored by the Eurolinguiste blog. This blog is dedicated to people that are learning, maintaining, or mastering a European language. I really like the variety of challenges that are laid out for 2021—one book/month ranging from children’s books to language learning to memoirs and so on. In addition, not all that you read has to be in your target language. The reading prompts from this challenge have inspired many of my picks of late.

In April, I came across the 2021 European Reading Challenge. In this case, the idea is to read books by European authors or books set in European countries (no matter the origin of the author). The books can be anything—fiction, nonfiction, travel guides, poetry—and there are several ways in which you can participate without committing to a demanding pace.

The Wine Fraud Business is Booming

If you’ve followed my blog in the last year, you may have read one or more posts on wine fraudster, Rudy Kurniawan. Kurniawan finished serving a 10-year prison term in November and is being held in a U.S. deportation center in Texas. According to Kurniawan’s lawyer, he has turned over a new leaf and hopes to remain in the United States where he can put his talents to use as a “tasting consultant”.

While behind bars, Kurniawan’s incarceration has had zero effect on dissuading other wine counterfeiters from practicing their craft. What’s more, the coronavirus pandemic seems to have further accelerated the growth of the wine scamming industry. Since more transactions now take place online, buyers have an even lower chance of detecting a fake before making a purchase.

According to SevenFifty Daily, an online magazine serving the beverage alcohol industry, counterfeits can be found at every level of the market. They’re no longer limited to the multi-thousand-dollar Burgundies that Kurniawan once hawked. Bottles that sell for less than $15 are also copied and successfully peddled to unsuspecting buyers. So are wine futures, fake wine funds, and other fraudulent investment schemes. Former FBI agent and wine expert, Maureen Downey, estimates wine fraud takes a $3 billion chunk out of the wine industry each year.

Massive find in China

Van Gogh’s Sisters

The Van Gogh Sisters

Thanks to Suzanne’s Mom’s Blog, I recently learned of an intriguing book that takes a look at Vincent van Gogh’s life through the eyes of his 3 sisters. The Van Gogh Sisters, by Willem-Jan Verlinden, was originally published in Dutch in 2016 but has just been translated to English by Yvette Rosenberg and Brendan Monaghan.

The book contains numerous letters between Vincent, his sisters, and other members of the van Gogh family. You can find a thorough review from Smithsonian Magazine here.

Speak Like a French Woman

If you’re a student of French, and you’d like to speak more like the French do, you might be interested in subscribing to the YouTube channel Comme Une Française. Its host, Géraldine Lepère, initially started posting videos to help ex-pats living in France survive in the shops and restaurants of Paris. Many of her lessons are for beginners but her enthusiasm and sincere desire to help English speakers avoid embarrassing mistakes has earned her more than 240,000 followers.

She’s recently been posting videos featuring rapidly-uttered phrases of everyday French. In the episode below, she breaks down fast-spoken French from one of my favorite French Netflix series, Dix Pour Cent or Call My Agent.

150th Anniversary of La Commune de Paris

For 72 days in the spring of 1871, a revolutionary socialist government, known as La Commune, controlled the city of Paris. This year, France has been celebrating the 150th anniversary of this remarkable working-class insurrection which purportedly influenced the ideas of the German philosophers Karl Marx and Frederich Engels.

The French Army eventually overthrew the rebels during La Semaine Sanglante. Between 6,000 and 7,000 Communards were either killed during the skirmish or later executed. Many of the captured, were sent to forced labor camps, exiled to a remote French colony in New Caledonia, or placed in solitary confinement for a year.

The Comité d’Histoire de la Ville de Paris has organized an online exposition that provides a scrolling timetable of events over the 72 days. It’s very well done if you’re looking for an engaging overview of what took place. If you don’t read French, you’re somewhat out of luck because they didn’t produce a version in English. However, the site is still worth a peek for the many historical paintings and other images that are included.

The Arrest of Louise Michel
The Arrest of Louise Michel, 1871 by Jules Girardet

French Agriculture in Need of Young Blood

France is currently the biggest agricultural producer in Europe but the number of farmers continues to drop by 1.5-2% per year. A third of those practicing farming are older than 55 and half plan to retire within the next 5 years. At the same time, young people seeking a career in agriculture are rare. The initial investment required to get into farming is substantial. The work is hard, days are long, vacations are few and far between, and profits lie in a narrow margin that can be wiped out by the increasingly erratic weather patterns of global warming.

Replenishing the agricultural workforce is crucial for the future of the industry and the economy of France. Agriculture schools are working diligently to recruit young people and modernize their instruction. However, the challenges facing certain sectors seem insurmountable. Over the next 10 years, only 5% of milk producers will be replaced.

As with other parts of the world, agricultural production continues to improve in France. In 1980, the average French farmer fed 15 people. Today, a farmer feeds 60. At the same time, 60,000 hectares (roughly 150,000 acres) of farmland are disappearing each year. It’s a troubling problem that will be interesting to follow. Certainly, big changes lie ahead for this sector of France’s economy.

Field of Rapeseed
Field of rapeseed used in canola oil. Burgundy, France, Wikimedia Commons.

Gag of the Month

Cartoon by André-Philippe Côté
“We had it all wrong! It appears that a dictatorship is a nation that forces its citizens to wear a surgical mask!” By André-Philippe Côté
Grâce à Bouzou

Other resources

  • Le Monde, Plantu : un regard sur « Le Monde »
  • France 24, Agriculture de demain : comment former la relève?

Special thanks to my friend and French conversation coach, Mijo Pappas, for tipping me off to the Plantu story.

Potpourri for March 2021

Potpourri for May 2021

About Carol A. Seidl

Serial software entrepreneur, writer, French to English translator, mother, and lover of: books, travel, history, cultures, art, cooking, fitness, nature.

15 Comments

  1. I’d love to make a comment but I live in a dictatorship…

  2. Thanks for the link to Suzanne’s Mom’s blog, Carol!

  3. An interesting collection!! 🙂

  4. Hi, if you haven’t seen this movie yet, here is a link to see the awesome “La Commune de Paris” by Peter Watkins, in french with english subtitles : https://fr.crimethinc.com/2021/03/28/peter-watkins-the-paris-commune-1871-revisiting-a-revolutionary-film-on-the-150-year-anniversary-of-the-paris-commune
    It lasts more than 5 hours (!) But it’s worth it!
    Have a nice May 1st! 😉

  5. That “economy lesson” cartoon is great. As for the agricultural manpower shortage, didn’t there used to be a song or something — “How ya gonna keep ’em down on the farm, after they’ve seen Paree?” Either the government will need to increase farm subsidies to raise the farmers’ income so there’s a greater incentive to go into that line of work, or else agriculture will end up being completely mechanized so as to get by with a minimum of people. Maybe a mix of both. But they do need to preserve agriculture. If the vineyards can’t keep going, the wine fraudsters will have nothing to make fakes of.

    • The economy lesson is my favorite too! But I also appreciate the courage Plantu displayed in “I must not draw Muhammad.” He truly has so many good cartoons that it’s hard to imagine how he sustained that level of poignant creativity for so long.

      Don’t know the song but it gets to the heart of matters. I think you’re right that the government will need to make further investments. Even vineyard owners are suffering as excellent wines are being produced all over the world.

  6. A delightful potpourri, Carol. I was quite taken by the French teacher—also interested because “Call My Agent” was just recommended. I’d love to think the old neurons were up to the task of studying with her but…

    The story of wine fraud suggests the breadth and depth of human larceny: it can stoop to a $15 bottle—c’est incredible! Loved the cartoon!

    • Definitely check out Call My Agent. It was just what I needed during the pandemic. Smart but not depressing. I’ve come to love (and strongly dislike) many of the characters. The acting is excellent, as is the writing.

      You might be surprised at what older neurons are capable of. When you decide you want to do something, they’re much more obedient about putting in the time required to achieve it than the younger and more supple ones. 🙂

      • It’s the speed, Carol—and the “ne” issue. Scared me away!

        • Ha! Well that clip is over the top! Most people don’t speak that fast. It’s a bit like giving a French person a scene from The Wire to unravel, if you know what I mean. By the way, I love that character.

          The “ne” thing is really annoying. After being taught I needed it and drilling it into my head, I learned that no one uses it for speaking. It’s a habit now that I haven’t broken myself of. So, you’ve narrowed right in on a frustrating part of learning French.

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