Fun and informative Francophone news items that came across my screen in January.
France Heads the European Union
Until this month, I didn’t realize that the presidency of the Council of the European Union rotates between its various member states, changing every 6 months. Starting January 1 and ending June 30, 2022, France is fulfilling this role, which is described as follows.
“The Presidency of the Council organizes meetings, brokers compromises, submits conclusions and ensures the coherency and continuity of the decision-making process.”
It’s hard to imagine that coherency and continuity are assured when the job switches countries every 6 months, but there you have it. What do France’s new responsibilities mean to the French people? Not a great deal. In a poll from November, just under half of those surveyed even knew that France would soon be heading the EU.
In honor of the occasion, however, many of Paris’ landmarks were shrouded in the color of the European Union flag during the first week of January, producing spectacular nighttime displays.
French Wordle, LeMot
You may have noticed more and more people posting a grid of gray, green, and yellow squares on social media. A new word puzzle, called Wordle, went viral in January. The object of the game is to guess a hidden five-letter word within 6 tries.
It didn’t take long until two different French versions of the game, both called LeMot, came online. Both Wordle and LeMot limit users to playing 1 game per day. Thank goodness because I’m hooked.
Links to each game’s website:
The Price of Bread
The French supermarket chain, Leclerc, announced earlier this month that it was reducing the price of its baguettes to 29 centimes (approx 32 cents) for at least 4 months. This is well below the average price of 90 centimes, which already seems like a great deal compared to United States baguette prices. The decision provoked an outcry from players in the wheat supply chain as well as from bakeries across France.
France has a long history of controlling the price of bread. In 1268, recognizing that bread was an essential food upon which all French citizens relied, King Louis IX introduced laws to control the quality and price of this important staple. Such legislation fluctuated over the centuries but French rulers continued to ensure that bread prices remained low until 1978, when French President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing lifted controls and allowed bread providers to set their own prices.
Leclerc’s extra-low pricing is far below what independent French boulangeries can afford to charge. Wheat prices were already high after a bad harvest in the fall. In an interview with Agence France-Press, Jean-Francois Loiseau, the head of the National Association of French Milling said, “We’re trying to keep up jobs and quality, there’s a price for that… We have to pay people properly, those who plant, harvest, who gather the grain and make flour, those who make the bread. What Leclerc is doing is shameful.”
The controversy is raising a question never before posed in French history. Might it be necessary to impose a minimum price on the baguette which after all, serves as an iconic emblem of France?
French Films Galore
Every year at this time, I start looking for Francophone films appearing on shortlists for the Academy Awards. Several French-language short films have popped up. It’s a bit tedious, but if you check Google on a regular basis, you’re likely to find them online, if only for a few weeks. This week, I watched three potential Oscar contenders.
- Mauvaises Herbes, a French-Canadian animated short by Claude Coutier
- Souvenir Souvenir, a French animated short by Bastien Dubois
- T’es Mort Helène, a short feature film by Belgian director Michiel Blanchart
The Sundance Film festival is currently underway and this year, you can buy a variety of packages or individual tickets to screen films online. There are several with ties to France. I recently watched Happening, directed by Audrey Diwan. Not for the faint of heart, this film tells the story of a bright college student, Annie, who becomes pregnant. The year is 1963. Abortion is illegal in France but Annie is determined to terminate her pregnancy. Based on the novel l’Événement, by Annie Ernaux.
Finally, beginning on January 14 and ending on February 14, is My French Film Festival. This online festival shines a spotlight on new generation French-language films and allows French cinema lovers from around the globe to access films they would normally have little opportunity to watch. This year there are 9 feature films and 15 shorts to choose from. Amazon Prime provides access to all or you can stream them from the Festival’s website. All of the short films are free. So far, I’ve only watched the lighthearted short Erratum, about an archeology professor that unearths a shocking inscription dating from Roman times.
Not Your Father’s Post Office
January 10th marked the grand opening of a revitalized downtown post office in the heart of Paris. The majestic Poste du Louvre originally opened its doors in 1888. An iconic architectural landmark, the building offered 24-hour services, allowing Parisians to send letters, packages, and money wires any time of day or night until it closed for remodeling in 2016.
The beautifully remodeled edifice still houses the post office as well as a 5-star hotel, restaurants, a plant-filled terrace, a rooftop lounge bar, a shopping mall, a logistics hub in the basement, a police station, and a daycare center. Here’s a short preview.
My French Gallery: The Beauty of Winter
Temperatures in Michigan have fallen sharply in recent weeks. The ground is covered with snow but the days have mostly been sunny, reminding me of winter’s beauty. Below are some winter scenes by famous French painters.
- Politico, What the French think of the EU presidency, in charts
- France Culture, Prix de la baguette : quand le cours du pain était fixé par l’Etat
- Short of the Week, OSCARS 2022: THE SHORT FILMS BATTLING FOR AN ACADEMY AWARD
- Unifrance, A strong presence for French short films in the 94th Oscars shortlist!
- Villa Albertine, Sundance 2022 goes virtual – Discover its French Films’ Lineup!
- SortirAParis, THE POSTE DU LOUVRE OPENS
Just watched Erratum. I’ll refrain from extensive commentary so as not to create spoilers for other readers who decide to watch it, but that scenario would certainly drive the researcher nuts. Some things really are impossible.
La Poste du Louvre is a magnificent building. Trust the French to come up with a post office with restaurants in it.
Normally, low prices on good bread would be something to welcome, but I hope Leclerc isn’t trying to Amazon the smaller competition out of existence.
I really like what they did with La Poste du Louvre. There is a link to an article from SortirAParis at the end of my post that features a slideshow of several interior shots that are stunning and unfortunately absent from the video that I included. The 5-star hotel is crazy chic and crazy cher but maybe I can afford a cocktail at the rooftop bar on a future visit.
I think the going rate of .90 centimes for an entire baguette is already a great deal. My guess is that this is already a loss-leader price but bakeries more or less adhere to it because of tradition and national pride. I’m hoping Leclerc’s baguettes go belly up.
Very interesting, as usual. Merci ! Reste bien au chaud
Merci. À toi aussi.
What an interesting and informative Potpourri. Bravo!
Thanks June. Glad you enjoyed it.
Seems to me there was a minimum price for baguette a while back. Leclerc has a history of undercutting prices so that “traditonal” retailers go out of business. No way a boulanger can compete on 29 centimes.
Nice selection of panitings. I like Pissaro. And Monet of course.
I love your Potpourri – very informative and interesting. Bravo!
I love your titles! My opinion on the Leclerc baguette : I consider myself privileged because I can afford my 1€ baguette from my favorite bread maker. I know that it’s not something everybody can afford, especially families. But, I would say that selling a low cost baguette that is not that good (and might be full of additives) is not helping people who don’t have purchasing power if it’s not a good quality good. And well, it’s certainly not help the french agriculture or french breadmakers… Thanks for your articles, I love reading them! Take care.
Good to hear from you Lune. I’ll bet your 1 € baguette is far better than the cheapest baguette here In the US which are around $2. A decent baguette is often twice that. It is disturbing to see the big box stores driving so many smaller operations out of business and the French boulangerie is iconic. It would be terrible if they only served the wealthier half of the French population. A+
Oh, my, wow! Those snow paintings!