Belfast flânerie

The Christmas continental market is in Belfast again and it's always great to welcome the French stall holders back to our city... especially if they offer mouth-watering pastries.  I resisted temptation until the moment I spotted the stall of Le Petit Gascon with its sign drawing attention to an array of sliced custard tarts.

As I explained in une part de flan, a post on this site from exactly 4 years ago, this pastry has a special place in my heart.  And so it wasn't long before I was holding a slice having explained to the server, c'est pour manger maintenant! 

Sensing my appreciation a trader from another stall called over, Venez ici, monsieur! while pointing at some freshly made chichis (churros). I shouted that I'd be back later but really, for me at least, there's no comparison between these two pastries and I'm sure that once I get back it'll have to be another slice of flan.

Paris, Apollinaire and Devoir de mémoire

Less than a week ago, last Wednesday, our cercle français met to reflect on the First World War battle of Verdun.  As we approach the one hundred year anniversary of the battle, we were exploring the theme of devoir de mémoire, the duty to remember.  The battle lasted 300 days and accounted for three quarters of a million casualties, with fatalities of 162,400 on the French side and 143,000 on the German.  A devastating death toll.

On Friday, 13 November, just over 300 days since the 7 January attacks on the offices of Charlie Hebdo and the Kosher supermarket, Paris was attacked again, in several places at once. 129, mostly young people, were killed.

The government's response has been forceful.  Président François Hollande says that France is at war.

The notion of being at war reminded me of our Verdun reflections.  These had included a short segment on Guillaume Apollinaire, a poet who served on the front line of the Western Front.  At the onset of war, Apollinaire composed these lines for his poem, La Petite Auto:

                      Nous dîmes adieu à toute une époque
                      Des géants furieux se dressaient sur l'Europe
                      Les aigles quittaient leur aire attendant le soleil
                      Les poissons voraces montaient des abîmes
                      Les peuples accouraient pour se connâitre à fond
                      Les morts tremblaient de peur dans leurs sombres demeures

                            We said a final goodbye to a whole era
                            Furious giants were standing over Europe
                            Eagles left their eyrie, waiting for the sun
                            Ravenous fish rose from the depths
                            Nations flocked together to know each other deep down
                            The dead trembled with fear in their dark dwelling places

Apollinaire was also a casualty and was invalided out of the army in 1916 with a shrapnel wound to the head. He died in the influenza epidemic of 1918, two days before the signing of the Armistice.

His words above, 100 years later strike me as having a resonance with today.

Where do we go from here?  Will it always be like this? Is the future changed utterly?

Discussing the legacy of Verdun, our small group took comfort at the reconciliation, even after the devastation of two world wars, that has taken place between France and Germany. The leaders of the two countries will stand together in May 2016 to remember those who died 100 years ago in the battle of Verdun.

I expect, as they reflect on lessons learned, that their thoughts will also include those who died in Paris, Beirut, Syria, Libya and other war-torn countries that make up our fractured world.

We too must reflect.  It is our devoir de mémoire.

Mémoires de la France: Jim Holland

What a lovely honour. Last night at the second reunion of the Cercle français de Belfast 's caféfrancophilo, Jim Holland dedicated his mémoires de la France piece to yours truly.
The evening was a great success and sets the standard and tone for subsequent meetings of the group. We numbered 24 and it was great to hear the Dark Horse Coffee House resonating with stories of Les objets qui vous tiennent à cœur. Allison Neill-Rabaux was our animatrice for the evening and in addition to displaying her impeccable mastery of French she did a fantastic job, keeping us on track and on time. Brilliant.

CfB 2015 Programme

The new CfB programme is out and events this year will appeal to a variety of tastes.  Click over to the programme at this link and check it out for yourself.
Two Cafefrancophilo evenings have been included in the main programme and are intended for members to share their thoughts, ideas and opinions in French.
The cercle is trying very hard to recruit new members this year and the tri-fold programme has been placed in several places around Belfast.
The venue is once again the Dark Horse Coffee House in the Cathedral Quarter; the cercle has been meeting there for four years now and it is popular with many participants who remark that has the look and feel of a grand Parisian cafe.
The committee are also on the look out for new speakers and events and there is space on the leaflet for suggestions.
If you haven't been to any of the sessions, why not add some or all of the events to your diary and come along.
See you there!

Back to La Maison

A lovely lunch back at La Maison in Dublin.  Wrote about a previous experience here and this visit was just as good. Whatever way you look at it, La Maison is worth a visit and we'll be back again soon.

On the trail of Frederic Dard with San-Antonio

This space is reserved for an upcoming post on San-Antonio / Frederic Dard.

Arab Jazz: Re-reading in French

As I mentioned in a previous blog on Arab Jazz  here , the author Karim Miske did come to Belfast for the Belfast Book Festival.

There was a good crowd, around 40, and it was a relaxed and intimate evening at the Crescent Arts Centre.  Karim was interviewed by local broadcaster Malachi O'Doherty who felt that Arab Jazz was a wonderful book and it wasn't long before we had a couple of readings... again no spoilers... so if you haven't read it yet, go get yourself a copy.

For my part, I got myself a copy of the original in French and it's great to see what a great job was made of the translation.

All the same, I know how it ends!

Arab Jazz by Karim Miske

Arab Jazz

By Karim Miske

Translated by Sam Gordon

Maclehose Press, 2015

ISBN: 9780857053114

Arab Jazz is Karim Miske's first novel and it got me hooked from the word go.
I am a fan of detective fiction and although books are not supposed to be judged from their covers the artwork on this one was particularly a propos. The blend of religious symbolism on the cover cleverly suggests the interplay of cultures and that's just what we get.  The scene is set with a tethered hand, blood-stained orchids - here is a murder on a Parisian balcony.  For a little more information on the storyline check out the Maclehose Press page here.  No spoilers.

Notice that in my picture of the cover, I have added a pair of earphones.  That's because the novel is supplemented with a playlist.  Karim Miske is also a film maker and it's the first time I have come across such a technique in a book. I was a good bit through before I went in search of the tracks and they are all on iTunes.  Do you know what? It works!

Some of the items are not quite to my taste but they certainly convey the mood and I thought it was fun to have a soundtrack and book reading going hand in hand.  I used technology in another way.  The author conveys a real sense of place - especially so of the culturally mixed 19 arrondissement in Paris.  It was so very well constructed at times that I typed in the locations on a mapping app to see where exactly the characters were and where they were going.  That's the first time I've done that as well...

And what of the literary merit?
Well let me point you in the direction of the Guardian's book review here.  It says plenty and is worth a read.  The book has been well received and has picked up awards in its original French and also in English.  I was interested for example to follow up on the cover blurb stating that it had won the English Pen award.
What, I wondered, is English Pen?  A little detective work revealed an organisation that in its own words, "works to defend and promote freedom of expression and to remove barriers to literature."  You can learn more about English Pen here

The author has been doing a round of book discussions and it's great that Belfast is one of the venues.  The 2015 Belfast Book Festival takes place in June and Karim will be in conversation with Malachi O'Doherty at the Crescent Arts Centre on June 9.  I have the tickets ready and a question or two should the chance arise.  For event information click here.

I wonder if the organisers have thought about some music.  Arab Jazz maybe.

Wine and Cheese in Belfast

It was a first visit to OXCave in Oxford Street, Belfast and the good reports that we had heard turned out to be fully justified.  It was great.

As a cheese lover it was nice to be informed about each variety and to pick a selection from the large board:

Over on the counter, under a glass cloche, sat a huge tranche of Comte. The staff member said that the way it was served had proved to be very popular - it came grated with truffle honey.

Here's the tranche:

and the plate of the prepared cheese with truffle honey:

It certainly was an interesting combination, packed with flavour.

As a wine lover, with a strong preference for European, and as you would expect from the title of my blog, especially French wines it was equally good to have a knowledgeably offered choice.  This one was very nice indeed:

A nice first visit... We'll be back again soon.

La Cocotte - Alliance Francaise, Dublin

La Cocotte, Cafe and restaurant

Poulet basquaise with dauphinoise

Hachis parmentier, confit de canard

Paris bun

It probably has nothing to do with Paris, so how did it get its name?

I remember these from growing up in Belfast and Van Morrison mentions having one with lemonade in his song Cleaning Windows.

They seem to be associated with poorer times in Ireland and Scotland and maybe the reference to Paris was a way to make them sound a bit grander than the simple ingredients of flour, milk, sugar and oil would suggest.

They were made to look a bit fancy too, with a cherry on the centre mound and rock sugar sprinkled on top.

Any ideas on where the name comes from?

Château de Tracy

It was nice at a family gathering of the Tracey clan to be able to get so close to a namesake bottle of Pouilly Fumé. We all took turns at posing with the bottle with the eventual aim of posting to social media.

The back label provides some details on the wine and a stop at the Tracy sur Loire commune overlooking Sancerre will be a definite visit on our next trip to France.

But it was the depuis 1396 on the front that really got me looking. Have they really been making wines there for over 600 years?

Turns out they have and there's a Scottish connection too.

I browsed to the Château's website and was pleased to see that it includes a short film in French with English subtitles. Even if your name's not Tracey, if you are a wine lover you'll appreciate it.

There is the château in all its glory, the vineyards and cellars. And the occasional pop sounds of corks being eased from their bottles.

Daniel, an old French friend, when he hears the distinctive sound of a popping cork always asks, "Oui, qui m'appelle?" - who called my name?

No need to ask... It's on the bottle!

Paris sera toujours Paris

The Cercle français de Belfast's annual bal musette to celebrate La fête des rois started in sad and sombre mood.
This was January 7, the day that the offices of #CharlieHebdo in Paris were attacked resulting in several deaths.
Some at the réunion had not heard the news until their arrival, and we're anxious then to hear updates and share thoughts. What to say? What to do?

The answers to both these questions came from France's own musical tradition of the chanson. A recent purchase and played several times over the previous days was an album recommended by a French friend - Paris by Zaz. Her songs are upbeat interpretations of some of France's best-loved standards. One composed in 1939 and performed then at a much slower pace by Maurice Chevalier spoke of Parisian resilience at another dark time in the life of the City of Light. It was Paris sera toujours Paris.

One verse seemed entirely appropriate for the occasion and was shared with those present. It goes:


Paris sera toujours Paris !

La plus belle ville du monde

Malgré l'obscurité profonde

Son éclat ne peut être assombri

Paris sera toujours Paris

Plus on réduit son éclairage

Plus on voit briller son courage

Sa bonne humeur et son esprit

Paris sera toujours Paris.


Then our large gathering, like so many others in France at present, went quiet for a minute's silence.

Paris sera toujours Paris.


Wringing in the Seine

I was so interested in this photograph taken by my cousin, Greg McKernan on his recent trip to Paris.

It is a montage of wood recovered from the Seine and attached to the quayside wall.

It's a very creative idea. Wonder what "wood" the Lagan have in store?