This month on my list of tributes to famous French people, is Juliette Greco. Born in Paris to parents that were often absent because they were affiliated to the Resistance during the War and then captured by the Gestapo, the young Juliette spent much time with her grandparents.
After the War however, she was a part of the young political and philosophy groups, which included: Jean Paul Sartre, Simone De Beauvoir and artists and writers such as Picasso, Françoise Sagan and Jean Cocteau. A lively scene, where she was first known as La Muse de St. Germain, an area on the Left Bank in Paris. Her singing in the local bars became a sensation, because of her look , long dark hair and expressive face with huge kohl ringed eyes. Looking sultry and sensual, wearing a beautiful black dress cut down low at the back and singing “La Javanaise” by Serge Gainsbourg or “Jolie Môme” her fluttering hand movements became her signature. At this time, all the great American jazz players were in Paris, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davies. Juliette and Davies would have a long standing affair, which would sadly end but their mutual respect and friendship would endure for a long time. They nearly got married but he said and I quote “ I love you too much to make you unhappy “. She would go on to make films like “Bonjour Tristesse” by her friend Sagan and continue her career in America, becoming the protegé of producer Darryl Zanuck in Hollywood in the late 50’s and 60’s, but the bohemian days in Paris in some of the most famous cafés are memorable. I have been to Café Flore and Les Deux Magôts, watching the world go by and thinking of all the greats who have sat there. Sartre would call Greco “la voix des millions de poèmes “The voice of a million poems". She is still giving concerts and is married for the third time to the composer and pianist Gérard Jouannest. At 90 , even after several health problems, she is still going strong . Bravo!
PS She was reunited with both her sister and her mother after the liberation of the Ravensbruck concentration camp.
This is Mardi Gras in French, and celebrated at the end of February in France. Originally about reflections of heavy eating before fasting at Lent, it is a mixture of both Catholic and Pagan ceremonies, the fattening of the calf and feasting on it is both a religious and a spiritual one. Traditionally pancakes are made, using up all the leftovers, milk and butter, and enjoying it with a glass of cider or two.
There are huge street parties held in the big cities usually, and it is almost like Rio with all the spectacular processions and glamour. Nothing much here though, it is rural France. Celebrations are usually within families that get together for the occasion.
We had a French neighbour who came looking for butter recently as he was preparing some food for this festival. A keen cook, he was starting early to prepare beignets, a sweet dessert; a piece of dough, fried in oil and then covered in powdered sugar – they are very filling. A bit like doughnuts but square!
In the French language I find lots of small words that are quite inexplainable. When I pick up the telephone for instance, I usually say “allô “ then bonjour because the small allô apparently doesn’t mean much!
“Voila” is another one you hear after a sentence “eh voila” or there you are,and” "quoi", which means "Oh come on", as a sort of question. All very complicated.
I notice I have begun to use “hein” which is another funny one used at the end of a sentence like “tu n’as pas encore mangé, hein?” You haven’t eaten yet have you?"
I give English lessons here and the students I have had all struggle with the grammar, and usually it’s the small words they trip over. The French are deeply protective of their language and even have a French Academy “L’Académie Française” who are the official authority on it. Since the 17th century they are charged with keeping the language as pure as possible and now to discourage too many Anglicisms! For instnce, they have even re invented words like walkman to ” baladeur,” computer to “ordinateur” software “logiciel” and e mail “courriel”. They publish a dictionary dealing with the “proper” spelling and the grammar of the language.
There are forty members called “les immortels” as they are elected for life. They are issued with “l’habit vert “ the green suit, composed of a long black coat , threaded with a distinctive green leaf motif, a black hat, black trousers or skirt and the most amazing ceremonial sword, which was originally from Napoleon’s era.
It is a fascinating subject on its own that I may return to again!
That’s all for this month from Fifi’s story from Rural France. February 2017.
Dance and film courses in the SW Dordogne.
Fiona Alderman, February, 2017