The French really don’t “do” Halloween at all. The vast commercialism in the USA doesn't happen here . This year for the first time I saw some glimmers of it in our small village. I received a little note through the door, politely asking would it be okay to knock on our door at 18h ie 6pm as the children were collecting sweets. I should let them know by leaving a lit candle or some other sign to show they might call. I hurriedly bought some bonbons and really didn’t think anything about it, until that evening when I heard shouts and singing voices coming down the street. A few of my neighbours, same as me, had left a pretty candle burning on the doorstep. Soon a wave of small children , plus huge adults , came swarming towards the door! I expected them to sing a song or something , but no, this doesn’t seem to be a part of it, just gathering as many fistfuls of sweets as they could. It was all very funny and lighthearted.They were all dressed up though and had painted white faces from what I could make out, and the whole event only took about five minutes!
The next day is La Toussaint, which is a more important date in the French calendar. The first of November or All Saint’s day is where the French remember their loved ones, by putting vast chrysanthemum plants on the tombs. They are never given in any other circumstance either, because they are only associated with the dead.
I went along to the local cemetery to pay my respects as there are several people I knew here who died over the last years. French cemeteries are a little different to ours, more ornate and often in little canopied structures that resemble greenhouses.
I wandered around and I thought of my own parents lying in a little cemetery many miles away in Eaglesham near Glasgow and I thought of them and wished for peace in the world.
This was the nickname given to the French novelist Françoise Sagan, whose first book “Bonjour Tristesse” was written when she was only 18years old.
Sagan was a highly spirited girl, getting into trouble at school, where she was expelled for hanging a bust of Moliere with string, and from another convent where she was dismissed for having a lack of deep spirituality. She would have this unique take on the world throughout her life, defying anyone to stop her from doing what she wanted.
Her first book , which I read when I was about 17, and which I have since reread many times and in French, is a masterpiece of imagination for someone so young. It describes a young girl , one hot summer holiday, having her first sexual experience and also her playboy father’s romance with an older woman , which involves the two intertwined with feelings of jealousy and rivalry. It caused such a scandal at that time and propelled the young Sagan into a world of publishers and media attention. She went on to write twenty novels , including “La Chamade”,” Aimez vous Brahms” ,“Scars on the Soul” some of which were filmed . They all have dark undertones quite austere in writing but with fascinating characterisations.
She loved the USA and there her excesses were put to a test, her love of fast cars, gambling and alcohol, resulted in a serious car crash leaving her in a coma for many months. Her subsequent recovery, lead her to use pain relief, which would reach addiction levels.Her fame grew as she was held on drug charges in Monte Carlo, where her gambling was notorious. She loved a good time and she was surrounded by people who fueled her desire to go past the limits.
After playing at a casino late one night, she won on the number 8 the huge sum of 8 million old francs. The next morning at 8am on the 8th of August she bought an old manor house near Honfleur which she live in until the end of her life.
She married twice and had a son by her first marriag and also had several long lasting lesbian relationships.
After a prolific career as a novelist , plus writing 9 plays,3 volumes of short stories and 2 biographical collections of nonfiction she ended her life penniless and ill. She died in 2004 and is buried in her birthplace of Cajarc in the Lot region. Her only son, Denis Westhoff, continues the legacy, creating the Association Sagan that awards a yearly literary prize, Prix Francoise Sagan, to encourage new writers. He received the rights to her books, after her death, and would ensure that they would be reprinted in France and abroad. He also wrote her biography “Sagan et fils” as a fond memoir of his beloved mother.
This is the anniversary of the terrorist attack which killed 90 people and injured more than 200 at the Bataclan theatre in Paris. Sting played a sell out concert on the eve of the 13th November with all proceeds going to charities and the victims' families.
A heart breaking time for all , one year on. France remembered with a commemorative plaque placed outisde the theatre by the President of the Republic and the mayor of Paris
The venue itself is historic, dating back to 1864, and had an original roof in a Chinese pagoda style. The name “bataclan” is a pun on the phrase “tout le bataclan “ meaning, and all that jazz. It was originally a music hall theatre with vaudeville acts, and where the young Edith Piaf had her first success.
After 1926 , it was sold and became a cinema , then a fire demolished most of it , but it rose from the ashes to become a concert hall again and a famous rock music venue. From the 70’s, everyone would play there from The Police, Velvet Underground, Genesis , Jane Birkin and Prince!
The concert brought people together again, flowers and candles were placed outside the next day and life must go on. Never forgotten.
One last word from the wonderful poet Leonard Cohen, who died recently, Hallelujah.
Fifi’s story from rural France. November 2016. www.salignacfoundation.com