Fiona Alderman’s blog: One Evening in Salignac

olympe de gouge

Image: (Alexander Kucharsky, CC BY-SA 4.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons)

A Soiree at Le Couvent

I was invited recently to a soiree at Le Couvent just up the hill from the house. I swear this hill gets steeper every day, but that is another story. It was a theatre piece about the French play right, Olympe de Gouges. Not knowing who this was, I thought it a good chance to further my knowledge of French culture.

A feminist well before her time, she defended the rights of women both politically and in the home. Growing up in a relatively bourgeois family in the Quercy region, in Montauban, and married unwillingly at 17, she began her writing based on her complete adversion to marriage. She called it “the tomb of trust and love”. She did have a son, Pierre, but lost her husband in a tragic river accident. She never remarried.

Instead she and her son moved to Paris, where life took on another role for her. She began socializing in fashionable and artistic circles, this was pre Revolution France, and could even sign her name as “citoyenne” the feminine version of citoyen/citizen.

By 1788, she had published her work called “Reflexions sur les homes negres” A bold statement of compassion for the slaves in French colonies. She then came to public attention with her play at the famous theatre establishment Comedie Francaise, “L’Esclavage Des Noirs” but was not well received. Threatened and verbally attacked by people that still believed that woman’s place was at home.

The French Revolution gave her the opportunity to air her views on Women’s Rights, as this equality had not been extended to women. She was part of a group called the Society of the Friends of Truth, whose aim was to defend equal rights both legally and politically.

She proposed to assist Malshebres, the French statesman and minister, who was also in defense of King Louis XV1, and his wife Queen Marie Antoinette, but Olympe was finally rejected because she was a woman.

She was arrested in July 1793 for having defaced a federal poster for her own political Liberal views with the Girondin party. Tried and found guilty on 2nd November, and executed by guillotine the next day.

Her famous statement “A woman has the right to mount the scaffold. She must equally possess the right to mount the speaker’s platform.” Unfortunately true for her.

The evening at Le Couvent was long and sometimes difficult to understand. Well acted however, by a local theatre group and a rich text written by their male Director. It was full of energy, played by three women depicting their different circumstances pre Revolution. I stumbled down the hill, going home, which was vastly easier than before.

Goodbye Robbie Coltrane

Robbie Coltrane

(Robbie Coltrane – photo by Barry Paton, 1986)

Sad to learn of his death. I remember him too as a former neighbour in Glasgow, when we lived in the West End. Barry took this photo, with his “beloved” ie the magnificent car in 1986. He was very funny, with all the different accents he could do.

It made me reflect on Scottish humour versus French. A vast subject that I really can’t do justice to, as it needs further research!

What is clear it is very different. Maybe it’s because I come from Glasgow which has its own sense of humour. How can you explain or try to translate Billy Connolly? I tried once with a French friend but it wasn’t possible. She gave up, plus the speed of course.It is so fast.

There are stand up comedians in France, who do sketches and monologues. Like Muriel Robin, a writer and actress, who I do understand, but it takes time with the nuance of the language. Not for beginners. For instance, she does a whole sketch putting a welcome message on the answer phone . All the intricacies and mistakes are very cleverly done. Raymond Devos is another French favourite, using songs and a play on words. Gad Elmaleh is also popular, and he is one whose humour took him to Hollywood and working in English too in films.

The French know of British humour with Benny Hill, Mr Bean and Monty Python. Strange but true.

It is all about timing, I find, building up slowly, then quickly delivering the punch line. I watched Dave Allen, the Irish comedian yesterday. He told a story, chilling, dark lights, about Halloween and waiting…just waiting… Right to the end, but nothing! The final person we didn’t get to know. Clever and full of suspense and funny. Simple humour, observations about daily life can be amusing, and how it is told with a deadpan face. Look at Rikki Fulton, the master.The Reverend Jolly was a masterpiece which still stands the time.
French humour is still different, not always obvious either. Will get back to you next time!

A Bench or not?


That is the question. I went into the local Mairie a few weeks ago to ask what was happening. I was told it was noted ie on the list of several works in the pipeline, for the cemetery. Another member of staff told me it wasn’t just a question of going to buy one, or as he had told me last month, renovate an old one. Non et non.I must wait.

In the meantime, I had actually found one in the local Brocante. A marvellous treasure trove of antiques and interesting bric a brac.It didn’t cost much either, and they were willng to repaint it too, as vibrant yellow might not be quite the thing for a rural French cemetery.

I put this in my very best French to the minions at the Mairie. This confused them.

Thought it better just to wait and see… Things don’t get done quickly here.
As Barry used to say about the North of Scotland “No worry, no hurry in the country”. Same here.

October, 2022.  Fifi’s stories from rural France.

Fiona Alderman: Christmas is Coming
Fiona Alderman: Final Farewells

This section: Fiona Alderman blogging from The Salignac Foundation France

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Avatar of PatByrne Publisher of Pat's Guide to Glasgow West End; the community guide to the West End of Glasgow. Fiction and non-fiction writer.

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