One of the advantages of being a perpetual student is spring break. At my new school, we actually have two spring breaks: one this week and one at the end of April. Not a bad deal, huh? Unfortunately, because of Michel‘s schedule and our lack of disposable income at the moment, there are no exotic spring break excursions on our calendar this year. Two years ago this month, though, I took a weekend jaunt down to a beautiful spot in southwest France, which made me think, “If I can’t travel this time around, I can always remember … <sigh> …
It’s been ten days since my last post and, although I’m currently in the midst of end-of-semester exams, I feel compelled to share something with you. But what? It’s not as if I’m experiencing anything new and exciting lately; all that seems to occupy my mind these days is French grammar … French literature … French cinema … and French history. Just yesterday, in fact, I took the final exam for my seminar on the history of Paris from its origins to the French Revolution, which was — obviously — heavy on the Middle Ages. That brought to mind one of the weekend trips Michel and I have taken, one that’s a definite must for any medieval history buff living in Paris …
Tonight, I’ll be celebrating Christmas Eve with my French family and, even though I’ll see my parents on Skype, I’ll be missing them terribly. It’s not easy to be 4,000 miles away from them on a day like today, but that’s how it is for the moment. Last year, Michel and I spent Christmas in South Carolina, so this year it’s my turn to celebrate in France. Since I won’t be contemplating the meaning of the day in the soft glow of the lights of their Christmas tree, listening to Bing Crosby on my father’s old record player, and waiting with anticipation for some decadent dessert from my mom’s kitchen, I’d like to dedicate this song — one of my favorites — to my dear, sweet parents.
Mama and Daddy, I wish you a Merry Christmas with all my heart, and I want you to know that I’ll be home as soon as I can, even if it won’t be this Christmas Eve.
(the Carrie Underwood version)
(the Glee version, which — as lovely as it is — unfortunately lacks the final verse)
Back when I started this blog, I imagined that I’d have an entire series of posts about my travels around France. As often happens with projects like this, I ended up going off in other directions and I never really returned to the theme of sharing my favorites places in France with my readers. Well, oversight rectified …
This post isn’t to announce that I’m quitting Paris to go to school in Dublin. Don’t worry: I won’t be changing the name of the blog anytime soon. Instead, this is about the building right here in Paris where I currently have my French classes.
I’ve been studying French here for a while now, but this is the first semester my classes have been at the Centre Culturel Irlandais (“Irish Cultural Centre”). I was vaguely aware of the Centre’s existence before October, but I never really knew anything about the place.
“Irish Cultural Centre, huh? That’s different,” I thought. “Meh … a cultural center for Irish folks in Paris. They’ve probably got one of those for every cultural group around.”
It’s appropriate that I’m publishing today’s post from the United States, because September 6 is the birthday of one of the greatest heroes of the American Revolution: the Marquis de Lafayette. It’s also appropriate that I’m publishing from South Carolina, because Lafayette not only was a Franco-American hero, but he had a special connection to my home state.
You should know by now that I’m a big history nerd. I’ve been one all my life, and the older I get, the more convinced I am that somewhere along the way I got sidetracked from my destiny to become a history professor. The people in my life closest to me can attest to that fact. Just Sunday night, at dinner with Michel and our friends Leigh and Dwight in Columbia, I was heard correcting a Frenchman’s account of the role of the French Revolution in the birth of French laicity. What can I say? It’s a passion. So it came as no surprise when, during my first semester of French classes at the Sorbonne, I chose to do my 15-minute oral report on the life of the Marquis de Lafayette. It also came as no surprise that my 15-minute report ended up lasting half an hour! I’m pretty sure that most of my classmates’ eyes start to glaze over after about 20 minutes because … well, not everyone can be as into Franco-American history as I am. In any case, je parle américain‘s homage to the Marquis on this, the 255th anniversary of his birth, is based on that long oral report … but today, at least, I’ll be telling it in English and not broken French. So, hopefully your eyes won’t glaze over before you get to the bottom of the page.
Today is July 14, the French national holiday. Here in France, it’s officially called La Fête Nationale (“The National Celebration”) or more commonly, Le Quatorze Juillet (“The Fourteenth of July”). In English-speaking countries we call it Bastille Day. We think of it as the start of the French Revolution but, as usual with the beginnings of revolutions, it wasn’t as clean-cut as that …
The Back Story
Like the American Revolution that preceded it by 14 years, there was a long fuse leading to the powder keg of the French Revolution. Every historian will tell you that the French Revolution was the product of a number of factors: malnutrition and hunger from a series of bad harvests and the resulting spike in the price of bread, the country’s financial crisis arising from France’s loss in the Seven Years’ War and its foray into the American Revolution and, crucially, the unwillingness of France’s Ancien Régimeto address these problems effectively. King Louis XVI’s series of finance ministers had repeatedly attempted to address the crisis by calling for reform of France’s regressive tax structure that placed an inordinate burden on the poor to the benefit of the aristocracy and clergy. Not surprisingly, this progressive idea was adamantly opposed by the country’s parlements(regional bodies representing the aristocracy that exercised limited veto power on such matters). Continue reading The Bastille Might be the Symbol, but it Wasn’t the Beginning … or the End
Comme aujourd’hui nous sommes le quatre juillet, la fête de l’indépendance américaine, on devrait prendre un moment pour remercier la France pour l’aide que ce pays grand nous a offerte pendant notre révolution : On sait que vous ne l’avez fait que pour embêter les Anglais, mais merci quand même ! En toute sincérité, malgré des désaccords de temps en temps (quelques uns plus sérieux que d’autres, bien sûr), votre aide à cette époque à fait naître les liens d’amitié entre nos deux pays qui ont survécu plus de deux siècles. Qu’ils survivent à jamais !
Now that Les Caramels Fous are on vacation until the September reprise of Pas de Gondoles pour Denise, I can turn my attention to another musical, one with a slightly larger production budget: the latest adaptation of Les Misérables. There have already been at least 55 film and television adaptations of Victor Hugo’s novel of the same name, but this will be the very first film adaptation of the musical. The Christmas 2012 release will be director Tom Hooper’s first feature film since The King’s Speech, and expectations are accordingly high. His adaption of the word-renowned musical will bring to the screen such big names as Hugh Jackman (as Jean Valjean), Russell Crowe (as Inspector Javert), Anne Hathaway (as Fantine), and Helena Bonham-Carter (as Madame Thénardier), as well as such lesser known, though no less talented, stars as Amanda Seyfried (as Cosette), Eddie Redmayne (as Marius), and Samantha Barks (as Éponine). Perhaps surprisingly, even Sacha Baron Cohen (yes, that Sacha Baron Cohen … of Borat, Brüno, and Dictator fame) will make an appearance as Thénardier. Come to think of it, he might just be perfect for the role. All in all, that’s quite an impressive cast.
Les Mis was the first musical I ever saw, some 20 years ago, and watching the adaptation for the silver screen this Christmas will be the first time I will have seen it since. The musical version of Hugo’s masterpiece treats the same themes of broken dreams, unrequited love, redemption and social justice as does the novel, but the musical does it in a way that only musical theater can: Continue reading I Dreamed a Dream
The United States and France have a long relationship, and like all relationships, ours has had its ups and downs. Born during our Revolution, Franco-American friendship is, of course, the complex product of our two countries’ unique histories and the moments when our paths have crossed — moments when we have shared the same struggle and the same vision of the way the world should be.
Perhaps no moment in our shared history demonstrates the strength of our friendship and common cause more so than D-Day, June 6, 1944 — when 73,000 Americans, 61,715 British, and 21,400 Canadians landed on the coast of Normandy to begin the liberation of France from Nazi occupation. That operation, codenamed “Neptune,” was the largest amphibious assault in history, and formed the spearhead of “Operation Overlord,” the military operation to liberate northern France. The D-Day operation has been memorialized in our history books, in stories handed down from veterans to their children and their grandchildren and, of course, in our popular culture. It was not only an effort by American, British, and Canadian forces to liberate occupied France, however, but one closely coordinated with the French Resistance, whose support on the ground was indispensable to the operation’s success.