Thursday, 24 June 2010


Jacques Tati has a very special place in my heart. When I was little, my mum took me to see Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot at the Filmhouse in Edinburgh, and it is my first ever memory of laughing so hard that I actually cried.

Tati is a French film director who was born in 1907 and died in 1982. His father was Franco – Russian and his mother was Dutch – Italian. His film Jour de Fête was one of the first full length colour films ever made, although it initially came out in black and white because of costs. (Thank you, Wikipedia). Thanks to the Edinburgh Filmhouse, I’ve seen most of his major films and Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot is definitely the funniest, being almost pure slapstick, while the others are more gentle comedies.

L’Illusioniste is based on an screenplay of Tati’s that was left unfinished when he died. The film has been turned into an animation by Sylvain Chomet, the director of Les Triplets de Belleville (Belleville Rendez-Vous in English), and while the slapstick comedy is less funny than it would be if it had been acted by the man himself, the animation is very faithful to Tati’s style. I was particularly delighted to find out that most of the film takes place in Scotland and takes the mickey out of Teuchters and Edinburghers alike (so it will no doubt be a resounding success at the Filmhouse…) Without giving away too much, I can say that it is funny, nostalgic and sad and everybody should go and see it, because films this good don’t come out very often. Enjoy!

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Music At My Feet

June is an amazing month in France. In theory at least, the sun comes out and suddenly every mairie and association is organizing outdoor events, generally for free, all over the place.

Parc Floral

Last weekend, my friend was visiting Paris and she and her friends invited me to a jazz concert at the Parc Floral in the Bois de Vincennes. Vincennes is one of these little Parisian suburban towns with a park and a château and dinky little versions of expensive Parisian shops on its high street. The castle is impressive in its vastness and appeared to be a prime spot for wedding pictures, as it was dotted with posing couples and small girls in big dresses.

You have to pay to get into the Parc Floral but the concert was free. It was a little bit cold and wet for an outdoor concert, so we kept having to move between the seats that were well and truly under the cover of the bandstand and the ones on the outside that occasionally caught a glimpse of sunshine between the thundery showers. The jazz was good, though.

On Sunday, I met up with the same friend and her friend, this time for a Chopin concert in the Jardin du Luxembourg. Unfortunately, I wasn’t listening to the instructions properly and spent the first half in the Tuileries instead, but, this being a French concert, all I really missed was the pompous speeches at the beginning. 2010 is the 200th anniversary of Chopin’s birth and there is a whole series of these concerts in the gardens to celebrate.

Sunset in Paris

Finally, on Monday night, it was the famous Fête de la Musique, always held on the first day of summer, where as well as organized events, musicians of all kinds descend on to the streets to perform for anybody who wants to listen and many people who don’t. I went to see the wonderful Kila (trad music gone modern) at the Irish Cultural Institute, then wandered the streets with my friends for a while listening to bands of varying quality performing covers of old rock songs of varying quality. I decided to be good and headed back to suburbia for an early night, only to discover that the streets of my hometown had been taken over by lycée bands and their adolescent groupies and that several of them were trying to perform hard rock on a far to efficient sound system outside my bedroom window. The moral of the story? Never come home from Paris early, as at least the culture there is genuine and the participants have left high school.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Aperitivo Italiano a Parigi

On Friday night, my Italian friends and I went for aperitivo Italian style at Miroglio Caffè on the rue St Martin. The prices were steeper than even the priciest bar I ever went to in Milan, and the plates were smaller, but the drinks, the buffet and the staff were all authentic enough. If, like me, you ever feel the need for a bit of Italian culture and a spritz Aperol in between visits to the boot, this could be a good way to satisfy it.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Do You Hear the People Sing?

A long time ago, when I was a very young girl (well, not that young, and probably old enough to know better), I thought musicals were great. All of them. While other girls my age were lusting over Take That, me and some of my friends (who shall remain nameless to protect their pride) were singing along to Michael Ball and knew all the harmonies in The Sound of Music.

I have grown wiser since then. I've realised that Michael Ball is cheesy, that the lyrics of Miss Saigon don't scan and that making millions by turning the story of Jesus Christ into a piece of light entertainment is inappropriate to say the least. But I haven't abandoned my love of musicals completely. I'm just more selective about what I like.

One of the musicals that I not only still like but also appreciate as a work of art is Les Misérables, so when my friend and I saw that it was coming to the Théâtre de Châtelet, we decided to buy tickets straight away. The French are not that into musicals (the only one that has enjoyed long-running success here is, bizarrely, The Lion King) and although the original version of Les Misérables was in French, it was only when Cameron Mackintosh's English language production opened in London that it became a huge success. The version playing at Châtelet is in English, with French subtitles, although a French translation of the English version also exists.

The production is amazing. Somehow, the show's creators have managed to distill Victor Hugo's 5 volume novel into a couple of hours of theatre and still convey both the essentials of the story and the complexity of the characters. The scenery and use of special effects is also innovative without being too obviously technical for the story.

As an added bonus, if you go out to the theatre terrace during the interval of the evening performance, you can drink a glass of champagne while watching the sunset over Notre Dame, the Théâtre des Halles and the Tour Saint Jacques. Definitely an experience not to be missed!

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Travels in the Land of Sea, Sand and Cider

By a curious coincidence, or perhaps bad planning, or rather, good planning, I've spent the last two weekends on the Normandy coast.

The first weekend I went to Trouville and Deauville, which are two separate towns so close that they actually share a train station. Deauville is where swanky Parisians go for their weekends at the seaside and is rather posh. Trouville, on the other side of the river, is not quite so posh. Naturally, I stayed in Trouville, at the excellent campsite where, if you get a good spot, you can unzip your tent door in the morning and get a fabulous view over the sea before scrambling down to the beach for an early morning swim. Having bought my tent for 25 euros in Decathlon the weekend before, and given that my last recent purchases from said shop include the bike with the dodgy brakes and an inflatable mattress that automatically deflated itself in the course of the night, I was rather relieved to wake up each morning and find that the tent was still standing. Despite many early expereinces swimming in the North sea and off the west coast of Scotland, I wasn't actually brave enough to dive into the water first thing in the morning, but we did manage a swim on Sunday afternoon and it actually felt quite warm! We spent most of the rest of the weekend wandering on the beach, barbecueing, picnicking and drinking cider, which in Normandy is considered to be a soft drink.

The next weekend, I found myself admiring the cliffs at Etretat, which are the French version of the white cliffs of Dover. The rock is so vulnerable to the relentless attack of the sea that all along the coast there are natural arches and vertiginous precipices. Unfortunately, I left the memory card for my camera in the computer that weekend, so you'll either have to imagine it or Google it.

I like Normandy a lot. It's green and pretty and looks like the countryside, and it has the kind of vast, sandy beaches that I remember from my childhood, but a few degrees warmer. I'm not sure it would be healthy for me to stay there for long though – along with the cider, the local specialities are cream, cheese and calvados, and I enjoyed them all!