Zinc yankee...Pour ceux d'entre vous qui lisent l'anglais cet article du NY Times d'aujourd'hui plein d'humour et de bonnes et chaudes intentions à l'égard de notre hexagone, bien malmené par les zombies ici depuis plusieurs années....Cet article parle (et j’ai souligné cela en police verte) du livre de François Thomazeau: "The Authentic Bistros of Paris", son étude des zincs parisiens que bien sur beaucoup d’entre vous connaissent après la parution en France et utilisent surement comme référence pour vos libations perso et pour vos ‘comités de lectures’ et leurs moultes rafales...de mon côté (de l’Atlantique) je lève mon verre (Madiran) à ce bouquin en zieutant mon poster du Willi’s Wine Bar de la Rue des Petits Champs où j’ai passé de bons moments...
Montois de Détroit (aka Sylvestre ‘Steve’ Novak)
ps: je n’ai pas son e-mail mais je suis sur que certains d’entre-vous, après s’être copieusement goudronné la pente, jugeront utile de lui faire passer l’article...qu’il puise mettre son verre à jour avec les royalties yankee....
ps2: c’est pas tous les jours qu’on a un polardeux français (un lillois-marseillais en prime) dans le NYTimes..alors je m’éclate un peu...et gloire au TFC et au Stade Montois...et dites-lui que l’OM ça fait toujours dans la flanelle...
Drink up friends...
February 3, 2006
Books of The Times
Forget the Freedom Fries. All Is Forgiven, Chérie.
By WILLIAM GRIMES
WE came crawling back, of course. Is anyone out there skipping over the Burgundies on the wine list and, just to twist the knife a littler harder, opting for a tangy Finger Lakes Riesling instead? Does a trip to historic Valley Forge still seem like a better idea than a week in the Dordogne? I personally have returned to Camembert and Époisses after an unsuccessful attempt to love the carefully matured, individually wrapped cheeses from the caves of Kraft.
It was never going to work out, this break-up with France. The French-American love affair just keeps on going, a folie à deux that's lasted nearly three centuries. It's tempestuous, hot and heavy, beyond reason. Like all the great, impossible mismatches — F. Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda, Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee — it cannot end. The United States and France just can't keep their hands off each other. And no wonder. France is a high-maintenance double diva, demanding and capricious, but she's just too beautiful to resist, probably, as we now know, because she eats such tiny portions. Even Jacques Chirac cannot dampen her allure.
It would be nice to understand why. For that reason, there can never be too many books on France and the French. Over the years I have jumped at books like "The French" by Theodore Zeldin, "France Today" by John Ardagh and (a personal favorite) "Village in the Vaucluse" by Laurence Wylie. Anything at all, really, that will help me fathom why, no matter how much I plead, French waiters will not bring my coffee until after I have finished dessert.
A stack of new books come to the rescue. Alistair Horne, a prolific British historian, offers the big picture in "La Belle France," an insouciant, relatively brief tour of France from the Romans to the death of François Mitterrand. Mr. Horne, whose many books on France include "Seven Ages of Paris," seems to have written this one with one hand tied behind his back. It's urbane, breezy and highly entertaining, especially when the author arrives at a French ruler who appeals to him, like Henry IV.
Henry, the red-blooded Gascon who converted to Catholicism to secure the throne in 1589, kept a host of mistresses to whom he often confided his military secrets in torrid love letters. Once he got his hands on Paris, he embarked on a rebuilding and beatification program that left it with the glorious Place des Vosges in the Marais. All in all, Mr. Horne writes, "he was an immensely attractive figure, both to women and to men — despite it being said that he was economic with bathing and smelled strongly of goat! Tastes vary."
Mr. Horne moves quickly. Major writers and thinkers pass by in a blur. Descartes is hustled onto the stage, says "Cogito ergo sum," and disappears into the wings. Gaudy details fly by. The young Louis XIV had a tiny gold cannon hauled by a team of fleas? The government of Pierre Mendès-France collapsed in 1955 partly because it insisted on policies like weaning Normandy schoolchildren away from calvados and onto milk. Mitterrand, while a prisoner of war in 1940, delivered a lecture to his fellow soldiers on "Lady Chatterley's Lover." It's too bad that Mr. Horne, who drops any number of penetrating asides in his tour de France, does not take on Mr. Chirac. But he compensates with a shrewd reading of the impenetrable Mitterrand, making a convincing case that this Vichy functionary turned Resistance figure, turned Socialist, turned pragmatist, who once stated that "the role of France is to retain its rank," may be the key to understanding modern France.
Like so many French heads of state before him, Mitterrand labored mightily to put his personal stamp on Paris. His "grands travaux," notably the glass pyramid outside the Louvre, changed the face of a city that has been as tempting to dress as any fashion model for at least a thousand years. In "Paris: The Biography of a City," Colin Jones charts the changes and the ringlike growth of Paris from its inception as a puny settlement on the Île de la Cité to the present-day megalopolis of 20 arrondissements surrounded by an ever-widening suburban belt, recently seen in flames on nightly television.
Mr. Jones weaves his way through traffic with great skill, establishing a cultural and historical context for the physical changes in the Paris map, which reached a frenzy with the grand alterations of Baron Haussmann in the 1850's and 1860's. (Haussmann, the ultimate anti-preservationist, took one look at the city's ancient, convoluted streets and said, "Get these warts off my face.")
Mr. Jones also stops to highlight, in tinted, stand-alone text, important people, streets, buildings and sights. Thus we get a nostalgic essay on the vespasiennes, the public urinals of yesteryear, which gave way in the late 1930's to more hygienic chalets de nécessité for both sexes, and later to the unisex, coin-operated sanisettes of the Chirac era.
We also learn the following facts. Parisians had to do without croissants during World War I. The city did not get its first traffic light until 1923. Until the late 19th century, anywhere from half to three-quarters of "Parisians" had come to the city from elsewhere. Mr. Chirac, as mayor of Paris, created 134 gardens, increasing the city's green space by a third. The population of Paris proper peaked in 1921, at 2.9 million. Its present population of 2.1 million is dwarfed by the 10 million or more living in the surrounding area. Mr. Jones's book appeared before the recent rioting and car-torchings, but he ends with a prophetic remark: "Perhaps the greatest challenge to the city as it entered the 21st century, however, was its relationship with its suburbs." Apparently so.
In "France and the French," the British historian Rod Kedward traces, with a sensitive finger, the fissures and cracks running through French social and political life in the 20th century. Unlike Mr. Horne, he takes a rigorously analytical approach, with a poststructuralist insistence on regarding all ideological conflict as a war of competing narratives.
The whir of dialectical opposition, presented in arid prose, leaves the impression of France as a nation of irredeemable contrarians, roiled by ceaseless internal conflict and engaged in a tormented search for self-definition. As André Maurois once remarked, "The French do not live on happiness." The nation that invented joie de vivre, it has often been noted, takes an extraordinary amount of sleeping pills and antidepressants. When those fail, there's always the corner bistro.
No one really knows how the bistro got its name, but the writer François Thomazeau and the photographer Sylvain Ageorges know exactly what to look for when they walk into one. In "The Authentic Bistros of Paris," they showcase 50 bistros in all 20 arrondissements. Each gets an atmospheric photograph or two and several paragraphs of text summing up the history and the virtues of the place.
The Little Bookroom, a New York press, has published a number of small-format travel books along the same lines, but "Authentic Bistros," a translation of "Au Vrai Zinc Parisien," may be the best, because the text lives up to the photographs. Mr. Thomazeau rules out a lot of the places that I might think of as bistros. His bistros are more bars than restaurants, with a few tried-and-true home-style dishes making up the usually very short menu. All have a few things in common. They make a good jambon-beurre (ham and butter on a crusty baguette), and they have soul.
"Entering a bistro is like entering someone's home," Mr. Thomazeau writes. "And you are expected to behave like a guest; you have rights, but also responsibilities." This is where tourists go wrong. In a real bistro, the atmosphere is a joint creation of owner, waiters and customers. It's a relationship of equals. "That's why you shouldn't expect a bistro owner always to be friendly," Mr. Thomazeau writes. "He's at home. He's entitled to his moods."
Not so the vendor at a French market. As Michèle de La Pradelle tells it, in "Market Day in Provence," the essence of the market-day experience is a jovial back-and-forth between buyer and seller in which class boundaries are suspended and the normal rules of etiquette do not apply. The man offering his farmhouse cheeses is entitled to chaff and tease. The customer is free to poke and squeeze and fondle the merchandise, unthinkable behavior in a shop. It's all deliciously rural and traditional, and, Ms. de La Pradelle takes great pains to demonstrate, as phony as it can possibly be, "a collectively produced anachronism" with no rational economic reason for existing.
Ms. de La Pradelle, an ethnologist who was sent by the French government to analyze public markets, spent years scrutinizing the goods and the behavior and the underlying rules governing the market in Carpentras. Her findings amount to a cold shower for anyone, like myself, who has constructed a rich fantasy life around such places. All those farm-fresh fruits and vegetables, those delectable cheeses, those mouth-watering pâtés, come from the same wholesalers who supply the stores. The region switched over to large-scale industrial farming way back in the 1920's. "A market is a collectively produced anachronism, and in this it responds to deeply contemporary logic," she says.
What French markets do offer is a kind of free space to construct different social roles and create new forms of interaction. "For a few hours," Ms. de La Pradelle writes, "we constitute a world of the alike." She goes about her demolition work with great good humor, but a lofty disregard for the pain and suffering inflicted on innocent readers.
It is important to keep the great French clichés alive. An entire industry once existed to carry them across the ocean and keep them thriving on alien American soil. Important ambassadors of French culture like Charles Boyer and Pepé le Pew reassured Americans that the French spent every waking hour refining their joie de vivre and savoir-faire. Where are they today, the Maurice Chevaliers and Louis Jourdains? When Americans knew nothing about France, they were our guides. It was their civilizing mission to create an image of the Frenchman as a flâneur and boulevardier, an insatiable Romeo intoxicated by the faintest whiff of a woman's perfume, a venal, easily offended egomaniac expert in the art of love.
In 1948, a photojournalist named Philippe Halsman collared the comic actor Fernandel and subjected him to a mock interview. Mr. Halsman posed the questions, and Fernandel answered, wordlessly, with a French expression. The resulting book, "The Frenchman," documents the Gallic male as Americans saw him in a period when, in fact, not that many Americans had ever seen one.
"Does the average Frenchman still pinch pretty girls in a crowd?" Mr. Halsman asked. Fernandel obliged with an unembarrassed ear-to-ear grin. And how about those American sweater girls? A big grin and a big O.K. sign. And so it goes, through the great French repertory of facial expressions and body language. This rich subject was explored, quite seriously, by Mr. Wylie (of "Village in the Vaucluse") in a little book, now out of print, called "Beaux Gestes." Look for it. Study the photographs. Then, when Chirac shows up on television, turn off the sound. Amazingly, you'll know exactly what he's saying. The French are not that hard to understand.
Copyright 2006The New York Times Company