Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Birds. A Fair Distribution.

The Big Bird count today starts in France - take part if you're not heading for the beach.

We're absolutely swarmed with little birds. Tits, finches, starlings, wrens, swallows - everywhere. Open windows - and they start flying in and out of the house! At times it's a bit like in Daphne Du Maurier's The Birds. At least they are not (yet) attacking us.

One swallow got into the kitchen and couldn't find a way out. I threw a tea towel over him and gently let him go outside.

Which reminded me of a passage from Henry Thoreau's 'Walden. Life on the Golden Pond'.

November 9, 1857

Mr Farmer tells me that on Sunday he went to his barn, having nothing to do, and thought he would watch  the swallows, republican swallows. The old bird was feeding her young, and he sat within fifteen feet, overlooking them. There were five young, and he was curious to know how each received its share; and as often as the bird came with a fly, the one at the door (or opening) took it, and then they all hitched round one notch, so that a new one was presented at the door, who received the next fly; and this was the invariable order, the same one never received two flies in succession. At last the old bird brought a very small fly, and the young one that swallowed it did not desert his ground but waited to receive the next, but when the bird came with another, of the usual size she commenced a loud and long scolding at the little one, till it resigned its place, and the next in succession received the fly.

Some of the links here take you to If you shop from France use the 'livres en Anglais' search box at the top of the side-bar to save on delivery charges. 

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

A Tireless Lover Who Reduced State Deficit and Instilled Tolerance

France has found a new political pin up: a charismatic leader who reduced the country's deficit by a third and embodied the legend of the tireless French lover - Henri IV (see the Daily Telegraph article).

Henry IV was King of France from 1589 to 1610 and (as Henry III) King of Navarre from 1572 to 1610. As a Huguenot, Henry was involved in the Wars of Religion before ascending the throne in 1589. Before his coronation as king of France at Chartres, he changed his faith from Calvinism to Catholicism.  "Paris is worth a Mass", he declared. In 1598, he enacted the Edict of Nantes, which guaranteed religious liberties to the Protestants and thereby effectively ended the civil war.
He cut the state deficit by 30 per cent and increased state revenues by 50 per cent while barely raising taxes
One of the most popular French kings, both during and after his reign, Henry showed great care for the welfare of his subjects. Henry was nicknamed in France 'le bon roi Henri' ("the good king Henry"). He is perhaps best known for promising all French workers the "means to have a chicken in the pot every Sunday". (See a recipe for poule au pot).

He was assassinated by a fanatical Catholic, François Ravaillac, in Paris 400 years ago (May 14, 1610.) The anniversary spurred a wave of national nostalgia, with his prowess being feted across the country with a series of books, exhibitions and articles. Henri was a success for France in every sense – politically, economically and romantically.

His right-hand man, the Duke of Sully, managed to cut the state deficit by 30 per cent and increase state revenues by 50 per cent while barely raising taxes. All this has turned him into a national icon.

Henry IV is the eponymous subject of the royal anthem of France, "Marche Henri IV".  Here is a video of the song:

And below is a Russian song about king Henry IV from the film 'The Hussar Ballad' (1962, music by Tikhon Khrennikov, events relate to Napoleon's disastrous invasion of Russia in 1812)

Friday, May 7, 2010

German Humour and American Shooting

8-9 May 2010 marks the 65th anniversary of the end of the second world war in Europe

Brits - and many others - think of the Germans as a rather humourless lot. Antony Beevor's book D-Day: The Battle for Normandy dispels many myths about the Allied landings in France and the subsequent fighting. Among them is the myth that Germans don't have a sense of humour.

Beevor cites this German joke that was circulating among the Wehrmacht soldiers.

'The almost total absence of the Luftwaffe to contest the enemy's air supremacy continued to provoke anger among German troops, although they often resorted to black humour. 'If you can see silver aircraft, they are American,' went one joke. 'If you can see khaki planes, they are British, and if you can't see any planes, then they're German.'

The other version of this went, 'If British planes appear, we duck. If American planes come over, everyone ducks. And if the Luftwaffe appears, nobody ducks.' American forces had a different problem. Their trigger-happy soldiers were always opening fire at aircraft despite orders not to because they were far more likely to be shooting at an Allied plane than an enemy one.'

I highly recommend the book. Even if you are not a history buff, soldiers' stories Beevor collected would liven up any of your tours to D-Day sights and memorials.

Tip: if you are buying second-hand, check that the first 17 pages of the book are not missing. Last year, as the 65th anniversary of D-Day was approaching and publishers were rushing the book to sellers part of the circulation came out without  them.

And if you shop from France use the 'livres en Anglais' search box at the top of the side-bar to save on delivery charges.

Below is a fragment from the war epic 'The Battle of Britain'. Goering asks his pilots how he can help them. 'Give me a squadron of Spitfires,' one of them says.

Monday, May 3, 2010

'Address Unknown' in Caen

poster from
 Please also read this post on 'A Russian Review of Books'

8-9 May 2010 marks the 65th anniversary of the end of the second world war in Europe
Tomorrow, 4 May 2010, in Caen-Mondeville the French theatre troupe Ultima Chamada performs a stage version of 'Address Unknown' (Inconnu à cette addresse or, in German, Adressat Unbeknownt), a super-bestselling story by American Kathrine  Kressman Taylor, based on true events leading up to the Holocaust. Tragic as it is, it's also extremely funny. And if there is one holocaust story everyone should read, this is the one. 

If you can't make it, there is a clip of the performance on the compagnie's  web-site.

And the book is available in most French mediatheques, because it was a huge bestseller in France in 1995 - the 50th anniversary of the liberation of nazi concentration camps. The second time it became so. Before that, in 1930s, it was one of the first stories to open eyes of Americans to show what was happening in nazi Germany.  And the author Kressman Taylor, then in her 90-s, was happily signing copies and giving interviews. If you do buy the book, make sure you get the edition with her son's moving afterword.

The stage version is set to music by Gershwin, Bach, Bernstein and Kurt Weill. 

Play at
La Renaissance
4 May, Tuesday
starts at 20:30