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Houellebecq on farming in Ireland and France

Tuesday, 8 January, 2019

After a publicity tour for his novel Platforme, which was published in 2001, Michel Houellebecq was taken to court in France for inciting racial hatred, so he moved to Ireland for several years and lived on Bere Island off the west coast of Cork. The rugged landscape there has much in common with rural Normandy, the backdrop to Sérotonine, his latest novel.

The protagonist of Sérotonine is Florent-Claude Labrouste, a European Union agronomist. Coincidentally, Houellebecq worked as an agronomist before he took up novel writing and this fact gives substance to his observations of rural life. Although he lives in Paris, Labrouste spends considerable time in the countryside and, while he sympathizes with farmers, he knows he’s powerless to halt the decline of their traditional way of life. “Where there are now slightly more than 60,000 dairy farmers,” he notes, “there will be in 15 years 20,000. In short, what is taking place with French agriculture is a vast redundancy plan, but one that is secret and invisible, where people disappear one by one, on their plots of land, without ever being noticed.”

As with the farmers on Ireland’s smallholdings, the farmers of Normandy are caught between the rock of agribusiness and the hard place of the European Union, with its unending regulations that make their miserable lives even more miserable. In a Satanic Mills description of a modern poultry farm, Labrouste notes that the “300,000 or so inmates, plucked and emaciated, struggled to live among the decomposing cadavers of their fellow chickens.” On entering these vast white-meat factories, the first thing the visitor notices is the birds with their “look of panic and incomprehension, who don’t understand the conditions into which they’ve been dragged.” The link in this section of Sérotonine between the luckless chickens and France’s farmers, despised by Brussels bureaucrats and uncared for by the urban elites who demand premier Calvados and the urban masses who demand cheap food, is obvious. Struggling, panicked and desperate, the small farmers of France have nothing to lose when they don those gilets jaunes.

More Sérotonine here tomorrow.


Michel Houellebecq: master of timing, seer of change

Monday, 7 January, 2019

With last week’s publication of his latest novel, Sérotonine, Michel Houellebecq has armour-plated his reputation as France’s clairvoyant of terrible vistas. In 2001, his Plateforme, which peaks with an Islamist terrorist attack on a Thai tourist resort, was published just before the 9/11 attacks and the publication of Houellebecq’s Soumission in 2015, which portrays an Islamist political party taking power in France, coincided with the blood-spattered jihadist attack on the offices of the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo on this day in 2015.

Now, comes Sérotonine, which taps into the Zeitgeist, this time in the form of the gilets jaunes (yellow vests) protest movement. Although Houellebecq, has not campaigned for the movement, he has been called its “prophet” by France 24.

More Sérotonine here tomorrow.

Houellebecq


The twelfth post of pre-Christmas 2018: December

Monday, 24 December, 2018

And thus ends our review of the year as posted by Rainy Day since 1 January this year. The last post in this pre-Christmas 2018 series dates from 10 December and it was titled, “Street Fighting Man in Paris, then and now.” The reason for picking this post are twofold: firstly, the mouvement des gilets jaunes, which has exposed the hollowness at the heart of Emmanuel Macron’s own “movement” and, secondly, the 50th anniversary of Street Fighting Man by the Rolling Stones. There is a synchronicity, as Jung would say.

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Fifty years ago, the Rolling Stones released their Beggars Banquet album. It contained what’s been called the group’s “most political song,” Street Fighting Man. Mick Jagger said that he found partial inspiration for the song in the violence among student rioters in Paris during the run up to the civil unrest of May 1968. Quote:

“It was a very strange time in France. But not only in France but also in America, because of the Vietnam War and these endless disruptions … I thought it was a very good thing at the time. There was all this violence going on. I mean, they almost toppled the government in France; de Gaulle went into this complete funk, as he had in the past, and he went and sort of locked himself in his house in the country. And so the government was almost inactive. And the French riot police were amazing.”

To mark the 50th anniversary of Street Fighting Man, the band have released a video of the song featuring the lyrics. Uncannily, this is again a strange time in France. Whether M. Macron will go into a complete funk and lock himself into his house in the country remains to be seen. Those French riot police are still amazing, though.

Tomorrow, here, something less disruptive: Christmas Day as seen through the eyes of a poet who was once six Christmases of age.


Street Fighting Man in Paris, then and now

Monday, 10 December, 2018

Fifty years ago, the Rolling Stones released their Beggars Banquet album. It contained what’s been called the group’s “most political song,” Street Fighting Man. Mick Jagger said that he found partial inspiration for the song in the violence among student rioters in Paris during the run up to the civil unrest of May 1968. Quote:

“It was a very strange time in France. But not only in France but also in America, because of the Vietnam War and these endless disruptions … I thought it was a very good thing at the time. There was all this violence going on. I mean, they almost toppled the government in France; de Gaulle went into this complete funk, as he had in the past, and he went and sort of locked himself in his house in the country. And so the government was almost inactive. And the French riot police were amazing.”

To mark the 50th anniversary of Street Fighting Man, the band have released a video of the song featuring the lyrics. Uncannily, this is again a strange time in France. Whether M. Macron will go into a complete funk and lock himself into his house in the country remains to be seen. Those French riot police are still amazing, though.


Jupiter Falling: We Get Fooled Again and Again

Tuesday, 4 December, 2018

Last year, the European elites warned the “deplorables” of France, les sans-culottes, and their better-off relations in la bourgeoisie, that if they didn’t vote for the elitist candidate, they would have to endure le deluge. So, they did and thus was M. Macron elected president. He said he wanted to rule as a ‘Jupiter’, above the political fray, but les gilets jaunes have brought him down to earth, sharply.

All of this was foreseen in 1971 by the political savant Roger Daltry, who doubled as a vocalist for The Who. Peering into the 21st century, and anticipating the handover of power from the hapless Hollande to the oleaginous Macron, Daltry said: “Meet the new boss / Same as the old boss.”

“There’s nothing in the street
Looks any different to me
And the slogans are replaced, by-the-bye
The parting on the left
Is now parting on the right
And the beards have all grown longer overnight”


Paris is Burning

Monday, 3 December, 2018

We’ll deal with the oleaginous Monsieur Macron tomorrow, but today’s post is given over to the film that inspired a thousand headlines this weekend. Paris Is Burning is a documentary directed by Jennie Livingston that chronicled the “voguing” culture of late 1980s New York City and how gay, transgender, African-American and Latino artists lived out their glamour fantasies in a world that had its own vocabulary: house, category, mother, shade, legendary, walk


Socks on for Alpe d’Huez

Thursday, 19 July, 2018

This year’s Tour de France reaches the legendary Alpe d’Huez today. As Christian Prudhomme, le directeur du Tour, says: “A classic in the making that will come and complete the Alpine chapter of the 2018 edition. The 21 bends that lead to l’Alpe d’Huez will establish a provisional verdict. The final explanation will be preceded by an increasingly demanding upswing: Col de la Madeleine, Lacets de Montvernier and Col de la Croix de Fer.” Allez!

Le Tour de France


Time Trial in France

Wednesday, 11 July, 2018

When it comes to sport these days, all eyes are on Russia, where the World Cup is approaching its climax. For those who aren’t that into football, there’s always tennis and Wimbledon right now offers a more genteel alternative to the mania in Moscow. If neither small ball nor big ball satisfies, the Tour de France ticks the remaining boxes.

Today’s stage from to Lorient to Quimper glides past the citadel of Fort-Bloqué and through Pont-Aven, the city of the painters Paul Gauguin and Emile Bernard. The focus will be on Ménez Quélerc’h, a famous climb in Breton cycling, and the last 35km includes the medieval village of Locronan and the challenging côte de la chapelle Notre-Dame-de-Lorette.

Couch-based Tour fans are treated daily to spectacular landscapes steeped in history but what’s usually missing from the picture is the pain of the participants. Finlay Pretsell, the award-winning Scottish filmmaker, places pain at the centre of his film, Time Trial, and his anti-hero is Scottish-born David Millar, a Tour stage winner, who was suspended for doping in 2004. If the World Cup is ecstasy and Wimbledon is elegance, the Tour de France is human, with all the heroic and horrible facets of humanity exposed. Time Trial is a valuable contribution to our understanding of sport.


A. A. Gill and the je ne sais quoi in France

Sunday, 4 February, 2018 0 Comments

Background: A. A. Gill was an English journalist who died of cancer in London in December 2016, at the age of 62. Adrian Anthony Gill was also an alcoholic who stopped drinking at 29 and followed the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) “12-step plan” to recovery. In tribute to the fellowship, he began using the name ‘A. A.’ Gill professionally. His finest writing is collected in The Best of A. A. Gill and it covers his observations on food, television and travel. In “Markets,” published in July 2007, he pontificated on the phrase the French have created to “encompass it all”: je ne sais quoi. Snippet:

“My weakness, my pleasure, is markets… The Mercato in Addis Ababa, biggest market in Africa: dangersous red-eyed tribesmen, maddened and delusional on khat, unloading bushels of the stuff flown in daily from the ancient cities on the Somali border. The stalls selling coffee and the winding lanes of incense dealers, the gifts of the Magi, smelling of martyrdom and plainsong.

Tsukiji, the Tokyo fish market: miles of frozen tuna, lying like a thousand unexploded bombs steaming in the dawn as the auctioneers paint red characters on them, buyers cutting tiny nuggets of flesh from their tails to knead for water content.

Crawford Market in Bombay, the book market in Calcutta, the bird market in Denpasar, the karaoke market in Tashkent…”

However, when it comes to the market’s market, the perfect market, Gills puts his money on “the weekly markets of southern France.” And what makes them so superior? It’s the je ne sais quoi:

Je ne sais quoi is France’s abiding gift to the world. More je ne sais quoi for your euro is to be found in a French market than anywhere else. We wander down the aisles of trestles and stalls aghast at the marvellous repose of produce. There are peaches warm from the tree, ripe and golden. Figs, green and black, bursting with sweet, ancient, darkly lascivious simile. The smell of fresh lemon, the bunches of thyme and lavender and verbena, the selections of oil and olives, pale green and pungent, and the they honey, from orange blossom, from heath and orchard, and the beeswax. The charcuterie, the dozens of ancient and dextrous things to do with a dead pig, in all the hues of pink, and pale, fatty cream.”

Never was A.A. Gill happier than when in France, the land of Armagnac, Calvados and a thousand cheeses, wandering its markets, savouring the je ne sais quoi.

Apples


The race for la lanterne rouge

Thursday, 20 July, 2017 0 Comments

La lanterne rouge is the French term for the competitor in last place in the Tour de France. Currently, the “honour” is held by Luke Rowe from Team Sky, which is quite astonishing as his teammate Chris Froome leads the field. Clearly, the media-savvy Sky wants to hoover up all the publicity, from start to finish, from top to tail.

The race for the lanterne rouge among the tour teams has come down to three: Team Dimension Data, Team Katusha Alpecin and Team FDJ. Of the three, Team Dimension Data is the most fascinating as its sponsor is working on transforming the Tour into a Big Data project. Actually, the proper name of the team is “Team Dimension Data for Qhubeka, Africa’s first UCI World Tour Team racing to mobilise change in Africa, one bicycle at a time.” Qhubeka is a charity that gives bicycles to young people in Africa and, as we know, mobility is vital for the development of every society.

Today: Stage 18 from Briançon to Col d’Izoard. The ascent of this legendary Alp will be crucial to determining the winner of this year’s Tour.


Vive la France!

Friday, 14 July, 2017 0 Comments

It’s the #jourdebastille and there are many reasons to celebrate it. For example, the 13th stage of the Tour de France from Saint-Girons to Foix. It’s being described as “brutal”, which should add to the enjoyment. Then we’ve got the Trump, l’« ami » américain de Macron bonding in Paris, and there’s always that classic scene from Casablanca when Rick Blaine, owner of the Café Américain, asks the house band to play La Marseillaise.