Louis Malle’s “Lift to the Scaffold” (Ascenseur pour l'échafaud)
Around twenty of us braved the inclement weather and settled in the warmth of the Dark Horse Coffee House as Claudine McKeown presented her personal look at the Saint-Germain-des-Prés area of Paris, home to many renowned artists and writers and as we were to hear to Claudine herself in her student days
Claudine, ably assisted by husband Seamus in managing the technology, explained that her talk would be in French, supported by PowerPoint slides in English. This approach found favour with many present.
She started by locating the area geographically in Paris, highlighting some of the key landmarks of the 6th arrondissement. Claudine then focussed on the construction of the Abbey church in some fields outside the not yet then expanded Paris. The abbey and the fields explain the name. The church, she told us, reinforcing the point with a slide, is also the final resting place of René Descartes, philosopher, writer and mathematician.
On to history, and we were treated to pictures of and comments on various places that make up the patrimoine of the area. Here was the church of Sainte Sulpice, here La Sorbonne where Claudine as a student met up with her future husband and here the Luxembourg. Bright, sunny images a welcome counterpoint to the weather outside!
Sitting in a café, it was especially interesting to note how the talk progressed to café culture at its best by including brief, personal accounts of four famous cafés in the area: Le Procope, Brasserie Lipp, Café de Flore and Les Deux Magots and the writers and artists who frequented them.
|Place named after writers Sartre and De Beauvoir|
Music was next on the tour and with the help of a series of posters and short videos we learnt how the area had danced through the post-war years. Music was our final stop and what better tribute to end on than Juliette Gréco's rendition of Claudine and Seamus's favourite song, Guy Béart's Il n'y a plus d'après ( À Saint-Germain-des-Prés).
Last month's réunion of the Cercle français was a colourful and festive occasion. The tables of the Dark Horse Coffee House had been moved to the perimeter to leave plenty of space for dancing and the walls were draped in bleu, blanc, rouge bunting. Musicians from BalFeirste played Breton music on a variety of instruments including the bombarde. The atmosphere at this early stage of the evening was full of buzz and chat.
Philip McGrory lived up to the MC in his name and soon had us organised for the evening. First up, he explained was a demonstration of a gavotte. Vanessa and Fergus took to the floor, others of the troupe joined in and our evening got into its rhythm.
Following a spell of more music and chat, we were called back to order for a couple of magic tricks. Magic, Magi and the fête des rois. In a nice touch, one of the magician's tricks involved participants who were all French. He supplied them all with menus from the restaurants of famous French chefs and somehow managed to get them all to select dishes from the various menus, the cost of which added up to an amount he had previously written on an enveloped card.
Then on to the galettes, prepared by Amélie. They were délicieuses! And substantial. Each baked with a fève inside. Warned beforehand to be careful when eating, it was soon established that 4 femmes and 2 hommes were in the running to be selected queen and king for the evening. This was decided by ballot. Vive la révolution! More music and la reine and le roi took to the floor in a celebration dance.
Vanessa then distributed copies of a song and got the whole audience to sing-a-long. That finished, it was back to the floor for a demonstration of and a joining in a chapelloise. Cameras and phones flashed all around as people captured the festive fun.
It was a great evening. Thanks to all who joined in and made it possible.