10 février 2014

Saint-Germain-des-Prés: mercredi 12 février

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
Claudine shared a memoir of a once exasperated owner of the Cafe Flore and later friend of Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. The cafe owner recounted how the couple had developed the habit of coming to the café and sitting all day over a single cup of coffee.  Warmer than their nearby flat, the café became the meeting place for discussions with their many friends and followers.

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'aprèsÀ Saint-Germain-des-Prés).

01 février 2014

Fête des rois. Gavottes and galettes in Belfast

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.


12 janvier 2014

Décembre 2013 - Choix de poèmes

Our poetry evening ‘Choix de poèmes’ on the 11th December was a wonderful success thanks entirely to our members who selected and presented their choice of poems and to the lively and informative discussions which followed. 

A number of people expressed their pleasure at having been reacquainted with a favourite poem or at having discovered a new work. It was also interesting to compare the various anthologies members had brought with them. Some of the books were old but all were beautifully kept in keeping no doubt with the many treasured memories they contained.

First up, was Jonathan with Arthur Rimbaud's Le Dormeur du Val – a sensitive poem about a fallen soldier composed when the poet was quite young. Amélie was next with her rendition of Victor Hugo's Sur une barricade written in 1872. This was her favourite poem from an author we don't immediately think of as a poet.

An extract from L'Invitation au voyage by Charles Baudelaire was Margaret's choice. Reading from Douglas Parmée's anthology, Twelve French Poets, a text familiar to many at the meeting, she delivered the poem in such a way that one member who was already familiar with the text said that it was like hearing it, really hearing it, for the very first time.
My own rendition was Déjeuner du matin by Jacques Prévert. A deceptively simple poem, often studied in French primary schools despite its quite adult, mature theme. One of the members commented that the poem had a cinematic or theatrical feel to it. Prévert of course was also a screenwriter most notably for Les Enfants du Paradis. Incidentally, a full size cinema poster for that film, crediting Prévert, adorns the staircase wall of the Harp Bar, just opposite the Dark Horse.
Liberté by Paul Éluard was Claudine choice. Here the theme of freedom seemed to connect with other poems independently chosen for the evening. It was an appropriate poem to lead to an extract of a lecture - The whole thing: On the good of poetry - given by the late Seamus Heaney and voiced by his friend, Jim. Discussion around the extract led to a lively exchange on the value of reading aloud, hearing rather than reading the poem and the whole subject of translation.
All in all it was an excellent evening which members felt ought to be repeated in future programmes. As ever, the Dark Horse was the perfect venue – Warm ; comfortable seats ; soft lighting ; treasured anthologies and timeless literature.