21 octobre 2020

Zooming Bonjour tristesse

Le Petit Robert dictionary includes the verb zoomer and defines it as rapprocher le sujet grâce au zoom.  Elaine BELL certainly brought her subject, Françoise Sagan's Bonjour tristesse, closer as she hosted her third Cercle de Lecture using the Zoom online meeting platform.

Elaine's annotated school copy of Bonjour tristesse

Logging into the Cercle's virtual waiting room it was immediately apparent that Elaine's talk had attracted a substantial number of participants.  Philip had previously emailed members with her notes so we were able to see the themes she intended to address in our bookclub discussion.

Now a practised hand for Zoom meetings Philip reminded us of some basic protocols, not least using the mute facility and the raising of a hand should those taking part wish to make a point or pose a question. Another tip was to use gallery view and clicking on that it was pleasing to see 25 people had joined the meeting.


Referring the reading group to her notes and speaking in French and English, Elaine conducted a lively exploration of the text and was adept at sounding out the views of the attendees.  The exchanges were certainly animated and one comment received after the session commended the very high level of preparation and discussion.  It was interesting to hear participants linking some of the novel's themes to other books and authors they had read.  F. Scott Fitzgerald's Great Gatsby was one such parallel and mention was also made of D.H. Lawrence. 

Bonjour tristesse had also been made into a film using locations identified in the book and one of our members mentioned that he had walked several times past David Niven's house on one of those promontories east of Nice.

Other members commented on the experience of re-reading a text that they had first encountered at school.   Indeed, Elaine proudly showed her copy, kept from her days as an écolière, which was liberally annotated with key points, marginal notes and vocabulary items.

The Zoom discussion format worked well and it was fascinating to see and hear members engaging with one another. When the microphones are unmuted and a person speaks that person becomes the current contributor and Zoom illuminates their screen. That makes it possible for members to see their interlocutors up close and with their name below their picture.  As there were many new faces (and names) at the meeting that's a particular benefit of the online format.

It would be great to have CfB book club sessions more often and if members have suggestions for suitable titles, especially where the French book is available with English translation and possibly a film tie-in, please do let us know.

Meantime, un très grand merci to Elaine and Philip for another very successful meeting; and of course to everyone who took part.  It was a most enjoyable evening.  See you next time.

Bonne Lecture !

19 septembre 2020

Cercle de lecture : Bonjour Tristesse

 Chers Amis,

A little reminder that the book to read for our next event, our Cercle de lecture, on 14 octobre is ..

Françoise SAGAN’s Bonjour Tristesse.

French edition … available from sellers such as Amazon.co.uk and AbeBooks.co.uk

English edition … available on ebay.co.uk and from other sources.

A DVD of the film of the book “Bonjour Tristesse” staring Jean Seeberg, David Niven and Deborah Kerr is also widely available online.

Further information will follow later.

Prenez soin de vous et de vos proches,

À bientôt, Philip

22 août 2020

24 hours in Saint-Émilion

The plan to spend a night in the medieval town of Saint-Émilion was uncorked some years back. Nearly two decades ago we had been in the town and purchased a special bottle from the 1981 vintage of Château Franc-Pourret to commemorate our wedding year.

The idea, still not realised, was to crack it open at a special anniversary. It was on checking its current status for drinkability that we noted that the Château offered the opportunity to stay in the heart of the vignoble in highly rated chambre d'hôte accommodation. 

The plan developed its aroma when last September, we arranged to spend a few weeks in France starting in Bordeaux before moving in stages up to Paris.

What about the Château? Did available dates match? Could we dine there?
And importantly would we be able to bring the bottle back to its birthplace?

Contact with Madame OUZOULIAS, Catherine, was simplicity itself.  Demand was always high and yes, she had a room available for one night only – a Sunday; she offered a sumptuous breakfast but no evening meals; and while she liked the idea, she counselled against coming with the bottle of wine thinking that perhaps we had missed its apogée and might enjoy it better at home where it was already well rested! The date matched, no deposit was required and of course we booked!

Trains from Bordeaux to Saint-Émilion are fairly frequent and it's a short journey but last summer there were major works underway at our destination, so we got out at Libourne and made the rest of the journey by coach. The station at 1,5 km is some distance out of the town, a good 20-minute walk, although you can phone a taxi or tuk-tuk service. Catherine, however, had arranged to collect us at the station and bring us to the estate.

Château Franc-Pourret was an elegant delight and we felt instantly at home. There waiting for us were a couple of half bottles of the property’s wines and one of them was a little relative of the bottle back home! We would toast our arrival later that evening but meantime there was some exploring to be done.

Catherine suggested that we make our way into the town by strolling through the vines. Our route brought us out near the imposing Tour du Roy and from there we made our way to the unforgettable 12th century Église Monolithe commanding its lovely paved square. 

The association with Émilion started a little earlier though when in the 8th century he left his native Brittany, became a monk and ended in Ascumbas, the ancient and former name of the area. There he lived in a cave and joined by others formed a religious community. After his death in 787, a village was built in his honour and 12 centuries later the town of Saint-Émilion, its vineyards and religious sites have become a UNESCO World Heritage site. 

We had been in this square often before and thought we would savour the memories over a glass of pastis. After all, it was a hot afternoon. Suitably refreshed, we decided we should find somewhere for an evening meal before heading back to Franc-Pourret. Although many restaurants were closed there was plenty of choice and we opted for Chai Pascal.  Calling in, the patronne advised that they wouldn't be serving until 7pm and suggested we book a table. Done. That gave us an hour or more, so still plenty of time to sightsee.

On our rambles, and not far from the Place de L'Église Monolithe we spotted a sign for a wine merchant - The Wine Buff Experience with Paddy O’Flynn.

While we were looking at the sign a smiling woman, Pilar, asked us if we were Irish and invited us in to meet Paddy. We were treated to a tour of the tasting room, which seemed like a monolith itself carved out of limestone. It was wonderfully cool.

A taste of Saint-Émilion? Of course. And then a lovely chat with Paddy and Pilar about wines from the region. We arranged to call back the next day and avail of their ordering service.

The meal at Chai Pascal was delicious and we could have sat on, but we had decided to walk it back and night was falling. Not through vineyards at this hour but along the road, using the light from our mobiles to alert passing motorists of our presence. What a lovely feeling to be in wine country at night-time. Yes, that half bottle of Franc-Pourret was waiting. 

Breakfast next morning was a treat, living up to its reputation. A bowl of greengage - reine-claude plums - baked in a crust, an array of cereals, juices, fruits, croissants, homemade jams, organic yoghurt and coffee. Magnificent.

Our bus connection for the train back to Bordeaux was not until 5pm so we still had a day in Saint-Émilion. Catherine suggested we look around the estate and when our bags were packed, she would store them in her car in the shade. Then later she would come to collect us in town and take us back to the station. We readily agreed and picked as our rendezvous point the car park at the Collegiate Church. This time the stroll through the vines took a different route. Passing château after château it was like walking through a wine list and we arrived directly at our appointed rendezvous spot. Time to appreciate this lovely church and its cloister and learn a little more about Émilion. Quiet. 

Then out again to the town now busy with newly arrived day trippers all making their way to the square. We spotted a shop selling macarons. 

This gourmet tradition dates back to the late 1600s when the sisters of the town’s Ursuline convent confected the recipe from sweet and bitter almonds, sugar and egg whites. We bought some boxes to offer as gifts.

Another walk around the town, stopping at various points and just soaking it all in. The town has been modernised much over the years and grand hotels now bring a more international style to the spaces they occupy. Still, that medieval heart beats strong.

A light lunch? Why not? Une omelette complète filled with cheese, ham and mushroom, aided and abetted with crusty bread and helped on its way with a glass of rosé chilled to perfection.

Back to the Wine Buff, sample some wines and place an order. That's a whole other story but suffice to say that momentous events in our household are accompanied by a bottle taken from the stock ordered that day. And we are still in touch with Paddy and Pilar through social media.

Where had the day gone? Time to move and await our pickup with Catherine. We went back to the Collegiate Church where we had agreed to meet. She arrived spot on time and took us back to the station. She seemed pleased with the box of macarons as we offered our thanks and goodbyes. We would think of her often and Château Franc-Pourret will be an abiding memory.

And there is of course that bottle that remains from 1981 to be opened… sometime.

We also brought home a couple of its half-sized relations. No longer a Saint-Émilion alone in its cave.

It's got plenty of company!


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