March 24, 2023
Dear Frenchly Readers,
Since last week’s Le Weekend the situation in France has gotten undeniably worse. Turn on the news, and it’s all France everywhere right now. The world is watching and listening.
My older son sent me this moving link the other night of the iconic French rock and roll and pop singer, Johnny Hallyday, singing Edith Piaf’s famous song, “Non, Je ne regrette rien.” By the time Hallyday sang Piaf’s song, he had been married five times, had four children and had struggled with depression, drugs and alcohol. His personal and professional highs and lows had been splashed across the front pages of French newspapers for over 40 years, creating a spiral of narcissism and self-hatred that fed dangerously off one another. But when he sang this song in 2000, Hallyday seemed to be saying to the world, “I own this, as ugly as it’s gotten. I am still here. I won’t regret the journey.”
If you’re reading this and don’t exactly know who Hallyday was, you’re not alone. He was often called the “biggest rock star you’ve never heard of.” Others dubbed him, “The French Elvis.” The Daily Beast describes him this way: “a hip swiveling, leather-clad Gallic answer to Elvis Presley who shook up his home country’s music scene with American-style rock-n-roll and bad-boy antics.” He is credited with bringing rock and roll to France just before Beatle-mania started to spread like a rash across England and the U.S. By the time he died, in 2017, he’d made 79 albums and sold more than 110 million records throughout the French speaking world, making him one of the top-selling musical artists, ever.
It’s just simple synchronicity in my life. But as I have been reading about the increased protests and conflagrations happening now across France in response to Président Macron’s decision to up the retirement age in France by two years, from 62 to 64, I keep hearing Johnny sing “Non, je ne regrette rien.” I find myself imagining Macron dancing out of Elysée Palace lip-syncing. Because I’m really not sure he can roll this back now.
Even though the situation is, indeed, grave: Demonstrators, many keen to sow chaos and violence, have been breaking windows, setting trash on fire, clashing with the police, and scaring people. But Macron is, so far, holding steady. The problem is, as I see it, that if he buckles now, he will be signaling that anarchy can be rewarded. And in an unsteady world, he can’t do that.
But how Président Macron and Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne will now address the mounting crisis is important. The entire world is watching and hoping this settles down; our minds and hearts can’t take any more. In the meantime, it couldn’t be worse timing as France is hoping for a lucrative surge in tourism this spring and summer.
À cuisiner, regarder et lire çe weekend:
A new book came out this week all about flowers and how to arrange them like a French person, with a certain je ne sais quoi. It’s a beautiful book and it even has “recipes” for different flower arrangements depending on the occasion. It’s the kind of book you want to get into bed with and read on a rainy night when you just can’t handle one more moment of bad news.
There is a movement in France right now, within film and art, especially, to try to understand and include working people’s concerns and lives. Andrea Meyer has this article/review/interview (she seamlessly, as usual, blends all three) about a new movie called The Worst Ones. The movie’s about a film crew making a film (a film within the film) with a cast of non-actors, mainly children, from the projects in the suburbs of a town in northern France. Watching this movie starts to get at some of the nuanced complexities of how the French strive, and have always striven, admirably, to understand and include people whose lives are different from their own. Think of James Baldwin, who famously said that in France he got to be just “an American,” not a “Black American.” He also said: “Each time I leave France, I understand why I live there. There is something in the French character that makes me feel more comfortable than any other place in the world.”
Some dear friends are coming this weekend from Boston for some much-needed time together up in Maine. I am thinking about these lovely mushroom tartines from Smitten Kitchen on Saturday night, paired with the strawberry and Cognac cocktails in Cat Rickman’s handy collection of cocktail recipes she perfected for us this week (painful job, trying all those.) I will follow that with a simple roast chicken, which, I think would pair beautifully with a crisp, cold salad and this chickpea pasta.
Ok, get outside. Don’t regret your life. It’s your one precious one. Listen to Johnny Hallyday sing about not regretting anything (and if he doesn’t you shouldn’t!) and notice what you feel and what’s around you. Order some of those lovely French Easter chocolates Cat Rickman found for us, below, and make someone special smile. Arrange or just enjoy flowers coming up out of the earth. In my world, my crocuses are up? What’s coming up in your yard? Email me.
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