A Glorious Rock

Anywhere a French minister goes, other than the toilet perhaps, they can expect hostility. They don’t mind much – it comes with the territory. In this case, the minister is George-Pau Langevin and the territory is Mayotte. No longer a territoire, in fact – since 2011 a département. Mme Langevin, Minister of Overseas, does just that – oversees (sorry…) the DOM-TOM, the départements and territoires d’outre-mer. So obviously, her visit to Mayotte sparked grumbles all round – health, security, education, environment, infrastructure, housing… When it comes to bringing Mayotte up to the standards of the Metropole, it’s difficult to know where to start

This post, though, is not to do with Mayotte, about which I’ve written elsewhere,* but about the Glorioso Islands, or Îles Glorieuses. Because the first grumble around the minister’s visit was her timetable – yesterday morning, rather than discuss the problems of Mayotte, she whizzed off in a military jet to Grande Glorieuse, the largest of the islands that make up the Glorioso Archipelago. ‘Large’ here is relative: there are two actual islands, a few rocks and sandbanks, and the whole lot together cover 7 square kilometres.

So what did she do in the couple of hours she was there? Officially, she observed and encouraged the efforts undertaken by France to protect the biodiversity of the area. The coral reefs are indeed among the earth’s most treasured assets, definitely not to be messed with. She would also have had a little chat and a cup of coffee (no croissants, though) with the islands inhabitants, 14 soldiers and one gendarme, who doubles up as the postman. Nothing too taxing and no great issues to debate. So why did she even go there?

Well, it just so happens that over the past few months, the matter of who the islands really belong to has flared up in Madagascar. Not just the Glorieuses, in fact, but the whole of the Îles Eparses, or Scattered Islands, of which the Glorieuses are a part. A glance at the map shows just how completely Madagascar is surrounded by French territory. Only La Réunion is indisputably French: the five tiny spots of the Îles Eparses are contested by Madagascar, while Mayotte is contested by the Comores.

Now far from me the idea that France is not devoted to the biodiversity around these scattered rocks, but when you bear in mind that the territorial waters are also rich in fossil fuels, you begin to see why such devotion is so convenient. Madame Langevin’s little chat with the soldiers was also saying to Madagascar, ‘C’est à nous!’

The conflict goes back to the 1960s, when Madagascar became independent. In 1979, the UN ‘invited’ France to return the Scattered Islands to Madagascar, but for some reason the invitation was declined. A proposal last year by Madagascar to manage the islands jointly was similarly turned down. France is quite partial, it seems, to uninhabited rocks.

* A brief, tongue-in-cheek history of Mayotte is here, whilst a more general overview, including the immigration issue, is here.

Just in the nick of time, I believe (the minister omitted to consult me regarding dates), this post is part of Phoebe’s All About France link up, not forgetting TJ Paris’s French Friday feature.

Lou Messugo

Pic’n’Post n° 25 What is the picture of?

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What is the picture of?

Just the two guesses for last week’s picture, from Thumbup at The Playground and Rosa – many thanks to both. Thumbup nailed it pretty quickly – it was indeed the château at Vauvenargues, near Aix en Provence, with the Sainte Victoire in the background. (From last week’s snails to this week’s château may seem quite a jump, but both being in Provence, again I’m adding French Friday to the tag list. Check out TJ’s French Friday feature here.) It was a highly mysterious château, even to the inhabitants of the village, until in 2009 it was opened up to the public, though with very restricted and limited access. This was part of a series of events and exhibitions celebrating the relationship between Cézanne and Picasso. They never actually met, but Picasso was in great admiration of Cézanne, declaring him to be ‘my one and only master’ and ‘the father of us all’. And when the opportunity arose in 1958, Picasso didn’t hesitate to buy the château, less for the building itself than for the thousand hectares of the Ste. Victoire, so often painted by Cézanne, that came with it. ‘I’ve bought Cézanne’s Ste. Victoire,’ he declared to his agent, who thought he meant one of the paintings. ‘Which one?’ he asked. ‘The original,’ Picasso declared delightedly.

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He only lived there two years: for all his love of Cézanne, the bitterly cold winters of Provence, which he hadn’t anticipated, proved too much for him. But he and his wife Jacqueline are buried in the grounds of the château, which has remained untouched, like a mausoleum, since the day he died in 1973. Inside, the pots of paint are still open, the easels mounted, the brushes laid out as if he’d only been painting the day before. I found the visit strangely moving, giving an intimate glimpse not just of Picasso, but by extension of Cézanne – the two greatest painters of the modern age, imho.

Congratulations, Thumbup!

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 This week it’s back to What? at the top of this page. Happy guessing!

Pic’n’Post n° 24 Where was the picture taken?

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Where was the picture taken?

Many thanks to Tammy, Thumbup at The Playground and Rosa for guessing last week’s picture. As Rosa saw, those are indeed snails on the left. In the hot summer months, there must be about a million of them in our garden, where they climb up every available post, stick or plant. Or in the case of the picture, a garden fork. The higher they get, the happier they are, though they’re not inclined to travel far for the experience, so a lot of them stay in the grass, getting crunched underfoot with every step you take. Speaking of steps, that’s where they actually come from – the steppes of Asia, I mean (sorry…) The scientific name, as any fule kno, is Xeropicta Derbentina, which is lovely. Like all snails, they’re edible (well, if you’re French, that is) but they’re pretty tiny so it’s a lot more trouble than it’s worth, unless there’s a famine. The picture below gives an idea of their size, and there are lots more pictures here. These snails being inhabitants of Provence, I’m adding French Friday to the tag list, as TJ Paris has just started a French Friday feature which you can check out here. Nice idea, TJ!

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It’s Rosa’s third win, so she gets a champion’s badge.

Congratulations, Rosa!

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This week it’s back to Where? at the top of this page. Happy guessing!

Pic’n’Post n° 18: Where was the picture taken?

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Where was the picture taken?

Several guesses last week, and everyone figured it was the badge of a car, so the question then became, what make? Many thanks to Rosa, Thumbup at Live Love Laugh, Atthys at Speak More Light, and Matt from the bookblogger2014, but the winner this week is Hogrider Dookes, who guessed it was a Citroën Xsara. You can check out some of his “thoughts and travels of a geezer on a Harley” here, his account of a recent trip through Provence. Unfortunately, we weren’t at home at the time, otherwise he could have popped in to visit (the invitation still stands, Dookes) and taken me for a spin on the Harley. And he’d have seen the actual car which served for the photo, very much in need of a wash. IMG_1012                                                                                                IMG_1013

Congratulations, Dookes!

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This week it’s back to Where? at the top of this page. Happy guessing!

Gazette Issue 2 and other writings

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Many thanks to those who signed up for The Gazette. Issue 2 will be sent in a couple of weeks, and of course, to anyone who wishes, the first issue is also available – the subscribe link is on the right. Just a reminder – The Gazette is a free magazine containing two or three of my stories which may vary considerably in style or topic. For me it’s a useful way of sifting through ideas I’ve had for a long time but never got round to writing. So now I’m getting them into what you could call beta shape – not the finished product perhaps, but worked on enough to be put out for the judgment, and hopefully the pleasures, of others. Subscribers aren’t officially beta readers, since there’s no obligation to provide feedback (even if feedback is welcome). Details of the contents of Issue 2 will appear shortly.


Following my interview of T.J. Paris (author of, amongst other things, the wonderful Papa Bouilloire series), he has kindly reciprocated, with my answers to his questions appearing on his blog today. Many thanks, TJ!

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Finally, after writing a first piece about Mayotte to kick off Clara’s excellent series People Who Live In Small Places (now including Gibraltar, the Seychelles, the Netherlands and a village in the west of France), I was asked by Phoebe at Lou Messugo to do another piece, her series being devoted to France and its overseas territories. I didn’t want to repeat the same post as I did for Clara, so it’s quite different in fact, with the negative side (i.e. illegal immigration and its consequences) given more prominence.

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And that’s probably enough of me for the moment so I’ll sign off here. Ta ta!


The Kettle Explained

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One of the blogs that intrigued me on those excellent blogging 101 and 102 courses was T.J. Paris’s A ma vie de coer entier, with its tagline, “La Vie est Trop Courte pour Boire du Mauvais Vin”, its array of medallion photos, and above all its ongoing account, in the style of an 18th Century novel, of a trip to Oxford by a certain Papa Bouilloire.

One gets an idea of who bloggers are through  their About page, where T.J. writes:

La Vie est Trop Courte pour Boire du Mauvais Vin. “Life is too short to drink bad wine” penned Goethe in one of his lighter moments and it has a real resonance for me. If you are going to do something, then make sure it is worthwhile! (Drinking good wine is also highly recommended!)

A ma vie de coer entier – To my life with all my heart This is an ancient inscription and message of love, found on a poesy ring inscribed, in quaint and badly spelled French dating from the 15th Century. I chose it for the name of my Blog as I believe that living a rich life is something that you should dedicate your whole heart to.

Informative as this is, it didn’t quite satisfy my curiosity, so I wrote to TJ asking if I could send him a few more questions. His answers are here:

1. Where does your interest in France come from?
My Grandfather was an author who loved European literature and culture so we were always encouraged to read from his library and I fell in love with France through books, mainly 18tth century and 19th century histories, travel stories and early novels. Like most Australians, we had a great mixture of predecessors  from all over Europe including England, Scotland, France and even Schleswig- Holstein (as my grandfather was fond of telling) so European music, art and culture was a staple diet between trips to the beach and mucking around “in the bush”. Throw in a compulsive interest in French art and design then I suppose you have the recipe for the perfect Francophile. Mind you it was a close run thing between France and Regency England for a while.
2. Where does the (brilliant) name Papa Bouilloire come from?
I noticed that, unlike a sensible English (and Australian) hotel which usually supplies a kettle and some sort of tea and coffee making facilities, French hotels have no such thing. Consequently I thought it very clever of me to take a small electric kettle with me to France so that we could have a hot drink in the hotel in the evening. I proudly told this wonderfully sensible measure to my French friend thinking he would praise my good judgement. Unfortunately he was horrified and when I asked him what I was to do when I wanted a coffee in the evening he said simply “Why, you go out and buy one of course.” Because of my yokel attitude he dubbed me “Pa Kettle” in French and said it also matched my “pot boiler” writing style. We are still great friends but the name stuck.
3. Your Bouilloire writing style is deliberately ‘old-fashioned’. Does this reflect your own reading preferences?
I definitely prefer earlier writing and found the early English (and French) novels composed as a collection of letters particularly enjoyable. I also love Tobias Smollett’s great travel story “Humphrey Clinker” which no one seems to have heard of any more but is an absolutely hilarious tale of a misfit family’s journey through England and Europe in the late 18th century. These early novels never take themselves too seriously and I just love the mock heroic way they talk of the most mundane actions to show how absurd people and situations can be.
4. Where does your interest in porcelain come from?
In my other life I actually speak Japanese and developed an interest in Japanese art and antiques as part of my studies. In a strange twist I became aware of how much French art and design from the mid 19th Century until the 1920s was directly influenced by Japanese art and went from loving Japanese porcelain and art objects to European porcelain and antiques. I love the fact that most of the Impressionists were also great collectors of Japanese woodblock prints.
5. Who do you support when France play the Wallabies? (Had to put that in, being Welsh, but maybe you don’t like rugby at all!)
Western Australia has only just become Rugby wise. When I grew up it was strictly Cricket and Australian Rules Football. We had heard of Rugby and soccer but only as something “The Brits” play. I would have to say Wallabies out of loyalty and a sense of hope for the underdog. [Comment: Perhaps when they play the All Blacks, TJ, but they’re never the underdogs against Wales!]
With TJ’s consent, I share these answers with you, and for those who don’t know it, invite you to visit his blog. It has some beautiful photographs, a haiku poetry challenge, and of course the Papa Bouilloire story, with the name now fully explained. Bonne lecture!